Friday, November 30, 2012

Microsoft Surface Pro - Not designed for you and me

The Microsoft Surface is a pretty interesting concept. Already available is the Microsoft Surface which is a Windows RT tablet powered by a quad core processor on a Tegra chipset. Available with 32 GB or 64 GB of internal storage, it comes to the market as a reworked Asus Transformer.

Basically, the Microsoft Surface mates a 10.6-inch tablet with a keyboard that doubles as a protective case. The entire package comes in at 1.95 pounds to 1.97 pounds which will give you 8-10 hours of battery life. The Microsoft Surface wont run traditional PC applications, but it does come with Microsoft Office. With prices, with a keyboard, starting at Php33,999 it is not cheap, but if you need MS Office, it is probably the the lightest most portable package that can run MS Office competently.

Yesterday, Microsoft announced the Surface Pro. This version of the Surface also comes with a 10.6-inch display, but this one runs a full 1080p resolution. More importantly this runs on a Intel Core i5 processor will be available with 64 GB and 128 GB of internal storage. Pricing starts at US$899, so we would expect it to hit local shelves bundles with a keyboard for over 50K. While I am assuming anybody who want's a surface will want a keyboard cover to go with it, I think that is a fair assumption.

Now, the Intel Core i5 inside sounds good, but the Microsoft Surface Pro tips the scale at about 2 pounds. With a Touch or Type keyboard cover, you are now looking at almost 2.5 pounds, pretty to close to the weight of a 11.6-inch MacBook Air which has the advantage of a larger screen. Battery life drops down to 4-5 hours. And the pricing takes it to MacBook Air and Ultrabook levels.

Unless for some reason you want to run traditional PC (x86) software in a tablet like form factor, there is no reason to buy a Surface Pro. While running all your old Windows apps sounds great, remember that traditional PC software is not touch optimized. Microsoft, recognizing that Microsoft bundled a stylus with the Surface Pro. 

It should be a matter of time before the publishers of your favorite x86 software come out with touch optimized Windows RT versions (unless the platform is a complete failure). If Microsoft's plan pans out, all new software should become both Windows RT and Windows 8 compatible.

So what is the point of the Microsoft Surface Pro? For, consumers like you or me, it serves no purpose. If the software you want does not yet run on Windows RT, it means it is probably best not to buy time the a Microsoft Surface yet. Basically, if the Windows RT powered Microsoft Surface does not rock your boat, rather than a Surface Pro, a nice Apple MacBook Air or Asus Zenbook is probably a better choice for you. 

So why did Microsoft build the Surface Pro? The stylus and touch screen will appeal to some professionals who want a powerful but portable device from drawing, sketching a photo editing. For IT Managers of an enterprise with custom built x86 software, the Surface Pro serves as a transitional device which will allow the company to deploy Windows RT powered Surface devices together with Windows 8 powered laptops and desktops, with the new Surface Pro as part of the mix. In that sense, the Surface "Pro" is very aptly named.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cherry Mobile Omega - 5.3-inch Android

Cherry Mobile has announced that it will be releasing thee new phones this December 2012. You have two new Android phones running on Ice Cream Sandwich with 4.5-inch and 4.7-inch displays and a 5.3-inch Android monster phone running on Jelly Bean. Most of the interest has focused on the JellyBean powered monster.

This 5.3-inch phone is rumored to be a rebranded Zopo ZP900 upgraded with Android 4.1 JellyBean. There are two variants of the ZP900 for sale abroad, one with 512 MB of RAM and a 5 MP camera and the others with 1 GB of RAM and an 8 MP camera. Given that the local version will be running JellyBean, we expect the 1 GB model.

The other specifications are typical of entry level phones with a dual core processor on a MediaTek chipset, 4 GB of internal storage, MicroSD card slow, WiFi, HSPA, GPS and Bluetooth. The battery is a decent sized 2300 mAh unit. The display is what everyone is interested in. It should be a 5.3-inch IPS display with a qHD (540 x 960) screen resolution. 

Now the phone looks suspiciously familiar. Yup it looks like a Samsung Galaxy S III/Note II. Down to having a physical button. Here is to hoping the Cherry Mobile version has all capacitative buttons, or even better yet, on screen buttons.

The Zopo ZP900 with 1 GB of RAM and an 8MP camera sells for US$239 abroad. So you can expect local pricing to be in about the 10K range.

Than again, it might not be the Zopo ZP900.

Microsoft Surface Pricing

Microsoft  Surface

The Microsoft Surface Tablet is now available in the Philippines. Microsoft hopes it can take aways some of the market from Apple's iPad which makes up a little more than over half of the tablets sold.

The 32 GB version of the Microsoft Surface is priced at Php29,999, which is a bit more than the expected Php28,990 price of the Apple iPad 4 32 GB WiFi when it gets here. Given that the Microsoft Surface comes with MS Office Home & Student (Word, Excel, Powerpoint and One Note), it price priced to match the price of the Apple iPad 4 32 GB WiFi.

People who would choose a Microsoft Surface over an iPad would mainly do so because of MS Office or the keyboard, for office type software. Getting the Touch Keyboard Cover with a 32 GB Microsoft Surface brings the price up to Php33,999. If you really plan to do a fair bit of typing with the Microsoft Surface, than the Type Keyboard Cover is the better choice. This would bring the price up to Php 36,998.

The 64 GB version of the Microsoft Surface is also available, but only together with a bundled for a total price of Php37,999.

The pricing is competitive, but it will not be an iPad killer. 

First, you can buy an iPad 2 for as low as Php18,990 or in a few weeks get an iPad 4 16 GB WiFi model for Php23,990. Microsoft has no Surface models available to compete at this price points. 

Second, even those who want a 32 GB or 64 GB tablet, the iPad is a better choice, unless you really want the keyboard or MS Office. The iPad has more apps. 

Me, I would be in the marker for a ultraportable laptop like device. If I bought a Microsoft Surface, I would get the 32 GB model with a Type Keyboard Cover. That would cost me all of Php36,998. Now the question is, for Php36,998 is there anything else I would like better? 

Asus Transformer Pad TF300T

There is the Android powered Asus Transformer Pad TF300T 32 GB with a Mobile Keyboard Dock for Php24,990. The Microsoft Surface Keyboard Cover is so thin it feels like you are not carrying a keyboard around. The Asus Transformer Pad which looked innovative last year, looks cumbersome and bulky with the sleek ingenious surface design. But still that is all of 12K cheaper.

Another option would be to get a Asus VivoBok x202e. This starts as low as Php20,990 and combines a touchscreen and Windows 8.

In sum, the Microsoft Surface is priced reasonably and has no direct competition for those who want a tablet with a keyboard. I just would not expect to see to many of these things at the local Starbucks.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 8GB Wi-Fi GT-P3113

I have started seeing the 8 GB Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 showing up at local store shelves. The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 is actually just a rehashed version of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus from 2011 redesigned for lower cost of production, by using a cheaper chipset/graphics chop combination. And it does achieve this.

The 3G version of this tablet, the GT-P3100, sells for about Php15,990, while the WiFi version, the P3100, sells for about  Php12,990. The P3113 is the same as the GT-P3100 but has internal less storage at 8 GB instead of 16 GB. This in turn brings down the price to Php10,990. The lower internal storage is not a big deal since the tablet does have a MicroSD card supporting SDCard up to 64 GB's in size.

For Php10,990 the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 has decent enough specifications, with a 7-inch 600 x 1024 pixel resolution display, a 1 GHz dual core processor, PowerVR 540SGX graphics and 1 GB of RAM.

It does seem like a better deal than the 16 GB version of Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 given how cheap MicroSD Cards are these days. 

Still a few thousand more gives you a HD display and quad core processor with the Google Nexus 7.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dell XPS 12 Convertible Touch Ultrabook

Dell has released its own Windows 8 centric laptop, the Dell XPS 12 Convertible Touch Ultrabook.  Lenovo used the traditional Tablet PC for factor for its ThinkPad Edge 230su and Sony used the less familiar but not innovative slider design for its Sony Vaio Duo. Dell, well they did something different using a new type of swivel mount. 

All three laptops allow for the use of the device as both a laptop and tablet. Dell's solution is the most novel. Dell also calls their device an Ultrabook.

The Dell XPS 12 Convertible Touch Ultrabook weighs in at 3.3 pounds which meets Intel standards for an Ultrabook, but its 0.95 inches in thickness does not. That is a minor point. It's price of Php65,990 is not. That is some serious money.

But the Dell XPS 12 Convertible Touch Ultrabook specifications seem to be enough to justify the hefty price. The laptops 12.5-inch display is a Full HD (1920 x 1080) display, the Intel Core i5-3317U processor is powerful enough and the 4 GB of RAM is sufficient. Also is comes with a SSD drive, a 128 GB unit being equipped on the 65K unit. For this much money, I would have like double the RAM and storage. Battery life in real world tests is a tad over 5 hours.

After looking at three new offerings designed around Windows 8,  all are expensive. The Dell XPS 12 Convertible Touch Ultrabook actually compares pretty well price wise comparing favorable with thins like a 13-inch MacBook Air (Php57,990), with the 8K difference being justified by the Full HD display. 

If you want a new touch oriented Windows 8 laptop, this is the best of the three I have seen so far.

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge S230u

With the launch of Windows 8, you will see new laptop designs to take advantage of the new touch optimized operating system. Yesterday, we took a look at the Sony Vaio Duo, slider PC. Lenovo's take on it has been more traditional. Lenovo has been building tablet PC's for nearly a decade now (back to the days when it was still sub-contracting for IBM) and has decided that there is no need to reinvent the wheel. The Lenovo ThinkPad Edge S230u is a traditional Tablet PC, which has a swiveling screen.

Tablet PC's have not been very successful for three reasons mainly. First, is that older versions of Windows, and Windows software, were not touch optimized. Second, converting an ultraportable laptop into a Tablet PC would add a few pounds in weight making it heavy. Third, they were expensive.

Microsoft gives the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge S230u a new touch centric operating system, and Lenovo is trying to take care of the two other issues. 

Lenovo's 12.1 to 12.5 inch Tablet PC's have weighted from 3.5-4 pounds in the past, which many considered too heavy for tablet mode. The Lenovo ThinkPad Edge S230u brings in ultrabook technology into the picture keeps the weight of this 12.5-inch Tablet PC to just a bit under 3.5 pounds, which is on the lower end of the scale. Still heavier than I would like. The 7 hour battery is probably the only reason is was not lighter. The frame is a slim 0.8-inches.

As for cost, the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge S230u is priced at Php55,990 for a Core i5-3317U model with a 500 GB hard drive and Windows 8 on board. It is not cheap, but much cheaper than other Lenovo Tablet PC's which would go into the six figure range. For the money though, it would have been nice to see a SSD drive option. Even a small 64 GB SSD drive.

At over 50K, this wont become a mainstream option in the Philippines. But eventually, lower cost Core i3 and AMD powered models code take it into the under 40K price range.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sony Vaio Duo 11 Windows 8 Slider PC

Sony has released a new Vaio model, call the Vaio Duo which is designed around Windows 8. At it's core is an a touchscreen 11.6-inch Full HD display which has an impressive 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution. The display is mated to a keyboard which slides under the "tablet" for carry or use as a pure tablet.

Two models are available, both being powerful portables. The lower end model comes with an Intel Core i5-3317U, 4 GB of RAM and a 128 GB flash drive all in a package weighing in at less that 2.8 pounds. The higher end model is powered by a more powerful Intel Core i7-3517U, 8 GB of RAM and a 256  GB flash drive. Sony promises 5 hours of battery life.

Both models have all the amenities you expect from a laptop (WiFi, HDMI out and USB 3.0) as well as a tablet (front/rear cameras and NFC). While all this is pretty impressive, at Php69,999 for the Core i5 models, which is the price of an iPad 4 16 GB plus a 11.6-inch MacBook Air 64 GB, I do not see too many of these selling in the Philippines. The the Core i7 model is priced at an even more prohibitive Php99,999.

Asus Android slider tablets did not do too well last year, will see if putting Windows 8, on a much more expensive slider, will make any difference.

Smart Bro Pocket WiFi + Google Nexus 7 for Php1,199 a month

Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart) is offering the Google Nexus 7 (32 GB model) Android tablet as part of its Smart Bro Flexisurf mobile broadband plans. Starting November 30, 2012, the Nexus 7 can be pre-ordered from

Smart is offering the Nexus 7, which has a suggested retail price of Php13,995, for Php600 payable over 24 months (Php14,400).

In order to avail of the deferred payment scheme you have to sign up for a Smart Bro Flexisurf Pocket WiFi plan 599. This entitles you to:

  • A Smart Pocket WiFi device for free
  • 50 hours of mobile surfing @Php599 a month
  • A Nexus 7 @Php600 @ month

You don't have to worry about the 50 hour limit much as All FlexiSurf plans are protected by Smart’s anti-“bill shock” feature which caps billing at no more than P999 every month (approximately 80 hours of use).

Monday, November 26, 2012

Cloudfone Thrill 430x - 4.3-inch phone with a 4160 mAh battery

When we think of Android smartphones, we normally think of established brands like Samsung, HTC, Sony, Motorola and LG. Lately, lesser known brands have been giving good reason to look at newer players.  Earlier this month you had Cherry Mobile announcing its dual SIM Flare which features a 4-icnch WVGA (480 x 800 display), a dual core 1.2 GHz processor on a Qualcomm a MSM8225 Snapdragon S4 chipset and Adreno 203 GPU graphics, for a introductory price of Php3,999. Later this month, the ZTE Grand X brought a larger 4.3-inch display with a higher qHD (540 x 960) resolution to the realm of low cost smartphones. 

Now we have the Cloudfone Thrill 430x.  This phone features the same dual core 1.2 GHz processor on a Qualcomm  MSM8225 Snapdragon S4 chipset and Adreno 203 GPU, as the Cherry Mobile Flare. Like the ZTE Grand X, it has a 4.3-inch qHD display. Priced at Php7,777, it sits between the Flare and Grand X price wise. As a killer blow, the Thrill 430x has an enormous 4160MHz battery.

The other specifications are typical of entry level smartphones these days. The Cloudfone Thrill 430x comes with Android 4.0, offers 4 GB of internal storage (expandable by MicroSD card), has a secondary camera, HSDPA connectivity, GPS, WiFi and Bluetooth. It does come with a 8 MP primary camera, which is bigger than the usual 5 MP camera's you find in other entry level smartphones, but the performance is not all that much better than a 5 MP camera.

Now this is a big phone, a bit over 14 mm thick and weighing in at 182 grams, so it is not for everybody. But with a 4160 mAh battery, you really cannot expect it to be slim and light.

Between the three, the Cherry Mobile Flare is the budget king, the Cloudfone Thrill 430x will rule endurance category, and the ZTE Grand X will cater to those looking for a phone from an established manufacturer.  Basically, it looks like at the below 10K price range, the established players will be having a hard time fielding competing devices, and the Cloudfone Thrill 430x will be a top choice in this arena for a long time to come.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Google Play Turkey Day Sale

Google Play is having an app sale in celebration of Thanksgiving Day. RedmondTheRobot is compiling a list of apps on sale. This is what he has so far.

Quickoffice Pro - $0.99 (was $14.99)
The Adventures of Tin Tin - $0.99 (was $6.99)
The Amazing Spider-Man - $0.99 (was $6.99)
BackStab - $0.99 (was $6.99)
Gangstar Rio: City of Saints - $0.99 (was $6.99)
Virtua Tennis Challenge - $1.99 (was $4.99)
Sonic 4: Episode II - $2.99 (was $6.99)
BlackList Pro - $1.27 (was $3.49)
Majesty: Fantasy Kingdom Sim - $0.99 (was $2.99)
Sparkle - $1.29 (was $2.39)
Azkend - $0.99 (was $2.39)
Need for Speed: Most Wanted - $4.99 (was $6.99)
Wordplay Adfree - $2.56 (was $3.99)
Update 1:
franco.Kernel Updater - $3.19 (was ?) - thanks to IAmAN00bie
AccuWeather Platinum - $0.99 (was $2.99)
90Droid ExtremeFitness Tracker - $0.99 (was $3.49)
My Backup Pro - $2.99 (was $4.99)
Moodagent - $0.99 (was $5.20)
Droid Scan Pro PDF - $2.25 (was $4.49)
Glowfly - $0.99 (was ?)
Update 2:
EnbornX - $0.99 (was $1.93)
Furah added a nice addition to the sale if you want to check that out.
We also have the GoneMAD Music Player thanks to gonemad16.
Kabloink has also posted a few photo/camera app sales!
Update 3:
SwiftKey 3 Keyboard - $1.99 (was $3.99)
Neuroshima Hex - $0.99 (was $2.99)
Startup Manager - $1.49 (was $2.99)
SplashID Safe - $4.99 (was $9.99)
Wisp - $0.99 (was $2.84)
Smart RAM Booster Pro - $1.27 (was $2.56)
Memory Booster - $1.49 (was $2.99)
Kabloink has also given us a couple more here.
CypherQuotes is also on sale now thanks to zoomthinge.
Update 4:
Spirit HD - $1.49 (was $2.99)
TileStorm HD - $1.99 (was $3.99)
Aftermath XHD - $2.99 (was $5.99)
Jump Desktop (RDP & VNC) - $4.99 (was $9.99)
RoByte - Remote for Roku - $0.99 (was $2.99)
DocumentsToGo - $8.95 (was $14.95)
Goodnight Moon - $0.99 (was $4.99) - thanks to raygun01
Reddit Sync Pro - $1.00 (was $1.99) - thanks to ljdawson
Update 5:
Ground Effect Pro HD - $1.99 (was $3.99)
Hard Lines HD - $1.49 (was $2.99)
Navigon USA - $24.95 (was $49.95)
To get the most updated list, be sure to check out the original post at this link.

Apple Philippines One Day Sale

Apple Philippines is having a one day sale today. The Apple iPad 2 16 GB (WiFi and WiFi + 3G) is being offered at Php1,392 off the suggested retail price. The  MacBook Pro and MacBook Air are being discounted at Php4,892 off the suggested retail price.

The discounted prices being the same across the board, this makes the 11.6-inch MacBook Airs and the 13-inch MacBook Air (128 GB) particularly interesting. 

Apple Philippine is also offering a discount on iPods and accessories. Check out the full list of items on sale at Apple Philippine's website. It's a one day sale, so don't think about it too long. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

HTC Desire C Free at Smart All-In Plan 1200

Smart Communications is offering the HTC Desire C for free at the configurable all-in Plan 1200.

The HTC Desire C is an entry level Android phone running Android 4.0, Ice Cream Sandwich, with a 3.5-inch display and a 5 megapixel camera.

Gameloft Sale at Google Play

From today, till Sunday, November 25, 2012, Gameloft is offering four of its titles for sale on Google Play at a discounted price of US$0.99 (or Php40.73 at the time of this writing. The four titles are:

The Amazing Spider Man
Gangstar Rio: City of Saints 
The Adventures of Tintin

These four games have a regular price of US$4.99.

ZTE Grand X - qHD Droid at below 10K

With the release of the Cherry Mobile Flare and the Lenovo P700i, a phone with a 4-inch WVGA (480 x 800) display and a dual core processor became our standard for what an entry level Android should be like. Now, ZTE is joining the fray with its Php9,990 Grand X and upping the ante.

The ZTE Grand X comes with an even large 4.3-inch display with a higher qHD (540 x 960) resolution. Behind the screen it comes with a dual-core 1 GHz processor. The ZTE Grand X also has a HSPA+ radio. These three features are what distinguishes it most from the Flare and P700i.

The other features are pretty standard for the class with 4 GB of internal storage expandable storage, 512 MB of RAM, a 5 MP camera a VGA secondary camera. The battery is a decent size 1650 mAh unit.

Now how does it stack up against, the Cherry Mobile Flare and Lenovo P700i. The ZTE Grand X costs more than twice as much as the flare but it is worth the additional money. As against the P700i, the only advantage of the P700i is that it comes with a larger battery. But that advantage also means a fairly hefty phone which weighs in at 162 grams and is 12.8 mm thick. The ZTE Grand X weighs in at a light 110 grams and is just 9.9 mm thick. 

The ZTE Grand X in my opinion is the best budget smartphone in the Philippine market.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

HTC Windows Phone 8X and 8S priced.

CMK Cellphones has the HTC Windows Phone 8X and 8S listed as "coming soon". The price quoted for the HTC Windows Phone 8X is Php24,500, while the lower end HTC Windows Phone 8X is listed at Php14,500. 

The Windows Phone 8X at Php24,500 is priced competitively enough. This phone, as its name indicates runs Windows Phone 8, has a sharp 4.3-inch HD display (720 x 1280), a good quality 8 MP camera, 16 GB of internal storage and is powered by a dual-core 1.5 GHz Krait. 

The lower end Windows Phone 8S at Php14,500 and looks to be the better deal. This phone has a smaller 4-inch WVGA display (480 x 800), is powered by a dual-core 1 GHz Krait, has a decent 5 MP camera and 4  GB of internal storage,. The internal storage is expandable via a MicroSD card. Looking at its competition, this has the best processor available at it price range.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Look at Windows 8 Part 4: The tip of the iceberg

Summing up the first three post, Microsoft can afford to experiment with Windows 8, it has time. It can mess things a bit but really there are not all that many options out there. The hardware we have seen locally, traditional laptop designs don't seem to be all that compelling and the newer devices designed around Windows 8 we looked at in part 3 of this post, are looking a bit expensive.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. You are looking at Windows 8 with traditional software designed for a mouse or trackpad, and phone apps migrated to a laptop or desktop. But once touchscreen on the laptop becomes the standard, than you will see a whole new line of interesting software designed around the new interface. Your word processor and spreadsheet will still look the same, but the way you manipulate powerpoint will change. Instructional software with 3D models will allow you to interact with virtually rendered devices more like the way you interact with objects in the real world. Game developers will be able to build around the touchscreen. The touchscreen is nothing new, but it has never been coupled with this much processing and graphics power before.

That will take some time as software developers wont start optimizing their applications until there are a substantial number of these new touch personal computers out there, but once there are, software developers will find a way to make use of the new interface. Venture Beat covered Ubisoft's R.U.S.E., which gives you an idea the potential of this kind of technology.

So, its not all gloom and doom for Microsoft. While the need for Windows 8 and hardware designed around it looks questionable right now, change brings innovation, and whether Windows 8 will be a success or not, it is the first step in a different direction. This is never a bad thing.

A Look at Windows 8 Part 3: The new "hybrid" devices

In Part 2 of this post I took a look at some of the early Windows 8 touchscreen laptops to hit the market. While the touch function is interesting, I really do not see how these devices will excite people enough to go out an buy Windows 8 laptops by the millions. Windows 8 was built with tablets in mind, and new devices which bridge the gap between laptops and tablets is what Microsoft is counting on to make the Windows 8 family a success. 

Microsoft's own take on the matter was its 10.1-inch and 11.6-inch surface tablets. Pretty much conventional tablets which integrate a keyboard in the tablets protective case. Essentially, this is a Windows RT tablet that can serve as a laptop. The concept of plugging a keyboard into a tablet is nothing new. The Surface's innovation is being able to do it in a way that the keyboard accessory is not a burden to carry around.  

Microsoft Surface

I have seen the US$699 Surface 64 GB version, with touch cover for sale here, a bit overpriced at Php37,999. The 32 GB version, with the touch cover should be priced at about 30K would be a more competitive offering. With "Type" keyboard instead of the "Touch" keyboard it makes a very compelling laptop weighing in at less than two pounds.
The Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga in laptop mode

Other concepts like the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga do the reverse. The Yoga comes in two sizes. One with a 11.6-inch display. The other with a 13.3-inch display. The Yoga is essentially a Ultrabook that can serve as a tablet. 

With prices starting at US$799 for the 11.6-inch version, it does seem to be one of the more interesting Windows 8 designs. 

But the Philippines is a developing country. I do not see the new hybrid Windows 8 devices ending the growing dominance of the growing number of Android and Apple tablets which inhabit the below Php20,000 price point to be slowed by devices costing Php30,000 or more. These days, access to a computer can be had for less than Php5,000 via one of the low cost "China" tablets. I do not expect any Windows 8 devices that will compete in the lower price ranges for the foreseeable future.

Your next laptop is still likely to run Windows. MacBooks are expensive, and Linux lacks the software. But I suspect you will be keeping your current laptop for a very long time. Before you replace it, you probably would have bought two smartphones and two tablets... and this is bad news for Micrsosoft's OEM partners.

A Look at Windows 8 Part 4: The tip of the iceberg

A Look at Windows 8 Part 2: Keeping the tablet at bay

In Part 1 of this post, we noted that Windows 8 is part of Microsofts long terms strategy of maintain its position as the dominant desktop operating system. Microsoft's OEM partners need to generate sales today, and look to Windows 8 to shore up PC sales.

A bit of history. Late in 2007, Asus took Intel's remaining stocks of outdated Celeron processors, put it in a frame with a ill-fitting 7-inch display and called it the Eee PC. The first Asus Eee PC sold 300,000 units in four months. Other OEM's started building their own small low cost mini-laptops, Intel created the Atom processor, Microsoft extended the life of Windows XP and over 100 million "Netbooks" were sold. Between a worldwide financial crisis and demand in developing countries the Netbook was a sales success.

But no one liked selling these things. A friend of mine who sold laptops, hated selling netbooks. Profit margins were low. And that was true down the line. OEM's, Intel and Microsoft were making less per Netbook sold, and so the product was allowed to languish with only incremental improvements being made to the platform. I don't think users really enjoyed using them. I bought two, and never really liked either. The plan was, to eventually phase out netbooks and go back to selling higher priced laptops. 

In 2010, Apple launched its iPad tablet. It came out at a price point close to what netbooks were sold for. Came with an operating system and software ecosystem built around the form factor. The iPads could play HD media and were good gaming platforms. For the consumer market, the iPad brought the capabilities consumers wanted from their Netbooks.

Instead of Netbooks being phased out and laptops taking their place, tablets took over the market. In the third quarter of 2012, 27.8 million tablets were sold. Apple sold 14 million iPad's and the rest sold 13.8 million tablets. Instead of the Netbook being phased out by the traditional laptop, it was wiped out by the tablet/ 

The OEM's, Intel and Microsoft probably regret they did not develop this segment more, all of whom have no significant market share in the tablet space.

Hence, Windows 8. The Windows 8 family is designed to take a share of the smartphone and tablet markets, with Windows phones, tablets and hybrid devices. This in turn would secure the future of Windows on the desktop. But that is a long term strategic move.

PC OEM's and Intel need a quick fix to shore up lagging PC sales. First came the Ultrabook, and now comes touch screen laptops. PC OEM's and Intel are hoping there new devices will convince prospective tablet buyers to buy a PC instead. They are also hoping that the new devices are exciting enough to make PC owners decide to upgrade their existing devices.

A few of these new devices have hit the Philippine market already. 

The Samsung NP-540U3C-A01PH brings full touchscreen functionality to its Ultrabook line. This 13.3-inch Core i5 laptop is priced at Php47,900, which will not make it a success in the Philippine market. It would appeal to a laptop owner looking to replace and existing laptop.

The other device, the Asus VivoBook X202e, is a more interesting device. Available in different configurations with a price range of Php20,990 to Php26,990, these 11.6-inch touchscreen laptops are priced low enough to compete with tablets, to be a second PC and items which a buyer might buy on impulse.

The question is does a touchscreen work well with the traditional laptop form factor? Using one for a bit, I found myself using the touchpad all the time. A fair number of laptop buyers still drag around a mouse, and maybe this will appeal to them. I just don't see it.

A Look at Windows 8 Part 3: The new "hybrid" devices

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A Look at Windows 8 Part 1: Does Windows 8 mean gloom and doom for Microsoft?

Many people have been writing gloom and doom about Windows 8 with its new tablet centric interface. But Windows 8 will not end Microsoft's dominance on the desktop. The reason is simple. A Mac Mini with a third part monitor will cost you all of Php39,000. The lowest cost Apple laptop is Php49,900 pesos, and that comes with just 64 GB of storage. These two devices are still out of the budgets of substantial numbers of buyers, many of whom simply wont want to spend that much with fully functional Windows PC's available at less than Php20,000. 

Linux is an option technically, but with limited software compatibility, I do not foresee many switchers.

But Windows 8 will not be a great success in the consumer space.

1. The is no compelling reason to upgrade from Windows 7. Windows works well, and is a version of Windows that will be in use for a long time after it is discontinued from sale, like Windows 98 and   XP. Windows ME and Vista did not gain much traction, in part because they were buggy or resource hungry, but in part because the previous version was good, leaving people little reason to upgrade.

2. PC's are just not in these days. Today people computing needs being divided between a smartphone, a tablet and a personal computer. I would think these days most people would allocate most of their budget to getting a smartphone, with the personal computer being allocated a smaller portion of the budget. For some, a tablet would be sufficient to replace a personal computer all together. A laptop was a functional tool which had a serious bling factor a few years ago. Today, smartphones and tablets are the new status symbol devices.

The end result is people will upgrade their PC's slower and be more interested in buying the latest smartphones and tablets. Some people will retire their PC's all-together.

So question is than. Why release Windows 8? It is not like people were unhappy with Windows 7.

Windows 8 is a, daring or risky move, depending on your perspective, to using Windows 90% market share on desktops and laptops to push its Windows phone and tablet operating systems. The idea is, with one common interface for all three a buyer would be more inclined to choose a Windows Phone device or a Windows tablet. This move is really targeted at the enterprise and IT Managers who may value completely integrated solutions.

To push Windows 8 to the consumers, Microsoft is relying on new devices like its Surface Tablet and touchscreen laptops to interest consumers. But this is really more important to Microsoft OEM partners than Microsoft itself. 

With this round Microsoft really wants to push Windows 8 phones and tablets to the enterprise. But its PC manufacturers like Acer, Asus, Dell, HP and Lenovo do not make a significant amount of money on mobile devices. Asus and Lenovo have strongly embraced Android. Acer, Dell and HP are hoping that their new generations of Windows 8 PC's will drive up PC sales.

A Look at Windows 8 Part 2: Keeping the tablet at bay

Friday, November 16, 2012

Apple iPad mini versus the Asus Google Nexus 7

Nexus 7
The Asus Google Nexus 7 32 GB WiFi only model has officially been released in the Philippines with a manufacturers suggested retail price of Php13,995. The Apple iPad mini has not yet been officially launched in the Philippines, but we are starting to see it in store shelves at Php19,000 to Php20,000 for the 16 GB version, and Php23,000 to Php25,000 for the 32 GB model. When the iPad mini is officially launched in the Philippines, I expect the price of the 16 GB model to go down to Php15,900 and the 32 GB model to be available at around Php20,900. 

Both the Nexus 7 and the iPad mini competed in the same market segment. Those looking for smaller more portable tablets, so lets start there.

Size and weight - MINI

The Nexus 7 at 7.81 x 4.72 x 0.41 inches is a smaller but thicker device compared the the iPad mini at 7.87 x 5.30 x 0.28 inches. The iPad mini weighs less at 0.68 pounds as compared to the 0.75 pound Nexus 7. If I was picking based on just size and weight, I would go with the iPad mini's dimensions hands down. The thinner and lighter are more important to me than the narrower girth. 

iPad mini
Display - DRAW

The Nexus 7 has a 7-inch HD (800 x 1280) display with a pixel density of 216 ppi. The iPad mini has a 7.9-inch 768 x 1024 display with a lower 168 ppi density. This is a much tougher category to decide.

Given that the iPad mini can bring a larger display with no penalty to size, I prefer the larger 7.9-inch display. The main drawback in my opinion with the iPad mini's display is the SD 3:4 aspect ratio. Thus means the screen is not optimized to play HD and Full HD content, and it cannot play HD content at its native resolution. 

Nexus 7 display is also protected by Corning Gorilla glass while the iPad mini by Oleophobic coating (similar to what is used in the Galaxy Nexus). Both should be scratch resistant enough. 

I guess many will disagree, but I will call this round a draw. 

Power - NEXUS 7

Neither device now runs on cutting edge technology. The iPad mini runs on a dual core Apple A5 processor which was considered to be cutting edge technology until the Q1 of 2012. The Nexus run runs a quad core Tegra 3 processor which was considered cutting edge until the end of Q3 2012. But both are fast enough.

Next year, the bulk of new Android devices designs will still just be migrating to dual core processors, so the Nexus 7 should give you a good two to three years of use before its hardware is completely obsolescent. The Apple iPad mini, is as fast as the iPhone 4S and iPad 2 released in 2011, and the Appe iPad 3 released in 2012 (once you factor in the screen resolution). Apple app developer will be supporting the iPhone 4S, iPad 2 and iPad 3 for the next two years or so.  Both devices should last you long enough.

The Nexux 7 running as it does on Nvidia's ULP GeForce graphics chip is capable of displaying graphical effects way beyond those that can be rendered by the iPad mini's PowerVRSGX 543MP2. So we give this category to the Nexus 7 by a hair.

Cameras - IPAD MINI

This on is easy. The Nexus 7 comes with a 1.3 MP primary camera capable of doing 720 video, and no secondary camera. This is really only useful for apps that need a camera to work, but you won't be using it to capture pictures of video for your own use.

The iPad mini has a 5 MP camera, which can capture 1080p video, and a secondary camera for video calls. The iPad mini clearly, takes this round.

Battery Life  - IPAD MINI

The Nexus 7 promises 9.5 hours of battery life, with the display set to 100-nit brightness. In real world use, it should be more like 8 hours. Apple promises 10 hours of battery life on the iPad mini, and you should get close to that in real world use.

Price and storage - NEXUS 7

We lumped these two together because they really are inseparable. Right now the iPad mini will cost you Php5,000 to Php7,000 more, and give you less storage, at 16 GB versus 32 GB for the Nexus 7. To get the same amount of storage, it will cost you Php9,000 to Php11,000 more. Right now it does not look like a good time to buy an iPad mini.

When the prices go down, I still do expect the iPad mini to cost Php2,000 more, with less storage, or Php7,000 more with the same amount of internal storage.

Winner - NEXUS 7 

The iPad Mini offers some compelling features, but it cost a little bit too much for what it offers.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

HTC One X+ versus Samsung Galaxy S III - Battery Life Tests

One advantage the Samsung Galaxy S III had over the HTC One X was battery life. The Samsung Galaxy S III had a 2100 mAh battery, and the HTC One X, a smaller 1800 mAh battery. Now the HTC One X+ has a 2100 mAh battery too. Is this enough to catch up with or beat the Samsung Galaxy S III

Based on GSMArena's battery life tests the answer is it would seem so:
  • JB = Jelly Bean
  • ICS = Ice Cream Sandwich

Talk time 

HTC One X+ (JB): 13 hours 31 minutes
Samsung Galaxy S III (JB): 10 hours 15 minutes
HTC One X (ICS): 9 hours 57 minutes 

Web browsing 

HTC One X+ (JB): 7 hours 56 minutes
Samsung Galaxy S III (JB): 6 hours 27 minutes
HTC One X: 4 hours 18 minutes 

Video Playback 

Samsung Galaxy S III (JB): 9 hours 27 minutes
HTC One X+: 8 hours 11 minutes
HTC One X: 5 hours 45 minutes

Except on Video Playback the HTC One X+ has substantially longer battery life than the Galaxy S III. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The HTC One X versus the HTC One X+

The HTC One X Android powered smartphones are HTC's most powerful devices in the Philippine market. The One X series comes with a large 4.7-inch HD display (720 x 1280), powerful quad-core processors on Nvidia chipsets, excellent 8MP camera's, HSDPA+ technology and pretty much everything you expect in top of the line smartphone for the Philippine market.

The newly released HTC One X+ will cost you about Php2,400 to Php4,000 more than the older HTC One X, depending on where you buy it. While the are two HTC One X+ models available, one with 32 GB of storage and the other with 64 GB of storage, the one being offering right now in the Philippines is the 64 GB variant.

The HTC One X+ brings upgrades in three areas:

1. SPEED > HTC One X (1.5 GHz quad core processor) versus HTC One X+ (1.7 GHz quad core processor)

The HTC One X+ will definitely by faster. The question is will, anyone notice? The 1.5 GHz processor in the HTC One X is fast enough to run any Android app. The HTC One X+ will run faster and benchmark better, but given how fast the One X is (with Sense 4.1), the additional speed is not worth the additional expenditure.

2. STORAGE > HTC One X (32GB) versus HTC One X+ (64GB)

The HTC One X and One X+ has no MicroSD card slot. So if you want more than 32 GB (26 GB user available) storage, the One X+ is clearly the way to go. A 64GB MicroSD card cost about Php2,500 to Php3,000 more than a 32 GB MicroSD card. So this aspect alone is worth the price premium of the HTC One X+ if you need the additional storage.

3. BATTERY > HTC One X (1800 mAh) versus HTC One X+ (2100 mAh)

How much more battery life does the additional 300 mAh bring? Based on GSMArena's battery life tests:

Talk time
HTC One X+: 13 hours 31 minutes
HTC One X: 9 hours 57 minutes 
Web browsing
HTC One X+: 7 hours 56 minutes
HTC One X: 4 hours 18 minutes 
Video Playback
HTC One X+: 8 hours 11 minutes
HTC One X: 5 hours 45 minutes

The battery life advantage is amazing. It is more than what you expect from a 17% larger battery. There are probably other improvements as well. 


The HTC One X is a nice phone, but the HTC One X+ is just so much better. For a 2.4-4K price difference, I would really recommend the One X+.

Sony Xperia J - Is 4-inches the the new "mini"?

Sony has launched it new Xperia J in the Philippines. With a street price of Php11,300 with an official warranty. The Sony Xperia J comes with a lower performance single core 1 GHz ARM Cortex A5 processor and Adreno 200 graphics. This limites the phones performance, for example, it cannot do 720p video capture. being limited to VGA video capture.

Given that Sony has several more powerful phones at the same price range, like the Sony Xperia neo L with a more powerful 1 GHz Scorpion processor, and the Xperia U with a dual core ARM Cortex A9 processor, what it the point of the Xperia J.

The Sony Xperia J is all about bringing a 4-inch display to the market at the lowest possible cost. It is starting to seem that soon all Androids will come with at least a 4-inch display.

The Xperia J has a very nice display with a 480 x 854 pixel resolution. The phones other specifications are decidedly entry level. But entry level is pretty good these days, with 4 GB of user storage, expandable via a MicroSD card and a 5 MP camera being all but minimum standards these days. The Sony Xperia J also comes with a large 1750 mAh battery,

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