Monday, February 28, 2011

Day 8 with the HTC Desire HD: Typing Speed and Size

The big 4.3-inch screen really enhances hand held web browsing
Typing Speed. For the nearly 5 years I have been using a phone with a physical QWERTY keyboard. When I got my first QWERTY messenger, a Nokia E61i, I swore that this was the perfect form factor for a phone. Great for typing SMS and firing up emails. When deciding to make a shift to a touchscreen phone, I thought about long and hard about getting one with a slide out QWERTY keyboard. The HTC Desire HD decision was an impulse buy. When I went to the store to buy a HTC, I was pretty much set on getting the HTC Desire Z. But seeing the 4.3-inch screen in action was just too compelling. 

As I feared, my typing speed went down. While a physical keyboard with small keys lends itself to touch typing, a small keyboard on a touchscreen does not. Most of my friends type on the touchscreen phones in landscape mode, and I did not find this too comfortable. So I persisted using the phone in the portrait mode with the virtual QWERTY keyboard. My typing speed slowed down due to plenty of wrong key presses. Experimenting a bit, I tried the Compact QWERTY keyboard, and my typing speed is back to normal. The Compact QWERTY keyboard is near as I can tell identical to BlackBerry's SureType keyboard.  The Compact QWERTY keyboard has two letters in one key, which means bigger keys. It utilizes T9 technology to determine which of the two letters you wanted to select.

Size. This is a big phone. It measure 123 x 68 x 11.8 mm. It does not lend itself too well to single handed operation. I did not realize how big it was, pretty much since coming from a pair of QWERTY messengers I am used to manipulating a phone with two hands all the time. I used the even wider E61i for two and a half years, which measures 117 x 70 x 13.9 mm, I guess I have gotten used to large phones. Still, the HTC Desire HD is a lot bigger than my last QWERTY messenger which measures in at 111.8 x 59.6 x 12.6 mm.

The size of the HTC Desire HD is a big part of its charm. The big screen endears. The wide case needed to hold the large screen might a bit to big to be usable for some.

All for now.

Android for Laptops?

A lot of the software we run today, ran fine back in the days when all we had under the hood was a 350MHz and 64GB of RAM. No matter how fast our processors become and how much RAM we utilize, Microsoft always manages to come up with an operating system to make us want to buy faster and faster hardware. Basically, Intel wants to sell newer faster hardware and Microsoft is happy to come out with a heavier operating system. True, we have gone a long way from DOS. But the migration from DOS to Windows 95 was by leaps and bounds. Windows 95 to Windows 7, is really just a series of small incremental increases. It is much better, but not all that revolutionary. 

I use two laptops, with modest specifications, one running MacOSX and the other running Ubuntu Linux. Both these operating systems are faster and run on hardware where Windows would  crawl. And felt those two were more efficient operating systems than Windows. The arrival of Apple's iPad last year showed just how much you can do with a power efficient 1GHz single core processor and 256MB of RAM. Roughly, this is less than 15% of the power you have in  the typical entry level Intel Core i3 laptop today. It is starting to make me wonder if what we need is a different operating system and a different architecture for ultraportable notebooks.  But it does not look like anyone is going to do that. 

At 2.3 pounds, the 11.6-inch MacBook Air is an amazing piece of hardware, limited
by the 5-hour battery life. I would really love to see a dual core ARM version running
a "less capable" OS but with 10-16 hour battery life.

Apple has iOS and OSX, so I do not see them coming up with this new lighter operating system personal computer operating system for laptops. MeeGo is backed by Intel, so I do not think that they would want to make that competitor of Windows powered computers. Google's Android would be the best choice, choice if you could get them back from the clouds with their Chrome OS.

While there have been a fair number of light efficient Linux based operating systems, the lack of a ecosystem of software developers has prevented it from taking hold. Android already has a developers flocking to it in droves and millions of users familiar with the operating system. Imagine an Android 3.0 on a ultraportable laptop with a keyboard and touchscreen? It is not like keyboards will no be available the Motorola XOOM and Samsung Galaxy 10.1. If you have gone from the 3.7-inch mobile phone to the 10.1-inch tablet, why not add an 11.6-inch and 13.3 inch laptop to the mix.

So what happens to the 16GB iPad "1"?

With just over two days to go till we get the actual specifications of the new Apple iPad 2. Specifications have been leaked by "reliable sources", the leaked specifications have been denied by "reliable sources". We do know we are seeing an iPad in two days. We are sure it will have at least one camera, a front facing one for use with Apple's FaceTime. We are sure it will have at least have double the memory, at least 512MB, since the iPhone already has that much. We are sure it will have a faster processor and GPU, since the current iteration already shows some degree of stutter when playing Angry Birds HD. At the same time, I am pretty sure we will see and evolution of the iPad, rather than something radically revolutionary come out. It is not Apple's nature to render it products obsolete in one year. But in the end, I am more interested in what happens to the original iPad, rather than what the iPad 2 will be like.

Will Apple follow its pricing and placement strategy that it uses with the MacBooks, which means the updated products replace the old, at a price point the same, or nearly the same price, as the previous product. Or will it follow the iPhone pricing and placement strategy, which means continuing to produce the lowest end version of the previous model and sell it at a lower price. With the new iPad 2 coming out, I am sure it is the end of the line for the iPad 32GB and 64GB models. But if Apple follows what it does with its iPhones, it will keep the 16GB model in production for another year, and sell it at a lower price. 

While the new iPad 2 is foreseen to be the biggest stumbling block for the Android tablets as they try to establish themselves in the tablet market, a lower cost iPad "1" 16GB model could be an even problem.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Philippine Android Community and Globe Android Apps

Yesterday, I attended the Second Philippine Android Community (PhAC) Meet Up. I found out about this group on Twitter (@PHL_Android). The group maintains a website where you can ask questions about Android devices. PhAC is the brainchild of a lady named Charo Nuguid. 

Some of the members of PhAC. Samsung Galaxy Tabs seemed
to be the most common Android device at the meet-up.
I attended the meet and greet since I was curious to find out what the group is about. During their first event on January 29, 2011, Cherry Mobile presented some of their Android products. The second event was held at Ramen Bar, The Venice Piazza, Upper McKinley Road, Taguig. Seating was limited to about 40, and you had to apply for tickets at the PhAC website through a service called Eventbrite which allows users to register online for tickets, and delivers the tickets via email. 

Princess Cruz of Globe Labs talks about Globe Android Apps
I had not realized that Globe Telecom has put so much effort towards Android App development. Globe Telecom even maintains a unit called Globe Labs for the purpose of promoting Android Development. It was my impression that Globe Telecom was more focused on the iPhone.

Princess Cruz, of Globe Labs, and several of the Android Developers who built apps for Globe Telecom were present to introduce their apps and answer questions. The most interesting App I saw yesterday was one called POST'T. This app allows you to post simultaneously to Facebook, Twitter and Plurk. If you use two or all of these services, this will save you time in having to update your status in different networks. POST'T was created by a group of Filipino Android Developers going by the name Team WSG.

The Globe Android apps can be downloaded by Globe subscribers through Globes App Zone. At present, Globe Telecom hosts 43 locally made Android Apps in their App Zone. So Globe has its own Android app store.  Nice people, good food and learning something new. All in all, a very interesting afternoon.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

TipidPC & TipidCP

TipidPC and TipidCP is a Philippine market and forum. TipidPC was originaly a trading post for second hand personal computers, parts and accessories. Today, you will find both second hand and brand new items for sale, with many retail stores actually offering their products in the market. Also, the forum, was added about seven years ago because of the  clamor of users (myself included). 

The site expanded to mobile phones with TipidCP. Which is a trading post and forum for mobile phones and accessories. Both sites are great places to buy and sell hardware and gadgets, especially hard to find items. It is a very good place to get help and "technical support". There are plenty of resident experts there. If it can be done with a computer or cellular phone, someone there has tried it, for better or worse.   

Friday, February 25, 2011

Day 5 with the HTC Desire HD: Applications and Content

Over decade ago I was a Power Downloader, I would spend hours on the net searching for the latest software. A friend of mine joked that the PC was a self-propagating hobby. He said "We download new software to improve our internet experience, and one we have optimized our PC, we use it our faster optimized PC to further improve our internet experience." Back than, on a  56kbps connection it was no joke. Today, I download Googles Chrome browser, add OpenOffice as my office suite, and grab a decent photo editor and an instant messenger from the net, and am good to go.

On my past smartphone phones, I do not recall downloading any software from my Microsoft powered HTC Tanager. On my Nokia 6600, Sony Ericsson P990, Nokia E61i and Samsung B7320, the only software I really added was that I actually used frequently was the Opera Mini Browser.

Astrid Tasks
The HTC Desire HD comes with an impressive set of software or applications out of the box. Aside from the mandatory contacts, calendar, browser and gallery a host of other useful applications are pre-installed. You have Adobe Reader, Quick Office, Google Maps, Locations, Navigation, an eBook reader, news readers, weather apps, and software to access Facebook, Flickr, Plurk and Facebook among others. In some cases, you have two pieces of software to choose from for the same function.

Still some key pieces of software are missing from the HTC Desire HD. There was no pre-installed to do list application, something which comes standard with Symbian and Windows Mobile 6.5. So I turned to the Android Market, which provides you with dozens of choices. More options than I want really. But based on recommendations on the web, I tried Astrik Tasks and gTasks, and opted to keep Astrid Tasks. There was no simple note taking application built-in so I downloaded ColorNote. The HTC Desire HD does not also come with an instant messenger installed, so I downloaded Yahoo Messenger. I am actually still trying to figure out which of the dozens of available unit converters to download.

While I really do not know for what use I also downloaded Google Goggles and Talking Tom. I also installed Click the City, which is a local (Philippine) app similar to locations, but providing you event, TV and movie schedules as well. I figure, sooner or later I will give in and download Angry Birds.

I was pretty surprised by the amount of free content. The HTC Desire HD comes with eight: Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cties, Bram Stocker Dracula, Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jack Londons White Fang, Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, Sun Tzu's The Art of War and Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter

Thursday, February 24, 2011

2011 MacBook Pro's roll out

Apple has released its new 13-inch MacBook Pro, 15-inch MacBook Pro and 17-inch MacBook Pro. The 13-inch MacBook Pro is available in two configurations: one with a 2.3 GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i5 and 320GB hard drive starting at $1,199; and one with a 2.7 GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i5 and 500GB hard drive starting at $1,499. The new 15-inch MacBook Pro is available in two models: one with a 2.0 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7, AMD Radeon HD 6490M and 500GB hard drive starting at $1,799 and one with a 2.2 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7, AMD Radeon HD 6750M and 750GB hard drive starting at $2,199. The new 17-inch MacBook Pro features a 2.2 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7, AMD Radeon HD 6750M and 750GB hard drive and is priced at $2,499. 

The model of interest to readers of this blog, is of course the 13-inch model. Aside from the dual Core i5, the 13-inch MacBook Pro gives up Nvidia graphics for the Intel HD Graphics 3000. It also incorporates the new Thunderbolt I/O (Light Peak), but we have to wait and see how that plays out.  They also cone with better webcams. SSD drives, in either 128MB, 256MB and 512MB are available as optional upgrades, but are not yet standard equipment.

The rumored lighter Macbook Air like body is nowhere to be seen.  The 13-inch model appears to have the same 12.8 x 8.9 x 1 inch aluminum unibody case as last years MacBook Pro, and the weight is not up slightly, at 4.5 pounds. Also the rumored dramatically longer battery life gives way to a 3-hour loss in battery life. USB 3.0 is also nowhere to be seen.

Not much has really changed. Even the screen resolution is still 1280 x 800 and not the rumored 1440 x 900. All-in-all a decent upgrade, but after all the rumors, well its a bit of a letdown, especially for the 13-inch model.

My own prediction was we would see the price of the entry level MacBook Pro come down to the same level as the entry level MacBook Air at about Php52K. I thought Apple would try to expand its market share be making it product more accessible to more consumers, like it did with it well priced iPad. That is not the case. The entry level MacBook Pro 13 is still priced at Php61,990. Same price as last years model.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and HTC Flyer pricing

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

GSM Arena has the prices for the newly announced 10.1-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab and the WiFi only model of the 7-inch HTC Flyer.  The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 will reportedly be sold for 700 Euros, that is almost Php42,000. The WiFi only Flyer, will retail for 500 Euros, or just under Php30,000.

HTC Flyer 

I do not know, but the Php24K WiFi only iPad 16GB is looking better by the day.

February 24, 2011 is XOOM day

The Motorola XOOM is out, and we now have our first reviews. I think this tablet's specifications are a bit too good, resulting in a price way to high... anyway on to the reviews:

Is the Xoom a real competitor to the iPad? Absolutely. In fact, it outclasses the iPad in many ways. Still, the end user experience isn't nearly where it needs to be, and until Google paints its tablet strategy and software picture more clearly, we'd suggest a wait-and-see approach. Honeycomb and the Xoom are spectacular -- unfortunately they're a spectacular work in progress.

In some ways, the Motorola Xoom is a bona fide next-generation tablet. Android 3.0 feels like a thoroughly modern and thoughtful OS, and the software and hardware work well together in certain respects, such as the high-quality video chats via the front-facing camera. On the other hand, this slate was surprisingly buggy in our testing, and the tablet app selection really pales in comparison to what you'll find on the iPad. 

The Motorola Xoom for Verizon Wireless is the best Android tablet yet, but with a lack of key features (like Flash video and SD card slot support) and mediocre apps at launch, it doesn't measure up to the Apple iPad.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Smartphone Postpaid Unlimited Mobile Internet Plans: Sun's Call and Surf, Globe's Super Surf and Smart's Unlimited Data Plan

Every broadband service provider claims to provide the highest speeds. If you go to various forums and check users experiences, feedbacks vary. Users of the same service will give different feedback. Some will find it fast, others would curse to the day they entered into a contract with the provider. Every new service starts out fast, and slows down as more and more persons subscribed to the service. Sometimes, a service which obtains a bad reputation in one area may provide fine service in another. Basically, there is no guaranty of performance with any service. 

Wireless connections, like the 3G mobile internet services offered by Globe Telecom, Smart Communications and Sun Cellular complicate this problem. This wireless mobile internet connections operate on near line of sigh technology. A service provider may provide excellent service in one area, but a building, tower, three or wall may result in severe degradation of service performance. Service providers also have a harder time allocating resources for the service, since the users are mobile, they cannot control how many users they allow to use the service in any given location, in any given day.

Best I can advice is before subscribing to a long terms plan, try it out for yourself, in the places you expect to use it. SIM cards are inexpensive these days, and acquiring one from each of the three providers will allow you to try the service. This does require a unlocked 3G capable phone. Hence, it may not be that easy to do. Prior to subscribing to Smart Communications Unlimited Data plan, I tried out Globe's and Sun's offerings. My own experience was that both Globe and Sun's services provided faster speeds in given areas, than Smarts services. Smart and Globe have the widest 3G coverage. In extreme locations like in Tali Beach at the edge Batangas only Smart Communications had a usable 3G connection. Globe, for the speed of its service, might completely fail somewhere as popular as Bag of Beans in Tagaytay City, and I am not talking just 3G here. 

Still one person experience may or may not be relevant to you. Another way to get information is through a local forum like TipidCP. I started a discussion there on Postpaid Unlimited Mobile Internet Plans for Smartphones and very few people seemed to be interested. As near as I can tell, not many people subscribe to unlimited 3G services for use on their mobile phones. From a sister site, TipidPC, most 3G connections are really service as mobile broadband services for laptops. Still, the few feedbacks given is comforting. No one is really complaining about the service that they signed up for. 

The few Globe Super Surf Users, report high speeds, as high as 2.5 mbps and downloading 300 megabytes in 30 minutes. The few Sun broadband users report that there are areas even in Metro Manila where they do not get a 3G signal, and only can avail of data via the slower GPRS network. The few Smart users, are happy with their speeds, but given restrictions on use, no one is really testing speeds.    

So, what does each service offer, and which one is best for you?

Cost. Sun Cellular offers the lowest cost call, text and unlimited data service. For as low as Php799 a month Sun Cellular offers its Call and Surf Plans which provides unlimited data services, with calls and texts billed over the base price of Php799. For Php999, Sun Cellular will throw in unlimited calls and text within the Sun network, and with a two year lock in a low end Android mobile phone (Samsung Galaxy 5 or Sony Ericsson X8). 

Globe Telecom has a different approach to providing data services. It is provides unlimited data as a Php1,200 add on over any of its postpaid plans. At present, the price of the service is offered at a promotional rate of Php999 per month. With Globe Plan 3799, the unlimited data service is thrown in as a freebie. With a two year lock-in, you can avail of a free smartphone. The main drawback of the Globe solution is that that Php1,200/999 add-on is not considered in determine what free phone you are entitled to. If you get decide to commit to a Php1,499 call, text and unlimited data service, that would be Plan 299, plus Php1,200 for the data service, you can only avail of phone available at Plan 299.

Smart Communications offers its Smart Gold Unlimited Data Plan, which it calls it's MENSA Plans. The lowest package is Plan 1500, which provides unlimited data together with 60 free minutes of calls and 120 free SMS to all networks. Higher plans (Plan 2000, 3000 and 4000) bundle in more free minutes of calls, more free SMS and with a two year lock-in, you can avail of higher end smartphones for free as part of the package.   

In terms of cost, Sun Cellular is the cheapest, and the low rates can be bundled with a phone to make the service worthwhile. Depending on the mobile phone you want, and the plan you avail off Globe and Smart offer similar rates, with Smart offering better deals on the lower and mid level plans, while Globe provides a better package at the higher end plans, like those willing to spend Php3,799 a month.  

How unlimited? Sun Cellular Service is uncapped. The company promises to provide you with whatever amount of data you need. Sun even advertises it service for users who have "heavy data requirements." While this may sound good to the customer, those who were early adopted to this kind of technology, Globe's Visibility know the dangers of that kind of a set-up. Users may use the data service as a modem for a laptop or desktop and continuously download gigabytes of files in a day. This could cost the service to degrade due to congestion.

Globe having learned from its long experience providing 3G services, wisely provides a 800MB per day cap for their plan after which the data connection is cut till the next day. While 800MB's might not be enough for someone planning to use the service as a modem for their laptop or desktop, it is more than enough for use with a mobile phone. You are more likely to drain the battery of your mobile phone till it shutdowns rather than hit the 800MB daily cap. Some users report that the cap is not strictly enforced, and that they have been able to exceed the cap while other confirm the 800MB daily limit.

Smart Communications has a 1.5 GB cap per month, after which they reserve the right to slow/throttle  down your connection speed, until monthly cut-off date of your plan. While 1.5GB is the lowest, and may not sound like much. It is more than enough to keep you connected to your social networks, manage your email, a fair amount of web browsing and watch the occasional video. While usage may vary depending on the websites you visit I usually consume between 10MB to 25MB per hour of web browsing.  Watching a video can consume 5MB's is one minute. Smart's 1.5GB caps would seem to small to many. But looking looking at plans and pricing abroad seems to be correct for the amount of money paid. In the long run, this should result in a reliable and dependable service.

Restrictions on use. Sun Cellular has no restrictions on use. Globe Telecom also has no restrictions on use of their data plan. Sun and Globe do not limit the applications you can use, and you are even allowed to tether your mobile phone to a laptop or desktop and use it as a modem. The exception is Globe's BlackBerry data plan add-on which does not allow tethering, or the use of the mobile phone as a modem, and does not include streaming video.

Smart's unlimited data plan specifically prohibits the use of the plan for tethering, which also means you should not use the hot spot feature of your device. This restriction will be a deal breaker fro many. But look at it this way, you won't have to worry that connection in a particular area will be very slow because a few other users in the same area are drawing a large stream of continuous data downloading files using torrent clients. Smart also restricts the use of some applications like some email clients and services which fall under it list of value added services. Best you consult Smart Customer service to see if the plan offered meets your needs.

This is the best I can do way of a guide. If you need more information, best visit this thread: Postpaid Unlimited Mobile Internet Plans for Smartphones and post a question. The friendly people at TipidCP will surely do their best to answer your queries. 

Day 3 with the HTC Desire HD: Managing battery life

I am still focused on how to manage the battery life of my HTC Desire HD. The HTC Desire HD finished charging just before midnight, and I opted to turn of data, both WiFi and 3G, while I slept. I activated date when I woke up in the morning. I also decided to keep the data off, while I have my laptop on. Since both my laptop and smartphone are getting updates from the same services, it does not seem to make sense to keep both running. Having spend most of the day in the office, by 6:00 P.M. I still had six bars, which dropped down to five bars (50%) twenty minutes later. With minimal use data turned off, and just one phone call and a half dozen SMS, my consumption was much lower than the first day. It looks like this phone could easily get more than 36 hours of battery life with such use.

But that really defeats the purpose of getting a Android Smartphone in the first place. Trying to figure out how to manage battery life, I turned to the Battery University for tips. On Lithium Ion batteries one piece of advice was:

"Avoid frequent full discharges because this puts additional strain on the battery. Several partial discharges with frequent recharges are better for lithium-ion than one deep one. Recharging a partially charged lithium-ion does not cause harm because there is no memory. (In this respect, lithium-ion differs from nickel-based batteries.) Short battery life in a laptop is mainly cause by heat rather than charge / discharge patterns."  

The site also says that "Lithium-ion does not need to be fully charged; a partial charge is better."

This advice solves most of my battery life issues. Top it off at night and keep data off. Do a full or partial recharge mid-day in the office. On days when I am on field the whole day. The fifteen hours on data I got on my first day, with a fair amount of use, should be enough.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Around the Web - Not all is well on the Android tablet front

Engadget reports  that the Motorola Xoom won't support flash at its launch. The feature will be added in Spring 2011 (March to May 2011). Waiting a bit for flash is fine. Price is the problem, the US$600 price for the WiFi only model is fair, but a even lower spec'd unit at a lower price would be nice. The US$799 price for the 3G model, well we do not not expect to see many selling at that price.

HTC Flyer - A 7-inch tablet

The HTC Flyer looks like it is going to be another 30K or so Android tablet. Well, based on pre-order prices found by

Jon Stokes of ars technica writes about why he does not care about tablets anymore. While, I like Jon really have no interest in tablets, I think it is fair to say that for anyone who writes long documents, they will not be replacing their laptops with a tablet. On the other hand, there are many people who really do not need a laptop.  For web browsing, social networking, viewing videos and pictures, as well as  some light productivity, that is what the tablet is designed for. 

Apple's lower cost iPads do that at a decent price. Being content consumption, rather than content creation devices, I really do not see the need for a lot of horse power under the hood. Being primarily an accessory device, lower prices are a must. So far, the Android tablets have failed to deliver on the lower price part. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Day 1 with the HTC Desire HD

I decided to take the plunge and picked up a HTC Desire HD. Many things told me I should not buy this phone. It is more than I really need, based on all reviews it runs out of juice really fast, but after looking a more reasonable options, this monster SnapDroid was just to hard to resist. I am not going to try to review this phone. I has been done before, and I don't have the know how to really conduct a good review. 

If you are looking for a HTC Desire HD review here are some good ones: - HTC Desire HD Review
Phone Arena - HTC Desire HD Review

Battery life. If you have read all those reviews, your biggest concern will be battery life. Well, it does not disappoint. As the reviews stated, battery life is not it strongest selling point.

I unplugged the Desire HD from the charger at 5:40 A.M. this morning, with Google Sync set to sync email, calendar and contacts, Twitter is set to update every four hours, and news and weather every six. Set to always be on, either connected via WiFi or 3G (in the absence of a WiFi connection), it got me to 9:25 P.M., at which time it was down to 15% and plugged it to the wall.

After unplugging the phone I went over to the Android Market and installed  a Twitter update, ClicktheCity (a local app which gives you movie and TV schedules, events and the like), Yahoo Messenger and Google Goggles. Throughout the day, four phone calls, maybe about 15 minutes. Am not big on SMS, but today was heavy, received more than 30 texts and sent out 30 responses. Received seven emails and replied to two. Browsed the web for a few minutes, and spend some time customizing the UI. Tried out Google Maps and GPS. Put a slate wallpaper to try to save on battery. A bit less than 16 hours ate 85% of my battery life.  

I am not disappointed, I got this phone expecting to have to charge it every day. And like I said, it does not disappoint. 
On the one hand, this is a completely impractical phone. It has a screen so big that I can understand why it sucks juice so fast. It has an OS with so many cool battery draining widgets. Despite all this, all I can say I love the HTC Desire HD. After a day with the 4.3-inch screen, there is no going back. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Acer Iconia-484G64ns dual touchscreen laptop

The dual touchscreen Acer Iconia laptop has landed on Philippine shores. This dual touchscreen laptop can be used as a giant 28-inch tablet, or a 14-inch laptop with a virtual keyboard. Running Windows 7 and powered by a Intel Core i5 with 4GB's of RAM, this is certainly a powerful package. The 4-cell 4400 mAh battery running two 14-inch screens guarantees short battery life. At over six pounds, it wont be easy to carry around. It certainly is interesting. I just really do not know why anybody would want one. Villman's is selling it for Php70,896. At that price, buying a tablet plus a laptop seems like a better idea. 

Around the Web - $600 Xoom, Angry Birds and people who hate phones

Motorola Xoom tablet at US$600. Red Herring reports that the WiFi only version Motorola Xoom, a 10-inch dual core Android tablet will be sold at US$600. This is a lot cheaper than the 3G (upgradeable to 4G) version which will  be sold at US$799. This places is at about the same prices as the 32GB WiFi only version of the iPad, which is sold in the Philippines for Php28,990. The WiFi only Xoom should be sold here for about the same price. At the price, the Xoom would appear to be the better deal. The price is a bit too high to gain wide acceptance though. 

Angry Birds coming to Windows Phone 7. Pocket-lint reports that Rovio is working on Angry Birds for Windows Phone 7 as well as a 3D version.  No release date has been announced.

Device stress tests. is a website dedicated to, well destroying mobile phones. They drop, squeeze, bend and scratch mobile phones to see how well the they will survive in the real world. They subject the phones to extreme heat, expose them to dust, submerge them in water and beer, freeze them... they even put them in a drum with keys, coins and other things a spin it around at high speed.

They beat up an HTC Desire and gate it 59 out of 100 points. They put the reputedly indestructible Nokia N8 to the same test, and faired even worse garnering 53 out of 100 points. Apple's fragile looking iPhone 4, turned out to be nearly indestructible, getting 94 out of 100 points.     

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Are you tethered to your laptop?

Is the Web your virtual cage?

Twelve years ago, I got my first very own desktop and my first very own dial up connection. With a 60 hour per month dial up internet plan. Sitting in front of my desktop for a few hours a day, became part of my daily ritual. When WiFi became widely widely available in 2005, it became sufficient incentive to get a my first personally owned laptop, and my daily ritual became mobile. After that, I jumped into the 3G bandwagon, giving me even more connectivity options.

From browsing my favorite sites for purely purposes of entertainment, trolling my favorite forums,  connecting to friends around the world via instant messengers, to more "serious" activities like keeping tab of my business contacts via email, following the news and using online commerce to get the best deals. After six years plugged into my desktop, for the past six (6) years I feel like I am tethered to my laptop. 

I am no power user. I do not spend my time downloading content by torrent. For entertainment, I still like cable TV, frequenting the theaters and interacting with the real world.  Now, I have more time to do this.

When my carrier offered unlimited data plans combined with call and SMS functions, it cut this twelve year umbilical cord. Using Twitter to follow my favorite sites, instead of browsing my favorite sites to see what is new, I get to follow a mobile phone during times of day which were "wasted" before. I get the news  through my mobile phone too. I do not have to take time to find a place to flip open my laptop and connect to the internet to check my Gmail box. 

While sitting in a conference room waiting for a meeting, waiting for my wife in the parking lot of the school where she teaches, while having a haircut and those other idle times of the day, that is the time now used to stay connected to the World Wide Web. The more productive use of "idle" time gives me back the two hours hour per days I used spend staring into a CRT monitor and a laptop LCD screen, and spend more time here...

Smart's Netphone and WAC

We recently wrote about, what we call, the ChinaDroid. These are low cost, good quality Google Android powered powered phones which we expect to proliferate in the local market soon.  At the 2011 World Mobile Congress, Smart Communications revealed it first "Netphone." The unit displayed was the Netphone was a Smart badged ZTE Blade. This is a 3.5-inch touchscreen Android, with a 800x480 pixel resolution screen powered by a 600MHz processor and 512MB of RAM (specifications may vary). The phone runs Google's Android 2.2. The announced retail price is a surprisingly low Php5,000-Php7,000.

Smarts Netphone is a re-branded ZTE Blade

However, this is more than just another ChinaDroid. Other than the very decent specifications, the other interesting feature of this phone is that is  a WAC platform. WAC stands for Wholesale Applications Community. WAC is an organisation that is trying to create a unified and open platform to allow mobile software developers to more easily write applications usable on a variety of devices, operating systems and networks.  At least 48 companies are members of the organisation. The Smart Netphone is powered by Google's Android 2.2 operating system with the WAC software managed by Red Bend Software. The WAC platform will allow users to access widgets pushed directly through Red Bend.

While this may all sound good, I do not high hopes for the WAC platform. Is there really a need for a system of delivering universal widgets when the browser can be that mechanism? In a feature phone world, this would have been a useful service, but with Android devices becoming more and more affordable Smart Communication might be better off focusing on offering localized application through the Android Market or preloaded on Smart branded Android phones. In the end, WAC creates another app store, to compete with the existing Apple, Google and Microsoft app stores.

But you from a carrier standpoint, this is a way to regain control of their market. From the 1990's until 2007, carriers were responsible for most technology innovations like SMS, email via SMS, voicemail, MMS and high speed networks. During the last few years, innovation in mobile services is migrating to the handset manufacturer and software developers. Instead of needing the operators to provide new and exciting services for which they could charge, all smartphone owners really want from a operator now is voice, SMS and data services. With the data services, the user can avail of services which used to be the domain of the carrier.

By way of example, Smart's SMART FINDER service  allows you to find the nearest restaurant, ATM, gas station, bank or any other establishment for a fee of Php5.00 through SMS, WAP or the internet. With modern GPS enabled smartphones, the same services are provided by Google through its Places application. All you need to pay for is the data connection. Wide adoption of a web based messaging platform could even threaten income from SMS services. WAC is a way to get carriers back in the game.

Will this initiative succeed? I do not think so. The internet has been successful because of the freedom it offers. No one wants to be given a menu of apps to use and additional software running in the background. As for the Netphone itself. Carrier back low cost Android devices will certainly be a hit provided they are not so hampered by bloatware that it hampers their performance.

Around the Web - Smartphones, Windows Phone 7 and Gingerbread updates

The year of the smartphone (not the tablet). PhoneArena has a report on a study by Gartner's showing what gadgets U.S. consumers intend to buy in 2011:

  1. Smartphone
  2. Laptop
  3. Desktop PC
  4. Mobile handset (other than smartphone)
  5. E-book reader
  6. Media tablet

Despite all the tablet hype, it looks like more traditional products like smartphones and laptops top the wish list. I really won't be replacing my MacBook Air till 2012, at least, but I do want a new smartphone. I do not have any plans of buying any of the four items on the list. After using my wife's tablet, on and off, for a month, it is not just for me.

Nokia to manufacture low end Windows Phone 7 devices. PhoneArena reports that part of the deal between Microsoft and Nokia is to allow Nokia to manufacture low end handsets... I do not think this is really news. Since you won't be seeing the first Nokia Windows Phone 7 devices till October 2011, and not in substantial numbers by 2012, but that time 1GHz processors and 800x480 screens will be dime a dozen lower end devices.

HTC to bring Gingerbread love to all first generation devices. The HTC Desire, Desire HD and Desire Z will be getting Gingerbread updated a month or two after the release of the HTC Desire S. Since the Desire S is due for release on April 18, 2011, than you can expect the first generation Desires to receive their updates by June of 2011. Source: Phone Arena.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Is 2011 the year of the ChinaDroid army?

This article rambles a bit, so please bear with me. The year 2010 say Google's Android Operating System rise into prominence, and is poised to be the most common smartphone operating system in the world. For many a mobile phone manufacturer, Android can be credited with getting them back in the game. Google's Android O.S. reversed the flagging fortunes of Motorola, made HTC which used to exclusively manufacture only Microsoft Windows smartphones a tier one smartphone manufacturer, and is giving Samsung the needed boost in the smartphone segment to become the world top mobile phone manufacturer.  

In 2010 we saw the March of the Android army. But Google's Android also poses a threat to the companies which rely on it so heavily. We have seen cheap China iPhone and Nokia phones for years, and many legitimate and interesting designs from smaller manufacturers like Huawei, ZTE and other OEM manufacturers. No matter how good these phones might look, or how good their hardware might be, in the end the relation of a Nokia N96 or iPhone 4 knock off might be, without a decent operating system under the hood,  the similarity would only be skin deep.

That is starting to change. Google Android is free license. It does not cost anything to put it on a phone. All you have to do is to build a phone with sufficient hardware to run it. While these 500-600MHz processors and higher resolution screens may have been expensive in the past, they are now coming on bargain basement smartphones. 

I saw an add yesterday of Smart Communication offering a Smart IDEOS Android, and offering it for free a Plan 500. This Smart IDEOS is actually a Smart branded Huawei U8150 IDEOS, offered for free under a two year Php500 per month contract. Globe Telecom is also offering this phone free at Plan 499.

This 2.8-inch touchscreen smartphone has specifications nearly identical to Samsung entry level Android, the Android Galaxy 5. The Huawei U8150 IDEOS should undercut the price of the Samsung Galaxy 5 by 10-20%, and the IDEOS actually runs Android 2.2, while the Galaxy 5 is still waiting for an update for its Android 2.1 operating system. The Huawei U8150 IDEOS runs on the same  528 MHz ARM 11 processor, Adreno 200 GPU, Qualcomm MSM7225 chipset, that powers the much more expensive HTC's Wildfire. Later this year we will see the higher end ZTE Blade and a host of other Smart branded Android smartphones and tablets. 

Basically, the Google Android OS can convert the small China phone manufacturer into a contender overnight. The same Google OS which reversed Motorola's fortunes and brought HTC and Samsung to new heights will likely do the same for Huawei, ZTE and a host of other smaller manufacturers. Your next low cost China phone will be a full fledged powerful Droid.

HTC has invested heavily in customizing its Sense user interface and cloud services to create brand loyalty and differentiate it from the rest of the Androids in the market. In the same way Samsung is developing it TouchWiz interface, as pushing the limits of technology. I would not be surprised if Samsung made their latest innovations "exclusive" to their own phones for some time. But still, the larger manufacturers will be under pressure from lower priced Android smartphones from smaller manufacturers. The second wave of the Android Armies march to supremacy might be spearheaded by the ChinaDroids.

I wonder if this consideration, did not weigh on the mind of Nokia CEO Stephen Elop when he opted to go with Windows Phone 7. Windows Phone 7 would allow Nokia to retain a certain level of exclusivity. Just imagine if the upcoming Nokia N9 and it's knockoff, the Nokya N9 were both running Android 2.4.

MWC 2011 Awards

The awards for best products of 2010 were given out at Mobile World Congress 2011.

  • Best Mobile App - Angry Birds
  • Best Mobile Device - Apple iPhone 4
  • Best Device Manufacturer - HTC

You can see the full list of awardees here.

Which Android manufacturers can be trusted to upgrade their phones?

J.R. Raphael of ComputerWorld wrote an article entitled Android upgrades: Which manufacturers can you trust. It studies which manufacturers provide support to their phones in terms of upgrading them to the latest version of Android based on 2010 date. Here are the results:

It is a very good read. Read the rest of the article at this link.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Three new 2011 HTC Androids and a tablet

Here are some details on three new HTC Android smartphones and a Android tablet.

HTC Incredible S

Screen: 4-inch, 800 x 480.
Processor: 1GHz Qualcomm MSM8255
RAM: 768MB 
Rear Camera: 8 megapixel autofocus camera with dual-LED flash
Front Camera: 1.3 megapixel
Video Recording: 720p HD video-capable 
Battery: 1450mAh 
O.S.: Android 2.2 

HTC Desire S

Screen: 3.7-inch, 800 x 480.
Processor: 1GHz Qualcomm MSM8255
RAM: 768MB 
Rear Camera: 5 megapixel autofocus camera with LED flash
Front Camera: 1.3 megapixel
Video Recording: 720p HD video-capable 
Battery: 1450mAh 
O.S.: Android 2.3

HTC Wildfire S

Screen: 3.2-inch, 480 x 320.
Processor: 600MHz (Arm 11 Processor?)
RAM: 512MB
Rear Camera: 5 megapixel autofocus camera with LED flash
Front Camera: 1.3 megapixel
Video Recording: 720p HD video-capable 
Battery: 1230mAh 
O.S.: Android 2.3

HTC Flyer Tablet

Screen: 7-inch, 1024 x 600
Processor: 1.5GMHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor
Rear Camera: 5 megapixel autofocus camera with LED flash
Front Camera: 1.3 megapixel
Video Recording: 720p HD video-capable
Battery: Unknown  
O.S.: Android 2.4

Hhhhmmm... where is the dual core HTC Desire HD S we have been hearing about.

My thoughts on MWC 2011 and the dual core craze

Mobile World Congress 2011 is on, an as expected Samsung, Sony Ericsson, HTC and practically every other company is releasing a new dual core smartphone. We also have a whole slew of new dual core tablets. Tegra 2 is the buzzword. The question is why do we need this? If you old smartphone runs Android 2.1, it will run Android 2.2 and 2.3 faster that it ran 2.1. Android 3.0 has a really nice interface, but you really wont be able to take advantage of it to the fullest until you have apps designed to optimize the dual core structure.

The only advantage I see right now of a device with a dual core processor is the capability to capture 1080p video recording and playback 1080p video content. If this is important to you, by all means, jump on the dual bandwagon.

The question is, how many app developers will develop exclusively for dual core smartphones? I would guess most app developers would want to target a wider market who will still be using devices with processors running from 600MHz to 1GHz and half a gig of RAM or less.

Samsung Galaxy S2

The are some innovations that really are nice to see, at MWC 2011, beyond this more trend to provide more power. With the Samsung Galaxy S2 we have the new Samsung Super AMOLED+ display. It is supposed to provide you with a 80% reduction in battery consumption. Longer battery life is something we do need in todays smartphones. At the same time, Samsung's TouchWiz 4.0 is also a very welcome development.

I think there should be less focus on raw power, and more focus on the user experience. Longer battery life and a more user friendly interface. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

The real reason why Nokia chose Windows Phone 7

Choosing Windows Phone 7 as Nokia's primary smartphone strategy is  actually in line with their Symbian strategy. Nokia really had to find a replacement for Symbian as a smartphone OS. There is really not much more than can do about making a OS designed for a keypad friendly to a touchscreen. 

By 2011 this is what their line-up will look like by the 3rd quarter of the year:
  • High end: WP7
  • Mid Level/Entry Level Smartphone: Symbian S^3
  • Feature Phone: Symbian S40
Technically, right now Nokia does not have a "high end" smartphone. The N8's price is really more mid-level and it competes against one year old Android in price point.

By 2012:
  • High end: WP7
  • Mid Level: WP7
  • Entry Level Smartphone: Symbian S^3
  • Feature Phone: Symbian S40

If Nokia had chosen Android, well they could, and would have to put it, on all their smartphones as soon as possible. If Nokia promoted Android as their premium product, it would promote all their competitors mid and entry level Androids. This kill all their mid-level Symbian's today. What would they do with their existing stocks. Sell them at fire sale prices?

Right now though. Unless there is no Apple iOS, Google Android or Microsoft WP7 option at the same price point. It does not make sense to buy a Symbian S^3 anymore.

Nokia may try to support it. Nokia will try to convince there is still a future in Symbian, but who will still build apps for it? Symbian S^3 is dead. Nokia will try to flog Symbian S^3 into the market until, WP7 can be feasibly sold at lower price points.

Besides, once they finish their Symbian stocks, they can always use Android in the lower end smart phones.

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop - First priority is beating Android

Engadget reports that Nokia CEO Stephen Elop said in his speech the the Mobile World Congress that Nokia's "first priority is beating Android."

Forbes reports that the selection of Windows Phone 7 as Nokia primary smartphone strategy and this war against Android is because "the viral popularity of Google’s Android platform. Elop spent much of the hour-long event, which was held in a dimly-lit Barcelona casa, emphasizing the threat that Android poses to all the players in the mobile ecosystem should it be allowed to grow too dominant. Android’s rapid growth, said Elop, could turn the mobile industry into a duopoly, split between Android and Apple’s iOS devices."

This argument from Nokia is totally ludicrous. There was a time, not so long ago, that they were the "Android" of Mobile Operating Systems. In fact, Android has not yet reached the heights that the Symbian OS once held. 

It looks like this is an extension of the Microsoft v. Google fight. Someone should remind Mr. Elop that he is CEO of Nokia and not Microsoft. His priority should be to make Nokia No. 1.

7-inch tablets do appear to be “dead on arrival”

Steve Jobs said back in October 2010 when he described 7-inch tablets as “dead on arrival”, and that “this size isn’t sufficient to create great tablet apps.” It is starting to look like he might be correct. While my wife and I love the 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab, and I would really be interested in a 7-inch (or even smaller 6-inch) Apple iPad, it looks like 7-inch tablets are indeed “dead on arrival”.

First, Google's Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) appears to be made for larger screens. I am not sure if Google or a manufacturer will modify the Android 3.0 interface scale down to the smaller 7-inch screen, but if you click the image below and view the image on your 7-inch Android, it does not scale well. 

Second, Google has chosen the Motorola Xoom as their "reference" platform. The Motorola Zoom has a 10.1-inch, 1280 x 800pixel resolution screen. 

Third, the new Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (officially the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1)  which will run Android 3.0 will also have a 10.1-inch screen, 1280 x 800 pixel resolution screen. The Android 3.0 LG Optimus Pad tablet has a 8.9-inch, 1280 x 800 pixel resolution screen.

There may not be a chance to find out if 7-inch Android 3.0 tablets will be dead on arrival. So far, all the tablets running the official Google tablet operating system, Android 3.0, are coming out in platforms larger than 7-inches.  

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Smart's "Unlimited" Data Plan

Smart Communications started offering their Smart Gold Data Plan months four months ago. The plans combine unlimited data services with voice and SMS usage in one plan.

Billing issues. At the outset, despite the plan being a "unlimited" data plan, users have been billed for additional data charges under the standard rate of Php10 for 30 minutes for other postpaid and pre-paid plans. I myself have had the same problem, and the solution of many seems to be to seek a bill reversal. I have ask for a clarification of the "permitted" uses two weeks ago but to date have not yet received a definite response. Customer Service Representatives at the SMART Wireless Centers are unable to clarify the billing issues, and are awaiting the response from the head office. So at the present time, it is hard to determine how "unlimited" in terms of data this plan is. With that caveat, we will give our review of the service. 

Mobile phone date plan. One of the biggest objections to this plan is the 1.5GB data limit per month, after which Smart can slow down your connection. Granted 1.5GB per month is not a lot for a regular internet connection and another thing that should be stressed, using this plan as a modem for a laptop is not permitted. If that is what you need look elsewhere. But the 1.5GB  is more than enough for a smartphone data connection. 

In their review of the HTC Desire Z, stated  "it’s an utter waste investing on a smartphone above P25,000 if you don’t subscribe to a data plan to maximize its features." In this review we want to examine this proposition.

Three years ago, internet on the mobile phone revolved around the web browser and voice over internet protocol (VOIP). The plans available offering time based internet access in 15 or 30 minute blocks were designed around this paradigm. If your purpose in availing of a data plan is internet surfing using a web browser or VOIP over Skype, you are better off with a time based plan. Watching a low resolution (360p) video on YouTube can consume over 5MB's in 1 minute. Making video calls over Skype result in large amounts of data consumption. For that type of use, your 1.5GB allocation can be consumed in just a few hours.

In addition, mobile internet services are dependent on many factors, but the main one is location. 3G data is transmitted using Near Line of Sight Technology. A tree or wall could seriously degrade the connection speed which could result in a lot of waiting heavy data use simply not feasible on a mobile internet connection. 

Today, internet on the mobile phone revolved no longer revolved around the web browser. Dedicated applications for accessing email, social networking sites, news, weather and other information can allow you to obtain the same information you would using a web browser at a fraction of the data usage. Data retrieval can also be automated so that it can be ready for you when you decide to look at it, and not have to retrieve the data on demand. 

Basically, it is a good plan which makes a smartphone a smartphone. But until the billing issues are resolved, it is really just one big head-ache. 

March 2011 update. Thanks to the help of Smart Communications Customer Service and Technical the problem of additional billing appears to be limited to using two applications: (1) the Opera Mini Browser and (2) Microsoft Active Sync based email clients. The Opera Mini browser is not the default browser on any modern smartphone, though it is useful since it reduces data usage. But I can live without it. On Android phones, the Microsoft Active Sync based email client is just the secondary email client so not being able to use it is not a deal breaker. Other than these two applications, I have been able to use all other Android applications without any problems. 

April 2011 update. For the most part every is fine. For the second month I got charged Php20 for 30 minute web browsing charges, and Php45 for the third month for web browsing (Php30) and video streaming (Php15). The amount is to small for we to bother complaining about. Am pretty sure the charges this month came from the YouTube application and widget. I do not use this one my phone, but it was updated last month so I tried out what the new app looked like. I am not sure if I did this on 3G or WiFi, but I have no other video streaming apps on my phone.

Best advice, if you get this plan and do not want to incur additional data charges do not use (1) the Opera Mini Browser, (2) Microsoft Active Sync based email clients and (3) YouTube or any other video streaming clients. I am still trying to get a clarification, especially since Smart banner does have the YouTube icon prominently displayed.        
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