iPad versus Android

We’re now looking at nearly 2 years since the launch of the original iPad and though the device retains some of the magic, those of us there at the beginning are no longer in awe of the fantastic design that has made so many millions for Apple and changed the way we work and play.

It now seems fairly natural to be walking around with a slim glass-and-aluminium device that’s more powerful than mainstream PCs of just a few years ago – so the only questions is – WHICH tablet should we be carrying?

I recently got my hands on a 7” Android tablet running “Gingerbread” – or Android 2.3.  Since then we’ve seen “Honeycomb” and finally “Ice Cream Sandwich” but most of the cheaper tablets are running 2.3 or lower.

To be honest I would not waste my time with anything LESS than version 2.3 is it’s fore-runners were never designed for tablet use.

Until now I’ve avoided Android tablets altogether for a number of reasons including the absolutely useless “resistive” displays that many of the cheaper ones employ. These are of the old-fashioned variety you have to press on to get any response and they are deeply unsatisfying to use. One of the iPad’s best features is the utterly responsive “capacitive” display which requires no finger pressure AT ALL to work – and so that for me is the minimum I’m prepared to look at.

The Yuandao N12 Fast Tab is one of dozens of 7” tablets out there that runs Android 2.3 and on the surface of it, it’s a mini-iPad..  the 7” format means it fits comfortably into a big hand and you’d expect that to be a big plus compared to the iPad’s rather larger format. In fact there is little apparent difference in weight.

So, in 2012 how to Android and Apple stack up?

The N12 is CHEAP – I’ve seen it at £100 including VAT in the UK so it’s not in the same league as iPad price-wise or feature-wise.

Let’s look at the pluses and minuses of this particular tablet – which is not untypical of the far-eastern offerings available right now..

Minus

  • Battery life –claimed to be 20 hours standby and 5 hours video – yes, if you are lucky, more like it 4 hours of use. The iPad has never run out on standby in the time I’ve had it and gets around 10 hours of video NO PROBLEM.
  • Microsoft Exchange – The M12 cannot handle any but the simplest of Exchange setups – if the setup won’t work with email and password, there seems to be no way to get into manual setup – this is a MAJOR omission for corporate use.
  • Display – fast and responsive but ultimately at 800*480 pixels it’s an overgrown phone and the pixilation is obvious, even watching movies.
  • WIFI – the WIFI is very insensitive, picking up less signal than many phones and dropping out occasionally.
  • Limited memory – a common Android problem, although the unit has 8GB internally with access to an external memory stick, it seems that even though you can move Apps into this larger space, there is an internal CORE of 512MB RAM (this is a common limit – see specs – APPLE do NOT have such a limit) and even Apps in external memory use up SOME of this 512MB RAM which soon gets eaten up – putting a limit on how many Apps you can install – this is really unacceptable but somehow manages to escape most reviews.
  • Speed – not quite fast enough to make good use of Flash – one of the so-called Apple-killer features, the Flash performance is poor.
  • Finish – the unit has a nice Aluminium finish which unfortunately has sharp edges – after repeated handling while, say, watching a movie, tends to get annoying. This sharp edging appears to be common among the Chinese offerings
  • Reliability – the hardware seems reliable enough but Gingerbread is chocker full of bugs – the language control means that some menu items come up in Chinese no matter what you do and installations can easily be messed up.
  • The Android market has some gaping holes compared to Apple, the latter having an excellent PDF reader (GoodReader) and several other business tools missing from Android market.
  • Front-only camera which is poor quality and not that reliable – only sometimes works with Skype. No back camera.
  • No Bluetooth – yes you heard it  – no Bluetooth (the iPhone 4 and iPad2 reliably handle 2 simultaneous Bluetooth connections – in my car for example the phone is Bluetooth hands-free but also talks to a separate Bluetooth unit to play audio through the car stereo – something the old 3GS could not quite tackle)
  • No sign of upgrades available – website is in Chinese, very little English discussion on the web.
  • Large border area around the screen.
  • 16:9 wide format

Plus

  • The 7” format would fit into a large coat pocket and just feels nice
  • The screen is bright and responsive
  • The Android market has come a long way and although still full of rubbish, there are some hidden gems in there – many of which are free.
  • External memory means no limit to movies you can store on the device.
  • USB means external keyboard is easy to implement (though Bluetooth would be more convenient)

Summary

Based on the above – for me the ideal would be a 7” tablet with little border area i.e. mostly screen, running a later version of Android which properly handled Microsoft Exchange, on a tablet with at least 1024 pixels wide, rounded corners, 6-10 hour battery life, Bluetooth, sensitive WIFI, at least 1Gb internal working RAM, preferably more.

With current improvements to the Android Market, there is definitely a place for these devices. If you look at the likes of the Samsung S2 phone – slim, incredibly light, super display – think of one of those stretched to 7” or so and I reckon there is definitely a place for such a device provided the price is right (i.e. WELL under the cost of an iPad) – as yet it does not seem to exist, the NOTE being the nearest but still too small.

For now, the iPad is still streets ahead of Android…maybe they’ll keep that lead, maybe not. There is something quite nice about the smaller form factor and lower cost of the Android devices – opens up all kinds of possibilities if only the quality bar was raised…

The Future’s Bright, the Future’s THREE

As regular readers will know I’ve been struggling with Orange incompetence for years now, if it’s not been poor customer service, it’s been lack of signal (there is no Orange signal in my village, hasn’t been for the last decade and now I understand they have no plans to do anything about this – despite claiming they put applications in on more than one occasion for masts – I just don’t buy this).

Anyway having discovered that someone has already successfully won a legal case to get out of their contract because of lack of signal, I convinced Orange to let me go without a penalty.

Armed with that freedom I headed off to the THREE store. Why THREE? Well, I already use (and recommend) their MIFI units and perhaps contrary to what you might think, they have quite an impressive coverage in the UK, at least everywhere I’ve tried up to now. They are also FAR more realistic with data, offering up to 15GIG a month data on their MIFI units. Better, on their iPhone deals, the offer a flat-rate package at £35 a month that gives “all-you-can-eat” data.

Now, we’ve all heard that from the other operators who until recently claimed “unlimited” broadband then when you read the fine print it’s a con – they have “fair use” policies which means the claim of unlimited is really a downright lie.

So I checked – according to THREE, “all you can eat” means unlimited data with no fair use policy.  Further, unlike Orange who charge an extra TEN POUNDS a month to share phone data with a laptop, sharing with the laptop is INCLUDED in the deal.

For reasons well beyond me the fellow at the THREE store thought this did not include iPads which would not work – but I remember standing outside the store thinking “But if you share over WIFI how on earth would it distinguish an iPad from a laptop?” and sure enough I was right, the iPhone will take in 3G, spit out WIFI and share it with any device that works on WIFI AND yes it will handle VPNs for those who need to log into work.

So, armed with my new phone and new company I headed off from Hexham for a trip to Blackpool, Internet radio (the American BIG CHEESE radio station) running on the phone…  and in a trip taking over 2 hours, I lost no more than a couple of minutes of radio time. Bye Bye BBC!

Facetime, Splashtop and more

The new iPad2 just keeps going from strength to strength!

iPad2For new readers, no I’m not an Apple Fanboy, I’ve been a Windows man since, well, DOS! But then there is the concept of “the right tool for the job” – Windows has it’s place – and so does the iPad2. Tonight I was sitting here getting on with some work on my Windows 7 PC (if anyone is still using XP or Vista, do yourself a favour if it’s not cost-prohibitive – bin them – Windows 7 is light years ahead) and my wife (who is currently in the USA while I’m here in sunny downtown Wark in Northumberland) rang me on Facetime (which for those of you not in the know is Apple’s kind-of equivalent of Skype).  I picked up the iPad2 and pressed the connect button and there she was – in a Barnes and Noble somewhere in Chicago – for all the world you’d think she was next door and we had a nice chat as I went off looking for the new kitten (she’s been away for a week and kittens grow quickly).

After waving to our pal Debby I asked her to switch cameras to the back camera – at which point I got a good look around the shop before ending the (free) call.  I recall before we got married you were talking a dollar a minute thanks to greedy BT (well, their predecessor) and their US equivalent.. thankfully – those times are gone forever and BTs claim to owning the Internet went no-where – what a joke.

Maureen and I chatted for a while as I got a good look around the store..  and then we ended the call and I noted a new update for Splashtop – which is a program that sits on your PC or PCs at home which then lets them talk to your iPad (for the techies, much like LOGMEIN but about a century ahead of the latter). I popped into the house and upgraded Maureen’s PC.  Some time and a glass of wine later I figured I’d give it a whirl. For the uninitiated, Splashtop and Logmein are programs that let you access the screen and keyboard of one PC from another – in the case of the latter – you can access your PCs from your iPad or iPad2.

Well, I don’t know if it was the upgrade or the extra speed of the iPad2 but I’m here to say that sitting in my office, I accessed Maureen’s Windows 7 PC from the iPad2 and went off to the BBC website – selected the latest news video (Flash – which the iPad doesn’t support natively for good reason) and ran the video. You would NOT believe for a SECOND that you were watching this remotely – PERFECT video, PERFECT audio, PERFECT sync – the power of a desktop PC in my hand!

The future of computing… remote access to any PC you own – and video access to those you know… on a lightweight, all-day-battery tablet – is here! It actually blows away the original Star-Trek concept which was limited to boring technical data only – but then that was a generation ago.

What we need now – is better, more universally available WIFI (FAR more important than 3G and it’s successors IMHO) studio lighting on the tablets so you look good in a pub when video conferencing – and that’s simple –strips down both sides of the tablet that light up white (high efficiency but WARM LED lighting – now readily available)… UTTERLY practical due to the low power requirements of warm white LEDs. and hey – this was MY IDEA!!!! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Technology that works – warm sunny weather in APRIL… what MORE could you want?

 

http://www.apple.com/uk/ipad/?cid=mc-uk-ipad-g_ipad2_brd_uk-ipad2

http://www.splashtop.com/remote

http://www.apple.com/uk/iphone/features/facetime.html

iPad 2 Launch–Was It Worth It?

Yesterday saw the iPad 2 launch throughout the UK. If there is anyone left who’s not aware this was happening, back in April last year the iPad was launched in the USA, after several years of failed attempts to get a star-trek-style tablet on the market, Apple dared to go where others had failed.. and the gamble paid off as iPad sales went through the roof.

By Christmas 2010 everyone and their auntie were promising iPad-killers and the full might of Chinese industry went into producing various sizes and shapes of tablet armed with the promising Android operating system – but no-one could match the price/performance of the iPad.

By February the rumour-market was in full swing as  manufacturers finally woke up to the fact that the tablet is here and terms Xoom, Galaxy Tab became household names. The Tab appeared in shops all over in large numbers, sadly that’s where most of them seemed to stay because despite the quality of the tablet itself, the software simply wasn’t ready for prime-time and Google themselves were the first to admit this.

Then along came Gingerbread, the great hope for iPad alternatives – finally some real competition? Well, no. Many of us wondered if Apple would pull a rabbit out of a hat and it looks like they have.

Firstly, the iPad 2 was launched in the US a couple of weeks ago and immediately the price of the original iPad went through the floor, effectively killing off the low-budget competition, friends of ours who bought iPads near the time of the launch of the new tablet were offered free upgrades by Apple who by now really HAVE gotten the knack of marketing in a way that their key competitor never really managed. So now we have iPads on Ebay and even being sold off as reconditioned by Apple themselves… meanwhile the suspense was building up for the UK launch and by mid-evening it was all over.

I joined the queues in the MetroCentre in Newcastle at around mid-day and already there were a couple of hundred people on two floors queuing for the new device. Apple wasted no time in dishing out Starbucks coffee and water to the waiting crowds and before long sent their guys along to find out what everyone would be buying and giving them reservation tickets to ensure there were no disappointments. Apparently one poor soul had been queuing since the night before and the MetroCentre security guys would not let him stop overnight so I’m guessing it was a night in the car. Rightly so he was given extra attention by the staff.

The whole production was very American, with a 5pm opening slot looming, staff in their hoards started clapping and cheering even though the rest of us were far too weary through standing all afternoon to show that much enthusiasm. Their noise certainly brought in the crowds and by now they’d succeeding in breeding a distinct “event” atmosphere.

We were herded toward the shop in small groups in a very civilised fashion and as each person or family got to the store they were asked their names and assigned to a particular staff member who would not only take their money off them but give them any on-the-spot training or help they needed and all of them were friendly and knowledgeable.  I can think of a few stores who could do with such training.

Some heavy questions had to be answered.. was it to be white, or black, 16, 32 or 64 gig, with or without 3g, leather or plastic smart-cover… by the sound of it there were no real favourites, everyone had their own idea of what makes the perfect iPad2.

There was a definite buzz in the brightly lit store as staff extracted countless thousands of pounds from the public in return for a hint of magic and punters stared in admiration at their new wonder-toy.

By 7pm we were out of there, our choices being one black and one white iPad2, I went for the girly pink plastic, my wife went for the manly red leather. We both bought the incredibly stylish Bluetooth keyboard.

So – was it worth it?

You bet. It’s thinner, lighter and faster than the original, the glass is many times stronger, the new apps (Garageband and iMovie) are excellent, PhotoBooth is great fun and Facetime works a treat.  I now have the job of re-installing hundreds of apps. Forget the rubbish you read about being good for games, I now have PDF and WORD readers program editors, video editing and I’ve just found a new bunch of business apps including database editors I didn’t know existed as well as CRM tools and many more vital business apps – oh, and some pretty good games.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Apple have on their hands not only a new winner in the iPad2, but an Android-killer in the now price-competitive original iPad.  Arthur C Clarke came up with the phrase “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. Well, we’re not quiet there yet, but the Apple iPad 2 is only stones-throw away from magic”. Well done Apple.

IOS 4.3 is Here–Speed up your iPhone

Somewhat earlier than expected, Apple’s latest IOS release is up and running – simply head off to iTunes to grab the software and update your i-device.

Upgrading the iPhone 3GS was simple – a matter of a few minutes download and off we go. Despite some issues with a cheap Chinese cable I bought, the upgrade went quite smoothly – all sorts of drivers being loaded and resets being done completely automatically in the background… I just went off for coffee and let it get on with it.

The software upgrade allows you (at last) to play videos and imagery on Apple TV directly from the iPhone. The setup is amazing – once upgraded, all your videos, pics and tunes on your iTunes computer are immediately available on your iPad or iPhone etc… and typically Apple – it just WORKS…

The browser has been speeded up thanks to the new “Nitro Javascript Engine” and it’s claimed that this alone doubles browser speeds –though that of course will all depends on whether your target website is making heavy use of Javascript – many do. The hated change to the mute button now allows users to select whether they want to use that button for muting or rotation control…  and apparently iPhone 4 can now serve up WIFI to other devices-  though no mention of  the 3GS – BUT this DOES APPEAR TO WORK over Bluetooth and USB on the iPhone 3GS which is interesting. No idea why you can’t do this over WIFI on the 3GS as that facility was built in from day one but Orange wanted to charge extra for it!

Similarly iPad – the upgrade just works…  video quality from videos on your PC iTunes setup is amazing.  So – for free, faster iPhones and iPads – can’t be bad!

 

Peter Scargill

p.s. I don’t recommend this but I didn’t go through any lengthy backup procedures and all worked well regardless. Upgrading the phone and iPad each took all of 15 minutes from start to finish with virtually no interaction required. So why are you waiting.. go get IOS 4.3 now!