With its signature keyboard cover detached, it was easy to use the original Surface RT in your lap. However, actually trying to type with the device while it was positioned there could end with your Surface hitting the lowest surface in the immediate vicinity, often the one at your feet. It was simply too easy for the weight of the device to overwhelm the high center of gravity that the Surface had when resting on its kickstand, particularly on an uneven sloping landscape, e.g., one’s lap.
It’s a bit surprising that Microsoft would implement a second kickstand position that extends its already larger-than-laptop footprint when the keyboard cover is extended. However, it has done just this in the name of better stability, particularly when used in that common scenario that gives that laptop its name. The result has been an improvement when used in the lap as the lower center of gravity helps with stability.
However, it’s still not as stable an experience as a laptop. The keyboard cover’s connection to the tablet does not cover the device’s width and its rubbery texture allows for a lot of give. As a result, there’s a good chance you’ll notice the screen to tilt to a slight angle off from where you’re typing. Customers may not find this so distracting, but it drives home the point that there continue to be some things that the trusty old clamshell form factor handles better than the type cover.
That said, newer designs like those on the Dell Venue Pro 11 and Nokia Lumia 2520 rely on a type cover on which the entire tablet rests and where there is no gap in terms of the footprint as there is with the Surface’s kickstand, so lap stability may be better.
I’ve been on the hunt for more audio content lately so I picked up the This American Life Android app, which enables easy access to every episode — 500+ hours — of the public radio programming dating back to 1995. (In the second episode, a new color Macintosh portable is referenced.) Assuming you like the show, it’s a great value — less than 3/5 of a cent per episode and dropping as new ones become available.
The app can automatically download the latest episode of the show, which makes sense for those current with the program, but otherwise limits you to one other downloaded episode. This isn’t a great option for those new to the show and listening to the episodes in chronological order. (Speaking of which, an episode sorting feature would be nice.)
Admittedly, it might be impractical to download the entire library, but one episode isn’t enough to cover some commutes, much less many short flights. I can’t imagine what technical limitation there might be to enabling one to download, say, three to five episodes at a time. Hopefully, the developers aren’t thinking about saving this feature for some in-app purchase.
HP’s new 11″ Chromebook is such a departure from the company’s first “mega-Chromebook” in many ways, including that it’s not even really an HP product. As with the Nexus products on the Android side of Google, it has taken a central role in the presentation , marketing and branding of Chromebooks. The new HP Chromebook marks a return to the value end of Chromebooks after the Pixel diversion. But that wasn’t so long ago that Google or others should have forgotten about the Samsung 11″ Chromebook.
Compared to that product, there seems to be little to differentiate the new oHP offering. Yes, it comes in a choice of colorful trims, is built more sturdily, and can charge from a standard USB connector. The latter is a welcome trend that we can expect to increasingly appear on notebooks as their power needs continue to shrink. Beyond that, though, it has similar specs to the thinner Samsung device at a higher price. Despite Google’s involvement, some of the differentiation may be in the HP brand itself, which is far more strongly identified with PCs than the Samsung brand.
Leaving the Surface RT in Microsoft’s shiny new Surface 2 lineup lets Microsoft offer a product that is closer to the price range of the iPad 2 and iPad mini. It also helps the company save a bit of face after the RT’s dramatic price decline in the wake of flagging sales. What it doesn’t do, though, is enable Microsoft’s first-party tablet efforts to play in the fastest-growing segment of the tablet market, products that are small (7″) and cheap (sub-$200). Apple isn’t playing in each of those subsegments, either, but it’s closer than Microsoft in both. I’ve written before about how the breakneck price compression in the small Android tablet market has forced manufacturers such as HP and HiSense to cut prices at or shortly after introduction. The latter’s Sero 7 LT is now available for well under $100 at Walmart while the Tegra 3-equipped Sero 7 Pro has hovered close to a double-digit price tag on sale. But two announcements last week hit pause on the 7″ price avalanche.
Monster, which knows a thing or two about competing in — and even begetting — oversaturated categories, introduced its own M7 7″ tablet in eight different colors with a rounded top right corner that, in a bit of inside baseball, resembles the left half of Monster’s logo. It becomes yet another exclusive for Walmart, which has shown a voracious appetite for inexpensive 7″ Android devices. Not surprisingly, Monster really hopes to differentiate based on the quality of its audio output,. This is a proposition that, at a basic level, hasn’t enabled HP to command much of a pricing premium with its Beats-enabled tablet. Monster will follow up with a 10″ tablet.
Speaking of HP, its second Android tablet, the Slatebook X2, has been early to support NVIDIA’s Tegra 4. But it will soon see some speedy competition from a number of smaller, mostly regional, distributors selling NVIDIA’s Tegra 4-equipped 7″ Tegra Note distributed via NVIDIA’s GeForce card brand companies. The tablet supports NVIDIA’s DirectStylus technology for improving passive stylus performance but — here again — stylus support hasn’t translated into strong market performance for tablets such as the Surface Pro and Galaxy Note tablets.
The M7 has debuted at $149 while the Tegra Notes are coming in at $199 . The way things have been going, though, they may be priced considerably less before long.
In stark contrast to the thriving wildlife one sees in the tunnels (and occasionally platforms) of the New York City subway system, they have historically been dead zomes when it comes to wireless access and thus a prime candidate for Wi-Fi installations. We’ve now started to see just that happen via the involvement of Boingo, and with a free option even. It sounds like a winning idea, but the implementation leaves a lot to be desired.
Bear in mind that consumers often don’t have a lot of time waiting on the subway platform. They probably just want to catch a last e-mail or send off a last text before before being consigned to 15 to 60 minutes of engaging in the saga of crushed candy. But the free Boingo option requires the user to engage in a task such as watching a video (good luck hearing it without headphones if a train passes by). The last time I tried it, it asked me to download an app I already had and no amount of switching into it could convince Boingo that I wasn’t trying to cheat my way into two precious minutes of Wi-Fi access before the train arrived. Dismiss this as a local rant, but it’s a case study in poor user experience design.
Ideally, it would be great to see a system where you pay for Wi-Fi access when you buy the MetroCard that offers you access to the trains. You would pay a premium on top of the normal fare rate and the MetroCard would include some passcode or QR code — maybe even NFC if we were getting fancy — that grants access. But the MetroCard dispensers would have to be upgraded and I dare not fathom the billing work that would need to happen in the background. It just makes a New Yorker even less patient for the arrival of cellular access.
In the early days, the three main battery-powered local wireless drives with integrated hotspots were from AirStash, Kingston (WiDrive) and Seagate (the Wireless Plus, nee GoFlex Satellite). And they all nicely fit a market requirement. The AirStash had the flexibility of using SD cards, the WiDrive had integrated flash, and the Seagate product used, unsurprisingly, hard drives for the largest capacity.
Now, however, it seems everyone is jumping in. SanDisk launched a pair of products as did Macally (including one that can accommodate a 2.5″ hard drive or SSD). Kingston introduced a companion to the WiDrive with the pretty obscure name MobileLite. And we recently saw Escort — yes, the radar detector guys — just released its own SD-based model called the MediaFlair complete with a stylized logo that highlights the “air” in the name.
One interesting aspect of these products is that, like their portable cousins, mobile hotspots, they should be able to be handled by a phone app. Of course, phones are often thought of as clients for these kinds of products, but then again some of them (from AirStash, MacAlly and SanDisk) utilize memory cards, and so can phones. The key would be making what’s on those cards more easily shareable, perhaps by making a folder optionally shareable through the personal hotspot feature..
As Palm introduced its failed candidates for salvation, webOS and the Palm Pre at its press conference at CES 2009, the company talked about what it perceived as an advantage versus Google, Apple, Microsoft and Samsung. Palm had mobile in its roots and Palm was a mobile-only company. That perceived advantage went out the window when the company was purchased by HP. Then Motorola — or at least Motorola Mobility despite its now-divorced cable equipment ties — was acquired by Google and now Nokia is en route to being absorbed into Microsoft. That leaves the white knight-seeking BlackBerry, which expects to wrap up a transaction by November. Who knows how much of its business may be left intact by then?
Mostly likely, that will be it for the handset pioneers, but there will still be one major handset maker that isn’t substantively in any other device categories: HTC, which is facing its own struggles and volatility. Blame the demise of the mobile pure play on the rise of ecosystems and the scale of a few industry giants such as Apple and Samsung. But mobile pure plays were also a victim of their own success. The revolution that they helped to usher in became so important to consumers that it sprouted ties to other devices in their lives, devices that sometimes had dramatically different design requirements, distribution and cloud-based ties from the smartphone experience.
The surprise smartwatch announcement of early September was not the broadly anticipated and, well, just broad Samsung Galaxy Gear, but Qualcomm’s Toq watch. In fact, Qualcomm even introduced accessories for it before its release — a charging case and a set of stereo Bluetooth headsets recreating a personal area network like the kind we saw with the Motorola MOTOACTV.
There’s much that remains to be seen of Toq in terms of its final feature set beyond its signature Mirasol display. But Qualcomm has gotten off to a good start with the short device name. Of course, it evokes “tock,” which is fitting for what you’d expect from a device rooted in time display. Qualcomm also managed to work in the distinctive Scrabble-prized “Q” that begins its corporate name. But it even worked in a secondary pun on “talk,” which is appropriate for a communications product.
While the company emphasizes that Toq is an example of the kinds of products it wants to primarily build with partners, it’s not a complete stranger to its own consumer devices of late. Its Snaptracs group was behind the Tagg pet tracker. (While it sold off its majority stake, it’s still an investor.) That product requires a subscription, which is always tough at retail. But at least from the name, it’s off to a great start with its smartwatch.
Sony continued its momentum in digital imaging with a particularly strong digital imaging portfolio at IFA. One of the highlights was the $399 “Honey-I-shrrunk-the-DSLR” Alpha A3000 for $399. However, the product that certainly raised the most eyebrows were the $250 QX10 and the $500 QX100 phone accessory cameras, which give new meaning to what is considered a “back.” The cameras, which appear to be just lenses, include the optics and sensors of an average 10x zoom or the superior imaging of Sony’s Cyber-Shot RX100 model. They can attach to Sony’s own XPERIA Z1 with a special case or to other smartphones with a spring-loaded bracket. (Interestingly, though, they support their own storage.)
From there, they communicate with the host smartphone using theiir own Wi-Fi hotspot, which allows for nearly universal compatibility, but which creates many tradeoffs — lag and theinability to connect to another Wi-Fi hotspot among them. This, might say fans of superhero cliches, would be a job for TransferJet. TransferJet enables high-speed data transfers between objects by touching them together, kind of a USB 3.0 cable replacement initiated via NFC. The standard is actually under active development, but updates about it are rare and it hasn’t been seen since finding its way into the palm rests of a few Sony Vaios a while back. And since it’s so marginalized, implementation is expensive, making it impractical to include in a smartphone by Sony, perhaps its biggest champion.