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Tag Archives: Samsung

Samsung's Tablet Clears Its Court Woes

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Tablets have been one of the biggest technology issues of 2011, so it’s perhaps fitting that as the year winds to a close, one of the largest and most acrimonious legal battles surrounding tablets has come to a conclusion. Earlier in the year, Apple had sought to block Samsung from selling the Galaxy Tab 10.1, a Tablet running the Android 3.0 (“Honeycomb”) operating system. Not because there was anything wrong with Honeycomb, but because Apple felt it infringed on its iPad and specifically some patents relating to it. I’m no lawyer and hardly qualified to comment on the legal proceedings that took place, except to say that they were lengthy, no doubt expensive, and seemed to see-saw back and forth with each given week. At long last, after appeals, Samsung’s been granted the rights to sell the tablet in Australia; it will do so directly through retailers with a 16GB Galaxy Tab 10.1 costing $579 outright or $729 if you want the 3G-enabled version of the tablet. Telcos have also announced plans to sell the 10.1 on contract, although at the time of writing only Vodafone had announced exact pricing; that may well change by the time you read this.

For the truly technology keen, the 10.1’s been available through grey market importers for some time, so it’s not exactly a new product to our shores in one sense. I’ve not had the chance to test out an “official” Galaxy Tab 10.1 through Samsung directly as yet, but I have had some hands on time with a directly imported unit. It’s certainly a nicely designed tablet; I can see why it could have irked Apple as the feel is terribly iPad-esque, but having said that I’d better clarify again; I’m not a lawyer and even with that caveat I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea that this should be enough to have any product banned per se.

Getting them onto retail shelves will be the interesting next step, especially depending on how keen consumers end up being to actually buy them. There’s no shortage of competing tablets; even ignoring Apple you could buy a tablet from vendors such as Acer or Asus already, and whether the Tab 10.1 will grab attention will be interesting to see. I’m writing this at the moment rather remotely from the UK, where the Tab 10.1 has been available for many months, and anecdotally from what I can see — and especially what I can see busy technology shoppers actually stopping to test — the Tab 10.1 is seen as “just another tablet”. Given how long and hard Samsung Australia’s fought to have it appear on Australian shelves, I’m betting that’s not the response they’re hoping for from Aussie consumers. It’s worth noting that the Tab 10.1, like much of the rest of this year’s Android tablet crop, is an Android 3 product; the latest Android iteration, Android 4.0 (“Ice Cream Sandwich”, if you want its official product name) is currently only officially available on one phone, although ironically that’s a Samsung product; a phone produced for Google called the Google Galaxy Nexus. Ice Cream Sandwich is meant to bridge the divide between phones and tablets and is expected to be available on a wide variety of tablets, but it’s not yet confirmed at all if it’ll come to the Tab 10.1 or not.


What’s preinstalled on your PC?

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Just recently a small storm of outrage erupted when a security expert alleged that Samsung had been installing secret spyware on its laptops to monitor user activity. The expert had scanned for and found what his anti-virus software (erroneously, it should be clearly and distinctly noted) identified as a keylogging application called StarLogger. In fact, it turned out to be language files for the Slovenian language that were falsely identified as the nasty spyware instead. The initial report was updated, and the anti-virus firm involved has apologised.

OK, so Samsung was entirely innocent in this case, but the strategy that it (and most other consumer computer vendors) employ to pre-install software does still have some downsides and annoyances.  When you buy a new laptop or desktop PC, it’s often got lots of additional  software pre-installed. Most folks would expect an operating system (whether you’re in the Mac or PC camps, or even in certain circumstances Linux), but what else you get beyond that varies a lot from vendor to vendor and even by model. That’s partly determined by the capabilities of the hardware you buy. There’d be little point in putting handwriting recognition software into a laptop that didn’t have a screen capable of pen input, for example, or webcam software onto a machine that didn’t have a webcam.

It’s also determined by sponsorship, deals with differing companies, and whether the application in question is a “full” version or some kind of “lite” or time-limited version. For software that directly accesses the hardware, such as CD/DVD burning, it’s usual to expect you’ll get fully functional software, but the same isn’t true of most office suites or anti-virus packages. When you’re shopping for a new system, take careful note of terms such as “Starter Edition” “Lite” or “Trial”. You may think you’re getting a bargain having a laptop that comes with Microsoft Office, but not if it’s a version that’ll work for only sixty days. Likewise, the AntiVirus screen that pops up the moment you start up the machine for the first time — or even as the system is setting itself up in some cases — will expire quite quickly, requiring additional payment to keep your protection up and running. Most of those applications will nag you incessantly about updating, which can be annoying and distracting, especially if they pop up over work you’re trying to do. Applications that you never use may install themselves to run each time the system starts up, eating up small but significant portions of your system resources as they do so. If they’re applications you use constantly, that’s quite handy as they’ll start up more quickly, but if not, you’re just wasting processing cycles. Certainly don’t make the mistake of letting your AV expire — that way lies actual malware and spyware — but equally it’s worth realising that you can always uninstall all the extra applications and use your own, depending on your tastes, needs and budgets.

What do you think? Do you use all or any of the preinstalled applications on your PC, or uninstall all of them and start with a fresh PC every single time?


Which Tablet Is Right For Me?

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Apple’s iPad made a big splash when it was released earlier in the year, but up until now there hasn’t been a lot of competition in the tablet form factor. With new release products from Samsung and Telstra, though, there is finally a modicum of choice in the Tablet space.

It’s worth knowing what a Tablet can and can’t do before you plunk down your hard earned cash. They’re not exactly notebook replacements, generally being less powerful than the kind of notebook you can get for the same money. At the same time, the touch-specific interfaces they sport can be great for quick work and especially media consumption on the go or comfortably around the home. That being said, let’s take a look at the field of contenders.

Apple iPad

Price: $629-$1049 (depending on memory and 3G capability)

Why you’d want one:

Apple’s Tablet still leads the market in terms of available touch-specific applications, and if you’re already an iPhone owner, your applications can be shifted across at no charge — although some will look rather pixellated if they’ve not been iPad optimised. The 10″ screen is clear and works much better for content creation than the smaller Samsung and Telstra tablets.

Why you wouldn’t:

Apple controls all things “i” branded with an iron fist, and this means certain application categories get knocked back. There’s no direct file system access without specific hacking, and the Windows iTunes client isn’t always the most stable. Unlike the Telstra or Samsung tablets, there’s no inbuilt camera or phone functionality.

Samsung Galaxy Tab

Price: $999 or on contract

Why you’d want one:

Samsung’s Galaxy Tab is smaller than the iPad with a 7″ display screen. It runs Android 2.2, giving it a wealth of applications, has internal cameras and phone capability. The Australian released model will come with Navigon’s GPS software built in, as well as e-reader capabilities and a dedicated application for the Australian newspaper.

Why you wouldn’t:

The outright price is comparatively very high, considering you could buy the 10″ iPad in almost every configuration for the cost of the Galaxy Tab. There should shortly be contract options for the Tab from most carriers, taking some of the sting out of pricing.

Telstra T-Touch Tab

Price: $299

Why you’d want one:

Telstra’s entry level tablet is priced to go, and the price is the key appeal. It’s an Android 2.1 tablet with plenty of Telstra specific applications, inbuilt camera and an excellent inbuilt mobile Foxtel client, although that will cost you extra to access. If you just want a consumption device, it’s adequate.

Why you wouldn’t:

The T-Touch Tab uses a resistive screen that’s much harder to use than the capacitive screens found on the Galaxy Tab or iPad. Any application that requires a lot of touch will bring with it a lot of frustration, marking this out as best used for passive consumption activities, and certainly one we’d suggest you try before you buy. Some users simply cannot get on with resistive screens without the use of a stylus.  Battery life is less than a quarter of the competing pads, and it’s comparatively a little heavy.


Is Windows Phone 7 Too Little, Too Late?

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I’ve spent the past couple of weeks testing Microsoft’s latest smartphone operating system, dubbed Windows Phone 7. Microsoft supplied me with a review phone (under, it should be noted, a fairly horrible non-disclosure agreement that’s thankfully now expired); in my case it was an LG Optimus 7Q, which is currently a Telstra exclusive. I’ve had brief hands-on time with a couple of the very similar HTC and Samsung handsets, as well as a bit more time with the LG Optimus 7, an Optus exclusive. For those wondering, the big difference between the Optimus 7 and the 7Q is that the 7Q has a physical keyboard which slides out from the side. A frankly somewhat useless keyboard, as roughly half the Windows Phone 7 applications I’ve tested don’t think in a widescreen way, leaving you typing in a vertical column.

The hardware isn’t the thing with Windows Phone 7, however. There are minor changes, like the aforementioned keyboard on the Optimus 7Q or the lovely looking Super AMOLED screen on Samsung’s Omnia 7, but Microsoft has very strict guidelines on the componentry and build of Windows Phone 7 devices. This leaves them all looking and feeling rather samey, and that concept I’ve got to admit worried me at first glance.

I should point out here that I’ve never been a huge fan of Windows Mobile, the predecessor to Windows Phone 7. Windows Mobile was for far too long a lumbering dinosaur with a painful interface that tried way too hard to replicate the Windows experience on a tiny mobile screen, and badly at that. I’m on the public record as wondering why they ever bothered releasing Windows Mobile 6.5, the last in the Windows Mobile series at all. Bad news for any Windows Mobile fans who didn’t already know, by the way – Windows Phone 7 is an entirely new platform, and it’s not backwards compatible. If you’re heavily invested in Windows Mobile-specific applications, you’ll have to hope that new versions come out that you can once again pay for, or stick to your ageing hardware.

When Microsoft announced Windows Phone 7 back in February, I was sceptical, and even more so when it was announced that the phones themselves wouldn’t be available until late 2010. It felt rather like they were announcing something to stay in the smartphone game, but at the cost of giving opposing platforms a lot of time to gain users, mindshare and even combat some specific features.

Enough with the history lessons! Enough, indeed, with the rather samey hardware as well. The operating system itself is, I’ve got to say, curiously named as Windows Phone, as the one thing it’s distinctly not much like is Windows. Aside from some naming conventions, such as the browser labelled as Internet Explorer or the games labelled as Xbox Live, it doesn’t look like Windows at all”¦ and that’s Microsoft’s most sensible step in the mobile operating system world ever.

Instead of trying to cram the desktop metaphor onto a tiny screen, Windows Phone uses a series of large buttons labelled as “Live Tiles” that display particular information in a semi-live fashion. Some are more useful (and more lively) than others, but you can cut any of them out of the main start page and re-arrange them at will. The experience testing across a couple of handsets was slick and fast, helped no doubt by Microsoft mandating some reasonably hefty (for now) internal minimum specifications. Naturally in terms of available applications Windows Phone 7 is still dwarfed by the heavy hitters of Apple’s App Store and Google’s Android Marketplace (or even Nokia’s Ovi Store), and it’s rather game-centric so far, but most of the important application bases have been hit, and there’s certainly room to grow.

It’s not all sunshine and roses, and there’s still some very obvious signs that despite being labelled as Windows Phone 7, this is really a version one software, complete with the problems that version one of just about anything has. There’s no cut and paste. That’s apparently going to be rectified with a future software update, but it’s baffling that in the eight months in-between the announcement and the launch nobody thought to actually include such a basic function. There’s no tethering to use the phone as a mobile modem. Third party applications cannot multitask, which sometimes leads to lengthy re-loading times. There’s no ability to add extra memory, and the launch models ship with only 8GB or 16GB onboard, which is limiting. The Xbox Live integration isn’t really integration at all, as it loses too many of the social aspects of the gaming service along the way. You can view your own Avatar and Gamerscore, but not check out what your friends are doing on the main Xbox Live service, or co-ordinate games on the Xbox at all, at least yet. There are mobile games, and you can send invites to those – but only to your friends with Windows Phone 7, at least as far as I can see. There’s a lot that could be done with Xbox Live integration, but most of it is still to do.

There’s a lot of iPhone users out there. A lot of Android users, Blackberry users, Symbian users and even legacy Windows Mobile users, although the dumping of code means they’re free to jump to any platform they like – they’ll have to re-buy new apps anyway. Windows Mobile 7 does represent a good fresh start for Microsoft, and if you’re in the market for a smartphone, and not already heavily invested in iOS, Android, Blackberry or Symbian applications it’s worth consideration. Whether it’s too little and too late is a question that only time can answer, but I will say that I’m far more impressed with it overall, even given the bugs and omissions, than I ever expected to be.


What will your next digital camera be?

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Digital cameras have rendered the humble old box brownie all but obsolete. You probably own multiple digital cameras, especially once your mobile phone is taken into consideration. Beyond the race to cram more and more megapixels into compact cameras — a fairly useless activity once you get beyond around 8 megapixels unless you need to shoot outdoor advertising posters — there are limits to what a compact camera can do.  The compact digital you most likely own is fine for taking happy snap style shots, and if you’re lucky, you may end up with some really nice photos. But what do you do if you want a little bit more control over your images?

The traditional answer would have been to step up from the box brownie style of a compact digital to a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera. These allow for discrete image processing steps, multiple lenses — both for zoom/macro/fixed focus work and for specific effects such as fisheye or tilt shift lens photography — but have always had a few particular problems for novices wanting a little more power. For a start, DSLRs are pretty expensive. This has changed in recent years; you can typically pick up a DSLR body from companies such as Nikon or Canon for under a thousand dollars, but lenses can often cost a great deal more. The learning curve on a DSLR is pretty sharp, and most DSLRs are solidly built and therefore heavy, which limits their portability. You’re much less likely to take a DSLR out for a quick shot of your nephews on a swing if it takes five minutes to set up and take the shot.

There is a middle way emerging that promises some of the fine control and lens swapping ability of DSLRs without all of the challenging complexity or higher price of a DSLR. These mini DSLRs — often referred to as micro 4/3rds cameras (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micro_Four_Thirds_system) are cheaper and smaller than a DSLR with a reasonable amount of the power that DSLRs offer. Not all of these compact DSLRs are actually Micro 4/3rds cameras, though. I recently had a chance to have a field test at Taronga Zoo with Samsung’s recently released $899 NX10 camera, which uses a full APS-C sensor, such as you’d find on a “full” DSLR, but with a mirror-less design that makes the camera body a lot smaller, and therefore a lot more portable. I do know my way around a DSLR to a fair extent, but even I came away impressed with the quick and easy shots I could take.

So they’re typically cheaper than DSLRs and more powerful than compact digital models. What’s the downside of opting for a Micro 4/3rds style camera? Well, you do get the flexibility of being able to change lenses that are typically going to be a lot cheaper than their DSLR equivalents, but in most cases you’re limited to the lenses produced for that camera series. Some Micro 4/3rds cameras do allow for additional lens types to be fitted via adaptors, but often with some specific features such as auto focusing removed. By contrast, if you buy a “Full” DSLR, you’ll be able to change out the main camera “body” but keep using the same lenses year in and year out, taking advantage of the new body features each time. As a stepping stone up in your photographic knowledge, or a gift for somebody wanting a little more than a compact can offer, they’re a good alternative.


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