Montag, 31. Mai 2010

A Week with the EVO 4G

After all the hype about the various Pad devices announced or on the market I would today like to comment my first experiences with the HTC EVO 4G, which was promoted at Google I/O. This device is only capable to support CDMA based networks, so SPRINT's one month promotion of free data and voice usage were unfortunately of limited value to European visitors of the event.

A full interactive demo video is available at engadget's website showing the real interaction with this new device. It is of specific interest, as it is a nice combination of screen size (4,3 inch capacitive touch screen), processing power (1 GHz snapdragon processor) and some advanced Andoid phone features. A full size review can be found at the same site here.

So lets go step by step:

As always: Size really matters. UI navigation, usage quality of the soft keyboard and sliding thru long lists is so much better, than ever seen.  Even compared to the Nexus One the touch experience is significantly better. It seems to be only a matter of sqare millimeters available for the touch area. Compared to the iPad, which offers an even larger space to interact, the best size / interactivity / portability compromise for me seems to lie between 4 and 5 inch. Unfortunately I had no hand on experience with a capacitive touch 5 inch device like Dell's streak so far. But I declare exactly the EVO's size to be the minimum size of a real companion device for todays gadget nerds. We should no longer accept smaller displays. The benefits are so dominant that the somewhat bigger size can easily be accepted. Even this size fits into "normal" palm sizes and do not create any major handling issues. Because of the larger interaction space all gestures are well recognized and you really don't miss any trackball or similar support keys.

The 4 touch keys at the bottom work much better than expected, and work as good as normal buttons on other smartphones. The soft keyboard offers a specific HTC optimized layout and we will see, how it will change with Froyo, the 2.2 Android version keyboard, which offers some significant impovements in the keyboard UI. All in all I was really impressed how much better this devices "feels" in your hand and how precise touch interaction can work.

The big advantage comes with a real downside of the EVO 4G. Battery lifetime is quite limited. The 1500 mAH may not last over the whole day. But even at the distribution start of the device first batteries with 25 % extended capacities are available. And since I had issues with other smartphones, I am carrying a 4.400mAH external power battery with me anyhow.  This cable connected enhanced power supply will for sure allow for a full interactive day without interruption.

But lets come back to the other specs: The 8 M pixel sensor does not deliver, what the resolution should offer. With its very bad low light performance the tiny lens cannot really deliver what you would expect based on the EVO 4G data sheet. And it cannot stand any comparison with all the available HD camcorders nor the HD supporting digital cameras. Good image qualitiy needs some more glass in front of the sensor and a bigger sensor dimension. During normal light conditions the images are somewhat sharper than those of existing 3 M pixel cams taken with other smartphones. So lets say some improvements for good lightning conditions but not the "three times better" experience one would expect.

Browsing speed is really good, even if the larger display makes you much more "throughput hungry". HTC has embedded a preversion of a flash player, which allows video playout on some, but not all websites I visited. It give a first flavor of the coming integrated flash versions and I think this will be a real improvement towards a nearly full internet experience, which is not offered so far by mobile browser engines. There still are restrictions in the scripting features offered, as no interactive writing / blogging in WYSIWYG mode is supported. So no Google doc or any blogging website editing is available.  But the dynamic reformatting of the Android browser is creating good and sharp visuals of most of the websites and makes the internet much more fun, than before. With this screen size you easily read even longer text passages without getting distracted and with much less scrolling over the pages.

Multimedia on the EVO 4G is fun. With the easy access as external drive the built in 8 G SD card can be filled with lots of content and updating works with any tool you like. I did not full check out the formats supported by the video player, but the hardware impressively supports 720 P formats and hazzle free playout to the local screen. I still could not get an adapter to connect the HDMI interface but would expect no problems with the ususal H.264 720p video formats. And also consider picture playout to large screens. This must be a great experience! So take your content to any TV device is much nearer, than with any other mobile device so far. Never had a portable DMA with me before. Not to forget the freely available Twonky Server for Android, which allows the phone to become a full wireless DLNA media server in your network including music, photo and video playout to any compatible device. Played with it and liked it a lot! Not to forget the other free server apps that enable simple wireless drag and drop interaction with the device to manage your content.

Nice detail is the embedded stand, which makes a lot of sense if you want to watch some videos or slideshows directly on the device.

And last but not least: Telephony is great with the EVO 4G. Had some longer calls in the US and the voice quality was excellent and the handling easy and reliable. Even did not feel "too big" when using as a mobile phone without a headset.

So I am now waiting for a comparable device to come serving the European hemisphere. With full 3G HSDPA support and 2.2 Android support. Will let you all know, when I get such a device into my hands!

Donnerstag, 20. Mai 2010

Google I/O 2010 Keynote Day 2

It is amazing, how fast this company is moving forward. Todays announcements were focussed on two issues:
  • The new Android Release 2.2 and the
  • Google TV announcement
So let's take Android first.
Lots of incremental improvements, like the JIT (just in time) compiler, that improves the speed up to 3 to 5 times and the possiblitiy to move applications onto the SD card. Added control featurtes to allow remote admin of the devices for corporate usage.
And then the feature I like most: The personal hotpsot. No more Bluetooth tethering. Just setup your own hotspot with your mobile. A feature already offered by some PalmOS and Windows Mobile 6.5 devices. Now available for all 2.2 compatible devices.
Not to forget the impressive feature of cloud to device messaging, that allows Android Intents (a special event function of the OS) to be triggered by a web browser. The demo showed the instant forwarding of a maps turn by turn navigation from the browser to an Android handset.

Google TV:
A big new approach to create a TV connected device to enhance your personal TV experience. Google serch available with one click of a button and search results including web and TV EPG based info. Based on the new INTEL SoCs this will be the first platform runnig a full capable Chrome browser (for sure the LINUX based version) and the full Andoid suite in parallel. This allows downloading the full Android Apps portfolio to your TV. Even if some form factor problems of the much larger screen size will occour, this is a very simple way to expand  the reach of the Android ecosystem. And this all together with big brands like Sony, Logitech and INTEL. We will have to wait until the first devices will become available.

If you want t digg deeper, just have a look to the official Google blog of today.

And all Google IO attendees will get a second device to play with: an HTC EVO sponsored by Sprint. Enough gadgets to play with. Even if they might not work in Europe, at least a nice WiFi Gadget.

And finally, the well known photo track to vizualize, what happened. Hope you will enjoy it!

Nothing Goes: Google I/O First Day Update

I have to do some updates on the event organization:

At 2 pm the situation changed: Nothing goes. One of the main events, the Fireside Chat with the Chrome developer team, was out of any reach for me. Sure, I was a bit late, but about 20 to 30 people left the room, when I was stranded at the entrance door and just blocked by a young man with a staff T-shirt. A press team with a big camera got in. But not me, the normal attendee. This is no fair use policy! I really have to complain. I now missed two third of my planned programm today as I cpould also not get into the Android intro, because the keynote was delayed. What a shit.

But they are as they are. They do what they like and stick to their policies.  No one was allowed to get in. No way. I could not believe that this is the reality until I realized it sitting on the floor in front of the meeting and always people dropping out. And not getting in.

And the WiFi fully crashed down at least in the 2nd floor. The Wave server collapsed, so the Live Feed of the session was also not available. I think, I should go somewhere else.

I have to change my report: Lots of things are not well organized and you have to be early available for joining sessions. So all the people have to become „lemminge“ and be fast enough to get some direct experiences. No free movement of people. No freedom of choice. The event just was not organized properly. THey let too many poeple in paying their ticket and are not prepared for massess coming to the most important sessions. If this turns out to be true even for the coming day, the will have to improve a lot in the future to be welcomed by "normal" developers or attendees.
We will see, what happens next. Hope that at least the evening is better organized than the session schedule.

Keep you posted.

Mittwoch, 19. Mai 2010

Google I/O 2010 First Impressions

Now we got them: the expected and speculated "official" announcements on first day's keynote.
  • VP8 will become fully Open Source. The solution for all real open source projects like Mozilla and Android. Anyone is now enabled to create and distribute HD videos without having to take care of license cost.
    Even if professional broadcasters will not change their distribution format away from H.264, lots of people joining the big cloud and creating the long tail of user generated content are now safe. And also all the freeware and sharewar developers can now fully integrate this video format without getting sued by anyone else. This is a great day for all free software to come.
    Some millions of users may not be able to join up with that content: The ones using the nice gadgets of the Cupertino fruit seller ;-). And the MPEG LA license pool may loose some revenue.
  • Wave is from now available for anyone interested. By the way, the Google I/O event is fully documented in realtime by Google staff. So nothing will be lost and lots of infromation is made available instantly. So give it a try.
  • There are more things to come tomorrow, as some things have not been discussed today in the keynote. Expect more for tomorrow.
  • If you want to dive deeper into today's keynote just wat h out for the official Google blog post. 
To illustrate the event see my fist day's pic following. The event is very well organized. Never went to such a big one being organized that good.

The Samsung is a real nice device, fast and smooth UI and excellent display. Should soon be available on the market.

So, "this is it" for today. I will keep you posted.

Sonntag, 2. Mai 2010

Insights after two weeks with the iPad

After some while using the iPad and reading lots of reviews I still think, some relevant experiences with it have not been posted. As I am living in Germany I also want to comment on the support in some major German online news portals.

But lets work it out step by step:

As all reviews say, its pretty much the same browser as in the iPhone, but with a much larger display connected. But the usage feels quite different. You easily accept some restrictions, if you use this browser on the iPhone, because you just have such a small screen and you're just happy to get access to the sites you are looking for.
But frustration rises fast, if you have this nice full format display in use. Some websites just feel somewhot strange, because they make some more intense use of scripting and mouse over events, which is not supported by this limited browser version. But it can get more serious, if the embedded script get more complex: I was dropped out of an ordering process in ebay when I was doing my payment over paypal. And it gets a nightmare if you try to go for direct publishing with the iPad. Nearly nothing works: No Google Docs, no online blogging, no any other online editing tool I tried.
I searched for other blogger comments and found one of them quite desillusioning. He ended up in using remote PC access to be the ultimate solution - - Isn't this crazy? You have a 1 GHz device with a brilliant display and a horribly good touch UI including the best screen keyboard I ever used and you have to limit this device to become a dump remote screen and keyboard!
In the end I found a slogan based on a German beer commercial: "Nur gucken, nicht anfassen", which means "just have a look, don't touch". I think, this describes the iPad browsing experience quite well. If you only want to access some websites without any deeper interaction you can get quite happy with it. But if you want a full interactive experience you might still be better served by a notebook or netbook using the well known OSs and their broadly supported browsers. A full browsing experience is not there on the iPad. Until today I found only one exception: "Outlook Web Access", the online web access to Microsofts exchange mail servers works nicely.
I think, this is enough about the browser. And I partly agree on others like, that prefer good apps against the browser dialogue. But the open internet is and will - at least for lots of year to come - stay the only really everywhere application hundreds of different devices support in a very similar way.

The German portals and the iPad:
As promised in the introduction I will spend some words on the changes I realized on some portals. They partly intend to switch video clips into the matching device format. So and both do some browser detection and either call up the full embedded flash player or send out quicktime enabled clips. This works seamlessly with the up to now existing impact, that the preroll commercials don't show up and only the content is streamed. Interestingly the resolution is different for the iPhone and the iPad and the videos look quite good (even far away from HD) on the large screen of the iPad. Seems alike, that there is some deeper cooperation existing, as the German site shows iPads accessing exactly the homepage.
I think, this behavior of website operators will be quite common in the near future, as all the sites want to widen their reach to the most. Never realized similar effects to support devices that are not officially available in the local country.  

What else?
I tried some eBook reading with the iPad and tested some different apps. Found that the "Kindle" player apps works quite nice and fully compatible with all the other reader software on PC, iPhone and Macs. I still think for heavy readers a true e-ink does better. I am getting tired much faster, than reading normal books. Had only some first short read test with e-ink devices but think in their visual reception they are really much more like paper.
And the people are still going crazy, if they realize that someone is really carrying an iPad. It really fascinates even technical experts and all want to touch it...