Veer 4G review

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Back in February, HP (and the company’s mobile team, formerly Palm) announced that it had some big — and small — plans on the horizon. A new tablet, the TouchPad. A larger, high-powered smartphone dubbed the Pre 3, and the Veer. The Veer 4G — an ultra-tiny webOS smartphone that would pick up where the Pixi left off and serve a legion of users who… want a smaller phone? That’s the thinking, apparently. As I went into this review, my take wasn’t so much about the Veer being an alternative to a “real” smartphone but rather that it’s a smartphone with all the power of a normal handset for those looking for something daintier, lighter, and more portable. Jon Rubinstein and the crew at HP have gone out of their way to say that this isn’t an underpowered handset — just a different kind of handset. In fact, Jon told me on the Engadget Show that he was using the Veer as his main device (not the bigger, more powerful Pre 3 or even the semi-new Pre 2). So, will the Veer 4G fill a gap in the market? Can HP’s $99 mini-phone tempt buyers away from the iPhone 3GS or cheaper Android offerings? Or is the diminutive device just another misstep in the Palm / HP story? I try to answer all those questions (and more) in my review below.

Hardware

Hardware

The Veer 4G is absolutely miniatureVeer_rev13

HP Veer 4G reviewpictures

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The Veer is tiny. Extremely tiny. Absurdly tiny. Seriously, I can’t stress this enough — the phone is absolutely miniature. The Veer is just 2.1 inches across and 3.3 inches tall, with a thickness of .59 inches. While it’s certainly not the thinnest smartphone I’ve ever used, it feels like the smallest overall. The closest companion in terms of design would be Microsoft’s failed Kin One; in fact, the phones share similarities in a number of ways, from the diminutive display (the Veer’s screen is 2.6 inches, like the Kin), to the slide out QWERTY keyboard. Overall, that’s probably not a great thing, though the Veer is easily more stylish.

On the black version, the body of the phone is made up of a plastic, soft touch material, similar to the Pre 2. The white version feels a bit more rigid and plasticky — that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it definitely feels different in your hand. The front of the devices house that small screen, an earpiece, and ambient light / proximity sensors, plus a gesture area below the display which has a thin LED strip that lights up on touches or for notifications. Up top, there’s a loop for your favorite phone charm, the SIM slot, and a chrome mute switch. On the left side of the phone you’ll find a volume rocker, while the right side holds the power / sleep / wake button (which I found tough to reach in a number of situations) and the very odd, Veer-only magnetic sync / charge socket (more on that below). Around back there’s a small speaker and an opening for the camera sensor.

The phone has a sliding mechanism that’s similar to the ones seen on the Pre and Pre 2, but this particular slider feels substantially tighter and more solid than previous Palm phones. There is a slight bit of wiggle when the phone is opened, but it’s nothing compared to the “Oreo effect” observed on earlier models. There’s a definitive snap and mechanical feel to the Veer’s slider that is confidence-building. When you do get the phone open, you’ll find a minuscule but surprisingly useful keyboard inside. HP has opted for a clickier, less resistive version than on the Pre 2 but have reduced the amount of travel and pressure needed to complete a key press. It means that you can type faster and more accurately than on the spongy keyboard of the Pre and Pre 2. That’s great, but I still had trouble the sheer tininess of this keyboard — it’s simply not very spacious, which means missed keystrokes are common. Once I got used to it, my accuracy improved, but I wouldn’t say it was ever a totally comfortable experience.

Now let’s talk about that weird Veer port for a moment. Basically, given the diminutive size of the handset, there’s no room here for a Micro USB port or a headphone jack. That means that inside the box for the Veer 4G there’s a tiny little dongle for plugging in headphones, and a special cable for syncing or connecting to a charger. Honestly, it seems impossible to believe there wasn’t another option for at least one of these, but that’s the score. The dongle for the headphone jack is so tiny that you’re probably guaranteed to lose it — as far as the sync cable is concerned, well… both special accessories mean that you’re in major trouble if you don’t have a spare laying around. I would have opted for a slightly larger phone with both of these jacks on board, but that probably has more to do with my overall size issues with this phone. And one other thing — the dongle is just plain ugly.

It seems that the goal with this phone was to make a successor to the Pixi that was even more impressively small. HP and Palm believe there is a market for a phone of this size. I have my doubts, and none of those doubts were put to rest after using the Veer for a few days. The phone is simply too small in my opinion. The screen can be hard to read at times, and the interface now feels cramped and crowded. Honestly, it’s tough to understand why HP didn’t just evolve the Pixi form factor here — it’s a more attractive, thinner device that feels better in your hands. Adding a slider to a phone this small makes the whole experience much less comfortable than having a candybar QWERTY. Taking it in and out of pocket almost always resulted in unwanted slides (which means the phone wakes up), and I found it generally difficult to grapple with when I need to send a quick message or email.

The market reaction will show whether or not there really is a place in people’s hearts for a phone this tiny, but from a hardware perspective, I was unconvinced.

Internals

Internals / Display

Veer_rev12

Inside the Veer you’ll find an 800MHz Qualcomm MSM7230 (the same CPU used in the speedy G2), 512MB of RAM, 8GB of internal storage (about 6 of which are usable, and there are no SD slots here), WiFi 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, along with those highly controversial HSPA radios. That tiny, capacitive display has a resolution of just 320 x 400, but I don’t see how you could get away with much more at this size. I mentioned the proximity and light sensors, and there’s also an accelerometer inside, along with an A-GPS chip.

When all is said and done, I didn’t think the phone’s performance was notably speedy. In fact, I found myself quite annoyed by system slowdowns and freezes that I’ve seen in earlier handsets, which I largely chock up to the software itself, not the hardware (more on this in the software section). Still, nothing inside the Veer seemed to mitigate the issues. Multitasking worked well — as it does on most webOS devices — and I didn’t see any RAM issues.

The display looks great in daylight and in lower light settings, but the size and resolution leave much to be desired. There were times when I had email that I literally could not read without zooming in. It’s nice to be compact, but the miniaturized screen on the Veer left me wanting more, which is never a good feeling. The experience feels trapping, as if you’re trying to peer around a corner. You might think I’m spoiled by larger screens, but 3-inches and above is the norm, and many (if not most) smartphones sport touchscreens that occupy the entire front surface of a phone. The Veer’s display doesn’t necessarily improve on previous QWERTY phones (like the BlackBerry Bold) due to its narrowness, and it doesn’t take the place of a “standard” smartphone display.

I found myself quite annoyed by system slowdowns and freezesVeer_rev129

Battery

Sound quality / Battery life / Network

One area that does seem to be slightly improved is battery lifeVeer_rev119Veer_rev126

Sound quality was fine though not by any means special on the earpiece of the phone, and the same is true for the speakerphone. One note is that the speaker around back is highly susceptible to touches — so even if you cover it slightly, your sound whooshes away as if someone just flipped the treble knob to zero.

One area that does seem to be slightly improved is battery life. In my testing, I was able to easily make it through a full day of normal use (calls, browsing, email and Twitter syncing regularly, music playing) without needing to pitstop. I don’t think the battery is particularly robust (it’s a non-removable 910 mAh pack), but the Veer felt like it had enough juice to make it through a day of work, which is more than you can say for some earlier webOS devices.

As far as the Veer’s “4G” performance, I saw none of that here. Typically, speeds on its HSPA radio were slower than speeds seen on the iPhone 4. My testing showed download speeds roughly on par with the Atrix 4G, which means never hitting much higher than 2Mbps down (at least in North Brooklyn). Meanwhile, upload speeds were even worse, rarely topping out over 1Mbps.

Camera

Camera

Veer_rev2201

The Veer’s camera, while higher in resolution than the Pre’s 3 megapixel shooter or Pixi’s 2 megapixel option, did not yield significantly better results than either of its predecessor’s sensors, and certainly not better than other smartphones I’ve tested recently. Sure, 5 megapixels will get you bigger photos, but because the Veer’s camera lacks a flash or auto-focus, and its sensor is lower quality than many other devices, images I captured looked artifacted and washed out. The actual picture quality didn’t seem markedly different than previous webOS phones, and that’s a bit of a disappointment. Also, while you can shoot video on the phone, it does not do HD video.

HP Veer 4G review samplepictures

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The Veer’s sensor is lower quality than many other devicesVeer_rev216

Software

Software

While Palm’s hardware has historically been a little underwhelming, I’ve always been impressed with what the company has done on the software side. While Palm wasn’t able to compete on a large scale with Google, Apple, and RIM, its OS has always been an incredibly strong contender when it came to innovation and ease of use. In fact, it’s clear that other companies — companies like Research In Motion and Microsoft — have taken cues from Palm by introducing card-like multitasking and gesture support in their mobile OSs. HP has taken up the webOS mantle and is pushing forward with it into just about every facet of its business, so I expected to see a newer, slicker version of the operating system on the Veer than I’d seen previously. Unfortunately, that wasn’t exactly the case.

Back at Engadget, I reviewed webOS 2.0, the biggest overhaul of the OS since its initial launch in June of 2009 (the Veer sports version 2.1.2). In that version, HP / Palm had added little perks like the ability to stack related cards together, “Just Type” functionality which let you quickly search the web, content on the phone, or immediately perform a “Quick Action” like writing a tweet or making a new calendar entry. The company had also improved its account aggregator Synergy so you could plug more services into it, and made some useful tweaks to the overall UI and look and feel that made getting around the OS a more pleasant experience.

All of those new features have made their way to the Veer and its OS, but so have problems that have been plaguing Palm’s phones since the original Pre. In earlier reviews, I believed that some of those issues were growing pains, or that they were the product of a company with a reach which exceeded its grasp (due to staff or budget limitations). Now I’m not so sure. In particular, there is general stuttery and inconsistent feel to the user interface that causes major problems when trying to quickly interact with content. Apps take far too long to load. Scrolling can be laggy. Sometimes when the phone syncs or brings up a notification, the entire device will freeze for a split second — this usually results in missed touches, or touches to sections of content which are unintentional.

The aforementioned problem is especially notable in the mail application, where any message management (deletions, moving messages) is synced back to the server immediately (at least with IMAP accounts like Gmail). This makes for an extremely frustrating situation when trying to quickly delete lots of messages — the phone feels unusable in this situation. Of course, that wouldn’t be an issue if Palm / HP had made any significant updates to its mail app (such as adding threading or multiple message management). Let’s just be frank here: webOS is way behind its nearest competition when it comes to email, which is a major part of most users’ lives. The fact that the company has yet to make major updates to the client and is still touting an iOS 1.0-level mail experience is unforgivable at this point. And those aren’t the only mail issues — when writing a new message or forwarding something on, the time it takes for webOS to open a new card is simply too long. It’s frustrating. Then there’s the issue of the search functionality in mail. It seems to only look at specific strings, like a contact name, which can be a pain when you know someone’s email address and expect that beginning to type it will autofill the remainder. As an example, our dev Justin Glow has an email address which begins with justinglow — in Gmail or on an iPhone, I would just begin typing this and expect to see it autocompleted. That’s not the case in webOS. In webOS, it will only find his contact if I type his name in with a space. It makes no sense!

Email_2011-09-05_112721Browser_2011-09-05_112640

HP thinks that a device like the Pre 3 can compete with RIM devices for business users, but this two-year old email experience won’t win over many customers. It’s clunky, slow, and often frustrating.

Even more troubling is the third party app situation. While the webOS catalog doesn’t offer tens of thousands of titles, there are some pretty impressive pieces of software available. Going into the Veer review, it was my impression that I would have access to all of those titles, given the device’s improved specs over the Pixi — but to my shock, there are many apps (particularly 3D games or anything relying on the PDK) which are not compatible with the Veer. According to HP, this stems purely from the fact that developers need to make their titles play nice with the lower resolution of the display. Perhaps naively, I expected that the company would have a simple, automatic solution for scaling larger apps down to the smaller screen, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. So, if you were excited about playing N.O.V.A. or Rock Band on the Veer, you’re out of luck for now. That’s especially disheartening considering how little software is available overall to webOS users — to trim it down even further presents a somewhat unattractive picture.

Issues aside, there is still a lot to like about webOS, and I still believe it has incredible potential. As far as mobile operating systems go, it’s easily one of the most intelligent, intuitive, and enjoyable to use (if you can adjust to some of the bugs). Of course, the highlights of the OS haven’t changed much since its debut, nor have the issues, so while webOS has many bright spots, it still doesn’t feel like a smooth, consistent experience. When you compare the time and steps it takes to carry out many tasks and weigh some of the behavioral problems in day-to-day tasks, it seems less inviting than the newest Android and iOS offerings. Two years after its introduction, I still feel like I’m having the same problems I had the first time around — in fact, some of those problems feel worse.

Video Review

Video Review

Wrap-up

Compare It Hp veer 4g

HP Veer 4G (GSM)

5.1 Verge Score Write Review

Good Stuff

Great QWERTY keyboardCute designNew additions to webOS are solid

Bad Stuff

Performance is spottyNot all webOS apps are compatibleScreen is far too small From a pure features and apps perspective, it’s easily bested by iOS and Android devices in the same price range

AT&T is currently offering the Veer 4G at $99 with a two-year contract. That may seem like a great deal, but when you consider you could have the Inspire 4G, or Captivate — both more powerful, full featured devices — for the same price, it might make you do a double take. Furthermore, you could get an iPhone 3GS or Samsung Focus for half the price! At the end of the day, there is nothing inspiring, exciting, or deeply original about the Veer 4G. As a webOS device, it underperforms the Pre 2. From a pure features and apps perspective, it’s easily bested by iOS and Android devices in the same price range. So really, the only factor here that could be potentially appealing to customers is the size and inclusion of a hardware QWERTY keyboard, and that’s not much to go on as far as I’m concerned. If HP and Palm wanted to make a splash back into the smartphone game, the Veer was not the device to do it with. In fact, it might have been a smarter move to wait on the release of the Pre 3 and TouchPad to reintroduce webOS to the world. As it stands now, the Veer has taken the remaining embers of excitement I had about the operating system and its devices and all but extinguished them.

ASUS Eee Pad Transformer TF101 review

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Eee Pad Transformer Jump To up Top Hardware / design Screen / speakers Camera Performance Software Keyboard dock Battery life Video Review Wrap-up Comments down Close

Back in the fall of 2007, ASUS decided there was room in people’s lives for a highly portable, secondary computer that could handle basic tasks — surfing the web, checking email, listening to music, and playing games. That was the $399 Linux-based Eee PC — arguably the first netbook — and it became quite a hit. You know the rest of the story: it wasn’t long before other consumer electronics companies, with the help of Intel and Microsoft, started to join in and small laptops invaded the market. The tale hasn’t exactly ended, but it’s certainty hit a low point — almost four years later, netbooks have lost a sizable chunk of market share to a new sort of device aiming to fill their original purpose. Indeed, the tablet has arrived.

My apologies for the short netbook history lesson, but it’s ASUS’ past that makes its entry into the tablet market such an interesting one. The Taiwanese company’s Eee Pad Transformer TF101 is part tablet and part netbook. For $399, you get a Tegra 2-powered Honeycomb slate with a 10.1-inch IPS display. Shell out an extra $150 and you get a keyboard dock with an integrated battery, which transforms the tablet into your typical clamshell laptop. It looks and sounds like an absolutely killer package, and it’s one that certainty stands out from the cookie-cutter Honeycomb tablets out there. But there are a few major questions: do a keyboard and touchpad add any real value to an Android slate? Is the $399 tablet a decent piece of hardware? And has ASUS finally, after so many failed attempts at creating netvertibles, been able to create a device that works as both a tablet and a netbook? Answers await in my full review!

Hardware / design

Hardware / design

There are some discrepancies between look and actual feel here55transformer13

The tablet part of the package — herein referred to as the Transformer — is a stunning piece of hardware when it’s set on a table like you see above. It’s got extremely clean lines and its edges are covered in a bronzish metal. Flip it over and its backside is much more audacious than any of the other Honeycomb tablets out there — the textured brown cover has a diamond pattern of sorts and the material has a slight sparkle to it. There’s no doubt that it is one nice looking tablet; however, there are some discrepancies between look and actual feel here. Given its dapper aesthetic, I expected the tablet to feel weightier in hand and have a more solid construction. Instead I was surprised at the overly plastic build. That’s not to say I think it feels cheap — that’s not really how I’d describe it — but it certainty doesn’t have the same sort of rigidity as the iPad 2, Motorola Xoom, or even Acer’s Iconia A500. On the other hand, the plastic makes it a bit lighter than the other Honeycomb tablets out there.

As you can see in the chart above and in some of the comparison shots, the Transformer doesn’t fare too well in size compared to the other Honeycomb tablets. Oddly, it’s got a noticeably thick left and right bezel when in landscape mode, which results in it measuring 10.6 inches in length — more than a full inch longer than the iPad and .87-inches longer than the Xoom. (I believe ASUS actually did that to accommodate a wider keyboard dock, but that’s just a guess.) In terms of thickness, the .51-inch tablet is on par with its closest Honeycomb competitors, but it’s discernibly thicker than the .34-inch iPad 2. Those numbers actually mean a lot in terms of real usability — the iPad’s thinner stature makes a distinct difference when trying to hold the tablet up for longer periods of time.

The Transformer does boast more ports than Apple’s tablet

But of course, the Transformer does boast more ports than Apple’s tablet. It houses a mini-HDMI port, microSD card slot, and 3.5mm headphone jack. It doesn’t have a micro-USB port or a full-sized USB port like the Acer Iconia A500, which can be quite a pain when you want to sync media with a PC, but the keyboard dock houses two of the latter (more on that soon).

300transformer14300transformer16300transformer18Screen / speakers

Screen and speakers

555transformer57

After reviewing a few ASUS netvertibles with terrible resistive touchscreens, I almost want to give the individual responsible for the Transformer’s IPS panel a big hug. The quality of the 10.1-inch, 1280×800-resolution Gorilla Glass display is just downright impressive, especially for the price. Viewing angles are stellar, and unlike the Iconia A500, colors don’t blur at more pronounced angles. Speaking of colors, the display is extremely bright and crisp. Blacks looked deeper than on both the Xoom and Iconia A500, though, the iPad’s display does appear to be slightly brighter. Like every other glossy slab out there, the Transformer picks up a good amount of fingerprints and becomes a mirror outdoors.

The speaker grills, which flank the screen, aren’t the loudest we’ve heard on a tablet, but at full blast, they were loud enough to bother a lovely couple sitting next to me at a coffee shop. (Although, that could have just been the Lady Gaga music selection.) The PlayBook and iPad 2 still hold the title of best tablet speakers, but these will absolutely do for personal listening. Also, as you will see in the sample video below, the microphone quality is extremely poor.

I want to give the individual responsible for the Transformer’s IPS panel a big hug300transformer58Camera

Camera

The Transformer’s cameras prove my theory that tablet makers don’t really see a point in strapping quality image sensors to tablets300img_20110509_145308555img_20110508_145131

The Transformer’s two cameras — there’s a front-facing 1.2 megapixel shooter and a rear five megapixel one — prove my theory that tablet makers don’t really see a point in strapping quality image sensors to these types of gadgets. The rear camera took mediocre shots, and while they were slightly better than the Iconia Tab A500′s stills, they were still grainy and overexposed in most cases. ASUS didn’t opt to include a flash, but it did wisely position the lens in the middle of the back, so it’s nearly impossible to block it with a finger. On a brighter note, the autofocus was actually quite speedy in comparison to some of these other Honeycomb tablets. The 720p video was clear enough, but the camera had a hard time adjusting to different lighting and the end footage lacked the “high definition” quality we’ve all gotten used to on some Android phones. And that’s really the theme across most of these: none of these tablets have cameras that can compete with the likes of the iPhone 4 or other smartphones on the market.

The front-facing 1.2 megapixel camera was adequate for taking self-portraits and also did its job rather well when I decided to video chat with a friend using Google Talk. It also took markedly better quality video than the Acer and it actually seemed to keep up with me in my new, rather fun, yet nauseating spinning test.

Performance

Performance

The Transformer is powered by a dual-core 1GHz Tegra 2 processor and 1GB of RAM300transformer80555transformer57

Like every other Honeycomb tablet out there, the Transformer is powered by a dual-core 1GHz Tegra 2 processor and 1GB of DDR2 RAM. So, unsurprisingly, the day-to-day performance was on par with the others. For the most part the tablet was snappy, but there was some slight lag when I had a number of applications running. That said, apps opened quickly for the most part and a local 720p video played back without incident. Flash sites were a bit flaky to load, but once the dust settled, the tablet had no problem mustering up the strength to play videos in the browser. My unit had 16GB of storage; there’s a 32GB option for $499.99.

Software

Software

The Transformer is the fourth Honeycomb tablet to be released, and though ASUS hasn’t done all that much work on top of Android 3.0, there are some important tweaks to make note of. Firstly, you can see that it’s slightly retooled the back, home, and recent applications icons. Not a huge change, but definitely a welcome one — I prefer the cleaner look of ASUS’s icons to the cloudier, standard ones. ASUS’s also added a few of its own widgets, including the weather and email ones you can see above. The latter one is particularly useful and it blends beautifully with the Ice wallpaper. Speaking of that background, it took a while for me to realize, but the water level actually lowers as the battery does. It’s pretty trippy, and on top of that the ice cube sways back and forth based on your movement of the tablet. Sadly, the novelty wore off a few hours in when I started to notice it slowing things down.

The biggest adjustment ASUS made is to the onscreen keyboard. The keys have a rounder shape to them and there’s a dedicated number row, which actually speeds things up quite a bit when it comes to inputting passwords. If the new layout isn’t your thing, you can easily switch to the Honeycomb keyboard or use the physical keyboard dock. Point is, you’ll never have a shortage of keyboard options with this tablet.

On top of those, ASUS has preloaded the following apps to, you know, enhance the Honeycomb experience.

ASUS Reader

This one is ASUS’s attempt to take on Amazon and Google’s Books. There was one book preloaded on the review unit, but I could actually buy any of the other titles in the company’s own @Vibe store. The reading interface is actually decent looking, but it’s no Kindle killer.

Press Reader

This has a similar look, but getting useful content was much easier. I selected the US tab from a list of countries and I was able to download free versions of The Washington Post and The USA Today. The paper is fairly hard to read in its PDF form, however, there’s a table of contents so you can jump to different sections.

300transformerscreens2300transformerscreens7300transformerscreens13300transformerscreens12300transformerscreens9

Polaris Office

Out of all the preloaded apps, this one got the most action. It’s a basic word processing application, but since Google Docs refused to work in the browser I wrote the brunt of this review in the app. Overall, the UI is very clean and changing text color and styling is a cinch.

MyCloud

ASUS houses most of its tools in the MyCloud app. The MyContent section allows you to view music, video, and photos and sync them with ASUS’s WebStorage. ASUS gives every Transformer owner 2GB worth of storage and you can access the files through its secure web portal. The MyDesktop tab is simply a Splashtop Remote app, while the @Vibe section gives you access to a music streaming and radio portal. The Music section didn’t have a ton of selection, but it did have an Usher station, which should make a certain This is My Next editor very happy.

MYNET

This is ASUS’s DLNA app. I’ve repeatedly had issues setting DLNA up correctly, and to be honest, I gave up this time around. At this point Google should make it a lot easier for these devices to work wirelessly with one another, but that’s an editorial for another time.

All in all, ASUS provides a well thought out software experience with some integrated options and third-party apps that make Honeycomb a bit more user friendly. That said, my opinion of Honeycomb remains the same — it’s incredibly far behind in terms of app selection (even though there are a few Twitter apps out now!) and it still needs some basic UI tweaks. ASUS does promise the Honeycomb 3.1 update in June, but I still haven’t been able to test out the new software to assess how much better the experience really is.

Keyboard dock

Keyboard dock

A keyboard and touchpad really adds something to the Honeycomb experience Lead555transformer24

However, adding a keyboard and touchpad to the Honeycomb experience adds something that really sets the OS and Transformer apart. Sure, Google built the software for touch input, but navigating the screen with a mouse actually works quite well, and while I found myself reaching out to touch the screen quite a bit with a finger, the touchpad is a nice fallback and really does create for a nice clamshell computing experience.

A large part of that has to do with how well the two parts work together and the fact that the $150 dock is quite well built. Interestingly, it actually feels better than the tablet — it seems to have a metal base, which creates for an extremely sturdy keyboard with zero flex. The hinge, which rotates so you can close the device like a netbook, also feels incredibly rigid and allows the tablet to fold over the keyboard very smoothly. In that closed position, the 2.9-pound / 1.6-thick package looks like a premium netbook and much nicer, I’ll say, than those after market Bluetooth keyboard cases and docks. I should mention that the actual mechanism that locks the tablet into the dock is a bit wonky. It takes bit of practice to know if you’ve got it the two docked together correctly, but an audible click and on-screen “keyboard docked” alert are extremely helpful. I did have some issues with the keyboard and touchpad not responding a few times — simply reattaching the two fixed that, though.

The keyboard makes a world of difference when it comes to doing real work

So how is the typing experience? The chiclet keyboard itself is pretty much a replica of the one that ASUS has been using on its netbooks for a few years now — the keys are well spaced and have a good amount of give. In fact, I wrote the entirety of this review on the panel and it didn’t take long for me to start typing at a decent clip. As always, I do wish the left Shift key was full-sized, but it’s nice to see that ASUS made some other adjustments to correspond with the OS. There are home and search buttons in the bottom corner and you can adjust the brightness and other various functions using the top row of keys. On the other hand, some much needed keyboard shortcuts don’t work — for instance, there’s no way to copy and paste. While that did slow down my workflow, the keyboard really did add another dimension of functionality to a Honeycomb tablet and for someone like me, who absolutely needs a physical keyboard to do write and do real work, it makes a world of difference.

The 3.1 x 1.5-inch touchpad is similarly well-made, and as I previously mentioned, it integrates quite well with Honeycomb. An arrow appears on screen as soon as it’s connected, and well, it works like any other mouse. Even better it actually supports two-finger scrolling, and I’m talking the smooth kind, not the jumpy, stuttering kind I’ve seen on so many Windows laptops. The single mouse button is rather stiff, but I actually didn’t use it much since double tapping on the pad just feels more natural given the touch-centric OS. I’ve found myself using a combination of touchscreen and touchpad navigation when the system is docked. Still, I have to say I am surprised at how well the OS paired with a mouse. If you wanted to attach a real mouse you could do that via one of the dock’s two USB ports. The covers are a bit of a pain to unlatch, however. The dock also houses a SD card slot and a 40-pin proprietary charging port.

Battery life

Battery life

The result is incredibly long runtime300transformer52

I mentioned that the dock itself has its own charging port and that’s because in addition to the tablet’s 24.4Wh battery, the keyboard stores an additional cell. And as you may have guessed, the result is an incredibly long runtime. On its own, the tablet lasted eight hours and 21 minutes on our video rundown test, which loops the same standard definition video with brightness set at 65 percent and WiFi turned on. When docked the whole package lasted 13 hours and 49 minutes on that same test. Oh yes, just about 14 hours! That won’t only get you through a flight from New York to Shanghai it will buy you some time at the gate. Just make sure you have time to charge the dock and tablet up — you can charge them both together via the port on the dock, but it takes close to four hours to top ‘em off. Interestingly, the dock can also charge the tablet, so you may even get a bit more juice if you use the keyboard as an external charger for the tablet.

Video Review

Video Review

Wrap-up

Compare It Asus-transformer-1

Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101

8.0 Verge Score 7.3 User Score Write Review

Good Stuff

Entire package is affordableGreat quality displayOver 13 hours of battery life when paired with the dockComfortable keyboard

Bad Stuff

Overly plasticy constructionTablet is longer than othersPoor camera quality At $399, the Transformer is the most affordable Honeycomb tablet out there, and even beyond that, it’s actually one of the best

Given ASUS’s history, I think we all knew the company had what it took to build a netbook, but a tablet? And a tablet and netbook that could work together so seamlessly? Well, I had no idea. At $399, the Transformer is the most affordable Honeycomb tablet out there, and even beyond that, it’s actually one of the best. On it’s own, it’s a head-turning slab with a stunning IPS display that lasts over eight hours on a charge. Sure, it has its flaws — it’s larger than others, can get a bit sluggish at times, and the cameras are pretty crappy — but at $100 less than the iPad, it’s got all the vital components to compete.The real appeal of the Transformer, however, comes when you add on the keyboard dock. For $550, you get a tablet / netbook that lasts close to 14 hours on a single charge and provides a pretty great typing experience. Now, that’s not to say Honeycomb doesn’t still have its kinks. And even though the Transformer will get Android 3.1 in June, I’m not sure if / when Honeycomb will get a solid array of iPad-like apps. However, if there’s one device out there that can actually compete with the iPad, it’s the Transformer, and that’s because ASUS’ netbook history has helped it craft a solid blend of laptop and tablet.

Apple iMac review (mid 2011)

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imac mid 2011 review hero Jump To up Top Design and features Performance Wrap-up Comments down Close

Hard to believe it’s only been 10 months since the last iMac update, but Apple’s venerable desktop needed a quick bump to stay current with Intel’s Sandy Bridge processors and the Thunderbolt interconnect. So here we are, looking at the $1,999 27-inch 3.1GHz Core i5 iMac, which is the fastest stock configuration. (There’s a 3.4GHz Core i7 available build-to-order, but we wanted what you could buy in a store today.) In addition to the new processor and Thunderbolt, Apple also bumped the graphics card to an ATI Radeon HD 6970M, which the company claims offers three times the performance of the outgoing model, added a 720p FaceTime HD webcam, and tucked an ambient light sensor into the case for automatic brightness adjustments. So has the best all-in-one PC gotten even better, or is Apple just keeping pace? Read on to find out.

Design and features

Design, features, and display

At first glance, it’s almost impossible to tell the new iMacs apart from their predecessors — Apple’s been using this case since October 2009, and it hasn’t made any major external changes in this iteration. However, if you look closely, you’ll notice that the FaceTime HD webcam is a little off-center, as it’s been pushed to the right by the ambient light sensor, and around back you’ll of course notice the Thunderbolt ports on the back — a single port on the 21-inch model, and dual ports on the 27-inch.

DiSplay

The iMac has long had one of the best displays of any all-in-one, and nothing’s changed in this generation. Both models sport an LED-backlit IPS panel; the 21.5-inch model offers 1920 x 1080 resolution while our 27-inch tester cranks it up to 2560 x 1440. (For comparison’s sake, it costs around $1,000 to get an equivalent 27-inch panel in an external monitor like the Dell UltraSharp U2711 or Apple Cinema Display.) Apple also says that every iMac is individually color-calibrated at the factory, which is a nice touch, especially on a consumer machine that may never otherwise be adjusted. That ambient light sensor also works as advertised — which is to say, just like the one on the MacBook, MacBook Pro, iPhone, and iPad.

The iMacstill has one of the best displays of any all-in-one

Of course, you’re stuck with the iMac’s super-glossy display finish, which I don’t really mind, but some find incredibly annoying. It’s less of a problem on a desktop than a constantly-mobile laptop, and glossy displays are ubiquitous in the consumer space, but it’s something to consider.

PeriPherals

The standard peripherals are now wireless by default; the Magic Mouse is standard but you can switch to the Magic Trackpad for no charge, an improvement from last year. I’d take the trackpad, personally — you can get a much more comfortable third-party mouse for far less than the $69 either Apple accessory costs separately, and it’s clear that gestures will play a big part in OS X Lion when it arrives. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Magic Trackpad become the standard pack-in after Lion ships.

That’s really it from the outside of the case, but I can’t let this go without noting a minor niggle with the iMac’s design: the close proximity of the DVD and SD slots on the right side makes it far too easy to accidentally put an SD card in the DVD slot if you’re not looking. A quick Google search reveals that I’m far from the only one who’s had this problem — let’s hope the next major iMac revision puts the slots on opposite sides of the case.

Img_2352Vrg_3854Nik_70352011-05-09imac2011300

FaceTIME HD

Like the MacBook Pro, the iMac now features a 720p FaceTime HD webcam. Apple says families and friends often group in front of the iMac to make calls, so it’s increased the camera’s field of view so two or three people can comfortably fit in the shot at once. It’s a nice touch, and the extra resolution is definitely appreciated when making calls, but the absolute lack of adjustments still irks me — even just white balance and exposure settings would go a long way.

Thunderbolt

There’s still just not much to say about Thunderbolt; it was only announced three months ago, and peripherals that support the 10Gbps interconnect are few and far between. That doesn’t mean they’re not coming — LaCie, Promise, and others have already announced products — but right now we’re all still waiting for things to develop. In the meantime, the dual Thunderbolt ports on the iMac can be used to hook up two external displays, and other Thunderbolt-equipped Macs can use the iMac as an external display in Target Display Mode, so the ports aren’t totally useless — just think of them as plucky Mini DisplayPorts with a dream.

Performance

Performance

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Given our experience with other Sandy Bridge-based systems, it’s no surprise that the new iMac shines in the performance department as well. The entire line has moved to quad-core processors with new AMD Radeon HD GPUs — the entry-level $1,199 21.5-inch iMac has a 2.5GHz Core i5 with a 512MB Radeon HD 6750M, while our 27-inch tester represents the top stock configuration and clocks in at $1,999 with a 3.1GHz Core i5 and 1GB Radeon HD 6790M. As you can see from the benchmarks, it’s a thoroughly capable machine — we never experienced any slowdowns while working with it, and we clocked a rock-solid 60fps in Portal 2 at 1680 x 1050 resolution and well over 100fps in Half-Life 2: Episode 2.

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You’ll note that the $2,199 2.2GHz Core i7 MacBook Pro scored slightly higher on GeekBench, and within range on the other benchmarks. It’s an interesting dilemma if you’re considering a high-end Mac: do you choose the gorgeous 27-inch display, or take nearly the same performance in a portable and sacrifice some screen resolution and a Thunderbolt port? These are good problems to have. Oh, and speaking of options, you can also configure the iMac into the stratosphere: we created a monster 3.4GHz Core i7 config with a 2GB Radeon HD 6790M, 16GB of RAM, and dual 256GB SDD / 2TB HDD storage for $3,469. That’s creeping up into serious professional territory, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see pros start looking at the iMac as production-capable machines, especially if Thunderbolt peripherals can reduce or eliminate the need for PCI capture cards and storage controllers. Apple played pretty coy when I asked them about that possibility, but it feels like the door’s being nudged open — we’ll see if Thunderbolt takes off enough to make it happen.

The iMac’s performance creeps into serious professional territoryMagictrackpad_imac27_front

Wrap-up

Compare It Imac-27-2011

Apple iMac (27-inch, mid 2011)

9.0 Verge Score 9.7 User Score Write Review

Good Stuff

Excellent displaySolid performanceCompetitive pricing

Bad Stuff

No Blu-ray driveUltra-glossy displayThunderbolt not yet useful The iMac remains the single best all-in-one computer available

Every year I review the iMac, and every year my conclusion is the same: the iMac remains the single best all-in-one computer available. The 27-inch model is virtually the only machine of its class on the market, and it’s hard to argue with its $1,699 entry price given that a similar IPS display alone costs nearly $1,000. There’s far more competition for the 21.5-inch model, but nothing that blows it away: the $1,049 HP TouchSmart 610xt and $1,099 Lenovo A700 offer 23-inch touchscreens with the same 1920 x 1080 resolution as the iMac, but both feature only a 2.66GHz dual-core mobile Core i5 and slower Radeon at that price, while the $1,099 Sony VAIO L has a 24-inch 1920 x 1080 touchscreen display but struggles along with a 2.3GHz dual-core mobile Core i5 and Intel integrated graphics. I’d call that matchup in Apple’s favor, especially given the near-useless state of Windows 7 touch overlays.That’s not to say that the iMac is perfect: it’s still frustrating that Apple ships such beautiful displays but doesn’t offer a Blu-ray drive, which is the best way for the average consumer to watch high-quality 1080p content. (And iTunes movies are still 720p!) The potential for tragedy remains high as long as the SD and DVD slots share such intimate quarters. And we’re pretty sure Apple’s displays get glossier every year. But these are the same faults the iMac has had for years now, while the positives have gotten substantially better. It’s a winning formula that’s thus far eluded Apple’s competitors — and we imagine the company will eventually decide to change the equation entirely.

Acer Iconia Tab A500 review

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Whether it likes it or not, Acer’s got a reputation in the consumer electronics business: its computers are rarely the most well made, but they’re always the most affordable on shelves. It’s exactly what launched Acer to become a top computer manufacturer a few years ago and what made the company so successful in the netbook market. The 10.1-inch Iconia Tab A500 is Acer’s first attempt at applying that thinking to tablets, and as the majority of Honeycomb tablets cost north of $550 and are being sold with pricey 3G plans, the $450, WiFi-only tablet comes at an absolutely perfect time. The A500’s specs match the rest of the Honeycomb tablets – it’s got a dual-core Tegra 2 processor, 16GB of storage, dual-cameras, and a 1280×800-resolution display – but for $150 less than the others, does it suffer from Acer’s typical sacrifices in screen and manufacturing quality? Can the Taiwan company succeed at taking on Motorola’s Xoom and LG’s G-Slate not only in price but in actual usability and features? Hit the break to find out in full review.

Hardware / design

Hardware / design

I’ve really been pleasantly surprised at how sturdy the hardware seemsIconiatab1

We’ve been hearing lots of talk of tear-shaped hardware lately, and coincidentally, the Iconia Tab A500 follows a similar design philosophy. When held in landscape mode, the right and left edges funnel inwards, and while the aesthetic choice may seem minor, it actually made it easier to hold than the Xoom’s boxy, chiseled back. There’s also another major design component Acer’s got Motorola beat on – unlike the Xoom’s power button, which is located on the backside, the Iconia’s glowing on / off nub lives on the left edge. Again, it may seem like a small detail, but it makes a world of difference when you want to wake up a tablet immediately and get online. My only complaint about that button is that it and the plastic edge it lives on feels a bit cheap in comparison to the rest of the slab, however, those are really the only parts of the tablet that feel a bit cheap. The silver, brushed aluminum, which covers the back and flows onto the front, doesn’t only look classy but gives the entire product a nice rigidity. As I intimated in the introduction, I was a bit worried about the overall quality of the device, but I’ve really been pleasantly surprised at how sturdy the hardware seems. (Note: I still haven’t gotten the ASUS Transformer to review so I’m not making direct comparisons to that product here.)

It’s a fierce tablet size war out there, and while the Iconia Tab A500 stacks up rather well against its Honeycomb rivals, the iPad 2 wins by quite a bit on both thickness and weight. The handy chart below has everything you need to know, and though the .52-inch / 1.6-inch Iconia is slightly heavier than the Xoom, I wouldn’t put much weight on those numbers — in hand it just feels lighter and slimmer. Of course, neither of these 10-inch Android tablets are as easy to hold as the 9.7-inch iPad 2 – for that, we must wait on Samsung’s .33-inch Galaxy Tab 10.1.

The Iconia does beat the rest on port selection

The Iconia does beat the rest on port selection; its left edge is home to a 3.5mm headphone jack and a mini-HDMI port, while the right side holds full-sized USB and Micro USB ports. Under the port cover on the top you’ll find a MicroSD card slot, taped-over SIM card slot, a rather stiff volume rocker, and a rotation lock switch. The USB 2.0 port is certainty a bragging right for the Iconia, but it really shouldn’t be at the moment – I couldn’t get it to read an external hard drive or transfer files from my laptop. I finally got it to recognize a USB flash drive but only in the Gallery application.

Iconiatab5Iconiatab6Iconiatab9Screen / speakers

Screen and speakers

The screen is actually quite a healthy organ for the priceIconiatab13Iconiatab20

Obviously, the heart of the Tab A500 is its 10.1-inch 1280×800-resolution display, and well, it’s actually quite a healthy organ for the price. The screen is extremely bright and crisp – just as bright as the Xoom, though not a bright as the iPad – and while it’s not an IPS panel, both horizontal and vertical viewing angles were more than adequate. At some angles the display did look a bit washed out, but looking at it dead-on or with it slightly tilted while lying down was never an issue. Like the rest of the tablets out there, the glossy screen picks up loads of fingerprints streaks (seriously, it’s a photographer’s nightmare), although to Acer’s credit, a handy “Notebook Cleaning Cloth” comes in the box. The touchscreen itself was responsive, though the haptic feedback was so weak that I actually disabled it.

The Iconia’s two stereo speakers are situated on the bottom left and right corners of the back of the device, which makes blocking them when you’re holding the tablet in landscape mode way too easy. Still, the speakers, which are matched with Dolby’s Audio software, provided some surprisingly nice playback. The standard settings – with Dolby powered off – created for incredibly tinny sound, but after futzing with the Dolby settings, Kanye’s “Dark Fantasy” sounded shockingly full. The two speakers are a notch above the Xoom’s in volume and quality, but they’re not as loud as the ones on the iPad 2 or the Playbook – Josh has actually been pretty smitten with the latter.

Cameras

Cameras

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The speaker placement isn’t exactly ideal, but it’s nowhere near as bad as where Acer injected the 5 megapixel camera. The rear shooter is located in the top left corner, and without fail I blocked the lens with my left index finger every time I went to take a shot. When I wasn’t taking pictures of my finger, the camera snapped incredibly mediocre shots. The auto-focus was relatively slow, colors were muted, and the images just look grainy. Flat out, they were just not as crisp as the shots I’ve taken with my iPad 2 or Samsung Galaxy Tab, even when viewed on my laptop. Capturing 720p video on the tablet wasn’t much better – indoor and outdoor footage just doesn’t look all that high definition. I also noticed it having a hard time adjusting the white balance so some of the footage I shot has a yellowish tint to it. Also, as Josh has said a few times now, there’s really no natural way of holding up a 10.1-inch viewfinder when you’re walking around. It’s just awkward.

The front-facing 2 megapixel camera is comparable to most of the others I’ve seen on other Honeycomb tablets. When I called a friend through Google Video Chat she could tell I wasn’t wearing any makeup – good news for the camera, bad news for me. Seriously though, the lens is fine for taking self-portraits and making video calls.

Without fail I blocked the lens with my left index finger every time I went to take a shotIconiatab8Iconiatab4Software

Software

Acer doesn’t promise an untouched Android 3.0 experience like the G-Slate or the Xoom, but the only real additions the company’s made is in third-party applications. To be honest, the apps themselves aren’t all that useful as Honeycomb provides most of the same raw media functionality, but here’s a short look at a few of them.

Photo browser 3d

This is probably one of the most interesting apps. Acer places your photos in a spiral notebook-like interface and allows you to use the accelerometer to turn the pages by tilting the tablet from side to side. I have no idea why you’d want to do this, but it’s fun for a minute or two.

Socialjogger

You can log into your Facebook and Twitter accounts here and then use the jog wheel on the left side of the display to scroll through your feeds. It’s pretty neat, but it’s lacking what it takes to be a real Twitter replacement — you can’t upload pictures or retweet.

Iconiatab26Iconiatab37Iconiatab32Iconiatab19

LumiRead

This is an additional reading app, but it doesn’t offer anything over Google’s Books. Also, you can’t download books from the LumiRead store in the US at the moment.

Clear.Fi

This is really Acer’s DNLA application. I didn’t have any luck accessing my phone’s media, but when used as a basic multimedia viewer the app is actually pretty decent.

As for Honeycomb itself, I defer to Josh’s previous reviews on the operating system. In short, I absolutely love the multitasking ability, the widgets, and the Gmail experience, but the one thing holding me back from replacing my iPad with a Honeycomb tablet is the lack of third-party software. As I’ve complained about, there isn’t a Twitter client that’s optimized yet for the bigger display and there are still only about 60 apps available for the software. It’s also nearly impossible to distinguish between tablet and phone apps in the Market at the moment.

Performance / battery life

Performance and battery life

Battery life has been a mixed bag with this tabletIconiatab38Iconiatab14

The Iconia Tab A500 is powered by a dual-core 1GHz Tegra 2 processor, 1GB of DDR3 RAM, and packs 16GB of storage. The performance is akin to what I’ve seen on other Honeycomb tablets — there’s a slight yet noticeable lag when there are a number of applications open, but overall it is able to keep up. To its credit, I haven’t encountered any force closes or application crashes on the Iconia in the past week – my Xoom’s browser will periodically crash. Both 720p and 1080p videos played back smoothly on the tablet — I didn’t test the HDMI out capability, but it will only output 720p video for the time being. The 1080p support will be an update.

Surprisingly, battery life has been a mixed bag with this tablet. In my real world use – surfing the web, reading emails, watching some YouTube clips – I have gotten close to 7.5 hours of intermittent use. However, on my video rundown test, which loops the same standard definition video with brightness set to 65 percent and WiFi on, the two 3260mAH batteries lasted six hours and 32 minutes. That’s not quite as long as Acer’s promised eight hours of HD video play or the other tablets we’ve tested – the Xoom lasted over eight hours and the iPad closer to ten and a half. On the bright side, the tablet didn’t take that long to charge up, but beware — the three foot power cord is insanely short.

Wrap-up

Compare It Acer a500

Acer Iconia Tab A500

6.5 Verge Score Write Review

Good Stuff

Crisp, bright displayCommendable Dolby sound qualityCosts less than $500

Bad Stuff

Less battery life than other tabletsMediocre camera qualitySlightly thicker than other Honeycomb tablets If you have your heart set on a Google-powered tablet, the Iconia blends quality and affordability

To be honest, the Iconia Tab A500 exceeded my expectations. After years of reviewing Acer laptops with crappy LCDs and cheap plastic parts, I expected the company to take a similar route with its tablets, but instead, I was impressed with the manufacturing quality (at least for the price), the bright and crisp display, and rather-untouched software experience. Sure, the cameras aren’t great and it trails other tablets in battery life, but for $450 those things seem forgivable, especially when you consider the LG G-Slate’s or the Xoom’s respective $630 and $600 price tags. Of course, the real question is, does it make sense to shell out an extra $50 to snag the iPad 2? At this point, that $50 makes a load of difference in usability since the Honeycomb app ecosystem is still miles behind iOS and Apple’s tablet is much thinner and lighter, but look, if you have your heart set on a Google-powered tablet, the Iconia blends quality and affordability, which is something I haven’t been able to say about an Acer product for a long time.

Barnes & Noble Nook review (2011)

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The new Nook from Barnes & Noble has this funny little trick: I keep on reading on it. In fact, despite my best efforts otherwise, I’m often reading the very book I planned on reading, or the book that I was reading moments before I tried to escape into some OS Wonderland that simply doesn’t exist here. Sometimes I wonder what else is going on in the world — but I’d have to set down the Nook and pick up another device to find out, so I just read the book instead. It’s kind of like… reading a book.

For Barnes & Noble, the new Nook is a perfect compromise between the unintuitive dual-screen original Nook and the super ambitious Nook Color — which is really more like a tablet computer than a reader. E Ink keeps the device cheap, both on price and on battery life ($139 / two months), and everybody loves a touchscreen. The question is: in a bid for simplicity, has Barnes & Noble kept the best parts around, or thrown out the baby with the complicated bath water? Let’s dive in and find out.

Hardware

Hardware

Nookreview

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In many ways, the Nook is almost a post-digital device. When you open the box you just pull out the Nook and start dealing with content – no need to worry about the USB cord or charger just yet, tucked away in a second compartment. After the Nook is powered on the first time you might never need to power cycle it again. WiFi works automatically at any Starbucks or Barnes & Noble. There aren’t any “web addresses” to type in or “apps” to install. I’ve never forced anything to quit, and I’m not sure how I would anyway.

Technically the new Nook is a touchscreen E Ink ebook reader. It communicates with the Barnes & Noble ecosystem, and also works as a simple mass storage device for sideloading ePub or Adobe Digital Edition titles you might have lying around. Even more technically, the device is running Google’s Android operating system – though there isn’t a single hint to that fact in the actual UI or operation of the reader, but more on that later.

The actual object is made out of a soft touch plastic, both front and back, with a large indentation in the rear to give you something to hold onto. At its thickest the Nook is certainly thicker than the Kindle 3 (0.47-inches vs 0.34-inches), but both devices are super light (the Nook wins at 7.5-ounces, the Kindle 3 is a hefty 8.5), and I actually greatly prefer holding the Nook. The thickness means less of a “pinch” is required to hold onto it, it just rests in the hand. You can turn pages by swiping anywhere on the screen, tapping on the edge of the screen, or pushing one of the four rubber ridges on the sides of the device – which can be customized to your preference. Between the shape and all this flexibility, arm and hand fatigue is basically a non-issue, which should be great news for anyone used to reading on something like the iPad or even the Nook Color.

The Nook is almost a post-digital deviceNook-300-008Nook-300-002

The 800 x 600 E Ink screen is sunken below the bezel a couple millimeters, no doubt to make room for the infrared touchscreen technology. It’s actually the same tech that’s used by last year’s Sony PRS-650 (and the just-announced Kobo Touch), and since it doesn’t involve an additional layer of anything over top of the screen (the IR is embedded in the sides) it doesn’t have any impact on readability, unlike older generations of touchscreen ereaders. Happily, I found the tech to be perfectly responsive, including some pretty snappy QWERTY keyboard operation.

As for the actual E Ink, it’s the same 6-inch “Pearl” screen used on the Kindle 3, and the contrast and responsiveness is just as good. B&N has one trick up its sleeve, however. When turning pages on a book, the Nook does a semi-refresh that swaps out the text without doing a full-on “flash” of the screen. The downside is a minor amount of ghosting – which you can’t really see unless you’re looking for it – but the upside is that page turns are much less jarring. Every 6th page turn still flashes to black to kill the ghosts, but if you’re really looking for something analog and trippy you can start turning pages rapidly – it kind of looks like a fast forwarding VCR on a snowy CRT. Basically, the days of ebook readers taking their own sweet time to turn the page is over. And won’t be missed.

Nook-405001

While this little hack is great, it’s important to keep in mind that this isn’t a generational leap. There are still some major problems with E Ink. Compared to a paperbook (even a yellowing one) the contrast between text and background isn’t nearly as strong. Real ink has an advantage of being on top of the page, while E Ink still feels like you’re seeing it through a slight filter. It helps to have a direct light when reading E Ink, while real ink can be read comfortably under most ambient light conditions. Finally, real ink and recent phones (like the Atrix and iPhone 4) have the supreme advantage of resolution over E Ink. Text rendered on a 800 x 600 6-inch screen simply looks blurry compared to a pixel dense phone display or a “retro” printed page. Also, more specifically, I feel like the font rendering on the Nook is slightly inferior to that of the Kindle, the result being even more pixelated words than strictly necessary with this technology.

A quick note on battery life: Barnes & Noble rates the device at two months of “average” use, which is about half an hour a day. If you’re really serious about running the battery down, it will supposedly take you 150 hours at a pace of one page turn per minute. I haven’t had nearly enough time with the device to put a serious dent in the battery life, but even if you’re reading 3 or 4 hours a day on average you shouldn’t need to charge the thing more often than once every couple of weeks. I doubt it will be a problem until after the apocalypse.

Software

Software

Basically, things are where you expect them to be, and they’re really responsive when you tap themNook-300-007Nook-300-005Nook-review-555-006

What a difference a E Ink touchscreen makes. UI-wise there’s almost no point in comparing the new Nook to the original, or even the Nook Color. After seeing how easy it should be to page through books, jump to pages, change my font size, jump into another book, and preview or purchase a new title, I’m almost embarrassed for Amazon. The Kindle 3′s abstraction of the UI onto hardware buttons and endless menus seems positively last century in comparison. Even typing on the Nook is faster and easier than it is on the Kindle’s hardware keyboard.

I’ll attempt to explain the touch UI further, but I’ll probably just sound stupid. Basically, things are where you expect them to be, and they’re really responsive when you tap them. There’s only one main hardware button which brings up the “main menu” of home, library, shop, etc., and tapping on the screen while inside a book brings up commands relevant to book reading (go to page, change the text styling, share). That’s about it. The fact that any of these things are hard to do on devices like the Kindle or Nook Color really evades me, but when it comes to pure “even a grandma could do it” simplicity, the new Nook is the hands down winner.

Of course, Barnes & Noble doesn’t just achieve ease of use through the touchscreen. The fact that the new Nook is really only trying to do one thing is a big benefit. I wish I had an email client and an RSS reader and a web browser here, (and I look forward to a hacked version of this device running something more like stock Android), but it’s hard to argue with the straightforward results of a device dedicated only to reading.

That’s not to say there aren’t shortcomings in the software. For starters, Barnes & Noble is trying to make reading “social.” The functionality to share passages over Twitter or Facebook or email seems straightforward enough, though I had trouble importing my Google contacts, but I’m not buying into the Nook Friends “social network” at all. The bottom third of the home screen is dedicated to recommendations from your friend group, but the trouble is I don’t personally know a single person who uses a Nook product, so I don’t have anybody to hook up with. I can understand B&N’s enthusiasm, but their efforts would be better spent helping me figure out what my real friends are actually reading (through partnering with a service like Goodreads, who has an app for the Nook Color), instead of my theoretical friends who would all be B&N customers in some fantasy land.

My other big problem is with the way the Nook ecosystem handles sync. As small and portable as the Nook is, I won’t always have it with me, so it’s very important to sync well with a mobile app. This is something Amazon just destroys at, with everything always staying synced automagically, but B&N hasn’t quite figured it out. For Nook you have to manually push the sync button from inside the library. You normally don’t even need to go into the library, since your recent titles are all on the home screen, so really you’re going to the library for the express purpose of syncing. And if you forget to sync before you start reading a title, you’re totally out of luck — if you push sync, you’ll just upload your most recent activity in the book. Cue frustration.

Video Review

Video Review

Wrap-up

Compare It Ahome-front-rm-timn-600

Barnes & Noble Nook Simple Touch

8.0 Verge Score 7.5 User Score Write Review

Good Stuff

Simple, intuitive touch UIHighly responsiveComfortable in hand

Bad Stuff

Can’t access the stronger Kindle ecosystemSingle purposeE Ink is showing its age The new Nook enters a highly competitive market, but it’s still a world ripe for new and better ideas — we’re still waiting on the perfect reader

The new Nook enters a highly competitive market, but it’s still a world ripe for new and better ideas — we’re still waiting on the perfect reader. I don’t think the Nook is The One, but it offers up some nice improvements over the standard formula. Perfect simplicity of operation, endless battery life, speedy page turns, and a retail juggernaut for backup. If you’ve already bought into the Kindle ecosystem (as many have), you might be better served just waiting for the inevitable Kindle response, but for someone just getting into the ebooks game, this Nook is a pretty great start.I personally do most of my reading on my phone. It’s always with me, the screen resolution is killer, and it can run any and all book stores (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Google, iBooks) without a problem. While the new Nook was a pleasant surprise, and certainly a better experience in sunlight, I don’t think it’s enough to make me stray. Similarly, the E Ink quality really isn’t much of an improvement over reading on an LCD, so I don’t see much reason for iPad or Nook Color owners to feel regret.What’s funny is that during the course of my testing I ended up picking up one of those old fashioned paper books I had lying around for comparison purposes. It was a paperback copy of Woody Allen’s Side Effects printed in the 80s that I bought off some sidewalk vendor for a dollar or two last summer. Before I knew it I had blazed through an entire short story, and was trying to keep myself from starting another. I told myself, “Remember your review, Paul!” So I pulled out the Nook and tried to buy a digital copy. Sadly, they only had Woody Allen’s more recent anthology, Mere Anarchy. I read part of the available excerpt, but it didn’t really excite me. Another win for nostalgia, I suppose.

HTC Flyer review

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In the past few months, we’ve reviewed four Honeycomb tablets, which despite some minor differences — a USB port here, a keyboard dock there — have largely been built from the same cloth. You’re familiar with the threads: a 1280 x 800-resolution 10.1-inch display, a dual-core Tegra 2 processor, and a smattering of Google’s tablet OS. But not the HTC Flyer. Amongst all the new tablets, HTC’s entry has been the biggest anomaly. The 7-inch tablet fits somewhere between a phone and a larger-screened tablet with its Sense-infused Gingerbread OS and single-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon processor. And of course, there’s that optional stylus (or “magic pen”) that adds the ability to create beautiful handwritten notes, like the one above. There’s no doubt that it’s absolutely one of the most unique tablets to hit the market, but is pure differentiation enough to make the Flyer a success, especially with its $500 price tag and its $80 stylus? Hit the break for answers to those burning questions.

Hardware / design

Hardware / design

The aluminum unibody construction matches Apple’s laptops in design and rigidityFlyer2

As you might expect, HTC’s tablet is built just as well as its phones. The aluminum unibody construction matches that of Apple’s laptops in both design and rigidity. Yes, for the most part the entire body of the tablet is made of metal; however, the chiseled white material along the top and bottom of the rear cover seem to be made of a tough plastic. You’d be mistaken to think those are purely aesthetic — when held in landscape mode, the bottom one actually seems to double as a grip. There aren’t all that many 7-inch tablets on the market, but I can confidently say the Flyer bests the plastic Galaxy Tab and Dell Streak 7 in terms of rigidity and overall make. I’m leaving out RIM’s Playbook as I haven’t actually spent much time with it.

Where the Flyer doesn’t beat the others is on size. The chart above maps it out fairly well — the Flyer’s thicker architecture makes it one of the weightier and wider 7-inchers out there. Indeed, the tablet is noticeably thicker than the Galaxy Tab and Apple’s iPad, and it was the first thing most mentioned. All that said, it is still very easy to grasp in one hand and hold up for longer periods of times. And the curved edges and soft feel of the aluminum make it one of the comfortable 7-inch tablets I’ve used. As I’ve said many times, I am a big big fan of the 7-inch form factor — it makes for a great ereading device and it’s the perfect size for thumb typing in portrait mode.

More than a few times I panicked about losing the stylus

HTC has kept the sides of the tablet fairly clean. The top edge houses the power button and 3.5mm headphone jack, while a volume rocker dwells on the left side and the charging port on the bottom edge. The aforementioned white plastic piece on the back of the slab can be forcefully (emphasis on forcefully) removed to reveal a MicroSD card slot. However, nowhere to be found is a stylus holder to safely store the $80 pen should you buy it. Since the pen is optional, I guess I can see why HTC didn’t integrate a slot, but it’s a real drag if you opt to buy both. More than a few times I panicked about losing the stylus.

Flyer11Flyer14Flyer18Screen / speakers

Screen and speakers

Flyer21

The premium look and feel of the Flyer continues to its 1024 x 600-resolution 7-inch display. It’s not IPS quality, but it is one high-end panel. Viewing angles are superb and the display itself is extremely bright, even when turned down to 65 percent. It’s impressive in its own right, but even more so when you consider that it’s overlaid with N-Trig’s active digitizer, which supports both pen and finger input. There’s more to come on how well the pen works on the display, but the important thing to know here is that it doesn’t impact the general multitouch and LCD viewing experience — there’s none of that old Tablet PC grayness or color depletion.

I’m sad to say the top-notch quality of the components starts to diminish with the speakers on the back of the tablet. The two vertical slits may be backed by SRS enhanced sound, but music sounded overly tinny and lacking in quality. I didn’t have a Playbook to compare it directly to, but given Josh’s affinity for those speakers, I’d say RIM has HTC beat on sound quality.

Viewing angles are superb and the display itself is extremely brightFlyer23Cameras

Cameras

This section of your average tablet review is starting to sound like a broken recordFlyer13

Sadly, this section of your average tablet review is starting to sound like a damn broken record. Indeed, the five-megapixel camera on the rear of the Flyer is disappointing. Sure, there’s no LED Flash, but even worse are the grainy images that the lens actually captured. As you can see in the gallery below, both indoor and outdoor shots were void of crispness and colors are washed out. To boot, the autofocus is, well, just slow. You have to get in the habit of staying still for a few seconds longer if you don’t want to end up with a blurry image. The 720p footage was similar to what I’ve found on other tablets — the video looks smooth, but the end result just doesn’t look all that HD.

The front facing camera is better

I do have better things to say about the front facing camera, however. The quality isn’t the best, but I at least expect that with a 1.3-megapixel shooter. And while HTC doesn’t include any video calling apps, it does preload its Snapbooth software. Sure, as its name implies, it’s pretty much a Photo Booth knock-off, but it’s still loads of fun. You can select different fun effects, most of which morphs your face in unattractive, yet hilarious ways.

Flyerpics15Flyerpics10Flyerpics23Performance

Performance

Performance rests on one core and 1GB of RAMFlyer35Flyer33

The Flyer is powered by a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, which is a fairly big change from all the tablets with dual-core NVIDIA silicon inside. While the tablet’s performance rests on one core and 1GB of RAM, it still provides a rather speedy experience. For the most part, it was quick to open apps and nimble enough to keep up with the animation-heavy Sense interface. There were some instances where I noticed it slowing down, but HTC’s Task Manager makes killing apps a cinch.

As for video and gaming performance, it handled 720p streaming video without a hiccup, but going on up to 1080p caused for some always-lovely stuttering. Sadly, HTC hasn’t rolled out that promised OnLive app yet — which was supposed to be available on only this US version of the tablet — but games like Contract Killer and Raging Thunder Lite purred along.

Software

Software

The Flyer is certainly a different sort of tablet and much of that has to do with its software stack. Instead of Honeycomb, HTC has launched the device running the latest version of Android for smartphones — Gingerbread. Yes, in many ways this makes the tablet just an enlarged phone, but it is HTC’s Sense for tablets (or Sense 2.1 according to the Settings menu) that makes the experience seriously compelling.

The previous version of Sense for phones was and is a very solid Android layer, but this new version (which is very similar to 3.0 for phones) adds an overwhelming amount of polish. Everything from the improved lock screen to the 3D homescreen carousel is just well thought out and chock-full of eye candy. There’s a lot to talk about here in terms of UI tweaks, so I’ve bulleted out some of the highlights below.

LOCK ScREEN

To unlock the device you simply drag that ring above. However, if you want to launch one of the four apps on the screen — yes, you can customize what apps appear there — just hold down the app and drag it to the middle of the circle. Simple but very clever stuff.

Homescreen CAROUSEL

On the surface, the Flyer still has eight homescreens, which can be customized with a variety of HTC and non-HTC widgets, but it’s no longer a two dimensional experience. Imagine that each one of those slightly transparent panes is a side on a carousel — not only can you quickly twirl the carousel by quickly swiping across the screen but when you swipe slowly to the next pane you can see the edges of the previous pane.

300flyer6300flyerhome300flyera330widweather

new launch bar

The Flyer has two sets of permanent LED shortcut buttons, including home, back, list, and pen shortcuts. One lives on the bottom bezel and the other on the left bezel (for when in landscape orientation). But in addition to that, there’s also a new “launch bar” across the bottom of the display. Out of the box there are shortcuts to the app drawer, Notes, Reader, Email, and the Personalize menu, however you can swap those middle three out for any of your other favorite apps. The bar, which takes up extra screen real estate, does seem redundant since you can put app shortcuts right on the homscreen, but surely some will like it.

widgets

Some of the widgets in this version of Sense will look familiar, but some have been jazzed up with animations. For instance, the new weather widget actually has moving rain drops if it’s raining. Pretty trippy stuff.

Apps

Apps

HTC has done quite a bit to optimize its apps for tablets300browser2300cal300watch300apps

browser

I didn’t think I could live without the Honeycomb browser, but HTC has done some really nice work with the Flyer’s web experience. Controls are pretty standard, but you see all your open tabs and get a nice thumbnail view of bookmarks.

Calendar and email

It’s no Gmail replacement, but in landscape mode, the email app provides a basic list view of email messages on the left and the full message on the left. You get the same sort of layout with the Calendar — you can pull up a day, week, or month view on the left side and then view more details on the right.

htc watch

The Flyer may not have Honeycomb 3.1 and thus not Google’s new Movies service, but fear not, HTC has its own Watch app for downloading content. I didn’t actually buy anything — I’ve had no use for a $14.99 movie on a 7-inch display in the past few days — but a preview of “Middle Men” looked crisp in the Streaming Player. The UI is basic and lets you easily switch between the store, downloaded movies, etc.

reader

What’s a tablet without its own ereader app, right? HTC has partnered with Kobo to provide a decent selection of digital tomes here, though I’d really suggest going with Nook or Kindle apps for continuous client sake. On the other hand, you are only able to take notes and highlight with the pen in the Reader app.

Third-party apps

HTC and Google aren’t the only ones making software for this tablet. The Flyer also comes with preloaded Facebook and Twitter apps. Additionally, it comes with Polaris Office, Press Daily, SoundHound, Amazon MP3, and Evernote.

So is the Sense / Gingerbread combo better than Honeycomb at the moment? That’s really a point of personal preference. There’s actually a lot I missed about Honeycomb when using the tablet — including, the Gmail app and the browser — but the software here certainly feels more stable than 3.0 on some of the more recent tablets I’ve reviewed. I also should mention that I think Gingerbread lends better to portrait navigation, which is how I used the 7-inch tablet for most of the week.

Pen

Pen experience

Sketching with the stylus is silky smooth Flyer26

The last of those third-party apps — Evernote — plays a large role in the Flyer’s software experience, or at least it does for those that opt to buy the $80 pen. As I previously mentioned, the tablet functions like any other when the aluminum, battery-powered stylus isn’t hovering over the screen, however, tap the pen to the display or on the pen shortcut on the bezel and you’ve got a real digital notebook.

Simply put, there are only three real applications that let you take advantage of the pen right now. (HTC says it plans to open things up to third party developers, but couldn’t provide more information at the moment.) The first is the Notes app, which is really HTC’s version of Evernote. You can easily open up a new note and draw on the lined paper. You can also sync this with your Evernote account and edit your other documents on the tablet. The implementation is quite good and everything works just as it should.

One of the other apps that works with the pen is called Scribble. However, the only way to launch it is by tapping the pen on the screen, which automatically takes a screenshot and brings up the selection of pen tools. You can then doodle on top of the image. What’s the purpose of that? I asked myself the same question, but it’s actually really useful to be able to snap a picture of a map, draw on top of it, and send it off to a friend. It really is an interesting shortcut, but I cannot tell you how many times I’ve accidentally hit the screen and mistakenly took a screenshot.

Apps that take advantage of the pen are lacking

The last app to recognize the pen is Reader. You can highlight text in a book or make notes in the margins. As I mentioned before, this doesn’t work in the Kindle app — more on that sort of issue soon.

So how does the pen work in those apps? Extremely well. Sketching is very smooth and you can use the top button on the pen to erase and the bottom to highlight notes in a book. The digitizer also supports pressure sensitivity, so scribbling with a bit more force will darken your strokes. I also found palm rejection to be quite good, but oddly when I handed the tablet to Ross, the side of his wrist kept launching the keyboard and pen palette. The pen does make some distracting clicking noises when first pressed on the screen, but it’s something you’ll get used to. (Note: the tablet won’t just work with any sharp object. It does seem to work with other N-Trig stylui, however. For instance, the one that comes with the HP Slate works.)

Overall, there’s nothing wrong with the “magic pen” implementation — everything works quite well and there are some strong usage scenarios. The apps are lacking at the moment, however. I desperately wanted to have my handwriting converted to text, but the pen simply won’t work in OCR (optical character recognition) apps like Graffiti right now. No, really, other apps will not recognize the pen at an input device — try it and you will just end up with a screenshot in Scribble. At this point, the pen is simply an annotation and doodling tool, which may be fine for some, but I really don’t think its full potential has been reached yet.

Flyer29Flyer28Flyer27Battery life

Battery life

Battery life is impressive for the sizeFlyer38Flyer36

The last piece of the equation: battery life. And thankfully, it’s quite impressive. The tablet’s 4000mAh battery lasted seven hours and 29 minutes on our video rundown test, which loops the same standard definition video at 65 percent brightness and WiFi turned on. That’s an hour longer than the Galaxy Tab and four hours longer than the Dell Streak 7. Even better is the fact that the tablet can be charged via a Micro USB cable — none of these proprietary charging cables! The does come with a unique charging cable, but it does work with regular Micro USB cables and adapters.

Video Review

Video Review

Wrap-up

Compare It Done-htc-flyer

HTC Flyer (Wi-Fi)

7.0 Verge Score Write Review

Good Stuff

Extremely well-builtVery polished Sense UIStylus adds a new dimensionOver seven hours of battery life

Bad Stuff

Stylus costs $80, easy to losePoor camera qualityNo OCR apps supported The Flyer gets so much right, which is why HTC’s pricing oversight is such an incredible shame

In the end, the Flyer’s unique features are more than just needless differentiation. Its 7-inch display makes it more portable than the loads of new 10-inch tablets hitting the market, its Sense UI gives it a bit more stability than the Honeycomb slates, and its pen unlocks a whole new dimension. Sure, the cameras are crappy, its a bit heavier than other 7-inch slabs, and there aren’t many apps that support the stylus right now, but after a week with the device, I can say that it really is an extremely well-rounded tablet and the stylus is a notable addition. And I predict it will only get better with HTC’s promised Honeycomb upgrade and additional pen-based apps.The Flyer gets so much right, which is why HTC’s pricing oversight is such an incredible shame. At $500, the 16GB tablet already seems overpriced, but when you throw in an $80 stylus, it’s really just outlandish. Don’t forget there’s no 3G here and the pen is what makes this device really come to life. Ultimately, yes, the Flyer is a solid device with some really interesting features, I just wish HTC would differentiate on one particularly important point: price.

Google Nexus S 4G: a quick look

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Nexus S 4G Jump To up Top Hardware Software, processor, and… WiMAX Wrap-up Comments down Close

Google’s Utopian vision for mobile — at least on some purely theoretical level — is for equal access to unrestricted Android on unrestricted hardware, regardless of network. The realities of doing business in the American wireless market seem to have distorted that vision somewhere along the way, but every once in a while, they’ve managed to stay true: the Nexus One and Nexus S are both concrete examples of that, unlocked devices that are devoid of manufacturer- or carrier-specific customizations, SIM locks, and superfluous silkscreened logos.

The GSM / CDMA divide, of course, makes it far more complex for Google to deploy a single device that meets everyone’s needs. It’s not a uniquely American problem, but it’s close. That’s where the Nexus S 4G comes into play, bringing a near pitch-perfect translation of the original Nexus S to Sprint that features WiMAX (hence the “4G”) alongside CDMA with EV-DO Rev. A. I’m sure that Google would’ve theoretically liked to have offered a CDMA Nexus S that worked on both Sprint and Verizon, but CDMA (at least, American CDMA) doesn’t really work that way — and the WiMAX support wouldn’t do any carrier other than Sprint any good anyhow.

Considering that the original Nexus S began life as a Galaxy S massaged to meet Google’s self-branded specifications, it’s interesting that they’ve decided to launch another variant nearly half a year later — and that Sprint is putting marketing dollars and store real estate into the affair. It’s not new hardware anymore. But does that matter? Is the Nexus S still awesome in its latest incarnation? Let’s take a quick look.

Physically, you might be tempted to say that the Nexus S 4G an exact copy of the Nexus S — and you’d very nearly be right

From the second you see the box, you know (or at least you get the sense) that Sprint hasn’t messed with the formula here — not to say Google would’ve allowed it anyway. The box is identical to the original Nexus S packaging, save for a small “4G” next to the logo on the side and a matching 4G logo on the status bar of the phone displayed atop the lid. Inside, you’ll find the same accessories, too: earbuds, a Micro-USB cable, and a small, black USB wall charger. The documentation differs a bit: there are a couple Sprint-specific booklets in here detailing first-time phone setup and activation and another for your agreement. Missing, of course, is the T-Mobile SIM card.

Galaxy-nexus-s-4g-review-50-300Galaxy-nexus-s-4g-review-56-300Hardware

Physically, you might be tempted to say that the Nexus S 4G an exact copy of the Nexus S — and you’d very nearly be right. Not quite, though. Google’s official specifications list both phones at 10.88mm thick and 129 grams, but in reality, the 4G is thicker and heavier by truly indistinguishable proportions. Seriously, I spent a good ten minutes picking up one model, then picking up the other, and I was just barely able to psych myself into believing that I could tell a difference in weight… but who knows? Regardless, the average human being will never be able to tell. I documented an ever-so-slight discrepancy in thickness (see above), but you can’t detect it in the hand. In other words, for all practical purposes, these are identical devices.

Google Nexus S 4G: a quicklook

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So, what does that mean? If you liked the style and feel of the Nexus S, you’ll definitely like the style and feel of the 4G. And if you didn’t, you won’t. It’s that simple. There aren’t any pesky “Sprint 4G” logos on this variant scarring the blacked-out face — just the same Google and Samsung logos found on the original. That’s it. If anything, we would’ve hoped that Samsung would’ve taken this opportunity to replace the notorious high-gloss battery cover with something matte or soft-touch, but no dice — it carries over from the original, too. That’s a shame, because we’ve had a bugger of a time keeping our Nexus S models from scratching almost immediately the first time you throw them in a pocket.

Software, processor, and display

The utter sameness of these phones carries over to software, too — as it should. You get bone-stock Android 2.3.4 across the board, and since these are Nexuses, I’d expect them to get updated rapidly (and in close lockstep) for the foreseeable future. And — surprise, surprise — the benchmarks were within spitting distance of one another. Both consistently posted scores between 1,200 and 1,350 in Quadrant and identical frame rates of 55.7fps in Neocore.

These first-generation Samsung Super AMOLED displays have a tendency to polarize opinions. Some don’t like the PenTile subpixel arrangement (which has been eliminated in newer Super AMOLED Plus devices like the Galaxy S II) because it has a tendency to do tint grays and blur text, others complain that certain colors — yellows and oranges in particular — are blown out. I personally don’t have a problem with the display, which is theoretically identical between these models, though I felt there was a slight difference in color temperature between the two that you can almost make out in the shot above. It’s small enough of a difference, in fact, that it could be attributed to variation between individual display components coming off the line, not a standardized variation between models.

Bottom line: I’d use a widget to toggle 4G on only when I needed it WiMAX

So let’s get down to brass tacks: signal strength and battery performance. Using the phone through New York and Chicago, we were surprised by how often we were getting the CDMA roaming symbol (a triangle) in the status bar, at which point the phone is set by default to disconnect you from data — an annoyance, to say the least. Likewise, WiMAX performance seemed inconsistent, reading few or no bars in places where we’d expect to be able to hold a signal (though we were always able to drop to 3G without issue when that happened). There’ve been reports of miscellaneous radio problems on the 4G since launch—and while we wouldn’t consider any of our niggles to be showstoppers, it’s something to consider if you live in a fringe area.

Speaking of WiMAX, the 4G handles it the way Sprint’s other WiMAX-enabled handsets do, treating it more like WiFi than a cellular signal—and of course, you don’t use it for voice, just data. If you like, the phone can be set to notify you when you’re in range of a 4G connection. Average and top speeds were higher on the 4G than on the original connected to T-Mobile, though they tended to flip-flop at any given moment—sometimes I’d do a little better on T-Mobile. I never saw the 4G break 1Mbps with WiMAX turned off, but I was averaging about 2Mbps down in New York and 4Mbps down in Chicago with uplinks between about 800kbps and 1.2Mbps. Certainly not the kinds of face-melting speeds you get on Verizon’s LTE network, but at least latency was typically under 75ms—quite good.

You definitely pay the price to leave WiMAX on, though. I squeezed just 14:29 out of the battery with the 4G radio left on the entire time, including a little over two and a half hours of heavy internet use and zero calls. The 4G signal was fluctuating between 0 and 2 bars during this test, so I’m assuming I could’ve done a little better in a strong signal—but that gets back to the fact that the phone’s reception seems on the weak side (in fact, I never once saw the WiMAX signal strength indicator at full bars). That’s at the very low end of what I’d consider acceptable for a device that you’re carrying day-to-day without access to a charger until you get home in the evening. Leaving 4G off, I actually managed to break 24 hours, though with only about an hour of heavy use. My Nexus S on T-Mobile seems to fall somewhere between those two extremes with average use, comfortably making it through a full day unless I spend several hours tethering or abusing it with something like Ustream. Bottom line: I’d use a widget to toggle 4G on only when I needed it.

Wrap-up

Compare It Nexuss_gt-i9020_front

Samsung Nexus S 4G

8.0 Verge Score 7.3 User Score Write Review

Good Stuff

Zero carrier or manufacturer crapwareCurved display still looks and feels greatGoogle Wallet support is on tap

Bad Stuff

Battery life questionable with WiMAX on3G and 4G signal performance underachievesGlossy battery cover scuffs as easily as ever Look: it’s a Nexus S with WiMAX for Sprint

Look: it’s a Nexus S with WiMAX for Sprint. That’s a surprisingly accurate and complete assessment of this handset in just eight words, and frankly, it really tells you everything you need to know in order to decide whether it’s right for you. Like the original, you can’t really pigeonhole the Nexus S 4G as high-end, midrange, or anything in between — it’s a bit of a sideways shift that places emphasis on compatibility, purity, and futureproofing over raw hardware power and software innovation (if you can call Android skins and associated features “innovation”). Don’t get me wrong, I would’ve liked to feel a little more confident about battery life with WiMAX enabled — and it’s definitely not the best-performing device for either CDMA or WiMAX signal strength in Sprint’s stable — but considering my deep-set feelings for this design, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

Samsung Infuse 4G review

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I don’t blame you for reading the headline of this review and thinking to yourself, not another Samsung Android phone. The company has flooded the market with smartphones that have very similar designs and specs — in other words, they are extremely hard to discern from one another. However, the Infuse could easily be picked out of a police lineup of Samsung’s family of phones. Its 4.5-inch Super AMOLED Plus display is mammoth and at .35-inches thick it’s said to be AT&T’s thinnest 4G phone yet. And then there’s the fact that it’s the first handset in AT&T’s arsenal to promise HSPA+ Category 14 speeds. Yes, the $199.99 Infuse packs some really distinct features, but are they enough to make it the best Android phone out there? Or even the best Android phone on the carrier? Hit the break to find out.

Hardware / design

Hardware / design

People notice one of two things about the Infuse — its incredibly large display or its astonishingly thin statureInfuse4g5

At first blush, people notice one of two things about the Infuse — either its incredibly large 4.5-inch display or its astonishingly thin stature. Yes, from afar the phone is a very captivating piece of hardware, especially when its bright Super AMOLED display is powered on (more on that soon). However, once you get the phone in hand things aren’t all that cut and dry. On one end, the 4.9-ounce phone is very light, but on the other, it feels a bit chintzy. I mentioned this same sort of feeling in my ASUS Eee Pad Transformer review, and just like that tablet, the back of the Infuse is covered with an etched piece of plastic. And that’s all it really is, a very thin piece of almost bendable plastic. The phone is light, but it just feels cheaper in hand than say my Droid 2 or an iPhone 4.

Then there’s the fact that the 5.2 x 2.8-inch phone is incredibly wide and long. The extra screen real estate is impressive but it also makes it fairly hard to hold. I do have fairly small hands and short fingers, which made it harder to stretch a thumb across the screen to drag down the notifications tray. I hate to make this a sex related issue, but I did find that the men I handed the phone to had an easier time holding it in hand and using a thumb to navigate the entire length and width of the screen. Point is, this phone isn’t going to fit in everyone’s hands or pocket.

This phone isn’t going to fit in everyone’s hands or pocket

Surrounding the phone are your typical ports and buttons. Along the top you’ll find a 3.5mm headphone jack and on the bottom a Micro USB port for charging. The left side houses a volume rocker and the right the power button. It’s a small gripe, but I do wish Samsung would stop putting the the power button on the side of the device and move it back up to the top. In addition to the phone’s 16GB of onboard memory, Samsung includes a 2GB microSD card, which lives under the battery.

Infuse4g6Infuse4g7Infuse4g8Display

Display

The Super AMOLED Plus display is the Infuse’s standout featureInfuse4g37Infuse4g13

It goes without saying that the Super AMOLED Plus display is the Infuse’s standout feature. There’s just no denying that the display, which Samsung touts as having 50 percent more subpixels, is incredibly bright and crisp. And the quality of the panel along with the size actually makes it one of the best phones out there for watching videos and looking a pictures. Seriously, the experience of watching a handful of 720p trailers on the screen was just shockingly good. However, things come to a screeching halt with the 800 x 480 resolution. Compared to the qHD phones that are starting to come onto the market, it’s a pretty low resolution, and while the Super AMOLED Plus makes up for it, it may bother some when it comes to looking at webpages. As we discussed on the podcast, the average consumer may not have anything to compare this to, but I surely took note of fonts not looking as crisp and not being able to fit as much of a webpage on the display.

Cameras

Cameras

One of the best parts of this phone is its 8 megapixel camera

One of the best parts of this phone is its 8 megapixel camera. Both the indoor and outdoor shots I took with the Infuse in the past week were pretty great. The autofocus was quick and the flash didn’t over blow any of the shots I took at a concert. To match that, it also captured quality video. As you can see below, even the 480p video I shot at a concert looked extremely clear, and when you consider that I was at least 20 feet back from the stage, both the sound and images are impressive. As you would expect, jacking up the settings to 720p, captured even crisper video. The biggest issue I had with the camera was the lack of a dedicated camera button. That said, the app does launch quickly..

The lack of a dedicated camera button is frustrating

There’s also a 1.3 megapixel front facing camera for video calls, but I really only used it to check if my eyes were red from this seriously agonizing allergy season. In all seriousness, that cam takes fairly grainy shots, although the shots were crisper than the ones I’ve taken with the recent Honeycomb tablets.

Infusecam3Infusecam16Infusecam24Software and apps

Software and apps

Infuse4g19

Android 2.2 with Samsung TouchWiz 4.0. That’s what you get in terms of software with the Infuse 4G. Obviously, the skin is a personal preference, but other than that Samsung bundles the phone with its Media Hub, Music Player, and Video Player apps. AT&T also throws on its FamilyMap, Navigator, and Code Scanner. There’s also a U-Verse Live TV shortcut, but you actually have to download that from the Market. For the most part, this is your typical Samsung Android experience, although I do have to say, the large screen does make for a very spacious keyboard. And speaking of keyboards, you’ve got a solid choice between the default Samsung layout, Swype, and the stock Android one.

The large screen does make for a very spacious keyboardInfuse4g17Performance / battery

Performance, “4G speeds” and battery

One of the bigger knocks against the Infuse 4G is that it doesn’t pack a dual-core processor like its Galaxy S II relative. However, the 1.2GHz Hummingbird processor was quite snappy and the phone is really quite responsive. It’s not as fast to launch apps or rotate the screen as dual-core phones like the Atrix, but it isn’t going to slow you down by any means.

But I can’t say the same for loading webpages. We’ve been pretty hard on AT&T for its misuse of the term 4G, and while the Infuse is actually one of the the first devices to have HSDPA Cat 14 and HSUPA Cat 6 radios, it doesn’t quite live up to all the speed promises. Theoretically, the phone should provide 21.1Mbps on the downlink and over 5Mbps on the uplink. Of course, those speeds aren’t really to be expected, but in reality, the Infuse just isn’t that fast, at least in comparison to WiMax and LTE devices. In my testing in NYC, the Infuse averaged 2.8Mbps downloads (3.34Mbps in some areas) and 1.16Mbps uploads. Additionally, in actual use, I found webpages taking just as long to load as they do on my Verizon 3G Droid 2 and certainly they were much slower to load than compared to an LTE phone like the Thunderbolt.

The Infuse is one of the the first devices to have HSDPA Cat 14 and HSUPA Cat 6 radios

All that said, the battery life is actually quite decent for such a big screened device. With background sync turned on, the 1750 mAh cell was able to get through a day of sporadic web surfing heavy camera use, and a few voice calls without having to recharge. Speaking of those voice calls, they sounded relatively clear and there’s actually something about the larger face of the phone that seems to block out background noise.

Infuse4g44Infuse4g45Video Review

Video Review

Wrap-up

Compare It Samsung-infuse-4g

Samsung Infuse 4G

7.3 Verge Score Write Review

Good Stuff

Beautiful Super AMOLED Plus displayGreat cameraSolid battery life

Bad Stuff

May be a bit too large for someAT&T “4G” speeds aren’t 4G at allLow screen resolution The Infuse is somewhat of a mixed bag

The Infuse is somewhat of a mixed bag. It’s a gorgeous phone, but it feels a bit cheap in some respects. Its screen is large and the quality of the Super AMOLED Plus display is top notch, but its lower resolution leaves more to be desired. And while it has a “4G” in its moniker, it’s truly not a very fast phone in terms of data speeds. There’s a lot to like with the Infuse — I really love the camera, screen quality, and endurance — but in the end, it just isn’t a colossal hit like the Galaxy S II or the Motorola Atrix. It is, however, a colossal sized phone with some standout features.

T-Mobile Sidekick 4G review

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You thought Sidekick was dead, did you? That’d be an easy assumption to make since Danger’s servers are being turned off this month — and since it’s the one of the most deeply-integrated cloud deployment for mobile devices ever undertaken, eight years’ worth of Sidekick models will turn into pretty paperweights after that. It’s a sad end for a company that had such a significant and lasting impact on smartphone design and technology, but ultimately, staying alive through Microsoft’s purchase and the Kin debacle would’ve been a tall order for any management team.

Well, that’s not the whole story. What many folks don’t realize is that it was T-Mobile that owned the Sidekick brand all along, not Danger; outside of T-Mobile’s sphere of influence, the devices were actually known as Hiptops in other parts of the world. That means the carrier has opportunity to keep the Sidekick brand alive even as the underlying technology platform passes away — and it’s an opportunity they’re taking head-on with the introduction of the Android-powered Sidekick 4G.

Packaging

Packaging

Interestingly, the Sidekick comes in one of the nicest smartphone boxes you’ll find on the market today. I say that’s interesting because carriers tend to reserve the awesome packages for the expensive devices – the ones priced $200 and up – and the Sidekick slides in at $100 on contract. The top and bottom lids don’t cover the sides of the box completely, revealing a hint of the “Sidekick 4G” logo that spans the length of the box. Underneath the top, you’ve got your phone with a silk-like ribbon sticking out of the side, which is just what you need to pop the handset out of the box without pawing at the corners frantically for minutes on end (trust me, I’ve been there). The “cradle” that the phone rests in than unfolds, accordion style, where you’ll find the charger, battery, USB cable, SD card adapter (you get a 2GB microSD), and documentation. Personally, I’d keep the box, because some actual engineering went into this thing.

Hardware

Hardware

I wish I had a Sidekick LX 2009 (which I reviewed) handy for direct comparison, but from what I remember, the Sidekick 4G is clearly a half-step down the first time you look at it – it’s chunkier and more plasticky than its predecessor. I don’t think it’s intended to be quite as high-end, and in the the scheme of things, that makes sense: when the LX came out, it was trying to appeal to longtime Sidekick users who’d started to grow up, get grown-up jobs (hence the Exchange support), and have grown-up money to throw around. T-Mobile wanted a high-end device that carried over Sidekick familiarity. With the 4G, though, the story has changed; the myTouch and G brands are in full effect for the mainstream consumer and high-end markets, which gives the Sidekick brand an opportunity to return to its teen-centric, hypersocial roots. And my hypothesis here is underscored by the pricing — back in the day, the LX went for $199.99 on contract after rebate, whereas the 4G has launched at $99.99. In other words, I don’t think it’s a bad thing that this isn’t as luxurious of a device as the LX was for its day — if anything, the 4G is truer to the Sidekick brand than the LX ever was. There’s definitely a market for this class of device.

And let me be clear: this isn’t a cheesy, rickety, or poorly-made device, nor does it look particularly cheap — it just lacks that certain je ne sais quoi that higher-end phones usually exude. For instance, there’s not a lick of soft touch anywhere to be found on the top or bottom — it’s all hard plastic. One small bit of good news is that the casing is entirely matte, which should do a far better job skirting damage (scuffs, minor scratches, and the like) from normal use than Samsung’s famously glossy Galaxy S devices do.

Looking at the controls and ports, some of them are going to be pretty foreign if you’re not coming from an older Sidekick. For example, the power button is on the front right edge if you’re holding the phone landscape, which equates to the lower left if you’re holding it portrait. Wacky, right? Likewise, the 3.5mm headphone jack is on the other end of the same edge, right next to the volume rocker — not exactly “normal” placement. The strangest nuance, though, has to be the Home button, which lies on the upper right of the front when you’re in portrait mode. Yes: the upper right. I found that I could swivel my thumb up to hit it when holding the phone normally with my right hand, but not my left — and I have fairly large hands. Considering how often Home comes into play while you’re using an Android-powered device, this seems like a really odd oversight. Granted, T-Mobile did everything it could to stay true to the Sidekick formula, and that meant splitting the four buttons across either end of the display — and the good news is that you can press and hold Back (which is at the bottom left) to accomplish the same thing.

The keyboard is exquisite — I’m fast and accurate on it, which is all you can really ask for

Oh, and memorize the location of these four buttons the moment you take your Sidekick out of the box, because they’re not backlit. The keyboard is — more on the keyboard in a bit — but not the main navigation controls. That’s pretty unusual for an Android device, but it’d drive me nuts far more if the Sidekick had capacitive touch controls without any tactile response; it’s a little more tolerable here when the buttons are real, actual, clicky buttons.

Along the right edge, you’ve got a proper two-stage camera button and the Micro USB port. Unfortunately, the port is covered by one of those finicky plastic flaps that requires a fingernail to open – a “feature” that Samsung has embraced far more frequently than most other manufacturers over the past few years. I’d hoped they’d kicked the habit with the Galaxy S line’s move to sliding door covers, which I’ve found to be far easier to open (and leave open if you prefer), but no dice on the Sidekick.

An oft-requested, oft-overlooked feature in Android phones these days is an LED notification light. Well, the Sidekick 4G actually has two, both above the display: one for normal Android notifications, one for charging. Historically, the Sidekick series has been known for pretty insane LED configurability, and the 4G doesn’t let you down — it’s got its own dedicated panel in the Settings menu where you can choose different colors for text, email, and missed call notifications (though you can’t configure the charging light, the panel lets you know that it’ll change color based on the battery’s current charge level).

Granted, a pair of discreet LEDs beneath glass isn’t nearly as true to the Sidekick heritage as a big, light-up, in-your-face trackball — but this is the year 2011, which means they needed to retire that dusty ball and slot an optical pad in its place. I came away not loving it for a couple reasons: one, it doesn’t seem sensitive enough, which means it takes far too much effort to scroll from one end of a list to the other. Two, the trackpad is inset — it’s surrounded by a crescent-shaped bevel — which makes it unnecessarily difficult to smoothly swipe over (compare this to the implementation on, say, an HTC Desire or any number of recent BlackBerrys to see how it can be done correctly). Of course, Android doesn’t need a trackball or trackpad at all; I suspect Samsung included it here simply to carry forward the classic Sidekick ID and appease upgrading owners making the adjustment from a non-touch UI. If you insist on using it, just be aware that it’s not that great.

Never mind everything you’ve read so far, though. You, Samsung, T-Mobile, and I all know that a Sidekick is made or broken by its screen opening mechanism and the quality of the keyboard that lies beneath it. Sure enough, you can tell that all the engineering dollars for this device went into these two critical elements, because they’re good — seriously good. Now granted, the screen doesn’t swivel open, which many Sidekick purists consider blasphemous, but the spring-loaded (and dare I say all-aluminum?) tilt hinge really couldn’t be much better. It’s rock solid without a hint of play in both the closed and open position — a far cry from, say, the T-Mobile G2 — and it requires minimum effort to pop open with a pair of thumbs pushing along the bottom edge. For the style-conscious, you’ll also appreciate that the bottom side of the display and the hinge components are coated in a contrasting color that give the phone an extra dose of personality.

Sidekick-4g-review-51-300Sidekick-4g-review-57-300Sidekick-4g-review-58-300Sidekick-4g-review-69-300

And the keyboard, as I said, is exquisite — I’m fast and accurate on it, which is all you can really ask for. Maybe it’s just the thrill of using that rare five-row layout, but I don’t think it’s reaching to suggest that this is one of the best phone keyboards I’ve ever used. If you’ve ever played with a T-Mobile G1, you might remember that it had a terrific keyboard that was marred only by the bizarre asymmetric design that left the phone’s “chin” protruding between your right hand and the keys. Well, the Sidekick 4G’s keyboard is nearly identical — both in layout and in button shape, size and feel — except that the asymmetry is a thing of the past. I generally don’t consider myself a physical keyboard person, but I find that the 4G is one of those rare beasts that’s making me reconsider my stance.

And it’s a good thing that the physical keyboard’s so wonderful, because the on-screen virtual keyboard is a little small on that 3.5-inch display. Actually, that’s not fair — to my surprise, I actually found that I was no less accurate on it than on my 4-inch devices — but this segues into my concerns about the screen. First off, I had no issues with contrast, brightness, or outdoor viewability (it tends to wash out a bit at odd viewing angles, but it’s far from the worst I’ve seen – especially for a $100 phone). Considering the thickness and overall bulk of the Sidekick 4G, though, I’d expect a little more real estate; I couldn’t help but feel cramped in almost every situation, particularly browsing. WVGA resolution is great, of course, but I think that a screen on the order of 3.7 to 4 inches would’ve taken the device to a new level of usability. T-Mobile’s target audience apparently doesn’t mind using a phone that’s loud and noticeable — how else do you explain the magenta accents? — so I don’t see the harm in making the entire package just a little wider to accommodate more display. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb here and say that packaging this phone with Samsung’s leftover 4-inch Super AMOLED components from last year’s Galaxy S marathon would have suited this device perfectly.

As audio goes, the Sidekick performs admirably. By virtue of the shape, you might have some concerns about the position and angle of the earpiece relative to your head, but I found that it’s actually no less comfortable than any other modern smartphone. Calls are loud and clear both over the earpiece and speakerphone — but it’s just “very loud” at the maximum volume, not “so loud your head’s going to explode.” There’s a difference. It’s nice to have that buffer in case you need to hold a call in an extremely noisy environment, but it’s pretty rare to find in a device — and it’s certainly not something I’d hold against the Sidekick, particularly considering how text-centric it is. Music actually sounds better than calls over the loudspeaker, coming through with surprising bass that gets more boomy when you set the phone face-up on a table. Interestingly, the speakerphone’s grill is essentially flush with the rear, which you might expect to muffle it — but there seems to be just enough of a bump on either side of the battery cover to lift it up and create a megaphone effect.

At the end of the day, for me, smartphone battery performance falls into two categories: those that can comfortably make it through a day, and those that can’t (let’s be honest — the old days of going two or three days at a time on your Nokia are long over). The Sidekick 4G — with a 1,500mAh battery on board — looks like it’ll last a day for most users. I was able to get 3 hours, 21 minutes of heavy internet and screen use, 55 minutes of voice calling, and an additional 18 hours, 19 minutes of standby on a single charge with a mix of 3G and Wi-Fi usage. Now granted, the kids T-Mobile’s targeting with this device will likely have their faces buried in the screen for hours on end – but even so, I suspect most folks will be able to make it charge to charge without worry.

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Camera

Camera

Sidekick-4g-review-72-800

The Sidekick uses a fairly standard Samsung-customized Android camera app (in other words, if you’ve used a Galaxy S variant, you’ll have a good idea of what you’re going to get here). You’re able to switch between the front and rear cameras, toggle camcorder mode, adjust exposure by half-stops, toggle macro focus mode, and choose from a number of custom scenes like Portrait, Landscape, Night, Sports, “Party,” Dawn, Text, and so on. There’s also an available self-timer, adjustable white balance, and exposure metering mode – needless to say, it’s a good deal more powerful than what you get with stock Android.

It’s safe to say that T-Mobile and Samsung weren’t designing this as a serious cameraphone – you need look no further than the lack of flash and the 3.2 megapixel primary sensor for evidence of that. I wasn’t blown away by the results; even in good light at the “superfine” JPEG setting, photos seemed to lack crisp definition, and I was frequently unable to get focus in macro mode (see the shot of the “U” below) even though the viewfinder was indicating that it had locked on. I was a little more satisfied with the quality of video output, but it tops out at 720 x 480 – just like the Nexus S – so you won’t be shooting in high definition.

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Software

Software

The Sidekick’s skin is probably the most elegant balance of Android familiarity and target demographic-specific customization I’ve ever seen Sk-im-1Sidekick-4g-review-63-555

Of course, the secret sauce to making an Android device worthy of the Sidekick name isn’t entirely in hardware alone — the stereotypical Sidekick user is a text-messaging fiend with the attention span of a gnat, someone who values interpersonal relationships, cliques, and meetings even more than a big-shot salesperson with a BlackBerry. Meeting those needs head-on requires some unique software.

I’ve got to hand it to Samsung and T-Mobile on this one: the Sidekick’s skin is probably the most elegant balance of Android familiarity and target demographic-specific customization I’ve ever seen. It’s hip without being cheesy, unique without being bogged down. The changes start with the lock screen, which has a cool three-dimensional spelled-out time up top, missed call and text notifications down below, and a split that can be dragged either up or down to unlock the phone. But here’s where it gets interesting: dragging down functions as a traditional unlock that takes you back to the screen you were last on, but dragging up triggers a configurable action that can be set to anything that an Android shortcut can: an application, a web bookmark, a specific contact, and so on. Very handy — and something that I’d like to see on other devices, not just Sidekicks.

In general, T-Mobile has obviously sought to give the Sidekick an “edgy” appearance with hard lines, angles, and blocky sans sarif fonts throughout the system. It looks good — and more importantly for the teens and twentysomethings who will primarily be buying it, it looks fresh. Naturally, all of the stock icons have been replaced, and there’s a custom launcher installed; you’ll also find a black status bar in place of the standard light gray (this is Android 2.2, not 2.3). I wasn’t in love with the written-out Phone, Apps, and Contacts links docked at the bottom of the screen — they’re unnaturally short, and the grid layout of the screen prevents you from placing icons or widgets anywhere near them, which leaves you with a big gap of wasted space. Despite the size, I found that I was able to consistently tap them on the first try, so it’s not a usability issue.

Another cool tweak comes in the notification pull-down, where the top roughly 20 percent is occupied by a shortcut for posting Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace status updates. That’ll be a time-saving godsend for some… but if it’s not your cup of tea, you can disable it and go back to a straight, stock-looking window that has nothing but notifications in it. Naturally, you’ve also got a handful of built-in apps that tend to appear on most Android-based models from Samsung and / or T-Mobile: Allshare (a DLNA enabler for media sharing), App Pack and Highlight, DriveSmart (just the basic version, not Plus), Media Hub, Memo, My Account, My Device, T-Mobile Mall, T-Mobile TV (for an extra fee), TeleNav, ThinkFree Office, and Qik Video Chat.

Additionally, there are a few apps that are unique to the Sidekick. Cloud Texting is basically a Sidekick-branded version of Zipwhip, a service that allows you to access and send text messages from a web browser in the event you’re not near your phone (but let’s be honest, when is a Sidekick user not near their phone?). Group Texting is a tool for holding text message conversations with several people as a group — it’s also powered by ZipWhip. Neat idea, for sure, and it looks (and works) well on the Sidekick — but if you’re pulling non-ZipWhip users into the thread, they get an unruly series of text messages each time someone in the group sends a message, and the texts don’t come from a known number. It’s messy, and your friends probably aren’t going to appreciate it getting into these very often.

You’ve also got Media Room, a unified media player that offers locally-stored music and video, content from YouTube and T-Mobile TV, and Slacker in one place. It’s stylish — certainly more stylish than Android’s stock player — with an angled, edgy Now Playing screen that perfectly matches the rest of the phone’s visual theme (Slacker integration works well, too, though you get a more traditional-looking Now Playing display over there). While media’s on air, you also get basic controls and a song name on the lock screen right below the time, so there’s no need to unlock to stop the music or change tracks. Granted, the usefulness of this app is diminished a bit for those who are hooked on Amazon Cloud Player or Google Music Beta, but – at this point, anyway — that’s a relatively small group.

Another Sidekick special, Mini Diary, is a bit like a multimedia-aware note taker that can embed photos inline with text. It doesn’t stop there, though: it’ll also read geotag information off your images so you can see a map of where the diary entry was made, and it’ll even embed the weather (pulled straight from AccuWeather) that you were experiencing at the time. An odd hodgepodge of functionality, but we’re sure it has a use. Theme Changer is… well, a basic theme changer that will change the color of certain UI elements and highlights; each theme also includes its own wallpaper, though you’re free to override it.

Though the phone never felt laggy to me, that wasn’t really reflected in Quadrant — which underscores the fact that Quadrant isn’t a great indicator of the user experience. The Sidekick was consistently clocking in scores between 950 and 1,000, well behind the current crop of dual-core and second-generation single-core devices that easily break 1,500 with stock ROMs and often crack 2,000. Unsurprisingly, though, the number matches up perfectly with Quadrant’s average Galaxy S result; both devices have a 1GHz Hummingbird installed. The long and the short of it is that I wouldn’t worry about the benchmark — you can get from screen to screen and from app to app without twiddling your thumbs.

Wrap-up

Compare It Sidekick4g

Samsung Sidekick 4G

7.5 Verge Score Write Review

Good Stuff

Stellar keyboardUI skin is, against all odds, not annoyingRock-solid hinge

Bad Stuff

ThickPlastickyOdd control / port placement (not a big deal for old Sidekick users) Android has grown up — and T-Mobile’s lineup of Android devices is finally mature enough to support this kind of tightly-focused hardware

After spending several weeks swapping the Sidekick 4G in and out as my primary phone, I can conclusively say it’s not for everybody — but it’s definitely not a terrible phone. And in fact, for some, it could be a great phone. Adults — even ex-Sidekick users who’ve simply grown up and entered the workforce — might find something with a little more power and a little less flash to be more appealing, and for those folks, T-Mobile offers the myTouch and the G series. In fact, in many ways, the G2 is a perfect “adult” counterpoint to the Sidekick 4G.Like grown-up Sidekick users, Android, too, has grown up — and T-Mobile’s lineup of Android devices is finally mature enough to support this kind of tightly-focused hardware. Kids who are old enough to own a smartphone and young adults who value text messaging and social networking above all else have every reason to flock to this device, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to them. But hey, parents: just make sure they don’t get their hands on a sub-9mm beast like the Galaxy S II or the Infuse 4G along the way, because they may not want to look back.

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play (CDMA) review

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Rumors of a “PlayStation phone” — most likely borne of wishful thinking more than anything else, especially early on — have been lingering for almost as long as I’ve been writing about gadgets and games. So to say the Xperia Play is a long time coming is something of an understatement. The devices started to pop up on global carriers as of April 1st, but it wasn’t until May 26th that it landed stateside via Verizon Wireless. So, is it worth the wait? Is this the perfect combination of Android and PlayStation, does it carry the burden of both brands, or does it fall somewhere in between? Read on to find out!

History

History

The first hint of a “PlayStation phone” can arguably be traced back to September 2006, five years ago Xp-play-mockup-300px

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play (CDMA)review

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You can trace the Xperia Play’s origins to as far back as September 2006, when Sony Ericsson SVP of Product and Application Planning Rikko Sakaguchi was “working on something” related to a PlayStation phone in the same vein as the company had done with the Walkman and Cyber-shot phones.

The first tangible evidence of the Xperia Play came in August 2010, when the team from Engadget (myself included at the time) broke the news of a Sony Ericsson device with both Xperia and PlayStation branding, Android Gingerbread, and a slide-out gamepad. (The specs we got at the time were about spot-on, too, as was the product image.) Full launch came in February, both during the Super Bowl and at Mobile World Congress, and well, here we are.

Hardware

Hardware

Xperia X10 aesthetic with a fully-featured slide-out gamepad Xperia-play-review-dsc_0666-rm-verge-555

The design itself is very much in line with the Xperia X10 aesthetic — a curved top and bottom, gloss screen, shiny silver buttons — super glossy and dust-loving, too, which makes it hard to keep clean. It’s got Qualcomm’s 1GHz MSM 8655 “Scorpion” Snapdragon, an Adreno 205 GPU, and 512MB RAM. At 6.2 ounces, it’s certainly on the heavier side, but nothing egregious. The 5.1 megapixel rear camera is actually a step back from the X10′s lens; it’s good, but the colors never quite come out as vividly as I’d like. Although I haven’t done extensive testing on the battery, the phone seems to last just under a full day under normal use.

The max brightness of the screen is criminally low

Then there’s the 4-inch, 854 x 480 display. I’m not sure what the deal is, but the max brightness of the screen is criminally low. Even in a moderately lit room, the glare made some parts of Crash Bandicoot incredibly challenging.

What makes the Xperia Play stand out, of course, is its slide-out gamepad. The d-pad, face buttons (PlayStation’s traditional square / triangle / circle / X) and L / R triggers are snappy and responsive; the trackpads, however, are rough and imprecise. That slide-out gives the phone a total depth of 16mm, easily the thickest phone on my desk right now.

Xperia-play-buttons-rm-verge-300pxXperia-play-side--rm-verge-300pxXperia-play-dpad-rm-verge-300pxSoftware

Software

A (mostly) vanilla Android experience, but how does the library of games stack up? Xperia-play-lineup-rm-verge-300pxXperia-play-crash-bandicoot-rm-verge-300px

Sony Ericsson was surprisingly (and thankfully) conservative with its customization with the Verizon model — even more so than it was with the European counterpart. Android 2.3.2 has been largely left alone here, aside from a few additional (and optional) widgets. There is some stuttering when switching between panes, but it’s otherwise a pretty smooth experience.

Then there’s the Xperia Play play app, which is really two portals in one: your library of games and a section to shop for more. Both look identical, and at first glance you might get the two confused. Game icons are lined up in a navigable row. Many of the titles are just Android games with some added gamepad functionality — none of which really add much to the experience. It’s also a shame that there’s no way to tell which games are built with Xperia Play and which are these pre-existing “augmented” Android titles. It’s a missed opportunity that should be highlighting the cream of the crop, the titles that really justify the “classic” controls. Performance-wise, all the games I played ran about as smooth as I’ve been seeing elsewhere (e.g. Asphalt 5), but compared with dual-core phones the load times were decidedly slower.

The three games that do stand out to me are Star Battalion (a Starfox knockoff), the Tekken-esque fighter Bruce Lee Dragon Warrior, and Crash Bandicoot. The latter is a bit-for-bit port of the PS One original, and includes options to adjust controls for use of the trackpads and / or adding on-screen keys to compensate for the lack of L2 / R2. The game hasn’t quite stood the test of time, and given the 4:3 aspect ratio, I don’t see any reason why it couldn’t be played just fine with some on-screen button overlay in the black bars. Fun? Sure, but there’s certainly nothing of the quality you’d get with a DS, PSP, or iPhone / iPod touch — and most of what’s good is available for other Android devices.

Wrap-up

Compare It Xperia-play_black_ca02_screen2

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play (CDMA)

5.5 Verge Score Write Review

Good Stuff

Android 2.3 largely untouchedGamepad is snappyCrash Bandicoot is still addictive

Bad Stuff

BulkyMenu navigation stuttersPlayStation Suite needs work Subpar hardware and a games lineup that leaves much to be desired — with no firm support on horizon

Based on hardware alone, the Xperia Play is not an inspiring choice. The specs and Android experience are good but not great, the display is surprisingly dim, and at risk of sounding too broad, there are no games that really justify the gamepad and added thickness.However, what’s more important here is PlayStation Suite — there’s really no other reason to get this phone over any number of Android devices on the market. At this point, the selection of games is sparse and the quality is subpar. I was hoping there’d be more talk of Suite’s future in Sony’s E3 keynote, but it was literally a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nod to the service before changing the focus to the (honestly much more impressive) PlayStation Vita, whose Suite support takes a backseat to its proprietary software and even its downloadable PSP software.I wish I could say there are better games on the horizon, but Sony obviously isn’t saying much. If there are, at that point there should be a better piece of hardware out to support. (I was told at E3 other PlayStation Certified devices would be coming out this year from companies other than Sony itself.) And if there aren’t, if the support isn’t coming, then I really don’t know where PlayStation Suite fits in Sony’s future strategy. Hey, at least there’ll be Minecraft.