While I’ve always been partial to CyanogenMod ROMs for my device (it’s the de facto standard for Android ROMs), I’ve had a bit of issues with it on my HTC Desire Z starting a few weeks ago. For whatever reason, the marketplace just kept force closing every time I opened the app. Even the install of a third-party app like AppBrain didn’t help me a lot. I tried every trick I know about known issues such as fixing permissions to all the apps and wiping everything including the local cache and the Davlik cache but to no avail. The nice thing about ROM Manager is that it gives you all the ROMs that are available for your device, when it was last updated and how many installed it.
The MIUI ROM is better in that I can actually download apps from the Android Marketplace 😀 It runs Android 2.3.5 and is a lot prettier then Cyanogen – the lines are a lot cleaner. The “native” apps for MIUI are also more refined than the apps that came with Cyanogen. For a quick list of what they are, you can take a look at them at the Core Features section of the MIUI site itself. More features are listed in the For Advanced Users section. My main pet peeve against the MIUI ROM is that every app downloaded is put directly on the screen and not in an app drawer like typical Android. It’s mildly frustrating because that is the one of the things I don’t like about iOS. My general impression leans towards being a bit slower but more stable than Cyanogen.
This has been a pretty mad week in technology starting with Google’s purchase of Motorola Mobility for $12B followed by HP announced the folding of their PC business including their newly launched tablets featuring WebOS. There have been some articles about the Motorola purchase which I really enjoyed and some that I thought seem a bit short-sighted for various reasons. So here are some scattered thoughts about the events this week.
It’s all about defense
It’s really hard to imagine why Google would buy Motorola outside of its patents. While I wouldn’t second guess what Google’s patent defence would be or if I think it’s better or worse after the purchase, Google does believe that it’s worth $12B. Android is important to Google – not because of it’s $11M revenue through the Android Marketplace but it’s really important for their ad business. It’s the main reason why they got into it and then continues to give it away for free. The Android, Chrome and ChromeOS strategy all have the same goal which is really about further reach and control over how a user interacts with Google. It’s not difficult to recognize that the browser is quickly replacing the desktop when users aren’t mobile and users are consuming information on their mobile devices more and more each day. Outside of Microsoft’s accusation that Google intended to purchase Nortel’s patents to attack others, I haven’t been able to find an instance where Google attacked anyone based on patents outside of protecting others.
Strength in numbers
Android’s strength is in its ecosystem which is made of the OS, the manufacturers that use them, the software and the developers that develop the software. Android is important to Google and I would imagine even more important than Motorola. It is in Google’s best interest to keep the ecosystem they have in tact. If Google intends to get into the handset manufacturing business as an additional business, HTC would have been a much better buy. Google does not have the in-house expertise to turn around Motorola as a handset business. While I agree that Google may use the opportunity of owning Motorola to build phones in the way that they envision the phone, it by no means equate to other OEMs from creating other phones that are equally or are even more successful. That Nexus program to date proves that. The Nexus series are phones that are built very closely by OEM manufacturers to date starting with the Nexus One followed by the Nexus S but rarely are these phones the overwhelming favourites in terms of number of handsets purchased. In fact, the Nexus One was a complete flop. It is also the Nexus One experience that should indicate to both the market and OEM manufacturers that Google buying Motorola is unlikely a threat to their business. Building a business is much more than building a successful technical product – it’s also about marketing and partnerships. Google does not know how to do either well in the handset business and unfortunately (as I snakily remarked in my Google+ post) neither does Motorola.
Changing the game but not really
The OEM reaction of Google’s purchase of MMI is reminiscent of a two-year old child welcoming a newborn sibling into the family for the first time. The OEMs are tentative and cautious; they’re waiting to see what Google will do with MMI. On one hand, they’re a bit optimistic because the 25K odd patents could land an extra hand in protecting their Android investments. On the other hand, they’re also worried that Google might play favourites with Motorola by giving them special privileges. For Google to really protect Android, it will need the OEM support. Without OEM support, the number of Android handsets sold will plummet and likely resulting in the loss of developer interest and hence equating the demise of Android altogether. Motorola is nowhere near the top in terms of total number of Android handsets sold. It is in Google’s best interest to treat all their OEMs well if they intend to protect the Android platform. I think HTC recognizes this.
There’s plenty of room for everyone
For OEMs to compete with Apple, the only realistic choice is Android. No one is going to out-Apple Apple however the good news as the market has shown, not everyone wants an Apple. There are other factors that people look at when purchasing a phone including price point and form factor. While no one Android phone is dominant in market today, many companies, especially HTC and Samsung, have been able to make successful Android products that compete one another and make each of their parent companies money. Google is very interested in the number of devices activated; it is a metric they actively track. It is quite easy to imply that their own revenue is based on these activities and not so much from the revenue generated by manufacturers or from the marketplace.
I don’t get patents
I have to admit this – I don’t get the patent wars that we’re in. It’s obvious that it isn’t working and that it’s hurting innovation in the US especially at a time where innovation is one of the longer term answers to US economic success in the future. Some of the patent disputes are silly. I remember seeing this article and thinking to myself that yes, all tablets look like iPads but the author seem to also have missed that most devices look similar to each other long before the iPad. The Lenovo PC tablets look very similar to the Dell Latitude tablets that look very similar to the Asus tablets. It’s the nature of the beast. I’d hate to imagine if someone in home building patented open-concept homes or that cars have 4 wheels in the 1920s. Imagine how much further we’d be as a civilization.
WebOS is a failure of HP, not a failure of WebOS
Launching (or in this case re-launching) any new platform is hard. Even when Google first launched Android, it took many a year before it became the success that it is today. WebOS is a decent enough OS. While I read that HP spent a lot of money in terms of marketing it, I don’t think I’ve come across any ads for it. I suspect that HP marketed it like it was 1999 with tactics such as in store marketing, etc. The market has changed but HP hasn’t. I sincerely hope that someone else (even HTC) picks up WebOS. It deserves a much better fate than it got.
I thought I’d start this blog entry by jumping to a bit of a conclusion – I’ve given up on the HTC Flyer and am now using an Acer Iconia A500. Although I’m not using the HTC Flyer, I have to say that it is probably one of the best devices that I’ve used to date. A big part of why I really like the HTC Flyer is because of the form factor. WIth those things being said, let’s jump into the review of my fabulous HTC Flyer
Just a quick recap about the HTC Flyer – it’s a 7″ tablet from HTC and is pre-loaded with Android 2.3 or commonly known as Gingerbread. The hardware specs aren’t spectacular – it’s a single core 1.5 GHz processor, front-facing and rear-facing cameras, wi-fi only and weighing 420 grams. It is only one of a handful of 7″ Android tablets out there; the other notable ones are the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Dell Streak. From a software perspective, there are a few software that it comes with – HTC Sense, Kids Mode, Reader, Notes Watch and Car Panel that are worth calling out.
The most unique feature of the HTC Flyer is the built-in N-Trig layer which combines a digitizer along with the standard capacitive screen allowing for very fine-grained writing with a stylus. Although the device comes with a weird connector, a standard micro-usb can be used to adequately charge the HTC Flyer. While this may not seem like much, in comparison to the other tablets, this is a really useful and desired hardware feature on any device. Although it doesn’t have a dual-core processor, the device works really well. There aren’t any moments when I feel like the HTC Flyer is under performing. There are a few really nice touches such as the buttons automatically lighting up depending on how you orient your screen.
There are a few things that irk me a little. One of them being that with a larger screen surface, I’m finding that the screen is smudging much more and that for some reason, the wi-fi tends to drop after a few days regardless of which wireless router I connect to. Also, like most HTC devices I’ve used to date, the camera leaves lots to be desired. However, one thing to note – it is not always the most convenient thing to take photos with a 7″ tablet.
While I’ve always felt that the HTC Sense software has always been mediocre at best for phones, I found myself liking it a lot for the HTC Flyer. I found it for some reason more usable than either ADW Launcher or Go Ex Launcher which I love on the HTC Desire Z. At the time I was using the HTC Flyer, the unlock screen was pretty unique – you could drag a ring towards one of 4 app icons to launch it directly from the lock screen. The one thing that HTC Sense has always been known for is their gorgeous widgets and the HTC Sense for the Flyer really is no different.
Notes is a bit unique – it’s an HTC-written app that integrates directly to Evernote. What is unique about this app is that it supports handwritten notes which is otherwise not supported by the standard Android Evernote app. It does some things really well including doing offline synchronization with Evernote but it also does some things really poorly such as it lacks the ability to display shared notebooks and the way it organizes notebooks isn’t exactly intuitive. Overall though, the application works well. One feature that would really differentiate it would be the ability to sync with other note taking apps like Spring Pad. Reader is like Notes from the perspective that it is written by HTC and synchronizes with a third-party service. In this case, the third party service is Kobo. Just like Notes, it would make itself a killer service if it could synchronize with other services like Amazon as well.
Car Panel is really a GPS app that is provided by Route 66. I have to say that I am a bit mixed about my experience with it. The features are surprisingly limiting especially given the maturity of GPS software today. It provides the most basic of features such as being able to search for a destination and routing to it. Some features that I would have loved to use would have included multi-destination and being able to edit my favourite destinations. Car Panel does well to integrate to the HTC Flyer but would have been nice to see it integrate with the Android ecosystem a bit better.
The very best thing about the HTC Flyer really is the form factor. I found myself loving that it was small enough to be portable but large enough to expand on how I use a mobile computing device. I would describe how I use the Flyer is that it is truly a mobile computing device for me. It is intentionally not a phone; I never feel compelled to lift it to my face to make a call. I would, however, happily and productively communicate with others through IM, email and DM. I would never feel compelled to take photos on it but it is quite a pleasure to view photos, movies and music on it. It is definitely a pleasure to write and read blogs on it. The most typical use case for me is to listen to music while reading or writing on it in transit. I also find it convenient to carry it in my back pocket of my jeans around the house although oddly enough I wouldn’t do the same with my phone. Another thing to consider about the form factor is that apps written for a 4″ device tends to scale really well to a 7″ form factor.
Overall, the HTC Flyer is my favourite tablet to date because of the form factor. I do like my Asus EEE EP-121 but it is limited to OneNote usage largely because Windows is still not yet a touchscreen friendly operating system. The HTC Flyer is the first Android device that I haven’t felt the need to root as it works really well out of the box. Also, HTC has promised to upgrade the Flyer to Honeycomb in the very “near” future.
I’ll post pictures of the HTC Flyer in a few days
I’ve recently acquired my 7th mobile device in the last 12 months or so. I started out with a Nexus One, Points gave me a BlackBerry Bold 9000, picked up the HTC Desire Z, explored the ExoPC but didn’t like it. So I bought an Asus EEE Pad (EP 121) which I LOVE. Upgraded the BlackBerry Bold to a newer version and then recently picked up the HTC Flyer. The only other device I’d look to get this year is something with NFC. Truthfully, I hope to be done with mobile purchases this year. There were some lessons I learned over that time and the conclusion is that size matters when it comes to devices. OS matters as well bit to a lesser degree than size.
4 inches (aka the phone)
This is probably one of the more familiar form factors. It started with PDAs which evolved into smartphones. It is small enough to fit into a pocket and travels everywhere with me. It’s extremely versatile because of its size and the amount of computing power you can fit into that package these days.
At 4″, the screen is big enough to read things if you have at least a 6pt font and stripped away graphics to remove the clutter. However, given its small screen, reading a lot of text can be tedious at times. It doesn’t do well for managing information because in order to truly manage information, you often need other pieces of supporting data to do the job adequately. However, it is great for quick updates such as checking off tasks and creating reminder type notes.
Because of its constant availability, it’s usually where a lot of personal data is created and is likely the data master for this type of data. Some examples of this kind of data include information like credit card info, passwords, appointments and contact info. This is one device that you want extreme security with.
7 inches (aka the Playbook)
While there are many other 7″ device, I deem the Playbook to be the most prolific because they started this idea although the Samsung Galaxy Tab launched first. I remember hearing about the 7″ form factor and didn’t find myself interested in it until playing with the Samsung Galaxy Tab last year. It was naturally more phone then tablet and was surprisingly usable. It’s small enough to fit into the back of most of my jeans pockets bit has a large enough screen to read a lot of information efficiently. This makes the device quite portable but not portable to bring it every where with me like a phone. For instance, I can bring it with me to a meeting but not likely to bring it with me if I were stepping out with the guys for coffee, for instance.
Creating information on this form factor is a pleasure. I can opt to hold it with both hands and type or hold it in one hand and peck away at it. Two thumb typing (not to be confused by two hand typing) is actually quite great and ends up being the primary way I enter data. I like that I’m fast and have enough real estate on my screen to read and keep context of my data. This is also the average size for an e-book reader making it the natural device to do most of my reading from.
I like it because it’s versatile due to its size. I find myself using this device frequently whenever I think I’m going to consume information. This is the primary device I use when I’m not working or walking. So my main uses are at home, in transit to work or even travelling.
10 inches (aka the iPad)
I remember the fanfare that followed the launch of the iPad. It was yet another revolution for Apple. Yes, tablets have been around for almost 5 year’s at this point. Apple revolutionized the use of the device more than anything else.
The 10″ form factor is an awesome media consumption device. The screen is large enough where it’s often like reading a magazine. Watching movies on such a size is also quite the treat because it is large enough to see the important details. At 10″, most web pages will render legibly although just a little bit more dense than normal making it a very natural web driven device. One of the things that was recognized early is that an app created for a 4″ device doesn’t scale that well to a 10″ device. However, apps created for a 12″ device actually renders decently for a 10″ device.
Content creation for a 10″ device can be cumbersome that is similar to the 4″ device for portable information creation. It’s too long (and quickly becomes too heavy) for two thumbed content writing. It is actually quite comfortable to two-hand type on the device in portrait mode if you can place it down. However, in portrait mode, you quickly lose the real estate space for context which is personally quite important when considering content creation. You could attach a mouse and keyboard to the device but at that point, it is less functional than a desktop or laptop because of the small screen limitation. Although no hardware supports a digitizer today, I suspect using it as a pen input device would actually be a decent experience. The surface is large enough where you can write an adequate amount of information per screen on it.
This is an awesome form factor for travel and personal use. I like it for when I’m sitting around and want to peruse the internet but don’t really want to do a lot of work on it. Newer uses for it are as a cash register or sales tool which makes sense in a number of scenarios.
12 inches (aka the Asus EEE pad)
There are actually only a handful of devices in this form factor and none of them are particularly cheap. This is perhaps the original tablet form factor. The only OS so far available for it really is Microsoft Windows. You could put Ubuntu on it but even at Natty, Ubuntu is not ready for multi-touch use.
Like the 10″ device, it is an awesome media consumption device. If 10″ is nice, media on a 12″ is so much nicer. All web sites render like it should for this form factor. One thing to note though, a 12″ device as you’d expect would be the heaviest of all these form factors. So reading it would entail cradling the device on one arm and swiping screens with the other.
Content creation on a 12″ has many of the same challenges as the 10″ device. No one even thinks about two-thumb content creation on a 12″ device and you have the same challenges although it is slightly better with two-handed typing on a 12″ device. Writing on a 12″ device’s a joy. It is quite possible to hook up a mouse and keyboard to generate content on a 12″ device for an extended period of time.
The reality is that the 12″ device is often a full-blown notebook/laptop without a keyboard. So it has all of the hardware advantages and limitations of one. They often have powerful processors, gobs of RAM, lots of connectors and unfortunately also chew through battery. The power consumption is even more of an issue when the form factor limits the size of a battery that you can put on the device.
Hopefully if you’re looking for a new device or writing software for one, this helps with thinking about how form should factor into that decision making process
I have always loved HTC because in so many ways they have made their devices not only good-looking but also user community friendly. Their history with this has been long before they were a well-recognized consumer brand. XDA-Developers is one of the most recognized communities for this kind of activity. HTC contemplated about whether or not to lock up the bootloader. After concerns from the community, HTC opted to not forge ahead. This is another testament of HTC’s commitment to the community.
It never really occured to me as to why they would contemplate such a thing especially since of their standing in the user community and it’s one of the reasons why their devices is so popular. As we are exploring other devices here other than the BlackBerry, @lukereeves pointed out the security risks with Android devices that have root access. The issue is to do this, you’d have to open access to the bootloader. Once the Bootloader is opened, regardless of what security you have on the ROM, you’ve enabled a way to bypass it.
I’m really curious about how HTC would balance between the consumer community and the business community which is traditionally lucrative. The other thing to consider is that the consumer space is where most of the bleeding edge technology is now unlike 15 years ago. The consumer is more than likely to switch more often. However, not many people would like to carry two devices so whatever corporate provides tend to be an individual’s primary device. It would be interesting to see what HTC will do. Perhaps start a separate brand to focus on the enterprise space?
I didn’t think the wi-fi version of the HTC Flyer would be available today but good friend, @karatedan, mentioned that it was so I went out to pick it up while I was in the New York state on a short vacation. Here’s a picture of it sprawled all over the floor of my hotel room after I got it this evening. I managed to spend around 30 minutes with it and thought I’d write about my first impress
Some quick specifications of the HTC Flyer
- Android 2.3 OS(Gingerbread)
- 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor
- 7-inch capacitive multi-touch sensitive TFT screen with 1024 X 600 resolution
- 1 GB of RAM , 16 GB of internal storage and Micro SD memory card support
- 5 megapixel camera with auto focus on back side and front-facing 1.3 megapixel camera
- 4000 mAh Lithium – ion battery
- Bluetooth 3.0 with A2DP for wireless stereo headsets
- Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n
- Internal GPS antenna with navigation system
- GPS Sensors, Ambient light sensor, G-Sensor Digital compass, Accelerometer
- HTC Sense Pen API
My initial impressions about the HTC Flyer is a positive one unlike how I felt about the ExoPC. 7 inches is a really nice form factor for a tablet. Large enough that reading on it is a pleasure but small enough to carry around with you. Android is a much better tablet OS than Windows because multitouch is supported by the entire OS and not only by certain applications. The HTC Reader app is quite nice and is linked to Kobo and Adobe. I suspect it’s actually the native Kobo Android application. Other than that, I haven’t had the opportunity to play with anything else on the device. I will write a more detailed blog in a month or two after getting a chance to use it some more.
My HTC Desire Z review is finally posted on Howard Forums. Here’s the quick overview of my thoughts on the HTC Desire Z. I like the device a lot and I’ve since purchased it. I’ve always had a “thing” for HTC devices largely because they generally are well supported by the xda-developers community. The device is larger than the Nexus One or the Samsung Galaxy S series but over all it performs well. I was quite surprised on how difficult it actually was to try to purchase the device outright. If you are looking to purchase one, check out Costco. I had attempted to purchase one from Best Buy but they would not sell one without a contract which surprised me quite a bit given that their sales people supposedly don’t get commission. CyanogenMod works wonderfully on this device! If you’re looking to root your device, this is the link that I used.
The HTC Dream is the same phone as the T-Mobile G1 that was released last year with some changes to the antenna as HSUPA/HSPDA run on a different frequency than the US. I did not know this and was an interesting tidbit to find out. I remember looking at the T-Mobile G1 and wondering how comfortable it would be to have something protruding while typing. After using it for close to a week, I found that part really intrusive. It was quite difficult to use as it made for very awkward typing over a period of time. One nice thing about it is that it gave easy access to the rollerball which came in handy at times. Overall though, I found the performance on the Dream quite sluggish. For whatever reason, it waited a lot and crashed a lot for me. It’s definitely not a replacement phone for my HTC Fuze.
The Magic, on the other hand, was awesome. I generally prefer a hardware keyboard but as a secondary play phone, it does so quite nicely. It is small and sleek. In comparison to the native Dream ROM, it is fairly solid. I did not run into crashing or slowness issues. The soft keyboard works as well as one would hope. I was quite surprised it didn’t have a dedicated key for the camera which would have been really nice. While the Magic still has that chin, it isn’t nearly as obstrusive as for the Dream.
The nice thing about these phones is that they are HTC devices and in typical HTC fashion, I’ve flashed the ROM already. My Magic currently has the Hero ROM on it with the HTC Sense software. More thoughts on that in another post. I’ll update this blog with pictures in a few days.
MG Siegler wrote an article on Techcrunch titled “HTC Killed The Physical Keyboard. Smart Move.” The article quickly caught my interest because I naturally wanted to see if HTC was killing all physical keyboards for their devices. Fortunately, it wasn’t. I’m a big fan of HTC devices, particularly those with keyboards. In fact, I think it’s the differentiator for me between the iPhone and HTC devices. Reading the article, there are two arguments that stick out in my mind – the first is the physical versus virtual keyboard argument and the other is the Android versus the iPhone OS argument.
The implementation of the G1 was particularly awkward. I hate the lip because it got in the way of the keyboard. HTC has many other devices with keyboards with both slide-out implementations as well as vertical stand-up keyboards. Personally, I liked the physical keyboard implementation of the HTC Tytn 2 but the smooth screen of the HTC Touch Pro. The Tytn 2 keyboard has fewer keys but also larger and much more intuitive to use. It looks like they have brought back the same style of keyboard for the HTC Touch Pro 2. Personally, I have no issues with the extra bulk that comes with the keyboard as I use it lots. I have an iPod Touch and I never onced wish that I could bring it every where with me. In fact, it sits at home beside my bed for the most part. Ultimately, the question of physical versus virtual keyboard really is a matter of preference. I wouldn’t for one assume that all devices would only have virtual keyboards in the future. It’s like saying that the only style of cars in the future would be coupes.
While I really like the Android, the Android is not an iPhone killer. If anything, the Android will more likely be a Windows Mobile killer than an iPhone killer. After all that’s said and done, the iPhone’s strength is its multimedia capability. It’s great to watch movies, listen to music and play games. While the iPhone has a stunning design, underneath the beautiful exterior is a surprisingly weak hardware specs. In its current implementation, it only has about 20 MBs of free memory which is why it was brilliant of Apple to not allow the current generation of iPhones to allow more than one non-Apple application to run at the same time. Both the Android and Windows Mobile are more likely going to be the OS of choice for the market who wants to tweak their devices. Don’t like the browser, replace it. Don’t like the virtual keyboard, replace it. Again, it is a matter of personal preference if the Android, Windows Mobile and iPhone is better than the other. However, it is clear that the iPhone OS will continue to dominate in the consumer market because it does serve a much broader audience.
My conclusion – the physical keyboard is not dead even on the Android phones. Looking at HTC’s history of releasing devices, they will continue to release both form factors to appease both markets.