Thursday, July 30, 2009

More Apple Tablet PC Rumors

According to recent rumors, the long-awaited Apple Tablet will be released in time for the holiday season this year and it will be subsidized by Verizon.

I’m hesitant to post rumors, especially rumors regarding Apple, and even more so regarding the Tablet, but I have heard from other reliable sources that Apple has been talking to Verizon. While they speculated that this could have been about the iPhone moving carriers, when you take this into account, the Tablet seems far more likely.

If the Tablet were subsidized, one big concern, price, would surely all but disappear. Apple continually claims that they can’t (or won’t) make a low-end netbook citing that they want to make the best, not the most. This could allow them to make the best, but at a much more affordable price point.

But as always this is still a rumor, yet their annual September event is fast approaching, so take it with a grain of salt.

ASUS F50GX F50GX-6X059E Notebook Intel Pentium T3400 with Vista Business

Stylish, contemporary and versatile. The F50GX is designed to be the definitive notebook for the family. Powered by an Intel® Core™2 processor providing users with everyday computing efficiency the F50GX is the perfect addition to any household.

ASUS F50GX F50GX-6X059E Notebook Features:

Microsoft Windows Vista Business
Intel Pentium Dual Core T3400 2.2GHz Processor
NVIDIA® GeForce® 9400M G Graphics
2GB DDR2 800MHz Memory
320GB 5400rpm Hard Drive
DVD Supermulti Drive
16.1" WXGA Colourshine (1366x768) HDMI
1.3 Mega Pixel Camera
Battery Life: Upto 2.0hrs
Weight: from 2.85kg

Should You Get the New iPhone 3GS?

The whole Internet, it seems, is currently fawning over the new iPhone 3GS. That's partially because the device seems to be a worthy upgrade to the iPhone 3G. (We're not sure we'd call it a successor, since it will be sold alongside the existing handset; it's more like choosing between the basic MacBook and the souped-up MacBook Pro.) We also lay responsibility for the hype, though, on the shoulders of one of our pet peeves -- the media's love affair with Apple.

At least one Web site refuses to swallow the story whole, though. The popular tech blog TechCrunch's M.G. Siegler recently wrote an opinion piece arguing that the iPhone 3GS might not be the best bet. But then again, he lays that blame squarely at the feet of AT&T, only backing up our argument that the media may love Apple a bit too much to give a fair assessment.

It's hard to argue with his logic, though. As Siegler points out, AT&T will not be subsidizing the price of the upgrade for existing iPhone 3G customers (as it did for the upgrade from the first-generation iPhone to the iPhone 3G). When the iPhone 3G launched, AT&T offered it for a single price, $199, to new subscribers and existing iPhone customers alike, regardless of whether or not their contracts were up for renewal. Not so with the iPhone 3G. If you jumped on the iPhone 3G last year, you'll have to either wait another year to get the discount, or pay face value for the 3GS ($399 for the 16-gigabyte version, or $499 for the 32-gigabyte). Of course, if you're new to the iPhone or AT&T, or if you bought the original iPhone back in 2007 and your contract is up for renewal, then you can get the new iPhone 3GS for the nice price of $199.

Even worse, AT&T has yet to lock up exclusivity of the Apple handset. Currently, the contract between the two companies is set to expire in 2010, though AT&T is trying to extend that through 2011. If it fails to do so, you can expect the iPhone to find its way onto other carriers pretty quickly. This means that Verizon fans just might want to wait a year before they sign up for a 2-year contract with AT&T just to get an iPhone (we're not promising anything, though).

Given these stumbling blocks, what's the point of upgrading to or buying the new iPhone 3GS? We've come up with a few pros and cons.

Why you should upgrade: The primary reason you might want to get the new iPhone 3GS is because it's the fastest iPhone so far. The current iPhone is sleek and fancy, but certainly not a speed demon. Many purely 2-D games stutter and freeze, and even basic tasks, such as opening a text message, can sometimes take up to 30 seconds. The iPhone 3GS packs a significantly faster processor, more RAM, and a new 3-D graphics processor capable of handling much more complex imagery (in other words, games will more realistic and run more smoothly). Game developers are loving this new processor, and you'll likely see a number of games hit the App Store that require the 3GS and won't run on older iPhones at all.

Then there are the other perks that come with the upgrade, like the upgraded camera with auto-white-balance, auto-focus, and video capabilities. Naturally, it won't replace your point-and-shoot, but it should finally bring the iPhone up to speed with most other feature phones. And don't forget the digital compass, which may not sound like a major feature, but will make finding your way using the included Google Maps app much easier.

Why you shouldn't upgrade: Besides the pricing issues described above, the iPhone 3GS isn't such a big leap forward in technology that current 3G owners will be driven to assaulting those eligible for the upgrade. The move to 7.2 Mbps HSDPA (double the download speed of the current iPhone 3G) is only useful in areas where AT&T will actually upgrade its network (no specific areas or time frame have been announced), and if you can keep a 3G signal for longer than two minutes. AT&T's service is almost universally panned, and is notoriously spotty in many major metropolitan areas.We can tell you that coverage in New York City (where the Switched offices are located) is infuriatingly inconsistent and often slow.

Also, if you already on an iPhone, then many of the benefits of the iPhone 3.0 software update -- cut-and-pasting ability, MMS, a landscape keyboard for all apps, and turn-by-turn directions using the GPS -- will come to you in the way of an automatic software download and installation.

Bottom line: For users of the first gen iPhone -- or some other aging handset, like (gasp) the RAZR -- the iPhone 3GS might be a worthwhile upgrade. Ditto those who don't own iPhones at all, as $199 is a competitive price for a pretty advanced smartphone, and it's simply the best for watching video and listening to music on the go (especially if you already use iTunes). Make sure to check with other AT&T customers in your area to find out about 3G coverage if you're planning on doing a lot of Web surfing or like to use apps that need a Web connection, though. Another option, if you're a first-gen iPhone owner, is an upgrade to the standard iPhone 3G, which AT&T will be selling for $99 with a two-year contract. The 3G is still a capable handset, and more advanced than most other phones at that price point, which often lack touch screens, and can't match the iPhone's Web browser or catalog of applications. We expect Google, BlackBerry, Palm, and Microsoft to slip into panic mode any day now.

Our advice if you're a current iPhone 3G customer? Wait. The smart phone market is changing so quickly you may regret dropping $399 on phone just because you're impatient. Besides, you have another year left on your contract to see where the burgeoning smartphone market is going. . Android, Google's fledgling smart phone OS, is just starting to come into its own, Palm is experiencing a resurgence, Windows Mobile will be getting a major update in the next year, and BlackBerry is not resting on its laurels either.

In other words we're just now entering the golden age of affordable and advanced smartphones, iPhone 3G owners, so sit back, check out the new releases, save your money, and revisit this decision again in a year.

HTC Hero

We're going to need some real time with the device to make a final opinion, but we're cautiously optimistic that HTC has a winner with its new Hero. Here's what we've got from our first looks at the phone in London and NY:

* The beveled edges along the back makes the handset sit comfortably in the hand, and while the teflon coat doesn't necessarily feel revolutionary, it's going to make a world of difference after a couple of months riding in our grubby pockets. It's certainly solid, but much more so than other "brick" phones.
* The Sense UI (or as HTC terms it, "user experience") riding a capacitive touchscreen offers a people-centric approach to managing your information that is absolutely dreamy at first blush -- though it shares a lot of TouchFLO heritage. In fact, HTC promises to have a very similar Sense-branded experience for Windows Mobile.
* The on-screen keyboard also seems quite useable with a nice simulated haptic forced-feedback bounce when you strike each key in either landscape or portrait mode (which can naturally be deactivated). HTC has built its own touch keyboard from the ground up, and in our brief couple of tests we'd say it's probably the best touchscreen typing experience we've ever felt. It never lags behind, and has great colorful visual cues for its auto-corrected words -- green means it's suggesting a correctly spelled word, red means we've gone off the beaten path, and the T9-style multiple suggestions are heavenly.
* This intuitive one-hander isn't shy with the specs either as we've already seen in the official press release. Our only concern is possible sluggishness from the Qualcomm processor that cause the graphic transitions to stutter a bit and results in screen rotations that feel dangerously uncomfortable.
* We were told that the device we saw was running pre-production firmware so there's still time to tweak -- though not much with a July European launch.
* The Hero is not a "Google Experience" device. As such, you won't find the Google logo anywhere (no big deal) but you also won't be downloading any firmware updates over the air -- sideloading only kids. Not a deal breaker but an annoying and seemingly arbitrary limitation nonetheless. There's still a small lack of clarity of how updates will work with HTC's "mods" living on top of basic Android -- even if they're able to port in new Android versions seamlessly, we imagine there will be some breakage.
* For a device without a physical keyboard, the Hero seems a little thick up against its HTC Magic, Nokia N97, and iPhone 3G counterparts, but not overly so.
* HTC has confirmed that whichever (unspecified) carrier gets the phone in the US will have a modified version, both in software (carrier-specific services) and in hardware chassis tweaks. Just don't take our teflon away, ok HTC?
* Battery is the same larger slab that's in the myTouch, and HTC also claims to have done some vague, unspecified things OS-side to improve battery life as well. "Heavy users will be able to get through a day."
* The camera is responsive and seems to do a fine job at autofocus, but wasn't astonishingly great at first glance.
* The phone will be available for free on T-Mobile UK -- if only we could be so subsidy lucky in the US.

There are four videos for you after the break. The first shows Flash running at full screen on the HTC Hero courtesy of YouTube. The second, however, shows it failing when running a trailer from Yahoo Movies, just like Adobe did -- in fact, it crashed all four times that we tried it on what we were told was a Hero running the final build of the OS. Third one is a quickie showing the on-screen keyboard rotating from portrait to landscape and back. Lastly, we demonstrate the hardware a little bit and show off our lightning speed at typing. For the real completists, there's also a new gallery of hands-on shots from the NY launch event right below.