Author Archives: Michelle Lentz

Months ago, Verizon sent me a Motorola Xoom to review. I’ll be honest. I avoided writing it. Not because I wanted to keep the Xoom longer, but because I really didn’t like it.

I’ve become adjusted, rather quickly I suppose, to a certain design aesthetic. Blame Apple or HTC, but I’ve come to expect a certain slickness, perhaps the tablet version of a race horse, in my phones and my tablets. I expect simple and beautiful and fast.

Off the top, the Xoom gave me none of this. It’s heavy, and the very hardware encourages landscape only use. I had a hard time finding the power button.

Does that give you pause?

I took it to a conference full of smart people in the learning and instructional design industry. None of them could find the power button either. While that helped my ego, it certainly doesn’t say much for the industrial design of the Xoom. And perhaps that is where my first complaint lies: the design is industrial. It is not friendly and simple, but cold and complex. The Xoom adheres to the Droid moniker; more Asimov than Number 5. (The power button, by the way, is on the back left, near the lens and the flash.)

The Xoom is fast; I certainly can’t argue that. A dual-core processor sitting in the palm of my hand … I know. Your iPad 2 has that as well.  Verizon’s highly touted 4G network? You can send the Xoom away and Motorola will upgrade it to the 4G LTE network and send it back to you, but it’s not ready yet. The Xoom feels rushed. It feels as though quality and design were sacrificed to be on the market before the iPad 2 arrived and stole the show, took away everyone’s attention. With Android v 3.0, the Xoom felt half-baked.

I held onto this Xoom for far too long, mainly so that I could test drive the 3.1 update. I have to admit, the update makes a difference. Whereas with 3.0, I was unable to make the Xoom talk to my Macbook Pro, I now have no trouble. This means I am now capable of adding photos and videos on the Xoom. The 3.1 update improved the navigation, making things snappier. It brought Google Music Beta with it, instantly pulling all my music onto the device. The 3.1 upgrade, overall, made this a much more stable machine. It no longer crashes constantly. The App store and Facebook both run now without imploding. Version 3.1 is a very good thing.

But why did we have to get an update? Shouldn’t it have run this well out of the gate?

If you’re accustomed to an Android phone, you’ll need about two days to adapt to the design of Honeycomb. The tablet OS is a major departure from what you’ve experienced in your pocket for the last year. Those changes have a ripple effect on the hardware, and is why you probably won’t see the adorable original Samsung Galaxy tab upgrading to Honeycomb.

On the bottom left, you’ll find the back, home, and navigation buttons. Basically, the navigation button launches a strip through which you can view all of your open apps. (Android v3.1 made this strip scrollable.) But here is where it gets funky. A small button usually (but not always) in the top right of your apps gives you the settings for that app. Sometimes that button is elsewhere. There is no standardization. No single menu button for developers to access. Device settings are found in the bottom right, but the real settings are three taps in. Accessing your apps also requires multiple taps. It’s not intuitive. Nothing is where you expect it to be. Perhaps the trick is to go in with no expectations whatsoever. I’m human, however, and I admit my experiences with other tablets, and Android phones, influenced my expectations and interactions with the Xoom.

I don’t dislike everything about the Xoom. The integration of widgets and redesign of the Android Market are gorgeous. The transition animations and small design considerations, like drop shadows, make the user interface lovely to view. The 10.1 inch, 1280×800 screen is beautiful. And the battery life? Even with 3G on all of the time, I get several days out of this. I spent one day, trapped in the backseat of a car, sitting in traffic and trying to get home from Chicago. On my 9-hour traffic ordeal, the Xoom did not fail me. I’d have been lost without it and I never once dropped Verizon’s 3G service while I heavily accessed Skype, Facebook, and email.

Aside from the design, my biggest problem with the Xoom isn’t really the fault of the tablet. There simply aren’t enough apps out there. An advantage the smaller, non-Honeycomb Galaxy has is that phone apps aren’t awful  on it’s smaller screen. But a phone app looks terrible on the Xoom; there is simply no way around it. The screen is too large, too pretty, and your typical phone app isn’t able to adapt. Just like with the iPad, many of the apps need to be re-written, both for Honeycomb compatibility and for screen size. Even with the release of 3.1, there just aren’t enough apps available.

I wanted so badly to love this tablet. I was predisposed to loving this tablet, being a bit of an Android geek. But I just can’t. My recommendation, and my apologies to the nice folks at Verizon who have been ever so patient with me, is to wait. Wait until the app market expands. Wait until there is a tablet with a lighter, easily accessible design.

One of the things I hate most in this world is wasted potential. The Xoom has a lot of untapped potential, but I don’t know if it will ever get to where it needs to be in order to compete. It’s one of the perils of being first on the market. There is always something better, shinier, coming up behind you, having learned from your mistakes.

Michelle Lentz is a freelance writer, trainer and instructional designer with a serious need for the latest and greatest gadgets. When she has time, she tries to be a wine blogger, although it may just be an excuse for free wine.  She currently lives in Cincinnati but has definite designs on the Bay area.

My thanks to my friend Bryan at the Gadgeteer for the screenshot above.

It’s only been, what, four years since the iPhone was released? It seems that Apple and AT&T have finally ended the annoying exclusivity that has caused countless dropped calls. You can now get the iPhone on Verizon – or at least you can get it beginning Thursday, February 10. “Qualified” Verizon Wireless customers will be given the exclusive opportunity to pre-order the iPhone 4 online on February 3, ahead of general availability.

“We are pleased to introduce millions of wireless users to the industry leading iPhone 4 on the nation’s most reliable network,” said Lowell McAdam, president and chief operating officer of Verizon. “This is an important step for the industry as two great companies join forces to give wireless customers one of the most important technological additions to the mobile landscape this century.”

iPhone 4 on Verizon Wireless is the same iPhone as AT&T except it will include new Personal Hotspot capabilities allowing customers to use iPhone 4 to connect up to five Wi-Fi enabled devices. Basically, you can turn your iPhone into a Mifi. Oh, and it runs on CDMA*. Nothing in the press release mentions Verizon’s new LTE network, so I believe that the iPhone, whether on AT&T or Verizon, is still 3G. If there’s an LTE announcement, I imagine it would come from Steve Jobs as part of whatever the iPhone 5 might be.

I have my fingers crossed that mass iPhone adoption on Verizon won’t turn “America’s Most Reliable Network” into another AT&T.  This also levels the playing field. Verizon has led with amazing Android-based phones throughout 2010, but that’s all changing. Both AT&T and Verizon will have iPhones and some pretty impressive upcoming Android phones, including the Atrix (AT&T) and the Bionic (Verizon). Additionally, both carry the iPad, the Galaxy, and Verizon will also offer the Motorola Xoom tablet. It’s going to come down to price and speed, now that the choices aren’t so very different.

Should you rush out and get one? Well, for all the hype, remember that iPhone announcements tend to happen in June, with new phones in July. Your iPhone 4 might be old news in 6 months. And if you’re traveling to Europe? Whether you’re AT&T or Verizon, the iPhone is not the phone you want to purchase.

iPhone 4 will retail on Verizon for $199.99 (16GB) and $299.99 (32GB) with a new two year customer agreement. iPhone 4 will be available at more than 2,000 Verizon Wireless Communications Stores nationwide, online at  www.verizonwireless.com/iphone, at Apple Retail Stores, at the Apple Store® (www.apple.com), at Apple Authorized Resellers, and by calling 1-800-2 JOIN IN.

*CDMA:  you won’t be able to have a call going and surf the Internet on Verizon’s CDMA network, unlike AT&T’s network.

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Cheers!
Tweet Michelle @writetechnology, send her technology news at michelle[at]writetech[dot]net, visit her wine blog when you’re thirsty, and drop by one of her day jobs.

Shortly before the holidays, I got my hands on a Samsung Galaxy Tab as offered by Verizon. I have an iPad to which, now that I have 4.2, I’m rather devoted. I also have had any number of Android-based phones over the last year to which I am also pretty loyal. The Galaxy Tab, being both a tablet and an android device, rather split my loyalties.

It’s 7 inches as opposed to the 8.5×11 iPad. I had a really hard time adjusting to the size and at first, I found it to be the biggest detriment. After all, I love the giant size of the iPad. As an Android phone user, I felt like I was just using a giant version of my phone. However, we went to Key West over the holidays and I found the smaller size of the Galaxy grew on me. It fit in my my purse pocket, unlike my iPad, so I could always have it with me. It’s also about the size of my Kindle, making it super easy to use one-handed (and with either hand).

The specs are pretty, um, spectacular: Android 2.2 (FroYo), 1024×600 WSVGA LCD display, accelerometer, Swype included with the virtual keyboard, 1 Ghz processor, 2 GB internal  + a pre-installed 16 GB microSD card (supportable up to 32 GB). It supports WiFi, Bluetooth, and 3G.  I can’t argue with the specs, and the Galaxy was rather blazingly fast. I could also use it for about two days of moderate use before the battery died, which is a pretty good length of time. I also love the expandable storage and that’s one of the reasons I won’t go back to an iPhone.

The power button is on the top right, which is about the only thing I didn’t like. I think I’ve just been conditioned to the power button located on top. The touch screen was incredibly sensitive, which is both good and bad. I loaded Angry Birds, since it’s an app I can compare across many devices (plus it’s fun). At times, I’d get bumped out of the game because a part of my hand was touching the screen and it sent me out to the main menus. So it is almost hyper-senstive in terms of touch. The screen is beautiful though. On the iPad, I run Angry Birds HD, which is meant to be pretty on the larger screen. However, on the Galaxy, I ran the same version of Angry Birds I run on my phone and it is so much more lovely on the Galaxy, not pixelated at all and finally so easy to see. Because the Galaxy is small enough, upsizing phone apps for the tablet doesn’t lead to the ugliness you see when you upsize an iPhone app to the iPad.

I found the camera to be one of the funnest features of the Galaxy, by far. I’m disappointed in the resolution – only 3.0 MP rear-facing camera, although it has a flash and the standard “camera” features. There’s also a 1.3 MP front-facing camera, but I have to question that a little, only because it flips words around, almost like a mirror. In the below photo, taken with the front-facing camera, we’re wearing Santa hats that say Key West, only you’ll notice the words are reversed as in a mirror image.

However, the Galaxy Tab makes up for the weird mirror-image thing with the panoramic options, which is also found in the Droid X. Using the 3 MP rear-facing camera, you can take an entire panoramic shot and the tablet will tell you where to turn and stop, encompassing an entire area and then stitching it all together for you. This option allowed us to get some remarkable shots on vacation.

Because it’s an Android device, you can more fully customize the screens, using widgets and downloading apps from the Android Market. Thanks to FroYo, which works smoothly on the Galaxy, Flash is incorporated from the get-go. The Galaxy has support for Bluetooth, Wifi, and 3G.

The only other quibble I have about this device is the price tag. Verizon is currently selling it for $600 with month-to-month 3G access. Now, you can use it with just wifi, but it’s still $600. When you look at the price of a comparable (16 GB, Wifi only) iPad, it’s not really the best deal. I really enjoyed the device and in the end, it’s the size that really appealed to me. If the price would drop only a little, I might be ready to trade in the iPad.

Want a full-on comparison between the Galaxy Tab and the iPad? PC World has a great one. I’m glad I got my hands on this a few months after the initial release. Initial reviews were dodgy, but it seems like Samsung has worked out some of the bugs and my review copy worked like a charm.

I’m looking forward to CES next week, where I’m hoping a slew of Android tablets will show up. I have my fingers crossed that, as usual, Apple led the way but Android will diverge from the path with new and creative options.

(Note – I reviewed a device provided by Verizon Wireless, however, all four major carriers are carrying or will soon carry the Galaxy Tab.)

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Cheers!
Tweet Michelle @writetechnology, send her technology news at michelle[at]writetech[dot]net, visit her wine blog when you’re thirsty, and drop by one of her day jobs.

A bit of cuteness to finish your Friday…

The Knoxville Zoo has two little red panda (firefox) cubs sponsored by Mozilla Firefox. Honestly, when you see these little creatures, you’ll coo and want to hug one.

You can watch the streaming live video at FirefoxLive.org. You can also help name the cuteness, er, cubs. Their parents were named Akkali and Chewbacca. I’m thinking some geeks might have helped named Dad as well. ;-)

Back in September, when I was refusing to even think about snow, I was sent a pair of SmarTouch gloves from Isotoner (free sample, etc). The SmarTouch gloves are one of the many types of gloves you’ll find on the market this year that allow you to use your touchscreen device without freezing your fingers off. I wasn’t immediately blown away, mostly because it was still in the 80 degree range in Cincinnati and because they are a terrible teal color. I sort of filed the gloves away for later use.

Thanksgiving arrived and we headed north to Chicago to visit family. On a whim, I took the Isotoner SmarTouch gloves with me. After all, it was cold in Cincinnati, but freezing in Chicago. The gloves work. I had no problem keeping the gloves on and using my HTC Incredible (touchscreen) or my husband’s iPhone. I had to slow my typing a bit, as the gloves are larger than just my bare hands, but they certainly worked without a problem.

Some of the gloves you’ll see on the market have small metallic receptors sewn in – I’m not completely sure what happens when you need to clean those gloves. The Isotoners are completely washable, which is good. They work because they have conductive threads embroidered on teh index fingers and thumbs. The threads convey electrical impulses to the touchscreen.

The Isotoner SmarTouch gloves are available in men’s and women’s styles. I’ve seen them on-sale a lot locally, considering that it’s 23 degrees in Ohio now. Are they warm? Well, they aren’t the warmest gloves I own, nor are they as warm as any of my leather gloves, which is really what I prefer. (If someone makes leather touchscreen compatible gloves, please let me know!) On the other hand, they certainly beat fingerless gloves when it’s 23 degree out. The gloves worked well enough that I actually purchased a grey pair, which I find much more practical than teal.

Isotoner is also running a “Give the Gift of Touch” sweepstakes in which you and a friend can win a pair of gloves and an iPad. All you have to do is send a friend a virtual pair of smarTouch™ gloves on Facebook. If they click on the gift, both are entered to win.

SmarTouch gloves are available at most major department stores and online. They retail for around $40 but always seem to be on sale for around $19.99 – $25.

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Cheers!
Tweet Michelle @writetechnology, send her technology news at michelle[at]writetech[dot]net, visit her wine blog when you’re thirsty, and drop by one of her day jobs.