Is the 4th generation iPad worth the upgrade?

Apple’s announcement of the 4th generation iPad (officially named “iPad with Retina Display”) on October 23 was a big surprise to consumers; just a mere 6 months ago the 3rd generation was introduced basically now making that obsolete. As expected this annoyed recent iPad buyers who thought they had time before a new introduction.

Many consumers are left wondering if it is worth buying the new device. I was in this same predicament until I made the decision to upgrade from an iPad 2. I can say it is totally worth the upgrade and it is everything the iPad 3 should have been.

Here is what makes it the best tablet yet:

Retina Display

Yes this was available in the third-generation, but if you are upgrading from a 1st or 2nd-generation this will be new for you. Retina Display packs a huge amount of pixels in their display 1536 x 2048 at 264 pixels per inch to be exact. Things like internet browsing, photo viewing, watching movies and reading are all much improved over the iPad 2 and is one of the main reasons to pick up the new iPad.  You will be very impressed with this display.

A6X processor

With the new A6X pole was able essentially add more GPU hardware and streamlined memory access design to achieve a 2X performance boost. Using Geekbench, you can see that the A6 core is well over Apple’s 2X promise. All these processor improvements don’t come at the cost of battery life either. The iPad 4 gets the same 10 hours of battery life from the same 42.5 watt-hours battery that the iPad 3 enjoyed. Using this device for less than a week I have noticed how much faster apps open and the speed improvement on the web.

Image Credit: Geekbench

Lighting Port

Apple.com

Apple is known for its proprietary components in its products, and that has not changed with the new generation iPad. Although Lightning has been criticized for not providing easy backward compatible with the previous 30-pin connector, it’s a good idea to get into the Lightning mix sooner rather than later. It looks like the lightning connector is the way of the future with Apple.

The new Lightning connector uses a slightly thinner cable and is about 2 inches longer than the old cable. One of the more tangible benefits is for sets to be able to plug the cable in either direction.

iOS 6

The fourth generation comes with iOS 6 out of the box. Not that it is not the big of deal to upgrade an older device; however this just means that more consumers will be using the latest version of software.

Front Camera

The front facing camera received an upgrade. The iPad 4 is 1.2 megapixels and uses 720p at 30 frames per second compared to the iPad 3 which is 640 X 480 and uses 480p at 30 frames per second.

The rear facing camera are the same at 5-megapixels with 2592 x 1944 pixel resolution.

Conclusion

For some, these features will not be enough for an upgrade. As for the 4th-gen iPad, I wholeheartedly recommend it over the iPad mini, as well as an upgrade from the iPad 1 or 2.

However, there’s just no reason at this point to upgrade from a 3rd-gen iPad. Yes, the latest iPad is the most powerful now, but unless you have unlimited amounts of money you will not see the cost benefit. Let us all cross our fingers that this will not be updated for at least a year.

Don’t look now, but here comes the Windows Surface tablet

The image above is smartphone photography in its truest form; taken this month at the official Microsoft Store at the Mall of America (across the walkway from the Apple Store), this sign heralds the next big step for the software/hardware giant.  Indeed, the Surface tablet by Microsoft is arriving in stores this Friday, October 26th, 2012.

And if one is asking what the heck is the Surface and why should one be interested, let me elaborate:

The Surface Tablet by Microsoft

Image Courtesy of Microsoft

The Surface tablet is Microsoft’s new investment into the touch screen tablet market.  It comes as a 2lb, 10.6″ 10 point multi-touch HD tablet (larger in both regards than the 1.5lb, 9.7″ screened iPad) with stereo speakers, a few USB ports, a micro SD slot, front and rear facing cameras, a headphone port, and a video display output port.  The tablet is supported by a 22 degree “kickstand” that can flip in and out for maximum viewability.

Image Courtesy of Microsoft

The main keyboard is a pressure sensitive interface that doubles as the protective case for the Surface’s screen, and for an improved typing experience can be upgraded to the hard, mechanical Type Cover. Both keyboards work in hand with the kickstand to efficiently turn on and off the Surface when closed or transported.

The Surface Operating System

Besides the physical attributes, the Surface is being advertised as two different tablets with two distinct operating system options.

Windows RT

The Surface’s first operating system coming out on October 26th is known as Windows RT, which can be considered like a “light” version of Windows 8.  All the iconic Windows Metro tiles are present here (Mail, Sky Drive, Calendar, Facebook, etc); with them installed the homescreen can be modified and tweaked to suit one’s preferences.  Additional applications and tiles can be downloaded by the Windows Store, which also act as the content manager for the Surface.  Windows Defender is also included as a safeguard for one’ personal data.

The RT version also comes initially with Microsoft Office RT Preview, which carries all the common Office products in a non-polished form (with improvements coming through a free upgrade later on).  And yes, all Office programs in the Windows RT system will be touch-friendly.

Windows 8 Pro

Although the Surface is being released with Windows RT, it is Windows 8 that will use it’s functionality to the fullest.  The forthcoming Windows 8 on the Surface acts like Windows 7 in the background, but still has all those pretty Metro tiles on the front end with similar connectivity to social media and the like.

Unlike the Windows RT version, the full Office suite will be available for the Windows 8 Pro Surface, again with emphasis added on the touch capabilities for maximum efficiency.  And because Windows 7 is essentially running in the background in Windows 8, the future Surface tablet will be able to run and install any application that have been compatible with existing Windows systems.  Networking and security will also be expanded beyond Windows Defender with bit-locker disk encryption, remote desktop access, and other IT management features.

The Present Situation

The main differentiation between the Windows RT version of the Surface and the Windows 8 version is quite clear: the RT Surface is currently available for $499 ($699 as the 64GB version) and the Windows 8 Pro version does not even have a release date yet.  But when Windows 8 Pro is released, the improved Surface will boast an i5 Core Processor, 2 extra GB of RAM (4 GB total), and double the battery size for usage well beyond the 8 hours the Windows RT surface can provide.

Presently, the Windows RT version can be pre-ordered from the Microsoft Store, but depending on the release of Windows 8 it may make sense to wait and see if the Surface can really stretch its wings with the added functionality.

Read up on warnings and risks before updating your Android OS

With Android devices, it is very easy to fall two or three releases behind if you depend on your carrier to release new software. For me personally, I decided to update to the Honeycomb release on my Samsung Galaxy tablet in order to get the front-facing camera to work with Skype. It turned out to be a big mistake on my part and I am here to tell fellow Techerator readers how not to make the same mistake I did.

I performed a couple of quick Google searches about Honeycomb on my specific tablet model. I then came across a great website called XDA Developers, which is a great site for users who want to root their phones and install custom ROMs, and it’s also great for finding out about any risks and warnings when updating the OS on your mobile devices (which I failed to do).

I ended up following a bunch of leads and downloaded a flash-loading program to update to Honeycomb. I followed all of the instructions on the screen, and before I knew it, my tablet went from this:

Samsung Galaxy Tablet

To this:

7-inch Brick (Mantoles creation)

Yes, that’s a 7-inch brick. I don’t consider myself a magician, but I somehow managed to magically transform my Samsung tablet into a really heavy paperweight.

It turns out, I was being negligent and didn’t read the rest of the thread on XDA. Sure enough, there were tons of warnings about using the method that I used and also a couple of errors in the sequence of executing the steps.

So, my lesson to you is, read through the entire thread all the way to the end and read up on all the warnings about bricking your tablet. If you don’t educate and remind yourself of the risks involved with changing around the software, bad things are likely to happen.

Samsung Galaxy Note – Phone, Tablet, or Worthless Piece of Junk?

Mobile phones started out resembling bricks. They were monsters, with the internal components necessary to make them work taking up so much space as to make early examples look ludicrous in hindsight. And then they shrank until the smaller they became, the better they were supposed to be.

But that trend has now reversed, as we’re all doing much more than just phoning and texting on our mobile devices. Some of us are living our lives through these things, and that trend is only going to increase as smartphones are effectively able to do everything we would ever want them to do.

With that in mind it’s time to welcome the Samsung Galaxy Note onto the stage.

Samsung Galaxy Note

The Samsung Galaxy Note is a smartphone/tablet based on the Android operating system. It’s powered by a 1.4Ghz, dual-core processor, boasts 1Gb of RAM, has up to 32Gb of memory, and two cameras; 8MP at the rear, 2MP at the front. And it looks fantastic.

The one problem is the 5.3-inch screen size, which means even the product itself is confused as to whether it’s a phone or a tablet. Perhaps it’s just a worthless piece of junk instead.

As A Phone…

The Samsung Galaxy Note works as a phone, barely. It has all the necessary internal gubbins, naturally, but whether you’d actually feel comfortable holding it up to your ear to take or make a phone call I’m not so sure. I’d advise Galaxy Note owner to get used to wearing a Bluetooth headset very quickly.

The sheer size of this thing makes it look unlike any phone you have ever seen in your life. The screen size is huge compared to anything that has gone before. Bear in mind that the iPhone has a 3.5-inch screen and the Galaxy S2 a 4.3-inch screen. These are both dwarfed by the Galaxy Note. With the screen measured diagonally the difference is wider than you’ll ever imagine.

As A Tablet…

The Samsung Galaxy Note works as a tablet, barely. It has been created as a kind of hybrid phone/tablet, or phablet. It comes with its own special stylus, which actually goes against the grain of using nothing but your fingers to type, dial, and write on your mobile device of choice.

Is 5.3 inches a big enough screen size for a tablet? I’m not convinced. Remember that the iPad has a 9.7-inch screen, and even cheap Android slates such as the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet boast 7-inch screens. You’ll struggle to use the Galaxy Note as a tablet, and it certainly won’t be a comfortable proposition.

Conclusions

Personally speaking I’d rather own a smartphone with a decent-sized screen which handles phone calls really well and everything else adequately. Plus a 7-inch to 10-inch tablet which handles everything else apart from phone calls really well. And I suspect I’m far from alone on this.

The Samsung Galaxy Note isn’t a bad product at all. In fact its specs are pretty damn awesome; certainly for a smartphone, and even for a budget tablet. The problem is it’s trying to be two things at once, and struggling to be either.

It cannot therefore be branded a phone, a tablet, or a worthless piece of junk. It’s none of the above and yet all three at the same time. So I guess it wins the battle in terms of multi-tasking at the very least, just not in the way Samsung must have envisioned.

Image Credits: Retinafunk, Stuart Fleming

First Look: Using Windows 8 on a Tablet

Microsoft is aiming high with Windows 8. Not only will Windows 8 be their next flagship desktop operation system, Microsoft is also looking to make it their first OS that’s actually usable on a tablet (anyone who has used any version of Windows on a tablet up to now will tell you that it makes for a less than stellar experience).

I recently had the good fortune to play around with a tablet (specifically the Acer Iconia Tab W500) running the Windows 8 Developer Preview. While the developer preview is still a very early build (and it shows), it’s showing a lot of promise.

Right away I was impressed with Windows 8’s boot time, Microsoft is finally paying attention to an area it has struggled with in the past. With the help of the W500’s solid state drive I clocked the time from pushing the power button to staring at the log in screen at around five seconds. Compared to the 30+ seconds you’ll see on a Windows 7 desktop with a standard spinning drive that’s quite an improvement, and a necessary one for a portable device like a tablet.

In Windows 8, Microsoft added the option of tying your Windows Live ID to your standard log in. This allows you to sync things like browser bookmarks and passwords across all of your devices and facilitates downloads from the upcoming Windows Store. It’s similar to both Apple’s and Google’s approaches to tying your device to an account with the added bonus of syncing things you’d normally find in a roaming profile on a Windows-based network. Most everyone has a Live ID lying around for something or other, may as well put it to good use!

My favorite addition to Windows 8 is the expanded Task Manager. It’s actually useful! All of the stats you could ever want are available at a glance. Instead of just CPU and memory activity you can now see which processes are hogging disk or network access. Ever wonder how many threads are currently active, or how many open file handles there are? Probably not, but it’s there for you to view. The Task Manager also integrates the useful Startup (previously found in msconfig) and Services (previously services.msc) tabs, making them easier to get to.

Windows Explorer has also seen a welcome update with the addition of the ribbon interface found in recent versions of Microsoft Office. Gone are the days of having to dig through a menu just to do something simple like show hidden files and folders, you can now make it available right on the main screen by pinning it to the ribbon.

But enough about Windows 8 features in general, how does it work on a tablet? Pretty well, actually.

The main tablet interface will be familiar to Windows Phone 7 users as it’s basically an expansion on that. Big friendly buttons make it easy to go where you want to go, and standard touch screen rules apply (for example, to move an icon long press on it and drag).

Windows 8 also features a browser optimized for tablet browsing. If you’ve used other mobile browsers it shouldn’t take much getting used to. In normal mode, the whole screen is dedicated to website viewing, with additional options like the URL bar or tabs available at the swipe of a finger.

The most useful feature of Windows 8 on a tablet, in my opinion, is the fact that if you end up needing to do something that a traditional tablet can’t handle there’s still a full Windows operating system to fall back on. Sure, it’s just as clunky to use as past versions, but the important thing is that it’s there. For example, it wasn’t too long ago that Android was hurting for a full-featured video player that could handle such things as a wide variety of codecs or subtitles. On a tablet running Windows 8 that’s a non-issue, just install VLC and play whatever you want.

Unfortunately, the benefits of a full desktop OS also add something you might not want: weight. To handle an OS like Windows a tablet needs powerful hardware. That desktop processor and solid state drive don’t come light, and the W500 weighs in at around 3.5 pounds, compared to the iPad 2’s 1.3 pounds. If you have something to rest the tablet on it isn’t so bad (or if you’re using a ‘transforming’ tablet like the W500 that can plug into a keyboard attachment), but holding it up can get annoyingly tiring.

Windows 8 also features the obsession with whitespace that seems to be sweeping the design community

As previously mentioned, the familiar Windows 7-like portions of Windows 8 still don’t handle a touch interface very well. Right clicking is done by long pressing, icons and menu options are small enough to make them difficult to click with a finger, and convenient keyboard shortcuts are impossible to use. Hopefully the Metro portion of Windows 8 will be up to handling most tasks, because while a Windows desktop is useful as a fallback option trying to use it for more than short period of time is an exercise in frustration.

Windows 8 still has a way to go before it’s ready for prime time, but that’s understandable as it’s still early in development. A beta version is expected to be available sometime in February of this year which will hopefully address many of the faults found in the Developer Preview. Windows 8 probably won’t be a necessary upgrade on a desktop or laptop running Windows 7, but as a tablet OS it’s showing plenty of promise. And who knows, with Android being ported to x86 architecture and Windows 8 supporting ARM processors maybe we’ll see tablets dual booting Windows 8 and Android.

Special thanks to my dad for letting me borrow the tablet used in this article.

How to make your Windows tablet look like Windows Phone 7

I recently noticed that when I told people I bought an ASUS EP121 Eee Slate tablet PC with Windows 7, they usually asked me “What do you do for easy access to nifty apps and news and stuff?” And sadly, it was a question I could not easily answer without adding sarcasm or criticism (a very tough thing to do, mind you).

In all fairness, I did agree that my overpowered, $1,200 multi-touch tablet PC was lacking a nice home-screen user interface like the iOS or Android 3.0. So like all the other problems I had faced in my life, I turned to the internet for help.

Immediately, the internet told me to wait for Windows 8 (which Techerator has been covering already). But unfortunately, I have never been one for waiting for solutions to my life’s problems and, more importantly, I have stopped purchasing operating systems when they are in their product infancy (lesson learned: Windows Millennium Edition). But thankfully, a few short Google searches later I found that the folks at How-to Geek had located a better solution than just waiting for a new OS: use Rainmeter and Omnimo UI to make your Windows 7 desktop look like a Windows Phone 7.

So that is exactly what I did.

Rainmeter and Omnimo

Before
After

Rainmeter is a free program that allows for custom skins to be added to one’s computer desktop for added functionality. All the skins are user-created, and can range from simple battery meters to to-do lists and RSS feeds. If you do enough searching, you’ll find a skin to load into Rainmeter that fits your liking. For my tablet, I followed How-to Geek’s lead and chose Omnimo UI, a custom skin that takes its influence from the Windows Phone 7 OS design and its sleek Segoe UI font. Installation of both Rainmeter and Omnimo UI are accurately detailed in the How-to Geek article, so I will not elaborate too much.

Once installed, Omnimo walks you through the skin selection process and gives you three options: two skins with nifty Windows Phone 7-esque panels and clear text, and the third skin being a blank slate to start from.

If one chooses the pre-built skins, it is important to note that thanks to Omnimo’s features, they are not set in stone. Rather, every single panel and text item can be tweaked, moved, and deleted to suit one’s preferences. Editing a panel can be done by finding the wrench icon located nearby and the deleting can be done by right clicking anywhere on it and going to the “unload skin” option.

So...many....OPTIONS

The right click menu is also where all the other tweaking happens. Panels can be added and subtracted, and whole homescreen skins can be backed up and stored for future reference. The configuration options are extensive and comprehensive, with the only things being excluded are adding one’s personal preferences to the panels.

If one feels ambitious enough to start from scratch, they can use the “WP7” menus to choose panels to add and place them on the screen to their liking. This one above was created in one evening to suit my “Quick demand for what’s happening around the world while eating breakfast” mood.

I will say this, though, creating a custom home-screen is not as easy as it looks due to the fact that some of the panels and editing menus are tiny and tweaking them to exactly your liking can become increasingly frustrating and tedious.

Two tips when dealing with custom panel movements:

  1. Use the tablet pen to move the panels around and edit them (that makes a huge difference).
  2. Lock the panels into place once they are in a suitable location by right clicking on the panel, going to “Manage Skin,” and deselecting “Draggable” in the lower right. Adding shortcuts can also become extensive as the editing menu will not find the icon for you once you add the path of the executable.

So take that, tablet PC objectors. Thanks to Rainmeter and skins like Omnimo, one can have the luxury of an expensive, high-powered tablet with Windows 7 and a clean user interface at the same time. No sarcasm intended.