Archive for ‘Android’

2011-11-13

Finally: The end of the road for Flash!

Wow. I go off-line for a week on vacation and Adobe drops the bombshell that it’s abandoning mobile and set-top Flash in order facilitate the move to HTML 5. This is such monumental and welcome news that I had to pause my time away from the computer to comment. First, as usual, John Gruber of Daring Fireball has been covering this topic very well. It’s starting to be old news already but if you’re interested, you should check out some of what he’s linked to.

Overall, I’ve never really liked Macromedia and the Adobe Flash. Annoying video ads aside (as these can be done in HTML5 as well) Flash, while a cool technology, has always been a pain if you were interested in fiddling with funny, often Open Source, and under-developed operating systems on obscure CPU architectures. It happens that I’m in to this, so I’ve never really bought in to Flash and have been a vocal opponent of it for many years. Moreover, Flash is terrible from an accessibility perspective, as most screen readers can’t deal with it. Flash is why good web standards are so important. At it’s peak, it was installed on something like 98% of browsers. As a web developer interested in standards compliance, I’ve often had to explain to potential customers why Flash is a problem. Unfortunately, lack of screen reader support and poor accessibility in general are a harder sell than mentioning that it won’t work on iPhones and iPads.

All of this to say that I’m glad to hear that Adobe, who makes fantastic tools for creative people, is going to phase out Flash in favour of HTML5. Open technologies owned by no one, enhancing the web for everyone. Adobe has compelling tools for print and on-line media already. They recently acquired the companies behind TypeKit and PhoneGap. I can’t wait to use Adobe’s new Creative Suite that integrates these great technologies.

However, all of this great news isn’t what prompted this blog post. Rather, it was the following Economist article entitled “Flash Fried”. It is a mostly balanced, well-written article that goes off the rails in the last two sentences:

Widespread adoption of the new standard is likely to make it impossible for any one company to hold sway over online interaction. It may be too soon for Apple to gloat.

The first sentence is why the death of mobile Flash should be hastened and celebrated. The second sentence is rubbish. Apple wouldn’t gloat, though it did far more to see to the first sentence come to be true than any other company. The second sentence implies that Apple wants to be the one company to hold sway over online interaction. There is absolutely no evidence that would lead any rational, informed, person to jump to this conclusion. If anything, the supposedly “open” Android platform, very firmly controlled by one company, Google, is more likely to try to position itself to hold sway over online interactions. Even if this came to pass, it would be a better situation than what lead Microsoft to a 95% lock of the desktop market share, which then lead to stagnation of innovation on-line while the dominant browser (IE6) failed to progress for years.

In light of the realities of today, Flash is a dated and flawed technology whose time has thankfully coming to an end. It was an important intermediate step between pre-Flash-driven sites and what HTML 5 will bring. We could not have jumped straight from HTML 4 to HTML 5 without something like Flash to help show the way. For this, we should all be thankful for Macromedia, and now Adobe’s, contributions. However, Flash technology is fundamentally flawed: It is controlled by one company, it has, until Apple put it’s foot down, held too much say over online interaction, and now the security and performance problems of Flash, coupled with browser advances, have deemed it largely irrelevant. We don’t miss DOS, we don’t miss punch cards, we won’t miss Flash. Technology marches on.

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2011-10-30

HP Palm Pre 3 Review: The phone that never was

It appears as though my time with Palm is drawing to a close. HP has killed off the Pre 3, the Veer, the TouchPad, and has laid off the employees responsible for the hardware. They keep making vague promises with webOS the software, but things certainly don’t look good for webOS, my favourite mobile platform, or for what was Palm. The company that popularized PDAs, pioneered smartphones, and then briefly had a run with the only compelling iOS alternative I’ve seen seems to have run out of steam. Nothing stays the same. If there was no change, there would be no hope of progress. Still, as someone who has followed Palm since it was part of 3Com and US Robotics, I will miss their innovation and attention to the user experience. (UX)

All of this said, I was unable to cut my losses with the HP TouchPad. When unreleased AT&T HP Pre 3’s started showing up on eBay, I had to bite. I ended up buying a 16GB version for $241 plus $30 shipping. At less than $300, I am very pleased that I made the purchase. webOS may be a dying platform, and the Pre 3 may be a dead-end device, but it’s a hell of a dead-end device.

The HP Palm Pre 3: End of the line for Palm

The Palm Pre 3 is the pinnacle of the form-factor that Palm developed with the original Pre. It features a 3.5″ 800×480 display, a 1.4GHz CPU, a slide-out keyboard with larger keys than the Pre 2 or Pre, 512MB of RAM, and webOS 2.2.3.

If you hated the original Pre, you won’t like the Pre 3. However, if you like a reasonably sized smartphone with a hardware keyboard and you don’t need a huge number of esoteric apps, the Pre 3 may still be a good bet.

The device is fast, fast, fast. It’s still not quite up to iPhone 4S speeds, but it’s certainly faster and more consistently so than any Android device I’ve used. As always, webOS is a lovely, elegant experience. Thankfully, 2.2.3 seems to have solved the niggling Google Sync problems I’d experienced with the Pre 2. The OS isn’t significantly different from the current release of the Pre 2’s webOS 2.1. I have been happy with the app selection in webOS for some time now. The App Catalog offers a surprisingly good selection of games and productivity apps. True, it’s nowhere close to what Android or iOS offers, but other than a lack of Netflix for the TouchPad, I haven’t really found myself missing anything from webOS. The browser has always been great. In my opinion, it is equal to iOS’ offering and far better than any Android browser. Moreover, I still think that webOS has the best mobile mail, calendar, and contacts experience of any platform. The calendar on the Pre devices in particular is so much more fluid and intuitive than anything else since Palm’s original PalmOS calendar. The attention to these details, the great multi-tasking, and the easy developer mode are why I stick to webOS even now.

The software experience is great, and so is the hardware. Closed, the Pre 3 is about the same size and width as my iPhone 3GS. It’s quite thin, considering the slide-out keyboard. The display is just fantastic. It has Gorilla Glass, so is quite tough, and the pixel density rivals the iPhone 4’s Retina Display. The screen is now the perfect size, and extra size allows the keyboard to be slightly larger, making text input that much nicer. I still prefer the horizontal keyboard of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Mini Pro or the BlackBerry Torch, but the Pre 3 is close behind, and webOS puts it over the edge for me.

The Pre 3 retains the rear-facing mirror when the keyboard is open. I know that some people complain of the vanity of this, but why not? It’s useless space otherwise. Why not make it a mirror. To me, it’s little touches like the mirror and how the device feels in the hand that make the Pre 3 hardware feel so compelling. I like my little Sony Mini Pro, but it is boxy and awkward. I like the shape of the iPhone 3GS but find the 4 and 4S to be too angular. The Pre 3 “river stone” feel is natural.

If you’ve used a Palm Pre or webOS and like what you find, the Pre 3 is a great device. If you’re happy with an iPhone, stick with an iPhone. If you like Android, good for you. BlackBerry fan? Great! Me, I like webOS. With the Pre 3, the hardware has finally caught up with the elegant software. Yes, there are things that I would change (like adding an FM radio and Dropbox integration) but on balance, this is the best smartphone for me. I don’t imagine that I’ll be using it in two years, but I’d bet money that I’ll be missing aspects of it at that time.

Good bye Palm, it’s been a good run. I’ll stick with the Pre 3 and TouchPad for now. I wish all of the great designers and engineers behind webOS the best of luck in the future. I hope they continue to influence BlackBerry, Android, and iOS development in the future.

2011-07-25

My view of the mobile landscape – 2011.07

I’m a systems guy at Queen’s University’s School of Computing, and a budding entrepreneur with a small web development business with an eye on mobile development.  (What better way to keep my skill set current?  Then there’s the fact that my partner in both life and business happens to be the best programmer I know.)

Given that we are clearly in a shift away from desktop computing to truly personal mobile computing, I’ve been soaking it all up and taking everything in.  As such, I have a device from each of the major platforms.  Here are the devices:

  • Android: Motorola Cliq 2 (2.2), Asus Eee Pad Transformer (3.1), Archos Internet Tablet 70 (2.2)
  • iOS: iPhone 3GS, iPad 1
  • BlackBerry: Torch 9800 (BB6), PlayBook (Tablet OS 1.0.6)
  • WebOS: Palm Pre 2 (WebOS 2.1), HP TouchPad (WebOS 3.0)

I have strong opinions on what I like and don’t like, but have no particular interest in any of these platforms.  I don’t own shares, though I own and have owned many HP and Apple products over the years.  My first cell phone was a BlackBerry Curve 8320 with Bell.  I never really warmed up to it and had a rather pessimistic view of RIM until the PlayBook.  The PlayBook lead me to picking up the Torch, which I use about as often as my beloved but frustrating Palm Pre 2.  Of the above, these are my two preferred devices and platforms.  I consider myself to be a strong supporter of Open Source software, yet despite this, I have a general disdain for Android.  I find it inexcusably rough, overly complex, buggy, and garish.

I understand Apple’s success and generally recommend an iPad for most users and iPhones when someone asks me to recommend a smartphone that they won’t mind being stuck with for three years.  However, I don’t really like use iOS and am a bit worried about Apple’s clout in the market.  With that out of the way, here is my detailed take on the view of the mobile  world.

Day-to-day use (Smartphones)

Day-to-day, I find webOS the nicest to use.  However, the Pre2 reboots randomly, and I get fairly constant Google authentication errors.  At the moment, with respect to smartphones, I split my time fairly evenly between the Pre2 and my BlackBerry Torch.  The Torch isn’t as slick to use but the hardware is much better, the battery life is fantastic, and my core day-to-day requirements are met better by the Torch than by any other smartphone.  It’s not as pleasurable to use but is functionally superior for my needs.  Plus, I love the way it pairs with the PlayBook, more below.

The Pre2, Torch, and the iPhone 3GS all have the same screen resolution.  The Pre2 is a 2.9″ screen, the Torch and iPhone are 3.2ish and are nicer to read for an extended period of time.

I find the Pre2’s calendar and email programs to be vastly superior to the other smartphone platforms.  I find the Pre2 and 3GS to have comparable cameras that are better than the Torch or Android phones.

On the topic of the Cliq2, I find the Android 2.2 device’s apps to be buggy and inferior to the other platforms, the hardware to be shoddier than the Torch, and the screen, despite a higher resolution, to be unusable in the sun, low-quality, and the wide-screen ratio to be less useful day-to-day.  On top of this, battery life is quite poor, certainly not lasting a day.

The app situation is, of course, best on the iPhone and close on Android with lower-quality and cheaper apps.  webOS (used by the Pre2) has some real gems but also has gaping holes in the store.  The lack of a Remember The Milk client in particular frustrates me.  The game situation on webOS is surprisingly good.  The numbers are lower than iOS or Android, but the quality and variety are great.  The BlackBerry Torch has very few fun apps.  The game selection in particular is abysmal.  However, it has a good Dropbox client, excellent GTalk integration, top-notch PIM apps, and a good RTM client.

Day-to-day use (Tablets)

I haven’t found many ways to integrate tablets into my daily work life.  I find 10″ tablets to be about as heavy and large as my 11″ MacBook Air, which is an absolutely fabulous productivity machine.  That said, I find myself taking the PlayBook with me rather than a laptop when I go to a client or to help someone at work in a lab.  The 7″ screen makes it about the size of a 6×9 pad of paper, so it’s easy to keep out of the way.

iPad As far as tablets go, I purchased a refurbished iPad for testing.  I rarely use it except for testing but the battery life is great.  Of course, the app selection is also second-to-none.  The screen is gorgeous, the resolution is nice.  The iPad has great media apps, including Netflix and access to the vast iTunes library.  However, the speaker is very quiet and is quite low-quality.  Perhaps this is something Apple improved with the iPad2.

The iPad is great overall, and, at this point, if someone asks me, I generally recommend an iPad, but I’m just not a fan of iOS’s multi-tasking and I really don’t like the 10″ form-factor.  It’s fine around the house but as I mention above, it makes the tablet about as bulky and large as my MacBook Air to take with me, but lacking a keyboard, it’s far less functional.  On that note, let’s turn our attention to the Asus EeePad Transformer:

Asus EeePad Transformer I love the 11″ MacBook Air, and have found 10″ tablets an awkward size without a keyboard.  Enter the 10″ EeePad Transformer.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s the Android tablet to beat.  It starts at just $399, making it much cheaper than the iPad, it has a great 1280×800 IPS screen, and up to 16 hours of battery life with the optional keyboard dock.  The dock is basically a big battery that transfers charge from the keyboard to the display.  On paper, it is a perfect combination of form, function, and price.  And yet, I find it utterly frustrating every time I try to actually use it at work or at home.  Why?  Android 3.  To sum it up, Android 3 is incredibly rough.  Where Android on a phone is unpleasant to use, I find Android 3 on a tablet to be practically unusable.  There is no global Undo, which I didn’t notice until typing and making mistakes in the bundled Mail program repeatedly, the tablet app situation on Android is pathetic, multi-tasking is bizarre, and the entire interface, while clearly designed for a larger screen, is garish and inconsistent.  Every time I try to use the Transformer, a device which I would love to love, and with great hardware, the software thwarts me.  I’m hoping that Ubuntu 11.10 will work reasonably well on the Transformer.  Until then, it mostly sits idle on my desk at work.

Overall, as far as Android tablets go, I actually prefer the older Archos 70 running Android 2.2 on a device with a 7″ screen.  Android 3 makes better use of screen real estate but phone apps don’t scale up to the 10″ screen as well as they do to a 7″ screen.  Moreover, I find the user interface in stock Android 2.2 to be more pleasing and consistent than Android 3.1 on the Asus EeePad Transformer.  This quite surprised me, as I wouldn’t say that I was a fan of Android 2.2.

HP TouchPad On a happier note, we have HP’s new TouchPad.  The TouchPad finally brings webOS to a large display.  While the device itself feels a bit cheap and the OS could use further optimization, I feel that the TouchPad is a worthwhile investment for anyone interested in an elegant OS made by someone other than Apple.  The TouchPad feels like a 10″ iPhone 3GS.  It is virtually identical in size, weight and thickness of the iPad1.  It has the same 4:3 screen and fits well in most (now discounted) iPad1 cases.  The screen, while fine indoors, doesn’t hold a candle to the PlayBook screen, especially outdoors.

The app situation is surprisingly good on the TouchPad.  It doesn’t have as many native apps as the iPad, but it has far more tablet-native apps than Android 3.  Android 3 can run 2.x’s apps but they don’t scale to the 10″ screen well, and often don’t work well in landscape mode.  I have yet to run in to a similar problem with the TouchPad.  The TouchPad’s speakers are much better than the iPad’s, though they aren’t as loud as the PlayBook.  Again, at 10″ I don’t find the TouchPad to be terribly usable day-to-day at work, but the core PIM apps scale up to the large screen beautifully, so using it is a joy.

If HP releases a 7″ 1024×600 version of the TouchPad, releases their promised OTA update to work out some of the software glitches, and releases updates to the productivity software that allow editing of common office formats,  it would be a very compelling work tablet.

BlackBerry PlayBook I’ve already written quite a bit about the PlayBook.  In short, in daily use it’s by far the best tablet I’ve used.  The more time I spend with it, the more I find ways of integrating it into daily use.  RIM bucked the trend of copying Apple with a 10″ screen.  Instead, they went with a very high-quality 1024×600 7″ IPS screen that is very bright both indoors and outside.  They then coupled the display with the best speakers I’ve heard in a tablet.  The sound is loud and clear enough for me to use in the kitchen, a computer lab, and in my office.  They aren’t as nice to listen to as a full set of speakers, but they’re close.

On release, the PlayBook took great criticism for the lack of native apps.  Reviewers, however, seemed to mostly ignore just how well the PlayBook works in tandem with a BlackBerry phone using Bridge.  I was not a BlackBerry fan but decided to pick up an inexpensive Torch just to test out Bridge.  The implementation completely convinced me that, in some situations, this is a better approach than native apps for quick on-the-go access to PIM data.

The browser that ships with the PlayBook is absolutely top-notch.  The interface allows for full-screen viewing or fluid tabs.  The browser UI is the best that I’ve seen in a tablet.  The entire OS feels and works much like webOS, though it is much faster and more fluid.  The bundled Kobo app works well for eReading, as does the size and weight of the PlayBook.

As far as apps go, the situation is pretty terrible.  Things start off well with a great browser, a decent Podcast and audio player, a way to read eBooks, Flash support, the ability to edit MS Office files, and Need For Speed to show that the hardware is there to make this a good gaming platform, but then that’s about it.  The app selection is, frankly, pathetic.  RIM gave away tablets to anyone willing to make apps.  This sounds good on paper but resulted in thousands of poorly-tested, rushed-to-market, low-quality apps that clearly took less than $500 of developer time.  The situation is slowly improving, but the TouchPad on day one had a far better app selection that the PlayBook does now, three months after release, and is still missing core-functionality such as a working IM program.  That said, it’s still by far my favourite tablet option.  The QNX OS is fantastic, Bridge works well, and the size of the device fits very well with my current needs.  With better apps, the PlayBook would be brilliant.  For now, I would only recommend the PlayBook to existing BlackBerry smartphone users, or to people who are content with the (excellent) out-of-the-box functionality.

Development and testing using an emulator

I may have one device per-platform  but have tested using emulators for most of platforms.  Here are my findings:

iPhone emulators are Mac-onlIy but work well. Before I had an iPhone 3GS, I briefly use the emulator to test websites.  It was fine.  Not pleasant, but usable.

I haven’t used RIM’s emulators.  They tend to be Windows-only.

Android emulators are, frankly, terrible.  They integrate well into Eclipse, but it is a chore to set this up.  Things get worse quickly, as trying to use the emulator is terribly slow and not at all like actually using an Android phone.  I suppose it is useful for making sure your app doesn’t crash, but I find Andorid emulators useless for web testing.

Palm’s webOS emulators, by contrast, are the best.  They use VirtualBox VMs.  webOS is a Linux-based OS, so VirtualBox was a natural.  Both the phone and tablet emulators are fast and fluid.  The command-line Palm tools work with either the emulators or the devices, if plugged in and in development mode.  Being VirtualBox-based, the VMs work on Mac, Linux, and Windows.

Development tools

I haven’t developed for all of the above platforms, unless you count mobile-optimized websites.  That said, I have played with or configured development environments for iOS, Android, and webOS.

iOS, of course, integrates brilliantly with Apple’s Xcode.  I have used it a bit and was quite impressed.  If you aren’t a Mac user, I suppose you could use Adobe Flash CS5 to create iPhone apps.  I hate Flash, so I haven’t gone down this route.  Knowing what I do about Apple’s development process and tight-control over the store and over just accessing iOS devices, I would guess that even using Flash, you would need a Mac a some point to get your code onto a device.  Certainly the emulators are Mac-only.  You’ve got to pay if you want to play.

Android integrates reasonably well into Eclipse and ships with an SDK that provides command-line tools for Mac/Linux/Windows.  I haven’t used the IDE extensively but have configured the environment for the undergrads at work.  It wasn’t super-slick but Google provides good documentation.

HP/Palm’s developer tools are great.  You install the SDK and VirtualBox, and you’re done.  They provide packages for Mac/Linux/Windows and provide excellent documentation for using their development tools and PhoneGap, a cross-platform HTML/CSS/JavaScript package for developing native webOS/iOS/Android/BlackBerry apps using web technologies.  the webOS SDK itself is largely this, as apps other than games are generally written in HTML/CSS/JavaScript using either Mojo or Enyo, HP/Palm’s developer frameworks.  You can use Eclipse to develop webOS apps, though I tend to stick to Palm’s excellent command-line tools combined with my favourite text editor.  I find this development model to by quite flexible.  I even wrote an app that I use quite often.

I haven’t used RIM’s developer tools.  They seem to largely be Windows-centric, though I gather they can be shoehorned in to working on Mac.  RIM’s WebWorks SDK is of interest to me, though I haven’t tested it.

Developer relations

Here, again, HP/Palm to me are the people to beat. HP is aggressively courting all kinds of developers.  Palm has a strong history with the Homebrew community, a group of tinkerers and hackers that extend webOS in unexpected and interesting ways.  HP appears to be actively encouraging this group, which is a great sign.

In start contrast to Apple, RIM, and even Google, there is no such thing as a locked-down webOS device.  There is no need to root or jailbreak your device.  All shipping webOS devices can easily be put into Developer mode, which encourages casual development. Despite Android being Open Source (mostly), webOS is a far more open environment to both use and develop for.

I haven’t used RIM’s development tools and haven’t tried working with them.  Certainly their devices are locked down and they don’t have a great reputation for developer relations, especially with small developers.  The PlayBook device promotion was an interesting attempt to change this, but based on the quality of available apps, I don’t think this could be called a successful experiment.

Apple allows all iOS devices to be used for development, but you have to pay to have apps signed, and iOS won’t run unsigned code.  This results in jailbreaking for those who want to Think Different and use their devices in a way that is unsanctioned by Apple.  I understand the advantages of this approack, and there is certainly no arguing with Apple’s success.  Still, I don’t have to like it, and I don’t have to participate.

Google, with Android, has quite an odd approach.  The software is Open Source, allowing for all kinds of weird and wonderful devices to float around, but how locked-down a device is depends on who makes it.  Moreover, with the rapid growth and talk of fragmentation, Google appears to be locking the development process down, favouring larger device manufacturers, and providing them with early access to new versions of Android.  Android source code may be Open Source, but the process is far from open, and Google seems to be far more concerned about market share than making sure that device owners can do what they would like with their devices.

Wrapping Up

And that’s my view of things as of July 2011.  If you’ve made it this far, please let me know what you think.  iOS is clearly the platform to beat, but things can change quickly.  Just think: Apple wasn’t in this space before 2007.  Personally, despite the allure of Open Source, I just can’t warm up to Android.  Are you a fan?  What makes it compelling to you?  Have you had a chance to use a PlayBook or TouchPad?  What do you think of them?  Am I the only one out that that thinks BlackBerry Bridge is a good idea?

Me, I find that I like a 7″ tablet but that clearly they all need more work.  If the PlayBook had the TouchPad’s app selection, or if the TouchBook was in the PlayBook’s body, that would be a compelling device.  As far as phones go, I’m more excited about what RIM has in store for BlackBerry than what the iPhone 5 might be.  Of course, I have my fingers crossed that HP’s Pre 3 will finally give webOS the hardware to match the great software.

Mostly, I find this an interesting time.  Whether it’s Apple, Google, HP, or RIM, we are clearly moving post-PC.  There are teething pains, for sure, and it will take us years before desktops and laptops are displaced. (And really, when is a technology ever truly displaced.)   I hope that all four of these platforms continue to improve and remain viable over time.  Choice is good.  The PC era began to wither when choice dwindled.  All of these competing platforms may be a pain for developers, web and otherwise, but it keeps us all thinking and allows for new ideas to bubble up to the surface.

These are exciting times to be a systems person, developer, or end-user.  It’s even better being all three.

2011-07-20

A quick update…

Yikes. I haven’t posted in quite a while. Things have been busy, which is great.

I have been working on a few posts.  Here’s what to expect in the next while:

  • A review of the Asus Eee Pad Transformer TF101.  Summary:  It’s the best Android tablet I’ve used and I still think it needs a lot of work and that Android is unpleasant to use
  • A review of the new HP TouchPad.  Summary:  It’s a great first tablet effort for WebOS.  The software works very well, the app situation is better than I expected, better than the PlayBook.  Overall, I still don’t link 10″ tablets, so I still prefer the PlayBook.  The TouchPad hardware is decidedly mediocre.  They basically made a 10″ iPhone 3GS.  The good news is that the TouchPad works perfectly with many iPad 1 cases, so you can get nice cases cheap.
  • An overview of what I do to switch relatively seamlessly from Android to iOS to WebOS and BlackBerry OS on a daily basis, just in case anyone else out there cares to do so.
So, that’s what’s coming up.  In the meantime, my wife has submitted her PhD thesis, GoSaBe is as busy as we can handle, we’re looking forward to upcoming shows, and are otherwise doing our best to enjoy the lovely summer weather in this very busy time.
Yippee!
2011-05-23

BlackBerry PlayBook with Bridge – A great approach

As a long-time fan of the QNX operating system, I jumped at the chance to pick up a BlackBerry PlayBook. You can read my review but the short version is that, despite some early and obvious flaws, there’s a lot to like about the BlackBerry PlayBook. In my initial review, I mentioned BlackBerry Bridge and suggested that if you weren’t a BlackBerry smartphone owner, you should probably wait until native PIM and email apps before buying.

BlackBerry Bridge Apps

BlackBerry Bridge Apps

Well, I purchased a used BlackBerry 8900 (Torch) last week and have been playing with Bridge over the weekend. As I speculated, it brings a whole new level of value to the BlackBerry PlayBook. In fact, I would best that if more reviewers had been BlackBerry owners, initial reviews of the PlayBook would have been far more positive.

BlackBerry Bridge, as used on a Torch over the Rogers network, makes the PlayBook a fully-functional device. Not only that, the execution of Bridge is quite an elegant alternative to built-in native PIM and mail apps. While Bridge limits access by design, it very handily sidesteps a slew of potential security concerns and truly turns the PlayBook into a dual-function work and play device.

One difficult decision that I’ve had to make with both the Archos 70 and Coby Kyros was whether or not to configure the devices as fully-connected and integrated parts of my digital life. By this, I mean whether or not to sync the calendar, contacts, and mail to my usual accounts. Doing so is handy, I can look up an address or quickly check/edit my calendar, but it also means that I’ve had alarms in the bedroom at midnight for all-day events, and that I have to take care to lock the devices behind a PIN or password.  Because of this, I have ended out removing mail and disabling my calendar and contacts accounts on the Android tablets.

With Bridge, I don’t need to make this call. If the tablet is close to my phone, I get access to PIM and mail over Bluetooth. If the phone is off or away, I don’t have to worry about the distractions of work. Honestly, now that I’ve had a chance to use Bridge, I vastly prefer it to the normal Android tablet approach. Not only that, I don’t need to worry about setting anything other than Bridge up. No per-device mail, calendar, and contact setup.

Bridge Calendar - Month view

Bridge Calendar - Month view

If I lend the PlayBook to a neighbour or friend, I don’t have to worry about wiping th device first. It’s actually quite liberating.

So, Bridge is very cool. I think it’s been a real missed-opportunity by RIM. Rather than trying to duck the missing native apps, I think they should have talked up Bridge and touted the behaviour as an advantage of the platform. Perhaps they should have even provided reviewers with BlackBerry phones with canned dummy content to show them how well it works.

Having used Bridge, I’m convinced that RIM is onto something here.  Security of these tablet devices is a big unanswered question.  They typically aren’t as close to you as cell phones, and locking them down as one might a laptop limits their usefulness.  As a result, the potential for data loss is huge.  RIM largely sidesteps these problems with Bridge.  Perhaps instead of creating native PIM and email apps for the PlayBook, RIM should focus on bringing Bridge capabilities to iOS and Android, which would solidly position the PlayBook as a compliment to a smartphone.  They could even continue to give away Bridge for BlackBerry but then sell Bridge for iOS and Android.  As with the iPod/Mac halo-effect, this may gently prod potential users to the BlackBerry family of products, while keeping the BlackBerry smartphone as the centre of the attention.

2011-04-19

BlackBerry PlayBook Review

The BlackBerry PlayBook

Summary:  The BlackBerry PlayBook, released today, is already seeing mixed reviews.  However, the complaints are almost all due to a lack of apps and basic PIM applications.  While I agree with these complaints, the device itself is a real standout.  It’s the first great 7″ tablet I’ve seen.  Both the hardware and the underlying OS, while missing end-user applications, are fantastic.  QNX is a bulletproof OS, the UI is intuitive and elegant.  This is a great OS, well executed, on quality hardware.  All that’s missing are the apps.  Should RIM have waited a little longer?  I don’t think so.

The Out of Box Experience

The PlayBook starts off strong with very quality, understated, and completely recyclable packaging.  As with the entire PlayBook experience, it is well thought out but isn’t copying anyone.  In the box, you get the PlayBook itself, a cloth to clean the screen, a simple neoprene sleeve, a few short booklets, a Micro USB sync cable, and an AC adapter that is also Micro USB and charges the PlayBook quickly.  So far, so good.  The sleeve is a welcome and unexpected addition.  This was a wise move by RIM, as it shows that they’re not trying to cut corners.  That said, there are some very nice cases available for the PlayBook, including one that also serves as a stand.  These accessories are expensive but knock-offs will surely follow.

On first boot, the PlayBook takes a minute or two before taking you to a brief tutorial, setting up WiFi networking, and then checking for software updates.  Then you get to wait for 20 minutes while it downloads and installs a 300MB update.  This was on day -1 for the PlayBook.  While OTA updating is welcome, it would be nice if you got to use it for a couple of minutes first.

The Hardware

RIM absolutely nailed the hardware.  This is a 7″ tablet that exudes quality.  It is very solid and feels better in the hand than an iPad/iPad2 let alone the Coby Kyros, Archos 7o, or Galaxy Tab that I have used.  It weighs about 1 pound and exudes quality.

The only niggling problem I see hardware-wise is that the power button is frustratingly difficult to push.  For me, this isn’t a big deal.  On the device, you will find a mini HDMI connector, a dock connector, Micro USB for sync and charging, the aforementioned power button, a three-way volume/play/pause button, and a headphone jack.

The tablet itself features a dual-core A9 1GHz CPU with a 7″ 1024×600 IPS display (I think.  The viewing angles are great.)  It has 1GB of RAM, and the best speakers I’ve ever heard on something this small.  Seriously, they are amazing.  And I’m picky.

The screen is gorgeous.  The sound is gorgeous.  It feels good in the hand.  Honestly, hardware-wise, I think RIM has a hit here.

The rear-facing camera works very well in low-light.  Here’s an interesting tidbit:  The 7″ screen makes the viewfinder about the same size as what you’re taking a picture of.  What You See Is What You Get photography!

The PlayBook next to my Palm Pre 2

The Operating System

Roel Vertegaal, an HCI professor in our department, summed it up nicely:  “The operating system kicks ass.”

RIM, seeing that it was falling behind on the OS front, bought another quiet Canadian tech giant in 2010:  QNX.  QNX, makers of their Neutrino OS, is an Ottawa-based company that, in my opinion, created the most solid, coolest, and most interesting OS available.  They were a long-time private company that was sold to Harmon International in 2004.  Thankfully, RIM bought them back.  I love operating systems.  What can I say, I’m a systems guy.  In my undergrad I had a single 3.5″ floppy disk with QNX OS 4 that contained an entire live operating system that would boot to a GUI with a web browser on almost any PC.  Ever since then, I’ve dabbled with QNX whenever I could.  They briefly toyed with the desktop in QNX 6.2.1 but eventually gave up, focusing instead on the embedded market.  QNX powers traffic lights, medical equipment, power plants, devices used in space, Porches, high-end routers, and more.  RIM bought quite the Canadian jewel when they picked it up.

QNX has also always been relatively open, but not entirely so.  All-in-all, I imagine that the company is a good corporate fit with RIM.  If you’re interested in QNX, the Wikipedia entry is a fascinating read.

All of this is to say that I have a soft spot for QNX, and jumped at the chance to buy a good QNX-based device for $500.  The icing on the cake is that the entire user experience is a cross between WebOS, iOS, and yet remains distinctly different and very, well, BlackBerry.  (But BlackBerry done right, on fast, capable hardware with an elegant UI.)

PlayBook, Archos, Coby, MacBook Air

Using The PlayBook

As mentioned above, the PlayBook features RIM’s new QNX-based operating system.  The solid QNX-core features an absolutely fabulous user interface up top.  Everything flows quickly and fluidly.  Using the OS, it behaves a bit like a well-thought-out iOS and WebOS combination.  Like HP/Palm’s WebOS, this is a properly multitasking operating system.  Running many apps with many browser tabs open at the same tim, I have yet to see any significant slowdown.  The PlayBook is very efficient, and bundled applications work very well.  It is fast, fast, fast.

In addition to a fantastic WebKit-based browser, the BlackBerry PlayBook ships with a capable and attractive music program, a great calculator, Kobo Books, a working music store (a rarity in Canada) with a good selection of jazz, a podcast app that found CBC Spark and TVO’s Search Engine, a good PDF reader, and a smattering of other useful programs.  [Word|Sheet|Slideshow] To Go are preloaded and work well, allowing for the creation of MS Office documents.  There are also links to Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo Mail etc.  This is where things get a bit strange.

The PlayBook runs a completely new OS, with completely different apps.  It is a complete departure from the typical BlackBerry OS.  It doesn’t use Java, and can’t run existing BlackBerry apps.  The PlayBook ships with some great and unexpected programs, like the NFB program, but completely lacks native email, instant messenging, BlackBerry Messenger, a native calendar, task list etc.  It does ship with BlackBerry Bridge, a reportedly neat suite designed to offer this functionality with an existing BlackBerry, but Bridge only works with BlackBerry smartphones.

This effectively renders the PlayBook useless on launch for anything other than browsing, reading PDFs, reading books from Kobo, or listening to music.  It does excel at these tasks, but the lack of built-in communication programs, coupled with an almost barren App World, mean that as of April 2011, you really can’t do much outside of browsing with the PlayBook.

It does browse very well, but if you’re coming from and iPad or an Android tablet, or even a stock smartphone, you’re going to be left without much to do very quickly.  To make matters worse, the App World is a wasteland of half-baked proofs of concept.  RIM has promised an Android compatibility layer soon, as well as native calendar/mail/tasks.  Still, they need to ship these NOW.  Not only that, as with Wine on Linux, the Android compatibility layer is a double-edged sword:  True, it gets them thousands of apps for “free” but it discourages developers from creating beautiful native apps.  I haven’t seen elegant Android apps.  Functional, yes, but not elegant.  In some ways, I think it may have been best to not promise the Android layer.  Still, that hasn’t exactly worked out for HP/Palm.  In fact, the PlayBook App World reminded me very much of the early WebOS App Catalog.

However, this is day one of a brand new OS and a brand new platform.  All of the fundamentals are right, it’s just the apps that are missing.  Granted, this is a big “just”.

PlayBook with Keyboard, Mouse, and Cat

Back to a more positive note: the PlayBook has some unexpected and thoughtful extras.  For starters, you can pair both a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.  Moving the mouse, you are presented with a traditional cursor on the screen.  At the moment, this is of limited usefulness, though it should make browsing and Flash a more laptop-like experience.  The mouse cursor may be passe, but there are good reasons that mouse and keyboard have been the dominant interface devices for the last several decades.  RIM has clearly avoided throwing the baby out with the bathwater here.  Sure, they may hide the ability to use a mouse, but they don’t stop you.  One can easily envision remote desktop apps and many traditional programs translating better to the PlayBook than to other tablet operating systems.

I’ve only been tinkering with the PlayBook for a day, but it has already surprised me a few times with novel approaches and unexpected features.

Using the PlayBook with existing files, syncing with your PC

Unlike the iPad, the PlayBook does not require a PC.  Nor does it require iTines or equivalent management software.  When you plug the PlayBook in to MacOS or Windows, you are prompted to install drivers and reboot.  After this, the device mounts when you plug it in.  It’s actually doing some sort of network connection with automated mounting (using Samba or something similar, I suspect.)  I’m not exactly sure what’s going on here yet, but it works well.  You are presented with a subset of folders for dropping files.  This is how I loaded up my PlayBook with music, video, and documents for testing.

It’s not quite as straightforward as a USB mass storage device, but it’s pretty good.  It doesn’t work at the moment on Linux but I haven’t poked around too much yet.

I hope that a Dropbox client happens quickly, as this is my preferred way to keep files in sync these days.  Still, until there are apps to handle various filetypes, this isn’t a pressing concern.

Wrapping Up

I quite like the PlayBook, though it really doesn’t do much well at this point.  The hardware is great, the core OS is great, the user experience is great, the bundled apps work well and achieve a level of elegance I’ve only seen on iOS.  The OS incorporates the best of iOS and WebOS in a very pleasing, elegant, fast package.  Yet, until RIM releases basic programs for mail, calendar, tasks, and instant message, the PlayBook isn’t particularly useful or easy to recommend.  (Perhaps unless you already have a BlackBerry and Bridge works well.  I can’t test this. Update:  I have tested this, Bridge is great!)

Still, if you’d like to tinker with QNX or are a developer, the PlayBook is very attractive.  As soon as RIM sorts out the core functionality and the apps begin to flow, the BlackBerry PlayBook will be a great device that will be easy to recommend.  Given all that they have accomplished in this release. I think they have done an outstanding job.  Congratulations, RIM.  Now, get back to work and finish off the end-user software!

Good:

  • Top-notch hardware and build quality
  • The best speakers I’ve heard in a device this small
  • Excellent browsing experience
  • Elegant, intuitive, fluid interface
  • Very solid, bullet-proof operating system underneath
  • BlackBerry Bridge, if you have a BlackBerry Smartphone
  • Good camera
  • Great wifi  (In stark contrast to some Android tablets)
  • Great battery life
  • Ships with a working music store in Canada, NFB app, as well as Kobo book app

Bad:

  • Required updates the day before it went on sale
  • Without Bridge, missing basic and key apps:
    • Mail, Calendar, Tasks, Instant Messaging client
  • A stunning lack of third-party apps
  • The device doesn’t just show up as a USB drive in Linux
  • Doesn’t ship with promised Android-compatibility layer
  • No way to read ePub, no built-in file manager, utter lack of decent third-party apps. Don’t get me started…
Updates: (2011-05-23)
  • I’ve had a chance to test out Bridge and I’m truly impressed.  It is a great way to access your data on the tablet in a transient way.  I truly believe that RIM is on to something with Bridge and that they should bring this to iOS and Android phones, rather than bringing native programs to the PlayBook.
  • The PlayBook plays well in the sun!
  • I’ve had the PlayBook for over as month now and I use it daily.  The size is great for on-the-go use.  The app situation still stinks but RIM has already rolled out a few significant updates, and the decent Flash support does largely mitigate the lack of native apps, at least for me.  (Though I say this as a staunch Flash hater who would much rather see quality native apps.)  I used the PlayBook extensively at PSEWeb 2011 to check out many of the technologies discussed.  It worked out very well.
2011-03-31

Archos 70 Internet Tablet Review

Well, after being fairly positive in my review of the Coby Kyros, I am now getting a chance first-hand to see how their warranty process works out.  I won’t go into the details but if you have a Kyros and it breaks, you have to mail the unit to the US ($20CAD) and include a $20USD money order for the return trip.  I have my fingers crossed and in no way blame Coby for either the problem or the cost associated with the repair.  They are a low-price, high-volume company.

With that out of the way, I have purchased an Archos 70 Internet Tablet while we wait (im)patiently for the Coby to return.

Archos 70 Internet Tablet

My overall impression:  At $350, the Archos 70 is very reasonably priced for what you get.  it’s no iPad.  In some ways it’s  better, in many ways it is not.

Where the Kyros is a sub-$200 bottom-of-the-barrel Android tablet, the Archos 70 is a mid-range model.  It’s not as high-end as a Galaxy Tab or iPad, but it has many of the features that I care about from these more expensive devices, while still keeping well under $400.  In fact, I gather it’s often at $300 these days.

Me, I paid $350CDN at Tiger Direct.  For this, you get:

  • Pure Android 2.2
  • 1GHz CPU
  • OpenGL-capable graphics
  • 7″ Capacitive multi-touch 800×480 screen
  • A basic but appreciated kickstand
  • A Mini-USB port and Mini-HDMI port, Bluetooth
  • Not much else.

The Coby managed to swing a rather nice case for the money.  It would have been nice for the Archos to do the same.  However, the Kyros case didn’t stop the warranty call, and I find the Archos’ kickstand to be invaluable.

In day-to-day use, the Archos 70 is much faster than the Coby Kyros.  The CPU is clocked a bit higher and is a generation newer than the Kyros and this makes a huge difference.  It’s still not as fast as an iPad, but it is about as fast as the Samsung Galaxy Tab.  It looks like dual-core CPUs are going to be the norm from here on out, so no doubt the Archos 70 won’t age well.  Still, for the money it is no slouch.

The screen is a dust and fingerprint magnet and some people complain about the viewing angles.  I think it looks fine and is appropriate for the price.  If you expect this to be the same quality as a $600 tablet you’ll be disappointed.  If you’re realistic, you’ll be fine with it.

Like the Kyros, the Archos comes with AppsLib rather than the Android Market.  However, it’s even easier to install Google Apps on the Archos.  It took me 10 minutes to find the .apk and another two to install it, then it was off to the races.  As a hackable tablet, it’s a total win.

A small but versatile array of ports

As far as ports go, it has a Mini-USB port that you can apparently use with devices such as USB keyboards.  I haven’t tried this yet, but suspect that it would work fine.  It also has a mini-HDMI port, headphone jack, and power plug.  The power plug looks much like the headphone jack, and I’ve tried plugging the wrong thing in to the wrong spot more than once, so that was unfortunate.  In fact, to me it would have been ideal to have the Archos charge over USB.  Alas, no dice.

One thing I felt was lacking from the Kyros was bluetooth.  Thankfully, the Archos 70 has this.  This means that you can pair with a keyboard, tether to your smartphone, and otherwise use the device for work on the road.  In keeping with Archos’ hackable past, the device can also dual-boot Linux.  This is something that I will get to when the Coby comes back, and likely means that the device will have a fairly useful future ahead of it.  I will report back on this when I test it out.

The Archos easily paired with this Bluetooth keyboard

Android 2.2 works very well on the Archos 70, and Archos seems committed to the device, releasing updates fairly regularly.  The Kobo and Kindle Android apps work well, as do common Android games.  (Yes, Angry Birds works great.)  Thus far, this is the best Android device that I have used.  The browser works very well, and the entire system is quite responsive, even with a paltry 256MB of RAM.  There is a very active community around this device, and the Archos-supported Linux distribution available for the Archos 70 is a very interesting option that isn’t available for anything else that I am aware of.

Overall, the Archos 70 is a very flexible and peppy mid-range Android tablet.  After evaluating the options, I think it’s the best that’s out there for under $500 and certainly the best under $400.  Archos has a 10″ version, the S101, that is $399CDN with 16GB of storage.  They also sell a version of the 70 with a 200GB hard drive, rather than 8GB of flash. I initially purchased the hard drive version for someone at work, as the flash version was unavailable at the time.  While I understand the attraction of a 200GB tablet, the noise, delays, and additional weight of the hard drive version weren’t my cup of tea.  Still, I like having the option, and kudos to Archos for branching out in this regard.

The Archos 70, like the Coby Kyros, highlight the virtues of an open platform.  Sure, they aren’t a slick as an iPad, but the price and size are nice.  If you’re looking for a 7″ Android tablet, I don’t think you’ll do better all-around than the Archos 70.  It’s a big step up from the Coby and is still very reasonably priced.

The Archos, a Kobo, Palm Pre2, and Sony PRS 505

2011-03-22

Firefox 4.0 Now Available

Not to be outdone by Microsoft or Google, Mozilla has released Firefox 4.0, with beautiful visualizations to show the roll-out.

Mozilla Firefox 4.0

I’ve been using late betas and RCs for a while now and like what I see.  It has a nicely minimal interface and seems quite a bit faster than Firefox 3.  It still doesn’t load as quickly as Chrome 10 on older hardware, but Firefox is a champ, and is still my favourite all-around web browser.  Best of all:  Firefox 4.0 is available for Linux, Mac, and Windows (yes, even XP.) to say nothing of smaller, lesser-known operating systems and platforms.  (Firefox for Android seems to be progressing nicely.)

Congratulations, Mozilla.  I look forward to your shorter development cycles.

(Now, don’t forget Thunderbird.  It’s feature-complete to me but could certainly use some belt tightening.)

Here’s to an open, standard, and competitive web!

2010-12-29

Coby Kyros MID7015 Review

Here’s the Twitter version of this Review:

The Coby Kyros is a bargain at $160.  While not in the same league, It’s one third the price of an iPad and is comparable to the Galaxy Tab.

The Coby Kyros

Now, on to the full-length version:

The onslaught of the cheap Android tablets is upon us.  The iPad is clearly a runaway success, and is the first device to show the value of the tablet form-factor that has been around for nearly a decade.  It turns out that what was missing was a proper, finger-based UI, and the miniaturisation and battery improvements that seem to inevitably come over time.

If 2010 was the year of the iPad tablet, it looks as though 2011 will be the year of the me-too Android competition.  The Samsung Galaxy Tab is commonly seen as the first real iPad competitor, with the RIM PlayBook and a yet unannounced WebOS-based tablet from HP also coming soon.  These are the big players, the “real” competition to the iPad.  The other side of the coming tablet market is made up of small players crowding the low-end.  The Coby Kyros, along with products from Archos, Augen, and a slew of other fly-by-night companies are covering this well.

Me, I bought an iPad and returned it.  At $550 plus tax, it came to $621 for the low-end model.  While it seemed like a nifty device, at that price, I couldn’t justify it.  To my way of thinking, the Samsung Galaxy Tab is even worse.  It has a smaller screen, an inferior OS, lower screen resolution, and costs more than the iPad.  Here in Canada, it is $650 ($734 after tax) with no contract, $499 on a two-year $40/month contract.  Plus tax.  Ouch.

Enter the Coby Kyros MID7015.  It was $160CDN plus tax, so $180 after tax.  This makes it less than a third of the low-end iPad and 1/4 of the price of buying a Galaxy Tab outright.  For that kind of money, I was willing to try it out.  Here’s what you get:

  • A decent pure Android 2.1 OS
  • 800MHz ARM11 CPU
  • 256MB of RAM
  • 7″ 800×480 resistive screen
  • A carrying case, stylus, charger, cable

Showing off the capable browser

Hardware

The overall build-quality of the Kyros is great.  True, it’s not as slick as either the Tab  or the iPad, but it’s surprisingly close.  It doesn’t feel like a cheap device.  The screen is glass, the back is metal, it weighs about a pound.  It’s about the same size as my Sony e-reader (PR 505) and is virtually identical to the Galaxy Tab.  In fact, I would go as far to say that, aside from Coby’s plain logo at the top, it actually looks nicer than the Tab.  It has just three buttons for the interface:  A combined Home/Menu button at the side, a silver Back button on the front bottom, and a power button on the bottom side.

The underside also has a USB port for plugging in to your PC, a headphone jack, a MicroSD slot, and HDMI port, and a plug for power.

Rather than the Tab’s 7″ 1024×600 capacitive multi-touch display, the Kyros has a resistive 800×480 single-touch display.  It’s not as nice, there’s no getting around that, but it is bright, surprisingly responsive, and still looks great.  Like iOS, the Android OS scales the display, so the Tab’s higher pixel density, while visually pleasing, doesn’t offer any real functional improvement.  If you look very close on the Kyros, it’s a bit pixelated, similar to how the iPhone 3GS looks compared to the iPhone 4.

Having extensively used both the iPad and Kyros, I would say that the pixel density appears similar, while the iPad has a 10″ IPS display, versus the Kyros’ smaller lower-quality display.  It needs to be said again, though, that the Kyros display is surprisingly good.  I have seen many bad LCDs, this isn’t one of them.  It’s also the best resistive screen that I’ve ever used.  I would say it is about as responsive as the Nokia N800 screen.

Driving the Kyros, is an 800 MHz ARM 11 CPU.  I’m not sure what the graphics chip is, but it is clearly OpenGL-accelerated.  At 800MHz, it’s much faster than the LG Eve (528MHz) that I use for testing.  It’s fine.  Not brilliant, but fine.  The overall experience is not without lags, it’s certainly slower than the A4 powering the iPad.  I haven’t used the Tab extensively.  From what I’ve seen of it, it’s faster than the Kyros, but is still much slower than the iPad.

Given the price of the Kyros, it far exceeded my, admittedly low, performance expectations.  Games run reasonably well.  There are lags in the UI, but I haven’t seen an Android phone that doesn’t suffer from this.  From my usage of the Kyros and a Nexus One, I would say that the performance is comparable.  I blame the lag more on Android 2.1 than I do on the Kyros.  For the price, you won’t do better.

The Kyros also only has 256MB of RAM.  This means that running many programs slows the entire experience down quickly.  If you plan to use one program at a time, this won’t be a problem.  Still, there’s no doubt that the Kyros would have benefited from more RAM.

Like the iPad, the Kyros lacks a camera.  It would never have occurred to me to take picture with a tablet, so I don’t see this as much of a drawback.  A small front-facing camera would have been nice, I suppose.

The Kyros also lacks a GPS.  Again, this is similar to the low-end iPad.  I’m not a GPS fan, so I consider this a plus, especially given that something keeps turning the GPS back on on my LG Eve, thereby providing someone with more information than I intended, and killing battery life in the process.  Down with Location Services, I say.

As should be expected on a device of this class, wireless is 802.11b and g only.  One unfortunate piece of hardware missing with the Kyros is a Bluetooth adapter, so you can’t pair it with a keyboard.  Needless to say, I didn’t write this with the tablet’s on-screen keyboard.

The ports of the Kyros

Bonus:  A great case!

The included simple black case from Coby was an unexpected bonus.  It’s remarkable to me that at $160, Coby can include a decent quality case and cleaning cloth.  The case isn’t leather, but it works very well and looks fine.  It is a perfect match to the device, though I may remove the latch.

Software

This section will be fairly short.  The Kyros runs stock Android 2.1.  It ships with the very capable Aldiko eBook reader.  This gives you ePub and PDF reading ability.

The Kyros doesn’t ship with the Android Market by default.  Instead, it come with AppsLib.  This is also used by Archos.  As I understand it, this is due to licensing costs.  I’ve read that with some tinkering, you can add the full gapps (Market, Gmail, Maps etc.)  I haven’t done this yet.  I may, I may not.  It’s not a trivial thing to add, but it’s possible.  In the meantime, AppsLib is OK.  I think a lot of people received Android devices as gifts, though, as the AppsLib market has been up-and-down, apparently due to volume.

Android 2.1 isn’t the newest release, but it’s new enough.  I have 2.2 running on my LG Eve, and I don’t see much of a difference.  If you want something newer than 2.1, it looks like there are many people actively hacking the Coby Kyros.  As mentioned, the Market can be made to work.  Work is progressing nicely on a Cyanogenmod port, people are looking to add a Bluetooth stack, etc.  Basically, the Kyros is the best of the cheap tablets at the moment.  As such, there are many people working on it.  The future looks bright for tinkerers.  This was one of my reasons for purchasing this device.  My LG Eve would be a terrible Android device if not for the active OpenEtna community.  My guess is that the Kyros will have something similar in the coming months.

Wrapping Up

So, that’s the Coby Kyros.  It isn’t without flaws but it’s remarkably good for the price.  If you’re looking for a low-end Android tablet I don’t think you’ll do much better.  If you’re a tinkerer, you’re in for a treat.

Pros:

  • Great price
  • Solid build quality
  • Pure Android OS 2.1
  • Good size and weight
  • Comes with a case, cloth
  • Decent selection of programs installed
  • Good performance
  • OpenGL acceleration, so games are doable

Cons:

  • Resistive touch screen
  • No Android Market by default
  • Not Android 2.2 or 2.3
  • No Bluetooth, so no keyboard
  • 256MB of RAM
  • No cameras
  • Not as polished as an iPad or Samsung Galaxt Tab
  • Fast enough, but still sluggish
  • Sketchy support?