Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 7 Tablet

Kindle-fire-hdx_01

The third generation of the Amazon Kindle tablet family has been added to the mix with the Kindle Fire HDX 7.  It’s got a new look, for the better, although some of the changes are questionable. For example having the power switch and volume control on the back necessitates having to pick up the unit to adjust the volume or turn it off and on. Overall though the look of this new generation of Kindle from Amazon is attractive and it does have some improvements. Let’s look at the HDX 7 more closely.

Physical Features

  • The physical specifications are 7.32 x 5.04 x 0.35 inches and the weight is .66 lbs, which puts it at exactly the same weight as the Nexus 7 tablet.  There is a micro USB port on the left side of the unit and a headphone jack on the right side. We don’t know the specifics on the front-camera, but it does function at about average quality for taking photos or videos of oneself. There is no back camera; apparently the cameras are not a priority for this design. 
  • The screen has a 1,920 x 1,200 pixel resolution, which puts the pixel density at 323 pixels per inch, which is very good, beating out the iPad Mini. The screen color is adequate, although there have been reports of some units having a yellowish cast to white colors. The backlight bleeding that characterized the HD model has been corrected although the brilliance of the screen is a little on the dark side.

Easy Navigation

  • Navigating through the HDX is exciting. Put plainly, this Kindle model goes through its paces very nicely and you will appreciate it when playing games. The quad-core Snapdragon processor with a 2.2GHz (compared to the speeds of the 1GHz iPad Mini and the 1.5GHz Nexus 7) speed outpaces most of the HDX’s competitors. This is one area where the HDX shines; it is truly a zippy tablet. As mentioned already, along with the Snapdragon processor, the HDX has an Adreno 330 graphics processor, along with 16GB SSD with 2GB of RAM. There is no microSD card slot so you’ll have to make due with the 16GB storage, although there are 32 and 64GB versions available also. If you are one for storage, they might meet your needs somewhat better. 
  • The sensors include the standard accelerometer, gyroscope, light, voice command, and voice recording sensors. WiFi contains dual-band support using 802.11 a, b, g, n. Ports include USB 2.0 with a microUSB connector for data and charging purposes. The battery life for the HDX is decent at 10 hours although Amazon claims the battery will go 11 hours; it’s another case of reality versus drama.

Impressive Benchmark Tests

  • GFX bench tests results included using the HDX native resolution and 1080p. The only tablet that beat the HDX was the NVIDIA Tegra, which boasted a 39/24 score versus the HDX’s 22/23 score. However, the HDX clearly beat the Google Nexus 7 at 15/16, the iPad 4 at 12/17, as well as the iPad Mini at 7/4.
  • The UI interface for the HDX is clearly designed for Amazon fans, and if you’re an Amazon Prime Member, you will be very pleased. Much of the screen is geared for it including the Amazon store (not the Google store as app support is spotty), streaming video, video downloads, and borrowing books, all Prime Member features that Amazon offers. If you’re a dedicated Android app fan, you will be disappointed due to the practically non-existent choices available and would be better served going with another Android tablet. 

Mayday for Customer Service

  • An Amazon customer support feature that was very nice was the integrated feature known as Mayday. To select chose Mayday from the menu and select Connect. Within seconds an Amazon customer support person will assist you. They can see your screen and other graphic operations but if you want to end the session, you can cancel the connection at any time. In theory, Amazon’s customer service goal is a 15-second connection time from the time you selected Mayday. 
  • Because of the well-organized interface, selecting programs from the screen or trying to locate something is very easy to do on the HDX. Everything is listed where it should be and the frustration of having to go through several nested menus to locate your item of choice is not the case with this machine. In fact, newbie PC and tablet users will find the HDX interface one of the easiest they will ever use.

At an MSRP of $229.00, the Kindle Fire HDX 7 is a great value and cheaper than the Nexus 7. If you don’t mind the shortage of Android apps, you will have a great time with this tablet. You will appreciate its snappy performance and ease of interface. And if you’re an Amazon Prime Member, you will very much appeciate the strong Amazon accent. Amazon definitely is a company with more than just books to offer.

Apple iPad 4 Tablet

IPAD 4

It’s going to be a little while to have enough reliable and substantial information regarding the soon to be released iPad 5 for a blog post, so I’ve included the iPad 4 for this review with the other tablets I’ve recently posted. The iPad 4 is undoubtedly the best version of this famous tablet, and Apple did not disappoint although the changing of the 30-pin to Lightning connector has upset a few customers, although it truly was an improvement for a few reasons. Regardless, the changes have been positive and in keeping with generational improvements; they just keep getting better, which is the way it should be.

Physically, the iPad 4 and the iPad 3 are identical in size. The iPad 4 dimensions are 7.31”W x .37”D x 9.5”H, with a 1.44 lbs weight. The screen is a 9.7” (diagonal) inch LED backlight multitouch display with IPS technology, with a 2048 x 1536 resolution at 264 pixels per inch. The screen has a fingerprint resistant coating which improves readability as well. 

It is almost identical to the third generation iPad on the outside except for the power/data connector on the bottom. The Home button is still in the same location, with the volume rocker switch and the silent screen/rotation lock located next to it, on the right edge of the body. At the top you have the microphone on one side and the 3.5mm headphone mini-jack on the other side. 

The important major changes occurred inside the device, significantly increasing the performance. Three major changes showcase the fourth generation iPad including faster performance, replacement of the 30-pin dock connector with a new Lightning connector, and improved camera performance.

Faster Overall Performance

The iPad 4 received a new A6X processor, at 1.4GHz, (along with a quad-core graphics processor) a 40% improvement over the previous model’s A5X 1GHz processor. The benchmark tests reflect a marked improvement in performance. Geekbench Benchmark results indicate an iPad 4 score of 1764 versus the iPad 3 759. The GL Benchmark Egypt Offscreen results indicate an iPad 4 score of 183 versus the iPad 3 126. Basically, the tablet performed admirably with any application used with it, including some high-performance gaming apps; overall, a good solid performance machine.

The iPad 4 supports Bluetooth version 4.0 and WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n and Apple claims the WiFi has been improved with Channel Bonding, which utilizes two adjacent Wi-Fi channels simultaneously to double the bandwidth. Although sound in theory, in the real world, some interference occurs which has a negative effect and substantial reduction in bandwidth as a result. On the LTE version of the iPad 4, the LTE chip has been improved, with additional frequencies added for better worldwide support. There are two iPad models; one model is for Verizon and Sprint, and the other model is for AT&T, with each model using different LTE frequencies. The upgraded LTE chip also has improved GPS and GLONASS (Russian satellite location finding system used with GPS for improved accuracy).

Lightning Connector Replacement

The old 30-pin dock connector located on the bottom edge, which has been used for Apple products for eight years was replaced with a new, much slimmer but stronger connector that Apple calls Lightning. The new Lightning connector actually is now the standard connector on the latest version of all of Apple’s mobile devices. There were reasons for the change. First of all, the previous 30-pin connector was rather fragile and tended to break easily. The new Lightning connector is much slimmer and a much better connection is now the result with improved resiliency. You could only insert the older connector one-way, which at times would result in bent pins from users trying to force it in the wrong way. The new Lightning connector can be inserted either way with no problems. And of course, this new Lightning connector has now become the standard on all of Apple’s latest mobile devices. There is an adapter you can get which converts from 30-pin to Lightning for those using the older accessories.

Improved Cameras

Both the front and rear cameras have been improved over the previous iPad model, although the megapixel size is the same, 1.2 megapixel for the front camera and 5 megapixel for the rear camera. However, both cameras have been improved and the unit also has a new image signal processor for better image stabilization. Although the quality of the images are not at the standard of the iPhone 5, there was definitely improvement in overall quality from the previous model when comparison shots were performed. The rear 5 megapixel camera retained the same capabilities including:

  • Autofocus
  • Face detection
  • Backside illumination
  • Five-element lens
  • Hybrid IR filter
  • ƒ/2.4 aperture
  • Tap to focus video or still images
  • Tap to control exposure for video or still images
  • Photo and video geotagging
  • For video recording important features were retained including:
  • 1080p HD video recording
  • Video stabilization
  • Face detection
  • Tap to focus while recording
  • Backside illumination

The important thing to note about the front-facing camera is that it now supports a 720p video conference capability. Tests were performed using FaceTime and there was a substantial improvement in quality.

The iPad 4 did perform adequately on the power check test. The battery is a 42.5 watt-hour lithium type and in comparison tests, it did not do quite as well as last year’s model, registering a session life of 9 ½ hours versus the iPad 3’s 10 hour span.

Choices include colors black and white, as well as a WiFi or WiFi + Cellular. Prices start at $499 for the 16GB version, up to 64GB for $699.

My overall opinion of the iPad 4 is that it’s a great tablet with some solid performance improvements over the previous iPad 3. With the iPad 5 release pending, Apple will no doubt be cutting prices and you could get a sweet deal on the 4 with some great features to boot. It all boils down to your pocketbook: enjoy the savings reduction due to the new release or go for the new technology and its additional features with the iPad 5. That is always the dilema with choosing a cutting-edge device, features or money. For many long-time Apple customers it’s almost always the features and the newer device usually wins.

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Tablet

SAMSUNG NOTE 10 FRONT VIEW

Where the Nexus 7 tablet does everything moderately well, giving
it a good all-around usage repuation, the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 seems
to have found more of a specific niche with its unique interface.
That niche is note taking, but it is a sophisticated note-taking ability, with
some excellent customization options.  Along with checking email and
surfing the Web, this combination enhances productivity and you can be very
creative with its cut and paste capabilities. The 2013 version has some
considerable improvements over last year's version. It has slimmed down a
bit. 

The physical dimensions comparison tells the story:

  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014) weight: 1.18 lbs
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2012) weight: 1.32 lbs
  • width 9.62 height 6.75 depth .31"

The 2013 Note update now has Jelly Bean 4.3 as the Android OS.
There's a lot to like about the new Note 10.1.

  • Much higher screen and camera resolution, faster CPU
  • Micro-USB charging
  • Android 4.3
  • Air Command task shortcuts
  • Overhauled S Note note-taking app
  • Multitasking enhancements

Let's look at the various features, beginning with the
screen. One of the biggest improvements is of course the screen and it has
been significantly improved.

Features

  • The display got upgraded nicely and has more pixels than
    the previous model, at 2,560 x 1,600-pixel resolution. The bezel is smaller
    giving it a thinner look, and the rear case has a leather look which comes in
    black or white. The graphics benchmark test (3D Mark app) scored well. It was
    13,677, which was lower than the ASUS but higher than the iPad 4 and the Nexus
    10.
  • The inside of the Note 10.1 has a Exynos 5420 quad-core
    processor, 3GB RAM, and microSD card slot that's expandable up to 64GB. There
    are speakers on the left and right bezel and the top bezel has a 1.9 megapixel
    camera, along with a light sensor. The backside camera is 5 megapixels, which
    has increased from the 3 megapixel variety in the previous Tab models. WiFi
    includes 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac. There are also ports for USB 2.0, and it comes with
    Bluetooth version 4.0. You've now got a Micro-USB charging port instead of the
    proprietary charger that came with last year's Note 10.

The S-Pen Writing Interface

Jumping right into the note-taking capabilities which is the
biggest selling point and strength to this model, is the S-Pen, which is
smaller than a regular writing instrument. It does take a little getting
used to in your hand to feel comfortable, but it does perform the writing
function nicely and it feels smooth when gliding across the Note's screen. 

For basic screen operations the S-pen does all of the work for
you. To launch the S-Note app, press the button on the S Pen and double tap any
screen. If you want to capture and annotate any screen, press the button on the
S Pen, then press and hold the pen on any screen. The screen is captured and
ready for you to write notes on it. To go back to a previous screen, just press
the button on the S Pen and drag it to the left. To display the menu screen,
press the button on the S Pen and drag the pen up.

The S-Note App

S-Note is the magic to using the S-pen and sketching. Start it
by clicking the S Note icon on the home screen or menu. Click the + icon to
make a new note and you have seven different note templates to use. You also
can change the way the notes look by using four different pen settings and can
change the colors to your particular taste. The Productivity tool option allows
you to convert any of your notes to regular typed text as well. Want to do a
search? You can write the keyword you're looking for with a question mark and
it does the rest. This is part of the new Quick Command feature; it's a feature
that activates applications you use most often and allows you to write out the
command shortuct using customized S Pen movements.

Creating with the S-Pen and Customized Templates

One of the great things is creating your own notebook. You can
personalize how it looks. You can change the way the cover looks by selecting
from several options. You can also change the way the background looks by using
twelve different images. There's a Birds-Eye view option where it shows you all
of the notebook contents so you can edit whatever you want.

What's really cool is the various templates you can use with
it. 

  • The Note template allows you to keep memorable events record or
    simply make a daily list.
  • Idea Note template can be used to record and share any ideas you
    have. 
  • Meeting Note is great if you're in a meeting and want to take
    notes and share them later. You can time-tag them by writing in the date-time
    or select from a menu and assign it. You can handwrite the attendees from that
    meeting or select them from your contact list. 
  • The Magazine template is for creating personalized magazines by
    including media photos, images, or videos. It's perfect for creating a personal
    greeting card. 
  • The Diary template is obvious; use it to record your daily
    issues or thoughts and inspirations. It will record the date and time-tag
    it. 
  • The Recipe template is perfect for recording recipes and
    inserting photos of different incredients or showing the finished
    product. 
  • The Travel template is great for keeping a record of all of the
    places you've visited or perhaps a special vacation. 

Multitasking With the Screen

Some other great features of the Note 10.1 include
improved screen capabilities, especially when multitasking. Dual View,
Cascade View, and Air View are great for screen operations and give you a lot
of lattitude on how to display and manipulate the screen contents.

  • With Dual View you can have two apps open side by side performing
    their individual task at the same time. If you need to put information from one
    app into the other, you simply cut and paste the info.
  • Cascade View allows you to open several apps and place them in a
    cascade fashion, one on top of the other. If you're doing several things at
    once, which is often the case for many, this allows you to move data from one
    app to the other easily. You can also pin one of the apps so it stays on top
    during the entire process.
  • Air View enables you to access what's in an app without having
    to open the app. Think of it as a preview of what's to come. One area where
    this really shines is moving through the various scenes of a video. If you have
    a lot of photos in an album, you can hold the S Pen over the album and it will
    preview all of the photos in that album. If you need to scroll through many
    photos simply hold the S Pen over the edge and it will automatically scroll.

The Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition in the 16GB model, and $599.99
for the 32GB model. That's quite a steep price if you are not the type who
would appreciate note taking. This tablet would do well for a business person,
student who takes a lot of notes, and more creative type people, who appreciate
it's editing capabilities which are useful when using the various templates. If
you do not fall into the above categories, I would strongly suggest you go
another route. Even the iPad which is not inexpensive by any stretch of the
word would be a better match for you. As the old saying goes, "Realize
your strengths, and run with them" would be my advice for choosing the
tablet that is right for you.

 

 

Phablets and Tablets

Samsung-Galaxy-Note-3-008 (1)

 

With the recent barrage of smartphones, phablets, and tablets hitting the market recently, it seems appropriate to break things down a bit to put items in their proper perspective, lest we become confused, as many customers are today when they walk into an electronics store to shop. The size offerings of the various manufacturers have clouded the line between phone and tablet and one must understand what they're buying.

Phablet Versatility

Smartphones are phones that make voice calls and text messages. Tablets are handheld PCs that process data. . . or so it seemed. With more offerings coming our way, there has become a new niche due to the varying screen sizes available. This new niche is the phablet. A phablet is a hybrid that can make regular phone calls since it has a smartphone form factor, but it also has a larger display than the average smartphone, between 5 and 7 inches. If you frequently surf the Web, play games and videos, the phablet is for you. Although phablets only constitute 3% of the total market, the beauty of that larger display size attracted 25 million sales in 2012, and many predict that number will climb steadily upward.

Tablet Strengths and Limitations

Remember that tablets are not phones per se. The don't make voice calls or text messages, although you can make some types of calls using software, as with Skype. There are also apps that will enable you to make land-line/mobile calls. SIM card swap-outs from phone to an iPad tablet are possible provided you are using software. Some have a costly fee; it is not cheap. The tablet is a versatile portable PC that allows you to use more sophisticated applications, surf the Web, and watch videos and movies.

The attractiveness of the tablet is that they are generally cheaper when purchasing a carrier's plan than a smartphone. The carrier Sprint offers some choices in the $25-30 dollar range for a tablet data plan, which is very attractive to many customers. Of course the amount of data transferred determines the price point, and Sprint as well as other carriers, offer varying choices in this area.

Phablet vs Smartphone Question

The question is not about whether you should buy a phablet or a tablet. The question you need to ask yourself is should I buy a phablet or a smartphone. Phablets and tablets are very distinct devices, with clear functions. A phablet is really a phone that is used more for making daily routine phone calls. A tablet is a handheld PC used for sophisticated applications that need a larger screen for displaying graphics.

Now that you understand the nuances of shopping in this niche of high-tech electronics, you should be able to fully understand what you're buying. I will not go into the carriers since their pricing varies throughout the market. Do your homework on the carriers available in your area, compare plans, and decide what plan features are most important to you. If you're looking for the least expensive carrier, many believe that Sprint would be your choice. Sprint has been slow to implement their 4G LTE service so make sure you check for coverage before deciding. Verizon and AT&T both have good 4G LTE service, so you need to look at the choices offered and decide based on what you value the most for plan features.

 

Laptop or Tablet: The Ultimate Decision

Within the last few years the PC industry has experienced a new phenomenon, the Tablet PC. The tablet is quickly emerging as a strong niche in the PC industry, and the functionality of it is being defined as users discover the strengths and weaknesses of its computing sessions, as well as the unique human touch interaction that defines so much of its appeal and unique interactive qualities. We're going to examine the ultimate question: should you put out the bucks for one or stick with the traditional laptop instead. To answer that question, we need to look at the strengths and weaknesses of both platforms. Let's start by considering the interaction with these devices.

Tablet Considerations

There are some tablet considerations you should think about. Do you use programs that require input; perhaps a considerable amount of input? If so,the tablet may not be for you. It uses a touch interface and point and click for inputing information. Although tablets usually have a virtual keyboard, similar to many stylus-operated SmartPhones, using one is clumsy at best, and limits your input speed. You can get around this issue by obtaining a bluetooth keyboard, but this would be an additional cost and another item to be carried and accounted for if you travel often.

Laptop Constraints

If lugging around something continually is a hassle, the tablet choice would certainly be a consideration. Tablets weigh under two pounds and are about the size of a small paper tablet, thus contributing to its genre name. A keyboard/trackpad addition is the primary reason for the size differential. Additional laptop constraints also include a higher power requirement, which generates more heat, so a means of cooling is necessary as well. This equates to a larger battery/power supply and the addition of a cooling fan, increasing its size and weight.

Ultrabook vs Netbook

However, with that said, there are two alternative genre of laptops: the netbook and ultrabook. They are for customers who want a smaller dimensioned device, but their computing needs are not successfully met with a tablet. They are a viable option if you're in this category, but be prepared to spend more money for the ultrabook, ranging from $700 to well over $1000. The ultrabook size isn't necessarily smaller than a regular laptop, with screen sizes ranging from 11 to 15 inch. It's their weight that makes them unique, about three pounds, accenting their portability. The netbook costs less than a regular laptop, roughly $200 to $300, but has a smaller hard drive, and the screen is smaller than the average laptop, averaging about 10 inches. Ultrabooks and netbooks don't have a DVD/CD in them, but will take a thumb drive; for portable data usage. The ultrabook uses the more expensive solid-state drives because of their smaller size, but because of the cost, they can be smaller in capacity than the traditional mechanical drives still used by the netbook and most laptops. Since the engineering costs of manufacturing a smaller laptop are significant, the more expensive ultrabook cost is passed on to the consumer.

Battery Life

The one strong suit of the tablet is its power requirements. Since a tablet's hardware is much less sophisticated than a laptop, the power requirement is small and the battery can last as long as 10 hours before needing a recharge. Contrast that time with a standard laptop battery, with a charge life of two to three hours, and you can see the clear winner.

Storage Capacity

In order to keep the size of a tablet small, solid-state drives (SSD) are used in capacities of 16 to 64GB, in lieu of the traditional mechanical type of drive still used in laptops and netbooks. This will undoubtedly increase as SSD costs drop. Compare that capacity to a traditional hard drive on a laptop, which hold several hundreds of gigabytes. Even a netbook will have more hard drive storage space. However, using the cloud for storage is available and would certainly supplement the needs of a tablet. Keep in mind that for backing up data, connecting the tablet to a PC is necessary.

Applications

If you're using the tablet for email, internet, low-requirement audio or video, these applications would be as acceptable as they are on a laptop. When you start getting into applications that require heavy processing such as 3-D games, intensive graphics, or just multitasking, you run into problems, and would have to opt for the laptop's superior hardware. There are scaled-down versions of regular programs that can be used, but remember that the lack of data inputing combined with limited hardware capability will significantly impact what type of programs you will be able to use for a tablet.

Tablet and Laptop Cost

Although many low-end laptops and netbooks are available for the same price as tablet, the average-priced laptop is still at about $650, taking it out of the price range of the average priced tablet, which is about $450. Keep in mind that for that $200 category price difference, you have the full functioning capability of a PC by going with a laptop.

All things considered, at this point in time with tablet technology, there is really only one logical choice if you don't already have a desktop or laptop PC. If you do in fact already have a PC, there are some good tablets out there; some of them are available for as little as $199, with excellent value. Remember though, that since a tablet is used mostly for web usage and entertainment purposes, right now it is really more of a luxury than a necessity. As time goes by, this tablet scenario will certainly change, as with all new technologies, but for now, in these tough economic times, your association with a tablet may really be best limited to the paper variety you touch with a pen instead of the silicon type you touch with your finger.

WiFi LTE Phones, Laptops, and Tablets

The technology field has some interesting terms, doesn't it; LTE, WiFi to name just a couple. It can be confusing, especially if you're a cell-phone user (who isn't), or have a need for a laptop or tablet PC and need Internet connectivity through the best means possible.  You used to hear LTE associated more with mobile usage and WiFi with PC usage. With tablet PCs now a standard niche in the PC industry, many of us are hearing both terms used. Let's look at these two terms, LTE and WiFi, and break it down so it makes sense, not only from a mobile perspective but from a PC perspective as well.

LTE Cell Phone Coverage

LTE stands for Long Term Evolution and is associated with the term 4G, which means 4th Generation. Prior to LTE, 4G was the cutting-edge Internet connectivity standard associated with mobile phones, enabling the user a 3 to 8 mbps speed. With 4G LTE, the fastest technology, a 5 to 12 mbps is possible. Contrast those speeds with 3G, at 800kbps to 1mbps. A substantial portion of the U.S. is still operating mobile networks with 3G, although the major mobile network carriers, Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint have converted over a considerable coverage area already to 4g LTE, and continue to convert over to it regularly. Recently, carrier T-Mobile is now beginning to convert to 4G LTE networks as well.

Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint LTE Coverage

Many Internet users who travel and use a laptop on their trips need to be able to connect to the Internet. For years now, they have been able to do that through the mobile network (cell phone towers). And for several years, they have used 3G connectivity speeds until 4G came along and improved their speed. Now, the fastest of the 3 technologies, 4g LTE, is slowly becoming the new standard, although much of the U.S. is still not converted over to it.  Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint currently have LTE networks in place. As of October, Verizon has over 400 LTE markets established, AT&T has 60 markets, and Sprint has 24 markets. All 3 carriers are increasing that count regularly so if your area is not yet covered, be patient.  

Tethering

To enable Internet connectivity via the mobile network, you used to need a PC card, commonly referred to as an air-card, which was inserted into the laptop; however that setup has been for the most part, replaced. Today, the popular feature known as tethering, tethers the laptop to your cell phone. The plan pricing is based on amount of data transfer and most carriers offer it for a set monthly fee. 

Tablet Usage

LTE is now an optional model for table PCs. The Apple iPad is offered with a LTE capability, and the 4th generation iPad offers two frequency ranges, so that it can be used outside the U.S. It is not a popular option for most of the tablet industry, although with time, we should be seeing it as a viable model option with most tablet makers. 

LTE is a great feature to have if you watch a lot of streaming video, or do a lot of downloading. It will improve the performance of both of those evolutions and certainly should be a consideration if you fall into that category of user.