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14 Apr 12 Android this week: Galaxy Tab 2 launches; MotoActv wows; Amazon supports freemium;

Samsung hasn’t ceded the small slate market to either the Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet just yet. Although these two 7-inch slates are gobbling up market share for low-cost tablets, Samsung launched its Galaxy Tab 2 this week. The $249 Wi-Fi tablet certainly has some better hardware over its competitors but the real question is: Can it provide the experience people are looking at this price?

That’s going to depend on exactly what experience consumers are looking for. With Android 4.0, dual-core processor, two cameras and integrated GPS, the Galaxy Tab 2 is a low-cost Android tablet with few limitations. It can run any third party app from Google Play, take and sync pictures or be used as a GPS navigation device. The Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet are far more limited in what they can do out of the box but what they can do, they do very well.

Amazon did remove one limitation this week when it added support for in-app purchases. This could lead to a greater number of free third-party apps that make money through upgrades or additional content within the application. This “freemium” model has been supported by iOS and Android for some time and has begun to bring more money to developers over paid mobile apps. I also expect more Android developers to bring their apps into Amazon’s AppStore; good for Kindle Fire owners.

My latest Android gadget is similar to the Kindle Fire, in that you’d never know it actually runs on Android. I bought a MotoActv wearable device about a week ago, hoping to find a way to track my outdoor exercise without having to carry my smartphone and use its GPS. The MotoActv works quite well for this, but I also gained some unexpected benefits from my $199 purchase.

Because the MotoActv is crammed with sensors and radios — accelerometer, GPS, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and FM radio — I’m actually wearing it from the time I wake until the time I sleep. The 1.6-inch device with capacitive touchscreen measures calories burned as well as steps taken, so I gain that health data.

It also has 8 GB of storage, so I’ve added several albums and use it to enjoy music as needed. And of course, when I run, I turn on the GPS radio and track my route, pace, and distance, plus my heart rate with an external heart rate monitor.

The MotoActv also works as a watch, complete with several difference faces to choose from. And when paired with a smartphone, it can receive notifications such as SMS messages, caller ID and calendar events. When the device launched last October, the notification feature was only supported on Motorola handsets. However, a software update earlier this month added support for all Android handsets.

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12 Apr 12 Samsung Announces Lower-Cost Android 4.0 Tablets

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 got its official U.S. launch today, with pricing and general availability revealed for the first time since the Galaxy Tab 2 series was quietly shown at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona two months ago.

Back at MWC, the Tab 2 played second fiddle to the company’s attention-grabbing Galaxy Note 10.1, itself a larger version of the Galaxy Note phone.

Today, though, the Galaxy Tab 2 series has the spotlight to itself. A light refresh of earlier tablets, the Tab 2 Series comes in 7.0 and 10.1-inch versions and features similar specs, with a few differences.

The biggest news surrounding these tablets is their markedly lower price. The Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 is priced at $250, goes on pre-order April 12, and on-sale 10 days later. The Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 is priced at $400, will go on pre-order May 4, and ships May 13.

Those prices are especially noteworthy given the red-hot tablet market. At $250, the Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 sets its sights squarely on its bargain-priced $200 Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes Noble Nook Tablet competition. All three of those models have 7-inch 1024 by 600 pixel displays, and all three come with just 8GB of memory on-board. But of those, only the Galaxy Tab 2 has an infrared port for controlling your TV and entertainment components, and only the Tab 2 has Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (both Amazon and Barnes Noble are using their own versions of Android, built on-top of 2.3 Gingerbread).

Meanwhile, the Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 price reflects a 20 percent drop as compared with last spring’s original Galaxy Tab 10.1. Both old and new 10.1-inch models had 16GB of memory and 1280 by 800 pixel resolution, but this year’s version adds the microSD card slot and IR port, so you can use the tablet as a remote control.

Both of the new Galaxy Tabs have a 1GHz dual-core processor, though Samsung did not divulge if they were the same Nvidia Tegra 2 processors as in previous dual-core Tab 10.1 Wi-Fi, for example (presumably, it’s not since they’re not saying). The new models will replace the existing like-sized Tabs in the market, the 10.1 Wi-Fi and the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus. Oddly, when comparing the Tab 2 7.0 to the Tab 7.0 Plus, the latter—a late-2011 model–was actually more tricked out than the Tab 2, with a 1.2-GHz processor and 16GB of memory. The rear-facing camera’s spec (on both models) of 3 megapixels stays the same as on the original Tab 10.1 Wi-Fi; but oddly, the front-facing camera drops from 2 megapixels on the 10.1 to a sub-megapixel 640 by 480 on the new models.

The physical specs of the Tab 2 models are virtually the same as on their respective predecessors. Likewise, physical build is comparable, too, to previous models (not to mention that it’s notably better than the chintzy impression the Tab 2 series left in its pre-production state at Mobile World Congress two months ago). The Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 weighs the same as the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus: 0.76 pounds, with a similar design and build quality, and similar dimensions (4.8 by 7.6 inches, but slightly thicker at 0.41 inches, to the 7.0 Plus’ 0.39 inches). The Tab 2 10.1 also has similar dimensions to its predecessor, 6.9 inches by 10.1 inches, but slightly narrower (0.34 inches to 0.38 on the original Tab 10.1 Wi-Fi). Oddly, the new 10.1-inch model’s weight is ever-so-slightly more, 1.28 pounds to 1.25 pounds.

In its launch, Samsung emphasized aspects of its software additions to the Tab 2 series. Among them: a year of included Dropbox service with 50GB of storage; the IR remote control capability, powered here by Peel’s app; and features like Smart View for mirroring content from your TV on the tablet, and Remote Viewfinder for use with Samsung’s Wi-Fi cameras. This feature could have some interesting applications for group photos, for example; using WiFi Direct and an app on the tablet, you can use the tablet to control the viewfinder, shutter, zoom, and flash of the camera.

The Smart View TV-to-tablet mirroring feature will work with only Samsung 7000 series LED HDTVs, circa 2011 and beyond. It was fairly nifty in a demo, requiring just a few taps to share a television’s feed with the tablet; I noticed a fair amount of macroblocking and artifacts in the image on the tablet, but it’s unclear if that’s because of the tablet itself or the available Wi-Fi bandwidth. The image was certainly watchable in a pinch; and it sufficed compared with some other middling streamed images I’ve seen over time. Also, I noticed that, as compared to the same 720p image broadcast on a Samsung HDTV, the image on the tablet frankly called attention to the color reproduction deficiencies of the tablet’s screen.

Is all of this enough for Samsung to stay competitive in a crowded tablet marketplace? Maybe, but it’s still a tight call. These tablets are obviously being positioned as the company’s “value” hitters—no 4G, no pen input as on the upcoming Galaxy Note, no high-resolution display—and that makes the inclusion of an infrared port an even larger coup.

Still, these models must compete with the Apple juggernaut along with the Android masses. And that might be a tough proposition without better, higher resolution displays, thinner designs, and better cameras. I also wish that Samsung had included its own universal remote control app with the tablet, rather than relying solely on a third-party app to do the heavy lifting instead.

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08 Apr 12 Android this week: Instagram arrives; Sprint LTE phones soon; Galaxy Note here

This week saw Instagram arrive on Android devices after a full 16 months of iPhone exclusivity. The social photo sharing app provides a number of image filters and makes it simple to snap a picture and post  it to a user’s Instagram feed. Clearly, there was much pent-up demand for the software as a reported 2,000 people were signing up through the app every minute.

Two immediate aspects of this launch jumped out at me and both of them were related to the iPhone. First, the application looks more like an iOS app ported to Android; not one that uses the typical or recommended Android interface elements. That’s not necessarily an issue, but it has some Android users grumbling.

Second, iPhone users wasted no time ridiculing Android thanks to the new app. I’ll grant them that the iPhone 4S has a stellar camera, optics and photo software that takes great images, but not every Android handset camera is junk. And even a good handset can yield crappy images in various situations. Even worse, was an attitude of smugness or superiority from the far end of the spectrum as evidenced by this tweet below. The fact is, there are many great mobile device choices that work well for different individuals: Instead of mocking them, we should appreciate that we have choices at all.

Speaking of choice, more than 5 million people in the world have chosen the Samsung Galaxy Note. I received a review unit from ATT on Friday and handset is growing on me; not literally, which is good, given the 5.3-inch display. At CES, I felt the Note was too wide in my hand but that was with only a few minutes of playtime to film a video of the device. After using it for a single day, I’m starting to appreciate the size.

I’ll have a full review forthcoming, but in the short time I’ve used the Galaxy Note, I’m thinking it could replace both my Galaxy Nexus and my Galaxy Tab 7.7 tablet. Why? It has the features, usability and portability of both in a single device.

That’s just my gut reaction, of course, and not everyone will find the large device to their liking. But those who are asking the question of whether this is a tablet or a phone are asking the wrong question. I’ll soon have a follow up post on what’s the right question to ask when considering if the Galaxy Note is suited for you, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, Sprint users gained the promise of new Android phones for the carrier’s upcoming LTE network: The LG Viper and the Sprint EVO 4G LTE. The EVO model is already building up buzz, mainly because it’s a version of the HTC One; a consolidated product line that HTC hopes to turn around flagging sales.

Look for the EVO 4G LTE this quarter for $199.99 (with contract), running Android 4.0 and latest version of HTC Sense on a 4.7-inch 1280×720 resolution screen. Qualcomm’s 1.5 GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 will power the handset, which will also use HD Voice for improved audio quality on calls.

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03 Apr 12 Android 4.0 Forces Samsung To Delay Galaxy Tablets

10 Things Tablets Still Can't Do
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Samsung has pushed back the release of it second-generation tablets from the end of March to the end of April. The delay, according to a Samsung spokesperson, is because the company needs more time to work on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. That’s funny, because Samsung has had access to Ice Cream Sandwich longer than any other hardware maker.

Google released Android 4.0 in October. Samsung released the global variant of Galaxy Nexus with Android 4.0 on board in November, followed by the U.S. Verizon version in December. Other OEMs didn’t gain access to the Ice Cream Sandwich source code until November, about a month after Samsung got its hands on it.

The Galaxy Tab 2–both the 7-inch 7.0 version and the 10-inch 10.1 version–will be the first tablets to ship from Samsung with Android 4.0 on board. Android 4.0 offers a number of system-wide improvements when compared to earlier versions of Android.

The two Tab 2s are powered by dual-core 1-GHz processors, accompanied by 1 GB of RAM. Most new smartphones are shipping with 1.2-1.5-GHz dual-core chips. The Tabs supports worldwide 3G data, with HSPA+ at 21-Mbps in the 850/900/1900/2100-MHz bands, in addition to 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth 3.0, USB 2.0, and a bevy of sensors.

[ See Apple's New iPad Tops Consumer Reports' Ratings. ]

The Tab 2 (7.0) has a seven-inch display, with 1024 x 600 pixels. The Tab 2 (10.1) has a 10.1-inch display with 1280 x 800 pixels. Both come with two cameras: a 3-megapixel fixed-focus main camera, and a VGA user-facing camera for video calling. They can record HD video at 1080p resolution at 30 frames per second.

They will ship in three different storage variations: 8 GB, 16 GB, and 32 GB. All three will include a microSD card slot supporting an addition 32 GB of storage. The Tab 2 shaves a little thickness and weight when compared to the original, but not much. The Tab 2 (7.0) measures 0.41 inches thick and weighs 12.1 ounces, or about 0.75 pounds if you prefer.

The Tab 2 (7.0) and (10.1) are not bad efforts, but they are not very sexy. They lack 4G support of any kind, the cameras are low in quality, the processor and memory setups are already outdated, and Samsung already makes tablets that measure 7.7 inches, 8.9 inches, and 10.1 inches.

Samsung says Android 4.0 on the Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) and (10.1) is much faster than Android 2.3 Gingerbread, with a better app and user interface response. Faster is (nearly) always better, as laggy software is frustrating. Let’s hope so, because this is the second delay Samsung has admitted to due to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Last month, Samsung delayed Android 4.0 for the Galaxy Note.

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