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10 Jun 12 Android this week: Toshiba’s small slate; Galaxy S III details; patent wars worsen

Here in the U.S., Android was front and center early in the week as five carriers announced they would be selling Samsung’s Galaxy S III. Verizon, Sprint, ATT, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular are all prepping pre-orders or hyping their launch dates for Samsung’s flagship phone. Some may start selling this month, while others will deliver the goods in July. Either way, this launch differs greatly from last year’s Galaxy S model, which first launched overseas in May but didn’t arrive in the U.S. until 4 to 6 months later, depending the carrier.

Perhaps more interesting is Samsung’s “one phone for all” approach. Instead of multiple Galaxy S III models with slight carrier tweaks, Samsung has taking an Apple-like approach and created one singular design for the phone.

That means, for example, that the U.S. models will have the same hardware button on the front as the international versions. The only differences for the U.S. are the chip that powers the phone and the amount of memory. Since Samsung’s quad-core Exynos processor doesn’t yet have LTE integration, the company is using Qualcomm’s dual-core Snapdragon S4 for all U.S. Galaxy S III handsets and boosting the RAM from 1 GB to 2 GB. I haven’t yet used a U.S. version of the Galaxy S III, but I expect this combo to be similar in performance to the international version.

Samsung has been in Apple’s sights in the courts lately — Cupertino is already trying to stop the Galaxy S III from being sold in the U.S. — but the bigger target seems to be HTC and its Android phones. Last month, Apple’s legal efforts were enough to hold up shipments of various HTC One models in the U.S., which forced HTC to make a change to its software. That change was enough to get shipments flowing again, but this week, Apple said that’s still not enough to solve the problem. This entire situation is worth watching because the alleged patent infringement — as I read it, that is — could apply to any Android hardware maker. In some sense, Apple is indirectly fighting with Google by aiming at the smaller targets: The handset makers themselves.

Just as the week came to a close, I received a review unit of Toshiba’s Excite 7.7 tablet; one of the few that ships with Android 4.0. The device is a Wi-Fi-only model, which may disappoint some, but the positive is that there’s no monthly bill for mobile broadband. The Excite 7.7 is physically very similar to the Galaxy Tab 7.7 I purchased earlier this year and has the same 1280 x 800 resolution using what Toshiba calls a “Pixel Pure AMOLED Display”. I see little difference between the two screens.

Where I can see variance is in the overall experience and performance. Toshiba opted for Nvidia’s Tegra 3 chip, which keeps apps, games and video moving quickly. Plus, I find the tablet experience to be improved with Android 4.0; my Galaxy Tab 7.7 is still stuck on Android 3.2. Toshiba didn’t hide Android with a skin either; it’s generally a pure experience; the only exception being some apps grouped in folders on the home screen. I’ll have a full review soon, but the key data point that stands out is the price: $499 which may be too much for a small slate. Here’s my first look so you can start to decide for yourself on the value.

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23 May 12 Samsung Galaxy S III Available June 1 from Amazon for $800

Samsung Galaxy SIII Available June 1 from Amazon for $800Consumers who want to be among the first in the U.S. to own Samsung’s Galaxy S III smartphone on June 1 will pay a steep price. Amazon is now taking U.S. pre-orders for the flagship Android device and bitter iPhone rival for $800 unlocked, but the price tag is not the only thing you should be weary of.

Samsung and U.S. wireless carriers are yet to announce their versions of the Galaxy S III, which usually vary from one another both internally and externally. So what you will be getting for $800 is the 16GB SIM-free international version of the S III (blue or white), also known as GT-i9300, with a huge 4.8-inch display, 1GB of RAM, an 8-megapixel camera, and Android 4.0 with a lot of Samsung software goodies.

However, using the Samsung Galaxy S III GT-i9300 in the U.S. means you will have to accept some compromises. The model does not have 4G LTE connectivity, unlike many Android phones currently sold by carriers. Thus, the GT-i9300 can only connect to ATT’s HSPA+ network. On T-Mobile the phone would be able to make calls, but won’t be able to connect to high-speed data as the GT-i9300 lacks support for T-Mobile’s 1700MHz band. Needless to say, the phone won’t work on Verizon and Sprint.

Samsung Galaxy SIII Available June 1 from Amazon for $800What you do get for the $800 price tag with the S III though is the quad-core 1.4 GHz Exynos processor. It’s not known whether the processor will make it to U.S. versions of the phone; there is no 4G LTE version of the processor, so the carrier-customized Galaxy S IIIs are expected to use a dual-core chip instead, like the Snapdragon S4, which has LTE support.

So unless you don’t mind not having 4G LTE connectivity, using ATT’s network, and you have $800 to shell out, the Galaxy S III should be with you in a couple of weeks. But you would be better off waiting for the U.S. carrier-customized versions of the device, which although they won’t have the same processor, they’ll likely cost you at least $500 less upfront with a contract, and they can blaze at 4G LTE speeds.

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05 May 12 Android this week: Samsung Galaxy S III vs HTC One X

If you’re an Android user looking for new hardware, this was a good week for you. In the U.S., HTC’s One X for ATT made the review rounds while Samsung finally took the wraps off its much anticipated Galaxy S III. Interestingly, one of the two phones has generated much positive feedback while the other seems to impress fewer.

I haven’t heard many complaints about the HTC One X; in fact, nearly every review calls it the best Android phone available for ATT right now. Having used one for the past week, I’m inclined to agree and shared my first impressions earlier. Aside from a few very minor nuances — I still don’t like where the power / wake button is — there’s little not to like about the One X.

While the phone is very similar the slightly smaller HTC One S for T-Mobile, HTC made good use of the larger display on the One X and the 1280 x 720 Super LCD display looks noticeably crisper to me than the 960 x 540 Super AMOLED screen on the One S. And I say that as a big fan of Super AMOLED displays.

Since I live 100 miles from the nearest ATT LTE coverage area, I haven’t tested the LTE mobile broadband on the One X yet. I suspect many potential buyers are in the same category as ATT only offers LTE in roughly three dozen markets. But the HSPA+ fallback, in my area, at least, is quite good and rivals T-Mobile’s fast service where I live. And Sense 4.0 is very intuitive and useful, although I personally still prefer stock Android 4.0.

So the One X garnered rave reviews and yet Samsung’s Galaxy S III appears to have let down some. Perhaps the anticipation and wait built expectations too high?

Clearly, the new Galaxy offers cutting edge hardware in nearly every aspect, starting with the new Exynos quad-core chip. It’s likely that the U.S. LTE markets won’t see this chip, however, as Samsung hasn’t yet been able to integrate an LTE radio solution. Instead, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 is likely to be in any GSIII variant on Sprint, ATT, or Verizon. Based on the HTC One line, which uses the Snapdragon S4, that’s probably not going to be an issue.

To be honest, I’m not sure what Samsung could have added from a hardware perspective to make people happy. Aside from using a PenTile Super AMOLED display — which won’t be a problem for most consumers — the hardware is top notch. And that’s likely why Samsung focused much on improving its own software for the phone.

Samsung showed off a customized Android Beam function that uses NFC and Wi-Fi to transfer data between phones, as well as S Voice, a Siri-like voice interaction feature. Pop Up Play allows you to continue watching video in a window while multitasking on your phone, although for $1.49, any Android phone can do the same with Stick It. The GSIII’s camera software now includes a burst mode and best picture function as well. And there’s a way to share video or productivity apps with multiple smartphones on the same network, which is nifty.

Both the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S III look impressive to me, and even with some expressing disappointment in the latter, I suspect it will still become Samsung’s best selling smartphone to date.

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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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