Apple lays down the gauntlet for 2014’s tablets with a stunning effort
Apple’s new iPad shows all you need to know about its changed approach to tablets – with a 43% thinner bezel and a 28% lighter device, the iPad Air is championing the ‘easier to live with’ ideal.
If you haven’t seen a picture yet, then imagine an iPad mini that you’ve just held a little closer to your face, and you’re largely there with the Air.
It’s got the same smooth back design, thinner bezel and more attractive speakers at the bottom of the phone to make it look like more of a family with the cut down tablet from Apple’s stables.
While it’s a clear copy, we’re not going to get upset about that as the mini already had a stunning design, and the Air takes that message and brings it to the big leagues.
It also has machined buttons that don’t feel loose when shaking, bringing up the premium feel to the device.
And the greatest thing about the iPad range in our eyes is the price – Apple is starting the 16GB Wi-Fi-only model at the same cost as its rivals, and while that outlay does spiral up as capacity and connectivity increase, for an Apple device to not charge an (unnecessary) premium is something we’re really happy to see.
We’re looking at a price range of £399 – £739 ($499 – $929 or AU$598 – AU1049), starting from the 16GB version (Wi-Fi only) to the 64GB cellular option.
Add to that the fact Apple is lobbing in a lot of useful free software, as well as bringing a more refined experience with iOS 7, and you can see that it’s put a lot of effort into making the iPad Air the tablet that shows it’s not losing its relevancy in the market.
The keynote for the launch of the iPad Air talked a lot about Apple’s dominance in terms of tablet usage, but it’s no secret that a number of users are starting to warm to the idea of an Android model as their main device – the Sony Xperia Tablet Z is one of the best around at the moment, and offers expandable storage as well as a waterproof casing to trump Apple in that respect.
But Apple has countered by bringing out the same 128GB model as before, which, while pricey, gives more than ample storage for anything you want to do on the go, be it storing all the HD apps you want as well as your entire music collection and most movies too.
It’s worth noting that the 16GB option is nigh-on useless as a purchase if you’re thinking of pulling in all the free apps Apple is slinging your way – this was an issue when the Retina display landed on the iPad 3, and has only got worse as more HD apps from developers have been slipped onto the App Store.
However, it’s still good to see options being offered when it comes to storage, as some Android devices (albeit mostly phones) are starting to eschew expandability and not really upping the internal space.
So you can see that Apple has covered its bases in nearly every area when it comes to the iPad Air – but how does it actually perform in the hand when subjected to rigorous daily use?
The iPad Air is an odd device when you pick it up for the first time. When you hear all the numbers being bandied about you’d rightly assume that you’d feel something that was almost ghost-like in the hand, a tablet that could almost get blown away.
And we’re utterly not disputing that – the iPad Air is the most balanced tablet on the market, with great precision going into the engineering throughout. However, if you’ve touched an iPad mini or just haven’t held an older iPad for a while (and with some people we tested with, even those that had) you won’t feel as much of a step up as you’d be expecting.
We’ve added that caveat to brace you should you be excited to purchase the new iPad, as it’s not something that affects the general usage in any way, with one-handed holding very easy, and something that puts the Air into a new product category.
The design of the iPad Air is, as we’ve mentioned, very impressive. Yes, it’s totally based on the iPad mini, and the smooth aluminium back is really great to feel in the hand. It’s a shame that most people feel the need to slap a cover on an iPad as soon as it’s bought – while we get the notion of protection, it hides away some cracking design.
That said, at least it keeps the fingers away from the chassis, and the iPad Air is a real magnet for prints. The back cover isn’t too bad, but the mirrored Apple logo sucks down finger oil and is loathe to give it back even with hard scrubbing with a cloth.
It might not sound like a big deal, but it makes your premium new tablet look a bit unkempt right from the start.
But in actual operation, the design of the iPad Air complements the impressive innards superbly. It’s unsurprisingly not possible to hold your hand the entire way around the edge of the Air, but then again it’s so light (and comes with the ability to disregard erroneous thumbs entering the screen, again like the iPad mini) that it doesn’t really make a big difference.
The rest of the buttonry – the top-mounted power key and the silencing rocker switch and volume buttons at the side – haven’t moved far, but protrude nicely to make them very easy to hit no matter when you’re holding the device – being able to find such things without looking is often sacrificed in the quest to make tablets look sleeker, so we’re happy Apple has gone the other way here.
There is one note of criticism in terms of design for such a decent (and still expensive, despite costing the same as many of its peers) piece of kit: the screen has a plastic thud to it when tapping, thanks to the smaller and lighter innards.
It’s most noticeable when grazed with a fingernail, although in a case the effect is lessened. We’re surprised Apple let this feature go unchallenged, but it seems in making the design thinner and removing part of the inner cage the overall strength of the chassis is somewhat reduced.
It’s not a major issue by any means, and certainly one that you’ll only pick up on sporadically, but it’s still enough to irk at times when you’re expecting a truly premium experience.
Many of you will also be wondering why there’s no TouchID onboard the iPad AIr when it’s such a large selling point for the iPhone 5S.
We’re in the same boat. The architecture is there. It surely can’t be an issue of space seeing as the technology fitted into the iPhone 5S.
So what could it be? Apple surely isn’t holding it back as the ‘big upgrade’ for the iPad Air 2, is it? That would be such an anti-climax… plus we’re waiting for the bendable iPad in 2014 anyway.
The two-tablet assault as Samsung sets its sights on the iPad…again
Our early verdict
“The tablet everyone expected Samsung to make – but with a much better screen than predicted.”
Still lacking in design
PAGE 1 OF 2Introduction and design
The new Galaxy Tab S is something of a conundrum: on the one hand, it represents a big shift from Samsung, one that promises to finally give it something that can be considered a rival to the iPad, on the other, an over-reliance of familiarity.
The Galaxy Tab S range packs one major advantage over the competition: one of the best screens on the market to be plugged into a tablet.
At 8.4- and 10.5-inch it uses Samsung’s Super AMOLED technology make colours hyper-vibrant, contrast really deep and rich and the resolution, at 2560 x 1600, is pin sharp at all screen sizes.
So, what’s the verdict on Samsung’s possible iPad-beater?
It’s hard to overstate how beautiful the screen is – for some people, the Super AMOLED technology used in the Samsung Galaxy smartphone range is too much, too over-saturated in colour, but on these tablets I think it’s just right; and if you’re that bothered, there are settings to tweak the colour up and down to a more LCD-like setting.
However, while it’s ace that Samsung has made this feature more accessible (a simple tap to make the screen more or less colour saturated) it’s only available in video. To me, that’s fine as it’s the main place I feel I want a little less colour power, but it would be good to see the same trick in photos too.
At 10.5 inches, the Tab S is a real rival to the iPad Air in terms of sharpness and screen quality – and that’s saying something impressive, as the Air has one of the better displays on the market.
As the size scales down, the sharpness of the screen goes up for the Tab S range, with the 8.4-inch version looking as sharp as a smartphone display (when held a little further from the face) but with the benefits of a larger screen.
Viewing the web or video on these tablets is something of a dream – it’s hard to explain just how nicely nearly everything looks on these displays.
I will say this: if you’re someone that hates the way Super AMOLED looks on phones then you’re going to hate the Galaxy Tab S screens as well. Samsung took great pains to point out how much better the new display was side by side with an LCD (oddly choosing to lament the colour performance of its very own Galaxy Tab Pro) but it just looked different, not better – it depends on your preference.
The reading mode, which seems to mostly just enhance the brightness to a more acceptable level – good, but nothing major. The same can be said for the adaptive display, which can moderate the screen’s output depending on the lighting type – it was probably too subtle to test, but the demonstration didn’t blow me away.
If Samsung has stayed true to its ability with the screen technology, the same thing can be said for the design too. Sadly, while the former is a massive plus I’m still not sold on the way these tablets look.
The Tab S range still relies too heavily on plastic – while we were told in immense detail how the new devices were inspired by ‘modern architecture’ and ‘the sunrise on crisp white snow’, they’ve still got the same dimpled and rubberised back as seen on the Galaxy S5.
I’ve said this time and again with the smartphones and, to a degree, it hasn’t mattered so much as they’ve sold in their droves.
But Samsung tablets haven’t enjoyed the same level of market dominance, and that’s partly because they don’t ooze the same premium quality that the likes of the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet and iPad Air manage so easily.
Combine that with the dimpled back (the same seen on the Samsung Galaxy S5 and K Zoom) and I just don’t feel like I’m holding something that’s as well put together as the competition.
Even the Google Nexus 7, which is likely to cost a fair bit less than the Tab S, feels better-packaged in my opinion, and is something Samsung needs to get right, and quickly.
The tablets aren’t even waterproof, which was one major part of the Galaxy S5 and went some way to explaining the decision to go with a rubberised back.
However, the materials used aside, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S range does make some clever choices in terms of design. For instance, both are 6.6mm thin at the narrowest point, which is hugely impressive and allows for extended holding without causing wrist strain (helped in part by the 294g / 465g weight).
The biometric technology is back again, as it was with the Galaxy S5, and is situated in the same place, the home key. It’s not as simple to swipe the finger down, especially on the larger screens in the range, as it requires balancing it in one hand and can be a little awkward.
It’s accuracy is a little off as a result too, although that’s something that requires day in, day out testing to properly assess – it worked for the most part, but that balance (especially on the larger 10.5-inch slate) is something of a slight concern).
The iPad-mounted Structure Sensor 3D scanner turns your world into a video game
Augmented reality has never been nearly as cool as its name suggests. Even when it isn’t gimmicky, it’s virtually useless, in large part because your mobile camera’s version of “reality” is short one dimension. Scanning and computer vision company Occipital, however, wants to add real depth to your tablet’s vision with the Structure Sensor, a Kickstarter- backed product that shipped to backers late last year. The $349 Structure Sensor is a Kinect-like camera that fits on the back of an iPad or, with some hacking, any other device. With the bracket on, your tablet doesn’t just see objects, it can figure out how far away they are, doing anything from turning an object into a 3D model to measuring the distance of a room.
Occipital’s creators aren’t in the business of making games or augmented reality apps. They’re not really even in the business of camera hardware, though that’s the product they’re selling. Their hope is that the bundled Structure SDK will become an industry standard for camera makers and developers alike. Today, though, they showed us a few of the ideas they have in mind, including one of the simplest uses of the camera: 3D scanning.
Nokia has been building its own Android phone according to multiple sources familiar with the company’s plans. Codenamed Normandy, and known internally at Nokia under a number of other names, the handset is designed as the next step in low-end phones from the Finnish smartphone maker. We understand that Nokia has been testing “Normandy” with a special “forked” variant of Android that’s not aligned with Google’s own version, akin to what Amazon does with its Kindle Fire line.
WILL IT EVER SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY?
An image of the handset was published in November by @evleaks, showing a Lumia-style device with no apparent capacitive buttons for navigation. We’re told that Normandy supports Android applications like Skype, and other popular top apps. Nokia has been developing the Android-powered phone despite Microsoft’s plans to acquire the company’s handset business. It’s now unclear whether Nokia will release the handset before the Microsoft deal is finalized, or whether Microsoft will continue will the plans for the device.
LG takes on the Nexus 7 with an 8-inch Google Play Edition tablet
LG’s Nexus 5 smartphone made quite the splash, and now the Korean electronics manufacturer is back for more. For the same $349 you’d spend on the phone, you can now buy the LG G Pad 8.3 Google Play Edition tablet. As you’d expect from the name, it’s a tablet with stock Android 4.4, serving up KitKat on a 8.3-inch 1920 x 1200 Full HD IPS display with rather thin bezels. That “8.3” number doesn’t just refer to the screen size, though, but also the fact that the tablet is just 8.3mm thick.
In this review of the Nexus 5, I will attempt to answer one simple question: is Google capable of making a flagship, best-in-class smartphone it can sell for $349 off-contract? And I don’t just mean a nice, okay, swell, good, decent, better-than-the-last-one phone. I mean a phone that stacks up against the iPhone 5S, Galaxy S4, HTC One, or Lumia 1020. A phone that people want to buy. A phone that can win hearts and minds.
I’m asking this question because I believe Google is asking the same one. The Nexus line of phones may have just started as developer editions, or platforms for the latest version of Android, but unless Google’s marketing department and PR team are reading from different sheet music, it seems like Google wants its Nexus phones to be the kind of consumer facing devices that its Nexus 7 tablet clearly is.
And why shouldn’t it be? The Nexus 5 is stacked in the hardware department, touts a handful of future-facing improvements, and most importantly runs the latest version of Android — a visual and functional upgrade called KitKat (or 4.4, if you love numbers). It’s a big deal.
Google clearly wants you to see the Nexus 5 as the ultimate Android device. Hell, that’s what they’ll tell you if you ask them. This is supposed to be the best the platform can offer. The best hardware combined with the best software. But is it?
Does the smartphone of the future have a curved screen?
What if screens didn’t have to be flat? It’s a question designers and engineers have been asking for years as they imagined tablets you could roll up like a newspaper, or mocked-up smartwatches that were just screens coiled around our wrists. Displays could be even larger while devices shrank; they could be more durable and more flexible; they could even be on all four sides of a smartphone instead of just one. It would change how we think about screens, and how we interact with the devices we use every day.
While everyone dreamed, LG went to work and built its first-ever curved phone, the G Flex; it and the Samsung Galaxy Round are the only smartphones of their kind. The G Flex is a high-end smartphone in every way, but its 6-inch screen doesn’t lay flat — it bends. And it flexes.
Bendable, foldable, flexible screens have long hovered on the horizon; now, LG’s hoping that it can make them a reality. Is the sci-fi dream of a moldable display about to come true?
Android 4.4.1 is coming to help you take better pictures
Only a few years ago, Dave Burke remembers, cellphone users were just happy to have a camera at all. But expectations have changed. “If you have a smartphone, people want it to take pictures like a DSLR. Even in one year the quality bar and expectation bar has gone up higher and higher. Internally, ours have too. I think we can do better, and we are.”
As he says this, Burke, Google’s Director of Engineering for Android, is walking through all the changes Google has made to the Nexus 5’s camera in the five weeks since the phone hit the market. The fruits of the Android team’s efforts is Android 4.4.1, the update rolling out over the next few days that is designed to fix the buggy, inconsistent camera on what is otherwise one of the best Android phones on the market.
FIXING AUTOFOCUS FIXES A NUMBER OF OTHER PROBLEMS, TOO
But the HP Chromebook 14 doesn’t come in black, so I was left with no choice but to buy the gadget that first caught my eye — a big, gaudy, matte pink notebook. It’s the biggest, loudest Chromebook yet, and at $299 it’s a remarkably affordable device for what it offers: a big 14-inch screen, a brand-new Intel processor, and all the ports and options you might not expect from a Chromebook.
Chrome OS is having a moment. Manufacturers around the world are starting to make Chromebooks, and many have promised to bring them out of the bargain basement. A Chromebook could soon become a truly viable notebook, and not just a living room companion or your family’s fourth laptop. On paper, the HP Chromebook 14 is the best attempt yet — not to mention the most colorful.
I bought a pink laptop. It’s part computer, part decoration. Part the future?
Instagram for Windows Phone is finally arriving today. Nokia pressured Instagram enough to convince the photo sharing service to develop an app for Microsoft’s mobile OS, and it launches in the Windows Phone Store today. While a number of Windows Phone users have been taking advantage of unofficial Instagram apps on the platform for a while, today’s release is a significant one for Microsoft’s mobile efforts. Instagram recently reached 150 million active users, and official support for Windows Phone will undoubtedly open up device sales to a new market.
INSTAGRAM PROMISES IT’S NOT FINISHED YET
Instagram’s Windows Phone app includes all the usual photo filters found on its iOS and Android versions, but it’s missing one big feature: video uploading. The lack of video is an odd omission given the increasing popularity of sharing video on the service. “We’re not finished, and our team will continue developing the Windows Phone app to keep releasing features and bringing you the best Instagram possible,” says an Instagram spokesperson. Other missing features include the inability to tag people in photos or view maps from geotagged photos. If you’re tagged in a photo, you’ll still be able to untag yourself and view other people’s tags through the Windows Phone app.