Mobile Tech Manor #105: Galaxy Tab Thoughts

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Mobile Tech Manor (MTM) is the home office where I cover the world of mobile technology, and it’s an active scene of gadgets and apps. This column is my look back at the week and my outlet to share observations and lessons learned about the tech that crossed my path. No new gadgets arrived at the Manor this week, but I spent some time thinking about one I hope will cross my path. I also returned to my roots as far as Android is concerned. Get comfortable, and I will share the week with you.

Gadget of the Week

The week was one of those rare ones in the Manor as no gadgets arrived for poking and prodding. The lack of new arrivals gave me much-needed time to think about the gadget space and especially about what upcoming devices are exciting me. This thought process kept leading me back to the one gadget that I find really appealing — the Samsung Galaxy Tab.

The Tab has several things going for it that I think set it apart from the crowd of Android tablets. Primarily, I think the 7-inch form is a good fit for maximum portability, while bringing more utility than smaller smartphones can offer. It’s designed for easy use in the hand, and that’s an advantage over the larger iPad. The build quality seems to rival that of the iPad, and the work on key apps Samsung has done to make them better fit the screen, which is larger than that on phones, rounds out the offering. I’m looking forward to using a Tab first-hand, and will probably be buying one.

Sadly, the Tab is the only Android tablet I have been scoping out that appeals to me. Other tablets the same size don’t seem to be as well constructed as the Tab, and the larger ones don’t really compete with the iPad that I already own. It’s obvious Samsung has concentrated design efforts into making the Tab a slick device that works as well as the iPad, but other tablets haven’t been given that same attention to detail, with companies choosing low cost as the main feature.

I don’t think that indicates as bright a future for Android tablets as I originally thought. Cheap tablets are going to be quickly exposed in consumer’s hands, and the user experience is going to fall short with constant use, and that will yield impressions with consumers that Android tablets are not nearly as good as the iPad. That will be a big obstacle for successful market penetration, and companies rushing to get them to the market will not be profitable. That’s the ultimate failure for a class of mobile devices.

The Galaxy Tab goes a long way to seriously compete with the iPad, but it’s not going to be cheap. It’s not clear how consumers will react to a good iPad competitor that costs roughly as much as the offering from Apple. Since it’s unlikely to be significantly cheaper than the iPad, the Tab will have to compete on quality, advertising and utility, and that may not be enough to take iPad sales away from Apple.

I do think Samsung will sell a lot of Tabs, but probably not enough to establish the Android tablet as a viable commercial competitor for Apple. Having seen the component breakdowns of both the Tab and the iPad, it doesn’t seem likely that Samsung will be able to do much with the pricing of its tablet and remain profitable. The iPad is firmly entrenched in the consumer tablet market, and Samsung may find that a formidable obstacle to consumer acceptance. It is going to be an interesting competition to watch as the Tab starts hitting the market in numbers. If any Android tablet has all of the pieces in place to compete with the iPad, the Tab sure does.

Apps of the Week

I spend a lot of time testing apps on all of the devices I use regularly. The low cost of most apps, coupled with the utility they can bring to the usage of a given device is an appealing combination. One of the apps I spent time with this week isn’t even an app. Google rolled out Instant Search for mobile, and I’ve been using it a lot this week. It was announced on Thursday of this week, but it had quietly shown up on my EVO 4G a few days prior to the rollout. My experience with it on the Android smartphone is mostly good, but not entirely.

In a nutshell, Instant Search starts presenting search terms that Google predicts you might be entering as soon as you start typing the term. As each letter in the term is entered, Google refines its prediction of what search phrase you are likely entering. A drop-down list of these terms gets refined with each letter entered, and it’s usually pretty accurate at guessing what you mean before you type the entire term. I’ve been using it to great effect on the desktop, and while it seems logical it would be even more useful on my Android phone with its more difficult text entry, I found that’s not necessarily the case.

Mobile phones, especially Android phones, have a choice of onscreen keyboards. Many of these touch keyboards have very good predictive text, where they guess what word the user is typing as each letter is entered. If it sounds a lot like Google’s Instant Search, that’s because it is. Because these keyboards with predictive text are so good, many users have been taking advantage of this method even before the appearance of Instant Search.

This means Instant Search isn’t a big game-changer on mobile like it is on the desktop. In my usage of Instant Search on my EVO, I find the keyboard’s predictive text entry butts up against Google’s Instant Search entry. It can be distracting looking at both the predictive text results from the keyboard and the Instant Search results in the drop-down list at the same time. Throw in the fact that the phone’s onscreen keyboard often covers up much of the Instant Search drop-down list, and you get a lessening benefit to the search. It’s surprising that the platform that should stand the most to gain from the Instant Search method doesn’t due to the technology already on the phone.

When I wasn’t playing with Instant Search on my EVO 4G, I was experimenting with a return to my HTC Sense roots. I love to customize the way my smartphones work, and I had done that on the EVO. I’ve used third-party widgets and apps to replace a lot of the functionality inherent in the Sense interface, primarily to build a “look and feel” to the phone that was more appealing to me. This has worked well, but this week, I decided to go back to the stock Sense interface to see what I was missing.

It surprised me to find the Sense interface to be more efficient, less trouble during use and even gentler on battery life. I also found what I knew, but had forgotten: I genuinely like the way Sense looks and works during daily use. I may not leave Sense running things forever  (I am fickle that way after all), but for now, I’m quite happy with my HTC Sense phone.

E-books of the Week

This week found me revisiting the world of Peter F. Hamilton’s Void Trilogy. I finished The Dreaming Void and started The Temporal Void, the second in the series. I love Hamilton’s view of technology in the future, and how he has worlds without much technology living side-by-side with those that do. It is an enjoyable story and highly recommended.

Wrap-up

Thanks for sharing my week, and I hope you found something to take away and help you in your own world. Who knows? Maybe a Galaxy Tab will be hitting Mobile Tech Manor before long.

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