Mobile Tech Manor #107: Apps and Things

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. The Samsung Galaxy Tab arrived, and I gained an appreciation of the 7-inch form factor that Steve Jobs doesn’t share. I got a fast web browser and played with lots of apps this week.

Gadgets of the Week

The gadget capturing most of my attention this week was the Samsung Galaxy Tab, sent by Verizon (s vz). The 7-inch Android (s goog) tablet is now available from most major carriers in the U.S., and in many other countries. The more time I spent using the Tab, the more I came to appreciate its strength: maximum portability.

Reviewers have been quick to complain that the Galaxy Tab is just a big smartphone, given its Galaxy S phone roots. They are correct, but I think that’s a major benefit of the Tab. It’s possible to use the little tablet for extended periods in the hand, something that’s not comfortable with the larger iPad (s aapl). For this reason alone, the Tab has become my e-book reader of choice, as the Kindle (s amzn) app works well on the 7-inch screen.

The Tab also shines as a web tablet, as everything you can do on an Android phone you can do better on the Tab. Browsing the web is downright enjoyable, and the large number of apps in the Android Market offer a lot of options for just about every function. Twidroyd Pro on the Galaxy Tab may be the best app on any mobile device smaller than the iPad. The larger screen gives developers a good palette to work with to create their magic.

I get asked frequently if the Tab runs Angry Birds, and it certainly does. The big screen is a delight for playing the game, and the light Tab can be held comfortably for those long, long sessions. If you are addicted to Angry Birds, the game might be reason enough to get a Tab of your own.

I need to give an update on using the Powermat Wireless Charger for the EVO 4G. This week I had to quit using the Powermat due to a problem that cropped up with the USB hub on the phone back. This hub plugs into the charging port on the phone, and it must be unplugged to open the EVO for any reason. The hub is tethered to the special phone back, and you slide it out of the mount, open the EVO, and then slide it back in to reconnect it for charging.

Unfortunately, I found that after you do that a few times to change the battery or access the microSD card, the hub stops making electrical contact with the internal components in the phone back door. When this happens, the phone won’t charge when sitting on the mat, which defeats the whole purpose of the Powermat. This happened to me on the day I bought it at Best Buy, requiring a return trip to exchange it for this second unit. I believe it’s a design flaw that appears over time, since I’ve used two different units and both developed the problem. So the Powermat is in the dead gadget drawer in my office for now.

Apps of the Week

I’ve been playing with apps more than usual this week, due to the arrival of the Galaxy Tab. Most of the apps I’ve been using are on the Android platform, except for one. Apple updated the Safari browser, and it’s now faster on the Mac than Google Chrome. I’ve been using Chrome for months due to its speed of operation, but Safari now blows it away. It’s time to give it a try if you haven’t used it for while.

The Android app of the week is a simple utility I’ve been using on both the EVO 4G and the Galaxy Tab. Screebl Pro monitors the tilt of the Android device to determine if it is being used in the hand, and when it’s not, such as sitting on a table, it shuts the screen off quickly to save battery consumption. When it senses the device is in the hand being used, it keeps the screen lit up to facilitate its use. The tilt parameters can be easily customized with a slider that graphically indicates the tilting of the device. The backlit screen on any device is one of the biggest battery drains, and Screebl Pro makes it automatic to shut off the screen when the phone isn’t being used. There’s a free version of the app, but at $1.99, I find the Pro version to be a good value.

The Galaxy Tab’s high resolution (1024×600) display led me to question if standard Android apps work properly on the big screen. I’ve tried dozens of apps, and have yet to find one that doesn’t display well on the Tab. Some phone apps are marvelous on the bigger screen — Dolphin Browser HD, Pocket Informant, Twidroyd Pro, Kindle app and Tweetdeck to name a few. And don’t forget Angry Birds.

E-book of the Week

This week, I’ve been finishing up the Void Trilogy covered in previous weeks, and starting a new Stephen King book. The King book, Full Dark, No Stars is a collection of short stories as only King can write. I’ve only just started it, but can tell I’m going to enjoy it a great deal.

How I found out about the King book is a testament to how well the Android platform works in unexpected ways. I was using Twidroyd Pro on the Galaxy Tab and spotted a tweet from Dwight Silverman of the Houston Chronicle. He reviewed the book for the Chronicle and tweeted about it, complete with a link to the review. I clicked the link in Twidroyd and read his review. Liking what I saw, I opened the Kindle app on the Tab and searched for the King book. A one-click purchase later, I had downloaded the book to the Kindle app and was reading it. I went from Dwight’s tweet to reading a new book in less than five minutes. Amazon has built this ecosystem well.

Wrap-up

I am taking a vacation next week, so there will probably not be a column next Friday. Who knows though, if I run across something exciting during the week off I may pen a short one. Have a great holiday week (those of you who celebrate Thanksgiving); be safe no matter where you live.

I am having surgery the week after next, but I should only be out a couple of days. I expect to get the MTM column done so if not next week, see you the week after.