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

android-this-week

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, AT&T, 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┬áTegra 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.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_P7Yap2WJnY]

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