Posts tagged verizon wireless
Whether you are aware of it or not, and completely regardless of whether or not you believe it, the Motorola Droid on Verizon Wireless saved Android. More accurately, it saved Andy Rubin, or at least his job, after the G1 underwhelmed and failed to impress many. It’s release, coupled with the release of Android 2.0, launched Android into the foreground of the tech community, encouraging manufacturers, developers, and eventually users to flock to the OS. I can’t help, despite how important a contribution the Droid moniker and device was to “the cause” if it’s still necessary. Android has seen explosive growth since the Droid, and not just on Verizon. Carriers all over the world can lay claim to a sizeable Android army on their networks, yet easily 45% of the time I explain to a new user that I have an Android phone, the response is similar. “Oh, so that’s a Droid phone?”
Don’t get me wrong, it was brilliant on behalf of Verizon’s then brand new marketing company to come up with the idea. The “Anti-iPhone” vibe that really took root after that was really something to watch grow. Plus, like it or not, the “Droid Does” campaign carried a fanatical wave of loyalty to all devices. During a recent interview, actor David Della Rocco was heard talking about his “Fender Phone”, a MyTouch Fender edition, lead him into the quote “Fender DOES” during the interview. There’s no arguing it’s effectiveness not just for Verizon, but for the entire Android ecosystem. I am starting to think, however, that it might be time to hang that particular bit of culture up for the betterment of the platform.
Over the last couple of months I have seen an incredible increase in Android marketing that includes the little green guy. Sprint, who has consistently used a 3D Andy in their commercials, has been routinely using him as the focal point to their commercials. Sony, during the SuperBowl, stitched thumbs onto him in the basement of some third world city for the Xperia Play. Kyocera and Motorola both have put employees in Android costumes for their device launches, and let’s not forget the Motorola Xoom. The initial activation of a Xoom is simply covered in wireframe Andy iconography. When you hear a Droid commercial, Android is listed as a feature, as though at some point there would be a Droid that isn’t running an Android OS. When you look at the marketing, it’s difficult for consumers to tell that these devices are supposed to be similar.
It’s obvious that Verizon has no plans to retire the Droid franchise. In fact, there is quite the wave of Android phones with the Droid brand headed to Big Red, including a first ever Samsung phone. While it’s not entirely a bad thing, especially considering Verizon’s plan to not include Bing on their Droid branded phones, there’s no doubt that there are plenty of consumers who see Android phones and Droid phones as being completely different. Is Verizon the only guilty party here? Of course not. In many ways the same could be said of T-Mobile’s MyTouch line, and at least Verizon doesn’t go as far as to include a special button on their phones. There’s little comparison in terms of popularity between the two brands, as obviously the Droid line has seen a much larger number of activations. It may be that Verizon is simply the biggest kid on the playground when it comes to branding Android, but no matter how fair you think it may be the biggest kid in this case is also getting the most attention.
So, is the attention good for Android? In terms of activations, it’s terrific. I am more than sure that Verizon contributes quite a bit to the 350,000 handsets that are activated each day across the world. However, as things start to even out, as the Smartphone market begins to cool down, and it will eventually cool down, it’s lines in the sand like Droid that will blur the landscape for users considering leaving another platform.
The LG Ally, at first glance, doesn’t look like a stand-out device. In fact, it looks like a lot of other handsets out there: a touchscreen taking up the majority of space, with a few buttons at the bottom for good measure. Pretty standard stuff. Sure, there’s a landscape, physical slide-out keyboard underneath, and that does add a bit of differentiation to the mix (especially with this increase in touch-based only Android handsets), but is it enough to make the LG Ally stand-out amongst the increasing crowd? Or does the LG Ally fall flat in its hopes to shine?
+Well made phone
+Good battery life
+Decent camera with macro mode
+Decent hardware in the phone itself for gaming etc
+Good call quality
-Built in speaker not that good
-Slows down at the oddest of times
-Big and rather heavy
The Ally is a solid midrange Android smartphone for Verizon subscribers needing a hardware QWERTY keyboard, but power users should pony up the extra cash for the HTC Droid Incredible.
Obviously, one of the first things you consider when getting a new phone, is how it looks. You don’t necessarily want a beast of a phone to show off to your friends (unless you’re into that kind of thing, of course), and we can safely say that the LG Ally, while hefty in its own right, isn’t all that unattractive. Looking at it head-on, the only thing that might detract from its aesthetic appeal, is the obvious difference between the physical buttons, and the touch-sensitive versions right above them. If you’re accustomed to Android, then the button layout itself will seem a bit unorthodox; but after you get used to it, the layout isn’t all that bad. From right to left, you have the End Call button, the Menu button, the Home key, and finally the Call/Answer button. Above these, you have the touch-sensitive activators, which are Search and Back. Not that different, but just different enough to throw a wrench in any user already familiar with Android handsets.
The 3.2-inch touchscreen itself feels like a large slab of plastic, more so than its Android competitors, but we didn’t find that it missed any touch inputs, and it was as responsive as we would have liked. However, with LG’s decision to go with WVGA resolution on a 3.2-inch screen, we can’t jump on board. We never thought we’d say that there’s too many pixels on our phone’s display, but LG have definitely made the argument possible. Truth be told, on a screen anywhere less than 3.5-inches, HVGA would have been a perfect fit.
Along the sides, you’ve got the standard features. On the left side, you have the micro-USB charger, and the volume rocker. Along the top there’s just the 3.5mm audio jack. On the right side, there’s the MicroSD card slot, and the physical camera button, which is a sight for sore eyes. And finally, there’s nothing on the bottom. The handset itself is simple, black, and gets right to the point. It’s very reminiscent of other “heavy duty” LG handsets out there, and every time we held it in our hands, we knew that this handset could definitely survive the day-to-day rigors of life.
On the back of the Ally, you’ll find a 3.2MP camera with a flash. It has the ability to auto-focus, and you can also capture video with it. Our test runs with the camera were pretty positive, but we’ll cover that here in a little while. There’s nothing else on the back, with the exception of the standard branding from Verizon, LG, and Google. All in all, LG makes their point with the LG Ally very clear: here’s a phone that may not win the next award for good looks, but it’s constructed well and feels solid in the hands.
Also on the back, near the bottom, you’ll find the loudspeaker. And, when we say that this thing is loud, we mean that it’s loud. We actually had to refrain from putting the volume level all the way up, for fear that we’d blow the embedded speaker. This is one of the first times, in all honesty, that we were wholeheartedly pleased with a loudspeaker in a handset. It just works, and it does it very well.
As for the earpiece, it does an admirable job in of itself. However, through our varied test calls, people on the other end did sound a bit muddied. However, due to our location, that could have been anything: network connection, the other caller, or our phone. We tried a few calls from Google Voice as well, but the situation didn’t change. Though, if you’re a frequent caller on your phone, we wouldn’t say that this should keep you from getting the phone, as it was never all that bad.
The slider feels remarkably good. We were surprised at how many times we could slide it open and closed, and still feel like, over the course of two years, it wouldn’t lose any of its effectiveness. As for the keyboard underneath, this is yet again another department that LG surprised us. In a good way. It’s a huge, responsive, and comfortable keyboard. It has an expansive four-rows, meaning your number keys are dedicated and don’t need any kind of secondary feature, and each key is separate from one another. There’s a four-way D-pad, with the OK button placed in the center of it. And right above that there’s dedicated buttons for Home and Menu. Typing on the keyboard went rather well, but it still could have been a bit better over a long period of time. It has nice travel and response time with the letter input on the screen. Hands down, the keyboard is definitely one of the defining features of the Ally, and if you are a fan of physical keyboards, this one puts the Motorola Droid to shame.
The physical parts of the LG Ally are either going to attract new customers, or push them away. It’s heavy in the hand, and has an industrial look and feel to it that, when compared to devices like the HTC Incredible or Droid Eris (both of which are available for Verizon Wireless, hence the comparison) makes its lack of “sex appeal” something that customers will think about. In our case, we’re fans of the way LG put the Ally together, and believe that the extra weight in our hands goes a long way to show that the phone is well made, even if it’s just a psychological thing. Plus, the keyboard is too good to pass up, frankly.
Design, Call Quality, and Apps
This phone is on the chunkier side, though its rounded edges make it look a little smaller than it actually is. It measures 4.6 by 2.2 by 0.6 inches and weighs a hefty 5.6 ounces. The Ally’s 3.2-inch, glass capacitive, 480-by-800-pixel touch screen is bright and sharp. But it’s smaller than HTC Droid Incredible’s (3.7 inches) and Motorola Droid’s (3.6 inches) screens. Four function keys and two touch keys sit below the screen. The roomy four-row QWERTY keyboard is one of the best I’ve tried recently, with an intelligent layout and chunky, raised keys that felt good to type on. The keys are curved ever so slightly inward toward the center of the keyboard, and I appreciated the generously sized function keys and the big five-way control pad. The number keys run along the top, rather than in a square; that one is a matter of personal taste.
The Ally is a dual-band EV-DO Rev A (850/1900 MHz) device, and it includes 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi—one of the first handsets with 802.11n in the U.S. This is one great sounding phone; voices sounded clear, full, and loud in both directions. Callers said I sounded clearer and punchier than on several other Verizon handsets. Calls also sounded good through an Aliph Jawbone Icon ($99, ) Bluetooth headset. The scratchy-sounding speakerphone was still easily loud enough for outdoor use. Voice dialing worked over Bluetooth, but the Ally’s Voice Dialer app was horribly inaccurate. Reception was average. Battery life was quite good at 6 hours and 15 minutes of talk time.
The Ally’s Android 2.1 OS has been moderately hacked by LG. That means it’s yet another fragmented build that could pose problems down the line with third-party app compatibility and factory OS updates; at least it’s current now, though. You get five customizable home screens, plus a 3D app launcher and LG Socialite, a social network aggregator that delivers Facebook and Twitter updates. The device struggled to keep up with swipes between all of these. The 600 MHz Qualcomm MSM7227 CPU simply wasn’t fast enough; even dialing numbers on the touch screen felt sluggish.
On the plus side, the Ally works with over 38,000 apps in Android Market, including those requiring Android 2.0 or greater. It also offers free Google Maps Navigation for voice-enabled, turn-by-turn GPS directions, and you can control just about any aspect of the system by voice.
Truth be told, we were completely blown away by the battery on our first day with the LG Ally. But, unfortunately, not in a good way. We charged it up completely, and then left it alone for an entire day. We had the standard things running in the background: email, Twitter, and Gmail. When we checked it again, about eight hours later, the battery was completely dead. Now, while that may sound great for anyone looking at it from the hours perspective, we ask you to keep in mind that we weren’t using the phone. That means no voice calls, no texts, and not actually responding or checking those emails. The phone was simply pulling info. Not good at all.
And yet, it seemed to fix itself over the following days. We were using the phone easily enough throughout the day, with several texts, Google Talk messages, and other Instant Messaging client messages sent, with plenty of emails, Gmail messages, and Twitter messages sent out. With all of that going, we clocked the battery at anywhere between 5 to 8 hours, which should mean that the average user should be able to squeak out a little bit longer than that. Of course, with Android 2.1, you’re able to see what exactly is pulling the power from your battery, and adjust your settings accordingly, which, honestly, we recommend.
Also worth mentioning, is how long it takes to charge the battery. If you’re like us, then you’ve got your phone plugged into the USB port on your computer more often than not. We do not recommend you charge your phone like this. Especially not the LG Ally. It takes forever. Now, charging it from the standard AC outlet takes a bit of time, too, but it’s nowhere near the length it does from the USB port. And yes, that’s from a USB 2.0 port, as well as a non-USB 2.0 port.
Multimedia, Camera, and Conclusions
LG throws in a 4GB microSD card; my 16GB SanDisk card worked fine in the side-mounted slot. There’s also 126MB of free internal storage. The top-mounted headphone jack accepts standard-size 3.5mm plugs. Music tracks sounded smooth and crisp over Motorola MotoROKR S9-HD ($129.99, ) Bluetooth headphones. The music player displays large album art thumbnails. WMV, 3GP, and MP4 videos played smoothly in full screen mode.
The 3.2-megapixel auto-focus camera includes an LED flash. Test photos looked very sharp, with good color and fast shutter speeds even with the auto-focus enabled. Recorded 640-by-480-pixel videos played back smoothly at 26 frames per second. Both photos and videos looked balanced as long as there was enough light outdoors and indoors. Inky black splotches dominated indoor photos and videos. The phone indexes photos and videos in a beautiful 3D gallery that responds to the accelerometer as well as finger swipes.
All told, the Ally is a good choice for a less expensive Verizon smartphone. But given the high price of Verizon’s monthly contracts, it pays to look at more than just the up-front prices. The HTC Droid Incredible includes a much faster 1GHz Snapdragon processor, HTC’s beautiful Sense UI, a screen that’s half an inch larger, and an 8-megapixel camera, although it drops the slide-out QWERTY keyboard. The Motorola Droid keeps the keyboard (although the Ally’s keyboard is better) and offers faster performance (including Adobe Flash, in the future) with its Cortex-A8 processor. Both phones are more expensive than the Ally, but not by all that much.
We’ll just come right out and say it: this won’t replace your current digital camera, and if you’re looking for a method to combine your phone and camera, the LG Ally is not going to be your gadget of choice. Yes, we know there’s only a 3.2MP camera on the back, but we’ve taken better pictures with other 3MP camera-phones. And, honestly, it doesn’t get any simpler than that. It does feature auto-focus, video capture, and it has an LED flash, so that may be good enough for some people. And, in fact, the LED flash did well as an actual flash, and in the autofocus assistance department. But, images came out without definition, and more often than not, splotchy and blurry. Shutter speed, when worked in conjunction with the two-stage hardware camera button, is not too bad, but you should wait for the autofocus to kick in, if you want any kind of semblance of a decent picture. There are 8 effects to choose from, a dedicated macro mode, white balance which can be configured, and ISO. But, none of those mattered after awhile, as we just didn’t want to take anymore photos with it.
The LG Ally is not a bad choice is you’re looking for a mid-level Android based phone, the hardware is sufficient to keep the lag down to a minimum to none at most times and you won’t have any issues with video or gaming usually. The Ally has a nice large, high resolution screen on it, something that you’ll see on higher end phones, and it’s a welcome addition to this phone really.
When using the Ally it might fell and look like a high end phone, but you’ll find that it isn’t in that there are time where it will slow down, especially at odd times like just swiping back and forth. The processor is only a 600Mhz one, but it amazes me that gaming and video can be so smooth but yet something so simple as sliding back and forth can slow everything down.
The keyboard on the Ally is one of the nicest I’ve used and the screen is just beautiful truly.
The phone is big, and rather heavy, but I like that in a phone, some of you won’t though I’m sure.
n>All in all though the LG Ally is a welcome, low-priced addition to the Verizon and Android line of phones.
The Motorola Xoom, is the first android 3.0 tablet to hit the market, we already gone through our first hardware impression of the device, you can read it here. But I can tell you I do like the hardware is solid overall and worth complement to the OS. So what makes the Xoom different from other tablet and what sets it apart. Two things, its the first Android 3.0 Tablet, so it sets the standard for other to follow, and a good one at that . A solid camera hardware finish feel good, device as a sturdy feel in the hands, the ability to stream video out via a HDMI out port. Secondly Android 3.0 has really taken a big step into the Tablet arena.
They say specs aren’t everything, but the XOOM’s hardware is powerful enough to make any tech geek drool:
- 10.1-inch 16:10 WXGA (1280×800) LCD display
- 2MP webcam
- 5MP rear cam capable of recording 720p HD video
- 1GHz dual-core NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor
- Stock Android 3.0 (Honeycomb)
- 1GB DDR2 RAM
- 32GB internal storage
- 3250 mAh 24.1 watt-hour lithium ion polymer battery
- WiFi 802.11b/g/n
- EVDO Rev. A radio upgradeable to LTE
And now that your interest has been piqued, I present to you the short, "in a nutshell" version of the review:
Pros & Cons
- Honeycomb’s UI is stunning. Stunning.
- Honeycomb apps are miles ahead of their mobile counterparts in terms of both functionality and interface
- Full HDMI capabilities
- Powerful dual-core CPU and 1 GB of RAM provide all the power you could ever want (and then some)
- Beautiful 10.1-inch display
- Steep $600 on-contract / $800 off-contract price tag
- No Flash at launch
- No LTE out of the gate; upgrade won’t be available for about 90 days and will take 6 business days to complete
- SD card functionality not yet available
- Honeycomb apps are few and far between (at least for now)
Motorola’s XOOM is a large tablet with a wide-screen 10.1-inch touchscreen display. The display offers a 16:10 aspect ratio and 1280 x 800 pixel resolution, which is great, but it lacks the brightness, color saturation, and overall visual appeal of the display found on its arch-rival, the iPad. It is entirely passable, but it just doesn’t offer much in terms of wow factor.
The rest of the hardware, however, is pretty solid. It is very well constructed and feels comfortable to hold. Some people might complain about the power button that sits on the back of the device, but I find its position to be natural when the XOOM is held in landscape mode. The rear facing speakers, however, are a problem. They don’t sound great to start with and supply sound better to everybody else in the room than to the XOOM’s user. That’s a design error. The 3.5mm headphone jack sits on the top edge of the XOOM, which I also feel is a poor choice.
When viewing the device in landscape mode, the power port, micro-USB data port, and micro-HDMI port are located on the bottom edge, where they can connect to the two different dock accessories that Motorola offers. It’s annoying that the XOOM uses a non-standard charger, but Samsung’s Galaxy Tab is the same way.
The rear cover of the XOOM is not user removable, so there is no access to the battery. It features a matte finish that looks nice, but shows more finger prints than would a more typical soft-touch paint. The 5 megapixel camera and its dual-LED flash sit near the power button and the speakers. The layout works as well as could be expected, but the truth is that a huge tablet is not a good device for snapping photos or videos. The 2 megapixel camera that sits on the front of the device is perfectly placed for video chatting, though.
Apart from the volume keys on the left edge of the device, there are no other external controls. Unlike the smartphone version of Android, the main controls for things like back and home are on-screen, not dedicated hardware or touch sensitive buttons.
There are two as-yet unused hardware features on the Motorola XOOM. Under one cover on the top edge of the device sit the microSD memory card slot and the SIM card slot for LTE 4G data support. The microSD memory card is not usable at this time, but will be enabled in a future OS update. The free upgrade to LTE 4G data support will require a trip back to Motorola, and will take over a week for most people when you include shipping time, but won’t require any change of data plan or additional monthly fees.
Since I have them at my disposal, I’ll touch on the accessories that can be bought to work with the XOOM. There are two docks available, as I alluded to earlier. The smaller dock offers charging and an auxiliary 3.5mm audio jack, the larger features a built-in speaker, charging, and a micro-HDMI cable pass-through. The larger model also requires a different charger for some unfathomable reason. The built-in speakers in the HDMI model are not great, but better than those in the XOOM itself. The last accessory is the Bluetooth keyboard that I am using to type this review. It has great key feel, and I can’t imagine not using it now, but it (or the OS) often suffers from a stuck key problem during prolonged use.
Though it may not have the viewing angles of the iPad’s IPS display, the XOOM definitely holds its own when it comes to the all-important screen. As can be seen from the photo above, the 10.1-inch LCD’s 1280×800 WXGA resolution looks really crisp, and colors are vibrant and bright, just the way I like it.
I’d argue that the real story with the XOOM’s display isn’t its quality, however; what’s most important here is the 16:10 aspect ratio. And I, for one, found the widescreen form factor much more comfortable to use (as opposed to the 4:3 ratio found on tablets like the iPad) – as a result of this ratio, the keyboard is a lot broader, allowing for a much more pleasant typing experience. Similarly, HD movies look marvelous on the XOOM – unlike Apple’s slate, the bars across the top and bottom of the screen are nearly nonexistent. And games? Well, have a look:
The one downside of the super-wide shape is that it makes the XOOM look even worse in portrait mode. I suspect this is why Steve Jobs and co. decided to go with the rather squarish design of the iPad – when you turn the XOOM on its side, you find a strangely and ridiculously tall device.
Aspect ratios aside, I think the XOOM’s display is among the best you’ll find on any tablet, and I wouldn’t hesitate to call 10 inches the perfect size for a tablet (though I’m sure some of you will beg to differ).
When it comes to the new Android 3.0 Honeycomb OS, you can forget most everything you know about Android’s user experience. Having been designed from the ground up for tablets, almost nothing in Honeycomb is the same as on smartphones. In my opinion Google did a good job of designing the basic user interface in Honeycomb, on a macro scale, but failed to get a lot of the finer points right.
Let’s start with the new home screen, which I like. Users can swipe from one screen to the next with ease, and each screen can be configured with shortcuts, widgets, and wallpapers. That works. The main menu leaves me unimpressed, though. Sure there are multiple panels that users can swipe between, but you can’t re-order them or group them. Google had the chance to step up here, and once again failed to do so, leaving the task to the manufacturers to implement in future models that will have customized UIs. I do like that there is a separate tab that shows only user-installed apps, and appreciate that apps can be uninstalled by dragging them from the main menu to the trashcan. Newly installed will automatically show up on the home screen as a shortcut, too. That much is progress, at least.
Now on to the main navigation controls. The back, home, task-switcher, and (sometimes) menu buttons sit in the lower left hand corner of the display. The icons could have been better designed, in my opinion, but once you know what they are, they work. I dislike the fact that the menu button only appears some of the time, depending on the app. Some apps built for tablets use only a new control in the upper right hand corner of the screen (which is easy to reach), some use both, and older smartphone apps only use the menu button. That inconsistency bothers me. Google could have handled that better.
I mostly like the new notification area, which is found in the bottom right hand corner of the screen. The curtain is gone, replaced with a list of notifications that are accessed by tapping on the digital clock. Doing so lists all of the notifications and some quick access functions. My complaints are that there is no way to clear all notifications at once (clearing a list of 20 can be torture) and that some of the quick access buttons require too many taps. You can adjust screen brightness or disable notifications easily enough, but turning Wi-Fi on or off requires 5 screen taps (if you count the required back button press). Samsung and others already handle this type of functionality better on smartphones, so Google should have known better.
When it comes to applications, though, things get really awkward. Part of the problem is that there are very few apps that have been optimized for Honeycomb tablets. Very few, indeed. Most smartphone apps run in full screen mode (but not all), but when they do, font sizes are often too small, input boxes and list items too wide, and things just generally feel out of proportion. When you do find a good tablet optimized application, though, you start to understand the platform’s potential. Unfortunately, that potential has yet to be realized, and probably won’t be for some time to come.
Another real issue with apps is that the XOOM’s Honeycomb OS is just doesn’t appear to provide a stable enough platform. Apps that run perfectly fine on any of the 100+ Android smartphone models that exist can be hugely unstable when running on Honeycomb. Even Google’s own apps like YouTube, Android Market, and the new Browser have crashed on me multiple times. I should also report that the home button has failed to work a few times (blank screen) and the task switcher button will sometimes show no running apps, only to change its mind when you tap on it again. Don’t let the 3.0 designation fool you, folks. This is very much a 1.0 operating system release, and you will be reminded of that often.
Apps / App Store
The real downfall of Android 3.0 Honeycomb so far is application support. Not only are there fewer than two dozen tablet specific titles available from the Android Market as I write this, but compatibility with older titles is somewhat spotty. While most of the over 100,000 applications found in the Android market will work in full screen mode, some do not, and those that do are often less than optimal, offering small on-screen controls and fonts, and overly large text input boxes. Then there is the issue with many of the applications crashing, which is likely part of the "1.0" effect of Honeycomb being, in many ways, a brand new OS.
Since the Motorola XOOM runs a stock install of Android 3.0, there are few non-Google apps pre-loaded on the tablet apart from standard personal organizer apps like the Calendar (which syncs with Exchange and Gmail accounts). Google Maps, Navigation, Places, and Books are all there, and a pair of games are pre-loaded as well (Corby and Dungeon Defenders). The games show off the XOOM’s dual-core processor’s abilities and are cool to watch, too. While new titles are being added daily, any early adopters expecting to have access to a wide assortment of tablet-specific apps are going to be sorely disappointed.
Considering the size of its ow-screen keyboard and of the screen in general, it is no real surprise that the Motorola XOOM is a pretty good messaging platform. There is no support for text or picture messaging, though. There is also no built-in support for social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter, but there is no shortage of free third party applications available to fill that void. The only instant messaging client loaded on the XOOM is Gtalk, which can be used not only for instant messaging but also for video chatting using the forward-facing camera. The quality, even over Wi-Fi, isn’t fantastic, but it is acceptable.
There are two pre-installed email applications on the XOOM. The first, Gmail, is a new multi-pane version of the popular and fully featured Gmail application seen on Android smartphones. Users are presented with nice views of the folders, message lists, and messages in a very organized and intuitive manner. On top of that, the Gmail client offers the features like Priority Inbox and threaded conversation views that users have come to expect from Gmail. The regular email app offers the same paned view as Gmail, and is equally nice to use, though it lacks some of the Gmail specific features I mentioned. Both offer full HTML email support with multi-touch zooming, which is a handy feature when you are working with a large, high-res display.
The web browser that ships with Android Honeycomb is quite different from the browser we find in Android smartphones. For starters, it offers true tabbed browsing, just as you would find on Google Chrome on the desktop. The Honeycomb browser even supports Chrome’s Incognito mode (for leaving no cookies or history of your browsing sessions) and will synchronize with Chrome’s bookmarks – even supporting bookmark folders. The new features are quite nice.
The browsing itself is generally quite fast and very accurate, but there are some glitches from time to time. Nothing huge, just some visual quirks during panning or zooming occasionally that clear themselves up. In the Labs section of the browsers settings you can enable an advanced UI mode that lets you drag browser controls onto the screen by swiping from the display’s edge – it’s pretty slick. The only real issue with the browser is that there is no Adobe Flash support yet. Adobe has said that we can expect proper Adobe Flash 10.2 support in a few weeks, though.
As mentioned in the ‘Display’ section, the XOOM’s widescreen display makes using the software keyboard a hell of a lot easier. But that’s not the only reason typing is such a pleasant experience on the tablet; Honeycomb’s keyboard is excellent in and of itself.
It provides squarish keys that closely mimic the ones on a physical keyboard, and you can long press any of them to bring up additional options like accented letters. The whole thing has a blue, Tron-ish theme that I quite appreciated, and I think even non-techie consumers will like it.
Of course, all the good looks in the world won’t help you if the keyboard isn’t easy to use, but I’m happy to report that Google’s really done a nice job here and made it very usable – in landscape mode, that is.
In portrait mode, typing is a nearly impossible task – it literally requires the slow and antiquated hunt-and-peck technique. Suffice to say, serious typists will either end up using the XOOM in landscape mode all the time or downloading a third-party keyboard from the Market.
Google has also made significant improvements on the cut-and-paste front. To bring up the menu seen in the photo above, simply double tap on some text. From there, you can drag the markers around to select the specific sentence, word, or paragraph you wish to cut / copy.
To paste, tap once in a text field, then tap on the marker that appears. This should bring up a ‘Paste’ button. Alternatively, you could follow the method for copying text, and if you already have something in the clipboard, you can simply tap the ‘Paste’ button next to ‘Copy.’
One other nice touch is that if you select text in the browser, you also have the option to share it, search the web for it, or find other uses of the word(s) on the page.
It’s all very well done, and I especially like how while selecting text, you can use multitouch to move both markers simultaneously.
Android 3.0 Honeycomb offers users an all-new music application. Navigation can be a little non-obvious at first, as is the case with many new tablet apps, but once you mess around with it for a short while, you understand what is going on. The app offers a very cool looking 3D rendered scrolling flow of album covers in the New and Recent section of the device, which I love, but offers nothing similarly interesting for the album, artist, playlist and other views that it offers. I don’t see why the cool interface should be restricted to that one section, especially one that I really have no use for.
At least the audio quality that the app and the XOOM put out is good. Good as long as you are using a decent pair of headphones, that is. The rear facing stereo speakers do an inadequate job of pushing out music to a room, as they sound very tinny and are facing the wrong way. Plugging the XOOM into the HDMI-capable speaker dock accessory changes the situation quite a bit for the better, though. I also want to mention that it is pretty easy to build playlists directly on the XOOM, and tracks can be rearranged with a simple drag of the finger.
Motorola doesn’t list the mAh rating for the battery in the XOOM, instead only offering that it is a 24.5 Watt-hour battery. Assuming that it uses the same voltage as Android smartphones (3.7v), then we can guess that the battery offers just over 6600mAh of power. In any case, Motorola claims the XOOM’s battery should be good for up to 9 hours of 3G web browsing, 10 hours of Wi-Fi web browsing, 3.3 days of music playback, 10 hours of video playback, or about 14 days of standby time.
In my experience, I can get a couple of days out of a full charge with my normal use, which involves mostly email and web browsing, but also some gaming. That’s good eough for me.
Alas, the XOOM and Android 3.0 still contain plenty of untapped potential, and until said potential is utilized, I can’t see an average consumer walking into a store and spending $799 for Moto’s tablet when he / she could pick up an equivalent iPad for $70 less. And honestly, I can’t see myself doing that either, as I’m confident that the XOOM’s price will soon drop (or other manufacturers will produce more affordable Honeycomb tablets), and it’s hard to find a compelling reason to spend $800 on a product purely because of its potential.
That said, Honeycomb is a great platform, and I can’t wait to see what developers will have done with it in a few months. Because in the long run, open always wins the race… even if it has a bit of a slow start.
When we first learned in 2007 that Verizon was going to be updating its network to 4G LTE, we’ve been wondering which smartphone would be the first to utilize it. Now it’s here: the HTC ThunderBolt. Without a doubt, the ThunderBolt is being advertized as the must-have device, with fast internet data speeds, a 4.3” display, and a 1GHz processor. Verizon is counting on early-adopters at this point; people not wanting to wait around for other 4G smartphones, such as the dual-core Motorola DROID BIONIC, LG Revolution, or the (un-named) Samsung 4G LTE smartphone with Super AMOLED Plus display. But there are already a few 4G devices out from other carriers, so let’s see if the ThunderBolt was worth the wait, as we dive into it.
Included in the retail box is the HTC ThunderBolt ADR6400 phone, 1400mAh battery, SanDisk 32GB Class 4 microSDHC memory card preinstalled, wall charger with detachable microUSB cable, and user guides.
HTC Thunderbolt Specifications:
- Dimensions: 4.8 x 2.6 x 0.52 inches (122 x 66 x 13.2 mm)
- Weight: 5.78 oz (164 g)
- Display: 4.3 inch WVGA TFT capacitive touchscreen display, 480 x 800 pixels
- Memory: 8 GB + 32 GB MicroSD
- OS: Android OS 2.2
- Processor: 1GHz MSM8655 Snapdragon
- Camera: 8 megapixel camera, 720p video recording, front facing 1.3 megapixel camera
- Connectivity: CDMA Dual Band (800/1900 Mhz)
- Data: 1xEV-DO rev.A, LTE
- Bluetooth: Bluetooth 2.1, Stereo Bluetooth
- GPS: GPS with A-GPS
- Battery: Li-Ion 1400 mAh
- 4G speeds are unbelievably fast – LTE is a game changer
- Big, beautiful SLCD display
- Outstanding build quality
- 40GB of storage out of the box (8GB internal storage + 32GB microSD card)
- Snappy performance all around
- Single-core processor that will likely be rendered obsolete very quickly
- Rather chunky design
- No fewer than 11 non-removable bloatware apps
- Costs a rather pricey $250 upfront
- Still running Froyo
Design and Display
For those familiar with the HTC Desire HD, the HTC Thunderbolt should look very familiar. In fact, it’d be safe to say that the HTC Thunderbolt is designed almost exactly like the HTC Desire HD. The biggest difference being that the HTC Thunderbolt can access Verizon’s new 4G LTE network.
Starting off the HTC Thunderbolt has a 4.3 inch WVGA TFT capacitive touchscreen display covering the front of the phone. Below the display are the usual set of Android shortcuts for menu, home, back and search. Up above is a small 1.3 inch megapixel front facing camera used for video chatting. Placed on the right is the volume rocker, opposite resides the microUSB, and on top the 3.5 mm headphone jack and power / lock button. The HTC Thunderbolt is rounded out on the back with an 8 megapixel camera and dual LED flash. Underneath, the camera on the back, is a small kickstand that can be lifted up from the back. It’s nicely designed and adds functionality to the HTC Thunderbolt.
The 4.3 inch display is decent and the viewing angle is fairly wide, however, compared to the likes of the Samsung Continuum on Verizon’s network, which utilizes Super AMOLED technology, it is a bit lacking. Also, with the likes of the iPhone and the soon to be released Motorola Droid Bionic on Verizon’s network, one has to wonder how well the HTC Thunderbolt will take off.
The Thunderbolt doesn’t buck the trend of packaging high-end phones in high-end boxes — put simply, it’s an elegant, sturdy, matte black cube encased in a black sleeve. Lots of black here, actually, which means you can’t see the name of the phone… but you can feel it. It’s embossed! Nice touch, the kind of thing that’ll make you want to put the packaging away in a closet or drawer somewhere rather than throwing it away. The black theme is broken in rather spectacular fashion when you crack open the box – which is split down the middle – to reveal gobs of bright Verizon red and your shiny, new purchase square in the middle. Underneath, you’ll find some literature, a slim, glossy black USB wall charger, and a micro-USB cable – sorry, no trashy earbuds here. As we’ve said in the past, that’s just fine by us; odds are good that if you’re spending $250 on a phone, you’re going to be spending a few bucks on a decent headset, anyway – the units that are bundled with phones are almost universally awful, which ends up unfairly tinting your opinion of the phone’s audio quality. In our review unit, both the battery and 32GB microSD card came pre-installed.
Pulling the phone out of its cardboard cradle, you instantly recognize that this thing is a beast – it’s just big and heavy. There’s no other way to put it. If you’re acquainted and comfortable with the EVO 4G, you’ll feel right at home – the EVO’s actually a few grams heavier, which took us by surprise when we looked it up – but if you’re coming from pretty much anything else, you’ll probably mouth the word "whoa" the first time you take it into your hand. For comparison’s sake, it’s right around 20 percent heavier than an iPhone 4. We’re not necessarily saying that’s a bad thing; in general, phones have a tendency to feel higher-quality when they’re more substantial and they’ve got a little more junk in the trunk, and that’s certainly the case with the Thunderbolt – but it’s still something to consider. We’re fairly certain there will be at least a few potential buyers who are off-put by the weight, so you should swing into a store and spend a little quality time with it before pulling the trigger.
Once you get past the heft, you start to notice the details of the design. It’s typical HTC through and through, though we suspect they started working on it alongside Verizon quite some time ago because the design language feels somewhat last-gen – more of a remixed EVO than anything else. The most direct, concrete proof of this might be AT&T’s Inspire 4G – also a 4.3-inch HTC device – which shares a newer "unibody" metal design with the Desire HD. It’s thinner, less plasticky, and more solid-feeling (which is really saying something) than the Thunderbolt, and it better represents where HTC has been going with its handset designs in the past six months. Obviously, as one of the first commercial LTE smartphones in the world, HTC has probably had this one baking in the oven for a good, long while.
That being said, "last-gen design" doesn’t mean "bad design" – far from it. There are many ways you could screw up the details of a phone this chunky, but the Thunderbolt is a legitimately handsome device. Unlike the EVO, the Thunderbolt’s soft touch back cover only extends about three-quarters of the way down from the top, leaving the integrated brushed-metal kickstand permanently attached to the surface of the phone chassis (which is smooth plastic in this bottom area) rather than poking through the cover. Underneath the kickstand (which has "with Google" engraved on it, by the way), you’ll find a metal grating that conceals the Thunderbolt’s loudspeaker – which is, in fact, quite loud. The only real problem here is that it’s a bit muffled with the kickstand retracted, but we suppose HTC’s logic is that you’re going to want maximum volume in kickstand-deployed video mode.
The Thunderbolt’s thickness and design details save it from a problem both the EVO and Inspire suffer from: the camera’s rim is essentially flush with the back and the lens is actually recessed, meaning you’re not going to scuff up your 8 megapixel shooter simply by setting the phone rear-down on a few too many hard surfaces. The dual-LED flash is arranged exactly as you find it on HTC’s other 4.3-inch devices, and it suffers from an unusual (but now familiar) quirk: you can’t use it when the Mobile Hotspot feature is enabled. Presumably, it’s just too much simultaneous power draw between the giant display, the beefy processor, and the LTE, CDMA, and WiFi radios to add a pair of ultra-bright LEDs into the mix, though it’s interesting that Mobile Hotspot uses no more components than you would in normal phone use – we suppose the WiFi power output might be at a higher level.
It’s a good thing that the 32GB microSD card comes pre-installed, because the battery cover is nigh impossible to get off. Actually, that’s not fair – it’s nowhere near as difficult as the side-mounted cover on the Desire HD and Inspire 4G, but it’s up there. It’s difficult enough so that you’re thinking "man, I hope I don’t break or gouge something" as you’re prying, red-faced, at the top-mounted notch. Underneath, you’ll find a relatively measly 1400mAh battery (more on that later), the microSD slot underneath (which, again, thanks to the 32GB that comes with the phone, you’ll probably never need to touch), an LTE SIM card tray, and an array of gold contacts that have us intrigued. At the top are four connection points in two locations that hook up to matching connections on the cover, which suggest that the cover probably plays an active role in signal reception. What had us more intrigued, though, were four pins near the camera lens that aren’t hooked up to the cover, which had us wondering whether there might be NFC capability in the Thunderbolt’s future – or whether it was in the works and got spiked along the way. Hard to tell, but it’s a thought.
The edges of the Thunderbolt are clean and simple; notably missing, of course, is an HDMI-out – a big deal for some and a complete non-issue for others. The power button is perfect: correct location and correct level of flushness with the surface of the phone. The volume rocker is also perfectly shaped, sized, and in the best possible location along the right edge, but for some reason, it feels really mushy. Not only that, but it feels mushy in distinctly different ways on the top and bottom – it’s just poorly engineered or assembled, as far as we can tell. While you’re on a call, it can be difficult to tell whether you’re actuating the rocker without proper detents.
As for the display, it’s pretty fantastic – definitely an upgrade from the EVO’s component thanks to a superior viewing angle that never washes out or inverts. Admittedly, WVGA starts to look just a tad pixellated once you get past 4 inches into the 4.3-inch category, but we’re spoiled these days – and if they Pyramid rumors are true, HTC is hard at work on qHD solutions for its next-gen devices anyway. One characteristic that we’ve noticed on a number of other phones in the past year that we miss here is the gapless display, a display so close to the glass that it appears to be on the surface of the phone itself (in fact, it’s so cool that Sony Ericsson actively markets it as a feature of the Xperia Arc). Well, there’s definitely a noticeable gap on the Thunderbolt, but it’s a purely aesthetic complaint – there’s zero effect on capability or usability whatsoever – it’s just fun to hold your phone at an angle once in a while and say, "wow."
Audio quality ranges from "good" to "great," with two caveats: one, the aforementioned problem with loudspeaker muffling when the kickstand is closed (not severe, but something to take note of), and two, the earpiece could use another level or two of volume. It’s plenty clear, but in noisy environments, we found ourselves wishing we could eke a little more out of it on a couple occasions. Callers told us we sounded a little "staticky" but were still totally audible – we were never asked to speak up or repeat something we’d said.
In the amount of time since we received the Thunderbolt, we’ve only had time to run one proper battery test, which consisted of roughly 50 minutes of voice calls and two hours, 25 minutes of heavy LTE data / screen usage (a live Ustream feed). That test yielded five hours, 47 minutes of run time from full to automatic shutdown – certainly not enough to make it through a full day, but then again, we’re talking about some pretty extreme data consumption. Standby seems fine; we let the phone sit for about fourteen hours with a loss of around 20 percent of the battery.
Interestingly – unlike the EVO – we weren’t able to find a way to disable the Thunderbolt’s 4G radio and stay on on CDMA / EV-DO alone in an effort to conserve the battery. The phone seems to be doing some intelligent radio management, automatically switching between the two when necessary (and, presumably, staying pegged on LTE whenever it can find an LTE signal). From a pure consumer-friendliness perspective, that makes sense… but from a power-user perspective, it’s annoying at best. When using this as a primary device, we’d probably consider carrying a portable battery-powered micro-USB charger or a spare internal battery for peace of mind.
HTC has a spotty track record of delivering fantastic picture and video quality – but as 8 megapixel models go, we’re happy to report that the Thunderbolt is markedly improved from the EVO 4G. It’s unclear whether the changes are in software alone or if HTC has moved to a different combination of sensor and optics, but whatever they’re doing, they’ve moved in the right direction. That said, the system isn’t without its flaws. The touch-to-focus works quickly and consistently, though we were a bit disappointed at the lack of a macro mode. It really shows, too – we couldn’t focus extreme closeups at all. We also noticed some problems with light metering – it seems that HTC has elected to go with a permanent full-frame metering mode, which makes it extremely difficult to get the proper exposure on certain backlit shots (see the gallery below). And of course, we always prefer a physical shutter key – something the Thunderbolt lacks.
The 720p video was remarkably free of artifacts or distortion – it doesn’t do continuous autofocus, but you can refocus on the fly with a tap on the screen. Likewise, sound quality was quite good; we were surprised at how clearly our voice cut through the ambient noise when narrating.
The Thunderbolt is, of course, running HTC Sense. In this case, it’s on top of Android 2.2.1, but it’s a bit of a hybrid – it lacks support for the cloud features introduced with the launch of the Desire HD / Desire Z and HTCSense.com last year, but does include support for HTC’s unusual "Fast Boot" option (which was introduced at the same time). It comes disabled by default, but can be found in the Power menu in Settings with the ominous warning, "Turn off to use some Market apps." Which ones? Well, that’s for you to guess, and HTC to know, apparently. The feature basically puts the phone into an ultra-low power mode (akin to standby or sleep on a laptop) rather than turning it off altogether, and we’ll admit, the results speak for themselves: with Fast Boot on, we were seeing boot times of roughly 9 seconds, as opposed to 58 seconds with it off. If you frequently turn your phone off (say, on airplanes, when they tell you to power down your gadgets rather than simply using airplane mode), that’s a notable difference.
From a UI perspective, Sense looks exactly the same here as it has on any other Sense device from the past year or so: same colorful menus, custom soft keyboard, home screen elements, and so on, so we won’t spend much time talking about it. We’re not huge fans – we prefer almost everything about the stock experience – but we know that it’s largely a matter of personal opinion (and Sense certainly has its share of fans). So instead, let’s take a look at the non-standard apps that HTC and Verizon have included, along with descriptions of the less-obvious ones:
- Adobe Reader
- Bitbop: A subscription service that offers a variety of movies and television shows streamed to your phone, along the lines of Hulu Plus.
- City ID: A service that displays the city and state of incoming calls – handy, admittedly, but probably not for the $1.99 they charge after your 15-day free trial expires. Too bad you can’t uninstall it if you don’t want to subscribe!
- FM Radio: Yes, that’s right – the Thunderbolt’s got an FM radio tuner. Nothing fancy in the app, which – like most phones – requires a headset be plugged in to use (it doubles as the antenna).
- Let’s Golf 2: A trial of a 3D golf game with a silly name. $4.99 to buy the full version.
- Quickoffice: Many Android phones have one version or another of Quickoffice in ROM, but the Thunderbolt’s got full Word and Excel editing capabilities at no extra charge – a nice touch.
- Rock Band: This is actually nothing more than a shortcut to download a trial version of Rock Band from EA. That’s already uncool, but what’s even more uncool is that when we tried, it just went to a black screen and hung. The only thing worse than crapware is broken crapware.
- V CAST Apps
- V CAST Media
- VZ Navigator
Interestingly, as far as we can tell, none of these can be uninstalled, which is an unfortunate decision on Verizon’s part – especially considering the fact that we found most of the crapware on AT&T’s Atrix 4G can be removed without any hacking or trickery. Sure, some of these – Reader, Kindle, and Slacker, for example – are Android staples that you’ll probably want installed anyway, but it should always be your choice, not Verizon’s.
Notably absent, though, are Skype and Netflix. Skype video calling on Android was introduced by Verizon at CES (alongside the Thunderbolt) to great fanfare, but recent rumors prior to the Thunderbolt’s release had suggested that the carrier elected late in the game to pull the app from ROM. What we don’t know, though, is why that happened; we’ve heard rumors that Skype’s partnership with Verizon is souring (there have been AT&T talks, after all), but it could just be a bout of last-minute bugs that Verizon didn’t want to hold up the phone’s release. Video calling aside, you’d think Verizon would’ve at least put its standard Skype build on here that allows calling outside WiFi networks, but no dice – you’re stuck with the standard Android app in the Market that locks you out on 3G.
Netflix was more of a wildcard, but we thought it might be loaded – it’s got a Qualcomm processor that can handle Netflix’s DRM scheme, after all, and that 4.3-inch display and kickstand would be a solid way to get the Watch Instantly functionality off on the right foot. Alas, we gave the leaked APK a whirl, and it wasn’t working, either. That’s not to say it definitely won’t work by the time it’s released, but it’s a no-go so far.
The HTC ThunderBolt will be an amazing device, and it’s going to be a noticeable improvement over models that Verizon released last year, like the Motorola Droid X or HTC Droid Incredible.
If it has a flaw, it’s a lack of innovation. This is essentially going to be an enhanced version of Sprint’s HTC EVO 4G a smartphone that was released last year. Still, sometimes it’s best to not mess with a good thing.
Verizon hasn’t said yet when the ThunderBolt is going to be released, aside from the fact that it’s going to be after march but before the end of June.
The carrier has also kept mum about pricing, but I’m willing to guess it’s going to be in the neighborhood of $200 with a two-year wireless contract.
Today is finally the day. The Thunderbolt has arrived and you have your shiny new toys in your hands. You just might be enjoying data speeds that some Wi-Fi connections would envy. We went poking around a little and found some impressive results floating around the web already (and we also want to know what kinds of speeds you are getting).
First, one big thing to keep in mind with all that you have heard about Thunderbolt LTE speeds is that the Speedtest.net app, commonly the first way to easily test data speeds, isn’t working properly with the Thunderbolt. Download speeds seem to record accurately, but upload speeds are way off (leading some to believe that they are actually getting 40 Mbps uploads – this is incorrect).
One of the most thorough tests we have seen on the web was by Noah Kravitz of Techno Buffalo. He compared the upload and download speeds of his HTC Inspire on AT&T’s HSPA network and his new Thunderbolt on Verizon’s LTE. Catching on early that the speedtest app had issues, he cleverly tethered the phones to his laptop. Oh boy, did we see a spanking there. His findings in his own words:
"My median speed on AT&T’s HSPA+ network was 2.16 Mbps down / 0.16 up / 171ms Latency (WiFi Hotspot mode)."
"My median speed on Verizon’s LTE network was 8.85 Mbps down / 3.68 up / 54ms Latency (WiFi Hotspot mode)."
The folks over at PhoneArena did some testing with the Thunderbolt and found they were getting around 5-7 Mbps downloads. Abelavista reported a range of download speeds between 4 Mbps and 13 Mbps. The folks over at Phandroid grabbed downloads ranging from 11.71 Mbps all the way up to 24.46 Mbps.
Some of these speeds appear to be in the same ballpark as WiMax, while some are clocking in much higher – but one thing that has been consistent is that the latency of LTE appears to be the lowest of any "4G" network in the nation. Also LTE reportedly handles a smooth hand-off between 4G and 3G when LTE drops out (as opposed to the hand-off on Sprint’s WiMax, which I can attest can leave you without any service at all for an annoying length of time when switching back to 3G).
If you are one of the lucky early adopters, do a little speed testing for us, will you? You can let us know in the comments or (if you really want to eliminate any doubts) link to a Speed Test image in the comments. The best way to record said test would probably be to tether your T-bolt to a laptop or desktop. Then go to speedtest.net in a browser, put it through the paces and grab a screenshot. Then you can upload it to imgur.com (or any image hosting for that matter) and link to it in the comments. If you use the Android speedtest.net app, please only share your download speeds. Also please note what method you used to record the speeds, as well as your location (LTE users only please).