Thursday, June 28, 2012

Google Nexus 7 bringing NFC features to tablet arena

Google Nexus 7
The Google tablet is no longer a rumor. Now we'll have the Google Nexus 7 by mid-July, or you can pre-order right now on Google's website for $199.

According to Google, pre-ordered tablets will ship in two-three weeks and for a limited time, you'll get $25 to spend in Google's Play store on apps, games, books and movies. Google is also throwing in a free copy of Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

The Nexus 7 will have a 7-inch display and weigh about 0.75 pounds, which is right in line with other tablets of this size. It'll use Android's latest operating system, which is Jelly Bean, or Android 4.1, if you keep track of the version numbers.

Google on their website has the battery rated for 10 hours of web browsing or 10 hours of e-reading, as well as over 8 hours of HD video playback.

The Nexus 7 was built to work with Google Play, or Google's app store, where they're pitching over 600,000 apps and games and over four million books. Online storage also is available at Google Play for 20,000 songs.

The big challenge for the Nexus 7 later this year will be if it can compete in the marketplace against all the other 7-inch tablets already on the shelves. It's a late arrival, while the Amazon Kindle Fire, the Nooks from Barnes & Noble, the Samsung Galaxy Tabs and the BlackBerry Playbook have a big head start.

The Kindles arrived in 2007, followed by the Nook in 2009 and the first iPad was announced in January of 2010. All the others quickly followed the iPad and have been trying to compete in a challenging tablet arena over the past couple if years.

The Nexus 7 just might have an advantage over the competitors with its Near Field Communication feature, or NFC. It'll have the "Android Beam" feature, which will allow the tablet to share information with other NFC enabled devices with just a tap. I imagine, the NFC capability will also allow the Nexus 7 to carry out mobile payments, purchase tickets and other wireless transactions.

Google announced at the Google I/O conference this week in San Francisco that more than one million Android NFC devices are shipping each week. So the Nexus 7 is on the cutting edge of this technology and that might the advantage that paints a bright future for Google's new tablet.

If you're itching for a Nexus 7, you can visit their website now. The 8 gigabyte model is $199 and the 16 GB model will cost $249. Both models have 1 GB of memory and are Wi-Fi only. You'll find a USB cable, wall charger and a quick-start guide in the box. A cover is available for around $20.

We should know around the holiday shopping season if the Nexus 7 is going to be a game-changer in the tablet arena.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Microsoft Surface arrives to challenge iPad, Android tablets

Microsoft Surface
Microsoft choose Hollywood as the location to unveil Surface, a windows tablet computer designed and engineered completely by the guys at One Microsoft Way in Redmond, WA.

While the Surface is unique in appearance, with an integrated kickstand to help prop it up and a Touch Cover with a built-in keyboard, the big question quickly comes to mind. Is this tablet the iPad killer?

Various tablet manufacturers have been trying to build a serious iPad competitor since the Motorola Xoom arrived on the scene in early 2011. The Xoom wasn't it and neither were the Samsung Galaxy Tabs. The Acer tablets, Asus, the Amazon Kindle and a few others have gained traction, but the iPad remains on top.

Microsoft has probably thrown every punch they've learned in their 30-year history of building hardware and developing software to make the Surface attractive to savvy consumers. It even has a few strong point and features not found in the current crop of tablets and can one-up the iPad in a few areas.

Although Microsoft did not list physical dimensions, they did point out the Surface's 10.6-inch display with a 16:9 ratio. I'm afraid the iPad stops at 9.7 inches in the display size, while other tablets, such as the Xoom 2, Acer Iconia Tab and Asus Transformer Prime stop at 10.1 inches. So the Surface holds the top spot for display size.

The Surface is about the same thickness as the iPad and the weight is around 1.5 pounds, but that's iffy, depending on configuration and what Microsoft calls the "manufacturing process."

Perhaps the most "talked about" feature of the Surface will be the Touch Cover, which will be available in five colors. It will attach to the Surface with a magnetic latch, which reminds me of the iPad's magnetic cover. But the Surface has a keyboard on the inside of the cover, which could be a stroke of genius for Microsoft if consumers give it a nod.

I can't wait to get my hands on the VaporMg casing, which Microsoft is saying will feel like the finish of a luxury watch.

It seems that devices of late are all going with high-end materials on the outside. Apple likes aluminum and some of the Ultrabooks are even using glass, such as the HP Envy. A technique using Liquid Metal is being tossed around for the iPhone 5. So maybe the VaporMg technology, which has a dose of magnesium, will ensure Microsoft's Surface is in the game of hi-tech casings.

It's no surprise that the Surface will be powered by a couple of versions of the Windows 8 operating system, which has been on the market in preview form for desktop computers. You'll be able to choose between Windows RT for ARM processors or Windows 8 Pro for Intel processors.

I've been testing Windows 8 Consumer Preview on a desktop and it'll be interesting to see how this OS performs on a tablet.

As for ports, the Surface will have HDMI and a full-sized USB 2.0, along with a micro SD slot. That's not a bad start for a tablet, which will also be available in configurations of 32, 64 and 128 gigabytes. The latter is only for the Windows 8 Pro version.

If you're itching to try Microsoft's latest creation, you'll just have to wait awhile. They still have to figure out how much it'll cost. I imagine it'll be ready for the shelves sometime this fall, or surely in time for holiday shopping.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

New MacBook Pro certainly something to drool over

MacBook Pro
As of Monday, my MacBook Pro is no longer considered state of the art. I have only had it several months and I've been enjoying the all-aluminum body and snappy processor, along with the Snow Leopard operating system.

Now Apple Inc. has announced the very latest 15-inch MacBook Pro, which is a lot like my laptop in appearance, but it also has a Retina display and faster Intel Core i7 quad-core processors, along with flash storage. I can't compete with all that.

The new guy is sleeker, thinner, more powerful and certainly a looker. But is it better than what I have? Let's compare a few things.

It is powered by OS X Lion and can be upgraded for free to Mountain Lion when it's ready. I'll be sticking with the Leopard for a while.

Apple is also making a big deal about the two Thunderbolt ports, while I only have one. I'm left in the dust again.

The Thunderbolt port technology was developed by Apple and Intel to support "high-resolution displays" and "high-performance data devices." According to Apple, it's 20 times faster than with USB 2.0 and up to 12 times faster than with FireWire 800. This is a serious I/O port for serious business. We're talking about plugging in big LED monitors, RAID storage devices in a daisy chain and high-performance video equipment.

My problem with the one Thunderbolt port on my old MacBook Pro is that I have nothing that needs it right now. No high performance peripherals or components. Apple is hoping this technology gains traction in the future, but in the meantime, FireWire and USB ports are serving me just fine.

While we're on ports, I am kind of puzzled by the lack of a CD/DVD or Blu-ray drive on the new MacBook Pro. I also didn't see any ethernet or FireWire ports. I'm thinking a built-in optical drive is still needed for software installation, especially if purchased at retail outlets. My last purchase of a major application suite was still on CDs.

After some digging around Apple's website, I found where there are Thunderbolt port adapters for ethernet and FireWire peripherals. If you need a CD drive, it's available as an optional external drive for one of the two USB ports that "are" on the new MacBook Pro.

The Retina display on the new MacBook Pro is all about pixels and there are a lot of them - over 5 million to be exact, which is 3 million more than a high-definition flat screen television. The display is supposed to be stunning and I'll let you know just how stunning when I get a chance to see it. In the meantime, the LED-backlit display on my old MacBook is just fine.

While it takes my old MacBook Pro a minute to boot up, the new MacBook Pro is pitched as having instant-on response due to the flash hard drive. But I have to wonder if a 250 gigabyte flash drive on the new MacBook Pro is better than my 750 GB hard drive. In this case, I don't mind waiting a little longer for the desktop to appear on the latter.

My old MacBook and the new MacBook have the same glass Multi-Touch trackpad, so I'm still in the game with trackpad technology.

The one advantage my old MacBook Pro has is in the price. When I made my purchase several months ago, I was at around $400 less than the $2,199 starting price for the new MacBook Pro. If you want to get fancy with more memory and flash storage, get ready to shell out around $3,000. That's an "ouch" factor for a laptop.

I think I'm fine for at least another year with my current setup, but the new MacBook Pro is powerful and has the resolution for an impressive display. It's also pricey and seems to be targeted for high-end computing.

But I'll still go out to the Apple Store soon and drool over it.

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Personal avatars emerging with winks and smiles

There is exciting technology being developed in Germany and because of an impromptu meeting at the recent CTIA Wireless Conference in New Orleans, I'm one of the lucky ones to have my own personal 3D Face Avatar. All it took was a photo of my face and some computer wizardry.

It was engineered by DOCOMO Communications Laboratories Europe GmbH, or DOCOMO Euro-Labs, which is the Munich, Germany-based research arm of NTT DOCOMO, a Japanese mobile communications operator based in Tokyo. They also have offices in Silicon Valley and Beijing.

According to their website, they are one of the world's largest mobile communications operators, with more than more than 59 million customers in Japan.

My avatar is in the form of a movie, and when explained by DOCOMO representatives, it demonstrates the ways this technology can “be creative” with the avatar’s face." But ideally, it would be a still image that suddenly comes to life with human-like expressions like smiling, winking, talking or even reading a text message.

I see personal avatars invading social networks, emails and other means of communication in the future, as well as films and gaming.

In addition to developing avatars, we can probably expect more cutting-edge technology from this European research company. Their website hints at research being done in future cellular networks and optical technologies.

There are other options available for 3D Face Avatars, such as the 3D PhotoFace technology that can take an uploaded image and modify facial features. Another approach uses Microsoft's Kinect sensor techniques to scan the face and apply animation.

As 3D face animation technology continues to emerge, we can expect more development and fine tuning as companies like DOCOMO explore the potential of personal avatars.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

U.S. carriers ready for the Samsung Galaxy S III

Samsung Galaxy S III
If the announcement that the Samsung Galaxy S III is coming to five U.S. carriers this month is any indication of the future demand, maybe we all should check out cell phone contracts on AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless and U.S. Cellular.

An upgrade might be in order if Samsung's latest mobile phone meets the anticipation of savvy consumers. Samsung has been known for hitting home runs in the mobile market and carries the title of the No. 1 mobile phone provider in the U.S and worldwide, according to Strategy Analytics.

The new Galaxy S III has been kicking around in Europe after making its debut in London on May 3. According to one of Samsung's head honchos, this device will be "the next big thing" for U.S. customers on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Galaxy S III, which is optimized for 4G and AT&T's HSPA+ networks, is running Android 4.0, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich. It also sports a 8-megapixel rear camera, along with a 1.9 megapixel front-facing camera. The power comes from a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor and 2 gigabytes of RAM.

The pressure is now on for the iPhone 5, or whatever it will be called, since the Galaxy S III's 4.8-inch HD Super AMOLED display trumps the current iPhones' 3.5-inch display.

There are other unique features onboard the new Galaxy, such as S-Beam for sharing files with a simple touch and taking 20 continuous photos using the 'burst shot" feature. While some smartphones have been able to support up to five devices using the mobile hotspot capability, Verizon Wireless is pitching that the Galaxy S III now supports up to 10 devices.

Here is a biggie - the Sprint camp is saying they are the only national U.S. wireless carrier to offer the Galaxy S III preloaded with Google Wallet, which will use the NFC, or Near Field Communication technology, to act as a personal wallet at more than 100,000 retailers.

The Galaxy S III will be available in a variety of colors, ranging from Pebble Blue and Marble White on Sprint and U.S. Cellular, along with an exclusive red color from AT&T.

The 16 GB version will cost around $200 on most carriers, with the 32 GB coming in at around $250. If you need more memory, AT&T has their micro-SD card for around $40.

If you're ready to go shopping, the Galaxy S III will available for preorder today from Sprint and June 6 on AT&T and Verizon. U.S. Cellular will open their cash registers on June 12 and T-Mobile will be ready for your wallet on June 21.

Based on past Samsung devices and the popularity of the Galaxy S II, which has been around since October, the Galaxy S III could be worth an upgrade. It has a faster processor, more memory, a larger display and several unique features over its predecessor.

This could be another home run for Samsung.

More on the Samsung Galaxy S III: AT&T | T-Mobile | Sprint | Verizon | U.S. Cellular

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