Sony making it easier for developers to build custom ROMs for Xperia S

This is exactly what I expected from Android when it was first announced, before it was released, and then we saw what the manufacturers were doing and where the carriers were taking it. The device should be just hardware, you added some drivers to the OS provided by Google (or Cyanogen or MIUI or …) and away you go! Of course there would always be an official version but us geeks expect to tweak and modify our phones. Finally, and rather ironically, Sony is stepping up and giving us that ability. It’s not the first time Sony is more accommodating than others to the third-parties (they unlocked their boot-loaders before anyone else; and have worked with the CyanogenMod team) and lets hope the results encourage them to keep it up.

I have to admit I’m surprised Sony hasn’t flexed some of it’s retail muscle more than the other manufacturers. Perhaps now that Ericsson is out of the picture they will be able to. After all, Sony is the only one other than Apple that has such an extensive and well developed retail network. They really don’t need to rely on the carriers to promote or distribute their products, so why should they worry about what the carriers want – they should just sell their phones like they sell all their other electronics, through their retail channels.

Source: Sony

Via: Mobile Syrup

Cross-posted on 2FatDads

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Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 LTE Review

This review was made possible with the generous support of Pop Radiator!

This weekend I had the opportunity to play with a Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 with LTE. It’s a great Android Honeycomb tablet with connectivity every where you go thanks to the LTE radio.

I only had the tablet for the weekend, and quite a busy weekend, but I managed to try a few things out. Of course my wife and I checked our e-mail (Hotmail and GMail) and browsed the web (including some Flash), of course we played some a lot of Solitaire, did some navigation, and to see how well LTE was working ran Speed Test on a regular basis.

Screen size

The 8.9 inch screen size is a bit smaller than most Android tablets, that typically have a 10.1 inch screens (except the Sony Tablet S with its 9.4 inch screen size). The iPad has a 9.7 inch screen. The screen is big enough for all the things I wanted to do, and there’s about a one-inch bezel around the screen that makes it easy to hold.

In a few instances though I found that holding the screen in portrait mode was preferable because it meant no up-and-down scrolling, but then the size of the text and images was almost too small to be comfortable. Given the choice I think I would prefer a 10.1 inch tablet for that reason.

Flash

There’s a few web sites I use regularly that depend on Flash for their RIA. In general Flash works very well, and every Flash test site I tried said the Flash plug-in I had was 100% compatible. But in reality the few sites where I absolutely require Flash the experience was not impressive. It probably wasn’t Adobe’s fault, more likely the widgets the web sites choose don’t support a touch interface too well (too small a target area, or too many too close together).

Web services need to move beyond Flash and develop either native apps or build better HTML5 mobile web sites.

Phone vs. Tablet apps

Two of the apps I installed were designed for phones with a smaller screen rather than a tablet with a higher resolution. One simply centered itself in the middle of the screen, which was fine but a bit disappointing that the extra real estate wasn’t used to provide more information. The other app stretched itself out to fill the whole screen, but ended up looking pixelated.

In the end I guess each developer decides how they handle different screen sizes. Apple went through the same growing pains when they introduced the iPad. Hopefully Google their developers over this hump quickly.

LTE

Long Term Evolution or LTE is the next standard that mobile operators are moving towards. Most of the networks are still on HSPA or HSPA+. The promise of these standards is high speed internet access anywhere, from 21 Mpbs up to 75 Mbps for LTE. The reality is about one tenth of that!

I ran SpeedTest.net’s app on a few occasions to see what kind of though put I was getting. I check if I was using LTE or HSPA, but the results are still useful to see how prevalent LTE really is.

Test Connection Download Upload Latency Server
9 Lte 7.56 7.38 29 Mount Royal, QC
8 Lte 9.46 0.91 31 Mount Royal, QC
7 Umts 8.06 2.61 33 Mount Royal, QC
6 Umts 6.20 1.50 52 Montreal, QC
5 Umts 4.09 0.28 60 Boucherville
4 Umts 3.51 0.66 71 Mount Royal, QC
3 Umts 3.00 1.35 59 Mount Royal, QC
2 Umts 6.32 2.99 89 Mount Royal, QC
1 Umts 4.90 1.41 58 Washington, DC
Average   5.90 2.12 54  
Average LTE   8.51 4.15 30  
Average UMTS   5.15 1.54 60  

Note: Download and Upload speeds in Mbps, Latency in milliseconds

As you can see I never achieved the 75 Mbps promise of LTE that the device an theoretically handle. I never achieved the maximum speed promised by any of the standards, but I was happy to beat the HSPA expected average of 3.5 Mbps.

Navigation

Just for the heck of it, I pulled up the Navigation app on the tablet on our way to Sugaring Off. I also had the TomTom VIA 1435 going as well as the Navigation app on my Android Gingerbread phone. In terms of directions all three were spot-on and pretty much in sync – although the three-way spoken directions got annoying pretty fast.

The coolest thing about the navigation app on the tablet is how much more on either side of the route you can see. This is especially great when navigating around town and making frequent turns, you can see much more of the upcoming route and prepare yourself for the next few turns.

The biggest problem I had with navigating with the Tab is the glossy screen makes it very reflective. And on a sunny day it can make it almost impossible to see what’s on the screen. The other problem is the interface isn’t designed for the rapid jabbing a driver usually subjects his GPS to with one hand while driving 120 km/h with one hand on the wheel!

Conclusion

The tablet is a great size, much more useful than a 7-inch tablet but not quite as unwieldy as a 10-inch tablet. The rubberized back makes holding it comfortable and secure. The wireless network access means you make full use of it where ever your are, but the promise of LTE speeds falls back on your provider but the tablet is ready as soon as your network is.

See my complete Weekend with a Samsung Tab 8.9 LTE tablet photo gallery.

Cross-posted on 2FatDads

Arc the Herald Angels Sing, Glory to the Sony Ericsson!

Yes, I know, I’m going straight to hell. But then Lord Jobs probably wasn’t going to let me in to heaven anyways!

It’s been over a week now that I’m using a Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc and I still always try to spell it Experia! Unlocking the phone to use on my network was the most frustrating part of the experience so far – not the phone’s fault or FastGSM.com‘s fault either, like usual Windows had driver issues!

(Future rant: more vendor support for Linux)

If you want to know what I went through, FastGSM.com has an excellent video on their YouTube site.

This phone is sleek, like so sleek the fanboy’s here are going to wish the iPhone 5 looks like this! The concave back of the phone sits nicely in the hand; and the 4.3-inch touch-screen goes almost edge-to-edge making it feel like you’re in that Corning Glass commercial. The display uses Sony’s Bravia technology so it’s crystal clear. The other thing you notice looking at the front of the phone is there are only three buttons, not the usual four – Sony Ericsson has done away with the Search button, as they should. The right side of the phone holds the camera and volume buttons, and the top holds a diminutive – but functional – power button.

The only downside to the phone’s concave design is it leaves the excellent Exmor R 8-megapixel camera taking the brunt the contact when you put the phone down. A case would alleviate this problem but also destroy the aesthetics of the phone.

Speaking of the camera

It goes up to 8-megapixels with pre-sets for 2-megapixel and 6-megapixel in 4:3 and 16:9 formats (no 4-megapixel preset which is unfortunate since that’s the free limit at Picasa). It can also do sweep-panorama and 3D sweep-panorama.

To see the 3D photos though you need to hookup to a 3D TV using the HDMI connector. Sony has once again demonstrated they can build a phone with an excellent camera – or is it a camera with an excellent phone?!

Gingerbread Sandwiches

The Xperia Arc runs the latest version of Android: 2.3 Gingerbread. And includes some interesting applications out of the box (I’ll be honest, the first thing I did after un-locking it was de-branding my phone – I’m sure it originally had some bearable applications but I’m really not interested). And Sony Ericsson has confirmed they will be upgrading all their Xperia phones to Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

Schnapps

Taking the prize for most interesting and the prize for most frustrating is Sony’s own Timescape application and widget. This displays a timeline of events (tweets, messages, calls, etc.) on your home page. The display is beautiful and scrolls nicely forward and back. But that’s it, it’s read-only! For example, you can’t reply to or re-tweet an interesting tweet! You have to open your Twitter app, find the tweet again, and deal with it there. So what’s the point!? Sony has released the Timescape API so better implementations may be forthcoming but the precedent is not good.

Happily Sony Ericsson allows anyone to unlock the boot loader. Although it comes locked a quick visit to their web site will provide the instructions for unlocking it – after the requisite, repeated, acknowledgements that if you FUBAR your phone you’re on your own, no help from Sony if ye enter here!

Since I’ve got the phone I’ve installed a few apps that I seem to use regularly:

Android Terminal Emulator
‘Cuz this is the way real unix works – no matter how small the package!
Angry Birds
What more do I need to say!?
Bitdefender Carrier IQ Finder
And I’m happy to report that Carrier IQ was NOT found on my phone!
BusyBox
Real Linux in a real small package!
Data Monitor
Not sure why this one isn’t in there out of the box, but it’s good to know.
Finance
Unfortunately it doesn’t support my Canadian stocks, but hopefully it will be updated soon.
Foursquare
I’m going for Emperor of the World badge now!!!
Google Books
This ought be easier than carrying around the actual Complete Works of Shakespeare.
Google+
Instant photo uploads is a pretty cool feature, then I just have to get them organized in PicasaWeb (auto-organization would be the coolest feature ever).
Solitaire
Ever since the first computer the first thing you look for is Solitaire!
Superuser
What fun is linux without a little su action?!
TimmyMe
Gotta have my mocha!
Titanium Backup
So I can keep what I want and blast the rest to oblivion!
Twitter
Once a twit, always a twit!

What I’m missing at this point though is a good note keeping app and an official Google Tasks app. The note keeping app may end-up being Evernote, but I’m keeping an open mind for now.

My only complaint is there seems to be a quirk of the market that it doesn’t synchronize with what’s actually installed on the phone! So when I de-branded my phone I got rid of all the carrier installed cruft but it’s still in My Library in the Android Market – I’m never going to install it again so I really wish it would disappear! But there’s doesn’t seem to be any way to re-synchronize what’s on the phone with what’s in your library?!

A thousand monkeys

This is the first phone I’ve had without a physical keyboard, and though I was dreading it the default keyboard is very quick to use. My finger never leaves the surface, I just slide back and forth, changing direction (or pausing) over the key I want to type. Of course, it’s not the same as 10-finger touch-typing and occasionally my other digits want to get in on the action!

Cuppa Java

Every now and then I get the itch to develop something like a powerful spreadsheet macro or a funky iGoogle gadget. Now I’ve got a phone I can really develop for, but unfortunately the development environment is based on Java! Now, I was Java Ninja – 10 years ago! The year 2000 called, they want their programming language back!!! It’s not real Java since it’s actually running on an alternate virtual machine called Dalvik but you’ve still got to deal with everything that is Java while developing (like Eclipse). We know that inside the Googleplex they’ve got some Go apps running natively on the ARM processors of their Nexus phones, but nothing’s public yet (and Go is targeted at server-side, there’s no UI in the core packages, so I’m not even sure what they’re running on those Nexuses).

Conclusion

Awesome phone!

Cross-posted on 2FatDads at Arc the Herald Angels Sing, Glory to the Sony Ericsson!