Monthly Archives: April 2011

Android This Week: Nook Color Tablet; Video Calls Ring; Google Docs Improves

Early in the week, one of the newest e-readers became the newest Android tablets in a sense. The Barnes Noble Nook Color is great for reading e-books and is built upon Google Android’s mobile operating system, although you’d never know it due to the excellent interface that hides Android. The Nook Color gained more tablet features with a software update that adds a third-party app store, a useful email client, and support for Adobe AIR and Flash within the existing web browser application.

Once the update arrived, I quickly ran out to purchase a Nook Color and test it out. Overall, I’m very impressed by what this $249 device can do. My hands-on review of the Nook Color answers the question: Is the device an e-reader, a tablet, or both?

For folks who want to supplement e-reading activities with occasional checks of email or web use, the device is certainly worth the look. Power users can also use software hacks to root the device and run the full Android operating system, making the Nook Color an inexpensive double-threat.

Also this week, Google brought Android smartphones closer to parity with their tablet counterparts by adding support for video calls and chat through Google Talk. Handsets will need to run Android 2.3.4, which Google is first rolling out to its Nexus S phone; device manufacturers and carriers will have to follow suit on other devices.

Video chat isn’t exclusive to Google on Android phones, however. Fring has added four-way video calling, while Qik also went live with its video service for Android smartphones. Best of all, both of these services are cross-platform so you can call friends who have either Android or iOS devices.

Reading books and video chatting is nice, but some Android owners want to get work done too. That becomes a little easier now that there’s a dedicated and free Google Docs application available. The software allows for document editing and printing through Google’s Cloud Print service on supported printers.

Also handy is a document creation tool that uses the camera of a smartphone: Simply snap a picture of a physical document and Google will quickly scan it and create a document based on the text it sees, using Optical Character Recognition technology.

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Android Helping Handset Makers Who Embraced it Early

Although Apple’s success is on the rise, Google Android proves that iOS isn’t the only game in town, as it is the common thread among companies such as HTC, Motorola, LG, Samsung and Sony Ericsson, all of which have shared financials this month. Even though Android adoption has helped all five companies, it’s clear that those who embraced Android fully and early on have reaped the biggest benefits.

HTC Reaches New Records

One of the first handset makers to shift over to Android was HTC, which was previously known primarily for its Windows Mobile phones. As Microsoft’s platform fell behind that of iOS and Android after 2007, HTC needed a new operating system and Google’s Android was the perfect fit. HTC made the very first Android phone, the G1, and never looked back, building dozens of mid-tier to high-end handsets using Google’s platform, such as the Nexus One, EVO 4G, G2, and upcoming Sensation 4G (shown).

What have these phones done for HTC’s financials and sales figures? The company today reported record revenues and net profits, with sales of 9.7 million smartphones; a 192 percent increase from the year ago quarter. Operating margin is on the rise at 15.8 percent as is the average selling price of an HTC handset, now at $359, or 6 percent higher than in the first quarter of 2010.

Motorola Reduces Losses

Android really began to take off with version 2.0, spotlighted on the original Motorola Droid handset and combined with Verizon’s marketing muscle in the fall of 2009. Multiple Motorola follow-ups arrived, some hits like the Droid X and Atrix 4G, and some misses such as the Cliq and BackFlip. But Android helped Motorola migrate from its RAZR, feature-phone days over to smartphones. The mobile division was also spun off from the main Motorola company last year, awash with cash and without any debt.

In the first fiscal quarter of 2011, Android helped Motorola ship 4.1 million smartphones or nearly double the 2.3 million it sold in the prior year quarter. Those sales figures for more expensive handsets reduced the company’s first quarter operating loss to $89 million vs a $212 million loss in the same quarter a year prior. Embracing Android too early can come at a cost though: although Motorola was the first to offer a Honeycomb tablet, sales estimates are low. The company says 250,000 tablets were sold in the first quarter, but that figure is to carriers and retailers; not to customers.

It’s Samsung’s Galaxy and We Just Live In It

Samsung waited until last year to enter the Android market, but it made a big splash with the Galaxy S line of devices, selling 10 million around the globe. The company took an Apple-like approach by designing a single device (with carrier variations) instead of a wide portfolio of different handsets. The biggest downside came in the form of Android updates, which took time to get through carrier testing and into consumer hands. Hopefully, that situation doesn’t repeat itself with the new Galaxy S 2, which the company will roll out to 140 carriers in 120 countries.

Samsung sold 70 million handsets in the first quarter of 2011, which sounds high, but is actually a decline. However, the percentage of smartphones sold increased to 18 percent of sales, up from 4 percent just a year ago. The higher price of smartphones offset the decline in overall handset sales, allowing Samsung to earn 1.43 trillion won (US $1.33 billion) in operating profits.

Is Sony Ericsson Finally Ready to Play for Real?

Sony Ericsson launched its first Android handset, the Xperia X10, in March of 2010, but used Android 1.6 instead of the most current, and much improved version. It took more than 6 months for the company to update the operating system and it only offered a few other Android devices during that time; mostly variations on the same theme. As a result, the company hasn’t yet benefitted from Android as much as other manufacturers, although that could change with the Xperia Play, which adds Sony PlayStation game software and controls to the handset.

In the first quarter of 2011, Sony Ericsson shipped fewer phones from the year ago period (8.1 millon vs 10.5 million) but moving more smartphones helped revenues due to a rise in average selling price of 5 percent from the year ago period. Although the company has produced smartphones with Microsoft’s platform in the past, don’t look for a repeat. Bert Nordberg, President CEO of Sony Ericsson recently said, “Sony Ericsson’s profitability continues as we accelerate our shift towards an Android-based smartphone portfolio, with smartphones comprising over 60% of our total sales during the quarter.”

LG Might Stand for Late to Game

As the No. 3 handset maker in the world, you’d expect that LG would have embraced Android for high-end phones sooner rather than later. That wasn’t the case. The company’s first use of Android came in late 2009 with a low-end device called the GW620. Here in the U.S. LG’s best Android seller of 2010 appears to have been the Optimus: A solid mid-market handset available on major carriers as a pre-paid device. It’s only lately that LG is competing with others in the high-end. The Optimus 2X impressed me in January and just today I received the T-Mobile version, the G2x, for review.

This slowness to transition to higher end Android phones has hurt LG’s performance, and the CEO of its mobile device devision resigned in September as a result. My few hours of using the G2x tells me the company is now on track, which is good because handset shipments declined 20 percent from the prior year. With few high-end devices to sell, LG couldn’t offset the sales decline with a higher average selling price and profits dropped 14.3 percent.

Without Android, I have little doubt that each of these companies would be worse off because there isn’t a compelling alternative platform for them to use. The sole exception may be Samsung’s own Bada platform, which is doing well. And it’s evident to me that while Android is helping all of these handset manufacturers transition away from feature phones, the ones who do so sooner, or with more vigor, have benefitted the most.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Flickr user lornaharris

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MeeGo Not Dead Yet as LG Continues the Charge

Nokia may have relegated the MeeGo platform to experimental status, but LG is hedging its Android bet with the open source platform. Next month at the MeeGo Conference, LG is holding a session to show developers how to port MeeGo 1.2 to LG devices, according to a schedule found by the MeeGo Experts site. The information points to LG showing off hardware that runs on the mobile operating system as well. Created by the merger of Nokia’s Maemo and Intel’s Moblin, MeeGo may be used for netbooks, tablets, smartphones and other devices. Why would LG be interested in MeeGo, when it has already embraced Android?

One only has to look at Samsung and LG’s smartphone market share for the answer to that. Samsung invested heavily in using Google’s Android operating system and that bet has paid off nicely. Last year, the company sold more than 10 million of its Galaxy S phones that run on Android, as it continued to be No. 2 in global handset sales. A number of tablets and an updated Galaxy S handset have or are arriving from Samsung as well. But Samsung knows that it is one of many Android hardware partners and has hedged its bet on its own operating system in the form of Bada.

While Samsung has sold more phones of late, LG hasn’t. According to Strategy Analytics, LG’s total handset volume dropped to 24.5 million sales in the first quarter of this year, as compared to 27.1 million in the same quarter of 2010. Last September, LG’s CEO of the mobile device division resigned over poor performance as the handset maker failed to quickly transition from feature phones to more powerful smartphones. A handful of new Android phones and tablets are set to reverse the declining sales trend, but a fresh smartphone platform could help too.

Using MeeGo for mobile devices isn’t necessarily the safest hedge against LG becoming another “me too” Android device maker though. Because the MeeGo platform is open source, other companies besides LG can use it. Essentially, if MeeGo takes off, LG could be another “me too” MeeGo player, which won’t allow the company to differentiate itself. The other challenge lies within MeeGo itself as a platform and ecosystem. With 44 billion mobile apps expected to be downloaded in the next five years, late-comers to the app store economy have the odds stacked against them: More established ecosystems will have the mindshare of both developers and consumers.

Still, it will be interesting to see what plans LG has for MeeGo devices and software. After watching MeeGo develop over the last year or more, it’s about time we see what it can do, for consumers, for LG, and perhaps even for Intel (s intc) which is still trying to get its chips inside of pocketable devices and tablets.

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Google Brings Video Chat to Android Devices

After nearly 16 months, my Google Nexus One, is finally out-of-date. That’s by far a record for me keeping one single phone but it’s time for an upgrade because Google just announced video chat capabilities in Android 2.3.4, which is now rolling out to Nexus S handsets and will follow on other devices later. I’ve been getting by with just a single-core CPU and the 800×480 display of the Nexus One, but without a front-facing video camera, there’s no video chat in sight for me.

Google says the video chat feature works with Google Talk and can be used on either Wi-Fi or mobile broadband networks if your phone carrier allows it. Just like the video calling feature in the desktop version of Google Talk, a camera icon appears next to online contacts that can video chat. Tap the camera and the video call begins. The only downside I can think of is that folks with multiple Google Talk accounts will be frustrated: Android devices only support a single account for Google Talk.

I have to wonder if competing video chat services got wind of this development before it happened because there’s been a recent flurry of mobile video communications activity. Last month Vtok delivered a video chat product to iOS devices that leverages Google Talk and said it intends to target Android next. Fring recently delivered four-way video chat between iOS and Android and Qik just launched its cross-platform video calling software this week too.

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What 44 Billion Mobile App Downloads by 2016 Means

Think the mobile app economy is a passing fad? You might want to think again: ABI Research today reports that an estimated 44 billion mobile applications will be downloaded within the next five years. By that time, the global population will be around 7 billion people and while most of them will not have a smartphone, the math works out to more than six mobile app downloads for every man, woman and child on the planet!

This rapid rise in mobile software is interesting to me personally for a few reasons. My first handheld device was purchased around the year 2000: it was a Compaq Aero 2130 handheld. Regardless of the recent spats over the term “app store,” I installed plenty of software on the device. I bought it for several reasons, but one was because of the future vision that mobile devices would bring. Of course, that vision is coming to fruition now: more than half of all phones sold in the U.S. last quarter were smartphones, for the first time ever.

What I don’t remember from my Aero days, or from the many devices that followed, is how many apps I installed on the device. We simply didn’t care about tracking them because so few people actually had devices that could install mobile apps in the first place. That essentially changed three years ago with Apple’s AppStore and subsequent competitors: now we track how many apps are in a store, how many apps are on the average device, the engagement with them, and how many apps we will have downloaded by 2016.

This massive number of expected mobile app downloads also adds to a thought I had roughly a year ago in that there are two paradigm shifts going on right now. We’re in the midst of migrating from many activities from desktop to mobile computing and also away from heavy, full-featured software to task-based computing:

Apps such as Seesmic, FiOS Mobile and Remember the Milk allow me to connect with people, devices or data over the web. And they do so in a fashion that’s generally more pleasing to use than a mobile site. I could read or send tweets through the actual Twitter site, but I use an app for visual appeal and easier access to functionality, which means the software has transitioned my mobile web usage away from the browser. The same scenario applies to Remember the Milk, which I use to manage my tasks. There’s a mobile-friendly site available, but the RTM app is far more responsive and offers me a better user experience.

Essentially, these apps are bite-sized, functional chunks of the mobile web. The small bits of software are designed specifically for mobile use — often targeted for particular platforms — which brings a level of navigation and enjoyment not found in a browser.

This task-based approach, and the large demand for apps that support it, underscore the challenge that new devices faces when entering the market. Specifically, I’m thinking of Research In Motion’s PlayBook, which has much to like in terms of interface, usability and design, but has few apps. HP will face the same challenge with its TouchPad when it arrives in the next few months, as will any MeeGo devices, if they arrive at all. Building a great device that’s easy to use isn’t enough these days, nor will it be for the next several years. And although web apps can suffice in some cases, the promise of app-like features from HTML5 is still off in the distance.

The situation has the potential to be a double-whammy for Microsoft because the company faces both of these challenges in terms of paradigm shift. The move from desktop to mobile hasn’t helped the Windows franchise because you can’t cram a desktop user interface into to a mobile device. Again, I speak from experience as I’ve purchased a handful of tablet PCs and 7-inch ultra-mobile PCs: they only work for a subset of users at best. Task-based computing in small amounts isn’t what Microsoft is known for either; the Office franchise is an outstanding productivity suite, but it’s filled with functionality not suited for mobile activities. The company is on track with its Office products for Windows Phone 7, but there’s more work to be done.

Regardless of which companies are ready for the mobile app economy or not, I’m enjoying these shifts in device use and thinking. I still don’t know how many apps I’ve downloaded over the past 11 years, but hey: it’s nice to see the rest of the world starting to catch up. Time to go download some more apps!

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Xoom Software Update Available, But It’s Not Enough

Motorola’s Xoom tablet owners have a software update waiting for them today per Verizon Wireless’s support site for the device. The tablet will notify users when the 28 MB file is available for download, according to the carrier, suggesting a rollout in waves. How many waves there are is up to debate as analysts have pegged Xoom sales at low numbers, ranging from 25,000 to 120,000 sales so far for the first Google Honeycomb tablet.

I recently returned my Xoom review unit to Verizon, so I’m not able to test the upgrade. However, on paper, nothing suggests that any of my major dislikes of the tablet or platform are addressed. Honeycomb still doesn’t appear to be ready for prime-time due to application crashes, general instability and a lack of useful software titles in the Android Market made for larger displays. Those criticisms apply equally to the G-Slate, another Honeycomb tablet I recently reviewed. But the Xoom has a few more issues and this software update addresses neither.

Specifically, Motorola’s tablet still isn’t able to use Verizon’s LTE 4G network, which will happen after device owners send in their Xoom to have the LTE hardware added. There’s no mention of LTE support in the release notes for this software update. Nor can Xoom owners use the microSD card slot for expanding memory or for easy transfer of data from another device. Instead, here’s what’s new to the Xoom after this software update, version HMJ07B, is installed, per the release notes (PDF):

Web Browsing and Data Access

  • Access and stay connected to Wi-Fi networks with added Proxy support.
  • SSL data transfer with websites is now supported.
  • WPA Pre-Shared Key pass-phrases are now supported when using the device as a Mobile Hotspot.
  • Supports Google Widevine DRM and HDCP.

Email and Messaging

  • POP3 HTML emails will display in their entirety.

Call Features

  • Bluetooth is now supported in Google Talk.

Additional Device Features

  • Encrypted passwords can be entered during power up.
  • Calendar events will remain up to date after an installed software update.
  • Application storage errors will not appear unless the device has reached maximum storage capacity.
  • Safely dock the MOTOROLA XOOM into the docking adapter without interruption.
  • Ability to add and use a Bluetooth mouse.
  • A shortcut key for the Bluetooth keyboard has been added.
  • View and import pictures from digital cameras with Picture Transfer Protocol.
  • When using the device in accessibility mode, menus will no longer prompt with sounds.

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The Best Android Calendar App Is Free Today

One of the benefits of Amazon’s AppStore for Android devices is a free software title each day. It’s a shame that the store isn’t available in all countries just yet, but today’s free app is so good, I’d buy it anyway. Business Calendar, normally $4.99, is the free offer right now and I’ve used a beta release of it since January of this year. It’s a must-try, for sure. Simply put, if you want a better calendar application on your Android smartphone or tablet, today is the day to get it at no charge.

Business Calendar is about as full-featured as you can get for a calendar app. It supports any number of Google calendars: I have at least seven going at one time because each member of my family uses a shared calendar, plus I have a few for work purposes. The software offers multiple views as well: agenda, day, week and month. That sounds like standard fare for any calendar app, but Business Calendar takes things a useful step further with on-the-fly visual adjustments.

In month view, for example, tapping one icon either adds or removes text from calendar events. Tapping on a specific date in month view brings a pop-up message with the scheduled events for that day, each of which can be tapped for details. The weekly view is highly customizable as well. A scroll bar at the bottom changes the date range from between a single day to 14 days. If you have a packed week with a ton of appointments, you can use a pinch-and-zoom gesture to hone in on additional event details, which is super for smaller screened devices. Searching for events is supported too.

At any point when looking at the month view, you can focus on the calendars of your choice: each calendar appears as a small tab on the bottom of the app; simply tap one to hide it or add it to the view. Another extremely handy feature on the monthly calendar is swiping your finger over a few days or a week to quickly switch to the week view. And although the top bar in any view normally displays the time period shown, you can tap it for contextual help.

Of course, Android is known for its widgets, and Business Calendar adds a dozen to use. Essentially, they’re all the same widget, but vary in terms of size, ranging from a 2 x 1 widget all the way up to a large 4 x 4 size. The widgets are fairly full-featured and completely customizable to show different details across various date ranges. Tapping the widget opens the Business Calendar app although that’s not always necessary since you can add events or change views directly in the widget.

With so many features and smart user interface cues, the app is well worth a $4.99 purchase. And at free, it’s a no-brainer, since you can always uninstall it. But I suspect most who try Business Calendar will keep it. In fact, I wouldn’t mind seeing Google buy the software outright and integrate it with Android as the native Calendar application. For folks who can’t get the free version from Amazon, there is a no-cost, ad-supported version in the Android Market to try. I highly recommend it.

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Poll: 62% of Consumers Feel Their Smartphone Is Obsolete

As new smartphones are launching on a regular basis, U.S. consumers are starting to feel the crunch of accelerating technology cycles: 62 percent believe that their current smartphone is either obsolete or will be so before the end of their current contract. The data comes by way of a poll from Retrevo, a Sunnyvale, CA consumer electronics shopping and review site. Retrevo’s poll results confirm a belief I’ve held for a few years now: mobile technology cycles are outpacing the lengthy two-year carrier contracts.

For a frame of reference, Retrevo determined that least 120 new smartphones from major handset makers were launched between April 2010 and March 2011. While many share the same or similar specifications, this time period saw a wide range of smartphone technologies used. Processors ranged from as low as 600 MHz for inexpensive Android handsets all the way up to dual-core 1 GHz processors for the new Motorola Atrix 4G.

Speaking of 4G, most phones didn’t have access to a next-generation network a year ago; now there are some on all four major carriers, so if you want the faster mobile broadband speeds, it’s already time to upgrade. I’m all for progress, and I love the empowerment of mobile broadband, but I’ve been critical of carriers for updating speeds too quickly: if the network doubles in speed every year, a two-year contract for hardware doesn’t make much financial sense. At least not for consumers.

The core issue is that as smartphone uptake is on the rise, the technology inside the devices is currently improving on a yearly basis. And yet, many consumers opt for a two-year contract in order to gain the cheapest hardware price due to carrier subsidization. Some could go month-to-month as I do, but that generally requires paying full price for a handset. I did that in January of 2010, paying $529 for a Google Nexus One. The up-front price was steep, but it provided full freedom to change carriers or handsets without any contract termination fees. Ironically, I’ve enjoyed the phone so much that I haven’t replaced it, although I’ve seen a likely successor in the HTC Sensation 4G (shown).

One solution to get the smartphone cycle in sync with contracts is the option of a one-year carrier commitment. Depending on your carrier, you may pay a little more up front for hardware, but only be committed to a year of voice and data service. Retrevo’s poll found that 66 percent don’t want to pay more for a phone in order to get a one-year contract, while 19 percent would go for a 12-month term for an additional $100 hardware price. Ironically, Verizon Wireless just this month eliminated such a one-year contract option, so it’s either pay full price for a phone or commit to what I call “cellular servitude” as your phone becomes obsolete.

Unfortunately, U.S. consumers want it all: cheap smartphones and the ability to upgrade to better handsets more often. That’s not economically feasible for now, or in the foreseeable future, so make sure you choose your phone wisely and early in the technology cycle.

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Nook Color Hands-on: E-reader, Tablet, or Both?

Yesterday, Barnes Noble released a software update for the Nook Color, bringing an app store, Google Android 2.2 and other tablet-like features. Since I never actually reviewed the Nook Color when it launched — and because I was curious to see if the device can replace a traditional tablet — I ran out to buy one. I’ve used the device for roughly 24 hours now, both before and after the new software upgrade. At $249, the device impresses overall, but for most people, this is going to be an e-reader first and pseudo-tablet second, based on my limited, hands-on impressions. My very first impression: Barnes Noble has hidden Android better than any other device maker I’ve seen yet, and I mean that in a good way.

A Solid E-book Reader

As someone who owned the second Amazon Kindle (the first model didn’t appeal) and has been reading e-books since 2003, I like the Nook Color as an e-reader. And that’s certainly the device’s primary function, although it’s slowly gaining more features. I may yet return the device, since it overlaps with my Samsung Galaxy Tab, but I did purchase a book in the Nook store; of course, I can read that content on iOS or Android devices too, due to Nook software.

The color display with excellent viewing angles works well for text or images and the brightness variance setting is wide. There are several font and spacing options as well. I don’t read outdoors, so I can’t comment on the display in direct sunlight. The latest software update adds a little page animation to the Nook Color, but it’s not a three-dimensional page turn such as Apple’s iBooks offers, for example.

Part-time Browsing Is Fine

The included browser works quite nicely and is even faster after the Android 2.2 update, which I expected. One of the key features of Android 2.2 is a speed boost to most apps. I tested the browser before and after the update, using the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark, just to get a general feel of the improvement. On the old software, the Nook Color browser scored a sluggish 11612 ms, which is among the slowest scores I’ve seen in the past year. After the upgrade, however, the device’s browser earned a 7919 ms score, which is a noticeable improvement for a test where lower numbers are better.

By comparison, my Galaxy Tab scores 5820 ms in the native browser and roughly half that using a third-party application. While the Nook Color is a capable browser, complete with bookmarks and support for multiple tabs, I could only use it for part of my day, as I desire faster web surfing. For occasional use, however, most folks will be just fine, especially after the software update.

Nook Apps

Instead of offering access to Google’s Android Market, Barnes and Noble instead added its own Nook Apps store, which launched with 125 titles. Today there are 140 apps, and unless I scanned too quickly, none were free. I can’t see paying $2.99 for Angry Birds yet again, and few other apps jumped out at me. Plus, I haven’t decided if I’m keeping the Nook Color beyond the 14-day return period, so I haven’t bought any apps yet.

The lack of software titles is something I’d normally be more pessimistic about, but the more I use the device, the more I believe the tablet-like features are secondary supplements. As a result, any apps at all (and there are sure to be more in the future) are a bonus for this e-reader. Plus, the device already has a few apps such as Pandora, Sudoku, Chess, a Crossword puzzle app and more. I’ve enjoyed listening to Pandora in the background while reading for hours already.

Email

The new software update adds an email client that’s fairly useful. I have both my Gmail accounts in the email client, and although basic, the software works fine for general email use. Don’t expect push email however; the options for synchronizing email start at every five minutes and work up from there. Incoming messages cause a unobtrusive notification in the bottom left of the display.

The Nook Color email client certainly supports web-based POP email accounts, but there are IMAP settings as well, so it should work for nearly any mail platform. I also saw mention of mail setup through Exchange, which directed me to a Nook Color support site. According to the site, Exchange isn’t supported directly, but TouchDown, a third-party connector app for Exchange, is available in the Nook Apps store.

So Is It a Tablet, E-reader or Both?

The answer to this question depends on what you’re looking for. Due to a solid reading experience, large library and the ability to read Nook books on other devices, the Nook Color is certainly a good, color e-reader. As a tablet, it may only suffice for occasional browsing, email and software use in its current state. That may change over time if Barnes Noble continues to mature the device with software updates.

But all the software updates in the world won’t change the hardware. The screen is fine, and the wireless connectivity and battery life are good too. The device will always be hampered by the relatively slow Cortex-A8 processor, however, which was evident when trying to watch an Adobe Flash video. It’s good enough for lighter tablet tasks, which makes the $249 a nice entry point for a potential tablet owner. Someone who wants to use a tablet for many hours daily and for a multitude of tasks however may find the device lacking.

Of course, the Nook Color can be a true Android tablet through rooting the device or installing a custom ROM. I’ve specifically ignored that aspect for now because I wanted to evaluate the device as it comes out of the box, which is how most buyers will use it. If I can root it and later un-root before the 14 day return period, I’ll do that and see if the hardware is more attractive with a base Android build and access to the Android Market.

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HTC Trace Takes on Swype With Better Android Keyboard

The newest version of HTC Sense, a simplified user interface for Android smartphones and tablets, appears to have a new keyboard function that allows text input by swiping a finger across keys. According to the AndroidPolice blog, a hands-on session with the upcoming HTC Sensation 4G revealed the feature, called HTC Trace. Android device owners familiar with a different application called Swype are sure to see the similarities.

Both Swype and HTC Trace work using the same concept. Instead of tapping away at keys, text input is faster when users don’t have to lift a finger, as it were. Using the software, words are quickly traced which reduces the wasted time of lifting a finger for each and every letter. Automatic insertion of a space between words also speeds up the process as you can see in this brief video demo.

Based on my own use of Swype and the description of HTC Trace, the two software solutions seem nearly identical. If HTC does officially release Trace with HTC Sense 3.0, I’m sure users will be happy to have the option, but the Swype folks may have something to say about it unless HTC has licensed the software for Sense.

Regardless of the legalities, HTC continues to show building smart hardware for handsets isn’t enough. The company is increasing profits to new records by designing solid smartphones, and by supplementing the devices with effective, in-house software, HTC is making the phones easier to use: a big selling point.

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