Toshiba Android Tablet AT200: A Closer Look

After the popularity and interest in our video (that can be found below) and the article on how Toshiba have stopped selling the AT200 in Australia, which you can read here Toshiba Android Tablet AT200 Ends Before it Begins, we thought we’d take a closer look at Toshiba’s new slimline tablet, as it will still be available around the world for some time.

Toshiba Android Tablet AT200

Just released globally, the Toshiba AT200 sets new standards in lightness and thinness for tablet devices.

Toshiba love being able to set new records and try new products that are a little left of centre.  Although some products aren’t successful in the mainstream, like the Libretto W100 Dual touch screen device, they do point to a company willing to take some risks to push the envelope.

The Toshiba Android Tablet AT200 is such a product. To call it the Ultrabook of the tablet world might be taking it a little far, but it does seem to go hand in hand with theZ830 as a companion in the thin and light mobile computing category, read that article here Toshiba Satellite Z830 Ultrabook First Look . At only 535 grams and 7.7mm it is currently the world’s thinnest and lightest tablet, matching the boasts of its Ultrabook sibling.

The overall design is of two slivers of silver being sandwiched together, with a black line running the entire way around the middle of the edge, except for the buttons and ports. It’s a stylish design and seems to be inspired in some part by its Ultrabook, with no tapering, just a consistent thickness all around.

The back plate has a metal finish with the Toshiba logo embedded, just in case there was any question as to what brand this eye catching tablet was. The back panel also holds the 5 megapixel camera. The front camera is 2MP.

What a great business model Gorilla Glass has now, becoming the go-to company for scratch and impact resistant display. The AT200’s 1280 x 800 display is protected by the Corning company’s mobile/tablet product.

Toshiba have kept the controls and ports very minimal but still manage to provide all the necessary outputs to satisfy most needs. The connection on the bottom of the tablet is for power and connection to a PC via USB, and the proprietary cable comes in the box.

It probably would have been easier to avoid duplicating the onboard connectivity of their previous 10.1”, the AT100, but they’ve gone all out and retained a full set of outputs.

The left hand side contains all the connections I mentioned earlier – headphone jack, micro USB, Micro HDMI and Micro SD. It is interesting that Toshiba can provide such a comprehensive connection suite in a product with such dimensions, beating both the iPad 2 and Tab 10.1, both of which offer only a single proprietary connection that can be accessed with various add-on cables.

Interestingly, the Toshiba Android Tablet AT200 uses a Texas Instruments dual core processor, which is comparable to the Tegra 2 or A5 processor used in iPads and other Android tablets. This may mean that another tablet with Tegra 3 may be on the drawing board down the track.

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Software-wise, the Toshiba is still rocking the Android 3.2 Honeycomb OS, and no word on upgrades just yet. Given the amount of exposure Ice Cream Sandwich is getting now, read our article here Android 4 Ice Cream Sandwich on a Tablet. I’m sure this question of ICS upgrade will be on the lips of any prospective AT200 owner.

In line with their pedigree in the commercial and enterprise space, rather than focusing on entertainment, Toshiba have included a few productivity apps. This includes Thinkfree Office for Word, Excel and Powerpoint compatibility; Splashtop for remote desktop access, a file manager (which surprisingly some tablets still don’t have out of the box), the popular Evernote and McAfee security.

When you look at the types of apps on board and the styling of the Toshiba Android Tablet AT200, you do get a sense that this is more of an executive’s secondary or third device rather than a casual gaming and entertainment tablet. The absence of Ice Cream Sandwich may turn some users off, but we’ll ask Toshiba for an update on that and come back with details when available.

In case you missed it the first time around, here’s our video of the Toshiba Android Tablet AT200:

What do you think of the AT200 from Toshiba?

Toshiba Android Tablet AT200 Ends Before It Begins

Toshiba Australia very kindly sent us a shiny new Android tablet to play with and we produced a segment, as seen below, and liked a lot about this new tablet. The Toshiba Android Tablet AT200 is the thinnest and lightest 10.1” tablet in the market, beating all other tablets on thinness and weight. The AT200 has its own look and feel that separates it from its competitors.

However, late Friday we were informed that as of this week, the Toshiba Android Tablet AT200 was going “End of Life” in Australia. This meant no more units would be brought into the country to sell.

Coincidentally (or perhaps not), Samsung also announced a fairly sizeable price reduction across the board for its 10.1 Galaxy Tab range, which now puts it at $100 under Apple’s iPad, you can read that article here Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Price Drop .

The AT200 was originally pegged at $579 for its 16GB Wi-Fi only model, which would have put it directly up against the iPad, and $100 more than the repositioned Samsung.

The Toshiba Android Tablet AT200 was, on paper, a pretty likeable machine. It weighed only 535 grams and was 7.7mm thin, eclipsing any other current tablet. Like its predecessor, it managed to retain a comprehensive set of connections -– headphone jack, Micro USB, Micro HDMI and Micro SD.

Toshiba Android Tablet AT200

The Toshiba Android Tablet AT200 offered great connectivity and a sharp looking body.

It also had a pretty inclusive set of software on its Honeycomb OS. This included Thinkfree Office, Splashtop for remote desktop access, a file manager, Evernote for spontaneous information gathering and McAfee security. One uncertain factor was when it would be upgraded to Android 4.0.

Our understanding is that the Toshiba Android Tablet AT200 is still alive and well in other regions around the world, so it appears to be a local decision not to continue this model on this continent. The Australian market is sometimes used as a litmus test for new products and technology for vendors as it’s fairly isolated and we’re a proud bunch of early adopters. This could indicate a subtle shift in Toshiba’s overall strategy in the tablet space.

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So where could Toshiba be heading, given this was a benchmark product in form factor at the very least? My initial guess is a ramp up to develop a strong Windows 8 tablet as part of its overall Windows ecosystem offer.

Toshiba released a touch screen all-in-one model last year, so they now have desktops, notebooks, Ultrabooks, and potentially tablets that would put them in a healthy position to offer Windows 8 across virtually all device types, except for mobile phones. Given Toshiba’s strength in the Australian market, such a strategy could be extremely beneficial.

After all, Android has evolved from the mobile platform whereas Windows has developed from a desktop/server platform, giving it a very different set of development challenges. Given Toshiba’s long history supporting Windows as its dominant operating system, there is no doubt they will come out with a strong offer at the launch of Windows 8.

The Toshiba Android Tablet AT200 cancellation and Samsung’s price move are two significant news events in one weekend for tablets. We are still to see the iPad 3 resolve into a real product from the conjecture and rumour that is feeding the hype before the announcement.

It’s going to be a real interesting few months for the tablet industry.  We will see more Tegra 3 products released, ICS deployed and upgraded on more machines, and the new iPad 3 awake from its secret slumber. In the second half of the year, Microsoft will make its move with partners like Toshiba champing at the bit to get into the market with Windows 8 on multiple hardware options.

Watch the video below or read our article on the Toshiba Android Tablet AT200 a Closer Look for more information.

Does Toshiba’s announcement change your mind about Android, and are you waiting for Windows 8 on a tablet?

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 Price Drop

Here in Australia, Samsung have officially moved price on their entire Galaxy Tab 10.1 range this weekend, with the 16GB Wi-Fi model now only $479 RRP. Here’s the new Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 price repositions at RRP levels across the range:

  • 16GB Wi-Fi only: $479
  • 64GB Wi-Fi only: $699
  • 16GB Wi-Fi/3G: $629
  • 64GB Wi-Fi/3G: $829

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 price is now pegged $100 below the comparative iPad models in both capacity and Wi-Fi/3G respects. This looks to be a move to continue the momentum gained through the media-supported hype around the Tab 10.1 and the legal stoushes with Apple here and overseas.

Once the Tab 10.1 was allowed to be released in Australia, Samsung embarked on a massive publicity campaign, complete with cheeky advertising callouts, including the phrase “The Tablet Apple Tried to Stop”, capitalising on the court’s decision to lift the ban on selling the Galaxy Tab 10.1 until the final verdict was decided.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 price has just come down in Australia.

Samsung's advertising directly referenced their legal battles with Apple. Even without their own campaign, the amount of exposure the Tab 10.1 received was massive.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 price drop can also be seen in context of other hardware offers in the Android tablet territory, and actually makes sense when comparing like-for-like systems.

Take, for example, the Asus Transformer Prime, the only tablet in the market with the Tegra 3 processor today. The RRP for the 64GB version of the Prime is $899. From the RRP of $699 for the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 price, one could add $100 for the addition of the keyboard dock, and a further $100 for the Tegra 3 processor upgrade.

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Of course, there are other market forces and activities hanging in the air that may begin to coalesce in the next few weeks. Rumours are building around a possible iPad 3 announcement, and Samsung themselves appear to have a new 10.1” model, the Galaxy Note 10.1 which looks to combine the functionality of the current Galaxy Note with the screen size and dimensions of the Tab 10.1. Given the number of units sold of the Note, and the development of S-pen based Apps, a 10.1 version of the Note could be very interesting and open the “creative mobile” market even further.

For now, we have the price drops which should stimulate sales of the 10.1 Galaxy Tab, and we’ll keep our eyes peeled for more information on new models as they are announced.

Have you been holding off for a drop of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 price, and does this announcement get you over the line to become a Galaxy Tab owner? Let us know your thoughts below.

Consumer Electronics Show 2012 – Looking into the Tech Crystal Ball

We'll be right in the thick of all the product announcements, keynote events and vendor stands to bring you the best of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the past year, we’ve had a great time sharing, discussing and responding to you, our readers around the big stories of 2011. Tablets, Ultrabooks, Media Players, iDevices and other categories like photography and home appliances have all had their interesting issues and product releases.

So what can we expect from 2012? The best place to start is in Las Vegas, at the Consumer Electronics Show. Intel, AMD, Microsoft, Google and many of the major computing vendors will be there to show off products and concepts that will make their way into the hands and households of users later in the year.

The great news is we’ll be reporting on all the hot stories from the CES fair in words, images and videos. We’ll be there from the kick-off event on the evening of Sunday 8th January, attending Press Day on Monday and then hitting the stands from Tuesday through to Friday.

We will be providing some insights into the announcements from the major manufacturers, reporting on the keynote events and spend some hands-on time with the new devices and hopefully talk to some key people involved in the industry.

It should be an interesting week as we expect to see a stack of exciting new products including convergence ideas in Home Entertainment, Windows 8 product concepts, as well as new Ultrabooks, tablets and smartphones.

There will no doubt a lot of different products that we will have the pleasure of touching and seeing while at the CES show that will illustrate in their own way what direction this industry might take over the next 12 months.

In the spirit of how we run things here at Ritchie’s Room, we’d like to hand the mic over to you the reader, and ask what it is that you’d like to see us cover and explore while at the CES in January?

What Is An Ultrabook… and Does It Matter?

Just like Cabbage Patch Kids of old, an unbranded Ultrabook waits for a home. (picture credit: Brooke Crothers, CNET)

Thin, light and powerful notebooks are coming to take over the world, and it appears it isn’t just Intel that will be promoting this form factor next year.

Since the launch of the first Ultrabooks – notebooks powered by low-voltage versions of the second generation of Intel Core processors – we’ve seen many different variations positioned to suit different customer segments.

All vendors take slight different riffs on the same ultimate goal – to provide a lightweight, slim, aesthetically pleasing notebook that can still provide similar computing experiences to the traditional notebooks that most end users own.

In the comments area for our YouTube segment featuring comparisons between three Ultrabooks from three major brands, one viewer, cowmonkey10, commented “Um…isn’t this just a laptop? What’s an ultrabook?”

That is the foundation for a lot of discussion going on in the IT manufacturing sector right now. Intel have set up a fund to provide marketing assistance to vendors who can make models that meet the criteria for Ultrabooks, which they hope will motivate the ramp up and customer acceptance of these new models.

I was chatting online to Steve Paine (aka “Chippy”) who runs the Ultrabook News website, and he pointed me to an article on CNET regarding Intel’s apparent focus on smaller companies to develop and produce Ultrabooks. This could be a good sign of competition in the new year, as the second-tier vendors will most likely release more competitively-priced versions of an Ultrabook and keep the larger brands in check.

Of course, Intel isn’t an island, and another article, this one on Tom’s Hardware, came out recently suggesting that AMD was readying itself to showcase their own versions of the “thin, light and powerful” category – possibly without stipulating dimensions and specifications. There’s some exciting possibilities there, and we hope to see some examples at the upcoming CES in Las Vegas.

So the question of “What is an ultrabook?” that I posed in the title is a reflection on the creation of a name to describe a new category – and whether this will impact and influence buyers of their next portable PC. I imagine this will depend on Ultrabooks living up to their promise of uncompromising performance in these sleek form factors.

What the term “Ultrabook” does achieve is provide some level of expectation in a potential buyer’s mind, and by forcing manufacturers to build to certain standards can ensure consistency in output. Even though each brand promotes their own offering in their unique way, a customer is educated to the general benefits and characteristics  of the category, in the same way the term “netbook” became accepted as a smaller mobile computing platform.

In the meantime, we thought we’d answer cowmonkey10′s question for our YouTube audience and share that with our readers here as well. There are plenty of sites, both official and non-official, that discuss the criteria in detail. Chippy’s page is a great reference for anyone that wants lots of information.

For those that want the lowdown in just one minute, here is our crash course in what is an Ultrabook:

 

For easy reference, here’s our comparison segment so you can see how different Ultrabooks can be, despite coming from the same general criteria:

 

Will the marketing activity of the term “Ultrabook” help sway you to purchase these a model that fits the definition, or will you buy simply on the merit of a notebook’s individual look, feel and performance?

Would love to hear your thoughts about how branding and classifying products affects your purchase decisions! See you all below.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 – The Best 7 Inch Android Tablet

With the announcement of the Transformer Prime by Asus, and the news still being updated daily about the fate of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 in various regions, another tablet from Samsung has been quietly gathering steam and is set to land on our shores in a very short while… the Galaxy Tab 7.7.

First, here’s our new video showcasing some of the rather cool features and design elements of the 7.7. There’s plenty more details and pics below. Also at the bottom of this articles you will find links to more articles and demonstrations of the Galaxy Tab 7.7 so be sure to take a look.

 

The 7 inch Android tablet market has been rather hit and miss so far, with the first iteration of the Galaxy Tab being the only real contender and most of the focus on the 10” category, and for good reason – that’s been the mainstay of Apple’s iPad up till now, and manufacturers have been innovative and creative with their offerings in order to stay relevant and have a chance of competing in that space.

The Galaxy Tab 7.7 takes a completely different tact, being lighter and slimmer than, well, any Honeycomb-based tablet we’ve seen so far. Compared to the original Tab which relied on a reworked mobile phone OS, it’s a much more mature product and fits snugly between a smartphone and large screen tablet. This may actually be the product to redefine what a small screen tablet is capable of.

Small, sleek and ready to slip into any size handbag or pouch.

Spec-wise, the Galaxy 7.7 is powered by a dual core 1.4GHz processor with 1GB of RAM, and will apparently come in three flavours – 16GB, 32GB and 64GB. It has N wireless on board, Bluetooth 3.0 and has a built-in GPS.

Samsung’s new 7 inch Android tablet sports a slightly larger screen, at 7.7 inches, but offers the exact same resolution features as its 10” cousins – 1280 x 800. Combine that with the Super AMOLED Plus screen, and you’ve got gorgeous detailed images and bright, rich colours. Because the pixels are so densely packed together, the screen display is second-glance-worthy. The small amount of video files we had played back smoothly in high definition.

Video playback up to 1080p on the Galaxy Tab 7.7.

I really haven’t held a tablet as light as this one. It’s only 340 grams, but it’s hard to describe what that means after holding various iOS, Android and Windows tablets – sure, this one is smaller than they are in terms of size, but the experience of holding one is amazing. I once commented in an earlier article how I’ve injured myself by falling asleep and dropping a first gen iPad on my face while reading… you’re in no danger of self-mutilation or embarrassment here.

Audio is pumped through these stereo speakers either side of the proprietary connector.

Did I mention how thin the Galaxy Tab 7.7 is? We’ve seen the Transformer Prime come in at 8.3mm, but the 7.7 takes “slim” to yet another level – it’s a sliver of a tablet at 7.89mm. To pick it up and rotate its dimensions in your hand is quite the chuckle producer – you don’t believe how thin and light it actually is.

Ridiculously thin... The Galaxy Tab 7.7 is lighter and thinner than pretty much any tablet on the market.

This is definitely a one-handed tablet – your fingers do need to spread, but you can also cup your fingers and hold it for a long time without fatigue. The cool metal backing does equalise with your hands temperature after a while, but put it down and the cold feel of stainless steel will once again greet your fingertips.

That’s a great segue into the materials and construction of this latest Samsung Galaxy Tab. Some other 7 inch Android tablet offerings have been rather thick, and felt a little fragile – squeeze the body and creaks have been heard from lesser machines. The engineering on the 7.7 is superb, we could detect no give between the body and screen; they are almost fused together. The metal back provides a stiffness and therefore top-shelf handling experience.

Maybe it's my long fingers that make this pic look odd... In any case the Galaxy Tab 7.7 is easily held in one hand, piano fingers or not.

Walking around this tiny pocket rocket and you can see how Samsung have achieved this degree of slimness: like the iPad and its own family of tablets, the Galaxy Tab 7.7 keeps ports down to an absolute minimum. All we have are a headphone jack, a micro SD card slot and Samsung’s proprietary 30-pin connector. Where most tablets try to offer a complete solution with inputs and outputs, particularly to differentiate against the iPad, the 7.7 follows its own path and offers instead adapters that can be fitted to connect various outputs.

Blink and you'll miss it... An external port on the Galaxy Tab 7.7, in this case a Micro SD Card Slot.

Is that going to be an issue for users? Based on the interest in the 10.1, which offers the same limited connectivity, no. It’s actually more sensible for this Galaxy Tab to eschew those I/O burdens as it’s probably closer to a smartphone than a tablet in some respects (the screen is actually a larger clone of the Galaxy S II). The option is there but you have to really feel the need in order to go to the effort of purchasing an adaptor.

The brushed metal back provides great rigidity to the Galaxy Tab 7.7.

Like all other HoneyComb tablets, there is a front and back camera setup, with a 2 megapixel camera on the front and 3 megapixel camera on the back. The back camera has an LED flash and 720p HD video recording capability. I think there is an inverse proportional relationship of the number of shots taken on a tablet to the size of the screen. Because the 7.7 is so light, it’s much easier to be spontaneous and shoot some off-the-cuff pics and video.

3MP camera and LED flash... The smaller the tablet, the more this will get used.

There is one black dot on the Galaxy Tab 7.7, but its existence helps give it a gold star for functionality. The black dot (not figuratively speaking, an ACTUAL black dot) on the side of the 7.7 is an infra-red transmitter. There is a program pre-installed on the 7.7 called Peel, and it actually converts the 7.7 into a universal remote control. If you’ve ever found remote controls to be clunky or not really that helpful, Peel may change your view on that.

Now not only do I not have to get up to change the channel, I don't even need to find the remote. She says lazy, I say efficient.

Setting it up is a breeze, and so is the actually use, just point at the device you’ve programmed in and it’s as if you’re using the original remote. But this functionality is a stunner, because you can browsing, reading or playing a casual game, use Honeycomb’s built-in multitasking to switch to Peel, change the channel/volume/input, and switch back to your previous activity, and the 7.7 never leaves your hands.

Software-wise, the Galaxy Tab 7.7 uses the same Touch Wiz overlay that their smartphones use, making the transition for Galaxy phone users a no-brainer. There is improved software such as video editing, image editing and even image management, letting you sort by a range of different criteria such as size, location (if geotagging can be found) or date/time.

Galaxy S II users will find no trouble using the Galaxy Tab 7.7.

The Galaxy also retains the “Hub” areas of the smartphone, and apparently the Music Hub will be available soon as well, but only for music, not for videos. I tried the Social Hub out and I liked its aggregation of my different social feeds in one easy to view panel. Being Honeycomb, this is a live widget that updates on screen so you can snack on bite-sized pieces of your connected world.

Manage all your social feeds into one panel on the Galaxy Tab 7.7.

The 7 inch Android tablet market is not as big as the 10 inch segment, by any means. It looks like Samsung has managed to carve itself a little niche with a product that doesn’t rely on third party programs to succeed, and adds little quirky features like remote control and revamped image/video apps into its sleek shell to give users a true out-of-the-box experience.

As always, I’ll leave it to you, our readers to make the call on whether this really is the best 7 inch Android tablet to date. Are you looking for a 7 inch tablet, or are you waiting for the 10.1 to be released? Are either of them on your shopping list for consideration?

Give us your thoughts and questions and we’ll respond – look forward to seeing you in the comments area!

For those of you who have yet to see and read the other articles on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 can do so here:

To see the Galaxy Tab 7.7 perform as an ebook reader  CLICK HERE. For a Q & A segment in which we compared the Galaxy Tab 7.7 to the iPad 2  CLICK HERE, and for the segment where we take a look at the Galaxy Tab  7.7 while multitasking just CLICK HERE.

 

 

Ultrabook Comparison – Acer S3, Toshiba Z830 & Asus UX31

Ever since Intel announced the new slim form factor that would take Windows-based notebooks into a new era of portability, lightness and cutting edge design, we’ve been covering many aspects of the Ultrabook build-up.

Our first Ultrabook article ran back in the beginning of September, discussing the details of what made an Ultrabook, and how it might add to the customer experience and value proposition.

ACER S3 Toshiba 7830 and ASUS UX21 Ultrabooks

Which do you want this Christmas? The slick and affordable ACER S3, the business person's dream machine in the Toshiba Z830, or the eye-catching performance and show-stopping looks of the ASUS UX21?

We’ve then been lucky enough to have some hands-on time with a slew of different models, including the Acer S3, Asus UX31, Toshiba Z830 and the HP DM3 Folio .

The beauty of competition is that even though Intel stipulated some minimum criteria benchmarks to determine what makes an Ultrabook, each manufacturer has come up with their own unique features that help set them apart from the pack – whether it be bang for buck, business-friendly features, or eye-catching design.

While we have looked at each individual model and reflected on their attributes as single-standing Ultrabooks, we thought it would be fun to gather three of the units and have a look at them together, just to see what made each one tick, and to illustrate just how different each Ultrabook could be, even though the same Intel DNA is coursing through each of their slim bodies.

If you’ve read each of the previous Ultrabook articles, then you’d have a fair idea of what each one offers. So instead of another article, we thought we’d produce a short, snappy video in the same style that you’ve now seen from the Transformer Prime segments.

We chose one Ultrabook from each processor range: an i3 Acer, an i5 Toshiba and an i7 Asus. We’ve presented our thoughts on what each model might represent for different customers, and left it open for further discussion – each model could be successful in its own patch of the market if they attract the right profile of user.

Without further ado, please find below our Ultrabook comparison video:

 

Here’s where we would love to hear your thoughts on the Ultrabooks – which one would you choose, and why? Or if you’re not interested in making the investment, what’s holding you back? As always, we’ll join you for the discussion and provide further information if you need it.

Talk to you all soon!

Check out www.youtube.com/ritchiesroomtv for all our videos and subscribe if you want to keep up to date with our regular video releases!

Samsung Music Hub Update Makes It a Compelling Offer

Two weeks ago I published my experiences on Ritchie’s Room regarding the new Samsung Music Hub, which promised to usher in a new way to discover and enjoy music. At the time, there were many excellent features to be explored and used instantly on the Hub, which can be installed via the Samsung App feature, and was exclusive to the Galaxy S II.

The interface, with an array of album cover images, scrolling functions and tap commands, was quite intuitive to use. The depth of music selection was compelling, with many tracks that I thought I’d have trouble finding, popping up in the search results, much to my pleasure.

At the same time, there were some features which seemed to need some additional work. The ability to use the Music Hub on the Galaxy S II without a SIM card or on flight mode was an issue, and the caching of music tracks to playback without streaming was fraught with difficulties.

I mentioned this in my earlier post, along with a few suggestions to further improve the Music HUB service, which I see as a real game changer if the functionality is delivered as promised across multiple devices.

Samsung's Music Hub is all about discovering music, and the latest update adds stability and better functionality.

Fast forward two weeks, and I’m sitting down for a coffee and chat with Bruce Webb, the Applications Partner Manager for the Telco division in Samsung, who was instrumental in the design and launch of the local Music Hub app.

Bruce is excited to show me the latest iteration of the software which is due for release to the public in the next few days. The update addresses many of the points made in my previous article. Bruce says that Samsung estimate three quarters of the installed base of Galaxy S II users have downloaded the app, and they are working feverishly to ensure the user experience is flawless.

Full functionality is now available if there is a Wi-fi signal but no SIM card or 3G connection , and cached songs now play without issue, in normal mode or in flight mode.

In fact, there are a few additional features that Bruce demonstrates to me on his Galaxy S II using the updated Hub. One of them is an offline mode that retains all other functionality on the phone but blocks internet access to the Hub app, allowing you to play the locally cached playlists with no other restrictions to the handset.

Another improvement is a quick method of resetting the Music Hub app completely if any file was corrupt and is disrupting the functionality, and using the cloud to restore playlists once the App was wiped clean on the local handset storage.

The cloud plays a big part in the grand scheme of Samsung’s efforts to bring the music service to its customers. Once you are verified and registered with the Music Hub, the playlists you create reside in the servers that manage the service. Whether you use a browser, a phone or a TV, you can pick up where you left off, with the added benefit of a repository of ten thousand music videos on the Smart TV application. The upgrading of your devices has no bearing on the lists you may have built up over time; once signed in, the devices synchronise with your account and it’s a seamless experience.

Drop new songs and albums into the Play Pit, then create playlists which will be stored on the cloud.

Bruce sees the Samsung Music Hub as a natural evolution of the way we consume entertainment. “We’ve gone from physical media, to downloading digital files, to now streaming music”, he says. Technology has been the great disruptor, making it possible to utilise services like 3G to choose and play music that is completely customisable.

“I’ve been on a six hour trip to Tamworth, streaming music over the network through my handset the entire trip and played back through the car’s Bluetooth connection”, bruce boasts. Although most customers probably wouldn’t want to chew up their mobile data limit so frivolously, it does show how far we’ve come from having a stack of scratched, dusty CDs in the glove box.

The high point of the conversation occurs when Bruce removes a small USB dongle from his pocket and offers to update my Music Hub app to the latest version (v1.05 for those technically inclined). He certainly didn’t have a chance to withdraw the offer, and I’ve been trying out the revamped app ever since.

Knowing some of the frustrations I had with the original app, the latest version does indeed live up to the proposition of access to a massive collection of music across all genres. I held my breath while synching playlists and then playing back in various modes, and the locally stored music played back without a hitch.

Putting this offer in the context of purchasing music, whether online or on CD, is extremely compelling. For the cost of one discounted album per month, you have access to millions of songs, which can be played back instantly, and you can choose 50 albums worth of music to have on your device to be played back without streaming.

Take a chance and get a randomly assembled playlist from a selected genre. Feeling lucky?

This is another step forward for Samsung, who can make a big dent in the music market with the sheer size of their mobile phone, tablets and AV installed base. Bruce also shows me the Music Hub app running on an older Samsung smartphone, with a lower resolution. The app has a couple of adjustments to take into account for the smaller screen real estate, but otherwise it’s the same experience. Likewise with tablets, Bruce explains that the layout will be different again to take advantage of the larger screen space available.

It was a very open and frank discussion with the very person who helped create the Music Hub in Australia, and it’s the sign of a progressive electronics company reaching out and engaging with the community, taking on that community  feedback and including it in the development of its products and services.

As for the future, Bruce intends to roll out further updates regularly, with deeper genre subcategories to explore, expanded pre-packaged playlists and even celebrity or musician-based playlists. “It’s going to evolve constantly”, he says.

If you own a Galaxy S II and have been holding off because of what you’ve heard or read, the latest version due to be deployed in a matter of days is worth downloading and at least trialling. The Music Hub is all about music discovery, so install the latest version of the App and go on your own musical adventure – you never know what you might find.

Will you be giving the Samsung Music Hub a go? Feel free to comment below on your experiences using the latest version of the app.

First Look: Pics and Official Specs of Upcoming HP Ultrabooks

HP have kept extremely tight-lipped about their Ultrabook plans, but today the veil has lifted off their first offering, and thanks to HP Australia we have a sample to look at in detail, along with the specs. These 13.3” Ultrabooks are due in late December.

HP's first entry into the Ultrabook market... the DM3, also known as the Folio.

Using a slimmed-down DM3 chassis and following that series’ lines and design sensibilities, the HP Folio, as it is called, adopts a conservative aesthetic approach, maintaining its appeal to the commercial sector and HP loyalists. In fact, opening the lid and seeing the layout and colour scheme, you can see where HP have retained the overall look and feel while slimming down the overall dimensions.

The DM3 is due out just before the end of 2011.

HP will have two models on offer, with the only variation being a choice of a low voltage i3 at 1.4GHz, or an i5 at 1.6GHz turbo boosted up to 2.3GHz. Other than that, all other vital statistics are the same. 4GB of RAM is taken up by one Dimm slot, and the spec sheet says expandable to 8GB RAM, so this may be the first Ultrabook with user upgradable components – a big plus for those looking to boost their performance. Both models come with 128GB solid state drives.

I could be mistaken but that looks like an easily removable panel to insert more RAM goodness!

The HP DM3 Ultrabook is also the first to have a two-tone body, with brushed metal finish on the lid and keyboard area, and a black rubberised base. The feel of the base is quite nice, not slippery plastic but a softer, more textured surface that enables excellent gripping when transporting by hand.

The dimensions of the DM3 are 31.8cm wide, 22cm deep and 1.8cm thick, with a weight of 1.49kg, so HP weren’t setting out to break records in the lightest or thinnest departments. Rather, it feels like a sturdy unit with good connectivity in a comparatively lightweight and thin body. Based on some of the flowing lines that reach from the sides and wrap around the front of the unit, I do get the feeling that HP could have gone with a thinner, wedge-based front if they wanted to, but it would have opposed their design principles.

No wedgies here... The two tone design stands out from other Ultrabooks.

The lid is nicely refined, with the HP logo stamped on in outline, leaving the brushed metal to fill in the letters. A small strip at the top of the lid includes a small tab for thumb-opening to reveal the inside.

It's easier to see in real life, but there are some cool brushed metal effects on the lid and keyboard area.

The black rubber of the base reaches up to the sides of the DM3, where all the inputs and outputs live. On the left hand side, the power, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, USB 2.0 port and memory card slot line up neatly. All of these inputs are full-sized. Two subtle LEDs indicate hard drive use and power.

Full-size notebook connectivity in an Ultrabook.

There is nothing on the back except for the fan outlet and the two hinges which keep the monitor in place, which is notably stiff. A headphone/mic combo jack and USB 3.0 port are all that is on the right hand side.

The monitor is a bright 1366 x 768 LED, with good side viewing angles and as mentioned before, looks pretty much bolted to the base from the two side hinges. A small unobtrusive webcam sits within the glass panel, along with a digital mic. The black framing of the screen is in line with the DM3 series DNA.

The touchpad is a one piece component that will pick up finger movements from corner to corner. The delineated click spaces work well, and right clicking in particular is quite accurate all the way to the middle of the wide “T”.

Integrated touchpad and clickpad on the HP DM3 does a good job of responding to gestures and presses.

The keyboard is nestled within a glossy black space that is sunken into the base to keep it flush with the rest of the brushed steel base. There is good tactile response to key pressing with a fair bit of depth and key separation. A small square on the touchpad can be double pressed and disables the touchpad to avoid palm-created inaccuracies with the cursor.

Familiar Pavilion design encases the keyboard in a glossy black finish.

There is a function button that activates and de-activates the backlit keyboard, the second Ultrabook to offer this added feature. In darkness the keys are bright and defined. Like its competitor, it’s a thoughtful add-on for those who might need it in low light or dark conditions.

The HP Ultrabook will keep you company all through the wee hours.

The Altec Lansing speakers that sit between the hinges are clear at higher volumes, but without much low end response. Perhaps HP could throw in a pair of Beats headphones to seal the deal from a portable entertainment sound point of view, given their brand association.

Detail showing speaker grill and sturdy hinge.

As it was stressed to me that this unit is a pre-production sample and does not fully represent performance benchmarks, the timings I recorded on wake up and boot up are not expected to be the final performance results. The 5 second wake up and 20 second boot up is a little slower than other Ultrabooks I’ve tested but this is sure to improve with the final production units.

The HP Folio is the most ruggedised Ultrabook I’ve come across so far. The rubberised base and sides where the connections are certainly give it a lot of grip and it doesn’t feel like a delicate unit. The stiff motion of the lid which encases the monitor reinforces that impression. In essence there are no surprises, and the build quality is first class.

A (literally) solid addition to the growing Ultrabook family.

Like the Toshiba we looked at a few days ago, the inclusion of the Ethernet jack hints at an enterprise and business customer. Its sturdiness should be a plus as it can be thrown around a little more if it is used on the road and places outside of an office environment. At under 1.5kgs it’s still way under most standard notebooks and just squeezes into the Ultrabook criteria.

After looking at a few Ultrabooks, there definitely appears to be a fork in the road where some brands like Acer and Asus have chosen to be more brash and thrilling in their form factor executions, to attract the purchaser whose notebook is an extension of their personality. Travelling down the other fork are brands like Toshiba and HP who have not deviated massively in style or design, but have taken advantage of new technology to offer a reason to upgrade to slimmer, lighter models that retain the reliability and sturdiness that businesses demand.

The Ultrabook category is the most exciting development for Windows-based portable PCs in many years. Out of their negative publicity and uncertainty, HP have stuck to their brand image and design approach and adapted the Ultrabook to their own blueprint. For a company that seemed to be on the cusp of an unfortunate fate not long ago, it’s a solid entry.

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Steve Jobs’ Legacy is in the Clouds.

Sadly, Steve Jobs never got to see iCloud launched, passing away only days before its worldwide release.

Yesterday, shortly after the passing of Steve Jobs was reported, my Twitter feed and Facebook news items were almost exclusively reflections and tributes for the co-founder of Apple. Amongst the quotes and condolences, one comment stuck out for me :

“Steve Jobs is in the iCloud now.”

That particular statement resonated with me as I’ve been commenting on cloud storage and cloud computing options such as the Chromebook in recent posts. Up to this point in time, cloud-based activity has really been restricted to enterprise and corporate budgets, investing in their own servers and managing them internally.

Google Documents and Microsoft’s Skydrive have both offered a solution for online document and file management, but neither has yet reached the point of mainstream acceptance. Google’s Chrome OS, which is currently appearing on a few specially designed portable PCs, is the closest to a fully cloud-reliant system.

Steve Jobs announced iCloud back in June of this year, and when launched will be the easiest way to take advantage of cloud storage, particularly if you own multiple iDevices. Photos, music, documents, even contacts and calendar info will be grabbed from your device and pushed to other devices in your sphere of iOS devices. And in typical Steve Jobs style, the focus was not on the technology or innovation behind this rethink of how we use our connected devices – Steve wanted us to know that “It just works”.

A YouTube clip of Steve Jobs on stage in 1997 demonstrates just how visionary Steve Jobs was and where he saw the future of computing – not just for calculations and localised processing, but as a truly connected communications system that ultimately rendered localised storage moot.

Back in the late 90’s, we were still talking about large, clunky desktops; this has evolved to the sleek notebooks and touch screen products we now take for granted. The advancements in cellular and wireless technology means information is always within our grasp – and iCloud is in a perfect position to change the local storage paradigm that most of us still live by.

Here is the original 1997 discussion on server-based storage that back then would have sounded pretty fantastical, especially considering the infrastructure users would have had to create for their own mini-cloud.

And here is the slick, all-encompassing service that Apple will be offering from October 12th as part of the iOS 5 update.

It took 14 years to arrive at this point, but the iCloud release is an important landmark that will again disrupt industry standards and move end users to online storage without needing to know the details of server farms or network grids.

Ironically, this may stimulate further growth in competing cloud-based products and services because of this shift to mainstream that Apple will be creating. After all, as Steve Jobs once said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Steve Jobs’ legacy is not just in the products he invented and produced, which have become treasured objects as much as technological achievements. The ripples, indeed waves, of his influence will be felt as we evolve into an age where how we do things is just as important as what we do them on.

Steve Jobs, Rest In Peace.

(Feel free to leave your own reflections and comments on what you think is Steve Jobs’ greatest contribution.)