Samsung Galaxy S3 First Look at a VERY Smart Phone

Bona fide events built around around product launches are few and far between these days, but there was no doubt that the local launch of the Samsung Galaxy S3 in Sydney yesterday was aimed to make as much of an impact as possible, delivering on the promise of a new mobile device that could set new standards in mobile functionality.

After receiving our Samsung Galaxy S3 and spending a few hours with it in the studio today, there was no doubt that the bar has been raised and it will be hard to leap frog this device any time soon. We’ve put together a few segments so you can see what our impressions are, particularly if you’re looking at upgrading your smartphone any time soon.

The phone is light, powerful and rates extremely high on the usability factor. The hardware is light but also robust with no give or flex in the tooling. The Samsung Galaxy S3 is powered by a quad core 1.4GHz processor, and it shows. All app opening/closing/switching, browser performance and camera use all ran without a hitch.

The 1280 x 720op 4.8″ screen is lovely to behold. The Super HD AMOLED display provides wonderful contrast levels, where black levels really do feel like black, and colours appear quite vivid and deep. Watching content locally or streamed on the Samsung Galaxy S3 was issue free.

The Touchwiz UI has had a raft of tweaks for the Samsung Galaxy S3, and all focused on user experience. The phone can be set to respond to motions to mute the phone, make phone calls from a message window, and brightness can be maintained if your eyes are placed on the screen. You can take a video playing in the video player and have it hover over the rest of the screen while you do any other activity on the phone.

The S Voice is also a decent competitor against Siri. In our test, the Samsung Galaxy S3 was able to hold its own and go the extra mile (pardon the pun) when it came to street directions to a destination – in Australia this service is still blocked by Apple.

Google does a pretty good job at integrating social media accounts in their smartphone OS, and the Samsung Galaxy S3 continues that trend, with local photos having the ability to be tagged with social profiles.

The built-in 8MP camera on the Samsung Galaxy S3 continues to demonstrate why so many people eschew a dedicated compact camera these days – smartphones are able to compete in casual shooting environments with ease. This camera has a few cool features, like burst mode, best photo which chooses the optimised pic from a burst 8 shots, 1080p video recording, 720p from camera recording, and snapshot function while recording video. These are features you find on decent dedicated camera setups, so it’s no wonder there is a shift in user behaviour.

Aside from the hardware prowess, operating system refinements and overall performance, the Samsung Galaxy S3 continues to include some content offers as well. The Music Hub, which has been around for some time now, is available for a free trial, as is a subscription to  Quickflix for movies and TV shows. Navigon GPS software is also preloaded.

Overall, the Samsung Galaxy S3 is a remarkable phone. Considering the advancements made since the GS2, and the side-by-side comparison with the rather dimunitive-looking iPhone 4S, this phone ticks most of the boxes a smartphone user would want – with the exception of 4G connectivity and the still-fragmented Android ecosystem.

Samsung Galaxy S3

Should the new Samsung Galaxy S3 be crowned the new king of smartphones?

However, Samsung are betting on screen size and a controlled, specialised interface along with content and social/usability propositions to make their pitch – and it looks like millions of interested punters around the world are buying it. To be honest, so are we.

This page will be filled with a few videos over the weekend focusing on some different areas of the Samsung Galaxy S3. We hope you enjoy them, and let us know if you have any questions by leaving a comment below.

Until next time!

Google Lab Adds Gesture Control in Android Web Browser

We have been spending a fair bit of time discussing the Android Web Browser experience on the Android 4 tablet platform, courtesy of the Transformer Prime. We even had a chance to check out the Chrome for Android Beta browser.

The fundamental issue here is that even though the stock Android web browser and the Chrome browser are great examples of browser environments and functionality, they don’t address the issue of how touch screen interfaces differ incredibly from standard desktop environments.

The stock Android web browser on Ice Cream Sandwich tablets gives a little insight into what they are developing over at the Google labs. It’s a great example of innovative gesture design.

(note:  one of our readers @Diesel, has kindly pointed out that this Labs feature is actually also available on Honeycomb Tablets, which is terrific news for owners of Android 3.2 tablets.)

If you own a tablet that happens to have been upgraded to Ice Cream Sandwich, then simply select the stock browser, press the menu button on the upper right hand corner, and go to settings. The last option you’ll then see on the left hand side is the Labs button. Select Labs then tick the Quick Controls box.

When you return to the browser, you’ll be able to see the entire page with no top or bottom area compromise. Sliding your thumb in from either the left of or the right presents a semi circle with icons denoting certain functions. These provide instant access to common commands, such as bookmarks, deleting current tab, adding  a new tab, back, forward, and refresh.

Menu options on Android Web Browser

Using the left hand thumb, hovering over each icon will display the relevant options.

The tab select button is an interesting space to flick through currently open tabs vertically, easily navigating to your open page of choice. Even though this is a hidden little gem in the software, it also gives an indication of what functions may appear on progressive releases, and perhaps eventually on Chrome for Android web browser.

Tab Control on Android Web Browser

The right hand thumb has the same options in mirror image. Here the Tabs are selected vertically.

After using this “Easter Egg” feature on the ICS Android web browser, it becomes pretty clear that there has been a fair bit of thought into making it useful for both left and right-handed people. The browser has also been made more efficient by placing commands in the natural areas where hands would be holding the tablet.

For Chrome to really take the lead in mobile browsing, adding an option to control the online navigation could position Chrome for Android into the ultimate mobile internet browser.

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Here’s the Ritchie’s Room video showing some of the cool features of the experimental Lab Android web browser.

 

 

Would you shift your mobile browser to Chrome if it included gesture functionality similar to what we’ve shown, or is it still too clunky to be a real feature? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Chrome for Android Comes Without Flash Support

Whether it’s on a smartphone or a tablet, the quality of the online browsing experience is critical to the success of any mobile device. Chrome for Android aims to become the optimum browser for Android devices. However, as we pointed out in our previous article, Chrome for Android comes without Flash support in its Beta state, and none is planned.

This development (or lack thereof in this case) was also commented on by  Adobe. They mentioned continued development of the PC-based Flash product, and their contribution to HTML5. That in effect is a surrender to the market shift away from their long-standing plug-in.

Is it such a big deal that this browser is throwing the towel in so early? After all, even the stock browser supports Flash, and we made a tongue-in-cheek video pointing this out when comparing it to the iPad. Today we could very well re-shoot that video, only this time with two Android tablets: one running the stock browser and the other running Chrome for Android that doesn’t support Flash.

Chrome for Android Comes Without Flash Support

No, this is not an iPad screenshot, it's a Transformer Prime showing the world that Chrome for Android comes without Flash support.

When we step away from the issue and look at it a little more objectively, Flash is still very much reliant on localised drivers and plug-ins to provide an online experience. In this day and age that combination does seem to be a little old-fashioned. With all things moving to online storage, cloud services and less dependence on the specs of notebooks (take Ultrabooks) and tablets (which are stripped down compared to any PC of note), HTML5 seems to be the best solution.

Chrome for Android comes without Flash support, but will enable HTML5 authors and developers to create rich, interactive environments that will be transferable to any device, regardless of their plug in. After all, why should we need to download an app for Adobe Flash Player  just to see a website in its entirety on an Android device?

The very nature of the functionality of Chrome for Android is to connect seamlessly with your desktop experience. With no plug-ins and instant access to open tabs, the shift is very much in the favor of HTML5, the fact that Chrome for Android comes without Flash support seems to be a short term issue.

Apple did indeed bring this topic to a head. It’s encouraging to see the entire mobile platform converging on a single standard for the benefit of all mobile browser users, regardless of which ecosystem they have invested in.

Chrome on Android Using the Asus Transformer Prime

Earlier this week Google released the beta version of Chrome on Android, fulfilling a commitment to provide a seamless link between the desktop and mobile browsing experience.

Here’s our video showing you some great cross-device activities that, up until now, haven’t been possible, and it’s exciting to see them in action.

At this stage only 12 countries, including Australia, have been given access to the beta version of Chrome on Android, and it is limited to mobile and tablet devices with the Android 4 and above OS. In Australia, that really only gives the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and the Asus Transformer Prime the opportunity to show off this new browser. We are lucky enough to have a Prime tablet at our disposal, so we can show this off in tablet mode to you.

 

Chrome on Android menu system

The menu for the Chrome beta for Android browser, which includes "Other devices", a hint at the cross-device power of this internet browser.

The intention is for Google to move its stock browser over to Chrome on Android once beta testing has been completed, and if the initial experience is any indication, it’s a good move.

First up, the browser asks for your gmail account details to sign you in, as a large portion of the features involves utilising synching with your desktop browser. If you currently don’t use Chrome and do own a Nexus or Transformer Prime, I’d suggest you move over immediately to at least see what this has to offer.

Once you’ve signed in, make sure you’re also signed in over on your Chrome Desktop browser, because this is where the fun really begins.

Once you use the Chrome on Android beta browser a few times, one thing becomes very obvious – that Google is looking to provide a completely seamless browsing experience regardless of what device you are on. Whatever bookmarks you currently have on your desktop are immediately pushed to your tablet, and any changes you make are also moved across.

Chrome on Android Desktop and Local bookmarks

You can see the bookmarks above for both local and synched content within the Chrome beta browser.

But that’s not all. The synching also brings across your browsing history, so any websites you visit regularly will come up in priority to other search results. It’s uncanny, opening this browser for the first time and it knows what you are entering in the Omnibox.

What’s an Omnibox, I hear you ask? It’s the box in Chrome where you enter the URL, but can also be used for search terms. No more looking for a Google search box, just type right in the omnibox and you’ll get taken to the website of your choice or be presented with a list of options based on your search term. Those that use Chrome on desktop will be used to this feature, but it’s the sudden “awareness” of your new device using Chrome on Android that makes it a little spooky.

 

Chrome for Android Browsing Spooky Geen Android

Does it get any spookier than this Chrome eyed little Green Android?

Synching is one thing, but how about transferring all your open tabs on your desktop to your tablet? When you open a new tab, there are three rectangular buttons at the middle bottom: Most Visited, Bookmarks and Other Devices.

Most visited appears to be a more localised history. Bookmarks are split into Desktop, Other and Mobile bookmarks. Opening the Desktop bookmarks folder presents all the bookmarks from your desktop.

“Other devices” presents the currently open tabs from other Chrome browsers that you are currently signed into. However, instead of just duplicating all the tabs, it shows the pages in a list form so you can choose which ones you want to open. This is a great feature if you are on your desktop searching for movie times or restaurants and want to continue that exploration while you are at large.

Chrome on Android open tabs from desktop

Here you can see open tabs from the Toshiba PC, and a webpage that has been pushed to the tablet.

Another feature is the Chrome to Mobile feature, which ensures the page you were on is sent to your device even if you shut your current sessions down or have to power off your PC. Just install the free Chrome to Mobile app onto your desktop browser, and a small phone icon will now appear on the right hand side of the Omnibox. Press the icon, and a dialogue box will ask you to confirm which device to push to.

The next time you open your Chrome browser on your tablet, the page will be there waiting for you under the “Other Devices” area. This is a much quicker way of sending links, going browser to browser instead of going from the browser, to sending an email, receiving the email and pressing a link that opens in a browser – everything happens within Chrome.

Chrome is known for its “Incognito” option, and it is replicated here, and the overlapping squares and “Spy vs Spy” icon on the left hand side makes sure you don’t forget which browser you are in.

Chrome on Android incognito browsing

Incognito mode opens another window with all incognito tabs gathered, with easy switching between both modes.

The last thing I will mention here is voice search, another icon on the right hand side of the omnibox that, once pressed, will display a microphone for you to verbalise your search request. It seemed to be intelligent enough to pick up the basic phrases we threw at it, but given it is a beta version I’m sure it’s a feature they are working on to be polished by the time the final version is released.

Chrome for Android Browsing Voice Search Windows

Search by speaking is now available. Voice search is a highly competitive domain and Google need to deliver a polished product.

The initial impression of the beta version of Chrome on Android is very positive, and given this is the foundation for their stock browser once users provide feedback and bugs are ironed out, the idea of always-connected, always-on takes another step forward. Web browsing is a huge part of what we do on devices, and to have an uninterrupted experience between the difference physical screens we use is a very compelling reason to move to Chrome, both from a tablet and a desktop perspective.

Have you tried out Chrome beta on an Android mobile or tablet, and what are your thoughts? Are there any other scenarios that you’d like us to test? Let us know in the comments area below.

Consumer Electronics Show Las Vegas – Reflections on CES 2012

The International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has come and gone, and left behind a buzz of excitement and expectation for products and platforms that we will begin to see later on this year. A week after returning to Sydney, and with a couple more videos to upload, I thought I’d look back on the show in a holistic view and pick out some highlights.

There were no revelatory launches or announcements, mostly there were hints of things to come, partnerships to blossom and a drive to make things even simpler for users. Here are some of the impressions I had while walking through the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Centre.

There is an ecosystem war about to be waged, and the prize is… you. Apple and Google have been fighting for the mobile device market for the past few years, with Google now an extremely capable and experienced hand in the cell phone market. However, inroads have been harder for Google to create for the tablet market, which is still predominantly iPad.

In the second half of this year, Microsoft will put its hat in the ring for ecosystem and cross-device dominance, with Windows 8 expected to be deployed across a raft of new products including desktops, touchscreen all-in-ones, Ultrabooks, tablets and smartphones.

Microsoft stand at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas CES 2012

CES attendees flocking to the Microsoft stand to obtain a glimpse on what will be on offer this year.

Windows are in the enviable position of possessing a user base of hundreds of millions that are potentially customers for the Windows 8 system. Of course, many of them are already using iPhones or one of the many well regarded Android Smartphones, and are knee-deep in the App markets of either one.

However, if Windows does manage to execute the launch correctly, it could potentially convert a fair percentage of these users over through the promise of complete and seamless connectivity of files and data through any device. It could be pretty compelling if they can tie Skydrive into the cloud service that manages the always-synched nature of the always connected, always on products that we now demand.

Microsoft’s partnership with Nokia, which was derided by many at the time of the announcement, now it seems to be one of the smartest moves for both companies to survive and succeed in the brave new world of the smartphone market.

On the other hand, Intel’s major push with Lenovo and Motorola into Google-powered mobile devices later this year gives Android another shot in the arm to stay ahead of the competition and flourish in bourgeoning markets like China – what a country for Lenovo smartphones to launch in! The name of the game here seems to be installed base, and on this metric both Android and iPhone have a comfortable head start on Microsoft.

Nearly every PC brand represented at CES had an Ultrabook offering, and this Intel-created category of slim and light notebooks has given notebooks a new lease of life where there has not been any tremendous technology bumps since the first wave of Core i3/i5/i7 processors were released.

Intel stand at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas CES 2012

With Intel announcing that they are entering the mobile phone market, other mobile phone chipmakers have been put on notice.

The Ultrabooks show how light, connectable and thin Windows notebooks can be. With most of Intel’s marketing funds being pushed towards the Ultrabook category, it’s no wonder manufacturers are producing their own takes on the Ultrabook in terms of design, weight and ports. As the gap between a standard notebook and an Ultrabook begins to narrow, Ultrabooks will become more attractive for its attributes of SSD, unibody shells, lack of moving parts, instant-on and practical portability without compromising comparable performance.

At the Microsoft Keynote, a few important announcements were made that will start to affect the landscape of PCs later in the year. The first was the announcement of Kinext coming to Windows PCs, and that the developer kit would be released at the beginning of February. This is the first step away from the standard keyboard and mouse and towards Natural User Interface, where gesture and voice control may become a standard plug in for devices in the future. Kinect started as a gaming platform but it was always quite clear that its potential went far beyond waving your hands in front of the TV and would have positive implications for many industries.

Microsoft keynote at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas CES 2012

Microsoft Keynote... if only they could get the voice recognition software on that dang Windows Phone to work. :-D

The other key announcement was the support for ARM devices for the Windows 8 platform. This means that popular tablets like the Transformer Prime and Galaxy Tab could end up with Windows pre-loaded in the future. This could be a sigh of relief to traditional PC manufacturers, who will probably find deploying Windows on their tablets less burdensome than Android.

Not that Google is entirely on the outer, either. Intel’s chosen platform for its initial foray into the mobile phone market is with Google, which will strengthen its share in the smartphone category and possibly shore up support for tablet devices.

Integration and simplification seems to be the mantra for many AV companies, who are becoming less reliant on third party peripherals and building technology into their products. For example, LG will have Wi-Di in selected models, making the investment in a Wi-Di enabled notebook much less of a consideration because of the need to buy a Netgear or Belkin add-on, for example.

Glassless 3D was also on display for many companies, including Sony and Toshiba. Toshiba had glassless versions for their notebooks as well. The biggest issue is the need for the viewer to be positioned in exactly the right angle and distance for the 3D effect to take place, otherwise it just shows two overlapping images. It’s a progressive step and an indication of where this will head next.

Television-size OLED screens made an appearance as well, and we’ve seen how good images look on a small 7.7 inch screen, and they looked absolutely amazing on a 55 inch display – thin, light, bright with real colour depth. These are the displays of the future, taking over where Plasma and LCD was and where LED is now.

I was very interested in the integration of Google TV into TVs as well, which to me seems like the proper evolution of the Smart TV. LG’s demonstration of Google’s search and select activity on its screens showed how Google can become the default driver for finding relevant video content regardless of source on your television screen. With YouTube focusing on Channels instead of users, and licensing broadcaster program listings, the melding of online, cable and free to air content could be Google’s next big platform.

LG and Google TV stand at the consumer electronics show in Las Vegas CES 2012

Google TV... changing the way we watch TV and putting the control firmly back into the viewers hands.

There was plenty more that I saw, including a fair bit of home automation and security and more IP connected devices and appliances. But for the most part, this year seemed to be all about the evolution of platforms and the devices that will support them.

We’ll be following up with key manufacturers here in Australia as products are released and look forward to sharing our views and demonstrations of these new devices and platforms as they become available. What new gadgets and devices are you looking forward to seeing in the market?

Until the next Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas from the Ritchie’s Room team thanks for watching and reading and we can’t wait until CES 2013.

CES 2012: Intel Smartphone Reference Design Demonstration

At the Intel Keynote at the CES, CEO Paul Otenelli made quite a few major announcements, some of which will start to bear fruit later in the year. Of the big pieces of news to come out of that event was Intel’s foray into the Smartphone category – providing chipsets for manufacturers as an alternative to existing suppliers.

We were impressed with the performance capabilities of the reference design - if this manifests in a vendor-based smartphone, Intel has a rosy future in the smartphone market.

Intel are not dipping their toes in the water either – they are launching with Lenovo in the Chinese market. This does make a lot of sense – because manufacturing will most likely be based in China, speed to market and scalability will be competitive advantages from day one.

As a chipset manufacturer, Intel could simply provide the processor feature set and engineering samples and leave it to the builders to start from scratch. However, Intel actually develop full working samples of devices to inspire and create a performance baseline that brands can use as a template.

At the Keynote, there were actually a few Reference design models – one for Smartphone, for tablet, and for Ultrabook. The Ultrabook reference design was interesting in its capability to shift into a touchscreen tablet.

Outside of the keynote, the only reference design model that was publicly demonstrated was the smartphone, and it was an impressive display. If this is truly how smartphones built with Intel architecture will be perform, then Intel can’t ignored as a viable alternative for manufacturers looking to improve the experience of their products for customers.

With 4G network infrastructure being built, high definition content becoming the norm, and smartphones increasingly taking share in the mobile phone market, Intel look to be in a good position over the next year.

Check out these live demos of the Intel Reference Design on the Intel stand at CES.

The first one is a spec introduction and web browsing demonstration:

 

The second one shows a gaming example:

 

This last one demonstrates high definition video playback:

 

Would you consider a smartphone if it has an Intel sticker on it?

 

Ritchie’s Room at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show (CES)!

The 2012 CES is only a few days away and we just wanted to shout out to all our readers that we will be updating this site has much as possible with news from the 2012 tech launch event.

We will be on hand for all the major announcements from the big brands attending CES 2012.

We expect to see and share with you some great new releases including the latest Ultrabooks, Tablets, Windows 8 gear, and the latest in Smart TVs, smartphones and networking products.

We’ll be sharing this on all our social networks, so you ‘ll be able to track our updates and posts on the following platforms:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/ritchiesroom

Twitter: www.twitter.com/ritchiesroom

YouTube: www.youtube.com/ritchiesroomtv

Google Plus (the link is not an extension as such)

and of course right here on Ritchie’s Room!

So feel free to subscribe to us on any of the above social links and bookmark us here for regular updates straight from the Las Vegas Convention Centre and other venues in town.

If there is anything you’d like to know specifically, or think think there is a stand worth looking at for our readers, here’s your chance to have your Ritchie’s Room roving reporters get around to these stands during the show. We’ll do our best to cover as much as possible during the days we are there.

Cheers, and until next time… in Vegas!

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?

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.)

Samsung Series 5 Chromebook: First Look

If you’re an 80’s kid like me, then you must have seen the original Ghostbusters movie. Aside from the actual creation of the Ghostbuster team, one of the other great sub plots was Sigourney Weaver’s character Dana Barett being taken over by a demon. In an especially memorable scene, Bill Murray visits Dana, who has turned a tad sexier and uninhibited and tells the Ghostbuster in no uncertain terms, that “There is no Dana, there is only Zuul.”

After spending a little one-on-one time with Samsung’s Series 5 Chromebook, I can almost hear this challenging piece of tech growling “there is no local storage, there is only a browser.” And I understand how Bill Murray’s character must have felt – strangely attracted yet not really sure what to make of it and if it would fit in my life on a full time basis.

Samsung’s Series 5 Chromebook has not yet made it to the Australian market (we’re looking at an early ’12 launch) and I was eager to take this cloud-based notebook for a spin. After a couple of days of use, I can see where cloud-centric platforms are headed, and how this could be a possible future of mobile computing. Although the Chromebook may not be a mainstream device just yet, it certainly makes a bold statement about PC functionality in the near future.

Samsung’s Chromebook is totally browser-based. The Chrome OS is an evolution of Google’s own Chrome browser; each tab is not just a website, but a web-powered application. To this day, programs are installed on your local computer, and if you don’t back up your computer from time to time, you could potentially lose all your work. With the Chromebook, the cloud is your storage space, and there are no programs to install, just apps and extensions to add to your browser.

The Samsung Series 5 Chromebook is, for all intents, a high end-netbook repurposed. It has a 12.1” matte display with 1280 x 800 resolution, which looks great in daylight (more notebooks should have matte displays), powered by an Intel dual core Atom processor, with 2GB of RAM and a quite tiny 16GB SSD drive for the operating system and some limited file storage.

The gloss white lid with the raised Chrome logo and rounded edges gives the Chromebook both a friendly and serious aspect. The contrasting black interior with the island keyboard, generous keypad and black frame around the screen keeps things simple inside. Samsung quote a battery life of over 8 hours, which I wasn’t able to test.

Just as the Asus Slider and Transformer took a standard keyboard and customised buttons for functions specific to the Android OS, the Series 5 has done the same thing, replacing function keys with common Chrome Browser functions such as back/forwards, refresh, group tab switching and brightness/volume controls.

Speaking of volume, you will probably want to keep the sound level low on this Chromebook as the sound is extremely flat. Playing any music clips from YouTube would not be advised because they’ll sound completely different to the quality you remember.

There are two words that the Chromebook says up front: “Trust me.” There is very little in terms of settings or control-panel type fiddling that can be done, just a few basic features to manage the user profile and notebook behaviour. (Handy hint: The one adjustment I made right away was the “touch-to-click” option for the touchpad – an option that most notebooks have as a default and is hard to break as a habit.)

The Chromebook is quick to boot up and shutdown, one of the first positive impressions of this notebook. Open the lid and it’s waiting for your login in a matter of seconds. Close the lid and it’s in standby mode in the same timeframe. It’s very quiet too, with no sign of fan noise, mostly due to the limited SSD flash storage it uses for the Chrome operating system and small amounts of file downloads that it permits.

Navigating the browser is the key to realising the potential of this Chromebook. Each tab is some kind of web address, even the settings page. Opening a new tab displays all the apps you have chosen to attach to your Chrome OS. Clicking one of those takes you to either the webpage or the app within the browser.

You can group tabs according to type of use as well. For example, you may have a bunch of social media pages that you want to keep track of, along with some business documents that you’re editing, as well as a few feeds from your favourite news sites. These groups can be switched between each other so you’re always dealing with groups of like sites.

So what is the beauty of the Chromebook? Because everything you are doing is on the cloud, there is no chance of losing your data even if something catastrophic happens to your notebook. You can just log onto another Chromebook and you’ll be back into your customised environment, with your particular apps and extensions beefing up your browser.

The other significant benefit is never having to update anything. Apps that you “install” will be updated automatically as code is written and launched via the app’s website. Antivirus is redundant because there’s nothing local to be at risk. Chrome OS itself is the only thing that will require updates, and that will be pushed through as a download to the device when required.

In many ways, most of what we do now is internet-based or internet-sourced. Facebook and other social media platforms, email, webchat, news feeds, and even games – most of this information is derived from data on the internet. The natural progression is for the PC makers to focus on the part of computing that most people do these days, which is live in the browser or use apps that filter content from the greater internet.

Who is the Chromebook for? Right now, I’d say corporations that want a low-maintenance, cost effective browser-based platform that utilises their own secure servers would definitely be interested. Indeed, Google have made moves in the enterprise space, recently updating Chrome OS to include VPN, secure Wi-Fi support and a new Citrix app that enables virtualisation, meaning access to a Windows environment through the Chrome browser.

Will the Chrome OS succeed? I think it will take time, but there is definitely room for this type of product for mainstream users in the future. That future is one where high-speed, ultra-reliable internet access sits alongside water and electricity as a utility, not a privilege. The NBN, a topic that deserves its own commentary in a future post, will assist in bringing us closer to a communications and entertainment backbone that anyone in Australia can draw on at affordable prices.

In this broadband Utopia, always being connected, and always flying at high speed for transfers and content consumption, will in many ways negate the need for reliance on local storage. Telstra is in talks now to become a secure cloud storage provider, and once large corporations like Telcos offer this service, the level of comfort will rise for a product like this.

Is Chromebook ahead of its time? A little. But by getting in the trenches now and learning from current usage patterns and having a base on which to improve hardware and software, a secure and easy-to-use cloud platform will emerge.

The Series 5 Chromebook is a great piece of technology. Those early adopters who want to embrace cloud computing and all its benefits and challenges will help create a more mainstream-accepted product offering in the not-too-distant future. I, for one, hope to spend a lot more time on this platform and report on its progress as Google rolls out updates and improvements to Chrome OS.

Are you a Chrome browser user? Can you see yourself moving to the Chrome OS in the future?