Asus Padfone, Padfone Station and Stylus – First Look

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Ever since the first Transformer was unleashed to an unsuspecting Android community, we’ve been keeping an eye on the innovative releases from Asus. We’ve seen the Eee Pad Slider, the Transformer Prime, and have seen the TF700 in its prototype format at the CES earlier this year. Now, this Asus Padfone first look is another feather in the cap for the Taiwanese PC company as it ramps up its tablet range.

Asus Padfone - the smartphone that transforms into a tablet, which then transforms into a keyboard driven mobile product. No shortage of innovation here.

As part of the Asus Padfone first look, we have an unboxing video, which shows all the gear that comes bundled with both the Padfone and the large screen Padfone station - come back to see this in a few hours.

For those familiar with the delicious family feast consisting of a chicken stuffed inside a duck stuffed into a turkey, the Asus Padfone does feel a little like a technology turducken. Each added element adds a little more functionality but also obviously pads out (forgive the pun) the Asus Padfone’s dimensions and weight. Here’s the overview segment that we think gets across all the cool things about the Padfone:

As you could see, the Padfone is a pretty stock standard ICS build in a nice Ultrabook/Transformer Prime style case. The more I use the native Android 4 environment on mobiles, the more I like it, and the same applies to the Asus Padfone, which is light, comfortable in the hand and should have enough grunt to run whatever Android apps you throw at it, courtesy of the Snapdragon dual core 1.5GHz processor.

Then we have the Asus Padfone Station, which is the 10.1″ inch screen that comes to life when you insert the Padfone into the cradle in the back. The screen looks just like any other Asus ICS tablet product with the familiar home page graphics and Asus-specific widgets. The trick here is to remember that this isn’t a tablet, it’s just a screen displaying the output from the Padfone, which has all the grunt.

The next trick up the Padfone’s sleeve is to then connect the Padfone Station to the Asus Padfone Dock, which is essentially the keyboard dock that we have come to know and love from Asus. With all the same Android shortcuts as on other Transformer keyboards, a second SD card slot after the Micro-SD slot on the Padfone, and the ability to pump out well-typed messages and documents, you can see that Asus have pulled no punches to take this concept as far as it can, including a stylus that doubles as a bluetooth headset.

The Asus Padfone is a superb example of an idea that could well have stayed in the design and R & D labs. Kudos to Asus for showing just what is possible in the Android environment. Without taking away anything from this concept, one must be wondering what wonderful toys are lurking in their Windows 8 testing room.

Our local contacts have left the Asus Padfone with us for a few more days, so there is an opportunity to test or demonstrate a few more things for you and create more content around your feedback. Let us know what other details you’re interested in and we’ll come up with a few more segments around your comments.

Look forward to hearing from you!

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.

From iPhone to Android…and Back?

Ever since I migrated from my iPhone 4 to a new Samsung Galaxy S II, I’ve been keen to cover my experiences using the Android platform. With iOS 5 due to be released later this year, I thought it would be a great opportunity to see what the competitor smartphone ecosystem had to offer, and reflect on what may bring me back to into the Apple fold.

After my recent Asus Eee Pad Slider article gained a fair amount of coverage last week, including a mention in the New York Times via Gigaom and Carrypad, the senior editor of Carrypad offered me an opportunity to contribute content to their website.

Android Honeycomb V iOS5

Android's latest Honeycomb platform has fired the first serious shots across the Apple bow. Will iOS5, due to be released next month, hold its own?

Carrypad is a news and review website devoted to all things mobile, including smartphones and tablets. The idea of that iPhone/Android article that had been mulling in the back of my head then came to the forefront, and became my first article submission, which has just been posted as their feature story.

I’m going to enjoy contributing more content to Carrypad over the coming months, particularly as the tablet and smartphone market heats up and new features from all ecosystems create an even larger potential business.

Thanks to Ben from Carrypad for the opportunity to part of the writing team.

Click on this link to read the full article on Carrypad.