December 30th, 2011


Life continues to change

A lot of you know this already, but for those who hadn't heard: Niki is moving back to Philadelphia. We didn't have a big fight or anything (never mind the rumor mill, which has apparently kicked into overdrive); we still care for each other a lot. But we realized that the relationship wasn't going where we needed it to, and decided to move on while our friendship was still strong. And while she's developed a lot of friendships up north, the core of her personal support system is in the south.

I hope that the folks down there welcome her back, and value her properly. She'll be much missed by many people up here...

Gadgets of the season (warning: pure tech geeking ahead)

The adults in the family collectively decided to give charitable donations to each other this year, in lieu of physical presents. But there was one exception: my brother-in-law gave us HP Touchpads.

The Touchpad is an interesting toy. It is the one tablet released under the new WebOS operating system, originally developed by Palm and then bought by HP before they got cold feet. From the high-level view, it's a fairly normal tablet, much like the Android Xoom that I've been using for most of this year or the iPad that Kate got for Christmas.

That said, it's a pretty device. The OS is responsive, and more intuitive than most. The number of apps is sadly limited (and presumably unlikely to get much larger), but most of the ones they do have are pretty and well-implemented, including a genuinely nice Facebook app. It integrates smoothly with whatever accounts you have in the cloud, with little difficulty. My only real complaint is that the email app isn't threaded, which makes reading Gmail on it a bit strange. I haven't decided exactly what I'm going to do with it, but having an alternate tablet is potentially handy.

Overall, it's a shame that the thing didn't get its day in the sun -- while I think WebOS had a very uphill battle against Android and iOS at this point, I would have liked to see another viable entrant into the field. (Yes, yes -- they've open-sourced the operating system. That's lovely, and I can hope it goes somewhere, but it is almost always the corporate equivalent of a shrug, indicating that they have no idea what to do, so they're making the crapshoot that somebody else will find a use for this code. Works maybe one time in fifty.)

On the other hand, there's the device I bought myself a couple of weeks ago, which is now very much my Precious: the Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

This is the reference phone for the new 4.0 release of Android, AKA "Ice Cream Sandwich". I had decided some months back that I was going to buy the first decent ICS phone that came out on Verizon. (Basically, I have an Android 3.0 tablet, and the UI is *so* much nicer than Android 2.x that I decided I wasn't going to buy another 2.x phone. And my Droid 1 was on its last legs.) So I spent several weeks haunting the rumor sites online, wandering down to the Verizon store every time the rumor mill said that the phone was about to come out and being turned away. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, the stars lined up and they actually released the damned thing; I bought mine an hour later.

In a word, it's really quite sweet. The dual-core CPU is faster than my tablet, and the screen is incredibly sharp. The 4G service is crazy-fast, although I leave that disabled most of the time to preserve the battery. (For most purposes, 3G works just fine -- IMO, 4G is still a bit of a solution looking for a problem, although it's nice not competing with everybody else for the bandwidth.)

The only debateable downside is that the phone is *huge* -- big enough that it actually sticks out the top of my shirt pocket. OTOH, that is a somewhat natural side-effect of having the biggest screen on the market, which is part of the point. And despite the size, the phone is reasonably thin and pretty light, so I don't mind the length.

The ICS interface is a delight -- this time around, they've finally gotten pretty much all of the elements right, so that the UI is fast, easy and intuitive. It loses the four hard buttons previously built into the phone, instead displaying three soft buttons when appropriate. Switching between apps is much easier than in the base version of Android 2.x. The onscreen keyboard is *vastly* improved over previous versions of Android, enough so that I don't mind losing the hardware keyboard I used to have. The lack of Google Wallet makes me sad, and I'm disappointed in the few apps that haven't yet caught up, but for the most part my upgrade experience was smooth as silk.

All in all, it's a fabulous toy, powerful enough that I'm now doing a lot on my phone that I had previously done on the tablet. Android has pulled level with the iPhone in pretty much all respects here (and is much more customizable if, like me, you like some control over your experience). There will undoubtedly be more ICS phones coming soon, but for now, I don't see any reason *not* to go with the Nexus if you are a Verizon customer and like the idea of the huge screen...