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

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How's battery life in the Nexus on 3G? Everything I've read says LTE will kill the batteries very quick, but as you say, you often don't need that speed. The other nice thing about it is that it's a stock Android phone, with no manufacturer's UI bundled on. Most of the coming ICS phones will have manufacturer specific UI tweaks to distinguish them, and that's not necessarily a good thing. The lack of Google Wallet is Verizon being greedy and wanting to eventually use their own NFC system that isn't ready yet, by all accounts. There are reports of versions of Wallet available that will work fine on the phone, though.

LTE was definitely making battery life suck, as expected. Otherwise, it's mostly adequate, but I am finding JuiceDefender a godsend. (Which I'll talk about next post.)

It really is an LTE problem: I'm carrying the T-Mobile version, and at the end of the day the battery is still around 75%, unless I do something power-hungry like GPS navigation without plugging it in.

It depends on your signal strength, though. I take the train to work, and there are a couple of significant dead zones (including one that's shrunk over the years; I thought AT&T had improved their coverage, but now I suspect my newer phones are just more aggressive about amplifying the signal than my old battery-sipping Symbians).My GSM Galaxy Nexus doesn't make it through the day on workdays, but it consistently has during this vacation week.

And the CDMA model has a slightly larger battery to power the LTE, 1850 mAh instead of 1750; and your EV-DO is slower and probably less power-hungry than our faux-G HSPA. Leave the LTE off and your battery life should be better than ours; turn it on and your speed will stomp ours.

OK, just how many people were holding on to their original Droids and just got Gnexii?

(Me. At least three others.)

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Right now I'm carrying both the Galaxy Nexus (the GSM/HSPA+ version on T-Mobile) and an iPhone 4. I'm probably not going to make a full switch for a number of reasons, but there are a bunch of things I like about it and with the T-Mobile/Walmart $30/mo prepaid plan (100 minutes of voice, 5GB of data before it throttles, and unlimited SMS) I can use it as a small tablet/WiFi access point/GPS replacement quite easily even if I leave all my "normal" stuff on the iPhone.

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Yeah, webOS was a really elegant idea, but it launched too late to get traction and too early to get fast enough hardware. Maybe it'll have a new life as a compatibility layer on Android.

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