Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 and Galaxy Tab 3 8.0

Hands-on with the AT&T Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 and Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 (Gallery)


Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 on AT&T

My first Android tablet was an original Samsung Tab 7 inch device that served me well, but was a bit chunky by today's standards. I had the chance to test out the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 and AT&T Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 for the past week and enjoyed both devices.
Regular readers know I am more focused on smartphones for working and playing on the go, but still have a couple tablets around. My preferred Android tablet is the Nexus 7, but I have to say that these two new Samsung 8 inch models almost had me clicking the buy button on Amazon. They are vastly improved over the original Tab 7 I owned a few years ago, but as a previous Galaxy Note II owner they appear to just be large devices with very similar hardware design elements.

Samsung Note 8.0 on AT&T

My local AT&T rep sent along the Galaxy Note 8.0 and as a very data-centric user this device is appealing to me. My Note II was a good test to see if I would use the S Pen enough to justify the cost and screen size. When I look back on my usage patterns, I rarely found it necessary to use the S Pen. However, part of that was the fact that I could only fit a few words on the display, even at 5.5 inches. The Galaxy Note 8.0 solves that issue with a much more ink-friendly sized display.
The Galaxy Note 8.0 doesn't support phone calls, but the data connection works on LTE and HSPA+ for a very fast experience when you are outside the range of a WiFi network. With AT&T, it only costs an additional $10 per month to add the Galaxy Note 8.0 to your current plan. You can also purchase a WiFi-only Galaxy Note 8.0, reviewed here on ZDNet.
Specifications of the AT&T version of the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 include:
  • 1.6 GHz quad-core Qualcomm processor
  • 2GB of RAM
  • 16GB internal storage with microSD card slot
  • Android 4.1 Jelly Bean OS
  • 8 inch 1280x800 pixels display
  • 5 megapixel rear camera and 1.3 megapixel front facing camera
  • 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, DLNA
  • 4,600 mAh battery
  • Dimensions of: 8.29 x 5.35 x 0.31 inches and 12 ounces
New devices are launching with Android 4.2, but the Note 8.0 has been out in other parts of the world for a couple months so that helps explain why it was released with this version. There are a few nice updates in 4.2 so I hope Samsung updates the device soon.
The Note 8.0 has a center physical button with the menu and back capacitive areas on either side. The microSD and SIM card are on the left side, under covers, with the power and volume buttons located above the IR port on the right side. I have grown to be a huge fan of the IR port on my HTC One to control my TVs and appreciate having one on the Note 8.0 as well. The headset jack is on top with the microUSB port on the bottom. The 5 megapixel camera is centered on the upper back and takes decent photos.
The Note 8.0 is a bit wide for me to use for extended periods in one hand since they made a bezel that would allow you to hold it around an edge and then use the S Pen on the display. There is a S Pen silo on the lower right side and I found the design of the S Pen to be just fine for daily usage.
A few of the advanced functions seen on the Galaxy S4 are here on the Note 8.0, including multi-window and reading mode. I valued using multi-window on my Note II and it is even better on a larger display like we see in the Note 8.0. There is not a ton of extra AT&T or Samsung apps so the Android experience is pretty clean. I find value in these newer versions of TouchWiz as well.
Overall, I enjoyed using the Note 8.0 and saw I could pick up a WiFi-only refurb for $320, which really interests me. The full price of the WiFi model is $380, but if you buy at Samsung they are also offering you $25 in Google Play credit. The AT&T model is priced at $399.99 after a $100 savings with your contract. If I used the S Pen more on my Note II then I would buy one, but I don't think I can justify that advanced functionality. You can buy a Note 8.0 in white or brown/black and as a fan of brown I would likely get that color. I personally found the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 to be more interesting for my needs as you can read below.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0

When I pulled the Tab 3 8.0 from the box, my first impression was that this was an awesome improvement over the Tab 7 inch I used to own. The width is perfect for my hand and it still amazes me how thin the device really is.
Specifications of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 include:
  • 1.5 GHz dual-core Samsung processor
  • 1.5GB of RAM
  • 16GB internal storage with microSD card slot
  • Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean OS
  • 8 inch 1280x800 pixels display
  • 5 megapixel rear camera and 1.3 megapixel front facing camera
  • 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, DLNA
  • 4,450 mAh battery
  • Dimensions of: 8.26 x 4.87 x 0.275 inches and 10.9 ounces
As you can see in the specs comparison, the Tab 3 is narrower, slightly thinner, and lighter than the Note 8.0. The Tab has a dual-core processor, compared to quad-core, slightly less RAM, and slightly smaller battery. However, it has the latest and greatest version of Android, the same camera, same storage capacity, and same display resolution.
The Galaxy Tab 3.0 has nearly the same design elements as the Note 8.0, with the exception of the SIM card slot on the AT&T model I was testing out and the S Pen silo. The back camera is offset on the Tab 3 8.0, but has the same quality and performance. I personally don't care about the back camera on a tablet anyway, but the front camera is useful for video calling.
In terms of software, the latest version of Android and TouchWiz add in Smart Stay, screen mirroring, and a slightly updated settings layout. A major improvement is the use of the slick new Samsung camera utility. There are other improvements in 4.2.2 as well and I just hope Samsung upgrades the Note 8.0 soon.
The Galaxy Tab 3.0 is available for $300, which is just $55 less than the Note 8.0 WiFi when you account for the $25 Google Play Store credit. This makes the Note 8.0 a bit more compelling to me with the better specs and more functional tablet with the S Pen capability. If I used a tablet more, these are two I would seriously consider. They are not the least expensive tablets, but I think there is good value here.

First ten Android Apps

The first ten Android apps a professional should download

Most of the business executives and technology professionals I know who have given up their BlackBerry over the past few years have switched to iPhone, and the industry numbers reflect that (even if some of them are now tempted by the Q10 to return to BlackBerry).

However, in 2013 I've been seeing a lot more professionals picking up Android phones. I don't know if that will be reflected as a larger trend in surveys or studies later this year, but since I've been getting more questions and requests for app advice from these professionals, I thought I'd put together a quick list of the first 10 apps they should download on these new Android devices they are using for business. Something I haven't included on this list are corporate email/IM apps or office suite apps. Those are largely going to be based on what your company uses for its messaging and productivity software. Clearly, Google Apps users will want to download Google Drive and Microsoft Office users will want to download an office suite app like Docs to Go or Kingsoft Office.

I've been using an Android device as my primary business phone since January 2010 when I switched from a BlackBerry Curve to the Nexus One. I'm now on my fourth Android device, the Samsung Galaxy S4. Based on that experience, here is my list of 10 apps that most business users can benefit from when they are getting started on Android.

1. Swiftkey

You can count me as one of the many business professionals who missed the BlackBerry's hardware keyboard when I moved to full touchscreen device — until I started using Swiftkey. Before Swiftkey, I simply didn't respond to as many emails on my touchscreen device as I used to on BlackBerry, and I saved emails that required a response of more than a line or two until I got back to my laptop. Swiftkey lets you swipe across the keyboard with one finger in the general direction of the letters you want to make up a word and then it predicts with startling accuracy the word you are making. SwitKey 4 finally turned me into a converted skeptic of this technique, and it's the main reason why I'm now writing longer emails on my phone again. In fact, I've gotten so used to Swiftkey's magic that I regularly have to stop and remind myself that I can't use its techniques when I switch over to my personal phone (an iPhone 5).

2. Whatsapp

One of BlackBerry's other big advantages has always been BlackBerry Messenger (BBM), an advanced texting and mobile instant messaging client that offered status indicators on each message you sent so that you knew immediately if the message was received and/or read. Although BBM is now coming to Android and iOS this summer, there are now third-party apps that have the same functionality as BBM and are available across virtually all mobile platforms. The leader of the pack is Whatsapp. Oh, and it also works over your data connection so you don’t have to get ripped off by SMS charges.

3. Genius Scan

Smartphones have not only replaced most point-and-shoot cameras, but the cameras in smartphones can also replace most of the functions of two other technologies, scanners and photocopiers, once they are paired with the right app. Genius Scan is that app. With it, you can take photos of a multipage document, order the pages, turn it into a PDF and then save it to Dropbox, Google Drive, Box.net, Evernote or SkyDrive. Or, you can just print it or email it.

4. Evernote

Obviously, you don't want to use this to store highly sensitive company information (unless you're using Evernote Business). But, Evernote can be a tremendously useful tool for note-taking and information retrieval. For example, I'll often use the mobile app to take notes at an interview with an expert or a lunch meeting, and then by the time I get back to my desk to write up an article or a business document, all of my notes are already synced back to the Evernote desktop app so I can immediately reference them or quickly copy-and-paste the parts that I need.

5. Tripit

Tripit remains the best app I've found for keeping track of travel itineraries (although Google Now is starting to catch up). Part of Tripit's magic is that it's powered by some excellent backend systems that automate things for you. You simply forward your confirmation emails (or use the Gmail plugin to do it automatically) for your flights, hotels, rental cars, and reservations to plans@tripit.com and it automatically organizes them into trips with all your details and confirmation numbers. Bonus app: Travelers can also use the Trip Advisor app to check the ratings of hotels, restaurants, and local sites.


6. Google Finance 

If you work in the corporate world then you typically are going to track market performance and business developments, since the stock market is traditionally considered a future economic indicator. The Google Finance app gives you almost real-time updates on the various international stock markets and lets you set up portfolios so you can track market segments like tech or healthcare or aerospace and the most important companies in those markets. While it doesn’t offer all of the great data you can get on the web version of Google Finance, and some will argue that the Yahoo Finance app is better, the integration with Google Now and the nice Android widget make Google Finance my pick.

7. Linkedin

Linkedin used to just be an online resume network, but it has methodically added more and more business-friendly features to the point that it's become an indispensable professional tool. The mobile app in particular can help you quickly look up who to contact at a company or research a business associate that you're about to meet for lunch or quickly send a connection request to someone important you just met (before you forget their name at the end of the day). Linkedin has dedicated a lot of resources to improving its mobile apps recently, and with more people using the service to share links and updates, this is arguably the most valuable social media app for professionals.

8. Accuweather

Whether you're traveling on business in a new city or just trying to decide what to wear to work in the morning, the smartphone has become the go-to source of quick weather information. There are tons of weather apps and widgets on Android, but the one that offers the best combination of convenience and in-depth information is Accuweather. The app itself has in-depth meteorological data, hourly and daily views, maps, and video. But the two things that I like most about Accuweather are the temperature indicator that it sits in the upper left corner of the status bar and its handy half-page widget for at-a-glance weather information.

9. Google Translate

If you work in a growing, expanding business or a larger organization then there's an excellent chance that you now work with people in other countries and you have to overcome the language barrier — even if they speak some English (today's de facto international business language). Whether you're studying another language to help bridge the gap, translating documents or emails, or just quickly looking up translations to words or phrases, the Google Translate app will be a valuable resource.

10. Speed Test

Despite quad core smartphones with LTE chips and 2GB of RAM, we all still run into situations where our phones lag while doing simple things like loading web pages or sending files or downloading images. While it's easy to get frustrated with the phone, the problem is often with your connection — even if you've got five bars on your connection icon. The best way to quickly tell if you're being limited by your connection is to fire up the Speedtest.net app and see if you're experiencing any lag in Ping (latency) or Download/Upload speeds (bandwidth). This will tell you if your cell site is overcrowded or if your Wi-Fi connection is throttled or overloaded. Switching between Wi-Fi and mobile broadband or simply slightly changing location may solve the problem.

New Google Nexus 7

Seven reasons to buy the new Google Nexus 7

Yesterday Google announced the new Nexus 7 device that leapfrogs the iPad Mini, for now. I own last year's Nexus 7, but just pre-ordered a new 32GB WiFi model at Best Buy yesterday and here are seven reasons I made that decision. The new Nexus 7 comes in 16GB ($229) and 32GB ($269) WiFi models that will be available on 30 July. A LTE model that works on T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon will be available in the future for $349. With my smartphones now all having tethering capability I went for a 32GB WiFi model that you can pre-order at Best Buy now, but am still considering the LTE model too.

Reason #1: I need Android in my life

I use Gmail, Google+, Google Play Movies, Google Maps Navigation, and more Google services on a daily basis and have now integrated their services into my life. I love my HTC One, but as a smartphone reviewer I jump between a lot of mobile operating systems. Having a Nexus 7 gives me a portable, consistent Android companion that helps provide Google services even if I am using a Windows Phone 8 or BlackBerry 10 device for my smartphone needs.

Reason #2: Android OS updates

The new Nexus 7 launches with Android 4.3 and like the previous model and Nexus smartphone line, it will get the next versions of Android first. We will likely see Android 5, aka Key Lime Pie, sometime before the end of 2013 and you can bet the Nexus 7 will get that update.

Reason #3: The price is right

The WiFi only models are $229 and $269, which are more expensive than last year's Nexus 7 offering for a lot more device. When you look at the iPad Mini at $329 and $429 though, the Nexus 7 is attractively priced. I understand the iPad Mini has a slightly larger display, but the new Nexus 7 blows the iPad display out of the water. You can look at comparable Amazon Kindle Fire HD unit and see they are similar in price, yet the new Nexus 7 offers an optimal Google experience rather than an Amazon one.

Reason #4: 9 hours of HD playback

My daily commute consists of 2 hours of train riding and I can be found on an airplane about once a month. I like renting movies from the Google Play Store and with the 3,950 mAh battery on the new Nexus 7 it looks like I can travel across the country and be covered for entertainment.

Reason #5: High resolution display

The new Nexus 7 comes with a 1920x1200 pixels LCD at 323 ppi, which is a jump from 1290x800 pixels and 216 ppi seen on last year's model. As most of my smartphones now have pixel density like this, my eyes are spoiled by high resolution displays. The iPad Mini has a 163 ppi display while the iPad 3 that I enjoy using has a 236 ppi display. I can't wait to see the new Nexus 7 display in person next week.

Reason #6: Qi wireless charging

Nokia spoiled me with wireless charging in the Lumia 920 and now I want that in all of my devices. I have three Qi wireless charging pads at home and in the office and find it much more convenient to just set down a device on the pad rather than messing around with a microUSB cable and figuring out which end is up to plug it in.

Reason #7: Stereo speakers

The HTC One is a device that has also spoiled me, with its fantastic BoomSound front facing speaker system. The new Nexus 7 has stereo speakers with Surround Sound powered by Fraunhofer and if it is anything like the amazing sound found on the Chromebook Pixel I will be impressed. 

While I use headphones on my commute and airplane, I also often show videos from YouTube and Facebook to my family with my HTC One so having good speakers is important to me as well.

Nokia Lumia 1020

Nokia Lumia 1020: Unmatched camera experience in a growing Windows Phone market

Summary: There is no argument that the Lumia 1020 is the best camera in a modern phone, but you are going to have to decide if you are willing to trade size for such power.

Whether or not you like Windows Phone 8 as a smartphone OS, there is absolutely no doubt that the Nokia Lumia 1020 offers the best camera experience in a modern smartphone. I have been using one for four days and while that is not yet enough time to test every aspect, my associated image gallery clearly shows that the Lumia 1020 is the device to get if you want a camera with a phone strapped on the back.

At the launch event a couple weeks ago we never even heard anything about the smartphone part of the device until near the end of the announcement. Nokia is focusing on the advanced imaging technology of the 1020 and for good reason. I own a Nokia 808 PureView and take it out when I know I will be going somewhere and have a desire to capture fantastic quality photos. Even though Symbian is a powerful OS, there are too many missing apps and user experiences for me to use it regularly. The Lumia 1020 offers an amazing camera experience with a solid Windows Phone 8 experience that gets better on a weekly basis.

Retail package and out-of-box impressions

I was sent an AT&T retail packaged matte white Nokia Lumia 1020 to evaluate and it comes in a fairly typical AT&T box. Inside you will find the Lumia 1020, USB cable, SIM door key, leather wrist strap, USB A/C adapter, and Quick Start Guide. There is also a NFC card that provides you with a tutorial to help you improve your camera skills. The Lumia 1020 is $299.99 with a two year contract or $659.99 with no contract. It is locked to AT&T and will be as long as it is an exclusive in the US.

We don't often see wrist straps in US retail packages, but I did have one with my 808 PureView and honestly haven't removed it since the first day. With a device focused on the camera experience, having a solid wrist strap solution can be quite useful and functional.

I am used to the rather heavy Nokia Lumia 920 and expected the same first impression when I took out the 1020. The front looks a lot like the 920, but when I picked it up I immediately felt it was lighter and thinner than the 920. The matte finish is great and I personally prefer it over the glossy finish seen on many of the other Lumia models.

The white 1020 with the black camera module and buttons looks awesome IMHO and is even more of a Stormtrooper phone than my Lumia 900 was. The black camera module is large and the phone sits up at an angle on the table, but I think you can see in my image gallery that the size is worth it for great photos.

The 41 megapixel camera experience

The camera is the focal point of the Lumia 1020 and you should only buy the device if you will be using the camera a lot and want the best photos ever on a phone. If you just want a great Windows Phone 8 device with solid camera you can save money and size by going with a 920 or a number of the other lower end devices. There are also options for other carriers and I am really enjoying my Nokia Lumia 925.

You will find three primary camera software options on the Nokia Lumia 1020: the default Windows Phone camera software, Nokia Smart Camera (seen first on the Lumia 925), and the new Nokia Pro Camera application. The default camera looks to be the quickest way to capture a photo and can be set as the default for a press and hold of the physical camera button. You can reassign this button to any of these three apps.

I discussed the Nokia Smart Camera application a bit in my Nokia Lumia 925 first impressions post and enjoy the advanced editing experience found in that software. Smart Camera lets you capture photos in burst mode and then have quick access to different editing tools.

Nokia Pro Camera looks to be useful for camera enthusiasts and if you are buying the Lumia 1020 you are likely one of those people. Like most people who take photos with the phones, I live in the world of Auto and rarely venture out since I just don't know enough about photography to feel comfortable messing around. Nokia Pro Camera was actually setup to help people like me with an integrated tutorial that shows you samples, provides detailed explanations, and launches a session focused on the technique you just read about.
In that regard, Nokia Pro Camera has the potential to educate people and make many of us better photographers. I look forward to seeing the application launch on my Lumia 925 too. Topics covered in detail include:
  • Exposure
  • Shutter speed
  • Low light
  • White balance
  • Basic photography
  • Videos
The cool thing about the Nokia Pro Camera software is that as you change the different settings the resulting effect appears live right on the display before you even capture the image. You can control the settings for the topics listed above by tapping on the main icon and then tapping or scrolling along the half-circle appearing on the right side of the display.

Capture modes with Nokia Pro Camera include 5 megapixel JPG or 5 megapixel along with 34 megapixel. There are no options in the default WP camera app, all images are 5 megapixel images. You can only share the 5 megapixel images directly from the phone and need to connect and transfer large resolution images off of the phone to a computer. I found typical 5 megapixel images were about 2 MB in size while the 34 megapixel ones were in the 8.5 to 15 MB range. I accidentally grabbed just the 5 megapixel ones for Flickr and have to go look for the other to put in my Flickr set.

One thing to remember with Nokia Pro Camera is that you can reframe image after the fact and then save parts of the larger image as its own high quality image. I understand you can do this with the 808 too, but no one really cares about that device. This is very slick and something I just started discovering after a couple of days of taking photos.

When you view the photos in the gallery you will note there are hyperlinks below images captured with Nokia Smart Camera and Pro Camera that will then open up those images in those apps to allow for advanced editing. These tools include Best Shot, Action Shot, Motion Focus, Change Faces, Removing Objects, and reframing parts of images.

Hardware and specifications

The specifications of the Nokia Lumia 1020 include:
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 dual-core 1.5 GHz processor
  • 4.5 inch 1280x768 pixel resolution PureMotion HD+ display
  • 41 megapixel camera with Xenon flash and Zeiss optics, OIS
  • 2GB RAM
  • 32GB integrated storage
  • 802.11 a/b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth 3.0, NFC
  • 2000 mAh battery
  • Dimensions of 130.4 x 71.4 x 10.4 mm (5.13 x 2.81 x 0.41 inches) and 158 grams (5.56 ounces)
As I have stated a number of times, specifications of Windows Phone devices can't really be compared to iOS, Android, or BlackBerry 10 because each OS is optimized differently and Windows Phone 8 doesn't require the same specs as an Android device. I found the Lumia 1020 to perform as well as all other Windows Phones I have tested, with the exception of a bit of slow down due to some advanced image processing as you use the camera.

You can purchase a battery/camera adapter accessory and Qi charging cover as well. I haven't seen either accessory so cannot comment on their functionality or design.

Nokia software

You won't just find all the great HERE Maps, Nokia Music, and other software, but even a couple new ones not yet available on other Lumia devices. Nokia Video Trimmer allows you to trim down a video and then share that to a selected service. I use this all the time on my iPhone and Android device to share short clips of events to Facebook and was hoping someone would finally develop the tool for Windows Phone.

Another Lumia 1020 exclusive is YouTube Upload, also from Nokia, that lets you upload videos to YouTube. Windows Phone already supports video upload to Facebook, but it is nice to have this option as well.

The Lumia 1020, like the Lumia 925, comes with the Nokia Amber update. This update includes great features like the double tap to unlock, Glance screen, color profile adjustments, and more.

AT&T software

Like just about every phone on AT&T, they load it up with their bloatware to get you to buy their additional services. Thankfully, with Windows Phone 8 you can remove as much as you want to have a clean device. AT&T apps and software include AT&T Address Book, AT&T Family Map, AT&T Locker (useful utility that gives you 50GB of online storage), AT&T Navigator, AT&T Radio, Mobile TV, myAT&T, and YPmobile.

Windows Phone 8 software

There isn't much to say that I haven't already covered when it comes to Windows Phone 8. There is nothing core to the OS that is new in the 1020 as the focus is on imaging and the Nokia experience. It is disappointing that you can't play the new Halo: Spartan Assault game even on the newest Lumia and I am not a fan of that exclusivity decision.

Nokia Lumia US flagship lineup

Verizon now has the Lumia 928, T-Mobile the 925, and AT&T the 1020 and 920. Nokia now has flagship devices on three of the four major carriers and I think we will continue to see growth in Windows Phone. The internals of each are all about the same, but the Lumia 925 only has 16GB of integrated storage. The Nokia Lumia 925 and Lumia 1020 require wireless charging shells, while the 920 and 928 have integrated wireless charging support.

To be evaluated

As I stated, I have only been using the Lumia 1020 for four days so I can't judge the battery life, stability, advanced camera editing functions, performance, or connectivity. I hope to continue testing the Lumia 1020 for a couple more weeks to test these topics. I did experience complete lock-up of the phone while using the camera once this past weekend and only by pressing and holding the power button for an extended period of time was I able to get it to turn off.

Samsung Galaxy S4 Review

Samsung Galaxy S4 Active, First Take: Dust-tight, water-resistant
One of Samsung's tricks is to take a successful handset and reproduce it in different forms. For example, the Galaxy S4, Samsung's current flagship smartphone, currently has four incarnations: the 5-inch-screen original; a smaller version, the 4.3-inch Galaxy S4 mini; the Galaxy S4 Zoom, a camera/handset hybrid; and the Galaxy S4 Active, which adds ruggedisation into the mix.
The S4 Active's chassis has been redesigned to meet an IP67 (Ingress Protection) rating. (Image: Samsung)
The £480 Samsung Galaxy S4 Active doesn't look much like the original S4. The chassis has been changed to allow it to meet an IP67 (Ingress Protection) rating: the '6' denotes that it's 'dust tight', while the '7' signifies its ability to withstand being submerged in 1m of water for 30 minutes. Samsung has had to abandon its characteristic home button beneath the screen, opting instead for three physical buttons.

The Galaxy S4 Active is not a sealed unit, so there's a protective rubber strip on the inside of the backplate, under which you'll find the SIM and microSD slots. You'll still have to be careful around water, and make sure the backplate is firmly in place — sealed handsets such as Sony's rugged Xperia Z offer better protection against water.

The microUSB slot on the bottom of the chassis has a hinged rubber cover that protects against the elements, but the headset jack on the top of the handset does not look as though it's protected at all (it's sealed inside, though). The side buttons — volume on the left, power on the right — also appear pretty normal, although they too must be designed to meet the IP67 rating.
The S4 Active has a 5-inch TFT screen rather than the original S4's AMOLED display. The main rear camera is an 8-megapixel unit, whereas the S4 has a 13-megapixel camera. (Image: Samsung)
Like the original, the Galaxy S4 Active has a 5-inch, 1,920-by-1,080-pixel screen, but the panel in this case is a TFT LCD rather than a Super AMOLED, resulting in a difference in vibrancy between the two displays.
The main rear camera is an 8-megapixel unit compared to the original S4's 13 megapixels. It is augmented by an 'aqua mode' that enhances colours when you're shooting under water, and the volume rocker doubles up as a shutter control. That's important if you plan any underwater photography as the screen's responsiveness, like all capacitive screens, is extremely poor when water is involved.

The S4 Active's engine-room is the same as the original S4's: Android 4.2, a 1.9GHz quad-core processor and 16GB of internal storage (with around 11GB free out of the box).

Extra-feature overload?Read this

Samsung Galaxy S4 review
All of Samsung's software enhancements for the Galaxy S4 are present on the S4 Active. So you can rest assured that videos will pause when you glance away from the screen, information about photos will appear if you hover a finger above the screen, various things will happen if you tilt the handset — and, if you can get the feature to work (I couldn't), you can even scroll web pages with a glance.

Samsung also adds a lot of apps to the standard Android complement, in many cases duplicating features provided with the operating system. This can be confusing at first.

In fact, Samsung could be accused of overkill with its myriad 'touchy-feely-looky' features and copious bespoke applications, but the current popularity of its smartphones means it must be doing something right. Fortunately, Samsung also lets you turn every extra feature on or off as required.

The Galaxy S4 Active isn't just a Galaxy S4 clone in a ruggedised chassis, as there are significant differences in specification. But most of the Galaxy S4's popular features are present, and if your work or home life involves regular exposure to challenging conditions, it may be the phone for you.

Best Android Smartphones

Best Android smartphones (September 2013 edition)


Looking to replace your aging Android companion with something newer and with a little more "oomph"? Here are five excellent Android-powered smartphones from Google, Motorola, and Samsung.

No matter whether you are looking for a consumer handset or something that will be suited to a BYOD role, you're bound to find something of interest here.

The handsets are arranged in no particular order. My current favorite continues to be the Nexus 4. It's a powerful package that delivers what I believe to be the best, purest Android experience possible. However, I have to admit that some of the features present on the Samsung Galaxy S4 make it a great choice for the BYOD crowd.
Lenovo puts latest ThinkPads on diet, adds hot swappable batteries 

Lenovo is rolling out a new armada of ThinkPads as it aims to put the lineup on a diet and bridge consumer features with corporate must haves. Even the workhorse ThinkPad T-series is trying to cut down to ultrabook weights.

The No. 1 PC company's ThinkPad strategy plays well with its enterprise base and tries to capitalize on what analysts call a mini corporate PC refresh cycle. Indeed, Windows XP support ends in April 2014 and companies are evaluating Windows 8 vs. Windows 7 in new machines. Most enterprises will have a mix of both.

Speaking on a conference call, Matt Bereda, marketing director of Lenovo's Think Business Group, said the company is still focused on reliability and ease of deployment, but wants to add features that are unique. Lenovo has dabbled with enterprise multimode PCs with the ThinkPad Helix and Twist, but has largely stayed with a script that has worked for 20 years.

Kendrick: ThinkPad Power Bridge: Putting battery life in the hands of customers

The latest batch of ThinkPads, which feature the latest Intel chips, includes the following:

T440s and T440: The T Series will now have touch enabled displays, solid state drives and can cut down to 3.5 pounds with the T440s in a 21mm think frame. The T-440 will weigh about 4 pounds. A T430 today can push 4.77 pounds, according to Lenovo's Web site. The main addition with the enterprise ThinkPads are hot swappable batteries. Lenovo has added "power bridge" technology that allows a user to change batteries without powering down.
The T440s is available at the end of October starting at $1,149. The T440 is available at the end of September with a starting price of $899.

X240: Lenovo's corporate ultraportable play weighs in at less than three pounds and is 20 mm thick. A touch screen is an option and the X240 doesn't require various dongles---a plus for the road warrior. The X240 is available at the end of October starting at $1,099.

ThinkPad S Series, which is designed for small businesses. The SS440 and S540 have touch displays and add thin bezels and what Lenovo calls a "floating design." U.S. availability is unclear.
For good measure, Lenovo also rolled out a 21:9 panoramic ThinkVision monitor. The 2560x1080 display with HD Webcam is designed to be used with collaboration applications and multitasking. The display starts at $799 with October availability.

10 Free Apps To Convert PDF On Smartphones & Tablets

More and more people are using mobile devices to process digital documents since they always seem to have their smartphone and tablet on them all the time. However, having many different file formats means requiring a lot of different apps to open these documents.
If we can bank on just one file format, however, PDF is probably the best choice as it is a stable file format that allows you to read text and images as they are.
PDF Converter Apps
There are already plenty of apps you can use to view PDF on your mobile devices but what about converting these files into PDF on the device itself? Well, that’s what this post is for! Check out these 10 free apps to convert PDF on your smartphone or tablet, be it iOS or Android. If you have more, do share them with us in the comments section.

1. Able2Extract PDF Converter

Able2Extract PDF Converter is a free cross-platform app which allows you to create PDF documents from MS Office documents. It also lets you convert PDF documents to PowerPoint, Word, and Excel in just two simple taps. Converted files can be stored on your local phone storage so you can easily use or share them via other apps.
Platform: iOS | Android
Able2Extract PDF Converter

2. File Converter

Convert most of your files on your smartphone and tablet with this app. The conversion will be done in a secure Cloud and converted files can be downloaded back to the app. Supported file formats include video, documents, audio, ebooks, images and archives, and over 100 source formats are supported.
Platform: iOS | Android | BlackBerry
File Converter

3. To PDF

To PDF is a free iPad app that convert iWorks and MS Office documents, web pages, emails, images, contacts, SMS, clipboard content and even Dropbox content to PDF format. Besides that you can also use its extra features to annotate, organize and share PDF files.
Platform: iOS

4. IFiles Converter Lite

iFiles Converter Lite lets you convert documents to PDF right on your iPhone. You can easily import files from online storage like Dropbox, Google Drive or other cloud storage applications. Supported file formats include MS Office documents, iWorks documents, HTML pages, pictures and text files.
Platform: iOS

5. DocAS Lite

DocAS Lite is an all-in-one PDF app which allows you to read, convert, annotate and manage PDF documents right on your iPad. It has a built-in PDF converter that converts MS Office documents, iWorks document, HTML and text format to PDF.
Platform: iOS

6. Doc Scan

Here’s one that turns your hard copy into PDF. Doc Scan turns your hard copy documents into PDF format with your iPhone or iPad. Simply take a picture of your hard copy documents, scan it with the app, and convert the image into a high-resolution PDF on the fly.
Platform: iOS
Doc Scan

7. DocToPDF

DocToPDF is an Android app that converts doc, docx, xls, xlsx, rtf and txt file formats to PDF. You can then share the converted PDF documents via email or bluetooth. There’s also a built-in PDF viewer that lets you to view and check the converted PDF file.
Platform: Android

8. Office Converter

Want to convert MS Office documents on your Android phone? Try Office Converter. It converts Word, Excel and PowerPoint file formats to PDF documents. However, conversion will be done online so an Internet connection is required. You can also add password protection to your converted PDF files.
Platform: Android

9. Web To PDF

Web to PDF is an add-on for the Dolphin browser that allows users to convert a webpage to PDF file, view or share it anytime.
Platform: Android

10. PDF Converter

PDF Converter is a lightweight app that converts any document into a PDF file. Conversion is done on a server and converted PDF documents will be saved on your SD Card storage in the "Download" folder.
Platform: Android


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

5 best iPad mini keyboards

5 best iPad mini keyboards

5 best keyboards for the iPad mini

The small size of the iPad mini isn't particularly suited for use with keyboards, especially those that form cases for the tablet. The width of the tablet means keyboards must be quite undersized, resulting in such narrow keyboards that good typists should be frustrated.

Several accessory makers have come up with unique designs that provide surprisingly good experiences for touch typists. These use nearly full-sized keys on small keyboards that fit the iPad mini nicely.

This collection of 5 keyboard cases for the iPad mini are the best choices available at the time of this writing. The writer has used all but one of them to type tens of thousands of words without problems. The last keyboard in this selection has not been used personally but was recommended by numerous readers and thus is included here.

FastFit Keyboard Case Review

Belkin FastFit Keyboard Case review: Small keys for big fingers 

The small form of the iPad mini doesn't seem it would be well-suited for use with a keyboard, but accessory makers have proven that's not the case. Belkin has produced a new case for the iPad mini that might be a good fit for those with small hands.

The Belkin FastFit Keyboard Case is the thinnest keyboard case and at only 7mm thick it is even thinner than the svelte iPad mini. It is not a case that completely covers the tablet so if that's important to you look for a folio style case. The FastFit is a single piece that forms a cover to protect the iPad mini screen when clipped into place. The whole assembly forms one of the thinnest and lightest units for transport.

See also: 5 best iPad mini keyboard cases | Galaxy Note 8.0: Still the best small tablet | Two keyboard cases for iPad mini change the game

The iPad mini detaches from the cover and is placed in a magnetic slot for typing. It only supports one viewing angle but it is easy to see the tablet screen. While the tablet attaches in the slot magnetically, it isn't strong enough to safely carry the assembly by grabbing the top of the iPad. The keyboard often fell off in our testing.

The FastFit has a unique magnetic hinge that makes it simple to attach to the iPad mini for closing. Just bring the edge of the tablet near the hinge and it raises up and attaches itself. The assembly is then closed like a book. Since the FastFit only covers the screen the back of the iPad mini is exposed. Like most covers for the iPad mini, the FastFit turns the iPad mini on/off by opening/closing the cover.

Typing experience

Keyboard closeup
FastFit closeup. Note odd placement of some punctuation keys.
The typing experience of a keyboard case is just as important as the case function, maybe more so. OEMs producing other keyboards for the iPad mini have taken a design approach that makes commonly used keys almost as big as a full-size keyboard, with other keys smaller. This yields a decent typing experience for touch typists.

Comparison ZAGG
L-R: FastFit, ZAGGkeys Cover -- Image credit: James Kendrick/ZDNet
Due to having to place the tablet in a slot away from the back of the cover, Belkin must have a smaller keyboard area than some competitor's models (see comparison above). The result is that most of the keys are very small, with some oversized keys, such as the Enter and two Shift keys. While it is nice to have these easy-to-hit big keys, the rest of the keys are too small for those of us with big hands.

Side view
Another concession Belkin had to make due to the small keyboard area is to move common punctuation keys to strange locations. Touch typing is greatly impeded due to stopping to look for those keys.
While writing this review on the FastFit, I found myself constantly wishing I was using my favorite keyboard, the ZAGGkeys Cover. I create typos on the FastFit too often to get going at a fast clip as a result of the small keys. This would likely not be the case for those with smaller hands.

The FastFit Keyboard Case connects to the iPad mini via Bluetooth, and pairing it the first time is accomplished by hitting the Pair key on the keyboard and then connecting the iPad mini in Settings. This pairing key should have been located on the side edge of the keyboard with other controls rather than waste a key that is seldom used. There is a power switch on the side of the keyboard, along with a microUSB port for charging with the included cable. Belkin claims 40 hours of use on a charge.


Those wanting a keyboard for the iPad mini that also functions as a case won't find one thinner and lighter than the Belkin FastFit Keyboard Case. It is easy to use and easy to pack up for transport when it's time to move. The keyboard is smaller than the competition and harder to use for those with big fingers.

The FastFit is available from Belkin for $79.99, and you may find it cheaper from other online retailers. When the little box arrives you may not believe there is a full keyboard in there, but rest assured it really is that small.

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