Friday, October 12, 2012

Android Tablets: A perspective

Updated, see last entry.

Ok, this is a skeleton article I'm going to be fleshing out. But, because I hate to make you wait while I reminisce about tablets I've owned over the past year or so, here goes. I will be adding to it over time.

Of course, I'm just an end owner but that's good because I paid for these tablets out of my own pocket.

In general, the draw for Android tablets is they do mostly what the iPad does for less money. Each OS has it's pros and cons and detractors and fanbois for different reasons. I like to do some extra things here and there that Apple won't let you do or makes you jump through excessive hoops that are just nuts. Like, want to copy a file to your tablet? Better have iTunes handy or some sort of app just to do simple stuff.

If you are going to copy Apple, you should charge less because you get 'less': it isn't an iPad. Which has it's own sets of pros and cons, but let's face the fact that it's the market leader for a lot of good reasons. I expect Android to make big advances, but it's not there yet.

These are the tablets I've owned:

Viewsonic G Tablet, Asus Transformer (not Prime, the first one), Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9, Amazon Kindle Fire, HTC Flyer (WiFi only), and the Pantech Element. I've also owned a Nook and Nook Touch. (Both e-ink models.) I will touch on those (pun intended!) briefly as many of you are probably deciding what you want to read on.

For the most part, they were all Honeycomb or upgraded pretty quickly to that.

Here they are in order of reverse order of ownership: most recently owned first.

Pantech Element: Honeycomb 3.2.1, AT&T promised Ice Cream Sandwich. I had loads of trouble early on, but I reflashed the boot and recovery images, and did a factory reset. It seems very stable now after a couple of days. I've been adding apps back to it.

I really like the 4:3 aspect ratio in an 8" screen. 1024x768 resolution could be a bit higher but it's not bad. 1280 resolution x whatever should have been no problem. I got this one 'used' on ebay from a company that I suspect markets AT&T's customer returns.


  • dual core CPU at 1.5ghz. Honeycomb is very smooth. I suppose my remark below about Honeycomb and dual core CPUs is now perhaps moot. One thing though is that this isn't running HTCs bloaty Sense Launcher. I am using ADW Launcher EX. YES! I spent money on an app!
  • 1 gig RAM
  • waterproof, which means dustproof, and the build quality is very high. It's plastic, but in a good way and it just makes it lighter
  • HDMI, MicroSD port, Micro USB charging, Headphone jack. All covered but dust/waterproof covers.
  • Smooth in the hands. Almost too slippery.
  • All the stuff you'd expect; mic, front and back cameras, and a bonus: a flash on the back.
  • huge 6400mAh battery
  • Will mount the internal 'SD' and external microSD as mass storage. THANK YOU from the Mac owners and MTP just stinks IMHO, I can live with the standardardized, yet technically less capable mass storage.
  • AT&T. I hate them. They are money grubbing scum. $15 for the family tracking app? that was the latest thing I thought was ridiculous. Google Latitude offers similar functionality for free.
  • Did anyone buy this thing? It's a good little tablet, but there are no aftermarket ROMs and accessories. Fortunately I bet a lot of 8" generic accessories would fit. 
  • No power strip widget for quickly toggling power settings. Really?


  • Not an IPS screen, but it's a great LED/LCD whatever. I'm happy with it. A little on the bluish side when the backlight is on lower settings, but you could probably tweak the white level with a rooted on and an appropriate app.

HTC Flyer: there a lot of things to like here. It's my current tablet. One huge thing is that it will mount both the internal storage and your micro SD card as drive storage, even on a Mac. THANK YOU HTC!!! Stock Honeycomb does not do that and uses MTP, a Microsoft protocol. I'm sure it's great, but on Mac OS X, no thank you. Let's just concentrate on the minuses I didn't like, and the pluses over and above the other stuff.

Mine's for sale now due to the purchase of a Pantech Element.


  • 1.5 ghz single core processor. This is a very fast CPU that in some tasks beats dual core processors. I don't think Android is quite ready for multiple core. It feels very zippy compared to the others. Example: linpack scores. More info on CPU benchmarks: Yes, dual core sounds better, but two cars at 60 MPH aren't necessarily fast as one car at 90. Typical tablets today run a dual core 1ghz, so the ratio is the same. 
  • MicroSD expansion. This hides under a plastic cover that seems tightly fitted and is a bit tricky to get off. 
  • HDMI out, via some special sort of cable I don't have.
  • A good, real stylus option: I don't have one, but this stylus is not just a mechanical 'finger'. It's pressure sensitive, has an erase button, and even if your hand touches the screen it knows where the stylus is. Very unique!
  • Charges over micro USB. I see a lot of tablets that don't. It's slower, but if you forget your charger, this is pretty much the standard for cellphones. A special (9V @ 1.6 amps) charger comes with it that only fits the Flyer. So it's over 3x faster than USB.
  • Real buttons: power, volume up/down. 
  • Pretty decent support from the hacker community. Mine is totally unlocked so you can install third party operating systems on it such as Cyanogenmod.
  • Mounts as a drive! Standard Honeycomb doesn't do this. 
  • Lots of extra widgets and interface niceties. Some unnecessary play pretties but HTC put a lot of thought and work into this one.
  • Cheap, can be had for as low as $199 refurb. Why buy an Amazon Fire? 
  • There is a 4G version that you can also hack to make calls with. A 7" cellphone!
  • Creaky case/plastic at the bottom juncture. I plan to fix this with a cheap TPU case. Those are about $4 and should squeeze/muffle this juncture as well as protect the case. Most tablets aren't naked anyway. Whens the last time you saw an iPad without a case on it?
  • ...aaaaand that's all I can think of at this time. I really like mine.  
  • Not the best for gaming, although it's respectable and fine for casual games. I just bought an Andreno optimized game today. The Flyer has a Qualcomm chip and there are no shortage of those in cellphones. But if you're a gamer, Tegra 2 or 3 would be a better choice if it's 3D graphics performance you want.
Special Sauce: stylus, backlit capacitive buttons if you stay on the earlier Android version. Those become non-lit and nonfunctional with Honeycomb except the stylus activation button.

Amazon Kindle Fire:

Amazon, you better lower the price. There's more capable stuff out there for around the same price. Expect it to be crushed by the quad core 7" Samsung that's supposedly coming for about $50 more very soon. Plus, I'm mad at Amazon. See my later rant on how they took about $40 from me from to give to a lying customer. But, I'll be fair. It will be easy to rip on it now that last year's tablets are getting marked down. I'll be comparing it unfavorably with my HTC Flyer, since the Fire is what I recently got rid of.

  • Amazon Ecosystem. Movies, books, yadda yadda. If you are a Prime member, the real draw is more free books. The Fire has a pretty interface on a couple versions old, non-standard version of Android. That's one reason it's cheap. But hey, buy one, at least I'll get a bigger commission.
  • Kinda cheap. You can get a refurb for $170.
  • Lots of hacking going on for it.
  •  You don't get: GPS, Camera, Bluetooth, memory expansion, video out, a thinner lighter tablet, latest Tablet oriented OS (yup, this is a smartphone OS on a tablet).
Opinion: Get a refurb of some other 7" at least and get all the extras. 

Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9

The best constructed and best looking tablet I've had perhaps. Apple didn't  sue for nothing. But, I found it boring. Sometimes, you like a little quirkiness. There's no cute freckles or heart shaped birthmarks here. Interface has some adds, like a built in power strip in the notification area but that's largely a matter of taste.

Pros: 8.9" screen can be held in landscape and typed on with thumbs. Construction is hands down the best. Name brand. Tegra 2 chipset. Easy to root, uses what IIRC was a fairly vanilla version of clockworkmod recovery, or at least looked like it.

Minuses: Non-standard charging/interface. Takes dongles to expand. Slower to get OS updates than the 10.1 Galaxy Tab was. Overpriced.

Asus Eee Transformer

Pretty decent if they got the QC under control. Creaky case and light bleed are why I took the THREE back that I tried. A good try. The keyboard/no keyboard add on was a nice feature.

Bad: Non standard connector. Nope, no micro USB charging for you.

Good: Fast, light, attractive, good screen if it doesn't have light bleed. The laptop add on.

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Monday, October 08, 2012

What is Solavei?

Update: With Taxes and Fees, you are giving $7 a month to the government. So my total was $56.31 in Texas.

Thank you Texas, and the Feds.

Original Post:
Solavei is a new cell network that uses a nationwide 4G network to give you unlimited cell service for $49 a month.

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