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Monday, January 17, 2011

Motorola Atrix - Even Though I Would Never Buy a Motorola Product, This was the Coolest Thing at CES 2011!

The Motorola Atrix is a new generation of smart phone, with tons of power and some cool new features. This phone sports beefy hardware with a Tegra dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM and support for up to 48GB of memory, a 4-inch QHD display (or 960 x 540), a front-facing VGA camera and 5-megapixel with an LED flash, a 1930 mAh battery, fingerprint login security, and Android 2.2 froyo. The most amazing thing is watching it plugged into a dock (with a large LCD monitor, keyboard, and mouse attached), or a laptop dock (essentially a laptop screen, keyboard, trackpad, and battery, with the Atrix phone acting as the actual computer). Seeing this in action really makes me think of the future when cell phones will totally replace computers for most people. 

Now the one problem with this phone is that it looked great at the CES tech demo, but in the real world I can see it starting to slow down a bit. This is the first time a smart phone is really trying to pull double duty as a desktop/laptop computer, and although these dual core Tegra 2 phones are insanely powerful for mobile phones, they are a bit sluggish for a regular computer. The other huge problem is that there aren't really any good apps out right now on the Android market that would take advantage of a keyboard and mouse setup like this. I would wait another year for the next generation of these phones that will be even more powerful and more ready to step into the role of a laptop, and by then some great apps will hopefully have come out. In the meantime i'd focus my attention on a good tablet (the iPad 2 is shaping up to be pretty skookum, at least in the rumours) and just get a decent phone that works well as a PHONE (the LG Optimus T/One is my favourite). Oh, did I mention that Motorola is notorious for NOT updating their phones to new software? Have fun being stuck at android 2.2 for eternity on your brand new Motorola Atrix phone (did I also mention that motorola locks the bootloaders of their phones, so you CANNOT install custom roms?). Android is great and I love my LG Optimus T, but Android is in what I would call an 'advanced beta' stage, and at this point updates are mandatory for an overall good experience. This is the one major reason (aside from the awesome app store) that I think Apple is winning the smart phone / tablet war (I will make a detailed post about this coming up).

(Motorola Atrix phone, shown docked to it's laptop accessory)

More iPad 2 Info - Mini Displayport and SD Card Slot?

The SD card slot rumour isn't new, but the mini displayport rumour IS new. Mini displayport is currently used on all new apple computers, and would potentially allow the iPad 2 to connect to an external apple cinema display (fancy dock connector like the Motorola Atrix, anyone?). The SD card slot doesn't really need any explanation, but it would be nice to stick in pictures and videos and PDF documents. It would also make a lot of sense if Apple included expanded versions of iMovie and iPhoto with iPad 2, so you could do your editing on it as well.

(iPad 2 case from Chinese source. Please click for full image)

Wind Mobile Cell Phone Buying Guide

So unless you've been living under a rock (or maybe not a complete nerd I guess) you've heard of Wind Mobile in Canada. They are trying to break into the cellular market and snatch customers away from the big 3 (Rogers, Telus, Bell). I pretty much hate all of the incumbents in the Canadian wireless market, and so just the idea of a new entrant was really exciting to me (keep in mind, Fido, Virgin, Koodo, etc... are all owned by one of the big 3). Up until the end of January 2011, Wind Mobile is having an INCREDIBLE sale, with a wireless package that gives you unlimited everything for only $40 a month. Unlimited talk Canada/US wide, unlimited texting Canada/US wide, unlimited DATA, seriously unlimited. So the question now is what phone to get that works with Wind? Wind Mobile uses the same frequencies as T-Mobile in the US, and is NOT compatible with any of the other wireless companies in Canada, except Mobilicity. One thing I need to make very clear as well, there is NO iPhone anywhere in the world that will work with Wind Mobile. It doesn't matter if it's unlocked, or even the new CDMA Verizon iPhone, it will NOT work with Wind. This may change this summer with the iPhone 5, but we'll see.

I have compiled a chart of compatible phones with Wind, their specs, general pricing, and where they are available. Notice these are all Android phones. If you like blackberries, you won't find much info here, but then again if you like blackberries you probably want them for the BBM (blackberry messenger) and business related stuff. I caught some flack when I posted this chart to a Wind Mobile forum ( because I left off a lot of high end T-Mobile Android phones like the G2, mytouch 4G, and Samsung Vibrant (Galaxy S). I did this in purpose because I was looking for the best budget phones, since i'm a graduate student (graduate student is synonymous with over worked and under paid). I am also of the opinion that the official Android developers phone, the Google Nexus S, is the only high end Android phone people should consider at this moment (at least until the new dual core tegra 2 based phones start rolling out). The reason for this is because it is the ONLY phone that reliably and quickly gets Android updates. 

(Google Nexus S - official google developer phone guaranteed to get the fastest Android updates)

At this stage in the life of Google Android it is basically an advanced beta operating system with many bugs, and for this reason each new version of Android brings many improvements in performance and stability. Most phones take many months (to a year) to get an update, and even then many of them are NEVER upgraded. For example the Sony Xperia X10 (available at Mobilicity) and the Motorola XT720 (available at Wind Mobile) are both running Android 2.1 and will NEVER be upgraded past that. Android 2.2 froyo has been out for half a year or so, and 2.3 gingerbread was just released last month. Both 2.2 and 2.3 brought some drastic 'behind the scenes' improvements to Android, and due to the greed of the two previously mentioned phone companies they will NEVER be updated. They would prefer if you went out and bought their new phones...

(please click on picture to see full chart)

Now having said that, i'm going to strongly recommend the LG Optimus T (from T-Mobile in the US, must be purchased off ebay and then unlocked) because it is cheap (I bought 2 off ebay and paid between $240-250 Canadian, including shipping, tax, duty, and unlocking, but many people pay up to $300). The Google Nexus S might be a higher end phone with guaranteed fast updates, but it also costs around $600-700 Canadian all said and done. The Lg Optimus T is a very nice and capable phone, and with some rooting and custom ROMs (a custom ROM is like a custom firmware that is tweaked to run faster) I've got mine overclocked from 600 mhz up to 800 mhz, and running VERY smooth. I will another blog post outlining the general process for doing this, and the resource I used to figure it out (mostly the XDA developers forums). One of the most important things here is that the LG Optimus T comes pre-loaded with Android 2.2 froyo, and Lg has promised to update it to Android 2.3 in the near future. On the other hand the Galaxy S Vibrant has JUST got android 2.2 and will probably never officially get 2.3 gingerbread. 

(T-mobile LG Optimus T, same hardware as the LG Optimus One, but using the correct frequencies to be compatible with Wind Mobile and Mobilicity in Canada)

One other phone that is not listed that should be considered for people wanting a higher end phone than the Optimus T, but that don't want to pay upwards of $700 canadian for it. I was recently informed that you can purchase a T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy Vibrant phone (high end Galaxy S phone that is nearly identical to the Google Nexus S) for around $350-450 Canadian from ebay. This is obviously a very good deal for such a fast phone, and if you are computer savy and able to root and install custom roms, you could continue getting future updates long after Samsung officially stops giving them out (and it looks like froyo 2.2 is where Samsung will stop, unfortunately). 

(Samsung Galaxy Vibrant for T-Mobile, compatible with Wind and Mobilicity and overall the best phone for Wind for the money. I opted for the LG Optimus T since I got it for significantly less ($250 versus $400-450))

The best Android phone that Wind sells is the Motorola XT720, and I have to say that for the price this phone is a terrible deal. It will NEVER be updated beyond 2.1, has only 256 megs of ram, and Motorola is an awful company that is known for abandoning perfectly good phones and leaving all customers in the mud. Wind is supposed to be releasing a Samsung Galaxy S phone very soon, and I was told by several people working at Wind that they are currently testing it.

I would not recommend buying any android phone from Wind at this time. 

  1. The best budget Android phone to use with Wind and Mobilicity is the Lg Optimus T from T-mobile, ordered off ebay. $200-300 Canadian including shipping, tax, duty, and unlocking.
  2. The best overall phone for Wind and Mobilicity is the Samsung Galaxy Vibrant. It costs a bit more at around $350-450 from ebay, but it is quite a bit more powerful than the LG Optimus T, and nearly identical to the Google Nexus S.
  3. The best android phone you can buy right now is the Google Nexus S, because as I said it is the official Google phone and gets updates. It gets ALL the updates, right away, and for Android that is really important. This will cost you $600-700 Canadian and so if money is no option this is great, otherwise I'd personally stick with one of the two previous options (I got two LG Optimus T phones for my girlfriend and I). 
  4. Things will change in the next couple of months when the dual core Tegra 2 monsters start rolling out (Lg Optimus 2X, Motorola Atrix, etc...).
Comments and suggestions are appreciated!

I will soon post my brief review of the Lg Optimus T, as well as a quick guide to rooting, and where to find the info you need to install fast, overclocked, custom roms. Click a few of the adds on this page if you found this useful!

RIM Playbook - The Blackberry Tablet People Might Actually Buy Now That it Doesn't Have to be Married to a Blackberry.

The rumour has been going around that in order to properly utilize the upcoming Playbook tablet, you would also need to have a blackberry phone (to sync contacts, calendar, etc...). Thankfully that is NOT true as confirmed today by RIM senior product manager. This is great news, because now someone might actually BUY one of these things.

(RIM Blackberry Playbook)

For those of you who are unaware, below is a link to the engadget coverage of the RIM Playbook demo at CES 2011. The video on the link below shows off a beautiful UI on the tablet, along with smooth multitasking of quake 3, 1080p video, a slide show, and music all at the same time! This was very impressive at the time, but with all of the rumours for the potential powerhouse iPad 2, i'm becoming less impressed.

More Confirmation of iPad 2 High Resolution 'Retina' Display

An addition image of a wood background found in the new iOS 4.3 developers release shows a doubled resolution, further supporting previous rumours of an high resolution screen for the upcoming iPad 2.  This confirms 2 X resolution and 4 X pixels on screen, which makes me want to empty my bank account already!

Apple iPad 2 - Rumours are Buzzing

In the last week we've gone from 0-60 in terms of the iPad 2 rumour mill. The consumer electrons show (CES) 2011 just finished off a couple of weeks ago, and all we saw were android phones and tablets. There were some awesome Tegra 2 based hardware (dual core A9 ARM CPU's with Nvidia graphics chips), and some impressive demo's of Androids new Honeycomb mobile OS, and RIM's new Playbook.

The only thing relating to the iPad 2 at CES were some early case designs from 3rd party manufacturers, that contained some interesting fake iPad 2 models that seemed to confirm a slimmer iPad with dual cameras, and a large speaker port (or possibly SD card slot?)

(iPad 2 model in a preliminary case shown at CES 2011, suggesting dual cameras are coming)

Now shortly after CES, the rumours about the iPad 2 are FLYING, and I have to say i'm really excited. Apple is known for underwhelming in the internal hardware specs department, but backing it up with a massive and robust application store (the app store), a rock solid and smooth interface with their iOS mobile operating system, and their top quality and very stylish hardware. Based on previous doings by Apple, I would have expected the iPad 2 to have a slight processor bump and the addition of a front facing camera in order to use their video chat program Facetime. These recent rumours are ONLY rumours, nothing has been or will be confirmed by Apple until it's official release, but things are looking REALLY good.

(A4 SOC from iPhone 4 / iPad)

Rumours first started coming in about Apple adding a Retina display to the iPad 2, but many people dismissed this based on the hardware that would be needed to run this. Image files found in a new version if iBooks that came with the developer release of iOS 4.3 suggested an increase in screen resolution on the upcoming iPad 2. A 'retina display' is just Apples marketing buzzword for a high resolution display with a high pixel density so that text and images appear very smooth and crisp (like the iPhone 4). When doing this, the easiest way is to just double the current resolution (as was done with the iPhone 4 from 320x480 to 640x960) so that developers can easily scale up existing applications and not have to completely re-write everything from scratch. Doubling the existing iPad resolution from 1024x768 resolution (at 132 ppi) to 2048x1536 (at 260 ppi) would quadruple the number of pixels on screen and make everything much more crisp and sharp. Also as you could imagine, this would drastically increase the demand on graphics processor (GPU), ram, and CPU. As I mentioned before, Apple isn't known for leading the industry in hardware specs, but rather of the software and design side, and so these rumours seemed dubious.

(iPhone 3GS left, iPhone 4 retina display on right)

Now, to back up the increased screen resolution, reports are coming in that the iPad 2 will sport a new dual core powerVR SGX543 GPU (two GPU cores, VS the single GPU core found in all current phones/tablets, and in the recently announced Tegra 2 tablets and phones). This will supposedly give approximately 4 times the graphics processing power, which conveniently could handle the 4 times increase in pixels on the new high resolution screen. Apple is also said to be including their own custom dual core CPU based on the A9 architecture, which most likely will contain 512 or 1 gigabyte of ram. On the CPU front we will most likely see two 1 gigahertz A9 cores, which would more than double the CPU performance of the iPad 2. Most competitors are including 1 gig of ram, so if Apple is going 'all out' on the CPU, GPU, and screen, they might just go for a gig of ram. This, coupled with the already lingering rumours of dual cameras for Facetime video chatting, the iPad 2 is really shaping up to be a killer.

(The original iPad)

To summarize the currently rumoured iPad 2 specs.

  • Dual core custom SOC based on A9 architecture, probably 1 ghz (two CPU cores each running at 1 ghz vs the single CPU core of the first generation iPad running at 1 ghz)
  • Dual core powerVR SGX543 GPU (two GPU cores)
  • Probably 512 megs - 1 gig of ram
  • Dual cameras
  • 10 inch 'Retina display' - double resolution and quadruple pixel screen at 2048x1536 (at 260 ppi)
  • Possibly upgraded speaker
  • Possible addition of a new port (possibly SD card slot and/or microUSB port)
  • Possible smaller and lighter case

In comparision, here are the specs for the RIM Playbook.

(RIM Playbook)

  • Dual core cortex-A9 architecture 1 ghz CPU
  • Signle core GPU (possibly Tegra 2 chipset)
  • 1 gig of ram
  • 3 megapixel front facing camera, 5 megapixel rear camera
  • 7-inch 1024x600 display
The Tegra 2 based tablets such as the Motorola Xoom will have similar specs to the Playbook, but with 10 inch screens like the iPad. So if the rumours are true, the iPad 2 will beat the competion in terms of specs, it will beat them in terms of fashion and design (as always), it will beat them in multimedia and applications (the app store trumps the android market), and depending on how Android Honeycomb turns out, could also beat them in terms of software. I just went from wanting an android honeycomb tablet to wanting the new iPad 2, very badly.

(Motorola Xoom - Android honeycomb based tablet)