Opinion

John C. Abell

Samsung Galaxy S4: Size matters, but isn’t everything

May 10, 2013 19:30 UTC

The Samsung Galaxy S4′s tagline — “The next big thing is here” – is a telling pitch. The Galaxy is the world’s second best-selling phone, behind the iPhone.  And the latest version unabashedly claims that bigger is better. But considering the S4 in a different light, maybe we shouldn’t think of it as a big phone. Maybe we should treat it like a very small tablet and leave our real tablet home.

While narrower than Samsung’s Galaxy Note by about a half-inch, the S4 strongly evokes a miniature but very serviceable tablet. And since making calls is one of the things we seem to do least with our phones, marketing a connected device like the S4 as a very small tablet that also makes calls might not be a bad idea.

As a “tablet,” the S4 delivers. Screen resolution is amazing.. It runs fast and smooth, which is not a given when you don’t own both the hardware and software. The S4 runs the latest version of Google’s Android mobile operating system, Jellybean 4.2.

The S4 has a larger screen — 4.99 inches versus 4.8 for the S III. The case is narrower by .03 inches. But that push to increase screen size without increasing the footprint makes it a more sensitive device. The context menu and “back” below the screen are just too easily tapped inadvertently while merely holding the phone while doing a task, like typing. These buttons were vexing in another, smaller way as well: They light up whenever you touch the screen.

The S4 also prompts reflection on the range of devices and how they’ve positioned themselves five years into the smartphone revolution. One of the biggest dividing lines is whether a mobile device is optimized for consumption or production — whether it’s a good working tool or a media hub.

Blackberry Q10: The key is the keyboard

Apr 26, 2013 19:00 UTC

Not so long ago Blackberry made phones that set the bar. They were avatars of serious cool among the power set, a visible token that you had arrived. Then came the iPhone, and there went Blackberry’s cachet.

Now Blackberry is back with a two smartphone phones running a new operating system — both the phones and the OS are dubbed “10.” The rebooted line is a gambit — some think Blackberry’s last — to recapture the cool.

The Z10, released in the United States in March, was an attempt to join ‘em: it’s a full screen, multi-touch rectangle with a pop-up, software keyboard — sound familiar? But the Q10, due in the U.S. at the end of May, is a spit-in-your-eye attempt to beat ‘em: An unapologetic central feature is a physical keyboard, and this defining Blackberry touch makes the device an  intentional outlier in the smartphone world.

Building the perfect smartwatch

Apr 19, 2013 19:37 UTC

In my tech predictions of 2013 I somehow missed that this would be the year of the smartwatch. But now the most established names in tech are realizing the future may be all in the wrist.

Smartwatches are shaping up to be the Next Big Thing about a decade after they were offered to the public and met with a collective shrug. Timing can be everything in tech. Microsoft marketed a stylus-enabled PC in 2001, but the tablet concept was a nonstarter until the iPad. Even the e-reader had a first life as The Rocket — before the dot-com boom. But it was Amazon, in 2007, that reimagined the device and took the brass ring.

There is still essentially no smartwatch market, but at least one analyst is asserting that more than a million could be sold this year. That astonishing — and dubious — claim would amount to one-third of the anticipated 2013 sales of netbook (which I did predict would surge in 2013).

How tablets can save the PC

Apr 11, 2013 20:58 UTC

Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

‑ Winston Churchill

These are tough times for the personal computer: The 30-something device that everyone used to covet is being crowded out by younger objects of our affection. Time for a makeover.

Visionaries like Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Apple’s Steve Jobs started a revolution by imagining that computers — at the time, massive, room-filling machines that basically just did arithmetic — could become indispensable tools for the masses. PCs led to a world filled with powerful electronics we could take anywhere: Desktops became laptops, phones became mobile and then smart. And now there are tablets.

Home is where the phone is

Apr 5, 2013 20:58 UTC

It hasn’t yet been six years since the start of the smartphone revolution and we’ve already become an “always on” culture. At least, that’s the temptation. Those who submit can be called The Immersives: checking e-mail, keeping tabs on Facebook “friends,” debating on Twitter, snapping photos of food for Instagram. It would be rare if any of us didn’t have at least one toe dipped in the stream.

We are all Immersives sometime: We bury our faces in the small screen while we walk, or come dangerously close to driving blindly into traffic. We can’t get through a meal without virtually leaving the table. We keep our phones on permanent silent to conceal the depth of our addiction. If we even momentarily lose track of our phone, we are as anxious as new parents whose toddler has dipped out of sight.

Immersives are the target audience for Facebook Home, a new version of the social network’s app that was announced this week. Home lives on the front side of the lockscreen — it’s the first thing you see when you pick up the phone. It’s a major release that reveals the extent to which Facebook needs us to stay Immersives to help it meet its bottom line. This decade’s major technological question is:  Who’s in control — our phones, or us?

The future of search only cost $30 million

Mar 27, 2013 21:17 UTC

On the surface, Nick D’Aloisio’s story is the kind tech lives for, and sometimes regrets. It’s the tale of a kid selling an obscure startup for an inflated price, and then it becomes as irrelevant as Netscape, and its buyer’s remorse is part of the company’s enduring legacy.

But the story of Summly, a startup whose app appeared in the Apple Store only five months ago and was purchased on Monday by Yahoo for a reported $30 million, isn’t part of this trite arc.

This isn’t a boilerplate tale about a youngster hitting the jackpot, a former Internet giant trying to buy a relevance makeover, or even about an intriguing programmatic way to summarize news. It is about the future of search. 

What is Google doing?

Mar 22, 2013 18:15 UTC

A few years ago, web thinker Jeff Jarvis published an homage to the world’s most successful Web search and advertising company titled “What Would Google Do?” These days, the question seems to be, “What is Google doing?”

Google won us over with a revolutionary approach to Web search that made its predecessors seem archaic. It quickly toppled Yahoo as the coolest company on the planet based solely on its efficient and fast way of finding everyone else’s content. Now, though, Google is something entirely different.

What is Google doing? I’m not sure. There may well be a great, bumper-sticker answer. But Google’s actions are too chaotic to come up with a grand, unified theory. It’s toying with apps, mobile software, mobile hardware, mobile phones – and, oh yeah, still dabbles in Web services it decides with zero discussion to terminate with extreme prejudice. It’s one thing to be pulled in all directions as a dance partner, it’s another to have it happen on some carnival ride.

Pebble: This smart watch is a rock star

Mar 15, 2013 19:00 UTC

When Alvin Toffler popularized the term “information overload” in 1970, even that legendary futurist could not have predicted the flood of data that drowns today’s road warrior. E-mails from multiple accounts, instant messages, texts, iMessage and Google Voice — and, oh yeah, phone calls — all clamor for attention from our smartphones.

Enter a new solution: The smart watch. Pebble, a Kickstarter project now being delivered to its first backers, uses the power of your smartphone instead of competing with it. Pebble is still in development and a little rough around the edges, but it is the first to get the smart watch formula right. It could become a big deal. It’s easily the most important thing I’ve added to my go bag since the tablet.

Pebble is an e-paper* wristwatch that displays messages and caller ID on a crisp display that is always an arm’s length away. This allows you to leave your phone in your pocket or across the room instead of constantly reaching for it or leaving it face up at arms’ reach (Eliminating this custom at every conference and restaurant table would alone earn Pebble a place in heaven). It is a one-way device: you still have to use your phone to answer messages, or talk on the phone.

Paying the piper for privacy

Mar 15, 2013 17:51 UTC

Three privacy stories caught my attention in the past week:

1. Google is paying a token $7 million fine for sniffing out private information as its roving Google Maps cars gathered images for Street View.

2. A new study has found that seemingly innocent disclosures on Facebook can be used to form highly accurate predictions about whether you are a genius, drug user or gay.

3. If you use certain porta-potties at the Austin, Texas, tech confab South By Southwest, passersby know if you are … standing or sitting inside, and for how long.

Go Bag grab bag: SXSW survival sundries

Mar 8, 2013 17:30 UTC

 

Attending a multiple-day event that covers a lot of ground, like South By Southwest, makes your go bag even more indispensable. Whether you’re on your way to SXSW or already running around downtown Austin, you need to take extra precautions that your bag is properly stocked. All the basic rules apply (you’ll find those external batteries to be a godsend), but here are my recommendations for that 20 percent buffer in your go bag.

These simple sundries could help you survive SXSW: You’ll need some sort of food item in your bag for that moment you realize you’ve been panel hopping for 16 hours straight without a barbecue break. Both Pure Protein and Clif Builder’s have 20 grams of protein, which provides great slow-release energy and fewer empty calories. Builder’s is closer to candy; 20 grams of sugar to Pure’s 2g. It’s also bigger: 64g to 50g. For more fat, quicker energy and carbs, I go with Kind. Most other bars I’ve tried or looked at seems to be candy masquerading as health food, or inedible heath substances masquerading as food. I love having fruit available, but it bruises easily. The best portables are clementine oranges: They are small, seedless and can take plenty of punishment. They are also messy, so you’ll need … A MSR PackTowl. Cleaner, smaller, more environmentally friendly than tissues or paper towels. Could make you a hero in the event that a keyboard has an unfortunate meeting with a margarita. Launder it in your hotel sink and it’ll be dry by morning. Gum and/or mints. They help stave off hunger in the morning and keep people from recoiling from that taco you wolfed down after lunch. Packs of gum will weather any go bag abuse. I prefer rolls of Newman’s Wintergreen to mints in metal or plastic containers because the packaging disappears along with the contents. And you don’t rattle. A refillable water bottle. One of the smartest is the Clean Bottle, which unscrews top and bottom to make it easier to clean. I carry a Platypus collapsable because it’s flat and — like that roll of mints — takes up less space as you use the contents. Eating utensils. Plastic utensils are terrible, and a terrible waste. The placesetting-to-go market has gone from bulky camping item to slick accessory, like Sigg’s Folding Clip Cutlery Set, so there is plenty to choose from these days. My personal choice is a little eccentric: Snow Peak travel chopsticks. They are made with excellent materials and are beautifully designed, down to the squared-off top half which prevents them from rolling around. A collapsible bag for all the SWAG you’ll pick up. My choice is a MiniSax. It folds as small as my pack towel, opens to 8 x 9 inches and can carry more than 20 pounds. Comfortable shoes for when you have to hoof it back to the Convention Center from way across the river. Consider a pair of unisex Timberland Radler Trail Camps, which slip on and off quickly and zip up into virtual nothingness. For heel-wearers looking for a more stylish option, I’ve heard foldable flats work well. There’s an easy trick to carrying around extra outerwear — wear as much as you can, and carry as little as possible. Layer! The three-shirt rule — t-shirt, overshirt, outershirt —  keeps your bag emptier. Based on the last few Austin deluges, you might want to throw a foldable plastic poncho. My pick is the Sierra Designs Microlight, which packs up into it’s own sack. Don’t forget your paper business cards – they were all the rage at TED. They are still the coin of the business meet-up realm — a physical reminder of having encountered you that Bump cannot match. It’s a quick, easy way to communicate your information when the decibel level in the room is too high to hear. And, “Here’s my card, let’s connect after SXSW” is quite possibly the best way to conclude a dragging conversation and hop on over to the next party.

None of these items will add much to your burden, but any one might just save the day.

 

Photo credit: REUTERS/Adrees Latif 

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