Gadget Writing

Welcome to Gadget Writing. This is where you will find articles and reviews on hi-fi and consumer technology.

HTC’s new Android tablet has a stylus

A big surprise here at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona: HTC’s new tablet, the HTC Flyer, comes with a stylus. “People can rediscover the natural act of writing,” says the press release.

My first reaction is that this a mistake. I have had tablets with pens before, and while I like the ability to take notes, I also find the pen a nuisance. They are awkward in confined spaces like an economy seat in an aeroplane, and expensive to lose. HTC’s pen is battery powered, so I suppose you could also have the annoyance of a pen that runs out of juice. HTC’s stylus does not clip into a bay on the device, but does have a dedicated pocket in the case.

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On the plus side, you can write, draw and annotate content using the pen, which has a variety of settings for colour and tip. For some tasks, a pen is the ideal implement.

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The device does have other attractions. The pre-release devices have Android 2.4, but HTC says it may well run Android 3.0 “Honeycomb”, which is designed for tablets, by the time it is launched in Q2 2011 or soon after. It has a 1.5Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset; 7” screen; 1024 x 600 resolution; 1GB RAM and 32GB storage, expandable with micro SD cards. Battery is said provide 4 hours of video playback, which sounds less than ideal. HTC will also offer a video download service “HTC Watch”.

A feature which will be familiar to OneNote users is called Timemark. This lets you take notes which synch to an audio recording, so tapping a word in your notes takes you to that point in the audio. Notes also synchronize with Evernote, a cloud-based note synchronization service.

Viewsonic ViewPad 10 Pro does Windows and Android – but Windows first

Viewsonic has announced the ViewPad 10 Pro, a 10” tablet that runs both Microsoft Windows 7 and Google Android 2.2.

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I saw the ViewPad 10 Pro briefly this morning here at Mobile World Congress. Specs include Intel Oak Trail chipset, 2GB RAM, 32GB storage, and front-facing camera for conferencing.

The big appeal of the ViewPad 10 Pro, successor to the ViewPad 10, is that it runs Android as well as Windows. Just tap a button, and Android appears in place of Windows.

Sounds good; but as Viewsonic explained how this works I became doubtful. Apparently Android runs in a virtual machine on top of Windows. I have nothing against virtualization; but this approach does suggest some compromises in terms of Android performance and efficiency. No matter how clever Viewsonic has been in its implementation, some resources will still be devoted to Windows during an Android session and battery life will be less good than it might be.

I can see more sense in running Android first, for the sake of its speed and efficiency on low-power hardware, and Windows in virtualization for when you need to dip into Excel or some other Windows application.

The upside of this approach is that you can switch between the two without having to to do a hard reboot.

Viewsonic says you will be able to get one of these in your hands around May 2011.

iPhone plus Amazon app = shopping revolution through magic of barcode scanning

Amazon has added barcode scanning to its Apple iPhone shopping app. It is an amazing feature. Here’s why.

Among the questions that shoppers ask themselves, two of the biggest ones are first, is it any good; and second, is it good value? Barcode scanning helps with both of these. The scenario is that you are in the shop looking at a book, CD or DVD – or almost anything really, from kettles to MP3 players – and you wave your iPhone over it. Up comes the entry for that item in Amazon’s store, where you can see the rating, read customer reviews, and check the price both new and used.

OK, there is a little bit more involved than waving the iPhone, but not much. Here is how it works. Tap the Amazon app on the iPhone, then Search.

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Tap Scan a barcode and hold the iPhone over the barcode.

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You adjust the size and position by moving the iPhone until the code is roughly central between the guide lines. At this point, the guide lines turn green.

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No need to tap; the app will now look up the item and show you the results. Tap the right-pointing arrow for more detail.

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Confession: I am sufficiently an Amazon addict that I have done this in shops even before the advent of the barcode feature. One reason is price-checking. We all know that you pay a premium for the instant gratification of bricks and mortar shopping; but how bad is it? This will tell you instantly.

That might not help if you need a gift at the last minute, but the reviews might. I use this for video games, or for CDs that I have not heard or DVDs/Blu-rays that I have not seen. It has saved me from some expensive mistakes.

Of course reviews are subjective and some are likely planted by publishers, authors or competitors; but there are usually enough to give you some idea of the range of opinions.

It is also handy for electronic devices. Is that MP3 player any good? How does that iPod dock sound?

When I was at school we learned about the concept of perfect competition. One of the requirements for perfect competition is perfect information – for example, knowing the price charged for an item in every outlet which sells it. We are a long way from that, but thanks to the Amazon marketplace, where third-party sellers compete, we are closer than we were. The barcode feature in the Amazon iPhone app makes it easy to access that information while shopping, which is a big feature.