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Why the Advent Vega can be your living room tablet

7 min read

I have in my hands the Advent Vega, a 10.1" 16:9 Android powered tablet computer.This is not a thing of beauty, but I'm going to recommend that you buy one. Why? Price and it's hackable.

Even though I'm an iPad fanboy, I've come to realise that for many people shelling out £399 on a "gadget" can seem a bit much, even when that gadget is the magnificent iPad. So, what are the alternatives?

There are many Android and Windows tablets on the market right now, but they all have one major disadvantage when compared to the iPad, price. Why spend over £300 when for a few extra pounds you can get the iPad? Check out the Asus EeePad Transformer or the Motorolo Xoom both of which are top of the range Android tablets running honeycomb, but will set you back £350. If you managed to stretch your budget by £50 you would have an iPad 2 with its App store and range of accessories. Now I know these tablets are not quite like for like, but my point is that for most people the entry level iPad 2 will more than meet their needs. I know it works for me.

So, why did I buy an Advent Vega? The Vega has interested me for a while and it seemed to tick all the right boxes, however there is one glaringly obvious flaw with the Vega. The Screen.

Screen

Facts: 10.1 inch, 16:9 aspect ration capacitive touchscreen, a resolution of 1024 x 600 and also supports auto rotate and multi-touch gestures. It is very sensitive and will take some to time to get used to, but it's safe to say that from an input perspective the screen is good.

The screen is let down when viewed from an off-set angle. It's ok if you are using it on your lap or right in front of your eye line, but move off to the side and the screen becomes unwatchable or unreadable.

But let's not get caught up with that, because the Vega really is actually pretty good and certainly great value for money.

Hardware

I paid £129.97 which gets you a lot for your money. In a tablet measuring 275 x 178 x 13.6 mm (W x D x H) and weighing 750g you get: stereo speakers, MicroSD Card slot, HDMI output, front facing camera, microphone, USB port and a headphone port.

It's encased in black plastic, but it feels comfortable to hold and solid enough that I'm sure it can survive the odd knock.

Operating System

The unique selling point of the Vega is the active developer community, and before you all click away, it's really actually quite easy to install a custom ROM on the vega.

Out of the box, the Vega runs Android 2.2 froyo which is ok, but I'm used to gingerbread, and frankly shipping froyo with a tablet is a silly business decision because it highlights how bad the operating system is and thus dosen't allow the Vega to look and perform like it could.

If you buy a Vega you must install a different operating system on it. Developers call this installing a custom ROM, but don't worry, this is not dangerous and it is impossible to brick your Vega. Just follow the instructions very closely and read various forums to learn what it is you'll actually be doing. It is quite straight forward providing you have some patience and can follow instructions.

At present the best ROM to install is VegaComb which is a community built version of Google's honeycomb (which was never open sourced) and transforms the Vega into an iPad competitor. Well ok, it doesn't really, but what it does is highlight how quickly Android tablets are going to dominate the market once IceCreamSandwich gets released, because cheap tablets will flood the market that will actually be pretty good.

I had not used an Android tablet before (aside from a quick play in stores) and although I use an Android phone, the UI is different (thanks google!). However, it really isn't hard to pick up and thanks to the Android Market all your previously purchased apps are available for you to download to your new device.

Apps

There really isn't a lot of apps available for android tablets, but what I've found is that phone apps actually scale quite well on the Vega. On the iPad you get the choice of original 1x view or a 2x zoomed view which dosen't always do the iPad justice. Apps on the Vega just stretch or zoom to fit the screen which can lead some odd views, but overall they seem to look ok.
I'm happy with the apps I have, I've basically just duplicated what I have on my phone and they all work fine.

Video

One of the main reasons I bought the Vega was so I could plug it into my TV and watch movies that I would store on the Vega, thus the Vega would become my main media hub. Unfortunately this isn't quite perfect on vegacomb as it leaves a 2" black bar down the right side and along the bottom. I can live with this for now and I'm sure it will be fixed soon enough. Apart from this, the HDMI out works well mirroring the Vega in every way. When you see the Vega outputting over HDMI to a 32" LCD it looks great but this just demonstrates how poor the screen on the Vega actually is.

The Vega is perfectly happy to stream flash videos such as iPlayer but it will also play .avi and .wmv files through the QQ Player which is free to download in the Market. Video play back is smooth.

Camera

The Vega has a 0.3MP front facing camera which is compatible with Skype and Google Talk. It's actually ok and you will use it to make video calls if that's your thing. I can't imagine ever using the camera to take a still image but it works, and so would do in an emergency.

Keyboard

There are many keyboard apps in the Market, but the stock honeycomb keyboard works well so I don't see the need to recommend anything else. For instance I use Swype on my phone, but I would have no need for that on the Vega. I can type comfortably onscreen and there doesn't appear to be any lag.

Battery

Battery life on the Vega is fine for a working day but I've found that it doesn't hold it's charge more than a couple of days on standby which is disappointing. I think the perfect example of battery life is to compare it to your smartphone. The more you use it the faster the battery dies! I haven't run any tests but I reckon you can expect to get 5 or 6 hours of screen time which is acceptable.

Form

When holding the Vega in your hands it feels light and comfortable but also a little strange due to its 16:9 aspect ratio. However, I like this view and it sits well when rested on my lap. You can of course view it in portrait mode which is great for reading books and webpages. When compared to the iPad 2 the Vega feels better in the hand.

Real world use

I will mainly use the Vega in the house as a consumption device. I can see me surfing the web, reading email, updating twitter, or watching movies via the HDMI out, but other than those I'm not sure what else I would want to do on it. So if you're in the market for a cheap Android tablet you could do much worse than the Advent Vega.

If you want to find out more about the Vega check out these resources:

MoDaCo, TabletRoms PC World, Currys / PC World outlet store (where I bought mine), myadventvega.co.uk, manual (PDF)

Read My Samsung Nexus S Review

7 min read

The Samsung Nexus S is now my preferred mobile phone. Read on to find out why, but be warned, this is a lengthy post!

Before the Nexus S
Nexus S Standby ScreenHaving been a a mac user for over 4 years and previously owning both the iPhone 3G and the 3GS I made the jump to Android last June when I purchased the HTC Desire. During the past 12 months I have discovered that, for me, Android is on a par with iOS devices and actually ahead in some aspects. With that in mind I have now purchased the Samsung Nexus S. For my mind, it is the best example of comparing an Android phone to the iPhone.

The Desire was rooted early on and has run a variety of ROMS over the 12 months, but lately I have been using ROMs that mirror stock Android e.g. Oxygen and DevNull. (As a piece of trivia, I think the Desire is the most hacked phone of all the Android handsets on the market today. The sheer volume of custom ROMs available for it is astonishing.)

As I say goodbye to the Desire, I leave the handset running Android 2.3.4.

My initial impression of the Nexus S
I ordered it from prepaymania for £303 delivered – I have to say that I hadn’t heard of this outfit before, but the phone arrived on schedule, so no complaints.
The box itself was your typical phone box, nice and compact and obviously inspired by Apple.
The Nexus S comes with a separate power cable and data cable which I though was a nice touch (charging and data transfer is by Micro USB). Also in the box was a headset which I have yet to use.
The phone is made from black plastic and is not of the same build quality as the HTC Desire. However, it feels much lighter and sits well in your hand. Let’s not forget that this is a 4” device as opposed to the 3.7” Desire.

In UseNexus S running Android 2.3.4
When I turned the phone on I logged in with my Google account and the phone instantly started syncing my personal data and downloading my apps from the Market. It downloaded most, but not all of my apps. There was no faffing with iTunes or connecting it to a PC to activate – it just worked without fuss. First thing I needed to do however was update the operating system to 2.3.4 as it shipped with 2.3.3.
But you know what? The phone told me I had to update and off it went and started downloading the update.
A word of warning here: installing this update wiped the phone and I had to set the phone up as new again. This was not the case with the Desire, but perhaps I did something wrong.
I had a quick play and I decided that I knew enough about stock Android and that I would be better rooting the phone now rather than later. So that’s what I did. I followed this guide to the letter and it worked great.
I haven’t put a custom ROM on yet as I want to keep to the pure stuff for now, but rooting lets you do simple things like take a screen shot.

Buttons
The Nexus S has no physical menu buttons, but so far these have not caused me any issues. One thing I do miss (although it’s not a big deal) is the trackball which was handy when you need to edit some text.

Is this the best phone I’ve owned?
I think it’s right up there. It’s certainly better than the HTC Desire and the 3GS, which were good phones in their time.
There are several factors that are important to me:
1. Screen size – 4” is probably the biggest size I would want on a phone and the Nexus S has a great screen,
2. Size and weight – it’s big but light, mainly due to the plastic casing. I carry the Nexus S around in a protective pouch, but I also carried the Desire in its own pouch, so I’m used to the bulk.
3. Battery – Even at this stage with the battery not being totally calibrated the Nexus S has a better battery life than the Desire. I should easily expect the Nexus S to last me two days of normal use. My Desire was easily lasting me a day with the DevNull Rom and the latest radio installed. This compares favourably to the iPhone 4 which does not last my girl friend more than 10 hours. She must have a dud. ;-)
4. Apps – people make a big deal about the quality of the apps in the Android Market compared to the Apps Store. Well I’m sorry, the apps I use are the same as the ones I have on my iPad (give or take) and they work fine. I’m a google guy and on Android, google’s apps are better than iOS. Fact!
5. Notifications – I’ve not had a problem with notifications. Scratch that. I did have a problem with notifications (too many!), but I soon learned to only allow certain apps to update themselves in the background. I now get push notifications from SMS, email, ping chat, calendar and everything else I manually update. I feel I am more productive this way.

What about the Nexus S hardware?
I like the phone! I don’t mind that it feels light and is shiny black plastic. The buttons feel solid and the screen is responsive. There is a satisfying ‘click’ when connecting the charger.
My one gripe is that the headphone jack is on the bottom. I’m struggling to get used to this, but only because (in my head) the volume controls are back to front. I will get used to this though.

Camera: The Nexus S comes with two cameras. I’m on record in several places stating that IMO the iPhone 4 has the best camera of any phone. That is still the case. The Nexus S has a 5 megapixel camera and in good daylight the images are impressive, but like most other camera phones, when the sun goes down so does the quality of image.
The front facing camera is VGA quality and is really there to compete with Apple’s Facetime. Surprisingly using the google talk app video calls work well, even on 3G. This app also lets you make standard VOIP calls to other GTALK users.
Minor gripe: why can’t GTALK and Facetime get along? Those two apps would be very useful if they allowed you to chat to users of both systems.

The back of the Nexus SLoudspeaker: I can’t figure this out. When playing music through the loudspeaker I feel let down, but when using the loudspeaker for phone calls it works really well. So good that I can actually see myself using this more often, something I rarely used on other handsets.

Call quality is good.

I use the swype keyboard, just because I prefer that over a more traditional keyboard, but the standard gingerbread keyboard is a big improvement over the standard HTC keyboard on the Desire.

Display
I have the i9023 model which has the Super LCD instead of the Super AMOLED screen that originally shipped with the handset. A lot has been said of SLCD, but for my eyes the screen is superb even with the brightness turned down. In this respect it compares favourably to the Desire.

Conclusions
It’s difficult to compare like for like so I will end my narrative now. To conclude, the Nexus S is generally a little bit faster at everything compared to the Desire. So this is definitely an incremental upgrade, similar to the iPhone 3G to 3GS upgrade.
So much about mobile phones today is not about the hardware, but about the operating system and the apps. The right hardware will however enhance that experience. Therefore, if you’re considering the Nexus S you will not be disappointed. It’s a snappy phone that multitasks well and will more than meet the needs of most people.

The newspaper is dead. Long live the newspaper.

4 min read

Being someone who has embraced digital content I fail to understand the love affair people have with paper.  I'm not just talking about news papers, I mean books, print outs anything that involves physical copy.  I just don't get it.  Take books for example, they're heavy, awkward to hold and are prone to damage.
Why put yourself through that experience?

Yesterday I did something I haven't done in a long time: I purchased The Sunday Times.  I don't normally read newspapers, especially Sunday papers which for some reason are huge unwieldy things.  None the less, of to the shop I trundled and struggled back with the times.  After some time sorting through the various sections, I actually started to read.  At this point I should state that I enjoy reading and have always been an avid reader, from fiction to non-fiction, to news and sport I read them all!

Which leads me on to the story which appeared in yesterdays Sunday Times: The plastic fantastic future of newspapers.  In his article, Alex Pell discusses the future of newspapers.
What intrigued me was not the e-reader or the new digital ink being discussed, but that publishers and presumably writers / journalists still do not understand digital content, the internet and where their future lies.

The article tells us how companies are competing with each other to develop a mobile newspaper of the future.  This will be kindle like, will always display the latest edition of your newspaper and will have a colour screen and great battery life.  BUT, it wont be available for a couple of years.  Let me ask you this, if you have a computer at work with access to the internet, if you a have a mobile phone with access to the internet, if you have a computer at home, then what need will you have for (what promises to be an expensive) device that will display your favourite newspaper?

Take the iphone, it is already the biggest ebook reader beating the kindle and Sony's ereader.  It is not hard to realise why, give consumers a decent screen, the ability to load their own content and a device that they will always have with them and you have a success story.

So what are publishers failing to understand?  Consumers will always demand "content" whether that be the latest news or the latest thriller from a leading novelist, but as can be seen, consumers continue to read the classics.  A quick trip over to Project Gutenberg proves this.  (What is Project Gutenberg?  An ebook site that allows users to download out of copyright books in a digital format.)
Therefore whether it be new content or existing content, consumers want it.  Surely this is a market that is just waiting to be exploited.  

Is there money to be made?  Yes is the simple answer.  Just as the music business has found out and now the movie business, consumers will purchase digital content.  The newspaper industry has for a long time failed to embrace the internet.  In the early days, their websites were not uptodate, with them preferring to maintain the newspaper position of breaking news.  Thankfully today, the internet is full of newspapers delivering their content online, but some sites require users to register, or do not provide rss feeds which make it unneccessarily difficult for users to get the content they demand.

What cannot be allowed to happen is a situation where a leading newspaper tries to get its audience to pay for online content.  That business model is dead.  There are plenty of reputable news sites that exist already that are free, therefore a digital newspaper will have to rely on advertising revenue.

The quicker publishers get their content digitised and availble to the consumer the faster they will cash in, whether it be in advertising revenue or by selling ebooks.  As more and more devices come to market that are "connected" the market for digital content will explode and therefore the future in publishing is in digital.

Time will tell which newspapers will successfully migrate their entire business onto the net, but failure to do so will ultimately ensure their demise.