Tag Archives: iOS

Asus Transformer Prime fi

The Asus Transformer Prime: Raw Tegra 3 quad-core processing power

For the sake of absolute transparency, I’ll openly admit that I want this tablet, so yes my opinion is biased.  Nonetheless, I will try my hardest to present everything that follows as objectively as I can, to ensure you are fairly informed.

By all accounts, the Asus Transformer Prime will be the all conquering champion that Android has been waiting for in it’s battle against the iPad.  Well, that at least is the account you’ll get when you read articles of those from the Google Android camp, of course, Apple advocates will more than likely tell you a different story.  I think it’s fair to say, that those who have an interest in the tablet format but are neutral  towards a manufacturer or operating system, are a little bit excited by the prospect of what the Asus Transformer Prime has to offer.  So let’s get straight into the good stuff.

Design - Sleek elegance

The basic tablet format, for the most part, is fixed.  The main variations are in the dimensions, casing and docking/port options.  The Asus Prime will have a 10.1″ Super IPS+ display with the tech screen of choice, the Corning Gorilla Glass.  You’ll see mention of the Super IPS+ display, which is an acronym for In-Plane Switching, a technique developed to improve viewing angles by allowing the crystal of a display to move parallel to the panel plane instead of perpendicular to it.  This difference allows a reduced amount of light scattering and in turn gives wide viewing angles and good colour reproduction.  The ‘+’ is Asus’s indication that there has been improvements over the previous variant that was present in the predecessor.  The back casing would appear to be a lightweight, brushed metal alloy.  All this is a strong statement of intent and encouragement that the user experience will be of a high quality.

Hardware - Power and grunt

Perhaps the standout feature of the hardware of the Transformer Prime, is the Tegra 3 quad core processor.  Upon release, it will be the first tablet to sport this new configuration which also has a dedicated ultra low voltage fifth-core for handling non-CPU intensive tasks.  The biggest benefit of this is the improvement in battery life which is an approximate total of 12-hours, which is boosted to 18 hours when docked.  Other features include what Asus are calling SonicMaster Technology, which in everyday terms translates as great speaker.  Sound quality is perhaps not the biggest consideration for most guys purchasing a new tablet, but if you’re at home or in a public place and want to watch a video clip, you’ll really appreciate the different in audio quality.  The final hardware point I’ll highlight, is the improvements made to the touch responsiveness, with Asus claim to have halved the normal response time form when the device detects your finger movement and follows along.  It’s an issue that most would generally consider to be a matter of software but this attention to detail, will ensure that Asus as a manufacturer will be held in high regard and compete closely with the likes of Samsung and Motorola.

Software - Android Ice Cream dessert

Currently, what the guys over at Asus have running on the Prime is Android’s Honeycomb OS, not a bad OS but not the latest.  What has already been stated, is that it won’t be long before the Prime will be running Ice Cream Sandwich, the unification OS that will be on both Android tablets and mobile phones.  Clearly, much like the approach taken by Apple with their iOS operating system, having one OS that runs one both mobile phone and tablet is great for app developers and should further help the proliferation of app production and the overall standard of apps available to your Android device.  There has been a lot already said about Ice Cream Sandwich, and perhaps it isn’t the huge leap that everyone wanted to see from Android but even this reiteration of the Android system comes with much welcomed improvements and is the most polished version of Android yet.

So there a brief run through of some of the highlights of the Asus Transformer Prime, there is in fact a bunch of stuff that I haven’t mentioned, such as the hydro-oleophobic coating on the screen or the 8MP camera with an auto-focusing f/2.4 lens and a back-illuminated CMOS sensor capturing 1080p video.  But, I think I covered enough to intrigue you enough to do a bit more digging of your own, and really, that’s where you’re really going to find out what’s interesting to you.  When you find that interesting point, whether it be positive or negative, please share in the comments below.

Below is an early video of the Asus Transformer Prime running the hardware intensive game, Glowball, to demonstrate its capabilities.

Not sure I was entirely objective in this post. :-P

DC Universe Online

Five of the Biggest Free-to-play MMO Titles

There have been a number of big name titles taking the Free-to-play route  to market.  Perhaps this is a result of the games available on Facebook or the low cost games available on mobile platforms such as iOS and Android, or it may even be a combination of a number of factors, including these.  Either way, price is increasingly becoming less of an initial barrier, as at the very least you can sample a number of high budget titles for the most welcoming price of FREE.

Now, I will say right up front, that the big FREE sign is an entry cost.  Once inside, you may have to spend a few pounds to experience all that the chosen title has to offer, but at the very least you’ll have a little more to go on in deciding whether this is a game you should be spending your hard-earned on.

With a number of publishers deciding that free can pay, there have been some recognisable names made available for your consumption.  So here we go, in no particular order, five of the biggest free-to-play MMOs currently available.

DC Universe online

I’d say that this is the most talked about MMO at the moment, given that the transition to free-to-play has brought in a reported one million new players, this was achieved in the relatively short time span of one month.  Clearly the lure of being able to assume the role and powers of your favourite DC Superheros is a huge appeal and now that the barrier to entry has been removed, fans are flocking to the DC Universe in their droves.

Sony Online Entertainment have changed the model from a month subscription, to a plan which generates income through micro-transactions and an optional subscription package.  Remember, I said free entry, if you want a drink and a dance, you’re going to have to pay for that pleasure.  In fairness, there is still plenty to do before you may feel inclined to share your bank details and therein lies the unsolved equation for Sony.  Will there be enough mirco-transactions, as they call it, to make it worth their while to give the freedom to be Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman.  We shall see in the coming weeks and months.


EverQuest II

While Sony Online Entertainment, may have dipped it’s toe in the water, it would seem that the water doesn’t feel too bad as the rest of the foot is going in.  EverQuest II, set in an alternate future to the original EverQuest, already had a free to play option but this drew many complaints about the community being divided.  This issue was addressed by executive producer Dave Georgeson  who said this week that “in early December we’re going to change things to be ‘Free to play’. Your way.”

Well, this “free to play. Your way” Burger King style phrase is worth taking a little look at as, I don’t know about you but my way is totally awesome and pretty difficult to recreate.  A few key points are worth noting, firstly that free members are limited to two characters and Adept-tier spells.  There is also a Silver and Gold membership which does come with a subscription of $5 per month and $15 per month respectively.  And the last point to highlight is that both Silver and Free users are limited to four races and eight classes, with accompanying restrictions on equipment grades they have access to.  To sum up, not entirely awesome but again, enough to sink your teeth into before deciding whether to sink the big money into this title.


World of Warcraft

There can be no doubt that the king of MMORPGs is World of Warcraft.  This is the title that has set the standard for MMOs and captured the imagination and adulation of thousands of online gamers.  While the original Warcraft series dates back to 1994 with Warcraft: Ocrs & Humans, it is arguably the move to Azeroth that occurred 10 years later in 2004 that ostensibly secured the future of the title perhaps for another decade.

This summer, in an effort to ensure that there was plenty fresh meat, Blizzard introduced a new program called World of Warcraft Starter Edition.  This allowed new players, to play at their leisure without fear of their trial period expiring.  What this means, is that you can battle as much as you like and you’ll gain experience up to level 20, at which point you can still continue to cast your spells and swing you swords but you’ll no longer gain experience for your victories unless you upgrade to the full version of the game.

There are a few limitations, but if you’ve be curiously sniffing around this MMO leviathan for a while, this will be a great taster.


Star Trek Online

While this one may still be a way off, January 17th 2012 if we’re going to put a date to it (as we should), it’ll still be a welcome a ddition to the growing free-to-play catalogue.  It would be an understate to say the Trekkie community is massive, so no doubt there will be many that are very pleased with the news of this impending release.  There has been a slight delay in getting this MMORPG out to the baying hordes, but this title has been in the works since May if this year so if they need a little more time to get this right, I say give it to them rather than being handed a poorly conceived rush job.

The free to play for this is a little different from what Cryptic, the game developer, has set out previously.  The game’s economy will be “revisited” with high-end equipment will be more difficult to acquire and the low-end equipment will be extremely easy to acquire.  And the familiar Dilithium will be the only item in the game can be auctioned off for Cryptic points.  This may perhaps be one of the most “free” free-to-play title around.  But we’ll have to wait and see what actually emerges in January.


Team Fortress 2

This first person shooter was developed by Valve Corporation and is a sequel to the original mod Team Fortress based on the Quake engine.  One of the key advantages to Team Fortress is that Valve is the creator of Steam, the game platform that distributes games directly to a growing community of more than 35 million users.  In fact, there are a number of Valve games available on Steam that could arguably warrant a mention, Counter-Strike being principle among them, but it is Team Fortress 2 that has the free to play option.

It is Team Fortress 2 that has one of the most “free” free to play offers, with the free version giving access to the same maps, classes and game types as players who purchased Team Fortress 2 before it was free to play.  Though who purchased the game before is was made free, will be rewarded with a special in-game hat.

AirPlay logo

Playing with iOS5 AirPlay Mirroring

With the release of iOS5, Apple’s latest operating system for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, Apple released one of the coolest features yet – Mirroring over AirPlay. In English, this feature lets you mirror the screen of your iOS device onto another AirPlay-enabled screen – wirelessly. Today this ‘other AirPlay screen’ can only be your Apple TV 2, but we expect you’ll see AirPlay on other non-Apple devices over time (much as Apple’s Digital Audio Access Protocol (DAAP) has done on non-Apple devices previously). In the meantime if you have an iPhone 4S or iPad 2 (the only i-devices to currently support AirPlay Mirroring), then just drop £91.99 for the accompanying Apple TV to enjoy all this mirroring gorgeousness on whichever TV you like.

To test out AirPlay Mirroring, we downloaded Real Racing 2, the first game to officially support full screen wireless gaming over AirPlay. We conducted the test on an iPhone 4S 64GB and an Apple TV 2.

Enabling AirPlay
AirPlay works like all other Apple features – either seamlessly and invisibly, or not at all. There are no half measures with Apple products. No settings to configure. Apple doesn’t even make a song and dance about it when you install iOS5. In fact, if you didn’t know about it, you might never have known that your iOS device could now do something so cool. The only indication of when AirPlay is working is the little icon that appears when your device is sitting in a network with AirPlay devices on it. Have your iPad connected to your home wi-fi (where your Apple TV lives), and the icon appears. Take it to the office, and the icon disappears. It’s neat, but I’d rather Apple left the icon there to remind you about this new feature all the time.

Given Apple’s excessively subtle approach to this new feature, it took us a while to actually figure out how to enable Mirroring. Stupidly we thought it would be an option within the game. Why would we assume something so stupid eh? After a few scratches of heads (and the help of Google taking us to Firemint’s own guide), we soon had it up and running. Just double tap the home button to bring up the multi-taking tray, slide to the media controls and tap the AirPlay button that you never knew was there…

Big screen deliciousness
Now that Mirroring was up and running, it was just a matter of booting up and playing the game as normal. We dived into the first level, Castellona Bay, and headed into work. First impressions? While the resolution doesn’t quite stack up to an Xbox 360 or PS3, we hardly expected it to (especially since Apple decided to downgrade the Apple TV 2’s resolution to 720p, when its precursor could achieve 1080p). But it looked pretty damn awesome all the same. Running the game on a 40” screen makes you realise just how hi-res the iPhone 4’s screen really is – because it still looked fantastic.

Fundamentally, any feature like this is a nice novelty, but if it falls over all the time you’ll only ever pull it out for 2 minutes to show off to your friends, before quickly closing it down and booting up Forza 4 before they notice the terrible lag. But our experience was actually very positive. We had a bit of lag occasionally, but nothing that ruined the game. Anyone with a half decent 802.11N router set up should get along fine.

So there’s a brief recap of our first experience using AirPlay Mirroring. While Real Racing 2 is the only game currently to support the feature today (feel free to correct us if we’re wrong) we’re really excited by the prospects of it, especially as more devices and apps come out to support it. If you’re not convinced by how cool this is, take a look at this video to see it in action. Enjoy!

iPad iOS 5 vs Slate Windows 8

A lesson on locks screens from Windows 8 and iOS 5

With the release of iOS 5, the next iteration of the popular Apple operating system, just weeks away, we have been treated to a video which compares Microsoft’s rival offering, Windows 8 for tablet.  The video is quite in-depth, rather than trawl through it all, I’m going to look at the first thing you’ll encounter (once you’re up and running), the lock screen, which reveal a surprising amount of information.

Both of the operating systems’ locked screens are very similar in style.  Time and date  are clearly visible with a separate battery and message notifications, they might look similar, but the differences for the locked screens lie a little deeper within.  You’re able to bring up the music controls for your iOS 5 powered iPad when you double press on the home button.  This is yet to feature on Windows 8, tough with have to temper first impressions against the fact that this is a work in progress and subject to change.  Easy access to music controls is something that you would expect Apple to appreciate as much of their recent success has been predicated on music consumption.  This may be something that is lost on Microsoft but it’s still an adjustment I’d expect them to make.  After all, Microsoft have tried unsuccessful to take a slice of the Apple iPod dominated music pie but despite producing a good product in Zune, they were in large part unsuccessful.  These small details can make all the difference, think about how often you have been on the train or relaxing at home listening to music, and you’ve performed tasks from the lock screen.  It’s a useful navigation and I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to implement.  There are also features present on the Windows 8 lock screen which Apple may be envious of, for example, the Windows 8 lock screen allows enabled apps to display information which again may prove valuable.  I guess, that much like Windows 8, there may still be time for iOS to develop a similar system though this would be a big departure from the distinctive style of iOS and would be a huge admission from a company that prides itself on industry leading design.

Apple’s iOS 5 has stuck to the standard PIN password system, which to be honest is as safe as houses, unless you write your password onto the back of your iPad.  Windows 8 gives you no less than three options of how to unlock your tablet device.   This includes the standard lock screen, which perhaps isn’t quite as clean as the iOS but of course is just as functional.  The most notable form of password entry is the picture password, a more novel method of accessing your tablet achieved by pressing on three different points on the image to unlock the screen.  This does seem to be very cool, but it leaves me weighing up the relative levels of security of each system and I’m as yet undecided what would be the best option.

There’s a lot more to the video, a huge amount that you could pull out. I think even taking a quick look at the lock screens, points to distinct characteristics of both operating systems. I for one, would like to see stronger competition out there, if not for the simple reason of giving more choice to technophiles like you and me. But he big question is, do we finally have a serious rival to the iPad which has taken near complete ownership of the tablet market?

The answer is with you all, so I ask again, on this brief and unfinished first look, which of these to operating systems would you want running on your tablet device?

Comments below please, Windows 8 or iOS5?

Android Fragmentation - do we really have a choice?

Android Fragmentation – do we really have a choice?

Last week Ryan posted an article on Android and whether the fragmentation of the platform was by design on Google’s part to give the customer the maximum possible choice. While I agreed with some of it, not all.

I’m a big Android fan, I own a Motorola Milestone which currently runs a Android 2.1 and for the last 6 months have been waiting for the official update to Froyo (2.2), and the longer it goes on the more it feels like we’re never going to get it. It’s not a massive issue but it would be nice to have Flash (something the phone was sold claiming to be capable of handling), have the option to save my apps to an SD Card and a few other performance improvements that come from moving to the next version. Over the weekend, while trawling the many Android forums across the internet, I started to consider Android’s fragmentation situation (say that after a couple of pints!) and whether or not it improves customer choice.

Choice is a decision based on the differing qualities of 2 or more things. There is nothing that Android 1.5 offers that 2.2 doesn’t do better, so why would you choose it? If there were multiple versions of Android running side-by-side, each specialising in there own area, it would be a choice of which version of the OS best suits you. Somebody who uses their phone for work a lot might choose a version optimised for email; this is more useful to them than a social-centric platform aimed at someone who just wants to tweet and text. But this isn’t the case; there have been leaps forward in UI and performance at every stage of Android that have, for all intents and purposes, made the previous versions obsolete.

Most people who buy an Android phone don’t know they’re buying an Android phone. They’re in Carphone Warehouse and ask ‘How much is an iPhone gonna set me back?’, once they’ve picked themselves off the floor ‘Erm, have you got anything cheaper, that I can still use to get on Facebook?’, they get sold an Android device. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just only a small group of geeks, who I’d lump myself in with, that are genuinely bothered about which OS their smartphone is running or likely to delve deeper than its most basic functions.

So is price the choice that these various stages of Android offer? Lower spec hardware, running older versions of the OS and bringing the price down for the customer? Well, in short, no. Android is free, whichever version a manufacturer chooses to use, and even though there have been some hardware restrictions as the versions have moved on, you can still walk into a shop today and get a Free HTC Wildfire running 2.1 on a £15/month contract. You’re going to struggle to find a cheaper deal than that, running any version of Android.

Manufacturers have differentiated by adding their own skins to Android and I’d agree that HTC’s Sense UI is best example of this. But what I’d say that it’s also the only skin that could realistically claim to have improved on stock Android. The rest (I’m looking at you Sony, Motorola, Samsung!) have made clunky, unintuitive UI changes or added their own useless apps that are difficult, if not impossible, to remove from the phone. Most frustratingly, they tend to be things you can easily pick up in the Android market. This also has a knock on effect on updates Google release, further delaying them while we wait for manufacturers to add their skins and then organising getting the update out. I initially bought my Milestone because of the physical keyboard and the fact it ran stock Android and although I’ve had my phone less than 12 months and had 1 update in that time, I’m still now 2 versions behind the latest phones that are being released. Not that I’m bitter!!!

That’s not to say things aren’t improving. Google’s best move has been removing some of its key apps from the OS update cycle. Gmail, Google Maps, etc. are now regularly updated separately, so even if you don’t have the full version of the latest Android OS you can use them.

Google have to reduce the current state of fragmentation if they want Android to keep increasing its market share. We can already see Google attempting this with the Honeycombe (Android 3.0) tablets that have been announced over the last few weeks; all have identical form factors, no manufacturer skins and almost identical internals. Only time will tell if they manage to ride out this transition period and the Android explosion continues. It is the most open and accessible mobile OS currently in the market and the only one giving Apple’s crown a serious shove.

Android Donut, Cupcake and Ice Cream Sanwich

Android Fragmentation – it’s all about choice

An argument often laid at the feet of the Google Android operating system (often by iPhone owners I might add) is the fragmentation of the OS among the many Android handsets out there. While the latest version of the Android OS to roll out of Google is 2.3 (also known as Gingerbread), it can take time for this to reach user’s handsets. But this approach wasn’t an accident by Google. The whole point of Android was to offer choice to the consumer – not just a choice between Android and iPhone, but a choice between the different Android handsets themselves. There is only one iPhone. There are literally dozens of Android handsets to choose from, and the number keeps growing. This fragmentation issue isn’t going to go away.

So how bad is it?
One of the most popular Android handsets in the UK today, and indeed the phone I use myself, has been the HTC Desire. For most owners it currently runs on the 2.2 version of the Android OS known. Only one point behind Gingerbread, so not a big case for the crime of gross fragmentation there you might think.

Trouble is, not many phones at all have the latest and greatest version of the Android OS officially installed and running. Off the top of my head (which means I may have overlooked a handset) the only phones that do are the Nexus S and the…

Is that it? All in all, there are still 5 different versions of Android roaming around in the wild.  In fairness, change is taking place, the latest figures for February 2011 show 90% of devices running Android 2.1 and up, primarily Froyo Android 2.2.

That’s still not great, especially when compared to perhaps its biggest rival Apple. In stark contrast, when an iOS update is available, every handset (still in production) can upgrade to the latest version, albeit that there may only be one iOS handset in production at the time.

One platform?
The key thing about having just one platform is that, for developers, you always know where you stand. You just have to develop for the current version of the operating system. Android poses a bit more of a headache, a view expressed by established game designers such as Epic. Also Rovio became well aware of the extent of the problem went they released the popular Angry Birds title to Android, only to be inundated with performance issues mostly due to the older version not being unable to handle the game’s requirements.

The main reason why this fragmentation even exists is down to the fact that most original equipment manufacturers (OEM) have a penchant for putting their own software on top of the Android OS (again, in order to improve choice to the consumer). For some, this has arguably been successful. The HTC Sense UI has garnered a good deal of praise and was very much welcomed in the early days of Android when the UI left much to be desired.

Can you direct me to the nearest app store please?
What exacerbates the problem even further is that this isn’t the only type of fragmentation Android suffers from, it is also hindered by the many different stores that you can download your Android apps from. Let me see now, again off the top of my head, you have the actual Android Market store (with the newly updated webstore), AppBrain, GameLoft, GetJar and no doubt a few others.

Ultimately, Google have opted for freedom versus the walled garden approach of Apple. Yes freedom has its costs, but at least you can choose to be free if you want to be. Android has proven to be a popular system. In the last quarter of 2010 Android phone makers sold 33.3 million units leading sales for smartphone platforms, that equates to 53% of US market share.  Clearly, there’s something about what Android does that is winning the affection and currency of phone users the world over.

The consumer now has so much choice that with a little bit of research there should be little problem finding the phone to suit you.  As I said before, Apple’s App Store is a lot like walking through a mall where you can have a coffee and find all your favourite high street brands under one roof.  By contrast, the Android App Market is more like an East London market, perhaps somewhere around Spitafields or Brick Lane. There’s a lot going on but there’s always loads of personality, character and something new every time you visit.

So what’s your preference? The serene but soulless mall or the crazy but personality-filled marketplace? Let me and the Dabs crew know through Twitter, Facebook, our Forum and of course on blog comments.