The Ultimate Smartwatch

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A month ago, I finally hopped onto the wearable-tech bandwagon. I’d played around before – the equivalent of standing on the footboard – but with a Fitbit that’s supposed to be worn 24/7, I’m on it. 

And immediately, I have a list of problems. 

Problem #1. The biggest one isn’t an issue yet – access. My phone’s small enough to fit in a jeans pocket and hold in one hand while large enough to browse the net, so almost everything I need can be got by just taking it out – but I’m already using a tablet for media consumption, and while the phone’s fine for audio, anything more visually-oriented, just won’t be as portable. 

Meaning, a wrist-mounted or HUD display, running off the phone/phablet/tablet that’s sitting in the backpack. 

Problem #2 – limited real estate. 

The wrist is probably the most accessible, robust, and flexible option – and you don’t look as geeked-out as you would with a Glass (the contact lens should be a good step up, though) – but I have only two, and already have a watch on one and a fitness tracker on the other. Add one phone-display add-on, and that’s already one too many – plus, medical trackers, GPS locators, and a whole lot of other stuff is coming around the corner. 

It’s practically back to the pager-walkman-phone-camera utility belt days.

And I refuse to strap on devices to my head, neck, wrists, ankles, and fingers, and keep track of each one’s connection, battery level, sensitivity, and integration whenever I step in or out of a shower or pool. Or a Mumbai Monsoon. 

Smartwatches have to have a extension-based philosophy, I guess. A tough, moderately-sized but high-resolution screen – preferably waterproof, dustproof, and shockproof, since they’ll be getting a lot more abuse than a phone – a high-bandwidth, fast connection to the phone – and a lot of sensors.

Really, a lot.

It doesn’t need to have much processing or storage, all that can be handled by the phone – but by adding in the gyro, accelerometers, temperature, pressure, altitude, gps, body heat sensor, heartrate, gps, nfc, camera, mike, proximity, and compass, the watch can become the sensory cluster that feeds info to the brain in the phone, and reports back the results. 

Let the apps that use the inputs, process it, store it, upload it, and display it back all be on the phone – that way usage is software-based, upgradeable, in the cloud. New capabilities will come out in the apps that figure out how to use the existing sensors; the watch itself can just be replaced as and when needed, or whenever a new sensor gets added and is necessary. 

I’m not too enthused about modular sensors – have a feeling they’ll interfere with the aesthetics, make it too delicate. A single sensor-and-display block would probably be easier to manage. 

Let’s see what comes out. 

Samsung Note 800: First Impressions

The Samsung Note N8000

Here’s a brief – ok, not so brief – set of first impressions on the new 10.1-inch Samsung tablet, the Note N8000 (or N800 in some places). I’m writing as a user, not a professional reviewer or a company spokesperson or something, so all opnions are mine, not endorsed by anyone, blah blah, let’s move on.

Specs
If you want extreme detail, go to GSMArena and read in detail, they’ve done a better job.
Meanwhile, the basics –

OS: Android 4.1.1, according to settings. The descriptions say Ice Cream Sandwich, but the 4.1 series is JellyBean; maybe the ‘update to come later’ has already happened.

Memory: 16 GB onboard, so fairly decent to start with, depending on your use. Definitely takes care of standard stuff like docs and photos, and leaves room for a couple of movies at a time. There’s also an interesting add-on, I’ll come to later. Up to 32 GB can be added on SD card.

Processor: Exynos 4412 with a quad-core, 1.4 GHz Cortex A-9; for comparison, the earlier Samsung Tab is a dual-core. Hardware-wise, this tablet is definitely top-of-the-range, future-proofed item.

Screen: 10.1 inches, 1280×800 resolution, PLS TFT capacitative screen. Is it better that the iPad? I don’t know, looks the same to me. Is it better than all the ‘around-Rs.10K’ type tablets – all the Micromaxes and Karbonns, etc? Definitely yes. Do movies look DVD-quality? No. (And you and I both know that a movie that’s been transferred to a tablet is 99% pirated, which means quality is already degraded well below DVD. But is it watchable? Yes.) HD video on Youtube? Yes. If you have DVDs, buy a decent TV and watch them there.
And this is unconfirmed, but from what I’ve heard – this does NOT have Corning Gorilla Glass. Surprising. For a tablet with a stylus, even a little shocking.

S-pen: Interesting little gadget, basically a stylus with a variable pressure tip. Almost as good as a real pen-and-paper experience with a slight lag you have to get used to. An excellent, intuitive add-on for tablets.

S-pen

Camera: 5 MP back, 1.9 MP front. No, it’s not a camera. It’s a tablet. If you use it to take vacation pictures, you’re being an idiot.

Speakers: are on the front, so much better for listening. They’re also placed a little on the higher side, so you don’t block them while holding the tablet. Sound is fairly decent so far, but if you’ve heard an iPad 2, then it’s not as good.

Speaker Placement – the thin grey line

IR: Infrared emitter, the kind you get on your remotes. Limited use, but pretty cool – lets you turn your tablet into a remote for your TV / DVD player / Set-top box. Can’t think of anything else to do right now, more research needed.

SIM slot; 3.5 mm jack; IR emitter; SD card slot

Others: Takes a mini-SIM, SD card upto 32 GB, bluetooth, GPS and accelerometer, Wi-fi, 3G, and all the rest of the standard jazz.

Out of the box

You get – a charger, which is also a detachable data cable; headphones with a volume rocker, so you can listen to music while the tablet’s in the bag; no additional storage cards; no case or cover or scratch guard. There is a protective film on the front and lots of plastic film, but you’d best pick up these quickly.

Handling

At 600 g, the tablet’s pretty standard; not extraordinarily light or heavy, and okay to carry around but if you’re using while holding, your fingers will start to ache after a while.

It’s also smooth plastic finish, so there’s a good risk of the tab slipping and falling.  Fingerprints also tend to show up a lot because of this.

The light sensor is also right next to the camera, so tends to be covered by your fingers when holding in portrait mode; if your screen brightness is set to auto, you’ll find the screen abruptly dimming on it’s own.

Overall, the tablet feels smooth, polished, good quality, a sophisticated piece of hardware.

Startup 

Have your passwords ready! As soon as you switch it on for the first time – especially if you have a bunch of online accounts – the next hour will go in registering, signing in, authorizing, updating, and adding before you can get to actual use.

OS

I’ve been using iOS, 2.3 (Gingerbread) and 2.1 (Eclair) before this, so a couple of things immediately come up – creating folders, moving shortcuts and widgets, and navigation is definitely more streamlined, smoother, compact, and more intuitive.

Another major change is no physical buttons; everything is on-screen, except the power and volume rocker.

All apps + widgets can be accessed from the top right, notifications show in bottom right, back/home/switcher at bottom left (and screenshots – not sure why), and search is top left. The screens are therefore freed up for widgets and shortcuts, folders, and in my opinion, best used for some class wallpapers.

Critical Apps

This isn’t a phablet; I’m assuming you have a phone for doing the more portable stuff. A tablet is best used for reading, writing, creating, and video; install apps accordingly. Set up all your social networks; blogging and writing apps; a decent office-type suite (I like Kingsoft though the on-board solution is pretty good too); media consumers like Flipboard, Pulse, or Reader; a decent movie player; email apps; and since you have an S-pen and a tablet, creative sketching apps. Games if you want. I’ll do a separate post on specifically what apps you’ll need.

Oh, and buying this tablet gives you a two-year subscription to a 50 GB Dropbox account. It works even you’re already using Dropbox, it just upgrades the free account.

Performance 

Overall, good. Smooth, fast, no perceptible lag even with a lot of stuff open. It does feel slightly sluggish when switching between apps, and when using the sketching apps, the stylus point looks marginally marginally off-center, but definitely good to write with. Apple’s iOS is slightly smoother, but this is definitely more flexible in terms of widgets, control over data and content, and personalization.

Immediate next steps:

Buy a cover, a scratch guard, an SD card, and maybe a keyboard. You need these right away. Start using the S-pen to get a feel for it; load up some movies, some e-books and cbr’s – I’ve found it an excellent e-reader – and start using.

Final Summary:

The iPad is smoother and a little more user-friendly, with better sound. The Note is more flexible and customizable, with a better camera and hardware, and more powered-up than the Tab. Other comparable tablets in this range and capability would be the Acer Iconia, the Asus Transformer, and the Sony Experia S tablet.

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