Actually ASUS did get there: ASUS VIVO TAb Review

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I wrote during the summer that Microsoft didn’t have a tablet that met the criteria of high definition screen, all day battery life, and functional design. I was writing about their Surface line of tablets that I tried out in a forlorn Microsoft Store. I totally missed ASUS’ VIVO Tab which is roughly the size of a letterbox shaped iPad. By itself it has about 8-9 hrs of battery life but the secret sauce is its keyboard base which was an optional accessory. Unlike keyboard options for iPad, you click this into the charging port and you now have a mini laptop with a touchscreen. The connection is strong and trumps most keyboards for iPad and Surface in that the clamshell configuration lets you put it on your lap. Even better, there is a battery in the base giving the keyboard ballast and the whole device an extra 6 hours of usage. When used with the keyboard base, the VIVO Tab is suppose to get up to 16 hours of battery life which is great for a light laptop/tablet hybrid that is airplane tray table friendly.

Some people won’t like the small keys which are Brobdingnagian compared to my Vaio P Series laptop. The screen is bright and nearly Retina -about the same as the current iPad Mini. I really like the price I paid for it -285 for both the tablet at its battery-keyboard base. This was through Woot and almost half off last year’s price.

The thing runs Office and will link to my hospital system via Citrix. The only snag is there really are no apps for Windows RT which drives this Tegra processor. Yes there is Kindle, Evernote, Dropbox, Netflix, and Hulu and a web browser. The XBox game thing appeals less to me than the radio which is okay but I’m invested in iTunes so it’s irrelevant. There are a ton of programming apps and I think that Windows RT will be a curiosity for nerds like Segways, AMC Pacers, and OG Dr. Who. Even so, having a blank Word screen feels so full of possibilities, I can now spend 16 cordless hours at the Starbucks writing the great American novel. If I had the time.

Addendum: The battery life is for real having used intensively at work yesterday between cases and watching Netflix and Hulu last night. There is enough juice today 47% to go another day of light work. The only hassle is that like all regular Windows devices including Windows 7, Wifi is dicey. I am now at my sons’ Korean class at the Korean Cultural Center and the VIVO Tab refuses to search and find the new network. I rebooted but it started a looooong Windows update which occurs weekly. Now I don’t have a computer to use and am quickly reminded why I generally hate Microsoft products.

The other comment is that the keyboard doesn’t always turn off the screens keyboard which should be a norm. Apple would not have let this out the door in this condition (hence the uproar over its pathetic Maps).

Addendum: The intermittent problems that I have had with the keyboard are actually a problem with the touchpad. Like any non-Apple touchpad, the touchpad on the Vivo Tab, is overly sensitive and will interpret a light touch or hover as a tap to redirect the cursor where the mouse is pointing. This is a problem I have had in most Windows laptops and can be somewhat ameliorated by decreasing the sensitivity of the touchpad, but on Windows RT -access to this is impenetrably difficult. There are two ways to get to the controls of the computer -one via a right swipe which gives you a very limited number of functions to tweak. The other is to get to the desktop mode -the one missing the Start button. From there, getting to the control panels is basically impossible and I managed only by bringing up the Windows Defender control panel during an obligatory scan, noticing the folders setting on top and digging to find the Synaptics driver -but no dice. There is no way to set the touchpad as far as I can tell.

The solution? A USB mouse from an old PC which now takes up the only USB port available.

Microsoft OEM’s don’t understand touchpads -plain and simple.

Addendum: October 15, 2013 -Add to the issue that when the tablet goes to sleep, it won’t wake up. I have updated all drivers and returned the sleep settings to factory original conditions. This is obviously a problem with this tablet because I see it on the internet, but every Windows device going back to Vaio’s I owned in the mid 2000’s had a problem with sleep. It’s probably not a Microsoft problem, but a manufacturer problem, but again, my MacBook Pro sleeps and wakes without problem. With a tablet, not turning on when you want it on is criminal.

Are you in?

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The generations since World War II have been separated into marketing niches of Greatest and Boomer, then X,Y, and Z, but I suspect that no set of people since Homo erectus figured out fire, speech, and monogamy, have faced as much rapid technological and cultural change as have the people born since 1950. This unmooring of cultural institutions, socioeconomic niches, and family structures is remarkable and deeply unsettling to many.
Modernity has atomized the family, but we are still the Pleistocene mammal subject to possessiveness, territoriality, and stranger anxiety. We are just a handful of base pairs removed from our mutual ancestor with the chimpanzee who kill and eat intruders. And so we naturally flock with our kind in our hominid fashion, and wish to destroy the other if they get in the way. What stops us?

Strong ideas keep us from burning witches. Ideas of justice, equality of human worth, and an appreciation of value of freedom and liberty bind us together in a common identity. These ideas are shared across borders instantaneously, usually in English, on the internet via smart phones and social media. These are rather old American ideals and should not be new to those wary of change. Instead, it is the broadening of the definition of *American* that jars people. It is an America that people are still looking towards as they overturn dictatorships and established tyrannies. We see it in the Arab Spring, in the continue march of the huddled masses to the gates, and in gay Americans fighting to achieve equal status. We witness it as a force that China is trying to subvert with overt fascism, with likely failure in the long term.

This neo-Americanism is the lingua franca of business and diplomacy. It is the common operating system that everyone demands. At home, to succeed in this new America, you have to learn how to pass for a new kind of American. It is a fact that if you make yourself smile, your brain will register positive in its happiness centers, and you will transition to happiness (try it!). If you carry a smart phone, participate in social media, and read at above elementary school level, the centers of the brain that are stimulated will drive change. Corporate HR policies, public school codes of conduct, and public social mores are aligning around and driving this change, even for older Americans who one would assume would be all for not changing. It used to be said that you are basically set in your ways by the time you are forty, but I think even that generalization is done because I increasingly see retired people with smartphones and tablets watching the latest Youtube videos and family photos on Facebook. This at least informs them about the tectonic shifts in society, and at best changes deep seated notions.

Public perceptions of gun ownership, healthcare, education, equal rights, and our relationship to the world are being debated because the minds of the people are changing. And contrary to what even the history books say, it was not the federal government and federal troops that desegregated the schools, it was We the People. The shibboleth of these times, our times, are the smart phone, social media accounts, and the networks connected by these. Are you in?

What Good is a Stinkin’ iPad?

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My good friend SY wrote me yesterday asking basically, “what good is a stinkin’ iPad?”

Hi Mike!

How are you??
My husband and I bought an iPad for my dad, but he decided he didn’t really have use for it (i.e. he uses his laptop and his phone and can’t get Java to work on the iPad so he can’t play ba-dook on it).

So now we are deciding whether to take it back or keep it for us–How useful is it really? You can’t edit documents or talks on it can you? Is it good for taking notes at conferences? Isn’t the wireless plan expensive on it? I pretty much bring my Mac everywhere with me, but I’m not sure it’s more than an indulgent toy for us.

SYP

I wrote back.

Hi Sung Yun. I have been asked this same question many times and can answer in the affirmative that tablets are overall great for reading and looking at stuff on. For editing and taking notes, it depends on what you are used to. And for portability, tablets>laptops. Tablets in general get a lot done, and of the tablet choices that you have, the iPad is still, for now, the best tablet a lot of money can buy.

I went all in when the first iPad came out, buying not one but two iPads. It occurred to me from the start that the pain of lugging my 15 inch Macbook Pro was soon to be relieved by the magic iPad, but I was worried that I would not be able to multitask. I normally keep several desktops and multiple windows going at the same time on my laptop, and to get a similar functionality from tablets, I feel you have to have multiple tablets. I also figured two iPads were still more portable than a single Macbook Pro (2007 issue).

The first great use of the iPad was as a reader. I own several Kindles and while I love reading books on my Kindle Paper White 3G, I equally enjoy reading them on the larger screen of my iPad. The skeuomorphic iBooks with their faux page turns are fun, but the iPad Kindle App with an Amazon Prime Account is reading heaven. Toss in FreeBooks app that feature everything out of copyright, and you have a public library in portable form. Overdrive reader app lets you access your local public library -you can look up and check out eBooks from your library! If you read magazines, most magazines feature an iPad App. Harder to find magazines can be found in newsstands like Zinio, but the killer app for magazines is Next Issue which for a monthly 8 to 15 dollars features hundreds of magazines like Esquire, Time, and People. I can’t live without my New Yorker magazine, and now rather than a mess of magazines around the house, they are all in my iPad.

The next use of the iPad is as a portable widescreen TV. While iTunes lets you purchase and then download movies and TV shows from iCloud onto your Mac, AppleTV, or iOS device (iPad, iPod Touch, iPhone), the streaming app trio of Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime gives you access to thousands of current and vintage movies and television shows. Hulu Plus, a monthly subscription, gives me access to every episode of South Park, the Daily Show, Colbert Report, Community, and The New Girl. It also features the Criterion Collection of critically acclaimed but difficult to find foreign films -I am in the midst of watching Riso Amaro (Bitter Rice), an Italian post war film of lust and crime in the Italian rice paddies. Movies-Riso_AmaroNetflix has a great selection of movies and TV shows as well, and the ability to have DVD’s mailed to you. Amazon Prime’s video player also features many recently released films for streaming, and beats iTunes by letting you stream rather than download then watch rental movies. Amazon also has every Ken Burns documentary, if that is your thing.

These two features are the core of how the adults in the house use the iPad. Jen enjoys watching Downton Abbey in the bed while I read the NY Times and listen to Paloma Faith on Spotify. The NPR app, by the way, lets you listen to all the NPR that you missed during your busy day. The boys love watching their shows anywhere, anytime. The funny thing is, because we watch shows on our terms, the TV goes the whole week without being turned on except for family movie night or when dad watches sports. During baseball season, by the way, I buy an MLB season ticket to watch major league baseball games -usually as a ten minute summary of outs and hits the next morning, but often I stream the live radio broadcast just to hear John Sterling howl, “Yaaaaaaankeeeees Winnn!”

The third feature is up to you to decide if you want in the house. The iPad is a great gaming platform. While not as immersive or complicated as an XBox, Wii, or Playstation, games on the iPad are no less fun or addictive. Words with Friends pops on a larger screen. Pinball is a great stress reducer. My boys play all manner of games -most of which are free or cost 99 cents which is a lot cheaper than the average XBox game.

The utility of tablets is that eliminating the keyboard frees you to interact with the computer in a far more natural way. Drawing and music creation are two ways I put mileage on the iPad. My favorite art app, Paper, was the App Store’s App of the Year last year, and I doodle constantly. The Brushes app is used by David Hockney and other artists to create serious art. I frequently use Adobe Ideas to sketch on top of CT scans for patient consultations.

For note taking, there are innumerable apps for taking freehand notes and the better ones allow you to record the presenter’s audio synced to your notes. My favorite second brain app is Evernote which lets me data dump important files, notes, and ideas for access across all my gadgets. If you type fast, you probably aren’t going to change note taking tasks but I have to mention that it’s less intrusive to write notes on iPad than click clack away on a keyboard.

This brings me to the last part -work. I composed this blog entry on an iPad using the Logitech Slim Keyboard Case, which I recently reviewed. It turns the iPad into basically what the Microsoft Surface wants to be, a post-laptop work device. While Office for iOS isn’t out in the wild yet and probably never will be, there are many options for writing and editing. Pages is a good word processor, but Word is more universal and more importantly has collaborative editing and version control that is superior to anything on iOS. That said, Pages is unmatched in its ability to layout documents. That’s how I use it -after composing the content in a simple text processor like iA Writer, I open up and prettify it in Pages and save it as a Word file for sending out.

For presentations, Keynote is how I make all my presentations. I can make them on the fly during and after cases to present complex operations to patients and their families. You can export into Powerpoint or PDF, but equally powerful is the ability to present directly off your iPad, either via a cable or wirelessly to an AppleTV (an unpromoted feature). The usual way I create presentations is I upload all the pictures and graphics to a Dropbox folder and then compose the presentation on my iPad after taking intraop photos with my iPod Touch or iPhone. I’ve uploaded a sample presentation SFA-POP-Tibioperoneal Trunk EndoRE that I created right after a case for explaining what I did for a patient’s family.

The wireless plan is pricey if you’re not needing it, but I find it indispensable because my iPad 3 with Verizon 4G has a hotspot function which will allow me to tether other devices like a Macbook Pro or iPod Touch at high speeds. The typical use scenario is on long car trips where the iPad is the hotspot for streaming video to the boy’s tablets and I listen to This American Life episodes (every episode ever is available on their app). In a pinch, the iPad can act as a ridiculously large phone via the Line 2 app, which gives me a phone number (in Manhattan no less) for non-work use.

Now here is the last tip -I suggest you trade in your iPad for an iPad Mini with Verizon Wireless. The big screen is great, but impossible to carry around the hospital in a white coat. The 8 inch size fits perfectly. I’m holding out for the retina display iPad Mini which hopefully is next. For now, my Android Tablets fulfill this in the pocket function, and match the iPad largely feature for feature except for speed (they are older single processor devices) and ease of use. I think if you are adventuresome, the Nexus 7 is probably hits the sweetspot of price (about 200 bucks) and size (fits white coat pocket), but for cheaper, you don’t get the cellular wireless or nifty form factor, and you have to geek out on Android.

Hope that helps.

Mike

The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad 2, iPad 3, iPad 4 Trumps the Microsoft Surface

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After sitting on the fence about purchasing a MacBook Air or an Ultrabook, I finally decided to pass on those items (no Retina display!) and equipped my current iPad 3 with a Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Case. I had handed over my Macbook Air 2010 over to my son for school use (and Minecraft play), and was in need of some keyboarded mobile input device. This category used to be all about laptops and netbooks, but this past month Microsoft Surface was released and I did the due diligence of checking it out and rejecting it despite the fact I could have expensed it.

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Finding a Microsoft Surface to try out is a bit like trying to find authentic takeout Thai food or a Porsche dealership -it’s only available in a handful of places in the US. In the Cleveland area, it means going to the Microsoft kiosk at the Beechwood Mall next to the kiosks selling iPhone covers and fluffy slippers. I thought it was a bust because someone had messed up the Surfaces which were all rebooting. More recently, I got to try the Surface at the local Best Buy. Microsoft in their marketing wisdom decided to widen the release of the Surface in the few weeks before Christmas.

Despite the bad marketing, I was impressed by the beauty and speed of the Surface. The keyboard cover was nice and far more responsive than expected. Unfortunately, without the tactile feedback of keypresses it was only a little bit better than a virtual keyboard. I grew weary of it in the first few lines of typing.

It gets worse. The Metro interface seems like a tacked on after thought. Launching Office apps caused the screen to jump back into the old Windows desktop screen which doesn’t work all that well with touch, but it keeps lurking in the background waiting to show its big fat corporate OS face whenever it gets the chance. Instead of the Start menu, you jump back into Metro, but how or when you did so was mysterious. I am sure that with use, I would be able to figure out how to turn off the Metro or stay out of the classic Windows desktop. As a casual shopper seeing Windows 8 for the first time, there is mystery involved, and that is not good.

I get why Microsoft put out the Surface RT. What Microsoft is battling is the constraints imposed by the demands of the consumer and corporate markets. It has designed Surface RT to the perceived needs of the consumer market. It is making the bet that Office is 90% of what people want on their computers. This is true of laptops and desktops, but not so much for tablets and smartphones.

For 90 percent of my work, content creation means translating ideas into text. Who really needs Word to record text? For example, I’m wrote this piece over a week at various intervals on my iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, and MacBook Pro using Ia Writer, a text processing app that stores the file in the cloud. I never have to press SAVE because there is no such button. When I am ready to make a formatted document, I can do so in any number of apps like Word, Pages, or Google Docs. The fact is, I am using Word less and less because it is unavailable on iOS devices and smartphones, and I think Microsoft is uncomfortable with this trend.

Surface is basically recapitulating the most useful configuration for a tablet that you can also do work on -something that the iPad has had since launch which is variations on the keyboard case. The Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover greatly enhances the iPad as a productivity tool. It latches on like the original magnetic cover and when in laptop mode will prop the tablet with magnets in landscape orientation. The keyboard works perfectly and has many enhancements for iOS oriented shortcuts.

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When closed, it looks like a MacBook Air, being clad in aluminum all around, but of course it is thicker. It does offer laptop functionality with a 10 inch Retina display. The keyboard charges via a mini-USB port, and claims a 6 month battery life with two hours of use. It has been seamless and tenacious in gaining and holding a bluetooth link, something that is not always possible with other keyboards. I have been typing on it, and I like it. I can type at full speed. My only gripe is the half height number row which also has a truncated delete key. I still rip off the cover to use it as a tablet and find that the keyboard is on and prevents me from using the virtual keyboard -just remember to turn off the keyboard when not in use.

The Surface is a beautiful product but is an evolutionary dead end because its OS, Windows RT, has no past and an arguably a shaky future. Despite creating a product that integrates Office, and makes it basically the only compelling reason to buy a Surface, it does so by making you work in Office in a way that is no different from the 10 pound laptop that IT will give you for business trips. The moment Microsoft releases rumored Office for iOS with full implementation of touch interface, it will have killed any argument for Windows RT. We will see Office for iOS in the App Store one day, but we will have to see Surface die the same way as RIM’s Playbook -in about 8 months before we get to buy it for $129 for the Student and Home Edition.

Installing Snow Leopard (OS X 10.6) to Virtual Box

I have a great love of Virtual Box, the free virtualization software that allows you to run other operating systems on top of a host operating system -in my case OS X Mountain Lion on a souped up Mac Mini from 2010 -RAM has been maxed to 8GB and the hard drive replaced from a pokey 160GB spinning at 5000 rpm to 750GB spinning at 7200 rpm. The only problem is since Snow Leopard was phased out to Lion, Rosetta -a feature of Snow Leopard, was dropped.

Rosetta was a critical piece of Apple’s migration from PowerPC chips to Intel chips, allowing for PowerPC programs to run on Intel based Macs. When Lion was introduced, Rosetta was killed off, and my favorite game from 1994, Spaceward Ho, was killed off with it. Spaceward Ho has been laying dormant awaiting a iOS upgrade but for some reason, Joe at Delta Tao has been sitting on it.

After putting it off for a while, I decided to give running Snow Leopard 10.6.0 out of the box without updates (to prevent killing Rosetta) a try. Here is a snapshot of it loading successfully -it required a little bit of tweaking and appears to be loading well!

Samsung Galaxy Tablet 2 7.0 -brief review

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The annoyingly named Samsung Galaxy Tablet 2 7.0 came out last month and I couldn’t hold off picking it up because my other 7 inch Android tablet has been appropriated by my 3 year old for video watching. Turns out, while traveling, the 7inch tablet is easier to hold than an iPad. I have become a fan of the 7 inch form factor, and because most of my work is done in email, Evernote, and Dropbox, across multiple platforms, it really doesn’t matter what gadget I’m on, as long as these cloud services and apps are available.

I was first struck by this device as being more business oriented than previous tablets, having charcoal grays that would look good in a boardroom. The front is Gorilla glass, the back is a high quality plastic that feels good in the hands. There are front and back cameras and Instagram works fine from either sides. It is thin enough. The 7 inch tablets work well for me in the hospital because it fits in my pocket. All the medical apps work, and in a pinch, Citrix is usable for accessing the hospital and office data. I can also read my Kindle books and watch Netflix and Hulu, listen to Pandora and Spotify, and via Google Play can cloud base my iTunes for my Android devices, or as I have done, park the non-DRM files on a 64 gigabyte microSD card with room left for over 25 feature length films.

It runs well, has between 6-8 hrs of battery life. It is much more user friendly that it used to be, but really, if you can’t set up your own email account, you shouldn’t be given a computer. Amazon sells a faux leather book cover which works and keeps things corporate.

It will run Amazon media via Flash, but who has time to watch Downtown Abbey when you have four seasons of Mad Men to catch up on? Flash kills your battery life (we know, we know), but there are times that it is convenient although every year it is less so as Apple and Microsoft have abandoned Flash.

Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) is much more touch friendly than Honeycomb which killed the 10inch Android Tablet in the crib. The Tablet 2 designation is correct in that Samsung is positioning itself as an Apple alternative in the post PC world. I like ICS because you can customize. The problems Android had when I had my Droid 2 from Motorola/Verizon are note apparent -contacts come up fast on emails, and Facebook and Twitter are laced into the OS. It doesn’t crash. Individual apps may but the whole OS no longer dies. I see no need for a task killer so far.

Why did Steve Jobs hate the 7 inch form factor? It didn’t jibe with his four square grids on his keynote presentation. As he said, you’d have to file your fingers down to nubbins to reach the right size – this is not true. I think it was a mistake on his part. The fact is that industrial gadgetry is market begging to be filled by the void being left by BlackBerry. Doctors want a tablet, but one that doesn’t need a murse or a satchel to carry.

This tablet at 249.99 at Best Buy is more expensive than the Fire, but I think it does more. Even if you are wed to iOS, the fact that most of the big apps like Instagram and Angry Birds are available means that it doesn’t matter which one you have. I am preferring subscription services like Netflix and Spotify because of their ubiquity on multiple devices. Subscriptions make more sense because you don’t need to take up precious storage space for media when you can have it in the cloud -the tradeoff being the need for a broadband connection.

Other neat stuff -it features a universal remote and IR blaster, letting you turn it into a very cool feature rich remote. The app also tells what’s on TV -it would be wonderfully convenient if it just displayed the TV as well, no?

It’s a good time to be into tech. You have options. When Apple does come it with a 7inch iPad, you’ll have even more.

The HTC Flyer -Review (a Kindle Fire alternative) -updated with Honeycomb!

Jan 24- okay Hulu works but Netflix does not (but I did get update last night so don’t judge yet). The annoying thing is I have shortcuts to three apps -medscape, epocrates, and dolphin browser, whose icons revert to a generic android app icon. This is a small but really annoying bug affecting just those apps.

Battery life seems better, but not hard numbers. Amazon runs fine for video over Flash but the tablet gets hot. Will try the updated Netflix app and will report.

ADDENDUM 1-4-2012 -

HTC has sent an over the air update of the Flyer to full Android 3.2 Honeycomb. Visually it’s great and appears to be working without a hitch. The only complaint that I have so far is that Hulu is broken (as of 1-18-2012 -Hulu now works fine but netflix still does not), and Netflix app runs with significant asynchrony between the sound and video. I haven’t had a chance to try Netflix via Flash, but other Flash runs well.

Will update as I use it more, but the great thing is that HTC actually supports their device beyond sale! That is a surprise for me.

Addendum 1-5-2012 -

I will be frank -I was dubious of any great improvement with Honeycomb, but I like it. It is Honeycomb 3.2, which is far more evolved and stable than Honeycomb 3.0 or 3.1 pushed by Motorola when they prematurely released the Xoom to disaster during the holidays of 2010. It is as stable as the Gingerbread 2.3 was (and will be when you buy the Flyer). I keep hearing differing reports about the appeal of Ice Cream Sandwich, and I can assure you, 4.0 and 4.1 will be the beta for 4.2 which will be about late 2012 or early 2013. For most people, that means buying phones that occasionally (or frequently) crash and waiting for the small chance that their manufacturer will update it. Don’t hold your breath if you purchase Motorola. I don’t have any experience with Samsung, but the business model just does not support upgrading the operating system for phones and tablets that have already sold because the manufacturers have no skin in the App Market game. The only exceptions are Amazon and Apple. Google will eventually realize with increased pressure from Windows and the churn out from Android to iOS that it really has to go to a OS support model where they dictate upgrades. The other option, which HTC appears to have opened their phones up to, is the official yet unsupported and warranty killing jailbreak. Rooting your phone or tablet will give you access to the great open source community – I enjoy the XDA developers forums because I like hacking old hardware.

That is the final point -in this era, THERE IS NO OLD HARDWARE, only unsupported software. Every manufacturer aside from Apple has no incentive to upgrade their software because they don’t own it. Apple will to make sure the Apps sell and their devices keep their intrinsic value.

I just upgraded a Compaq Presario V2000 with the latest Ubuntu and with another 2GB RAM, it runs Chrome FAST. This is a 6 year old laptop! If you stuck with HP’s software, you would be stuck at Windows XP SP2 with no upgrade path as they have abandoned support of their 64bit Athlon processored laptops. While I understand why they do it, it breaks my heart to think about all the computers that end up in landfills just because the software is no longer supported.

HTC Flyer with Honeycomb is a tasty treat. It hasn’t crashed yet in over 2 days of continuous use. I am disappointed with the lack of Hulu, and the curious asynchrony of video and sound with Netflix is annoying, but it is trumped by the new tablet level utility of Honeycomb. The functional notifications scheme is worth it alone to upgrade -you can now cancel out notifications rather than launch every facebook update and app update to clear the notice out.

Addendum 1-8-2012

I created this doodle with Sketch by Autodesk using the stylus. The stylus works throughout the tablet and not just in the context of a screen capture or Evernote entry. This is a big deal because I’ve always hated the meat stylus associated with the iPad for painting. This is very very cool.

Original Post from Summer, 2011

After leaving my iPad 2 in the hospital for the 3rd time -and tracking it down and having it returned -there are great benefits to living and working in Iowa, I decided to look into the 7 inch tablets. Apple famously does not make or plan to make a 7 inch tablet. That is unfortunate because for physicians, the 7 inch tablet is the perfect balance between screen size -big enough to show patients and families pictures, and portability. The 7 inch tablet fits the doctor’s white coat pocket.

I purchased mine, a 16gB Wifi unit, from Best Buy -$499, along with the pen accessory -$80. The inclusion of a pen accessory is a decidedly retro move, but the way it is implemented, at once brilliant and half baked -more on this later. The Flyer is a little more tall than the iPad 2 is wide. The screen, made of Gorilla glass, is bright and easy to view from multiple angles. It comes in a white box, beautifully packaged inside with white wires -a USB cable and a dedicated charger. Although it uses a proprietary dongle, it will take a micro USB connector, and I recharged it on my Kindle’s USB cable last night. The Flyer is a 7inch homage to the iPad and Apple’s design. It is iPad like in every way. It is sturdy and thin. Battery life is outstanding -there are reports of 12 hours. I went all day on the device and it still had half a charge. The decision to go with a fast single processor was wise, as adding a dual core chip would have resulted in larger battery needs.

It runs Android 2.3 Gingerbread -the phone OS, and not 3.1 Honeycomb -the tablet OS, and that suits me fine. I was tortured by Android 2.1 on the Verizon Droid 2 until iPhone on Verizon came out. The combination of middling hardware and deployment of what was basically a beta level OS made the Droid 2 torture to use. That said, Flyer runs Android 2.3.3 which is much more evolved than Honeycomb -the Tablet OS. Running on a fast single processor, the Flyer really does fly, and is stable. Much more stable than Honeycomb, based on my perusal of the tablet display at Best Buy (a showcase of how NOT to sell stuff) where I got the Galaxy tab to stall on a Flash page, the Xoom to freeze by swiping too fast, and never got the HP’s tablet to get out of its sales screen. In 4 straight days of heavy use, Flyer has yet to crash, freeze, stutter or otherwise misbehave. I will know more after a month, because the Droid 2 had the problem of gumming up its works unless you actively cleaned up the junk every few days (including hard resets every few weeks).

The OS is stock, enhanced by HTC’s Sense UI. Of all the manufacturer add ons, HTC’s Sense works the best in my experience. Motorola’s support people suggested I turn off their custom interface (called Motoblur) to make their device work! HTC’s widgets and apps work well and are beautiful to look at. While the phone based software does cause small text, in the readers -the Kindle app, the Google Books app, and others, the text is nicely resizable. Flash support is there. I am Flash agnostic, but it is convenient for running sites that are Flash heavy like ESPN and Golf Channel. Flash does appear to slow down the web pages, and reportedly will shorten battery life.

It works well with my workflow -my scheduling and email are done through an Exchange server and everything just works. Citrix runs well and the hospital side software including the labs and PACS shows up fine. Our EMR should work, but I have had trouble getting it to work. Notably, my MobileMe email won’t sent email, and I downloaded the open source K-9 email client and now it runs fine. Amazon app store runs great. I am hopeful that Amazon will release its Kindle media software in conjunction with its own tablet, allow the full Amazon experience on all Android hardware. Most of my iPad apps have their Android equivalent. Notably missing are Hulu and Netflix players, but Amazon should make up for it.

This is a great device, and will stay in my pocket for a while.

7-28-2011
This device is glued to me. While I love my iPad, its nonpocketability relegated it to my bag along with the stethoscope and macbook air -coincidentally all three now get used about once a day. It really hasn’t frozen or crashed, and goes all day without hitting empty. If I were Apple, I would rethink the idea of a 7 inch tablet.

And speaking of sasquatch and unicorns, I would pay full price for a keyboarded iPhone.

July 31, 2011
Just got this faux leather cover from an Amazon hosted merchant. It copies the iPad 2 cover in having the tri-fold cover that acts as a stand, and a magnetic clasp. It has a two tone theme that makes it look like one of those leather Piel Frama cases. The case also copies the iPad 1 case in that the Flyer sits in a pocket with a leather flap that tucks in around it. There are cutouts for all the camera and controls and speakers.

Using this, it really is a perfect portal to Evernote. It also is a great reader, and is a portent of how the color Kindle tablet will look. The screen is near retina scale with beautifully saturated colors.

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August 21, 2011
Just had a thought. Amazon will release its tablet into this 7 inch tablet space and not directly confront Apple, all the while updating its Kindle App to include media -music and video and make it universally available. It fills in all the gaps that Apple left in its current offerings. How awesome would that be.

Also, after a month of use, I find Flyer to be stable and quick. This was a pleasant surprise because my first experience with Android was with the Motorola Droid 2 which was a textbook case of why Android would not win. Flyer is the textbook case of why Android could win over iOS. It marries the OS to the hardware perfectly like a well blended wine. The 12 hours plus of battery life could only be achieved by avoiding dual core processing, but speed was maintained by over clocking an already speedy single core processor. By using Gingerbread (2.3.3), it accesses many more apps than by going with Honeycomb (3.1). Gingerbread is more evolved than Honeycomb, and it shows in the stability of Flyer compared to my Droid 2 which ran 2.1. While Droid 2 got slower with use, Flyer has maintained its speed without the need for task k

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illers which I consider to be an egregious hack that highlights the flaws of the underlying software. I added a 10x 32gigabyte miniSD card for loading movies that I burned from DVD -a luxury, but definitely not a need as the device was working fine.

The cloud combined with fast network access trumps the need for large storage capacity. Rhapsody, which I have used for a while, and Pandora, fulfills any music needs.

But I’m waiting for Amazon!

August 31, 2011

I have gone more than a month and have not had to hard reset this device. This is amazing because I went through two Droid 2’s -replacing and hard resets as recommended by Motorola support failed to correct the increasing instability of that device that occurred with continued internet access and use of contacts and scheduling -basic functions! Writing a person’s contact into the outgoing address field instantly brings up a list winnowed from my contacts list of over 2000 people. Only iOS and Palm devices did this consistently well in my experience. My friends who own other non-HTC smartphones relay similar difficulties -I think this has to do with Android 2.1. I have to comment on this fact: that carriers and maybe some manufacturers seem to avoid updates of their smartphone OS’s simply for the desire on their part to have customers buy new devices rather than update. I even see this with my iPhone where Verizon mysteriously does not have iOS 4.3.x for its iPhone which would allow cloud access of prior purchased iTunes tracks among other upgrades. Android’s problems have less to do with bad programming than to do with Google’s ability to herd cats.

Flyer next to its analog ancestor

Mission Critical -this is a term I use personally to describe the need for a device to function perfectly. While no gadget can reach this standard, medical devices, space satellites, and Mars Rovers have a need for their operating systems to be bulletproof. Psion’s EPOC OS, was in my mind, written with mission criticality. On my 1998 Psion Series 5, I could have over ten open programs without a freeze or a crash. The monitors in the ICU all boot up and run without fail -mission critical. Flyer is beginning to edge into that space of mission critical in my mind -I have yet to perform any administering to memory, any supplication to the support desk, nor any return to factory settings after a month of nearly daily use in my hands. Mission Critical!

Update: 11-11-2011
I felt the need to make a comment about Flyer not that Kindle Fire is out. If I didn’t have the Flyer, I would probably get the Fire, but now that I have it, I am very pleased overall. It gets Hulu and Netflix streams via apps, and Amazon Prime Videos are available via Flash on the Browser. I recently picked up a leftover WebOS tablet bluetooth keyboard which is basically a black, plastic, nearly flawless copy of the Apple Wireless keyboard for the clearance price of $22, and pairing with the Fire, it behaves admirably as a a text input device.

That is the other thing -Evernote access is built into the DNA of the Fire. When you scribble a note on the note app, it goes to the Evernote servers, and I think get processed so they can be searched. I know pictures of text that I take certainly become searchable on Evernote. This means that Flyer is a reasonable stand-in for the spiral bound notebook.

The Kindle app works great on the Flyer. While I prefer to read on the physical Kindle e-reader which is easier on my eyes, in a pinch, the Flyer is a fine e-Reader. Zinio, on which I have a MacUser and Field and Stream subscriptions works well on Flyer (as it does on my iPad2).

The current price of Flyer is 299 at Best Buy, which annoys me because I paid the early adopter price. I think it is worth thinking about the $100 price differential when considering Fire versus Flyer. I personally like the flexibility of being outside Amazon’s cage and the killer app for this device is the Evernote capabilities. The average potential consumer of Amazon based media will be fine with Fire, but the more computer savvy will be looking to root Fire and open up the Android capabilities. I’m perfectly happy with my Flyer.

HTC recently sent an OTA (over the air) update of the OS. It’s not Honeycomb, but rather an update of Gingerbread which again works perfectly fine for a 7 inch tablet. I hear that the dual core tablets running Honeycomb are susceptible to lag -there is absolutely no lag on this machine and I only rarely get a reboot due to an instability in Sense -at the rate of once every two to three weeks. I used to reboot my Motorola Droid2 every day!

BTW, I typed this whole update with the keyboard on the WordPress app.

Why Keyboards Matter and Why They Must Go Away

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Tablets are often denigrated as being merely consumption devices, and there is some truth to it. For actual work -or what we call work in this latter day, we do need keyboards, but that is because of the infancy of touch UI, and its likely successor, the voice UI (Siri). In healthcare, not having keyboards is a big deal -the ones in hospital hallways are generally filthy, but accessing Windows via Citrix on a tablet is not fun -just not set up for touch. Being able to talk to a device like it was your ever-present first assistant -like a caddy but less bulky, would be ideal.

“Give me Mrs. Jones vitals for today. What is her potassium level? Order a bolus of saline, CBC, Chem 7 in morning labs, and schedule for surgery on Friday -what? oh..an exploration with possible resection.”

One day. until then, watching The New Girl on Hulu rocks.