Archive | March 2012

Sony Tablet S

I love my Tablet. There. I said it. After months of saying I don’t need one, I bought one. And I love it.

The Tablet S is Sony’s first foray into the tablet market, and for the naysayers and poo-pooers who derided it from the start, it’s actually a great piece of kit:

It features a gorgeous 9.4inch, 1200×800 720p HD screen, incorporating Sony’s excellent BRAVIA technology, along with TruBlack and some other bits and bobs. I’ve watched some full-HD youtube clips on it, and they look great. It should be noted Sony beat Apple to the market with an HD screen by a good 7 months…

…just as they did with a 5MP camera on the rear of the unit, capable of shooting 720p HD video as well…

…and it has Adobe Flash support too…

My tablet came already updated to Android Honeycomb 3.2.1 and very nice it is too. I’ve played with some Honeycomb features that have been available for Gingerbread mobile ROM’s, but to have the whole thing is pretty good. It’s a clean, fast and easy to use OS that will only get better when ICS hits in April 2012.

Music

One of the problems I found with the stock Google music player in Android is that it doesn’t have the ability to refresh its databse, which meant until I discovered SD refresh apps, the phone had to rebooted. Not really so much of a chore but if you like to change your music a lot, like I do, you end up rebooting your phone. A lot.

Thank goodness then for the Honeycomb stock music app. Not only is it rather fetching, with a smooth and decent cover flow, it also updates itself with whatever music happens to be on your device. Hurrah! It does come with a very simple EQ as well but I much prefer the indepth DSP Manager, which you can download from HERE.

Built in to the Google player is the new Google Play Music service from Google. I’ve written a warts-n-all post about that HERE, but suffice to say despite a few teething problems it’s actually a very good service, even on 3G.

The stereo speakers provide a decent sound, not too tinny but of course not very rich either, but perfectly funtional for your audio requirements. The headphone socket is of the CTIA variety so you may have a couple compatibility issues. For me, I found there was a problem with the Sony Ericsson LiveSound, but other headphones – Sony Fontopia, iPod standards and a pair of Sony wireless cans worked very well indeed.

Streaming music to the tablet from either Google Music or through my home network – powered by the awesome Serviio – and wandering into every room in the house without a drop in sound from either the music server(s) or the headphones is pretty cool and never gets boring!

Video

As mentioned above, the Tablet S comes equipped with a fabulous 720p BRAVIA screen. It’s lush. Really lush. When I first started writing this review I’d only tested some YouTube videos, but after a couple weeks with the tab I’ve managed to load up some 720p mp4 files and the results are outstanding.

It’s worth bearing in mind the tab won’t quite be able to match the performance of a decent Blu-ray player and HD TV, but as inferred by the italics in the early part of the sentence, the results aren’t too shabby at all.

Watching a 720p mp4 (3.5GB!) of the 2007 Transformers movie on the tablet proved something of a relevation, especially after watching it on an iPod touch for years. The colours were rich, details were fine, there was some slight blocking and the occasional pixellation but, again, this isn’t a Full HD home rig; it’s a tablet, but it’s a plucky tablet with an awesome screen!

Memory

Sony have been a bit tricksy again with memory (as mentioned in a previous post HERE here on blogger and over at Xperiablog) and have utilised the built-in 16GB for everything:

  • 20% lost for standard memory filing etc (13.9GB remaining)
  • 4GB utilised for the system ROM (actually useful as you can stuff the tab to the gills with apps from the Market and still have plenty of room for even more apps!)
  • 8.9GB left for actual ‘stuff’ like media etc. 

Really, I think it’s a bit naughty to advertise something as having 16GB of onboard storage, only to find you can only use/edit just over half of it. Tut tut.

SD support is present, though it’s not (officially) meant to be used as expandable memory, as that’s one of the limitations of this current interation of Android. There are, however, a couple little script tricks you can do to get around this, thanks once again to the masterminds on the XDA forums….

To make the above scripts work, you need to root the device first. Rooting the Tablet S and its Honeycomb 3.2.1 is a little more tricky, but I think this was mainly because I was using a different package for rooting, compared to what I was using before. I fully encourage rooting any Android device, simply because it unlocks the potential of the device. In this case, I rooted the Tablet S principally to be able to run scripts. The 15 minutes it takes to run the rooting process and install init.d support, required for scripting, is time well spent.

If you’re unsure about rooting, read all available literature BEFORE you take the plunge. You get out of this process what you put in, and if you take your time you will be well rewarded. Rush your way through it and, well, a poor workman blames his tools! Read the steps. Then read them again. Then read some more. Then double check. Then go for it! Click the link HERE to use the amazing AiO root kit from Condi over at XDA.

Once you’ve done that, click HERE and follow the steps to add scripts to your new init.d folder. The tips provided bind the content of the external SD card (shown as SDcard2 in Root Explorer) to the internal memory (shown as SDcard). Depending on whether you’ve got the 16 or 32GB Tablet, or the Tablet P with its measly 4GB onboard, if you get yourself a 32GB card and follow the steps on the XDA link, you could end up with 25-50GB of storage. Not too shabby at all for the price of a little warranty-voiding tinkering!

One thing to bear in mind when creating the script file, don’t save it with a extension suffix like .txt or .sh – Android won’t recognise it otherwise. I’ve used the script with a 16GB card and confirm it works very well. The script is picked up during the boot process, all you need to do once the machine powers up is to recscan the SD card to refresh the database. You can get a good SD refresh app HERE. I’m able to store my most essential music on the tablet and adjust the contents of the external SD card as and when I please – though you will need to refresh the card when you put it back in.

And don’t forget, the Tablet also supports USB OTG, so you can take a USB flash drive or portable external HDD with you on your travels and have untold gigabytes of data at your fingertips. Get the required cable HERE.

Conclusion

The only other niggle I thought of with the Tablet is the proprietary power connector – there’s no USB charging as it’s a 5000mAh battery and USB can only deliver something like 500mAh, so it would take ages to charge! Though quite why Sony didn’t use something more readily available, one can only guess, but we’ll assume they’ve made that decision for the same reason they developed proprietary memory cards for the PS Vita. ‘Nuff said, moving on!

For me, two bad points isn’t bad at all. They’re minor points at best, particularly if you’re willing to make some relatively simple adjustments to the operating system. And let’s be honest, anyone who buys an Android tablet is probably in it for the development and freedom offered by the OS, as well as the flashier (pun intended) features on offer.

With good sound reproduction, excellent visuals and a price tag of just under £300 for the 16GB version of the Tablet S, there’s never been a better time to jump into the tablet market.

Google Music

In Summer 2011 Google introduced their own version of iTunes
Match. In fact, I think they beat Apple to it with their version of cloud
storage for music. Anyway, I was immediately intrigued by the possibilities of
having a massive amount of my own music at my fingertips, depending on the quality of my
connection of course.
Subsequent investigations showed Google Beta was only open
to U.S. customers, which was a little annoying. Fast foward a couple months and
I stumbled across some VPN software (link at bottom of post) which allowed me to bambooze the Google servers
into thinking I was based in the U.S., which then allowed me to sign up and
download the Music Manager upload program for Google Music. Score!
The upload program itself is very simple. You choose whether
Music searches through your iTunes folder and playlists, or you can setup a
folder of your own for holding music. I opted for the latter approach, as
having 140GB+ of music I felt was pushing my luck, particularly when the limit
for uploading songs in 20,000 tracks and I’ve got considerably more.
There are some glitches with refreshing folders and such but
on the whole the Music Management works quite well, though perhaps not as well as
iTunes Match. This payable service matches the items in your collection with
tracks on their own database by analysing the meta-data contained in the music stored on
your computer and only uploading tracks where it can’t find a match in the
database. But, you only pay for the service if you’ve got stuff that isn’t on the database, so
those of you with obscure music collections might have to stump up £20 a year to store
your copy of Des O’Connor’s Greatest Hits. Such is life. Anyway, I digress,
back to the main story…
Where Google Music falls down is you have to upload the
music yourself, all of it…And let me tell you, it takes ages!
I did a test upload of around 15 tracks, which took
something like 5 minutes, even with the Music Manager on its fastest upload setting of
1MBps. Going for broke, I dumped…ahem…11,000 tracks @ 192kbps into the upload
folder – 66GB worth – and let Google work its magic…..
….10 days later – not continuously, mind you – Google finally
finished uploading my music. I think I clocked the upload at around 1000 songs in
any 12-hour period, so that would be something like 5.5 days continuously
uploading! Thank goodness for unlimited broadband, that’s all I can say!
Naturally the service doesn’t like DRM-protected files and
doesn’t appear to like
anything encoded under 128kbps, either, which was very
annoying when I tried to
upload the Harry Potter audiobooks which have been encoded
at 32kbps using iTunes’
own recommended setting for speech! Ah well.
Once the music is up, you’re presented with a fairly basic
web-based library. It’s functional enough but lacks the precision sheen of iTunes.
Hopefully this will be improved on at a later date but for now it does the job. You
can edit the details of the track, change artwork etc, so it’s not totally useless.
Where things improved considerably is with the interaction
with the stock Google
music app on Gingerbread and Honeycomb platforms. I’ll stick
with the Honeycomb
variant as that’s where I use the online service the most:
First things first, you need the updated version of the
Google Play Music app – the latest version is 4.1.513. Once you’ve got that, links at the bottom of this post, sign yourself in and marvel at how pretty the app is.
The recent additions Cover flow is excellent, as is the coaster-type
stacking of album covers in the artist folder – if they’ve got more than one
album in your library, that is. And onto the online content!
I don’t know how Google do it, but the music syncs to the
tablet to quickly, it’s almost like the music is on the tablet itself. It just works! It’s
fast, let down only by the loading time for the music stream, but than depends
on your distance from the router and plus, when you’re streaming music from the
cloud as opposed to LAN, then some delay is to be expected anyway. So there.
It even works very well on 3G so top marks for that. DSP
settings are carried over to the streamed music so everything sounds great, you can also
tell the app to play your music and the maximum bitrate it was originally uploaded,
which is also awesome. In short it’s a great utility. If your entire music
collection is less than 20,000 tracks and if you’re very patient, you can have
your whole library with you practically everywhere you go.
I’m very pleased to have finally got it working and am
hoping the service will be rolled out globally soon – the sky’s the limit with
this and the possibilities are endless. A few GUI tweaks here and there
wouldn’t go amiss but for now, it might not be pretty (online GUI), but it does
the job!
The most up-to-date version of the new Google Play Music app
is 4.1.513 and can be
found HERE.
The VPN service I used was Tunnelbear, which can be found
here: http://www.tunnelbear.com/

What’s NXT?

2012 has already seen the acqusition of the Ericsson portion in the Sony Ericsson cake by Sony themselves. To herald their entry into the mobile market, Sony have developed some cracking new handsets known as the NXT range – Next GeneraTion – the S, P and U handsets.

I recently had the opportunity to play with these phones, namely the XS (as it shall henceforth be known) and I must say I was impressed. 1.5GHz dual-core processor, 12MP camera, 4.3 inch 720p(!) screen, NFC. The list goes on and on. In order to cram this fabulous tech into a handset, Sony have had to dispense with the super skinny chassis the Arc came with and instead have crafted a handset that’s both brawny and sleek at the same time. With a matt finish and simple curves, the XS has got some weight in the hand – I prefer a phone with some heft so this is right up my street and bulking up the weight was a worthy sacrifice to take advantage of the latest in mobile technology.

That’s not to say its not without foibles though:

  • The power button is on the top of the handset. For a phone with a lot of acreage, anyone with a small hand is going to find it a stretch to press this button – it is, after all, the only way to unlock the screen now that capacitive buttons are present.
  • The advertised memory, 32GB, isn’t exactly 32GB – but you’d be a bit naive to expect that. Inspection of the handset shows available memory as just under 26GB. I’m perfectly aware flash drives and the like usually reserve around 10% of the total capacity of the drive for file management and things like that but when I raised the question, the Sony rep explained as I was holding an older handset (it was branded Sony Ericsson) it could’ve been a development handset.
    However, reading another posting online about the XS, from an entirely different handset, I hasten to add, they have discovered the same ‘problem’. What appears to have happened is Sony have chopped up the available memory and allocated portions of it to ‘system’ storage and internal memory.
    Maybe I’m being a little unreasonable, but people expect 28-30GB of space remaining from 32GB and not the phone to be using almost 25% of the advertised capacity for its own ends. The positive that can be drawn from this is the phone sports a colossal 1.9GB RAM but even so, it’s a bit underhand.
Grumbles aside, it’s a very impressive handset, accompanied by two equally impressive handsets in their own right: the Xperia P and the Xperia U.

The Xperia P immediately captured my attention with its brushed aluminium finish. This handset is a pinch smaller than the S, more akin to the size of the Neo, yet features 16GB of internal memory, which I suspect has succumbed to the same fate as the internal memory on the XS. That aside, it’s a great handset, with a 8MP camera, 1080p video shooting, a 1GHz dual-core processor and loads of other awesome stuff.

The Xperia U lies at the budget end of the scale, and it’s noticeably more plasticky in its construction. Again, don’t let that detract from the features of the phone. Slightly smaller than the P, this handset has a similar size to the Ray, though that handset almost outstrips this phone in terms of features. A 1GHz dual-core processor beats in the heart of this phone, along with a 5MP camera and a very nifty colour schema in the notification bar.

It should be noted all three handsets follow a very similar design pattern, with the notification strip the prominent design feature; the XU is a smaller version of the XP, which in turn is a smaller version of the XS. The only thing that disappoints me about these phones is the lack of expandable memory with MicroSD. That would’ve been the icing on an admittedly impressive cake.

Sony have burst onto the mobile scene with guns blazing. If this is what they can do in a debut attempt, I can’t wait to see what emerges from development over the course of 2012. Quad-core, anyone……..?

SmartHeadset..?

Apparently not, at least in terms of hardware choice.

It seems Sony Ericsson and thus Sony have moved away from the OMTP standard it was using for mobile phones, opting for the CTIA standard instead.

One of the issues users of Xperia phones faced was incompatibility with certain headsets/headphones. If you tried to plug a CTIA headset into an Xperia phone it may have had reduced functionality or it may not even have worked at all. This is as the 3.5mm plug is wired differently in both standards.

The new 2012 Xperia models will have a 3.5mm jack that uses the CTIA standard and not the OMTP standard which was used earlier. The CTIA standard is more common and is the one adopted by Apple iOS devices. So, you can connect almost all the foreign headsets to your 2012 smartphone and enjoy your favourite music or movie.

However, the flip side to this ‘progression’, is older headsets that can currently be used with 2010/2011 Xperia devices will not be compatible with 2012 Xperia phones…

…Older headsets like…the LiveSound headphones. Released just last autumn by Sony Ericsson, with a retail price of up to £69.99. To be honest, I think this completely sucks for all those that bought those earphones, especially as they’re still knocking about on Amazon for close to £45!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sony-Ericsson-MH1-WO-LiveSound-Headset/dp/B005GDVB6S/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1330727397&sr=8-2

It’s disappointing, especially given the development time of handsets. Someone, somewhere should’ve realised they’d be defunct in six months…flashback to the X10 conundrum, anyone? Sony offer the EC250 adaptor to change CTIA signal to OMTP, meaning you can use the 2012 SmartHeadset with 2011 Xperia phones, but there doesn’t appear to be anything to reverse the flow to use OMTP headphones with CTIA.

In short, if you really like your 2011 LiveSound earphones, best to stick with a 2011 phone until an adaptor can be sourced. Or cough up £60-£70 for the SmartHeadset.

Vita or Vito?

Ah, another year, another Sony toy to talk about. This time it’s the PS Vita, successor to the PSP and the PSP Go. Both of which are great handsets, though the PSP courted some controversy on its release. More on that later, though the Vita is no stranger to controversy either, with some interesting choices in terms of hardware and some more…caustic words for accessory options.=

The Screen

Sporting a 5″ OLED screen, Sony claim this offers a superior picture yada yada yada. Personally, I see this fancy screen as a wasted opportunity to really make a big gaming statement: the Sony Xperia S (XS) launches in March 2012 and comes with a 4.6 inch HD screen. Yep, a 720p picture, on a mobile phone. A quick download of MoboViewer and a run of a Blu-Ray through ClownBD and we can be watching our favourite movies in HD on the go.

Vita or XS? Tough choice? Not really!

The Data

The PlayStation Network is free to access from the PS3 and the PSP using broadband connections. It’s also free from the Vita using WiFi. The data package for the 3G version, however, is hideously expensive at £40 a MONTH for just 2GB of data. Considering the Vita offers cross platform multiplayer gaming, I would assume most users will chew through this in a few days. But not to worry, as you can pay as you go for any excess data providing, that is, you’re happy to hand over life-savings, a spare limb or even your first-born to cover this charge.

The whole thing is monopolised by Vodaphone to boot, so you HAVE to pay their charges to go 3G. Boo!

Add-ons and games:

In order to set yourself up to be able to use the device for more than just playing games, i.e. to take videos and music with you, you will need a memory card. On the PSP you could use Memory Sticks and M2 Micros, which I have in abundance as they came bundled with pre-Android Sony Ericsson phones of old.

Effortlessly stepping on the toes of those who’ve bought bigger M2 cards for their PSP/PSP Go, much like they did with the No-UMD scandal surrounding the PSP Go, Sony have developed a proprietary memory card for the Vita, meaning you can’t use any MicroSD or M2 cards you happen to have lying around. To make matters worse, Sony themselves have an exclusivity on these cards until the summer, so 3rd parties like SanDisc can’t yet manufacture their own cheaper versions. Boo hiss boo!

Fair enough developing these cards for the games themselves, so your progress saves to the game, rather than the unit, but applying this to the storage options on board is a bit mean. For someone to set themselves up with a WiFi-only Vita, a decent game (Uncharted: Golden Abyss FTW!) and a reasonable sized memory card for extra media and downloading a game or two – 8GB is a good size – you’re looking at an outlay of £275 at suggested retail price. £300+ if you buy the 32GB card.

Considering you can buy a PS3 with at least 160GB of storage, if not 250GB, and probably get a couple premium games thrown into the bundle as well for around the £250-£275 mark, the price banding for the Vita is as laughable as it was for the PSP Go.

Attempts to innovate with Vita may well have alienated a large portion of their fanbase, simply because it’s completely unfair, unreasonable and unrealistic to expect people to fork out again – and for such core components as memory – to stay up to date. The PSP Go managed 16GB of onboard storage – was it really too much, with all its OLED bells and dual-analogue whistles, to expect something similar on the Vita? I don’t think so, and when Sony are charging £40 RRP for a comparable level of expandable memory (16GB) on their hallowed proprietary memory cards, something is rotten in the state of make.believe.

Initial launch figures for the Vita were good in Japan but here in the UK things are starting to wane already, just two weeks after launch. Struggling media chain HMV is offering a free premium game with every purchase of a Vita. Beleagured gaming chain GAME spent most of the post-Christmas, pre-Vita launch mercilessly stalking their customers in-store and online with a £25 pre-order deal, before reducing the fee down to £10 due to lack of interest…and they’re now selling off their remaining stock.

The Final Problem

Sadly I feel the Vita is going to be something of a damp squib. Launching 2 months AFTER Christmas, you know, the peak trading season of the year, it’s already out-specced by its parent companies’ first foray into mobile phones. Not to mention over-priced games, over-priced data and monopolised accessories for at least the next six months, I feel the Vita will go the same way as the Move – a good idea, but only the most devout of Sony followers will pick it up.