Last week, I joined what must be millions of other technology nerds (if my Twitter and Facebook friends are any indication) in getting rid of my iPhone 3G* in favor of an Android-based phone. Why on earth would I do such a thing? Aren't iPhones basically the best smartphones on the market? Increasingly, I'm not sure that's the case. Besides, it's not simply about overall phone quality.
The reasons I switched closely mirror those than Daniel Lyons outlined in his piece at Newsweek. Here's the breakdown of the reasons I jumped ship, and why I think many formerly loyal iPhone users might be jumping ship, too.
First, there's AT&T. I live and work in San Francisco, which is basically ground zero for crappy AT&T service. I was tired of the dropped calls, but I don't talk on the phone all that much. The bigger problem was having "four bars" of 3G service, trying to go to a website, and being told there was no network connection. I can't count the times I've reloaded a web page or TweetDeck trying to get my seemingly well-connected phone online. My contract with AT&T was over, so this was a good opportunity to jump ship to Verizon. I don't really care if Verizon's 3G isn't quite as fast as AT&T 3G. Slightly slower but reliable beats faster and spotty every time. (This, by the way, is why carriers and phone vendors should cut it out with the exclusivity deals. When AT&T loses a customer, so does Apple. When Apple loses a customer, chances are high that AT&T does, too.)
Intel has officially launched Ultra-Low Voltage (ULV) processors in the Core i3, Core i5, and Core i7 product families today. The company claims the chips offer up to 32% better performance than the comparable ULV processors in the Core 2 family, popular in many ultraportable PCs. At the same time, power usage is reduced by a promised 15%, again relative to the company's current ULV products.
The branding gets a little confusing at this point. The Core i5-520UM, for example, runs at 1.066 GHz and carries at TDP (thermal design power) of just 18 watts. The Core i7-640UM runs at 1.2GHz, and like many other mobile Core i7 processors, has two cores. It may be a little confusing for consumers to see Core i7 in the specs of one laptop which is significantly less powerful than a Core i5, simply because the Core i7 is the ULV version and the Core i5 is not (standard Core i5 mobile processors run up to 2.53GHz). Note that the ULV Core i3, i5, and i7 mobile processors only officially support DDR3 at speeds up to 800MHz, while the standard versions also support 1066MHz DDR3 memory, so there could be a significant difference in memory bandwidth as well.
Having said that, the new ULV Core i3, i5, and i7 processors should provide a significant boost in performance and even a modest improvement in battery life over the existing ULV Core 2 Duo processors. If you're in the market for a really thin and light ultraportable laptop, it behooves you to wait a month or two for the laptops using these chips to hit the market. We even hear rumors that the stellar Alienware M11x will get an upgrade to these new CPUs.
I got an advance look at Google's latest treat for Android phones, Android 2.2 (more deliciously known as Froyo) on the Nexus One. Announced this morning at Google I/O in San Francisco, the update will initially be available to Motorola Droid and Nexus One owners in June. Android users will definitely be happy with this update, which delivers faster performance, tethering/mobile hotspot and of course, Flash support.
Flash Player 10.1: Great for Watching Video
At last, full Flash support has finally arrived on Android. Overall, the whole experience is quite good, but I encountered a couple of issues in my hands-on. Video playback looked excellent on the Nexus One's screen. I watched a couple of trailers on the Warner Brothers' site and was impressed with how smooth playback the was.
When you mention Lenovo, you usually call to mind business-oriented laptops. The ThinkPad and IdeaPad lines have been staples of the business traveler - simple, black, and sort of boring, but priced right and very easy to work on. We haven't met a Lenovo keyboard or touchpad we didn't like. But a Lenovo laptop for media-minded consumers? Even for gamers? Surely that's heresy, right?
Today, Lenovo has made available the IdeaPad Y560, a product that might just get general consumers, and even gamers, to reconsider the brand. It has a slicker industrial design, with red accents and a textured lid, but it's what's inside that really has me intrigued. The entry-level model features a Core i3 330M CPU, 4GB of DDR3 memory, and a quite capable Radeon Mobility HD 5730 discrete graphics chip with 1GB of video RAM. Not bad for under $1,000. You can step up to Core i5 dual-core and Core i7 quad-core CPUs from there, or add bigger 500GB 7200 RPM hard drives if you're wiling to spend $1,299. The top-end model boost the RAM to 8GB and is a bit pricey at $1,599.
So how about it? Would you consider Lenovo when buying a media-centric consumer laptop, or will the company never shake it's "business-only" image?
We've been pretty big fans of Nvidia's Ion product for netbooks, which turbocharges the lame integrated graphics found in Intel's Atom line with something really capable of decoding all that hi-def flash video on the web and even playing a few basic 3D games. If you'll recall, the previous generation of Intel Atom based netbooks were three-chip solutions: you had the Atom CPU, the "North Bridge" containing the memory controller and integrated graphics, and the "South Bridge" with all the I/O and interconnect stuff. The Ion platform replaced both the North Bridge and South Bridge with what Nvidia calls an MCP - media and communcations processor. It's basically a single chip that includes the memory controller, I/O, and integrated graphics. In other words, the original Ion brought the three-chip Atom solution from Intel down to a two-chip solution, while improving graphics performance. It was a major selling point.
The Next Generation Ion, revealed today, sort of makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, not because it's a bad products, but because the marketing message isn't clear to consumers. It's no longer a "platform" - it's an add-on to an existing platform in the same way that any GeForce discrete graphics chip is an add-on to any notebook of any other size. It's just... GeForce for netbooks. For this and other reasons, the whole marketing message around the Next-Gen Ion is a little worrisome. Allow me to explain.
The new Intel "Pine Trail" platform for netbooks (those netbooks with the Atom N450 or N470 CPU) gets rid of the North Bridge chip - the Intel graphics and memory controller have been integrated into the CPU itself. So with Pine Trail, Intel is down to a two-chip solution: the CPU and the South Bridge. What the next-gen Ion does is boost that back to a three-chip solution by adding a GPU, complete with up to 512MB of it's own DDR2 or DDR3 memory (something that wasn't required in the original Ion, mind you). This graphics chip connects to the South Bridge via a PCI Express x1 link.
Does your laptop have switchable graphics? You know, both an integrated graphics chip that sips energy and gives you long battery life along with a discrete GPU (graphics processing unit) that offers better 3D graphics and video performance? Notebooks with switchable graphics have been shipping for years, but they haven't lived up to user expectations. Nvidia hopes to change that with their new Optimus technology.
The first notebooks with switchable graphics had a physical switch to toggle between the integrated and discrete GPU, and required you to reboot the system to switch from one to the other. More recently, you could change between the integrated and discrete GPU with software - using a small tool-tray icon or changing the power profile in Windows. The screen would then blank out for a few seconds, and you'd be up and running with the discrete GPU or back to the battery-saving integrated graphics. Unfortunately, this is a little obtuse for the average user, and many who own laptops with switchable graphics never actually switch.
Optimus promises to make this much easier. When the system detects a 3D application or video (if it's decoded using the DirectX Video Acceleration plugin, as most are), the GPU simply turns on. When you're done with the 3D app or video, it goes back to the integrated GPU. There's no screen blanking, no buttons to hit or switches to flip. The technology promises discrete GPU power when you need it, integrated graphics when you don't, automatically.
Lenovo laptops are great, but they're boring, right? Plain black slabs that epitomize function over form. Well, the company is coming out of its shell with the designs of its new Skylight netbook and IdeaPad S10-3 tablet.
The Skylight is a netbook based on a 1GHz ARM Snapdragon processor, promising 10 hours of battery life and sporting both 3G connectivity and Wi-Fi. The company bills this as a "smartbook," a growing term for netbooks that behave something like big, powerful smartphones but don't necessarily run Windows or other standard PC operating systems.