Xooming into the 21st Century: #techreview Column June 2012
In this edition technology reviewer Yasin Soliman takes a look at three brand new innovations and hosts a debate feature answering a question frequenting the social media landscape.
Tablet: Motorola Xoom Wi-Fi 10.1"
The Motorola Xoom was the first Android 3.0 tablet to hit the market. That makes it the first Android tablet to ship with an OS that's designed especially for big screens, and that's why it's so exciting. Every gadget must be judged solely on what it provides, its purpose in life, and whether it will help you accomplish tasks and enjoy your media. The Xoom is a brilliant entertainment tablet, with excellent media features and flexibility. With a 5-megapixel front camera and a 2-megapixel rear-facing camera, 32GB of integrated storage (plus a potential for SD storage), 1GB of RAM, 4G support in the future, and up to 10-hours of battery life, the Xoom has the hardware specifications to make you interested. The Motorola Xoom is currently available for £499. The 3G version is set to cost £100 more at £599. The heart of the device is the new Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) OS, which runs fast. Really fast. Finger swipes register quickly and accurately, with excellent load speeds. Android 3.0 is a brilliant interface for tablets – you can place widgets and tools on your home-screen, and it's also suited for reading books and playing games. As compatible apps increase, the Xoom's functionality will increase exponentially. The new iPad (3rd Generation) is still the better tablet, however, and has thousands of useful, powerful apps that make it more appealing. Overall, a great, lightning fast tablet with lots of potential.
Gadget: Kindle Fire
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You might have heard of the Kindle Fire, the brand new proprietary Amazon tablet with a focus on the Kindle interface. It is more, though. The Fire is a 7-inch tablet that links directly with Amazon's impressive electronic collection of music, video, newspaper, and book services in one easy-to-use device. It boasts a great full-featured web browser, and its "own" Android App Store includes most of the big must-have applications. The Fire has an ultra-affordable price tag, and the screen quality is exceptional for the price, around £126. The low price means no premium/advanced features (3G, camera facility, microphone, GPS, and location service), but the biggest issues are its small storage (only 8GB of "un-extendable" storage), and the app selection doesn't match Apple's [App Store] or Google's [Google Play]. Also, you'll need an Amazon Prime subscription to take advantage of some of the more-unique features. The Fire overtakes the other Kindle predecessors in some respects; however, functionality is one issue where the Fire supersedes the others. Battery is another issue where the Fire can't compete against its standard Kindle models. Those readers with their efficient E Ink screens have battery capacity time measured in months. Sadly, the Fire's battery capacity is measured in hours.
Although overall the Fire lacks a few of the respected iPad features and advanced capabilities, for the low price it's a great device for budget tablet fans and Kindle lovers – although some might prefer the standard E-Ink user interface. I think the Fire is a great tablet for people who want to take the plunge into tablet technology, for basic use, but don't want to splash out on devices such as the new iPad.
App: Foursquare 5.0 for iOS/Android (BlackBerry version released recently)
The team at Foursquare recently developed a new version of their mobile application for iOS and Android. While you've seen this application before, in a previous column, you're actually in a brand new environment. Foursquare 5.0 takes things like decision-making to the next level. When it's time for lunch, you'll be shown some locations to eat near your location as recommended by Foursquare users who check in there regularly. Foursquare has become more about locations that already exist and are verified rather than on you creating your own uniquely named locations – which is more of a negative effect to the experience. The app is now a much more "professional" environment where it's more of an adventure and "social reality" experience. One of the main highlights is the brand new Explore tab. The app wants you to know what's interesting around you, and it's done very well. If you're just looking to try something new, the tab defaults to a set of top picks that go beyond just popularity: there's a strong emphasis on specials, of course, but it'll suggest breakfast in the morning, snacks at lunch, and dinner spots towards the evening. You'll still be collecting badges, tips are still integrated, photos and lists and statistics are here as well, and you will still be able to do everything you could previously. This application also remains completely free and is available on the Apple App Store and Google Play. I'm an avid Foursquare user, and find these new location and venue features extremely useful.
Request: Twitter vs. Facebook, as requested by Kate Bassett (20th April)
Facebook and Twitter are currently the most popular social network platforms being used by millions around the world everyday. The point of "Twitter vs. Facebook" is a very interesting point that is not totally comparative. Many issues surround the social networks, such as functionality, privacy and usability. The recent issues surrounding the debate on user privacy showed users would tend to trust Twitter more as there's less risk of falling for malicious scams or intrusive data research; although both sites are unique in their own ways. There are differences and similarities. Twitter has more of a unique emphasis, which is reflected in its audience, influence and daily use. Facebook is more spread out, with acquisitions of various online platforms; but issues such as e-safety and child abuse are more common with Facebook, as young people can circumvent age restrictions just by modifying their date of birth – no extra verification is carried out. Twitter's targeted audience takes shape with 140-character messages. This is truly unique. The character limit allows people to make a statement, a message, a thought. The limit is enforced uniquely to emphasise this fact of "small sharing" – linking these "messages" to external ideas, websites, news and more. Facebook is more centred at the social platform – apps, games, messaging and more. Some prospects on the Facebook platform annoy me (in my opinion), such as the amount of scams people fall for and "accept" on a day-to-day basis, and the amount of average "app requests" received – which cause annoyance when users are trying to do other things. It's a question that can't be compared side by side, but can be placed alongside as social networks. Facebook's emphasis is on the user, the sharing, the content; whereas Twitter is centred around the statuses, the updates, the 24/7 news. I'm a Twitter user myself, and find it a great source of news, information, updates and more. Twitter can be used for many purposes, which is why it's my favourite out of the two. I do think, however, Facebook's features have lots of potential, although the "visual bombardment" of ads, updates, friend requests and app requests get quite annoying. It's an interesting debate, which I'm glad to feature on request (thanks!)
For more tech news and updates follow me on Twitter @YasinSoliman or read my personal blog here.