Tag Archives: samsung

Asus ZenWatch 3 prompts the question: is it time yet for smartwatches?

Today Asus launched the ZenWatch 3, an Android Wear smartwatch set for release towards the end of this year. Price was announced as €229.

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Powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100, ZenWatch 3 is a chunky affair, 9.95mm thick. “Mainly for the male market?” I enquired of an Asus PR person; “well, yes” was the response. 1.39-inch AMOLED display with 400 by 400 resolution and 287ppi pixel density, three buttons, one programmable for quick app launch, customisable watch face.

Forget all that though; the big issue with these gadgets is the battery life, which is “up to two days”. Whenever I have tried a wearable, the battery life problem is always why I abandon it. I realise you just have to get into the habit of charging it every night, but I am not used to this in a watch. A further problem with the ZenWatch is that you need the special charger with you at all times, since it has an unique charging connector:

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What about smartphones though, these took off despite their short battery life. The reason was that they added a lot of value. Email, maps, then Facebook and Twitter on the go. And if it ran out of power, at least you still had a watch.

The battery life question then is bound up with the question about how much value the smartwatch adds. There is fitness tracking, there is the convenience of glancing at your wrist rather than pulling out a smartphone to check an email or text message, there is turn by turn directions. Enough?

For me, not yet. At the same time, technology always gets smaller and more convenient. No doubt today’s smartphones will look bulky and inconvenient in 10 years time, and it may well be that the future personal communications device looks more like a smartwatch than a smartphone. You can’t beat the convenience of of something on your wrist, rather than something you carry in a bag or pocket.

That presumes, though, that either smartwatches get smart enough to replace rather than complement your phone, or that some other compelling feature turns up that will make them a must-have.

I’m typing this as the Samsung Gear 3 event is about to begin. Vendors are keen to make this work. Come on Samsung, wow me.

The battery life question then is really another question. Are smartwatches sufficiently compelling that

Samsung Galaxy S5 with Gear 2, Gear Fit: quick hands-on, screenshots

Samsung unveiled the Galaxy S5 Android smartphone at an event last night in Barcelona, during Mobile World Congress. I attended the launch and spent some time trying the new Galaxy after the event.

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The first thing that struck me is how light it feels. It is 145g according to the spec.

Here is the home screen:

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The UI in general is clean and easy to use:

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I was interested in the camera, having looked at the camera on the new Sony Xperia Z2 yesterday, in comparison to the Nokia Lumia 1020. The S5 has a 16MP camera and Samsung showed off its fast automatic focus in the press launch. Here are the camera options:

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I took a couple of snaps with both the S5 and the Lumia 1020 for a quick comparison. The Lumia easily bested it. I’d judge that the Xperia Z2 would easily best it too. That said, the camera is fine and I doubt users will be disappointed; it’s just not the best choice if you are particularly keen on photography.

Health is big theme, especially in conjunction with the Gear Fit band. Samsung’s JK Shin said that keeping fit is a third key feature in a smartphone alongside camera and connectivity. Here is the fitness app:

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Samsung has included a heart rate sensor, so I took my pulse:

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There is a Kids Zone, reminiscent of what Microsoft has done for Windows Phone:

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Other notable features are water and dust resistance, fingerprint sensor with PayPal integration, and apparently new Enterprise security features of which I hope to learn more later today.

It looks like an excellent phone. A game changer? Enough to draw users from Apple? It feels more like just another smartphone, albeit a good one, but that may be just what the market wants. No silliness like the S4’s air gestures, just a solid new smartphone.

On sale date is April 11 2014.

Key specs:

  • LTE Cat.4 (150/50Mbps)
  • 5.1” FHD Super AMOLED (1920 x 1080) display
  • 2.5GHz Quad core application processor
  • Android 4.4.2 (Kitkat)
  • Camera: 16MP (rear), 2.0MP (front)
  • Video: UHD@30fps, HDR, video stabilization
  • IP67 Dust and water Resistant
  • WiFi: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac HT80, MIMO(2×2)
  • Bluetooth®: 4.0 BLE / ANT+
  • USB: USB 3.0
  • NFC
  • IR Remote
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer, Hall, RGB ambient light, Gesture(IR), Finger Scanner, Heart rate sensor
    2GB RAM
  • Storage:Internal Memory: 16/32GB, microSD slot upto 64GB
    Size and weight:  142.0 x 72.5 x 8.1mm, 145g
  • Battery: 2800mAh Standby time: 390 hrs / Talk time: 21 hrs
     

Samsung takes over Times Square, New York City, for Galaxy Note 3

Samsung is launching the next Galaxy Note, its stylus-equipped phablet, at IFA in Berlin and Times Square, New York City.

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I am here for another event but who knows, might get a sneak look at the new Galaxy later.

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I am not keen on styluses but do like the idea of a converged device that does phone, tablet and notebook-like productivity all in one.

Fixing an unresponsive screen on a Samsung Series 7 Slate with Windows 8

I currently travel with a Windows 8 slate, the slate being the retail Samsung Series 7 model (similar but not the same as the one given to Build attendees in 2011).

It is a decent machine with good performance, but has one considerable annoyance. From time to time, when waking the device from sleep or even turning on from cold, the screen stops responding to touch. The crude fix is to reset it by turning it off, then holding down the power button so it reboots. Open documents may be lost of course.

I do not have a cure for this behaviour, though I would love to know. However I have discovered the cause, which is that one or both Intel USB host controllers fails to start. You can see the problem in Device Manager:

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How do you even get to this screen? Well, on my machine, if the top Intel host controller has a problem, then pen input fails but touch works. If the second Intel host controller fails, touch input fails but pen input works. If both fail (which also happens) you are sunk unless you can remote desktop in from another machine on the network.

Once you are in – via pen, touch, or remote desktop – right-click the offending controller and choose Disable. Then right-click again and choose Enable. This will fix the problem until next time.

A likely fix would be an updated driver for the host controller. The current driver dates from 2006.

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However I cannot easily find anything more up to date.

Update: I have succeeded in updating the driver to one from February 2013 but it does not fix the problem. My conclusion is that the error in the USB Enhanced Host Controller is the symptom and not the cause of the issue. It is a resume or power-on problem; such as something happening too quickly or in the wrong order. Again, suggestions welcome!

Uh-oh, here come the OEM improvements to Windows 8

Reports from a Samsung event today indicate that the company is implementing its own version of the Windows 7 Start menu, which it calls the S Launcher.

The all-in-one PCs Samsung unveiled this morning are the first Windows machines to sport the S Launcher, a simple widget that acts just like the old start button: Click, start typing (say “keyboard”) and it instantly shows you the settings and apps that relate to your term. There’s also a separate settings icon for quick access to the most commonly needed controls.

On the face of it that sounds like a good move. The general reaction to the removal of the Start button in Windows 8 has been mixed at best. Why not put something like it back?

It is hard for Microsoft to object to this. The official line is the Microsoft’s partners add value to Windows with customization and software unique to each vendor, enabling them to differentiate. There is also the matter of fees paid by third-parties such as browser or security software vendors, to pre-install their stuff and win lucrative traffic or subscriptions.

This is a big one though. Microsoft must care about its new Start menu, to have resisted all pleas from its customers to reinstate the old-style version as an option.

It is also obvious that this is not just about usability. The Start screen is the gateway to the new Windows: Modern UI, Windows Store, tie-in with Windows Phone, Windows Tablets and Xbox, and more.

Here it gets interesting. Although Microsoft and Samsung are both selling Windows, the objectives of the two companies are not altogether aligned. Samsung is a big Android vendor; and even within the Android world, it is promoting Galaxy as a brand and links to its televisions. Samsung also sells Windows Phone, but you would hardly know it.

You can think of it as two separate ecosystems, one based around Windows and Microsoft, the other based around Samsung, which happen to intersect in the area of desktop operating systems.

Samsung then does not care whether the Modern UI, Windows Store and Windows Phone are hits. In fact, when it comes to Windows Store and Windows Phone, it may prefer that they fail.

It is not even that simple. If the Microsoft and Windows ecosystem continues to decline, who can take on Apple? It is in Samsung’s interests as an OEM Windows vendor for Microsoft to succeed, as the same time as other parts of its business would prefer that it fails. Complex.

If nothing else, the S-launcher show how little Microsoft and its hardware partners are aligned when it comes to Windows marketing strategy.

What about the users though? Will they not benefit from having a more familiar way to launch their applications? Personally I doubt it. The problem I have with utilities like this is that they break the design work Microsoft puts into Windows, introducing inconsistency and often working less well than what is baked into the operating system.

I will add too that the Windows 8 Start screen is actually not the monster it is made out to be. It is richer than the old one, with its Live Tiles and large icons, and once you have learned how to organise it in the way you want, it is an effective launch manager. The fast incremental search in the Start screen works brilliantly.

It would benefit Samsung’s users more if the company focused on helping them learn how to get the best from Windows 8 and its new user interface, rather than encouraging them to avoid some of its key features.

Now you know why Microsoft is doing Surface and the Microsoft Store with its Signature PCs, tweaked (or untweaked) to run as designed.

Hands on with Samsung’s Galaxy Note

I had a quick hands-on with Samsung’s Galaxy Note. It is a lovely gadget though I have some reservations about its appeal.

The two notable features of the Galaxy Note, which runs Android 2.3 “Gingerbread” but will upgrade to Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich”, are its 5.3” 1280 x 800 AMOLED screen and its stylus, which you can slide out from an integrated holder. The device is beautifully slim and light, but the large screen means that you do feel a little conspicuous holding it to your ear as a phone. Whether you mind about this is an individual thing, but I can imagine that some will be put off using it as their main mobile phone.

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Behind the gorgeous screen sits a 1.4GHz dual-core ARM CPU, as part of the Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC, and an ARM Mali-400 GPU. Video flies on this thing, and its high resolution goes a long way to make up for the small screen – small relative to a TV or full-size tablet that is. It is the perfect device for watching video on the go if you would rather not carry an 10” tablet around with you.

If you do need a larger screen, and have a network-connected Samsung B handy, you can use a feature called AllShare Play to stream the video to the TV. Typical scenarios might be showing your holiday video to mum and dad when you go round to visit, or showing your business presentation to customers on a TV in their conference room. I am sure this will become commonplace on many devices, especially as it uses standard DLNA protocols, and it is handier than having to fiddle with wired HDMI connections.

Then there is the stylus. Android is designed for touch control, so a stylus is not that useful for navigating the UI, but does come into its own for note-taking, sketching and drawing. Samsung calls the stylus the S Pen, and it is supported by several apps. There is a multimedia memo app called S-Memo, Touchnote for creating multimedia e-postcards, Zen Brush for sketching with a pressure-sensitive brush effect, and TouchRetouch for photo editing, among others.

I found it easy to take a photo, crop it, write on it, and attach it to an email. Sharing on Facebook or the like is easy too.

A great device; but I am not sure of the market, and not sure that there is much enthusiasm for styluses outside niche uses. HTC achieved disappointing sales with its Flyer tablet last year, even though this is also an excellent device to play with.

The other problem is that the Note is too small to be an excellent tablet and too large to be an excellent phone.

It is great for games though, and if you are looking for a pocketable but powerful multimedia tablet it could be just the thing.

Full specs are here.

Whoosh! Review: Samsung 830 series SSD kit

Is it worth replacing your laptop’s hard drive with a solid state drive instead? If you can put up with a few limitations (and perhaps a smaller drive) then it probably is. SSD is faster than a spinning disk, and you will notice this in the form of faster boot, faster application loading, and a snappier system in general. Battery life may improve too.

This review covers the Samsung 830 series 128GB SSD, specifically the laptop installation kit which contains all you need (except the screwdriver).

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Laptop drives are usually easy to replace physically, but migrating your operating system can be tricky. Samsung seems to be making an effort to simplify this, though it could do better. The essentials are here though, particularly a very handy cable that lets you connect your new SSD as an external USB drive. This means you can image your existing drive to the SSD, then replace the drive and boot as normal. The package also includes two CDs, one for Norton Ghost and the other for some utilities and documentation. Finally there is a short printed manual and of course the drive itself. Since it is thinner than a hard drive, a spacer is supplied which bulks it out to the size of a standard 2.5” drive if necessary.

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The laptop I picked for this test is a Dell running Windows 7 64-bit. It has a 160GB 7200 rpm Seagate drive – typical of a laptop which is a few years old.

Curiously, although all the kit is supplied to migrate from your existing hard drive, there is a note in the instruction leaflet that says “Samsung recommends that you do a fresh OS install to ensure an optimal operating environment for your new SSD”. Good advice, except that laptops usually do not come with Windows install media, and if they do it is recovery media with recreates the original install, which is not quite the same as a fresh install. Another problem with a fresh install is the time-consuming job of reinstalling your applications. There are many advantages to migration rather than clean install, even if the final result is not optimal. You can also tweak an existing Windows install for SSD so it is not that bad.

A problem with this kit is that although it does have all you need, it lacks a simple step by step guide. That is not for want of trying; someone has worked hard on the interactive manual on one of the CDs. Even so, with a printed manual that covers both desktop and laptop versions of the kit, two CDs, Samsung’s Magician utility as well as Norton Ghost, it ends up being a confusing bundle.

Most laptops only have one drive, and you may well find that there is more data on your current drive than there is space on the new SSD. I recall a note somewhere that advises you to delete unimportant data to make space. Alternatively, you could get Samsung’s 256GB kit for around twice the price. On a desktop, you would likely use an SSD drive for booting and for the operating system, but conventional hard drives for data.

Norton Ghost is not my favourite disk utility. It is a backup tool as well as a drive cloning utility, and has a rather complex and intrusive install. An alternative is to use the backup and restore built into Windows 7, which would work fine for this although you will need an additional external drive as well as a Windows restore CD or bootable USB device. There are also leaner tools such as Drive Snapshot which work well.

Still, for this review I decided to use the tools in the bundle and installed Norton Ghost. The Ghost install flashed many command prompts at me and then hung for ages doing apparently nothing. I gave up, tried to cancel the installation without success, and rebooted to find that the install had apparently succeeded. I did not trust it so did a repair install which did complete, giving me reasonable confidence that I had Ghost installed OK.

If you go the Ghost route, you should read the document called NortonGhost_Data_Migration_User_Manual_(English).pdf which is in the MagicianSoftware folder on the Samsung Magician CD. The main issue is that Windows 7 creates a hidden system partition which you need to copy to the SSD *first*, otherwise Windows 7 will not boot.

I then attached the SSD drive with the supplied USB cable and ran Ghost to copy the partitions. It took around two hours for my 100GB of data.

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I then switched the drive with the hard drive installed in the laptop. This was pretty easy, though I did need the supplied spacer in order to press the hard drive close enough to the case for the stubby screws to bite.

Booted up, and Windows warned that it had not been shut down properly. I chose a Normal start, Windows detected the new drive, reconfigured itself, and requested a further restart. That was it.

Well, not quite. I ran Outlook which decided it had to recreate its offline cached mailbox completely. Mine is huge so that took a while.

I also used the Samsung Magician utility to optimize Windows for an SSD install.

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This utility tweaks a few settings, such as disabling Super Fetch. It also recommends disabling the Windows indexing service. The idea is to reduce the number of disk writes, bearing in mind that SSDs gradually wear and their capacity reduces as data is deleted and written.

There are other Windows tweaks you can make to optimize for SSD. Tom’s hardware has a handy list here. Note that there are trade-offs. Disabling the indexing service may be a good idea for the SSD, but can be inconvenient, particularly if you use Outlook whose search depends on it. Disabling System Restore means you lose its benefit if something in Windows gets corrupted and will have to resort to other restore methods.

Was it worth it? Here are the PassMark before and after results:

  Old 7200 RPM HD New SSD Drive
Disk Mark 234.7 2186.9
Sequential Read 31.4 241.2
Sequential Write 31.2 205.4
Random Seek + RW 2.31 158.2

and here are the results of the PassMark advanced drive test, showing that disk speed improved from 3.7 MB/Sec to 34.8 MB/Sec:

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A glance tells you all you need to know: the SSD is much faster. The Disk Mark improves by 931%.

In use the laptop feels like a new machine; everything happens faster than before. It is worth the hassle.

    

Why is MusicCityDownload.exe in my Windows folder?

I had this question, and did not find much on a quick search, so here is the answer.

I figured that MusicCityDownload.exe was probably not malware, since it looks so much like malware. I mean, surely a malware writer would call their executable spladmin.exe or something like that.

This proved correct. The clue was to look at the executable properties, discover that it is signed by MarkAny Inc which has some DRM technology, and then that it gets installed with Samsung’s Kies media management application. I doubt you will miss Kies so you might want to uninstall it, but it is not actually harmful as far as I am aware so you can stop worrying about MusicCityDownload.exe.

Imperfect Samsung Slate 7 tablet shows challenge facing Windows 8

I took advantage of a trip to Seattle to purchase a Samsung 7 Slate, similar to the one given to attendees at Microsoft’s BUILD conference last September, though missing some of its sensors.

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It is a decent machine, fast and well-specified, but not one I can recommend unless, like me, you are keen to give Windows 8 Consumer Preview the best chance to impress, and cannot wait the short interval until machines that are actually designed for Windows 8 turn up on the market.

This is a Windows 7 slate, and that is the main thing that is wrong with it, since Windows 7 does not work well with touch control. Samsung’s solution is to cover all the bases:

  • A stylus is supplied so you can use pen control as with earlier Windows tablets
  • There is a matching Bluetooth keyboard
  • Samsung has created its own touch-friendly desktop with a selection of apps, so that you can avoid the classic Windows desktop

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All these options make this an expensive device, but there are nevertheless a number of flaws and annoyances, some of which make you wonder “what were they thinking?” Here are some I have discovered in a few days of use:

1. There is an illumination sensor towards the top right of the screen bezel. This is a battery-saving measure, which adjusts the screen brightness according to the ambient light. Good thinking; except that if you are right-handed and controlling the slate with touch, your hand will often pass in front of the sensor. When that happens the screen dims, because it thinks the room is darker. The effect is that the screen constantly brightens and darkens in use, which is unpleasant. Fix: disable the feature and set the screen to a fixed brightness.

2. The on-screen keyboard is poor. This is the fault of Microsoft, not Samsung. If you have the keyboard set to float, the keys are too close together for fast typing. If you dock the keyboard, it becomes bigger, but impossible to use because it covers the bottom third of the screen. For example, it covers the search box on the Start menu when docked, so that you will be typing into it blind. Fix: Windows 8.

3. I got the matching Samsung wireless keyboard and found that the first key you press sometimes does not register. This is infuriating, especially for things like passwords. The reason, I discovered, is a setting in the Bluetooth card configuration “Allow the computer to turn off the device to save power.” When set, if you pause typing for 30 seconds, then the next key you press is in effect the on button and does not appear on the screen. Fix: uncheck this setting.

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4. When using wifi at a meeting, I found that every two or three minutes I had to re-enter the username and password for the wifi hotspot. Nobody else had this problem. Fix: I am not sure, but updating the driver for the Intel wireless adapter plus sundry other Windows updates fixed it for me.

5. It is difficult to run without full administrator rights on the machine, as several Samsung utilities prompt for elevation.

6. There is no security button. This is the button that emulates Ctrl-Alt-Delete when you log on to Windows. Instead, you hold down the Windows key and press the power on switch – when you have discovered that this is what you have to do. It is not mentioned in the quick start leaflets. To be fair, this is only likely to be an issue if you do as I did and join the machine to a Windows domain. Samsung does include a Touch Logon application which lets you secure your machine with a simple code instead.

7. The pen sometimes stops working, or more precisely, the screen stops responding to the pen. Fix: pressing the screen rotation lock button seems to kick it back into life.

8. There is some clever coding that disables finger control when you are using the pen, which is a Wacom digitiser and not just a stylus. The idea is that you can rest your hand on the screen when using the pen. This mostly works, but I still find pen control less good on this device than on older Tablet PCs which respond only to the digitiser. The problem may be that when you lift the pen away from the screen, touch control turns back on. Whether or not this is the problem, I find it too easy to get unexpected behaviour.

9. Navigating the BIOS is difficult without a USB keyboard. It can be done. Volume up and down substitutes for the cursor keys, the Windows button is ESC and the rotation lock is Enter. The hard bit: switching between pages with volume and rotation button together. Fix: a USB keyboard.

10. The one solitary USB port has a tiny loose plastic cover which will soon get lost. For that matter, I will probably lose the expensive digitizer pen as well since it does not clip into the slate nor into the official Samsung case.

Is this a poor device then? Not at all. It is powerful and light, and works very well indeed if you pop the slate into its dock and use it with a wireless keyboard and mouse. In this guise though, it is more like a desktop PC.

When used purely as a slate though, this machine is far less usable than either an iPad or an Android tablet, both of which are also much cheaper.

Even some of the good ideas do not quite work properly. If you tap with three fingers, a floating panel appears with common actions that are otherwise tricky with touch, such as Ctrl-C for Copy. A great use of multitouch, except that if I do this in Windows Live Writer, it also registers as a zoom command which enlarges the text. Annoying.

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All this is thought-provoking on the eve of the Windows 8 beta launch. Windows 8 in metro mode fixes the usability problems in the operating system, but will not prevent OEMs implementing half-baked ideas like Samsung’s illumination sensor. Further, people will buy Windows 8 tablets in part so that they can run desktop applications. How well will that work without docks, keyboards, pens and/or wireless mice, and high prices?

That said, Microsoft is aware of these issues which is why the Metro side of Windows 8 exists. The goal, I imagine, is that you will be able to stay in Metro all the time when using Windows 8 as a slate.

Android tablets ahead of Apple iPad on Amazon

Following Gartner’s report on the expected dominance of Apple’s iPad2 in the tablet market throughout 2011 I took a quick look at Amazon’s sales and user ratings.

My guess is that Apple stores and direct sales online account for a large proportion of iPad sales, so no doubt the iPad is ahead overall. Even so, I was interested to find  the iPad at number 7 on Amazon.co.uk, not only below three cheap 7” cheapies from little-known brands, but also below the Asus EeePad Transformer and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, both of which are at iPad-like prices.

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Buyers on Amazon.com seem to have less enthusiasm for the cheapies. At the time of writing, bargain prices have pushed HP’s discontinued TouchPad to number 1, followed by the EeePad and the Motorola XOOM. Apple iPad is at 4, with Galaxy Tab 10.1 at 5 and 6.

When you see nearly 500 user reviews and a four star average rating, as for the Eee Pad, it shows that these things really are selling and being enjoyed.

Of these I have only properly tried the TouchPad and the iPad. I did not much like the TouchPad, though apparently firmware updates have considerably improved it.