The sorry state of Android updates

With Samsung’s announcement that Galaxy S II owners will not in fact be getting their Ice Cream Sandwich updates today as previously stated by one of their websites, the age-old discussion regarding Android updates, skinning and fragmentation has returned to the fore. Android 4.0, codenamed Ice Cream Sandwich and referred to as ICS, was confirmed on way back on October 15th of last year, the same day that this very website launched, yet now, almost 5 months later, only a small handful of devices from major manufacturers have either launched with or been updated to Google’s latest and greatest operating system. Why is this the case, and what can be done to help the situation?

Take a look at this graphic, taken from the Android website, which shows the versions of Android which have accessed the Android Market Google Play in the two weeks leading up to March 5th.

Just 1.6% of Android devices are running the latest version of the software. A comprehensive list of devices that have either shipped with or been officially updated to Ice Cream Sandwich is below. Please note that this does not include devices that have been announced but not shipped.

  • Archos G9
  • Asus Eee Pad Transformer
  • Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime
  • HTC Sensation
  • HTC Sensation XE
  • Motorola Xoom
  • Samsung Galaxy Nexus
  • Samsung Nexus S

Firstly, some of the blame has to be placed on Google. The OEMs do not get access to the source code until it is publicly released, with the exemption of the partner making the flagship Nexus device, such as Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus, announced alongside Ice Cream Sandwich at a press conference in Hong Kong last year. While Google should want the Nexus phones to succeed and have an advantage over other handsets on the market at the time of release, I believe that major manufacturers such as HTC, Sony, Samsung and Google’s own subsidiary Motorola should get early access to the source code, so that handsets and devices can get the latest software promptly after it is unleashed upon the world. It is wrong to go into a store at this stage and see just one device, the Galaxy Nexus, sporting up-to-date software.

We must never forget the manufacturers themselves, as they too delay updates for a number of reasons. Firstly, they already have your money and, as such, there is little benefit to them if they spend time and money preparing software updates for phones. This raises a whole load of questions regarding the state of customer service in the 21st century, but those are for another day. An example of this kind of neglect is Samsung, with the Galaxy S. Late last year, the Korean company confirmed that they would not update the phone, the second biggest selling Android device of all time, to Ice Cream Sandwich. Their excuse? TouchWiz and Ice Cream Sandwich can’t live together on the ROM. Why not just get rid of the crappy skin which users hate?

Of course, manufacturers feel that they have to stick their bloated skins on top of Android, and updates get delayed to ensure that this is the case. Take LG for example. At Mobile World Congress 2 weeks ago, they unveiled a host of new Android devices – the Optimus L3, Optimus L5, Optimus L7, Optimus 3D Max, Optimus 4X HD and the Optimus Vu phablet. Of these, half are scheduled to launch with Gingerbread, and only the L7, L5 and 4X HD are guaranteed to have Ice Cream Sandwich. As for the rest, LG issued a vague timeframe for updates of later this year. Considering that they have no plans to update their existing phones until Q2 or even Q3 at the earliest, I wouldn’t hold out much hope of this ever happening. If such an update actually does come, the community will probably have Jelly Bean stable on the handsets. LG’s excuse? A combination of the skin and the fact that they seemingly don’t care about consumers – a statement that can be applied to almost all Android manufacturers. This infographic, made last year by Michael DeGusta of The Understatement, shows just how slow these updates can be, especially compared to iOS.

Across the internet, I have seen people complaining about the update situation, only to be told to buy a Nexus phone and have all their problems solved, but this argument is ridiculously stupid. The beauty of Android is the wide variety of handsets, tailored to suit every need. To be told that, in order to be certain to get the latest software officially, you have to buy a certain device, takes away this beauty. If I wanted that kind of situation, where I no choice in form factor in exchange for a guarantee to get updates, I’d buy an iPhone. Take the Galaxy Nexus, for instance. At 4.65″, it is way too big for me. I think the design is horrible in comparison to some other smartphones, the rear camera is, for such a high-end device, sub-par for the course, and Samsung’s incessant use of flimsy plastics mean that I would never even consider buying one. If I want to get an Android phone with almost a guarantee of an update however, I have no other choice. This is not on.

Even if I were to jump on the Nexus bandwagon, I still wouldn’t be 100% certain of updates. Certain Nexus S owners are still waiting for Google and carriers to push the ICS update to their devices, even though most GSM variants of the phone got the update to 4.0 back in December. We must not forget the Nexus One either. The HTC device was Google’s first flagship and, despite the fact that the Android community can do it, Google has announced that they do not plan to push an ICS update to the handset which is still less than 2 years old.

So, until the day comes where updates are prompt and ensured, I will not buy an Android phone or tablet. I know that there are other ways of getting updates, but manufacturers and carriers should have a duty to ensure that devices are kept up-to-date for at least the standard contract length of 24 months. And finally, before you dismiss this whole post as pure trolling of Android, I am an Android user and I am still waiting for Gingerbread. If HTC doesn’t care about an 18 month old phone, why should I?

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Asus Eee Pad MeMo to become the Nexus tablet?

The £157 quad-core 7″ Asus Eee Pad MeMo, which made its debut at CES, could become Google’s first Nexus tablet according to a report by Techland.
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Tech

As if we weren’t already excited enough about the Asus MeMo 370T, a new rumor suggests that the $250, 7-inch, quad-core tablet could get a $50 price drop and launch with Google’s “Nexus” branding.

Citing “two different industry sources,” Android and Me reports that Google was impressed by a prototype of the MeMo that Asus showed off at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. At the time, Asus had promised to launch the tablet for $250 in the second quarter of this year, but Google then reportedly approached the electronics maker to see about reducing the bill of materials to reach a $200 price point and launching a Google-branded tablet running Android 4.0, codenamed Ice Cream Sandwich.

(MORE: Asus MeMo 370T: The 7-Inch, Quad-Core, $250 Dream Tablet)

(A caveat before we go any further: Android and Me tends to be hit-or-miss with its rumors. For recent…

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Apple iPad 2 review

Launched almost 1 year ago, Apple’s iPad 2 remains the biggest selling tablet of all time but, with its successor’s unveil coming in as little as 2 weeks, is it still a viable option in the tablet space or could it become the next budget smash hit?

Hardware

The main upgrade from the iPad to the iPad 2 is the dual-core A5 processor, clocked at around 1GHz, which definitely contributes greatly to the immense speed of the iPad. It also includes both a front and rear camera at 0.7 and 0.1 mega-pixels. You may look at these specs and sneer, but the back camera also is capable of up to 720p HD. Admittedly, using the iPad as a camera does make you look stupid, as Spike Lee demonstrated in front of Barack Obama. With a choice of either 16GB, 32GB or 64GB, you can choose the model that is right for you. The iPad 2’s 9.7″ IPS screen is once again fantastic and, while not quite full HD at 1024 x 768, still provides a fantastic image. The battery life of the iPad is surprising, as it is able to be used non-stop for a full 10 hours before charging is required. The iPad still uses the same 3.5mm headphone jack so you can use any old headphones. This is unlike Sony Ericsson, for instance, where the proprietary connector needed is often very hard to find and sometimes quite expensive. The three axis gyro and accelerometer make hand-held gaming entertaining. A great app to test this out is Sonic Riders, a game just like Mario Kart but with Sonic characters. You tilt the device to steer and it is much more enjoyable than moving an analog stick with one finger.

Design


As mentioned earlier, the iPad 2 features a 9.7″ IPS LCD screen which, in my opinion, looks stunning. It makes tablet gaming, surfing the web, and watching movies much more enjoyable than on my other devices. The size of the screen makes for excellent cinematic experience as it is nearly as big as some smaller netbooks. I love the aluminium body, only 8.8mm thick and weighing just over 600g. This makes it nice and simple to carry around and it fits snugly into your hand during use. It can simply slip inside a bag or a coat pocket and is easily accessible at all times.

Software

iOS 5 was released in October and comes with over 200 new features including iCloud, iMessage, Newstand, Reminders, Notification Centre and WiFi syncing, much of which has made its way across to OS X Mountain Lion. iCloud enables Apple device owners to store music, videos, apps and anything else to “the cloud”. This means that you can wirelessly add all your files to any of your iOS 5 devices such as Mac, Apple TV, iPod Touch and iPad 2. iMessage is now open to iPad and iPod Touch as well as just iPhone. It allows to to send unlimited text messages via Wi-Fi or 3G. You do not have to pay to do this which I think is an amazing bonus. Reminders allows you to store dates, meetings, shopping trips and much more. You can also set alarms to help you remember when and where to be. The new Notification Centre allows you to have all your notifications in one place to access instantly. Personally, I am glad that Apple have finally decided to do this as I find the small red circles on apps quite annoying as you would have to load up the app to find out what it was. Now, however, you can see all your notifications for all apps, all on one page. PC free registration now enables people who don’t even own a computer to own an iPad, part of Apple’s quest to kill the PC and make the tablet king. With PC Free you can simply set everything up on the device itself. This means you can have your brand new tablet up and running in less than 10 minutes.

There are over 140,000 apps available for the iPad now and the variety is massive. You can have everything from apps for fruit-slicing to apps for checking your football teams latest scores. Apple, of course, have made their own apps for the iPad including Apple’s own iWork suite for document editing, GarageBand, iBooks and iMovie. These all are very stunning on the iPad and are definitely worth getting if you ever get the chance. However, as well as Apple’s first-party apps, there are thousands more out there waiting to be downloaded. Some of my personal favourites include Angry Birds, Fruit Ninja, Stick Cricket, Temple Run, Sonic Riders and Doodle Jump. There are also all the social networking apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Skype. For primary school children, secondary school children and even students at university there is a wide selection of educational apps in many subjects. One of my favourite educational apps is The Night Sky. You simply point the device towards the sky and the advanced gyro spins the star map to show you the names of all the stars and planets in the sky. Great for learning about the constellations and planets. There are also apps to help you out in business, sports, news, travel and much, much more.

Accessories

Even though the iPad 2 is a stunning piece of equipment on its own, it doesn’t hurt to have a couple of accessories to help you out with making the most out of your tablet. The iPad 2 smart cover is a quite interesting piece of equipment. When you snap it over the screen, it not only fits snugly and perfectly, but it automatically put the iPad into sleep mode. The cover can also be folded into a stand so you can sit back and watch a movie or even if you just want that extra bit of elevation. The Smart Cover comes in many different colours and you get the choice between polyurethane and leather, but you will, however, have to pay an extra £24 for the premium leather, which will fade over time. Another great accessory is the camera connection kit. It includes two small dongles that plug into the main iPad port. One has a SD card slot for instant download capability should the internal storage not be sufficient, whereas the other has a USB 2.0 port for camera cables to be plugged directly into the iPad.

Conclusion

Even 1 year on, the iPad 2 is still the best tablet on the market. With so much more tablet specific software than other platforms, a fantastic aluminium design and a lower price than a number of its competitors, there is no real reason not to choose anything over it at the moment, but be wary of the iPad 3 launch that lurks just around the corner.

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PPF: Asus don’t recommend Transformer Prime

Hello and welcome to PPF: Product Placement Fail. In this feature we will highlight failed bits of advertising by tech companies. Please feel free to send yours in to digixav@gmail.com.

This time, we have a page from the Asus website providing potential customers with a taste of the forthcoming Eee Pad Transformer Prime. The supertablet is the first to be announced with Nvidia’s Tegra 3 chip, codenamed Kal-El, with quad core power and superb gaming capabilities. The tablet looks set to ship with Android 4.0, codenamed in traditional Android fashion as Ice Cream Sandwich. Many see this forthcoming OS update as fantastic – but Asus don’t seem to agree. Their site-wide header, shown above, clearly shows that they recommend Windows 7. Jonney Shih needs to take a look at this fail or ship the Prime with Windows 8. I’d prefer the latter.