First Look: Motorola’s Xoom Sequel, The Xyboard Tablet

Motorola’s Xyboard tablet is the follow-up to its Xoom tablet. Image: Jon Snyder/

Motorola is taking another shot at the tablet game with the Droid Xyboard, the company’s latest Android device to hit Verizon stores. After getting our hands on one this afternoon, we found that it’s a solid, well-performing slate that’s easy on the eyes. Too bad it has such a stupid name.

The 4G Xyboard is Motorola’s follow-up to its pricey, not terribly popular Xoom tablet, which was released in February. Available in 8.2-inch and 10.1-inch versions, the Honeycomb-powered Xyboard enters the market hot on the heels of the super-hot Kindle Fire. It’s on sale today for $430 (for the 8.2-inch) or $530 (for the 10.1-inch) with a two-year contract from Verizon, with options for 16GB or 32GB of memory on the smaller version, and up to 64GB on the larger one.

The first thing that struck me about the Xyboard is its industrial design. Rather than being perfectly rectangular in shape, the 8.2-inch slate has clipped corners, which actually makes it fit more comfortably when you hold it one-handed. The back, too, shows some stylistic creativity. A rubberized outer rim houses a power button and volume rocker, while centered in the back of the tablet is a sheet of dark gray brushed metal held in place by six visible screws. Think robot chic.

The positioning of the device’s only two buttons makes for a clean appearance, but leaves your fingers searching when it’s time to crank up the volume or send it to sleep. The 8.2-inch size, however, is a great compromise between the 7-inch ‘tweeners and 10-inch stunners. It’s small enough to wield in one hand with ease (the 0.86-pound weight helps with that too), yet large enough that watching a full-screen, HD YouTube video or a movie on Netflix is pleasant. Pair that with Verizon’s 4G speeds, and you’ve got great streaming video quality.

The overall experience is smooth, an improvement over many of the past buggy iterations of Honeycomb (perhaps the longer lead time gave Google the room to stabilize). Powered by a dual-core 1.2GHz processor with 1GB of RAM, app loading times are reasonably swift, and swiping from one screen to another on its Honeycomb interface is stutter-free.

Unlike HTC and Samsung devices, it’s not overly skinned, so you can actually experience the Android OS for what it is, rather than a bogged down, bloated mess. The Xyboard will be eligible for an Ice Cream Sandwich upgrade at some point in the future, but for now, it runs Honeycomb very well.

Both the 8.2- and 10.1-inch models have a 1280 x 800 resolution display. After turning up the brightness from auto to full, the tablet’s battery life dropped from around 20 percent to around 5 percent in less than an hour, so it looks like you’ll need to be conscious of your 4G and brightness settings if you don’t want your tablet to die on you quickly.

If you’re one of those people who likes to take pictures with their tablet (read: you are a dork), the Xyboard has a 5-megapixel back-facing camera and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera on its face. The rear camera’s quality is relatively sub-par compared to what you’d get from other comparable cameras, and definitely shoddier compared to the 8-megapixel standard of most 2011 handsets. The colors are bright and close to true to life, but the overall image lacks sharpness. The camera does have some variable settings though, for white balance, color effects, and scene mode. Video quality was also just ‘meh’: a video taken indoors at the Wired offices was noticeably grainy.

Overall, the Xyboard seems like a decent tablet. The slate looks slick and feels good in your hands, and is powerful enough to provide a successful tablet experience. It’s a bit of a shame that it’s shipping with Honeycomb instead of ICS, but that’s certainly not a deal breaker. What’s a real shame, though, is that it’s available now, and not six months ago.

Look for the full review on Wired Reviews in the coming weeks.

The Xyboard features clipped corners and a more hardware focused rear design. Image: Jon Snyder/

Kindle Fire 1-Click Could Be Crack for Kids

Click, click. Buy, buy. The Kindle Fire could prove expensive in the wrong hands. Photo: Victor J. Blue/

Planning on buying a Kindle Fire for your kids? It seems like a great idea, right? All the books, all the movies and all the Angry Birds action you’d find in an iPad, but at less than half the price. Who cares if the brats break it?

Not so fast. Like the regular Kindle before it, the Kindle Fire is equipped with 1-Click shopping. Once signed in, you can buy as much as you like without needing to enter your password.

But unlike the regular Kindle, the Fire’s colorful touch-screen and huge library of apps, music and movies is rather tempting to a child’s little brain and fingers. And these can all be bought by little Johnny with a simple tap.

The answer is to de-register the Kindle after every purchase, something that almost nobody will do. Aside from the inconvenience, de-registering will also disable any installed apps. And you thought Android was “open.”

Speaking to Reuters, Amazon said that more parental controls will be added in the future. That probably won’t help on Christmas day this year year, with parents drunk and distracted, and the kids all hopped up on sugar, manically tapping the 1-Click button and plundering Pops’ credit card account.

Amazon’s Kindle Fire lets kids charge up a storm [Reuters via ]

Motorola’s Tablet Do-Over Is Ready for Pre-Order

Look familiar? The Xyboard tablet is not all that different from the Xoom. Photo courtesy of Motorola

“Those who cannot remember the past,” George Santayana wrote, “are condemned to repeat it.”

Motorola must have a very short memory. This much is apparent in the impending release of the Xyboard, Motorola’s successor to the Xoom Android tablet. The Xyboard is up for pre-order on Verizon’s web site, but by most measures, the device isn’t all that different from its predecessor.

For one thing, it boasts markedly similar specs. The Xyboard comes with a slightly more powerful dual-core processor (1.2GHz instead of 1GHz), a 10.1-inch screen (same as the Xoom), and front and rear-facing cameras with the same resolutions as those in the previous tablet (5 and 1.3 megapixels, respectively). The only major difference that we can discern thus far is that the Xyboard will measure in slightly lighter and thinner than the Xoom.

And for those who want more than just Wi-Fi, built-in 4G LTE connectivity on Verizon’s network is also an option. That’s an update to the Xoom, which required sending the device back to the manufacturer for a 4G upgrade (sheesh).

But here’s the ugly kicker: Motorola is selling the Xyboard at premium (read: pricey) rates, starting at $530 for the 16GB version, and stepping up gradually to $630 for 32GB and $730 for 64GB. And those prices are after signing a two-year Verizon Wireless contract.

To be fair, these prices represent a $100 price cut relative to comparable iPad 2 models, and the Xyboard includes 4G instead of 3G. So it would seem that you’re getting a deal by choosing Android over iOS.

But as the past year has vividly shown us, customers don’t want to buy Android tablets at premium prices. We’ve only seen non-iPad tablets fly off the shelves when hitting bargain bins, and even then the parent companies have been forced to sell premium components at a loss. That’s no way to run a business.

So why not learn from previous mistakes? And further, why release another device — one that is, for all intents and purposes, identical to the previous flop of a tablet launch — when both quad-core processors and a new version of Android are on the horizon?

Maybe the company knows something we don’t? Or maybe not.

The Xyboard goes on sale nationwide on Monday, with pre-orders currently available on Verizon’s web site.

Adobe Carousel Will Struggle Against Free Photo Stream

Overpriced and underpowered, Carousel v1 fails to compete with Photo Stream

Adobe has released Carousel, a suite of multi-platform apps that let you share and edit your photographs on any device you on, seamlessly. If it sounds familiar, that’s because its a lot like a pro version of Apple Photo Stream.

Carousel runs on iOS devices, as well as the Mac, with Android and Windows versions on the way. Any photo you add on any platform will be almost instantly mirrored. Edited photos are re-uploaded and then re-synced across devices.

Editing is simple and straightforward. Whilst it’s not the Lightroom Lite we were hoping for, you do get a small subset of Lightroom’s editing tools. And these are nicely organized. You can adjust a slider to change white balance, for example, but when you hit the little arrow next to the slider, you get the option to adjust temperature and tint separately.

It’s well put together for a 1.0, and does one thing that Apple’s Photo Stream can’t: delete photos.

However, it has a lot of barriers to use. First is that it costs $6 per month (there’s a free 30-day trial), compared to the free Photo Stream. Second, you have to manually add pictures to the Carousel library. Third, it’s currently JPG-only, so no PNG screenshots and no RAW files (Photo Stream does both).

Complete integration is perhaps Photo Stream’s biggest strength. Any app that can write to the camera roll automatically joins the game (even Carousel, ironically). Apple’s pro apps (I’m looking at you, Aperture) are crowded and nard to use, but when it comes to making the simple stuff easy, it’s hard for others to match the convenience.

Carousel is available now in the Mac and iTunes App Stores.

Adobe Carousel [iTunes]

Adobe Carousel [Mac App Store]

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Microsoft Video Envisions a Touch-Based Future

Just relaxing with a paper-thin tablet and smartphone, at some point in the theoretical future. Image: Microsoft

How do you see yourself living a decade from now? For many of us, it’s difficult to picture how technologies will change and evolve in that time span. But for some folks at Microsoft, it’s their job to figure out where technology is headed, and how to make it happen. And a recently released video shows just what they envision.

The video, titled Productivity Future Vision, shows us a world much like our own, but cooler. Microsoft sees touchscreens and holographic displays dominating our daily experiences. Flat surfaces of any kind are transformed into useful, interactive displays as well.

“The video explores what productivity experiences might plausibly look like five to ten years in the future,” David Jones, director of Microsoft’s Envisioning Team, told in an interview. The concepts presented in the video don’t necessarily communicate plans for future Microsoft products, though.

In an interview with GeekWire, Microsoft GM of technical strategy Chris Pratley said, “It would be relatively trivial to do a kind of Hollywood thing, where you just say what would be cool, and you whip it up and put it on the screen. But everything in the video, we could footnote everything about where it’s coming from, who’s working on it, why we think it’s going to happen.” Essentially, Microsoft’s video isn’t just a bunch of hot air.

The video was produced by the Microsoft Office team, and is a follow-up to a “Microsoft 2019″ video that the company created in 2008. It builds on several themes established in the earlier video, even using a few of the same actors.

Microsoft heavily emphasizes how thin they think future displays will be. Smartphones, tablets and desktop monitors all measure in at wafer-like thicknesses, slabs of white, blank slates that images and video can be pawed, swiped and manipulated.

On-screen images can be holographic, so tilting the angle of your phone, for instance, could show you a 3-D rendition of a bar graph. And images aren’t confined to the dimensions of the touchscreen you’re using.

And the technology goes even further in the kitchen: A tap on the refrigerator door reveals its contents, and tapping on a food item can bring up recipes relating to that item.

“Many of the technologies in the video, such as stereoscopic-3D displays … speech recognition, real-time collaboration, and data visualization are already part of products available today,” Jones told The video just expands on their capabilities to where they could be sometime in the next decade.

There’s one big thing that’s missing from the piece: Paper. A woman peruses a magazine on a large legal-pad sized tablet. A child seated at a kitchen table draws and plays a game on another touchscreen device. A dad moves a virtual Post-It note from one spot to another on an interactive wall calendar. Hand gestures pass data from a slate to the countertop. For all intents and purposes, papyrus is virtually extinct.

There are also a number of user experience aspects in the video that would also make our computing experiences more comfortable. For example, around the 3:30 mark, a man at a desk opens up a video (or video chat) with a woman, and as he scoots his chair back, her image enlarges proportionately. This could feasibly be accomplished using facial recognition and some IR sensor technology to measure the distance of the face to the screen.

“In the future, productivity software will work to extend our human capabilities, transitioning from the role of a passive tool to that of an active assistant,” Jones said.

Active assistant, eh? That sounds familiar.

And Microsoft isn’t the only one who’s released conceptual videos of what the future could be like. In the late 80s, Apple famously released a set of videos illustrating a concept called Knowledge Navigator, a concept we’re moving closer to these days with Siri and touchscreen iOS devices.

“Microsoft understands the vision of what consumers need in the post-PC era. What they need to demonstrate is that they can execute this vision before their competitors do,” Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps said of the video via email.

The video is below if you want to check it out. Would you enjoy this world? Is there anything missing? Sound off in the comments.

Corning’s New Lotus Glass Promises Higher-Resolution Displays and More

By Casey Johnston, Ars Technica

Corning, the developers of Gorilla Glass, announced the launch of a new display material named Lotus Glass for use with LCD and OLED screens today in a press release. The company says Lotus Glass has more “thermal and dimensional stability,” which will allow it to better withstand the process of attaching high-resolution displays and implementing “tighter design rules.”

LCD glass substrates can require intense heating and cooling cycles to create screens, particularly for higher-resolution displays, Corning says. Lotus Glass has a higher annealing point than Gorilla Glass, meaning more heat is required for the material to relax internal stresses and forces.

Because Lotus Glass can withstand heat better, it’s in less danger of warping or sagging while “advanced backplanes” are applied. (Backplanes on screens contain the circuits that control the pixels on the screen.) Very hot temperatures aren’t required to make nice displays — for instance, AMOLED displays can use low-temperature (150 degrees Celsius) poly-silicone as a backplane — but more resilient glass could reduce the current rate of screen imperfections.

According to Corning, Lotus Glass will allow for screens with “higher resolution and faster response times.” We’re not sure it’s just the Gorilla Glass that is holding these specs back on the current crop of smartphones and tablets, but every little bit helps. Corning did not respond to requests for comment on which manufacturers, if any, it has locked down for Lotus Glass contracts, but its press release states that the glass “has been qualified and is in production.”

Photo courtesy of Corning

Codify: Write and Run Software on the iPad

For a consumption-only device, the iPad sure is good at making things

The iPad is just a device for consumption, right? And — according to a screed by sci-fi author Cory Doctorow — it signals the end of computer programming, at least for the tinkerers like you and me.

This is, of course, complete nonsense, as is made clear by Codify, a new iPad app for writing software. Not only does it let you code games, music software or pretty much anything you like, it uses multitouch to make the experience better than many desktop coding apps. The video shows it best:

Codify uses the Lua programming language. You tap out the code and then press play to run it. Want to specify a color? Instead of looking it up the internet, you just tap the code itself and a color-picker pops up, filling out the numbers automatically. The same is true for game sprites and other elements.

My programming skills go back to the days of the Commodore 64 and the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, and have remained at that BASIC level ever since. But now I’m tempted to play around again with this $8 app. It’s kind of like the Garage Band of coding.

And maybe now Doctorow can come in from the cold and trade up from Android to a proper tablet.

Codify for iPad [Two Lives Left]

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ViewSonic Budget Tablet to Battle Amazon Fire

Amazon’s upcoming Kindle Fire aims to upend the tablet industry with its low cost and smaller form factor. The Fire has been dubbed the one serious contender to the iPad, which should have a holiday season stranglehold on tablet sales to the tune of 73 percent of the worldwide market. It’s no surprise, then, that we’re seeing other manufacturers following Amazon’s lead into the 7-inch display space.

The ViewPad 7e is ViewSonic’s new budget tablet option, matching the Kindle Fire’s relatively low price of $200 dollars.

Specs-wise, the 7e isn’t terrible for a $200 mobile device, but it doesn’t compare favorably to the Fire, at least in terms of raw processing power. The 7e runs a 1GHz single-core chip based on ARM’s A8 architecture, whereas the Fire runs a dual-core 1GHz chip. Both tablets will include a modest 512MB of RAM.

There’s only 4GB of internal storage in the 7e — 4GB less than the Fire — but that storage can be augmented with a microSD card, expandable up to 32GB. The Fire, meanwhile, is not expandable. The 7e also sports both rear- and front-facing cameras, two items that Amazon’s hardware lacks.

But all this hardware talk is arguably inconsequential, as taking on Amazon in a specs war is a losing battle. Amazon’s hardware is backed by a vertically integrated app store, a movie and TV show rental service, and a free month of membership to Amazon’s premium shipping service, Amazon Prime. What’s more, the ViewPad 7e won’t even ship with the Android Market app because ViewSonic’s hardware doesn’t meet Google’s requirements. Instead, the 7e will rely on Amazon’s Appstore for content. Ironic.

We’ve seen tablets from ViewSonic before, and they haven’t been pretty. The ViewPad 10 — a dual-boot Android/Windows device intended to appeal to many, though loved by few — was a disaster in our testing, freezing up often when we attempted to boot into Android. What’s more, the 7e lacks Adobe Flash support — a feature typically seen as one of Android’s main draws over the iPad — and its battery life clocks in at a dismal three hours per charge.

So that’s what we know at this point, and there’s nowhere to go but up for the 7e. Expect to see ViewSonic’s tablet in stores come this November.

Sprint Nixes Unlimited 4G Data for Tablets, Hotspots

The Overdrive 4G hotspot is just one device affected by the new Sprint data-capping policies. Photo: Dylan Tweney/

In more bad news for bandwidth hogs, Sprint — the last bastion of unlimited data plans among U.S. carriers — will soon retire its unlimited 4G data plans for all non-smartphone devices.

Effective this November, Sprint customers will have to pay for 3G and 4G data use combined, a departure from the company’s previous policy of allowing unlimited 4G data while asking customers to pay only for 3G. Even worse, existing unlimited 4G hotspot data customers won’t be grandfathered in. That’s right: Now everyone has to pay up.

With the rise of 4G networks and devices in the U.S. over the past two years, carriers have grown stingier with data plan offerings. AT&T was the first to kill its unlimited data plan in 2010, paving the way for Verizon to follow suit in 2011. T-Mobile boasts an “unlimited” plan, though the company throttles download speeds after users pass the 2GB mark.

Sprints new plans will cost $45 for 3GB, $60 for 5GB, and $90 for 10GB of 3G/4G data. Every megabyte used after your limit will cost a nickel.

Fortunately, the policy strictly applies to non-smartphone devices like hotspots and tablets; Sprint remains the sole major U.S. carrier to offer an unlimited data plan for its smartphone customers.

Nonetheless, Sprint’s latest move may be an omen of things to come, especially as the company begins to carry the iPhone 4S on its network for the first time. AT&T killed unlimited data after gaining a notorious reputation for terrible iPhone coverage, and Verizon put down its unlimited plan only months after it started carrying Apple’s handset. Could Sprint be setting consumers up for the same thing?

A Sprint spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment from We’ll have to wait and see how Sprint’s network handles the influx of new customers.

Amazon Now Accepts Old Kindles in Exchange for New Ones

Cash for Kindles! Cash for Kindles! Sell ’em here!

Now Kindle owners can trade in their old models and receive credit for a new one, or anything else that Amazon sells. It’s kind of like taking your old, read books to the bookstore and trading them in for new ones. Almost.

Any Kindle can be traded, from the white elephant that is the oversized DX to the original Kindle. As with all traditional trade ins, you won’t get much for it. The DX is at the top of the heap, and will fetch you $135 in mint condition. The last-gen Kindle Keyboard Wi-Fi can get you up to $37.75, and the OG Kindle brings in a surprisingly high $28.

Oddly, the Special Offers versions are about a dollar more or less than their full priced counterparts, depending on the model.

Thus, the Kindle joins all manner of other electronic cast-offs which are eligible for trade-in. The HP Touchpad could even make you money. If you managed to get one in the fire sale for $50, you’ll profit by almost $30 if you let Amazon take it off your hands.

Kindle Trade-In [Amazon]

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