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Weekly Poll

Earlier this week, our resident gaming guru, Paul Wilks, shared his list of 50 most addictive games on Android. It included classics such as Tetris and Bejeweled, relatively new mainstream hits like Angry Birds and Draw Something as well as niche indie games like They Need To Be Fed and Monsters Ate My Condo.

Upon looking at his extensive roundup, and reading Paul’s explanation for why he got addicted to each of these games, I was reminded of my own pattern. I am no “gamer”, the only console I had was back when Contra and Duck Hunt were still popular, none of my phones had Snake, the last PC game I played was NBA 2000 and my current phone only has Temple Run. However, I am prone to big bursts of mobile gaming addictions. These only occur once or twice per year, and generally last a few weeks.

Between my Java years in 2003 and my Android device now, I remember being addicted to a handful of games. The classic Bounce was the first mobile game that gripped me on my Nokia 6610, then as I upgraded my devices, it was followed by Sky Force Reloaded, Domino Fever, Scrabble, Crosslogic Unlimited — where I finished all 1756 puzzles — and the 3 games I’ve played extensively on Android are Enjoy Sudoku, Solitaire Megapack and Jelly Defense.

That’s my pattern. I’ve probably tried over 500 mobile games in the past nine years, but I rarely get “addicted” to one. But what about you? Have you played some game on your phone or tablet that kept you awake until the wee hours? Or are you more of a console gamer?

At the beginning of this week, we set out on a journey to help you kickstart your NaNoWriMo project. Writing 50000 words in 30 days is no easy task, but with the help of your Android phone or tablet, we know that you can do it. After all, you always carry them around, so you have no excuse not to write whenever you have some free time.

With that in mind, our team pulled their efforts together to create “NaNoWriMo Week” – 7 days of apps and tips dedicated to helping you make the most of your Android device throughout the month. From collecting and organizing ideas, creating a storyline, writing and typing, staying motivated and eventually syncing everything between devices, we covered all the aspects of the creative process. Here are our posts:

  1. Welcome to NaNoWriMo Week – Beginner tips
  2. Five apps to collect ideas for NaNoWriMo
  3. Visualize your mind with Mindjet for Android
  4. Thumb keyboard: Customizable two-handed typing
  5. Here’s how and why I use a bluetooth keyboard
  6. Keep your writing simple with Writer
  7. How to get on track with your writing goals
  8. Seamless writing with Simplenote

Let us know what you think of it, and whether or not you’d like to see more themed weeks like this one. We are a broad site, and we cover apps, tutorials, roundups and games, but we’d like to focus our expertise on certain topics every now and then. Would you like to see that? And if so, what areas would be interesting to you?

Last week, we asked you whether you would go for Microsoft’s Surface or an Android tablet. This week, the debate seems to have also been steered towards tablets, by Apple’s own Phil Schiller. During his announcement of the iPad Mini, Phil decided to tackle the Nexus 7 heads-on by looking at both devices’ processors, screens, build and app catalogues.

Leaving aside the direct comparison for a second, the iPad Mini is definitely an interesting piece of technology. It carries almost the same specifications as the 2nd-generation iPad in a smaller and thinner body adapted to fit a 7.9″ screen. However, the main advantage is that it offers access to Apple’s growing ecosystem, which includes 250000 apps tailored for the iPad, and a huge number of accessory makers ready to build cases, keyboards, docks, and a myriad of other gadgets just for it. That argument alone can be enough to win over a lot of enthusiasts.

But on the other side, the smaller resolution screen, the higher entry-point price, the older-generation processor, and the lack of “openness” in Apple’s ecosystem might tip the balance towards the Nexus 7. That’s also helped by the recent surge of applications dedicated for Android tablets, which might level the ecosystem-argument a bit. For instance, we’ve already covered 50 must-have apps, 10 social apps, 40 news apps, all tailored for Android tablets and we even looked at 10 specific apps that you wouldn’t find on the iPad.

Personally, I’ve long been convinced that 7″ tablets cater to a different market than the regular 9.7″ iPad. These smaller tablets are more portable, more practical, and all-around more useful than ~10″ devices. A year ago, when I bought my Iconia A100, there wasn’t much competition in this space, and the decision was relatively easy to make. However, if I was to choose right now, it would be a lot more complicated. Both the Nexus 7 and the iPad Mini offer their own advantages so it’ll be interesting to watch how the market will react when given the option to go for Android or iOS.

Earlier this week, Microsoft announced the pricing plans and opened pre-orders for its Surface tablet. The device had been unveiled during the summer, with an NVIDIA T30 quad-core processor, 2GBs of RAM, 32GB and 64GB storage options, a 10.6″ 1366 x 768 display, 720p rear and front cameras, a full-size USB 2.0, microSDXC card slot, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.

The Surface also has two significant features. First, it runs Windows RT, Microsoft’s stripped-down equivalent to Windows 8 which follows the tiles UI concept and can only install applications from the Windows Store. Second, it comes with a built-in kickstand and offers the option of buying a thin cover that doubles as a wireless keyboard, making it feel like a full fledged computer.

While most small Android tablets will target a different market than the Surface, the competition will be heated when it comes to bigger 10″ tablets. Both Asus’ Transformer Pad family and Samsung’s Galaxy Note family should be worried about this newcomer. As a matter of fact, Microsoft is about to flood the market with Windows 8 on the desktop, putting the tile environment on the forefront and leaving the old Start Menu as an optional switch. Buyers will become familiarized with Windows RT’s look and the Surface should appeal to them, as a full computer-like experience on a small portable device with no learning curve.

I’ve always joked that people who use Android on mobile are most likely Windows — and not Mac OS — users on a computer, which is largely true. That’s why I’m intrigued to see on which side of the balance the community will tip when it comes to tablets. Will it be Android because it’s better adapted to portable devices and lesser demanding specs? Or will it be Windows RT and the Surface because tablets should provide more continuity with the desktop?

Samsung has just announced its Galaxy S3 Mini device in an event in Germany. The new phone sports the same signature design as its bigger sibling, the Galaxy S3, but drops all the specs to fit in a significantly more compact device.

With a smaller 4″ screen at 800×400 pixels, a slower dual-core 1.2GHz processor, a less impressive 5MP camera, and a smaller 1700mAh battery, the S3 Mini seems to shed a lot of power and keep the only features that made the S3 so iconic: its design and its human and nature inspired themes.

This isn’t however the first time that a “Mini” equivalent of a popular smartphone is released. The Galaxy S2 Mini comes to mind, and the practice was even tried in 2009 when Nokia announced the N97 Mini, a smaller version of its flagship N97. Obviously, companies want to build on their success stories and milk the cash cow as much as they could. A “Mini” version appeals, as it sports the same name and hence the same halo effect as the original device, all while giving access to a smaller price category and providing a brand entry point to a new category of customers.

Personally, I believe that even though this will prove to be a popular choice for Samsung, it isn’t a smart decision for someone to buy this particular Mini iteration. It’s not the “Mini” naming that turns me down, but the fact that the specs fail to impress, even for a mid-level smartphone, and don’t offer any significant change or advantage over the sibling. By comparison, when I got the N97 Mini back in 2009, it had more internal storage and more RAM than the N97 and had fixed a few other problems, making it a worthy investment. With the S3 Mini, you don’t get the HD screen or the great camera that the S3 offer, so you’re eventually buying the same specs as any smartphone circa 2010-2011 and only paying for the brand instead of the device itself.

Back in the good’ol Android days, when the operating system was still trying to get its feet on the ground, we were spoiled with choice in regards to form factors. Manufacturers were trying all the known designs with Android: candybar QWERTY, slider QWERTY, dual-screen clamshell, as well as the now popular touchscreen slab.

However, the more we got progressed, the less bold designs and form factors became, and the bigger the screens had to be, which pushed all devices towards the very boring — albeit arguably most practical — touchscreen candybar or slab form. With each new announcement, each new flagship, we seemed to see less design innovation and more of a reiteration on what has proven to work.

We’re now at a time where any device with a non-slab form factor is reserved to select markets or operators — clamshells for Japan, a few sparse QWERTYs for the USA. For the rest of the world, it’s all touch, touch, touch. And it has gotten to a point where people who prefer other form factors don’t even have a choice anymore, unless they want to be stuck with outdated specifications and software.

I have owned, used and abused an HTC Desire Z for over 19 months, and despite my love for the hardware QWERTY — I use medical jargon, abbreviations, English, French and transliterated Arabic, a mix that no software keyboard could possibly handle well — I eventually had to admit that I needed a new, faster, better smartphone. Given that I wanted the best device, and something that would still be relevant in a year’s time, I caved in and purchased a Samsung Galaxy S3. It wasn’t an easy decision, and had there been a modern and relevant equivalent to the Desire Z available to me, I wouldn’t have even considered the S3.

This is where I stand, but what about you? Were you forced into the touchscreen slab form factor by the lack of other decent choices? Or do you think that it’s the best compromise between size, volume, and all the different functions that a smartphone could provide?

Weekly Poll: Will You Buy the 25 Cents Apps and Games?

It seems like it was only yesterday that Google celebrated its ten billionth app download with a ten cents, ten apps, ten days promotion. Yet here we are, less than a year later with the 25 billionth download milestone crossed.

In true Google fashion, another promotion has been launched on the Play Store to celebrate this new achievement. Aside from offering a collection of 25 discounted books, music albums and movies, the Play Store is running a 25 cents apps and games deal for 5 days. The offer should run until Sunday with a new collection of apps and games every day.

The promotion started yesterday — and is still available as of the time we published this post — and offered such stellar apps as OfficeSuite Pro 6+, Runtastic Pro and Tasks amongst others. There were also many great games like Angry Birds Space Premium, Granny Smith, Asphalt 7 : Heat and Draw Something.

Personally, I have bought several of the games and apps that were offered yesterday, and plan on doing the same for the next four days. I think it’s a great way to discover content that you would otherwise overlook, and stock on newer games and time-wasters. Plus, during the ten cents promotion last year, I bought a few apps that I didn’t need at the time but have found quite useful later on.

For instance, even though I had a Desire Z with a hardware QWERTY, I bought Swiftkey Keyboard which I didn’t even need or use. Then I switched to a Galaxy S3, started looking for a decent keyboard replacement and found that Swiftkey was marked as Purchased on my Play Store account. I downloaded it and thanked my lucky stars for making that purchase. To say that it’s the best ten cents I ever spent would be an understatement.

This year, I plan on doing the same. If an app seems remotely interesting, I will buy it even if I don’t need it right away. After all, it’s only a quarter of a dollar, and I might find it invaluable later on. Also, it’s a great way to support as many developers as possible without breaking my piggy jar.

Weekly Poll: Does Intel Still Have a Chance in Mobile?

While Intel’s processors have dominated the PC and laptop market for years now, their presence in mobile has been quite abysmal. Aside from one carrier device, the Orange San Diego which was launched earlier this year, Intel is nowhere to be seen, leaving the mobile field empty for the likes of Qualcomm and Nvidia to battle it out.

However, the situation is about to change — at least this is Intel’s hope. Thanks to a recent multi-year and multi-device partnership with Motorola, Intel is looking forward to flipping the ship around and bringing some disruption to the current status-quo.

Two days ago, in London, we got to see the first result of this partnership: the Motorola Droid RAZR i. Looking very similar to the RAZR M that was announced earlier, the RAZR i boasts Intel’s Medfield Atom processor clocked at 2GHz. It is a single core processor but thanks to hyper-threading, it should be seen and treated by Android as a dual-core processor. Other features include a 4.3″ Super AMOLED display, a 2000mAH battery, and Ice Cream Sandwich in an 8.3mm body.

One advantage of the new processor that Intel and Motorola boasted was the camera speed. The RAZR i can launch its camera in under a second and take burst 8MP images at up to 10fps. However, given that this is the first serious Intel Android smartphone to be marketed in several countries, there are some downsides. The most important is app compatibility which is supposed to be a bit lower than for other chips — about 90 to 95% of apps and games will work with Intel processors.

Personally, I am excited to see a bit of competition in Android hardware. The current Qualcomm and Nvidia processors are hitting a stagnation, with only little bumps that offer no significant advantage aside from a tiny speed improvement. Intel’s hyper-threading approach is an example of things done differently but efficiently nonetheless. I do not expect them to revolutionize the processor market magically, but I see them as a potential for diversification and a drive for innovation. After all, competition can only benefit the consumer.

Yesterday, Tim Cook officially introduced the newest Apple iPhone named the iPhone 5. As with any announcement of this nature, there was a mix of hype, leaks, surprises and the unavoidable disappointment. The one sure thing though is that Apple fans weren’t the only ones who tuned in to follow the unveiling, but also Android, Windows Phone and Blackberry fans joined them.

The iPhone 5 brings the first significant UI modification to the iPhone line. By using a 16:9 4″ screen, instead of the regular 4:3 3.5″ screen, Apple was able to squeeze in a fifth row of icons and add a lot of vertical estate for applications. This also results in a taller yet identically wide device that keeps a very similar design language to the iPhone 4 and 4S family. It is, however, thinner and lighter.

Other important changes include a faster A6 processor, support for the LTE connectivity, HD voice and a requirement for the even smaller nanoSIMs instead of microSIMs. There’s an improved camera with the same 8MP resolution, a battery that’s ready to handle the bigger screen and LTE without compromise, Apple’s new proprietary Lightning Dock connector, and it ships with an improved set of earphones, the Ear Pods.

When you observe the small details, the iPhone 5 is an impressive new beast. However, if you take a step back to look at the big picture, it is simply an incremental update over the previous generation. Aside from LTE, there is no “new” feature, only improvements of pre-existing ones. By comparison, several Android devices have started including NFC and WiFi-direct, as well as utilizing sensors in innovative ways like Samsung’s Smart Stay that keeps the screen awake as long as you’re looking at it.

It seems that we’ve reached a point where there’s a real schism between these two ecosystems. The iPhone is the “safe” device, where every function is pushed and simplified to perfection, whereas Android phones are on the bleeding edge of technology adoption, with a lot of room for improvement in many aspects. I personally chose the bleeding edge, and got a Samsung Galaxy S3 before even knowing what the iPhone 5 would offer.

What about you? Did you wait to see what Apple’s iPhone 5 would bring to the table before deciding to upgrade your device? Or are you a hardened Android fan who would never even look at Apple’s announcements?

Weekly Poll: What Do You Want Amazon to Announce?

Today, Amazon is holding a press conference. We’re not entirely sure what’s going to be announced, but rumour has it that the company is planning on showing off at least one new Kindle Fire tablet, possibly two (7-inch and 10-inch), and maybe even an Android-powered “Kindle phone”. (We may also see a new e-ink Kindle, but presumably that wouldn’t be running Android.)

Okay, the phone doesn’t seem too likely, but now that Google has released the Nexus 7 it’d be a smart move for Amazon to release an update to their budget Android tablet. As I said at the time, “the presenters made it very clear – without ever actually saying the word ‘Amazon’ – that the Nexus 7 is going after the Kindle Fire market. They spent a long time talking about the Google Play Store, emphasising that it sells movies, books, and songs, not just apps and games.”

Living in the UK, I’ve never even seen a Kindle Fire – they’re only sold in the USA – but I found it interesting to read the opinions of others. Many review sites criticized the device for having a poor build quality and confusing UI (compared to the iPad), but I noticed that many actual people said that they loved it, or that their non-techie friends and relatives (who didn’t want to shell out for an iPad) loved it.

I expect great things from a second Kindle Fire. Google and ASUS have proven that it’s possible to produce a high quality Android tablet at a budget price, and Amazon have proven that once they’ve shown a piece of hardware has a place in the market, they can make it truly great by iterating on it. The first generation e-ink Kindle was pretty ugly, but popular; the second was a great improvement; and the third nailed it. I have one myself. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a good buy.

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