Gadling gear review: the new iPad

The new iPad from AppleIn what has become an annual rite of spring, Apple has released an updated iPad to much critical and financial success. The third-generation iPad, which hit stores last Friday, brings some excellent updates to the device, which has managed to become a true favorite with travelers over the past two years.

The list of improvements in the new iPad includes an amazing new screen, an updated processor and the option for 4G cellular data services for the first time. Each of those is a game changer on its own, but together they represent a dramatic improvement to a device that was already well ahead of the competition. Apple also saw fit to add more memory and a much-improved camera as well, which only helps to round out an already great refresh to the product line.

The most highly touted of these updates is easily the new display. Apple says that it has the highest resolution of any screen ever put into a mobile device and when you see it in action it is difficult to argue against that point. Images and colors pop off the screen like never before and the text on websites and e-books is sharp and clear. Reading on the new iPad is a joy and apps that have been updated to take advantage of the display are beautiful to behold. The “Retina Display,” as Apple has branded it, is so good that it is nearly worth the price of the upgrade alone.

In order to drive that new display, which has four times the number of pixels as the first and second-generation iPad, Apple had to develop a new processor with improved graphics capabilities. That processor allows the new iPad to continue operating as smoothly and quickly as we’re accustomed while still generating much more advanced 3D graphics and images. This is evident in all operations on the device although games are where we’ll most likely see the new processor flex its muscle the most — particularly once developers have had a chance to code their apps to specifically take advantage of the new graphics system.The one new addition that will likely be of most benefit to travelers is the option to add 4G data services to the device. Previous iPad models had a 3G data option and while it was great to have the ability to connect to the Internet while away from a Wi-Fi network, the speeds weren’t always great for doing anything more than checking email. 4G LTE service is a serious upgrade in speed, on par with many home Internet services, and it makes the iPad even more useful while traveling. Better yet, the tablet can now be used as a Wi-Fi hotspot, which allows the data connection to be shared with laptops and other devices as well. While testing out the new iPad with 4G, I was impressed with how fast it brought up YouTube videos, webpages and even movies on Netflix. The only downside is that 4G service isn’t available everywhere yet, which forces the device to fallback to 3G in those areas.

The iPad’s new camera is also a nice upgrade. With a 5-megapixel sensor the camera is now capable of taking high quality images and shooting video at 1080p quality. While the iPad wouldn’t be my first choice for use as a camera, it is at least a decent option now if it is the only device you have close at hand. More intriguing to me, however, is the ability to shoot HD video then edit it directly on the device using Apple’s revamped iMovie app. When finished, you can even upload it directly to YouTube without the use of a computer of any type. I haven’t had the chance to try this functionality out just yet but it really does open up the door for content creation on the tablet.

The new iPad isn’t without a few small issues of course. For instance, in order to power the new processor and screen, Apple had to use much larger power cells in order to maintain the same ten-hour battery life. They’ve managed to achieve that goal but the larger batteries have made the device slightly thicker and heavier than last year’s model, and recharge times have grown substantially as well. Additionally, the high-resolution screen is forcing many apps to improve their graphics and that is causing them to grow in size as well. As those programs continue to improve and upgrade, storage on the device could become an issue too. These are minor nit-picks for the most part, but definitely worth pointing out to would be buyers.

Speaking of which, all of these great updates to the iPad have many consumers wondering if they should upgrade or take the plunge on purchasing the device for the first time. Personally, I think that this is the best iPad yet, and by a considerable margin. If you’ve been toying with the idea of buying Apple’s tablet, now is the time to pull the trigger. Likewise, if you’re a first-gen iPad owner looking to improve performance, this is a more than worthy upgrade as well. On the other hand, iPad 2 owners will need to decide if they think it is worth the investment after purchasing their devices within the past year. My guess is that once they get a look at the screen, they’ll be convinced that this isn’t just a minor adjustment to the product line.

As someone who purchased the original iPad on the first day it was available, and was traveling with it just a few days later, I have found the device to be an invaluable travel companion. The ability to carry books, magazines, games, music and video on a single lightweight device with great battery life is a fantastic option. Add an Internet connection to the mix and you have a fantastic communications tool as well. The new iPad does absolutely nothing to diminish its value to travelers and the inclusion of 4G Internet and the improved display could actually make it more valuable. Either way, Apple has set the bar even higher with their latest device and the competition is continuing to play catch-up. Quite honestly, in terms of the tablet market, there is the iPad and then there is everything else, and the gulf between them just got bigger.

Gadling gear review: Lenovo IdeaPad K1 tablet

The Lenovo IdeaPad K1Over the past two years, the introduction of tablet computers have had an unmistakable impact on how we travel. Smaller and lighter than laptops, yet with plenty of power and versatility, these devices allow us to stay connected, entertained, and productive, while on the go. Obviously, Apple’s iPad is the most well known of these products, but there are a host of other tablets available as well. Take for example the Lenovo IdeaPad K1, which is an affordable option for those looking for an alternative to the Apple hegemony.

Powered by an Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, and sporting 1GB of onboard RAM, the IdeaPad offers plenty of performance in a relatively small package. The tablet features 32GB of storage and has a built in SD card reader that allows users to expand that capacity even further. As you would expect, it features both WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, although there is no option for 3G or 4G service. The IdeaPad’s 10.1 inch widescreen display is adequate, if not exceptional, and like most tablets (iPad included), sound from the built in speakers is underwhelming. The IdeaPad has two webcams, a 2MP camera on the front and a 5MP on the rear, both of which best the iPad’s cameras by a considerable margin. I also liked that Lenovo’s included a built in HDMI port, which makes it easy to display content from the tablet on an HDTV.

Of course, all of that technology doesn’t mean much if the software that runs on the device isn’t up to par. The IdeaPad uses Google’s Android operating system (version 3.1 Honeycomb) to tie everything together, and that OS is both a strength and a weakness for the device. For instance, Android comes with a full featured app store, complete with every major app – or at the very least a worthy equivalent – to what you would find on the iPad. But the Android experience doesn’t feel quite as cohesive or intuitive to use as Apple’s iOS, and at times I had to search hard to find a particular app or setting.That isn’t to say that Android doesn’t bring plenty to the table to help distinguish itself from its biggest competitor. I love the desktop widgets that display weather, my personal calendar, and unread e-mail messages on screen at all times. The multitasking capabilities of the OS were also impressive, and I found it faster and easier to switch between running apps on the IdeaPad than on my iPad. I also came to appreciate the virtual home button and the ability to access installed apps from any screen, and the overall level of customization to the interface is greater than what you’ll find on iOS too. Android also happens to be compatible with Adobe’s Flash, although performance is a bit of a mixed bag, to say the least.

Despite those features however, I found that there was a general sluggishness to the IdeaPad that wasn’t common on Apple’s device. The K1 was slow to switch screen orientations when you flipped the device from portrait to landscape mode for example, and there were times when I’d end up tapping an icon twice because the OS was so slow to respond that I didn’t think that I got it right the first time. I’m told that the latest version of Android, code named Ice Cream Sandwich, addresses most of these issues however, and that update is expected to come to the IdeaPad in the semi-near future.

Other comparisons to the iPad are inevitable of course, starting with the physical aspects of the two devices. While the K1 doesn’t feel heavy in your hands, it is noticeably bulkier than Apple’s tablet – something that becomes more pronounced with extended use. It is also thicker than the iPad, although some may appreciate the added girth, which makes the device easier to hang on to for those of us with larger hands. The IdeaPad lags behind in battery life as well, clocking in at a bit over 8 hours in my tests. That’s far below Lenovo’s promised 10 hours, which is a mark that the iPad can hit easily.

To their credit, Lenovo ships the IdeaPad with quite a few good apps already installed, including NetFlix, Amazon Kindle, and even Angry Birds. They’ve also incorporated their own personalized launcher widget, that gives users quick access to the Chrome web browser, e-mail, music, movies, and more. It is a different approach than the dock that is found on the iPad, although I didn’t find it as useful since you had to be on a specific screen panel to access it.

So how does the IdeaPad fair as a travel companion? Overall, quite well. Despite a few nitpicks with performance and battery life, this is a solid device that will deliver everything you expect from a tablet. It offers movies, music, and games on the go, and serves as a good way to stay connected to friends and family while you’re away from home. The e-mail client is easy to configure and use, and the built in cameras work well with Skype too. Throw in the ability to read books and magazines on the device, and you’ve got everything you need for your next long international flight.

Better yet, Lenovo is selling the device at a very good price. With an MSRP of $399, the IdeaPad comes in at a hundred bucks less than the cheapest iPad, while still delivering twice the storage capacity. If you’re in the market for a tablet, but don’t want to pay the “Apple tax” or simply want to stay outside of their ecosystem, than the Lenovo IdeaPad K1 is a worthy alternative.

Where are all the travel guide apps for Android?

travel guide apps for AndroidNearly two years ago, I bought my first smartphone: the T-Mobile Android MyTouch*. I’m only occasionally jealous of my iPhone-carrying friends, as I find few travel guide apps for Android. Even after a move to Istanbul, I still use and rely upon it daily; Android‘s interface is fast and easy-to-use, and seamless use of Google applications like Gmail and Google Maps is part of the reason I bought it in the first place. Living in a foreign country means English-language books and magazines are expensive and hard-to-find, and like many travelers, I don’t want to carry bulky books around when I’m on the road. This leaves a perfect opportunity for mobile developers to provide real travel guide content and not just travel-booking apps, especially apps produced by reliable media sources with professional editorial. These days, every guidebook and travel magazine publisher is coming out with apps for the iPhone and now iPad, supplying users with content and directions on the go, but there are hardly any for Android.

So what’s available for mobile travelers from the top travel book and print sources? Better hope you’re running Apple OS…Guidebooks:

  • Fodor’s: Happy 75th Birthday Mr. Fodor, but we wish you had more than just five city guides for purchase (in London, New York, Paris, Rome, and San Francisco) and only for Apple.
  • Frommer’s: iPhone guides are available for ten major cities in the US, Europe and Asia, but nada for Android.
  • Lonely Planet: iPhone users are spoiled for choice: dozens of city guides, language phrasebooks, audio walking tours, and eBooks optimized for the iPad. Android users in 32 countries including the US are in luck: there’s a free Trippy app to organize itinerary items, as well as 25 “augmented reality” Compass city guides and 14 phrasebooks. NOTE: This article originally mentioned that the Compass guides were unavailable in the Android Market store, but they should work for most US users. I happen to be in a country where paid apps are not available and not shown in the Market.
  • LUXE City Guides: 20 cheeky city guides work for a variety of mobile phones, including iPhone and Blackberry, but none are compatible with my Android. Bonus: the apps come with free regular updates and maps that the paper guides don’t have.
  • Rick Steves: If you are headed to Europe, you can get audio guides for many big attractions and historic walks for iPhone, plus maps for the iPad. You can also download the audio files free for your computer, and props to Rick for mentioning that Android apps are at least in development.
  • Rough Guides: Here’s a new one: the Rough Guides app works for many phones but NOT the iPhone OR Android! It’s not as slick as some of the other guides (it’s a Java app) and you will use data to use it on the road, but it provides lots of info for many cities in Europe. You can also find a Rough Guides photo app on iTunes to view pictures from around the world with Google Maps and captions from Rough Guides.
  • Time Out: City travelers and residents might want to look at the apps from Time Out for 5 European cities and Buenos Aires, with Manchester and New York on the way. More cities are available for free on iTunes, search for Time Out on iTunes to see what’s available. iPhone only.
  • Wallpaper* City Guides: 10 of the design mag’s 80 city guides are for sale for iPhone for Europe, Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles.

Print media:

  • Conde Nast Traveler: It makes sense for magazines to embrace the iPad, and CNT has free Apple apps specifically for Italy, cruises, and their annual Gold List of hotels and resorts. Blackberry users can download an etiquette guide, but Android users are snubbed.
  • National Geographic: As befitting any explorer, Nat Geo has a world atlas, national parks maps, and games featuring their amazing photography, all for iPhone. A special interactive edition of National Geographic Traveler is for sale on the iPad; you can also read it on your computer. Androids can download a quiz game and various wallpapers; and all mobile users can access a mobile-friendly version of their website at natgeomobile.com.
  • Outside: Adventure travelers can purchase and read full issues on the iPad, but no subscription option yet.
  • Travel + Leisure: The other big travel glossy also has an iPad app for special issues. Four issues have been released so far with one available now on iTunes (romantic getaways) but future editions will follow to be read on the app. Just in time for spring break and summer, they’ve also released a Travel + Leisure Family app with advice and articles specifically geared towards travel and families. The apps are both free but you’ll need an iPad – these are designed for tablets, not phones. You can also read full issues of T+L and their foodie cousin Food & Wine on Barnes & Noble’s NOOK Color ereader; you can save per issue if you subscribe to the e-reader version.
  • USA Today Travel: Most major newspapers have mobile readers for all types of phones, but USA Today is the only one with their own travel-specific app. AutoPilot combines an array of cool travel booking capabilities and information with articles and blog post from the newspaper. Only iPhone users can enjoy free.

Two of our favorite magazines, Budget Travel and Afar, have no mobile apps yet but great online communities to tap into their extensive knowledge.

All in all, other than Lonely Planet’s Compass guides, a pretty weak showing for Android travelers. While iPhone has been around longer as a mobile platform that Android, they’ve lost the market share of users to the little green robot. As Android is available on a variety of phone manufacturers and providers, expect that number to continue to grow, along with the variety and depth of content for mobile and tablet users. Will the developers ever catch up or will travelers have to choose?

*Android has not endorsed this or paid me anything to write about them. But to show I’m not biased – Apple, feel free to send me a sample phone and I’ll test out the apps!

Photo courtesy Flickr user closari. Special thanks to Sean O’Neill, who blogs on Budget Travel and the new BBC Travel blog.

2010 Holiday shopping: start of the new tablet era?

Long before we start with our first batches of 2010 Holiday gift guides, and spend countless hours picking the best gear of the year – a trend is appearing in the mobile device world. Tablets are here, and they are going to be big.

The foundations for this new trend were laid when Apple announced the iPad earlier this year. Ever since that announcement, they have been selling them faster than they could produce them. Like a lot of what Apple does, the competition is paying attention. Before the end of the year, stores will be offering tablets from some of the largest brand names in the world.

Yesterday’s big news came from book Goliath Barnes & Noble who unveiled the Nook Color – a $249 Android powered ebook/tablet hybrid. In October, Samsung will start selling the 7″ Tab with 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity.

At Best Buy stores, you’ll soon find a $299 Huawei Android powered tablet and earlier this month, Dell launched their first compact Android tablet – priced at $299 (on a two year AT&T agreement). Even Blackberry joined the fun with the announcement of their PlayBook tablet.

While none of these tablets will probably come close to chipping away at the massive success of the Apple iPad, they do show that tablets are here to stay – and that is one development I’m really excited about.

In recent years, we already saw our luggage load decrease with the arrival of the netbook, and now we can look forward to even more travel friendly innovations with the tablet. But the best part is that we’ll have choice – we’ll be able to pick devices with a 5″ screen, or a larger 10″ device. Apple fans can stick to iOS and Android users will have a whole assortment of choices. Even corporate users who cling to their Blackberry will find something soothing.

While manufacturers battle each other, those of us in need of something portable that travels well,may have already won.

[Image credit: Getty]

%Poll-54840%