Canada? The computer vendor says no
Trevor Pott reveals why he is not taking the tablets
I am not a front-row blogger invited to wine and dine at all the latest product releases. I don't write reviews for the hardware side of El Reg. When it comes to technology of any kind, I am in the same boat as you, dear readers. I have to buy the shiny with my own bent coppers. When I am in the market for a brand new something-or-other, I am faced with the double-edged choice faced by any victim of gadget lag.
If I want to actually try out the device before I use it then I have to wait until it is available in local brick-and-mortar stores. This means that by the time I can buy it the device is at least six months old and a generation behind. Alternately, I can import the device on the grey market and take my chances that the folks who review shiny on the internet for a living place value in the same things I do. Enter my search for a tablet.
With the availability of the Galaxy Tab, Canada finally has its first competitive Android tablet. It is overpriced and tied to my least favourite carrier, but it is technically available. Unfortunately I believe that Samsung abandoned the early adopters who bought the original Galaxy by refusing to release a firmware updates. I am leery of buying any Android device bearing this brand. For similar reasons, Archos's admittedly very competitive Android offerings are permanently off the Christmas list.
The Dell Streak was available to US denizens months before we saw it appear on the Canadian website. Even now, Dell has only deigned to grace us with the 5in model. Initial excitement at its appearance died quickly when a bit of Googling showed that Dell was dragging its feet keeping the devices up-to-date with the latest versions of Android.
I would love to get a Nook Colour and root it. The internets tell me that Froyo on this device is nothing short of unreal. At $250 this would easily have been a sight-unseen, no-questions-asked impulse buy. Alas, Barnes & Noble has decided that it won't be shipping a Nook Colour to Edmonton, Canada.
Next up on my radar is the enTourage eDGe. Hands down the sexiest looking Android tablet I’ve seen so far. At $500 for the 10in with a half-decent resolution however, I would like to torment it some with video playback in an actual store before splashing the cash. It is predictably not available in Canada.
Fade from grey
Without turning to the grey market (and thus paying quite a bit in shipping, customs etc.) I can't put my hands on any of the decent competition. Notion Ink is out of stock on its shiny Pixel Qi tablets. A Viewsonic gTablet or Advent Vega would be prime, but the cost of bringing them over the border puts them firmly into "I'd like to actually fondle this slab before I buy it" territory.
There are always horrific Chinese knockoffs. Many of these devices are - from a performance and usability standpoint - quite usable. The downside is that they barely have enough battery power to boot the device into the UI, let alone provide me a useful amount of video playback. If I wanted to be tethered to a wall socket all day, I'd use Windows.
I am shopping with the knowledge that a new generation of honeycomb tablets are on their way. The first generation of mobile internet devices that truly promise to do what I have wanted for over a decade. They have 720p or better screens with HDMI ports and 1080p video playback. They promise 6 hours or more hours of battery life under video load. They ship with Wi-Fi, 3G, GPS, Bluetooth, and an array of sensors. Most critically, they have support for removable storage and the ability to charge off of any USB port I get my hands on. I don't care if they cost $2000. I will be buying one of these; I've waited long enough.
The first of these wonder devices will be likely be released to select bloggers and journalists sometime this month if the launch of next version of Android (Honeycomb) is as expected. That's great for the internet PR machine, but I'm Canadian. Honeycomb tablet will be 2-4 months getting into the hands of real punters in the US. Add another 6-8 months for these to get brought in to Canada and we're into Christmas 2011.
I simply can't wait that long. I flatten the battery on my Desire before the drive home. The iPad's lack of removable storage and irritatingly non-standard charging port is too limiting to spend $500 on. What I need is a reasonably cheap buy capable "good enough" Android tablet to tide me until the good stuff arrives. Tablets fitting the bill exist. Best of all, they can even be had without being tied to a carrier and paying Canada's crippling broadband rates. There is only one problem:
Not available in Canada. ®
I am not an Apple hater
I simply have requirements Apple refuses to meet. Such as the ability to actually cut down on the number of devices I use. I need to be able to use my tablet as removable storage. I need to be able to carry around more than 64GB of media. (I refuse to cart a laptop with me on vacation for no reason other than to have my library available to sync with iTunes!)
MicroSD cables are /everywhere/. iPad chargers are not. So in short: give me a standard MicroUSB interface, access to the filesystem of my device, and support for removable media, or give me death!
If Apple's iPad 2 has all these things, I'll be the very first person in line. I promise. I'll take pictures.
Here's what you do.
You pretend you bought a Galaxy Tab and that you've had it just long enough so the novelty has worn off and all your friends are sick to death of hearing about it.
By that time you will have come to the conclusion that at nearly 8 inches long and nearly 6 across, it's too big to fit in your trouser pocket - so you need to carry a bag to keep it in. You have further realised that having it in a bag is very inconvenient when someone calls or you want to plug your head in for some tunes (esp. if your bluetooth connection gets shielded by the bag) so you carry a phone in your pocket, too.
Since you now have to carry a bag, you might as well have a laptop in it - with a decent sized screen and a proper keyboard, rather than that greasy, dirty and fingerprint covered touchscreen (where you cover up with your finger exactly the thing you're trying to access).
You are now ahead of the field. Whereas most people are still in the thinking-of, or buyers remorse stages, you have a good 3 months on them. You can talk sagely to prospective buyers about the advantages (for you have read the reviews, too) and you can warn them of the disadvantages - or not. You can feel superior to people with even the latest tablets and if you really, really can't shake the desire to actually own one - don't despair, they'll be up on eBay soon when everyone who did buy them in the first flush of enthusiasm discovers the drawbacks for themselves.
Tablets as (single use) devices
"Unfortunately I believe that Samsung abandoned the early adopters who bought the original Galaxy by refusing to release a firmware updates."
I think the above sums up my biggest gripe with the current tablets situation. Tablets have evolved from the world of mobile phones. Mobile phones are more like devices - like a TV or microwave. Not like a computer. In majority they spend their entire life using the same firmware version (or equivalent of) as they were shipped from the factory. The only time this might get updates is if a fault is found. Classic/dumb mobile phones in their majority suffer the same fate. People buy them, get tired of them, and throw them away. No software upgrades, no new tricks. Which is great for manufacturers. They get to push newer models at us as fast as they can.
Now with tablets (and to a significant extent smartphones) - their level of functionality approaches in a greater degree the level of functionality of a computer. Their price is also higher. Thus people will start more and more to realise that their shiny, expensive toy can't really be taught new tricks. Sure, there are ways of hacking about with these things - but it's not like on a pc. You can't just get your brand new copy of [insert favourite operating system] and install it on a device 5, 6 or even 7 years old. You have to do a lot of research, you have to wait for somebody to have figured out a way of breaking the whichever esoteric variation of bootloader your smartphone or tablet is using - and then do some custom Android (or whatever else) image for it.
However, I don't think the manufacturer (in this case Samsung - but you can choose any other example) is the only one responsible for this situation:
1. ARM might be theoretically a fairly open architecture - but it is mainly open for the licensees - not so much for the end users. With each licensee producing their own variation of the platform - in majority of cases you can't just run vanilla versions of OS's on these devices.
2. The bootloader (or whatever equivalent for the BIOS in the ARM world) seems to vary a lot from device to device. This means even more customisation for a manufacturer in order to release a new version of the firmware (together with point no.1).
3. Google themselves don't seem all that keen to build backwards compatibility with older devices in the newer versions of Android. Devices just 2 years old are not compatible with the latest version of Android. I suppose this is the price of break-neck speed with which Android and the tablets/smartphones develop nowadays - but it leaves people with un-upgradeable devices as a result.
So until the bootloader on various ARM platforms won't be universal, and we won't have a truly open OS to run on these things where the community can contribute and provide drivers and updates in a more universally accessible fashion - the situation will probably stay the same.
I think I'll stick with my 3 years old ultra-portable laptop - which can still be taught new tricks, can be plugged into any peripheral I want to plug it, and can be OS upgraded in any way I please. Bulky and un-tablet like as it is.
Canadian Dollars at Amazon
On a similar note - does anyone know where I can buy some of the Canadian dollars they have at Amazon?
In the real world a CDN$ costs slightly more than a US$ - whereas on Amazon they seem to be only worth 50c
Your problem is you live in the middle of nowhere
If you lived in Toronto you wouldn't be having all these complaints.
Besides living in the cold of Alberta your pad/tablet will only be operable a few months each year unless the Chinooks** happen by.
** See: < https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Chinook_wind >