Apple

Apple iPad 3 vs. Asus Transformer TF300

We’ve used both of these devices for several months at GamesForOne. The following is our thoughts on the relative merits of each device. This brief review will henceforth term the devices as simply the “iPad” and “Asus”.

Hardware
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The iPad has a better fit and finish than the Asus. However, the iPad weight seems excessive and it does not balance well when holding with one hand. The slippery feel of the surfaces also makes the iPad more difficult to hold. It is simply uncomfortable for long sessions. We added an M-Edge case which helps but the hard plastic edge tabs of the case that hold the iPad dig into our hands. It also adds further weight making the whole thing more bulky.

The Asus fits better in our hand. The textured rear surface also feels more secure when you are holding the device. It feels much lighter and better-balanced in the hand. No case is required in our opinion and we have a simple sleeve to store the device for transit. We also prefer the 1280x800 pixels, 16:10 aspect ratio vs. the iPad’s 4:3 aspect ratio.
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The quality of the rear camera pictures seem about the same with the exception that we have noticed the Asus blurs the extreme left edge of every photo. It appears we will need to return the Asus for servicing as it appears to be a defect with the camera itself. That’s unfortunate because given the light weight and balance of the Asus it makes for a decent snapshot camera for day trips.

We’ve seen no major difference in battery life and in fact would give a slight edge to the Asus.

Software

The number of titles in the Google Play store is growing, but iOS seems to have the better implementations. For example, we love Zite in particular and the iPad version is superior. The Android version is still optimized for the cellphone-sized screen.

Since Apple has fewer devices the software titles are well-optimized for the iPhone and iPad. With Android there are many titles that are not optimized for a tablet-sized device, plus many apps do not make use of the newest Android features since so many devices are already in circulation that are not running Android 4+. Those Android apps that are optimized for the latest versions of Android and for tablet-sized screens are often just as good as their iOS counterparts, but the selection of such titles is limited.

We generally do not care for the bundled apps confusion. There is the standard Android method of doing a task, and then perhaps 2 or 3 more 3rd party apps installed that do the same thing or something very similar. It simply adds to the confusion and clutter of using Android. Most of the time these bundled apps seem to be more about branding and advertising additional features from the device vendor rather than truly a better app. It is similar to the “bloatware” issue that customers of Windows PC complain about.

Web Browsing & Email

Not sure exactly why but web browsing with the Android device seems slow and jerky. Pages take too long to render and then will only partially scroll as other page elements render. Then there is the fact that many 3rd party apps seem to implement their own HTML rendering interface which sometime render in a small fixed-size font without the ability to zoom. Browsing the web is just a smoother experience on the iPad. Android needs a much better web browsing experience. We’ve tried the built-in Android web browser, Google Chrome, and the latest Firefox for Android. All have improved, but none measure up to Safari or Chrome on iOS for consistency.

We do prefer the Gmail implementation on the Asus tablet. It is clean, uncluttered, and responsive. We simply find it easier to use than the iOS mail app.

Music and Documents

Music organization, browsing, and playing are all superior with iTunes on iOS. Why this is not built-in to Android is beyond our comprehension. The complexity of moving and organizing music libraries on the Asus is an aggravation (we bought doubleTwist but it is not the same smooth experience as the iTunes player on iOS).

Document access and management, on the other hand, is much easier with the Asus and Android. There are numerous methods of accessing files directly on the device and you can organize, transfer, and backup documents at will. The hidden, closed filesystem in iOS is a hindrance for developers like us that are used to working with our own files as we see fit.

Operating System

The Asus supports the latest Android release (4.2 Jelly Bean) and many software titles have been improving. Android app updates usually add new features and better interfaces. However, iOS is still a superior interface experience as the interface is more consistently creamy-smooth for just about every app we’ve tried.

We do prefer the ability to order via the web via Google Play rather than be forced to use iTunes or the App Store app to make app purchases. Google Play knows what devices you have registered and you can place an order via the web interface and it will be pushed to your device(s). This is simply a much better experience than the clunky Apple store interface. We like being able to search and purchase apps with a speedier and spacious web interface on our other computing devices.

Cost

We’ve seen the Asus Transformer TF300 on sale for as low as $320. Given its 32GB of standard storage, accommodation for a microSD card, microHDMI output, and large 10.1” screen, it seems a better deal than $499 for the 16GB iPad. Of course, the iPad does offer the Retina display and AirPlay.

We see lots of promise with Android “Jelly Bean” and the 3rd party apps continue to improve. However, the software selection for the iPad is better and iOS is easier to use. We would love to see the design of the iPad improve to allow for more comfortable use over long periods. Perhaps that was a major reason for the introduction of the iPad mini which is reported to fit better in the hand.


Our Thoughts on the Mac App Store

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With the January opening of the Mac App Store, discussion has ensued regarding the effect it would have on small developers. Many argued that the store would be a way for small vendors to gain visibility. This would, in turn, increase their business. In fact, the Mac App Store has proven quite the opposite for GamesForOne.

Several issues have combined to decrease our business. The first is that free apps enjoy increased visibility in the App Store as they have their own category. The rankings receive equal billing with paid apps, and therefore customers gravitate to the free apps first just as you would expect. Many customers seem to feel the free offering is “good enough” and therefore do not search further for a solitaire game. Potential sales are lost. How is this different from the previous Apple Downloads pages? Before, free apps moved down the list as new releases of other games were posted. The effect was that a new release, paid or free, enjoyed the spotlight at the top of the listings for a time. In the App Store, the free apps enjoy a never ending spotlight.

There has already been a race to the bottom in the Mac App Store. Prices are too low overall. For example, one competing solitaire game vendor that charges $30 for their product in direct web sales, released it for $5 in the Mac App Store. Some would argue that was a bold move to garner share. However, combined with the first issue I just presented regarding free products, there is simply not that much money flowing for paid apps in the Card Games section of the Mac App Store regardless of price. Another well known vendor released a 99 cent game from the opening. Surely they are suffering a fall in overall income because we have not observed enough paid app volume to make up for lost sales at previous price points.

How can we make such a judgment about the sales volume? Solitaire Plus enjoyed the #1 position in the Top Grossing lists for the Card Games section for several days back in January. We must have enjoyed a windfall, right? Not so. Our profit on those days at #1 was less than $150 per day. And the drop-off once you fall out of the top spot is severe. The normal average per day is far less. Our game can still crack the top 5 in the Top Grossing list with only five sales in a day!

The App Store does indeed provide a way for small vendors to gain visibility. One person in the Far East can produce an app, post it for a ridiculously low price in the App Store, and take business share. $50 per day profit for such a person is probably a windfall. This means that App Store customers enjoy lower prices. It also means that it is harder for US vendors to compete as we have a far higher cost of living and operating expenses (can you say TAXES and state/local FEES).

The result? Cheap imports are taking over the Mac software business just as they dominate the shelves of your local discount store and US jobs are lost. Does that worry you? Perhaps not, but the day will come when your job will be at risk from the same economic forces. No industry is safe.

Have some thoughts about the Mac App Store? Drop us a note and let us know your thoughts. Feel like we are bad sports? Let us know that too and what we can do to gain your business. If you think our price is too high, tell us at what price you would buy.

HP Envy Review

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We purchased a HP Envy 15-1067NR from the on-line Microsoft Store back in June. The specs on the Envy are impressive: Core i7 quad-core processor, 15.6” 1920x1080 LED display, 6GB RAM, 500GB hard drive, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4830 with HDMI output, Gigabit Ethernet, Wifi G/N, and Beats sound. All of this in a thin 5.2 lb package! It was a very impressive laptop spec-wise and we were able to snag a 40% discount coupon for the Microsoft Store which made the deal even better. The coupon was accepted on checkout and the laptop was promptly shipped.

Our first impression was good as the packaging of the Envy was spiffy compared to the usual dull PC boxes. The laptop had a nice overall appearance with its magnesium skin and it booted up and was ready to use in short order. The LED display is very nice (as good as any we have seen) and the performance seemed all-around snappy.

Then as we began to actually put the laptop to use we started noticing the shortcomings. First, the laptop would get really hot especially in the keyboard area. Under heavy processing load it would get quite hot and uncomfortable to the touch. It never overheated to the point of shutting off as the magnesium skin seemed to conduct and dissipate the heat well, but it definitely was a heat producer. We also found that the touchpad was inconsistent. At times the pad would respond as expected and then sometimes it would miss our gestures -- it was not as consistent in response as the Apple MacBooks for example.

Some customers of the Envy have reported problems with the “blank screen” issue but we never experienced that in a few days of use. Some also complained that the palm-rest area around the trackpad was inadequate and would “creak” and “pop” with palm pressure. We noticed some of that but did not find it to be a critical issue.

However, the issue that resulted in our returning the laptop for refund was related to the battery. The built-in battery was insufficient for this laptop as it was only possible to squeeze about 2 hours operation from it (even less under moderate processing load). The package included a second “slice” battery that was supposed to attached to the bottom of the laptop. This slice battery added about 2 or 3 lbs of weight which negated the weight advantage of the laptop itself. When we actually tried to use the slice battery we found that it was a poorly engineered fit. The battery did not positively engage with the laptop body and it allowed the contacts to move and apparently short-circuit in use. We found that the movement of the slice battery sometimes caused the laptop to lose power and immediately shutoff. One such shutoff resulted in corruption of the hard drive to the point that it was not recoverable and we were forced to completely restore the hard drive from backup.

When we contacted HP Support we were told the laptop would have to be shipped to HP for “repair”. At this point we decided to return the laptop to the Microsoft Store as they have a 14 day full return policy. The Microsoft Store support personnel were very helpful and responsive and the return was promptly processed with full credit issued. We have nothing but positive praise for the Microsoft Store.

We wanted to like the HP Envy. It was a lot of laptop for a very reasonable price. In the end we decided to pay the premium for an Apple 17” MacBook Pro. We find the MacBook Pro compares in raw performance to the Envy but it does not suffer the heat issues and the battery life is far superior. However, it comes with a price!