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  • Newsletter Issue #703

    May 20th, 2013

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    So what did Google actually accomplish at the I/O conference? There was no new hardware to speak of, although it appears Samsung will release a "pure Android" version of the flagship Galaxy S4 that's free of bloat and junkware. The 16GB version of the standard S4 leaves you with roughly half that storage space to store your stuff because all those flashy new Samsung apps take up so much space.

    As to a new version of Android, well, apparently Google is concentrating more on dealing with the problem of fragmentation these days. Millions and millions of handsets are running versions of Android that are one or two years old. The Galaxy S4's predecessor, the S3, still has 4.1.1, which shipped in July of 2012. The S4 has version 4.2.2, the latest, which actually shipped in November.

    So is Google running into difficulties upgrading Android? Or is it true that they are just working harder to make sure that a larger percentage of handsets are running the latest and greatest? But this isn't an easy problem to solve, since handset makers and carriers pollute the OS with their own stuff, which means that they have to engage in an extra level of testing before the OS can be pushed to customers. Most rarely bother. They got your money already, and they'd rather just sell you a newer handset when your contract is up.

    Now on this weekend's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented long-time Mac programmer Dan Wood, of Karelia Software, who discussed the latest version of their acclaimed Web site creation tool, Sandvox.

    Author and commentator Kirk McElhearnMacworld's "iTunes Guy," and the editor of Mac OS X Hints, was on board to explain why his data began to "bleed" when he switched to a new wireless carrier. He also commented on why Apple might be ignoring Microsoft's alleged requests to make a Windows 8 version of iTunes.

    From Bryan Chaffin, co-founder and co-publisher of The Mac Observer, you heard more about Google's ho-hum I/O event, China's campaign against Apple, and about Tim Cook's expected proposal, to be delivered at a Congressional hearing, for new tax laws to allow the company to repatriate billions of dollars of cash kept overseas.

    On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris are joined by guest panelist Goggs Mackay as they present Robert Hastings, author of "UFOs and Nukes: Extraordinary Encounters at Nuclear Weapons Sites," who will bring you up to date on his investigation into this troubling aspect of the  UFO enigma. He'll also explain why he was not a participant in the recent Citizen Hearing on Disclosure, and answer your questions.

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! We're taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: "Separating Signal From Noise." We've also added a huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show, along with a redesigned storefront.

    SAMSUNG GALAXY S4: MORE BITS AND PIECES

    According to published reports, Samsung is claiming that the Samsung Galaxy S4 flagship smartphone shipped some 10 million copies during the first 28 days on sale. As my friend Daniel Eran Dilger remarks in a recent AppleInsider article, this is considered a great accomplishment compared to the iPhone 5, which sold five million the very first weekend, which wasn't considered so great. So much for being fair and balanced.

    Certainly, there are several published bake-offs comparing the Galaxy S4 with the HTC One and, of course, the iPhone 5. I won't consider whether these reviewers are necessarily accurate or misleading. Make your own conclusions.

    I've only had one for a few days, but I've been able to put together some random findings about whether it represents a major upgrade, or is just a minor update to an existing model. So, aside from all the flashy (if only occasionally useful) new software, the changes are relatively minor in the scheme of things compared to the Galaxy S3.

    Indeed, as I've already stated, unless you put the two side by side, you are apt to confuse one with the other. True, there are far more powerful chips inside the S4, and the larger battery does seem to extend the period before you need to rush to the charging station. However, I am avoiding actual benchmarks, except, in passing, to note that performed a couple of runs in an Android performance app, AnTuTu, which came up with a result that was almost twice what I achieved with the S3.

    However, the S4 doesn't feel twice as fast, and part of that may be do to the architectural deficiencies of Android. When you scroll an item of text on an iPhone or an iPad, for example, the process is smooth, and there are usually no visual artifacts that detract from the seamless impact. With the S4, as with the S3, text thickens slightly, and the contents of the screen seem to move along in tiny fits and starts. Overall, it seems very fast, but the subtleties clearly indicate that the OS is taxing the graphics hardware severely to achieve the desired effect.

    When it comes to day-to-day performance, let me tell you that I am not a gamer, so I paid only a passing glance to the frame rates, although they appear to be at the higher end of what you expect on a smartphone. But it didn't seem to me that apps launched or did their thing much faster than on the S3. While a slightly larger screen in a case a bit slimmer and lighter than the previous model is a positive for the S4, it may not be sufficient to justify an upgrade. However, the AMOLED display as noticeably brighter in sunlit surroundings. That could be the deal maker; the S3 is so dim that I almost always rushed to the shade of a tree or an interior location before checking my email.

    I've already mentioned that curious little email bug, involving IMAP accounts, which infects the stock email app, plus other apps that apparently use its engine, such as InoMail (which is designed to mimic the look and feel of Apple Mail for iOS). You send a message, and check it on a Mac or PC, using the Sent mailbox, and you are apt to see the text displayed twice. It doesn't appear to happen with Gmail, which is understandable I suppose, but I've tried several other accounts and duplicated the symptom every single time. It even happens with Apple's iCloud.

    I've already had one of Samsung's product managers confirm the bug, which I first discovered with the Galaxy S3. It's not serious in the scheme of things, but it clearly demonstrates a troubling lapse in fit and finish.

    When it comes to the S4's special features, it's also hit or miss. Smart Scroll is supposed to do just that. When you tilt your head or the smartphone, text is supposed to scroll to the next screen. When setting up Smart Scroll, even the fastest setting produced a leisurely response. I set the feature to recognize a tilt of the handset rather than my head, but I ended up having to move it to almost a 45 degree angle for it to actually do anything, and it still doesn't work reliably. To me, it's a waste, and I gather reviewers have also had a hit or miss experience, although I expect Consumer Reports will be impressed.

    I also expect some potential customers may just prefer an S4 free of Samsung's excesses, and buy the pure Android version when it comes out, possibly in June. It would be nice to recover a few GB of that wasted space, so maybe I'll ask Samsung if they are willing to exchange this device for that one.

    While some might criticize the look and feel of the slippery plastic case, you can easily open the back to replace the battery or add an SD memory card. Once placed in a leather or plastic case of some sort, it really doesn't matter all that much. You're really paying attention to the display anyway.

    In the scheme of things, the Samsung Galaxy S4 is the sort of minor refresh for which Apple would get criticized severely. At the same time, the S4 still represents the best that the Android platform has so far delivered. Now we have to see what Apple comes up with when they unleash the next iPhone.

    STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS: A FUN-FILLED BUT DERIVATIVE SEQUEL

    Well the summer movie season is upon us. Hollywood's studios have begun to unleash expensive blockbusters, one more costly than another. "Iron Man 3," again starring Oscar nominee Robert Downey, Jr., has already grossed more than a billion dollars worldwide, which means a healthy profit after the $200 million production budget and marketing costs are considered. If you think that's expensive, I gather "The Lone Ranger," with Johnny Depp as Tonto, cost over $225 million to produce.

    The continuing popularity of the latest "Iron Man" flick may have somewhat overshadowed the impact of "Star Trek Into Darkness," J.J. Abrams' latest effort to reinvent an aging franchise. In its first week, exhibiting at fewer theaters than "Iron Man 3," "Trek" managed a tad over $84 million in domestic ticket sales, although it was expected to hit $100 million by some.

    As a long time "Trekker," I enjoyed the first film, "Star Trek," released in 2009. The new cast, featuring Chris Pine as Captain Kirk, and Zachary Quinto as Spock, handled a difficult assignment credibly. Pine nailed Kirk as the young, impulsive future starship captain, but I thought some of the humor got a bit silly. It also seemed that Abrams tried too hard to demonstrate the size of the starship Enterprise by having too many scenes depicting people running from one end of the craft to another.

    The latest film also has lots of running, including a scene where the ship's engineer, Scotty, played admirably by Simon Pegg, was running from one end of a shuttle hangar to the other. He even ran out of breath at the end of this little exercise. In passing, Pegg almost nails Scotty, but doesn't have the authority of the late James Doohan, who originated the role. Quinto's Spock is a work in progress. The continued presence of the original, Leonard Nimoy, who has a tiny cameo in the second film, clearly demonstrates he has a long way to go.

    Costing a reported $190 million to produce, which includes IMAX and a 3D version, it's clear where Abrams spent most of that budget. The special effects are well done and slick, but the film offers plenty of personal moments in which the cast shines. And, by the way, I saw it in 2D on a large, but normal screen at one of the local multiplexes. I felt 3D would be wasted, and, after watching the film, I'm convinced my decision was correct.

    Spoiler Alert! I suppose the cat is out of the bag now, so I will confirm that Benedict Cumberbatch, gives a typically British over-the-top portrayal of the main villain, who is first identified as John Harrison, a rogue Starfleet officer, but is soon revealed to be none other than Kirk's worst enemy, Khan. Is he better than Ricardo Montalban? I haven't decided.

    Now remember that the new "Trek" takes place in an alternate time line, so what happened in the original series can be referenced, but things are apt to change drastically. That's particularly true with "Star Trek Into Darkness," where Khan is dealt with in a different fashion, but one that still reflects his evil nature.

    Overall, I enjoyed the film, but felt that Abrams and his screenwriters tried a little too hard to make a familiar story seem different, so it wouldn't be directly compared with "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." But it has to be, and thus the final act of the film comes across as somewhat derivative, and you almost feel the screenwriters made a bullet point presentation of the original plot, and proceeded to alter specific points to make it seem as different as possible. Perhaps they learned a little too much from the schemes Samsung and Microsoft employ to add features to a new product.

    As with all popcorn thrillers, the proof is in the box office. Despite the shortfall in the U.S., things may be more favorable in the overseas market, where studio experts expect twice the ticket sales of the first film. Indeed, since word-of-mouth is extremely favorable, "Star Trek Into Darkness" may still do well enough at the box office to earn a third film. The only question is whether Abrams will direct again now that he's inherited the "Star Wars" franchise.

    I'll probably watch most of the summer films on Blu-ray later this year, but Mrs. Steinberg and I have already planned on seeing "Man Of Steel," the reimagining of the granddaddy of all super heroes, which debuts in the U.S. on June 14.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis



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