Have tablets really replaced the full functionality of the legacy PC? Some may argue that content creation will always belong to that realm. Well, with the help of Samsung Semiconductor, I set out to see what I could do on a tablet. By participating in the Exynos Hack Pack Program, Samsung outfitted me with the latest Google Nexus 10 -- built by Samsung and powered by the new Samsung Exynos 5 Dual. My goal was to see if I could use the Nexus 10 to do everything I have done in the past on my home PC.
"Nexus" is defined as "a connection or series of connections linking two or more things." After using the Google Nexus 10 for the last few weeks I believe that, in this case, the "Nexus" refers to the connection of a true mobile experience with full PC functionality in one great device. With a few caveats, it really can do what I have historically done with my home PC.
So Why the Nexus 10?
The Nexus 10 is based on the newest Samsung Exynos processor that has recently started shipping. The Samsung Exynos 5 Dual is powered by a dual core ARM CortexTM-A15 processor and quad core MaliTM-T604 GPU. This is the same system on chip (SoC) that powers the hot-selling Google Chromebook (#1 in Notebooks on Amazon). If anything has the performance to do all of my content consumption and creation tasks, this is it.
In addition to the cutting edge SoCs, it is one incredible tablet. Just look at the specs and you will see that it is state of the art in tablets today. It is also the latest Google Experience Device to hit the market.
- A 2560 x 1600 10" display - that is higher resolution than most HDTVs and PCs shipping.
- Only 8.9mm thick
- About 1.3 lbs.
- A 5MP rear camera is capable of capturing great pictures and 1080P video.
- 2 GB of RAM
- A full suite of connectivity options
- The latest OS, Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean)
Loading the Apps and Content
I received the Nexus 10 just before Christmas with a family trip to Hawaii commencing Dec 26. My plan was to use the Nexus 10 for everything that I might use my legacy PC for in addition to what I use a tablet for everything…from watching videos on the flight over to processing videos when the trip is over. So this is how it was loaded:
- My daughter loaded her Kindle books
- I added some news apps such as USA Today and Engadget
- Have to have some games: Angry Birds, Star Wars, and Asphault 7 to bracket my skills. I cannot play first-person shooters or hand to hand combat games. Never could.
- I added QuickOffice Pro HD for that productivity suite. I had to write this blog on the Nexus 10, of course. And with Google's recent acquisition of QuickOffice it only made sense… Could be seeing more of it.
- To create slideshows and videos I found 3 different programs I wanted to try: Andromedia, Movie Studio, and Majisto.
- Finally, I had to load up some video to watch but these were DVD-type content. Not HD video this time around, but no doubt it can do that.
I also decided, as silly as it looks, that I would try to use that great camera to take pictures and videos during our trip. In the end, I wanted to see if it could be both a great tablet and a good content-creation tool.
An Excellent Tablet for Content Consumption
The Nexus 10 was clearly designed and built to be a tablet that could compete with the top selling tablets in the industry. And it does.
- The weight, balance, and feel make it very easy to hold and use. I have been using another tablet for close to 3 years, and this is as good, if not better, from an ergonomics standpoint. It is light and thin, and holding it with one or two hands feels comfortable.
- The display is stunning. Watching videos on that 2560 x 1600 display was great even though the content came from DVDs. The upscaling was flawless. The images in the USAToday app were vibrant and the text was easy on the eyes.
- While I expect Angry Birds to run flawlessly, I was really impressed playing Asphault 7. The imagery associated with this driving game was amazing. The included image doesn't really help because you probably don't have a 2560 x 1600 display to view it on. The game itself is immersive and runs flawlessly on the Exynos 5 Dual. And keep in mind this SoC is pushing almost twice as many pixels to this tablet display than is on a 1080p HDTV, which is definitely a testament to the state of the art quad core Mali-T604 GPU and the interconnect and memory subsystem Samsung put around it. I can only imagine how immersive the first person shooters and combat games would be.
- Performance is always a tough one to judge. The web browsing on the Nexus 10 is definitely faster than my other tablet but probably falls in the "it doesn't really matter" range. Both are more than fast enough for content consumption tasks.
- Finally, the real test of a tablet is the battery life because all the performance in the world is meaningless if there is not battery left. For the plane ride over with constant use of reading, playing games and watching videos, we were able to make it from snowy Colorado to balmy Kauai without any battery issues. It was probably used for a good 7 hours and had >20% of the battery left. During the trip I took it everywhere we went for taking pictures or to read when on the beach or while driving in the car. Add some evening web browsing and more reading by my daughter and it got a good days use every day. For our use I would say it was good for >9 hours of continuous use on a charge.
This was my first real foray into the world of Android tablets and I am very impressed. When it comes to content consumption, it really is a draw.
Benchmarks - For What They Are Worth
I am not a fan of synthetic benchmarks because they usually cannot reflect true user experience; they simply stress one part of the system or another, or they are tuned by interested parties to run better on some platforms than others. But when you start considering “PC Functionality" you naturally think about how to compare the performance with PCs.
For this exercise I decided I would leverage the Geekbench suite since it is a cross platform benchmark and it is a collection of multiple tests stressing many parts of the CPU. Now the fallacy with all benchmarks like these is that they focus on the CPU core and usually neglect the rest of the SOC but this is the path we are on.
I also included my five year (plus) old quad core desktop that I would normally do video editing on and my four year old notebook. As the table shows, the dual core Cortex-A15 did very well in this test. The Nexus 10 was in the same ballpark (factor of 2) as the legacy PC solutions from a few years ago. Now many will say the state of the art PC today will blow those away but at what price ($ and Watts). The conclusion to me is that the Nexus 10 should have enough CPU performance to do what I would have done on my legacy PC.
"PC Functionality" for Content Creation
Content creation is driven by the availability of software as well as hardware performance. From the benchmarks the processors seem as capable as the high end legacy PCs from a few years ago. For decades the PC platform was the only choice for software developers. With a few years of Android, are there credible solutions now available for content creation on a mobile device?
For video editing, I played with 3 different apps from the Google Play Store; Majisto, Movie Studio, and Andromedia. Disclaimer - I do not pretend to be a movie producer in any way; I am an engineer by trade and lack any of those artistic bones in my body.
Magisto is not really a local processing SW package. Instead, files are uploaded to a server somewhere and the processing is done there. The interesting this is they claim to have some intelligence to pick out the exciting parts of your videos and splice them together along with some music and text. I did a quick try with a few clips from my trip. Very easy and not too bad. It probably would have helped if I had some people in the videos.
Movie Studio is a more classic video editing SW package with a UI that resembles a mixing panel so you can easily clip and splice frame by frame. In the end it was fairly easy to splice a few clips together and throw in some stills but it felt more technical than needed.
Andromedia seemed the simplest of them all. It made the process very easy to layout sequences of video and still clips. Each transition could be set along with the time duration for each still image. Multiple audio tracks could easily be set up independent of the video. The flow lent itself very well to a touch interface. You were pointing and selecting as opposed to trying to move virtual dials as was the case in Movie Studio. Only complaint was the text overlays were very difficult to align.
When it came time to render, it took about 9 minutes to do a 2+ minute 720P HD clip, which is far from real-time, but not crawling either. I would give it a usable rating.
As I stated above, I chose QuickOffice due to the recent acquisition by Google. I am expecting we will see more of them in the future. That said, I think this is where the software usability matters most. Processor performance is a non-issue; it is about the maturity of the software in this case, especially as most of us have become accustomed to the power of Microsoft Office.
While it appears that all of the compatible formats for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are supported, the usability is still a work in progress. Case in point, there is no auto-save! Add to that the fact that with most mobile devices, when apps are not used they release resources to help extend battery life - a good thing for saving power. So if you switch to play with Google Earth for a while and come back to QuickOffice, it reverts to the last saved version - a bad thing. Let's just say I learned quickly after the first "oh ___" to save every time I switched apps...just in case.
That said, the voice input was really good. I could, and did, dictate the first few paragraphs of this blog (at least the first time) and it captured the text with a few errors per paragraph. I tried it both with and without connectivity to the cloud. Unlike other voice solutions, it does work without a connection. Not sure if that is the case with all Android devices these days or if it is enabled because of the high performance Exynos 5 Dual processor. The connection seemed to help with the errors...maybe a bigger database to draw from.
Most would agree we are deep into the post-PC era. With tablets shipping as many units as notebooks and smartphones shipping almost 1 billion units in 2013, it is hard to argue that. The question is: when does content creation move to mobile devices? Based on my experience over the last few weeks I would say very soon.
Mobile processors like the Exynos 5 Dual have the performance to do the tasks at hand and they can do them in a mobile form factor with all day battery life. Some of the software is actually better suited to the mobile form factor. The touch UI is much more natural and intuitive than the mouse or touch pad. Andromedia and Google Earth both feel natural to use with the touch interface.
Productivity apps are a little further behind, not because of the performance but because of the usability we have become accustomed to with Microsoft Office. That said, Microsoft, with the release of Windows RT, has actually been bringing that functionality to the mobile processors. The task for them is to deliver the mobility we all expect in our devices.
The last "holdout" for this transition to the post-PC era seems to be the enterprise but with bring your own device (BYOD), virtualization, and data (vs device) management, there are signs of change. The diversity and rapid innovation in the mobile ecosystem is ushering everyone into the post-PC era.
Are you there yet? What will it take?
Jeff Chu, Mobile Computing Director at ARM, has been on the forefront of ultra mobile computing for over 10 years now. From webpads to smart displays to UMPC there has always been the criticism that it's not a real PC. Well, now with smartphones sales exceeding PCs and tablet shipments blowing by 10M on the way to 100M, the computing world has flipped and low power mobile products are the preferred way to consume content, communicate and interact with the web. To quote Victor Hugo, “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”
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