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Sony Xperia Tablet Z announced

It looks like internet rumours have scored a rare hit today – Sony have officially unveiled the Xperia Tablet Z and it matches earlier leaks in pretty much every detail. The slate comes with a host of impresssive features, not least of which a magnificently thin 6.9 millimetre waistline.

The Tablet Z includes a 10.1″ Bravia 2 display at a resolution of 1920 x 1200, a quad-core Snapdragon S4 processor running at 1.5 GHz and 2 GB of RAM. Internal storage is good too, at 32 GB, and there’s an SD card slot for additional storage. Finally, the tablet should include some reasonably good optics for a tablet, at least comparable with Apple’s attempts. That’s courtesy of an 8 megapixel Exmor R sensor on the rear of the device and an “automatic low light mode” that should step in when conditions aren’t favourable. Connectivity is also strong, with options for NFC, Bluetooth 4 and Wi-Fi N. You should also be able to get the tablet with LTE in supported markets – although it’s not known if the UK will be represented among that list.

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Finally, all of this hardware together with a 6000 mAh battery is encapsulated in a chassis just 6.9 millimetres thin and with a weight of less than half a kilogram – 495 grams, to be precise. According to Sony, it’s the “thinnest tablet” they’re aware of – not even the tiny iPad Mini, at 7.2 millimetres, is thinner. The chassis of the Tablet Z is also water-proof and dust-proof, with a strong IP5X certification that should allow this tablet to stand a quick tumble into the drink none the worse for wear. The Tablet Z will be available in white and black versions, as was the case with the Sony Xperia Z smartphone.

In terms of software, we’re going to be looking at Android Jelly Bean. It’s only version 4.1 instead of 4.2, but Sony should have no problems updating to the latest version – hopefully before Android 5.0 is released. We haven’t heard too much about the software running on the tablet, but as it’s Sony we’re talking about expect the usual strong suite of media streaming and remote control options.

And when will see the Xperia Tablet Z? Well, the tablet will be released in the Japanese market sometime this spring, but we should hear worldwide pricing and availability information at Sony’s press event at the Mobile World Conference in just over a month’s time.

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Top 5 Travel Apps for Android

In today’s Android app roundup, we’ll be looking at some of the very best travel apps. Whether they’re specific apps for a specific mode of travel like trains or planes, or more general purpose apps that let you organise or record a journey, your Android smartphone can prove invaluable while you’re travelling – if you can keep it charged, of course. Let’s get right into it.

5. Train Tickets

If you’re traveling in the UK, chances are your best bet is often to go by rail. Train stations have become a lot easier to master than they used to be, but if you arrive late it’s often invaluable to have the train timetable on your phone instead of on a board somewhere. Train Tickets from Crosscountry Trains is one of a few different apps that offer this service, with live train time boards for stations across the UK. You’re able to see which platform a departing or arriving train will be stopping at, as well if it’s been delayed and where it was last spotted. The app, as the name suggests, also allows you to book train tickets quickly and easily – although some functionality, including seat picking is missing. Some alternative apps are Trainline Tickets and National Rail’s Rail Planner Live.

4. Trip Journal

This is a great one for creative types who like to keep a record of what they’ve done and where they’ve gone when travelling. Trip Journal essentially works by linking journal entries, whether they be text notes, photos or videos, to GPS locations. Whenever you travel to a new destination (whether that be a famous landmark, a nice restaurant or even a Hadrian’s Wall cottage in Cumbria, if you’re me). You open the app, note down that you’re there and add in whatever notes or media you want. When you get back, you’ve got a nice interactive journal.

3. TripIt

TripIt is a rather clever app that automatically generates a schedule for you based on the emails you get sent whenever you book a bus, rail or plane trip. It’ll spit out a nicely generated and locally stored schedule within a few seconds, and will also add local weather, maps and other relevant information. It can occasionally backfire though, with mangled itineraries, so it’s definitely worth checking the results before you step out the door – I once was on my way to this aforementioned Cumbria bed and breakfast and only noticed that the app had failed when I arrived at the train station on the wrong day! Usually though, TripIt is pure gold.

2. Flight Track

Another specific one this time – Flight Track is the best app I’ve found for booking and tracking flights on Android. As well as allowing you to track flights as they come in, including a nice map overlay, you’re also able to see ‘delay forecasts’ based on past events and see which seats are best via an automatic link to the plane on SeatGuru, something that’s essential when you’re making your booking.

1. TripAdvisor

Our last (and possibly best) app for travel is the legendary TripAdvisor. This Android app allows you to find all manner of useful information about your next destination – everything from places to eat, hotels, flights to things to do. This latter section is particularly useful as even the most remote destinations have several suggestions, ordered by visitor ratings, and gives you a good grasp of what’s actually worth seeing and what’s overblown. You’re also able to see hundreds or thousands of photos, which is brilliant if you’re looking to take some pictures of your own or just looking to see what the place is like on the ground.

Conclusion

So that’s it then – a nice breakdown of the five travel apps I’ve found the most useful in my own experiences. Of course, there are loads more useful travel apps than what I’ve listed here… what are your favourites? Let us know via the comments below, and be sure to include real-life examples of when they’ve come in handy!

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The Future of Tablet Technology

Apple practically created the modern tablet market with the iPad, and appropriately until very recently they have been enjoying almost complete dominance. With the release of competitive Android tablets such as the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Asus Transformer though, Apple’s market share has slipped from 82% in 2010 (just after the launch of the iPad 2) to 65% in 2011, according to numbers from Canaccord Genuity.

That’s projected to fall to 57% in 2012, as more competitive Android tablets continue to be released. It seems likely that Apple will eventually be overcome by the glut of lower-priced Android tablets in every niche, much as they did in the smartphone market. They’re not giving up though — the next iteration of the iPad line, the iPad 3, is expected to be a strong contender for ‘best tablet yet.’

We already know from many component suppliers that Apple has been buying up a large stock of high resolution 10″ displays for use in the next generation iPad. This has been confirmed by recent findings in iOS 5 to references to a new iPad, with a listed resolution of 2048 x 1536.

This would be double the pixel density of the current generation iPad, which sits at 1024 x 768. It’s roughly equivalent to the Retina display of the iPhone 4 and 4S, which comes in at 326 pixels per inch.

The new iPad is also rumoured to come with an upgraded processor. As the iPhone 4S made the jump from single core to dual core, the iPad 3 will make the jump from dual core to quad core.

According to eminent Japanese newspaper Nikkei, Samsung has been asked to produce ever increasing numbers of the new quad core A6 chips. Whilst Samsung and Apple have been at each other’s throats in the courts, they still hold a strong relationship, with Apple being Samsung’s largest client.

So like I mentioned earlier — this new iPad 3 is looking quite scary. While Apple’s quad-core processor has already been already equalled or surpassed by Nvidia’s Tegra 3, the better-than-HD screen will be more of an issue. If suppliers really have sold all of their stock to Apple, then it may be some time before an Android tablet with a comparable pixel density can be launched, and that could hurt Android’s market share until the problem is rectified.

One option available to Android tablet-makers is the possibility of screens of different dimensions. Whilst 10″ has become a popular standard thanks to the iPad, slightly larger or smaller screens could be equally appealing. It’s for this reason that some suppliers are beginning to push 8.9″ screens, as a compromise between full size 10″ displays and smaller 7″ screens.

On the computing power front, it’s a closer battle. Tegra 3, the new quad-core chipset from Nvidia, includes a number of interesting features which could give it the edge over Apple’s A6.

Perhaps the most interesting is the companion core, an energy efficient but slow processor core that automatically takes over during low-intensity operations like watching a video or listening to music. This unique arrangement could allow Tegra-3-powered Android tablets gain a battery life on Apple, which typically leads in this area.

Nvidia’s Tegra 3 has already been used to great effect in the Asus Transformer Prime, which is seeing excellent reviews from major tech sites. The quad-core system-on-chip is also expected to be used in tablets from Acer and Lenovo, and likely quite a few others.

The final piece of the Android argument is the new version 4 of the Android operating system, Ice Cream Sandwich. The tasty snack combines the phone-centric Gingerbread and Tablet-centric Honeycomb into a single unified OS, and has already proven very popular in the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, the first ICS phone.

Where previous Android iterations felt a bit stale compared to the svelte look and feel of iOS, Ice Cream Sandwich represents a genuine competitor for the first time. It offers an equally stylish look and a comparably easy to use user experience, on top of Android’s traditional strength in functionality and customisability. Once more applications have been updated to take advantage of the OS, including platform mainstay Flash, Ice Cream Sandwich will be a key weapon in the fight against Apple.

And what a war it will be — if the iPad 3 launches in late Q1 or early Q2 as expected, it will arrive right in the midst of the first quad-core devices from the big Android manufacturers.

Who will win? It’s impossible to know, but my vote goes towards the consumer. With the advancements in tablet technology and increased price pressure from low-cost tablets like the Kindle Fire and HP Touchpad, 2012 is sure to be an excellent time to pick up a new tablet.