Nexus 7 Trade-Ins Suggest Lots Of Upgraders To New Model, Little To No Interest From The iPad Crowd

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The new Google Nexus 7 is a big improvement over the original with a bunch of additions like LTE and a super high-resolution display – the best in tablets, in fact. And that’s driving a lot of first generation device owners to trade in their old Nexus 7, according to gadget buy-back site Gazelle. There was a 333 percent spike in the number of Nexus 7 tablets traded in compared to the same day last week, for example.

Between Tuesday and Wednesday, that spike was even higher – a 442 percent jump in Nexus 7 tablets happened between the day before Google’s official unveiling of the new model, and the day of. The Nexus 7 trade-in activity spiked so high that it made up nearly a quarter of all trade-ins for non-iPad tablets since the site began accepting them earlier this year.

Wednesday, the day Google made its announcement, was also the biggest Nexus 7 trade-in day at Gazelle to date, beating the next biggest day by 380 percent. That previous record was set when the new Nexus 7 leaked on July 17, which clearly prompted early adopters to take advantage of a small head start ahead of the big reveal.

The news means that Google Nexus 7 owners are probably happy with their devices and eager to grab new ones, by trading in their last-gen devices to fund their purchases, but there’s another stat that tells another side of the story: Gazelle saw no appreciable increase in iPad trade-ins on the new Nexus 7 launch day. That means Google probably isn’t luring iPad owners away from the iOS fold.

It’s probably not surprising to longtime tablet space watchers that the new Nexus 7, with all its apparent merit, isn’t an iPad killer. The Apple camp seems happy where they are, but the tablet market has plenty of room to grow; we’ll see if Google can expand outward, or if it’s mostly eating its own Nexus tail with this new model.

Are Smartphones Turning Us Into Bad Samaritans?

In late September, on a crowded commuter train in San Francisco, a man shot and killed 20-year-old student Justin Valdez. As security footage shows, before the gunman fired, he waved around his .45 caliber pistol and at one point even pointed it across the aisle. Yet no one on the crowded train noticed because they were so focused on their smartphones and tablets.

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The Iconia W3: A Windows Tablet Aimed for a Mini Market

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Windows PC makers have had a tough time selling tablets, even though Microsoft’s new Windows 8 operating system is touch-centric, sports a tablet interface called the Start Screen, and, as a bonus, allows tablets to run traditional Windows desktop programs.

The best example of this struggle came in recent weeks when Microsoft had to slash by about 30 percent the price of its own Surface RT, a well-built, full-size tablet that runs desktop Microsoft Office. That led to a $900 million charge in the software giant’s financial results.

Now, one of the major PC makers, Acer, is making a new attempt to dent the tablet market that is dominated by Apple’s iPad, but is seeing growing sales by companies using Google’s Android operating system. Last month, Acer introduced a smaller, less expensive Windows 8 tablet, the Iconia W3.

Acer, which also makes Android tablets, is hoping the W3, which has an 8.1-inch screen compared with the 10-inch screens of standard tablets, will hit a sweet spot that has eluded other Windows tablets.

But after testing the W3, I doubt it. The W3 has some advantages over its most obvious competitor, the 7.9-inch iPad mini, including a higher screen resolution and the same built-in, limited edition of desktop Microsoft Office featured on the Surface RT.

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The Iconia W3 has a higher screen resolution than the iPad mini and a special $80 full-size keyboard with a slot on top for the tablet.

Overall, I found it to be no match for the iPad mini. Compared with the smallest iPad, the Acer features cheaper, bulkier construction; a worse-looking, slower-responding screen; significantly less battery life; and drastically worse cameras. And it’s Wi-Fi only, with no cellular data option.

Plus, like all Windows 8 computers, it’s burdened by a paucity of tablet-style apps and a dual interface that is best used with touch in one mode, and with a keyboard (which costs extra) in the other.

One sign the W3 isn’t a runaway hit: After only seven weeks or so on the market, Acer has cut the price of the product. Last month, the entry-level price was $380, for a 32-gigabyte model. Now, that same model is $300. The iPad mini starts at $329, with 16GB. (Windows 8 machines need more memory because the operating system itself takes up a huge chunk of storage.) Samsung’s new 8-inch Android-based Galaxy Tab 3 8.0 tablet costs $300 with 16GB.

The Iconia W3 is a white, plastic tablet that can be easily held with one hand. Unlike the iPad, it has a USB port and an HDMI port for exporting video to a TV over a cable. But these are mini ports, which require adapters and cables, and those accessories aren’t included. It also has a memory-card slot that can add up to 32GB of memory with an optional card.

It runs the full version of W8, so in addition to tablet apps, it can be switched to the traditional Windows desktop, where you can install and run most programs that work on Windows 7. The most important of these, Microsoft Office, is included in the price, though in a version that omits Outlook. Office, which must be installed manually using a free activation code, worked fine in my tests.

The W3 starts up quickly and the screen has a resolution of 1280 x 800, compared with just 1024 x 768 on the iPad mini.

However, the W3 had many key disadvantages compared with the iPad mini. It weighs about 60 percent more and is about 61 percent thicker. While the mini isn’t as svelte as the 7-inch Android tablets, I can carry it in my back jeans pocket, even with its cover on and with a wallet sharing the space. Not so with the W3. And the small iPad also has a sturdier metal case.

The screen on the W3 was very distracting. It has a faint speckling, especially visible when viewing white. I also found the screen occasionally slow to respond to touch.

In my standard tablet battery test, where I keep the screen at 75 percent brightness, leave the Wi-Fi on to collect email and play videos until the battery dies, the Acer lasted seven hours and 22 minutes. This means that, in normal use, you could almost certainly get the unit’s claimed eight hours of battery life. In the same test, the iPad mini lasted nearly 3 hours more, even though it’s much thinner and lighter.

Then there are the cameras. The Acer’s main rear camera is only 2 megapixels, compared with 5 megapixels for the iPad mini. Photos I took with the W3 were fuzzy, both indoors and out, much worse than similar shots taken with the iPad.

Acer boasts it has created a special accessory keyboard for the W3, which costs $80. Like other add-on keyboards for tablets I’ve tested, it has a slot at the top for the tablet and it works fine. I consider it a necessity for Windows 8 desktop apps, like Office, because they don’t work optimally with the on-screen keyboard.

The Acer keyboard is full-size, much longer and wider than the tablet itself. It has a cavity underneath to store the small tablet for traveling. But that makes for a large package, since the keyboard is much wider and longer than the tablet.

Bottom line: The Acer Iconia W3 has too many flaws for me to recommend, despite its compact size and lower price.

Email Walt at mossberg@wsj.com.

10 reasons to embrace Windows 8 now

Windows 8

The switch has been flipped, Windows 8 is now upon us. Manufacturers will soon fill the shelves of your local big box store with new computers of every shape, size, and orientation running Windows 8. The holiday season will no doubt be filled with incredible deals on machines to encourage you to make the upgrade to some new hardware. Of course, if you don’t need new hardware, Microsoft offers a Windows 8 upgrade tool on their website. With everything Microsoft is offering to encourage uptake, it’s pretty easy to see why you would want to embrace Windows 8 now. If you’re not convinced, here’s a few reasons why it’s worth considering.

Inexpensive, for now

Historically, Windows upgrades have been a little on the pricey side. If the next version didn’t offer some killer feature, chances are it wasn’t worth shelling out the cash for the update on the day it came out. Windows 8, however, is starting out at $39.99 for anyone running Windows 7. All you need to do is download the update tool from Microsoft, send them some money, and when your PC reboots it will be running Winodws 8 with all of your files still intact. The $39.99 price tag is something of an early adopter rate, in January the $70 price tag you see in stores will apply for the download version, too.

Free Media Center Pack

One of the increasingly common uses of Windows machines is to have a Home Theater PC setup. If you aren’t running something like XBMC, chances are you’re running Windows Media Center. If you want things like DVD and Blu-ray codecs, you need Media Center on your Windows 8 machine. In Windows 8, you’ll need to pay a little extra for the Media Center Pack, unless you go with the Pro version. If you don’t feel like the Pro version is necessary, but still would like to grab Media Center, the pack will be free until January. This offer is available to both digital and physical disk upgrade users.

Windows 8

SkyDrive Integration

With smartphones, tablets, and PCs connected all the time, it feels natural to want access to all of your files from all of these devices. With the centralized user experience Microsoft has been pushing out to their products, the easiest way to complete that experience would be to allow your documents and photos to exist seamlessly across the platform. Microsoft’s SkyDrive has been deeply integrated into both Windows Phone and Windows 8 to offer exactly this. You can store all of your documents, photos, even game save data to your SkyDrive and access the information from anything that can connect to Microsoft’s cloud storage service.

Centralized User Experience

Price and free things are always a good reason to upgrade if you are on the fence, but the truth is Microsoft is putting all of their eggs into this new basket. If you are a Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, or Xbox 360 user, you’re going to see the new user interface that Microsoft has implemented. Microsoft has made their user experience across all of their devices as seamless as possible. The tiled UI has been slowly making its way across Microsoft’s product line, finally ending with Windows 8. If you own multiple Microsoft products, the entire experience will look and feel the same.

Windows 8

Surface

Windows 8 is more than just a step forward for Microsoft software, it also marks the very first computer that has been built by the company. Surface was designed around Windows 8 to create a unique experience for the new OS. The $399 price point for a Surface RT is a steal for anyone looking for a new way to compute, and the soon to be released Surface Pro offers a no compromise solution for any user looking to get the best of both the PC and tablet worlds right now. The Surface hardware is incredibly high quality and a good first step into Windows 8, as well as the best way to enjoy the new OS the way Microsoft intended.

Performance

In theory, each version of Windows is going to offer a performance boost of some kind over the previous version of the OS. This isn’t always the case, as Windows Vista users can attest, but with Windows 8 the difference is all too clear. Everything from boot time to complex multitasking operations are noticeably faster on Windows 8. The OS breathes life into older machines, and the startup time on more recent machines alone is often reason enough to make the switch. Everything that has been tested so far has been much faster.

Windows 8 Exclusives

As is the case with any new OS, there will be Windows 8 software exclusives. Microsoft has accomplished this with the Windows Store, which serves as a destination for Windows 8 specific apps as well as interactive live tiles for the home screen. Especially if you have a touch enabled device, Windows 8 will grant you access to a significant number of apps that are exclusive to the platform.

If the apps aren’t exclusive, they are highly stylized to take advantage of the Windows 8 UI. The Netflix app for Windows 8 is a perfect example, and the design for this app is significantly improved over the UI used on iOS or Android. There are many apps that flow nicely and just plain look better on Windows 8 as a result of the new UI.

Backwards Compatibility

Windows 8 looks and feels very different from previous versions of Windows at first glance. Once you tap that Desktop tile, though, it’s like you never left Windows 7. The Desktop UI allows you to use all of your software from previous versions of Windows. On top of that, Microsoft has added compatibility modes to make sure the programs behave as close to their original design as intended.

This is only available on Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro, however. Windows RT, being an ARM based version of the OS, isn’t quite as backwards compatible. Windows RT is limited to apps from the Microsoft Store, and that is unlikely to change anytime soon.

Security

For a number of reasons, Windows has a reputation for being the least secure of the PC operating systems. Many users run everything as Administrator, and the volume of users makes the platform a huge target for malicious software. Over the last few years, Microsoft has been developing tools like the User Account Control system to help prevent crippling OS damage. With Windows 8, security was clearly a priority.

Aside from UAC, Microsoft has included services like Windows Defender by default. This is the first version of Windows to come pre-installed with antivirus software, and Microsoft has developed their own tools instead of relying on a third party to protect the OS. Windows 8 is far from impenetrable, and you can install other services if you feel they would be more effective, but the platform as a whole will hopefully be much more secure moving forward.

Windows 8

Xbox Live and Smart Glass

Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console has grown significantly since its release. The gaming console almost doubles as a set top box now, offering streaming content and social interaction as well as access to massive digital content libraries. Windows 8 scoops up the best of these add-ons and makes them available on your PC with the same interface. Xbox Live social features, like chatting with friends or playing games against one another for achievements, are integrated into Windows 8 as well.

Then there’s Smart Glass, which allows you to control your Xbox 360 from your Windows 8 computer. You can push videos, music, and websites to the service as long as you and the Xbox are on the same network. Smart Glass is available on Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, so you can sync this content across the entire product line.

Final Thoughts

Windows 8 is well worth the upgrade, and there are some pretty great incentives for pulling the trigger sooner rather than later. As Microsoft moves forward with this new user experience, there will only be more reasons to upgrade, with the eventual goal of everyone moving to the new platform.

As we look back at the now 11 year old Windows XP, moving to the wildly different Windows 8 forces you to embrace a lot of changes all at one. Once you move in, however, you see that most of the changes are undeniably for the better.