Nook Tablet Hands-on and Unboxing

This week marks the launch of Barnes & Noble’s second-wave full-color media consumption slate, the Nook Tablet, and with a bumped-up processor from Texas Instruments, connections to Hulu Plus and Netflix, and notably similar physical attributes otherwise for the chassis, we’ve got to wonder how this will be able to take on the competition this holiday season. What we’ve got here is what your humble narrator got to look at back about a year ago in the Nook Color, but this time with a few upgrades. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it – is that what this is all about? Our hands-on here and our eventual review of this device will tell the tale.

 

Inside this device, if you’re not familiar with the original, is Android 2.3 Gingerbread here, but not the Android you’re use to, a wholly different vision from Barnes & Noble which tends directly to the media they want you to use with it – namely books. You’ve got the ability to use apps such as the Hulu Plus and Netflix for video – and they do come pre-installed, but for the most part you’ll want to be concentrating on books and magazines from Barnes & Noble’s vast library. You are able to side-load videos if you wish, as you could with the original, but the main idea here is to work with the cloud, quite clearly.

There’s a microphone on this device, that being an improvement over the Nook Color, there’s a brand new slightly softer feel to the whole device, especially the front facade. This device is slightly lighter and ever so slightly thinner than the Nook Color, but on the whole, again, it’s the same form. If you want a tablet that has access to the Android Market for apps outside those authorized set Barnes & Noble has agreed to get access to the tablet.

As for the reading experience, this device, like the Nook Color, is unparalleled for magazines and rich-color content. There’s interactive elements in quite a few magazines, and a lot (though not all) of the bits that move and play are able to be accessed without a wi-fi connection to the internet. You can get free access to wi-fi for this device at any Barnes & Noble store, mind you, and for the most part I can tell you that I’ll be using this device in coffee shops and in the home anyway, so no worries. Then there’s comics!

Comic books are provided by the new Marvel Comics app, the pages turning just as swiftly as the magazines, rich color and connections included. When you’re on any page, just as it is with a magazine, book, etcetera, you can pull up a menu that will give you such options as “Discover” which shows you suggestions and “Share” which does exactly what you expect it would do.

This device is clearly a beacon for Barnes & Noble, just like the Nook Color was, and it’ll certainly continue to look fabulous right up front of the stores before the customer gets to the paper books. When will they replace the whole store? We shall see!

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Galaxy Nexus Hands-on and Unboxing

What we’ve got here is the Galaxy Nexus, Google’s hero device for their next-generation Android operating system version 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich – manufactured by Samsung and made to exemplify the most basic flavoring of the next step in the software series. What you’ll find when you hold the device in your hands for the first time is that it’s essentially a cross between the most recent models of Samsung Galaxy S II and the last Google hero phone, the Nexus S, also manufactured by Samsung. Of course there’s little room for error with Samsung hoping to keep up their standing with Google and Google hoping to keep up their standing with you, the consumer, so what’s it going to be? You’ll find right away that this little monster truly takes the cake.

 

First have a peek at the unboxing video here and have a heart attack because it’s just like opening up the Pulp Fiction suitcase, essentially, then continue on below once you’ve stopped jumping up and down in addition to doing backflips:

It’s going to be difficult to not just do the whole review here right out of the box as it’s instantly evident how well made and obviously well-tuned this device and its operating system are, but I will have to keep this relatively brief so we’ll go through a few key points. First of all, the build is strikingly similar to what we’ve seen in recent Samsung devices like the T-Mobile Galaxy S II in its roundness on the edges and the AT&T Galaxy S II in the fact that the battery cover is basically set on the back of the device in the exact same way, allowing the camera lens and LED flash poke through with a slightly raised bumper at the bottom that contains the speaker.

Also at the bottom of the device you’ll find the microUSB port where you’d expect it, right in the center, one mic hole, and a headphone jack. Both the headphone jack and the charging pins on this device are set in strange places, where normally we’d expect the jack to sit on the top of the device and the charging pins (of which there are three) to sit on ANY side that isn’t the same as the power button. But lo and behold, they are on the same side – we suspect that the charging dock has plans that don’t include you turning the device on and off while the Galaxy Nexus sits in peace.

On the left side of the device you’ll find the volume rocker just as small as we’ve seen on recent Galaxy S II device, and on the top you’ve got nothing, nothing at all. On the back you should note that the camera is a 5 megapixel shooter capable of 1080p video at 30 fps complete with a single LED flash. This may seem like a small number, 5, in the face of an 8 megapixel army on the high-end of devices out there today, but we suspect that in addition to the fact that megapixels aren’t everything when it comes to image quality, this device has some connection to that specific size of camera in the software, perhaps in the way of how quickly it can snap photos (basically instantaneously.) On the front you’ll find a 1.3 megapixel camera for video chat, and your average earpiece, ambient light sensor, and proximity sensor are up there as well.

It’s important to note here that there are a couple other sensors inside, one of which has rare to never been seen on a smartphone in the past. See if you can guess which one it is: compass (magnetometer), gyroscope, and barometer. Want to take some weather readings from right there where you’re standing? Go ahead!

There’s a tiny multi-color notifications light on the front of this device hidden near the bottom in the blackness surrounding the display. We look forward to messing around with this light for all-night disco raves and to see when a new email comes in, of course.

The display on this device is a 4.65-inch HD Super AMOLED at 1280 x 720 pixel resolution, aka 720p, if you like buzzwords. This busts even the largest competitors such as the HTC Rezound, what with its own 720p display coming up short in the brightness and perceived sharpness department even when compared to the lower pixel count DROID RAZR. The Galaxy Nexus easily has one of the best if not simply the brightest and the most sharp display in the smartphone world to date.

You’ll find no capacitive buttons here as Ice Cream Sandwich is built to not need them (though as you’ll find in the coming months, hasn’t compelled manufacturers to get rid of them entirely quite yet), and the interface is a whole new ballgame for Android. Here’s another peek at Ice Cream Sandwich:

The above video gives you another great look at ICS but we’ve also got the entire boot and setup process for you to enjoy. Here’s a quick glance at the boot and set up for Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich in case you’ve not seen it yet. This short video will give you an idea of what to expect once you finally can power up and enjoy your own.

Note that we’ll be getting into that much more in-depth when our full review comes up soon. See you then!

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Ice Cream Sandwich tablet spotted and teased thanks to Google

After all the hype this morning regarding the Samsung Galaxy Nexus finally launching with the brand new Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich we are now seeing what appears to be our first actual glimpse of Ice Cream Sandwich on a tablet, even if it’s just a render. Thanks to Google we now have our first look of what to expect. The Android Honeycomb buttons have been replaced with the same ICS software buttons seen on the Galaxy Nexus not to mention that pretty cyan color for the notifications. It does look pretty if I don’t say so myself.

 

While just a render I don’t think I’ve seen anything official like this just yet. It appears to be either a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 or maybe a newer thinner Galaxy Tab if you ask me. With Samsung and Google working so closely on the Galaxy Nexus its possible we might see the same thing with a tablet, but with no leaks thus far that is a little doubtful.

Either way I’m extremely excited to see what Google has in store and I’m equally excited to see ICS running on a tablet in the very near future. In case you missed any of our coverage today we’ve already had plenty of hands-on time with both the Galaxy Nexus and 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich — just click those links and enjoy.

As an added bonus here is our hands-on videos of the Galaxy Nexus and Ice Cream Sandwich for your viewing pleasure.

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HTC Rezound Review

The HTC Rezound is not the nicest HTC device to have been released thus far to the market here in the USA, but it certainly does have all the features that make it one of the best smartphones on Verizon, and certainly one of the top two LTE devices today. In the following review I’m going to prove to you why if you’re in the market for an HTC LTE device, this is your very best choice, that if you’re in the market for the best HTC device on the market, you’d better go with the Sensation, and finally why if you want the most iconic, memorable, and well supported devices on Verizon you may well be better off going with the DROID RAZR.

 

Before we continue, note that we’ve got reviews of each of the devices mentioned above that you ought to take a peek at since they’ll be mentioned below again. First there’s the HTC Thunderbolt, aka the only other HTC device on Verizon’s LTE network. Next there’s the HTC Sensation 4G, the HTC smartphone your humble narrator still calls the most perfect total package in an HTC device to date. Finally there’s the DROID RAZR by Motorola, the Verizon LTE device that I’m voting as the top choice for an Android smartphone running on Verizon’s LTE network today. What we’re about to look at, again, is a device which you can find first in our HTC Rezound hands-on. You can also find a hands-on video review of the device in the text review here.

Hardware

What you’ve got here is one of the thickest smartphones on the market at 13.65mm, with the other dimensions at 129mm tall and 65.5mm wide. Inside this rectangle you’ll find a 4.3-inch 720 x 1280 pixel resolution S-LCD display, one that’s certainly up for battle against the highest resolution smartphones on the market if you just consider the pixels per inch. While the iPhone 4S has 329.65 PPI, the Rezound has 341.54 PPI. The Rezound’s main contender, the DROID RAZR, has 256 PPI but does have a Super AMOLED display meaning you’ve got an obvious difference in the device’s capacity for brightness, as shown here, noting the Rezound is on the left and the RAZR is on the right:

The Rezound has the superior pixel density, but the brightness and the inability of your average everyday user to see the difference between the pixel differences without holding both next to one another make the RAZR have the upper hand here. Also see how the display is a visible amount closer to the glass than the Rezound is, this making the whole situation seem more up close and personal. There it something to be said for how wide both devices are, noting here that the Rezound will be able to fit in more normal-sized palms better than the above-average wide chassis on the RAZR.

That brings us to the appearance of the device – as the Rezound looks to be continuing where the Incredible 2 left off, we’ve got a phone that both does not stick out in a crowd but feels rather solid. The red ring around the camera lens on the back, the red capacitive buttons on the front and the read speaker face above the display all make one feel like they’ve got something special, and the Beats “b” logo on the back seal the deal, but you won’t get the “oohs” and “ahhs” you would with the RAZR or the HTC Sensation. If you take the time to hold both the HTC Sensation and the Rezound in your hands, you’ll like the Sensation better – I certainly do. The trade-off here is in the audio quality (no Beats!), the slightly less impressive processor (not by a whole lot), and the lack of LTE (Sensation is T-Mobile), but the chassis are as close to perfect HTC has ever gotten on the Sensation, it feels so sweet.

That said, if you’re upgrading from anything less than a 720p display from any other HTC device, you’ll be utterly pumped by the upgrade to the Rezound. The same goes for a person upgrading from a lower-grade display on any smartphone, even more so coming from a feature phone, and if you’ve had just a single-core processor before you’ll basically have a heart attack over how slick, quick, and powerful this device is. It’s only against other top-tier devices that this smartphone has any competition.

Beats integration

The Rezound’s main value lies in its Beats branding, and it’s no joke. While HTC is scant on details on how precisely Beats is integrated here, we do know that there’s an algorithm written into the software, that HTC worked with the Monster Audio folks on the hardware to optimize the experience for Beats in and over-ear audio phones. You get a pair of iBeats in-ear earbuds with the Rezound but it’s with any piece of Beats audio technology that you’ll get a great combination for lovely audio.

I’ve personally done some very basic listening tests with combinations of earbuds and devices and have found that, believe it or not, the HTC Rezound with the iBeats earbuds it comes packaged with sounds the most amazing together. I tried a couple other earbuds in other devices and here in the Rezound and found that first of all, the iBeats earbuds bring a slightly more full sound with any smartphone than earbuds from other groups which shall not be named but are price competitors. The Rezound on its own doesn’t present a gigantic improvement in audio quality from any other current smartphone competitor with 3rd party earbuds, but when you plug the iBeats in to the HTC Rezound, you know that these two belong with one another. Listening to the song “Kush” by Dr Dre, a song which we’d certainly would hope would sound amazing on his own line of audio products, certainly does: boom, booboom chik, boom boom chik, if you know what I mean.

Software

There aren’t a whole lot of surprises here as far as software compared to the rest of the HTC family as of late as they’ve not changed things around significantly in the past few months on any device. Here you’ve got Sense 3.5, which is the newest, but look at any HTC top-tier device from the past four months in our reviews here and you’ll find the same experience. The HTC Vivid is almost identical, for example. Have a peek at the hands-on video below to see the software in action and a rundown of what’s included in the onboard applications and version numbers.

Above you’re seeing the Rezound again next to the Incredible 2 – note how similar the UI is, with ever so slight bits of difference. Also have a peek here at a couple of benchmark tests for all your joyful number munching desires. You’ll find at the end of the review that we’re asking you if you’d like any other tests done, mind you, so if you’ve got your own benchmark you’d like us to run, let us know!

Hands-on with the HTC Rezound

Here we go through essentially everything there is to go through on the HTC Rezound in one video. Still coming up: comparison videos to the devices we’ve not yet mentioned – got one you want compared to the Rezound? Ask in the comments section below, we’ve likely got one right over here on the desk!

Camera

HTC continues to improve upon (or at least change) their camera interface with each new smartphone, and here we’ve got a perfectly capable 8 megapixel shooter with 1080p video with a complete set of funny effects and lovely looking filters. One of the more interesting additions here is a slow motion mode for video – audio not included, but it’s fun anyway. Have a peek at a few examples here and in the final gallery below as well, starting here with the 1080p video demo, the slow-motion video, and a couple of photos.

Again there are so many different ways to take a photo on this device that you’re likely to have a heart attack, but it’s an excellent shooter without any modifications when it comes down to it. Note the detail in the screen window here and the vibrancy in the bananas below. Then there’s a flash photo of a toaster taken in a nearly complete-dark situation – those dual LEDs take you to a bright place.

Battery

One of the tests I keep getting requests for is one of the battery of any device tested while the device is connected via its mobile data connection and playing streaming video. What you’re seeing in the results here is a test over a span of a few hours:

What you can see there is Netflix playing some videos using LTE only. What’s appeared is certainly a decent amount of play-time, enough to watch a movie or two at least, and an OK standby rate of battery pull as well. Without playing non-stop LTE-based streaming video the battery here has lasted more like 10 hours with a small amount of usage of the phone during the day. It appears that this isn’t the same battery destruction machine that the HTC ThunderBolt was at first, but it’s not just a whole heck of a lot better. We’re still going to go ahead and blame bad LTE handling.

Wrap-up

If you’re not waiting for the Galaxy Nexus, need LTE speed on a smartphone, and have a strong hate for Motorola devices, buy this handset. This phone is released at a time when a vast amount of people are getting ready to switch up for their next Google hero phone in the Galaxy Nexus, so it’s not realistic to speak of another just-released device as one that’s not going to be in direct competition with said device, especially when its on the same mobile network. Remember the Beats and remain strong!

The fact that this device is not in reality sleek or unique enough to warrant calling it a hero device for HTC or Verizon shows a greater understanding by all parties involved in the power of branding. The DROID RAZR has two majorly recognizable names right there in its title, while the HTC Rezound, without even looking at the device, appears to be the next in a never-ending line of HTC devices. They’ve latched on with Beats though, and in that the Beats “b” logo is second only to the HTC logo itself on the device, we know that HTC is positioning themselves as a more brand-power group as well.

When faced with the decision between the DROID RAZR and the HTC Rezound, you’ve got to think of what I always ask anyone asking me for advice on a new device: what do you need it for? If you want an iconic device whose usefulness as a status symbol almost outweighs its otherwise still impressive specifications set, go with the DROID RAZR. If you want and HTC device and want the most superior audio quality on a smartphone your humble narrator’s own ears have ever heard, go with the HTC Rezound.

Note now that though this is the end of the Rezound review, this is not the end of the review process. If you’ve got any other questions about this device or would like us to expand in any way, let us know!

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Hands-on Philips’ new Fidelio Android speaker docks

speaker docks from Phillips. The three speaker docks are in the Fidelio range. The three docking stations all use the Philips FlexiDock that will allow the smartphone to charge and play music from your Android device at once.

 

That cool FlexiDock hook up is movable from right to left so you can center the phone and it can be height adjusted to fit lot of different devices. The music playback part is handled using Bluetooth streaming. That means that it will play tunes from any smartphone that supports A2DP Bluetooth. The Fidelio app will pair and connect the smartphone from playback when it is docked.

The three models include the AS851, which is the high-end device has dual full range 3-inch woofers and a 15W amp. It also has a USB port for charging another device at the same time. The AS351 is smaller than the other with a 10W amp and then the AS111 is round and meant to be an alarm clock. It also syncs the time when you dock the device. The devices sell for $199.99, $129.99, and $89.99 respectively.

[via SlashGear]

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FXI Cotton Candy is Android on a USB stick

FXI Cotton CandyFXI Technologies, a hardware and software startup based in Norway has just demonstrated the world’s first “any screen, connected computing USB device.” Codenamed Cotton Candy, this USB stick allows users to run Android or Linux on just about any screen. It features a USB connector and an HDMI connector (one on each side) which simply plugs into a computer/tablet, Set top box, game console or TV.
The little device features a Samsung Exynos 1.2GHz processor, an ARM Mali-400 MP GPU (the same combo found in the Galaxy S2), WiFi, Bluetooth, HDMI output and the Android operating system. It decodes MPEG-4, H.264, and other video formats, and can display HD graphics on any HDMI equipped screen. Content is accessed through a secure FXI web portal and can be controlled via smartphones, keyboards, mice and other USB, or Bluetooth, peripherals.

FIX’s Cotton Candy is designed to provide consumer-friendly access to the Cloud, accelerate the adoption of “smart screens”, extend the life of consumer hardware, create a single point of content storage, consolidation and organization of personal digital content, sharing media from mobile devices onto large screens, and drive down the cost of computing (the Cotton Candy is essentially a computer that just needs a screen).

Because this is not an Android device that Google officially supports, it won’t have access to the Android Market. However, it is expected that various OEMs will have their own app stores. Also, because this  device doesn’t typically run on a touch display, the “plain-vanilla” Android experience may not translate properly anyway.

There are various use-case scenarios, but the most plausible may be that OEMs use this as an upgradable computer in appliances that normally don’t get purchased often: Smart TV, Fridge, Smart Table… you name it. What would *you* do with it?

No word on pricing yet (although we’ve been told “well below $200″), but FXI Technologies expects to put up the Cotton Candy for sale in the second half of 2012. [FXI Technologies website | Cotton Candy product page]

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Hands on with the iPhone Micro USB plug and third-party chargers

Last month, an “iPhone Micro USB Adapter” popped up on Apple’s British online store. Since then, the little plug has made its way across Europe—but not beyond its borders—and it’s not hard to connect the dots between this adapter and the earlier European agreement to make all smartphones use the same Micro USB port for charging. So far, it doesn’t look like Apple is going to stop including a power adapter with its iPhones in Europe, but even at Apple’s prices (£8 in the UK, €9 elsewhere) the Micro USB plug could be a somewhat cheaper alternative to buying a an additional charger or cable for those who already own one or more third-party chargers.

iPhone Micro USB adapter
iPhone Micro USB adapter

The Micro USB plug is very small: just as wide, half as tall, and twice as thick as an SD card. It allows an iPhone be connected to a Micro USB cable instead of the traditional 30-pin connector. The plug supports both syncing and charging, and it’s listed as compatible with the iPhone 3G and later.

We took the plug for a spin using an iPhone 4 and and a Blackberry charger, and for good measure, tested a few other chargers and charging methods as well. Charging times varied somewhat, and one charger failed to charge the iPhone at all.

How did things get so complex?

As it turns out, USB power is fraught with hidden complexities. It is generally understood that a garden variety USB port will deliver 500 milliamps at 5 volts, but there are circumstances where a USB port can’t deliver 500mA (for instance, when an unpowered USB hub sits between the device and the host). In those cases and before the USB data connection has been configured, a device may only draw 100mA. This is the reason that iPod and iPhone manuals all say to connect the device directly to the computer and not to the USB port on a keyboard, which is only meant to power a mouse. To make matters more complex, Apple computers younger than about four years old make it possible for devices to ask for additional power above the standard 500mA.

Implementing a good deal of USB communication logic just to provide more than 100 milliamps worth of power can add unwanted complexity and cost. As a result, some older and/or cheap devices don’t bother with this: the devices simply assume they can draw 500mA, and the chargers are capable of delivering at least that. Ignoring a few corner cases, such as low-powered ports on hubs or keyboards, this works well with devices that need 500mA or less. The trouble is that smartphones have big batteries, and charging those at just 500mA is a lengthy affair—the original iPhone, which has the same charging chip as the fifth-generation iPod, takes 3.5 hours to charge.

To address this issue, the USB Implementers Forum came up with a detailed specification for USB-based battery charging. A charger that follows this specification simply connects the USB data lines together over a resistor. The iPhone (3G or later) or other portable device detects this and knows it’s OK to draw as much as 1500mA.

Testing time

That’s the theory, and below are some experimental results. In each case, we start with an iPhone 4 with a dead battery. 3G is turned on, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are turned off and the phone isn’t used during charging except to take a screenshot every ten minutes.

I bought my iPhone 4 from the UK; this means I can’t plug it in anywhere, so I still use my iPhone 3G charger. This charger will charge the iPhone 4 in approximately 123 minutes. Interestingly, charging the iPhone 4 from a mid-2011 MacBook Air—even with no iTunes syncing—took ten minutes longer at 133 minutes. The System Information/System Report shows the iPhone 4 is granted a total 1000mA power draw. (Surprisingly, this is also true for the 5G iPod.) A mid-2007 MacBook Pro, on the other hand, doesn’t show any additional power granted to the iPhone, and charging from that computer takes around 185 minutes.

But enough of that: it’s time to move on to the third party chargers. The charger for my Sennheiser Bluetooth headphones is rated for 500mA. When connecting an iPhone with a dead battery, the iPhone will charge for a few minutes showing the “low battery” screen. It then boots up and no longer recognizes the power source. Presumably, this charger leaves the USB data lines disconnected so the iPhone doesn’t recognize the charger as a charger and also can’t initiate the USB communication protocol. Thus limited to a mere 100mA, the iPhone apparently declines to charge.

I also found a no-name USB charger for some long-forgotten device that is rated for 1000mA, the same as the iPhone 3G and iPhone 4 chargers. Unlike the Sennheiser charger, this one charges the iPhone just fine in about 121 minutes.

Yet another 1000mA USB charger is tiny and white, looking a bit like an Apple knockoff, so presumably made with the iPhone in mind. It charges the iPhone, but it somehow affects the iPhone’s touchscreen: gestures are no longer recognized in the correct place on the screen. Fearing that the power was out of spec, I disconnected it to prevent possible damage. However, I saw a forum post from someone reporting the same effect when charging an iPhone from the 2100mA iPad charger, which works fine for others and is officially sanctioned by Apple.

The iPhone 4 charging from a Blackberry charger

But now the real test: charging the iPhone with a 700mA Blackberry charger using Apple’s Micro USB adapter. The iPhone went through the usual dead battery routine and after a somewhat slow start and charged at 10 percent per 10 minutes, slightly slower than from the 1000mA chargers and at the same rate as from the MacBook Air. During the last 20 percent of the charging cycle, where charging slows down, the Blackberry charger made up for its slow start and finished after 133 minutes, the same as the MacBook Air.

So, what can we conclude?

First off, all USB chargers are not created equal. This extensive test report from six or so years ago shows this very clearly. While most chargers will charge the iPhone, some simply won’t work and a few mess up the touchscreen while charging. In general, try to use a charger rated for (at least) 1000mA, which is more likely to be of a more recent design and therefore to be recognized by the iPhone. A 1000mA charger will also support the fastest charging times, and will reach an 80 percent charge a lot faster.

Most chargers these days have a standard USB type A port that the iPhone’s dock connector cable plugs into, so the Micro USB adapter is not exactly an essential accessory. But if you have other devices that have a Micro USB port, then it’s a little easier to travel with just a Micro USB cable and this adapter than with separate Micro USB and dock connector cables. Not in the least as unlike the dock connector cable, Micro USB cables are cheap and available in a variety of different lengths. The adapter is also small enough to carry everywhere in case you need to leach some power off of an unsuspecting Blackberry or Android user when your iPhone runs out of juice unexpectedly.

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