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MacBook Air creates insomniac

Two weeks have passed.

I’ve seen the ad a thousand times, I’ve watched the extended preview online, I’ve even looked in internal mail envelopes to see if there’s anything inside.

I’m singing the freakin’ song in my sleep!

Where is it already? Stores say they’re due in the next few days. Stay tuned for a hands-on.

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Jan 31, 2008 Posted by | Apple, Computing, Hardware, Mobile, Rants | | Leave a comment

Problem: iPhone and Lotus Notes have low corporate market share. Solution? Ask for an Exchange.

The Mac rumor mill was in overdrive awaiting the release of a Lotus Notes iPhone client at last week’s Lotusphere. The release never came, but that’s not the point. Sure it may happen, but why would Apple want its uber-cool iPhone to depend on Lotus Notes for its corporate thrust?

For those who’ve never heard of it Notes is a clunky communications client, which prior to the most recent release 8.0 sent out-of-office messages at 2am by default instead of notifying the sender immediately.

Doesn’t sound like an ideal launch pad for an iPhone corporate takeover.

Microsoft recently released Office 2008 for Mac, so there is a working relationship there. Would an iPhone Exchange client be too much competition for Windows Mobile devices? Blackberries and Exchange have been happy partners for ages, so Microsoft does not seem to have a desire to restrict access to WM devices only. Perhaps IBM just got earlier access to the iPhone SDK.

One thing’s for sure, the corporate Outlook for iPhone looks bleak without an Exchange of ideas with Microsoft.

Neil Berman
www.neilberman.com

Jan 29, 2008 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Microsoft, Mobile, Software | , | Leave a comment

HP TX1000z Tablet PC Review

For the past decade consumers have been on the verge of adopting tablet PCs of one form or another. Apart from some early fledgling attempts which gathered little steam, the main thrust came from expensive laptop tablets based upon Windows XP Tablet Edition. Since then Vista has come about with its tablet extensions and new UMPC formats have sprung up such as Samsung’s Q1 to take advantage of them. So is there still a need for full size laptop tablets?

When newer is cheaper

Cue HP’s TX1000z range and recently released TX2000z. This 12.1 inch laptop has an ultraportable tablet format without the price tag associated with the genre. Powered by AMD’s Turion range it should have the horsepower it needs to ease through daily tasks and it’s swivelling screen gives it the all important ‘wow’ factor. It also has handy chassis mounted buttons for quick access to multimedia functions. The Vista Premium TX1000z unit I tested was fitted with a DVD rewriter and 2 GB of RAM, in place of the standard 1 GB.

Groping around

Looking around the laptop everything feels pretty solid, if a little heavy. The battery sticks out at the back, which is a tad ugly, but overall the design is slick. At 4.2 pounds the HP weighs in a fair amount more than my Everex 12 inch laptop. It’s not unbearable but not exactly in keeping with the spirit of the term ultraportable either.

Open the lid and the TX1000z’s keyboard and trackpad layout echo current HP silver and black smart simplicity. The trackpad looks great and has both horizontal and vertical scrolling. The keyboard feels OK; it’s no IBM but it’s perfectly usable.

A webcam stares out from above the screen, which itself looks a little overprotected by a thick bezel. A fingerprint reader and dedicated buttons for screen orientation and multimedia control sit at the sides. The screen joint feels very strong, holding the screen happily at some very bizarre angles.

Around the edges of the chassis are three USB ports, a 5-in-1 card reader, ExpressCard slot, SPDIF output, headphone & microphone ports, ethernet port, S-video and VGA out. Phew! There’s also a remote control in the box.
In use

In use there weren’t too many surprises, with the exception that performance from the 1.9 GHz AMD TL-58 was a little below expectations. My 1.6 GHz Core Duo laptop kept up with it pretty well in general use and surpassed it in almost all Passmark tests…and it only has 1 GB RAM. Most disappointing was the 3D graphics performance, which let’s just say is a good way to make sure you stay productive. The webcam too was average, under-performing against my MacBook in low light.

The Altec Lansing speakers on the other hand were nice and loud, if lacking in bass, and the bright screen is readable even with sun coming onto it through a window.

Is the writing on the wall for the traditional laptop?

Whilst the HP is certainly good value, I’m not sure how the average consumer would really take advantage of the tablet functions. The aspiration of note taking or sharing ideas across a meeting table have long been the promise of tablets, but something like a Samsung Q1 might be the modern day prince-in-waiting to this eventual throne due to its weight. If you have a use in mind for the tablet features then the TX1000z is a good buy. If not then look past the glamor of the swivelling screen and see how it stacks up against more traditional designs.

At the time of writing, the starting price for the HP TX1000z was $899.99 on http://www.hp.com

Also worth considering (prices correct at time of writing):

Neil Berman
http://www.neilberman.com/

Jan 28, 2008 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , | 1 Comment

Market Share: Who’s winning and losing in Windows vs Mac vs Linux; IE vs Firefox

Ten thousand choices. Ten thousand opinions. What do my last ten thousand page hits tell us about our Macs on Safari and Vistas of people Fire-ing Internet Explorer?

Internet Explorer vs Firefox:

Is Firefox really challenging IE’s market share?

In a word, yes. 31% of the page hits came from Mozilla’s Firefox, with 61% coming from Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. That is a staggering statistic, given that IE is shipped in the vast majority of all computers sold. The other players – mainly Safari and Opera – fought it out for the remainder. I have started using Firefox myself on my MacBook after getting frustrated with Safari’s compatibility issues with some sites.

The figures for Mac and Windows Firefox take-on are similar on each platform, with around 30% of each user group Fire-ing the Apple and Microsoft offerings according to my stats. Firefox seems to have the Linux visitors well under its wing with almost 90% coverage.

Windows vs Mac:

Is it war?

Yes and no. In 2004 the W3C internet activity stat for Mac usage was just under 3%. My last ten thousand page hits registered 5.5% Macs and over 90% Windows. So from a global perspective it’s no…or at least it’s a very very slow war.

From a regional perspective, the story is different. For North America the page hits registered as 10% Mac and 83% Windows, for Europe this dropped to 6.5% Mac vs. 86.5% Windows, whilst in Asia over 94% of the hits came from Windows PCs.

We know that Apple lost the corporate sales war a long time ago. So the North America stat suggests that Mac penetration as a home computer in the region is pretty strong. This is probably the one market where an Apple vs. Windows war is now on, albeit contained within the upper end of the price range. Europe seems to have a decent amount of Mac users, although they are almost equalled by Linux hits at over 5%. In Asia, Windows appears to be almost unchallenged.

Linux:

Is it a viable alternative?

Yes for sure, and with hit products like the Asus EEE taking the market by storm the amount of Linux users should be rising. From my last ten thousand page hits though, only 3% were Linux users. It will be interesting to see if this percentage grows as more products are launched with Linux distros. The Everex Cloudbook is due to go on sale tomorrow.

Neil Berman

The data in this article is based upon page views registered on this site as tracked by Google.

www.neilberman.com

Jan 24, 2008 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Microsoft, Software | , , , , | Leave a comment

Getting up close and personal

My new camera arrived, so the picture quality on my blogs should be going up once I get through all my CES pics. Although my TyTN did sterling duty until now, when I need to get up close and personal the HTC’s focusing doesn’t quite make the grade.
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Close ups are really important for me and taking good macro photos with a pocket phone or teeny-tiny snapshooter can be tricky.
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That’s becaue few compacts take decent macro shots, and those that do tend to demand being around a foot away from the subject. This is often down to lens and focusing quality. I tried the highly rated Canon SD1000 and Sony DSC-W80. Both look cute but struggled to focus at close range.
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As ever though, human ingenuity has made some snapshooters out-snap the rest. Some of the Panasonic Leica lensed Lumix range are able to take amazing close ups at web-page friendly resolutions (3MP or under), without the need for either a zoom (increases camera shake) or flash (screws up light).
I went for the FX3 at $105 from Amazon Marketplace. All of the photos on this article are taken indoors at under one inch(!) from the subject, without a flash and at only 3MP. What a camera! Not many SLRs can do this.Colours are vivid and well focused in the sweet bowl (two photos above). The stitching on this bag and the imperfections of the eyelet are perfectly rendered (above).
The FX3 focused perfectly on the awesome Nikon D3’s model number at just 2cm. The D3 could probably do the same thing at night.
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Happy shopping to any camera buyers out there,
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Neil Berman
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Jan 20, 2008 Posted by | Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

CES 2008 News: Laptops & UMPCs Part 2

This fantastic looking Aigo UMPC echoes the recent Nokia N810 with a slim form factor, large screen and excellent sized keyboard. This Aigo has one of Intel’s new Silverthorne / Menlow processors and the display model was running Linux. Given that the Silverthorne goes up to 1.6 GHz, The Aigo’s implementation of screen, keyboard and power make it one of the most promising UMPC designs out there currently.

Lenovo’s U110 is a stunning 2.4 pound ultraportable with an amazing 8 hour battery life. The beautifully patterned red lid is striking and Lenovo had made a great effort to make the keyboard user friendly with large keys. The U110 will be available with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, choice of 64 or 32 GB SSD or regular 160 GB HD and a 11.1 inch screen. Communication features include bluetooth, WiFi and a 1.3MP camera. The ultra-thin design ranges from 0.7 to 0.9 inches at the thickest point. This dream machine will be available in April priced at around $1,800.

Lenovo also showed a Linux based UMPC with an interesting form factor. The keyboard to the right of the screen sports a mixed key use arrangement. This is currently a prototype with no production details available.

Samsung previewed an ingeniously designed prototype WiMax UMPC. Looking at first glance like a regular small tablet device, the bottom half actually folds out in a butterfly motion to reveal a keyboard, double the width of the chassis. Specs include a 1 GHz Intel CPU and 30 GB hard drive. This is the best UMPC keyboard design I’ve seen so far.

Samsung also expanded its Q1 range with the launch of the Q1 Ultra Premium. The Q1’s thumboard, which I have generally found difficult to use, has been supplemented with a large software keyboard. Dial keys is gone. The Q1 Ultra Premium will be available with a 64 GB SSD and has a range of Intel processor options from 1.06 to 1.33 GHz. A Samsung representative said the current Q1 Ultra range would continue to be sold for the time being.

The Amtec U650 has again a different form factor, where the screen slides up to reveal a well designed thumboard.

In the face of competitors from Aigo and LG, the unit feels pretty chunky for something with a 5.6 inch screen. Sony has updated its Mylo communicator, which comes with Skype preloaded.

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This Digifriends WiMax equipped UMPChas a range of available accessories, including a snap-on keyboard. It also uses Intel’s new Silverthorne / Menlow CPU range which goes up to 1.6 GHz.
Finally Toshiba’s eMotion Feel UMPC is yet another different form factor proposition. Currently a working concept, the eMotion Feel looks expensive and heavy but amazingly weighs under one pound. The front panel’s pointer and buttons seem limiting as the main controls, along with a stylus. Its unique feature is tilt scrolling, which is activated by pressing a button on the left side and then holding the unit at an angle to scroll through a page. An interesting and intuitive design feature.

Read part 1 of the CES 2008 Laptops & UMPCs News here

Neil Berman

http://www.neilberman.com/

Jan 19, 2008 Posted by | CES, Computing, Hardware, Mobile, News | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

MacBook Air media honeymoon turns into divorce



Battery, RAM and hard drive all sealed inside; battery replacement echoes iPod fiasco

Media coverage of the MacBook Air turned sour today as disappointing details emerged about the new laptop. Stretching from technology blogs Engadget and Gizmodo as far as Germany’s mainstream online publication Der Spiegel, articles and blog comments berated Apple’s design decision to seal in key components of the MacBook Air. Even unofficial Apple blogs were littered with ugly remarks.

The battery option for the Osborne 1 (above) could be fitted by the owner. That was 1981.

The battery, RAM and hard drive in the Air are all inaccessible to the owner, which means that when you run out of power away from home you need to stop and find a plug. There’s no way of carrying a spare battery, so owners will need to plan their journeys carefully and possibly carry the power adaptor. We will have to wait to see how realistic Apple’s 5 hour battery life claim is in real usage. My MacBook’s battery is rated at up to 6 hours, but in practise I get around 3.5 hours.

One thing’s for sure, there will be all sorts of third party add-ons to provide portable power to the Air…which will kind of defeat the purpose in the first place.


My $599 3.8 pound unltraportable (above) came with two batteries as standard, to allow me to keep on being ultraportable. That’s cool.

The Air ships with 2 GB of RAM, which is already at a decent amount but you can’t add more yourself once you get it home. The hard drive is also out of bounds for owners.

So to swap out the battery if it starts losing charge, you will need to get the Air to Apple. A bit like the old days with the iPod fiasco. If you live around the corner from an Apple store then this will just be an inconvenience. If you need to send it in by courier because you’re far from an Apple emporium, then you could be without your laptop for a while.

Let’s not even get into the data protection issues of having to hand a laptop over to a third party.

I said yesterday that the MacBook Air was stunning, but more evolution than revolution. Today it just seems like a stunning toy for people who limit their travels to the local coffee shop.

Hands-on review to come…

Neil Berman

http://www.neilberman.com/

Jan 16, 2008 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Hardware, Mobile | , , | 2 Comments

MacBook: Is there revolution in the Air?

Apple announced the new MacBook Air today, bringing truth to recent rumors about the release of an ultra-portable from Cupertino. At 3 pounds it’s not quite the featherweight match of its PC competitors, such as Lenovo’s 2.3 pound U110, but it certainly does have the Apple family’s good looks. So is this a case of evolution, or is there revolution in the Air?

Similar to the existing MacBook range, the Air has a 13.3 inch screen with built-in iSight camera. The Air ships with a 1.6 or 1.8 GHz Core 2 Duo processor, making it the slowest laptop in Apple’s current line-up by clock speed. An 80 GB hard drive and 2 GB of RAM are also standard, with the top end model getting a 64 GB SSD.

The dimensions of the Air are almost identical to the existing MacBook, except that the latter is 1.06 inches thin whereas the thickest point on the Air is 0.76 inches. The optical drive costs an extra $99 and the graphics implementation is identical to the current MacBook.

Specs of course are not really the point. The MacBook Air is all about showcasing design, showing that Apple can go ultra-portable, and for those with the money to spare, showing off. The design itself looks like a stunner and the lack of optical drive is overcome by Apple’s new Remote Disc software, which allows a PC or Mac to share its optical drives with the MacBook Air for installing new software. The pricing is actually fairly competitive alongside PC laptops of similar weight.

Overall it seems more like evolution than revolution. But we know by now that Apple does not need a revolution to sell bucketloads of these awesome machines to willing customers. Will I be one of those rushing to turn in my MacBook for a dose of Air? Not quite yet, but stay tuned for a hands-on review soon…

Neil Berman
http://www.neilberman.com/

The 1.6 GHz, 80 GB MacBook Air costs $1,799
The 1.8 GHz, 64 GB SSD MacBook Air costs $3,098

Jan 15, 2008 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Hardware, Mobile | , , , | Leave a comment

CES 2008 News: Home Entertainment

OLEDs, Ultra-thin TVs, All-in-one PCs and Wireless Streaming

My CES 2008 news update comes in the following sections: Laptops & UMPCs, Home Entertainment, Media Players, Cellphones, Gaming and Trick Technologies. To read all the CES 2008 articles, click here. Details of dates, pricing and specifications described below are given from the best information available at the time of writing and may change at any time at each manufacturer’s discretion.

All-in-one PCs

Dell and Gateway brought their recently all-in-one releases to CES. Both have similar names and compete with the same leader in the class – Apple’s smart-looking new iMac.

Gateway’s One (above) looks like a cross between the iMac and the prototype LimePC. Meanwhile Dell (below) has given its XPS One a more individual, and fussier, look with screen mounted side speakers and ultra-cool vibration feedback button which light up when you move your hand towards them. Both Ones are based around Vista with a blaster supplied for controlling Media Center.
All three models have decent amounts of Intel Core 2 Duo power to handle tough multimedia applications. However out of the box these are not hardcore gaming machines. The graphics implementations on all three are aimed more at home video/photo usage than complex in-game graphics rendering. Gamers would do better to choose other models in Dell and Gateway’s ranges. It will be interesting to see if this sector is successful in 2008. The iMac had a bumpy ride last year and now there are suddenly more players looking to share this slice of the pie. Design-wise it’s probably Dell first, then Apple with Gateway last. That’s not to say the iMac or Gateway One are doing anything wrong. However neither approaches Dell’s superb design details such as the minuscule motors under its screen buttons, stunning wireless keyboard and glow-in-the-dark features which light only when you reach for them. This is the One to watch.

Video

Organic LEDs stole the TV show at CES, with Sony’s (below) and Samsung’s stunning models lighting up their stands. In a one-on-one comparison I can say first hand that OLED screens make most current LCD images look ordinary without the need for complex image assessment technology. Sony’s OLED screen was so vivid it was as if the screen border was a window frame.

Current LED screens work by controlling pixel coloration whilst a backlight provides illumination. This means it is difficult to produce true black as the backlight is always present. When controlling one pixel is also difficult to stop surrounding pixels being lit, which is why current LEDs can suffer from blurring/tracing effects with fast action sequences.

OLED screens work by lighting up individual pixels, there is no fluorescent backlight. So colors are highly vivid and black is reproduced amazingly well. Contrast and brightness are also superb. They are also exceptionally thin.
Sony are currently selling a hyper-thin eleven inch OLED screen for $2,500 and Samsung will be releasing a digital camera with an OLED viewing screen later this year. The other big news was the ever-dieting TV panel, with several manufacturers showing off screens under two inches deep. Hitachi’s range (below), which carried the branding ‘1.5 is here’ (referring to panel depth) is due to hit stores in Q1 (32 inch) and Q2 (37 and 42 inch) this year. LG (below), Sharp, Samsung and Sony also carried ultra-thin panels on their stands. Samsung also showed a 3D-ready plasma display, although unfortunately we still needed to wear the funny glasses to see the images jumping out!

Panasonic had an amazing 150 inch high definition plasma screen on display (see top), which was awesome.

Wireless HDMI devices also made an appearance, with Hitachi demonstrating one of their 1.5 inch TVs receiving a signal over the airwaves. LG showed its useful dual format HD-DVD & Blu-ray player on their stand. This could be the best bet for wary consumers waiting for the format war to be played out (although Blu-ray seems to be emerging as the pick of many studios).

Audio

Several manufacturers showed their take on the single box home theater speaker solution, similar to Yamaha’s existing product. Both Samsung and Philips had an offering with a name derivation on ‘sound bar’, whilst a similar looking unit was on display on Sony’s stand.

These speakers typically need a fairly well structured room and a subwoofer to deliver best performance. I tested the Yamaha YSP-800 a while back, which made a brave attempt but struggled to deliver a solid surround picture as the room was an odd shape.

Wireless Media Streaming

Klegg showed two wireless media streamers, one of which can act as a DVR with a cable TV input. The devices can stream audio and video files, including Windows Media Center format. They will ship with an empty drive bay leaving the buyer to pick their desired hard drive capacity and fit in place with the built-in Serial ATA connector. Once attached to the network, computers see the devices as local drives. Both models have extensive connectivity options. The DVR version is likely to cost around $299 and will be available later this year. The non-DVR capable Media Share Mega model should be $199 and in stores imminently.

Neil Berman

http://www.neilberman.com/

Jan 14, 2008 Posted by | Apple | , , , | Leave a comment

Everex Launches Asus EEE Rival

In my review of the Asus EEE PC I predicted: “…this is the IT bargain of 2007. Expect other companies to follow…

It’s happened.

Everex announced the CloudBook ultra-portable notebook at CES, a direct rival to the Asus EEE PC.

The CloudBook, sporting a seven inch screen like the EEE, weighs two pounds and crucially ships with a 30 GB hard drive unlike the 2/4/8 GB SSD in the EEE. This means that it should be able to run as a fully functional Linux or Windows XP ultra-portable.

The other specs also support this expectation: 1.2 GHz VIA C7 ultra low voltage processor, 512 MB RAM (likely upgradeable), 802.11b/g WiFi. Also onboard is a 1.3MP webcam, ethernet port, DVI port (nice), two USB 2.0 ports and a 4-in-1 card reader.

The CloudBook will ship with the gOS Rocket Linux-based operating system. Preloaded applications include OpenOffice, Firefox and Skype. Everex claims a battery life of five hours. The notebook will be available from Jan 25th 2008 exclusively at WalMart for $399.

Latest Jan update, Everex has revised the Cloudbook’s shipping date to Feb 15th.

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For me, the hard drive size really elevates this above the EEE from a usability point of view. I would now expect that the planned 8 and 8.9 inch EEE versions will have similar sized drives to stay in the game.
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Stay tuned for a CloudBook hands on…

Feb 17th update: The trackpad implementation on the Cloudbook looks nasty…I bought an EEE today.

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See photos and read CES news about: Laptops & UMPCs, Home Entertainment, Media Players, Cellphones, Gaming and Trick Technologies.
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To read all the CES 2008 articles, click here.
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For details of the new Asus R50 UMPC, click here.
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Neil Berman
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http://www.neilberman.com/

Jan 13, 2008 Posted by | Mobile | , | 2 Comments

CES 2008 News: Media Players

My CES 2008 news update comes in the following sections: Laptops & UMPCs, Home Entertainment, Media Players, Cellphones, Gaming and Trick Technologies. To read all the CES 2008 articles, click here. Details of dates, pricing and specifications described below are given from the best information available at the time of writing and may change at any time at each manufacturer’s discretion.
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Media Players
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Apple was not at CES (Macworld is Jan 14-18th) so we’ll have to wait a few days any iPod news, but some other companies came to to CES with some great looking models players.
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Amongst them Creative showed the 4GB Zen Stone Plus, an ultra-cute iPod Shuffle competitor with a host of cool features. The player is available in several colors with up to 4 GB of storage and a cool bright blue display. Useful features include a stopwatch and countdown timer for helping out at the gym. The Zen Stone Plus also has a voice recorder. The 4 GB version should be available soon, whilst the 2 GB version is already in stores undercutting the iPod Shuffle by a significant margin.
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Creative also had the new 32 GB Zen on display, a world first for solid state media players. The new addition is otherwise the same as the existing range of 4/8/16 GB Zens offering video as well as music playback. There is an SD slot for extra expansion, but no wireless capability, unlike the new Zune…
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Microsoft’s recently updated Zune has a great interface, which is easy to navigate and looks super-cool. The screen is vivid, video runs well and Zune Marketplace has one million DRM-free songs available. The real killer punch though is the wireless PC sync’ing and Zune to Zune sharing (see top). We’ll have to wait until Macworld on Jan 14-18th to see if Apple brings similar functionality to the iPod.
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One of the more amusing players was Sony’s Rolly, which danced around singing music from its onboard speakers. Sansa’s recently released Shaker was also on display, looking cute as ever in its pepperpot-like shell.
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See photos and read CES news about: Laptops & UMPCs, Home Entertainment, Media Players, Cellphones, Gaming and Trick Technologies.
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To read all the CES 2008 articles, click here.
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Neil Berman
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http://www.neilberman.com/

Jan 11, 2008 Posted by | Apple, Audio, Microsoft | , | Leave a comment

CES 2008 News: Trick Technologies

My CES 2008 news update comes in the following sections: Laptops & UMPCs, Home Entertainment, Media Players, Cellphones, Gaming and Trick Technologies. To read all the CES 2008 articles, click here. Details of dates, pricing and specifications described below are given from the best information available at the time of writing and may change at any time at each manufacturer’s discretion.

Trick Technologies

Solid State Drives

Sandisk, Samsung and Toshiba were all showing off their Solid State Drive technology. Sandisk had several laptops on its stand fitted with SSDs including a MacBook, although this was a working concept rather than a production unit. Samsung were running a video showing the relative merits of SSD versus traditional hard disks, which highlighted SSD benefits in file access timing, battery performance and vibration tests. The company, which has been fitting 32GB SSDs into production Q1s for a while, announced that a 64 GB SSD version will be available in the new Q1 Ultra Premium range. Toshiba had an open SSD on display and as expected the drive simply looks like a large memory board with an array of storage chips in place of a traditional spinning platter. I would expect SSDs to become an ever increasing part of portable commputing and to fall in price as production volumes increase.

Killer SSD fact: SSDs are governed by Moore’s law, which states that the number of transistors on a chip doubles about every two years. We could therefore assume that at a given price point the capacity of an SSD should double every two years. Or, the cost of a given SSD capacity should roughly halve every two years. This means that at some future point I expect SSDs to become cheaper than traditional hard drives and therefore more widely implemented given the relative benefits of SSDs.

Toshiba Hand Gesture Recognition

Giving us hope that Minority Report style hand waving technology may be possible one day, Toshiba demonstrated a prototype Qosmio laptop which responded to hand gestures. By making certain gestures in front of the laptop’s webcam, the demonstrator was able to play, pause and search through a movie. Another gesture turned the hand into a vitual pointer, controlling on-screen mouse movement. This was made possible by development of Toshiba’s SpursEngine, a co-processor which takes processing of certain highly data intensive functions away from the CPU and graphics card. This allows the latter two to concentrate on what they are doing and gives the overall system more horsepower for rendering HDTV and certain other multimedia tasks. The software is already compatible with Windows Media Center. The best news about this technology is that we could see Qosmios rolling into stores with it onboard as soon as this year.

Wireless Rechargeable External Drives

External drives are great…until you want to access them on the move at which point you wish you’d bought a laptop with a bigger hard drive. Not for much longer.

Seagate demonstrated a prototype 1.8 inch external hard drive called the DAVE equipped with WiFi and a battery (rechargeable via USB). So this drive could stay in a bag whilst you access it from a laptop on a coffee table nearby. Seagate is aiming to give it cellphone-like battery life. It is unlikely that Seagate will sell the drive themselves just yet, at present the company is working with third parties to build software and market the product.

Organic Light Emmitting Diode Screens (OLED Screens)

This technology, once emerging, has now definitely emerged and is retail stores. OLED screens were some of the stars of the show, with dazzling screens on display from Samsung and Sony. See the home entertainment section for more details.

See photos and read CES news about: Laptops & UMPCs, Home Entertainment, Media Players, Cellphones, Gaming and Trick Technologies.

To read all the CES 2008 articles, click here.

Neil Berman

http://www.neilberman.com/

Jan 10, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

CES 2008 News: Cellphones

My CES 2008 news update comes in the following sections: Laptops & UMPCs, Home Entertainment, Media Players, Cellphones, Gaming and Trick Technologies. To read all the CES 2008 articles, click here. Details of dates, pricing and specifications described below are given from the best information available at the time of writing and may change at any time at each manufacturer’s discretion.

Cellphones

It’s a high five from manufacturers who are following on the heels of Nokia’s N95 by releasing 5 megapixel cameras. Both LG and SonyEricsson showed off new models hitting the magic number.

LG’s smart looking Viewty (think ‘beauty’ and it makes sense) is an all black touchscreen navigated multimedia cellphone. The 5 megapixel camera is completed by 120 fps video recording capability and the option to upload directly to YouTube. The Viewty also has a music player and games onboard but the real gem is the camera. There’s red eye reduction, autofocus and this is the first cellphone to get image stabilization. The unit actually looks like a camera with a touchscreen on the back as opposed to a phone with a camera attachment.

There’s no release date set yet, but the Viewty is likely to debut in Europe and the Asia before the US, as the cameraphone market in the US is so under-developed compared to the former two regions.

The same could not be said of Motorola’s stunning new Rokr E8, with its tiny 2 megapixel lens poking out of the back panel. The Rokr’s raison d’être is music and it comes with 6 GB of onboard storage and a front panel which looks more like a media player than a cellphone. It seems everyone wants to make cellphones that don’t look like cellphones any more. The Rokr’s keypad lighting depends on the current mode, a feature Motorola calls ModeShift. It looks great in operation. The whole package is finished off by a proper 3.5mm headphone socket. The Rokr E8 is due out on US GSM networks (at&t, T-Mobile) around March this year.

SonyEricsson seem more keen to stay with traditional cellphone design with its new K850, another 5 megapixel cameraphone release. The K850 bears a strong family resemblance to the K750i, the main change being additional soft keys and an initially confusing joystick implementation. The joystick is actually four navigation buttons sticking out of the middle of the phone. You need small fingers for this one and for the screen soft keys too. It really feels like SonyEricsson have tried to cram too much onto the fascia. Flipping the cellphone over reveals a Cybershot branded 5 megapixel autofocus camera with a Xenon flash. Nice. The K850 is due out early in 2008.

SonyEricsson had a lot of new cellphones to show us this year, with further releases of three other models. The W760 (below) sports a 3.2 megapixel camera, onboard GPS and Shake Control, which allows the user to switch music tracks by shaking the phone. The W350 (below) is a stunningly designed 1.3 megapixel phone with music player, radio and external music controls. Finally the Z555 (below) is a clamshell design with Gesture Control and OLED caller ID, which is obscured from normal viewing by the silver casing on the top of the cellphone. Gesture Control allows the user to control certain functions with hand movements registered by the camera. For example waving a hand across a camera could reject an incoming call.

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All three cellphones have Bluetooth 2.0 and support tri-band & EDGE, whilst the W760 goes further by supporting HSDPA and four bands. Planned release date for the trio is Q2 2008.
See photos and read CES news about: Laptops & UMPCs, Home Entertainment, Media Players, Cellphones, Gaming and Trick Technologies.

To read all the CES 2008 articles, click here.

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Jan 10, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

CES 2008 News: Gaming

My CES 2008 news update comes in the following sections: Laptops & UMPCs, Home Entertainment, Media Players, Cellphones, Gaming and Trick Technologies. To read all the CES 2008 articles, click here. Details of dates, pricing and specifications described below are given from the best information available at the time of writing and may change at any time at each manufacturer’s discretion.

Gaming

Sony showed off its Skype and GPS add-ons for the PSP. Skype will be a free firmware update and will only work on the PSP-2000 version of the console. It is due for release around late Jan / early Feb this year. The GPS PSP attachment fits to the top of the console and is compatible with both the PSP-1000 and 2000 versions. The screenshot below shows a video rather than actual software as the roof over our heads obscured direct access to satellites. There is no pricing information available yet for the GPS attachment, which should hit the stores around fall 2008.

Many at the Sony stand commented on how light the PSP-2000 (already available) is compared to the original PSP. A Sony representative noted that 33% of the weight of the PSP-1000 had been shed in the newer version. That’s an amazing achievement.

Sony also debuted new games for the Playstation 3, such as Metal Gear Solid 4 (see screenshots) which is due to be released during summer this year. It is first-person gameplay and the graphics look great.

Sony also showed a working demo of LittleBigPlanet, which is a platform game due out on PS3 later this year. The game looked fun and cheeky, with characters moving around platforms with natural-style obstacles to overcome. Mii-style avatars can be created to personalize gameplay.A few times during the demo the frames momentarily froze and at one point the PS3 crashed. The demonstrators noted that this is not even yet an alpha version., so the kinks should be ironed out hopefully by the time it hits the streets around fall 2008.

Dell showed off a World of Warcraft XPS laptop with built-in Logitech Game Control and physical accelerator. View photos and read about it here.

See photos and read CES news about: Laptops & UMPCs, Home Entertainment, Media Players, Cellphones, Gaming and Trick Technologies.

To read all the CES 2008 articles, click here.

Neil Berman

http://www.neilberman.com/

Jan 9, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

CES 2008 News: Laptops & UMPCs

My CES 2008 news update comes in the following sections: Laptops & UMPCs, Home Entertainment, Media Players, Cellphones, Gaming and Trick Technologies. To read all the CES 2008 articles, click here. Details of dates, pricing and specifications described below are given from the best information available at the time of writing and may change at any time at each manufacturer’s discretion.
Laptops & UMPCs Part 1

For Part 2, click here.

In alphabetical order:

Asus came to CES with the R50A, which is a UMPC with a 5.6 inch screen due for release around the middle of 2008.

The R50A features a 1.33 GHz processor, 32 GB solid state drive (SSD), 1024 x 600 pixel widescreen, WiMax option and built-in GPS. It weighs only 520 grams but will face stiff competition from LG’s new UMPC entrant below. The Asus R2H will continue to be available and will be replaced by the R7 later this year. The R7 will retain the 7 inch screen form factor of the current R2.

Asus confirmed that 8 and 8.9 inch versions of the EEE PC are being developed. The current EEE PC was present in all its colors, with no confirmed release dates for either the successor models or Windows XP preloaded versions. Dell had an XPS M1730 World of Warcraft Edition on display with both an onboard Physics Accelerator and Logitech Game Control. The accelerator, previously only seen on their desktop range, enhances gameplay graphics whilst the Game Control gives the player live reporting of key in-game stats at all times. The M1730’s keyboard is backlit for gameplay in dark environments. The Dell XPS M1330 was also on show and continues to be a great looking design.

HTC’s Shift was on display and is due to ship in Q1 in the US or CDMA networks (Sprint and Verizon). The Shift uses an 800 MHz processor complemented by 1 GB RAM, a 7 inch screen and a 40 GB hard drive. The initial cost of the Shift should be around $1400, plus the cost of any subscriber services from the wireless carriers.

Intel said that laptops with embedded Wimax technology will be released in mid-2008.

LG were showing off a prototype UMPC with a 4.8 inch screen and a built in slide out keyboard with trackpad. Powered by a 1.6 GHz Intel Menlow processor, the UMPC was running Vista Home Premium. Also onboard are 1 GB of RAM, a 40 GB hard drive and it all weighs in at just 590 grams. There’s no pricing yet but an LG representative said that production is likely in 2008. In an interesting design cue, the pointer is stored in a tiny lipstick style hard case which dangles off the side of the computer.

New entrant LimePC showed off three pre-production UMPCs of various screen sizes ranging from mid-size down to very small (approx 3 inches or so). All had a Linux distro with a Web 2.0 interface driven by a Power PC triple-core architecture from Freescale. The CPU has a miniscule 2w power consumption. Q2 production was being suggested and sales channels are being worked out as we speak, although no details or pricing are currently available. There were also desktop and living room versions on display.

Microsoft’s ‘Spotlight on Fashion’ show highlighted some Vista laptops at the cutting edge of design. Featured models included Lenovo’s new U110 and the wafer thin Sony Vaio TZ (see top).

Sandisk demonstrated a few proof of concept laptops with solid state drives (SSD) installed. One was an Apple Macbook, which had a 64 GB SSD onboard and booted up in seventeen seconds. The Sandisk representative I spoke to said that he was not aware of any plans to start supplying SSD drives into MacBooks in a production capacity; the prototype on display was solely a concept machine.

Tablet Kiosk had an EO 7300 concept on display, which is a prototype UMPC with modular add-ons. These modules include USB ports and additional batteries. The 7300 concept can accommodate one module on either side of the screen, so two batteries can be fitted simultaneously. The company is currently seeking feedback from the community and hopes to release a production version sometime in Q3 2008. Meanwhile the current EO will shortly be updated to offer a 1.2 GHz VIA processor.

Read more in part 2

See photos and read CES news about: Laptops & UMPCs, Home Entertainment, Media Players, Cellphones, Gaming and Trick Technologies.

To read all the CES 2008 articles, click here.

Neil Berman

http://www.neilberman.com/

Jan 8, 2008 Posted by | Apple, Microsoft, Mobile | , , , , | Leave a comment

CES 2008

Welcome to my CES 2008 series, which will show and tell the exciting developments in this year’s massive three-venue Las Vegas extravaganza! I’m actually here, so what you read will be real accounts, not recycled material from other sites.

My CES 2008 news update comes in the following sections: Laptops & UMPCs, Home Entertainment, Media Players, Cellphones, Gaming and Trick Technologies.

To read all the CES 2008 articles, click here.

Neil Berman

http://www.neilberman.com/

Jan 7, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why is CES in Las Vegas? Who cares, just as long as it stays there!

From the Luxor’s Sphinx to the Paris’ Eiffel Tower, Las Vegas is a place where awesome is not big enough a word to describe the sensory overload.The recreations of global landmarks, the Bellagio’s concert fountains and the Hilton’s whole Star Trek annexe (more on this to come) only begin to describe some of the tamer attractions. The evening shows and gambling halls take care of the rest.

Fingers crossed I can still afford my plane ticket home by the time I’m done!

Above, Luxor’s Sphinx. Below, Bellagio’s fountains with Caesar’s Palace in the background.

Below, The Paris’ Eiffel Tower. Bottom, according to its owners the Las Vegas monorail saves an amazing 4 million car journeys each year.

Neil Berman

www.neilberman.com

Jan 7, 2008 Posted by | CES, Other Stuff | Leave a comment

Predictions for 2008


1. Ultra Mobile PCs: Various form factors continue to emerge without mass-market penetration until 2010.

Innovative UMPC products continue to come to market with no all-conquering form factor. Price, size to weight ratio and successful keyboard/mouse implementation are the biggest factors to achieving good sales. Solid state drives become increasingly prevalent across UMPCs, which benefit from the resulting weight, speed and energy efficiencies. UMPCs fail to win mass-market penetration until 2010 when the laptop market is saturated and consumers see the UMPC as a more portable extension to their now-indispensable laptop.

2. Laptop market: Laptops become fashion accessories, mainstream consumers reduce focus upon technology as most machines will have key features.

Comparative features between models converge and manufacturers have difficulty differentiating themselves based upon technology. Increasingly in 2008 consumers base laptop buying decisions upon image. Laptops start to become mainstream fashion statements by the end of the year. Similar to the clothing market, the cost of buying into the image falls as mainstream manufacturers mass produce designer-style laptops and all-in-ones. Apple’s computer division comes under resulting pressure and the recessionary economic environment forces it to launch a budget MacBook.

3. Digital cameras: Cellphones put pressure on lower end of market.

By the end of 2008, the lower end of the digital camera market starts to come under pressure from cellphones. It is the start of the market’s decline towards a predominantly enthusiast consumer base by 2012.

4. Music downloads: More choice and more DRM-free tracks; iPod market share under pressure.

Driven by pricing pressures, sufficient numbers of record companies break their relationship with Apple. This reduces iTunes’ market share and puts pressure on the iPod range. The principal benefactor is Zune Marketplace, which also gains market share through mass availability of DRM-free downloads.

5. Video downloads: Lots of adverts but no popcorn.

Mobile pay TV and video downloading fail to take off due to pricing concerns from the studios, who fear a repeat of what happened with the music industry.

6. Cellphones: Apple successfully widens product mix amongst consumers, but fails to penetrate corporate market; established players continue to lag behind on user interface but move ahead on technology and features.

iPhone 2.0 comes out and the original model is reduced in price and made available at a new tariff to achieve broader market penetration. Corporates experience increased employee pressure to support iPhone but decline to do so due to security and strategic infrastructure compatibility issues. WiFi VoIP cellphones remain a niche market. LG and Samsung become main emerging threats to Apple in the fashion-conscious market. SonyEricsson continues to lead in music and camera implementation. Nokia’s N-series leads consumer data implementations. HTC originated smartphones fail to win significant market share from RIM in the corporate sector, whose Blackberry devices continue to become more multimedia and consumer orientated.

7. Processor technology: Energy saving on the road and cores races on the desktop.

Exceptionally low voltage x86 instruction-set CPUs start to emerge, allowing smartphones and other highly power-conscious ultra-mobile devices to achieve greater convergence with mainstream PCs. Laptops benefit from further processor energy saving technology. Desktop marketing becomes driven by the number of cores in a processor, but beyond a certain point mainstream operating system and application code fails to derive corresponding performance benefit from this race. OS releases and applications play catch-up in optimizing themselves for multi-core implementations.

8. Gaming: Wii gains wider appeal, PSP vs. DS goes to round two.

The release of Wii Fit gives Nintendo’s platform mass cross-generation market penetration. Playstation 3 finally gets flagship games but these come too late to challenge Wii for global dominance. However Blu-ray’s victory over HD-DVD boosts PS3 sales. Details emerge about the next generation of PSP and DS gaming handhelds. Gyroscope tilt controls and vibration feedback are built-in, as are webcams giving VoIP capability. PSP 2.0 gets two joystick controls. Rumours continue to circulate about an Xbox handheld, but this only arrives in 2009 when the Xbox 360 brand is more firmly established globally.

9. Home entertainment: OLEDs light up living rooms…of the rich and famous, next gen DVD format war continues throughout the year.

Organic LED displays provoke plenty of excitement but fail to enter the mass market yet due to prohibitive cost. It takes until 2010 for prices to start becoming genuinely affordable. The HD-DVD vs Blu-ray format war comes to an end, with Blu-ray winning following studio support.

10. Biggest 2008 rumour which does not become a successful production product: Apple UMPC

So many core Apple multimedia applications require substantial CPU, graphics and screen real estate resources that there is no mass market for an Apple UMPC. The fact that current Apples ship with such serious Intel Core 2 Duo power compared to most PCs means that an entirely new application suite would be needed for an Apple UMPC to be useful on a low power platform. This would be too risky for Apple in 2008, given that the UMPC market is so small and its stylish computer ranges will come under unprecedented pressure from competitors as well as economic recessionary forces.

Neil Berman

http://www.neilberman.com/

Jan 6, 2008 Posted by | Apple, Audio, Mobile | , , , | Leave a comment

Dumped due to communication breakdown

Hello to everyone in the Philippines (via SMS). According to Cnet News.com you are a nation who love to text, in fact they reckon you send on average 12 to 15 messages each day.

This could be something to do with the price of texting in the Philippines, with carriers bundling hundreds of free texts on some tariffs. On Globe’s website, SMS charges can get as low as half a Philippine Peso, which is approximately 1 US Cent.

I expect this charging mirrors the actual cost per SMS closer than many countries’ carriers, where charges of 10 to 20 US cents per text are common.

A text uses 140 bytes, which is approximately 0.14kb or 0.00014mb. If we assume 10 cents per text on average then by extrapolation texting costs around $714 per megabyte. That would be an expensive data tariff.

In fact texting doesn’t actually get carried on the data networks. It uses the GSM signalling channels, whilst voice calls travel simultaneously through dedicated GSM voice channels.

The signalling channels are an essential part of GSM infrastructure and send control data, so SMS is basically a bi-product of the voice service…a bi-product which has become extremely profitable for many carriers. So well done to the Filipinos, you’re getting a good deal!

I certainly hope your texts arrive quicker than mine. I tend to find, especially on nights out when everyone’s trying to meet up, that my texts reach their destination late.

Sometimes very late. One friend asked me recently why I texted him at 4.30am just to say how good Tiger Woods 08 is. To placate him I pulled up my sent folder which showed I sent the message at 9.30pm. It took seven hours for the SMS to arrive. The guy only lives four blocks away!

Texts can arrive late because they generally get delivered on a best efforts basis. Voice data has a dedicated channel so once you initiate a call, your conversation happens in real time. Text messages on the other hand are sent using a ‘store-and-forward’ model. They go through a variety of sorting infrastructure devices before they get delivered to the recipient.

So on big nights out when everyone is texting to tell their friends where they are, the high volume of messages places strain on these sorting devices and so your text might take longer to reach its destination.

What does this mean in practise? Your date gets your text about where to meet three hours late and so dumps you by text, which you receive the next morning whilst nursing a hangover.

Neil Berman

http://www.neilberman.com/

Cnet News.com article referenced above can be found here.

Jan 3, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 1 Comment

   

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