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MacBook Air (late 2010): It still fits

MacBook Air manilla envelope

In case you’re missing 2008, the new MacBook Air 13.3″ still fits; the 11.6″ of course is a little loose.

Neil Berman

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Oct 31, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Hardware | , | Leave a comment

EFO ‘smallest and lightest’ iPazzPort review

EFO iPazzPortWe’ve reviewed many EFO iPazzPort controllers over the last year. Up to now they’ve followed a similar form factor but EFO decided to go even smaller with the latest model, which is a credit card sized keyboard and trackpad combo.  I’d love to be able to describe this model by a specific name but EFO simply differentiate it from the other iPazzPorts by calling it the ‘smallest and lightest’ model.

For the uninitiated, EFO’s iPazzPort range aims to provide an ultraportable wireless controller for a variety of uses from HTPC use to acting as a games console thumb board to serving as a business presentation aid.  This iPazzPort is Windows, Mac and Linux compatible.

First impressions of the credit card sized iPazzPort

This latest iPazzPort is notably smaller than the versions we’ve reviewed up to now. The front facing dimensions are similar to a credit card, and it’s about as thick as three stacked on top of EFO iPazzPort keyboardeach other.  While we haven’t felt that the previous form factor was too big, we can understand that the smaller size makes sense for certain use cases. For example for a business presentation this model fits in a shirt pocket more conveniently than the larger size. To get an idea of the size, this model is slightly smaller than a regular size BlackBerry.

This model is also extremely light. There’s not much inside the iPazzPort except for a battery and a circuit board but the smaller size makes this model feel featherweight compared to the regular, already lightweight version. This model also feels more solid. The main body is still made from plastic but this stuff feels higher grade than the other iPazzPorts. The keys have a rubber finish which makes them ready to press, with a similar texture to the model we recently reviewed.

The trackpad on this model is far smaller than on the regular iPazzPort, due to the smaller size of the whole device. It still offers tap to click thought, although no multi-touch which has been on our wish list of features to be added to the iPazzPort for some time.

EFO iPazzPort trackpadThis iPazzPort also has dedicated page up and down buttons, also similar to the version we looked at recently there’s a red last pointer built into this model. The keyboard is backlit in a cool orange glow for use in dark environments.  Around the sides there’s a power button, although the iPazzPort will go to sleep to save battery life. At the base of the iPazzPort is a standard USB charging port.

Using three credit card sized iPazzPort

The keyboards across the iPazzPort range have come a long way since we reviewed the first model a year ago. This model carries on these improvements offering good tactile and usable key spacing for those of you used to typing on a portrait smartphone. The QWERTY key positioning is slightly off in places, since the keys are aligned vertically rather than being staggered but it’s fairly easy to adapt to the layout.  The keyboard backlighting works very well.

The laser pointer works just as well as on the larger version; my only thought with the placement of the activation button is that it’s on the right side of the iPazzPort. This might be more convenient for right handed than left handed users if the user wants to switch between using the laser pointer and trackpad/buttons.

EFO iPazzPort power and laser buttonsEFO recently switched back to RF transmission for the iPazzPorts from a brief foray into Bluetooth, which has been a good move.  Windows 7 detected the device almost instantly and there was no need for pairing.  Another benefit of moving away from Bluetooth is that the battery of this model lasts for a good few hours, which should be plenty given that users are unlikely to use the iPazzPort as a primary keyboard for a whole day at a time.

The trackpad is responsive, however its small size makes it a little harder to get used to than the larger iPazzPort which has a standard laptop size trackpad.  It gets the job done though.  One aspect of using the trackpad that I found very difficult to get the hang of was the button placement to the right of the trackpad.  It felt very unnatural to fish out the secondary mouse button; the trackpad button placement of the larger iPazzPort feels far more logical, but of course that model has enough real estate to allow for easier button placement.  I’d also love this device to have a multi-touch trackpad; a saving grace is that EFO is adding multi-touch capability to the next version of the regular size iPazzPort, so if multi-touch is a must-have for you then stay tuned for our review of that one when it comes out.

Should you get out the credit card for the credit card sized iPazzPort?

What’s amazing about this iPazzPort is that it crams the most essential keys and functions of a trackpad and keyboard into a tiny package that looks pretty decent.  For the $50 being asked, the iPazzPort works as promised with no major flaws and would be a great complement to HTPCs and business presentation users.  I’d just wish EFO would start coming up with some different names, which would help me to describe the different models more easily!

The photos in this post were taken with a Samsung Epic 4G.

Here is the EFO iPazzPort product page.

Neil Berman

Oct 30, 2010 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Reviews | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Pre-launch review of Sprint 4G WiMAX in New York City

I’ve been using the Samsung Epic 4G on Sprint’s WiMAX network in New York this week. The 4G service is due to go live officially on November 1 and, in short, it rocks. I’ll go into the Epic 4G in more detail in a separate post, for now I’ll concentrate on reviewing the 4G service itself.

I’ve been connecting to Sprint’s 4G service in a few areas; although primarily in downtown Manhattan and the commercial waterfront area of Jersey City. In all cases I’ve experienced consistent download speeds indoors of 4.5-5Mbps and upload speeds of 1Mbps. Outdoors the speeds have been around 3-4.5Mbps down and 1Mbps up. These are average download speeds measured with the Speedtest.net Android app. The specs of Sprint’s WiMAX service suggest that peak bursts could be up to twice those speeds.

What does this mean in real life? I was able to download apps in the Android Market faster than I could search for the next ones. Downloading podcasts and streaming videos became a trivial matter. I even tested using the Epic 4G as a mobile hotspot streaming an HD YouTube to the new MacBook Air, which worked like a charm. Basically it’s been like having a home internet connection in my pocket.

That speaks to the dicussion I had with Sprint about customrs using their phones or an Overdrive to replace their home internet connection. In an instant I saw that this is a real option. For an average user in a good coverage area, Sprint’s 4G service is should be quick enough to replace a typical home internet service. Taking the Epic 4G as an example, you could carry it as a daily phone and then put it into hotspot mode when you get home to provide your home internet service. For someone paying a typical $40 per month on home internet, that’s a decent savings. Whether that’s feasible though would depend upon your type of usage and network coverage.

One thing that’s really surprised me is how well the 4G signal has held up in my usage, given the higher frequency being used for WiMAX in this deplyment compared to 3G. This is probably due to thehigh density of pico cells that Sprint has deployed to provide coverage across the city.

There are still a could of dead spots here that Sprint said they are going to continue working on. But overall if the speeds remain this good post go-live then this is a service I can recommend in a heartbeat. The post go-live experience will be the true acid test though. As a friend said over dinner, if we had tested the iPhone a week before launch in New York City then it probaly would have been a superb experience, but as more and more iPhones placed strain on AT&T’s network,the quality of the experience degraded.

Will Spint’s 4G WiMAX network experience similar issues if there is a rush of subscribers? We’ll have to wait and see. But if it holds up, it will be a strong offering. The other variable is how successful Verizon’s 4G LTE deployment will be when Big Red lights it up shortly. If you’re in a good coverage area though, Sprint’s 4G WiMAX could be all you need for both mobile and home internet.

Neil Berman

Oct 29, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Video: New MacBook Air boot time is 13.7 seconds

Here it is, the new 13″ MacBook Air.  The photo has it still napping in its box after the long trip from Cupertino, but a short while ago I switched it on.  Here’s what happened…

That’s crazy fast.

Neil Berman

Oct 27, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Computing, Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Preview of Sprint’s 4G service in New York City

Sprint Epic 4GSprint will be officially turning on its 4G service in New York City on November 1, and were kind enough to toss a Samsung Epic 4G our way for some pre-launch action.  Monday’s 4G launch will cover the five boroughs, as well as some nearer areas of New Jersey and parts of Long Island.  Sprint has already lit up various other cities around the country with 4G, and by the end of the year will have covered 55 markets.  The story doesn’t end there, as the carrier told me that it will continue the rollout next year which will include solidifying coverage across the New York City area.

Although the service goes live officially on Monday, it is largely available right now while the Sprint techs make their final pre-launch checks.  For newcomers, Sprint chose to base its 4G service on WiMAX which promises average download speeds of 3-6 Mbps, with peaks of 10 Mbps.  Those speeds Sprint Epic 4G 3will easily allow customers to stream HD video, do high quality video calling and download large files quickly in good coverage areas.  When I fired up the Epic 4G I saw 5 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up as you can see in the photo, which is frankly phenomenal compared to 3G speeds.

At those speeds you might expect people to start abandoning their home internet connections, especially since Sprint does not currently have data usage caps for 4G.  I asked Sprint for their views on this and they openly encourage people to use either their 4G phone’s mobile hotspot feature or the Overdrive mobile hotspot as a home internet replacement.  Sprint doesn’t offer a wired internet service so it makes good business sense for them to try to attract new customers this way.  I expect the other carriers will do the same thing when they launch their 4G services…and the traditional ISPs might wince at the prospect.

Sprint Epic 4G 2Sprint does face a couple of challenges with its 4G rollout.  Firstly the other carriers are snapping at its heels; notably Verizon has announced that its 4G LTE network will be available on some cities by the end of the year and AT&T is working to get its 4G LTE network ready during 2011.  Sprint’s head start has probably allowed it to lock in a good deal of 4G early adopters onto two year contracts though with the Samsung Epic 4G and the now iconic HTC Evo 4G.

Sprint’s second challenge is a technical one, rooted in the frequency being used to deploy WiMAX on the wireless spectrum.  As a guide, lower frequencies tend to penetrate buildings and distance better than higher frequencies which is why GSM customers often see EDGE coverage in weak signal areas – EDGE has been deployed at a lower frequency in the spectrum than GSM 3G and CDMA EVDO, so it can reach more places.  WiMAX is being deployed at 2.5GHz, which is a step above the 3G frequencies, so Sprint has had to install WiMAX transmitters more densely compared with EVDO to provide good coverage.  New York City presented its own unique challenges to the deployment due to the high density of large skyscrapers.

Over the coming weeks we’ll be giving the Epic 4G a good workout, as both a daily 4G phone and mobile WiFi hotspot, so stay tuned for our review.

Neil Berman

Oct 26, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Hardware, Mobile, News, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Frost’s holographic projection iPad is the coolest TV gadget effect ever

Holographic projection iPadIn tonight’s episode of Chuck on NBC, Frost pulls out an iPad to set the scene for Chuck and Sarah.  But this is no ordinary iPad…this iPad magically projects a holographic image R2-D2 style.  Is this iPad 2.0?  Sure would be cool!  Is it plausible?  No way!  Do I want one?  Hells yeah!!!

Neil Berman

Oct 25, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video | , , , | Leave a comment

Hulu Plus and the cost of coming second

When Netflix launched its online streaming service it was anyone’s guess as to whether it would catch on. For years now the Berman living room PC has been our primary source of couch media. Between Windows Media Center, Netflix and more recently Hulu and Fancast, our TV needs are fully served. But we still haven’t adopted Hulu Plus.

Around a year ago when we found we were gobbling 90% of our Netflix food online and only a snack through the mail, we cut down from two DVDs per month to one. The online selection has become enormous, with movies such as Ironman, the new Star Trek and Wall-E available through the pipe. We’ve also consumed all eight days of 24 over Netflix this year. It’s little wonder that recent stats suggest 20% of all US peak internet traffic is Netflix streaming.

So when Hulu Plus came along offering content WITH commercials for a dollar MORE a month than Netflix, I wasn’t really interested. We were already in the Netflix ecosystem; all our large screen devices (Windows Media Center, iPad, laptops) support Netflix and most importantly in the living room Netflix works with a simple remote control on Windows Media Center or the Xbox. In my household Hulu Plus was paying the price of coming to market a late second. Sure, Hulu Plus offers different TV content to Netflix but its overall library is weaker, due to its relative lack of quality movie titles. Hulu is also coming out with a remote control interface, but it’s not in production release yet.

It looks like I wasn’t alone. Rumors are circling about a possible 50% Hulu Plus price cut, which can only be a result of a lower than expected adoption rate. At $4.95 per month the service would definitely be more tempting than the current $9.95, but the most frustrating part of the Hulu experience remains i.e. the ever increasing amount of commercials. Ad breaks on Hulu have rapidly increased from an acceptable 30 seconds to around 2 annoying minutes, and I’m sure that duration will continue to increase. With Netflix being commercial free, Hulu Plus will always have a hard time convincing consumers to pay for an ad-supported service when much of its content is available on its free site.

I’m guessing therefore that the real objective of a lower Hulu Plus subscription price would be to remove the free service altogether when subscriber numbers reach critical mass.

Neil Berman

Oct 24, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Software | , , , , | 1 Comment

Using a Kindle 3 for web browsing and blogging

 

Kindle 3 web browser screen sunlight

The Kindle's E Ink screen is great for use in sunlight

 

I’m always on the lookout for new mobile writing platforms, so when the new Kindle 3 was launched a couple of months ago I thought I’d give it a whirl.

The eBook capabilities of the Kindle are well known, but its web browsing and blogging abilities are less established. In fact, even in the menus on the Kindle 3 the web browser is listed under ‘Experimental’. Plus, for writers/bloggers there’s no dedicated text editor. So at first glance it’s unclear whether buying a Kindle 3 primarily for web browsing or blogging is a good idea.

Some people have commented that it’s possible to add annotations to books and turn these into ad-hoc notes. Although this can be done, I’m going to concentrate here on blogging in a more direct way.

The web browser on the Kindle 3 is a Webkit affair and far superior to the browser on previous Kindles. The Kindle 3 is actually able to render plenty of pages correctly, although there’s no Flash or any of the fancy plug-ins that we take for granted on even a basic netbook. Pages can also take a bit of time to load, especially over 3G if you have the 3G Kindle 3.

The secret to enjoying web content on the Kindle 3 is to use mobile versions of sites wherever possible. The desktop site of the New York Times for example will render on the Kindle 3’s browser, but the newspaper’s mobile site will render far quicker and offers access to full articles in a way that’s much easier to navigate with the Kindle 3’s cursor keys.

The same principle applies to email sites. I have been able to successfully use Yahoo Mail’s mobile site, while GMail’s mobile site has been hit-and-miss and Hotmail has never worked for me on the Kindle 3.

That leads us to blogging. I’ve been able to use the Kindle 3 to access the mobile WordPress.com site, but there are limitations. The mobile WordPress.com site only seems to allow post creation and does not seem to allow access to saved drafts. This means that if you want to partially write a post to complete later on the Kindle 3 or save as you write, you’ll be out of luck. Plus if you’ve just finished writing your greatest post ever and the WiFi connection to the Kindle 3 drops, I assume your masterpiece might be lost. I haven’t experienced this myself, it’s just a risk I envisage when you’re creating a document online and are unable to save it along the way.

Fear not, there’s a way to blog more safely from the Kindle 3. Yahoo Mail’s mobile site does allow access to your Drafts folder, which means you can write an email and save as you go along. Then when you’re done, use the post from email feature that many blogging sites offer (such as WordPress.com) to publish your post.

Of course you could also leave your post as a saved email draft and then polish it up when you get back to a laptop. If you don’t have a Yahoo Mail account, it’s easy to set one up. As I mentioned I’ve had mixed success with GMail and no luck using Hotmail on the Kindle 3.

Writing with the Kindle 3 is a so-so experience. It gets the job done, but number and symbol input requires a lot of button pressing. The keyboard is also a little wider than ideal and the keys have poor tactile response compared to, say, a BlackBerry. However it does work acceptably and after a short stint of writing I started to warm to the experience. I also find that due to the refresh time of the E Ink screen, I sometimes write quicker than the screen can display the text. However the Kindle 3 always catches up.

Why all this effort when smartphones and iPads are becoming so ubiquitous? Well the Kindle 3 has some unique advantages. Firstly the screen is easily readable in sunlight, in fact it’s better in sunlight than in the shade. Secondly the Kindle 3’s battery lasts for ages and the device is extremely portable; it’s difficult to put a figure on the real-world battery life but I’ve enjoyed a full week of sporadic use from the Kindle 3 with WiFi browsing. Thirdly, for just $189 the Kindle 3 3G version allows you to read web content on a decent size screen in more places than a typical laptop that just has WiFi connectivity.

So the Kindle 3 can be a useful device for web browsing and blogging. Just go into the experience with your eyes open; it’s not an ideal platform for these use-cases but it provides functionality to get many of the basics done, and is one of the only viable options for use outdoors in sunnier climates.

Neil Berman

Oct 22, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Guides, Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ABC, CBS & NBC blocking streaming shows to Google TV devices

Have you been calling around your local Best Buys in search of a Sony TV with Google TV so you can watch Modern Family online at your every whim?

Hold them horses cowboy and stand down on the bank loan, because Google is finding out just how hard the networks will fight to keep you from cutting off the cable. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that ABS, CBS and NBC are blocking streaming episodes to Google TV devices. While owners of the new Apple TV can watch some network content for 99c an episode, it’s clear that those networks don’t want consumers to be able to bypass that paywall with a Google TV. There are also reports out there that Hulu is blocking Google TV browsers from streaming content as well.

It looks like it’s going to be a tough journey for Google TV. Trying to sell a TV product without content provider agreements is hard enough, but when your product gets blocked for doing what customers expect it to do it’s likely to turn into a messy situation. This certainly highlights how hard it’s going to be for the whole web-on-your-TV thing to really happen.

Neil Berman

Oct 21, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video | , , , , | Leave a comment

Three annoying things about the new MacBook Airs

1. It doesn’t have a backlit keyboard. Why Apple, WHY?????

2. My hope for a MacBook Air Touch didn’t crystallize, but it looks like the OS is going that way anyway just like I predicted. The iOSX mashup is coming to a MacBookPad near you.

3. This one hurts. If you dropped three large on a MacBook Air 128GB SSD a couple of years ago, there’s a better one in your local Apple store right now for $1299. And your neighbor just bought one for each of his college kids.

Neil Berman

Oct 20, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Computing, Hardware, Rants | , , | Leave a comment

MacBook Air to become the norm?

This time around the rumor mill was on the money, predicting an 11.6 inch addition to the MacBook Air family. The price for entry has come down to $999, or $1299 for the 13.3 inch model, while almost everything else has gone in the other direction. Battery life is now up to 7 hours, startup time is quicker and portability has been improved with the 11.6 inch option.

It’s actually hard to figure out who would choose the base MacBook Pro model now unless you really, really need the faster processor and larger amount of storage.

I have a sneaky suspicion that MacBook Air sales will start to comprise a significant portion of lower cost Mac sales, and for good reason. They have the right balance of mobile portability vs performance for everyday tasks, enough battery life for typical daily usage and, most importantly in this material world, they look incredible.

That’s a rarity for a low price Mac, but I suspect it’s about to become the norm in Starbucks.

Neil Berman

Oct 20, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Hardware | , , , , | Leave a comment

Motorola S10-HD stereo Bluetooth headphones review

Stereo Bluetooth headphones have long been one of my favorite topics on theONbutton.  I’ve not been shy about my issues with the lack of choice in this sector and frustrations about Apple’s imperfect Bluetooth implementation on iOS.  The winds of change look to be blowing in the right direction though. Apple’s latest version of iOS now supports proper stereo Bluetooth remote control (AVRCP) and hopefully that means manufacturers will feel free to launch a wider range of headsets.  Motorola has had stereo Bluetooth headsets in its lineup for some time and we’ve previously reviewed the S805 and S9-HD, finding both to be solid contenders.  The company has built upon the S9-HD’s design to deliver the new S10-HD and we have one right here, so let’s see if it’s any good shall we?

First impressions of the Motorola S10-HD

With the S10-HD, Motorola has stayed with a similar behind-the-neck design to the S9/S9-HD. As with the S9 family the ear arms of the S10-HD that house the controls and headphones are flexible, while the rear piece housing the battery, USB charging port and power button is solid.

The whole device has a more rubberized feel than the S9 family. They both feel built to a similar high level of quality, but I’m guessing the rubber coating of the S10-HD is designed to make the headset more sweat-resistant than the S9 family. Many people chose the S9 headsets or the Plantronics BackBeat 903/906 as jogging partners and while the S9 seemed to be more sweat resistant than the Plantronics design, the S9 was still vulnerable to moisture. The headset itself feels about the same weight as the S9/S9-HD, although the rear piece is slightly wider presumably to accommodate a higher capacity battery.

The ear controls are near identical to the S9 series, with the track play/pause, forward and back buttons on the right earpiece, while the volume and call controls are on the left earpiece. The only material difference with the controls is that on the S9-HD a long press on the track forward button would toggle the SRS WOW enhancer on and off, whereas this enhancer is not present on the S10-HD.

There are four sizes of ear fittings in the box to allow for a comfortable fit in the ears. They serve a more significant purpose than just comfort however; more about this later. Other items in the box include a power adapter and manual.

Getting comfortable with the Motorola S10-HD

The S9 series was always a polarizing headset. Some people loved the snug fit, which practically guaranteed that they would never fall out of your ears by accident. Others meanwhile found the fit too tight for long term comfort. The S9 series headsets also loosened gently over time, so they became more comfortable after frequent usage, while still retaining a sure-feeling fit.

The S10-HD feel just as snug as my S9-HD did on Day One, although the S9-HD look visibly looser at rest after a year of use than the brand new S10-HD. The various earpieces have a significant impact upon comfort too, because while the smaller ones allow the arms to grip closer to the side of the head, the larger ones push the arms out. So if you find the fit too tight against your head, trying the larger earpieces might be helpful.

Walking around, although the rear piece of the S10-HD is sizable it doesn’t seem to get in the way as much as the rear of the S9-HD. This might just be due to the shape of my head, but I found I could move my head up and down more freely with the S10-HD than with the S9-HD.  Having said that, they do still seem to restrict movement of the head when looking upwards.

Using the Motorola S10-HD

The S10-HD enters pairing mode when switched on for the first time. You can of course also get it into pairing mode after that as well. The headset paired with my iPad and BlackBerry Bold 9700 easily and subsequent reconnections were extremely quick and reliable; I never needed to re-pair the S10-HD, which is in keeping with Motorola’s typically excellent record with Bluetooth devices.

If you’ve ever used an S9 series headset then your fingers will fall naturally onto the controls of the S10-HD. For newcomers, it’s an easy headset to get to know. I found I needed to be a little more precise with key presses compared to with the S9-HD, perhaps that’s because the rubber coating adds a little more distance between the headset’s exterior and the interior button contact.

One of my issues with the S9-HD was that it often lost the Bluetooth signal when walking in open areas or far from other objects, with the phone in my trouser pocket. This resulted in choppy music playback. This has definitely improved with the S10-HD. The new headset’s receiver seems far more able to hold onto a Bluetooth signal when walking around. I went for a brief run with my phone in the front and then back pocket of my shorts, and the S10-HD held the signal without dropouts in both cases.

So how does music sound through the S10-HD? The S9-HD was a solid performer, easily improving upon the original S9, and the S10-HD keeps the reputation going strong. But to tell you more about the characteristics of the sound quality I need to go back to the earpieces.

While it would appear that the different earpiece sizes just impact upon comfort, they actually have a profound impact upon the sound characteristics of the headset. At a basic level, the larger earpieces produce significantly more bass than the smaller ones.

Listening more deeply, it seems that without any earpieces fitted, the S10-HD has a presence peak around approximately 1-3kHz, which is the frequency range of much of the human voice. This characteristic accentuates vocals and is similar to the effect heard when selecting a ‘Pop’ equalizer preset on many stereos. The bass and treble frequencies are still there but the boosting of the midrange pushes the vocals to the foreground.

The acoustic properties of the earpieces has an effect of boosting the low end frequencies, and this is most pronounced with the largest earpieces. I found the most balanced sound was with the second largest earpieces.

With these fitted, basslines were solidly resolved without being over-accentuated. By comparison while the Plantronics BackBeat 903 produced a more open airy sound with more room at the treble end, the Motorola S10-HD is the headset to choose if you want a pumping bassline. Just like the S9-HD, the S10-HD can produce an amazing amount of clear bass, which really is remarkable given the small size of the headphone drivers.

What’s also great about the S10-HD is that while the bass often gets lost to street noise on other headsets, the snug fit of the larger earpieces means that the bass remains intact when walking around wearing the S10-HD.

Of course the S10-HD will let you make calls as well, and it does a reasonable job of this given its design.  Callers’ voices come through very clearly, but for them to hear you it helps to be in a quiet environment since the mic is mounted on one of the earpieces.

There are a couple of issues with the S10-HD. As with the S9 series, the fit will probably continue to polarize opinion regarding how comfortable the S10-HD is to wear over extended periods. I found the S10-HD to be very comfortable when worn for a long time with the second largest earpieces. But your mileage may vary depending upon the shape of your head.

The other issue relates to the volume of the S10-HD. Some devices surrender control of volume to the Bluetooth headset, and both the iPad and Bold 9700 behaved this way with the S10-HD. In both cases I found that the minimum volume did not go low enough for all use-cases I would envisage for the headset. I actually thought that the unit Motorola had sent me was faulty but the second one they sent had identical volume levels. I then paired the S10-HD to a Samsung Epic 4G and this issue was not present, since the Epic 4G allows you to control the master volume from the phone when connected to a Bluetooth headset. Whether this is a problem for you will depend upon your cellphone and how loud you like to listen to music. If your cellphone allows you to control music volume on the phone when connected to a stereo Bluetooth headset then this will probably not be an issue for you at all.

It’s worth mentioning that the Plantronics Backbeat 903/906, Sony DR-BT50 and Motorola’s own S9-HD also exhibit this issue, although those headsets go down to lower minimum volume level than the S10-HD.  These headsets should really all be able to output a negligible volume level if requested.  Perhaps it is an issue with the Bluetooth A2DP stereo audio streaming protocol rather than the headsets, since it seems to affect so many of them – I’d be interested to find this out.

Motorola S10-HD: The final sound-check

At $79.95 the S10-HD comes in at $50 less than the S9-HD did when it was released last year, and if you’re a fan of the Motorola S9/S9-HD then the S10-HD will most likely appeal to you.  Equally if you’re looking for a headset to wear when jogging or working out, the S10-HD should be one of the headsets near the top of your shortlist.  The sound quality of the S10-HD is very enjoyable and uniquely configurable due to the characteristics of the earpieces.  I love that Motorola has vastly improved the S10-HD’s ability to hold on to a Bluetooth signal compared to the S9-HD.  If Motorola, along with other manufacturers, could resolve the minimum volume issue then the S10-HD would be pretty close to perfect.

Neil Berman

Oct 18, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | 63 Comments

MacBook Air’s second coming: Can Apple give it the right Touch?

When Apple launched the MacBook Air in 2008, the ultraportable laptop market was heading in a different direction. At the bottom end Asus had just created the netbook with the EEE PC 701, which was ultraportable in both size and weight. Meanwhile at the top, the Sony Vaio TZ was packing a decent processor in a small and light chassis. Lenovo’s X200 and Dell’s Latitude E4200 became the business ultraportable flag carriers with fast processors, long battery life and 12 inch screens.

The MacBook Air by comparison was hardly more portable than a regular MacBook. Even though it was a good deal lighter, its owner still needed basically the same size bag to carry it around. So the netbook and X200/E4200 sectors flourished while the MacBook Air stumbled, plagued by complaints about overheating, underperformance and disappointing battery life.

This time around it’s sounding like Apple may have reacted to the successes of the smaller form factors. Rumors suggest an 11.6 inch MacBook Air refresh possibly coming on October 20th with near instant-on capability from a bespoke case-less SSD.

Funnily enough this is close to what many were expecting to see when Apple launched the iPad; i.e. a netbook competitor with a quick SSD for instant gratification. I’d anticipate however that the MacBook Air replacement would have at least the current model’s processing power, in order to handle OSX.

Touch might be in the mix as well, but I’m 99% certain that we will not see iOS on this device just yet because that would send completely the wrong message about the iPad’s input method. I do still believe that iOS will eventually become the main Apple OS with Mac OSX becoming a niche in a few years time. But I think this will happen through increasing the touch capabilities of OSX, continuing with the new version that will hopefully be announced on October 20th along with the new MacBook Air. MacBook Air Touch anyone?

Neil Berman

Oct 16, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Hardware | , , , | Leave a comment

Did we just live through “Crazy Pricing Week”?

First was the Logitech Revue Google TV at $299, then the Cisco Umi home videocon came along at $599 and yesterday we saw rumors tha the Samsung Galaxy Tab might launch at $399 on a 2 year contract with T-Mobile.

If that last one turns out to be accurate, it could end up as a disaster for the Samsung Galaxy Tab.  As I mentioned a few weeks ago, it looks like the Samsung Galaxy Tab will not have the software and app ecosystem to compete effectively with the iPad.  Heck even Google said Android 2.2 is not designed to run tablets.

These issues might be surmountable if the Galaxy Tab were to be priced competitively – and I mean something like $199 on contract and say $399 contract free.  The rumored $399 with a contract make it seem irrelevant, since anecdotal evidence suggests that only a small percentage of iPad owners have subscribed to the ontract free AT&T  data plan, which starts at just $15 per month.  The rumors also suggest that the unsubsidized Galaxy Tab might cost $649, which is slightly higher than the 16GB iPad 3G.

Samsung does have a history of expensive tablet pricing.  The company’s Q1 7-inch Windows XP tablet and Q1 Ultra follow-up device were too expensive to win significant consumer attention.  If the Galaxy Tab pricing rumors are true, expect to see limited numbers out and about.

Sheesh, that really was the week of crazy pricing.  Sure sales might have been down recently due to the weak economy but the way to win back sales is surely to price appropriately and look for volume buildup rather than having to endure price cuts that anger early adopters.  Apple already went through that with the original iPhone launch and hwere wise to avoid a similar pitfall with the iPad.

Neil Berman

Oct 11, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Affordable Sandisk 32GB Micro SD lets you carry a backup wherever you go

32gb micro sdChances are that if you have a smartphone called something other than ‘iPhone’, it has a Micro SD card slot. This removable storage format has become an affordable way to carry music, photos and other media on your travels.

Many smartphones ship with a bundled card anywhere between 2 to 8GB in capacity, which is perfectly sufficient to turn a phone into a roving media player. 16GB Micro SDHC cards have also provided an affordable upgrade path for a while now, selling for around $30-40 at many e-tailers.

However the sweet spot starts to come into play at around 32GB, which is the capacity that would allow many people to carry their entire music and photo collection in their smartphone. This serves a dual purpose. Firstly it means less frequent sync’ing at home to change media content stored on the mobile device. Secondly, and arguably more importantly, carrying a copy of your entire media collection on the smartphone means you always have a backup in a separate location to the source. So if something happens at home that takes out your computer and your backup drives (you do have at least one backup drive with regular data sync’ing, right?), the copy on the Micro SD card in your smartphone will hopefully still be intact.

32GB Micro SDHC cards have historically cost well over $100. However the recent arrival Class 4 cards has pushed the Class 2 ones down to around $89 on Amazon at the time of writing. Class 2 means the card has a minimum transfer speed of at least 2MB per second, but that’s still fine for listening to music or viewing photos.

Sure it’s still not pocket change, but think about it this way – most backup drives just sit around unused waiting for a disaster to hopefully never happen. This backup on the other hand is usable in your smartphone every day.

If you plan to buy one of these make sure your smartphone supports Micro SDHC cards up to 32GB, and of course continue to sync your backup devices regularly to your data sources.

Neil Berman

Oct 9, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, News | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Are your free video calls too cheap?

cisco umiThe last time you enjoyed a free Skype video call, perhaps basking in front of an HD webcam, did you think “wow that was too free…I must remember to pay more for my video calls in future!”  Well fear not, because the Cisco Umi (pronounced ‘you me’) is here to help lighten your wallet.  Priced perfectly for small to medium sized businesses, but marketed towards your living room, the Umi offers HD video conferencing in the home for just $599 with a $25 monthly subscription.  It sure is true that tchnology makes the world seem smaller every day, but with video calling this cheap expensive, it’s likely to start feeling a bit bigger from now on.

Neil Berman

Oct 7, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, News | Leave a comment

Logitech Revue: Is $299 realistic?

logitech-revue-google-tvGotta say, I’m more than a little skeptical about the chances of the Logitech Revue wth Google TV package, which was announced today at a niche-looking price of $299.  That price places it squarely in baby-HTPC territory and miles away from the Roku or Apple TV ballpark.  Granted it offers more than the Roku or Apple units (although less than an HTPC).  But will consumers really be willing to shell out close to $300 for something that might not be perceived to offer that much more – especially since Roku is getting Hulu Plus on its $59 impulsebox.  While the world might be ready for that kind of give-it-a-try expenditure, Logitech might have a harder time convincing the mass market to part with a lumpier sum.

Neil Berman

Oct 6, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Home Theater, Photo & Video | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pulse comes of age as one of the best RSS readers ever

PulsePulse was launched as an RSS reader for the iPad some time ago now but recent updates have really catapulted the app to new heights. Version 2.0 of Pulse was released a couple of days ago and now brings the ability to pull sixty(!) feeds across five pages. The cool design remains intact, and the funky feed organization just looks awesome. The iPad version will set you back $1.99 and there’s an iPhone version too.

Neil Berman

Oct 5, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Mobile, Software | , , , , | Leave a comment

The $25-a-month Android phone is coming

We’ve covered the higher end Virgin Mobile products recently because they’re shaking up the smartphone and mobile data markets with seriously funky pricing. Hot on the heels of recent rumors, samsung-intercept-virgin-mobilethe carrier has now announced that it’s bringing the Samsung Intercept Android smartphone to it’s lineup this month for $249.99.

Virgin Mobile will be offering the Samsung Intercept on its Beyond Talk plans so yes that means you’ll be able to run it for $25 a month with no contract. $25!! Are you kidding?? The Intercept might be outclassed by the likes of the Droid X and the Epic 4G, but it’s still a perfectly solid midrange Android smartphone. It packs an 800MHz processor running Android 2.1 and I would expect the usual Android goodies to be present, like Google Navigation, a decent browser and Android Marketplace. On the downside the Samsung Intercept’s camera is a middling 3.2 megapixel affair and it uses the slower EVDO Rev. 0 data speed. But $25, for unlimited data, texts and 300 voice minutes on a genuine Android smartphone!

We’re hoping to get our hands on this puppy as soon as possible so stay tuned for a review…

Neil Berman

Oct 5, 2010 Posted by | Hardware | , , , | Leave a comment

Windows Media Center 7 crashing on Recorded TV scrolling?

Minor freak-out at theONbutton HQ today when Windows 7 Media Center insisted on crashing when trying to scroll through recorded TV.  A quick System Restore to a few hours earlier failed to resolve the issue and panic ensued.  Fortunately this thread at The Green Button suggested simply finding where the scrolling crashes and deleting the offending file.  Problem solved and calm restored :-)

Neil Berman

Oct 3, 2010 Posted by | Home Theater, Photo & Video, Microsoft | , , , | 2 Comments

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