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EFO iPazzPort multitouch review

EFO iPazzPort backlightSo far we’ve reviewed each EFO iPazzPort model revision and enjoyed seeing this cute mini-controller develop into an excellent product. One of our wishes of previous models was for EFO to add multitouch capability to the iPazzPort. Well EFO has been listening because lo and behold the latest iPazzPort is multitouch aware.

EFO iPazzPort multitouchMuch of this fourth generation model is identical to the third gen, so have a look at our review of that iPazzPort for a more detailed look at this wireless controller. Cosmetically they both look the same, with identical key layouts and black or white color choices. The key feel is the same, with rubber keys giving a decent typing experience if not quite at the BlackBerry level of feedback.

One interesting change is that the fourth gen iPazzPort stays awake constantly, whereas the third gen model would go to sleep after a short time to save battery. There are pros and cons to each approach. The third gen model can definitely go longer between charges if you’re only using it occasionally, but it needs a wake-up key press when used after a few minutes. Perhaps owners were complaining that the trackpad wasn’t responding, when they needed to press a key to wake the controller. Whatever the situation, the fourth gen is constantly available which is nice, but needs more frequent juice-ups as a result.

So how is the multitouch on the new iPazzport? Well it just worked straight out of the box with Windows 7. Two finger web page scrolling with the iPazzPort was great, although Windows does not provide quite as fluid an experience as Mac OSX – but that’s an issue with Windows rather than the iPazzPort.

The addition of multitouch makes the new iPazzPort an even more usable wireless controller for a living room HTPC. Plus with third gen’s other features like the laser pointer and access to incidental and function keys remaining intact on the new model, EFO has a strong device on offer here.

Neil Berman

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Nov 29, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kinect for Xbox 360 review

KinectArms a-flailin’, legs a-kickin’ and heads a-bobbin’. That’s the view that Kinect gets as you and your pals progressively lose your inhibitions.

The genre of action gaming, made groundbreakingly popular by the Nintendo Wii, has taken a while to migrate to the Xbox and PS3. Finally with Sony’s Move and Microsoft’s Kinect, the wait is over. So has the wait been worth it?

First impressions of the Kinect

The Kinect ships in a thankfully small box, which is easy to carry home for instant gratification purposes. Inside the box, the Kinect sensor takes up most of the space, with a setup guide, the Kinect Adventures game and a one piece cable with power and USB connectors in there as well.

The Kinect sensor is actually smaller and more premium looking than I was expecting. It’s a glossy black plastic affair, with a rubberized base that helps it perch on top of your favorite TV. The main unit is connected to the base with a little silver neck.

The setup guide is easy to follow and installation took just a few minutes as the Kinect progressed to calibrate itself by looking around and listening to ambient noise in the room. An automatic update was also downloaded during the installation process. After that I was all set.

Using the Kinect

When you start up an Xbox 360 with the Kinect installed, the regular dashboard appears and then the Kinect needs another few seconds to start up. You can then interact with the Kinect by waving a hand in the air or by talking to it. Both methods work well, but the voice control likes a quiet room to help the Kinect to understand what you’re saying.

The regular dashboard scoots away and the Kinect dashboard, or Hub as it’s known, appears. From within the Hub you make selections either buy holding your hand steady over a tile for a couple of seconds or speaking the name of the tile you want to engage. I expect most people will choose hand waving, unless you have a quiet room in which case vocal instructions are a viable option. The hand waving is intuitive and easy to use; the first time I tried, I didn’t hold my hand steady for long enough and the selection didn’t engage. But when you get used to sticking a steady hand in the air it becomes second nature.

Once you’ve engaged the Kinect into action, we hit the first hitch. Unfortunately only a few of the Xbox’s capabilities are available through the Kinect Hub. You can access the game disc currently in the drive, a very limited amount of DLC such as ESPN and some other video content, but that’s pretty much it. There’s no access to Netflix or the remaining bounty of good stuff we’ve come to love from the living room friendly world of Xbox.

I would expect that the Xbox dashboard and Kinect Hub will converge in time as more Xbox apps become compatible with the Kinect. But at the moment it feels like we are in the dangerous territory of having two parallel software interfaces coexisting on the platform.

I’ve been using the Kinect with two launch titles: Dance Central, which seems to have been the most popular title so far and Kinect Adventures, which ships with the Kinect. I’ll start with Dance Central, which is a dance game that fills the dual role of being both amazingly good fun and getting you in shape.

Dance Central includes a decent selection of songs that have their own dance moves. As you progress through the game learning the moves, the Kinect tells you how good your dancing is and is very responsive to your movements. You can slow down the action if you’re having difficulty nailing a particular step.

What makes Dance Central so amazing is that I completely forgot that the Kinect sensor was even there. I felt like I was interacting with the game tutor in my own private dance class. There was nothing to hold or wave, no sensor mats to walk on, nothing strapped to my body relaying information. The beauty of the Kinect is that when games work well, they’re wonderfully immersive.

After a good shot of not dancing very well, but sweating profusely, I turned to Kinect Adventures. This bundled game is a collection of simple active games that do a good job of showcasing the Kinect’s ability to track multiple players with fun games. There are five mini games in Kinect Adventures that all require active play. Kinect Adventures is a mild to very active game; at the extreme end of the scale Reflex Ride will have you jumping constantly to propel a cart, while dodging obstacles in your path. It’s a non-stop sweat ride, in a good way.

Some of the games, like Rallyball, demonstrate how Kinect can sense the arrival of a second player and turn a game instantly from being a one player into a two player game. It’s seriously cool to see your avatar walking into the Rallyball court and just start to play alongside the existing player. You can then walk off and the game continues, but with one player.

Kinect Adventures lacks the depth of Dance Central, but is a more immediate and better party game. It’s also free with the Kinect, and plays better than you might expect of a free game.

Some Kinect downsides

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way first. If you’re expecting the Minority Report experience (I wasn’t but I continue to live in hope), then brace yourself for disappointment. Precogs do not ship with the Kinect at this time. Joking aside, the hand gestures work well but lack the fluidity of the Minority Report aspiration. Ultimately the Kinect sensor has to be able to figure out if you just waving your hand or actually performing a gesture, so the couple of second confirmation period makes sense.

Occasionally the Kinect sensor became confused when two players were in the room. Sometimes it would give menu control to player one and on other occasions it would switch to player two. Not a biggie, but inconsistent.

Speaking of rooms, now we know why the early demos were done in such spacious environments. Kinect likes a spacious room. The setup guide asks for the Kinect sensor to be 6ft away from you for one player games and 8ft away for two players. That’s a stretch in my New York City shoebox, and it’s worth bearing in mind if you’re planning to buy the Kinect to use it in a small room. The distance from my TV to my sofa is just over 8ft and we were able to play one and two player games fine; although during two player games the Kinect occasionally asked one of us to move backward if we started edging forwards during the limb-waving hysteria.

Does Kinect raise the bar for action gaming?

Overall my Kinect experience has been hugely enjoyable. Aside from a couple of minor issues, I’ve been immersed into the game environment in a way that could only be bettered by Tron. Graphically we seem to be a little stuck in Wii-world, so I’d love to see a Call Of Duty for Kinect. That would take the experience to a whole new level altogether.

Neil Berman

Nov 22, 2010 Posted by | Gaming, Hardware, Microsoft | , , , , | Leave a comment

Er…is it meant to do that? (Windows Phone 7 edition)

image

Don’t y’all try using that WP7 home screen in landscape mode…

Nov 13, 2010 Posted by | Microsoft, Mobile | , , | Leave a comment

T-Mobile’s US problems are bigger than iPhone

t-mobile-mytouch-4g-dummy-phone

T-Mobile's flagship (dummy) phone, the MyTouch 4G. If you want to try one, you'll need to ask first.

T-Mobile posted some disappointing results for its US division last week and laid the blame at the door of the iPhone, which is not available on T-Mobile US.  Analyzing that comment, it’s important to ask why this should this be a bigger problem for T-Mobile than for Verizon or Sprint, who are also sans iPhone.

To my mind there’s a simple answer and I’ve said it before.  T-Mobile needs to have a good look at their stores and figure out how to get more people into them.  The Sprint, Verizon and AT&T stores near me are always busy with customers fiddling with phones, trying them out and deciding which device works best for them.  The T-Mobile stores are typically empty because they have pretty near nothing interactive on display.  Their in-store demo phones are dull-screened plastic dummies and would-be customers cannot get a feel for how they work.  A friendly T-Mobile salesperson did pull out a working MyTouch 4G for me when asked, which is the carrier’s flagship and heavily advertised iPhone competitor, but the version on general display is the plastic dummy.  It’s the opposite of the “come and play with me” iPhone displays in AT&T stores.

It would be like going Best Buy and having to decide which TV to buy without actually seeing them working.  At least if you buy a $1,000 TV and get bored of it, you can move it to the bedroom and get a new one next year.  With phones we’re talking about potentially getting locked-in for two years based upon a plastic dummy.  I think most nervous consumers would say no thanks to that idea.  Although plenty of consumers buy gadgets on-spec through mail-order channels, that doesn’t cut it for many consumers.  Those folks need to build trust in a device and understand how it can benefit them before buying.

The CEA told us this week that consumers love to just play with gadgets, even if they have no intention of purchasing.  These opportunities for test drives are essential for gradually familiarizing consumers about a company’s products, especially for T-Mobile given the carrier’s current campaign to educate consumers about its 4G products.  Sprint showcases its 4G devices in store for consumers to experience, Verizon does a similar job for its Droid brand and of course there is a dedicated iPhone demo area in AT&T’s stores.  The message to T-Mobile is clear: entice customers into the store with the campaign, but then give them things to play with when they’re there and they’ll start drinking the Kool-Aid.

Neil Berman

Nov 13, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Mobile, Rants | | Leave a comment

Mini-review of the Samsung Galaxy Tab

Samsung Galaxy Tab

I scored some playtime with the Samsung Galaxy Tab earlier this week.  For newbies out there, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab is the foremost Android-based tablet competitor to the iPad both in price and intended usage.  That’s where the similarities end however.

The Galaxy Tab has a seven inch LCD screen (not AMOLED) that provides approximately half of the screen real estate of the iPad’s 9.7 inch IPS panel.  The Galaxy Tab is correspondingly around 50% lighter as well, weighing in at 0.84 lbs compared to 1.5lbs for the iPad.  The operating systems are obviously different too, with the iPad running an iPad-optimized version of iOS, whereas the Galaxy Tab runs Android 2.2 with some Samsung app enhancements to make the experience more tablet-

 

Samsung Galaxy Tab keyboard

The Samsung Galaxy Tab docked with its optional keyboard

 

friendly.  The Galaxy Tab is likely to be available on various carriers contract-free for around $599-$649 and on a two year contract for around $399.

I’ll keep this short.  The Galaxy Tab is a disappointment for the large amount of money being asked.  As a contract-free proposition it costs around the same as an iPad 3G.  I won’t even go into the pros and cons of locking yourself into a 2 year contract by buying a Galaxy Tab at the lower price.  I can’t see why anyone would want to do that when Google has said that the version of Android running on the Tab shouldn’t be used on tablets.  It’s pretty clear that since future versions of Android are rolling out (imminently) and the CEA said this week that eighty Android tablets are coming in the next 6-9 months, I can’t imagine who would want to be locked into a 2.2 device for two years with no guarantee of a software upgrade to a possible future tablet-blessed version of Android.

Using the Galaxy Tab was pretty near identical to using a large screened Android smartphone, except that the Galaxy Tab is unable to make regular voice calls.  Most apps looked the same as their smartphone equivalents but were just larger, which seemed to defeat the benefit of having more screen real estate.  Unlike the Samsung Epic 4G, loading web pages was a little slow on the Galaxy Tab but I’ll put that down to the WiFi connection where I was using it since a lot of people were pulling data at the same time.  What I can’t excuse the Galaxy Tab for however is that once pages were loaded, scrolling and zooming was laggy compared to the Samsung Epic 4G which is buttery smooth in this regard.  The physical look and feel of the Galaxy Tab is okay, but there is no real premium feel to the device.  It does look nice and feels solid, but it’s an all plastic affair rather than a more upmarket metal design.

I’m in two minds about the merits of the seven inch screen.  Like the iPad, the Galaxy Tab is too large to put in a regular trouser or coat pocket, so it is unlikely to go everywhere with you.  Given that limitation I’m not sure if the seven inch screen conceptually works.  Let’s say you carry a four inch smartphone daily and your use-case for the Galaxy Tab is to carry it occasionally or use it at home for larger screen browsing and media consumption.  I’m not sure why you wouldn’t just choose the iPad instead, since Samsung Galaxy Tab web browserwith a screen that’s around 100% bigger you really can do a lot more; it’s not as if the iPad is materially less portable.  By comparison, even though the Galaxy Tab’s screen is much larger than a four inch smartphone screen, it’s still not really big enough to fully enjoy desktop versions of websites unlike the iPad.

My biggest concern about the Galaxy Tab however is the one I previously wrote about; I think this device is heading for a soft fail.  There just isn’t enough software that takes advantage of the Tab’s seven inch screen to make it compelling just yet.  The Wall Street Journal Android tablet app is probably the first high profile release, but the Tab-optimized app selection is tiny compared to the tens of thousands of iPad-optimized apps.

Would I buy a Galaxy Tab right now?  Dedicated Android followers will undoubtedly enjoy the Tab, but based upon what I’ve seen so far I’d have to say that the iPad is a better proposition for typical Main Street users.  I really want there to be good Android tablets out there to push the overall market to a higher level, and Samsung has done a solid job with the hardware, but the software is just not in place yet to turn the Tab into the market leader.  If a good selection of optimized apps gets released then I’d be willing to give the Galaxy Tab a second look, but for now I can’t see a compelling mass-market case for buying one over the similarly priced iPad.

Neil Berman

Nov 12, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

With Caprica gone, will the story of the first Cylon War ever be told?

I desperately wanted to love Caprica, and I kept waiting to see how that superbly recreated Cylon from the original show would evolve into Six and her BFFs.  The premature demise of the show leaves a gaping hole in the Battlestar Galactica storyline.  BSG told the story of the ragtag group of humans fleeing the Cylons after the second Cylon War, forty years after the first.  Caprica was meant to tell the story in the run up to the first war.

Unfortunately Caprica got caught up in a muddle of teen angst, religion and virtual reality that never seemed to be going anywhere.  The development of the Cylon storyline was always playing a distant second fiddle to other plotlines involving the society’s religious tensions with the Soldiers of the One, rebellious teens in an affluent school who joined them to bomb Caprican infrastructure and civilians, and the world of the Graystone’s holoband which again seemed to add little to the development of the Cylon plot.

Caprica felt like it was starting to drag, and although I unfailingly watched every episode with a religiously hopeful optimism, it just wasn’t providing a Cylon fix to its viewers.  The show was cancelled by Syfy a couple of weeks ago, so we’ll just have to hope that someone picks up the reigns down the line to tell the rest of the story…hopefully with more Cylon action this time.

Neil Berman

Nov 11, 2010 Posted by | Home Theater, Photo & Video, Reviews | , | Leave a comment

Enjoy Hulu while it lasts

Let’s be honest, I don’t think anybody expected Hulu to survive as a free network-sponsored ad-supported content aggregator for this long.  I recently wrote about the price Hulu Plus is paying for coming second and concluded that we are all going to be asked to share that cost by upgrading from Hulu to the paid Hulu Plus service.

Reports surfaced today from PC and Mac users that their access to Hulu was blocked, with a confused on-screen message contending that they were trying to access Hulu from the new Boxee Box.  They weren’t.  The folks were using a regular browser, and reports came in from all major browser users; IE, Fiefox, Chrome and Safari.

An innocent mistake?  Quite possibly for now.  However I do believe that the networks are just dying to pull the plug on Hulu, and this faux pas indicates that they’re perfectly capable of doing so bit by bit, as they already demonstrated wiith Google TV, until finally shutting it down altogether one day.  I still expect the content would continue to exist as ad-supported on the major free-to-air networks’ sites (NBC, ABC, Fox), because there is value in bringing users into the network to cross-promote other shows.  But the convenience of aggregation will inevitably become a cost-option once critical mass exists on Hulu Plus at the right price point…which I think is still to be established.

Neil Berman

Nov 11, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Home Theater, Photo & Video | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hands-on with Sennheiser’s MM550 stereo Bluetooth headphones

Around this time last year we went hands-on with the Sennheiser MM450 stereo Bluetooth heaphones.  They sounded great but were expensive, around twice the price of Nokia’s BH-905 and even more still than Sony’s excellent (but not noise cancelling) DR-BT50.  Sennheiser has updated the MM450 with the MM550 which, unlike the on-ear MM450, sports a closed back design. Just like the MM450, the MM550 is able to stream music over Bluetooth (A2DP), handle calls and offers playback remote controls (AVRCP).  I scored a listening session with the MM550 this week and here are my impressions.

Update: We’ve now written a full review of the Sennheiser MM550, or you can continue on this page and read our initial hands-on impressions.

Features of the Sennheiser MM550

  • NoiseGard™ 2.0 noise cancelling technology, available when using the MM550 either wirelessly or wired
  • Stereo Bluetooth A2DP, AVRCP and hands-free calling
  • TalkThrough – one press of a button turns on the external microphone so you can hear outside sounds without removing the headset
  • Neodymium magnets and patented Duofol diaphragms
  • SRS WOW HD™ sound enhancer
  • Large closed back ear cups
  • Direct cable option
  • Integrated track and volume controls
  • Collapsible and a carry case is included

Listening to the Sennheiser MM550

In the demo the MM550 was paired to a Motorola Droid and the pairing process was straightforward.  I was in a fairly noisy environment and the noise cancelling was turned on when I put on the MM550.  Outside noise was significantly attenuated although by no means silenced.  As with most noise-cancelling headphones I was able to hear people speaking around me but there was a notable difference between when the noise-cancelling was engaged vs disengaged.

When I pressed play on the MM550 it was immediately clear that this is a rocking set of cans.  The SRS WOW HD enhancer was switched on and, while I’m not a fan of that feature on Motorola’s S9-HD, on the MM550 it produces a superb  sound.  Basslines are solidly resolved, there’s an airy top end that creates a perception of openness and the soundstage is wide without sounding artificially stretched.  What’s great of course is that with the noise cancelling turned on, you can enjoy all of this at lower volume levels.  This is the kind of reproduction though that makes you want to crank it up to 11; a truly engaging, driving and yet non-fatiguing sound.

Interestingly all of that good stuff went away when I disengaged the SRS WOW HD.  I often find that headsets that have enhancers sound great in one state but not both.  Typically I prefer the natural balance of the headphones with the enhancer switched off, as long as the engineers have done a good job.  With the MM550 however the sound became empty and tinny with the SRS WOW HD disengaged.  Now admittedly I only spent a limited time listening to the MM550 but I honestly don’t think this was a perception issue as I switched between the on and off positions of the enhancer.

Other funky features of the MM550 include TalkThrough, which mutes the music and activates the external mic so you can hear outside sounds.  This worked well and is a very useful feature.  The MM550 is also collapsible for portability.  It’s not quite as compact when folded as the Sony DR-BT50, but the collapsing is a handy feature.  The MM550 also comes with a detachable cable for use as regular wired headphones, which makes them good travelling companions for travelers who want to make use of in-seat entertainment and other wired sound sources.

The Sennheiser MM550 is rated to give 20 hours of talk time, or 8h/10h of wireless music playback with/without noise-canceling engaged.  Although I would love to listen to the MM550 for that amount of time, I didn’t have the opportunity to test these claims.  I also didn’t try making any calls with the MM550.  I did however try all the playback and volume controls, which worked fine when paired with the Motorola Droid.

If you’re reaching for your wallet, I’ll warn you that the MM550 will retail at $499 so it’s unlikely to fit within all budgets.  If money’s no object though, for music lovers they’re definitely the best sounding stereo Bluetooth headphones I’ve heard.

Neil Berman

Nov 10, 2010 Posted by | Audio, Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Holiday 2010 gadget gift trends

Gary Shapiro

Gary Shapiro, President and CEO of the CEA

At today’s CES Unveiled event in New York City hosted by Gary Shapiro, the Consumer Electronics Association gave us its view of this year’s upcoming holiday gift trends. So if you’re planning to buy a gadget gift for someone and you want to know what’s going to be hot this year, read on…

The percentage of consumers planning to buy gadget gifts is up marginally, although overall holiday spending is not yet projected to be back at 2007 levels yet.

A new laptop is the most wanted gift on adult gift lists this year. The iPad is the number two most wanted gift and eReaders sit at number three. Consumers are planning to spend $232 each on average on gadget gifts, so I guess some receivers might end up with their third choice.

For the second year running the CEA expects video games consoles to be the most purchased CE holiday gift.

70% of gift buyers are planning to look at gadget products even if not planning to buy one, compared to 66% in 2009. I guess that means we just love being around gadgets, even if we’re not buying them!

Black Friday is increasing in coverage and spanning throughout November, and some ads and events already happened in October.  The event is also becoming international, with events noted in Brazil and Israel.

Bundling is going crazy with uber bundles and varied assortments. This will be the year to get a good deal on replacing all the TVs in your home in one shot.

Verdine White

Verdine White of Earth, Wind & Fire

The CEA’s 50% rule: New technology moves half its volume in the holiday season. CEA reckons 3D TVs, tablets and Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect could be well positioned for this. If this rule end up applying to iPad then that could push full year iPad sales towards 10 million units.

The CEA estimates that around eighty tablets will be launching in the next nine months and fifty tablets will be on show at CES in January. We fear only around ten of those will actually be decent.

Earth Wind and Fire is doing the CES party this year.  Sweet.  Verdine White was on hand after the announcement.

Neil Berman

Nov 9, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, CES | , , | Leave a comment

Samsung Epic 4G review: Part 1

Samsung Epic 4G

Epic – that’s a big word. Sprint and Samsung are suggesting that this member of the Galaxy S family is not merely vibrant, fascinating or even captivating. No, they’re saying it’s epic, like the Godzilla of smartphones. That’s a bold claim, especially in such a competitive space. After all, making an epic claim like that could lay you wide open if the device is an epic fail. We held back on asking Sprint for a review unit until the carrier switched on 4G in New York. The network went live a few days ago and here’s our review, so what kind of epic is the Epic 4G?

First impressions of the Epic 4G

The Epic 4G ships in a regular Sprint and Samsung branded box. Inside are an assortment of guides together with wired headphones that serve as a hands-free set, a USB cable and power adaptor. The power adaptor is one of those nice small block designs with a USB port that allows owners to connect the same USB cable as supplied for the Epic 4G’s connection to a computer. That’s a nice touch for travelers and we’d like to see more manufacturers following suit (several already do this).

The Epic 4G itself is a smart-looking device. It’s a Galaxy S device and as such the front surface is an all black glossy affair. The back is matte black with a chrome surround separating the two. Sliding the screen up reveals a landscape keyboard with flat keys bordered by the chrome surround. Some reviewers have commented that the Epic 4G is too plasticky compared to other flagship competitors, but we think the Epic 4G’s look and feel works well, especially with the keyboard exposed. Below the screen, capacitive Menu, Back, Search and Home buttons light up when needed.

There’s a front facing camera for video calling as well as a five megapixel rear camera with LED flash that is also capable of shooting HD video at 720p. Around the sides are a volume rocker, dedicated camera two-stop shutter and power button. The top of the Epic 4G houses the headphone socket and micro-USB charging port. Hidden inside the back plate is a MicroSD card slot, and the Epic 4G ships from Sprint with a 16GB MicroSD card already fitted. While we prefer externally accessible MicroSD card slots, the one on the Epic 4G is accessible without needing to remove the battery although you do of course need to snap off the back plate.

The five row keyboard is fully featured, with a well designed partially staggered Qwerty layout. The Epic 4G sports a dedicated number key row, as well as dedicated cursor arrows and keys replicating the front plate’s Menu, Back, Search and Home buttons. There is also a dedicated key to access emoticons. Symbols are accessed either using the Fn or Sym keys. Samsung have clearly put some good thinking into the keyboard design.

Hiding beneath all of this is a Cortex A8 Hummingbird processor humming along at 1GHz.  There is 512MB RAM and 512MB ROM, WiFi supporting 802.11b/g/n and GPS.  The screen is a Super AMOLED at 800×480 and the whole package weighs in at 155g.  That’s pretty respectable compared to the closest keyboard-bearing competitors; the Epic 4G is 14g lighter than the Motorola Droid 2 and 25g less than the T-Mobile G2.

All that horsepower is driving Android 2.1, with and update to 2.2 believed to be on the way. Samsung has layered its Touch Wiz skin on top of that, and Sprint has added its own apps such as Sprint TV and Navigation that are included in the Simply Everything package.  As with the HTC Evo 4G, Sprint asks for an extra $10 each month to enjoy the privilege of unlimited 4G data (although the equivalent plans still undercut Verizon and AT&T) and the Epic 4G itself costs $249.99 on a new contract after rebates.

If that’s got you all hot and bothered, stay tuned for the rest of the review which is coming soon.  Or if you just can’t hold yourself back, dive into the gallery and sample photos that we shot using the Epic 4G.

Neil Berman

Nov 8, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews, Video Features | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Windows Phone 7: Because we want to use gadgets less?

Windows Phone 7 in and out commercial

I’m clearly missing something with the Windows Phone 7 In and Out campaign.  The idea that we need a phone to get us “in and out and back to life” can only be aimed at non-participating consumers who get annoyed about how much time their friends spend using smartphones.  I say that because if you told an iPhone, Android or BlackBerry owner that there is finally a smartphone platform that will allow them to do things quickly, they would probably laugh in your face.  I’ve used all three and none is particularly slow or onerous to use efficiently.  There’s always room for a new approach of course, but let’s see some examples in the ads to show us how great life could be, rather than just words.  Of course, there is a huge group of consumers that has not yet committed to a smartphone.  So if Microsoft’s research is telling the company that those folks would jump in if they could have something quick and easy, then perhaps this is the right message.  Problem is, I reckon that when people think about quick and easy they think about iPhone.

Neil Berman

Nov 8, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Microsoft, Mobile | , , , | Leave a comment

Can the Samsung Epic 4G replace a pocket HD video cam?

While we complete our review of the Samsung Epic 4G, here’s some food for thought.  The Epic 4G can serve as a Sprint 4G mobile hotspot, potentially cutting the need to pay for separate a home internet.  It can handle the general smartphone stuff with ease too.  But does it have the chops to take a pocket HD video cam out of the frame as well?  We tested the Epic 4G’s HD video recorder in various light and motion scenarios and here’s what we discovered…

Remember to choose 720p if you want to watch in HD rather than the default 360/480p.

Neil Berman

Nov 7, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews, Video Features | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

MacBook Air (late 2010) review

MacBook AirLet’s be honest, the original MacBook Air was beautifully flawed. Outwardly it was a desirable laptop, but under that pretty aluminum exterior all was not swell. Overheating, under performing and overpriced, the original MacBook Air failed to achieve mainstream success. With the new models, though, Apple has rewritten the playbook.  This 13″ 1.86GHz 2/128 model has superior specs to the previous version while putting itself on offer for hundreds of dollars less at $1,299.  Let’s see what it’s like…

First impressions of the MacBook Air

MacBook Air restore USB driveAs with all Apple products the Macbook Air comes in nicely designed packaging. There’s precious little in the box, just the Macbook Air, magsafe power adaptor with extension cable, start guide and a unique USB flash restore thumbdrive. The Macbook Air doesn’t have an optical drive so the inclusion of the USB thumbdrive is a cool idea and feels like the way forward for future laptops.

The original MacBook Air was svelte, but the new model raises the bar even further.  0.68 inches at its thickest, the new MacBook Air tapers to just 0.11 inches at the front.  It really is remarkable and made possible due to the all solid-state nature of the guts of the beast.  The hard drive of the old model has given way to an SSD on a bare circuit board, which saves precious millimeters of height.  The weight meanwhile has remained at 2.9lbs, presumably because any space and weight efficiencies have allowed for more battery cells.

MacBook Air logoIt’s difficult to describe just how stunning this new MacBook Air really is, so I suggest you feast your eyes on the photos in the gallery.  In my view this is the best looking laptop ever made, it’s definitely worth making a trip to a store just to fondle it if you have the opportunity.

Around the sides of the MacBook Air are two USB ports, an SD card slot (only on the 13″ model), a mini display port, headphone socket, microphone and charging port.  The keyboard is the standard MacBook chicklet affar, the trackpad is able to register four-fingered multi-touch gestures and the screen is LED-backlit like the previous MacBook Air.  There’s a webcam above the screen and the speakers are nowhere to be seen, but they’re in there somewhere.  The underside has four black feet and that’s it.

Using the MacBook Air

In many ways using the new MacBook Air is a similar experience to the old one, except pretty much everything that was problematic about the original has been resolved in the new model.  MacBook AirFirstly, the replacement of the unpleasantly slow 4200rpm hard drive with the new SSD has resulted in a 13.7 second boot time and 1.6 second shutdown time.  That speed bump carries over to application launch times, which are fast.  Most apps seem to launch with one or two seconds and the whole system feels extremely snappy even though the processor has remained the same.  It just goes to show how much of a bottleneck can be created by a slow hard drive.

The speediness of the new MacBook Air carries over to its graphics capabilities, as the new model has been stepped up to a GeForce 320M.  While no graphics powerhouse, the new model handles full screen video very capably, without any alarmingly heat buildup.  I was able to stream a 1080p YouTube video without any problems.  Sure the underside does become warm, but far less than other laptops I’ve used recently, and when the fan does kick-in, it’s whisper quiet.

Battery life was a big disappointment with the original MacBook Air; while the specs promised 5 hours, I never seemed to be able to get more than 2-3 in actual usage.  The new 13″ MacBook Air promises 7 hours and, although I haven’t done a full drain test, it feels pretty accurate.  Apple is definitely making strides in this department, as we saw earlier this year with the iPad which also delivered as promised on battery life.

The trackpad, keyboard and screen work just like a 13″ MacBook Pro, so I’ll hold off on going into specific detail here.  On the software side, the new MacBook Air ships with OSX 10.6 Snow Leopard and iLife ’11 as with the rest of the current MacBook range.

On the downside, there is no option to specify a backlit keyboard.  In my view this is a real omission, as using the MacBook Air in a dimly lit room or on a night flight for example becomes very problematic.  This can be partially remediated by using a USB gooseneck light, but it’s not a particularly elegant solution.

The 13″ MacBook Air’s 128GB of storage (upgradeable to 256GB) is potentially limiting if you have a large media collection.  Personally I think 128GB is enough storage for most users’ music and photo collections, plus a range of apps, on the basis that most video content is streamed from the likes of Netflix and Hulu these days.  There’s always the option to use a portable drive for the rest of your content.  I could easily cope with this amount of storage for my main computer, as long as I had a little 2.5″ 500GB USB drive in my bag for video edit footage and backups.

Is the new MacBook Air a good buy?

Many commentators have suggested that there is still a viable role for the base 13″ MacBook Pro alongside the 13″ MacBook Air.  I’m not so sure.  Even though the MacBook Pro has a faster processor and more storage space, I think this will make little difference to the average user.  The new MacBook Air boots-up faster, has great performance for everyday tasks and weighs far less than the Pro.  In my mind that leaves the MacBook Pro in the hands of niche users who really need more power and the MacBook Air in the hands of pretty much everyone else.  This is going to be a big seller.

Neil Berman

Nov 6, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Computing, Hardware, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Think Android is not ready for Enterprise? Actually it’s Good

 

Android Good emailThere’s been plenty of noise surrounding the iPhone’s supposed march into the Enterprise, but little discussion about Android.  The iPhone natively supports Exchange email but it’s a little trickier with Android.  Of course, companies that have made the move to GMail will find Android smartphones like Sprint’s Epic 4G to be useful partner devices.  However these companies are probably more likely to be smaller businesses with a small footprint that want to reduce the costs associated with an Exchange/Outlook environment.  That thought fits with the recent discussion I had with Sprint, who told me they had seen the Epic 4G being picked up by plenty of small businesses but less so among larger companies.

The fundamental issue with the iPhone and Android in Enterprise is security.  BlackBerry has long been the darling device of the Enterprise market due to its encyption and security capabilities.  But using the Epic 4G, I’ve come to believe that this device is possibly the best consumer/corporate device on the market at present.  It combines the consumer friendliness of Android with a great keyboard, all rooted (sorry for the Android pun) in first rate hardware.  So how can the security concern be overcome?

There is a nifty piece of software out there from a company called Good, that allows Android (and also iOS) devices to receive Exchange email and calendar data in a secure smartphone app.  It takes a little more effort to implement than just regular Exchange, but it provides a secure container on the phone that is likey to satisfy many of the more stringent corporate IT security policies.  Good is totally self-contained on the device, allowing the user to have other apps and media just like normal.  Compare this situation with a corporate BlackBerry that is typically locked down to only be capable of making calls and sending messages from company accounts.

With Good on Android or iPhone, it’s a win-win.  Employees are able to have an awesome smartphone like the Epic 4G and the IT security folks still get what they need.  At the start of the year I predicted that BlackBerry had peaked in terms of market share; software like Good could make RIM’s outlook all the more precarious.

Neil Berman

Nov 4, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Mobile, Software | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

TestSeek provides a one-stop review & shop site

TestSeekWith the overwhelming amount of gadgets in today’s market, picking the right one has never been more confusing. At theONbutton we try to review gadgets as well as we can but it’s always a good idea to get as many opinions as possible, so you can make the right decision about your gadget purchases. With this in mind we like the look of the ever-growing TestSeek.com.

We found TestSeek to be a great site because it allows you to find expert product reviews in one central place. Unlike some shopping sites that have been hit by scandals of fake reviews, TestSeek manually collects links to expert reviews from independent sites. TestSeek also includes user reviews in a separate section so you can see how the devices have fared in the hands of real users.

TestSeek also has price comparisons on the site which allow you to find the best price on that shiny new toy you’ve been dreaming of.  We also liked the various language options on the site, of which there are around ten in total.

Just promise us one thing; if you see a product on TestSeek that we liked and everyone else seems to hate, let us know!!

Neil Berman

Nov 2, 2010 Posted by | Guides | , , | Leave a comment

Robo Defense is an Android must-have game

It seems every self-respecting mobile OS needs a great tower defense game these days.  iOS has the spectacular and cute Plants vs Zombies and Android has the pixelated but utterly compelling Robo Defense.  Even though the graphics of Robo Defense aren’t quite up to the standard of its iOS nemesis, the gameplay is superb with a decent range of weaponry and a good selection of baddies.  It doesn’t have the depth or longevity of Plants vs Zombies, but in the slightly lackluster world of Android gaming Robo Defense is a shining light.

Neil Berman 

Nov 1, 2010 Posted by | Gaming, Mobile | , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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