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Taking the fight to recessed headphone sockets

panasonic rp-hc500As many previous iPhone owners discovered, recessed headphone sockets are a pain.  It’s difficult to find headphones with a plug slim enough to fit into a recessed socket and a market sprang up for ungainly adapters. I’ve experienced this pain first hand with my excellent Panasonic RP-HC500 noise canceling headphones.  The RP-HC500 is one of the best sets of noise canceling cans ever made, crushing comparable Bose QCs on build and sound quality in my opinion.  But while I love detachable cords since they preserve the lifespan of good headphones, the RP-HC500 has a recessed socket.

recessed headphone socket

Ugh, recessed headphone sockets

One day I came home to find that my cats had ripped through the RP-HC500’s cable, leaving me with a dilemma.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find any cheap off-the-shelf replacement cables that will fit a recessed socket.  So I could either pony up the ridiculous $20+tax+shipping for Panasonic’s official replacement cord or tell my cats to fix it before their next feed.  Since I reckoned my cats’ cord cutting abilities were superior to their repair skills, it looked like I’d have to hand over the cash.

recessed headphone socket RP-HC500

A typical 3.5mm stereo male to stereo male cord is too fat to fit into a recessed socket

That was when the DIY bug bit me.  I had some 3.5mm stereo male to stereo male cords lying around,and I wondered if I could trim them down to size.  Out of the box they were too big to fit, but I hoped that between a Stanley knife and some delicate carving I could fashion a $2 replacement.

cutting the cord

Cutting the cord - don't try this at home!!

It actually turned out to be a five minute job and my RP-HC500s are now singing again, ready to make plane journeys a pleasure once more.  See, we’re not such a throwaway generation after all!

recessed headphone cord RP-HC500

The cut down plug now fits the recessed socket

Here’s the warning: I don’t recommend doing this at home because it’s easy to wreck your cord, plug and fingers.  But if you’re a risk taker and choose to ignore my warnings, be careful not to cut all the way through the plug’s casing.  Also, the RP-HC500’s cord plug was rubber, which made it possible to carve the plug; I don’t think I would have seen a successful outcome if the plug had been made of hard plastic or metal!

Neil Berman

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Jan 17, 2011 Posted by | Audio, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Mobile | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Verizon, 4G LTE and the iPhone

Just a few short years ago AT&T had the iPhone on the fastest 3G network and Verizon had, well, a line-up of forgettable devices. There was not a Droid in sight in Verizon’s range, let alone an iPhone, and the idea of a superfast LTE rollout was a pipe dream.

Fast forward to 2011 and the tables have well and truly turned. At CES Verizon kicked it out of the park with some well endowed smartphone and tablet devices, along with amazing LTE speeds and it looks like the carrier may announce tomorrow that it will start selling the iPhone.

It could be a fantastic year for Verizon. LTE really is barnstormingly fast and if a CDMA iPhone does get announced tomorrow I think it makes sense for one simple, but not immediately apparent, reason.

We all know that AT&T’s network suffered badly when the iPhone came along, due to the amount of data its users were consuming. Specifically AT&T called out a small percentage of data intensive users who were proportionately pulling far more data than other consumers. So we would expect the same thing to happen to Verizon, right?

I don’t think so, and not because Verizon’s network is impervious. Rather, I expect many of the more demanding data consumers will trade up to Verizon’s new LTE network because the speeds are so much faster. This migration would free up significant capacity on the carrier’s CDMA network, allowing space for iPhone users to pull data at good speeds.

So if Verizon does announce a CDMA iPhone tomorrow, I think the arrival of LTE has given Verizon the confidence to do so.

Neil Berman

Jan 10, 2011 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Mobile | , , , , | Leave a comment

Is the Motorola Atrix a computing game changer?

Motorola Atrix laptop dockOf all the smartphones announced at CES, the Motorola Atrix could have the potential to be a truly game changing device…but not for the most obvious reasons.

Like its newly announced competitors the Atrix sports a dual-core processor, 1080p video playback and a slick form factor. Where the Motorola Atrix stands out though is its integrated Citrix thin client software and built in apps that turn the Atrix into a computer when docked.

Motorola Atrix laptop dock 2What do I mean by docked? There are two Motorola dock accessories for the Atrix. One is a desktop dock with three USB ports, one HDMI port and a charging port. This allows the Atrix to connect to a monitor, keyboard and mouse.

The second accessory is a dumb laptop that has a built-in dock behind the screen. When the Atrix is docked in the dumb laptop, it acts as the brain for the laptop and the same desktop apps become available for use.

What are these apps? Most importantly there’s a Firefox browser with full Flash capability, and since the Atrix is powered by Nvidia’s Tegra 2 platform Flash works really well. There’s also a built-in Citrix app for using the Atrix as a thin client for virtual Windows 7 desktop environments. This is similar to the Citrix Nirvana concept from a while ago, but this time it’s a production device in the hands of real users.

Motorola Atrix desktop dockSince the Atrix connects via HSPA+, the Atrix in connection with the laptop accessory or desktop dock could be a perfect traveling companion for mobile folks who want a lightweight always-connected experience. Plus, since the Atrix can be expanded to 48GB of internal storage, it has enough capacity to store significant amounts of local media and files too.

The docking experience was seamless when I tried it out. When docked, the Atrix switched to show its desktop apps view on the external screen. The phone’s mobile view is also available as a window floating over the desktop windows, which shows text messages and other phone events.

The browsing experience was good, although pages did load a little slowly since AT&T’s coverage within the Motorola booth was weak. Once a page loaded however, scrolling worked fine and there’s a full screen mode as well.

I’m really excited about the Atrix, it’s the thin client I’ve been waiting for ever since I saw the Citrix Nirvana concept device. It will be interesting to see if the Enterprise adopts the Atrix for mobile staff. It would seem to be a perfect companion to a virtualized workplace where users carry the laptop accessory when traveling and dock the Atrix into the desktop dock in the office.

Neil Berman

Jan 7, 2011 Posted by | Analysis, CES, Mobile | , , , , , | 2 Comments

BlackBerry PlayBook hands-on – Update: Now with video!

BlackBerry PlayBookI just scored some hands-on time with RIM’s answer to the iPad: the BlackBerry PlayBook tablet.  Unlike the larger iPad, the PlayBook sports a 7″ screen but a faster dual core processor.  The tablet’s construction feels good, as we would expect from RIM, and the touchscreen’s responsiveness is great.  The bezel is also active, although it will be interesting to see whether or not this is a good idea after sustained use.  I know I hold my iPad along the bezel all the time, and I wouldn’t want it to respond to my hand movements.  For example, to BlackBerry PlayBook 3bring up the open applications view, you swipe a finger upwards on the PlayBook’s bottom screen bezel.

What I saw was a pre-production unit, but the PlayBook’s performance was impressive.  Multiple applications were open and simultaneously active, even in the task viewer.  I would expect that kind of thing would be a battery destroyer, but it sure looked amazing.  The PlayBook seems to be aimed at either being a home multimedia tablet, or an add-on for a BlackBerry.  There didn’t seem to be a mail client actually on the PlayBook itself, and the BlackBerry rep said that the idea is to go to a browser to view email, or view it through a connected BlackBerry smartphone.

The PlayBook will share the BlackBerry App World, so I guess we might see dedicated email and other messaging apps coming out for the tablet.  However I’d really like to see some dedicated messaging apps, as well as a promise of thousands of apps coming soon for the PlayBook.  It’s launching in March, and if it’s just going to be positioned as an internet tablet with a BlackBerry hook-up, I fear it may get crushed in the consumer space by the iPad, and the wealth of apps that will likely start coming out for Android Honeycomb tablets like the Motorola Xoom.

Here’s the video of what went down…

Neil Berman

Jan 6, 2011 Posted by | CES, Hardware, Mobile, Video Features | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Steve Ballmer’s Microsoft CES 2011 keynote

Steve Ballmer was on stage tonight for his traditional CES opening keynote. Here are some of the highlights:

Netflix for Kinect is coming in Spring 2011. Hulu Plus for KINECT is coming too.

avatarKINECT: This looks pretty cool. The idea is that KINECT watches you and translates the face recognition and facial expressions it sees into an avatar, that you can use to chat with friends online. avatarKINECT is coming this Spring for free for Xbox Live Gold members.

There are now 30 million Xbox Live members, and a new member joins every two seconds. Microsoft has sold over 50 million 360s worlswide. Over 8 million KINECT sensors were sold in the first 60 days.

Fable Coin Golf is joining Halo Waypoint and Crackdown on Windows Phone 7.

Copy & Paste and app performance improvements are coming shortly. Sprint and Verizon will get Windows Phone 7 devices in the first half of 2011. Windows Phone 7 now has 5,500 apps, with 100 being added every day. There are also 20,000 registered developers for the platform. No sales figures were given for Windows Phone 7, make of that what you will.

Microsoft is selling 7 copies of Windows 7 every second. Windows Live has 500 million users and Hotmail is still the largest email platform in the world. A selection of funky new laptops and tablets were then shown off, which you can check out in the gallery below.  Microsoft had nothing significant to announce in the tablet space, that part of their strategy looks to be sorely lacking.

The next version of Windows will run on Intel, AMD, ARM, TI OMAP, Nvidia Tegra and Qualcomm architectures. We saw the 1080p Ironman trailer running on the next Windows on a Tegra System-on-a-Chip and it was buttery smooth, with the ability to instantly seek within the trailer.

There’s also a new Surface PC with a technology called Pixelsense that turns every pixel into a sensor. Surface is still just for commercial uses, but as soon as I can get one in my living room as a coffee table I’ll be a happier gadgetlover.

Neil Berman


Jan 5, 2011 Posted by | CES, Microsoft | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The lines of CES reflect Main Street’s new found love of gadgets

…and I’m not talking about the ones on my face, which have practically doubled today. Press Day at CES is a frantic run from venue to venue, line to line, coffee to coffee. Every year I swear to skip this day long rush hour next year and each year I rejoin the throngs.

I’m currently waiting for Steve Ballmer’s Microsoft keynote to start at the Hilton Center. It’s still two hours before the event, but there are a few hundred people here already. It seemed like there were a few thousand at Samsung’s event today by the time they shut the doors on the remaining liners citing fire codes.

I’ve been to the last four CES shows and I’m sure this year’s is by far the busiest, at least from a media coverage point of view. The volume of press releases for new products has been colossal and shows no sign of letting up, as you can grasp by stopping by a site like Engadget. Everything from the predictable tablet releases to the bizarre iGrill Bluetooth cooking thermometer has been announced this week. To give you an idea of the volume, I’ve been seeing around ten press releases an hour this week. That is huge.

This intensity is reflected in the amount of people covering CES and the inevitable lines to attend every event. For gadget enthusiasts this is great news. Media representatives are here in droves because Main Street has entered a love affair with gadgets.

The geeks of the 80s suffered, their younger siblings of the 90s were on the fringe, their kids of the Naughties made this stuff cool and any gadget abstainers in 2011 fear falling into the disconnected abyss.

Parents have smartphones, not just to be cool anymore but because Google Maps, Facebook and email have now become part of their own generation’s experience. Seniors homes have a Wii to help people stay active, and young kids wanted the iPad above any other piece of consumer electronics for the Holidays.

The lines of CES are there because Main Street has developed an insatiable thirst for gadgets. Tomorrow when the show floor opens, it will be drinks all round.

Neil Berman

Jan 5, 2011 Posted by | Analysis, CES | , , , | Leave a comment

Travel safe

Lenovo ThinkPad Secure USB Drive 3CES is about the future, but it’s also a time to think about the past; specifically keeping the past safe when traveling by backing-up.

Many of us just have one laptop, and when traveling the data on that computer is at greater risk than normal. The extra movement and possible bumps and scrapes during a journey can place hard drives in harm’s way.

Backing-up is not just about traveling of course. It’s always a good idea to have at least three copies of your data, and keep at least one copy stored in a different location to your main home/work location. Now that large capacity portable drives have come down in price, they’re perfect for affordably backing up important media files and documents. Most of the small USB drives don’t need an external power supply and although they current max out at around 500GB, that’s probably big enough for the key documents, photos and other memories that you’d prefer not to lose.

You can get a bit more serious by using an encrypted drive. These help to keep your data safer from prying eyes, which is especially important when traveling if you don’t know how secure your lodgings might be.

Lenovo ThinkPad Secure USB Drive 2I use a 320GB Lenovo ThinkPad Secure USB Drive when I travel. It has 128-bit AES encryption and a user-definable 6-24 digit PIN number which you enter into the drive’s keypad to unlock access to its data.  The drive has a built-in USB cable and doesn’t need an external power supply as long as your computer can supply enough power through its USB ports.  Lenovo includes an adapter so that you can use two USB ports for extra power if necessary, but I’ve never needed to use that accessory; it’s nice to have in case though.  It also comes in a soft travel pouch.  The drive inside the case spins at 5400RPM and I normally see a sustained data transfer speed of around 20MB/s when writing to the drive using Windows 7.

If this sounds wallet-crushingly expensive, I bought my drive direct from Lenovo’s outlet site for $75 some time ago, and when I last looked on their regular site Lenovo was selling the 160GB version for $49.99 brand new. I think that’s a small price to pay for some extra piece of mind. Travel safe.

Neil Berman


Jan 3, 2011 Posted by | Guides, Hardware, Reviews | , , | Leave a comment

CES: The ultimate road warrior workout

Las Vegas strip at nightThe term road warrior gets thrown about everywhere these days. Working remotely, bashing out Powerpoints on planes and running your day from a smartphone are all part of it, but nothing encapsulates the term quite like covering CES.

It’s ironic that while being surrounded by every imaginable gadget at CES, we have to be ultra-judicious with technology choices or alternatively arrange an appointment with a chiropractor in advance. Reliable, light and effective gadgets are essential, as is intimate knowledge of how they work. There’s so much to see in such a short time that the last thing you want is to be dealing with tech roadblocks; it all just has to work, all of the time.

I tend to focus more on specific products, analysis and trends than attempting to cover everything at the show, but even so it can be hectic. For example last year I posted the first video of the groundbreaking Lenovo U1 on YouTube and it all happened in a matter of minutes. The U1 was demo’d at CES Unveiled on the Tuesday before the show, there was a mass scrum to get a look, I fired up my footage on my laptop, turned it into a meaningful video and then shot it up to YouTube. Then on to the next must-see of the day…

All of this would be easy except that a day at CES can easily last 12+ hours with much of that spent standing with all your gear on your back or perched somewhere writing. Plus there are none of the techno creature comforts that exist at home. I normally edit videos on a huge screen using Sony Vegas running on super-fast hardware. At CES it has to get done quicker, using a smaller screen and probably less power.

Last year I relied on a Dell Latitude E4300 to get the job done, and it was great with some room for improvement. Its 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor was quick enough but drained the battery in about 4 hours, or faster if I was editing a lot of video. That meant carrying a charger, which added unwanted weight to the 3.5lb-or-so Latitude.

MacBook AirThis year I’ve made the risky choice of swapping the enterprise ruggedness of the Latitude for the unproved portability of the new MacBook Air. I don’t really know how Cupertino’s finest will behave under pressure, but my experience so far has been one of superb battery life and snappy performance. Videos edited in iMovie ’11 render quickly as well. The question is what will happen when it gets thrown into a bag and carried with fifty browser tabs open and a video render executing in the background.

Basically I’m breaking my cardinal rule of making sure I know the hardware inside and out.

But if there are sometimes salvation opportunities if a laptop gets feisty out at CES…cameras are live or die affairs. They can’t fail but they also need to be portable and snapaholic friendly. While there are plenty of DSLR carriers walking the CES floor, I find their weight can make them impractical. Plus they tend to dangle around bashing into people and stuff. If you have a good understanding of light and positioning, I believe shooting well for the Web is achievable using a more compact camera. Carrying a DSLR around all day with a laptop, batteries and other stuff isn’t a recipe for a happy back. Plus you don’t want to be messing around with a lens cap when a crucial moment passes by.

A couple of years ago I used a Lumix FZ18 as my CES camera. It was superbly configurable, had a wildly long and wide zoom lens and was extremely light. It was hampered by weak low light performance so I switched to the Lumix ZS3/TZ7, which has a wider lens if not quite as long a zoom, but does better in low light and is pocket friendly. I haven’t found a better blogging camera so I stuck with it again for 2011. I was hoping the Nikon P7000 would offer the perfect balance between size and flexibility but it’s actually bigger than I’d like due to its viewfinder, and it’s a weighty beast.

All of that normally gets paired up with a MiFi, but this year I’m going to try using Sprint’s Epic 4G as a 4G hotspot. Las Vegas was one of the first cities to get Sprint’s 4G coverage and there were several Clear demos at CES 2010. Now that Sprint’s service has reached wide adoption, this week will be a good opportunity to see what happens to WiMAX when you put a bunch of people using the service heavily in the same location.

Putting this all together, spending an intensive road warrior week at CES makes you realize how companies can now let much of their office space become an expense of the past for those employees who don’t need it anymore. There’s precious little that actually requires dedicated office space these days. We need meeting space for personal contact, data space for servers and storage (which could be outsourced to cloud providers) and limited desk hoteling for working with other people from time to time. Smart companies value productivity and their cost base; this is an opportunity to achieve gains in both, by reducing office space and empowering employees to work in the spaces they find most effective on days when they don’t need to have face-to-face contact with coworkers.

If there’s one thing an intensive week at CES teaches you, it’s that the mobile model in one form or another works.

Neil Berman

Jan 3, 2011 Posted by | Analysis, CES, Guides, Rants | , , , | Leave a comment

   

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