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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

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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

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

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

2010: The year that changed computers and TV?

Halo TV iPadHappy New Year to all of our readers!! If you’re already in 2011, what’s it like on the other side? On behalf of those of us still in 2010, we’re jealous of the cool fireworks that have been going on.

2010 turned out to be a pretty surprising year. Coming out of a recession it looked like the year would be a damp squib, but in fact consumer electronics spending held strong as we became ever-more obsessed with gadgets.

There were some technologies failed to make an impression, like 3DTV. I’m sure that next week I’ll see a whole new round of excitement around this technology even though consumers don’t seem all that interested in owning it at home. Even some of this year’s 3D hollywood blockbusters disappointed; Tron Legacy springs to mind, which asked moviegoers to pay 3D prices even though much of the movie was presented in 2D. The 2D parts of the movie were too dark with glasses on and more enjoyable with them off…but what’s the point in swapping them in and out for 2D and 3D footage?

The BlackBerry platform surprised us for an unexpected reason. While RIM’s smartphone strategy failed to impress with the disappointing Torch, the company surprised everyone with its PlayBook QNX announcement. I’m not sure if that’s enough to save the company long term though. I still believe that once corporates move away from the BlackBerry platform in larger numbers, the consumer market will choose to sustain the Apple, Google and Microsoft mobile offerings at the expense of RIM’s.

For me the most surprising aspect of 2010 was that the iPad really did turn out to be revolutionary after all. It completely changed the way we look at tablet computers and introduced new people to the computing world, both young and old. For kids aged 6-12 years, their most wanted gadget this holiday season was an iPad. Not a Nintendo DS, or a PSP, or a cellphone. They wanted a tablet computer; that’s how profoundly the iPad impacted the market.

Competitors weren’t ready for this. Microsoft thought they could pre-empt it by showing off the HP slate at CES 2010, and that product didn’t get very far in the consumer realm. Samsung got snubbed by Google for releasing the Galaxy Tab with Android 2.2. Even so, the Tab did put in a decent showing in sales volumes, although I’ve only ever seen one unit in someone’s hands outside of a store, review or trade show.

Netbooks also fell prey to the iPad’s assault. As iPad sales continued to increase throughout 2010, netbook sales suffered. Now nobody really seems interested in the sector at all, but that’s also because low priced ultraportables with decent processors are now hitting the market at under $500.

2010 also turned out to be the year that the mass market got excited about streaming content to their living room TV. With easy to use, high quality services like Netflix gaining huge popularity, Roku and Apple sold good numbers of their tiny set top boxes. Google had a different experience with Google TV, releasing a product that clearly hadn’t gone through a full round of consultation with TV networks, who promptly blocked the devices from streaming their online shows. But the overriding theme is that consumers definitely want to pull content directly into their living room from the internet.

The iPad changed the way we perceive computers and family-friendly content streamers changed the way mainstream consumers want to watch TV. Not bad for a year that was setup to be a “Meh” year in consumer electronics. Bring on 2011!

Neil Berman

Dec 31, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Hardware, Microsoft, Mobile, Rants | , , , , | 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Windows Phone 7 heading for bigger launch in Europe than US?

Today’s announcement that Windows Phone 7 will launch on all five major UK carriers indicates that the platform is likely to enjoy success sooner in Europe than on home territory.  So far it looks like AT&T may be the only major US carrier to have a big Windows Phone 7 laumch, and with Verizon heavily invested in the Droid brand I wouldn’t expect them to rush in when CDMA handsets become available.  That leaves Sprint, who also have to hang on for a CDMA version and T-Mobile, who have traditionally offered one or two Windows based hamdsets at any given time.

So on home territory it could be a difficult holiday season for Microsoft’s new hope in the smartphone market.  They’ll be up against the iPhone 4 for upgrading customers on AT&T, and the whole gamut of established brands across the market for new subscribers.  To my mind, this holiday season will be about two dynamics in the top end smartphone space: 4G (Sprint WiMAX and possibly Verizon LTE) vs 3.5G (AT&T and T-Mobile both with HSPA+rollouts) and iPhone 4 vs Android.  Unfortunately I don’t see Windows Phone 7 factoring significantly in that mix in the US, which is a shame because it looks frickin’ awesome.

Neil Berman

Sep 22, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Mobile | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Apple TV channel apps

For the last couple of weeks on TWiT, Leo Laporte has been proposing an interesting idea about the Apple TV. Prior to Apple’s press conference last week many people were expecting the new Apple TV to launch with apps, similar to those on the iPhone and iPad. Leo went further, suggesting that those apps would include individual channel apps, so for example we would watch ABC programs through the Apple TV ‘ABC app’ just like on the iPad.

Apple TVFirstly everyone should watch/listen to or download TWiT; it’s great. While Leo certainly gets it right a lot of the time, and the idea of individual network apps is a logical extension of the model that exists for ABC on the iPad, I’m not sure it holds for Apple TV. The fundamental app model does hold, and I definitely agree that we will see Apple TV running the App Store one day. But I don’t believe we will get to the stage where individual networks have their own apps on Apple TV. It just doesn’t work for the channel-hopping armchair consumer and if there’s one thing we know about Apple, it’s that the company cares deeply about the user experience.

It just about works on the iPad because we are still figuring out how best to devour content on that device; while aggregators like Hulu Plus and Netflix work best on the iPad, the ABC app is free unlike the others. However armchair viewers want a simple remote control with a simple program guide. Having to navigate multiple apps with different interfaces won’t convert them away from a cable set-top box.

In time I think even the ABC app will fade away as cable company aggregators push that content to the device, and I mean currently non-existent aggregator apps from the likes of Time Warner Cable for use by their subscribers. The cable companies will not give up their revenue streams without a fight and I think they’re more likely to develop their own streaming aggregators for subscribers than allow the TV networks to go it alone.

I would dearly love to see the ad-supported online content continue to flourish, but I fear we are enjoying a heyday that will disappear when the cable companies enter the online streaming market more forcefully.

Now go and subscribe to TWiT, TWiG, MacBreak Weekly and all the other ones!!

Neil Berman

Sep 7, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Home Theater, Photo & Video | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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