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Virgin Mobile Motorola Triumph Android smartphone review

Motorola Triumph packaging 3

New updates added at the bottom of the review!

Additional updates added in the comments…all is not well with the Triumph :(

Further update: After returning my original Triumph, I returned my second one as well and have gone back to the Optimus V. After a few days of usage I found that there were too many basic issues with the Triumph. Details in the comments at the end of the review…

The Motorola Triumph has been one of the most anticipated smartphone of 2011. This Android-powered slate phone is Virgin Mobile’s most advanced smartphone to date and takes the prepaid market forward with a respectable 1GHz Snapdragon processor, 4.1 inch screen and 5 megapixel, 720p HD video-capable camera. The Motorola Triumph bests Virgin Mobile’s current Android flagship, the LG Optimus V, which we reviewed previously. It’s also more expensive at $299 upfront with no contract on Virgin Mobile’s Beyond Talk prepaid plans. So can the prepaid market support a premium Android smartphone like the Motorola Triumph? Here’s our review…

First impressions of the Motorola Triumph

While the original release date for the Motorola Triumph was July 19th, my local Radio Shack was happy to sell me one yesterday. Lucky me! The Motorola Triumph comes in Virgin Mobile’s now familiar easy-open packaging, which houses the smartphone, a two-piece charger/USB cable, a battery, a quick start guide and a MicroSD card adapter. There is a 2GB MicroSD card pre-installed in the phone, which should be sufficient to hold a fair amount of music, photos and videos at least initially. The MicroSD card is removable which makes it easy to install a higher capacity card if desired.

Motorola Triumph frontThe Motorola Triumph has a minimalist look with few frills. The casing is made of dark gray textured plastic and the four inch capacitive touchscreen dominates the front of the smartphone. The four standard Android buttons below the screen are also capacitive. There’s a forward facing video camera above the screen to the left of the earpiece for video calls.

Around the sides are volume buttons, an on/off button, micro USB port for charging and data transfer and a mini HDMI port for connecting the Motorola Triumph to an external monitor or TV. Nice. Unfortunately an HDMI cable is not included in the box however. The back of the Motorola Triumph houses its 5 megapixel camera which also serves as a 720p HD video camera, and there’s an LED flash as well. There is no dedicated camera button, the camera is activated by launching the camera app.

The Motorola Triumph feels light for a smartphone with a four inch screen. At 5.04 ounces it’s easy to carry in a trouser or coat pocket without feeling uncomfortable, although it might weigh down a shirt pocket. While the Motorola Triumph is a little plasticky and lacks a premium feel, I like the clean lines of the device; the screen almost stretches to the edges, the back is flat and the phone is pleasingly thin. It’s a simple minimalist design.

Using the Motorola Triumph

Like Virgin Mobile’s LG Optimus V, the Motorola Triumph ships with Android 2.2 with hardly any carrier modifications, which is great for those looking for a stock Android smartphone. There are a few preloaded Virgin Mobile apps and wallpapers, but nothing intrusive. Sync’ing with Google services works as expected, and I haven’t found any blocked applications so far. For example, Skype installed properly and I was able to make a call over WiFi although I haven’t tried making a 3G Skype call yet.

In general operation the Motorola Triumph’s 1GHz Snapdragon processor makes the smartphone feel more snappy than the LG Optimus V, which is clocked at 600MHz. The Motorola Triumph also has far more onboard memory at 512MB, which definitely helps to keep the device humming along smoothly. The larger screen size and faster processor of the Motorola Triumph may however lead to worse battery life than the LG Optimus V. It’s early days yet and I’ll update this review with my experience of the smartphone’s battery life after more regular usage.

The Motorola Triumph paired quickly with the Bluetooth hands free and stereo headphone devices that I’ve tried so far. For stereo Bluetooth fans, the Motorola Triumph supports A2DP for stereo audio streaming and AVRCP for remote control over playback. I was able to control Pandora’s play and skip controls using a stereo Bluetooth headset.

As with the LG Optimus V, I was unable to use a Bluetooth headset on the Motorola Triumph for a Skype call. I’m not sure if this is possible on any Android smartphones at present, has anyone successfully managed to do this…?

The 5 megapixel camera on the Motorola Triumph produces respectable photos that in my opinion are easily good enough for casual use. If your primary camera usage is snapping general photos and uploading them to social networking sites like Facebook or taking casual vacation shots, then you could probably leave your point & shoot camera at home if you have the Motorola Triumph. It’s definitely a step up from the 3 megapixel camera on the LG Optimus V. I will post some photos that I took using the Motorola Triumph using its out-of-the-box settings, stay tuned!

The video camera also does a decent job. There is no image stabilization, but video come out looking absolutely fine for a mid-range device. Bear in mind that shooting 720p HD video requires a lot of storage space, so upgrading the supplied 2GB MicroSD card to a larger size might be advisable for budding directors.

Downsides to the Motorola Triumph are difficult to fully capture at this stage. I’m still only on day two with the device and I’ll add to this review as I continue to use it. So far I’ve only been using the Motorola Triumph on WiFi, so I haven’t made calls using it yet apart from Skype, although I have no reason to expect that it would have problems making regular calls! Motorola Triumph batteryThe microphone, earpiece and speaker worked well on Skype and I will update the review if I encounter any issues with network calls. In particular I’d like to add an idea of battery life after more consistent usage and I’ll also report back on whether the device starts to exhibit slow-downs and other performance side-effects that sometimes appear after time with smartphones.

The main issue I’ll raise now though is the price. At $299 the Motorola Triumph is not an impulse purchase, but it does offer good value compared to having a two year contract. Virgin Mobile has also just changed its Beyond Talk pricing, which now costs $35 for 300 minutes and unlimited data & texts (previously $25), rising to $45 for 1200 minutes (previously $40) and $55 for unlimited talk time (down from $60 previously). Virgin Mobile also just announced that it will throttle users down to 256kbps if they exceed 2.5GB of data usage in a month. While 2.5GB is more than enough data for many users, it’s disappointing to see Virgin Mobile adopting throttling especially when its parent company (Sprint) has not announced similar restrictions for Sprint customers on the same network.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Motorola Triumph ships with Android 2.2 Froyo rather than the latest version of Android, which is 2.3 Gingerbread. I forgave the LG Optimus V for this since Gingerbread was still fairly new when that device launched. However Android 2.3 has now been out for a long time and new devices should really have the latest version of the operating system installed when they ship. This is a big issue compared to the iPhone, or a laptop computer which will pretty much always ship with the latest version of its platform’s operating system.

Also, for those of you who like to use your phone outdoors, the screen of the Motorola Triumph is virtually illegible in sunlight. This is in keeping with many devices out there, and the screen is viewable outdoors in the shade.

On balance the Motorola Triumph works out well compared to a similarly spec’d smartphone on contract. Even though the price just increased by $10 each month, light voice minute users will still do well on Virgin Mobile’s $35 plan over two years compared to a similar voice & data contract on other carriers. The other plans are also good value. Remember that if you ever decide to stop using Virgin Mobile, there is no early termination fee and you can sell your phone to recoup some of the purchase cost. Just be sure to completely wipe the device of any personal data before selling it or passing it on to someone else.

So in that light, the $299 upfront cost is not quite so bad. At least that’s what I talked myself into when I bought the Motorola Triumph yesterday! In my two days of usage, the Motorola Triumph certainly seems like a solid contender and may well encourage those on contract to consider taking up the flexibility and lower overall cost of Virgin Mobile’s plans. The Motorola Triumph might not have some of the frills of the current top end smartphones, but it should easily meet the needs of many users and then some. Things sure have changed in the prepaid world.

Some updates:

I’ve been using the Motorola Triumph for a few days now and noticed a couple of things. Battery life seems good overall, I’m easily able to get through a day with moderate usage. Network signal on my Triumph is weak, definitely weaker than the LG Optimus V. There have also been a couple of occasions where I had to reboot the Triumph because it failed to re-find a signal for a prolonged period of time. The Bluetooth implementation has also been buggy for me so far. The Triumph either routinely refuses to connect to devices it has paired with previously, or it takes a long time to connect with them. Bluetooth signal drops are frequent.

On the whole it’s been an enjoyable phone to own so far, but cell radio problems and Bluetooth issues should not be present in a $299 smartphone in 2011. There’s nothing worse than having no bars when your friends have lots!

Additional updates in the comments…all is not well with the Triumph :(

Further update: I have gone back to using the Optimus V, the Triumph’s issues became too frustrating in day to day usage.  Details in the comments…

Neil Berman

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Jul 17, 2011 Posted by | Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

This gadget life: Tomtom traffic avoidance

I recently made a thousand mile road trip over three days for a three hour meeting. Sounds like a crazy idea, but instead of flying we I decided a road trip might be fun. Might.

On such a long drive many things can go wrong, apart from the car itself. One can get lost, have an argument over getting lost, get stuck in traffic and become stressed about time. The last thing we wanted was to drive all that way and miss the meeting.

So we set out on our journey in a shiny 2011 Nissan Sentra from an unnamed hire company with my Tomtom 340XL TM. This was my first experience of using a GPS in skyscraper-filled Manhattan, and it took the Tomtom about two minutes to lock onto satellites. In case you’re not familiar with GPS devices, that’s a long time. The Tomtom normally locks on within seconds.

The lock came and went as we traversed roads lined with impossibly tall buildings, and after leaving them in our wake all was well. That’s when the T bit of the 340XL TM name came into its own.

The T stands for Traffic and means that this 340 shipped with Tomtom’s traffic receiver. This is an antenna that the 340 uses to listen for traffic updates broadcast over the airwaves and the device then redirects you to avoid delays. It worked amazingly well.

We were leaving New York City at a notoriously bad time of day for traffic but the Tomtom did a superb job of avoiding the jams. We actually didn’t sit in any snarl ups at all, as the Tomtom rerouted us time and again promising to save us ten minutes here and fifteen there.

So, hours of driving later we arrived at our destination. Stress-free, argument-free and frankly downright impressed.

Neil Berman

Apr 29, 2011 Posted by | Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Virgin Mobile LG Optimus V review

LG Optimus V 11In case you didn’t get the memo, Android is getting big. Ahem, ok so that’s an understatement, the platform is becoming hugely popular in the smartphone world as a competitor to Apple’s iPhone. Previously the preserve of monthly contract plans, some no-contract carriers now offer Android smartphones for a song, dance and some green. Virgin Mobile just launched the LG Optimus V Android 2.2 smartphone for an upfront cost of $149.99, and is asking for a measly $25 for a month’s worth of unlimited data, texts and 300 voice minutes. Is this the craziest deal of all time, or is the phone perhaps a stinker? To find out I scoped out seven (!) Radio Shacks until I found one with the smartphone in stock, and then I bought the sucker. Here’s my review after two weeks of daily usage.

LG Optimus V 5Virgin Mobile is shipping the LG Optimus V in a cardboard easy-open container, which is a welcome change from the sealed plastic ones used for previous models. Inside the box you’ll find the phone itself, a two piece USB charger (a cable with a separate plug attachment), headphones with handsfree capability, battery and manual.

For a budget smartphone, the LG Optimus V is a real looker. The main body of the phone is made of two soft touch pieces of black plastic that appear more premium than they sound. Between them across the top of the phone is what looks and feels like a brushed aluminum strip that houses the power button, headphone socket and volume controls. Further down the sides of the LG Optimus V are dedicated buttons for the camera and voice commands, as well as a slot for a Micro SD memory card. A USB charging port sits on the bottom of the smartphone.

The upscale look continues on the front of the LG Optimus V with the four standard Android buttons encased by shiny silver surrounds. It’s good to see hardware buttons rather than the software buttons of some Android devices that only light up when the phone is in use. Around the back things get a little cheaper looking, although it’s difficult LG Optimus V 2(and also less important) to make a phone’s battery cover look impressive. The back is simply a plastic cover with a cutout for the speaker and a silver surround for the camera. Can’t get excited about that, it looks okay, but you’ll spend more time looking at the front anyway.

In a world where most smartphones look pretty much the same, the LG Optimus V fits right in. So while the LG Optimus V is a budget device, most people looking over your shoulder would never know it.

In terms of interior specs, the LG Optimus V sports a 600MHz processor, 320×480 pixel capacitive touchscreen, Bluetooth 2.1 including A2DP & AVRCP for music streaming and remote playback control, a 3.2 megapixel camera without flash, A-GPS, WiFi and the whole shebang weighs in at 4.6 ounces (130 grams).

The LG Optimus V carries Google’s ‘with Google’ branding, so I was hoping for a pretty vanilla Android experience…and that’s pretty much what I found. From what I could see, apart from a couple of Virgin Mobile apps, the LG Optimus V appears to be running something very close to stock Android 2.2. So far all the apps I’ve downloaded from the Android Market have worked perfectly, such as Skype, Pulse and my new personal fave Google Translate. Bear in mind you can only make Skype calls over WiFi with the LG Optimus V.

LG Optimus V 10Even though the LG Optimus V doesn’t have the fastest processor on the planet I found the 600MHz CPU to be perfectly capable as a daily driver for the phone. In my mixed usage of email, browsing, YouTube, streaming audio over Bluetooth and playing Angry Birds, I only occasionally noticed hangs or delays. The LG Optimus V has generally been reliable, although it has spontaneously restarted itself twice in my two weeks of usage.

One welcome addition in the LG Optimus V is that it ships with Swype installed. This allows for fast typing by moving your finger across letters on the smartphone’s virtual keyboard. I was impressed with Swype on the Samsung Epic 4G and it’s all the more useful on the LG Optimus V since the Optimus lacks a hardware keyboard. Swype isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s definitely competent. I wrote this whole review on the LG Optimus V using Swype.

The screen on the LG Optimus V is not super high-res, but at 320×480 it’s dense enough for 3.2 inches of real estate, and I’ve found it to be perfectly usable. Then again, I’m not the kind of person who’s going to get out a magnifying glass and complain if I can see individual pixels. More importantly the screen can be cranked up to be up bright enough to be legible outdoors for occasional things like checking Google Maps or sending texts. Wearing polarized sunglasses also helps to minimize screen reflections when trying to read the LG Optimus V’s screen on sunny days.

LG Optimus V 7One thing I absolutely love about the LG Optimus V so far is its battery life. I’ve found it easy to get through a day with regular usage. I don’t spend all day on my phone mind you, but I do have it set up to pull email from multiple accounts regularly, stream music during my commute and update various feeds in the background. It’s refreshing to not have to turn off things like Bluetooth and background services during the day just to make sure I have enough juice for my journey home. Your mileage may vary though depending on how you use the LG Optimus V.

I’m guessing this power efficiency comes from a few factors. Firstly, the LG Optimus V has a slower processor than the 1GHz+ CPUs on the top end juice guzzling smartphones. Secondly, backlighting the LG Optimus V’s 3.2 inch screen probably uses less power compared to backlighting a 4+ inch screen on larger smartphones. Lastly the LG Optimus V uses 3G rather than 4G, which tends to require a lower power draw from the radio.

On that subject, I’ve seen some forum discussions questioning whether the LG Optimus V is restricted to 1x RTT. I can happily confirm that the LG Optimus V uses 3G where possible and downgrades to 1x RTT if the 3G signal is too weak.

In terms of connection speeds, in downtown Manhattan I’ve been experiencing download speeds that I think are fine for a phone with a smallish screen. In terms of specifics, I’ve measured consistent download speeds of around 1.1Mbps and upload speeds of around 0.4Mbps. For app downloading, watching HQ YouTube videos and listening to Pandora, that kind of speed is absolutely fine. It’s worth checking coverage in your area before you take the plunge though, and bear in mind that Virgin Mobile uses Sprint’s network. So if your area has good Sprint 3G coverage then

LG Optimus V indoor photo 2

The Optimus V captures a decent amount of detail on this indoor shot of Halo with good ambient lighting

you should be fine. Having said that, Virgin Mobile does have a 30 day return policy, so you could always take advantage of that if you’re not happy.

There are a couple of downsides to the LG Optimus V. Firstly, it’s camera is okay for quick snaps but nothing to write home about . It only has a 3.2 megapixel sensor and lacks a flash, so photos in well lit environments come out far better than those taken in dimly lit rooms. I’d really like to see a decent 5 megapixel sensor with a flash as standard on all smartphones. Secondly although the LG Optimus V can record video, it’s not capable of capturing HD footage. Again, I think being able to shoot in 720p should soon be the minimum for smartphones. Lastly the LG Optimus V only ships with a 2GB Micro SD card, so it’s worth setting aside some extra green if you need more storage for your extensive music collection. Given the LG Optimus V’s price though, these issues are easily forgiven since on balance this smartphone is far more capable than its price would indicate.

Check out our review of the new Virgin Mobile Motorola Triumph!

Overall I’ve been seriously impressed with the Virgin Mobile LG Optimus V. It handles run-of-the-mill smartphone tasks competently, looks good and is cheap to run. I was worried that the LG Optimus V might be a let down because of its low price, but in reality it’s possibly the best smartphone value on the US market today.

Neil Berman


Feb 27, 2011 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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

This gadget life: Buying a GPS

TomTom and Garmin took a hit a while ago when Google released free turn-by-turn navigation on Android phones. The GPS market is still alive and well however as I found out recently.

I don’t use Android on my daily phone so I have a choice of subscribing to AT&T’s GPS navigation service on my BlackBerry, using a dedicated GPS unit or having an argument in the car. Since the arguments rarely end well for me and the AT&T service costs more than a low end GPS after a few months, I decided to look at a dedicated unit.

tomtom-xl-340s-gpsThere are really two major players in this market: TomTom and Garmin. Nipping at their heels Magellan, Mio and Motorola have a certain level of presence on the lower store shelves but they’ve never managed to get a strong foothold in the market.

So I chose to concentrate my search on TomTom and Garmin, on the basis that the market can’t be totally misguided. Guess what I found? This is one of the craziest sectors in consumer electronics.

In terms of street prices, the vast majority of GPS products are compressed between $100-250, but within that range there are probably a total of around 20 devices to choose from just from TomTom and Garmin alone. That’s epically confusing.

So what are the main differentiating factors between units? Free vs paid map and traffic updates, clever route guidance and output qualities (screen size, speaker volume). There are a few others like Bluetooth phone integration and FM transmission of routing instructions through a car radio, but by and large these features seem to be hit and miss in their execution. What I mean is, there are too many reports of Bluetooth GPS to phone hookups not quite working and FM transmissions being unreliable when the car is moving at speed to base purchasing confidence on these features. The first three however are known quantities and are the bread & butter of the industry.

Free vs paid map and traffic updates

When you buy an old style road map, AKA ‘a book’, you’re buying a static map that is perhaps a year or so old. If you drive to new places a lot, you might buy a new map book every year to be aware of new roads. You can do the same thing with a GPS; maps get updated a few times a year and you can normally buy a new map download for your device. Sounds simple, but the reality is an expensive proposition. Map updates can easily cost over $50, so you may well prefer to just buy a new device instead as both TomTom and Garmin GPS units typically come with a guarantee that you will have access to the latest map when you buy the device. Subsequent map updates are a pay option.

Both TomTom and Garmin sell GPS units that give lifetime map updates for free, which are a good deal if you plan to use the device for a number of years. The road network isn’t materially changing every day but it does change significantly over a period of years. Two way roads become one way, highway exits get opened/closed and, less frequently, new roads get built.

garmin-nuvi-760TomTom comes out on top here since it has plenty more affordable devices available with lifetime free map updates than Garmin. Plus TomTom has a community feature called MapShare, where owners can submit map updates which then cascade to other participants which is a great way to keep the device up to date. MapShare only works if the device’s current map is less than a year old, so it’s not a long term replacement for buying a new map.

Many TomTom and Garmin GPS units can also receive traffic information over FM and re-route you to avoid snarl-ups. Again both companies offer units that provide this service free for the life of the device. With traffic updates, both TomTom and Garmin have plenty of affordable devices that offer the service for free. The one differentiating factor is that many Garmin units have an FM receiver built into the unit whereas most TomTom get reception through an external antenna that is part of the car charger cable. Garmin FTW on traffic.

Clever routing

I’ll say upfront that this seems to be roughly a tie. TomTom has a clever system on most of its GPS units called ‘IQ Routes’ that calculates routes based on historical traffic patterns for the area and time of day that you are traveling. Garmin meanwhile has ‘trafficTrends’, which does a similar job, although few of its units have this feature.  Most of the research I’ve read indicates that on some occasions one system is better and on others, the competing system prevails.

Output qualities

Both TomTom and Garmin offer GPS units with regular 3.5″ and widescreen 4.3″ screens. TomTom also has some affordable 5″ devices. It seems that the Garmin devices are generally brighter than comparable TomTom units, although TomTom owners don’t seem to actively complain that they are unable to view the screen of their GPS.

It’s a different matter when it comes to speaker volume, where TomTom owners seem to praise the loudness of their devices which is important if you like to listen to the car radio at a decent volume. By comparison there is plenty of feedback out there from Garmin owners complaining that they have to keep an eye on their GPS in case its instructions are drowned out by the radio. Some of the TomTom units also have adaptive volume settings that output louder instructions on the highway.

Any recommendations?

Like I mentioned earlier, I mainly considered the three factors above. I was definitely interested in Bluetooth and FM transmitter features, the hands-free phone capability is appealing and makes all the more sense when coupled with anXL340TM FM transmitter for hearing callers over the car radio. I’ve had experience with in-car FM transmitters in the past and can certainly attest that reception can be hit and miss, so I decided to pass on the feature.

I decided that I wanted a widescreen GPS to make it easier to read all the info that gets crammed into the screen, and 4.3″ was big enough for my needs. It seemed to be a tie on routing but I liked the crowdsourcing idea of MapShare for getting up to date info from the community.  The price difference between devices with lifetime maps and traffic updates vs the same model without those features was close enough to make the lifetime updates seem like a good idea. Finally I wanted to be able to hear instructions clearly over whatever was piping through the car radio.

All of that guided me to the TomTom XL340S-TM. The XL bit means it has a 4.3″ widescreen, the S means it has some nice extras like spoken street names and lane guidance for funky highway exits and the TM means it has free lifetime traffic and map updates.  There are some pretty good deals available online for this unit.

I then proceeded to download the Eric Cartman voice, so the TomTom now curses at me even when I’m going the right way.  I feel that’s a regression from my passenger navigator who only cursed occasionally, but she tells me  it’s progress.

Neil Berman

Dec 25, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Nov 29, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Reviews | , , , , , | 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

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

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

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

EFO ‘smallest and lightest’ iPazzPort review

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

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

First impressions of the credit card sized iPazzPort

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

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

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

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

Using three credit card sized iPazzPort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the EFO iPazzPort product page.

Neil Berman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neil Berman

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

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

Motorola S10-HD stereo Bluetooth headphones review

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

First impressions of the Motorola S10-HD

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

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

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

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

Getting comfortable with the Motorola S10-HD

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

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

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

Using the Motorola S10-HD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motorola S10-HD: The final sound-check

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

Neil Berman

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

Samsung WEP301 Bluetooth headset review

Samsung WEP301We recently reviewed the Aliph Jawbone ICON and BlueAnt Q1 Bluetooth headsets, which are both high end devices at the top of their game. While those headsets offer premium features they come with a premium tag. Some might say all they want from a headset is to sit in a room and talk hands-free without frills. Many others lose headsets so often they now limit their expenditure to the minimum (I wonder how many right now are under car seats?) At the more affordable end of the market Samsung has a range of Bluetooth headsets to meet these needs, and we’re going to look at their WEP301 model today.

First impressions of the Samsung WEP301

The first Samsung headset I ever used was the diminutive WEP200, which was a seven gram marvel of miniaturization way back in the day. The WEP301 feels just as light, although its construction feels less premium. From a distance the WEP301 doesn’t look cheap with an attractive silver color finish, but when you get up close it’s clear that the headset was made with a price point in mind.

I don’t have a problem with that, as long as you buy the WEP301 expecting a silver color plastic finish rather than a metal exterior.

Speaking of the exterior the WEP301 ships with a selection of patterned plates that can be affixed to the headset to create a personalized look, which is a fun addition by Samsung.

The other notable item in the box is the power adapter for charging the WEP301’s battery. Unfortunately the headset does not use the standard mini-USB charging port that the likes of Plantronics and Aliph have adopted along with so many cellphone manufacturers. So no brownie points to Samsung for this decision.

The WEP301 sports a multi-function button that acts as a on/off control, plus there are also dedicated volume controls. There is also a light that indicates connection status and reports when the headset is in pairing mode.

Using the Samsung WEP301

Pairing was straightforward with my BlackBerry Bold 9700 and I never found re-pairing to be necessary. Sound quality was very good indoors using the Samsung WEP301. I really didn’t feel like I was using a budget headset when making calls in a quiet controlled environment. Unfortunately there’s no fancy noise canceling technology that the more expensive Bluetooth headsets boast, so call quality on the WEP301 does suffer outdoors as with many other headsets.

There is a detachable earhook which I found to be a necessity as the WEP301 would not securely in my ear without using it. The earhook can be fitted for use on either ear and swiveled to fit different ear shapes. As with the construction of the headset itself, the earhook feels cheap. However it just about does its job; the headset never fell out of my ear but it didn’t feel super-secure either. The Plantronics 395 we reviewed recently does a better job of ensuring a secure fit, although it is slightly more expensive.

One excellent feature of the WEP301 is its long battery life. Samsung quotes 5 hours of talk time for the WEP301 and I did get close to that number in real life usage. I certainly found myself reaching for the charger less frequently than with many other headsets, but that doesn’t forgive the omission of the standard mini-USB charging port.

Does the Samsung WEP301 stand out from the crowd?

Overall the Samsung WEP301 is a good choice as a budget headset and the custom design plates are a fun touch. Those with a little more to spend should also consider the Plantronics 395, which is on a higher level in terms of both build quality and comfort.

Neil Berman

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Aug 31, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

EFO iPazzPort review (3rd generation)

The EFO iPassPort is now in its third iteration and it’s been great to see how this HTPC keyboard/trackpad combo controller has developed over the past year.  In my review of the version 2 iPazzPort, I had some lingering questions about the typing experience and said that “…I’d actually love EFO to take something like one of the larger BlackBerrys…and place the left and right buttons where the call buttons normally live.” Well that’s exactly what EFO appears to have done, fitting the new iPazzPort with a keyboard that looks very similar to that of a BlackBerry 8800 series smartphone.  So let’s see if third time’s a charm for the iPazzPort.

At first glance the 3rd gen iPazzPort looks similar to previous iterations, but this version has some significant enhancements.

The keyboard design and layout has been completely reworked. Keys are now closer together and with better ergonomics. Whereas the previous gen iPazzPorts had keypads arranged with flat horizontal key rows, the new model is far easier to type on if you’re used to typing on a BlackBerry-style smartphone.

The keys themselves offer slightly better feedback than previous versions of the iPazzPort, although the experience is still far from a BlackBerry for example. I was able however to type far more fluently with this iPazzPort compared to previous ones. The backlight is still present which means typing in a dark home theater living room is no problem.

The key layout is also a big step up from the previous model, with media keys now included as well as all the useful secondary keys such as Ctrl, Tab and Fn 1-12. There are also dedicated page up & down buttons that make webpage navigation much easier. Most of the important keys now feel like they’re in the right place, although I’d love to see standalone up & down keys or support for two finger scrolling, which leads me to…

The trackpad – no changes here unfortunately. There’s nothing specifically wrong with the trackpad; it works perfectly well, is a good size and support tap to click as previously. However in a world of multitouch trackpads it would be great if the iPazzPort offered two finger scrolling for effortless webpage navigation. There might be a hacky way to enable this, I’ll let you know if I discover anything.

The third gen iPazzPort now has a red laser pointer built-in, which makes it ideal as a presentation device. The pointer light is bright and is easily viewable in well-lit rooms. It also doubles as the most amusing toy my cat had ever seen, he chased the thing around the apartment non-stop for an afternoon.

The build quality of the iPazzPort seems largely unchanged. It feels light and well put together but lacks the premium feel of something like the Logitech diNovo Mini. It also costs a fraction of the price, so that needs to be taken into account.

The iPazzPort retains the mini-USB charging port and internal lithium-ion rechargeable battery of its predecessor. It comes with a USB charging cable. The iPazzPort goes to sleep after a few seconds if not used to save battery, and consequently the device gives plenty of use between charges. Whereas the 2nd gen iPazzPort used Bluetooth, the 3rd gen model goes back to RF transmission. This might also contribute to the good battery life of the device.

Overall the 3rd generation iPazzPort represents a bigger leap than the changes between the 1st and 2nd gen models. The redesigned keyboard, inclusion or media keys and laser pointer now make the iPazzPort even more compelling as a great HTPC or presentation controller. Now if EFO can get two finger scrolling going in the next version and reverse engineer the key feel of a BlackBerry Bold, this will become a truly great product.

The EFO iPazzPort 3rd generation costs $45 and is available here.

Neil Berman

Aug 19, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Reviews | , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530 review

Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530

Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530

Last month we reviewed the Virgin Mobile LG Rumor Touch and concluded it worked well as a smartphone for newbies or light data users. We suggested at the time that Virgin Mobile’s BlackBerry 8530 might be a better bet for those looking for a more rounded smartphone experience and promised a review, so here it is.

We covered Virgin Mobile’s Beyond Talk plans in our review of the LG Rumor Touch, but the one difference with the BlackBerry 8530 is that Virgin Mobile asks for an extra $10 per month. This is presumably due to costs associated with

Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530 back

Back

BIS usage and the higher volume of data that the BlackBerry 8530 will likely consume compared to the other Virgin Mobile data phones. This extra amount brings the base Beyond Talk plan to a still very reasonable $35 with unlimited data, texts and 300 minutes, or $50 for 1,200 minutes. The unlimited minute plan becomes $70 including data and texts. At the time of writing the same situation still applies regarding taxes which is that, in New York at least, the only tax applied is sales tax.

Now back to the BlackBerry 8530. While being a new addition to Virgin Mobile, the BlackBerry 8530 has been on the wider market for a while now. At $299.99 it’s the most expensive phone in the Virgin Mobile line-up, and twice the price of the LG Rumor Touch. So is it twice as good?

First impressions of the Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530

When the 8500 series was announced I was skeptical about it during a BerryReporter podcast. My feelings at the time were that BlackBerry already had the 8900 Curve series and should have made the 8500 Curve series more teen orientated with a more obvious social networking focus and fewer traditional BlackBerry menus. RIM chose not to do that and released the 8500 series with the same OS as the rest of the range. While I remain unconvinced of this strategy on most carriers, I think it works well on Virgin Mobile since the 8530 is the only BlackBerry available on that network. More on the software later.

Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530 battery and micro sd

Battery, micro SD and camera

Looking at the hardware, the BlackBerry 8530 comes in any color on Virgin Mobile as long as it’s black. I was somehow expecting a red option since that is the color I associate with Virgin Mobile and I thought that would be a distinctive tell for the carrier but black it is. The casing is shiny black at least and does look smart. There’s a small, subtle Virgin Mobile logo beneath the keyboard.

The keyboard is a similar design to the 8900, with mildly ridged keys in the standard BlackBerry layout. The 8530 has the optical trackpad of the newer BlackBerrys, rather than the trackball which was famous for needing regular cleaning art best or occasional replacement at worst.

Above the trackpad is the screen, which is one of the newer dazzlingly vivid BlackBerry screens. Unfortunately the resolution is only 320 x 240, so it lacks the stunning pinpoint resolution of the higher end BlackBerry models. The result is that small OS text can look a little pixelated although still perfectly readable.

The left side houses a standard 3.5mm headphone socket, micro-USB charging port and assignable button. The volume controls and a second assignable button are on the right side.

On the top of the 8530 there are track skip and play/pause buttons, the latter of which also serves as a mute button.

There is a two megapixel camera on the back without a flash and a micro SD card slot hides under the battery cover. Thankfully the micro SD card is accessible without needing to remove the battery.

As with the rest of the BlackBerry range, the 8530 feels very well built. It might not ooze the enterprise class quality of the Bold 9000 or 9700, but it feels like it’s built to last.

Using the Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530

The Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530 runs version 5 of BlackBerry OS, which is pretty vast so I’ll concentrate here on some of the main features.

Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530 App World

BlackBerry App World

The Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530 is able to access BlackBerry App World, which is RIM’s equivalent of Apple’s App Store. There is a wide range of BlackBerry apps available now, and since the OS is able to multitask it’s perfectly possible to have Facebook and IM or RSS apps running in the background while you’re watching a YouTube video or writing an email.

On the subject of YouTube, the BlackBerry 8530 was easily able to stream YouTube videos over the Virgin Mobile network, which actually uses Sprint for cell service. I preferred using the Player for YouTube app which I downloaded from BlackBerry App World, to browse and stream videos rather than the YouTube website but that’s purely a matter of personal preference. The message here is that while I struggled to stream YouTube videos consistently with the LG Rumor Touch, the BlackBerry 8530 worked perfectly every time.

The BlackBerry 8530 has 256MB for app storage, which is a decent amount since BlackBerry apps are generally pretty small in size. The micro SD card can only be used for media files, so if you run out of space for apps you’ll need to clear some out before installing more.

Speaking of media files, the media player on the BlackBerry 8530 is good to use. Videos look fine using the onboard player, although I missed the crystal sharp resolution of the screens on the Bold 9000 and 9700. Pictures can be browsed using a finger swipe across the trackpad.

Music is easily searchable and searches are instant. Playlists can be created on the phone itself and skipping within tracks is simple. There are repeat 1 and All settings as well as shuffle. The speaker is decently loud, although completely

Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530 browser

Browser

lacking in bass definition; it’s better suited to spoken podcasts than music playback. For music the headphone socket delivers excellent sound quality and the top-mounted playback control buttons are a useful feature.

Something I always look for in a smartphone is whether it supports Bluetooth A2DP stereo audio streaming and AVRCP playback remote control. The BlackBerry 8530 supports both of these and happily streamed music to a Plantronics BackBeat 903 stereo headset with full remote control capabilities. Incidentally this streaming also works fine with downloaded apps that are enabled to use it, such as Pandora and Stitcher, which is handy to know.

The web browser on the BlackBerry 8530 is okay, although nothing special.  It is able to render pages fairly well but lacks Flash and any sense of speed.  It is usable however for basic web surfing and the trackpad serves adequately as a mouse.  Serious surfers may want to look at a downloadable browser such as Bolt.

If you’re considering the Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530 over the LG Rumor Touch it may well be to take advantage of the renowned BlackBerry messaging capabilities. The 8530 does not disappoint in this regard offering an excellent keyboard, BlackBerry Messenger and downloadable clients for the major IM platforms. Virgin Mobile includes a Twitter app straight out of the box. The BlackBerry 8530 also supports multiple email inboxes and handles email far better than the LG Rumor Touch.

Photo taken on BlackBerry 8530

Photos taken on the BlackBerry 8530 are passable for occasional use, although Halo looks unimpressed

The two megapixel camera of the BlackBerry 8530 is passable but a weak point of the device. By modern standards the resolution is too low, with five or at least three megapixels now being the minimal standard. The camera does take decent shots though and is good enough for occasional use, but with its lack of flash don’t count on using it in low light environments.  There’s a second photo below taken at close range which reveals issues for macro shooting.

Many of the other drawbacks of the Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530 are common to the whole BlackBerry range. The 8530 takes a long time to boot up if it crashes, so we’re thankful that the platform is relatively stable. You will probably need to reboot once every couple of weeks though to give the 8530 a fresh start if you typically have a lot of apps open simultaneously.

The screen of the BlackBerry 8530, like most other BlackBerrys, is not touch enabled. However the BlackBerry 8530 is very quick to navigate using the optical trackpad. If you’re dying to get a touchscreen phone though, look elsewhere.

Call quality of the BlackBerry 8530 was good with no significant issues. It was able to pair with Bluetooth headsets if you prefer to talk hands-free. Battery life was fine, with two days being achievable with light voice and data use. Heavy users will probably want to juice up the BlackBerry 8530 every night.

Summing up the Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530

Overall the Virgin Mobile BlackBerry 8530 is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a proper smartphone for a low monthly cost. It’s definitely worth the extra over the LG Rumor Touch if you’re planning to be a heavy data or want a more robust messaging experience. There is the extra $10 monthly to consider above the normal Virgin Mobile Beyond Talk plans plus the initial outlay for the phone is high, but it works out favorably over two years when compared to buying the same phone on a contract with some other carriers. However the market is no longer standing still and MetroPCS has also recently launched the BlackBerry 8530 at a lower device price point but a higher minimum monthly cost. As ever, check out all the deals in your area before you jump in!

Neil Berman

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Aug 15, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Hands-on with the BlackBerry Torch 9800

BlackBerry Torch 9800 slide-out keyboard

BlackBerry Torch 9800 slide-out keyboard

The BlackBerry Torch 9800 has been eagerly anticipated by BlackBerry fans for a long time, but early reviews have left some disappointed.  After getting some hands-on time with RIM’s latest smartphone, here are my initial impressions:

BlackBerry Torch 9800: Build quality and looks

The BlackBerry Torch is small and well formed.  This smartphone could have been a large brick, but it’s almost the same size as a Bold 9700.  The Torch is slightly thicker but at a glance the two BlackBerrys share very similar dimensions, which is remarkable when you consider that the Torch has a slide out keyboard.  The Torch feels as solid as one would expect from an enterprise class BlackBerry.  Fit and finish seems to be top notch and the sliding keyboard has a satisfying click when it engages.

BlackBerry Torch 9800: Keyboard

BlackBerry Torch 9800 alongside Bold 9700 keyboard

BlackBerry Torch 9800 alongside Bold 9700 keyboard

A BlackBerry is only as good as its keyboard, and the one on the Torch is okay.  Since it has to slide under the main body of the device, the keys cannot be raised as high as the Bold 9700 or 9000 and consequently it can be hard initially to type quickly.  The Palm Pre and Motorola Droid have the same issue and each of those smartphones handled the problem in their own ways; the Pre has little bobble keys and the Droid went completely flat.  The Droid 2 has adopted slightly raised keys, similar to the Torch 9800.  I did find that typing became fluent after a few minutes but the edges of the chassis, as with the Palm Pre, do sometimes get in the way of quick typing.

There’s also an on-screen keyboard, with which I really struggled.  I couldn’t get into any kind of fast and accurate typing rhythm with the on-screen keyboard, and always reached for the hardware keyboard when I became too frustrated.

BlackBerry Torch 9800: Touch screen and general speed of operation

The Torch has a regular glass touch screen, unlike the Storm which has SurePress to register screen inputs, and for general navigation and opening apps I found the touch screen to be perfectly responsive.  Much hasbeen said about the Torch being slow due to the extra demands of OS 6, but in my limited time with the Torch I didn’t really experience slowdown issues.  I don’t feel that the OS makes efficient use of touch in the same way as Apple iOS or Android, but RIM has created that issue for itself by releasing the Torch with an OS that is also destined for its non-touchscreen devices like the Bold 9700.  So the touch efficiency of OS 6 only goes so far before it feels like an add-on.

Neil Berman

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Aug 14, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sony Vaio P VPCP111KX hands-on

Sony Vaio P VPCP111KX 1The original Sony Vaio P launched at CES 2009 to considerable excitement over its slim form factor. This euphoria was somewhat tempered by the weak performance of its Intel Atom processor, which struggled terribly to power the Vaio P’s Windows Vista installation. Wow, just writing ‘Vista’ brings back all those long forgotten memories…

Fast forward a year and a bit and we’re blessed to have a new and improved Sony Vaio P. This time it’s running Windows 7, but the Intel Atom remains *sigh*. I think the world’s moved on from the Atom unless you’re spending under $300, but the Sony Vaio P VPCP111KX asks for $799.99 in return for spending its life with you.

For that significant amount of money you get a stunning looking ultraportable with the power of a netbook and, as with the original Sony Vaio P, a widescreen at such high resolution that you need super specs or fighter pilot vision to comfortably use it. There’s a 64GB SSD in there too along with WiFi 802.11n and Bluetooth. But for me none of those now unimpressive additions compensate for the fact that I was straining over the screen to see what I was doing.

The keyboard is comfortable with well sized and spaced keys, while the trackpoint feels awkward just because it’s sitting in a cramped space for bending your arm. Engineering a well placed mouse pointer on such a small device is always going to be a challenge though. I closed my eyes, prayed a little and the reached out to touch the screen hoping that perhaps the trackpoint was not required, but alas, the screen just stared back at me unresponsively. On second thoughts controlling Windows 7 by touch on such a high resolution screen would probably be one of the least enjoyable computing experiences I could imagine.

Overall the new Sony Vaio P VPCP111KX looks stunning, but look at your friend’s one instead. For the same money an iPad and a regular netbook is a better way to spend that $800.

Neil Berman

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Jul 22, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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