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Mini-review of the Samsung Galaxy Tab

Samsung Galaxy Tab

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

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

 

Samsung Galaxy Tab keyboard

The Samsung Galaxy Tab docked with its optional keyboard

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neil Berman

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Nov 12, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , , , | 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

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

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

Microsoft Kinect for Xbox 360 hands-on impressions

Kinext Xbox 360 bundleI got some hands-on time with Kinect for the Xbox 360 today.  Actually “hands-waving” is a more appropriate term than “hands-on”, since with Kinect you are the controller.  As a refresher or intro for the uninitiated, Kinect is an upcoming hardware release for the Xbox 360 that turns your body movements into gameplay inputs.  There’s been extensive coverage of the Kinect technology elsewhere so I’ll keep this purely subjective.

Once I learned how to control menus, which is not immediately intuitive, I had a blast with Kinect.  The Xbox 360 responded to my movements instantly, and there was no perceptible lag at all.  After an energetic session my previous concerns about Kinect remain that we might all be too lazy to turn it into an enduring success.  However, just like with the Wii Fit under my sofa, plenty of us will buy one.  I can see Kinect being a big hit for parties and fitness, sports or dance aficionados though.

The Kinect is due to be released on November 4 in the US and is available for pre-order now for $149.99.  The bundle pictured above will sell for $299.

Neil Berman

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Jul 24, 2010 Posted by | Gaming, Hardware, Microsoft | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Acer 1410 review

P1020390Here it is: Acer’s very own netbook killer. Hmmm…that doesn’t sound right, after all Acer is the number one seller of netbooks globally. Nevertheless that’s what I believe we’re seeing here and kudos to Acer for giving consumers more options, although to be fair at $449 the 1410 is pricier than a typical netbook.

What makes the 1410 (sold elsewhere as the 1810T) stand out from the netbook crowd? It’s running an Intel Core Solo Ultra Low Voltage (ULV) processor giving superb battery life and decent horsepower, just like the recently released MSI X340 the Lenovo U350 and Dell Inspiron 11z (which actually has a weaker Celeron ULV) . Like those other laptops, the 1410 packs Intel’s GMA4500MHD graphics chipset which is HD capable. This new market sector of ultraportables is not yet named but I’ll call it DNP, or Darn Near Perfect, combining decent power, portability and great battery life.

P1020381Other notable specs include 2GB RAM (4GB max), 250GB hard drive and 802.11a/b/g/Draft-N WiFi. Including its six cell battery the 1410 weighs just 3.1lb and offers unplugged runtime of up to six hours according to Acer.

Look & feel of the Acer 1410

The 1410 sports an 11.6 inch screen so the laptop is pretty small, and although not super-thin at just over one inch thick, it feels slim enough. There’s the usual assortment of ports with the handy addition of HDMI, making it a snap to hook up the 1410 to a home setup for Netflix and the like, for those without an Xbox 360 or internet-enabled TV already serving that purpose.

The chassis feels just OK, with lots of shiny plastic covering the top surfaces. Overall it looks pretty nice. As with many of the recent slew of small plastic notebooks, if you treat them well they should stand the test of time.

There are accessible compartments beneath the 1410 which bodes well for tinkerers, just be careful of those warranty conditions!  I also liked the dedicated hardware buttons for turning wireless connections on/off, which is far preferable to the function-key or software implementation on some other laptops.

Playing around with the Acer 1410

The 1410 also sports Acer’s new Timeline style keyboard. The keys are big, although there’s not much travel and there is a fair amount of flex, but I found it easy to use accurately. The MSI Wind U100 still has the best keyboard feel in the small laptop sector in my opinion.  The 1410’s trackpad feels good, and the dedicated left and right buttons are a welcome addition compared to the single bar adorning some modern day laptops.

Unfortunately the screen is a glossy one, which annoyingly reflects light sources making the screen difficult to see sometimes. The 1410’s screen is bright and perfectly usable though as long as the screen is positioned to avoid reflections. I understand that glossy screens look shiny on store shelves, but I’ve never met anyone who liked using them. Hopefully one day they will just go away and we’ll be back to the good ol’ days of matte screens which don’t reflect light so much.

The 1410 ships with Vista Premium, which felt perfectly snappy when moving around the OS.  I detected no significant lag in general operation and Windows Media Center opened faster than my Windows 7 version at home on my (very old) living room Pentium 4 single core PC.

Multimedia comparison between the Acer 1410 and the MSI X340

P1020395The 1410 has speakers somewhere in that case…let’s just say they’re not the powerful kind. Whilst not entirely unexpected, headphones or an external connection are necessary to get the best out of the 1410. The MSI X340 has more powerful speakers from my time with that laptop.

One of the selling points of the 1410 is it’s GMA4500MHD graphics chipset which promises HD video playback. So I tried the Coral Reef Adventure clips from Microsoft’s HD content showcase. The 1410 handled a 720p clip with no problems, just like the MSI X340. It is really really difficult to see the difference between a 720p and a 1080p clip on an 11.6 inch screen, but for the record the 1410 played the 1080p clip of the same content perfectly. The X340 slowed to an unwatchably slow frame-rate on the 1080p clip.

Is the Acer 1410 a keeper?

My overall impressions of the 1410 are extremely positive. It’s netbook sized, but has the horsepower to handle HD video and the battery life to go the distance on a decent length flight. It’s the best of this new breed so far in my opinion; it bests the MSI X340 on video performance, the Dell Inspiron 11z on raw power and pretty much anything decent on price. I have a feeling this could be a big seller for Acer.

Neil Berman

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Aug 28, 2009 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hands-on with a pre-release Windows Mobile 6.5 Professional ROM from XDA Developers

The success of the iPhone has focused smartphone developers’ attention upon touch.  The Blackberry Storm, Palm Pre, T-Mobile G1 (Googlephone) and HTC Touch HD all looked to compete with the iPhone with large screens and touch interfaces.

Under the hood of the Touch HD was Windows Mobile with HTC’s TouchFlo finger-friendly overlay.  Like historical versions of the Palm and Blackberry OSes, Windows Mobile has generally been aimed at stylus+button input which has made it fast for savvy users.  However in an iPhone age greater accessibility is required and Windows Mobile 6.5 aims to achieve this.

We’ll be looking at a pre-release XDA Developers build of WinMo 6.5 Professional on an HTC Touch Pro (Raphael model), so the actual features I describe may be different to the ones available in the full future release.  We will also concentrate on the significant changes from WinMo 6.1, as much of 6.5 is closely related to 6.1.

Honeycomb application launcher

Many early photos of WinMo 6.5 showed the now-famous honeycomb lattice application launcher, designed to create more space between icons and make the easier to target with a finger.  In the version I’m trying the lattice borders are not present but the formation is there.  The icons are far easier to target than in 6.1, I haven’t missed any yet.

Swiping and scrolling

The scrolling action to reveal further pages of applications has been hugely improved.  Finger swipes now scroll the screen with ease, locking at each page if the swipe is gentle or scrolling through multiple pages if stronger.  The top/bottom bouncing effect has been borrowed from the iPhone and it works well.

This also extends within applications, such as Windows Live where mailbox scolling and mail selection has been made far more finger friendly.  Track forward/back changes in Windows Media player are also a side-swipe away.

Pre-6.5 applications currently have variable scolling implementations however.  AvantGo, for example, still scrolls as well as it did before but the new bouncing effect is not present.

Battery life

I’ve noticed a colossal improvement in battery life on the Touch Pro compared to it’s original AT&T 6.1 build.  The Touch Pro will now easily last a full day with regular periods of data usage.

It’s difficult to know what has caused this uptick, possibly it’s due to more efficient CPU or memory calls or perhaps the lack of HTC’s graphics intensive TouchFlo overlay means the system is being taxed less.  It’s certainly a welcome change and makes the Touch Pro a usable phone for my usage pattern.  YMMV.

3G stability improvements

Whilst 6.1 is a pretty stable OS, the Touch Pro previously had sporadic 3G connection issues which required a reboot.  These issues have vanished on this 6.5 version, and data seems to download significantly faster.  Note that I did not change the radio firmware when I installed 6.5.

So far 6.5 has not crashed on me once, but I have rebooted twice over the last two weeks to refresh the system.  Rebooting is definitely faster than with 6.1, but I put that primarily down to not having to launch TouchFlo following the OS boot.

Finger-friendly menus

All of the 6.5 menus have grown to be more finger-friendly.  It’s now easy to hit the target with confidence.  Even though 6.1 on the Touch Pro had some big menus in places, my hit rate in 6.5 has greatly improved and there might be better coding under the hood making this happen.

Everything else

Much of the remaining experience is similar to using 6.1.  The apps I’ve tried to download, such as Google Maps and AvantGo have worked perfectly.

Is it a game changer?

Whether you like the underlying Windows Mobile platform is a matter of personal taste.  Whilst this version of 6.5 has been great to use on the Touch Pro it continues to be hampered by the relatively small screen of most Windows Mobile devices compared to the iPhone.  This means that making Windows Mobile, Blackberry OS or any other small screen device close-in on the iPhone in terms of finger-friendliness will always be a huge task.

The continued breadth of form factors also hampers efforts, although Microsoft is now starting to get more specific on hardware which should help to standardize the platform for developers writing for a more consistent user experience.  RIM had a similarly diffcult experience taking the Blackberry OS and porting it to the Storm, which was received with mixed opinions.

So all I need now is a Touch Pro with a full length screen, same keyboard and only 3-4 oz in weight.  That’s not the Touch Pro2, but perhaps it could be the Touch Pro3…

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jun 28, 2009 Posted by | Microsoft, Mobile, Reviews, Software | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

MSI X340

IMAG0093Hmm…the eagerly anticipated MSI X340; this one turned out to be a mixed bag.  Looks great, feels just OK to hold.  Keyboard is big enough, feels just OK to use.  Some reviewers have said the keyboard is horrific, it’s not quite as bad as that, but it does flex downward in the center more than it should.  The battery is replaceable but is outpaced by the Acer Timeline.

IMAG0100But for $899 it weighs under 3lbs, does HD video, has a bright 13 inch screen and a real-life-useful 1.4GHz Intel CULV processor.  That’s a tempting prospect…especially as many retailers are listing it at nearer $799.  If you like the form factor and can survive with less power the X320 sports an Intel Atom for $599, but also sacrifices the HD capable graphics chipset.

Crucially is the $899 X340 better than a $999 refurbished MacBook Air Rev A?  For HD video, connectivity and battery life I’d say yes; for coolness and build quality probably no.  Then there’s also the Acer Timeline series and the semi-light but powerful Acer AS3935-6504 with a 2GHz Core 2 Duo for $899.  It’s a difficult, but consumer friendly, choice.

Neil Berman

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Jun 28, 2009 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sony Vaio P hands-on

Neil Berman

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Jan 15, 2009 Posted by | Computing, Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

theONbutton@CES – MSI booth walking tour including X320 and U115

MSI’s X320 is about as close as you’ll ever see to a Macbook Air without an Apple logo on the back of the screen.  When the lid is closed the laptop is a dead ringer for the Cupertino model, aside from MSI’s black and white color models which accompany the silver one.  The X320 should be released in the US in Q2 this year for under $1,000, sporting an Intel Atom and 13″ screen.

The U115 hybrid has a SSD and a traditional hard drive as well for mass storage.  The spinning hard drive can be turned off for extended battery life, MSI claims up to 12 hours of total usage.

Note that the white X320 in the video is a mock-up concept.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 9, 2009 Posted by | CES | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

theONbutton@CES – Nokia N97 Hands-On

The Nokia N97 is one of the most exciting smartphones to emerge for a long time.  Resembling an iPhone with a slide-out keyboard, the N97 is due to be released later this year.  Here’s the video tour…

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 9, 2009 Posted by | CES, Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

AT&T Fuze / HTC Touch Pro P4600 review

Last year I wrote about the HTC TyTN, which was later superceded by the TyTN II (AT&T Tilt) as the daddy of all productivity smartphones.  Since then HTC has moved on with its Touch range which aim to turn up the style, which was a bit lacking in the TyTN series.

HTC Touch Pro KeyboardOf the three new Touch models (Diamond, Pro and HD) the Pro is the closest successor to the TyTN range with its slide out keyboard.   I will make comparisons along the way to the Samsung Epix, which does a similar job in a very different style.

Picking up the Fuze is an altogether different experience to the Tilt it replaced.  HTC has taken everything good about the TyTN range and made it sleeker.  The all glass look is smart and the back cover has the beautiful angled surface first seen on the Touch Diamond.

One backwards step compared to the Tilt is the reduced number of buttons on the front of the Fuze.  Whilst instant access application buttons are present on the keyboard like the Samsung Epix, the Fuze makes you either slide out the keyboard or use screen presses like the iPhone.  Whilst this is not a huge problem it does make the Epix feel like a quicker phone to navigate.

The other significant change from the Tilt is that the Fuze loses the tilting screen, which seemed like a fragile but useful feature on its predecessor.

TouchFlo 3D Music AppThe Fuze feels mightily more petite to hold than the Tilt, but still a tad chunky in its depth to accommodate the keyboard.  Overall it looks smaller than the Blackberry Bold or the Samsung Epix but the Fuze’s 6oz weight makes the 4.4oz Epix less bulky in a pocket.

The Fuze has a more useful keyboard than the TyTN series and most other smartphones.  There are now five rows of keys, which reduces combination presses to a minimum.  The keys also have a positive feel, which aids typing speed.

For those who like to work outdoors, the Fuze’s screen is far brighter than the Tilt’s.  I’m writing this outside in full-on New York bright winter sunshine.  You don’t get much color contrast, but at least you can see what you’re doing.

The Fuze’s big screen advance is its resolution which, at 640×480, is simply spectacular.  The only comparison worth making is to the Blackberry Bold, whose screen is of similar quality.

HTC Touch Pro BackThe TyTN series packed a powerful punch for its time and the Fuze hits even harder.  The Fuze has a whopping 0.5GB of ROM for Windows Mobile to play around with.  Pair that up with a 528MHz processor and you have a device which flies along.  At one point I had 15 applications open simultaneously and the Fuze just kept going.  Operating system navigation is very responsive and AT&T’s Cellular Video streams well, as long as you have good 3G coverage.

There is also a MicroSD card slot which can handle cards up to 32GB to satisfy your thirst for videos/music/photos/applications.  MicroSD cards are now pretty cheap, I saw an 8GB card recently for $18.  However the Fuze loses brownie points for hiding it’s card slot under the back cover, unlike the TyTN which had exposed access on the side of the phone like the Samsung Epix.

The Fuze comes with Opera Mobile as the default browser.  This does a good job and offers multiple tabs and good finger control, but still plays second fiddle to Safari on the iPhone.  This is partly due to the iPhone’s larger screen and also because Safari renders pages better overall in my opinion.

HTC has enhanced its TouchFlo interface to ‘3D’ status with the inclusion of some nice widgets which make navigation very finger-friendly.  The email and music screens look good and scrolling through text messages and photos is great as one item is swept away to make room for the next.

HTC Touch Pro Exposed BackBattery life on the Fuze is only average, with a charge required on a nightly basis following moderate usage.  Regular video streaming eats battery time, as does constant surfing although I did find that a full day of battery life is realistic with sensible usage.

The Fuze ships with Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional, which means you get Office Mobile, Windows Media Player and Windows Live.  In addition to Messenger the phones also have IM clients for AIM and Yahoo and you can install third party applications to give access to more services.  Google Maps, AvantGo and Skype were one-click installs.

Overall the Fuze is a great smartphone.  In day to day usage I can’t decide if I prefer the trick TouchFlo 3D interface, sleek looks and amazing screen of the Fuze over the faster front panel key and mouse navigation of the Samsung Epix.  There is a popular perception that touch is the way foward, but if reactions to the iPhone have told us anything it’s that people still want keyboards.

If you’re looking for a Windows Mobile smartphone then the Fuze does a great job, however if you prefer buttons to fingers it’s worth checking out the Samsung Epix too.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Jan 4, 2009 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews, Video Features | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Sandisk Sansa Clip Review

In the congested MP3 market, Sandisk has been enjoying healthy success with its Sansa range. Competing with the heavyweight iPod, Zune and Zen ranges is a pretty big ask, but Sandisk reckons it has some clever tricks in its range. In this review we’ll look at the Sansa Clip 1GB, which sits squarely in iPod Shuffle and Zen Stone territory.

First impressions

Unboxing the Clip reveals an ultralight but solid feeling player, with an iPod-esque control pad and decent size screen. The whole unit, including the clip, is larger than the iPod Shuffle due to the built-in display.  Tricked out with a four line ultra-cool OLED screen, FM radio, voice recorder and spring clip, the forty dollar Clip beats the Apple and Creative competition on paper. Several EQ options, backlit controls for low light and play & play USB connectivity complete the specs.

Navigation is pretty easy, it turns out that the control wheel is actually a textured four way pad with good responsiveness to touch. A home button exits out of menus. The OLED screen is as bright as expected, and is easily readable outdoors.

Loading on music is a simple case of plugging in a USB cable, dragging songs into the Windows Media Player sync pane and clicking on ‘Start Sync’. WMP transferred each song to the Clip in about two seconds then automatically disconnected the Clip when done.  You can also copy files across to the Clip in a file explorer window if you prefer using it that way.

How does it sound?

Plugging in Beyerdynamic DT250 reference headphones revealed a fairly balanced sound output from the Clip. Most importantly there was no over-emphasis of bass frequencies, which can create muddy playback especially when paired to a bass heavy set of consumer phones. The EQ settings were disappointing and probably best left alone unless you have a particularly poor set of headphones, in which case the onboard five band graphic might help.

Moving away from the neutral 250s to the more consumer hi-fi style 231s, the Clip delivered a great listening experience which was upfront but not tiring. Basses were solidly resolved and stereo imaging was good. For an MP3 player, there was also plenty of detail in the top end which never became drowned out by the mid or bass frequencies. Dance tracks came thumping through the cans and rock had me reaching for the volume control.

The FM radio is a useful feature and reception is decent enough for occasional use. The Clip held on to stations (as well as my shirt) walking through my apartments, witching automatically between stereo and mono when the signal weakened. The Clip can store presets and record from the radio. The voice recorder function is also a useful addition.

Overall the Clip is an outstanding music player for the price and should have the execs at Creative and Apple more than a little worried.

Neil Berman

www.theonbutton.com

Apr 27, 2008 Posted by | Audio, Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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