TheONbutton Durham Computer Services

Remote IT Support and Computer & Technology Help in Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh NC

This gadget life

Reflecting on the past year, I’ve done some wacky things to accommodate my gadget obsessed lifestyle.

Take my old BlackBerry Bold 9000 for example. A great smartphone in almost all respects except that it has a weak Bluetooth transmitter. I mean weak to the extent that I would get music streaming dropouts when walking in open areas where the Bluetooth signal had nothing to bounce against. I always carry my phone in my trouser pocket and it seemed that the only way to fix this was to reduce the distance between the phone and my heaadphones. I couldn’t relocate my headphones so proceeded to buy an army of T-shirts with top pockets. Problem solved. Incidentally the Bold 9700 has a superb Bluetooth transmitter so I’m back to wearing whatevs again.

Kindle 3 web browser screen sunlight

The Kindle's E Ink screen is great for use in sunlight

Speaking of headphones, regular readers will know that I’m a serious fan of stereo Bluetooth. While there are plenty of headsets that are great for the summer, only a few offer genuine wind protection which is a must-have for New York winters. I sought out the Sony DR-BT50 specifically because they have snug-fitting earpads that do double duty as fair-weather ear muffs. So long wind chill.

Now that we’re onto the weather it’s no secret that I like using my gadgets outdoors. This has led me to convert Apple’s iPad case into a sunshade, choose the BlackBerry Bold 9700 over other smartphones due to its sunlight readable screen,and more recently buy the Kindle 3 just for outdoor web browsing. Am I the only person out there to buy the Kindle just so I can read online content for hours outdoors in places like Battery Park’s WiFi hotspot? Weird eh, but I’m lovin’ this gadget life.

Neil Berman

Sep 4, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Rants | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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

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

MacBook Pro or a fully equipped entertainment apartment?

Mac vs PCWe all know that Macs are expensive, but just how much more expensive are they in real world terms?  This can be difficult to quantify.  In the Vista and XP days it was easier to justify a Mac purchase based upon the quality of its operating system.  That’s exactly what I did back in 2007.  With Windows 7 however the game has changed and while OSX wins on some aspects (prettiness, support, media apps), Windows clearly now leads on others (taskbar, multitouch, homegroup).  Overall it kind of feels like a tie at the moment.

So here’s the challenge: For the price of a decently spec’d MacBook Pro can a one bedroom apartment be kitted out with home entertainment tech including a similarly spec’d Windows 7 laptop?

First, the rules.  Pretty simple really, no refurbs, coupons or member-only offers.  We’ll also assume that in both scenarios we’ll buy the same wireless router.

The Mac option

MacBook ProLet’s start with the MacBook Pro.  We’ll take the 15″ with the standard Core i7 processor and 4GB RAM.  In fact the only upgrade we’d make is to dump the slow 5400RPM 500GB drive in favor of a faster 7200RPM unit, which we think should be standard on anything labelled “Pro”.  That’s a cheap $50 upgrade.

That gives us a grand total of $2,249 on Apple’s site.  Let’s see what we can get ourselves for that kind of money.

Our apartment has a bedroom and living room, so we’ll need to take care of both.  In the living room we’ll need a TV, surround sound audio system, something for gaming and of course Blu-ray.  In the bedroom a small TV would be nice along with a simple sound system.  And of course we need that Windows laptop too, so let’s start with that.

The one bedroom apartment

Keeping it simple we can pick up our laptop from the local Walmart.  They have the HP Pavilion DV6-2190US with almost identical HP Pavilion DV6specs to the MacBook Pro for $898.54.  There’s the Intel Core i7, 4GB RAM and 500GB 7200RPM hard drive, all being powered by Windows 7 Home Premium.  The DV6 packs a GeForce 230M in  place of the 330M on the MacBook Pro but in day-to-day tasks like surfing and typical comupting, Toshiba 40RV525R LCD TVmost people wouldn’t notice the difference.  The big 2010 performance leap comes from the Core i7.

We definitely need a nice big TV, so let’s go for a 40″ 1080p from Toshiba for $579.99.  It’s rated 4.6 out 5 from 91 reviews on Tiger Direct, so that’s a solid endorsement.

Xbox 360 ArcadeFor the games console we’d choose an Xbox 360 for $199.99, but a Wii would do just as well for the same money if you prefer it.

We definitely want to be watching that 1080p TV and playing our games in full surround sound, so how about adding a Sony Bravia surround system with speakers for $229.99 from Newegg.

We’ll pair that Bravia surround system with a Sony Blu-ray player for another $139.99 from Newegg.

Sony Bravia DAV-DZ170That gives us the kind of super duper living room setup that we’ll never want to leave, but that Mac Book Pro is so expensive that we still have $400 to burn!  So let’s go into the bedroom…

iPod TouchThe iPod Touch is a great device to have around as a flexible media player and second web device, so we’ll have one of those of Apple’s site for $199.99.

We need  to get some noises out of that so we need a dock.  Altec Lansing’s well regarded IM310 sounds good for $59 from J&R.

Finally we’ll complete the bedroom tech setup with a 15″ TV.  This one from Coby comes in at only $129.99 but still delivers 720p resolution.

That total home entertainment setup, all from major brands including a Core i7 laptop comes to $2237.49.  That’s still less than the MacBook Pro, but I think we’ve bought enough virtual stuff for one day.

So can you setup a whole apartment for the price of a MacBook Pro?

So one the one hand you could buy a HP Core i7 Windows 7 laptop, Toshiba 40″ HDTV, Sony BluRay deck and Bravia surround sound system, Xbox, iPod Touch, sound dock and a bedroom TV…or you could have a MacBook Pro.  The choice, as ever, is yours.

Prices accurate as of the time of writing, but as always in the tech world if you’re slow they’ll change!

Neil Berman

Apr 16, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Apple, Computing, Gaming, Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Microsoft, Rants | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sony DR-BT50 Stereo Bluetooth Headphones Review

Right ear houses controlsThe availability of stereo Bluetooth headsets has been steadily increasing this year, helping to bring prices down. In particular at the top end last month’s arrival of Nokia’s noise-cancelling flagship set, the BH-905, has led to significant drops in other premium closed-back designs. Motorola’s high end S805 has been selling for a steal recently on some sites  but today I’m going to focus on the Sony DR-BT50, which for some represented the pinnacle of stereo Bluetooth headsets until Nokia recently crashed Sony’s party.  I’ll make comparisons to the S805 along the way.

First impressions of the Sony DR-BT50

Sony DR-BT50Sony debuted the DR-BT50 at a whopping $229 but the headset is now available for a around $129 or so at several e-tailers. The cans are based upon Sony’s celebrated Altus MDR-D777LP, so they carry a promise of good sound delivery. They also bring practicality, being foldable.

Physically the DR-BT50 is extremely light, feeling like about half the weight of the Motorola S805. The earpads on the DR-BT50 are also thinner and the buttons are smaller; more on this later. Like the S805, the Sony headphones sport a full set of music playback controls along with a mic and call management.

Pairing was straightforward with my BlackBerry Bold 9000 and subsequent reconnections have gone perfectly, mirroring my experience with the Motorola S805 and S9-HD headsets. The days of fiddly Bluetooth connections are hopefully now well behind us!

Putting on the Sony DR-BT50

The DR-BT50 feels great to wear and the slim earpads enclose the ears comfortably. The pads are so soft that it’s easier to wear sunglasses with the Sonys compared to the Motorola S805, which is important if you live in a sunny part of the world. Having said that, this not so much a failing of the S805 but rather a comment on how soft the DR-BT50’s earpads really are.

Playback and volume controls are smallI mentioned earlier that the controls on the DR-BT50 are small and when I first saw them I wondered how I would find them when the cans were on my head. The power and call pickup buttons are fine but the playback and volume controls are, frankly, tiny. Worse still the playback control is a flick-touch rocker switch controlling play/pause/stop and track navigation. The S805 seems like a Tonka truck in comparison, with its large finger-friendly controls.

Listening to the Sony DR-BT50

In use the buttons on the DR-BT50 were actually easier to locate than I had feared, although the playback rocker is too easy to nudge causing a track skip when you’re trying to depress it to pause. The call pickup button is a decent size, as is the power button, so these present no issues.

In order to use the stereo music and playback functions you will need a device supporting the A2DP and AVRCP Bluetooth profiles. Check your specs on your device manufacturer’s website. A2DP provides music playback support and AVRCP provides remote control of playback functions.

Once the music is playing the BT50s simply shine compared to most other stereo Bluetooth headphones, trumping the Motorola S805 for both bass and mid-range.  However occasionally the top end detail seems to suffer at the expense of the solid bottom end frequencies. It’s not that reproduction is too overtly bass heavy, but rather that current consumer trends favor bass and consequently the DR-BT50 will find plenty of fans in this regard.

When a call comes in pressing the call accept button pauses music playback and answers the call. I could hear callers very clearly and they could hear me well both indoors and outside, although in both environments they did say I sometimes sounded distant.

FoldedThe DR-BT50 felt both light and snug even for lengthy listening sessions and that included time wearing sunglasses. When I was finished listening I found that the folded BT50s fit perfectly into my jacket pocket.

Some room for improvement

On the downside the DR-BT50 is picky about placement and likes to have a decent line of sight to the originating device. They are less tolerant to obstacles than the Motorola S805 and this results in occasional cut-outs unless your phone is in a shirt or jacket pocket fairly high up on your body. This issue is not unique to the DR-BT50, the Motorola S9-HD suffers from a similar weakness.

The DR-BT50 must have a decent size music buffer however because it takes a while for the cut-out to occur. As a result I found I could walk around normally with almost no cut-outs with my BlackBerry Bold in my top pocket. Part of this issue could also be attributed to the Bold, which I’ve found to have a below-average strength Bluetooth transmitter compared to some other phones I’ve used.

The other niggle is that Sony fitted the DR-BT50 with a proprietary charging port rather than a mini-USB connection.  This means having to remember to take the charger when you travel, rather than simply a USB cable to charge from a laptop.  Accessories these days should really be rechargeable via USB.

Is the Sony DR-BT50 a music legend?

Overall I can give the Sony DR-BT50 a solid recommendation at its current street price. Most listeners are likely to be very happy with their sound quality and they felt both practical and comfortable for extended use on my ears, although as ever your mileage may vary depending on your head and ear shape so try before you buy if you can!

Note: I also published an edited version of this review of the Sony DR-BT50 on BerryReporter.

Link to Sony DR-BT50 pproduct page.

Neil Berman

Nov 7, 2009 Posted by | Audio, Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , | 3 Comments

Cheaper PS3 Still Too Expensive To Worry XBox 360

Hmmm…$299 for the lowest PS3 in the range a number of years into the current Wii/PS3/Xbox 360 cycle. Well it’s a start I guess, but let’s not expect it to turn the XBox 360/PS3 balance on its head anytime soon.

At $199 the XBox 360 arcade is still the obvious choice for the recession conscious consumer and it comes with access to a huge selection of games compared to the PS3. The Wii continues to be the broad-based family-fun choice. With many of Sony’s businesses languishing, is it really the right time for its cheapest PS3 to still be a Benjamin more expensive than the cheapest XBox 360?

Neil Berman

Aug 20, 2009 Posted by | Analysis, Gaming, Microsoft, News | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sony Vaio P hands-on

Neil Berman

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

theONbutton@CES – Sony brings out the stars for its keynote…and the Vaio P

p1030659Tom Hanks, Usher, Reggie Jackson and Dr. Oz all starred in Sir Howard Stringer’s Sony keynote this morning.  Oh, and the Vaio P  also appeared out of Sir Howard’s suit pocket for a brief outing.  Gallery below…

Jan 8, 2009 Posted by | CES, Computing, Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sony promises to increase prices, meanwhile Dell offers PS3 for $319.99

PS3 Dell HomeNow here’s a good holiday deal.  If you’ve been waiting for Sony to drop the price of the PS3 you may need to wait a little longer.  But…if you head on over to Dell’s US website pretty sharpish you can snag one for 20% off for a limited time.  Not sure if that will help Sony catch the monthly sales of 2 MILLION Wiis shipped in November alone, 360 Controller and Plantronics Headsetbut it might help prolong the PS3’s agony a little longer…especially as how it was crushed 2 to 1 by the XBox 360 and 5 to 1 by the Wii last month.  NPD’s reported sales figures for Nov were Wii: 2,040k units, Xbox 360: 836k units, PS3: 378k units.

Interestingly the ratio of Xbox 360 sales to PS3 in October was 1.87 to 1, whilst in November the 360 pulled ahead to 2.21 to 1, probably due to the price cut.  Microsoft clearly doesn’t need to do much to ward off the PS3 anymore, rather it seems to have it’s eyes on the Wii’s spot instead…although I can’t see it happening in this console generation.  It’s sure turned out different to the way we all thought back in 2005 though, the Playstation franchise needs something big now and these days Sony is in big trouble.

Back on the home front, I’ve been nurturing an ever-growing addiction to Halo 3 on the XBox 360.  I have trendnetbeen joining the faithful army of online Spartans and when I say army, think mass hordes…there are typically 250-300,000 Halo 3 gamers online each evening, US time.

Helping to make all this happen for me is a new Trendnet router.  Epix and FuzeReplacing a Trendnet 108mbps b/g, this 300mbps b/g/n speed demon has gigabit ethernet and flies along with rock-like stability.  Installation was a breeze, but pretty please Trendnet next time add a MAC address import feature; typing in all those addresses gets tiring!

I’ve also been giving the new HTC Touch Pro (at&t Fuze, the one the half gig ROM and 288mb RAM) and Samsung i907 (at&t Epix, the one with the optical mouse) a good workout recently…reviews to follow shortly.  Suffice to say they’re not too shabby.

Neil Berman

Dec 13, 2008 Posted by | Analysis, Gaming, Hardware | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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