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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

Video: New MacBook Air boot time is 13.7 seconds

Here it is, the new 13″ MacBook Air.  The photo has it still napping in its box after the long trip from Cupertino, but a short while ago I switched it on.  Here’s what happened…

That’s crazy fast.

Neil Berman

Oct 27, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Computing, Hardware, Mobile | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Apple iPad Review (update: now with video!)

Apple iPad 32After so much anticipation, the Apple iPad is finally here.  There’s been hype to the heavens on this one, so it’s time to reveal whether the iPad actually delivers now that it’s landed …continue reading

Apr 3, 2010 Posted by | Apple, Hardware, Reviews, Video Features | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why we need external mic inputs on high end digital compact cameras

Panasonic ZS3 1There’s a gaping hole in the digital camera market somewhere between point ‘n shoots and DSLRs, and it’s not in image quality.

High end compact cameras like the FujiFilm F200EXR and Panasonic LX3 are now good enough to make their output hardly distinguishable from DSLRs in many cases.

But while the best compacts can take pro quality shots, they’re still playing catch up against DSLRs when it comes to video capture or more specifically audio capture. Most compacts top out at 720p when the DSLR standard is now 1080p and crucially they pretty much all lack an external mic input. This means it’s difficult to shoot video seriously on a compact without a separate audio recorder.

Panasonic ZS3 2

The Panasonic ZS3 shoots excellent quality HD video at 720p but has to make do with its built-in stereo microphone for capturing audio

While I’m sure that 2011 will usher in 1080p video on high end compacts, I’m also depressingly sure that external mic inputs will not appear any time soon. This is not for a lack of real estate because cheap video cameras like Kodak’s tiny Zi8 manage to accommodate an external mic input. More likely there is a perception that most owners would just never use it.

While this assertion is probably true on a $150 HD capable digital camera, I’d propose that someone laying down three Benjamins on a high end compact might be more interested in creative flexibility. After all even at 720p today’s best compact cameras produce amazingly good video quality, but are crippled by their generally poor built-in microphone.

So how’s about it camera makers, can we get a external mic input on your next compact?

Neil Berman

Mar 27, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, Hardware, Home Theater, Photo & Video, Rants | , , , , | 12 Comments

theONbutton’s Flash HD video test: Hardware acceleration Mac vs PC

Flash has gained huge amounts of column inches in 2010.  This is mostly because of Apple’s current stance of not including it on the iPad while claiming at the same time that the iPad will be the best way to experience the Web.  Many commentators have disagreed with this statement because Flash is integral to so much online multimedia content.  As we previously explained part of Apple’s contention is that Flash is too processor intensive, which we agree with, and the company is pushing for HTML5 to be more widely adopted as an alternative.  Meanwhile as we also previously explained, Adobe is taking steps to use graphics hardware to accelerate Flash HD video decoding, which promises to allow smooth playback of content on computers with supported graphics cards.  The problem for Apple users is that due to the ongoing sparring between Apple and Adobe …continue reading

Mar 11, 2010 Posted by | Reviews, Software, Video Features | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Plantronics BackBeat 903 Review

Plantronics BackBeat 903 17

What’s under review: Plantronics BackBeat 903 Stereo Bluetooth Headset, MSRP $99.95, current street price approx $60-90

What we like: Excellent sound quality; lightweight and comfortable to wear for extended periods even with glasses; easy to learn controls

What we’d like to change: Can be fiddly to put on intially; we would prefer separate track skip and volume controls

Our verdict: An excellent contender; the BackBeat 903 should be high up on the shortlist of anyone looking for an in-ear stereo Bluetooth headset

Our full review follows the video summary:

Plantronics has plenty of history in the Bluetooth market, including several stereo headsets in its Pulsar 260/590 ranges and the recent Voyager 855 hybrid design.  Plantronics upped the ante in when it paired up (Bluetooth pun intended) with its subsidiary Altec Lansing to release the BackBeat 903 and 906 models.  The BackBeat 903 was subsequently named as a CES Innovations Design and Engineering Awards Honoree in November.  While we had only listened to the BackBeat in noisy environments previously, Plantronics was kind enough to send us a BackBeat 903 so we could spend some quality time getting more acquainted. Continue reading our full Plantronics BackBeat 903 review…

Feb 27, 2010 Posted by | Audio, Hardware, Mobile, Reviews, Video Features | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Nokia store New York

If you live in the USA, a Nokia cellphone can be hard to find.  That’s because Nokia phones and American cellphone carriers don’t go together as naturally as, say, Nokia phones and European carriers.  So if you’re a Nokia fanboy in America you’ll definitely want to head over to the company’s flagship store off Fifth Avenue in New York City.  But hey, this ol’ country is vast and it sure is cold in New York these days.  So to save you travelling all the way here, or perhaps from just leaving your warm shoe-box of an NYC apartment, here’s a walkthrough of the store in glorious HD.

Neil Berman

Feb 20, 2010 Posted by | Mobile, Video Features | , , , , | Leave a comment

BlueAnt Q1 review

The bluetooth headset market is crowded these days with top brands putting out some great designs. BlueAnt thinks it has something special to offer with the Q1, which won a CES 2010 Innovations Award and boasts voice control.  We put it through its paces to see if it could talk us into setting it above the pack.

What’s in the BlueAnt Q1 box?

The Q1 comes in a smart display case, which BlueAnt ecologically mention can be re-purposed into a vase or other container.  Nice touch.  Inside the box is the headset, a brief guide, earhook, USB cable and charger.

The Q1 feels smart and solid with a brushed black metallic finish.  It may not have the design exuberance of Aliph’s Jawbone, but it still looks sleek and expensive. Read our full review of the BlueAnt Q1…

Feb 18, 2010 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews, Video Features | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

TEKNICA: Episode 1

Welcome to our new video podcast, TEKNICA (Tech News I Care About).  We’re planning for TEKNICA to be a weekly super-concise roundup of tech news and we want to make it great for you.  Tell us what you think…

Neil Berman

Jan 18, 2010 Posted by | Analysis, News, Teknica, Video Features | , , , , | 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

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

Sony Vaio P hands-on

Neil Berman

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

theONbutton@CES – Windows 7 Beta new features hands-on

If you tried to download the Windows 7 Beta yesterday you may have been part of the huge demand which overwhelmed Microsoft’s download servers.  Fear not, theONbutton is at hand with an exclusive video of many of the new Windows 7 Beta features to help you make up your mind…

Neil Berman

Jan 10, 2009 Posted by | CES, Computing, Microsoft, Reviews, Software, Video Features | , , , , , | Leave a comment

theONbutton@CES – Asus CES 2009 booth walking tour including EEE Top

Neil Berman

Jan 9, 2009 Posted by | CES, Computing, Hardware, Video Features | , , , , | 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

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

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

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

Samsung Epix SGH-i907 – Blackjack’s big brother is an Ace

Samsung’s Blackjack II recently topped Consumer Report’s January 2009 smartphone ratings, beating both the iPhone and G1.  So this as unsung hero gets its due reward it’s time to check out its new big brother, the Epix.

Looking around the Samsung Epix SGH-i907

The Epix shares a family resemblance with the Blackjack and has a traditional keyboard below screen layout.  Samsung Epix ScreenThe keyboard can be extensively customized to give instant access to your favorite applications, which is great for people who like instant access rather than wading through screens or menus to find applications.  Soft keys sit under the large 320×320 haptic and touch sensitive screen and a volume rocker is on the left side.  The Epix feels good to hold, slightly heavier than the Blackjack II at 4.4oz, but lighter than the iPhone, G1 and Fuze.

On the media front, the rear houses a decent 2MP camera which also takes videos.  Unfortunately there is no flash or light.  There is a proprietary charging/headphone port, but the Epix offers stereo bluetooth connectivity so having annoying wires dangling around is not really a concern.  If you must stay wired in to satisfy some kind of 20th century nostalgia then there is an adaptor in the box.

The optical trackpad and other specs of the Samsung Epix SGH-i907

The real innovation of the Epix lives in the middle of the front of the phone – there’s an optical trackpad to aid one-handed use…and it’s awesome.

Samsung Epix Optical TrackpadThe trackpad is similar to the design on Samsung’s Omnia, but the superior placement on the Epix makes it an amazingly efficient way to navigate.  Steer with thumb impulses, click with a press and hold down to display context sensitive menus.  Sweet.  Precision is so good that the stylus is unlikely to get much use.  The trackpad can also be converted to a four way directional pad if desired.

The Epix is a powerhouse compared to the BlackjackII, packing a 624MHz processor, 25MB ROM and 128MB RAM.  It also has expansion capability via now-cheap MicroSD cards up to 32GB to satisfy your thirst for home videos/music/photos/applications.  The MicroSD slot is on the right hand side of the phone for easy access.

A big contributor to the total weight of the phone is the battery, and being a 3G device with a fast CPU the Epix needs need all the juice it can get.  In my mixed tests of light surfing, background IM, stereo bluetooth in transit and a limited amount of calls, the Epix easily managed a full day and two might be possible with bluetooth off.  Beyond that a charge will be required.

Using the Samsung Epix SGH-i907

The Epix ships with Windows Mobile 6.1 Professional, which means you get Office Mobile, Windows Media Player and Windows Live.  In addition to Messenger the phone also has 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 as were Opera Mobile and Skyfire to provide options for the aging Internet Explorer.  The Epix is easily powerful enough to run several applications simultaneously.  Samsung Epix CameraI had no difficulty sync’ing 1,500 AvantGo pages whilst walking down the street streaming music over bluetooth with IM and email active in the background.

The Epix can be used to access AT&T’s Cellular Video service.  So if you have the right plan or are prepared to pay then you get access to news, sports and entertainment from the likes of CNN, ESPN and Comedy Central.  The quality is pretty good as long as you are in an area with good 3G coverage.

The Epix has WiFi b/g is onboard, which is useful for Skype but for most other applications AT&T’s 3G network proved almost as fast.  The Epix can be tethered for use as a modem if you have the appropriate data plan.  There’s also GPS onboard.

What’s not so hot about the Samsung Epix SGH-i907

What didn’t I like about the Epix?  Well although the screen is big it pales in comparison to the resolution of the HTC Touch Pro’s, but then so do most other cellphone screens at the moment.  Squeezing VGA (and beyond) resolution into cellphone screens is definitely the way forward.

The 2MP camera takes good shots and videos were also good enough for occasional usage, but 3-5MP is quickly becoming the norm.  I don’t see any need for cellphones to replicate the compact camera megapixel wars (although this is inevitable) but Samsung should roll out the higher quality cameras now present in some of its other top end phones.

Whilst we are on the wish list, although 3G cellphones need big batteries it would still be nice to get back to the Blackjack II’s weight.

Is the Samsung Epix SGH-i907 a smart phone?

In summary the Epix is a great smartphone whose powers of endearment outweigh its ordinary appearance.  It’s an Ace follow-up to the Blackjack II.

Neil Berman

Dec 30, 2008 Posted by | Hardware, Mobile, Reviews | , , , , , , | 4 Comments


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