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Archive for December, 2008

Sony teases with mystery laptop

Posted by comtech3 on December 23, 2008

December 22, 2008 11:54 AM PST

Posted by Erica Ogg

Sony Vaio CES laptop

CES 2009 is fast approaching, and rumors of new laptops are everywhere. This week though, the focus is on Sony.

Though enterprising news outlets have dug up hints at new products from the likes of Dell and Lenovo weeks before the big gadget exhibition, Sony is outing itself as having a new portable PC that will “change the way you think about laptops.” A clock counting down the days and hours until January 9, when the new product is scheduled to appear, popped up on Sony’s New Zealand site, as pointed out over the weekend by Engadget.

Putting the teaser in context of the photo of the oddly-shaped Sony device that popped up on the FCC’s Web site two weeks ago, it certainly seems likely that this will be a notebook unlike what others are offering.

But the question is, will it be a Netbook? Sony has been conspicuously absent from the Netbook market among its Windows-wielding brethren. (Apple has held out too, but it’s not price-matching with other PC makers.)

Netbooks have taken off in the past 12 months, moving from a quirky offering from Asus to the form factor that’s giving the PC industry a whiff of hope. All the major manufacturers are on board, and it’s paying off now since the price tags are cheaper than standard notebooks. However, how it will hurt them in the long run (dragging down average prices of notebooks, cannibalizing lower-end laptop models) is still to be determined.

The argument for Sony keeping out of the low-end fray is certainly there. Sony–like Apple–fancies itself a maker of luxury devices and is loath to get into price wars with the likes of Dell and HP. (Of course, it didn’t want to wrestle with the lower-tier Vizio and Westinghouse in LCD TVs either, but the reality of the HDTV market forced Sony’s hand.)

The electronics giant has also objected to the Netbook concept several times publicly. In February, Sony’s head of its Vaio group in the U.S. called the Netbook movement “a race to the bottom,” though by July Sony Electronics President Stan Glasgow refused to confirm or deny plans for such a product.

Most recently, though, a Sony exec in the UK told ZDNet UK that Sony is “not in for the moment” when it comes to Netbooks, clearly not ruling it out completely. Netbooks, are they are now, “are not properly designed for consumer needs,” Nicolas Barendson told ZDNet.

Does that mean that they have an entirely new design that will meet the needs of people looking for a Netbook-like device? Perhaps. But the key will be the price, and low-cost laptops are not Sony’s cup of tea. So if they do edge into Netbook-like territory, expect them to market it like something other than a laptop, and more like another kind of portable consumer device.

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‘SimCity’ arrives on the iPhone

Posted by comtech3 on December 22, 2008

December 18, 2008 7:10 AM PST

To the stable of games for the iPhone, you can now add the legendary SimCity.

Electronic Arts’ city-building game, priced at $9.99, is now available for Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch devices. Users can take advantage of the touch-screen technology to design and construct their vision of an urban landscape.

SimCity on the iPhone

SimCity on the iPhone.

(Credit: EA Mobile, via Apple’s App Store)

MG Siegler at VentureBeat, who’s had a chance to play with the game for a while, waxed enthusiastic about the touch-screen qualities and more–“SimCity is a very impressive game on the iPhone”–but warned of some lingering bugs from the game’s demo period:

While some of those issues have been fixed–the game runs fairly snappy now, when loaded–I’m experiencing the game crashing and a slowdown in actions like zooming. From the early reviews I’m seeing on SimCity’s App Store page, I’m not alone in experiencing this.

And unfortunately, loading even the more bare-bones previously saved city takes a long time (I’m talking minutes). Maybe for some, that will just add to the nostalgic experience–I remember this was an issue on my old PC back in the day as well. For others, it’ll be annoying.

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Three of the world’s best headphones

Posted by comtech3 on December 19, 2008

December 18, 2008 7:27 AM PST

The Denon headphones

(Credit: Steve Guttenberg)

The Denon AH-D5000, Grado Labs GS-1000, and Ultrasone Edition 9 are all over-the-ear “circumaural” headphones, primarily intended for home use, but that didn’t stop me from plugging them into my iPod.

With its lightweight magnesium frame, real mahogany wood earcups and oh-so soft leather ear pads, the Denon AH-D5000 is a real charmer. It’s the most comfortable headphone I’ve ever used, and Its microfiber low-mass diaphragms deliver lightning-fast, detailed sound. Audiophile mavens who crave visceral mojo will go ga-ga over the AH-D5000. This headphone makes a lot of bass. It was equally accomplished with music and home theater.

For the home theater trials I checked out The Flight of the Phoenix DVD, and the plane crash scene fully exploited the headphones’ dynamic prowess. The AH-D5000’s detailed and airy treble kept my attention glued to the onscreen action.

Plugged into a 4GB iPod Nano rock was acceptable, but the Denon lacked conviction over the Nano. The even more expensive AH-D7000 wasn’t yet available when I wrote this review, hope to get my hands on it soon.

The Grados

(Credit: Steve Guttenberg)

John Grado’s latest and greatest headphone is a break from his past designs. The retro, World War II “cans” look is gone. The GS-1000 is still unmistakably Grado, but with more contemporary styled, hand-crafted mahogany earcups with much larger foam ear pads. The headband is covered in real leather.

As much as I love Grado’s sound, I’ve found previous generations Grado headphones’ comfort level was below par. The GS-1000 is a vast improvement; the larger ear pad’s pressure is low, and the headphones feel light on my head.

Pardon me while I gush over the way GS-1000 clarifies live recordings. The sound seemed to surround me, with a rare ability to resolve depth, just as you would in a concert hall. Ditto for the way this headphone reveals rhythmic underpinnings in rock and jazz CDs. Grados have always been exciting, classical music now sounds more refined. Bass is deep, yet more controlled and precise than ever before.

The GS-1000 worked its magic connected to the Nano. Sure, the cavernous soundstage was especially impressive on Miles Davis/Gil Evans big band albums, but the Nano ran out of juice when I cranked Led Zeppelin.

The Ultrasones

(Credit: Steve Guttenberg)

The Edition 9 is a closed-back design with incredibly soft Ethiopian sheep’s leather ear pads that effectively block outside noise from intruding on your musical bliss. And since the headphones don’t “leak” sound to the outside world you can wear the Edition 9 to bed and listen at a fairly loud level without disturbing your partner.

The gleaming chrome over brass earcups triumphantly announce the Edition 9’s Germanic design flair, and yet the design feels understated. One nitpick: I felt (literally) the ear pads exerted a little too much pressure on my ears, though the pressure will probably lighten after a few months of use.

The sheer weight of the sound tips the tonal balance down, but the midrange and treble are crisp and clear. Led Zeppelin’s first two albums lit up the Edition 9’s heavy metal prowess. Jimmy Page’s guitar thrash was amazing, the spectacle of Robert Plant’s lung-popping vocals loomed large, and John Bonham’s thudding percussion kicked harder than I’ve ever heard over headphones.

Finally, the Edition 9 is super easy to drive, so it really clicked with the Nano, with all sorts of music.

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SlingPlayer coming to BlackBerry phonesSlingPlayer coming to BlackBerry phonesv

Posted by comtech3 on December 19, 2008

December 18, 2008 10:27 AM PST

Posted by Jeff Bakalar

Making good on a promise made at CES 2008, Sling Media has announced that a beta version of the company’s SlingPlayer Mobile software will be available on select BlackBerry smartphones starting December 30.

BlackBerry users who own the Bold, Curve 8900 & 8320, 8820, Pearl Flip 8220, and Pearl 8120 will be able to stream video to their smartphone using a Slingbox device.

The download requires BlackBerry device software 4.5 or higher and will be free for a limited time. We’d imagine once the beta lifts, all users will be required to pay the one-time fee of $30.

Sling Media is recommending a Wi-Fi connection for optimal viewing performance on some of the BlackBerry models (that support it); otherwise, a high-speed data connection will be needed.

Not sure if your device is compatible? Point your BlackBerry browser to http://mobile.slingmedia.com/go/bbcheck and let Sling Media tell you if it is.

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Sprint offers 3G/4G wireless modem for laptops

Posted by comtech3 on December 18, 2008

December 17, 2008 1:28 PM PST

Posted by Marguerite Reardon

Sprint Nextel announced Wednesday that it will start selling dual-mode 3G/4G wireless broadband modems for laptops starting Sunday.

Sprint 3G/4G USB Modem U300

(Credit: Sprint Nextel)

The new device allows users to access both Sprint’s 3G cellular data network and the new 4G WiMax wireless network the company is building as part of the new Clearwire venture.

The modem known as the Sprint 3G/4G USB Modem U300 will use the new 4G Clearwire network with download speeds between 2 Mbps and 4Mbps where that network is available. And when users are out of range of the 4G wireless network, they will automatically be able to access Sprint’s 3G network, which offers average downloads of between 600 Kbps and 1.4 Mbps, according to Sprint.

Sprint launched the 4G WiMax network called Xohm in Baltimore in October, just months before it officially merged its WiMax network with Clearwire’s network. The service will be launched in other markets across the country throughout 2009.

At the Baltimore launch, Sprint’s CEO Dan Hesse promised a wireless data device that would allow users to access both networks for better coverage.

“It will take a while for the new (4G) network to be built ubiquitously,” Hesse said during the Baltimore press event. “And we will have new multimode devices that will use 4G where it’s available, and when it’s not, it will downshift to 3G to provide that ubiquitous data coverage.”

The new wireless modem connects via a standard USB port and costs $149.99 after a $50 mail-in rebate and with a two-year subscription to the wireless data service. The wireless modem will be available through Sprint’s direct business sales force and at most Baltimore-area Sprint stores and select Baltimore-area retailers, the company said. Starting in January, the device will also be available in Baltimore-area Best Buy stores.

The new wireless modem from Sprint will likely be a better deal for most consumers because the service, which costs $79.99 per month, offers the best coverage at the best price.

Several notebook manufacturers, including Acer, Asus, Lenovo, and Toshiba, are including Intel’s WiMax/Wi-Fi module in new laptops, so that users can access the 4G WiMax network. But these devices do not have Sprint’s 3G wireless technology integrated into them. This means that users would have to subscribe to both a 4G WiMax service from Clearwire, which regularly costs $45 per month (a $15 discount is available for the first six months), and Sprint’s 3G wireless service, which costs $59.99 per month, if they wanted wireless broadband service nationwide. And because the 3G and 4G radio frequency technologies aren’t integrated in these laptops, the devices would not seamlessly switch between the 3G and 4G networks.

A Sprint spokesman said the company and its partners will eventually offer embedded dual-mode 3G/4G technology in other devices. But he also pointed out that the laptops that use Intel’s embedded WiMax technology and the dual mode 3G/4G modem are really aimed at different sets of customers.

The embedded laptops are for users who only need high speed wireless access close to home, while the 3G/4G modem is for road warriors who may find themselves far from Baltimore or any of the other WiMax enabled cities.

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Palm to preview Nova OS and first device at CES

Posted by comtech3 on December 16, 2008

December 15, 2008 9:54 AM PST
Posted by Bonnie Cha

It’s been a while since Palm has caused a stir, but the company certainly has people talking with its planned January 8 CES event. As CNET News reporter Tom Krazit reported last week, it’s expected that Palm will preview its new operating system, codenamed Nova, at CES 2009, and the rumors look to be true based on new information from a Business Week article.

According to Peter Burrows at Business Week, Palm will unveil Nova and the first of a family of products in Vegas, but it’s not looking to go after the iPhone or BlackBerry. Instead, Palm Executive Chairman Jon Rubenstein said the goal behind Nova is to create a flexible platform that supports a number of customer needs and to create products that bridge the gap between work-oriented BlackBerrys and the fun-oriented iPhone. Before joining Palm, Rubenstein was the senior vice president for hardware engineering at Apple.

Rubenstein and Palm executives wouldn’t get much more specific about product details, other than that the team hopes to create phones that “make smarter use of data about you.” The company also hopes to release products by mid-2009. I’ll be at the January 8 event, so check back then for the full report and my first impressions

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iPhone Nano rumors surface once again

Posted by comtech3 on December 16, 2008

December 15, 2008 10:44 AM PST

Posted by Tom Krazit

With less than a month to go before Macworld, the rumors have started, and they sound familiar.

The possibility of an iPhone Nano has once again been served up for mass consumption by the Apple rumor mill, this time courtesy of a Web site called iDealsChina. The site claims that Apple accessory maker XSKN has been developing a case for a new version of the iPhone that is shorter and thicker than the iPhone 3G and that will be announced at Macworld in January.

MacRumors.com, which attempts to handicap the Apple rumor industry, notes that iDealsChina “has a very mixed track record” when it comes to reading the Apple tea leaves. The site did publish photos of case designs for what became the iPhone 3G, but incorrectly predicted that the second-generation iPod Touch would have GPS.

iPhone Nano rumors date back to the launch of the original iPhone, when a financial analyst predicted that Apple would have a slimmed-down version of the iPhone out for the 2007 holiday season. That obviously didn’t happen, and other reports this summer and more recent speculation about a $99 4GB iPhone to be sold at Wal-Mart have kept the rumor alive.

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Hands-on with Netflix streaming on TiVo

Posted by comtech3 on December 15, 2008

December 8, 2008 7:40 AM PST

At the end of October, TiVo and Netflix announced that Netflix’s streaming service would be coming to TiVo DVRs by the end of 2008. The companies have made good on their promise, and the service is rolling out to TiVo HD, HD XL, and Series3 boxes today. TiVo turned on the service for us over the weekend, and we’ve had the chance to give it a full workout. The short story: this is an awesome added feature for TiVo HD owners.

The interface is significantly different than what we’ve seen on the Netflix Player by Roku. Rather than offering up large box shots to scroll through, the TiVo’s interface instead lists the names in text, with smaller box shots showing up on the right side. We preferred the TiVo’s interface, as it allows us to see more titles at once, which is convenient if you have a large queue. On the other hand, we felt the TiVo interface was less responsive, which is a problem that affects almost all of the extra services on TiVo.

While the interface is an improvement over the Netflix Player, we still saw plenty of room for improvement. Now that Netflix has added a lot of content to the Instant Streaming service, our instant queue is getting pretty full. The current interface simply lists titles in the same order as your Instant Queue, which, if you’re anything like us, is kind of haphazard. While the queue system makes sense for the traditional Netflix mailing service, we’d rather have more categorization options–such as by genre and star rating–for online streaming. We were also disappointed that there was no way to tell from the TiVo screen which movies were available in “HD” quality.

Like on the Netflix Player, video quality is determined by the speed of your connection. While the Netflix Player uses a “four dot” graphic to indicate video quality, the TiVo HD has a more granular meter, with about 14 bars. We generally got all 14 bars filled up, using a wired Ethernet connection and a standard cable modem.

Although the term “near-DVD” is often abused with video-streaming services, it accurately describes the video quality offered by Netflix streaming on TiVo. We fired up a bunch of movies and we were never disappointed by how they looked. Pan’s Labrynth was available in “HD” and in most cases it looked as good as a well-mastered DVD–occasionally we could see some blockiness to the image or the background would be soft, but nothing to take us out of the movie-watching experience. Next up was Ratatouille, which wasn’t available in HD. This looked slightly softer than DVD-quality (and much softer than the excellent Blu-ray), but not by much. Only the pickiest videophiles would turn up their noses at the image quality. In short, there’s room for improvement, but it’s darn good already. (You can read more about the technical details behind Netflix’s streaming service here.)

We did notice some artifacts on the audio side, although it was mostly subtle. We really only noticed it on one movie, but we could hear some soft pops, similar to what you might hear on streaming Web video when it’s not fully buffered. And, like all Netflix Instant Streaming content, you’re limited to stereo audio rather than surround. We’re really hoping Netflix adds surround soundtracks in the near future.

The most important takeaway for us is that we watched several movies without any hiccups and each movie started up in a few seconds. While many streaming services “feel” like you’re streaming video over the Internet, this feels more like you’re expanding the recorded content of your TiVo. And while you lose some of the benefits of watching the actual DVD (special features, surround sound), we couldn’t help but notice that in some ways it’s better than DVD; movies loaded right away and with no previews.

If you already have TiVo and Netflix, there’s no reason not to take advantage of this feature. If you’re choosing between a TiVo and a standard cable/satellite box, this is definitely a feature to take into consideration, although also be aware that Netflix streaming is available on many other devices, such as the Xbox 360, Netflix Player, LG BD300, and Samsung BD-P2550–and we expect it to be even more ubiquitous in 2009. While the hardest part about going with a TiVo over the standard options is the monthly fee, added features like Netflix, Rhapsody, and Amazon Video On Demand make it a lot easier to swallow.

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Sony Ericsson, HTC planning Google Android phones for 2009

Posted by comtech3 on December 11, 2008

December 10, 2008 1:31 PM PST

Posted by Bonnie Cha

On Tuesday, 14 new members joined Google’s Open Handset Alliance, showing their support and furthering the development of the Google Android mobile operating system. Among the fresh additions is Sony Ericsson, and it looks like the company isn’t wasting any time and has hit the ground running.

According to several sources, Sony Ericsson is planning on releasing an Android handset by summer 2009 and a company spokesman has gone on to say that the first models will be on the higher end while it will release more mass-market devices at a later time. In addition, HTC is said to be working on a whole portfolio of Android devices, also with an expected release date of summer 2009. HTC was the manufacturer of the first Android smartphone, the T-Mobile G1, which was a little questionable in the hardware department, but now that HTC has acquired One & Co Design Inc., for its handset designs, perhaps we’ll see some sleeker devices? Either way, all very exciting stuff. Summer can’t get here quick enough.

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Ballmer to talk Windows 7, not ZunePhone, at CES

Posted by comtech3 on December 11, 2008

December 10, 2008 12:49 PM PST

Posted by Ina Fried

Microsoft will have a bunch of stuff to show at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, but a rumored ZunePhone won’t be one of them, according to sources familiar with the company’s plans.

Instead, much of CEO Steve Ballmer’s focus will be on talking about Windows 7 from a consumer perspective. Microsoft is pushing to have Windows 7 done in time for the holiday 2009 shopping season, so that means this CES is Ballmer’s best stage to tout its benefits.

While the desktop operating system will be front and center, sources say to expect Ballmer to talk about how Windows is moving beyond the PC and into a world of PC, Web, and phone, a refrain we also heard a lot from Ray Ozzie at November’s Professional Developers Conference, where the world also got its first good look at Windows 7.

On the phone front, Microsoft may not have a ZunePhone, but it is going ahead with several other strategies–pushing phone makers to develop phones based on Windows Mobile, developing Windows Live services for phones running a variety of operating systems as well as a number of new “premium mobile services” based on its Danger acquisition.

The company has also talked about extending its Zune service beyond the company’s own dedicated player and mentioned the phone as a logical place to access the service. We may hear more about timing of this at CES, I’m told. In an October interview with CIO UK, Ballmer mentioned the possibility of accessing the Zune service on Windows Mobile phones.

The Xbox will certainly get its due as well during Ballmer’s keynote speech and, as is typically the case, expect Microsoft to announce some new partnerships at the show. A funny video and celebrity guest are usually safe bets as well.

So that’s what I’ve heard, but if tipsters know any more, I’m all ears.

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