Archives For Reviews

This morning I took (early) delivery of Amazon’s new Kindle 3 – I opted for the WiFi only version – a device that claims 50% better contrast than any other e-reader, a 21% smaller body while keeping the same 6″ size reading area, and a 20% increase in the speed of page turns. These are, of course, all very welcome improvements but specs alone don’t tell the real story of Kindle’s appeal and why it sets the benchmark for an e-reading experience. Instead, it’s Amazon’s decision to adopt a vertical model: controlling the hardware, software and, most controversially, content of the Kindle, that define the user experience. But first, let’s dive into the device itself.

The two most noticeable aspects of the Kindle’s hardware design are its size – it’s a lot smaller (and lighter) than pictures do it justice – and the print-like contrast levels of the latest iteration of E Ink, the technology that powers the device’s screen. In fact, upon unboxing the Kindle 3, a colleague attempted to peel off a second non-existent screen protector that housed instructions on how to charge the device. Only it was actually the screen itself, set to standby. E Ink, though gray scale only, is that good for what it’s designed for: reading the written word.

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Instead of doing a full-on review stepping through each feature or characteristic of the Motorola Droid X, I’d rather focus on the emotional experience. And the Droid X is one of very few phones in recent memory that has sufficiently challenged the iPhone as my primary mobile device.

Unlike most handsets that pass through, I chose to use the Droid X nearly exclusively for the week I had it on loan it from Kevin Tofel (jkOnTheRun) last month. It shattered my notion that anything larger than a 3.5″ or 3.7″ phone is just too big — it’s 4.3″ LCD-toting body fit fine in my pocket, while feeling more comfortable and safer in the hand than the similarly endowed EVO. There’s no question the iPhone 4 has the clearest mobile display, but there’s something to be said for the extra screen real estate found on the Droid X, which I could see replacing my Kindle. The revamped “Motoblur” is mostly an innocuous Android skin job. It adds a few UI enhancements and widgets without bogging down the interface or taxing the Droid X’s speedy processor. As opposed to the more in-your-face Samsung TouchWiz, which seems to generate a distinct love or hate reaction.

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samsung-galaxy-s

Samsung’s making a splash with their new, high-end line of Android “Galaxy S” handsets. And while they’ve already launched overseas, the US variants with custom enclosures and functionality, start rolling out today:

As part of the launch festivities, I was provided a stock Galaxy S to evaluate. Media outreach and spec sheet highlights have led with Samsung’s 4″ 800 x 480 Super AMOLED screen. And while I initially found it oversaturated, even garish (combined with Samsung’s Touchwiz skinning), I’ve landed somewhere else entirely. In fact, I’ve concluded that the Galaxy S utilizes the most pleasing mobile display I’ve encountered — striking an excellent balance of resolution, size, and vibrancy. The Galaxy S obviously isn’t as high res as Apple’s iPhone 4 pixel-dense “retina display” … but with uncorrected sub-20/20 vision, it’s not like I’ve been bothered by aliasing at 18″. So, ultimately, I find myself in the same camp as Harry McCracken of Technologizer:

if all other phone features were equal, I’d take more square inches over more pixels

A common Galaxy S knock has been a plasticy appearance and/or feel. And while the enclosure is indeed plastic, it contributes (positively) to a lightweight feeling device, despite sporting that 4″ display. (And how quickly folks have forgotten iPhone 3GS and 3G’s slippery plastic backside?) There’s no debating that the Samsung’s handset doesn’t pack the same level of materials or symmetry found on the iPhone 4 but, in my week of usage, the Galaxy S has been both comfortable and functional.

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Regarding the Galaxy S’s photographic capabilities, I can tell you the handset captures 5 megapixel stills and 720p video. I haven’t shot enough sample content to pass judgement, other than saying quality’s in about the same ballpark as most of the competition. Two other camera notes… The Galaxy S doesn’t incorporate a LED, or other, flash. Which isn’t a problem for me, as a flash-free photographer, but it’s something you may want to consider. Also, my particular unit houses a front-facing camera. But, sadly, I’m unaware of any Market apps which support the feature (yet) and believe only the Sprint model in the US will contain similar. Continue Reading…

Kodak-Pulse-1

I got pretty excited about the Kodak Pulse digital picture frame back at CES, but didn’t have a chance for any one-on-one time with the product until last weekend. Who needs a review unit when your parents buy the gadget outright? And that in itself says a lot. After years of searching, we finally have an Internet-connected digital frame that’s parent and grandparent friendly. It has built-in memory, takes a USB stick, and best of all, accepts photos that are emailed from approved accounts.

The Kodak Pulse only comes in a seven-inch version, which is retailing for $119 at Amazon now. (Perhaps a ten-inch version for this year’s holiday shopping season?) It’s small, but sharp and bright. The controls are simple. You touch the screen to bring up the menu with options to select image source, single-photo or mosaic view, and slideshow settings. There’s also direct integration with Facebook photos and online Kodak galleries. Other than that, there’s not a whole lot to say. There are no widgets, and there’s no integration with other photo services like Snapfish or Flickr, but it doesn’t matter. If you want the grandparents to be able to plug in a digital frame and forget about it, the Kodak Pulse is a clear winner.

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Specs:

  • 7-inch display with 800×600 resolution
  • 512MB internal memory
  • 1 USB port
  • 2 card slots – Secure Digital (SD), Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC), Multimedia Card (MMC), MEMORY STICK (MS), MS PRO/MS PRO DUO, XD-Picture Card (xD)

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The Vue Personal Video Network bundle has been shipping for a number of months now. And in the time I’ve dilly dallied with my review hardware, Vue has seen some notable improvements since the possibly reserved launch coverage.

The $300 Vue bundle consist of a wireless base station, which you hardwire to your router, and two wireless cameras to remotely monitor just about anything from a Flash-capable browser. Or (now) iPhone app! The cameras are quite small and clever, as magnetically paired and positioned on their half sphere mounts. Additional cams can be purchased for $100 each. Video resolution isn’t horrible, maxing out at 640×480, but Vue’s frame rate seems low and you’re going to need good lighting for best results. Another heads up for prospective buyers is the Lithium Ion CR123 camera battery requirement. Avaak, the company behind Vue, expects battery life to run about a year — by estimating 10 minutes of usage a day. But, during my eval period, I burned through a pair of batteries and replacements ran me about $14.

Pretty much everything, from setup to viewing, is handled via web browser at VueZone.com. You can flip between camera feeds, adjust viewing sizes, and snap still images or record video clips. Additionally, both live feeds and archived content can be shared with friends, family, or business associates via VueZone. Plus, Flickr and YouTube upload options are provided. An initial knock on Vue’s video monitoring solution was the lack of motion detection and scheduled recording capabilities as found in competing products. However, through a recent firmware update, Vue now offers a variety of scheduling options as pictured above.

Catching up with company reps at CES didn’t yield details on product updates. However, Avaak has just secured $10 million in new financing/investment.

Click to enlarge:

Targus-Premium-Laptop-Charger-1

UPDATE: Engadget is reporting a major recall of Targus adapters. Buyer beware.

Ever been short a power cord? Or an outlet? Targus has a solution. The Targus Premium Laptop Charger comes with one slim power adapter that splits in two for simultaneous charging of a laptop and mobile device. The product also bundles in a car adapter, and a wide selection of tips for different laptop/netbook models. Since I’m often on the go, I took Targus up on the offer of a review unit.

First of all, I tend to be skeptical of any product that includes adapter tips. It can be hard to find the right tip for your device, quality is often questionable, and tips are easy to lose. Initially it seemed Targus was an exception. I snapped up adapter tip L107 (as indicated by the manual for Asus laptops), popped it in to my computer, and it immediately appeared to start charging. Unfortunately, some time later my computer shut off unexpectedly. I didn’t have time then to investigate, but in attempting to charge my Asus again later in the day with the Targus adapter, the same thing happened. I plugged in my regular charger and discovered I’d dropped down to 1% power. There was no low-battery alert. Nothing except sudden shut-down.

As it turns out, I didn’t have the right adapter. Targus shipped me a new one immediately (the L124), and it does indeed charge as advertised.

Putting aside my experience for a moment, Targus does include a lot in its adapter package. The Premium Laptop Charger comes with tips for laptops/netbooks made by HP, Compaq, Dell, Acer, Toshiba, Gateway, IBM, Lenovo, Asus, Sony, Panasonic, and Fujitsu. Targus even includes a handy tip clip for keeping an extra tip close at hand – in case you want to switch up your machine. And if you register your product, Targus promises free tips for future laptops and cell phones. That means if the tip you need isn’t in the package, you too can have a new one sent out – free except for shipping.

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On the mobile side, the Targus package includes a mini USB tip, which will power most cell phones now, and a tip for Apple iPods and iPhones. I had no problems juicing up my phone.

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HP DreamScreen clock photo

It’s taken a little longer than I had hoped, but I’ve finally composed my thoughts after reviewing the HP DreamScreen. Bottom line: It’s a beautiful display with some very useful applications. If HP could guarantee additional apps, available in the near future via software download, I could imagine plunking down the $249.99 ($219.99 at Amazon) for my own 10.2″ DreamScreen. But the device does need some tweaking, and more apps, more apps, more apps. Here’s the complete lowdown.

The DreamScreen is a Wi-Fi-connected photo display with widgets that provide: clock, calendar, weather, Snapfish photos, Pandora, and Facebook functionality. You can also use the DreamScreen to play your own library of music and videos. The picture quality is stunning, and as HP describes it, the device itself is piano-black with a “flush-glass widescreen display.” There’s a touchbar at the bottom of the screen, but I found it largely useless. The best way to control the DreamScreen is with its remote. As other people have noted, the interface could use some work, but it didn’t bother me overly much. There are cases where you have to click up or down to get to the horizontal menu selection you want, and sometimes it’s difficult to backtrack if you’ve inputted something incorrectly (like a password). However, these types of annoyances are the kind I can get past pretty quickly, especially when there’s nothing better currently on the market.

Now on to the good stuff. Continue Reading…