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December 2009 Archives

December 1, 2009

FTC Disclosure Statement

If you're the kind of person who would be shocked to discover that celebrities are paid for their endorsements in late-night infomercials, or would be horrified to discover that Google Ads are advertisements and Amazon product links have to do with selling products, then the Federal Trade Commission is stepping up to protect you -- from evil bloggers!

Yes, the FTC has issued Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (PDF), imposing new rules and "guides" as of December 1, 2009.

While most of the 81-page document is concerned with claims made by advertisers and celebrity endorsers, the federal government also worries about Mommy bloggers: "... an individual who regularly receives free samples of products for families with young children and discusses those products on his or her blog would likely have to disclose that he or she received for free the items being recommended."

However, the guidance in this document is provided in the form of examples of situations that could trigger disclosure, omitting both clear, specific requirements and any discussion of the form of such disclosure. Sigh.

(Interestingly, the FTC is not concerned about such reviews in what it calls "traditional media" -- so newspapers, magazines, and television and radio stations can continue to enjoy press junkets without government supervision. Mommy bloggers are much more dangerous!)

So, while I've been clear about describing my background and industry relationships on my Manifest Technology website (and associated Manifest Tech blog), I'll take an extra step here in a FTC Disclosure Statement. In general, while I'd prefer that you not consider me as on the take, you should assume that companies have provided samples of many of the products that I discuss on my site.

Bottom line: I look at lots of products. You should expect that many are provided by companies for this purpose. I also receive various food, tchotchkes, and other swag at various industry and press events. I don't profit from these. I have other long-term relationships and occasional business relationships with some companies, which have been explicitly disclosed on this site (when not confidential). And in case you haven't noticed, I use Google Ads and Amazon affiliate links on the site to help defray my costs.

Yeesh! Do you feel safer now?

In case you missed the link above, click here for full FTC Disclosure Statement

December 2, 2009

Projector in Your Pocket - 3M MPro120

Portable media players are great for personal use, but aren't so helpful for sharing the fun -- with small screens and at best tiny speakers. And even laptops are not great for viewing by more than a few people.

What you need, then, is your own pocket-size projector like the second-generation 3M MPro120 Pocket Projector. This does indeed fit in your pocket at 4.7 x 2.4 x 1 inches, and 5.6 ounces. It's now available for around $299.

The MPro120 throws an image up to 3 1/2 feet, or from 8 to 50 inches diagonal. With brightness settings for 10 to 12 lumens it's not going to overpower sunlight, but it's bright enough to see in a lit room. It uses an LCOS imager with LED light source, rated for 20,000 hours (so there's no lamp replacement).

The unit displays at VGA resolution (640 x 480), and includes a built-in speaker. You can hook up to a laptop (with the included VGA cable plus audio) or to analog video (with the included component A/V cable; component cables are available separately). And you can display from iPods (also including the touch and iPhone) with a adapter separate cable from Dexim (see previous post).

The similar line of DLP-based Optima Pico Projectors now includes the PK-102, with 4 GB of internal memory to store photos and videos at around $249. It's speced to throw an image up to 8 1/2 feet (5 feet diagonal), with a display resolution of 480 x 320.

But who needs a separate projector? The Nikon COOLPIX S1000pj 12 MP digital camera includes built-in projector at $29. It throws a VGA-resolution image of up to 40 inches a distance of up to 6 1/2 feet, at up to 10 lumens.

See my HDTV Gallery for more on portable projectors

Find the 3M MPro120 Pocket Projector
and Optima PK-102 Pico Projector on Amazon.com

December 5, 2009

Compress and Deliver with Sorenson Squeeze 6

With all the different ways to share your videos these days, do you find yourself spending more and more time converting files to different formats with your video editor, and waiting for files to be compressed?

Then take a look at Sorenson Squeeze, a stand-alone video encoding tool that is designed to off-load your compression work (see post on previous version). Instead of exporting and compressing each clip from your video editing tool, you can use Squeeze to package up compression jobs, taking a group of clips and encoding them into multiple delivery formats.

Sorenson Squeeze version 6 was released in November, and expands Squeeze into a "total workflow solution for video professionals" -- to not only encode and publish video files on the Internet, but now with email and text notifications of job completion and an integrated review and approval process.

Squeeze supports direct publishing to social media sites, such as YouTube and Twitter, and content delivery networks, including Akamai and Limelight. And it includes a complimentary one-year Review & Approval account to the Sorenson 360 Video Delivery Network.

The base Squeeze engine also adds optimized video codecs, for H.264 and VP6, and new filters for improved video quality and encoding speed. The interface also has been updated for direct access to the various features. Sorenson also has developed a Preset Exchange site to import additional professional "video encoding recipes" or presets.

You can download trial versions of Squeeze 6 and Sorenson 360

See my full article - Walkthrough: Sorenson Squeeze 6 for more on what's new in Squeeze 6 and a walkthough of the workflow and interface.

And see Jan Ozer's Test Drive article for compression speed and quality results

See my Video Editing Software Gallery for information and links to pro video editing tools.

Update: See review article for Videomaker Magazine -- Sorenson Squeeze 6 Reviewed

December 10, 2009

Sony Sound Forge Pro 10 -- Audio Editing Suite

Sony Sound Forge Pro 10, the latest version of Sony's professional digital audio production suite, was released in September 2009. It's a full suite of tools for professional audio editing and mastering, including recording, sound design, audio restoration, and Red Book CD creation.

Sound Forge is part of Sony's professional line of video and audio software, including Vegas Pro for video editing (see previous post), Sound Forge Pro for audio editing, and ACID Pro for music creation including mixing, loops, and MIDI.

Sound Forge Pro 10 adds new precise event-based editing, musical instrument file processing, integrated disc-at-once CD burning, and professional noise-reduction tools. New processing tools include iZotope 64-bit SRC (sample rate conversion), iZotope MBIT+ dither (bit-depth conversion), and the élastique Pro timestretch/pitch shift plug-in. Interface enhancements include new customizable window layouts, metadata editing, performance optimizations, and interactive tutorials.

The product also includes Noise Reduction 2, CD Architect 5.2, and the iZotope Mastering Effects Bundle 2.

Sound Forge Pro 10 is currently available from Sony for $359 as a packaged product, or downloaded for $337. It's listed on Amazon for around $311.

You can download a trial version of Sound Forge Pro from the Sony website.

See my full article -- Walkthrough: Sony Sound Forge Pro 10 for a tour of the Sound Forge Pro workflow from import to editing to effects, with summaries of new and key product features.

See summaries of video applications and versions in my Video Editing Software Gallery.

Update: See review article for Videomaker Magazine -- Sony Sound Forge Pro 10 Audio Editing Software Reviewed

    Find Sony Sound Forge Pro 10 on Amazon.com

December 12, 2009

Archos 5 Internet Tablet with Android

What's all this about Android? Well, Android is Google's version of the software for portable Internet devices, as first shown on the T-Mobile G1 smartphone a year ago (see previous post), and then updated to Android 2.0 with the recent release of the Verizon Wireless Droid from Motorola (see previous post).

The Android system, not surprisingly for Google, is focused on web browsing and connectivity, and especially integration with the Google online "cloud" services including Gmail and Google Contacts and Calendar.

Plus, Android is an open system, designed to be used on a wide variety of hardware designs from many different vendors -- which means more options for consumers. In addition, the code is open source, and therefore very open for third-party developers to create new applications.

This is an obvious contrast to the tightly managed Apple iPhone platform (much like the contrast between open PCs vs. closed Macs -- although you similarly can argue that Apple's control results in a much more tightly integrated user experience -- see Roughly Drafted, for example).

In particular, while smartphones are great as do-everything devices (text and e-mail and web and media and camera and navigation and, oh yes, phone), a 3 1/2 inch screen is not the optimal size for extended working or reading or viewing. There's been a missing range of display sizes in the market, between the 3 to 4 inches on smartphones and game systems, and 13 inches or more on notebooks. So we now see e-book readers with 6 to 9 inch screens, and netbooks shrinking to around 8 to 10 inches.

So, for example, you can leverage the converged and connected smartphone platform by first removing the phone part of a smartphone, and keeping the connectivity (though Wi-Fi) and the apps -- as in the Apple iPod touch. But then take another step to enlarge the screen a bit, to more like 5 inches, and you get a much improved viewing experience in a device that is still pocketable -- like the recently released Archos 5 Internet Tablet.

This is an Android platform (version 1.5, not yet to the apparently speedier 2.0), with a 4.8 inch touch screen, and Wi-Fi connectivity, designed for web access and media playback. The Archos 5 Internet Tablet (not to be confused with the different Archos 5 product, described as an "Internet Media Tablet") also includes GPS, FM radio, speaker, and microphone. It's available in versions with ether flash memory or hard disk storage -- flash with 32 GB for $379, and hard disk with 160 GB for $399, up to 500 GB for $499.

The interface is very familiar if you've used another Android device like the Droid, although the dedicated Home, Back, and Menu buttons on the Droid are replaced by soft buttons in a banner across the top of the screen. But bigger screen means, for example, that you can see, and read, the full width of the main Google News page (the full Classic version, not the Mobile version, with two columns of news plus the menu sidebar). The text is admittedly small, but just large enough to tap on links with your finger. Or zoom in for a more readable text size, and more of the page is still visible on the screen -- this works particularly well when you rotate the screen to portrait orientation to read a long column of text.

The Archos 5 IT comes with a built-in Browser and Contacts apps -- but interestingly, not the dedicated Google applications found on the Droid (though Archos points out that you can access Gmail though the Email app and the Google cloud services through the Browser).

And, like other Android devices, the Archos Tablet does not have anything like the Apple iTunes integration for managing and syncing media files, or the Windows Mobile / Windows Phone support for reading Office documents, much less editing and syncing them. To transfer media, you can drag and drop files over the USB connection, or sync with tools like Windows Media Player. And to work with Office documents, you can turn to the third-party apps that are being developed for Android (Archos suggests ThinkFree Mobile to work with Office documents).

However, ARCHOS provides its own version of the Google Market for applications -- the AppsLib. The issue here, not surprisingly, is that application developers need to update their software to work with the higher-resolution screen -- and the larger screen size. Archos reports that there already are some 500 apps that are fully compatible with the Archos 5 IT.

So the Archos 5 Internet Tablet is an early example of a middle range of web communications devices, that take advantage of the widespread availability of Wi-Fi without adding another monthly cellular data plan, and add a larger screen for more intensive work, but not so large to be clumsy to bring along. And it leverages the common Android platform as it is rapidly expanding to more devices. It will be interesting to see if other companies, like Apple, also see opportunity here, and how consumers respond to this in-between range of portable display sizes.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery and Mobile Communications Gallery for details and related products

Find the Archos 5 Internet Media Tablet 32 GB and 250 GB on Amazon.com

December 15, 2009

Verizon Droid Firmware Update 2.0.1

Verizon Wireless has released a new software update for the Droid smartphone from Motorola.

This Android Update 2.0.1 includes improvements for battery life, voice quality, Bluetooth, and Visual Voice Mail (see full list below). The disappointing camera performance also has been improved, with better auto-focus and shorter wait between shots.

The new firmware also updates the initial screen for unlocking your phone, which shows the date and time, and uses a horizontal swipe (instead of an arc) to unlock, or to silence the phone even if it is locked.

Your phone will automatically notify you when system updates are available, or you can check for it using the Settings application, under About phone (at the bottom of the list), and then System updates. This update is identified under About phone, Firmware version as release 2.0.1.

You can read more about the update online, though verizonwireless.com/droidsupport, which links through to a Benefits of System Update summary document (PDF).

The Verizon Support site also provides additional information about the Droid, including the User Guide and online tutorials.

See my full article, Verizon Droid from Motorola: Android 2.0, for more on the Droid's design and features and technical specifications.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones.

Find the Verizon Droid from Motorola on Amazon.com

The full list of updates ...

Continue reading "Verizon Droid Firmware Update 2.0.1" »

December 18, 2009

Finding Droid Apps in the Android Market

There are some really fun and interesting applications being developed for the Google Android platform, and specifically for the Verizon Droid smartphone. So, I'd like to be able to link to more information about the apps, and show you some screen shots of the apps in action -- But no ...

On the Droid phone itself, the Android Market application provides a great interface to browse and search the available applications, in different categories, and just the paid or free apps.

And Google is not in the business of being a gatekeeper and judge of applications (in contrast to Apple and its App Store for iPhone), so the Android apps are primarily organized by popularity -- letting the market judge, in the form of user rankings. (The Android Market app does have a separate Verizon category, which appears to be a nice mix of mostly free representative apps in a range of categories.)

To help you evaluate apps, the Android Market listings also include helpful user comments, information about new releases, sample screen shots, and links to other apps from the same developer. (As an additional benefit, since there is no Apple-like approval bureaucracy, developers can respond to user comments and quickly post improved updates -- which the Droid then automatically informs you about in the status bar.)

However all this great information about Android apps apparently is not available for access on the Web. For the iPhone, the Apple Apps for iPhone site lists some featured apps and staff picks, and you can always just launch iTunes to browse the App Store directly on your Mac or PC.

In comparison, Google does have a Android Market highlights site, but it includes only a small selection of Featured apps, plus listings of some 50 to 100 Top Paid and Free apps. And, amazingly for a Google service, there's no search capability. (You can access basic Android Market Help online.)

Instead, you can search online for the developer sites for specific products, or look for sites and articles that discuss interesting Android apps, such as the AndroGeek Top List Of Free Productive Android Apps For Business.

There are also independent sites that accumulate information about Android apps, like AndroLib, which seems to maintain information on Android apps in parallel with the Android Market.

See my full article, Verizon Droid from Motorola: Android 2.0, for more on the Droid's design and features and technical specifications.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones.

Find the Verizon Droid from Motorola on Amazon.com

December 19, 2009

Grabbing Screen Shots from the Verizon Droid

So, I wanted to talk about the Verizon Droid smartphone and highlight interesting apps in the Google Android Market, but it turns out that you can't browse the market on the Web (see previous post).

So I chased down the websites for various app developers, but a surprising number did not post sample screen shots.

OK, so I'll capture screen shots on the Droid -- except that it seems that you can only do this if you hack the phone for root access (see PC World), which may void your warranty or kill your device.

Instead, it turns out that you can do screen captures by connecting the Droid to your computer, and then using the Android software development kit (SDK) to grab the live screen over USB. Since Android is an open system, and since the SDK is based on the open Java system, you don't have to pay to be part of a special developer's program -- you can just download and install these components -- for free.

Here are a couple helpful descriptions of the process, each with a slightly different take:

- Droid Bugs - Droid Screen Capture – How To
- Know Your Cell - How to take screenshots of the Motorola DROID

See my summary of this process below, so now I can both show and tell about Android apps.

See my full article, Verizon Droid from Motorola: Android 2.0, for more on the Droid's design and features and technical specifications.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones.

Find the Verizon Droid from Motorola on Amazon.com

Continue reading "Grabbing Screen Shots from the Verizon Droid" »

December 20, 2009

Droid Android Apps - Flash-Lights

We know that the cell phone is a multi-function device, but one of the more prosaic uses is to light up the screen and use it as a flashlight. Cell phones have replaced cigarette lighters to sway along with music in arenas (see New York Times article from 1998), and the kids in our neighborhood use them while running around at dusk playing capture the flag.

And smartphones offer even larger displays to illuminate even better, which has lead to fun and free Flashlight apps on the Apple iPhone, with features like control of brightness and color.

Developers for the new Verizon Droid smartphone also have created free flashlight apps, particularly as a way to get experience with programming for the Google Android platform. Since the Android development tools are openly available (see previous post), and there's no iPhone-like gatekeeper process inhibiting the release applications through the Android Market, developers are freer to experiment with new ideas, and can respond more rapidly to user feedback with updated releases.

For example, the FlashLight app from Flash-the-Brain lights up the screen with a bright circle.

You simply swipe vertically on the screen to adjust the circle's size and therefore the light's intensity.

You also can choose the color of the light, and there's an option to display an overlay with the brightness percent (apparently some users like it, and some want it off).

FlashLight is a simple app, nicely implemented, and has been quite popular -- it crossed 100,000 downloads in mid November.

But the Droid phone has another hardware component that can be used for lighting -- the LED flash light next to the camera lens on the back of the phone.

And since the Android development tools are available for anyone from individual developers to large companies, Motorola (the developer of the Droid hardware) has released a DroidLight LED Flash app (see AndroLib) that lights the flash -- powering on the LED to provide a rather intense light.

The simple DroidLight interface displays an image of a light bulb -- tap to turn the LED on and off. And you can leave the LED on even if you exit the app to do something else on the phone -- a recent update to the app now displays a notification in the status bar that the light is still on.

Another fun flash-light app to brighten up the Droid screen in a different way is Lightning Bug from 1908 Media.

Lightning Bug is a visual sound machine and an alarm clock.

As a sound machine to help you drift into a peaceful sleep, it displays a scene with calming rain and flashes of lightning. You can choose different scenes -- including beach, monastery, city skyline, white noise -- which add other optional sounds like birds, bells, and cars.

Lightning Bug also is a clock, alarm, and sleep timer integrated with the Android system clock. You also can set the screen to time out while still playing the sound effects for good dreams.

See my full article, Verizon Droid from Motorola: Android 2.0, for more on the Droid's design and features and technical specifications.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones.

Find the Verizon Droid from Motorola on Amazon.com

December 21, 2009

Sound ID 400 Bluetooth Headset with Remote Microphone

If you don't have a Bluetooth wireless headset for your cell phone, or have not checked out the new products lately, they are definitely worth a look. The noise reduction technology has improved, so you can have intelligible conversations even in difficult environments. And the design has improved to be less obtrusive and more comfortable, doing away with ear loops hanging over your ear in favor of earpieces with an integrated loop that nestles in the folds of your outer ear.

I've recently covered new products from perennial Bluetooth manufacturers Aliph / Jawbone, Jabra, and Plantronics (see previous post). And it's also fun to see innovative product and design ideas from other companies.

For example, Sound ID has been expanding its line of Bluetooth headsets. The new Sound ID 400 Headset adds more custom features, and integrates with the separate Sound ID Remote Microphone to provide a remote audio feed.

The design of the Sound ID 400 Headset is very clean -- slim and light (under (0.28 ounces).

The back body has two small buttons, at the end (for power and call functions), and on the side (for volume and advanced modes). It includes three sizes of earpieces with loops, plus an optional ear hook.

The separate Sound ID Remote Microphone is the same size and shape, but designed as a clip-on device to boost the sound during a conversation, or from a sound source across the room. The Bluetooth connection works up to 30 feet line of sight, or less though ceilings and walls.

The Remote Mic is designed to work with the Sound ID 400, and pairs automatically using Bluetooth. The Sound ID 400 headset supports two Bluetooth-enabled devices, so you can listen using the Remote Microphone and then pick up an incoming call on your phone.

For noise reduction, the Sound ID 400 headset has NoiseNavigation technology using multiple microphones to remove background and wind noise while enhancing speech intelligibility at both ends of the conversation, along with automatic volume control. Then it adds PersonalSound modes to customize the enhancement -- normal, moderate, strong, or turned off (so you can see how well it is working).

Between calls, if the earpiece is blocking the outside sound too much, there's a new Environmental Mode that passes through the outside sound (you can clearly hear it operating from the background hiss and amplified sounds).

Both devices charge using a standard microUSB connector. The Headset provides up to 7 hours of talk time, or 8 days on standby. The Remote Microphone provides up to 10 hours of talk time.

The Sound ID 400 Bluetooth Headset is now available for $129, and the Sound ID Remote Microphone is $79.

See the summary of Bluetooth headsets in my Holiday Tech Gift Guide 2009 article.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

December 22, 2009

novero TheFirstOne Bluetooth Headset

In comparison to the low-profile design of the Sound ID 400 (see previous post), the novero TheFirstOne Bluetooth headset is designed as a "premium earpiece," with a "stylish sleek shape and white facade, brushed with subtle silver accents."

And TheFirstOne comes with a really complete set of accessories in the box. On the desktop, there's a microUSB charging cable and AC USB wall charger, plus the plastic holder in the top of the package converts into a Desk stand. For the car, there's a DC USB Car cigarette charger and a Car holder / cradle with USB connector to attach to your dashboard. Plus, to help you to carry around the headset when not in use, the product includes both a Neck cord / necklace and a Wearable clip, each with slots that secure the earpiece post.

TheFirstOne's design is a little shorter and chubbier than the Sound ID, with a fixed earpost and selection of narrow earpieces with and without loops. The outside face has a large multi-function button, and the side has a volume control with up and down adjustments. The LED lights provide extensive feedback though different colors and blinking patterns.

The technology includes noise cancellation with dual microphones. The headset has a talk time up to 4.5 hours, and stand-by over 100 hours.

To get you started, the inside of the packaging has illustrations showing basic use of the headset and accessories. However, there's no printed manual -- the User Guide is supplied on a mini CD, or you can download it online (PDF).

novero was formed through a buyout from Nokia, with a business in automotive wireless systems. TheFirstOne is novero’s first consumer product, priced at $149. Other novero products in development include TheTrustyOne Bluetooth car kit, TheTrulyOne Bluetooth car display kit, and TheTalkieOne Bluetooth speakerphone

See the summary of Bluetooth headsets in my Holiday Tech Gift Guide 2009 article.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

Find the novero TheFirstOne Bluetooth Headset on Amazon.com

December 23, 2009

BlueAnt Q1 Voice Controlled Bluetooth Headset

Another company that has been developing interesting Bluetooth headsets and speakerphones is BlueAnt Wireless, which is based in Australia (a blue ant is a somewhat unique and unusual flower wasp that is native to Australia -- see Wikipedia).

The BlueAnt Q1 Bluetooth headset is voice controlled -- It provides voice prompts instead of beeps for feedback -- and responds to over 20 spoken commands. When you receive a call, the Q1 reads the number to you, and then asks for your command to "Answer" or "Ignore" the call.

At other times, tap the BlueAnt button on the face of the headphone to prompt for a command, and then speak to redial, speed dial, check the connection, or check the battery (both for the headset and the phone battery levels).

You also can change settings like the LED light or voice recognition sensitivity level, turn off the headset, and even reset it by voice command (after a confirmation prompt).

The headphone has a slim profile, with the round BlueAnt button for commands and a side volume up/down button. It recharges using the supplied USB cable (although not a microUSB or miniUSB connector), and has a talk time up to 4 hours, and standby up to 100 hours.

The Q1's noise and wind reduction uses dual microphones and internal wind shields, with two voice isolation modes so you can turn on Maximum processing in particularly noisy environments. The Bluetooth support pairs with up to eight devices, and the Q1 provides true multipoint technology -- you can not only connect to two phones at a time, but you can maintain two live calls on the different lines, and switch back and forth between them.

And like several other BlueAnt headsets, the Q1 supports firmware updates over USB from a PC. The latest update adds Bluetooth A2DP audio streaming, for listening to music from your phone, as well as podcasts or turn-by-turn directions from a phone's GPS application.

The BlueAnt Q1 Bluetooth headset is list priced at $129, and is available online for around $79.

See the summary of Bluetooth headsets in my Holiday Tech Gift Guide 2009 article.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

Find the BlueAnt Q1 Bluetooth Headset on Amazon.com

December 24, 2009

Newton MoGo Talk - Thin Bluetooth Headsets

To wrap up this mini-series on different approaches in Bluetooth headsets, here's the Newton MoGo Talk, a headset the folds amazingly flat for storage, along the same lines as the Mogo Mouse designs (see previous post).

The trick with this headset design is a flat body, and an earpiece boom that folds down to lay completely flat, to only 5 mm thick.

The MoGo Talk comes in several versions, depending on your devices and how it's designed to be tucked away.

- MoGo Talk for VOIP & Skype ($99) snaps into a small Express Card 34 charging adapter, to store and charge in your notebook's Express Card 34 or Express Card 54 slot.

(There's also a Mogo X54 Charging Cable available for $19 to charge directly from a USB port.)

- MoGo Talk for iPhone ($129) is designed into a protective case for the phone, with a storage and charging cradle for the headset.

- MoGo Talk for BlackBerry Curve / Javelin ($129) is coming in 2010, designed to be integrated into the back of the BlackBerry.

The product includes flat eartips that squeeze open in your ears and then compress flat for the Express Card adapter, plus rounded eartips that provide more audio isolation and a fuller sound profile.

The MoGoTalk has a balanced armature driver, and includes noise blocking technology to remove noise, echo, and wind interference. It has automatic volume control that responds to the level of outside noise -- you can otherwise adjust the volume on your phone. It can be paired with up to 5 Bluetooth devices, and offers up to 4 hours of talk time, or 1 week of standby.

See the summary of Bluetooth headsets in my Holiday Tech Gift Guide 2009 article.

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products.

December 26, 2009

Handheld Gaming as Convergence Devices - Nintendo DS

Apple iPod or Microsoft Zune? iPhone or BlackBerry -- or Windows Phone or Google Android? The portable device market seems to be framed in terms of titanic corporate battles, and emotional allegiances to our favorite products.

But while media players have evolved into wireless web devices, and smartphones are adding downloadable applications for fun and gaming, there is another class of devices that is converging from a different direction -- portable game systems like the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP lines that have extended from gaming to portable media players with wireless access.

These systems have built-in Wi-Fi and support some wireless access, albeit using game controls, but are obviously more focused on wireless gaming with others. Though the real value in wireless for these companies is to expand their portable devices from a product to subscription services, linking with the associated Sony and Nintendo online stores for buying media and games (see previous post).

And these are mass market products -- as of the beginning of this year, Sony had sold over 50 million PSP handhelds, and Nintendo had sold over 95 million DS models. Aided by new models and price cuts in these difficult economic times, U.S. sales data from the NPD Group show that the Nintendo DS was the top selling gaming system line in November, with the Nintendo Wii console second, outselling the Sony PSP, and the Microsoft Xbox 360 and Sony PlayStation 3 and PS2 lines (see below).

Nintendo reports that the DS and Wii products account for more than half of all video game systems sold in the U.S. through November in 2009.

The dual-screen Nintendo DSi, introduced in April, features two 3.2 inch screens plus two lowish-res 0.3 MP cameras (to shoot in towards you and out).

It's slightly thinner and longer than the previous DS models at 5.4 x 2.9 x 0.74 inches, and is available for around $169.

The new Sony PSPgo, introduced in October, has a 3.8 inch display that slides to access the familiar PSP gaming controls.

It removes the UMD optical drive in favor of flash memory storage, and so is a couple inches shorter and thinner than the previous PSP designs (4.8 x 2.6 x 0.6 inches, 5.6 ounces), and is available for around $239.

These systems are not just for hardcore gamers any more. As the Wii has demonstrated in the living room, there's a big place for "casual" games and fun activities in gaming systems.

For example, Rhythm Heaven from Nintendo has more than 50 rhythm-based music games -- you just tap, flick, and slide along with the catchy soundtrack.

And Scribblenauts from Warner Bros. (shown here) is a side scrolling game in which you explore and collect points -- and just type words to conjure up any of over 30,000 objects to help you, from ladders to wings to black holes.

In playing with these games to demo at my holiday gadget talks, however, I was surprised they still seem stuck on traditional structured game play with levels and points and penalties, and don't have simple, fun, non-goal-oriented, "casual" / demo modes.

It would be nice to set up the system, for example, so people could just wander around in Scribblenauts doing silly / fun stuff without worrying about the goal and limited resources, or sample the range of fun activities in Rhythm Heaven.

In particular, Rhythm Heaven traps you in training mode and doesn't let you out until you have proven yourself worthy, which does not make for a good first-brush experience when I'm handing around the DS so people can get a quick sense of its possibilities.

In any case, handheld game systems are for more than just the kids, and an interesting alternative or companion to wireless media players and smartphones -- especially for long trips where you can enjoy all the different kinds of entertainment, including commercial game titles and dedicated gaming controls.

See more on game systems in my Portable Media Player Gallery

Find the Nintendo DSi and Sony PSPgo on Amazon.com
Find Rhythm Heaven and Scribblenauts on Amazon.com

Continue reading "Handheld Gaming as Convergence Devices - Nintendo DS" »

December 28, 2009

Logitech Squeezebox Radio - Music Networked in the Home

If you like to listen to music, and enjoy your digital music collection and online music services, then the Logitech Squeezebox line offers stand-alone "radios" that connect both to your home PC music collections, and directly to the Internet to bring all that great digital music choice wherever you want it in the house.

The Squeezebox Duet package ($399) and new Squeezebox Touch ($299) are focused on bringing music to your existing stereo system or stereo system.

Or if you want an all-in-one "radio" player with built-in speakers, the Squeezebox Boom, and Squeezebox Radio provide stand-alone access to all these digital music sources.

The new Squeezebox Radio with color display is more compact to fit in smaller spaces (~ 8 1/2 x 5 in. x 4 1/2 deep with knob), and is available in black or snazzy red ($199).

The Squeezebox Boom (see previous post) is wider (~ 13 x 5 in.), with stereo speakers on each side to punch out the sound, and includes a remote contol ($299).

After all, digital music has freed us to enjoy our music collections anywhere with our iPods and media players. And Internet radio and streaming music services have brought the world of music to us, to enjoy on mobile phones and wireless players like the iPod touch and on mobile notebooks.

But at home, digital music is still tethered to your computer, to play your files and access the Internet -- preferably on a desktop computer with a good speaker system.

But what about enjoying your music elsewhere -- in the kitchen, or garage, or on the porch -- like we used to do with portable radios? And what about the idea of having a "stereo system" set up in the den or family room with good speakers to really enjoy listening to music?

The answer is in better interconnection between the PC and CE worlds -- data on personal computers and playback on consumer electronics devices.

With video, for example, there are products like Apple TV to bring your iTunes library to your living room television, Slingbox to play your TV signal on your computer (and vice versa), and Vudu to bring Internat video on demand directly to your home TV. And with audio, products like Sonos let you control music playback from your computer to speakers in multiple rooms around the house.

Or the Logitech Squeezebox Boom and Squeezebox Radio access the Internet and PC media from stand-alone devices. These boombox style radios connect to your home network, by wired Ethernet 10/100 or Wi-Fi wireless 802.11g networking, so you can access music on your home network from your personal computers and networked (NAS) drives, or connect directly over the Internet to online music -- with no local computer required:

- Play personal music collections and playlists from your computer with SqueezeBox Server software (Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux)
- Access music from NAS / networked drives on your home network
- Tune to thousands of Internet radio networks (including BBC, CBC, Live365, SIRIUS)
- Access subscription music services -- including custom music (i.e., Last.fm, Pandora, Slacker), music on demand (MP3Tunes Music Locker, Mediafly, Napster, Rhapsody), and even music stores (Amazon).

Besides updating the SqueezeBox Server software (formerly SqueezeCenter), Logitech has also moved to an "apps" model for adding services to its new SqueezeBox products, and expanded beyond music playback to also show photos and artwork on the front panel displays.

You can add new sources like a music subscription services using the front panel of the radio (somewhat painfully scrolling through each letter of the login and password), or log in to the MySqueezeBox.com site (formerly SqueezeNetwork) to more conveniently update your device online, which is immediately installed on the radio.

Logitech currently offers apps to support the various Internet radio stations, music services, and podcasts (via Mediafly). Plus there are apps for Facebook to share with friends and to view Flickr photos (on the newer products).

These are both serious and solid radios, with all-digital 30-watt amplifier; stereo XL technology to widen the sound stage, 6 preset buttons, and a 7-day alarm clock. The Squeezebox Boom has two 3/4-inch, high-def, soft-dome tweeters, and two 3-inch, high-power, long-throw woofers, and the smaller Squeezebox Radio has one of each. Both also have line-in via a stereo jack for playing from other devices.

It's the new model for the tabletop radio -- so you can enjoy all your digital music, and the music available online, anywhere in your house.

See my Home Networked Media Gallery for more on the Squeezebox line and related networked media products for the home.

Find the Logitech Squeezebox Radio and Squeezebox Boom on Amazon.com

December 30, 2009

Astak Mole Internet Camera

Webcams are great for connecting to your computer to shoot short videos, or to use for video phone calls (see post on Logitech QuickCams). And Internet cameras go the next step to break the tether to a computer by building in networking support, so you can position them anywhere, and then access them over your home network, or even over the Internet (see post on Logitech Wilife).

But as these cameras need more intelligence to be more useful for security monitoring and surveillance, to alert you when someone is coming up to the door or the delivery truck arrives.

So they still need a computer in the loop, to monitor the video flowing over the network, detect motion, send out alerts, and capture the video. This requires running monitoring software on one of your home PCs, or perhaps on a server system over the Internet.

But in these days of smarter devices, why not cram all this functionality -- and more -- into the camera itself, as a stand-along device like the Astak Mole Internet Camera, part of a family of cameras and related devices from Astak.

The Mole is an Internet camera that can stream video over your local network, or over the Internet, to view on with a standard Web browser, or on an iPhone or other Internet-enabled mobile devices.

It packs an amazing collection of features and options into a compact package (around 5 x 4 x 5 inches and 12 ounces), for around $299.

The camera also supports two-way audio with a built-in microphone, and mic and headphone jacks. You set up it up through the browser interface, including pan/tilt adjustments to point the camera remotely, and enabling IR lighting for better night vision.

Plus the Mole has built-in software for motion detection, with alerts -- and it's a stand-alone DVR, saving video / audio clips locally on SD card storage. Or you can send alerts as images by e-mail, upload video clips by FTP or YouTube, and even send out Twitter notices.

The setup menus are accessed from a browser (after login and password), and offer extensive options for recording and playback, image and video quality, network configuration and alerts, and system status and logs.

The Mole uses the Yoics service for remote access from the Internet into your wired home. This is free software that has a much more sophisticated scope just accessing a remote camera -- Yoics is designed to provide remote Internet access to local computers (Windows or Mac) and networked devices, without the need for technical intervention to navigate though your home network setup and routers.

Yoics effectively publishes your folders and files, printers and cameras, as a Web server (read the name as "Your Own Internet Connected Stuff"). The free service includes basic sharing and limited web services, and there's a “Pro” premium service plan that offers more connections to services and longer connection times.

The Mole, then, has an impressive collection of features, reasonably implemented, with a broad range of useful options. There are rough edges (I need to refresh after each login), but it's also quite robust at recovering from network disconnects. However, the Mole not for the faint of heart -- there's no help integrated in the web browser interface, and no detailed documentation available online for all the features (like the schedule page with a 7 x 3 x 4 grid of drop-down menus for recording times).

Even so, the Mole is great fun to experiment with, and demonstrates how far a small networked camera can be enhanced into an integrated security system, with support for built-in, local, and remote access for control and monitoring.

See more on webcams and Internet cameras in my Home Media Gallery

    Find one of the Astak Internet Cameras on Amazon.com

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About December 2009

Entries posted to Manifest Tech Blog in December 2009, listed from oldest to newest.

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