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December 2010 Archives

December 1, 2010

Holiday Consumer Electronics Wish Lists

The upcoming holiday season is looking a bit merrier, as the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) sees evidence that the economy is picking up after a disastrous couple of years. In its annual CE Holiday Purchase Patterns Study, the CEA reports that U.S. consumers predict that the total household spending for the holidays will be $1,412, up 3 percent from last year (see last year's post).

This is still not back to the golden days of the 2007 household spending of $1,671, but it's definitely an improvement. In addition, the portion of the total holiday gift budget allocated for CE devices has continued to rise, and now is at 31 percent, or $232.

The CEA also provides top 10 lists of specific product categories that are on consumer holiday wish lists. The most dramatic change in this year's wish list is the appearance of the Apple iPad tablet as a new category, displacing netbooks after their appearance just last year.

The iPad is joined by the iPod and iPhone as the only specifically branded products on the list, showing Apple's continued strength in defining entire categories.

These portable devices lead the lists, with laptops, tablets, eReaders, media players, digital cameras, and smartphones. The clear trend here is the continued consumer interest in using separate devices for specific functions, instead of carrying a single converged smartphone that could replace all our different gadgets and functions.

The lists also include more traditional home electronics products, including video game systems, big screen TVs, and desktop computers. Other categories that have fallen out of the top 10 this year include handheld game systems, GPS units, netbooks, and DVD / Blu-ray players, and car audio. But you're still welcome to buy them anyway...

The CEA also produces the International Consumer Electronics Show (aka CES), the huge annual event back in Las Vegas next January 6 - 9 (see summary article from last year).

See my Holiday Gadget Guide articles for 2010:
- Holiday Gadgets 2010: Consumer Electronics Wish Lists
- Holiday Gadgets 2010: Portable and Wireless

And my upcoming Holiday Tech Gifts talks:
- Wed., Dec., 1 - Hopewell Public Library
- Tues., Dec., 7 - Computer Learning Center at Ewing

Also see my Digital Media Galleries for more on trends and sample products in these categories
And my Apple iPod / iPhone / iPad Gallery for more on the Apple portable products.

Find the Apple iPad on Amazon.com

December 3, 2010

Logitech Wireless Speakers for Laptops and iPads

These days, all of our portable devices are also media players, no matter the size -- laptop to tablet (iPad) to handheld (iPhone) -- or whether they are nominally dedicated to other purposes -- from cell phones to eReaders.

While these all are great personal devices when used with earphones, you can enjoy the music better if you hook up higher-quality external speakers. And even better, wireless speakers let you continue to work as you listen without being tethered to the device.

I've been having fun with the Logitech Wireless Speaker Z515, which pairs easily with an iPad or iPhone using Bluetooth (no pass code required).

Just enable the device in the Bluetooth Settings, and then your audio and video applications add a new AirPlay menu next to the playback controls that lets you switch back and forth between listening with the iPhone/iPad internal speakers or streaming through the wireless speakers.

Since Bluetooth setup on laptops can be more problematical, the Logitech Wireless Speakers also include a small USB adapter to stream music from your laptop with a similar lack of fuss using a dedicated 2.4 GHz wireless connection.

The speakers are certainly portable at around 10 x 4 1/2 x 2 inches), but are more substantial than smaller clip-on and wired speakers (see earlier post). They put out a respectable 3 watts with AC power, and fill the room nicely.

However, these are not featherlight, with a 10 hour battery that recharges with the included power supply. The clever and unobtrusive design also has a flip-out stand on the back, with a slot to store the USB wireless adapter.

The Logitech Wireless Speakers are available for $99. I've found that they work great for really hearing music at home, and for demoing iPad sound and music at my talks.

See my Holiday Gadgets 2010: Portable and Wireless article for more on portable devices and accessories

See my Audio Accessories Gallery for more on portable speakers and earphones.

Find the Logitech Wireless Speakers on Amazon.com

December 6, 2010

Microsoft's Sexy Arc Touch Mouse -- Seriously

When you think of Microsoft, it's all about the software -- Windows and Word in the office, MSN and Bing online, Visual Basic and C# for developers. Oh, and there's gaming with the Xbox, and portable devices with Windows Phone and Zune.

While these groups get a lot of attention and can inspire passionate fandom or hostility, there's one more group within Microsoft that has a less exotic but still strong history of producing solid and functional products.

The Microsoft Hardware group produces PC accessories including mice, keyboards, and more recently, webcams. And these are not just prosaic plain-old devices, they have evolved to be more stylish, functional, and usable -- and even, if we dare say so -- sexy.

Yes, the designers at the Hardware group have been cooking, and exhibit A is the clever Arc Mouse, introduced last year with a comfortable curved design that folds up for travel (see earlier post).

And now Microsoft is back with a new and even more ingenious version -- the Arc Touch Mouse. Instead of folding up, the Arc Touch Mouse straightens out to lay flat for storage, or to tuck into your pocket. To use it, you just bend it up into an arc for a comfortable fit in either hand.

To make the fit more compact, the Arc Touch has no protruding buttons -- the left and right buttons are flush, and the center click wheel is replaced with a touch strip that you can tap, slide, and flick to control scrolling actions. There's also no power button -- you just flatten it out to turn it off, and curve it up to turn it on.

The face of the Arc Touch is just large enough for 2 AAA batteries, which can power the mouse for up to 6 months. It uses Microsoft's BlueTrack laser technology that works on a variety of difficult surfaces -- rough, glossy, and soft (though not clear glass or mirrored).

The Arc Touch connects to your PC with 2.4 GHz wireless technology, with a range of up to 30 feet. It uses a tiny wireless USB transceiver that sticks out under a 1/4 inch from your laptop's USB port. For storage, the USB dongle snaps magnetically onto the bottom of the mouse, though you may want to pack it more carefully if you are carrying the mouse loose in your pocket or briefcase.

The Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse is now available for $69. Smart and sexy, indeed.

See my Portable Peripherals and Accessories Gallery for more on these and related products.

   Find the Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse on Amazon

December 17, 2010

Harry Martin on Verizon 4G LTE Wireless Broadband

We're getting used to having wireless Internet access on our portable devices, as we check e-mail and download apps on our smartphones, browse the Web and watch YouTube videos on our Apple iPad, and download books in minutes on our Amazon Kindle E-book reader.

But the download speeds of today's 3G (third generation) mobile data services are still a bit sluggish, as it takes noticeable time to load a new page or download a song. Mobile data access still feels more like yesterday's now-poky DSL service over phone lines than the kind of wired broadband services that we now enjoy at home.

But that's changing, with the arrival of next generation "4G" mobile broadband service, stepping up real-world data rates on the order of 10X faster, from DSL to home broadband rates (i.e., increasing download speeds from today's around 500 Kbps - 1.5 Mbps to 5 - 12 Mbps, and upload speeds from around 500 Kbps to 2 - 5 Mbps).

And this promise is now actually here, as Harry Martin of Verizon Wireless explained at last night's meeting of the Princeton Chapters of the ACM and IEEE Computer Society. Harry is Director of Advanced Technologies for Verizon Wireless’ Philadelphia tri-state region, which is one of the initial markets for the recent launch of the Verizon 4G LTE network for next-generation wireless broadband service.

Martin explained that LTE (Long Term Evolution) in not just a Verizon technology, it's a widely-adopted international standard, with some 90% of carriers planning to move to LTE for 4G service, promising easier roaming when traveling overseas and economies of scale to help reduce product costs.

Beyond better data rates, LTE technology also provides benefits including lower power usage for mobile devices, reduced latency for better responsiveness (half that of 3G), more efficient use of spectrum to support more simultaneous users, and enhanced security for authenticating your SIM cards and protecting message traffic from spoofing. Plus, the LTE radio technology and spectrum wavelength reduces multipath and multiuser interference, and can penetrate further into structures, resulting in better connectivity in current wireless dead spots.

Martin also described how multi-antenna technology offered the future promise of redoubling the LTE data rates, particularly as Verizon has additional spectrum available in parts of the country.

Verizon Wireless powered on its 4G LTE network on December 5, initially in 38 major metropolitan areas covering more than 110 million Americans, plus at more than 60 commercial airports. Verizon expects to complete the LTE roll-out with full nationwide coverage in 2013.

Verizon's initial service is targeted to business road warriors, using a USB modem that you plug in to a laptop to go online. Verizon offers two USB modems, the LG VL600 and Pantech UML290, which are available for $99.99 (after a $50 mail-in rebate, and with a new two-year customer agreement). These both are backwards compatible with the existing 3G data service in areas not currently covered by LTE.

The initial Verizon 4G LTE mobile broadband service is available with two monthly data service plans similar to existing 3G plans: $50 with a 5 GB monthly allowance, or $80 for 10 GB, both with $10 per GB overage charges for additional usage (the same rate as the lower allowance).

However, these monthly bandwidth caps certainly are not 10X more than current 3G plans, so don't expect to significantly change your usage patterns, for example by starting to stream video all day -- It's still smart to take advantage of Wi-Fi when available, especially for big downloads.

(Actually, at a 10 Mbps download speed, you can move 4.5 GB per hour, so you could blow though the Verizon $50 for 5 GB monthly plan in a little over an hour of continuous downloading; At $10 / GB, that's $45 per hour of downloads.)

But even with this early service, you can see how LTE can provide much faster and more efficient access to must-have information, especially for the initial market of business users. For example, you can download a 700 MB CD of data files in a little over a minute, or upload a 10 MB PowerPoint presentation in under 25 seconds.

And this is just the beginning, as Martin discussed the potential of LTE to support the growing demand for always-connected people and devices. To illustrate this revolution, he showed the Social Media Revolution video (on YouTube), based on the book Socialnomics by Erik Qualman, with startling statistics on the growth and impact of social media and mobile.

For example, with faster uploads, LTE can provide better two-way high-def video conferencing and even remote video monitoring. With lower latency, it promises better interactive multi-player gaming. And with low-cost chips, it allows a much broader range of devices to be connected and inter-connected, so, for example, your car or even washing machine can report problems and call for maintenance.

So 4G is here, at least for road warriors, and it's coming soon to broader use in a wide range of mobile phones and other devices, with exciting possibilities for new applications and services from desktop connectivity on mobile devices.

- See the article on Harry Martin's talk in Princeton in the U.S.1 Newspaper

- See my article on Holiday Gadgets 2010: Portable and Wireless for more on 4G services and current mobile wireless products

- See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on mobile data services and products

Find Socialnomics by Erik Qualman on Amazon.com

December 21, 2010

Imation Link Wireless Audio/Video Extender

Wireless is a big topic for my Holiday Gadget talks this year, so part of the demo is decoupling my laptop using some of the wireless peripherals that I've been covering this season, including wireless broadband networking through the Verizon MiFi cellular hotspot, a wireless mouse like the Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse, and wireless audio with the Logitech Wireless Speakers.

But what about showing the video display? Video requires another cable plugged into the laptop, and at two recent talks the projector was set up halfway up the aisle, which makes running a cable even more clumsy.

Luckily, I had along another piece of equipment to demo -- the Imation Link Wireless Audio/Video Extender. This wirelessly transmits video, and audio, from a PC or Mac to a television or projector, for only $149.

And showing the video over wireless does not require compromises -- The Imation Link supports HD video (720p / 1280 x 720), stereo audio, and still photos at 1080p.

The Imation Link is easy to set up. You connect the fin-shaped receiver unit to the projector or TV using a standard VGA cable (the same cable that you would otherwise plug in to your laptop), or using HDMI.

Then plug in the USB transmitter dongle to your PC to send the display to the receiver. This pivots vertically as a directional antenna to transmit up to 30 feet. It requires a line-of-sight path, but actually worked great for my talks for periods of up to an hour -- without any glitches, even with occasional obstructions as people moved through the transmission path.

To set up the new display on Windows, the Imation Link simply appears as a new available display device in the display properties. You than can choose to replicate the desktop on both your laptop display and on the projector, or you can extend the desktop across both displays, to work privately on your laptop and then drag windows to the second display in order to share them. (Actually, on my laptop, this can give me a third display -- the built-in laptop display, an external monitor connected to the laptop's VGA port, and the wireless Imation Link.)

The result is pretty impressive -- even through the desktop is typically rather static, you're actually wirelessly streaming HD video in real time, so there's no lag or glitches when you move the cursor, or drag a window, or launch an application, or play some video.

So how does this work? You can't stream video with Bluetooth, which was designed for lower-bandwidth devices like mice and printers and streaming audio. And we've all seen streaming video over Wi-Fi, which can have glitches from transient network hiccups or interference from multiple users.

Instead, the Imation Link uses Wireless USB (also known as Ultra-WideBand / UWB -- see the USB Implementers Forum and Wikipedia). Wireless USB provides a reliable connection, with faster speeds and lower power than Wi-Fi, with dedicated, one-to-one connectivity between the transmitter and receiver.

The Imation Link Wireless Audio/Video Extender is an early example of the promise of higher-speed wireless interconnections, with lower cost, power, and size requirements that are designed to span consumer electronics, PC peripherals, and mobile devices. Wireless USB performance is targeted at 480 Mbps at 3 meters (i.e., delivering the same bandwidth as wired USB 2.0), lowering to 110 Mbps at 10 meters.

The bottom line is that the Imation Link has already saved me from setup hassles and panics in unfamiliar facilities -- I now can literally carry around my laptop while giving a demo or talk, wirelessly streaming the video and audio to the projector, whatever its location across the room.

See my article on Holiday Gadgets 2010: Portable and Wireless for more on portable and wireless trends, devices, and accessories.

See my Consumer HDTV Gallery for more on High-Def TV, displays, and projectors

   Find the Imation Link Wireless A/V Extender on Amazon

December 27, 2010

ZAGG invisibleSHIELD for iPads - Scratch and Fingerprint Protection

I'm a big fan of screen protectors, especially for cell phones that rattle around in my pocket with keys. For example, the ZAGG invisibleSHIELD line (see earlier post) includes screen (and body) protectors from devices ranging from handheld cell phones, PDAs, iPods and other media players -- to portable gaming devices, digital cameras, and GPS devices -- to laptop computers and even watches.

And for the hot gifts of this holiday season (see earlier post), the invisibleSHIELD screen and body protectors are also available for E-book readers including the Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook -- plus protection for the hottest gift of the season, the Apple iPad.

The iPad screen is really beautiful, but the reflective surface picks up finger smudges and makes them very visible, which is a bit icky when showing off your new device.

Apple Support recommends cleaning the iPad screen with a soft, slightly damp, lint-free cloth, or with an isopropyl alcohol solution.

And the iPad Important Product Information Guide (PDF) further explains how the screen is coated: "iPad has an oleophobic coating on the screen; simply wipe iPad’s screen with a soft, lint-free cloth to remove oil left by your hands. The ability of this coating to repel oil will diminish over time with normal usage, and rubbing the screen with an abrasive material will further diminish its effect and may scratch your screen."

Instead, you can use a screen protector like the invisibleSHIELD to both protect the display from scratches and to make it easier to clean.

The invisibleSHIELD material itself is scratch and abrasion resistant, and even self-healing. In addition, the film has a subtle texture, which provides a more secure grip.

The result on the iPad is that the screen still looks great and responds as usual to finger presses and movements, but no longer has the glossy look with highly visible finger smudges, so I no longer need to carry around a cloth to to regularly wipe the screen. The invisibleSHIELD also reduces glare for easier viewing in difficult environments.

Of course, the other issue is installation -- How do you precisely align a big sheet of sticky plastic film onto the face of the iPad? It turns out to be pretty straightforward, as shown in the Installation videos (and also see previous post).

The trick is to spray the film, and your fingers, with the included water-based solution, so you can actually slide around the film on the face of the iPad to nudge it into position. There's margin for error in the process, so you can remove and re-spray the film as needed to get the fit right. (And you can remove the sheet later by just peeling it off.) Of course, a second pair of hands is helpful as well for positioning the big sheet and holding the iPad steady.

After the wet installation, you then need to spend some time using the included squeegee to push the excess moisture and bubbles out to the edges. There will be some imperfections left on the face, which will work out as the material settles in and dries.

It turns out that the hardest part of the processes is finding a time that you can survive without your beautiful new iPad for a day or so -- You need to wait 12 to 24 hours after application for the invisibleSHIELD to "set" properly, and allow any remaining solution to fully dry.

invisibleSHIELD is available in over 5,000 designs for different electronic devices. Designs for the iPad are available at $29.99 for the front or back and $39.99 for the full body. A smaller device like the iPhone is priced at $14.99 for front or back protection and $24.99 for the full body. All come with a 45 day money-back guarantee and a lifetime replacement warranty.

For more fun, ZAGGskins combine the invisibleSHIELD material with customized high-quality images and designs. You can use one of the pre-existing designs or upload your own.

Find the ZAGG invisibleSHIELD for iPad
and invisibleSHIELD for iPhone on Amazon.com

Manifest Tech Site

About December 2010

Entries posted to Manifest Tech Blog in December 2010, listed from oldest to newest.

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