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March 18, 2007

Mobile Internet: Verizon EV-DO

Wi-Fi is great for wireless broadband Internet access in your home or office (see the Wireless Alliance. Wi-Fi on the road is more problematical -- Libraries and coffee houses may offer free Wi-Fi, while hotels and airports often have rather expensive for-pay services. And security is an issue in public hotspots -- free open services are wide open with no security, and the first thing you have to do with for-pay services is to broadcast your credit card number. So each time you stop and open your laptop, you first have to figure out the requirements of that local environment, find the right service, possibly enter special ID information, and then sign up for some period of service.

For example, when visiting a hospital in Boston I was thrilled to find free Wi-Fi service, which mostly worked great -- on the weekend. But during the week it became unusable as the demand increased, requiring multiple attempts to connect and even just check e-mail. Back in the hotel, we had the option of wired or wireless Internet connections, at $10.45 a day -- for each. You could not switch back and forth between the two different services, so you could use the possibly faster, more reliable, and more secure wired connection in the hotel room, but then pay extra to access the wireless connection in the hotel lobby and conference rooms.

Thus the attraction of mobile Internet access through cellular data services. Cell towers are everywhere, and can provide a more secure connection without easy snooping from your neighbors in the coffee house, plus cell-based service breaks the bounds of finding individual local hotspots to provide ubiquitous coverage anywhere in range of cellular coverage -- not just specific locations, but in any hotel or restaurant, or even on the go on a train or the back seat of a car.

To check out mobile Internet on my laptop, Verizon Wireless kindly loaned me a Sierra Wireless AirCard 595 to try out their enhanced EV-DO Rev. A service on a recent trip It delivered the promised DSL-like data rates for my notebook computer -- download to over 1,000 kbps and upload to around 720 kbps (kilobits per second).



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Verizon G'zOne Rugged Phone

Here's something different to combine the rugged lifestyle with all those cool wireless phone services -- camera, mobile Internet, video and audio downloads, wireless navigation, and more -- the Verizon Wireless / Casio G'zOne Type-V rugged handset (pronounced "G-Z-one").

This is a fully-packed wireless phone with speakerphone and 2 megapixel camera, in a mil-spec case, water and shock and dust resistant, and designed to withstand temperatures over 140ºF and submersion in one meter of water.

The basic design of the G'zOne is a clamshell phone, a little thicker than slim phones at 5.3 ounces, and augmented with a bumper guard at the bottom. It also includes a stopwatch and LED flashlight on the outer face.

The G'zOne is available from Verizon for $99.99 (two-year contract). Take it along on your next adventure -- just be sure to stay in range of a cell tower, and check that the ports and battery area are securely closed before you try dunking it...

See more in the Mobile Communications Gallery, under Mobile Internet and Multimedia.

June 9, 2007

Recognize the Music -- Verizon Wireless V CAST Song ID

What *is* that song? It's so familiar -- dah, dah, dah, dum, de, dum ... But I can't quite get it. So frustrating!

Never fear, your phone can recognize the music for you: Just hold your handset up to the speaker for 10 seconds, wait a beat, and then your phone displays the song title, artist, and even album that you are listening to. It can also e-mail you the information to look up later. Or you can buy and download songs immediately.

This magic is V CAST Song ID from Verizon Wireless -- released as a free download in mid-May for selected V CAST Music-enabled phones.



(The initial phones are the LG Chocolate, enV, VX8700, and VX9400, and the Samsung SCH-u620.)

The music is identified by matching a "fingerprint" from a recorded clip against a database of songs. The Song ID application on the phone prompts you to hold the handset near a music source for ten seconds (like the car radio or stereo speaker), and then uploads it to be matched. In another ten seconds or so the result is sent back to the phone to display the song information.

Note that Song ID matches against a database of specific pre-recorded songs, performed by a specific artist, and released on a specific album. You can't hum a tune or sing in the shower and expect it to find a match.

Of course, Verizon's motivation for making this cool application available for free is to encourage you to then go ahead and buy and download the music.

You can go back to your PC, check your e-mail, and buy songs at the V CAST Music Store for 99 cents each -- and then download them to your phone.

Or for immediate gratification, you can buy a full-track download directly on the phone for $1.99 per song -- the double price also includes the option to download a second full-quality version of the song from the V CAST Music store on your PC.



More below on trying out Song ID in the car and in the office.



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October 6, 2007

LG Portable Navigator

GPS has gone portable, with handheld units like the LG LN735 Portable Navigator. It's not quite pocket size at 4.3 x 3.2 x 0.7 inches and 1/3 pounds, but it's easy to carry and easy to fit in the car, even when loaded up for a trip. We tried it out for the past few months traveling the eastern seaboard, through New England, on the streets of Boston, and winding our way along the shoreline of Cape Cod.


You should expect today's GPS navigators to work well -- Start up quickly (in under a minute or so), stay on track, and recompute routes quickly when needed (some 10's of seconds). It's the interface that makes these units -- both while driving, and when setting up and entering new destinations -- with live map guidance displays for the driver, plus added options for the passenger, including review of turn-by-turn directions.

The LG has a good driving interface on the 3 1/2 inch touchscreen display, with options for 2D (overhead) and 3D maps (perspective), plus night mode with a darker display (there's also a brightness control in the menus). The unit speaks voice prompts for upcoming turns (in multiple languages), with options to name the road (typically quite well even for odd names), and/or the highway number.

Even when we were traveling on known routes, it was still helpful to have the unit on to remind up of an upcoming highway exit, just in case we were too involved in the audio book and not paying attention to signs. The display counting down miles to the next turn also helped pace long drives.

The LG also can be used as a music player (MP3, WMA) and photo viewer (JPEG, BMP), especially with an optional SD card. You can just drag and drop media files though the USB connection using Microsoft ActiveSync. LG also includes PC Portal software to install new and updated maps, back up settings, and import your own custom favorites.

The LG LN735 Portable Navigator is available for around $249. There's also a less-expensive LN730 with fewer points of interest, and an enhanced LN740 with a larger 4 inch display and longer battery life (6 vs. 4 hours).

See the Mobile Communications Gallery, under Mobile Navigation Systems for details and comparisons.

(Compare the Verizon VZ Navigator service for mobile phones.)

    Find the LG LN735 Portable Navigator on Amazon.com

More on navigating below ...



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November 13, 2007

Live TV on Your Mobile Phone - Verizon V CAST Mobile TV

Did you think broadcast TV was going away, replaced by subscriptions to hundreds of channels of cable service, and then Internet TV? But broadcast is coming back, not only with digital TV, but also with like TV service to mobile phones.

You already can get popular TV channels with the Sprint TV service, and subscribe direct from MobiTV to watch 30-some live TV channels on mobile phones or PDAs (and on your computer).

But you can imagine that the cellular carriers are not enthused about the idea of having their data networks swamped by masses of mobile subscribers continuously streaming different video content. The answer, of course, is to replace our phones with yet another service to bring real live TV, broadcast directly to your phone like the good old days of TVs with antennas.


One was to avoid this whole problem is to offer content only in chunks, with time outs from streaming for the network as you select each clip to play. This is how you use the Apple iPhone to play clips from YouTube.

It's also the model for the Verizon Wireless V CAST Video service, which offers recent edited highlights of news, sports, popular shows (like the Daily Show from Comedy Central), and music concerts. Think of clips for a newscast or sports wrap-up show -- not live TV, but recent updates.



But for real live TV, a better answer is to take the demands of continuous streaming off the cellular data network, and move to a broadcast model for the mass-market content. All this requires is deploying a parallel network on cellular towers that can broadcast a core group of the same 20-some popular channels live, to be received as digital TV by all mobile subscribers simultaneously. With most popular content off the standard cellular data service, it's still available for our own personal uses and more niche content.

The two formats driving this idea are QUALCOMM MediaFLO, particularly in the U.S., and DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcast-Handheld), particularly overseas.

Verizon Wireless has introduced the MediaFLO service in the U.S. as V CAST Mobile TV (press release), launched in major U.S. markets this year. The service currently includes eight channels of scheduled live content and other programming for mass audiences (CBS, Fox, NBC, MSNBC News, Comedy Central, ESPN, MTV, Nickelodeon).

The Mobile TV service runs on the LG VX9400 phone, with a swing bar design -- a large color LCD screen (~ 2 1/4") that swivels for landscape TV viewing.



I tried out the Verizon Mobile TV service in New York City recently (it's not available in central New Jersey yet), and got good reception around the city. The signal started up relatively quickly (10 seconds or so), and channel changes took a few seconds, equivalent to today's digital TVs. The picture was great on the LG VX9400, and particularly when swiveled to landscape mode many of the text crawls at the bottom of the screen were quite readable, including on news channels and ESPN poker broadcasts.

The TV reception did fail inside a building near Battery Park at the bottom of Manhattan, though it did come in intermittently when standing by the outside windows. And there was no reception on a train under Penn Station -- even though the Verizon 1X and EV-DO signals are still quite strong there. (It would be nice to have a signal strength meter for the broadcast signal as well.) But when the train emerged out of the tunnel on the New Jersey side, the TV signal ran great almost all the way to Newark.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for details and related products.

    Find the Verizon Wireless / LG VX9400 on Amazon.com

November 18, 2007

Wi-Ex zBoost Cell Phone Signal Boosters

   (with Josh Page)

Stressed by lost calls on your mobile phone? Tired of searching along windows or by open doors for even one precious bar of cellular signal? Instead of you having to go find the signal, bring the signal indoors to you with the Wi-Ex zBoost line of cell phone signal boosters.

These replicate the cell signal from outdoors to indoors through a window attachment that is wired to an indoor antenna, giving you multiple bars of signal in what was previously a dead area.

The Wi-Ex (Wireless Extenders) zBoost product line includes models for different locations (home, car, office), and single and dual-band models for the two main cellular bands.

We tried out the zBoost zPersonal (zP), which creates a cell zone of 4 to 6 feet radius, for a single user (one call at a time), and works with both cellular bands ($169).

The product has two components: the zBoost box (~5 x 4 x 1 1/4 in.) and a small antenna (6 1/4"), connected by a thin 20 foot cable.


To set up the unit, find a window with at least one bar of cellular signal, and attach the zBoost box with the two suction cups. Then run the antenna to the center of your workspace -- It needs to be at least 10 feet from the main console (or else a red light blinks to tell you to move them further apart). Finally, plug in the main unit.

We tested the zBoost zPersonal in the basement, where runs of old plumbing, pipes, and concrete walls result in very limited service. Starting with only one to two bars on an AT&T (Cingular) phone, within ten seconds the zBoost jumped the signal to an amazing six bars (better then the reception on the ground floor).

We also saw good results with the zBoost in other rooms and floors and buildings, turning marginal signals into strong reception. This also can help extend the battery life of phones, as they no longer have to struggle to stay connected.

The zBoost products support one or both of the two main cellular bands used by phones for the four major carriers (but not Nextel):
- 800 MHz Cellular - typically for Verizon and AT&T (Cingular) service - (824 – 896 MHz)
- 1900 MHz PCS - typically for Sprint and T-Mobile service (1850 – 1990 MHz)

Beyond the zBoost Personal, other Wi-Ex products include:
- zBoost Home / Office ($299) is available for either 800 MHz Cellular or 1900 MHz PCS, with coverage up to 2500 sq. ft., and supports multiple phones simultaneously
- zBoost Dual Band ($399) extends coverage up to 3,000 sq. ft.
- zBoost for the Car ($299) is also dual-band

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more details.

    Find the Wi-Ex zBoost zPersonal on Amazon.com

February 25, 2008

Verizon Wireless Coupe - Simple Cell Phone

Smartphones are hot, combining phone and email and Web and media -- There's the excitement for the Apple iPhone, addiction to the RIM BlackBerry, patient fans of the Palm Treo, and the new promise of the Google phone. And regular cell phones are going multimedia, with music, video, and now TV phones.

But some people don't need all that stuff, and instead just want a straightforward phone for making occasional calls. All you need could be a simple, easier to use phone, avoiding the zillions of tiny buttons and confusing icons crowded on a small display. But at the same time, you don't want a dumbed-down ugly phone either.

The Verizon Wireless Coupe mobile phone targets this sweet spot of a simple but useful phone. It's a flip phone, with slightly larger keys and a more readable display, plus extra dedicated buttons for 911 and other important numbers.

The phone itself fits in your palm -- small but not tiny. There's a small monochrome display on the front that displays the time, date, signal strength, and battery power. It lights up when you open the phone, or to show the number of an incoming call.


Flip open the phone to see the larger main display, in color. As welcome help to old (or young) eyes, the text on the display is a bit larger than other phones, the keys are a bit larger, and even the print in the Getting Started and User Guide documentation is larger. None of this is blatantly oversize, but the keys and text are all a bit larger and therefore easier to read and use.

Simplified interface ...



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February 26, 2008

Verizon Wireless / LG Voyager Multimedia Smartphone

While the Verizon Coupe is a simple phone for people who don't need fancy features (see previous post), the Verizon Wireless / LG Voyager Multimedia Smartphone is the opposite: a phone for people who revel in messaging, music, and multimedia.

The Voyager (technically the LG VX10000) can be used in two ways: keep it closed as a flat phone with a colorful vertical touch screen, or open it to reveal a horizontal screen with a full keyboard. And it has a 2 megapixel autofocus camera and a microSD memory expansion port.

The outer display provides colorful icons for full access with to the main menu, shortcut menu, phone calling with touch-screen keypad, and music and video playback. When you tap the screen, the "VibeTouch" technology provides tactile feedback by vibrating briefly.



The inner display in landscape orientation is better for interactive activities like text messaging (with the keyboard) and Web browsing over Verizon's high-speed EV-DO wireless broadband service.


The inner display is not a touch screen -- you use cursor keys on the keyboard to navigate. Both screens are 2.81 inch color LCDs, 400 x 240 resolution.

The Voyager as a media player ...



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June 12, 2008

WINLAB and the Future of Wireless

I've seen big computer rooms, and grids of mesh computers, but I'd never seen 400 computers hanging from the ceiling until I visited the WINLAB facility in North Brunswick, New Jersey.


WINLAB, the Wireless Information Network Laboratory, is an industry-university cooperative research center for wireless networking, founded at Rutgers University in 1989. It's designed as an international resource for academics, industry, and government to experiment with new wireless networking technology.

This room of dangling PCs is the ORBIT Lab -- the Open-Access Research Testbed for Wireless Networks. The 80 by 70 foot room has a 20 by 20 array of PCs, spaced 1 meter apart. Each node is a stand-alone Linux PC with a 1 GHz processor, 512 MB of RAM, 20 GB of local disk, two 100BaseT Ethernet ports, and two 802.11 a/b/g cards (plus some additional connections including Bluetooth).

ORBIT was founded in 2003 with funding by the NSF as a network research testbed, so researchers could perform wireless experiments that required non-trivial equipment -- and which were repeatable and comparable.

Plus, the facility is accessible over the Internet -- Researchers can log in remotely, load up the nodes with their own custom test software (down to low-level protocol drivers), conduct the experiment, and then extract the data for off-line analysis. The facility has around 95 percent usage from some 200 user groups worldwide, and is booted about 30 to 40 times a day.

(A similar collaborative networking project at Princeton University, PlanetLab, has some 866 nodes at 458 sites spread across the globe. But while PlanetLab is focused on long-running Internet-based services, ORBIT works with much shorter timescales: packet collisions on the scale of milliseconds.)

Beyond ORBIT, WINLAB has a broad research agenda for next-gen ("4G") wireless, including sensor networks of small devices, vehicular networks between moving traffic, "Ad-hoc" networks ("infrastructure-less,"), wireless security, and Smart Radios ("cognitive radio"), software-defined radio systems that can reconfigure to communicate on whatever spectrum is available, and with whatever protocol is required (already being integrated into the ORBIT testbed).

And -- It's just fascinating to be standing under 400 PCs as they suddenly power on and start booting up -- because somebody in Australia wants to run a test.

See full article: WINLAB Looks to the Wireless Future

See also: Next-Generation Wireless: LTE & WiMAX

June 22, 2008

Verizon Wireless XV6900 / HTC Touch Smartphone

The Verizon Wireless XV6900, released earlier this year, is based on the HTC Touch design.

This is certainly a very nice design and interface built on the Microsoft Windows Mobile platform -- And the first smartphone that my 20-something female test panel has found seriously interesting.

But, it's still Windows Mobile 6 underneath, with a sometimes inconsistent and clunky interface still showing its desktop IT heritage -- including a Task Manager on your phone(!).


The first thing you notice with the XV6900 / Touch is the comfortable feel -- a clean white design, smooth curved edges, easy to fit in your palm, and mostly usable with your finger or even one-handed (3.95 oz., 4 x 2.4 x 0.6"). The interface is fully touch based, with only the navigation control button and Talk and End keys for the phone on the front. The 2.8" touchscreen display is 240 x 320, 64K colors.

The Touch interface replaces the default Windows Mobile home page, and is designed for easy fingertip navigation, without requiring pulling out the stylus. Tap along the middle of the screen to switch between the Home display (with large digital clock), Weather (downloaded for your desired location), Launcher (favorite applications), and Sound (quick silent / vibrate). Or use the other buttons to access the main applications including the Phone, Messages, Camera, Calendar, and Contacts.

But there's more: swipe your finger from bottom to top to display the 3-D Touch Cube interface, with the visual effect of a rotating 3-D cube to display other launcher pages that you can customize, if you prefer. When viewing photos, the Touch interface uses gestures to pan, rotate (half-circle), and zoom (full circle).

The interface also offers a profusion of options for text input -- a phone-like Touch Keypad for easy finger input, a full Keyboard with smaller keys best used with the stylus, and a Touch Keyboard with a QWERTY layout mapped on a 5 x 4 grid (tap multiple times like a phone keypad), and multiple handwriting Recognizers.

As a Windows Mobile smartphone, the XV6900 / Touch can sync and edit Microsoft Word and Excel documents and view PowerPoint and PDF files. Play clips with Windows Media Player and take photos and shoot videos with the 2 megapixel camera.

With Verizon's high-speed EV-DO data service, you can send text, picture, and video messages, or access the Internet to use Outlook E-mail or surf with Internet Explorer.

But using Windows Mobile also means clumsy desktop features squeezed onto a handheld -- like close boxes with a tiny "X" in the corner of the screen to exit dialogs. Or an incomplete setup when you first turn on the device, with confusing messages about running .EXE files and installing .XML and .CAB files (!). Or the astounding power off message: "Power will be tuned off, and you may lose data if you have not saved them" -- as if I should have saved my "datas" by burning a backup CD from the phone(?).

Just one more example: To view your photos, you rotate the unit on its side for the Camera Album, which switches the display to landscape mode, and then displays the photos full-screen the same way. But if you view your video clips in the Camera Album and then click to play one, the display switches to portrait mode to launch Windows Media Player, then back to landscape to play the video full-screen, then back to portrait and Media Player to replay the video -- and then you need to click the close box to get back to the Album in landscape mode. Yeesh!

But if you want a Windows Mobile smartphone, the XV6900 / Touch combines a nice physical design with the enhanced touchscreen interface.

The Verizon Wireless XV6900 / HTC Touch Smartphone is $299 online from Verizon, or even less with rebates.

See the Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones.

September 23, 2008

T-Mobile G1 - Google / Android Phone

Ta da! The T-Mobile G1 -- the first Google / Android phone was launched today at an event in New York (see video of the launch, especially the demo clips).

The G1 will be available in the U.S. on October 22 for only $179. It will requires a voice and data plan, with unlimited data and 400 messages for $25 a month, or with unlimited messages for $35.


This is Google's vision of the Android open smartphone platform (the Open Handset Alliance), realized in a handset designed by HTC, and coming to market first in the U.S., and then in the U.K. and Europe.

The G1 works with the 3.2" touch screen in the portrait orientation (there's also a trackball for one-handed operation). Then slide the screen up to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard so you can use it in landscape orientation for texting and e-mail.

It runs on T-Mobile's 3G wireless broadband network, rolling out over the rest of the year and into 2009. And it can seamlessly transition to open Wi-Fi networks for broadband access. In addition, it has a built-in GPS receiver for mapping, plus a digital compass and motion sensor.

In my limited hands-on time, the phone was comfortable and light (it's (5.57 oz. in plastic, not metal). The software worked cleanly and clearly, and the slide-out keyboard mode worked comfortably. The touch screen responded as expected for taps, dragging, swiping to scroll, and "long touch" for context menus. The trackball seemed usable for one-handed operation. However, some of the scroll bars were small to target, and some of the text (OK buttons) was smaller than needed.

The built-in software is obviously targeted to synching with and downloading from Google's online services -- there's no built-in synching to desktop data as with the Palm or Windows Mobile.

But the open platform holds the promise that these kinds of features will be forthcoming from third-party developers, and made available through the Android Market. Since this is intended as an open market, Google is relying on the community to distinguish the better applications through user ratings and comments. A T-Mobile staffer did say that applications will be required to disclose their capabilities (e.g., network, GPS) so that users know what they might do on the device, and this will be checked (automatically, by code inspection?).

See the T-Mobile press conference online, especially the Demo video at 19:00. As a bonus, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin dropped by at 43:00. Brin, as a computer geek, talked about the pleasure of being able to work on the phone -- his first application uses the motion sensor -- so that when you throw the phone in the air it can count the time it is airborne.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more details and specs on the G1 and Android, and comparisons to other smartphone devices.

More details ...



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September 28, 2008

Motorola Adventure V750 - Push to Talk

Yes, Verizon Wireless does Push to Talk too -- With the Motorola Adventure V750 phone you can have walkie-talkie direct communications with one person or a group, in a rugged flip phone design with a no-slip surface, meeting military specifications for conditions including shock, vibration, dust, and temperature.

Plus, the Adventure is a full-up multimedia phone, with speakerphone, 2 MP camera for photos and video, music player with play buttons when flipped closed, VCAST Music and Videos, and microSD slot for up to an additional 8 GB of storage.


It's fully connected, with Verizon's EV-DO Rev. A wireless broadband service, with Mobile email and Web. And it's location aware, with VZ Navigator for maps with turn-by-turn directions, Chaperone to locate a child's phone from the Internet or your cell phone, and Field Force Manager for businesses to locate and communicate with mobile field workers.

The Adventure is available for $169.99 with a two-year contract.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on cell phones.

LG Decoy - Detachable Bluetooth Headset

The LG Decoy from Verizon Wireless is a sexy slider phone with a 2 MP camera and full-up multimedia and wireless broadband features.

But the really interesting innovation is an integrated wireless Bluetooth headset that clips onto the back of the unit. The headset design is a thin slab that slips into a slot on the back of the phone, though it projects slightly, with the earpiece nesting in a deeper hole. It also charges while docked.


The headset tucks in the ear, and includes a power/call button and volume controls. The phone supports multiple Bluetooth connections, so you can connect to and switch between two devices.

The phone itself has a mirror-like front featuring a 2.2" display and dedicated navigation controls, including a joystick/button. Slide it open for the phone keypad.

The Decoy is a full-up multimedia phone, with speakerphone and voice commands, 2 MP camera for photos and video, music player, VCAST Music and Videos, and microSD slot for up to an additional 8 GB of storage.

It's fully connected, with Verizon's EV-DO Rev. A wireless broadband service, with Mobile email and Web, plus VZ Navigator for maps with directions, and Chaperone to locate a child's phone.

The Decoy is available for $199.99 with a two-year contract.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on cell phones.

    Find the LG Decoy on Amazon.com

LG Chocolate 3 - Music Phone

The LG Chocolate has been a popular line of multimedia phones, and now Verizon Wireless has the next version -- the LG Chocolate 3, redesigned as a slim flip phone with outside screen and navigation controls for multimedia playback.

The simplified interface for the external screen offers direct control for music playback, photo viewing, shooting with the camera, plus e-mail and calendar. Then flip open for the larger internal screen and phone keypad.


For more music enjoyment, the Chocolate 3 also includes a FM transmitter to play music through your car stereo, and 1 GB of built-in memory (for up to 250 songs), plus microSD card expandability of up to 8 GB.

It's loaded with the Verizon multimedia and wireless broadband services, including accessing the V CAST Music library of more than 3 million songs.

And it works well with the Polaroid PoGo Instant Mobile Photo Printer (see previous post) to print copies of your photos in one minute.

The LG Chocolate 3 is available for $179.99 with a two-year contract.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on cell phones.

    Find the LG Chocolate 3 on Amazon.com

October 1, 2008

Satellite Phones for Remote Regions

Mobile phones are a modern miracle, as we have grown accustomed to connecting to a cell tower anywhere around the globe. But there still are remote regions where travelers need to rely on satellite phones to keep in touch.

Yes, satellite phones still seem James Bond-ish, but they have become affordable and practical -- phones are available for around $500 to $1200, calling plans can fall under $1 a minute, and handsets weigh from 13 ounces down to only 4 1/2 ounces.


Currently, Iridium is the only mobile satellite service that offers full coverage around the globe, pole to pole, using its constellation of 66 low-earth orbiting satellites.

Regional services like Thuraya use a handful of satellites parked in geosynchronous orbit over specific regions of the globe. It offers consumer-friendly (but less rugged) small and light handsets, some also with GSM cellular service.

My experience with the Iridium phone was very good. It successfully connected even walking under light foliage and in the car near the window. And it worked fine from my front porch during a thunderstorm. Calls connected quickly (within a few seconds), the voice quality was fine, and the round-trip delay through the satellite was very short.

Today's satellite phones also have familiar features from mobile phones -- including phone book, voice mail, call forwarding, hands-free, and even ring tones. Callers dial your number as an international call. And you can send and receive text messages and e-mail.

For a remote data connection, you can hook a satellite phone to your computer with a data kit. However, the bandwidth is very low -- around 9.6 Kbps for Iridium. Laptop-sized data terminals like the Immarsat BGAN offer more broadband-like data rates up to 492 Kbps, while also providing simultaneous voice calls.

See my full article on Satellite Phones, for more on satellite phone carriers, products, and services.

See my article, Trip Tech: Far and Away, in the Oct. 2008 issue of Condé Nast Traveler for summaries of these products.

Satellite Rescue Beacons: Call for Help

While you can use a satellite phone (see previous post) to keep in touch when travelling in remote areas, calling to chat does defeat the whole idea of getting away.

Especially for shorter less rugged trips, the SPOT Satellite Messenger is an inexpensive beacon that can signal your status while travelling. Press the OK or Help buttons to send a pre-determined message to a pre-selected e-mail and text message list. Or press the 911 button in a serious emergency to call out search and rescue. The transmitted message also includes your GPS coordinates.


The basic SPOT device costs $149, and requires an annual service plan of $99 a year to forward messages. Add a $49 per year Tracking option that updates your location on a shared Google Maps website. There's also a a $7.95 per year private Search and Rescue option that manages the rescue process when official emergency services are not able to respond fast enough.

The SPOT unit is palm-size and relatively lightweight (7.4 oz.), and is designed to be drop-resistant, waterproof, and to float. My SPOT worked fine in most circumstances. I received text and e-mail messages within 5 to 10 minutes of pressing the buttons, but received only 2 to 4 of the 6 messages per hour sent during a hike through light woods, or when clipped to my car's sun visor.

The SPOT is a fun and useful product at the price for some get-aways, but if you're concerned about needing to be able to call for help in an serious emergency, you can carry a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) instead. PLBs have only one function -- to broadcast a distress signal that will activate the international Search and Rescue (SAR) system to respond to a life-threatening emergency, using the same international satellite system used for marine and aircraft distress beacons to coordinates through national authorities to deploy and coordinate search and rescue.

PLBs from companies including ACR Electronics are available from outdoor and sporting supply retailers for around $500 to $700, or you can rent for around $70 a week. There are no additional costs or annual subscription fees.

PLBs typically are rugged and waterproof, and transmit the signal for 20 to 40 hours. The batteries typically have a 5 year replacement cycle.

Just don't press the big red button by accident -- unless you have a real emergency and need to call out the rescue helicopters.


See my full article on Satellite Rescue Beacons, for more on these products and services.

See my article, Trip Tech: Far and Away, in the Oct. 2008 issue of Condé Nast Traveler for summaries of these products.

    Find the ACR TerraFix PLB and ACR MicroFix PLB
    and SPOT Satellite Messenger on Amazon.com

October 3, 2008

Bluetooth Accessories for Hands-Free and Sharing

Cell phones have become our ever-present comfort, not only carrying our contact list to stay in touch, but also storing our favorite music to soothe the journey.

And with Bluetooth wireless communications, it's really easy to connect to useful accessories to make more efficient use of the phone, or to share the experience.

Here are three examples of some of your options, courtesy of the Verizon Wireless collection of Bluetooth Accessories:


Noise-Reduction Headset -- Jawbone II

You may already have a wireless Bluetooth headset for chatting on the go. But today's noise reduction technology makes conversations much more pleasant with devices like the second-generation Jawbone II Bluetooth headset ($129)


The Jawbone provides standout voice clarity even in ridiculously noisy environments (see previous post).

    Find the Aliph Jawbone II headset on Amazon.com
    or from Verizon Wireless


In-Car Music & Hands-Free FM Transmitter -- Venturi Mini

Your car has become a great place to listen to music, with in-car entertainment systems with great speakers, and digital radios with informative displays. So until Bluetooth comes to cars, devices like the Venturi Mini FM transmitter ($129) can bridge the gap to your portable devices.


The Mini connects to your MP3 player to play music on the car speaker system (through the FM transmitter), and can switch to your cell phone as a hands-free device (with integrated microphone). With support in your devices, you also can control music playback from the Mini, search your contact list, and even display caller information on your car's digital radio display. It also has connectors for audio in (for direct connect from non-Bluetooth players) and output (for headphones) -- plus a bonus USB connector for charging your devices.

    Find the Venturi Mini FM transmitter on Amazon.com
    or from Verizon Wireless


Bluetooth Speakers -- Altec Lansing SoundBlade

A wireless headset is great for listening privately, and an in-car transmitter lets you talk hands-free and share your music on the go, but what about sharing with a group? The next step is a portable wireless speaker unit like the Altec Lansing SoundBlade stereo Bluetooth speakers ($129).


These are dual 2” full-range high output stereo speakers, with stereo headset support (Bluetooth A2DP) for playing music from mobile phones, laptops, and some MP3 players, plus two-way remote control support (AVRCP) for adjusting volume and forward/back from the speaker unit. Even better, it's also a wireless speakerphone for hands-free calling, with an echo-canceling microphone and voice-activated dialing.

    Find the Altec Lansing SoundBlade speakers on Amazon
    or from Verizon Wireless


See my Audio Accessories Gallery for details and related products

December 9, 2008

The Multimedia BlackBerry Storm

The new BlackBerry Storm from Verizon Wireless is a heretical abomination, abandoning the dedicated "crackberry" keyboard that stressed the thumbs of communications-obsessed executives in favor of focusing on multimedia features.

Instead of a physical keyboard, the Storm has a large 3 1/4 inch screen that covers the front surface of the device, with a new "clickable" touch-screen design -- You actually feel the screen depressing and releasing like a keyboard, with a subtle "click" sound.


So does how well does it work? Well, it's clear that David Pogue was not thrilled with the Storm, calling it "... by far the worst product Research in Motion has ever produced. I had problems with its concept, problems with its clicky touch screen, problems with its speed, and above all, problems with bugs." Ouch!

Yes, the software is sluggish, so you wait for seconds for it to switch from portrait to landscape orientation. And the clickable touch-screen can be aggravating, as you can touch gently to scroll and pan and zoom, but then need to remember to press extra hard to click icons and keys. Typing on a virtual keyboard with tiny keys is still troublesome: the screen highlights each key as you touch it, but you then still need to press firmly to actually enter it, and it's so easy to make mistakes as your larger fingertip to roll off to an adjacent key.

It's also interesting to see how the BlackBerry interface is mapped on a touch screen. For example, to save screen real estate it omits window titles to identify what you are doing, and removes OK and Cancel buttons in dialogs -- so you need to move down to the keyboard to use the Enter key to confirm, or move further to use the physical Escape (Back) key to cancel.

The bottom line is that the BlackBerry Storm is an interesting effort to create a multimedia smartphone by moving the BlackBerry interface to a touch-screen device. While it's not the answer for rabid "crackberry" communicators, it does allow other functions like Web browsing and certainly media playback to run better on the larger screen. As on the iPhone, touch-typing on the small virtual keyboard can be difficult, and it's not clear that the new "clickable" display is the answer.

So you should regard the Storm as a version 1 product with improvements to come, suitable for early adopters and technology enthusiasts, and not really for the broader mass market.


(To check for software upgrades on the Storm, use Options > Adv Options > Wireless Upgrade. On my unit, the 14 MB download for version 4.7.0.75 completed in around 7 minutes, and the upgrade process then took about half an hour.)

See full article: Much Ado: The BlackBerry Storm from Verizon Wireless

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones.

    Find the Verizon BlackBerry Storm on Amazon.com

December 11, 2008

The T-Mobile G1 / Google Android Smartphone

The T-Mobile G1 smartphone is the first commercial implementation of the Google Android design (see previous post).

The Android platform is being developed by the Open Handset Alliance -- which just announced the addition of 14 new members interested in deploying new Android devices, contributing to the Android Open Source software project, or providing other support.


The G1 is an impressive first product, with solid hardware and interface -- but it's not for everybody. It's not intended as a full phone / PDA / Internet / multimedia device. And it doesn't sync to desktop data (like Outlook) or desktop media (like iTunes). Instead, it's clearly focused on people who live on the go, and on the Internet, accessing Gmail and Google's suite of online services from whatever system is available.

The G1's interface is clean and responsive, designed with subtle touches to help you understand what you can do in the current context. For example, the Home screen displays a tab to slide out and show all the available applications, then just click and drag favorites to the Home screen. Zoom controls automatically appear when you touch the screen in the Browser or photo viewer. And the background dims and goes out of focus behind a pop-up dialog.

Online access is improved by the built-in Wi-Fi wireless networking, which connected quickly and easily at sites like the Princeton Public Library and on the Princeton University campus to browse the Web or play YouTube clips with minimal delay.

The Google-centered focus of the G1 is shown when you first power up, as it asks you to enter your Google account information (or offers to create an account for you). This then is the profile for your phone, used by the built-in Gmail application. But you only can have one such profile, which would be an issue for people with multiple online identities.

The T-Mobile G1 is a quite solid first implementation of the Android platform. Yes, it has glaring omissions as a PDA, and huge gaps in its multimedia features (including no video support). But if you live in the Google cloud online, then this already is close to an ideal device for you. The rest of us will have to wait for other Android products, and see how Google and the developer community add new applications in the Android Market to shake out this device for more conventional use with desktop systems.

See full article: Living in the Online Cloud: The T-Mobile G1 / Google Android Smartphone

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones.

January 13, 2009

LG's Dick Tracy Watch Phone

I'm not sure it's practical, but it sure is fun -- the LG Touch Watch Phone that brings Chester Gould's vision of the Dick Tracy 2-Way Wrist Radio to life.

At CES, LG demoed a working prototype of the Watch Phone at its press conference, and had more models under glass in its booth, in a variety of colors. The watch is actually not so big (a little more than a 1/2 inch thick, and 3 ounces) -- today's watches for men are substantial fashion statements anyway -- although I'm not sure of the market for the version in pink...

The Watch Phone starts as a digital watch, with a 1.4" display. But it's also a speaker phone -- lift your arm closer to your mouth and gab away, or use a wireless Bluetooth headset to talk in a less ostentatious manner. It supports voice dialing, and text to speech to read text messages.

And it's a MP3 player, so you can play music from the speaker or through your headset. Plus, there's a tiny camera hidden in a corner of the face, so you can use it as for video phone calls, and to take photos. And it's an organizer, with phonebook and scheduler.

There's not much detail on the interface. At the booth, it was described as having three dedicated phone buttons (Send, End, Clear), so you use the touch screen for other functions -- dialing with an on-screen keypad and adjusting volume with an on-screen slider. The middle button also acts as a scroll wheel.

The initial product will be released in Europe in the second half of 2009, as a GSM quad-band "global phone" with HSDPA for high-speed data and video. No news on price or carrier or release in the U.S.

See Engadget hands-on video

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones.

February 2, 2009

Palm Pre Preview

The unveiling of the Palm Pre phone at CES in January was big news, for good reason -- It's an interesting combination of new ideas in the design of a connected PDA phone.

Of course, the announcement was just a preview of the product, which is due to be released in the first half of this year. Palm was careful to demonstrate only certain functions, and refused to discuss or demo other features, or even to allow hands-on access by others.

But what Palm did demonstrate included several interesting new refinements for a connected portable PDA / phone, based on a clear design approach that holds a lot of promise if it can deliver the full product.

In particular, the Pre's interface is designed to make it easy to move between multiple activities. And its core applications are designed to understand and manage information from multiple sources, including desktop (Outlook) and online (Google, Facebook).

See full article: Palm Pre Preview

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones.

February 15, 2009

Verizon Wireless Friends & Family Plan

Verizon Wireless has announced its own Friends & Family plan -- a calling group of phone numbers that do not count against your plan minutes. These can be landline phones, or (gasp) wireless numbers on other carriers.

The details:

If you have a Nationwide Single Line plan with 900 or more minutes (starting at $59.99 monthly), you can select up to 5 numbers for the Friends & Family plan.

Or if you have a Nationwide Family SharePlan with 1,400 or more minutes (starting at $89.99 monthly), you can select up to 10 Friends & Family numbers to share among the plan members.

Current Verizon Wireless customers can visit My Verizon to check their eligibility for Friends & Family.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on wireless phones and services.

April 23, 2009

Samsung Flipshot - Camera Phone Transformer

You probably have a digital camera for taking pictures at official events -- family gatherings, vacation trips -- but more and more we're using the camera in our mobile phones to shoot whenever the whim or the situation catches us. After all, there are some 2 1/2 billion (with a "B") mobile phones worldwide, and over a billion more being sold each year, so that's a lot of opportunities for camera phones.

But camera phones are a compromise for picture taking, typically with limited resolution, lower-quality fixed lenses (no focus, no zoom), no flash, and without all those great automatic features to help take better shots, for example face recognition to adjust focus and exposure.

There's only so much photo features that you can squeeze into a tiny cell phone, but each new product manages to cram more in. The Samsung Omnia smartphone from Verizon Wireless, for example, has a 5 megapixel camera, which is a step up from the 2 to 3 MP found on other devices, including the iPhone.

However, phones still are designed for their primary function, and are clumsy to use for taking photos, which is why the Samsung Flipshot from Verizon Wireless (SCH-u900) is such an interesting design.

The phone starts as a standard clamshell design, closed up with a smaller display on the one side and a substantial lens with 3 PM camera on the other. It flips open to access the keypad and larger 2.2 inch inside display. But then you can twist the display around 180 degrees and close up the phone again -- So now you have something much closer to a digital camera, with the large display on the back, the lens on the front, and controls along the top.

The Flipshot also supports camera modes including scenes (landscape, night, macro), multi-shot (panoramas), color effects, and self timer. And it has video out though a separate accessory to display on a TV or monitor.

It has has stereo Bluetooth wireless, expansion microSD memory card slot, and
It's not too tiny at 3.76 x 1.83 x .73 inches and 3.88 ounces. The Flipshot is available from Verizon for $99 with service plan and online discount.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on mobile phones.

    Find the Samsung Flipshot on Amazon.com

April 24, 2009

Windows Mobile Touch Smartphones -- Verizon Wireless Samsung Omnia and HTC Touch Pro

There are clear differences in the basic philosophy behind the different smartphones on the market. All now are multi-purpose communications devices, PDAs, and media players -- with phone and e-mail connectivity, contacts and calendar synching, and music and video entertainment. But the differences are also sharp: to greatly simplify, the Apple iPhone is about synching with your desktop iTunes library, the Google Android phone is about synching with the online cloud, the Blackberry is about enterprise communications, and Palm bridges the gap between personal and business.

In each of these cases, the form of the phone follows its function, both in its physical design and in the software interface that runs on the phone. The Apple iPhone is an integrated whole, and the Google Android phone and the Blackberry really are defined by the interface, no matter what hardware it happens to run on.

But what about Windows Mobile phones? These are amorphous -- How do you summarize the key user benefit when "a phone what runs Microsoft Windows" is the defining characteristic? Especially when these other phones work fine with Windows PCs, to interchange e-mail and Microsoft document formats.

So Windows Mobile phones from different manufacturers and carriers end up competing among themselves as well, seeking to differentiate not only in terms of the hardware design, but also by layering a custom user friendly interface on top of Windows Mobile.

Two new smartphones from Verizon Wireless show this design approach at work with a touch screen and custom enhanced interface. Both are built on Windows Mobile 6.1, with the Office Mobile Suite (i.e., Microsoft Office Word, Excel, and PowerPoint (for viewing only) Mobile), plus Adobe Reader LE PDF viewer, and ZIP file viewing/create.

They have cameras for photo/video capture, and media playback for music and video. Both also include the Opera Mobile Browser for HTML Web browsing, and built-in Wi-Fi for fast Internet access for e-mail and surfing at wireless hotspots. And they have a microSD card slot to add up to 16 GB of external memory.

The Verizon Wireless Samsung Omnia (SCH-i910) has a large 3.2 inch touchscreen display that fills most of the font of the unit, at 240 x 480 resolution.

As a multimedia device, the Omnia features a higher-res 5.0 megapixel camera, has FM radio, and support video out to a TV display.

The home screen uses the Samsung TouchWiz interface, with customizable widgets along the left column that you can drag-and-drop as favorites on the virtual desktop. These display information and status, and then you can tap to launch the main Windows Mobile applications. It also has haptic feedback -- vibration to confirm user inputs.

The Samsung Omnia is 4.41 x 2.24 x 0.52 inches and 4.34 ounces. It's available from Verizon Wireless for $269, or $199 with service plan.

The Verizon Wireless HTC Touch Pro (XV6850) is the next generation of the HTC Touch (XV6900), which used a vertical design like the Omnia, and the iPhone. The Touch Pro has a significantly different design, with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard (like the T-Mobile G1 / Google Android phone, also from HTC, and the upcoming next-generation Palm Pre). It's clearly aimed to people who are going to be doing more texting and e-mail.

The Touch Pro 2.8 inch display is full 480 x 640 VGA resolution, and works in portrait and landscape orientation, for working though menus, browsing the Web, or viewing videos. The main screen works with the HTC TouchFLO "3D" interface -- drag your finger or stylus across the icons at the bottom of the screen, or switch between functions by swiping across the face of the device or pressing left or right on the navigation pad.

It also includes a 3.2 MP camera, with flash and auto-focus.

The HTC Touch Pro is 4.17 x 2.04 x 0.71 inches (with the smaller screen but thicker keyboard), and weighs 4.94 ounces. It's available from Verizon Wireless for $419, or $349 with service plan.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on mobile phones and smartphones.

Find the Verizon Wireless Samsung Omnia
and HTC Touch Pro on Amazon.com

June 20, 2009

Smartphone Potpourri: Apple iPhone and Palm Pre

The new smartphones are here -- the new Apple iPhone and Palm Pre are finally ready for action.

The new Apple iPhone 3G S provides up to 2X performance improvement, plus several long-awaited features found in competitive products, including a 3 megapixel camera with autofocus (was 2 MP), video recording (was photos only), and hands free voice control (as in mobile phones).

Apple also released the iPhone OS 3.0 software, again with much-requested features including cut & paste (finally), MMS multimedia messaging, Spotlight Search, landscape keyboard, and a Find My iPhone feature for lost phones (via MobileMe) with a Remote Wipe self-destruct option.


The iPhone 3G S is available from AT&T with 16 GB for $199, and 32 GB for $299. Since iPhones are sold at discounted prices with a service plan, AT&T is charging higher prices for recent purchasers to upgrade. Apple also dramatically reduced the iPhone 3G to $99 with 8 GB (the original iPhone from two years ago was $599 for 8 GB).

And the Palm Pre is now out, with some interesting new ideas in the design of a smartphone interface, including the "Activity Card" interface to flip easily between multiple tasks, and integrated views combining from multiple sources for contacts, calendar, e-mail, and messaging.

The Palm Pre is available from Sprint for $199.99 with a two-year agreement and $100 mail-in rebate.



See Gizmodo's Smartphone Buyer's Guide: The Best of the Best, with helpful charts comparing hardware, software, and costs for the iPhone 3G, iPhone 3G S, Palm Pre, HTC Magic (expected T-Mobile G2), and BlackBerry Storm.

See full article: Apple iPhone: Product Summary
See full article: Palm Pre: Product Summary

Also see my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones


September 11, 2009

Verizon Wireless MiFi -- Personal Mobile WiFi Hotspot

WiFi is great for letting you wirelessly connect to the Internet from your laptop -- as long as you are hanging in a coffee shop with a free WiFi hotspot, or within a wireless campus like a university or Bryant Park in New York City. Even better, you can get wireless broadband through the cellular phone network, so you can connect from anywhere you can get a mobile data signal.

Originally available as a PC card or USB dongle, cellular modems for broadband data service are available with some laptops, and built in to the new netbooks, which are smaller and less powerful, but focused on this kind of always-available online access. However, these do require a mobile data service subscription with a carrier like AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon -- in addition to your other mobile phone subscriptions.

The Verizon Wireless MiFi 2200 by Novatel combines these two ideas in one device that gives you the best of both worlds -- ubiquitous mobile broadband, shared as a personal WiFi hotspot. The MiFi is a cellular modem which connects to the Internet though the Verizon Wireless data service, and it's a WiFi router, supporting up to five simultaneous wireless connections, from your laptop and others in the area.

And the MiFi is tiny, around 3.5 x 2.3 x 0.4 inches, and just over 2 ounces. It has a removable rechargable battery for up to 4 hours of active service with one device, or 40 hours standby. You can then charge it from a USB port, or with the included USB wall charger.

But this is a full-up modem and router. For mobile data, the MiFi supports Verizon's fast EV-DO Rev. A service, with typical download speeds rated at 600 to 1.4 Mbps and uploads at 500 to 800 Kbps. And for WiFi, it supports WEP/WPA/WPA2-PSK security, with MAC/Port filtering, and VPN compatibility. Plus, you can use it as a modem without WiFi by connecting it directly to your computer via USB and running the VZAccess software. (Get the latest version at vzam.net).

The MiFi is available from Verizon Wireless (and other carriers like Sprint) for $99 with $50 rebate and two-year service plan. (Amazon lists it as free with a new service plan.)

Verizon offers mobile broadband data plans starting at $39.99 per month with a 250 MB monthly allowance (10 cents per MB overage), or $59.99 a month with a 5 GB monthly allowance (5 cents per MB overage). Or you can pay as you go with a DayPass plan at $15 for 24-hour access.

Note that there's no "unlimited" service offering for data. Sprint even warns that "Sprint reserves the right to limit throughput speeds or amount of data transferred" -- so don't plan to spend your days watching online videos.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on the MiFi and mobile data services.

    Find the Verizon Wireless MiFi on Amazon.com

November 1, 2009

The AT&T / HTC Pure is a Windows Phone

The HTC Pure from AT&T is one of the first smartphones based on the new Windows Mobile 6.5, now renamed Windows Phone.

The Pure is a compact handheld design, with most of the front taken up by the 3.2-inch touchscreen display. Its features include a 5 megapixel auto-focus camera, FM radio, built-in Wi-Fi for faster web access, GPS, and haptic feedback (vibration) on button presses. It's priced from AT&T at $149.

But the big news with the Pure is that it is one of the first phones built on the new Windows Phone platform, which is designed to extend the former Windows Mobile platform from business to consumers.

Windows Phone adds significant new services, including the new Windows Marketplace for Mobile with downloadable applications certified by Microsoft, and the My Phone online service to back up your phone's content and locate a missing phone (including Premium services to remotely force it to ring, locating it on a map, and locking or even wiping it).

Windows Phone is intended to be more touch friendly, to get away from the stylus with a redesigned user interface, and to make it easier to get to your important applications by bringing them up to the main Today / Home screen, instead of having them buried in menus. You can configure this with different interfaces -- TouchFLO 3D to quickly flip though the current status of your key applications, or the Windows Default interface with Zune-like scrolling though a list of common functions.

There's also a Start menu screen with icons of all the installed applications, for those who want the comfort of commonality with Windows (However, the Start menu is accessed from the top left of the screen, instead of the bottom left.) One of the four physical buttons below the screen also is a dedicated Windows key, which also brings up the Start screen (or press and hold the phone End call key for the Today / Home screen.

Unfortunately, the finger-friendly Today / Home screen interface is still only skin deep on top of the underlying Windows Mobile platform. Launch an application like Messages or Outlook E-mail, or set options in a dialog box, and you're back to really needing a stylus to access the small menus and controls -- much less to hit the tiny "x" application close box at the top right of the screen -- another remnant of the Windows heritage.

But if you're looking for a phone that works well with Windows, then Microsoft is clearly directed to your needs with the aptly named Windows Phone platform, and the AT&T / HTC Pure is a nice implementation, with a relatively big and responsive touch-screen display in a quite pocketable device. Just be aware that you'll still need the stylus (or a sharp fingernail edge) to fully navigate the interface.

See my full article, Windows Phone -- AT&T / HTC Pure, for more on the AT&T / HTC Pure phone and the Windows Phone platform.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones.

Find the AT&T / HTC Pure on Amazon.com

November 3, 2009

Zune HD -- The Other Microsoft Mobile, and More

While Microsoft is making a major push with its Windows Mobile (now Windows Phone) platform to make it more "finger-friendly" (see previous post), it also has been developing a second and different mobile device platform -- the Zune portable media player. Oddly, these are totally separate platforms, with different interfaces for playing digital media, different PC interfaces to synch files, and even different online stores for loading new content.

In comparison, the Apple iPhone is a clear extension of the iPod family and interface, sharing the common iTunes library and online store, and even with the iPod touch as a bridge device spanning the media player and smartphone markets.

The new Windows Mobile 6.5 interface did adapt a Zune-like design for its Home screen, but the underlying applications and dialogs are still based on Windows-like small menus and buttons.

Meanwhile, the evolution of the Zune line has lead to the recent introduction of the Zune HD, with an impressively attractive and smooth interface that flows cleanly through the entire product. (However, the Zune platform and Zune Marketplace online store are themselves incompatible with Microsoft's previous "Plays for Sure" platform for purchased music and associated players from companies like Creative and SanDisk.)

Microsoft also is playing catch-up in integrating portable and living room devices (as compared to Sony with the PlayStation Portable and PlayStation 3 -- see previous post). It will be extending the Zune service on the Xbox 360, with unified video catalogs on the Zune Marketplace and Xbox LIVE stores, so you can play purchased movies and TV shows across the PC, Zune HD, and Xbox.

So you may have thought that the Zune brand was for portable media players, but it's extending across Microsoft platforms to the desktop and set-top, just not yet to other mobile devices.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on media players

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones.

Find the Microsoft Zune HD on Amazon.com

More on the Zune HD and Interface ...



Continue reading "Zune HD -- The Other Microsoft Mobile, and More" »


November 4, 2009

Smartphone Market Update from Canalys

Even with all the excitement about new mobile phones, the smartphone market has been relatively stable over the past year, according to new Q3 figures from Canalys.

Even with the difficult economy, smartphones are still outperforming the overall mobile phone market, as global smart phone shipments grew 4% over the year, to 41.4 million units in Q3. Smartphones are also getting smarter, as the proportion of smartphones with touchscreens is 45% (vs. 31% last year), 80% have integrated GPS, and 75% have Wi-Fi.

The ranking of hardware vendors remained the same, with Nokia, RIM, Apple and HTC combined for over 80% of the market. In worldwide market share, Q3 2009 vs. Q3 2008,
Nokia leads with 40% (was 39%), RIM BlackBerry grew to 21% (was 15%), Apple iPhone is a new high of 18% (was 17%), and HTC has 5.3% (was 5.8%). Canalys reposts that the demand for iPhone 3GS far outstripped supply, and Apple’s satisfaction ratings were consistently highest of any vendor.

The ranking of operating system software was also relatively stable, with, the Google Android platform starting to make progress. Again in worldwide market share, Q3 2009 vs. Q3 2008, Symbian leads with 46% (was 47%), RIM BlackBerry is at 21% (was 15%), the Apple iPhone is at 18% (was 17%), with Microsoft Windows Mobile dropping to 8.8% (was 13.6%), and Google Android appearing at 3.5% (from just under 3% in Q2).

See the analysis at Apple Insider, including nice pie charts.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on the smartphone market.

November 6, 2009

The Droid is Here -- Android 2.0 from Verizon Wireless

The Verizon Wireless Droid smartphone from Motorola shipped today, featuring the new Google Android 2.0 updated mobile phone software platform. I've been working with the Droid for a week, and am definitely impressed.

The phone, and the software, are solid -- clean, functional, responsive, and quite usable.

The physical design of the Droid is a slider phone with a full QWERTY keyboard, large 3.7" high-res (854 x 480) display, and 5 megapixel camera with LED flash.

It features integrated Wi-Fi for fast communications and browsing, and integrated GPS for location-aware searching and mapping.

The Android 2.0 platform supports fully-integrated voice search and multi-tasking for non-intrusive background downloads.

The Android platform is focused on syncing to your life online in the Google cloud, with Gmail and Google Contacts and Calendar. Android 2.0 does extends to more traditional business uses (multiple accounts, Exchange support), enhances the interface for responsive navigation and searching, and bulks up the camera with auto-setup, flash, and video (though the camera response is a tad sluggish).

However, the Droid with Android 2.0 is missing common functionality that will be expected by people interested in switching from PDA phone platforms like Windows Mobile and Palm, much less the BlackBerry or Apple iPhone. Particularly glaring are the absence of out-of-the-box support for syncing desktop data and files (as in Outlook and Office documents), and the lack of unified support for managing and syncing media. There's no Tasks or Memos applications at all, and Word and Excel documents can only be viewed by using an otherwise-hidden Quickoffice feature when you download in the Browser app.

In addition, the media support is very plain, with no built-in syncing or unified browsing as we're used to from iTunes. There's a Music app with limited organization (no categories or genres), and a Gallery app for displaying photos and videos, but organized only by folder. The Camera app does shoot photos up to 5 MP (2592 x 1936, JPEG) and videos at 720 x 480, but there's no built-in Voice recorder.

And there's no built-in syncing mechanism to manage and transfer collections of documents or files with a computer -- although you can mount the Droid over USB as an external drive and just drag and drop files from your computer. You also can manually sideload via microSD card, or download from online, depending on the type of media and where you can find it. For example, you can use the built-in Amazon MP3 Store app to buy and download songs and albums. You also can sync with tools like Windows Media Player, and the Motorola Media Link PC software can sync music, playlists, photos, and videos, plus backup and upload online.

The Google Android Marketplace does somewhat addresses these issues, with a variety of third-party applications, from a variety of developers, at a variety of prices (and level of support). So you can cobble together some missing applications (Notepad, PDF viewer), but it's still a clumsy combination with different interfaces, inconsistent features, and without common integrated syncing.

Still, it's fun to search the Android Marketplace, and I've had good luck so far with high-rated yet free applications, like a Wi-Fi analyzer, GPS status, NYC subway map, Weather channel, and the fun Google Sky map that responds to your viewing position. It's still clumsy to search long lists of apps on the handheld device, and would be much more helpful to be able to search and sync online.

Bottom line: The Droid is very impressive -- and tempting. It's still focused on online cloud computing services, but it's getting closer to filling my needs for a full organizer / pocket digital assistant that fully syncs with my digital life on the desktop. It's priced at $199.99 from Verizon, with a new 2-year agreement and $100 rebate.

The Droid has almost no built-in help, so see the Verizon support site for a user's guide and step-by-step instructions.

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

November 16, 2009

Zune HD AV Dock - Portable HD Video

The new Microsoft Zune HD media player has a bright 3.3-inch touchscreen OLED display, ready to tilt into landscape mode for showing16:9 widescreen videos (see previous post).

And the "HD" in the name refers to the ability to store and play 720p HD videos. However, HD video doesn't do you much good if you're watching on the Zune's 480 x 272 display. So what's going on here?

The Zune HD is part of Microsoft's move to broaden the Zune brand from players into online entertainment, so you can buy movies and TV shows in HD, and enjoy them across the desktop (on Windows), set-top (Xbox 360), and portable devices (Zune HD). The first step is extending the Zune service to the Xbox 360, with unified video catalogs on the Zune Marketplace and Xbox LIVE stores.

But for the moment, you can turn your Zune HD into a HD video player with the Microsoft Zune HD AV Dock, available separately for $89 list ($70 street). Connect up to your HDTV with the HDMI cable, and watch 720p HD video in its full widescreen quality. The dock also includes optical digital audio output and an antenna for FM radio and HD radio reception, plus standard AV cables for display on standard-def TVs, and with other Zune models. There's also a wireless remote control.

The HD videos do take up significantly more storage than standard-def (and take longer to transfer and download) -- you can store some 10 hours HD video on a 32 GB Zune, but 48 hours of SD video. So stay with SD videos if you're only watching on the Zune itself, and then step up to HD with the AV Dock to watch your videos in their full quality.

Microsoft also offers a Zune Premium Car Pack for $79 that auto-seeks the best available FM frequency to play on your car radio, plus an audio out minijack, and a USB port to simultaneously charge a second device.

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on media players

Find the Microsoft Zune HD AV Dock on Amazon.com

November 18, 2009

Zune HD Adds Games and Firmware

The Microsoft Zune HD is a touchscreen media player with radio, wireless, Web browsing -- and downloadable applications which can take advantage of its 3.3" screen and graphics performance (see previous post).

Microsoft recently released a set of new games optimized for the Zune HD to give you a sense of the device's capabilities.

These feature a 3D point of view driving game for racing through city streets, which can connect wirelessly to play with others.


  • PGR: Ferrari Edition - Select your Ferrari cars and steer through the streets of London, Tokyo and New York with touch and tilt controls. Compete with three other players wirelessly.

  • Lucky Lanes Bowling - Chose different bowling alleys, bowlers and ball styles

  • Checkers - Classic game, play against the Zune or wirelessly with other player

  • Audiosurf Tilt - Ride a song visually on roller coaster track based on the shape, speed and mood of the music. Tilt to avoid speed bumps and collect colored boxes

  • Piano - Play portion of keyboard on touch-screen keys

You can review and download Zune apps using the Zune Desktop Software (under Marketplace / Apps) and then sync to the player, or download directly on the Zune HD device. Then run them from the Apps menu. However, apps do take a while to launch -- over five seconds, which is OK for a game but a bit painful for the Calculator app.

Microsoft also has release a new firmware 4.3 update for the Zune HD. Among other improvements, this provides the underlying support for upcoming 3D games and applications, adds an Auto Suggest feature for text input, and speeds Web browsing, with an Internet Settings option to swap between mobile or desktop layout when viewing Web pages. Get the firmware through the Zune Desktop Software (under Settings / Device / Player Update).

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on media players

Find the Microsoft Zune HD 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

January 12, 2010

Miccus BluBridge Mobile Stereo Speaker

Bluetooth wireless has been a big hit for mobile phones, with Bluetooth headsets for talking on the go while your phone remains safely and comfortably in your pocket or bag. But Bluetooth audio is not just for voices -- mobile phones are becoming music players, and some media players are adding Bluetooth as well.

However, listening to music through a Bluetooth headset in one ear is not a great experience. Instead, you can use a wireless headphone to enjoy the music in stereo.

Or, get a wireless speaker like the Altec Lansing SoundBlade (see previous post) or the new Miccus BluBridge Mobile Speaker (shown here).

These are not just portable wireless speakers -- they're also speakerphones, with built-in echo-canceling microphones for hands-free dialing.

Even better, the Bluetooth interface not only transmits voice calls and streams wireless music, it also extends remote control so you can pause and skip through the tracks on your player from the front panel of the speaker.

The Miccus BluBridge Speaker supports two connections, to stream music for a wireless player or laptop and then cut over to your phone for a voice call. You also can use it with Skype or VoIP carriers for Internet calling from your laptop.

The BluBridge Speaker is designed to be especially portable -- around 8 x 3 1/2 x 1 1/3 inches, with a stand that rotates to protect the front control buttons and speakers when closed. The speakers put out 6 watts rms stereo sound, which is plenty loud in a room, although the highest volumes do not mix well with some compressed music on portable players.

It runs for up to 16 hours with 4 AA batteries, or plug it in with the included AC wall adapter or USB cable. It's available for around $89.

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for more on wireless audio.

Find the Miccus BluBridge Mobile Speaker and
Altec Lansing SoundBlade Speaker on Amazon.com

January 15, 2010

Miccus BluBridge Mini-jack - Bluetooth Music Transmitter

Bluetooth wireless gives you the freedom to enjoy your music on the move with wireless headphones, and share with others with a wireless speaker (see previous post). But not all media players support Bluetooth, including the Apple iPods (though the Apple iPhone added Bluetooth for wireless headsets).

So how can you free the music from these non-wireless player devices? You can open up a laptop with a USB Bluetooth dongle, to connect a wireless mouse or keyboard (see previous posts).

And for other music playback devices, you can use a Bluetooth transmitter like the Miccus BluBridge Mini-jack. Simply plug in to the standard 3.5mm stereo headphone jack on your device and pair with your headphones or speaker, and you can be streaming wireless music.

The BluBridge Mini-jack has a simple pairing process that works with most Bluetooth-capable receivers (with pin codes 0000, 1234, or 8888). The power/pairing button has an LCD underneath that blinks to indicate connection or charging status.

The Mini-jack charges though a mini USB port (with included cable) and runs for up to 7 hours of playback with the internal battery, or can run continuously if the cable is left connected. The headphone jack also swivels down to fold against the unit for more compact storage and portability.

The Miccus BluBridge Mini-jack is priced at $59, but is currently available for around $19. There are also similar products designed for specific devices, like the Miccus BluBridge for iPod with dock connector that runs off the iPod battery to transmit wireless music (list $59, street $24).

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for more on wireless audio.

Find the Miccus BluBridge Mini-jack
and BluBridge for iPod on Amazon.com

January 19, 2010

Display Revolution: LED to OLED to E-Ink

Flat-screen LCD displays have swept the field, replacing CRTs as computer monitors and picture tubes for TVs. The revolution is complete, so it's time to move on to the next thing!

At CES, Samsung was showing "LED TV" models, which actually aren't a new display technology. Instead, they are LCDs with LED back-lighting, replacing the traditional Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lamp (CCFL) light source to offer higher contrast ratios and energy savings. The LED designs also can be edge-lit, with the electronics around the sides of the displays allowing them to be even more ridiculously thin.

Another competitor is OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode), which does not require a backlight, and therefore can display deeper blacks with a higher contrast ratio, save more energy, and be even thinner and lighter.

At CES, LG demonstrated a 15-inch OLED TV, model EL9500, due around this summer, which is water resistant, and an amazing 0.1 inch thin (yes, that 1/10 of an inch). Sony also showed a 24 inch OLED 3D TV prototype.

OLED also is coming to portable devices in the form of AMOLED (Active Matrix OLED), which offers brighter and thinner displays and longer battery life.

For example, the Microsoft Zune HD (see previous post) media player has an OLED display, as does the new Google Nexus One smartphone. And it's used on multimedia phones like the fun Verizon / Samsung Rogue, with a 3.1" widescreen AMOLED display, at 800 x 480 resolution for Web browsing on the go.

And we're not done. The completion is heating up in E-Book Readers with E-ink displays, with the Sony Reader and Amazon Kindle (see previous post) joined by the Barnes & Noble Nook, plus new announcements at CES from well-known brands including Audiovox / RCA and Samsung, and some other new entrants.

But E-ink is not just for digital paper for electronic books. The Verizon / Samsung Alias 2 puts E-ink technology to work for the keys, so they can be reconfigured as you re-orient the phone.

The Alias 2 has a clever dual-hinge design: flip up vertically to use it as a phone, or open horizontally to send text messages in landscape mode.

As you reorient, the 10 x 4 grid of E-ink keys are re-labeled to match: they show a standard phone keypad for making calls, and full QWERTY keypad for texting -- which can switch between letters and numbers / symbols. The remaining keys then serve as one-press hot keys.

The E-ink lettering is crisp and clear, very readable in normal light or in the dark with back lighting. The phone keys have room for each digit plus the associated three letter, and the dedicated keys use words (Space, SEND) and symbols (envelope for mail). The 4-way cursor pad section even relocates, with the keys grayed to make them stand out. And, of course, the E-ink persists even when the phone is turned off, so the keys are not left blank.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on these mobile phones and smartphones, and my Media Players Gallery for more on media players and E-Book Readers.

Find the Verizon / Samsung Alias 2 on Amazon.com

January 22, 2010

Tunebug Vibe - SurfaceSound Portable Speakers

Do you want to be able to share the music from your iPod or phone, but don't want to have to lug around external speakers (see previous post)?

Then check out the Tunebug Vibe "SurfaceSound" speakers for around $69. Instead of using a larger speaker to make bigger sound, the Vibe is a small pod (2 1/2 x 1 inch) with a tiny speaker on the bottom that plug it in with the standard audio cable.

How does it work? Just place the Vibe on a desk or table, and stand back as the sound reverberates out and turns the surface into a flat panel speaker.

The Vibe works best with hollow surfaces. For example, it comes with a small cardboard box in the package that boosts the sound nicely, and then can store the Vibe away in a foam nest.

But it's also fun to experiment -- We got interesting results with hollow walls and single-pane glass windows, and the thin wooden panels in interior doors worked especially well. (Tightly constructed walls and multi-pane glass were much less interesting.) Even better, try it held to the bottom of a plastic cup for nice directional sound, and place it on a large trash can for a real boost.

The Vibe is constructed solidly with a brushed aluminum housing, with an illuminated power button in the center. It's small enough to fit in a pocket, but it's also dense at 5 1/3 ounces -- more like a rock than a plastic plaything so it sits solidly on the surface. Just be more delicate with the speaker assembly on the bottom.

It has a built-in LiPoly battery, good for around five hours of play time. The product includes a USB-to-audio adapter to recharge it through the same audio jack.

The Tunebug Vibe is an interesting and fun product that works well to share music from a personal player. The quality of the music, of course, depends on the kind of surface that's responding to the sound waves -- A hollow box will sound different from one with padding, for example. So think of it as not only boosting the sound, but adding an environmental air as well.

See also the Tunebug Shake speaker to attach to bike, ski and skateboard helmets for a different kind of surround sound ($119).

See my Portable Audio Accessories Gallery for more on portable speakers.

Find the Tunebug Vibe on Amazon.com

January 26, 2010

Wireless Trends 2009 - Smartphones and Apps

The New Jersey Technology Council (NJTC) is hosting a meeting this Wednesday on Innovations in Wireless Applications. Topics will include trends in wireless data services and particularly the future of 4G, including LTE.

I'll be speaking from the consumer electronics side, particularly trends in smartphones and apps.

See my presentation notes -- Wireless Trends 2009 - Smartphones and Apps. These cover trends in smartphones and apps, as we move from location-based to augmented reality services. They also cover related non-smartphone portable wireless devices, and include bonus sections on some fun trends in new technologies for accessories and new business ideas.

The NJTC meeting starts at 4 PM with a tour of Verizon's Consumer Sales and Service Center.

Innovations in Wireless Applications

New Jersey Technology Council
Wed., Jan. 27, 2010, 4 - 6 pm
Verizon Consumer Sales and Service Center
600 Horizon Drive, Robbinsville, NJ 08691
www.njtc.org/events/index.asp

The panel includes:

- Susan Brazer, Managing Partner, Lionshare Strategies (Moderator)
- Douglas Dixon, Manifest Technology
- Dr. Shoshana Loeb, Chief Scientist/Exec. Director, Telcordia
- Joel Vaughn, Regional Data Manager – Enterprise, Verizon Wireless

For more information, contact Paul Frank, NJTC Vice President of Membership, at pfrank@njtc.org or (856) 787-9700 x222.

January 31, 2010

Verizon FiOS Mobile App - FiOS TV Remote DVR

Yes, you now can schedule recordings on your home DVR -- on your mobile phone. But why would you want to do that? Well, with the Verizon FiOS TV Remote DVR services you can set up show to record even when you're away from home, and review and cancel recordings. And you can browse TV listings and video on demand, and set parental controls.

And Verizon offers three different ways to set up your DVR remotely. You can log in over the Internet at the main FiOS TV Central site, or from any mobile device with an Internet browser at the Mobile Web version of the site.

Or, you can download the Verizon FiOS Mobile application, customized to your device (currently available for some Android, Blackberry, and BREW / Feature phones).

What's interesting about the Verizon FiOS Mobile app for Android, however, is that today's touch-screen smartphones like the Verizon / Motorola Droid have matured enough that they actually provide a better interface for interacting with a DVR than the Internet or a remote control.

You can set up your phone by registering the phone number on your TV (Settings > FiOS TV Remote DVR), and then confirm by entering an authorization code on the phone.

The app then launches quickly, with a several-second delay to download your current program guide and recording schedule -- faster than accessing over the Internet.

Then browsing listings is very fast, as you can use your finger tip to flick through channels and times, or browse into categories -- again quicker than pressing on the remote control.

Even better, the FiOS Mobile app has built-in search, so it's again fast to find matching show titles or actor's names. As you browse, the search is context-sensitive, to only display matches for the actor or show or category (TV, pay per view, on demand) in which you are browsing.

(Of course, you should be aware that you're having information about your recordings passed through Verizon, and opening up an outside connection into your home through the DVR. And it's possible to have fun accessing and controlling someone else's DVR if you have access to their device to set it up -- but this can be stopped by re-entering a different phone number on the DVR.)

The Verizon FiOS Mobile app is a free download from the Android Market -- in the Verizon / VCAST Apps section. It's quite convenient to use, and makes browsing the selections fun as the menus automatically display not only all occurrences of any episode of a particular show, but also list the actors associated with a show, or shows associated with a particular actor, so you can quickly dig in to make more recordings of your favorites.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones.

See my Smartphone Apps Gallery for more on apps and app stores.

Find the Verizon Droid from Motorola on Amazon.com

February 15, 2010

Windows Phone 7 Series - Beyond Apps to "Hubs"

Microsoft has previewed the next generation of its Windows Phone platform at the Mobile World Congress. Dubbed Windows Phone 7 Series, the first products are due for the holiday season at the end of 2010.

Windows Phone 7 is a significant change for the former Windows Mobile platform (see previous post). It combines a Zune-like smooth-flowing user interface, the Zune music and video experience, and Xbox LIVE games and service. And it tightens the platform requirements, including requiring a touch screen.

But the biggest news is Microsoft's push to move beyond individual apps, to make your phone the "hub" of data and information, especially updated from online sites -- using "live tiles" on Start screen.

At a first look, the Windows Phone 7 design brings together several ideas from other smartphones:

- Like the Apple iPhone, it's now a full-fledged media player, albeit designed to work like the Zune HD (see previous post) and to sync with the Zune PC software.

- Like Android phones, all Windows Phone 7 devices now will have dedicated hardware buttons for Back, Start (the Windows button), and Search (although there's no Menu button -- instead there's an app options bar / bar at the bottom of the screen). The design finally abandons the Windows Mobile phone buttons for Start and End Call, and updates the Zune design which had only one button for Home.

- Like Palm OS, Windows Phone 7 provides integrated views of information from the different aspects of your life -- personal and business, local and online, and social networking sites -- to view all your photos or contacts or calendar entries together, even though they come from multiple sources.

- Like Android, Windows Phone 7 lets you organize and customize your home screen, not just with favorite apps and contacts and links, but with dynamic "live tiles" (i.e., widgets) that display live feeds from applications and Web services.

But the deeper change in Windows Phone 7 is the move away from individual apps to more integrated "hubs" that provide common access across multiple sources. The tiles on the Start screen are doorways to these hubs, including People, Pictures, Games, Music + Video, Marketplace, and Office.

For example, for communicating with people, on Android you need to run different applications for Messaging vs. Gmail vs. other Email, plus separately check for friend updates on a various social networking sites by downloading individual associated apps. But on Windows Phone 7, the People hub integrates contacts and social network updates in one view -- and you also can post your own updates to these sites.

Similarly, the Pictures hub presents combined albums for your local and PC and online photos, plus updated photos from your friends online. And all these use the Zune interface approach, with automatic organization including Recently viewed items and What's New updates.

The open question, then, is how this more controlled and tightly integrated platform can still allow phone manufacturers and cellular carriers to customize and distinguish their offerings, and allow software developers to create innovative apps. At the announcement, Microsoft insisted that there was still room for customization and innovation, for example though extensions to the hubs in lieu of separate apps.

But this was still an early announcement of plans for products that are due out around the end of the year, so there are more details to come.

See the Windows Phone news site for videos of the introduction and key features of Windows Phone 7

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones

See my Media Players Gallery for more on the Zune and wireless media players

February 21, 2010

Augmented Reality In Mobile Apps

What's all this about "augmented reality" for mobile apps? Well, Virtual Reality (VR) has to do with being immersed in a synthetic 3D graphics environment, i.e., experienced in a head-mounted display -- whether for action games, or for serious research like exploring the virtual surface of Mars or experiencing chemical bonds at molecular scales.

Then Augmented Reality (AR) combines graphics overlays on top of (i.e., augmenting) the real world, as in a heads-up display or the familiar yellow first down line for football games.

On a smartphone, the device already can display location-based information about near-by businesses and points of interest. And it has a camera that can display live video on the display. So combine these and you get AR -- hold up the phone and look around to see the local scene as live video, with text and graphics overlays identifying items in that direction.

This idea is already implemented in mobile apps including Google Goggles (for Android) and Yelp (iPhone 3GS only).

Or try Wikitude (shown here), which adds geo-tagged user-created content including Flickr photos, YouTube videos, and Wikipedia info (iPhone, Android, Symbian), and Layar, which imports user-created or partner content "layers" for customized tours of local areas (iPhone, Android).

However, these apps still are limited by the handheld mobile platform. It's awkward to hold up a device and look around with it, especially when the small screen can only show a rather limited field of view within the surrounding scene. In addition, the inexpensive sensors in handheld devices can have significant errors. As a result, current mobile AR apps cannot precisely register information to the background scene, and instead typically indicate objects of interest in a general direction, and show their relative positioning.

So augmented reality is just beginning on smartphones. Still, these devices are good enough to do real-time GPS navigation, for example, and support AR-style apps that display information about upcoming traffic cameras, or help you retrace your route to where you parked your car.

Maybe it's time to put on wireless eyewear to go with our Bluetooth headsets.

See my full article - Augmented Reality Goes Mobile - for more on the development of mobile AR, from early research prototypes to desktop AR to mobile devices

See my Smartphone Apps Gallery for more on apps and app stores.

February 25, 2010

Image Search with Google Shopper and Google Goggles

Cameras are for more than taking pictures, and smartphones are more than communications devices. Combine the two, and you have a handheld device that can "look" at objects and tell you about them.

For example, the Shop Savvy app (free for iPhone, Android, and Nokia) and similar apps can scan a barcode and return information about that product, with web links and reviews.

But why require barcodes? The new Google Shopper app for Android offers three forms of product search: plain old text search, voice search (say the product name), and image search.

With image search, Shopper continuously scans the image from the camera, looking for a recognizable product -- not only barcodes, but also cover art from books, CDs, DVDs, and video games.

In seconds, it identifies the object and returns information including prices, reviews, detailed specs, and links to sellers. You also can save history and favorites to access even if the phone is offline.

And Shopper does not even need to see the entire cover -- I was able to use it to quickly recognize books from just the top of the cover, and CDs from just the artist's face.

Shopper packages the product search features demonstrated in the earlier Google Goggles app (also free for Android), which does more general visual search. It identifies products, also including wine labels, as well as generally recognizable objects including landmark structures (buildings and bridges) and famous artworks.

Plus, Goggles does text recognition for business cards to extract contact information, and Google has demonstrated a new version that does more general text recognition and transition, for example for highway signs. While Shopper just constantly looks for something recognizable, Goggles waits until you take a picture to start the search.

These are amazing -- and useful -- apps, harnessing the Google image search and product search engines and databases in the cloud to turn your phone into an almost real-time recognizer. And this is just the beginning -- Google is not terribly specific about exactly what kind of stuff these apps recognize. For example, it turns out that Goggles also does general image search to find matching images on the web, whether or not they are further identified as known products, landmarks, or artworks.

So keep a look out for further updates -- There are plenty of other objects around us that would be useful to recognize, including faces. Hmmm ...

See my Smartphone Apps Gallery for more on mobile apps

See my article Augmented Reality Goes Mobile - for more on AR apps, including Google Goggles

March 6, 2010

Flexible Search -- Google Gesture Search

I've been really spoiled lately by using the Google Android search by voice on the Verizon Droid phone -- and not just for doing translations (see previous post). When looking up crossword clues, for example, it's so much easier to speak a phrase instead of typing tricky words on the virtual keyboard -- although the Droid did have a problem today understanding "Cy Young award" (it heard "scion").

But even occasional misunderstandings aren't a big deal, with the impressive ability of Google search to figure out what you probably meant, even if you couldn't express it fully. This kind of flexibility is really helpful for searching, since you can get to the right results even if you misspell some words, or don't have all the right words. But what if you don't even have the right letters to make up a word?

The new Google Gesture Search app takes this idea to the next level. The idea is that you draw letters on the touch screen, and it instantly displays matching items on your phone -- contacts, bookmarks, apps, and music. Just enter a couple of letters to display any names that contain that sequence.

But how can this work? Can you really depend on each letter being correctly recognized? It doesn't matter with Gesture Search -- it just searches on multiple possible letters for each of your gestures, and shows all possible matches.

As a result, you can write quite loosely. You can enter upper or lower case. You can draw the full character with multiple strokes (like the cross bar on "A" or "F") -- but why bother? Just keep entering more loose letter gestures, and the list of matches will reduce down to what you are looking for. (Of course, this works so well because Gesture Search is working with a known list of items on your phone -- this would be less useful for doing general text searches of the web.)

This is another fun Android application from Google Labs, experimenting with new ways to use our mobile devices (see previous posts on Google Shopper and Google Goggles). Gesture Search is currently English only, and has options to select the items to search (i.e., omit the music library), to regenerate the search index, and to send gesture data to Google to help improve the application.

See my Smartphone Apps Gallery for more on mobile apps

Find the Verizon Droid from Motorola on Amazon.com

April 3, 2010

Smartphone and Wi-Fi Now Under $30 - Verizon Wireless Palm Pixi Plus

I've you've been interested in trying out a smartphone, but have been put off by the idea of paying $200 for an iPhone, Verizon Wireless has just started a new promotion for you -- the Palm Pixi Plus is now only $29.99 (originally $99), and you get a second one for free!

That's a full-fledged smartphone, with Web browsing, e-mail, camera and media playback, and downloadable apps to customize your experience and connect to your social networks (see earlier post). And, oh yeah, it's also a mobile phone and an organizer, with syncing of contacts and calendars to the desktop and online. The Pixi design is relatively small and light, with a built-in keyboard to help you keep communicating.

And if you want a little more power, the Palm Pre Plus from Verizon is now only $49.99 (originally $149), with a larger screen, double the memory, and higher-res camera, in a slide-out keyboard design. And you get a second one for free.

Even better, these both support 3G Mobile Hotspot -- which turns your smartphone into a local Wi-Fi hotspot for up to five devices. And Verizon now offers this service with up to 5 GB a month for free (was $40 for 5 GB and 5 cents per megabyte overage).

So, for example, the Palm Pixi Plus can act like the Verizon / Novatel MiFi (see earlier post), connecting to the cellular broadband service wherever you are, so your laptop or other portable devices (like an iPod touch) can quickly go online using their built-in Wi-Fi networking.

Some gory details: These prices are with a two-year activation. All Verizon smartphones require at least a $29.99 monthly data plan (which includes unlimited personal e-mail and Web). However, while any Wi-Fi devices are connected to the phone all data traffic is billed to the Mobile Hotspot plan (and not the smartphone data plan). The 3G Mobile Hotspot application itself is a free download, and supports both open and protected Wi-Fi service.

Also note that Palm Pre and Pixi come in two flavors, the original versions sold through Sprint, and the newer Plus versions sold through Verizon, with the mobile hotspot feature. The Pixi Plus also added Wi-Fi and the Pre Plus doubled the memory.

And shop do around: Walmart is offering big discounts on smartphones -- the Palm Pre Plus is free with online discount, and the Pixi Plus is not only free, you actually get paid $50 from a mail-in rebate.

The bottom line is that you can get a nice smartphone (or two!) for under $30, and also have it serve as a free mobile hotspot. Of course, while the 5 GB limit is great for checking e-mail and basic Web browsing, don't plan to be streaming movie videos to your laptop over Wi-Fi.

See my full article on the design of these new Palm smartphones: Palm Pre: Product Summary

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on the Palm and other smartphones.

Find the Palm Pixi Plus and Palm Pre Plus on Amazon.com.

April 25, 2010

Demoing Smartphone Apps with a Webcam

I've been having a lot of fun this year giving talks and demos about smartphone apps, especially on the Apple iPhone and Google Android.

The trick for demoing smartphones, of course, is to find a good way to let the audience see what you're doing on the small screen. You can use a webcam display from a laptop, but it's tricky trying to hold up the camera to the phone, and you can get bad reflections and glare on the phone's screen.

My answer is to set up a simple rig with the Joby Gorillapod SLR -- a highly flexible mini-tripod that you can bend to fit to any surface, from a table to a slanted podium (see earlier post).

The Gorillapod SLR model is big enough that you can position the camera about 8 inches off the surface, and then spread out the legs to give enough clearance above the phone and to the sides so that your fingers can work comfortably on the touch screen. You also can tweak the angle of the tripod so that the phone image is squared up, without perspective distortion. The Gorillapod SLR is priced at around $39.

The webcam that I'm using is the Logitech Webcam C905 (formerly the QuickCam Pro for Notebooks) -- a small design around 2 x 1 inches for easy carrying (see earlier post). The webcam has a clip that holds securely to the base plate of the Gorillapod -- so there's no screws or other assembly required. It's also helpful to add a USB extension cable to allow you to position the tripod further away from your laptop if needed to fit a particular facility. The Logitech webcam is priced at $99, or around $75 street.

I typically run the QuickCam at 1280x1024 resolution, which clearly shows the details on the smartphone screen. Even with video flowing at this higher resolution, there's no obvious degradation of the system performance oven on an older lower-end laptop.

When showing demos, the phone fills almost the full height of the video window. The Logitech software also can apply a small digital zoom if desired to enlarge the size of the phone's screen. Since I'm not running full-screen, it then just takes a click on the laptop to switch back and forth between showing the live camera feed and other presentation material.

The result is quite good, even when you're trying to shoot a bright screen in a dark room, or with glare from overhead lighting. I've found it best to override the auto settings and manually adjust the focus and brightness / contrast to pull out the detail on the phone's screen. It also helps to place a plain background under the phone (even a white piece of paper).

One other issue with shooting phones is reflections and glare on the screen. I have experimented with polarizing filters to knock down some of the glare. You can get packs of 2 x 2 inch polarizing film from companies like Edmund Optics, cut it to fit over the camera lens, and simply tape it in place. However, these are not going to make serious reflections magically disappear. Instead, I've been able to adjust the tripod setup to control the lighting issues, sometimes aided by turning off particularly troublesome podium lighting.

The result is an easy to carry set-up that also simple to set up, and has produced good results in a variety of venues. The trick is to spend some time to optimize the set-up for the particular facility before the talk starts -- and be sure to check that the organizers aren't planning to change the lighting as you get underway.

See my Digital Photo Cameras Gallery for more on the Gorillapod and other tripod accessories

See my Home Networked Media Gallery for more on the Logitech Webcam C905 and other webcams

Find the Joby Gorillapod SLR and
Logitech Webcam C905 on Amazon.com.

April 7, 2010

Android 2.1 Upgrade Now on Verizon Droid

The Android 2.1 software upgrade that originally shipped with the Google Nexus One phones is now rolling out on the Verizon Wireless Droid by Motorola.

This finally adds Pinch to Zoom for web browsing and other apps including Gallery and Google Maps, so you can just pinch or spread your finger and thumb to zoom smaller or larger (yes, just like the iPhone).

But the bigger addition is the expansion of Speech to Text -- all text entry is now voice enabled, for any app. The virtual keyboard has a new microphone icon next to the space bar. Tap and just speak your search query or sentences to write (in English), and Android enters the text field for you.

This is not perfect, but it's typically plenty good enough for searching, and perhaps adequate for quick notes -- and a lot faster than typing on a small keyboard (see earlier post on Gesture Search).

The 2.1 upgrade also includes a new version of the Gallery app that now browses media stored online at Picasa, with a "3D" view for browsing photos and videos in stacks. There's also an enhanced Music app with new navigation tabs, and a new News and Weather app and widget customized for your location.

Other nice improvements include Live Wallpapers for animated home screens and Night mode to automatically dim the screen.

Also -- Google Earth now runs on the Droid, as well as the Nexus One and iPhone. You can fly around the globe and then zoom in on a location, now also with search by voice, plus local information and a roads layer as in Google Maps.

Your phone will automatically notify you when a system update is available, or you can check using Settings, and selecting About phone (at the bottom of the list), and then System updates. This update is identified under About phone as Firmware version 2.1-update1.

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 Smartphone Apps Gallery for more on these and other mobile apps.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones.

Find the Verizon Droid from Motorola on Amazon.com

Update details ...



Continue reading "Android 2.1 Upgrade Now on Verizon Droid" »


May 6, 2010

Droid Incredible from Verizon Wireless / HTC

The not so modestly named Verizon Wireless Droid Incredible from HTC actually lives up to its name. This slender device is wicked fast, packs some nice hardware upgrades, and features the highly-customizable HTC Sense interface.

The Incredible is the latest incarnation of the Google Android smartphone platform, designed as a close cousin to the Google Nexus One (both are thinner and lighter without the slide-out keyboard of the Motorola Droid) and now available on the Verizon Wireless network

(Google had originally planned to bring out the Nexus One on Verizon, but now recommends that customers should get the Droid Incredible instead.)

UPDATED: The Incredible has a faster 1 GHz Snapdragon processor than the Droid's Arm 550 mHz, and you feel the difference. For example, when downloading multiple apps in the Google Marketplace the Droid will hesitate for multiple seconds when bringing up confirmation screens, but the Incredible just keeps on responding.

The Incredible also steps up the hardware features from the Droid and the Nexus One in several interesting ways, with an 8 MP camera (from 5 MP), built-in 8 GB internal memory for storing documents and media (in addition to the removable MicroSD card), and a FM radio.

The HTC Sense interface extends the standard Android Home page with five panels and a "Leap" feature to show thumbnails of all five panels to jump quickly between them. The interface also offers plethora of large widgets for direct access to your e-mail, text messages, and other favorite information on one of the Home screen panels -- although the full app for each is also just a tap away with the same responsiveness as flicking to a widget.

The HTC Sense interface also extends many of the core Android apps -- Browser, Mail, People, Calendar, etc. -- to add additional features, especially for a more integrated view of your information. For example, the People app combines your contact information with associated communications, including email, updates, texts, tweets, and the Photo Gallery app combines photos on the phone with online Picasa Web albums.

These apps also need to be modified for a second reason -- to support the internal 8 GB memory, which is not found by standard Android apps, but is a nice place to stash media files and saved documents that you can continue to access even when you swap the removable MicroSD card.

The Droid Incredible is priced at $199.99 from Verizon after $100 mail-in rebate (as a debit card), with a new 2-year agreement. It requires a Nationwide Talk plan (from $39.99/month), and an Email and Web for Smartphone plan (from $29.99 for unlimited monthly access). Verizon is also offering a free 2 GB memory card for purchases before May 31, 2010.

See my full article on the Incredible - Droid Incredible from Verizon Wireless / HTC

See earlier article on the Android interface - Verizon / Motorola Droid -- Android 2.0

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones

Find the Verizon Droid Incredible on Amazon.com.

May 8, 2010

Scan and Translate Text with Google Goggles

How much can you do with a camera on a smartphone? The folks at Google Labs are determined to keep opening the aperture by pouring technology into their Google Goggles app to do all kinds of visual searches (see earlier post on Google Shopper and Google Goggles).

With the new Google Goggles version 1.1 released this week, you now can scan photos of text in five languages (English, French, Italian, German, Spanish), copy the text, and/or translate it to these and twelve other languages.

Goggles already recognized all kinds of objects -- logos, products, artwork, landmarks -- and looks up information about them. Plus it scans business cards to extract the contact information.

So now you can shoot the cover of a book or CD to look up the product information, zoom in on artwork to look up the artist, and then focus on the text to scan and translate it.

Goggles also has added a crop rectangle that you can position to select the portion of the image that you want to scan, and control for the flash to better illuminate what you are shooting. And you can do searches on images in the phone's photo gallery.

And beyond visual searches of images. Goggles also has a heads-up "Augmented Reality" mode in which it overlays Google Local information about near-by places as you pan the live camera around your location (see earlier post on AR apps).

Google Goggles is a free app, available for Android devices running Android 1.6 and above (like, of course, the new Verizon / HTC Droid Incredible -- see previous post).

What's up next? -- How about face finding and face recognition ...

See my Smartphone Apps Gallery for more on mobile apps

See my article Augmented Reality Goes Mobile - for more on AR apps, including Google Goggles

Find the Verizon Droid Incredible on Amazon.com.

What's new in Google Goggles version 1.1 ...



Continue reading "Scan and Translate Text with Google Goggles" »


May 23, 2010

Android 2.2 - A Tasty Treat

Time for a tasty frozen treat -- Google announced the details of the upcoming release of Android 2.2 at last week's Google I/O developers conference. This is the seventh platform release since Android 1.0 was launched in September 2008.

The code names for the Android releases are desserts, in alphabetical order (Cupcake, Donut, Eclair), and version 2.2 is named Froyo, for frozen yogurt. After all, this is not just a minor point release, it's a yummy-looking treat promising a wide range of improvements, for users and developers alike.

Some of the highlights include:

- Significant speedups, promising 2x-5x improvements for processing-intensive apps, plus faster loading of web pages.
- Support for running applications from SD card, so you can install large apps like games without using up all the internal memory.
- Support for using the phone as a shared Wi-Fi hotspot for laptops or other portable devices, or tethered to a laptop over USB.
- Expanded camera / camcorder features including portrait orientation, LED flash for video, and expanded controls for zoom, flash, exposure, and geo-tagging.
- Enhanced Microsoft Exchange support, especially for security and administrator policies.
- Expanded Bluetooth support including voice dialing, sharing contacts, and car docks.
- Expanded developer support for services including messages from cloud services, backup to cloud storage, speech recognition, and "car mode" and "night mode" controls -- all now available to be built in to any Android app.

The new Android 2.2 is apparently already starting to roll out to Nexus One phones, but will take longer to move though the release process for other manufacturers and carriers, like the new Verizon Wireless Droid Incredible from HTC (see earlier post).

See the Android 2.2 Platform Highlights for more information on the new release, including screen shots and an introductory video.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones

Find the Verizon Droid Incredible on Amazon.com.

More details on Android 2.2 features ...



Continue reading "Android 2.2 - A Tasty Treat" »


July 20, 2010

The Verizon Wireless / Motorola Droid X - Yep, It's a Big Display

The difference is clear with the new Verizon Wireless Droid X from Motorola -- it's got a big, big display. For some, this is a great blessing, to view your apps and websites and messages more clearly, and to better enjoy and share photos and videos. But for others, the result is a handheld device that can stretch the limits of what fits comfortably in your pocket or purse.

The Droid X display is significantly bigger at 4.3 inches, compared to the Droid Incredible at 3.7 inches (see earlier post). The resolution also steps up, to 854 x 480 pixels from 800 x 400. (In comparison, the Apple iPhone 4 display is 3.5 inches, but with very fine detail at 960 x 640 (see earlier post), up from the iPhone 3G at 480 x 320.)

The larger display not only means bigger icons and text, but also more information on the screen. The size also helps when you play widescreen video, especially if other people are trying to watch at the same time.

Not surprisingly, the bigger screen on the Droid X results in a bulked-up case -- 5 x 2.6 x 0.4 inches, compared to 4.6 x 2.3 x 0.47 for the Droid Incredible. (Yes, the Droid X actually is thinner, with a slimmer profile that swells out at the top for the camera. The Droid X also is almost an ounce heavier at 5.5 vs. 4.6 ounces.

The result pushes the bounds of today's understanding of "handheld." If you lay the Incredible on top of the Droid X, both the bottom buttons and side frame are still visible.

But this is the whole point of the Google Android platform. While Apple designs the iPhone in only one current model, for which it selects the features that you may have, the Android platform is open for different manufacturers and wireless carriers to sell different configurations, so you can find the model that best fits your needs.

Just from Verizon Wireless, your Android options are the original Motorola Droid with slide-out keyboard (see earlier post and article), the HTC Incredible with a faster processor, higher-res 8 MP camera, and optical joystick (see earlier post and article), and now the Droid X with the bigger display. Plus, the various Droid models offer features including FM radio, expansion memory (up to 32 GB with micro SD cards), and wireless mobile hotspot (to share the 3G cellular connection as a Wi-Fi hotspot).

As a multimedia device, the Droid X steps up to 720p HD video capture with the 8 MP camera, and offers HD playback on your HDTV display with the built-in micro HDMI connector. It also supports wireless sharing of music, photos, and videos to devices on your home network with DLNA technology.

However, the flip side of the open Android approach, versus a strictly controlled platform, is the potential for anarchy in different versions of different software on different devices with different features. Yes, the smartphone has reached a crucial mass of capability and corresponding complexity, so the open PC vs. more closed Mac platform debate will play out again in handheld devices. We've seen these issues before.

Another issue, though, is the desire of manufacturers like Motorola and HTC to differentiate their Android products by enhancing and improving the Google software with customized interfaces and changes to various applications.

For example, the Droid X home screen has permanent soft keys for Phone and Contacts and Apps, plus a pop-up strip to help you navigate the seven home screen panels that you can customize with shortcuts and widgets. The panels come preloaded with scads of widgets, some taking up a quarter or half the screen, for news and tips and photos and contacts and app launcher and music playback and weather and email and airplane modes and calendar and social networking. Whew! That's too much even for a computer screen, so it really seems out of place on a smartphone.

The bottom line, however, is that you have options. The Android platform is evolving rapidly, with the latest Google Android 2.2 release (see earlier post) is due out on the Droid X later this summer, with Adobe Flash Player 10.1. You may choose the Droid X with the big display for enjoying and sharing media, or prefer the original Droid for lots of messaging on the slide-out keyboard, or select the Droid Incredible for a compact and powerful Android experience.

See my full article on the Droid Incredible - Droid Incredible from Verizon / HTC

See my earlier article on the Android interface - Verizon / Motorola Droid -- Android 2.0

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on smartphones

See my Smartphone Apps Gallery for more on mobile apps

Find the Verizon Droid X, Droid Incredible, and Droid on Amazon.com

October 16, 2010

Apple iPad Coming To Verizon and AT&T Stores

After all the years of rumors about the Apple iPhone coming to Verizon Wireless, the first breach of AT&T's exclusivity is -- the iPad (see my earlier post)!

Yep, the Apple iPad will be available through the over 2,000 Verizon Wireless stores nationwide beginning on Thursday, October 28 (see Verizon iPad site and press release).

But there are a couple details that explain how this has happened ... And how the iPad is also coming to AT&T stores at the same time.

First, Verizon is selling only the Wi-Fi versions of the iPad, and not the models with 3G cellular mobile data service -- so there's no Verizon service plan built in to these iPads.

Instead, Verizon is bundling its MiFi 2200 Intelligent Mobile Hotspot with the iPad purchase (see earlier post).

The MiFi is a pocket-sized device that turns a cellular connection into a local Wi-Fi hot spot for up to five Wi-Fi-enabled devices. With the MiFi, the iPad can go online, as can your laptop and/or netbook, and/or iPod touch -- all simultaneously sharing the MiFi's 3G mobile broadband service over Wi-Fi.

The MiFi is certainly portable -- about the size of eight stacked credit cards and weighs just over 2 ounces rechargeable battery. It provides up to four hours of active use and 40 hours of standby time on a single charge.

Verizon is pricing these bundles of iPad plus MiFi at $629 for the 16 GB Wi-Fi iPad, $729 for 32 GB and $829 for 64 GB. (This compares to Apple's pricing of $499, $599, and $699 for the Wi-Fi iPad alone. Verizon's current pricing for the MiFi is $269, or $99 with 2 year contract, or free with an online discount.)

So Verizon's bundle pricing is the same as Apple's pricing for the Wi-Fi + 3G models -- but while the MiFi is a separate device, it also can share with up to five devices.

Verizon also will offer all three iPad Wi-Fi models unbundled, apparently at the same price as Apple. So you can use the iPad with any Wi-Fi connection, or with a smartphone that offers Wi-Fi tethering to share the smartphone cellular service as a Wi-Fi cloud (as with some Android 2.2 devices, including the Droid Incredible).

Of course, the ongoing cost is the monthly cellular data service plan. Verizon is offering a monthly plan for iPad customers for up to 1 GB of data for $20 a month. (In comparison, Verizon's data plans for the MiFi alone include $39.99 for 250 MB a month, and $59.99 for 5 GB a month.)

Meanwhile, the three 3G cellular iPad models also will be available at AT&T stores also starting on October 28 (see AT&T press release). These are priced the same as the Apple Store -- $629 for the 16 GB Wi-Fi + 3G iPad, $729 32 GB and $829 64 GB. AT&T offers data plans of 250 MB for $14.99 a month, and 2 GB for $29.99.

See my Apple iPod / iPhone Gallery for details on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod products and product line history.

See my Mobile Communications Gallery for more on the MiFi and mobile data services.

Find the Apple iPad and Verizon Wireless MiFi on Amazon.com

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

October 21, 2011

Logitech Wireless Headset for Music and Phone

You can enjoy and share your music from an iPad or smartphone with small attached speakers (see previous post) or larger wireless speakers (see previous post), but sometimes you want to listen by yourself, with headphones.

And if you're hooking headphones up to an iPhone or other smartphone, then it only makes sense to add a microphone so you also can use the headphone for calls.

And, of course, it's clumsy to deal with a headphone cable to a small device that lives in a pocket or a bag, so the headphone might as well be wireless as well.

Which explains the Logitech Wireless Headset -- A nicely designed Bluetooth headset that pairs to up to eight different devices, including the iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, and other players, tablets, and smartphones.

You can enjoy your music, and then transition to phone calls -- and use it for FaceTime video calls.

The Wireless Headset has an adjustable headband with soft ear cups for a comfortable fit, and folds up for travel. The noise-canceling microphone rotates up to nest under the headband while listening, and then folds down to position for talking. [Yes, the picture is a visualization -- there aren't four mics...]

It charges over USB, and runs for six hours. One earpiece has power, mute, and volume controls.

Logitech Wireless Headset lets you listen to your personal music from a variety of devices -- tablet, phone, computer -- and then switch to phone or video calls without swapping around your gear. It's available for $69.

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

Find the Logitech Wireless Headset on Amazon.com


January 29, 2012

Mighty Dwarf Resonating Speaker with microSD

Small speakers were quite visible at CES (see earlier post), with mini boxes and cylinders that can come along in your bag to boost the sound of your smartphone or tablet. At a couple inches in size, however, while these do better than built-in speakers, they really aren't particularly powerful.

One nice way of getting more sound from small speakers comes from vibrating designs that have you position the speaker on a flat surface so the sound can resonate to give you 360 degree omni-directional sound (see earlier post). You can get amazing sound from surfaces like wood, glass, metal, walls, mirrors, and cardboard, especially if they have an enclosed air gap like a desk or even a simple cardboard box.

The Mighty Dwarf 5W Vibration Speaker is a nice example of this kind of approach, with some very interesting bonus features. It's a small cylinder, 2.25 inches tall by 2 inches in diameter, and chunky at 11 1/2 ounces so it makes strong contact with the surface.

For even better resonating action, the Mighty Dwarf has a sticky gel pad on the base to temporarily adhere to the surface. It also has has a screw mount on the base that can attach to accessories for a more permanent connection, including a glass mount (suction cup) or wood mount (woods screws).

To hook up to your portable player, the Mighty Dwarf comes with a dual-purpose cable with a miniUSB connector at one end to plug into the speaker, and the other end split into both a 3.5mm stereo audio jack and a USB jack. Plug the audio jack into your device to play music, or plug in the USB jack to recharge the internal battery. There's also a LED to warn when the battery is low.

But there's more -- The Mighty Dwarf also has a microSD slot, so you can insert a memory card with MP3 music files, and use the speaker as a stand-alone media player. The final addition is the play controller -- push to stop/start play, flick to skip forward/back to the next song, and press and hold to adjust the volume.

The Mighty Dwarf 5W speaker is available for around $49. There's also the Mighty Dwarf 26W model with external amplifier, and a Bluetooth speaker coming.

See my article on Portable Accessories 2012 for more on portable audio, portable power, and cases.

Find the Mighty Dwarf 5W Vibration Speaker on Amazon.com

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