Monday, December 20, 2010

Paper PC Picks: Gifts for iPod Lovers

With the holiday gift season hard upon us and crowds of head-scratching consumers filling electronics stores, now is as good a time as any to start a series of cool gadget selections. The Paper PC Picks will be culled from newly announced products spotted at press events and from the interesting products I've had a chance to look over. So let's get started, in no particular order, with the first set of Paper PC Picks.

Gifts for iPod Lovers
A strange gadget recently made an appearance in a New York subway car: An original, first-generation iPod. It had a tiny monochrome display and the now-legendary mechanical wheel for menu navigation. In a car full of modern iPods and iPhones, the sighting of a "classic" iPod proved one thing: iPod users really love their devices. As the holiday shopping season rushes to a close, here are some gift suggestions for your favorite iPod lover.

v-moda Crossfade LP
At the high end of the scale is the $200 Crossfade LP from v-moda, a studio-quality, over-the-ear headphone which doesn't look the least bit like an iPod accessory. Aside from comfortable, well-padded earpieces and a choice of six colors, the unit offers two detachable, cloth-covered wires: one for audio only and the other with an inline iPod-compatible remote control and microphone.

Instead of multiple drivers per earpiece, the Crossfade LP uses single 50mm dual-diaphragm driver on each side, a design which, according to v-moda, allows the unit to provide deep basses and clean midrange sounds without the need for batteries. The stylish headphone, which also comes with a ruggedized hard carrying case, proved both comfortable and comforting since external noises were held at bay by the ample padding, thus allowing the pure sounds of digital music to stand alone.

Denon AH-C260R
If you damage or lose your original white iPod earbuds, you'll find that there are many alternate headsets that offer equal or superior audio quality at lower prices than Apple's replacement earbuds ($29 list) or dual-driver in-ear headset ($79 list). The $50 Denon AH-C260R in-the-ear headset is a good example.

The headset, part of Denon's Mobile Elite series, has a three-button inline iPod-compatible remote control and an inline microphone. When tested with Skype telephony software and with and the voice recorder in a second-generation iPod touch, the clarity and fidelity of the unit's inline microphone proved impressive. The earpiece shells are made of an aluminum alloy and a resin compound, a combination which, according to Denon, minimizes unwanted resonances.

Blue Microphones Mikey
Anyone who's owned an iPod for more than a few minutes knows that it can do far more than just play back digital music. For students who want to record lectures or business workers who need to record meetings or conference panels, the Mikey microphone ($79 list) from Blue Microphones turns most iPods into fairly sophisticated voice and music recorders.

The square, hinged, second-generation Mikey fits neatly into the docking port of first- to third-generation iPod touches; second- to fifth-generation iPod nanos, iPod classics and fifth-generation iPods. The unit works best when used with the Blue iPod app, readily available at no cost in the iTunes Apps store.

When tested in a large New York hotel ballroom during a panel discussion, the Mikey, when adjusted for high sensitivity, clearly recorded the proceedings.

Philips Fidelio DS8500
Earlier this year Philips expanded its line of iPod-docking speakers with the rich-sounding Fidelio series of premium speakers. In the middle of the line is the curvy $200 Philips Fidelio DS8500. Unlike boxy, clock-radio-type iPod docks, the Fidelio DS8500 is designed to look classy even when an iPod isn't docked to it. You can also connect other MP3 players and music accessories to it via a stereo input jack.

The unit comes with dual 3-inch, 15-watt speakers behind a fabric mesh, a remote control and its own iPod / iPhone app. The app, which can be downloaded at no cost from the iTunes App Store, includes an equalizer and other features that allow you to tune the sound of the unit to your ear. The app also includes an alarm clock which allows you to wake up to music from your iPod. And of course the speakers can be used for streaming music from Pandora and other Internet radio services when your iPod or iPhone has an Internet connection.

The Fidelio has a proximity sensor which illuminates the front-panel volume buttons as you approach and turns them off as you move away, thus providing more power for music and less for interference from the lights. The powered speakers come with an AC adapter and the Fidelio recharges your iPod as it sits in the dock. The unit is compatible with almost all iPods and yes, when tested with an iPod touch, the audio was warm and crisp.

An Ounce of Protection
If you think your iPod lover might like to personalize his unit, there are a number of services that let you design your own iPod case. For example, Coveroo has a deep selection of college and professional sports team logos, emblems, mascots and other images that can separate your iPod from the crowds.


The images are manufactured into the cases, so they won't wear off, according to Coveroo.

Case-Mate also offers a large line of cases for iPods, iPads and some Android-based cell phones like the Samsung Galaxy S series, also allows you to design your own case. The do-it-yourself area of the Case-Mate website allows you to upload your own design or photo and have it manufactured into a phone or iPod case. Here again the design or photo is embedded into the final product and doesn't wear off, according to Case-Mate.

And one last word here: Happy Holidays.

Text Copyright 2010 Stadium Circle Features
Photos courtesy of v-moda, Denon, Blue Microphones, Philips, Coveroo and Case-Mate

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

No Keyboard? No Problem: Acer's Dual-Touchscreen Iconia Oozes Coolness

Acer Iconia with dual 14-inch touchscreens
Is the Acer Iconia the opening salvo of a new generation of keyboard-free notebooks or just a grand experiment doomed to be a footnote in the annals of PC history? It's certainly too early to tell, but there's one thing that can be said about the new dual-touchscreen unit: It's just darn cool.

With no visible moving parts other than the hinge connecting the two bright 14-inch touchscreens, the Iconia is a sleek, clean-looking computing machine with nifty enhancements to the standard Windows interface.

You can navigate through your browser, word processor and other software with your finger as you would on an Apple iPad or other tablet, but if you lay both palms upon the lower touch screen, a full size keyboard appears, including a virtual touchpad, thus allowing you to work as if it were a conventional notebook.
Acer Iconia with virtual keyboard

The unit, and a handful of other new mobile devices, was introduced by Acer Tuesday at a spiffy New York press event which included a white runway more suited for fashion models than computer company executives.

Both of the LED-backlit14-inch LCD touchscreens offer a resolution of 1,366 by 768 pixels and come with a protective layer of Gorilla Glass, a scratch and crack-resistant composite glass developed by Corning, which is based appropriately enough in Corning, New York.

Acer Groups Senior Corp. VP Jim Wong watches demo 
The full-size keyboard not only offers all of the keys of a standard keyboard, but can do some tricks that a hardware keyboard can't. For example, once you touch the virtual touchpad below the virtual keyboard, the entire bottom screen becomes your touchpad as long as you don't lift your finger. Instead of dragging your finger in short bursts across a two-inch square, you can use the entire real estate of the 14-inch display to propel the cursor around the top screen.

The Paper PC on the Iconia
Touching the keyboard with five fingers and then giving the screen a twist causes the Acer Ring, a circular, scrollable group of one-touch application cards, to appear.

In practice the keyboard worked fairly well, requiring no more practice than one would need to use the virtual keyboard on an iPad or other tablet. The lower section can be used for generously sized system configuration screens--a boon for those with aging eyes.

The lack of a hardware keyboard allows for a very slim profile and of course, a very quiet notebook. The unit will be built with Intel's i5 family of processors, but other configuration information wasn't immediately announced.

A key question went unanswered Tuesday: The price. Acer officials said it had not been finalized yet. While Acer said that the unit may be available as soon as late this year, no sale date was given.

So is this the beginning of the end of the keyboard as we know it? Not quite. The lack of haptic feedback or the reassuring bounce-back of a physical keyboard may cause even good touch-typers to constantly look at the virtual keyboard instead of the screen. However the Iconia's dual screens brings the concept of a lightweight, but very rugged notebook with a weatherproof display and keyboard closer to reality.

So the question is: Would you buy something like this as your primary laptop? Chime in.

Top two product photos courtesy of Acer
Text and other photos and video Copyright 2010 Stadium Circle Features

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

World's Largest QR Code? Maybe Not, But...

Video screen above Times Square American Eagle Outfitters store.
It may not be the world's largest QR code, but it may be one of the most effective. While there are plenty of bright and flashy video screens in New York's Times Square, there aren't many that will prompt people to put aside their high-quality still and video cameras in favor of their little cameraphones.

Why? So they can snap an image of the huge QR (quick response) code which appears at regular intervals on the massive video screen of the American Eagle Outfitters store at 1551 Broadway.

These QR codes, which usually appear in somewhat smaller form in magazines, newspapers and sometimes the sides of bus stops, provide instant access to discount coupons or other assets like digital music clips, movie trailers or printed articles. As long as your smartphone has a bar code/QR code reading application--and there are many available for iPhone, Android and Blackberry phone users--you can scan the code, send it over the Internet for processing and download whatever goodie is attached to the code.

When snapped on Nov. 16, the Times Square American Eagle Outfitters QR code lead to a coupon good for 15% off its merchandise.

The L-shaped video screen section which includes the code in the photo measures roughly 79 feet wide by 44 feet tall, making it hard to miss even in the visual cacophony of Times Square. And there are 11 other sign sections in the massive structure above the store.

It was indeed amusing to watch tourists and hardened New Yorkers alike snatch their smartphones from their pockets as if they were Old West gunslingers in an effort to start their phones' code-reading apps and scan the code before it disappeared.

So what's your favorite bar code/QR code  reading app? This inquiring mind would like to know.

Photo and text Copyright 2010 Stadium Circle Features

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Samsung Continuum: Tick, Tick, Tick

The ticker at the bottom can be configured to show
the date and time, the weather or other infornation.
So you're in that big meeting and you're bored stiff. You want to keep track of the calls you're missing, your e-mail and the price of that stock you just invested in, but you don't want to get caught poking at your cell phone every  other minute. For you there's the Samsung Continuum, an Android smartphone billed as the first with its own customizable "ticker."

The Continuum, the newest in the Samsung Galaxy S family of handsets with Samsung's bright, sharp Super AMOLED display, arrives at Verizon Wireless stores Nov.18 but orders will be taken starting Nov. 11. The handset will sell for $200 with a two-year service plan after a $100 rebate. The Galaxy S family has already sold three million unit since its introduction this summer, according to Kim Titus, director of public relations for Samsung Telecommunications America.

Samsung Continuum ticker in music player mode with album art
Below the Continuum's 3.4-inch main screen and four touch-sensitive Android keys (menu, home, return and search) is a thin piece of screen real estate at the very bottom set aside for a scrollable ticker. You can customize this 1.8-inch ticker so that it shows missed calls, incoming e-mail, stock prices, the weather or other bits of continuously updated information. And all you need to do get the ticker to reveal itself is to grip the handset at the bottom. Only the ticker section will come to life--the rest of the screen will remain dark, thus making it less likely that the chairman of the board will catch you checking your e-mail while the big meeting is still in progress.

Nick DiCarlo, Samsung
At a press conference in New York on Monday, Nick DiCarlo, director of product planning at Samsung Telecommunications America, said the Continuum was an example of "innovating on Android ... in a way you've never seen till now."

The point of the ticker is to allow you to get information without interrupting what you're doing on the main part of the screen. For example, if you're using your calendar app on the main screen, you can see the contents of an incoming text message in the ticker as it comes in without having to leave the calendar.

Thanks to the lightweight nature of the Super AMOLED screen technology, the Continuum is thin and light like the other handsets in the Galaxy S-family handsets. The Continuum will ship with Android 2.1, however, which means it won't be able to handle Web videos and other features built with Adobe Flash 10.1 until it receives the Android 2.2 upgrade.

The unit can function as a Wi-Fi hotspot, allowing you to link up to five other devices to the Internet through the phone. Also included is a five-megapixel digital camera with HD video capabilities, stereo Bluetooth support for wireless accessories, a standard 3.5mm headphone jack and an eight-gigabyte removable memory card--which can be swapped for media with capacities up to 32 gigabytes.

Also preinstalled is Swype, a utility which lets you spell words on the on-screen keyboard by sliding your finger from key to key without lifting your finger from the screen.

On balance, the Continuum seems to be an admirable addition to the Samsung Galaxy S family, but it remains to be seen if the ticker feature will catapult it to the head of the pack.

Text and photos Copyright 2010, Stadium Circle Features

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Logitech Revue: After All the Buzz, Will It Take Flight?

At a well-attended press conference Wednesday, Logitech showed off its Revue, the first in what will probably be a litany of Google-powered TV devices that will let you view content from the Web, broadcast and application sources on a simple TV interface.

Kevin Simon, Logitech
At $300, the Revue comes with a nifty thin wireless keyboard controller with a touch pad (held in the photo by Kevin Simon, director of product marketing for Logitech's digital home group) and runs on Google's Android operating system with Google's Chrome Web browser.

Also available is a sharp-looking, backlit mini controller ($130) or you can operate the Revue with your Android phone or iPhone once you've downloaded a free app from the Android Market or iTunes App Store.

Logitech Revue mini controller
At the press conference Junien Labrousse, Logitech's executive vice president for products, said the Revue would make it simple for TV viewers to find and watch their favorite programs no matter where the content came from.

"Imagine having all your favorite content at your fingertips," he said. "The magic with the Logitech Revue is that everything just works."

Preorders are being taken now but the unit won't arrive at Amazon and Best Buy until the end of the month.

So what are the details on the new Revue? See my piece at PC World.

Journalists jammed the Oct. 6 Logitech Revue press conference in New York.
Text and photos Copyright 2010 Stadium Circle Features