Archive for April 2007

iRiver Clix (8GB, second generation)

April 30, 2007

Truly, iRiver scored a win when it came up with the D-Click interface, arguably the most innovative DAP design move since the iPod scroll wheel. In fact, it was the Clix’s excellent user interface–combined with a host of complementing features–that pushed it to be one of the highest-rated MP3 players.

Now, a second-generation Clix is set to overtake the throne. It’s not an outstanding improvement over its predecessor, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Coming in 2GB, 4GB, and 8GB capacities at $149.99, $199.99, and $249.99 (respectively), the new Clix is set to give competing flash-memory players a run for the money. It’s simply the best flash player on the market in terms of overall quality.

Sleeker and slimmer
It’s hard to say whether the design of the 2G Clix is an improvement over the previous iteration, though it’s certainly just as good. The new Clix is wider (3.2 inches), shorter (1.8 inches), and thinner (0.5 inch) than the old one, which means it could accommodate a noticeably larger screen. However, for some reason iRiver went with the same 2.2-inch screen–it’s a bit disappointing, to be honest. That said, it’s a gorgeous AMOLED screen, with lovely color saturation and crisp text in a pleasant font. And you still have the option of setting the background to any photo or going with the daily color schemes, which now have a light hibiscus print. The display is just nice to look at, especially when you’re on the playback screen, which shows album art and a plethora of information: album, artist, track, time elapsed and remaining, upcoming track name, star rating, time, and battery level. Also, in keeping with the D-Click interface, which allows you to navigate menus by pressing on the sides of the screen itself, the display offers contextual icons on each screen.

The Clix also features a variety of dedicated keys around its seam. And a seam it is: it looks like you could almost detach the face of the player from the back. This raises some concerns about durability, but it does make the Clix easy to get a grip on. The top edge houses volume buttons, while a power button and programmable hot key sit on the right spine. The requisite hold switch can be found on the bottom. The Clix also features a standard mini USB port and headphone jack. Rather inconveniently, all of the labels for the various buttons and ports are printed on the back of the player, meaning you’ll constantly be flipping it over until you commit the functions to memory. Still, there’s no denying that the Clix is supremely easy to use and quite easy on the eyes as well.

 

Loaded with features
You’d be hard pressed to find a feature the iRiver Clix doesn’t have. Essentially, all that’s missing is wireless connectivity (which is still an alpha function, really) and line-in recording. That’s where this player’s limitations end, though–the Clix is packed with useful extras. You get a voice recorder and an FM tuner with autoscan and seemingly limitless presets (FM recording is also possible). There’s a calendar and an alarm clock, as well as support for Flash games. Our test unit came with several titles already loaded, but keep in mind you can’t listen to music while you play these games; they have their own built-in sound. If you need to keep your eyes busy, the iRiver Clix delivers in that area too. You can view text, JPEG photos, or slide shows while listening to music.

Of course, the heart of an MP3 player is its digital music playback, and the iRiver Clix is no slouch in that area. The Clix supports MP3, OGG, and WMA files, including DRM-protected songs purchased from online stores such as Yahoo Music or downloaded as part of an on-the-go subscription service such as Urge and, especially, Rhapsody (more on this below). You can transfer playlists to the device or choose from two on-the-fly options: make your own Quick List or let the player decide based on your song ratings. You can also rate songs on the fly. For music playback, the Clix offers the standard Shuffle and Repeat settings, and you can select from 13 EQ settings (Normal, Classic, Live, Pop, Rock, Jazz, Ubass, Metal, Dance, Party, Club, SRS Wow, and a user-defined mode) and preview them in real time. For those who like audio books, the Clix supports Audible content as well.

As icing on the cake, the iRiver Clix supports MPEG-4 video, though there’s no easy way to get this content à la iTunes. That is, you’ll have to convert your files before playing them on the device. While iRiver’s user guide clearly documents the parameters for compatible video and describes how to transfer footage to the Clix, it doesn’t explain the conversion process. However, iRiver’s Web site has this info, along with the necessary software, called iRiviter, created not by iRiver engineers but by die-hard iRiver fans. In our tests, the software made easy–though not exactly quick–work of several video files, but other files proved impossible to convert. Another option is to purchase an MPEG-4 encoder plug-in for WMP 11 so that the app will do the work for you (we haven’t had a chance to test this out yet). As it did with SanDisk last year, Rhapsody has now partnered with iRiver to offer its DNA Platform on the new Clix. In layman’s terms, this means the player will offer enhanced support for Rhapsody Channels and Rhapsody’s Internet radio programming. We’re still waiting on the necessary firmware update, but future models will come preloaded with the capability and will feature respective Rhapsody branding on the packaging.

What a sound!
Plain and simple: the iRiver Clix sounds fantastic. The catch, however, is that you’ll need some earbuds that are up to the task. The ones included in the package offer fine playback quality, but if you really want to experience the full aural spectrum that the Clix is capable of offering, try it with some Shure SE310s. Tunes sound rich, warm, and encompassing across genres, and the high-end detail and low-end response are both impressive. The Clix also gets very loud–in fact, you’ll want to watch that when switching between headphones.
 The Clix also offers snappy processor performance and relatively speedy transfers over USB 2.0. The player’s lovely color screen handles video playback, but there was noticeable pixilation in the sample clips. Still, color saturation and detail are good, though I still wouldn’t suggest watching full-length films on such a small screen. The rated battery life of 5 hours for video and 24 hours for audio is more than adequate (check back soon for CNET Labs test results). Finally, the Flash games are surprisingly engaging and colorful, FM reception is excellent, and the related autoscan feature works well.

 

 

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Sony announces its first removable-media HD camcorder

April 27, 2007

And then there were four: quadruplet Sony HD camcorders, that is. When they ship on June 27, the $1,200 Memory Stick Duo-based Handycam HDR-CX7 and $1,400 hard-disk-based HDR-SR7 will join the tape-based HDR-HC7 and DVD-based HDR-UX7 to provide consumers with an almost bewildering array of HD options

They differ primarily by storage media. All use the same 1/2.9-inch, 3.2-megapixel ClearVid CMOS sensor, recording video at 2.3-megapixel (HD) or 1.7-megapixel (SD) resolution before downsampling and encoding to 1080i HD (1,920×540) or SD (720×480), respectively. They also shoot photos at native 2.3-megapixel (16:9) or 3-megapixel (4:3) resolutions, despite the 6-megapixel claim on the body, which refers to maximum interpolated resolution. They also use the same 10x zoom Zeiss T*-coated lenses, 5.1 Dolby surround-sound recording, and support the as-yet unviewable xvYCC color space and are rated at a minimum illumination of 2 Lux.

 

In some ways, though, the CX7 is the odd man out. The other three provide a manual focus dial on the side of the lens and an eye-level viewfinder, while the CX7 appears stripped of the external power-user trappings of its siblings. I’m guessing that’s to save space: Sony claims that it’s the smallest and lightest AVCHD camcorder available.

 

In fact, both the CX7 and SR7 look remarkably small, especially given their recording capacities. In best-quality HD mode, the CX7 requires 133MB per minute of video, for a total of 30 minutes on a 4GB card or 60 minutes on an 8GB card. The SR7 seems to compress a bit more, managing 125MB per minute of best-quality HD video, or 8 hours on its 60GB hard drive. Both also ship with a Handycam Station for ease of transferring video. 

The HDR 5 series–HDR-HC5 and HDR-UX5–gets another member this spring as well, the $1,100 hard-disk-based HDR-SR5. It shares the specs of its line mates, including Sony’s 1/3-inch 2-megapixel ClearVid CMOS. The SR5’s 40GB hard disk will hold up to five hours of best-quality HD video, or the same 133MB per minute as the CX7. Sony makes no mention of an HDR 5 series Memory Stick Duo-based model

 

Nokia N95 and Nokia N76: Journeying to the States.

April 27, 2007

Start saving your pennies, Cravers: the much-coveted Nokia N95 is coming to the United States. That’s right, baby. Scheduled for a late spring release, the N95 brings an innovative two-way slider design, integrated GPS, Wi-Fi, and a 5-megapixel camera, just to name a few of the phone’s goodies. Unfortunately, it looks like the HSDPA support will be stripped out of the U.S. version though. What the? Booooo! For now, the quad-band (GSM 850/900/1800/1900; EDGE) N95 won’t be released with any carrier, so the good news is it’s not tied down to one service provider. You can just plop in your T-Mobile or Cingular/AT&T SIM card, and start using the Symbian-based phone. The bad news is the gut-wrenching price; we’re looking at $400 to $500 for an unlocked version, but we have to say, if you’re willing to spend that much on a phone, it might as well be for the N95

Following the N95 will be the music-centric Nokia N76. This sleek and sexy flip Symbian handset will ship around early summer and also will be sold as an unlocked phone with pricing starting around $500. Highlights include a 2-megapixel camera, a built-in music player, an FM radio, external music controls, and a 3.5mm headset jack. Both the Nokia N95 and the Nokia N76 will be sold through major retailers, Nokia’s Web site, and the company’s flagship stores. Hang in there just a while longer, they’re coming!

Coming to America: Nokia 330 Auto Navigation

April 27, 2007

 

OK, you heard it here first: the Nokia 330 portable navigation system is headed for the United States. We got a little heads-up from Nokia tonight that it’s going to announce the U.S. availability of the Nokia 330 Auto Navigation unit tomorrow with an expected ship date of April. It’ll come preloaded with Navteq maps and features a 3.5-inch touch screen, turn-by-turn, voice-guided directions, and multimedia capabilities (music and video player and image viewer). You know, pretty much like every other portable in-car GPS device out there. Will it offer any compelling reasons to fork over $499 for the unit? We’ll let you know when we take this baby for a test drive as soon as we get back to San Francisco. Nokia has promised us one of the first units, so we can’t wait. Road trip anyone?

Sharp Zaurus SL C3200

April 27, 2007

The Sharp
Zaurus SL-C3200 is the sixth generation of the groundbreaking SL-C line of LINUX-based PDAs. The internal 6gb drive offers unparalleled storage (for a PDA) and opens up myriad new options–including using the Zaurus as a portable media player. The C3200 has has both compact flash and SD slots. And, since the Zaurus’s HDD is plug-n-play recognized by Windows, moving data is by USB 2.0 connection is fast and easy.

Sharp is a display technology leader, and the Zaurus uses a 3.7″ VGA (640×480) screen that is truly awesome: bright and razor sharp. And there’s a built-in zoom function that allows you to zoom the screen in five increments. Each step is larger than the previous, but none suffers any loss of quality. The screen’s orientation automatically adjusts when swiveled. It’s a very impressive design. (There’s even an optional VGA-out connection, intended for people who want to use the Zaurus to give presentations.)

The swiveling screen transforms the shape of the Zaurus from PDA-style to laptop-style. (The  fully-functional either way.) Once in laptop-style, you can utilize the QWERTY keyboard, with its great tactile feedback.Other technical specs include an Intel XScale PXA270 processor (416mhz), 64mb RAM, and 128mb flash
ROM. The two slots (1 CF, 1 SD) are I/O, so they support wireless connectivity (such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi). There is a stereo-out for MP3 playback. The Zaurus SL-C3200 measures 4.9×3.4×1.0 inches (124x87x25mm), and weighs 0.65 pounds (298g).

Included Software:
The Zaurus SL-Series is a LINUX-based PDA. The Zaurus comes with the following pre-installed software: HancomWord (for .doc), HancomSheet (for .xls), Email, Calculator, World Time, terminal window, Image viewer (for .jpg, .bmp, .gif), Media player (for .MP3), NetFront browser, Text editor (for .txt), ToDo list, telnet, English handwriting recognition and keyboard input methods. The Zaurus OS has been approximately 97% converted from Japanese to English, so some incidental pull-down menus are not readable.
 

Backward compatibility:
All
Zaurus SL-C7xx and 8xx programs are compatible with the SL-C3xxx. Most of the Zaurus SL-5500 programs that have been tested on the SL-Series series work. The Zaurus will step down to 240×320 for older programs. 

Synchronization:
The Zaurus uses Samba connection via USB, so the machine will show up as a network device under Windows XP. MS Outlook synchronization is not included with the Zaurus. However, Outlook sync can be set up by the user.

 Other info:
The GUI (graphic user interface) shown in the photos is one of a several GUI options.
 

Warranty and Support:
The Zaurus includes unlimited technical support from Dynamism. This Zaurus model is sold only by Sharp
Japan (in Japan), and is not supported by Sharp USA in any way. The product includes a 1-year Fedex-rescue service warranty. If you have a hardware failure within the one-year period, Dynamism will pay for Fedex return of your PDA to Japan for repair, and Fedex return shipping to you. (User-inflicted damage is not included.)

 

SanDisk Sansa Connect

April 27, 2007

Back in January, SanDisk announced the Sansa Connect, a slick-looking flash MP3 player capable of hopping on open Wi-Fi networks and sharing songs with any other Connects anywhere. The device was sweet enough to garner a Best of CES award in the MP3 player category, and that was when we just had an inkling that a compatible service for cordless music acquisition was in the works. Now, the rumor has become a reality: SanDisk has partnered with Yahoo to offer its Yahoo Music Unlimited To Go service on the Connect, which means users can update music wirelessly from anywhere with an open Wi-Fi connection. (Head on over to Crave for more information on the wireless music features.)

The other big news is that the Sansa Connect hits shelves today at Circuit
City stores across the nation. The player carries an MSRP of $250, which is slightly high for a 4GB device, but it’s not unreasonable to pay a bit more for advanced technology. Plus, you can always add more memory via the built-in microSD slot–we certainly can’t complain about expandable memory. We also can’t complain about the player’s design and interface. It’s a slick little player with a nice-feeling black enclosure and a cute, stubby antenna poking out of the top, rather like that of a portable satellite radio device. The 2.2-inch screen is nice and bright with good color saturation, and the icon-driven menus are fun and easy to navigate. We especially like the bubbly main menu selections that rotate in an arc across the lower portion of the screen when you hit the home button. 

Fortunately, the Connect’s controls complement the interface nicely. Below the screen is a tactile scroll wheel, which can be clicked in four directions as well: up activates the home function, pulling up the main menu wheel at the bottom of the screen; down starts and stops playback; and right/left serve to shuttle between menu levels and tracks. A dedicated volume rocker sits on the left spine, while the power button and hold switch reside on the top. There’s even a built-in speaker on the rear of the device–of course, you just get mono audio out of it, but it’s still a nice touch.

In addition to its wireless compatibility with Yahoo Music Unlimited To Go, the Connect supports all DRM WMAs, including those from other music subscription services (such as Rhapsody), though you’ll need to connect to the computer to get those. Naturally, MP3 files are supported. You also can view photos on the device. In fact, you can browse photos on the go through Flickr, which is another neat wireless feature.  So far, we’re pretty impressed with the Connect’s inclusion of desirable features and its snappy processor performance in preliminary testing. We’re still having issues hopping onto the local free Wi-Fi, but we hope to work it out with some more communication with SanDisk.

 

Tangled Wires: Episode 4…

April 20, 2007

Thank You for making “Tangled Wires” a huge success.  We continue to receive a large response and we’d like to thank you for your support. 

We’re not done yet, so please continue to tune in. 

This week’s Entrepreneur Segment:  Highbrid Entertainment!

 “Tangled Wires” is a weekly series airing every Saturday this Spring @ 5pm EST on
Brooklyn channels 34 (Time Warner) & 67 (Cablevision).