Archive for the ‘Technology’ category

Introducing the multimedia waterbed

February 7, 2008

 

OK, so maybe $50,000 is a wee bit much for a bed, even if it does help stop snoring. Thriftier Cravers might be more inclined to go with something like a stripped-down “TV-Bed” from Gustarle, which comes with a built-in 26-inch Samsung LCD and a Sony DVD player. And it’s a waterbed.

 All this for the bargain price of $13,577, according to BornRich. Sure, it doesn’t have all that fancy sleep technology featured in the “Starry Night Bed,” but it has all the basics. After all, as everyone knows, a bed’s only as good as its TV.

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Futuristic watch concepts via Kanye West (?!)

February 7, 2008

In case you weren’t up on your blogsphere knowledge, ultra suave rapper Kanye West has a blog that’ll drop some knowledge on y’all (his words, not mine.) He occasionally posts one or two sentence posts about fashion, music and the latest in tech he finds appealing. That’s where we find these two interesting watch concepts.

The first, from design firm Chocolate Agency, sports the “e-paper” technology we’ve all come to know and love, albeit in a futuristic form that isn’t anywhere near ready for prime-time. (C’mon, you’ve seen the Kindle’s refresh rate.) The idea is simple: Bend the e-paper into a slap-bracelet form factor and charge the low-power display using kinetic energy from walking around. They also say if you need to extend the size of the bracelet, chuck on another magnet at the end.

The second, a concept from Gucci, seems a little more ready for prime time. Kanye was a little light on the specs, information or where he actually got the design from, but the watch looks simple enough. Looks like a bangle that retracts to reveal an OLED screen encased in plastic. Again, no release date nor real information, but we wouldn’t be shocked to see that out of Gucci’s portfolio soon.

 

Nokia E90 Communicator

January 25, 2008

Many moons ago, a laptop, a cell phone, and a cinder block got together for a hot three-way love fest. The product of this freaky, sweaty, and possibly illegal union? The Nokia E90 communicator — a device with some serious identity issues, but also one with some serious talent too.

Let’s be up front about it: this monstrous device at 7.4 ounces and 5.2 x 2.24 x 0.79 inches is not attractive in the slightest. In fact, the unappealing shell and sheer physical size make it a colossal pain in the ass to lug around in public. Clearly, the E90 is made to fit in briefcases—not skinny hipster jeans. Business folks and texting junkies, though, will love the full QWERTY keyboard, a feature that makes composing legalese missives, or elaborate IMs a relatively painless process. (Ever try tapping out a Google doc on the iPhone’s touch screen? Yeesh.) But even more appealing is the impressive palette of functions Nokia manages to cram into the beast: a 3.2 megapixel camera with flash and autofocus, 640 x 480 video resolution at 30fps, 3G compatibility, Wi-Fi, infrared, and Bluetooth connectivity, a voice recorder, GPS Navigation, push-to-talk, both Flash and (scoff) Real Player

 

No, it’s not going to tuck you into bed at night, and we’re guessing it won’t get you chicks either (really though, what gadget does?) but the E90 is definitely a good choice for those who want laptop functionality dressed up in the guise of a cell phone

Tannoy i30 iPod Speaker System

January 25, 2008

Tannoy’s latest speaker system is actually kinda sexy. Well as sexy as a speaker system can get. First off, the clever packaging makes for a fascinating unboxing experience nearly on par with an Apple product — the power cords and peripherals come in two simple black boxes labeled “the kit” and “the bits.” The i30 (nestled beneath the kits and bits) is silky smooth and glossy black with a rounded behind. Five dock adapters plus a 3.5mm jack ensure that every generation of iPod is compatible with the dock. Operation is simple: and there are no buttons that you have to worry about not pushing—simply plug it into the wall, dock your iPod, and press play. Our one major beef? The remote. It’s a cheap plastic temperamental little thing that only works occasionally from a few feet away. But that’s not a deal breaker. The i30 is still a great choice for those who need a chic bedroom accessory that also happens to deliver rich, room filling audio.

$400, tannoydigital.com

Logitech diNovo Mini

January 24, 2008

The Logitech diNovo Mini is a Media Center remote control that features a full QWERTY keyboard and looks good on the coffee table

 

The big keyboard is much cooler than typing on the numeric pad of the remote, but it looks bad on the coffee table. Heck, even the MCE remote looks kind of ugly.

Then the diNovo Mini came. Closed, it looks like a pebble that looks good even in a minimalist loft… Open it and there is a full QWERTY keyboard, a directional pad and a few Media Center buttons. It is neat, comfy in the hand and functional. The directional pad has two modes (switchable via a button): directional pad for navigating menus or touch pad to emulate the mouse.

After trying it, I can say that I like it a lot, and I have no problem saying that anyone that uses a keyboard and a mouse on a semi-regular basis should take a look at the diNovo Mini.

 

V-Moda Vibe Duo

January 24, 2008

Apple doesn’t make it easy to replace the headset that comes with the iPhone: The phone’s headset jack is infamously recessed so deeply into the casing that most standard plugs are too short to connect. That’s a shame considering the Apple headset’s mediocre sound quality. A number of people report problems, too, with the fit – the shiny white earbuds have a tendency to fall out, even if your ears are not the size of Dumbo’s.

Surprisingly, alternatives are still hard to come by. Some four months after the iPhone’s debut, only V-Moda has presented a stereo headset specifically designed to play with Apple’s new star. Not only does the “Vibe Duo” offer a guaranteed-to-work plug, the recently updated model – look for “vdb-nero” on the box – also sports a button next to the microphone that allows answering phone calls with one click, meaning you won’t have to take the iPhone out of your pocket. A nice touch, and potentially a real boon if you happen to be roaming in seedy areas of town.

You can also play or pause music and skip ahead to the next song by double-clicking the button, just like on Apple’s iPhone headset. Priced at $99.95 in the U.S., the Vibe Duo has quickly become a popular choice among early iPhone adopters who paid $200 more than everybody else and received Steve Job’s $100 guinea-pig store credit in return. That way, you end up paying sales tax and nothing more. Unfortunately, to my ears, that’s still more than the Vibe Duo is worth.

The first problem is sound quality:

I found these earbuds dull and bass-heavy, muffling voices and sucking the air out of acoustic and electronic music equally. Moreover, no matter which size of the provided plastic earpieces (small, medium or large) I tried for optimal fit and sound, the second problem remained noise: The cables dangling from my ears constantly generated unwelcome sound effects – scratching and popping, for example, whenever the cord scraped against my jacket. Even walking added an audible thump, in rhythm with my step. And while these may be common issues with headphones that sit in the ear-canal, ultimately it hardly matters if it spoils the fun in your music. Similarly, talking on the phone with this headset can be disconcerting. The microphone works well, picking up little ambient noise, but when you speak you’ll barely hear your own voice. It’s like talking while wearing ear plugs because the Vibe Duo does not play back anything you say.

Music sound quality, granted, is a matter of taste, and judging from user reviews posted on the Apple Store website, plenty of buyers seem to like the Vibe Duo’s characteristics. To put things in perspective, let me compare these earbuds with a few other headphone models. Where Denon’s AH-D1000 allowed Amy Winehouse’s vocal cords to sparkle and shine, the Vibe Duo tended to compress her tonal range to a narrow corridor. Same thing with Canadian singer Feist, whose little gem “Mushaboom” came across as appropriately breezy on my Sennheiser PXC 250 headphones but sounded nasal and leaden on the Vibe Duo.

 

To compare earbuds with earbuds, I pulled out my Bang & Olufsen A8 headphones and found them to be superior as well. Bands like Kaiser Chiefs and Hard-Fi showed a liveliness they were missing with the V-Moda headset, which had a tendency to muffle the music and take the edge off guitars and drums. R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe fared a little better but still seemed to be sitting in a tunnel and singing with unusual restraint. The biggest bang the Vibe Duo delivered for the buck was a fat bass line. In this aspect, the V-Moda earphones clearly trump Apple’s own.

 

If that’s not quite enough to make you want to spend $99.95 (or a certain voucher), the other option is to fork over $9.95 for Belkin’s “iPhone Headphone Adapter” or $39.95 for Shure’s “Music Phone Adapter.” Both allow you to use any headphones or headset of your choice, and the Shure adapter even features a built-in microphone. But the Belkin looks less-than-elegant, and Shure’s model adds quite a bit of cable to your headphones. Clearly, there is still plenty of room for improvement.

 

Sony Mylo 2

January 24, 2008

With the “Put the fun of a PC in your pocket” tag line, Sony is going after the “young adults” crowd. The company thinks that there are not many devices that would allow students to have good “mobile entertainment” (as defined below), without paying an expensive wireless subscription fee. This is true and that’s the idea behind the Mylo 2.

Although the original Mylo did not have the success that was hoped by its maker, Sony has learned a lot, and it designed the Mylo 2 to address the weaknesses of the first one. In this review, we will put the Mylo 2 to the test and share our thoughts with you. Feel free to ask questions, share your opinion or write your review (if you own the Mylo 2) in the comments section at the bottom of the article page. Every device is engineered to solve a problem, and the Mylo 2 has been built to provide “good” mobile entertainment and communications. For Sony, that means:

  • Desktop-like web browsing
    • Including Flash games and web video
  • Good email support
  • Broad instant messaging support
  • Social Networks
  • VoIP

Improvements over the first Mylo

Mylo

Mylo 2

   

WiFi B (11Mbps)

WiFi G (54Mbps)

320×240 display

800×480 touch display

No back-lit keyboard

Back-lit Keyboard

No camera

1.3 Megapixel Camera

No customization

Removable faceplate

No file upload/download

File upload/download supported

No widgets

Widgets supported

No RSS

Intgrated RSS reader

$349

$299

 

5.16 x 0.82 x 2.55″

Physical description

First, let’s take a quick look at the device too see how it looks and what are its physical properties and functionalities. Mylo 2 has about the same size than its predecessor. It is slightly on the bulky side, and is even larger than a Nokia N93i, but it is a definitely a pocket device. [photo gallery]A few user interface (UI) elements are visible from the outside: a joystick on the right provides 4 directions + click on the left side of the screen. A microphone is located on the right. On each side of the display, there are a few touch elements:

  • Options: the equivalent of a “menu”
  • Disp: toggles the application UI elements (menus, buttons) to reduce the clutter on the screen
  • Back: go back to the previous screen
  • Info: opens a “task manager” to switch from one application to the next
  • Mylo: brings you to a Netvibes-looking page that contains Widgets
  • Home: back to the main menu

QWERTY keyboard

The keyboard slider feels solid, much more than most smartphones that I have seen, except for the i-mate 9502. The keys are flat, but surprisingly they have a good tactile feedback. The key spacing is large enough to avoid mistyping issues common to smaller keyboards. Finally, it is a backlit keyboard, which is indispensable when texting in dark conditions. Overall, I am happy with it.

 

The display is the computer

Someone I know used to say that, and it applies very well to the Mylo 2: You will immediately notice how awesome the display is, thanks to its 800×480 resolution – that’s 2.5 times the number of pixels of the iPhone’s display! (which has 480×320 pixels). With such a screen, “Desktop PC web browsing experience” starts to be true. The text on websites is readable without zooming in and out, but if you want to, it is possible to zoom. This unbelievably crisp display is the most important asset of the Mylo 2, in my opinion, and I can only hope to see more devices with a similar screen in the near future.

Computer Sync

The Mylo 2 connects to a computer as a USB Mass Storage device (like a Flash drive), or by using the Media Transfer Protocol (MTP), a protocol used by Windows Media 10 and above to access Media Players. Both protocols are mutually exclusive and in this review, we used USB Mass Storage.

Applications

Instant Messaging

Instant messaging is very well integrated in the Mylo 2. Four major IM clients are supported (AIM, Skype, YIM, Google Talk) and although MSN isn’t in the list, you can still chat with your MSN buddies from an Yahoo IM account, if you have one. All the IM clients have a similar user interface, which is convenient and consistent. I noticed that it is not always possible to filter-out the contacts that are not online, and that can be annoying if you have many of IM contacts.

RSS

A basic RSS reader has been included, and although it shows the headlines, it does not provide a preview/excerpt. You will have to follow the link and open the web browser to read the content. It is something that needs improvement. At the moment, I would still like to use Google Reader instead.

Web

Overall, the web browser is good. We have tested several popular sites like CNN, Facebook, MySpace, Yahoo, Google Maps, Digg and … Ubergizmo 🙂 Everything worked fine, without needing to zoom. Unfortunately, the current browser does not work with Google Reader and Google Docs. The server returned an “unsupported browser” error. That is probably due to the Javascript support, but it is just my guess.

Flash seems to be fully supported we tested YouTube and MetaCafe. Both worked fine, even if the video playback wasn’t as smooth as on a desktop PC.

Although it is mostly OK, links are sometimes hard to click on because of the small size of the characters (when no zoom is applied). It would be necessary to improve this in the future.

Music

A powerful device like the Mylo 2 can certainly play music files. I quickly dropped a few MP3 files via USB and voila. The volume was plenty loud (there’s an option to protect from hearing damages in the settings) and the sound quality is good. The sound quality is probably limited by the default earphones, but the point is that the Mylo 2 sounds like a good MP3 player. It supports MP3, AAC, WMA and ATRAC.

The Mylo 2 does not have a standard jack (!), so you will have to use the adapter found in the box. This adds additional cable clutter, unfortunately.

VoIP

Placing calls with Skype worked like a breeze, much better than on my Windows Mobile phone, for sure. It is best to use earphones because the speaker is a little weak even when you are indoors. With earphones, it works really well and it is comparable at what you would get on a PC. (The Mylo 2 had 3/3 bars of WiFi reception when I tried)

Photos ViewingIf you have some room to spare, you can copy your favorite photos to the Mylo 2. Given how good the screen is, this device is a very good photo viewer. There is no need to re-scale high-resolution photos. We tried to view a 1728×1152 photo and the Mylo 2 did a very good job at downscaling the photo to the native screen resolution. However, a 3504×2336 photo was deemed “unsupported” by the viewer application.

Camera

The 1.3 Megapixel camera will produce photos that are comparable to a cellphone camera – probably because it is a cellphone camera. At the moment, I have not been able to record movies, and I don’t know if there is a plan to support movie recording when the Mylo 2 launches.

Video Replay

The videos provided by default in the Mylo 2 were encoded in Mpeg4, 320×240, 29.97FPS, AAC audio 48Khz, Stereo. They play smoothly, although during fast action sequences, I could see compression artifacts. I wonder if the Mylo 2 could play Memory Stick movies originally intended for the Sony PSP. I’ll have to get back to you on that. Right now, you can expect video too look like the standard 320×240 videos on an iPod.

Text Editor

The integrated text editor works like Windows Notepad. It is simple and does not support formatting, but having a notepad is always a good idea for a QWERTY device

 

Homepage

The “Mylo” button in the (vertical) middle-right of the screen brings the user to a “home page” that looks like Netvibes or iGoogle. Third party applications can be installed, and it is not yet clear if Sony will tightly control the widget application distribution. What we can say is that Widgets are downloadable from the web, or installed from a Memory Stick card.

Developers: Sony will create a developer website and provide an SDK, we will keep an eye on the announcement, and we will let you know. This has not been confirmed to us, but because you can download a widget from your PC, it doesn not look like Sony is going to try to have a tight control over the applications.

 Networking

The Mylo 2 can connect to WiFi G networks. This is quite an improvement over the WiFi B featured in the first Mylo. The main drawback with WiFi is how scarce free hotspot are (remember, Mylo 2 was trying to avoid the data subscription fee). To avoid this, Sony Mylo 2 customers will have a free access to Wayport’s WiFi network that includes 9000 McDonald’s, hotels, airports and other venues. (wayport.net)

WiFi LAN

WiFi is easy to configure. By default, the Mylo 2 scanned and connected to an unprotected network, which is probably the best behavior if you are outside of your home. If you want to connect to a particular network, you just have to enter the Network settings, choose a network and enter the password. We tried it with a WEP-protected network and it worked.

WiFi AdHoc

The Mylo 2 can also be connected with other Mylo 2 to form a peer-to-peer network. That would allow a user to listen to someone else’s music wirelessly. We do not have more than one Mylo 2, so right now, we can’t tell you how well it works, but it is reasonable to expect it to work well.

Update 1/14:This section was based on an early unit and documentation and we have since learned that the AdHoc feature has been removed from The Mylo 2 (codenamed COM-2)

Storage

There is 1GB of built-in memory, and it is possible to extend the storage by using a Memory Stick flash card (about $50 for 4GB, 8GB is the largest capacity today).

Battery life

The Mylo 2 uses a 3.7V, 1200mAh battery. After 24 hours of playing and testing it (not continuously), Less than half of the battery remained. I would say about 30%. That’s equivalent to a busy day of use (for me), in my opinion.

Accessories

  • Charging Cradle
  • Color FacePlate
  • AC Adapter
  • Extra battery and charger kit
  • Screen Protector

Conclusion

I was not very excited by the first Mylo, but I have to admit that the Mylo 2 is a nice surprise. Technically, the display is brilliant and the device fulfills its goal. Creating a mobile device requires a concerted effort between hardware, software and design teams is really hard to pull off. The Mylo 2 brings a solution for having a better mobile entertainment, without paying hundreds of dollars in subscription pr year (for a slower network). The idea of cutting a deal with Wayport is excellent, because accessibility is WiFi’s weak point.

Sony has done a tremendous step forward from the original Mylo and now, we will see if consumers want to buy a connected device that is not a phone. I’m definitely not in the 18-22 group anymore, so it’s hard to guess. Although the cost of ownership of a Mylo 2 can be an order of magnitude less than using a “fruity phone” (over a couple of years), the “cool” factor of the competition should not be underestimated. Again, feel free to share your thoughts, questions and review in the comments section.

Note: this review was done with an engineering sample that uses a development version of the firmware. While I did notice that some function were slow, like the YouTube (flash) videos, I’ll reserve my judgment for now. Potential buyers should pay attention to the performance when the Mylo 2 comes on the market. We will try to follow-up as things unfold.

 

Availability: End of January 2008, $299