Introducing the multimedia waterbed

Posted February 7, 2008 by Harvey Diamond
Categories: All, Archives, Gadgets, Technology

 

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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Magellan Maestro 4250

Posted February 7, 2008 by Harvey Diamond
Categories: All

The number of portable navigation systems coming out these days is pretty astonishing, but the thing is, we’re finding that when it comes to the core navigation functions, they pretty much all offer the same thing–text- and voice-guided directions, extensive POI databases, automatic route recalculation, and so forth. So in order to differentiate itself from the competition, GPS manufacturers are adding more distinct and advanced features, and in the case of the Magellan Maestro 4250, this comes in the form of voice commands. With this function, you can operate the in-car GPS device with the sound of your voice. For the most part, it worked well during our test period, and we think it’s a great safety feature. However, the functionality is a bit limited at this time, (e.g., you can’t enter addresses via voice) and you have to create a pretty quiet environment in your car for optimal results. Voice commands aside, the Maestro 4250 is a solid mid-level portable navigation system that also offers text-to-speech functionality, integrated Bluetooth, and accurate directions. It’s available now for $499.99.

Design
At 3.2 inches high by 4.8 inches wide by 0.7 inch deep and 6.8 ounces, the Magellan Maestro 4250 is more compact and lighter than the Magellan Maestro 4040. While the difference in size isn’t significant, we definitely noticed that the Maestro 4250 felt less clunky and the slimmer design makes it that much more portable and easier to slip into a bag during travels. We also like that the company throws in a soft carrying case to protect the screen and case.

Though the overall size of the system may have shrunk, fortunately, the screen size didn’t shrink. Like the Maestro 4040, it sports a 4.3-inch touch screen that shows off 64,000 colors at a 480×272 pixel resolution. Maps and text looked sharp and vibrant, and the display was readable in various lighting conditions. For the most part, the touch screen was responsive, but there were several occasions where there was a bit of a delay from the time we tapped an icon to the time the system actually registered our command. The system also froze in a couple of instances (see Performance for more).

 

The user interface is intuitive and simple to master. As with past Magellan products, the Maestro 4250 also includes the QuickSpell feature to aid in text entry. As you start to enter addresses on the virtual keyboard, QuickSpell grays out any characters that don’t match the city or streets located in the system’s database. It’s quite handy and worked well during our test period.

 

On the right side, you will find an FM antenna input, a mini USB port, and an SD card expansion slot. The power button is located on top of the unit, while there’s a reset hole on the bottom. Finally, the backside houses the speaker and external antenna jack.

 

The Magellan Maestro 4250 comes packaged with an AC adapter, a car charger, a USB cable, a vehicle mount (windshield and dash), a protective pouch, and reference material. The vehicle mount is sturdy and easy to install, but the side-mounted cable connections make the overall setup a bit of an eyesore.

Features
The Magellan Maestro 4250 is equipped with an SiRFStarIII GPS chip and comes preloaded with Navteq maps of the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Alaska. To start planning a trip, you can enter a specific address; choose a point of interest; or select a location from your address book, recently visited destinations, or favorites list. The system has the ability to calculate routes based on fastest time, shortest distance, least or most use of freeways, and toll-free roads. Alternatively, if you don’t need directions to a specific place, you can just tap the Show Map icon to get a general overview map, which can track you as you drive around the area.

 

The system provides guidance by way of text- and voice-guided turn-by-turn directions, plus text-to-speech functionality, which Magellan calls SayWhere, so the system will speak actual street names. There’s also a simulator mode that you can turn on to view a running demo of your trip before you actually hit the road. Maps are presented in 2D or 3D mode with day and night colors and a split-screen mode that shows the map on one side and your next maneuver on the other. For those who are interested, there is a trip computer that collects data, such as average speed, trip time, drive time, and trip distance.

 

So far all of the Maestro 4250 features have been pretty standard, but the unit does stand out from its competitors for one reason: voice control. While we’re seeing this technology pop up in upcoming models, such as the TomTom GO 920, this is the first model with voice commands that we’ve actually been able to test. Unlike the GO 920, the Maestro 4250 doesn’t allow you to dictate street addresses, but you can perform a limited number of tasks with the sound of your voice. This includes rerouting; finding points of interest; routing to your home address; and getting your current location, distance to destination, and roadside assistance. You can check out the Performance section for experience with this feature.

 

Other navigation functions include automatic route recalculation, a detour function, multidestination trips, and support for traffic capabilities. Using the included car charger, which has an integrated RDS/TMC receiver, you can get real-time updates on the road conditions. Magellan includes a complimentary three-month subscription to Navteq Traffic. With it, you can find out where there is congestion, lane reductions, road work, and accidents, and the Maestro 4250 can even reroute you around the area if you have this function selected in the User Option menu.

 

The points of interest (POI) gets a healthy boost, increasing the number of entries from the Maestro 4040’s 4.5 million POI to 6 million. This includes all the major attractions, such as gas stations, ATMs, lodging, and restaurants by cuisine type, as well as more specialized categories, including camping grounds, golf courses, and movie theaters. While the database is extensive, we found some of the information to be out of date. For example, we did a quick scan of the restaurants around the Marina neighborhood of San Francisco, and found at least half a dozen listings that had been out of business for at least a year.

 

On a brighter note, the Maestro 4250 continues to offer access to AAA TourBook listings for AAA Diamond-rated lodging and restaurants, complete with information such as hotel amenities, restaurant description, and hours of operation, admission prices for certain attractions, and so forth. AAA members get a bit more benefit out of this feature since you can view listings for establishments that offer discounts to AAA members, and AAA-approved auto repair facilities. In addition, in case of an emergency, the unit will display the AAA member toll-free help number and your exact location, so you can give the operator all your information.

 

Finally, the system has integrated Bluetooth, so you can pair your Bluetooth-enabled cell phone or smartphone and use the Maestro 4250) as a hands-free speaker system. With it, you can place and accept calls, view your call history, search the device’s address book, and redial. You can also directly dial any number associated with a POI. Unfortunately, your phone’s address book and call history list does not automatically synchronize with the portable navigation system.

Performance
As we stated earlier in the Design section, we experienced some performance glitches and delays with the Magellan Maestro 4250. There was some lag between triggering a task to the time it was actually executed. The first couple of times this happened, we thought the touch screen simply didn’t recognize our tap so we pressed the icons again. This ultimately led to the system freezing, so we had to power on/off, and it got pretty frustrating.

 

For our road tests, we took to the streets of San Francisco, and from a cold start, it took the Maestro 4250 about two minutes to get a fix on our position under clear skies, while subsequent starts were almost instantaneous. The system did a good job of tracking our position on drives throughout the city. The receiver was strong enough to survive the skyscraper-lined streets of the financial district, but as expected, the signal dropped once we drove through the Broadway Tunnel. The good news is that the Maestro 4250 was able to quickly pick up our location again once we exited the tunnel.

 

We also entered our standard trip from the Maridio district (Marina/Presidio) to CNET’s downtown headquarters. The system quickly created directions, and a quick glance at the maneuver list showed that the course was accurate. The voice prompts were loud and clear, and we were pretty happy with the text-to-speech directions. The voice wasn’t too robotic and did a decent job with street pronunciations. We also like that the Maestro 4250 alerts you to upcoming turns by playing a chime. That said, there were a couple of instances when the voice prompt would tell us to make a turn right as we were passing the street. Fortunately, route recalculations were fast and accurate, but still, we’d rather have ample warning of upcoming maneuvers.

 

As for the voice commands, we found it to be useful and certainly a safer option than taking your eyes off the road to look for POI on the map screen, checking your current location, and so forth. However, it has its restrictions. First, be aware that you have to say, “Magellan” to activate the voice-command function and to get the best results, you’re pretty much going to have to turn off your radio and roll up your windows. Once we did that, the Maestro 4250 did a good job of understanding our voice commands and performed all the functions. At times, we couldn’t help but think it would be quicker to use the touch screen, but again, if you’re driving, this is a safer option.

 

We had no problems pairing the Maestro 4250 with the Samsung BlackJack II, and was able to easily make and receive calls. That said, we found the call volume was pretty low. And again, we also wish all our phone’s information was automatically synchronized with the Maestro 4250.

Futuristic watch concepts via Kanye West (?!)

Posted February 7, 2008 by Harvey Diamond
Categories: All, Gadgets, Technology

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.

 

The latest 57-inch HDTV…for the bathroom

Posted February 7, 2008 by Harvey Diamond
Categories: All, Archives, TV'S

 Every day sees more evidence that people are spending their entire lives in the bathroom. Take TVs, for example: No longer is it unusual to find a waterproof flat screen situated above the sink, in the shower, or pretty much anywhere else one can imagine (which we’d rather not, thank you).

Instead, it’s become a question of how big the bathroom TV is. And Aquavision has an answer, to the tune of a 57-inch LCD in full 1080p HD glory, according to Dvice, with a reflective screen that serves as a mirror when turned off. All this is getting increasingly passe as the bathroom TV market gets, well, saturated. What we really want to see is a “Pimped Out John” for the masses.  

Nokia E90 Communicator

Posted January 25, 2008 by Harvey Diamond
Categories: All, Archives, Cell Phone Accessories, Gadgets, Technology

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

Posted January 25, 2008 by Harvey Diamond
Categories: All, Archives, Gadgets, Mp3, Speakers, Technology

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

The MacBook Air: A toy with no Promise?

Posted January 24, 2008 by Harvey Diamond
Categories: All

Over the course of the past week, I decided to wait before making my final decision on whether or not I believed Apple’s new MacBook Air would be a success or not. After evaluating the state of the ultraportable market historically (poor) and the specs Apple is doling out with this device, it seems almost too obvious that very few people will be willing to buy this junker

Let’s face it–the MacBook Air is nothing more than a gimmick to make people believe Apple is a trendsetter that knows the best way to bring “cool” products to the masses. But what everyone seems to forget is that this company already has a slew of “cool” products and there’s no need for something that’s underpowered and overpriced. 

Suffice it to say, the MacBook Air is nothing more than a toy that has no promise and will flounder in stores. Why you ask?

It’s simple.

 First off, let’s look at Apple’s current stable of notebooks. The company offers the MacBook, which is slim and small in its own right and features the same size screen as the Air. Not only that, but it sports far superior specs and is only 0.32-inches thicker than the Air when comparing them at their thickest points. Oh, and let’s not forget that it only weighs 2 pounds more and starts at $1099, compared to the Air’s $1799 pricetag. 

On the other side of things, Apple’s MacBook Pro is built with the power user in mind and although it’s much bigger than the Air, its entry-level price is just $200 more.So let me get this straight–I can have a Mac that’s barely thinner than its brother, underpowered, but admittedly “cooler” for an additional $700? Now let’s be honest–who in their right mind would spend an additional $700 on a device just because it looks nicer?Now, I know that some Apple zealots are screaming right now saying that it’s all about portability and it’s not meant to be the workhorse the other MacBooks are, but if you’re telling me that you can’t carry a MacBook around because it’s too big and too heavy, you might want to see a doctor. 

Another problem that Steve Jobs failed to address during his keynote speech is, who in the world is going to buy this toy? My guess: the diehard Apple fanboy and people with enough money in the bank that they don’t mind spending $1799 on a product they’ll use in their car or at coffee shops.

 Beyond those two groups, who else is really buying this thing? Can anyone honestly say that the average consumer will run down to their local Apple store, excited to get their hands on their first Mac, and choose the Air over the MacBook if they’re looking for something small?I can hear it now: “Hold on, so what you’re saying is that I can get a much faster and better-equipped computer that’s barely larger for $700 less? Where’s the cash register?”

And while I don’t think the lack of an optical drive is a big deal by any means, think of the average person just looking to get their hands on a Mac and listening to others tell them how it “just works.” How will they feel when they get the Air home, try to install Office and realize the optical drive is missing? Sure, they can go through the trouble of connecting to another computer in the home and pop the disc into that drive, but doesn’t it significantly reduce the allure of having a device that “just works”? 

Of course, it doesn’t quite end there. So far, ultraportable sales have been flat, to say the least, and aside from a few bursts in sales every now and then, the ultraportable market is not the best to enter if a company is looking to increase its market share and turn a profit.So why did Apple decide to get in on the ultraportable game? More than likely, it’s because the company thinks it can do no wrong. And who can tell Steve he can? Not only has the iPod been an unbridled success, but the iPhone is selling extremely well and Mac sales have never been stronger. B

ut for the first time in years, Jobs and company has committed a blunder that could have enormous consequences. Not only is the MacBook Air a glorified toy that won’t be used by the vast majority of consumers, it’s overpriced and lacking any significant benefit of ownership other than its looks and multi-touch trackpad. If you’re looking for portability, save $700 and buy the MacBook. If you’re looking to spend money, go the extra mile and find yourself a MacBook Pro. Suffice it to say, there’s no need for the MacBook Air.