Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Google and Samsum to Announce new Nexus 10 Tablet PC

October 21st, 2012 No comments

Get ready for the next Android based Tablet PC by the Google and Samsung partnership.  Google and Samsung are expected to announce a new 10-inch tablet codenamed “Manta” on October 29th.   The manta is rumored to feature a 2560 x 1600 display beating out the iPad pixel density of around 300ppi.  The tablet’s official name will likely be called the Nexus 10 and will be sold along side the Asus Nexus 7 and the new LG Nexus 4.

Android 4.2 and Nexus 10 Manta

Google will also announce a minor refresh of its Nexus 7 line, which will include HSPA+ 3G connectivity to the tablet.  The previous version did not have telecom connectivity.   There will also be an increase in internal storage.  The Nexus 4 and Nexus 10 will also include a new version of the OS Android 4.2 that will feature a new Play Store Widget and Tablet Sharing features.  Tablet sharing allows multiple user accounts on one device, which is convenient for family members sharing a single device.   There does not seem to be enough evidence to suggest how this will work or whether some applications will simply be locked for other users.  Android 4.2 will also feature horizontal and vertical panoramic photo capture. There will also be a new quick settings section in the notification bar.  The quick setting is supposed to be activated by double swiping to toggle for GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. Android 4.2 will also bring a redesign of the Gallery app to closely resemble the photostream of Google+.  Google is trying to bring a more unified experience across their products and services.

Android 4.2 Gallery App

Google’s announcement comes at a competitive time as Apple and Microsoft are also expected to announce new products.  Apple is rumored to introduce a new iPad Mini category and Microsoft will announce Surface and Windows 8.  It will be an exciting couple of weeks.


Categories: Android, Electronics, Google, iPhone Apps Tags:

Planet of the Apps

July 12th, 2012 No comments

We all know that apps are taking over our lives, but to what extent?

As we all know, there is now an app for everything, whether you use an iPhone, Android or tablet device. 3G connections have changed the way we live, and mobile broadband has meant that apps are at our fingertips wherever we are in the world.

Who would have thought that Android would be catching up iOS with the number of apps it has available? And who would have thought that 6.5 million of us downloaded Angry Birds on Christmas Day?

We’re celebrating the Planet of the Apps by sharing this data on our app habits…

Planet of the Apps

Planet of the Apps

Apple Finally Approves Google Voice App

September 17th, 2010 1 comment
Apple Finally Approves Google Voice App - GV Connect

Apple Finally Approves Google Voice App - GV Connect

Apple finally approves Google Voice App (the second time) and it is available on the iTunes store now here for $2.99

GV Connect is a native iPhone/iPod Touch application for your Google Voice account. The app features the following:

  • Place calls using your Google Voice number rather than your mobile number.
  • Send and receive text messages (SMS) from your Google Voice
  • Listen to voicemails and recorded conversations right on your device (pause, rewind, fast foward)
  • Mark messages as starred, block senders, delete conversations
  • Set call forwarding, do-not-disturb), rediections
  • Retina displays

I suspect the FTC inquiry on Apple’s blocking of a native Google Voice app sparked the change.

Jaybird Releases the SB2

July 15th, 2010 1 comment

IMG_0019[1]Jaybird is one of my favorite companies and not just because they send me free stuff to try out.  If you recall, I had written a review of the Jaybird SB1 Bluetooth headphones a while ago.  The SB1’s had been purchased with my own funds so I felt free to be as critical as I wanted to be.  However, I found few flaws with the SB1’s and they have been my day-to-day headphones ever since.  I use them on average at least 2 hours a day Monday thru Friday during my commute, so I think I can say fairly that I’d have had a chance to find any flaws in them by now, and I really haven’t.

Well Jaybird recently released the SB2’s, the next generation of the SB1’s and they were kind enough to send me a pair to review.  I want to make clear that these phones were provided gratis, so keep that in mind while you read my review.  I like to believe that I’m objective enough to say a product sucks even if they send me a free evaluation unit, but I haven’t really faced that situation yet.  (I have been given free iPhone/iPad apps for review and I’ve passed up writing reviews in some cases where I thought the app was just bad, but even those cases are few and far between).

I received the headphones on a Friday (delivered in person by the lovely young lady in the packaging, naturally) and I’ve been using them ever since to really try them out in comparison to the SB1’s.  The headphones come in (relatively speaking) minimal packaging and the box it was shipped in was big enough to hold the headphones but not a lot bigger.  I’ve gotten a bit sensitive to companies that ship their products in way oversized boxes and/or packaging (Amazon, I’m looking at YOU), so it was nice to see some attention paid to minimizing waste.  In fact, one of my complaints about the SB1’s was the large amount of packaging that surrounded the headphones themselves.  Jaybird addressed this nicely in the SB2.

IMG_0022[1]The headphones come with a minimum amount of accessories – a set of very simple instructions, the USB-based charging plug, and two pairs of replacement foam pads arrived along with the bright red (and I mean BRIGHT) SB2’s.  It was really nice to see the extra foam pads included – one of my dings on the SB1’s was the fact that those foam pads looked like they could wear with time, and without them, the headphones are kind of painful to wear.  I haven’t had any issues with them in all my wearings, but I tend to be very gentle on my equipment.  They’ve fallen off a couple times but I just re-seated them and they were fine.  Still, it’s good to see companies thinking about the long term use of their products.

I did a quick size comparison between the SB1’s and the SB2’s as well.  They are identically sized, in both thickness and shape.  In fact you really can’t tell them apart.  The big improvements come on the inside in the Bluetooth firmware, specifically the addition of apt-X.  apt-X, when paired with a compatible transmitter, provides CD-quality audio via the Bluetooth stream.  Since I am not an audiophile and since the iPhone 4 does not have apt-X built in (heck, we can’t even get Apple to give us skip forward/back controls via Bluetooth), I wasn’t able to test this part of the SB2’s.  Jaybird does sell a slim dongle that plugs into the dock port of the iPhone that will provide the transmission portion of the apt-X signal, but I don’t like adding dongles to the iPhone.  They almost always don’t work well with the wide variety of cases and protective gear, and the new iPhone is not a device I want to leave naked.

IMG_0032[1]IMG_0033[1]In terms of sound, the SB2’s sound just as good as the SB1’s.  I did notice that Jaybird made a slight tweak to the volume controls, because I was able to drop the volume down to a level lower than I had experienced on the SB1’s.  This was the other minor ding I had for Jaybird concerning the SB1’s – they didn’t seem to have a low volume that was really low.

I wasn’t able to test the microphone capabilities of the SB2 vs. the SB1.  I know with the SB1 I had some slight issues with pickup under windy conditions, but I have yet to use a set of Bluetooth headphones that didn’t have this problem, so that’s not something I would necessarily ding Jaybird for anyways.

The other improvement that I was able to find, and one I’ll be keeping an eye on for the longer term, is that the earpads are much stiffer when extending or retracting.  This is good – in my SB1’s, the right earpad was starting to become very loose through the daily wear and tear of extending and retracting it to fit my head.  I am hoping the SB2’s will not suffer that issue.  The SB2’s seem to be a bit “stickier” to my head as well, though I’m not sure if that’s actual or if it’s just perception because they’re new.  I will have to see what happens when the SB2’s are on my head as I am on the weight bench.

Overall, I strongly recommend the Jaybird SB2.  They’ve addressed the few minor shortcomings I had with the SB1’s, and the inclusion of apt-X will mean better sound for apt-X equipped devices.  At $99, they are in the middle range for Bluetooth headphones, and I’m sure that you will be able to find them for less online.  I’m planning to switch to the SB2’s for my day-to-day use, and am looking forward to the many stares I’m going to get as I walk to work in my business suit sporting a set of cherry red headphones shining off the reflected light of my shaved head.

By the way, all these pics were taken using the iPhone 4’s camera.  Note the significant yellowing in the bottom two pictures?  That’s a beige surface I’m shooting down onto.  Part of the issue might be bounceback of light from that surface, since the yellowing isn’t apparent in the top two pictures.  Interesting…

Jaybird SB2 Bluetooth Headphones

Random thoughts on the i-Devices

July 5th, 2010 No comments

This is a random collection of thoughts around the new iPhone and the now-old iPad.  I’ve had the iPhone coming up on two weeks now, and I feel I’ve had enough real-life experience with it to be able to provide some cogent thoughts.  I’ve been using it in conjunction with my iPad so this post will cover thoughts on both.

On Protection.

Over the long weekend, I did a bunch of tech stuff I’d been meaning to do for some time. Most importantly, I installed a clear protector onto our new iPhones. For the first time, I used the BodyGuardz line of protective sheets rather than the InvisibleShield line. The BodyGuardz are a much better value. For $25 you get two sets of protective sheets that fully cover the iPhone’s front, back, and sides. Installing them was relatively straightforward but it conclusively proved why I would never be a surgeon.

There is a level of mental comfort in having these shields on our phones. But to cover up that amazing screen with anything is just a darn shame. No film application is ever perfect, and any bubbles are incredibly annoying. The liquid applicator they provide does create a thin glaze under the film which detracts from the beauty of the iPhone’s screen when it’s off. On the plus side, it does give a little bit more tactile grip to the iPhone. I also think it helps a bit with the attenuation issues people have been suffering when they touch the sides. The side films seem designed to exactly fit the phone but it is exceedingly difficult to apply them so that they run the full length properly. I ended up overlapping the antenna gaps just slightly, which seemed to act as a non-conductive layer between my fingers and the band. I don’t know if this is an intended benefit or not, but it’s relatively cheap to try out if you’re having major issues. I personally haven’t noticed a huge problem with attenuation or service interruption but that could just be me.

For now, I’m planning to keep these on the phone, at least until the cases I ordered come in. This phone is never going to be outside a case anyways so I may decide to remove the front film to let the gorgeous screen shine through.

And if anyone has a good case recommendation for the iPad, could they please contact me?  All the cases I’ve tried out so far suck.  I don’t want a sleeve and I don’t want a backside-only protector.  I need something that I can use on a desk as well as on the sofa, and it needs to support the iPad in portrait and landscape modes.  I like the Apple case, but it’s just a little too cheap-looking for me and I’d ideally love a case that has a latchable/securable front protector.

UPDATE (7/14/2010): I’ve had the Bodyguardz film on the iPhone for about a week now, and the glaze underneath has vanished completely.  The screen protector is still visible (you can see where the cutouts are for the speaker and the front facing camera) and it feels like there is more “depth” when hitting the Home button.  I gotta say that I am really liking the Bodyguardz.  I no longer think they interfere with the Retina Display and for all intents and purposes, they’ve disappeared from my perception, which is kind of the point of these things.  I’ve definitely noticed a decline in the number of dropped calls as well, though that needs to be heavily caveated.  First off, I don’t make a ton of calls so I’m not a great sample.  Second, since the issue has been covered to death in every tech blog and news rag, I’ve been more aware of how I hold the phone.  Finally, I could never consistently reproduce the issue, so I may not have been impacted.  Having said all that, I routinely hold the iPhone 4 in my left hand with the antenna gap perilously close to be covered by the base of my thumb and I’m sure I’ve covered that gap on calls, both before and after the film application.  Since I’ve applied the Bodyguardz, I have not had a single dropped call.  Period.  So perhaps the combination of the side protection plus my clumsy application have created a nice little insulated zone around the antenna openings that is helping my calling?  In any case, I’ve become a big fan of these things, and their customer service can’t be beat.  They were prompt to answer my emails about returning my extra films, and they were prompt about issuing me a refund.  Good on ya, guys – keep up the great work.  I am seriously considering buying a set of the iPad 3G protection skins to replace my InvisibleShield cover.  The InvisibleShield just seems to attract more dirt, though that could just be due to the increased surface area.  But definitely something I’m considering in the longer term…

iPad vs. iPhone

I’m fairly sure that if I had gotten the iPhone 4 before my iPad, I would have skipped the first gen iPad in hopes that the second gen would come with a Retina Display. Apple probably knew this, which is why they didn’t pull out the iPad as a “One More Thing” during the iPhone launch.  I still love my iPad but the iPhone is proving good enough for almost everything I need to do when I’m mobile.  I have used the iPhone for navigation, for checking newsfeeds, and for recipes.  It’s perfectly fine as a quick reference device, especially since the Retina Display makes it so much easier to read despite its small screen real estate.  But for consuming books and video, for gaming, and for productivity, the iPad is still the superior device.  Am I glad I have both?  Yes.  Should I have gotten the unlimited data plan for both?  Probably not.  I’m spending $60/mo on data access for the i-Devices, which is a bit much.  I’m seriously considering dropping my unlimited plan on the iPad, except that I’d still like roaming access, so I’d only be saving $5/mo (I refuse to pay for tethering, which is just AT&T saying “please bend over” while holding a very thick broom).  I’m really annoyed that Apple didn’t put a decent GPS chip inside the Wi-Fi only version, since that’s the main reason I went with the 3G iPad.

iPhone Antenna Issues

How to hold an iPhone 4G

One of my best friends is a bigshot at M&M/Mars.  He was once asked to participate on a panel discussion at a telecom conference.  The audience consisted of telecom providers who wanted to know how to best sell into the large enterprise market, especially because things like data and messaging were just starting to become popular.  One of the audience members stood up and asked him what he looks for in a mobile phone.  In response, my friend pulled out his Nokia phone (which was at least 2 generations out of date) and said “I’d like it to work as a phone.”  Tech companies really seem to forget this basic concept – it’s a smart phone.  If it can’t make calls, it’s not a phone, it’s a mobile device.  Apple is being disingenuous when they blame the iPhone‘s attenuation problems on their inability to do math.  Too many people are complaining about a problem making calls, which is humorous if you’re not the one suffering from the problem.  But when you’re trying to call 911 late at night after you’ve witnessed a crime or been in an accident, it’s really not funny.  The bad thing is that I can’t rely on the iPhone as an emergency contact device, issues with AT&T service aside.  When I’m trying to call for an ambulance, I really don’t want to worry about whether I’m levitating the phone correctly to maximize signal strength.

It also means that every time I see one of those Apple videos featuring their internal designers talking earnestly about how hard they tried to create beauty and how magical the i-Device is, I’m going to just laugh and blow them off (even more so than I already do) as self-loving nerds.  No matter how good they think they are and no matter how pretty their end result, I know they failed.  Gizmodo had a great post about just how huge a failure this is on Apple’s part – they’ve fallen so in love with themselves that they are ignoring the fact that good industrial design means that it works, not just that it’s pretty.  If I have to think about how to use a product, something’s wrong, and Apple has only themselves to blame.  They’ve been promoting that mode of thought ever since they released the first iPhone.  Yet now here they are saying, basically, “yes always think about how you’re using your iPhone to make sure you’re not using it wrong”.

Luckily, phone calls are rare and far between in my household, and 90% of my calls are to my fiancée, who is also on AT&T, so those minutes buckets are pretty much unlimited.  I really hope, though, that she’s never stuck late at night on a bus coming home from work and trying to reach me.

iPad’s Video and iPod apps

These apps suck.  Suck suck suck suck suck.  No other way to put it.  Why they are split into two apps rather than the single iPod app that’s provided on the iPhone is beyond me.  There is obviously some higher design principle at work that I am too pedestrian to understand.  But when I can’t skip through a list of video podcasts using the CONTROLS PROVIDED FOR THEM, I consider that a pretty major design flaw.  The only way I can move from one video to the next without picking and choosing each one is if I create a playlist.  That’s just stupid, Apple.  Why should I create a playlist of video podcasts when the Videos app has a podcast section?  And is there any reason why you decided that TV shows don’t need to have any identifying information aside from a still image from the show itself?  Maybe I’d like to, oh I don’t know, see the SHOW’S NAMES?!?!?  You guys are starting to approach Microsoft levels of stupidity with these issues, and I sincerely hope that you fix them in the next version by providing an iPod app, rather than this craptastic Video/Music split function junk.

On the plus side, you seem to have fixed the issue with Smart Playlists not being synced when Live Updating is checked.  I think it’s only been about a year now since that issue’s been reported?  So I guess I should expect an iPod app on the iPad when you release iPad 3.0?

UPDATE (7/14/2010) – Yea, Apple, your Video app sucks hairy moose testicles.  What is the sense in showing one sequence of videos on the iPad and a completely different sequence in iTunes?  This weekend I was playing through some TV shows I’d ripped and I realized they were completely out of order on the iPad.  Since I’m a metadata FREAK, I quick checked the iTunes versions to see what I’d screwed up.  Lo and behold, the iTunes list was in correct order.  After much trial and error, I realized that the iPad sorts TV shows using the Track Number while iTunes uses Season and Episode Number.  Can someone tell me how the team that created the Video app thought this was a good idea?  It’s like they decided to remove the Video functionality in the iPod app but just do a half-assed job of it so that they could piss off as many people as possible.  So for those of you trying to figure out why the hell the iPad isn’t sequencing your shows correctly – either fill in both Track Number and Episode Number fields for each show, or just rely on Track Number to do your sorting.  Of course, if you choose the latter, I fully expect that one day Apple will fix this stupidity and then you’ll have to go back and re-enter the Episode Number data so you might as well do both now.

iPad memory issues

I’m running a jailbroken iPad, primarily because I can.  Now I understand that jailbreak tech is really young on the iPad and developers are still trying to figure out how to do it right.  But I’m seriously concerned about the iPad’s lack of RAM.  I think Apple made a bad choice when they went with 256MB in the iPad vs the 512MB in the iPhone 4, because when multitasking comes along, apps are going to be seriously memory constrained.  Apple’s limited implementation of multi-tasking in iOS (a name I predicted here on this blog well before His Jobs-ness announced it) is a lot more memory-efficient than traditional multitaskers a la Backgrounder.  But still  – I see memory leaks all the time running apps like Reeder and TweetDeck under the jailbroken iOS 3.2.  And I’m pretty sure that it’s not due to leaks in the jailbreak code.  TweetDeck reboots itself regularly on the half-hour, even when it’s the only app running on the iPad.  Running it on an unjailbroken iPad, the reboot periods are longer but I know they still were happening.

My guess is that iPad iOS 4.0 is going to be based a lot on iPhone iOS 4.0.  It’s a little aggressive to have the entire code base made common between the two platforms, but it’s inevitable that that will happen.  My guess is iOS 5.0 next year will be the first true common iOS base for all Apple platforms.  They can’t keep doing this multi-version iOS thing forever, especially if they release an iOS for AppleTV and for the Mac.  That would be four different fragments of the same base, which would make Android look like a bamboo shoot in terms of variety.

Multiple users on the iPad

The iPhone is intended to be a single-user device.  No bigs – it’s (marginally) a phone, it’s small, it’s got a fixed identifier (the phone number) attached to it – it’s very personal.  The iPad, for all its “magic”, is a multi-user device.  I’d like to share my iPad with my fiancée and a regular basis and my son has basically adopted the iPad as his own when he’s with us.  I’m totally cool with that, but it means that I’ve removed all my email accounts from the iPad.  I’d like some way to have user profiles and app sharing rules set up so that I can control what others accessing my iPad have access to.  I know user accounts are a big OS overhead issue, and there would be all kinds of complaints that Apple didn’t allow fast switching etc etc.  But basic user-level customization would go a long way to making the iPad a viable family device.  There’s no way I’m buying iPads for every member of the family and it’s stupid for Apple to think that people actually will do this.

And while we’re on the subject, Apple’s lack of controls on their Safari browser means that there is no way to control/limit kids’ access to the Internet.  Apple only allows binary control – either Safari is on or it’s off.  There’s no way to firewall or block access to non-approved sites.  Tools like OpenDNS’s Family Shield are a good start, but it’s relatively easy to circumvent.

So what do you guys think?  Am I way off base?  Spot on?  Comment up any of your complaints or compliments!

Penultimate for iPad

June 18th, 2010 No comments

I recently spent a week up in Boston attending a conference.  Since we were highly encouraged not to use our laptops during the class, I basically sat through three days of lectures with only my trusty iPad as my primary companion.  To take notes, I decided to use Penultimate, which is currently one of the top-selling paid apps in the iPad store.



Penultimate uses a notepad & pen metaphor to allow you to capture handwritten notes.  You can create notepads as needed, with each page customizable to be a grid, lined, or blank format.  You use your finger to either write/draw on the pages or to erase your musings.  You can add as many pages as you’d like and you can email individual pages or notebooks as desired.

For the life of me, I can’t understand why this is such a popular app.  I could not get the hang of writing notes with my finger, and I was very glad I had my stylus with me.  There is only one size pen and one size eraser.  You can undo or redo your last action.  And that’s about it.  Here are some screen captures of my notes.




I had several complains about the interface.  First, you can only see one page at a time, whether in portrait or landscape format.  I can understand why you’d have only one page in portrait orientation.  But to force that same limit in landscape mode seems artificially limiting.  Also, in landscape mode, you have to scroll down to get to the pen and eraser controls.  This is despite having  ample free space between the edge of the notebook page and the edge of the screen.  Furthermore, you can only flip the pages from the bottom of each page.  The notebooks are arranged based on last edit date and there are no other options.  It would have been nice to sort them alphabetically.  Finally, the pen and eraser action areas seemed excessively large.  It would have been nice to have at least a couple widths for the pen tool.  And the eraser seemed to erase a lot more than the width of the pen, which doesn’t really allow for fine erasing.  Usually, if I needed to erase, I ended up erasing everything or deleting the page and re-starting rather than just removing the section I wanted to.

If the app had been $0.99, then this might have been OK.  But for $2.99, I expected a bit more.

Categories: iPad, Reviews Tags: ,

ZAGG InvisibleShield for iPad

June 15th, 2010 1 comment

So I went ahead and ordered the ZAGG InvisibleShield full protection kit for the iPad over Memorial Day weekend. The site was having a 50% off sale, making the full body kit $20 plus shipping/handling. Since there wasn’t much price differential between the full body and front only versions, I went for the whole shebang. I received it this weekend and installed it. Here are my thoughts.

The kit arrives in a short tube. That explains why S&H is a bit on the higher side, though overall reasonable. It also pretty much means your shield is going to be curled. I fixed that by rolling/unrolling it several times in the opposite direction and flattened it pretty well. The package comes with the two shields, plus a generous bottle of application fluid and the standard rubber squeegee.



The instructions are generic. How do I know? Because they recommend removing the battery if possible (hah!). Also note, that there is no cutout in the shield for the antenna plate of the 3G. Not sure if that was deliberate or not. In any case, I’m pretty well versed in the InvisibleShield routine, since I’ve had one on every iDevice I’ve owned since the company started.

The installation process is pretty standard. First, clean off your glass. Really rub out all the fingerprints and smudges using a clean microfiber cloth. Then the fun part of putting on the shield itself begins. This was, quite frankly, a pain in the ass. There’s no good way to put it. ANY sort of floating particulate matter will adhere to the screen. They give you a generous size bottle of fluid, which is good because I ended up using almost all of it.

I covered the front glass pretty easily, though aligning such a large sheet of sticky material is difficult even with the lube. The back shield was even worse in some respects and easier in others. The back shield is a bit larger than the front shield (or seemed to be) but I also didn’t care as much about any particles that might have stuck to it. I’m planning to keep the iPad in a case for its natural lifespan, so the back protection is kind of moot.

I ended up removing and reapplying the front shield about five times. Even so, there are still bits of fuzz and grit that are now bonded to the underside of the shield. Luckily, none of it impacts the usability of the iPad, but it’s annoying because I can see them in certain positions and under certain conditions. But I also don’t know how ZAGG could do any better. I wouldn’t want to use multiple smaller sheets to create a coverage surface, and you want the thing to stick to your screen, so you can’t make it easy to take on/off. The shield can be removed/re-applied for about an hour or so after you’ve put it on, but much longer than that and I’d be worried about stretching when you’re taking it off.

The shield does NOT provide side protection. The sheets are just big enough to cover the front and back plates only. I’ve not noticed any signal degradation due to the covering of the antenna plate, so that’s good. I’ve also not seen any issues resulting from the ginormous pools of fluid that were wiped out from between the glass and the shield during the multiple applications process. I think 95% of the lube I sprayed onto the shield ended up being squeezed out and I got a little panicky seeing my new iPad with so much liquid on it.

Now that I’ve had it for a day or so, I’ve enjoyed the slightly more tactile sensation that the InvisibleShield gives the screen. It does, however, impede the usability of my stylus. You have to push a lot harder to get the stylus to be recognized. Which is weird, since I don’t notice a similar issue with fingers.  Also, if you think the iPad has glare before the application of the shield, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  The screen seems much more reflective.

All in all, I’m glad I put the shield on my iPad. But I don’t know that it’s going to be as useful as it would be on an iPhone, since the iPad is not going to be spending tons of time in my pocket with keys and change. Also, I’d guess that the majority of users will put the iPad into a case of some sort, so the times that it will be naked in public are pretty small. But for peace of mind, it was worth the $25.