Tag Archive | "iphone"

Music On The [MID] Move

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I’ve been having a look (or should that be listen) to the music capabilities of the BenQ S6 MID device. With a stereo headphone socket and a music player as part of the built in software, the device can be used as a portable music player.

But is it any good?

A good music player needs to have a couple of areas where it has to perform. The audio quality, the navigation of music on the device, and transferring music from another computer.

Audio quality output is good, the speakers on the device happily fill my kitchen and taking it outside there’s enough volume to listen comfortably when in the park. It’s when you start listening on headphones that there’s a problem. The headphone socket (which also carries the microphone socket as well) is only a 2.5mm jack socket. The standard size on pretty much any consumer device is 3.5mm, and my favourite headphones (including my custom moulded monitors) are all that size. While you can get adaptors, I fail to see any design reasons to go for the smaller jack plug that benefits the end user.

Looking through your music on the device is not a pleasant task. Although all my MP3 files have the correct ID3 tags, with the artist, album, track numbers and album art, the S6 does not use any of that information. Once you open the media application and start navigating music, you are using the directory structure and filenames of the MP3 files, with little option to search through the meta-information.

The controls only show up on the screen when you tap the play icon next to a media file – this places the controls over the the screen for a few seconds before disappearing again. It’s not at all intuitive. What’s more, once you switch away from the media player, there are no on-screen controls you can pop up to control the music.

Finally, transferring music to the device. I had to resort to using a blue tooth transfer from my PC to get a connection to the memory card or internal memory of the S6. While I know many people will be able to do this, it is not a consumer ready solution.

Compare the hoops you have to jump through when compared to the iPod Touch and iTunes, the ease of controlling the music, and searching through with your eyes or filters, and you realise that the BenQ has some work to do to make the S6 acceptable as a music player.

Marmot iTouch Multi gloves mini-review and video demo

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I’ve been on vacation for the last week doing some snowboarding in Colorado, but it wasn’t all play. I’ve been doing an accessory review for you, our good readers. For the last week, I’ve been testing the Marmot iTouch Multi gloves for use with capacitive touchscreens.

What Are They?

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The iTouch Multi gloves from Marmot are gloves that have a special tip on the index-finger and thumb that allow one to use capacitive touch devices that normally only work with bare fingers. I bought mine at a local ski/snowboard shop for only $35. These gloves aren’t thick (or water-resistant) enough for use as dedicated skiing/snowboarding gloves, but they work great as liners for larger gloves or for stand-alone gloves in brisk weather.

How do they work?

On both gloves are pads on the index-finger and thumb that have a special material that activate the capacitive touch device. The material helps transfer the field that you fingers’ naturally generate which acts to disrupt a field created by a capacitive touchscreen, thus locating the region that the screen has been touched. It seems that these gloves are rather new, as I can’t even locate them on Marmot’s site, so I unfortunately don’t know the exact origin of the material. The special material is flexible, and it goes over top of the regular glove material, so you thumb and index-finger stay just as warm as your other fingers.

How do they perform?

 

I’m pretty impressed with the gloves. They work about as well as I expected them to. I bought these gloves with the desire to be able to operate the basic functions of my iPhone 3G in the cold without having to remove my gloves. I also wanted them to function as a liner for larger gloves so that I could take my outer gloves off while snowboarding and be able to use my phone on the slopes without my hands freezing off.

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The special material on the index-finger and thumb work well to initiate touchscreen input. Of course it isn’t the surface of your real finger, so it is hard to be as accurate as normal, but as long as you are careful, it is possible to touch right where you are trying to. Sometimes it is easiest to use the side of the glove tip where it comes to more of a point to hit exactly what you want. The gloves make it easy to answer and place phone calls without taking your gloves off. Though it might take more time, you can also respond to text messages. When returning texts, it is only practical to type with one finger; you won’t be typing with two thumbs like you might normally.

I only have two issues with these gloves. The first of which is grip. The gloves are covered on the palm side with little rubbery grips that look just like the red logo on the index-finger. While they probably assist your grip somewhat, holding the iPhone is still analogous to holding a wet bar of a soap. Ok that might be a bit of an overstatement, but I would recommend being very careful while holding your electronic device. For me, holding and typing with the same hand was totally out of the question. While I was on the ski lifts, I would hold my iPhone firmly with one hand and use the other to navigate, any other way would just be asking to lose your iPhone to the snow 30 feet under you. Stopping to answer a call on the slopes wasn’t much of an issue. All I had to do was take off my outer glove and slide the slider to answer. I was able to talk on the phone without completely taking off my gloves, which is very nice when you are out in the cold.

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My second complaint is build quality. The gloves would probably hold up very well if they were used by themselves. However, a week of being used as liners is already taking its toll. The special pads are already frayed. After prolonged use as liners, it seems like they would degrade fairly quickly. As I said, during stand-alone use, they would probably last much longer.

Overall I’m pretty satisfied with the gloves, and I feel that they are priced fairly. Any glove makers out there think they have a better pair of capacitive touch enabled gloves? Contact me at Ben [at] umpcportal.com if you would like to have them reviewed.

Second Gen iPod Touch faster than original

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ipod touch

Word has been spreading around lately that the second-gen iPod Touch [Portal page] has a faster CPU than any of the previous Touch devices (including the iPhones). This was a bit strange when I first read it because I own an iPhone 3G, and it was easy to see that in comparison, a friends second-gen iPod Touch was visibly faster when there were on-screen GUI actions. I thought that because it was so clear that it was just a known fact that the second-gen iPod Touch was faster. And yet here I am writing this post to let people know that in fact, the second-gen iPod Touch has a faster clock speed than the original iPod Touch, as well as the iPhone EDGE, and iPhone 3G.

From what I’m looking at, it appears as though the ARM CPU in the second-gen iPod Touch is different than those in the other Touch family devices (at first I thought it was simply a change in clock speed). Second-gen iPod Touch: 523MHz, up from 412MHz in the rest of the family of devices. Regardless of the slightly updated CPU, I think it is possible for Apple to turn up the clocks on the other devices to reach the same speed, however there are other important factors to consider before doing that, the biggest of which is battery life. It seems as though the second-gen iPod Touch’s hardware is quite a bit more efficient than the original iPod Touch. Even with the more powerful CPU, the second-gen iPod Touch has better battery life than the original. Here is a list from greatest speed to least for the Touch family:

  1. second-gen iPod Touch
  2. iPhone 3G
  3. iPhone EDGE
  4. first-gen iPod Touch

In my personal experience with all of these devices I would say that the speed differences between the iPhone 3G, iPhone EDGE, and first-gen iPod Touch are entirely unnoticeable. Only when you compare these devices to the second-gen iPod Touch can you see a difference.

The real question is why didn’t Apple mention this increased CPU speed (they didn’t mention it IIRC) especially if they managed faster speed with improved battery life? Maybe they meant to limit the CPU to the same clock as the rest of the devices but it slipped by them? Hopefully we won’t see games that cater to the second-gen iPod Touch’s faster CPU. At this point, every piece of software is interoperable across the entire Touch family, it would be a shame to see software that ‘works’ on the other three devices, but is really meant to be run on the second-gen iPod Touch.

"The smartphone isnt that smart….They use ARM"

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No prizes for guessing what company said that! ZDnet highlights it with "Intel slams ‘slow’ iPhone ARM CPU.Gizmodo follows up. Engadget too (along with a lot of comments) and now it’s reached the front page of Techmeme. Oops!

I’m all behind Intel for their work in squashing the X86 architecture down to smartphone-sized levels with Moorestown and there’s an element of truth in the fact the the iPhone is underpowered for Internet apps but the way I see it is that it’s not really about CPUs anymore and as such, it comes across rather uncool to focus on it, especially when your partners are behind schedule on getting mobile Internet devices out of the door and you still have work to do to reach smartphone levels of power efficiency.

Both ARM and Intel have reached similar (consumer acceptable) territory in terms of watt/performance [*1] with their respective core architectures and yes, Intel’s solutions are probably more powerful and will definitely be attractive to the power-user but that’s a tiny part of the equation that goes together to make a thrilling consumer device. Intel’s main task now is about the integration of the CPU, GPU, controllers and radios into the smallest space possible with the highest platform efficiency. Both ARM and Intel’s ecosystem is highly capable of achieving that but there’s even more to consider. Industrial design,marketing and most importantly, software.

Intel are betting on one of the most fragmented software environments out there – Linux. They want to create a new, mobile-focused stack with it and surround it with quality ISVs. ARM’s partners want to use Linux too but they already have well-supported stacks with the same ISVs and big dev communities around them to. To drive a new Linux stack you need control, lead (in-house, paid, full-time) developers, Linux distribution partners and, if you want to take advantage of the existing application base, the skills of the people that wrote them. That means you need to be Linux-geek-cool and you need to show the dev community that you are a caring, sharing type. You also need to have an easy channel for them. An app, store. It’s critical now, not only for the developers, but to enable an important revenue stream in e-commerce for Intel and the partners. Moblin doesn’t have either of those two elements. Highlighting your advantages is one thing but making statements that attack the other side (where some of your community sits) won’t win you any hearts in the open-source world.

To be fair, I wasn’t there and haven’t been able to hear the comments in context and having interviewed Pankaj Kedia a few times, I know that he knows what he’s talking about. Add Steve Jobs’ recent comments into the mix and the stones that came from the ARM camp a few months ago and you can understand why these comments happen. Intel’s ultra mobile products are good and getting better and there may even be an Apple product in the works that gives Intel this confidence but when I hear comments like this, it just sounds cheap.

*1 The latest ARM-based devices have almost closed the 9-second penalty I demonstrated a year ago. See this article about the Archos 5.

Update. Intel has corrected its comments in a statemnet here.

The iPhone is the Apple netbook?

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Many others have written about it. NYTimes. ARS Technica, Liliputing, GearLog are just a few. This taken direct the article at Small-Laptops.

Jobs on netbooks: “As we look at the netbook category, that’s a nascent category. As best as we can tell, there’s not a lot of them being sold. You know, one of our entrants into that category if you will is the iPhone, for browsing the Internet, and doing email and all the other things that a netbook lets you do. And being connected via the cellular network wherever you are, an iPhone is a pretty good solution for that, and it fits in your pocket.

I love that attitude. He’s effectively saying that MIDs are where it’s at isn’t he. Isn’t he? The ‘Not a lot being sold’ part is probably a nod towards their 7 million iPhone sales.

I agree with Jobs and believe the Netbooks segment is a dangerous segment to be playing in right now. I believe that the action will start to take place in other segments soon. It will only take one well-executed MID/PMP product to make heads turn and for people to realise that most of what they do on their netbooks (surfing, reading emails, IM, videos) can be done by a device that fits in the pocket. Yes I know some of you use netbooks as laptops for inputting text but to be honest, I don’t think that inputting reams of text is what most people are doing with their netbooks. When that special product comes out and when those heads turn, people like Samsung, Toshiba, ASUS could get caught out with big zero-margin netbook stocks. In fact the whole Intel Atom ecosystem could get caught out if that device turns out to be based on an ARM core and gets followed up by a raft of cool ARM-based devices from established players.

Jobs will need a product to replace the iPod in the next 18 months and a combined video and Internet device is perfect for that. There’s almost no question that Apple will do a 4-6" device and that the technology and software is there to be able to do it but the question is, when will the market and carriers be ready? End of 2009? Beginning of 2010? Apple must have tens of prototypes in the lab ready to choose from and they’re probably doing the sensible business thing by waiting.

Archos 5 browser speed shows promise.

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‘Faster over fuller’ is the expression Jenn uses to describe how consumers want their browsing experience and I tend to agree. Personally I want Firefox 3+add-ons for my browser as it’s long my most important piece of software but I’m not most consumers. A consumer MID doesn’t need to be 100% FIE for most people but it does need to be close.

3mids

The browser on the Archos 5 is, relative to existing consumer and smartphone-based browsers, a big step forward in the eyes of most people that have tested it so it’s nice to confirm it with some stats. Jenn has lined-up the Archos 5, the iPhone 3G and the Nokia N810 in a browser speed test and overall, you’re seeing page load times 1.5 times faster than an iPhone 3G  and about 1.8 times faster than a Nokia N810. But is it fast enough? MIDs and low-end UMPCs are likely to beat these times and return more accurate results but does the difference really matter?

What we’re seeing here is proof of, not just a fast new Archos device, but how the ARM Cortex core could improve the Internet experience. In this case, the ARM core is sitting on the Ti OMAP platform but Ti aren’t the only people using it. Intel really do need to watch their backs in this territory now because they’re not fighting against relatively small companies like AMD and VIA here, they’re fighting against the huge ARM ecosystem and they certainly know a thing or two about mobile hardware and software.

Read about the 3-way test at Pocketables.

3G iPhone proves that battery life is a problem for everyone!

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This tickled me. A post on Friendfeed a short while ago…

“As the iPhone begins to resemble and be used like a computer, we will have to contend with challenges like crashing and battery life.” [Steve Rubel]

He’s right. Many people still assume that smartphones have excellent battery life compared to UMPCs. The reality is slightly less exciting if you use both devices for mobile Internet activities on a regular basis.

Apart from having a little giggle, the comment also reminded me to check up on the reported iPhone 3G battery life and compare it with my figures. I came up with an interesting article from AnandTech who have completed a browsing test which resulted in a dead iPhone in just over three hours. That’s much less than the 5-hrs quoted by Apple. It’s not even the most power-hungry test you could do on an iPhone. Try doing some Voip, live tracking or even IM with some music playing in the background and you’ll have a dead iPhone in under 2 hrs. Well, you would if the Iphone would let you run 3rd party background tasks!

3G radios, GPUs, displays are all going to take a lot of power whether they’re on a ultra mobile PC or a smartphone. Add 3rd-party software into the mix and you find that if you want the FIE on a regular basis, there’s no substitute for a fat battery!  As I mentioned in a previous article, 10wh is about your minimum battery size for any serious mobile Internet device in 2008 and 2009. The battery in the iPhone is only 5wh (possibly only 4wh according to this article.) 

In perspective, the iPhone 3G is still an impressively efficient device. 1.5W maximum power drain makes it one of the most energy efficient MIDs around and it’s still leading the way in the consumer-oriented market. In 2007 we were seeing best-of-breed UMPCs taking 9W to do similar 3G browsing tasks. Later in 2008, the differential will shrink to just 2 or 3watts and in 2010, the differential will be close to zero but in all cases, you still need that big battery if you need the FIE for long periods between charges. For now, the multi-device strategy still seems to be the best for you pro-mobile users.

[If you spot any other iPhone 3G battery life tests that were done under ‘MID’ conditions. Please drop me a comment. I’m interested. Thanks.]

Two of the Worlds most Energy Efficient Mobile Internet Devices launch on Friday.

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iphone3gsmallEnergy efficiency is, without a doubt, the most important design factor for any pocketable Ultra Mobile device. On Friday this week, there are two very important launch events taking place that will highlight the advances made in energy efficient computing over the last year. The two devices will also show how us close Intel and ARM partners really are in the race to provide handheld, Internet-focused computers. MIDs.

On one side of the fence, in PC land, Sharp and Willcom will release a pocketable slider-keyboard mobility-focused device. The Sharp Willcom D4 will be running Windows Vista on the Intel Silverthorne/Poulsbo platform also known as Menlow and is likely to be one of the most energy-efficient 3G-enabled PC’s so far.

On the other side of the fence, in smartphone land, Apple will release a smaller, 3G-capable mobility-focused device running a highly optimised desktop operating system. The iPhone 3G will be running ARM-based processors and is likely to be one of the most energy-efficient 3G smartphones so far.

The Willcom D4 is said to have (independent tests) a 3G-active time (Internet activity) of around 1.5 hours and it runs a 7wh battery.

The iPhone 3G is said to have (Apple figures) a 3G-active time (Internet activity) of around 5 hours and it is likely to run (my estimates) a battery of about 5.5wh.

3G-active Internet time is a worst-case measure of device efficiency so, based on these early figures, it looks like the Menlow-based device will use about 4.5W and an iPhone will use about 1W.  More after the pic…

3gdrain

Read the full story

eXtndr concept turns the iPhone into a Slider MID.

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I have no doubt at all that this idea will raise the eyebrows of many an iPhone 3G owner. PimpMyultra mobile PC blogger Valto has put together a presentation of a concept he calls the eXtendr. In the presentation you’ll see a slider keyboard but it you read the article you’ll see that it’s not just a keyboard idea. The concept could be used to carry speakers and batteries a bit like the original iPaq jacket and, more recently, the Digifriends MID. Because this is the iPhone though, it somehow seems to have more impact. Good work Valto!

Full news item at Pimp My UMPC

iPhone 3G plans revealed in Germany. (Updated)

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iphone3g As expected, the iPhone is very expensive indeed. [See the update below. The source linked to the wrong PDF!] Prices do seem more reasonable now that we’ve got the correct info!

Not only that but the data plans are restricted right down to the point where on the entry-level plan, you get no data at all! How’s that for the phone that’s supposed to open up the world of the Internet to your pocket?

T-Mobile in Germany have released the pricing plan and small-print for the iPhone 3G which starts at 29 Euro per month for just 50 minutes of inclusive calls. No Internet included, oh wait, one of their flyer pages mentions 100MB of data at EDGE speeds only!  Add the 249 170 Euro cost of the iPhone on top along with a 30 Euro connection charge and you’re not exactly getting the best smartphone deal on the block!

Update: A further check on the data reveals that Digital Living highlighted the wrong tariff. Joel spotted that the PDF was 3 months old. The NEW PDF shows a slightly better offer. If you order the iPhone before end of August you get 500MB of HSDPA included and 50 minutes of calls for 29 Euro. It’s still more expensive than most offers but considering the 8G version is only 170 Euro, it’s a reasonable deal.

For those not familiar with the pricing in Germany, let me tell you that for 10 Euros LESS per month I get 60 minutes of all-german-networks free calls and HSDPA flat-rate included (HTTP only, 3.6mbps)

If you want a flat-rate (5GB) 3G data package with the iPhone, they expect you to pay for 1000 minutes of voice calls too and hand over 89 Euros per month. Also note that the intermediate M and L offerings will cut your bandwidth down to 64kbps if you go over either 200MB 300MB or 1GB (respectively) of data usage. Pathetic!

n82+ = BEST!

One could take the jailbreak route of course but apart from it being difficult to do with the new activation rules, expensive and  time-consuming, it comes with a huge amount of risk. It’s not something I’m even interested in trying. No. I’ll stick with my solution of smartphones with good photo and video capabilities and combine it with a Gigabyte M528 for some real mobile Internet action. I’m even thinking of adding an Acer Aspire One to the kitlist and going for the full-on, no-compromise, high quality, three-device mobile strategy!

T-Mobile Tariff details here (PDF) News via Digital Living

What we think of the iPhone 3G

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Kornel, Ben and I have summarised our thoughts on the iPhone 3G. I think we all agree it’s a MID but the contract pricing seems to be the sticking-point.

Kornel

This is the iPhone many were waiting for. Here’s what I’m excited about: improved speaker, 3g speeds and…the GPS. I haven’t yet seen an implementation of GPS in a phone that I would like. But this is Apple. Location awareness, Geotagging – all that built in and user friendly. No wonder the GPS makers are scared. Great price and I don’t expect to see contracts as expensive as in America in other countries. And then there’s always the unlock route. Closest thing to a MID you can get right now, considering they are not out.  Just sold my N95 8GB – bring on the iPhone!

Ben

The new $199 price point is extremely attractive for a phone with those capabilities, and don’t forget you are getting a top notch DAP as well. As an all in one mobile entertainment device/phone the price is extremely attractive. 2.0 firmware offers some nice updates, I’m not sure about the App Store yet. Jailbreaking an iPhone adds an incredible amount of functionality through third party apps, I’m just hoping the App Store doesn’t put Apple in conflict with the Jailbreaking community. I’m also waiting to see what kind of prices developers plan to charge. The iPhone interface has always been a joy to use and is what makes it much better than the competition in my opinion, Apple is following the right course by continuing to improve it through lots of feedback. GPS is nice but I’m hoping we won’t need to buy an application to get true GPS style driving directions. I’m somewhat surprised we didn’t see the latest BT version and wireless N. I also would have liked to see an improved camera. 3G will make the iPhone 3G a must-have for some people, but others aren’t looking forward to the ridiculous prices of 3G.

Chippy

TCO $70 per month for 2 years. No video. No camera improvements. No screen resolution/size variations (still have to zoom in and out to read/navigate), can I send an Image via Bluetooth? Can I tether? The iPhone won’t satisfy the pro-mobile user and will be too expensive for many customers. With exiting new software and hardware platforms on the horizon, I’d hate to be locked into an expensive 2-year contract with this device right now!

iPhone 3G, GPS, App Store

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iphone 3g

As you have most likely heard, Apple today announced the iPhone 3G at their annual WWDC event. The phone’s most obvious new feature is the HSDPA 3G cellular data connection that now enables the phone to have faster cellular internet connectivity. This replaces the old iPhone’s EDGE technology which was on the dial-up end of the internet speed spectrum. HSDPA in the iPhone 3G is closer to wi-fi speeds as demonstrated by Apple. The phone itself has changed very little cosmetically. We’re talking about millimeters in size differences, and a plastic back on the iPhone 3G instead of easily scratched aluminum. The iPhone 3G will be available with a black or white back.

Probably the second most significant hardware change is the addition of GPS. Apple says that the iPhone 3G will use a combination of GPS, wi-fi and cell towers to pin-point the position of the user. The iPhone EDGE used Locate Me, a function that provided a rough estimate of the users position based on cell tower information. With the addition of GPS the system is accurate enough to locate the street the user is on and give driving directions, something that couldn’t be done due to the inaccuracy of the Locate Me technology of the iPhone EDGE.

Another one of the anticipated upgrades is to the iPhone’s operating system. The iPhone 2.0 firmware will be released when the iPhone 3G comes out on July 11th. At the same time, Apple will make the update free to iPhone EDGE users, and available to iPod Touch users for $9.95. The 2.0 software will bring some increased functionality to the current feature set including things such as mass email management and contact searching. Additionally, 2.0 will bring the App Store onto the home screen of iPhone/iPod Touch users, and will allow them to download applications wirelessly to their device. The store will offer a combination of free and purchasable applications. Developers who charge for their apps keep 70% of the cost; for those who will be releasing free apps, Apple has said there will be no charges to the developer. Along for the ride in the 2.0 firmware is a lot of support for enterprise users including VPN connectivity, Exchange support, and more.

This time around Apple has worked with AT&T to subsidize the iPhone to a more attractive price point. The iPhone EDGE was released as an 8GB model for $599 USD, while an iPhone 3G will only run you $199, with the 16GB version following at $299 (of course this is all with a contract from AT&T). In addition to reduced pricing, Apple has stated its goal to release the iPhone 3G in 70 countries this year.

Check the technical specifications on Apple’s website for the dirty details of the new phone.

We’ll have some thoughts from the UMPCPortal team in a later post. Is it a MID? Is it good value? Does it improve the Internet Experience? What about video and cam capabilities? Bluetooth profiles improved?

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