Archive for March 17, 2009

Best DVD rental plans

For renting DVDs, Netflix tops Blockbuster overall when it comes to mail-order movie subscriptions, according to a new survey of 6,700 online subscribers by the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

Both services have $4- or $5-a-month plans that let you have one disc at a time and plans that cost $15 to $20 or more monthly that allow you to keep at least three discs on hand, with some offering all-you-can-watch privileges. You go online to reserve movies, which are mailed to you within a business day or two. When you return the disc in a prepaid mailer, the next movie is shipped out. Netflix supplements mail delivery with the ability to stream movies to a computer or TV with an Ethernet port. Blockbuster also offers streamed videos, but they’re not part of its Total Access rental subscriptions; you pay extra.

Consumers surveyed gave Netflix the edge for price and selection. Blockbuster’s Total Access plan did well, though, and it lets you supplement mail delivery with pickup and exchanges at its 4,600 retail stores. However, one report says Blockbuster is changing its policy so that those in-store movies will be counted toward the total allowed; they haven’t been so far. That makes the plan less generous overall than before, but it still allows you to switch movies immediately, rather than waiting for the mail.

Watch our Netflix vs. Blockbuster video (Click on the embedded video player) for more on your movie rental choices. Subscribers can see our full Ratings of movie rental services, which also includes in-store kiosks, walk-in chains, and independent rental stores. And don’t forget libraries as a source of free DVD loans..

—Eileen McCooey

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News Briefs

Here are some interesting consumer electronics and computer technology news headlines that caught  our eyes this morning:

Apple iPhone 3.0
Today, Apple is expected to hold an “invitation-only event” to give select media groups “an advanced peek” at what the Cupertino, Calif.-based company is building—including a new operating system software for the iPhone. But other news sources are noting a variety of other developments could also be unveiled—including a tablet computer.
The take away: Since we bought and tested the iPhone last year, like many users we have a list of things we'd like to see in the new iPhone. We'll be monitoring what develops out of today's Apple-fest. But what would you like to see Apple develop next? Weigh in below.

Dell launches a notebook to love?
Dell is taking pre-orders for its new Adamo (Latin for “to fall in love with”) notebook computer. Based on Adamo's specs, it may be one of the thinnest notebooks Dell has ever sold. Could Dell have a Macbook Air killer on its hands?
The take away: Adamo could be the PC world's latest reply to the MacBook Air. But such lightness will also lighten your wallet of $2,000—a very hard sell in these tough economic times. We'll be testing the Adamo after we buy one (it's available on March 26) and add it to laptop Ratings (available to subscribers). In the meantime, for help in deciding what to look for in a laptop or desktop, check out our free Computer Buying Guide.

After the megapixel wars
Over at NewScientist's new Innovation tech column, a camera industry insider is claiming an end to the numbers game. In other words, expect more advertisements on other digital camera features instead of focusing on just the digital camera's megapixel, a numbers manufacturers love to tout.
The take away: For a while, we've advised consumers not to focus on megapixels when shopping for a digital camera. (Yes, 6-megapixels is all most consumers really need.) For more shopping tips, see our free Buying Guide to digital cameras.

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New iPhone OS: What we’d like to see

IPhone-in-handApple is expected to provide a sneak peek tomorrow at a new operating system, dubbed iPhone 3.0, for its iPhone smart phone (included in our smart phone Ratings, available to subscribers), and presumably also for its iPod Touch multimedia player, too (which is in our MP3 player Ratings, also available to subscribers) . Here’s what we’d like to see from the first major overhaul of the iPhone OS since last June.

  • Better search capability. Apple could use more sophisticated tools for searching the Web, to keep up with what the upcoming Palm Pre promises to do.

    The Pre, due within the next few months, will supposedly aggregate and continuously update all the relevant elements pertaining to contacts, calendars, and messaging. For example, if you have information on Jane Doe in Outlook, Google, and Facebook, it will put details from those normally unconnected sources under Jane’s name. Ditto for calendars and messaging. Even if you start communicating with Jane on IM then switch to e-mail, Palm’s WebOS will show all of your exchanges in one “chat-style” view.

  • The ability to edit Office documents. While iPhone allows you to view Office documents, you can edit them only by buying and installing third-party applications like Quickoffice’s MobileFiles Pro ($10), which allows you to edit Excel spreadsheets. Palm, Windows Mobile, and BlackBerry phones allow you edit a wide array of documents out of the box.
  • Better battery life. Though power efficiency is in part a hardware issue, software upgrades can also lead to improved battery life. The iPhone’s battery life in our tests is okay, even compared to other GSM phones, which tend to be more miserly with power than phones that use CDMA technology (as employed by Verizon and Sprint-Nextel). But other smart phones are better in this critical dimension of performance.

Stay tuned for our take on the preview tomorrow.

—Mike Gikas

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