Archive for March 31, 2009

Motorola Tundra cellphone: Fine sound, rugged look

The new Motorola Tundra, $200 with a two-year contract from AT&T, is one of a growing number of cellphones that emphasize their toughness; "you can drop it, use it in the rain, or get it dirty," according to the manufacturer.

But more interesting to us in our preliminary lab tests on the Tundra was whether the phone would measure up to its claims of superior sound quality.

The Tundra boasts Motorola’s latest noise-reduction technology called CrystalTalkPlus, as we noted when the phone was announced in January at the Consumer Electronics Show.

We were unimpressed with the noise-reduction abilities of Motorola's earlier version of CrystalTalk, which can be found on the company's Moto Z9, RAZR2V8 and RAZR2V9 phones. But this time Motorola's claims are ringing true—at least for the Tundra. In our tests, it produced very good voice quality when talking, good when listening, in part because it did indeed reduce unwanted noise. That voice performance is noticeably better than that of most GSM phones in our Ratings.

We continue to test the Tundra and will post it soon to our full Ratings of cellphones, (available to subscribers). — Mike Gikas

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CTIA: AT&T launches six new phones


As the cellular industry’s annual gathering gets underway here in Las Vegas, AT&T has announced six new phones—two of them smart models—that highlight the growing trend toward mobile messaging.

Available over the next several weeks, the lineup includes the Nokia E71X (right), the company’s first smart phone—at least from a U.S. carrier—that sports a keyboard. Priced at $100 with a two-year contract and rebates, the phone will also be one of the lowest-priced smart phones on the market, as well as one of the thinnest: measuring just 10mm. The E71X will support AT&T’s proactive GPS navigation application as well as Wi-Fi and corporate e-mail, the latter via Microsoft’s Exchange server. It has a 3.1-megapixel camera.

We’ll have more details on the E71X as the show unfolds. In the meantime, here’s a peek at the other five new AT&T models:

Samsung Propel Pro, $149, a business version of the Samsung Propel, a slider that is already in our labs. It runs Windows Mobile 6.1 and has built-in Wi-Fi. Available on April 14.

Samsung Impression, $199, which claims a bright and clear display with help from a technology called active-matrix organic light-emitting diodes (AMOLED). Underneath its 3.2-in touch-screen display is a keyboard for easier messaging. It has a full Web browser and 3.0-megapixel camera.

The other three models are conventional phones with keyboards. They are: the LG Xenon, LG Neon, and the Samsung Magnet. The Xenon will go on sale on April 8 for $99. The Neon and Magnet will be available in a few weeks for an undisclosed price. — Mike Gikas

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Netflix raises Blu-ray rental fees

If you’ve turned to the Netflix movie rental service for viewing high-def videos without having to buy pricey Blu-ray DVDs, hold on to your wallets! CNet, the Consumerist, the Los Angeles Times, and Reuters are among the many web sites reporting on Netflix’s planned 20 percent increase to its monthly Blu-ray subscription fees. Netflix’s vice president of marketing, Jessie Becker, posted to the official Netflix blog yesteday that the price hikes were necessary to help expand the company’s library of expensive Blu-ray titles and meet its growing subscriber demand for the high-def discs. More details about the new rates, which go into effect on April 27 and won’t affect subscribers of standard definition DVDs, can be found on the Netflix blog post, Price update for access to Blu-ray movies.

The takeaway: In our most recent Ratings of movie rental service (available to subscribers), Netflix was a well-regarded option among respondents to a Consumer Reports survey. (For more information, click on the player at right and watch our free video,  Netflix vs. Blockbuster Total Access.) But Netflix’s pending fee increase during these rough economic times for consumers has already touched off a firestorm of comments on the official Netflix blog. And while Blockbuster’s Total Access service has generally been more costly than comparable Netflix plans, and recently downgraded its supplementary in-store-rentals, it looks like it might now be the cheaper option for at least some people who rent Blu-ray discs, given that Blockbuster does not charge extra for Blu-ray rentals. Netflix is also facing an ever growing list of competitors—from Apple’s iTunes to TiVo and Blockbuster to possibly Amazon, all of whom are or will soon offer HD movies. If you’re a Netflix subscriber, will this price hike change your plans?

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Internet crime up 33 percent

Is it a sign of these tough economic times or something much more sinister? The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) says it received over 275,000 complaints last year—up from nearly 207,000 reported cybercrime complaints in 2007. (The complete IC3 report is available as a downloadable PDF.) As reported by many web sites (including the Associated Press, Reuters, CNN and even geeky Scientific American), the top complaints were non-delivery of promised merchandise, followed by auction fraud, credit card fraud and investment scams. The estimated loss from such online fraud was nearly $265 million in the U.S. last year—up nearly 11 percent from 2007 ($239 million).

The takeaway: Safeguarding the data on your personal computer (and thus protecting your privacy and identity) doesn't have to be hard—or expensive. Consumer Reports tested the performance of several popular security software programs, and found a few free computer protection programs, easily accessible from the Net. We also offer free tips and advice in our Guide to Online Safety and our Online Security Blog, which warns of the possible dangers of the Conficker worm on April Fools' Day. And if you've been a victim of a cybercrime, we'd like to know. (See: Hit by cybercrime? Tell us your story.)

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