Archive for June 18, 2009

iPhone 3G S: Early reviews are positive

Apple iPhone 3G S

The new Apple iPhone 3G S.
[Photo courtesy of Apple]

The early reviews for the imminent iPhone 3G S, available tomorrow, mostly praise the third-generation Apple smart phone for addressing what reviewers perceived as key, longstanding shortcomings compared with its competitors–like the absence of voice-dialing and stereo Bluetooth capability–and for offering speedier performance.

Media outlets who received review units of the new phone consistently cited its performance as faster than that of the second-generation iPhone 3G. There was also enthusiasm overall for the device’s upgraded camera, including its video capability, though The New York Times' David Pogue found the camera, like that of its predecessors, took somewhat blurry pictures of moving objects.

Other quibbles include a few from Engadget, including occasionally misinterpreting voice control commands during searches for music. Gizmodo also experienced this problem, and also found the new, more fingerprint-resistant display was a little more reflective than the screen on previous versions of the iPhone.

Reviewers, including The Wall Street Journal's Walt Mossberg, noted that many of the iPhone 3G's other significant improvements are the result of the new iPhone 3.0 operating system, which is available to all iPhone users for free and to iPod Touch users for $10. As we cite in our first look at iPhone 3.0 yesterday, these include the ability to cut and paste text, expand the virtual keyboard to landscape when you tilt the phone, and to easily perform system-wide searches for documents, e-mails, calendar appointments, etc. using an on-board search engine called Spotlight.

Meantime, the second-generation iPhone 3G remains on the market. It remains a compelling choice, despite the arrival of the iPhone 3G S. The iPhone 3G is now reduced in price to $99 in its 8GB version—compared with $199 (16GB) and $299 (32GB) for the iPhone 3G S.

We'll buy the iPhone 3G S at retail tomorrow, like other consumers, and begin testing immediately. Our findings will be posted to this blog and sent out on Twitter, and the phone will be integrated soonest into our Ratings of smart phones available to subscribers. In the coming days, we'll also add to our Ratings the Palm Pre, the promising iPhone competitor launched last week, and compare the two phones in a head-to-head comparison. We'll also revamp the format of our smart-phones Ratings, to better reflect the complexity and evolution of these most sophisticated of mobile devices. Stay tuned.  —Paul Reynolds and Mike Gikas

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Gifts for Dad: Frame your father

Ipevo Kaleido i7 digital picture frame

The Ipevo Kaleido i7

We’ve got the perfect digital picture frame for the office or study. Ipevo’s Kaleido i7 ($200) exhibits that perfect combination of looks, technology, and usefulness.

It’s shaped like a tiny LCD monitor, so it’ll look cool on a desk at home or in the office. There’s 512MB of memory built in, among the most generous in the frames we’ve looked at, so if you don’t feel like dealing with memory cards, you can store plenty of pics right in the frame.

There’s also a built-in Wi-Fi connection, so you can share photos from Picasa or Flickr. There’s also a remote control. The downside: The frame’s widescreen aspect ratio makes picture-viewing problematic, adding black bars to the sides or top and bottom if the photo wasn’t taken in 16×9 format. —Donna Tapellini

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Give Dad the gift of entertainment on Father’s Day

Fathers Day Dad entertainment electronics

[ Photo courtesy of Paula Pandey Chhetri ]

With Father’s Day just 3 days away, here are some last-minute suggestions that don’t include either a Sham-wow or a Snuggie. Instead, get your Dad or husband something he’d actually want—a gadget to make his entertainment more, well, entertaining. Here are a few suggestions for any budget.

$50 or less:
Consider a set of decent earbuds (the Sony MDR-ED21LP, $20, is one example), or a DVD or Blu-ray disc of his favorite flick or series. An iTunes gift card, $15 to $50, will let him download music as well as movies and TV shows he can watch on an iPod, iPhone, or computer.

$50 to $100:
A pair of noise-canceling headphones can deliver satisfying sound while providing a sonic sanctuary from unwanted outside noises, whether he’s on the go or just hanging out at home. We found several that fall into this price range in our last headphone Ratings (available to subscribers).

If you can spend $60, consider a basic Netflix subscription, which entitles Dad to two DVDs a month for a year. That translates to 24 movies, or a compilation of a TV series he might have missed. (A few critically acclaimed series to consider: Friday Night Lights, 30 Rock, Mad Men, The Wire, The Shield, and Dexter. And allow me one personal recommendation: If he’s into history and mystery, I think he’ll love Foyle’s War, a PBS series about a police inspector dealing with espionage, sabotage, propaganda, and everyday crimes on the English coast during World War II.)

A small bump in the budget to $120 can yield a gift of a one-year subscription to his cable company’s DVR service. You can generally swap the standard box for one with a DVR at no extra cost, and you can pick up the $10-or-so-a-month tab for a year’s worth of DVR service. Dad can always go back to the basic box when it’s his turn to pay—though I doubt he’ll surrender it without a fight—or you can make it a gift that keeps on giving by extending it next Father’s Day.

If you’re willing to part with a pair of Benjamins (as in Franklin), a home-theater-in-a-box system can transform a mundane night of TV into a virtual trip to the movie theater. (Check our HTIB section for general buying advice; we’re currently testing a bunch of new models, so we’ll have new HTIB Ratings recommendations soon.)

If you're more flush with cash, check out our other gift ideas, which go for more dough. Do you have any inspirations? If so, share ‘em, and help out the procrastinators among us. —Eileen McCooey

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iPhone 3.0: First Impressions

Apple iPhone 3.0 software upgrade first impressions review new features new functionality Apple iPod Touch Consumer Reports

A new operating system, released on June 17, 2009, gives current owners of Apple iPhone (seen above) smart phones and iPod Touch media players some snazzy new features.
[ Photo: Apple ]

The new operating system for Apple's iPhone smart phones and iPod Touch launched this afternoon. Here are some observations on some of the most eagerly awaited features of the new OS, based on my first few hours of using it on my iPod Touch:

The new search feature is brilliant and instantaneous. A quick swipe to the left with your finger summons the Spotlight search app. Start typing a word and all the relevant applications, e-mails, calendar events, songs, etc. instantly become listed. For example, I typed "Paul" on my Touch and the feature instantly searched the device (though not the Web, as the Palm Pre does). I got a list of songs from Paul Simon, Les Paul, e-mails and calendar events concerning my boss, Paul Reynolds, and my colleague, Paul Eng. Just continue typing and the list narrows down in real time to what you're looking for.

The new feature had another benefit for me. During what was otherwise a smooth OS upgrade, my downloaded iPhone apps all jumped to the third page of the Touch's desktop, leading me to think they were gone. The new search feature quickly revealed where my apps were.

The landscape-mode keyboard helps, with some downsides. Tilting the iPhone on its side in e-mail or messaging applications does indeed produce a wider keyboard. That's a real plus for my rotund fingers; I find I can type much faster and make fewer errors.

However, in landscape mode, the keyboard covers more of the message you're typing, so you see fewer lines of text—two or three lines, compared to the five or so when its in portrait mode. There also seems to be a glitch with the keyboard. When I tilted the phone into the vertical position to summon the portrait-sized keyboard, the keyboard became distorted, like two half-keyboards stacked one on top of another. Restarting the Touch seemed to fix the problem—for now.

Cut-and-paste works fine, save for attachments. When replying to an e-mail, I found the cut-and paste-feature works well. Double tapping on text produces the copy button and highlights the word you tapped. You can easily expand the swath of text you wish to copy by dragging your finger along the touch screen, and lifting it when you're done. Double tap in a new region, and the "select, copy, paste" menu appears. Peck "paste" to drop in the copied text. Cool feature: If you make a mistake any time during this process, just shake your iPhone or Touch to undo. You can also copy text from one document and paste it in another, even on a different application. For example, I was able to paste the name of a camera I found in a Google search into the search field of my app.

But the paste function does not work with e-mail attachments, at least without an additional application. When I opened an attachment, a Word document, the only editing option that appeared was to "copy."

Fast downloads. I was able to download a full-length digital movie (Don't Mess with the Zohan, running time: Almost 2 hours) in just 33 minutes.

The software upgrade, which became available at 1 p.m. (EST) today, is free to all current iPhone owners and costs $10 for all iPod Touch users. While I didn't have any problems with the upgrade, The New York Times reports some of the snags—including the loss of some iPhone features—that other up-graders experienced.

I'm impressed so far with all the new features of the software upgrade. And I can't wait to see what's in store on Friday, June 19, when Apple releases the iPhone 3G S, which upgrades some of the phone's internal hardware. Claimed improvements include faster system performance, a higher-quality camera that will be able to digitally capture full-motion video, and voice-command capabilities. (Just speak to the new iPhone and it will obey, is the promise.)

Like ordinary consumers, our secret shoppers will be waiting on line at various retailers to buy our own units on Friday. We'll be putting our new iPhones through their paces and report here on this blog—and on our Twitter page!—as soon as we know more.

Stay tuned! —Mike Gikas.

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