Archive for July, 2009

Apple rejection of the Google Voice app slammed by advocates

The rejection by Apple of a Google Voice application that would allow iPhone owners more options in how they place calls is “very troubling,” according to our colleagues at Consumers Union, the parent company of Consumer Reports.

The app is available now for Blackberrys, and for Google phones such as T-Mobile’s G1, now in our smart phone Ratings (available to subscribers), and the upcoming MyTouch 3G, which will soon be.

Google Voice is designed to route work, home and wireless phones to a single number provided by the Internet search giant. Other features include free local and cheap international calls and even transcripts of voicemail phone messages in your email inbox.

In a blog post on its HearUsNow.org website, CU says that Apple rejected the app because “Google Voice effectively gives away for free many of the services that AT&T makes a lot of money selling." And it links that decision to the exclusivity arrangements that are prevalent for many cell phones, including the iPhone, and that CU opposes.

“It’s safe to say that Apple would not have rejected Google Voice for the iPhone were it not for its exclusive service deal with AT&T, “ CU says.

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Traveling overseas with your cell phone—without the big bills.

With the summer travel season in full swing, the last thing on your mind may be your cell phone. Unless, you’re traveling overseas.

Will my phone work in the country I’m traveling to? Will I get socked with per-minute charges? International roaming costs? Will I be able to send and receive text messages? Should I just buy a “disposable” pre-paid phone when I land at my final destination?

We’ve covered these questions—and more—in our recently updated guide to Getting Cell Service Abroad. But, here’s a list of tips for staying-connected while vacationing overseas.

1. Check if your phone will work at your vacation hot-spot.
Depending if your phone’s technology (CDMA or GSM) matches the network used at your destination, you have different options. If you can’t take the phone with you, you can rent a phone from your carrier or a third party like Cellhire or 1-800 Mobiles. See "If your cell phone’s a globetrotter," for more information.

2. Consider suspending your cell phone service if you can’t travel with your phone.
If you can’t use your personal cell phone overseas, putting your account on hold might save you some cash—perhaps enough to rent or buy a temporary phone overseas. For more help, see “If your cell phone is a homebody.

3. Consider texting, rather than talking.
You can potentially save yourself from increased minute rates, as most international messages are no more than 50-cents to send, and even cheaper to receive. See “Survival tips for using cell phones internationally,” for rates on specific carriers.

For the ins and outs of international cell service and even more ways to save, see the complete "Getting Cell Service Abroad" article, which is full of up-to-date information and pricing on all your cell travel needs. Just remember to pack a charger, and that cell phone thing is set (if only packing were this easy). —Will Dilella

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A first look at the Navigon iPhone App.

Recently, the Consumer Reports Cars people took the Navigon iPhone GPS navigation application for a spin. After downloading the app—for the one time fee of $70—to an iPhone 3Gs, they gave their new toy the usual treatment, with a battery of tests.

The results? Mobile Navigator does a good job of mimicking traditional portable navigation devices, and the iPhone’s large screen is a definite benefit, as is the touch interface, but in laboratory and real-world tests, they found some differences that leave the iPhone application lacking.

Entering directions can be a chore because of the often-complained of virtual, on-screen keyboard—which has smaller buttons than a traditional GPS. The voice volume (used in turn-by-turn directions) wasn't favorable, neither was GPS accuracy. Mobile Navigator is not as precise as traditional navigation devices. The GPS will often place the current position on a surrounding road—as experienced with other iPhone applications—rather than the road on which a user is actually traveling.

But, you can play music from your iTunes library and use other traditional iPhone features, like pinching to zoom or scrolling though screens with the touch of your finger— while you drive. Though we did not test these capabilities while driving in a test vehicle, given the recent reports of distracted driving, we don’t recommend DWI—driving while iPhoning—either.

Overall, Navigon’s Mobile Navigator North America is a worthy turn-by-turn GPS solution for iPhone users, but a dedicated GPS unit is still your best bet. For the complete list of features, analyses, and results from the Consumer Reports Cars team, see their post, Navigon Mobile Navigator iPhone GPS app: First look, in the Cars forum.

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In the CR test labs: New HTIB systems

samsung 8500 series led lcd tv

Panasonic’s SC-BT300 7.1-channel HTIB has an integrated Blu-ray drive, an iPod dock, and access to its Viera Cast online service. (Click to enlarge.) [Photo courtesy of Panasonic]

With their relatively simple set-up and all-inclusive designs, home-theater-in-a-box (HTIB) systems have a lot to recommend them. Many now include integrated Blu-ray drives, although systems with standard DVD players remain popular. Most HTIBs are now either 5.1- or 7.1-channel systems that come with either five or seven sonically matched speakers, plus a powered subwoofer. As an added convenience, some models include—or have an option for adding—wireless rear speakers, and many have iPod docks that let you play songs or videos through your entertainment system.

Prices for these systems can vary wildly, from very basic DVD units that start under $100, to powerful 7.1-channel Blu-ray models with lots of bells and whistles and prices that can hit $800 or more. Another option: systems that don’t include a disc drive, but which have all the connections needed for you to use a current DVD player now, then add a Blu-ray player at a later date. All DVD models in our tests play DVDs and CDs, and all models with Blu-ray players can play Blu-ray discs, DVDs, and CDs.

We’re now in the midst of testing more than a dozen new models, including some with Blu-ray drives, some with DVD drives, and several that don’t have any disc player at all. Here’s a list of the HTIB systems currently being tested in our labs:

Blu-ray models

LG LHB953: A 5.1-channel BD-Live Blu-ray system with LG’s NetCast Internet service for access to streaming Netflix instant movies and Pandora’s Internet radio service. It can decode Dolby TrueHD lossless audio, and has an iPod dock.

LG LHB977: Like its sibling, this pricier 5.1-channel HTIB system has an integrated BD-Live Blu-ray player and LG’s NetCast service for access to streaming Netflix instant movies and Pandora Internet radio, plus Dolby TrueHD decoding and an iPod dock. However, it includes stylized, full-size left and right front speakers rather than the smaller satellites found on its brandmate.

Panasonic SC-BT200: A 7.1-channel Blu-ray system with a BD-Live Blu-ray player, integrated universal iPod dock, wireless-ready rear speakers, and access to Panasonic’s Viera Cast Internet service.

Panasonic SC-BT300: Similar to the BT200, above, but with a bit more power, this is a 7.1-channel BD-Live Blu-ray system with an integrated iPod dock, wireless-ready rear speakers, and access to the Viera Cast Internet service.

Samsung HT-BD1250: A 5.1-channel system with an integrated BD-Live Blu-ray player. Has access to streaming Netflix instant movies and Pandora’s Internet radio service. This model is Wi-Fi-ready to wirelessly connect to a home network, and comes with wireless rear speakers and a wireless subwoofer.

Samsung HT-BD7200: Designed for those with space constraints, this sleek-looking 2.1-channel system has an integrated BD-Live Blu-ray player, plus access to streaming Netflix instant movies and Pandora’s Internet radio service. It also has an integrated iPod dock. It’s Wi-Fi-ready, so it can use an optional Wi-Fi adapter for wireless connection to a home network.

DVD models

Coby DVD938: An inexpensive 5.1-channel system with an integrated DVD/CD player. It can play digital media files from a USB flash drive or SD/MMC card, and two mic inputs let you get your karaoke groove on.

JVC TH-G41: A 5.1-channel system with an integrated DVD/CD player. Comes with an iPod dock, and one HDMI input and one HDMI output.

Panasonic SC-PT770: A 5.1-channel system with an integrated DVD/CD player. The system includes a wireless kit for the rear speakers (something that’s an option on the cheaper SC-PT670 system) and an integrated iPod dock.

RCA RTD615i: An inexpensive 5.1-channel system with an integrated DVD/CD player and iPod dock.

Sony DAV-HDX587WC: A 5.1-channel system with a five-disc DVD/CD changer. Includes Sony’s S-AIR system for wirelessly sending music to another room, plus an iPod dock.

Models with no disc player

Onkyo HT-S5200: A 5.1-channel system with an iPod dock, Audyssey’s auto-calibration system, and four HDMI inputs, plus an HDMI cable. It’s also “Sirius-ready,” so it can receive satellite radio broadcasts if used with an optional Sirius tuner.

Samsung HT-AS730ST: A 5.1-channel system with three HDMI inputs for adding a Blu-ray or DVD player, an integrated iPod dock with iPhone support, and an auto-calibration system.

Sony HT-SS360: A 5.1-channel system with three HDMI inputs for connecting a Blu-ray or DVD player, but no analog video connections (so, for example, you couldn’t connect a Nintendo Wii game console, or an older DVD player without HDMI). It comes with an auto-calibration system and a microphone for set-up.

Yamaha YHT-391: An entry-level 5.1-channel HTIB system with four preset “scene” modes (for watching DVDs, listening to CDs, watching TV, or listening to the radio). It’s “iPod ready,” so it will work with an optional Yamaha iPod dock.

Yamaha YHT-591: Really designed for use with a Blu-ray player, this 5.1-channel system has four HDMI inputs, plus internal decoding of both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master lossless audio formats. It’s both Bluetooth- and iPod-ready, so it will work with the former when using an optional receiver, and the latter when paired with an optional Yamaha iPod dock.

Keep checking our blog for word on when the latest HTIB Ratings (available to subscribers) have been posted. —James K. Willcox

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Jul 31, Replacement Remote Controls

Replacement Remote Controls for your Converter Box. Remote Controls for all your needs, Converter Box, DVD, VCR, and Audio.

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