Archive for November 17, 2009

First Impressions: Samsung Behold II smart phone

Samsung Behold II phone review

Samsung Behold II

Usually successor phones bear a fairly close resemblance to their earlier namesakes. But the Samsung Behold II, $230, available Wednesday from T-Mobile, looks and behaves little like the first Behold.

While that predecessor is an advanced phone with touch screen and a 4.9-megapixel camera with advanced controls, the Behold II is a smart phone, with a larger screen (3.2 in. vs. 3 in.) and more buttons at its base for accessing the phone's its more advanced features. Measuring 4.57 in. x 2.2. in. x .48 in., the Behold II is about average in size for a smart phone. It includes built-in Wi-Fi, a full Web browser, virtual QWERTY keyboard and a 2GB MicroSD storage card, which you can upgrade to 16GB. The phone runs on the Android operating system, but the older 1.5 version. That aging OS lacks the native support for Microsoft Exchange Server, Facebook, and some of the advanced e-mail capabilities built into the 2.0 version of Android found the Motorola Droid, Samsung Moment, and other phones.

Our telecom engineers are currently testing the press sample we received from Samsung, but I've already had a chance to use the phone for a few hours. Overall, I found the phone decent enough, though not up to the standard of the Droid and some of the other smart phones that have hit the market recently, which offer better performance for less money. Here are my first impressions:

Display. Its 3.2-in. active matrix organic light emitting diode (AMOLED) display is pretty sharp: about 185 pixels per inch. Images seemed crisp and the colors were vibrant. Videos, including those I shot with the phone's camera, appeared smooth and sharp.

Phone controls. Where some smart phones lack hard phone buttons, and bury virtual phone controls on the desktop, the Behold has a well-located phone button on the bottom left corner of the phone. The virtual dial buttons were also easy to see and use, too, and buttons for voice mail, speed dial, contacts, and call log were conveniently displayed on the bottom.

Navigation. In addition to its touch screen and hard buttons for phone and off-hook/power down, the Behold II has a navigation/OK button for scrolling down the page and selecting hotlinks. It's flanked by rocker controls for Home, Menu, Back, and Cube. The latter summons a rotating cube, with six sides that serve as quick links to your music, photo, and video collection, as well as the Web, YouTube, and the Amazon MP3 storefront. While that cube access works fine, an Android Search button would have been a more useful way to launch internal and Web-based searches. You can zoom in and out of photos with a double tap of your finger, except on Web pages, which is a shortcoming of Android 1.5.

Interface. The Behold II unfortunately lacks the interfaces that enhance messaging or social networking applications like we’ve seen on other Android phones like the Motorola Cliq and Droid. Setting up my corporate e-mail account via Exchange Server was easy, though I had difficulty getting the phone to sync with my corporate calendar app out of the box because that feature is off by default. However, I was able to switch on calendar sync by going into the advanced e-mail settings.

Keyboard. The virtual keyboard is supposed to expand or contract when you reorient the phone from a vertical to horizontal position, and vice-versa. But it sometimes got stuck on our press sample. The virtual keys themselves seemed well-spaced in landscape mode, but they shrank to a cramped size in portrait orientation. I found it virtually impossible to type more than a few words without making a mistake.

Camera. The camera, which you can launch by pushing a button on the phone's side, worked very well, and controls for adjusting picture quality and setting the timer are conveniently displayed to each side of the viewfinder. Next-shot-delay seemed faster than most phones I've tried, but the final verdict resides with our imaging experts, who are now putting the phone's camera though its paces.

We'll have more details on this phone as your tech team completes its test. In the meantime, check out our smart phone Ratings for details on other phones. —Mike Gikas

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“Unfriend”: Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year


Ladies, gentlemen, wordsmiths of all ages: Introducing the Word of the Year 2009—and by, extension, buzzword of the year?—as determined by the New Oxford American Dictionary:

unfriend – verb – To remove someone as a ‘friend’ on a social networking site such as Facebook.

As in, “I decided to unfriend my roommate on Facebook after we had a fight.

The word was chosen for its currency and potential longevity, according to Christine Lindberg, Oxford USA’s Senior Lexicographer.

Visit the Oxford University Press Blog for a list of 2009’s Word of the Year finalists. (Two of the finalists have already been featured here on the Electronics Blog. Which ones? Find 'em here and here. Yes folks, we're that prescient.) —Nick K. Mandle

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Black Friday specials: Bundles of joy, or retail sales trick?

Consumer Reports Holiday Headstart

One way retailers can bump up their average sales ticket while still offering savings for their customers is through bundling, or offering savings when you buy several items—say, a TV bundled with a Blu-ray player or sound system—as an assembled package.

Based on what we’ve seen so far, this is a tactic Walmart and some other retailers, such as Best Buy, will be using as part of their Black Friday strategies. This week, for example, Walmart’s pre-Black Friday sales include several TV-based bundles. One $698 package combines a 40-inch 1080p LCD TV, a BD-Live Blu-ray player, and a 2.1-channel sound bar, all from a brand called Viore, which is sold primarily through Walmart (although we’ve also seen it at the company’s Sam’s Club warehouse outlets).

If you’re more comfortable with a better-known TV brand and can live with a standard upconverting DVD player, there are two Vizio bundles, each of which provides a choice of TVs in two screen sizes. One package combines either a 37- or 42-inch 1080p Eco-series (VO370M, VO420M) LCD TV, at a price of $677 or $767, with an RCA-brand DVD home theater system and an HDMI cable. These TVs are selling separately on the Walmart website for for $547 and $648, respectively.

A different bundle packages the RCA DVD home theater system with either a 42-inch 1080p LCD (model SV420M, $888) or 47-inch 1080p (model SV470M, $1,074) and an HDMI cable. Both of these TVs have 120Hz technology to help reduce motion blur, plus the HDMI cable. Vizio sells these TVs separately for $797 and $997, respectively.

I can’t be sure, but it looks like the bundled RCA system is sold separately by Walmart for $147, so you’ll have to weigh the value of saving around $60 or $70 by buying the items together. You'll save even less with the Eco-series bundles.

An even lower price—$728— is offered on a similar bundle, but with Sanyo’s 42-inch 1080p LCD, model DP42849. Like the other packages, it includes an HDMI cable. The TV itself sells for $628, so you’d save $47—and get a free HDMI cable—by buying the bundle.

Based on a leaked Black Friday circular (from Best Buy will have its own TV bundles, with a 50-inch 1080p Panasonic plasma TV (model TC-P50U1) packaged with its DMP-BD60K Blu-ray player, all for just under $1,000. While neither model is loaded with features, you can save about $300 to $350, based on current separate prices.

We expect to see a lot of bundles this holiday season, such as video game systems bundled with “free” games or store gift cards, TVs bundled with Blu-ray players, or Blu-ray players bundled with movie titles. But you should always price these items separately to see if you’re getting as good a deal as it might first appear. —James K. Willcox

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TV power usage on trial in California

How much juice can your big-screen TV suck up? California will become the first state to tackle that issue this week if the state’s energy commission approves a proposal to limit the amount of energy TVs can use. Given the Golden State’s track record as a trendsetter, the impact could eventually be felt far beyond its borders.
Not surprisingly, the proposal has sparked heated controversy, particularly about plasma TVs, which have been painted as power hogs. Opponents argue that the measure would mean less choice and higher prices for consumers, effectively banning the sales of hundreds of big-screen models.

California’s proposal would require a 33 percent improvement in average efficiency for TVs with screens up to 58 inches sold in California in 2011 and a 49 percent improvement in 2013. By the state’s reckoning, more than 1,000 TVs, including several dozen plasma TVs, already meet the 2011 standard, and about 300 LCD sets—but no plasmas—already qualify for the tougher 2013 rules.

Manufacturers, retailers, and other industry groups have sharply criticized the measure. The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) argues that California hasn’t factored in recent advances in TV efficiency, instead relying on data from years back, when many TVs—especially plasma sets—were more power-hungry. The group points out that the energy efficiency of Energy Star-compliant TVs has improved by 41 percent over the past two years, and points out that many Energy-Star-compliant sets would not meet California’s 2013 guidelines.

CEA has joined forces with Californians for Smart Energy, a group comprising consumers, small businesses, trade groups and associations—including the Custom Electronic Design & Installation Association (CEDIA, Consumer Electronics Retailers Coalition (CERC), Digital Entertainment Group, and the Plasma Display Coalition.

We at Consumer Reports have in fact found that TVs have become more energy-efficient over the past year or two, to the point that both display types now use comparable amounts of energy per screen inch. For example, we estimate that 42-inch LCDs and plasmas both use roughly $40 to $45 a year in energy. The government’s Energy Star program also indicates that LCD and plasma TVs use comparable amounts of power, in contrast to California data showing that plasmas use about one-third more.

CEA maintains that California overstates both the magnitude of the problem and the potential savings. Consumer habits such as turning off the TV when not in use and lowering the brightness could save as much if not more power, they contend.

What’s your view of the situation? Do you think the government should be involved to this extent? Let’s hear it. —Eileen McCooey

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Daily electronics deals from The Consumerist

Today's deals, courtesy of The Consumerist:

  • Geeks: DigiPro 4×3-inch USB Graphics Tablet with Wireless Pen $18
  • Newegg: Philips NP1100/37 Streamium Network Music Player for $69.99 w/ Free shipping
  • Asus HS-1000W – Wireless USB Headset for Gaming, Music & VoIP for $25.99 after $20 rebate w/ Free shipping
  • Newegg: Toshiba 31.5-inch LCD HDTV $330
  • Newegg: Toshiba 32AV502R 32 inch LCD HDTV (720p) $329.99
  • TigerDirect: Toshiba REGZA 46XV645U 46 inch LCD HDTV (1080p, 120Hz) w/ Blu-Ray Player $949.99 Free Shipping
  • Vanns: JVC LT-19D200 19" black 720p LCD HDTV with built in DVD player for $249.88 w/ Free shipping
  • Toshiba REGZA 46SV670U 1080p 120Hz LED-LCD HDTV $1,349 + free shipping
  • NewEgg: Refurbished iRobot 5800/5999 Scooba Floor-Washing Robot $170 + free shipping
  • Guitar Hero Store: DJ Hero Game w/ Turntable Controller Bundle (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii) $89 Free 2 Day Ship
  • Amazon: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia: Seasons 1-4 $44.99 + free shipping

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