Archive for 2008
When I first got the Google Phone (the G1 through T-Mobile) I was rather impressed with it. Fitting in the palm of my hand, it made me think that if the iPhone was “Mac,” then the G1 is definitely PC. A little wider, a tad boxier. Clunky by comparison, but at first glance, it’s just as effective as a phone and even having some advantages over the sleeker iPhone. But as you use it, the picture begins to change.
First off, it comes with a real keyboard. The G1 is made by HTC and as such, you’ll see similarities between this and the T-Mobile Sidekick. And that keyboard initially made me think that the G1 has a definite advantage. But I found that in ambient daylight, it was very difficult to see the keys, so one has to really KNOW a mini keyboard in order not to type by sight. But compared to the virtual keyboard of the iPhone, it can certainly be a benefit.
Next is the touch screen. It doesn’t have multi-touch capability like the iPhone, but it is a touch screen that is vibrant, sharp and is definitely the hallmark of the design. However, over time, I found the tap capability of the touch screen to deteriorate. Often I would tap on an application icon and it would simply kick me back out to the main screen. I would have to hunt back to the icon I wanted and then highlight it using the trackball and pressing it to actually access the application I wanted. Very frustrating. Additionally, the trackball can be over sensitive which means if you push down on the ball to access, it may actually move the cursor to another link or app which will engage thereby forcing you to back out to try again.
The applications aren’t as numerous as the iPhone (last count was over 10,000), but it is growing. There are some fun and useful applications which at this point in the game are free. We like free. There’s a GPSs app, a WordPress app, Facebook and MySpace apps, a sweet app for football fans which updates play by play during gametime, budget apps, the list goes on and on. And it grows daily.
Another benefit that the Google Phone has over the iPhone is that it actually has “cut and paste.” Very good. But that advantage is lost of the fact that the 2MP camera doesn’t have video capture. In addition, the still picture capture is darn near unusable as it uses a hard button which is designed to where if you push it, you end up shaking the camera ruining the image.
But then again, it has a really sweet GPS feature where you can go into Google maps, set street view and actually walk virtually straight to where you want to go. So, when you go there in real life, you know exactly where you are. That’s a very clever feature that’s more wow factor than anything else, but it worked for me.
But again, where the G1 giveth, it also takes away. Though it has a marvelous screen for videos and a direct link to YouTube with a dedicated application, it has NO audio jack to plug in ear buds! Seriously, Google expects users to either pony up for a USB dongle to plug in ear buds, or listen to the barely audible, crappy speaker. A definitely design flaw that seriously needs to be corrected in the second generation.
Internet access is fast, being both WiFi and EVDO capable, and the coverage is vast. So far I have yet to get lose or miss a connection while cruising around town. The quality of phone reception is very nice. So far, I have had no dropped calls on the T-Mobile network.
But again, the drawback is it’s absolute HORRIBLE battery life. Two to three hours is all you will get on a single charge. That means you’ll be plugging this phone in at least 2 or 3 times a day with average use. That is simply untenable and Google should never have let this phone out of the barn unless it could last an entire day of regular use.
Sso, to summarize:
- THE GOOD:
Good first effort in answer to the iPhone. Actual keyboard for IM and email. Gorgeous screen. Good phone reception. Fast Internet access. Growing list of both fun and useful applications with the option of adding non approved ones. Cut and paste.
- THE BAD:
Overly sensitive trackball. Screen becomes insensitive to touch when accessing applications. Keyboard can be hard to read in ambient light. Thicker than the iPhone (due to the keyboard).
- THE UGLY:
Abysmal battery life. No audio jack for headphones. No video capture.
All in all, a good first effort, but it needs a “come to Jesus moment” in it’s second generation. I don’t see anyone dumping their iPhone for it. And with Apple recently cutting prices for the 3G iPhone to $199 – and rumors of a $99 iPhone Nano, I don’t see anyone choosing the G1 over the iPhone unless they REALLY hate AT&T (and we all know there are ways around that). Sure, some will say that the keyboard is it’s strong point and that may be true, but you can get a BlackBerry Bold that does just as well, if not better.
Comes in both Black and White from T-Mobile. More carriers coming in 2009.
There’s a point in software development where fewer new features or innovations arrive and developers begin to concentrate on tweaking, thereby making it more efficient, faster, and secure. There are no longer any real “fins” to add, and so software engineers dive under the hood and begin to tweak for performance. Such is the case with the plethora of software known as the Adobe Creative Suite Master Collection CS4. Make no mistake; the ACSMC CS4 is an amazing collection of software. And if creative types are looking to invest in a new suite for their creative needs, CS4 is certainly one to consider when cleaning out the software budget for the year.
But will CS3 users find it difficult to justify upgrading to the new collection? Is there enough new performance upgrades to justify the hefty price tag? In today’s economy, I have a hunch that the answer will be to wait. There’s simply not enough WOW there for experienced users unless they are so into performance tweaking that they want to drop a few grand to get better and more seamless integration.
Although each program can be purchased individually, a master collection can not only be more cost effective, but looking at the lineup, it’s difficult not to view it as impressive. The master collection includes: Adobe InDesign CS4 ($699/$199), Adobe Photoshop CS4 ($999/$349), Adobe Illustrator CS4 ($599/$199), Adobe After Effects CS4 ($999/299), Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 ($799/$299), Adobe Flash Professional CS4 ($699/$199), Adobe Dreamweaver CS4 ($399/$199), Adobe InCopy CS4 (Incl), Adobe Version Cue CS4 (incl), Adobe Contribute CS4 ($199/$99), Adobe Soundbooth CS4 (199/$79), and Adobe Fireworks CS4 ($299/149). A collection like this can be especially attractive for web professionals show seek to widen their reach by incorporating podcasting, video podcasting, flash web development, and more. And when one considers that the price of these programs piecemeal comes to nearly $6,000, the $2500 collection retail price seems to be a bargain (the upgrade price is $900).
But when buys a collection, one has to determine if the tweaks under each hood represent the whole value, or should one seek to upgrade each program individually?
Well, the strong point of the Master Collection is its improved integration. Users can make changes to a Photoshop file while maneuvering it in Dreamweaver. There is improved file manipulation in 3d space. And it seems that in general, everything works faster. Additionally, there is more precision in programs like InDesign, where users can precisely place items by using “smart guides” which provide alignment indicators at the click of a mouse button – much better than the habit of “eyeballing” that most designers have developed by habit.
Video producers should scream hallelujah that Adobe has finally included a separate Media encoder utility with Premiere which can batch encode in multiple formats. Users can preview and import footage that has already been on the PC thanks to the new Media Browser. And then there’s the expect support of AVCHD, which has taken the HD Camcorder world by storm. Other formats supported now include P2, XDCam/HD and EX. And what is really cool is that format support also integrates all the metadata, which will make developers and producers very happy in order to encode in the field and organize in the studio.
But the crown jewel of the collection is Photoshop. Always has been, always will be. And of all the programs worth upgrading in the collection, Photoshop CS4 is well worth the price. First off, Adobe knocked down a few walls and completely redesigned the workspace to clean up window clutter and make the environment more efficient. Called the “Application Frame,” the new look means all tools, brushes, layers, windows and more can be dragged and dropped, all at once, to the side or even to another monitor and give photo artists more real estate for image editing. Additionally, multiple images can be managed thanks to tabbed browsing, rather than clicking on minimize to get a picture out of the way and max to bring it back. And my personal favorite is the new Application Bar, which gives you access to extras, zooms, canvas rotation and more with a single mouse click.
Then there’s 3D modeling, a quantum leap in Photoshop that allows for the taking of a 2D photograph and manipulate it in a 3D environment. That’s trick.
There are other improvements under the hood. Soundbooth now has restore points and nondestructive multi track editing. Illustrator has a revamped interface – adding the same Application Frame enjoyed by Photoshop and tabbed documents for easy management from image to image, and an isolation mode to manipulate a single path without affecting others. Dreamweaver finally has a Live View feature for real time preview in WebKit and a property inspector for verifying and fixing faulty CSS scripting. A serious addition though is InContext editing, which makes simple yet tedious design changes easier for wed designers to incorporate.
CONCLUSION: All in all, there’s a lot in the Master Collection. And as stated, some programs can probably get away without an upgrade while some upgrades can’t be without. It may be that cumulatively, there are enough tweaks and improvements to make an all in one user want the whole magilla. And if you’re just getting into the game, this is the one collection you can’t do without.
But certainly going with a piecemeal approach to updating isn’t a sin if one uses some, but not all of the programs with everyday use; especially if one is of those early adopters who want power for editing their snapshots and home videos and doesn’t need the spate of professional applications included.
Cost is around $2500 / $899 upgrade from Adobe.
I’ve spent a few weeks with the GiSTEQ PhotoTrackr Pro – a GPS datalogger that’s aimed at the digital photographer. The idea is to use a GPS receiver to embed location information in photographs which can then be displayed on a map showing where they were taken. It’s not a new concept but it usually involves a certain amount of effort to match the pieces of the puzzle together and things only get trickier when you are using the RAW files produced by modern digital SLRs.
The PhotoTrackr claims to solve both of these problems by being easy to use and supporting a wide range of cameras – follow the jump to see how I got on.
The PhotoTrackr is a relatively compact GPS datalogger – it’s a true “fire and forget” device. Turn it on, put it in your pocket, rucksack etc and forget about it. It will happily sit there all day recording locations to its internal memory until either the battery runs out or you turn it off.
The GPS tracker itself is about the size of a tin of mints – it sits comfortably in the hand and comes with a lanyard / wrist strap. The chipset is the popular 51 channel MTK receiver – it proved quite sensitive, getting a reliable signal even while being in my jacket pocket on the back seat of the car!
The user interface is quite unique – instead of a random assortment of blinking lights the unit talks to you to tell you it’s acquired a satellite lock! I found this a mixed blessing – outdoors it was useful feedback but when it started bleeping at me in the office while I had it connected to the computer I found it quite annoying. You can “stealth” the unit, but then all the lights go out too so you don’t even know if it’s turned on – not very useful.
Battery life is hard to assess – it’s quoted as 32 hours in continuous mode but you also have the option of engaging a power saving mode so you may be able to stretch that. Suffice to say I used it all day without a problem so as long as you have access to an overnight charge, power shouldn’t be an issue.
In the box
The package contains everything you’ll need to get started – you get a quick start guide, software CD + manual, wrist strap and (unusually) both mains and car chargers for the GPS.
The unit has 4MB internal memory which according to the specification sheet can hold 250,000 position entries. Some scribbles on the back of an envelope work that out to be enough memory for 57 continuous days of logging at 20 second intervals!
Logging parameters are quite flexible. As well as straightforward “breadcrumb” logging at set time periods you can also set the GPS up to log after a certain distance has been travelled or speed achieved (the picture on the right shows the settings dialog with all the available options)
Good software is the key to any GPS photo-tagging package. The theory is simple – take the GPS track log, match the dates and times with those in your photograph and record the nearest location in the photo.
Things get a little trickier when you have a more sophisticated camera and you’re shooting in RAW mode. Unlike JPEG files, camera RAW files are proprietary and unique to each camera manufacturer, creating a headache for anybody wanting to use the files. Displaying the photos is usually possible but stamping the GPS information back into them without corrupting the picture is often not supported. The usual way to tackle the problem is to write the GPS (and any other metadata) into a “sidecar” or “xmp” file which lives alongside the original photo and contains the extra information. The GiSTEQ software takes this approach and had no problems with the CR2 files from my Canon 40D. Most modern photo management packages can handle these XMP files – if yours doesn’t, now is a good time to upgrade!
So, functionality is all there – how does the package perform in day to day use? It’s pretty easy. First, use the wizard to download the track log from the GPS device. Next, add a batch of photos. Give the batch a name (called a “photo group” in GiSTEQ terminology) and the software will automatically search the track logs it knows about, match the photos with the locations and embed the coordinates.
A nice touch is something called “reverse geocoding”. This is where the software goes online to look up the address from the GPS coordinates. It’s quite useful as you get at least town and country information pulled in automatically. The sample photos also show a street address, but that never came back for me.
Room for improvement…
I found the software interface a little confused in places – for example, exporting the GPS track log to a Google Earth file is done by selecting the trip in the “photo management” section, rather than the more logical “trip records”.
The “slideshow” feature didn’t seem to like the RAW files from my Canon 40D, and I also had the software crash a couple of times when I was using it.
I also noticed an issue with the reverse geocoding function: While it worked when using the supplied software to view photos, the extra address information wasn’t included in the XMP files. What this means is that the address information only seems to be displayed when you’re using the supplied software. If you manage your photos in a separate application (and most serious photographers will) you don’t get the extra information.
Using Geotagged RAW files
The last step in the process is doing something with the images! Often that will involve a jpeg export or upload to a photo sharing website. The supplied software will handle uploading the photos to common photo websites for you, but if you want to do something else with them you’ll need RAW processing software that is GPS aware. I use Photoshop Lightroom, although others work just as well. Assuming your software can handle GPS tags in XMP files you don’t need to do anything else – when you process the RAW file to a JPEG you should find the location has been transferred over. Flickr, Smugmug etc will read this information and display the photograph on a map automatically.
The workflow becomes:
- Download GPS track log
- Download photos
- Use GiSTEQ software to sync photos with tracklog
- Use your normal software after this
GiSTEQ have done a great job on making a solid GPS Datalogger – the capacity, battery life and sensitivity are all first rate. I think the software could use a bit of polish but in terms of it’s main function (geocoding photos) it works well. The whole package makes geocoding photos pretty painless so I’d say they’ve achieved what they set out to do.
The ASUS AiGuru SV1 offers full Skype video conferencing facilities with the need of a PC. You can use it for Skype-to-Skype video and voice calls (both free) and as with regular Skype you can call regular landlines and mobiles at discounted rates. You may also use it to make and receive conference calls (3 or more people), however in this mode there will be no video and purely voice.
For me the main use will be when I’m travelling abroad, I’ll leave the videophone at home and be able to have videophone conversations with my family from my laptop, with the only cost being the WiFi connection in the hotel, sweet!
Installing the AiGuru was a straightforward process. You’ll need an existing broadband Internet connection and you can either connect the videophone via the supplied network cable or wirelessly. The wireless connection is the most convenient but you’ll need to enter any WEP or WPA key via the cursor keys and onscreen keyboard which is a bit fiddly. I’ve noticed it seems to forget the WEP key on occassion and you need to re-enter it, hopefully this will be fixed in a software update.
You can also tweak the display settings (brightness, hue, saturation, etc.) but I found the picture and video quality to be absolutely fine straight out of the box.
You can run the AiGuru straight from the mains, however it does come with a re-chargable battery so you can move it around. The screen housing is adjustable and is both comfortable with placed on a desk or your lap.
I’ve found the Skype videophone to be a great piece of kit and will certainly make good use of it. It is on the heavy side but I don’t think it’s meant to be used on the move. You can buy the ASUS AiGuru SV1 from the official Skype Shop for £219.95
Up front, you need to know that the Canon 5D Mk II is expensive. VERY expensive. Professional expensive. At nearly $3,000 for just the body, it’s not even an early adapter camera and is more for the wedding photographer or professional who’s looking to push the boundaries of their artistic skills. But for the money, photographers will find that the 5D Mk. II puts “every dime on the screen” and then some.
Let’s look at the specs first and you’ll see what we mean. 21 Megapixels from a 14 bit CMOS sensor. ISO from 50-26000. Yes, I said 26,000 (stellar photographers will dig on that option). Continuous unlimited shooting of 3.9 frames per second in photo mode with over 98% coverage from its full frame shutter. Live view shutter capability. 15-pt AF 6 center AF assist points; 3 center f2.8 and wider. A 3 inch LCD .
But here’s the kicker. You can make movies with it thanks to its video mode. That’s right, Canon has dove into the deep and provided a full frame, High definition movie recording in 1080 p resolution. And the results are cinematic. A big screen feel with bold, rich colors, and deep blacks.
I know, you’re skeptical. But before you make a judgment, do yourself a favor and watch REVERIE by Professional Photographer Vincent LaForet. Canon gave him a pre-release model to play with for two days and the film he came back with is simply exquisite. And to compare the quality, check out the behind the scenes video that LaForet cut to compare it with a professional grade Canon XL2. You will simply be stunned at the differences. One is video footage with some low light issues and the other looks like a film you’d watch at the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Blvd. It’s really amazing the night and day difference that’ll make professional wedding photographers believe they can do double duty and offer both high quality stills and stunning videos (wedding photographers can check out this video – A Three Act Play – to see the results at a wedding.
And with the ability to use a wide range of 35mm DSLR lenses at a beck and call, that means for the low budget filmmaker, the Canon 5D Mk. II is a game changer. It will add another 25% of production value easily to the look of your videos/films. And when I say game changer, I mean a serious game changer. Recently, the company that makes the RED ONE 4K video camera announced plans to scrap their Red One Scarlet low budge 3K camera in favor of a new design. This baby was ready to go and Red up and cancelled it. Now they’re talking about coming out with a new DSLR which will also shoot 3K video using their Mysterium chip. Is this due largely because of the performance benefits of cameras like the 5D Mk. II which can put out not only amazing professional quality stills but also movie quality 1080p videos? We think so. And that’s good news, not only for Canon fans, but for photographers and videographers alike who are constantly trying to up their game to compete with the pros without the million dollar budgets.
For those with tight desk space in the office, often times an all in one printer solution is a practical answer to the problem. All in ones have been around for over a decade and usually the bad wrap was that if one of the features failed, you couldn’t use the entire unit. So, if the scanner failed, for instance, then the printer was useless to you as well. Luckily, as the all in one printer design matured, much of that main problem has been engineered away. The results are that all in one printers are good solutions that are very affordable, offer nominal performance, and save a ton of space. They’re not perfect, mind you, but for the price it’s hard to argue a demand for perfection. Just performance. This is could have been true with the Kodak ESP 5 All in One printer, if it had been built a little more robustly.
The ESP 5 is Kodak’s entry level all in one printer. And unfortunately, even entry level users will find that it’s design features are fairly flimsy and deficient. The problem is that although the design looks sleek and clean, the construction is made from cheaper plastic which gives the ESP5 a delicate feel that makes users worry that giving the ESP5 any real heavy duty work will cause failure.
The 3” LCD screen is rather bright and easy to read and an excellent improvement over previous models that simply didn’t have one. The buttons are easy to use and navigate through making the printing, scanning and copying process easy to accomplish.
In addition, the scanner/copier portion of the ESP5 is meant solely for single pages. Great for scanning or copying single documents, but if the user wants to copy portions of a thick book or magazine, the user will have to break the back and remove each page to scan – not a valid option for the library or after borrowing a book. Also, the quality of the scans are acceptable, but could be better. The white balance is off – yielding a scan which is gray in the white areas, meaning a calibration may be in order from the very beginning.
One nice thing is the sheet feeder takes up to 100 sheets of paper but has very little room for anything other than 8 ½ x* paper. And we found that the catch ramp which the printed paper is caught isn’t long enough and after one or two prints, they fall to the ground.
Printing wise, the ESP5 allows for direct printing from XD/SD and compact flash cards, as well as direct connecting to digital cameras. I found the ESP5 to be of pretty good quality and for draft copies of photos, its okay. But I’d be looking to invest in a quality photo printer for images you want to frame as the colors simply aren’t as bold as the dedicated photo printers like Epson or Canon makes.
One thing that we hoped Kodak would have done is have dedicated ink cartridges for simple replacement as each color depletes itself. Unfortunately, the design calls for one black cartridge and a 5 in one all color cartridge. This means that if you run out of one ink, you can just swap it out for a replacement unless you want to simply waste the rest of the ink in the cartridge. And frankly, inkjet printing ink is expensive enough without tossing it for little reason other than design convenience.
What we’d like to see is an accessory page feeder which would allow for multiple page scans or a retractable top to address the book scan issue. Other than that, the Kodak is an affordable all in one which will get the every day job done. But for presentations and for copies that count, there are plenty of other options that there which offer far better performance for a little more money.
Does it feel like we never get round to downloading our newly snapped photos onto the computer or when we do, its months later and they always just stay there in a file never to be fully enjoyed? Cibox answers this problem with its easy to use 7” Digital Photo Frame C107 from Red Save, applying its many functions such as the changeable frame colours, remote control and slideshow options, to make sure we get the best out of our photos.
The frame is simple to use with practically no set-up required- just insert a compatible memory card from your camera into the slot at the back of the frame, click photo on the remote setting and watch it scroll through your pictures. As well as the memory card reader, there is also a USB hub, however if you haven’t cropped your photos before hand the pictures may not fit the screen which could be really tedious once you have sat down to watch them through.
Putting the 7” screen to the test, the size for viewing is good and generally the photos come up clear. It goes without saying that, for the price, its not going to be of the best quality but the resolution is not as bad. I did find that bright photos were brightened on the frame and sometimes not viewable but this didn’t effect my overall perception of the frame, as there are settings to control brightness and contrast on the main menu.
I often find that particular memories come with particular songs that remind you of these good times. So it’s helpful to know that when you’re watching your favourite photos, you can also play a list of your favourite tracks, adding a nice personal touch to any photo album viewing. The sound quality is good considering its coming from a photo frame. The frame supports JPEG and AVI so you can run video clips too.
Added little extras include options to create slide shows with adjustable time schedules between each photo and multiple transition effects. Even with these options, there are no functions to play the pictures in a random order or a mix so unless you have a lot of photos, this could get a bit predictable and repetitive. The remote control is a handy extra so that you can sit back and change settings rather than having to go to the frame and use its buttons. To add to the endless features, the frame acts as an alarm clockso this would be perfect if you placed the frame next to your bed (although I couldn’t figure out how to change the month of the calendar so I was operating in the month of June). If you ever get bored of the appearance of the frame or simply want to take it into another room and want it to match, it comes with 3 interchangeable fascias (black, white and silver).
For around £70, this is not the cheapest digital photo frame and neither is it the most expensive but it is certainly worth the price with all of the features and the overall quality of the photos on screen which are nothing to be grumbled at. This would make a perfect gift for anyone who cherishes their photos, people wanting to view their snaps but have little time to download their photos onto the computer straight away or even for those who have perhaps ran out of space to display their photos.
You can buy the Cibox C107 Digital Picture Frame from RedSave for £69.99.
As Nat mentioned a few days ago, the launch of the Flip Mino represents the next step in pocket camcorders that provides more on-board memory and decent quality video for the YouTube set. Easy to use, easy to upload. Very low cost. But I can tell you this, the Flip is dead. Killed and buried. With extreme prejudice. By the Kodak Zi6.
Why? Because for about $180, users not only get that easy of use, large onboard memory with expandable SD card slots, and low price, they also get 720 HD quality at a blazing 60 frames per second. Did I mention it also records in 16:9 widescreen? A logical and nice feature for HD TVs which are designed to take advantage of that aspect ratio. But it is tad puzzling why Kodak chose to only allow for 120MB of onboard memory – that’s what, 5 seconds of HD footage? But with the cheap cost of SDHC cards and it’s expansion slot, the decision was probably to put the money into the quality of the video and less on storage options figuring people will just use their existing SD cards (up to 32GB) to store video footage with. It only makes sense.
The footage isn’t too bad for a $180 pocket camera. It certainly blows the standard definition “flip” style camcorders out of the water. Smooth white balance, accurate color, and a nice large LCD screen to watch it in. And thanks to its 60 frames per second recording speed, panning movement can be handled much better and with less artifacting than its competitors that still shoot SD at less than half that speed.
And while it won’t compete with its larger HD cousins like the Canon HV30 or the Panasonic HDC-SD9, this is largely due to the fact that full size palm camcorders have better optical zoom options and other whistles and bells, while every pocket camcorder has to rely on digital zoom, which isn’t really a zoom at all, more like a digital enlargement of the existing image (think blowing something up in a copy machine).
As for connectivity, the Zi6, like its counterparts, utilizes a jack-knife style USB connector to plug into a PC for easy editing with the included software (not my favorite, admittedly) or to fast upload to YouTube. Users can also plug the camera directly into their TV with the included standard (and cheap) A/V cables. And slow motion playback is a direct feature.
And another cool option Kodak includes in the price are precharged AA rechargeable batteries and mini charger kit included in the price. That’s nice and environmentally conscious decision which makes the Zix (get it?) much more appealing.
The Zix records in Apple’s ever more popular H.264 with audio encoded to AAC. And the Zix also take still photos, which is another feature we’re sure pocket camcorder fans will “flip” for since the other guys don’t. But what’s the main feature I’m thrilled the Zix has that the Flip doesn’t? A Tripod mount. That’s right. Someone finally got the idea that even though people want a camcorder that’s small enough to fit into a pocket, doesn’t mean they don’t want to be able to mount it on a tripod when they need to.
So forget the pocket camcorder war. And forget the Flip – which blazed a path in this category of video cameras. The Kodak Zi6 takes pocket camcording to a whole new level and makes it not only a must as a backup camcorder for serious videophiles, but also as an important item to toss into your glove compartment to capture Kodak moments when you need to.
Those who are seriously into GPS (the worldwide global positioning system which uses a series of satellites to show their position within a few yards) will probably be rather frustrated with the simple interactivity of the Bushnell BackPack, but for the beginner looking to understand how it works and how to navigate with it, it can be a very useful gadget.
The basics are these. Turn the BackTrack on and wait a minute or two while it acquires the GPS satellites. Then, you mark your location using the left hand button and one of three markers to mark where you are. Then, just go where you want to go. The BackTrack will not only keep track of how far a hiker is going, but will point you the way back to where you need to be, counting down the distance so hikers don’t wander past their position. In addition, it has a self calibrating digital compass which can advise the direction one is headed. And with three markers (one for home, the car, and a third open marker) users can keep track of waypoints, where their car is on a shopping trip, or mark their basecamp.
But while the BackTrack will tell you where you’ve been and how to get back, it can’t tell you how to get there in the first place. This is its Achilles heel. I would’ve really liked to have seen a USB plug access and some software which would allow more advanced hikers to input a destination and then get there the very first time. This leaves out a natural niche market of Geotaggers looking for a convenient GPS interface with which to find their hidden treasures. And it would seem to be a simple affair, and judging from the design of the the interior, could’ve provided easy access (considering that AAAA batteries are available now which would give even more room inside). It’s not like asking for turn by turn instructions here or suggestions on where to go to dinner, just the ability to put in a location directly so you can get there the FIRST time. Sure, it could perhaps cost more – the BackTrack costs about $60-70 dollars. But for an additional, what, $25 it would be more than worth the price to give it more interactivity and advanced functionality? I think so.
But other than that, the BackTrack is an excellent hiking tool if you already know where you’re going to start out your day hike. It’s compact medallion design makes for comfortable and lightweight dangling around the neck, and the LCD display is very easy to read thanks to simple symbols and only two buttons with which to navigate and pinpoint starting locations. And keeping markers to three locations doesn’t overwhelm the beginner who’s just learning about GPS navigation.
And here’s a great little secret. KIDS. WILL. ABSOLUTELY. LOVE. THIS. THING. Kids love gadgets and most are just starting to learn about map reading and navigation as they get into elementary school, scouting activities, and the like. And for the cost, it’s a very affordable gift for the right child who has a love for the outdoors and is into camping and backpacking with the family or through scouting.
And the average user can not only use the Back Tracker in the bush, but at malls, stadiums, theme parks or anywhere else where finding a car is like a needle in a haystack.
And I shouldn’t say it isn’t completely useless for GPS Geotagging. Only that you’d have to already have been at the location you’re trying to reach to get the initial marking. If it’s done for you – like in a competition. Then the Back Tracker can easily be used for that purpose. Only not for going somewhere the very first time.
The Bushnell BackTrack is completely weather proof, can keep track on position and distance using both metric and imperial measurement, and is powered by two AAA batteries (not included). It comes in a variety of colors, which include Pink, Green, Camouflage and Gray. Here’s hoping that Bushnell upgrades the next version to make it a little more smart. But don’t let that stop you from getting it. It’s a just for any backpack or car’s glove compartment.
The BackTrack is a blast to have on any hike or trip where you want to remember where you’re going.
With the great success of the Flip Video Ultra selling more than 1 million units, the anticipated launch of the latest product from Flip Video is now just around the corner. Boasting to be up to 40% smaller than the Ultra, have faster image processing and an omni-directional mic, the Flip Mino also has a few other tricks up its sleeves.
As a ‘point and shoot’ revolution the Mino comes in either black or white, is sleek and slim with a 1.5-inch glare-free screen to enhance the notion of its stylishness. The operation of the Mino is simple, literally all you need to do is turn it on, point, press record using the red central button and then play back, but the simplicity of the product does not lose the overall quality. The touch-sensitive buttons glow when that particular function can be used and they are surprisingly easy to use and I rarely had problems with touching buttons that I didn’t want to be touching as the pad is quite spacious. The functions offer advanced playback options: the ability to pause, rewind, and fast-forward movies as well as settings available to lock the delete button for those ‘just in case moments’ and mute the sound for those instances to be sneaky when capturing that perfect video.
The 2GB of on-board flash memory allows for 60minutes of video capturing. The 2x digital zoom has good range but it takes a few seconds after the zoom for the colour and picture to properly stabilise. With no in-built light or flash, the Mino uses automatic sensors to adjust to various levels of light. Slightly sceptical about this and how it may turn out, I put it to the test under quite low-light conditions with flickers of bright coloured lights and uploaded it to MySpace (check out the result).
Not the best quality footage ever created but the Mino produces a relatively sharp and rich video with a slight appearance of being underexposed especially under darker circumstances but I think the sound makes up for this. Picking up little background noise, the sound of the video is picked up and when played back is not distorted in any way. When plugged into the computer, the Mino automatically recharges the internal lithium-ion battery without you having to give it a second thought and without you having to scramble around for those charged AAs. Usually it takes three hours for a full charge of a dead battery and then this last up to four hours of recording time.
One of the main marketing aspects for this product is the ease in which the videos can be transferred from the Mino onto the computer and then onto sites such as Youtube and now MySpace. This extra uploading option enables you to transfer the videos using the signature flip out USB arm to get connected – no wires necessary, although the weight of the camera almost feels like it will unplug the USB right out of the hub. The one-time installation starts the transfer and then the options are endless, you can, view and organise videos, email videos and greetings cards, publish clips online, make movie mixes and capture photos from videos. Here are some stills I managed to steal from the videos:
Set to be one of the hottest gadgets this Christmas, the Mino is a worth while buy if you want a quick, easy and simple way to produce videos and share them with the world. Retailing at £119.99 the Mino is not the best product out there for video quality but is perfect for that ‘shoot and share’ experience.
Coosh headphones and headsets boast comfort and wear-ability along with full-bodied sound so it was time to test them out.
Contained in a reusable jar, the Coosh headset already looks promising and when removed, the soft flexible silicone earrings certainly strike you. The original silicone design is durable and is so light weight that I hardly feel as though I’m wearing a headset at all. For the fashion conscious out there, the silicone earring is detachable and interchangeable so if you want to change the colour of the earring or just use the earbud by itself, then the choice is there. Not only are the earrings detachable and interchangeable but they are wearable all day long and actually fit securely, whatever activity you may be doing. The Massive Monkees, a dance crew crash test them to prove the security.
Using the Coosh headset during a regular mini trampoline work-out, I thought the sound quality would be affected but surprisingly they work nearly as well (slight off balance on the right hand earbud) as when I was nodding off to sleep while listening to the ‘slow cheunes’ album on my iPhone. The use of the headset with a mobile phone is enhanced by the in-line mic and the ease of the ‘push-to-answer’ button which can also be used to switch between music and phone calls. The design of the clip keeps the mic and cord firmly in place but has a rotating device that prevents the clip from pulling off from where you clip it. Brilliant.
- Impedance: 34Ohm
- Freq-esp: 65Hz – 20kHz
- Sensitivity: 95 dB
- Max Input: 10mW
- Max Output: 120,5 dB
- Cable Type: TPE
- Cable Length: 1.2M
The headset is compatible with 2.5mm or 3.5 mm for use with music phones and iPods/Mp3s and the actual jack housing is positioned at a right-angle to prevent sudden removal from your phone or music player. A random piece of plastic below the clip which is moveable along the cord baffled me at first until I figured out its purpose- to adjust the length of the cord according to your needs. And if that wasn’t enough there is a bonus. In keeping with the attempted eco-friendly world we are now living in, the cord is made from eco-friendly material.
Overall the product does what it promotes, the Coosh headset does stay on and it does feel good, if it feels all. If your active and on the move and need sound, these are ideal but not so if you’re after the ultimate in sound quality.
There’s many reasons not to choose the Sports Deluxe Game Console over the Nintedo Wii, which it is similar to and there’s one main reason to choose it in ADDITION to the Wii. It makes a good traveling companion that you can trash or lose without worrying about having to replace the expensive gaming console that you leave at home.
Let’s face it. The Sports Deluxe is a Wii Knock-off. There’s no denying it. But that’s not a bad thing. The SDGC has a wireless interface and, similar to Wii Sports, you play such games as baseball, boxing, bowling, golf, and even tennis on it. And you can work up quite a sweat while doing it. And the specific sports aren’t half bad, with the exception of baseball which is fairly limited to pitch and hit. I found the most fun was had bowling and playing tennis. Boxing is boxing and some just aren’t thrilled with that. Although it does let users employ the “katana” extra that plugs in via USB to record the activity or your other hand. The best sport, though, hands down is tennis, followed by Golf. But the funny thing about the Golf game is that there’s a lot of spelling errors in the notes that the game sends you. For instance, you end up hitting the ball in the water, you’re hitting a water haZRad. Pretty funny.
But while this console has Wii functions and comes with a Wii like sport package, that’s where the similarity ends. As the old saying goes, you get what you pay for. Don’t go looking for stunning, realistic graphics on this bably. The simple matter is that for around $70, what you get is late 80s, early 90s CGA/EGA graphics and audios that will you of the days of dropping a quarter into the nearest Donkey Kong machine. It’s almost as if the makers of the SDGC reached into the past and grabbed a popular sports game and adapted it with Wii capability.
The other difference is that it’s battery powered. And that’s the only way you can power the console. Powered by 4AA batteries – you’re going to want to use rechargeables – plus two Aas for each wireless controller unit.
That’s not a bad thing either. This makes the SDGC extremely portable. Kids can use it in the car, or in a hotel while on vacation. And should the SDGC become trashed or lost, the cost of the unit is a heck of a lot cheaper than bringing your Wii with you.
Is SDGC up to par with the Wii? No. Not in the least. Think of it like a disposable camera. You don’t want to use your best DSLR while you’re white water rafting, so you drop about $15 on a water proof disposable just to you can get prints while in the water. And if it sinks, you’re only out the $15. Well, this portable Wii Clone is great since if you leave it in the hotel, you’re really not out that much money.
And even though today’s gamers are rather demanding and sophisticated about graphics and performance, kids just want to play games. And if this gives them something to do while you and the Mrs are trying to unwind after a day at Disney World, I say it’s well worth the $80 you’re paying for it.
When we broke the news at Coolest Gadgets of the AudioVox Homebase at CES last year, I thought this was perhaps the coolest home kitchen idea to make family life easier. The idea was simple. A digital frame wrapped around an acrylic base which also serves as a whiteboard for notes and digital recorder for voice messages. The LCD screen looked to show pictures from SD cards and promised slide shows and other options that would make looking at digital stills quite enjoyable.
Then I got the real McCoy to test last week. By the end of the afternoon, I was ready to pack it up and send it back. Not because it’s easy to use, which it is, or that it’s design is a lost cause – which it isn’t. But because the parts AudioVox used in building the Home Base are just plain disappointing. The LCD screen resolution is around 1st generation digital frame quality and the microphone which is used to record the digital memos makes playback sound like the drive-through at Jack in the Box. And on top of that, AudioVox seems to think that using sponge tape to affix a three or four pound electronic device to an refrigerator door that opens and closes is going to be a secure system for protecting it from falling and breaking into thousands of pieces. Well sorry, but that’s a recipe for disaster. These kind of shortcomings only prove the old adage that designers don’t work on their own cars.
But in this case, designers don’t use the stuff they design. And they should, if they plan on charging $200 for them. If AudioVox is willing to put a little more into this design to make it both safe and high quality, even if it costs $10 –20 more, I’m sure people would pay the difference to get what Audiovox first promised. And therein lies the hope, because it’s just a great idea for digitizing people’s busy life.
I’m a bit behind the curve on this one – Monster Cable teamed up with rapper Dr. Dre a while ago to introduce the "Beats by Dre" headphones. I’ve been giving them a bit of a workout over the past few months, so how do they stack up?
In typical Monster fashion the Beats are very well packaged. Opening the box reveals a carrying / storage case containing the headphones and a variety of accessories. The beats fold away into the case and have a very solid feel to them, with a well padded headband and a great polished black finish.
They’re not what I’d call "Portable". They do fold away but they’re very much styled around more traditional hifi headphones rather than something you’d go jogging with! They’re also battery powered – this is presumably because of the active noise cancellation function which reduces background noise.
Included in the box are a standard headphone cable and a dedicated iPhone / blackberry cable with built in microphone. You also get a 1/4" headphone adapter (the larger size is more commonly used in non-portable hifi equipment) and an airplane in-seat adapter. They even included a cleaning cloth to look after that polished finish.
Disclaimer: I’m a bit of an audio nut. Now that’s out of the way…
It’s hard to describe sound quality objectively, since our impressions depend so much on what we’re used to and what we’re measuring against. Descending into audiophile-speak for a minute I’d describe the beats as "Clinical". What that means in general terms is that you can hear every nuance of the music. I heard subtle details I’d never heard before, even in music I know well.
There’s oodles of bass on tap too and it’s very well reproduced. "Good" bass is hard to do; it’s too easy for the bass to overpower everything else and lead to a very muffled sound. There’s none of that with the Beats; the bass is clean, clear and very deep.
This clearly lends the Beats to reproducing a certain style of music – bass heavy rap and modern pop music comes across with brilliant clarity. If your tastes run more towards classical or jazz you may find something lacking – although there’s masses of bass and treble on offer it sounded very "discrete". I could hear every instrument individually, but I didn’t get a sense of them blending together.
Like I said, it’s a fairly clinical presentation and whether this is a sound that works for you is very much down to personal preference. To be honest, the fact that I can start nit-picking about the presentation means the overall sound quality is very good.
The active noise cancellation seems to work very well on low frequencies but leave high frequencies largely untouched. I would have thought this would work well on an aircraft – it should pretty much kill the constant drone of engine and cabin noise (although I haven’t had a chance to test that).
If you don’t plug any headphone cables in you can still use the headphones are pure noise cancellation devices – in fact there doesn’t seem to be a way to bypass the cancellation, it’s active all the time the headphones are powered.
Because these are powered headphones they don’t work without battery power. Once while testing I inadvertently forgot to switch the headphones off when I’d finished, resulting in a dead set of batteries the next time I came to use them. It’s not the end of the earth but you do have to get into the habit of turning them off when you’ve finished with them. I’d like to see an "auto off" option in a future version that would turn them off after a period of inactivity.
If you’re in the market for spending $350 on a pair of headphones I’d put these on the shortlist for an audition. The sound won’t be to everybody’s taste but if you listen to modern bass heavy music I think you’ll like them.
There are many accessories for a camera that are considered must haves. The extra set of batteries, the backup memory card, a Skylight filter for protection, a tripod and even a long range flash for those zoom shots in low light. But if you told me that I’d make the Storm Jacket one of those must have things for the camera bag should the weather go south, I’d look at you like you grew a third head. A raincoat for a camera? But it makes perfect sense.
Think about it. Your camera gear can cost up to thousands of dollars. And bad weather than not only ruin your shot, it can create condensation that will wreak havoc with the circuitry. The Storm Jacket keeps your rig nice and dry while you’re getting soaked trying to capture that “Kodak moment.” Depending on the size of your rig, the Storm Jack can come out of your pocket and be affixed to your camera in as little as 5 seconds. And that’s not hype, either. Keeping the SJ in your back pocket and whipping it out at the first sign of rain can quickly save your gear from potential water, snow or even dust damage. It’s made of light weight, waterproof Aquanylon material and includes top openings to accommodate camera straps.
And when I say it’s lightweight, well, the SLR size weighs a hefty 1 ounce. For camcorders news gathering size, 4 ounces. And it’s adjustable closures make for a tight custom fit to keep the rain trickling down to the ground away from your camera. Colors come in Red, Black, and Yellow, and the cost ranges from $36-65 depending on your camera size and length. Works for both SLRs, digital cameras and Camcorders. It’ll even handle those professional news cameras.
With colder and wetter weather coming right around the corner, the Storm Jacket is one thing you want in your pocket when the Mother Nature refuses to cooperate while you’re getting the shot.
Computing outside can be a real pain in the thumb drive. The ambient light blaring up against that LCD screen can make it darn hard to see. Sure, you can try using a bellows, or even some sort of screen shade, but as the light shifts throughout the day, sooner or later you’re going to find yourself playing cat and mouse trying to see, unless you bury your head inside the bellows and then it’s darn near impossible to read, much less type like that.
But if you like doing your business outside and don’t want to lug a tent around with you, the LapDome may be an ideal solution as it gives your laptop a literal home to live in. In fact, I shouldn’t have used the term tent, because that’ what the Lapdome reminds me of. But it’s more than that, because it’s also a bag that collapses around your laptop. When in use, simply release the Velcro and the LapDome pops up around your laptop for shade that’s darn near 360 degrees around. And an additional case that clips onto the Lapdome provides protection for your AC adapter, CDs, or even files. It’s an ideal system for someone who spends a lot of time outdoors but still needs to be connected online.
The Lapdome is made of padded high quality lightweight material that is also lined with what appears to be steel guage strips that can cause the bag to collapse into a handy bag when traveling and the “pop” into it’s dome shape once the Velcro straps have been released. It takes a minute to get the design, but it becomes quickly apparent that the black nylon sheet affixed to the inside is designed to prevent ambient light from reflecting into the the dome and onto the screen. It actually “hovers” between the keyboard and the screen and is never in the way, doing its job while you do yours.
It’s great for laptops, portable DVD players or even television sets. And at a cost of around $80, it’s very competitive with an average laptop bag that it replaces that can’t provide the light protection the LapDome does. The Lapdome does require some out of the box thinking because it does look like something you’d take camping so your pet can have some place to live. But so what? The point is that with this padded tent of a carrying case, your PC has a home away from home that keeps the sun outside so you can view your work “inside.” And one cool feature is that corporate logos can be custom sown on all three sides for advertisement or synergy.
Comes in personal rambler, business, collapsible and junior models.
I place this in the “must have” column for anyone who needs to do computing in the outdoors.
This was an interesting review to write – there are only a limited number of things you can do to review a breathalyzer and I don’t have access to sophisticated test equipment. So when it came to the operational review I had to resort to the “manual” approach with the aid of Mr Jack Daniels. Ahh, the things we do for science!
Before we get to that though, a quick overview. The BACTrack is designed to detect the presence (and amount) of alcohol flowing around your bloodstream. The value it gives is in the form of a Blood Alcohol Concentration (or BAC)%. It does this by measuring a sample of your breath.
Even a small BAC% can impair reaction times and judgement (try playing a video game after you’ve had a few beers if you don’t believe this) but the real danger is that you may feel OK to drive “the morning after the night before”, whilst still having a level of alcohol present in your system.
The BACTrack is a stylish, portable unit about the size of a mars bar. In the box you get the BACTrack, a handy protective carrying pouch and a comprehensive manual. As well as operational instructions the manual also includes information on the effects of alcohol at various %BAC concentrations and the current drink-drive limit in the US. You’ll need to find a pair of AA batteries, they’re not included.
Press the button. Wait for the beep. Blow hard into the shiny blue light. There’s not a lot else to say, it’s as simple as that. One thing worth mentioning is that there’s no direct contact with a mouthpiece so it’s possible to share the unit around a group of people – or prove to your friend just how drunk (s)he is when they insist on driving home!
The manual also mentions the need for recalibration every 12 months or so to keep the unit accurate. Calibration costs $19.99 and the unit reminds you when it’s due by flashing a sign on the display.
So how well does it work?
This is where things get interesting. I don’t make a habit of getting systematically drunk but down to the local bar I headed, complete with friends to double check readings and notepad to record results:
- Throughout the evening our readings rose and fell as expected and broadly in line with each other. In other words, the device was consistent.
- After a drink (and the requisite 20 minute wait) we registered .001 – i.e some alcohol in the system.
- After a few more drinks – waaaay past the time I’d think about getting into a car – the unit only registered .004% This is theoretically inside the “safe” drink drive limit in both the UK and US yet there’s no way I’d have considered driving.
- At the end of the evening (again waiting about 20 mins after the last drink) the reading was 0.12%. According to the manual there would be “Significant impairment of motor coordination and loss of good judgement” amongst other things. Which, from my dim recollection of events sounds about right!
- Taking readings at various points after this showed a steady decline in BAC%, but even 7 hours after the last drink (i.e the next morning) it still showed .001% before finally reaching zero an hour later.
For the most part it seemed to work as advertised and getting the readings hours after the last drink was certainly enlightening. If you make a habit of late drinking and early starts you should definitely look at one of these (or change your drinking habits…).
I don’t know what happened in the middle though. We all thought we were way past the UK limit for driving but the BACTrack showed us safely inside it. The only thing I can think of is that we may not have waited long enough between drinking and taking a reading, so the alcohol was still in the process of entering the bloodstream and the BACTrack couldn’t read it.
Or – and this is also possible – the UK/US limits are simply too high!
The Ion Audio ITTUSB turntable let’s your mom and dad’s old vinyl albums to your PC and hear what they were groovin’ to during the Summer of Love. Now sure, this unit has been around for awhile, but Ion has turned things up to eleven with some very notable improvements. First off, they’ve added two additional models which bypass the PC altogether and allow users to rip directly to either their iPod or burn straight to CD. That’s an awesome feature that’ll make it easy as pie for the convenience oriented consumer just lookin’ to preserve their old favorites without having to shell out an additional $20 for CD or $10 for downloads.
Those who don’t mind the nostalgia that comes with the cracks and pops of playing the album while capturing can look to the LP Dock or the LP 2 CD models for convenient digital transfer. However, those audio obsessed who wish to clean up the recording and play “sound engineer” can simply get the ITTUSB model and capture the album all at once using the included open source software called Audacity. Audacity does take some getting used to, however, and is not for the weak of heart. It’s open source development make it free to use (you can download it on the Internet), but the learning curve may be steep for the “blinking VCR crowd.” Still, the journey will be worth taking and your patience will be rewarded as you learn to clean up those old albums and restore them to practically new but in a more updated digital format.
Thankfully, Ion also includes some notable utilities that can make the process more automatic and streamlined. EZ Vinyl Converter 2 for PC (EZVC2) and EZ Audio Converter for Mac (EZAC); the best way to record and convert vinyl directly to iTunes. EZVC2 features Gracenote® MusicID technology, which analyzes your vinyl and automatically retrieves album, artist and song information for you. EZAC also lets you easily enter track information.
The Ion Turntables are completely plug and play and you can pick up a refurbished model for under $100. The LP Dock and the LP2CD models, however, will run you a bit more, around $250 for the iPod model and $400 for the LP2CD (which isn’t bad considering it has a CD burner built in).
Is it easy to use? Absolutely. Especially the LPDock and LP2CD which will rip and record directly to digital with no worries of connection or humming issues. And when you consider the cost of replacing all those LP3 to CD or even MP3 download, the investment is more than worth it. And considering that many classic albums (like those recorded in 78 RPM) simply aren’t available in a more current format (like those Japanese bootlegs you have hidden), the ability to rip those old albums to mp3 become even more important.
Consider investing in these, and it’s sister product the Tape2PC – which will rip cassettes to mp3 tracks as well.
Too bad there isn’t an 8Track2PC available. I’ve got hundreds of cartridges just waiting to be digitized!