Archive for October, 2012

Watch Nerdery: Up Close With The New Seiko “Orange Monster”

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If you know me, you know two things about me: I love watches and I smell, faintly, of ferret. That’s why I’d like to share my excitement at this review of the new Seiko SRP313K1 “Orange Monster,” one of the nicest and least expensive automatic diving watches you can buy.

I’m a huge fan of the Seiko Orange Monster. It’s a perfect “first watch” for a beginning collector and at about $300 it’s not very expensive. It has a solid case and bezel, a very legible face, excellent lume, and the band can last years. In fact, my Dad’s old Seiko diver from the 1970s had a rubber band that finally snapped in 2009. These new models are on-par in terms of quality and durability.

The new divers in this series have an improved movement, the 4R36. This movement has a “hacking” seconds hand – that is you can stop it when you pull the crown all the way out, thereby allowing you and your crack commando unit that was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn’t commit to synchronize your watches. This model also allows you to hand-wind the movement, a valuable feature if you plan on setting this automatic down for a longer length of time.

The “New Monster” comes in multiple face styles including traditional orange with silver bezel, orange with black bezel, and a weird sunburst style that is a bit jarring to my purist’s sensibilities. I’ve found it for $289 online but expect it to be fairly hard to find in the U.S. until Seiko finally realizes that no one wants quartz dress watches that sell for $500 at Zales and instead wants these things. Seiko so rarely brings their truly great watches to the U.S. (I would kill to get a Golgo 13 watch, for example) so if you can spot one of these and it’s under $300 you should probably pick it up.

You can read the full review of the New “Orange Monster” here but I’ll try to pick one up to talk about for our upcoming gift guide. You know, for science.


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John Biggs

October 31st

Gadgets

Onavo Count lets you track your cellular data usage app-by-app

With most cellular carriers moving away from the beloved unlimited data plans of yore, many smartphone users now find themselves trying to cut back on data usage while still doing all of the things they want or need to get done on their phones. Unfortunately, that’s sometimes harder than it sounds. Some apps may seem simple enough, but could actually be downloading massive amounts of data in the background. Users could also be using an app much more than they realize, resulting in overages, fees, and a strong feeling of contempt for carriers.

Until now, there has been no way for iPhone users to track down which apps on their phones were using large chunks of their data plan without their knowledge. Fortunately, the good folks at Onavo have heard the cries of outraged users on limited data plans and come to our rescue.

Onavo Count, a new app from the creators of the data-compression app Onavo Extend, allows users to monitor how much of their cellular data plan each app or built-in service on their phone has used.

In my experience with the app, I’ve found that the counters are mostly accurate, although it does seem they only update a few times every day.

The interface is straight-forward and shows you everything you need to know at a glance. The color-coded graphs make data visualization easy, and you can even see how much data you have saved by using the free Onavo Extend app to compress the data sent over the cellular network.

Overall, Onavo Count is an incredibly useful tool for users with limited data plans who need to budget their megabytes more efficiently, or for anyone curious about how they use their phone.

Onvao Count is available on the App Store for free. Yes, this entire service is free.

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Mike Beasley

October 31st

Apple

Mac

New York-based Apple reseller Tekserve remains open despite power outage, working to fix and sell devices

Despite being hit by the massive Hurricane that rocked the Northeast ealier this week, New York-based Apple reseller Tekserve is still chugging along in its W. 23rd St. store in downtown Manhattan. The store is without power, but since it didn’t suffer from any flood damage it opened up this morning for the first time this week.

We spoke to CTO Aaron Freimark over the phone this afternoon. “We’re on relatively high ground in Manhattan, so we didn’t really get any flooding. But the blackout was a really big deal for us,” he said. Of the 210 employees that are employed by Tekserve, only a fraction were able to come in. Not everyone was able to seek transportation to the store.

Freimark says the “skeleton crew” has been working through the day without power. Tekserve has sold a few computers, returned repaired devices, and  filled additional purchase orders. “We even did an iPhone 5 sale, which is really nice because they come charged,” Frimark said. The staff is doing what they can, but can’t diagnose problems with devices until the power comes back on. Frimark was boastful of his staff for coming in during such hard times for the city.

Tekserve doesn’t expect to get power until the weekend, but is trying to get a generator so customers and those passing by can charge their cellphone. It has set its store hours from 11am to 5pm in the mean time. In New York and have a need to get something Apple related? This is your spot.

Stay safe everyone!



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Jake Smith

October 31st

Apple

Mac

AT&T and T-Mobile sharing networks in New York and New Jersey following Hurricane Sandy

AT&T and T-Mobile just jointly announced that they will be temporarily sharing their network in New York and New Jersey, following Hurricane Sandy. Customers will be able to connect to whichever network is working, despite which carrier they may be on. Here’s the press release:

In the wake of destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy, AT&T and T-Mobile are taking extraordinary measures to make sure our customers can stay in touch.

AT&T and T-Mobile have entered into an agreement to enable roaming on their networks to customers of both companies in the heavily impacted areas and where capacity is available and for subscribers with a compatible device.

AT&T and T-Mobile customers will be able to place calls just as they normally would, but their calls will be carried by whichever network is most operational in their area. This will be seamless for AT&T and T-Mobile customers with no change to their current rate plans or service agreements even if the phone indicates the device is attached to the other carrier’s network.

T-Mobile and AT&T both utilize network technology based on GSM and UMTS standards, which allows for this sharing of voice and data traffic.

Great to see both the carriers working together in such a hardtime for some people. Stay safe readers. 



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Jake Smith

October 31st

Apple

Mac

The iPad Mini’s Cannibalization Effects: Overpowering Or Overblown?

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The iPad mini seems downright hungry, and it has a taste not just for other small tablets on the market, but for its larger brethren, the iPad with Retina Display. Or at least, that’s what some analysts are saying, with expectations of the iPad mini’s cannibalization effect on existing iPad sales ranging from around 10 to 20 percent on average. But one suggests that it could be more like 50 percent, based on numbers Apple revealed at a recent court proceeding between itself and Samsung.

Tech-Thought’s Sameer Singh said that the 7.9-inch iPad mini will have a minimum of a 50 percent cannibalization rate of existing iPad sales, since the data from the trial showed that the iPad 2 was the most popular iPad sold over the course of the past summer, and ate into overall iPad sales about 58 to 61 percent. The reason and primary positive difference between the two? A $100 price drop compared to the 3rd generation iPad that went on sale the same time it got its retail value reduced.

Applying the logic that a $100 price cut caused that much cannibalization, it stands to reason that another $70 dip on top of that would have a compound effect and attract even more buyers away from Apple’s product, and that’s the linear thinking that Sing’s applying in this case. If he’s correct, Apple should still see increased sales overall, but a good chunk of those portions would be of lower value, owing to the smaller gross margins Apple has said itself it enjoys on iPad mini sales, and its lower overall cost.

Of course, not everyone is signing the same tune as Singh. In fact, Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu told me in an email conversation today that the firm is modelling 25 million iPad sales for Apple’s December quarter, which would be around 10 million more than it sold during the year ago period. And while Sterne Agee doesn’t break out iPad mini sales, since it believes Apple won’t either given previous reporting practices (the company doesn’t break out individual Mac or iPhone model sales, either), he says that will there “will be some degree of cannibalization,” he’s expecting iPad mini sales to be “mostly incremental,” meaning the mini will largely be adding to sales of other iPad models rather than replacing them.

To some extent, we may never know exactly how much the iPad mini is eating up overall iPad sales; Apple breaking out iPad 2 sales was an exception to its standard reporting practices brought on by court order. But there are a few reasons why it won’t matter even if it does provoke as extreme a shift in buying patterns as Singh predicts.

For one, Apple will see its tablet sales grow as a whole, and at a faster rate than it would’ve without the iPad. That’s better long-term for the ecosystem and for generating loyal, repeat customers. And while it might not make as much off of each individual iPad sale given a different product mix, manufacturing processes will improve, and I doubt very much that CEO Tim Cook’s definition of “significantly” lower margins is the same as yours or mine.

Apple also enjoys a demonstrated halo effect with its products, so if one line is selling well, the others tend to sell well also, with customers being introduced via one device and then branching out to others. More iPad minis likely lifts Apple’s Mac and iPhone boats, if not the regular iPad, too.

Finally, as Cook noted during his company’s conference call last week, Apple isn’t worried about product cannibalization, so long as that prevents other companies from coming in and eating its lunch. 50 percent or higher is almost certainly an unrealistically high rate of cannibalization, but even if it weren’t, those are all sales that Apple is getting instead of its competitors, and the company has never been shy about making sure it, and not anyone else, is putting out so-called iDevice “killers.”


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Darrell Etherington

October 31st

Gadgets

The Tiggly Educational App Lets Babies Learn Shapes On Your Expensive Tablet

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Tiggly is a toy for kids who might be past the “teethe on your iPad” and just below the “I want to play the birds game” stages of mental development. Designed by a parent, Steve Miller of Cambridge, MA, the system includes three little shapes and a set of apps that allow kids to interact with shapes, colors, and animals on the screen.

In my experience, kids are using iPhones and iPads younger and younger. Our eight month old stares intently at pictures of baby faces on the iPhone and my son and daughter knew how to slide to unlock before they could crawl. This gives them something fun to do on the iPad and, using capacitive touch points, allows them to put shapes right on the on-screen representations in order to win games and interact with characters.

The toy and three apps cost $29. The apps are quite simple and include:

Tiggly Safari is a fun, immersive app where toddlers are guided to place shapes on the screen to form animals that come to life Target age: 2 to 3 yearsTiggly Draw allows toddlers to use the Tiggly Shapes as stamps and as paint brushes. Target age: 18 months and up

Tiggly Match is a game that teaches kids how to identify shapes. Target age: 18 months to 2 years

Clearly we’re not working on advanced particle physics here, but it definitely looks like something I could get into with the kids. Miller built the toy for his children after realizing that the educational games for the very small on the iPad required a level of interaction that was quite difficult for the wee ones. Miller needs a minimum run of 5,000 pieces to make these fairly cheaply so he’s looking for a Kickstarter pledge of $50,000 to start shipping these things. He’s at about $10,000 so maybe we’ll have some happy shapes to help smear pureed pears all over our iPads this holiday.


Project Page


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John Biggs

October 31st

Gadgets

Review: Snagit 11 for Windows

Snagit is a feature-rich screen image capture product that actually might be worth considering, if you have a bit of money to burn.

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Matthew Nawrocki

October 31st

Windows

Samsung’s $249 Chromebook: If You Like The Web, And You Like Cheap, This Is The Computer For You

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Features:

  • Uses your Google account for easy setup of computer and Google services.
  • 10 second boot time, near-instant resume from sleep.
  • ARM processor keeps power requirements low, computer cool and quiet.
  • Comes with 100GB of free Google Drive storage.
  • Easily switch and add user and guest accounts.

Pros:

  • Price. This is the main selling point of this computer, and pretending otherwise benefits no one.
  • Chrome OS is essentially Chrome with a little Android thrown in. Anyone should be able to pick it up easily.
  • This is a very portable device, and it’s well-built enough to endure some rough handling.

Cons:

  • Chrome OS is very focused, but that also means it’s limited in what it can do compared to Windows, OS X or Linux.
  • Quality of display and other build material choices reflect the $249 asking price.
  • Limited support for some times of external memory cards.

Short Version

Samsung and Google recently introduced the simply named Chromebook, a $249 computer with an 11.6-inch screen and around 6.5 hours of battery life in a slim and svelte 2.5 lb, 0.8-inch-thick shell. It’s a bare-bones approach to the concept of a Chrome OS notebook, and it’s probably what Google should have done with this type of hardware from the very beginning. But does that mean it’s good?

Chrome OS is minimal; it’s a web browser, essentially, with features added that make it possible to access local files and work more easily offline. Hardware for an OS like that need not be overly complicated, or overly powerful. It really just needs focus, and that’s mostly what Samsung and Google have delivered with this new bargain-basement notebook.

Long Version

User Experience

The Chromebook is as easy-to-use as Chrome the browser itself – which is to say very easy. In fact, there are a good numbers of users who aren’t comfortable doing much outside of their web browsers, and that is the ideal target audience for this device. If what you want is the web, Chrome delivers that, with a very functional keyboard with web-focused functions like dedicated reload, back and forward buttons, and a trackpad that does its job better than those on most Windows computers, even if it does move the cursor when scrolling once in a while, which is surprisingly annoying over time.

Thanks to Chrome’s large app and extension store, there’s plenty of software here to meet basic computing needs, and even handle some more advanced tasks including photo editing. For daily casual computing, and even a good chunk of my work tasks, the Chromebook is a device that meets my needs. It doesn’t go very far beyond, and there are some tasks that are less frequently part of my gig that I’d have to go back to a more capable computer for (like video editing for instance, or anything other than light retouches for photo work). But for remote web workers on a shoestring budget, Chrome OS running on Samsung’s intelligently pared down hardware is a heck of a combo, providing a user experience that’s hardly frustrating, and definitely spends a good amount of time in the ‘enjoyable’ range, too.

Hardware

The Chromebook’s hardware is about as far away from high-end ultrabooks as you can get: it uses plastic, the screen feels taken directly from a netbook released around 2008, and it feels like it’s got quite a bit of flex in the body. But it’s also incredibly small, slim and light, and while ports (save the SD card slot) are around back, they’re there, and with USB 3.0 and HDMI out, they’re modern and capable. In other words, Samsung cut corners where it should have on this design and made sure not to when it was important to how the notebook handles.

If I had to sum up the Chromebook’s hardware in one word, it would be “smart.” The screen (which appears low-contrast and somewhat washed out compared to more expensive contemporary devices) is its greatest weakness, but it’s far from unusable. And there are other areas where the Chromebook actually pleasantly surprises, like with the built-in speakers, which are actually pretty good so long as you don’t crank the volume up too high. The camera for video chat also does the job, and an included USB to Ethernet dongle makes it possible to connect to a wired router. Even the keyboard is a good one, with dedicated buttons for browser-specific features, and comfortable, well-spaced and placed keys, though keyboard backlighting is understandably missing.

The Chromebook’s battery is maybe its key hardware feature. Google says it gets around 6.5 hours from a full charge, and in my usage that turned out to be right. Plus, when sleeping, it sipped energy slowly enough that I could close the lid, pick it up a couple of days later and still jump back in. For a computer like this, that’s meant to offer instant-on convenience, a good battery is a crucial measure of success, and one that’s impressive on its own at this price point.

Software

If you’re a Chrome user, which I am, then Chrome OS is like an old familiar friend. All that this has over a traditional Chrome experience is the addition of a simple file browser and user account switching. If, like me, you spend 95 percent of your day in Chrome, then that means what the Chromebook can accomplish is significant, but not all-encompassing. For instance, plugging in SD cards from my DSLRs had mixed results; an older 8GB standard version was recognized immediately, and I could open JPGs (not RAW) for viewing and editing, but a 128GB SDXC wasn’t picked up by Chrome OS.

Still, with instant on, and customizable settings for the trackpad (I’ve gotten used to Apple’s so-called ‘natural’ scrolling), the Chromebook’s software offered everything I needed for light use at the airport or on the couch, and I can easily see it meeting the entertainment and casual needs of a huge swath of everyday users. Chrome’s app store has grown considerably since its introduction, helping out with a variety of social, productivity, gaming and entertainment apps to satisfy most needs for those who aren’t hardcore gamers or working on the next Dreamworks masterpiece.

Chrome’s Remote Desktop feature is also very useful if you’re adding the Chromebook to a network of existing computers and want to access them for any reason, but I found it had trouble with more complicated multi-screen setups like the one I run in my home office. Still, for basic remote access, it’s a good tool to have around.

Summary

At $400 or $500, the Chromebook always struck me as an unusual device aimed at an enthusiast market; after all, who would want to pay as much as you might for an entry-level Windows machine for something with a far narrower, less capable software ecosystem? But now at $249, the Samsung Chromebook makes perfect sense: it’s a cheap, effective portable web browser with a full keyboard and nearly all-day battery life. If you’ve got four or five times the asking price, buy a Mac or a PC. But if those machines are overkill for your needs, you won’t regret picking up a new Chromebook, either now for $249 or when the $329 version brings cellular connectivity to the mix.


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Darrell Etherington

October 31st

Gadgets

Phil Schiller clarifies iPad mini has stereo speakers following Amazon’s Kindle comparison

When Apple’s Senior Vice President of Marketing Phil Schiller unveiled the iPad mini on stage earlier this month, he didn’t discuss the speaker on the new device. There were rumors that the iPad mini might include stereo speakers, but tech specs on Apple’s website only list a “built-in speaker” for iPads. Adding to the rumors that iPad mini might actually have a mono speaker, Amazon posted a comparison of the new iPad and its Kindle Fire HD tablet, listing dual stereo speakers vs a mono speaker as one of the the Kindle’s advantages. A curious 9to5 reader wanted to find out what speaker Apple is actually including in the device and was able to get an email response direct from Phil Schiller.

Hi Mr. Schiller, 

I understand the tech specs about iPad Mini online should cover everything, but the tech specs online neither confirm or deny the rumors of iPad Mini’s speakers being stereo. Is it possible to get confirmation from the man himself as to whether these are mono or stereo?

Schiller responded:

“It is stereo” 

9to5Mac confirmed the email exchange is authentic. The Verge’s Joshua Topolsky also received confirmation from Apple:

Schiller doesn’t respond to all customer emails, but seems to answer questions that are a source of controversy. Following the iPhone 5 launch, we posted an email from Schiller to a customer regarding scratches on the device.

Amazon has now removed the comparison ad (below) from its homepage.



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Jordan Kahn

October 31st

Apple

Mac

Developer gets Fusion Drive functionality running on older Mac

There is still a lot we do not know about Apple’s new hybrid SSD/HDD Fusion Drive option available for the new iMacs and Mac minis. Today we get a little bit of insight into how Fusion Drive will function thanks to a few blog posts by developer Patrick Stein detailing how he was able to build his own Fusion Drive solution on his Mac Pro running 10.8.2 (via MacRumors). Stein was able to get OS X to recognize an attached 120GB SSD and 750GB HDD as a single drive using diskutil and, surprisingly, exhibit Fusion Drive-like functionality with little configuration. MacRumors explained:

Stein then proceeded to test the setup, writing data first to the SSD and then to the traditional hard drive once the SSD had filled up. By preferentially accessing data that had initially been written to the traditional hard drive, Stein was able to watch as the data was automatically transferred to the SSD for faster access. Upon stopping the process, the system automatically pushed the data back to the traditional hard drive, and in one final step Stein began accessing the data once more and after about an hour was able to see it pulled back onto the SSD.

Head over to Stein’s Tumblr for all the details. ArsTechnica also has an excellent breakdown of Fusion Drive:

Based on these findings, Fusion Drive is indeed a base operating system feature, either contained within Core Storage or built into OS X 10.8.x (Jollyjinx notes at the bottom that he’s using 10.8.2). It appears that Fusion Drive detects the SSD-ishness of a drive based on SMART info read across the SATA bus, though it’s possible that Apple might be using Microsoft’s SSD detection method and simply testing attached drives’ throughput. If a Core Storage volume contains an HDD and an SSD, Fusion Drive appears to be automatically activated.



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Jordan Kahn

October 31st

Apple

Mac
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