Archive for January, 2008

HTC Touch (CDMA)

With the exception some older data plans (which was discontinued a few years ago), I’ve always complained about the high cost of data in Canada. Unless you have a demo line or are lucky enough to have and kept the Fido plan, having a sweet phone means you can only access the coolest features when you’re near a WiFi hotspot.

Recently Bell has been offering their HTC Touch with an option for unlimited data for only 7 bucks extra. When I found out about this, I ran to the store and got myself a Touch and activated the unlimited data option. Clearly I was more interested in the plan than the Touch.

Still, I have a Touch now so here are my impressions of it.

Make sure you check out the gallery for some pictures.

Physical Impressions:

The Touch’s defining feature is that it’s really small and light. It has a very small face and is also thin.

HTC managed this by using a small 2.8″ display, using a small 1100mAh Lithium Ion battery and by eliminating a lot of the keys you usually find on a Pocket PC.

In fact, besides the nav pad and a send/end buttons the front of the Touch is devoid of buttons. You don’t even get the left and right softkeys. There’s a volume slider on the left and a camera button on the right.

In the past, the first thing I’d think of when you mention HTC is that they like to add as many buttons as possible to their devices. It’s a good thing they don’t make surf boards. HTC is great at adding keyboards and extra buttons to their designs so the Touch is a real step in the other direction.

If you text message or enter tons of text you probably won’t like the Touch… mind you, if you use your stylus to enter text then it’s not so bad.

HTC includes 6 different text entry methods. Block organizer (character recognition), a QWERTY keyboard, letter recognizer, Touch keyboard, Touch keypad, Transcriber. It gets a little confusing at times, it would be nice if you could hide some of the text entry methods in the settings.

Hands-free usage:

There is support for Bluetooth headsets, stereo Bluetooth headphones and mini USB headsets. The Touch has truly horrific battery life so make sure you have an extra charger if you plan on using Bluetooth.

Miscellaneous:

There’s a microSD card slot hidden behind a side panel on the right side of the phone.

Menus:

The Touch runs Pocket PC (now called Windows Mobile Professional). If you’re not familiar with it here’s a very quick run down. There are certain important elements to Pocket PC. The Start menu, Today screen and Menus.

The Start menu is brought up by tapping the top left corner of the screen. It contains shortcuts to certain programs and settings. The Today Screen is like a stand by display. In the case of the Touch HTC, they’ve customized it with some extra features (more on that in a second). The Menus (also called programs) contain shortcuts to all the programs on your device (that have a shortcut there).

Typically there are 3 areas at the bottom of the display. The right area is usually a context sensitive menu, the middle brings up different text entry methods and the left one varies. The top right area (where the ‘x’ is) puts the program you’re using in the background.

The today screen is customized so that there’s a bigger time display (it’s useful), you can also view the weather, there’s a launcher with a short cut to change the screen orientations and shortcuts to change the current profile.

The top right will bring up a list of currently running programs plus it gives you the option to exit them (normally it only puts them in the background). This sounds useful but from my experience it takes so long to bring up the list of programs its useless.

HTC includes their TouchFlo software. The main purpose of TouchFlo seems to be to make the Touch easier to use with one hand, to make it easier to use without having to pull out the stylus and to help you forget that there are hardly any buttons it. For example, you can bring up this sort of launcher by putting your finger on the carrier logo above the nav pad and then moving it up (if you’ve used a Palm before it’s sort of like the shortcut to bring up the graffiti help).

The launcher has 3 different views; one has a speed dial with shortcuts to the phone and related apps. The second lets you quickly launch Internet Explorer, Email, SMS, Tasks, Calendar and the Comm manager. The third contains more shortcuts this time to the music, photo and video apps. TouchFlo also adds some scrolling enhancements to some built-in apps like the messaging client and Internet Explorer. You can switch email accounts by taking your finger and sliding it sideways. You can scroll sideways/up and down in PIE in a similar manner. It’s similar to how the iPhone is but it doesn’t work as well.

The problem is that some of the gestures are similar to existing gestures that every Pocket PC has. For example, if you select some text and then tap and hold your stylus on it, a edit menu will pop up. However the gesture for scrolling is very similar.

In practice I found TouchFlo pretty useful. I found I used it regularly – it’s a lot easier to use than pressing the start button and then selecting the program you want without using a stylus.

Compared to the iPhone, TouchFlo isn’t terribly unintuitive to use but still, considering that the Touch is a Windows Mobile device I’m fairly impressed. I hope I don’t sound like a Windows Mobile apologist (cause really, I’m not that crazy about WinMo) but I’d rather have TouchFlo than not have it.

Phone Related Features:

Like I mentioned before you can quickly bring up a speed dial by bringing up the TouchFlo menu. It’s pretty useful. You can also quickly start an SMS this way too.

You can also bring up the phone app by pressing the green talk button which is on the bottom left of the Touch.

The phonebook is standard Windows Mobile. There’s support for Smartdial but it’s not used much since there’s no physical keyboard.

Connected Features:

The Email supports MS Direct Push Email, IMAP4, POP3 plus you get support for Hotmail (set it up in the MSN menu) plus you can also sync email from your desktop computer.

Browsing duties are handled by Pocket Internet Explorer. PIE works okay but it runs really slow when you’re viewing large webpages. Feature wise it hasn’t changed much in the past couple of years. It lacks the speed of other browsers and the ability to see the entire webpage at once. It also has problems with many SSL secured pages. If you like to surf the web a lot considering purchasing Opera or something similar.

As always you get MSN messenger built-in. If you’re going to use it a lot consider a Pocket PC with a built-in keyboard.

My HTC touch did not come with the Remote Desktop (Terminal Services) app.

Multimedia Features:

Music/Video duties are handled by Windows Media player. It can sort through your music collection by artist, album or genre.

There’s a useful mp3 trimmer which you can use to cut up your mp3′s and set them as ringtones.

There’s a 2 megapixel camera on the back. It’s nothing special and doesn’t take very good pictures.

You get a2dp support but I don’t advise you use it unless you have an extra charger or bigger battery since the Touch’s battery life is horrible.

Organizer Features:

You get the usual Pocket PC organizer features; Calendar, Tasks, Notes, MS Word, Excel, Power Point, Voice recorder. You also get a Voice Speed Dial feature which is important if you want to use the Touch in a car.

The Calendar, Notes and phonebook can sync with your computer. You can create Word, Excel, Power Point files on your device but they’re more for viewing attachments you might get in your email.

As always you get a File manager which is useful if you have a lot of stuff on your device.

You also get a zip file manager which is great if you download programs straight to your device.

Impressions:

I thought the Touch was okay. I tend to use my Pocket PC’s with just one hand anyways and tend to not enter too much text. I’m also lazy so I’d rather type on the screen keyboard with my thumb (which I’m somewhat proficient at) than whip out my other hand and pull out a keyboard.

Keeping these 2 facts in mind, I liked how I could scroll with my finger in Pocket IE (it’s easier than using the side scroll bars) and how I could use Touch Flo to start programs.

I’m disappointed that HTC didn’t include a better browser like Opera but you can always purchase them separately.

I also liked the size. Pocket PC’s tend to be really complicated devices – there’s something really geeky about them (that’s their appeal). Anyways the Touch is one of the least geeky Pocket PC’s out there.

The Touch is pretty responsive most of the time except when you’re viewing large webpages. When you do that it starts to chug.

So I enjoyed using the Touch but not all is well. For one the RF performance seems lacking. I found that the Touch had trouble maintaining an EVDO connection when the signal was weak. When the signal was weak it would keep switching to 1x which is really slow.

One problem I noticed was that occasionally the Touch would stay on when I put it in its holster. This would cause the Touch to heat up and drain the battery (even faster). I suspect I might have pressed the camera button before I put it away. Stability wise the Touch is okay. It does freeze up from time to time – such as when I was having a meeting with some people from HTC.

The other big problem is the battery life which was horrible. You’ll only get about 1 day of standby with moderate usage. If you get the Touch also get a second charger to leave at work.

Sound quality was so-so. While I was testing a CDMA Touch it sounded more like a GSM phone. Voices were pretty natural sounding but there was noticeable hiss. Maximum earpiece volume was average. While it’s not a quiet device it could stand to be a little louder.

RF performance was pretty horrible. The Touch’s signal meter seems to constantly have zero bars of reception. While I don’t normally pay much attention to signal meters in the case of the Touch it seems to be accurate. Calls would cut in and out in areas that are normally okay reception wise.

Conclusion:

Despite some serious flaws I enjoyed using the Touch. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve become so jaded/bored of Pocket PC’s but the Touch brings something new to the table. The Touch’s most serious flaws include poor RF performance, horrendous battery life, lack of buttons and lack of WiFi (the GSM version has WiFi). I guess it’s a case of the whole being more than the sum of the parts.

Personally the lack of WiFi doesn’t bother me that much. The Touch isn’t really fast enough for you to notice the extra speed you get from a WiFi compared with a good EVDO one. The only area where it bothers me is that you’re not supposed to stream video which means I’m not supposed to use my Slingbox with the Touch.

Ratings (out of 5)
Build Quality 4
Battery Life 1.5
Phone Related Features 3.5
Ease of Use 3
RF Performance 2
Degree of Customizability 3.5
Overall (not an average) 3.5
*Please note these ratings are temporal and are really only valid for the date they were assigned. A phone which receives a rating of 5 a year ago will probably get a lower rating today.

Pros:

  • TouchFlo is useful
  • Small
  • Easy to use despite lack of buttons

Cons:

  • Battery life
  • RF performance
  • No WiFi
  • Lousy camera

Discuss this review at HowardForums.com | See the gallery here
Written by Howard Chui 01.15.2008
This article may not be reproduced without the the author’s permission.

13 comments January 15th, 2008

Motorola i570

Nextel Communications has released their newest phone.

The Motorola i570 brings us back a few years when it comes to technology or should I say lack there of. The phone features a small black and white external screen, color internal display, built in GPS, java application compatible, and meets the MIL-SPEC requirements to be 810F for dust, shock, and vibration. The i570 is available immediately on the Sprint website or instore.

2 year term: $99.99 (with rebates)
N
o contract: $299.99

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3 comments January 15th, 2008

SlingBox Solo

We all have things that we pay for each month; credit card bills, rent, mortgage, gas, electricity, etc. Now some things are more important than others such as rent. Your cable/satellite bill on the other hand is near the bottom.

One problem is that you generally only use your cable/sat when you’re at home. Also, if you have a set top box, they only work on the television they’re hooked up to. Here’s where the Slingbox comes in. With it, you can send the signal from your set top box to a variety of non-tv devices.

Right now the Slingbox works with Windows and Apple computers, Windows Mobile, S60, Palm devices with support for Blackberry, Apple iPhone and other platforms coming soon. There’s also a device called the Slingcatcher which lets you watch your Slingbox on TV’s (useful if you only have one set top box or want to watch your set top box in a different location that has internet access).

Now before I go further, the Slingbox works with all sorts of video sources, however, for me the set top box is the most useful thing to use the Slingbox with. It also supports DVD players, Tivos, camcorders, VCRs, etc.

If you’re familiar with Slingbox’s other offerings I would describe the Solo as a high def compatible version of the Slingbox AV. High definition compatible meaning it can accept high def signals (it only streams in standard def – 480p).

On the back, you get 2 sets of the following connectors: 2 RCA in for sound (red and white), composite video (yellow), S-Video, and component video (green, blue, red). One set is for signal in while the other is for signal out.

There’s also a power connector, network, a mysterious USB port (for ‘future’ use) and a IR blaster connection port. The IR blasters are used to send commands to your various devices.

You connect your video device to the Sling Solo’s ‘in’ connectors and then pass the signal through using the ‘out’ connectors. Next you connect the Sling Solo to your network using the network connector. If you’re place isn’t wired for this you can get Slinglink ethernet over power adapters. You can also use a WiFi bridge but WiFi tends to be less reliable for video streaming. From there you connect the Sling Solo to your router and then from there it’s out to the internet so that you can view it when you’re out.

Sling Media includes very detailed instructions on how to configure your router. They’re pretty good when it comes to having instructions for virtually all routers so it’s not that daunting a task if you’re not tech savvy. Just read carefully and make sure you know your router’s password.

While you still can’t stream video in high def quality remember that unless you’re using the Slingbox at home, high def streaming isn’t that relevant yet since most home connections don’t have a fast enough upload.

The Solo supports bit rates of up to around 8 mbps. I’d say you need about 3 to 4 mbps before the quality maxes out. There is little difference between 4 and 8 mbps.

You view the Slingbox with a program named Slingplayer.

I tried the Solo with some computers (a desktop, laptop and a mac), a S60 device (Nokia N95-3), HTC Touch (CDMA one on Bell) and a HTC TyTN. Now remember that mobile devices have lower resolution screens, less powerful processors and in general slower internet access. Most mobile devices are probably incapable of handling higher bit rates. My source was a Motorola DCT 6416 HDTV PVR which was connected via component video (component video cables not included – boo!).

While I didn’t look extremely carefully, I didn’t notice a drop in quality when I placed the Sling Solo between my PVR and my TV.

I tried Slingplayer on my desktop computer that’s connected to my Slingbox via a gigabit network which can handle a full 8 mbps stream with no problems. On my laptops that are connected via wifi (802.11g) I was getting around 2.8 mbp which is probably my wifi network’s limit.

On the computer Slingplayer works well. The image quality is good and you can run it in a window that’s always on top, dock it to the left or right of your screen or run it in full screen mode. You control your device via an on screen remote. There’s a favourite channel feature so that you can switch to them with one click.

Now the Slingbox streams signals over networks, because of this there’s always a time delay. You won’t notice this until you’re trying to change channels or operate your cable box’s menus. Depending on how fast your connection is, the delay ranges from mildly annoying to ‘seems like an eternity’. I found that the stream would skip when I opened up the programming guide.

By default the Slingbox adjusts the bit rate depending on how reliable your connection is. If things are really bad, the Slingbox will sacrifice video quality so that you can still hear the stream. You need around 200 to 300 kbs to get a usable stream.

If you want to use the Sling Solo with your mobile device you have to fork out 30 bucks USD for the player. If you switch devices you can update your profile online so that you can transfer the license to your new device – even if you switch from one platform (say Windows Mobile) to another (say S60).

On my n95-3, there was a problem displaying the video in with the correct aspect ratio. Slingplayer Mobile has 2 different aspect ratio settings; normal and letter box. Normal would display the 16:9 frame in a 4:3 frame (so everyone becomes skinnier and taller). The image ratio was fine in letter box mode but there were empty spaces on either side. I tried my n95-3 with my SlingTuner and the aspect ratio was perfect so I think the Solo has some issues with my HD tuner. Video quality with the Tuner was great. It’s smooth and looks good. I wasn’t able to view the bit rate the n95 was getting but I’d guess it’s around 1 mbps.

You have access to all the controls you would on a computer but many take a couple of button presses to access. The menu responds quickly but there was a 5 second delay if you send any commands to your device. I also found the video would sometimes pause when you do this. Slingplayer will stop if you try to run another application while you’re watching something.

The Solo worked okay with my TyTN when connected via WiFi. I noticed the same aspect ratio problems as I did with the n95-3 (which re-enforces my theory that the Solo is to blame). The menus are easier to access because the TyTN has a touch screen but I found the TyTN lacked the n95-3′s horsepower. While the n95-3′s video was nice and smooth, the TyTN seemed to struggle at times and things would get slightly jerky at times as well. The TyTN also had big problems when you switch orientations. I’m guessing the bit rate is around 300 or 400 kbps. You can listen to the Slingbox when you use other applications but the TyTN slows down so much there’s no point to this.

The CDMA HTC Touch I tried did not have WiFi but it did have a faster processor. Unfortunately I still found that Slingplayer was kind of choppy at a lower resolution. At first I thought it was due to the fact that my EVDO connection isn’t as fast as my WiFi’s but doing things like pulling up the programming guide, changing orientations, are still slow.

If you want to use the SlingSolo with your mobile phone, make sure you have a HSDPA or EVDO capable phone and network. It won’t work well with EDGE or 1xRTT networks.

There isn’t too much new to say about the Sling Solo. It’s a nice upgrade from the Sling AV. The real changes are in the options you now have to view your Slingbox; you now get S60 support, Sling Catcher, Clip and Sling, etc.

The real appeal of the Slingbox is that allows you to make better use of your stuff that’s normally chained to your TV. It also allows you a chance to give your mobile phone’s unlimited data plan a workout.

Discuss this review at HowardForums.com
Written by Howard Chui 1.14.2007
This article may not be reproduced without the the author’s permission.

Add comment January 14th, 2008

Alltel mycircle

Effective today (January 13, 2008) Alltel, American’s largest network, has made changes to the my circle option. Introduced was my circle 1, 5, and 20-my circle 10 will remain as is.

my circle 1 (gives you one number) avaliable for plans costing $39.99-$49.98
my circle 5 (gives you five numbers) avaliable for plans costing $49.99-$59.98
my circle 10 (gives you ten numbers) avaliable for plans costing $59.99-$99.98
my circle 20 (gives you twenty numbers) avaliable for plans costing $39.99+

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1 comment January 13th, 2008

Sling Media annouces support for Blackberry devices

slingplayer_blackberrypearl8120.PNGSoon you’ll be able to watch your Slingbox on your Blackberry device. SlingMedia will be demoing this on a the Blackberry 8120 at CES next week.

It should be available later this year for 29.99.

Hopefully your carrier has a decent Blackberry data plan so you can make use of this.

They also announced that Slingbox PRO-HD which is a Slingbox that can stream 1080i video and 5.1 surround sound. It will work with their SlingCatcher device (something that lets you watch a Slingbox on a TV so you don’t need a computer or phone). It’s meant more for home use though you can use it outside of home if you have a super fast network connection. The Slingbox PRO-HD will be available Q3 2008.

1 comment January 4th, 2008

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