Category: Portable Devices

Sony Xperia S: A step in the right direction for mobile gaming

Perhaps more than any other company in the consumer electronics industry, Sony has repeatedly baffled customers and analysts alike with its product strategies. Music players that could only playback proprietary formats, cameras that could only use proprietary memory cards, a tablet that could control your entire home theatre but not your Sony PS3, an iPod-competitor that isn’t PlayStation-certified, and phones that could provide a great mobile gaming experience but couldn’t display those games on your TV.

That’s just a short list.

Much of these decisions can be attributed to Sony’s desire to exert the kind of control over user experiences that Apple is famous for. Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs bio even lends credence to the idea that Apple learned this lesson from Sony. The other explanation is that Sony is a company divided. With interests in consumer electronics and media publishing, the fabled Japanese tech giant has been fighting for harmony amongst its divisions for decades, with few visible successes.

But this might be changing.

Consider the new Xperia S, the first Sony smartphone in Canada to ditch the old Sony-Ericsson branding. It’s a dual-core, HD smarpthone running Google’s Android 2.3 OS (upgradeable to Ice Cream Sandwich later this year) and like it’s predecessor, the Sony-Ericsson Xperia Play, it’s PlayStation Certified which means you can enjoy a catalog of games from Sony including older PlayStation 2 titles that have been optimized for the mobile device.

Unlike the Xperia Play, these games are no longer confined to the phone’s 4.3″ touchscreen. Equipped with a micro-HDMI port, the Xperia S lets you enjoy video and gaming on your HDTV.

Sounds like a solid feature right? Well, yes and no. Yes, the ability to view your mobile games on the big screen makes a ton of sense. Not only will they look better on an HDTV, but friends and family can watch the action without having to sit shoulder-to-shoulder with you. But there’s a down-side too. The Xperia S, unlike the Play, is a touch-screen only device. There is no slide-out set of physical buttons (the Play’s slider featured a PSP Go layout). So while you’ll be able to view games on your TV, it will likely be impossible to control the gameplay without looking down at the phone to make sure you’re swiping and tapping the control areas accurately.

Let’s hope that Sony brings back the Play’s slider form-factor on their next model so gamers can really harness the HDMI-out feature to its full extent.

The Xperia S also features a 12.1-megapixel camera that can shoot 1080p video along with NFC (Near Field Communication) – a technology that will enable everything from mobile payments via Google Wallet to content sharing between compatible devices, so gaming isn’t the only reason to consider this smartphone.

Pricing has been set at a very reasonable $99 on a 3-year phone & data package from Rogers Wireless. The Xperia S will be available exclusively through Sony Stores when it launches April 17th.

Advertisements

RIM intros BlackBerry Mini Keyboard for PlayBook

Now that RIM has managed to sell a decent amount of their BlackBerry PlayBook tablets, it’s time for something a little different.

Check out their newest addition to the PlayBook line of accessories: the BlackBerry Mini Keyboard. It’s roughly the same size as the PlayBook itself, it has a 30-day battery life and can be recharged from any Micro-USB connection including the one that shipped with the PlayBook, and it connects via Bluetooth.

And none of those specs are a reason to buy this $119 keyboard, which by the way, ships with that stylish case pictured above.

No, the real reason you’re going to want this keyboard is the integrated touchpad placed right below the space bar. This one feature not only make using the PlayBook for productivity much better than the tablet on its own, it might just make it the PlayBook the best productivity tablet on the market, period. I say this of course without every having tried the device, but if the description from RIM is accurate, this is the rare exception when an accessory dramatically improves the functionality of the original device.

Consider: The touch pad enables full mouse control when using an app called Citrix Receiver – designed to connect you to a remote Windows machine so you can have complete remote-control of that desktop. This means you can move the PC’s cursor, click by tapping, right-click by two-finger tapping and scroll vertically by swiping up and down on the pad with two fingers.

The result is that, unlike using bluetooth keyboards with the iPad, you no longer have to reach for the PlayBook’s screen when you want to interact with an on-screen element. Basically, it turns the PlayBook into a proper laptop replacement, at least from an ergonomics point of view. The trackpad even works when navigating the PlayBook’s homescreens and apps.

The  BlackBerry Mini Keyboard goes on sale next month for $119, but you can pre-order it now from The Source and save yourself $20.

Third Rail Slim Case can jump-start your iPhone

Love your iPhone 4 or 4S? Sure you do. Hate that it can barely get through a full day without needing to be plugged in? Join the club.

One thing almost all iPhone users agree on: the battery life could do with some serious enhancement. But since this has been a complaint of the iPhone since its debut in 2007, it’s pretty clear that Apple doesn’t consider it a top priority.

But what are you to do if you depend on your phone to keep you connected for long periods of time? The first thing you should do is read our 12 Tips For Extending Your iPhone’s Battery Life. But if you’re still hungering for juice, you may want to consider Third Rail’s Slim Case + Battery solution. While not new to the market, the product is now shipping to Canadians from Amazon.ca for the first time.

5 green LEDs show how much charge is left in your Smart Battery

Unlike other snap-on batteries or cases with built-in batteries, Third Rail’s product doesn’t force you to compromise on form in order to get the function.

The Slim Case is a sleek matte-black unit that provides a perfect fit for both iPhone 4 and 4S models. It adds only a millimetre to the phone’s sides, top and back with the only noticeable bulk being on the bottom edge where it lengthens the phone by just under a centimetre.

The slightly rubberized texture provides excellent grip and as any phone case should, it provides enhanced protection from bumps and drops. But the truly clever part of the case design is on the back, where 4 discreet slots accept a slide-and-snap on Smart Battery pack.

Rather than carry the extra bulk of the battery around with you all of the time (see the Mophie Juice Pack), or rely on bottom-mounted battery-boosters (Scosche iBAT2) that could easily damage your dock-connector port if it were bumped the wrong way, the Third Rail Slim Case lets you add the battery when you need it, remove it when you don’t, and while it’s doing its job, it sits where it should: on the back of the phone.

If the Slim Case system only did what I just described, it would be a worthwhile choice. But it has a few tricks up its sleeve that make it a no-brainer for travelling road-warriors.

The snap-on batteries have built-in power meters: a series of 5 green LEDs that indicate the level of charge at the touch of a button. The batteries can be recharged on their own via a supplied micro-USB cable, or they can suck their power through the Slim Case’s bottom-mounted micro-USB port (which BTW, doubles as your iPhone’s Sync/Charge port) while you charge both the external battery and your iPhone’s internal unit.

The USB adapter lets you charge other devices directly from the Third Rail Smart Battery

You can use the batteries to charge almost any other USB-powered device (MP3 player, Bluetooth headset or keyboard etc) through a secondary, proprietary port which connects to the included USB-A female adapter.

The Slim Case has a bottom-mounted switch that lets you control the flow of electricity from the battery pack to the iPhone so there’s no need to remove the battery if you aren’t ready to boost your iPhone’s battery just yet. The same switch controls the recharging of the battery pack from the micro-USB port.

Finally, the Third Rail battery packs are stackable – up to 6 of them can be snapped together  – to create a truly flexible charging system.

In practice, I found that a single snap-on battery could take my iPhone 4S from 30% charge to 60% over the course of 2.5 hours while the phone was still powered-on and in regular use, while it could bring the phone from 3% to 50% when the phone was powered down over about 2 hours. When you take into account the price, which is very competitive with other case-based recharging systems, and the additional flexibility Third Rail offers, the Slim Case system seems like a good buy indeed.

It’s not completely without drawbacks however. As with any case that covers your phone’s dock connector, you won’t be able to dock your phone without first removing it from the Slim Case. Since I like to charge my iPhone on a bedside alarm-clock charger, this was a little frustrating.

If you like to pocket your phone when not in use, you’ll find that the battery pack creates a lumpy shape and might not be very comfortable for long periods.

You’ll need to decide how you want to tote around your back-up batteries – attached to the case, in a separate pocket, or somewhere else?

The Smart batteries are rated at 1250 mAh, which means if you want to fully recharge your phone from zero, you’ll need two fully-charged Smart batteries.

Overall though, I think you’ll find Third Rail’s Slim Case an excellent choice for extending the life of your iPhone when out of reach of an electrical outlet.

You can buy the Slim Case from Amazon.ca with a battery for $78.64 or by itself for $39.23 and extra batteries are available too at $54.48 each.

Bell improves call quality with HD Voice

Cellphones. I have a love/hate relationship with them.

I love the functionality they offer. I love the way I can reach into my pocket and have the entire internet at my finger tips wherever I happen to be. I love the freedom of being able to share the details of my life with those who matter to me be it on Facebook, Twitter or a simple text message.

But I gotta tell you, I’ve never been happy with the nature of voice calling on these things. There’s just something about the majority of cellphone calls – especially when you’re *not* the one on the cellphone. The compression of sounds, the occasional latency, that sensation that the other person is a the end of a very long and narrow tube through which you both must shout to be heard. It doesn’t matter which handset you own or whose network you’re on. It’s so commonplace these days that I think many of us have just learned to put up with it.

So when I heard that Bell is about roll out an upgrade to their voice network that will dramatically improve the quality of these voice calls, I was all ears.

The new feature is called HD Voice, and Bell is going to be the first national network operator in Canada to offer it. The system has already been introduced in Europe from Orange.

Effectively, HD Voice doubles the amount of network bandwidth allocated to voice calls. More bandwidth means less compression and thus better quality. It’s a little bit like the difference between an audio CD that has been converted into an MP3 file at 64kbps vs. one that has been encoded at 128kbps. As any MP3 aficionado will tell you, the 128kbps version sounds a lot closer to the original CD. HD Voice also improves the amount of noise cancellation on calls, so if you’re calling from an especially busy place like a mall or a street corner, those background sounds should be greatly reduced.

Curious to know just how much better HD Voice will sound? So was I. Bell doesn’t have any sample audio clips to share with us at the moment and I haven’t been able to test the system myself, but I was able to find the following video from the U.K. thanks to the gang at MobileSyrup, and if Bell’s version of HD Voice is anywhere as good as this, I’ll be a much happier camper.

 

 

Alright, now that we’re all sold on the whole HD Voice promise, let’s talk about how you actually get this feature.

First the good news: Bell will be making HD Voice an automatic and free upgrade for all of their mobility subscribers.

Now the caveats: HD Voice only works on specific handsets for now. Specifically: HTC Sensation, HTC Incredible S, Nokia C6-00 and Nokia C6-01. According to Bell, these handsets are currently the only ones they carry that have the necessary software to enable HD Voice. It’s expected that many more handsets currently on the market will be given a software upgrade to make them HD Voice capable, but no details have emerged just yet.

And, more importantly, you’ll only benefit from HD Voice if you and the person you’re speaking with are both using compatible handsets and you’re both on the Bell (or Virgin) HSPA+ network. Unfortunately, this means that landline parties or those on a different mobile network will still hear the lower quality call, even if you’re using an HD Voice handset.

Bell notes on their site that there are still a few areas of the country that won’t be able to support the service, and none of the coverage areas that are outside of the HSPA+ 4G footprint will be able to handle it

(Image credit: Photodisc/Winston Davidian/Getty Images)

Disclosure: Sync.ca and Sync-blog.com are owned and operated by Bell Media, a wholly owned subsidiary of BCE, the parent company of Bell Canada.

Confirmed: Amazon is launching an Android tablet

In the consumer tech world this year, there have been a few persistent rumours: An Apple television, the iPhone 5 and an Amazon tablet to compete with the iPad.

Today, one of those rumours has been put to rest. There will indeed be an Amazon tablet and TechCrunch.com blogger MG Siegler was fortunate enough to get some hands-on time with the device.

The good news for those who have been fearing that Amazon was simply going to launch a me-too device (as so many other companies have done with their uninspired Android tablets) is that they have boldly taken a different direction, at least as far as the operating system is concerned.

According to Siegler, although it is based on Google’s Android OS, the new Kindle (yes, it gets the same name as Amazon’s existing e-readers) has a user interface that is like no other implementation of Android that we’ve seen to-date.

The 7″ capacitive touchscreen unit which apparently bears a striking resemblance to RIM’s BlackBerry PlayBook, is running a completely overhauled version of Android 2.2.  The customization runs far deeper than other Android skins such as HTC’s Sense or Samsung’s TouchWiz. Even the Android Market has been stripped out in favour of – you guessed it – Amazon’s recently launched App Store.

For more details on the hardware side of the story, check out Siegler’s post. There aren’t any photos unfortunately, but his description tells the story of a capable, if bare-bones tablet that will not only make potential iPad buyers hesitate but should also set off alarm bells at places like Barnes and Noble and Sony.

What fascinates me about Amazon’s move into the tablet space is the way they have fused the hard work done by the Android team at Google with their own in-house design talent. Without having seen it, I’m already confident that Amazon has created a user experience that is consistent with their brand, and not something generic. Replacing the Android Market is not only a smart thing to do from a revenue point of view, it addresses one of the biggest critiques that has been leveled at Google’s app market – specifically a lack of oversight on which apps get approved and the significant security risks that have resulted from this easy-going policy.

You can bet that Amazon, much the same as Apple, will exert a great deal of control over their app store to avoid just this kind of situation.

So, will a $250 Amazon Kindle tablet take the tech world by storm? Will it finally present the iPad with some serious competition? Or will it merely cannibalize sales of their existing e-ink readers? Far too soon to tell. But it’s going to be a very interesting holiday season, don’t you think?

 

All McDonald’s restaurants getting free Wi-Fi across Canada

Starting today, over 1,000 McDonald’s locations around the country will be flipping more than hamburgers – the fast-food chain will be flipping the switch on free Wi-Fi access for their customers.

The network, which is being implemented by Bell, will deliver free and unlimited internet access at a very respectable “up to 11 Mbps” which should be more than enough bandwidth for surfing the web, watching YouTube and maybe even the occasional Skype call.

You don’t even have to buy a Big Mac to use the free service; just log-on using the 1-click entry point, which doesn’t require a username or password.

The company expects to have 1,400 or 90% of their Canadian locations enabled with free Wi-Fi by the end of May.

If you’re scratching your head and thinking to yourself, ‘wait a minute, I thought they already had free Wi-Fi,’ you’re right. McDonald’s first implemented free Wi-Fi in their stores back in 2003, but it was a very limited roll-out with service at only a handful of participating stores.

Now if you’re serious about free, consider this: Between free Wi-Fi at McDonald’s and free Wi-Fi at Starbucks,  you’re virtually guaranteed to be no more than 5 minutes from free web access of some kind, anywhere within a major metro area.

Okay Tim Hortons… your turn… you don’t want these other guys having all the fun, do you?

Disclosure: Sync is owned and operated by Bell Media.

Ridiculous tech-cessory of the week: iPad Pants

iPad Tactical Pants. Image courtesy of TacticalPants.com

iPad Tactical Pants. Image courtesy of TacticalPants.com

Thanks to unending river of information that is the internet – especially the mammoth subset of the net dedicated to covering technology – I can now bring you your Friday chuckle.

The source of the amusement this time round is CrunchGear, who picked up on a thoroughly ridiculous concept: the iPad Tactical Pants.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good set of pants – particularly if they’re festooned with a variety of pockets – but there is practical limit to just how much gear you can reasonably tote around with you before you risk hurting yourself, or worse, your favourite gadgets.

The pair of Tactical Pants pictured above is a model known as “Kitanica.” And as the image shows, trying to pocket your brand new iPad 2 in this $160 garment (and then subsequently performing the ill-advised act of sitting) could easily lead to a $500 replacement bill. Yikes.

But it’s not all bad news for those of you who are determined to keep your tablet pal with you at all times. The team at TacticalPants.com have identified several other models of pants that are better suited to iPad-totage, namely the Genuine Gear variety which appears to offer a somewhat saner side-pocket location.

So with Father’s Day rapidly approaching, you now have one more option to show dear ol’ Dad how much you love/love-to-mock him.

[Source: TacticalPants.com] [Via: CrunchGear]