A Sister's Eulogy for Steve Jobs

On Monday, October 31, 2011 0 comments

I still find it difficult to read or discuss the passing of Steve Jobs. I have not brought myself to the point that I can read any of the multitude of stories online, publications dedicated to him nor have I read a single page of his bio...yet.

Over the weekend, Walt Mossberg pointed out this New York Time piece by Jobs' sister Mona Simpson which was original her eulogy read during his memorial on October 16th.

The piece includes Steve Job's final words if you are curious.

Everyone says the bio is a good read. I am hoping to check it out soon.

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Wireless Speakers "On-The-Go"

On Monday, October 24, 2011 0 comments

Sorry for the somewhat back-to-back wireless solutions articles but Bose recently began shipping a wonderful little mobile/wireless speaker system called the Bose Soundlink that offers incredibly nice sound in a rather small and lightweight package. With all my music at my finger-tips in my iPhone and iPad, I have previous considered getting a mobile speaker solution for when I travel or do presentations with audio that could benefit from louder speakers than my PC and have been tempted to pick up the Jawbone JAMBOX for the past year on the recommendation of a friend. But to date I haven't pulled the trigger as I do have the Creative ZiiSound D5 system at my office which is not travel friendly per se but does a great job at the work which seems to be the main place I leverage a wireless speaker solution anyway. And all three of those products are all clocking in at roughly the "$200-300 price range...so I was also curious what was out there under a $100 and keep going back to the Monster ClarityHD Percision Micro Bluetooth Speaker which seems to get rave reviews from people that have it.
So let me break these four down for you with a bit more details...

Creative ZiiSound D5 (Street prices around $220 / 19.6 x 3.5 x 4.3 inches and 8.3 lbs) - Rocking audio, not on-the-go size/weight, supports Bluetooth wireless connection, comes with an iPod/iPhone Bluetooth adapter, you can charge your iDevice in the integrated dock, an optional USB wireless transmitter for your computer is also available, needs to be plugged into a power outlet (no battery) and offers a built-in auxiliary input for traditional audio sources. Not small and weights more than your laptop does but can add great-quality wireless sound to any room with ease. While this is not a truly mobile device as it needs to be plugged in, it is in this write-up because it produces amazing sound and can be easily transported when needed. If you can live with the device needing to be plugged in...it is an amazing product. Note: A newer version called the ZiiSound D5x ($299) is essentially the same except for the additional support to link up to three Creative Bluetooth speakers in multi-channel mode (two D5x and a Creative ZiiSound DSx Subwoofer) to create a complete wireless audio solution throughout the room or link them across rooms to enjoy the same music at the same time. But the original D5 is still available and will save you $70+.

Bose Soundlink Wireless Mobile Speakers ($299.95-$349.95 / 1.9 x 5.1 x 9.6 inches and less than 3 lbs) - The audio powerhouse is the latest entrant into the Bluetooth wireless speaker arena providing their traditional Bose quality audio executions. Leveraging Bluetooth, you can link your iPhone, iPad or Android device and enjoy up to 8 hours of music "on the go".  The sound lacks the full range you have probably experienced in their other Bose dockable speakers but is quite respectable for something this compact and running on batteries. Another key aspect of the Bose speakers is their 30 foot Bluetooth range. The Soundlink includes a USB port for updating the product with new features or updates. Offered in a standard grey nylon for $299.95 or in a premium leather edition for $349.95. A magnetic cover automatically turns off the speaker similar to the smart covers on the iPad2 and makes it easy to haul around. You can also get an optional cover in a wide range of colors. Overall if you are a Bose fan, you will like this solution. But the price just feels a bit steep compared to the other products featured here. Quality comes at a price! You should see the reliability testing video at the Bose website!

Jawbone Jambox (Street prices around $170 / 6 x 2.2 x 1.6 inches and 12 ounces) - This small and very lightweight speaker setup definitely delivered a richer audio experience than I expected. Not in the league of the Bose or Creative but still quite respectful. It is also the most "fun" product in this line-up, available in a wide assortment of grill patterns and colors to match your personality. Jawbone claims the Jambox has a 33' range but my experiences were more like 15-20'...so as long as you plan to stay in the same room with your audio source, you will probably be fine. Jawbone's MyTalk online service continues to add new features and downloadable applications to the Jambox all the time. Compatibility includes online services like MOG, Spotify, Pandora and YouTube applications. The built-in microphone also transforms your Jambox into a very robust mobile conference call solution. This is a true multi-cast device, meaning you can pair the speaker with two devices simultaneously...allowing you to listen to music from your laptop and seamlessly switch to your cell phone to take a call. Your traditional corded audio connects through an auxiliary audio port. You also get an impressive 10 hours of music on a single charge.

Monster ClarityHD ($99 / 6 x 6 x 6 inches and 1 pound) - Slightly more boxy in dimensions than the Jambox and again another step down on the audio quality versus the other devices we have here in this write-up. But the ClarityHD does deliver the best sound for a Bluetooth mobile device for under $100 that we have heard to date. Like the Jambox, the ClarityHD also has a microphone to hands-free conference calling. Battery life is also in the shortest at roughly 5 hours. Like the others, Monster provided a traditional 3.5mm audio input for non-Bluetooth devices. It is also a well loved product from the 100's of extremely positive reviews online.

Conclusion
The ability to access your song selection, playlists and audio settings from your Bluetooth audio device and share the music via a quality portable speaker is a very liberating thing. Something I highly recommend now that the technology is to a level that Bluetooth wireless audio is "almost" indiscernible from a docked Apple lossless compression playback...almost! The ability to amp up your audio playback for conference calls on your smartphone, Skype, videogaming, streaming and PC applications are an added plus for those of you that are "on the go".

If you are looking for walking around a room at the house with a wireless speaker solution, the Creative ZiiSound D5 is more than capable of filling a normal room with rich, high-quality sound. The Bose Soundlink and D5 audio are very comparable but the Bose adds mobility with 8 hours of battery life if that is important to you.

In the really mobile category, the Jawbone Jambox is small enough and light enough that you will really travel with it! This is a big deal to me. So many products have limitations that at the end of the day causes you to stop using them as the newness wares off. Size, proportions and weight are the largest detractors for a truly mobile offering. The Jambox is designed to travel while also delivering audio just a notch down from the Bose or Creative offerings while still probably exceeding the expectations for most people. For something this compact, it does deliver an exceptional clear sound. The addition of downloadable applications and a built-in microphone really make this a unique and standout product.
The Monster ClarityHD is great if you are on a budget and want a terrific, highly mobile audio solution but after playing with these other Bluetooth speaker offerings, the ClarityHD overall is a bit generic for me. But it gets wonderful user reviews on sites like Amazon, so there is clearly a market for this "best in class" sub-$100 category and thus worth a look.

Winner - So if you haven't already picked out my favorite here, I am really liking the Jawbone Jambox. It is an almost magical box that does a lot very well, in a small form-factor and something I can really travel with.



Caveats - In a close second and if you are an audiophile you may want to move up to the Bose Soundlink. If you can live without a battery, the Creative Ziisound D5 is a powerful audio solution at a very reasonable price and my favorite to listen to in the entire bunch.

While I am sticking to just the "mostly mobile wireless solutions" in this write-up, there is a whole range of  home wireless options leveraging iTunes, Apple's Airplay or Sonos solutions that I have not included in this article and they deserve their own review in the coming weeks. This category of product will typically be a bit more complicated to setup and definitely are much more expensive to implement.

WINNER

I find that people may want to do a deep, more in-depth look at the products discussed here and I try to include some links to good reviews of the products on the web...

Bose Soundlink - CNET Review
Jawbone Jambox - Engadget Review
Monster ClarityHD - Amazon Consumer Reviews
Creative ZiiSound D5 - CNET Review

Please follow me on Twitter or Facebook and if you like any of the products, please consider purchasing them through my links (most @ Amazon). If nothing else, the funds I generate off the site go to buying and testing other great products.

If you have any comments or feedback, feel free to email me at wouldntmind@gmail.com

Thx,
Larry





iPhone 4S Shockingly Good Video Quality

On Wednesday, October 19, 2011 0 comments


A video shot on the iPhone 4S from Benjamin Dowie on Vimeo.
Some people may be under the false belief that the new iPhone 4s is just an "update". But when you spend some time with the new SIRI voice-command features, noticeably snapper speed flipping between apps and the new 8-megapixel camera with 1080p video...you start the get the full picture. This is not a new strategy for Apple. If you look at the Macbook Pro line of Apple laptops you will note that the overall look has not changed for many years but the product offering inside has. Most likely this is the road Apple is interested in pursuing with their iPhones as well.

That is not to say that they won't come out with a new configuration but from an operational efficiency standpoint, Apple will try to leverage the form-factor as long as it competitively can.

To demonstrate some of the video prowess of the iPhone 4S, Benjamin Dowie has shot some incredible footage to really highlight the smart-device's 1080p video capabilities. Benjamin is a professional videographer and was really impressed with the depth of field found in a smartphone's camera. He did tweak the colors while editing the footage in Final Cut (Apple's professional video editing) software.

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Wireless Headphones - Why can't they make a great pair of Bluetooth earbuds?

On Tuesday, October 11, 2011 1 comments

Bang & Olufsen A8 Earphone...love them!

I have been on the lookout for a wireless/Bluetooth set of stereo headphones for quite some time. I love my Bang and Olufsen corded headphones but I would also love to cut the cord between my iPhone and my ears. Now the B&O headphones (est. $160) are not cheap either...but they deliver a sound quality and fit that I have found unmatched in the industry. And they look incredible...if a set of earphones can look incredible? Definitely worth checking out if your willing to spend the same money for your headphones as you did on your audio device!

But back to my quest for a great set of wireless headphones...

The industry hasn't really delivered on the promise with the past waves of Bluetooth headsets. Most are heavier than you'd want, awkward to wear, have uncomfortable cord things dangling down, something you have to clip on or just don't sound good. Another thing to consider is that a fair amount of people will want these for their workouts...so durability, solid fit, stay-in-place and sweat resistance will be key.

While I am on the topic of working out, if you didn't check out my write-up last week on fitness tech...be sure to check it out here.

Motorola S10-HD
Motorola S10-HD (est. $55) is the replacement for the somewhat popular S9 series. The headphones appear to have a quality construction and produce a rigid backplane that arches over and around the back of the neck. Some people would point out they are actually feel heavier than the previous version. For those of you into sports, the way these headphones wraparound your head, you can trust that they will probably stay in place. The design of the acoustic mesh, silicone seals and encased speakers help provide excellent sweat protection. I will say that the wrapping over the ears and thickness of the material over the ear, that wearing glasses is not too comfortable. The overall audio quality was just average throughout the range. Another challenge with this style of headset is when you are sitting in a tall-backed chair or car seat you may feel them pushing up against the back of your neck. These headphones include a microphone for taking calls as well. You can expect up to 8 hours of audio and 10 days of standby with the built-in batteries. They come with a wall charger and have a MicroUSB port in the headset for convenient charging.

LG Tone HBS-700
Another lessor known set of headphones of similar construction is produced by LG. The LG Tone (HBS-700 est. $55) has a main component that wraps around your neck but instead of the backplane fitted with the earbuds on the end, as you can see from the picture, the earbuds hang off the spine with a more traditional wires and buds configuration. The earbuds themselves store with the main unit via a very innovative magnets coupling on both ends. In a way this is more comfortable than the Motorola S10 and is very lightweight. Your experience my vary based on your level of working out but in general they should stay in place pretty well. I do think if you are jogging they could bounce around a bit but the good news is that the whole setup is designed to be water resistant which is key for those of you into a hearty workout. The LG unit is compatible with the Android BT Reader app that reads your incoming text messages in real-time. A nice feature is the multipoint support that allows you to pair with your computer or audio device and seamlessly switch to your phone to take a call. You should expect 8-10 hours of talk time and up to 15 days of standby.

Plantronics BackBeat 903+
Still sticking with the back of the head wrap motif, the Plantronics has a very solid reputation for delivering higher-end Bluetooth cell phone earpieces and the BackBeat 903+ (est. $45) stereo headphones deliver similar levels of performance. Built on Altec Lansings sound technology is definitely evident based on the audio fidelity which is on the higher end level of performance in this group. But there were two areas that the BackBeat fell backwards. One is on the microphone/voice quality, people I was talking to could tell I was not using the main iPhone microphone and the other was that this is not a multipoint device. Meaning that you couldn't pair this with separate audio, computer and cell phone.

Sony Ericsson HBH-IS800
Delivering a quality audio experience is the Sony Ericsson HBH-IS800 (est. $70). These earbuds delivered a rich audio sound with a decent bass response. They are incredibly small and lightweight. Though the control on the cord is small, you do notice that is dangles down on the left side where the module is which can be annoying. The noise-canceling feature worked well but callers could tell when you are on this headset as well. You can expect a relatively short talk time in the 3 to 4 hour range and standby for over 10 days. Small but not feature rich with good audio sums it up.

Jaybird Freedom
The Jaybird Freedom (est. $99) headphones represent the current state of technology and tries to address all the needs of a consumer of lightweight, wireless stereo headsets. They have developed a wide range of earbuds and accessories to address any type of fit. The Jaybird has condensed all the electronics into both earbud cases and still maintain a very small shape overall. These were designed to be worn while working out. I get mixed reports on the "staying in the ear" but they have an amazing life-time sweat proof warrant...which should bring some peace of mind. The product has a quality but plastic feel about it and a thoughtful execution throughout. You can adjust the cable between your ears to better fit your head. Battery life stands at 6 hours of talk time and . The audio quality is quite good with some decent bass response...only lagging behind the Plantronics and slight Sony.

Novero Rockaway
What re-triggered my look into this whole area of wireless headphones again was that some friends mentioned a forthcoming set from Novero (est. $79) called the Rockaway. Now traditionally Novero tries to develop fashion electronics, things that are suppose to be worn unnoticed. They make jewelry with the electronics hidden inside but typically they just looks like bejeweled electronics. But this new Bluetooth headset seems to just be pursuing the minimalist angle. Something I can strongly endorse. They look nice but we'll have to wait and see how they turn out in the coming weeks when they are released. I'll update you when I get a good sense on these.

Sennheiser MM-450
My Conclusion
I guess there is a reason that I don't have a Bluetooth headset currently. This really seems to not be an overly active area of development. There must be a lot of limitations (interference, components weight, cost, ergonomics, etc.) that are preventing people from really delivering a quality experience here. There are larger headphone solutions from Sennheiser and the like but I really was hoping for something smaller...more "Bluetooth" and "lightweight"...something in-line with the size of the B&O set I currently love dearly.

As it stands today I will probably stick with my current corded headphones. If I was needing to pick up a new set, I personally lean toward the Jaybird earbuds. The Plantronics are just too bulky and I don't know if I can deal with the necklace of a solution from LG. If you can live with the LG wrap around the neck...they were probably the nicest set here overall.

If you'd like a more in-depth review of the Jaybird...check out Matthew Miller's write-up on ZDnet.
If you'd like a more in-depth review of the LG Tone (HBS-700)...Nicole Lee's review on CNET.

Please follow me on Twitter or Facebook and if you like any of the products, please consider purchasing them through my links (most @ Amazon). If nothing else, the funds I generate off the site go to buying and testing other great products.

If you have any comments or feedback, feel free to email me at wouldntmind@gmail.com

Thx,
Larry






Fitness Tech...More Active Lifestyle

On Saturday, October 8, 2011 1 comments

Who would have thought I would be talking about fitness? But there has been some amazing bits of technology and very innovative products coming to market to really incent good health. I wanted to cover two very cool, high-tech products to help do just that.

Fitbit Ultra is a new wireless clip-on device that you wear and it tracks your activity throughout the day and even can monitor your sleeping habits as well! This is not just some fancy pedometer, this device has a sophisticated 3D accelerometer similar to the technology found in a Wii controller. It also includes an altimeter to track movement up and down stairs and trails. Combined these technologies really help the system measure your overall activity.

The Fitbit's built-in display helps you keep track of your basic activities like number of steps, total distance, floors climbed, how long and well you slept and counts calories burned. It also includes a clock and stopwatch function for your exercise activities. The display will even give you some fun messages on occasion to motivate you to keep moving!

The Fitbit is a wireless device with a charging wireless base station that plugs into your Mac or PC. This makes keeping your data logged onto Fitbit's free online system very easy to use. You can track your activity and sleep stats on fitbit.com. You can create a visual map of your progress and use custom dashboards to analyze your day and track your progress over time. It even scores your efforts and compares you to other people in your age group and fitness range. And if that isn't awkward enough...you can even share your efforts with friends and private groups you setup on the fitbit.com site as well!

Other useful data can be input into the system from your computer or mobile device like the foods you eat or workout routines (even Wii games) you are doing. You can even input your blood pressure, glucose and heart rate information. Should you already be leveraging other online nutrition or fitness programs like LoseIt!, RunKeeper or Microsoft's HealthVault...you can seamlessly sink your data with these other tools.

And if all that isn't enough, Fitbit offers a $49.99/year premium subscription service where Fitbit Trainers review your activity level and create a personalized 12 week program that gradually pushes you to increase your daily movement activity. You are also provided some additional personalized reports that give you analysis of your week's data and recommends target levels of activity the following week.

The Fitbit Ultra is probably the savviest product in this category today and definitely worth checking out if you'd like to monitor your activity and looking for something to help motivate yourself. We've found these to work well with our family.


What about tracking your weight?
While I am on this fitness topic, I should mention another healthy lifestyle tech device that has made it into our household. The Withings Wifi Body Scale is a wireless weight scale that transmits its data to Withings online system just like Fitbit. You setup your whole families profiles online (up to 8 users) and the system can automatically detect who is on the scale and tracks the users Weight, Lean and Fat body mass and translate that into your BMI (body mass index) to help follow your progress and target goals.

You can access your information on your computer or mobile device via an Android, iPhone or iPad app.

The Withings Wifi Body Scale has worked flawlessly for us and is a great tool to track your weight and target goals. And if your really want to keep yourself motivated...the scale can post your progress to Facebook, Twitter or dozens of online weight coaching programs.


Please be sure to comment below and share your experiences with these or other healthy lifestyle tech solutions. You can also follow me on Twitter or Facebook.


If you have any comments or feedback, feel free to email me at wouldntmind@gmail.com.

Thx,
Larry


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