Category Archives: software

Initial Hands-On Impressions: CR48 (Google Chrome OS notebook)

Today, I heard the UPS truck drive up, the thud of a package on the porch, and wondered: Is this something I ordered from Amazon or could it be the ever elusive CR48 Google Chrome OS notebook? I’d signed up several days ago to participate in this Google pilot and hoped against hope I’d be picked.

Well, I got lucky! Thank you, Santa… er, Google!

Here are some initial impressions — I’ll post a follow up after I’ve used it more –

Set-up:

  • Physical set-up: Open box, slap on the battery, plug it in, turn it on. Easy!
  • OS/Software Set-up: Set-up wizard started out easy, but came to a screeching halt when my WIFI password kept getting rejected. Not sure if it’s due to my router being set to WPA2 security, the special characters in my looooong password (!), or if I just flat out kept typing it wrong. I finally got the WIFI password entered and accepted, and moved forward with the set-up wizard. It was a little nerve wracking at that point since the set-up sequence requires Internet connection to be enabled or you cannot continue.
  • Password entry tip: Clicking on the tiny icon next to the password field will change the password display from ***** to the actual characters you’re typing in.
  • 3G Connection Set-up: When I first tried to activate the Verizon 3G connection, I kept getting a web page error stating some page elements were not secure. Thankfully, a few minutes later an update notification was pushed to the browser (little orange ball next to wrench in browser toolbar). After that firmware update installed and CR48 restarted, I was able to successfully complete the 3G connection set — 100MB free monthly from Verizon for 24 months.
  • Fun fact for Chrome Canary users: The Chrome browser in Chrome OS supports side (as well as top) tabs.
  • Embarrassing fact: When I signed up for the CR48 pilot program, I expected it to be a fairly routine beta program where the hardware would be shipped, tested by user, then sent back. From what I can tell, Google is shipping the CR48 to beta testers to keep. Very cool! As a Portland, OR store used to advertise, “Free is a very good price!”

Hardware (keeping this part brief since the notebook itself is a prototype — Google won’t put this hardware on the market, but rather license Chrome OS to hardware makers):

  • Trackpad: Like herding kittens! Yikes, this thing has a mind of its own. I set it to the most sensitive setting, and that helped some. Still…. oy. Also note, trackpad seems more accurate when using tap to click rather than clicking, not sure why.
  • Rubberized finish: I like it! It feels nice and looks good (albeit minimalist).
  • Screen: 12″ and easy to read
  • Size/weight: It’s about the size and weight of my Vaio Z (a thin, light laptop). Comfortable to use on my lap or at a desk.
  • Speakers: Remarkably decent.
  • Hardware specs: See gdgt.com for CR48’s detailed spec list

OS/Software:

  • Chrome OS = Chrome browser: What you see is what you get. If your data is generally stored in the cloud (especially using Google services), you probably won’t mind that the OS user interface is simply Chrome browser. However, if you use Outlook or Microsoft Office desktop apps, anticipate an adjustment period.
  • Software settings: Click on the Chrome browser wrench to access your network settings, set time zone, review/update privacy settings, set home screen, etc.
  • Software user experience: Seriously, if you’ve used Chrome browser, it’s cake. If your stuff is stored in the cloud, even better!

Some interesting apps:

  • Twitter: The excellent Tweetdeck desktop client has a Chrome web app counterpart available for download. It works well and provides an easy way to view and post tweets.
  • NPR: Apparently similar to the iPad app, attractive layout and easy to use.
  • AOL You’ve Got News: News aggregator. Nice UI.
  • USA Today: Another great news app.
  • Write Space: Full screen writing app, great for journaling.

There are lots of apps in the Chrome app store, so I’m sure I’ll find some more keepers as I continue to explore Chrome OS.

If you are interested in applying for the CR48 Google Chrome OS pilot program, you can apply here — my impression is that Google is shipping these out in waves, so I don’t think it’s too late. If you’ve already applied and are curious how many CR48 have been shipped / are shipping to a certain, here’s a great tool.

Despite it’s prototype status (and thus inherent rough spots), I’m enjoying the CR48 and Google’s Chrome OS. Will be interesting to see how it evolves over coming weeks!

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Logitech Revue (Google TV): Initial impressions

logitech-revue

I picked up a Logitech Revue today out of desire for a better interactive TV experience. I currently have a circa 2004 Comcast DVR (due to older infrastructure in my area) and it provides limited interactive options. I’d had TiVo in the past but didn’t want to go that route because past experience had been that any time my Comcast service went out, Comcast CSRs always blamed the TiVo’s cable cards.

I’ve been curious about Google TV and decided to learn more. Google TV was recently released in the form of the $299 Logitech Revue and $399 Sony Internet TV Blu-Ray Player. Because I already have a PS3 for playing blu-ray discs and had heard that Sony Internet TV Blu-ray Player offered better integration with one of the satellite providers (while I have Comcast Cable Internet), the Logitech Revue seemed a better fit for me.

The Logitech Revue video review by www.booredatwork.com gave me an opportunity to view interactions with the Google TV interface. I found the review extremely informative and recommend it if you’re interested in Google TV. Gizmodo and Engadget have also published interesting reviews.

Buying experience:

I went to a local Best Buy store – sales personnel were generally knowledgeable and helpful. The only negative aspects were:

  • The demo Logitech Revue keyboard didn’t have batteries, so I wasn’t able to interact with the product in-store before buying.
  • The salesman suggested I buy the overpriced Monster brand if I needed an extra HDMI cable. Since there is an HDMI cable already provided in the Logitech Revue box (and I have my existing equipment at home connected to my TV via HDMI), I didn’t need to buy any. (I’ve previously bought HDMI cables for under $20 at the Apple store.)

Set-up:

I had read some horror stories online about initial set-up, so wasn’t sure what to expect. It was amazingly simple. I plugged my Comcast box into the Logitech Revue box, attached an Ethernet cable from my router, plugged the power cord into an outlet, and voila… the Revue automatically kicked off the set-up sequence.

The only glitch I experienced was following the firmware update — the box froze and I needed to reboot to continue set-up. After that, all was well (no freezes or other unexpected behavior).

Pros:

  • I love the interface and how I can now view “what’s on” (via my Comcast DVR signal pass-through to the Logitech Revue) sorted by movies, news, etc. That kind of functionality should be inherent in cable TV DVRs (and perhaps it is, in newer boxes). I haven’t noticed any signal deterioration due to the pass-through, and HD picture quality is good.
  • The Twitter app is well-done, making it easy to click through interesting links, as well as initiate and respond to tweets.
  • The Netflix app works well, but provides an older interface that requires users to update queue via netflix.com (similar to the UI that Roku recently replaced in their streaming boxes). I’ve read that a new Netflix app for Google TV is currently in beta testing, so hopefully it will be pushed to users soon. (EDITED 12/19/2010: The rumored Netflix app update was released last week — the Netflix app now has a beautiful user interface that is as nice, if not nicer, than competing devices.)
  • Youtube’s “Lean Back” mode provides a nice full-screen viewing mode. Incidentally, this UI is available via your PC browser as well via http://www.youtube.com/leanback
  • There are some interesting channels / apps available, including USA Today, Crackle, Youtube, CNN, KQED (among others).
  • The Universal Search feature works very well at finding content.
  • Android phone users can install the Logitech Harmony app which acts as a remote control once connected to Google TV via WIFI.

Cons:

  • Spendy at $299
  • Some channels work awkwardly (Amazon Video on Demand app) or are blocked by the content provider (Hulu, NBC, others).
  • I am embarrassed to admit it took me 15 minutes to realize the Universal Search command had to be invoked from the keyboard, and then another 5 minutes to locate the key (lower left corner of keyboard, next to the Control key).
  • If Universal Search finds future showings of TV / movies available via my Comcast subscription, I still have to go into the Comcast DVR interface to set up the recording.
  • UI is intuitive for Android users, but less technical folks may find it challenging.

There you have it, my initial impressions. I’ll post another review after I’ve had a chance to kick the tires a bit.

Bonus: If you haven’t seen the Logitech Revue commercial featuring Kevin Bacon, it’s worth a watch. And don’t miss the Entertainment Weekly interview with Kevin Bacon on playing his own biggest fan (in the Revue ad).

Samsung Galaxy Tab: Some favorite apps & resources

After picking up my Sprint Samsung Galaxy Tab last weekend (see my initial impressions post), I’ve had a chancesamsung-galaxy-tab to play and get some interesting apps loaded. Since I’ll primarily be using the Tab at home, you won’t see driving or navigation apps listed below. Also most apps are not specifically designed for tablet unless noted.

The first thing I did to customize my Tab was to install a new font (since Samsung’s TouchWiz UI allows font customization): Humana Sans ITC FlipFont ($0.99)

Then, I got busy installing apps…

News:

  • The Wall Street Journal: This app is specifically designed for Android tablet use. I’ve long had an online subscription to WSJ to keep up with business and financial news. I like the UI and how the app refreshes each morning at 4:30, so I can read news updates when I get up. Note that a $3.99 weekly subscription will apply after the trial period. (free during trial period)
  • Bloomberg: My favorite app for following stock prices & corresponding news. (free)
  • NY Times: A favorite news source made even better by making an Android tablet version available. To download, visit http://nytimes.com/androidtab from your Galaxy Tab. (free)
  • Financial Times: An excellent (and highly recommended) source for business and financial news. (free)
  • Mediafly for tablets: An interesting and varied source for news audio & video. I haven’t used this app much yet but so far find it interesting. (free)

Media (audio / video / ebook readers):

  • Radio 104.1 WMRQ: One of my favorite alternative rock radio stations. (free)
  • TuneIn Radio: A full-featured, free radio app that provides access to hundreds of radio stations. (free)
  • KCRW Radio: Probably my favorite NPR station – love their music and feature programming. (free)
  • Pandora Radio: I love Pandora’s “Spa Radio” enough to ante up the $36 annually. (free)
  • TV Flash: A work in progress app that provides ability to stream (over WIFI) a variety of TV stations  (U.S. & non-U.S.). (free)
  • Kindle: The Tab form factor makes it an excellent ebook reader, and I find the Kindle app pleasant to use. Another benefit of the Kindle app? Ability to download free ebooks from Amazon – some are basic fiction, but sometimes there are some nonfiction gems – list available here: Limited-Time Offer ebooks.
  • Aldiko Book Reader: If you’d prefer not to use the Kindle app or Amazon store, the Aldiko reader is well done. (free, paid version available)

Games:

  • Angry Birds: This fun and incredibly addictive game works well on the Tab. (free)
  • DroidWords: Looking for a Scrabble clone that doesn’t require other players? DroidWords is what you’re seeking. Get the  paid version to avoid the annoying ads inserted into the free version. ($2.99)
  • Sheep Run Beta: Another fun and addictive game. Not sure though if it’s still available in the market since, sadly, my search this morning didn’t find it. (free)
  • Droid Odyssey BETA: A fun side-scroller, the developer warns it’s has problems on the Galaxy Tablet. However, I’ve been able to play it on the Tab. (free)
  • Shortyz Crosswords: Perfect for folks who like to do crosswords and prefer free (vs. subscription) content. (free)

Other:

  • Palmary Weather Pro: In my opinion, the best weather app for Android. Widgets available, too. ($2.99)
  • Springpad: A great place to save stuff you want to remember – I like it better than Evernote. (free)
  • Touiteur Premium: My favorite mobile twitter client. I prefer the Premium version although a free version is available. (free. paid version: ~$2.73)
  • Beautiful Widgets: These are beautiful on the Tab, too. (paid: ~$2.04)
  • Dolphin HD Browser: Of all the browsers available on Android, this is the one I always return to based on ease of use and speed. (free)
  • Bookmarks to SD: After installing Dolphin HD, I use this add-on app to import my desktop bookmarks to my mobile device. (free)
  • WolframAlpha: A great reference tool. (free)
  • Dropbox: A great file archive tool. I frequently save nonmarket apps to Dropbox to put them onto my device for install. If you haven’t tried dropbox yet, here’s a referral link: https://www.dropbox.com/referrals/NTIxOTYzMDA5?src=global (free app)
  • Google Chrome to Phone: If you use Chrome as your desktop browser, this app is a no brainer… allows you to push urls from your desktop browser  to your Android device. (free)

Galaxy Tab enthusiast web sites & forums:

So, there you have it… my favorite Android apps & online resources for Tab to date. If you’ve found some good apps / references, please leave a comment to let me know!

HTC EVO, three months on…

I’ve had my HTC EVO for three months, having picked it up on  June 5th.That was the day after launch, and the store sold out their stock imgreswhile I was activating my account. Little did I realize how good my timing was, considering EVO remained out of stock at Sprint for months.

So, what’s the verdict? I still love my EVO. It’s easily the best smartphone I’ve ever used:

  • Big, easy to read screen
  • Despite size, comfortable to use
  • HTC’s Sense UI, which makes Android even more enjoyable to use
  • 8MP camera that’s good enough to leave my Point & Shoot at home
  • HD video recording
  • Wifi Hot Spot capability (requires Sprint $30 add-on fee)
  • The kickstand, which I mocked before getting the phone, is extremely handy for viewing/listening to media
  • Excellent call quality & data speeds, thanks to Sprint’s network and extremely affordable plans

Not to mention all the Android Froyo goodness… I love how Android is tightly coupled with Google’s other services, so it’s easy to set up email, calendar sync, upload video to YouTube.

Despite having fewer apps available than Apple’s iTunes, I don’t have any difficulty finding great apps in the Android Market. Here are my current favorites, in no specific order:

  • Dropbox beta (released 9/16/2010): Takes the original Dropbox app and adds Android UI elements such as long press. Not yet in the Android market — link points to Dropbox web page containing download link. (Free app)
  • Hurricane Hound Free: It’s hurricane season, so this app comes in very handy. Not only shows current location, but also path. (Free)
  • SlideIT Keyboard: I participated in the Swype beta and could use that swipe-to-type keyboard, but actually prefer SlideIT.  (Paid, €5.99)
  • EStrongs File Explorer: I used to use Astro but find EStrongs provides a more flexible, attractive UI. (Free)
  • SnapTell: There are lots of “snap to scan” shopping apps but I find SnapTell to be more accurate than most. It provides links to online sources, as well as local stores. I like it better than Google Shopper. (Free)
  • Angry Birds Lite Beta: I love this game on my iPad and I’m thrilled to see it come to Android. Thankfully, the 9/17/2010 release works well on EVO. If ever there were a game requiring  12-step program for addiction, this is it! (Free)
  • Multicon Widget: Multicon lets you display 4 apps &/or widgets in the space of one. It’s perfect for those apps that I need to have handy but don’t want cluttering up my home screen. (Free)
  • Barcode Scanner: Best scanner app I’ve found for QR codes. (Free)
  • FromWhere: Nothing fancy but works well… shows city for incoming calls. (Paid, $1.43)
  • TuneIn Radio: Surprisingly, I think this free version works even better than its “paid” sibling (RadioTime). Access to numerous local and online radio stations. (Free)
  • Toss It Pro: A great game and my favorite “kill time while standing in line” app. (Paid, £2.99; free version available)
  • Touiteur Premium: Easily my favorite Twitter app. Lots of features, easily customizable, stable and reliable. Note that you must also have the Touiteur free version installed, since the “Touiteur Premium” app in the Market just provides your license. (Paid, €1.99; free version available)
  • Finance: Google’s own Finance app, providing real-time quotes and ability to track your portfolio. Note: I believe this app only supports US markets. (Free)
  • Tapatalk Forum App (Pro): Provides an easy way to subscribe to and track your favorite online forums. Much easier than trying to view forums via the browser. (Paid, $2.99; free version available)
  • Movies: Great for finding local show times, browsing DVDs, reading Rotten Tomatoes reviews and managing your Netflix queue. (Free)
  • Pandora Radio: Everyone knows Pandora… a great way to personalize streaming radio. (Free)
  • StumbleUpon: Fun way to kill time and find new and interesting web sites. (Free)
  • Dilbert Mobile: For those of us who work for corporations, a refreshing dose of daily satire.  (Free)
  • Springpad: Similar to Evernote but increasingly more full-featured.  Syncs with Springpad web site. Note: Be sure to set your settings to private if you don’t want to share your content. (Free)
  • Kindle for Android: Easy way to read your Kindle library on your phone. (Free)
  • Zillow Real Estate: Was out dog-walking with a neighbor when we passed a house that had been for sale for months – we used Zillow to view the asking price and decided the house wasn’t moving because it was overpriced. (Free app)
  • Silent Boot: Love Sprint and their network but hate the loud startup sound? This app fixes that problem Smile (Free)
  • Google Chrome to Phone: A very handy app, especially when I find a cool app available online only and want to download/install it. (Free)
  • Audible for Android: If you’re an Audible subscriber, this is a must have app. Download your books or stream (handy for those WSJ / NYTimes morning podcasts). (Free)
  • Beautiful Widgets: Very customizable widget that displays time and weather on your home screen. Don’t have a Sense phone? No worries, you can use Beautiful Widgets to design a similar time and weather widget for your non-HTC Android phone. (Paid, €1.49; from LevelUp Studio, the maker of Touiteur)
  • IMDb Movies & TV: Love this app – perfect for the serious film buff. (Free)
  • DroidEssentials: Very handy – alerts you when your battery charge reaches 100% or when it drains to 10%. I find I get better battery mileage on my EVO if I unplug it from AC power just as soon as it reaches 100% charge. (Free)
  • Quick Settings: Easy way to revise your various settings, all on one screen. I notice that the changes are immediate, without the lag I’ve sometimes experienced when using settings widgets. (Free)
  • Google Voice: Love Google Voice and use it on my EVO  instead of Sprint voicemail. (Free)
  • Battery Status Bar (AD free): Want to easily view battery % remaining in the notification bar? This app is just the ticket. (Paid, $0.99; free version available)
  • CNET News: Excellent tech news source and great app. (Free)
  • Google Maps: Oh, Google Maps… how I love thee! When I started using your voice navigation feature, I kicked my Garmin GPS to the curb permanently. (Free)
  • Sprint TV: Sprint TV is available for free as part of the stock EVO ROM. I like it a lot, and actually subscribe to Sprint TV Extra for more channels. ($10 per month)

About the battery…
I find the whole “EVO battery is horrible” meme to be overstated. I’ve found my EVO battery life to be comparable to other smartphones I’ve used, including the iPhone 3GS. I believe the bad press is because Sprint sells the phone with every conceivable sync app/setting enabled. For savvy users, it’s a no-brainer to turn off sync for those apps one doesn’t use…. problem solved.

I’m a bit surprised myself that I like the EVO so much even three months in. Usually by now, I’d be checking out other phones to see what I wanted to upgrade to next. Not so with the EVO… great phone, great plan, great Sprint service. I’m a happy camper. Smile

I <3 Zephyr

Zephyr

Reading Venturebeat earlier today, I learned of a cool iPhone app that I downloaded & like alot: Zephyr

While Zephyr isn’t quite as cool as Ocarina [iTunes] — there’s no blowing into iPhone’s microphone to create music this time — it adds another element: Messages. You see, you create music on Zephyr by touching the screen. While you could just draw gibberish, the point is to send a holiday message (the writing is in snow flakes) to someone elsewhere in the world. For example, in testing out the app, I’ve already gotten the messages “Peace” and “Happy Holidays,” accompanied by the music produced from writing those statements (see video below).

via Ocarina maker Smule back with a holiday iPhone app, Zephyr » VentureBeat.

IPhone App Review: NatsuLion

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I recently ran across a new Twitter app: NatsuLion for iPhone. It has a cute little icon, but don’t underestimate this app – it’s well-designed, fast, and full-featured. And did I mention… free?

 

 photo

Like every other Twitter app for iPhone, NatsuLion displays “tweets” from your friends. What sets NatsuLion apart is how much information it packs into each screen: Until I view a tweet directed to me in the main stream, NatsuLion displays the number of replies, direct messages, etc. as a number on the Replies badge at the bottom of the screen.

 photo2

It also color-codes tweets directed to me within the main twitter stream:

Red = Reply

Blue = Direct Message

Yellow = Auto-search on my username

 photo3

Aside from enabling quick “at a glance” viewing of my Twitter stream, NatsuLion provides a variety of settings to enable a personalized experience. For example, “Use Safari” means that NatsuLion opens web sites within the app rather than in Safari (something I find very handy). I like having the ability to fetch 200 messages, and then have NatsuLion fetch even more messages (by enabling “Autopagerize”) if I get to the bottom of the 200 message list. There are 2 themes: Dark and Light – I prefer Light, but Dark is also attractive.

I’ve tried all the major Twitter apps for Iphone (both free & paid), and consider NatsuLion a significant find. It loads fast, helps me identify messages I need to review quickly via color-coding and unread count, and has an attractive, easy to use interface.

Highly recommended. Get it at the iPhone app store here.

My 30+ favorite iPhone apps (this week :-)

Apple's iPhone 3G

Air Sharing: Enables you to use wifi to copy files from your computer onto your iPhone.

AirMe: Using this app, you can shoot photos & upload to Flickr with additional data embedded into tags (e.g., location, weather). Here’s an example.

AP Mobile News Network: Great news app.

Bloomberg: Excellent stock news app. Think of it like the iPhone Stocks app on steroids.

Camerabag: Apply cool film effects to your photos. Choose from Helga, 1974, Lolo, Cinema, and 1962. (You can see a sample photo with 1962 effect applied here.)

Crosswords: Robust crossword app with ability to download a variety of free puzzles.

Equivalence: Calculator with conversion functionality. Very handy!  

Fizz Weather: Excellent weather app that includes radar, 2-day & 5-day forecast, etc.

Flickr: This is actually Flickr’s web app (not an app store download). http://m.flickr.com

i.TV: New (and very well done) app that downloads your local movie and TV listings.

iChillout: Relaxation sounds with timer.

iGas: Gas prices for nearby stations.

iZen Garden: Sand garden with relaxing music.

Kiwi: Wikipedia-type app.

Koi Pond: Beautiful koi fish pond with relaxing music (not practical by any means, but very elegant).

Last.fm: Another radio app. Similar to Pandora Radio, but Last.fm tracks tend to be less mainstream.

Meditator: Meditation app (timer & meditation sounds).

MyDelicious: Lists your delicious bookmarks.

Newsstand: Very cool RSS reader that displays feeds as magazines on rack.

Pandora Radio: My favorite radio app. I love Pandora’s Spa radio.

Photogene: Excellent photo editing app.

ReMovem (free): Basic but fun game.

Solebon Solitaire: Solitaire game suite.

Stanza: Excellent ebook reader.

ToDo: To Do app that syncs with your online ToodleDo or Remember the Milk account.

Twittelator Pro: Twitter app (can view by replies, all friends, everyone, search, etc).

WhitePages Mobile: Includes business search, people search, and reverse phone directory.

WordBook: Dictionary

WordPress: Great for publishing to one’s WordPress blog while on the go.

WriteRoom: I use it to create notes to myself. More robust and elegant than the default notes app.

WunderRadio: Excellent radio app – lots of radio stations. (I use WunderRadio to listen to CNN-TV on my phone.)