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My First Month with a Apple TV

Apple TV

I got my first Apple TV about a month ago, something I thought I would never buy when the Apple TV was first announced. The first Apple TV looked like a Mac Mini/Airport Express back when it first came out and it only allowed you to view iTunes content. It gave you a hard drive to store purchased content from iTunes and the ability to stream the rest. At the time, a lot of people weren’t impressed with the Apple TV. Even Apple wasn’t committed to it that much, calling it a “hobby”. The next release was a smaller, black puck design that did not have a hard drive, this generation only allowed for streaming over the internet from your iTunes library or buying/renting iTunes movies and TV shows directly from the device. The current version works and looks the same way but has a few more features. The 2 most important being that it now streams in 1080p and if you have a current Mac or iOS device, you can AirPlay your iOS or Mac screen to your TV.

via Apple.com

via Apple.com

The 2 main features of the current Apple TV is what made it desirable for me. I watch a lot of online content, like daily podcasts and online news shows, and I always wanted a quick way to watch those shows on my TV. Sure, I could have just brought a HDMI-to-lightning dongle and connect an HDMI cable to that from the TV, but Airplay is a lot more elegant and of course, wireless. I am a fan of anything wireless. I’m also starting to download more movies and TV shows on iTunes since I’m a bit of an HD junkie and it annoys me when my favorite movies or TV shows are only available on physical disc in the DVD format. It’s also cool to see my MacBook Pro’s screen on my 40” HDTV. I also love movies and it’s nice that I can easily see movie trailers and showtimes for the local theater. The interface is really nice and it makes me despise my FiOS DVR interface. One look at the remote and the interface and we can imagine what the future of TV might look like. There’s no need for a remote with 50 buttons when the OS is smart enough and is designed in a way that can be accessed with a remote that only has 4 buttons.

Remote

Of course, it isn’t all great. My biggest issue probably has nothing to do with my Apple TV but with the cheap Amazon HDMI cord I purchased. Every so often, they’ll be a burst of static, which lasts half of a second and doesn’t really bother me too much. What does bother me is those lovely HDCP errors. Due to DRM, Apple has to make sure you are watching HD content in a secure way, for some reason, they get this wrong and you get a HDCP error telling you that you are not watching the content on a display that is HDCP authorized. I fix this issue quickly by simply restarting my Apple TV and it takes care of that issue but it’s still annoying that it happens at all.

We are all waiting for the Apple television that may or may not be coming this year. If the Apple TV is any indication on what it is going to be like, well, it’s going to be a revolutionary television. The Apple TV interface is the best interface that was ever displayed on my TV. I can easily find what I want within a number of clicks, which is very different than trying to find a show on my FiOS DVR, which takes about 2 minutes and a lot of my own memory to remember what button on the remote takes me where. It’s very easy to imagine an a la carte cable package in the Apple TV interface, where every channel is simply a little square button on the home screen. I guess we’ll have to see what Apple does.

The Apple TV is not for everyone but if you are looking for an easy way to view your Mac or iOS screen on a TV and play your HD iTunes content, the Apple TV might be exactly what you need.

Interface

via Apple.com

Kindle Fire Review

The back of the Kindle Fire

Tablets, tablets, tablets. Seems like tablets are the device that everyone is talking about. The iPad started the craze and now there are dozens of tablets to choose from. The problem is, many of them aren’t that good. Most people are familiar with the iPad since, in the most common opinion, it is the best tablet to buy. Amazonwants to change that. This week, Amazon started selling their 7 inch tablet named the Kindle Fire. I preordered one and here are my opinions so far.

The Good:

Packaging: Amazon does a great job at packaging their products. The box that the Kindle Fire comes in is also the box that it ships in. You just pull a tap on the box, lift up the top of the box and there is the device. Included with the tablet is a very small “quick start” guide and a AC power plug for charging. That’s all. The box does have the Amazon logo and the Kindle Fire logo on the side of the box, which I would think would increase theft but I guess Amazon doesn’t care.

Build Quality: I love holding this thing. At just 7 inches, it fits very well in your hand and feels like a very solid device. Compared to my Kindle, it feels hard and secure. The screen is a glossy glass touchscreen and the back is all rubber making it easier to grip. It is not as light as a normal Kindle, which weighs the same as a paper back book, but the Kindle Fire is not heavy. It has a nice size and weight which makes it a joy to hold.

Video streaming quality: I am an Amazon Prime member ($80 a year, free 2-day shipping, free video streaming, free Kindle book loaning). All Kindle Fire’s come with a free month so you can start using the free streaming video. The Instant Prime streaming  library doesn’t have the library of Netflix but it surprisingly has some pretty good stuff. The internet where I am currently living is pure crap and the streaming video still looked pretty good. It only buffered twice. I cannot comment on the streaming HD quality since my internet speed does not allow me to view anything in HD.

The screen: The screen is very clear and vibrant. I watched an HD video that I transferred to the Kindle Fire from my Mac and it looked awesome. Amazon says that they design their products to become invisible when you are reading/watching something on it and this is true. You forget that you are holding the device in your hands when you are looking at the screen.

The Bad:

Lack of buttons: The only buttons on the device is the power button, which is located at the bottom of the device. No volume button, no home button, no orientation lock, nothing but an on/off/sleep/wake button. This gets annoying when listening to music or watching a video. You need to turn the device on, unlock the screen, click the little gear icon on the top right corner to bring up all the controls (brightness, volume, orientation lock). On the bottom left of the screen is the home button which will get you back to the shelf-like homescreen. Usually, just a tap will bring up these controls but in some cases, for some apps, you need to click a little arrow to bring up these controls. I’m not sure why sometimes a simple tap brings up the controls and why something a little arrow in the middle of the screen does. It’s a inconsistent experience.

The Keyboard: I’m an iOS guy and I feel the keyboard needs a bit of work. I always find myself typing “p” instead of the backspace. The space bar is also pretty small so when I think I’m pressing the space, I’m actually pressing the period key.

The homescreen: This is really different from all the tablets out there. The homescreen isn’t just a grid of icons, instead we get a shelf which displays EVERYTHING on your Kindle in a cover-flow like way. All your books, magazines, videos, and apps are on this cover-flow shelf. It’s not a bad design, however, a lot of unnecessary stuff ends up there. Watch 2 seconds of a video, it’s cover appears on the shelf. A screenshot of the website you are looking at also appears on the shelf. There is no way of deleting anything that appears on your shelf. So if you downloaded a trashy romance novel, be prepared to be forced to look at the cover every time you turn on your Kindle Fire.

Lack of USB cord: The Kindle Fire does NOT ship with everything you need. If you want to transfer content from your PC/Mac to the Kindle Fire, you need a Micro USB cord. This cord does not come with the Kindle Fire. It does, however, come with their other Kindle products. I have to say that if I didn’t already have this cord from my eInk Kindle, I would have sent the Kindle Fire back. I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants content from their computer, that wasn’t purchased from Amazon, to be on their tablet, especially when that tablet is made for content consumption.

The So-So:

The volume: The volume of the device seems pretty low. In a moderately noisy location, the sound from the speakers are barely audible. I assume that’s why it has a headphone jack.

The browser: While the browser isn’t horrible, it isn’t awesome either. I’m used to the iPad’s Safari browser which is pretty good. The pinch to zoom is either way too fast or way too slow. The loading doesn’t seem to be noticeably faster most of the time, though Amazon said it would be. It does play flash which is nice but I noticed some problems on full sites, like YouTube for example. Some pages aren’t formatted correctly and it just creates a some what of a mess on the screen. It works well most of the time but it isn’t the ideal experience. Hopefully Amazon will fix this with a software update.

The apps: Compared to iOS, the Amazon App Store doesn’t have nearly as big of a selection. Finding apps is easy but good luck finding the ones you want. I suspect this to be an Android problem since I had similar experiences on Android phones when it comes to finding an app that does what I want, it just doesn’t do what I want well.

Reading: The Kindle Fire is not an eReader, or at least it shouldn’t be. If you want to read, buy a normal Kindle since normal Kindle’s still have an eInk display which is much, much better to read on. The glare and LCD screen of the Kindle Fire makes reading books a pretty bad experience. Magazines, however, are fine to read. Since magazines are mostly glossy pages with color pictures, the Kindle Fire’s glossy, color screen really fits the magazine format. It’s also better when the publisher takes the time to optimize the magazine for a tablet. GQ, for example, formats for the screen and includes videos and links on where to buy the clothes. DETAILS magazine is basically a PDF, which sucks.

I only had this device for a day and time will tell if I decide to keep it or not but as of now, I like the device. For what I want to do with it, it’s fine. It’s not an iPad killer because the iPad can do so much more. If you want to sit back, watch a movie, read a magazine and browse the web without having a heavy, big laptop on your lap, than the Kindle Fire is a good option. If you want to create your own content and want something that is a big bigger (and heavier), I would go with an iPad. Either way, you really can’t go wrong with a $200 tablet.

Pictures:  Click to enlarge. 1st image: Kindle Fire box. 2: Inside the box. 3: Tiny Quick Start guide. 4:Power plug. 5:Kindle Fire startup. 6:Lock screen. 7: Streaming video (The Tudors)

Google I/O Day One 2011

Google I/0 2011Let me start out by saying that I am not the biggest fan of Android. Though I prefer iOS, I am not an ignorant hater of Android since I am well aware of why a person would buy and enjoy having an Android device. I just so happen to enjoy living in a walled garden. I also enjoy knowing that every iOS device works and looks the same way. I also like the polished and sexy design of both the Apple hardware and iOS. That being said, here are my thoughts of the Google I/O day one keynote.

Android eating apple

Credit: Google

First off, thank god they packed all of these announcements and demos into a nice 54-minute presentation. This could have gone on forever but thankfully Google made this presentation bite sized. Speaking of bite sized: I love the image of the Android robot eating an Apple. Keep it classy, Google.

The first thing they showed off was widgets and I am a little embarrassed that widgets are still a big deal. The audience also seemed to like being able to stretch the Gmail widget but I didn’t find that something to hoot and holler about. Maybe it’s just a thing a guy like me doesn’t get.

Google also showed off using your Android tablet as a USB host, basically saying that you can import photos directly to it from a camera via USB. This is interesting and rather useful. Something less useful, however, was connecting a XBOX 360 controller to the tablet to play games. This is useful on a laptop but I don’t understand why anyone would feel the need to play a game with a game console controller on his or her tablet. Tablets are made to be lightweight, portable and hand-held. What douchebag is going to be sitting at Starbucks playing a game with their XBOX controller connected to their 10-inch tablet?  My main issue with Android is that they seem to have a lot of features that are included in the OS just because they can, not because anyone wants or will use those features.Ice cream sandwich

I’m sure you are aware of how Google names their OS’s: alphabetically with dessert names. This latest OS is called “Ice Cream Sandwich” which is laughable. “Ice Cream” would have been a bit better but adding the “sandwich” to it just made it childlike. Everything about Android is so fragmented, including their image. You have Motorola Droid, which “does”, which is branded as a robot that is totally bad ass but it is running an OS named after a dessert that melts in 80 degrees. Nothing says “I DO! I AM A ROBOT THAT WILL KICK YOUR ASS” like running an OS named after something found in 5 year olds lunch-boxes.

Google Music Beta

Credit: Google

The biggest announcement was Google’s Music Beta, which is a music cloud service that streams your music to the web and to your Android device. Nothing too impressive here. For a guy living in New York, I do not see the want/need for a cloud based music service, no matter if the provider is Amazon, Google or Apple. If you store your music in the cloud then you are at the mercy of your cell phone signal. I am on the subway underground for most of my commute, which is the time I listen to music. Why would someone like me store their music in the cloud and not be able to listen to music once they lose the signal? Sure, you can download songs from the cloud to be played offline but if that is the solution, why bother syncing your music to the cloud at all?

What Google and everyone is getting wrong is I don’t want to store my music in the cloud. I want it on my devices, ALL my devices without having to sync. Rumors are that Apple might be doing some sort of wireless iTunes model, which would be nice. I want my songs stored on my iPhone and my Mac, however, I want to buy a song on my iPhone and come home and have that song already on my Mac without having to connect that horrid white wire to my iPhone and waste a few minutes from my life waiting for it to sync. I hope Apple gets this right. Personally, I do not understand wanting to have music stored in the cloud unless you have a HUGE music library…and if you are outside with a strong signal ALL the time.

Android@home is something I am a bit more interested in. Using a tablet to control lights is quite futuristic. Having your lights change and interact with the game you are playing is pretty awesome. Imagine playing a game where all your lights go off when you die. Pretty cool stuff but once again, this is a lot more “we are doing this because we can, not because we should”. How many of us REALLY want our lights to be controlled by our gaming?

One thing that really impressed me was the Android@Home hub thingy that is basically a white ball which when you swipe a CD in front of it, it adds the entire CD to your music library. The only issue with that is: A CD? This would be way cooler if anyone still used CDs.

Overall, I was unimpressed with what I saw today. Last year, after seeing their keynote, I was ready to buy an Android phone (believe it or not) AND a Google TV. This year, I am very happy living in my Apple world with God Jobs looking over me.

Don’t get me wrong; I think that the Google Bakery Shoppe is more advanced than iOS. There are many things that Android phones do that I wish my phone did. However, for me to become an Android user the phones need to get sexier, the OS’s need to be less fragmented and sleeker, and Google needs to grab their Android balls and start taking control. I think we are learning that a massive open source OS is not the best thing. For example: malicious apps and carriers taking complete control over the devices. Wanna use Google search on a GOOGLE phone on Verizon? Good luck. Fragmentation

Apple Plays Catch Up – Shows Off iPad 2

 

iPad 2

Credit: Apple.com

So Steve Jobs took the stage on March 2nd and showed off the new magical device. Magical being the word they used. I for one don’t see the magical-ness of this product upgrade.

I should say that I have the iPad and had it for pretty much a year. I no longer use it as much as I used to since I don’t have a true use for it (no one does). I posted a blog post on here before discussing the HP TouchPad that impressed me and caused to me consider dumping my iPad. Being a bit of an Apple fanboy, I was hoping that Apple would show off the iPad 2 today and blow me away.

iPad 2

Black and white models. Credit: Apple.com

The iPad 2 now comes in white, which Jobs made an effort to point out that it would be available on launch. Apple has struggled with getting the white iPhone 4 out the door, in fact, it’s almost a year since Apple released the iPhone 4 and there is still no white iPhone 4 on the market. The iPad 2, in my opinion, looks horrible in white. It kind of looks cheap and I would imagine the white being a distraction. Thankfully, it also comes in black. Besides the colors, it has two cameras for Facetime calls, comes with a Photobooth app which is just like the app that comes on Macs, and has the option to purchase iMovie and GarageBand for $4.99 each (more on that later). The hardware is stepped up to match the competition. It now has an Apple A5 chip/dual core with advanced graphics. As I write this, there is little known of the actual specs since Apple’s website is being rather vague on the details. There is still only one port on the iPad, which is the Apple 30-Pin connector. There is an adaptor you can buy for $39 which allows you to connect the iPad 2 to a HDMI screen via a HDMI-out port. It also has the same 10 hour battery life.

Thankfully, the iPad is now thinner and lighter and made out of an unibody encasing. It is thinner than the iPhone 4, which is saying something.

GarageBand on the iPad

GarageBand on the iPad. Credit: Apple.com

Let’s talk about apps: iMovie and GarageBand. The original iPad was a media consumption device. You read on it, watched videos on it, listened to music on it but you never had the chance to really create your own content on it. Apple changed that. If you pay for the app, you can have  powerful video

iMovie on the iPad

iMovie on the iPad. Credit: Apple.com

editing software right on your iPad. iMovie on the iPad looks very similar to iMovie on the Mac. If you ever used iMovie, you know that it is a powerful program for consumer needs that is simple to use. That type of power on a tablet is rather impressive. GarageBand looks interesting but since I am not a musician and I don’t care about creating my own music, I didn’t pay much attention to the GarageBand demo.

Let’s talk about that case. That case that Apple made a huge deal about, including it’s own video on Apple’s website. Ever since the original iPad, Apple has made it’s own branded case. The original case wasn’t bad but it was poorly made and got dirty very easily. Apple decided to create a new “case” for the iPad 2 that doesn’t take away from the thinness and design of the iPad.  The “Smart Cover” is a magnetic flap that goes across the front of the screen…that’s it. Jobs seems to love this thing but I thought it looked rather silly looking. Unless the magnetic connection is really strong, I see this cover coming loose easily. You will pay $40 for the Polyurethane one or $80 for the leather. Who says Apple is overpriced?

Smart Cover

Smart Cover used as a stand. Credit: Apple.com

Smart Cover

Smart Cover. Credit: Apple.com

Finally, let’s discuss pricing. The iPad 2 is the same price as the original, across the board. If you wanted an iPad yesterday, the price are the same today. This kills the Motorola Xoom. The Xoom is priced very high and now the iPad 2 does not differ in terms of specs as greatly as it once did. Motorola needs to drastically cut the price if they want a chance in this tablet war.

The iPad 2 also comes on Verizon’s network instead of just AT&T. So now if you want a iPad with a Verizon 3G chip built-in, you can.

HDMI iPad 2

Teacher using iPad 2 via HDMI. Credit: Apple.com

This is the 2nd iPad but I would not consider it the iPad 2. It’s more like the iPad 1.5 since it did not change anything in terms of what tablets have to offer. Apple created a new tablet market, other companies created their own tablets which 9 times out of 10 were way over powered in comparison to the original iPad and now Apple is changing that by boosting the power of the iPad to match the competition. Nothing is really new here…besides that oh so wonderful “Smart Cover”.

The iPad 2 comes out in the US on March 11th on Apple.com and retail stores. There is no pre-ordering so if you want one on launch day, prepare to wait in line.

Oh, and One More Thing: iOS 4.3 is coming out soon which gives updates to Safari and AirPlay, the iPhone 4 get’s a hotspot feature, iTunes home sharing is enabled and the iPad’s once orientation switch, now mute switch gets the option for being used as a mute or an orientation lock. Apple is allowing users to control what that switch is used for.

Facetime iPad 2

Facetime on the iPad 2. Credit: Apple.com

HP’s Think Beyond event had me Thinking Dirty

On Wednesday, February 9th, HP had a “Think Beyond” event where they showed off their new products powered by webOS which they acquired by buying Palm a while ago.HP logo

If you are familiar with the Palm Pre/Palm Pixi, it used a very interesting operating system called webOS. WebOS uses a “card” interface for multitasking and browsing of different applications on the phone. Each application is viewed in a “card” and when you want to kill an app, all you need to do is flick the card up off the screen and the program quits. I never owned a Palm Pre but I did get my hands on one and I did enjoy using the OS. Sadly, Palm was brought by HP after struggling to keep in business since not that many people brought the Palm Pre or any of its follow-up devices. We in the tech community have been looking forward to the day when we would see future webOS devices, especially webOS on a tablet. That day finally arrived.

HP Veer

Veer: Credit to Engadget

The HP Veer: Now this phone is pretty interesting. It is the size of a credit card but still has a full QWERTY keyboard and all the features you would expect from a phone similar to the Palm Pre. Personally, I don’t see the need for a phone that is this small. I can’t imagine typing on the keyboard being a fun experience and I can’t imagine using picture and video apps on such a small screen. In the day when people view a lot of content on their phones I’m not sure if this is a hit for HP. I assume that HP would like you to buy their tablet to view all of your multimedia on and I will admit that I almost never watch video on my phone because the screen is too small (I have a iPhone 4) but I still don’t know what  consumer would buy this device.

Pre 3: This one is pretty sexy, folks. It’s basically just like all the Palm phones running webOS that we seen in the past but with a larger screen and more features that are common on smartphones today. It can shoot HD video, has a mobile-hotspot feature, WiFi, Apps…basically all the things you expect. Being an iPhone user, I’m not amazed by any of this but I am a fan

HP Pre 3

HP Pre 3. Credit to HP

of the sleek design and of course, once again, webOS. My only issue with this phone is the physical keyboard. Using the iPhone for all these years has made it impossible for me to type on small, fixed, plastic keys. I don’t think that the Pre 3 has a touchscreen keyboard so that makes the chances of me ditching my iPhone for this device pretty slim but I will put it out there that if I was going to ditch my iPhone, it would be for a device similar to the Pre 3.

Now let’s get to my favorite part (and the reason for the title): The HP TouchPad. The TouchPad is a tablet running webOS. The TouchPad has a 9.7 inch touch screen with the same resolution as the current iPad. Weighs in at 1.6 pounds, has WiFi, front-facing camera, 16 or 32 GB of storage and pretty much all the bells and whistles of all the tablets coming out this year. The most interesting feature is this is the first time a tablet is running the webOS software. It works the same way as the Pre phones (with the card interface) and it seems to run pretty smooth. The thing about webOS is that is just makes sense. The navigation is simple, it features REAL multitasking and it looks pretty good. The TouchPad also has this cool feature where if you have a Pre phone, you can place the phone on top of the home button on the TouchPad and whatever is displaying on the tablet will be sent to the phone and vice versa wirelessly. It’s also a pretty sexy device. Usually I tend to favor Jony Ive and the Apple design team for their aesthetic on the products they create but HP hit a home run with the design for the TouchPad.

HP TouchPad

HP TouchPad. Credit to HP

Let’s compare this to the iPad since lets face it, unless you’re an Android nerd, you are probably considering getting the iPad 2. The iPad 2 is rumored to be thinner, lighter and have 2 cameras. No change to the design, no change to the screen resolution, still running iOS which honestly, isn’t all that impressive on the iPad. It is tough to compare a product that is on the market to a product that won’t be released for some time but I’ll try to do my best with what I know. The HP TouchPad runs Flash, the iPad does not and never will. Since I own an iPad and a iPhone, I can assure you that there are some moments during basic web-browsing that I stubble upon a site that is running Flash and I cannot access it. Flash is a plus. WebOS vs iOS: iOS to me never had real multitasking. It isn’t super simple to switch between apps and most apps in the app store do not take advantage of the multitasking capabilities. WebOS on the other has a simple way of showing you all the apps that are open and an easy way to kill these apps. On the iPad or iPhone, to view all the apps you have open it’s a 5 step process of double-tapping the home button, swiping left or right and to kill the apps it’s an extra step of pressing down, waiting for them to jiggle and then pressing the tiny X that pops up. It’s not too bad on the iPhone but it’s pretty annoying on the iPad.

If you can’t tell, I’m impressed by the products shown off by HP during this event. Pricing and release dates are not available so we have to wait on that. If the pricing is good and if there aren’t any major problems with the HP TouchPad, it might be the first time I purchased non-Apple tech in about 2 years.