Archive for June, 2011

>HTC EVO 3D Now Available for Sprint

>After much anticipation, a lot of talk, and an unboxing, the HTC EVO 3D finally launches today! $200 and a 2 year contract will get you the beast with a glasses-free 3D display, dual 5 megapixels cameras on the back for some 3D picture and video taking, and an awesome dual core 1.2GHz processor. Who’s getting one?

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>HTC EVO 3D Unboxing

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>We just got our hands on an the soon to be released HTC EVO 3D, and let us just say: HTC clearly listened to our editorial on boring boxes. This box is hot. The front is a pearl white monolith with a stylized letters spelling “EVO 3D” bumping out of the cardboard. That same bump out is featured next to it with the four encircled Android buttons (A house for Home, the four lines for Menu, a Back arrow, and the Search magnifying glass). One side of the box is yellow and has a tab to pull out the rest of the box from the pearly outside.

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The inside is crazy bright, rocking the spectrum from yellow to blue in a random geometric pattern, a stark juxtaposition from the solid white outer section. The EVO 3D sits in a white frame with a “FOCUS on driving” ad protecting the screen. Under that is the instruction booklet, USB cable, and power adapter.

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>Motorola Droid X2 Review

>Last year, Motorola launched Verizon’s first beast-sized phone, the Motorola Droid X. It was very good for its time and it proved that large sized screens can still be svelte, in a time when the EVO was living it large. This year, Motorola has kept the Droid X’s successor, the Droid X2, looking the same, but has pumped it full of this year’s best hardware and revamped the software. Will the Droid X2 surpass its predecessor, or will it suffer from sequel inferiority? Find out below as we review Verizon’s flagship 3G phone!

Hardware
This is really where the Droid X2 steps it up, kinda. The form factor is big, but it’s actually slightly thinner and less wide than the X, but it weighs the same at about 5.5 ounces. What I love about the form factor is that where you actually hold the phone, it’s pretty slim. The bulk of the phone is at the top where the 8 megapixel camera lens and dual LED flash sits. It’s a pleasure to hold both one and two handed. On the front, you have the standard 4 buttons along the bottom. They are hardware keys, not soft ones, which I personally prefer. The buttons do take some pressure to activate, which is both good and bad. You certainly won’t have to worry about accidental button presses, but it can take too much effort to go Home or Back sometimes.The left edge houses the microUSB port and miniHMDI port for audio and video output. The power button is in the middle of the top, truly the perfect position for it, and the button is perfectly responsive. Also on the top is the standard headphone jack and a mic (more on that later). On the right is the volume rocker. It’s a little bit smaller than most other phones, and I’d really like if it were a bit longer. Sadly, Motorola took away the hardware camera button that resided on the right side on the original. I’m not sure why, but I wish they hadn’t.

The Droid X2 carries on the X’s tradition of having 3 microphones on it. The traditional one on the bottom for voice calls, the aforementioned top one is for noise cancellation, and one on the back for video recording. The top mic definitely works, the call quality is really quite good. The one on the back we’ll get too in a bit. The speaker on the front is crisp and clear for calls. The back speaker is pretty good, but could be louder; it’s definitely not as loud as the original’s rival, the HTC EVO 4G.

The Droid X2’s camera is killer and it’s clear that Motorola took a lot of time thinking about it. It’s takes incredibly clear pictures and has a ton of different modes for shooting, like macro, sports, etc., in addition to the traditional filters like black and white and sepia. Unfortunately, Motorola didn’t take enough time to test out the whole experience. The video capture is incredibly jumpy sometimes. The video camera does take advantage of the three mics on the phone, allowing for some serious noise reduction, but it’s hard to care about the noise when your video keeps skipping. Its not always like that though. Sometimes it was just fine, and when it isn’t screwing up it takes nice video. The other problem with the camera experience is the software. All of the options are well placed and easy to use, but it’s super buggy. Multiple times it froze up when I tried to change the scene settings. But let’s end on a high note: Motorola included some editing options right in to their preview section in the camera. The still shots can be rotated and cropped, colors can be messed with, and brightness changed. The video can be cut up as well, and you can add titles. Overall, assuming everything is working properly, it’s the best camera experience I’ve seen on an Android device.

The battery life on this bad boy is really good. For Android, that is. Let’s face it, you’re still going to have to charge this every single day. But compared to the EVO, which usually requires a midday charge, it’s fantastic. My X2 is normally put through the ringer daily, but I was incredibly impressed when a solid hour of using it as a hotspot barely even touched the battery indicator. The screen is also really nice. The qHD classification makes it one of Android’s highest quality displays, and it shows. I threw Tropic Thunder on there and it looked great. It’s really bright, and while it’s not as good as Samsung’s Super AMOLED, it still works quite well in direct sunlight.

Software
It’s Android 2.2. There’s really not a lot more to say about that because it’s been talked about to death. Instead, we’ll focus on the changes Moto threw on top of Android. If you’ve used any of Motorola’s phones that used their MOTOBLUR services in the past, you’d know what a crappy, battery draining experience it was. I was worried at first when I saw some if the signs of Blur on the X2. But after playing with it for some time now, I’m shocked to say: Blur doesn’t suck anymore. It’s significantly different from what it was on devices like the Backflip. It doesn’t require you to create or sign into a special Blur account, and everything about their changes are for the most part optional. You can still use the traditional Android widgets and services if you want, but Motorola’s widgets have ditched the kiddy style and actually look quite good. They included a universal inbox to add in email, Facebook, and Twitter messages in with your texts. The included combined social networking apps are pretty good too. Nowhere near as full featured as dedicated apps, but if you want to quickly fire off something to multiple networks (sadly not multiple accounts), then its easy enough to do so.

There are two changes I absolutely loved. Motorola couldn’t help but include a bunch of bloatware that can’t be uninstalled, but app groups allows you to totally ignore them. At the top of the screen in your apps list is a button that let’s you change which apps are shown. I just selected the apps I actually use and show that group by default so I don’t ever have to see the V Cast apps or Lets Golf 2 (That’s no typo, they forgot the apostrophe). At the top right is also a button for the app store, a small but useful tweak. The other big change in the old recent apps pop up. On most other devices you see a maximum of 8 of your most recent apps. The X2 brings up the whole app drawer, but shows the recent apps tab, showing you the last 12 apps you’ve used and allowing easy access to those you haven’t opened yet.

Wrap Up
The Droid X2 is easily one of the best Android phones I’ve used to date. The dual core processor definitely gives a noticeable difference in performance, especially with games and battery life. The camera is definitely one of Android’s best and the editing options are a great addition. The screen is really nice and the camera is exceptional. Overall, it’s one of the best Android devices today. It’s really only missing one thing: a 4G radio. Why Verizon didn’t have it thrown in, I have no idea. It would make a lot more sense for it to be a $300 phone than for the Samsung Droid Charge. But if you don’t live in a 4G area, or do most of your heavy data in WiFi, the Motorola Droid X2 packs a hell of a punch in a skinny little device. It’s a highly recommended device if you’re looking for a work horse on Verizon. Get it now before you can’t get an unlimited data option!

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>Verizon Unofficially Makes Tiered Data Plans Official

 

>Today, Droid-Life got an exclusive scoop on exactly what Verizon’s tiered data plans will be, a subject that has been spoken a lot about in whispers and unconfirmed rumors for some time now. The plans, as you see above, start at $30 for 2GB and go up from there. If you add on the tethering option you’ll pay an additional $20 and receive an extra 2GB of usage. All of the above pricing is for data only, so you still need to add on voice and text. There won’t be any difference in pricing for 3G or 4G phones. Overages will go for $10 per GB.

Later in the day, a memo from corporate Verizon was leaked, proving the leaked plans correct. The new plans will start on July 7th and customers who already have their unlimited plan will be grandfathered in, so you won’t lose it. That also means anyone who gets a smartphone before then will keep it for at least two years.

Quite frankly, these plans, if truly accurate, are ridiculous. When AT&T dropped their unlimited plans, there was a fair amount of outrage, but at least it cost the customers less and AT&T provided data that said most people didn’t need unlimited data. But Verizon is clearly just realizing the sheer speed of their network and is purely out to make more money. And as America’s most expensive carrier, to get more expensive for no benefit to the customer is reprehensible. The silver lining is that Verizon has made awful plan choices like this before and has reversed such decisions in the past. So cross your fingers that this pricing will be temporary.

 

 

 

 

 

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>The Future of Phone Plans, Ideally

>Gotta give it up to Apple, they know how to dominate news cycles. One of the smaller announcements they made at WWDC this week was iMessage, their iOS-only instant messaging program that is tied in with the existing messaging app. At first, attention was drawn to how it would compete with Blackberry’s existing BlackBerry Messenger app, something that has kept many a CrackBerry addict from leaving the platform. At this point, iMessage does make a lot more sense for people compared to BBM, simply because the iPhone is a crazy popular phone, the iPod Touch is an immensely popular mp3 player, and the iPad is still the tablet to beat (and no one has come close yet). BBM is on the BlackBerry PlayBook, but quite frankly, no one really bought it. BBM is one of the last things to hook current users in, it was a space where RIM really had no competition, but that now has been challenged.

Now, the launch of iMessage has brought up a very different question: Do we really need SMS at all? Its a well known fact that text messaging has been the longest, most widespread, and far most egregious instance of wireless providers overcharging for a service. Each text message sent is really only a few bites of information being sent around, and yet people pay 20 cents per without a plan. Even at $20 for unlimited, you’d have to send millions for the price to be justified. But before the dawn and success of the smartphone, it was the best way to fire off a small tidbit of conversation. Now that simply isn’t true. RIM, Apple, soon Windows Phone, and even some rumors of Android, all have or will have alternative quick messaging options built into their phones.

I am most certainly not the first person to notice how this may shake up the industry. Nilay Patel (formerly of Engadget) wrote up a great editorial on This Is My Next calling for the death of the phone number. He points out that Apple, Google, and Microsoft are all getting into the position of eliminating the carriers’ plans. None have gotten to that point yet, but its definitely a possibility in the near future. I don’t think the phone number should die. Its incredibly useful and really isn’t that different from a username, and we still need them for business if nothing else. But I do propose a drastic change.

For years, the carriers have refused to admit that they are just dumb pipes, managing networks that allow the transfer of data in many different forms to various devices. The separation of voice from texting to internet data usage is ludicrous at this point because the internet can do all of these things very easily, ultimately using their existing network. All one carrier has to do is accept that role, realize that all that consumers want is for them to fulfill that role, and come up with the following plan:

Throw away your preconceived notions of plans. There will be no more set allotment of minutes and texts and internet usage. All you do is pay for a bucket of usage (metaphorically speaking, of course). The carrier merely sets a rate for how big your bucket is. What you do with that bucket is entirely up to you. Voice calls and video conferencing would be done just like existing VoIP services like Skype, and texts wouldn’t really be texts, but data sent through apps on your device. The phone number can hang around still for these purposes, although most people could easily get by using Facebook Chat these days. In areas where 3G is scarce or nonexistent, traditional calls and texts could be done, but there’s no reason to charge more for doing so. Your web browsing, app downloading, and content streaming would all come through the same usage allowance as your calls. I know many people pay for way more minutes than they actually use simply because there’s no cheaper option available. The buckets would eliminate this problem.

Beyond monthly costs, there’s one other big advantage to this system: device freedom. Right now, carriers want you to have a separate plan for a 3G connected tablet, or get a tethering plan, which costs a lot extra for using your existing data connection that you already pay for. But with the bucket system, you just pop your SIM card into a tablet or another phone, even a computer, and just keep on going. ASUS is attacking this problem head on with two different devices. The Padfone turns your phone into a tablet and there’s really no reason for the carrier to know about it. The Eee Pad MeMo 3D is a 3G-enabled Android tablet that comes with the MeMic Bluetooth handset that is the perfect size to hold up to your face to talk, or use as a remote control. A carrier using the bucket system wouldn’t care at all what device you were using since its now all the same stuff to everyone involved.

The only sacrifice that would be made for consumers would be the loss of unlimited data plans. But let’s face it, they are on their way out anyway. AT&T ditched them a while ago, and Verizon is maybe only weeks away from following suit. T-Mobile’s plans now have roofs that don’t cost extra to pass, but you’ll have your service throttled significantly down in speed. Sprint aims to be the final carrier to offer the truly unlimited data plan. But the bucket system wouldn’t need unlimited most likely anyway, under one condition: What you do when connected to Wifi does not touch your limit. This only makes sense because the wireless provider isn’t the pipe, the ISP is. AT&T’s limited data plans do this now, but talking on the phone should follow this same rule. T-Mobile is the only carrier that chooses to allow WiFi calling, but all WiFi enabled phones on all carriers are capable of it. Since the bucket system does away with minutes, they’d have no reason to continue this practice. The transition might be hard to explain to the average consumer at first, but there could easily be simple tools to convert minutes used and texts sent from their previous plans into gigabyte form.

The problem is getting the carriers on board. As far as I’m concerned, only one carrier would actually go for it at this point: Sprint. AT&T and Verizon would certainly not jump in on this until someone else did first. T-Mobile was a progressive company, but due to the potential AT&T buyout, they’d never make such a drastic change. That leaves Sprint, and they now hold the title for most progressive, as proven by their crazy move to integrate their services with Google Voice. They have a network capable of handling it and the need to attract more customers. And I know I’m not the only person attracted to this idea. Carriers could still offer contracts for those who want cheaper devices, something that would keep them very happy. This would also push a lot of people into a smartphone, meaning more sales revenue for manufacturers. I think that, if done properly, everyone involved would benefit greatly from this kind of arrangement. Now to see if it ever actually happens.

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>WWDC Wrap Up: Lion Details, iOS Becomes Android, iCloud isn’t a Cloud

>Today, Apple’s big keynote at the World Wide Developer Conference happened to much fanfare. That is at least before the event happened. As was promised there was no new hardware announced and only covered Mac OS Lion, iOS 5, and iCloud. Here’s a wrapup of all three!

Lion: The newest version of Mac OS will have 250 new features, but only 10 were really talked about at length. The highlights include multitouch gestures with the touchpad, Versions, which autosaves your progress in documents, Keynote, etc. and allows you to see all previous versions in addition to the latest one, and the Mail app very closely mirrors the iOS version with conversation view. Lion will be available only through the Mac App Store (as a 4GB download) for only $30, due out in July.

iOS 5: This was really the high point of the keynote. iOS 5 will bring a total of 200 new user enhancements, but again only a small number were featured. Apple started, as usual, with some numbers. They claim that iOS is now the #1 mobile platform with 200 million iOS devices sold. This is a little deceptive since they included not just the iPhone, but iPad and iPod Touch, but impressive none the less. iOS 5 brings a ton of improvements. They redid the notification system, now called Notification Center, so there aren’t pop ups, but a panel of notifications accessed by swiping from the top of the screen. Notification Center is also shown on the lockscreen. Swiping to the left dismisses them and swiping to the right unlocks the screen and zooms you right to that item. Safari got a bunch of improvements. The iPad version looks just like the Mac version, but all iOS devices will have Reading List, which allows you to save articles for later and also pulls all text from multi-page items, but without the ads. iMessage was announced, allowing people on iOS devices to communicate with other iDevices through text, picture, video, and even send contacts. The camera got some extra features, like being accessed from the lock screen, being able to use the volume buttons to take pics, and editing features within the app. The best part of all is that the thin white cable has been cut. iOS devices will now be able to completely sync over WiFi and you won’t have to plug in to activate your iPhone. OS updates will now download over the air as well. iOS 5 goes out to developers today, but don’t expect it on your device until Fall.

Does any of this sound familiar? How about all of it? Every single feature mentioned in the iOS 5 unveiling has been featured in other operating systems, mostly Android. The notification system is almost identical to Android’s. They are both located at the top, showing each item, available in any app. Some builds of Android even have similar lockscreen notifications. iMessage is a direct attack on BlackBerry Messenger. Apparently Apple didn’t get the memo that people who love BBM don’t leave BBM, and no one else cares about device-specific messaging. Accessing the camera from the lockscreen is on HTC’s newest version of Sense, and Windows Phone can bypass the lockscreen all together by just holding the camera button. Android, Windows Phone, Zunes, and BlackBerry all sync over WiFi as well, and the iPhone was the only phone that needed to be plugged in to activate in the first place.

iCloud: This was definitely the low point of the presentation. “The Cloud” has been in existence for some time, but has recently hit its stride with services like Amazon’s Music, Google Music, and Dropbox. iCloud syncs your most important content across all of your iOS devices and Macs. Pictures are done through Photo Stream, a service that hosts all of your pictures (from iPhoto, your iOS devices, etc.) on your Mac, the last 1000 are stored on your iOS device and are hosted for 30 days on iCloud. iCloud also goes to your iTunes, allowing you to redownload music to your iOS device where ever you are, and purchasing a new song or album will push it to all of your devices. Same goes for the App Store. iCloud will replace MobileMe and will be free, starting today, for all who want it. It will be available on your iDevice when iOS 5 hits this fall.

The problem with iCloud is that its name is a bold-faced lie. There is nothing cloud about it. The cloud allows you to host your content, stored in a server God knows where. But iCloud doesn’t do that at all. It uses your devices’ memory as the host and there is no streaming whatsoever. You must download all your content before you do anything with it. Apple made sure to point out that this makes the whole process take hours instead of days. I have Google Music and I’ve used Amazon’s cloud service, and I can testify that it does take quite some time to upload all of that content. But the end result is that I don’t have to waste space on any of my devices to hold my content. My phone gets access to my entire library through Google Music without requiring any of it to be on my device at all. iSync is a far more accurate name.

I saved the best for last. Apple realizes that you might have music you didn’t get (legally or otherwise) through iTunes. But they have a solution for you! Their first idea was to rebuy the same tracks. Not buying that? Fine. Their iTunes Match service will comb through your library of “other” music and if it matches with Apple’s library music, you get the same benefits of iCloud as if you bought them. For $25 a year. You have to PAY to sync the music you ALREADY BOUGHT. This isn’t an editorial (for the most part), so I won’t rant too much. If you like that service, great. I just don’t see how Apple can say that you have to pay for music again with a straight face.

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>HTC EVO 3D Gets Official Price and Release Date

>After far too long of waiting, Sprint has finally finalized the details of its forthcoming flagship handset. The HTC EVO 3D will be hitting the sales floor on June 24th for the expected $200 price point. Preorders are still ongoing at Sprint stores, RadioShack, Target Mobile, and BestBuy.

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