Archive for the ‘ Gadgets ’ Category

My CES 2010 Posts on Twitter

It was a much busier (though smaller) CES this year. There were some notable no-shows on the floor, but overall it seemed like a much better show. Here are some of my thoughts that I posted on Twitter as I experienced the show.

WhatAnnoysMe Dear CEA: Love the free press lunch at #CES, but these cocktail napkins are useless.
WhatIveLearned Sony Ericsson’s new Xperia X10 Android phone will only be available through Rogers…in Canada. #CES #CNETCES
WhatIveLearned Pelican case for the iPhone includes a waterproof headphone jack that supports audio out, but not the mic for the phone. #CES #CNETCES
WhatImpressesMe Watching @BuzzOutLoud live on stage at #CES. #CNETCES
WhatAnnoysMe Marvel has a HUGE booth at #CES. I still have no idea what they do.
WhatAnnoysMe EHX@CES is kind of pathetic. I hope it’s not a sign of what to expect at the March expo in Orlando. #CES
WhatAnnoysMe Not sure which is more obscene: the booth babes at #CES or the attention they drawl.
WhatImpressesMe Control 4 home control has a phenomenal number of partner vendors exhibiting at its booth. #CES #CNETCES
WhatImpressesMe Silicon Dust is showing off a prototype HD HomeRun CableCARD tuner. Network-based, 2 tuners, <$250! #CES #CNETCES
WhatIveLearned Mental note to self: the pre-emptive Aleve, before hitting the show floor, worked. #CES
WhatIveLearned Apple’s Genius playlist feature on the iPhone and iPod Touch is powered by Gracenote. #CES
WhatIveLearned #CES packing tip: Don’t pack more socks than you need. They take up space, and how often do you really change your socks mid-day anyway?
WhatImpressesMe I’m onboard and ready to go. Spoke with @acedtect in the airport, and I got an exit row with lots of legroom. A nice end to a great #CES.

Review of the Acoustic Research XSight Color Universal Remote

At last year’s CES, Acoustic Research announced new entries into the programmable home theater remote market with the XSight Color and XSight Touch. Now available online and at local retailers, these might initially look like worthy competitors to Logitech’s Harmony One and 900. But not so fast…it’s worth a closer look.

The XSight Color, the least expensive of the two remotes, lists at just under $150. It can be programmed to control up to 15 different devices via IR, using web-based configuration software on your Windows PC or a guided setup process on the device itself. For another $100, the XSight Touch can control 18 devices and includes touchscreen control. Add an RF base to the Touch for another $100 (totaling about $350) for controlling you system without line of sight.

Like Logitech’s Harmony remotes, the XSight models allow you to control your home theater system by device or by multi-device activities like “Watch TV” or “Listen to Music.” In addition, the XSight lets you set up profiles, allowing you to create different sets of favorite channels to suit your mood or for different people in your household.

An LCD color screen at the top of the XSight displays menu options and programmable soft keys that you select using buttons lining both sides of the screen. On the XSight Touch, as implied, the buttons are replaced by a touchscreen. The screen is bright and crisp, at a resolution that seems comparable to the Harmony. But between color choices and font smoothing techniques, the screen on the XSight is far more readable than on Logitech’s remotes. An elongated toggle button lets you move between multiple onscreen options. On the Touch, a buttonless slider zone (à la iPhone unlock) performs the same function.

Setting Things Up

You can perform basic programming on the XSight without a computer, but to set up anything beyond basic device control—like creating soft keys on the LCD screen, creating multi-device activities, and defining favorites and profiles—you’ll need a Windows PC running Internet Explorer. The programming software uses an ActiveX control that requires IE. It won’t run in any other browser and therefore offers no support for Mac users. Even running Windows in a virtual machine on the Mac, the interface software wouldn’t recognize the USB-connected remote, so if you’re an exclusive Mac user, this is a non-starter.

Programming the appropriate devices and activities for a home theater system with a TV, amplifier, video switch, DVR, movie server, and Internet streaming device proved to be more difficult than expected. The programming software claimed to support the Moxi DVR, but none of the keys functioned for it. Setting up an Apple TV required manually capturing IR codes from an Apple Remote. Windows Media Center had the best support of the tested devices, but the default soft keys seemed a bit unusual, including two separate Record buttons that duplicated a physical key on the remote itself. It’s easy to redefine or add soft keys for any device or activity, but it doesn’t seem possible to specify their arrangement on the screen.

Defining favorites and profiles is very straightforward, and the configuration software provides an extensive selection of network icons for your favorite channels, unlike Logitech’s limited set of icons for FOX networks only. By creating different profiles, each member of your household can have a different set of favorites. You can also use this same feature to create different profiles based on programming. For example, a profile for sports channels, one for movie channels, etc.

Using the XSight

The XSight Color is a sturdy remote. It feels noticeably heavier than the Harmony One—partly the weight from three AA batteries—and it doesn’t fit in your hand a nicely as the One. Its straight edge “candy bar” design ultimately yields a device that is bottom-heavy and somewhat hard to grip. The XSight Touch uses a rechargeable (and presumably lighter) battery pack and comes with a charging cradle, like the Harmony One.

The remote senses motion when you pick it up and has nicely backlit buttons—with a few notable exceptions: The four color buttons used commonly by Blu-ray players and other devices have no backlight, and the buttons lining the screen on the XSight Color have very little backlighting except around their edges. This last bit is especially tricky, since the screen itself is bright and begs for touching. Making it worse, the on-screen buttons look 3-dimensional and don’t in any way hint that you should be pressing the buttons next to the screen and not the screen itself.

Physical button layout is pretty logical, but a few strange industrial design quirks make using this remote more clunky than intuitive. The first thing you might notice is that the most prominent and physically differentiable button on the remote is (somewhat ironically) the Pause button. That’s right—not Play, but Pause. Nearby, the replay and skip buttons have ever-so-subtle ridges that feel more like manufacturing abnormalities than intentional guides for your fingers. And the buttons in different zones have a different feel when you press them, each offering slightly different resistance and tactile responses. In general, it seems like most of the buttons on the remote require just a tad bid more pressure than should be necessary. Finally, the four buttons that drive the content on the screen—those that switch between home, favorites, activities, and devices—are identified by 2mm icons that are way too detailed to be discernible at that size by the eyes of those most likely to afford this remote.

Both XSight remotes feature a dedicated power button, but it doesn’t function as an all on/all off command, as you might expect. Each activity will turn on your devices, as necessary, but the remote doesn’t manage the power state of each device as you select different activities, like the Harmony remotes do. In fact, if you want to be able to turn everything off at once to shut down, you need to create your own, separate All Off activity.

After a little bit of time, you may get used to some of the ergonomic anomalies of this remote, and when you do, you’ll find that it lets off some seriously powerful IR signals. Side-by-side, the XSight remote outperformed the Harmony One on numerous devices—at different angles and heights.

The Bottom Line

While it’s good to see some competition for Logitech’s latest Harmony remotes, the XSight Color and Touch from Acoustic Research are harder to configure, heavier in your hand, and less intuitive to use. This is a good foray into this market for AR, but for this kind of money, the Harmony One and 900 are still better options.

My CES 2009 Posts on Twitter

CES this year was exhausting, loud, and slightly less crowded, but nonetheless interesting. I used Twitter to quickly post information about my experience.

WhatImpressesMe Great seat near front center section at Balmer keynote. #ces09
WhatAnnoysMe I’d be a lot happier now if I had taken time to eat before the keynote. #ces09
WhatAnnoysMe First night of the show, and I already forgot to have some cards with me. #ces09
WhatImpressesMe Seeing my first SteadyCam in the wild. Incredibly cool. #ces09
WhatIveLearned Balmer announced that Windows 7 beta is now available on TechNet and MSDN. #ces09
WhatAnnoysMe It occurs to me that I should have brought a better camera to the keynote. #ces09
WhatIveLearned @jimmyfallon is coming to CES. So Jimmy, are you a gadget freak, a correspondant, or a special appearance at #ces09 ?
WhatIveLearned HP is discontinuing its MediaSmart Connect Media Center Extender. #ces09
WhatIveLearned RealDVD will work on your Windows-based HTPC with a standard Media Center remote control. #ces09
WhatIveLearned Nero LiquidTV brings TiVo (for analog cable, ATSC, and clear QAM) to your HTPC and stores programs as standard MPEG-2 video. #ces09
WhatAnnoysMe OK, it’s official: I hate the way the Blackberry Storm soft buttons and keys work. #ces09
WhatAnnoysMe I forgot how much I hate these assholes that walk through CES with their roller-bags. #ces09
WhatIveLearned SanDisk will be selling 2.5″ Solid state drives later this year. $249 for 120GB, $499 for 240GB. #ces09
WhatImpressesMe Sexyist memory card reader I’ve ever seen. #ces09
WhatIveLearned The menus in Windows 7 Media Center now support touch gestures. #ces09
WhatAnnoysMe Missed the Digeo Moxi press conference–didn’t know about it. #ces09
WhatIveLearned Motorola is showing off a set-top box with caller ID and medication reminders–for the fully integrated life! #ces09
WhatAnnoysMe Played with Surface a little earlier. Not exciting…it’s still too abstract. #ces09
WhatImpressesMe Insanely thin television screens at the LG booth. #ces09
WhatImpressesMe Southwire is finally demonstrating Flatwire for 120v electrical current–UL cert pending. #ces09
WhatAnnoysMe Should have arrived at CNET’s Next Big Thing session earlier. I’m litterally standing in the back corner. And can we have some air? #ces09
WhatAnnoysMe Really? You’re going to come in late and then stand in front if us? #ces09
WhatAnnoysMe Worse: most of these latecomers are leaving mid-session, lacking the stamina to stand for an hour. #ces09
WhatAnnoysMe Sony just seems irrelevant to me anymore. They lost me on root kits. #ces09
WhatAnnoysMe Once again running late for live @BuzzOutLoud show. Maybe by tomorrow I’ll get this right. #ces09
WhatIveLearned Sony BRAVIA Link let’s you choose from snap-in modules (DVD, Tru2Way, HDMI), integrating selection and control with the TV’s menu. #ces09
WhatIveLearned Canon does optical image stabilization by moving the glass IN the lens with a gyro. #ces09
WhatAnnoysMe iLuv is showing off a dummy prototype of a new iPod/DVD player; not a working prototype–a mockup like you’d find in Best Buy. #ces09
WhatImpressesMe Mattel is showing Mind Flex, a game where you navigate a ball through a maze…with your mind. #ces09
WhatIveLearned Boxee is doing a closed test of a Windows version now. #ces09
WhatIveLearned Powercast is demonstrating RF power-over-distance harvesting with lighted ornaments and lighted tile prototypes. #ces09
WhatAnnoysMe I’m calling it. I’m officially CESed out. Had a great time, but my back hurts, my feet hurt, and now I need to think and write. #ces09

I’ve Got Moxi

In 2007, Digeo announced plans to launch a consumer DVR, which I reviewed for CNET at CES. Then just one year later, with no product to market, Digeo significantly reorganized, refocused, and suspended their plans for a consumer DVR. Or did they? A/V geeks like me have been watching the progress of the Moxi digital video recorder for years now. Digeo, the company behind Moxi for the past six plus years, has seen some degree of success supplying Moxi DVRs through cable companies, but it’s taken them a very long time to get a standalone DVR out to consumers.

So why are people fired up about the Moxi? For one, Moxi is worthy competition for TiVo—the gold standard for home DVRs. TiVo leads in a somewhat challenging market space. Numerous companies—including Replay, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, and Microsoft—have tried and failed to compete in this space. Even DirecTV, once a TiVo licensee, has strayed and since announced its return to the TiVo world. About the only thing really cutting into TiVo’s market these days is the cable industry itself. Cable companies have achieved success leasing DVRs to their customers for a monthly fee. They offer the convenience of home television recording without the significant up-front cost.

But TiVo is an aging contender, and the overall user experience hasn’t changed or improved significantly since TiVo’s inception–nearly ten years ago. The time is right for some worthy competition.

Enter Moxi. Last month—nearly two years after the CES announcement—Digeo quietly (and somewhat unexpectedly) released the Moxi HD DVR, available for limited release exclusively through Digeo is expected to make a more public splash with the device this January at CES 2009. In the meantime, $799.99 at Amazon gets you a two-tuner high definition video recorder with 500 GB of storage and lifetime updates to TV listings. The price tag may scare some people, but when you break it down and compare it to the cost of ownership for other DVR options, the cost is not unreasonable.

The Details

Moxi has the expected features for an HD DVR: it’s a two tuner recorder for digital HD cable, using a single multi-stream CableCARD to decode the signal. The device has nearly every type of connection possible: outputs include component, composite, S-Video, HDMI for video plus RCA, coax, and optical audio. Ethernet and USB connect the device to the outside world, and an eSATA connection lets you add your own external storage. The Moxi includes cables for nearly all the connections, including HDMI. You’ll need to bring your own digital audio, USB, and eSATA cables, though.

The Moxi remote is similar in form factor to other DVR remotes. It includes all of the expected functions broken into navigation, shuttle, and keypad zones, but some features are labeled with obscure symbols. The buttons are generally placed where you’d expect to find them. One feature the remote lacks is a dedicated button that takes you to the full program guide, which may take some getting used to for those in your household with less patience. [“Richard, why is there a Setup menu when I press the Moxi button?”]

Bright, sharp menus; high-resolution channel icons; and smooth graphical motion are the hallmarks of Moxi’s beautiful two-dimensional menu system. It’s fairly intuitive and easy to use, and it’s pretty responsive. For channel surfing, Moxi offers two modes: a quick guide that lets you flip through channel cards in the lower third area of the screen and a full, graphical 2D alternative to the traditional grid guide. In either mode, you can watch the current channel while you surf. The Moxi program guide takes some getting used to, but once you’re acclimated, the old grid seems as antiquated as your parent’s TV Guide subscription.

In the Moxi menu, you can navigate left or right through an endless loop of modes including pre-filtered programming (e.g., sports, movies, favorites, kids, HD), access to music and photos, games, and settings. Moving between modes expands a vertical menu that lets you select the applicable content or options. Moxi also includes a news feed program, MoxiNet, that seems slow, stale, and out of place in this otherwise stunning UI.

Recording shows with your remote is straightforward, but tedious. Finding programs to record is no easier or harder than you might expect. You have lots of options for recording individual shows and series, but there’s no way to specify your default recording preferences for all shows. So for example, if you typically want to record and keep all new episodes of a show until space is needed, you must record the series, then edit the series recording options, and change three settings (keep all, only new, ’til space is needed). Since you can’t define these default options for all shows, you have to go through these steps for every new series you record. Viewing the list of recorded programs for playback, however, is simple—it’s one of the only Moxi menu features that has a dedicated button on the remote.

Digeo also provides Moxi owners with remote programming capabilities through the web. This service lets you record shows with realtime confirmation and conflict resolution, view a list of scheduled and recorded programs, and cancel scheduled recordings. Digeo advertises that the Moxi HD DVR can record about 300 hours of SD or 75 hours of HD programming. If that’s not enough for you, you can expand the available storage by adding your own external eSATA drive. Not some specially-certified (read: expensive) device, but any eSATA drive.

It’s easy to get photos and music to the Moxi. You can load photos directly from a USB device or drive, connect to photos shared on your network, or link to specific Flickr accounts. Configuring Flickr couldn’t be easier because you do it online—none of this trying to type a username and password with an onscreen keyboard. You can play music from any Windows Media Connect source in your home, including Media Center and Windows Media Player. You can also play music from your Finetune account [who/what?]. What you can’t share with or from the Moxi device is video. You can’t get external video onto the thing, and you can’t get recorded video off. Original prototypes for Digeo’s home recorders included multi-room capabilities, but this device does not have that feature.

The Bottom Line

So how does all of this stack up with the competition? For a first release consumer product, it’s pretty impressive. It doesn’t have all of TiVo’s features and capabilities, but it sets the foundation for a new generation of consumer DVRs. And the cost is not as high as that price tag might suggest because there are no monthly service fees. The chart below shows that over a period of four years, Moxi (bolstered with additional external storage) costs less than similarly-equipped dual-tuner, 1TB TiVo and Media Center devices. However, they’re all more expensive than any box you might get from your cable company.

Media Center
(Dell Inspiron)
Cable DVR
Up-front device cost
Service fees
Cable rental fees*
Add’l 500GB storage
Total 4-yr cost

*CableCARD rental estimated at $3/month, DVR rental estimated at $10/month

Digital cable HD DVR 4 year cost of ownership comparison

Overall, Digeo has released a great new product. And while TiVo is starting to feel a little long in the tooth—its largly-unchanged UI now encumbered by a patchwork of heavily-branded, disjointed features and ads—it’s nice to see someone doing something new, something fresh. Enter Moxi.

1/14/2009 update: Table above updated to reflect cost of CableCARD rental, as suggested by a commenter.

Did DirecTV Just Serve Media Center a Fatal Blow?

Nearly three years ago at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show, Bill Gates unveiled a deal with DirecTV that would open Windows Media Center to a whole new market—satellite customers. Two agonizing years later at CES 2008, DirecTV quietly released news about their two-tuner interface for Media Center. But just days ago, DirecTV announced it is suspending further development of this device, and I have to ponder the impact: Is this the end of the line for Media Center?

Windows Media Center has faced continued challenges from the start. Spawned from Microsoft’s lackluster Ultimate TV, Windows XP Media Center Edition was greeted with mixed reactions. The Windows PC as a DVR. But why would you want a DVR on your desk? Or a PC in your living room?

And so Media Center evolves, eventually finding its way onto devices from the likes of HP, Gateway, and Sony that look more like and fit better with consumers’ home entertainment equipment. CE companies produce Media Center remotes and build extenders that let you use the Media Center from any TV in the home. Except that nobody buys them because the boxes are priced on par with similarly capable computers instead of similarly capable set-top boxes. Why pay $1000 for a PC when you can spend $300 for a TiVo—or just rent a DVR from your cable or satellite service provider?

Meanwhile, HDTV is gaining ground, and while TiVo seems entirely incapable of delivering its long-promised Series 3 HD recorder, consumers start looking toward Microsoft—and Microsoft is starting to look better. With several revs of the platform, suddenly Windows Media Center supports HD! Over the air. Only. But it’s more than TiVo’s offering, save for a select few early-adopting satellite customers. And it’s far better than what most local cable providers can provide at the time.

So Microsoft puts the moves on. Windows Vista overhauls the whole on-screen experience, once again rejuvenating interest in Media Center as a home entertainment platform. Microsoft talks about a future with CableCard support for HD cable tuners, your HD DVD movie collection right on your hard drive, and TVs with Media Center built right in. And then, in early 2006, Gates announces the entry into a largely untapped market with deals to support DirecTV and Sky.

But when Vista comes out, the CableCard support isn’t there, and consumers soon realize that their Media Center PC is using more CPU cycles to protect the interests of the content providers than to provide the engaging access to media that they were sold. Available extenders don’t support HD content yet, Sony introduces and retires a few more overpriced living room devices, HD DVD tanks, and HP scraps all support for Media Center PCs and TVs. Once again, the consumers aren’t buying, and Windows Media Center is not staking its claim to the living room as Microsoft had so hoped.

Imagine the impact that DirecTV’s abandonment of Media Center must mean for Microsoft. CableCard support for Media Center PCs is largely encumbered by licensing, certification, and cost. Analog tuner support offered in earlier Media Center PCs is all but useless come February’s digital transition. Set-top box tethering has never really been a good option—especially without any high definition video connection between devices. And now support for satellite TV on Media Center seems entirely unlikely. That leaves over-the-air HD broadcasts. And that’s it. Now how much would you pay?

Nowadays, it’s a challenge to even find a Media Center PC for the living room. Most of those available today are from specialty PC manufacturers catering to high-end home theater systems. And certified CableCard support adds even more expense for consumers, starting at about $300 per tuner. Somewhat ironically, custom installers often shy away from Media Center home theater solutions. The margins are too low, and the system is so complete out of the box, there’s little opportunity for the kind of consulting revenue that a complex solution like Crestron might yield.

In many ways, Microsoft offers a superior home entertainment platform. It provides multi-tuner recording capabilities from multiple sources with no monthly fees; it delivers a visually engaging and intuitive on-screen experience; it provides seamless access to music, video, and photos on your network; it presents a platform that third-party developers can and do use to expand its capabilities; and it doesn’t spam you with ads at every turn.

Nonetheless, it’s pretty clear that Windows Media Center is flailing. Licensing, pricing, certification, content protection, poor vendor hardware support, and now economic trends have all played a part in Media Center’s failure to attract the audience it deserves. It’s probably fair to assume that a handful of poor business decisions have also contributed to this mess. This week’s announcement from DirecTV has to be the worst possible news at this point.

So is this it for Media Center? Windows 7 promises to enhance the media experience with a refreshed interface and integrated online content. But it may be too late. And if the next wave of Media Center devices remains overpriced and encumbered by corporate jockeying, Windows Media Center could go the way of Web TV, remaining a niche product for a very small market. One thing is certain: I’m not believing anything I see at Microsoft’s Media Center kiosk this January until it’s on my own home theater PC.

Marriott Understands Travelers’ Technology Needs

After finally giving up on the Sheraton Stamford, I strayed from my Starwood roots to stay at Marriott’s Courtyard Stamford Downtown earlier this week. I was surprised and delighted to find the room appointed with many perks, including an LG high definition LCD TV, and a desktop interface with power, communication, and media connections galore!

Check out the options here:

  • 4 outlets, specifically oriented to accommodate multiple wall-bricks
  • 1 telephone jack
  • 1 Ethernet jack
  • 1 3.5mm stereo audio jack
  • 1 set of RCA audio/video jacks
  • 1 S-video jack
  • 1 VGA connector
  • 1 HDMI connector

The A/V connectors all feed into the widescreen LCD TV, which auto-detects and selects the connected source. Of course, if you want to go wireless, you can do that, too. The hotel provides wired and wireless Internet access in the rooms at no cost. The only negative: the hotel’s television and video service offers just standard definition programming and content.

Is Wireless Power Finally Here?

PowerCast demonstrated wireless power at this year’s CES, showing how up to a watt of energy can be “broadcast” and received by various devices. While this isn’t an entirely new concept, this company seems to be best positioned to do something useful with it. This is nothing like the induction charging you may have seen on razors and toothbrushes. PowerCast’s technology harnesses energy from an RF field. Their initial research is focused on delivering consumer and military applications. The first consumer application could be trickle-charge solutions for portable devices: lay your phone or personal media player on your desk or hotel night-stand, for example, and it would start charging automatically!

DirecTV Tuner for Media Center Closer to Becoming Reality

Yesterday DirecTV started officially talking about its upcoming new PC tuner. At CES, product sheets outlined the features of a stand-alone, USB-connected, two-tuner device called the HDPC-20 (think external CableCard tuner). Specifically, this product provides significant new options for Media Center and DirecTV customers alike. It delivers DirecTV HD content to Windows Vista Media Center, opening new markets for Media Center and (finally) an alternative to DirecTV’s own less-than-spectacular DVRs. DirecTV isn’t offering up any information about dates and cost, but price-wise, I’d expect it to fall somewhere between their set-top HD tuners and HD DVRs. Whatever the schedule, it’s nice to see that this relationship between Microsoft and DirecTV, first announced by Gates at CES two years ago, is real.

One Remote to Beat Them All?

From the floor of CES this year, the single most interesting item to me so far is Logitech’s new Harmony One remote. After years of industrial design mis-steps, it appears that the Harmony line is back on track with this great new device. It looks great, it feels great, and, from my initial hands-on experience, it seems to remedy every annoying quirk I’ve disliked in recent models. Expect it in stores this February and expect to hear more about it from me.

Five Months with My iPhone

Many of my friends who know I purchased an iPhone when it was first available have again been asking me how I like it, now that I’ve had it for a while. The short answer to that question is, “I love it.” Sure, it has its shortcomings, but it’s hands-down the best phone I’ve ever owned, it’s the best iPod I’ve ever owned, and it’s not a bad PDA. I love that I can carry just one device now. I don’t need to remember to take my iPod with me–I just need to remember my headphones (which I still sometimes forget).

I’ll answer some questions I get most often….

Have you hacked your iPhone? No. Hey, I spent six hundred dollars for this thing; you think I’m going to tempt fate like that?

Speaking of the price, are you sorry you bought your iPhone before the price drop? No. I tend to adopt interesting new technology early. There’s a cost associated with that. Sometimes that cost is an investment in a product that never really gets off the ground. Sometimes that cost is paying a premium for early access. I’d prefer the latter. I think the price drop, though earlier than anticipated, was the right thing to do. Plus, it makes room for next generation and higher-capacity devices in the line.

Speaking of capacity, do you find the 8GB of storage limiting? No. I use smart playlists to keep my iPhone up-to-date with new podcasts and my most recently-added and most-played music. I use standard playlists to ensure that I have a handful of tunes that I always want on hand and a couple of unwatched TV episodes. This way, I have exactly the right amount of content for traveling, commuting, or just sitting at my desk in an office environment.

Speaking of the office, I hear you can’t use your iPhone for corporate/professional communications. Is this true? Not necessarily. Have I tried connecting to an Exchange server yet? Yes. Was I successful? No. Luckily, that’s not my primary mode of communication. I’m in the fortunate position of working with an organization that uses Google Apps for Your Domain, which means that my corporate e-mail is Gmail. And now with Gmail’s new IMAP service, iPhone access to my e-mail account is better than ever.

Speaking of new stuff, what’s new on the iPhone since its release? One of the reasons I wanted an iPhone is that I knew it would be a platform that Apple could and would continually improve. Within weeks patches were released to address early problems. Then came the iTunes store, which is probably the cheapest mobile music store in existence: for the same price as on the desktop, you can buy and sync any songs from iTunes’ music collection. Apple improved messaging by adding the Blackberryish add-a-period-if-I-type-two-consecutive-spaces feature and improved iPod functionality by (finally) isolating podcasts from the Albums list. The home button has additional functionality, making it easier to manage songs in play when the phone is locked. In a nod to international travelers, they’ve made it easier to turn off all network communications to save on roaming charges. Finally, they’ve enabled video out from the iPhone connector, allowing me to playback video podcasts, TV episodes, and movies on external devices–on TVs, in hotels, in my car, etc.

Speaking of the iPhone connector, did you have to buy new cables and accessories for the iPhone? Yes, I did…and it infuriates me. For reasons that I can only attribute to greed, Apple has chosen to “chip” all iPhone connectors, ensuring that most existing iPod cables and accessories–despite using the same proprietary connector as your iPhone–will not work with the iPhone. This makes it necessary for you to buy new audio/video cables and accessories for your iPhone, even though there’s no technical reason why they shouldn’t work properly with your iPhone’s connector. Frankly, this is probably the only thing about the iPhone that really pisses me off.

Speaking of trailing prepositions, where’s your head at? [OK, well, nobody really asked me that, but…] If by “where’s your head at” you mean “overall, what do you think of the iPhone,” I’d say that I remain very pleased with this product and with my decision to purchase it–even at the introductory price. I now rely on the iPhone’s SMS, Maps, Phone, Mail, and iPod features every day for my basic personal and business needs. And despite my desire for Bluetooth stereo, wireless sync, notes sync, and some rudimentary form of positioning…it is undeniably the best phone I’ve ever owned.

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