Archive for Consumer Electronics

Car Accessories for Samsung Galaxy S3

Two years ago, when the Samsung Galaxy series of phones were released, I, rather famously, posted three articles as to why “Samsung Vibrant is NOT my new Android Phone (Part One)“, (Part Two), (Part Three). Then, this past August, pretty much two years from then, I upgraded to the new Samsung Galaxy S3, and I couldn’t be happier.  All the problems I experienced with the Samsung Vibrant are gone, and there are so many new features I haven’t quite figured out how to use them all, but one thing is certain: I want to use this device safely in my car. So I’ve done a little shopping.

Belkin Bluetooth AirCast Car Hands-Free Kit. This purchase came about when I was looking for ways play music from the phone through my car stereo with a minimum of wiring. I found a few Bluetooth dongles that could plug into the auxiliary input of my car stereo, but then decided for a little bit more I could add hands free calling to the mix. You can watch the Youtube video below to see more about this accessory.


Arkon SM410 Universal Smartphone Windshield and Vent Car Mount. When I purchased the Samsung Galaxy S3 I also bought a car mount, but it only worked on the windshield or other places where I could get its suction cup to work. Many times in the past I considered getting car mount that could clip to the air vents on the dashboard, and after reading about this item from Simon Hill at Digital Trends in his article “Best Samsung Galaxy S3 accessories” I decided to give it a try. (I haven’t received it in the mail yet, but when I do I’ll update this post.

Fun with Augmented Reality

Following up to yesterday’s post on Augmented Reality Apps for Android and iPhone users:
Moosejaw 2012 X-Ray Catalog

Moosejaw’s AR Campaign

The Moosejaw clothing company has created a “Moosejaw X-Ray” app to go with their latest catalog. Download the app to your Android or iOS device, and scan the models in the catalog. On certain pages the clothed models will have their underwear exposed by the app. I tried it out (how could I resist) and found the x-ray images went from serious to funny. The male models in particular were ridiculous. One was revealed to have squid or octopus taped to their side, while another had bullet holes in his undershirt. You can install the app and then scan the image at left. Or you can try it on Moosejaw’s online catalog. The model images are 2D so there will be no peering around the back or the edges for the inquisitive or the infatuated. The next augmented reality app is fully 3D. For better or worse it kept me far too entertained.
Chestburster

Chestburster

This app from Fingerfunk kept me busy. There is an image you have to download and print (shown left or download hi-res image). Print the picture and attached it to a t-shirt, then view it using the Chestburster app for Android or iOS (iPhone or iPad). You’ll hear some alarm bells, and then the famous baby alien chestburster appears to burst through the image with the appropriate R rated gore. The image is fully three dimensional, so depending on the angle of view you can view the top, bottom, or sides of the alien’s head. You can even see into the open cavity behind it. I’d print on a white t-shirt for the best effect. I had fun taking shots of the baby alien bursting out of my refrigerator. Oh, yes, there is a screenshot feature so you can save the image seen on your screen. Some samples to follow shortly.

Burster Samples

 

Augmented Reality (AR) Apps

QR Code
QR Code

This is one of those one-thing-leads-to-another stories.

Yesterday, I received an email newsletter with a headline “Are QR Codes an Outdated Technology?” Since I create and track QR (quick response) codes as one of my business services, I was interested and took a look. The story linked a YouTube video titled “Image recognition that triggers augmented reality” from the TEDTalks series. The video was demonstrating an app called “Aurasma” which can be installed on Android and iPhone smartphones.

Robert Burns

Scan me with Aurasma on your smartphone

In my opinion, the video and lecture boiled down to “Why use QR codes as tags when the object can be a tag?” That is: If the image or object has a unique appearance, then it could be used a link to more information when scanned or photographed with a smartphone. So if you’re an artist, you don’t need a QR (quick response)  code on your publicity materials; just use your photo or one of your works, and when people scan it, they will be given more information via the Internet or other medium. In the demo, they used a painting of the Scottish poet Robert Burns, which when viewed with the Aurasma app, a video would take its place with an actor reciting one of Burns’ poems.

I tried out Aurasma on my Samsung Galaxy S III Android phone, and — while it worked — I found that there was a very very small number of companies making use of it. Furthermore, the company behind Aurasma was really providing customized apps for the companies that wanted it so they could create their own social media campaigns and games. These companies included Marvel and DC Comics, Document magazine, and a clothing company called Moosejaw.

Marvel ARMarvel and DC Comics are using augmented reality apps in major cities around the world. Instead of scanning a QR Code with your phone, you could scan architectural landmarks and posters, and then be presented with a video of a superhero or villain in action superimposed over the landmark standing before you. In the example at right, an Avengers X-Men poster is scanned with an app that superimposes a 3D image of Iron Man when viewed through the phone.

This is a good time to answer the question: What is augmented reality? According to Wikipedia:

With the help of advanced AR technology (e.g. adding computer vision and object recognition) the information about the surrounding real world of the user becomes interactive and digitally manipulable. Artificial information about the environment and its objects can be overlaid on the real world.

Think of it as similar to a HUD (heads up display) on a fighter jet or high-end automobile. You see the world in front of your, but computers project additional relevant information into your field of vision.

You can get the Marvel AR app for Android or iPhone from Marvel’s Mobile App page. Come back tomorrow when I show you what Moosejaw did with AR. I’ll also talk about a app that I got a lot of mileage out of yesterday. I’ll give you a clue, its called “Chestburster”. Think sci-fi.

Shop Now

Top Home Tech Picks from Buy.com

Hello out there! Just looking over some tech deals for your home or office on Buy.com, and I’ve found some great deals and upgrades for you! Take a look:

D-Link DIR-601 Wireless N 150 Home RouterFirst, get a D-Link DIR-601 Wireless N 150 Home Router for $23.99 at Buy.com, a $26 Savings! Valid through 08/30/2011. With all the smartphones, iPads, netbooks, laptops, Xboxes we all have tapping into our home Internet connections, you’ll eventually experience speed shortages (lag) or interuptions in service. You might even find that you have difficulty getting or maintaining a connection in some areas fo your home. Time to consider an upgrade to Wireless N. With this router you’ll get faster speeds than wireless G, greater coverage in your home or office, and greater protection from outsiders trying to tap into your network — locally or remotely. And if you need a wired connection for a computer or other device, then you get 4 wired connections on this router, too.

Samsung ML 1865W Laser PrinterGot school age kids? Do print a lot for school projects and papers? Then consider this Samsung ML-1865W Monochrome Laser Printer for $49.99 at Buy.com, a $122 Savings! Valid through 08/28/2011. It spits out a speedy 19 pages per minute, and since it uses toner, not ink, it will print longer than 3 or 4 ink cartridges. As a matter of fact, it is rated at 5,000 pages per month. It’s great for school projects that don’t require color, so that’s ideal for reports or daily homework assignments. All your text will be crisp and laser-sharp with 1200 x 1200 resolution.

These offers are good for the weekend. Come back to Skylarking early on Monday for more specials.

Sony Pocket Edition E-Reader post expanded

I’ve expanded Monday’s post “Sony Pocket Edition E-Reader for $129 at Borders Books” with additional information on book formats, price and size comparisons, and some pictures, too.

Sony PRS-350SC Pocket Edition tech specs

  • Released: September 2010
  • Predecessor: PRS300
  • Languages Supported:
  • File Types Supported: ePUB, PDF, BBeB, TXT, RTF, JPG, PNG, GIF, BMP

Overview. 5″ reader using the latest Pearl E Ink screen and featuring an IR based touch screen. Battery life is stated to be 2 full weeks of reading on a single charge. It is available in Silver or Pink. Features both right and left hand page advance and 6 font sizes. A handy search function lets you look up words in 2 English language dictionaries, including The New Oxford American Dictionary, Second Edition and Oxford Dictionary of English, Revised Edition and 10 built-in translation dictionaries.

  • Dimensions: 5 3/4 x 4 1/8 x 11/32 inches (H/W/D)
  • Weight: 5.47 oz
  • Text Formats: ePub (Adobe DRM protected), PDF (Adobe DRM protected), BBeB Book (PRS DRM protected), Text, RTF
  • Image : JPEG, PNG, GIF, BMP
  • Memory Size : 2GB User available capacity: Approx. 1.4GB
  • AC Power : Built-in rechargeable battery: 3.7 V DC, 940 mAh
  • Battery Life (Approx) : Approx. 10,000 pages turns
  • Recharging Time : 3 hours with a USB connection, or about 2 hours by the optional AC adapter (PRSA-AC1)
  • Display: 5″ E Ink® Pearl 800 x 600 pixels 16-level gray scale
  • Touch screen: clear screen using IR
  • USB: 2.0

Sony Pocket Edition E-Reader for $129 at Borders Books

Sony-PRS-350-Touch-Screen

Borders Books started selling the Sony Pocket Edition E-Reader for $50 below its regular price of $179 today. It doesn’t have wireless (WiFi) but its a great price all the same.

The Sony Pocket Reader has a grayscale touch screen, holds over 1,200 books, and the battery holds a charge for 2 weeks. It’s very compact, too. You can see in the picture below that it’s a little bit smaller than a paperback novel, and it weighs about the same, too.

SonyPRS 350 Touch screen

Sony Pocket Edition E-Reader (PRS 350)

So if you want to get yourself an e-reader but you don’t want to be locked in to Amazon or Barnes and Noble only, then run out and get a Sony Pocket Reader today. They’re not going to last at this price. It’s $20 less expensive than the basic Nook (Barnes & Noble), and $10 less than the cheapest Kindle.

Note: Amazon only sells digital eBooks for the Kindle. The Kindle reads Amazon’s proprietary “AZW” eBook format, but doesn’t read the EPUB format supported by most other modern eReaders. Consequently, most books available for the Kindle are only the ones Amazon has converted to be read on the Kindle. So when I went searching for some Isaac Asimov novels I wanted to read they couldn’t  be found for the Kindle, but they were available on other eBook webstores such as BooksAMillion.com. (You probably haven’t heard of Books a Million, but they are rated as one of the top 5 book retailers in the US.) They were in the EPUB format, and EPUB formats cannot be read on a Kindle.

Sony Pocket Edition next to a paperback

Size Comparison

What can you read? The Sony Pocket Edition Reader supports the standard EPUB and PDF formats supported by most other readers on the market.

Magazines and Newspapers. I was able to find newspapers and magazines that could be read on the Sony Pocket Reader, such as my local paper, Newsday; and there were a small variety of magazines available, but I suspect I’d find more with a little searching.

Red MyTouch 3G Slide Accessories

Back during my rant against the Samsung Vibrant, I mentioned that I had purchased a red T-Mobile myTouch 3G Slide as my new Android phone. I still have the phone, and I’m pretty happy with it. (I want the G2, but it will have to wait.)

I’m looking into getting this Red Rubberized Snap-On Hard Case for my phone. My phone is red, too, so it should work out quite nice as opposed to the white phone shown in the picture. It runs for $8.96 with free shipping. The shell is supposed to be simple to install in  seconds. The 2 pieces simply snap onto the phone! Though made from a hard rubber material, the case is light-weight, strong, and durable with custom cutouts for volume controls, camera shutter and lens, stereo jack, and the USB port.

Sticking with red, I’m also looking at this mini Capacitive Stylus for the T-Mobile MyTouch 3G Slide. A stylus is handy for manipulating items on the touch screen. It should be handy in the cold days ahead, since I won’t have to take off my winter gloves to operate the phone. If you’re wondering — as I was — what the little black peg is hanging off on the side: you plug the peg into the 3.5mm headset jack on top of the phone so the stylus is handily attached to the phone at all times. The item sells for $21.48 including the shipping charges. Available in: Jet Black, Metallic Silver, Crimson Red, Lunar Blue.

Zoom and Panoramic Shots with the Olympus SP-800UZ ($299 limited time)

The most important factor for me when buying a digital camera it’s zoom capability. Each year, it seems, camera companies compete for the greatest zoom at the lowest price. Olympus is not exception, and their SP-800UZ is a standout in this regard, and it has some fantastic features, too.

Zoom! This Olympus Sp-800UZ has an incredible 30x (840mm) zoom! (Don’t be surprised if a 1,000mm zoom comes out soon.) And for all that it is surprisingly light. The zoom makes it great for taking sports pictures from the “nose bleed” seats, or for nature watching, or for taking unobtrusive shots of your subjects from a distance. The camera’s impressive ISO of up to 3200allows you to take excellent shots of moving subjects.

(Beatles music welling up) If  zoom is all you need and you want to save on the $349 most retailers are asking for this great feature-rich camera, then use this link ahead before Nov. 27, 2010 and save $50 instantly on the Olympus SP-800UZ 14MP Digital Camera for only $299.

Picture Editing in the Camera. Another great feature is that you can edit the still pictures you have taken using the special effects function. This includes reducing red eye, shadow adjustment, color saturation, and cropping. With most digital cameras, if you want to edit your pictures, you would have to download them to a computer first.

Panoramic Function. The SP-800UZ’s Panorama mode is more interesting. You have a choice of using either Auto, Manual or PC modes.

  • In Auto mode, you only have to press the shutter release once, then move the camera to the next position, so that the target marks and pointers overlap, and the camera automatically releases the shutter for you. Three frames can be taken this way, which are then combined into a single panoramic image automatically in camera.
  • In Manual mode, you can also take three frames with the help of an on-screen guide, but you have to release the shutter manually. After that, the camera stitches the frames as above.
  • Finally, in PC mode, you can take up to 10 photos, which can be stitched using the supplied software after being downloaded to the computer.
Olympus SP-800UZ with Case + Kit

Camera with Case + Kit (Extremely Limited Supplies)

Best Results. For best results, in my opinion, use a tripod mount in the Manual or PC modes, since the Auto mode tends to introduce blurring in the image.

Do beautiful panoramic shots make you day? Then buying the Olympus SP-800UZ 14MP Digital Camera may be just the thing for you, too, and for only $299 before Nov. 27, 2010.

Be careful when unpacking this camera. The owners manual is stored on its memory chip, and you must download the manual before you use the camera. The camera’s PC software is also stored on the camera, so download that, too. Just connect the camera to your computer after removing the memory chip from the camera. Otherwise you can retrieve the manual and software from the Olympus website.

Video Mode and HDTV Connectivity. The camera comes with cables to connect to your computer and your HDTV to playback still images and movie pictures in 720i high definition. The SP-800UZA uses a rechargeable lithium battery pack instead of the Alkaline or NiMH rechargeable batteries. Which save you from frequent recharges. After all, battery capacity is important if you use your camera frequently or shoot video which drains both the battery and your memory card.

2GB internal memory. This camera has great internal memory storage when not using a memory chip. Plus the camera has an app which can transfer the pictures taken from internal memory to the memory card. The camera uses SDHC cards up to 8GB, which also great if you intend to shoot a lot of video.

Beauty mode. Like last year’s Olympus SP-590UZ, this camera has an in camera capability for touching up portraits. In this mode, you take a picture of a person, then the camera identifies the face and tries to remove blemishes and other minor imperfections, giving the skin a smooth look in the process. The touched up copy and the untouched up original are both stored in memory. The only drawback to the beauty mode is it does take several seconds for the camera to complete its work, which makes the camera unuseable until it’s finished.

Overall, the Olympus SP-800UZ is an amazing feature-laden point-and-shoot camera, with stunning zoom and panoramic capability, but it’s not likely to be a pro’s first choice.

Bonus: Get the [amazon asin=B003EG6D9E&text=Olympus SP-800UZ with 2 batteries, a case, and Accessories kit for $289.95]. Supplies are extremely limited.

Samsung Vibrant is NOT my new Android Phone (Part Three)

MyTouch 3G Slide (HTC)

I’ve been discussing issues I’ve had with Samsung’s Vibrant Android Phone. This is just one of four new phones in Samsung’s Galaxy S Series which includes Epic 4G (Sprint), the Captivate (AT&T), and Fascinate (Verizon).

So far my small yet bothersome problems have been the Contact Manager and the Calendar. Now comes the biggie. The problem that pushed me over the edge and made me return the phone for another model. (I’ll tell you what I got instead).

WorkSmart Labs CardioTrainer

WorkSmart Labs CardioTrainer on the G1

GPS. I am far from the first to complain about the GPS problems with the Samsung Vibrant. Sadly I wasn’t aware of this when I bought the phone, or I didn’t believe the magnitude of the problem.

The complaints have been that the GPS doesn’t get a strong satellite lock or that it takes too long to get one or that it’s just not reliable. I experienced all three problems. Various fixes were discussed in a variety of places online, but none of the fixes I found and implemented fixed the problem.

Poor GPS Experience 1. I’ve been using WorkSmartLabs CardioTrainer app for Android with its Weight Loss Tracker on a near daily basis. It has GPS features that allow me to track how far and fast I travel when exercise by walking or cycling. It’s a great feature, but only when your phone has a reliable GPS function. My G1 always gave me extremely accurate readings, but on one particular cycling trip the Samsung Vibrant showed me following a course almost 10 miles east of my actual location.

Poor GPS Experience 2. While using CardioTrainer on a walk, the Samsung Vibrant showed me as walking in along a spiraling or corkscrew direction. Furthermore, it showed me as moving while I was standing still. I imagine the movement was the device working on pinpointing my location while its link to the satellite signal improved.

Poor GPS Experience 3. Here’s a beaut. I’m riding my bike under the clear open sky, yet the Samsung Vibrant lost its GPS signal and showed several gaps in he course I followed. the largest gap was almost a quarter mile long.

MyTouch 3G Slide (HTC)

MyTouch 3G Slide (HTC)

Taking It Back. I took the Vibrant back to T-Mobile, and told them I was very disappointed with the phone and wanted to exchange it for the MyTouch 3G Slide Android Phone (made by HTC; makers of the G1 and the Sprint EVO 4G). The 3G Slide is smaller than the Samsung Vibrant and doesn’t have the Vibrant’s sexy iPhone look-alike charm, so they were amazed I wanted to exchange it since no one had returned one to that location in the two or more weeks since its release.

“They obviously don’t need GPS,” I replied. “I use it everyday, and I need to be able to count on it.” Specially since I was traveling out of state soon. (I was in Denver from 8/14 to 8/17 to see the rock group Rush at the Red Rocks Amphitheater on Aug. 16 — great show! Hurrah! Where you there?)

Update: In the last 48 hours, while I was in Denver I read online that Samsung is releasing a GPS fix in September. They don’t have an exact date as yet. I’d consider a possible move back to the Vibrant if the fix really works. My old G1 was highly reliable with GPS. I’d like to see if the Vibrant can be too.

Currently, the MyTouch 3G Slide is working fine by me. The contact manager and calendar work the way I used to, along with a few other improvements. The GPS is solid and my workouts have been tracking fine. As a matter of fact, the Vibrant couldn’t get a GPS signal in the T-Mobile store, but the 3G Slide got a fix within 300 meters in less than 3 seconds in the same location. The only problem I am having is the power switch is right on top and tends to activate the phone when its off in my pocket.

The Vibrant has great HD video and multimedia features. That seems to me to be Samsung’s focus — video and photos — but these, as nice as they are, are not features I really need. I considered quitting T-Mobile and getting the Sprint EVO 4G (another HTC phone) but I have a lot of friends who use T-Mobile so its nice to be able to call them any time at no extra charge, ie minutes of airtime.

Samsung Vibrant is NOT my new Android Phone (Part Two)

Samsung Vibrant

Monday I started discussing issues I had with the new Samsung Vibrant, a phone which uses the Android operating system for cell phones.

I really enjoy the basic Android software. Yesterday, I discussed the clunkiness I experienced with Samsung’s modifications to the Contact Manager. It just wasn’t as simple and intuitive as the basic Android software seemed on my old G1 (for T-Mobile by HTC). There’s two more points I’d like to hit on.

Samsung Vibrant

Samsung Vibrant

The Calendar. I am a forgetful person, so a great calendar that sends me reminders when I need them is a big plus on a smartphone. I’m busy and have lots of things I try to accomplish every day in my business and personal life. I need to have substantial and timely alerts to prepare for and be on time for business meetings and appointments with clients.

With the old G1, I liked being able to specify a basic (default) reminder interval for events. Typically I like to get notified 2 hours in advance that I have something coming up. The Samsung Vibrant had a several presets, one being 1 hour in advance, and the next being one day in advance.

?!?

The preceding line was not a typo. I was genuinely puzzled and dismayed. This was pretty annoying. I’d have to choose between 1 hour or 1 day. Some may not consider this a problem, but for me it was. Eventually I did discover I could set a reminder for 2 hours in advance, but I couldn’t set 2 hours as my default reminder. Each appointment I entered I had to set the reminder period manually. Can you say “excessive keystrokes”?

frustrationThe next problem with the Calendar I will admit is specific to the basic Android O/S and the Samsung variant. Both allow you use multiple Google Calendar accounts so you can import from your multiple accounts or from associates accounts. NEITHER version allows you to specify the your own color scheme for these calendars. The software chooses them for you, and most of them appear to be shades of brown. It would be great if I could choose my own colors.

Next Up: The Biggest Problem of All.

Please chime in with your own pros and cons on the Samsung Vibrant. It has great features, too, but these were dealbusters for me. Specially the next one.

Thank yous: Thanks to @gmalhotra23 @OnADge @Alltop_tech for retweeting this post.