Archives For Reviews

Hands On with Griffin RoadTrip

Dave Zatz —  December 9, 2008

iphone-roadtrip

Over the years, I’ve owned several iPods. And along with them, several car charging solutions and/or car mounts. They’ve run the gamut from a low-tech cup holder to higher end solutions from Monster and Belkin. But my new favorite, by a long shot, is the latest iteration of the Griffin RoadTrip.

My recent search for an iPhone mount began when rumors of a GPS-enabled iPhone first surfaced. Other than a few clunky-looking generic device holders, I wasn’t seeing much until I stumbled upon the Griffin WindowSeat. Unfortunately, right about when I discovered the unit they either delayed the release or temporarily pulled it while adding an adapter to support the iPhone 3G. I also took a look at the highly regarded ProClip solutions, but the price ($65) and single car installation kept me away.

Enter Griffin RoadTrip. The newest version (MSRP $99, $68 @ Amazon) includes adapters for a wide variety of iPod devices, including both the iPhone and the iPhone 3G, charges the unit, looks great, and beams all audio over FM to your car stereo. The RoadTrip also nearly instantaneously identifies open frequencies to broadcast on. Which comes in handy given the radio pollution in metro areas like mine. (However, you can expect some GSM interference if using an iPhone with cellular connectivity – easily masked while music is playing. And this isn’t necessarily Griffin’s fault… I get similar interference without the mount in play when my phone pulls email, etc.)

As I’m still toting a first gen non-3G iPhone, I had assumed I’d have to load it up with my own tracks for in-car entertainment. However, Pandora over EDGE with the RoadTrip broadcasting in mono (less interference) works surprisingly well and is a decent solution since dumping XM. It’s also been nice to be able to see incoming callers without fumbling for the phone, and if the font is maxed out, I can read email – while the car is stopped, of course. I snapped a pic of Google Maps (below) to represent what I hope is some sort of future turn-by-turn GPS application… at which point I’ll upgrade my iPhone (or when Apple adds a respectable camera). And given my in-car success with Anderson Cooper’s 360 video podcast, I wouldn’t mind seeing some mobile Slingbox software.

I’ve been testing out the Flip MinoHD for a couple of weeks now, but I’m still not entirely ready to render a verdict.

While the video quality is pretty darn good for the size and cost of the device, it’s not been enough to knock my socks off. Plus, I’m finding there are actually down sides to shooting in HD. The files are so large as to be unwieldy (although YouTube now accepts up to 1GB uploads), and oddly the freebie Windows Movie Maker app won’t accept the MPEG-4 format. On the good side, the audio on the MinoHD is an improvement over my current Flip Ultra, which goes very staticky with any finger rubbing on the front of the case.

To check out the difference in video, see the clip above from the MinoHD (click “watch in HD” if you visit YouTube), and the comparison clip from the Flip Ultra (click “watch in high quality”). But keep in mind that YouTube still compresses everything. The quality of the MinoHD clip was higher before upload.

Finally, if you’re set on getting a cheap HD camcorder, read Andy Ihnatko’s comparison of the Flip MinoHD versus the Kodak Zi6. He’s very thorough.

Evaluating Slacker Premium

Mari Silbey —  November 18, 2008

I’m a well-documented Slacker junkie, but it’s only recently that I’ve started testing Slacker’s premium service on my first gen player. The subscription cost is just high enough to make me squeamish, but a free trial can’t be ignored. And, in true Slacker form, I’m finding the latest update to my music experience addictive.

A Slacker premium subscription gives you two critical features: no limit on skipping songs, and the ability to save songs you add to your favorite list. Both features have significantly improved my treadmill workouts. For example, I (embarrassingly) love the Today’s Hits station when I’m running, but sometimes I get a string of slow songs. Not ideal, but it’s no problem when I can skip as many songs as I like.

The song-saving feature is even more appealing. Would I ever have thought to download Jay-Z’s mash-up with Linkin Park’s song “Numb”? Nope. And yet now it’s on my go-to playlist for when my run starts to falter.

At $9.99 a month ($8.33/mo for six months; $7.50/mo for twelve months), the Slacker premium service edges into the category of a monthly expense I’d like to live without. But on the other hand, if I were to spend money on any subscription music service, this would be it. I’ve never even been tempted by subscription music offerings before. Slacker keeps moving digital music in the right direction.

The Slacker G2 Review

Mari Silbey —  September 30, 2008

When Slacker’s G2 Internet “radio” launched I found myself impressed with the hardware redesign, but figured I wasn’t in need of an upgrade. My Slacker unit functions basically identically to the G2, and I’ve never minded the size. Why spend the money for a shiny new toy I don’t need?

Then my G2 review unit arrived.

Setting aside size for a moment, Slacker has improved several aspects of their portable device that aren’t easily conveyed in a bulleted list of features. The interface is much faster. Lag time was only a minor annoyance before, but with it corrected, I’m not sure I can go back to the old way. The audio quality is much better. Again, it’s not that the sound was bad before, but it’s certainly clearer now – and there seems to be much more volume flexibility, which I find very useful on a noisy treadmill. The buttons are easier to manage. It may just be the smaller size, but all the buttons seems better positioned for use. The “Favorite” and “Ban” buttons are definitely more convenient on top of the device.  The new earphones rock. I actually ditched the earphones from my original Slacker device because they wouldn’t stay in my ears. The new ones do. The new case is even decent. Rubber instead of the old cloth, and form-fitting instead of blocky.

And finally there’s the size. The Slacker G2 is perfectly snug in my hand. I thought the angled sides on the original Slacker device were cool, but the rounded edges on the G2 make it perfect for the palm.

Of course, there’s also all of the killer Slacker software functionality on the new G2. Customized radio stations available offline. If you have an online Slacker account, the company will even pre-program and load your device so it arrives populated with your stations. This is a great way to get past the first annoying device update. Once a station is loaded initially, the refresh times aren’t bad. You can also drop your own MP3 files on to the Slacker G2 to complement your radio stations. Always good to have a few go-to songs when the mood hits you.

All in all, I have a feeling I’ll soon be plunking down the cash for a new G2. They’re due out in Best Buy in October.

Hands on with the Slingbox PRO-HD

Dave Zatz —  September 25, 2008

Sling Media’s Slingbox PRO-HD is now shipping. What makes this box unique is the ability to broadcast home video content in true HD – both within the home and beyond.

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Like what you’re listening to? Share it wirelessly with a friend. That’s the premise of the new i2i Stream from Aerielle, which lets you stream music from one music player to a second set of unattached headphones. One device in the i2i Stream package plugs in to your music player and allows it to broadcast. The second (they’re interchangeable) plugs in to a regular set of headphones and acts as a receiver.

I received the i2i Stream review unit a couple weeks ago, and since then I’ve had great fun sharing music from my Slacker portable and from several different generations of household iPods. Once you get past the initial charging session, which is painfully slow with a USB-PC connection, the i2i Stream is simple, small and convenient. I haven’t had a single problem connecting the devices to my various music players or making them stream music to remote headphones. Add to that the appealing colored lights that indicate broadcasting frequency, and the i2i Stream makes for a fun if kitschy gadget. Even the audio quality broadcast over the 2.4Ghz frequency, which other reviewers have complained about, struck me as reasonable. Certainly good enough for casual listening.

Unfortunately, I’m still trying to come up with a good reason to buy the i2i Stream. Sure it’s fun, but when do you really need to stream your music to someone else? Most people have their own players and want to listen to their own music. There’s also no shortage of speakers and adapters for plugging in portable players when you do want to share, albeit in a more public fashion. Continue Reading…

I’m impressed with the D-Link DSM-330 DivX Connected HD Media Player’s interface and ease of use and the playback quality for formats supported out of the box. There is a market for this type of device, similar to Apple TV, and there’s compelling online content that will appeal to many with this media extender. Unfortunately that online content is relatively scarce. A bigger issue is the default restriction to only DivX video or MP3 and WMA audio, which limits this product to those who either already have encoded the bulk of their collection as DivX or who take the time to “hack” the unit to stream other formats. In talking with a DivX representative, I’ve learned that they are planning to provide additional format support. In fact, the next version of the server software will support Flash video support, which should help quite a bit with online content in particular.

I can recommend this device with qualifications. If you have a large DivX collection or are just starting out and like the concept of all video on DivX then this is definitely a very desirable media extender for you. If you don’t fit into that category, I still encourage you to consider the device for it’s nice interface and strong potential for online video and other online content. It’s not for everyone, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Read the rest of this entry at Brent Evans Geek Tonic »