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Sungale Wi-Fi photo frame with widgets

UPDATE: Sungale has let me know that there will be another firmware update before the frame officially hits retail. The company is graciously letting me hold on to the frame until the update, and I plan to post again.

I’ve had something of an obsession with Wi-Fi photo frames ever since eStarling brought the first one (disastrously) to market. So naturally I jumped at the chance to get my hands on the new Sungale touch-screen, Wi-Fi, widgetized photo frame – colloquially known as the ID800WT.

Sungale’s attempt to create a photo-displaying widget station is ambitious to the say the least. I’ve seen other manufacturers add wireless connectivity, limited access to Web content, and touch-screen capabilities, but not at the level that Sungale attempts. Everything on the screen is touchable, and the widget menu includes weather, news, Picasa, Gmail, YouTube, and Internet radio access. Alas, the execution doesn’t currently live up to the vision. The Sungale ID800WT is decent as a standard digital photo frame, but it’s not the tablet of the future that it aims to be.

Full review, specs, and photos after the jump.

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My initial impression of the Verizon Hub wasn’t entirely positive – I’d rather have a touchscreen Eee Top in my kitchen. –DZ, 02/09

Given my pre-release proclamation above and after catching Brad Linder’s (Lilliputing) ASUS Eee Top ETP1602 review, I had to get my hands on a unit. Fortunately, Brad (and ASUS) were quite accommodating and I’ve been playing with his very same review loaner the last couple weeks. Whereas Brad dropped the Eee Top (~$500) in his office, being a fan (conceptually) of the Audrey and Icebox computing appliances of lore, I placed the 15.6″ all-in-one PC in our kitchen. Where I believe it belongs.

First off, while definitely plasticy, the Eee looks pretty sharp. Minus the cable clutter. My phone related paraphernalia could easily be cleaned up, but I positioned it front and center (well, off to the left) to demonstrate connectivity. Unfortunately, the wired keyboard and mouse would require an additional investment to free yourself of cables. In fact, if we’re counting pennies, I’d prefer ASUS provide wireless interfaces over the touchscreen – which I found myself rarely using. (Perhaps compounded by the review unit not shipping with its bundled stylus.) I appreciated the volume and brightness controls located on the bezel, in addition to the screen blanking button. And the Eee Top rear, which Brad photographed, features a simple yet effective, adjustable kickstand and various ports.

The custom apps (i.e. Eee Easy Mode) and third party software (i.e. Cyberlink media shell) that Brad felt made the Eee Top stand out, were mostly a distraction for me. (But are perfectly suitable for non-techies and children.) Thus, they were banished in relatively short order. Windows XP has been around for eons and I’m comfortable mousing around the UI as designed. To meet my widget needs, I installed all of Google Desktop. For telephonic capabilities, I plugged in the magicJack ($40, free US calling the first year) on a side USB port. (Although Skype would also work well, given the built-in microphone and video camera.) I had hoped the ETP1602 would made a great web-based kitchen television, but the video capabilities are a mixed bag…

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Kevin Tofel’s purchase and coverage of the Kodak Zi6 pocketable HD video cam (MSRP $180) led to an impulse buy Friday morning on the way to Disney World and in preparation for CES. I shot a couple dozen clips, about an hour of video filling maybe half an 8GB SD card (~$20), under a variety of conditions. The device was dead simple to use, as was offloading 720p video (H.264) onto a Mac using the integrated USB connector. As expected, video quality was nice in daylight and when I managed to keep my hand/arm still during shooting. Low light quality wasn’t great, although better than I expected. The associated audio recordings were also better than I expected. However, the still photo capabilities were poor – on par with a middle-of-the-pack cell phone camera. Video colors look a bit hyper-realistic and, in addition to my unsteady hand, the Zi6 seemed to introduce periodic stutters. Below is a brief clip of some birds (YouTube link) outside during the day and here’s a night recording of some SpectroMagic.

What folks really want to know, of course, is how the Kodak Zi6 stacks up against the Flip MinoHD. As I didn’t have both cameras in my possession simultaneously, I can’t do a direct comparison of video quality. I’ve read a couple of blog posts suggesting the Zi6 provides somewhat better visuals, but I imagine results are similar. However, we do know is that the Kodak currently runs about $60 cheaper than the MinoHD on Amazon. Although, some of that saved cash would be invested in a SD memory card. The Zi6 has a larger display (2.4″) than the MinoHD (1.5″), but that results in a more bulky (although, still relatively compact) unit. The Zi6 has the benefit of accepting AA batteries, and ships with a pair that can be recharged… only when removed from the camera. Compare to the MinoHD, which has a built-in rechargeable battery. You lose the ability to pick up spare batteries, but again this design decision results in a smaller device… that can be charged via USB. Where I think the Zi6 really trumps the MinoHD is by providing macro mode for close-ups (critical for geek bloggers) and by offering essentially unlimited storage via SD cards.

So, what’s my verdict? At the end of the day, both the MinoHD and Zi6 are basic recording devices. Even though they capture high def video resolutions, the optics and options are decidedly low-end. What they have going for them is their simplicity, compact size, and attractive price point – excellent for casual and spontaneous video capture. And not all that different from features found in many digital still cameras.

Update: Kodak announced the Zx1 today, the heir apparent, ahead of CES. The ‘weather resistant’ cam boasts a sleeker, smaller enclosure and bundles an HDMI-out cable.

Hands On with Griffin RoadTrip

Dave Zatz —  December 9, 2008


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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