Apple Bricks iPhones

By Mike on 11:15 pm

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Apple warned it, and made through on it's threat. A recent firmware update for the iPhone bricked phones modified to run on other GSM networks besides AT&T. Of course, this will make many early adopters pretty mad. It is technically illegal to modify the phone's software though, which is ironic in the sense that it's not illegal to modify any other product on the market for one's own use.

Apple doesn't seem to be winning too many friends with the recent things they've been doing to the iPhone and iPod. Even long time Apple fans like me are asking a collective "WTF?" They certainly seem to be adopting some Microsoft-esque tactics as of late. While Apple is a big corporation, just like Microsoft and hardly has a clean conscience, such tactics seem out of character.

When it comes to issues of modded iPhones, I think there is only one person to blame for the issues and that's Apple itself. Apple said they didn't want people doing this, and they warned people that they would put a stop to it. However, it's fully Apple's fault since they released the most anticipated mobile device of the year through only ONE service provider in ONE country? Did they honestly think people would wait around in our instant gratification society, especially with sites like eBay that allow people to easily buy stuff world wide? I think too that they underestimated the technical know how people have today.
You just can't make exclusive deals like they did with AT&T anymore and hope nobody cares. People want as much choice as possible. While the iPhone is a good product, the business model behind it is very poor and extremely short sighted. Apple should replace all bricked iPhones, illegally modded or not. People put good money down for those, and legally bought them, either first or second hand. They should be allowed to run it on any compatible service provider they want. Well, looks like we have another Newton. Killed by poorly thought out business practices. In many ways, Apple is the mirror image of Microsoft. While Microsoft sells bad products with genius marketing, Apple fails to sell good products with poor business sense. Sounds to me like they need a shake up in the board room.

Do You Retro?

By Mike on 10:26 pm

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Back in August, UK game site Pocket Gamer released a list of the ten best PSP games in 2007 (so far). Ranking 7th was the Sega Mega Drive Collection. This game is known as the Sega Genesis Collection in North America and features 27 games from the Sega Genesis console. Yep, it's retro gaming at its best though I'm still hoping for the whole Sonic library for the Genesis to wind up on on the PSP. Surprisingly, retro gaming is hot, and has been for the last couple of years. It all started with emulation on PC and Mac a few years ago. While technically illegal, emulation allowed gamers to replay their favourite titles on their computer rather than dragging dusty old games out of the closet. It also allows you to experiment with so called 'abandonware' titles, that is games that are no longer produced and supported by their manufacturer, essentially abandoned products. While it is technically illegal, the manufacturers usually don't care if the product is particularly old and obscure. You can find some gems online.

More recently, some game makers have figured that some of the more popular titles can be brought back to life, and it's proving to be big business. The Sega Genesis collection for the PSP and PS2 is just one example of how successful retro gaming can be. Previously, Sega released two Sonic collections for the three sixth generation consoles. Even earlier, as far back as 1998, an Atari 2600 collection appeared on Playstation 1, and Nintendo released a couple NES games for the Gameboy Color.

Today, all three major consoles offer retro games as downloadable ROM files through their respective online stores. Wii's virtual console is perhaps the best known and probably has the widest variety. The Wii offers games for the NES, SNES, N64, and Sega Genesis. Even some lesser known consoles have appeared on the Wii such as Neo Geo and TurboGrafx-16. The games aren't too expensive, about $12.50 CDN for N64 games, which are the priciest. They're purchased via Wii points, which are essentially the equivalent of prepaid phone cards for the Wii. N64 games cost 1000 points while NES games are 500. They are stored on local flash memory, which means load times will be faster than CD/DVD based collections. The biggest games are only around 64 megabytes tops (for N64 games, though games that big are uncommon), so the Wii's 512mb (400mb effective) flash storage can hold a lot. If you like retro, the Wii is your best bet since it will likely have the widest variety of familiar titles from the 80s and early 90s, including your favourite Nintendo classics.
Playstation 3 is a little more limited than the Wii in terms of games available, yet games for the widely popular PS1 are sold through the Playstation Store. The PS1 is over 10 years old now and can be considered on the retro borderline. PS1 games can be played on either a PS3 or PSP. They're purchased with real money, either from PC (for play on the PS3) or the PS3 (for play on the PSP, but PC connectivity is coming).
Like the Wii, the Xbox 360 has a robust array of retro games through Xbox Live Arcade. There's not a lot of classic console games yet, most games are from the Sega Genesis. However there are some interesting "classic style" arcade games and even a few retro PC games such as the original Doom. They're bought using points in the same way Wii Virtual Console games are and games are stored locally on the 360's HDD.

So why is retro gaming so popular all of a sudden? Well, I think it's because people are bored of contemporary titles which tend to be mostly shooters and car racing. These games can be fun but get boring quickly and have little replay value. Retro games on the other hand can be played for years on end without being boring. They offer simpler controls and are easier to get into. They have a much higher fun factor. The reason why retro gaming has become so successful is the same reason why the Wii is successful. They're fun titles that bring gaming back to the masses.

Microsoft to Downgrade Vista?

By Mike on 9:55 pm

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Earlier in the year, talk radio personality Anthony Cumia of "Opie and Anthony" fame showed us what he thought of Windows Vista. He took the DVD and "installed" it in his paper shredder. He just could not get the OS to run stable on his state of the art computer which was supposedly "Vista Ready". Over the weekend, frustrated with a Windows conflict with his webcam, he shot his PC with a rifle. I'll post that video as soon as it comes available.

Well, not all of us are willing to take our PC into the basement and literally shoot it for the amusement of talk radio fans, we've all considered it. Windows itself can be rather frustrating at times. Random BSODs, driver conflicts, problems that take forever to diagnose and fix even for seasoned power users, the list goes on. The contrast of Windows against the game console like ease of Macintosh is like a blade. I used to have a lot of problems with XP once I first got it but as I learned more over the years, I managed to get it running stable, most of the time. I've tried all three major operating systems and although Windows is not the most difficult to use, it seems to suffer more problems than the other two.

Then there's Vista. You've heard me complain about it. I won't upgrade to it. I don't really give a crap about DirectX 10 or pretty colours. Microsoft has been flooded with complaints about Vista, most notably from businesses. Such so that Microsoft is now offering a special "downgrade" kit to OEMs, which can be made available to customers. Essentially, it downgrades Vista installs to Windows XP. The kit will only be made available for Vistas Business and Ultimate. It is said that the XP Pro restore disc will be offered at little to no charge. Certain OEMs such as Dell, HP, and Lenovo continue to offer XP to customers rather than just Vista. Dell offers Ubuntu Linux on select systems.

So why this, why now? XP had problems when it first came out, big problems. Aside from the bloat between XP and Windows 2000, for most users, XP was different. It was a new NT based OS, while Windows 9x had been DOS based. Problems when moving to a new kernel architecture are expected. Vista itself is simply a kernel upgrade to XP. The two are not fundamentally different when you strip them down to their bare bones. I also feel that user's perceptions of how computers and technology in general "should be" are changing. People want the game console style computer than just plugs in and works, with a minimum of setup. That's one of the primary reasons Macintosh has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years. Upgrades should integrate seamlessly. Your average user today can't afford the downtime of their PC being in the shop, nor to they have the expertise to wade through driver conflicts and other miscellaneous problems and glitches. XP remains popular simply because it is familiar, widely supported, and relatively stable. It also requires less system resources and runs the same programs faster. Vista features can be added to XP such as widgets in the form of Yahoo Widgets, and a Mac OS like dock program from Object Dock, both I use.
Aside from that, there's also the cost of Vista, which is more than XP installs right now and also the general hassle of upgrading any computer OS.

Assuming my assumptions about XP's popularity and Vista's lack of are correct, I think Microsoft will really need to change while developing Windows 7, which may be released by the end of the decade. Rather than gloating over Vista's supposed success, the need to get to work on how they can streamline their OS, and not how they can make it prettier. Windows is the hooker of the OS world right now. All flash and no substance. If they can't bring in that game console 'plug and go' ease, having to downgrade Vista will be the least of their problems.

Apple Locking iPods to iTunes?

By Mike on 5:50 pm

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Most digital media players function as USB mass storage devices. What does that mean? Well, basically, they function just like a USB hard drive or thumb drive. You can drag and drop files easily to them. They show up as a drive in your OS. The iPod has always been different in this respect. The iPod can only be loaded with a media player such as iTunes or Windows Media Player, and once hooked up to your PC, it's a write only drive. You can't download your tunes off your iPod. The iPod is very limited in this respect. The iPod Classic for example with it's huge hard drive would make an ideal mass storage device but for some unknown reason, Apple doesn't do that.

Now iPod users will be even more limited. Apple has sneaked a new protocol in it's latest firmware update for the current line of iPods. New iPods are now locked to iTunes, Apple's proprietary media player. Meaning that the music can only be uploaded to your iPod through iTunes. I really have no problem with iTunes, at least once I found an addon for it that allows it to play OGG Vorbis files. However, this action sounds awfully similar to some of the things Microsoft was fined for by the European Commission. It forces iPod users to use iTunes, whether they like it or not. I have a funny feeling this is going to backfire on Apple. I'm usually an Apple fan but I just don't like the iPod. Locking it to iTunes is just asinine.

Here's the story on Anandtech.

Getting the Most Out of Your PSP

By Mike on 2:34 pm

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The PSP is a gem when it comes to portable media players. Of course it's a game device but you really do get your money's worth with the other stuff it does. I've compiled some freeware programs to get the most out of your PSP.


Want to read eBooks on the go? Perhaps you want to read that latest magazine or journal article on the road without printing it out. PDF 2 PSP might be what you're looking for. While not giving direct PDF support to PSP, it can convert PDF files to JPEG so you can view them on your PSP's photo viewer. It works, as advertised, which is surprising since a lot of so called PSP utilities don't. The program uses a simple GUI in which you select your PDF file and its output location. You simply hit convert and it does the rest. It also lets you adjust the size, quality, and orientation of the final image. The program formats the PDF file for optimum viewing on the PSP once converted to JPEG. It places all image files into a folder, one file per page. I tried it with a couple journal articles and an eBook and I was pleased with the results. This is a must for students.
PDF 2 PSP is only available for Mac OS X. It's a universal binary so it works with both PowerPC and Intel based Macs.

PSP Video 9
Developed by Red Kawa, PSP Video 9 allows you to convert movies easily to MPEG-4 AVC format for playback on your PSP. Unlike many so called PSP video converters, it can encode to the PSP's native 480x272 resolution and 16:9 aspect ratio. Using the program is strait forward. Select an MPEG2 file for input and then it directs you to video settings. Sliders let you select aspect ratio, video quality, sound quality, etc. It tells you how much space the final video will use. Bars show video quality and encoding speed. Hit convert and it does the rest. A more advanced mode allows power users to manually adjust settings rather than using the sliders.
When the video is recorded, you can ask the program to upload it for you to your PSP via USB through Video 9's own media manager. PSP Video 9 is probably the best video converting program for PSP out there, including both commercial and freeware. PSP Video 9 runs on Windows 2000, XP, and Vista.

RSS Streaming Tools
I already mentioned this little program a while ago but it's worth another look. Although it's in the alpha stage, it's still pretty complete. The program allows you to use your PC as a media server for your PSP, rather than a Playstation 3. It exploit's the PSP's RSS 2.0 capability. RSS 2.o allows streaming of music and video, unlike RSS which is just text. RSS Streaming Tools allows you to stream and transfer (wirelessly, without a USB connection) music from your PC onto your PSP. It can also stream online radio via Shoutcast from your PSP. I've tested both these features and they work great. RST can also live stream content from your computer's audio inputs allowing you to listen to FM radio or your stereo system through your PSP, or any audio your PC is currently playing. It does this through the popular open source VLC media player and Microsoft's Direct Show. If that wasn't enough, RST can also stream YouTube content, just like the iPhone.
Right now, RSS Streaming Tools is in the alpha stage, meaning some additional features aren't working yet. The program has a few bugs on the Windows end. There's also no video streaming as of yet, though I expect it to be added if the developer continues the project. Like all media servers, it's best to have the server hardwired rather than wireless for the best performance. RSS Streaming Tools works with Windows 2000, XP, and Vista.

Be sure to check back frequently. I'll post more exciting, useful, freeware PSP utilities as I come across them.

What's in a Wii

By Mike on 10:50 am

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Back around 2005, Nintendo promised us a "Revolution" in gaming. In fact, Revolution was the code name for a project that they were being tight lipped about. Nintendo had come from a bad round before that. Nintendo had been tops with their first two consoles, the NES and SNES, then fell back to second with the N64 (only selling 1/3 of the units the PS1 did), then it fell to last place with the Gamecube. Seems Nintendo really did need Sega to keep them on their toes, as their decline seemed to begin when their old rival did.

Something changed. Nintendo is now leading the pack, selling 9 million units world wide, a full 100,000 more than the Xbox 360 that was out a full year before it. The once popular Playstation is now in a distant third. (All figures on Wikipedia, from various sources)
When we heard it was being called the Wii, we all balked at it and made potty jokes. However, their was a lot of enthusiasm about the console.
What is the Wii? Well, it's basically a beefed up version of the Gamecube. It's slower and has less memory than the 360 and PS3. It cannot even play DVDs, or output to HD resolutions. The key to the Wii's success is in the controller. Full motion recognition. The game responds as the player moves about.

The Wiimote and Nunchuks work through a motion sensing bar that you place on top of the TV. It's much more high tech than Sony's Sixaxis controller for the PS3 in that it allows for a wide range of motion input, rather than just tilting the controller. You can actually swing the sword in Zelda or box in Wii Sports. Nintendo also has introduced the Wii Zapper, which is basically a souped up Light Gun that takes advantage of the new motion system. What separates the Wii from more advanced consoles is the addition to a new dimension of game play. Back in the 1990s, virtual reality was thought to be the next big thing, now we're finally getting a taste of it in our homes. With obesity rates on the rise, the Wii is one of the first consoles that actually gets people moving. (I'm aware of Dance Dance Revolution for the PS2 but that was really a one off) Such so that Nintendo is planning Wii Fitness, a workout regime for the Wii. It's the kind of stuff that grapples kids and adults alike. This can be contrasted to the rather bland, conventional game play the other consoles use. It can actually be argued that conventional game play has been suffering in recent years in order to improve the audio/visual experience.

So what does this all mean? Well, the Wii's success can directly be attributed to it's new dimension of game play that brings fun back to gaming after years of overly serious titles. That and it's also the cheapest next generation console out there. I don't think Wii is simply a fad as one Sega exec put it. Heck, in 1983, many people thought video games themselves were a fad. They were wrong. The Wii, despite it's lack of graphics power has set the bar a lot higher. Couple that with strong franchises and you've got a winner. I think by the eighth generation of game consoles, we'll see motion control as being the standard.

Well Jingle my 'Ringle': RIAA's Answer to the Ringtone

By Mike on 4:40 pm

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How much would you pay for a ringtone for your cell phone? That little 10 second musical number, perhaps part of your favourite song, that tells you you've got a call. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) seems to think that $6 - $7 US is a fair price. Well, to be fair, the 'Ringle' (as RIAA likes to call it) comes on a CD single. Basically the term "ringle" was coined as a combination of ringtone and single. So for this, you get one or two songs, and a 10 second remix for your cell phone. By contrast, songs off iTunes are $1.39 for unprotected MP3 versions. Meaning you could purchase five songs for the price of one ringle and then mix your own ringtone from one of them.

The ringle is a classic example of what goes on behind the scenes of RIAA. This particular organization has sparked a lot of controversy lately due to claims of overpriced products, use of intrusive digital rights management, and questionable lawsuits against their own customers. The RIAA, for the most part, has ignored market trends. Most people prefer unprotected digital audio formats such as MP3 while audiophiles prefer vinyl records or DVD Audio. The CD itself has been dying a slow death, something the RIAA likes to attribute to "illegal" file sharing, but it's rather due to these changing trends. The ringle is a last ditch attempt to try and jump start CD sales. Up until today, I did not even know that CD singles were available. I've never seen them in stores or for sale online. The MP3 is the new single.
I think the ringle will fail, and the RIAA will likely attribute that failure to file sharing as they always do. Few people are going to pay half the price of an entire album for one song and a 10 sec audio clip, even if it is of higher quality than MP3. The music industry has dug itself into a hole. This has become increasingly clearer as time wears on. If the record labels were smart, they'd disband the RIAA and start offering customers what they want. But they aren't smart and that's why they'll continue to loose money.

It's amazing that the people who have the most to benefit from the new digital age are also the ones most resistant to it.

Console Wars: August 2007 Results

By Mike on 10:00 am

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Market research firm NPD has released US sales figures for the next gen consoles. Once again, the Wii is still holding strong, despite shortages. The Wii beat out the competition by nearly double; Nintendo moved 403,600 units in the month of August.

The Xbox 360 saw a boost, likely due to recent price cuts. Once again taking second place in monthly sales, 276,700 were sold.

As for the PS3, well, recent price cuts didn't help it all that much. Only 130,600 PS3s were sold in August. The PS2 is still outselling it's successor. 202,000 Playstation 2s were sold. Sony is trying to market the PS2 as a cheap alternative to the Wii and it's large library of strong games is keeping it moving. The PS2 can be bought for about $140, though it does not come with a pack in game, however, sometimes stores will include one at no extra cost.

As for portables, the Nintendo DS is still selling strong at 383,300 units sold. The PSP only moved half that, selling 151,200 units. The slow PSP sales can be attributed to people waiting for the PSP Slim, which just came out this week.

As for games, the August sales charts shattered the recent notion that 'M' rated games sell more. NFL Football simulator Madden 2008 took the one, two, and four spots on the 360, PS2, and PS3 respectively. Madden 08 sold 896,600 units for the Xbox 360 alone. Undersea shooter Bioshock took third place with 490,900 units sold for the Xbox 360. Rounding out the list are a lot of modern classics (in order) such as Wii Play, Metroid 3, Mario Strikers, Guitar Hero 2 (PS2), Mario Party 8, and Guitar Hero Encores: 80s (PS2).

So what can we take from these sales. Well, we can certainly say that game demographics haven't changed much in the last year. Both the Wii and PS3 have been out for 10 months now, and the Wii has managed to consistently outsell every other console during that period. The PS3 has consistently been in third place while the Xbox 360 juggernaut still chugs along at a respectable second. As for the games themselves, people seem to be falling back to perennial favourites. Sports games are still at the top of the list, as they've always been. The Madden series is EA's flagship franchise. Bioshock seems to be the only dark horse in the list, which is rounded off by traditional platformers and party games. It's really a kick in the nuts to hardcore gamers who still believe they dominate the gaming world. Sales are showing that the big three are attracting a more casual crowd.

How To: Transfering LPs to Digital Audio

By Mike on 2:49 pm

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If you're over 30, chances are you have at least some dusty LPs, 45s, or even 78s lying around in your closet or basement. Perhaps you're a younger person like me who's simply curious in this supposedly obsolete medium. LPs are making a comeback in a big way even though CD sales continue to decline. While it's debatable, many audiophiles and even casual listeners feel records have a greater audio fidelity than CDs. This is especially the case if you're using cheaper CD or DVD players, since the Digital-Analogue Converters (DACs) are generally of poor quality. For DVD players, it's best to use optical out (aka fiber-optic) with a good quality amplifier.

One question that frequently pops up on internet forums is how one can transfer their old record collection to a digital medium such as CDs or MP3s. For basic transfers, the process is pretty strait forward provided your computer has at least a 3.5mm audio in jack. Most do. If you're an audiophile who wants to preserve your records, it's a little more complex.
For the strait forward, you need five things: your computer, an amplifier, an male RCA-3.5mm audio cable, your turn table, and some audio recording software. Both Windows and Mac include a basic audio recorder that can encode your LP into CD quality Wave audio. Another program you can use is Audacity, a freeware, open source audio suite. Audacity is pretty powerful and works with both Windows and Mac. Google it to find it.

First of all, setup your system. Plug the RCA end of the cable into your amplifier's audio out jacks and plug the 3.5mm end into your computer's audio in jack. You cannot plug your turn table in directly because it needs to be preamped and grounded by your amplifier. Most PC sound cards don't do that, which is why the amp is needed. Set your amp to "Phono" and play the record. If you set everything up correctly, you'll hear the record playing through your PC's speakers. If you don't hear anything, you're computer's line in port may be muted or your amp's audio out isn't activated. For audio out on my amp, I usually use the tape dubbing switch. If everything works, set your recording volumes to a comfortable level. You're now ready to record.

What format to use? Well, there are a lot but you'll want to record to a common lossless format. Microsoft's Wave is the best to use. Macs can also record to Wave. Why Wave? Well, it's probably the easiest format to transcode to other formats since it's a older, common codec and has excellent audio quality. A good place to start is CD quality, 44.1khz sampling at 16-bits per sample. Consult you're recording software's manual for how to change recording quality and format. Some modern third party sound cards can now record audio at 48khz, 96khz, or 192khz sampling at either 16-bits or 24-bits per sample. Unless you're transferring directly to CD, it's best to use these higher audio quality settings. The higher the setting, the closer to the vinyl experience you'll get.

Now to record. Once you've got all the other stuff setup, it's pretty easy. Position the needle, hit record on your computer, and drop the needle. Then all you've got to do is let the record play to then end, hit stop when its finished, and save the file. Flip to side B and repeat. You can also do it track by track if you want to. This part is actually the most time consuming one. It will take roughly 40min to record an entire album.

From there, you can use a program like Audacity to break tracks up, clean up noise, and convert the audio files to other formats. Personally, I like to keep a little bit of the crackle to preserve that vinyl experience. Then you can use Nero, Toast, or some other program to burn them onto CD, or you can hook your PC up to your amp and enjoy the music at DVD Audio quality. You can also convert them to to MP3, MP4, or Ogg Vorbis to enjoy on your digital music player. Unfortunately, one of the saddest things about record converting is that most common commercial CD/DVD burning software packages can't burn DVD Audio discs for high definition enjoyment through your home theater's DVD player. There are a few programs out there but I've never tried them.

Now what about hardware for doing this. If you're an audiophile, you'll want at least one of Creative's Soundblaster X-FI cards such as the XtremeMusic or XtremeGamer. I recommend the AuzenTech Prelude, which is the top X-FI based card, but expensive at $200. If you're really into quality and have that $200 to spend, the AuzenTech X-Meridian card is an excellent choice since it's digital-analogue converters can record analogue audio at 192khz sampling. The X-FI based cards are limited to 96khz recording which is still respectable but not tops.

iPhone Price Cut Leaves Consumers Mad

By Mike on 11:03 am

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Apple recently reduced the price of the iPhone by some $200. This has left the people who rushed out to buy it hopping mad. As a result, Apple apologized to them and offered a $100 rebate. In all fairness though, this is how the tech world worked. I remember when DVD players first came out, they cost over $1000. Now they can be bought for as low as $50 and your local supermarket. Plasma and LCD TVs regularly sold for over $10,000 and are now 1/10th the price.
That's the price of adopting early. You pay the big bucks and take a gamble. Sometimes it is better to wait. By the same token, perhaps the price cut was a little too soon, a scant two months after its introduction. This could imply that the iPhone isn't selling as much as Apple hoped, or maybe they're just gearing up for the Christmas season.

Still no word on whether Apple plans to start selling the iPhone outside of the US anytime soon. I'm willing to bet there are many Canadians dying to find one under the tree on December 25th. The iPhone has now been hacked and it has been shown that US bought hacked iPhones do work on the Rogers/Fido network, which uses the iPhones GSM protocol. However, functionality is somewhat limited. It makes more sense to buy a Blackberry with full functionality rather than an iPhone with only partial wireless function. Though devices bought in the US could probably still be used as a stand alone PDA and media player, but don't quote me on that.

New iPods for Ya

By Mike on 5:54 pm

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Apple has debuted some new iPods including the an entirely new model, the iPod Touch. The Touch seems to basically be an iPhone without the cell phone features. As it's name suggest, the Touch uses a touch screen interface like its big brother the iPhone. This may seem great but I can see it quickly becoming a fingerprint magnet, especially if it uses a glossy screen. It's hard to tell from pictures.
Perhaps the closest thing to a PSP killer, the Touch brings a 3:2 aspect ratio 3.5'' screen and wireless web browsing to the iPod. A big feature is being able to buy and download music through iTunes strait from your the Touch without a computer. Another big plus over the similar Sony PSP is the inclusion of Wireless G Wifi, which tops out at 54 megabits/s while the PSP's Wireless B is limited to 11 megabits/s. This will mean much faster web surfing and downloading. The Touch can also stream YouTube video. One downside is the lack of an RSS 2.0 capabilities. This feature can be used to stream your own music and video collections with the PSP. The iPhone's faster WiFi connection would make it perfect for that role. The Touch is fairly limited in terms of storage space, with 8gb or 16gb of flash memory. I would have preferred it to have a bigger mechanical HDD instead, especially for the price. At $299 for the 8gb, the iPod Touch isn't cheap though in all fairness, a PSP with the same memory would cost almost the same. However, it still represents a quantum leap over past digital music players. The iPod Touch only comes in one colour, black.

The iPod Nano has been redesigned. It's stubbier and is now made out of anodized aluminum rather than polycarbonate (aka bullet resistant) plastic. It can also now play video, at 320x240 resolution. The screen is slightly bigger than the previous Nano. It comes in 4gb or 8gb and starts at $149. Not a bad price for what it does. As for colours, it comes in gray, sky blue, red, black or a pastel green. However, only the more expensive 8gb model comes in different colours. The 4gb only comes in a gray.

The original iPod, now known as the iPod Classic has beefed up its storage space. It now comes in either an 80gb or 160gb model. It starts at $249 US and comes in gray or black. A good deal for its massive amount of storage. Too bad Apple doesn't allow the iPod to be used as a mass storage device. Apple has also begun selling games through iTunes for the iPod Classic. I expect them to be rather simplistic though since the iPod doesn't have a lot of processing power.

Lastly the Shuffle. What's new? Well nothing actually. Just some new colours. It comes in the same colours the 8gb iPod Nano does except replacing black with a sort of lavender colour. The pastel colours are too 1980s in my opinion. Apple still hasn't added a display for the Shuffle. Also a bump 2gb would have been nice with the removal of the 2gb Nano.

In summary, I'm thrilled about the new iPod Touch. The iPhone without the PDA/cell phone features yet still very innovated. Will I buy one? No. My PSP does pretty much the same things. The other iPods have just really been tweaked and I don't think they're really worth it. The Nano does now play videos though at $149 is an attractive price.

The YGTBKM Files: Zune Phone?

By Mike on 4:42 pm

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Strait out of the "you got to be kidding me" files. Microsoft is mulling over the idea of a Zune phone. They think the idea is "not unreasonable" according to Microsoft spokeswoman Mindy Mount in an article with Of course, MS CEO Steve Ballmer has stated that they would not be doing a Zune phone, however Sony once said it wouldn't redesign the PSP.

The Zune Phone. Wow, that's a scary concept. Poor functionality, intrusive DRM, and the BSOD now in your cell phone. Microsoft has been a little scared recently by the success of Apple's non-computer product lines. Though Microsoft has had its own share with the Xbox but Apple is still selling a lot more iPods than MS is selling 360s. Neither product being the best out there in their price range in my opinion. Unlike Apple, Microsoft seems to have built quite a track record of problems. If you remember my recent MP3 round up, I rated the Zune the worst player out of all the ones I looked at, including all major and a couple obscure brands. For a computer company, Apple entered the "lifestyle" market early and now Microsoft is just catching up, usually with poor imitations of what else is out there. Zune for example was supposed to be the iPod killer. I've yet to see anyone who actually owns a Zune. It's an inferior copy of the iPod Video. Windows Vista is an inferior copy of Mac OS X 10.4 with a few elements from Linux's Beryl 3D desktop mixed in. So what's next, an iPhone killer? Zune Phone if it ever happens will just be that, an inferior copy of something that already exists.

Without seeing the iPhone, I would say it's probably the most superior PDA currently on the market. It currently competes with RIM's hugely successful Blackberry. The cell phone market as it is is overcrowded. Walk into any cell phone store and there are literally dozens of different models to choose from, in prices ranging from "free" to almost $1000. You've got LG, Samsung, RIM, Sony, etc. Now Apple is on the bandwagon. Is there really room for yet another cell phone maker? I say no. It's a difficult market to break into and the competition is a lot hotter than Microsoft is used to. I'd say that's why the Zune has failed. Microsoft underestimated the market thinking it was just iPod, but the market is so swamped with competition, the Zune never broke through the glass ceiling.

PSP 2000: The Good and the Bad

By Mike on 2:06 pm

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Sony recently released the much anticipated PSP Slim (aka PSP-2000). Mentioned at this past E3 event, it's generated a lot of buzz, both positive and negative. The portable console's redesign is nothing dramatic. It's been made slimmer and lighter and also includes a TV out function. The latter allows you to hook up your PSP to your TV to watch movies on UMD or memory stick. The PSP is capable of playing back 480p videos on the big screen and can also up convert 272p/240p videos as well. I expect the later would look like crap on an HDTV (since most are LCD, which only likes to display at its native res) but would be similar to VHS on a standard def TV. Photos show component video cables with two RCA audio jacks. I presume there will be composite and S-Video cables as well. The one problem CNET pointed out is the games don't zoom, but stay at their native res and don't appear full screen. You'll have black bars at the side and top of the game screen when playing on TV.

Also up is a redesigned UMD drive. It supports faster load times thorough caching. This reduces load times somewhat, which is good. However, the redesigned load bay is a bit clumsy. It's more like a top loading CD player than the slot and tray in the original PSP. The latch has also been changed to a door which just flips up. I don't know if it locks in play mode but I'd rather have the latch to keep the disc secure.

Hardware wise, the Slim is just that, slimmer than the regular PSP. It's also lighter. The D pad has also been tweaked so it's less soft feeling. Other changes include moving a few components. The IR function has been removed entirely. It was a fairly useless function since nothing took advantage of it. In it's place is the Wifi on/off switch. Battery life has supposedly been improved by improving the energy efficiency of the device. The new slim battery is smaller than the PSP's original pack, coming in at only 1200mAh. The larger 1800mAh and 2200mAh batteries for the original PSP work with the slim but will stick out the back a bit. Word has it that Sony is planning to release a new battery cover for these packs.
Also, Sony has added a couple new themes for the PSP. Rather than the standard "Piano" black, the Slim comes in silver or a "Star Wars" themed version which has a silk screened image of Darth Vader on the back. The latter is set to be packaged with Battlefront: Renegade Squadron as its pack in game. The other two come with Daxter.

On the software side, there isn't much change. Sony has added a theme function to both the PSP Slim and the PSP-100x. All this really does is change your icons and wallpaper, and maybe change sounds. I haven't updated to firmware 3.71 so I can't vouch for that. The latest firmware added nothing useful to both consoles other than a chapter select feature for videos stored on Memory Stick. If you haven't updated the original beyond 3.50, then just leave it.

The PSP Slim is a nice addition to Sony's line of game consoles. The video out is a nice touch and the UMD caching should cut down annoying load times. However, if you already own a PSP-100x, there's no need to run out and buy Slim. The additions are really nothing spectacular and will be more attractive to new PSP buyers than those who already own one.