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Motorola's initial foray into music phones met with a lukewarm reception based on its underwhelming features and performance. Understandably, the company has been more cautious with its more recent music-capable phonesa, preferring the appeal of the RAZR and SLVR names to the negative stigma associated with the ROKR name in North America. No such reservation exists for Singapore, where Motorola unveiled the ROKR E2 Thursday. It replaces the custom Apple and Motorola software with a Linux-based interface that supports up to 2GB of songs on a microSD card or radio through a built-in FM tuner. The phone itself is modest but capable with Bluetooth, a 1.3 megapixel camera, and a sharp 240x320 screen. Motorola says the phone will retail in Singapore for the equivalent of $354 US without a contract. It may appear in North America at a later date.
Extended travel usually requires a unique charger for every device whose battery would never last the entire trip. This can be particularly irritating for business travellers, who often want to pack as lightly as possible and might not have enough power outlets to charge everything simultaneously. An easy workaround is to include a multi-device charger such as the XPower PowerSource Mobile 100 from Xantrex. It can power two USB devices (including iPods) and one standard AC device at the same time, regardless of their individual power requirements. Furthermore, no wall outlet is necessary: the charger converts power from 12-volt car sockets as well as the DC connections in some aircraft, and includes a lithium-ion battery for those instances when no other power source is an option. The company claims that a standard laptop will last for 2 hours on the included battery while an iPod nano can last as long as 72. The PowerSource Mobile 100 has just begun shipping in North America for $130.
Skype has been heralded as a flexible and inexpensive way to make phone calls, but its dependence on software frequently ties callers to their computers even if the hardware simplifies use. Likewise, phones exist that eliminate the need for a computer but are often expensive as replacements for home phones. TrendNet has struck a balance between the two with its ClearSky Bluetooth handset. It uses a proprietary Bluetooth adapter that synchronizes with Skype on a host Windows PC, making an Internet phone call as straightforward as with a conventional handset. The ClearSky can handle 6 hours of talk time or 60 hours of standby and includes an earphone jack for a headset or microphone. TrendNet's $110 asking price is expensive relative to a conventional cordless phone, but much more affordable when compared to a wholly independent Skype unit.
iPod nano owners looking for the smallest possible speakers to convert their players into portable stereos now have an option smaller than the already compact jLab MiniBlaster system. Miglia today released its Microsound stereo speakers, which the company says are small enough to be placed in a pocket while still attached to the iPod itself. A stereo minijack on the top of the unit lets owners dock an iPod nano or shuffle in a safe position while stationary. Power is provided by a single AAA battery for up to 12 hours; unlike the MiniBlaster, no AC adapter is included. The Microsound is available in black or white and ships today for $30.
The upcoming 802.11n wireless standard has seen multiple delays as competing chipset makers have sought to use their hardware as the reference platform for the new networking method. Officially, the supervising WiFi Alliance has said that 802.11n would not be finalized until 2008 - leaving many laptop and network adapter manufacturers frustrated as they decide between using safe but slower 802.11g or adopting the early 802.11n format and risking incompatibility with the final standard. A compromise was achieved today when the WiFi Alliance announced that it would certify the second draft of the 802.11n standard in March 2007. The gesture will ensure that wireless adapters and routers from different companies will work together regardless of the included chipset. Many electronics manufacturers are looking forward to 802.11n, as the improved range and speed will allow for wireless high-definision video streaming and other previously impractical features.
Though Apple is widely rumored to use the Core 2 Duo in its Mac mini systems after Labor Day, it will not be the first system builder to announce an ultra-compact PC using the new processors. Currently available using the original Core Duo processor, the Evesham MiniPC is set to use the new chip in a design very similar to the Mac mini in shape and size. The small media hub will be powered by a 2GHz Core 2 Duo, 1GB of RAM, 100GB of storage, and a digital TV tuner that can accept over-the-air HDTV broadcasts. A DVD-RW drive, Firewire, and S-video output are also included. Evesham's system is expected to ship to Britain in mid-September for £799 ($1500 US) including tax. See full photos of the front and back after the jump.
Legal music download services such as iTunes are still on the rise, but music labels are still aware of the disproportionate amount of illegal traffic: every one legitimate download is countered by as many as forty copies on file sharing services, according to a recent study by the International Federation of Phonographic Industries. This is a likely root cause for Universal Music Group's decision today to make its entire catalog available for free through an online service partnership with new company SpiralFrog, reports the BBC. Instead of paying a flat rate or purchasing albums and songs individually, the site will use targeted advertising to maintain the service as well as pay the artists and labels. The two companies have done research suggesting that advertising is an acceptable alternative for listeners who would otherwise flock towards file-sharing networks. Universal is home to a number of high-profile musicians that could help launch the new site, including the Black Eyed Peas and U2.
The rapid increase in flash capacity has changed the role of USB flash drives. Previously used only for data, the format is now large enough to hold entire program suites that can run without first being copied to a hard drive. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Toshiba's new line of TransMemory U3 smart drives. They feature the now standard U3 program launcher that automatically appears when the drive is inserted, and have a surprisingly large amount of room for the programs themselves: the high-end TransMemory U3 drive will hold 4GB of data. There will also be 512MB, 1GB, and 2GB versions of Toshiba's new drives when the company ships them in late November for an unspecified price.
An obstacle to Blu-Ray's adoption for computers is its write speed. A single-layer, 25GB disc holds approximately two hours of video at its base data rate - meaning that even recent BD-R drives can take over an hour to record a full disc at their ideal 2X speed. LG has helped alleviate the problem by its introduction today of its Super Multi Blue 4X drive for computers. In addition to reducing the time spent recording write-once Blu-Ray discs to half an hour, the drive can also burn rewriteable Blu-Ray discs at 2X speed and can read and write the earlier CD and DVD formats. The comany plans to deliver the Super Multi Blue to the European and Korean markets later this year for an undetermined price, with a North American launch to follow.
Upstream bandwidth is a major limiting factor on most broadband connections. This is doubly true for mobile broadband services, as their relatively low speeds make them especially sensitive to latency or anything which depends upon consistent connection speed, such as video conferencing. Subscribers to Sprint's EVDO service should therefore appreciate the provider's newly announced upgrade to EVDO Rev. A on its network. While download speeds have only seen a relatively modest increase to as much as 800 Kbps on average, Rev. A brings the upload speeds to a level more closely associated with cable and DSL, averaging between 300 and 400 Kbps. Over 40 million people will be within range of the enhanced service by the end of 2006, says Sprint, and the entire network is expected to see the upgrade by Summer 2007. The carrier further announced its first card for the new service, the Novatel Merlin S720 PC Card adapter, which should be released this Fall. ExpressCard and USB adapters for more recent computers will arrive by January 2007.
Camera equipment manufacturer Sigma announced today that it would reveal its new SD14 digital SLR on September 26th, the opening day of the Photokina expo in Cologne, Germany. Few details are available through the SD14 teaser page, but the company indicates that the new camera model has a Full Color Capture Direct Image Sensor, also known as a Foveon processor. Already present in an earlier form through the current SD10 model, a Foveon sensor differs from most digital camera sensors by having layered photoreceptors that make every spot on the sensor grid sensitive to every color, rather than relying on interpolated results.
Taking advantage of its shift towards online content sales, AOL today introduced a direct-download music store as an expansion of its portal website. Called AOL Music Now, the new store is a subscription-based service in the vein of Napster To Go that gives users unlimited access to songs and music videos for between $10 and $15 per month. Subscribers can transfer that same content to any portable audio player that supports copy-protected Windows Media audio and video. Additionally, a large amount of the content is available to listen to or watch for free through the main portal, including AOL Radio Featuring XM. The company can afford to open up its service this way because its exisiting online presence is large enough not to need extensive marketing, says AOL Music Now president Amit Shafrir.
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