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The state of New Jersey has been suffering from debt problems, now owing $4.5 billion. To combat this, Governor Jon Corzine has recently begun taxing individual services such as health club memberships and storage facilities. Controversially, iTunes Store purchases will also fall under new tax laws, reports Macenstein. Direct music and video download sales have generally remained tax-free since their inception, in part due to laws prohibiting taxes on out-of-state sales; however, the new law would require that each album, song, or video bought by a New Jersey resident be subject to a 7% tax. No challenges to the new law have yet to be filed.
Verizon trumpeted its exclusive KRZR launch just last week, but today the company can no longer claim sole rights to the hotly-anticipated RAZR sequel. Fellow US carrier Alltel has begun pre-orders for the K1m, giving cellphone users beyond Verizon's coverage area a chance to try the new music phone for themselves. No Alltel equivalent to Verizon's VCast download service exists, but subscribers can use the new phone with Alltel's EVDO service and reach 700Kbps download rates. Pricing is virtually even with Verizon as well: the phone will sell for $250 when it ships on October 5th. Rebates can bring the price down to as low as $150.
External hard drives with more than one terabyte of storage have existed for some time; obtaining that storage with fewer than four drives has been difficult. Buffalo Technology could thus be one of the first to release a portable drive with that capacity: its newly released DriveStation Duo uses two 750GB Seagate hard drives to offer a total 1.5TB of storage through either FireWire or USB 2 connections. It can also be setup to use either RAID striping, for maximum storage, or mirroring for backup purposes. Buffalo ships the Duo with security and backup software for Windows PCs, though the drive itself should be compatible with MacOS X as well. The new DriveStation ships later in October at $1000 for a 1.5TB model; smaller capacities are available starting at $250 for 500GB.
Samsung is fond of designer phones and updates its line on a near-weekly basis; nevertheless, the company has an aptitude for producing interesting designs that merit attention. The latest of these are two new slider models that reflect the company's recent obsession with slider designs. The X530 (pictured) is a champagne-colored model with an especially thin, 0.55-inch shape that should differentiate it from its normally bulkier competitors. Samsung is clearly targeting it at the mid-range with EDGE, a VGA camera, and Bluetooth being its main features. Also appearing today is the E250. Not much has been revealed about the phone other than its focus on playing AAC and MP3 music and the inclusion of a microSD card slot for storage. Its silver, angular design might be preferable to the rounded look of the X530. North American launches for either phone haven't been announced. Photos of both cellphone designs are available after the jump, courtesy of Slashphone.
A number of new HP laptops already ship with built-in webcams, but users of any computer looking for a straightforward means of adding video chats to their PCs can consider a new camera from the same company. The simply-titled 2 Megapixel HP Webcam (PDF) can clip to the display of a desktop or laptop computer and delivers relatively high-resolution video: a smooth 30 frames per second is possible at 800x600. Still shots are also possible at 1600x1200, and hardware face tracking ensures that the right subject is always properly exposed in the shot. Expectedly, HP's entry into advanced webcams connects through USB and requires Windows XP. Pricing and availability isn't yet available.
Transferring podcasts to cellphones is possible but is rarely efficient, as cellphones are rarely designed to work directly with news feeds or fit the already low storage space of their memory cards. Melodeo has already developed a solution through its Mobilcast service: users download software that can play podcasts on phones without having to download the podcasts themselves. Today, US carrier Cingular said it would be one of the first to officially adopt Mobilcast for its subscribers. For $5 a month, existing Cingular users can add podcast streaming to their phone, including the option to download copies permanently for later listening. The plan counts towards a subscriber's data usage but could be the best option for podcast subscribers who have to balance their listening habits against frequent phone calls.
A speakerphone as a secondary feature of a Bluetooth headset is becoming less of a rarity. To make the speakerphone the primary feature, however, is still uncommon. The just announced Aura Mobile BT by Spracht is designed solely to add this feature to virtually any phone device that lacks a strong-enough speaker of its own. Pairing the Aura Mobile BT to a cellphone, Mac, or PC via Bluetooth instantly adds a full-duplex speakerphone compatible with VoIP programs such as Skype and Yahoo! Messenger. Spracht has also added audio input and output jacks so that computers or phones without Bluetooth transmitters can still make two-way speakerphone calls. The Aura Mobile BT starts shipping today for $150.
Jon Lech Johansen is infamous for his ability to break copy protection. Known as "DVD Jon," he wrote his DeCSS program that circumvents the Macrovision protection on movie DVDs while trying to enable playback on Linux. Johansen has now turned his attention to Apple's FairPlay in a constructive way, writes GigaOM's Liz Gannes. While programmers have previously broken FairPlay as used for songs and videos from the iTunes Store, these attempts have largely been made for either personal gain or to replicate Apple's music services without permission. Johansen has instead reverse-engineered the format with the intent of offering it for legal licenses to online music stores, says Gannes, and has reportedly talked to Apple CEO Steve Jobs about his future plans. Although the article indicates that Jobs was not informed of Johansen's specific plans and may respond differently in the future, the former purportedly warned the latter only that while Apple was not a litigious company, other companies might not share the same opinion.
The FairPlay emulation technology and the Apple executive's possible attitude towards it may mark a change in the iPod ecosystem, where FairPlay-encrypted media bought through iTunes has been used as a way of tying users to the more profitable iPod hardware. [Photo courtesy of Irina Slutsky]
Cowon has always been known for adding features ahead of their wider adoption elsewhere. Its iAudio X5 was one of the first digital music players to play videos. The Korean company is continuing its tradition with the iAudio N2, a media player that blurs the lines between media jukeboxes and in-car electronics. The N2 acts as a media player in the vein of the Zen Vision:W and can play multiple music and video files (including DivX and Ogg), but also has built-in receivers for both DMB mobile TV and GPS mapping. It can also perform more than one function at the same time courtesy of two SD card slots that give it enough room to store its regional maps as well as the user's own entertainment. This particular version may not appear in North America; nevertheless, it points in the direction of future updates to the company's media player lines.
Hybrid cellphone manufacturers and content providers are very rare, as the cost of maintaining both is often extraordinarily prohibitive. Even so, San Diego startup izenMobile plans to launch offering both and may well trump more conventional rivals. Its new Krma phone is already an example of this practice at work. Though it has the slim profile of a smartphone and has media-friendly hardware such as a a 2.2-inch screen, 2-megapixel camera, a FM radio, the Krma also uses Microsoft's PocketPC OS -- a relatively powerful interface normally reserved for larger phones with full keyboards.
The reason for this feature becomes clear through the other half of izenMobile's strategy. Owners of the company's cellphones will have access to remote services that are seldom available to the average user. Each phone will be able to store as much as 25GB of music, videos, and shared data on distant servers, saving the trouble of synchronizing with a computer to back up information or share it with a large group. izenMobile has not said when the phone or its accompanying service will ship, but it plans to target the Americas during the initial launch.
Sony's Network Walkman music player line is divided sharply into two main categories: inexpensive flash players with low storage and mid-range models considerably larger hard drives. A model will soon appear that bridges the gap and will signal Sony's first direct challenge to the iPod nano and Sansa e200. British online store Play inadvertently posted and later removed a listing for an upcoming new Sony player dubbed the NW-S706. The device, pictured, would resemble a hybrid between the design of the company's E00 series and the controls of the S2 Sports. As listed, it would also include features not normally seen in players its size, such as 4GB of flash storage and a color display capable of album art. An audio input jack, FM tuning, and 50 hours of battery life would also give the S706 a lead over other players in its class. The entry for the unreleased player had a price of £180, which is high compared to the £129 of Apple's 4GB iPod but reflects the additional features.
While Toshiba has had HD DVD drives in its Qosmio laptops since early this year, the drives have been perpetually hamstrung by an inability to write to their own format -- an edge Blu-Ray has had since Sony's AR-series portables appeared this summer. The computer maker today said it will change this by unveiling an early example of its new SD-L902A laptop drive at the CEATEC conference in Japan, according to Akihabara News. The new HD DVD drive is the first of its size to use a blue-violet hybrid laser that can both read and write HD DVDs as well as legacy formats; Toshiba claims a 1X recording speed for HD DVD discs and 2.4X for dual-layer DVDs. It should also be compact enough at 12.7mm in height to function in many thinner laptops. No details were announced of when laptop manufacturers would begin using the writer in shipping computers.
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