Hands-on Review: The New Zune
Ah, the Zune…a favorite whipping boy in the MP3-player arena. The original Zune was one of the first MP3 players with built-in Wi-Fi—or at least, it was the highest-profile example back at launch last year—yet its Wi-Fi abilities were confounding limited, and its boxy, brown (brown??) shell inspired cackles rather than awe. Now comes the revamped Zune, in two flavors: an 80GB hard drive-based model and a slim flash version (8GB and 4GB). And both come with a cool new feature: wireless music and video syncing over Wi-Fi, something even the Wi-Fi-enabled iPhone and the iPod Touch can’t do. Will it be enough to give the Zune—on sale Tuesday, November 13—some much-needed respect? Both of the new Zunes are as boxy as the original, but while the smaller, flash-based Zune ($150 for the 4GB version, $200 for 8GB) is pleasingly light and thin (1.7 ounces), the 4.5-ounce 80GB player ($250) is just a bit boxy—not exactly the sexiest of form factors. The big design innovation this time around is the touch-sensitive Zune pad, which lets you scroll through (or across) menus and long lists by swiping a finger. Flicking the pad up and down worked well enough—you get the same roulette-wheel feel that you do on the iPhone and the iPod Touch—but swiping across was a little tougher. Of course, you’re still free to navigate by clicking the pad in any of four directions, and you can always turn off the pad’s touch-sensitive features altogether. The Zune’s slick menu system itself is more or less the same as on the original, give or take some functional and aesthetic tweaks: the main menu items are huge, with Social replacing Community, as well as the addition of a Podcasts option. The screens on both Zunes are vibrant and colorful, although the 3.2-inch screen on the larger Zune is disappointingly low-res—just 320 by 240 pixels, the same as on the flash Zune’s 1.6-inch screen, which makes for an obvious screen-door effect while watching videos. Podcasts are in, equalizer is out Both Zunes still have essentially the same basic playback features, complete with shuffle and repeat modes, along with prominently displayed album art. Also on board is the built-in FM radio, plus (new) native podcast support. Unfortunately, extras are scarce: there’s no Web browsing to compete with the iPod Touch, no calendars or contacts, and not even a game or two. I’m also annoyed that Microsoft has seen fit to drop the Zune equalizer (even the older, 30GB Zune will lose its EQ features once it’s updated with the new firmware, available Tuesday). A Microsoft spokesman explained that the Zune “has good ohms” already, and that a truly “high-quality” equalizer would decrease battery life by 10 to 20 percent. Well, that may be true, and yes, audiophiles usually prefer “pure,” EQ-less sound. But why not give listeners the choice? It’s a baffling move. That said, music on the Zune sounded pretty solid to me, although (not being an audio purist myself) I would have preferred more kick on the low end. Microsoft promises 30 hours of music playback and 4 hours of video from the big Zune’s battery, and 24 hours of music and 4 hours of video from the flash Zune; I’ll post my real-world results once my battery-drain tests are finished. By tech.yahoo.com
Monthly Archives: November 2007
Hands-on Review: The New Zune
FCC sets Jan. 16 for 700 MHz spectrum auction
Public comments are due to the Federal Communications Commission by the end of the month on rules for a Jan. 16 auction of 700MHz spectrum, which is expected to yield more than $10 billion.
One provision in the proposed rules calls for keeping the identities of the bidders and the amounts of each bid secret until each round of bidding is closed in order to improve competition. The FCC approved the rules in July.
A 32-page notice posted late last week by the FCC includes the Jan. 16 auction date, along with a request for comments on the proposed rules by Aug. 31. Replies to those comments are due Sept. 7. The auction is officially being dubbed Auction 73, and by law, all bidding must be commenced by Jan. 28.
The notice tabulates a summary of more than $10 billion in “reserve prices” for five portions of the 700MHz band. Reserve prices are the “potential market value” based on several factors, according to the FCC. The spectrum was made available by the freeing up of television channels in the conversion to digital TV by 2009. The auction’s proceeds will go to the U.S. Treasury. Some analysts have said the auction total could reach $20 billion, with an active field of bidders.
Bidding will be done anonymously, which “will serve the public interest by reducing the potential for anti-competitive bidding behavior, including bidding activity that aims to prevent the entry of new competitors,” according to the proposed rules. The rules further stipulate that the bidders’ names and net bid amounts be withheld from public release until the close of each round of bidding.
Anonymous bidding has been used in prior auctions, but the FCC noted that Auction 73 is different because the FCC will withhold information about bidders “irrespective of any pre-auction measurement of the likely auction competition.” That means that the FCC plans to withhold the amount of a bidder’s upfront payments and bidding eligibility until after the close of bidding. Also, it means that a bidder will be told of other bidders with whom they are not permitted to discuss bidding strategies, in order to enforce the FCC’s anti-collusion rules.
Anti-collusion has become especially sensitive in Auction 73, since the FCC is trying to promote competition after calls by public interest groups and companies such as Google for more open networks with nontraditional providers. Google, for example, said that it would be willing to bid a minimum of $4.6 billion for spectrum as long as open networks, devices and applications would be allowed over the spectrum, and that a portion would be provided under a wholesale scheme. The FCC rules approved in late July provided for the open networks, devices and applications, but did not specifically provide for a portion of the spectrum to be offered for wholesale use, a system seen by Google and others as a means for small players to use the networks.
Google would be a newcomer to a spectrum auction, while traditional carriers such as AT&T and Verizon Communications are expected to bid and have done so in the past.
One of the five major blocks up for bid is the C block, with a reserve price of $4.6 billion, by far the largest. It includes two blocks, C1 and C2, where the FCC has ruled that a “more open” network must be provided, presumably to meet demands of open hardware and software of many public interest groups.
“Package bidding” procedures will be required for the C Block, including an auction “designed to facilitate the entry of a new nationwide competitor in C Block,” the proposed rules say. The FCC undertook experimental economic testing on alternative bidding designs in 2007 and used recent academic research to incorporate such package bidding. The packages in the package bidding are divided into 12 different Regional Area Economic Groupings (REAGs). Individual bidders as well as package bidders can compete for the C Block, but after several rounds of bidding it is possible that individual bidders can be combined with package bidders.
For all the blocks of the 700 MHz band, A through E, the FCC is issuing 1,099 licenses. By Matt Hamblen, Computerworld
Mac OS X, Leopard
The fifth major update to Mac OS X, Leopard, contains such a mountain of features — more than 300 by Apple’s count — that it’s difficult to boil this $129 operating system release down to a few easy bullet points. Leopard is, at once, a major alteration to the Mac interface, a sweeping update to numerous included productivity programs, a serious attempt to improve Mac OS security, and a vast collection of tweaks and fixes scattered throughout every nook and cranny of the operating system.
As with every OS X update since version 10.1, there’s no single feature in Leopard that will force Mac users to upgrade immediately. Instead, it’s the sheer deluge of new features that’s likely to persuade most active Mac users to upgrade, especially since this is the longest gap between OS X upgrades — two and a half years — since the product was introduced. Sure, some items on Apple’s list of 300 features might seem inconsequential, but if even a handful of them hit you where you live, that will be more than enough motivation for you to upgrade.
A new look
Apple trumpets the interface changes in Leopard as “stunning” and “eye-opening,” but in reality the changes are a mixed bag.
First, the good stuff: After years of experimenting with different looks for windows, sidebars, and other interface elements, Apple seems to have settled on a fairly consistent interface. The color scheme is largely monochromatic—shades of gray with slight gradients. Apple has improved the contrast between the frontmost window and the rest of them by increasing the top window’s drop shadow and dramatically lightening the color of inactive windows. The Leopard Finder’s new sidebar, clearly modeled after the iTunes Source List, is better organized and more usable than its Tiger counterpart.
When it comes to folders containing lots of documents, Stacks is not as useful.
Unfortunately, some of the changes are not as successful. The Mac’s trademark menu bar, which spans the top of the screen, has been made semi-transparent. When the desktop is set to display an image with both light and dark areas, the see-through menu bar is visually striking. Unfortunately, that aesthetic choice comes at too steep a price: the areas of light and dark behind the menu bar can severely decrease the readability of menu items.
Apple has modified the Dock, OS X’s built-in program launcher, so that the Dock’s icons appear to sit on a reflective glass tray when the Dock is positioned on the bottom of the screen. (Someone must’ve pointed out to Apple that the metaphor broke down when the Dock is placed on the sides of the screen; in those orientations, the Dock’s background is a simple half-transparent gray.) A pleasant glowing light appears next to the icons of currently-running programs, although the light is a bit too subtle when the Dock is positioned at the bottom of the screen.
Unfortunately, the Dock’s new Stacks feature is a mess, replacing a utilitarian approach to stashing folders in the Dock (click to open the folder, click and hold to see a list of the folder’s contents) with a snazzy but generally less useful pop-up window featuring a stack or grid of icons. A potential feature touted during earlier demonstrations of Leopard — the ability to drag an arbitrary collection of items into the dock to make a temporary stack — apparently didn’t make it to the final version.
The most important new feature added in Leopard is undoubtedly Time Machine, Apple’s attempt to encourage the vast majority of users who never, ever routinely back up their data to change their ways. Time Machine automatically backs up a Mac’s files to a separate hard drive (internal or external, though external is certainly safer and more convenient) or a network volume being shared by another Mac running Leopard. Attaching a drive and assigning it as a Time Machine backup volume is incredibly easy, and once you’ve set it up, you can essentially forget all about it.
By Jason Snell
Apple posts iPod touch 1.1.2 update — already hacked
As you’d expect, Apple has released version 1.1.2 of the iPod touch firmware hot on the jailbreak-breaking heels of its iPhone update. Early reports on MacRumors indicate a new “Add Event” functionality in the Calendar — something that should have been included in v 1.0. Anyone else getting dirty with the firmware who wants to share changes? We’ll keep you updated of course as this and the iPhone 1.1.2 status develops. By Thomas Ricker
MIT offers City Car for the masses
Is the City Car the solution to “the last mile” problem? The City Car, a design project under way at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is envisioned as a two-seater electric vehicle powered by lithium-ion batteries. It would weigh between 1,000 and 1,200 pounds and could collapse, then stack like a shopping cart with six to eight fitting into a typical parking space. It isn’t just a car, but is designed as a system of shared cars with kiosks at locations around a city or small community. Images: MIT’s stackable electric car “The problem with mass transit is it kind of takes you to where you want to go and at the approximate time you want to get there, but not exactly. Sometimes you have to walk up to a mile from the last train or subway stop,” said Franco Vairani, a Ph.D. candidate at MIT’s school of architecture. The City Car is his thesis, though it’s now a group effort involving many others at the school. While the City Car is still under development–a prototype is expected next year–a scooter designed by other MIT researchers, led by Michael Chia-Liang Lin, will be unveiled at the EICMA Motorcycle Show in Milan, Italy, later this week. The City Car grew out of a 2003 project with sponsorship from General Motors that set out to rethink vehicles in general from a the-sky’s-the-limit perspective. Vairani and Will Lark, a mechanical engineering Ph.D. candidate, presented the idea of a small collapsible car that could stack like a shopping cart to answer the problems of urban crowding for both driving and parking. They were encouraged to share and explore the urban car idea by Bill Mitchell, the director of both MIT’s Design Laboratory and the MIT Media Lab Smart Cities research group. The City Car is now an interdisciplinary project with the Smart Cities Group and the MIT Media Lab involving architects, industrial designers, and mechanical engineers from different groups all working in tandem on different components. Even a medical doctor has been involved, according to Lark. Other inner-city transportation ideas are on the drawing boards, of course. And various ideas have been proposed by automakers at recent auto shows. Unlike a regular car–or even another type of electric car–that has a central power system distributed to its wheels, the City Car is envisioned as a modular system. Each wheel base has its own motor, steering, braking, and suspension system. It then taps into a central system for power, computer control, and some mechanical linkage. These “electric robot wheels” as they are called, would allow the City Car to be collapsible, stackable, and spin on a dime for sideways movement and easier parking, according to Lark. “So you really treat this like a Lego brick you snap onto a cabin,” said Lark. People should think about the car as more of a service than an individual vehicle. It could be connected to a network giving the driver access to real-time information, such as route advice in the face of bad traffic conditions. Or, it could alert drivers when they’re passing the kind of restaurant they like, said Lark. The existing Zip Car rental system has shown that people are willing to be part of a service that rewards members who are good custodians, according to Lark. He said the City Car could create the same type of community feeling of responsibility. Now on News.com Microsoft puts new Windows on old PC Quick jailbreak for iPhone update Photos: Dissecting a hard drive Extra: I want my iTV The City Car business model is akin to a shopping cart or a bike-share program where you return the item to a convenient location when you’re done with it. City Car users would be required to swipe their credit card as a form of deposit. The cars could also be tracked using GPS. To protect privacy, the GPS info could then be deleted once the car is safely returned to a kiosk. The cars could be designed to match transportation realities in various cities. For instance, cars might be slower, have a shorter range and a lighter battery in congested cities like Boston. Another version might be faster or have longer ranges for sprawling cities like Los Angeles where people would need a top speed of maybe 70 mph so they could safely enter highways, according to Vairani. The modular system makes it possible for the vehicle to be easily customizable and kept only as light and efficient as it needs to be for each individual situation. The group says it has already received interest from the state of Hawaii, which is rethinking its mass transit system. Since even locals have to take a plane or boat to get from one island to another in Hawaii, it’s not just tourists who need something once they reach their destination.
By Candace Lombardi
How To Downgrade from 1.1.2 to 1.1.1 in 3 Easy Steps
I just tool a 1.1.2 iPhone and decided to downgrade it to 1.1.1. From my testing now 1.0.2 downgrade is necessary. Prerequisite: – you need to have the firmware 1.1.1 ipsw file in your computer NOTE: This guide does not guarantee it will work 100%. Also errors 1015 is expected at the end of the process. Continue reading to understand. 1. Download the 1.1.1 ipsw firmware file from Apple. If the downloaded file has the extension “.zip”, please remove it and modify it to end up with a filename ending in _Restore.ipsw 2. Reboot your iPhone holding the top (power) and home buttons BUT release the top button 10 seconds into it (right after the screen goes dark) and continue to hold the home button until iTunes detects the phone in recovery mode. The iPhone screen will appear to be off, but start iTunes if not started yet . 3. Restore your iPhone by pressing and holding the ‘Shift’ key on windows or ‘option’ key on Mac, then click ‘restore’ to select the 1.1.1 firmware file you downloaded earlier. The restore should go through and errors at the end with error 1015. However you will notice that the iphone is in DFU mode with the connect to itunes screen from 1.1.1. In order to kick the phone out of that mode I just had to launch iNdependence version 1.2.5 and wait a minute or so. Now you are ready to follow the easy steps at the following LINK in order to reactivate the phone: http://iphoneunlocked.mostofmymac.com/Unlocking_Instructions.html PS: And for those who wonder about IPSF, I tried to run it on my downgraded iPhone and it could not unlock the phone. It errors with “Unable to download firmware”. We should expect and update from IPSF shortly! I hope this helps. TheMacThinker http://iphoneunlocked.mostofmymac.com by MostOfMymac.com
UK iPhone Launching with 1.1.2 Firmware, Jailbreak Broken
T3 got their hands on the new European iPhone, and to their delight (and dismay), the phone is pre-installed with firmware 1.1.2—which is newer than the 1.1.1 firmware we currently have in the States. Believe it or not, it’s actually packing some new features. But before you ask, their early testing shows that current Jailbreak software is no longer functional. So that whole saga continues! The biggest standard consumer-oriented change is probably that the phone supports 12 languages out of the box, along with special keyboards for French and German languages (we guess that the other languages see a more limited level of support). There’s also bundled free access to The Cloud Wi-Fi hotspots, which we’ve already seen in the European iPod Touch. And like we said, no more iPhone hacking for a little while.