Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Jabra Halo BT650s: Less Wire, More Music

I’ve always been curious about Bluetooth headsets. While I get extra annoyed whenever I see people showing-off/talking loudly on these devices, truth is, I have always secretly wondered how it is to have one.

Just by looking at it, I could already tell that the Jabra Halo BT650s is not like the usual Bluetooth earpiece. Instead of looking like a hearing aid, this one greatly resembles a sports headband. Slim and elegant in its over-the-head design, this baby is actually a stereo headset. It is made of matte black plastic on the outside while the inside of the headband is covered with black felt for comfort. Weighing only 3 ounces, it folds neatly like a pair of sunglasses making it small enough to fit in your bag (but not in your pocket). It doesn’t feel like it will break easily but based on my experiences with slim devices, this baby needs extra handling with care. The battery and pairing indicators are hidden inside the headband while the answer/end/play/pause button is located outside the right earphone.

The Halo has no visible power switch. Unfolded, the Halo turns on and immediately goes into pairing mode. Folding it turns it off. On the box it says that it can connect to 2 devices at the same time. True enough, it easily connected with my Windows 7-equipped laptop and a Sony Ericsson W508 Walkman phone (reviewed separately) at the same time.

With such a slim device, I didn’t expect much regarding sound quality. Much to my surprise, it totally blew me away! Mid to high ranges were crisp and clear while the bass was uncharacteristically booming for its size. It was like a home theater in my ear and the sound never cracked even at maximum volume. In addition, music fades out when there is an incoming call. I couldn’t see any microphones on the device (the box says it has two) but I never had to talk loudly when I used it to make calls. With a listed talk time/music time of 8 hours and up to 13 days standby time, the Halo definitely makes an excellent multimedia accessory.

Using it is a bit tricky, though. The Halo’s answer/end/play/pause button is quite responsive and easy to handle but the volume/track control strip is a bit sluggish. Sliding the finger up the strip increases the volume while sliding it down decreases it. Double-tapping on the upper part of the strip plays the next track while doing the same on the lower part plays the previous track or restarts the current one. Easier said than done! The control’s sensitivity needs some getting used to. Sliding the finger too fast or too slow will result in too little or too much volume change. And since the strip is only marked by a line which I could not see while wearing the headset (ridges would have been better), I oftentimes had to tap on the earphone several times just to get the desired effect. Once, I wore it the wrong way and I ended up tapping on my ear like crazy. But I’m sure that once I get over the learning curve, I would finally enjoy controlling my phone or my media player just by tapping on my ear.

The Halo can also be used as a regular headset via an included 3.5mm jack if a device does not support Bluetooth stereo (A2DP) technology. Bluetooth features like receiving calls and touch control are disabled when using the Halo with a cable, though.

All in all, using the Jabra Halo BT650s is a great wireless audio experience. I could have never imagined that I would enjoy listening to music with all the conveniences of a wireless setup on such a slim device. I’m still on the fence if I should buy one, though. But for those who have the extra moolah, I’m sure they won’t regret it.

(Jojo Perlas, Manila Bulletin Technews)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sony Walkman NWZ-W202

At first glance, you would think it is just a hip looking ear bud style headphones, but no, Sony went a step further by incorporating an MP3 player in the headphones. The new Sony Walkman NWZ-W202 indeed has a life of its own. It would seem like you are wearing a bluetooth device on each ear attached to each other by a flexible neckband. It is 1.3 oz in weight making it the lightest and smallest MP3 out in the market.

Because of its size and weight, comfort when worn won’t be an issue. It fits snuggly on each ear thanks to the silicone ear tips (ear buds come in different sizes for sure fit). You won’t worry if it’ll fall off when you walk, jog, jump or just feel like dancing with it. It fits securely and comfortably and best of all it is tangle free! That has always been a perennial issue with me when it comes to portable music players like these. The lengthy wire that jumps with me and goes around my arm and neck that most of the time strangles me. Well, with Sony W202 this problem had been totally eliminated! You won’t even waste your time untangling any wires when you store them in your bags or with your other gadgets.

I have actually used it while jogging and likewise brought it to the gym, it didn’t fail to cast a curious look on other people’s faces. First, it was eye catching because of its cool pink color (also available in black, purple, yellow and white) and secondly, I’m sure they were trying to figure out where it attaches to and if that was actually it. They were probably looking for an armband, a waistband or whatever “thingy” to which a player should be attached to. Nope…not with this one. With the Sony Walkman W-202, it is strictly between you and your music.

If its just between you and your music, so where does it come from? As previously mentioned, the headphone is indeed the MP3. It can store approximately 500 tracks in its 2GB memory. It supports not only MP3 audio formats but also AAC and WMA. Controls are all tucked on the right earpiece that holds the USB jack for transfer of music which is as easy as drag and drop between your PC’s Windows Media player and your Sony Walkman. It has the volume control, the shuffle switch and the jog dial where you can control the different music functions. Since it lacks a screen display to view the list of songs, Sony has created the “Zappin” mode activated with a long press of the jog dial. Once activated it helps you quickly browse through the music you want to listen to by playing a short snippet of the song and a quick press of the jog dial will resume play.

It has an excellent sound quality that is clear and crisp and is played at satisfactory volume just right whether you are working out in the gym or jogging outdoors. With a good battery life of up to 12 hours, the Sony Walkman W-202 is perfect for those you live an active lifestyle.

(Len Amadora, Manila Bulletin Technews)

Apple Sells Over One Million iPhone 3GS Models

Apple recently announced that it has sold over one million iPhone 3GS models through Sunday, June 21, the third day after its launch. In addition, six million customers have downloaded the new iPhone 3.0 software in the first five days since its release.

“Customers are voting and the iPhone is winning,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “With over 50,000 applications available from Apple’s revolutionary App Store, iPhone momentum is stronger than ever.”

The new iPhone 3GS is the fastest, most powerful iPhone yet, packed with incredible new features including improved speed and performance—up to twice as fast as iPhone 3G—with longer battery life, a high-quality 3 megapixel autofocus camera, easy to use video recording and hands free voice control. iPhone 3GS includes the new iPhone OS 3.0, the world’s most advanced mobile operating system with over 100 new features such as Cut, Copy and Paste, MMS, Spotlight Search, landscape keyboard and more. iPhone 3GS customers get access to more than 50,000 applications from Apple’s revolutionary App Store, the largest application store in the world where customers have already downloaded over one billion apps.

Apple ignited the personal computer revolution in the 1970s with the Apple II and reinvented the personal computer in the 1980s with the Macintosh. Today, Apple continues to lead the industry in innovation with its award-winning computers, OS X operating system and iLife and professional applications. Apple is also spearheading the digital media revolution with its iPod portable music and video players and iTunes online store, and has entered the mobile phone market with its revolutionary iPhone.

(From Malini of Apple)

The "killer" in Nokia N97

The Nokia N97, billed as Nokia's flagship mobile computer, arrived last weekend and straight into the the MB Techlab. Boxed in black, dressed in black -- it was like a ninja ready to strike with shuriken.

Watch out, Apple iPhone 3Gs! There's a new "killer" in town!

Okay, out of the box you sneaky little devil, let's see what you've got.

First thing we tried here is the slider mechanism, and whoa, what a thunk! Now that's what we call a "killer move" (okay, so not as silent as a ninja).

The slide action has that solid, "aaa-tennn-shun!" feel which finished strongly to a 35-degree angle. Hmn, nicely done.

The keyboard we find quite easy to use, and played the keys like we play 'em second-rate phones to text. Amply spaced keys, we think, is key (pun intended) to fully enjoying a QWERTY keyboard. The space bar, by the way, is over on the right under the thumb, and no problem.

Oh, yeah, before we forget, the Nokia N97 is a touchscreen wonder. The screen bounced nicely under the finger after a good contact on an icon. Which means, the touchscreen would only be responsive when you hit an icon correctly.

Honestly, we see the Nokia N97 a cross between a lot of different phones from the "marked for kill" iPhone (3G, 3Gs) to the Google G1 phone. But who's complaining? People, assasins are supposed to be chameleons, too, right?

The N97's 3.5-inch screen is first to catch your attention. There's a little button on the bottom left side corner which serves as the shortcut key to the N series multimedia applications while the call and end buttons are, well, understandably side by side. On the top is the 3.5mm headphone jack and the power button.

The Nokia N97 is a bit larger and thicker than the iPhone, and we love that. Come on now, who doesn't want their "thing" big?

The added width, height and depth, we think, make the N97 so good to hold, with the bottom of the rear face curved downwards providing a natural handhold while stabilizing the unit when on a desk being typed on (guys, please, aren't we also talking of a miniature tablet computer here?).

Lest we get carriend away with the physical aspects of the N97, here's the beauty of the unit -- within.
The Nokia N97 is Nokia's first device to feature a personalizable home screen, which can be customized with a range of widgets which bring live information directly to the device. These widgets include key social networking destinations like Facebook and Hi5, news services like the Associated Press, Bloomberg and Reuters, as well as shopping and weather information.

The Nokia N97 is the first device to ship with the Ovi Store, which offers easy access to applications, games, videos, podcasts, productivity tools, web and location-based services, and much more. Ovi Store has paid and free content from a range of global and local content providers and developers, including Paramount Pictures, Facebook and Qik, as well as a selection of Twitter applications.

The Nokia N97 also has direct access to the huge catalogue of music in the Nokia Music Store. With multiple high-speed connectivity options and 32GB of storage (and if that's still enough for you maniacs, you can still go up to 48GB using a microSD card) it is possible to directly download and store tens of thousands of songs on the handset.

High-quality images and video clips at 30 frames per second (fps) can be captured using the 5 megapixel camera with integrated Carl Zeiss optics. Images can also be geo-tagged to specific locations and shared instantly with friends or uploaded online via Ovi Share, Twitter or Flickr.

The new N97 will tie in closely with Nokia's Ovi platform of software and services, which include music downloads, photo-sharing services and mapping software. A new-look Nokia Maps program on the N97 will allow users to pre-plan a journey on their computer and then synchronise the route across to their mobile phone.

Nokia has also promised that it will follow the lead of Apple, Google and Research in Motion, makers of the BlackBerry, by making it easier for third-party developers to write additonal software and programs for Nokia handsets.

So, is the Nokia N97 the true "iPhone killer"?

Too early to tell, but the unit we got at the MB Techlab is killing us...and we're loving it!

(June 22, Technews Manila Bulletin, By Badong)

This one's no Betty La Fea

HTC Magic a.k.a Google Phone 2

HTC Magic, or the Google Phone 2, is the much awaited upgrade of HTC's G1, the first smartphone that runs on Android software.

I called the G1 -- popularly known as the Google Phone -- the Betty La Fea of the mobile industry because like the protagonist of the TV show, the G1 is full of substance but suffers much on its looks.

Now here comes HTC Magic, or the Google Phone 2. It's everything the G1 has but less the boxy design and boring looks. HTC has removed the flip-out keyboard in the Magic, which means no more clunking sound everytime you use the keyboard. And also because of the absence of the keyboard, Magic is now slimmer, more sleek and sexy compared to the G1.

Setting up the Magic is similar to the G1, all you need is a SIM card and a Google account. Since the Magic is not yet officially launched in the Philippines, you need to manually input the APN of your provider whichs is "" for Globe and "internet" for Smart. From there, all you need to do is follow the onscreen prompts.

As expected because the phone runs on Google's Android, integration with its core application is perfect. Gmail, Calendar, Maps and Talk runs smoothly using the Magic. There is also a dedicated YouTube button for quick searching and viewing of YouTube clips.

Heard from the grapevine that by year’s end, there will be at least 18 phones on the market worldwide based on the Android operating system.

At present, there are at least two Android-centric phones — T-Mobile’s G1 and the "Magic" made by HTC and available in Europe -- but which we have right now in the MB Techlab.

The ramp-up of Android phones intensifies a battle among some of the world’s biggest software companies to create the operating system for the world’s phones. Android goes up against a coming-soon new version of Microsoft’s mobile version of Windows, Apple’s proprietary iPhone system, the Blackberry platform, a new Palm OS for its Pre called WebOS, Symbian and a host of Linux-based systems.

(Published June 5, 2009 in the Technews Section of the Manila Bulletin)