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23Jul/11Off

Let’s Face It: Microsoft innovation makes Apple look bad in the Living Room

I was recently discussing companies that are trying to make it big with living room entertainment products with a friend, when he asked me which company — Microsoft or Apple — was doing a better job. My first reaction was to say Apple.

After all, as I noted on these pages earlier this week, the new Mac mini is the best computer to hook up to a television, and I’m a firm believer that the Apple TV is the top set-top box in the market. It seemed like an open-and-shut case.

But then I started thinking about things a bit more deeply. More specifically, I thought about Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Kinect devices and all that they offer. Upon doing so, I came to a new conclusion: Microsoft is actually making Apple look bad in the living room, and it’s doing so with ease.

See, when I think about Apple’s living-room products compared to Microsoft’s, I’m left wanting more. For years now, I’ve hoped that the Apple TV would feature gaming, and it still doesn’t. I’ve wanted it to allow me to record live television, and it doesn’t. And although I don’t have a problem with it, the latest Mac mini’s missing DVD drive is an issue for some folks.

The Xbox 360, on the other hand, comes with many of the things I’m looking for in a home-entertainment device. I can play top-notch video games both offline and online. And if I want to sit back and relax with a favorite movie, I can pop a disc into the device and do so. Even better, Microsoft’s console allows for access to a host of streaming services, including Netflix. Combine that with the Kinect, and I don’t think there’s any doubt that Microsoft is trumping Apple in the living room.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the biggest fan of the Kinect or motion gaming. In fact, I’ve said on SlashGear before that my Kinect is collecting dust. But I can still appreciate innovation when I see it. And I think that Microsoft deserves a lot of credit for delivering a product that breaks down some barriers and sets benchmarks in its respective market.

It’s rather odd to say such a thing about Microsoft. In most cases, it’s Apple that breaks down the barriers and sets benchmarks. But in the living room, the iPhone maker has been decidedly run-of-the-mill. Rather than push boundaries, Apple has stayed well within them. And in the process, it has allowed companies like Microsoft and Sony to win the battle for the living room.

Before Apple fans jump all over this column, allow me to say that I fully realize that Apple knows what it’s doing in the consumer space, as evidenced by its recent financial showing. And in many markets, it has made Microsoft look bad. But whether the company’s fans like it or not, the living room isn’t one of them.


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Let’s Face It: Microsoft innovation makes Apple look bad in the Living Room is written by Don Reisinger & originally posted on SlashGear.
© 2005 - 2011, SlashGear. All right reserved.


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23Jul/11Off

Toshiba Thrive Review

The Toshiba Thrive isn’t a sexy tablet. It’s plump, homely, a little bit awkward, and although smart and supportive, you won’t be showing it off much to your buddies. But if you’re reading this review, you probably already know that. You’re considering the Toshiba Thrive because you see past a pretty exterior and a tight slender body. You want great specs inside, a good clean install of Android 3.1 Honeycomb, ample full-sized ports, and a swappable battery among other unique features.

Hardware

When most tablets are feeling the pressure to be thin and light, the Toshiba Thrive balks at the trend, choosing individuality instead with a weight of 1.66 pounds. Although this surpasses the Motorola XOOM and the HP TouchPad by just 0.06 pounds, it does put the Thrive at top of the heavyweight list. To make matters worse is the bulk. The Thrive measures 0.62 inches thick, almost double that of the Apple iPad 2 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. However, on second thought, this thickness plus the textured rubbery backing do make it more comfortable to grip compared to even a slightly lighter tablet with a much slimmer profile.

The Thrive has a 10.1-inch display with a 1280 x 800 resolution and a 16:10 aspect ratio. This makes it just a tad narrower than the iPad 2 and a bit longer. Display quality is excellent with wide viewing angles as you’d expect from an IPS panel. In landscape orientation, the widescreen works nicely for viewing movies but makes it a bit unwieldy when attempting to hold in one hand and navigate the interface with the other. But more often than not, it’ll be spending time on your lap, on the table, or on a stand, unless you’re intentionally trying to give your hands and wrists a good workout.

Inside, the Thrive has a 1GHz NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual-core processor, 1GB of RAM, and three options for onboard flash memory: 8GB, 16GB, and 32GB. This brings us to one of the Thrive’s strengths, which is the full-sized SD card slot that supports SD, SDHC, and SDXC, meaning storage is expandable by up to 128GB. That’s especially convenient if you already own several SD cards used for your digital cameras. Transferring photos on a vacation would mean simply plugging in your SD card to the Thrive eliminating the need for a card reader or to haul your laptop.

The Thrive sports camera specs similar to the Motorola XOOM with a 2-megapixel front-facing camera and a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera capable of 720p HD video capture. However, unlike the Motorola XOOM, the Thrive lacks the dual-LED flash, or any flash for that matter, rendering its cameras useless in low light conditions.

Some annoyances with the Thrive besides the bulk are the three LED indicator lights on the front for power, battery level, and Wi-Fi connection. They are rather unnecessary and distracting. Sound quality is average, slightly tinny, and on the quiet side despite the stereo speakers—not deserving its own paragraph of praise that’s for sure. The power button and volume rocker are a bit hard to press, although this helps prevent accidental impressions.

Below is the unboxing and hands-on video posted previously.

Connectivity and Battery

The Thrive’s connectivity and battery is where it really shines. Like no other tablet, it throws in a full-sized HDMI-out and a full-sized USB 2.0 port in addition to the common mini-USB port. The full-sized USB port gives the Thrive an almost laptop-like functionality allowing you to attach hard drives, flash drives, keyboards, and other accessories you normally wouldn’t be able to on a tablet. It also has the standard support for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

The swappable battery is another standout feature that allows you to replace the battery yourself if needed or to keep an extra in tow. You can purchase an additional 2030mAh battery from Toshiba for $80. It’s rated for up to 11 hours, although our usage alotted us about 6 hours.

The Thrive can also run without the battery when it’s plugged in. Its power cable, however, is reminiscent of a laptop cable complete with a power brick that will surely be a pain to travel with and is quite the opposite from the lightweight charging cables we’re used to seeing with other tablets.

To get to the battery, you will have to remove the back cover, which is a bit tricky. On the top edge of the tablet there is a locking switch for the cover. Once unlocked, the best way to pry it free is to dig your nails into the two speaker slots, using your thumbs and forefingers to separate.

The removable back cover can also be swapped for 5 other color options, including Silvery Sky, Blue Moon, Raspberry Fusion, Lavender Bliss, and Green Apple. They retail for $20 each.

Software & Performance

The Thrive gets extra points for having stock Android 3.1 Honeycomb without any customized Toshiba interface running on top. This not only means unhindered Android performance, but also faster updates in the future. You can check out our Android 3.1 Honeycomb review to learn more about what you can expect from this version of the platform.

We ran the Vellamo Mobile Web Benchmark, which tests browser performance and stability in the areas of JavaScript, rendering, networking, and user experience using pixel manipulation, blending, page download, reload, cache performance, WebKit, SunSpider, and the V8 benchmarking kit from Google. For user interface and experience, it uses multiple scrolling tests and sample web pages. The Thrive scored a 968, putting it just ahead of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 also running Android 3.1 Honeycomb. In particular, the Thrive performed better in the areas of rendering and networking.

We also did an additional Quadrant benchmark for good measure, although the lack of a tablet in the comparison results isn’t quite as informative. Perhaps more useful is the SmartBench results below that also include the stats for other Android 3.1 Honeycomb tablets such as the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.

The Thrive does come with some custom Toshiba apps including a Toshiba File Manager, which is an intuitive and convenient Windows-style file management system that lets you see and access all your files in one location. You can easily switch between viewing files on the Thrive from those on the inserted SD card or those on an attached USB device. Moving single or multiple files from one storage location to another is also very simple. Below is a quick demo.

Wrap-Up

If you’re considering the Toshiba Thrive, you must really desire some full-sized HDMI and USB ports along with a full-sized SD card slot and a swappable battery on a tablet form factor because that’s what sets this slate apart and makes up for the extra bulkiness. Another reason you may be interested in the Thrive is that you can get an Android 3.1 Honeycomb tablet with premium specs at a very competitive price. The 8GB model retails for $429.99, the 16GB model for $479.99, and the 32GB model for $579.99.

Its obvious weakness is the bulk but its design choices don’t help either. Chrome accents around the camera are a bit tacky and the LED status indicators were better left behind for its laptop cousins. The back cover design is sort of neat with a rubbery feel, interchangeable colors, and a groovy pattern. But at the same time, it makes the tablet feel plasticky.

Futhermore, it seems as though the Toshiba Thrive is, in its own strange way, attempting to straddle the line between a laptop and a tablet. But is it the best or worst of both worlds?

It delivers the connectivity options and battery replaceability of a laptop, but also the undesirable chunkiness and brick-style power cable. Productivity-wise, it’s still not nearly as functional as a small laptop if you seriously plan on getting some work done. Laptops are also less awkward to use with screens held up by hinges, creating less strain and fatigue on your hands and wrists. But then if the Thrive is used as just a tablet for media consumption, it’s too unwieldy and unnecessarily bloated.

Either way, the Thrive is a unique option when it comes to your tablet purchase and will have a warm place for some of you out there. It reminds us of what’s nice about the Android platform, and that’s options. You can have the sexy runway Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 starved of ports or the homely Toshiba Thrive ready to support more of your needs.

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Toshiba Thrive Review is written by Rue Liu & originally posted on SlashGear.
© 2005 - 2011, SlashGear. All right reserved.


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23Jul/11Off

Revisiting My Anti-Tech Resolutions

I’m going to start by congratulating myself. I have stuck with some of my original Anti-Tech Resolutions longer than I have ever stuck with a resolution in the past. Before I get specific about my progress with each of my original goals, I’ll say that the first thing I learned about keeping a resolution is that it is much easier to vow NOT to do something than it is to promise yourself you WILL do something. Maybe that’s a lesson I will take into any resolutions I make of a non-technical nature. Instead of vowing to lose weight, I will vow to not drink sugary soda. Instead of vowing to go to the gym, I will vow to not go to the gym.

I can already see the flaws in my plan.

[Image credit: Grant Hutchinson]

In any case, my original Anti-Tech Resolutions were made to encourage more personal interaction between myself and others, and to try to free myself from the cables and bonds than bind me to my gadgets. Here is how things have worked out so far:

1. Call Instead of Text

For the most part, I have to admit this was a failure. I can accept that. I do call people plenty, but there are some times when texting is more appropriate. When I originally wrote my resolutions, I was in a completely different place in my life, literally and figuratively. I was working at home in a house where I lived with my wife. Now I’m working in a corporate office and living in an apartment with my dog. I was unable to escape the great state of Texas, but otherwise things have changed dramatically.

There are now plenty of times when it is inappropriate or impossible for me to make a phone call. At the office, I would rather exchange a few quick text messages, or carry on an IM chat in the periphery while I am also getting work done, than make a personal phone call from my cubicle. I am mostly able to avoid corporate meetings, but when I do attend, texting is the only appropriate way to get in touch with someone on the outside world.

I would like to have more vocal talking time with my sister in Amsterdam, but the time zones create a conundrum. It’s hard for me to make time to call her before work, when it is her afternoon. By the time I leave work, it is after midnight in the Netherlands. If I want to keep in touch with her, the best time is during the day, perhaps on my lunch break, but from my desk I still would rather text than talk, or stand outside talking in the 106 degree Texas summer heat.

2. No More Happy Birthdays On Facebook

At this resolution, I have been entirely successful. I also hate it. It seems stupid now. It seems rude and anti-social. There has not been one single instance where I have seen someone’s birthday on Facebook and, remembering my resolution, called them instead of typing out a quick message. I have a perfect track record of not wishing my friends Happy Birthday on Facebook, but I also have a perfect track record of not wishing my friends Happy Birthday.

"I felt like such a tool. I was a stubborn idiot"

I can tell you the exact moment I changed my mind on this. I have an old college buddy who joined Facebook only recently. I still don’t understand these hold-outs. Nobody is forcing you to do anything on Facebook. It’s like having your phone number in the phone book, except that you can pick and choose who gets to see it. Why hold out? Oh well, that’s a column for another time.

So, my friend Jeff recently joined Facebook, and shortly thereafter celebrated his birthday. I, of course, did not wish him any joy or happiness, nor did I call him to offer a kind word or sentiment. I just ignored it. I thought to myself, “I should wish Jeff a happy birthday, but I did make that resolution.”

The next day, Jeff posted a message that said something like: “After my first birthday on Facebook, I finally understand the appeal. Thank you all for your kind messages and birthday wishes.”

I felt like such a tool. I was a stubborn idiot. It ends now. I’m going to flip-flop my resolution entirely. Now, instead of wishing nobody a happy birthday on Facebook, I am going to try to wish EVERYBODY a happy birthday on Facebook. I will be more conscientious about looking at the birthday calendar on my wall and leaving a birthday note for my friends. Having pared down my friend list to only people I find interesting in some way, I feel good about this reversal.

3. Don’t Ever Use the Phone at the Dinner Table

Success! I’m giving myself a ton of credit for this one, because this was very hard. I dine with loads of tech folks, the kind of people who carry on three and a half conversations at once, and if you can see them in person, you’re the half. I am happy to say that in more than six months of living with this resolution, I have stuck to it perfectly.

"My dinner companions knew about my resolution, and they called me on my mistake"

Okay, almost. There was one time I broke down. I was in Barcelona. It was Valentine’s Day. I had ordered flowers for my wife to be delivered at her office, and I found out just before dinner that they were stuck in the mail room. If I didn’t call to straighten this out, she would not have gotten them. So, without thinking, I made the call. My dinner companions knew about my resolution, as I had the habit of bragging about it at the end of every dinner, and they called me on my mistake. The punch line? We decided to get divorced less than a month later. I should have let the flowers wither and die.

I am happy with this resolution, and I will keep it up through the rest of the year, and probably longer. When people near me are on their cell phones, I find someone else at the table to talk to. Often that is someone to whom I do not speak as often. I made new friends this way, and learned more about people I did not know as well. Usually, these were people who had just checked their email 3 minutes ago, and so they would not feel the itch to check again for another 2 minutes. Whatever. When they pulled out their phones, I simply moved on to the next person. It was rare that I was the only one at the table without my phone in front of me, and when I was, I always found an opportunity to mention this resolution again.

4. See the 2D Version Instead of the 3D

Nope, I failed miserably at this one. There has only been one instance in which I saw the 2D version of a film while the 3D version was still playing in the same theater. That was the second time I saw Cars 2. I know, I panned that movie in my recent review here on SlashGear, but I have been wanting to take my son to his first movie, and this was the best fit. He’s already familiar with the characters, and even bad Pixar is better than the worst children’s movies around. So, I went the first time to screen the movie, to make sure it wouldn’t freak him out too badly. Then, when I took him a week later, we did not go to the 3D version.

The 3D version was being shown in the XD theater, which is Cinemark’s brand of IMAX-like big-picture / booming-sound auditorium. The 2D version was being shown in a tiny little hole in the wall. The last theater at the end of the hall. It would be much easier to keep this resolution if 2D movies got the same respect that 3D movies got. But, of course, there is far more money to be made in higher-priced 3D tickets, so those movies will always command the larger screen.

I have to say that in even the worst examples of 3D movies , it was never the 3D that bothered me. I would like to think that my nifty Oakley 3D Gascan glasses, with the Tron-blue trim, helped, but that’s probably because I spent more than $100 on those stupid glasses and I have to justify the price to myself somehow.

5. Use My Gadgets to Do Things More Than I Do Things On My Gadgets

Okay, my job is testing and playing with gadgets, so it’s hard to imagine how I could possibly keep this resolution. But really, this resolution was about one goal: keeping myself from buying a 3D TV. And a new gaming system. And a new home theater set-up. In that respect, it worked, and barely. I have found myself staring at the checkout screen at Amazon, ready to pull the trigger on a 55”, LED, 240Hz 3D TV, when I remember this resolution and find my resolve again. I was ready to pounce on the Nintendo 3DS out of sheer curiosity. If I didn’t work for a major competitor (disclosure: Samsung Mobile), I would have been curious about the PlayStation phone, though the lack of interesting games would have still kept me away.

I still have some gadgets I might buy. I have my eye on a new watch, but it’s not a phone watch or a Bluetooth accessory. I’d like a watch that records your heart rate, and tracks you using GPS. I’ve been seeing a personal trainer, and this would actually be a useful product. In fact, it fits perfectly with my original goal. So, besides my work gadgets, I count this resolution as a success. But I won’t beat myself up if I fail. After all, those 3D TVs are getting pretty cheap, even for the really big ones.


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Revisiting My Anti-Tech Resolutions is written by Philip Berne & originally posted on SlashGear.
© 2005 - 2011, SlashGear. All right reserved.


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