Geek in the City

Mixing pop culture news, reviews, and socially biting commentary with mildly amusing entertainment.

The AT&T 3G Microcell – As Almost Perfect Device

- Editors Note: This article is a direct rebuttal of Digital Trends article by our resident Tech Lord, TEGMan. Right? Wrong? Read and leave your comments below. – AD

AT&T mobility announced that their 3G Microcell hardware would finally be available for the general population (provided you are an at&t customer), in April. I think this is a great idea, but it is hardly something new. Verizon and Sprint have had Femptocell devices (of which the 3G Microcell is) for over a year. at&t has been stubborn about making it available nationwide, instead testing it in various markets. Some people are unsure or confused as to what the 3G Microcell is, and what it actually does.

The 3G Microcell is a miniature cell tower, that uses much lower power than traditional cell towers. It allows AT&T phones to make and receive calls or texts, and utilize data plans, in places where either by coverage gaps, environment, or structure, one cannot access the cellular network. It takes the traditional cellular data, in at&t’s case GSM/HSPA, and converts it to Internet data, and routes it to their servers via the Internet. at&t also has built-in restrictions to prevent this device from being used by unauthorized persons, a good security concern since the data is going over your internet connection, and something not provided by Verizon’s on Sprint’s devices. It does include GPS to ensure you do not take it outside of at&t’s legal coverage area.

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However, the 3G Micocell does not work with non-3G AT&T Phones, so I, as an original iPhone owner, am out of luck, even though my metal roof kills wireless signals. It does require a broadband internet connection, which for some people is the reason they have a cell phone (via teathering). I would have liked to see the 3G Microcell actually just connect to regular AT&T network, then rebroadcast it for local use, instead of using Broadband. It would also be nice to have GSM/EDGE support, but that may not be possible with the EDGE standard.

All told, the 3G Microcell only costs $150, or $100 if you get a $20/month add-on to allow for unlimited calling on the device. There are other discounts for new activation and for those with at&t Uverse or DSL. If you have limited to no signal at home, then this device is exactly what you need.

Thomas – http://www.glassonionradio.com/ – Changing Radio, One Byte at a Time.
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TiVo Premiere – Meet the future of TV

aka, Suck it Cable/Satelite!

Tuesday March 2nd, TiVo unveiled their next generation DVRs to the world. Dubbed “TiVo Premiere”, these devices not only continue TiVo’s legacy of DVRs, but more closely integrate them with Online Content, including Netflix, Amazon OnDemand (formerly UnBox), YouTube, and BlockBuster Online. Unlike Series 2 and 3/HD models, the Premiere, these content sources appear within normal searches. Which for some people will be a great help, and for others be a source of consternation. Their new menuing system is based on Flash, which allows for it to show previews of shows in the screens while loading in the background, and it is enhanced for Widescreen TVs. A big advantage of the Premiere over the Series3/HD is new compatibility with Verizon’s FiOS service, something the former didn’t have support for due to the way FiOS is delivered, but it appears that either the TiVo Premiere can stream via the Ethernet port or Verizon has included support for CableCARD in their service.

The Premiere will work with any Cable Company (analog or digital), Over The Air Broadcasts, or FiOS. There is no support for Satellite with this box, but a DirectTV/TiVo device is coming out later this year, and there is no support for at&t U-Verse. The lack of support for U-Verse is odd, considering it is using the same technology as FiOS, but may be related to the lack of CableCARD support, a streaming incompatibility, or the fact that TiVo is suing at&t, Inc., for patent infringement on their company supplied DVRs. For those of you who have not purchases a DTV converter, and either want the ability to use a DVR or just have some extra money, the TiVo Premiere will act as the converter for you.

Premiere has a 320GB Hard Drive, capable of recording 50 hours of HD programming or 400 hours of SD programming (or any combination of the above). The Premiere XL has a 1TB Hard Drive, capable of recording 150 hours of HD programming, or 1350 hours of SD programming. These devices also retain TiVo’s support for downloading content from the DVR to your computer for your own use, burning to disk, archiving, or converting for portable media players, and vice-versa (provided you purchase the software required), as well as the ability to stream music and photos from your computers or from PhotoBucket or Picasa. The Premiere also retains TiVo’s partnership with Real’s Rhapsody service, Live365, and Music Choice. The Premiere appears to be TiVo’s attempt to make the TV the media hub of the home. TiVo is also keeping the eSATA port on the back of the TiVo, so you can always add more storage to your TiVo without having to open up the device.

The physical size of the TiVo Premiere is a bit smaller than previous TiVos, thanks to the ability to get smaller components. The front panel of the TiVo is a little more cluttered now (although not as much as with the TiVo Series 3), with 5 lights on the front, one for power, one for Network (flashing on activity), one for each tuner (2), and finally the traditional light to indicate that it received a command from the Remote Control. Also, on the front panel is a Format Button. This is useful when a station goes from broadcasting an HD Program to SD, and you need to adjust the layout from 16×9 to 4×3, or alternatively, you are watching a channel that is poorly operated that broadcasts a 16×9 image in a 4×3 space and you have to stretch the image out to make it viewable (very common on Digital Subchannels, especially THIS-TV).

TiVo also introduced a long requested upgrade to their classic “peanut” remote control, a QWERTY keyboard. Available for the TiVo Premiere, the new remote slides open like many smart phones to reveal a full QWERTY keyboard, number pad, and second controller wheel. It is only compatible with the Premiere, but won’t ship for a couple of months. TiVo has also announced a Wireless N adapter for their Premiere and Series 3/HD TiVos, which will give users 5 times the throughput on their wireless connections.

Impressions – I like the idea of the TiVo Premiere, but would have preferred the name “Series4”, just because the names are starting to get ridiculous (HD, HDXL, Premiere, and Premiere XL). I would have liked to see the new QWERTY remote be standard issue with the Premiere XL, because I don’t think that THX Certification and a 1TB hard Drive is worth the extra $200 they are charging. I also think that the pricing could have been a little more competitive, $299/$499 is a bit steep for a DVR, especially when you have to have a subscription cost on top of that, plus subscription costs for Netflix and BlockBuster, and per download cost for Amazon. If they had made it $200/$300, and a $15 subscription for the first TiVo, and that subscription included a Netflix TiVo only account, then they would have problems keeping them on the shelf.

I also think that TiVo needs to begin working on options to have more than two tuners on their devices, as some people need 3 or 4 in order to keep up with the shows they want to watch, especially if they only have one TV, and can’t justify multiple TiVos. It would also be nice if they had not removed the Coax out on the Premiere, as some people, especially with older HDTVs, don’t have HDMI, or Component, and HD Coax is much better than Composite. TiVo also needs to embrace the ability to plug a USB Hard Drive into the TiVo for storage expansion (instead of just eSATA, and the ability to connect thumb drives or hard drives for media viewing and transfers. It would also be nice if TiVo supported MPEG4 videos, transferred from computers, and perhaps to go so far as to work with Apple to allow iTunes AAC music and videos to be view on the TiVo (something Apple likely won’t do, due to the Apple TV).

Aside from that, the TiVo Premiere’s big strength is the new interface and Internet/TV integration, it is miles ahead of the previous “Classic” interface, which will still be available for those with SDTVs or those who prefer it. The TiVo Premiere is definitely a buy if you have an HDTV or are a current subscriber, as you can get a discount for having an active account.

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Of Name Changes & Branding, or…

Oh Comcast, why must you think your customers are dumb?

I have been a cable subscriber since 1989, first with TCI, then AT&T Broadband, and now Comcast. I have used their Internet Service in my home, for about 30 days, that was when my mom got the bill for the Internet Service that was four times the amount quoted, and I was been complaining that the connection only worked for about 30 minutes a day. I have also subscribed to Comcast for TV and Internet while living in Oregon, with few issues, except for their policy at the time of only allowing one computer to use one internet connection, period. At present, I work for my local independent telephone company, in the Internet Tech Support department. My employer is a competitor to Comcast in many areas, but my opinions are my own, not those of my employers.

Xfinity, that is the new name Comcast subscribers will be seeing on their bills. Why? Because some marketing people at Comcast think that if they rename the service, customers, especially new ones, will forget what they have heard or perceive about Comcast. Granted, Comcast is the owner of G4, the geekiest place on television, and is attempting to buy NBCUniversal, home of SyFy, USA, and the NBC Networks, however it has a long and bumpy history with its ‘primary’ focus as a Cable provider. The name sounds like something a 5 year old would shout when trying to say “Infinity” and the logo looks like something, that at some point was coo. Alas, has been processed through so many marketing meetings that it is only a shell of its former self, much like Alienware. This re-branding is so blatant, that I suspect it to have a large number of entries on Fail Blog come Tuesday morning.

The Cable TV, Internet, Digital Telephone, and Wireless 4G Internet services will all be falling under this new Xfinity name. Why the name change? In the markets that Xfinity will first appear, which include Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Chicago, Portland, Seattle, Hartford, Augusta, Chattanooga, and parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, Comcast will be able to offer 50Mbps Internet Packages to all customers for the first time. While these services are good, and in many areas, leaps and bounds above what their competitors can, or do, offer; Does it really require a name change?

While I can see this as a milestone you want to celebrate, I can’t understand the logic of spending the money required to update all the set-top boxes with the new name, repaint the trucks, and change the signs on the buildings. I would much rather Comcast keep their name, and focus their money on working to reorganize their lineups so I can get the channels I want, without have to pay $60 a month, and improve the access to HD Networks, instead of relying on the On-Demand services. Until that happens, I’ll live with my $18 a month cable, with just local channels, Discovery, CBC, and Travel Channel (digital only).

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The iPad…

or How Apple gave us everything we wanted, but we’re still bitching.

By: Thomas E. Gill
teg24601@gmail.com

To begin with, I will say that I am an Apple user, and have been exclusively Mac since 2002, at least in my personal life. That being said, I have mixed emotions about the iPad. While it is true that it is for the most part what most people wanted, an Apple version of a PADD from Star Trek, but I still expected, and wanted, more.

The iPad is impressive in its marriage of form and function. The design seems to come directly out of the lab of Herman Zimmerman or Doug Drexler, but via Cupertino and Jonathan Ive. The screen looks vibrant and crisp, and the bezel appears to be just the right size to allow one to hold onto the device without activating the touch screen. The ability to use the device at any angle certainly makes it a bit more versatile than its smaller siblings, neither of which allows you to use the screen in the upside-down mode.

I however am not all that impressed with the OS. I was expecting something closer to full-blown OS X, not the iPhone OS. I had visions of playing SimCity 4: Deluxe on the tablet, or shooting Borg in Elite Forces, or maybe finally completing a raid in World of Warcraft. None of which is possible on this tablet. On the other hand, I have learned firsthand that desktop metaphor operating systems to no translate well to fingers, styluses, or gestures. The Tablet versions of Windows have been complete and total disasters and Windows Mobile has shown other companies how not to build a mobile operating system. While the iPhone OS is a somewhat logical choice, I feel that it hampers some of the power the iPad has, at least for the time being.

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Other people will scream and yell because the iPad doesn’t support multi-tasking, I however will take a more rational stance. Yes, there is no multi-tasking as of now, unless you include the ability for alarms to appear in any app, the ability to listen to and control music in any app, the ability to receive e-mail regardless of what you are doing, the ability for push notifications to function, and the ability to stream music via Safari or any app that supports CoreAudio. So what people are really complaining about is the inability for them to kill the battery life of a primarily battery powered device, by running multiple applications at the same time that cannot easily be monitored through conventional means. I don’t find the lack of multi-tasking to be a deal breaker, because after almost 3 years with an iPhone EDGE, I have yet to see any need for it, aside from those functions listed above, all of which the iPad supports.

Still more people will cry because there is no Flash support. I would venture to guess that the most likely reason for that is that Apple chose not to share the iPad with most people until their announcement, mainly because when they have done it in the past, it is leaked out onto the Internet. Heck, they were very secretive this time around, and it was still everywhere. I would suspect that with the changes Apple had made in the SDK, most of which now allow for emulation or the execution of pre-compiled code (which is required for JAVA and Flash, and the change was made to allow a licensed Commadore64 Emulator onto the App Store), allows the door to be opened for Flash, and to a lesser extent JAVA. However, I don’ really see a need for Flash support. At present, there are few legitimate uses for Flash. One of which is video websites, most of which have or are planning Apps. Others are moving to HTML 5 which builds Flash-like video support into the building blocks of the browser, and will likely be included in the next revision of Safari. The next is games, and at present, there are very few Flash games that don’t have iPhone versions, and those that don’t can simply be exported via Flash Composer into an Apple Approved iPhone App. The other two real uses of Flash are for website design and advertising. Websites that rely on Flash are far behind the times. Any developer worth their salt abandoned Flash based designs years ago. Today most websites rely on CSS, and those that don’t are in the process of changing. Advertising that relies on Flash, bog down computers and are rarely of any value. I for one am glad that I don’t have to be subjected to them while browsing the Web. I don’t feel that the lack of Flash support is the stumbling block that many have painted it to be.

Considering the current trend of Apple putting a camera in the bezel of their computers, I was really surprised to not see one on the iPad. However, considering that the iPad could be used from any angle, it would make the placement of such a camera weird. I’m not all the concerned though, as some resourceful developer will create an attachment that will give you a camera for video chat, that you can place anywhere. Some people also make comments about an outward facing camera, and I have to ask, “Why?” Why would you use a device the size of a book to take a picture, when you likely have a camera or camera phone with better quality?

There is also some confusion regarding the relationship between the iPad and at&t. Experts and consumers alike continue to say that “The iPad is locked to at&t”.  This is a bald-faced lie.  There are two models of iPad… One is Wi-Fi only the other has GSM 3G (UTMS/HSPA) and Wi-Fi.  The former has no contract, and if you own an iPhone, Blackberry, live in urban Wi-Fi Zones, or plan to use it at home, in the office, or coffee shop, then that is all you need.  The latter, is an unlocked device, in which at&t made a special deal for data.  There is no contract to use the data plan, and you are not required to even have it.  If T-Mobile decides they want to support the microSIM that the iPad uses (which it likely will due to T-Mobile Germany likely supporting it like the iPhone), then you are fine.  The only drawback is that because T-Mobile USA is the only GSM provider in the world who uses the 1700Mhz frequency for their 3G, you would be stuck on EDGE (the opposite is true of the Nexus One GSM, which while unlocked, won’t work on at&t’s 3G network).  Now people will bitch because they can’t use the iPad on Verizon Wireless or Sprint, but in reality it is the fault of those companies for using the non-standard and inferior CDMA/EV-DO network.  Apple does not want to have multiple versions of the same product that are not virtually interchangeable, so supporting a network that is basically in the US and Canada only doesn’t make much business sense.  Perhaps when Verizon Wireless launches their LTE network (GSM 4G) then we will see iPhones and iPads available on that network, but definitely not before.

In all honesty, the real problem I have with the iPad is the form factor. I was expecting something a little longer, something closer to 16:9 or 16:10 instead of the 4:3 we got. I also think the resolution could be higher, that way it could support the viewing of 1080p content. I would have liked to see the iPad have Stereo Speakers and multiple headphone jacks, for easy sharing or for more comfortable placement. I would have been nice to have USB or an SDHC/SDXC slot on the iPad, but because the new SDK opens the dock connector for developers use, I don’t think it will be much of a problem. I would also hope that since the iPad had Bluetooth, and I have a Bluetooth keyboard that I would be able to use the two together at some point instead of having to purchase an iPad Dock/Keyboard combination.

All-in-all, I think the iPad is a step in the right direction. It has most of the features I would want in such a device, and if I had the money, I would likely invest in the Wi-Fi version, but right now I can’t justify the purchase. Perhaps as the OS matures and more applications are built that take advantage of the design, then I could justify it. For now, I’ll be happy with playing with it at the Apple Store, or wherever it becomes a ubiquitous product, and I’ll continue to hope that someone will design a LCARS interface for it so I can live the dream of being Geordi LaForge.

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