Thursday, April 28, 2011

Some cool new cases for your new white iPhone 4

So you bought or are going to buy the new white iPhone 4 that was released today? If you're considering wrapping your cute new phone in a case, let me suggest a few.

If you're into cases that will power your phone as well as protect it, which I like, click here for one of the older reviews.

Here's a few fun cases I've tried recently for Steve Jobs' favorite cell phone.

XtremeMac: I tried two from this company. One is a neat little leather sleeve, almost like a soft wallet the iPhone slides into. This one won't cover up your new beauty and gives you complete access when you pull it out.

The other was a rechargeable battery case. Like many of the others, I liked the universal mini-USB plug which opens up a lot more recharging options that Apple's proprietary 30-pin white connector. But this case tended to get a little warm and I didn't like the plasticky feel so much. The LED lights on the bottom to show how much charge is left and the on/off switch were features I've found in similar cases. Needed but not groundbreaking.

Verdict: the leather sleeve, while not original was cool. There are better battery cases out there. See my earlier review.

Ballistic HC: Very similar to the Otterbox Defender series, this case gives you major protection. If you had a younger teen or a preteen with an i4, this is the case I'd want them to have. It's got a holster to attach to the belt and a soft silicone layer to wrap around the phone and then a tough plastic outer layer. In all, you get five layers of protection, including a plastic liner for the glass.

It's not as bulky as you might think, and if you ever -- ever -- dropped your i4, this and the Otterbox are the cases you'd want it to be in.

Verdict: Winner.

Otterbox Reflex Series: A new case from Oterbox that is form fitting and snaps on in two pieces and gives easy docking access. It doesn't have the soft feel of some of the other cases in this line. I'm not a big fan of the plasticky feel (is plasticky a word?), but it gets the job done.

Verdict: OK. Good enough.

iSkin Revo4: Ooh, love the soft silicone skin and the yellow and black color scheme. It covers the buttons but gives easy access, same with the docking port. iSkin says it provides some shock and moisture protection too (it comes with a screen cover) but I wouldn't test it. But this case is antimicrobial. Bonus points for that.

Verdict: Solid pick.

iChair: My favorite current iPhone case has a little docking stand -- ala the HTC series of 4.3 inch Android phones. This allows you to prop i4 up in landscape or portrait mode. You can watch a movie, check email, even make a call on speaker much easier. I was in Subway last week and sat mine up and read the Observer online.

The two-piece case slides on easily. It's got a soft shell inside and a (not too) hard shell outside. It feels good in the hands and it's thin and doesn't bulk up the skinny phone. Right now, this is one of the best cases for any phone I've tried (along with the higher-end Otterboxes). And you can even buy a version with a white top portion.

Verdict: Big Winner.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

DirecTV, Dish deliver first run movies faster than ever. Is that good for the business?

Remember when you used to have to wait awhile for a first-run movie to be available via a PPV movie service?

Those days are gone.

DirecTV recently launched "Home Premiere" which will bring first run movies to its customers 60 days after they are released in theaters. Currently, DirecTV has Cedar Rapids and Just Go With It available to customers for $29.99 for a 48-hour rental.

Is $30 too much? Could you wait another four weeks for the Blu-Ray? Could you go to the $1 (or $2) movie instead? Those are individual questions, but at least having the option is intriguing, especially if you have a family. Have you tried taking, say, your family of four to the local metroplex? It can get expensive quickly, and that's before you buy a $5 soda.

For its part, Dish will premiere the new film Passion Play on the same it hits theaters May 6. The film is about an angel under the thumb of a ruthless gangster. It will be $5.99 for HD and $4.99 for standard def.

The film stars Mickey Rourke and Megan Fox ("Transformers" and "Jennifer's Body).

Wait for white iPhone is over. It hits stores tomorrow

Apple made it official today, announcing that the long-awaited white iPhone 4 will hit U.S. stores tomorrow. It'll be at Apple's online store, at Apple retail stores and at select resellers (think Best Buy) plus at AT&T and Verizon wireless stores.

“The white iPhone 4 has finally arrived and it’s beautiful,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. “We appreciate everyone who has waited patiently while we’ve worked to get every detail right.”

White models of iPhone 4 will also be available in Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Macau, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand and the UK.

Suggested retail price isCUPERTINO, California—April 27, 2011—Apple® today announced that the white iPhone® 4 will be available beginning tomorrow. White iPhone 4 models will be available from Apple’s online store (, at Apple’s retail stores, AT&T and Verizon Wireless stores and select Apple Authorized Resellers.

“The white iPhone 4 has finally arrived and it’s beautiful,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. “We appreciate everyone who has waited patiently while we’ve worked to get every detail right.”

White models of iPhone 4 will be available in Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Macau, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, UK and the US, beginning Thursday, April 28 and in many more countries around the world soon. White iPhone 4 will be available for a suggested retail price of $199 (US) for the 16GB model and $299 (US) for the 32GB model with a new two year agreement.

With rumors that the new iPhone 5 is coming sometime in the next six to eight months, I wonder how sales will go for the white model. Apple appears to have addressed the tricky proximity sensor, which was more problematic for many users than the over-reported antenna issue. The sensor would cause calls to switch to FaceTime mode or other things like hang-up when users put the phone to their ears.

The latest on iPhone: White one on sale this week, T-Mobile version being tested, and is it really tracking you?

Busy week in iPhone land.

Let's review.

The new much-ballyhooed white version is widely expected to hit U.S. retail stores this week. Already, Macrumors is reporting that white iPhone 4s are being sold overseas.

Of note, the proximity sensor, which has caused many problems with people accidentally hanging up calls or starting other functions when pressing the phone against their faces, has been changed. It's now larger and placed above the earpiece.

Of course, I'm not sure I'd be buying a nearly year-old phone now with a new one almost assuredly coming to us by fall (at the latest).

NEXT: Tech sites are reporting that Sharp has been hired to manufacture new poly-silicon displays for the sixth generation iPhone in 2012. The technology allows electrical components to be integrated with the glass surface and is also thinner and lighter than current screens.

NEXT: A new federal lawsuit targets Steve Jobs' favorite company over privacy concerns. Reports say the iPhone tracks location information for up to a year. Jobs sent an email to a customer who asked about this and said the claim that Apple is secretly tracking customers is "false."

NEXT: Boy Genius Report says that Apple is currently testing an iPhone that would work on T-Mobile's network. Of course, AT&T is trying to buy T-Mobile and AT&T carries the iPhone, but this move could lead to iPhone hitting T-Mobile much sooner, maybe sometime this year. Could be good for customers who want to jump on T-Mobile's fast 4G network (OK, it's really, really fast 3G) and take advantage of T-Mobile's cheap(er) fees.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Nintendo to launch new Wii HD console system in 2012

The hottest rumor in the tech industry was confirmed by Nintendo Monday: we can expect a new Nintendo Wii unit, that will support high definition graphics, next year.

The current Wii unit, which was a smashing success, has sold more than 86 million units in five years. Of late, though, the Wii-mote motion sensor technology that helped fuel its popularity has been copied and surpassed by Microsoft (hands free Kinect) and Sony (PlayStation Move), and both companies offer HD graphics via their current console systems.

Nintendo announced via a news release that it will demo a playable version of the system at the E3 Expo June 7-9 in Los Angeles. Bloomberg quoted Nintendo President Satoru Iwata as saying the system will “propose a new approach to home video game consoles.”

Satoru said “it’s difficult to make 3D images a key feature, because 3D televisions haven’t obtained wide acceptance yet.”

So where does that leave us?

Well, along with the hot rumors of Nintendo’s new system have been similar rumors of a new Nintendo game controller. Just as it set the industry on its ear with the Wii-mote -- which allows you to use it to mimic real-life motions like throwing a ball or swinging a club -- several tech sites have reported on a new 8-button controller.

The new controller, reports say, would be 6.2 inches big -- bigger than those XL Android cell phones out there -- have two analog sticks and a camera. The new system would support the new controller as well as the old games and old Wii-mote joystick.

Using that big controller, gamers would be able to send and receive wireless data to the console, snap photos to put into games. It’s similar to what we saw years ago with Sega’s Dreamcast system. Imagine playing, say, Madden football and instead of the game play options coming up on the screen, allowing you and your opponent to see them, they would only pop up on your controller.

Having that kind of depth would add true realism to all games, and it wouldn’t be too hard to imagine that the controller could be a handheld gaming device of its own, though that might compete with the company’s 3DS hand held system.

And where does that leave Sony and Microsoft? The PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 are getting a little long in the tooth now and there’s been no official word on an update. Rumor mills have speculated Microsoft plans to support 360 until 2015 but that doesn’t mean it will wait to produce a new console until then.

I can’t imagine those two giants would let Nintendo hit the market with a new whiz-bang gadget and get major developers behind them, delivering versions of games that Sony and Microsoft couldn’t match.

Should be an interesting next 12 months in the gaming industry.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Want to know how much your co-workers make? Just click here

A new online site, called SalaryShare, claims it can help you find out how much your co-workers make. This assumes, of course, that they are honest.

It works like this: you create a "pool" on the website and send the link to a few people who will anonymously disclose how much they make. Only people in your pool can see the link to the results. And you can do this with anyone really, even your social friends.

Of course, do it at your own risk.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Verizon Wireless providing free phones to domestic violence victims

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) and Verizon Wireless has a program called Hopeline, that provides refurbished phones for domestic violence victims.

The company has also partnered with the National Network for its Let Your Heart Rule program against domestic violence and sexual assault.

Nice to know the wireless companies do more than charge us every month.

Sprint launches its own mobile music service, Sprint Music Plus

Sprint has launched its own music service today, dubbed Sprint Music Plus. Users will access the application via their Android Sprint phones or at

Next month the service will come to Sprint's Blackberry and Java-based phones.

Via the service, users will be able to:

-- Create music playlists.
-- Assign ringback tones to play for different callers and times of day.
-- Search for music by artist, title or keyword.
-- Organize full tracks/albums by artist, genre and custom playlists using the music library manager.
-- Preview content – sample millions of music tracks and tones, which are updated daily.
-- Get new music recommendations based on their musical tastes.

Individual song purchases will start at 69 cents and go $1.29. You can also buy a song, a ringtone of that song and the ringback tone in one click. Users will be charged via their Sprint bill.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Want more Masters coverage? Hit mobile phone, DirecTV and the 'Net

If you want to see more Masters than ESPN and CBS can offer you this week, there's plenty of ways to get more.

DirecTV is offering multiple channels of coverage on Channels 701-707, all for free for the satellite company's customers. Coverage, which will also be included in HD, is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. toda (Thursday 4/7)

There will be two featured groups shown, so if you want to follow, say, Tiger or Phil, step for step, you can do that. There will be extended hours of coverage outside the TV windows on ESPN and CBS. You can also choose a channel that will focus only on two holes on the back 9.

DirecTV will also offer expanded players stats, on-demand links to highlights and video tours of each hole at Augusta National.

DirecTV will also have 3D coverage on ESPN 3D (Channel 106). To get the 3D broadcast, you'll need glasses, and compatible equipment.

Finally, the Masters Mosiac Channel will allow viewers to see multiple feeds on one screen, as DirecTV does with its popular NFL Sunday Ticket package.

-- Online, and will offer three channels of coverage: live streaming video of the 11th, 12th and 13th holes; live streaming video from 15 and 16; and the featured group coverage.

Here are CBS start times:
Featured Group*

Thursday, April 7: 12:00 PM - Completion of play
Friday, April 8: 12:00 PM - Completion of play
Saturday, April 9: 12:00 PM - Completion of play
Sunday, April 10:12:00 PM - Completion of play

Amen Corner*

Thursday, April 7: 10:45 AM - 5:45 PM
Friday, April 8: 10:45 AM - 5:45 PM
Saturday, April 9:12:00 PM - 5:45 PM
Sunday, April 10: 11:45 AM - 5:45 PM

15 & 16*

Thursday, April 7: 11:45 AM - 5:45 PM
Friday, April 8: 11:45 AM - 5:45 PM
Saturday, April 9: 1:00 PM - 6:30 PM
Sunday, April 10: 12:45 PM - 6:30 PM

-- Finally, you can get a Masters App on your Android phone or iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. The Android app will only pass through scores. The iDevice app will pass through video feeds from Amen Corner, holes 15 and 16 and from the first featured group. Users can access this over 3G or Wifi.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Analysts: Xoom sales on target, but slow; iPad is selling big numbers

Deutsche Bank analysts say the Motorola Xoom tablet has sold about 100,000 copies in its first two months, getting the number by looking at how many people were using the Xoom's Honeycomb operating system via Android's developer side.

Deutsche Bank analysts believe the Xoom sales figures are line with their projections of 50,000 in the first quarter and 150,000 in the second.

Meanwhile, a Dow Jones analyst, Shara Tibken, said that Apple sold 300,000 iPad 2s of its first day of availability.

Taiwanese industry pub DigiTimes said Apple has shipped about 2.5 million iPad tablets to date and should sell about 4 million per month between now and June.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

New Madden NFL videogame to add focus on concussions

John Madden told the New York Times that this year's version of his popular video football game will have a special emphasis on concussions.

Any player who is hit hard enough to suffer a concussion will be sidelined for the remainder of the digital game. Announcers Gus Johnson and Cris Collinsworth will explain the seriousness of head injuries on screen.

If you ask me, it's a wonderful message to send to Madden's game players, many of whom are young and can use the instruction.

“Concussions are such a big thing, it has to be a big thing in the video game,” Madden told the New York Times. “It starts young kids — they start in video games. I think the osmosis is if you get a concussion, that’s a serious thing and you shouldn’t play. Or leading with the head that you want to eliminate. We want that message to be strong.”

The NFL is working closely with EA Sports on how to properly handle the presentation of concussions in the game. EA Sports officials have said they hope to use it as a teaching tool to their audience.

Common Sense Media CEO James Steyer, whose company seeks to provide honest advice and about media and technology's impact on kids, thinks the move is a "wonderful" idea.

“Video game technology grows more sophisticated and creative every year, and it’s wonderful to see a game developer use that creative energy to empower kids to make safe, smart, and responsible decisions," he said. "Video games provide not only entertainment, but also exciting opportunities for education, both in the classroom and in the living room. We commend John Madden and the team at Electronic Arts for recognizing the responsibility they have to help kids bring important lessons from the virtual field to the real one, such as concussion prevention and safety. This is a great step forward in demonstrating the immense possibilities of video games for learning and behavior change. We hope more game developers follow in their footsteps.”

Sony PlayStation users donate more than 1.3 million to Japan earthquake relief effort

Sony started "The Great East Japan Earthquake Relief Effort" on March 19 in North America and Europe. It expanded it to Japan and Asia on March 24.

Users of the online PlayStation Store can donate money, and the effort now is operating in more than 40 countries worldwide. To date, donations have topped $1.3 million.

Sony says the full amount will be donated to an organization in each region supporting the relief and recovery efforts in communities affected by the earthquake; American Red Cross - Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami Fund for North America, British Red Cross for Europe, and Central Community Chest of Japan known as the Red Feather Community Chest Movement for Japan and Asia.

“We would like to extend our deepest sympathies to those affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake,” said Kazuo Hirai, President and Group CEO, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. "While we continue to make every effort to help the recovery of the affected communities in the region, I would like to express our gratitude to every single PlayStation user across the world who made a contribution to the effort."

Digital Augusta National enhances new Tiger Woods videogame

The first thing you’ll notice about “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12” is there’s no picture of Tiger on the cover. There is, however, a big Masters logo, indicating that for the first time Augusta National’s beautiful golf course has been digitized into a game.

Woods has said in interviews that EA Sports used digital lasers to replicate the course, so that the on-screen version mimics the real thing, minus the actual smell coming off the azaleas. I’ve never been to Augusta, but I’ve seen the TV version many times and this looks like its digital identical twin.

Playing the game has not changed much. You can pick clubs, choose which type of shot to hit and deal with weather and actual green speed and slope. And some of the greens at Augusta are downright maniacal.

Augusta National officials have said they’ve allowed the course to go digital to try to bring the game and the Masters event to a younger audience. If my two kids, ages 11 and 6, are any indication, they’ve succeeded. My kids are putting down NBA and NFL games to play digital golf, and they complain about how hard it is, and these two regularly beat most any videogame they try.

For me, I felt the difficulty settings were about right and the addition of a caddie made the game more fun. The caddies know the courses, and where you think you have 150 yards and should choose an 8-iron, the caddy will know this hole plays longer than it looks and you need a 7, or that the wind is blowing 15 mph in your face and you need a 6.

You can also let the game pick your clubs for you, which allows nongolfers to instantly jump in and play.

On the PS3 version, you can swing PlayStation Move remote like a real golf club, like with the Wii-Mote on Nintendo. A new feature called “True Aim” allows you to look down at the ball as if you’re actually playing golf and watch it fly off from the same perspective. The mode can be turned off or on, but adds realism to an already complete game.

I especially enjoyed the career mode, where you start in the amateur ranks and go to Qualifying School; then you play in pro tournaments until you win or are invited to the Masters. You can also play in nine “Masters Moments” where you play key shots from past Masters or play as Tiger during his four Masters wins, trying to match or beat his scores.

Graphics-wise, the PS3 version was spot-on.

The players look real and all of the famous championship courses included here, besides Augusta, are lovingly recreated. The new additions of CBS Sports’ announcers Jim Nantz and David Feherty also add to the realism. Nantz is the voice of golf for CBS Sports, which broadcasts the Masters, and listening to him set your character up while that famous Masters theme plays along really pulls you into the game.

EA Sports has a winner here.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Would you pay $30 for a PPV movie two months after it came out in theaters?

OK, let's say "Thor" hits the theaters May 6. Would you pay $30 to watch it at home on July 6, while it's still probably playing at the movies?

According to the Hollywood Reporter, four big time movie studios and DirecTV are all set to launch a premium pay per view service in April that will bring you this kind of deal.

In a few weeks, this will also become available to Wal-Mart backed VUDU -- a downloadable streaming service available on PlayStation 3, some Blu Ray DVD players and PCx -- plus Comcast cable customers in some parts of the country.

Warner Bros., Fox, Sony and Universal are on board, the Reporter says. The first titles to be offered are likely Sony's "Just Go With It," Fox's "Cedar Rapids" and Warner Bros.' "Unknown."

Fox Searchlight titles will be offered 60 days from the date that they release.

The movie studios are looking to replace some of the DVD business which is declining as people turn to streaming and downloading more. Paramount has concerns over piracy and apparently isn't participating.

Now is this good for the consumer?

On the one hand it would be great and economical for families, who fork over $10 or more per ticket (before you hit the concession stand) to be able to buy a (semi) first run film for $30 at home.

But I can't imagine the guy who runs your local 22-screen metroplex to be excited about this proposition. More people would just wait to see "Blockbuster X." Also the guy who shows those second run films for a buck or two won't be too happy either.

And I'd hate to see the theaters struggle. There's always something a little magical about going. It's date night. It's the big screen. It's the surround sound that rocks your seat.

And what happens when this $29.99 thing is uber successful and the demand grows to see first run films even sooner, and studios figure they can double their profits by offering these films one month after release for $60?

End of the day, studios are going to make some good cash off this because, even at $30 a pop, it'll be economical for some families who can wait a few weeks when the hot new film comes out. Others, of course, will just wait a little longer for the film to hit traditional DVD and pay-per-view windows.

This is another option for consumers, and one I'll be curious to see how they handle it.

Friday, April 01, 2011

AT&T to do major overhaul to Charlotte-area wireless network

Are you an AT&T customer in the Charlotte area? Your wireless service is about to get better.

AT&T officials held a news conference today to announce it was upgrading 178 sites around town to allow it deploy its HSPA+ cell signals, which the company says will be up to four times as fast as its current 3G network.

The upgraded set-up in Charlotte won't technically be a 4G network as HSPA+ is a variant of the current 3G used today, albeit a faster one.

AT&T also plans to install about 24 new sites around town to handle load and reliability.

Sprint and Verizon already have true 4G networks up in town and T-Mobile has its own version of HSPA+ up and running. T-Mobile advertises its service as 4G.

AT&T has a bid in to buy T-Mobile and plans to use T-Mobile's towers to improve signal quality and speed nationwide.

According to colleague Eric Frazier's report, AT&T officials said the upgrades will be just part of several improvements for this region. Also coming:

Replacing more than 400 antennas at more than 96 cell sites across Charlotte and along major highways to improve voice quality and reduce dropped calls -- a major source of irritation for many customers.

Upgrade wireless capacity at more than 259 cell towers across the area.

Install nearly 23 additional cells around the city.

Install smaller sites, inconspicuous cell sites called Distributed Antenna Systems at multiple sites to improve coverage during events. At least one of the sites is already in place on a light pole at McDowell and Third streets.

More from Frazier's piece:

Mayor Anthony Foxx said the upgrades couldn't have come at a better time, telling AT&T officials at the press conference that "about 35,000 of your best friends" will be descending on Charlotte for next year's Democratic National Convention, smartphones in hand.

Alison Hall, an AT&T vice president for consumer markets in the Carolinas, called Charlotte one of the company's most important cities as it strives to stay on the leading edge of the fast-moving wireless marketplace.

"We're going full bore, not just for the DNC, but that gives us extra momentum," she said.

AT&T officials said the "4G" service is available now in parts of Charlotte, and customers who buy the 4G Atrix or Inspire phones can receive 4G speeds when in range of an upgraded tower. Officials said they expect to have full 4G coverage in Charlotte by year's end.

The 4G speeds will initially come via an HSPA+ network, similar to signals T-Mobile uses for its 4G network. Some analysts have said those networks, while faster than 3G, aren't technically 4G.

AT&T officials said they will deploy LTE signals in Charlotte by the end of 2013. LTE is more broadly accepted as a fourth-generation technology.