Handsfree Driving

This is a brief review explaining my experience with the S4 by BlueAnt. I have it installed on my wife’s Pathfinder. Because of the short USB cable I needed to put it near the power socket. It’s not the most comfortable position but it’ll have to do. I think the S4 is one of the most beautiful Bluetooth speakerphones I’ve ever seen. The product design folks at BlueAnt did a very good job. It is plenty loud, too. The S4 magnetically connects to a harness, which easily clips to the sun visors. I didn’t like this position because when you actually use the visor the S4 is flipped out of sight, which is another reason why it is down low beside the power outlet. The S4 is claimed to be a true handsfree voice-controlled Bluetooth speakerphone:

With the BlueAnt S4, there is no longer any need to touch your phone or car speakerphone while driving. For the first time, drivers can communicate on the road, making and receiving calls and accessing a world of information, using only their voice.

I have to confess. I’ve been testing the S4 for about a month now and I still don’t know how to activate it so that it’ll start listening to me. I’d start out with, “BlueAnt, talk to me.” Then, “BlueAnt, listen to me.”

“BlueAnt, I want to make a call.”
“BlueAnt, make a call.”
“BlueAnt, I’m talking to you!”
“BlueAnt, listen to me!”

After unsuccessfully communicating with the BlueAnt S4 I would wait for a stop light, locate the middle button and touch it. I’m not sure why the buttons are touch-buttons; I think it would be a lot easier for drivers to keep their eyes on the road if the buttons were real physical buttons with a solid tactile response. The secret mantra? “BlueAnt speak to me.” But then, there’s a second part to that mantra. The S4 asks what I’d like to do, so I respond:

“Phone control.”
“Voice control.”
“Connect phone.”
“Phone connect!”
“Voice connect!”

I almost always give up. And I don’t know why I keep trying. After unsuccessful attempts the following has become a ritual: I lift my pelvic area to make enough room to squeeze my hand into my pocket and bring out my iPhone. I press the home button for a while, wait for the iPhone to buzz indicating that it is in a mode that listens to you, and then I attempt at calling someone. For instance, “Call SooSang.” I know, it’s not a common name, but he just happens to be someone I call quite often. Instead of him, the iPhone starts calling some random person. “Oh shoot!” I then have to take my eyes off the road, find the end call button, and stop the potentially embarrassing call to said random person. It is much easier to make calls using the iPhone with easy names like John, who thankfully is someone I call from time to time. I had trouble with Mr. Yi, but once I got connected we went on with pleasantries for quite some time before he asked, “Who are you?” The voice quality was excellent but Mr. Yi said that I sounded like a different person. Both SooSang and John said that I sounded fine. My bet is that I sounded perfectly fine but with a bit of a mechanical tone that threw off Mr. Yi.

We here about distracted driving and how it is becoming a killer. Handsfree units like the S4 are intended to help with distracted driving, but from my personal experience it doesn’t work very well. I’m also to blame since by now I should have committed to memory the two phrases that make the S4 work like it should. The BlueAnt S4 is well-designed inside and out (except for the touch buttons and short power cable) but connects to a less-than-perfect voice recognition engine on the iPhone. I guess the bottom line is: if you want to drive safely, focus on driving and get rid of all distractions including making calls whether handsfree or not.

MacBook Pro Stocks Run Low

Cult of Mac:

Multiple sources in both Apple Stores and third-party resellers are reporting that they are running low on supplies of Cupertino’s premium notebooks, with even Amazon listing a one to two month delay on shipping the 17-inch MBP.

Stocks running low can mean there’s a refresh coming up. I’ve been waiting for Apple to equip its high-end MacBook Pros with an IPS LCD for a long time. The 17-inch IPS LCD would sport the same pixel format of 1920×1200, but feature enhanced viewing angles with close to zero shift in color, contrast, and brightness. It would consume less power, too, with a more efficient LED backlight.

The cover glass would be thinner, lighter, and optically laminated to the LCD to eliminate the air gap and reduce thickness. Glare/reflections should be reduced or completely eliminated.

If the new MacBook Airs are any indication the new 17-inch IPS LCD-based MBP would sport a custom design: the unibody LCD housing will enclose just the LCD cell and backlight, without the bulky modularization. Unfortunately, it would make it difficult to fix since opening up the display would mean certain and permanent dust. In more than 17 years of using notebooks I’ve never had to fix the LCD so that probably won’t become a problem. Fingers crossed for new MBPs with IPS LCDs!

Motorola Atrix Video

A Palm Foleo on steroids. Impressive. But what happens when you’re sitting back, relaxing, and watching a video on your 60-inch plasma pumped from the Atrix… and you get a phone call? A text message? Or a tweet?

LG Optimus 2X Video Quality

The LG Optimus 2X is the fastest Android smartphone that you can buy, for now. Not only does the Optimus 2X pack a dual-core CPU it captures video in 1080/24p, which is quite a bit more than the iPhone 4’s 720/30p. MobileCrunch compares the video quality of the two:

My conclusion? The iPhone 4 wins hands down. The Optimus 2X’s footage is quite acceptable — but contrasted against identical footage shot on an iPhone, it falls short in both color and clarity.

It has taken a long time for the digital camera industry to figure out that the race to pack more and more pixels into the same image sensor was stupid. I wonder how long it will take for the smartphone industry.

Capturing video at 1080p will be the goal in the next year or two, but you don’t want to add that feature until it’s good and ready. Case in point: 1080p video capture on the Optimus 2X doesn’t seem to be ready. The lens need to be bigger and/or faster, the image sensor if not already needs to sport backlight illumination technology, the image processing engine needs to be better tuned, etc. Don’t rush to add the latest and greatest technology; first perfect it then add it.

Sony NGP

Next Generation Portable or NGP by Sony sports a 5-inch touch OLED display with a 960×544 pixel format. I am not certain whether the OLED is based on Nouvoyance’s PenTile Matrix or a regular RGB. All 800×480 OLED displays were based on a PenTile Matrix sub-pixel structure prior to Samsung developing its Super AMOLED Plus, which is considered to be RGB and having 50% more sub-pixels than PenTile Matrix.

If the NGP’s 5-inch OLED display is based on RGB this is a significant development: not only is the size of an OLED display increasing, the number of sub-pixels are now close to the best LCDs. A quad-core Imagination Technologies PowerVR SGX543MP4+ GPU performs graphics duties. And this might hint at a possible quadrupling of GPU capabilities of a future Retina Display-based iPad.

Samsung 750 Series Hybrid HDTV Monitor

Samsung 750 series hybrid HDTV monitor comes in two sizes: 27-inch S27A750D, and the 23-inch S23A750D. Here are the specs via crave:

  • Pixel Format: 1920×1080
  • Response Time: 2ms (probably on/off)
  • Contrast Ratio: 1000:1 (static)
  • Viewing Angles: 170/160
  • Backlight: Edge-lit white LED
  • Color Gamut: 100% sRGB

The industrial design is pure eye candy and exudes an air of high-end. Unfortunately the technology within doesn’t quite measure up. Viewing angles are 170/160; those should be 178/178. I would also have liked to see a full LED backlight we sometimes see on high-end LCD TV sets; I think it’s about time. And then there’s the 27-inch S27A750D sporting a meager 1920×1080 pixel format; it should instead be 2560×1440. A design like this deserves better.

Japan ♥ Samsung Galaxy S

Japan seems to be loving the Samsung Galaxy S: it was the top phone sold in Japan from January 10th through the 16th according to Gfk Japan and reported by Mobile Crunch. At #2 was the 16GB iPhone 4 and at #3 was the 32GB iPhone 4. Would rankings be different if the two iPhone 4 models were categorized simply as iPhone 4?

LG E2370V: 23-inch IPS Gaming LCD Monitor

Akihabara News: The LG E2370V makes use of a 23-inch 1920×1080 UH-IPS LED-backlit LCD panel. Unfortunately I have no idea what UH stands for, but the LCD sports the typically excellent 178/178 viewing angles. Gamers rejoice: Thru Mode eliminates signal input lag, which is equivalent to certain death in FPS games. Connectivity options include HDMI, VGA, and DVI-D. The bezel is 19-mm (0.75-inch) thick and is touted as being thin: I’d like to see them thinner. The E2370V is an interesting proposition since IPS technology provides exceptional color fidelity but doesn’t sport the fastest response times. Maybe LG Display found a solution in the UH part of IPS. Pricing is expected to be around US$400.

Apple’s Diabolical Plan to Screw Your iPhone

Philips #00 screws out; in come the pentalobes. Kyle Wiens:

Apple is switching to a new type of tamper-resistant screw. This is not a standard Torx, and there are no readily available screwdrivers that can remove it. This isn’t the first time they’ve used this type of screw—it first appeared in the mid-2009 MacBook Pro to prevent you from replacing the battery—and Apple is using a similar screw on the outer case of the current MacBook Air. This screw is the primary reason the 11″ MacBook Air earned a lousy repairability score of 4 out of 10 in our teardown last October.

Apple chose this fastener specifically because it was new, guaranteeing repair tools would be both rare and expensive. Shame on them.

Why would Apple make it harder to open up the iPhone? Simple: Apple doesn’t want you to fix your own iPhone. Right?

I don’t buy that. If the iPhone broke and was easy to open the casual user would just open it up, take a look, and try his hand at fixing it. If the iPhone was somewhat difficult to open the same user would think twice. If the iPhone was very difficult to open it would most likely end up at a local Genius Bar. Only the most serious would acquire the tools, open up the iPhone, and attempt to fix it. BTW, that’s why I’m not opening up my old Mac mini to upgrade; I’m not confident enough that I won’t break anything.

This effect has two positives. First, the casual fixer-upper won’t try to fix his own iPhone. This is probably a good thing because most likely he won’t be able to fix it and second Apple won’t be put in the position of having to inform the casual fixer that the warranty has been voided, or worse that it has now been rendered unrepairable.

The second positive is that only those who have the skills and determination would attempt at fixing a broken iPhone. Most likely the potential for success would be high.

These are the effects that Apple wants and what the company will most likely get with the pentalobes on the iPhone. My guess? Apple will continue to make it more difficult to open up most if not all of its products for this same reason.

Of course one could argue: just make it easy to fix and stop screwing around. That wouldn’t work: Apple’s products are highly customized. The new MacBook Air that Wiens mentions is a perfect example. In a typical notebook PC the LCD is modularized, meaning there is an enclosure that surrounds and keeps together the LCD cell and the backlight unit (BLU). The LCD module makes it easy to drop into a standard chassis. In the new MacBook Air that’s not the case. In order to slim down the overall thickness of the display, Apple did a custom job forgoing the module and putting the LCD cell and the BLU together using the chassis itself. The result is a really thin display but almost impossible to fix. Let me warn you: don’t open up the display. If you do, you’ll never be able to get the dust out and that will drive you nuts. If you have access to a clean room, go ahead.

PS: If you’re serious about fixing your own iPhone 4, iFixit sells the “iPhone 4 Liberation Kit” for $9.95.