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Extreme Road Warrior Part II – Something in the Air

Friday, November 2nd, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

16 days later, I’m back.  (See Part I as well.)   I found a few things rather useful for those traveling on business and wanted to share these with you.

Skype Pro
Skype Pro is a relatively new offering that costs only $3 per month but offers many features particularly useful to the road warrior.  Most notable is the international traveler calling plan.  Users pay no per minute charges for calls to landlines within the same country or region (a connection fee per call, $0.045, may apply).  Coverage includes 28 countries, all of the ones I visited (Austria, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands) with the exception of Denmark.  In some countries, including Argentina and France, only certain major metropolitan areas are included.

With Skype Pro you also get a $30/year discount on a SkypeIn number, a free Skype To Go number (you can make international calls from your mobile phone at SkypeOut rates), and free Skype voicemail.

Research in Motion and Verizon Wireless: BlackBerry 8830 World Edition
I also tested Research in Motion’s BlackBerry 8830 World Edition CDMA/GSM.  Part of RIM’s 8800 series of phones, all of which share a full QWERTY keyboard, the pearl-like trackball for navigation, Bluetooth wireless connectivity, and a built-in speakerphone.  The 8830 supports dual-band 800/1900 MHz CDM-2000 1x EV-DO as well as dual-band 900/1800 MHz GSM/GPRS.

For Verizon Wireless customers who travel internationally, this makes it very easy to have a single number that works almost anywhere, something ordinarily not possible with most Verizon Wireless phones, which work only with CDMA networks.  The phone itself, however, was not that easy to use.  I found the keyboard, both for typing and for dialing, not nearly as user-friendly (in terms of not hitting the wrong key) as the smaller format Pearl, which given its quasi-QWERTY keyboard uses RIM’s SureType technology to allow users to compose messages quickly.  The centered dialpad was much easier to use on the Pearl than the 8830′s keyboard, which is not centered.  The 8830 also frequently refused access to the + key, necessary for dialing country codes.  Normally one presses down zero for a few moments and + comes up.  With the 8830, the + only worked occasionally and I had to resort to saving the + and using the paste function in order to dial calls.

These issues not withstanding, Web browsing, BlackBerry e-mail, and placing and receiving phone calls all worked perfectly.

Hotels
I visited multiple hotels and wanted to pass along a few observations important to the business traveler.

1.)    Hilton am Tucherpark, Munich, Germany
Internet worked well.  Rooms were comfortable to work in.  Location was a bit out of the way but on the other hand it was alongside the English Garten.

2.)    Mandarin Oriental, Munich, Germany
Couldn’t ask for a better location, within the heart of the Altstadt and close by to practically everything.  The rooms were recently refurbished and provided a comfortable work environment, although a more appropriate desk chair would have been icing on the cake.  Good Internet service.  Very personalized services, for example check-in formalities are done in the room.  Guests are always addressed by name.  Restaurant Mark’s is one of the top restaurants in the city and deservedly so.  It was too cold to really enjoy the roof-top pool but the views from the pool deck were magnificent.

3.)    Hilton am Stadtpark, Vienna, Austria
Excellent location across the street from the Stadtpark, Executive floor lounge had two free computers but they were always in use.  Internet was slow.  Reading lights for in-bed reading were weak.

4.)    Holiday Inn, Munich – Schwabing, Germany
Recently renovated rooms and lobby, plus a wonderful breakfast buffet.  Not overly luxurious but very comfortable.  New business center is a nice touch with a sufficient number of computers to accommodate most comers.  Internet service through Swisscom offered business-level service with quality-of-service guarantee (no questions asked).  I found the service slow and told them.  I was immediately offered a credit.

5.)    Fairmont Vier Jahreszeiten, Hamburg, Germany
Located on the western side of the Binnenalster lake, an impressive location to say the least, the Vier Jahreszeiten is also in the heart of the business district and its cafés, bars, and restaurants attract a local crowd in addition to visitors.  Hamburg, a city of merchants, is a bustling port on the edge of Scandinavia, with never-ending river traffic along the Elbe.  I noticed many Hamburgers came to afternoon tea, which featured live piano music.  Rooms are equipped with antique furniture, Wi-Fi that was usually OK but sometimes slow, comfortable work environment, and incredible views of the Binnenalster (the Alster is divided into the Binnenalster and the Außenalster, inner and outer Alster, respectively).

6.)    Die Swaene, Brugge, Belgium
The first thing I noticed about Brugge were the town’s narrow streets (on which local residents drove very quickly), centuries-old buildings that time had left untouched, and the city’s canal systems.  Brugge was, in the 14th and 15th centuries, a cultural bridge between northern and southern Europe.  It was rediscovered by English tourists in the mid-1800s who had come to see the nearby battlefield of Waterloo.  Today, it is a hideaway for business meetings and romantic journeys.  Die Swaene, a beautiful small luxury hotel run more like an inn, is a wonderful setting to meet but perhaps not to work in if you require Internet access.  Since my stay was largely during a weekend and in addition to my meeting my plans were mostly to see the city, I didn’t live or die by Internet access but it was limited to the lobby and first floor salon and never worked in the salon and worked only part of the time in the lobby.  When asked, one of the managers smiled and said that it must be “something in the air.”

7.)    Park-Hotel Bremen, Germany
Located in the middle of the Bürgerpark, my stay there was brief (arrived Monday at 21.00) in order to be in nearby Bremerhaven for an early morning meeting.  The hotel’s services were exemplary, Internet was lightning fast (although their system required that I connect both the USB cable and the RJ-45 cable to my laptop), and I was sorry to leave only 12 hours after arriving.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

The Best Phone in the World?

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

The good

  • Stunning display
  • Full technical compatibility with BMW’s in-car Bluetooth telephone interface
  • Uses iTunes to manage music content
  • Thinner than the Motorola Razr
  • Replaces several devices (great for travel)

The jury is out

  • “Innovative” multitouch user interface (slow for typing)
  • Only uses iTunes to manage music content

The bad

  • Wi-Fi from iPhone causes in-car interference
  • No 3G
  • No stereo Bluetooth
  • Limited storage for a music player
  • $399 price with two-year AT&T contract (was originally $599)
  • “Locked” to a single mobile operator (AT&T)
  • No flat rate international data plan
  • No insurance available

What’s missing

  • Cure for in-car interference from Wi-Fi (besides turning off Wi-Fi)
  • Multimedia messaging
  • 3G

Even before the iPhone was introduced at Macworld 2007, the world (not limited to Mac aficionados) couldn’t contain the excitement. What would the iPhone look like? What features would it have? How much storage? What would the interface be like?

One thing was not a secret: the iPhone combines a mobile phone, widescreen iPod with touch control, and a PDA in one lightweight handheld device – and it would be different from anything previously available.

In launching the iPhone this past June, Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO, told the world: “iPhone is a revolutionary and magical product that is literally five years ahead of any other mobile phone. We are all born with the ultimate pointing device — our fingers — and iPhone uses them to create the most revolutionary user interface since the mouse.”

BMW: MEET THE IPHONE

BMW quickly got on the iPhone bandwagon, sending out a news release announcing full iPhone compatibility with Bluetooth-equipped BMWs a few days after the iPhone’s launch. BMW promises compatibility on “most” BMW Assist-equipped models with Bluetooth handsfree calling manufactured starting in October 2004 (for the 7er as of March 2005 production). In addition, BMW promised compatibility for the “6FL” factory iPod/USB interface (http://www.bmwcca.org/node/7241) but was silent on the dealer-installed MOST bus interface for the iPod.

BMW was the first auto maker to offer an iPod connection in its cars as well as the first to offer Bluetooth for in-car handsfree calling.

In the car, the phone itself is easy to use, both as a phone and a music player. The driver can make and receive phone calls from the MFL (Multifunktion Lenkrad or steering wheel) as well as from iDrive or the MID (Multi-Information Display), depending on how the car is equipped. If the car has Voice Command functionality, this can be used to place calls as well. The iPhone clearly differentiates between home, work, and mobile numbers by displaying “home,” “work,” and “mobile” on the car’s display. Drivers in BMWs with iDrive and a CCC (Car Communication Computer) can utilize the car’s speech-to-text conversion and specify the location by saying either “Dial Franz Klammer home” or “Dial Franz Klammer mobile.”

To use as a music player, simply use the iPod adapter cable, which provides full integration. The cable has an iPod docking connector on one end and separate cables on the other end for connection to the vehicle’s AUX IN jack and USB connector. This permits full control via the iDrive display or MID. BMW owners will find the iPod experience far more satisfying with iDrive because the Bordmonitor provides full information and makes navigation through the iPod’s music content that much easier. We haven’t tested the iPhone with the MOST bus adapter but we will do so shortly and report.

REVOLUTIONARY?

The iPhone, as revolutionary as it appears, is not the first touchscreen of its kind. LG and HTC beat Apple to the punch with the Prada and Touch respectively (curiously enough, Apple introduced the iPod touch a few weeks ago, no word yet from the trademark attorneys on this). But the iPod wasn’t the first music player either; it just turned out to be the coolest, easiest to use device with better infrastructure (iTunes) behind it. The iPhone ups the ante in the mobile phone multi-function space, with optical-quality glass and a 3.5″ display, and software that allows users to control the iPhone with a tap, flick, or pinch of the fingers. However clever this may be, the lack of a real (thumb-operated) keyboard may be a glaring weakness, as more and more users see such devices as e-mail and SMS appliances. Although some claim lightning speeds, I have found that I can type out a message much faster on a BlackBerry or Palm with full keyboard and that I only make errors when using the iPhone.

Apple isn’t the first to provide visual voicemail, either. A quick search using Google revealed that dozens of companies already offer what Apple calls an “industry first”; in fact, I have been using SimulSays, a free, downloadable visual voicemail application for newer BlackBerry devices, that provides functionality virtually identical to what Apple delivers with the iPhone.

The iPhone, introduced with a choice of four or eight gigabytes of storage (the four gigabyte model was discontinued recently), won’t replace most people’s iPods, since many users have filled their 30- or 80-gigabyte drives with favorite music.

And the corporate world isn’t quite rolling out the welcome mat either. Many companies and government agencies don’t like iPods to begin with, since they see them as just another external storage device that could allow a person to walk out the door with gigabytes of confidential information.

CAVEATS
Many drivers, myself included, experienced significant interference and poor voice quality when using the iPhone in the car. This was largely resolved by turning off the iPhone’s Wi-Fi radio, which apparently causes the interference. However, because Wi-Fi is an essential piece of the puzzle, having to turn it on and off is inconvenient and Apple should come up with a better solution to eliminate such interference.

Many purchasers of the iPhone may not realize the ins and outs of how the phone works, especially when it comes to the data side. The media (for one example, see the New York Times) is full of recent reports that Apple iPhone customers found thousands of dollars of data roaming charges on their bills when they traveled internationally, even though they didn’t use the phone to check mail (it checks mail automatically). BlackBerry users can sign up for a flat monthly rate for international roaming; this is not available to iPhone users. Disable your e-mail feature if you don’t want to see a bill that would eat up half of your European Delivery savings on a new BMW.

The iPhone is only available with a two-year AT&T contract and comes locked to that mobile operator. [There are ways of unlocking it, both via hardware and software , which would allow its use with other mobile operators, but these are not sanctioned by Apple or AT&T and could void the iPhone’s warranty.] If you are not an AT&T customer, you may incur penalties if you terminate the contract with your current mobile operator before it is over.

THE VERDICT

Apple is likely to introduce cheaper, faster, iPhones with more storage in the coming six months. If you love the interface and can’t wait, it will mate with your BMW quite nicely. Just remember to turn the Wi-Fi off.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

CES, MacWorld, and NAIAS – What the Knowledge Worker Needs to Know

Friday, January 12th, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

It was a week of sensory and information overload.  In fact, I cannot imagine a stranger confluence: the Consumer Electronics Show, MacWorld, and the North American International Auto Show – all happening at the same time.

Although the connection between these three events might not be completely self-evident, there are themes which recur through all three, a kind of technological convergence.

After three years of rumors and a false start (the Motorola Rokr, jointly developed by Motorola and Apple, which limited the user to 100 songs and didn’t look terribly different than the Motorola E398), Apple introduced the iPhone and in the same breath dropped “Computer” from its name .

Before Apple’s announcement, Cisco, which has owned the iPhone trademark since 2000 through its acquisition of Infogear (which was granted the iPhone trademark in 1997), announced it was very close to a deal with Apple on the trademark.  In mid-December of last year, Cisco’s Linksys unit announced the iPhone family of voice-over-IP solutions.  Yesterday evening, Cisco filed suit against Apple for trademark infringement.  According to published reports, an Apple’s head of worldwide product marketing, Phil Schiller, defended Apple’s use of the iPhone trademark, saying that Apple was using the trademark for a “cell phone” while Cisco’s device was a “cordless phone.”

MacWorld doesn’t usually take place concurrently with CES so the iPhone announcement automatically meant that any other phone announcements were overshadowed, to say the least.  Following the announcement, Apple stock was up more than 8%, while Palm and RIM fell 5.7% and 7.9% respectively.  Motorola was only down 1.8%.

So, about the iPhone.  No surprise here: it includes a music player, camera, Web browser, and e-mail client.  It is elegant, has excellent ergonomic features (including automatic brightness control and automatic portrait-landscape switching based on how the unit is held), and without question raises the design bar for every maker of mobile phones.  But it also has its warts.  The keyboard, which appears on the beautiful glass screen, makes typing difficult (obviously there’s no tactile feedback); for data it supports Wi-Fi and EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for Global Evolution) but no 3G mobile data services.  Oh, one more thing: the iPhone’s design bears an uncanny resemblance to the LG KE850, which won a Product Design Award for 2007 from the International Forum Design.

Clearly some assumptions were being made, specifically that the iPhone was going to cut into Palm and BlackBerry sales.  But despite the beautiful design, innovative interface, and new functionality, its success is not a given.  While it includes Cingular and Apple’s new “Visual Voicemail,” which lets users (note that I am not saying “knowledge workers”) look at a listing of voicemail messages and click on a particular message, this works only with Cingular’s voicemail service, which, of course, works only with Cingular’s mobile telephony network.  It’s not unified messaging and don’t expect your corporate voicemail messages to start showing up on your iPhone any time soon”

The iPhone also lacks basic security features found in every BlackBerry and it costs three times as much (the iPhone sells for $499 and $599 for the 4 Gbyte and 8 Gbyte models respectively, compared to the BlackBerry Pearl available at $199.  These are all reasons that enterprise road warriors embrace the Palm Treo and BlackBerry design (not to mention the full QWERTY keyboard). The iPhone has as much chance of becoming enterprise standard issue as a Mac.  Another pothole along the iPhone road is that the market share for phones in the $500 and over price point is barely 1%.

Motorola, in the meantime, introduced the new Moto Q Pro, with VPN support and fairly robust security features that include complete data encryption, data wiping, and real-time event logging.  (Motorola also introduced Motomusic, a platform that promises to make it easy for users to take music from a Windows-based PC and load it on a phone.  It will also provide access to content from more than 200 online music services, along with a few new phones such as the Motorizr Z6, to take advantage of Motomusic.)

So, outside of Apple, what does the knowledge worker need to know?

Oqo unveiled their model 02, touted as the world’s smallest Vista-capable PC, featuring integrated mobile broadband capabilities from Sprint.

Nokia unveiled an updated the N93i video camera/phone hybrid, now lighter and slimmer.  It works with Six Apart’s new Vox videoblogging service.

Alienware introduced the Hangar 18, a component style PC with 1.5 Terabytes of storage, four built-in TV tuners (two analog, two digital), and a built-in 1000W amp and subwoofer.

Sharp introduced the ultrasharp 108″ Aquos LCD TV.

Zalman introduced a 3D monitor intended for gaming.

And at the North American International Auto Show, Ford and Microsoft unveiled Sync, a factory-installed, in-car communications and entertainment system .  Sync is designed to recognize all things Bluetooth and USB 2.0, and integrate them into the car’s systems.  This goes far beyond what automakers have been offering thus far; BMW was the first car maker to make Bluetooth available in its vehicles back in 2002, but the Bluetooth functionality was limited to wirelessly connecting a mobile phone to the car.  Sync supports mobile phones, smartphones, music players, USB drives, and iPods.  Using Bluetooth, a driver can wireless stream Internet radio to the car’s audio system.  From the demos Ford provided, their in-car interface looked a bit clunky but the speech recognition functionality makes up for that.  Sync supports full speech-to-text conversion not only for placing calls but also for selecting music tracks (“Play Beethoven Moonlight Sonata” or “Play Genre Jazz”).

Sync will also read text messages to the driver, allowing 20 predefined responses to be sent (“I am driving and cannot reply to your message without violating multiple traffic laws” might be one).  Sync promises to automatically transfer your mobile’s phonebook but I think this might be a bit optimistic; out of the 25 Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones and smartphones that have passed through our offices recently, fully one third did not support phonebook transfer and several refused to work with the car, in our case a BMW, at all.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

2006 Product-of-the-Year: Research In Motion’s BlackBerry Pearl Smartphone

Friday, December 15th, 2006 by Jonathan Spira

The challenges to the knowledge worker are manifold; the challenges to the mobile knowledge worker are innumerable.  The number of solutions, both hardware and software, that Basex analysts look at over the course of a year is in the thousands.  Every day, several vendors brief one or more Basex analysts on a new tool that promises to make the life of the knowledge worker more productive.

Every so often there comes along a device that solves several challenges at once.  The one that caught our eye is Research In Motion’s BlackBerry Pearl smartphone, to which we bestowed the 2006 Basex Product-of-the-Year Award.

The Basex Product-of-the-Year Award singles out the best product or service – launched in the past year – designed for the knowledge worker that has achieved industry-leading and all-around excellence.

We selected the BlackBerry Pearl from a wide field of hardware and software solutions, citing its unique ability to combine the mobile telephone form factor with smartphone functionality via a single interface, through which mobile knowledge workers can surf the Internet and manage e-mail and calendar.

The BlackBerry Pearl exemplifies the type of device that has broken new ground and points the way to the future.  Over the past three months, I’ve had upwards of 25 fully featured mobile phones and smartphones arrive at my desk.  Many were very, very good.  But the Pearl was better.

Everyone who looked at it felt that it is truly a masterpiece of design; the pearl-like trackball used for navigation allows the mobile knowledge worker to literally tap into tremendous functionality

My colleague David Goldes captured the sentiment: “The Pearl provides the knowledge worker with as perfect a mobile telephony experience as is possible.  The designers of the Pearl created a better mobile phone and managed to add BlackBerry functionality without any compromises.”

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

2005 Products of the Year

Friday, December 30th, 2005 by Jonathan Spira

Technology isn’t just limited to the tools we, as knowledge workers, use in our daily lives.  There are many useful, practical implementations of technology in tools we use both for business and pleasure.  We at Basex would like to recognize what we see as the best of the best.  Our findings are based on extensive testing of these devices over the past few months

Without further ado, we present to you our Products of the Year:

Apple iPod 30GB
Sony Ericsson S710a
BMW 330xi
Sony Digital Still Camera DSC-V3
Palm TX

APPLE IPOD
The iPod has evolved from a cool way to listen to music to a portable music library that connects to car stereos and portable speakers and can even snap into smart home audio systems that pipe music throughout the house.  Capable of holding up to 15,000 songs (the 60GB model) and up to 25,000 photos, the new iPod adds a 6.35 cm display and the capability of storing and playing 150 hours of video.  Miraculously, as Apple keeps increasing the capacity, it simultaneously makes the units thinner.

For the Road Warrior, iTunes manages podcast subscriptions, keeping the iPod up to date with the latest content.  The only question is, what will Apple do next?

SONY ERICSSON S710A
This is the best designed mobile I’ve seen and used in many years.  Sony Ericsson did everything right here.  All of the navigation controls are on the same part of the device as the screen, so you can do almost everything (including answer a call, read mail and text messages, play games, read news) without opening it up.  Best of all, it has a 1.3 megapixel camera with high quality optics, and it actually feels like a camera when taking a photo.

The S710a has a brilliant 5.84 cm, 240×320 pixel TFT display with 262,144 colors, 32 Mbytes of internal memory and comes with a 32 Mbyte Memory Stick Duo.  It weighs only 137 g.

Little touches also count.  When the user opens the mobile, the side mounted volume control buttons reverse so the one on top still increases the volume.  A built-in speakerphone is handy and its use is almost imperceptible to the called party.  Of course Bluetooth is standard and the S710a performed very well in our tests connected via Bluetooth as a modem to several Palm devices and ThinkPads.  It also found a GSM signal in places we thought were previously impenetrable so it will keep the Road Warrior connected even when the signal is somewhat dodgy.

Most importantly, it is very comfortable to hold as a phone.  I find myself using the S710a more and more as a replacement for my corded phone.

BMW 330XI
BMW invented the sports sedan in the 1960s with the 2002.  The new 3 Series, the fifth generation of this range, features a new 3.0-liter DOHC 24-valve aluminum-and-magnesium inline-six with 255 horsepower and a choice of manual or automatic 6-speed transmissions.  For the Road Warrior, the car features an impressive array of useful technology.  IDrive, much maligned in the automotive press, is actually a very clever, intuitive, and easy-to-use interface to control everything from satellite navigation to entertainment.  Hundreds of voice commands make it possible for the windshield warrior to keep his eyes on the road.  Sirius satellite radio keeps the knowledge worker informed with CNN and BBC news, as well as over 100 other channels.

BMW was the first auto manufacturer to include factory Bluetooth connectivity in its cars, and the new 330xi makes it easy to manage one’s mobile communications; voice recognition commands make it possible to directly access your mobile’s directory using a single command (“Dial Bob Jones”).  BMW’s intelligent xDrive all-wheel drive system has brought new meaning to all-road traction while maintaining the legendary handling and agility of the 3er.  On smooth, dry roads, the 330xi has the feel of its rear-wheel drive equivalent (330i).  But in wet and slippery conditions, xDrive instantaneously sends more torque to the front axle to enhance stability; if one wheel spins faster than the other, the brakes can be automatically applied individually as needed.  At any given moment, xDrive is shifting drive power, reducing over- or understeer, enhancing agility, and providing the best possible traction.  Simply put, after driving the car more than 2400 km on the Autobahn and over twisting mountain passes, the car drives as if it were on rails.

SONY DIGITAL STILL CAMERA DSC-V3
I’ve long been looking for a digital camera that feels just right.  Something not too big and not too small.  The Sony DSC-V3 more than meets the requirements.  With a Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar lens with 4x optical zoom, a black rangefinder-style body, a 6.35 cm LCD monitor, RAW image format and a Compact Flash slot in addition to Memory Stick Pro, the DSC-V3 is the perfect prosumer digital camera.

Sony’s Real Imaging Processor circuitry provides a fast start-up time and shot-to-shot times of ca. one second, with increased speed of features such as auto focus and auto exposure.  We tested the camera in lighting conditions ranging from moonlight to incandescent, and it came back with perfectly exposed pictures each time.  High-speed burst (SDRAM) mode allows for up to eight full-resolution images at more than two frames per second.  Full manual exposure controls are provided in addition to aperture priority and shutter priority modes.  A hot shoe communicates exposure information to an accessory flash and the Hologram AF Illuminator projects a laser pattern on the subject to create contrast for precise focus, even in low or no light conditions.

PALM TX
The Palm TX is the Palm I’ve been waiting for, finally offering knowledge workers built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth in the same handheld.  Connecting to the Web with the TX is fast and quite simple.  Most pages loaded fairly quickly (for a PDA) thanks to the 312 MHz Bulverde Intel processor.  For knowledge work, the Palm TX, which is running on Palm OS 5.4, includes DataViz’s Documents To Go 7 and VersaMail 3.1.  Documents To Go allows users to view and edit native Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files.  The TX includes 128 Mbytes of non-volatile flash memory, 100 Mbytes of which is user accessible.  The expansion slot accepts up to 2 Gbyte SD cards.

The TX weighs 149 g and is ca. 121 x 78 x 15 mm.  The 10.16 cm 320 x 480 pixel 65,000 color screen provides sharp and crisp text and images.  We keep the screen in landscape mode almost all the time.  The TX has the new-style toolbar from the T5 and one-touch access to Home/Favorites, Calendar, Contacts, and Web.  All in all, an excellent addition to the road warrior’s toolkit.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Four Seasons Test: Olympus D-200L Digital Camera

Wednesday, April 23rd, 1997 by Jonathan Spira

When Olympus’ D-200L digital camera arrived at our offices, I was a bit skeptical.  After all, as an avid photographer, I had forsworn ‘digital’ photography in favor of the film-and-paper variety.  But the D-200L looked like a real camera, so I tried it.  What I found changed my mind about the future (and present) of digital photography.

No, the current crop of digital cameras won’t replace photography as we know it.  But it’s a tremendous step forward.  Sometimes, digital cameras are less appropriate than using film.  For example, if you want to make a lot of prints at your local 60-minute photoshop, don’t use your digital camera (yet).  I did learn when the use of such cameras is appropriate, such as when you have to transmit the image telephonically, or are planning on using the images on the Web or in desktop publishing.

The first feature of the Olympus D-200L that captivated me was the color LCD screen, which could display one or nine images at a time.  Instantly.  And you could delete images that didn’t come out ‘right’ just as instantaneously.  The D-200L allowed me to shoot in both high-resolution and standard formats.  The standard mode was quite sufficient for, say, reproduction on the Web, and the camera would store 80 standard resolution photos.

The image quality was impressive; the camera has a sharp, wide angle, macro lens (by Olympus, of course).  It also features red-eye reduction and fill flash.  Once you take the photograph, then the fun begins.  Using the included Adobe PhotoDeluxe software, you can make greeting cards, layouts, and newsletters.  And you can create a vast array of special effects, combining and retouching images at will.

But most importantly, the Olympus D-200L feels like a camera when you hold it in your hand.  And as any photographer will tell you, that’s the true test.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.  This article originally appeared in the Basex Online Journal of Industry and Commerce (BOJIC).

Four Seasons Test: Toshiba Satellite Pro 410CDT

Sunday, February 18th, 1996 by Jonathan Spira

Very few products were received in our offices with the welcome accorded this Toshiba laptop. Everyone wanted to play with it. It came loaded with really cool MPEG music videos, screen savers, and Windows 95. Our director of research loaded on the Pythonizer software, and turned on the typewriter noise (complete with a “bell” that rings when the Enter key is struck), much to the amusement of everyone who came into the conference room expecting to see a typewriter!

Our Toshiba 410CDT came equipped with a full-sized keyboard, an active-matrix 11.3-inch screen, 8 MB of RAM, 16-bit sound and microphone, and a built-in quad-speed CD-ROM (which can be removed and replaced with a floppy that arrived in an external housing). Windows 95, pre-loaded on the machine, is designed for the mobile environment, easily recognizing attached and detached drive letters. All in all, quite the road warrior machine.

The Toshiba came in handy on its first day in our offices, when a staff member was trying to load CD-based software onto a Lab network that had no CD-ROM drive. Using a very elegantly designed Xircom parallel port network adapter, he logged in and completed his task. Score one for portability.

However, mobility is far from the purpose for which this machine was designed. It is powerful enough to replace a Pentium desktop, if you plug in a keyboard and monitor. We are studying a Lexmark ergonomic keyboard, a marked improvement over the 410CDT’s keyboard. (The Lexmark will be the subject of a separate mini-test drive.) Add 8 MB of RAM, and you have a machine that is the envy of most desktops!

Of course, laptops were not designed to be used solely in the office, but everywhere, so I left New York for Rochester, Minnesota. With only 8 passengers in the main cabin, everyone had several rows to themselves — not a perfect test of airborne computing, which is more normally characterized by cluttered tray tables, seats reclined way too far, and tight squeezes in the dreaded middle seat. During the flight, I fired off several E-mails, which I queued to be sent when I remotely logged on to our network, reviewed some things in my ever-growing To- Do List, which Lotus Notes manages so well, and played with the screen savers and videos.

Continuing on the second leg of my journey, I had an interesting discussion with a manager from a food-ingredients firm about Lotus Notes, but the flight was so short and crowded that I didn’t bother firing up the Toshiba. Oh well.


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