» Archive for the 'Review' Category

Open for Business – Google and T-Mobile Unveil the G1 Android Mobile

Friday, September 26th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

This past Tuesday in New York, Google and T-Mobile unveiled the G1, the first Android smartphone.  For the uninitiated, Android is Google’s brand new open mobile platform, first announced last November.  After about 20 minutes of introductory remarks and a few teasers, we finally got to see the G1.  The wait (in actuality almost a year) was, without question, worth it.

From looks, the G1 is clearly in the mold of the LG Prada, HTC Touch (HTC also makes the G1), and, of course, the Apple iPhone.  [The iPhone was not the first touchscreen smartphone of its kind; LG and HTC beat Apple to the punch.  Of course, the iPod wasn't the first music player either; it just turned out to be the coolest, easiest to use, and had the best infrastructure (iTunes) behind it.]

Features one would expect include a large touch screen, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, an over-the-air downloadable App store, slide-to-unlock, Google Maps including a brand new feature, Street View, which syncs with the built-in compass on the G1, allowing the user to view locations and navigate by moving the phone; a full-screen Web browser; and automatic screen reorientation when you turn the phone 90°.  It also has key features that the iPhone lacks: a real keyboard (under the display), a memory expansion slot, voice dialing, and (very important) a real removable battery that you can swap (especially useful on long trips).

Most importantly, the G1 – as promised – is open.  Open as in the anti-iPhone.  The G1 runs on the open source Android operating system and since it’s open source, anyone can make changes to it without getting Google’s permission.  The Android Market app store, unlike Apple’s, is open as well and the companies promise that they won’t keep some programs from the public, even if the program’s functionality competes with T-Mobile or Google.  Best of all, after 90 days, you can unlock the G1 (it comes with SIM-locked to T-Mobile) and use a SIM from any mobile operator with it.

The G1 is not enterprise ready at launch; there is no current support for Lotus Notes or Microsoft Exchange but, since it’s open, anyone who wishes and who has the talent can write a program to provide such support.  I have no doubt we’ll see lots of interesting enterprise-class applications any day now.

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

Trying to Like the Amazon Kindle

Thursday, June 26th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

If you are looking for an electronic book reader, the Amazon Kindle is head and shoulders above the competition. But the question really is, do you want an electronic book reader.

I really wanted to like the Kindle, with its E Ink high resolution display that gives an almost print-like appearance, free wireless connectivity (limited to the U.S. because it uses Sprint’s EVDO network, and post modern interpretation of, well, a book.

But I found the experience of reading a book or newspaper on the Kindle strangely unsatisfying.

At 10.3 ounces (without the cover), the Kindle felt heavier than a trade paperback book although it is similarly sized. The E Ink technology takes a second to refresh when you change pages (it fades to black and blinks), which interrupts the flow of reading and is quite jarring. (On the plus side, you can read the Kindle in direct sunlight so there are pluses and minuses to the display technology).

While reading a book on the Kindle was somewhat akin to reading a book on paper, reading a newspaper was unsettling if you like to scan stories as opposed to having one average less than a full paragraph visible at one time.

Navigating through the Amazon.com store was relatively easy and a big plus of electronic book reader technology is that you can quickly download sample chapters of books you might want to read before making a purchase.

You can bookmark interesting or key passages and edit and export notes. You can also e-mail documents to the Kindle including PDF files. The Kindle always saves your place so you can pick up where you left off. Newspapers, which are normally free on the Web, require a paid subscription on the Kindle (the New York Times costs $13.99 a month) so you are paying for convenience but many books (more than 130,000 available) are $9.99, a bargain. Finally, if you lose your Kindle as opposed to a throwaway paper or paperback book, well…

You can purchases the Kindle at Amazon.com

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

Book Review: Alphabet to E-mail

Monday, November 12th, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

Alphabet to E-mail
by Naomi S. Baron

Do U feel OK to write msgs NE way you pls?  Or do you think that we should spend as much care and attention in the composition and writing of e-mail messages as we would writing notes with pen and paper?  The very intangibility of electronic messages has created a situation in which the normal rules of written communication (historically much more formal than spoken language) have entered a new era.

Whilst some believe that no less effort should be made in e-mail communication, as many people apparently find it acceptable to write electronic notes, even to strangers, that are terse to the point of rudeness in the eyes of others.  “Please” and “Thank you” are often lost to the sake of brevity and efficiency – something which this reporter, personally, finds quite disturbing on receipt of a message; yet judging from most of the messages in my inbox, I think I must be in the minority.  The fact is that there are no rules, as yet and certainly no reference books that can offer guidance on e-mail etiquette.  In the last five or ten years, society has embraced e-mail to an astonishing extent – yet nobody is quite sure exactly what it is, and how it should be used.

So how did we get to this state of affairs?  Naomi Baron has tried to tackle this very question, in this book which traces the development of written English through from the pre-printing press age to e-mail and instant messaging.  Baron’s emphasis, as you might expect from a professor of Linguistics, is on writers’ style and the decreasing levels of formality used on the page (or screen).  It’s an interesting read, and does a good job of trying to develop a coherent theory of how and why we have arrived at the ways in which we use the language today; but ultimately, she has no definite answers (the book’s last chapter is entitled “Why the Jury’s Still Out on E-mail”.)

Order it now (or if not now, perhaps L8R!) at amazon.com

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

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.

Reinventing the Office? Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the 2007 Microsoft Office System…

Friday, May 11th, 2007 by David Goldes

…But Were Afraid to Ask

We’re pleased to announce a new report, Microsoft’s 2007 Office System: Should My Organization Upgrade?, the first in-depth look at the new 2007 Microsoft Office system, which consists of new and redesigned applications and servers for word processing, spreadsheets, instant messaging, e-mail, mobile work, meetings, content management, online conferencing, and collaborative workspaces.

With the 2007 Microsoft Office system, Microsoft is releasing dozens of new and redesigned applications and servers.  This is a very comprehensive and well thought-out platform but we don’t recommend rushing into an upgrade today.  Depending on the organization, the minuses may outweigh the pluses.

The 2007 Microsoft Office system is so different that it should be considered a new product in many respects, not merely an upgrade, especially given extensive training requirements for the new user interface.  The report evaluates all 2007 Office system products and servers, including the Microsoft Office 2007 suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, among others), Microsoft Office Communicator 2007, Microsoft Office OneNote 2003, Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, Microsoft Office Groove 2007, Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007, and Microsoft Office InfoPath 2007.

A few issues managers should consider include:
- Not all components have to be deployed but most organizations will probably need to deploy more than just one or two.
- How do these tools enhance organization-wide productivity?
- What productivity gains will you see?
- What are the various Office 2007 editions, and which components are included in each?
- What do you need to know about XML since documents are now XML based?

This report is available to Basex:TechWatch readers at the special introductory price of $495 at http://www.basex.com/btw2007office.  A free executive summary is also available.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

What If the Well Runs Dry?

Friday, March 30th, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

A Brief Note from the Road Warrior

I’m writing this at the Tacoma Sheraton where I am speaking at a conference.

The hotel is tired and faded but it boasts wireless Internet in every room.  What the hotel doesn’t promise, however, is that there will be working Internet.

Yes, here we go again.  As I sat in my room with a colleague, preparing for my presentation, every tab on my browser was replaced by a Sheraton “Connect to the Internet” tab, which in many cases just would not go away.  Only rarely was I able to connect to a page and that lasted at most for a minute or two.

I spoke with someone at the front desk.  The finger was pointed at a possibly weak signal (yes, the signal was weak but that wasn’t the problem).  They offered to send up a wireless bridge, which wouldn’t help but the front desk seemed to feel it would improve the signal (it didn’t, as I knew before we plugged it in, but I had to humor them).

I then spoke with technical support, located several states away.

No problems reported but I gave them ping times for www.yahoo.com of over 700 ms and he agreed that something was amiss.

To the hotel’s credit, the front desk clerk immediately offered to credit the cost of the Internet (“why should you pay for something if it’s not working) but on the whole, I’d rather have working Internet and pay the fee.

24 hours later, the system was “working”.  It was slow, but at least it worked.

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

Review: Tacoma Sheraton

Friday, March 30th, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

WHAT’S IT LIKE

Built in 1986, the Tacoma Sheraton appeared not to have been vacuumed since opening day. I had an uneasy feeling about this hotel from the moment I walked into the lobby and I was not disappointed. As I checked in (I was a speaker at a conference, and my room was to be part of the master bill), I verified the billing arrangements only to be told I was to pay for my own room. I told the front desk clerk to look into this and just to check me in. This was eventually resolved, eventually, but the front desk clerk needs further training in how to interface with guests. Aside from this person, everyone else at the hotel was exceptionally pleasant and friendly.

WHERE IS IT?

It’s in Tacoma. I only went there to speak at a conference. Why the organizers selected this venue is beyond me.

ROOMS

I was given a room on the 22nd floor, a “Preferred Floor,” with a view of the water, some buildings, and a few condemned houses that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a third world country.

The room was spacious and the armoire smelled of fresh cedar. It did not seem very clean; the furnishings were old and tired. The bath, which had an almost brand new shower curtain, also had a three-foot long hair curling around it. The lighting in the bathroom sometimes took a minute or two to get to a decent level of brightness.

ROAD WARRIOR SUPPORT

The hotel is tired and faded but it boasts wireless Internet in every room. What the hotel doesn’t promise, however, is that there will be working Internet.

As I sat in my room with a colleague, preparing for my presentation, every tab on my browser was replaced by a Sheraton “Connect to the Internet” tab, which in many cases just would not go away. Only rarely was I able to connect to a page and that lasted at most for a minute or two.

To the hotel’s credit, the front desk clerk immediately offered to credit the cost of the Internet (”why should you pay for something if it’s not working?”) but on the whole, I’d rather have working Internet and pay the fee.

The next morning, the system was “working”. It was slow, but at least it worked.

RESTAURANTS AND BARS

The rooftop lounge would have been pleasant if its furnishings hadn’t appeared to come out of a thrift store. The view of Tacoma at night was much prettier than when the city was actually visible during the day. Service was pleasant but sporadic. The restaurant served a hearty buffet breakfast and the service was excellent.

BUSINESS AND MEETING FACILITIES

Meeting rooms were exceptionally well sound-proofed although very bland. Two of the meals (a sit-down lunch and dinner banquet) were quite good all things considered; the buffet lunch left a bad taste in my mouth, literally. The on-site AV company managed to change mic and sound board configurations (I was presenting three times and the sessions were being recorded for an eventual podcast) without explanation. They connected our recorder to an input rather than an output so the first session was lost.

LEISURE

I was too busy trying to get the Internet to work than to seek out the gym.

MY VERDICT

I couldn’t wait to leave. And I could not in good conscience recommend this to anyone nor would I ever come back. There are far nicer hotels nearby in such cities such Redmond and Bellevue. The carpeting in the elevators and halls looked like it had last been cleaned when Jimmy Carter was president. Breakfast trays from room service that were near the elevator on my floor mid-morning were still there when I returned at 5 p.m.

Jonathan B. Spira is the 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.


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