Packard Bell EasyNote ‘Skype Edition’ Laptop: Mini Review: Exclusive

Packard Bell EasyNote 'Skype Edition' Laptop: Mini Review: ExclusiveWe played with the Packard Bell EasyNote ‘Skype Edition’ Laptop, at its first European showing yesterday. The machine we used was the only one in Europe and had been jetted in from development labs in Estonia.

They claim it to be the worlds first ‘Skype Edition’ laptop, and we’ve no reason to doubt them. While many machines have been selling with Skype pre-loaded on it, this is the first to have a dedicated button built-in to the machine.

If your reaction is, ‘so what? It’s a laptop with a soft-button on it,’ that wouldn’t have been too dissimilar to our initial reaction – before we used it. After having seen it action, our view is more favorable.

Where’s the button?
Our first surprise was to find the Skype button at the top of the screen, where you normally find the catch. We’d expected it to be on or around the keyboard.

Packard Bell EasyNote 'Skype Edition' Laptop: Mini Review: ExclusiveAs you can see from the close-up photo, the Skype button sits on the right, the microphone on the left and in the centre is a video camera, a la new Mac laptops. There’s an LED between the mic and video camera and another surrounding the Skype button.

How does it work?
The button performs various functions depending on what you’re doing with Skype at the time.

If you’re working on another app and feel the urge to Skype someone, pressing the Skype button, brings the software to the foreground. No big shock there.

When a Skype call comes in to you, pressing the button answers the call, bringing you live.

There’s a LED surrounding the button that shows various states of call as follows

  • Orange colored when Skype application is connected to Internet and in idle mode
  • Orange/Green alternate blinking when there is an incoming Skype call
  • Green when there is an active Skype call in progress
  • OFF when Skype application is not connected to Internet or not launched

The green LED between the mic and camera shows solid green to indicated you have a call in progress, perhaps to save you from the embarrassment of slagging off the person you’ve just completed a call with, while thinking the call had finished.

Packard Bell EasyNote 'Skype Edition' Laptop: Mini Review: ExclusiveCalling quality
One of the concerns we’d had was the placement of the mic and the call quality that might bring.

We know that the mic on the Apple iBook lid is less than great to be using with Skype. We often find ourselves craning our necks forward, and half closing the lid to get close enough to the mic to make ourselves heard by the other party.

Packard-Bell appear to have got over this. In the call that we placed, the other end reported they could hear us perfectly well, despite us being around two feet away from the laptop and the room that we were calling from being pretty noisy.

On reflection we realised that the palaver we go through with the Mac wouldn’t work on this machine as, if you were on a video call, they’d be getting a view of your space bar.

Video built-in
As I’m sure you know, video conferencing has been included in Skype for a while now (it was one of the most requested features). By including the camera at the lid, Packard-Bell have made it easy to video call while on the move – without having to lash video cameras to the lid of your machine.

Having seen the preview window, we can report that the results were pretty impressive. The quality appeared to be more that sufficient for video conferencing.

General spec and availability
The general spec of this machine is described by Packard-Bell as having a “high-performance Intel Dual-core.”

We’ve absolutely no idea what the general computing function of this machine is – that’s not what we were looking at. Given that PC designs has been perfecting since the release of the IBM XT, we’d suspect that it’s pretty much as you’d expect.

The Packard-Bell EasyNote ‘Skype Edition’ is expected to be getting to retail in August this year at a cost of E899.

Packard Bell

SanDisk MobileMate MS+: Review (99%): 2Gb MS Lifesaver

SanDisk MobileMate MS+: Review (99%): 2Gb MS LifesaverSanDisk makes tons of memory related products but how many of you knew that they made memory adaptors and converts? Makes sense doesn’t it?

One I’ve found that I can’t live without, is the SanDisk MobileMate MS+, Sony MemoryStick to USB converter.

I’ve been using a 2Gb Sony MemoryStick PRO Duo in my [link to my review]Sony Ericsson K750i for about nine months now.

When I picked up the 2Gb MS in Tokyo last year, I was feeling very pleased with myself. I’d fallen for the k750i, seeing it as the first true multi-media mobile phone, so figured that I’d be shooting tons of photos, videos and recording endless audio recordings. For that I needed some pretty hefty storage, so the not-available outside Japan 2Gb appeared to be the perfect solution.

It comes as no surprise to find out that as soon as it was fitted I was dashing around shooting my little sox off, gather interesting images from the strange world that Tokyo is to inexperienced Western eyes.

SanDisk MobileMate MS+: Review (99%): 2Gb MS LifesaverSetting about to download them to my iBook via my then current MS/USB adaptor was most perturbing experience. It refused to acknowledge that my beauties were there at all. Argh, panic! Logic prevailed and I reached for a PC laptop. While the PC saw the images, when I tried to copy them off the machine would get slower and slower to the point where it finally fell over.

Vaguely recalling issues with partition sizes over 2Gb, I fell into a cold sweat, considering that perhaps it couldn’t cope with the 2Gb MS, rendering my not-inexpensive purchase valueless.

SanDisk MobileMate MS+ to the rescue
I’d been fortunate enough to lay my hands on a number of MS/USB converters, but none of them were up to the job of copying information from the 2Gb MS.

Salvation was found when I discovered the SanDisk MobileMate MS+. It read my 2Gb without presenting any form of complaint and it did it with full speed. It works perfectly both on Mac and PC and hasn’t thrown up any problems in the six months I’ve been using it.

To use it, simply clip off the snug-fitting, light green cap that protects the USB port from dust; lift the flexible rubber cover that does the same dust-protecting job for the MS slot. Pop the MS into it and plug it into your computer. Err … that’s it.

SanDisk MobileMate MS+: Review (99%): 2Gb MS LifesaverIt works with the many, varied versions of MemoryStick format, including plain old MemoryStick; MemoryStick Duo; MemoryStick PRO and MemoryStick PRO Duo.

This compact beauty has literally everything you could want and I can’t think of a single thing I’d like to do to change it. It’s the right size, and smaller and it’d be in danger of getting lost.

It’s a permanent feature in my tech grab-back whenever I leave the house and will continue to be until the day I stop using MemorySticks, or get a laptop with a MS port.

We’ve never done this before, but we’re going to give this 1% short of a perfect mark. It would be 100%, but nothing is perfect.

Score: 99%

Buy it at Amazon US


Why I Still Love The Palm Treo 650

Why We Still Love The Palm Treo 650 Pt 1As you know, we *heart* nice, new shiny gadgets and we love to sit on the (sometimes uncomfortable) cutting edge of technology.

So when it comes to smartphones, we’re only going to be interested in strutting around with the very latest, gizmo-stuffed, state of the art model, right?

Wrong. In fact, my favourite phone remains the comparatively ancient Palm Treo 650 which, at nearly three years old, probably makes it the oldest piece of technology we’re still using!

So why have I gone backwards when there’s so many new, all-singing, all-dancing smartphones about?

The answer is simplicity.

The Palm platform may not be basking in the white heat of technology, but sometimes it’s more comfortable to hang out in the more temperate margins where things don’t get so sticky.

Why We Still Love The Palm Treo 650 Pt 1With the Treo just about everything works.

Unlike every Windows Mobile device we’ve tried, it feels like a proper smartphone rather than a phone bolted on to a PDA (or vice versa).

Based on the mature (some may suggest over-ripe) Palm OS, the Treo provides an intuitive and stable interface, with the five way controller and tightly integrated software ensuring that the stylus stays docked in the silo for most everyday tasks.

When there’s a need to input some text, the Treo has one of the best small keyboards in the business, with its brightly illuminated QWERTY keypad perfect for short emails and text messages.

Why We Still Love The Palm Treo 650 Pt 1Moreover, the interface is fast and responsive and although Palm’s idea of multi-tasking is simply to close down whatever you’re doing and start up the next program (while remembering all the settings) it doesn’t suffer from the gradual slowdown to a crawl that constantly blighted our Windows experience.

While there’s a good argument that Palm OS is in danger of becoming woefully outdated, it still does the job jus’ dandy and with the deft addition of a few third party programs, you can end up with a flexible device that can hold its own against everything else out there.

In part two, i’ll explain why I find the Palm interface and aesthetics to be some of the best in the business, but for those who love to peruse spec sheets, here’s the basics:

Why We Still Love The Palm Treo 650 Pt 1 Palm Treo 650
wireless radio: GSM/GPRS/EDGE model: 850/900/1800/1900 MHz world phone. GPRS class 10B
processor: Intel™ PXA270 312 MHz processor
memory: 21MB user available stored non-volatile memory.
battery: Removable rechargeable lithium ion battery
talk time: Up to 6 hours talk time and up to 12.5 days standby time
operating system: Palm OS 5.4
size: 4.4 x 2.3 x 0.9 inches (11.3 x 5.9 x 2.3 cm)
weight: 6.3 oz. / 178 grams
display: Colour TFT touch-screen, 320 x 320 resolution, 16-bit colour (displays over 65,000 colours)
expansion: Supports SD, SDIO and MultiMediaCards
audio: RealPlayer included – requires SD memory card, sold separately
camera: VGA with 640×480 (0.3 megapixels) resolution and automatic light balancing, 2x zoom, captures video

Treo 650

Ofcom To Provide Solomon Judgement On HD Frequency Spectrum

One of the challenges facing Stephen Carter’s replacement as head of the UK communications regulator Ofcom, is how the frequency spectrum released by the move to digital terrestrial TV will be allocated. Not only is the decision crucial for Ofcom, who must reconcile both the requirement to allow the market to operate while taking into account the British citizen, but it also figures in the BBC’s strategy around the impending licence settlement and the organisations’ worldwide ambitions.

Although the World Cup has not been the High Definition eruption many in the electronics retailing sector had hoped for, there is now a realisation in the industry; that the move to adoption of flat screen TV displays has started in the homes of Great Britain.

How will displays receive the content to create the impetus for a large scale take up? The likely options are; Cable under what is expected to be a Virgin branded offering; Sky who are pushing HD to protect and grow their revenue; the BBC who are committed to both an alternative to Sky on Satellite and providing their content on all viable platforms and broadband, which looks increasingly viable by virtue of higher transfer rates to the home, along with improved digital compression technologies.

The issue for Ofcom is, should the frequency spectrum vacated by analogue TV go to the highest bidder (which on past experience looks likely to be mobile communications of some sort), or should it propel TV into the HD age with the potential benefit for the UK’s important media industries?

France, slower off the blocks in moving to a Digital Terrestrial TV service, with its’ amusingly acronym-ed TNT, has a solution that builds in HD capabilities, and for sure the UK will not wish to be seen falling behind mainland Europe.

And where does the BBC anguish become an issue? Well, if the only methods of receiving HD are by commercial operators Sky and Cable, how does the BBC reconcile the cost to all viewers when only a subset can receive it? The BBC is terrified of losing arguments that could justify a decrease of its universal fee, or marginalisation of its place as a leader in the deployment of advanced distribution and production technology. They’re actively lobbying to make sure that new frequency plans allow for both mobile TV and HD terrestrial.

Given all this, it looks like Stephen Carter could be showing admirable timing skills in vacating the OFCOM hot seat.

Sea War MultiPlayer For The Palm: Review (90%)

Sea War MultiPlayer For The Palm: Review (90%)Some of the most compelling games are often the simplest, and games don’t get much more basic than the age-old game of Battleships.

The idea might be as old as the hills, but Russian developers Intorine have souped up the interface (supporting 320×320 and 320×480 screen resolutions), lobbed in a bucketful of attractive graphics, added some satisfying explosions and made the thing multiplayer.

Sink! Kill! Destroy!
You can either play the game against a computer opponent or do battle with another human – locally, via Bluetooth or over an Infrared connection.

As in the time-honoured game of Battleships, your aim is to guess where your opponent’s ships are lurking by dropping bombs on squares on the screen.

Sea War MultiPlayer For The Palm: Review (90%)If you miss, you get a splashy sound (and quite possibly the derision of your chum across the room) and if you hit the target you get a gratifying kaboom (with the option to shout and jeer at your opponent’s misery).

We tested Sea War on a pair of Treo 650 smartphones and found it worked more or less flawlessly, although if we drifted a bit too far out of range the game would lose the connection.

Sad to say, we found ourselves “testing” the game for a considerable length of time as we vied for the top slots in the high scores table.

Sea War MultiPlayer For The Palm: Review (90%)Our opinion
Maybe it’s because we’re easily pleased by simple things, but we got enormous pleasure playing cross-office Sea War tournaments. It’s a whole load of fun.

It’s not a bad single player game either, although the computer opponent sometimes plays like it’s imbibed strong drugs.

Either way, for a price tag of absolutely nothing, this game’s a great time-waster and an absolute winner in our book. We love it!

Features: 70%
Gameplay: 85%
Graphics: 75%
Value For Money: 95%
Overall: 90%

Sea Warm

PocketDAB 1500 Released By Pure Digital

PocketDAB 1500 Released By Pure DigitalWe’re big fans of Pure Digital and their seemingly endless mission to push the features and functions of DAB radios. Their latest move is to launch a new portable DAB radio.

Launching DAB on the world with the attention-grabbing BUG radio designed by cardigan-wearing, ex-shoe designer, Wayne Hemingway (which they recently updated), they’ve followed it up with numerous diverse models.

True to their innovating inclinations, Pure has been selling their PocketDAB 1000 radio successfully for some time, but not content to rest on their laurels, have taken the chance to improve on their success by launching a new, improved (as they say in the washing powder ads) version, the PocketDAB 1500 – and at a lower price than its predecessor.

They added FM with RDS, textSCAN, a striking black anodised aluminum case and a ChargePAK rechargeable battery pack. Not content with adding features, they’ve managed to reduce the weight to the little fellow to 123g, making it their lightest so far.

To ensure this beauty has enough power for 24 hours of constant listening, the set is recharged by plugging it into the mains electricity to juice up the ChargePAK battery.

You could well be asking what the hell textSCAN is? Let us enlighten you. One of the features of DAB is the ability of the broadcaster to have text scroll on the displays of the receiver. textSCAN give the listener control over this text, so it’s not lost as it scrolls off the screen.

PocketDAB 1500 Released By Pure DigitalRecognising that what they’re selling is audio quality, Pure have done a deal with Sennheiser to have Sennheiser’s MX300 headphones included in the package.

Pure clearly think about the usability of their radios, which shows, giving features like automatically remembering the user’s ten most listened to stations in a favourites list.

DAB while on the move was, for a long time, a problem as the required signal strength is higher than analogue. Public perception of digital radio reception, or digitally reception generally is that it’s better quality. This can be true, but only when reception is sufficiently strong. Unlike analog reception, which will gently fade in and out, without the required minimum reception levels, digital can be a highly disturbing experience, with unpleasant, hard-edged choppiness hitting your ears.

This combined with the power-hungry design of the initial chipsets is the reason why we didn’t see truly portable DAB radio coming to market at the same time as the early mains-powered models.

The PocketDAB 1500 package can now be had in the shops for a RRP of £89.99, actually giving a price reduction on their previous model.

Pure PocketDAB 1500

AOL Launches ‘MySpace’ For Extreme Sports Types

AOL Launches 'MySpace' For Extreme Sports TypesYo! Boom Boom! AOL’s produced a book* new ‘Action Sports On Demand’ website designed for skateboarders, snowboarders and other action sports athletes.

Their new ‘extreme’ site is being billed as a “MySpace for 12-34 year-old male BMX riders and snowboarders,” letting sporty types send in their own videos for sharing.

According to AOL, visitors to the site will also be able to look up action sports events, equipment and athletes, while skateboarders and snowboarders can swap tips and look up local info using AOL’s instant messaging and blogging tools.

Named after the company’s Los Angeles location, the venture is a joint operation between AOL and video production company Fusion Entertainment.

AOL Launches 'MySpace' For Extreme Sports TypesTaking a sniff around the suitably “yoot” style website, we clicked on the ‘About Us’ section, only to be greeted with one of those really annoying, pretentious dictionary-style definitions:
Main Entry: lat·i·tude
Function: noun
Pronunciation: ‘la-t&-“tüd, -“tyüd
1 angular distance from some specified circle or plane of reference
2 : freedom of action or choice

Yeah, whatever, AOL.

AOL Launches 'MySpace' For Extreme Sports TypesSpots! Yeah! Rad!
Back to the site – which is still in beta – there are currently three extreme sports options on offer: Skate, BMX and FMX (which seems to involve motorcyclists flying through the air upside down).

Billed as ‘coming soon’ are new sections entitled, ‘Spots,’ ‘Gear,’ Water,’ ‘Snow,’ and ‘More’ (we’ve no idea what Spots means, but we’re sure the kids will be waaaay down with it. Whatever it is.)

In an interview with Reuters, CEO Jeff Howe bigged up the MySpace-esque values of his new website: “Our whole focus is blending traditional media values with … social networks, instant messaging, blogs and wireless.”

The full site is expected to roll out “later in the summer.”

(*‘book’ is used to mean ‘good’ amongst the hip kids after they realised that the predictive text of some phones spelt out ‘book’ instead of ‘cool.’)


Net Neutrality Matters

Net Neutrality MattersImagine a world where Internet performance is controlled by the company who owns the cables and where speed is sold to the highest bidder. Imagine a world where some Web sites load faster than others, where some sites aren’t even visible and where search engines pay a tax to make sure their services perform at an acceptable speed. That’s the world US Telecommunications companies (telcos) such as AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner are trying to create.

The debate centres around the ongoing review of the US Telecommunications Act and the concept of network neutrality (net-neutrality). The telcos have been lobbying congress to allow them to introduce priority services ensuring that the fastest data transfers and best download speeds are sold at a premium rate. The telcos position is widely seen to be in conflict with the most fundamental assumptions about what the Internet actually is.

To the lay person, it may seem like a laughable proposition. As Cory Doctorow (FreePress) put it, “It’s a dumb idea to put the plumbers who laid a pipe in charge of who gets to use it.” And yet the US congress is swaying towards the view of the telcos, so what’s going on?

The debate was kick-started in November 2005 when AT&T CEO, Ed Whitacre commented, “Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there’s going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they’re using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?”

Whitacre’s argument boils down to the assumption that services such as Google and Yahoo are somehow freeloading on the infrastructure owned by the telcos. Cory Doctorow points out a fundamental flaw in his reasoning, “Internet companies already are paying for bandwidth from their providers, often the same companies that want to charge them yet again under their new proposals.”

Net Neutrality MattersAs Doctorow and other commentators have observed, Internet users and businesses already pay proportionally for their use of the net, allowing the owners of the infrastructure to take a further cut distorts the market in favour of those with the deepest pockets and threatens innovation and the development of new services.

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, weighed in to the argument saying “Net neutrality is this: If I pay to connect to the Net with a certain quality of service, and you pay to connect with that or greater quality of service, then we can communicate at that level. That’s all. Its up to the ISPs to make sure they interoperate so that that happens.”

The debate in the US is split largely along partisan lines with Republicans favouring the telcos and Democrats siding with the pro-neutrality lobby. Since Whitacre started the debate, the telcos have promoted their case heavily using extensive television advertising and lobby groups. The pro-neutrality group (comprising the bulk of the industry) has organised itself with activist Websites such as save the internet and has signed up over a million individuals to its petition, but the campaign is not going well. On May 8th the House of Representatives passed the “Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006,” or COPE Act while defeating an amendment (the so-called Internet Platform for Innovation Act of 2006) that would have provided protection for neutrality. The next opportunity for progress comes this week when the Senate votes on Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2006 which also carries a neutrality friendly amendment.

Today, the legal Website Outlaw reported that two US Attorney Generals (Eliot Spitzer and Bill Lockyer) have backed the pro-neutrality cause. Spitzer wrote a letter stating that “Congress must not permit the ongoing consolidation of the telecommunications industry to work radical and perhaps irrevocable change in the free and neutral nature of the Internet”.

Whatever Spitzer and Lockyer’s influence, many commentators believe this kind of corporate influence on communications can only lead to economic censorship. As law professor and copyright activist Lawrence Lessig said in 2004 “The Internet was designed to allow competition and let the best products and content rise to the top. Without a policy of network neutrality, some of those products could be blocked by broadband providers”.

BBC World Cup Website Scores!

BBC World Cup Website Scores!When it comes to World Cup football Web coverage in the UK, the BBC isn’t just dribbling past its rivals – it’s positively crushing past them, according to figures released by Nielsen NetRatings.

England’s dull-as-ditchwater victory over Ecuador in the first knock-out round pulled in the biggest UK audience to sports and gambling sites of all the matches so far, with one million users pushing the weekly audience to over 3 million for the first time.

Of that figure, the BBC Sport website attracted 1.58 million unique visitors overall last week, recording an average viewing time of 11 minutes.

This amounts to a hefty 58 per cent share of the weekly sports and gambling audience, with the official Yahoo FIFA World Cup Website coming over like a bunch of Third Division cloggers, managing only a fifth of that traffic.

The Beeb’s closest rival was Sky Sports, which managed 423,000 unique visitors, each hanging about for an average of five minutes each, followed by Premium TV (419,400), FIFA World Cup (298,000), Sporting Life (209,360) and Yahoo Sports (187,000).

BBC World Cup Website Scores!Interestingly, the Sporting Life site proved the ‘stickiest’ with punters spending the longest time on the site (an average of 36 mins each).

Overall, the World Cup has seen a 51% growth in online punters visiting sports and gambling websites in the UK over the last four weeks.

Match by match analysis
Breaking the figures down to individual games, the report shows that the first match against Paraguay attracted an online audience of 979,000 users with the BBC grabbing 51% of that total, followed by Trinidad & Tobago (885,000 users, BBC with 51%), Sweden (936,000, 47%) and Ecuador (1,016,000, 47%).

The BBC added that when the worldwide traffic was added to the total, its overall sports traffic as high as three million unique users.

BBC World Cup

Channel 4 Rolls Out Broadband Simulcast Service

Channel 4 Rolls Out Broadband Simulcast ServiceChannel 4 has today launched a new broadband Simulcast service, making their live TV schedule available online for viewing, for free.

To access the content users will need to register at

Once registered, PC users will be able to sit back and watch a streamed version of Channel 4’s TV schedule, broadcast at the same time as their live TV transmission.

Broadband users – and no doubt, bored office workers sneaking a peek – will be able to sneakily indulge themselves with a feast of Channel 4’s original content, although films and acquired shows (such as the hugely popular Lost or Desperate Housewives), are off the menu for now.

Channel 4 Rolls Out Broadband Simulcast ServiceChannel 4 has, however, said that it is negotiating with US studios to add their content at a later date.

The programming will carry the same commercials as the regular Channel 4 TV service, and where the current programming is not available, a rather less-than-enticing sounding “loop of Channel 4 promotions” will be broadcast.

The streamed Channel 4 programmes will also be accessible via the channel’s Website for up to seven days after transmission.

Channel 4 Rolls Out Broadband Simulcast ServiceAppearing in a thundercloud of enthusiasm, Channel 4 CEO Andy Duncan was on-beam and on-message and rapidly hit evangelical overdrive, describing the Web transmission as an opportunity “to build on what Channel 4 has always done – stimulate, infuriate, debate, create,” adding that he didn’t see the digital revolution as an attack on Channel 4’s power as a public broadcaster, but as a “fantastic opportunity,”

After taking a breather, he continued, “It is our stated aim to make Channel 4’s public service programming available across all meaningful platforms and to be the first UK broadcaster to begin simulcasting our content on broadband is a significant step towards delivering on this objective.”

Channel Four’s decision to slap their live TV content up on the Web is indeed a significant development, and proof of how new media is redefining distribution channels.

Despite this, many of the most popular consumer electronics devices remain rooted around a traditional TV, with Freeview boxes and widescreen LCD and HD sets enjoying huge sales.