Category: Wireless

May 07, 2004

802.11b/g - AARGH!

Category: Wireless

I've noticed a disturbing trend. Laptop makers, when listing their products' specs, have started just saying "802.11b/g" -- that doesn't help me at all. Is it the slower 802.11b (which is compatible with 802.11g networks) or is it the faster 802.11g (which is, well, faster)??

Is this some grand marketing conspiracy to "sell up" aging Wi-Fi (802.11b) components using the appeal of the faster 802.11g standard? Or, am I the only one being confused?

May 02, 2004

Personal Video Recorder Delivers Over WiFi

sharp-galileo.jpg

Sharp Electronics and Instant802 Networks have announced a partnership, bringing video distribution into the wireless age.

The partnership has resulted in the Sharp Galileo Personal Video Recorder (PVR), one of the first devices to leverage 802.11-based wireless systems for video distribution.

Instant802's wireless software platform is used for range of data networking devices. The Sharp Galileo PVR is one of the first consumer electronics devices using the platform. Instant802 also provides residential gateway solutions integrated with security solutions.

The Galileo PVR is available immediately in Japan, and is expected to hit North America later this year.

April 28, 2004

$1.49 per minute

Category: Wireless

I leave for a 4-day academic conference tomorrow afternoon. The conference is in Mexico. While there, I'll have the privilege of paying $1.49 per minute to T-Mobile for international roaming with my mobile phone.

According to GSM World, "GSM is a standard that embraces all areas of technology, resulting in global, seamless wireless services for all its customers."

Um, yeah...whatever. Not only is the per-minute voice rate prohibitively expensive for international roaming, I can't even use GPRS/Internet on my Treo 600 while in Mexico (at least not through T-Mobile). Looks like we still have a looong way to go.

April 27, 2004

Cellular Towers Invade US National Parks

Category: Society , Wireless

celltower.jpgI just saw this blog entry describing the unchecked growth of cellular towers in our national parks:

"Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, federal lands were opened to the placement of cell towers. However, Congress instructed the National Park Service (NPS) to develop appropriate regulations for implementing the law, noting that that 'the Washington Monument, Yellowstone National Park or a pristine wildlife sanctuary, while perhaps prime sites for an antenna and other facilities, are not appropriate and the use of them would be contrary to environmental, conservation, and public safety laws.'

Last month PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) protested the placement of a cell tower that actually overlooks Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park. The group stated that the NPS increased the height of the tower after submitting the plan for review to the state of Wyoming. PEER said the NPS also failed to file a notice with the Federal Register that it was considering or approving the tower -- as required by law -- and in addition it failed to allow for public comment on the plan."

The article goes on to describe how cellular towers "...in the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and Everglades National Parks, Big Cypress and Mojave National Preserves, as well as Yellowstone, have gone up with no public notification or review."

I love a strong cellular signal as much as the next guy, but I have to believe that there are many, many natural places where the location of a tower simply isn't justifiable. There's a reason why these are called "natural" wonders and "natural" preserves, and a 100' cellular tower shouldn't be part of that environment. If some people prize mobile coverage and technological access more than the natural state of these national parks, why visit there in the first place?

April 21, 2004

Wireless Media Hubs All Come Up Short

I've spent some time reviewing the wireless media hub options available, and they all come up short. What I want is simple, really: I want something I can plug into my stereo and, without using the TV, enable me to stream both MP3's (from a computer on our network) and Internet radio (from our broadband connection) to our home stereo using an 802.11g wireless connection.

There are several requirements in that description (i.e., integrated screen, MP3 and Internet radio streaming, and 802.11g), yet every wireless media hub out there (at least that I've seen) fails on one or more accounts. Here's a review of how they stack up (or fail to, actually):

mp101.jpg

Netgear MP101
-- OK: Integrated 4-line LCD and streaming MP3
-- Failures: No streaming Internet radio (other than a subscription-based service...ugh!) and no 802.11g (low-speed 802.11b only). However, this discussion gives me hope that the MP101 might someday at least accommodate streaming Internet radio.


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Creative Sound Blaster Wireless Music
-- OK: Integrated LCD (on RF remote!) and streaming MP3
-- Failures: No streaming Internet radio and no 802.11g (again, 'b' only)


roku.jpg

Roku Soundbridge M1000 & M2000
-- OK: Integrated LCD and streaming MP3
-- Failures: No streaming Internet radio and no 802.11g (the Soundbridge relies on an optional CompactFlash Wi-Fi adapter, and those only exist right now in the 802.11b flavor)


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Turtle Beach AudioTron-100
-- OK: 2-line integrated LCD and streams both MP3 and Internet radio
-- Failures: No wireless of any sort (Ethernet only)



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Slim Devices' Squeezebox
-- OK: 2-line LCD and streams both MP3 and Internet radio
-- Failures: No 802.11g (802.11b only)


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SMC SMCWAA-B EZ-Stream
-- OK: Large LCD and streams both MP3 and Internet radio
-- Failures: No 802.11g (802.11b only)


There are quite a few other wireless media hubs that require you to use your TV as the interface, including the HP ew5000, the Play@TV NMP-4000, and the Linksys WMA11B. However, since I don't want to have to hook the unit up to the TV to use it (our television takes 24 seconds to warm up when you turn it on before an image appears, which is seriously annoying when all you want to do is listen to music), I'm not even considering these.

So, I'm still waiting for something that will let me listen to MP3s and my favorite Internet MP3 streams over our 802.11g network that won't require me using the TV. A couple of nice-to-haves would include (a) not requiring me to use clunky proprietary music management software and (b) a bitchin' RF remote. Any suggestions?

Update: I've added the Squeezebox to the list at the suggestion of the folks at eHomeUpgrade. The rationale for wanting 802.11g rather than 'b' is that I'd rather have a homogeneous wireless network to ensure the fastest possible connections for all attached devices. Utopian? Possibly, but IMO there's no compelling reason why we should be forced to use old technology when there's something better available now.

Update #2: I've added the SMC offering as well (thanks, KC).

April 15, 2004

Monthly GPRS Usage

Category: Wireless

I just got my T-Mobile bill -- the first one since getting my Treo 600 and switching over from Verizon. One thing that I noticed that I found quite interesting was a daily tally of my GPRS data usage.

It seems that my total for the month was 27.03 megabytes, with a single-day high of 3.12 MB and a low of 0.03 MB (what?! was I asleep all day again?!). Had someone asked me my predictions of these numbers, I don't even know what I would have guessed.

So how much wireless data do you chew through each month?

April 12, 2004

Pocket Tunes by NormSoft

I've started listening to the radio on my phone. How? All through the magic of Pocket Tunes from NormSoft.

Pocket Tunes is first an MP3 and Ogg Vorbis player application for your Palm OS device. It's fully skinnable with decent playlist handling and has lots of other nifty features that make it very capable stand-alone music player.

However, the real magic starts when you realize that Pocket Tunes Deluxe supports streaming MP3 over wireless connections. You can now listen to that favorite streaming radio station or your own Shoutcast source wherever your wireless Palm OS handheld or smartphone has Internet access.

For example, my phone is the Treo 600 from palmOne (nee Handspring). Using GPRS, I can stream in 97X at 24 Kbps without a hiccup (higher quality streams surpass GPRS's sustained throughput, so you end up buffering every so often, which gets annoying). Or, I could listen to my own stream if I were to switch it over to 24 Kbps (its default is 64 Kbps). Some other Treo-friendly streams can be found at Treobits.

Now, if my endorsement isn't enough to convince you, Pocket Tunes also won PalmSource's "Best Multimedia Solution" at the 2004 Developer's Conference. Nice job, NormSoft!

April 10, 2004

Panera: New Home of the Technorati

Category: Society , Wireless

After reading some friends' blogs about working in public, I decided to try to get some grading done at my local Panera (chain bread bakery and sandwich/soup shop). After all, they now have free Wi-Fi (for real), fountain refills are free, and the seats are pretty cushy.

While there, I tended to be a little less efficient than I'd hoped. One of my great passions is watching people -- the things they do, wear, use, and say fascinate me -- so I tended to get distracted a fair bit. One thing I noticed was that Panera is starting to attract a really tech-savvy, sophisticated bunch. Here are some examples:

sl600.jpgGuy A -- Sitting in his calf-skin jacket and appropriately faded baseball cap, this late-30's guy was totally decked out with fine gear. He had a Dell Latitude D800 notebook and a Samsung SPH-i500 smartphone. When he left, he got into his Mercedes SL600 (pictured), lowered the top, and sped off. While he certainly could be a child molestor or baby seal hunter, you have to admit the guy has good taste.

Guy 2 -- Tucked away in a corner of an otherwise unoccupied room of the store was this late 20's Asian dude dressed very slacker-hip. On the table in front of him was his 17" Apple Powerbook. Next to that was an Apple iPod (no, I didn't ask him what size) and he was using what looked like some Shure headphones. When he left, he hopped into his Audi TT Roadster (yeah, it was a really nice day here today).

Given that it was 4pm on a Saturday, the place wasn't very busy. However, based on just these few observations, I'd guess that free Wi-Fi tends to attract clientele with both good tech taste and decent salaries.

April 07, 2004

Hole in the Market: 802.11g Webcams

Category: Wireless

Streaming video is a bandwidth hog, right? So why hasn't anyone come out with a wireless webcam that uses 802.11g instead of Wi-Fi (802.11b)? One would think that the extra throughput could be put to good use on a webcam.

March 31, 2004

Phone Your Television

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NTT DoCoMo has announced that phones from its 3G FOMA videophone series can now be used in Japan to control home appliances from almost anywhere the phone can be used.

The heart of the system is an in-home control box that is contacted by the phone, and which in turn processes commands to appliances via infrared (IrDA) or via cable connection.

The controller can be connected to a PC via a USB port, or to external sensors (such as light or motion sensors) via an independent I/O port. It is connected to the mobile FOMA network via a special data card.

The system lets users control lights and air conditioners, for example, turning them on or off as appropriate.

More amazingly, it enables users to remotely program recording a television program, and then transmit the playback on the phone, streamed through the FOMA network.

A FOMA videophone can also transmit pictures to the controller, for viewing on a connected screen.

March 16, 2004

On the Futility of Fee-Based Wi-Fi

Category: Wireless

Wi-Fi.gifFrom coffee joints to malls to major infrastructure providers, it seems that everyone wants to make money from Wi-Fi hotspots. I have sincere doubts that Wi-Fi will ever contribute significantly to a third party's revenue. Why? It comes down to basic economics.

Generally, companies make money by providing goods and services that create value for their customers. Those firms that produce the most value, or those whose goods and services generate the greatest utility, for their customers often stand the best chance of capturing that economic surplus (i.e. making big bucks).

Wi-Fi hotspots just don't represent a significant source of incremental value for most customers. Therefore, most won't be willing to pay an extra out-of-pocket expense. Those customers who do feel it's important are still not patronizing those service providers because of the Wi-Fi -- it's an additional service enhancement, not a core service. Also, Wi-Fi hotspots are starting to seem potentially redundant (and may soon even look a bit quaint) in the face of the forthcoming 4G cellular technologies that offer similar speeds but far more ubiquitous coverage.

The best strategy is to assess how having Wi-Fi access in your service establishment, be it an airport or a coffee shop, aligns with your overall strategic intent. Does Wi-Fi, as an ancillary service, reinforce your core service or make it more attractive? Is Wi-Fi a source of differentiation for you? Does Wi-Fi bring in incremental customers?

If the answer is "yes" to any of those questions, then add the relatively inexpensive infrastructure yourself and just provide free Wi-Fi service. Flip on the switch and let your customers lap up the goodness. Wi-Fi is a fairly scalable service enhancement -- it represents a relatively low fixed cost and an even lower incremental cost.

Plus, don't even think about charging your customers for it -- that's not consistent with idea of adding value to your service. Operationally speaking, it just doesn't work out. While you will indeed get to collect some (rather paltry) usage fees, you will end up reducing the number of customers who will use it (i.e. fewer customers will perceive it as value-added), which makes it harder to make a return on the investment, and you will be forced to deal with the hassle of access codes, user accounts, billing, etc. ad nauseum. Outsourcing your Wi-Fi access to someone else who is hoping to make money off of the service is similarly misguided -- not only is there little to no incremental value for your customers, you don't end up earning much anyway (since somebody has to deal with all the operational hassles).

Basically, it comes down to one simple rule: If Wi-Fi is important to your customers, give it to them for free. If it's not important to them, don't bother with it in the first place. The economics don't support fee-based systems, and the increased customer loyalty you're likely to get from giving them an extra service enhancement (that's cheap for you) will more than make up for whatever minimal amount is associated with installing the system in the first place.

March 06, 2004

Lovin' the Treo 600

Category: Mobile & PDAs , Phones , Wireless

treo600.jpgI'm now fully switched over to my new Treo 600 (shown). All the apps and data that resided on my previous smart phone (the Kyocera 7135) have been transferred and I'm living large.

As a phone, it's dandy -- it does everything a phone is supposed to do and it does them superlatively. The size, weight, feel, and interface are all just terrific. Yes, there are smaller phones out there, but the Treo 600 is not what I would call large by any stretch.

As a PDA, it's very good. While the low-res screen reduces the amount of stuff you can see at any one time, the display is amazingly bright and clear (and it's the same 160x160 that I had on my Kyocera). The 32 MB of RAM is adequate (but not tremendous) and the 144 MHz processor is quite snappy. The SDIO slot provides nearly limitless expandability.

The real work of art here is the interface between the PDA side and the phone side. Unlike the Kyocera, there really is no division between these two functions. On the 7135, it was very apparent whether you dealing with a "phone" function or a "PDA" function -- shuttling between the two function sets was difficult and obvious.

In contrast, the Treo 600 blends everything quite perfectly. Using GPRS in a PDA application is seamless and transparent. Initiating a voice call from the Addressbook is fall-down easy. Handspring/palmOne really knows their stuff when it comes to user interfaces.

Then there's the battery life...it's heaploads better than I expected. I can easily go three days on a single charge with moderate PDA and phone/GPRS use. My Kyocera and my old Treo 270 would struggle to go 24 hours. Realizing that "battery = weight" makes me even more accepting of the Treo 600's 6 oz. weight (typical for handhelds, a bit heavier than most cellphones).

But, nothing is perfect. I wish the SDIO slot were full-power rather than it being a bit underpowered (it's not clear whether it's actually SDIO compliant in that regard). I also wish that T-Mobile's GPRS speeds were better. They're not bad in most spots, but the throughput can vary a fair bit from location to location and it still pales in comparison to Wi-Fi. I'm hoping that EDGE will come to T-Mobile fairly soon (is a hardware change required on the phone?). Finally, and this is the tiniest nit to pick, I wish it had a feature that my Tungsten C has -- hold down a letter key to capitalize it. I really like that feature and I wish the Treo 600 had that as an available option. The Shift key isn't inconvenient...it's just that I often capitalize after-the-fact and the TC's approach lets me change my mind after the letter has been struck.

Overall, to borrow from McDonald's, when it comes to the Treo 600, I'm Lovin' It.

February 28, 2004

Appreciating T-Mobile

Category: Wireless

tmobile-logo.gifYesterday afternoon, I visited my local T-Mobile store with a long list of things I wanted to do. Despite my first in-store experience with T-Mobile being really good (almost 2 years ago), given the complexity of the things I needed done, I didn't have much hope at having a good customer service experience. Boy, was I wrong.

I walked into the store wanting the following things taken care of:
• Convert my wife's existing T-Mobile Basic account into a 2-line Family plan
• Activate my new Treo 600 as the 2nd line on the Family plan
• Port my existing Verizon Wireless number (on my Kyocera 7135) to the Treo 600
• Add T-Mobile's $19.99 all-you-can-eat GPRS plan to the Treo 600

The manager of the store asked if he could help. I told him the above list and he got started. 15 minutes later, everything was taken care of plus I walked out with a new 900/1900 freebie phone. There was no hassle and he was incredibly fascile with the processes required to do each of the tasks.

Moreover, I liked how T-Mobile underpromises and overdelivers. They told me that my number could take up to 72 hours to get ported and that service to the Treo 600 might not be active until Monday. Well, by 11 pm last night, my Treo 600 was logged into the network and receiving calls made to my old Verizon number. Man, that's just phenomenal, especially given all the crap that some other carriers' customers are going through when porting their numbers.

February 27, 2004

UWB = The Death of Bluetooth?

Category: Wireless

Well, if the pundits are right (which they're often not, which is I guess what separates them from prophets), Bluetooth is officially dead for desktops and other non-portable devices. The slayer is Ultra-Wide-Band (UWB), which will supposedly be equivalent to wireless high-speed USB 2.0.

Pocket PC Thoughts has an interesting discussion going on about this story. Some are skeptical, some are optimistic, but there seems to be a lot of sincere interest in getting that rat's nest of cables out from behind the desk.

I hope this comes true, if not for the convenience, then simply for the fact that my 2004 new year's prediction that Bluetooth would once again die this year would at least partially come true.

February 20, 2004

Switching from Verizon to T-Mobile

Category: Phones , Wireless

So, I'm planning on switching my cellular service from Verizon to T-Mobile. My Verizon contract expires on Monday, and my Treo 600 should be getting here in early March.

I've already confirmed with T-Mobile that I can port my Verizon number over, so that's fine.

Anybody have any reactions or recommendations regarding this switch? Good packages at T-Mobile? Interesting wireless data options I should consider?

February 17, 2004

Cingular Acquires AT&T Wireless

Category: Industry , Phones , Wireless

US mobile telephone operator Cingular has announced that it will acquire rival AT&T Wireless for $41B. The deal creates the largest US wireless provider, with 46 million customers and sales of over $32B.

Cingular is a joint venture between BellSouth and SBC Communications, with over 24 million customers. AT&T Wireless is the second-largest US wireless carrier, with over 22 million subscribers.

British mobile phone company Vodafone was the other participant in a bidding war for AT&T Wireless, which was up for sale with a deadline of Feb 13, extended to Feb 15.

The acquisition is still subject to shareholder and regulatory approval, but is expected to close by late 2004.

February 13, 2004

T-Mobile Increases "Regulatory Programs Fee"

Category: Wireless

tmobile-logo.gifI recently mentioned that Verizon was increasing its regulatory charges fee from a nickel to $0.45 per month. Now, I've just been informed with my latest bill that T-Mobile is adding a whopping $0.86 per month as a new "Regulatory Programs Fee":

A new monthly Regulatory Programs Fee ("Fee") of $0.86 per line of service will be added to your monthly T-Mobile bill, beginning as early as your March 2004 invoice. The fee will help us recover the costs associated with complying with government mandates and programs, such as:

Enhanced 911 which helps emergency agencies determine your approximate location and call-back number when you dial 911.

Number pooling which helps reduce the need to create new area codes.

Number portability which enables wireless customers to bring their current numbers with them.

We hope these improved wireless services allow you to Get More.

Get More...ticked off? Get More...irritated? Wow...mission accomplished.

February 03, 2004

Verizon Wireless Increases "Regulatory Charges"

Category: Wireless

verizonlogo.gifVerizon Wireless let its cellular customers know recently that it would be increasing the fees it charges because of the recently passed Wireless Telephone Number Portability Act of 2003.

"INCREASE IN REGULATORY CHARGE. Beginning March 1, 2004, our Regulatory Charge, which helps defray Verizon Wireless' ongoing costs of complying with various regulatory mandates, will increase from $0.05 to $0.45 per month to help defray the costs of complying with the FCC's local number portability requirements. ..."

An 800% increase? Wow. I'm looking forward to my contract being up in late February so I can switch over to T-Mobile. I'd like to make use of all those monthly nickels I've been paying Verizon!

February 01, 2004

Smart Cellphone Antennas Boost Coverage

Category: Wireless

ns_antennas.jpgA new 3G broadband wireless antenna technology will be tried during the 2004 Olympic Games inside Athens International Airport in Greece this summer.

The new antennas, called phased arrays, can electronically and automatically change their coverage patterns from circles to ellipses in order to dynamically cover dead spots where callers would otherwise get no signal. Current systems change only their power output depending on demand. The new antennas would change both their power and the shape of their signals to match call demand at any given time.

The system will rely on autonomous agents, semi-intelligent software entities that can locate and negotiate for resources on behalf of their owners. The benefits of the new system potentially include better reception for users and potentially lower mobile bills, since the system would rely on a reduced number of antenna masts, saving money up-front as well as later due to reduced maintenance.

"The airport network will be a hybrid "2.5G" system encompassing some aspects of both conventional GSM and 3G. Called the Airport Decision and Management Network (Adamant), it is part of a European Union-funded project designed to reduce flight delays caused when airlines cannot contact passengers who are late boarding a plane."

The full story can be found at NewScientist.com.

January 22, 2004

Slotted Waveguides

Category: Wireless

slotted1.jpg

While researching the construction of a long range 2.4 GHz link, I ran into a very interesting page detailing the theory and construction of slotted waveguide antennas. These strange looking and simple-to-make devices offer performance equal to or better than the best commercial antennas. Antenna gain of 15 dBi is pretty common.

Always up for a geeky challenge, I arranged for one of my local machine shops to get me some aluminum tubing. I found some inexpensive pre-made cables on eBay. And coincidentally I just purchased a new hotrod CNC milling machine for my company's machine shop. I should have some antennas made by next week. Once I get everything together I'll see if I can talk Craig into testing a long range link with me.

Posted by Mitch | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 21, 2004

The Explosion of Wi-Fi

Category: Wireless

Wi-Fi.gifWi-Fi (802.11-based wireless networking) is exploding. Everybody from McDonald's to Starbucks are providing wireless Internet via Wi-Fi. It's not just the US, either. Gizmodo is reporting that the UK sandwich chain Benugo is starting to do the Wi-Fi thing as well, giving away Palm Tungsten C wireless PDAs as part of the promotion.

Just today at lunch, I noticed that the local Bruegger's Bagels eatery had a little sticker on the door for Surf and Sip, a relatively new paid Wi-Fi hotspot service.

Where will it end? Well, actually, I hope it doesn't. Wi-Fi could be the next great technology that permits ubiquitous, cheap, and fast Internet access for the masses. Cellular technologies have great coverage, but the infrastructure is really expensive. Contrast that with the idea of making every PC a wireless access point, and you start seeing the potential.

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (1)

January 10, 2004

New BlackBerry Adds Walkie-Talkie, Speakerphone

Category: Mobile & PDAs , Wireless

blackberry7510.jpg

Research in Motion has just released the BlackBerry 7510, a new version of the famously addictive wireless handheld with phone and data capability.

Similar to the color 7200 series, the 7510 features new long-range digital walkie-talkie and speakerphone capabilities.

The color screen features a high resolution 240x160 display supporting over 65,000 colors. Other highlights include built-in email, browser and organizer apps; integrated attachment viewing for email; and a development platform based on Java.

Walkie-talkie service is provided by Nationwide Direct Connect, and phone service is via Nextel.

January 06, 2004

The Lord of the Rings Wireless Games

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Wireless software publisher JAMDAT Mobile has announced that it is launching wireless games based on The Lord of the Rings epic. Available through Verizon Wireless' Get it Now service, the games suite include six separate apps:

The Return of the King is an eight-level scrolling adventure game with Aragorn, Frodo, Gandalf, Gimli, Legolas, Pippin and Sam battling Orcs, Uruk-hai, Trolls, the Army of the Dead, Shelob and other foes.

The Lord of the Rings Trivia includes more than 360 trivia questions covering characters, objects and locations and more from all three chapters of the Ring trilogy.

The Lord of the Rings Pinball is a fast two-table pinball game wrapped in a Middle-Earth theme.

Wallpapers offer various Middle-Earth images including characters, locations, scenes, and maps. Finally, The Lord of The Rings Tones Player provides ring tones based on the musical score.

December 29, 2003

Good-Bye D-Link, Hello Netgear

Category: Wireless

wgr614.gifFor over 2 years now, I've relied on D-Link's Wi-Fi (802.11b) products for my home wireless networking. All that time, the performance of my setup was never all that satisfying. I had always chalked it up to the inherent limitations of wireless in an older home. Well, my outlook has changed...for the better.

For Christmas, I received a Netgear WGR614 54g (802.11g) wireless router (pictured). I unplugged my D-Link components (yes, that's plural...more on that later), plugged in the Netgear, whipped through the browser-based setup in about 5 minutes, and was happily back in the game. I was very pleased at the ease of setup, but the real question in my mind was range -- was it better or worse than before?

Before I give the results, I should describe my old setup. As you might recall, I started out with a D-Link DI-614+ 802.11b router. The router alone didn't even cover my family room (down one floor and on the other side of the house), so I added a D-Link DWL-800AP+ range extender. That gave me another 30' of range towards the rear of the house so that the back deck was covered (just barely...signal strength was pretty low).

So, how did the Netgear fare? Amazingly well. The WGR614 provided a usable signal 40 feet beyond the range of BOTH D-Link products COMBINED. Now I have a usable signal clear out in our detached garage! Yes, where I had relied on two D-Link products to provide mediocre 11 Mbps coverage of my house, the Netgear WGR614 provides me with good-to-great 54 Mbps coverage across our entire property.

I'm really stunned. I didn't expect the Netgear to be this powerful. Or, alternately, I didn't expect the D-Link to be so wimpy. Either way, I'm a happy camper. And since the Netgear can be had for well under $90, it seems like a really good bargain. Now to just start upgrading the PCs in our house to 802.11g so I can make use of the increased bandwidth...

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (3)

December 28, 2003

Quicktime Does CDMA, GSM

quicktime.jpg

With the latest release of QuickTime, Apple is claiming that it has developed the first mainstream media format for rich multimedia content across CDMA 2000 and GSM wireless networks.

QuickTime 6.5 enhances the popular software - already a leading platform for high-quality audio and video over IP, wireless and broadband networks, with over 175 million downloads for the 6.0 version - and enables users to share high-quality multimedia across the two predominant wireless networking technologies worldwide.

The new release supports 3GPP and 3GPP2 standards, including Advanced Audio Coding (AAC), Adaptive Multi-Rate (AMR) and Qualcomm Code Excited Linear Predictive (QCELP) audio codecs, MPEG-4 and H.263 video codecs, 3G Timed Text, native .3gp and .3g2 file formats, Movie Fragments, cross-platform Unicode text support, and enhanced DV playback.

December 11, 2003

SanDisk Addresses (Lack of) Palm OS Drivers for Wi-Fi SD Card

Category: Mobile & PDAs , Wireless

sandisk_wifi.jpgWi-Fi Planet is reporting that SanDisk sent out an email explaining the reasons for the delay in their issuing Palm OS drivers for their Secure Digital (SD) Wi-Fi (802.11b) adapter cards (shown).

While we've covered SanDisk's delay here at GearBits before, there are several aspects to SanDisk's statements that seem a bit odd. For example:

"SanDisk goes on to say it and SyChip have "invested considerable time and resources into developing Palm OS 4.1 drivers" but that in the long run providing the drivers will not be worthwhile. The older hardware, they say, isn't fast enough to take advantage of the higher bandwidth speed of 802.11b, and models that lack networking software (like the Palm m500) would need upgrades that would require too much technical expertise by the end user."

Older hardware isn't fast enough to take advantage of Wi-Fi? That's simply untrue. I had Wi-Fi on my HandEra 330 by adding on a Symbol Wireless Networker Compact Flash Wi-Fi adapter. The 330 had a 33 MHz Dragonball CPU and it was more than able to use Wi-Fi in a meaningful way (e.g., instant messaging, IRC, and web browsing on mostly text sites were all very usable). Even running VNC on it was feasible (albeit a tad slow). So, I don't buy this story -- my suspicion is that they just weren't able to finish the drivers and finally said "screw it."

"The company blamed delays in the Palm 5.x drivers for the SD Wi-Fi card on proprietary changes to the OS that product makers can introduce (SanDisk will have to make device specific changes) [and] electrical issues on some devices that couldn't handle the SD Wi-Fi card (the Treo 600 is mentioned specifically)..."

Who said SanDisk had to support ALL devices running Palm OS 5 when the drivers are released? You couldn't just support some Palm OS 5 devices (just like you're supporting only some Pocket PC 2003 devices)? Geez, guys, make a business decision and see what devices you need to support, based on the installed base, to make the required profit on your development costs (it's called an "ROI calculation" in case that's a foreign idea to you). My hunch is that if you supported just a few devices (e.g., the Tungsten T line and the Zire 71 from palmOne, perhaps also the Tapwave Zodiac), you could easily recoup your dev costs and make a nice profit.

SanDisk also claims that the necessity of negotiating a new OS licensing agreement with PalmSource (since it was spun off from Palm, Inc.) has hindered its ability to release drivers. Knowing what I know about PalmSource, I might believe a delay of a month or two, but not the six-month delay that SanDisk is now defending.

Anyway, the upshot is that SanDisk has really fallen down on its promises. Given the way it has handled this all so far, I'm not sure I'd buy an SD Wi-Fi card from them now even if drivers were available. What about you? Are you troubled by this whole debacle, or is it just a little glitch that we'll all forget about in 12 months?

Thanks to Gizmodo for the link.

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 03, 2003

Forbes: Can Wireless Save PDAs?

Category: Mobile & PDAs , Wireless

Forbes magazine has an interesting story discussing why wireless (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular) may be the only saving grace for what we now know as the PDA.

"So far, handhelds with chips to help users connect wirelessly to the Internet or to their other gadgets are in the minority of handhelds sold. This year, only about 15% of PDAs sold include wireless capabilities; Todd Kort, an analyst at research firm Gartner, predicts that the number will double next year because of the cheaper, more battery-efficient wireless chips on the horizon. Kort predicts that corporate customers wanting to keep their workers wirelessly plugged into the office will help prop up handheld sales for the foreseeable future, though he still doesn't forecast growth for handhelds as a market in general."

While I don't generally give much credibility to most of what the likes of Gartner have to say about things, this is one opinion I agree with. Unwired PDAs are likely to be as high-growth (and high-profit) as bargain calculators are now.

One comment in the article that may perhaps be more contentious was made by Paul Saffo, a research director for the Institute for the Future:

"Even if, as a consumer, you don't care about Palm, you should," said Saffo, the futurist. "Without [PalmOne], we're all marching lockstep with AT&T and Microsoft. As consumers, I think we should all buy a Palm even if we don't use it -- just to keep the diversity out there."

So, is wireless the life extending technology for PDAs, or can something else do it? Or, are we likely to see them die out regardless in a few years?

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 29, 2003

SanDisk Yanks My Chain...Again

Category: Mobile & PDAs , Wireless

According to Palm Infocenter, SanDisk is once again delaying the release of Palm OS drivers for its Secure Digital Wi-Fi adapters. Despite promising Palm OS drivers for nearly a year now, SanDisk is now quoting a new estimated availability of 1Q2004.

While Socket Communications also offers an SD Wi-Fi adapter, that company never promised any Palm OS drivers. Socket, if you're listening, please step up and fill the void. Please.

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (2)

November 27, 2003

Petition Verizon to Validate Treo 600 Smartphone

Category: Mobile & PDAs , Phones , Wireless

If you're a Verizon customer, you can't currently even consider getting the yummy new Treo 600 smartphone from palmOne (nee Handspring).

However, there's a rather sizable online petition going to get Verizon to add the Treo 600 to its approved handset list. You can sign the petition here<.a>.

Plus, Gizmodo is reporting that Verizon is saying that it's considering it, so there may be hope yet.

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (2)

November 19, 2003

Setting up a Bluetooth WLAN

Category: Mobile & PDAs , Wireless

bluetooth.jpgMy Tapwave Zodiac has on-board Bluetooth for short-range wireless connectivity. However, as I don't own another device with Bluetooth (major geek points off, I know), and the Zodiac looks to be just prime for Internet stuff, I had to figure out way to get it online.

After a bit of searching and a bit of help from my pal Dan, I came across this wonderful resource over at PalmZone. That page includes instructions on how to set up Bluetooth on Palm OS devices in nearly every configuration conceivable.

The one I was interested in was using a Bluetooth USB Dongle (or "BUD") to share my PC's Internet access with my Zodiac. Well, the hardware was half the story -- the other half needed to make this happen was an app called Mocha PPP, which essentially provides PPP connectivity over a serial port. Or, in this case, the virtual serial port created by the BUD.

Anyway, to make a long story short, it worked -- in about 15 minutes I was surfing the web and getting my email on my Zodiac. However, the range was, as expected, pretty limited -- I couldn't roam further than about 10 feet from my PC before losing the connection (despite it being a Class 1 (100m) BUD). While the speed of the data connection was acceptable, I decided to return the BUD to the store. While it was an interesting experiment, it's just not very useful.

Instead, I'm waiting on SanDisk to release Palm OS drivers for their SD Wi-Fi card, which they've been promising now for nearly a year. But that's an entirely different soapbox.

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (2)

November 18, 2003

Bluejacking

Category: Wireless

Rohdesign has a post about a website devoted to Bluejacking, the practice of roaming around with your mobile or PDA trying to find active Bluetooth devices so you can secretly send them messages (then enjoying the confused look on the victim's face). The linked-to website has some, uh, interesting stories about doing just this, along with general instructions and some useful tips.

[Old man voice] In my day, this was called crank calling, except we were men enough to actually talk to the people we were harassing. None of this mamby-pamby text messaging crap. No sir, why we didn't even have text. We had to make do with cave painting and mono-syllabic grunts, and our teleophones were all pulse dialing to boot!

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 12, 2003

N-Gage Hacked

Nokia has admitted that hackers have cracked its N-Gage copy protection codes, allowing copied games to be traded over the Internet.

While Nokia hopes to sell up to 9 million units by the end of 2004, a key part of revenue comes from games, so this latest setback is critical to Nokia's bid to find a foothold in the mobile gaming market.

Posted by Sam | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 07, 2003

Talk to the Hand

Category: Mobile & PDAs , Phones , Wireless

Telecom giant NTT DoCoMo has demonstrated a prototype wristband phone - called Finger Whisper - which works by transforming the user's hand into a phone, with a microphone on the wrist and a finger earpiece.

To start a call, the user touches forefinger to thumb, enabling voice-recognition dialling via a microphone in the wristband, which also allows calls out.

Calls coming in are converted by Finger Whisper into vibrations transmitted to the bones of the hand. Put your finger in your ear, and these vibrations are sent to the eardrum, and converted back to voice by the brain.

Posted by Sam | Permalink | Comments (1)

November 06, 2003

A Cingular Sensation

Category: Mobile & PDAs , Phones , Wireless

cingular-fastforward.jpg

Ever needed to take a business call at home but not give out your home number? Hated juggling between multiple numbers? Cingular Wireless promises to make things easier with the FastForward cradle.

The patented device plugs into an electrical outlet. When a Cingular Wireless phone is inserted into the cradle, calls to the cellphone are forwarded automatically to a designated landline phone, while the cellphone’s battery is being re-charged. Remove the cellphone, and call forwarding is deactivated. Simple!

The $40 FastForward cradle is compatible with select Nokia, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, and Siemens phones. A $3 monthly package enables unlimited call forwarding capability...and also saves your cellphone minutes for use when you actually are on the go.

Looks like a winner to me!

Posted by Sam | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 04, 2003

My Tapwave Zodiac Has Arrived

Category: Gaming , Mobile & PDAs , Wireless

craig_z2.jpg

I saw the FedEx truck on my way to work, pulled over, and convinced him to hand over my box. Intriguing how desperate cool new kit makes us, isn't it?

Anyway, I put up a page with some pics of the box and stuff, but it's not charged enough to get an idea of how well the device actually works yet. More as I know it.

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (6)

November 03, 2003

Tapwave Zodiac Begins to Ship

Category: Gaming , Mobile & PDAs , Wireless

zodiac2.jpg

News Flash! The first user we know about has received his production Tapwave Zodiac. Tapwave promised that Zodiacs would begin shipping "in late October," and it appears they met that deadline by getting some units out on the very last day of the month.

More info on the Zodiac can be found in these GearBits posts or at the Tapwave website. Recent reviews of the Zodiac have appeared in ExtremeTech and at Shacknews.

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 01, 2003

Travels...or Travails?

Category: Mobile & PDAs , Travel , Wireless

7135.jpgI just got back from 12 days of vacation. OK, it was Hawaii, if you must know (let the chorus of mock sympathies begin). While there, I found it difficult to maintain the high level of connectedness I've come to rely on in my daily life.

First, the hotel had no wireless access...anywhere. Not in the lobby and certainly not in the rooms. While this feature is common at better business hotels, I guess resorts don't feel that their guests are all that worried about it. Well, here's a note to all you resort owners: News Flash! We, your guests, want this feature even when we're on vacation. How do you expect us to be able to relax when we just know we'll be going back to face 1,000+ emails waiting for us?!

Second, the "business center" was a rather lame two-computer setup in a corner office. Internet access, like computer use in general, was an outrageous $5.00 plus $0.85 per minute! My one 17-minute use of the business center cost me nearly $20. While there were much cheaper Internet cafes around, they all required a drive to get there (not easily walkable).

Third, while I was able to rely heavily on my Kyocera 7135 Palm OS smartphone (pictured) for getting my email, downloading attachments and webpages was sloooow (I use Verizon's free dial-up Internet service). Also, composing longish emails using Graffiti is just painful. So, while I was able to keep up on my email, responding was much more limited. But, I have to say that Verizon's coverage on both Oahu and Maui was superb.

I know I'll look back on this trip with fond memories. But, had the hotel offered high-speed Wi-Fi access by the pool (or even [gasp!] down near the beach), I know I would have come away thinking this was perhaps one of the coolest hotels I'd stayed in. I mean, what would be better than a Mai Tai and Wi-Fi on Ka'uai?

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (4)

October 19, 2003

A Human Ethernet

human-net.jpg

Technology Review notes that researchers in Japan have demonstrated a 10-Mbps network using human bodies as Ethernet cables.

ElectAura-Net is a wireless technology that uses a combination of the electric field emanating from humans and a similar field emanating from special floor tiles.

A floor tile carrying a transceiver transmits data by first creating oscillations in its surrounding electric field. These oscillations are transmitted through the electric field of a person entering the effective field area, and into the electric field of another tile-transceiver, which receives the data.

NTT Docomo researchers are now using the principles demonstrated to develop portable human electric field oscillators to serve as the basis for personal area networks (PANs). The system is faster than 1-Mbps Bluetooth wireless or 4-Mbps IrDA infrared communication systems now used for PANs, and could be the basis for the next-generation communications medium between personal digital assistants (PDAs).

Posted by Sam | Permalink | Comments (0)

Folks Really Digging the Treo 600

Category: Mobile & PDAs , Phones , Wireless

treo600small.jpgSeveral websites have posted initial impressions of their recently obtained Treo 600 smartphones from Handspring:


  • Alex King seems to love his and he posted several photos of the contents of the box and a comparison to his Handspring Treo 300.
  • Gizmodo says they have "...been getting a TON of email about the new Treo 600, mainly from readers who have gotten one and can't believe how good it is."
  • TreoCentral got a 24-hour take-home preview and had many, many laudatory comments about the 600.

The Treo 600 is a Palm OS-based smartphone that features a 65,000-color display, a Secure Digital expansion card slot, and a thumbboard. It looks like Handspring, and soon PalmOne, have a winner on their hands.

Update: While the Sprint Treo 600 has been launched to much acclaim, the GSM/GPRS version that is supposed to come out on T-Mobile has been delayed again.

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 15, 2003

No Frills Mobile

cyclonephone.jpg

In this mobile age characterized by the flavor-of-the-day feature, where the camcorder phone trumps the camera phone, it's refreshing to find a company whose business plan is based on the motto "Less is more."

The Cyclone phone, by New Horizons Technologies International (NHTI), is about as basic as you can get - but it works! It is recyclable and rechargeable, and in its guide as the 911+ emergency cell phone, can be powered by three regular AA batteries!

The five-ounce phone is packaged with nationwide minutes and retails for $39.99 (15 minutes); $49.99 (30 minutes); or $59.99 (60 minutes), and will be available at your local grocery, hardware store, or Kwikee Mart. Duracell, a major partner, will be marketing the phone alongside its battery displays.

The purchaser activates the phone himself by dialling a toll-free number. A live operator asks for his ESN (electronic serial number), and gives the customer his own phone number. Voila!

The low cost and simplicity means the phone will appeal to seniors and to parents with pre-teen children - who may need to phone home, but don't need to SMS. NHTI hopes people will buy the Cyclone like flashlights, and store them throughout the house, car, cottage, school locker or backpack....ready for use in the next emergency.

Posted by Sam | Permalink | Comments (4)

October 14, 2003

Samsung SGH-i505 Looks Compelling

Category: Mobile & PDAs , Phones , Wireless

sghi505.gif
PalmInfocenter has a story about a new phone that Samsung is working on, the SGH-i505 (pictured). The SGH-i505 is a GSM clamshell phone based on Palm OS 5.2.1.

The nifty bits of the SGH-i505 are the high-res screen (320x320), the integrated VGA camera, and the fact that you can swivel the screen 180 degrees to lay it back down over the keypad (the first that we know of that lets you do that).

The story was broken first by msmobiles.com, which seems a bit odd, and is the source of the photo shown. Given that Samsung has recently delayed the SGH-i500, its previously announced GSM Palm OS 5 phone, perhaps the SGH-i505 is already set to replace it even before the SGH-i500 is ever released. Stranger things have happened, for sure.

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (6)

October 02, 2003

Wireless Buoyed by New Hybrid Transistor

Category: Wireless

New Scientist has a story about a new hybrid transistor developed by IBM researchers that would greatly improve the power efficiency of wireless devices.

"Ghavam Shahidi and colleagues from IBM's Watson Research Centre in New York claim the transistor could make wireless chips three times faster than current designs while using 80 per cent less power.

Bipolar transistors are used because they are good at amplifying low power radio signals but are typically much less efficient than ordinary microprocessor transistors. Using a 'silicon-on-insulator' layer to reduce the capacitance of the bipolar transistors, the IBM team improved the speed at which they can switch on and off."

Supposedly, the new transistor would find its way into wireless products like 3G mobile phones and handhelds, and would benefit wireless data-intensive operations like streaming.

Read the whole story at New Scientist.

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 30, 2003

Treo 600 Video on CNET

Category: Mobile & PDAs , Phones , Wireless

CNET's Brian Cooley talks with Joni Blecher about the Handspring Treo 600 smartphone.

Watch the video here. My goodness, that thing is small!

Editorial comment: After watching the entire video, one starts to wonder how Joni Blecher got that job. Could she know less about the devices she reviews?

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 23, 2003

EscapeCellHell.org

Some of our elected officials are caving into financially well-endowed lobbyists and waffling on the Number Portability Act that is slated to go into effect in November.

Consumer's Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, has a new website that makes it really easy to email your elected officials to let them know that you expect them to represent your wishes by keeping Number Portability on track.

EscapeCellHell.org is the place to go.

(Thanks, boingboing.net)

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 17, 2003

Tapwave Zodiac Goes on Sale

Category: Gaming , Mobile & PDAs , Wireless

zodiacstrip.jpg

Yes, the Zodiac is finally available...at least for pre-orders. Tapwave has said that orders will be filled starting in October.

The newly updated tapwave.com website also has boatloads of new information on games, accessories, packages, etc.

I've got my pre-order in...what about you?

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (5)

September 14, 2003

Tapwave Zodiac Pre-Sales Start Wednesday

Category: Gaming , Mobile & PDAs , Wireless

zodiac2.jpgFor those who just have to have the latest hip kit in their messenger bags, the Tapwave Zodiac will be going on sale (pre-order) Wednesday, September 17th at 7AM PST. Pre-orders can be placed at www.tapwave.com as of that morning.

Avid readers of GearBits will know that I'm particularly excited by the Zodiac. GearBits blog entries about this new Palm OS powered gaming device cum PDA can be found in this list of search results.

The photo to the right came out of the FCC application that Tapwave had to submit for the Zodiac. Tons of additional information, including a user manual, many photos, and lots of active discussion about the Zodiac can be found at the Tapwave_Users Yahoo! Group. But, you have to be a member of that group to access all the downloads, so go sign up today (it's free) and join the 300+ others who are making this the most active place to find out new information on the Zodiac.

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 05, 2003

Video of Tapwave Zodiac

Category: Gaming , Mobile & PDAs , Wireless

zodiac.gifA new video of the forthcoming Tapwave Zodiac is available at CNET TV:

Watch the Video Now.

Byron Connell, CEO of Tapwave, talks through some of the highlights of the device, including full SDIO compatibility for both expansion slots! Tapwave is also planning on supporting a community-oriented website once the Zodiac is launched.

Believe me, you will want one...you will need one of these things after seeing it in action. Tapwave will start taking pre-orders via its website on September 17th. You all can get in line behind me. Thanks to namorblah for the lead.

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (4)

September 04, 2003

SanDisk Secure Digital Wi-Fi Adapter Now Available

Category: Mobile & PDAs , Wireless

sandisk_wifi.jpgSanDisk has finally released its Secure Digital Wi-Fi 802.11b adapter (pictured).

The SD Wi-Fi adapter only currently supports PDAs running Pocket PC (SanDisk has a compatibility chart, which shows which Pocket PCs the adapter supports (apparently not even half of all Pocket PCs). Given that this card costs under $100 street (I saw it tonight for $94.95 online), it should sell well. Once Palm OS drivers are released, it should sell really well.

SanDisk has also promised that a combination 256 MB RAM / Wi-Fi card will be coming out this year. Yummy!

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (0)

Urban Legend Becoming Reality

Category: Society , Wireless

A few weeks ago I was sitting in a sweltering, decrepit former Coca-Cola bottling plant in rural Missouri talking with a good ole boy truck driver from southern Kentucky whose brother-in-law is a US treasury agent. How's that for a hook line? This driver was regaling me with a story about a run he had made from Atlanta to Richmond, KY driving a tractor trailer loaded with bales of money heading to the incinerator. He even had the M16-toting, stone-faced agent riding shotgun (literally) and several lead and chase cars escorting him on his non-stop run. "Great story", I thought. "I bet he's lying" was my next thought.

Then he said, "You know all those cops you see on the roadside pointing laser guns at you?"

"Sure, I see them everywhere", I said.

He leered a bit, moved in close, and lowered his voice. "They're not checking your speed you know. They're counting money."

Thinking I had not heard him correctly, I asked him to repeat himself.

"That's right!", he continued. "All of this new money has a little chip in it that lets the feds do a quick count with a special gun they aim at passing cars. Helps them catch the drug traffickers."

The story from there degraded into an argument with me calling BS in a big way. It's got to be BS, right?

Now go hit up Google with a search on RFID and money. Kind of scary isn't it?

Posted by Mitch | Permalink | Comments (3)

Another Wi-Fi Webcam

Category: Computing , Home A/V , Wireless

wvc11b.jpgAlong the same lines as Mitch's Axis 2100, Gizmodo is reporting that Linksys has begun offering a new wireless (802.11b) webcam, the WVC11B , that permits streaming of 320x240 video using its own internal web server.

One of the nifty features is that it can be wall mounted or it can stand in its cradle, which provides both power and a LAN jack for wired connectivity.

When Linksys gets into a market, you know things are about to become domain of the everyman. For under $200 (the Axis 2100 cost upwards of $500 when it first came out, and it wasn't wireless), the WVC11B may bring a whole new range of customers, and applications, to life.

Perhaps my recent thoughts on privacy, especially those related to webcams, aren't so far-fetched.

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 29, 2003

Tapwave Zodiac Available Soon

Category: Gaming , Mobile & PDAs , Wireless

zodiac.gifThe gaming hardware company Tapwave has announced that it will start making its forthcoming Zodiac device (pictured) available in late September. A preview of the device can be found at GoDoPlay.com.

The Zodiac, formerly called the Helix, is a handheld computing/gaming device powered by Palm OS 5.2 and sporting such tremendous hardware specs as a 480x320, 16-bit color user-rotatable screen, stereo speakers and headphone jack, dual SD expansion slots, user-replaceable rechargeable Li-polymer batteries, Bluetooth (for multi-player gaming) and a fast ARM processor (actual clock speed not yet released).

The unit will ship with 32 or 128 MB of RAM depending on the model purchased, and will cost either $299 or $399 directly from Tapwave's website. The Zodiac will not be sold in retail stores until some time in 2004.

A lot of excitement has been generated about this device, with most reactions claiming that the Zodiac has a definite edge over its rivals, the Nokia n'Gage and the Nintendo Gameboy Advance. Both gamers and PDA users are expressing significant interest in this cross-over device, which may, surprisingly enough, satisfy both user types equally well.

For more information, a dedicated Yahoo! Groups community for Tapwave's products already exists -- check out Tapwave_Users today.

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (3)

August 28, 2003

Origami Yields Better Phonecams

origami.jpgAccording to New Scientist, origami techniques are providing cameras in cellphones with a much better focusing mechanism.

"Thanks to a novel and ultra-cheap micromotor technology, cellphone cameras should soon be able to zoom and focus with the same precision as the autofocusing lenses used in expensive stills cameras.

1 Limited of Cambridge, UK, has found a novel way to make a thin sheet of a piezoelectric ceramic material work like a motor. It can move whatever is placed on top of it, or it can be rolled into a cylinder to grasp and move a miniature camera lens."

Moving from fixed-focus to variable focus should provide a large improvement in picture quality. Of course, I'm not sure I'd put picture quality as my #1 concern when it comes to cellphones, but maybe that's just me.

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 26, 2003

VNC and Palm VNC

Anyone who has ever had to manage a computer from a remote location has dreamed of being able to do it wirelessly via a handheld computer. The dream of fast, convenient, virtually unbounded remote management is made just a bit more realistic by virtue of Palm VNC.

Palm VNC is an application for Palm OS devices. It enables the user to control any PC (Windows, Unix, etc.) running the freely available VNC Server application, which permits two-way desktop control between the server (the PC running VNC Server that is being controlled) and the client (in this case, the Palm OS handheld running Palm VNC). Basically, the client user "sees" the desktop and controls it just as if he or she were sitting at the console.

As with many highly useful and open application standards, there are several different "flavors" of VNC out there. The original VNC was cooked up by some AT&T engineers in the UK. The latest build can be gotten from the official VNC site at RealVNC.com. Other variants on the VNC protocol, most of which are backward-compatible with VNC, include Tight VNC and UltraVNC.

And, yes, there are even a couple of VNC clients for Palm OS to be had. I have had tremendous success with Palm VNC 2.0. This works tremendously well on my Palm Tungsten C, and I've used it to access my home machine (Tight VNC server on Windows XP) via Wi-Fi on multiple occasions from various locations. Palm VNC 2.0 is a really nice continuation of the work originally done by Vladimir Minenko a few years ago, which has now been taken over by Harakan Software.

So, if you like the idea of being able to control various computers' desktops remotely over wireless from your handheld, give Palm VNC a try...you might be as hopelessly addicted to it as I am.

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (9)

August 25, 2003

How to Hack Wi-Fi in 90 Minutes

Category: Wireless

wifi.gifO'Reilly Network has an excellent article that demonstrates how easy it is to hack a so-called "secure" Wi-Fi network in about an hour and a half.

The network was set up as securely as 802.11b standards allow: closed (no SSID broadcasting), 128-bit WEP enabled, and MAC authentication. Then, the author walks through each step of the diagnostic process and provides links to each freely available software tool he uses.

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (3)

August 23, 2003

Protests Over RFID Just Silly

rfid_tag.gifWhy is it that folks are protesting the use of RFID technology by companies like Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble, and others?

In case you haven't heard of RFID, it stands for Radio Frequency ID. The technology behind RFID is still being tweaked, but the idea is pretty straightforward. RFID tags are simple circuits that have some small amount of information (a few kb at most) embedded in them. These small tags "identify" themselves and broadcast their information when they pass within a few yards or feet of special radio-frequency sensors. The tags are inert until they receive power from the reader's wavefield. These RFID tags could be placed on things (e.g., pallets of shampoo or individual bags of dog food) so that products can be tracked throughout the supply chain and more accurate information can be had about inventory levels, locations of products in stores and warehouses, etc. Additionally, they could possibly be used in metro or rail passes, hotel door keys, etc. -- wherever a unique identifier is needed.

According to stories like "Privacy advocates call for RFID regulation" (CNET News.com), there is an organized and growing opposition to the further development and deployment of this technology (which is already in use by the US military). The opposition claims that RFID offers the significant potential for companies to invade our personal privacy more easily and extensively than they already do.

Even though I fully agree that privacy is something we need to protect, the RFID technology does not pose a more serious threat than anything else out there today for a few reasons.

First, getting a chip to broadcast its coded information requires a sensor. Installing these sensors everywhere is both expensive and troublesome. While a supermarket or department store might be able to recoup this expense, most businesses would not. A restaurant, for example, would be unlikely to be able to tag much of its products because they're eaten on-site. Moreover, the restaurant isn't going to have much interest in RFID tags a patron may already have on his/her person when he/she walks in, so what would be its financial return for installing these sensors?

Second, these sensors don't contain any information about you, just the products you purchase. They don't contain your social security number, your age, your address, or your credit card number. A large number of US shoppers have willingly signed up for discount cards at their neighborhood grocery stores. These cards effectively generate the same information that the RFID system would -- what you buy, when, and where. Obviously, a large number (perhaps a majority?) of US shoppers are willing to trade some privacy for cheaper groceries. While it's true that some tags can be re-written wirelessly (perhaps even using PDA or handheld computers), it's unlikely that tags on standard consumer items like toothpaste would have this capability.

Finally, RFID represents a potentially huge improvement in our ability to reduce prices and improve availability of the goods in our stores. By having better information about when and where products are at any given time, supply chain managers can make better decisions about purchasing, stock levels, renewal policies, etc., etc. Personally, if RFID helps the grocery store improve the likelihood that it has the products I want when I want them on its shelves, then I'm all for giving them some additional information.

Maybe it's just that I don't have anything to hide. Maybe I don't really care that anybody knows what I buy. Or maybe I'm just not paranoid enough for my own good. What do you think?

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (6)

August 22, 2003

$100 Off Kyocera 7135 at Verizon

Category: Mobile & PDAs , Wireless

7135.jpgAccording to a post at pdaPhoneHome.com, Verizon Wireless is offering a $100 off the purchase of a new Kyocera 7135 smartphone (pictured).

The offer supposedly runs from 8/18/03 to 10/31/03, only applies to wireless service plans of $39.99/month or higher, and you must trade in a phone to get the deal.

It's not typical of me to include such a blatantly commercial post here on GearBits, but this sounds like a pretty sweet deal. $100 off "just because" is nothing to sneeze at.

So, if you've been considering the 7135 (it's what I carry), this might be a good opportunity to pick one up.

Just be warned: once you start carrying this, you will constantly be stopped by folks wanting to know what it is, how it works, where to get one, and so forth. This is not a good device for the ardent introvert.

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 21, 2003

Creative SSID's [Bumped]

Category: Wireless

wifi.gifGeeks can find truly bizarre ways to show the world their creativity. One oft-overlooked outlet is the SSID -- the "name" assigned to a wireless network.

Manufacturers of wireless access points often pre-configure their devices with SSID's that are either annoyingly banal or merely an advertisement. D-Link AP's are a good example of the former as their default SSID is, surprisingly, "default". Linksys takes the latter approach and uses "linksys" as its default SSID.

While it's always a good idea to change passwords, logins, and other security-related settings from the manufacturer defaults, some wireless network owners are using this opportunity to express themselves and give us wardrivers a peek into their personality. Here are some noteworthy SSIDs I've seen over the years:

keepdriving! -- seen near a busy intersection
cvsretail -- either this is the CVS store or some neighbor with a weird sense of humor
keepout -- apparently someone was feeling a bit grumpy
kapu4u -- seen near a Hawaiian resort ("kapu" is Hawaiian for "forbidden")
cockbite -- supposedly the dad asked the 14-year-old son to set up the WLAN (that'll teach him)
wireless fortress -- had no WEP activated (thanks, MikeW!)

I'll keep adding to this list and re-posting. So, do you have any good SSID's you've seen around?

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (1)

August 18, 2003

Phone Sales Killing PDA Sales?

Category: Mobile & PDAs , Phones , Wireless

tungstenw.jpgIn this article, CNET News.com reports on a report suggesting that increased mobile phone sales are leading to the decline in PDA sales:

"The market for mobile phones is increasingly encroaching on the market for handheld organizers, leading to the second straight year of decline in organizer shipments, according to a report from research firm IDC.

So-called "converged" mobile phones, which combine organizer functions with the ability to make phone calls, are taking customers away from the handheld device market, IDC said Monday. For 2003, worldwide shipments are expected to decline 8.4 percent, to 11.35 million units from 12.4 million units last year."

If you take a different perspective -- that "converged mobile devices" are both phones and PDAs, then one might conclude that the PDA market is doing well...actually growing. It's not clear why IDC arbitrarily decided that anything that can be used as a cellular phone is a "phone" -- I think the lines separating the various categories are getting too blurred to make this type of report very useful.

Think of the Palm Tungsten W (pictured at the right). Out of the box, it can be used to place voice calls, but it's primary mission in life is as a wireless data device. Is this a "phone?" It's not clear from IDC's report whether this is counted or not (I believe it would be).

OK, then, what about any of the PDAs that have Wi-Fi built-in? These can be used for voice-over-IP (VOIP), meaning you could place a voice call if you're within an active Wi-Fi network with an Internet connection. Is that a phone? If not, why not? Or, what about the phones that have merely a bare-bones calendar and address book? Are those considered "converged devices?" Again, it's not clear from the IDC report what the criteria truly are. In fact, one would nearly need to go device-by-device to establish which category each fits into and why.

So, as the lines between device categories continue to blur, and "converged device" has less and less meaning every day, I'll continue to take reports like this one from IDC with a huge grain of salt. Or, better yet, perhaps we should just start ignoring them totally. Maybe then these research/consulting houses would be forced to come up with something more useful than the omnipresent "exponential growth" curve that they seem to use to describe every technology on the horizon.

But then again, if they showed what a reasonably clued in person expects for most new technologies, many fewer copies of their reports would be sold -- nobody is interested in reading about things that are headed into obscurity. How do you spell "conflict of interest" again?

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 13, 2003

D-Link DWL-800AP+ Wi-Fi Repeater

Category: Wireless

dwl-800ap.gifThe D-Link DWL-800AP+ is an 802.11b Wi-Fi access point with a special trick up its sleeve. D-Link actually bills this device as a "Wireless Range Extender," since its primary function is to relay Wi-Fi signals to a main access point somewhere else in the wireless network.

Imagine that you have an access point on the second floor of your house, but the Wi-Fi signal doesn't make it down to the basement. You could place the DWL-800AP+ on the first floor (all it needs is a power outlet) and it would rebroadcast the signal from the main access point on down to the basement (plus, the first floor would then be doubly covered). Make sense?

Setting up the DWL-800AP+ was mostly painless. The only thing tough to figure out was telling the repeater the right MAC address (my main access point has three -- Ethernet, WAN, and wireless) to re-broadcast. If you guessed "Ethernet," congratulations, you win.

Be warned, however: the DWL-800AP+ doesn't work with all access points. Make sure you check the D-Link FAQs for a list of supported access points. The one I'm using with it is the D-Link DI-614+ Wireless Router, and it seems to work just great. Plus, since both of these devices are compatible with D-Link's proprietary AirPlus standard which promises speeds up to 22 Mmps (100% faster than 802.11b's standard 11 Mbps). As always, YMMV.

All in all, I'm pretty happy with the improvement. My back deck now has 100% Wi-Fi coverage, which means that sitting out back and sipping a tall cool drink while browsing the web (or updating GearBits) can't be too far off. Now all I need to figure out is how to hook up my grill to the WLAN...hmm...

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (22)

August 08, 2003

Wardriving with the Tungsten|C

Category: Mobile & PDAs , Wireless

tungstenc.jpgIn this post, I mentioned that I'd report back on my experience warwalking/wardriving with the Palm Tungsten|C handheld.

Using an application called Netchaser, I've been really impressed at how easy it is to find wireless networks. Armed with nothing more than the Tungsten, I can walk or drive, and about everywhere I go, there are Wi-Fi networks to be found.

Last night, I drove my daily 5 mile commute with the Tungsten sitting on the passenger seat. In scan mode, Netchaser keeps the handheld on and actively searching -- no user intervention is needed (which is good, as I wouldn't want to be fiddling with a PDA while driving). Netchaser will beep and/or vibrate when a new network is found.

In that short trip, I drove through 14 networks, 10 of which were completely unencrypted (i.e., no WEP). Some of the SSID's (network names) were "Charlotte's Wireless Network," "Christy's laptop," (?) and "Moe." Unfortunately, a lot of folks haven't heard that it's a good idea to change the default settings on your router/AP -- 6 of the 14 were named either "linksys" or "wireless." Oh, well, maybe if they read the manual they'd end up figuring out how to turn on WEP too, and then that wouldn't be nearly as much fun.

In summary, wardriving/warwalking with the Tungsten|C is easy and terrific. While I wish it was more sensitive in terms of its Wi-Fi reception, this is a great first version of a Palm OS handheld with integrated Wi-Fi.

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (5)

August 07, 2003

Netgear MA111 Mini Wi-Fi Adapter

Category: Wireless

ma111.jpgWhile I still recommend going with 802.11g (for a variety of reasons), if you have no choice but to use 802.11b (Wi-Fi), then this product might be of interest.

The Netgear MA111 Wireless USB Adapter is a real peach of a product. It's small -- about the size of one of those keychain USB flash drives -- and it's almost idiot-proof (although some idiots are fairly inventive when it comes to screwing things up). Just plug it in a USB port and away you go. If you're running Windows XP, you have a choice to use either Windows' Wi-Fi management or you can use Netgear's included utility (Netgear's is better, IMHO).

You can either use it as a stub adapter (by itself) or you can use it with the included 3-foot cable. The cable gives you additional placement flexibility in case your Wi-Fi coverage isn't very good. For about $50 (street), it's a reasonably priced alternative to other adapters that are, almost without exception, larger.

I've been using one of these for a few weeks and it gets really good reception. I thought I would be sacrificing reception sensitivity because of the unit's small size, but I was wrong. The Netgear MA111 gets a big thumbs up.

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (0)

Another Reason to Prefer 802.11g

Category: Wireless

A report from researchers at the Institut d'Informatique et Mathématiques Appliquées de Grenoble in France have found that a single user with a bad connection can dramatically slow down the access for all users of an 802.11b wireless network.

If someone connected to a Wi-Fi network at, say, 1 Mbps (the slowest transmission rate), then the transmission protocol used by the 802.11b access point will degrade everyone else using the same network to that slower speed. This happens even if another user has a strong enough signal to support the full 11 Mbps that 802.11b supports.

Given that the 802.11g standard is about 5X faster than 802.11b, and it does not suffer from this same failing, anyone thinking about setting up a new network (or upgrading an old one) should definitely steer towards 802.11g even if it is slightly more expensive. Read the full story...

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 05, 2003

Cellphones Replacing Landlines at Terrific Rate

Category: Wireless

CNN has an interesting story on how cellphones are replacing landlines even faster than most people, at least most people here in the US, would have imagined. Today, 43% of all US phones are wireless, and we trail the rest of the world. One interesting fact: lesser developed nations are relying on wireless more than developed nations are. Take Cambodia, for example, where 90% of all phones are cellular. Read the whole story here.

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (2)

July 31, 2003

Connecting Devices by Optical Recognition

Category: Wireless

New Scientist has a story about 'point-and-connect' links for wireless devices. Being developed by Sony, the system uses a camera on a laptop to identify other devices on the network.

"A code displayed on a small sticker attached to each device is identified by the laptop's camera. Software running on the laptop then automatically locates the device on the network."

Although it's an intriguing idea, I'm not sure it's all that much easier than current methods, especially if you have to be physically near what you're connecting to.

Interestingly, optical recognition in the consumer space seems suddenly hot -- ZDnet has a story about how cameraphones can be used to purchase things just by snapping a picture of them. Now that's cool.

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 29, 2003

Tapwave Helix Gets New Name: "Zodiac"

Category: Gaming , Gaming , Wireless

According to CNN Money and Brighthand, the forthcoming device from Tapwave is being renamed from "Helix" to "Zodiac." Admittedly, Helix was a development name, but it was what the company used at its launch back in May.

The Bluetooth-equipped Zodiac will supposedly come out in two models: a $299 unit with 32 MB of RAM and a $399 unit with 128 MB of RAM (the most in any Palm OS PDA available). More information on the Zodiac can be found at Tapwave's website. There is also already a Yahoo! Group dedicated to this soon-to-be-released device -- visit the Tapwave_Users website now (requires Yahoo! login).

Follow-up: I just now found out that Popular Mechanics published a story about the Zodiac way back a week ago today on July 22nd. Why doesn't anyone tell me these things?!

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (1)

July 23, 2003

Toy Tech

actimates.jpg

Ever heard of Actimates? Unless you have young children, probably not. In a nutshell, Actimates are little RF-controlled robots that look like popular children's characters, i.e., Barney, Teletubbies, Arthur and D.W. We stumbled upon an Actimates Barney at a local yard sale and figured it was worth the 5 bucks because our daughter loves him. He was part of a "PC Pack" which includes a CD-ROM and an RF sender that hooks to your PC's game port. I popped in some batteries, installed the hardware and software on a Win2K box and when it didn't work I figured it was still a good toy for the money. He could talk and play games and sing. The child was happy.

My wife wanted more. Actimates also works with the "TV Pack" and specially formatted video tapes (of which we have lots) and broadcasts. I found one cheap on eBay and hooked it up to my VCR's video out jack. Not expecting much, I plopped the daughter in front of the tube, pushed in an Actimates tape and sat down to watch.

Amazing stuff! This little toy runs a commentary on the video reminiscent of MST3K. He knows all the characters, sings the songs, and quips about this and that while the whole time gesturing with his arms and head. It's pretty cool and I'm sure it's ultra cool if you're two. It was a rousing success with my little one and she loves watching videos with Barney now. In fact, she usually demands it.

Unfortunately, Microsoft no longer sells Actimates, no new Actimates tapes are being produced and the special broadcasts are no more. I have no clue why the venture failed, but it seems that Microsoft, like Sony, suffers from CADD (Corporate Attention Deficit Disorder). They are on to the next potential profit center. At least they left something in their huge wake that my little girl enjoys.

Posted by Mitch | Permalink | Comments (7)

July 22, 2003

Palm Tungsten C

Category: Mobile & PDAs , Wireless

tungstenc.jpgYesterday, I received a Tungsten C from Palm Solutions Group to try out for a while. In case you've been under a rock for a while, this bad boy runs Palm OS 5.2.1 and comes with a 400 MHz ARM processor, 64 MB of RAM, a Secure Digital/MMC slot, a 320x320 resolution transflective display, a thumbboard, and built-in Wi-Fi 802.11b networking.

The display on this is the best I've seen on any handheld ever. I've heard that same comment from nearly every person who's seen it -- it's that good. The 400 MHz CPU makes it just scream -- HotSyncs that would normally take minutes on my Kyocera 7135 (a 33 MHz Dragonball device) take less than 10 seconds with the Tungsten C. The thumbboard means that all those emails and instant messages you send via Wi-Fi will be entered quickly and accurately -- no more stylus cramps.

There are two downsides of the Tungsten C. The first is Wi-Fi sensitivity. Compared to most other Wi-Fi devices I've tried, this PDA is a bit lacking in being able to detect faint network signals. As a comparison, a HandEra 330 with a Symbol Wireless Networker CompactFlash Wi-Fi adapter (the most powerful Wi-Fi reception in a handheld solution I've found) still gets about 30% signal strength when the Tungsten C drops the signal entirely.

The other weakness of the Tungsten C is the headphone jack -- it's mono. With all this horsepower that could be used for listening to MP3s, you'd think a nice stereo headphone jack would be obvious. The folks at Palm, believing that this was purely an enterprise device, felt that a mono headset for use with VOIP would be better received. I think they're finding that to be a silly assumption.

Anyway...I'll post more about warwalking and wardriving with my Tungsten C and a really cool WLAN sniffer called Netchaser from Bits & Bolts Software (think Netstumbler for Palm OS). In the meantime, check out some reviews of the Palm Tungsten C at MemoWare (by our very own Ken Rhee!), Brighthand, Infosync, and The New York Times (by David Pogue).

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 21, 2003

Wheels of Zeus (WOZ)

Category: Wireless

wozlogo.gifSteve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, has released information on the management team that will be heading up his new startup Wheels of Zeus. News.com has the full story.

Two things are of interest (at least to me):
1) One of the management team is Gina Clark, who was previously at PalmSource. Gina worked closely to help get the Palm OS User Council (of which I'm a member) off the ground back in 2001.

2) The News.com article states that not much is known about Wheels of Zeus other than it involves some form of wireless services. Indeed, the company website offers relatively little information about the nature or form of what services WOZ will deliver.

Well, we may be able to shed some light on the nature of these services. It appears that Wheels of Zeus will let you geographically track physical objects and/or people in real time. For example, if you want to be alerted if your dog leaves your yard, you can attach a WOZ tag to his collar and set up the system to call your cell when that tag leaves the boundaries of your yard. Pretty cool...I hope it actually gets launched so we can try it out.

Following are a series of screenshots from a demo of Wheels of Zeus. It's all web-based, so these are browser screenshots. They are dated March 10, 2003, so things may have (and likely have) changed since then. But, it gives us some interesting behind-the-scenes looks at this intriguing new wireless service from Mr. Wozniak.

Note that these will pop up in a new browser window:
Screenshot 1 - List of user's current tags
Screenshot 2 - "Add a New Tag" screen
Screenshot 3 - Creating a new alert
Screenshot 4 - Defining a geographic zone
Screenshot 5 - List of user's current notifications
Screenshot 6 - An active alert screen
Screenshot 7 - Current real-time status of user's tags
Screenshot 8 - Initial user menu (isn't that kid one of the Hanson's?)
Screenshot 9 - A help screen

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 18, 2003

My Office Companion: The XMPCR

xmpcr.jpg

Are you one of the 692,253 subscribers (as of 6/30/2003) to XM Radio? I am and have been giving it a whirl for a couple of months. I was enjoying those 100 channels so much in my car that I just had to have the XMPCR. The XMPCR is a $69 hardware/software combination that brings XM Radio to your computer without eating up bandwidth. The shockingly small box comes with a USB-connected tuner, an antenna and a CD-ROM with all the drivers and software to get things running on a Windows computer. There is aftermarket software available for the Mac OS, Linux, FreeBSD, and there are already Windows alternatives.

So far, my experience with the XMPCR has been painless. It installed without a hitch and has never had a signal outage. I am on the family plan with XM so my two receivers cost me $17 per month. I have the XMPCR on nine hours a day and my Alpine about one hour per day (during the work week). That works out to roughly $0.08 per hour which is well worth it if I can stay away from the spreading menace of Clear Channel Communications.

With a little creativity you can even record your favorite stuff right to MP3 using something like Total Recorder. There is also a little project underway to equip the XMPCR with a digital output for superior sound quality and analog-free recording. The possibilities are endless and the entry fee is small. Great stuff.

Posted by Mitch | Permalink | Comments (2)

June 15, 2003

A Radio Station in Your Pocket

fl100_belkin.jpgGuglielmo Marconi would have been amazed. A combination of two diminutive devices, shown to the right, now lets anyone walk around with a personal radio station in his pocket.

The white device on the top is the Belkin TuneCast FM Transmitter. It will broadcast on four frequencies: 88.1, 88.3, 88.5, and 88.7 MHz. Although it was designed to aesthetically match an iPod, it will work with any device that has a 1/8" headphone or line out jack. It runs on 2 'AAA' cells (rechargeables work fine).

The shiny device on the bottom is the MPIO/Digitalway FL100 MP3 Player (see that link for my blog entry devoted to the FL100). It plays MP3s, tunes FM stations, records voice notes, and records off of the radio -- amazingly versatile for a 1.5 oz. device. It runs on a single 'AAA' cell. The battery and the memory card in the photo are shown for scale.

So, imagine walking around with virtually unlimited music in your pocket (the FL100 takes SD cards up to 512 MB) and being able to broadcast it to any FM receiver. Granted, the range of the TuneCast unit is a bit short -- roughly 30' line of sight in my usage testing -- but the fact that you can do this at all is pretty cool.

So, the total weight of this personal radio station, including batteries and an SD memory card, is a smidge over 4 oz. (113 g). Granted, while any personal music player could be used in this setup, the FL100 is the smallest I've seen to include an SD card slot. Now, what happens if I set the FL100's FM tuner to the same frequency as the TuneCast is set to broadcast on? Hmm...

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 19, 2003

A Day in My Life

Technophiles are generally pretty interesting folks, I've come to realize. We all have particular idiosyncracies and preferences that make it extremely unlikely for two of us to have exactly similar usage patterns, technology choices, etc. Just to illustrate my own pattern of choices, here's a brief recap of the tech I employ in a typical day.

Wake up -- I use a $10 GE clock-radio that I got at a discount department store about 10 years ago. I was so impressed at the radio sensitivity (it can tune stations even my $400 Yamaha receiver can't), I bought a second as back-up. For $10, it's a steal.

Check email -- my first real "tech" interaction of the day is usually with a Pocket PC, a Compaq iPaq 3670 with PC Card sled and D-Link Wi-Fi adapter. I check my various email accounts with this thing (Pocket Inbox is a phenomenal email app), check the weather, etc. before I get out of bed. The charging cradle is a permanent fixture on my nightstand, since I no longer sync this with a PC. This is about the closest thing to a technology "appliance" I've found to be actually useful.

Shower, get dressed, wolf down breakfast (optional) -- no real tech involved here :-( [Note to self: Work on this.]

Pack for work -- stick necessary tech into briefcase for the day at the office. This usually consists of my Kyocera 7135 and my HandEra 330, although the 330 is seeming less and less necessary given the really nice capabilities of the 7135 (and the EOL issued for all HandEra devices).

Drive to work -- I invested in a sweet piece of car stereo equipment, the Alpine CDA-7894 in-dash receiver. This unit plays the full complement of digital discs (except DVD) and decodes MP3. Given that I have over 45 GB of MP3s (all legal, ripped from CDs we own), this is a really nice way to access my music while in my car. Not only does the receiver sound great, it really does a fairly stellar job at handling MP3 data. I still think there's a big opportunity for high-res after-market head units (to display the track name, artist, etc. all simultaneously), but those still seem to be fairly rare. Given that it's an Alpine, the tuner is just excellent, especially good for pulling in WOXY (alternative) and WNKU (alternative/folk + NPR).

At work -- While at my office, I interact with a lot of standard-issue university technology. Fairly banal Dell desktop with CRT monitor, etc. -- a pretty typical arrangement. My pride and joy in my personal office is my HP G85 4-in-1 printer/scanner/fax/copier. It does a really stellar job at all four functions (well, never tried the fax function, but I assume it's stellar). I use the snot out of the sheet-feeder for scanning multi-page documents -- works great...highly recommended. The bane of my existence at work is our office copier...some lame, fickle Xerox piece of crap. This hunk of junk, more than anything else, has inspired me to go as paperless as is reasonably possible. Knowing I'm helping conserve trees also makes me feel good about using bits instead of paper.

Back at home -- home for the evening and I rely on all the tech here in my home. I have a mixed wired/wireless LAN that ties together 2 PCs, 1 laptop, and 2 handhelds (1 Pocket PC and 1 Palm OS device). Internet access is via RoadRunner cable broadband, which is being distributed to all the connected devices. My main computer at home is a custom/self-built desktop, and the other desktop is my MP3 server (I'll talk more about this later). I have our family room TV and stereo system tied into the MP3 server, so I can browse or whatever while listening to our music collection -- a pretty nice setup. My main complaint is the resolution on our television is really poor. It's a 27" Sony Trinitron, so it puts out like 550 lines of resolution. Needless to say, I really want one of the new true 1920x1080 HDTV LCD TVs that should be hitting store shelves later this year (yum!). To control the MP3 server, which is in the basement, while I'm sitting in front of the family room TV, I rely on a Gyration wireless mouse/keyboard setup -- this is some really trick hardware if you want to have a nearly invisible common room computing setup.

In bed -- prior to hitting the hay, I will often do some minor computing in bed. This is done via the laptop (which I'm typing on now) or using one of the handhelds. Generally, I'm just doing a blog entry, checking email/weather, or IM'ing with some friends (or some combo of those). While I generally like the apps better on my PalmOS devices, their lack of multi-tasking in the OS really bites in this case -- I can't keep an IRC/IM connection open while I do something else (check email, calendar, etc.). I really hope OS6 fixes this.

Well, that's about it. I'll talk more about the MP3 server another time, for I'm pretty happy with that particular piece of my home setup. Have comparable usage patterns or something that differs dramatically? Leave me a note!

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 09, 2003

Wireless

Category: Wireless

I want some Miss America/World/Universe contestant to say that her dream for a better world is ubiquitous high-speed wireless service across the globe. I'd vote for her in a second.

Wireless networking is just about the best thing since...um...home broadband access. If you don't have some flavor of Wi-Fi in your home or workplace or your local coffee shop, you are missing out on a truly amazing experience. This technology has gotten so cheap now that there's nearly no cost-based reason to wire a home for a LAN. Security? Sure, wired is safer. Speed? Sure, wired is faster, but with 802.11g hardware now available, the speed differential isn't likely to matter to most folks. Simplicity? Sure, wired is easier, but the gap is shrinking pretty quickly as new Wi-Fi hardware and OS's become better able to lead even the most thick-headed novice through setup in a few minutes.

What I don't understand is why more mobile devices don't have some form of wireless built in. Laptops surely have jumped on the bandwagon, with nearly every manufacturer offering built-in Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth in many models. Some Pocket PC PDAs, like the Toshiba e740 and the iPaq h5450 also have Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth as part of the hardware. So what the heck is keeping Palm OS device makers from doing the same thing? Sure, Sony has a Compactflash Wi-Fi card with proprietary drivers for its NX and NZ lines, and HandEra has long since offered Wi-Fi drivers for its PDAs, but if you want Wi-Fi, that's it. A few SecureDigital Wi-Fi adapters were announced at CES 2003, but so far none have made it to shelves. The Palm Tungsten T has integrated Bluetooth, but so far, I've yet to find any evidence that Bluetooth is being heavily used for anything on any widespread basis. So, if you're a Palm OS devotee, your options are limited to add-on cards. Why can't somebody release a device with Wi-Fi built in??? OK, enough ranting.

The other prominent option for wireless data is over a cellular network, and the options for devices like this have exploded recently. For example, in my household, we have both a Treo 270 from Handspring and a Kyocera 7135. These are pretty amazing devices for different reasons. The Treo acts and feels very much like a wireless PDA with secondary voice functionality, whereas the 7135 feels like a cellular phone with PDA capabilities grafted on. When people see them, they react in two ways: PDA users like the Treo and phone people like the 7135. I like both...a lot, and more so every day I use them. More on them another time.

To sum up, wireless is good and more device makers need to realize that some form of wireless is almost necessary from this point on, at least in mid- and upper-range devices. Let's hope that's not news to anyone making decisions in any consumer electronics firms.

Posted by Craig | Permalink | Comments (3)