Archive for February, 2011
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Sometimes you don’t need the most cutting-edge technology in your desktop. Sometimes what you need is class-leading functionality for a great price. That’s what the Dell Inspiron i580-8139NBC ($499.98 list at Staples) offers in a nutshell. It has an Intel Core i3 processor with Intel GMA HD graphics, 500GB hard drive, and 4GB of RAM in a minitower chassis. The desktop is basic, fast, expandable, and has great bang for the buck. For those reasons, it earns our Editors’ Choice nod.
Design and Features
The Inspiron i580-8139NBC essentially has the same design as the previous Inspiron i580-6736NBC ($599.99 list, 4 stars) and i570-6939PBK ($598.99 list, 4 stars). It’s a black minitower with chrome-colored plastic accents ringing around the tower’s front bezel. There are the usual drop-down covers for the optical drives and front USB 2.0 ports, and there’s a digital media card reader hidden in there, too. The back panel is utilitarian, with the majority of the desktop’s ports: 4 USB 2.0 ports (out of six total), VGA, Ethernet, audio, and HDMI port. HDMI is great if you have a monitor that supports this interface as it can handle audio and graphics. You can even hook the system up to an HDTV.
The interior of the i580-8139NBC has ample room for future upgrades. If you fill up the included 7,200rpm 500GB drive, the system can handle another hard drive, plus you can install a Blu-ray optical drive in the future once they get cheaper. The desktop doesn’t have any free memory slots, but most buyers of a $500 PC should be okay with the included 4GB. The i580-8139NBC has two PCIe x1 slots, one PCIe x16, and one PCI slot free. You should easily be able to install a Wi-Fi card, for example, with a screwdriver in about five minutes. The 300W power supply will limit you to mid-range graphics cards, but it will certainly support an additional drive, Wi-Fi card, and an additional optical drive without a problem.
The desktop comes virtually free of bloatware: There’s Skype, McAfee Security Center, and a few Dell apps. The Dell apps notably include the Dell Stage app seen on touch-equipped systems like the Dell Inspiron One 2305 ($1,099 direct, 4 stars): It’s a launcher program that works with the mouse rather than touch. Skype is the usual program: very useful if you have an account, much less so if you don’t. I’m kind of disappointed that the McAfee SecurityCenter only comes with 30 days worth of upgrades: I’d rather see at least year, so you’re protected from constantly evolving threats.
Customers who buy this system from Staples can avail themselves of several services the retailer offers. This includes setting the new system up, data transfer from your old PC to your new one, software installation, and tech support and protection plans that range in price from $14.99 to $169.99.
Dell Inspiron i580-8139NBC
The i580-8139NBC’s Intel Core i3-550 processor with built-in Intel GMA HD graphics helped it gain class-leading scores on our multimedia benchmark tests. It completed the Handbrake video encoding test in 2 minutes 23 seconds and Photoshop CS5 test in 4:15. These are some of the quickest times from recent entry-level and mainstream desktops. For example, the current mainstream desktop Editors’ Choice, the HP Pavilion p6727c-b ($749.99 list, 4 stars) is slower (2:32 Handbrake, 5:51 CS5). Most of the other desktops in this category, like the HP Slimline s5710f ($419.99 list, 2.5 stars) (2:55 Handbrake, 5:58 CS5), Asus Essentio CM1630-05 ($479.99 list, 4 stars) (3:12 Handbrake, 6:45 CS5), and Acer Aspire AX3400-U2012 ($449.49 list, 3.5 stars) (2:39 Handbrake, 6:11CS5) are also slower. The i580-8139NBC’s 3D graphics are average for the class (that is they’re not suited for recent 3D games): only Crysis ran at a slideshow-like 6 frames per second (fps) at medium quality setting. The i580-8139NBC did put in a decent 3,975 point score at 3DMark Vantage, better than the rivals listed above.
The Dell Inspiron i580-8139NBC is pretty basic compared with the current $1,000 systems, but if you need to replace a (formerly $1,000) 5- to 7-year-old desktop with a Pentium 4 in it, this is going to blow your mind. The i580-8139NBC is a traditional desktop, and for many people, that’s what you want if you’re in the market for a new PC. It’s much faster than our former entry-level Editors’ Choice, the Asus Essentio CM1630-05, for about the same list price. Sure, the Asus CM1630-05 has a larger hard drive, but hard drives are easy to upgrade, while CPUs and interior room aren’t. The extra speed and expandability plus no bloatware are what keep the i580-8139NBC ahead of other desktops. That’s why it’s our new entry-level desktop Editors’ Choice.
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For nearly a year since Apple launched the iPad, everyone’s been clamoring for viable competitors to the great tablet device. Customers want choices, and manufacturers want their slice of the booming tablet market. Some decent options, like the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Barnes & Noble Nook Color, have come out (along with a lot of not-so-decent ones), but in the last couple of months we’ve been shown what the cream of the tablet crop looks like.
At the top of the tablet market, fighting for dominance, are four manufacturers, making four tablets that each run different operating systems. At the head of the list, of course, remains the Apple iPad. It’s dominating the market, and with the iPad 2 likely due to arrive in a matter of weeks, it could take another leap ahead. Coming up fast behind it, though, are the Motorola Xoom, the HP TouchPad, and the BlackBerry PlayBook, all of which appear poised to make significant waves in the tablet pool.
The Motorola Xoom is a 10.1-inch tablet (slightly larger than the iPad) and is the first device running Android 3.0 “Honeycomb,” the tablet-optimized version of Google’s popular Android operating system. Android, and by extension the Xoom, still suffers from a lack of apps that look good on larger screens, but the Xoom’s hardware is solid, and Honeycomb looks to be a giant leap in the right direction for Android tablets.
RIM, always a business-centered company, is launching the BlackBerry PlayBook with both professionals and consumers in mind. Sporting a 7-inch screen, it’s decidedly more pocket-friendly than the iPad or the Xoom. BlackBerry smartphone owners can use their phone’s 3G or 4G connection to get online with the PlayBook. It runs a brand-new operating system, one that will allow developers to build apps using Java, Flash, Adobe Air, and other technologies. That means we could see a lot of apps, particularly cross-platform ones, for the PlayBook.
The newcomer to the tablet party is HP’s TouchPad. The 9.7-incher, available this summer, runs WebOS—the fruits of HP’s $1.2 billion purchase of Palm last year. The operating system looks ideal for a tablet, with the card-based system that so many people liked on the Palm Pre. The tablet looks almost exactly like the iPad, but sports some unique features, like a touchstone capacitive charger, and the ability to tap a Palm phone and send information back and forth between the devices. HP is at an enormous app disadvantage, though, and it remains to be seen if it can convince developers to build apps for the TouchPad like they have for the iPad and Android-based tablets.
Over the last couple of months it seems we may have finally seen what great tablets are going to look like in the near future. How things will shake out among the competitors remains to be seen, but it certainly appears that tablet buyers will finally have several excellent options. See how the big four stack up side-by-side in the chart below.
Let’s get cocky and assume that next week’s Apple event brings us a new iPad—the iPad 2, if you will. Let us also assume that the iPad 2 will add front- and rear-facing cameras, and thus FaceTime to the mix. And now that Motorola’s Xoom is finally available to the masses, let’s take a quick look at how the first Honeycomb tablet stacks up against the iPad we know—and the iPad we know is coming.
We ran an in-depth Xoom pricing piece earlier in the week, and the short of it is: despite the seemingly hefty price tag attached to the Xoom, a two-year Verizon contract and a Xoom are about the same cost as two years with the iPad on AT&T. This one is more or less a draw.
Safari for iOS vs. Android Browser App
This battle had the potential to be summed up in one word: Flash. Apple is unlikely to announce support for Flash next week, while the Xoom will supposedly have Flash support in the next three weeks or so. Until Adobe, Google, and Motorola sort out the hold-up, neither tablet offers a full Internet experience, but the edge has to go to the tablet that at least promises it. If Motorola (and Google and Adobe) can’t make this happen, it will be a colossal failure.
But Flash isn’t everything. Both browsers have the disappointing habit of loading mobile sites intended for cell phones instead of the full Web site you are anticipating when you type, say, espn.com into the browser. Scrolling all the way to the bottom of the page and clicking on the link to the main site will often solve this problem, but it’s an annoyance nonetheless.
The iPad’s Safari toolbar includes basic navigation, a Tabs button (which includes a number in its icon representing how many you currently have open), a bookmarks button that takes you to a traditional pull-down Bookmarks menu, a Multi-function button (Add Bookmark, Add to Home Screen, Mail Link to this Page or Print), a Google search window, and an intuitive keyboard that pops up for entering URLs or field info. Honeycomb’s keyboard is similarly easy-to-use. Android 3.0’s revamped Browser app features tabs arrayed across the top as in a traditional browser (rather than a tabs icon), a new navigation bar for refreshes, searches, forward/backward navigation, and a quick bookmark option. Both browsers re-wrap text to fit your screen when you tap on an article’s text twice.
Honeycomb slam-dunks iOS here—sorry, Apple. Perhaps next week’s new iPad will feature updated multitasking, but as things stand, Android is the winner.
Apple requires a double-click on the physical Home button, which reveals a scrollable bar at the bottom of the screen full of icons representing the apps you have used recently. Tapping one takes you to that app, right in the middle of whatever you were last doing on it. That’s helpful, but Honeycomb one-ups Apple. An on-screen button creates a vertical, scrollable array of windows—not icons—displaying each recently used app and a thumbnail of how you last left it. In other words, there’s no way to tell, at a glance, what your apps are doing when you double-click the iPad’s Home button—you just get icons. A single tap of the Honeycomb multitask button shows your active apps and what each is doing. The very idea of multitasking is to save time, and Android bests Apple here by saving multiple taps and showing you all current activity in one glance.
The primary difference here is the aspect ratio of the screens: the iPad’s 4:3 versus the Xoom’s near widescreen ratio, making the former a better fit for general photo viewing and the latter more ideal for most movie watching. The Xoom’s 10.1-inch screen is ideal for movies that are shot in this very ratio, but both screens adapt to their content well. At maximum brightness, the iPad’s 9.7-inch screen is a bit brighter than the Xoom’s. That said, the Xoom screen offers a higher resolution of 1,280-by-800 (the iPad’s is 1,024-by-768). This is not terribly noticeable when viewing Web sites, but with HD content, the Xoom edges the current iPad—who knows if next week’s update will have a higher-resolution screen. Both displays offer excellent sensitivity and multi-touch.
FaceTime vs. Talk
The current iPad has no camera, but given how hard Apple has pushed FaceTime ads in our, well, faces, it would be a shock if the new iPad doesn’t get outfitted with at least a front-facing camera. Assuming it does, FaceTime now has some stiff competition in Talk, the Honeycomb video chat app.
Talk supports multiple chats at once—you can video chat with one friend and have a text-based chat with another without ending either (though your video does pause while you ignore the video chat buddy to write your other chat partner). Connection, as with FaceTime, takes a few seconds, but the wait is not so annoying that it’s a detractor.
Are they both easy to use? Yes. But Talk gets the edge because it works across more platforms. With FaceTime, you need an Apple product to communicate with another Apple product. Talk works via Google accounts—so you can chat on your Xoom with someone on their computer (yes, even a Mac), provided they have an account as well. Seeing as multiple platforms are invited to this party, along with any Honeycomb devices, Talk is clearly a more versatile option.
If you’re a Gmail addict, the (very) slight edge goes to the Xoom—hey, it’s a Google device. You need a Gmail account in order to use the Xoom, and your account and mail is woven into the fabric of the Honeycomb OS. It uses a dedicated Gmail app, and also has an Email app for other accounts. You can sync the Xoom with Microsoft Exchange to have corporate e-mail—and calendar updates—pushed to your desktop, alongside Gmail notifications.
The iPad is pretty similar in this regard: you can sync multiple e-mail accounts—including corporate accounts—to push e-mail to your desktop, and just like on the Xoom, Gmail conversations are threaded.
Obviously, there’s much more to compare, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, since of one the devices is still (for a short stretch of days, at least) hypothetical. PCMag will be in San Francisco at the Apple event next week with full iPad 2 coverage—and more to say about how the Xoom stacks up against it. Until then, see the Xoom slideshow below.
At 1100 hours, two analysts went out to retrieve a top-secret package from an undisclosed location—they came back with two MacBook Pros, a 13-inch and 15-inch. Apple has upgraded its Pro line of laptops to include a new interface called Thunderbolt, technology from Intel (code-named Light Peak) that boasts 10Gbps transfer speeds (twice as fast as USB 3.0). The port looks identical to the mini-DisplayPort featured on previous models. The company has also changed up its graphics solution, going from the Nvidia GeForce 330M to the AMD Radeon 6750.
Video chatting enthusiasts will also be happy about the addition of an HD Webcam that, when used in tandem with the FaceTime app, will allow users to chat in beautiful 720p. The CPU has received an upgrade with Intel’s new Sandy Bridge processors in the form of Core i5 and i7. Prices for the two MacBook Pro 13-inch models are $1,199 and $1,499. The MacBook Pro 15-inch will cost $1,799 and $2,199 for its two configurations, while the 17-inch MacBook Pro will start at $2,499.
Below is a slideshow of the unboxing, featuring a side-by-side look at the old and the new 15-inch MacBook Pro laptops. Be sure to check back in for are full review, as we are currently testing.
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Microsoft is still living in the happiness driven by Windows 7 launch. Call it Marketing Pioneer or the Product Miracle, they are no longer worried of Windows products. They know that they are going to sell them well, like never before. But there are still two things underneath that bites Microsoft: 1. Bing – Overhyped search engine. 2. Windows Mobile.
Unluckily, both fights go with Google, and one of them with Apple. The Phone market driven by Apple’s iPhone is almost impossible to capture in the current situation. However, Android could be a difficult competitor but with Android gaining popularity, it gets harder each day.
All this have come to picture because Windows Mobile is starting to resemble a disaster driven by Windows Vista-style proportions.
Here are few points on Why Windows Mobile Resembles Vista:
1. Delays: Like Vista, repeated Windows Mobile 7 delays are frustrating Microsoft’s longtime industry partners. Windows Mobile 7, originally planned for release last year, isn’t expected to arrive until spring of 2010.
What is the impact? Motorola, earlier this year, shifted its business away from Windows Mobile and favored Google Android devices. Verizon, which has been tied to Microsoft’s Pink smartphone project, recently kicked off a huge marketing push for Droid, Motorola’s new Android powered handset. What makes it worst, for Microsoft, is they will continue to push the same vendor.
2. Lack of Worthy Innovation: Every product that comes into market is full of innovation. But how much of it is worthy? This decides the market.
Microsoft’s channel partners are seeing decreasing demand for Windows Mobile-related business. Stuart Crawford from Bulletproof Infotech quoted:
“We’ve stopped working with Windows Mobile because our client base isn’t asking for it. We’ve gone to Blackberry internally, and we’re seeing a lot of clients asking for iPhone. I’m a strong Microsoft advocate, but there are too many challenges with Windows Mobile.”
3. Mobile 6.5 = Vista; Mobile 7 = Windows 7: Windows 7, which shows what great things can happen when Microsoft and its partner ecosystem are collaborating. The pressure is on Microsoft to hit jackpot with Windows Mobile 7, but that could conceivably lead to the kind of bloated, complex feature set that helped doom Vista. Microsoft is so far behind in the mobile game at this point that it needs to at least get a couple rockets on base before it starts catching up with Apple, Google.
Tim Huckaby, CEO at InterKnowlogy, said “When Windows Mobile ships, it’s got to be a winner, it cannot be another Vista, and Microsoft knows it.”
4. Wrong Claims
In April 2008, CEO Steve Ballmer described Windows Mobile 7 to MVP partners as “as an area of major excitement and innovation.” But in a meeting with Silicon Valley venture capitalists last month, Ballmer spoke of Microsoft’s Windows Mobile missteps in frank terms and said Microsoft has taken steps to correct them.
This is the exact they they did with Windows Vista. They claimed, it’s innovation and blah blah But we all know Vista is now Dead.
What is yet to be seen
Microsoft partners aren’t happy with the way things are moving in the Windows Mobile group. On the positive side, they’re still expecting Microsoft to make a comeback to make up the lost battle.
“Windows Mobile has troubles that are out of our control, and it’s now a matter of how quickly they can bring Windows Mobile 7 to market before the clock runs out.”
We would like to know what do you think? Can Microsoft come back with a bang? Will Mobile 7 be lucky for them like Windows 7, so far, did?
If you are tired of watching the same look and feel of Windows [XP, 7 or Vista], or you envy Mac OS X Snow Leopard for X reasons, it’s try to change the UI and transform the Experience.
All of the transformation packs are straight forward and easy to install.
Note: We recommend creating a restore point or backing up the files manually before attempting any of these transformations (list of files affected can be found on the author’s page)
Update: Transform Windows 7 to Snow Leopard
Transform Windows XP to Mac OS X Leopard
Download – The Pack is developed by kampongboy and does a beautiful job at tranforming your Windows XP SP2 to Leopard. The author recommends applying transformation in safe mode.
If you need any assistance in customization, you can reach us @taranfx on twitter.
Additional software needed to get the exact look as in the screenshot: Windowblinds, ObjectDock and IconPackager.
WindowsBlinds Theme: Leopard Glass by ~neodesktop
Wallpaper: Leopard Wallpaper by ~vsdigital
Dock Skin: OS X Leopard for ObjectDock by ~reverse84
Transform Windows 7 to Mac OS X Leopard
Download – Developed by alkhan, is relatively easier. All you need to do is install the transformation pack and then use ObjectDock for the Dock at bottom. [Dock Skin: OS X Leopard for ObjectDock by ~reverse84]
Transform Windows Vista to Mac OS X Leopard
Download. Developed by Hydrattz, this Transformation pack lets the Vista’s pathetic glory go away in minutes. I remmend using the same dock: ObjectDock for the Dock at bottom. [Dock Skin: OS X Leopard for ObjectDock by ~reverse84] though you are free to choose your option. Do checkout optional things you can do with this theme at author’s page.