Ringdroid: Awesome Android ringtone-maker

One of the most striking things about this early batch of Android apps is how many excellent freebies there are. Ringdroid is yet another sophisticated, intuitive freeware app that will prove a boon to T-Mobile G1-toting ringtone-lovers.
Ringdroid lets you create ringtones from MP3, WAV, and ARM files you load onto your phone through the SD card or that you purchase through the Amazon MP3 store.

Unlike many Android apps that use the Menu keys to store some software functions, most of Ringdroid's controls are out on the interface and all respond to touch. You can set the start and ending notes by sliding arrows along the timeline, by pressing Start and End to record the point, or by typing in time stamps.

You can zoom in to set more precise marks on the timeline, and can press the Menu key while in zoom mode to reset to the beginning. When you're ready to save, you'll choose from the drop-down menu to create a ringtone, alarm, notification, or edited tune.

Ringdroid is also equipped with a Record button on the app interface, letting you lay down your own sounds from scratch.

Palm Pre Plus (Verizon)

When Palm officially unveiled the Palm Pre Plus and Palm Pixi Plus at CES 2010, it wasn't a complete surprise. Rumors of the two Verizon-bound smartphones had been circulating the rumor mill weeks before the show, but that doesn't mean we weren't interested in checking out the products.

The Pre Plus is definitely the more exciting of the two devices. It includes design enhancements, such as a revamped keyboard, that improves the overall look and feel of the device. Palm also beefed up the internal storage and RAM, giving the smartphone's performance a boost in speed and expanded capabilities. If Sprint Pre owners weren't jealous enough, Verizon customers will also be able to use the Pre Plus, as well as the Pixi Plus, as a 3G mobile hot spot.

Now, Verizon has added a lot of great smartphones to its lineup lately, so the Palm Pre Plus will definitely face some stiff competition. But with its added features coupled with the WebOS's easier-to-use interface and great multitasking capabilities, we think it's a perfect device for the consumer who is looking for a smartphone to balance work and play, and who might find Android or Windows Mobile a bit much. The Palm Pre Plus will be available starting January 25 for $149.99 with a two-year contract and after a $100 mail-in rebate.

At first glance, there doesn't seem to be a noticeable difference between the Palm Pre Plus and Palm Pre. The Pre Plus shares the same pebblelike shape and slider design and also features a gorgeous 3.1-inch HVGA multitouch screen. However, Palm made some slight changes to the design of the phone that really improves the overall look and feel of the device. To start, it removed the center knob that takes you to the Deck of Cards view. The function is still there but as with the Palm Pixi, it's integrated into the gesture area so you have a more streamlined look, not to mention it makes for a smoother experience when you're swiping your finger from right to left to return to the previous screen.

Palm also revamped the keyboard. Generally speaking, it's still small and will probably give people with larger thumbs some initial problems. However, the company's increased the key travel space and the buttons now give a more clicky tactile feedback, instead of feeling gummy like the original Pre's, which made a huge difference when typing. We didn't feel dragged down by squishy keys, allowing us to compose messages faster and with fewer mistakes. We asked a couple of Pre owners in the office to try it out, and they definitely noticed a difference and had a hard time hiding their jealousy. That said, it would still be nice to have a virtual keyboard for those times when you're using the smartphone in landscape mode and want to enter some text.

On somewhat of a related note, the slider mechanism feels more solid on the Pre Plus. In its closed state, the front part of the phone doesn't move around as much or feel rickety, and there's more of a springlike action when you slide open the phone.

One final design change is that the Pre Plus now ships with an inductive back cover, so it's Touchstone-ready right out of the box. Of course, you still have to buy the charging dock ($49.99), but you won't have to get the backplate as well. As an added bonus, the phone just feels more substantial in the hand and doesn't quite have that plasticky feel of the original Pre. With the inductive cover, the Pre Plus weighs a slightly more at 4.89 ounces (versus 4.76 ounces), contributing to a more solid feel, but measures the same at 3.9 inches tall by 2.3 inches wide by 0.6 inch thick.

The rest of the smartphone is pretty much the same. The camera and flash are located on the back. On top of the device, you'll find the power button, silent ringer switch, and a 3.5mm headphone jack, while a Micro-USB port is on the right side.

HTC Nexus One by Google (unlocked)

Though sleek and attractive, the Nexus One's candy bar, touch-screen-only design doesn't break new design ground. With its trackball and prominent display, it looks a bit like both the HTC Hero and the HTC Droid Eris. At 4.56 inches by 2.36 inches by 0.47 inch, it's about the same size as the Droid Eris, the Hero, and the iPhone, but it weighs just 4.58 ounces The two-toned gray color scheme is standard smartphone, but the handset has a comfortable and very solid feel in the hand.
Not surprisingly, the Nexus One's star attraction is its 3.7-inch AMOLED display. Bursting with 16.7 million colors and an 800x480-pixel resolution, the display really is a wonder. Everything from standard text to busy photos and graphics jumped right off the display in full glory. The Android 2.1 operating system adds to the fun with 3D graphics (more on that later) and live wallpapers, which are animated backgrounds that react to your touch and your music. They're a nifty and attractive touch, but we realize they may be a bit much for some people and we're not sure if they affect battery life. Standard wallpapers are available if you're not game.

As an Android phone, the Nexus One has everything you'd expect from the OS. The contacts menu is limited by the available memory, but each entry can store multiple fields for phone numbers, street addresses, work information, e-mails, URLs, instant-messaging handles, nicknames, and notes. Contacts are automatically synced from your Gmail account, and you can also sync Facebook and Microsoft Exchange contacts. We did both and the process took just seconds. As with previous Android phones, you must store applications from the Android Market on the 512MB of internal memory. MicroSD cards (the Nexus One comes with a 4GB card, but it can accommodate cards up to 32GB) are only for other data files.
Besides Gmail, the Nexus One also supports additional POP3 and IMAP4 accounts, though not through a unified in-box. We added an Outlook Web Access (OWA) CNET e-mail, but so far we've been unable to add a Yahoo Mail account. When we tried doing so, we received a message that not all Yahoo accounts are supported. That's the first time we've seen that on an Android phone, or any smartphone for that matter, and it's troubling. When we typed in our Yahoo account anyway, the Nexus One informed us that our username and password were incorrect (we did it several times to be sure).

We tested the Nexus One in Las Vegas with T-Mobile service. As a quad-band world phone (GSM 850/900/1800/1900), you'll be able to use the Nexus One with any GSM carrier, but its 3G bands (2100/AWS/900) are compatible only with T-Mobile's network in the United States. AT&T customers will be able to use the Nexus One, but their data speeds will top out at EDGE. We'd also love to see a dual-mode phone that supports both CDMA and GSM networks.
Call quality was quite good on the whole. Conversations were clear, the volume was loud, and we heard little static or interference. Indeed, the noise cancellation feature seemed to work as we could hear clearly when we were in a crowded room. We even could get service at the Las Vegas Convention Center during the 2010 International CES. With thousands of cell phone-happy people in one place, CES can be a notorious dead zone.

Samsung Instinct vs. iPhone 3G: which one will be better?

It's not only the battle of two devices it is the battle of two cell phone services
providers: Sprint and AT&T. These two phones will be their best and most powerful
presenters that they have. iPhone 3G is not out yet but AT&T was successfully selling
the previous versions of iPhone for almost a year now. So some people love AT&T
and other love Sprint and it's their choice. What we are going to do is compare
the features of the two phones.

First of all let's do the comparison of the exterior of Samsung Instinct and iPhone.
Instinct is made mainly of plastic which is not that neat today; iPhone has pats
made of metal and harden glass to prevent it from scratching.
As to AT&T vs. Sprint there are some advantages and disadvantages;
but concerning these phones Sprint is giving very high internet speeds and music
store from any point of coverage. AT&T's iPhone can only connect to iTunes store
via Wi-Fi, which restricts it to the city limits. Besides, everybody knows about
Samsung Instinct's and iPhone's GPS capabilities.

I personally liked the voice control on Samsung Instinct; however not sure if it
would work as good as they demonstrate it, so train your speech to be able to control it.
I'm not sure if it was a good idea to have the keyboard only in landscape mode.
My personal opinion is that I want to choose what mode to use because it really frustrates
me that I need to turn it every time I want to input some text.

One more thing that I love about Instinct is its open platform. I really like to install
and use the software I choose. iPhone has made a pretty good job on giving positive
experience for the customers but it is closed platform.

Another good thing about Instinct is that they give an additional battery and an external
battery charger, which can be very helpful during traveling. iPhone should be twice as
fast in web browsing as the old iPhone is. It supports Bluetooth, GPRS, GSM, EDGE, Wi-Fi
HSDPA, UMTS connectivity and that's what they are proud about. One of the biggest news:
it will be able to give you 3G video talks with your friends.

One other big news is that Apple is going to allow third party applications on their iPhone
but only those that are approved by them. Not sure how popular that will be.
Apple has done a pretty good job on the user interface. And the question I have is:
"Will the third party applications be free or they are going to charge the customers
for that?" The platform it is running on is Mac OS X Mobile which should bring the
customers best experiences.In the rest of features the iPhone 3G will be just as its
predecessor (one of the best phones out there.) It will roll out on July the 11th in
70 countries of the world. The 8GB version will cost $199 and the 16GB version will
cost $299.

Google Reveals Its New Phone

Google launched its own cell phone, a device called the Nexus One, at a press conference in Mountain View, CA, on Tuesday. Designed and built by the Taiwanese handheld-device company HTC in partnership with Google, the phone is being sold through a new online storethat will sell not only Nexus One but also future devices based on Android, Google's mobile operating system. Consumers can buy the Nexus One on its own, or with a service plan on T-Mobile's network.

Calling the device a "superphone," Mario Queiroz, a vice president of product management at Google, said the company wanted to create a phone to demonstrate "what's possible on mobile phones through the Android platform."

Stressing that the Nexus One is actually the first in a series, Andy Rubin, Google's vice president of mobile platforms, said that devices sold through Google's online store will always demonstrate "the best possible Google experience."

The Nexus One includes a one-gigahertz processor that's faster than that of most smart phones on the market today (Verizon's Droid, for example, has a 550-megahertz processor, and the iPhone's processor is estimated to be around 600 megahertz). Other hardware specifications include a 3.7-inch display, a five-megapixel camera, light and proximity sensors, and dual microphones that allow for noise cancellation.

"With that hardware, we've think we've got half the story," said senior product manager Eric Tseng. "With the Nexus One, it's not just hardware alone." Tseng noted that the Nexus One's processor allows the phone to run multiple applications simultaneously without slowing down, and to support a new 3-D framework that comes with the 2.1 version of Android, which was also announced at the event.

Tseng demonstrated several applications that showcase the 3-D graphics of the Nexus One, including a full-featured version of Google Earth. The phone let him navigate through the popular mapping software in three dimensions, flying over areas and zooming in. "We really wanted to push the 3-D capabilities that you get with these high-end chips to their limits," he said.

Epson Artisan 810

Whether you're looking for a home all-in-one (AIO) with high-quality photo output, a home-office AIO with fast speed and office features like faxing, or, better yet, a single AIO (or MFP, for multifunction printer, if you prefer) for both, the Epson Artisan 810 ($299.99 direct) should be on your short list. Following in the footsteps of the Artisan 800 that it replaces in Epson's line, the 810 leans towards a focus on home use, but it can also be a good fit for light-duty printing in a home office or for a dual role in home and home office.

The Artisan 810 offers both Ethernet and WiFi support, making it easy to share. It can print, scan, and fax over a network; work as a standalone copier and fax machine; and scan to e-mail over a network (something the 800 couldn't do) by automatically launching your PC's e-mail program and adding the scan as an attachment. In addition to faxing and e-mailing, the AIO's most notable office-centric feature is a 30-page automatic document feeder (ADF) to handle multi-page documents easily as well as give you a way to scan, copy, and fax legal-size pages, a feature that most offices can make use of at least occasionally.
The home printer focus starts with photocentric features, including high-quality photo output; the ability to print directly from PictBridge cameras, memory cards, and USB keys; and a 3.5-inch color LCD for previewing photos before printing. Also meant primarily for home use is the ability to print directly on printable discs, for more professional-looking labels for your music and photo collections.
Beyond that, the 810 retains the 800's ability to print graph paper and notebook paper, which can be useful in a pinch for any students in your house who run out of paper in the middle of doing their homework.

The 810 also expands Epson's coloring book feature. The Artisan 800 was able to scan a photo, analyze the shapes, and print just the outlines of those shapes as custom coloring book pages. The 810 goes one step further, also letting you create the coloring book pages from files on a memory card or USB key, so you don't have to print the photos first. Either way, the feature's a nice extra if you have younger children in your house who like coloring in the pages.

Also very much on the plus side is the Artisan 810's 7.8-inch touch screen front panel. It's essentially unchanged from the one on the 800, but it still deserves special mention, both because it's visually attractive and the menus are notably easy to use compared to most of the competition.

Setup and Speed
Physical setup for the Artisan 810 is straightforward. Find a spot for the 7.8- by 18.3- by 18-inch (HWD) printer, remove the packing materials, and load paper. Then plug it in, turn it on, and install the six ink cartridges (for cyan, yellow, magenta, black, light cyan, and light magenta inks). For a wired network, which I used for my tests, you then connect the cable and run the automated setup routine from disc. Note too that unlike the previous generation of Epson printers, you can connect by WiFi without having to connect by cable to set up the feature.

I installed the software on a Windows Vista system. According to Epson, the printer as tested also shipped with drivers and a full set of software for Windows 2000, Windows XP, XP x64, and Vista x64, as well as print and scan drivers and a full set of software for Mac OS X 10.3.9 through 10.5.8. Epson says the printer will soon ship with additional drivers and software for Windows 7, Windows 7 x64, and Mac OS X 10.6 (also without a fax driver for the Mac). If you get the original version of the disc, however, you can download the drivers and software for all of these OSs from Epson's Web site.

Once installed, the 810 works swimmingly. When I reviewed the 800 last year, one of the nicer surprises was its fast speed, a feature Epson has carried forward to the 810. I timed it on our business applications suite (using QualityLogic's hardware and software, www.qualitylogic.com) at a total of 7 minutes 59 seconds, essentially tied with the 800, at 8:10. That makes the 810 one of the fastest inkjet AIOs in its price range. As a point of comparison, the directly competitive Editors' Choice HP Photosmart Premium Fax All-in-One is notably slower, at 12:38. Photo print speed is also reasonably fast, averaging 59 seconds for a 4 by 6 and 2:04 for an 8 by 10 on our tests. Here again, that's a bit faster than the HP printer, at 1:07 and 2:29.

Output Quality
One of the issues that makes the 810 more of a home printer than a home office printer is that the text quality is below par for an inkjet. Just over half of the fonts on our text tests qualified as both highly readable and well formed at 8 points, but none passed either threshold at 4 points, and two highly stylized fonts with thick strokes needed 20 points to qualify. More troublesome is that the text had a grayish look that would make long documents hard to read. I'd call the text good enough for school or internal business use like memos, but if I were looking to convey a sense of professionalism, I wouldn't use it for business correspondence.

The graphics quality is typical for an inkjet. I saw a slight tendency for thin lines to disappear, but less so than with many printers. I also saw some subtle banding in default mode, but not in high-quality mode. Overall, the graphics quality is good enough for schoolwork, for home projects like greeting cards, and even for most business use, up to and including PowerPoint handouts. If you use full-page graphics, however, you may need to invest a little extra in a heavy weight paper. The full-page graphics in our tests tended to add a curl to the inexpensive paper we use.

Photos were generally better than you would expect from your local drugstore, making the printer suitable for photos you care about and want to show off in, say, a frame. However, the printer's tendency to fill in thin white lines showed up in one photo that included a dark clock face with thin white lettering. Fortunately, it's a problem you'll rarely see, since most photos don't include this sort of detail.

Other Issues
The 120-sheet input capacity is the key issue that limits the Artisan 810 to light-duty printing. If you use more than a total of about 25 sheets a day for printing, copying, and receiving faxes, you'll likely find that adding paper turns into an annoying chore. On the plus side, however, the printer includes a duplexer for printing on both sides of the page. And it also includes a separate photo tray that can hold up to 20 sheets of 4-by-6 or 5-by-7-inch photo paper, so you can switch between printing documents and photos without having to change paper.

One last point worth mention is the Artisan 810's warranty. If Epson can't solve a problem over the phone, it will send a replacement printer along with a return shipping label, with Epson picking up the cost both ways. Even better, if you register the printer, Epson boosts the warranty from 1 year to 2 years and throws in lifetime toll-free technical support.

The Artisan 810's combination of speed, quality, and long list of features makes it a highly attractive choice for home and light-duty home office use, as long as you're comfortable with the relatively low text quality—the only real shortcoming. If you need better text quality, be sure to take a look at the HP Photosmart Premium Fax All-in-One. But if the 810's text quality is good enough for your purposes, and you care about speed, the Artisan 810 will be your preferred choice.

Asus Server TS500-E6/P4

The Asus TS500-E6/PS4 is the only dual processor 5U server sold by the manufacturer. The TS500 is sold as a barebones server, so you have to buy it through a reseller. The base price is $699, which is low, considering you can outfit it with two Intel X5500 processors—and remember, that price is before you include processors—or much else. Asus did not provide us with the price for the configured test server, we had to ask a reseller: Colfax sells it with the 24GB of memory that Asus tossed in for $4,450 After factoring the design, management and that price, it's clear the Asus TS500 is a good deal for businesses that require a super fast server, but it's not cheap if you want it this fast. Less RAM and a lower price might make it even more attractive.
Design and Setup
The TS500's tower case (5U) is about the same size as the HP Proliant ML330 G6. By contrast, Dell chose a standard PC case for its PowerEdge T110 server series. Like the HP ML330, the TS500 protects the drive bay with a door. The front bay can house four full-size hard drives. At the bottom right, in an unusual arrangement, Asus placed the audio ports above two USB ports. On the back, Asus kept the old style setup: PS/2 ports for keyboard and mouse, VGA, serial port, and two USB ports. Finding two Ethernet ports was a nice surprise, especially considering the base price of this server. With two network connections you can do a little more than just run line of business applications. For instance, you can squeeze more horsepower out by running multiple virtual machines, and even segment your network with virtual LANs to manage your VoIP communication or comfortably run Exchange Server by separating the external and internal access to the mail server.

The TS500 I tested arrived with two Intel X5560 quadcore processors, 24 GB of memory and a 1 TB drive. There's ample room for PCIe cards, a couple of optical drives and an extra drive bay. The motherboard supports eight more drives. A large fan in the back keeps the server cool. The case is large enough to dampen most of the noise from the air flow inside it. For safety, the server includes a power switch for the side panel. Opening the panel triggers the switch and an alert message is generated in the Asus System Web-based Management software (ASWM).

The TS500 is sold barebones, so pricing varies depending on the components you add. The unit I received was configured by Asus, and came without an operating system. After slapping Windows Server 2008 on it, I installed ASWM for management. ASWM integrated well with Windows Server 2008 and was able to discover all components and peripherals.

The ASWM matches some of the functionality of the Dell OpenManage software on the PowerEdge T110, but it has some shortcomings. You can't manage client connections unless they use the internal VNC server in ASWM. ASWM cannot shutdown the server as easily as OpenManage. There is an agent that you can set up to shut down the server but the options are more restricted. Yet, the interface is friendly and simple to use.

With the ASWM interface you can identify alerts quickly, and set high and low thresholds with graphical sliding bar. The layout of the inventory is intuitive, even for novice administrators. ASWM performs a thorough software inventory of the TS500. You can even stop and start services and track the resources consumed by processes.

After running Geekbench 2.1 64-Bit on the TS500, I got a whopping score of 14,711. Of course, the two X5560 processors and the 24 GB of memory bumped its performance by a large margin. By contrast, the HP ML 330 with only 8MB of memory and one quad-core CPU scored 5,430 on the same test. We took out DIMMs from the Asus and retested it and still got a great 14,364. With Cinebench R10 64-Bit CPU test, the TS500 managed to top at 26,456 with 24 GB, and did even higher at 28,771 with 8GB; the HP ML330 scored 10,975. Obviously, the dual quad-core processors are doing all the heavy lifting in these tests, less memory didn't change much.

I also ran the IOzone 3.321 network file system benchmark to test disk I/O and RAID performance. Unfortunately, IOzone could not execute on the command line. It got exceptions every time I ran it. But I saw no other problems with the RAID performance of the server.

Bottom Line
The Asus TS500-E6/PS4 server can certainly run the most demanding line of business applications on the market, as performance tests showed. Moreover, the two Ethernet ports put it on the same level as the HP ML330 for usefulness. The barebones system is an incredible deal, and even over-configured as it came to us, the price of $4,450 isn't totally outrageous. It's worth serious consideration for any office that can afford it, but for most might be overkill.