Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Samsung announces new Windows 8 devices

The new Windows 8 devices announced by Samsung includes a smartphone, a tablet and two versions of notebook.

Samsung has announced several Windows 8 ATIV devices at a conference in Berlin, Germany.

They include two notebooks, a tablet and a smartphone that will be a part of Samsung's new brand for its Windows-based devices.

The smartphone, called the ATIV S, will run the Windows Phone 8 operating system with a 1.5 gigahertz dual-core processor. It'll have a 4.8-inch display and an eight-megapixel real camera, along with a 1.9 MP front camera.

The 2300mAh battery is quite impressive in size, which put the ATIV S in the same arena as the Motorola Droid Razr Maxx, which has a 3300mAh battery.

The ATIV Tab tablet will run Windows RT, which will use ARM-based processors. It'll have a 10.1-inch display and will come with a five-megapixel rear camera and a 1.9 MP front camera.

According to Samsung, the ATIV Tab will boot up instantly and will come with Office Home and Student 2013, which is the new versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and One Note. Samsung says you'll be able to create and edit documents just like on a PC.

Samsung also unveiled two PC devices - the ATIV Smart PC Pro and ATIV Smart PC. Both devices will have Windows 8 functionality and Windows 7 compatibility.

The notebooks will have detachable keyboards for switching between a traditional notebook and a tablet environment. The S Pen, used on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 and earlier Note device, will be incorporated into both devices for drawing and writing.

The Smart PC Pro, with one USB 3.0 port, will use the Intel Core i5 processor, while the Smart PC, with one USB port, will have the Intel Atom processor. Both devices will two-extra USB 2.0 ports on the keyboard.

Battery life is rated at up to 13.5 hours for the Smart PC and up to eight hours for the Smart PC Pro.

As for the branding, Samsung says "ATIV, the reverse order of the word VITA, meaning “Life” in Latin, is a pledge to make everyone’s life extraordinary with excitement."

The new Windows 8 devices will be on display at the IFA Consumer Electronics show in Berlin through Sept. 5.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Wireless companies prepared for Isaac's impact on mobile networks

During hurricane season, consumers and businesses and are encouraged to have an emergency plan prepared and assemble an emergency kit. (Photo courtesy of C Spire Wireless)

Hurricane Isaac, which has now been downgraded to a tropical storm, made landfall along the Louisiana Gulf Coast and wireless carriers were ready to ensure your mobile devices would work as conditions worsen or if wireless networks were threatened.

This year's hurricane season started on June 1 and emergency mobile plans are in place for AT&T, C Spire Wireless, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, Verizon Wireless and others.

AT&T stands ready to keep their networks working with the "first nationwide" preparedness certification in hand from the Department of Homeland Security. This certification enhances their Network Disaster Recovery program, which includes a $600 million investment and 320 technology-equipped trailers that are ready to deploy to areas damaged by hurricanes or other disasters.

AT&T's disaster tips for consumers and small business include keeping you phone battery charged at all times, emergency numbers in your contacts' list and having a family communication plan.

For C Spire Wirelesscustomers in Mississippi and along the Gulf Coast, the wireless communications company says they are ready with two hurricane "super switches," which are rated to withstand a Category 5 storm.

These super switches facilities in Hattiesburg, Miss. and Mobile, Ala., have reinforced interior walls, steel reinforced roofs and a 500 kilowatt diesel generator, along with a battery grid. The facilities are designed to operate after the loss of commercial power, which can last for days.

“We live in a wireless world so when severe weather or a natural disaster strikes, individuals, families and emergency responders depend on their wireless phones as a lifeline to the outside world,” said Eric Hollingsworth, vice president of Network Operations for C Spire Wireless. “We are committed to providing our customers with the best network coverage."

C Spire also has set up a special storm hotline at 1-888-276-8845, which gives an update on the status of their personalized network and emergency response plan.

As a service to emergency responders, C Spire is waiving the one-time activation charge and monthly service fee for their Wireless Priority Service (WPS) to ensure a higher priority network connection during a disaster.

Sprint Nextel's Emergency Response Team, or ERT, is on standby for Isaac's anticipated impact. These "seasoned emergency" professionals can restore wireless services, mobile broadband devices and ensure coordination among emergency responders.

If networks are threatened, Sprint's Satellite Cell on Light Trucks, or SaColt vehicles, are ready to deploy whatever resources are needed to first responders and public safety officials.

As a further show of support during national disasters, Sprint supplies state and local agencies with 25 mobile devices and wireless services free of charge for 14 days.

Verizon Wireless has been preparing for severe weather threats since last year, with a $39 million investment just in south Mississippi to ensure wireless network are safe and reliable. This is part of a national network investment that exceeds $70 billion for increased capacity and new services.

“Wireless communication is critical to Mississippians, especially during storms and other severe circumstances,” said Krista Bourne, president of the Houston/Gulf Coast region for Verizon Wireless. “We work hard to maintain the strongest infrastructure and provide the best, most reliable services to our customers in any situation.”

Verizon's disaster resources include mobile cell towers and 35-foot trailers that serve as mobile centers. The trailers have 50 charging ports available for customers with low batteries on their mobile phones.

You'll also find sit-down stations with Internet and mobile phones, along with eternal LCD screens for the latest weather information.

In the event of power loss, Verizon's generators have pre-arranged fuel delivery and expanded fuel tanks for extended power-generating capacity.

As Isaac continues to move through Louisiana, all the wireless companies will be monitoring weathers conditions throughout the night to ensure their networks remain active.

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Verizon Wireless gets a nod for providing the best network quality

The quality of your wireless service is probably not top of mind as you go about everyday tasks of making calls, texting, reading emails and Web surfing.

But the wireless companies certainly have it on their minds and Verizon Wireless just got a nod from J.D Power and Associates as providing the best network quality in Mississippi for calls, messaging and data usage.

It was a regional pat on the back for the highest wireless quality in five regions, which included the Southeast Region, with the Gulf Coast states of Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Florida.

According to J.D. Power, the survey included all the U.S. wireless providers, along with 27,000 wireless subscribers, who were asked about their experiences with voice, text messaging and data usage.

Krista Bourne, president of Houston/Gulf Coast Region, Verizon, shared these thoughts on customers and their wireless devices.

"Today's smartphones and tablets require a powerful network in order to make the most of all the features and functionality customers have come to expect ... Verizon Wireless is firmly committed to provided customers in the Southeast Region with the very best wireless experience – expanding, enhancing and maintaining our nationwide industry-leading wireless voice and data network."

As the wireless companies jockey for network quality satisfaction, potential customers have to choose among different pitches as to who has the best service.

Verizon lays claims to the having the "nation's largest 4G LTE network and largest, most reliable 3G network."

AT&T is about "operating the nation's largest Wi-Fi network" and also has the title of "one of the most honored companies in the world," along with being awarded Best Mobile Phone Coverage in The World by Business Traveler Magazine.

C Spire Wireless says they are "the first network to offer personalized wireless" in the industry. They regularly conducts seminars to help their customers get the most out of their smartphones.

Sprint Nextel likes to be recognized as deploying the "first wireless 4G service from a national carrier in the United States." According to the company profile, "Newsweek ranked Sprint No. 3 in its 2011 Green Rankings, listing it as one of the nation's greenest companies" in the telecommunications industry.

So who is the best wireless company for you can be a tough choice? In addition to network quality, it's also about the cost of data plans and available devices, such as Android, iOS, Windows Phone and others. Then you have the survey results, honors, accolades and special characteristics that make them unique.

It's a lot to consider when choosing who gets your contract.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Microsoft goes square, bold colors with new logo design

Microsoft has ditched its wavy logo design for the square look. The new design incorporates four squares with different colors and ties in with Microsoft's new direction with Windows 8, their mobile initiatives and gaming devices.

According to a Microsoft top official, the new look "signals the heritage but also signal the future - a newness and freshness."

It took 25 years for Microsoft to make a drastic change in the logo design, but they have been slowly moving in a direction of simplicity with recent choices for typefaces, a clean uncluttered design and bold colors.

I first noticed the new approach in the appearance of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview operating system, where the Metro design influence was very noticeable. We're likely to see the full design initiative when the new Windows 8 OS is unveiled on Oct. 26.

Now that the new logo is in place, Microsoft is positioned to move forward with new products that'll have a fresh corporate identity, such as the upcoming Surface tablet.

It's simple. It's bold. It's colorful. I like it.

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 could earn respect among tablets

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1
I believe Samsung Electronics of America might have a winner with the new Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet, which was announced on Wednesday and available for purchase the next day. That's about the shortest roll out of a product that I've seen.

So let's get right to it. The iPad is standing ready to defend any challenger and the Galaxy Note 10.1 just might be a threat, or at least earn a lot more respect than some of the other challengers like the Galaxy Tabs, the Motorola Xoom, the G-Slate and several other contenders.

Just to refresh your memory, the first Galaxy Note that arrived on the scene around February with a 5.3-inch display, was more smartphone than tablet. The Galaxy Note 10.1 seems to be more tablet than smartphone.

The Android 3.2 operating system, or Honeycomb, on the previous Galaxy Note is now Android 4.0, or Ice Cream Sandwich, on the new Galaxy Note.

The old and new share still share the unique S Pen stylus, but it has been redesigned on the Galaxy Note 10.1 to be more of an angular shape that doesn't roll off a table. The S Pen on the old device had only 256 levels of sensitivity, while the Galaxy Note 10.1 has 1,024 levels.

The new stylus is smarter in that it activates a task bar when it is removed from a slot in Galaxy Note 10.1 for access to S Note, Adobe Photoshop Touch and Polaris Office.

Samsung has given customers a treat with Adobe Photoshop Touch, which normally sells for $9.99. It is preloaded on this device and optimized for the S Pen to allow more control of brush sizes and opacity. Just like the full version of Photoshop, the Touch version offers features like layers, selection tools, adjustments and filters.

The multitasking feature is another big improvement worth bragging about on the Galaxy Note 10.1, which allows two different applications to run side-by-side. You can choose from a lineup that includes S Note, the Internet browser, video player, email, gallery or Polaris Office.

You would think that would be enough new features for the Galaxy Note 10.1 to attract attention from tablet shoppers, but Samsung kept going by adding the Kno e-textbook platform and a free Nook reading app. Then they threw in a two-year subscription to Dropbox, with 50 gigabytes of storage space. According to Samsung, that's a $100 value.

Samsung also added a Smart Remote app from Peel, a company intent on changing the way we watch TV. Samsung's idea here is to use the device to control a home entertainment system.

The new Galaxy Note 10.1 has a faster 1.4 gigahertz quad-core processor, compared with a 1.5 GHz-dual core on the earlier device. A 16 and 32 gigabyte model is available, whereas the earlier model was limited to only 16 GB.

As for battery life, as the 7000 mAh battery in the Galaxy Note 10.1 left the previous Galaxy Note's 2500 mAh battery size in the dust. Apple does not list specs for the newest iPad battery size, other than it's rated at 42.5 watts and will give you 10 hours of Web surfing. But some reviews are saying the Galaxy Note 10.1 battery life seems shorter than the iPad.

The one surprise is that the rear camera megapixels on the Galaxy Note 10.1 decreased from 8 megapixels on the earlier Note to 5 MP on this device, which matches the iPad's camera. The two Note devices also share the same display resolution, which is 1280 x 800.

There was no wait for a week or preorders on the Galaxy Note 10.1 . So you can shop for the 16 GB model for around $500 or shell out around $550 for the 32 GB model. The iPad has an advantage in storage by having a 64 GB model.

I won't say the Galaxy Note 10.1 is going to outdo the iPad. But I will say that among all the Android tablets available, it's going to be one of the strongest contenders.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Starbucks chooses Square for mobile payment transactions

Sometime this fall, your favorite Starbucks will be accepting mobile payments using the popular Square system for customer transactions.

Square uses a free credit card reader for smartphones and allows anyone to accept credit cards anywhere using iPhone and Android apps.

The coffee shop powerhouse will use Square's "Pay with Square" app for transactions. Customers also will need to download and set up an account on their smartphone.

Starbucks hopes to give their customers a seamless payment experience at 7,000 stores in the U.S. Square is only available in the U.S. at this time, where "more than two million individual and businesses" use the service.

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Review: HTC One V from C Spire Wireless is one good bargain

I usually carry my regular smartphone in my right pocket and whatever phone I'm reviewing for this column in my left pocket. Then it's a matter of how often I reach in my left pocket for the review phone to read email, run an app, check social networks, surf the Web, take a photo or shoot video.

I've been carrying the HTC One V from C Spire Wireless for a couple of weeks and I've been reaching in my left pocket quite often. I like this phone for a lot of reasons.

The HTC One V is one of the latest Android devices running OS 4.0, also know as Ice Cream Sandwich, with the HTC Sense interface running in the background. This combination gives a smooth experience with easy to navigate features.

One of first things I think anyone would like about the One V is the Beats Audio feature that HTC has deployed in several of their smartphones after announcing a "strategic partnership" with Beats Electronics in August 2011. You might be familiar with Beats Audio from the Dr. Dre audio promotions.

But the relationship didn't last long, as it was reported in July by HTC's investment arm and several media organizations that Beats Electronics did a repurchase of 25% of the company back from HTC.

Despite the business concerns of the two companies, I couldn't wait to connect a pair of generic earbuds to the One V and the sound didn't disappoint me. It was pretty good, but probably would have been better with a set of Beats Audio earbuds, which are no longer included with HTC Beats Audio-branded phones. If you still want the Beats Audio experience, you can start shopping for your own beats-branded earbuds for around $150.

The FM Radio feature on the One V is really handy for outside activities while listening to your favorite stations, which can be preset for easy selection and includes the station ID. The Beats equalizer software seems to do its job, even with a pair or Sony headphones connected instead of the Beats Audio brand.

The other reason for a closer look at the One V are the images from the 5 megapixel rear camera. While the camera rating is low, compared with other recent smartphones that have 8 megapixel cameras, the One V can hold its own with vibrant colors, a continuous shooting mode and a unique ability to also shoot video while also taking still images.

I found my digital images from the One V to be of good quality, but I would have concerns if there are plans for any kind of print production, such as a newsletter or brochure. There appears to be no front-facing camera available on this device.

The battery life from the 1,500 mAh battery in the One V was decent for all my testing, but it is non-replaceable, just in case that arises. It has a respectable talk-time rating of 7 hours. After a period of extended use, you'll notice some heat on the backside, but not enough to worry about.

As with all the Android devices, setting up email was a breeze. The options include Microsoft Exchange Active Sync, Hotmail, which is now Outlook Mail, Yahoo! Mail and Gmail of course. There also are other POP3 and IMAP email options.

The 3.7-inch display on the One V seems small among all the four-inch and above displays now available. But it's still larger than the iPhone's 3.5 display, which also is rumored to be larger in the next version due out soon.

As for processing power, the One V's 1.5 gigahertz Qualcomm processor was adequate for my purposes, but keep in mind that dual-core is all the rage nowadays on smartphones.

I'm glad this device has a good predictive text feature, as the keypad is a little cramped and I found myself using the landscape mode for most typing chores.

Despite a few shortcomings, the One V is quite a bargain at around $50 with a two-year C Spire contract. You'll get the latest Android OS and the best of social networking, email, document handling and other Android features.

A unique design with the curved-chin fits comfortable in your hand and against your face while talking.

It's a comfortable Android smartphone at an affordable price.

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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Google Wallet moving to the cloud with new security features

I predict that very soon, we'll all be using our smartphones to pay for merchandise at various retailers. It'll become as common pulling out cash or a credit card.

The folks behind Google Wallet have been steadily marching toward this goal and recently released a "cloud-based version of the Google Wallet app" that'll have more support for credit and debit cards. The card vendors include MasterCard, Visa, Discover and American Express.

According to Google, this new version also includes includes a feature to remotely disable your mobile wallet app. This should help to ease some of the security concerns in the first version of Google Wallet.

To further address security concerns and streamline how banks implement the technology, Google has revamped how account data for credit cards is stored in the Google Wallet app. Instead of the storing the data on your phone, Google now uses their secure servers, which also allows banks to add their cards in a few weeks.

Google says on their blog that their virtual Wallet is now available on six smartphones with Near Field Communication capability, or NFC, from Sprint and Virgin Mobile, as well as on the new Nexus 7 tablet. Their partners include 25 national retailers that can accept mobile payments by simple tapping your phone.

Google is also using the MasterCard PayPass system to incorporate more than 200,000 retail locations in the United States.

If you have a compatible phone, you can find the latest version of Google Wallet in the Google Play store.

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