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Author Archive for Ken Schoenberg

Chuggington Die-Cast 10-in-1 Layout Track Pack review

Koko and Dunbar not included.

When I was offered the opportunity to review a toy train set, I thought it would be interesting to try it in conjunction with my expert team of train set testers – my sons, Franklyn (7) and Matthew (4). They willingly agreed to work with me on the project and share their feelings. In the past, they have played with wooden Thomas sets as well as electric train sets.  Trains are in their blood, as their grandfather has been a model railroader for decades and has constructed railroad layouts that have been featured in magazines and videos. When it comes to trains, there’s no judge in the land that wouldn’t qualify my sons as experts. They are also quite knowledgeable in stress and durability testing of toys.

With my testing team in place, we opened the Chuggington Die-Cast 10-in-1 Layout Track Pack made by Tomy. This is a large track set, not a complete train set, as it does not include any engines or cars. Fortunately, the people at Tomy were kind enough to send a couple of their engines along for my test engineers to utilize. My team found the engines (“Dunbar” and “Koko”) to be well-suited for testing and began ripping…err carefully inspecting the contents and preparing to create their first layout. Read More →

It’s About Time! DoJ Sues Over E-book Price Fixing

On Wednesday the U.S. Department of Justice filed an anti-trust lawsuit against Apple, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Group USA and Simon & Schuster.  (Note: Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster have tentatively agreed to a settlement and, if approved, should be removed from the list of defendants.)

In the past couple years our favorite gadget news sites have sometimes resembled legal reporter sites because of all the inter-company lawsuits, but this lawsuit is significantly different than those lawsuits. It also gives us a view of the effects of digital technology in the book industry, while shedding some light on Apple’s mindset when it comes to competition. Read More →

Amazon Kindle Touch Review

An e-reader should be pretty simple to review, one like the Kindle Touch that has only two buttons even more so. Amazon‘s ebook reader has one primary task: displaying the pages of the reader’s books.  Sure, there are other features of importance like availability of content, size and weight, and overall usability issues. But in a world where we expect our mobile phones to do everything from telling us where we are and how to get where we want to go, to capturing high-definition video, playing 3D games, maintaining contact with multiple remote servers, and even making the occasional phone call, an e-reader is downright simplistic. Read More →

iRepel Home Chef Gear Apron Review

When the opportunity to review the high-tech Home Chef Apron by iRepel came around, I volunteered immediately. Before I was foolish enough to go to law school and join the computer/online industry, I worked as a chef for a few restaurants. This meant I spent a great deal of time turning kitchen whites and my clothes underneath into greasy, stained rags. I was all ready to put my superior skills as a kitchen slob to work and show the folks at iRepel it was time to head back to the drawing board. Read More →

Sony Drops Price on PRS-T1 Reader to $129 – Offers $50 Trade-In for Old E-Readers,

Photo by Janet Cloninger

Those of you considering upgrading their E-Readers (or those that bought new and have relegated your old E-Reader to the closet) may want to check out Sony’s highly-regarded PRS-T1 “Reader WiFi”. Sony just reduced the price to $129 (from $149) and is also running a trade-in program that could get you a $50 Sony Gift Card. My Amazon Kindle 2 qualified for the trade-in even without including the charger which I kept for use with my new Kindle Touch.

While the Sony won’t display Amazon’s proprietary E-Books they have their own book store and it appears that an Open Source package called Calibre will allow many other formats to be imported (I read conflicting reports of success/failure converting Barnes & Noble’s to the Sony device). Of course, with Sony’s own bookstore holding over two-million books that might not be necessary. The Sony Reader is also compatible with most major library lending services.

At $79 ($129 – $50) the Sony Reader PRS-T1 appears to be an excellent value.

Silverlit’s 3D Twister 2.4 GHz RC Racer Review

Sivlerlit did well when they named this toy the 3D Twister because my play (err…I mean precise testing methodology) mostly involved watching the car skitter around our home and later our concrete driveway literally flipping, spinning, hopping and jumping around. At full throttle the car looks more like a frenetic animal than a toy car, so much so that a squirrel actually charged it a couple of times while we were playing (err testing). Read More →

Kensington AbsolutePower Laptop, Phone, Tablet Charger Review

Kensington Computer Products Group is one of the old-timers in the computerperipheral business having launched their first product (Apple II System Saver) back in 1981. Kensington’s most ubiquitous product is the K-Lock security slot that is found on many laptops. As Kensington is an established company with a history of quality products I felt relatively safe in trusting my high-priced electronics to the AbsolutePower Charger. A bad/incorrect charger can ruin a battery or worse very quickly so it’s always a good idea to double check the power supply you’re going to use before plugging in your expensive gadgets. Read More →

Logitech Wireless Headset for iPad Review

Logitech is one of the premier manufacturers of technology peripheral devices. They make some of the bestkeyboards, mice and their Harmony line of remote controls is fantastic. One of their newest products is the Logitech Wireless Headset. I’ve spent the last few days using the headset with a variety of devices and it has performed quite well.

While the headset was formally introduced as the “Logitech Wireless Headset for iPad” it works as audio headphones with every Bluetooth-enabled device I’ve tried. I actually found it a better PC/Mac peripheral than I did with mobile devices. I may not have been the only one to discover that as it appears that the Logitech marketing people have dropped the “for iPad” from the official name.

Read More →

Love Kept Them Together – Netflix Won’t Split

 Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings announced that the plans to split their DVD distribution business into a separate company (Qwikster) has been cancelled because of customer feedback. While I’d love to believe that the many emails and articles like this one were the reason for the reconciliation I believe it may also have involved Amazon’s recent activities.

Perhaps, someone at Netflix asked that all important question, “Why are we going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, de-value our brand and disrupt a successful operation?”

There was no logical answer and Mr. Hastings has elected to change his mind. I guess that’s just a CEO’s prerogative.

Whatever the reason…one website, one search, and a lot more than one happy customer!

Teaching a New Dog Old Tricks – Graffiti for Android

The other day I was perusing the Amazon App Store and noticed that Graffiti Pro for Android was available. I immediately downloaded (it’s free) and installed it on three Android devices. I’ve been mostly pleased with the results.

To those of you that are not familiar with Graffiti, it’s a character recognition system that utilizes a “uni-stroke” form of handwriting. Basically, you use a stylus or your finger to write characters in a box at the bottom of the screen. The characters are very close to just printing upper case letters. Graffiti has been used in a number of devices, but was made popular by Palm’s devices and phones. Read More →

Lenovo Enhanced Multimedia Remote Review

About three years ago I started moving our family towards a cable/satellite free lifestyle. One of my first projects was building a Home Theater Computer. AMD had recently introduced the 780g chipset that would allow me to build an inexpensive, quiet machine that would handle streaming HD video without the need for an internal video card. The build went well and I settled onto my sofa to enjoy a little Netflix. I then realized that holding a full-sized wireless keyboard wasn’t going to work. So, it was off to the internet in search of the perfect HTPC keyboard.

Much to the delight of several web retailers I have now purchased close to a dozen different solutions. Everything from a decent Adesso Wireless keyboard to some no-name eBay “finds”. None of them really fit the “sofa experience” though…so my search continued. Eventually, I came upon an ad for Lenovo’s Multimedia Remote, a fan-shaped mini keyboard with a trackball and some dedicated keys. I broke out the credit card and a few days later I was pretty happy with the purchase and only had a couple of complaints. Read More →

Kindle Fire – A Tablet for the Masses?

So, the Amazon “Kindle Fire” tablet is now reality and I believe it will be a big seller. At $199 it is within shouting distance of that “no brainer” gadget purchase price. Best of all, for us consumers, Amazon is forcing the rest of the tablet market to prove their value and “reason for being”.

That doesn’t mean that Motorola, Asus, Acer, Toshiba, Vizio, Samsung and whoever else is making an Android tablet this week is going to be out of business. Oh, and unless Apple hires Leo Apotheker (former CEO of Hewlett-Packard), I very much doubt the iPad is going to be killed off anytime soon. Read More →

Amazon Announces the $199 Kindle Fire Tablet and Three Kindle E-Readers

As expected, Inc.’s CEO Jeff Bezos announced the Amazon Kindle Fire tablet and a trio of new Kindle e-readers two carrying the name and capability, “Touch”. The Fire will have a 7-inch screen and run on a heavily modified version of Google, Inc.’s Android operating system. Included with the Fire will be a one-month trial to Amazon’s “Prime” service that includes no-additional charge streaming videos and two-day shipping on many of the products sold by the world’s largest online retailer.

First shown were the new Kindle e-readers two of which will utilize an improved e-ink screen with touch capabilities, allowing the company to remove the keyboard and other function buttons.  Page-turning will be accomplished by touching various segments of the screen and be easily done with one-hand. Read More →

The New iPhone is Coming; the New iPhone is Coming…Who Cares?

After months of rumors, blurry pictures of prototype cases (or someone’s old loafer) it appears that Apple is going to introduce a new iPhone model and I see little reason for all this excitement.

Okay, give me a few minutes before you grab your torches and pitchforks. The iPhone is a fine smartphone. It has a nice web browser, allows you to play Angry Birds and even allows you to download a slew of apps that let you pretend it’s used for serious work. I even heard that some Verizon customers actually use it successfully for phone calls.

This year’s model will probably be lighter, thinner, have a bigger screen, run a little faster and maybe even have a better camera. Nice features, but hardly a reason to camp out at your local mall. What makes an iPhone special is the operating system (iOS). Apple is set to release the latest iteration of iOS sometime in mid-October. Because of the developer beta releases we all know most of the new features. That operating system will run on an iPhone 4 and even the two-year-old iPhone 3GS. Read More →

Streaming Wars: Netflix Grabs DreamWorks, Amazon Signs Fox

With Amazon set to announce its new tablet that reportedly will include a subscription to the company’s streaming video service, “Prime”, CEO Jeff Bezos announced that 20th Century Fox had agreed to license much of its TV shows and movies library for streaming.  The library will include approximately 2,000 titles including a slew of movies like Mrs. Doubtfire, Speed, Office Space, All About Eve and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), and TV shows including 24, Arrested Development, The X-Files, Ally McBeal, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Wonder Years. Read More →

Dear Netflix – Think of the Children!

Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, sent me an email apologizing for the way Netflix communicated their most recent price increase. Some of you (okay maybe 20 million of you) also received a similar message. Mr. Hastings opened up and told us about his deepest fears and then he broke the bad news…it would be better for all concerned if the happy family of DVD and streaming content split up.

We’ll see the re-named, “Qwikster” every few days when we receive our beloved red envelopes and now they’ll even include video games. We’ll stay with Netflix and its streaming movies and TV shows. Mr. Hastings told us that this divorce was necessary so that both companies could provide us with better service. Read More →

Technology Ecosystems – Good for Profits, Bad for Consumers

In 1992 Nintendo won a lawsuit against Atari and was able to lock-out third-party software vendors from providing games for its gaming systems unless they purchased a key (license). Since then the Holy Grail of gaming, smartphone and now computer system companies was to bring to market systems where they had control of every third-party device and program for that systems. By control, I mean, they get paid an upfront licensing fee, a per-unit sold payment or both.

The market has shifted to the point where all of the available gaming consoles operate that way. Today, if you buy an Xbox 360, Sony PS3, Sony PSP, Nintendo Wii, etc. you’re only going to be able to purchase software and hardware from licensed developers. Read More →

Post PC? It Looks More Like the Post TV Era

About a year and a half ago Steve Jobs introduced the iPad and declared that we were now in the “Post PC Era”. I purchased an iPad, then I bought an Asus eee Transformer (with dock) and finally bought an HP TouchPad. They all do about the same things with various strengths and weaknesses; overall all of the tablets are pretty much the same when compared to the functionality of a PC. (For the sake of this article a PC is a desktop or notebook running Windows or Mac OSX.)

Tablets have allowed me to move easily away from my desk to read email, read some websites, check Twitter, Facebook, watch some videos, use apps and, of course, play games. This increased mobility is great and this has provided both entertainment value and, in some cases, productivity gains over a PC. Tablets can be a useful tool.

Now, if that’s all you need from a PC then Mr. Jobs is correct and for those people it is the “Post PC” era. But I believe a great many of us do quite a bit more and would suffer major productivity losses if we found ourselves without PCs. Read More →

Magic-Pro ProMini BT-Joy Bluetooth Keyboard Review

I like keyboards; I like big, full-sized keyboards like my Logitech G15 on down to my one-handed Lenovo N5902 Multimedia Remote. I could barely play “Chopsticks” on the piano and when it comes to 0n-screen keyboards. I’m all thumbs…in the wrong way. We have three tablets in our home (Apple iPad, Asus Transformer and HP TouchPad), all of them are paired with keyboards that make typing anything over a few words much more pleasant. Read More →

Jawbone to Give Jambox Back Its Big Sound

Recently I updated the firmware of my Jawbone Jambox speaker to take advantage of a new feature called Live Audio. While I didn’t notice it sounding all that much better the volume output was significantly lower. Turning the new feature off didn’t correct the deficiency and what was once a booming little speaker had been converted into the “whisper woofer” even when set to full volume. I was able to temporarily solve the problem by purchasing an Android app that boosted the volume on my smartphone, but that had sound quality trade-offs. The Jambox had gone from great gadget to shelf ballast in short order. Read More →

Fusion Garage Drops Price of Grid10 by $200

Well, it appears that someone in the tablet industry watched what happened last month with the HP TouchPad and may have taken notes. Engadget is reporting, and Fusion Garage has confirmed, that the Grid10’s previously announced prices of $499 for their 16-gigabyte WiFi model, and $599 for the 16-gigabyte 3G/WiFi models were reduced to $299 and $399 respectively. Reportedly, pre-orders placed before the price decrease have been adjusted accordingly. On the bad news side the shipping date was pushed back to October 1 from September 15.

Some of you will remember the unique ad campaign that Fusion Garage ran prior to their product announcement on August 16.

I’m hoping this is a sign that some of these tablet manufacturers are beginning to understand the current tablet marketplace. Apple has the brand, marketing and reputations for quality to allow it to charge top-tier pricing for devices like its iPad. Newcomers to the market need to either launch with a product that is demonstratively superior to the iPad or at a significant discount. I believe the TouchPad would have sold considerably better if HP had priced it at $299 and would be on its way to building a user base and developer interest in webOS.

All that being said, a spokesperson for Fusion Garage told Engadget that they had intended to launch at the reduced price all along and had announced the higher pricing because of business negotiations. Let’s hope they’re better at building a tablet than they are at spinning a news story.

Amazon’s New Kindle Tablet – An iPad for the Rest of Us?

The forthcoming Amazon tablet is now officially leaked thanks to MG Siegler’s (TechCrunch) hand’s-on look at the device. It’s going to be a 7-inch color touch-screen with no physical buttons running Android…well, sort of. Amazon has elected to use a version of Android prior to 2.2 (Most new Android-based tablets are running 3.2 or the soon to be release 4.x) as the base and then created an entirely new interface completely integrated with Amazon’s own apps like Kindle Reader, MP3 Cloud Player, Amazon Instant Videos, Amazon’s Store, Amazon Appstore, etc.  From what I’ve read none of the Google-supplied Apps will be on the device. Whether the browser supplied on the device will run Adobe’s Flash content remains to be seen. If you want more technical details take a hop over to Mr. Siegler’s article. Read More →

Samsung Galaxy Note – Boldly Going Where Tablets Were Meant To Go

Lately, most of the tablet talk has centered on HP and the TouchPad/webOS soap opera. The drama continued today when various tech news outlets reported that HP may be making as many as 1,000,000 more TouchPads to fulfill commitments with their supply-side vendors. At an estimated loss of almost $200 per unit I’ve got to believe that those vendor contracts must have had some significant penalty clauses. In any event, in just a few weeks everyone’s $99 TouchPad dreams may be answered and the eBay scalpers may be facing a bit of a nightmare. Read More →

Lenovo Multimedia Remote Upgraded

The new Lenovo Multimedia Remote Keyboard (N5902)

Over a year ago we cut the cable/dish around here and began using Home Theater PCs, and various extenders and it has worked out much better than I had hoped. My wife and two sons have been delighted with the selection of content available and we’re saving almost $125/month by not having DirecTV.

All went smoothly in the transition, building the HTPCs was easy, putting the Rokus, Popcorn Hour , Microsoft XBox360 and Thecus NAS on the network wasn’t a problem either. The only real issue we had was finding the right remote keyboard. I tried a slew of them and could never find one that was easy to use, small enough to fit in one hand and accomplished all the functions necessary to fully utilize the Windows 7 based PCs that were acting as the heart of our system. Read More →

As the TouchPad Turns…

I’m not sure why I’m writing so much about the HP TouchPad lately. I like the device and I like webOS, but the tablet is really my wife’s. I’m kind of stuck on my Android-powered, Asus Transformer. Nevertheless, the story of the HP TouchPad seems to be continuing with more twists, turns and odd occurrences than a season of “Fringe”. Here’s a recap.

A few years back Palm, Inc. started working on a new operating system to replace their aging PalmOS to better compete with the then new kid on the block, the Apple iPhone. They created webOS and launched it on a couple of smartphones (Palm Pre and Palm Pixi). Unfortunately, for the company it was too little, too late and their investors sold them off to Hewlett-Packard in mid-2010. Read More →