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Macworld 2008 Wrap-up: Beyond the Keynote

Axiotronmodbook_2Some of the best devices at MacWorld aren’t from Apple

When it comes to gadgets with massive sex appeal, Apple knows how to get our motors running. The new MacBook Air, is certainly high in style and by far the skinniest laptop I've seen. But like other ultraportable notebooks, it compromises some features for svelte design.

A few Macworld attendees I talked to said the Air simply won't replace their desktop computer. "The Air would be useful for people whose primary needs involve word processing and Web browsing," said Nick P., a composer and audio professional who's been attending Macworld for the past 20 years. (He asked us not to reveal his last name.)  he added. "Or it's a pricey toy for rich nerds," he added.

While Apple's latest offerings—also including Time Capsule, iTunes Movie Rentals and software updates to the iPhone, iPod Touch and Apple TV—attracted hordes of Mac loyalists, other vendors unleashed their own hot products.

See the entire list after the jump.—Grace Aquino

Continue reading "Macworld 2008 Wrap-up: Beyond the Keynote" »

Lots in the Air at MacWorld

Ultrathin Laptop, New Updates for iPhone, Apple TV

Macbookair_open

Macworld Conference and Expo officially kicked off today as Apple CEO Steve Jobs took center stage and unveiled two new products, including an ultrathin laptop called the MacBook Air, and a few software updates to its existing products, including the iPhone.

Holding a manila envelope, Jobs pulled out a slick, wafer-thin MacBook Air. This is "the world's thinnest notebook," he boasted. It measures a mere 0.16 to 0.76 inches thick and weighs only 3 pounds. Even at the laptop's thickest area of 0.76 inches, the MacBook Air is thinner than today's slimmest laptops such as Sony's TZ series, which measure 0.8 to 1.2 inches thick, according to Jobs.

Part of what makes the MacBook Air so thin, Jobs explained, is that the components used inside are smaller than those in other notebooks. The Intel Core Duo processor, for example, is 60 percent smaller than Intel's current Core Duo chips. The MacBook Air's CPU sports the width of a dime and it's as thick as a nickel, said Intel CEO Paul Otellini.

Another reason the MacBook Air maintains its svelte figure is the lack of an optical disc drive. However, users will be able to buy an optional USB-connectable SuperDrive (CD- and DVD-burner) for $99 extra.

The MacBook Air has an estimated battery life of 5 hours, Jobs said. The notebook will be available at the end of January for $1,799 for the base model. The price for the 1.8-GHz or the 64-gigabyte solid state drive (in place of an 80-GB hard drive) versions have not been announced. (See the Air’s nitty-gritty specs at the end.)

After the jump, more Apple unveilings.

Continue reading "Lots in the Air at MacWorld" »

Apple Wins the Blu-Ray Vs. HD-DVD War?

Why wait to buy when you can download now?Upgrade_glow20080115
While the MacBook Air was certainly the sex symbol of Steve Jobs’s MacWorld keynote today, the product with the biggest impact may be the new Apple TV.

One of the big news items at last Week’s CES was that Blu-ray appeared to have finally won the high-definition disc war. Well, it may have been a brief victory.

BD players are still pricey items, while Apple TV starts at just $229. And Blu-ray still lacks support from two major studios. Apple TV is starting small—with about 1000 films at its launch at the end of February. But all the major studios—Fox, Warner, Disney, Paramount, Universal and Sony (plus several minors)—have already signed on (ironic, since Sony Pictures’ parent company created the Blu-ray format). If it catches on, it could grow very fast. Remember, Apple transformed the digital music download business and could very well do the same for movies.

Critics might point out Apple’s so-so record selling TV content—especially with NBC pulling its content from the site. (Good thing I downloaded all those Battlestar Galactica episodes before that happened.) But TV is different from movies. The networks are in the business of broadcasting, whether it’s over an antenna, cable, satellite or now the Web. It wasn’t hard to predict that they would eventually want to take Internet broadcasting in-house. Movie houses, on the other hand, have always relied on other players for distribution—whether it's theaters that show first runs, stores that sell or rent DVDs or cable TV companies that broadcast or sell films on-demand. Apple is just another one of these players. If working with Apple makes them money, why wouldn’t the studios partner with Apple?

Jobskeynotemovierentals

Grace Aqunio

Sure, there are other movie download services—like CinemaNow, or Vudu. But Apple TV offers more. Unlike CinemaNow, it doesn’t require a computer—which few want in the livng room, no matter how well companies build Media Center PCs. And unlike Vudu, it also works with PCs for streaming music from the killer PC application, iTunes. Apple TV also lets you transfer rented movies to other devices. It doesn’t lock them inside the box as Vudu does. And Apple TV provides access to other online content like YouTube and Flickr photos.

And all of these features are way better than what you get with a Blu-ray player, which is just a one-trick disc-playing box. The appeal of Apple TV goes beyond just watching movies and plants another flag in the soil of the connected living room that electronics companies have been trying to conquer for years.

I predict that Apple will win this war, too.—Sean Captain

Razing Razrs

7382_motimage What's the crummiest phone out there? Probably an issue of personal preference, unless you're basing it on which breaks most easily. In that case, it's the Razr V3. SquareTrade, an independent warranty company, just released data on phone reliability based on its records. Motorola's Razr had an 18 percent failure rate across a two-year, normal-use time period. Even worse, in nearly 60 percent of those cases the phones became completely and inexplicably bricked. Of course, there might be more to phones than function; this data comes on the heels of CES, where Motorola phones garnered more nods than any others. Lets just hope the ROKR and T815 can do one better than their predecessor.—Abby Seiff

First Suite of Google Android Applications

Androidsdk_2 USA Today is reporting that A La Mobile, a small software developer, plans to announce today a host of new applications designed to run on the Google-backed operating system, Android. For now the applications are installed in an HTC smartphone, and include a browser, camera, games, contacts manager, audio player and more. HTC is just one of 34 companies in Google's Open Handset Alliance, so this is really just the start. Google says to expect an Android-based phone later this year.

Top Electric Bikes

Ezeetorq

Green tech guide MetaEfficient has two guides to new electric bikes—one that reviews Schwinn's latest offerings, and another that pushes a collection of European-made bikes. The eZee electric bike, made in South Africa but available here, can help riders with hills, cruise for miles on a single charge or even race faster, depending on the model. They range in price from $1,150 to $2,200. The bikes are ideal for short-range city commuters, but at that price, you'd probably want to wheel them inside, and clear some extra space in your cube, lest some green-minded thief ride off with it.—Gregory Mone

The CES Goods

CES is chock-a-block with previews, but here's a few that have already caught our fancy. Check out this sneak peak of some Goods items, straight from the pages of our upcoming February and March issues. 

Goods_lcdsurgePower Is Knowledge
Keep tabs on your energy use with an LCD-equipped surge protector. It displays real-time info on power draw, as measured by a current transformer.
Acoustic Research LCD Surge Protector $85; araccessories.com—Lauren Aaronson




Goods_universalkeys Universal Keys
Designed to work as a remote control for a living-room Media Center PC, this pocket-sized Bluetooth keyboard can also pair with a cellphone for typing text messages and
e-mails.
Logitech diNovo Mini $150; logitech.com—L.A.



Continue reading "The CES Goods" »

Podcasts Sans PC

Ibizamp3player_2 Why it’s taken so long to get MP3 players with wireless capabilities, I’ll never understand, but I’m glad to see the trend finally emerging with this year's CES announcements. While Slacker’s player delivers custom radio stations, Haier is going after the podcast crowd (is there still a podcast crowd?). The ibiza Rhapsody player starts at $200 and automatically updates your podcast subscriptions anytime you’re near a Wi-Fi hotspot. A small thing, maybe, but at least it's another weapon in the battle against cable clutter.—Mike Haney

Slacker Finally Stops Slacking

Slacker_portable When Slacker first started talking about a wireless MP3 player that would learn your preferences in music and build you custom radio stations, the idea was awesome. Then more than a year passed and still no player. Meanwhile, services like Pandora and Last.fm built huge fan bases offering similar services. Now the player is finally here, debuting at CES, and the idea is no less awesome. The device will come in three capacities: a $200 2-gigabyte model that will hold 15 stations; a $250, 25-station 4-gigabyte; and a $300 40-station 8-gigabyte. You can set up your stations from any browser—so the device isn’t locked to one computer—then anytime you’re near a Wi-Fi connection it will automatically load enough songs (with cover art) to keep your stations going for several hours. You can also load your own music files on it, although that will take space from the stations. And because the music isn’t streaming, quality shouldn’t be a issue. We’ll be taking the device for a test drive at the show and let you know if the reality is as great as the promise. Whether Slacker succeeds or not, I’ll be shocked if Apple doesn’t incorporate something like this into the next generation of iPhones and iPods.—Mike Haney

Secret Sounds

Ls10066_2 The Consumer Electronics Show doesn't start till next week, but there's already some cool releases starting to roll out. We're especially looking forward to Olympus's LS-10; one of the only digital audio recorders that works with a wireless remote. Place the recorder on a speaker’s podium, for instance, and the infrared remote starts it from across the room.—Lauren Aaronson

Olympus LS-10 $400; olympusamerica.com

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