Yes, this is a post that isn't about smartphones. You're not hallucinating. Well, not directly about smartphones anyway...
It's been coming for a long time. As profit margins on the budget end of digital cameras got slimmer and slimmer, and as cameras in phones got better and better, it became only a matter of time. The industry as a whole is shifting in this direction now. Point & Shoot digital cameras are on the endangered species list.
Yes, there is still the one glaring feature that most phone cameras don't have: an optical zoom. It doesn't seem to matter that much, though. The big names in digital imaging are paying less attention to their budget lines and focusing more on one thing that's much harder for phone cameras to best: big sensors.
A poster child for this shift in strategy would certainly be Sony's new RX1. It's a digital camera with a full-frame sensor (the same size as a 35mm film frame) and a permanently attached 35mm f/2 lens. It's the first of its kind to my knowledge. At the $2800 asking price, it's also going to be for a very small niche.
In more reasonable territory, there's been a spate of new digital cameras rocking 1" sensors. These are a bit smaller than your typical APS-C or 4/3 sized sensors, but also quite a bit larger than your typical P&S sensor. Nikon's compact 1-series cameras use this format, as does Canon's new EOS-M. These are both interchangeable lens systems, though. Sony's RX100 is taking more direct aim at the P&S crowd, and at its $650 MSRP, it's very much in the range of most consumers.
Fast optics are also the order of the day, and another area that camera phones have a hard time competing in. Sony's above mentioned RX100 opens up to f/1.8 at the wide end, as does Olympus' XZ-1. Fujifilm's X10 starts at f/2 (and its troubled launch issues seem to have been resolved now). Granted, the latter two have smaller sensors, but those fast optics allow for lower ISOs in more situations which negates some of the issues of smaller sensors.
On top of all of this, many DSLRs and 4/3s cameras from the past few years can be found refurbished for prices at or below what these current high-end fixed lens cameras sell for, and they're still very good cameras. The size argument is starting to disappear as well. Many of these larger sensor cameras are easily pocketable, and even some of the smaller 4/3s cameras with pancake lenses will fit in a pocket.
I don't give the dedicated P&S market long. I very much think that within the next couple of years, finding them on the shelves of your local Best Buy or Wal-Mart will be very difficult.
There's been a recurring theme in the tech industry as of late. That theme goes something like "everyone's loosing their damn minds!" The sheer absurdities coming from the tech industry are mind-boggling.
I'll start with Apple, since they're such an easy target. I was hoping that in a post Steve Jobs climate that there might be room for independent thought again inside their headquarters. The opposite seems to be happening; at least inside their legal department. Some say it's desperation because nobody at Apple knows how to innovate without Jobs telling them how. Whatever the story may be, it seems that Apple thinks that suing everything in site is the only way they're going to stay in the game.
The latest insult to fly from Apple's legal team is against Kodak. This just baffles me. Kodak made digital cameras and printers. The first is an area that Apple has never been in, and the second Apple abandoned more than a decade ago. Maybe they're thinking about getting into both areas, but when was the last time a Kodak camera or printer was serious competition to anyone? Not really since the instant camera days, which is why they went bankrupt. Apple typically goes after companies that are serious competition and are doing as well or better than them in the same field. There's no way they can justify going after Kodak, even with the usual corporate doublespeak they use for their lawsuits.
Apple's actions as of late smack of a desperate company that can't keep pace with a rapidly moving industry. It's completely insane, because other companies will retaliate, and only the lawyers will win. The consumers lose no matter what, because of the amount of money having to be redirected from product development into the legal department.
One of Apple's ongoing targets has been Samsung, and I can't say they don't deserve it sometimes. This is a company notorious in their South Korean homeland for corruption scandals. This is also a company that follows the mantra "iterate, don't update."
Samsung recently released the Galaxy Tab 2. It's a 7", dual core tablet running Ice Cream Sandwich. Here's the thing... they just released the Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus back in November. And you guessed it... it's a 7", dual core tablet running Honeycomb.
What. The. Hell.
The hardware is virtually identical. One of the headline features of the Galaxy Tab 2 is an "upgraded Android market." Really Samsung? That's reaching pretty hard. I almost feel some pity for the shill that had to get up there and do the corporate dance pretending this thing was new. Wouldn't it have been cheaper to just offer a software update for the tablet you released not even four months ago?
I know those suits with Apple can't be cheap, but when you're making moves like this I think that maybe you and Apple are made for each other. Like Selma and Louise; partners in crime driving off a cliff together. We can just hope that you two don't take the whole industry with you.
It's been a while since I had a good rant like this, but the growing insanity of an industry trying to sue itself out of existence is just getting to be too much. Make good products that people want to buy. Offer choice, then provide support and updates. It's really not that hard, and people will want to buy your products if you can do those simple things. Competition is a good thing. It keeps everyone on their toes and keeps innovation moving forward.
Nintendo painted a pretty bleak picture with their most recent financial statement. They went from projecting profits back in July, to projecting a sizable loss just a couple days ago. That on top of the sizable loss they actually had over the past year. It's really something, because this would be the first full year of losses for Nintendo in a good 30 years. It might come as a shock to some executives at Nintendo, but to a lot of us gamers, it's not in the least bit surprising.
Today's console market is a very different animal than the one Nintendo helped catalyze back in the late 80's and early 90's. Nintendo has failed to recognize these changes time and time again. The "ooh! shiny!" factor doesn't make for repeat business anymore. I don't buy a console and then wait for the games to come. That worked back when Nintendo was the only serious contender in the business, but they're far from alone today. Today I own a 360 not because the hardware is amazing (quite the opposite, if I'm honest, RROD anyone?), but that's because most of the new and exciting games are on the 360. I also own a PS3 because there are a few good exclusives to be had. The ability to play blu-ray discs is nice too.
I got the itch. The last core upgrade to my gaming PC was done back in 2007. I had some money to spare in my budget (I do have one of those, contrary to popular opinion), so I decided to update my CPU, motherboard, and RAM. There was no need to upgrade my video card since I got the HD 6950 shortly after the release of The Witcher 2 (the review of which can be found on this site). I'm quite happy with my choice of hardware, though there were some surprises I could have avoided had I done some more research. I usually pride myself on how much research I do before purchasing something, so I'm somewhat ashamed to admit I made a couple of minor mistakes on this build.
Before I get to that, though, let me tell you about the hardware. I chose an AMD Phenom II X6 1075T hex core as my CPU. No black edition, as I wouldn't be overclocking. For the motherboard I picked out a Gigabyte GA-990XA-UD3. The RAM is a 4GB dual channel set of Corsair's XMS3 1600 MHz DDR3. I went with AMD's six core CPU because I wanted something more than dual cores. Inte's quad core i5's were all over the price of AMD's six core 1075T. Why settle for four cores when I can have six and for less money? The motherboard I picked more or less because it's a regular ATX size, as is the case it's living in. I've have good experiences with Gigabyte and I liked the array of ports the 990XA offered. Again, no overclocking planned, so the 990FX would have been a waste of money. As far as the RAM goes... what can I say? It's RAM, it's 1600 MHz and it's DDR3. I've used Corsair in all of my recent builds and never had an issue.
On to the mistakes. The first one I noticed was the RAM. I noticed that it was only operating at 1333 MHz in the BIOS. I attempted manually setting the clock speed and it failed. Off to Google I went. Turns out the 1075T's internal memory controller only supports memory clocks up to 1333 MHz. Oh well. My mistake for not doing enough research. It wasn't that much more expensive, so no great loss. The memory seems to be running just fine underclocked.
My second mistake became apparent when I ran World of Warcraft for the first time. I had installed the CPU with the stock cooler. It worked well enough. It even managed reasonable temperatures. It was just loud as hell. So I found a CPU cooler at BestBuy and started doing some research on it. It turns out the thing is a re-branded Cooler Master (which is probably made by a Chinese OEM and not Cooler Master). It has a good majority of positive reviews and is relatively inexpensive, so I made the drive down the road to get it. I have to say, I'm quite impressed. Overall temperatures are not only lower, it's also significantly quieter. I know... bigger fan, more metal to dissipate heat, no duh right? I've never had the best luck with BestBuy, and I wasn't expecting much at $30 considering BestBuy's typical markups. I'm not ashamed to admit the Rocketfish cooler exceeds my expectations.
So my RAM is underclocked, and my CPU is on it's second cooler in 24 hours. I'd call that not too shabby for a major upgrade. It didn't go quite as smooth as my Core 2 Duo update in 2007, but I'm happy with it. Lessons learned: do more research and never ever put a stock cooler on a 125 watt CPU intended to be used for gaming.
Today I lay to rest one of the great computing legends, the OmniKey keyboard. In a time when computer hardware was made to last and most
software had to be written by hand, a $150 keyboard didn't seem that crazy. Though many never had the opportunity to enjoy the tactile feel of your mechanical switches and nigh unbreakable construction, those of us that did will miss you forever. Rest in peace.
I know what you're thinking. Northgate died as a corporate entity back in the 90's, right? You would be correct. Northgate was a fairly unremarkable computer company with one remarkable product: the OmniKey. Thankfully when the company went bankrupt, an equally unremarkable technology consulting firm picked up the OmniKey design and carried on manufacturing it. A complete tragedy was averted, as Northgate's singular significant contribution to computing carried on under the Avant name.
Creative Vision Technologies was that company. They simplified the OmniKey's myriad versions down to two: the Avant Prime and Avant Stellar. The former sold for $150 and the later for $190. The Prime used a standard 101 key layout with the function keys on the top, while the Stellar added an additional set of function keys on the left while still retaining the top function keys. Both were fully programmable and every key could be remapped or have a macro assigned to it.
Sadly, CVT was absorbed by yet another tech consulting firm this March, with nary a mention of what would happen to their wonderful keyboards. I can only speculate, but given that their keyboards had fallen out of stock over the months proceeding their acquisition, it's safe to assume that they will no longer be made. This time, it appears, the venerable old OmniKey design is well and truly dead.
My old OmniKey 102 (pictured above) was manufactured in 1991. It's older than a number of the college students that I deal with during the week. I've abused it mercilessly for a good chunk of its 20 years. Despite that, it still works. Sure, it needs at least one adapter (sometimes two) to run on anything these days, but it works.
I bought an Avant Stellar a couple years back to give the OmniKey some company. It's pretty much identical with the addition of the double set of function keys. The macro functions were quite useful when I played World of Warcraft, and the heavy-duty construction serves pretty much any game I play quite well. It will most likely still be serving me well in another 20 years.
Thus ends the reign of the king of keyboards; the almighty OmniKey and its modern clone, the Avant Prime/Stellar. A few can still be found floating around ebay, but that number is likely to dwindle. Fortunately, there are many alternatives for sale these days if you still have the desire to experience the joy of mechanical typing. Overclock.net has quite an extensive guide posted here.
Oh yes... this article was typed up entirely on my Avant Stellar.
PC video cards are an odd thing these days. The console explosion with the current generation of hardware has generally stagnated the hardware requirements for PC games. I've been using a Radeon HD 4850 for the past three years and it's managed everything I've thrown at it. It wasn't the highest end card of its day, and besides The Witcher 2, it could probably go on running games for another year. There are a few new games coming that might make it worth it, though. Battlefield 3 definitely looks like one of those.
As far as the card itself... it's fast as hell, and actually quieter than my old 4850 when idling. It's a double height number, but that's not a problem for the monolith case I have (aka an Antec P182). Under load the fan definitely becomes noticeable, but it's by no means offensive. Determining if it's worth the money or not... that'll depend on what comes out the rest of this year.
There's a certain pathos among PC gamers. When confronted with a game exceeding the the limits of our hardware, we don't turn settings down until a playable frame rate is reached. Oh no... that would be like admitting defeat. Instead, we upgrade our hardware. The Witcher 2 is one such game. Though it may have its issues, it's an RPG that no self-respecting PC gamer should pass up. To keep up with it's absolutely stunning visuals you will need some pretty robust video hardware, though. My aging Radeon HD 4850 could manage better than slideshow rates, but it certainly gave me a headache to play. I picked up a Radeon HD 6950 with 2 GB of GDDR5 from Sapphire. I'm quite impressed with it. It's quieter than my old 4850 at idle, though The Witcher 2 gives enough of a workout to bump the fan speed up to noticeable levels.
A new video card usually means tossing every game at it and seeing what's what. The thing is, almost nothing gave the old 4850 a challenge, so there's not much point. About the only change is that I can run a few games with maxed out AA that I couldn't before. There are some titles coming that promise to push some heavy visual, so we'll see if it was worth the investment.
A couple months back I picked up an Evo Shift 4G on Sprint after my tablet only experiment turned out to be rather impractical. But that's for another post. This is about Sprint's one and only Android landscape slider from HTC.
The phone isn't the greatest looker, but it's hardly ugly. I quite like the dark navy color Sprint and/or HTC settled on. It's fairly hefty, but that mostly seems to be because it's built to HTC's usual high level of quality. The keyboard is quite good, quite a bit better than the Touch Pro I had with Alltel/Verizon a couple years ago. The screen is sufficiently bright and crisp, but it won't give my Galaxy Tab any competition. Battery life handily beats my previous phone, the HTC Hero, though it will still go down quite fast if I'm heavily using it or if I'm in an area with a heavily saturated network. With normal use I can easily get through a day with more than half my battery left.
One fairly unique thing that happened with the Shift is that I tried Cyanogen on it, and wound up going back to the stock ROM. HTC has learned quite a lot about Android since the Hero. Sense is snappy, Android moves with no hesitation, and it's quite stable. The 800 MHz CPU may not be one of the latest or greatest, but it's more than enough to handle Android 2.2 with Sense on top. This is the first phone that doesn't give me the urge to install a custom ROM.
Other items of note... the back-lit keyboard is very nice in dark rooms, and stays off in bright light to save battery power. The slider is not spring loaded, which may take some getting used to, but it has the distinct advantage of being completely silent. The screen turns off and on based on if you have your ear up to the phone, which is a very useful feature. Lastly, as the name implies, this is a WiMax device, though I don't have the service in my area so I can't comment on how well it works.
Overall I'm quite happy with the Shift. I missed the keyboard on my Touch Pro when I had the Hero, and the Hero's screen was always just a tad too small for my liking. The Shift strikes a happy balance between both devices. Okay HTC... now where is our Gingerbread update?
I got an email from Microsoft today pronouncing the impending arrival of the Eee Slate. One of the first tablets to be announced post-iPad, and it's still not on sale. What's really crazy is the reason behind the long delay. It seems ASUS wasn't happy with releasing another underpowered Windows 7 tablet. Nor did they want to enter the Android tablet game. The Eee Slate as it stands now is more of a laptop without a keyboard. Packing a 12" screen and a Core i5, it's actually got the horsepower to run Windows 7 at a reasonable pace.
"Wow!" I'm thinking. "That's the first slate device that could actually see some commercial success."
I was thinking this right up until I clicked through the pre-order link to view the price.
W. T. F.
As I said a couple posts ago, I own an HP tm2t. It was less than $800 shipped. It has all the features of the Eee Slate (with the exception of an SSD) and is still cheaper with a Core i5 and AMD discreet graphics (mine is a Core i3 without the graphics hardware). The Slate is using the Core i5's integrated video, so forget portable gaming. My HP may be two pounds heavier than the Eee Slate, but having a keyboard attached to it more than makes up for it. And if people think the 10", 1.5 pound iPad is too big and heavy, what could remotely persuade them to get the Slate? The HP also destroys the Slate's 3+ hours of battery life (I can get around five hours before I need to seek an outlet).
I just don't get it. How can this thing cost $300 more than my HP? Gorilla glass? SSD? You'd think that would be more than made up for by the fact that that it doesn't need a reinforced hinge, keyboard, or trackpad. Maybe, maybe if it had integrated GPS and a cell modem of some variant, it might have small right to call itself reasonably priced. As it stands, it's an epic failure.
What kind of bizzarro universe do corporate execs live in these days?
"Everyone's doing it!" seems to be the motto of the industry. Don't get me wrong, new experimental products are what keep the industry moving forward, but tablets are some kind of industry insanity. Everyone is trying to take some of Apple's market. It's not going to happen. Apple's market is made up of fanatical loyalists. They're not going to buy a competing product even if it is better. Motorola's Xoom is a perfect example of that insanity. At $800 off contact for the 4G model and $600 for the WiFi-only version, the iPad suddenly doesn't look that expensive. That's a $170 premium over the 3G iPad (sorry Motorola, 4G isn't worth that much yet, no matter how you try to justify it) and $100 over the WiFi model.
A big point of Android tablets is that they're both cheaper and different from the iPad. Sure, there's room for 10" devices for those that like that size. But there are people like me that prefer a 7" device. Some might even like 5" or 12" devices as well. The biggest point of Android is choice. So why are all the new Honeycomb tablets exactly the same? I have zero interest in any of them. I already spent $800 on a dual core tablet. It's called the HP tm2t. It has an Intel Core i3, 4 GB of RAM, a 500 GB HD, a wacom pen interface, a capacitive multi-touch interface, and runs Windows 7. Maybe it's a bit heavier, but I think also being a full laptop more than makes up for it. It's even got 3G when I tether it to my Galaxy Tab. Which I will continue to happily use while I completely ignore the initial Honeycomb devices.