Chipped and tuned, Volvo C30 shows Swedish performance

Volvo C30
Wayne Cunningham/CNET)

Volvo long staked its reputation on safety, so you would not expect a hot hatchback to come from the Swedish automaker. But fit the little C30 with Volvo’s R-Design trim and give it the new Polestar engine software, and the
car becomes a delight to shoot down a twisty road.

The car did not make any more noise than a standard C30, the only things announcing the extra power being a blue badge on its butt and ample response to the gas pedal. The side-grip shifter for the six-speed manual slipped through the gate with European precision, but the most surprising thing was the handling. Banging the car through a series of tight turns, I found it held on well, and had plenty of overhead to go even faster.

2012 Volvo C30 R-Design (pictures)

The C30’s cabin appointments reflect Volvo’s premium car position, a big step up from other hot hatchbacks on the market. It loses some practicality with the split rear seats, limiting passenger room to four, but who really wants to stuff a fast little car with an extra 200 pounds of human?

It falls down a bit on the cabin tech, with a navigation system that is basically a portable device attached to the dashboard, and a completely separate interface for the stereo and phone system. There are some useful features here, including an
iPod port and a Bluetooth phone system, but it lacks many newer features found among competitors.

Check out CNET’s review of the 2012 Volvo C30 R-Design.

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This little box turns your smartphone into a scanner

Goodbye, massive document scanners.


Scanbox, created by Australian design company Limemouse, works as a miniature studio in a box perfect for scanning documents (up to A4 size), receipts, 3D objects, or even a page from a book.

At first glance, the $15 Scanbox may appear like some sort of strange geometric shape, but the peculiar design optimizes lighting conditions for the perfect shot. It only takes a few moments to set up the device, as the user simply aligns a few high-strength magnets built into the box.

A stencil of a smartphone with a square hole sits on top so that the user knows exactly where to place the camera lens every time. When the photo shoot ends, the Scanbox folds back up into a flat shape for easy transportation.

If you seek to shed a little more light on the situation, the $25 Scanbox Plus includes a set of LED lights built into the box to ensure perfect lighting, regardless of the situation.

With the increasing clarity of smartphone cameras, it seems strange to admit that future generations may never use a scanner to digitize documents.

Those thinking that Scanbox seems like a silly gimmick may want to avoid its Kickstarter page, which received $113,000 in support from more than 3,600 backers (with an astonishing 25 days of funding still left to go).

(Via SmartPlanet)

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Seagate refines GoFlex drives into Backup Plus

The new Seagate Backup Plus external hard drive.

The new Seagate Backup Plus external hard drive.

Dong Ngo/CNET)

Seagate today launched a new family of external hard drives that’s a continuation of its popular GoFlex line-up but now with a completely different name: the Seagate Backup Plus family.

While the GoFlex name is now in the past, the flexibility remains with the external hard drives. The new Seagate Backup drives come in both a portable version, called Seagate Backup Plus, and a desktop version, called Seagate Backup Plus Desk. The former are bus-powered drives that are compact and don’t require an external power adapter. The latter are larger drives, both in terms of physical size and capacity, offering up to 4TB of storage space, and need a separate power adapter to work.

Both of the two versions share a similar design to the previous GoFlex line: they come in two parts, the drive and the adapter. These two parts snap onto each other from the external hard drive. This means if you want to use the drive with a certain type of connection port, such as USB, FireWire or even Thunderbolt, all you need is to get the adapter of the respective type; the hard drive part remains the same.

The Seagate Backup Plus backup software is effective and easy to use.

The Seagate Backup Plus’ backup software is effective and easy to use.

Dong Ngo/CNET)

While each Seagate Backup Plus drive comes with an adapter of its own, they also can be used with an existing GoFlex drive adapter, making it an easy buy for those who have owned GoFlex drives before.

Apart from the two-part design, the new drives also come with software drivers that allow the Windows-formatted drive to work with Macs without having to reformat them. If you want them to work with Macs right away without having to install software, there are also Backup Plus
Mac and Backup Plus Desk Mac drives in the new lineup. In this case, these drives will include software drivers that enable Windows computers to read and write Mac’ HFS+ file system. This is also a similar feature originally found in GoFlex drives.

The new Backup Plus external hard drives do have a few unique features, however.

First, they come with new backup software that allows for backing up both local and online social media personal data. And secondly the Seagate Backup Plus also comes in four colors: red, black, silver and blue. One of the software’s nifty feature is that its interface also changes its color in accordance with the color of the plugged-in drive. This helps those who have multiple drives of multiple colors know which one they are using just by a look of the software’s interface. 

The new Seagate Backup Plus is available now in 500GB, 750GB (PC only), and 1TB capacities that are slated to cost the same for both PCs and Macs at $130, $130, and $140, respectively. The PC desktop version is available in 1TB, 2TB, 3TB, and 4TB that cost $130, $150, $180, and $250, respectively.  The desktop Mac version is slightly more expensive with the 2TB and 3TB costing $190 and $210.

I had a chance to work with one of the new drives, the 1TB Backup Plus, and found it much better looking and noticeably faster than a GoFlex drive of the same capacity. The new backup software was also much easier to use and proved to be an effective backup solution. For more information, check out the full review of the Seagate Backup Plus here.

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Apple’s homegrown Maps app debuts (First Take)

James Martin/CNET)

It’s WWDC week, and one of the big announcements from today’s keynote was Apple’s new, homegrown Maps app, which will come baked into iOS 6 this fall. Here, we take a look at Apple’s new offering and how it compares to the Google-powered app that it’s replacing

Built by Apple from the ground up, Maps uses a vector-based engine that maintains a crisp appearance and seamless rendering, even as you zoom in and out. For context, Google Maps has been using vector-based graphics since late 2010, so while the technology is worth mentioning, it isn’t exactly groundbreaking. That said, let’s skip the underlying technology and get right to the noteworthy features of the new Maps app on iOS 6.

Turn-by-turn navigation
Android users will attest, navigation is one of the most useful and basic features that a mobile maps program can offer, and until now Apple users had to rely mostly on subscription-based third-party apps to get it. Well, with iOS 6, that ends, as Apple’s Maps app will offer native turn-by-turn navigation, very much like that available on Android. And from the looks of it,
iPhone users should be pleased with the finished product.

Similar to Android’s built-in Google Maps-powered navigation, Apple’s Maps lets you type out your destination or simply speak it aloud. From there, the app responds by speaking your directions aloud and displaying your position along the route line on your map. Siri, of course, is the star of navigation as it is her (its?) voice that guides you.

One small, though incredibly thoughtful detail is evident when a route includes two quick, back-to-back turns. In this scenario, Maps displays both directions, so you won’t be caught off guard. Google Maps should definitely take this page out of Apple’s book.

What we didn’t see in Apple’s Maps was public transit navigation. For now, you can get transit directions, but no turn-by-turn (or stop-by-stop) navigation like Google offers across hundreds of cities around the world.


Also available will be crowd-sourced traffic data and accident reports, which you can overlay on your map at will. This feature looks very much like the traffic layer that iPhone users have already been enjoying for some time, though its not clear whether the quality of the traffic data is remarkably different from before.

One thing worth noting is, if you get stuck in a traffic jam while navigating, Apple Maps will automatically offer you an alternative route and tell you how much time it could save you. Meanwhile, on Google Maps, you can easily switch routes as well, but it must be done through a menu.


Info cards
In what appears to be an outright challenge to Google and its Zagat ratings, Apple’s built-in Info cards will offer local search info courtesy of Yelp. When you tap a point of interest, Maps brings up an Info card with vitals like address and phone number, as well as the ever popular Yelp ratings, reviews, and photos. In my opinion, this is a huge boon for Apple, as I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished Google had integrated Yelp instead of Zagat. The Yelp community is rich with user-generated content, and to many (including me) it is the go-to source for local reviews.


Flyover (3D maps)
Finally, to no one’s surprise, Apple’s Maps will also include a 3D imaging component. Hot on the heels of Google’s announcement of the very same feature last week, Apple is touting its Flyover feature as “photo-realistic and interactive.”

Based on the demo, Flyover looks pretty much like we all expected. The 3D imaging is crisp, and it lets you zoom, pan, tilt, and rotate around landmarks. One thing it can’t do, though, is swoop all the way down into a ground-level street view mode the way Google’s product can. For some, this may qualify as a deal-breaking omission, as Google’s Street View is a wildly popular and useful feature.

Also worth noting is that Google’s full 3D functionality was actually announced for Google Earth and not Google Maps, meaning you have to switch apps to get the full experience. This, of course, means that Apple’s 3D Maps experience is just a bit more seamless.


So far, Apple’s new Maps app is impressive. It has some stunning 3D visuals, easy-to-use turn-by-turn navigation, integrated Yelp data, Siri powers, and more. While it may not have quite as many features as Google Maps for Android, it is still a huge upgrade over the inadequate Google-powered iOS app that it’s replacing. Users of the iPhone and
iPad should be jumping for joy.

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Lamborghini unveils $2,296 Android tablet, gold-plated phone


These are some seriously fast phones — and we’re not talking processor speeds. Check out the new line of luxury phones from Lamborghini, with supercar styling — and supercar prices.

Russian site reports that Lamborgini has revved up two new feature phones, and an
Android smartphone and
tablet. And when we say supercar styling, we’re not talking understated. Read on at Crave UK for the details of these ostentatious Androids.

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2012 BMW X5 review: The big tech roller

Josh Miller/CNET)

Automakers traditionally update a model, then leave it alone for three to five years, with maybe a minor cosmetic change somewhere in the product cycle. The X5, due for a major update in 2013, may look similar to its 2007 self, but the performance and cabin tech have all kept up with the times.

Under the hood sits BMW’s N55 engine, the latest version of its 3-liter straight six cylinder, using direct injection for fuel delivery and a twin scroll turbocharger to boost power. Its eight-speed automatic transmission also represents more recent BMW technology. And BMW engineers tweaked the all-wheel-drive system, standard on the X5, with road-holding technologies such as corner braking and torque vectoring.

The cabin electronics include the latest BMW apps system, which reads Facebook and Twitter feeds out loud, and can even post canned updates based on the
car‘s GPS location. The navigation system’s maps are very refined, second only to those used by Audi.

The heavy steering wheel feel will be too much for those seeking a coddling luxury SUV, but BMW has always emphasized driving character. The biggest problem with the X5 is its weight, at well over 4,000 pounds it takes a lot of gas to move this beast even with the latest fuel-efficiency technologies on the market.

Check out CNET’s review of the 2012 BMW X5 xDrive35i.

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