Tag Archives: Technology. Electronics

The 404 1,136: Where we occupy the Low Line (podcast)

A case for character, Exhibit A: well-used “Wabisabi” 1st gen Apple iPhone #ProScuffgate


Leaked from today’s 404 episode:

iPhone 5: Say hello to scuffgate?

– Hacker: I’ve ported Google Maps to iOS 6.

Subterranean park in Manhattan to stay sunny with fiber-optic skylights (Low Line).

Coca-cola nails social media by releasing personalized bottles, Justin included.

– Leica cameras for some reason favored by celebrities.

Bathroom break video: iPhone 5 super-glued to ground in Amsterdam.

Episode 1,136

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iPhone 5 camera powered by Sony sensor

The iPhone 5 camera uses an 8-megapixel sensor from Sony, ChipWorks found.

The iPhone 5 camera uses an 8-megapixel sensor from Sony, ChipWorks found.


Sony has been on a roll with its camera image sensors, and a close look by ChipWorks shows that the iPhone 5 uses one of its products for the main camera.

A close-up photo shows the Sony brand name on the 8-megapixel sensor at the heart of the camera.

It’s not a big surprise: Sony is very competitive with image sensors these days, and former Sony CEO Howard Stringer let slip earlier this year that Sony was supplying camera technology to Apple.

But the
iPhone 5 has two cameras, of course. The lesser one, a front-facing camera for videoconferencing software such as Microsoft’s Skype or Apple’s Facetime, uses a sensor from Sony competitor Omnivision, ChipWorks found.

Hundreds buy the iPhone 5 in Paris (pictures)

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Desktop and hi-fi speakers, what’s the difference?

The PSB Alpha B1 speakers on the left are functionally very different from the Audioengine A5+ speakers on the right.

Steve Guttenberg/CNET)

Judging by the number of e-mails I get on this subject, a lot of folks don’t understand the difference between computer and hi-fi speakers. For example, how is an Audioengine A5+ ($399 a pair) functionally different from a PSB Alpha B1 speaker ($300 a pair)?

Both have 5-inch woofers and tweeters, but the A5+ has something you won’t see on the Alpha B1, or any hi-fi speaker: a volume control. That’s because the A5+ is a “powered” speaker, meaning it has built-in 50-watt-per-channel stereo amplifiers. The Alpha doesn’t have its own amps and has to be hooked up to a power amp or receiver. The differences don’t end there: the A5+ can be used as a “nearfield” speaker on a desktop, where you might be just a few feet away from the speakers. The Alpha B1 was designed for stand- or wall-mounting, and listened to from 6 or more feet away. That’s why it’s classified as a hi-fi, not desktop, speaker.

Still confused? Let’s break the speaker types into four categories: hi-fi stereo speakers, desktop/computer/media (nearfield) speakers, active (powered) speakers with built-in amps, and passive (nonpowered) speakers that must be used with a separate amp or receiver.

The hi-fi-versus-desktop definitions can be a little fuzzy, as some hi-fi speakers can be superb desktop speakers, but many fewer small desktop speakers have what it takes to fill a room with sound. Passive and active models are easier to define: if you already have a good amp or receiver, buy passive speakers; if you don’t and want the most cost-effective speaker choice, buy active speakers.

So while the Alpha B1 is $99 less expensive than the A5+, you’ll probably need to spend a lot more than $99 for an amp or receiver to play the B1. That’s why powered speakers like the ones from Audioengine or Emotiva are terrific values, but powered speakers’ sound is limited by the quality of their built-in amps. Don’t get me wrong, they can sound great, but with nonpowered speakers you can get even better sound, it’s just going to wind up costing a lot more money.

On the left, a passive speaker’s wire connectors, and on the right, an active speaker’s RCA and XLR connectors for its internal amplifiers.

Steve Guttenberg/CNET)

Some speakers like the self-powered Emotiva Airmotiv 5 or passive Harbeth P3ESR can do double duty, work on a desktop and fill a small room with sound. If you’re not sure about a given speaker’s nearfield/hi-fi abilities, contact the manufacturer.

The Mini Maggie ($1,495 a pair) is the best-sounding desktop system I’ve heard, but it can’t fill a room with sound. These speakers sound best from no more than 4 or 5 feet away. They’re not self-powered, and they need a great amp to really sing. There’s no practical limit on an amp’s quality that would be appropriate for these speakers, but Wadia’s 151 digital amp ($800) is nice and small, making it the ideal starter amp for a Mini Maggie desktop system.

When shopping for small speakers, specify your needs. That way you’ll get the best sound for your application. If still confused, ask questions in the Comments section.

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This week in Crave: The sock-it-to-’em edition

Cinema ninja strikes

Behave, or you might get a visit from the cinema ninjas.

Prince Charles Theater)

Too busy waiting in line for some gadget this week to keep up with Crave? Now that the wait’s over, you have all the time in the world to catch up.

– Speaking of some gadget, is this the most obnoxious iPhone 5 case yet?

– Yap on your cell phone in this movie theater, and you might get ninja-ed.

– Retro-styled 3D-printed sunglasses put pixels right on your face.

– Who needs Helvetica when you can write in a font made from galaxies?

– Hoodie sleeve brings Zuckerberg chic to your

– What’s this oojamaflip that’s zhooshing up the dictionary?

– Birds go tweet tweet (literally, on Twitter.)

– Meet your future co-worker, Baxter the robot.

Rethink Robotics’ human-friendly Baxter (pictures)

– Sorting socks too much of a hassle for you? These smart socks do it for you via RFID. And your
iPhone. And the Internet.

– Click the heels on your No Place Like Home GPS shoes to get where you need to go.

Need to get to us? Write to us at crave at cnet dot com. And be sure to follow us on Twitter: @crave.

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Ig Nobels celebrate ponytail math, shut up gun

Koji Tsukada shows off his tongue-tying sound machine, the Speech Jammer.

Video screenshot by Tim Hornyak/CNET)

If you’ve ever wondered what makes your ponytail sway from side to side, you’re not alone. Researchers who unraveled the mysterious math behind human ponytails have been recognized with an Ig Nobel prize for their contribution to science.

As I predicted they would back in February, Joseph Keller, Raymond Goldstein, Patrick Warren, and Robin Ball took home the humorous accolade for their study in Physical Review Letters, which describes a hairy equation governing locks.

The Ig Nobels are handed out in a ceremony at Harvard University and honor research that first makes you laugh, and then makes you think.

Japan’s infamous Speech Jammer gun took home the Ig Nobel prize in acoustics.

Developed by Kazutaka Kurihara and Koji Tsukada, it disrupts a person’s speech by making them hear what they’ve said with a slight delay. The duo demoed it onstage at the awards ceremony, but it seemed to have no effect on a recitation of Shakespeare by Nobel chemistry prize winner Dudley Herschbach.

Nobel laureates help hand out the awards at the Ig Nobel ceremony, which is a mix of theatrics, music, and comedy.

Among the other 2012 Ig winners were Anita Eerland, Rolf Zwaan, and Tulio Guadalupe for a study entitled “Leaning to the Left Makes the Eiffel Tower Seem Smaller.” It took the Psychology Prize.

The Medicine Prize went to Emmanuel Ben-Soussan and Michel Antonietti for “advising doctors who perform colonoscopies how to minimize the chance that their patients will explode.”

A paper entitled “Walking With Coffee: Why Does It Spill?” earned the Ig Nobel Fluid Dynamics Prize for Rouslan Krechetnikov and Hans Mayer.

The only winner that did not send a representative to the ceremony was the U.S. Government General Accountability Office. It was honored with the Ig Nobel Literature Prize for issuing “a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports.”

I hope they wrote a report of that somewhere.

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Kindle Fire HD vs. iPad

The Kindle Fire HD includes simple text, a feature that allows it to display articles from magazines in more of a Kindle book format.

Josh Miller/CNET)

iPad and Kindle Fire HD are two different
tablets intended for slightly different market segments. The iPad is a “does everything” tablet, while the Fire HD remains focused on media consumption.

However, most people shopping for a tablet don’t have the funds to afford both and will therefore have to choose. The following is an attempt to make that choice a bit easier. With the iPad being the “everything” tablet in this comparison, I’ll focus on comparing the two in categories both tablets are capable of, while also pointing out the strengths of each.

Video streaming
The Kindle Fire HD has three main video-streaming options: Netflix, Hulu Plus, and of course, if you’re a Prime member, Amazon Instant Video. The iPad also has access to those same streaming services. So which tablet provides the better video-streaming experience? I tested both tablets using both Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.

I began by streaming the same episode of “Breaking Bad” through Amazon Instant Video on each tablet over CNET’s internal Wi-Fi network. I then walked around the building, eventually leaving the building with both tablets, while the episode continued to play. Both tablets played without a hiccup during this time; however, only the Fire HD displayed and maintained an HD signal. The iPad’s signal was strong, but SD.

After leaving the building and traveling about 20 feet from CNET’s front door, the iPad lost the streaming signal, giving me only the spinning circle of death. The Fire HD continued to play in HD for another half block or so (about 100 feet) before it too stopped playing the show.

Both tablets have access to the Amazon Instant Video service. I’m about to stream an episode of “Louie.” The excitement is overwhelming.

Josh Miller/CNET)

With Netflix streaming, I saw something very similar. While the iPad maintained a high-quality screen when playing an episode of “The Walking Dead,” it never looked as sharp as the HD image the Fire displayed when playing the same episode. The iPad stopped streaming at about the same place as before (about 20 feet from CNET’s front door) and while the Fire HD didn’t get as far with Netflix as it did with Amazon Instant Video, it did make it another 50 feet or so before it lost the signal. Also the Fire HD was more consistent with its quality, rarely dropping to a low-quality mode — something the iPad did frequently as I moved around.

I also tested the range of each tablet’s Wi-Fi antenna by walking a block away from the CNET building and then walking closer and closer until I could connect to our internal network. Each tablet connected at about the same distance from the building (50 to 60 feet away). So my theory is that, at least in the case of streaming, it’s not necessarily the range of the Fire HD that leads it to success here, but how quickly its MIMO-powered antenna allows it to buffer video. The Fire HD seems optimized for this.

While the iPad proves a worthy competitor in the streaming-video challenge, the Fire HD currently has no equal in this department. If streaming video is at the top of your priority list, the
Kindle Fire HD is the tablet for you.

However, 4G versions of the iPad (starting at $629) will obviously allow you to stream much farther, since there’s no 4G version of the Fire HD 7-inch tablet. A 4G LTE 8.9-inch Kindle Fire HD will launch on November 20 starting at $499.

Web browsing
Safari, especially with iOS 6, is the best best browser on the iPad. By default, the Fire HD uses Amazon’s Silk browser.

Streaming through Amazon’s video app, the iPad never reached HD resolution. The Fire HD, on the other hand, was all HD, all the time.

Josh Miller/CNET)

From a speed perspective, Amazon’s browser comes up short. Silk on the Fire HD is sometimes slower than on the original Fire, and usually a couple of seconds behind the iPad when loading the same page.

You can use Amazon’s Cloud Player on both tablets, and the iPad obviously has access to iTunes as well. Amazon Cloud Player allows users to stream music from their cloud library without having to actually download songs to their devices. Both tablets have access to streaming-music services like Pandora and Spotify as well.

But what about sound quality? As forcefully as the iPad’s single speaker belted out sound, the tablet is ultimately outshone by the Fire HD, which delivered smooth, loud sound with appropriately equalized bass and treble. You’ve never heard tablet speakers as good as these. I don’t recommend listening to music through most tablet speakers, but with the Fire HD I make a very clear exception.

Books and magazines
Both the Fire HD and iPad have access to thousands of books through Amazon’s bookstore, while the iPad also has access to iBooks. If you’re a Prime member and own a Fire HD, you also get to borrow one book per month from Amazon’s lending library with unlimited return time. iPad users don’t have access to this, whether they’re Prime members or not.

It’s what the Fire HD does with books that really sets it apart, however. X-ray for books, available only on the Fire HD, allows you to get more information about characters, terms, and historical figures mentioned in a Kindle book. It also highlights exactly where (via page number and a graph) in the book those details are mentioned and allows you to jump right to the appropriate page.

X-ray for books is one of the cool Kindle Fire exclusive features not available on the iPad.

Josh Miller/CNET)

Immersion reading lets you read along with your audiobook. In addition, Whispersync for voice allows you to stop reading at any spot in the Kindle version of a book and then continue later at that exact spot in your audiobook and vice versa, even if it’s on another device.

The iPad can’t match most of these features; however, the Audible app for iOS 6 does support Whispersync.

The Fire HD’s Newsstand app has a cool-looking new page-turning animation and the option to tap on an article and read it in simple text. Magazines on the iPad tend to have fairly slick-looking, more customized interfaces, with embedded video; however, simple text is not supported on the iPad.

Magazines on the iPad usually have huge catalogs of back issues. The Kindle Fire HD was just recently released and since each magazine issue on the Fire HD must be configured specifically, there are currently very few back issues available.

The iPad has the most games of any mobile platform and definitely the best games of any tablet. The Kindle Fire HD on the other hand has even fewer games than a typical Android tablet like the Nexus 7. Since Amazon heavily curates its store, many gamers must wait for Kindle Fire editions of games to be released before they can play. Of course users can sideload APKs, but that’s not something most are comfortable with.

Thanks to its huge catalog and better performance, I’d much rather game on the iPad.

Josh Miller/CNET)

Also, the iPad’s GPU is about a billion times (figure not actually confirmed) more powerful than the Fire HD’s. At least the 7-inch version of the Fire HD. Also, many Kindle Fire-edition apps available on the original Fire don’t currently work on the Fire HD. That said, the Fire HD loads faster and delivers higher resolution in games than the original Fire. But so far, not higher frame rates.

Other tidbits
As I said before, the iPad is the “does everything” tablet in this comparison. Not only can the tablet be used as an enterprise machine and an actual content creation device, but it also has more apps than any other mobile platform. Also, the best apps really take advantage of its beautiful screen and high resolution.

It’s not that the Kindle Fire HD doesn’t have apps. It’s just that compared with the huge catalog available on the iPad, well, there’s really no comparison here. The iPad also sports a higher-quality aluminum build, a high-quality back camera, a larger screen, GPS, and a clean and simple interface with a helpful and convenient hardware home button.

Make no mistake, the iPad is the best tablet you can buy today; however, the Kindle Fire HD is a great alternative if you don’t want to spend iPad levels of money or simply want a smaller screen and form factor. So which do you buy? Simply put, you buy the tablet that’s best for you. That’s difficult to hear if you’re looking for strict, clear buying advice, but it’s the reality of the situation.

Aside from a few Amazon-specific features, the $500 iPad can do pretty much anything the Fire HD can, and with its incredible apps support, GPS, back camera, and more open OS, it easily earns its place as the best tablet. However, there are three areas in which the Kindle Fire HD excels: streaming video, speakers, and — thanks to its multitude of features and Amazon’s lending library — books. If you’re an Amazon Prime member and you don’t want to spend too much on a tablet, there isn’t a more apt device available right now than the Kindle Fire HD. It’s $200, excels as a media consumption device, and is the best tablet for streaming video and reading books.

Things may get tricky soon, however. If rumors are true, we may see a $300, 7.85-inch iPad before year’s end and a $300 8.9-inch version of the Kindle Fire HD with a higher-resolution screen and a faster processor, and the option to upgrade to 4G LTE is coming on November 20. But, for now, if you have the money, buy the iPad. If not, the Kindle Fire HD should satisfy all your media consumption needs.

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