Tag Archives: Technology

My iPhone 5’s got a V-8

Gasket V8

Id America’s Gasket V8 case comes in five colors, those shown here plus red and yellow.


(Credit:
Josh Miller/CNET)

For the last week, my iPhone has been sporting a case designed to look like an engine’s head gasket. The maker, Id America, calls it a V-8, but as I’ve only got one phone, it’s a four-banger.

The Gasket V8 case, as Id America calls it, is a nice variation on the competition, usually plastic or rubber with decorations consisting of simple prints and decals. This one is made of metal stamped through with four cylinder holes and apertures for cooling, oil, and bolts.

For variation, it comes in silver, charcoal, red, yellow, or blue. You will have to add your own grease.

A soft material coating the inside keeps it from scratching the phone and provides a little shock protection. Installation is a simple matter of snapping the phone in between the sides, no torque wrench required.

For those prone to dropping phones, the Gasket V8 case doesn’t offer a lot of protection. It shields the back and sides, but leaves the ends and face completely uncovered. Id America includes a clear plastic screen cover, but it has a big logo reading “Born in New York” down one side, which I didn’t really want on my phone.

The plus side of the open design is that the iPhone’s ports and buttons remain easy to access.

Gasket V8

The Gasket V8 is more decorative than most iPhone cases.


(Credit:
Josh Miller/CNET)

I like the feel of the Gasket V8 case better than the thin plastic case I had previously used. The rounded case edges rest comfortably in my hand, although I had to get used to slightly more bulk.

The best thing, of course, is the look of the case. With
cars so much more reliable these days, and subsequently fewer shade-tree mechanics, few people recognize a head gasket. So the case serves as a kind of secret handshake for gearheads.

Id America also makes a V-6-based gasket case for the
iPhone 4/4S.

The Gasket V8 case for the
iPhone 5 is available from Id America’s Web site for $29.95.

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Simple Bluetooth audio adapter plagued by nonstandard quirks

The GoGroove BlueGate performs one very simple function that can be split into two parts. It receives a digital Bluetooth audio signal from a smartphone (or other Bluetooth capable device) and outputs an analog audio signal that can be listened to through headphones, a car stereo, or home audio system. It basically takes a wireless signal and makes a wired one.

The wireless portion of the BlueGate’s functionality was performed almost flawlessly. It’s the wired half of the equation that frustrated me.

The trouble with wires
The BlueGate device itself is remarkably compact and unobtrusive. The tiny matte black box measures 1.8 inches by 1.3 inches by 0.3 inch, or about the size of a book of matches, and has the GoGroove BlueGate logo printed in gloss black on one of its flat sides. Along one edge is a small black power button and a round power input. Along another edge is a small LED indicator and a 4-inch pigtail that ends with a male 3.5mm analog auxiliary plug.

It’s from the audio and power that my biggest complaints about the GoGroove BlueGate stem.

For starters, although the device charges via USB the cable has a proprietary rounded tip rather than the more conventional micro or mini USB connections. So, if you lose the included cable, you lose the ability to charge the device.

Also, the audio output terminates in a male 3.5mm connection, which is fine if you’re plugging into a car or home stereo, which often present their inputs as female ports. However, if you want to plug headphones into your BlueGate, you’ll have to use the included male-to-male adapter cable, which is of fairly low quality.

GoGroove BlueGate

I found the included 3.5mm adapter cable to be one of the BlueGate’s weakest links.

(Credit:
Antuan Goodwin/CNET)

When I plugged my headphones into that adapter to perform the first tests on the BlueGate, I was repulsed by how poor the audio sounded. Later, when testing in a car, I was surprised by how much different and better the resulting audio sounded. Later, I went back to retest the headphones and was again met with poor audio; I surmised that the weak link was the adapter cable. After a bit of connection wiggling, I was able to clean the audio up by only partially inserting the headphone plug, but you’ll probably want to supply your own adapter.

Power, pairing, and pausing
The first thing that you’ll want to do when you unbox the BlueGate is charge its internal battery. The device charged for me in about an hour and a half and, according to GoGroove’s documentation, will stream for about 12 hours on a full charge. We’re still working on battery life testing and will update the review later with our results.

To power the unit on or off, hold the power button for a few seconds until the LED starts flashing blue. To enter pairing mode, continue to hold the power button after the unit activates until the LED’s color starts alternating between red and blue. The instructions indicate that the unit pairs with a four-digit PIN, but my Samsung Galaxy Nexus didn’t even require that much.

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Chevy sets Spark EV price below 20 grand

Chevrolet Spark EV

Chevy says that, after federal tax credits, the Spark EV can be had for less than $20,000.


(Credit:
Wayne Cunningham/CNET)

Forget pricey Teslas; Chevrolet announced pricing for its Spark EV model at $27,495. If a buyer qualifies for the full federal tax credit of $7,500, that price drops to $19,995.

The Spark EV goes on sale in June but will be limited to California and Oregon. California owners will be able to apply further credits up to $2,500. Oregon may be less friendly, as the state considers charging electric car owners a special per-mile tax.

Chevrolet’s announcement also notes that dealers can offer lease deals for $199 per month, and that the Spark EV will save owners an estimated $150 per month in fuel charges.

Chevrolet Spark EV hits 60mph in 8 seconds, charges in 20 minutes (pictures)

The Spark EV is not the lowest-priced electric
car hitting the market. The Smart Electric Drive goes for $25,000 before tax credits or other state incentives.

The Spark EV is based on the Chevrolet Spark, a compact car with a 1.25-liter four-cylinder engine, and a price tag of $13,745. As the Spark EV, the model gets a range of 82 miles from its 21kWh lithium ion battery pack.

Chevrolet also notes that it is designed to work with multiple DC fast-charging stations. A cabin electronics feature will help owners plot routes with charging stations as waypoints.

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Tesla repays government loan early, a boost for electric cars

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S


(Credit:
Tesla)

In what could be viewed as a shot in the arm for U.S.-made electric cars, Tesla Motors has repaid a government loan nine years early.

“Today, Tesla Automotive repaid the entire remaining balance on a $465 million loan from the Department of Energy nine years earlier than originally required,” the U.S. Department of Energy said in a statement Wednesday.

That clean-energy loan was made in 2010.

And the U.S. energy secretary, Ernest Moniz, seemed to address critics of clean energy loans while trumpeting the success of Tesla.

“When you’re talking about cutting-edge clean energy technologies, not every investment will succeed,” Moniz said in a statement. “But today’s repayment is the latest indication that the Energy Department’s portfolio of more than 30 loans is delivering big results for the American economy while costing far less than anticipated.”

The fate of another U.S. electric-car maker, Fisker, is much less certain. Founded in 2007, Fisker has raised $1.2 billion in private funds, but the company has halted payments on a U.S. Department of Energy loan.

Tesla’s soaring stock price is the reason for the quick payoff. As of Wednesday, Tesla’s market cap is over $10 billion, and the share price is up more than 150 percent this year through Wednesday.

Tesla’s hottest
car so far has been the Model S, which it began delivering to customers earlier this year. The company has a sales target of 21,000 this year. The lowest-priced model retails for about $60,000.

“I would like to thank the Department of Energy and the members of Congress…that worked hard to create the [Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing] program, and particularly the American taxpayer from whom these funds originate,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk, said in a statement.

“I hope we did you proud,” he added.

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Pioneer AppRadio 3 debuts with MirrorLink connectivity

Pioneer AppRadio 3

With the addition of MirrorLink, AppRadio 3 now has two separate app mirroring modes.


(Credit:
Antuan Goodwin/CNET)

Pioneer pulls the wraps off of the third generation of of its app-powered series of
car stereos this week with the announcement of the AppRadio 3. The new model adds a surprising new feature and a few others that I feel the line of receivers should have had all along.

AppRadio 3’s biggest new party trick is the addition of the MirrorLink connectivity standard to its feature set. When connected to supported phones via USB, MirrorLink allows AppRadio to mirror the phone’s display with touch sensitivity, putting the apps on the device at the user’s fingertips. More specifically, MirrorLink puts a subset of driver-friendly, car-centric apps at your fingertips.

Right now, MirrorLink only supports a few
Android phones — most notably the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the Galaxy Note 2, but also the Sony Xperia Z and ZL. The standard is also supported by respectable list of Symbian-powered Nokia phones. Hopefully, we’ll see that list grow.

Pioneer AppRadio 3

Pioneer’s own app mode is still supported, along with dozens of compatible apps.


(Credit:
Antuan Goodwin/CNET)

The AppRadio 3 still supports Pioneer’s own app mode that’s been supported for the first
two generations and the extensive list of navigation, audio playback, and driver aid apps that support it.

When paired with a
iPhone 4S or 5, AppRadio 3 gains the ability to interface with Siri Eyes Free via Bluetooth, giving the driver control of the voice assistant app with the AppRadio’s microphone and playing back its responses through your car’s speakers. Android users gain similar control of and access to Google’s Voice Search app on their handsets as well.

Speaking of Bluetooth, AppRadio 3 finally gains Bluetooth A2DP audio streaming with AVRCP controls and metadata display. I know, it seems weird that that the first two AppRadio generations didn’t support this fairly standard audio playback mode. Pioneer instead has been counting on users to make use of its app mode. The addition of Bluetooth audio streaming finally allows users to listen to audio from applications that haven’t yet partnered with Pioneer for app mode compatibility.

Pioneer AppRadio 3

The AppRadio lineup now features a model with CD and DVD playback.


(Credit:
Antuan Goodwin/CNET)

Pioneer’s AppRadio receivers have always been mechless — that is lacking moving parts, such as CD transport — but that changes today. The manufacturer is offering two versions of the AppRadio 3. The SPH-DA210 hides a CD/DVD player behind its 7-inch capacitive touchscreen, which tilts and rotates out of the way on motorized hinges. The SPH-DA110 remains the mechless type.

Both of the new AppRadio 3 units will be available in July. The mechless SPH-DA110 has an MSRP of $399, while the CD/DVD playing SPH-DA210 comes with a $499 price tag. Interestingly, Pioneer doesn’t include any phone connection cables with this generation — the previous two models came with 30-pin iPhone connectivity kits — so you’ll have to add from $30 to $60 to those prices.

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On the road with Samsung’s S-Voice Drive mode

S-Voice Drive in the Samsung Galaxy S4

We get behind the wheel to see how Samsung’s S-Voice Drive performs on the road.


(Credit:
Antuan Goodwin/CNET)

Aside from sounding like it received its moniker from BMW’s product department, the S-Voice Drive driving mode is an extension of the Samsung Galaxy S4’s S-Voice voice-command app that adjusts the system in a few very important ways for drivers.

First, it allows the driver’s interactions to be mostly hands-free. When in this mode, S-Voice Drive can be activated with a spoken command, rather than pushing a button. This allows drivers to keep both hands on the wheel. Simply say, “Hi, Galaxy” and the device springs to attention, ready to accept your voice commands.

Next, Drive mode simplifies the onscreen interface, presenting the driver with a mostly blank screen showing large text prompts instructing the driver that S-Voice Drive is ready to accept commands and displaying a few examples of what sort of commands can be accepted. No app icons are present, and there’s nothing too distracting to the driver.

Driving mode also makes voice command a persistent part of the UI, even when you’re doing something else. Start navigating and you’ll see a black bar along the bottom edge of the screen with a microphone icon indicating that, even outside of the S-Voice interface, the phone is still listening for you to say, “Hi, Galaxy.”

To access Drive mode, simply double-tap the Home button beneath the S4’s screen to access S-Voice, then say “Driving mode on”.

S-Voice Drive main screen

S-Voice Drive presents the user with few distractions.


(Credit:
Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/CNET)

What commands can you input? What can’t you do?
However, this persistent hands-free interface comes at a cost. Simplifying the interface and streamlining for driver friendliness means that when S-Voice is in its driving mode, the dozens of functions that it normally is able to perform are reduced to just a handful.

Call and Text commands allow the driver to initiate
hands-free calling or dictate an SMS message with a few short commands. The calling bit is pretty self-explanatory; just say, “Call James Franco” and if he’s in your address book, the phone should start ringing once S-Voice Drive confirms that it has heard you properly. SMS dictation is a bit more complex, but basically S-Voice Drive will ask to whom you want to send the message and then what you want the message to say. After S-Voice Drive reads back your message, you can either say “Send” or, if the message sounds incorrect, simply restate it.

S-Voice Drive sends a text message

Try as I might, I couldn’t get S-Voice Drive to recognize the word “sentient” when sending a text message.


(Credit:
Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/CNET)

Saying “Navigation” triggers S-Voice Drive to ask where you want to go, then initiates Google Maps turn-by-turn directions to an address or point of interest that you state. I found that this bit of the S-Voice interface sometimes required at least a single touch-screen tap to chose from the list of possible destinations that the Google Maps app would present once its search was complete. Address entry was more straightforward, dropping straight into navigation without a prompt for confirmation — which was good when S-Voice Drive understood me perfectly, but not so great when it misheard “10th” instead of “Tehama” street.

Users can also tell S-Voice Drive to play music, specifying an artist’s name or song title. Simply saying, “play music” picks up where Samsung’s TouchWiz Music player left off the last time you listened to something. I’d prefer the option to specify Google Play Music or a streaming app like Pandora, but I can understand why Samsung chose its own app: for simplicity’s sake.

Finally, I was able to check the current weather in the area by saying “weather.” I could also get current conditions in other cities by saying, for example, “weather in San Diego” or get a forecast by saying, “weather tomorrow.” S-Voice Drive could also read aloud news headlines, schedule calendar appointments, and store voice-dictated notes in the S Memo app.

S-Voice Drive, Samsung

Ask the Galaxy S4 for the weather and it might remind you to grab your sunglasses…or an umbrella.


(Credit:
Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/CNET)

What I liked best about S-Voice Drive is that its speech recognition is conversational and casual. Rather than issuing stiff commands like “weather,” I could ask it “What’s the forecast for San Diego tomorrow?” I also liked that the system would render conversational responses, such as, “It’s going to be sunny and clear. Don’t forget your sunglasses.”

Likewise, I was able to string together complete commands, rather than waiting for prompts. Rather than saying “Text” and then waiting to be prompted for the recipient and message, I could just say “Text James Franco; Message I’m going to be a few minutes late.” and, after S-Voice Drive read back the message, I could then just say “Send” and be done. Addresses can also be input in one fell swoop, a la “Navigate to 235 Second Street” or “Navigate to 5 Guys Burgers and Fries.”

Multitasking with voice commands
S-Voice’s driving mode is designed to be used without touching or watching the screen, but it does take advantage of the
Galaxy S4‘s split-screen ability to give the driver persistent access to the “Hi Galaxy” spoken prompt and to display extra information when available.

S-Voice Drive split with Google Maps

S-Voice Drive takes advantage of the Galaxy S4’s split-screen ability to offer persistent voice command and additional information.


(Credit:
Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/CNET)

For example, after asking S-Voice Drive to initiate navigation, I can ask it for the weather to have a five-day forecast momentarily appear on the bottom half of the screen. After a few seconds, the forecast disappears and the navigation expands back to full screen. If I then ask S-Voice Drive to send a text, the recipient and the message preview will again occupy the bottom half of the screen.

Rotate the phone into a landscape orientation and the split becomes a vertical one, with S-Voice Drive’s information displaying on the right half of the screen.

The inevitable Siri comparison
S-Voice has been compared to Apple’s Siri before — a fight that didn’t end very well for Samsung’s voice-search application. However, much has changed since then, and both systems have evolved quite a bit. S-Voice Drive brings one very strong advantage to the table: it doesn’t require any physical input from the driver, while Siri requires tapping or holding a button to activate.

S-Voice Drive title card

S-Voice Drive’s voice-prompt feature tips the scales in a comparison to Siri.


(Credit:
Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/CNET)

By responding to a spoken prompt rather than a button press, the person behind the wheel is able to to keep their hands on that wheel, which is the safest way to drive. Siri may offer more functionality than S-Voice Drive (particularly when the Samsung app is in its driving mode), but S-Voice has all of the important functions for driving covered. Finding out how tall Abe Lincoln was can wait until after the trip.

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