Entrepreneurial Leadership and Management . . . and Other Stuff

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23
Sep

The Merging of Video and Still Imagery

The latest generation of prosumer DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) cameras are not only about taking great still photos, but also about taking great video.  While video has been available in point-and-shoot cameras for some time, it’s been ignored in higher-end cameras – for some market reasons and for some functional ones.

Any excuses that existed before, however, have been punted and the onslaught of DSLRs merging still and motion imagery has begun.  Recently, Nikon introduced the first DSLR to shoot video, the Nikon D90.  And, in the usual tit-for-tat battle for image supremacy between Nikon and Canon, the latter has fired back with a huge salvo – the Canon 5D Mark II

The 5D Mark II sports a ridiculously large and dense 21MP sensor, stealing souls at

5616 x 3744

pixels and shooting full HD video.  I was skeptical about the video part.  First, the form factor of an SLR doesn’t really lend itself to hand-holding for video, and second, multiple-purpose devices often fail at all of their intended purposes.  That is, until I saw the video shot by Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Vincent Laforet.    Check it out here: Reverie – Behind the Scenes.

image

Only some scenes were shot with the 5D, but I challenge you to figure out which ones they were.  According to Laforet, the video quality of the 5D is much better than that of Canon’s XD XH-A1 dedicated video camera, especially in low light.

 September 23rd, 2008  
 Will  
 Gadgets, Photography  
   
 5 Comments
23
Sep

Google & Android, Blah, Blah, Blah – HTC is the Sleeper in the Story

Image representing High Tech Computer Corporat...

Image via CrunchBase

Today, Google and T-Mobile will announce the T-Mobile G1, a new phone that runs Google’s mobile OS, Android.  This is interesting news because it adds another competitor to the smartphone mix and competition is always good.  The announcement is made even more interesting, IMO, because of Amazon’s introduction of over the air downloads from their DRM-free MP3 store for the phone.

Playing a lesser, but stupendously important role in this announcement is HTC, the Taiwanese company that designed and built the phone that Android runs on – the HTC Dream.  HTC already accounts for 1 in 6 of all smartphones in the US.  Almost all of them carrying someone else’s brand.  With today’s announcement, the company will come out of the shadows.  Perhaps for good.

It’s not only the phone that’s cool, but the company itself.  Very innovative and fast-moving.  Apparently a model of how to be a success in this business.  Very impressive.  Check out yesterday’s New York Times article on them: With Google Phone, HTC Comes Out of the Shadows.

[Update: there are rumors in the Blogosphere that appears that AmazonMP3 will only allow downloads over WiFi – need to check this out some more]

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 September 23rd, 2008  
 Will  
 Gadgets, General Business  
   
 9 Comments
11
Aug

Addicted to Batteries

I suppose most people who don’t carry a big purse or briefcase have a place where they unload their pockets, holsters, belt clips, etc when they come into their home or change their clothes.  For me, it’s usually at the bar – my first and almost always necessary stop when I’m wrapping up my day.  As such, stuff tends to collect there.

As I was walking by the bar last night, I chuckled at what I saw . . .

Batteries

My first thought was that all this stuff should be consolidated into one device.  But then I realized that there were two phones, two iPods (as well as Oakley Thumps, another MP3 player) and two GPS’s (a Garmin cycling computer and a SkyCaddie, which has golf course information that tells me where the hole is when I’m hitting from 100 yards in the woods and can’t see it).

I guess it’s not about consolidation alone.  It’s about functionality, convenience and size.  The reason that there are so many devices is that each fits a particular need very well.  Not only because of its functionality, but because of it’s form factor.  For example, anyone who has tried to ride a bike with a headphone cord will tell you how many times the cord has gotten caught in their spokes – if you want tunes while you ride, the player needs to be cordless.  But, you don’t want the Thumps when you don’t need sunglasses.

Of course, there is no reason – other than the expected complexity and, perhaps, power requirements – that most of these devices won’t merge into one or, at least, fewer devices in the future.  That’s what makes all this consumer technology so much fun.

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 August 11th, 2008  
 Will  
 Gadgets  
   
 4 Comments
08
Aug

Blogging From the iPhone

Well, sorta . . . from an iPod Touch, actually. I really, really want to like the iPhone (the Touch is incredible, by the way), but the fact that the apps don’t talk to one another, Exchange is only partially integrated, and the virtual keyboard is not nearly as accurate as a physical one, makes it hard to see as a better solution than other phones.

So, I’m using the Touch, which I already have and has all the functionality of the iPhone without the phone, of course, as a testbed for the phone. Including the app I’m using to write his post – WordPress – for posting to WordPress blogs.

I dunno. I have made 100 typing errors writing this post. The very capable spelling software of the device has corrected 80% of them. Just not good enough, I’m afraid. With a physical keyboard, it’d be much easier – faster and more accurate. Pounding out a similar message on my Blackjack would not yield nearly as many errors and would be significantly faster.

I think I’m gonna wait to see how the Blackberry Bold and HTC Touch Diamond look before making a call on my next phone.

 August 8th, 2008  
 Will  
 Gadgets  
   
 1 Comment
07
Aug

Gadget Review: Garmin Edge 705

Garmin-705

As a cyclist, data junkie and all-around gadget guy, it doesn’t get much better than this.  Some people think this cycling computer is overkill, but my guess is that they’re the same kinda people who haven’t yet moved from VHS to DVDs.

Like most cycling computers, the Edge 705 collects data on cadence and speed.  It also determines heart rate, GPS position, altitude and a huge amount of other information that can derived from this data (e.g. distance, grade, calories, ascent/decent, pace, etc.).  Additionally, using Garmin’s de facto standard ANT+Sport network, the 705 can collect data from power meters made by other manufacturers, wirelessly, of course.  Being able to include power with all the other data collected makes this device incredibly powerful as a training tool.

Coming from Garmin, you’d expect the GPS functionality to be good, and it is.  Not only does the 705 track your location like it’s predecessors, but it displays your position on a color road map.  Garmin has basemaps available in micro SD format that slide into the device providing road and trail maps around the world.  While even I thought this type of mapping might be over the top for road biking, it has saved my ass a couple of times when I’ve been lost.  Take me home, 705, and avoid highways and dirt roads while you’re at it . . .

Sizeasy-Pack-Of-Playing-Cards-vs-Garmin-705-vs-Garmin-305 If you have a Garmin Edge 205 or 305, the first thing you’ll notice about the 705 is its size.  When I opened the box, I was amazed at how big the thing is.  Everything about it is bigger.  At first, I found the larger unit a bit of a turn-off, but after using it for a couple of months, I don’t even notice it and I really appreciate the advantages of its larger size – bigger screen, bigger battery, bigger buttons, etc.  I’m American.  Bigger is almost always better, right?  😉

As you poke through the menus, you’ll be blown away by how flexible the thing is.  Not only do you have choices of dozens of pieces of data to display, you can configure almost every screen to show the data you want where you want it.  The map display can stand alone or also show you data about your current ride.  The map is also easy to get around while riding, although gloves (the full finger kind) do make it a bit more challenging.

If you are a current 205/305 owner, you’ll immediately appreciate how fast the 705 latches onto and holds a GPS sat signal.  I used to have to turn my 305 on, leave it in my driveway for several minutes free and clear of any obstructions for it to get sat reception.  With the 705, I turn it on and start to ride.  Also, owners of previous models will appreciate the additional memory and battery power in the device.  With my old 305, the data from a century ate all the memory in the device up.  Recently, I had two centuries in the memory of the 705 and I still had loads-o-memory left.  There is also more memory for courses.  Since I often ride alone, I like to compete against my previous times on designated routes.  With the 705, I can carry 20 or more rides with me and select which one I’m going to do along the way, instead of having to plan ahead.

In terms of battery power, I wish I could tell you how long it lasts, but I’ve never come close to running it down.  After back-to-back 6+ hour rides a few weeks ago, I still had loads of power.  The manual says 15 hours, which is quite a bit longer than the 205/305.  My guess is that it’s pretty close, if not even conservative.

As with all gadgets, even the coolest ones, there are certainly areas that need improvement.  First, there is a little joystick that is used to navigate between multiple screens of similar information.  This works great even when you’re riding.  For some reason, though, Garmin chose to make the user push the joystick in like a button to navigate between the screens when in Courses mode (when you race against previously stored performance data).  While you’re bouncing around on the bike, this is difficult, and I almost always screw it up.  Instead of pushing the joystick in, I push it up or down.  This changes the mode of the map and all of the buttons on the device.  VERY annoying.

Secondly, for some reason, I am consistently getting errant zeros in my speed data.  As you can see from the chart below, there are a load of 0mph data points between 20mph data points that last for seconds (note the X-axis is time, not distance).  Unless I’ve become superhuman and can go 20-0-20 in a matter of seconds on a bicycle, I believe this is a problem with the device or rear-wheel sensor (yes, I tried new batteries in the sensor).

Edge-705-Zeros

[Note: I have no idea why the Garmin Training Center software has negative speed scale]

Finally, and not a killer for me, the Calories Burned numbers are significantly higher than on any other trainer that I’ve ever used – higher by about 2X.  It could be that the 705 is right and every other trainer I’ve ever used is wrong, but I sorta doubt it.

The bottom line for me is that the 705 has met or exceeded all my expectations and it’s really been fun to have along for rides.  If you’re a data junkie like me, there is really no better device out there for analyzing and comparing ride data and routes.  Also, since I ride on a Computrainer all winter, I can also take my routes from the 705 and convert them to work with the Computrainer.  That way, I get to ride the same routes virtually during the winter, doubling my fun with the device.

The Edge 705 ain’t cheap, but my experience is that it’s durable and should last a long time.  If you’re a frequent rider and enjoy seeing yourself improve, the smiles/mile can make it totally worthwhile.

 August 7th, 2008  
 Will  
 Cycling, Gadgets  
   
 9 Comments
28
Jul

Gadget Review: Canon G9

Canon-G9 In the world of photography, I am a Canon guy.  It’s not only that I like Canon photographic products, but I have a big investment in Canon lenses which makes it difficult (read: expensive) to change to cameras from other manufacturers.  My current photographic weapon of choice is Canon’s 5D D-SLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera (reviewed on this blog here).  Additionally, like any self-respecting photographic junkie, I have a wide range of lenses and other stuff from Canon that acts as a crutch, bolstering my otherwise mediocre photographic skills.  All in, my camera and associated equipment weighs about 20 pounds and, in its most portable configuration, fills a reasonable size backpack.

Most often, this isn’t a problem and the chance to get a truly great shot outweighs (pun intended) the inconvenience of carrying the heavy load.  Sometimes, though, an alternative is needed.  Like when on an active vacation or in confined spaces that aren’t ideal for long lenses and really bright flashes.  This is where one of the huge number of compact cameras available comes in.

For the most part, compact cameras are virtually all fully automatic – point-and-shoot, as it were.  The user need but to turn the camera on, aim at a desired target and push a button to steal their soul.  They are the modern equivalent of the original Kodak Brownie, everyone can use one.

Recently, I decided to replace an old compact that I had used for many years with something equally as portable, but with more power and manual control.  My requirements were:

  • Reasonable Sensor Resolution – 8MP should suffice (more on this later)
  • As Large a Physical Sensor as Possible – Low pixel density and larger pixels = clearer pictures and less noise.
  • Optical IS (Image Stabilizer) – Image stabilization helps to capture clear pictures where a shaky hand or low light might have otherwise prevented them.
  • Optical Viewfinder – I cut my teeth on SLRs, I like to see the image through glass instead of via an electronic screen – old habit.
  • Aperture/Shutter Priority + Full Auto – I wanted the camera to have a fully automatic mode, but I also want to be able to shoot pictures by fixing either the shutter speed or the aperture myself.
  • Easily Settable ISO Speed – In digital camera terms, the ISO speed setting adjusts the sensitivity of the sensor in the camera – the more sensitive, the better the pictures at low light, with trade-offs, of course.  Most point-n-shoot cameras automatically set it, I want to be able to do it manually.
  • Built-in Flash – Used for fill flash mostly – to light the objects close to the lens so they are not in shadow.
  • Good Battery Life – Nuclear power would be nice.  I just have to find the plutonium section at my neighborhood camera store.
  • Completely Retractable Lens – The lens has to curl up inside the camera.  It makes the camera smaller to carry and protects the lens.
  • Small as Possible Package – I’d like to carry it in my pocket.
  • Reasonable Wide Angle and Long Zoom – I want to get lots of stuff in my photo when I’m close up and be able to get good shots from far away.  My goal is below 30mm wide and over 200mm tele.
  • RAW File Support – I’ll shoot in JPEG almost always, but when I find that really special shot, I want to be able to capture everything with no in-camera processing.
  • Good Macro Mode – I like taking pictures of flowers and creepy, crawley bugs up close.  Having a macro mode that lets me focus within a few inches of the lens would be great.

Whew!  I also wanted a slew of other features like exposure bracketing, fast startup time, adjustable metering mode, etc, but they were less important to me.  Yeah, I wanted a lot, but I figured it was all doable.  I was wrong.

Because of what is a small market for this set of features combined with the fact that they amount to an enormous boatload of technology, there aren’t many cameras that meet these criteria.  In fact, there are none.  The ones that came close (at the time of my (purchase several months ago) were:

  • Panasonic LX2
  • Leica DLux3
  • Ricoh GX100
  • Nikon P5100
  • Canon A650
  • Sony DSC-H10
  • Canon G9

Even though I am a self-proclaimed Canon guy, I had no bias towards any manufacturer.  Especially since none of my existing equipment was going to work with any compact camera anyway.  In the end, though, I thought that Canon’s G9 came closest to my requirements.  Hardly fitting in my pocket, it does fit on my belt (in a geeky, pocket protector sorta way).  I’ve now used the camera for a couple of months  and I’m convinced that a good photographer could make this camera jump through hoops.  It’s very powerful and takes some really good pictures.  That said, it’s not without some issues.

  • For as large a sensor that this camera has (see stats below), there is a surprising amount of noise above ISO 400.  I have to believe that it’s related to the resolution of the sensor.  I guess resolution is what sells, because if this same sensor was made with 8MP instead of 12.1MP, I’d bet it’d be great up to at least ISO 800.
  • The small flash on the camera is often too hot or not powerful enough.  There should be built-in metering for the flash intensity, but it doesn’t always do a very good job.
  • The lens’ widest view is 32mm (35mm equivalent).  This isn’t bad, of course, but 25-28mm would be a lot nicer.
  • At telephoto, the lens is a bit slow (F4.8).  Combined with the ISO noise problem, above, it’s almost useless in low light.
  • The viewfinder is useless, but there is so much information on the 3″ display, which performs well in sunlight, that it’s less of a problem than I had anticipated.

Other than these issues, and a few nits here and there, this camera met all my prescribed needs.

I just carried this camera on my belt on a trip to Europe that had me walking through cities, museums and cathedrals from dawn till dusk.  Carrying an SLR with a few lenses and a flash would have been a tremendous pain in the ass.  The G9 performed stellarly in daylight and well in low light conditions giving me almost all the results I expected in almost 1,000 photos.

While there are certainly some trade-offs in using this camera, it is very good overall and the only camera that comes close to being a truly portable D-SLR alternative in my opinion.

Here are the key specs . . .

Sensor Size 1/1.7″ CCD
Resolution 12.1M Effective Pixels
Lens – Zoom 32-210mm (35mm Equiv) 6X
Lens – Speed F2.8-F4.8
ISO 80-1600
Display 3.0″ TFT (100% Coverage) + Viewfinder
Size 106.4 X 71.9 X 42.5mm (4.2 X 2.8 X 1.7in)
Weight (w/o battery) 320g (11.3oz)
Macro 1-50cm

 July 28th, 2008  
 Will  
 Gadgets, Photography  
   
 13 Comments
24
Jul

Golden Shellback Miracle Coating

Fortunately, I’ve never dropped my cell phone in a puddle or poured coffee on my laptop, but I know loads of people who have.  Typically, they spend a few days with a blow dryer trying to bring their electronic gadget back to life.  Sometimes it works, but most often I hear that it “sorta” works.

Well, the Northeast Maritime Institute claims to have solved this problem with its Golden Shellback splash proof coating.  From their web site:

Golden Shellback coating produces a vacuum deposited film that is nonflammable, has low toxicity and has the ability to weatherproof electronic devices and other surfaces. It contains no volatile organic combustibles (VOCs). The clear, nearly non-detectable, uniform film is insoluble in solvents. When applied to clean, moisture free surfaces, such as plastic, copper, aluminum, metal, ceramic, steel, tin or glass, the coating is transparent with excellent weather proofing and anti-corrosion properties.”

Check out the video.  It looks incredible, but it raises as many questions for me as it answers.  Very cool stuff if it works though.


Golden Shellback Waterproof Coating from gCaptain.com on Vimeo.

 July 24th, 2008  
 Will  
 Gadgets, Misc Thoughts  
   
 Comments Off on Golden Shellback Miracle Coating
21
Jul

Gadget Review: Amazon Kindle

In the last few months, 2-Speed Labs has been inundated with a virtual tractor-trailer load of new gadgets.  I hope to review many of these over the coming weeks for your dissecting pleasure.  Having just completed my second book on Amazon’s new Kindle, though, and with thoughts about the device fresh on my mind, I thought I’d start with this uber cool gadget.

For those of you who haven’t heard of the Kindle, it’s Amazon’s take on an e-book reader.  It has many of the same features of other e-book readers – storage for many books; nice electronic ink (E-Ink) display; searchable content; etc.  It has phenomenal battery life, even better (much) with the radio off.  I read a book plus a variety of downloaded articles on a single charge – and I read at the speed of a kindergartner. 

What’s really cool about the device is that it adds what Amazon calls Whispernet.  Basically, it’s a one-way cell phone (EV-DO radio service using Sprint) built into the Kindle to download books, periodicals and some other web stuff.  While you can’t place calls on the Kindle, the data browsing and download capability is very cool.  There is no periodic charge for use, either.  Projected use is loaded into the up-front cost of the reader.

Of course, this always on (well, optionally on) data connection makes it super easy to browse Amazon’s library of books in Kindle form (there are a surprising number of books already available – well over 100,000) and to download them instantly.  Since the most expensive book is $9.99, this probably won’t break you.  Although the hefty $359 (recently reduced from $399) outlay for the device might.

One can also subscribe to a few magazines and newspapers (for a fee, of course) and have the journals automatically sent to their kindle as soon as they are available.  Newspapers are delivered early in the morning so even early birds don’t have to wait on the front step with slippers, robe and coffee for the newspaper delivery person to show up.  From what I can tell, the New York Times works well in its current Kindle format, others have a bit of catching up to do.

When you register your Kindle, you get two email addresses.  As you send certain documents to these addresses, Amazon will convert the documents into a format that the Kindle understands and either email the resulting document to your computer or pass it to your Kindle over Whispernet.  There is no charge for the document to be emailed to you (you can transfer it to the Kindle yourself once you get it), but Amazon charges $0.10 for each document sent directly to your Kindle.

There are several blogs that also can be subscribed to, if you don’t mind paying to read blog posts.  There are also a few “experimental” features that include a web browser and an MP3 player.

The problem with the web browser and blog reader is that the Kindle is set up to work with pages – like those in a book.  It doesn’t handle HTML frames, or large web-oriented page information nicely.  Even though there is a scroll wheel of sorts, it doesn’t move a cursor or viewing area up and down like you think of in a mouse and browser paradigm on a computer.  Instead, the previous and next buttons are used (as in previous and next page).  It’s difficult to explain, but it’s just not what you’re used to doing in the context of a normal web browser or blog reader.

None of that should detract from the experience of reading books on the device, though.  The bottom line is that I really like reading with the Kindle.  I like carrying multiple books in limited space (and weight); I like the ease of acquiring new books; and I like the idea of saving a tree here and there.

I think there can be a few improvements made, though . . .

  1. I still think in paper pages and there is no indication of what page I’m on.  That is, a page number corresponding to the page in the actual, printed book.  Since the text size can be changed you don’t necessarily see a page as it was originally set in the bound book.  There is a visual guide (dots) to give you a sense of how far into the book you are and a “location,” that is an index of where you are (although the index is not with respect to the number of locations in the entire book).  Neither of these indicators correspond to the actual book, though.  I’d like the Kindle to tell me what page I’m on from the book.  Since the text size I like is fairly large, I might be on the same book page for several kindle pages.  Until I am a complete convert, this type of indicator would be nice.
  2. While paying for blogs seems absurd, I understand that there is variable airtime involved using Whispernet.  I’d pay for a few, select blogs that I read if the price were reasonable (read: minimal) and they were available.  The selection right now is very limited.
  3. Well, I should note that 2, above, would be true if the blog browsing/reading experience were better.  Let me use the scroll wheel to navigate up and down the page and the experience will be more natural.
  4. The same thing is true for web browsing but, additionally, links have to be easier to “click on” and CSS styles/HTML frames need to be rendered better.  Again, I understand that Amazon doesn’t want to encourage more airtime use, but offering a broken browser doesn’t seem to the the way to control it.
  5. Some .doc and .pdf files aren’t very readable when translated by Amazon and sent to the Kindle.  A few of mine even got to the Kindle in hexadecimal format.  Since the Kindle is a great device for reading business stuff on the run, it would be great if this was working better soon.

Again, for it’s main purpose, though, I love this thing.  If you’re even a casual reader, the Kindle is a great addition to your library.  If you’re a traveler, you’ll quickly become an addict.  Highly recommended.

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 July 21st, 2008  
 Will  
 Gadgets  
   
 7 Comments
11
Jul

Crash Differently

Saw this comment on several blogs today.  Perfect!  If you tried to get a new iPhone up and running or, even worse, tried to get an old iPhone or iPod Touch upgraded to the new iPhone 2.0 software, you understand this completely.  For all the bashing Apple does of Microsoft for screwing up releases you’d think they’d work a little harder to avoid the debacle that today has been for so many iPhone/iPod users.

My son bought a new iPhone today which still can’t get a signal – it appears that the activation failed.  When I tried to upgrade my iPod Touch to iPhone 2.0 software, iTunes continually crashed.  I Googled the error message and found about 250 pages of entries discussing the same problem.  Eventually, iTunes just stopped trying to direct me to the iTunes store to upgrade and told me that my v1.1.4 software “is the current version.”  No 2.0 for me, I guess, even though the announcement of its release is still proudly displayed on Apple’s web site.  To even get that far, I had to do a complete reinstall of iTunes.

Apple apparently is claiming that their servers are overloaded.  Let’s see.  I know how many iPod Touches exist; I know how many original iPhones were sold; and I know how many new iPhones are in the channel.  How would I anticipate demand.   Hmmm, let me think . . .

They’ll work it all out, of course, and all the Jim Jones disciples who routinely drink all the Kool-Ade Apple can produce will quickly forget what a mess today has been.  As Apple gets more customers and gets hit with more upgrades of huge numbers of users, perhaps they’ll  demonstrate a bit less hubris with respect to how their giant competitors create and deal with problems.  What a joke.  Like that would ever happen .  .  .

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 July 11th, 2008  
 Will  
 Gadgets  
   
 2 Comments
06
May

Cell Phone Smackdown: Pearl 8120 vs. Blackjack I vs. Blackjack II

For the last few weeks I’ve gotten deep and dirty into investigating which phone will earn the right to replace my current, aging Samsung Blackjack I and win the honor of sitting in my pocket or on my belt for the foreseeable future.

Here were the criteria for the choice:

  • Reasonable keyboard for doing real email
  • Small
  • Seamless Exchange integration (No, IMAP doesn’t count)
  • Loads of available third party apps (offline)
  • A display large enough to decipher most web pages
  • Fast data connectivity
  • GSM (sorry Verizon)
  • Great coverage (phone and data reception) in the Boston ‘burbs’ and as good as possible everywhere else
  • Quad Band
  • WiFi, while not required, would be really nice

The list of candidates quickly dwindled, leaving me with three: the RIM Blackberry Pearl 8120, the Samsung Blackjack II and my current Blackjack I.  The reason other Blackberry’s weren’t considered was because of a combination of size and available apps.  Neither factor was a killer, but the combination was.  There were also several phones that were on the bubble, including the iPhone, the Moto Q and the HTC Touch.

The iPhone fails because of weight (size), keyboard (the virtual, non-tactile keyboard doesn’t work for me) and lack of apps.  The Moto Q is a nice phone, but is larger than the Blackjacks while offering the same basic feature set and the HTC touch, while a very cool device, has the same virtual keyboard problem as the iPhone.

The Samsung Blackjacks are powered by Windows Mobile (WM6 in both cases).  The Pearl by it’s own, dedicated Blackberry OS (v4.3 in this case).

Let’s start with the Pearl.  I REALLY wanted this device to be the winner.  It’s small; the keyboard, with two letters per key, uses RIM’s SureType to almost always guess the correct word for you (very impressive) and is almost as good as having a full QWERTY keyboard; it has built-in WiFi; and it’s reception is much better than the Samsung devices.  All-in-all, a terrific package.

The trick behind Blackberry is that the server does a lot of the heavy lifting for the phone.  This leaves the phone nice and lean (and fast), but getting everything established without an IT department becomes problematic.  It took me three passes with AT&T to get it provisioned to use BES (Blackberry Enterprise Server).  They don’t usually have guys coming off the street who want to have this level of service.  It took me another three passes with my Exchange Server host to actually get BES enabled on my account and working with Exchange.  While neither of these problems is with the phone, it does impact the overall experience.

At the end of the day, in addition to these headaches, AT&T wanted to charge me more each month as did my Exchange host.  All this, when my current phone, the Blackjack I worked with Exchange without any muss or fuss right out of the box and for much less money. 

I was also baffled by the fact that the Blackberry couldn’t handle HTML email (there are third party solutions for this and the server will be updated to deal with this “soon”).  The Blackberry web browser was also lacking.  Combine that with a limited number of third-party apps, and the phone left me wanting . . . a lot.

So, I returned the device and picked up a Blackjack II.  The second generation of this phone is a bit larger and a bit faster than its predecessor, but doesn’t offer loads of new functionality.  It has built-in GPS (I’d rather have WiFi), a better camera (who cares?) and a few Windows Mobile tweaks.  It’s also supposed to have better battery life, but in my testing, it ate through its charge faster than the original.

So, I returned it too and ended up with my old phone which, for me, still represents the best overall phone/pda available on the market.  Open platform, small form factor, great Exchange integration, cheap and fast enough.  I am a real gadget fan and like to have the latest stuff.  The fact that I didn’t jump on the latest and greatest thing says something about either the state of the market or the strange set of requirements I have for a phone.

Here’s my summary of the three in my shoot-out:

Pros 

Pearl 8120 Blackjack I Blackjack 2

Small

Full QWERTY keyboard

Full QWERTY keyboard

SureType

Loads-o-apps available

Loads-o-apps available

Many apps available

Easy Exchange integration

Easy Exchange integration

Builtin WiFi

3G

3G

Great voice & data reception

Great soft-feel, fingerprint resistant finish

Improved voice reception

Fast

 

Built-in GPS

Long battery life

 

Faster

 

Cons 
 

Pearl 8120 Blackjack I Blackjack 2

No 3G

A bit slow

Bigger than Blackjack I

Not a full keyboard

Just OK reception

1+ Day Battery Life

No HTML Email (without 3rd party add-on)

One-day battery life

Fingerprint magnet – glossy surface

Poor browser

No standard headphone jack

No standard headphone jack

Requires additional server

 

 

Functional, but lousy looking fonts

 

 

Overall solution costs more

 

 

As I said, I would have loved to get the Pearl to work for me, but all the additional costs and a smaller number of third-party applications made me less interested in doing the heavy lifting.  The Blackjack II is just not enough of an upgrade to make it worthwhile.  So, in the end, I stayed with my trusty steed, the original Blackjack.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best balance of phone, PDA and size available.

 May 6th, 2008  
 Will  
 Gadgets  
   
 22 Comments