Jim Louderback

July 18, 2014

Review: Blackberry Z30

Filed under: Technology Reviews — Jim @ 12:32 pm

blackberryI really like the new BlackBerry Z30 smartphone running the latest version 10 of the OS. There, I said it.  Let the brickbat tossing begin.

So, to quote David Byrne, “How Did I Get Here”? I’m a dyed-in the wool Android user, with an unnatural aversion to even Apple’s mobile products. It all started when TechnoBuffalo head Jon Rettinger lent me a Q10 (and a Microsoft Phone from Nokia) to tide me over until my newly screen-cracked Nexus 5 came back from LG repair.

I was appalled by both phones – so much so that I accused Rettinger of harboring a secret grudge against me. But it turns out an old friend, Shelly Sofer, was wrapping up an 8 year stint running BlackBerry product PR, and convinced me that I really ought to try the Z30. Not only was it a real 5-inch smart phone without the fuddy-duddy physical buttons, it addressed one of my biggest problems with both Windows Smartphone and BlackBerry – lack of apps I absolutely had to have.

That’s because the smart engineers up in Waterloo finally decided that if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. BlackBerry added native Android app support in its latest dot-release of their OS 10. It seemed too good to be true, but I figured I’d do a solid for Shelly and give it a quick whirl.

I try out a lot of phones. Not as many as when I was editor-in-chief of PC Magazine, but I do try to stay current. I know I’ve started to really care for a phone when I buy it a screen protector. And no one was more surprised than me when I ordered one up on Amazon just two days after I started using the Z30. I was starting to get attached.

That, unfortunately, points to one of the shortcomings of the Z30 – the glass is very prone to scratches.  It doesn’t appear to be Gorilla Glass (although that’s hardly a panacea, as I found with my now repaired Nexus 5).  The Z30 could certainly use some glass hardening.

But beyond that, it’s a very well built phone. Unlike the Q10, which bolts a Frankenstein-like keyboard onto a touch screen OS, the Z30’s version of the OS was well thought out, using an intuitive swipe and slap metaphor that made it easy to run apps, navigate between running programs, control settings and more.


It only took a few minutes for me to feel comfortable with the navigation on the Z30. But that wasn’t what sold me – the newly redesigned messaging hub was the first thing that pushed me over the edge.

I shouldn’t have been surprised; BlackBerry cut its teeth on helping mobile executives make short work of email and text messages. But BlackBerry has built a unified inbox that can also be separated into separate parts, and brings together email, text messaging, along with messages from social services, including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

I found it easy to read, reply and navigate through all my messages, although there are still a couple of things I’d like to see. First, the system needs one-button delete. Right now, from an open message, you have to press three times to delete a message and bring up the next one. That’s two taps too many.

However, I’d really like to see a better implemented one-button clear for all the alerts and other junk that filled up my Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin inboxes. The option exists – it requires you to tap a small section of the screen in just the right way – but only during the waning of the gibbous moon. Seriously, it’s not that difficult. But it’s close. BlackBerry needs to make eliminating messages and alerts as easy as reading them.

The Z30 also doesn’t let you customize the interface as completely as Android. I like being able to organize my apps in my own way – and BlackBerry made that more difficult than it should have been. I’m also not a big fan of their icons – they are hard to decipher, and easy to forget. In addition, I wish I could size them up, because 20 per screen is just too many.

I also found the music player to be workable, but with a kink here and there. First, props for supporting FLAC – the popular lossless compressed format, but the “shuffle” interface needs major work. You can set shuffle at a playlist, album or track level – but you can only turn it off at a track level. I had to actually look up how to turn off shuffle on Crackberry.com – that’s just dumb. And unlike Android, which stops playing music when you unplug your headphones, the Z30 just keeps playing and playing. I’d like it to stop, please.

Like Android and Apple, the Z30 lets you swipe from the top to bring up a short-list of settings. I really liked the ability to customize that list with my own most-used commands. But that quick-access option screen doesn’t come up when you’re running an app full-screen -  a needless limitation.

But those are really just quibbles.  The phone makes and receives calls well, the address book integration is strong and battery life was at least as good as the Nexus 5 – if not better. I liked the ability to stop/mute music playing with the half-sized button between the up and down-volume buttons. The camera took decent pictures too, although not as good as the Nexus 5. My only gripe about the hardware was that the on-off switch on my phone started sticking after a few days, which meant I needed to mash it a few times to get the phone to work. BlackBerry quickly replaced the phone, and it hasn’t cropped up on the new handset, so that might be a limited occurrence.

But What About the Apps?

But the real magic here was how the company integrated native Android apps into the phone. Although there’s no easy BlackBerry-created way to load Android apps, you can use third-party loaders to grab Android “APK” files and download them to the phone. Once there, the well-designed built-in file manager lets you launch – and then install – those apps.

They mostly work just fine. The SiriusXM app played all my favorite stations, Uber found me a taxi during rush-hour in NYC, Delta’s app included all the great Android features, the list goes on and on.

There were a few weird oddities. The Waze navigation app consistently displayed the wrong time – somewhere in Greenland, I believe – although navigation worked perfectly. Occasionally an app would seemingly get stuck trying to launch, but simply closing and re-opening seemed to do the trick. I did run into issues with a few hyper-local apps designed to run in my local beach town. But these weren’t show stoppers – and I’ve certainly had my share of Android crashes as well.

Even Google’s own apps worked – although it was a bit of a struggle to get Google’s own authentication systems working. But after following instructions from Crackberry.com I managed to get Google Maps and Field Trip running, and others have reported success with Google Play and Music as well.

One potential show-stopper though:  it’s not nearly as easy to connect to a PC as your Android phone. You need to load the “BlackBerry Link” app first, which is a nice touch and automatically loads the first time you connect the phone up via the included micro-USB cable. Once you get the devices talking to each other, you can drag and drop via the Windows file manager, or use the built-in sync and backup functions.

Both worked well. When they worked. Unfortunately after two successful connects the phone inexplicably failed to connect to my PC. It turns out that BlackBerry Link uses a type of networking to create the connection, rather than having the phone act as a remote/removable hard drive. And when both my laptop and the phone were connected to my home Wi-Fi network, something caused a security block to pop up between the two devices. I merely had to shut off Wi-Fi on the phone for it to connect up again. Too bad it took me about two hours of debugging to figure this out.

Final Thoughts

All told – once I figured out the trick to reliable PC connectivity – the Z30 is a very strong competitor in the high-end smart-phone market. I was particularly impressed by the magic of native Android apps running on the mostly superior BlackBerry messaging and app UI.

So BlackBerry mostly gets it right. Alas, it might be too little too late.

If your company has standardized on BlackBerry, or you miss that great messaging experience, this is the first modern device from the company that really does stand up to the best of Apple and Android. It’s not for everyone – you still need to be a bit of a geek to load Android apps for example – but all in all I really like it, and you might too.

And what’s telling is that even after a few weeks with the phone I haven’t gone back to my Nexus 5.  And I just ordered another round of screen protectors from Amazon.

August 19, 2013

FUTURE OF TV – I FIGURED IT OUT! (take that Apple)

Filed under: Commentary,Technology Reviews — Jim @ 3:52 pm

I’ve finally figure out what we need to make video work around the house. It’s not TV Everywhere, cord cutting or a la carte, although it could incorporate all of those. Nope, it’s Sonos for video. Pure and simple.

If you’re not familiar with Sonos, it’s the absolute best way to get music around your house. The company’s been around for about ten years, and what they do is simple, although oh-so hard. They take all of your digital music sources, and make it simple to browse, select, and then play through every audio rendering device in your house, either separately or together.

Note I said “audio rendering device”, and not stereo or speakers. And note I said “digital music sources” and not iTunes, Rhapsody or something else. That distinction is important.

But first, the magic behind Sonos is a clever Wifi hack that turns all of their devices into a mesh network, rather than using a hub-and-spoke configuration that your home base stations employ. Instead, each Sonos component is both hub and node, and communicates with all other Sonos devices in a mesh. That simple change (albeit hard to implement) is what lets Sonos do what no other wireless multi-room audio system can accomplish: syncing up a song to the beat in every room in your house.

They call it party mode, but what it means is that every note of Dave Matthews Band’s “Ants Marching” happens simultaneously in every room in your house – even if the node in your garage can’t directly communicate to the node on the patio.

In addition, Sonos has a variety of products that work with all the audio equipment you own. Have a killer stereo? The Sonos Connect feeds music to that device. Have a great pair of speakers? The Connect Amp brings an amplifier to the game. Recently they’ve developed all-in-one solutions, combining base-stations and amps with great sounding speakers, and released a TV sound bar and subwoofer to boot.
And when it comes to input, Sonos works with a variety of music sources, from your iTunes library or other shareable MP3 libraries on your PC or Mac, to all-you-can-eat services like Rhapsody and Spotify to SiriusXM, Pandora, LastFM and an almost endless list of web radio stations.

Plus over its life, Sonos has been happy to cannibalize its paid products with free alternatives when devices and forces shifted. For the first 7 years or so they sold an amazing family of controllers that made it simple to access all your music sources in one place, find what you wanted to listen to, combine and break apart groups of base stations, and just get on with adding tunes to your life. But as smartphones and tablets became ubiquitous, they killed off what had to have been a profitable line, and delivered free apps for PCs, phones and tablets that were better than the hardware they replaced.
In short, Sonos reimagined what a world-class multi-room audio system would be like in the age of IP-delivered music, and have always been a step ahead of everyone else.

And that’s exactly what we need for video. Here’s what TV looks like in a Sonos-imagined world. Homes have a variety of video inputs, and a variety of video rendering devices. Every glowing rectangle in your home, from the smallest smart phone to the biggest TV is a video rendering device. And every video source, from YouTube, Hulu Amazon and Netflix to that multi-channel cable or satellite bundle – along with all those home and ripped videos on your PC or Mac, is simply just an input. And that phone or tablet? That’s what you’ll use to select what to watch and feed to one, some or all of those glowing rectangles.

Here’s how it would work. A base station sits in front of each TV in the house. Each base station knows how to connect to all your internet-connected video sources, along with your local digitized video, and your multi-channel set top box or DVR. The set top box, though, will need to be physically connected to at least one of the base stations with some sort of IR-blaster or other remote control technology.

Each hub would include both the mesh-based high-speed network to communicate and synchronize with each other around the house, and a local, Wi-Fi based link to stream to phones and tablets in that room.

And for control, tablets and phones would make it easy to find all the available video in one interface, easy to peruse and manipulate.

Sounds great, right? All available video in once place, streamable to every TV in the house in a way that lets every device play its own stream, or some or all of them grouped together.

Of course there are implementation problems. First, the antique set-top box is a weak link. Companies as diverse as Logitech with their Harmony remote, and Sling have tried to make this all work, with some success – but it’s a pain. It’s probably best if we wait until a robust set of virtual MSOs (like the forthcoming Intel service) turn all of our video into IP-delivered streams.

And speaking of Sling, you’d probably need to acquire them to make all this happen, they are already 50% of the way there.

The wireless part is also problematic. Compared to 1080p video, audio streams are tiny. Keeping fat video streams in sync across multiple devices requires much more than standard wireless networking. And streaming wirelessly out to our phones and tablets adds another complexity to the synchronization.

But the benefits are clear. And with this type of system if new services come online, they can quickly be added in – as just another video source.

If someone builds this, and it really works, sign me up. And with a simple out-of-home streaming option, I’d be able to roll my own TV Everywhere – because in the end, that’s what I think viewers really want.

September 10, 2011

Wine Gear: Best Way to Preserve Wine–Two Gizmos Better Than One!

Filed under: Food and Wine,Technology Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — Jim @ 10:21 am


Hello, and welcome to the first of a new series of columns from me called Wine Gear. In this space we’ll be reviewing wine accessories – those things that go along with sharing and enjoying wine.

I’ve tried a lot of them, and I intend on trying a lot more. So you might wonder what makes me qualified to test wine products? Well for six years I ran product testing at PC Week magazine, and I hosted the popular Fresh Gear product review show on cable network TechTV for five years – and most recently I was editor in chief of PC Magazine. I know how to test products, and I don’t pull any punches. I hope you’ll enjoy these columns, and make sure you comment, and let me know what you think!

With that let’s get into it.

Although I’m a big fan of wine, I often only want a glass or two with dinner, which leaves a half bottle or more left over. I’ve got a modest cellar, but many of my wines are both ready to drink, and too expensive to throw half away. And there’s the rub – how do I save a half bottle of wine for a day or two without it going flat?

I’ve tried a wide variety of pumps, gizmos, corks and gadgets, but none seemed to work. Finally, a few years ago I settled on Private Preserve – spray cans of inert argon gas that create a neutral layer on top of any remaining liquid.

It worked well, but it wasn’t perfect. Even after one night that really great bottle would often be flat and uninspiring. But it was better than nothing, and at least it worked a good portion of the time. Still, I was loathe to open up any really good bottles of wine, unless I was in a mood to down the whole thing, or friends were over to share it. And so the bulk of my cellar kept aging and aging.

Recently I discovered a new product designed to preserve wine – this time from Australia. The Wine Shield is an odd product, and at first blush it really shouldn’t work. The shield is basically a plastic disc, about the diameter of a wine bottle, with the outer radius sliced diametrically in a radial pattern to allow it to fit different sized bottles. To insert it into a bottle, you wrap it around an included plastic fork, slip it in, and then let it tumble. The disk ends up floating on top of any left-over wine, creating a seal that promises to stop oxidization and preserve the rest of the bottle.

Why would a simple plastic shield work where pumps, sprays and others failed? I was skeptical, but I figured I’d try it – at least I’d be able to check another wine gizmo off the list.

Surprisingly, it worked. Not all the time, but the success rate was about similar to Private Preserve. Great, though now I have two things that work reasonably well, but are still prone to failure. I still wasn’t willing to take a chance on those 2000 Bordeauxs, or that 1995 Merryvale Vineyards Profile I was waiting to drink.

But then I had a flash of inspiration. What about COMBINING the two? Maybe working together they might provide a shield that would reliably work for 24 hours, and perhaps even for a few days or longer.

So like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, I put two great tastes together and gave it a shot. And it worked better than I’d even hoped. Every single bottle I used with my combo stayed virtually intact for 24 hours. I started stretching it to two days, and the combo held up nicely as well. After that it was hit or miss, but I’ve kept bottles of Tempranillo, for example, for up to four days without losing any body, taste or smell.

So I put it to the test. I grabbed three bottles of Beronia Reserve 2005 and put them to the test. I opened all three simultaneously and tasted them. All good. I poured a glass off from each, and then stoppered one with PrivatePreserve, the next with a WineShield, and the third with my combination. After an hour or so I tasted each of the glasses, and they were in fine shape!

A day later I came back and poured off a glass from each of the three bottles.  I detected some fading in both the PrivatePreserve and the WineShield bottles, but both were very drinkable. My combo was still going strong.

By the second day, both the PP and WS bottles were noticeably fading – Drinkable, but only barely.  I poured them out. The combo bottle was vibrant and alive, and still tasted like it had when I opened it.  By day three it was still pretty good, but I could easily detect it fading.  By day four I tasted the last glass, but there was very little left. I poured it down the sink.

So there you have it. If you’re like me and are looking for a good way to save a half-opened bottle for a day or two, my combo route offers the best alternative I’ve found to date. Sure it’s more expensive than either alone, but unless you’re drinking Two-Buck Chuck, the price is well worth it!

Wine Gear: Two Automatic Openers Compared

Filed under: Food and Wine,Technology Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Jim @ 10:19 am


When it comes to wine gear, there are probably more variants of wine bottle openers than any other product on the market – aside from glasses. There are rabbit-shaped openers, winged openers, T-shaped models, jack-knife corkscrews blades and even those (to me) impossibly inscrutable two-pronged jobbers that are typically wielded by snooty waiters looking for an outsized tip.


This article, however, is not about any of those. Instead, it’s focused on the lazy-man’s corkscrew, those that promise to suck up a cork – like an elephant inhales peanuts – with just the touch of a button.

I put two of the more popular models to the test, the chic and sleek Waring Pro WO 50 (usually $90 at Amazon, but on sale while I was writing this for just over $30), and the stubby Ozeri Nuveau Electric Corkscrew (also listing at $90, but on sale for $26 when I checked).

Let’s talk about looks first. If you’re considering an electric corkscrew, chances are you’re looking to both ease the cork extraction process and impress your friends. Since they’re cordless, you’ll probably be wielding the tool like a mason wields his trowel, and looks definitely count. In that category, the Waring wins hands down. The long, sleek shaft of the opener sits in an attractive base that also charges the built-in battery and includes a tuck-in foil cutter. The black base and stainless steel and black opener are attractive, and would look at home in even the highest-end kitchen or wine cellar.

image (1)

Compared to the Waring, the Ozeri is just plain ugly – like comparing an F16 fighter to the A-10 Thunderbolt – aka the Warthog. But like that plane, it’s deadly effective, and fun to use to boot. The Ozeri comes in three different colors – silver, red and black. But where the Waring is an enclosed cylinder, half of the Ozeri is made of clear plastic, which lets you actually watch your cork being extracted and then expelled from the opener. The Ozeri, too, runs on built-in rechargeable batteries, although it lacks an elegant charging base. But in a clever twist, the top of the charger itself is also a detachable foil cutter – pretty slick.

So that’s form. Let’s talk function.  I ran each through a case or so of bottles over the course of a summer party, and both openers did a good job in my tests of separating cork from bottle. Although their opening skills were similar, I give the nod to the Ozeri, primarily because it let me actually watch the cork as it was pulled, and bathed the cork in a neat blue LED light to boot.

But getting the cork out is only half the battle. The openers both include a reverse switch, which is designed to expel the cork in one piece. And here, alas, the Waring collapsed. On more than one occasion the cork got caught up in the machinery, and crumbled while being extracted. And that left pieces of cork firmly wedged inside the opener, which required an extraction process not dissimilar to that performed by an oral surgeon. The corks that got caught up did not seem overly dry, so in the end I blame it on the tool, not the user or the substrate.

The Ozeri, by contrast, did a great job expelling corks – all were released in good enough condition to reuse, recycle, or turn into twee cork-art, depending on your inclination.

Although I didn’t open enough wines to drain the batteries, suffice it to say that either would last for nearly any party – apart from a graduation, Kennedy wedding, or other similarly massive and sodden affairs. Waring claims its opener will extract up to 80 corks on a single charge, while the Ozeri says it’s good for 40. Either way, that’s probably more than you’ll regularly need in a single night – even if your in-laws are visiting.

Unfortunately, though, the Waring seems to have a battery defect. I couldn’t confirm this, but more than one purchaser on Amazon claims that when they drained the Waring’s battery completely without dropping it back into its charger, the opener failed to recharge, turning it into a useless piece of cylindrical plastic.

The Ozeri is not without its detractors online either – but only for the springiness of its snap off foil cutter, which for some lost its gripping ability over time. Again, after considerable, but irregular use of both over the last few months I have not encountered either of these problems, but you should know that those experiences are out there.

So which to buy? I have to recommend the Ozeri. Although I love the looks of the Waring, and the charging base is a nice touch, the functionality of the Ozeri – especially when it comes to expelling the cork – makes it a winner. And frankly, those reported battery problems with the Waring scare me. Even better, the Ozeri can be found online for a few bucks less.

February 4, 2011

Sweet Gaming Mouse Great for Non-Gamers Too!

Filed under: Technology Reviews — Tags: , , , , — Jim @ 11:14 am

OK, first let me state that I’m a sucker for gaming mice – even though I’m not much of a PC gamer any more. I love the sleek feel, crazy lights and multi-buttons, and have used a wide range of them.

But my current favorite has to be the new NAOS 5000. It’s got all kinds of crazy weights (which I have no idea why I need, but I love the tweakability), awesome DPI – which means it works on most all surfaces, and crazy lights galore. Plus it feels good in my hand. So if you’re looking for some sweet rodentia, and Microsoft and Logitech aren’t doing it for you, consider the NAOS. It’s a great mouse, and you can spend countless hours making it just right for you!

Yes, $80 is a lot for a mouse, but it sure is a great one!  From Mionix!

January 10, 2011

FAIL: 19 Weirdest Products From CES 2011

The annual Consumer Electronics Show has come to an end, and along with all the cool new products, surprisingly there were even more wacked products on the show floor than usual.

We’ve wrapped up the wackiest, weirdest, most bizarre and biggest FAIL products from the show floor this year, guaranteed to surprise, delight and keep you LOLing and ROFLing with glee.

Here’s a partial list of our dubious winners:

Angry Birds – the board game: That’s right, soon you’ll be able to play an IRL version of Rovio’s Angry Birds. The pigs are running scared already. From Mattel

Nanda Home Tocky & Clocky: Having trouble getting up in the morning? Did your iPhone alarm clock fail at the worst possible time? Well these wacky alarm clocks just don’t take no for an answer. They bounce around, roll crazily on the floor, and basically offer more annoyance per square inch than a teething toddler.

Be A Head Case: Speaking of the iPhone – and just in time for the Verizon iPhone, this here’s an iPhone case designed for all you Bubbas out there. It includes a built in beer bottle opener – and a belt clip to disguise it!

iGrill: And what goes with beer better than charred meat? But not too charred (and not too rare either). This wireless meat probe from iDevices connects to your iPhone and lets you know just how hot your meat really is.

There’s tons more, including a couple of exercise toys that flog the dolphin even better than the Shake Weight, balls that you control with your iPhone, and even USB jewelry (so pimp).

WATCH the 19 Dumbest Products From CES 2011

January 5, 2011

Exclusive Video: 3D Camcorder from Sony – No Glasses Needed!

So far 3D has been a failure. The bulky glasses and expensive sets – not to mention the lack of content – have made it less than a savior for the CE industry.

But that all changed today at CES, as Sony released it’s new camcorder – a Handycam that lets just about anyone shoot 3D video.

This amazing Sony 3D camera lets you monitor your video in 3D without glasses. It’s the first ever camera to include 2 lenses, two image sensors and two complete processing paths! And it also makes it drop dead easy to create in 3D – now anyone can do it.

But what about editing? Our exclusive behind-the-scenes look at Sony’s HDR-TD10 also includes a look at a new 3D editing device coming soon from Sony too. It’ll be available in April for $2,000!

Watch Exclusive Video of Sony’s 3D Camcorder, and See How It Works!

We’ll have much more from CES as the show progresses. For all the updates, bookmark our CES 2011 special report!

Amazing Device Turns Your iPhone Into a Car Stereo!

There are a wide range of ways to stream audio from your iPhone to your car stereo, from the mini-jack to bluetooth and more. But they all involve fumbling with a separate unit, which can be downright dangerous on the road.

Now there’s a better way! The new O’car actually makes your iPhone or iPod Touch an integral part of the stereo. You hop into the car, plug the iPhone into your head unit, and it turns into an automotive device – letting you listen to music, see GPS and use heads up navigation and much more.

A downloadable app integrates the phone’s OS and software into the head unit – and the iPhone actually swivels horizontally and vertically – this has to be seen to be believed! It also includes a 4×55 watt amp with a subwoofer control, and even supports multitasking (although we’re not sure how).

The unit will be available in the first quarter of 2011 for around $300

See the Amazing iPhone Car Stereo In Action!

December 30, 2009

The Worst 5 Mobile Apps of the Year!

Filed under: Commentary,Technology Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — Jim @ 1:02 pm

2009 saw a land grab the likes of which we haven’t seen since the days of the railroads. Greedy software companies and websites tried to cash in on the cellphone app store hype, and released tens of thousands of new programs for the iPhone, Android and Blackberry.

Many of them were quite good, but some of them were atrocious. And the dreck wasn’t solely the province of no-name companies either. Our five worst applications for 2010 come from some household names. So here’s the list, and don’t miss the video from our expert team of reviewers at App Judgment, they saw thousands of programs this year, and spent hours fighting over who would make the worst of the year!

Photoshop.com Mobile for the IPhone: About the best thing you can say about this application was that it was free. Everything else was disappointing, from the interface to the functionality. There are far better photo apps for your phone, from a variety of lesser known companies. Photoshop may lead the world on the PC and the Mac, but it sucks on the iPhone.

Worst 5 list continues below


Hold On! : Sure, many 2009 apps provided mindless entertainment. And that’s what this iPhone app aspired to do as well. But it failed utterly, completely and spectacularly – unless you’re prone to repeating stupifying tasks for days on-end to make the Guiness Book of World Records. The point of the program? Hold down an on-screen red dot for as long as you can. What a waste of .99.

Will You (Marry Me)? : Love was decidedly *not* in the air when we looked at this program The premise? Rather than buying a real ring, the iphone app simply displayed a jewel box opening up to reveal a digital diamond inside. One of our one reviewers even called it the anti-Viagra, and she was being too kind.

QIK: Let’s say you build up a fantastically successful company that lets anyone stream video from their cellphones to the internet, and through it to anyone in the world. Your first program runs on Nokia phones – nice to look at, but hardly world-beaters when it comes to apps and users. So you port it to the iPhone. You would expect it to, well, allow iPhone users to stream video to the world from wherever they are, wouldn’t you? We did. But it didn’t. Another “win” for AT&T’s ticky-tack 3G network. What a waste of pixels.

Shead Spreet: The name wasn’t the only mixed up part of this Android application. As smart phones became both business tools and entertainment devices, a wide variety of business-oriented programs launched. This one claimed to put a full-featured spreadsheet in your pocket, but failed miserably. With bad import features, poor data entry, and lame customization, it brought to mind the worst of Visicalc, Lotus 1-2-3, Quattro Pro and early Excel. Heck, even Windows Mobile worked better than this crapplet. Sometimes free really is too expensive.

It wasn’t all bad. There were tons of great apps released this year too. Tomorrow we’ll put up our list of the five best apps of the year, including a surprising number one!

April 16, 2009

Not Today Zurg! – 4 Reasons Why MLB.TV Isn’t Good Enough to Replace Cable Yet

Filed under: Commentary,Sports,Technology Reviews — Jim @ 9:12 pm

Unlike many of my co-workers, I’m not ready to give up cable – or in this case DirecTV. First, my wife would divorce me – although my son and I could definitely make it work. But even if we’re not ready to join the “rip-cord” generation, I thought I was ready to replace some of those premium services that are also available on the ‘net.

First on my list: the $200 I spend every year on DirecTV’s Extra Innings Baseball package. For the last 8 years it’s been a godsend for this California-based Mets fan – but it’s gotten more expensive each year. I do love seeing 4 or 5 games each week in HD, but I’ve gotten more and more rankled both by the price, and the lack of Saturday games (Fox owns those contests, and they rarely feature east coast teams out here).

MLB.TV has offered live streaming of every baseball game for a few years. I tried it for a month in 2007 when I was in London, and it was passable – small window, jerky action, but better than nothing. Last year they moved to Silverlight and it was useless, so I didn’t even try.

But this year I was intrigued: MLB.TV reverted back to flash, and added in a new HD feature, along with DVR functionality. The DVR and on-demand features are essential to me, as most games start at 4pm while I’m still at work. Unlike many sports fans, I have no problem TiVo-ing a game and watching it a few hours later – I just avoid twitter and the other Mets fans in the office (Hey Ron Richards and Ryan Daume – it’s really nothing personal) when the games are on.

Every game in HD, on-demand, for $110. Could this be the year that I ditched DirecTV’s baseball package, saved $90, and saw EVERY game I wanted, wherever I happened to be? Gosh I sure hoped so.

Two days into the season I had the perfect opportunity to compare one to the other. My DirecTV DVR mysteriously cancelled its scheduled recording of the second game of the season – one I really wanted to watch. So after calling DirecTV and threatening to bolt, I subscribed to a month of the MLB package, with high hopes.

Alas, they were quickly dashed. Four days later I cancelled the MLB service and made up with DirecTV. Although the MLB.TV package is much improved from last year, it’s still not good enough. Here are the four reasons why:


  • Quality: I love HD. I have a 42” and 52” flat screen and HD baseball is simply stunning. Although MLB.TV promises true HD, and I more than the 3 megabits of downstream bandwidth to support it, the quality pales. My Dell 1330 has an HDMI out port, so I was able to compare MLB.TV and HD DirecTV baseball side by side. Even at 12 feet, the MLB.TV picture was noticeably inferior, with blotchy pixilation and poor motion. It was better than an SD stream, but just barely.


  • Consistency: When you’re watching DirecTV, either live or via DVR, it just works. Dropped video and audio glitches happen, but rarely more than once a game, and many (if not most) games are glitch free. Not MLB.TV. Even after I adjusted the quality level way down, I still suffered regular dropped frames, stalled video, and other glitches. At least three times while watching a weekend worth of MLB.TV games – both live and on-demand – the signal just stopped for no good reason. With one game, I was unable to progress past the opening frames of the 8th inning, no matter what I did. For no apparent reason the signal just stopped. I even waited until the next morning to see if I’d be able to see that inning on-demand, but it simply wouldn’t play – a heartbreak, because the Mets scored five runs in that inning, as I later found out, and put the game out of reach.


  • DVR functionality: I don’t think anyone at MLB.TV has ever used a DVR to watch a baseball game. Last year’s Silverlight implementation was dreadful, this year’s is simply bad. With my DirecTV DVR I can fast forward or reverse at four different speeds, and do a 30 second skip or slip forward, along with a 7 second instant-replay style skip backwards. The MLB player has none of these. Instead, you can drag the slider forward towards an approximation of where you want to be, or use the fast forward/rewind button. Those buttons are impossible to accurately control, which is compounded by the fact that MLB replaces the ad breaks between innings with a hideous promotion for the MLB.TV service that its customers have already subscribed to – made painfully worse because it touts features that have yet to be delivered. It’s an instant “buyer’s remorse” reminder, replayed over and over at least 16 times per game.  There’s no 30 second forward skip, no instant-replay, and worst of all, the controls that are implemented can’t be controlled by the standard Windows player buttons found on many notebooks and remote controls. My Dell IR remote was useless, meaning that I had to get up every half inning to fiddle with the controls to try to bypass the inane intermission ads – ultimately unsuccessfully


  • Video On Demand: MLB.TV has one nice feature – if you watch after the game has ended, you can jump directly to any half inning. Alas, MLB even botched that one up. They promise that the on-demand version will be available “soon” after the live stream disappears (which happens immediately after the game is actually over). Their definition of “soon” and mine, apparently, are far different. Midnight on the west coast – five hours after the game ended – is way too long for “soon” to apply.


There’s a lot to like in the MLB.TV package, including access to every game, video and audio from both home and away announcers, and the ability to watch on any PC or notebook. But for this fan, at least, it’s not ready for prime time. It’s close though – I could overlook one of the previous glitches, but all four just make it not worth the money. But since MLB.TV keeps getting better each year, I have high hopes.

Next on my hit list – DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket. $200 for 100 games works out to about $2 a game, or less than a dollar an hour of enjoyment. With Sunday Ticket, I end up spending about $25 a Patriots game, as many of them are on free TV. That’s nearly $10 an hour, so I’m a bit more motivated to find an alternate solution. If I do, you’ll be the first to know.


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