Archive for January, 2012

Google adds public emergency announcements to Google Maps

If you’re directionally challenged like me, you’ve probably relied on Google Maps many times to get from point A to B. Last week, Google announced a new feature to Google Maps that informs users of emergencies in their traveling areas.

By integrating feeds from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Weather Service and the US Geological Survey, Google Public Alerts aims to keep travelers safe by including emergency alerts in their destination searches. It’s a great idea for those who don’t regularly check the weather forecast or those who travel long distances and may be headed into bad weather.

Looking at the example below, Google uses a hypothetical example of a flood in Indiana. If there was a flood warning in your search area, Google would state there was a “Flood Warning in Northern Indiana” and offer a “more info” link, which would lead to a page offering more details on the progress of the flood.

While I think this is a great start for Google Public Alerts, the alerts would be even more useful if it could include reports of major highway accidents or crime situations that would allow drivers to better plan their routes.

Do you think Google has struck gold once again with Google Public Alerts? Or, is this a potential dud for the super-brand?

 

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Tech Review: Moshi Vortex Earbuds

As we continue our search for the best pair of headphones on the market, we thought we’d try out Moshi’s Vortex Earbuds from AT&T. Made of steel alloy, these ear buds are not your run-of-the-mill headphones. The nylon cover cord, instead of the traditional plastic, also makes Moshi’s head phones stand out.

Moshi Vortex Earbuds

I was initially turned off by how heavy the steel alloy ear buds felt, and I wasn’t sold on the idea of putting tiny pieces of metal in my ears. After putting them in though, I was surprised how well they fit. However, several other people who tested them out didn’t have the same experience. Again, it just goes to show that not all ear buds are made to fit equally.

I found the nylon cord to be a welcomed feature as well. The earbuds weren’t nearly as tangled when I dug them out from the bottom of my gym bag as with other pairs I’ve tried out. The nylon cord was also lighter than the standard plastic, which helped prevent the cord pulling out the ear buds. Moshi’s ear buds are still not ideal for running though, as one ear bud popped out from time to time.

The ear buds deliver pretty impressive sound quality that picks up great bass. If you’re looking for a pair of noise-canceling headphones, these might be for you. Just having the ear buds in without any audio playing was enough to block out most outside noise.

Overall, I liked Moshi’s Vortex Earbuds a lot. If you find them to be a good fit, you can pick up a pair for $80 according to Decide.com.

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Tech Review: Blackberry Torch 9850

When we heard the Research in Motion’s new Blackberry Torch 9850 with OS 7 did not have the standard Blackberry full QWERTY keyboard, we were anxious to see what this device was all about. We recently got our hands on the new Torch from US Cellular and overall I think it’s a big step forward for RIM.

Blackberry Torch 9850

Nearly the same size as the iPhone 4s, the Torch’s sleek design gives you the best of both worlds in regards to portability and screen size. As much as I am impressed by the mega-screen phones on the market right now, some are more like mini tablets instead of phones. The Torch gives you a sizable screen than you can still easily slip into your pocket. The Torch might be the black sheep of the family with its rectangular design instead of the traditional square, but I like this new direction RIM is going in.

Blackberries are definitely not known for their cameras, but I was pleasantly surprised by the picture quality of the Torch. Its five mega-pixel camera may not the best available for a smartphone, but it definitely doesn’t disappoint.

Looking at the keyboard on the screen, I was a little concerned that typing would be an issue and my text messages would be worthy of a spot on DamnYouAutocorrect.com. Again though, I was surprised how well the Torch picked up the right keys and corrected my mistakes. Blackberry loyalists who are apprehensive of the touch screen should not fear: It’s time to give up the keyboard.

The downside to the Torch, like many other RIM products, is the sometimes sluggish browser. If you want a smartphone that quickly streams videos or can switch back and forth between applications with a breeze, the Torch may not be for.

Though the browser may not be fastest, overall I like the new Torch and I see this phone as a step in the right direction for RIM. I’m definitely looking forward to their Blackberry X products later this year. If you’re interested in the Torch 9850, US Cellular is offering $100 instant savings on all smartphones and the Blackberry Torch is just $99 with a two-year contract.

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Google announces big changes in privacy policy

Big changes are ahead for Internet users. Google has released its new privacy policy, slated to go into effect March 1. Essentially, the new privacy policy boils down to this: People who have accounts through any Google-owned product (Google+, Android, YouTube, Gmail, Google Accounts, Google Maps) must agree to let Google merge user data from those using multiple services. Those uncomfortable with Google’s new privacy statement have two options: They either grudgingly accept the new privacy or terminate their accounts.

Google announces big changes for users

While streamlining user data may sound like an efficient way to tailor internet use to consumer preferences, it also means giving up some online autonomy over where your information may end up. Google insists that users must be logged into one of their accounts to track their data use. Though if you use an Android product, Google may be monitoring your data use nearly all of the time given the fact an account is needed to run many of its features.

It will be interesting to see how Google’s new privacy policy affects our web experience. While web-surfing in tune with all my preferences sounds great, the new policy still sounds a little Big Brother to me.

What do you think of Google’s new privacy policy?

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Tech Review: Pantech Element Tablet

We were pretty excited to get our hands on the new Pantech Element tablet from AT&T, which just launched this week. I must admit, I was expecting the 8-inch Element to just be another Android-powered tablet. However, after spending some time with it, there are a few features that make the Element stand out from the rest.

Pantech's splash proof tablet Element

The best feature of the Element may be that it’s splash proof. Finally, a mobile manufacturer has figured out it. Spill your cup of coffee on the Element? No worries. Get caught in the rain? No problem. The splash proof technology will undoubtedly prevent many near heart attacks in the future. While, yes, the Element is splash proof, I wouldn’t take it for a dip in the nearest swimming pool.

 Besides its splash proof coating, a couple small mechanical features make the Element worthy of a second look. The first is the fact the all the buttons on the Element are located on the top. While this may seem trivial, it makes a huge difference if you’re prone to hitting buttons by mistake causing you to turn off devices or annoying interruptions. The second feature is the power cord attached to a micro-USB port, meaning you only need to carry one cord for your phone and tablet. For someone like me who hates carrying and untangling power cords, this is great.

The tablet itself browses and jumps to web pages without any hiccups, and it supports 4G LTE which makes it even faster.  The splash-proof coating didn’t deter from the quality of the screen appearance, which pleased me. If you need a tablet on the more durable side, the Element might be for you.

If you’re interested in the Element, I’d check it out soon. AT&T is running a $249 special on the Pantech Element Tablet with the Pantech Burst smartphone.

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RIM faces more woes as CEOs and chairmen resign

After a dismal 2011 for Blackberry maker Research In Motion, 2012 hasn’t started much better. Co-CEOs and  co-chairmen Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis resigned Sunday, handing control to RIM four-year executive Thorsten Heins. I’m hoping the new leadership will give RIM the breath of fresh air it needs to compete with Apple and Google, but I’m not optimistic.

RIM CEOs and chairmen resign

This new direction may also be a sign to reassure investors and loyal Blackberry users on the upcoming release of the Blackberry 10 operating system. The roll-out date for BB X has an already been delayed, with the release of the first products expected in late 2012. While it might mean even better products from RIM, it also gives competitors plenty of time to attract once-faithful Blackberry costumers to their products.

As much as I would like to see RIM make a turnaround and redeem their affectionate nickname “Crackberry,” part of me believes RIM has fallen too far behind in the smartphone market to catch up.

What are your thoughts? Has RIM been left in the dust of Apple and Google? Is there hope from a turnaround?

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Tech Review: EarPollution Luxe Micro Earbuds from iFrogz

EarPollution Luxe Micro Earbuds from iFrogz

Last month we tried out a pair of ear buds from iFrogz that had great sound but an awkward ear fit. We got our hands on different pair of iFrogz from AT&T and we thought we would give them another shot. As with any pair of ear buds, the real test to see if they’re a keeper boils down to whether they actually fit and stay in your ear. Unfortunately, this pair and I weren’t meant for each other.

 

Don’t get me wrong, the sound quality was pretty impressive for these tiny head phones. It’s just that I could even sit at my desk without the right one popping out of my ear every few minutes. Taking these to gym was just short of disaster, and I just ended up taking them out altogether. But as I said before, just because these ear buds didn’t work out for me doesn’t mean you should write them off. For someone with a different sized ear canal, these could be a great fit.

Overall, the ear buds are a great choice for someone not looking to spend a whole lot, but values good sound quality. According to Decide.com, prices will remain steady around $20. Just first make sure they fit in your ear.

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