By Alex Villafania INQUIRER.net MICROSOFT might have forced itself too much when it attempted to subdue Apple i n the handheld media player business when it launched the 30 Figabyte Zune abou t a year ago. Sad to say, it didn't fare as hoped. A year later, Microsoft agai n makes an attempt but has added to its repertoire two new models aimed at the Apple iPod's smaller iteration, the Nano. It recently launched the Zune 4, Zune 8 and Zune 80, all of which now feature the Zune Pad, a look-alike of iPod's t ried-and-tested Click Wheel. Zune 4 For this review, the Zune 4 will be the featured model and it's the one Microso ft is pitting against the iPod nano 4 gigabyte, and as such, uses flash memory instead of the small hard disk drives of its big brothers. Physically, the smal ler Zune is nearly identical in shape and size to the first and second generati on iPod nano. Its dimensions are 1.6 inches by 3.6 inches by 0.33 inches, and i t weighs 47 grams. It also comes in four colors (red, pink, green and black) of which the front is in matte finish, which gives it a rugged look. The screen i s twice as large as that of the first generation iPod nano and is about the sam e size as that of the current generation iPod nano. Nevertheless, the Zune's sc reen is equally bright. The Zune has a total of three buttons (except for the lock slider at the top of the unit). Two smaller buttons on the left and right side below the glass scre en serve as the play/pause and back buttons. The large oval button below the s creen is Microsoft's pride and joy with the smaller Zunes: the Zune Pad. Much l ike the iPod Click Wheel, the Zune Pad is largely the unit's full control inter face. It can be used as a four-way directional button but its best feature is i ts slider option where the user can just flick his or her thumb left-to-right o r up and down to navigate through the unit's options. Whereas the user has to r otate the Click Wheel on the iPod to navigate through voluminous content, the Z une user can just flick, then hold in one direction until the desired song, pho to, or video is found. It's also easy to deduce that the Zune Pad will be nearl y as sensitive as the Click Wheel especially when the lock slider is not activa ted. Luckily, even without it, the user can put the Zune in a side pocket and n ot worry about the songs being changed while walking about. On to the interface Of course, what's a review without talking about the interface, right? As state d earlier, the flash-based Zune has a bright LCD display panel that looks as go od as the iPod nano. The text in the menu screen is automatically big and canno t be changed in any way. The text gets smaller once the user goes through the c ontent listing. The main menu is divided into music, videos, pictures, radio, p odcasts, settings, and social. For both the music and video menus, the user can play them straight ahead or pause them in the middle of the song. It shows the track listing, the title of the song/video and the album cover, if available. The Zune can play MP3, AAC and WMA files for music; WMV and MPEG-4 for video; a nd JPEG for photos. The radio section is nothing really special but it does add a bit more variety to the Zune. Radio stations can be saved and accessed easily but they cannot be given station names, which could have been a treat for FM radio users. Inciden tally, the Zune's radio antenna is strong enough to receive signals even inside buildings, something that the iPod's external FM radio antenna was having prob lems with. The Zune also features integrated wireless connectivity, which allows a user to send songs to other nearby Zune players. However, the Zune has a digital right s management feature, meaning a song sent from one Zune to another can only be played a few times before it is locked down or removed from the recipient unit. In which case, the user has to buy the song when connecting the Zune to the In ternet. Of course, all songs that are already within a user's hard drive and up loaded to the Zune will not be locked down, even if Microsoft is a staunch supp orter of DRM and copyright. Zune software The Zune software is unlike any file management software for digital music devi ces. Instead, it looks like a bigger version of the Zune device's interface. It also looks like it was designed using Macromedia Flash. The main interface can be viewed from the top left side of the Zune software and these are also divid ed according to music, videos, pictures, and podcasts. It also has an interface for socials, which is actually the download area for the user's e-mail. The pr oblem here is that the user has to have an online Zune account, which as of thi s writing is limited to the US and some European countries. With the Flash-like look of the Zune software, it does make it easier and more pleasing to navigate through the content on the user's PC. The user can also ed it the properties of the songs and videos and rate these according to preferenc e. Content can be dragged and dropped directly into the Zune device, or burned onto a blank CD or DVD. If the user does have a Zune account, the Zune software can connect to the Zune Marketplace and buy new songs, videos or download podcasts directly into the Z une device. While some of the content is free, the rest, especially music, has to be bought at around 80 cents. Of course, this only works if the user does ha ve a credit card account. Problems The Zune is not without its problems. The first is the lack of equalizer contro l that is present in nearly all other MP3 devices in its class. While this can be fixed by actually enhancing the file conversion option when ripping songs fr om CDs, this takes a lot of time. Users would rather use an onboard equalizer t han go back and convert an entire library. The headphone of the Zune also leave s something to be desired as it lacks the ergonomic shape of an iPod earphone s et or the lossless quality of Samsung's Yepp earphones. Ordinary users might no t notice the difference but audio freaks would feel indifferent toward the Zune 's earphones. Using a different earphone might just do the trick. Battery life is also another issue. It seems to run just a bit shorter than the iPod nano. Continuous music playback takes about 18 to 20 hours before the bat tery runs out, compared to nearly 24 hours for the iPod nano. Video playback is about three hours while radio use is about 10 hours. Activating the Zune's wir eless connectivity feature will drastically reduce battery life by as much as 5 0 percent, but most of the time, the user won't have to worry about this since it won't be activated unless there's another Zune around with which you can sha re music. Despite these problems with the flash-based Zune, it does give the iPod nano a new challenger in the flash-based multimedia device market. The most lovable fe ature of the Zune is the Zune Pad, as well as its bright LCD screen that can pl ay videos pretty well for a unit of that size. The rugged design of the Zune is also encouraging to users who don't like to rely on a silicon protector or sol id casing to save the player from scratches. It can go without these anyway. Th e easy-to-use Zune software also takes away much of the hassle of using a devic e management application in a PC. It would have been great though if the softwa re developers made the Zune a Windows taskbar enhancement so that it doesn't ha ve to be minimized often when not in active use.
January 2008 Archives
KIRKLAND, Washington--Digital Accessible Information System (Daisy) Consortium Secretary General George Kerscher (right) and Microsoft's Reed Shaffner explain how open Extensible Markup Language (OpenXML) and technology in general will m ake published information become more available to people who are blind and hav e print-disabilities. Daisy standards hope to enable them to access information published by mainstream publishers, governments, and libraries.
Online Videos by Veoh.com
Online Videos by Veoh.com
By Erwin Oliva INQUIRER.net FIRST off, there are a host of iPod do cks to choose from, and Philips has its own family o f iPod docks. It really depends on what you want. You want a simple dock to plug in your iPod, they have one. You want to have one of those that support B luetooth, they have it. Name it, and most likely they have it mapped out. This review is about one of its models, AJ300D iPod Go Gear dock. This baby is perhaps the most "basic" dock Philips has to offer. Quickly, the A J300D features an alarm clock, a remote, a dual wake-up alarm, a built-in radio FM tuner, and five speakers. It uses Philips' wOOx technology (more on this la ter). All these at the suggested retail price of P4, 999. Yes, boys and girls, it's relatively cheap considering what it offers. Just to give you an idea what this iPod dock is like, let's consider these basi c points. Sound quality: I currently own a Jabra Klipsch dock. I tried comparing the soun d quality of both docks. I must say the Philips AJ300D's sound quality is surpr ising. Its wOOx technology delivers a distinctive deep bass. At maximum volume settings, the dock's wOOx technology is capable of handling music that had a lo t of bass thumping without becoming too distorted. That passes one of my tests. You can actually see and feel (yes, feel) the wOOx behind the speakers. Appare ntly, the wOOx technology was also used in products made by Kenwood and Microso ft. When I took the dock out of its box, I was intrigued by its size and design. It weighs 1.34 kilograms, light enough to move around. Its white and silver finis h also hint that this is meant to attract iPod users (it does have auxiliary li ne-in for 3.5 mm stereo jacks that would allow you to plug in other MP3 players ), and, of course, Philips Go Gear portable music owners. This dock supports al l types of iPod units up until the sixth generation, which I'm currently using. It also has a remote that could be used to adjust volume, to choose tracks (in cludes fast-forward and review), to switch from the dock to tuner function, to mute, to set sleep time, to move in five preset radio stations, and to turn it off. The remote, however, does not allow you to scroll down the iPod's playlist or move up and down the menu. You have to do that on the iPod itself. The abov e-mentioned functionalities are also available on the dock itself. All in all, I really didn't need to figure out how to use this dock. I just took it out of the box, and let it rip. The dock's design is simple. The front view looks a bit squarish, but if you look at it from the side, it appea rs like an inverted curvaceous letter "T." Your portable music player sits on t he front, where the dock is located. An LCD display indicates the time, the fun ction (iPod or tuner), and if tuner is on, the radio station (frequency). There are also buttons on the left side to turn the power on or off, to adjust time, and a three-way switch for dock, buzzer, and tuner functions. On the right sid e, you have the five preset buttons for the tuner. And finally, on top are butt ons to adjust both alarms, and also to turn off the alarm and adjust the LCD ba cklight brightness. The dock also allows you to charge your iPod while on or of f. This dock is small enough to sit on top of my bedside table, so space won't be an issue. Thereâs room for improvement, however. One review notes that some users didn't like the power supply adapter that comes with this dock. It looks, well, hideou s. The power adapter supports 100 to 240V, 50/60Hz of power supply. The power s upply also awkwardly connects to a pin at the back. Yes, it has to be connected , and as experience tells me, any moving part is prone to damage. But on the ot her hand, if you trip on it (kids, don't do this at home), the line could break loose easily, sparing your dock. The tuner's antenna is also something that lo oks irritating. It's a thin wire that protrudes out of the dock. In this age of wireless networks and Bluetooth, they had to have this tuner antenna sticking out like a sore thumb. I also have to point out that I still couldn't figure ou t the settings for the alarm since I don't really find it very useful. All in all, despite some minor irritants, this dock has kept me good company in the past months. Its price tag makes it attractive especially for iPod users w ho don't want to spend too much on another accessory. But since there are a hos t of docks out in the market, your taste would ultimately decide which one to c hoose. For now and for me, this iPod-ready dock makes the cut.