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CNET Tech Review
The claws come outThis week on the CNET Tech Review, Google Instant speeds up searches; new reviews of Apple's iPods and iOS 4.1; the Dell Aero truly disappoints; and a new Sony VAIO to avoid at all costs.
-This week on the CNET Tech Review, Google finds it in an instant, a whole slew of iPods are coming your way, a Sony Vaio desktop that's a real stinker, and the best free games for the Palm Pre--yes, the Palm Pre. It's all coming up right now. Hi everyone, I'm Molly Wood and welcome to the CNET Tech Review where we collect our hottest videos of the week and tell you what's good and what's bad in the world of tech, and offer some life changing tech wisdom in the form of the bottom line. Let's get started with the good. On Wednesday, Google announced a new search feature that they're calling Google Instant. Tom Krazit from CNET News was on hand to get a demo of the newer, faster Google in action. -So, Google Instant actdually gets queries and gets your search results as you type and brings them to you and streams those results right to your computer so the search is entirely interactive the whole time you're typing. So, the great thing about Google Instant is that as you are typing the query, the results are updating immediately, so, I wanna kind of paint a situation where perhaps after this launch, I want to go on a vacation. I'm not quite sure where I wanna go so I can type in a query like, "Flights to," and what you'll see here is that we have our top five predictions for what you might complete to for "Flights to" Hawaii, Vegas, Mexico, or India, and what I can do is I can just arrow down and see these results update immediately so I can kind of browse around. I've decided that I wanna go to London and one thing I've always wanted to check out in London is this neighborhood called Notting Hill, so, I type in something like "Notting Hill," and you'll see here that, again, results update immediately but it becomes very apparent to me that Notting Hill, as I would type it, actually the number one hit for that would be the reference to the movie Notting Hill with Hugh Grant, so, all I need to do is do a space L to immediately get to the universal result for Notting Hill, London. -Well, why wouldn't I just type in another query for London? What good answers is giving me over that? -Well, so, you don't actually, like, well, one, you don't have to type these extra letters. Also, what we noticed is that sometimes people takes an extra time to go back up to the query box to complete another-- or type another search. Sometimes, you know, people get exhausted. You're like, well, this isn't what I'm looking for and so we hope that by kind of reducing the barrier to performing another search by making it all open dynamically that people will actually be more interactive with their queries and add the things that they're looking for to get the results that they want. -Do you think people will find this distracting at all? -So we've run a lot of user tests and, actually, it turns out that very many users actually, well, when we first started, didn't even notice. They're just like, all of sudden, like, "Wow, those results, they're really fast," and we really tried to optimize the design so it wasn't distracting. -Google claims that their new instant search feature can save users 2 to 5 seconds per query. I mean, what am I gonna do with all that time I'm saving? Perhaps enjoy my new iPod. Alright, I don't actually have a new iPod yet but there are certainly a lot of them to choose from. Luckily, Donald Bell has reviewed them all. We'll save the iPod Touch for a little later but here's a look at the new Nano, the Shuffle, and Brian Tong's overview of the new iOS 4.1 update. -Hey, I'm Donald Bell and today we're taking a first look at the sixth generation Apple iPod Nano. It comes in seven colors and two capacities, an 8-gigabyte model for $149 and a 16-gig version for $179. Compared to the previous model, they chopped off the click wheel, shrunk the screen, and oddly, they've ditched the video camera that they made such a big deal about last year. They've also put a clip on the back similar to the iPod Shuffle and on the top you have buttons for volume and a screen lock. Now, to make up for the missing click wheel, Apple is using a tiny touchscreen that measures about 1 inch square. You get little icons similar to the iPhone that control music playback, photos, radio, a pedometer, and even a clock. The screen lets you browse your music collection by flicking up and down and you can also back out of menus by flicking back. You can even reorient the screen by pinching two fingers together and twisting it around. It's fun to play around with such a unique and small touchscreen but I gotta say for all its novelty, the new interface isn't much better than the click wheel in any practical way. If anything, it's more difficulty to operate by feel which is kind of important if you're actually using this while driving or exercising. I'll hand it to Apple though for finding a way to make the smallest Nano yet, but, I also have a hard time believing that anyone really thought the last version of the Nano was too big. Plus, at half the size, you're also getting half the features. There's no video playback, no camcorder, games, calendar, notes, contacts, or alarm clock. That said, I have to admit the features you do get are fairly incredible for such a small size. The main focus here is music and you should get around 24 hours of music playback from a single charge. You get icons for your music library, playlists, Genius mixes as well as shortcuts for artists, album, songs, genres, composers, audio books, and podcasts. You can customize the arrangement by pressing and holding any icon and shifting it around. There's also a shake to shuffle feature that you can turn on or off in the settings menu that can play a random selection of songs when you give the player a shake. Beyond that, you also get a built-in radio which has the unique ability of pausing live broadcast for up to 15 minutes. You can also rewind anything you hear on the radio which is pretty cool. Photos on such a small screen are really just for fun and you can't set your own image as a wallpaper. Under settings, though, you can go back and swap out the wallpaper from one of Apple's own designs. There's a fitness app that includes a pedometer and there's also support for the Nike+ Fitness System but you'll need to plug in the Nike receiver into the 30-in dock connection in order to make that work. Another hidden feature is voice memos which you'll only see if you plug in a compatible headset with a microphone. The same goes for Apple's voiceover feature which will announce track information for you if you have a pair of headphones with a compatible remote control. The headphones bundled with the Nano are just your plain old Apple earbuds which we strongly recommend upgrading from for the sake of sound quality but also for the sake of extra features. A remote also gives you the ability to skip and pause songs without looking at the screen which is really useful if you're using this for exercising. Last but not least, there's the clock. It's an analog clock face and we have to believe that manufacturers are gonna find some creative way to turn this thing into a watch. By flicking on the screen, you also get access to a stopwatch and a timer. So that's the sixth generation Apple iPod Nano, the smallest Nano yet but definitely a step backwards in terms of iPod features. If you're not sold on the small size, the cool little touchscreen or the unmistakable Apple design, you can stretch your dollar a lot further with an older model, or going with an iPod alternative. For CNET.com, I'm Donald Bell. -Hey there, guys and gals. Brian Tong here with CNET.com and iOS 4.1 will be available shortly but we have it here so we wanted to show you the new goodies that you guys can look forward to. Now, the most popular one that you'll probably be using is taking high dynamic range photos. If you go into your camera app, in iOS 4.1, you'll see a button that says "HDR Off." To use the feature, turn it on, take a picture and it will take a high dynamic range photo, but it will also save a version of the picture without the effect. HDR photography combines a series of photographs shot at different exposures. One is underexposed where everything is darker and one is overexposed where everything is lighter so it takes the best parts of these photos, they're put together into one that brings out the details in both the shadows and the highlights. Now, I took several shots to show you the feature in action but some photo purists don't like the effect because it can feel fake to them and it sometimes even appears grainier. Now, if you only wanna save the HDR version of the photo, jump into your settings, then go to photos, and there's an option you can set to keep normal photo so you can turn that on or off. You'll also get Game Center in iOS 4.1 which is a social gaming network. It has game invites, leaderboards, and achievements so you guys can think of it like Xbox Live on your iDevice for free. You can tell this hasn't been released to the public yet because Apple is still using its street lingo and there are no Game Center games available at the moment, but this is another feature that I can't for. Now, in the iTunes app, Apple's music social network called Ping is fully integrated into the experience so I can follow artists or friends. At the moment, I can't search for people to follow on the mobile app. I can follow people already following me or I can follow the few artists but I'm not really desperate enough to add Yo-Yo Ma just yet. So, it looks like you'll need to use iTunes on your computer to really get the full experience. Another new feature in the iTunes app is having the ability to now rent TV shows directly from your iOS devices with the update, and one feature that I've been waiting for is getting the ability to now upload HD videos that you've taken to YouTube and MobileMe over Wi-Fi. I'm Brian Tong for CNET.com and there's your first look at iOS 4.1 before it releases. -Hey, I'm Donald Bell and today we're taking a first look at the fourth generation Apple iPod Shuffle. This is Apple's smallest, most basic iPod offered with 2 gigabytes of storage and priced at $49. It comes in five colors and includes a pair of basic earbuds and a USB headphone jack adaptor for syncing and charging with your computer. This is a return to form for the Shuffle. It made a detour last year with its buttonless design, but now it looks very similar to the popular second generation model. Aside from the obvious play, pause, skip, and volume controls on the front, all the other controls are located on the top of the player. There's the power switch that also works to set the mode between shuffled and sequential song playback. There's a headphone jack which is also used for charging and synching music. There's a tinny-tiny battery indicator light, and finally, there's a new button which triggers the voiceover feature. Now, voiceover is a very cool feature and it's a carryover from last year's Shuffle. It gives you the ability to figure out what song is currently playing and, more importantly, it allows you to navigate between playlists, Genius mixes, podcasts, and audiobooks. You just press the button once to hear the artist and song info. -Neighborhood number one, tunnels, the arcade fire. -Or hold it down to access the menu and use the buttons on the front to navigate through the playlist. -All songs. All pop mix. Electronica mix. Hip hop/rap mix. -This feature is a big advantage over the first and second generation Shuffles which were basically only good for playing a random selection of songs. You can now have separate mixes for your workouts or your morning commute, or use this to play audiobooks without worrying that all the chapters are gonna mixed up. The voiceover feature is also improved from the third generation model since the button is now right on the player instead of the special headphone cable so you can use any pair of headphones you want. Finally, let's talk about the clip. The clip on the back feels sturdy and is made out of the same anodized aluminum as the rest of the player. One complaint we have is that the smaller, square design no longer leaves room on the front for where the clip gets pinched. As a result, when you clip this on, you're probably gonna wind up squeezing the back button by accident. Overall, it's a surprisingly decent little audio player with better sound quality than the second generation model it resembles. Battery life is rated at 15 hours which, for something the size of a coat button, is pretty amazing. So that's it, that's the fourth generation Apple iPod Shuffle, an incredibly tiny affordable audio player perfect for anyone who goes to the gym but will let you travel light. For CNET.com, I'm Donald Bell. -Oh, the Shuffle. I'm so glad the buttons are back. Alright, moving right along. If you're a Palm Pre owner and you were kind enough to remind us about the lack of webOS software featured on Tap That App, we hear you, loud and clear. Take it away, Brian. -Oh, the sprinkler. Oh. Hey guys. Welcome to Tap That App. I'm Brian Tong and this is the show where we cover the hottest apps in the mobile space. Now we've heard your cries to show some love for the webOS so we're giving it to you with a few of the best free games on the Palm Pre and Palm Pixi. Now, remember, these are free. You'll find many 99 cent games on Palm's app store and you probably aren't looking to pay over $5 for any games, so these are a few time wasters that we found for you. Now, first up, if you like zombies, you'll like Zombie's Fury. Run around to avoid zombies and tap, tap, tap on their heads to shoot them, but whatever you do, do not run out of ammo because if they catch you, you're dead. Now, Topple Ball Mini is also free and includes 11 levels and has you directing a ball into a goal using the accelerometer. The full version with 200 levels is 99 cents. If you like classic games, check out Destroids. It pays homage to Asteroids and probably has some of the best replay value out of all the free webOS games. Now, this game may not have the best graphics and it's the Helicopter Game. It's pretty simple. Just hold your finger on the screen to go up and release it to drop down and see who can get the furthest and get the highest score, and if you like flying, check out AirTraffic Lite. A full version will be released later but here you can direct planes and helicopters to their proper landing zones and be the best air traffic controller you can be. So there are some free games for the Palm Pre and Pixi that we love to tap because there absolutely free and if you guys have any other show ideas, apps or dance moves you like to see the other editors do, then send us along an e-mail to email@example.com. I'm Brian Tong. Thanks for watching and we'll see you guys next time. Sprinkler. -There you go, Palm folks. Don't say we never gave you anything, although, you know, if those are the best free games available, you can kinda see why poor Palm isn't on the show much. I'm just saying. Let's go ahead and take a quick break but stick around, we'll be back with a whole lot more Tech Review right after this, and it's about to get ugly. Welcome back to the CNET Tech Review, our weekly digest of all things good and bad we've seen here at CNET TV, and guess what, you are just in time for the bad. This week in the bad, we've got not one but two new products that have earned a great big thumbs down. First up, there's the Aero, Dell's attempt to reenter the smartphone market. Now, it's rare for Bonnie Cha to really tee off on a phone, but this, you've gotta see. -Hey everyone, I'm Bonnie Cha, senior editor at CNET.com and I'm here with your first look of the Dell Aero for AT&T. This Android phone was announced back at the spring CTIA show and it's Dell's first smartphone in the US. So far, I've gotta say I'm not too impressed. I was hopeful when I first saw the phone's design. It's one of the slimmest and lightest Android phone I've seen to date, and even though it has a mostly plastic construction, I think it still feels pretty solid. Because of the smaller size, the screen measures just 3.5 inches diagonally but I found that it was fine for most tasks and it's also pretty sharp, but navigation is where things start to go downhill. As you can see, the Aero doesn't have the standard Android controls below the screen. Instead, the back button is located here on the left side and it doubles as the home key when you do a long press. On the right side, you get a button that acts like the menu option on other Android devices. With time, I can maybe get used to it but overall I think it just makes using the phone harder than it needs to be. I like having quick one-touch access to the shortcuts and I really missed having a dedicated search key, and Dell's custom UI doesn't really add much either. You can have up to ten homescreen panels but there's a very limited number of widgets. Also, the on-screen portrait keyboard is pretty horrible. Unfortunately, the news doesn't get any better when you move on to the phone's features. First of all, the Aero ships running Android 1.5 which is already bad enough, but to make matters worse, some of the basic functions are pretty limited. For example, the phone won't pull contact information from your various accoutns like Facebook and GMail. I can only get my Exchange content synchronized with the phone. The phone is also pretty sluggish with just a 624 MHz processor. There were slight delays when opening apps and it even gets slower when you're working with multiple programs open. I really wanted to like the phone and see Dell back in the mobile space but compared to other smartphones out there, the Aero just doesn't compare. Even though it's pretty affordable at a hundred dollars with a contract, I think it's worth spending $3 more to get the HTC Aria which gives you more features and better performance, or if you wanna stay within the $100 price range, you'd get more out of the Palm Pre Plus or the older iPhone 3GS. I'm Bonnie Cha and this has been your first look at the Dell Aero for AT&T. -The on-screen keyboard is pretty horrible? Ouch. And that's not all for the bad. Next up, an all-in-one desktop from Sony that, well, I'm just gonna let Rich tell you for himself. -Hi, my name is Rich Brown, senior editor for CNET.com. Today, we're gonna take a look at the Sony Vaio J114FX. So this is a $699 all in one desktop. It comes with a 21.5-inch screen, Blu-ray player, and it also has a touch interface. That said, while this might seem like a pretty decent home entertainment PC, it's really a pretty poor value for the dollar. There are a number of other systems in this price range that have 23-inch displays and, in general, the system is very slow and has a budget CPU and it's the slowest in its price class so it's definitely not meant for productivity. We also found that, in general, it's really under featured. It has a small hard drive, poor connectivity, and generally speaking, this is not a very good PC. We would definitely suggest you keep shopping. So, starting with the screen, this is actually a 1080p display despite the fact that it's 21.5 inches. It can handle Blu-ray discs with no problem. The problem is when you get online. We tested it with a number of different video sources online. We went to Netflix, we've tried iTunes. The problem though is with YouTube. When we tried to play 1080p video content, it wasn't able to handle it very smoothly. We even updated the Flash player to make sure everything was nice and current and, still, the system couldn't quite hack it. Now, we mentioned that this is a touchscreen and you can see there's a little dropdown menu here, gives you a nice big icon dock so you can open the various apps. There's a browser, a couple other Sony-made media players. Nothing too outstanding, though, and it's all just pretty easy to ignore or use as you want. The system also comes with a wireless mouse and keyboard, and the keyboard is pretty obviously based on Apple's chiclet key design. That said, it's an attractive design so you wouldn't really have a problem putting this system and it's keyboard on display anywhere in your home. Now, looking at the side of this Vaio, it actually maybe looks like it has some interesting features. You've got a couple SD card slots up here, you got analog audio down here, a couple USB ports as well as this Firewire 400 jack. Unfortunately, that's about as far as the connectivity options go. You get two USB ports on the back as well as an Ethernet port but that is it. The system has Wi-Fi built-in, of course, but there's no TV tuner, there's no e-SATA, no digital audio outputs, and, worse, there's no HDMI in. HDMI in is great for an all-in-one because it lets you connect all kinds of other devices like your game console or a cable box, and it lets you create sort of a self-contained home entertainment unit. Now, we'd forgive the system's slow performance if it had an HDMI in because that would really let you make the system a pretty powerful home entertainment setup. Without that, this system is basically a small screen with a Blu-ray player and a web browser. There's really not a lot here to justify its high price. So, overall, this is a definite do not buy recommendation from us. I'm Rich Brown and this is the Sony Vaio J114FX. -A definite do not buy recommendation. Ouch again. Our guys are tough. That's why they're good, but maybe we should move along to this week's bottomline before somebody gets hurt. Last week, Steve Jobs told us the iPod Touch is the most popular iPod. Well, here's Donald Bell once again to show us why the latest model will probably continue that trend. Hey, I'm Donald Bell and today we're taking a first look at the fourth generation Apple iPod Touch, a CNET Editors' Choice for 3 years in a row. This isn't a radical departure from the iPod Touch we know and love but there are some noticeable improvements. In terms of price, you're looking at three different models--an 8-gigabyte, 32-gig, and 64-gig version priced at $229, $299, and $399. All of the hardware features from the previous versions have been preserved. You still have a 3.5-inch capacitive touchscreen, only now it's using Apple's higher resolution Retina Display. There's a Home button on the bottom, a screen lock at the top, though now the button is shifted from the left to the right, and you have controls for volume on the side here but there are now two different distinct buttons instead of one single rocker switch. On the bottom, you have the headphone jack, a dock connection, and a teeny-tiny speaker grille. If you take a look at the back, you'll notice two things. First, the chrome steel doesn't bulge out quite as much as the previous version, giving a slightly thinner profile, a lighter feel, and the ability to lay flat on the table without wobbling. But the really big change is the camera lens up here at the top along with this little omnidirectional microphone. This is an HD video camera that can capture 720p footage at 30 frames per second. Just like the iPhone, you can use the built-in editor to trim your video clips, or spend an extra $4.99 on the iMovie app with more advanced features. The camera takes still frames, too, but the camera quality isn't nearly as good as the iPhone 4. Now, if that weren't enough, Apple is also giving you another video camera on the front with a lower resolution. You can use this same camera for snapping self portraits, but its main purpose is for making video calls using Apple's FaceTime app. By using e-mail addresses instead of phone numbers, you can make free video calls over Wi-Fi to other compatible iPhones or iPod Touches. It's a cool feature, it works well, and Apple puts the new app right here at the top of the menu. Under the hood, you have a few significant improvements which have trickled over from the iPhone 4 including an A4 processor and a gyroscope sensor for detailed three-axis motion control in games and other apps. You also have support for 802.11n Wi-Fi and existing support for Bluetooth 2.1. Compared against the iPhone 4, you don't get the phone, the 5-megapixel camera, GPS, or a 3G data connection, but you also don't have to deal with contracts. The rest of the iPod Touch is just as you'd expect. The core apps for e-mail, web browsing, music, photos, and video are all better than ever under iOS 4. You now have the new ability to rent TV shows, games look and perform better than ever, with the internal mic, you no longer need a microphone headset or an adapter to take advantage of audio recording or the voice memo app, and some third party camera and video apps now work as well. So that's the fourth generation Apple iPod Touch. If you've been waiting to make an upgrade, I really feel that the two cameras, the FaceTime calling and all the little performance tweaks really makes this year's model worthwhile. For CNET.com, I'm Donald Bell. -The bottomline this week, an iPhone without a contract. That's what Steve Jobs called the iPod Touch so now you can do all the same cool stuff your friends do with iPhones for a lot less money. And that's our show. Join us again next week for a brand new CNET Tech Review. Until then, there are tons of great videos available everyday at CNETtv.com. See you next time and thank you for watching.