usb-outletAre you tired of losing electrical outlets to charging your USB devices? What if there was a wall outlet that would just let you plug in the USB cable directly? Well, there soon will be!

There have been people that have come up with ways for you to wise USB ports into a wall outlet, but it looks like someone has finally just decided to manufacture them.

Available from FastMac for delivery in early 2010, pending approval on its safety, the TruePower UCS Power Outlet With Built-in USB Ports will offer you two standard three-pronged outlets along with two USB ports.  These will pop into any existing wall outlet you have with no special wiring required, and you will then be able to charge your iPod by just using the USB cable, and free up another electrical outlet for something else.

The outlets are a bit on the expensive side at $9.95, but how much would it cost you to buy a power strip or hire an electrician to come in and run a whole new outlet?

Here are the technical specifications on the outlet:

Input voltage: AC 100 to 240V 50/60Hz
USB input current: 80mA
Output voltage: USB: DC 5.0V 600mA
Operation temperature: -15 to 45 Degrees Celsius
Relative humidity: < 95%
Air pressure: 86 to 106kPa

The one place I would love to see these take off, but I know it will never happen? Hotels. Imagine no longer having to travel with chargers, just USB cables. Oh the joy that would bring to me.

Categories: Gadgets, Home Electronics, USB   

nookWe don’t normally refute other publication’s gadget news, but when it is overbearingly wrong, sometimes you have to.

Mike Elgan of Computerworld wrote a syndicated piece entitled 7 reasons e-book readers make lousy gifts this year, and he’s wrong on almost every point, but in particular I take issue with:

6. Everyone who really wanted one already has one

It’s well understood that e-book readers pay for themselves with the lower price for books. Anyone who really wants an e-book reader would have bought one by now. By buying one for someone who doesn’t have one, you’re forcing a gift on them that they have already decided they don’t want.

Um … no.

When my family asked me what I wanted for Christmas this year I said “A Barnes & Noble nook”.  While Mr. Elgan points out that the best option this year, the nook, is currently sold out and won’t be delivered until Jan. 4th, this doesn’t matter, and he is extremely wrong in that everyone who wants one has one.  I know several people who want them and just haven’t taken the leap yet because they wanted to make sure the technology was going to continue to be supported.  As someone who has been burned many times by technologies that eventually get dropped, this was partially my case.

By the way, doesn’t the nook being sold out without it even shipping yet kind of tell you that not everyone who wanted a e-reader has one yet?  Even on tonight’s episode of CobWEBs (adult language), my co-host, Steven Hodson of Shooting at Bubbles, discusses his growing interested in an e-reader.

I’m sure Mr. Elgan had the best of intentions with his post, but I also think his article is an example of the typical “it’s the holidays and there is no news, let me write something random that is sure to stir up controversy” school of tech journalism.

Categories: Gadgets   

tivoIt seems things are not looking good for TiVo.

According to TV By The Numbers, TiVo has released information that is has suffered its largest ever quarterly loss of subscribers. The total number of lost subscribers for the quarter ending Oct. 31st, the DVR service lost 314,000 subscribers.

This has been a trend for the service since Jan. 2007, but the extreme jump in loss was surprising seeing as they only lost around 46,000 subscribers the quarter previous.  This new loss brings the company down to 2.76 million total subscribers, or only about 8 percent of the estimated total 38 million DVRs in U.S. households.

It seems that the company is now making the majority of its revenue from licensing its technology to other companies, or actually suing companies such as Dish Network for stealing their intellectual property.

It will be interesting to see how long TiVo can survive as a hardware manufacturer with this sort of drop in business, or will they just finally give up and just go the licensing route?

Categories: Gadgets, Home Electronics   

rokuThe popular Roku brand players have finally moved past the premium content to add streaming media from free sites.

The Roku Box has gained a reputation as the easiest way to get Netflix Streaming and Amazon Video on your TV, but seeing as both those are premium services it did limit their potential customer base somewhat.  Later on the company added for out-of-market games, but again that was a premium service, so what were they going to do to start to lure customers who don’t use those services?

Enter the Channel Store.

Roku Boxes can now stream content from:

  • Facebook photos
  • Flickr
  • FrameChannel
  • MediaFly
  • MobileTribe
  • Motionbox
  • Pandora
  • Revision3
  • TWiT.TV

While none of these services will give you the breadth of content something like Netflix Streaming will, there is some solid entertainment in this line up. Pandora alone, one of the leading music discovery sites, could keep you dancing in your living room for hours on end.

While there is no official word on what this might mean for the future, this sure has the feel of being a “first wave” of content.  In other words, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see them adding many more channel partners in the very near future.

Roku is one of the top items for me this coming Christmas, and it may have just jumped to the #1 spot with this news.

Categories: Facebook, Gadgets, Home Electronics, Video   

legalThe first Nook e-reader hasn’t even shipped from Barnes & Noble yet, and already there is a lawsuit in the books over it.

Back on Oct. 19th we received a press release from a company we had never heard of named Spring Design.  The release was about an e-reader they were developing named Alex which looked quite interesting.  We wrote up the story, but found it a tad odd that the company couldn’t give us anything close to a firm release date or suggested retail price even after we contacted them with follow-up questions.  To be honest, I have been a writer long enough, and read enough press releases to choke a horse, that I could tell something felt a bit rushed about the whole thing.

On Oct. 20th it became rather obvious to me why it felt rushed when I saw the first pictures of the Barnes & Noble Nook: both devices shared an e-ink display at the top and a color display at the bottom.  My first reaction upon seeing the Nook was, “start the countdown clock to one of these companies suing the other.”

Well, sure enough, very late last night I received another press release from Spring Design announcing its lawsuit against Barnes & Noble for violating their intellectual property.

In the new release, Spring Design claims that they have been working on the Alex since 2006, and at the beginning of 2009 they entered into talks with Barnes & Noble about the device protected under non-disclosure agreements.  Here is the most relevant portion of the release:

Spring Design first developed and began filing patents on its Alex e-book, an innovative dual screen, Android-based e-book back in 2006. Since the beginning of 2009 Spring and Barnes & Noble worked within a non-disclosure agreement, including many meetings, emails and conference calls with executives ranging up to the president of Barnes and, discussing confidential information regarding the features, functionality and capabilities of Alex. Throughout, Barnes & Noble’s marketing and technical executives extolled Alex’s “innovative” features, never mentioning their use of those features until the public disclosure of the Nook.

What strikes me as odd, yet again from reading thousands of press releases over the years, is that the release is lacking in some pertinent information.  There is no mention of which court this was filed with which makes fact checking the case a nightmare, and there is also no mention of the amount of monetary damages that Spring Design is seeking.  Perhaps it is just an oversight by a possibly inexperienced PR crew, but they are significant piece of information.

We have posted a picture of both devices side-by-side for you to examine below (not to scale), and you can be the judge … well, that is until this goes to court.


Our totally uneducated conclusion? Yes, the color screen is where the biggest hiccup is, but the Alex is using it deliver media from various Internet sources, while the Nook is using it for an on-board store.  There is also a problem that both devices are running on the Android operating system, but seeing as Android is open source and free, it is difficult to make a case there.  One other sticking point on the Android front … Android is only 1 year old as of this past week, so it was definitely not running on the Alex prior to the fourth quarter of 2008, what was the Alex running prior to that?

This isn’t going to be an easy case to prove for Spring Design, and I honestly have no opinion on which company is in the right, but it sure is going to be messy and expensive.

Categories: Gadgets   

tweetpeekLet me just state up front that if you purchase the TwitterPeek, someone from StarterTech will come to your house and punch you squarely in the face and then take your lunch money for good measure.

We see a lot of stupid ideas in the world of technology, there seems to be no bounds to which people will go to cash in on a fad, but even we are blown away by the TwitterPeek.

Peek is a mobile device company that seems to specialize in devices for people that have never explored the capabilities of their cell phones.  The first device from the company, simply called Peek, was a device dedicated to delivering only emails to you.  They branded it as a way to save $100′s over buying a smart phone, lower monthly plans, etc, etc.  The problem is that it is another device to carry around with you, and even non-smartphone options are beginning to offer email capabilities.  It was pretty much of a joke device, but yet it must have had some success because it has now spawned the TwitterPeek.

The TwitterPeek uses the exact same body as the original Peek (i.e. massive cost cutting), but all this device does is Twitter.  Look, we love Twitter around here, but the idea of a device that does nothing but Twitter just makes us scratch our heads.  Yes, it does offer all of the Twitter features you want such as ReTweeting, direct messages, replies and so on, but, again, Twitter is all this device does … nothing else.

To get your Tweet on with the TwitterPeek you’ll need to head over to Amazon (it is exclusive to them at least for now) and buy it in either black or Twitter blue (can we say ‘ugly as sin’?  I knew you could) and pay either $99.95 plus $7.95 a month for the pay as you go option, or $199.95 for the lifetime of service option.  Or you could, you know, buy a Motorla RAZR phone for next to nothing and pay a few bucks a month for a data plan … we’re just sayin’.

All kidding aside, we here at StarterTech try to guide the less tech savvy people as best as we can without being judgmental, but this really is one of those times where we have to highly suggest you stay away from this device.  Our fear is that a lot of teenagers will be putting this on their wishlist for the holiday shopping season, and we would strongly encourage you to look at other solutions for your kid.  The newness of this device will wear off with any child in a matter of days, if not hours, when they see how truly limited it is in functionality.

Trust us, avoid this device, get yourself a nice phone instead … and save me from having to come to your house to take your lunch money.

Categories: Gadgets, Twitter   

tivoDigital Video Recorders (DVRs) were once seen as the enemy by network television, but thanks to a new study from Nielsen, they are now best friends.

When DVRs first came on the market, and everyone was skipping the commercials, the network television companies had a fit over the loss of revenue. They tried to think of everything they could to get them banned, but nothing was happening, and so the two sides settled into an uneasy peace, but it was well know the networks still wanted them gone.

The New York Times has a story today how networks are now embracing DVRs because they are seeing not only ratings going up, but ad revenue increasing.  According to the study, 46 percent of DVR owners between the ages of 18 to 49, the most desired demographic by ad buyers, are not skipping through the commercials.  Seeing as 33 percent of homes now report having a DVR, compared to just 28 percent last year, this translates into a lot more ad views for advertisers.

Not only are the advertisers happy, but the networks are thrilled when they see how many viewers DVR playback adds to a show.  Here is the breakdown of some of the biggest success from The New York Times story:

In the 18-to-49 group of viewers — the one prized by networks because most ad sales are directed there — Fox has the biggest percentage increase, from an average rating of 2.39 (which translates into about 2.5 million viewers) for its live programs to a 2.71 rating (about 3.1 million viewers) when the three-day DVR playback results are added in.

The numbers for ABC were a 2.5 rating live (2.87 million viewers) to a 2.81 (3.27 million) after three days. CBS had a 2.62 live (just over three million) and a 2.79 (3.2 million) after three days. NBC had 1.79 live (2.05 million) and 1.91 (2.19 million) after three days.

Individual shows have gained substantially. “House,” second among all shows in its live program rating (to “Grey’s Anatomy” on ABC), became the top show in terms of commercials viewed within three days with a 5.68 rating (about 6.53 million), gaining almost 18 percent. NBC’s comedy “The Office” had one of the single biggest gains — 26 percent from its live program rating — to 3.92 (4.5 million) for its rating including playbacks.

Keep in mind that all of this only reflects the first three days after the original broadcast of a show, but DVRs actually monitor up to 7 days, and the reports show numbers jump even more.

Personally I’m a huge fan of my TiVo DVR, and I watch next to nothing while it airs live any more as I am a huge commercial skipper.  I don’t have time for them, so I would rather watch something even after it immediately airs just so I can skip those commercials.  I’m shocked 46 percent of people sit through them, but to each their own.

Categories: Gadgets   

xmen iphoneDownloadable comics just got a huge boost in the arm with the addition of Marvel Entertainment to the fold.

Comixology, the maker of several iPhone and iPod Touch apps for purchasing and reading comic books, has announced the addition of one of the “big two” comic publishers to its stable of publishers: Marvel Entertainment.

While the catalog is currently limited to the titles of Astonishing X-Men (the first 24 issues written by Buffy, the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon), Marvel Zombies miniseries, Captain America, X-23 and X-Men: Age of Apocalypse, this is surely not the end of what the House of Ideas will be offering.

As the former manager of a comic book store (from Aug. 1986 to Dec. 2001), I have been interested in how this would work, so I dove in and downloaded Astonishing X-Men #1.  I have to say, it works surprisingly well.  You are presented with one panel at a time, and the “camera” zooms in to the word balloon of the person talking, when you hit next, it pans to other side of the panel on very wide panels.  It felt a bit more like watching TV than reading a comic book to be honest, and I kind of liked it.

However, there is a rub here.  The issue I bought cost me a $1.99, a fairly high price I feel for a digital comic that was only 22-pages in length to begin with.  True, comic books now run you $2.99 to $3.99 on the stands (sometimes even as high as $4.99), but at least those you get to keep those for your collection.  As someone who used to have over 10,000 comics in his personal collection, I can see the appeal of this for the casual reader, though.  One of the reasons I dropped out of comics for the most part was that I simply couldn’t go on storing them, and I sold off about 8,000 of my books.  I miss reading comic books, but I could never allow myself to buy one and throw it away.  This method will allow me to buy issues I am interested in and not have the storage or guilt concerns.

Will this ever replace the printed form of comic books?  Highly, highly doubtful.  Could it bring back some old readers?  Quite possibly.

If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, I say treat yourself to at least one issue, it was a worthwhile experience to be sure.

Categories: Apple, Gadgets, News   

nookWhile it has been one of the worst kept secrets for a few weeks now, Barnes & Noble has officially announced their new e-reader named nook.

While we didn’t know what the name was until today, the fact that Barnes & Noble was coming out with an e-reader was no secret.  Even most of the details of the nook were out before today, but it’s still always nice to get the official word.

While e-readers seem to be coming out faster than most people can read a novel, the nook does appear to be several steps forward of Amazon’s popular Kindle.  The design appears to be more ergonomic, has a replaceable battery, swappable back covers, an on-screen keyboard as opposed to a physical one and so on.  The 6″ e-ink powered book display looks especially crisp, but thanks to the lower color display, you can browse for new books in full-color and then download them wirelessly via Wi-Fi or over AT&T’s 3G network.

One of the features that especially caught my eye was the ability to read books on your iPhone, iPod Touch, BlackBerry or computer, and then when you switch off to your nook, it will pick up right where you left off, and vice-versa.  Especially nice in this hectic go, go, go world of ours today.

LendMe is also a new feature that is a bit shocking in that it allows you to “lend” any book from your account to anyone else with an account for 14 days, even if they don’t have a nook.  Say you’re reading a book on your nook and you want to loan it to your friend who has an iPod Touch.  All they have to do is download the free Barnes & Noble app and you can lend them that book at no cost.  Publishers must be okay with this, but what a step forward!

The number of books for the nook is also quite impressive in that they have given you access to 500,000 public domain books that you can access directly from your nook, as well as 500,000 more you can purchase.   The actual device only has 2GB of memory on board, but it does have a microSD slot that can use memory cards up to 16GB, so you can store an astounding number of books on this device via that method.

The nook also has a built-in speaker as well as a 3.5mm headphone jack so you can listen to MP3s on it as well.

Overall it’s an impressive device and will be retailing for $259 with the first ones shipping out in late November.  If you still are torn over the Kindle, you can check out this comparison sheet to see which one is more for you.

Personally, I’m thinking the nook has pretty much trounced the Kindle.  Course, I haven’t gotten to use either in person, but I am far more tempted to purchase a nook then I ever was a Kindle.

Categories: Gadgets   

alexAre you ready for an e-reader named Alex?

Spring Design has announced a new e-book reader named Alex that has the privilege of being the first device of its kind to be based on the Google Android operating system.  This allows the device to deliver a new technology called the Duet Navigator which gives you a black and white screen, which is EPD (electronic paper display), up top that will provide hyperlinks to related media to what you are reading and deliver it in the bottom screen which is an LCD color display.

The Alex will be able to access the Internet via Wi-Fi, 3G, EVDO/CDMA and GSM.

“This is the start of a whole new experience of reading content on e-books, potentially igniting a whole new industry in multimedia e-book publishing for secondary authors to create supplementary content that is hyper linked to the text. We are bringing life to books with audio, video, and annotations,” said Dr. Priscilla Lu, CEO of Spring Design. “This gives readers the ability to fully leverage the resources on the Web, and the tools available in search engines to augment the reading experience.”

The E-Ink EPD measures 6″ and the LCD screen measures 3.5″.  The device also features an earphone jack, built-in speakers and an SD card slot to help you free up system memory.

At this time the release date is only slated as “by the end of the year”, and the suggested retail price is only mentioned as it “will be competitive: more than a standard e-book reader and in keeping with the value added by the dual display and other features provide.”

With the ever more crowded e-reader marketplace, each new device will need more and more ways to set itself away from the competition, and this one has certainly taken an interesting step in the direction.

Categories: Gadgets   
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