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Saturday, November 10, 2012
Android Overload: Google exec says there should be more carrier UI’s, T-Mobile 2-day sale for select Samsung phones, and more
AT&T offering $100 off tablets with a 2-year data plan. [AT&T]Pulse updated in the Play Store to version 3.0. Brings new navigation and improvements. [Play Store]T-Mobile 2-day sale offers discounts on select Samsung devices (no Galaxy Note 2). [TMoNews]Android (and iOS) app Blippar breathes life into the ShortList magazine via augmented reality. [Mashable]Nvidia’s Q3 revenue hits record $1.2 billion thanks to Tegra 3 processor sales. [NVIDIA]Google Ventures executive thinks carriers should be doing more to customize their Android UI’s. [FierceMobile]Paper Monsters coming next week to the Google Play Store. [YouTube]Ubuntu team releases Ubuntu Nexus 7 desktop installer. [DroidDog]Light Flow for Android updated in the Play Store. Brings support for 4.2 Jelly Bean. [Play Store]Arcane Legends launching within a week for Android in the Google Play Store. [SpacetimeStudios]Google and all Google services being blocked in China (again). [Readwrite]
With a seemingly endless stream of flagship phones hitting the market before the holiday season, it can be easy to forget some of the other devices that play a more niche audience. The Samsung Galaxy Beam definitely belongs in this category, as it includes a built-in Texas Instruments DLP pico projector. All told, the phone faces a lofty challenge: while the projector could be useful for the PowerPoint crowd, the phone itself falls on the lower end of mid-range, and isn't powerful enough to do business users much good otherwise. With a 1GHz dual-core NovaThor CPU, an overly outdated OS, a 2010-era display and a middling 5-megapixel camera, the Beam's target demographic appears to be ridiculously small. Still, might the projector be enough to carry this device to its full potential? Does a niche device like this have a place in such a crowded market? Read on to get in touch with our thoughts, feelings and emotions regarding the Samsung Galaxy Beam.
In many respects, the Galaxy Beam is just a Galaxy S Advance that's been redesigned to fit that projector. While the two look completely different on the outside, the internal specs are nearly identical, with the exception of battery capacity. For instance, both devices have a 1GHz dual-core NovaThor CPU with 768MB RAM, a 4-inch WVGA TFT display and a 5-megapixel rear-facing shooter with 720p video capture. Both have 8GB of internal storage, though the Advance also has a 16GB option. These aren't the only similarities between the two, but you get the idea for now.
In many respects, the Galaxy Beam is just a Galaxy S Advance that's been redesigned to fit that projector.
The outside is a different story. The Galaxy Beam has a rugged, sporty look, with a black textured battery cover on the back and a large yellow stripe ringing the outside of the device. (Note: a white-and-grey option is also available in certain markets.) While we doubt it's actually as rough as your standard MIL-spec device, it's at least trying to give off the impression that it's not built with run-of-the-mill cheapo plastic. To its credit, it certainly has a solid feel, and its 124 x 64.2 x 12.5 mm (4.88 x 2.53 x 0.49 in) frame is small enough to ensure that the jaws of life wouldn't be able to relax your grip on the thing. At 5.11 ounces (145g), the phone isn't terribly heavy, but the projector still makes it weigh a bit more than your average 4-inch device.
The star of the show is perched on the top edge of the phone, and its heft creates a bulge that pokes out the top of the battery cover. Let's give the designers some credit here: we figure it can't be easy to design a phone around a projector (or vice versa), and the team did a good job of somehow incorporating it into the chassis without turning it into an awkward mess. Yes, the phone is much thicker than what we're accustomed to, but it's still comfortable to grip. In fact, this may be a reason the company chose to stick with a 4-inch display -- we could definitely see the thickness becoming an issue on devices with larger screens.
Since the top of the Beam seems to be the normal locale for the 3.5mm headphone jack, this particular feature migrated to the phone's left side to make room for the projector. That isn't a good place to stick it -- most smartphone users who listen to music on a regular basis find this setup quite frustrating when they need to stick the device in their pockets. Ultimately, in this case, the best place for the jack would've been on the bottom.
Accompanying the headphone port on the left side are the volume rocker and full-sized SIM slot. This is cause for another frustration, as most smartphones released in the second half of this year take advantage of micro-SIMs. If you sport a smaller SIM, you'll need to either swap it out for the super-size option or quickly find a $1 adapter. Be careful though: the SIM port's ejection mechanism can be a bit fickle (the cards go in just fine, but getting them out takes a little more effort), so avoid cheap plastic adapters that snap like twigs.
The right side of the phone houses the projector on / off switch, the standard power button and microSD slot. The latter port can support cards up to 32GB, which is important to point out since you only get 8GB internal storage (which ultimately leads to less than 6GB that you can actually play with when all is said and done). A micro-USB charging port sits on the bottom of the phone.
As we briefly mentioned earlier, the Beam's display is a 4-inch WVGA (800 x 480) TFT panel. This is the sort of resolution you'll mainly find on budget phones nowadays. Frankly, we would've preferred to see a qHD screen here, especially since the going price is around £270 ($430). For what it's worth, Samsung's decision to use TFT over the PenTile Super AMOLED was a wise one, as we didn't find ourselves getting too distracted by pixelation or jagged edges. While it isn't as sharp a panel as we like to see on today's fancier phones, we still found watching movies to be pleasant. Additionally, the screen is bright enough that we were able to pull off some daylight reading, and the viewing angles are also better than we originally expected.
The back cover features a soft rubbery finish with a fine texture to offer some extra grip and keep fingerprints away. You'll also see the 5-megapixel camera and LED flash front and center, with the Samsung logo sitting directly underneath. The only other feature on the back is the speaker grille, which is slightly raised to keep the external speaker from being muffled. The back cover and accompanying 2,000mAh battery beneath are both removable.
Undoubtedly, the highlight of the Galaxy Beam -- and frankly its sole reason for even existing -- is the 15-lumen DLP nHD (640x360) pico projector built directly into the upper half of the device. Unconventional as it may seem to some, this isn't Samsung's first (or even second) time at the projector-phone rodeo; we've seen the manufacturer attempt this form factor with the AnyCall W7900 (aka the Haptic Beam), the AMOLED Beam W9600 and the original Galaxy Beam I8520. Of course, this is the best of the bunch, and the competitive landscape is virtually non-existent at the moment; most manufacturers haven't even bothered with this particular niche. (Warning: it likely goes without saying, but don't look directly into the projector when it's turned on.)
This isn't Samsung's first time at the projector-phone rodeo, but it's the best effort we've seen so far.
The idea is that you can project movies and images up to 50 inches in size, and maintain its clarity for up to six feet away from the wall or ceiling you're projecting it onto. We were quite pleased with its overall performance: it maintained solid video quality and synced audio smoothly, so that everyone's voice came out at the exact time it was supposed to. The projector itself has adjustable brightness levels, although even at its brightest setting the projection was a little darker than what we saw on the screen. But that's to be expected -- the Galaxy Beam won't be replacing anybody's TV, but it still works well in a dark room (results are mixed in daylight). Also -- and this shouldn't come as a surprise -- but it's worth noting that the projector gets quite hot after extended use.
If you're considering using the Beam as a TV substitute, we have some good news: we had no problem watching movies via third-party apps like Netflix, which means you can stream video with ease. There are also a few extra settings that Samsung has thrown into the dedicated projector app, such as a flashlight mode, a "quick pad" mode that lets you take screenshots of your screen and draw on it (ideal for presentations) and an ambience mode that lets you watch slideshows with music playing in the background. There's also a "visual presenter" that uses your phone's camera to act as an overhead projector.
At first, we couldn't think of many uses for the Beam's projector, outside of a businessperson using it for presentations, but it actually came in handier than we expected. This editor watched movies on the wall (and ceiling) in his bedroom before falling asleep -- a convenient option, since the projection was larger than the TV he had laying around. What's more, restless children can watch a movie (or use the quick pad to draw) in almost every possible situation. And think about the amazing impromptu vacation slideshows you can show off to your friends. Is that enough justification for most people to buy this phone? Not really, but we're happy the option is available for anyone who feels the need.
Think the hardware is a tough sell? The firmware isn't going to help convince you to purchase a Galaxy Beam either, since it's running Android 2.3 Gingerbread. As a quick reminder, this build of Google's mobile OS is about to celebrate its two-year anniversary. There's simply no excuse for a modern smartphone to be running an antiquated OS, even if it is an entry-level device. To be fair, Samsung's confirmed that Jelly Bean will come eventually, but the company hasn't given at ETA. It's quite possible we won't see an update until sometime next year.
There is no logical reason this phone should be running Gingerbread.
What you get on the Beam is the same standard-grade TouchWiz 4.0 UI that first shipped on the Galaxy S II. And since it's not tied to any specific carrier, you won't have to worry about any frustrating bloatware -- good thing, too, since it's not so easy to get rid of unwanted apps on Gingerbread. Worst-case scenario, this particular version of TouchWiz allows you to add folders into the standard app menu, so it's much easier to just tuck annoying apps out of the way so you don't have to see them.
Looking at the Beam's spec sheet, we're not surprised to see a 5-megapixel shooter and VGA front-facing camera. These are Samsung's go-to modules for lower-end smartphones, and we didn't really expect to see many breathtaking images come out of this phone as a result. Sure enough, our sample shots were okay, but if imaging is your thing you'll want to look to the manufacturer's higher-end options.
In terms of features and settings, you actually have quite a few ways to tweak your shots -- Samsung has always been very generous in that regard. You can customize the settings sidebar with the features you use the most. Tap the viewfinder to lock focus but not exposure; if you want to do both, just hold down the shutter button until you're ready to fire away. You can also take panoramic shots and use the usual smattering of scene modes (low-light will be particularly valuable), exposure adjustments, macro focus mode, three filters, white balance and ISO. HDR isn't an option here, unfortunately, but chances are you won't miss it too much on a lower-end camera.
Spec-wise, the camera has a focal length of 3.54mm and an f/2.6 aperture. In daylight, lighter colors were typically washed out, while the white balance appeared to favor a shift toward yellow. Detail wasn't much of a concern here, and we didn't notice any compression in our photos. Low-light images actually turned out well, so long as we used the dedicated low-light scene mode (standard and backlight shots won't do any good). Additionally, the LED flash enabled the camera to capture more color than we anticipated.
With a lower-res camera often comes lower-res video capture, with 1,280 x 720 being the best you can get here. All movies are recorded in MPEG-4 format at 30 fps (on average) and use a bit rate of 12.3 Mbps. The mic picks up voices well, but the resulting footage is slightly choppy and lacks a lot of detail and sharpness. It doesn't meet our expectations, but it's adequate for the occasional home video.
If you've chanced a gander at the silicon inside, you'll know that the Beam isn't meant to please the high-end power user. It packs a 1GHz dual-core NovaThor U8500 (a 45nm 32-bit Cortex-A9 processor) with 768MB of RAM and a Mali-400 GPU. Samsung's processor selection is a little curious here, as ST-Ericsson's NovaThor brand isn't exactly known for high performance. The Sony Xperia U and Xperia P both share the same chipset but again, we don't think top-notch performance was a priority for the company with this device. Anyone resigned to getting a budget phone will be happy with its speed and responsiveness, but power users will crave something more robust. Also, we'd advise you not to use this device if you're planning to play a lot of graphics-intensive games, though the phone does work fine for casual gaming. Here's how the benchmarks pan out:Samsung Galaxy BeamSony Xperia PSony Xperia UGLBenchmark 2.5 1080p Egypt Offscreen (fps)SunSpider: lower scores are better. Xperias were tested on GLBench 2.1 and Vellamo 1.0, which are now obsolete.
The Beam has a 2,000mAh removable battery that performs respectably. Our standard rundown test, which involves looping a video with the screen at 50 percent brightness, yielded nine and a half hours of life before it dwindled down to 10 percent capacity (the video refused to play after that). As for real-world usage, we got a day and a half with moderate use. But how does the phone hold up when you're using the projector? As you might expect, battery life takes a huge hit, but the phone managed to last four hours with the projector running. As an aside, we ran our test as it circulated through the same slideshow over and over, so the battery will likely drain even faster if you're using the projector to stream Netflix or perform similarly graphics-intensive tasks.
The Beam offers good battery life, but its performance will be off-putting to anyone not looking for a budget smartphone.
You'll find above-average audio quality on the Beam when listening to music or watching movies. Before the review, one of our biggest worries was how loud the sound would be when viewing multimedia via the projector (not everyone will be gathered around the phone, after all), but we can confidently say that there's no reason to be concerned unless you're in a crowded room; the external speaker exceeded our expectations, though the audio wasn't all that wonderful when we had our Klipsch Image S4A headphones plugged in. You're not going to get quite the dynamic audio range or fullness of sound that you'll hear on a flagship handset like the Galaxy Note II -- the bass that comes through sounded muddy, and voices were slightly distant.
While the Beam's HSPA+ radio is only capable of hitting a theoretical limit of 14.4 Mbps, it actually performs admirably given its constraints. Our unit, which offers quad-band 3G (850/900/1900/2100) and quad-band GSM / EDGE (850/900/1800/1900), was consistently able to reach average download speeds between 6 Mbps and 7 Mbps. It won't access 3G on any AWS networks, unfortunately. Calls came through loud and clear, and we didn't have any struggles hanging onto a conversation since the Beam's reception was quite reliable throughout our tests.
How much of a premium should be placed on a phone that comes with a projector, especially when the rest of the device merits a resounding meh? The Beam's price varies by market, but in the UK, at least, it's available for £270 ($430), while the Galaxy S Advance goes for £250 ($400). It's also available in France, Singapore, India and Brazil. Interested US customers can import an unlocked model with AT&T-compatible 3G. Samsung's still courting other markets as well, so there's a good chance we'll continue to see the Beam become more widely available.
There's definitely some excitement to be had when reviewing a device so out of the ordinary, but we found it a little difficult to make a final judgment call. The Galaxy Beam does well at what it claims to be good at (projecting media), but it's otherwise mediocre at best. That's not to say it's a horrible phone, but the low-to-mid-range feature set makes it a tough sell at $430, especially when you can pay the same price for much nicer devices these days. In this situation, it means that you either have to love the projector enough to justify the higher price, or the feature is so important to your business that you're willing to sacrifice a lot of modern functionality to get it.
The Beam is interesting as a proof of concept, but we don't see it blossoming into anything more than that at the present time. That's not to say this über-specific category doesn't have a future, but something as unique as a projector would likely find more success in a more premium phone: it needs to be incorporated into higher-end devices without making compromises in components, firmware or size. Only then can it be viable as a mainstream device. Until then, it's a fun gadget to show off to friends, but that's the extent of its strengths.
Richard Lai contributed to this review.
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As we know it, 3D printing is usually confined to small-scale projects like headphones. NASA is ever so slightly more ambitious. It's using a closely related technique from Concept Laser, selective laser melting, to build elements of its Space Launch System on a pace that wouldn't be feasible with traditional methods. By firing brief, exact laser pulses at metal powder, Concept Laser's CAD system creates solid metal parts that are geometrically complex but don't need to be welded together. The technique saves the money and time that would normally be spent on building many smaller pieces, but it could be even more vital for safety: having monolithic components reduces the points of failure that could bring the rocket down. We'll have a first inkling of how well laser melting works for NASA when the SLS' upper-stage J-2X engine goes through testing before the end of 2012, and the printed parts should receive their ultimate seal of approval with a first flight in 2017.
Note to self: Never leave a device charging while unattended. Why, you ask? Because there’s always the off chance that something like this could happen.
What you’re looking at are images of one user’s Nexus 7 after it was left charging — unattended — for a good couple of hours. When the owner returned to where the Nexus 7 should have been sleeping peacefully, she was greeted with a room with smoke and the Nexus 7 melted to a toasty Pop-Tart.
According to the Chinese forum where the images were posted, the user was using the factory OEM charger and the device was only left charging for a total of 3 hours before spontaneously combusting. We’ve seen cases in the past where shady characters have attempted to pass off exploding devices as a manufacturer defect, only to later find out the cause was owner misuse. This doesn’t appear to be indication of foul play and apparently ASUS has already dealt with the matter, sending off a shiny new replacement. Let’s hope the new one has better luck.
I know it’s unlikely, but I have to ask. Any Nexus 7 owners out there ever have their tabby explode on them? Does seeing this make you a little more cautious about leaving your Nexus 7 charging for long periods of time?
[via TheAndroidSoul | MobileGeeks | Baidu]
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Get better reviews from people who actually have this product!write a reviewsee all reviews ?
Sony Mobile Communications Brings Its Water-Resistant Android Smartphone, Xperia™ advance, to the U.S.
o The highest level of dust and water resistance available on any Android smartphone*
o Stylish, sleek and durable smartphone made to withstand whatever life throws at it without compromising on design or functionality
o Reality Display for razor sharp clarity and fast capture camera to go from sleep to snap in just over a second
What: Sony Mobile Communications brings the Xperia advance to US consumers looking for a full-featured Android smartphone and beautiful design with extra durability and water resistance. Xperia advance has a scratch-resistant display with wet finger tracking to offer functionality and protection against dust and water immersion.
As Sony's most durable, water-resistant smartphone, the Xperia advance is built to handle life's unexpected moments. It has a scratch-resistant mineral glass display and meets the IP67 ratings for protection against dust and water immersion** in depths between zero to 39 inches for up to 30 minutes. Xperia advance is a fit for Xperia fans who don't want to worry about protecting their phones when caught in the rain.
With Xperia advance, consumers can watch the latest movies and TV shows in razor sharp quality and with fast performance.
This powerful device conceals its rugged nature in a slim and attractive design, and, at only .4 inches thick at its thinnest point, users can enjoy its lightweight feel and easily carry it in a pocket or bag among keys, change and other items with reduced susceptibility to marks or scratches. The Xperia advance's sleek and stylish design means durable and water-resistant smartphones no longer have to look bulky and rugged.
Xperia advance features easy connectivity through DLNA® technology to share and enjoy content on a TV. It also comes preloaded with Music Unlimited and Video Unlimited from Sony Entertainment Network***, giving access to millions of songs, Hollywood blockbusters, and TV series.
*Based on smartphones available in the US as of October 29, 2012.
** An IP (Ingress Protection) rating of 67 means the device is dust tight and is protected against the effects of immersion in water in depths between 0 to 39 inches for up to 30 minutes. Despite your device's resistance qualities, you should avoid exposing it to environments with excessive dust or moisture. Damage to your device, (even if through ordinary use) can limit or lessen resistance to dust or moisture. You should not submerge the mobile phone in water. The water resistance of the micro USB port and the headset connector is not guaranteed in all environment or conditions. All compatible accessories including batteries, chargers, hands-free devices, micro USB cables, microSD™ cards, and so on are not dust and water resistant on their own. Warranty does not cover damage or defects caused by abuse or improper use of your device.
***For Sony Unlimited services, a subscription is required and additional requirements, terms, and conditions, may apply. All apps require compatible wireless service connection and usage rates apply.
Pricing & availability:
The Xperia advance is available now at Newegg and other online retailers. For additional availability and pricing, please check with each retailer.
· MSRP $299.99 (unlocked), in tactile black, pure white, or warm yellow
Xperia advance is compatible with the network bands below.
· UMTS HSPA 850, 1900, 2100
· GSM GPRS/EDGE 850, 900, 1800, 1900
Size: 4.3 x 2.3 x .4 in
Weight: 3.92 ounces
Screen: 3.5" (diagonally)Reality Display with Mobile BRAVIA Engine®, 480 x 320 pixels, scratch-resistant mineral glass, wet-finger tracking
Camera: 5MP camera, 16x digital zoom, LED Flash and autofocus, 720p HD video recording
Phone Memory: Up to 512 MB RAM, up to 8 GB internal memory (up to 4 GB user accessible memory)
Operating System: Android™ 2.3, upgradeable to Android™ 4.0
Processor: 1GHz Dual Core
Connectivity: 3.5 mm audio jack, aGPS, Bluetooth™, DLNA® Certified, Wi-Fi®, USB Host
For those who like to live on the wild side, staying on the bleeding edge of tech, say hello to Motorola’s newly announced Test Drive program. Announced along side the Motorola Droid RAZR M Jelly Bean update, the Test Drive Program is similar to what Moto has been doing all along with their soak tests, only this is a bit more exclusive. Motorola mentioned that it would only allow for a “few hundred” or so users sign up for early access to major updates, starting with Jelly Bean. I’m guessing those pre-JB will have to stick with soak tests in the Motorola Feedback Network. Details on how users can sign up will be provided at a later date, but we’ll stay on the lookout.
As I mentioned above, Android 4.1 Jelly Bean was also announced and is now rolling out for the Motorola Droid RAZR M. Software update 98.12.4 brings all the features you love from the J-Bean, giving you access to Google Now’s “always on” automated services, a smoother UI, as well as a handful of other enhancements and fixes. Here’s the full changelog per Verizon support:
Let us know if any of your guys’ RAZR M’s received the update yet. If not, you can always attempt to pull the update yourself by jumping into your Settings > About phone > System updates > Download. Don’t forget to visit our Droid RAZR M forums to discuss the update or just talk about general Android related topics. Godspeed.
[Motorola | Verizon Support]
Texas Instrument's TI-84 makes quick work of graphs and equations like nobody's business, but it's done so for years while clinging to an outdated black and white screen. Now, however, it looks like that'll change for at least one flavor of the souped-up digital abacus. Cemetech forum user 0rac343 posted a photo of a TI-84+ C Silver Edition, claiming that it was one of 24 provided by TI for in-classroom testing and that it's slated to launch next spring. Tech Powered Math reports that a contact who's worked with Texas Instruments has confirmed that the calculator is the real McCoy. In fact, the firm's website has a page where visitors can sign up for updates about the number cruncher in question. With the help of the refreshed TI-84, we might finally be able to tell if Blinky, Inky, Pinky or Clyde is the ghost chasing us down in the hardware's Pac-Man clone.
EDGE-TO-EDGE VIEWING ON STUNNING HISENSE T770 TELEVISION
Elevating industrial design to a new level, the virtually bezel-free T770 is more than just a pretty face.
Suwanee, Georgia, November 9, 2012 - Hisense USA, maker of 2D, 3D and Smart TV
televisions, today revealed the T770 55" class of exquisite, virtually bezel-free televisions. With standard 120 Hz SmoothMotion™ frame rate technology and 3D, Smart TV functionality, the T770 represents the epitome of Hisense's expertise in bringing innovation and value together in a package that will complement any room.
Delivering stunning picture quality and incredible features at an affordable price, the T770 offers the perfect combination of good looks, brains and value-for-money. Offering four (4) HDMI inputs, to connect to multiple sources, the WiFi-enabled T770 brings all video content to life. Available in 42- and 55-inch screen sizes, these televisions offer real-time 2D to 3D conversion in addition to digital LED technology, ensuring exceptionally bright, true-to-life images. The USB and DLNA enabled Digital Media Player supports playback of a variety of Internet music and video formats in addition to photos and e-books. With the Hisense Smart Remote app consumers can use their smartphone as a full-function QWERTY remote.
"The elegant design of the T770 is simply stunning," said JoAnne Foist, Director of Marketing, Hisense USA. "No other televisions in Hisense's US lineup have such an Ultra Narrow (<7mm) bezel, making images appear to float in mid air. When people see the T770, they will be delighted with the design, the features and the price tag."
Size / Model Key Features
55-inch / 55T770DW 3D, Smart TV, 120 Hz, e-LED, HDMI x 4, 1080p Full HD, Active-SG Glasses x 2
42-inch / 42T770DW 3D, Smart TV, 120 Hz, e-LED, HDMI x 4, 1080p Full HD, Active-SG Glasses x 2
See www.hisense-usa.com for more details.
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ARM CEO Warren East already has a tendency to be more than a bit outspoken on the future of computing, and he just escalated the war of words with an assault on the industry's sacred cow: Moore's Law. After some prompting by MIT Technology Review during a chat, East argued that power efficiency is "actually what matters," whether it's a phone or a server farm. Making ever more complex and power-hungry processors to obey Moore's Law just limits how many chips you can fit in a given space, he said. Not that the executive is about to accept Intel's position that ARM isn't meant for performance, as he saw the architecture scaling to high speeds whenever there was a large enough power supply to back it up. East's talk is a bit long on theory and short on practice as of today -- a Samsung Chromebook isn't going to make Gordon Moore have second thoughts -- but it's food for thought in an era where ARM is growing fast, and even Microsoft isn't convinced that speed rules everything.
It's tough to find truly stellar mobile apps, no matter what platform you're running, and that's even truer when delving into categories. Apple has made a gesture towards giving more titles their moment in the sun through a low-key update to the App Store in iTunes and on iOS 6 devices. Jump to at least some categories, such as games or education, and you'll get the same carousels, banners and other promotions that would normally be reserved for the main portal. The shift is a simple one, but it theoretically helps App Store shoppers go beyond the surface -- and developers to reap the rewards.
As eagerly as Google has gone through routing acrobatics to minimize the Chinese government's ability to censor and spy on its its services, it's still at the mercy of the Great Firewall. The company might have just run head-first into the bricks as of Friday. As confirmed by some of our own staff, all of Google's services stopped working in China for at least the better part of a day despite the search firm verifying that everything was in good working order. Officials haven't confirmed that anything was afoot, but it's easy to raise the specter of possible censorship given local political maneuvering. The once-a-decade Communist Party Congress began on Thursday, and the establishment may have wanted to cut off a relatively unfiltered line of communication for dissidents during a transition of power. We're hearing that access may have ameliorated in at least parts of the country, which would be a pleasant surprise -- not that a sudden improvement in service will cheer up those who know they still face a backlog.
A few months back Sprint's Android customers gained the option to charge Google Play purchases to their monthly wireless bill. In an effort to keep the carrier billing party going, the Now Network will soon be adding this option for Spotify Premium customers. An anonymous tipster has shared with us that starting on November 11th, Sprint's Android clientele will be able to add the music streaming service's $10 monthly charge to their bill. While we're sure that some customers will take advantage of this new option, we can't help but long for the good old days when people could bill a new phone to their account. Ah, Sprint giveth and taketh away.
It's been a brisk and mostly enjoyable two weeks since the launch of Windows 8 and the start of this diary. Whereas my last entry was all about productivity, there's now been ample opportunity to relax with the new OS, play a few titles in Steam, and run some general performance benchmarks. These not-so-onerous tasks were completed using an AMD FX-based triple-monitor gaming rig upgraded from Windows 7 Ultimate to Windows 8 Pro, with all games running at 5,760 x 1,080 and max detail settings, and all the hardware was kept constant to allow a before-and-after comparison. You'll find the results after the break, along with a few broader impressions of what Windows 8 might mean for an early-adopting desktop gamer.
SunSpider 0.9.1 on Internet Explorer
ATTO storage read at 1,024KB (write)
Cold boot time (shutdown time)
XCOM: Enemy Unknown average fps***Futuremark warns that PCMark 7 may under-score Windows 8 performance, so take this figure with a sprinkle of caution. Other sites have found that PCMark 7 actually scores higher in Windows 8 with different hardware configurations.
** This game -- the only game I want to play right now -- runs upside-down on Eyefinity. Aaargh.
A glance at the table will corroborate what other benchmark comparisons (see More Coverage below) have already shown: Windows 8 doesn't currently do much for gaming other than preserving it. If we ignore PCMark 7 for now, which currently comes with a health warning, then gaming-relevant performance is broadly even. Personally, I just carried on running my existing Steam games as normal, and I was pleased that my hardware -- including an ASUS Xonar sound card and Xbox 360 wired controller -- was recognized without issue. But few people will spend money on an upgrade merely to experience what they already had with Windows 7.
Of course, there was that whole Gabe Newell "catastrophe" saga recently, and it had little to do with hardware issues. The Steam founder was mainly worried about the new Windows Store potentially becoming the only way for Windows users to buy and install new games. Politics aside (at least for now), I did explore the Store and a couple of game demos, but I lost interest pretty quickly. For the time being, Microsoft is putting the emphasis on tablet games and cross-compatibility with ARM-based RT tablets, with the result that the selection of games for desktop users is limited and often inappropriate (Fruit Ninja, anyone?). When I'd finally confirmed that it's possible to have a launch-day roster of 40 Xbox Live games and yet not include classics like Fez, Braid or Super Meatboy on that list, I made a polite exit.
Microsoft is putting the emphasis on tablet games
Anyway, returning to the table, the more general indicators of performance show some significant gains as a result of the upgrade -- gains which do seem to make the system snappier when it comes to racking up a game. The FastBoot feature we've seen on some recent Windows 8 laptops was never going to work with my particular motherboard and graphics card, but the wake-up and sleep times were both significantly reduced -- and since I hardly ever switch my PC off, those two measures are more useful to me. ATTO showed a 10 percent gain in storage read and write speeds, running on a 750GB Seagate Momentus XT hybrid drive. Internet Explorer 10 also deserves a mention for being blisteringly fast compared to IE9 -- and there's no final version of IE10 for Windows 7 coming any time soon. In large part, this brings me back to the main conclusion of my last post: Windows 8 does some genuinely good things for all-round productivity. But for other, more leisurely pursuits, I don't yet see any compelling reason why the desktop user should upgrade.
My rig, for the record: AMD FX-8350 CPU (tested at stock speeds to keep things simple), Gelid Tranquillo Rev. 2 CPU cooler, AMD Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition graphics card (also at stock speed), ASUS CrossHair V Formula motherboard, ASUS Xonar Phoebus sound card, 8GB Corsair XMS3 RAM, 750GB Seagate Momentus XT hybrid drive, NZXT Phantom 410 chassis, three ViewSonic VX2336S 1080p LED monitors.
Samsung SDI, Philips, LG, Technicolor, Panasonic and Toshiba are said to be facing heavy fines from the European Commission due to alleged involvement in a TV cathode-ray tube price fixing ring. According to Reuters, the fines will be announced on November 28th and can reach up to ten percent of the turnover during the period which the cartel was said to have ran. Based on 2011 revenues, LG could be fined up to $5 billion, while Dutch-based Philips would top out at around $2.9 billion. While the fines aren't expected to reach such heights, it will definitely take more than a few Black Friday blowout sales to recover this type of coin.
It's been a while since we last took a look at a smartphone from Acer. Today's offering -- the S500 CloudMobile -- however, might not be all that unfamiliar, having first met our eyes way back at MWC in spring. This time around Acer presents us with a leaner, slicker, much more design-conscious handset, one that isn't just about the pretty looks, either.
With a 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 Plus processor, 1GB of RAM, an 8-megapixel camera and a 720p display, all for £289 SIM-free, it's pitched against similarly specced phones like the HTC One S. In short, it's yet another alternative for people seeking a full-featured smartphone, except it comes without the pocket-draining price tag. More importantly for Acer, however, is the chance to get back onto people's smartphone radars. So, now that the CloudMobile has gently drifted over our shores, does it have us looking to the sky, or putting on our raincoats of indifference? Read on to find out.
"This is clearly a handsome phone -- one that won't suffer a case of mistaken identity"
The CloudMobile has already enjoyed a rare Engadget accolade: we were so intrigued by it in Barcelona that we felt compelled to take a second look. The phone, which won an iF Product Design award, has a memorable look and feel, with Acer opting for a combination of sharp corners, curved sides and a dimpled matte back that contrasts nicely with the flat, glossy front face. Materials-wise, it's made of plastic but still manages to feel solid -- the kind of build quality we're used to seeing in Samsung's handsets. In fact, when this editor placed it in the same pocket as a Galaxy Nexus, the similar texture on the two phones made the two indistinguishable by feel. The dimpled battery cover not only provides some much-needed personality, it also makes it easier to grip. The metallic accents around the mic and top speaker grille add some visual interest as well. Regardless of whether you think this deserved the iF Product Design award, this is clearly is a handsome phone -- one that won't suffer a case of mistaken identity.
The display measures in at 4.3 inches, which should make the CloudMobile easy for most people to grip. In a world where phone screens are getting larger and larger it seems Acer has opted to make its product fit in as many hands (and pockets) as possible. It's lightweight and comfortable to hold, and yet we never felt we were making concessions on screen size. This might -- in theory -- lend itself to easy use with one hand, but the placement of the power / standby button on the upper-left edge requires a modicum of dexterity for right-handers. It's only your index finger you'll need to train to reach that far, though, as the volume rocker sits more comfortably on the right-hand side, with the rest of the input happening onscreen. That leaves the USB port, mic and headphone jack as the only other openings along the edges. (Note: there's no dedicated camera button, but the volume rocker will perform this role in camera mode.) Those edges also create a slight lip around the display, no doubt making it a bit more scratch-resistant when you place it face-down.
"The display is bright, clear and wonderful to look at."
The overall design is eye-catching enough, but that screen is what's bound to capture your attention. Acer describes it as an HD720 IPS LCD, which means, of course, that it has 1,280 x 720 pixels. We, on the other hand, would describe it as a bit of a corker. It really is bright, clear and wonderful to look at. Colors are crisp and the whole image just pops. This isn't surprising given that its screen density of 342 ppi bests other current flagships like the iPhone 5 and Nexus 4. Some of this "pop" has to do with the manufacturing technique used: Acer presses the glass up against the digitizer, eliminating any air. The screen is viewable from a broad range of viewing angles, even in direct sunlight. Images and photos are reproduced faithfully with dark blacks and no hint of saturation.
Look past that exterior, and you'll find some respectable innards. It might not be the quad-core monster you were hoping for, but the 1.5GHz dual-core chip keeps itself busy without causing any apparent problems -- that is to say, we were never caught cursing its performance. All told, it should be more than adequate for most people, but we'll elaborate on that later once we throw the phone to the benchmark lions. As for the 1GB of RAM and 8GB of internal storage, these are fairly pedestrian specs these days, but the option to augment the storage capacity using a microSD card should come as a relief to many people. To get at the SD slot, you'll need to pop off the back cover, where you'll also find the micro-SIM slot and 1,460mAh battery. The rest of the non-radio hardware is made up of a front "HD" (0.9-megapixel) camera and that rear 8-megapixel shooter, along with Dolby Mobile 3 sound enhancement and DLNA. The unit we've been testing supports quad-band GSM / GPRS /EDGE and UMTS / HSPA+, as well as 802.11b/g/n, GPS, NFC and Bluetooth 4.0.
It's true that the Acer walks among an increasing number of quad-core competitors, but as we all know, it's not what you got, it's what you do with it that counts. Under the hood, the CloudMobile packs a perfectly adequate dual-core Qualcomm 8260A Snapdragon S4, clocked at 1.5GHz. Not once did we feel we were using a phone that wasn't capable of doing what we wanted it to. Bear in mind, this packs the same processors as ASUS's Padfone, Sony's Xperia T and the HTC One S -- not a slothful crowd by any stretch of the imagination. Also, thanks to that light, unobtrusive skin atop Android 4.0.4, there's little getting in its way. We also put it through some long bouts of casual gaming as we went about our day, and we're pleased to say that those angry birds flew with nary a glitch, Hill Climb Rally was as smooth a ride as possible, and Cut the Rope never looked better. When not gaming, we jumped back and forth between apps equally unabated. Of course, talk is cheap, so we've prepared some quantitative comparisons to help put the performance in context.
Acer CloudMobileSony Xperia TLHTC One X (AT&T)GLBenchmark Egypt Offscreen (fps)SunSpider: lower scores are better
You can see right away that the CloudMobile gives HTC's One X a good chase on most of our regular tests -- in fact, it bests it on several of them, including Quadrant. There's not a lot of bragging rights left over for Xperia TL owners with Acer's plucky upstart holding its ground against Sony's flagship. Ah, you say, but with only a 1,460mAh battery to keep the CloudMobile on the road, it probably dies halfway through the day. As it happens, that's not the case. In our regular test (video looping, WiFi and 3G on, display brightness fixed, etc.) it managed a little over six hours. While this isn't exactly marathon territory, it's not a poor showing. With more casual use, the CloudMobile can hang in for almost two days, and that includes being kept on overnight. We know for our readers, though, light use is a rarity. We hear ya, but even then you'll be getting some average runtime to cover a regular day's use.
As for data and downloading, based on the UK's O2 network, the CloudMobile regularly got faster speeds than the Galaxy Nexus when we performed side-by-side tests. The CloudMobile tended to get between 4 Mbps and 5 Mbps on our speed tests, while the Nexus peaked at 4 Mbps in the same areas. Voice calls on the other hand were crisp and clear. Audio in general is boosted by the Dolby support. When enjoying music with the phone, this feature really makes a difference. It's hard to gauge whether it's mainly down to the increase in volume it provides, but it's definitely a step up from the meeker sound without it. The small metal Dolby plate isn't just for branding, it also covers the loudspeaker. How does that speaker perform (when used for something busier than voice)? Well, if you're a fan of listening to music this way, you'll like the CloudMobile more than most. Sound is louder than on the Galaxy Nexus, but it's still just a tiny speaker, so don't expect much. The best thing about the audio is that you have more control over it than just a standard Android install. But the same inevitable limitations (e.g., where to put a better speaker?) are still ultimately there.
If it's numbers you're after, then for this section, the one you'll care about is eight. That's how many megapixels are crammed inside the camera sensor. But as you likely know, the number of pixels isn't the only measure of a camera's capabilities. In fact, sometimes, it can be a downright rotten one. In any case, what can it do with them? Well, before we get to that part, it's worth noting that even though the CloudMobile's software is fairly close to stock Android, there are some notable additions in the camera department. The main difference is the inclusion of some extra photo modes, with a choice of Panorama, HDR, Low Light and Continuous.
"Even though the CloudMobile's software is fairly close to stock Android, there are some notable additions in the camera department."
Panorama mode works surprisingly well, with a very simple and clear on-screen display that has you leading a blue ball along a horizontal line, into a central circle. Once you guide it there, it automatically takes the next photo until you tell it to stop. HDR and Low Light modes work as you might expect (i.e., all the magic happens behind the scenes), remaining active for just one photo before defaulting back to normal mode. This is helpful because it keeps you from leaving these modes on accidentally. Still, it's also a chore to activate every time if you happen to be taking a series of similar shots in the same place. Lastly, Continuous mode shoots 10 pictures in a row. There's no way to configure the interval, but it's handy for the occasional action shot, or if you want to be use a scatter-gun approach, and go back to choose the best one. It's worth mentioning that you can tap to focus, if the phone's own autofocus isn't homing in on what you want it to. In general, our sample shots were pleasing so long as light conditions were favorable -- we thankfully didn't notice any compression. When lighting conditions weren't so great, though, quality drifted to the fringes of acceptable.
As we've mentioned, Acer decided to mostly keep its sticky fingers out of the Android experience, which will please many users. While we're not against manufacturers adding a dash of spice and flair to the phone's software, it's much better when it's just a light dusting of features, rather than a heavy-handed attempt at making over the software. Fortunately, the team at Acer liberally sprinkled in a few unobtrusive treats that largely enhance -- or, at least, don't detract from -- the overall experience.
As far as the bread-and-butter features go, it's all Android (4.0.4, in this case). The on-screen buttons, WiFi, battery and signal icons remain unchanged. The same is true for the app tray, home screens and core app icons (camera, browser and so on). In fact, you might not even spot the differences immediately. But when you do, the first will likely be the pull-down notification list. Unlike stock Android's slide-to-dismiss notifications, the CloudMobile has its own list, which can be discarded with "X" buttons. When in this screen, you might also notice that there are some quick access controls at the top. These allow you to dive right into the music player, notifier, quick settings (WiFi on / off, Mobile data, etc.) and the alarm clock.
Another welcome addition are shortcuts on the lock screen. Press the stand-by button to wake the phone up, and you can either swipe to unlock, or press, then swipe, one of four icons along the bottom to be dropped straight into that app. These can be configured to applications of your choice by long pressing an empty location on the home screen. You might also be pleasantly surprised to find that Swype is installed out of the box, so if you're an ace with that, then you are good to go. If not, you can always turn it off, or install your own preferred keyboard.
The last software function we're going to mention is the cloud piece -- you know, the set of features hinted at in the phone's name. Though the handset was clearly named after its cloud-connected services, this functionality actually has a rather low-profile place in the phone's software. Once opened, a pre-installed AcerCloud app will prompt you to register for an account. After you do that, you can set your phone to automatically sync photos, videos, music and documents across any other devices with the app installed. Currently, this is limited to Windows PCs and Android devices.
The service works as expected: take a photo, and then it'll appear in your synced folder on other devices. From what we can tell, however, there's no way to view these files online via the browser, which seems like a key feature to be missing. It seems, therefore, that the feature is more about helping you sync your media across different devices. That's nice, but this functionality is already available in several different popular incarnations like Google Drive, SkyDrive and Dropbox, among others -- none of which require a hardware buy-in. It's a shame that this feature wasn't more fleshed-out, but perhaps this is something Acer intends to build on with later releases.
If it feels like we've kept the the lid on our enthusiasm throughout this review, well, we have. It's no surprise that a phone we first saw back in February isn't offering swoon-inducing specifications in November. However, there are a few occasions where excitement levels touch the red. That screen, for example, is a delight to look at, and some of the tweaks to Android are good enough that we'll miss them when we go back to our daily drivers. All told, it's a phone that just keeps calm and carries on.
Most importantly, Acer has created a device that stands its ground against some pretty big competition. It's just that with Google's Nexus 4 newly on sale for about £50 less SIM-free, it's hard to find a reason to pick this over the other. If there's any consolation Acer can take from this, it's that it's a challenge other Android handset manufacturers are likely to face over the coming months. The big takeaway here is that Acer can deliver Android handsets worthy of your time -- it just needs to speed up the release cycle.
Special thanks to Expansys for providing us with a review unit.
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Do you feel that? There's excitement in the air. The next Engadget reader meetup is approaching. We're still buzzing from our Seattle event and are excited to bring some of that gadgety magic to the New York area. We've also been given the go ahead to open up some more tickets for the event, which will be going down on November 29th at Roseland in Manhattan. Make sure you're on the list by entering all of the pertinent info here.
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October 23rd was mostly the iPad mini's coming out party; an event with one major headliner. But that newborn product didn't enter Apple's ecosystem alone. Amidst the flurry of announcements, there was one other wee hardware relative on hand ready to join in on the launch festivities: a refreshed 2012 Mac mini. Addressing criticisms of last year's model, Apple added USB 3.0 ports, upgraded to third-generation Ivy Bridge Core processors and boosted the standard RAM allotment to 4GB (you can configure it with up to 16 gigs). Perhaps most interestingly, it's now offering a hybrid storage option, the so-called FusionDrive, which combines flash memory with a SATA HDD.
One quirk still remains, though: the product's demographic leanings. Just who is the Mac mini for? Is it the go-anywhere, portable desktop best integrated in yachts, airports, automobiles and living rooms? Or, with a starting price of $599, is it the perfect, low-cost migration assistant (pun intended) for consumers making the switch from a Windows desktop? Follow on to see which hat this not-quite-an-HTPC wears best.
Let's not beat around the bush here -- there's a reason Apple plays proud host to a knighted Head of ID: ridiculously gorgeous design. No matter your sworn brand allegiance, you'd be hard-pressed to deny the Mac mini's simple, refined build. It's the tech equivalent of an irresistibly cute baby; the kind of hardware that stops passers-by, prompting compliments. And we're not just saying that figuratively, either. Within our own office environment, we repeatedly entertained questions from nearby officemates who were intrigued by the design. So fill up the comments below with the inevitable accusations of fanboyism, but know that we know that you know that we're right. (It's alright, you can keep it to yourself if you like.)
Boiled down to its essence, the mini's brushed aluminum enclosure has a wallflower appeal that's at home in a variety of settings; a dash of modernism that should work in many environments. Much of this is due to the unit's diminutive dimensions, which remain unchanged since the mini was redesigned back in 2010. At 7.7 x 7.7 x 1.4 inches, it retains the basic square shape of its two predecessors. It eschews hard angles for softly curved corners, enlivened by the occasional black accent (e.g., the logo on top, the strip around back housing the ports and the removable lid at the base). Users interested in purchasing the optional Apple remote for home entertainment purposes will be glad to know this unit still features an IR receiver. For what's it's worth, you can flip the device on its side should you be faced with space restrictions and need to squeeze it in amongst other office or A/V equipment, but it probably won't look as nice with its circular lid showing.
As much as things change, they seem to stay the same, and that's quite true of this Mac mini refresh. Though a quick glance at its back panel might mislead consumers into believing it's business as usual, there's actually a very significant change at play here -- namely, the addition of high-speed USB 3.0. Otherwise, the ports read from left to right exactly as they did on the 2011 model: power (still integrated), Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire 800, full-sized HDMI, Thunderbolt, 4 x USB 3.0, SDXC slot, audio-in and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Last year, we criticized the company for not including a Thunderbolt dongle in the box, but that critique apparently fell on deaf ears. Instead, we again received the lone HDMI to DVI adapter and that, folks, is just history repeating itself.
Similarly, Apple remains unmoved in its determination to make just one aspect of the Mac mini swappable, and that would be the unit's expandable memory. Despite the obvious pitfalls associated with HDDs (i.e., the likelihood of potential hardware failure and the like), users that pry open the device's bottom lid will only have access to the two SODIMM slots. The rest is inaccessible (unless you're the DIY type, in which case, have at it!). However, should you require monstrous amounts of RAM, the mini now supports up to 16GB -- so, there's that to smile about. Other than that, this compartment also houses the WiFi radio (AirPort Extreme 802.11n), Bluetooth 4.0 antennas and the cooling fan.
Making the leap from last year's Sandy Bridge processors, the 2012 Mac mini now runs on Intel's third-generation Ivy Bridge Core i5 and i7 CPUs. Our $799 review unit packs a a quad-core i7 clocked at 2.3GHz along with an (optional) 1TB FusionDrive and Intel HD 4000 graphics and 4GB RAM. Consumers with more basic computing needs can opt for the base unit with a dual-core i5 CPU and a 500GB hard drive. This features the same clock speed, graphics solution and memory allotment, but for a lower price of $599. There's also a $999 server option geared towards enterprise and power users, which is similar to the high-end consumer model but has dual 1TB SATA drives.
Since the model Apple shipped us for review is designated as the top-end consumer configuration -- what with its quad-core core i7 and hybrid FusionDrive -- we decided to stress it to the utmost and use it as our daily workstation. From a cold boot off the SSD, it took the system 12 seconds to reach the startup screen, which is on par with the MacBook Air (last year's Sandy Bridge model, even). The mini ships with OS X Mountain Lion pre-installed, as well as the iLife suite, and indeed, that quad-core CPU is more than enough to handle simple OS actions with aplomb. What we were more keen to test out was its stamina when stressed with an Engadget editor's daily workload.
On any given day, we keep roughly 10 applications running at all times (e.g.,Photoshop, Tweetdeck, Skitch, Spotify, Evernote and an IRC client, among others), in addition to multiple tabs open within two separate browsers (i.e., Firefox and Chrome). Our jobs depend on this level of multitasking and we're pleased to say that the mini managed that processor strain with a graceful silence. In all instances but one, the unit remained relatively cool to the touch and surprisingly quiet. The only time we ever heard a peep from was when we added Steam and Blizzard game downloads to the active processes load. Even then, the sound of the whirring fan barely registered above a whisper.
On the gaming front, it should go without saying that Macs aren't necessarily the go-to platform for the latest and greatest studio efforts. Indeed, we've noticed incompatibility with most newer titles thanks to Apple's choice of graphics chip, but for the sake of this review we fired up Diablo III to get a sense of how the Intel HD 4000 GPU fares. With every quality option set to high (Texture, Physics, Shadow, etc.), resolution at 1,280 x 1,024 and fps at 60, we didn't encounter any slowdown or drops in the frame rate. Note, we didn't have the time to engage clusters of baddies (about 50 to 60 onscreen at a time) to truly tap out the system, but with more than a dozen characters onscreen, we observed a frame rate that peaked around 42 fps.OS X BenchmarksGeekbenchXbenchMac mini (late 2012, 2.3GHz Core i7, Intel HD Graphics 4000)Mac mini (mid 2011, 2.3GHz Core i5, Intel HD Graphics 3000)Mac mini (mid 2010, 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo, NVIDIA GeForce 320M)Note: higher scores are better.
Benchmark testing backed up our anecdotal assessment: the machine nearly doubles the 2011 model's scores. As you can see in the table above, it yielded average overall Xbench scores of 454, with an average CPU score of 270 and an average thread score of 1,418. In Geekbench, meanwhile, it delivered a result of 10,748.
Don't call it an HTPC. Not because we disagree with that moniker, but because Apple vehemently denies its applicability here. And, because it still lacks an optical drive (and you know how we feel about that). Yet, regardless of what Apple says, we can't shake the feeling that this little box will inevitably make its way into users' living rooms at some point in its life cycle -- it was born this way, people. In fact, this editor couldn't resist the urge to take the mini chez lui and hook it up to a palm-sized 3M projector. Using the easily accessible HDMI port, we had no trouble connecting the device to the projector, and mirroring the contents of our external Thunderbolt display. Mind you, that included 1080p films and TV shows, but also streamed content from Hulu, Netflix and YouTube. We did, however, encounter Bluetooth audio sync issues with our Jambox, forcing us to depend on the mini's able, but far-from-powerful internal speaker. Of course, you can always go the more traditional route and attach it to your HDTV, but if you're aching to make use of that vast DVD library (sorry, Blu-ray owners), then prepare to spring for a SuperDrive. At that point, though, you may as well just enter the MacBook fray. Then again, if a media focus is your bent, you could also go the Apple TV route for a more palatable $99.
Apple's quite pleased with the mini's newest feature, the FusionDrive, even though hybrid storage solutions have been in use for quite some time now. So, what is it exactly? Buzzy marketing term aside, this setup pairs 128GB of flash storage with 1TB of traditional HDD storage. It works like this: from the moment you take it out of the box and start it up, your Mac mini will boot, run and store files using this volume, lending every action that surface speediness. But as time progresses and your storage begins to spill past the SSD's 128GB limit, the FusionDrive kicks in, analyzing user-level actions based on algorithms to determine commonly used files and then allocating them accordingly.
Say, for example, you're a photo editor who makes heavy use of Aperture, but rarely bothers with iPhoto. Well, over time, the system will acknowledge this usage pattern and relegate iPhoto to the hard disk's slower volume, so Aperture will continue to launch and run quickly from flash. What's more, all of this is done behind-the-scenes when the mini is idle, so users won't notice any changes taking place. In fact, there's no real way to monitor or edit how the system arranges the storage -- it's made to appear as one unified volume.
It's fair to say the Mac mini occupies a special place on the consumer spectrum. Consider it a 3 on our appropriated Kinsey scale of tech-to-consumer affiliations. It's the perfect bridge to all things Apple. Designed, initially, to help make Windows users feel at home within the Mac ecosystem, the mini was offered up as an elegant solution -- a compact desktop that would play nice with people's existing peripherals. But as time wore on, this "appliance Mac" (as one rep put it) took on other uses in enterprise and among power users. Eventually, it wormed its way into all manner of server-based applications: digital signage, airport arrival displays and so on.
The mini could also charm fairly frugal shoppers, though, packing a quad-core Intel Core i7 into the top-end $799 model. Whether you really need the added boost of the 1.12TB FusionDrive depends entirely on your consumption habits, as you can always opt for a perfectly capacious 256GB SSD and call it a day. In fact, that latter option might be more than enough for most. So, where's the rub? Well, that's just it. If you fit the sort of user profile we've been describing, we aren't quite sure there is one. At the end of the day, the mini is destined to sit outside of Apple's public limelight like all the models that have come before it. It's the company's jack-of-all-trades, but a shining star for those in the know.