Posts tagged: apple tv

Motorola Xoom: A Disappointing Introduction to Android 3.0

As the old saying goes, “Beauty is only skin deep.” And so it is with Motorola’s new overhyped Xoom tablet featuring Android 3.0. We really wanted to like this device. The form factor sounded appealing, Android 3.0 is awesome, and dual cameras plus a dual-core processor had us chomping at the bit for a chance to try out this bad boy. It’s hard to find a new toy we don’t like, but then along comes the Xoom. It may weigh the same as an iPad, but it feels much more bulky. We personally like the form factor of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab compared to this monstrosity. And the dual core processor was a disappointment as well. We noticed very little difference in performance during our real world testing. You’re not going to hold this device with one hand for very long. It’s too heavy in all the wrong places. So we kept asking ourselves, “Where would you use it?” And the most likely places would be in bed or sitting on it’s $149 speaker dock connected to a big monitor. For both of those options, there are better solutions with an Apple TV and an iMac. The biggest fail may be the power button, positioned on the back of the unit at the exact spot most folks will use to hold the device to watch a movie.

Vaporware: 3.0 Strikes & You’re Out. We’ve saved the real Parade of Horrors for last. Motorola basically ruined the introduction of Android 3.0, designed specifically for the tablet form factor, by prematurely releasing this half-baked product. They hyped Verizon’s 4G network, but there’s not one 4G component in the device. You’ll have to send it back to Motorola for a week to get that upgrade… someday. Motorola advertised Adobe Flash support which still is the Achilles’ Heel of the iPad. But there’s no Flash to be found. Talk about ironic, you can’t view Motorola’s XOOM web site from the device. Flash, too, will be an upgrade… someday. Then there’s the non-functional microSD slot. Yep, you guessed it. Someday. Sorry, but $800++ for a prototype device is insulting. It also says something about Google’s lack of control over manufacturers. Seems to us it wouldn’t be that difficult to write a license agreement that says, if you want to use our trademarks on your device, you won’t release the product until a specified list of functions actually work. And pardon us for stating the obvious but advertising should be something more than a big pile of bullsh*t.

For those that are silly enough to buy the Xoom, there is some good news. The device was rooted in a matter of hours. So you can load all your favorite utilities and functions easily. Here’s a link to the cookbook. Be aware that rooting the device may deprive you of the ability to ever get the vaporware upgraded for 4G, Flash, and a functioning microSD slot. Of course, maybe that was the plan all along.

There are many good reviews of the Xoom and Android 3.0 if you want the usual Silicon Valley PR fluff from the folks that received the evaluation units. Start here and here. Suffice it to say, it’s a major upgrade to Android. We like the new UI; however, we’re not all that keen on the lack of buttons and particularly the placement of the Home and Back icons in the lower left corner of the screen. 90% of the world is right-handed. So why you’d position the most used screen real estate in the most difficult place to access it with your right hand while holding the device in your left hand is a real head-scratcher.

Finally, a word about data plans. In order to purchase our unit at full retail from Best Buy, we had to buy at least one month of Verizon service. In our law school days, this used to be called tying in antitrust law. Since it makes corporations extra money, it’s probably fine today. Verizon, however, has taken greed to a whole new level. And this is just for 3G service. 4G reportedly will cost a few cents more. 1GB of data will cost you $20 a month. That’s about two 4-hour car trips with a teenager using the device. 3GB of data will cost you $35, 5GB runs $50, and 10GB is a whopping $80. As a point of reference, AT&T’s 2GB data plan with equivalent 3G service is $25 for the iPad. So, yes, you’ll be using WiFi a lot thanks to the greed of Verizon and AT&T. Of course, you can’t buy a WiFi-only unit. That’ll be available someday after Verizon has gotten their initial pound of flesh. And, at least for us, WiFi performance compared with the iPad and Galaxy Tab was no great shakes. What is certain is that, with this device, you probably will want to consider tethering from a cellphone that still has an unlimited data plan unless you’re willing to give up eating lunch in order to pay your monthly Verizon bill. HINT: Read our review of the Optimus V and Virgin Mobile’s $25 a month unlimited 3G data deal. Or Sprint’s Mobile HotSpot for the HTC Evo runs $1 a day and provides unlimited 4G data at a fraction of the cost of Verizon’s 3G offerings.

Footnote: Following our return of the device and cancellation of the service, we received a bill from Verizon which included an undisclosed $35 activation fee in addition to the prorated charges for data service. AT&T charges no activation fees on iPads and other tablets. With this addition, it boosts the cost of the Motorola Xoom sufficiently to make it more costly than even the top-of-the-line iPad 2. After 30 minutes on the phone with Verizon “customer care,” a supervisor finally waived the $35 fee. And you thought no company could rival AT&T’s dismal track record. Think again.

My 10-year-old daughter echoed our sentiments about the Motorola Xoom: “Thanks. I’ll keep my iPad.” In case you’ve forgotten, Apple will announce a new iPad later this week, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see a new processor and (working) microSD slot in addition to the oft-reported camera additions. We recommend you wait for a better alternative! There will be many, not someday, but very soon. And, indeed, there now are. See our recent article.

Originally published: Monday, February 28, 2011


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whos.amung.us If you’re wondering what your fellow man is reading on Nerd Vittles these days, wonder no more. Visit our new whos.amung.us statistical web site and check out what’s happening. It’s a terrific resource both for us and for you.


 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. You now can get an almost half-price DID and 60 free minutes from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you’re seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity’s DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For PBX in a Flash users, here’s a deal you can’t (and shouldn’t) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls for just $3.99 a month and you get a free hour of outbound calling to test out their call quality. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! After the free hour of outbound calling, Vitelity’s rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage and any balance is fully refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.
 


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

 

Free At Last: The Emancipation of the Apple TV

We’ve never quite forgiven Apple1 for bricking some of the original iPhones because some owners chose to jailbreak their private property to learn how it worked or to add additional functionality. It may turn out to be Steve Jobs’ billion dollar blunder! The stunt was especially egregious when one considers that both the iPhone and much of Mac OS X are based upon open source software for which Apple didn’t pay a nickel. Apple certainly added a pretty wrapper, but the internals of both the iPhone and Mac OS X contain loads of pure open source code including dozens of Mach 3.0 and FreeBSD 5 applications. Destroying people’s cellular phones for accessing soft- ware that was licensed to Apple as open source code just doesn’t pass the smell test.

Courtesy of Apple, Inc.

Thus it was with mixed emotions that we unwrapped our Apple TV during Christmas 2007. Like the iPhone, it was locked up tighter than a drum even though the internals of the product read like a Who’s Who of the Open Source Movement: awk, bzip, cut, grep, find, ftp, finger, gzip, more, nano, openssl, perl, sed, tail, tar, touch, uname, whois, zip, and on and on. In fact, Mac OS X arguably is a better Linux than Linux. Suffice it to say, we read numerous articles outlining the lengths to which some talented users were going to unlock their Apple TVs. The process required disassembly of the unit, removal of the hard disk, and then a tedious unlocking scenario that was akin to breaking into Fort Knox. We chose to leave our Apple TV in its shrink wrap.

So what’s wrong with the Apple TV? Well, nothing… if you don’t mind paying Apple over and over again to reacquire media content which you already have licensed and if you don’t mind jumping through the iTunes hoops to transfer that content to a device which is perfectly capable of being self-sufficient. Let’s see. $1.99 to watch a TV show or play a music video that’s already sitting on your TIVO machine or that’s already freely (and legally) available from numerous sources on the Internet. Apple has added YouTube access, but the design really limits you to the most popular content. That makes it unsuitable (or worse) for anyone under the age of 13… or over the age of about 25. :roll:

Fast forward to 2009, and we decided it was time to take another look at the Apple TV landscape. WOW! What a difference a year makes. You now can create a bootable USB flash drive in a couple minutes, plug it into your Apple TV, and have a perfectly functioning, (true) open source appliance with DIVX and AVI support in less than 15 minutes. The FrontRow-enhanced Apple TV provides access to virtually all media content in every format imaginable with incredibly slick user interfaces thanks to the XBMC Media Center, Boxee Social Media Center, Nito TV, and Hulu. Most were originally designed for Microsoft’s Xbox. Uploads and downloads of media content can be performed using either your Apple TV controller and a television, or a web browser, or SAMBA networking, or SSH. So thanks to a resourceful bunch of talented, open source developers, we finally have an Apple TV worth owning that also happens to be fun to use. Incidentally, this whole metamorphosis can be accomplished without damaging the Apple TV’s existing user interface or its out-of-the-box functionality… at least until the next update from Apple. :-)
So proceed at your own risk!

Freeing Your Apple TV. Since October, 2008, the emancipation of the Apple TV has become a simple, 5-minute exercise. What you’ll need to get started is an Apple TV2 with version 2 software, a 1GB USB Flash Drive, and ATVUSB-creator which is free. The drill here is to create a bootable flash drive that can be used to reboot the Apple TV and transform its closed and proprietary shell into an open source platform. The preferred machine for creating your bootable flash drive is a Mac running Tiger or Leopard although a Windows XP/Vista solution is also available now. The only precaution we would add is to unplug all of the USB drives connected to your PC before creating the bootable flash drive. Then you won’t accidentally reformat the wrong USB drive. The one-minute CNET tutorial is here. A better one is here.

Once you have your bootable USB flash drive in hand, unplug your Apple TV and plug the USB drive into the unit. Now connect your Apple TV to a television. Power up your Apple TV and marvel at the installation process which takes under a minute. Whatever you do, don’t boot your Apple TV with the flash drive more than once! When the install completes, you should see a message indicating that your Apple TV can be accessed with SSH within a few minutes at frontrow@appletv.local. The password is frontrow. The IP address for your Apple TV also can be used for SSH access as well. Remove the flash drive and reboot. You’ll see a new menu option for XBMC/Boxee. Just follow the menu items to install both applications. After another reboot, you’ll be all set. Click on the CNET video above to watch a demo.

After installing the apps, launch and then configure XBMC. If you get an error that reads “Cannot launch XBMC/Boxee from path,” it means you forgot to install the software through your TV menu. If you enable the web interface, you’ll be able to go to any browser on your LAN and manage XBMC through the following link using the IP address of your Apple TV: http://192.168.0.180:8080. For complete documentation, check out the XBMC Wiki.


Before you can use Boxee, you’ll need to visit their web site and sign up for an account. A tutorial on the application is available at UberGizmo. As luck would have it, this application only became publicly available in Alpha last week so we’re just in time. Don’t sweat the Alpha status too much, it previously ran on the XBox platform as well as Windows, Macs, and Linux. There’s social networking support via Twitter, FriendFeed, Tumblr, and NetFlix. While it’s running on your Apple TV, you can access the interface remotely with a browser from anywhere on your LAN at http://ipaddress:8800 assuming you have enabled the web server interface.

Hulu is another terrific resource for movies, TV shows and music videos. It is available through Boxee. There are a few ads but not many. For a lot of the movies, you’ll also need to set yourself up an account there and configure your uncrippled Apple TV accordingly.

But What About Asterisk®? We knew someone would ask. Sure. An Asterisk for Mac solution should work on the Apple TV if you don’t plan to use it as a media center. For best results, compile everything on a separate Tiger Mac, and then move it over. Keep in mind that the device is limited to 256MB of RAM so simultaneously using the Apple TV as both an Asterisk PBX and a media center more than likely will cause unacceptable performance degradation in both your phone calls and your music and video streams. Someday perhaps we’ll give it a try. In the meantime, enjoy your new open source media center!


Want a Bootable PBX in a Flash Drive? Next week to celebrate the beginning of Nerd Vittles’ Fifth Year, we’ll be introducing our bootable USB flash installer for PBX in a Flash with all of the goodies in the VPN in a Flash system featured a few weeks ago on Nerd Vittles. You can build a complete turnkey system using almost any current generation PC with a SATA drive and our flash installer in less than 15 minutes!

If you’d like to put your name in the hat for a chance to win a free one delivered to your door, just post a comment at this link with your best PBX in a Flash story.3

Be sure to include your real email address which will not be posted. The winner will be chosen by drawing an email address out of a hat (the old fashioned way!) from all of the comments posted over the next couple weeks. Good luck to everyone!


New Fonica Special. If you want to communicate with the rest of the telephones in the world, then you’ll need a way to route outbound calls (terminations) to their destination. For outbound calling, we recommend you establish accounts with several providers. We’ve included two of the very best! These include Joe Roper’s new service for PBX in a Flash as well as our old favorite, Vitelity. To get started with the Fonica service, just visit the web site and register. You can choose penny a minute service in the U.S. Or premium service is available for a bit more. Try both. You’ve got nothing to lose! In addition, Fonica offers some of the best international calling rates in the world. And Joe Roper has almost a decade of experience configuring and managing these services. So we have little doubt that you’ll love the service AND the support. To sign up in the USA and be charged in U.S. Dollars, sign up here. To sign up for the European Service and be charged in Euros, sign up here. See the Fonica image which tells you everything you need to know about this terrific new offering. In addition to being first rate service, Fonica is one of the least expensive and most reliable providers on the planet.
 
New Vitelity Special. Vitelity has generously offered a new discount for PBX in a Flash users. You now can get an almost half-price DID and 60 free minutes from our special Vitelity sign-up link. If you’re seeking the best flexibility in choosing an area code and phone number plus the lowest entry level pricing plus high quality calls, then Vitelity is the hands-down winner. Vitelity provides Tier A DID inbound service in over 3,000 rate centers throughout the US and Canada. And, when you use our special link to sign up, the Nerd Vittles and PBX in a Flash projects get a few shekels down the road while you get an incredible signup deal as well. The going rate for Vitelity’s DID service is $7.95 a month which includes up to 4,000 incoming minutes on two simultaneous channels with terminations priced at 1.45¢ per minute. Not any more! For PBX in a Flash users, here’s a deal you can’t (and shouldn’t) refuse! Sign up now, and you can purchase a Tier A DID with unlimited incoming calls for just $3.99 a month and you get a free hour of outbound calling to test out their call quality. To check availability of local numbers and tiers of service from Vitelity, click here. Do not use this link to order your DIDs, or you won’t get the special pricing! After the free hour of outbound calling, Vitelity’s rate is just 1.44¢ per minute for outbound calls in the U.S. There is a $35 prepay when you sign up. This covers future usage and any balance is fully refundable if you decide to discontinue service with Vitelity.
 
 


Some Recent Nerd Vittles Articles of Interest…

  1. Disgruntled customers reportedly have filed over a billion dollars’ worth of lawsuits over their bricked iPhones claiming Apple did it intentionally. Great PR move there, Steve! []
  2. The Apple TV actually runs a modified version of Tiger (aka Mac OS X 10.4). []
  3. This offer does not extend to those in jurisdictions in which our offer or your participation may be regulated or prohibited by statute or regulation. []

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