Backstage | iLounge

Backstage

Backstage at iLounge is the combined blog of our editors, featuring casual and often only loosely iPod-, iPhone- or iPad-related discussions that our readers may enjoy. Founded in July, 2004, Backstage has served as a launching pad for stories that later appear on the main site, and as a place to discuss portable phones, games, computers, and accessories. Visit Backstage Archives for past stories, and bookmark backstage.ilounge.com for new ones.

Backstage: Mac mini Tower - the New Hotness

By Jeremy Horwitz | 02.17.05 | 8 comments

picIf a “gimme” were to be defined in the dictionary outside of its golfing connotation, it would be an invention so smart, yet so natural, that the first person to sell it would almost certainly make a million dollars. Plasticsmith’s new Mini Tower ($39.95) is a gimme: a clear acrylic Mac mini enclosure made for all 100 million people who lusted after Apple’s G4 Cube computer back in 2000, but were deterred by the price.

For a pittance, the Mini Tower makes the inexpensive Mac mini look plenty like the Cube, suspending it vertically above the surface of a table and turning its top and bottom Apple icons into left and right sides. The mini’s top surface is obviously nicer looking than the bottom, but neither is unattractive, and the acrylic adds a ton of gloss and class to the already beautiful Apple case. Four rubber feet hold the Mini Tower still and prevent its polished bottom from being scratched.

If the Mini Tower is any indication, Mac mini accessories are going to be incredibly cool. We’ve placed a bunch of additional shots of this little beauty in the Read More link below. And it looks even better in person.

Read more »

Backstage: Sonos’ ZonePlayers iPodize home stereo

By Jeremy Horwitz | 02.05.05 | 2 comments

pic If it looks familiar at first glance, wait until you touch one. That’s the CR100 remote control unit ($399) for Sonos’ new ZonePlayer Digital Music System, which uses $499 units called ZonePlayers to distribute digital music throughout your house. We’ve been playing around with a couple of ZonePlayers and the remote (total package price: $1199), and thought you might enjoy a little peek before the official writeup.

The CR100 is staggeringly iPod photo-like, down to the user interface, controls, and button layout. Beyond the use of a 2G/3G iPod touch-sensitive scroll wheel, Sonos has placed its menu/back button above the wheel, play/pause below the wheel, and backward/forward buttons respectively to the left and right of the play/pause button. Then there’s a central action button. The Now Playing screen shows album art on the left with track details and icons (such as Shuffle) on the right. And the menus look like most of the iPod clones out there these days - small differences, with additions such as Internet Radio. Coincidence? No way.

There is, of course, a big difference. Sonos’ CR100 isn’t a portable music player - it’s just a rechargeable remote control with a nice interface. The point is to give you the easy ability to send digital music wirelessly to speakers in different rooms of your house, and while iPod-like, the remote has no use outside of the system. And there are some legitimate iPod distinctions: separate volume buttons on the left side of the color screen are joined by a mute button, and a few other buttons quick-jump to your music library, list of installed ZonePlayers, and offer screen-specific options.

If Apple had an iPod-style wireless remote (or iPod wireless accessory) to complement its AirPort Express and Mac mini combination, we get the feeling that it might be game over for Sonos - especially given that the ZonePlayers can’t play back AAC files from the increasingly popular iTunes Music Store. But that’s not the case - for now, at least.

Click on Read More for a couple of larger pictures. They’re certainly interesting.

Read more »

Backstage: Sony overprices US PSP, drops ball

By Jeremy Horwitz | 02.03.05 | 10 comments

Yes, we praised Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP) after its Japanese release late last year, noting that it was a great value at its base Japanese $199 price. Sure, $199 was around twice the price of Nintendo’s original Game Boy when it was introduced, and already at a taboo price point for anything portable. It was more than twice the price of existing Game Boy SP hardware, but only $50 more than Nintendo’s not-quite-right DS system, which sold fairly well.

Now Sony, in one of those moves that can only be understood in the context of the company’s cockiness, has managed to do what we basically considered impossible: it’s offering the PSP in North America at a higher price. Well, at least, that’s reality: you can’t buy a PSP for $199 in the USA, period, and will have to cough up $249 and take it with $50 worth of crap. That’s $100 more than a Nintendo DS, and $170 or so more than a Game Boy SP. No portable console has ever succeded after launching at a $249 or higher price tag. It’s mass-market suicide.

And did I just say “crap?” Yes, I did. In an effort to gouge initial buyers, Sony is packaging all PSPs with a “Value Pack” collection of stuff that no one should be buying: an almost uselessly small Memory Stick Duo Pro, a cheap-feeling remote control and headphone set, and a non-interactive demo disc. We purchased our Japanese PSP with the “Value Pack” and found only one of its included items - a soft carrying case, worth $5 - in any way valuable. Sony’s also leaving out the most forgettable item from the Japanese value pack, a white hand strap, if anyone cares.

To compensate for the fact that it knows the Value Pack items are lame, Sony is promising that the first million PSP units will include a copy of the movie Spider Man 2 on UMD. Though it’s better than nothing, this isn’t something people wanted or needed.

Our strong advice is to skip the PSP at least until Sony drops this stuff from the box, and better yet until it’s guaranteed that all of the quality control issues on the hardware have been fixed. Our unit’s screen has already developed the dreaded dead pixels that other people have been griping about since launch. We’ve been using a 1 Gigabyte MSDuo Pro card with it, too, and not really wanting to waste the time encoding/watching movies on its screen, listening to music on it through rudimentary playlists, or using its simplistic photo browser. Even using iPSP (an indie, smart piece of PSP media organization software for the Mac), we’d take the iPod experience six days a week and twice on Sunday over a PSP at that $249 price.

Backstage: AirPlay reviewed as #1 for FM, big day Monday

By Jeremy Horwitz | 01.28.05 | 0 comments

Leading into this weekend, I figured that you might enjoy an advance look at one of Monday’s reviews, plus a heads-up that Monday’s going to be a big day at iLounge. Lots of big new stuff coming. As a hint, “yes” to the questions posed in comments to the last Backstage entry.

You read about XtremeMac’s new AirPlay first on iLounge from the show floor at MWSF. Now click on Read More for our advance review of the iPod’s new top-ranked FM transmitter.

Read more »

Backstage: The post-Macworld Expo queue, a.k.a. “the flood”

By Jeremy Horwitz | 01.17.05 | 9 comments

pic With our two iPod shuffle reviews now out of the way, I’m now ready to turn our attention to an absolutely insane collection of items awaiting review: headphones, car accessories, cases, battery packs, wireless adapters, and so on. A few highlights from the pack, in case you missed them on the main iLounge page during Macworld San Francisco:

  • Miyavix Kimono cases (bottom right) for iPod 4G and mini.

  • Power Support’s 3D Wheel Film (bottom left) for iPod 4G and mini, and iSkin’s similar Click Wheel protectors for iPod 4G (inside cases, left center)

  • Griffin’s Lapel Mic (center) for use with iTalk.

  • AirPlay FM transmitter (bottom center) for iPod 3G/4G/mini.

  • Solio solar charger (top right) for iPod 3G/4G/mini.

  • TEN Technology NaviPlay (top center) for iPod 3G/4G/mini/photo.

  • Speck ToughSkin for iPod 4G.

    And of course, there’s a lot more. Way, way more, actually. We may have to start taking votes on what people want to see reviewed first.

    By the way, the Mac mini is also on that list someplace. Wow.

    Backstage: Partying MWSF-style

    By Jeremy Horwitz | 01.17.05 | 0 comments

    pic We attended our fair share of parties at last week’s Macworld Expo San Francisco, but the best night of the show was unquestionably iSkin’s event at Club Six, featuring famed DJ Red Alert, Kardinal Offishall, and a few other artists. The music was spectacular, the crowd was pumped, and we loved every minute. We’ve posted a few pictures courtesy of iSkin at the Read More link below.

    Read more »

    Backstage: New Podcast finished, posted

    By Jeremy Horwitz | 01.06.05 | 0 comments

    You heard us, and yes, we heard you. Even though it came out in November, our first Podcast continues to generate all sorts of positive e-mails from people. As a “thank you” for all of your “thank yous,” the new Podcast’s now finished and most likely going to appear on the site later today.

    These Podcasts - 30+ minute MP3-format audio recordings on iLounge topics - take a fair bit of time to make, so our future production schedule is still up in the air. But if you keep liking them, we’ll keep making them.

    Topics: The iPod U2 Special Edition; Our Top Headphone and Speaker Recommendations for the iPod; and the threat (?) of Sony’s PlayStation Portable to the iPod. Plus a bit of extra stuff at the end.

    Edit: Here’s the link.

    Backstage: PlayStation Portable (PSP) Photo Gallery 2

    By Jeremy Horwitz | 12.30.04 | 5 comments

    We’ve opened our second (and likely final) gallery of photos of the PlayStation Portable, including:

  • More iPod/PSP comparison shots

  • Detailed pictures of Sony’s new UMD Discs and Memory Stick Pro Duo media

  • Comparisons of the UMDs with CDs, Nintendo DS game cards

  • Comparisons of the PSP with Nintendo DS (newly added, end of gallery)

  • Screenshots of a couple of PSP games (Ridge Racers and Lumines)

  • Game boxes, Value Pack accessories, and interesting close-ups of the PSP’s clear acrylic exterior components, plus

  • Fingerprint smudge shots to show how the unit looks after typical use - not for the weak-stomached.

    This will bring to a close our quasi-coverage of the PSP, but you can go back and look at our previous Backstage articles on the subject if they’re of interest.

    Backstage: Guessing what’s to come in January

    By Jeremy Horwitz | 12.29.04 | 8 comments

    With only a couple of weeks left until Apple reveals its newest lineup of iPods (and possibly computers) to the world, I figure that a few words are in order as to what we’re expecting to see at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco.

    Sum it up as “triumph of the low-end.” For the last year, iLounge has repeatedly said that the future of the iPod brand is (for better or worse) in offering products at price points that average people can afford. If analysts and business magazines can be believed, Apple is ready to do that in a big way, and will announce at least three new low-priced iPod-related products at the Expo.

    It’s all but a foregone conclusion that Apple will introduce a flash memory-based version of the iPod, with most analysts and business magazines assuming that the device will retail at $99 and up and come in multiple memory sizes from 256 megabytes (60-65 songs) to 1 gigabyte (250 songs). The device’s name remains unknown - but titles from “iPod flash” (unlikely) to “iPod micro” (possible, but increasingly unlikely given other “micros” like the Creative Zen Micro) have been tossed out, and other theme-based possibilities like “iPod sport” are out there as well. Apple will score 100 iLounge bonus points if they design these things to function as high-end remote controls for current-model iPods, and lose 200 points if they eliminate the iPod’s screen altogether. We’ve spent enough time with Oakley’s Thump to know what screenless music surfing is like with a library of 30 songs, and we’re not ready to do that with a 125- or 250-song library. Are you?

    Recent comments from Apple have also strongly suggested that the company is preparing to jointly introduce an iPod-ish GSM phone (some are calling it iPhone) with Motorola, featuring iTunes compatibility, music storage, and of course, cellular phone capabilities. Apple design and branding would be a fair bit more than the companies let on in their mid-2004 press release, but not hugely surprising. Let’s hope it’s at least as cool as Motorola’s Razr phone, though I’m thinking it’ll be more like a V600 than that, and Apple is hinting that it’ll be priced at or around the $300 level.

    The other big story circulating in analysts’ circles is the replacement of the current model 4GB (1,000 song) iPod mini with a 5GB (1,250) version. While I’m betting that this one will happen as well, the real question is how the iPod mini’s pricing will change as a consequence. Based on current inventory levels of iPod mini hardware - surprisingly robust at Apple Stores we’ve visted, given today’s proximity to the Expo - there are a couple of possibilities. Apple could drop the 5GB iPod mini’s price to $199 and close out 4GB units at $149. Or it could try to sell 5GB iPod minis at $249 and clear out its remaining 4GB hardware at $199. Depending on the price range of flash-based iPods to be introduced, it wouldn’t be surprising if Apple went the higher-priced route - though it would definitely not be our preference to see things go that way. The oratorical appeal of demonstrating the falling price of a 5GB iPod from $399 in 2001 to $199 in 2005 is just too great.

    Post-Expo, the iPod family seems quite likely to spread from $99 to $599, flash at the lowest end, followed by mini, full-sized iPods, and iPod photos at the top. Later in the year, it wouldn’t be any shock to see Apple phase out the 40GB iPod and replace it with the 40GB iPod photo at $399, drop the 60GB iPod photo to $499, and offer a high-end video variant at the $599 price point. What do you guys and girls think? Will Apple hit the magic $99 mark? Will it pull its punch again and go with a $149 flash iPod, $249 mini, and $299+ full-sized iPod? Will they drop any other iPod prices, or keep them where they are?

    Backstage: The PlayStation Portable Sorta-Review

    By Jeremy Horwitz | 12.26.04 | 5 comments

    Over the past two weeks, I’ve been preparing to write a rather extensive review of Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP), but I’ve changed approaches. You’ll read plenty of spec-by-spec breakdowns and feature analyses elsewhere, so what follows is my not-quite-review of the PSP - some highly positive thoughts on the machine, its games, and potential, notes on some of its serious problems, and color commentary on its chances against Nintendo’s DS. Don’t forget to see our first photo gallery here. Another gallery may follow in the next day or so.

    I’ll preface all of this by saying that I’m no fan of Sony Computer Entertainment, and personally would prefer to see it punished rather than rewarded for its obnoxious public relations practices, low-quality manufacturing, and egregious treatment of third-party developers. But these feelings won’t stop me from giving the PSP the considerable praise it’s earned by delivering an initial slate of excellent games and a new hardware platform that has both humbled long-time leader Nintendo and strongly deterred other potential competitors. Click on Read More for the full story.

    Read more »

    Backstage: Sony’s PlayStation Portable, including iPod/PSP photos

    By Jeremy Horwitz | 12.15.04 | 12 comments

    picWe skipped covering Nintendo’s DS, and the release of Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP) only confirms the wisdom of that decision. iLounge readers may recall that we were highly skeptical about the PSP some months ago, and we still think it’s a major stretch to bill it as an iPod competitor. It’s way larger/not really pocketable, can’t store music on its own (and uses either UMD media or expensive Sony Memory Stick Duos for storage), and is not going to replace the need for portable music jukeboxes.

    But ever since Sony abruptly decided to reverse its internal decision on PSP pricing (originally $330, goes the story, flipped to $200 when Nintendo announced the DS at $150), we’ve been thinking that Sony is going to wipe the floor with the Nintendo DS unless something highly dramatic happens soon on the DS’s price. Sure, the first batch of PSPs has shipped with all sorts of random defects (ranging from dead pixeled screens to ####-eyed disc drives, dust and hairs inside the casing, etc.), but once you’re playing a game on one, you’re willing to forgive just about anything. We’ll have plenty more to say on the PSP in the days to come, but for now, enjoy our new photo gallery.

    Backstage: Big queue awaits, Daiginjo Sake on tap

    By Jeremy Horwitz | 12.13.04 | 2 comments

    The big story that I was saving for Backstage - the H2O Audio SV-iMini - unexpectedly turned into a main site piece last week when the AP reviewed a faulty unit. We’ve been playing with a unit and found that in addition to the water issues the AP described, which can range from minor (no issue in a shower, a few drops when dunked) to major (seal fails, case fills with water), there are also some volume issues with the included headphones, as well. From what H2O has told us, some of their headphones get damaged in shipping and don’t play at standard volume levels as a result. We’ve now received two sets of headphones and both have the same issue: plug them in and you get “normal” volume only if you crank up the iPod’s volume to max. It’s not the case, which we’ve used with other headphones without a problem. It’s the phones.

    Our guess is that the AP reviewer had the same issue, but didn’t realize that this was also a problem when he took them underwater and found them generally easier to hear against the quiet of the pool. We’ve tested in a shower and found the headphones almost unusable against a noisier background. A major bummer, because the case’s iPod mini interface is so incredibly well-designed. If it wasn’t for the fact that you can’t really take it underwater and have problems listening to it in the shower, it would be the ideal… well, yeah, okay.

    There is an absolutely insane pile of stuff here awaiting review, including (in no particular order): silicone cases from XtremeMac and Gadget Accessories, utility cases from Acme Made, the Charger from Incase, the iPak and iGrip from Handstands, a hundred other things from XtremeMac, the Yahba Opus in-ear headphones, some iPod mini and iPod lanyard and belt clips from Rivet, Marware’s TrailVue for 4G iPods, and wood Dock covers from Westshore Craftworks. I’m sure I’m missing a few other something elses, but they’re here.

    picOn a personal note, my puppy (Sake the iLounge Husky) is now officially registered with the American Kennel Club under his proper name - Innisfree Daiginjo Sake. Innisfree is the name of his (famous) kennel, and Daiginjo Sake is the top-shelf form of the famed Japanese wine. As Sake’s the closest thing to a kid as I have at the moment, I like to mention him on Backstage (and would even post pictures if I thought anyone cared), but try not to blog the mushy boring stuff of my life too often. grin Maybe this will inspire Dennis to toss up some new photos of Rocket.

    Another brief personal note: peace and warm wishes to all of those affected by Ziff-Davis’ out-of nowhere closure of GMR and XBN magazines today. While these closures primarily underscore the continued decline of the print magazine business, they conversely demonstrate the inability of major publishers to cultivate and establish their most talented personnel in a marketplace hungering for accurate information. A big shame, and certainly not one that reflects on the individuals laid off today. Good luck, guys.

    Backstage: Vote on Podcast, preview 5 new reviews

    By Jeremy Horwitz | 12.02.04 | 13 comments

    Life has been crazy since I started full-time work with iLounge two months ago, and I have to admit that I really like it crazy. Between our Podcast, the Buyers’ Guide, tons of reviews and a few cool things that are going on behind the scenes, I’ve been busier and happier than I can recall in months, and it looks like that’s going to continue full steam ahead in the near future.

    So, wonderful readers, I’m using this blog entry for two purposes. First, I want to ask whether we should continue doing Podcasts in the future. Comments on the first one have been universally positive, but as with all new technologies, there haven’t been enough comments to constitute a critical mass from my perspective. We have a vague sense of how many people downloaded the first one (thousands, not tens or hundreds of thousands), but we’re still not sure whether it’s worth taking the considerable time to create them for a currently small audience. Thoughts?

    Second, in Backstage style, I wanted to drop a handful of new reviews your way before they appear on the main iLounge site: Audio Outfitters’ earPod, BTI’s Auto/Air Adapter, Macally’s PodWave and PodDuo, and Marware’s CEO Classic 4G. The text in each review isn’t finalized yet, but they’re close, and the grades are final. They’re here for now mostly because we’re not ready to push the iPod Photo, HP Tattoos and Socks pieces off of the main page yet, but like a few other pieces we have here, they’re pretty much ready to go live. Click on Read More for tons and tons of additional reading, but no photos. I could put up another five or so reviews today, but we’ll just see how this mini-flood works out for the time being.

    Read more »

    Backstage: Thanksgiving’s over, big-name reviews coming

    By Jeremy Horwitz | 11.29.04 | 2 comments

    Hope you all had a fantastic Thanksgiving - I spent mine back East with family in Buffalo, and took along a bunch of new and interesting iPod accessories for testing during my travels. Consequently, we’ll have a few big name (if not big deal) review pieces going up over the next several days, so look out for them (and e-mail Dennis if they don’t show up quickly enough).

    Backstage: Klipsch, the iPod, and ProMedia Ultra 2.0

    By Jeremy Horwitz | 11.22.04 | 9 comments

    picThough the reasons won’t initially be apparent, 58-year old speaker house Klipsch is about to stage two product releases worthy of a sigh of relief for iPod fans. This is being covered on Backstage because the first product isn’t iPod-matching – unless you’re thinking of the U2 iPod, that is – but come January and February, Klipsch will be remedying that.

    We’ve been playing with a set of the company’s ProMedia Ultra 2.0 speakers, the lowest-priced ($99.99) system in Klipsch’s well-received family of ProMedia products. The 2.0 designation denotes that they consist of two freestanding speakers and no subwoofer, which distinguishes them from Klipsch’s subwoofer-laden ProMedia 2.1 ($149.99) and ProMedia GMX A-2.1 ($149.99), as well as the five satellite and subwoofer ProMedia Ultra 5.1 ($349.99) and ProMedia GMX D-5.1 ($299.99) systems. For more on the PMU 2.0 system, and the future of Klipsch and the iPod, click on Read More.

    Read more »

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