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: Why we’re skipping Nintendo DS

By Jeremy Horwitz | 11.19.04 | 7 comments

We were going to review the Nintendo DS here on Backstage, but we’ve decided not to.

As a former game magazine editor and lifelong gadget lover, I’m about as close to a lock for buying portable game hardware as anyone you’d know. And with a cross-country trip coming up next week, I would sure love to have something new to play with. But after serious consideration, I’ve decided to pass on buying the new Nintendo DS system, cancelled my pre-order, and am most likely going to hold off on picking one up for a while.

There are three reasons for this: software, pricing, and the hardware. Click on Read More for the details.

Read more »

Backstage: Review of Oakley’s Thump MP3 Sunglasses

By Jeremy Horwitz | 11.18.04 | 5 comments

picSure, we’d seen the front lobby (and O Store) ten or more times before, and attended the Thump launch event last week, but we would never turn down a full tour of Oakley’s headquarters in Foothill Ranch, California. To put such an opportunity in perspective, imagine being given an all-access look inside of Nike right before the launch of Air Jordans - a point when you realize that with every step you take, you’re surrounded by ideas that could very easily become the next big thing. Except in Oakley’s case, shoes are almost the least compelling part of the story: the company’s 2005 and 2006 sunglasses, watches, apparel and accessories ride the fine edge of wicked. In both senses of the word.

Our full review of Oakley’s Thump is now available from the Read More link below. You can also see our new Thump Photo Gallery here - this is a separate gallery from the Thump launch gallery we previously published.

Read more »

Backstage: A growing family of iPods, conceptually

By Jeremy Horwitz | 11.18.04 | 5 comments

picAnother reason why we love our readers: this anonymous submission to our galleries is a nearly photorealistic computer rendering of all the iPods currently sold by Apple, plus three reader-imagined concepts of how an even smaller (presumably flash-based) iPod would look. Yeah, looks like the SigmaTel STMP3550 would fit in there, alright. Great work, anonymous.

For a full-sized version of the image, visit the iPod Concepts Gallery and sort by Date (-).

Backstage: On iLounge’s logo - your thoughts?

By Jeremy Horwitz | 11.15.04 | 36 comments

picSo Dennis and I have gone back and forth on this for the better part of the last year: keep iLounge’s logo the same, or change it?

Dennis wants outside opinions, and I think that’s a good idea. These two samples are just mock-ups.

pic If you like one of them, or both of them, better than the current logo, please just take a moment to say so in the Comments thread here. If you think the current logo is better, please say that, too.

As always, your input is very much appreciated.

Backstage: Your next pair of iPod earphones is…

By Jeremy Horwitz | 11.14.04 | 9 comments

picSony might not know how to make MP3 players, but they sure know earphones. We’ll be going live shortly with a review of the company’s new MDR-EX81s (currently available only in Japan, and imported to the U.S. by Audiocubes.com), and I have to tell you - they’re right in all the right ways for typical iPod owners. Great price tag, great sound, great fit, and they come in iPod-matching white. When they’re officially released outside of Asia, my guess is that they’ll become the iPod replacement earbud of choice.

Updated: Click on Read More for the review, which will be on the main site tomorrow.

Read more »

Backstage: iLounge’s Delta Project

By Jeremy Horwitz | 11.11.04 | 9 comments

Life wouldn’t be as fun at iLounge if we stood still. So with the Buyers’ Guide finished, the Delta Project has begun.

Q: What’s the Delta Project?

A: We can’t tell you quite yet. But we chose the name intentionally. And it’s neither the site redesign we have been working on, nor the other interesting thing that we’ll be announcing in the next couple of days.

Q: Why bother announcing it, then?

A: We’re not announcing it, yet. This is iLounge Backstage, so we’re just giving our faithful readers a heads up that something big is in the works. And to the extent possible, we’re taking requests, so if there’s something you’d like to see from us in the near future, respond in comments to this posting.

Backstage: Things you might care about

By Jeremy Horwitz | 11.06.04 | 11 comments

This’ll be a brief Backstage entry, but one with a few topics that might be of interest to different people.

First, we’re returning to more regular updates of Backstage after a recent Buyers’ Guide-imposed lull. So stay tuned for more. And there are going to be a lot of site updates this week as well.

Second, we’ve been in touch with Apple regarding the audio defect issue in the iPod Photo. For what it’s worth, though it’s still an annoying little sound when you hear it, we’ve mentioned to Apple (and also the Audio Defect thread) that it’s quieter in the Photo than in the 4G - in our experience, at least. Different 4G iPods exhibited the Defect at different volume levels from what we gathered, but that doesn’t seem to be the case with the Photo. All three of the iPod Photos we’ve tested at this point have the same issue, at around the same volume. Consider it a 10% annoyance versus the 4G iPod’s 35% annoyance.

My guess is that you’ll certainly not hear it through Apple’s headphones, and might never hear it if you’re using typical $50 headphones, though better quality ones have a better chance of picking it up. We hear the sound clearly through our UE-10 Pros and fairly well in our Etymotic ER-4Ps, but it’s less noticeable with earbuds that let ambient outside sound in. Average users won’t care, but then, the sort of people buying iPod Photos have more cash, possibly better gear, and more reason to complain.

We’d resigned ourselves to keeping our iPod Photos that exhibited the issue, because it’s relatively tame by comparison with the highly noticeable sound in the 4G iPods we’ve tested, but then sent one of our units back to Apple at its request for testing. We’ll update if there’s something new to say, and of course always appreciate your comments on the topic.

Third, if anyone’s interested in parting with a first-generation 1G iPod, working or non-working e-mail me at jeremy@(nospam)ilounge.com with condition, price, etc. We have one already but I’m interested in getting another for the right price.

Backstage: Hands-On Oakley’s Thump MP3 Sunglasses

By Jeremy Horwitz | 11.05.04 | 0 comments

If you vaguely recall hearing about some company’s hybrid of sunglasses and MP3 player, chances are quite good that you’re thinking of Oakley’s Thump. Dennis and I were intrigued enough about the initial announcement some months ago that we considered including Thump in the Backstage section of the Buyers’ Guide, but unfortunately, the timing just didn’t work out.

Well, Oakley held a launch party tonight at their headquarters in Foothill Ranch, CA – an impressive and imposing building we’ve visited a few times before, notable mostly for its metal façade, spikes on its sides and pirate flag on its roof. We took Oakley up on their invitation to check Thump out, though initial photos of people wearing the contraption had made us a bit more skeptical of the product over the passage of time.

Suffice it to say that we were both surprised and impressed by what we heard. Oakley’s founder Jim Jannard presented Thump as the most important product launch in the company’s history, and though we’re not inclined to take such marketing talk at face value – especially for a company with as venerable a track record as Oakley – Thump is a much better product than we would have expected from a first-time MP3 developer.

Take a pair of Oakley Half Jackets, bulk up their sides with a bit of extra plastic and five buttons, add two telescoping, rotating earphones, and you have Thump in a nutshell. The idea’s that you toss Thump on your head before you go out to exercise or have fun, and forget about cords, carrying around your entire music library, etcetera. The more expensive Thump ($495) holds up to 120 songs (256mb), while the less expensive version ($395) holds 60 (128mb).

We went in thinking that the idea wasn’t so wise, because you’re never going to wear these things indoors – especially given their highly geeky flip-up lenses, a distinctly non-Oakley touch – and who wants to go back to holding so little music? But Oakley promised excellent sound quality and the convenience of cordless listening. And delivered on both. The headphones telescope out and rotate to adjust to the shape and location of any user’s ears. They also sounded great. Surprisingly so, to both of our ears. There’s definitely appeal for mountain biking and all sorts of other potential applications.

It didn’t hurt that Oakley presented the Thumps at PC and iMac G5 listening stations using iTunes (though they’re MP3, WMA (ugh) and WAV compatible, not AAC), and touted their easy drag-and-drop file transfer system. Using the glasses is nearly iPod easy – drop the songs on board from your computer via USB cable (included), press forward and back buttons to change songs and hit the power/play/pause button to, well, do those things. Volume up and down buttons are on the other side. Very simple, and cool when the glasses start up with a “thump thump” pulsing sound on power-up. They also store data, in case you’re trying to be a Southern California James Bond. (James Bong, maybe?)

One bummer: the glasses come with only the USB cable for recharging, and not a separate power charger, or car charger, which we heard would be sold separately for around $35. Six hours of playback time is adequate for the device’s intended purpose, but who wants to recharge using a computer? The separate home power adapter’s $45, and a carrying case is $25. That’s way steep. But they look sorta cool.

We’ll reserve final judgment on the value of the Thumps until we have some reviewable hardware in hand, but suffice to say that we went in skeptical and actually liked using them for a short while. The price tag’s way high, but then, Oakley products frequently are, and that hasn’t stopped us each from owning multiple sets of their sunglasses, shoes, and watches.  They may wind up being “expensive niche products version 1.0? for now, but if Oakley takes the tech market seriously and evolves these things (are metal Wires too much to ask for?), we could imagine Thump 2.0’s being hugely successful. If asked, we’d take two of the Matte Black 256MBs (wink, wink).

For what it’s worth, we skipped Lil’ Jon’s performance, but tried his Crunk Juice energy drink, which tastes like a mixture of Red Bull and Centrum tablets. If there hadn’t been a line, we might’ve spent more time with the Thumps.

Backstage: iPod Photo initial impressions

By Jeremy Horwitz | 10.27.04 | 32 comments

picApple’s more than used to the haters by now - people who proclaim each of the company’s new products a likely flop based on price, or grouse about another company’s product that’s almost but not quite the same. But time and experience have given Apple another benefit: the opportunity to see their haters proved wrong. Often repeatedly.

Having played with the 60GB iPod Photo a bunch, it’s fair to say that the haters have at best a 30% chance of proving right on this one. Apple made at least three mistakes with the device - making its photo features less than intuitive to use in iTunes; seemingly requiring a potentially lengthy initial “optimizing” process for photos to be iPod-ready; and pricing it at a unfriendly $599.

But they’ve done at least as many things right. Very right. The iPod Photo’s new screen is wickedly beautiful, turning on quite unexpectedly with a vivid blue Apple logo (right) and using an interface that’s half iPod, half Mac OS X. (The familiar abstract sun/clock “processing” logo appears on the screen, and subtle grey touches with colorful non-interactive icons recall Apple’s Aqua interface.) Higher resolution, an even better white backlight, and the use of the Myriad font seriously improve the iPod’s look and feel - much more readable text can fit on screen, too, and long song titles now scroll in lists, not just when playing back.

Photos look very good on the screen, and are far more identifiable in thumbnail view than one would expect. TV playback of the photos is reasonably easy, too, though it could be even better, and users can create slideshows on the fly using the iPod’s interface. Keeping your photos and music synced with the iPod should be a real snap once the initial transfers of your libraries are done, too.

The only issue in my mind remains the one I identified in advance of the iPod Photo’s launch: do people really want to carry around their photo collections? Is that feature worth an extra $100 over the standard 4G iPod, absent the ability to transfer photos from a digital camera direct to the iPod?

There’s much more to say, and I’ll be saving much of it for our official review, but I like the iPod Photo a lot so far. It reminds me that Apple always has its eye on the future - one future, at least - even when the majority of its fans are very happy with what they already have.

Photos of iPod Photo

Backstage: How Marware caught my eye

By Jeremy Horwitz | 10.25.04 | 2 comments

Okay, this is a teaser, but Marware really took me by surprise with something they have coming out really soon. It’s one of a number of products that will be revealed exclusively in the Buyers’ Guide, and probably the one that will make most people say, “d’oh, why didn’t *I* think of that? I could have made a mint!”

By the way, the Guide is virtually done. That’s to say that it’s in the finishing touches stage, pending a little announcement or two about new and exciting iPod stuff later today. And we’ve received a Cover Contest entry that is fire hot and in serious need of being beaten in the next 23 hours, else it’s going to be our winner.

Backstage: The State of the Buyers’ Guide

By Jeremy Horwitz | 10.21.04 | 2 comments

The last couple of weeks have been very busy behind the scenes at iLounge, for reasons you probably understand if you’ve been following the Site News on the main page. Roughly 125% of my energy is going into the iLounge Buyers’ Guide 2004, and it is in seriously awesome shape right now. I wouldn’t say that if it wasn’t, and I haven’t wanted to say much on the subject until I could really see it for myself in tangible, concrete form.

At the moment, something over 60 pages of new iLounge material has been finished and/or laid out, with more to come over the next several days before we lock down the Guide editorially. I’d promise a specific number, but I want to leave it flexible given a few concerns we’re continuing to manage on this end. Suffice to say that the hard parts are officially behind us at this stage, and we feel confident that we’ll be delivering something excellent to you all for the holidays. We’ve been considering when and how to distribute an early sample to everyone, but that hasn’t been decided yet. If you guys have questions or requests, make them known soon and I’ll try my best to address them before we lock it down.

Backstage: New to the queue and seriously cool

By Jeremy Horwitz | 10.14.04 | 5 comments

Currently in the review queue are the following items, which are taking a back seat in priority to the recently announced iLounge Buyers’ Guide 2004:

BTI’s iPod Auto/Air Charger. Haven’t played with it yet, but it looks like good news for people with iPod cases that don’t leave enough room for non-Apple Dock Connector plugs - it uses the official Apple part, rendering it totally compatible with 99% of the cases we’ve reviewed.

DLO’s new 4G Jam Jackets. Think Power Support’s Silicone Jackets plus integrated screen protection, minus Click Wheel protection, and plus a little bit of iSkin grip style on the sides and back. In decent colors, too. The Pro versions have detachable belt clips. And DLO’s Action Jacket, which is highly reminiscent of…

Marware’s full 4G lineup of neoprene and leather cases, which we have delayed reviewing for a bit too long. They’ll probably be amongst the earliest of the reviews to go up.

Reviews of iSkin’s new 4G eXo 2 and Incase’s new Leather Sleeves are done and ready to go up whenever Dennis has a free moment. And then there’s the preview version of the Buyers’ Guide… hmmmm…

Backstage: Reader on Rio’s Carbon and the 4G Audio Defect

By Jeremy Horwitz | 10.09.04 | 7 comments

We were aware that some users of Rio’s Carbon audio player were having static-in-headphones problems similar to the 4G iPod Audio Defect. Then reader Jeff L. wrote to tell us that Rio now agrees that there’s a problem, has identified its source, and (in their words) “is making changes to the manufacturing process to eliminate this issue.”

Jeff’s comment: “I realize that iLounge is only concerned editorially with the Apple iPod, but it is interesting that this same problem occurs for the Rio Carbon. This is even more interesting given Apples silence on the issue.” Having updated the Audio Defect article with Apple’s latest (mid-September) ‘no comment’, we agree - it’s interesting. Your thoughts?

Backstage: Ugh, more rumors - PSP and iPod AV

By Jeremy Horwitz | 10.08.04 | 15 comments

picIf the third time’s really the charm, we might have to wait for the “color-screened iPod” rumor to surface once more before it actually happens. But yeah, for the second time in the last couple of months, the rumor is that Apple’s going to release a 60GB color-screened, digital photo ready iPod before Christmas. Thicker and heavier than the current 40GB model, the new iPod would supposedly sync with Apple’s iPhoto application (Mac only? Hmmmm) and likely include a higher-resolution (but still 2”) display, a video out port, larger-capacity battery, etc. The current rumor has it that the new iPod will play back digital photos, but won’t have its own media reader for transferring them off of a camera. I strongly, strongly hope that part is at least half inaccurate.

Since this rumor stuff turns out to be wrong on the particulars so often, I’m reserving judgment for when and if the actual announcement is made. But if the rumor turns out to be near-term true, I will be very anxious to see a new and improved color user interface, and disappointed if one isn’t there. Your thoughts?

On another rumor note, the other story making rounds is that Sony’s picked March 2005 (Japan) and September 2005 (USA) as launch dates for the PlayStation Portable, with an eye-popping price tag of $300 to further salt the wounds of delay. Then there’s the PlayStation 3, which according to current rumors Sony won’t release until 2006, but is trying very hard anyway to secure May 2005 (E3) magazine covers so as to ruin Microsoft’s Xbox 2 rollout. I don’t need to further editorialize on the PSP, but it looks like if there was ever a chance for Sony to be roundly dethroned in the electronic entertainment market, now’s the time.

Backstage: Why the RadioSHARK may change our lives

By Jeremy Horwitz | 09.30.04 | 20 comments

picIt’s rare that something potentially amazing arrives for testing at iLounge, but today, one such something showed up. I’m currently playing with Griffin’s long anticipated, once-rumored-never-to-be-coming-out RadioSHARK, a PC/Mac compatible accessory that lets you record FM and AM radio broadcasts for later listening… on your computer OR iPod.

Or iPod. Record radio on your computer and listen on YOUR iPOD. RadioSHARK is the device that Howard Stern and other talk radio fans have wanted for more than a decade, and it supports AAC format (read: iPod compatible, highly compressed) recording. It’s like TiVo, but for broadcast radio, and with far more on-the-road enjoyment potential. Imagine “time shifting” (recording) your favorite radio programs and listening to them whenever you want. Or pausing and rewinding live radio in real time. It all works. If no one screws this cool toy up with a lawsuit, it could change the way we listen to radio - and dramatically improve revenues for radio stations by rendering their late-night and early-morning programming even more accessible to larger audiences.

Only limitation so far: I’m getting a little static in the high-interference location where the RadioSHARK’s being tested. But I’m going to try and get rid of that. This thing is too cool not to like.

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