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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.

2011 CES: Yantouch’s 3D Dock for iPhone, Jelly lamps wow crowds

By Jeremy Horwitz | 01.08.11 | 1 comment

Some of the most impressive things at CES come from small, young companies, and Yantouch is quite possibly the iLounge Pavilion’s best-kept secret—until now. In addition to showing what it’s calling the 3D Dock for iPhone ($80), a charging station and Black Diamond application that turns your iPhone into an ever-shifting colored lamp that turns specific colors to identify your phone callers, the Taiwanese company’s Jelly Series of lamps absolutely blew us away.

We liked the company’s $100 JellyFish Black, a table lamp that has a small touch panel on the front that enables you to control its color either on a speed- and brightness-controlled loop of 16 million tones, or set to be one color. It’s easy to imagine putting this next to a bed for mood lighting—intense mood lighting.

 

But we loved JellyWash+ ($150), a considerably more sophisticated second-generation version with gesture controls.

 

Hold your hand over one of its proximity sensors to switch between one-color and 16-million-color mode. Others change speed, saturation, and brightness. The color effect is intense and beautiful, with effects that emulate the glow of the sun—complete with a wake-up feature that increases the sound of birds chirping to naturally open your eyes and ears. Dripping water and cricket effects help you meditate or go to sleep. And another gesture activates an alarm, complete with a glowing, temporary analog-style clock face.

 

The 3D Dock is neat. JellyFish Black is cool. But JellyWash+ is just awesome. The more you learn how to control it and use its features, the better it gets. Yantouch deserves global success for a product this cool, and we cannot wait to see how it pulls off the planned iOS-ready versions. Yantouch’s booth (3738) can be found in the iLounge Pavilion at CES through Sunday, January 9, 2011.

 

Updated: Here’s a video of JellyWash+ in action. It doesn’t do justice to the real unit, with its chrome-finished back and beautiful LED ring of lighting, but it’s a start.

 

Guess Who’s Back? Speck’s iGuy for iPad

By Jeremy Horwitz | 01.07.11 | 4 comments

Snapped at Speck’s booth-slash-bar at CES today: iGuy for iPad. He’s coming back. And we’re so glad to see Speck’s mascot return to action.

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The thickness, arms, and body with legs are just ideal for kids who want to use the iPad. Can’t wait.

How iPad 2G’s Rear Camera Will Probably Work (And Be Magical)

By Jeremy Horwitz | 12.09.10 | 7 comments

Rumors regarding the second-generation iPad have been circulating since the release of the first model, and some of the most popular recent speculation relates to cameras. It’s widely assumed that the new iPad will have one camera on the front for FaceTime, and potentially one on the back as well, the latter point seemingly confirmed by iPad 2G cases this morning. Yet there has been considerable ambiguity as to whether, why, and how Apple would implement a rear iPad camera up until this point, so we’re going to discuss the issue and add a little to the speculation here.

Whither A Rear Camera? Prior to October, FaceTime seemed to demand two cameras, as Apple included a camera switch-off feature in both the iPhone 4 and iPod touch 4G, the latter of which needn’t have included a rear camera at all. However, in light of FaceTime’s jump to single-camera Macs in October, it became obvious that Apple thinks “FaceTime” should minimally require “a camera focused on your face,” a microphone, and a speaker, plus the horsepower and battery life to maintain smooth audio and video calls. Beyond that, FaceTime can leverage whatever other related hardware the device happens to otherwise include, but nothing’s mandatory. So the choice of whether to add a rear camera to the iPad would be strictly optional from Apple’s standpoint, at least if adding FaceTime support is the key reason to do so.

Why Do It, Then? Competition is a starting point. Regardless of whether Apple likes to appear above adding features merely for the sake of adding features, an increasing number of rival tablet products are including rear-facing cameras. The rest of the iOS line is another factor. Leaving a rear camera out on the iPad when the iPhone and iPod touch now both have them would surprise and disappoint some people, leading to “wait for 2012” discussions Apple would rather not start. There’s also the issue of practicality. Unlike a Mac, which sits on a desk or lap in positions that make less sense for taking rear pictures, the iPad is held in one’s hands and can easily be positioned for photography. It mightn’t be as ideal for photography as something smaller in some ways, but it could be positive in others.

How Will Apple Do It? One thing that Apple really enjoys doing, particularly when adding a new feature to an established product, is rethinking things that competitors have attempted and gotten wrong. In a highly unusual public blasting of the current crop of Android tablets, Steve Jobs personally criticized the whole lot for trying to use a phone-optimized operating system in what amounts to a bigger shell, without going into specifics as to why that was a bad idea, or why Apple’s approach with the iPad (iOS 3.2) was so different. The rear camera could be a prime example.

If you’ve ever tried taking a picture with an Android tablet (say, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab), you probably have some sense of what Jobs was referring to. Filling the screen of a 7” tablet with the same image that appears on the screen of a 3.5” phone just doesn’t feel right. Part of the problem is the field of view. Another is the quality of the photo. The third involves the disorientingly large previewing of that small, low-resolution image. Apple has a chance to fix all three of these things with the iPad.

The first part of the fix would involve using a lens that lets the iPad capture an even wider picture—something closer to a 28-millimeter equivalent. Picture the iPad in an advertisement looking out at a landscape, snapping a picture, and having the landscape appear on the iPad’s screen looking just like what your eyes were seeing. Or taking a picture of a group of people, then becoming the picture frame for the family photo. It sounds so simple, but with the lens on the back of the Galaxy Tab (or, say, the iPod touch) right now, that’s not happening. The iPhone 4 at roughly 30-millimeters comes the closest in its family (previously 37-millimeter equivalent) to being able to capture a wide angle, but the iPad could go further. Even if it was iPhone 4-like, it would be pretty wide—better than the iPod touch by far.

With the right lens and field of view, the next issue becomes image quality. The iPod touch’s 0.69-Megapixel rear still camera has been pilloried for mediocre image quality and lower resolution than any iPhone ever released. Its 960x720 images look so-so on the iPod touch, so upscaling similar images to the iPad’s current 1024x768 display would look pretty weak, ignoring whatever improvements Apple has planned for the next iPad’s screen. An iPad rear camera will need to be better than what’s in the iPod touch to be at least acceptable, and as rivals are using much higher-specced sensors in their devices, it wouldn’t be crazy to see something similar to the iPhone 4’s 5-Megapixel sensor inside.

Last is the previewing issue, and this one’s tricky. Try and hold the Galaxy Tab up to take a picture and what you see on the screen is a big blown up picture of a narrow area in front of you. It just doesn’t feel right, and Apple has to know this. So it has two choices here: adjust the lens and fill the screen, or use a phone-like lens size and display video in a smaller and thus less disorienting preview window. The former would be really cool without much effort, but the latter would give Apple the chance to add buttons, filters, and other stuff around the edges of the window, including features previously found in iChat.

Previewing becomes especially complex because most of the video that’s going to be displayed on the iPad’s screen over FaceTime is going to come from 640x480 front-mounted iPhone and iPod touch cameras—ones that won’t look so hot filling a big iPad screen in any case. On the Mac, it displays FaceTime videos by default in a small window, but the windowless iPad presents a new challenge. Apple’s going to need to figure out whether to fill the iPad’s higher-resolution screen with blocky upscaled pixels, or do something different. Apple favors consistent interface solutions, so it wouldn’t be a shock if it introduced an across-the-board “live video” interface that doesn’t fill the screen either for FaceTime or Camera applications. Then again, it wouldn’t be surprising if it went full screen for both, or used different approaches because different teams are working on the apps.

Our Predictions. Our best guess at this moment is that the rear camera on the iPad will be bigger, wider-angled, and better in resolution than the one on the iPod touch, with at least one if not two of those factors at least rivaling if not surpassing the iPhone 4. We’d expect new FaceTime and Camera applications for the iPad, the former with a well-considered approach to handling both outgoing and incoming video from the increasing array of FaceTime devices, and the latter with a previewing methodology that makes more sense on tablets than what Android-based rivals have accomplished. And of course, we’re betting that there will be ads that focus on the camera and iPad synergy as creating the first picture frame that actually takes photos worth framing. If Apple pulls off such a feat, which depends on the right lens, sensor, and UI, the next iPad will instantly be even cooler and more social than the first one.

What do you think, readers?

Bejeweled 3 Hits Mac + PC, PopCap Says “Stay Tuned!” for iOS Version

By Jeremy Horwitz | 12.07.10 | 3 comments

We can still remember the point at which Bejeweled 2 went from “another nice puzzle game” to “OMG get this now:” it was the day PopCap added the insanely addictive Facebook Connect version Bejeweled Blitz to the iPhone and iPod touch game. Suddenly, the relaxing, dreamy match-three/four/five game became a strict “do your best in one minute” competition that saw friends and family working from week to week to rack up ever-higher scores; a coin and power-up system came in a later iOS update and added more fuel to the fire. Facebook status updates quickly filled with boasts from friends and family that they’d reached scores once thought impossible, and an in-game leaderboard rubbed in second- and third-place rankings just to let you know how much better you needed to become. Hundreds of companies added Facebook Connect features to their games, but PopCap’s easy-to-learn gameplay, affordable pricing, and dead simple social networking features set the bar that other developers hoped to match or beat.

Today, Bejeweled 3 has been released for the Mac and PC ($20 each), and it’s no huge surprise that PopCap hasn’t exactly reinvented the wheel with the core “Classic” game here. Turn it on and you’ll feel as if you’re playing Bejeweled 2, albeit on a much higher resolution display—there’s a 1920x1200 mode if your monitor can handle it. Though the nuts and bolts of the puzzler’s graphics are very similar to what came before, little touches really call your attention to the high-resolution art, which we’ve had to radically downscale for these screenshots.

 

Smoke clouds billow from a tower in the distance, clouds move in the sky, and fine details in everything save for the gems themselves are obvious from moment one; old power-ups like the Hypercube receive either 3-D treatment or special explosion effects that can look vaguely Asian. One gets the sense that PopCap was highly conscious of its need to eventually scale the artwork down for mobile devices, and stuck with scalable gems and effects that will be easy to discern regardless of the device. The game’s menu system has been polished even beyond the level it was at in Bejeweled 2 Deluxe, making smooth screen-to-screen transitions with a remixed version of the prior theme song.

 

In fact, PopCap’s new soundtrack makes an even greater departure from earlier Bejeweled games than the graphics do, moving up to full-fledged orchestral arrangements that walk the fine line between sounding majestic and ridiculous under the circumstances. If it wasn’t for the fact that Bejeweled has grown over the years to become one of the most successful game franchises of all time, the idea of listening to a John Williams-esque score while matching up gems might be funny. In the case of Bejeweled 3, the pomp feels deserved.

 

The basic gameplay should be familiar to any prior Bejeweled player. You use your mouse cursor to select one gem at a time to match up with two or more others, and pray that the stream of gems that fall from the top of the screen to replace matched ones will lead to bigger matches and sequential combinations of matches for more points. Matching four or five gems leads to the creation of power-ups that explode in 3x3 grids, zap all of the gems of a selected color, or eliminate everything running vertically or horizontally in the same line. Over the past two iterations of Bejeweled, this formula has become so polished—with charming little sound effects—that it’s worth coming back to play even without major updates.

 

Where fans of the series will either find themselves addicted or disappointed is in the variety of new play modes PopCap has added to this sequel. We were in the latter camp when we tried “Zen,” which basically adds ambient noises, textual affirmations, breathing relaxers, and binaural sound processing to what’s otherwise a plain jane Classic game. The Zen features can be individually switched on and off, and surely will please users looking to drop the rich soundtrack in favor of waterfall sound effects and some low-grade visual effects, but PopCap has added better features than this in free iOS updates. Thankfully, the rest of the modes actually switch up the gameplay. One is “Poker,” using gem matches to make rewardable hands of cards; “Butterflies” challenges you to eliminate butterfly gems before they move upwards reach the spider at the top of the screen, and another mode called “Quest” features 40 different mini-games that individually could have constituted sequels for most companies. Four of the modes are locked until you successfully complete a number of levels in one of the four unlocked modes, a very fair balance that incentivizes you to try everything.

 

What’s missing from Bejeweled 3 at this point is a Blitz mode—there’s no online multiplayer support—and obviously an iOS version for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad users to play against their mouse-dependent rivals over Facebook. A mode called “Lightning” comes as close to Blitz as PopCap wanted to go with this release, providing you with a fixed timer that can be extended by making gem matches—leaving the door open for a post-release Blitz update while offering the opportunity to train for what’s likely to come. We think. Asked when the iOS version is coming, PopCap would say only “Stay Tuned!”

 

So until the iOS release comes out, there’s an obvious question: is Bejeweled 3 worth $20? iOS gamers will obviously balk at such a “premium” price, but by Mac standards, the game’s reasonably affordable and has so much new content in its Quest and locked modes that extended and repeat play is essentially guaranteed. PopCap’s traditional sales and post-release updates will surely expand Bejeweled 3’s appeal beyond the crop of early adopters who will no doubt snatch the game up during today’s release day. Once Blitz and the iOS port are released, this game is going to spread like wildfire.

Mobee’s The Magic Charger Makes Apple’s Magic Mouse Complete (For A Price)

By Jeremy Horwitz | 12.06.10 | 2 comments

Though Apple’s latest high-tech iPad and MacBook batteries have cast joy-inducing spells on their users, there’s nothing magical about its Mac accessories’ reliance on AA batteries, which can require replacement after three months of steady use. Only in August did Apple release its own rechargeable battery solution called the Battery Charger, giving users an officially-endorsed alternative to chucking sets of two or three AAs in the trash. Even so, Mac OS X’s normally reliable charge remaining indicators were thrown off by the new rechargeables, leading users—including us—to see inaccurate “low battery” warnings for weeks at a time.

A new Swiss company called Mobee Technology has come up with a really smart if imperfectly executed alternative in the form of The Magic Charger ($50), an inductive recharging solution that works with Apple’s new Magic Mouse—nothing else. The kit consists of a battery pack, a charging station, and a gray USB cable designed to match Apple’s design sensibilities, and for the most part, they succeed. You pull the metal battery compartment off the Magic Mouse’s bottom, remove the prior AAs, and pop Mobee’s replacement in their collective place. The Magic Charger’s battery is machined to look and feel so close to Apple’s original part that you won’t know the difference once it’s properly installed, and yet the Mouse will have gained another magic power: the ability to refuel itself with the most minimal user effort, short of turning the mouse pad itself into a giant charger.

 

To back up one moment, installation of the new battery pack is not as easy as it should be. Mobee doesn’t include any text instructions in the package, and its several illustrations gloss over the fact that there are recessed tabs on the battery pack that need to be inserted into the Magic Mouse chassis in a specific order, top first. Mess up and you’ll be left wondering whether you can safely pry your new battery pack off without bending its thin metal edges; a replacement pack is, amazingly, $30. Seeking to avoid damage, we gently wedged a plastic card into the side of the top seam, moving it across the pack’s entire top surface to distribute its leverage across the maximum area, then popped the battery off and reinstalled it properly. The feared metal curves didn’t materialize, though they probably would have if we’d tried to yank the panel off by one corner. Better instructions would make the process trouble-free.

 

Thankfully, there’s no challenge whatsoever in recharging the Mouse once installation is complete. Mobee includes a silver and white plastic tray that looks almost as if it could have come out of an Apple factory, and you connect it to your computer or anything else you may own with a full-sized USB port. A charging light flashes green when a Magic Mouse is on the surface, stays green when the charge is done, and turns red when nothing’s sensed for charging purposes.

 

The Magic Charger is as close to an elegant charging solution as we’ve seen for any Apple mouse, and though other companies have obviously been selling mice with their own recharging stations for years, this one works without having to align the Magic Mouse with charging pins: just place it on the soap dish at any angle and recharging commences. One wonders why Apple hasn’t just built this feature into its mice already.

 

We’d guess that it has something to do with adding yet another expense on top of an already pricey peripheral, and possibly the fact that the port- and button-reductionists at Apple mightn’t see the value in offering a charging solution that requires the same USB port you could have just connected to a wired mouse. Except, of course, that there isn’t a wired Magic Mouse. And that you can connect this someplace else in your home or office, away from your computer if need be. At least within the confines of products that Apple currently offers, this product just makes sense. Whether it’s worth ponying up $50 more to improve upon a $69 mouse is up to you.

One Month With Apple’s 11.6” MacBook Air: It’s A Keeper

By Jeremy Horwitz | 12.03.10 | 9 comments

After years of chasing the bleeding edge and paying higher prices, I’m now accustomed to purchasing “fast but not fastest” computers—I went from a Power Mac G5 and Cinema Display to an iMac, from a 15” MacBook Pro down to 13” MacBook (metal) and 13” MacBook Pro models, and then, in two recent, rapid-fire devolutions, to a 13” MacBook Air and an 11.6” MacBook Air. Though these might sound to some readers like downgrades, they make sense given the way I and an increasing number of people are using computers these days: there’s a bigger-than-ever monitor with strong CPU horsepower at my desk, and a smaller-than-ever monitor with less horsepower for the road.

Last month, I explained that I had picked up and returned a top-of-line 13” MacBook Air, realizing that the space savings it represented over a 13” MacBook Pro wasn’t personally justifiable given its considerably higher pricing, diminished screen quality, and weaker overall performance. Yet its replacement, the new 11.6” MacBook Air, has turned out to be one of my favorite Macs ever. It is the machine I wanted to buy years earlier when Apple introduced the notoriously hot 12” PowerBook G4, which I wasn’t about to put on my lap despite its otherwise appealing form factor. In short, the 11.6” Air has turned out to have all of the assets I was looking for in both the 12” PowerBook and the original 13” Air, and after a solid month of relying upon it alternately as a primary and secondary computer, there’s no doubt: it’s a keeper.

One of the biggest question marks I dealt with when making the purchase was whether the performance differences between the 1.6GHz and 2.13GHz Airs would be noticeable. In practice, at least for the things I’ve been doing, the answer has been no. Due in large part to the solid state memory in the Airs, loading applications, huge photographs, and the like is so fast on even the 1.6GHz model that there isn’t time to stare at the screen and wonder why things are taking so long. There are certainly gaps in application performance that could be and have been measured elsewhere, but in real-world use of the machine for day-to-day tasks, they’re just not noticeable to me. Simple Photoshop editing, multi-window web browsing, and streaming videos from wherever—it all just happens without huge lags.

Another question mark was heat, specifically whether the Air would ever become hot enough to the touch that I’d notice or care. Answer: no. Not once in a month has the temperature ever been an issue, no matter what I’ve been doing with it. My guess is that the 1.6GHz processor was picked for the 11.6” model because it was as fast as Apple could go without running the machine hot or rapidly draining its power. Until there’s something even more efficient out there, it strikes me as a very good choice.

There have only been two hiccups in the past month, one major, and the other minor. The major one is battery life. Apple’s most recent performance metrics still don’t capture the reality that the Air will be dead in under three hours if you’re using it to play back video or do anything else that’s reasonably demanding on its processor. By “under three hours,” I’d say 2.5 or 2.75 hours are common under high-stress situations, even with the screen dimmed somewhat. Leave the Air doing nothing but displaying a previously loaded web page and it’ll stay turned on for a really long time—quite possibly in excess of the promised 5 hours, as estimates have suggested 6 or even 8 hours under unrealistic usage conditions. But for the way I use computers, 3 or 4 hours is about what the 11.6” Air will do, and that just doesn’t feel like enough.

The minor hiccup was partially my fault. I made an impulse purchase while on vacation last month, buying the Viva Elvis CD on a whim when I discovered it on the shelves of a Cirque du Soleil store. Before the transaction was even complete, I realized that I had no way to rip the CD into iTunes in the absence of an optical drive on the Air—the first time I’d ever had a problem like that with a laptop. Since I can count the total number of times I’ve used any optical drive over the past year by using my fingers and toes, this really isn’t an issue for me; I’ve similarly found the Air’s USB ports abundantly capable of handling my I/O needs when connecting an external hard drive. The absence of FireWire, Ethernet, and the like just haven’t mattered to me. Ditto on the bigger speakers of the 13” machines and all the extra space around their keyboards. Given how well the 11.6” Air’s full-sized keyboard works, and how adequate the speakers are under most circumstances, they feel like no loss at all.

One mixed surprise has been the new MagSafe power connector, which I was originally excited to be using—the side-mounted cable on the now metal connector looked like a better design than the centrally-mounted cable on the prior plastic one. In practice, however, the cable doesn’t feel quite right in either direction it can point, obscuring a USB port or hanging straight off the Air’s back, albeit only modestly in both cases. As nice as the new connector looks, the prior style worked better for my needs.

Where the Air really has proved to be awesome is in size. My wife typically inherits my prior-generation computers when I’m ready to move on to new models, and has said that she isn’t quite sure that she’d want to switch from the 13” Pro she’s using to the 11.6” Air because of the smaller screen. But all it takes is having to lift her now hulking computer off of a table for a few seconds, coupled with the simultaneous realization that my machine does virtually everything as well as hers in a smaller package, to confirm that the new Air’s a better fit for my needs. I can stack an iPad on top of it in a bag and still have more room inside than I did with the 13” Pro; the load on my back when carrying it is noticeably lower. Opening up the screen yields a display with more pixels than the Pro, though not, as noted before, as many colors. Under most circumstances, this doesn’t matter.

It sort of did when we were traveling for two weeks and I relied upon the Air as my primary computer. I was never certain whether the pictures I was sending out looked as good on other monitors as they were looking on the Air. When I returned home, I found that they did—they actually looked better. Unfortunately, using the Air doesn’t allow for the sort of accurate color correction I’d really like to be able to do on the road. Apple will eventually get around to fixing this on the Air, but I suspect that its desire to shave off further microns from the next-generation model’s thickness may impede its ability to improve upon the components that could stand to be better in the future.

So is the current-generation 11.6” MacBook Air the best MacBook ever? From where I stand, no. I’ve had Macs that were so close to perfect straight out of the box that it would be hard to imagine something being much better at that point in time. This new model does so much right that I wouldn’t give it up, but also leaves enough room for improvement that I’ll be anxiously awaiting its successor or successors. What I can say with certainty is that it would be virtually impossible for me to consider going back to a 13” machine at this point. Apple picked the right screen size, keyboard, and other components to make this little MacBook feel just right—battery, CPU, and screen tweaks would make it just that much better. And I’m loving NLU’s BodyGuardz for it, too, which have made it feel a lot less delicate despite its tiny frame. If Apple sold the equivalent glossy body protection for the same $50 price—or better yet just used iPod nano 5G-style gloss finish—a lot of people would be very happy to pay a little premium to keep their machines safe.

NLU’s BodyGuardz For 2010’s MacBook Air 11” + 13”

By Jeremy Horwitz | 11.23.10 | 0 comments

There’s so much new stuff to cover today that we can’t take as much time as we’d like to discuss NLU’s new BodyGuardz film protectors for the MacBook Air 11” and 13” ($50 each), so the following will have to suffice until we have a chance to circle back and say more.

Only a handful of items qualify as mandatory purchases in our minds when we buy new Mac laptop computers. AppleCare is one, an extra wall power adapter is sometimes another, and NLU’s protective film is the third. We’ve literally used the company’s film on all of our MacBooks for years, and have—apart from their tendency to peel a little at the edges over time—really, really liked the results. They protect the computers, make us less cautious when setting them down on most surfaces, and enable the machines to be resold in cosmetically “like new” condition when we’re ready to upgrade.

 

The MacBook Air versions for the 11” and 13” computers have arrived, and there are no huge surprises this time out: the full-fledged kit comes with top, bottom, and palmrest guards, plus four stickers that go on different portions of the Air’s tiny edges, providing partial protection around the ports. There’s only so much NLU (and others) can really do to cover edges that taper down to such dimensions, so it gets credit for trying—we’ll have to see over time how well the side stickers stand up against opportunities to peel. The company has tailored the top and bottom pieces tightly enough inside the MacBook Air’s curves this time that we’d be surprised if they peel, but the side stickers have been notoriously problematic in the past.

 

Application was typically straightforward, at least for us, as we’ve been doing this for years now: completely clean the outside of the MacBook with a microfiber cloth to eliminate all dust, use the included soapy water spray bottles to moisten the adhesive film, center the film and work out the residual moisture using an included squeegee and the cloth, then let it all dry. The only installation issue we noted is that NLU doesn’t include the cloth, so if you don’t have something totally lint- and dust-free around, you’ll need to figure something out on your own to avoid specks in the film. Some users may also chafe at installing something using water to moisten the adhesive, but we’ve never had any problems, perhaps because we’ve been very cautious with the included liquid.

 

Last, and an issue we’ve mentioned in past coverage of NLU’s MacBook film, is the price. We were never totally thrilled about the $50 asking price for film for a 15” MacBook Pro, and as the sizes of Apple’s metal devices have shrunk to 13” and now 11”, the price still strikes us as high—particularly given that literally each of the installations we’ve done has experienced a little edge peel after eight months or a year, and we’ve wanted to replace the peeled parts, but just haven’t due to lack of time. NLU scores some points by offering lifetime replacements for the film if you want to request them, but doesn’t include a second set of pieces in the package so that you can just install them yourself as necessary. We really would like to see the company remedy this issue by either including a full second set of film for the price up front, something that would also aid first-time installers with problems, or at least doubling up on the parts that are most likely to come off over time. The price would be easier to swallow if there were no lingering concerns like these. That said, we rely upon this film every day for the super-thin, impressive protection it offers for our MacBooks, and the Air version is every bit as good as its predecessors.

On 2010’s MacBook Air, Part 2: 11” Air Is (For Us) The Much Smarter Pick

By Jeremy Horwitz | 11.04.10 | 9 comments

On Monday afternoon, I posted a Backstage story discussing my experiences with the 2010 13” MacBook Air and my conclusion that—for my personal needs, at least—it wasn’t the right fit given the similar experience and greater value offered by the same-sized MacBook Pro. At the end of that day, the $600 price premium the top-of-line 13” Air represented over a better-equipped base model Pro just wasn’t justifiable given that its virtues were solely in weight (2/3 of the Pro) and thickness (roughly 1/3 or 1/2 of the Pro). Neither was enough to really change the experience of carrying a 13” screen, keyboard, and the like around in a bag.

So I did something that I’ve never done in the past six years of buying Apple laptops: I downgraded. Significantly. I swapped the 13” Air for an 11” model with half the storage capacity and a slower processor, falling from 2.13GHz down to 1.6GHz not because I wanted to, but because that’s all that Apple offers in its top-of-line 11” Air. The result was an immediate savings of $435 between the MSRP and sales tax, the single most obvious positive difference in the systems, though I had to give up the SD card slot, some speaker performance, and two stated hours of battery life, too. If the 13” Air didn’t feel like a replacement for a full-fledged laptop, the 11” Air is on paper even less so.

 

But you know what? As completely counterintuitive as this may sound, I’m very close to thrilled with the 11” Air in a way that I wasn’t with the bigger and more powerful model. It is so much smaller that, for once, it feels like a real volumetric reduction over my outgoing 13” MacBook Pro. The screen has the same serious color gamut issue I noted in my prior Backstage post, but it doesn’t feel like as much of a step back as it did with the 13” screen at that higher price. And apart from the aforementioned limitations, which feel far less obvious than they look on paper, the little Air seriously does not sacrifice anything that really matters to me.

 

Let me step backwards for one minute and attempt to explain why downgrading actually made sense here in practice. With a 13” Pro—a computer I relied upon as a standalone alternative to a desktop machine, with a screen I could mostly trust when editing photos and creating publications—there are certain expectations for performance at given prices that made sense. Apple sells the 13” Air at Pro prices, but underequips the machine as a true alternative, at least for my personal “pro” needs. All you really get for the extra dollars is a reduction in physical space with a few oohs and aahs when you show up at Starbucks. That the 13” looks, sounds, and performs so close to a Pro given its diminished size is impressive from an engineering standpoint, but to saddle end users with a price premium for a diminished overall experience has never really struck me as sensible. Sony, Apple, and others have tried this before with earlier slim notebooks, and yes, they had a niche, but ultimately failed to become major players in the marketplace.

 

Apple’s approach with the 11” is substantially different. Some have called it an Apple netbook, but that’s really not true in any way when you go to use it. This machine’s physical profile is like an elongated iPad, not as small as most netbooks, yet also nowhere near as large as the 13” version. For whatever reason (well, superb design), it seriously does not feel like a compromise relative to the 13” Air. The screen resolution is a little lower and the screen itself is wider, but in practice, those differences are not very pronounced. Because the 13” Pro has nearly the same screen resolution, it takes only a brief period of adjustment to go from using the 13” Pro to the 11” Air. Apple has also done such a superb job with the 11” model’s keyboard and trackpad that you can barely even tell that anything has changed between the devices unless you put them side by side; who cares if the F keys are smaller? The experience is so unlike using cramped netbooks, even the best of them, that we wouldn’t even put them in the same league. Only the need to add a SD card reader (and, for my camera’s needs, a CompactFlash reader as well) feels like something of a bummer, but you otherwise gain so much over a netbook that it’s hard to mind. One is a full-fledged Mac; the other is under the best of circumstances a dodgy little wannabe.

 

Of course, the Air starts at a $500 price disadvantage relative to higher-end netbooks, and only goes up from there as the storage space, RAM, and processor get bumped to the levels inside the machine I purchased. It’s obvious that the price-to-performance structure is still not what it needs to be in order for the Air family to completely supplant the base model MacBook or MacBook Pro yet, so if you’re amongst those thinking that the Air is about to become the MacBook—something that we’ve believed from the beginning was its eventual destiny—realize that such a thing is still likely to be a year or more off. Some people will get Airs instead of plastic MacBooks today, but they’ll likely feel a little short on storage space and either speed or memory as a direct consequence. Apple will offer both options until it no longer makes sense, from its perspective, to do so.

 

And what about the 11” Air’s other potential rival, the iPad? Well, that’s a different story. We’ve spent the last few days going back and forth between them and have come to the conclusion that they just don’t overlap to the extent that some people might assume—they’ll both have places in our travel bags. The iPad’s touch interface, battery life, and integrated 3G (if you have it) work so well for gaming, mapping, some web sites, and some types of apps that we’ve come to prefer it as a primary “fun” take-it-anywhere computer. An iPad is something we’d hand off to a child without even really thinking about it, or use for 10 different things in rapid succession. By contrast, the MacBook Air is a real computer. It feels delicate, unsafe to leave around young kids, and there to do everything the iPad can’t—serious typing, true multitasking, photo management and editing (screen limits aside), and other sorts of “real work.” It is a better piece of hardware at a higher price, but it has limitations, too. In our several days of testing, the battery life on the Air is just not up to snuff with the iPad’s, so keeping the power supply around is important. The lack of 3G and the absence of an on-screen touch interface create other situations in which the iPad can be handier, too.

 

Having both might be a luxury, but it’s one that is worth considering. Even with both the 11” Air and iPad inside, a travel bag can be smaller and lighter than with a 13” MacBook Pro as an alternative—with just one, the space savings over the 13” machine is downright incredible. From my perspective, the overall experiences one can expect from using both devices rather than just one will be better, so that’s what I’ll be doing for the time being. Given their potential to overlap, it’ll be very interesting to watch what Apple does over the next year to either consolidate or differentiate the Mac and iPad product lines: the winning strategy for consumers would be to let these computers continue to overlap as much as possible so that users can choose which one is best for their needs, but history has suggested that companies in Apple’s position most often try to artificially maintain product line distinctions until competition forces a change. Apple has shown some signs that it might not get caught in this trap, but then, who really knows at this point. Your thoughts on this topic, and the Air in general, are welcome in the comments section below.

On 2010’s MacBook Air: Screen Quality + Can It Finally Replace the Pro?

By Jeremy Horwitz | 11.01.10 | 13 comments

I’m going to begin this brief article by noting that I’m a huge fan of Apple’s laptops. I have absolutely loved my past PowerBooks, MacBooks, and MacBook Pros, praising Apple for the many things it has done right in this family, and have only felt it went off the tracks a couple of times—once with the initially crazy expensive MacBook Air, and later with the most recent plastic MacBook, which just struck me as way too easily scuffed up to be worth considering, even as a cheap notebook for kids.

So, having waited nearly two years for Apple to bring the MacBook Air’s price and performance to a place where I could consider buying in, I was really excited when it held the Back to the Mac event last month. And I’d love to be able to tell you that I’m completely enraptured with the brand new MacBook Air I’m typing on right now, but I have to be honest with you—I’m not. Apple has done so much right with this model that I want to be telling you to rush out and grab one right now. And honestly, if the 11.6” version strikes you as right-sized (and right-powered) for your personal needs, don’t hesitate. That version is amazingly small, fast enough for anything but serious pro video and publishing work, and full of all sorts of things people have been dreaming about in a little Mac for years: proper full glass trackpad, superior screen resolution, acceptable storage capacity, and decent connectivity—all without scalding your lap, or forcing you to cramp your hands on a small keyboard, and now starting at $999. That’s a lot of awesome in a little package, and Apple deserves to sell them by the millions if it can make enough to go around. I’ve been telling friends to check them out, and they keep going to the store, then walking out with new Macs.

 

The new 13” MacBook Air is a somewhat different story. It has some even more compelling features—better screen resolution, better CPU and storage options, SD card slot built-in, and more battery life. These things alone checked off enough on my list that I jumped right in and bought one, sight unseen. But since I actually took possession of my own Air, I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that it’s just a slimmer and lighter 13” MacBook Pro, one with a fairly heavy price premium and some unexpected surprises, positive and negative. The positive ones include much zippier app loading, dramatically faster wakes from sleep, and overall performance that feels extremely Pro-like in the 2.13GHz/4GB model I purchased. These features make me feel inclined to keep the Air. But it turns out that there’s a fairly significant negative one that makes it very close to ineligible to be reliable for my personal needs.

 

It’s called color gamut, and it’s not something you’re going to notice if you’re testing an Air at an Apple Store or reading about it in most reviews—AnandTech had the only review I spotted that picked up on this. Unlike the latest MacBook Pros, which render photographs (and other graphics) with a wide range of colors, the Airs do a noticeably worse job, enough that subtle shades can turn into blotchy messes. I noticed it the first night I was using my new Air, and saw that pictures of my daughter’s fuzzy orange outfit were suddenly looking blurry, as if my camera had been blowing out all the detail. But the pictures were taken with a Canon 5D Mark II, and had looked great beforeā€¦ on my MacBook Pro.

 

This didn’t make any sense at first. The Air’s screen was supposed to have even better detail than the 13” MacBook Pro’s. And in some ways, including sheer resolution, bright whites, and dark blacks, it does. But as it turns out, the new screen’s smaller dots do a less impressive job representing wide ranges of colors than the Pro’s screen. Pictures seemed to be a little more blue, skintones a little less lifelike, and finely-shaded objects somewhat flatter. While otherwise praising the Air’s screen, Anandtech says that it displays just under 47% of Adobe’s RGB 1998 profile, versus slightly over 77% for the 13” MacBook Pro, far fewer colors. Normally, isolated spec differences like this don’t really matter too much to me—a product is the sum total of all of its features, not just one or two little stragglers—but this particular one strikes me as disproportionately important to people who want to use the new Air to edit or share photographs. If you can’t rely upon your screen to show you what your photos really look like, how can you properly edit them or even decide which ones are worthy of sharing?

 

Another point that really bears mention, having just made the switch from a 13” Pro to the 13” Air, is that even the newest, thinnest 13” model doesn’t really feel that much different from the current 13” Pro. It is certainly lighter, a major asset for people who don’t want something heavy in their backpacks, and so thin that you may initially feel uneasy slipping it under an arm and holding it there as you walk. Holding all other things equal, I’d take a lighter, smaller machine any day. But the Air is definitely a Mac. Apple didn’t want to compromise on the keyboard experience, screen size, or speakers on this one, so bravo to them for delivering all of those things within the same form factor, only slimmer. I haven’t once felt as if I needed to squint at the display, or cramp my hands to use the keyboard, or get some better headphones or speakers to use to hear the audio. Screen aside, the experience really isn’t diminished.

 

That said, there is actually a $600 price premium to build an Air up to the point where it nearly rivals the $1,199 13” Pro in performance—assuming you’re okay losing FireWire 800, the optical drive, some (actually, a fair bit of) battery life, Ethernet, and a little CPU power. Before I made the purchase, I felt that I was willing to lose all of those features and pay a premium to get the Air’s lighter profile, but now that I’ve made the switch and the screen is sort of iffy, I’m really not sure that going thinner was the best use of my money. The lower price point and smaller footprint of the 11” MacBook Air would probably have made its similarly compromised performance easier to accept than the 13” version’s.

 

In recent years, many “reviews” have come to merely cheerlead whatever Apple spotlights in a given product—basically just reiterating the company’s press releases—rather than actually performing analyses of other features that may have changed, or trying to determine how a given Mac will fit or miss common use models. One of these common use models is instantly obvious: after the Back to the Mac event, lots of people started to ask the “can the Air replace my MacBook Pro” question, which before October was easily answered “no” for most people. Yet that question continued to percolate even after all of the Air reviews came out, mostly because so few publications bothered to dive deeper than whatever the simplest benchmarks, ruler measurements, and abbreviated periods of use were able to reveal. Everyone’s trying to be first with an instant review these days, and that’s really hurting people who are considering spending $1000 and up on what almost anyone would consider to be a major purchase.

Having sunk my own cash into the new Air, my personal suggestion is this: if you’re the sort of “pro” who does photographic work or needs accurate colors on your portable monitor, the new MacBook Air probably isn’t for you. Similarly, if getting the most for your money is important, you may or may not be surprised to find that the “Pro”—which by all rights should be more expensive for better performance—delivers a lot more at every price point where it competes with the Air. But the new Airs, particularly the 11” models, are more compelling than they ever were before. The Air is still a weaker younger brother to the MacBook Pro family, but given the new price points and features, it’s going to be extremely popular anyway, and quite possibly Apple’s runaway Mac hit of the holidays.

How to get our 2011 Buyers’ Guide (and entire Library) into iBooks

By Jesse Hollington | 11.01.10 | 0 comments

As in previous years, our 2011 Buyers’ Guide comes to you as a downloadable PDF file that can be viewed on your Mac or PC, iPhone, iPod touch or iPad. We’ve created separate versions, two optimized for computers and iPads, the other tested and ready for iPhones and iPod touches. Rather than trying to read the huge book in Safari, we strongly recommend that you download the entire PDF and store it in iBooks, which lets you enjoy it offline and come back to wherever you last left off.

iPhone and iPod touch. Downloading the Guide directly to your device is straightforward if you’re an iPhone or iPod touch user with iOS 4. Simply tap on the three “View on iPhone/touch Parts 1-3” links to the 2011 Buyers’ Guide from our Library, open each piece in Safari, and you should see an “Open in iBooks” button appear in the top-right corner. Tap on this and the three separate PDF files will be saved and opened individually in iBooks.

As an added bonus, once in iBooks the PDFs should sync back to your iTunes library the next time you connect, saving a copy on your computer that can be synced to any other iOS devices you own. Your can even add bookmarks which will be synced across all of your iOS devices, along with your current reading position.

 

iPad and Pre-iOS 4 iPhones/iPod touches. Unfortunately, the “Open in iBooks” feature is only available in Safari in iOS 4, so older iPhone and iPod touch users, as well as iPad users currently on iOS 3.2 don’t have this option—at least not yet. Until iOS 4.2 releases for the iPad in November, or if you’re using a non-iOS 4 device, we recommend that you download either the two-page or one-page version of the Guide directly to your Mac or PC, then add the PDF to iTunes by dragging and dropping the file right onto the iTunes window. From there, the PDF should automatically sync to iBooks on your iPad the next time you connect it, or you can manually drag and drop it onto your iPad.

 

Our Library now contains 15 separate downloadable Guides and Books we’ve published since 2004. You’re welcome to grab them all—they’re free!

iLounge’s 2011 iPod / iPhone / iPad Buyers’ Guide: The Soft Launch

By Jeremy Horwitz | 10.31.10 | 1 comment

As promised, we’re soft-launching the 2011 iPod / iPhone / iPad Buyers’ Guide a little early so that our loyal readers can get their hands on it before the official announcements go out, and our servers get swamped tomorrow.

There’s a lot of great new stuff to discover inside. In Sneak Peeks, you’ll get a world-exclusive first look at the first video camera accessory for iPads and older iPod touches, Scosche’s iClops, the dedicated iPhone/iPod projector Neo-i from Optoma, a super-cool iPad stand-grip-case from Belkin called Grip 360, and one of the slickest battery pack designs we’ve seen for the iPhone, Digipower’s Jumpstand Flip. Two separate Top 100 sections provide “must-see” cheat sheets for the year’s best iOS games and apps. And of course, there are our massive Apple hardware and accessory guides, each 50 pages long and packed with enough details to keep you reading for days.

 

This is the biggest and best Buyers’ Guide we have ever published—208 pages, no filler. Every section is either entirely rewritten from top to bottom, or significantly expanded with brand new, up-to-date developments. We’re very glad to be able to bring it to the iPod, iPhone, and iPad community at no charge. Download it now in your choice of three formats, explained below.

 

Two-Page Version: Laid out like a book/magazine with twin-page spreads, this version is optimized for PC, Mac, and iPad viewing. We recommend that iPad users download this version on their computers, drag and drop it into iTunes, and read it in iBooks rather than Safari.

 

Single-Page Version: Reformatted as a continuous collection of single pages, one atop the next, this version is optimized for one-page-at-a-time viewing on most devices. We recommend that users download this version on their computers, drag and drop it into iTunes, and read it in iBooks rather than Safari.

Single-Page Older iPhone/iPod touch Version: Identical to the single-page version, this has been broken up into three pieces to improve compatibility with iPhones and iPod touches. Definitely download all three parts of this version if you want to read on an original iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, iPod touch 1G/2G/3G, or non-iOS mobile device; recommended for iPhone 4 and iPod touch 4G users as well.

Enjoy, and Happy Halloween from iLounge!

Heads Up: iLounge’s 2011 Buyers’ Guide Is Coming (Maybe Even a Little Early)

By Jeremy Horwitz | 10.29.10 | 0 comments

I’d like to take a moment to apologize to you, dear reader.

In past years, the process of working simultaneously on iLounge.com and our annual Buyers’ Guide was challenging, but manageable. As you might have gathered from my less frequent contributions, this year has been different. It would be very difficult to quantify the total amount of time and energy that have gone into our latest publication, which is the largest Buyers’ Guide that we have ever assembled. As I type these words, it is almost finished, with only a few small technical issues left to be cleaned up before we release it for download. Here’s a very quick look at what has consumed so much of our attention in recent days.

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In the six years that we have published our Books and Buyers’ Guides, we have never missed (and occasionally beaten) our deadlines, even as the iPod, iPhone, and now iPad families have grown to include an ever-increasing number of different models, accessories, apps, and games. This year’s deadline was set in stone months ago: November 1, 2010. We are proud to say that we plan to have our new Guide in your hands a little earlier than that, so stay tuned to Backstage (or our RSS feed, Facebook, or Twitter accounts) for the announcement of availability later this weekend.

Thank you, sincerely, for your continued support and readership. As trite as it may sound, you are the reason we publish iLounge, and we can’t wait to share our latest work with you.

Touching FaceTime

By Jesse Hollington | 09.08.10 | 12 comments

Immediately following Apple’s event last week we posted some thoughts on how the iPod touch would be handling FaceTime—clearly using a separate app and requiring an Apple ID and e-mail address to register with the FaceTime network.  Now that we’ve had a chance to see the fourth-generation iPod touch in action, this has been confirmed.  However, these changes only pertain to getting the phone numberless iPod touch onto the FaceTime network—the process for the iPhone 4 remains unchanged other than the ability to contact iPod touch users using an e-mail address.

Setting up FaceTime on the iPhone 4 has always been almost completely transparent to the end user. This is because every iPhone 4 is expected to have a unique cellular phone number that can be used to identify it for FaceTime. As a result, no other information is required, and the iPhone 4 just registers itself with your phone number and you’re ready to go.  Users can turn FaceTime off completely under their Phone settings, but that’s about the extent of the configuration and customization options.  Calling another iPhone user via FaceTime is therefore about as simple as calling their phone number.

Life on an iPod touch is a different matter, however. With no phone number to work with, the device needs to register using an e-mail address.  Since there’s no polite way for Apple to use your e-mail address without your consent, the FaceTime app on the iPod touch requires that you specifically sign up for the service with your Apple ID and provide the e-mail address that you would like to be used for FaceTime calls. You log in with your Apple ID and password—generally your iTunes Store account, supply your preferred e-mail address, and then verify your address by clicking a link in an e-mail message sent to that address.  You can change your e-mail address or add additional addresses that you can be reached at by visiting the FaceTime section in your iPod touch Settings.

Once the relatively simple setup is complete however, it pretty much just works, although iPhone 4 users will also need to upgrade to iOS 4.1 in order to place or even receive FaceTime calls from iPod touch users. Further, making FaceTime calls using an e-mail address is a feature for the iPod touch only; the iPhone 4 still registers using its phone number only as it did in iOS 4.0.  This means that you’ll have to know what type of device the person you’re calling is using.

Another way to look at it is that your e-mail address is like a phone number to FaceTime, uniquely identifying the device rather than the person.  Except that’s not entirely true—you can sign up more than one iPod touch for the same Apple ID and e-mail address, something that’s not easily doable with a phone number on the iPhone.  Incoming FaceTime calls will ring on both devices, and can be answered from either one, but don’t expect to be able to use both devices for FaceTime at the same time.

The use of e-mail addresses and Apple IDs on the FaceTime network, however, opens up FaceTime to a whole new array of devices beyond the iPhone, since this change allows the FaceTime service to be accessible from any platform.  It’s a fairly safe bet that the next-generation iPad will be the next device at the FaceTime table, but there are many possibilities beyond that…. FaceTime integrated with iChat on the Mac?  A FaceTime app for Windows users?  A camera and FaceTime on the Apple TV?  In developing FaceTime, Apple has applied its usual panache at bringing technology to the masses, and it will be very interesting to see where FaceTime goes from here.

Updated: For more detailed information on setting up and troubleshooting FaceTime, please check out our new Complete Guide to FaceTime.

On iPod touch 4G’s Low-Resolution Rear Camera + Rear Mic

By Jeremy Horwitz | 09.02.10 | 41 comments

When Apple released the iPhone 4, praise for the phone’s redesigned rear camera system was universal: the company had made the wise choice to focus on pixel quality rather than quantity, including improved low-light capabilities and color rendition, resulting in nearly point-and-shoot camera-quality pictures and videos. It seemed like a foregone conclusion that the rear camera on the fourth-generation iPod touch would be similarly powerful, potentially replacing the need to carry both a pocket camera and the iPod at once.

But as we learned yesterday, that didn’t happen. Instead, Apple went with an iPod touch camera that has lower resolution than any iPhone—including the original model—at 0.69 Megapixels (960x720) for still images, and 0.92 Megapixels (1280x720) for video. The first-generation iPhone had a 2-Megapixel still camera, and the most recent one has a 5-Megapixel still camera. It’s unclear whether Apple is using a 1280x720 sensor in the iPod touch and cropping off the left and right sides of the video image for still images, the most likely scenario by a wide margin, or whether it is using a 960x720 sensor and upscaling it on the sides for video, which would be quite unlike Apple, but not inconceivable.

 

This matters because the sensor inside will critically affect the quality of both the still images and videos that the iPod touch captures relative to the iPhone 3GS and iPhone 4. Our screenshots show how Apple significantly crops the iPhone 4’s 5-Megapixel still camera when it switches the device into 720p video mode, losing not only the top and bottom of the still frame, but also some of the left and right. Consequently, when you hold an iPhone 4 steady and flip between modes, you need to step backwards a little when shooting a video to capture the same left and right details that the still camera would have grabbed. Apple may be doing this to get the highest-quality pixels from the best part of the iPhone 4’s lens and sensor during video shooting, or there may be other reasons.

 

On the iPod touch, this appears to be different. If the sensor has only 1280x720 pixels, literally every pixel is being used when it records video, and rather than still pictures looking better than videos as they do on the iPhone 4, they’ll look like chopped-off versions of video recordings, missing 160 pixels on each side. To get a sense of what that would be like, take a look at the last of the pictures here from the iPhone 4. (By default, Apple fills the iPhone 4 screen with a cropped version of what the video camera is actually recording, rather than the full wide frame. Underpublicized is the fact that you can tap twice on the video to see everything that’s really being grabbed at once, complete with letterboxing on the top and bottom of the screen, shown two shots above.) For the iPod touch 4G, what you’re likely to get as a still image will be closer what you see on this last shot—the same image as two shots above, minus the left and right sides. Unlike the iPhone 4’s camera, the still image won’t look much better on a computer than it does on the device’s screen. This is probably the reason Apple hasn’t shown off galleries of iPod touch photos as it did with the iPhone 4.

According to Apple, the iPod touch is using a backlit sensor, so the color rendition and low light performance will hopefully be closer to the iPhone 4 than earlier iPhones, which took comparatively grainier and muted photos. There’s a tap-to-adjust exposure feature, but seemingly no tap-to-focus, which suggests that colors will look fine but depth of field won’t be possible. Apple’s new high dynamic range (HDR) feature in iOS 4.1 may enable patient users to make lemonade from otherwise lemony iPod touch shots, too. Since the sensors aren’t the same between devices, it’s even possible that the videos may look way better on the iPod touch than on the iPhone 4; a sample on Apple’s site shows a beautiful (but slow-moving) scene from nature, cropped to the touch’s screen. Hopefully it’ll actually be that impressive in real-world use.

On a related note, we’re also really wondering how the new iPod touch is going to handle FaceTime, given that it appears to lack the dual microphone system of the iPhone 4—there’s a tiny microphone hole located on its back, by the rear camera. Given the way that sound waves travel, it wouldn’t be shocking for audio to sound a little muffled when using the front camera, but then, perhaps Apple has come up with a smart way to process sound. We’ll let you know what we discover during testing.

iPod touch 4G’s Battery Is Bigger, But Is It Better?

By Jeremy Horwitz | 09.01.10 | 3 comments

When Apple introduced the second-generation iPod touch in 2008, it promised 36 hours of run time when playing back audio and doing nothing else—a claim both it and its 2009 third-generation sequel surpassed by nearly four hours. They used 2.92 Watt-Hour batteries at 3.7 volts, or roughly 789mAh.

The fourth-generation iPod touch has just been revealed in photographs inside and out by the FCC, and surprise, there’s a 3.44 Watt-Hour battery in there at the same 3.7 Volts, or roughly 930mAh. This year, Apple’s promising 40 hours of audio run time, though the math would suggest the iPod touch battery should surpass that if everything else was being held equal—42 hours at a minimum for audio, 46 hours more likely.

Realistically, however, there are other factors that go into determining a battery’s life: the power drained by the new screen and cameras could be greater, the A4 chip might or might not be gulping more power than the prior iPod touch processors, and so on. We’ll have to see when the iPod touch arrives how it actually does in longevity testing. Earlier models have had wicked standby time—weeks if not longer—but really wore down quickly with certain processor-intensive games. FaceTime and video recording are even more demanding, typically. Expect some concrete numbers soon.

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