December 23, 2010

My weekend project: Rabbit ears!

My cord-cutting experiment continues, this time with a pair of run-of-the-mill rabbit ears from Radio Shack ($10). I just connected it via coaxial cable (ah, memories) to our 46-inch Sony Bravia, and yes — all the major networks are present and accounted for, in relatively good (if occasionally blocky, depending on whether I'm actually holding the antennas or not) HD. Keeping the rabbit ears sitting on the radiator probably won't fly for very long, though. (By the way, the antennas are retracted in the photo only because it makes for a better picture.)

Next step: Getting a PC TV tuner and setting it up with Windows Media Player for a little over-the-air DVR action. Stay tuned (har har).

December 10, 2010

Full version of Google Docs now iPad-compatible

Yep, it works—but it's slow, and a bit tricky to use. Selecting text is especially tough; basically you "pinch" with two fingers, and hope for the best. It's not something you'd want to use for composing, but might work for adding finishing touches (like bold or italics).

More details here.

December 03, 2010

4G fun with Sprint/Clearwire WIMAX in NYC: Yup, it's fast all right

Sprint and Clearwire's WIMAX network finally went live in New York City early last month, and I've been playing around with the Clear 4G+ Mobile USB modem for the past few weeks. (The PR reps at Clearwire were kind enough to loan me a review unit.) I have to say, this thing is fast—really fast.

Here in Carroll Gardens, I'm getting download speeds north of 3Mbps and uplink speeds very close to 3Mbps, which is about six times faster than my the upload rate that my Road Runner plan allows. Latency is surprisingly good, too—only about 70ms or so, not bad for cellular data.

The network feels pretty reliable, too. I plugged the Clear USB modem into my iMac this morning and used it for Internet access all day, without a hitch. I even forgot that I was using WIMAX rather than my home Wi-Fi network.

And this is just in Brooklyn, mind you. I can't wait to do a little testing in Manhattan next week.

Given that Sprint offers mobile WIMAX plans for $50 a month with no cap—or $10 cheaper than the 3G plan for my MiFi, which has a 5GB monthly cap—I may soon have to trade up for the WIMAX capable Sprint Overdrive.

P.S. I'm also a fan of T-Mobile's HSPA+ speedy network, but the carrier doesn't offer any 4G mobile hotspots yet—and neither does Verizon Wireless, which is slated to launch its new 4G LTE network on Sunday. Oh well.

November 30, 2010

Kinect vs. Move: Who's winning the sales war? (More importantly, which one's more fun?)

Hard to tell so far. Microsoft says it's sold 2.5 million Kinect sensors in 25 days; Sony, meanwhile, says it's shipped 4.1 million Moves, but won't tell us how many it's actually sold to gamers.

Sales figures don't tell the whole story, of course. There's also the question of which motion controller is, you know, more fun.

Personally, I can say that Kinect has been getting heavy use in our living room, especially since my wife and I ponied up for Dance Central. (We already had our first Kinect party last weekend.)

Move, on the other hand, has been languishing in a box since September, when I first bought it. The final straw was when I learned you need the secondary controller to play the newly Move-friendly Heavy Rain. (I only have the $99 "starter" bundle, which includes a single Move controller.)

But that's just me. Got any rants/raves about Kinect or Move?

August 29, 2010

Is your iPad stuck in "Genius"?

Here's a random little iPad bug I discovered the other day. Know how you can access Apple's "Genius" recommendations within the iTunes app on the iPad? Somehow, I managed to get stuck on a Genius page in the Movies section, with no way to get back to the main Movies page. Weird, and apparently I wasn't the only one to get stuck.

Normally in the iTunes app for iPad, there's a module on the top of "Genius" and "Featured" pages with tabs for "Featured," "Genius," and "Top Charts"—so if, for instance, you're done checking out your Genius recommendations, you can tap the "Featured" tab to leave Genius and go back to browsing.

Little did I know, however, that I'd made the mistake of performing a title search while in Genius mode—and when I backed out of the search results page, the module of tabs at the top of the Genius page was (for whatever reason) gone. No module, no way to get out of Genius. Even a restart didn't do the trick.

Luckily, I found an easy fix in the Apple support forums: just tap on the Music tab in the iTunes app, make sure you're on the "Featured" music page, hit the Home button, and then restart the iPad. VoilĂ —all fixed. Why that particular remedy works (and there may be others fixes, too) is beyond me, but hey ... I'll take it.

July 19, 2010

Phew! "Find My iPhone" actually works when it counts

So here's what happened. On Sunday, my wife and I went to Philly to see a relative in the hospital, and not five minutes after arriving at our destination, my better half discovered with a shock that her precious iPhone 3GS was missing from her pocket—and probably lying on the floor of the cab we'd just departed. Uh oh.

Luckily, I'd recently enabled "push" e-mail on Susan's iPhone, meaning that the "Find My iPhone" feature on MobileMe could track down the missing handset. First, though, I had to install the Find My iPhone app on my iPhone 4—which, surprisingly enough, I managed to do without a hitch despite being on the seventh floor of a large hospital building. (Yes, I use a "Bumper" on my iPhone, hence little in the way of "death grip" problems.)

I fired up the app, and within a few seconds, we could see Susan's phone on a map just a few blocks away. A few taps later, I'd remotely locked her phone and sent a message (accompanied by a loud beep) to the screen: "Lost! Please call 646-xxx-xxxx. Thanks, Ben." I also eyed the "Remote Wipe" button as a last resort, in case whoever found the phone decided to keep it for themselves.

Turns out there was no need to worry, though. A few minutes later, my iPhone rang, and the woman who'd scooped up the wayward handset from the floor of the cab was on the other end—and luckily enough, she was headed to the hospital to see a relative, too. (Well, lucky for us, anyway.) With thirty minutes, my visibly relieved wife was reunited with her 3GS (complete with the snazzy red iSkin case she'd recently bought for it), and all was right in the world.

Still ... yikes.

June 04, 2010

HD DVD lives! (Well, sorta.)

Yep, it's a dead format, all right, but HD DVD lives on ... in my living room, at least. I've still got a functioning HD DVD add-on drive for the Xbox 360 hooked up to my console, along with a handful of (pretty good) movies: "Blade Runner," "2001," "The Shining," "Zodiac," "The Thing," "King Kong" (it came with the drive), and all three "Matrix" films.

Sure, I could re-buy the movies on Blu-ray and be done with it, but I have to say ... these old HD DVD discs still look pretty sharp, even if I can only watch them at 720p over the component video outputs on my early 360 console. And truth be told, there's something kinda cool about occasionally dusting off a dead home video format and giving it a little life, if only for an hour or two. Anyway, behold my little HD DVD collection; long may it play.

April 25, 2010

Quick test: Blogging on the iPad

Inspired by a recent post on jkOnTheRun.com, I thought I'd try to compose and publish a post—complete with an image and a little rich HTML formatting—entirely from the iPad, using my MiFi for 3G as I might normally do in the field. My tools: Evernote for composing (it's free, saves its state when it quits, and syncs with desktops and the Web), and (as recommended by jkOnTheRun) LogMeIn Ignition, a $30 desktop remote app for iPhone and iPad (expensive, yes, but far more stable and easy to use than other, cheaper desktop remote apps that I've tried). The strategy (again, as suggested by the jkOnTheRun article): Compose on the iPad, paste the plain text into the Blogger.com interface via mobile Safari, then perform some (very minor) photo editing and apply finishing touches remotely on my MacBook Pro.

Why would I want to do this, you ask, when the process would be so much easier on my MacBook? Partially because I'm just curious to see if I can, but also to find out whether I could, in a pinch, put up a polished post with the iPad if I had to—say, if Apple HQ were to be attacked by a giant octopus while I'm on vacation in South Beach, with just the iPad at my disposal. (At a press event or a trade show, of course, I'd bring along my MacBook Air instead.)

All set? Then here we go...

Update: Well, the post itself looks just like I wanted it to, image and all, but the process was slow and fairly painstaking—definitely not something I'd want to do on a regular basis. The trickiest part was, of course, remoting in to my MacBook; as stable as LogMeIn is, the screen refresh rate over 3G is so slow that you must be very patient, waiting for five seconds or more for mouse clicks to register, windows to slide into place, and so on. Also, I can't find a way to remotely select more than a single word on a page; there's no obvious way to click and drag on a passage of text, or click and then Shift-click, and that's a problem when trying to add formatting in the Blogger interface. In the end, I found it was easier to add formatting with simple HTML tags while composing locally on the iPad.

That leaves dealing with images as the only compelling reason to remote in to the MacBook for blogging—and that worked reasonably well. The image I used here is a screenshot I snapped on the iPad; I then e-mailed it to myself, remoted in to the MacBook, pulled up the attachment in Mail, saved it to my Downloads directory, imported it into Photo, rotated it, shrunk it, exported it to the desktop, and then imported it into my post over Blogger's Web interface ... a workable, but multi-step process (not to mention the fact that the substantial bandwidth required for LogMeIn was murder on the MiFi's already so-so battery life).

The verdict: Blogging on the iPad with the help of a remote desktop app is certainly possible, but not recommended. A dedicated iPad blogging app (like the one for WordPress) would be the obvious solution; there is a $3 iPad app called BlogPress that works with Blogger that I'll probably try next, although it's been getting decidedly mixed reviews. Stay tuned.

April 24, 2010

My first month (well, almost) with the iPad

Well, I'll say this much—I ain't sending it back for a refund. About three weeks into my experience with the iPad, I've started to figure out where it fits in my digital life, and like many flashy new products that have come out of Cupertino over the years (like, you know, the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone), the iPad is filling a need a didn't even know i had.

Now, I have the Web (well, almost all of it—the lack of Flash support is still annoying at times) at my beck and call, sitting right on my coffee table ... or in bed, or wherever the iPad happens to be sitting. Portable video is much bigger and sharper than ever before, and if I need to tap out a quick e-mail or even a blog post, yes, it's possible (albeit clunkier than on a full-sized laptop). Gaming on the go is no longer merely a postage stamp-sized experience, with some iPad games (Mirror's Edge, Zen Bound, The Pinball HD) rivaling the graphics and gameplay you'd find on a console. And the real game changer, as it turns out, is the iPad's stellar battery life—a solid 10 hours or so, meaning you can use the thing all day without bothering to plug it in.

A few days after I got the iPad, I broke down and bought Apple's iPad case as well; it's thin and a little ugly, but it's light and comes with a flap that props the tablet up at a good typing angle. Combined with my small vinyl sling bag and my Novatel MiFi from Sprint, the iPad is making for an awesome on-the-go companion; basically, I get all-day Web access, gaming, movies, communication, and even a little light productivity on something bigger than a 3.5-inch iPhone screen.

And yes ... some light productivity is indeed possible. An iPad app called Office2 offers both Word and Excel editing, along with Google Docs acces (viewing and editing), and I've also latched onto Evernote (the free version) for writing and desktop syncing. (Evernote also does a nice job of saving its state when it quits, perfect for jumping in and out of Safari for referencing a Web page.) There's also IM+ for instant messaging, and while there's still no Tweetie for iPad (or whatever Twitter ends up calling it), Twitterific works in a pinch. Finally, typing on the iPad's on-screen keyboard isn't nearly as awful as I initially feared; in fact, I'm typing on it right now, at a pretty reasonable clip. (I should point out, however, that I had to finish the formatting on my MacBook Pro; the composing window on Blogger.com doesn't work that well on the iPad, or at least not yet.)

The iPad was also great during my recent two-day stint in bed with the flu; it was my constant companion, serving up streaming movies via Netflix, plenty of Web browsing, a TV show or two, and e-mail—and again, the key was that I could use it all day without coming even close to needing a charge.

What's still missing? Some key apps, such as a better Twitter client, Docs to Go (Office2 is a little wonky), a real Facebook client, a decent blogging client (there's one out for WordPress, but not Blogger) and a faster RSS reader (NewsRack is reasonably slick, but updating the feeds can be a lengthy process; I'm holding out for Reeder). Multitasking will also be a huge plus once it arrives in the fall. A front-facing camera would, of course, be aces for video chat. And I'm still waiting for the big publishing houses to get their acts together and really wow us with a magazine formatted expressly for the iPad (with a reasonable subscription plan to match).

All that said, I'm far happier with the iPad than I ever imagined I'd be; like I said, there's no chance that I'd give it up now. And just wait until app developers really start taking advantage of the iPad's bigger screen and horsepower.

April 04, 2010

My new iPad: Still puzzling, but it's growing on me

After what seemed like an eternity of waiting (years of rumors and two months since the initial unveiling, capped by a late-afternoon UPS delivery), I finally have an iPad in my hot little hands...but I'm still not sure what to make of it.

Yes, purely on its own, the iPad is a thing of beauty. The 9.7-inch display is gorgeous, especially when watching HD videos. Web browsing is a joy, and talk about fast. But the iPad itself feels a bit heavy, and it's awkward to hold; I keep trying different ways to grip it, but haven't quite hit upon the right combination yet. It's not a laptop replacement—after all, there's no desktop, file directory, or third-party multitasking, and typing is still much faster on a physical keyboard—but at the same time, it's not as portable as my iPhone, and I'm frustrated that many of my favorite apps (Reeder, Tweetie, Facebook) haven't gotten the iPad treatment yet. (Yes, you can still run them in windowed mode, but what's the point of that?)

So, yes...using the iPad is a bit like settling into a new house, exciting and frustrating at the same time. Despite the frustration, though, I do keep getting the occassional flashes of "My God, this is brilliant" while using it. The Web does seem more touchable, closer, almost like I'm dipping my hands in it. I can really read with this thing. Watching movies on the vivid iPad screen is a revelation. It'll make an amazing travelling companion, and it's nice having it sitting on the coffee table, asleep but ready at a moment's notice. And once app developers really get started with the iPad...well, I really can't wait to see what they have in store.

Is the iPad necessary? Don't know yet. Is it an extravagance, as many (very angry) commenters are complaining? Well, sure, but so are 42-inch HDTVs; that doesn't mean you'll go to hell for wanting one. Is the iPad for everybody? Of course not (and hey, if you think it's utterly stupid and a waste of money, please, don't buy it). But despite my skepticism when it was first announced, the iPad—puzzling though it is, in terms of finding a place for it in one's digital life—is growing on me. (And yes, I wrote this post on the iPad.)

March 31, 2010

RSS feeds for our new Yahoo! News tech blog goes live; the iPad cometh

Hello all. Just a quick update: We finally nailed down those RSS and "My Yahoo!" feeds for our new tech blog on Yahoo! News. Here's how to subscribe:

  • For my (soon-to-be-renamed) "Gadget Hound" blog posts only, click here.
  • For Christopher Null's blog only, click here.
  • For both of our posts combined, click here.

We're also expecting to get a redesigned banner and better blogging tools (hallelujah!) in the next few months, so stay tuned on that front.

Last but not least, get ready for my hands-on review of the iPad, which (fingers crossed) should be arriving at my doorstep via UPS this Saturday. I'll be posting my initial hands-on impressions sometime Saturday afternoon, followed by an in-depth review early next week. Keep your eyes peeled.

March 22, 2010

My first (new) Yahoo! Tech blog posts are live

Yep, we're back on the air. Click here for the details on the upcoming Kindle app for the iPad, or here to read up on the new Palm Pre Plus and Pixi Plus for AT&T (which, if you ask me, probably won't be enough to revive Palm's flagging fortunes). Later today: my hands-on impressions of Sony's PlayStation Move motion controller (the launch titles look so-so, but the possibilities are enticing). And don't forget, you can access our new tech blog right here: http://news.yahoo.com/technology/blog.

March 19, 2010

Our new Yahoo! News tech blog is live, posting begins (hopefully) next week

Hello all. Just got the word that Chris and I will begin posting again starting next week. You'll find our posts on the brand-new blog at Yahoo! News Technology, right here. For now, there are only a couple of old posts listed, neither of which were written by us; consider them placeholders until Chris and I get up to speed, hopefully starting Monday.

So, what about an RSS feed? Unfortunately. I don't have an answer on that yet; the existing Yahoo! News Technology feed seems to list every single tech story on Yahoo! News, rather than just the posts on the tech blog. With any luck, we'll have the RSS situation figured out soon; in the meantime, however, I'll post links to my latest posts here on my personal blog, so make sure to check back for updates.

In any case, get ready for our triumphant return next week, starting with my hands-on with Sony's new PlayStation Move motion controller (which I'm slated to try Monday morning, bright and early). See you then.

The URL again:
http://news.yahoo.com/technology/blog

What I'm playing this week: "Final Fantasy XIII"

I'll just come out and say it: the latest edition of "Final Fantasy" is simply the most gorgeous game I've ever played. Yes, it's relentlessly linear, at least for the first 20 hours or so. Sure, the characters are about as deep as those you'd find in a Saturday morning cartoon. But "Final Fantasy XIII"'s layered battle system is addicting, and the graphics—from the moment-to-moment gameplay to the big cinematic cut scenes—are often staggering to behold.

Full disclosure...I've only played a couple other previous "Final Fantasy" games, both for the PSP: "Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII" and "Dissidia: Final Fantasy," so I came to "XIII" with little or no preconceptions to how the game would actually play.

Early reviews have slammed the new "Fantasy" for being too "linear"—just one "room" after another of monsters to slay, over and over, with no chance to wander through towns, chat with party members, or alter the plot in any meaningful way. And indeed, after grinding through about 25 hours of FFXIII, I can attest that all those criticisms are spot-on. Unlike the open worlds of "Dragon Age: Origins," "Mass Effect," "Fallout 3," and previous "Final Fantasies" (or so I understand, anyway), "Final Fantasy XIII" is pretty much an "on rails" experience (or at least it is in the early going).

So why am I having so much fun, then? Well, if Final Fantasy XIII really is nothing more than a series of battles, it helps that the actual combat is challenging and addictive. In the early going, you're not doing much besides hitting the "X" button (on the PS3; for the Xbox 360 version, it's "A"), but as you progress, the game piles on more layers of complexity. Characters can be developed in different roles, such as "Commando" (your garden-variety warrior), "Synergist" (someone who casts spells on allies to enhance their abilities), "Sabateur" (a spellcaster who hinders opponents), "Sentinel" (a high hit-point character who soaks up attacks), "Medic," and so on. You then set up sets of roles that suit specific combat scenarios—like "War & Peace," with a Commando who attacks and a Medic who heals—and you can "shift" your combat "Paradigms" on the fly. Indeed, "Paradigm Shifts" make up the core of the FFXIII combat system, and shifting paradigms at just the right moment can make you or break you, especially when it comes to the game's fearsome bosses.

The plot of Final Fantasy XIII is...well, pretty nuts, and I'm only managing to follow it about 50 percent of the time. (Mild spoilers ahead, so beware.) Something about a war between Cocoon and Pulse, with the inhabitants of Cocoon being deathly afraid of beings called the Pulse l'Cie (who are from Pulse, natch), and that fear leads to the Purge, a "relocation" of Cocoonites that turns into something akin to a slaughter. Our heroes—the gruff, determined Lightning, the blond, muscled Snow, the wise-cracking Sazr, the naive Hope, and the relentlessly chipper Vanille—start the game trying to defend Cocoon from the Purge, but then they all become l'Cie (I'm not entirely clear on how that happens) and end up being hunted themselves.

And so begins a long, straight-as-an-arrow journey through various dungeons, spaceships, and forests, battling one enemy after another. But while it sounds like a chore, I actually had a blast, mainly because the world of Final Fantasy XIII is truly something to behold. Quite simply, I've never played a game that looks this stunning. On the PlayStation 3, the visuals are near-perfect, with little or no jaggies and no screen-tearing whatsoever, gobs of detail, and plenty of big, wide-open spaces that make you want to stop and gape (which I've often done). The regular gameplay in FFXIII looks as good as the cut-scenes in most games, and XIII's big cinematics are simply jaw-dropping; a daylight attack on the inhabitants of Cocoon by a fleet of shimmering silver spaceships that swoop down from a brilliant blue sky rivals the best CGI in any movie you'll see in a theater.

So yes..."Final Fantasy XIII" can (at least in the first 20-or-so hours) be accurately described as an RPG-on-rails, but if you ask me, this is one exhilarating roller-coaster ride. My understanding is that the game does open up about 25 hours in, and that's about where I am in the game now, so I'll have more thoughts on that soon.

Anyone else playing "Final Fantasy XIII"? Love it, hate or, or "meh"? And what are you playing this weekend?

March 17, 2010

Yahoo! Tech update: Still circling the airport

Hey folks: Many of you have been asking when Chris and I will start blogging again, this time for Yahoo! News. Short answer: soon. Long answer: There's still some behind-the-scenes technical work to be done, given that Yahoo! News uses a completely different publishing system than Yahoo! Tech did. With any luck, we'll be up and running again next week—and once that happens, I'll post the links right here. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, feel free to post a question or comment about tech right here and I'll get back to you ... as soon as I take my next "Final Fantasy XIII" break, that is.

Image credit: Flickr (matt.hintsa)

March 16, 2010

Report: No 3D Blu-ray of "Avatar" in 2010

So, 2010 might be the year of 3D TV, but it's starting to sound like the one movie everyone wants to see in 3D won't arrive in stores until next year, at the earliest. The L.A. Times "Hero Complex" blog is reporting that Fox will, indeed, release "Avatar" on Blu-ray this spring—on Earth Day, April 22, to be exact.

But don't expect a disc loaded with extras; indeed, this will be a bare-bones release, the Times says, with little more than the movie itself and a "relatively simple menu function," while a beefier multi-disc BD release will hit in the fall. That sounds an awful lot like another case of double-dipping to me (that is, luring die-hard movie fans to buy a disc twice by releasing a bare-bones version months before the full "special edition"), but "Avatar" producer Jon Landau assures the Times that no, the moviemakers merely wanted to "exploit every bit of disc space for the top-of-the-line audio and video presentation of the film." Riiiight.

Anyway, here's the bigger question: Will the Blu-ray of "Avatar" be in 3D? Nope, according to the Times article, and in fact, "reports that the 3-D version will be released later this year are wrong." Uh...say what? Isn't "Avatar" the movie that got everyone into 3D (well, the latest wave of 3D, anyway) in the first place? Well, yeah; apparently, however, James Cameron wants to wait until the "nascent [3D TV] marketplace catches up."

That news will come as a major disappointment to anyone who rushed out to get a brand-new 3D TV in the hopes of reliving the full Pandora experience in their living rooms...and indeed, I bet the big 3D TV manufacturers (who had surely been planning to use the 3D BD of "Avatar" as a sales peg) are pretty crushed, too. Somehow, getting a new 3D TV to watch the full glory of "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" isn't quite as enticing as the prospect of seeing all those blue people in 3D again.

So, question for you: Bummed that we won't get a 3D Blu-ray of "Avatar" this year, or were you planning on waiting to get a new 3D TV anyway?

Related:
'Avatar' will hit Blu-ray and DVD on Earth Day, April 22 [L.A. Times]

March 15, 2010

Analyst: Apple took about 152,000 iPad pre-orders in three days

That's the word from tech blogger and analyst Daniel Tello (via Fortune's Apple 2.0 blog), who arrived at his guesstimate by tracking the order numbers of iPad pre-order customers. The lion's share—about 120,000— apparently came on Friday, due to "pure overexcited fanboism" (as Tello put it), with demand ebbing on Saturday and Sunday to "only" about a thousand pre-orders an hour.

So, an estimated 152,000 iPads sold in three days...is that good or bad? Well, that figure (assuming it's accurate, of course; Apple has yet to announce any numbers of its own) pales in comparison to the million iPhone 3GSs that were sold during its first weekend of release. On the other hand, the iPad is a whole new product, not a revamp like the iPhone 3Gs, and let's not forget that Apple's long-awaited tablet won't even arrive in stores until April 3.

In any case, if Tello's estimates hold up, Apple might manage to sell more than a million iPads after about two weeks on the market, a feat that (as Engadget notes) would trump the performance of the original iPhone back in 2007. It's also worth noting that Wall Street (according to AppleInsider) was fully expecting Apple to sell 1 million iPads ... in a year, that is, rather than just a few weeks.

Personally, I'm starting to notice interest in the iPad heating up significantly after that first big wave of disappointment. Sure, I was among the many who was initially bummed out that the iPad wasn't mind-blowingly new; now that I've had a chance to think about the possibilities, however (portrait-oriented Web browsing, great magazine and newspaper apps, jumbo-sized video, and a whole new class of games), I'm starting to see ways to fit the iPad into my digital life. Something tells me way may see lines on launch day after all. (And yes, I went ahead and pre-ordered the iPad for myself—the 64GB version, to be exact.)

March 12, 2010

Palm fire sale: Resellers offer Pre Plus for just $29, and they're giving away the Pixi Plus


Barely seven weeks ago, Verizon Wireless debuted the revamped Palm Pre Plus and Pixi Plus for $149 and $99 each (with two-year service contracts). Today, you can snap up the Pre Plus with contract for a song—a mere $29—or the Pixi for the low price of nothin', if you know where to look.

Note: The following prices were accurate as of Friday morning, March 12 and are subject to change, practically on a minute-to-minute basis.

PreCentral.net found the Palm Pre Plus for Verizon at online wireless reseller Wirefly.com for just $39 after an instant rebate and with a two-year contract, a full $100 off the original $149 asking price, while the Pixi Plus, which once sold for $99 with service, is selling for free.

I went ahead and checked out another wireless reseller, LetsTalk.com, and found the Pre Plus selling for an even steeper discount: just $29 free with a two-year Verizon contract, or a whopping $120 off the original price. And as with Wirefly, LetsTalk is giving the Pixi Plus away, so long as you sign a two-year Verizon contract. (Full disclosure: I have a close friend who works at LetsTalk, though no one at the company pitched this story to me.)

The Palm fire sale is also on at Amazon, which like Wirefly is selling the Pre Plus on Verizon for $39 with two years of service (I should just go ahead and say that all the prices mentioned here involve a two-year wireless contract), while the Pixi Plus is going for a penny.

Even the official Verizon Wireless site is advertising discounts for the Pre Plus, which it's selling for $79 with service (and no more need to mail in for a rebate, either), while it's offering the Pixi Plus for $29. Just a day or so after I did my initial research, Verizon jacked up the prices again; the Pre Plus is now $149, as before, while the Pixi Plus is $79.

Want the Pre or the Pixi for Sprint? Well, you'll have to pay a little more, despite the fact that Sprint's Pre has less storage than the Pre Plus on Verizon (just 8GB versus 16GB) while the Sprint Pixi lacks the Pixi Plus's Wi-Fi abilities.

The cheapest price I could find for the Sprint Pre was $79 with two-years of service on LetsTalk and Amazon, with Wirefly selling the original Sprint Pre for $99. Sprint itself is still charging $149 for the Pre, and that's only after a $100 mail-in rebate. Meanwhile, the Sprint Pixi is $19 free on LetsTalk, and $24 on Wirefly and Amazon.

The price slashing comes a couple of weeks after Palm revealed that sales for the Pre and the Pixi were disappointingly sluggish, and that the legendary smartphone maker will miss revenue targets by a sizable margin this quarter. Indeed, at least one analyst thinks Palm has just a little over a year's worth of cash left in its war chest.

Related:
3rd party sites drop Verizon Palm Pre Plus to $39.99 [PreCentral.net]

Yahoo! Tech goes dark, but Gadget Hound, Business Guy live on

Yep, it finally happened; sometime early this morning, Yahoo! Tech went dark, along with thousands of our posts and god knows how many comments. We knew it was coming, but still...it's a bit of a shock to see the site you've been working on for more than three years up and vanish.

But yes, Chris and I will be soon be back, still blogging about tech for Y!; I'm re-posting my (now disappeared) farewell post here, including details on what happens next.

Well, this is it—my last post here on Yahoo! Tech. But don't worry: As we told you before, our site may be going away, but Chris and I aren't going anywhere.
Today, March 11, is the day that our old Yahoo! Tech website is slated to close down. Within a few days or so, we'll be back to blogging about tech, this time on Yahoo! News. Initially, our posts will be going up one at a time, but Chris and I will eventually have a dedicated Tech blog on the News site, just like before.
And in fact, Tech on Yahoo! News will be better than ever. For instance: not only will we still have comments on the new site, they'll actually work ... on a consistent basis, even. No more "Sorry! Your post failed" errors. I swear.
We'll also get the ability to post video and polls, something that just about anyone with a WordPress blog has been able to do since, oh, 2003 or so. Hey—we may be slow, but we get there.
So personally, I'm excited about the move, but there is a little packing that needs to be done.
There are a few technical details that need to be sorted out before our firsts posts on News go up. And while we'll eventually be getting our own (new) RSS feeds and Yahoo! e-mail alert signups, that's probably not going to happen right away.
For now, the best way to follow the Gadget Hound will be via my Twitter feed, or you can check for updates on my personal blog. Or, you can always e-mail me at ytech_patterson@yahoo.com.
In the meantime, I'm sad to say that when the old Yahoo! Tech goes offline today, all of our 4,500-plus old posts will vanish, as well. (They still exist in a database on a Yahoo! server somewhere, and may be republished on News at some point.)
So yeah ... it's a strange day. It's never fun to see a site you worked on go dark.
Thanks again to Chris and the whole Yahoo! Tech team ... and most importantly, to you, the readers (and tireless commenters). You're the ones who give (gave!) this site life, and I hope to see all of you at our new home.
Cheers, 
Ben
Image credit: Flickr, Kyle Slattery  (great photo, by the way)

March 06, 2010

To iPad or not to iPad?

On April 3, the long-awaited iPad will finally arrive in stores, starting at $499 for the Wi-Fi-only 16GB version. But is it worth the cash, given that (at first glance, anyway) it appears to be little more than a jumbo-sized iPhone?

I've decided to go ahead and order one (Apple will begin taking pre-orders on March 12) because...well, I'm a gadget blogger, and that's what I do. But I've got serious reservations about the iPad. There's no multitasking. No built-in camera. No Flash support. No real UI innovation. Existing iPhone apps run in windowed mode or via (crude) line doubling.

On the other hand ... surfing the Web on the iPad will probably be a cool experience, especially when holding the tablet in "portrait" orientation. TV shows and movies should look great on the iPad's 9.7-inch display. The iPad could make for an excellent digital newspaper/magazine platform (although I've yet to see a truly eye-popping demo of an iPad magazine app). And it could be a great gaming device, once gaming developers starting churning out games made specifically for the iPad's larger display.

In any case, I plan on cranking out a review as soon as I get my hands on one of these bad boys. Once that's done, however, I'll have to face another issue: Keep the iPad, or get a refund (minus the 10-percent restocking fee)? That, to my mind, will be the acid test.

February 28, 2010

"Heavy Rain" is brilliant, except for the part when it freezes

Like many a PlayStation 3 gamer this weekend, I'm totally engrossed in the dark, Fincher-esque world of "Heavy Rain," a gripping and surprisingly emotional noir that effectively blurs the line between movies and video games. Indeed, "Heavy Rain" is so absorbing that I often find myself forgetting that yes, I do need to pull the R2 trigger to get my grim-yet-determined gumshoe detective (or the desperate father, resourceful mother, or the tech-savvy FBI agent) walking again.

But there's one issue that keeps ripping me out of the mesmerizing "Heavy Rain" experience, and that's the fact that the game grinds to a screeching halt every so often, locking up so completely that I have to get up and do a hard reset on my PS3. Most notably, it happened in the "Crime Scene" chapter early in the game, after my character wandered a little too far away from the action. The sound kept going, but the screen froze, and not even the PS button could shake things loose; I literally had to press and hold the PS3 power button for a hard reset, losing much of my progress during the chapter in the bargain. And once the console rebooted and the game restarted, it took a good five minutes on the loading screen (which features one of the four main characters in extreme close-up, staring right at you—creepy!) before "Heavy Rain" came back to life.

And that's not the only technical problem I've encountered; screen tearing is rampant, marring the otherwise stellar graphics, and the "loading..." screens regularly take minutes at a time to complete, especially when there's a trophy involved (and yes, this is after I downloaded and installed the recent patch).

The only real tip for dealing with "Heavy Rain" freezing on you is to be patient; as this Joystiq post notes, you may have to wait several minutes for the game to load up a save file after a hard reset. That's too bad, because annoying glitches aside, "Heavy Rain" is shaping up to be one of the best games of the year.

February 27, 2010

Apple: OK, fine, we fixed those glitchy 27-inch iMac displays. Happy now?

Well, it only took four months—yep, months—for Apple to admit something was wrong with its flagship 27-inch iMac displays: namely, that the screens were flickering and had a distinct yellow tint (or "jaundiced," as Gizmodo cleverly put it). Given that Apple typically comes out with a new line of iMacs (either a spec bump or a full-on revamp) every year or so, four months is basically an entire third of a production cycle. Then again, even more of an eyebrow-raiser is the fact that Apple—which has a tendency to dismiss defects altogether—copped to the problem at all.

In any case, Apple says that any 27-inch iMac owners who are still having trouble with their displays can contact AppleCare for help (and as Gizmodo notes, there are indeed still plenty of iMac users saddled with glitchy displays); in the meantime, those of us who were considering buying one of the new jumbo-sized iMacs—myself included—are left to wonder whether we should risk it or wait and see if the kinks have truly been ironed out. My advice: wait a few more weeks, just to be sure.

February 20, 2010

Can OnLive deliver on its promise of "in the cloud" gaming?

The idea behind OnLive is a good one: A hosted, "in the cloud" gaming service (currently in closed beta) that streams high-end, console-quality games (like "Crysis," "Mirror's Edge," and "Burnout Paradise") to cheap, paperback book-sized "micro-consoles" and/or a garden-variety laptops; yes, you'd have to pay a monthly fee, but you wouldn't need any pricey gaming hardware, either. Sounds good, but can the folks behind OnLive (which was first announced almost a year ago) actually pull it off? Which titles will be available at launch? How will the graphics look? What about latency ... any just how much would a subscription cost, anyway? Hopefully, we'll get some answersand perhaps even a firm launch datecome March 10, when OnLive founder Steve Perlman is slated to deliver a keynote at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Stay tuned.

February 12, 2010

Trying out Extensions in Google Chrome for Mac

The beta version of Google's Chrome browser for Mac finally got support for Extensions (which are essentially little widgets you can install onto the Chrome interface), so naturally, I've been spending a good chunk of the afternoon testing one extension after another. So far, I've seen a series of ad blockers, two or three Facebook extensions, several Gmail checkers, and (of course) an extension that keeps track of your extensions ... so no, nothing life-changing yet. Will keep looking. Got any suggestions?

February 11, 2010

Good news: Original Xbox DLC is back online, will be there 'till the bitter end

So tweets Xbox Live's Major Nelson, and that's great news for those of us who'd wanted one last chance to play Halo 2 and other original Xbox games online but couldn't because we were missing one or more chunks of mandatory DLC.

As you may recall, Microsoft recently announced that it will pull the plug on Xbox Live support for the original Xbox on April 15;  however, many gamers (myself included) were surprised to discover that the DLC for old games like Halo 2 had been pulled early -- and without the right DLC, some titles (like, you known Halo 2) won't let you engage in any online multiplayer mayhem. But now that original Xbox DLC is back on Live, there's still a chance for those of us who zapped our old Xbox DLC to relive the old days before ... The End.

February 09, 2010

The "Mass Effect 2" endgame: spectacular

Wasn't I just griping about how tedious it is to mine planets in the new "Mass Effect"? Well, yeah, but having just completed my first play-through of "ME2," all is forgiven. I won't spoil anything here, I promise, but the end of the game is truly spectacular, worthy of (if not superior to) any Hollywood blockbuster.

I also love the fact that my ME2 ending may well be radically different from yours, depending on your choices throughout the game: which upgrades you opted for, the teammates whose loyalty you earned (or didn't), and whether you played the game as a paragon of virtue or a ruthless renegade. Indeed, I've already started a new play-through as a bad-ass female Shepard in the hopes of having a very different experience the second time around.

In any case, kudos to the entire BioWare team for a job well done (on top of the superb "Dragon Age: Origins" from last November, as well). "Mass Effect 3" can't come soon enough.

Yahoo! Tech, R.I.P.

A sad day, but don't worry -- as Chris Null wrote earlier today, our blogs will live on over at the Yahoo! News technology page. I'm looking forward to the new venue, but still ... it's never fun to see a site that you spent years working on go dark. In any case, Chris and I will continue blogging on Yahoo! Tech until March 11, with our blogs making the leap to Y! News once any necessary back-end work is complete.

February 08, 2010

Planet mining in "Mass Effect 2" is a crashing bore

We're just a little more than a month into 2010, yet we already have one of the best games of the year in "Mass Effect 2," the sequel to 2007's RPG smash that managed to improve on the original in practically every way ... save the part where you have to mine planets for resources that let you upgrade your weapons, armor, and other technology aboard the Normandy.

Mining a planet involves little more than guiding a smallish, circular reticule over the planet surface and pulling the right trigger whenever your sensors start to twitch ... a tedious, mind-numbing chore, especially when you consider that it can take up to 20 "probes" to strip-mine a planet completely. Fun it ain't.

Luckily, I found a few short cuts. The Mass Effect 2 wiki has a convenient guide to all the planets in the game, listing which resources are found where; even better, here's a list of the five top planets to mine. Last but not least, check out these four essential tips for making planet mining a bit easier (tip no. 4: bribe neighborhood kids to mine planets for you).

Meanwhile, well...you'll have to excuse me; I've got a suicide mission to finish.

February 07, 2010

A few changes, under the hood

Yes indeed, It may not look like it, but this blog has undergone some fairly radical changes over the past couple of days, especially in the wake of Google's announcement that Blogger will no longer support FTP come March.

Yahoo! Small Business used to be the Web host around here, but that's all over now; BlogSpot has taken over, although Yahoo! is still hosting my domain (with a little help from Melbourne IT). It was a move of necessity given that Blogger is cutting off FTP support (too much effort for too few users, apparently), but now that the work's all done, I'm pretty happy with the result. The site publishes posts and edits much more quickly, and the new Blogger page-layout tool (well, new to me, anyway) means I can tinker with widgets, columns, colors, and fonts without having to dig into the nitty-gritty of code. I wish Blogger had a few more blog templates to choose from, but hey ... I'll live.

Anyway, that's the scoop on the "new" site, although I have to admit: annoying though it was sometimes, I'll miss the old-school ways of FTP. Ah, the good ol' days ...

Update: Well, I couldn't help it; after more Google searches than I care to remember, I've settled on a new template. Now all we need are some new blog posts to go with the revamped layout.

February 06, 2010

Testing, testing...

Don't be alarmed; this is just a test. No big thing, just cracking open the hood here.

Just want to test out the line spacing. It's been a little wonky on previous posts, and I'm trying to see what's what.

This is only a test.