New Electronic 6-7-12

We’ve all been there: halfway through the work day, the battery indicator on your smartphone switches to red, and you find yourself nervously looking for a power outlet.

Samsung Electronics hopes to alleviate the battery issue a bit–at least for most customers. The company has set a goal that smartphones coming out this year can last all day under average to moderately heavy use, according to Kevin Packingham, vice president of product innovation at Samsung.

“When you wake up to when you go to bed, we don’t want you feeling anxiety about your battery life,” he said in an interview at CES.

While smartphones are packing more and more features, the one thing that’s only gotten worse is the battery life on these devices. The problem is exacerbated by bigger screens, faster processors, and 4G LTE, which has proven to be a major drain.

It’s a problem that has plagued the entire industry. Motorola Mobility, for instance, recently announced the Droid Razr Maxx, a slightly bulkier version of the Droid Razr packing a significantly larger battery.

Samsung will also move to bigger batteries, Packingham said. But the company will work to better optimize different aspects of the phone, from the way it acts when it searches for Wi-Fi, to how often it powers up the 4G LTE radio. He added that the wider prevalence of the Verizon LTE network means the phone doesn’t have to constantly search for a connection, which draws a bit of power.

The Charge, which was Samsung’s first LTE phone for Verizon Wireless, was a good test bed for the company, Packingham said, but the company can do better. He acknowledged Samsung “wasn’t quite there yet,” in regard to improvements on power efficiency, but noted there has been progress.

Despite the potential improvements, he said power users are always going to face this dilemma. Many, however, have gotten accustomed to packing chargers, extra batteries, and the practice of looking for outlets.

Last year was a strong one for Samsung, having taken the top spot from Apple in smartphone shipments and sales, thanks in part to its Galaxy S II flagship phone. Packingham called 2011 a transitional year, particularly with the new technologies like the implementation of different chips and 4G LTE. This year, Samsung’s phones will have the polish and finish expected from the company, he said.

Presumably, that also means battery life too.


As more professionals take their desks on the road, mobile workstations are increasingly in need of portable scanners like the DS-30 that draw power from a laptop’s USB port, meaning users don’t need to lug around another bulky power cord.

In terms of design, the DS-30 isn’t winning any beauty contests and certainly doesn’t sound as adorable as the similarly featured Doxie Go, but it weighs just 11.5 ounces and looks easy enough to slip in a bag or briefcase.

It also comes bundled with Epson’s Document Capture Pro software that opens up multiple destination options to save your documents, including one-touch uploads to the cloud using Web apps like Google Docs, Evernote, and SharePoint.

It’ll also scan smaller media such as business cards and placards with work-related features like autocorrection, punch hole removal, and text enhancement, but it can’t compete with the Doxie’s social features–the comprehensive (and cheaper) Doxie Go automatically generates a URL of your document for easy sharing through social networks, and the picture sensor does the work for you by dropping it into your Flickr and Picnik accounts.

Regardless, the Epson WorkForce DS-30 portable scanner benefits from Epson’s experience in the field, and I wouldn’t hesitate to make use of the 600dpi sensor for scanning receipts, business cards, meeting notes, and other professional documents.

The Epson WorkForce DS-30 will be available in March for $179.


Sportiiiis gets in your face when you’re being lazy

When it comes to working out, we all need a little extra motivation at times, and the Sportiiiis takes care of that by getting in your face (literally) and telling you to step up your game.

The Sportiiiis is a heads-up display that you can attach to any pair of sunglasses to give you visual and audio cues about your workout performance. There are actually two components to the device. The first is a software client for your computer and/or mobile device through which you set your target heart rate, cadence, and pace. You can then transfer this information (via USB) to the second part of the Sportiiiis, a small accessory that features a multicolored LED boom.

With your workout goals stored, the boom can communicate with any of your ANT+ devices, such as heart rate monitors, foot pods, and bike sensors, as you’re training to see if you’re meeting your targets. If you’re taking it too easy or going too hard, it will alert you with a blinking red light. If you’re on target, it lights up green, and if you’re somewhere in the middle, it blinks yellow.

In addition to the visual cues, the Sportiiiis also delivers audio prompts to update on your performance, and you can cycle through the stats–heart rate, cadence, and pace–by double-tapping the side of the device.

The Sportiiiis is available for preorder now and costs $199. According to 4iiii, the device will start shipping at the end of January.

New Electronics 5-10-12

Humans can be such terrible drivers. We’re checking text messages, drinking coffee, and doing needlepoint behind the wheel (yes, I saw that happen!). Advanced driver assistance systems are trying to save us from our folly.

Mobileye creates these high-tech systems. I was able to plug into a simulator at CES to check out the new 5-Series.

The 5-Series handles a lot of the multitasking people are so bad at. It watches for pedestrians, looks out for bicyclists, checks that you’re in your lane, and even reads speed limit signs with a front window-mounted camera.

The 560 kit includes the round visual alert indicator. (Click to enlarge.)

The simulator was great about scolding me with beeps for wandering out of my lane and getting up too close on the butt of the car in front of me. The round visual alert indicator was especially helpful, giving feedback on how many seconds away the next car was.

The 5-Series doesn’t give you a license to do your makeup in the rear-view mirror, though.

Even with a smart camera, proprietary algorithms, and a microprocessor looking out for you, you will still only have two to three seconds to respond to an emergency situation. Those few seconds can make the difference between a crash and a close call.

The Mobileye app for Android is already out, with the iOS version just waiting for Apple approval. The app connects with the system to log your driving habits and give you alerts while you’re on the road.

The Mobileye system comes in two flavors. The 550 is $749 and the 560 with the visual warning device is $849. You’ll need professional installation if you want to hook up the automatic high-beam controls.

New Electronics 5-3-12

LAS VEGAS–Looks like Siri was just the beginning.

Okay, even Siri wasn’t the beginning. The ability to do voice-command isn’t particularly new, but the marquee feature for Apple’siPhone 4S has gotten the masses to recognize and appreciate its benefits. For the first time, voice-command was a feature people talked about and coveted.

AtCES, there were better implementations and voice-commands popping up on different devices. Big-name companies got into the mix. Dieter Zetsche, head of Mercedes Benz, said voice would play a major role in its cars, calling them a driver’s “digital companion.” Ultrabooks will eventually be getting speech recognition built in. Manufacturers from Samsung Electronics to Lenovo are integrating the feature into their high-end televisions.

Indeed, using speech to control a TV was a major trend of the show. Vlingo, which makes a virtual speech assistant for smartphones, announced its “Vlingo for Smarter TVs” software, which it plans to embed into televisions and set-top box. Nuance likewise announced its Dragon TV platform, which is believed to be powering the new voice-and-gesture-controlled Samsung TVs.

But this is just the beginning. The voice-recognition companies are looking to get the feature in every electronic device. They also want to get to the point where these virtual assistants follow you from device to device in a consistent manner, so your preferences move where you move.

“Everything you see in ‘Star Trek’–it’s going to be real,” said Matt Revis, vice president of product management for Nuance’s mobile division.

For that to happen, and for consumers to truly gravitate to speech, there still needs to be more education out in the market.

“For two and a half years, we’ve shipped various products that were equivalent or better than Siri, but a start-up is hard to make a market,” said Vlingo CEO Dave Grannan. “People really don’t know what they need, they need to be shown.”

Nuance has agreed to acquire Vlingo in a deal that is expected to close later this year.

Natural dialogue the key

While voice commands have long been used by various industries, including automated help lines and older cell phones, Siri brought attention to an advancement of voice-recognition: the ability to understand our natural language and respond in kind, so Siri really does seem like a person. That’s managed to turn it from a utilitarian tool to something you want to use.

“Speech initially was used because it was more convenient,” Revis said. “But Siri is fun. You’re engaged.”

Over the past few years, there have been huge advancements in voice recognition. Vlingo, for instance, has done a lot of work in improving the artificial intelligence and natural understanding, Grannan said. You can say, “I want to get wasted” and have its program find you local bars, he added.

Vlingo’s TV service allows for voice commands to work like a dialogue. Make a request, and it will ask a question back to narrow down your choices. There’s a back and forth that continues until the user finds what he is looking for.

The company is working with one smart-TV manufacturer, and one European cable provider, Grannan said, adding he expects products to come out by the end of 2012.

The various companies say that given the intense processing power required for AI, basing the services on the cloud is key. While the microphone picks up your comment on your phone,car, or TV, much of the heavy lifting occurs on the back-end at Nuance, Vlingo, or Apple’s servers.

Beyond just a remote control That cloud will enable these companies to put voice recognition on just about any connected device. Revis said he envisions every electronic device being able to run these features, and it appears we’re pretty close to it. Samsung, for instance, showed off several connected appliances including refrigerators and washers that could easily integrate a Siri-like capability down the line. Likewise, it has opened up its smart TVs to developers in the hopes they better take advantage of the gesture and voice controls.

“There are a lot of user scenarios you can dream up,” said Joe Stinziano, senior VP of home entertainment marketing for Samsung. “We’re opening it up to a developer community that has proven it can be more creative than the original manufacturer.” One such scenario involves asking the refrigerator about milk, and having the appliance detect via barcode scanner whether there is any left, or to set a reminder about buying more milk later on, Grannan said. Large tech companies such as Sony, Samsung, or Apple are at an advantage because they make so many of the products that consumers use. The large Asian conglomerates, for example, making smartphones, PCs, appliances, and even home heating and cooling systems, could all integrate voice. Nuance, meanwhile, is hoping to get voice commands in more apps. The company has released a software development kit to allow other programmers to integrate its service into their own apps. Revis noted that Amazon Price Checker and Merriam-Webster Dictionary apps used its technology. As for the further proliferation of voice commands in more products? We’re probably still a little away from barking orders at our microwave. “I think we’ll see a couple of iterations and won’t see mainstream until the end of 2013,” Grannan said.

New Electronics 4-19-12

MakerBot Replicator 3D printer beams in MakerBot summons the MakerBot Replicator 3D printer, which allows for a two-color print of large 3D objects.

LAS VEGAS–It was only a matter of time before a 3D printer manufacturer latched on to “Star Trek’s” famous make-anything device.   Expanding its product portfolio, MakerBot Industries today unveils the

MakerBot Replicator, one of, if not the, first with the ability to print objects made from two different colors.  The Replicator starts at $1,799 for a model with a single extruder, and $1,999 for the dual-extruder attachment, which allows for two-color-printing (or Dualstrusion, according to MakerBot Industries).

This new model, a follow-up to MakerBot’s Thing-O-Matic printer, is unique for MakerBot in that it comes pre-assembled. Previous MakerBot products required user-assembly. MakerBot also boasts and increase in the size of printed objects for the Replicator. The Thing-O-Matic topped out at 5x5x6-inch objects. The Replicator will print objects as large as 8.9 inches by 5.7 inches by 5.9 inches. Along with the Replicator, MakerBot has also announced a revamp of its Thingiverse 3D design-sharing site. Thingiverse is host to over 15,000 project plans, all freely available for download. MakerBot says it updated the site to allow for easier plan uploading. MakerBot is already taking preorders for the Replicator, and estimates a six-week lead time.

New Electronics 4-12-12

LAS VEGAS–Tiny projectors might soon be a standard feature on smartphones, but until that happens there’s the LightPad.

The LightPad is a pico projector mixed with a keyboard and trackpad. You plug in your phone and it beams out whatever is on the screen to a nearby wall. But its main feature is that you can flip up the lid and turn it into a laptop of sorts, with software that adds a virtual mouse.

Read more:

New Electronics 3-29-12

iBike  fitness tool puts trainer on your handlebars

LAS VEGAS–A woman is pedaling leisurely on a stationary bike, her thick, dark braid draped delicately over one shoulder as she barely breaks a sweat. Someone whispers that she’s Brazilian, and thus a real, live example of what you get with one of Velocomp’s new workouts, Brazilian Butt. (Using a real, live Brazilian who presumably has said butt sans effort rather defeats the point, but I digress.)

The $269 iBike Powerhouse features workouts such as Brazilian Butt and KidFit. (Credit: Corinne Schulze/CNET) Velocomp, creators of last year’s iBike Dash, unveiled the iBike Powerhouse at CES this week–the Dash’s bigger, badder cousin.

For $269, the handlebar-mounted cycling computer that includes a water- and shock-resistant case and syncs with theiPhone andiPod Touch is all about tailored workouts that remind you when you’re slacking off.

In addition to Brazilian Butt (yes, this six-week fitness plan is all about toning one’s gluteus maximus), the Powerhouse features Weekend Warrior (for those who need to cram it all into the weekends), ExpressFit (for those who don’t mind working harder to get faster results), Heart Healthy (more cardio, less strain), KidFit (replete with safety lessons and rewards for frequent or lengthy rides), and more.

The sensored case is water- and shock-resistant with a universal mount.

After selecting a goal, the rider gears up, plugs an iPhone or iPod into the sensored Powerhouse case, and is guided through the regimen via continuous status reports, notes of encouragement, the rider’s preferred music, and levels of exertion.

Designed by renowned cyclist and coach Hunter Allen, each fitness plan takes anywhere from four to six weeks, with each ride lasting 45 to 90 minutes. Powerhouse is pretty clearly built for starter or leisure cyclists with a little extra spending money; it is essentially teaching riders how to approach a session the way their colorfully spandexed brethren already do.

Specs include the universal mounting case, a wireless cadence sensor, an app that interacts with iBike’s electronics, and the ability to take calls or listen to music throughout the workout. Users can buy additional workouts for $9.99 each.

Cheap sensors enabling new smartphone fitness gadgets 3-22-12

LAS VEGAS–Later this month, runners will be able to pop a set of earbuds into their noggins and do a whole lot more than rock out to their favorite songs.

The new earbuds will monitor a range of biometric data, including heart rate and VO2 max, a key fitness measure for performance athletes, and shoot that information off to their smartphones.

The sensor chips were developed by Valencell, a Raleigh, N.C., startup. It’s licensing the technology to earbud makers and the first set will debut later this month, said Valencell founder and chief executive Steven LeBoeuf at the Consumer Electronics Show here. A second earbud maker will launch a model by spring. LeBoeuf declined to name the manufacturers, citing nondisclosure agreements. (A Valencell spokeswoman later corrected LeBoeuf, saying that the company doesn’t control the launch dates of partners’ products, and noted that the earbuds using the technology are expected in the third quarter of the year.)

Turns out, the ear is one of the best places to collect biometric data. Valencell’s technology has been validated by Duke University’s Center for Living, according to the company.

“There are only two places (to accurately monitor biometrics), the ear and the rear. And I don’t really want to make butt plugs,” LeBoeuf said.

Valencell is just one of several tech firms showing health and fitness gadgets here that are taking advantage of breakthroughs in both sensor technology and smartphone connectivity. Sensors get ever smaller and less expensive, lowering barriers to putting them in all sorts of devices. And the ability to connect to aniPhone orAndroid device means that gadget makers no longer need to build screens into devices, reducing their costs and complexity. That’s unleashed a batch of new devices that work with mobile phones consumers already own.

“A lot of it is driven around this,” said Travis Bogard, vice president of product management at Jawbone, holding up his iPhone.

Late last year, the company launched Up, a fitness wristband that has sensors that connect to an iPhone app. Flaws in a battery recently forced Jawbone to halt production of Up, though the company expects to bring the $99 gizmo back to market when product testing is complete. Bogard declined to say when he thought that happen.

The company, which also makes Bluetooth headsets and a wireless speaker, jumped into the fitness market as the technology made it possible to track movements and sleep patterns and shoot that data to a mobile device.

“Five years ago, if we tried to build this, I would have had to put a display on it,” Bogard said.

Glucose monitoring maker Dexcom is working on putting Ant+, a sports data transfer technology, into its Seven Plus continuous glucose monitor. Cyclists, for example, use Ant+ to grab data from a power meter on a cyclometer.

The Seven Plus monitor, a sensor on a patch that attaches to the abdomen, will go into trials later this year. It uses Ant+ to connect to phones such as the HTC Rhyme to let diabetics continuously check their blood sugar levels throughout the day.

That’s important, because swings in blood sugar levels can be dangerous. What’s more, the device should simplify life for diabetics, who now carry insulin pumps and glucose monitor in addition to their mobile phones.

“Pretty soon, they’re out of pockets,” Jorge Valdes, Dexcom’s chief technical officer, said on theCES show floor.

Ant+, in fact, is developing into a platform for wirelessly connecting health and fitness sensors to gadgets that can read the data. That’s led big companies such as Garmin as well as start-ups such as Wahoo Fitness to develop dongles that attach to iPhones to capture Ant+ data. That way, runners and cyclists can see check their heart rate, speed, and other data on their phones.

Adidas recently launched its miCoach Speed_Cell, a foot pod that can track motion in every direction, unlike Nike+ gadgets. That’s useful for soccer and basketball players, for example, who often backpedal or pivot from side to side. The data wirelessly transfers to smartphones, tablets, and computers–no cables needed. And it stores seven hours of data.

“The cool thing is, it’s all you need,” said Christian DiBenedetto, senior innovation director for the Adidas innovation team.

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