Sony is making a bet that it can succeed where others have failed -- TVs strapped to your head.
The Japanese consumer electronics giant has begun selling the Sony HMZ-T1 Personal 3D Viewer, a viewfinder-looking gadget that sells for $799.99 and will arrive to retailers next week.
The HMZ-T1 is the product of a prototype head-mounted personal 3-D TV shown off at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January. When I first saw the prototype at CES, visions of Cyclops from the X-Men and Geordi La Forge from Star Trek were the first things that popped into my mind.
Quickly after that, I thought of the many failed attempts to sell consumers personal TVs and 3-D viewers over the years. Much of the mainstream has not shown a want or need for something like Nintendo's Virtual Boy.
On Thursday, Sony spokesman Aaron Levine stopped by the Los Angeles Times to give us a bit of hands-on time with the HMZ-T1.
I tried it out for about 20 minutes and I was surprised at how much I actually enjoyed watching a 3-D trailer for the new "Amazing Spider-Man" movie (the trailer was on a Blu-ray disc) and playing Gran Turismo 5 in 3-D on the PlayStation 3 into which the headset was plugged.
Frankly, the idea of having a small TV set in front of my eyes was one I thought I wouldn't enjoy at all. But, in my brief time with the TMZ-1, the experience was novel, enjoyable and not bothersome as I expected. The picture was clear, the 3-D was crisp and colors were bright. I'm not a big fan of 3-D TVs -- the glasses can be uncomfortable and the picture often looks dim. So far, this was a different experience altogether.
A few colleagues who also gave the headset a shot weren't as impressed and described a slight feeling of "car sickness" from playing Gran Turismo with the headset on. This isn't a product for everyone based on experience alone, not to mention that $800 price tag.
I'll have to reserve any final judgments on the HMZ-T1 before Sony sends over a review unit and I can put the device through its paces, watch a full-length film or two and play more PlayStation games.
It should be noted though, that the HMZ-T1 can display 2-D and 3-D video in 720p high-definition and features two tiny 0.7-inch OLED screens (one for each eye) and a set of headphones pumping audio in 5.1 surround sound into your ears.
Sony formally launched the HMZ-T1 on Thursday, just before Levine stopped by The Times, not at one of its Sony Style stores but at a local Southern California retailer, Video and Audio Center, in Lawndale.
Video and Audio Center spokesman Tom Campbell said it spawned a line of more than 100 "looky loos and early adopters."
Neither Sony officials nor Campbell would say just how many of the headsets have been sold so far, but the first HMZ-T1 did sell at Video and Audio Center on Thursday.
Sony wouldn't leave the HMZ-T1 with us, but a review unit is coming soon, so stay tuned into the Technology blog for a deeper look at the Personal 3D Viewer.
Until then, feel free to sound off in the comments and share your impressions so far.
Do you think this is the type of product that will ever catch on with consumers? Is $800 a fair price for a such a new device? Would you be willing to try and watch TV, a movie or play video games on such a headset, particularly for an extended period of time?
The Amaze 4G, HTC's latest flagship Android smartphone, picks up where the HTC Sensation left off and in the process takes a few steps forward and a couple steps back.
The Amaze, available on T-Mobile, carries over the 4.3-inch touchscreen seen on the Sensation and Sensation XE. But a number of specs have been bumped up in the Amaze, taking what the Sensation 4G did right and offering a snappier, more responsive experience overall.
The Sensation offered 768 megabytes of RAM; the Amaze has a healthy 1 gigabyte of RAM.
The Sensation had a VGA-quality camera on the front; the Amaze has an awesome 2-megapixel camera up front for video chats. Both offer fantastic 8-megapixel cameras on the back of the handsets, with dual LED flashes, each capable of shooting video in 1080p high definition.
The Sensation had a 1.2-gigahertz dual-core processor and the Amaze has a 1.5-gigahertz dual-core processor. Both the Sensation and the Amaze run on T-Mobile's 4G network.
In my testing and daily use of the phone, this combination of improved hardware and 4G speeds did result in faster-loading web pages, quicker-loading apps and emails being sent and received. The Amaze does feel faster than many phones. Not quite Galaxy S II or Droid Bionic fast, but faster than previous HTC phones I've tested.
The Amaze also gains the the fantastic camera features first found in the T-Mobile MyTouch 4G Slide (built by HTC), such as a night shooting mode, action mode for photographing fast-moving objects, a ClearShot HDR mode for pictures taken in bright daytime environments without blowing out lighter colors, a macro mode for snapping detailed images at very close range, and a SweepShot which allows for easily snapping panorama shots.
The Amaze also uses premium-feeling materials on the Amaze, as it did on the Sensation. The rear cover of the phone features an aluminum chassis that houses a plastic coated in a material that reminded me of a matte ceramic in both look and touch. It wasn't quite something I had seen on any smartphone before and while it wasn't grippy per se, it wasn't slick either and made the phone quite pleasant to hold.
All of this fits in with HTC's formula of incremental spec upgrades with each new top-end handset release. And smartphone releases for HTC do come often. It feels sometimes as though HTC is releasing a new smartphone or two just about each month.
But there are a few detracting factors here as well. First off is the price. At $259.99 on a two-year contract, I believe the HTC Amaze is about $60 too expensive.
Many of the specs match or are competitive with those found by other high-end rivals such as the Samsung Galaxy S II (also available on T-Mobile), the Motorola Droid Bionic and even the iPhone 4S. However, when many phones the Amaze is lining up against sell at starting prices of about $200, I question why the Amaze costs more.
Granted, $60 is not all that much, and the Bionic launched at a $300 price, the upcoming Droid Razr will do the same as well. Nonetheless, it feels as though phone makers across carriers are doing what they can to up the entry-level price on smartphones and I'm not seeing a lot of new blockbuster features on any of these handsets to justify the price increases we're seeing.
Battery life on the Amaze 4G isn't great. I got a range of about four to five hours with a mix of occasional web, email and app use before I was looking for an outlet. That being said, I haven't seen battery life on any 4G phones from any company on any carrier that I've been satisfied with at this point. For now, taking on a 4G phone means a battery-life trade off.
The Amaze also got a bit thicker and heavier than the Sensation, which might come with the addition of hardware to get it running on HTC's 4G network, but nonetheless the difference is noticeable here as many new phones are continuing to get thinner and lighter.
The Sensation was 0.44 of an inch thick and weighed 5.22 ounces. The Amaze is 0.46 of an inch thick and weighs 6.1 ounces.
There's also HTC Sense -- HTC's user interface skin overlaying Google's Android Gingerbread operating system. HTC Sense is still one of the nicer third-party skins out there. But with the new Android Ice Cream Sandwich operating system on the way from Google, and the improved Gingerbread UI skin seen on the Samsung Galaxy S II, the HTC Sense on the Amaze left me wondering how HTC will improve on what they've already got.
Simply put, HTC Sense isn't as far ahead of competitors as it once was. Yes, the user experience is faster on the Amaze than it was on the Sensation, so many previous HTC phones (I'm looking at you HTC Hero circa 2009) and tablets. With the software experience feeling the same and looking the same, HTC Sense is starting to feel a bit old.
The rivals aren't getting any softer either, with Samsung's Galaxy Nexus running Ice Cream Sandwich and the Droid Razr launching sometime next month. In such a crowded field, the Amaze is a solid smartphone that I believe has a hard time standing out in the crowd.
[Updated Oct. 30 1:45 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the HTC Sensation ran on T-Mobile's 3G Network. The Sensation runs primarily on T-Mobile's 4G and uses the carrier's 3G network when 4G service is unavailable.]
Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Phone operating system has been playing catch-up to Google's Android and Apple's iOS ever since it launched on smartphones about a year ago.
And with Windows Phone 7.5, also known as Mango, being the first major update to Microsoft's mobile OS since its launch, that still hasn't changed. What also hasn't changed is that Windows Phone is one of the easiest-to-use smartphone operating systems on the market and a great entry point for those looking to get their first smartphone.
Mango adds 500 new features to Windows Phone but the look and feel of the software is pretty much exactly the same. The "live tiles" and "Metro" user interface remain in place and for good reason -- the look is an attractive one that even at a year old still feels new.
Yet at this point, despite the Mango update, Windows Phone in my opinion doesn't feel like it will rival Android or iOS for market share anytime soon. Microsoft's rivals continue to add polish and pull further ahead with Apple's iOS 5 being my favorite of the pack currently and the promising Android Ice Cream Sandwich on the way.
But Windows Phone 7.5 is a big improvement over 7.0 and with RIM continuing to struggle with its own BlackBerry mobile platform, it seems Microsoft has an opportunity to snag the No. 3 spot in the smartphone wars -- especially with new Nokia, Samsung and HTC handsets planned.
Some of Mango's most outstanding new features follow in the footsteps of what's been available on other platforms for some time.
Multitasking on Mango is easy and fun.
Windows Phone handsets have three buttons sitting below their touchscreens -- a back button to the left (indicated by a back arrow), a home button (which is a Windows logo) in the center and a search button (a magnifying glass icon) to the right.
Hold down the back button and whatever window you're in shrinks to sit in a row of screenshots of other apps running in the background. You can scroll between the window panes to see what's running and tap on the pane you want to launch into that app.
Want to see what this looks like? Check out our video demonstration below.
The whole scheme is visually appealing and multitasking on Mango achieves the same goal as multitasking in Android or iOS, but the whole thing is pulled off in a unique style. It's refreshing to see Microsoft do this, and many other things, without feeling like it's a copy of its rivals.
Maps gain a feature called Local Scout which, whenever you let the Maps app know your current location, quickly serves up suggestions on what's nearby for eating and drinking, seeing and doing, shopping at and other highlights. Essentially, Local Scout adds a Yelp-like feature to Maps that works well and can aid in discovering new places and things in an unfamiliar location.
Local Scout also offers ratings and even suggests helpful apps that might be related to whatever the location is that you're checking out -- such as Foursquare, Foodspotting or transit-related apps.
The app suggestions, which Microsoft calls App Connect, also show up outside of Local Scout and in other spots such as the phone's built-in Bing search app. When you search in Bing, expected search results are returned, but a list of suggested Apps come up too. For example, if you're searching for something related to a breaking news story, a list of news apps might show up.
Bing search overall is improved as well.
Users can search by voice, text and images such as bar codes, QR codes, or the covers of CDs, DVDs and books. Local Scout is built into Bing and there's also a song-recognition feature too.
Altogether, Bing on Mango offers one of the most satisfying search apps on any smartphone I've tested.
Mango also does a great job of integrating social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn into the OS. This isn't a new idea either -- iOS integrates Twitter, and Android has long done the same for Facebook and Twitter and soon Google+. But again, the way Microsoft does this is impressive.
Inside of Mango's People app (Microsoft likes to call it the "People hub"), users can get an overview of what all of their friends across those social networks are up to in one place -- status updates, shared links, photos and other shared items.
And users can now also create groups inside of the People app, such as friends, family, co-workers, college buddies -- anything you can imagine. And you can call your groups whatever you want -- I called my friends' group "homies."
However, despite all of the fantastic improvements in Mango that will surely make existing Windows Phone users happy, I don't believe Microsoft has a "killer app" or one significant attraction that would pull droves of consumers toward a Mango phone over an Android or an iPhone.
When Windows Phone launched a year ago, Microsoft marketed the software on its ease of use and simple look that the live tiles offered with data being pushed to the tiles without even having to launch an app. And while that is a differentiating factor, Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer has admitted that the company hasn't seen the level of sales it was looking for.
What Microsoft has shown is that it now takes the mobile space seriously and Mango is a big step in becoming more competitive. But Windows Phone has a lot of ground to make up. So, here's an unsolicited thought: Go after mobile gaming with Windows Phone.
Ever since Windows Phone launched, gaming has been disappointing compared to what's available on Android and iOS. Sure, users can see their Xbox Live avatar on the Windows Phone and, yup, Angry Birds and other fun titles are there too. Still, many games aren't up to the impressive standard that the Xbox name brings along.
Here's a testament to Apple's leadership in smartphone gaming: Epic Games, which produces one of the top gaming franchises on Microsoft's Xbox 360 in the Gears of War trilogy, also produces one of iOS's top-selling game series in Infinity Blade. When Apple announced the iPhone 4S, Mike Capps, president of Epic Games, was at the event and introduced a new Infinity Blade game.
We've seen the studies that say gaming is among the most popular category of apps being sold on smartphones. Nokia, Samsung and HTC are all promising to bring better hardware to Windows Phone and game developers are looking to make more mobile games in response to this growing market. All the pieces of the puzzle are there.
If Microsoft really wants to start selling a large number of smartphones, making Xbox Live gaming the "killer app" of Windows Phone might be the answer.
Apple's iOS mobile operating system changed the definition of what a smartphone could be when it launched in 2007 on the first-generation iPhone.
Each year since, we've seen the release of a new, more capable iPhone and annual updates to iOS that add new features for Apple's competitors to follow and features that allow iOS to catch up to its rivals too.
This week, with the release of the iPhone 4S, came the release of iOS 5 to the iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 and first-generation iPad and iPad 2. And again, iOS plays a bit of catch-up with features while adding a lot of newness as well.
In all, Apple says there are more than 200 new features in iOS 5. I won't go over all them here as I haven't yet found all 200 for myself. However, the conclusion I've arrived at after days of testing iOS 5 is that this is the best and most complete version of iOS 5 to date.
Since iOS' initial release five years ago, iOS has been tweaked and improved and now has an answer for nearly every complaint I have for it. That's not to say that I don't have gripes with iOS 5 -- I do. But my complaints are now mostly limited to simply getting the operating system installed on my device -- something that shouldn't be a problem for those not rushing to install iOS 5 on day one.
In the video below, my colleague Michelle Maltais and I talk about what a buggy and cumbersome pain it was to install iOS 5 and even get iCloud up an running this week.
We also offer our take on some of the more prominent features in iOS 5 such as new multi-touch gestures, a notification center (finally), Twitter integration, the new Newsstand app folder, iMessage (Apple's answer to BBM) and handy location-based Reminders.
One item not covered in our video review is the number of improvements made to iOS' version of the Safari browser. The update to iOS 5 brings tabbed browsing and integration with Safari on your laptop or desktop for bookmarks and reading list. These additions make Safari much more useful by syncing across devices and pull a bit ahead of Android's browser with the addition of reading list integration, while catching up with tabbed browsing -- something Android has offered for a while now.
There are also a few features offered in iOS 5 we haven't had the chance to test out that we'll return to at a later date -- such as the Siri voice-command personal assistant app found only on the iPhone 4S and iTunes Match, a $25-per-year service (set to debut in October) that replicates an iTunes users' entire music collection, including songs not purchased from iTunes, in the cloud.
But even without Siri and without iTunes Match yet available, my opinion is that iOS 5 is the most polished and intuitive mobile operating system on the market today. I'd rank it above any version of Google's Android released thus far and Microsoft's Windows Phone software too.
I'm still delving into Windows Phone Mango and we'll have a detailed review into Mango on the Technology blog soon (maybe I'll change my tune in iOS taking the top spot by the time that's done with). And Google is set to release its all-new Android Ice Cream Sandwich OS next week. So while Apple may be on top with iOS 5, the competition will only getting tougher ahead.
Feel free to sound off on iOS 5 in the comments below.
In the wake of Steve Jobs' death, many are wondering what exactly a future without Steve Jobs will mean for Apple, the technology industry, music, movies, TV, mobile phones and tablets.
Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik and I discussed just that, as well as Jobs' legacy and his treatment in death, which has so far been akin to the passing of a famous rock star or Hollywood headliner who died too soon. Jobs was 56 years old when he died.
Take a look at the video below to hear our thoughts, and feel free to share yours in the comments below.
Photo: Steve Jobs stands in front of an old photo of himself, right in photo, and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, left, during his keynote address at the 2006 Macworld conference. Credit: Los Angeles Times
Vizio, the Irvine-based consumer electronics company, made a name for itself by selling its own line of high-definition TVs that offered a level of quality above its lower-end price range.
And at not yet quite a decade old, Vizio is not just about TVs, but also headphones, Blu-ray players, soundbars and surround sound speaker systems.
Its biggest gamble yet, however, might be its entry into the tablet market with its not too creatively named Vizio Tablet.
Like most Vizio products, the Vizio Tablet is an attempt to mix and match high-end and low-end features at a reasonable price that might attract shoppers on Amazon.com and in Wal-Mart, Target, Sam's Club and Costco stores. That also means there is a variance in price for the Vizio Tablet, which can sell for about $250 to about $300 depending on where you buy it.
So, how does this 8-inch-screen tablet, featuring 2 gigabytes of built-in storage and a single-core processor, stack up against what else is out there (and what's on the way) in the tablet world? Take a look at the video below to find out...
The crowd-funding website Kickstarter has given rise to a number of interesting projects since its founding in 2009. One effort in particular caught my eye a few months ago, after my father suggested I take a look: the Kogeto Dot.
So what exactly is a Dot? It's a plastic lens attachment for Apple's iPhone 4 that allows users to capture video in a 360-degree panoramic shot. Once captured, the video is processed by an app from Kogeto, the New York-based maker of the Dot, called Looker and then is fully navigable upon playback (i.e., you can move your finger around on the iPhone's touchscreen, and as the video is playing, the video moves up, down, side-to-side in response. If you're watching a Dot-shot video uploaded to Kogeto's website, you can move your mouse or trackpad to move the video in the same way.
From the Looker app, Dot users can upload their videos to the aforementioned Kogeto website as well as to Facebook and Twitter. Kogeto likes to call videos uploaded to its site Dotspots, and although the Dot is still a prototype and not yet in stores, some interesting videos have already been shot.
On Kickstarter, Kogeto had a target of raising $20,000 to help fund a fully realized Dot, which could sell for $79 in stores and online. Instead, Kogeto raised $120,514.
Contributors to Kogeto's fundraising through Kickstarter should be getting their Dots in the mail soon, and in the next few weeks, the devices will arrive in online stores and at a few brick and mortar locations, said Kogeto Chief Executive Jeff Glasse, who recently stopped by the Los Angeles Times building to give us an early look at Dot. Check out the video below.
The Samsung Galaxy S II, which went on sale Friday through Sprint, just might be the nicest smartphone currently available running Google's Android operating system.
The Galaxy S II's biggest rival to the title of king of the Androids? That would be the Motorola Droid Bionic, in my opinion. I've tested and used both of the 4G handsets, and although the Droid Bionic feels like a more premium, upscale product than the Galaxy S II, in terms of materials and finishes used, the Bionic also is a bit thicker, heavier and more expensive.
The Droid Bionic sells for $300 on a two-year contract exclusively through Verizon Wireless. The Galaxy S II sells for $200 on a two-year contract through Sprint and will soon launch on T-Mobile and AT&T.
Both the Droid Bionic and the Galaxy S II have similar specs with dual-core processors, 16 gigabytes of on-board storage, 8-megapixel cameras and nice, large touch displays.
The Samsung Galaxy S II also is considered by many to be the largest threat at this point to the Apple iPhone 4. Want proof? Apple is suing Samsung in the U.S., Europe and Asia in an attempt to get the Galaxy S II stripped for store shelves, alleging patent infringement.
Take a look at this week's video for a quick review of the Samsung Galaxy S II and the Motorola Droid Bionic to get a better idea of how these two top-of-the-line Androids stack up.
Microsoft gave away a Windows 8 tablet to every paid attendee at its Build conference in Anaheim on Tuesday morning, beginning in earnest its push to sell developers on the new operating system.
The tablets aren't lightweight, in terms of heft (almost two pounds) or performance. Microsoft called the tablets Windows 8 Developer Preview. Built by Samsung, the tablet is a modified version of the Korean electronics maker's Series 7 tablet, which in that version runs Windows 7 with a touch-enabled skin over the top.
The Windows 8 Developer Preview tablet is packed with a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 processor, an 11.6-inch screen with 1366 x 768 resolution, front and rear cameras (but no photo taking app as of yet), an HDMI port for connecting to extra monitors, a USB port, a microSD slot and a SIM-card slot.
Samsung and Microsoft also gave developers a charging dock with USB, HDMI and Ethernet ports, a Bluetooth keyboard (which looks a lot like an Apple keyboard) and a stylus pen that works with the prototype device. A mouse can be used with the Windows 8 tablet as well.
AT&T is supplying a year of 3G service for the tablets at no charge to Build attendees, with a cap of 2 gigabytes of data per month. The tablet also can use Wi-Fi connections.
But the part that matters most here isn't so much the specs of the preview device as it is the operating system.
Microsoft handed out loaner tablets to journalists such as myself Monday at a press-only Build presentation on Windows 8 (the tablets are due back Thursday). Check out the video below for a quick look at the Windows 8 Developer Preview tablet and Windows 8 in action.
The Motorola Droid Bionic is finally in stores and comes with just about every high-end feature a smartphone user could want, as well as a high price.
The Bionic, which was first announced in January, sells exclusively through Verizon for $299.99 on a two-year contract.
The $300 price tag gets you a powerful phone with a dual-core 1-gigahertz processor, 1 gigabyte of RAM, an 8-megapixel rear camera capable of shooting 1080p video and a 2-megapixel camera on the front for video chatting and photos.
At the heart of the the Bionic is a large 4.3-inch touchscreen, which makes great use of Verizon's speedy 4G LTE network (or the company's 3G network when 4G is out of range). The Bionic can hook up to an HDTV via an HDMI for checking out photos and video shot to the phone's 16 gigabytes of onboard storage. The new handset, which is exclusive to Verizon, also features an SD-card slot to add up to 32-gigabytes more of storage.
Battery life, however, isn't great at all -- likely due to the Bionic's large screen and 4G connectivity. So, is the Bionic worth $300?
If 4G, a big display and a point-and-shoot quality camera are what you're looking for, then the Bionic is one of the most ideal Android phones on the market right now.
If price and battery life are what you're looking for, there are many better options to the Bionic, such as the Nexus S, the HTC Incredible, and even the Droid X2, which features a similar display but runs on Verizon's 3G network.
View our hands-on video for a deeper look at the Droid Bionic and stay tuned to the Technology blog. Samsung's Galaxy S II smartphone is on the way and will be a major challenger to the Bionic as the top Android phone of the fall. Just as soon as we get our hands on the Galaxy S II, we'll let you know how these two stack up against each other.