Samsung's much-anticipated Galaxy Note will be available at AT&T on Feb. 19 for $300 with a two-year contract.
The 4G LTE smartphone can be pre-ordered online or in stores beginning Sunday for delivery by Feb. 17, the company said.
Samsung has been hyping the Galaxy Note as a new device category geared toward the creative-minded set, although most consumers will likely view it as a combination of a smartphone and tablet. The device features a large 5.3-inch touchscreen -- one of the largest on a phone -- and a stylus, called the S Pen.
By using the pen, Samsung says, "users can easily sketch drawings, jot down notes, or write emails and texts quickly and easily in free-form handwriting."
S Memo, a multimedia app, allows pictures, voice recordings, typed text, handwritten notes and drawings to be combined via a single application, converted into a memo and shared.
"The Galaxy Note brings a new level of efficiency to busy customers who would normally rely on multiple devices," said Jeff Bradley, senior vice president of devices for AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets. "This new breed of smartphone helps consumers accomplish more with a single device than ever before."
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month, Samsung devoted a big portion of its floor space to showing off the Galaxy Note and hired artists to use the device to draw caricatures of convention-goers.
As much of the gaming world has moved toward smartphones and tablets, I've wondered if consumers (or myself as a gamer) would take to new handheld consoles the way they did with the Vita's predecessor, the PlayStation Portable.
But after spending a few minutes with the Vita in my hands at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, my interest has piqued.
If you've played video games on the PlayStation Portable, which affectionately became known to most as the PSP, then the Vita will look very familiar at first glance. Joysticks and buttons are placed to the left or right of a nice, wide display and the graphics produced by the system are detailed and sharp.
But unlike the PSP, there are many features of the Vita that better equip Sony's handheld formula for competition in a smartphone-riddled future. On the front of the Vita is a 5-inch OLED touchscreen and a similarly sized touch panel can be found on the back of the device.
I played a bit of Uncharted: Golden Abyss, one of the titles that will launch with the Vita during its U.S. release on Feb. 22, and the game used traditional controls and the touchscreen. And switching between the different control options was intuitive and easy.
The Vita can also be used as a controller for Sony's PlayStation 3 home console, which could bring touch controls to even more games if developers embrace this feature. Though I didn't get to spend a long time with Uncharted or the Vita, the potential for some really creative game-play options was obvious.
The Vita will also run a number of smartphone-like apps, including apps for the photo-sharing site Flickr and video-streaming service Netflix, local-discovery app FourSquare and social networks Facebook and Twitter.
There are also two cameras on the Vita, one on the front and one on the back, and in the few test shots I snapped on the CES showroom floor, I have to say I was a bit disappointed. Photos didn't seem to be high quality and colors were washed out and not sharp. Sony wouldn't say what the resolution of the cameras would be for the U.S. release of the Vita, but the Japanese version (which went on sale on Dec. 17) featured VGA-quality cameras in front and back with a resolution of 640-by-480 pixels, which is about the same as an Apple iPad 2.
We'll be getting a review unit of the Vita in a few weeks, and I'll reserve final judgement for then, but after my hands-on time with the system, there's a lot to like and a few things that I'm not so excited about (aside from the camera). One of them is the pricing of Vita's new proprietary memory cards.
The Vita will sell for either $249 in a Wi-Fi-only version or $299 for a 3G/Wi-Fi model that runs on AT&T's network. AT&T is offering no-contract data plans for the Vita of $14.99 for 250 megabytes of data per month, or three gigabytes for $30. Games (on a new card format and not the UMDs found in the PSP) will sell for about $9.99 to $49.99, according to Sony. All of that seems to be pretty fair pricing in my opinion.
However, memory cards for the Vita -- which you will definitely need if you want to store any apps, downloadable games, movies, music, photos or any other content on the Vita -- are sold separately.
A four-gigabyte memory card will sell for $19.99. Not bad. An eight-gigabyte card will sell for $29.99 and a 16-gigabyte card will sell for $59.99. Getting a bit higher. And, a 32-gigabyte card will sell for a whopping $99.99.
It seems a bit painful to think you may end up spending an extra $100 after plunking down as much as $300 for a Vita, but this is the current reality, depending on how much stuff you'd like to store in the device. Ouch.
A company called 4moms has just released the Origami, a baby stroller packed with features that you never knew you needed.
Power folding with the push of a button? Done.
Daytime running lights and special pathway lights to help you see at night? Yup.
A digital dashboard that displays temperature, speed, miles covered during your current trip, total miles covered, and whether or not a baby is actually in the stroller? It's got that too.
The Origami debuted at CES 2012 and is already available at some fancy baby stores like Giggle and Right Start. A 4moms spokeswoman said it will be available at diapers.com and buybuybaby.com in the next few days, and at target.com in the next few weeks.
The stroller costs a cool $849, which may sound expensive to normal people, but is actually comfortably within the range of higher-end strollers. The standard Bugaboo Chameleon, for example, will set you back $880.
The power for the power-folding feature, the lights and even the cellphone charging is produced by an onboard generator that charges the stroller as you push it. You do have the option to plug the stroller into the wall if you need to, and to fold and unfold the stroller manually if you're desperate, but the company says even a short walk is enough to keep the stroller powered for days.
One drawback is that it is kind of heavy for a stroller -- it weighs 32 pounds in toddler mode -- but you know, it's got that onboard generator. You can't have everything.
Beats Electronics and Monster Cable Products, two companies that together defined the current $1-billion headphone industry with the Beats by Dr. Dre line, are parting ways at the end of the year.
But before the two become competitors in a segment of consumer electronics that is just as much about fashion as it is technology, a wave of new Beats by Dr. Dre headphones and boom boxes (built by Monster) will hit store shelves.
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, I caught up with Jimmy Iovine, Beats Electronics' chairman and CEO of Interscope Geffen A&M Records, to talk about what products the Beats brand had planned for 2012 (you can see our interview in the video above).
First up will be the new Mixr headphones, designed by Grammy-winning producer and DJ David Guetta. The Mixr is a lightweight and strong design -- I twisted and bent the headband, and it returned to form and never felt week -- that offers the bass-heavy sound Beats is known for. At $279, the Mixr is set to hit U.S. stores in early February in black and white. They're already available in Europe.
February will also see a wireless release of the Solo headphones, also priced at $279. And due in mid-September are the $349 Executive headphones, which bring a sleeker and more understated look with a leather headband and aluminum ear cups.
Iovine was also proud of the new BeatBox, a follow-up to the first-generation (and much less portable) BeatBox, which will sell at a price of $399. A release date hasn't yet been set for the new battery- or AC-powered BeatBox, which plays music from smartphones and MP3 players docked on the speaker setup.
Since launching in 2009, Beats has teamed with Justin Beiber, Lady Gaga and Sean "Diddy" Combs for artist-sponsored headphones. The Mixr is the only artist-specific set of headphones planned for 2012, Iovine said.
But this year we will see more HTC smartphones paired with Beats headphones as a result of HTC purchasing a $300-million stake in the audio company late last year, he said. And Beats speakers will be found not just in the Chrysler 300, as they were in 2011, but also in the Dodge Charger. And, as we saw at CES, Beats speakers are making their way into more HP laptops this year too.
After the Monster manufacturing deal expires at the end of the year, Beats plans to go out on its own, Iovine told my colleague Gerrick D. Kennedy on our sister blog Pop & Hiss. Despite reports to the contrary, Iovine said, the split was always the audio start-up's intention.
"It was always planned. It was always a five-year deal," Iovine said. "It was a manufacturing distribution deal. We were with Monster for headphones and speakers. It was always a plan to turn into a freestanding company."
The Lumia 710, Nokia's first Windows Phone to hit the U.S., barely went on sale on Jan. 11 and already Wal-Mart is undercutting other retailers by giving the new phone away for free on a two-year contract.
T-Mobile USA, which launched the phone, sells the Lumia 710 for $49.99 on a two-year data plan, as do other retailers such as Best Buy. The price drop by Wal-Mart is a fast one and it's unclear if other retailers or T-Mobile itself will follow suit.
But if we do see more price drops on the Lumia 710, they will probably be motivated in part by the pending arrival of the new Lumia 900 at AT&T, which is rumored for sometime in March. An official release date and price haven't yet been disclosed for the Lumia 900.
The Lumia 900, which made its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, has a 4.3-inch display and a unique polycarbonate body.
But while the 900 packs a larger screen and a bit more style, it and the 710 are very similar on the inside, with both phones running Windows Phone 7.5 Mango on a 1.4-gigahertz Qualcomm processor and 512-megabytes of RAM.
The Lumia 710 has 8 gigabytes of built-in storage, while the Lumia 900 has 16 gigabytes. And the Lumia 710 features a 5-megapixel camera with a single-LED flash, while the Lumia 900 has an 8-megapixel camera with a dual-LED flash.
The future of video games is increasingly shifting from discs to downloads over Internet-connected consoles, phones, tablets and PCs.
Microsoft Corp. is aware of this trend as much as any other player in the gaming industry and rolls out multiple promotions a year to bring attention to games available for download through its Xbox Live Arcade storefront on the Xbox 360 console. And next up for Microsoft is the Xbox Live Arcade House Party, which starts Feb. 15 and includes the launch of one game a week for four weeks.
At the Consumer Electronics Show last week in Las Vegas, I went hands-on with Alan Wake's American Nightmare, which will be the first game to roll out in the month-long promotion.
Alan Wake's American Nightmare is a sequel to the on-disc game Alan Wake, which was released in 2010 to critical acclaim for story-driven game play that mixed a psychological thriller plotline with the action of a third-person shooter.
The game, which focused on a fictional fiction writer named Alan Wake and his quest to solve the mystery of his wife's disappearance in a small Washington town, was also praised for its inventive use of lighting, with Wake spending a lot of time running around in dark forests at night with a flashlight and a gun.
In Alan Wake's American Nightmare, the game's hero finds himself in the deserts of Arizona. The impressive lighting effects are back and shooting mechanics are solid. I tried my hand at the new title's Fight 'til Dawn survival mode, which pits players in a 10-minute scene with wave after wave of enemies attacking. (You can check out our hands-on with the new game above.)
The game play was intense and challenging, and it should be a satisfying experience for fans of the original Alan Wake game as well as those of shooting games such as Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead, Resident Evil and the Call of Duty series' zombie modes.
Alan Wake's American Nightmare will also have a campaign of about four to five hours, depending on how much time a player spends exploring and digging into the game's story, said Oskari Hakinnen, a spokesman for Remedy Entertainment Ltd., the developer of the series.
For those who haven't played the original Alan Wake, there's no need to fret. Hakinnen said that the sequel will pick up where the first title left off story-wise, but it was written in a way that won't confuse those who are new to the world of Alan Wake. Pricing for the game hasn't yet been disclosed.
The most interesting and impressive gadget I saw at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show this week was Nintendo's next video game console -- the Wii U. It was also one of the riskiest products I saw, outside of Nokia's new Windows Phone handsets.
Despite not offering games with high-definition graphics, Nintendo's Wii home console changed the way people play video games, introducing motion sensing controllers called Wii remotes and a then-new level of casual games that appealed to millions of people who in the past didn't consider buying a gaming system. But since the Wii's launch in 2006, the gaming landscape changed as well.
Microsoft's Xbox has controller-free motion gaming with its Kinect technology. Sony has motion-sensing controllers with its PlayStation Move controllers for the PlayStation 3 console. Casual gaming is increasingly taking place on smartphones and not home consoles.
The Wii U intends to have an answer to all of its rivals, Nintendo of America's President Reggie Fils-Aime told me this week in an interview and hands-on demo of the new system in Las Vegas (you can see a video of our hands-on above). The demos we played were the same demos Nintendo showed off at the E3 gaming expo in Los Angeles last year.
The most obvious feature that separates the Wii U from rival hardware is the system's new tablet-like controller. Traditional buttons, triggers and joysticks are found in the Wii U controller, as is a 6.2-inch touchscreen in the middle of the unit that can be used by hand or with a stylus. The controller was 5.3 inches tall, 9 inches long and about 1 inch deep. There's also a built-in accelerometer and gyroscope, with a front-facing camera, microphone, speakers and a motion-sensing strip to interact with the remotes introduced on the Wii.
So what can this new controller actually do? One gaming demo, called Chase Mii, was essentially video-game hide and seek. My character in the game was the one being chased and, with the Wii U controller's screen, I saw an entirely different view of the game then those I was playing against with an included map of the terrain I was using to hide from my chasers.
In another demo, Fils-Aime and Nintendo spokesman J.C. Rodrigo showed me a recording of a car driving around a street in Japan. The same image that was on the HDTV that the Wii U console was connected to showed up on the Wii U controller in my hands, but when I moved the controller to either side or above my head, the view changed. I could see the street in 360-degrees; the sky, the cars passing by, a rear view, all just by moving the controller around.
The potential that this sort of technology offers video game developers is hugely exciting if you love playing video games, as I do. The military shooter genre is hugely popular right now -- how about the ability to see a digital battlefield in 360 degrees while not disrupting the view on your TV? Maps and menus on the Wii U's controller are an obvious choice as well.
The most important feature of the Wii U for video game developers, however, might be that it can handle high-definition gaming, up to 1080p in resolution. This can allow for developers to more easily develop games for Nintendo's new hardware alongside high-definition titles being made for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
We'll have to see whether or not Nintendo can actually get developers on board en masse to bring major titles to the Wii U, but adding HD gaming should make this option more attractive.
I saw a demo of a Legend of Zelda game in HD and it looked outstanding. The main character of the game, Link, had texture details in the fabric of his clothing that simply weren't possible on the Wii's lower-powered hardware. I was able to change major environmental details, such as being able to switch the scene from night to day and back, with just a tap on the Wii U controller's touchscreen.
The touchscreen also seemed to me to be a play to court developers who are building for smartphones and tablets. The Wii U's hardware will enable it to be a console that (if enough games are made) can offer something for the hardcore gaming crowd and something for the smartphone set. Angry Brids or Cut the Rope on a Wii U controller? Yeah, I'd love to see that and I'm sure Nintendo would too.
The Wii U controller's second screen can also act as the only screen for gameplay too. For example, if you're playing a game, and your roommate or partner wants to watch the latest episode of their favorite TV show, the Wii U can stream the game to the controller so you can keep gaming. Despite looking like a tablet, the Wii U controller isn't a tablet and isn't usable without the Wii U nearby.
But as impressive as the demo was, Fils-Aime and Nintendo didn't show up to CES with much new information about the Wii U. We still don't have a price for the system, launch titles haven't been announced and hardware specs are few and far between. The Wii U will play downloadable games and games on-disc. It will also be backwards compatible with Wii games. It will also have some undetermined amount of internal flash storage, four USB ports and at least one SD card slot will also be included for expanded storage. IBM is supplying a multi-core processor and AMD is supplying a graphics processor as well.
Fils-Aime also wouldn't say whether or not the Wii U will be able to support multiple Wii U controllers or not. This, in my opinion, is a huge question for an otherwise solid-looking piece of hardware. If the Wii U only supports one Wii U controller, I think Nintendo will be making a mistake. Unlike the Wii Remotes, the Wii U offers the experience of a traditional controller. Some games are better played by pushing buttons and using joysticks rather than flailing your arms. For example, with fighting games and shooters, many gamers prefer the precision and speed that a regular-old controller can offer. If only one person can use a Wii U controller at a time, playing the sorts of games with friends on the couch won't be as fun. Hopefully the new console will support multiple Wii U controllers and give gamers the ability to choose the gameplay set-up they prefer.
Nintendo still also hasn't offed any details on what it will offer in terms of online multiplayer. In my opnion, Microsoft's Xbox Live service is the best in console gaming and allows gamers to play with their friends online and talk in real time as they play in their respective homes. Online multiplayer has been something that so far Nintendo has flatly failed to include in a compelling or easy-to-use way with its home consoles. For that reason most games for the Wii are single-player games. I believe Nintendo has to get online gameplay right in order for the Wii U to succeed.
So, when will our questions be answered? Hopefully at E3 2012 in June, which will be the next time Nintendo makes a big push before the press with the Wii U.
Nintendo is set to launch the Wii U, a new video game console, later this year. And while there is a lot of excitement around the Wii U, there are also a lot of questions hovering around the Japanese company, which seems to have its back against the wall despite a history of innovation and success in an industry it has helped define.
The company's current home gaming system, the Wii, is on the decline, selling about 4.5 million units in the U.S. in 2011, down from about 7 million sold in 2010.
Meanwhile, the 3DS, Nintendo's new hand-held console, started out selling slowly when it launched in March. But by the end of 2011, the system sold about 4 million units in the U.S., hitting that mark faster than the Wii when it first launched in 2006.
With all that in mind, I sat down with Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo of America, at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week. You can see parts of our interview in the video above, but as expected, Fils-Aime said he didn't see sliding Wii sales as a negative but a positive leading into the release of the Wii U.
"The Wii is now approaching 40 million homes here in the United States, so from a penetration standpoint we're beginning to top out in terms of the total number of systems sold, and that's why it makes so much sense to prepare for the launch of the Wii U," he said.
The Wii U will still use the motion-sensing controller system introduced in the Wii, but will add to the mix a new tablet-like controller with a built-in 6-inch touch screen. Some have said that, so far, the Wii U's new controller is a winning idea, while others have questioned if it's already destined to fail.
Fils-Aime said Nintendo is on the path to breaking new ground again, just as it did when it added a joystick to a controller for the first time or when it was first to add motion and rumble feedback to controllers as well.
"The big innovation with the Wii U is the controller and the ability to have an interactive experience that leverages all of your traditional input buttons as well as a screen built right into the controller," Fils-Aime said. "Yes, the system is HD capable; it'll generate the most gorgeous pictures. But for us that's not enough.
"We need to continue pushing the overall experience forward. We need to bring new types of entertainment. New types of gaming and the combination of a big first screen -- your home TV -- coupled with a second screen in your hands, in our view, is going to bring gaming to a whole new experience and to continue driving the industry."
Fils-Aime offered little new information about the Wii U -- we still don't know much about specs and Nintendo isn't announcing launch titles, pricing or release dates yet.
But for now, the Nintendo executive said hardware horsepower isn't the point as much as what the Wii U and its new controller will be able to do that rival gaming platforms -- the Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3 and even Apple's iPhone and iPad -- can't.
"The system is capable to do the most complicated, the most HD-intensive types of games. But plus, now with a touch screen in your hands, all types of other gaming possibilities exist. So we want the full experience," Fils-Aime said, later adding, "One of the things that we think makes us different from all of the other companies here at CES is that we leverage technology for people to have fun."
Stay tuned to the Technology blog for more on the Wii U from CES. I also got to go hands-on with the Wii U, and on Saturday I'll offer my take on just how much fun the new system is.
Eliza Dushku served as the official celebrity ambassador for the Entertainment Matters program at the Consumer Electronics Show this week.
We caught up with the actress -- known for playing Faith on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and roles in movies including "Bring It On" -- at the Wynn in Las Vegas, where she was hosting Spike TV's VIP CES party at Tryst nightclub. Her gig as ambassador was intended to promote the relationship between the tech and entertainment industries.
"You're seeing kids that watch all their programming on iPhones or whatever smartphones they have," Dushku said. "So it's important that we're on top of that."
Dushku said she planned to walk the show floor with her boyfriend, former Laker Rick Fox, and wanted to check out the 4K and 8K televisions. "I remember last year going home [from CES] and looking at my own televisions and feeling like it was completely Stone Age," she said.
Calling herself a bit of a techie, Dushku, who has done voice work for video games in the past, rattled off a long list of her favorite tech products, including her BlackBerry and iPad. But her No. 1 item is her Bug Vac, the kind you buy from those SkyMall airline shopping magazines, she said.
"If a bug's on the wall, you extend the telescope-y thing and you suck the bug and it pulls it in and it fries it on a little metal plate," she said. "I love that thing. I can't live without it."
And it works?
"Oh, full on, you smell the bugs burning on the plate," she said. "Sorry, but better than crawling up my face."
When Google TV first launched a little more than a year ago, it had few hardware partners and failed to resonate with a wide consumer market. But the technology was back at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, with major tech companies promoting the software and saying its time had come.
"You've got to reorient customers to look at TVs as an actual smart device, as a device just like a tablet or a PC or a phone," said Matthew McRae, chief technology officer at Vizio, during an interview with The Times. "It takes a little bit of time, but I think that bridge has been crossed."
At CES in Las Vegas this week, Vizio was showcasing its 65-inch, 55-inch and 47-inch V.I.A. Plus HDTVs with Theater 3D; the VBR430 Blu-ray player; and the VAP430 stream player -- all of which incorporate Google TV's 2.0 platform. V.I.A. stands for Vizio Internet Apps.
The V.I.A. Plus experience features an app-centric interface on every device, "making it easy for consumers to understand and navigate as they move between devices," the company said in a news release. Users can also access thousands of apps from the Android Market.
McRae said the company was encouraged by the advances in the second generation of Google TV, saying the earlier version of the software "missed on the simplicity front."
"When people sit down at a TV, it's got to be intuitive, it's got to be a few button clicks to whatever you're looking for," McRae said. "If you make it any more complex than that, they'll just give up.... So the user interface I think is actually more challenging to get right on a TV than it is on a tablet or PC."
The prospects for Google TV -- which combines traditional television, the Internet, apps and search capabilities -- are growing rapidly among developers, who are rolling out thousands of apps built specifically for televisions.
Vizio was especially excited to show off its new VAP430 stream player with Google TV, a media player that turns any HDTV into an enhanced V.I.A. Plus smart TV. Vizio's stream player, a small black box about the size of a wallet, features built-in HDMI ports that let users connect existing components like gaming consoles or set-top boxes for unified access to all media sources through the V.I.A. Plus touchpad remote. It also supports 3-D content and 3-D streaming.
Vizio officials said the stream player was expected to be released in the first half of the year, but declined to say how much the device would cost. Sales of stream players are poised to pass Blu-ray players in unit volume sales by 2013, Vizio said, making the devices the "perfect solution" for media multitaskers.
LG is also showing off sets with Google TV software that will launch in the U.S. in the first half of 2012 and later for the rest of the world. Among LG's Google TV offerings will be a 55-inch model, and each Google TV set from LG will include a "magic remote" with a built-in keyboard.
Google TV will run on LG's TVs alongside its Smart TV platform unveiled last year. Since last year's CES, LG said it had added more than 1,200 apps to its Smart TV offerings.
Sony too heavily hyped its Google TV products at CES and said it was expanding its line of devices that included the software.
The tech giant said it was rolling out two new set-top boxes powered by Google TV -- one connected Blu-ray disc player and one Network Media Player. Enhanced features include access to the Android Market as well as a redesigned remote control for improved functionality, new linkage with the Sony Entertainment Network platform and a new mobile device interface that allows consumers to use smartphones and tablets as a content source.
"As a result more consumers will be able to enjoy multiple content sources from broadcast to streaming video and various apps through one easy-to-use seamless interface by connecting to any HDTV," Sony executive Kaz Hirai said during the company's CES news conference.