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Technology Today March 2009 More From the CES Mailbag
.by Robert Sanborn

Navigon is one of the long standing leaders in the GPS market as the primary maker of GPS systems and this time they have done something that I wonder took so long to accomplish. They have partnered with Rand McNally to add their travel planning, scenic routes, and city guides to the Navigon line of GPS units. I have used GPS units for years and yet when we travel in the US, which we have done a lot, we always take one of the latest Rand McNally Road Atlas with us. In fact, we have traveled so much in this country, we have a Rand McNally that we have highlighted our routes across the states so that it helps us remember our travels and helps us select routes to destinations that we havenít been on before. Naturally one of the things we look for are the scenic routes on the Rand McNally to help us choose our route.  What Navigon has is the 8100T unit available this spring for around $599 and I canít wait to get my own.TechToday0903.htm

Something else that Navigon is doing is adding a lot of new content available for their GPS offerings. Sometime this spring, you will be able to download new things that make the GPS even more valuable to drivers including a Red Light Camera database that will tell you when you are approaching an intersection with the red light cameras, about $30. Also a 3D Landmarks package to give you nearly 600 landmark and notable buildings that will appear on your GPS, about $40; a European Map add on that for an additional $129 will give you a memory card with the roads in 38 different European countries. A new North American expansion pack that for around $50 that adds Canada, Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico and an upgrade to the latest software. Look for more at www.navigon.com.

For a computer junkie, I really have to marvel at the way the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is blurring the lines between home entertainment and home networking to the point that you can now connect your HDTV through a box to your computer and cable or satellite box to share everything. And you can do it wirelessly.  Granted it takes some money to do all of this but the technology is here and people are doing it. I am using dual 22 inch monitors on my computer and the temptation is really there to connect everything together but you know, the chair near the TV is much more comfortable and when I sit down to watch a movie, I donít want to be tempted to use the computer. At least not for now.

However, if you do want to watch those YouTube videos, live internet TV, or other internet movies on your HDTV, Netgear, www.netgear.com, has just the box for you. The Internet TV Player, ITV2000, is a tiny plug and go set top box that connects to the internet and your home network. It will be available this summer for around $199. Their Digital Entertainer Elite, (EVA9150) can be thought of as a digital video juke box for the home. It starts life with a 500 gigabyte hard drive and then proceeds to search your home network for all the video files you have to catalogue them for you into an easily accessible library. A user replaceable hard drive, USB ports for added storage capacity, and the ability to work with nearly every network imaginable in the home and you have a powerful video control system. Start a movie in one room, hit pause, and finish it in the next or have every TV play the same content. Spread your concert video or home movies to every TV in the house. Later this spring for around $400.

Finally from Netgear comes their 3G Mobile Broadband Wireless Router MBR624GU. This is one cool box for the road weary travelers that live out of their motorhomes. The promise of 3G wireless cell phone technology is that you can get internet speeds that rival that of DSL and in fact, lots of business people are already on this bandwagon for their need to connect at high speeds while traveling and not wanting to depend on the hotel or wireless hot spots or any other public location. With this cool box, you plug the cell phone 3G unit into the router and turn your mobile home or where ever you are into a wireless hot spot of your own. Available this spring for around $129.

Kodak has hopefully successfully reinvented themselves as a digital camera company and have introduced a new 12 megapixel digital camera with a 24x optical zoom lens. A couple of things immediately set this Z980 digital camera aside from the others besides the superzoom F2.8+ Schneider Optical lens is the two shutter release buttons to make taking vertical images much more easily. Though you do have to use the zoom control next to the top shutter button to zoom in and compose your picture so shifting to take the picture might take some getting used to. Available this spring for around $399.  I am not too sure about the vertical grip but the good news there is it is detachable. The click to capture speed on this camera is less than .2 seconds so it is fast to use. I also like the hot shoe and the 3.0 inch LCD screen on the back. It uses 4 AA batteries so that is a plus as well as the high capacity SD memory cards. My quibbles would be the lack of haze filters for the camera but it is definitely worth taking a closer look at.

Ctera, www.ctera.com, is yet another entry in the Network Attached Storage (NAS) arena but with a twist. With their system, you bring your own USB attached external drive, plug it into their CloudPlug device, and it becomes your network storage device. What makes them different is that from there, you connect to the ctera cloud storage system to back up your critical files. With USB2 for fast file access, gigabit Ethernet for easy transfer, and highly encrypted technology, this really looks like a winnable solution for the home and micro business user. It does it all from the CloudPlug device so you donít have to have backup software installed on your computers. Looks like a really cool solution coming sometime later this year.

Dolby Labs, long famous for the Dolby Surround Sound technology that is into nearly everything these days, and some others have created what they call the ďDolby VolumeĒ technology that finally, eliminates the unwanted and abrupt volume level changes that occur when you change channels on your TV or worse yet, the program switches to a commercial. SRS Labs and Pioneer are also working on this development and you can see the SRS results in the Vizio Surround Bar. Look for the Dolby technology in some of the latest Toshiba HDTVs including the Regza models.

I think I mentioned that last year, I got me a new Bluetooth noise cancelling headset for my cell phone from Jawbone and it worked great. This year when wandering the halls of CES, I noticed a lot of people having troubles with their Bluetooth headsets not working and found my own cutting out a lot and dropping the signal. Bluetooth technology is certainly supposed to have a range farther than from my belt to my ear so I wonder if all the people using the technology overwhelmed it this time around?

Quick Impressions

Tons of netbooks everywhere both in the press room and on the floor. Do you really want to use a screen that is that small ? Internet radio is making a big splash as well with products from Cobra, Colby, and Netgear among others. If you want to protect your portable device, look no further than Otter with their new Impact series. Sleek, solid, a skin style made out of silicon. GPS systems are coming with media players, internet connections, and more live feeds for everything from construction info to accident avoidance. Lenovo has a Thinkpad with a 17 inch screen and a slide out 2nd 10 inch screen. Digital Frames are going upscale. Digital Foci has a cool looking frame and others now include sound. Memorex has one that you can edit the images. Case Logic has a new line of gadget bags that look really good and functional, called the E-Sling.

Battery Recharging

I hate my cell phone.  One reason is that the manufacturer in its pea brained wisdom decided that the charger adapter on the phone was going to be unlike nearly every other phone in the universe. My universal chargers are not, my universal adapters are not, and the cell phone is very picky about what you plug into it. And in all my trips to CES, I drag that miserable phone with me seeing who has a charger for it that will work and come away not happy with the offerings from Energizer, and while the TurboCharge unit is nice, I still have issues with it. So, the next visit was to Lenmar, www.lenmar.com. They have been making replacement batteries for years and in fact, just bought one for my Motorola Razr phone and that helps but they had a charger that was truly cool. Their PowerPort Mini (PPUMINI) is a rechargeable battery in itself that is used to charge your phone or any other mini-usb powered device. Even comes with a tip for an iPod or Blackberry. Comes with a Ziplinq type retractable cable, plug it in one way to charge it from your computer, another way to charge the phone, or cooler yet, just use the cable to charge your device from the computerís usb port. Around $25 at Staples.

For the person who has all the iPod accessories is a must have from NXT. NXT, www.nxtsound.com is a British company that has been doing some very different things for their speaker technology. Take a look on their website. But what they do is package their flat panel speakers you get some very good sound from them. I have been following the company for quite a while and have always enjoyed the things they do with their speakers like creating the sound panels for some of the Vizio line of televisions. What they did there was for Q Acoustics, www.qacoustics.co.uk, to integrate the NXT sound panels in their Q-AV sound systems for the home and what a sound it is.

What I have here is something called the iHome. It is a traveling case for your iPod or any other MP3 player and it is a speaker as well built into the case. Open it up and you have a place to plug in your player, insert two AAA batteries, and now you can share your music and for what you get, you get very good sound. I may even take this along with me when I travel with my notebook to get better sound than out of the internal speakers and it is a nice way to keep your MP3 player secure as well. Around $25 at www.amazon.com

If you have watched any of the crime shows on television, you know that GPS locators are being put in nearly everything and I found something pretty cool for your child. From the British company, Lok8U, www.lok8u.com, comes a GPS alert device built into a childís digital wristwatch. You connect to a secure website from your mobile phone or computer to find the location of your child anytime, anywhere. Via the website, you get a map location and you can also set safety zones that if your child goes outside of the zone, it sends you an alert. It is also tamper proof so that it cannot be removed inadvertently or if forced off, it will send an alert to you. ITechToday0903.htmnteresting technology that will be available this summer for around $200 plus the subscription.

More on that thought comes from Zoombak, www.zoombak.com. Theirs is a universal GPS locator great for keeping track of the family car, boats, motorcycles, and even pets. With it activated, as soon as the unit leaves its pre-set safety zone, you can get a message on your phone or email and then use the computer to pinpoint the device. Really enjoyed talking to these guys about the possibilities of the device and it is definitely worth looking into. Around $200 with a $120 annual subscription fee.

It was only a matter of time when Sirius Satellite Radio invaded the space of the in-car navigation system and they have done it on Ford Lincoln/Mercury cars. The Sirius Travel Link will give you traditional GPS and Sirius Radio (130 plus channels), but also the Traffic reports (which include accidents, traffic flow, and construction, and alternative mapping), Fuel Prices; from over 120,000 stations which will then route you to your favorite station, and National Weather Information, which will even include forecasts as well. How about sports scores and movie listings?

Are you a geek at heart? Like to build your own creations? If so, check out www.buglabs.net.

Robert Sanborn is a technology analyst for PC Lifeline. You can reach him through the net at robert@pcll.com




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