Tag Archive: review

Jun 20

iPod Touch Review: ByLine – An Excellent RSS Reader

bylineiconOK, so I now have to retract part of what I said in my last article about RSS readers. There is an excellent RSS reader on AppStore called Byline that so far, does exactly what I want in a news reader for my iPod Touch.

Byline is like many RSS readers, but this one really does understand how to be effective on an iPod Touch. For example, my iPod Touch is is not always connected online. I purposely turn off networking when I’m not in range to extend my battery. How many online applications have you launched that display an error message telling you that the network is not available? Well, duh, I turned it off. Why tell me something I already know? Byline elegantly ghosts the sync icon when you’re offline and makes it active when connected. It’s just done right.

And now, the great part: Byline optionally caches images for offline use! No longer do I feel cheated by not having always-on connectivity. Yes, it does take some to download all the images, but with multiple news feeds each having dozens and dozens of articles, it’s actually pretty quick.

The formatting is typical, and the inclusion if the images really rounds it out. Probably the only down side to this is that it requires setting up the feeds in Google Reader. At first, I was somewhat hesitant to go down this path, because this means that there is really no way to just add an ad-hoc feed, but realistically, I rarely want to do this anyway, so it’s not really an issue. Byline’s settings are located in the iPod Touch’s main Settings page, so you have to exit the application to get to it. I wish applications would be consistent with this. But once you set the settings, you rarely need to revisit them.

So the bottom line is that Byline provides an excellent news reading experience online or offline. It caches and displays images very nicely, so you don’t feel cheated by not being connected. So wherever I am, I always have something to read to kill some time.

Highly recommended!

Pros: Solid interface, ability to cache images for offline viewing, no annoying errors when not online, logical interface, very customizable.

Cons: Byline requires setting up your feeds in Google Reader. This is not really negative overall, it does eliminates the ability to add an ad-hoc RSS feed on the fly.

Tip: Your RSS feeds must reside in a folder. While you can put multiple RSS feeds in the same folder, if your article is not in any folder, it ill not display in ByLine.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/ipod-touch-tips/ipod-touch-review-byline-an-excellent-rss-reader

Mar 06

iPod Touch Review: Belkin Silicone Skin Case

Belkin Silicone CaseI’m always looking for decent cases for the devices I carry, and I have found another case for the iPod Touch that I just love. The Belkin Silicone Skin Case is a molded case made of silicone rubber that stretches to fit snugly around the iPod Touch. It provides cut-outs for the screen, top power button, brightness sensor, Universal Connector, and headphones. There is also a recessed portion over the front Home button giving it a great look and nice tactile feel. The case nicely protects the chrome back from scratches, and it provides the iPod Touch with a great grip. It only adds just a fraction of an inch to the overall size, so your iPod Touch remains slim and sleek.

This case is simple, yet elegant in design, but like similar “skin” cases it does not provide any protection for the screen, so a modest screen protector is included. (I personally use some left-over Palm PDA screen protectors, though the supplied protector will work just fine.) This setup makes the iPodtTouch very “front-pocketeble”, and I am much more likely to regularly carry it with me because of the small size and confidence in the protection. After all, what’s the point of having a device that contains your favorite content if it is too bulky to take with you? Currently, this is my case of choice.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/ipod-touch-tips/ipod-touch-review-belkin-silicone-skin-case

Mar 03

iPod Touch Review: Wikpedia on your iPod Touch!

Wikipedia on the iPod TouchArguably, one of the greatest current contributions to the Internet is Wikipedia, a solid encyclopedic resource for general knowledge of topics spanning literally millions of articles. Though the accuracy of some of its articles is questionable, overall, Wikipedia does an excellent job of presenting generally reliable content. A point of note that any researcher, student, or general Internet user should know, is that because of its susceptibility to error and vandalism, Wikipedia, should not be used as a difinitive research resource, it should be considered a great starting point for researching a topic.)

Like searching on Google, Wikipedia is fast and intuitive to use. On the iPod Touch, the Safari Web browser renders Wikipedia pages very well. But accessing Wikipedia from the iPod Touch has one major drawback: you must be online. Recently, however, there have been several sfforts to provide Wikipedia content in an offline format. This article covers two such offerings:

Wikipedia.app

Wiki2Touch  (My Pick!)

I review what I like about them, what I dislike, and which I like best, so read on for a full review of these two applications….

Generally speaking, offline Wikipedia implementaions require several components to work including a huge data file containing the text content of Wikipedia’s articles, some supporting files, and an application that handles the searching and displaying of the article content. Fortunately, getting Wikipedia’s data isn’t that difficult because Wikipedia makes this English languave data readily available in the form of a downloadable XML file. (If you require foreign versions, a number of foreign languages are available as well.) Currently, the data weighs in at about 3GB, so it may take a while to download the data. But downloading this 3GB+ file is just the start. You then need to convert the file into a format that the offline applications can manage. Fortunately, this is not a difficult process–time-consuming, but not difficult.

Wikipedia.app

The first application in this review is Wikipedia.app . This was the first offline implementation I tried, and it was simply amazing! It provided quick access to almost all Wikipedia text content. Entering search after search revealed just how much data could be packed onto an iPod Touch.

Unfortunately, Wikipedia.app is not without its issues as it’s not too hard to crash the application, particularly when following links from redirects. There are some simple workarounds, but this is still a drawback. The display is very simple, providing a nice scrollable display, but that’s about it. There are no bells and whistles, so if you are looking for a small, lean application, this is it.

On the positive side, Wikipedia.app gave me my first taste of using Wiklipedia offline, and it provided adequate access to its articles. Searching was quick, and the display layout, while spartan, looked great. Many articles include internal links referencing other articles, so tapping any of the links displays that new article. Other than the occasional crash, it did work well.

Another positive is in setup. Setting up Wikipedia.app was very straight forward. The first thing you need is the Wikipedia text data. Wikipedia.app provides a large pre-built data file that weighs in at just over 2GB in size. It’s an English language snapshot of Wikipedia text content from October, 2007–a few other lanugage versions are also available. Instructions are provided to manually build a more recent version, but the currently available version is fairly recent, so using the pre-built file makes isntallation much easier. You also need to download some supporting files and the Wikipedia.app application. Installation was as simple as downloading everything (which took a while because of the size), uploading everything to the iPod Touch, setting some file permissions, and restarting Springboard. It was very easy.

Once set up, you end up with a new icon on your Home page that launches a simple Search application. Enter your search text, and Wikipedia.app displays results in real-time as you type. This is great, because you get immediate feedback. Tapping any of the results will do wone of two things: Display the article, or display a redrect page. In most cases, tapping the redirect will either display the article, or display a new redirect. Occasionally, this crashes.

Here is the Wikipedia.app start page:
Wikipedia.app Start page

Here is the results page that displays results as you type:
Wikipedia.app Results Page

Here is an example of a rendered article:
Wikipedia.app Article Page

The articles display in a nice scrollable page with embeded internal links, and there is a button at the top to take you back to the search page. And at the top of the search page is a button to take upi back to the last-viewed article. There is no history, so if you follow internal links, going back will take you to the search page. And when you exit and relaunch the application, no history is saved.

I’d love to see the Wikipedia.app program be stabilized and some features added, but for now, it works well enough. Features I’d like to see added include saving search result history, retention of articles between sessions, and the ability to save “favorite” articles for quick reference. Despite its quirks, it’s an excellent solution.

Wiki2Touch

Wiki2Touch takes a different approach in implementation. You still have a huge article data file, but instead of using a custom client application to search and display the articles, it includes a local Web server application that runs in the background, providing access to the local data directly from Safari. When you point Safari to the local Web server address, it displays a Wikipedia search page. Entering a search request searches the local Wikipedia data file and returns the article results in a nicely-formatted, iPod Touch-friendly page. It’s quick and reliable, and if a result is not found or a link is broken, you simply get an “Article not found” error page–no crashes, no hassels.

Setup is not quite as easy as with Wikipedia.app because you must build the indexed data file yourself. While this may sound daunting, it’s actually very easy–it just takes lots of time. And one advantage to manually building the file is that you can build it using the latest snapshot ensuring that your data will be as current as Wikipedia provides. To build the file, you first have to download the 3GB+ XML data file from Wikipedia. Depending on the speed of yout Internet connection, this could take a while. Next, download the Wiki2Touch program distribution. It’s a small package, so it will be a quick download. You then build the “articles.bin” data file (the actual data file that will be uploaded to your iPod Touch) from the downloaded Wikipedia XML data using a simple “indexer” application. (For Windows users, the process is done by issuing a single DOS command.) The indexer.exe program converts and repackages the XML data into a format usable by the Wiki2Touch se
rver application.

When indexer.exe completes, you upload the new data file and the application files to your iPod Touch (this can take a long time over WiFi) set some file permissions, restart Springboard, launch the Wiki2Touch app, start the server, launch Safari, then point Safari to http://127.0.0.1:8080/index.html. If everything went as expected, you should see a nice Wikipedia search page.

Using Safari to access the local Wikipedia data has several advantages over Wikipedia.app. Because articles are displayed through Safari, you use Safari’s User Interface features such as zooming and screen rotation to your advantage. This makes reading articles more consistent with reading other Web-based content. Second, if you enter s search request that does not find any results, or if a link or redirect happens to be bad, you simply get an “Article not found” error instead of a potential crash. And because articles are returned by Wiki2Touch as a “valid” URL within Safari, you can use Safari’s history, Bookmark, and Web Clip features to better manage and organize your searches and search results. (Oh, and get this: if you have the Wiki2Touch server running, and have WiFi turned on, PC’s on your local network can connect to your Wiki2Touch server via a Web Browser to your iPod Touch and submit queries! While this might potentially cause some security concerns, it’s still pretty cool.)

This is the “start” page:
Wiki2Touch Start page

This is an example of the real-time search page that displays search results as you type:
Wiki2Touch Search

This is the resullting article. Note that though there is no image displayed, it is formatted to accommodate images:

Wiki2Touch Article page

A potential drawback to Wiki2Touch is that overall, you will be using up to 50% more memory (3GB+ compared to 2GB+) than with Wikipedia.app. If you are using an 8GB iPod Touch and want to also carry lots of music and video with you, you may be out of luck. But for me, it’s not an issue, because I’m using my iPod Touch more as a PDA than a media player. You just may need to make some choioces to prioritize what content gets loaded.

Conclusion

So which do I recommend? They are both great implementations, but in the end, I have to recommend using Wiki2Touch. For a quick install and easy-to-use offline access, Wikipedia.app shines. Though it’s not without its quirks, and it occasionally crashes, it was simple to install, and it provided the content I was looking for. On the other hand, while Wiki2Touch required more up-front time to get things set up, once installed, it was so easy and stable to use. And the fact that it leverages Safari’s additional features makes it stand out as my offline Wikipedia search tool of choice.

In either case, once you get the taste of having Wikipedia articles accessible and available anywhere, any time, you begin to see just how exciting this really is. Being able to have pocketable, offline access to Wikipedia content alone, for me, justifies what I paid for my iPod Touch.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/ipod-touch-tips/ipod-touch-review-wikpedia-on-your-ipod-touch

Mar 03

iPod Touch Review: Griffin Elan Convertible Case

Griffin Elan ConvertibleLike any PDA or pocket-sized electronic device, the iPod Touch is prone to scratches and dings, so on eof the first accessories you should consider is a case to protect it. Cases come in all sizes and shapes, so what is best for you is a very personal and subjective decision. I found the Griffin Elan Convertible case at my local Circuit City, and I find it to be a solid choice for the money. Read on for a full review….

The Griffin Elan Convertible Case is a sleek leather case that houses the iPod Touch. It has a removable flip-over cover and a removable belt-clip it provides excellent screen and body protection.

Griffin Elan Convertible Case

The inside of the case is lined with what feels like suede, providing soft, scratch-free protection of the screen, while also slightly gripping the device in place. There are cutouts for the Home button, the Universal Connector, Headphones, and the auto-brightness sensor, and the top poer button is accessible.

The flip-over cover has two small magnets that keep the case closed, and the cover is removable. Reversing the cover provides a sort of "stand" arrangement. The belt-clip is removable also. Given the size of the iPod Touch, I personally prefer to carry it in my pocket instead of on my belt. (Lowers the Geek Factor a bit.) The looks and protection of this case does come at a small price in that it just about doubles the thickness of the iPod Touch, but not too much to the length and width. Still,l it's very compact overall compared to other PDA cases I've used.

One word of note about carrying this or any similar device is that I never carry these in my back pocket. To me, it's just too risky. But with this case, the iPod Touch is very "front-pocketable", and if you carry change or keys in the same pocket, you really don't need to worry as the protection is great.

My only real complaint, and it is minor, is that over time, leather stretches, so my iPod Touch didn't seem to be gripped as tightly as it was when the case was new. It did slide a bit, but it wasn't a problem, and I never felt like it would inadvertently slip out.

Overall, the Griffin Elan Convertible Case provides compact, nice-looking protection for yout iPod Touch. Though at present, I am using a different case, I still highly recommended this one. It is a great-looking case with great features at a price that won't break the bank.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/ipod-touch-tips/ipod-touch-review-griffin-elan-convertible-case

Feb 26

iPod Touch Review: “January Upgrade” Applications

Apple released a firmware update (v1.1.3) providing some system tweaks and bug fixes, but it also came with a controversial upgrade that included 5 additional applications and some enhanced system functionality. What made it so controversial was that Apple charged $20 for the applications and enhanced functions. Some of the applications are simple, and some are full-featured, but they all add excellent functionality. I think they give us a great taste of what is to come. Read on to see the details of these new applications….

Here is a brief rundown and commentary on the new applications and enhancements:

iPod Touch - Mail

Mail

This is a surprisingly feature-rich and very useful POP/IMAP/Exchange multi-account email client. I use Gmail, and it auto-configures, connects, and syncs to my Gmail account very well. What's most useful is that it maintains a (user-selectable) number of messages offline, so you can read, reply to, and manage these messages while offline. All changes or sends get updated the next time you go online. Though it is not without its quirks, it is a very solid application. To me, one of the most useful feature is that the Mail app will download and let you view a number of attachment types including .PDF, Word, and Excel files in a viewer component that provides Multitouch zooming, panning and screen rotation. Can't wait for an eBook application to be developed? Just Email yourself a document, and you can read it offline.

iPod Touch - Maps

Maps

This is an amazing application. It is a standalone Google Maps application that has some offline capabilities. You can view the map, satellite, and hybrid views as well as traffic if (available.) It uses Multitouch to zoom in and out of maps, and you can search for destinations as well as define routes. And once you have a route set and downloaded, you can easily and quickly step through the route while offline. It displays the route text as well as the map surounding each route point. Though Maps only provides for one offline route, it's still a very elegant and impressive application.

iPod Touch - Notes

Notes

To me, this one application was worth the price of the cost of the upgrade (with a couple minor caveats.) Being able to quickly and easily add information into the iPod Touch on-the-go is very important to me, and is an essential PIM component. The Notes application is simple, yet very functional and fun to use. Its animation, though not necessary for function, was unexpected and is very pleaseing. Editing uses the fingertip keyboard entry, but it's very usable.

So far, I only have two complaints with the Notes application: The first one is minor–I would like to be able to control the sorting of the notes, specifically being able to sort alphabetically. Notes are sorted by last modification date which is really not a big deal, but as you get more and more notes, this could become cumbersome. My second complaint is that Notes does not sync with anything through iTunes. The files may be backed up, but they are not editable or accessible. I think this is a huge oversight on Apple's part, and I hope that Apple releases a version that will sync with Outlook or some such. (Hmmm…how about WiFi syncing with Google Notes?) I'd also like to see it optionally sync to and from .txt text files through iTunes. Being able to enter notes on a computer using a real keyboard is really essential for long text entry, and could leverage Notes as an extremely useful reference tool.

iPod Touch - Weather

Weather

This slick little weather application is simple: Define one or more locations, and when you open the application while WiFi is connected, it pulls in the current and forecasted weather conditions for the location. The weather data comes from Yahoo, and is presented in a very clean graphic format.

iPod Touch - Stocks

Stocks

This little application will let you define several stocks to track, and like the Weather application, it will go out onto the Internet via WiFi and pull in the latest stock and index quotes with corresponding graphs.

Web Clips

This is an integration enhancement that lets you save a Bookmark of a Web page in Safari as an icon on your iPod Touch's Home page. This means that, for example, next to your Calculator icon, you can have a tappable link directly to the CNN home page. It works on any Web page, and makes access to your desired Web pages a snap.

Customized Home Page

This system enhancement lets you move around and order the icons on the iPod Touch's Home page. It supports up to nine pages of icon groupings, so you can more logically organize your applications and Web Clips. You can also customize what icons appear on the Dock.

Bottom Line

So the bottom line is that Apple has provides some excellent applications and enhancements. Is it worth your $20? That completely depends on your needs and wants, but for me, it was well worth it.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/ipod-touch-tips/ipod-touch-review-january-upgrade-applications

Feb 25

iPod Touch Review: “Jailbreaking”

Jailbroken iPod TouchI’m going to get this topic out of the way early on, as it is a topic that is taboo in many circles, but important, none the less. I am not going to explain here how to Jailbreak your iPhone/iPod Touch–a Google search can lead you where you need to go for those details. I am going to explain what Jailbreaking is, the reasons behind Jailbreaking, some cautions, why I Jailbroke my iPod Touch, and what you can do with a Jailbroken iPod Touch. So read on to see my experience with Jailbreaking my iPod Touch…

“Jailbreaking” is a method of hacking your iPhone/iPod Touch such that you can install and run third-party applications. It is typically done by taking advantage of one of several vulnerabilities in the iPod Touch’s software. These vulnerabilities, could conceivably be used to spread malicious code such as trojans and viruses, but in this case, it has one intention: install a small, yet powerfull application called Installer.app. Once installed and launched, Installer.app provides several important functions: Connect to one of many user-definable application repositories to select, download, and install those applications; manage updates; uninstall applications; and to manage the sources of those repositories. It’s currently at version 3 and is a very solid and well-developed application.

One of the original (and for many, current) intentions of Jailbreaking was to be able to unlock your iPhone so the user could use a different SIM card, thus “freeing” you from AT&T. I’m not going to address the legal ramifications of this, but suffice it to say, a huge side effect of a Jailbroken iPhone was that you could install and run other applications as well. Thus the Installer.app was born. Obviously, the iPod Touch does not have phone capabilities, so the only reason to Jailbreak an iPod Touch is to provide the ability to run additional applications. And it is proving to be a very useful feature.

As a word of caution, it is important to understand that Jailbreaking your iPhone/iPod Touch is not supported by Apple. Any applications you install are considered “unauthorized” because they are not digitally signed or distributed by Apple. It is obvious that one of Apple’s design goals is to provide a product that requires as little support as possible. By Apple controlling what gets installed, the likelihood of support issues goes way down. When you let the user install whatever applications come along, you raise the potential for support issues. In fact, there have actually been a couple instances of malware that slipped into the applications available to Jailbroken devices to which Apple promptly says, “I told you so.”

Further, some methods of Jailbreaking, if not followed precisely, can leave your iPhone/iPod Touch in a “bricked” state turning it into a sleek-looking multi-hundered dollar paperwight. And some people have either had problems with the Jailbreaking process, or simply don’t understand the process resulting in a messed up device. The bottom line here is that as an iPhone/iPod Touch owner, you really have two choices: Follow Apple’s upgrade and support path, or venture out on your own into the world of jailbreaking. (One point of note is that currently, in almost all cases, simply doing a simple “restore” through iTunes will bring your Jailbroken iPod Touch back to a “stock, non-jailbroken state.)

So once you have Jailbroken yout iPod Touch, what can you do? Well, launching the Installer.app application reveals a modest list of available applications. One of the categories is called “Sources” which, if installed, add yet more application repositories, expanding your list of available applications. And all of these applications are true, honest-to-goodness applications ranging from very simple to amazingly sophistocated. From eBook readers to games to UI enhancements, the list is vast. And yes, you can even install Apache, turning your iPod Touch into a full-blown Web server!

So why did I Jailbreak my iPod Touch? Installation of third-party applications is obvious, but it went deeper. My original goal was to try out the various applications that were being developed to get a feel for the true capabilities of the iPod Touch. Folks, the results really were amazing. Many of the applications I played around with showed off what the iPod Touch can do, and many were amazingly professional. If the skill and imagination of the authors of Jailbroken applications is any indication of what is to come once Apples releases it’s forthcoming Software Development Kit (more on tha later) we have lots of exciting times ahead of us!

I’m currently running firmware v1.1.3, and I purchased the “January Update” applications (more on that later.) After jailbreaking, I have installed a nice suite of applications, utilities, and tools that have transformed my iPod Touch from an advanced media player to a powerful entertainment and information resource. Here is an example of what I have installed and use regularly:

advanced calculator
eBook reader with the full text of the KJV Bible, many of the U.S. Founding documents, several works of Shakespeare and Edgar Allen Poe, the five books of the Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, and a number of other eBooks
Dictionary containing one of Miriam Webster’s dictionaries
Sketch Pad to jot hand-drawn notes
Wiki2Touch, an amazing offline Wikipedia application providing the entire text content of Wikipedia–offline
And a few games

Here are some screenshots of several of the applications:
Books - eBook Reader Wiki2Touch - Offline Wikipedia Reader

Sketches - Freehand drawn notes PDFViewer - View PDF files

iSolitaire - Beautiful card game Term-vt100 - Internal Terminal window

MACalc - Advanced Calculator

And all this leaves me well over 4GB of space to load up my favorite photos, songs, and a few videos.

I have high hopes for Apple’s direction in releasing their SDK, and I hope that even a small portion of what I’ve seen on my Jailbroken iPod Touch is “officially” made available. But until then, I’m enjoying the vast resources in my pocket.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/ipod-touch-tips/ipod-touch-review-jailbreaking

Feb 25

iPod TouchReview: iPod Touch 8GB

I've been a long-time proponent and user of PalmOS PDA's, but lately I have become very by Palm's lack of innovation in their offerings. And innovation is something Palm was regularly known for. For example, consider the Palm V, arguably one of Palm's most innovative designs with its sleek form and powerful (for 1999) capabilities. This was an example of a innovation driving the market.

The PDA trend eventually shifted to "convergence" devices like the Smartphone. But despite their popularity, many of us prefer to have separate devices. Over time, Palm's PDA offerings have really amount to permutations of the same old thing. Now don't get me wrong, I love Palm PDA's. It's just that nothing really new has come out to cause me to want to upgrade or consider a device from another company. So another company appears to be picking up the ball and running with it.

The Apple iPod Touch

Enter the Apple iPod Touch….

Read on for my review of Apple's iPod Touch…

After poking around on the Internet and reading articles and commentary on Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch devices, I decided to give the iPod Touch a closer look. The iPod Touch is basically an iPhone without the phone, camera, or Bluetooth. What's left is a solid, elegant WiFi-enabled media player that also happens to run other applications. I've never actually owned a portable MP3/media player, so I was entering uncharted territory. The closest I came was the several PalmOS multimedia PDAs that could play MP3 files and videos, but they were primarily PDA's, and media playback often seemed like an afterthought.

Now, before I go too far with this, I need to clarify one thing. While I do understand that Apple markets the iPod Touch primarily as a multimedia player, it really is (or has the potential to be) so much more. The iPod Touch is a powerful, pocket-sized, OS X-based (derived from BSD UNIX), WiFi-enabled, touchscreen computer that is very well-suited to run and manage so much more than just music and video playback. Having significant experience with many PDA's over the years, I feel that the iPod Touch has the potential to become the PDA that could significantly refine the concept of what is a current PDA. It is this kind of innovation that very well could launch Apple far ahead of Palm. It could very well be the "Palm V for the 21's Century", if you will.

Hardware
The iPod Touch is very sleek and very small. It measures just 4.3" x 2.4"  x .31" (110mm x 61.8mm x 8mm) and weighs in at 4.2 ounces (120g). Yet, it has a very substantial, comfortable feel, though not too heavy. It is solid and does not bend or creak when flexed. The front of the case surrounding the screen appears to be plastic, and the back of the case is metal–mirrored chrome. The chrome back, like on other iPod models, is very prone to scratching, so you'll want to quickly grab some sort of case to protect it. Overall, it is very solid and very sturdy.

Compare this to the Palm V, and you'll see how advanced it is:

iPod Touch     Palm V

The touchscreen is really nice-looking and solid. Unlike most PDA designs where the touch sensors are on top of the screen, the iPod Touch's sensors are under a screen of solid glass. This means that the touchscreen is very sturdy and not as easily scratched as are plastic-based touchscreens. Obviously, glass can still scratch and wear, so simple a screen protector is all that is really needed for decent protection.

With the addition of a simple sleeve or cover and a screen protector, there is no reason why the iPod Touch can't be "front-pocketable". If the pocket you put it in has keys, coins, or other metal objects, you may want a more durable case. In any case, it's so small that you are more likely to have it with you. Also, a word of caution: I personally never "back-pocket" any PDA simply because I don't want to risk damage.

WiFi
Apple's inclusion of WiFi is very well done. The Settings screen that controls connectivity is very intuitive, and also serves as a basic "stumbler" application showing you all avaiilable WiFi Access Points within range, bith open and locked. The settings are quite customizable, and once set to your liking, connectivity is a snap. I have used a couple WiFi-enabled PDA's and the iPod Touch is by far the fastest and easiest to use, and so far, the most reliable. Its integration is seamless.

If I could change one thing about Apple's WiFi implementation, it's that they did not provide any simple way to toggle WiFi on or off. Leaving it on will drain your battery, so being able to toggle it on or off is essential. Yes, you can do it through the Settings screen, but why don't they include a Home page icon that will do it simply and wuickly, similar to excellent the WiFiSwitch application for Jailbroken devices?

And as long as I'm complaining, the my only real complaint with Apple's hardware choices is the lack of an external speaker. The included transducer simply doesn't cut it. Other than some very basic system sounds like some clicks and very soft-sounding alarms, you need earbuds or headphones to hear any real sound. I realize that other iPods don't have external speakers, but this is quite limiting, in my opinion, given the advanced capabilities and potential of this device. How many times have you wanted to play a quick audio or video clip for someone, but don't because you either don't have or don't want to hassle with earbuds? Having an external speaker would really make this so much easier.

User Interface
The iPod Touch's User Interface is very responsive and very well-suited to fingertip navigation. For example, scrolling is not done by the typical tapping or dragging of a scrollbar. Instead, you just use an up or down "flick" gesture on the screen, and the content scrolls–it's very intuitive. And then there's the "Multitouch" gestures that make interaction fun and easy. Doing a "pinch" motion with two fingers on the screen will zoom in where applicable, and doing a "spread" (or "reverse pinch") will zoom you out. In many cases, "double-tapping" will do a quick zoom in, and "double-tapping" again will quickly zoom you back out.

Another nice feature is an automatic "Landscape" mode that rotates when you tilt the device. There is an accelerometer built-in that detects when you tilt the iPod Touch, so when you turn it on its side, if the application supports it, the screen will rotate in that direction to a landscape format. This is excellent for functions as Cover-Flow and Web browsing.

iPod Touch Landscape

Text input is done with an on-screen keyboard–there is no handwriting recognition here. Surprisingly, the implementation works very well with the fingertip. You won't get the speed of thumb-typing on say, a Treo or a Blackberry, but it's quit usable. My fingers occasionally tap the wrong letter, but correcting is easy. The only real shortcoming of text input is the absence of any Cut and Paste functions, though
it is rumored tha
t a forthcoming firmware upgrade will add this.

Software
The
iPod Touch was originally marketed as an innovative media player, but it does include several other applications like a Calendar, Contacts, and Web browser that bring it closer to the PDA world. Here is a brief description of the included applications:

Music
The heart and soul of all iPods is its ability to play music. The iPod Touch really shines with a slick, intuitive interface. Just sync your music files through iTunes, and you can browse by artist, album, song, genra, and more.

There is also an alternate view called "Cover Flow" that takes advantage of the iPod Touch's landscape mode. While in the music app, tilt the device 90° in either direction, and you see a fanned-out cover-art display of all of your albums. Doing a "flick" gesture left or right scrolls through the animated display, so you can quickly navigate to any alnum. And tapping on a cover "flips" it over revealing the songs on that album. Tapping any of the songs begins playback.

My only complaint with Cover Flow is that it appears to sort the albums by the name of the first artist listed on the album, not album name. For single-artist albums, this is a non-issue, but it can be confusing when dealing with compilation albums. I wish there was a Settings option to define how Cover Flow sorts the albums.

On not-so-know feature allows you to control music playback and volume from within any application or even when the device is locked. Just press thr Home button twice in seccussion, and a small music control pad will pop up. Given that the iPod Touch does not have any external volume controls, this is an excellent and convenient solution.

Videos
Like several other iPod models, the iPod Touch will play videos. From short clips to full-length movies, they look and sound great. Videos can be purchased through iTunes or converted using either iTUns or several third-party applications. Browsing the videos is straight forward, and playback offers full control. In my opinion, compared to the Palm OS PDA's I have used to play back video, the iPod Touch leads the pack.

Photos
The Photos application launches displaying scrollable list of "categories" derived from the directories the photos are stored in. Tapping a category brings up a scrollable list of thumbnails. tapping a thumbnail will display the photo full-screen. Like several other applications, rotating the iPod Touch will put it into Landscape mode whci may make some photos easier to see. You can use the "flick" gesture to scroll, the "pinch" gesture to zoom in or out, and double-tapping will zoom in and out. When zoomed, you can pan around. You can also view the photos as a slideshow.

From within the Photos application, you can select one of the pictures to be used as your Lock-screen background. It's a great application store and show off your pictures. Images must be synced through iTunes.

Calendar
The Calendar app is a modest appointment calendar that will sync with iCal or Outlook. It does not include ToDo's or Notes, but as an appointment manager, it works well. I do wish, however, that it would sync wirelessly with Google Calendar.

Contacts
The Contacts application is fairly complete offering lots of fields for your needs. It syncs with iCan and Outlook. I don't use it that mutch, but the UI is very slick and friendly.

Safari
The Safari Web browser is simply amazing. I have used Web browsers on several Palm OS PDA's, and there is simply no comparison. Safari beats them all hands-down in all counts. Pages render quickly and accurately in Safari, and best of all, they aren't proxy-hobbled or stripped pages–they are the real pages. There is no Flash support, but it is rumored that a forthcoming firmware update will add this feature.

iPod Touch - Safari

Of course, on the small sreen of the iPod Touch, many pages are simply unreadable, but this is quickly and easily resolved by the using the iPod Touch's advanced User Interface. First, you can tilt the device into Landscape mode giving you a wider, more readable display. This is all you need to do in many cases. You can also double-tap on any part of a page, and it will zoom that section to fit the screen. Double-tapping again will zoom you back out. The "pinch" gestures will zoom you in and out as well. A "Flick" gesture up or down will scroll in the desired direction, and if you are zoomed in, tapping and holding then dragging will pan the screen. And to select a link, just tap on it. Internal links load in the same page, while external links take advantage of Safari's Multi-Page view. Safari can maintain several open pages, conceptually similar to Firefox and IE7's Tabs, except pages are chosen through a thumbnail-like viewer. It's a very fresh and intuitive way to navigate Web pages.

Obviously, getting the Web pages requires WiFi connectivity, but the pages are still viewable while offline–almost. Safari's page cache seems to be dependent upon available memory, so if you have more than a few pages open, or have one or two large pages open, if you navigate to another application and return to Safari, the pages may be lost. Unfortunately, what or how much is stored is not predictable, so you cannot rely on having pages always available offline. I would like to see Apple provide an enhancement to Safari that would provide for viewing of saved pages while offline.

Also, Safari displays Adobe .PDF file in an excellent rotatable, zoomable viewer, but you must get the file online, as Safari prevents viewing any local files (file:///…) Of course, there is currently no "official" way to store .PDF files locally, so this may not be an issue.

YouTube
I haven't used this app much, but it provides you with direct access to YouTube videos. The interface is solid, quick, and you have full control over playback. You can browse various video lists or search for specific videos. YouTube fans should enjoy this.

iTunes WiFi Music Store
This slick little application lets you connect directly to your iTunes account while connected via WiFi. You can browse and search for songs and albums, you can listen to previews, and you can purchase and download the song or album immediately with the purchase being charged to yout iTunes account. You cannot access PodCasts or Videos through the app, but for music lovers, this should give you what you want.

So, there you ahve the basics of what the iPod Touch is all about. If you would like an even more detailed hardware and software review, jump over to over at The Gageteer's site: http://the-gadgeteer.com/review/apple_ipod_touch for their excellent review.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/ipod-touch-tips/ipod-touchreview-ipod-touch-8gb

Feb 15

Welcome to iPod Touch Tips!

iPod Touch iPod Touch Tips is a new section on JimsTips.com to provide Tips, reviews, and other information about Apple’s iPod Touch . The iPod Touch, originally marketed as media player, is capable of so much more. With WiFi, Web Browsing, and the addition of a few new applications, the iPod Touch is much improved with some new and extended capabilities.

The domain iPTTips.com redirects to this page, so you can always get to iPod Touch Tips by pointing your browser to http://iPTTips.com.

Apple’s AppStore has hundreds of applications for the iPhone & iPod Touch, so stay tuned as I give my thoughts and reviews of my favorite apps!

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/ipod-touch-tips/welcome-to-ipod-touch-tips

Dec 04

Welcome to Zonbu Tips!

Going away soon!

Zonbu Support stated specifically that due to financial reasons, Zonbu will not provide any OS updates for the Zonbu Mini.

In light of this, I am letting the domain ZonbuTips.com expire since I will not be adding or maintaining any tips for this device or service.

It was a great concept of a product that just couldn’t effectively get off the ground.

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/zonbu-tips/welcome-to-zonbu-tips

Feb 22

SageTV Tip #9: HD Content With HDHomeRun

I purchased an HDHomeRun receiver, and I now have access to four "local broadcast" HD channels through SageTV! The channels seamlessly show up in SageTV’s Electronic Program Guide (EPG) and I can now view and record any show on those channels. And any HD content vews, records, and plays back in full HD glory! Read on to see my experience with this excellent product…

Some Background On HD In The PVR World
HD content is typically provided in one of three ways: Satellite, Cable, and Over-the-air (OTA). Unfortunately for PVR applications like SageTV, Satellite providers encrypt all channels, so a Set-Top-Box (STB) is required to receive HD content. And in almost all cases, there is no PC-compatible output on the STB to pass through the HD content to be able to record the (true) HD content. Cable providers also encrypt most channels and therefore also require a STB for decoding. But the good news is that most cable provides leave the "local broadcast" HD channels unencrypted. For OTA broadcast channels, you would need a suitable antenna and an HD decoder box to receive the HD content. For these last two cases, this is where HDHomeRun comes in.

For Cable, it’s a simple matter of connecting your cable directly to an input on the HDHomeRun box and running a configuration application to scan for digital channels. If digital channels are found, the application will tell you if they are "encrypted" or not. If a channel is encrypted, you cannot view it–no exceptions. But if it is not encrypted, then you should be able to view it. You can reasonably expect local broadcast channels (like NBC, FOX, PBS, etc.) to be available, but it all depends on how your cable company configures their channels. You may be able to view lots of HD channels, you may have just a few, or you may have none. In any case, "premium" HD channels will likely always be encrypted.

For OTA, again, it’s a matter of aiming the antenna, connecting the cable to the HDHomeRun box, and running the configuration application. I have not used this method, so I cannot speak to it. I can only describe my experience with a Cable source from Charter.

In either case, HDHomeRun provides two source input connections, so you can connect any combination of Cable or OTA sources.

Out Of The Box
OK, so I received my shiny new HDHomeRun, and like every review I’ve read states, it’s sparse packaging. But it includes everything you need to hook up. The only thing you may need to purchase is a good splitter to split your cable signal. The unit itself is completely unlabeled, and it would be nice to have some indication of what the LED’s mean and which input connection is which. They do include a printed "cheat sheet", but in reality, once you get things set up, labels are pretty irrelevant.

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Initial Setup
Setup of the HDHomeRUn was a snap. Instead of trying to get it to work with SageTV right away, I decided to just test it with my wireless laptop. As an aside, I do recommend using the DOS version of the configuration utility to generate a text file containing the complete scan results. It’s a LOT quicker than manually scanning using the GUI. Maybe the GUI could be updated to provide a full, automated scan.

I ran the DOS HdHomeRun_config tool and found lots of digital channels on Charter Cable in Anderson, SC (Greenville/Spartanburg/Anderson) but alas, most were marked "encrypted". Using the GUI application, I selected one of those non-encrypted channels, launched VLC, and voila…rystal-clear HD content! Very nice!

In all, I have 11 viewable channels and about 50+ music channels (I haven’t played with these yet.) Of the 11 channels, 4 are actual "HD" channels.

Digital but not HD channels
77-3 An unknown Spanish channel
77-4 GAC Great American Country
78-2 WYFFDT2 Weather
78-7 WHNSDT2 Weather
78-8 WSPADT2 Weather
86-8 SC
90-1-54 Music channels
91-1 BET

HD channels

103-1 WYFFDT NBC
103-2 WSPADT CMS
103-3 WNTVDT3 PBS
104-1 WHNSDT FOX

So the bad news is that I only get 4 HD channels.

But the great news is that I now get 4 HD channels! And that’s EXACTLY what I wanted! They are viewable and recordable through SageTV. Of course, I would love to have more channels such as HDNet, DiscoveryHD, etc., but my wife and I are perfectly happy with this current lineup.

Sagetv Setup
I logged the viewable channel/program numbers and began the SageTV setup process. If you follow the instructions, it actually isn’t that difficult. It took me a couple tries, because I was unsure if I had to stop the SageTV services or not, so I just did, and it worked. The HDHomeRun tuner showed up as a selection in SageTV’s "Video Sources" setup screen. Things were looking good.

Next came the challenge of how to configure the channels in SageTV’s EPG. In retrospect, it’s not difficult, but your setup can dictate how it’ll work. I managed to mess a couple things up, but fixing things was easy.

A Brief Explanation Of My Source Setup
I have two Hauppauge PVR-150 cards. One is connected to raw analog cable providing channnels 2-99, and the other to a digital STB providing channels 2-799. Charter Cable provides several EPG selections for my area, so when I did my original SageTV setup, I had to choose two separate EPG selections to accommodate the channel overlap. Adding the HDHomeRun to the mix now complicated things because I had four channels to add. I was a bit confused by what I should choose. After some trial-and-error, I discovered that Charter has a "Local Broadcast" EPG selection, so I just used that for the HD channels, and it worked perfectly.

My EPG selections are:

Basic Cable – assigned to the Analog PVR0150
Extended Basic Cable – assigned to the STB PVR-150
Local Broadcast – assigned to the HDHomeRun

At that point, it was just a matter of enabling the channels and mapping the physical numbers using the channel/program info that I logged from the channel scan. To make things easier, I also mapped the new HD channels to different virtual channel numbers in SageTV. I chose 801, 802, 803 & 804 since those channels aren’t used in my SD lineups. This makes finding the new HD channels in the EPG a snap.

I now have a nice, clean EPG with Channels 2-99 seamlessly shared by the analog and STB connections, digital channels 100-799 services by the STB connection only, and channels 801-804 serviced by HDHomeRun.

A Small Nitpick
The HDHomeRun’s audio is soft on most HD shows–not all, but most. I have to turn it way up. We just have to remember to turn the volume down when we switch to SD channels.

A Quick Tip
Now that I have access to HD content (whough it is limited) I wanted a way to quickly find HD-only content. I use malore’s excellent "customizable menus plugin" for SageTV, so I simply modified two of his custom menus (Menu2 & Menu3) and configured them to only show HDTV content. I then configured one menu to group and sort by date, and the other to group by title and sort by date. So I now have a quick & easy way to see what HD content I can record. VERY nice!

Conclusion
I now have a SageTV setup that provides full DVR capabilities to analog and digital SD content, and limited HD content. And because the stuttering issue is behind us, we can now really enjoy SageTV, on our HDTV as it was intended! And frankly, some of the PBS shows are simply visually stunning. And it is completely seamless in the EPG. There’s nothing "special" we have to do to record or watch anything. It just simply works!

Permanent link to this article: http://jimstips.com/sagetv-tips/sagetv-tip-9-hd-content-with-hdhomerun

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