v-moda vibe duo nero for iPhone

Like many of you, one size doesn’t fit all. Although I have big ears my ear canals are relatively small which makes me not a fan of in-ear anything. So the standard Apple ear buds (although the more recent ones are a lot better) tend to be uncomfortable after extended use. Now this isn’t a problem for the iPod because there is a dizzying array of choices for iPods, there aren’t as many for iPhones. The two big obstacles are for one the iPhone’s headphone jack is recessed and most standard ear buds don’t fit without an adapter and two, most standard 3rd party ear buds and headphones don’t have an integrated mic and control for accepting calls.

So I was intrigued when a friend was telling me about the v-moda vibe duo headset. This headset was designed with the iPhone in mind and works perfectly with it right out of the box. It comes with, count them, 6 different sets of ear cushions (2 sets of 3 sizes in black and white for your style preference). The small white set come pre-installed and those were the most comfortable for me right off the bat. After getting a good fit, the next test was using them while I was on the phone. So I returned a call and carried out my entire conversation without the person on the other end asking, "are you on a headset?" Sound quality is GREAT! While phone call clarity passed the test, the next biggest area was sound quality while listening to music. Keep in mind I’m not an audiophile, so your mileage may vary. I fired up a few of my favorite tunes and while the sound was great, I can’t say that it was leaps and bounds better than the stock ear buds. There was good base response (considering that these are ear buds) and the sound was crystal clear. I also checked out the integrated remote and was able to pause/start my music as well as advance to the next track without having to touch the iPhone. This remote also allows you to answer calls too without touching the iPhone itself. I was also happy to see that they include a carrying case. This is often overlooked by some manufacturers and since I plan to carry these in my coat pocket, it’s great to have a case.

I got these on sale during Apple’s Day After Thanksgiving Sale. The regular price is $99.95 ($99 at Amazon.com). That seams a bit steep for ear buds (and it is), however, if you’re looking for optimum comfort and sound quality and out of the box iPhone integration, you can’t go wrong with the vibe duo nero headset.

Nikon D300 Review – first impressions

I picked up my new Nikon D300 last Wednesday from the good folks over at Adray Camera (who assured me that I would be one of the first kids on the block to get one, Thanks Kevin!). It was great having the holiday weekend to put it through some initial tests. I’m coming into this new camera body from a Nikon D80 and my main motivation for upgrading (the D80 is great camera) was to be able to shoot at higher ISO settings with less visible noise. In brief, the new Nikon D300 does just that. Now for those of you who currently have D200’s there’s probably not as much of a need to upgrade to the D300.

The first thing I noticed was how smooth the camera operated and especially the 51 point focus system is killer. This camera also has several more ways to customize it compared to my D80. It took me a while to figure out where the options were located for some of the things that I had setup on my D80. For example, something as simple as turning on the image review (after you take a shot, the LCD displays the last shot you took for a few moments), took me several minutes to find. Everything I wanted to set was there, it was just that some of these options were buried and had obscure names. I like to think that I should be able to pickup a new Nikon (now that I’m on my 3rd one) and be able to set it up the way I want without having to refer to the manual. Sadly, that was not the case this time. One setting I gave up on was the setting that allows you to use the Command Dial to quickly thumb through your shots. I just couldn’t figure out what Nikon would call this feature or where it was located in the menus. So I called my buddy Scott Kelby who shoots with a Nikon D200 (his D300 is on the way too) and he walked me through to the right menu which was Custom Settings Menu -> Controls -> Customize command dials -> Menus and playback = ON. Maybe that seems straight forward to some, but my brain just never saw that as being the option I was looking for.

 

On to the noise tests

Once I got all my settings set I moved on to the noise testing which again was my main motivation for upgrading. I want to be able to shoot in lower light situations at a higher ISO setting with less Christmas tree like noise. My first round of tests was to use natural light coming from a nearby window to shoot a floral arrangement on a black Westcott background. I was very happy with my results!

I shot the flower above at a full range of ISO settings and I’m happy to report that shooting at ISO 800 was extremely acceptable. I could even go higher before starting to cringe.

Zoomed in 1:1 in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom on a shot at ISO 800

 

zoomed in 1:1 in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom on a shot at ISO 1600

 

Here’s a link to 4 of my shots (39MB download) at ISO 200, 800, 1600 & 3200 shot in Camera RAW and then converted to Adobe .DNG format using Lightroom.

 

The higher the ISO setting the more noise/grain you’ll see. However, compared to my D80 this is a night and day improvement. The other thing that I’m totally addicted to is the speed of this puppy. While the D3 would probably be better suited for sports photography, this camera would be a great second choice at less than half the price of the D3.

 

My setup

Nikon D300 (shooting in RAW)

Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 lens

shot at f/4.5 in Aperture Priority mode

Westcott reversible background

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.3 running on Mac OS X 10.5.1 Leopard

 

Bottom Line

While I’ve only had this camera for a few days, I’m very happy. I’ve also ordered a di GPS unit that attaches directly to it. Look for that review here. The Nikon D300 goes for $1,799.95. If you would like to read a full review and see all the specs, check out these two: dpreview and Steve’s Digicams should have one up soon.

 

Hey, I’m selling my Nikon D80 gear! Check it out here on eBay

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Black Friday 2007 Deals

I gotta admit, I’m not a fan of standing in line outside in the cold/rain/snow to "possibly" get a deal. Don’t get me wrong I get all giddy saving money just as much as the next guy. Especially on tech gear. I’m just not a morning person. However, if you like this sort of thing and you don’t mind getting out this Friday, check out this site which offers a pretty comprehensive listing of Black Friday 2007 Deals.

The fastest card!

I was ready to declare the PNY Technologies card the winner in my recent Compact Flash Card Speed Tests when my buddy Scott Kelby reminded me that it’s not only about how fast the card reads data, but also how fast the card writes data. So this lead me to do some more testing.

For those of you who haven’t been following along, this all began with my recent purchase of the CFExpressPro+ PCIe ExpressCard to CompactFlash Memory Card Adapter 2.5Gbps. This ExpressCard Compact Flash Card Reader boasts the ability to operate at the ExpressCard slot’s true PCIe speeds. My first tests with Lexar Pro media yielded horrible results in that I either have a bad card or their write acceleration is just not compatible with this reader. So I went out and bought some different cards. I bought a couple of SanDisk’s Extreme III and IV cards and I bought the PNY Technologies Optimal PRO and Optima PRO UDMA cards. These cards were rated at 133x and 266x by their respective manufacturers. I was shocked that the PNY cards were much faster than the SanDisk cards on READING my 1.1GB test folder. Like I said, I was ready to declare PNY the winner until I ran some WRITE tests. The results put SanDisk back on top. Using the Sychnrotech ExpressCard PCIe Reader, here’s what I got:

Card Read 1.1GB Write 1.1 GB
PNY Technologies Optima Pro 133x 2GB Card 40.9 seconds 56.9 seconds
PNY Technologies Optima Pro UDMA 266x 2GB Card 35.7 seconds 45.2 seconds
SanDisk Extreme III 133x 2GB Card 70.8 seconds 71.1 seconds
SanDisk Extreme IV 266x 2GB Card 41.6 seconds 29.4 seconds

 

While the PNY card did win the Read tests hands down, what really matters to a digital photographer the most (besides reliability) is the speed at which images can be written to the card and the SanDisk Extreme IV edges out the PNY card by 18% margin!

Also no matter how you slice it having the Synchrotech ExpressCard Memory Adapter ($65) blows away USB card readers. In all of my tests the fastest time I could achieve with my USB card reader was just over 2 minutes whereas with the ExpressCard adapter I achieved 35.7 seconds and 41.6 second read times. If you’re a pro digital photographer and have a notebook with an ExpressCard slot, this is a must purchase. Time is money.


 

 

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.3, Camera RAW 4.3, Photoshop CS3 updates

The Adobe Photoshop engineering team has been quite busy over the past few weeks (months) and has just released a slew of updates:

 

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.3

This is the update you’ve been waiting for if you are on or going to Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard or if you were in the market for one of the hot new DSLR Cameras. Not only do we get improved Leopard compatibility but we also get native camera RAW support for the following cameras:

Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III
Canon PowerShot G9
Nikon D3
Nikon D300 <- OK sign me up!
Olympus E-3
Olympus SP-560 UZ
Panasonic  DMC-L10

Adobe is first to market (again) with support for the RAW format of the Nikon D3 and D300! The applications also now support the sRAW format produced by the Canon 1D Mk III, 1Ds Mk III, and 40D.

Also Adobe has released a Preview of the Lightroom Export SDK (available on http://labs.adobe.com). This will allow developers to create some really cool workflows. Think direct export to Flickr, Smugmug, FTP Hosts, etc.

 

Adobe Camera RAW 4.3 and the DNG Converter 4.3

If Lightroom is not your thing, but you are a Photoshop CS3 user then you’ll get the same camera RAW support as Lightroom in these updates.

 

Adobe Photoshop CS3 10.0.1& Bridge CS3 2.1.1

The most significant fixes in the Photoshop 10.0.1 update include the following:

A crash that could occur when Microsoft Intellipoint software is installed has been fixed.

  • The speed of moving objects contained within multiple layer sets has been improved.
  • The speed of closing large documents has been improved.
  • Converting images to CMYK using certain profiles no longer results in black files.
  • A crash that could occur when saving a 4-bit BMP file with 16 or fewer colors has been fixed.
  • The Save for Web feature now includes an option to “Include XMP” (metadata) in the settings menu within the main Save for Web interface, making the existing capability easier to access.
  • When using Save For Web with “Include XMP” enabled, all XMP data is now included in the optimized file.
  • A problem that could cause the incorrect printer to appear within the print dialog box has been corrected.
  • Images no longer print with odd-sized margins on various Epson printers, or print smaller and off-centered.
  • Printer settings in Windows® are saved with a document while that document is open. If a document has not had Page Setup settings applied to it, the document will get the previous page setup used during the current session of Photoshop.
  • Photoshop now turns off Windows ICM (system color management) when “Photoshop Manages Colors.”
  • Print color matching has been improved.
  • A problem that caused certain laser printers to show distortions when printing to a nonsquare resolution has been fixed.
  • Images saved as DICOM and reopened in Photoshop CS3 are no longer corrupted on PowerPC® based Mac computers.

The Adobe® Bridge CS3 2.1.1 update includes the following fixes and enhancements:

  • A new preference to enable High Quality Preview has been added to Bridge’s Preferences > Advanced panel. When enabled, the preference addresses the problem of a soft or blurry preview appearing in the Preview panel and in Slideshow mode.
  • Data loss that could result from replacing a folder with another folder by the same name has been prevented.
  • Issues that could cause Bridge to crash (for example, when encountering a PDF or AI file) have been corrected.
  • A problem that could cause Bridge to lock up when using arrows to navigate has been fixed.
  • XMP data is now handled correctly when added to CR2 files.
  • A problem that could cause the Loupe tool not to be available after exiting from Slideshow mode has been corrected.
  • Rapid clicks to select multiple files are no longer interpreted as a double-click, so unintended opening of multiple files is now reduced.

All of the updates above are available for download from adobe.com and should be available through the Adobe Updater.

 


Hey! I made it into Newsweek

It may not be a feature article on me (yet 🙂 ), but when writer Daniel McGinn was researching for an article that he was writing on Garmin and GPS units he came across my blog and tracked me down at work. Needless to say that when my admin passed me the message I was stunned. I called Dan back and we talked about GPS units and where I thought the industry was headed. He wrote a pretty elaborate article and you can see my "small" quote on the bottom of page 3.

Speaking of GPS units, be sure to check out my review of the Navigon 2100 below.

Navigon 2100 Portable GPS Review

  

My dad dropped a subtle hint that he would like to have a GPS unit for his car. So being a good son, I began looking for one for him that will be his holiday gift this year. Keep in mind that my dad is 78 and not the least bit technical, so this GPS would have to be pretty easy to use. Although I’m a fan of the Garmin Nüvi line of GPS units, they would be overkill for his needs. So I started looking at other brands. I came across a reference for Navigon and they have a feature called "3D Reality View" This is a photo realistic view of complex highway lane changes and exits. So I stumbled upon a sale at Staples.com and snagged the Navigon 2100 for a mere $179.99 which was $45 off their regular price and the lowest price GPS I could find with the features I wanted. The Navigon 2100 arrived, but I got off to a rough start. I wanted to set the unit up before giving it to him (yeah, I wanted to play with it too) and it’s a good thing I did. Out of the box, when I turned it on I got an error that indicated that the map files were invalid/not compatible. The Navigon 2100 comes with a SD card loaded with all the maps and POIs (Points of Interests). I called tech support and got connected to an English speaking rep right away. I told him about the issue and he informed me that some of the units that went to Staples got "bad" cards. He took my info down and overnighted me a new SD card. He also told me that I could keep the old card and use it for whatever I wanted to. I decided to copy the new card onto the old one as a backup. That worked fine. With the new/proper card installed the Navigon 2100 powered right up and I was presented with an easy to follow menu. I keyed in my dad’s address so that he could use the "Take Me Home" button whenever he needed to and be routed to his house no matter where he was in the country. While I had the unit open, I decided to take it for a spin. I assembled the suction cup mount and took the GPS for a test drive. I was impressed with how fast it starts up and acquires a satellite signal.

 

Real world testing

One of the things that makes or breaks a GPS unit is how easy it is to input your destination. This was also going to be the determining factor as to whether or not I felt my dad would be able to use it. I really liked the fact that you have the option of keying in the city OR just the zip code! I also liked having the choice of entering the city, street and address OR the street, address and city. Unlike many units the Navigon 2100 remembers the last city you used so that you don’t have to key it in each time. Now on the down side and the thing I’m worried about the most is that the on screen text is kind of on the small side. If I had to guess I would say that some of the text is as small as 8pt type. Also on some of the displays the on screen buttons aren’t as large as they could be. The other thing on the down side is that there is no "bean bag" mount option. I’m not a fan of suction cup mounts, although the one they include stayed on my window the whole time with no issues.

 

Great features

It’s clear that the Navigon engineers looked at the other GPS units out there and tried to build a better unit. I had to keep reminding myself that this GPS is half the cost of others and has all the features you’d expect in a higher-end unit and MORE! Let’s get the basics out of the way. They 2GB SD Card includes the maps for the entire US and Canada. The Navigon 2100 features "Text-to-Speech" so rather than saying "turn right in 200 feet", it says "turn right on Woodward Avenue, turn here". There are also thousands of POIs and you can input your favorite destinations and save them. These are the features I would expect to find in any modern GPS unit. Where the Navigon 2100 steps ahead of the pack is in the little things. First of all the 2100 is about the size of my Nüvi 360 if not a little thinner. Most units in the $200-$300 range are much thicker. Not only does the 2100 show you where you are on the map it also shows the speed limit of the road you’re on. By default there are speed warnings built in (which you can change) that are set to 10 miles over on the highway and 5 miles over elsewhere. Of course I had to test this out, so I went over 75mph in a 65mph zone and the voice said "Caution" and displayed a little yellow triangle next to the speed limit sign in the upper left of the display. I was also impressed with the display of the POIs along the way. Rather than the typical gas pump logo on the side of the road representing a gas station, it actually displayed the "Mobil" logo as I passed near the station. Now of course they don’t have logos for all businesses/POIs, but it did display the names of restaurants as I passed near them. This blew me away. Imagine how helpful that would be if you’re driving in an unfamiliar area.

 

The killer feature was the one that caught my eye in the first place and that was the "3D Reality Viewâ„¢" This view automatically pops up when you’re approaching a complex interchange or exit. As you can see in the photo above I was instructed to stay on I-696 headed towards Lansing and the photo realistic display mimics the actual road signs that you can see in the upper left corner of the photo. The orange arrows on the display clearly indicate the lane you should be in so there is no way that you could take the wrong exit. This feature ROCKS! It totally takes the guess work out of navigating these kind of exchanges. I’ve never seen anything like this even on units that cost much more.

 

The Navigon 2100 includes the GPS unit, an SD card with maps and POIs for the lower 48 states (the 2120 is the same unit, but with maps for North America excluding Mexico), an Auto charger for charging the built-in Lithium ION battery, a suction cup mount and a quick start guide. For an extra $99 you can buy the Lifetime Traffic feature which is an antenna that plugs into the 2100 and a service that can automatically re-route you around traffic jams. You can also spring for the Zagat Survey Ratings and Reviews feature which includes 21,000 entries. Ratings of hotels, restaurants and entertainment in the area. This add on goes for $39.99.

 

The Bottom Line

GPS units don’t have to cost a fortune. The Navigon 2100 proves that. I was floored by the number of features that were included in this relatively low cost unit. I would like to have seen a wall charger included for charging the unit in the house, but hey for less than $200 what you do get is a great bargain. You can catch the Navigon 2100 for $179.99 while it’s on sale at Staples or you can get it for $209.94 at Amazon.com. This would make an EXCELLENT Gift!

Hey, I made Newsweek!

 

 

Speaking of GPS units check out this article in Newsweek where yours truly [I] was referenced on page 3.

#1 Editor’s Pick on Amazon for 2007

It’s one thing to write a book about a product you love and it’s another to have that book be picked as the Best of 2007 #1 Editor’s Pick for Books on Computers and Internet by Amazon! I co-authored The iPhone Book with my buddy Scott Kelby (number one selling computer book author in the world 3 years in a row!) and last night he called me to tell me that our book was selected as the Editor’s #1 Pick for 2007 of all Computer Books. I was elated and overjoyed (read: psyched out of my mind)! So thanks to all of you who bought a copy, thanks to Peachpit Press and the staff at Kelby Training for the wonderful job on the book layout and editing, thanks to the Amazon editors, and thanks for your continued support of this blog and my efforts. And if you haven’t bought a copy yet, well…


Blu-ray vs. HD DVD, why pick sides?

TiVo HD on the Bottom, Toshiba HD-A2 in the middle and Sony Playstation 3 on top. It’s an HD sandwich!

 

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of High Definition Television (HDTV). This means that I also want my movies in HD as well as my broadcast TV and cable stations. Well unless you’ve been living under an analog rock, you have probably heard that there is a format war going on between the major high-def camps. The two formats battling for your attention and money are Sony’s Blu-ray and Toshiba’s HD DVD.

As with any new technology, consumers tend to wait and see who comes out on top before making a major investment. Then there are the early adopters like me that live for today and worry about tomorrow, tomorrow. From what I could tell Blu-ray was going to be the winner so I started down that route with the purchase of a Sony Playstation 3 which could playback Blu-ray movies. Life has been good and I really haven’t given HD-DVD a second thought until recently. I read an article about how Toshiba was offering their Toshiba HD-A2 player for a mere $99.99 for one weekend only which amounted to a half-off sale. Even then I really didn’t pay any attention to it. It wasn’t until I read an article about how 90,000 players were sold in one weekend at that magic $99.99 price. That’s when it clicked that for $100 I could have BOTH formats. However, it was too late. The magical sale had ended. I headed over to eBay (of course) where I was sure some enterprising sellers would be selling new in the box units for slightly more than the $99.99 price. I was right and I picked up one for about $25 more.

The Toshiba HD-A2 arrived yesterday and I hooked it up in my theater last night. Of course I don’t own any HD DVD movies, so I headed over to my local Hollywood Video and rented a couple of titles to try out. I was stunned at how few titles they had in either HD DVD or Blu-ray. There was basically one rack dedicated to each. Both of these racks were together in a corner of the store. There were miles of racks for standard def titles. I watched Aeon Flux which was an OK movie, but looked really good in high-def (I also picked up Transformers in HD DVD). I didn’t expect much for $100 and I was right. The unit is pretty basic and comes with a remote and of all things standard composite cables. If you’re buying an HD DVD player, chances are you want to enjoy it in HD. You’ll never get there with the supplied cables, so that was a total waste. I went with HDMI and Optical Audio connected to my Octava HDMI & Optical Audio Switcher (which I love). To be honest I can’t really tell much of a difference (make that NO DIFFERENCE) between my Blu-ray movies and HD DVD movies. So when it comes to picking a format it will likely come down to available content. Right now Blu-ray is winning in the content game as 2 of the 3 major movie houses have gone Blu-ray and Blockbuster only rents Blu-ray in addition to standard def DVDs. My movie rental house of choice is Netflix. They offer both Blu-ray and HD DVD titles and even let you configure your queue to your favorite format first if the movie is offered in both. So now I have Netflix set to prefer Blu-ray first, then HD DVD, and then DVD.

The out-of-the-box experience was pretty good and pretty straight forward. I did connect it to my network via Ethernet (wish there was a Wi-Fi) option. There is a sheet in the box that suggests that you check for the latest firmware right away. I attempted to do so, but it couldn’t connect to the update server. I’ll try again another day. All-in-all, not bad for a little more than $100. The war can rage on and now I don’t really care if anyone wins or not. I’ve got both!