Wednesday, August 31, 2011

BBM Music Beta Application Overview

Posted By Ray Nicolini

I’ve been playing with the BBM Music Beta Program for a few days now and I thought I’d share some of my first impressions of the app. I will also go over it’s features, explain how to use it and hopefully put to rest some of the common misconceptions about the service.
  • Build a personal music profile with 50 of your favorite songs. You can refresh your profile by swapping out up to 25 songs each month.
  • Invite your BBM friends to subscribe to BBM Music and to join your BBM Music Community.
  • With each friend that is added to BBM Music, you grow your music collection since the songs from the profile of each BBM Music friend are available to you at any time.
  • Up to 50 tracks from your personal profile are shared with your BBM Music Community, and each member of your community shares up to 50 songs from their profile with you.
  • Enjoy a truly social community-based music experience – the more friends who join your community, the more songs you can listen to.
  • Easily discover music that your BBM Music friends are listening to, and comment on your friends‟ songs and playlists.
  • You can create multiple playlists from music in your profile as well as all of your friends‟ profiles, and with one click you can shuffle the entire collection of music from your BBM Music Community. You can even see which friend contributed each song while it plays.
  • Within your BBM Music app, you also see a visual timeline that shows the recent updates of all users within your community. It gives you a chronological view of community updates, including who added new friends, which songs were added or removed, which playlists were created and what comments were made by your BBM Music friends.
  • Listen to Full Tracks – BBM Music subscribers can listen to full tracks from their friends‟ profiles – not just previews.
  • Offline Listening – Music can be saved to smartphones for offline listening, allowing users to access songs even when they don‟t have wireless coverage.
  • Topping the Charts – Keep track of how many friends are listening to your tracks.
The app has a very effective and simple interface, a small banner at the very top displays information about the song that is currently playing and if clicked it will bring you to the music player.   Just below it is four tabs that along with the now playing banner are always present.  These tabs allow you to go home, your profile, your contacts or the music catalog.

The home view shows you updates from your BBM Music contacts.  These updates include who they are sharing with and songs that the contact has added to or removed from their song list.  From these updates you can invite the users that your contacts are sharing with by clicking on their display picture.  And since any song your contacts adds to their list is also added to your list, you can click on songs in this view and listen to them immediately. The home view also has a shuffle all button,  Clicking this will shuffle your songs, add them to your BBM Music player and begin playing them.

From your profile you can change your display pic, status and view any comments you have received.  This is also where the songs you have picked out and the playlists you have created are kept. The song list allows you to share a song via BBM, BBM Groups, Email or PIN messages.  You can also ignore or delete songs. The playlists section of this tab is also pretty self explanatory.  Creating a new playlist is very easy, the app allows you to add songs individually or by bulk adding them based on album, artist, contact, genre, song popularity or just random songs.  Songs that go into your playlists can be either songs you have picked or songs that one of your contacts have picked. It’s a really helpful feature for those times when your in the mode for a more specific selection of songs,  but I typically just use the Shuffle All button.

The contacts tab shows all of the people you are currently sharing with and a total list of the songs you have access to. From here you can also invite a new contact to try out BBM Music and accept any new sharing requests you might have received.  If you click onto a contact it brings up a list of all of their songs and the playlists that they have created and are sharing.  And just like with your personal song list you can ignore songs your contact has picked so you don’t have to listen to them if you don’t want too.

The last tab is for the music catalog.  Here you can search through a selection of nearly 10 million songs for new songs to add to your personal song list. You can search by artist, song and album name, or by genre.  Also there are lists of songs grouped into categories which include, featured, staff picks, new, genres, top and recommended. After you have searched for a song or entered a category you are presented with a list of songs.  Highlighting one of them will give you the option to listen to a 30 second long preview of it or you can go ahead and add it to your personal song list.  You are notified if one of your contacts already has a song in their collection,  this keeps you from wasting one of your 50 song picks.
This is the part where I will attempt to clear up some of the misconceptions a little.  When I first heard about BBM Music  I was very excited to get the opportunity to test it,  but I wasn’t overly impressed with the concept. To be honest I didn’t understand why people would spend $5 a month just to share a maximum of 50 songs with their BBM friends when other services offered so many more songs for the same or less money. I’m noticing that a lot of people who are not participating in the Beta Program have the same concerns I originally had. Now that I have been using the service I realize that my concerns weren’t justified.
First of all reaching the actual 50 song limit is proving to be kind of  difficult. I have used 21 of my 50 songs picks,  of those 21 only 8 of those songs have not been picked by another one of my contacts. Nearly every song I can think of that I would like to add to my list is already there because one of my contacts had already picked it before I even thought to add it myself.  Of course this will come down to how the individual uses the service and who his contacts are,  but for me the 50 song limit is a non issue.
Another common misconception is that you are sharing songs with your BBM friends only,  that simply isn’t the case. You do share with the friends you currently have on BBM.  But the bulk of your BBM music contact list will be made up of random BBM Music users.  Adding someone to your BBM Music is nothing like adding them to your BBM.  You can add users and then post comments to their profile if you choose, or you can even invite them to your actual BBM friend list.  On the other hand if you want you can just add people for no other reason but to get access to their songs.  It’s as social as you decide to make it. Also everyone there is always willing to add you, because  the more contacts you have the more songs you can access. Think of it as adding someone to your Twitter except with BBM Music you get to listen to their favorite songs after you have added them. It’s this collecting of songs that makes the service unique and pretty addicting.  In fact Jake and myself are currently in a friendly competition to see who can amass the largest song collection after the first week.
In closing, I’m very impressed with BBM Music so far. The streaming works as good as any music app I’ve ever used. I very rarely need to skip songs, but when I do it is fast and painless and I can skip as many as I choose at any time and there are no adds.  Basically it’s pretty much like any other paid music service out there, but with a nice social aspect added to it.
For more information about BBM Music, and to sign up to be notified of its availability in your country, please

Monday, August 29, 2011

BlackBerry Torch 2 9810 Review: The Updated Touchscreen and QWERTY Slider

Posted By Ray Nicolini


Before the new devices got announced I was under the impression that a lot of users would be holding off and waiting for the QNX-based BlackBerry devices. I thought that RIM would be in transition and release something only slightly better than last year’s offerings, leaving BlackBerry fans to be sentenced to exile or to wait patiently for the second coming of BlackBerry.

Comparison Torch 2 and Torch 1
Being shipped a new device that looked nearly identical to my current Torch 9800 only worsened my fears. The body of the phone seems to be cut from the same mold. It’s such a mirror image of the Torch 9800 that only Torch owners will know you even got a new device. If you’re one of those people who feels the need to show off your new phone you’ll probably feel unfulfilled with the new Torch.
For those who care more about actual performance, this is the device for you. The new Torch is nearly twice the phone that the old Torch was. This has to be the most significant update with the smallest jump in model number I have ever seen. After a week of using the new Torch, I found myself eating my words because my faith in team BlackBerry had been restored.

Better processor: more multitasking

I was a big fan of the Torch 9800 but I found it a little underwhelming when it came to battery life and multitasking. The processor on the Torch 2 runs quite a bit faster than the old Torch 9800’s. Clocking in at 1.2GHz, it’s almost double the rate of the Torch 9800’s 624MHz processor while maintaining some pretty decent battery life. Counting Megahertz is somewhat futile when comparing smartphones; one chip’s 624MHz can potentially outperform another’s 800 MHz. It’s more about how the chip works in conjunction with all the other engineering elements.
I’m not sure if I’m able to say that the new Torch is twice as fast but I am willing to put myself on the line for saying that it’s at least 50% faster than it’s predecessor.
Keep in mind that the Torch 9810 is still new and has yet to be fully optimized. When I first got the 9800, there was an OS update that came a month after launch that optimized battery, cut boot times in half and made navigation a bit smoother and more responsive. Right now my Torch 9810 has what seems to be a 3-minute boot time that I hope will be cured in the first update.

Liquid Graphics: OS lag reduced to acceptable levels

My biggest criticism of the Torch 9800 was that the extra flair put into the animated navigation was laggy. Users could really tell that they were causing a delay because actions were carried out about a second after you made them. I noticed the delay most when I wanted to mark my messages as read, I would have to wait for the OS animation to complete or the message will still be marked unread after exiting back into the messages list. Small stuff I know, but waiting for a computer for the sole reason of “seeing a pretty fade” is just bad design.
I know that all this OS glitter is something that consumers apparently demand. Why bother animate a smooth transition between two screens if you can just cut there? If I could turn off all the swipes and fades in favor of a less resource-intense cut, I would.
All this to say that Liquid Graphics has corrected the noticeable lag between OS transitions, and improved response time for swipe-based navigation, as well as pinch to zoom navigation.

Design: exactly the same as the Torch 9800

I’m very pleased that they didn’t change the design. The upside is all the advantages of the old Torch remain: a well-balanced, large touch-screened, keyboard-driven super-phone. Your old Torch 9800’s cases, skins, battery doors, Micro SD cards, batteries, data cables and chargers are all compatible with the Torch 9810.
A couple of things they have improved are the lightweight metallic body and the new and improved slider hinge. The new Torch is now a bit lighter, more rigid and it takes a lot less coordination to open.

Torch 2 review
The white space represents the Torch 9800 screen resolution

Display: 3.2 inch diagonal touch screen display with more pixel density

The New torch has a 640×480 display, up from the 9800’s 480×360 display. The display is about as bright and you probably won’t be able to tell too much of a difference between the two models until you realize that your font is a couple of points bigger than what is was on the old Torch.
If you love tiny fonts and packing as much detail as you can on to a mobile screen, you’ll be thrilled about the new Torch’s increased pixel density. There are close to 80 percent more pixels on the 9810 and I didn’t consider the 9800 to be lacking in this department at all.

Optical trackpad: still awesome

There is nothing to report here except for that since the dawn of smartphones, RIM has continually developed some of the best controls schemes designed specifically for mobile. Some users still feel nostalgia for the old scroll wheel, and I think everyone can agree that the new trackpad was an incredible upgrade to the sometimes-temperamental multi-directional scroll ball.

More app memory and more on-board storage

The Torch 9800 had 512MB of application ROM while the Torch 9810 boasts 768MB. With 50% more installed app memory, you can install a few more apps and games before noticing those extra-long boot times. The on-board drive space has been doubled too with 8GB for photos, music and other files. The Torch 9810 has a MicroSD slot that can accept a big 32GB card, bringing the total storage up to 40GB. While this is an improvement, it seems like storage is fast becoming a cloud-based service and we’re no longer concerned with RIM’s choice of SD Cards.

New: Magnetometer

A new addition the Torch 9810’s swiss army knife of features is the magnetometer. This new hardware will pave the way for Augmented Reality apps as well as better navigation apps. The two apps of note are the first party Compass app and the Wikitude augmented reality suite. It seems the software that powers the magnetometer needs a lot of work as I find that it asks me to recalibrate the compass every time I start a magnetometer-app, and several times while using the app too.

Camera and Video

While the old and new Torch both sport a 5 megapixel camera, the new Torch has some under the hood upgrades. Face detection allows the autofocus to choose faces to focus on rather than a distant light bulb that you unintentionally centered.
Also the video recording got a significant boost. The Torch 9810 can record in 720p (1280×720), up from VGA (640×480).
The camera sensor uses a CMOS sensor. CMOS is a great sensor with the exception of taking pictures or shooting video with a lot of motion. When there’s a lot of motion, the top part of the photo gets recorded before the bottom part and your image gets skewed. Same thing happens for video too, a round ball will turn oval when traveling quickly. This isn’t criticism so much as the limitations of CMOS in general. This type of distortion is called Rolling Shutter Distortion.
I love the new 720p video recording. The “send to” menu item is also a nice touch. Directly sending a 720p video to your YouTube account is a feature that is sure to see a lot of use.
Navigation nirvana: Universal Search
Universal Search has changed the way I access my BlackBerry. Introduced in BlackBerry OS 6, Universal Search allows a user to simply type in a word or two and your BlackBerry will present you with a screen full of highly-contextual options.
Begin typing a person’s name and the BlackBerry will show you the communications, social networking posts, calendar events and all the emails you’ve exchanged with them separated by accounts.
The big improvement OS 7 has made in this regard is how it lets developers tap into Universal Search by using something called Extend Search. This allows users to specifically search using any search engine they please, or specifically search within any app. The extended searches appear right below the universal search results and works wonders for reducing the time it takes to access the information you need.
RIM has also introduced Voice Activated Search that takes a sample of your voice and sends it to a RIM server to decipher it and turn it into text. It takes about 2 or 3 seconds for it to do it’s thing, definitely faster than typing on your BlackBerry with one hand.
These features are not unique to the 9810 but rather come with BlackBerry 7.

App World: available apps

With every new device there is always a two-month period in which very few apps have been ported. As of the writing of this article (August 2011) there are 13402 apps, 1308 games and 7083 themes available for the Torch 9800. Compare that to The Torch 9810’s 1990 apps, 169 games, and zero themes.
I’m not sure what RIM can do to have more apps ready for new devices when they launch but it wouldn’t hurt to try something like making the emulators available for developers earlier.

Faster network: better browsing

So the Torch Webkit browser now supports HTML 5 sites as well as JIT (just in time) javascript acceleration. I really noticed the HTML 5 content right away because embedded YouTube videos would load on-page as opposed to taking me into the YouTube viewer. I also noticed that the faster network connection meant no buffering when accessing multimedia content.
The documentation says that BlackBerry 7 gets up to 30% faster browsing than speeds than BlackBerry 6 and up to twice as fast as OS 5. I didn’t really notice any speed difference whatsoever between BlackBerry 6 and BlackBerry 7. Maybe it’s the rendering of the page that’s bit faster but the act of waiting for stuff to request then load is still as slow as dial-up.
The Torch 9810 has an HSPA+ radio, which is a small leap ahead of the 9800’s 3G radio. For me, this has breathed new life in to my BlackBerry Playbook’s Bridge Browser. I noticed lower access times, actually watchable online videos and tolerable wait times while loading web sites. As a result I’m packing the Playbook with me now instead of leaving it on my desk or coffee table.

Full version of Docs to go comes standard

RIM has included a full version of Docs to go on the Torch 9810. Right out of the box editing and viewing of office documents re-affirms BlackBerry’s business edge. I think that this is the first usable version of Docs To Go because of the new screen size. I’ll have no problem emailing myself a document or spreadsheet and working on it as I travel.

back of the Torch series

Should I upgrade?

If you use your phone to show off your sense of gadget style, are hoping to upgrade to BlackBerry OS 8 or buy a phone every second year, this is probably a model that you can skip.
If you spend more than 20 minutes per day on your BlackBerry, buy a new phone every year, are owed a device upgrade from your carrier, are a fan of the Torch 9800, or own a BlackBerry Playbook, you should without hesitation get the new Torch. It performs so you can outperform.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Steve Jobs: Good artists copy great artists steal

Graft Concepts' fancy Leverage iPhone case is probably fancier than your fancy case (video)

Posted By Ray Nicolini
So you spent all of that money on an iPhone 4 -- do you really want to cover it up with some discount protection? Graft Concepts' new case is nearly as snazzy as the handset it was designed to protect. The Leverage is made out of polycarbonate with a matte finish and features a metal latch that secures it to the handset. The case is up for sale now, at a fittingly pricey $60. You can pick up additional backplates for $7 a piece.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Does the HP TouchPad already have an Android port? It appears so

Posted By Ray Nicolini

There is already a group established with the sole purpose of porting Android to the TouchPad — they call themselves TouchDroid. And, independently there is a $1500 bounty to bringing it over, too.
But it seems that a lucky guy got the device from Qualcomm shipped with Android 2.2 Froyo already installed, or at least Ubuntu running Android in an emulator, which begs the question, how long will it take to get a native port? See, the TouchPad runs a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, which powers many current Android devices. In fact, the 1.2Ghz dual-core processor inside the tablet is of the same family as the SoC in the HTC EVO 3D and Sensation, which we know power Gingerbread pretty darn well.
It’s only a matter of time before someone collects that bounty, though there is a pretty cryptic video that claims a Gingerbread port is already finished, and will be unleashed on the world this Thursday, August 24th.
So now that the TouchPad is a possible $99 paperweight, it awaits to be seen what the developer community can do to it. Who knows? Maybe it will be the best Android tablet released so far.
Source: Phandroid