Thursday, December 27, 2012

Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon is a serious contender for best ultrabook on the market -- TECH TIME REVIEW

As the demand for more portable laptops increases, there are a bevy of ultrabooks on the market -- some that leave some features out and try to be more affordable, and others that are more high-end and subsequently are a little more pricey.

One of the machines on the higher end of that spectrum in the ultrabook market is the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon, which I recently had the chance to test.

In a nutshell, what I found was an extremely light, portable, powerful and capable machine that is among the best ultrabook offerings available, and I’m here with a full report on all the details.

Looks, designOverall dimensions on the Thinkpad X1 Carbon are 13.03 inches wide, 8.9 inches deep, and 0.71 inches thick. Its weight starts at just 2.998 pounds. That makes it fit very well in the ultrabook category, and it’s one of the lightest ultrabooks on the market. It feels good in the hand when you’re on the go, and I found myself regularly commenting just how light it was compared to the competition. (most other ultrabooks start around 4 pounds)

As the name would indicate, the cover and roll-cage on the Thinkpad X1 Carbon are made from carbon fiber, a material which not only has good gripability and an attractive look, but is as strong or stronger than alternatives like aluminum and magnesium, despite weighing much less.

This means you won’t have to worry about an occasional tumble, as this machine is built to last.
In addition to Lenovo’s own tests for drops and spills, the X1 Carbon passes many military spec tests, including:
-- Low Temperature -20° Celsius for more than 72 hours
-- High Temperature 30° to 60° Celsius over seven cycles of 24-hour duration
-- Extreme Temperatures -20° to 60° Celsius over three cycles of 2-hour duration
-- Sand 140 mesh silica dust exposure for 6-hour cycles
-- Altitude Operation at 15,000 feet

One other small note regarding the design: the screen on the Thinkpad X1 Carbon is very flexible, in fact it bends all the way back to flat, instead of stopping at a certain point like most laptops. So no matter what angle you want to view it from, all angles are covered.

Overall, in terms of look and feel , this machine is one of the best ultrabooks I have tested.

ScreenIn terms of what you’ll be looking at on the screen, you get a crisp, high-quality 14-inch HD+ display with 1600x900 resolution, plus anti-glare.
It’s good enough to play 720p video without delay, but it’s not full HD 1080p, so video of that quality will take a little longer to load.

Still, overall it is very bright and clear, and most people will be very happy with the quality of the screen. The 14-inch size of this machine is just right -- big enough to view video and movies and games comfortably, but not too large -- a necessity if you’re going to call your machine an ultrabook and market it to people on the go.

Keyboard, touchpadThe spacious 6-row keyboard on the Thinkpad X1 carbon is well-designed and easy to use. And for those like me who tend to work at night, the keyboard can be backlit (just click Function and Spacebar and you can toggle between having the backlit keyboard or not, and you can choose dim or bright lighting).

I also found the glass touchpad to be responsive and a proper size, and didn’t experience the accidental brushing that I have experienced with some other laptops.
There is a joystick button (more like a nub) in the middle of the keyboard that can maneuver around the screen, though i didn’t use it much.

My only complaint on the keyboard was a bit of a weird setup with the Function and Control keys at the bottom left having their positions switched from their normal positions, which I never quite got used to and would often get confused.

ProcessorSo what kind of power is making the Thinkpad X1 Carbon run?
The machines run the latest Intel offerings (the Ivy Bridge lineup), and my test machine had a very capable 1.8 GHz Intel Core i5 processor, though you can upgrade to a 2.0 GHz Intel Core i7 processor for a little extra.

My machine had 4GB of RAM, enough for most people, but power users can go as high as 8 GB with upgrades.

In terms of storage, my machine had a 128 GB Solid State drive, and there is an option for a 256 GB Solid State drive.
I like Solid State drives, which are faster and more reliable than tradition spindle drives due to their lack of moving aprts. But what I don’t like about them is that they offer much less space than traditional drives -- which can often hold 500, 750, or even 1,000 GB of storage space. It’s a bit of a tradeoff, and a detriment for people who want to store a lot of big files of their computer -- but expanding cloud options are making massive storage on your machine a little less necessary, so this is becoming less of a concern over time.

BATTERYOne area where Lenovo did a great job is the battery, both in terms of life and charging speed.
I experienced more than 6 hours of battery life on average, which is among the best I’ve seen on any ultrabook.

And better yet, the charging time is very quick. A full charge takes just 90 minutes, and just 30 minutes of charging will get you about 70 percent of battery life. That’s much better than some of the competition, which take much longer to charge. If you’re in a hurry and want to get it juiced up fast, you don’t have to worry.

Slots/portsThe Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon features the following ports:
One USB 2.0 port, one USB 3.0 port, a 4-in-1 media card reader, and a MINI-DP slot.
You also get a headphones/mic jack, plus a 720p Webcam that can be helpful for staying in touch in both your personal and work lives.

There is no optical drive, due to the slimness of the machine, so you’ll have to connect an external drive if you want to insert discs. There is also No VGA port, which might bother some users. There also is no Ethernet port, but you can connect with an included USB-to-Ethernet dongle if you need to go the direct-connect route to get online.

The machine is Bluetooth and wireless capable. 

Operating systemThe Thinkpad X1 Carbon I tested cames with a couple options for operating system -- Genuine Windows 7 Home Premium or Genuine Windows 7 Professional. Also, just last month, a new model with touch capability was released that features the new Windows 8 operating system, if you want to go that route.

The X1 Carbon, like all ThinkPads, comes with a 30-day trial of security software, which should of course be renewed to protect your files and identity.

Good for businessThe Thinkpad is one ultrabook that’s being promoted as both a personal and work machine, and there are several features which make it an attractive option for businesses.

There’s a fingerprint reader included, for security purposes.

The machine features Intel VPRO technology, which allows IT employees to better manage the company’s machines.

You also get Intel’s Anti-theft and BIOS locker features … which are also controlled remotely by your company’s IT department and allows them to track down hardware remotely and disable it if necessary. BIOS locker allows IT to lock BIOS to prevent security threats from modifying BIOS settings.

Often when you’re on the go, you need to get your machine running quickly, and the RapidBoot technology on the Thinkpad X1 Carbon will let you do that. This is done in part by having nonessential services delayed until after the booting process is complete.
RapidResume also allows you to reconnect more quickly when starting the machine from a sleep/hibernation mode. And when you resume, your wireless connectivity is back within a couple seconds.

I mentioned early that the 720p HD Webcam is included, but there are also some details about that Webcam that make it good for business. The camera will find the primary face and focus on it automatically, audio pickup is impressive, and keyboard noise can be reduced on the machine so it doesn’t interfere with the discussion, which can be helpful especially in work settings..
You can also adjust settings so that the voice of the speaker looking at the camera is picked up better, while surrounding noise is drowned out during Webcam calls. If you select Multiple Voices as an option, more than one voice will be picked up.

PRICEBeing a high-end ultrabook with impressive design and specs, the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon is going to cost a bit more than some of its competitors. The version I tried was priced at $1,290 (at, but depending how you build your machine, the price can grow to upwards of $1500.

The touch version with Windows 8 will start around $1,500.

Whether you’re willing to pay this kind of premium, or are willing to sacrifice some features and lean toward other, more affordable ultrabooks, will be up to each consumer.

BOTTOM LINEWithout question, the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon is an impressive ultrabook that offers a very complete package -- looks, design, performance -- and would do the job well in both your home and work settings.
Especially if you’re on the go a lot -- for school, work or personal reasons -- and are looking for a machine that’s going to be almost unnoticeable as you transport it, this machine is definitely on the short list of top candidates to fit your needs.
The price will turn some people off, but if this falls in your price range, the user experience is one of the best I’ve had on a laptop in recent years, and I would highly recommend considering this in your hunt for a top-notch ultrabook.

Matt Myftiu can be reached at

Friday, December 21, 2012

Samsung Galaxy Note 2 targeted at those who want a super-sized smartphone — TECH TIME REVIEW

There are average size phones, large phones, extra large phones …
And then, in a class of its own, is the new Samsung Galaxy Note 2, which has debuted on several carriers.
I recently tested out a Verizon version of the Galaxy Note 2, Samsung’s updated behemoth of a phone, and I’ll fill you in on what it can do and who might want to pick it up.
The screen on the Galaxy Note 2 is 5.5 inches. To put that in perspective, there are many tablets that are just 7 inches, so this kind of functions as a sort-of inbetween device (part phone, part tablet). You get a pen embedded into the phone (unlike some competitors, where the pen is loose, which is a good touch), This is one of the elements that imakes it feel more like a tablet at times, especially if you’re using apps like DrawSomething that require, well, drawing … or if you’re using the pen to jot down notes in the memo function.
Samsung is leading the charge in this “phablet” category, as they basically introduced it with last year’s slightly smaller original Galaxy Note, and they’ve found a certain niche for this kind of product.
But the reality that can’t be denied is that this phone is going to be TOO big for a lot of people. It’s hard to fit in your pockets, or even if other areas you might keep your phone, like the cup holder of your car. The size makes it kind of hard to hold at times, and it’s just too much at times.
But on the flip side, that huge screen gives you a great view for watching movies and videos in high-definition, or playing games, so there’s an argument on both sides of the size issue.
The screen on the Galaxy Note 2 is a 5.5-inch Super AMOLED HD touchscreen with a 720p HD resolution. This looks very good, but it’s worth noting that some of the new phones coming out (Droid DNA by HTC, for example) do have full-HD 1080p resolution, so it’s not quite at the peak of the market in this category.
Since the 1080p screens are so new, though, most people will be happy with the 720p screen, which is the norm on most new smartphones.
Photos are high-quality on the Galaxy Note 2, courtesy of the 8 megapixel rear-facing camera, and for video chat or self portraits you have a 1.9 megapixel front-facing camera; Video is crisp at shot at 1080p HD quality.
Processor, Operating system, etc.
The Galaxy Note 2 runs on Verizon’s very fast 4G network, meaning optimal speeds for your uploads and downloads.
It breezes through whatever tasks you throw at it, thanks to a top-of-the-line super-fast 1.6 GHz quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM. Under the hood, this is a muscle car for sure.
The operating system is completely up to date, as you get Android 4.1 (aka Jelly Bean), which is not available yet on a lot of newer phones. That means it will be among the first in line to get the next Android update (rumored to be Android 5.0 Key Lime Pie and coming later this year).
You get the easy-to-use and highly customizable Android OS, with full access to the bevy of Google services (Gmail, Google+, Latitude, Google Maps, Google+ Messenger, Navigation, Local, Play Books, Play Movies, Play Magazines, Play Music, Play Store, Google Search, Google Talk, Voice Search, YouTube), Google Play offers hundreds of thousands of apps for download -- some free and some paid.
A concern I had with the Galaxy Note 2 is that it didn’t have as good a battery life as I would have liked to see on a device with such premium specs and performance. I was charging more often that I would have liked to have done.
— Touch the back of a Samsung Galaxy Note II with another compatible device and wirelessly swap information with S Beam.
— Over 600,000 apps & widgets available on Play Store
— 16 GB of memory (can expand up to 64GB via SD card)
— Can be a Mobile Hotspot for other devices (extra monthly fee)
— Tools: Calculator, Calendar, Clock (Alarm, World clock, Stopwatch, Timer, Desk clock), S Note
— Quick Command: Handwrite tasks instead of typing. Send an email, make a call or search a location from any screen.
— Divide the screen into two active “windows” creating a split screen that enables fluid multitasking between applications.
— Popup Video. Watch your favorite video and run other applications at the same time, in the same view
— Popup Browser. Open a web link without leaving what you’re doing. View a webpage and what is displayed conveniently underneath.
Calls, messaging
Verizon’s network was reliable as usual, and all my calls were clear on both ends and didn’t drop. As far as messaging goes, the huge screen means a huge onscreen keyboard. Even extra large fingers won’t have a problem with typing messages, and the Swype method helps a lot.
The Galaxy Note 2 will cost you $299.99 out of pocket with a new 2-year Verizon contract. This is a bit steep, but this is a lot of phone — both physically and specwise.
Bottom line
The Galaxy Note 2 is pioneering this new phone size category. I’m not sure how far they can go -- maybe 6 inches will be the next plateau for a phone, but I can’t see them going any farther.
The Galaxy Note 2 will be too big for most people’s tastes, but for those who like the hybrid tablet/phone idea (and want to buy one device instead of two) or like to use drawing apps/programs a lot, it might work for your needs. Those who want a somewhat smaller phone but similar specs can choose Samsung’s Galaxy S3, which comes in at 4.8 inches on screen size and is more manageable.

Matt Myftiu can be reached at

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

MetroPCS offers Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone without contract, but there are tradeoffs — TECH TIME REVIEW

I’ve written a lot about the immensely popular Samsung’s Galaxy S3, on its various versions from the four major wireless networks.
But now I’m back with a look at another GS3 -- one from MetroPCS that can be purchased without a 2-year contract commitment.
Many people like this option over a contract, because it frees them up to move on to another phone whenever they want, not just after two years.
I’ll give you a refresher on the GS3’s overall specs, and let you know how this one measures up to the other versions, and who might be interested in picking one up.
Just like the other GS3 versions, the large 4.8-inch screen is great for viewing videos or movies or playing games. But it might be too large for some folks with smaller hands. That’s up to everyone to decide, but I think most people can adapt. The phone is very slim at .34 inches, so the weight is only 4.7 ounces. The only knock on the looks is that the materials used are plastic and not as sturdy as some competitors like the iPhone 5.
The phone features Gorilla Glass that’s built to last, and the 4.8-inch touchscreen features a high-def 1280x720 resolution Super AMOLED display.
As with most smartphones, there is no physical keyboard, just an onscreen keyboard. So if you’re one of the small crowd who still demands a physical keyboard, this phone isn’t for you.
This is really what it’s all about here. Since this phone is essentially identical across carriers, it really comes down to the network performance.
For the most part, the MetroPCS version of the GS3 was very good at keeping me online and getting me around the web quickly, but in the area where I was using the phone (Southeast Michigan), I found myself on occasion simply looking for the network, as it was nowhere to be found. At times like this, I couldn’t even get on the Internet. They were rare, as I was usually just fine. But this kind of coverage gap was concerning at times.
In terms of uploading/downloading speeds on the MetroPCS 4G network, again it was sometimes good, but sometimes a little slow compared to the competition. I downloaded some apps in a snap, but others seemed to take longer that I was used to from the previous GS3 versions I had tested from MetroPCS’ competitors.
The other issue that is carrier-specific is call quality. Are the calls clear? Do they drop?, etc.
Just like the data side, you’re going to be mostly OK here, but not completely in the clear. A couple people I called with the MetroPCS GS3 said they were having trouble hearing me (though I could hear them OK), and I had to switch to a different phone one of those times. Most of the time, nothing was wrong though. Just be aware that these issues might crop up from time to time. It’s part of the tradeoffs that are pretty much inevitable when you switch to a non-contract provider.
I got solid battery performance out of the GS3 (at least a full day, sometimes more), but there are other phones -- notable the Droid Razr Maxx HD -- that are even more effective in maintaining battery life for longer. 
The dual-core 1.5GHz processor on the GS3 did not disappoint, and offered very fast multi-tasking.
The camera on the GS3 is among the best on the market right now. You get an 8 megapixel rear camera that takes crisp shots. Pictures can be taken very fast due to lack of shutter lag.
Up front is a 1.9 MP front facing camera for video chat, and you get solid video specs, too: 1080p full HD video from rear; 720p HD video from the front.      
You can also do a lot of featury type shots -- like a burst shot feature that takes multiple shots in just a few seconds. There are also a lot of editing options.
Messaging is a breeze on the GS3 due to its large screen. You get all varieties -— text, picture and video messaging; and threaded messaging keeps better track of conversations.     
These feature answers your questions, and is similar in purpose to Siri on the iPhone. It does its job reasonably well, and should get better over time as it gets tweaked.
Compared to the compeition, The Galaxy S3’s speaker is very high quality and music and speakerphone calls sound nice and loud.
The operating system on the Metro PCS version of the GS3 is Android 4.0 (aka Ice Cream Sandwich). As with all Android operating systems, you get full Google integration of products like Gmail, YouTube, Google Calendar, Google Search, Google Maps, Play Music, Play Store (with more than 400,000 apps and widgets) and more.
If you get a phone without a contract, like MetroPCS offers, you’re going to pay more up front. In this case, you’ll be paying $499.99 out-of-pocket, but are not under the sort of mandatory payment plan for two years that the competitors offer.
Then, as long as you decide to stick around, you have your monthly costs associated with the phone line.
Metro PCS plans run betwen $40 and $70 per month. All feature unlimited talk, text and data -- and the difference between them is how much of your data will be at 4G speeds (250MB, 2.5G, 5G, or unlimited are your options there). It’s just a matter of how important 4G speeds are to you and how often you’ll need them.
If you like the Samsung Galasy S3 smartphone (and there’s a lot to like; it’s arguably the best phone on the market right now), but don’t want a contract, the MetroPCS version is an option you can go with that will give you more freedom.
But it’s undeniable that there are tradeoffs. The call quality, network availability and 4G upload/download speeds were not consistently up to par with the contract GS3s that I have tested. Often they would work fine, but there were times I was disappointed too.
If you’re considering going the contract-free route to get the GS3, I would recommend testing this phone in your area to see if the MetroPCS call quality and network coverage live up to your standards before spending that money, as 500 bucks is a lot of money, even if you don’t have to commit to a contract for 2 years.

Matt Myftiu can be reached at or 248-745-4617. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu or become a fan of the Facebook page “OPTechTime”.
Check out his blog at

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Dodge Dart is a high-tech, high mileage hit for Chrysler that remains affordable -- TECH TIME AUTO REVIEW

One of the most critical launches in recent memory has been the Dodge Dart, which re-introduced Dodge to the compact car market.
The Dart been getting a lot of good accolades lately, and there’s a good reason for that.
I recently got a chance to test one the 2013 Dodge Dart, and explore the bevy of tech features it boasts, and I’m back with a full report.

Screen size
Before I even delve into how the Dart’s tech systems function , let me just say that one thing that jumps out from the get-go is the impressive touchscreen which controls it all.
At 8.4 inches (standard on the top trim level, available on lower trim levels), this is among the biggest screens you’ll find in any vehicle.
The only version of the Dart you can’t get this huge screen in is the SE entry level model, where you’ll have a basic conventional radio setup and no full color display.
What this screen size accomplishes is providing a lot of room for a solid layout with distinguished areas that are easy to control and see.
The screen started out in other Chrysler/Dodge vehicles a few years back, said Ryan Nagode --  Chief of Interior Design for Dodge, Ram and Fiat products
“The screen launched in our 300 and Charger a few years ago. It’s borrowed from system we had established in those vehicles. We had won awards for its user interface,” Nagode explained. “We picked something we could use across car lines from smaller to larger cars. We tried to pick a format that if you go from one thing to another you still have a good row of icons static on top all the time. We don’t want you fumbling for smaller buttons on the screen.”

What’s on the screen
In terms of what you see on the screen, there is a status bar on top that will always keeps  you informed of temperature in the vehicle, what time it is, among other information (which is also customizable).
There are little touches that are nice, such as notices popping up in the status bar when a designated favorite music artist comes on.
Below the status, in the center of the screen, there is area where the content of each section can be viewed. Many controls are redundant; such as climate -- where you have the touch controls but also physical controls below the touchscreen. If you use the physical dials to change temperature or other climate settings, your screen will reflect that (I just used the touchscreen once I got used to the system, though.)
The Dart’s system of vehicle control via the touchscreen was among the easier to use ones that I have tried in the recent past, and I was very quickly able to adjust to it -- as most people should be, too. The screen is also quite responsive to touch.

Music options
You get the usual array of music sources -- AM/FM, satellite radio, USB  and AUX connectivity, bluetooth connectivity for your smartphone’s music and music apps like Pandora (album art will be displayed on screen).
In satellite, you can tag songs so you’re alerted when they are being played anywhere, which is a helpful feature.
On the satellite end, the first year is free, which is longer than any other automaker, and then you have to pay. Another satellite-related feature is Sirius Travelink, which gives you weather updates, sports scores, etc. upon your request.
You also get a CD player offered as an option. This is actually pretty smart in my view, because as we move more to cloud based music fewer people will want a CD player. Interestingly, the CD player is in the center armrest, not up front in the display.
There is also an SD card slot where you could listen to music from. This comes with the 8.4-inch touchscreen. Base radio just has AUX and USB ports.

The navigation in the Dart is based on Garmin’s system, so if you’ve ever used a Garmin GPS it will look very familiar. It can be controlled on the screen or by voice.
in my experience it worked well, for the most part, in terms of voice control, but make sure you’re enunciating clearly to avoid having to repeat yourself.
For safety, you’re not allowed to push buttons in the navigation system (i.e., enter addresses) while you’re driving. You must do it by voice in that situation.

Backup camera
One key feature on most new vehicles technology-wise is the backup camera, so you can see what’s behind you when you’re backing up. I found this especially useful on the Dart, as the extra large screen size gave me a better view than many competitors’ screens.
Voice commands, steering wheel controls
These elements of today’s vehicles are critical in the drive make them safer.
Instead of fumbling with your radio buttons, say “tune to CNN” and it will go to CNN’s satellite channel, even if you’re listening to FM radio. This kind of simplicity is critical to keeping your eyes on the road at all times.
On the steering wheel, you can control volume, music source, channel and more. The buttons being placed on the rear of the steering wheel make it very easy to adjust the volume and channel/source.
On front of the steering wheel you get the voice button, call button, cruise control and  arrows taking you through the info in the dashboard cluster.

Uconnect system
The overall system in this vehicle is called the UConnect 8.4N, which entails the entire radio system and voice controls: The screen, interface, climate, radio, etc.
There is an even better UConnect system coming out now, but the Dart was released before it was ready (That system -- called UConnect Access -- is debuting on the new RAM 1500 pickup and the Viper)
The system on the Dart has the same basic core though, but there are some upgrades coming with the new UConnect Access, which will no doubt be coming to later Dart models as it expands across the Chrysler/Dodge/Ram lineup.

What’s controlled by voice?
You can do pretty much whatever you’d like to do by voice in the Dart via the UConnect system. You can make calls by voice, control your music, control climate, and control navigation. If you connect your phone via Bluetooth, your contact list is automatically pulled in contact list, so you can say “Call Joe” and it dials.

The vehicle I tested got 31 mpg on average (27 city/37 highway) … This is a pretty good range for a non-hybrid vehicle. There are two engines offered -- a 1.4-liter engine and the 2.0-liter engine, and the various versions of the Dart vary from an average of 25 mpg up to 32 mpg. Some models do as well as 41 mpg on the highway, so you can easily surpass that 32 mpg mark if you’re mostly on the highway. the 1.4 liter engine is more efficient that the 2.0 engine.
Both the 2.0 and 1.4 engines make 160 horsepower, which is decent for a car this size. The difference between the two is in torque.
The 2.0 engine has 148 foot pounds of torque, while the 1.4 engine has 184 foot pounds.
The Dart also has multi-air technology, which helps fuel efficiency and reduction of CO2, electronically controlling air intake to reduce CO2 emissions and boost fuel efficiency by 7.5 percent.

Sound system
Depending which model of the Dart you get, your sound system will vary.
6 speakers come standard in the RallyE and Limited rides, with an option to upgrade to a 9 speaker system with subwoofer.
4 speakers come standard in the lower SE and SXD trim levels.

How are sales?
The Dart went on sale in May, and has had a very timed launch, according to Kathy Graham of Chrysler Group Media Relations.
“We didn’t get a lot of Darts on the ground until mid-August. Average time on a dealer lot is 17 days. Industry average is typically 65. We’re very pleased with pace of sales,” Graham explained. “About 5,000 units per month are being sold. Market launch fully in place in November. We’re happy with where we are as we raise awareness we have a small car for sale”

Trim levels, prices
One big draw of the Dart is that despite all it offers, it’s still very affordable (unlike most cars out nowadays).
The basic SE model starts at 15995, but that lacks many of the features that make this car so impressive. Dodge officials estimated that only about 5 percent of buyers will take the base model.
The mid-level models are the biggest sellers. The SXT model starts at $17,995, and the RallyE model starts at $18,995.
A new model, the AERO, was recently introduced and costs ($19,295)
In terms of differences, the SE and SXT are more standard compact sedans, whereas the RallyE is more sporty in its appearance.
The star of the Dart lineup, though is the Dart Limited, which starts at $19,995. I tried one of these out and it did not disappoint. If you add a bevy of options, you can spend upwards of $24K on the Dart.

Who’s buying?
The folks who might consider a Dart are pretty varied. It’s bigger than most compact cars inside, but not huge, so many families might find it too small.
So you have young people without families who want a spiffy new ride with a low pricetag, then you have older folks who don’t have kids at home anymore and want a nice ride that’s smaller in size. These older buyers would be more likely to upgrade to the Limited than the younger crowd.

Dodge knows it has to score big with the Dart. Considering Chrysler’s recent struggles in years past, they need all the hits they can get.
So to help keep customers happy, they are making it quite variable. The vehicles are customizable moreso than many of its competitors -- in terms of color, engine, transmission, etc.
“We tried to have something for everyone without alienating everyone. If you want wild colors, we got them,” Graham said.

Extra features on the Limited
Some features are available on the Limited version that aren’t on lower levels.
It has the option for blind spot monitoring, and it’s the only compact vehicle offering rear crosspath monitoring. That means that when you’re backing out, it will alert you with a beep and a flashing signal in the mirror if vehicles are coming from either direction -- not just behind you.
You also get a Park Assist feature offered on the Limited, which will warn you if you’re going to hit anything in your parking adventures.
There is also a larger 7-inch information screen in the Limited that drivers can customize (the corners can be set to the info you need most often) and can make either analog or digital. A lot of information can be viewed here about fuel economy, vehicle info, trip info and much more. You can view info in miles per hour or kilometers per hour.
These little touches not only increase safety and overall user experience, but they make you feel like you’re driving a pretty fancy car when you’re behind the wheel of a Limited; just without the fancy pricetag.
Emergency service
One area where the Dart does have a weakness is that there is no OnStar-type system to automatically send an alert for help in the case of an accident.

Dodge was out of the four-door small sedan market for many years -- seven to be exact, but they’re getting noticed with their return via the Dart. (which was spurred, in a way, by Chrysler’s union with Fiat, which is known for its small cars.)
Graham said that Dodge had to pack a whole lot of good things into the Dart to get noticed, but she believes they did it and can compete with big name competition in the small-car market.
“Cars are really good now. We had to come with our A game and we think that we did that,” she said, “We offer lots of colors, one of the largest interiors, under the seat storage in the passenger seat. A  laptop can fit in the glove box.
“The competition is all very good. But we kind of upped the good with the 8.4 inch touchscreen, blind spot monitoring, 10 airbags, anti-lock brakes on all models, LED racetrack lighting around instrument panel, more ambient lighting in door pockets. There’s a lot packed into that car. In-vehicle tech is a huge point. The 7-inch TFT screen is a feature you’ll find on a high-end Audi and Land Rover . No one in segment is even close.”

Bottom line
It’s pretty clear that the return to the compact car market has been a big success so far for Dodge. This is a very nice vehicle, period.
The Dart’s been on target so far for the Dodge brand, and my experience in the car leads me to believe that trend will continue, thanks in large part to the impressive technology they packed into a car that starts at well under $20K.
If you’re considering buying a compact car, this is one of the top options, not just in terms of in-car technology, but also in overall performance. I truly enjoyed driving this car, and I’m sure a lot of other people will too.

Matt Myftiu can be reached at or 248-745-4617. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu or become a fan of the Facebook page “OPTechTime”. Check out his blog at

Monday, December 17, 2012

2013 Buick Verano is one of GM’s most tech-savvy offerings — TECH TIME REVIEW

As times change, GM is making sure its brands keep up with new vehicle technology and the Buick lineup is definitely a big part of this strategy.
I recently spent some time in a 2013 Buick Verano, and I’ll let you know about my experience and what tech features the Verano has to offer.

The main technology hub of most new vehicles is the central control system that drivers can use to maneuver around all the features offered in the car.
For Buick, this system is called Intellilink, and it comes standard on all Buick models.
So what exactly is Intellilink?
Nick Richards, Buick communications manager, describes it as follows.
“Intellilink is our connectivity solution for the vehicle. It combines different technologies into one easy-to-use entertainment system and smartphone connectivity.”
The system includes an amply sized  7-inch color LCD display front and center to display information and your music, navigation and more. You can use voice commands to adjust your radio controls, navigation and more. And in a helpful move, you can configure what shows up on home page of the LCD screen – so the icons for the stuff you use most shows up.
Overall, I found the system pretty easy to use, once you learn the commands. A version of Intellilink is also available on some GMC models, too.

Methods of control
In terms of controlling your music, for example, there are several options in the Verano. You can use physical dials on the center console’s LCD screen or you can use buttons on the steering wheel, and of course there is the voice option.
I preferred to just use the steering wheel or voice options, for safety reasons. The less I had to take my hand off the wheel and my eyes off the road the better.

App integration
One thing the Buick lineup does, technology-wise, that not many other vehicles do, is have some legitimate app integration. Like most cars, you can connect your phone via Bluetooth to access music on the phone. But if you’re using Pandora, you’ll get full integration into the vehicle.
You can use voice controls to tune to Pandora and even say the station you want to listen to, and the full track info and album art will show up on the center console, almost exactly like it looks on your phone. This is very cool, and continues to trend of integrating phones more into our vehicles more seamlessly. And it also increases safety, as you’re not trying to fumble with your phone to change Pandora stations while you drive. You can even push the voice button and say “thumbs up” to let Pandora know you like a song, which is a nice touch.
There is also a similar integration with Stitcher, a talk radio app.
“I think if you look around, everybody is walking along looking down at their phone. The way everyone wants to receive their info is through that mobile device. The intent is to give people access to that in a responsible manner,” Richards said, “To us it’s entertainment services like Pandora and Stitcher; Talk radio in morning, Music at night. As technology evolves, what we can give them access to in a responsible manner. You’ll see that continue to evolve as well.”

Navigation is an upgrade that is offered on the Verano, so it’s not standard. But it’s a nice option that was very helpful in my experience and not hard to figure out at all, so I would recommend picking it up. (the fee is $795), If you don’t upgrade, you’ll still have Intellilink and the 7-inch screen, just without navigation capability.
Navigation is GPS based – so you don’t have to go to the dealership to upgrade maps.

In the overall scheme of things, the Verano’s gas mileage is what I would call decent. You get 32 highway and 21 city; for a total of 25 overall. This is not the best you’ll find out there in its segment, but it’s not terrible.

Veering away from the technology for a second, let me just say that the Verano is quite the sharp-looking vehicle, and it’s safe to say this isn’t your father’s Buick. There were some nice accents on it that give it a unique look that will draw in many potential customers.
The only part of the design of this car that was a bit annoying was the odd placement of some of the seat adjustor levers. Some were put in awkward positions and I had to reach too far back to adjust them.
Outside, though, it was a very nice sight to see and looks very classy.
Richards said this is their plan, to create a car that will look good today and look good in several years too.
“Across the Buick portfolio we try to have a consistent look and design to them so you can tell driving down the road that it’s a Buick,” he said. “The waterfall grille, the chrome daylight opening wrapping around doors and door windows . Distinctive look to the headlamps. The Intent is to give it kind of a sculptured look that has a timeless design to it.”

No shortage of tech offerings
The Verano is not the largest car on the market (it falls in the compact segment), but that doesn’t mean the technology is skimped on.
You’ll get a lot of features that you’d expect in bigger vehicles, such as a standard rear camera for safety when backing up, an option for rear cross-traffic alert, plus 10 standard airbags.
The rear crosspath alert option features a radar-based system that will warn you of traffic oncoming from the sides with a beeping sound and a visual on your screen pointing to the direction of traffic.

Music sources, ports
If you like your music, you have the usual plethora of options here in the Verano.
There’s AM/FM radio, Satellite radio (3 months free, then you must pay — I’d recommend keeping it just for lack of commercials and wider variety than terrestrial radio), CD slot, an AUX input on radio unit, a USB port (you can connect an iPod here, or just charge your phone while driving), and a 12-volt port. Via Bluetooth, you can listen to music through your phone too.

One major technology option that GM vehicles can offer that a lot of others can’t is OnStar installed in the vehicle. This is a proven technology that has been making drivers feel more safe for over a decade now, and it’s included free for 6 months on the Verano before you have to start paying for it.
For those who don’t know, Onstar has many features — including automatic crash response and turn-by-turn direction.
If you are in an accident and the airbags deploy in the vehicle, it automatically calls OnStar and they’ll talk to you about what help you need.
It’s not always that dramatic though. you can call the OnStar adviser, tell them where you need to go and they’ll send the directions to your car, and they’ll show up on screen and be told you to by the vehicle as you drive. (this way, you can get directions even if you don’t opt for the navigation system; you just won’t have the full map visuals you’d get with a navigation system, just arrows and mile numbers)
Also with OnStar, you can ask for recommendations for restaurants, etc., and they can call the restaurant for you if you want to make reservations. It’s a very system that’s been proven over time to work very well both in case of emergency and when you need just a little help with something..
The mobile app connected to OnStar is very cool too. You can see vehicle diagnostic info (fuel/ oil life, check tire pressure, see how much battery charge you have, etc.). You can also lock or unlock the car, or remote start it, via your phone, even if you’re not near the vehicle. This is a nice feature either for convenience, or in an emergency like if you locked the keys in the car. Last resort, you can all OnStar and they can unlock your car in a pinch.
Looking ahead, Richards said: “(Onstar is a) long-term pipeline into the vehicle for potential future services.”
So the future could bring even more helpful features.

Engine, horsepower
So how does the Verano run?
You get a pretty hearty ride via its 2.4 liter 4-cylinder engine and its 180 horsepower output. Coming soon, there will be a turbocharged 2.0 liter Verano released that offers 250 horsepower, if you want a little more oomph and get-up-and-go in your drive. But the regular version will work just fine for most folks..
That’s the standard – this fall, the Verano turbo will come out with 2.0 liter turbocharge 4-cylinder engine – with 250 horsepower – just coming out.
You get a warranties of up to 70K miles/6 years on the powertrain; and 50k miles/4 years bumper to bumper

Audio system
My test vehicle had a very healthy sounding 9-speaker premium Bose audio system. This was an upgrade, and won’t be on all trim levels, but if you opt for this feature you’ll get the most of your music for sure.

Voice control
Almost everything on this vehicle can be controlled by voice: Radio/music source, navigation, making phone calls, OnStar. The only major exception is climate controls, which much be done manually.
There are also steering wheel controls for volume, channel/music source, cruise control, and voice control activation.

Other features
All Verano models feature automatic headlight control, 18-inch machine faced alloy wheel, dual-zone heating so each side can be a different temperature, and remote start. They also come with Stabilitrack (electronic stability control), tire pressure monitoring, and an alarm system.
Options include power-adjustable outdoor mirrors, which heated (good for winter climates), a heated steering wheel, and the EZ Key passive entry system (senses key as you approach; doors automatically unlock)

What’s disabled wile driving?
For safety reasons, you can’t enter text into the navigation system while the vehicle is in motion. This is pretty standard, and a smart move, but voice commands can be used while driving if you need to adjust your navigation route.

Safety features
As far as safety features go, the Verano is one of the top options in its class.
You get the 10 air bags, a standard Rear Vision Camera, which has no doubt prevented more than a few accidents.
The Side Blind Zone alert is offered as an option and flashes a light in your side mirror is you’re about to turn and somebody is currently in your blind spot in the next lane. This was a very helpful feature to me as I drove, especially in busy traffic.
If you get Blind Zone alert, you also get the Rear Cross Traffic Alert, which I discussed earlier.
And last but not least, there is the standard Ultrasonic Rear-Park Assist feature, which warns if you’re going to back into something (you get a visual warning on screen and an audio warning).

What will a Verano cost you?
The model I tested was a 2013 Verano FWD 1SL, which is the top level and $26,755 to start; (with Navigation and destination charge it reached $28,435)
The base version of the Verano starts at $23,080, plus the 885 delivery charge -- so it comes in just under $24,000.
Inbetween, there is the 1SG, aka the convenience package, which adds in heated mirrors/ blind zone and rear cross traffic warning, and starts at 24,334 plus delivery charge.
Other features that can be added are a sunroof and a few premium paint colors with higher gloss.

Richards said that in terms of sales, the Verano is holding its own so far in its first couple years of existence.
“It was introduces at NAIAS in 2011 and started production in November 2011. First vehicles came last December,” he explained. “Every month since then, we’ve seen increased sales. They’ve leveled off about 4K a month; we’re really happen with the numbers. 52 percent of our customers are trading in a non-GM vehicle or they don’t have a trade-in.”
Regarding the likely audience for a vehicle like the Verano, Richards said:
“The primary consumer is going to be your early professional. You’ve got your career, you’re making a good amount each month, but you don’t need a full-sized vehicle or a lot of room to haul kids. Something more sporty, solid, reliable, good technology, fun to drive, but also shows you’re fairly responsible. If you want to take people out on the weekend, you’ve got room, but you’re not in the crossover stage yet.”
“The other end of the spectrum is the empty nester. Kids in high school or off to college,” he added. “You may not need a huge vehicle in the household. Both ends of the spectrum.”
As far as the top tech highlight in the vehicle, Richards pointed out a few things that he believes make the Verano stand out, including a very quiet ride..
“We’ve keyed on the ability to use things like Pandora in the vehicle, to take your music with you,” he said. “The safety systems: It’s an IIHS top safety pick. And there was a lot of time spent on the acoustics of the vehicle. There’s a lot of effort put into reducing, blocking or eliminating unwanted noise in the vehicle. You can better enjoy the driving experience”

Bottom line
My take: Based on my time in the 2013 Buick Verano, GM is doing an impressive job staying relevant in the in-car technology race, which is constantly evolving at a faster and faster pace.Even in smaller cars like the Buick Verano, GM knows it can not skimp on the technology, and that will be beneficial to them in the long run.
I found the Intellilink system on the Verano overall quite easy to use and helpful, and most importantly the vehicle as a whole maintains focus on safety -- between the warning systems and OnStar they’ve got your back pretty solidly.
There is a lot of promise for even better systems in the future, and the Pandora integration is a nice start and a good sign for the future. They’re ahead of the game in this area.
If you’re in the market for a classy looking ride with some pretty solid tech offerings, you’ll definitely want to put the Verano on your list of vehicles to test. The price is a little steeper than some of its competitors, but you get a very nice ride for the money.

Matt Myftiu can be reached at or 248-745-4617. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu or become a fan of the Facebook page “OPTechTime”. Check out his blog at

Friday, December 14, 2012

Sony Vaio T ultrabook offers Windows 8, touchscreen at a nice price — TECH TIME REVIEW

Ultrabooks are all the rage this year, with every computer manufacturer putting one or more on the market.
Windows 8 is the new system from Microsoft that is starting to make its way to all sorts of new devices.
And touchscreen computing is becoming more and more popular these days.
Combine all that, and you’ve got the machine that I recently tested from Sony, the Sony VAIO T Series 13 Ultrabook.
I got the chance to try out a brand new model of the T13 with the new Windows 8 OS and touchscreen capability, and it’s no exaggeration to say that this is a whole new era of computing that looks and feels a whole lot different that what you’re used to..
I’ll fill you in on all the details of the Vaio T13, and give you a quick rundown of the Windows 8 experience in the process.

Looks, weight
A glance at the Vaio T13 reveals a classy, silver look (“silver mist” to be exact), which is offset by a black keyboard and a black border around the screen. This is the only color combo offered on this model.
The shell is made out of brushed aluminum, and the materials are very sturdy and built to last.
In terms of size, overall dimensions are: 12.72 inches wide, 0.71 inches thick () and 8.90 deep.
Weight on the nontouch version is 3.54 lbs, but the touchscreen model is heavier at 3.7 pounds due to the extra display that allows for touch. This is a decent weight, but not as light as some other ultrabooks.
Sony also offers another model in the Vaio T line -- the T14 -- but that’s only available in a nontouch version. It does have an optical disc drive, which the T13 does not.

Touchscreen option
The touchscreen is available on the T13 for a $100 premium, and is optional.
It was very responsive on the model I tested and is a very good fit with the new Windows 8 operating system, which is designed with touchscreens in mind.
David McFarland, product manager for VAIO, said he believes this is a cost many folks will be willing to pay, especially since touch is the way of the future and this is one part of the machine that can’t be upgraded after purchase..
“If they are intrigued about Windows 8 and touch, $100 is a good price because it’s a good way to future-proof that product,” McFarland said. “Windows 8 really gravitates to the touch element. We hope consumers lean toward touch embracement of windows 8. Display is not upgradable like RAM or storage.”
One thing about the touchscreen that’s interesting is that it’s a “10-point capacitive touchscreen”. This means that it can recognize up to 10 fingers or touch points at the same time, which can come in handy when you’re doing things like manipulating the globe in Google Earth.
In short, with the touchscreen feature on the T13, all the stuff you’re used to doing on your smartphone with your fingers can now be done on your laptop via touch, including pinch-to-zoom.
Some programs on the touch models are aimed at touch use. Something called ArtRage Studio, for example, allows users of the Vaio T13 touch model to produce artwork on the computer.

The computer’s trackpad is just the right size and quite responsive. Unlike some other trackpads, there are no buttons to tap when you want to click on something, it’s just flat and smooth.
When you want to click on something, just tap the lower portion of the trackpad. It takes some getting used to if you’re familiar with the button option, but it’s equally easy to use and looks better design-wise.
Through the trackpad, you can pinch-to-zoom, and a neat feature is VAIO Gesture Controls..
This allows the user to make hand gestures in front of the Webcam to complete various actions -- such as skipping songs, turn pages, or control the volume on programs like PowerPoint and Windows Media Player.

Windows 8
Before I get into this, let me say that you really have to experience Windows 8 to fully understand it, but I’ll give you a quick tutorial.
This is by far the most radical update Microsoft has made to the Windows OS in a long long time. The difference begins right off the bat at your “Start screen”, which features tiles showing off all the various programs and areas of your computer you might access (photos, calendar, mail, weather, Skype, etc.).
If you’re ever seen a Windows Phone and how the tiles are organized there, this is very similar.
In the touch version of a Windows 8 machine, you can scroll around with your finger and tap the tile you want to access. In the nontouch version, you’ll have to use your trackpad to get where you want to go. The tiles are all very easy to move around if you want to give your home page a new look, and if you want a more traditional approach to using your computer, just click the tile called “Desktop” and a more familiar looking setup will appear.
You’ll have to learn all new locations of buttons, new ways to shut down the machine, etc., but once you learn it the hard part is over and you can enjoy all the new OS has to offer.
Side note: If you are upgrading your current computer to Windows 8, i would recommend being safe and backing up all the data you have, just in case something goes wrong, so you don’t lose any of your music, documents, etc.
So will people like Windows 8? Well, at first, everything that’s new is going to be a struggle for people to adapt to. There are bugs to be worked out on every new system that is released. But after some time using Windows 8 I found it to be a helpful upgrade that people should embrace after an initial period of dislike (we’re creatures of habit, and change isn’t something we really don’t like most of the time.)
The VAIO T13 is offered with either Genuine Windows 8  or Windows 8 Professional, depending whether your focus is business or personal use.
McFarland said that one helpful feature on the Windows 8 system is the portability and synchronicity of it -- meaning you can access all your information on various computers just by logging in, kind of how Android smartphones work universally.
“You have a master account,” he explained. “Windows 8 does that now. If I went to my friend’s house, I can log in with my user ID and it will sync to my master account. They’ll use the same mirroring technology based on the login profile you set up. Even if you’re just using the game features with Xbox, your profile becomes that single profile for wherever you have to access it.
You log in to your account and it populates your Start page and lets you access your Skydrive account.”
So in a real life situation, you can be at a friend’s house, log in to your account on his computer, and the machine will look just like yours at home. Once you log out, your friend can log back in and his stuff will return. As you go from PC to PC with Windows 8, you have that same experience.

Sony embracing touch
McFarland said that touch will continue to be a large part of Sony’s VAIO laptop lineup into the future, and already is, with a handful of models offering it that are aimed at different segments of the market.
“If you want VAIO but don’ t want ultrabook (want full-powered GPU or clamshell, or optical drive instead ... or if you want a traditional all-in-one with touch, we have that,” he explained. “We’ve launched the TAP 20; a mobile all-in-one that can move from room to room, or can lay full flat on table, and also has touch integration. It’s designed for multiusers touching at one time.
Another new one is the Duo 11, a hybrid tablet/PC with touch.”
“Yeah, we’ll be pushing touch 100 percent as we move forward,” he emphasized.

Who’s buying ultrabooks?
Ultrabooks -- the code word for laptops that are slim, light and portable -- are a key segment these days because people are so much on the go, for work or play, these days. McFarland said a lot of the people in the ultrabook market are students, and others are “early adopters” of  new technology.

The machine I tested featured a 13.3 inch screen with a display resolution of 1366 x 768. This is decent and good enough to play 720p HD content without delays, but not full 1080p HD, and you have no option to upgrade to full HD.
The screen is still pretty clear and bright, and an LED backlight helps it remain bright but still preserve battery life.
Most people should be satisfied with the specs on the T13, but for those who aren’t, Sony has other offerings that do fit the bill (The E Series 14P features a higher resolution screen and a backlit keyboard (another thing that I would have liked to see on the T13, but was not there).

The T13 features an HD Webcam that features 720P HD quality and a built-in microphone. I used this often to make calls overseas via Skype, and it looked great.

McFarland said that with the Vaio T13, Sony aimed for “full port connectivity” and it offers more options than some of the other ultrabooks on the market.
You get 2 USB ports (1 USB 2.0, and 1 USB 3.0 for faster data transfer), an HDMI port, a VGA port, a memory stick/SD card reader; and an Ethernet port.
“We didn’t want to achieve the world’s thinnest or lightest and leave things out,” McFarland said.  “Overall design and user experience is more important.”
The HDMI port can be especially helpful, allowing you to use and HDMI cable to share your images from the machine on your HDTV.

Quick start
This is a feature that helps maintain battery life. Every time you close the lid of the T13, it goes automatically into sleep mode, so battery isn’t being wasted. Then, as soon as you open the machine up, within a couple seconds it’s right where you left it.

There’s plenty of storage offered on the T13, and it’s in a curious package that’s aimed at keeping the cost down.
You get a hybrid hard drive featuring both a regular 500GB spindle hard drive and a 32GB MLC (multi-layer cache) drive. The MLC drive functions like a solid state drive (no spinning mechanisms) and works together with the spindle hard drive.
The alternative to this hybrid hard drive is to choose a solid-state drive, in either 128, 256 or 512GB sizes. Many folks go to SSD drives due to the better overall performance and speed of accessing your files and booting up, but they are more costly.

Processor, Memory
The numbers on processor and memory can all be configured.
Intel processors (i3-3217U, i5-3317U, i7-3517U) are offered, and my experience with the i5 version was that it performed very well. The machine was very fast (though not the fastest I’ve experienced), even if I had a lot going on in terms of multitasking.
RAM options are 4GB, 6GB, and 8GB. (4GB is enough to fit most people’s needs.)
If you push this thing too hard with activities like video editing or video game play, for example, it might start to slow down on you, but for most daily activities people do it shouldn’t pose any problems.

Battery life
Usually, I find that battery life claims don’t end up being a reality. But in this case, it was pretty true to what was claimed. Sony claims 5.5 hours of battery life on the VAIO T13, and in my time with the machine, I got over the five hour mark most of the time, so I’ll say it’s accurate this time.
That’s a pretty impressive number, but not quite as impressive as some of its ultrabook rivals.

Every company brings their own technologies into their products, and Sony is no exception.
The T13’s speakers use Sony’s audio technology very well, providing some excellent sound compared to other laptops.

The base price for a Vaio T13 is $699 for a nontouch model, and $799 Touch. The touch version I used had some upgrades and was closer to $1,000.

Bottom line
The Sony Vaio T Series 13 Ultrabook is just one of many ultrabooks on the market right now..
But its classy looks, full bevy of ports and strong performance make it one of the best options out there if you’re considering an ultrabook purchase. If you’re considering an ultrabook, I’d definitely recommend giving this a test run if possible to see if it’s to your liking -- because it probably will be.
Some small things bothered me (no backlit keyboard, no full-HD resolution), but it’s still got an impressive package and I would recommend the touchscreen option too, especially since touch works so well with Windows 8.
The starting price of the T13 is lower than many of its competitors in the ultrabook market, giving it a bit of a leg up to start with, too.

Matt Myftiu can be reached at or 248-745-4617. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu or become a fan of the Facebook page “OPTechTime”

Thursday, December 13, 2012

XFinity TV Player app from Comcast lets customers download TV shows, movies to mobile devices

Xfinity TV customers have enjoyed the benefit of being among the first to stream thousands of On Demand video choices to their tablet or smartphone through an app – a great entertainment option while connected to the Internet. And now, Comcast has added a new capability to its Xfinity TV Player app that enables customers to download content from the Internet directly to their mobile device, so they can watch their favorite TV shows and movies in the palm of their hand – offline, wherever they are.

Xfinity TV digital customers can download thousands of premium TV and movie choices from SHOWTIME, STARZ, ENCORE and MOVIEPLEX via the app onto their Apple or Android smartphones or tablets. Xfinity TV digital customers who subscribe to these premium networks can simply download an available movie or TV show over an Internet connection, then watch it wherever their travels take them. This feature is perfect for keeping entertained in places that generally don’t have an available or optimal Internet connection; in an airplane, on family car trips, or even on the subway.

“Millions of smartphone and tablet users in the U.S. watch video on their mobile devices.  With that in mind, Comcast is continuously innovating the TV experience and developing new features and tools that provide our customers with more options for how, when and where they watch content,” said Charlie Herrin, Senior Vice President of  Product Design and Development at Comcast Cable. “Today’s Xfinity TV Player enhancement underscores that commitment to our customers by adding more flexibility for them to watch entertainment on their terms – now without having to rely on an Internet connection to watch their favorite programming while on-the-go.”

Among the popular selections now available to download, subscribers can catch up on hit programming from SHOWTIME, including Homeland and Dexter, and STARZ, including Spartacus and Magic City.  And to keep the younger generation entertained, popular kids’ movies on STARZ such as Cars 2 and The Muppets are available to download. Comcast plans to add many more downloadable choices from additional programming partners in the coming months. All customers will be able to download content over an available WiFi Internet connection. In addition, as part of their innovation technology joint venture, Comcast and Verizon Wireless have teamed up to offer Verizon Wireless customers the flexibility to download and stream content directly to mobile devices over its 4G LTE network.

Comcast offers its Xfinity TV digital customers two apps – the Xfinity TV Player app and the Xfinity TV app – for making viewing and managing entertainment easier than ever. The Xfinity TV Player app is designed for customers who simply want to watch video on their mobile devices – now with more than 18,500 streaming On Demand choices via Apple and Android devices, as well as the thousands of downloadable choices currently available. The company’s Xfinity TV app helps customers personalize and manage the TV viewing experience including scheduling your DVR, remote tuning and a queue where you can keep track of the latest TV shows and movie releases. Both apps can be downloaded free-of-charge on Google Play and Apple iTunes.
More information on the Xfinity TV Player app and the new download feature is available at

Subaru’s Eyesight system furthers its reputation as safety leader — TECH TIME AUTO REVIEW

Among the various automakers, one of the most well-known for its safety features is Subaru.
A regular among the list of top safety picks, the company is not resting on its laurels, and has now added an extra layer of safety to some of its vehicles with the new Eyesight system, which I got to test out on a 2013 Subaru Legacy.

What is Eyesight?
The Eyesight system, which began being used in Japan in 2007 Subaru models, in Australia in 2012 models, and now has come to the U.S. in 2013 models. It’s currently only available as part an optional package on Subaru’s top trim level of the Outback and Legacy (the package also includes a moonroof and a navigation system), but there are plans to eventually make it available on all Subaru models.
So what exactly is it? In short, it’s a system that helps see what’s going on around the car and protect you in the case that something bad is about to happen.
Dave Sullivan, cross car line planning manager for Subaru of America, explained it in more detail.
“It’s a pair of cameras, a processing unit and it’s networked into all major car subsystems like steering wheel ABS brakes, throttle, etc. It will affect how the car reacts to vehicle dynamics control and it has a self-braking feature,” he said. “The cameras work very much like your eyes. Both are up on the windshield header, on either side of the rearview mirror inside the car. They compare each other’s images. The further apart or closer the images are dictate the distance between you and the next vehicle. It’s how you eyes work”
Eyesight involves several different functions, which I’ll get into in detail here.

This is perhaps one of the more critical functions of Eyesight. Sullivan said that in certain circumstances, vehicles with Eyesight, “will apply brakes or decrease throttle to avoid a collision”
“It depends on the situation and the speed differential. If you’re on the road in a residential street and someone turns suddenly in front of you going 30 mph, Eyesight is already monitoring the vehicle in front of you. After it detects a decrease in distance, first it warns you with a noise, then you get a visual warning on the cluster. Then it goes into light braking if you do nothing. And if you still do nothing, it will go into full braking,” Sullivan explained. “If you’re really not paying attention, as long as the speed differential between the two objects is within 20 mph, you have enough time to be warned and slow down to avoid the collision.”
A companion feature to this is Pre-Collision Brake Assist, which will help provide additional braking if you hit the brakes but not hard enough to stop in time to avoid a collision.
Nobody wants to be in a situation where you would have to use this feature of Eyesight, but if that kind of situation does arrive, it’s helpful to know that these safeguards are in place.

Adaptive Cruise Control
Another aspect of Eyesight is the Adaptive Cruise Control, which uses the cameras to sense how far cars are in front of you while you are in cruise control and keep you a steady distance away. Even if cars move into your lane while using cruise control, the adaptive cruise control will automatically slow down the car and maintain the same pace behind the new car ahead of you.
Of course, if you move over to a new lane to avoid the new traffic in front of you, the vehicle will re-accelerate to the set cruising speed..
You have three distance settings to choose from -- close, mid and far.

Pre-Collision Throttle Management
Similar to the braking help you get from Eyesight, this feature kicks in when the car in front of you starts and suddenly stops and you might not see the stop coming. Eyesight will give you warning and cut the throttle some if it sees you’re going regardless of the obstacle stopped ahead. Hopefully, the warning will give you enough time to stop the car and avoid the accident. Again, you never want to use this, but it’s nice to have on board as a backup.

Lane Departure Warning and Lane Sway Warning
Lane Departure Warning was the feature I think most drivers will get the most daily use out of on the 2013 Subaru Legacy and Outback models.
You’ll get a verbal warning and a warning on the screen in front of you when you depart your driving lane. It can be shut off if you’re about to enter a construction zone or other area where lines might have to be crossed, but for the most part you’ll want to keep it on. It’s quite sensitive, maybe too sensitive for some people’s tastes, but I was amazed how often I was leaving my lane. It made me focus more on staying where I belonged on the road.
As long as you use your turn signals, the warning won’t sound when you switch lanes, but if you forget your signal, you will get the warning. The volume level of the warning can also be adjusted.
Lane Sway Warning is another feature that could potential save lives. It looks for a pattern over several minutes of erratic weaving between lane lines, which could indicates sleepiness or that you’re driving under the influence and need to pull over. It will warn you if it sees that pattern, and hopefully you’ll take the advice and pull over if you are weaving through traffic erratically..

Another neat feature was Lead Vehicle Start Alert.
This is basically to help you out if you’re not paying attention at a stop light and the car in front of you moves.
“If the car pulls away, after it moves about 3 meters if you don’t do anything, the system gives you a quick beep and say that the vehicle has moved. It’s intended to give you a warning to go,” Sullivan said.
If nothing else, this will prevent you from getting beeped at by a bunch of people behind you.
Sullivan said that the Eyesight system as a whole is just an additional layer of security that makes your ride in a Subaru that much safer.
“It’s an additional layer of safety. And you can turn it off if you’re going offroading, etc., so it’s got some flexibility. It’s the attraction of having another set of eyes always scanning the road ahead of you in case you get distracted,” he said. “It’s always good to have that extra layer of safety. And we have had a couple of people who have written us letters and cited examples of how this system has really saved them.”

The only aspect that was left off the Eyesight system, but can be found on other vehicles, is blind spot warning, which would have been a nice addition.

Non-Eyesight tech features
Eyesight is not the only tech feature you’ll get on the newest Subaru models, and they keep up pretty well on the overall tech front.
You get voice controls of navigation, can connect your phone via Bluetooth to make calls and listen to music. There’s some limited voice control of your music, but the physical knobs must be used for most radio control, as well as climate control.

Another safety feature that’s in line with other automakers is the bevy of controls on the steering wheel, so you don’t need to reach for controls.
There’s control of the info screen in the dash with your mpg and other info, cruise control buttons, following distance setting, the voice commands button, music source button, volume buttons.. And with some phones, you can fast-forward and rewind songs playing via Bluetooth.

The 2013 Legacy gets 27 mpg total (24 city, 32 highway). This is decent, but not spectacular.

The Legacy, like most new Subaru models, features both a USB connection and an AUX jack for other audio sources. One helpful use of the USB port is you can charge your phone while driving.
As far as music sources, you also have the AM/FM radio, plus satellite radio (optional on most models, standard on top trim level). First four months of satellite come free, then you have to pay to continue the service. There is also a CD player, and you can stream music from your phone via Bluetooth.
The Legacy and all new Subaru models (other than Tribeca) features a special tie-in with Apple phones -- iOs control functionality in the head unit. Basically, that means that if you plug in your iPod to the USB,  you can control it on the screen.

The rear camera on the Legacy is separate from the Eyesight system.
If you opt for the navigation system, you’ll get a rear camera that’s very helpful when you’re backing up. You do not have to get Eyesight to get this rear camera.
There’s a slightly different bundling on the Subaru Outback, as the rear camera is paired with the moonroof.

One area where the Subaru lineup falls short is in emergency help, as there is no OnStar-style system to automatically send help in the event of an accident.

The map information for the Legacy is stored on an SD card, which can be updated at a website online. Every six months of so, you can pull the card out, go to your laptop and download map updates from a website, then put the card back in your vehicle.
There are no real cloud-based elements in the Subaru lineup as of now, but some cloud-elements are planned for future models.

Going under the hood, you’ll find the 2013 Legacy features a 2.5 liter 4-cylinder engine, which was quite capable and produces 173 horsepower.

I love music, so i like a nice sound system. That was definitely the case in the vehicle I tested, as the very loud and crisp 440-watt 9-speaker harman/kardon Premium Audio System did not disappoint. This is standard only on the top trim level for the Legacy.
Lover levels of the Legacy will feature fewer speakers, less wattage.

The Legacy I tested was the top trim level -- Limited -- and will cost you $30,677 (including destination charge). That’s the base price plus the Navigation/moonroof/Eyesight package.
If you want the base version of the Legacy, minus Eyesight and other features, the starting price is a reasonable $20,954 (plus destination) in the very competitive midsize sedan segment (Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Altima, etc.). You’ll have some sacrifices (cloth seats, 4 speakers, etc.), but the price reflects those downgrades.
In the middle there is the Premium category, which starts at $22,495 plus destination. You still have cloth, but upgrade to 6 speakers, power drivers seat, leather on steering wheel and shifter, 17 inch alloy wheels
The Limited model, which I tested, adds leather seats, the premium 9-speaker sound system, auto climate control, power passenger seat, heated seats, fog lamps, different interior trim, rear A/C ducts.
The $3,940 package featuring the moonroof, NAV and Eyesight can only be added to Limited for now, but later will come to other cars.
“It was first offered to those most interested in tech, which are mostly Limited buyers,” Sullivan explained. “Because it’s a safety system, it will cascade down lineup quickly.”

The size on the Legacy is kind of a middle ground between smaller cars and SUVs/crossovers, so the target audience kind of reflects that.
“This is the heart of the U.S. market; middle-aged, male-skewed, engineer, teacher, middle manager,” Sullivan said “Someone with family that wants room in back seat but still wants an engaging drive. Ultra-reliable, pragmatic purchase for somebody that will fit people but be great for commuting.”

‘Next level of safety’
As far as what Eyesight adds to the mix, Sullivan said: “All Subaru cars are extremely safe. We take a lot of pride in that we have multiple years of top safety picks across the portfolio. This is the next level of safety. Our customers are very attuned to driving a safe car. We’re trying to use technology to push that envelope.”

In my time with the 2013 Legacy, I was impressed with what Subaru has done with this Eyesight system. it’s not perfect, with the lack of blind spot warning, but the features it does have could be very helpful in protecting drivers and even saving their lives. I wouldn’t be surprised if it makes its way to more Subaru models in a very quick fashion.
Some may find the lane departure warning to be a bit too sensitive, but its settings are adjustable and I found it helpful. Overall, the Eyesight system will be very helpful in keeping your Subaru vehicle, and you the driver, in one piece. Combined with the other tech features in the Legacy, Subaru’s 2013 Legacy is an impressive offering from a technology standpoint, and as an overall vehicle.

Matt Myftiu can be reached at

On the Web

For more information on the the Eyesight system or the Suburu Legacy, visit

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

LG Spectrum 2 smartphone offers some competitive specs for lower price — TECH TIME REVIEW

When LG debuted the Spectrum smartphone a year ago, it finally had a phone that was able to mentioned in the same breath with bigger name phones from Samsung, Apple and others.
Now, a year later, they’re back with the sequel -- the LG Spectrum 2, which is offered by Verizon Wireless.
I recently spent some time with one, and I’ll let you know how it compares to the competition in a crowded smartphone market.

Looks, screen
The Spectrum 2 has a solid build, with a nice rubbery grip on the back so it won’t slip out of your hands too easily. The screen is well protected by Corning Gorilla Glass.
Keeping with the trend of phones getting bigger, the Spectrum 2 comes with a 4.7-inch screen, up from 4.5 inches on the original. I like this trend, as I prefer bigger screens, but there are phone buyers out there who don’t want to keep growing the size of their phones at each new contract. These folks will have to look at smaller alternatives than the Spectrum 2.
The 1280 x 720 pixel high-definition display on the Spectrum 2 is sharp and bright, and between the large screen and the display quality, this phone is made perfectly for viewing videos, movies and other media such as games (your Angry Birds Star Wars play will be super sharp and easy to view.)
The touchscreen is responsive and offers haptic feedback if desired; Overall size is 5.31” (H) x 2.69” (W) x 0.36” (D), meaning it’s very tall and pretty wide, but also very thin. The screen is large enough that messaging won’t be a difficult task, even for those who have larger fingers. The Swype method of entry will help messaging speed, too, eliminating the need to lift your fingers between every letter.

Beyond looks, you have to have lightning quick speed to compete in today’s phone market.
The processor is the key to that, and the LG Spectrum 2 comes with a 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S4 dual-core processor, as well as 1 GB of RAM.
This translates to fast performance, even when multitasking
In terms of storage, you get 16 GB of internal storage on the Spectrum 2, an upgrade from the original version. And there is the ability to expand storage up to 32 GB more via SD card if you need more storage on the phone.

Operating system
The Spectrum 2 runs Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), an upgrade from Android 2.3 on the first Spectrum; but not the most recent Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean). Still, ICS is a great system that features all the Google connectivity you have come to expect with Android phones (Google Play app store, Gmail, Google Music, Google Maps and lots more), and very easy multitasking.
The multiple home screens are easily customizable with your favorite app icons and widgets.
LG has placed its Optimus 3 user interface onto the Spectrum 2, and it has good points and bad points. Overall, it’s not my favorite UI, but I could get used to it.

Camera, videos
Another essential element to be considered one of the top new phones is great photo and video quality, and the results are impressive here.
With the LG Spectrum 2, you’ll get an 8-megapixel still camera with LED flash in the rear, a 1.3 megapixel camera up front for video chat and self-portraits, and full HD 1080p video.
I got a lot of great shots with this phone, though some did turn out a little fuzzy -- putting it slightly behind some other phones in terms of overall photo quality.
Video was very clear and lifelike, and ranks right there with the best phones in the business.
There are a ton of settings that can be adjusted on your camera, if you’re into tweaking your shots like a professional, and some other interesting features, including
— Time Catch Shot takes two pics just before you tap the shutter and one after.
— Panoramic scenes with Intelligent Panorama.
— Catch an entire sequence of action with Continuous Shot, which lets you automatically take six pics in quick succession after you press the shutter.
— Say Cheese Shot – use your voice to take a picture
— Advanced Image Editor – rename, crop, rotate, add effects, adjust contrast and color tones, and more

As far as download and upload speeds, there’s no worries here, as you’ll be using Verizon’s 4G network, which is consistently been the fastest in the business. If you download an app, it’s there almost instantly, and that’s what people expect these days.

Call quality
I had no issues with Verizon’s coverage on voice calls either. All calls went through kosher -- with no dropped calls and no trouble hearing on either end during my time with the phone.

Other features

— The Spectrum 2 is capable of NFC (aka near-field communications), which means that you can share videos, photos, playlists and more simply by bumping it against another NFC-capable phone.
— Quickmemo allows you to hit the voume up and down keys at the same time, so you can jot down a quick note with your fingers.
— The Spectrum 2 is a Global Ready phone that can be used in over 200 countries
— The phone is Bluetooth and WiFi capable
— SmartShare lets you share media wirelessly to DLNA–enabled devices
— USB Tethering lets you share your phone’s mobile data connection via USB

The Spectrum 2’s Lithium–Ion Battery (2150 mAh) didn’t last as long as I would have liked. It should get you through the day, unless you’re an extreme user, but that’s not good enough in the world of phones like the Droid Razr Maxx, which offer double the battery life.

This is one area where LG wisely kept things lower. The Spectrum 2 can be yours for less than $100 — to be exact, it’s $99.99 out of pocket with a 2-year contract.
When most of its rivals such as the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy S3 are $199.99 or more, this strategy should get the Spectrum 2 some buyers. The fact is LG is not as big a name in the smartphone world, so they have to do this discounting to compete. Without it, they wouldn’t have a chance. With it, they still have a major fight on their hands, but at least they have a possibility of competing.

Bottom line
In many spec areas, the LG Spectrum 2 is just as strong as any smartphone on the market. When total peformance and all aspects are taken into account, I’d say it’s slightly below some of its competition. But it’s price accounts for that, so it has a shot to do well. If you’re looking for a Verizon smartphone and are on a budget, you could do a lot worse than the Spectrum 2.

On the Web
For more information on the LG Spectrum 2, visit

Matt Myftiu can be reached at

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Samsung Galaxy Camera, with its 4G LTE connection, available from Verizon

New technology is bringing 4G LTE connectivity to personal devices beyond smartphones, such as the camera.

Available online starting Dec. 13, Verizon Wireless will offer the Samsung Galaxy Camera, the first 4G LTE camera in the world.

With Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, high performance photography, and Verizon’s 4G LTE network, the Galaxy Camera allows users to shoot, edit and share high quality images and video.

Social media enthusiasts will be able to connect to their accounts through their camera and upload pictures and videos of outings, concerts and parties as they happen. Shutterbugs and bloggers who post images on their sites will be able to upload photos over 4G LTE instead of waiting to use their computers at home.

The Galaxy Camera features a 4.8-inch HD Super Clear LCD touch screen and runs Android Jelly Bean, so users have full access to Android apps from the Google Play store like Instagram.

This is all combined with other high quality features such as a 16-megapixel lens, 21x optical zoom lens and optical image stabilization for clearer pictures even while moving.

The Galaxy Camera will be available for $549.99 and come in two colors, Cobalt Black, exclusive to Verizon Wireless, and White. Users will be able to add the Samsung Galaxy Camera to their Share Everything account for the promotional price of $5 per month.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Bose introduces SoundDock Series III system, compatible with latest iPhone and iPod models

Bose has introduced the new SoundDock Series III system, its first SoundDock digital music system designed for use with the iPhone 5, iPod touch (5th generation) and iPod nano (7th generation).

Now, owners can enjoy the iconic Bose SoundDock combination of small size and full-range audio performance from any iPod or iPhone model with a Lightning connector. 

An included remote control operates the system and the basic functions of the iPod or iPhone, and can switch back and forth between playlists.  For flexibility and convenience, the SoundDock III system features an auxiliary input to connect other audio devices, and charges the iPod or iPhone while docked.

The Bose SoundDock III system incorporates a proprietary acoustic design and digital signal processing.  The result is accurate, detailed, room-filling sound without increasing the system’s width or depth.  The SoundDock III system’s industrial design is signature Bose, maintaining clean, modern lines, and a sleek, slim profile.

Originally introduced in 2004, Bose SoundDock systems changed the way people listen to their iPod and iPhone, making it easier than ever to enjoy digital music out loud from a one-piece system.  Today, SoundDock systems enjoy a global following, with a level of performance and simplicity that continue to define the category. 

The new SoundDock Series III system is available now from Bose in Gloss Black for $249.95.  It is sold at authorized Bose dealers, Bose retail stores, online at and toll-free at 1-800-444-BOSE (2673).