Jan 07, 2011

This week Rob will be chatting from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Curious about the latest innovations in mobile, tablets, web TV and in-car technologies? Send him your questions.

Rob Pegoraro answers your questions on recent gadget reviews, technology news and provides personal tech buying and fixing advice.

LAS VEGAS--Hello. I'm here with 126,000 or so other people (that's an estimate, as I lost count after 100) to see what the electronics industry has in store for the year. Where do I start? 

I see the current effort to jam 3-D TV down our throats as another Betamax or Laser Disc fiasco for the the big electronics marketing people. Now let's see, they are significantly more expensive, --- those $200 special glasses aren't even compatible with other 3-D technologies and to say nothing of those people who wear corrective glasses (70% of the adult population). Programming material? What a joke and the final objection I have is that will 3-D really improve films that are dependent on great writing, great acting and great cinematography? Won't really good stories be "in the way" of the splashy and unnecessary special EFX of 3D? Yes, I'm a grumpy old fart over 70. Fred Weller

There are plenty of under-70 people who feel the same way about 3D, even after a year of salesmanship on that point. What I think you're likely to see is an effort to drive down its marginal cost--at least, pre-glasses--so that your next Blu-ray player or HDTV, which you buy because it has features you do want, also includes 3D support. 

Personally, I'm content to leave 3D for the movie theater... though as the parent of a five-month-old, I'm not exactly doing my part to prop up Hollywood these days. 

Will there ever be a Kindle in color?

Yes. (Technically, there already is: If you put Amazon's Kindle app on an iPad or an Android tablet, there's your color Kindle.)

How are the specs on the Evo Shift? I want to purchase my first smartphone and would like to get one that i'm not going to want to replace in 6 months.

I got a quick look at this Sprint 4G phone last night. It seems a lot smaller than the original Evo side-by-side, but that's largely an artifact of the Evo having a comparatively huge 4-in. screen. It is on the chunky side, though, thicker even than such slide-out-keyboard phones as Sprint's Epic. The Shift also only has a back camera, not the Evo's front camera. 

With any new smartphone, you face a reasonable risk of buyer's remorse, though--the technology is just moving very fast. (Please don't ask how I feel about my own year-old Android phone next to the new hardware here.)

Is there an app that allows web TV on a Droid X ? Also is there any best web TV box that is newly released or improved at the CES ? Thanks, Great articles - Rob, You do good work Jim DeLoatche, Melbourne, Fl. - previous Wash. area resident !

You've got a few choices coming up--there will be a version of Hulu Plus for Android in the coming months, and you should have a version of Netflix too.

The most-improved web TV box might be the entire category of TVs that don't need external boxes. When the TV itself has a long list of apps on board--plus an app store through which you can add more--you might not need that extra device. See my Permalink for an example of that. 

I should also note that the Boxee Box has improved, but not in a technical sense--the company behind its software has come to terms with Hulu, so instead of using technical workarounds you'll be able to pay for Hulu Plus through the box. Same for CBS's Web video, through a deal it just announced.



Is anyone talking about doing away with set top boxes?

You mean like the kind for cable and satellite TV service? No. That was a theme of prior CESes, but it's gone nowhere--the satellite industry has done nothing to get itself out of the box business, and cable companies have defeated their own attempts at standardization through a mix of apathy and perpetual beta testing. The only hope I see is for an FCC proposal to establish a standard called "AllVid," through which you'd have one gateway device in the house and could then connect any video device. But that's a ways off. 

So is there anything worth while on the 3D TV format at the CES, or is it just more of the same? BTW: Happy New Year, Rob!

The 3D developments I've seen all affect smaller screens--3D camcorders and laptops. Some companies are working on "glassless" 3D technology that would do away with the need for expensive active-shutter glasses, but I've been told by more than one person that this approach works poorly if your head will move relative to the screen. That is, it's better on a handheld gadget. 

Was there any word at all on whether and when these new tabs (Motorola, LG, Toshiba) will be offered as WiFi only? I need another data plan like a hole in the head (or more accurately - wallet). And given the fact that I have, essentially, free 3G with my phone's hotspot feature, I don't need 3G on a tablet.

My thoughts exactly. I don't know why manufacturers feel the need to handcuff themselves to carriers by shipping 3G versions first, but they keep doing that. It looks like you'll have to wait a few months after the debut of Motorola's Xoom, for instance, to get it in WiFi-only. One exception: RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook, which will ship in a WiFi-only version first. (I'll have a post up on that after the chat.)

So, did I make a mistake by buying an LG Ally and signing on to a new 2 year contract with Verizon last month? Should I have waited a couple months and gotten a 4G phone? This is, of course, ignoring the fact that my Razr might not have lasted a couple more months...

I think you're fine. 4G's added speed doesn't make that much of a difference on a phone's screen; you need to connect 4G to a larger device (tablet, computer, etc.) to see what the faster data brings you. Don't forget that 4G coverage is much more limited than 3G. One example: The Clear 4G-only modem I've been torture-testing here did not get a signal at all in Denver, my stop on the way here Tuesday night.

Have there been any entries (or discussion) in the category of 4K (resolution) displays?

Not much. 4k--as in, 4,000 lines of resolution--has a role to play in professional environments. But anybody who thinks it has a future in the mass market for TV has had a few too many cocktails at a CES reception. 

Anything new in in-vehicle electronics? My son put a "carputer" in his Toyota ~ first a Mac Mini, now an iPad, to integrate audio/gps/whatever he wants. Any ideas out there for his next project?

A lot--and I have to confess that I haven't had time to check out any of it. Most of the in-car electronics are in the North Hall of the convention center, and I have yet to set foot on that show floor. (The LVCC features three halls, and you could probably turn any of them into 747 maintenance hangars if you just raised the roof a little.) 

Rob, as I look for a new phone, I'm conflicted whether to get one with a qwerty keyboard or one with a touchscreen, which I sense is the future (tablets and all). Are regular keyboards on the way out? Not sure I'd like a touchscreen, but also don't want to be left behind. ... And will we see a time in the not-too-distant future when desktops and laptops have touchscreens exclusively? Thank you.

I don't think we're done with physical keyboards on phones, but they seem to be making up a smaller share of the market. Don't forget that speech input is an option too--Android phones have some pretty good speech-recognition software you can use in place of the keyboard. (Not that I'm tempted to use it in a noisy place like the LVCC.)

I am using an adequate 3rd party product to sync my BB and Outlook 2010. When will RIM update its system to handle the sync?

That is a really good question. Might have to use that in Help File next week...

what new features do you expect to be in the Jan iPad announcement?

Oh, right, there's one tech company that doesn't set foot at CES. Not that people aren't still talking about Apple. The next iPad, whenever Apple announces it, is pretty much guaranteed to have a camera and Apple's FaceTime software. A higher-resolution display seems likely--that would go with rumors of a new newspaper/magazine store for the thing. Otherwise, not so clear. 

I don't know that an announcement will come in January, but the  tech-reporter friends I ran into last night said that--like me--they won't be surprised if they have to make a trip to San Francisco on short notice in late January. 

Please let me know what phone you would buy and what carrier you would use to support unlimited voice, text, video conferencing (I guess Skype) and Internet access. Our son will be a US Marine on Jan 21st (in boot camp now) and we want to be about to communicate with him where ever he is in the United States. Thanks

Skype calling is a weird thing--although its iPhone app works over 3G and WiFi, even for video, its Android app is limited to WiFi on non-Verizon phones. Yet on Verizon phones, Skype only allows voice and video over 3G and not WiFi (they say they're going to fix that boneheaded oversight). I would go with a Verizon Android phone, considering its network's reach. 

Good luck to your son. 

I'm posting this question early for the third time in the hopes that no new tech news overwhelms you inbox. I would like to know why the facebook home page doesn't consistently display the same chronology and content, allowing of course for new content since you last looked at the page.? If you go to the Profile and return, or refresh the page, or log off and log back in, you rarely every see the same stuff, or the same chronology (supplemented by any new posts). If you refresh the page, almost every time the new page is different from the last one. Things disappear, only to reappear when you return. Even accounting for new posts, new comments on old posts bringing it to the top, etc. it doesn't make sense to me. Sometimes when you click the Older Posts link you can go back days, and sometimes you can't go back to earlier in the day. But later on you can. Am I missing something, or just too old to grasp some concept? Thanks in advance for your answer. I love your chats. PS: A "preview" option before posting would be useful to the long-winded amongst us.

Third time is the charm. Facebook employs some complicated algorithms to determine what you see when you log in--the whole point is to ensure there's always something new there. 

The Daily Beast had a neat story relating some details about how this works, based on some extensive testing with volunteers, a few months ago. 

iOS, WebOS, Windows phone, android...which one is going to be left standing when all is said and done? What criteria would I use to determine which is right for me?

Apple's iOS and Google's Android are obviously here to stay. Microsoft has put some serious money and resources behind Windows Phone 7--though the lack of sales numbers in Wednesday's keynote doesn't speak of great initial success. With HP's webOS, we'll have to wait to see what the next generation of hardware looks like, and that won't happen until after CES--HP sent an invite to an event in February.

BlackBerry's current software is the most obvious candidate for extinction--the PlayBook doesn't run the same operating system, and its current version needs to be replaced anyway. Doesn't mean RIM's next phone OS can't be great, but it does mean the current one has no future left.

This may be off-topic for today's chat, but I thought I'd ask. I'd love to get one of the new electronic readers--I'm just really tired of dragging around bulky books. My husband thinks I should wait a year to see which platform is going to win out. Any thoughts?

I agree with your husband. On the hardware side, e-ink screens are due for an upgrade that adds color, or at least more shades of gray. On the software side, I keep hoping--possibly in vain--that publishers will stop deluding themselves into thinking that proprietary DRM will solve all their business-model problems. 

The one e-book reader I've thought of buying at all is B&N's NookColor, and that's solely because it's a good, cheap Web tablet. I might then buy quasi-disposable titles on it, like guidebooks or read-once novels. 

Rob, Do you think prices on current-model TVs will fall after the Consumer Electronics Show? Or should I wait for the Presidents Day sales to get a good price? Or should I just go ahead and buy a new TV now? Also, are there particular stores or brands that you think offer the best deals? Do you expect to see a lot of 3D TVs at the electronics show? Do you think they'll replace DTVs and HDTVs on store shelves soon, or not for a decade or so? Many thanks!

TVs will only get cheaper, but their prices have already fallen so steeply there's not much left. (Whereas if you bought an HDTV in the summer of 2009... never mind.) You are about as safe as you can be in the electronics business buying a TV now. And now, 3D TV isn't going to be the standard anytime soon. Ever, I'd say. 

Were you at the Samsung keynote yesterday? It sure sounded bizarre.

No--and after reading Engadget's befuddled writeup, I almost wish I had attended, just for the unintentional-comedy value. (It featured an actor playing some teenage boy named Zoll. And dancers. Lots of dancers. Hunter S. Thompson could have had a lot of fun with it.) 

Anything new at CES on the Kindle front?

No, nothing. Amazon doesn't have any presence here, aside from a booth for their payments service that I may get around to seeing sometime Saturday. (Obviously, they have sales and business-development types around. But there's no Kindle exhibit in sight.)

Our local tech reporter (Dallas) really liked what he saw of the XOOM. I've been hankering for an iPad for some time, just waiting for the next gen and non-ATT. Have checked out the iPad apps and some are mouth-wateringly spectacular. It seems to me that even if the Samsung Galaxy, RIM tablet, XOOM etc are all comparable to iPad 2011, won't the app selection make the iPad still the one to beat?

Not necessarily. Were the number of apps the deciding factor in a platform's success, Apple itself would have gone extinct before it could have shipped the iPhone--Windows has long had more apps than the Mac. 

The more relevant issue is how many Android apps have been redone to work well and look good on larger screen sizes, and I'm now starting to see notes to that effect in the release notes for updates to the apps I have on my own Android phone. 

Is Internet-capable TV the thing to buy even if I only watch what's free (Hulu, etc)? Thanks!

Unless you're prepared to keep a laptop plugged into a TV when necessary, I think you should be looking for connected/Internet capability on at least a living-room TV. It's just too convenient to be able to pick up the remote, find something you like from Netflix and start watching. Fortunately, these features don't cost much extra; it's a cheap way to try to future-proof the set a little bit. 

I am dying to know that that mask-like THING is!

I haven't seen it myself yet! Our videographer has been roaming the floor to find these oddball things. 

(Here's what we're talking about.)

Any big surprises from the show, or unrelated - anything that looks ultra-cool, but clearly not ready for mass production?

The big surprise I've seen so far, I guess, is the rise of 3D-capable camcorders, and how cheap some have been. Sony will be selling a 3D version of its Flip-esque Bloggie for just $250. That's awfully cheap, although the quality of such a thing and its appeal to customers remains to be seen. I should certainly be able to get a good column out of it, though...

Hi Rob, In the next 2 months or so I'm looking to upgrade to a smartphone. My company is going to begin reimbursing me for using a personal phone so I can quit carrying 2 phones around. So, what phone would you recommend--needs to have all the fun stuff I want for my personal use (good web, video, etc), but also work with Outlook mail and calendar for work. Anything new coming out at CES that's going to be available soon and fit the bill? Thanks.

No need to wait--Exchange ActiveSync support is a pretty common feature. A Windows Phone 7 device, most Android phones and the iPhone could all work for you. I'd look at an iPhone or Android phone myself in that case.

What is the best new tablet for the money to rivel the iPad?

I can't tell you, since I don't know what any of these new tablets will cost. I suspect I still won't know until after Apple announces the next iPad, after which competitors can decide how they'll need to price their upcoming tablets against that. 

Reviewers tend to focus on the strengths and weakness of the features of phones, but i have not seen any reviews of how well smart phones work as PHONES, i.e, quality of antena,clarity of voice quality, number of dropped calls, etc. Since first and foremost i buy phones to use as phones, not internet searchers, cameras, game machines, music boxes, etc, I would like to see reviews of PHONE quality.

I hate to say it, but you're in the minority there. Most smartphone owners spend far more time using them for things besides voice communication. Not that I don't test those things with some sample calls when I review phones, but unless they're notably bad I just don't get into the subject. (I.e., you can and should assume that a phone works as a phone). 

Network quality, as seen in dropped calls, is a separate issue that affects data just as badly. Ask anybody around here about how often they've been trying to get their phones to push a photo up to one Web site or another. 

Ordinarily, I'd stick around, but the show floor opened up an hour ago and I need to see what's awaiting on it. Thanks for all the questions; I look forward to resuming the conversation in two weeks here. 

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Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post's Fast Forward columnist Rob Pegoraro, writes about computers, the Internet and consumerconsumer electronics. His latest tech thoughts and tips are cultivated daily on his blog Faster Forward.

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