Tag Archives: reviews

Infiniti Hybrid Is a Green Sedan for Silver Foxes

 

 

If you’re old enough to remember the energy policies of the Carter administration, green enough to have donated to the Nature Conservancy and young enough to get a rush of testosterone from dusting that polo-shirt-wearing jerk in his BMW, Nissan has the car for you.

And though its styling walks a fine line between “grandpa’s luxury sedan” and “soccer mom sports car,” the 2012 Infiniti M Hybrid pulls off this delicate balancing act with grace.

The result isn’t superb on looks. As you’d expect, meeting so many different design goals results in a car that looks a little, well, melted-together. It’s not going to make anyone’s heart race on the inside, either, with slightly old-fashioned styling exemplified by the quaint analog clock in the dash.

But it is one fun ride.

Full review: Infiniti Hybrid Is a Green Sedan for Silver Foxes | Product Reviews | Wired.com.

Exercise Wet, While Your Phone Stays Dry

 

 

My phone is about as integrated into my life as my left temporal lobe. I’m not going running without it.

That’s why the H2O Audio Amphibx Fit Armband ($60) is a boon for technophile exercise-junkies like me. Sure, it’s ugly, and its large size dwarfs my skinny arms. But with my phone tucked inside, I can go running in rain, sleet, hail or any other ridiculous elements without fear of water damage. I can even go swimming with my Precious — something even Sméagol would envy.

Coupled with a pair of H2O Audio’s Surge 2G headphones ($50), which are also waterproof, I can listen to music anywhere I choose to run, splash or ride.

The Amphibx armband is essentially a sealed, clear plastic pouch attached to a beefy fabric-fastener strap. On the back there’s a double-latching hatch with a gasket. Pop your phone inside, clip the latches down and the gasket seals all water out. It also seals air inside, so your phone gets to ride along with a bubble of air, which helps it float should it become detached.

You can still work your phone’s controls and use its touchscreen through the pouch, although it’s a bit more awkward than before.

To use headphones, you connect the armband’s internal plug to your device before sealing it inside, then close up the pouch. Afterward, you can plug your earbuds or headphones (regular or waterproof) into the armband’s external headphone port, making an electrical connection without compromising the waterproofing.

I tested the Amphibx armband and Surge 2G headphones in a variety of conditions, from jogging on a hot and sweaty California afternoon to running through chilly, blowing Seattle rain. I took it in the shower and on 1-mile pool lap swims. I used it with an iPhone 4 as well as a Motorola Defy. Neither phone ever saw a drop of water, except for the random few drops that fell on them as I was reopening the case after a workout.

The case is big enough to hold the well-endowed HTC Evo, although it’s a bit of a squeeze once you connect the internal headphone plug. You can also can fit a credit card or a $20 bill inside along with the phone.

The Surge 2G headphones performed just fine while running, with decent sound and a rugged design that made them relatively easy to deal with while exercising. However, I was not able to get the headphones to stay in while swimming. It might be that my ears are unusually-shaped, but they kept floating out in the water, even when I’d jammed them well inside my outer ear. Switching to different tips (several sizes are included) didn’t help much.

Still, for running and other sport activities in wet environments short of total immersion, the H2O Audio combination works well. Whether you just want to take music with you, can’t stand being out of touch or are using your phone to track your workouts, these two are a pricey but practical pair of accessories.

WIRED Waterproof to 12 feet: Good enough for surfing! Wide fabric-fastener strap keeps armband on even when severely buffeted. Easy to adjust.

TIRED Plastic sticks to touchscreens, making removal slow. Harder to work touchscreen controls through the plastic. Plastic adds glare in bright sunlight. Size will make your arms look even skinnier, you nerd.

via Exercise Wet, While Your Phone Stays Dry | Product Reviews | Wired.com.

Exercise Accessories Help You Measure Up

 

Can a smartphone help you train better?

Maybe — if you’re the kind of person who gets obsessed over logging every workout, tracking your pace and counting how many miles per week you’ve averaged. And if you’re that kind of person, there’s a host of apps and gadgets that can feed your mania for recording progress.

I spent months with two apps — RunKeeper and MapMyRun — getting a taste of the quantified fitness lifestyle.

While they may not be making me a better runner, I am far more aware of how much (or little) I’m actually exercising, and that alone is a strong impetus to work out more and to do it better.

The apps show how a smartphone can turn into a collection point for an array of health and fitness data, including speed, distance, elevation, heart rate and other workout metrics such as calories and cadence (the measurement of steps or pedal strokes per minute). RunKeeper has also recently added the ability to track weight and even sleep patterns, with the right accessories.

Both MapMyRun and RunKeeper work similarly. When you start a workout, you launch the app and tell it what you’re about to do — run, walk, bike or swim. The app then measures how long you’re working out, records your path if it’s able to pick up a GPS signal, and records your heart rate if you’ve got a heart rate monitor. When you’re done, you press a button and your workout gets zapped up to the cloud, where you can view it and share it.

Both are available as free downloads for Android and iPhone, but to get the most out of these apps, you’ll need to spend some dough on a few extra gadgets. A heart-rate monitor is probably the most useful addition for exercise nuts, because it can tell you if you’re actually working out at the appropriate intensity.

For Android phones with Bluetooth support, chances are good you can use a Bluetooth heart-rate monitor. I used the Polar Wearlink+ ($80), which worked just fine. It paired with the phone, and the data was immediately available in both MapMyRun and RunKeeper.

If you’ve got an iPhone, you need a different solution, because the iPhone’s Bluetooth won’t work with the Polar Bluetooth adapter. Instead, I used Wahoo Fitness’s Fisica sensor key ($80), a small white tab that plugs into the iPhone connector port on the bottom of the phone. This adapter communicates wirelessly with any sensor that uses the Ant+ protocol, including Wahoo’s own heart-rate-monitor strap ($60). The combination is more expensive than a plain Bluetooth heart-rate strap: Yet another reason for your Android-loving friends to lord it over you.

Runkeeper can also integrate with weight data from the Withings Wi-Fi Body Scale, stride data from a Wahoo Stride Sensor ($80), and sleep and activity data from a Fitbit or Zeo device. I didn’t test these sensors, but it’s comforting to know that when I want to turn even more of my life into pure, clean numbers, it will be easy to do so.

Once the data’s in the cloud, you can view reports, of course, and also share it with your friends, either to boast about your accomplishments or to encourage one another to keep going — or maybe a little of both. And you can start to analyze trends: For instance, I log more miles on Saturdays than I do on Tuesdays. And I’m faster on my lunchtime runs than my early-morning, pre-breakfast runs.

Of the two services, Runkeeper has a cleaner, easier-to-read interface on both smartphones and its website. Runkeeper also offers voice prompts, which can tell you how far and how fast you’ve gone at various intervals.

Apart from the voice prompts, MapMyRun matches Runkeeper feature-for-feature, but I found it harder to navigate, and the website offers fewer options for slicing and dicing the data. It’s also got more advertisements in both the app and on the website (though you can pay to make the ads go away).

Both apps have free versions, but to make the most of both apps, you’ll need to pay something. Runkeeper offers “Runkeeper Elite” subscriptions for $5 per month or $20 per year. They offer real-time run tracking (so your friends can keep an eye on you as you run — including during races) and a wider variety of charts to analyze your performance trends.

MapMyRun offers various paid options ranging from $6 per month to $20 per month (or $30 to $100 per year), which give you access to additional advanced training charts and reports, and also eliminate ads from the interface.

After using both apps for months (in Runkeeper’s case, I’ve used it for years) am I a better runner? Probably, but it’s not because the data has given me superhuman self-coaching abilities. Rather it’s that the mere act of measuring my activity has made me pay more attention to it.

If I were a more serious runner or had a definite exercise goal like losing weight, these apps and gadgets would give me a valuable edge. As it is, they help me stay on track — and for now, that seems to be just what I need.

Photo by Jim Merithew

 

Read the original: Exercise Accessories Help You Measure Up | Product Reviews | Wired.com.

Stick It to the Weatherman With Your Own Personal Forecasts

 

 

It’s a comfortable 63.3 degrees on the roof of Wired headquarters, with a slight 3-mph breeze, and the barometer is at 30.14 inches and rising.

A few blocks away, it’s 61.1 degrees and there’s a 4-mph breeze from the northwest. There was a little mist yesterday, 0.06 inches of precipitation to be exact.

And I know all this even though I’m 20 miles away and inside.

Welcome to the world of super-precise microclimate measurement. It’s all possible, thanks to the thousands of amateur weather stations installed all around the world, which are increasingly linked to the internet and to one another. Someday, this network might give me the ability to tailor weather forecasts not just to my town, but to the very block I’m on.

The Davis Vantage Pro2 we’re using to track the weather at Wired is one of the more expensive weather kits available, but its precision pays off.

Upstairs, there’s an array of environmental sensors, including a thermometer, an anemometer, and a rain gauge all house within an ugly but sturdy shell. We strapped ours to a metal pole about 12 feet above the roof of our office building.

It’s solar-powered and has enough battery power to last all night and through cloudy days, so you don’t need to run electricity to it. And it transmits data to the Vantage Pro2 console wirelessly, so you don’t need data cables either: Just find a suitable pole, strap it up there, and forget about it.

Downstairs, the console picks up data transmitted by the sensors and adds data gathered indoors, including indoor temperature and barometric pressure. You can stare at the console and watch its rudimentary graphs, but such data quickly grows dull for all but the most committed weather nuts. What you really want to do is upload that data to the internet.

To do that, we used a Davis WeatherLink data logger and an Ambient Weather server module to transmit the weather data from the console to Weather Underground, a weather information site and community.

It was a bit tricky to set up, so we first had to use the data logger to pipe the data to a nearby PC running the WeatherLink software to make sure the bits were flowing. Once that was working, we reconnected the data logger to the Ambient Weather module, which is connected directly to our cable modem’s router. From that point on, we didn’t need to use the PC any more.

Weather Underground, which loaned us the equipment, is building a network of weather-data-collecting nodes like ours. The company says it’s currently tracking around 13,400 sites in the United States and almost 20,000 worldwide. Many of those are accessible through Weather Underground’s website, which got a facelift on February 2 — Groundhog’s Day, of course — making it far easier to get information at a glance from its wealth of data.

Eventually, Weather Underground says it wants to use the data stream from each of these amateur weather stations to improve and hyper-localize official weather forecasts. For instance, if the data shows that your location is consistently 4 degrees warmer than the official forecast on summer afternoons, you could use that information to create a more precise forecast for everyone around you.

For now, such advanced features aren’t available — but you can browse through individual weather stations, including Wired’s, and see how conditions change from neighborhood to neighborhood. That’s like catnip for weather geeks.

It also has more immediate, practical implications. If you’re managing an office building like ours, having hyper-local data like this might help you create more efficient air-conditioning and heating schedules. If you have a vacation home, you could install a weather station there and be able to check on conditions before you hit the road on Friday afternoon.

Or, if you live in a part of the world with intensely variable microclimates, such as San Francisco, weather stations like these can help you decide how to dress for the office. That’s no small thing, when temperatures can vary by 10 or 20 degrees from one side of the city to the other.

Track Wired’s weather: We’re station KCASANFR113 on wunderground.com.

WIRED Incredibly precise measurements of temperature, precipitation, barometric pressure, and wind speed and direction. Solar power and wireless transmission means no wires to connect. Expandable — plug UV and solar-radiation sensors into the station. Once set up, system transmits data seamlessly to Weather Underground.

TIRED Setup requires a great deal of patience, as it took us hours to find the right spot, secure the sensors, and set up the internet connection using a data logger. Wireless connection sometimes dropped depending on where we put the console. Expensive.

Photos: Keith Axline/Wired.com

 

Read the original: Stick It to the Weatherman With Your Own Personal Forecasts | Product Reviews | Wired.com.

Review: Naked Steel, Bare Flesh Sex Up Game of Thrones

King Robert Baratheon arrives at Winterfell. Photo courtesy HBO.

Game of Thrones opens with violence, nudity, foul language and a soundtrack dominated by cello and kettledrums. A medieval-looking haze of smoke hangs over the computer-generated cities of Westeros. Mud and filth fill the castles. Characters drop their silks and furs to engage in flesh-smacking sex inside ancient stone towers. There are two decapitations in the first 10 minutes.

In other words, the new show is everything a big-budget American TV channel and an imaginative swords-and-sorcery fantasy novelist can offer, baked up into one big, savory lamprey pie.

Game of Thrones is a 10-episode adaption of George R.R. Martin’s novel of the same name. The book is the first in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, a sequence of seven novels (only four of which have been published) that is one of the most ambitious fantasy epics in recent memory.

The fact that the first book is coming to HBO as a series — that it’s not being crammed, Harry Potter-style, into the impossible confines of a two- or three-hour feature film — is cause for celebration.

It’s welcome, too, that the creators of Game of Thrones have stayed true to Martin’s bloody, lusty vision, which is equal parts fantasy and historical fiction.

Well, sort of historical: The continent of Westeros is based loosely on medieval Europe during the Wars of the Roses, but is otherwise a completely made-up world.

There is a bit of sorcery to liven things up, but the emphasis in the show and in the books is far more on castle politics, knightly warfare and basic human brutality. It’s a complex drama of power and violence salted with a little magic and pageantry.

You don’t need to be a Dungeons & Dragons nerd to enjoy this series, but it definitely helps if you like the sight of horses, swords and naked women.

 

Read the full review on Wired.com: Naked Steel, Bare Flesh Sex Up Game of Thrones | Underwire | Wired.com.

Photo of Motorola Defy getting drenched with beer, by Jonathan Snyder/Wired.com

Petite Android Seeks Partner for Adventure, Beer

While other phones are going large, Motorola is taking things in a different direction: small and tough.

The new Motorola Defy is a compact Android phone that wisely eschews the gigantism of other smartphones. Instead of the HTC Evo’s 4.3-inch screen or the Dell Streak’s 5-incher (please!), the Defy, which is available now from T-Mobile in the United States, has a cute little 3.6-inch display with 480 x 854 pixels. It’s small and pocketable — shorter but thicker than an iPhone 4 and it’s light, weighing just 4 ounces.

Despite its diminutive size, the Defy goes big in one important area: its resistance to water and grit. The case is water-resistant and the screen is made of scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass, a hardened material found in a few other recent phones. If you’ve ever dropped your phone in the toilet, spilled a beer on it or pulled it out of your pocket along with half a pound of sand after a day at the beach, you’ll understand the appeal of these two features.

Full story: Petite Android Seeks Partner for Adventure, Beer | Product Reviews | Wired.com.

iPod Nano photo by Jim Merithew/Wired.com

Apple’s Newest Watch Is … Wait, What? It’s an iPod Nano?

What time is it? Who cares! Apple’s newest timepiece puts music, photos and step-counting front-and-center, and lets the minutes fall where they may.

Sure, you can check the time, but that’s hardly the point with this attractive piece of wrist jewelry. Its unisex design goes equally well with a man’s suit, a lady’s sweater or a jogging outfit.

One downside: It doesn’t come with a watchband, so you’ll need to get your own. Fortunately, the clip on the back lets you easily attach it to the strap of your choice.

Unlike almost every other watch we’ve tested, Apple’s Nano has a touch-sensitive, high-resolution LCD display. The interface is a little counterintuitive at first, but it’s no more difficult than anything from Tokyo Flash. As a bonus, you can rotate its face with a twisty two-finger gesture, making it work for you in any orientation.

With its Apple heritage, the Nano is a perfectly usable music player. Available in 8-GB ($150) or 16-GB ($170) models, it has plenty of capacity for storing thousands of songs, and its touchscreen provides a simple, if cramped, interface for selecting tracks. (Tip: Use iTunes to organize playlists before syncing. It’ll make it easier to find the music you want.)

Sound quality is excellent, though the generic white earbuds Apple includes are nothing to shout about. There’s a built-in FM radio player for getting your Ira fix (Flatow and Glass) when podcasts are unavailable.

Sadly, the Nano doesn’t support wireless or Bluetooth headphones, so you’ll need to route a headphone cable from your wrist to your ears. I recommend running it through your sleeve and under your shirt. This is dorky, but practical. And it kind of makes you feel like you’re an extra on The Wire.

The built-in pedometer function sums your steps throughout the day, posting them, if you choose, to Nike’s social site for walkers and general fitness, Nike+ Active.

As a timepiece, it’s comparable to digital watches circa 1978: The screen is usually in a black, juice-conserving state, so to check the time you need to press the power button. If you haven’t set it to “show time on wake,” you’ll also need to swipe left or right a few screens to find the clock face.

Battery life can also be a problem. Apple says it’s rated for 24 hours of music playback. But I left it on a nightstand overnight, only to find it was depleted in the morning. That doesn’t happen with other watches.

And yes, I know it’s really an iPod. I just really like using it as a wristwatch, despite its drawbacks.

Originally published in Wired, September 17, 2010
With a short video review by me (embedded above).

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Polyamorous Headset’s Got Love for Xbox, iPhone and Skype

Polyamorous Headset's Got Love for Xbox, iPhone and Skype
Astro’s new A30 headset has more options than a room full of Wall Street executives. Want to use it with your Xbox 360? No problem. Using Skype on your PC? Plug in the boom microphone. Hitting the road with an iPhone? No problem, there’s an inline microphone, too.

It’s designed to go from gaming console to mobile to computer with a maximum of flexibility, and it works. The Astro A30 sounds pretty decent for music, too.

Astro Studios made its name as the industrial-design firm behind the Xbox 360, Alienware computers, the HP Blackbird and Firebird, and more. And the company’s $200 A40 headset quickly became standard-issue at Major League Gaming tournaments after it came out in 2008. The A40′s an impressive, over-the-ear headset, but it’s a bit bulky for everyday use, and its open-back design means sound leaks out. That’s not ideal for an office environment.

So Astro followed up this month with the A30, a smaller, more consumer-friendly headset. It sits on your ear (instead of enclosing it) which means it’s not as comfortable for extended periods, despite the soft plush pads. But it’s a closed-back design with less propensity to subject your officemates to stray beats.

The A30 includes a removable boom microphone that’s easy to plug in or unplug, so it serves well as a Skype headset. An inline microphone means it’ll work as an iPhone headset too, if you’re bold enough to wear the thing outside. And if you do wear it out, you’re probably the type to be interested in Astro’s swappable speaker covers: They click into place with magnets and you can order stylish replacements on the company’s website.

The company doesn’t stint on extra cables (and they’re not the skinny, flimsy kind that come with most headphones; these are substantial 1/8-inch thick cables.) The whole kit comes with a sturdy traveling case, and you’ll need it if you’re going to carry all this stuff.

Sound is good, with strong (if slightly excessive) bass and clear, bright highs. The earpads block most office sounds, so you can focus on your music instead of your neighbor’s.

The A30 is a little fatiguing for long periods of wear, but it’s a good, all-purpose headset for a wide range of uses. If all you care about is sound and classic good looks, a cheaper headphone is probably going to do you just fine.

But for listening to music, Skypeing and playing games, the A30s are a competent all-around utility headset.

WIRED Optional, plug-in boom microphone plugs into a jack right below the left speaker — why don’t all headsets work this way? Inline microphone for when you’re using your iPhone on the bus. Huge complement of extra cables and connectors. Good, balanced sound for music, games or VoIP.

TIRED Inline controls are limited in utility and confusing to use. No inline volume control. Headset is on the bulky side, especially for street wear. Can be tiring to wear for more than an hour.

  • Manufacturer: Astro Gaming
  • Price: $150
  • Rating: 6 out of 10

Astro Gaming A30 Headset | Wired.com Product Reviews.