Gateway One and Palm Centro hands-on

I swung by DigitalLife this afternoon and checked out the two big hardware introductions at the show, the Gateway One and the Palm Centro and came away with more favorable impressions. The Gateway One looks a bit like the iMac might have if Apple had continued with the polycarbonate gloss but made it black. It’s more wedge-like than the iMac’s thin “where’s the computer?” look, but may just be the best-looking desktop PC in the market. The multifunction power brick, by the way, is massive but, hey, so is the Xbox 360’s and you can’t plug a tanning lamp into it.

The Palm Centro looks better in black than red and the keyboard, while small, wasn’t that bad even under my large fingers, although part of that may be my greater experience with inferior keyboards in the past few years. I still don’t think the sub-$100 crowd will see a lot of the remaining value left in Palm OS as the consider the Centro versus Sidekicks, EnVs and slim Windows Mobile smartphones with QWERTY keyboards, but EV-DO is a nice plus and the integrated instant messaging looked nice from a cursory glance.

iMac: a value leader?

In looking at the Gateway One, CNet comes away saying the iMac is a better value based on the specs. For $150 less, you get a a faster Core 2 Duo processor (2.4 GHz vs. 2 GHz), higher resolution screen and Bluetooth as well as an integrated Webcam (although I don’t think it’s too fair to ding the Gateway One for its “easily lost” removable one). Gateway, however, ships with 50 percent more RAM (although the iMac RAM has a faster clock speed), a bigger hard drive, and comes bundled with an external ATSC/NTSC tuner. Then there are the other variables. For example, if you really want to run Vista on an iMac, that will cost you.

On the hardware side, though, Gateway has done an impressive job with the power brick for minimizing desktop clutter. I expect to see a lot of these boxes on reception desks. And, simply from the pictures, I think I like the look of the One better than the new iMac, but I hope to get a better look at it today at DigitalLife.

Mojo for no dough

Last year one of the more interesting companies to come out of DEMO was RingCube Technologies and its product MojoPac, which creates a virtual user session on a guest PC and lets you use many popular Windows applications from a portable hard drive or iPod, sort of an industrial-strength version of Ceedo or U3. I wrote about MojoPac a bit in a post back in March. It is a very nice solution to a problem that few people have:

The promise is you can take your digital life with you, leeching off host PCs wherever they may be available. The challenge is that they’re often not. Many public PCs, for example, are secured (like business PCs) so as not to allow MojoPac to run, but the software could be useful if you have regular access to a semi-secure environment and want to easily switch between digital work and digital life without jeopardizing the configuration for the former.

 In fairness, there are a number of other applications for the software other than the context I presented. In any case, the barriers to adoption have been been significantly lowered as RingCube has anounced MojoPac Freedom, a free version of the program supported by opt-in e-mail. RingCube says that, as for now, MojoPac Freedom and the $50 version of the software will have the same features, although some future enhancements may be reserved for the version that costs money rather than attention.

This move may serve as a proactive tactic against the U3 successor coming from SanDisk and Microsoft.

Palm Centro haiku

With aging OS
And your keyboard so tiny
Will you seek low price

iPhone introspection

Gizmodo has a lengthy post about Apple’s new iPhone update and its impact on unlocked phones. Apple gave advance notice that the update might render such phones useless. The whole iPhone unlocking phenomenon has touched on a lot of complex issues regarding intellectual property, consumer rights, the DMCA and so forth, but are there really that many consumers out there who so lust for an iPhone but have such an aversion to AT&T? Why don’t these people just get an iPod touch and another sleek (smart)phone? It seems like this would save them a lot of trouble.

Since my two-part column on Xohm, I’ve been accused of drinking the WiMax Kool-Aid, but I have to think that some kind of open access (or at least more open access) network would be cheered by consumers looking for most of the iPhone’s data features without being tied to AT&T. Apple’s multiyear exclusive may forbid such fraternizing with Sprint, but at least some fans of Apple’s portable wireless devices are clearly willing to go to extraordinary measures to avoid Apple’s current wireless partner.

OLPC: One for them and one for me

One Laptop Per Child will finally allow those in more affluent nations (or at least here in the U.S.) to get their hands on the XO laptop. I’m glad that the initiative has reconsidered selling to individuals as I wrote way back in October 2005:

 The One Laptop Per Child initiative has no plans to sell its brainchild to individuals; indeed, its minimum order is a million units. But why not? Even at $200 or $300 per laptop, it would likely meet a large enough market of curiosity-seekers, second or third PC tire-kickers, hackers and disadvantaged youth in richer nations to raise funds to help subsidize distribution around the globe. And if, as co-founder Nicholas Negroponte claims, one of the organization’s largest challenges will be scaling up to hundreds of millions of units, would it not make sense to start with a smaller and familiar test market?

There may be other ways to help proliferate the devices as well. In any case, while I once thought I would jump on the chance to get the XO as a lightweight word processing and Internet access device, I will be passing, humanitarian incentives aside. I got to try the keyboard at a trade show and it was quite mushy. To OLPC’s credit, they position the offer as a chance to get an XO for a child in the U.S..

Slinging toward a holy grail

Engadget has ferreted out the FCC approvals for the Slingbox Catcher and Slingbox SOLO. We’ve already heard a wee bit about the former when it was called the SlingCatcher — it will have Wi-Fi, an optional hard drive, and be able to receive Slingbox broadcasts, closing the loop on the Slingbox’ place-shifting capabilities. But, hmmm, what could this SOLO device be? Well, were I to speculate based slowly on the name, it might be one device that would encompass both transmission and reception capabilities. Guess we’ll find out soon enough.

If so, and Sling has added digital media receiver (aka, Apple TV) capabilities to both devices, it will have effectively conquered a holy grail of being able to send practically any kind of media to practically any kind of TV in the home (and beyond). This is no mean feat. Months ago, I tried a product that attempted this kind of whole-home video bridging and it was one of the worst product experiences I’ve ever had (although in fairness, the product was really aimed more at new construction with high-speed connections and, no, I’m not going to say what it was). But given Sling’s performance over humble 3G cellular networks, I like its chances.

Update: Dave Zatz writes to tell me that it’s still called the SlingCatcher, not the Slingbox Catcher. Actually, though, maybe it should be called the Slingbox Catcher because “Slingbox” has probably attracted more brand recognition than the company brand.

Closing the book on Foleo

As Ed Colligan has announced in Palm’s official blog, the company has decided to cancel shipment of the Foleo mobile companion. My friends at Engadget who called for Palm to can the device have exhibited typical class and decorum in resisting the temptation to dance on the initial product’s grave or, perhaps more appropriately given its plans for future reanimation. Indeed, Palm pegs its decision to ice the device not on external criticism, but on taking time to focus on its smartphone platform (shades of Apple delaying Leopard to focus on the iPhone) and putting the Foleo and its phones on the same platform (which makes a lot of sense, given that they are both being based on Linux).

I was certainly a fan of the Foleo hardware, less so on its initial positioning, and hope the device indeed returns. In the interim, it would be great to see Palm work native e-mail capabilities, video and WiMAX into the the “Foleo II.” Until then, bring on the EEE. And hey, Palm, if you need to get rid of one of those preproduction Foleos, let’s talk.

I’d like to teach the world to sing in Dolby TrueHD

In recruiting John Sculley to Apple, Steve Jobs allegedly asked the Pepsi executive, “Do you want to want to spend the rest of your life selling sugar water or do you want to change the world?” Well, now you don’t have to decide between refreshment and resolution, as long as you’re changing the world of high-definition video discs. At mycokerewards.com, the highest-end electronics product one can aspire to is a Toshiba HD-DVD player, yours free for just 13,125 points, and a significant technological step-up from the product that requires the second highest number of points, a Caonon miniDV camcorder for 12,187 points.  Now the question is, will Pepsi provide a way to get a Blu-ray player?

Sprint’s marathon

This week’s Switched On, the second of a two-parter, focuses on some of the business issues around building WiMAX into devices such as digital cameras and MP3 players. In the course of researching the column, I came across this informative article detailing Clearwire’s role in the Xohm rollout. Of note, the agreement is slated for 20 years, with an option to extend it for another 30. That’s a long-term play in this (or just about any) business.