Sprint and the Palm Pre made for each other

image When I spoke with Laptop Magazine regarding the Palm Pre,, one of the questions was whether the  Sprint exclusive helps or hurts the imminent first webOS device. I leaned on the side of help. Sprint’s customer service has been steadily improving and the Pre would get overshadowed  at AT&T. I also considered the long history of launches  that Palm and Sprint share.

Upon further thought, though, there are at least two more synergies between Sprint and Palm. The first is that both companies are on the comeback and certainly the Pre will attract a lot of attention to the revitalized carrier. It won’t be iPhone-level attention, but it will certainly help Sprintt’s flagging post-paid business.

The second is Sprint’s focus on mobile. As Palm noted in the Pre launch, Palm, unlike many of its competitors with interests in consumer electronics (Samsung, LG) and PCs (Apple), does only mobile products. And while Sprint certainly has wireline assets, it is more of a wireless pure play than AT&T and Verizon. With limited exclusivity, Sprint and the Pre won’t be “2gether 4eva” but the companies’ many commonalities and long history should make for a strong launch.

Fixing Foleo

image Technologizer notes that the Foleo may be reincarnated running webOS, Palm’s new operating system. Like Harry McCracken, I was sympathetic to the idea of Foleo when it was announced and before the netbook craze hit full-force. However, the requirement to have a cell phone tethered to what was otherwise a functional client resulted in a split personality. In contrast, Celio Corp.’s REDFLY takes a better approach by turning the “laptop” into a thin client, and completely relying on the snartphone’s operating system and connectivity, but the applications are not there yet for it to be a consumer product.)

A webOS-powered Foleo could have many of the characteristics that I ascribed to a potential iPhone OS-based clamshell without some of the iPhone’s limitations. Palm, of course, does not have the issue with smaller keyboards that Apple seems to, and webOS merrily supports multitasking in a way that is more visually akin to a PC user interface.. webOS is even slated to get support for desktop Flash nest year. And Palm has no fear about cannibalizing more expensive notebook PC sales (although it must be cognizant of netbook pricing, an issue that blindsided the initial Foleo).

Still, if the Foleo returns, it probably won’t be for a while. There is just too much opportunity for Palm in the smartphone space and the competition is thick. But it’s certainly an opportunity once the company has covered its international bases with webOS smartphones. Until then, feel free to go back to obsessing over Android-based netbooks.

Ultra HD is the best Flip camcorder, even if it’s for moms

Flip UltraHD video camcorderGo out with a bang, as they say.  Pure Digital’s last camcorder as an independent company before its imminent acquisition by Cisco is the revamped Ultra, available in SD and HD versions for $149 and $199. The new Ultra includes several significant advances over the previous generation, including a rechargeable lithium battery in the box (although it can still run on alkalines) and two long-awaited improvements – a bigger (2”) screen and longer recording capacity of two hours. The HD version also has an HDMI output port, although no HDMI cable is included.

The Ultra definitely feels brick-like compared to the diminutive Flip mino, but I think the additional flexibility is worth it. (The waterproof case for the old Ultra doesn’t work with it due to changed button placements; Pure Digital is planning a revised one.) The Flip’s limited recording capacity had really caused problems for me in the past, so I’m pleased to see it expand even though there’s no memory card slot, which is nice insurance in the event that the camcorder itself ceases to function (as my MinoHD did). I’ve used a Kodak Zi6, but the tendency for its arm to swing out is an annoying design flaw. I am looking forward to the svelte new RCA Small Wonder that Audiovox showed at CES, which trades in a pop-out USB arm for a microSD slot.

Pure Digital is now aiming the Ultra at its traditional audience of moms while positioning the mino toward the YouTube uploaders and that’s well-reflected in the design of the products. However, I remain skeptical that, with the possible exception of “extreme” helmet cams and , there will be much pickup for these inexpensive camcorders among younger consumers, who are comfortable using their digital cameras and phones to upload video. And in the case of cell phones, uploading wirelessly to YouTube will clearly be something more common in the future. So much of YouTube content is around the spontaneous capture, which means the spoils go to the camcorder you always have with you.

I’ll have more to say about competition to the Flip elsewhere, but Erica Ogg quotes me in a great post that includes an interview with Pure Digital CEO Jonathan Kaplan  in which he makes the bold proclamation, "The way Apple has revolutionized music, we will revolutionize video." Let’s start with FlipShare importing and transcoding the dizzying number of file formats out there.

Brainless backup captures more mindshare

Nope, that’s not a Wi-Fi access point you’re looking at. It’s the Seagate Replica, a new backup storage appliance from the hard drive giant. Replica uses a combination of hardware and software – the slick Rebit that was one of the standout software products I saw at CES – to create a continuous backup experience on Windows that comes closest to Time Machine for the Mac (minus the extensive “space warp” eye candy).

Replica is also Seagate’s answer to a variety of brainless backup products offered under the Clickfree brand by Storage Appliance Corporation, including a number of hard drives and a cable that can convert any external hard drive into a ClickFree hard drive. The company recently raised a $10 million round of Series B funding and I touched on it in in a two-part Tech on Deck column I wrote last summer. These are good options to have in the market for the nontechnical user, or might also be one of those products that geeks give non-geeks, alongside MSNTV, the Ceiva digital picture frame, and the Presto printer.

T-Mobile G1 and the case of the awkward handset design

imageWhen I first saw the T-Mobile G1, one of my first reactions  mirrored a thought I had when I saw the original Sidekick; it was that it was going to be difficult to design a play-through case for the device. Sure enough, most of the cases at Only1.com  designed for T-Mobile’s champion smartphone are of the pouch or flip variety, but there is at least one play-through option: the pictured aluminum option that the site has on sale for $25.

You have to admire the lengths the designers went to to accommodate the awkward shape of the phone, but it seems that using G1 with this additional metal faceplate dangling off would just add to its already somewhat cumbersome experience.

And speaking of the Sidekick, now that the Sidekick LX 2009 edition has been announced, I wonder if T-Mobile purposely wanted the G1 to look less like the average  horizontal side-slider so as to further differentiate it from the now Microsoft-powered QWERTY device..

Panasonic brings visual voicemail to the cordless mainstream

KX-TG7431B_L_AngleThe Europeans just do certain things better, and for a long time one of those was cordless phone standards. Now that DECT is being quickly established as the de facto standard for new handset sales in the U.S., and multiple handset support becoming an expected feature, manufacturers are having to be a bit more creative in upselling those products on something other than supported frequencies.

Before it exited the market, Thomson had taken a stab at delivering RSS feeds to phones with the InfoLink system. For a more mainstream audience, though, Panasonic is borrowing the increasingly popular notion of voice mail preview as as popularized by Apple’s "visual voicemail" in the iPhone with the ChoiceMail feature on its new cordless lineup. The higher-end models even offer a choice of font size so you can take a gander at more of the last few people to call you. The Verizon Hub also offers visual voicemail, but this may be the first time it has ever been implemented in a circuit-switched home phone.

Not that all all the cell phone manufacturers have solved this issue, but I’d like to see a way for consumers to bring their phone books forward as they switch cordless phone systems. Perhaps support for a USB drive similar to the CellStik would do the trick.

Spotify sounds like what Lala wanted to be

imageWhen I last wrote my most recent Switched On column about Lala, I noted that the company had shifted direction a bit from its initial plans to offer a service akin to Rhapsody for free, instead offering a single free listen before requiring consumers to purchase a streaming Web song. Only Lala knows whether it or the labels balked at the unlimited on-demand listening, but I can say that the Palo Alto-based Web music seller is generally down on ad-supported listening and has ambitions to be among the largest sellers of digital music online.

But somewhere out there in an alternate universe — let’s call it Europe — a startup has run with the too-good-to-be-true promise of listening on demand. It’s called Spotify, and in a recent talk with some European media, it was praised as delivering a great music experience – somewhat like Slacker except you get to create the playlists (and no offline access as of yet). Spotify joins Nokia’s possibly slow Comes with Music and the Datz Music Lounge as fresh approaches to exploring and enjoying music in Europe. Surely, we Americans will find some way to make them pay.

The no-man’s land of the 5” screen

These days everybody is thinking about portable devices in terms of screen sizes. Under 4?” You’re a smartphone. 4” to 7? You’re a MID. 9” or 10”? You’re a netbook and your parents don’t like you so they are trying to make you grow up into a proper laptop closer to 12” and $600.

At a panel of mobile experts I attended tonight, moderator Tim Bajarin asked what one device panelists would take on a trip if they could take only one and also what their ideal device would look like. It’s a simple yet fascinating question. One question you have to decide right away is how important a touch-typable keyboard is, Steve Wildstrom said he’d like to see a device with a 5” screen, probably the largest one could fit into a pocket.

But I’ve found that screens of that size pose a dilemma. Keyboards designed around them are too small for touch-typing but are actually big enough to make a thumb keyboard less efficient than they are on smaller screens. Of course, you could split the keyboard as was tried in the Pepper Pad and Samsung Q1 Ultra, but that sets off a learning curve.

Getting to be a tablet with me

imageSome of the more interesting products I saw at CTIA had nothing to do with cell phones. A great example of this was the SISO Tablo by Hantech, It’s been available from Brando for a while, but should be receiving broader distribution in the near future. Using similar technology to that which powers the IOGEAR Mobile Digital Scribe, which could also emulate a mouse when writing on paper, the Tablo turns practically any laptop with a 7″ to 15″ screen into an ersatz tablet PC.

Of course, the Tablo won’t allow your laptop screen to twist around and lay flat atop the keyboard like a convertible tablet PC. However, for about $100, it seems to be a good fit for the user who needs tablet functionality only occasionally, say, to scribble down a diagram when taking notes. And, yes, Lauren and Giampaolo, it works with Macs, too, so now there’s you don’t have to go to Fry’s to get a computer with a screen you can write on.