Sunday, September 27, 2009

There are about a bazillon network music streaming devices available, but in terms of both style and operation, Sonos products are usually several cuts above the competition. The three elements that make up the new BU150 bundle look like they were designed up by a very close relative of Apple's Jonathan Ive; all retro-spaceage white plastic and gently brushed aluminium.

In fact, the BU150 isn't vastly different to previous Sonos bundles; wider wireless range is probably the most significant improvement. In the box you get an amplified ZonePlayer 120, a smaller un-amplified ZonePlayer 90 and the same iPodesque colour screen/scrollwheel remote control we've seen before. The ZonePlayer 120 can be plugged straight into a pair of un-powered speakers (and a separate subwoofer if you like your bass as meaty as a branch of Dewhurst's), while the ZonePlayer 90 can be hooked up to your existing living room hi-fi via analogue or digital inputs. Further ZonePlayers (up to 32) can be added to the setup.

Setup is so simple it could be performed by a cluster of blind badgers with their front paws tied behind their backs. The system uses its own proprietary wireless network, so you don't need to bugger about with anything like encryption keys. The only hitch is that at least one of the ZonePlayers needs to be hard-wired to your router, which isn't always convenient, depending on where in your home your router actually lives. Adding a Sonos ZoneBridge (£70) or some Homeplug power-line networking adaptors (around £40 for a pair) would solve the problem, but the BU150 is already nudging the upper regions of the price ceiling. The other minor drawback is the system's inability to play protected tracks bought at the iTunes store. Piffling quibbles aside, there really isn't a better piece of music streaming kit out there.

RAmos Android W7 internet tablet unveiled

We’re standing on the verge of an absolute gadget avalanche. The proverbial snow in question is Android-based mobile internet devices and tablets. Some years ago MIDs began cropping up as the future of mobile connectivity, until mobile phones swiftly developed internet connections themselves and rendered the whole idea redundant.

Now - with the user-friendly and customisable nature of Android - tablets seem to be on their way back. Whilst we wait for such devices from Apple and Archos, this little beauty from RAmos has surfaced.

Details (especially on price and launch date) are few and far between, but what we do know is that the W7 has a 4.8-inch touchscreen, Wifi (3G might be available at a later date) and, pleasingly, HD video support. Stay tuned for more when we get it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Panasonic GF1

For the manufacturers who've plunged into the interchangeable-lens camera business; at this point, that's Olympus and Panasonic with their Micro Four Thirds standard--the potential market comprises two groups of consumers: those who want something better and faster than their current point-and-shoot, but don't want the bulk of a dSLR, and those who don't necessarily mind the bulk of a dSLR, but wouldn't mind something a bit smaller with the same flexibility.

Panasonic's first two models, the DMC-G1 and DMC-GH1, address the latter group pretty well, but don't really appeal to the compact-minded folks. Plus, the GH1 is fairly expensive, thanks to the pricey bundled lens designed for optimal video capture performance. On the flip side, Olympus nailed the compact market with the E-P1's design; however, without a built-in flash or viewfinder, a low-resolution LCD screen, and performance that doesn't necessarily best the typical point-and-shoot, it doesn't provide mass appeal for the snapshot upgraders. But with the DMC-GF1, it looks as if Panasonic might have produced the first model that hits all the right notes.

The GF1 essentially crams most of the capabilities of the GH1 into a smaller, more affordable camera--and price was one of my main complaints with the GH1.

Unlike the typical optical add-on viewfinders we occasionally see in these types of compacts, the Panasonic offers an electronic viewfinder that plugs in to a connector above the LCD and intercepts the live feed from the sensor. While I'm not a big fan of EVFs, this scheme does have a couple of advantages. First, it delivers a relatively accurate display of the scene framing. And second, Panasonic's EVF can tilt for off-angle shooting.

Additionally, the GF1 introduces a new scene mode called Peripheral Defocus that automatically opens the aperture as wide as possible given the exposure constraints, plus a mode that lets you adjust depth of field while shooting video. Panasonic also takes a leaf out of Olympus' Art Filters book with a My Color mode that provides effects presets such as Expressive, Retro, and Silhouette; unlike Olympus' implementation, however, Panasonic lets you control color, brightness and saturation.

The GF1 is a lot more expensive than these types of competitors, and even with one of the pancake fixed-focal length lenses it will still be pretty large in comparison. It does pack that HD video recording, though, and many people would consider the flexiblity of interchangeable lenses worth the extra money.

As for the GF1's third competitive option, dSLRs, the smaller size may be quite attractive to many people, a lot of whom might be willing to sacrifice the burst shooting speed (and continuous shooting is always easier with an optical viewfinder, regardless of frame rate) and high ISO sensitivity performance; I expect the GF1's noise profile to look very much like the GH1's, which was inferior to that of the $900 dSLRs the GF1 faces.

Ultimately, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 makes some promises I can't wait to see if it can fulfill. It's slated to ship in early October, though we expect to have an evaluation unit before then.