Acer Aspire S3 Ultrabooks Hit Stores, We Produce an Unboxing Video


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ACER Aspire S3 Ultrabook side on

ACER Aspire S3 Ultrabook only 13mm thick very impressive.

After all the hype, the teasing, and the anticipation, the first Ultrabooks have arrived in store, and it’s Acer that have scored the launch coup once again with their Aspire S3 Ultrabook debuting before any other supplier.

Acer are starting to make this a habit, being the first to introduce Honeycomb 10 inch tablets into retail, and then the first 7 inch tablets with the Honeycomb operating system.

The first model to land is the entry model, which has a retail price of $1,199 and comes with an Intel Core i3 processor, a 320GB hard drive and a 20GB SSD for OS and caching, which helps it achieve the fast wake up that Ultrabooks have so spectacularly demonstrated. Three more models are expected shortly – an i5 with hard drive/SSD combo like the i3, and two SSD-only models in i5 and i7 configurations.

Intel will be very happy to see these finally make the light of day, as this form factor and performance benchmark is expected to make a large contribution to their mix of products over the coming months, and with good reason. These Ultrabooks place more emphasis on design and user-focused appeal than on pure specification-driven models, and present themselves in sleek, thin packages that are very pleasing on the eye.

More brands are expected to release their own offers soon, but in the meantime feast your eyes on this unboxing video that we’ve produced for Bing Lee.

 

Will you be heading in to see an Ultrabook in the flesh for yourself? Feel free to leave your personal impressions below.

Crowdfunding: Turning Great Ideas Into Reality

Last week I was fortunate enough to be a guest of Bing Lee and Canon for an Olympic “One Year to Go” fundraising event, to help our athletes make their way to London next year for the 2012 Olympics. It was a high profile, first class event. The NSW Premier was in attendance, as were other local and international dignitaries. Every table had a representative past Olympian to host the night. The fundraising, which involved auctioning off signed flags, an electric car, and Olympic event packages, raised around half a million dollars that evening, which was then matched by our State Premier.

It was a fun night out, and it’s great to get behind the dreams of our nation’s best athletes, but it didn’t compare to the personal satisfaction of a much smaller scale fundraising activity for a band that I’m very much a fan of.

I’ve been following the album releases of a band called Fear Factory ever since they unleashed their first album, Soul of a New Machine, back in the early 90′s. I’ve loved most of their material since their debut, and a lot has to do with the unique vocalisations of its singer, Burton C. Bell. Fear Factory ushered in a new style of metal that many bands have been emulating ever since.

However, success does not always result in complete artistic or financial freedom. One of Burton’s side project bands is called City of Fire, and they released their debut two years ago, to positive reviews and reasonable record sales. However, when it came to following up with their second album offering this year, they simply didn’t have the support to make it into the studio and produce an album.

Through friends and contacts, Burton and his band members heard about Pledge Music, a site that hooks up bands with their supporter base to raise money for a variety of causes – the two biggest ones being charities supported by performers, or in City of Fire’s case, to ask fans to help fund studio time to produce the new album.

I personally heard about the City of Fire fundraising activity through the General Manager of Roadrunner Canada, where City of Fire is based. I registered with Pledge Music to see how it worked and what I could do in terms of my own contribution.

Pledge Music helps bands gain purchase commitments to their album upfront. In this particular activity, for the small “pledge” of $10, you would get a digital copy of the album once it’s completed, $12 would get you a CD copy, and $15 a signed CD copy. Paying for the album upfront secures the funding because there is already enough committed interest to justify the production expenses.

Beyond the music, bands are able to offer other enhanced and sometimes personalised products and services for a larger pledge. For $2,500, City of Fire will come to you and play at your very own house party. For $150, you get the privilege of photographing the band at one of their concerts. Taking gig photos  was one experience I would have put money up for, except that it was limited to their local area, in this case Canada.

I ended up pledging $150 for a handwritten, signed copy of the lyrics to the first single off the new album. I must admit, I am a fan boy, and can’t wait for my personal piece of metal memorabilia.

Within two weeks of posting their project on Pledge Music, City of Fire had enough pledges to finance some studio time and produce their new album, and has in fact continued to gain support beyond the initial required funding. This is where it gets interesting for anyone involved. When I received an email from Pledge Music advising that the funding target had been reached, I really felt personally attached to that milestone, and had my own mini-celebration. That emotional connection, particularly when it comes to artistic endeavours, is a powerful motivator.

This concept, commonly known as crowdfunding, is a funding model that has evolved and grown with the internet’s reach and scale. Crowdfunding is not limited to performers who want to produce a new work of art. One of the most famous examples of crowdfunding is the Tik Tok and Luna Tik project. This project, which was initially posted on Kickstarter, offered an accessory that converted the current iPod Nano into a wearable watch. The activity required $15,000 to fund the initial production, and the project ended up with funding (and therefore sales) of close to a million dollars. Not every project will achieve the same level of success, but it illustrates the power of going public with your idea and being able to commercialise it with the help of people who believe in your initiative.

Whether it’s a technology, sports or music venture, crowdfunding is a financing tool that shouldn’t be underestimated. Whether you’re an artist, an inventor or an entrepreneur, if your idea has potential, seeking the support of like-minded individuals through Kickstarter, Pledge Music and many other networks may just take your dream from the drawing board and into the hands of people all over the world.

Have you been part of a crowdfunding project? What pointers would you give to anyone considering this type of publicly generated funding?

Connecting Your Home to Entertainment

Media players have been around for quite some time now, and they’ve taken many different forms over the years. At one point, we thought that the Windows Media Centre would take centre stage in our lounge room, but people just didn’t like the idea of having to boot up their DVD player. I don’t really blame them either.

After the “desktop in a DVD box” idea disappeared, we then saw media players start to take off from storage and network vendors, and from a rudimentary and humble beginning, they have evolved into powerful, connected devices designed not just to play, but truly deliver entertainment around the house.

One of the first media players we ever sold at Bing Lee was the Iomega Screenplay, and its interface was as crude as you could get. It was basically a file management system using a font from the 80s. But it didn’t matter, because it just worked. It was unobstrusively small, firmware could be easily upgraded via USB to update the codec compatibility, and it even had HDMI out, to match the inputs of the growing number of LCD and Plasma TVs.

One of the secrets to designing a good device that sits in the lounge room is to “hide the software”. All users want to experience is a smooth, non-buggy front end that you can navigate without referring to the manual every time you want to go from videos to music or change the input port.

The litmus test for me? If a family member starts to use the remote control without actually looking at it, then we have a winner. Who looks at the remote when changing the TV volume or channel? Media players need to be that easy, that intuitive.

Playing content in a hassle-free manner is one thing. If you can share it, and not have to make physical copies for each room to watch, even better. Network-attached storage, or NAS drives as they’re commonly known, have really begun to show promise as a consumer-level product. These days, you don’t need to know about IP addresses or advanced networking mysteries, just load the software and you’ll get a browser-based dashboard to change settings, security levels, etc. You’ll even get a shortcut to your drive’s location for easy transfers.

The new Western Digital NAS models are moving away from commercial storage functionality to be more entertainment-focused, with DLNA support, which many TVs now offer, and easy detection by other media playing devices including PS3 and Xbox 360. They will even deliver photos to an iPhone or iPad via an app no matter where you are in the world. The WD media players are no slouches either, with HDMI, 1080p output, and a pretty comprehensive format support.

The connected home is no longer just a catchphrase or throwaway line – we’re here, even though it’s probably still an open secret to many. Here’s the segment we produced for Bing Lee to help bring that secret out into the open. Check out how far media players and network drives have come.

Have you taken the step towards a connected home? What’s your experience been like? Feel free to comment below.

Acer A500 Iconia Tablet – Unboxing and Overview

Acer were the first to release a Honeycomb tablet to the general retail market, and as I mentioned in a previous blog post, they set the benchmark for the type of inputs and outputs one could previously only wish for on a tablet – mini and full size USB, HDMI, and SD Card slot are all built into the body of the A500.

One comment that I’ve noticed lately from customers is the lack of embedded 3G in the Iconia, as opposed to some of the other tablets now available in the market, particularly those offered by telcos. One thing many people don’t realise is that if they own a late model iPhone or Android phone, and have updated to the latest phone firmware, they can now take advantage of their phone’s 3G internet connection by turning on the personal hotspot function.

This allows the Iconia to find the phone as a Wi-Fi access point, and use the phone’s plan for any browsing or downloads through the tablet. Many people have a home landline account, home internet account and a 3G phone account, and don’t want yet another plan – this is an easy way to share the bandwidth available on your smartphone.

During the filming of the unboxing video that we produced for Bing Lee, we tried streaming video via a phone hotspot, and there was some buffering at the beginning of the clip but it played smoothly after that – we did have full signal strength so I’m sure that helped. Of course, you wouldn’t always be streaming video, other online activities would include downloading email, browsing the net, and using apps that require online updates.

So, who out there has been using an Acer Iconia, and how has your experience been with it so far? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Here’s the unboxing video:

Asus Eee Pad Transformer – Unboxing and Overview

The “first look” article I wrote earlier this year for the Asus Transformer tablet has become the most popular post on this site, and now we’ve produced a video for Bing Lee that covers the tablet and its unique keyboard dock in detail.

After spending a lot of time with this unit, the keyboard attachment makes a lot of sense for extended writing and input-heavy tasks. When separated from the keyboard/battery/dock, the Transformer tablet on its own is still a very impressive and well-designed device.

With Acer showing the way in terms of inputs and accessibility with its Iconia tablet, Asus have carved its own niche by way of innovation and adding features that we may not have thought we needed. Once you start using the Transformer with the keyboard, it definitely becomes second nature, and points to an even broader appeal with its netbook-like appearance and functionality.

The Transformer has also now been the recipient of the first Android Honeycomb update, from 3.0 to 3.1. Some of the improvements include the ability to add peripherals like mice, keyboards; resizing widgets to make your home screens even more customisable; attach digital cameras and manage content to and from them; and the ability to use VOIP and other audio streaming services. This progression takes the Honeycomb OS a step further in cementing it as a real alternative for tablet devices.

For your enjoyment, here’s our detailed run-through of the Asus Transformer:

HP DM1 Notebook Unboxing

If you recall from our previous Toshiba netbook unboxing, we came away quite impressed with the combination of performance and portability in such a small machine. One of the key components in that model was the new C-series APU, part of the new Fusion range from AMD.

Given the high marks for that model, we were just as eager to spend some one-on-one time with HP’s new DM1 notebook with the second Fusion product to be released from AMD, called the E series. The E-350 chip is also an Accelerated Processing Unit or APU, combining the graphics and CPU onto one die. I must say, as a product that straddles the space between a netbook and a full-sized notebook, we walked away nodding our head in approval yet again.

Brian Slattery, Australia’s country manager for AMD, is an excitable guy, and I couldn’t help but ask for his thoughts on the new HP. This is what he said:

“Although the dm1 is great for a variety of users, I’ve been carrying it for the past few weeks as my primary business PC. I’m usually on the road, in-and-out of meetings all day. The battery life on the dm1 is fantastic – I head out before 9, get home after 6 and don’t even bother to bring my power cables with me. I enjoy watching Bing Lee YouTube videos on my big screen at home using the HDMI out as well.”

Of course, don’t take just Brian’s word for it, here’s an in-depth walkthrough of this AMD-based notebook that we produced for Bing Lee. If you’re looking for a netbook-sized solution with the grunt of a decent notebook, then you should definitely consider the DM1 from HP:

The Original Wireless Gets a Makeover

It was the end of an era last year when my grandmother passed away in July. She was born in the 20′s, and I was very proud of her ability to stay with the times, even having Foxtel in her room in recent years.

One thing Nana did love was her radio, which was almost always on, turned down to an indiscernible whisper when she had guests, and which was affectionately called “the wireless”. Of course, this was the term used for radio for decades, until modern technology hijacked the word to describe over-the-air internet access (we’re an unoriginal bunch, aren’t we?).

Funny thing is, many radio sets now have wireless internet access as part of their feature set, along with an entirely new broadcast format known as DAB, or digital radio. It takes all that radio stands for, in terms of spontaneous music discovery, regular news updates, and feature programs, and ramps up the quality and functionality.

Digital radio was inevitable in a way, because as an industry it was faced with the creep of technology improvement in almost every other sector, and could not afford to be left behind. To make sure it stayed relevant, the new wave of radios had to offer more than just “digital tuning” on analogue channels.

Now, there’s CD-quality broadcasts, song information similar to that of MP3 files (Song title, album, artist, etc), the ability to record the digital channel which includes the MP3-type information, genre-specific channels, scrolling news and weather updates, and on some models access to world radio – thousands of online streaming radio channels from every conceivable corner of the world.

The humble radio isn’t so humble anymore; it’s evolved to offer a higher level of interactivity and audio experience than ever before. For a little more detail, here’s a video we produced for Bing Lee that explains the benefits of digital radio, and we highlight a couple of models to show just how far the old “wireless” has come.

Nana would be beside herself.

Take Nothing For Granted.

This Thursday is the day before the Easter holidays for us, but it’s also a notable day for two of our work colleagues, who have been struck down by severe illnesses.

Imagine waking up with no memory of anything prior to this moment, to be told you have been in a horror car accident and you’ve been left disfigured and nearly blind. With no memory of past relationships, friendships or even direct family, our workmate Andrew had to rebuild his life literally from scratch at the age of 18, and admirably has never let his disability stop him from achieving his own goals, finding love and, as it happens, working with Bing Lee in a variety of positions including at head office, in stores, even taking an opportunity to help manage one.

Andrew is totally blind in one eye and has a small percentage of vision in the other. After being told of the discovery of cataract in his remaining (somewhat) working eye, he now has to make the decision as to whether he should risk surgery or leave the eye as is. Both scenarios are risky, and either way could leave him completely blind. Understandably, Andrew has decided to leave Bing Lee and focus on the next big decision of his life. His last day is on this Thursday.

On this day, we’ll also be welcoming one of our old friends and colleagues back for a pre-Easter BBQ. Nick was overseas early last year at a consumer electronics exhibition when he suffered a severe heart attack. He had to be revived multiple times and as a result, suffered further damage. He is still slowly recuperating to this day, wheelchair-bound but receiving intense physiotherapy to help him one day get back on his own two feet.

Seeing the struggles that these two colleagues are going through puts my own challenges in perspective. I’m a healthy guy with a great young family and I’m not beset by anything even close to what these workmates must rise to every day. It really does make the basics in life even more appreciated.

So even though my blogs are predominantly about the latest techy gadget, or a great gig that I watched, and I may get frustrated by small things at work which are ultimately solvable, days like this definitely give pause to consider that tomorrow may present an entirely new set of circumstances to deal with.

Seeing Nick and Andrew in their current predicaments, and how they approach their daily challenges, is an inspiration and I wish them both the best. Their battle to improve their quality of life reminds me of how good I really do have it, and I should take none of it for granted.

2nd Generation Intel Core Models Have Landed

It’s exciting times in the PC industry. AMD are rolling out their new Fusion products, Android Honeycomb is set to be launched on a raft of new tablets, and Intel’s latest generation of Core Processors are finally being launched, after a recall that delayed the release of new notebooks across all brands.

This week, Bing Lee took delivery of the first two iterations of the new Intel range. We’ll be doing a full unboxing of both notebooks in the near future, but in the meantime here’s some brief specs and pictures to whet your appetite.

First up is the Samsung QX412, which replaces the QX310. It features a Gen 2 i5 processor, 1GB graphics card, HDMI output, DVD burner, and Samsung’s 3 second boot-up feature.

One of the impressive aspects of this model is the increase of the screen size to 14″ while using the same overall design from last year that used a 13.3″ screen, so it makes better use of the real estate – it really is a 14″ screen in a 13.3″ notebook chassis. The top lid is a cool-looking metal black, and reveals a silver/chrome surface on the keyboard area when opened. It’s definitely a style-setting notebook, with a great combination of looks and performance.

Also launched is the Acer AS5750G, which is our first Gen 2 quad core model. This notebook is all about grunt. The 2GHz quad core processor turbo boosts to 2.9GHz, and is backed up by a massive 2GB graphics card, 4GB memory and 640GB hard drive.

Other features include a 15.6″ screen, HDMI output and numeric keypad. It’s also one of the first notebooks to feature the new high speed USB 3.0 port, which can transfer files between it and a USB 3.0 storage device by over 10 times the speed of a standard USB 2.0.

The release of these models are a pleasant surprise as most Gen 2 models aren’t due out until April or May. We’re looking forward to taking both these models through their paces and presenting more details in the near future.

Toshiba NB550D AMD Netbook Unboxing (Video below)

A little while ago, we interviewed Brian Slattery of AMD about their position in the market and future plans for their soon-to-be-released range of APUs, or Accelerated Processing Units, that combined both the CPU and the GPU onto one chip.

Well, the first product that Bing Lee ranged as part of this rollout was the Toshiba N550 netbook, which features the C-50 processor. We took one out to test and produce an unboxing and feature highlight video, and boy, we were impressed: smart design, smooth video playback, great browsing experience, high quality HDMI output and premium Harmon Kardon speakers.

I spoke to Brian Slattery as a follow up to the launch of this new model, and he could hardly contain himself. Here’s what he had to say:

“I know that because of its size, it will be referred to as a netbook. But this machine is so much more – a fully featured notebook in a smaller size. Our new APU, featuring a dual core CPU and HD capable graphics, tucked away inside one of the coolest looking Toshiba designs out there, with rocking Harmon Kardon speakers, I can’t get enough of it!”

I’m fairly certain it was pretty much gushed out in one breath! I, for one, can understand Brian’s excitement. Netbooks have taken a step back in the shadows since the interest in tablets has taken over a lot of media and consumer interest. This netbook brings performance and style back into a category that is in need of a shot in the arm.

Anyway, enough words on the screen, take a look at the video and judge for yourself. Brian, we’re excited too.