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Asus U35JC-A1

>> Friday, October 29, 2010

Much like the UL30A, Asus U35JC-A1 is slim, angular, and decked in lots of brushed metal in many ways, it comes across as a throwback design, like a DeLorean in laptop form. The very thin upper lid is backed in brushed aluminum, the small centered Asus logo looking more EPCOT-era than ever. Inside, a light gray silver, patterned, glossy plastic surrounds the keyboard deck, while glossy, black plastic surrounds the inset screen. Asus' keyboards are almost universally of the raised Chiclet style kind, but they're not all made equally.

Some Asus laptops have exhibited serious keyboard flex but that isn't the case with Asus U35JC-A1. The very solid feeling keys were great to type on, and aside from our gripe with the awkwardly placed arrow keys and a right hand side of page up or down buttons that needlessly squish the Enter and Shift keys, it makes for an excellent experience. There's just enough palm rest space beneath for good lap typing. Overall, it's nearly as good a keyboard as the MacBook Pro's.

A medium size multitouch touchpad lies flush with the keyboard deck around it in the same color to boot but textured with a subtle matte grid that works better than expected. A thin button bar beneath feels too slight, but the whole package gets the job done well and, most importantly, responsively. However, we'd put an asterisk next to "multitouch" the Elan software driving the touchpad allows only for a limited set of gestures, such as two finger scroll and multifinger tap, leaving out obvious ones like pinch to zoom. Two buttons sit atop the keyboard : one to the far left, one to the right.

They look identical, but the right one is the power button, whereas the left boots up the laptop in Asus' Express Gate quick start OS. We're not a fan of quick-start environments, simply because their limited applications, quirky setup, and need to boot up Windows 7 for access to the rest of your PC's features make for an annoying experience. Do yourself a favor and just put your laptop to sleep instead. When Windows 7 is already booted, the left button switches between custom battery saving modes.

The LED-backlit, glossy 13 inch 16:9 screen has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, standard for this size. Viewing angles were tighter than we'd prefer, with color and contrast drifting into a washed out look unless the screen was perfectly centered. For videos, Web browsing, and general everyday use, pictures and videos look fine as long as excessive tilting is avoided. Front firing Altec Lansing stereo speakers situated under the keyboard on the lower front edge of Asus U35JC-A1 are loud enough for movies, Webchat or any other conceivable use, with notable crisp punch during gameplay. They're better than standard laptop speakers at this range, but lack musical depth and powerful bass.

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Lenovo IdeaPad Y560d

Lenovo continues to create very nice looking laptops with its IdeaPad line. Lenovo IdeaPad Y560d is about as far from the office ready Lenovo mindset as we've seen, with a funky tribal tattoo design on the back of the lid. Other than that, the color scheme is similar to systems such as the IdeaPad Y460, with a copper accent strip around the outer edge of the lid and an interior mix of not too glossy black plastic and matte black keys. A row of backlit touch sensitive control buttons sit on top of the keyboard.

Running a finger back and forth along them pops up a quick launch bar, with assignable slots for different apps. It's clever looking, but it takes some getting used to. Running your finger along the right part of it can also change the desktop background image, but we never got the hang of pulling that off consistently. The keyboard and touch pad are excellent, even though Lenovo IdeaPad Lenovo IdeaPad Y560d uses a tapered key keyboard (more like the traditional ThinkPad design), rather than the flat topped island style one seen on most other IdeaPad models.

The 15.6 inch wide screen display offers a 1,366x768 pixel native resolution, which is standard for a 16:9 midsize laptop screen. It's great for 720p HD video content, but it can't display 1080p content at full resolution. Hardcore gamers may want higher resolutions, and we were also troubled by the faint horizontal lenticular lines that are sometimes visible, even when not using any 3D applications that's a byproduct of the polarized 3D system. Under the hood, Lenovo IdeaPad Y560d is a very impressive machine.

With a 1.6GHz Intel Core i7 720QM CPU, a 500GB 7200rpm hard drive, and ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5730 graphics, it's powerful enough for just about any task. The system holds its own against other high end laptops such as the HP Envy 17 and Toshiba A665-3DV (both also Core i7 systems) in our benchmark tests. But what we're really interested in is the 3D capabilities. We've had experience with the TriDef system before, and found this version to be largely the same.

Lenovo IdeaPad Y560d includes a basic pair of cheap plastic polarized glasses, plus a second pair of clip-ons for those of us who already wear glasses (be warned: it's not a cool look). The screen has to be tilted at just the right angle. For us it was about 120 degrees back, and with us sitting about twice as far from the screen as we normally would. The effect works best with objects that recede into the distance, where we could sometimes get an excellent 3D effect.

Objects that popped out of the screen toward us often got blurry or out of focus, as did some menus rendered in 3D. Keep in mind that it's very important to keep your head still to main just the perfect angle. To get games to play in 3D, they have to be run through the TriDef wrapper app, which is an easy enough process, but one with a lot of processing overhead. Playing Street Fighter IV (which looked very good in 3D), we got an average of 32 frames per second (at the native 1,366x768 pixel resolution) when running the game normally, but that dropped to about 13 frames per second when running it in 3D.

That's especially disappointing given the high powered hardware. On the positive side, the plastic polarized glasses are passive, and don't require batteries or recharging. Also, no external IR emitter dongle is required (as in Nvidia 3D Vision systems), making this a more compact, no extras required setup.

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Asus Eee PC Seashell 1015PED-MU17

Like many of Asus' recent Eee PC Netbooks, Asus Eee PC Seashell 1015PED-MU17 has a sleek, teardrop shaped side profile, thicker at the back and tapering down to a sharp point at the nose. It's largely the same tapered/curved design we've seen on most Asus Eee PC's over the last year or so, particularly the 1005PEB, making it hard to muster excitement for a design that's barely distinguishable from others. Smooth matte surfaces on the back lid and keyboard deck guard against fingerprints, but still give off some ambient gloss.

Asus Eee PC Seashell 1015PED-MU17 line comes in red, blue, white, and black our red model had an attractive, coppery, brownish glow. The back lid's rather thick and whole unit feels solid, even a bit dense, but the compact form feels easy to tuck away. Having no protruding batteries or edges other than a slight bump on the rear bottom is a plus. The edge to edge raised chiclet style keyboard features well responding keys and no flex, but the smaller than full size keyboard felt cramped after a while.

In particular, the tiny wrist rests underneath feel too small for easy lap typing. A wide multitouch touchpad is composed of the same comfortable matte smooth lid/palmrest material, and is delineated by thin silver strips on the left and right, a slight change from previous Eee PC models. The touchpad felt wider and nicer than on previous models, though our thumbs tended to land on the pad when typing. A thin plastic button bar beneath is a bit small, but has a solid click.

Above the keyboard, a small plastic power button sits to the right and a quick-start button lies side by side with a Wi-Fi on/off button on the left. Asus' Express Gate Cloud quick start OS is a pared down environment with its own browser, photo app, and a few other features. Despite its faster boot time, we doubt many people will be satisfied with its performance and limited options most will opt to simply boot up Windows and keep Asus Eee PC Seashell 1015PED-MU17 in sleep mode between sessions.

The 10.1 inch LED matte screen on Asus Eee PC Seashell 1015PED-MU17 has a maximum pixel resolution of 1,152x864, which is highly nonstandard and produces a squished look. The resolution can be knocked down to 1,024x600 common for Netbooks. We've noticed 1,366x768 10 inch Netbook displays becoming increasingly common, but there's no such luck here. Pictures and videos looked crisp, and viewing angles were reasonable for the size and hinge limitations of Asus Eee PC Seashell 1015PED-MU17' lid, but Web pages feel cramped at this limited resolution.

Stereo speakers, located on the bottom front edge of Asus Eee PC Seashell 1015PED-MU17, offered louder than average audio that actually sounded quite good for video viewing. They're not musically extravagant, but they're definitely good enough for most needs. Asus chose to add a physical lens cover slider to its VGA Webcam, ostensibly to protect people against being unknowingly recorded.

It seems a little silly and is more likely to cause panic by making some people think their Webcam is broken when it's really just covered. Regardless, the picture quality is suitable for basic video chat, but its contrast levels created dark silhouettes. Cyberlink's YouCam software, which can be launched from a pull-down software widget on the desktop, is included on the system and has links to various Asus cloud-storage services and shortcuts.

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Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini Pro

>> Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini Pro, the most notable thing about Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini Pro is its diminutive size. Unlike almost every other smartphone on the planet, you can hide it behind a credit card, and if you have especially large mitts, you might be able to close your hand completely around it. At 3.3 inches tall by 2 inches wide by 0.7 inches deep, Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini Pro is slightly taller and thicker than its X10 Mini counterpart, but we'll gladly take the added bulk for a full keyboard.

Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini Pro remains quite light (4.2 ounces), so you won't feel burdened carrying it around. The 2.5 inch display and Sony Ericsson's User Experience interface are unchanged from the other phone. As we said before, the display is fine for browsing through menus and most basic features, but it's too small for higher end functions. As with Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini Pro, some will appreciate the compact size, while others will want something beefier.

It's really up to you. Unfortunately, Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Mini Pro remains stuck on Android 1.6 even months after 2.0's release. Below the display you'll find the same physical controls for the home screen menu and the main menu, and for moving backwards through a menu. You must dial calls using the standard virtual keypad, though you can bang out messages and e-mails much faster using the physical keyboard. As you'd expect, the keyboard is fairly small, but the keys manage to have a relatively comfortable, spacious feel.

We could type quickly and we like the stiff feeling of the keys. You won't find any shortcut controls, and numbers share space with letters, but basic punctuation is surfaced on the keyboard. For other punctuation and symbols, you must access an onscreen virtual keyboard. The space bar is in a convenient location in the center of the bottom row. The slider mechanism is neither too sturdy nor too loose.

The camera lens and flash also rest on the middle of the back side with the microSD card slot behind the battery cover. The remaining exterior features differ somewhat from the X10. The power or screen lock switch and 3.5 mm headset jack sit on the phone's top end, the camera shutter and volume rocker are on the right spine, and the Micro-USB port for data syncing and charging rests on the left spine.

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Skullcandy 50/50

>> Thursday, July 15, 2010

Skullcandy has made quite a name for itself in the headphone world, thanks largely to its focus on funky fashion and its aggressive marketing tactics aimed at tweens, teens, and young adults. However, the latest Skullcandy earphones to come down the pipe are perhaps the most adult oriented we've seen from the company. Skullcandy 50/50 earbuds, which are moderately priced at US$ 49.95, come in an array of relatively muted color options and feature inline controls for the iPhone and iPod as well as a striking low end response.

The clarity isn't the best and they feel a bit cheap and fragile, but if you're after some earphones with a hint of style and plenty of oomph, these aren't a bad option. As noted, Skullcandy 50/50 earbuds aren't going to win any awards for top notch construction. The earpieces are rather chunky and like the accents and mic module are made of hard, cheap feeling plastic.

The cable is flexible, but it tangles very easily and seems fragile at the connections to the plug and earpieces, both of which indicate the set may not be durable in the long run. The other downside to the design is the relatively large aperture of the earbuds, which may cause some discomfort for those with smaller or not perfectly round ear openings.

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