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The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Nokia has unexpectedly, and at the last minute, cancelled the US launch of the X7 smartphone. The device was apparently slated for a big announcement with AT&T as the exclusive partner at Mobile World Congress in February. This isn’t just another phone for Nokia, the X7 was to be the first US exclusive launch of a device since former Microsoft executive Stephen Elop took the reins of the faltering company. 

Sources said that Nokia decided to pull the device for fear that it wouldn’t receive marketing and subsidy dollars from AT&T. This leaves Nokia with the N8 as it’s only modern flagship phone, and there is no carrier support for the device in the US, despite it having a versatile penta-band UMTS radio. Clearly, the US market is a sore spot for Nokia.

It could be that Nokia is just biding its time until their next gen software platform, MeeGo, is ready for use on phones. Symbian is seen as clunky and old-fashioned by many in the industry. Even if Nokia has a plan, the US market isn’t going to wait forever. iOS and Android are already claiming users as their own in droves.

x7

Cirago’s device fills plenty of media roles, but it doesn’t excel at any

The Cirago TV Platinum CMC3000 is a small, network-connected box with HDMI output and an internal hard drive. This box can play back all manner of content, record TV from your set-top box, and provide 1TB of network-attached storage. You get all this for a street price less of than $200. What’s not to like? As it turns out, the Cirago is a classic jack-of-all-trades and master of none.

The box connects to your TV or A/V receiver via HDMI, and it has three USB ports on its side. Two of these are device ports and one is a host port (enabling you to connect the device to your PC for file transfers). There’s also a five-in-one flash memory card reader (Compact Flash cards aren’t supported, but SD and SDHC cards work fine.)

The CMC3000 ships with a full-size remote that’s laid out much like any DVR remote. The controls offer modest tactile feedback and button presses feel solid.

Setting up the Cirago is a straightforward process. According to the manual, you connect the Cirago via USB to your PC and transfer your multimedia files. You then unplug it and move it to your home theater or HDTV setup. This is probably a good idea, since the unit only supports 100Mb/s Fast Ethernet; USB 2.0 will be quite faster if you’re copying a lot of digital media. In this day and age of huge files and gigabit wired networks, it’s silly to ship a networked storage device with a slow network connection. Cirago also offers an optional USB Wi-Fi adapter that supports 802.11n. Depending on the performance of your home network, this could deliver higher data-transfer speeds than a wired connection.

The CMC3000 has an HDMI 1.3 output and an optical digital-audio output, but its audio and video inputs are strictly analog (and its video input and output are limited to composite).

In our case, we connected to our wired gigabit network. The CMC3000 had no problems obtaining an IP address via DHCP. We then moved a variety of digital media files, which took some time given the slow connection, but was reliable. Once you connect the CMC3000, you’ll likely be moving data via a LAN connection anyway, unless you want to be running back and forth with a USB key or flash memory card.

When you connect the CMC3000, you’ll notice an HDMI 1.3 port and an obsolete composite video connection; there’s nothing in between, no S-video and no component video. What’s worse is that the only video input is via composite video, so you won’t be able to record high-definition video from that spiffy HD set-top box.

We connected the CMC3000 to our A/V system to the HDMI input on our Onkyo TX-NR3000 receiver, which is in turn connected to a Sony HDTV. Audio pass-through worked like a charm, so we could get audio either direct to the TV or through the receiver to our surround-sound speaker setup.
We experienced HDMI handshake problems, however, if we powered up the Onkyo receiver first and then fired up Cirago’s device. If we turned the CMC3000 on first, the system would sync without problems.

Once you turn the CMC3000 on, you’re presented with this rather obtuse interface.

One of the CMC300’s promised benefits is its ability to record live TV via a timer, much like using a DVR. Unfortunately, this feature is limited. First, you have only a composite video input to work with. Secondly, you can only set up timers that trigger the device to begin recording whatever signal is coming into that composite video port—there’s no on-screen program guide that would let you schedule recordings of shows on cable or satellite TV. Even if you could add external device control via something like an IR blaster, you’d first have to program the source to power up and tune to the right channel at whatever time you want the recording to happen. That means you need to set up two timers on two devices every time you wish to schedule a recording.

The rest of the user interface isn’t quite as minimalist. The built-in browser works pretty well, and it allowed us to browse our network and to find media on our Windows Home Server. We also had content copied directly to the CMC300’s internal hard drive. That’s when we ran into playback issues. We have a number of AVI and Quicktime .MOV files encoded using the DVC (digital video) codec used in some camcorders, but the Cirago couldn’t play these back. It also couldn’t handle digital music encoded in WMV Lossless format. If you want support for Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and other online streaming services, you’ll need to install a copy of PlayOn (subscriptions to this service cost $40 for the first year and $20 each subsequent year, or you can purchase a license for the lifetime of the hardware—not your lifetime—for $80).

The bottom line: if you have bog-standard encoded media, the Cirago will probably play it back. It will also play back H.264 files, which are becoming increasingly common in online web video. We were also able to play back 1080p WMV-HD clips, which looked good and played back smoothly. The Cirago’s web interface for video is also a limited affair, but we didn’t encounter any issues with playing back supported web video. In the end, the Cirago is a strange mix of obsolete and cutting-edge technology coupled with relatively narrow codec support. Not a lot to get excited about here.

Cirago TV Platinum CMC3000

High Def

Relatively low cost; easy to set up.

Standard Def

HDMI sync issues; limited codec support; obtuse UI; Slow Ethernet; no built-in Wi-Fi.

score:6

According to All Things D, T-Mobile USA is preparing to launch a new app and service that seeks to make driving safer for customers. The Drive Smart Plus app will manage the user’s phone automatically in order to turn off many voice and SMS features. If a Bluetooth device is attached, the app can send calls there by default. SMS messages will be auto-replied to with a notice that the user is driving. The key here is the automatic part. Drive Smart Plus will turn itself on when it believes the user is driving. 

The apps and service will be opt-in, and at first it will only be available on the LG Optimus T, but other phones are in the works. It will cost subscribers $4.99 per month for the Drive Safe Plus service, but a free Drive Plus Basic app will be available. The key difference is that users must manually activate the blocking features of the basic app.

The Drive Safe initiative is based on technology from Location Labs. We imagine it tracks GPS much as Google Latitude does, and takes note of acceleration on roads to switch on the app. That means GPS-related battery use, and another thing to run in the background. Will users want to deal with the possible issues, and fees? Let us know if you’d be in.

ds plus

 

Microsoft has announced today that it will be opening its third California retail store in South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, CA. The software giant did not give an exact date for the store’s opening, but did say it would be this spring. This move continues a trend of opening stores on the west coast, closer to Microsoft’s home base. 

There are also a fair number of Microsoft retail stores in other areas, including the Midwest, but none on the east coast. Rumors indicate that Microsoft may be looking to change that with a store in New York sometime this year. The stores are used as locations for consumers to get their hands on the latest Microsoft devices and software. Windows Phone 7 is a big part of the initiative, but pre-configured computers from Microsoft partners are also present.

Despite the similarities in look to the Apple stores, there are only seven currently open Microsoft stores. Apple is over 300 at this point. Do you think Microsoft will ever see anything approaching the retail success for Apple?

ms store

 

Blizzard puts the ‘war’ back in Warcraft

Six years of hard work. Hundreds of thousands of man hours. Twelve million subscribers who have spent billions of hours hacking, slashing, grinding, looting, and every other vaguely dirty term you can think of. So, how do you follow that? “Blow it all up,” says Blizzard. “And use a dragon.” The end result? A total reinvention of World of Warcraft that’ll have you hooked from the first second and keep you there for—oh—a couple hundred more hours. At least.

Don’t get us wrong; at the end of the day, Cataclysm still follows the basic MMO formula of killing and collecting. However, the extent to which Blizzard has rebuilt the process is nearly mind-blowing. In Cataclysm, quests are focused and generally tied into an overarching narrative. Unless you’re piloting a bomber plane, you won’t see any more “kill 60 of x monster” quests. Instead, you might be tasked with killing 10 of something, looting them, and interacting with the environment nearby—all at once. Presto: That’s three quests finished in roughly 10 minutes. No muss, no fuss, and,  unlike the majority of MMOs, it actually makes sense. Also, it’s completely epic.

Giant encounters like this are a regular occurrence during Worgen quests.

We don’t use that word lightly, but nowhere is it better exemplified than in the starting areas of the two new races: Goblins and Worgen. Both are brilliantly paced storylines with giant 100-man battles, appearances by legendary WoW lore characters, and a couple of cameos from the life of Cataclysm’s party, Deathwing himself. Beyond that, however, the two races couldn’t be more different. Worgen watch their society crumble as it’s slowly consumed by a mangy, howling curse while Goblins go on a hilarious, pop-culture-referencing romp that includes wild parties, fast cars, and being turned into a tornado that shoots lightning bolts. In both cases, it’s almost like playing a single-player RPG—and a damn good one at that. To play Cataclysm, you’ll need both previous expansion packs—Wrath of the Lich King and The Burning Crusade—but who plays WoW without those?

And giant, er, parties are a semi-regular occurrence during Goblin quests.

The new high-level questing content is similarly excellent, if not better. The five new zones are pretty much uniformly fantastic, with only Mount Hyjal descending to a level even resembling mediocrity—but that’s more a case of failed ambition than lack of effort. The seven new high-level instances, meanwhile, are some of the best WoW’s ever seen. Fast and focused yet inventive and tactical, these dungeons will eat you alive the second your brain goes on autopilot. Bickering pick-up groups need not apply.

PvP, unfortunately, is a mixed bag. On one hand, you have the two new arenas—Battle for Gilneas and Twin Peaks—which are great. The new PvP zone Tol Barad, however, favors the defending side to the point where attacking is often an exercise in futility and frustration. On paper, the zone’s got a lot going for it, but it needs some serious work. Speaking of “serious work,” we’re not even sure that’ll save the new profession, archaeology. Much as we wanted to love it, it’s mostly boring, time-consuming, and requires far too many steps. Sure, the rewards are occasionally amazing, but by and large you’re basically digging for gold in a landfill.

In the grand scheme of things, though, those flaws are extremely minor. Hell, there’s a good chance you’ll never even encounter them. What you will find, however, is—to butcher a classic Disney song—a whole new World of Warcraft. And whether you’re a vet haunted by flashbacks to your days in Molten Core or an outsider wondering what all the fuss is about, there’s no better time than now to dive in.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm

WARGAMES

Streamlined, story-centric questing; excellent new races and starting zones.

INSPECTOR GADGET

Mount Hyjal; an unbalanced new PvP zone; a new profession that’s mostly a waste of time.

score:9ka

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