Power to the pocket: The next generation of superphones

Digital Trends

These up-and-comers from the smartphone world will redefine the boundaries of mobile computing with full HD video playback, dual-core processors, and more.

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We’re sick of the iPhone, too. Despite antenna issues, Draconian app store rules and an engineered inability to run Flash content, Apple’s flagship smartphone has done to the smartphone market what the Romans once did to Europe.

The good news: Now a marauding horde of smartphone manufacturers under the flag of Google Android are back for their turf, and they’re not just cobbling together iPhone-wannabes anymore. From the world’s first dual-screen smartphone to a phone with all the processing power of a laptop - and a dock that turns it into one - these next-generation smartphones will all bring something totally unique to the battlefield when they arrive soon.

LG Optimus 2x

The pitch: Two is always better than one, which makes the LG Optimus 2x, the world’s first dual-core smartphone, quite a catch. Nvidia’s hotrod Tegra 2 processor enables rich gaming, fluid multitasking and even 1080p video capture. With the HDMI output, you can hook it up to your TV and watch movies on the big screen, in 1080p.

Skeptic’s slant: Apps have to be specially developed to take advantage of the dual-core design, which means few of them will really tap into what the Optimus 2x can do at launch.

Availability: Rumors have the Optimus 2x launching in late March or early April, but LG will launch the Optimus 2x as a “world phone.” That means it won’t be showing up at the store down the street with a hefty subsidy like phones that carriers officially adopt – you’ll have to snag it online, without a contract, for a hefty sum.


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Kyocera Echo

The pitch: When the Echo’s little 3.5-inch touchscreen starts to feel a little cramped, slide it apart and a second identical screen rises up to meet it, providing a combined 4.7 inches of glowing LCD. The two screens allow you to browse side-by-side websites, read an e-mail in one screen while you reply in another, and even play games like The Sims where one screen acts as a controller, similar to the Nintendo DS.

Skeptic’s slant: Not many apps will work with the dual-screen functionality right off the bat, and running two screens at once will cost you big time on battery life.

Availability: Sprint will offer the Echo for preorder within the next few weeks for $199 with contract, but it won’t begin shipping until spring.

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Samsung Infuse 4G

The pitch: With a whopping 4.5-inch Super AMOLED Plus Screen and a body as deep as a pencil, the Infuse 4G will be both the largest and thinnest phone in AT&T’s portfolio. Thanks to HSPA+ 4G, it will also be one of the fastest on the network. And did we mention it shoots 1080p video?

Skeptic’s slant: Sprint’s 4.3-inch EVO 4G already dropped jaws (and stretched pockets) with its screen size. Is a 4.5-inch screen on a phone really practical?

Availability: Samsung’s Infuse 4G will arrive in the second quarter of 2011 exclusively on AT&T.

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I’m looking back at all of the products I’ve reviewed and used in 2010, and 10 favorites clearly stood out. Each has earned a place in my heart as particularly great. To get on this list, the product had to be something I use regularly and enjoy.

 

 

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Kindle DX

Kindle DX

I picked the Kindle DX up to review thinking it was too big, and that it would end up on my shelf unused after a couple of days. Instead I fell in love with it, and it goes with me wherever I go. The larger screen allows me to put more text on the page, so I’m not flipping as often, and allows me to use larger text so I’m not straining my eyes and can work in low light. While I do miss a cover with a built-in book light like the regular Kindle, I can’t give up the extra size, and for me, the iPad just hasn’t been a real alternative. I have the latest model in black, and it did cost $379 but I really don’t know what I’d do without my Kindle. It is the one product I don’t go anyplace without.


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Alienware M11X

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Alienware M11X

This laptop has been a real champ this year, and I now have two of them with one as a backup. This laptop has been a dream. No problems, Nvidia graphics when I want to play video games, embedded graphics when I need the battery life. It looks cool, and it is small enough to use in coach without sucking in my gut. The latest model switches between graphics chips automatically, and has an updated Intel processor, so it is even better now. Some folks carry what their company gives them, I carry what I want, and currently I want my Alienware M11X.

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E+ M-750 TidalForce
Electric Bicycle

E+ M-750 TidalForce Electric Bicycle

With a 1,000-watt motor and a frame that was based on a bike sold to the US military for paratroopers, this bike is my own personal dream come true. With substantial power for the hills, the ability to fold it up and put it in the back of my car, and stealth black finish, this has been a wonder to enjoy the California sun. It will go up most hills with only a little added work and can really put on the speed when you need that burst to get through a light. This is my second electric bicycle, and by far my favorite of the set. Electric cars may not yet make sense for most of us, but electric bikes have arrived and I love my M-750.


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Neato Robotic Vacuum

Neato Robotic Vacuum

I have 5 Roombas in various states of repair, and not a damn one of them vacuums very well. They also wonder around the floor like a blind, nose-less mouse. Basically they are stupid sweepers . The Neato uses a technology similar to what is being used in self-driving cars, and it is a real vacuum cleaner, so it actually vacuums up the dirt, it doesn’t just try to sweep it in. This means it looks around the room, figures out how to best cover the space, and then it executes a plan. Personally I think it is smarter than most politicians. If I could, I’d vote it into office.


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Steelcase WalkStation

Steelcase WalkStation

This is the only purpose-built treadmill desk, and I should use it more than I do. Still, it allows me to exercise while I’m working and that is pretty much all the exercise I get in a day, so it is very important to my health. The treadmill is designed to work for extended periods quietly, at walking speeds, and you can adjust it electrically for height. It is very large as well, so you can spread your stuff around and pretty much live on it. When I bring folks into the house this is one of the things most seem to lust after, and it may yet save my life or at least extend it. Products that help you live better longer should be at the top of a list, and it is on the top of mine.


Xbox 360 Kinect

Xbox 360 Kinect

Speaking of staying alive, this product will probably kill me, but I’ll die with a smile on my face when I go. Once I got a mount for the bottom of my TV and didn’t have to adjust for the camera being off center, I retired my Wii and started moving around my living room like I was mad. I find I can get rather winded relatively fast, and that the pictures it takes of me in strange positions could likely be used as blackmail at some future date, but damned if I’m not having as much fun as I initially did with the Wii before it got old. This has been a huge treat at the end of the year, and I’m tickled to be having so much fun with it. Hey, and this week it was reported that Kinect is outselling the iPad two to one. It sold 2.5 million in 25 days, versus 2 million in two months for the iPad.

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ADT Pulse Security

ADT Pulse Security

This is the most advanced integrated system from any of the major nationwide security vendors. It integrates home automation, with video surveillance, with traditional zone and perimeter security. On events, it will take pictures with the cameras and store these pictures in the cloud. While I’m traveling, I can view logs of when people entered the home and watch the cameras live, or check to see if the security system is set and the doors closed. I can even turn lights on and off remotely to check around the house all from the same console. I know companies that aren’t this secure, and while it isn’t cheap, it gives me piece of mind, which is kind of priceless.


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AMD Eyefinity 3 Monitor Gaming
Rig with Radeon 6800 Series Card

AMD Eyefinity 3 Monitor Gaming Rig with Radeon 6800 Series Card

It took me about two months to get this set up so that it would work right. It wasn’t a software problem, but finding the right mix of monitors so I had enough size, but wasn’t driven nuts by the gaps between them. But I finally found the right mount, and the right set of three monitors (two Dell 24” monitors on the sides and a Gateway 24” monitor in the middle) all in portrait mode (the Gateway is a taller monitor, more square, and better for the middle). The end result is a great gaming rig that isn’t spinning my power meter like a top.


ChiliPad Bed Heater/Cooler

ChiliPad Bed Heater/Cooler

This is just geeky cool. I picked up one of thee for a King-sized bed earlier this year, and it has brought near harmony to our bedroom. The problem is my wife tends to run cold, where I tend to run hot at night, so I’m either sweating or she is shivering, and the right mix is hard to find. The ChiliPad uses circulating heated and cooled water to regulate temperature just like what is used for spacesuits and for some types of racing. The end result is I can chill my side of the bed down as cold as I like it, while she can heat her side up, and both of us are relatively happy. The wireless remote controls could have better range, and you do have to refill the water every couple of weeks, but this thing has been a dream come true for us and one of the highlights of the year.


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Sonos
Platform

Sonos

When it comes to moving music around the house there really is only one product that has consistently worked well, and that is the Sonos platform. I have one of these things in every room, they run off their mesh wireless networks, connect to Rhapsody and Napster, and will even work with an iPod Touch as a controller. It has a party mode, so you can have every station on the same song and the same note, something that simply doesn’t work with alternative players, and even my wife can figure out how to use it because it is so simple. This is one of the few products that could give Apple a run for the money on ease of use, and I just wish I could find something as good for video.

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