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The Tech Report

Roku 2 Takes Online Streaming to the Next Level

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By Corey A. Washington –

It’s quite frequent that the adage “they don’t make ‘em like they used to” whisks through the tech world when the successor to a once-hot device doesn’t live up to its predecessor. It’s a relief to know that while this still rings true for some tech products, Roku has defied the odds with the release of the new Roku 2.

The Roku 2 successfully finds a way to cram all of the features that made the previous Roku player a hit into a sleeker, smaller device -- with new capabilities to boot. The Roku still comes in three models, starting at the same competitive $60 for the Roku HD, $80 for the Roku XD, and $100 for the Roku XS, which replaces the Roku XDS.

When the last player was released about a year ago, the Roku’s biggest competitor had been Apple TV, but Roku was able to dodge Apple’s shadow by offering a bevy of ports, including HDMI, component inputs and optional 1080p resolution. But what impressed tech gurus the most was its larger selection of content compared to Apple TV. The Roku 2 boasts 300 channels, albeit some requiring subscriptions. The streaming device also has Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Video on Demand, YouTube, and more popular streaming channels.

The Roku 2 offers improved content selection, advanced features and the same resolutions as before -- but now the Roku doubles as a gaming device with the addition of Angry Birds. If the new gaming-enabled remote feels reminiscent of the Nintendo Wii controller, you’re probably not alone. While the gaming option is a nice bonus feature, tame your expectations as the Roku 2 won’t rival the Xbox 360 or PlayStation PS3. More games are expected to arrive in Roku’s selection soon.

The new Roku 2 is an even stronger contender now as a streaming device. Its expanded content line up and attractive design gives consumers another reason to cut the cord when it comes to cable.

Corey Washington is a contributing writer covering technology for Black Voice News. He can be reached at corey@blackvoicenews.com.

The Motorola Photon 4G Could be Sprint’s Next Big Hit

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By Corey A. Washington –

It’s important to give credit where credit is due, which is why you have to hand it to Sprint for breaking ground again. After being the first major carrier in the U.S. to offer a 4G smartphone last year, the HTC Evo 4G, Sprint is getting ready to introduce the first international 4G smartphone, the Motorola Photon 4G.

On July 31, the Motorola Photon 4G will hit stores, becoming the sixth 4G handset available by Sprint. While Sprint already has several impressive 4G smartphones running on Google’s Android , the Photon is poised to stand out in the crowd for several good reasons.

The HTC Evo 4G was transformative for Sprint. It quickly turned into one of the most popular smartphones, selling out at many retailers quickly. But it’s been over a year since the smartphone debuted. The highly-anticipated HTC Evo 3D could have been a clear successor, but there’s a big question mark on whether 3D is just a fad with more appeal in a movie theater than in a smartphone.

Sprint also offers one of the most coveted Android smartphones available, the Samsung Nexus S, considered by many as the most “pure” Google experience on an Android handset. However, overwhelming praise for the Nexus S has come from within the developer community. Although the Nexus S is a powerful phone and a formidable handset, it has also earned its share of criticism for several bugs after it hit the market. While bugs do happen -- and get fixed -- the Nexus S didn’t duplicate the same fanfare of, oh say, the HTC Evo 4G.

In comes the Motorola Photon 4G, without the same niche appeal as the Nexus S or the optional 3D ability as the HTC Evo 3D. On top of that, it’s a handset that could be used overseas.

That alone shows the Motorola Photon has a lot going for itself already, particularly as a 4G device. But the handset also boasts some very impressive hardware specs and features if you‘re not convinced. The Motorola Photon 4G is powered by a dual-core 1 GHz Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, 1 GB of RAM, a 4.3-inch qHD display, an 8 megapixel camera, an HDMI port, and, in HTC Evo fashion, a handy kickstand. Out of the box, the handset will run Android 2.3 Gingerbread. The Photon will also hit the market with the latest version of Motorola’s UI, MotoBlur.

The Motorola Photon 4G is expected to price around $200 on contract and about $600 without contract. The phone hits shelves July 31, but Sprint Premier customers can get their hands on it 3 days sooner than everyone else. The Motorola Photon 4G just might be the newest high-end smartphone contender that consumers are waiting on from Sprint.

Corey Washington is a contributing writer covering technology for Black Voice News. He can be reached at corey@blackvoicenews.com.

Say Farewell to Unlimited Data Plans on Verizon Wireless

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Sprint the last of major U.S. carriers to offer unlimited data plans

By Corey A. Washington –

Hungry for data? Well, if so, the largest wireless carrier in the U.S. won’t be offering any handouts after July 7.

Verizon Wireless is bidding its unlimited data plans adieu, replacing those plans with tiered data plans, capping usage. Like the current unlimited data plans, such plans will start at $30 for 2 GB of data. Other plans include $50 for 5 GB, and $80 for 10 GB. Customers who exceed their data caps will be charged $10 for each additional GB of data.

The change applies to new customers or existing customers who want to upgrade their phone to one that requires a data plan.

Verizon is the third of the big four to scrap unlimited data plans in favor of data caps. AT&T reigned in on its unlimited data plans last year, followed by T-Mobile which lowers data speeds for customers who go over their data plans. Sprint hasn’t announced any plans to follow suit, but the carrier has not committed to always offering unlimited data plans.

It’s a shame to see Verizon throw out the unlimited data plans. The wireless carrier has racked up three impressive 4G phones this year, with more on the way before 2011 closes. The shining opportunity for new customers to let those bad boys loose on Verizon’s lightening-fast LTE network grows dim by the minute, unless of course you’re willing to pay the price.

Before you scoff at Verizon for being the latest to shut out new customers who don’t want to feel constrained by limited data plans, AT&T, which was the first to implement capped data plans, has said a whopping 90 percent of their customers never go over their capped data plans.

Still, perhaps you are a power user like some, or you feel the data limitations might get expensive because of overage charges. There's still time to run to Verizon and sign up. Verizon will honor its unlimited data plans for customers who sign up before July 7. If you still need time, there’s always Sprint, which still offers unlimited data plans to new customers.

Corey Washington is a contributing writer covering technology for Black Voice News. He can be reached at corey@blackvoicenews.com.

Budget and Entry-Level Android Phones: Smart Bet or Poor Start?

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Android handsets from LG and Samsung are great contenders for Android first-timers

By Corey A. Washington –

It’s no secret smartphone adoption is on the rise. Consumers are ditching their dial-or-text-only ways to stay more connected and use more features than ever before.

If you’ve ever taken the leap into the smartphone world before, you know it can be a confusing and off-putting experience. Consumer fear is usually the same: Choosing a poor performing smartphone. Having to make this choice on a budget may seem as though you leapt from a plane without a parachute. But there are some capable, well-performing Android smartphones out there right now that can allay your fears.

The Android market continues to surge, making it now the most used mobile platform with 35 percent market share, according to Canalys. And by next year, at least half of all cell phones in the U.S. will be smartphones, according to In-Stat. If you’re one of the many consumers who are ready to join in the smartphone race and want to join the Android fanboy crowd, here are five things to take into consideration before you make your purchase.

Storage: Regular use of any smartphone can take its toll on available memory. E-mail attachments, photos, videos and apps slowly -- if not quickly -- pile up. Most Android smartphones to date can accommodate at least 16GB of storage. Of course, there are those lesser-known Android handset manufacturers and occasional poor attempts at creating an Android product … they’re out there! Don’t be tempted to go below 16GB.

Multi-tasking: You may not use your phone to capacity, but it’s normal to have your Android phone taking on more than one process at a time. One of Android’s claims-to-fame has been its multi-tasking ability. Test a demonstration model at a retailer as you would if you owned the phone. Watch for sluggish performance and latency to ensure your Android phone can keep up with your lifestyle.

Consumer reviews: Some smartphones pass the initial test. Days or weeks later they slowly but surely fall short of your expectations. When purchasing your first smartphone, avoid buying the newest phone to hit store shelves. Wait at least a month to see how the phone fared with consumers. Bugs can happen and it‘s better someone else discovers it than you.

OS Version: Anything less than Android 2.1, Éclair, is a big fat “no no.” While Google is making attempts to clear up fragmentation of its Android handsets, there are some newer handsets using versions under Android 2.1. It’s important to stay ahead of the curve, especially with new app requirements calling for Android 2.1. Performance enhancements with 2.1 and higher make an even better reason to stay as high up the Android food chain as possible.

User Interface: While Android is Android, different manufacturers have their own versions of a UI on top of their Android 2.1 phones. Test multiple Android smartphones from different manufacturers to find out which UI makes the best Android experience for you.

Top Three Recommendations Under $50 (With Contract):

LG Optimus (Sprint, T-Mobile, Virgin Mobile)

Samsung Captivate (AT&T)

LG Continuum (Verizon Wireless)

Corey Washington is a contributing writer covering technology for Black Voice News. He can be reached at corey@blackvoicenews.com.

Five Ways to Choose a Solid Android Smartphone

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OPINION-EDITORIAL

By Corey Washington –

With the ever-expanding sea of Android handsets manufacturers are pumping into the smartphone market, there still remains some confusion on what Android is, how these smartphones are different and most importantly, which one is right for you.

Based on Linux, the Android platform is an internet and multimedia powerhouse with Google applications tightly integrated into its operating system. While the Android operating system is the OS more than two dozen smartphones currently share in common, its user interface varies from phone to phone, and is a major deciding factor among smartphone buyers. From HTC’s Sense UI found on the HTC EVO to Samsung’s TouchWiz on the Samsung Galaxy S II to Motorola’s Motoblur on the Motorola Atrix 4G, there are several UI options that can shape our Android experience. (Reports surfaced last week that Motorola will drop the Motoblur brand name.)

Now at Android 2.3, also known by the moniker Gingerbread, Android is currently on it’s sixth iteration of its popular OS. There’s no doubt Google has come a long way since it’s introduction of Android with the iconic G1 made by HTC and running Android 1.0.

Android has garnered its share of love from the developer community for its open source platform. But because many smartphone consumers will never think, or care, to root their Android smartphone or tweak an app, here are some basic points that may help speed along your decision on which type of Android phone is right for you. Here are five things to take into consideration when choosing your Android phone today.

Processor: Welcome to the 1GHz and dual core processor age, bringing lightening-fast performance to many new Android smartphones. While 1GHz phones began to hit the market more than a year ago, manufacturers are still cranking out 1GHz phones like the HTC Thunderbolt. Dual core smartphones are increasing, but a lot of smartphone buyers may find adequate power by sticking with 1GHz.

3G or 4G: 4G is here, and it’s real -- and in some cases, real fast! There are 4G capable phones that download and upload faster than what you may experience on a desktop. The downside is 4G can hamper battery life and may carry an additional charge. Evaluate if 4G is right for you or if 3G is still suitable.

Data storage: Many Android handsets can go up to 32GB of external memory with a Micro SD card. But internal memory is still important. A phone with at least 1GB storage and 512MB of RAM should help those who want to run a lot of apps or multi-task at a high rate.

Battery life: There are some top-tier Android handsets loaded with power, but fall short on battery life. No one wants to have their phone die every 3 hours or live with their phone tied to a charger. Look for phones that have a healthy amount of battery life and stand up well in comparison tests.

Screen Size: Android handsets have grown to massive smartphone proportions, with phones such as the Samsung Infuse 4G rocking a 4.5 inch screen. Several new phones are sporting 4.3 inch screens. Thinking that’s too big for your hand? Some consumers might let up on the overall size of the phone because the screen size enhances the multimedia experience, making videos more enjoyable to watch and touch screen buttons easier to press with accuracy.

Choosing a great Android smartphone doesn’t end there. Depending on your preferences, criteria such as camera quality, screen resolution and HDMI output could make or break your final choice, but you have to start somewhere. With Android now commanding the lead market share of any mobile OS with 35%, according to Canalys, Android phones are aplenty and the time for you to decide which Android phone is right for you may come sooner rather than later.

Corey Washington is a contributing writer covering technology for Black Voice News. He can be reached at corey@blackvoicenews.com.

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