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The Tech Report

Motorola Tries to Dice Smartphone Competition with New Droid RAZR

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PREVIEW

By Corey A. Washington –

Contrary to what some might say, thin is very much in – at least in the world of smartphones. Several times a year it seems the next “it” phone bursts onto the scene, hoping to make a dent in sales records and ascend to the upper echelon of smartphone glory. Arguably, no other name is more deserving of a shot at proving itself in the land of anorexic smartphones than Motorola as it resurrects the RAZR brand, à la Android 2.3 this time around.

More than five years ago, there was no phone as ubiquitous as the Motorola RAZR, a line of über slim phones that managed to sell more than 130 million units during the course of its run. The highly-successful RAZR grew into a suite of phones and became a spring board for successors. Now Motorola aims to capitalize on the skinny mobile phone movement it helped usher into the market with its latest offering.

In comes the Droid RAZR, touted as being 7.1 millimeters thin, or 0.30 inches, and weighing a mere 127 grams, or roughly 4.4 ounces. If weight matters most, the Droid RAZR loses that battle as the Samsung Galaxy S II weighs less at 116 grams, or 4.09 ounces. The new iPhone 4S falls behind both Android smartphones weighing 140 grams, or 4.9 ounces.

The new Droid RAZR will bring more than just a sexy form factor when it’s released. The new RAZR will sport a 4.3-inch Super AMOLED screen with 16 million colors, a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor, an 8-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera. Battery life is expected to be impressive with 12 hours of talk time. The Droid RAZR will be 4G capable running on Verizon’s LTE network.

The Droid RAZR’s storage will be on par with newer smartphones with 1GB RAM, 16 GB of internal memory and an external microSD that supports up to 32 GB of storage.

Pre-orders for the Motorola Droid RAZR on Verizon Wireless began yesterday and it is expected to ship November 10. Thin might still be in, but big smartphones will still get love – especially with the slightly "larger" Galaxy Nexus ushering Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich into the smartphone arena later this year.

For now, the Motorola Droid RAZR has the potential to be another dominant smartphone, but with a whole lot of sex appeal to boot when it hits store shelves.

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

Amazon's New Kindle Fire: Exactly What Some Tablets Need to Be

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PREVIEW

By Corey A. Washington –

Consumers intrigued by the emerging tablet market have something to rejoice about. It’s been tough for buyers to overcome their hesitation to purchase a tablet when considering the price point and overall usability of tablets. But finally, someone gets it. Amazon has single-handedly injected excitement into consumers with the announcement of its Kindle Fire – and they didn’t need to add an “i” in front of their latest device to do it!

Slated for release November 15, off the bat the Amazon Kindle Fire get’s something right – a price tag you can deal with. For $199, Amazon’s new 7-inch tablet darling packs just enough features and hardware backed by a reputable name. Does it have a front-facing camera? No. Does it have a rear-facing camera? No. And for these reasons already some tech reviewers are downplaying the splash the Kindle Fire could make. Still, the Kindle Fire has a wide array of positive attributes consumers won’t overlook in a $199 tablet.

The Ups:

Hardware – The Kindle Fire is powered by a 1 GHz dual-core processor, includes 8GB of internal storage and has 512MB of RAM on board.

Features – Users will be able to directly purchase digital books, magazines and Amazon movies and receive free access to Amazon Cloud Storage. Amazon is also reportedly throwing in a 30-day trial subscription to Amazon Prime, it’s own online movie streaming service.

Form Factor – In the battle for thin tablets, the Kindle Fire comes in with 0.45 inches and weighs just about 14 ounces. The tablet also has a Gorilla Glass screen and an overall attractive design that stands apart from other tablets.

Though the Kindle Fire makes a solid argument for its price, it isn’t without a few head-scratching flaws.

The Downs:

Apps – The Kindle Fire relies on the Android OS, but provides no direct access to Google’s Android Market. Users will still have access to the Android Appstore and a load of Amazon’s content, but this will drastically limit the Android experience.

Storage – Amazon is likely banking on its free Amazon Cloud Storage, hence the mediocre 8GB of internal storage – and no external microSD slot. While there’s a clear back up for content, this already feels like a sore spot.

There’s still much to learn about Amazon’s Kindle Fire, including how it handles and which previously-noted missing features are really missed. The Kindle Fire will certainly test the tech waters when it ships … and for that meager $199, we will see just what features consumers can probably live without in this age of giving us way more than what we really want or need and making us pay twice the price.

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

BlackBerry Bold 9930, Torch Devices with OS 7 a Revival for RIM

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By Corey A. Washington –

It’s been a long time since the words “BlackBerry” and “excitement” could be found together in the same sentence. It’s no secret Research In Motion (RIM) lost much of its fanfare -- not to mention market share -- in the current Android-Apple dominated smartphone market. But for anyone counting RIM out of the game, low and behold three good reasons to take another look at the BlackBerry.

RIM threw heavy fire power into the smartphone war with the release of the new BlackBerry Bold 9930, Torch 9810 and Torch 9850 within the same week, all running BlackBerry’s newly-released OS 7, replacing OS 6.5. Many have considered OS 7’s upgrade from 6.5 to be mostly skin deep changes, but dive in further and you’ll see several improvements over the previous interface. Blackberry OS 7, however, isn’t a major leap forward. Sharp criticism has been aimed at RIM for not seriously overhauling the OS, but I can’t help but think why such a dramatic shift is necessary for such a capable OS. The upgraded OS 7 feels familiar to previous iterations, but still up to date. If the OS isn’t enough to move consumers, some of the hardware might do the trick.

BlackBerry Bold 9930: If sexy came in a phone, it would be the new 9930. It’s one of the sleekest, sharply-designed smartphones to ever hold the BlackBerry name -- and one of the most gorgeous of all the QWERTY’s on the market. If this handset’s sheer beauty wasn’t enough, RIM made a wise choice incorporating a touch screen into its traditional design of the 9000 series. This device sports a 640 x 480 pixel resolution on a 2.8 inch display. The resolution may not be ahead of the curve, but on such a relatively small screen, images come across fairly crisp and clear. The 9930 packs plenty of muscle too with a 1.2 Ghz processor and 768MB of RAM. It includes 8GB internal storage and up to 32GB of external store thanks to a MiscroSD slot. The phone also now captures 720p video with its camera. The phone lacks 4G, which you might expect on a high-end phone in this emerging 4G world, but its dual-band capabilities arguably make up for this shortcoming.

Torch 9810: If the new Torch seems like it could be confused for its predecessor, you’re not alone. Minor changes to the newest Torch include a metallic-brushed trim and pattern-design on the back cover. Both make for tasteful, minor improvements, but don’t make the BlackBerry Torch 9810 seem like its undergone a serious makeover. The smartphone employs the same dimensions as the previous Torch, including the 3.2 inch screen. The resolution has been bumped up, as it now uses the same 640 x 480 resolution found on the Bold 9930. It also shares the same processing power and RAM as its sibling, giving the phone more of a premium feel this time around. The similarities include 8GB of internal storage and external storage up to 32GB. It also shares the ability to capture 720p video. Clearly, while cosmetic changes to the phone aren’t aplenty, the Torch moves up the food chain with more hardware changes than expected.

Torch 9850: Call me clueless, but I’m still scratching my head trying to understand the reason for these two Torch phones. While it’s nothing new to have two phones share the same name brand, ala the HTC EVO and the HTC EVO Shift, it comes off as an odd choice since it seems more common for full-touch screen phones to later receive a QWERTY variant. My immediate reaction was “Is this the new BlackBerry Storm?”, followed up with “Hey, what happened to the BlackBerry Storm?”. It’s understandable if it doesn’t seem like it’s in the “Torch” lineage considering it carries almost no resemblance in design to the 9810 or the previous Torch. But, what’s in a name, I guess? The 9850 also doesn’t seem as grown up as the 9810 as it only includes 4GB of internal storage, but the same processor and RAM is carried over. Other differences include a 3.7 inch screen WVGA screen, which is relatively responsive to touch. It’s not quite clear where the Torch 9850 fits in the equation of BlackBerry’s new suite of phones, but it is still a solid showing by RIM.

RIM’s latest entourage of smartphones continues to show BlackBerry is relevant and capable in the smartphone war. Whether it's enough to put BlackBerry in a more competitive position remains to be seen.

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

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.

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