GNC-2010-11-08 #625 Back in the Saddle

Feels good to be back in the full swing of the show. I am having a great trip here in Albuquerque and really enjoying myself, will be doing an Ohana meet up this coming Friday. If you want to come out to dinner and your in the local area drop me an email so I can pass location and time.

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Dear Roku, Best Buy is not Doing any Justice for your Brand.

I decided to update my IPTV at home. A newer TV and Over The Top (OTT) system. I have run Boxee for a while, but wanted to get the Roku Box. I heard that Best Buy had the Roku box, so I made the trek out to the store.

That was a bad idea.

I was on the east side of town, so I stopped into the East side location. I figured the Roku would be somewhere next to the Google TV display. It wasn’t – In fact, I could not find it anywhere.

I did something I try not to do – envoke a Best Buy employee. I never have any luck with these guys, so I avoid them. However, since I couldn’t find what I was looking for, I had to walk up to one. And the following conversation is why:

Hello. I am looking for the Roku box

Yes. They are over here (we walk to where the supposed Roku is). Here you go. It comes with Blu-Ray.

Excuse me? Roku does not have a Blu-Ray Model.

This one is. You can get Netflix.

I am sorry, but that is not a Roku box. Just because it connects to Netflix doesn’t make it a Roku.

Oh… Well, we are out of Roku players (pointing to the other shelf)

When will you get more?

We only got one. I don’t know when the next one is. However, we have a great line of internet connected players (pointing down the row).

This conversation really pissed me off. The guy  was quick to say that a Roku Box was some Blu-Ray from Insignia for $99. At first I didn’t think of it, but a couple days later I was in Best Buy on the West side and the exact same thing happened.

The Best Buy employee tried to tell me that this Blu-Ray player with Netflix was exactly like a Roku. Once again, I was annoyed and told him off. I walked out of the store, putting down what I was planning on purchasing.

Both stores only received 1-2 models of Roku. Both stores sold out in an hour and couldn’t tell me when the next batch was going to be here. Both employees also said that another device was “Just like the Roku”.

Certain Blu-Ray players do have applications. You can get Netflix and Vudu – along with other cool options to the player. However, this is not a Roku.

I started thinking about this: With the news announcement that you can get a Netgear branded Roku at Best Buy, I wonder how many people ventured out to get this. I also wonder how many ended up getting something else?

I have never been felt so misled by an employee in a long time. The last time I was, it was a Radio Shack employee trying to sell me a CD player stating it had MP3 support. Over 10 years later, I walked out of a store feeling just as annoyed.

The worst part about the Roku at Best Buy is it’s overshadowed by Google TV. The humongous display might make people change ideas for IPTV.

I ended up purchasing the box online, although I thought it would be nice to have a Blu-Ray Roku Box. Nonetheless, I think I will be avoiding Best Buy for a while.

Samsung TicToc MP3 Player Review

Samsung in packagingSamsung announced the TicToc MP3 players back in July but they’ve only recently started shipping in UK. Aimed unashamedly at a young female audience, coming in blue, pink, black and Hello Kitty variants, this is a fashion accessory as much as an music player. I’ll try to get in touch with my feminine side to give the TicToc a fair review.

So what do you get for your money? A tiny 4GB MP3 player, a dock, a clip-on case and a set of headphones, plus instructions and warranty. First impressions are good – although plastic, the build quality is excellent and everything has a smooth touch to it with rounded edges. Everything is white with blue highlights and grey lettering and it looks good. The TicToc itself is only 36 mm long and has just one button and one 3.5 mm socket. Later, I’ll discover that there are three little lights as well.  It’s a minimalist approach but sometimes less is more.

Samsung jackI was intrigued by the 3.5 mm socket as it doubles as both the earphone socket, data connector and charger, so it was time to stop looking and start playing.  Frankly it’s easy.  The TicToc drops into the cradle and the cradle’s USB connector plugs into the PC.  It’s at this point you see the lights for the first time: they’re under the skin of the plastic, behind plus, minus and next track symbols.  When the player is docked, the lights show the charging status of the player.

The headphones are of the in-ear, noise-isolating type and are colour co-ordinated with the TicToc player. There are a couple of different-sized ear adaptors in case you have small or large ear canals. I found them comfortable to wear but more on the sound quality later.

On the PC, the TicToc appears as two drives under Windows 7. One partition is read-only and holds the TicToc Player application. The other contains the music files. Loading the TicToc with music is simply a case of drag’n’dropping your mp3s. It also supports .aac, .wav, .wma, .ogg and .flac but I only tried .mp3 and .wav.

I’ll come back to the TicToc Player app in a moment, but now that the TicToc is charged up, let’s play some music!

Player in cradleThis is where it gets fun. With only one button, how do you control the player?  Well, it’s all to do with how you hold it… If you hold it vertically, pressing the button adjusts the volume. If you hold it horizontally, pressing the button moves between tracks. And if you give it one good shake, the voice guide announces the artist and track, which is pretty handy on a device with no screen. Give it a couple of shakes and it swaps between playing albums, general shuffle, fast tracks and slow tracks. It’s pretty cool and doesn’t take long to get used to.

When you first turn on the TicToc  (just press the button), an enthusiastic female voice will tell you how much battery you have left.  Samsung claim 12 hours play time and while I never completely drained the battery, it seems about right. After listening for a few hours from 100%, I would have 80% battery left which would be on target for 12 hours.

The TicToc will then start playing music. And how does it sound? Well, as with so many of these small players, the sound quality is let down by the headphones. With the supplied earphones, the sound is very much to the treble end with disappointing bass. They’re not the worst headphones I’ve ever used (a pair of Jabras currently hold that accolade) and on the plus side, the ‘phones were comfortable: I had no problem with them in-ear for several hours.

However, plug in a set of half-decent headphones, say, some Senneheiser CX300s, and the TicToc is hugely improved. Still perhaps little thin in the normal mode, but to improve the sound output, the TicToc comes with DNSe –  Digital Natural Sound engine. This allows the player to apply enhancements such as rock, R&B, dance and concert hall, which fill out the music nicely and brings it to life. And let’s be honest, the TicToc isn’t being marketed at audiophiles. For listening while walking to work or working out at the gym, it’s perfectly acceptable and actually quite good.

Returning to the TicToc app, this is where some of the magic happens. Although you can load music onto the player simply by drag’n’dropping, if you want the voice guide or you want the fast and slow playlists, then the TicToc app has to be run to analyse the music on your player and add in the extras. You can also use the TicToc app as a music player.

The voice guide is pretty good at converting the artist and track name from the mp3 tag into speech. It probably wasn’t fair to ask it to pronounce Abba’s Chiqichita right but it got S.O.S. spot on. This was my first exposure to this kind of feature and overall, I was impressed. There’s also a fast and slow playlist function which you can enable if you give the TicToc a couple of shakes. If you look at the screen shot, you’ll see the F and S labels next to each track, indicating whether the software thinks it’s a fast or slow track. If you disagree with the analysis, you can right click on the track and change the tempo.

There was only one thing that did annoy me. When the TicToc is playing in normal mode, it plays by folder which is usually the same as an album. However, when playing a folder, it seems to ignore the mp3 track number. I’m not sure what order it plays them in – I thought it was alphabetical to start with but it wasn’t always the case. It’s so irritating – Samsung please fix this.

Player with light onIn the end, I didn’t really need to get too in touch with my feminine side because the TicToc looks great, is funky to use and sounds good. The little cradle is a nice touch which sets it apart from the competition and much better than a cable with a 3.5 mm jack on the end. I think it would a perfect player to keep in your handbag or with your sports gear, ready to go.

RRP is £39.99 for the 2 GB version and £49.99 for the 4 GB.  Thanks to Samsung for providing the review unit.