Category Archives: Gadgets

SkyCast – the cooler path to in-flight entertainment

Occasionally, you see a deal where you immediately understand both how cool it is and the impact that it will have on an industry. Couple that with one that will also have an impact on you personally and a great team, and you have SkyCast Solutions.

Founded by the inventor of the digEplayer (if you fly Alaska as much as I do, it needs no introduction), Bill Boyer, who is joined by my friend, Peter Parsons, and Greg Latimer (former VP Marketing at Alaska Air), this is a team that understands the industry. It is no secret that airlines have troubles with profitability. As fuel prices soar and the sluggish economy depress business travel, the problem gets worse. Airlines have learned that ancillary sources for revenue (like baggage fees) are an attractive way to make up any gaps. The problem with fees: customers hate paying for something that brings them no enjoyment that they think should be free.

Enter SkyCast Solutions. They make a VERY cool in-flight entertainment solution, called TrayVu™ (http://www.skycastsolutions.com/NEW/products.html). It is an android tablet that goes into the tray table, can be viewed through the table, and automatically flips up when you put the tray down. This offers many advantages, including being light weight (a short IRR for the airlines on fuel savings alone), ability to show ads or other things below 10,000 feet, having use of your tray table with the screen in a perfect viewing position, a credit card reader to buy food or pay per views, and (maybe most importantly to anyone who has had the person behind them play angry birds in a seat back system) when you play a touch game you don’t disturb the person in the seat in front. It is an exceeding economical system for the airlines to install and use, brought to you by an industry veteran who knows how to make these things work.

OK.. in-flight entertainment won’t change the world. But it will make long flights much more fun. This is why I (and other Alliance of Angels members) chose to invest in SkyCast Solutions.

HTC Thunderbolt

Based on my previous post on Apple and their business practices (http://blog.drosenassoc.com/?p=59), I decided to upgrade my iPhone 3Gs to a Verizon HTC Thunderbolt. Getting on a 4G network was another major draw, as was getting off of the poor-performing AT&T network, with its dropped calls, congestion, and poor signal strength in places that I frequent. This is my review. In summary, I can’t recommend this phone except for a small segment of users.

The screen was great – very bright, easy to read, and responded well to touch and typing. Sound quality was great. Processor is fast. Having a separate radio for the 4G network means that you can use your phone for data during a voice call. And the Verizon network is rock solid.

In the end, it was battery life that got me to return the phone and exchange it for an iPhone 4. Both the Verizon store personnel, and their phone customer care, are aware of this problem and tell me that HTC is also aware of it. At times (that seem uncorrelated to use, etc.), the phone seems to run some background processes that just plain drain the battery. I tried a couple of the battery management packages, turned off GPS and WiFi, etc., but none of them seemed to make a major difference. So, I resorted to leaving the phone plugged into its charger while near an outlet, and purchased a nifty remote battery back that would give an extra 15-30 min of life. The final straw was unplugging the phone at 10:30 AM and having the battery be dead at 1PM. Totally not acceptable.

Also unacceptable was the fact that neither HTC nor Verizon had any sync software ready for the Thunderbolt. I spent a ton of time trying to sync the phone with my music and photos, but nothing worked. I finally gave up and called Verizon support to learn that HTC had not yet released the sync software. Through more hard work, I got Windows 7 to recognize the Thunderbolt memory and was able to manually copy music and photos.

On the good side, the Verizon 4G network rocks! Super-fast when it is available, which is often is in Seattle. During my trip to San Diego, I found that I was often on 3G and sometimes on 1x. As a promotion, Verizon allowed the Thunderbolt to act as a WiFi hotspot. This worked flawlessly and also was really fast. All of this seemed to be a great glimpse of the future.

And, lastly, some Google Android quirks (also known as design features). This is a phone, right? Well, I expected to be able to tag phone numbers/contacts as favorites. Turns out this is really difficult. You need to add a category of favorites, then use a widget to display your favorites. And you can’t list both home and mobile – you have to choose one. All of this makes the concept of “favorites” for calling or texting pretty lame.

Another quirk: the calendar. Unlike the iPhone, the Google calendar app does not allow for time zone support; it automatically resets calendars to your current time zone as determined by the phone. In other words, if you travel from Seattle to the East coast and book an appointment for 10 AM after your arrival, the Google calendar will change the time to 7AM when you arrive. While this is useful, if you are using outlook to coordinate a number of people in different time zones, it should be an option!

There is lots more I can add about both the phone and the experience, but I really can’t recommend the Thunderbolt until the battery life problem is resolved, unless you don’t need to be disconnected from power. But, if you fall into that category, you probably don’t need a cell phone!

A Bluetooth Headset that Works …. Finally

I am a gadget junkie. I admit it. And I have a box full of Bluetooth headsets. I’ve pretty much bought each new one as they come out, only to be disappointed. On my end, they are generally pretty good. On the other end, I’ve often been told that I sound like I’m in a wind tunnel, underwater, with my mouth full of marbles. Not the best sound quality!

And then I got the first Jawbone. It was markedly better. But it was pretty heavy, and the earloop broke all the time. For it to work, the tip needed to rest on your jaw. As my friends at Microsoft Research had predicted, that was the best solution. And then they came out with the smaller version 2. And it was terrible. I couldn’t keep it on my jaw, the earloop was even more fragile, and I couldn’t keep it either in my ear or against my jaw. (I wasn’t alone. Read their support blogs.) Out of sheer frustration, I bought the Plantronics 925. Better.

And then I upgraded to the Plantronics Discovery 975 (http://www.plantronics.com/north_america/en_US/products/mobile/bluetooth-headsets/discovery-975). This is a good Bluetooth headset! I’ve had people ask if I’m on a landline (until the terrible service of my iPhone and AT&T makes the connection terrible!). It uses two mics, a DSP, and has some clever wind shielding technology. It’s comfortable and fits well in my ear. Seems to connect well with both of my cell phones. And, perhaps most cleverly, it has a case with a built in recharging battery, so that the headset charges when you put it in the case. The case also contains a small screen that shows the state of the charge.

Very cool.