Today’s Best Tablets (December 2011)

This article was just updated! You can view the new version here.

Tablets continue to be some of the best selling CE devices. With new tablets coming out every few weeks, it’s hard to pick the best one. To make this process easier, I made the following chart.

Top Performing Tablets

 

Apple     iPad 2

Trans-former   Prime

Droid   Xyboard 8.2

Droid   Xyboard 10.1

HTC Jetstream

Samsung   Galaxy Tab 10.1

Processor

1.0 GHz   dual-core

1.3 GHz quad-core

1.2 GHz dual-core

1.2 GHz dual-core

1.5 GHz dual-core

1.0 GHz dual-core

RAM

512MB

1GB

1GB

1GB

1GB

1GB

Internal   storage

16/32/64

16/32/64

16/32

16/32/64

32

16/32/64

Screen   size

9.7”

10.1”

8.2”

10.1”

10.1”

10.1”

Display

1024×768

1280×800

1280×800

1280×800

1280×800

1280×800

Pixel   density

132 ppi

145 ppi

~184 ppi

~149 ppi

150 ppi

149 ppi

Rear   cam

0.92

8MP

5MP

5MP

8MP

3MP

Front   cam

0.92

1.2MP

1.3MP

1.3MP

1.3MP

2MP

Video

720p

1080p

720p

720p

1080p

1080p

4G data

No LTE

No LTE

LTE

LTE

LTE

LTE

Dual-band   Wi-Fi

Yes

No

No

No

No

Yes

Bluetooth

2.1

2.1

2.1

2.1

3.0

3.0

Mic

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

NFC

No

No

No

No

No

No?

Thickness

8.8mm

8.3 mm

8.89 mm

8.80 mm

13 mm

8.6 mm

Weight

601g

586g

386g

603g

709g

565g

Battery

6930 mAh

6579 mAh

3960 mAh

7000 mAh

7300 mAh

7000 mAh

OS

iOS 5.0

Android   3.2

Android   3.2

Android   3.2

Android 3.1

Android   3.1

USB

Via adapter

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Via adapter

HDMI

Via adapter

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Via   adapter

SD Slot

No

Yes

No

No

Yes

Via   adapter

IR Emitter

No

No

Yes

Yes

No

No

Price

$499   (16GB)

$499 (16GB)

$429 (16GB)

$529 (16GB)

$699   (32GB)

$499   (16GB)

Most of the tablets in this chart are second generation devices which outperform their predecessors.

What About the Kindle Fire?

You probably noticed the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet were omitted from the chart above. This was done for two reasons: First, it’s not fair to compare a $200 tablet with a $500 tablet. Second, the Kindle Fire, along with the rest of the tablets here, are not the highest performing tablets available today. Still, the Kindle is an exceptional value and I would recommend it to many people.
Here are its specs, along with some others, in case want to compare them:

 

Amazon Kindle Fire

B&N Nook Tablet

Samsung Galaxy Tab Plus 7

Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9

Processor

1.0 GHz dual-core

1.0 GHz dual-core

1.2 GHz dual-core

1.0 GHz dual-core

RAM

512MB

1GB

1GB

1GB

Internal storage

8

16

16/32

16/32

Screen size

7.0”

7.0”

7.0”

8.9”

Display res.

1024×600

1024×600

1024×600

1280×800

Pixel density

169 ppi

169 ppi

169 ppi

170 ppi

Rear cam

None

None

3MP

3MP

Front cam

None

None

2MP

2MP

Video

N/A

N/A

1080p

1080p

4G data

No LTE

No LTE

No LTE

LTE avail

Dual-band Wi-Fi

No

No

No

No

Bluetooth

None

None

3.0

3.0

Mic

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

NFC

No

No

No?

No?

Thickness

12.4mm

13.2mm

9.9 mm

8.6 mm

Weight

414g

400g

345g

470g

Battery

4400 mAh

4000 mAh

4000 mAh

6100 mAh

OS

Android 2.3

Android 2.3 Custom

Android 3.2

Android 3.1

USB

Yes

Yes – Micro

No

Yes – Micro

HDMI

No

No

No

No

SD Slot

No

Yes

Yes – Micro

Yes

IR Emitter

No

No

Yes

No

Price

$199

$249

$399

$469 (16GB)

I should also mention I stuck two of the Galaxy Tabs in this chart because there wasn’t enough room in the first chart. Both are top performers.

So, What is the Best Tablet?

When it comes to specs alone, the quad-core Asus Transformer Prime is hard to beat. It’s faster, thinner and lighter than the iPad 2. It also has a higher resolution display and much better cameras than the iPad 2. Furthermore, it has a slot for an SD card and a really nice keyboard dock that transforms it into an ultrabook.

The Transformer Prime beats the iPad 2 in web browsing tests. Chart courtesy of SlashGear

Processor Speed Isn’t Everything

However, there’s more to the iPad than just specs. The iPad 2 beats the Transformer Prime in some graphic-related benchmarks as you can see in the chart below.

Battery Life Matters Too

The Motorola Xyboard 8.2 is a strong performer (as you can see in the chart above), but has issues with battery life as you can see below. The iPad 2 currently leads in battery life, with the Transformer Prime a close second.

Chart courtesy of Engadget

How to Decide Which Tablet to Get

In the end, the only person who can answer this question is you. I suggest you first decide what you are buying the tablet for.

  • Do you spend hours playing games?
  • Will you use your tablet mostly for web browsing?
  • Do you need blazing-fast data speeds? Are you willing to pay a monthly fee for this privilege?
  • How important is battery life to you?
  • Are you an Apple fan who wants to sync your tablet with iCloud?

Once you answer these questions, you’ll find it easier to narrow down your list. Before making a final decision, I suggest you visit a few of the top tech blogs like Engadget or Gizmodo, and read their tablet reviews. I find them to be very helpful.

Since great new tablets are coming out every month, I’ll be updating this chart on a regular basis. Expect to see the first update after I return from CES in January.

Happy tablet shopping!

- Rick

Copyright 2011 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.

Cage Match: Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus vs. Apple’s iPhone 4S

The Galaxy Nexus (shown in orange) outperforms most other Android phones

Round 1 – Product Specifications

Many reviewers have heralded the Samsung Galaxy Nexus as the best Android phone ever. It supports LTE, has a 1.2GHz dual-core CPU, a 4.65” 720p display and is the first device to run Android 4.0. As you can see from the chart above, the Galaxy Nexus does well when you compare it to other Android devices, but how do its specs compare with the iPhone 4S? Read on to learn the answer.

 

Apple iPhone 4S

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Processor

800MHz dual-core

1.2 GHz dual-core

RAM

512MB

1GB

Internal storage

16, 32, 64GB

32GB

Screen size

3.5”

4.65”

Display resolution

960×640

1280×720

Pixel density

326 ppi

316 ppi

Rear cam

8MP

5MP

Front cam

0.3MP

1.3MP

Network

HSPA

LTE

Dual-band Wi-Fi

No

Yes

NFC

No

Yes

Thickness

9.3mm

9.47mm

Weight

140g

150g

Battery

1420 mAh

1850 mAh

There is a clear winner when you compare the specs of these two devices. The Galaxy Nexus beats the iPhone 4S in 10 out of 14 specs. The specs the iPhone wins are important however: screen density, camera (MP), thickness and weight.

Round 1 Winner: Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Specs Can Be Deceiving

On paper the iPhone 4S doesn’t look that great. Its dual-core CPU runs at a clock speed which is 33% slower than the Galaxy Nexus (800MHz vs. 1.2GHz). But clock speed isn’t the only thing which determines the speed of a device. The graphics co-processor can have a big impact on performance, especially when running games. The mobile operating system and chipset can also have an impact on performance.

Software benchmarks are used to compare the performance of different devices? One of the best sources of this type of data is AnandTech. Unfortunately some of the best mobile benchmarks do not run on the iOS platform (e.g. Rightware BrowserMark, Quadrant, NenaMark, AnTuTu and Vellamo).

Fortunately there are some good benchmarking apps which run on both platforms. Let’s run a few of them and see how these two phones compare.

Round 2 – Browser Performance


SunSpider is one of the most popular tests for browser performance. It’s designed to compare different browsers to each other. Although the chart above shows the non-LTE version of the Galaxy Nexus, I ran SunSpider on my LTE Nexus and got an even better score (1907). That’s 15% faster than the iPhone 4S. The first round is over and we have a winner.

Round 2 Winner: Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Round 3 – Graphics Performance

Let’s move on to round 2. This round will test graphics performance. GLBenchmark is an app which measures the graphic and computation capabilities of a mobile device. The majority of the tests it runs focus on things like high-level 3D animations.

I was expecting the iPhone 4S to beat the Galaxy Nexus in this test, but I wasn’t expecting such a big difference in scores. One possible explanation might be the fact the Galaxy Nexus has 50% more pixels to process than the iPhone 4S (921600 vs. 614400). In the real world, graphics on the iPhone 4S aren’t 3 times faster than the Galaxy Nexus. Both phones are great for gaming, and it’s unlikely you’ll see much difference in real-world use. In fact, in many real world tests the fastest Android phones kill the iPhone 4S in side-by-side speed tests. If you want to see just how much faster the Droid RAZR is than the iPhone 4S watch this video. Still, I’d be remiss to say this round was not a knock out — according to this benchmark.

Round 3 Winner: Apple iPhone 4S

NOTE: Since this article was written the iPhone 4S has lost it’s advantage in most benchmarks. Phones like the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy SIII beat it badly in most benchmarks. More info.

Round 4 – Wi-Fi Performance

Wi-Fi performance is important to many users. In the test the Galaxy Nexus did better than the iPhone 4S, but the difference was only 16%. Perhaps a bigger difference between the two devices is the fact that the Galaxy Nexus supports dual-band Wi-Fi, and the iPhone 4S only supports 2.4GHz Wi-Fi. The 5GHz band is much less prone to interference, and can be faster than the 2.4GHz band.

Round 4 Winner: Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Round 5 – 3G/4G Data Speeds

The best way to compare data speeds on two different phones is to run the same bandwidth test software on both. I use a popular app called Speed Test, which is available for both Android and iOS. It’s important to realize that data speeds vary by carrier. PC Magazine ran a good article recently which found iPhone 4S data speeds on AT&T’s network top out around 3-4Mbps. Verizon’s 3G network averaged 700kbps down, with peaks of 2.5Mbps; Sprint’s only eked out 480kbps on average, with peaks of 2.22Mbps. I was an AT&T customer for over 3 years and I never saw speeds on my iPhone approaching anywhere near 3Mbps, but I’ll give Apple the benefit of the doubt here.

The Galaxy Nexus is capable of data speeds 20-30x faster than the iPhone 4S

Even with PC Mag’s generous results on the AT&T’s network, a Galaxy Nexus on Verizon’s slower network, absolutely kills the iPhone in data speed tests. The reason for this is obvious: The iPhone 4S doesn’t have LTE support yet, and LTE speeds (even on Verizon’s slower network) blow away regular 3G HSPA speeds. In this test the Galaxy Nexus was 33 times faster than the iPhone 4S! So this round was a knock out.

Round 5 Winner: Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Round 6 – Battery Life

There is a price to be paid for the lightning-fast data speeds LTE phones like the Galaxy Nexus have. The price is poor battery life. Even though the Galaxy Nexus has a more powerful battery than the iPhone 4S (1850 mAh vs. 1420 mAh), its battery life is still worse. There are other factors for this as well, Apple underclocks their A5 processor, and Android’s true multitasking consumes more power than Apple’s approach, which suspends apps in the background. Nonetheless, the difference is clear in the charts below.

As you can see, the iPhone 4S kills the Galaxy Nexus in web browsing battery life over both 3G and Wi-Fi. The only bright spot for the Nexus is acting as a Wi-Fi hotspot over 3G. In those tests, the Galaxy Nexus operated 1.5 hrs longer than the iPhone 4S. That can probably be attributed to the larger battery in the Galaxy Nexus. [Note: This test was done with the European version of the Galaxy Nexus, no test data was available for the U.S. LTE version.]

Round 6 Winner: Apple iPhone 4S

Fight Results

Round 1 – Winner: Samsung Galaxy Nexus
Round 2 – Winner: Samsung Galaxy Nexus
Round 3 – Winner: Apple iPhone 4S
Round 4 – Winner: Samsung Galaxy Nexus
Round 5 – Winner: Samsung Galaxy Nexus
Round 6 – Winner: Apple iPhone 4S

The Victor

It was a long fight but the final round is over. If I was on the panel of judges, I would rule the Galaxy Nexus victor because it won 4 out of 6 rounds, but it was a close fight. Would you rule the same way?

- Rick

Copyright 2011 Rick Schwartz (text only). All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged. All charts are courtesy of AnandTech.

Things That Happen Every 60 Seconds

60 Seconds - Things That Happen Every Sixty Seconds
Infographic by- GO-Gulf.com Web Design Company

Today’s Best Smartphones (December 2011)


Since this article was first written, an updated version has been posted here. Check it out. A lot has changed.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past six months looking for a new smartphone. It hasn’t been an easy process because there are so many great phones available today. To make it possible to compare specs, I made the following chart:

 

Apple iPhone 4S

HTC Rezound

HTC Vivid

LG Nitro HD

Motorola Droid RAZR

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket

Processor

800MHz dual-core

1.5 GHz dual-core

1.2 GHz dual-core

1.5 GHz dual-core

1.2 GHz dual-core

1.2 GHz dual-core

1.5 GHz dual-core

RAM

512MB

1GB

1GB

1GB

1GB

1GB

1GB

Storage

16-64GB

16GB

16GB

16GB

16GB

32GB

16GB

Screen

3.5”

4.3”

4.5”

4.5”

4.3”

4.65”

4.5”

Resolution

960×640

1280×720

960×540

1280×720

960×540

1280×720

800×480

Pixel density

326 ppi

342 ppi

245 ppi

 329 ppi

256 ppi

316 ppi

207 ppi

Rear cam

8MP

8MP

8MP

8MP

8MP

5MP

8MP

Front cam

0.3MP

2MP

1.3MP

1.3MP

1.3MP

1.3MP

2MP

Video

1080p @ 30fps

1080p @ 30fps

1080p @ 30fps

 1080p @ 30fps

1080p @ 30fps

1080p @ 30fps

1080p @ 30fps

Network

HSPA

LTE

LTE HSPA+

LTE HSPA+

LTE

LTE

LTE/HSPA+

Dual-band

No

No

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Bluetooth

4.0

3.0

3.0

3.0

4.0

3.0

3.0

NFC

No

No

No

 No

No

Yes

 Yes

Thickness

9.3mm

 13.65mm

11.2mm

10.4mm

7.1mm

9.47mm

9.40mm

Weight

140g

170g

177g

128 g

127g

150g

132g

Battery

1420 mAh

 1620 mAh

1620 mAh

1830 mAh

1780 mAh

1850 mAh

1850 mAh

Operating System

iOS 5.0

Android 2.3.4

Android 2.3.5

Android 2.3.5

Android 2.3.5

Android 4.0.2

Android 2.3.4

Carrier(s)

AT&T, Verizon, Sprint

Verizon

AT&T

AT&T

Verizon

Verizon

AT&T

I suggest you start by deciding what matters the most to you.

  • Are you an Apple fan that has just got to have an iPhone?
  • Are you dying to get a phone that supports LTE for fastest possible data speeds?
  • Are you looking for the largest display, or the thinnest phone?

You get the idea. This chart should help you to narrow your decision down.

I should mention that I cut two phones from the chart due to space restrictions. I debated including a second chart, but decided against it because the specs of both of these phones, while good, are not as good as the other phones here. In case you’re wondering, the phones I cut were the Samsung Galaxy S II and the HTC Titan (a Windows Phone). There were also several other great phones I omitted because they are not yet available in the U.S. including the HTC Sensation XL, Samsung Galaxy Note and Samsung Galaxy S II HD LTE. Watch for the Galaxy Note to cross the pond next year.

Since great new smartphones are coming out every month, I’ll be posting frequent updates to this chart. Expect to see the first one after I return from CES in 2012.

If you think I missed a phone that should be here, let me know. Thanks.

- Rick

Note: An update to this article was recently published here.

Copyright 2011 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.

Ooma Telo is the One of The Best Land Line Replacements

If you’re still paying for local phone service, it’s time to switch to an Internet-based phone system. Over half of Americans no longer use a land line, according to government data. Internet-based phone systems let you to make long distance calls for a fraction of the cost of a traditional landline. In some cases, there is no monthly charge whatsoever. There are quite a few different companies offering voice over IP (VoIP) phone solutions, so it’s important you do some research before buying.

What The Experts Say


Speaking of research, I came across this blog post which compares most popular VoIP systems. After reading this, I decided Ooma was on my short list of products to consider. This wasn’t the first I’d heard about Ooma. I first heard about the Ooma Telo at Best Buy’s corporate headquarters. One of their senior technical managers told me he was using Ooma at home and recommended it highly. I also noticed Consumer Reports ranked Ooma as the #1 phone service. In their study, Ooma beat Skype, Verizon FIOS, Vonage, Cox, U-verse and all other VoIP services. These two recommendations were all I needed to take the plunge and purchase an Ooma Telo.

How Much Will You Save?


Phone rates vary. I was paying about $45 a month for my landline. The Ooma website has a nice little calculator, which estimates how much you will save using Ooma. In my case, the savings were considerable. I’ll save at least $1245 dollars over a three year period. Also, my Ooma hardware will pay for itself after only 5 months, not 7 months as the chart shows. That’s because I paid only $180 after tax and shipping.

Ooma Pros

This is a partial list of the advantages Ooma has over a conventional landline and other VoIP systems.

  • Unlimited free local and long distance anywhere in the U.S. Save hundreds of dollars a year over the cost of a conventional landline
  • Ooma Telo Handset

    • Does not require a computer like magicJack or Skype. This results in extra savings because your computer does not need to be left on
    • Better voice-quality than Skype, magicJack or any mobile phone
    • You can use your existing wired or wireless phones with it
    • Cheaper than Vonage – Even with the hardware cost and the optional $10 a month Premier Plan, Ooma is still often cheaper than Vonage for a year of service
    • Setup is easy and only takes about 10 minutes
    • Has an built-in answering machine for voice-mail. Caller ID, voice mail, call waiting are all free
    • Doesn’t have the annoying delays that VoIP systems like Skype sometimes have
    • Has a wide range of features and accessories, including a wireless handset, wireless adapter, Bluetooth adapter and a mobile HD app

     

    How Good is the Sound Quality?

    If you use Ooma with a good DECT 6.0 wireless phone, it sounds much better than Skype, magicJack or any mobile phone. It would probably sound even better, if the 2-Wire Gateway provided with AT&T’s U-verse service allowed me to give Ooma priority. Even with Ooma sharing bandwidth with everything else on my crowded network, I never get any echos or delays. Is it perfect? No. Occasionally, I hear other artifacts and small dropouts, but they aren’t very obvious and normally go away after a few seconds. I also bought their Ooma Telo handset because I heard it had even better sound quality, but it sounds a lot like my Panasonic phone. Since I’m signed up for their Premium package, I can have two different conversations going on at once. I have noticed the sound quality does drop when I do this, but it’s still acceptable.

    Ooma Cons

      No system is perfect. Here are some of the negatives of the Ooma Telo system.
    • Higher initial cost than most other VoIP systems ($179 currently)
    • Ooma is not entirely free. You still have to pay monthly taxes of $3 to $4
    • Some cable-based phone systems have slightly better voice-quality than VOIP systems.
    • Ooma does occasionally have short drop outs in sound. You hear these most often when you're listening to your messages.A loud click occurs when the Ooma answering machine starts recording
    • International calling costs an additional $9.95 a month for 1000 minutes. Right now, you can call Canada is free3-way calling and some other optional features cost an extra $10 a month
    • Not as good for travel as magicJack or Skype, because it requires a 5.5” x 7.5” box

     

    Ooma is not entirely free. There is a small monthly fee.

    Activating Your Ooma Telo

      Setting up an Ooma system takes about 10 minutes. First you go online to Ooma.com/activate.
    • Next, type in the activation code found on the back of the Ooma Telo box.
    • Then enter the area code for your new Ooma phone number. It doesn't have to be the same as your old area code. If you want to keep your old phone number, you must pay a one-time $40 fee which  is waived if you subscribe to Ooma Premier.
    • Now enter your contact info and address. This is used for 911 services.
    • Next, enter your billing information. This is used to pay your monthly taxes and any upgrades you decide to add.
    • Finally, select a password and answer a security question.

     

    Setting up an Ooma Telo is easy

    System Setup

      Once you’re activated, you’re only three steps away from making a phone call:
    • Connect your Ooma Telo box to your cable modem, DSL modem or home gateway. Although it’s best to connect your Ooma box between your modem and router, it works fine if you connect it to an integrated modem/router.
    • Connect your corded or cordless phone to the Ooma box.
    • Power up the Ooma Telo and wait for it to update its software. This took 5-10 minutes on the first Ooma box I installed and was not required on the second one.

     
    That’s it! Now you’re ready to make free local and long distance calls. When you turn on your phone you should hear Ooma’s special dial tone.

    Is Ooma Right for Everyone?

    No. Ooma is a good system but it’s not right for everyone. VoIP-based phone services are not ideal for:

    • People who can’t lose phone service when their power or Internet is down
    • People with alarm systems that communicate via landline. Ooma recommends you maintain a basic landline  for the purposes of your alarm system, or move to a cellular-based alarm panel
    • Someone who doesn’t want to have their Ooma answering machine in the same room as their modem or router. Installing a Ooma Wireless Adapter or HomePlug network addresses this problem
    • Those with wireless phone systems where the base station can’t be moved near the Ooma phone box
    • Those without a high-speed Internet connection (like all other VoIP systems except cable)

     

    Scare Tactics

    Porting your phone number can be a little intimidating for DSL users.

    • They say you need to contact your broadband provider and request a dry loop DSL
    • They also warn there could be cancellation charges. No one I know has been charged for this
    • They also say it could take up to two weeks to port your number. In my case, it took about 4 days
    • They also warn your broadband or TV service could go down if the the port isn’t done correctly. We didn’t lose service.
    • They also say you must call your phone company after the number port to cancel your service

     
    I’ve done two separate number ports so far, and had no problems with any of the things listed above. Both were in homes with DSL and an IP-based TV system (e.g. AT&T U-verse). The only thing that you should be aware of,  is the fact your communications bundle pricing could go up if you got a discount for bundled phone service before. Normally this will be about $10.

    Ooma Extras

    Ooma charges $10 extra a month for their Premiere features. The Premiere package has so many features, I can’t go into them all here. I listed a few highlights below. You can read about the rest here.

    • Instant Second Line  – Allows you to make or take two simultaneous calls from a single phone number
    • Blacklists – Help you block telemarketers. This is one of my favorite features and the main reason I spent the extra $10
    • Multi-ring – Lets you answer calls from your home phone or cell phone
    • Message Screening – Allows you to listen-in as the caller leaves their message
    • Send to Voicemail – Allows you to transfer a call to your voicemail
    • Voicemail Forwarding – Lets you forward voicemail, so that you can listen to it from your favorite email program
    • Do Not Disturb - Allows you to roll your calls into voicemail without ringing your phone
    • Personal Numbers – Allows you to select additional phone numbers in any calling area in the U.S.

     

    Summary

    I’ve been using Ooma now for about six months and have no major complaints so far. My only gripe so far is the loud click the person calling you hears when you pick up the phone (or the answering machine starts recording). No one in my family has said much about the switch so far, which is good news. I love the ability to blacklist telemarketers, and have it setup so they hear a disconnected number message when they call. The bottom line is, Ooma Telo a good replacement for your landline and the savings are substantial.

    - Rick

    Copyright 2011 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.

    Follow me on Twitter @mostlytech1

Ten Things You Should Know About Mobile Specs

Specifications are helpful when you’re trying to compare two different mobile devices, but the devil is in the details — especially when you’re looking at unreleased products. Here are some tips that will help you better evaluate phone and tablet specs.

1. Most Apple rumors are bogus

Real leaks from Apple employees and their suppliers are rare. Go back and read all of the Apple rumors last summer, and you’ll see most of the predictions turned out to be wrong. Sadly, tech blogs print these rumors to increase their page views – even when they don’t have an accurate source.

2. Phone specs vary by carrier

It’s not unusual to see differences in the specs listed by a handset manufacturer and different carriers. Carrier customization is quite common. Expect to see differences in the network type (HSPA, HSPA+, LTE, WiMAX), operating system version, device thickness and weight. Sometimes even screen size and processor speed varies. For example, the official Samsung website says the Galaxy S II has a 4.3” screen, but T-Mobile’s version of the same phone has a 4.52” screen and more powerful battery. It’s also taller, thicker and has a faster processor.

3. LTE devices are thicker

As you can see in the image above, the LTE version of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus is thicker than the GSM version of the same phone. The reason for the .57mm difference is the addition of a slightly larger battery, needed to power the juice-hungry LTE radio.

4. Not all specs are standardized

There are different ways to measure brightness, viewing angle and battery life. Because of this lack of standardization, we have to accept what manufacturers tell us. Specs like battery life and brightness are often exaggerated. Screen density (PPI) is another spec which is sometimes suspect. Was it provided by the panel manufacturer, or calculated using a formula?

5. Your phone may not be as thin as you think it is

Speaking of truth in advertising, let’s talk about thickness. Most manufacturers use the thinnest part of a device for this spec. As an example, the 7.1 mm Motorola Droid RAZR is the world’s thinnest 4G device. But the RAZR has a large hump at the top, which is at least 11 mm. Shouldn’t that be mentioned on the spec sheet?

The Droid RAZR has a hump at the top which increases its thickness.

6. Not all 4G phones are created equally

There’s a big difference between the data speeds of HSPA and LTE or WiMAX devices. Just because a manufacturer claims a phone is a 4G, doesn’t mean you’re going to get WiMAX or LTE speeds. 3G Phones like the iPhone 4S, operate at speeds that are 5 to 10 times slower than 4G LTE phones. More info

7. Specs on the Web are often incorrect

The specs listed for unreleased devices on sites like Phone Arena are often incorrect. Not all of them are wrong, but errors are common and some specs aren’t available until after a device has been released.

8. Beware of OS upgrade promises

Don’t assume your phone will get new software updates right after they are available. It took HTC 9 months to release an Android 2.3.4 update for the Droid Incredible. Some devices will never be able to upgrade to Android 4.0.

9. First is not always best

Some handset manufacturers will do anything to release the newest handset technology first – even if it means rushing it to market (e.g. AT&T). Others, like Verizon seem to take forever. For example, the Droid Bionic was announced at the 2011 CES, but wasn’t released until 9 months later.

10. Numbers lie

And last, but certainly not least, processor speed isn’t the only indication of performance. The iPhone 4S only has an 800MHz CPU, but outperforms the Samsung Galaxy S II in some benchmarks – even though it has a 1.2GHz CPU. The OS, mobile chipsets and especially the graphic coprocessor can have a major impact on performance.

- Rick

Copyright 2011 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.

How to Evaluate Smartphone Cameras

The Motorola XT928 (Dinara) is the world's first 13MP camera phone

A 13 Megapixel Camera Phone?

Today’s best smartphones have 5 to 8-megapixel (MP) rear-facing cameras  which take surprisingly good pictures. 8MP is impressive, but 13-megapixel camera phones like the Motorola XT928 are available today in China (and soon in the U.S). Unfortunately, most tablets are way behind smartphones when it comes to camera technology. The iPad 2 has one of the worst cameras, while the iPhone 4S has one of the best. Both of the cameras in the iPad 2 are less than one megapixel and take horrible looking photos and video. What were they thinking? The good news is, cameras in tablets are starting to improve. The HTC Jetstream has an 8MP camera.

The HTC Jetstream was the first tablet with an 8MP camera.

Newer phones also have front-facing cameras which are used for video chat and other applications. For example, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus uses its front-facing camera to unlock the phone after it recognizes your face. Today, most front-facing cams are only 1.3 to 2.0 megapixels, but there are some exceptions — like the BlackBerry PlayBook, which has a 3MP front-facing camera.

Where are the Xenon Flashes?

The camera flash is another area which is improving. Some mobile devices have dual-LED flashes which put out more light than a single LED. A Xenon flash puts out even more light than a dual-LED flash. Although no smartphones have Xenon flashes today, a Xenon flash was first seen on a Sony Ericsson camera back in 2009.

Phones like the HTC Evo 3D have dual-LED flashes

Face detection is another feature which is present on many newer camera phones. It ensures the selected face is in focus. What’s needed now is image stabilization and an optical zoom. Optical zoom is a must for both photos and video. That’s why it’s so surprising none of the popular smartphones available in the U.S. have it. A company called Altek has a 14-megapixel camera with a 3x optical zoom that could rival some point-and-shoot cameras.

Now that’s a lens!

Although 3D cameras may be a gimmick, they’re fun to play around with. Phones like the HTC EVO 3D can take 2-megapixel 3D photos today.

More than Megapixels

There’s evidence that megapixels alone aren’t the best indicator of photo quality. The iPhone 4 only has a 5-megapixel camera, but takes higher-quality photos than some Android phones with 8-megapixel cameras. One reason for this could be the fact it has a better lens. Let’s hope manufacturers pay attention to this important detail.

One of the most talked about features of the Galaxy Nexus and Android 4.0 is its lack of shutter lag. With this feature, you can take pictures as fast as you can touch the shutter button. Keep in mind this only works when auto-focus isn’t needed.

The Samsung Galaxy Nexus has a stellar light sensor and almost no shutter lag when taking photos in rapid succession.

Easy Panoramas for All

Although panorama apps have been available for years, this feature is now standard on all devices with Android 4.0. After panorama mode is enabled, you just need to press the shutter button while you pan to the left or right. When you’re done, the images are automatically stitched together. Now Anyone Can Take Great Looking Panorama Shots

Making Movies

Video recording is another area which can be improved in smartphones. The iPhone 4 records video at 720p, but displays it on a 640-pixel screen. The iPhone 4S and most of the new Android phone phones (e.g. HTC Rezound, Motorola Droid RAZR, all Samsung Galaxy phones) record video at 1080p. 3D video recording is improving as well. The HTC EVO 3D can record 3D 720p videos. In the not so distant future, phones and tablets will also support Dolby Digital.

The iPhone 4S can now record 1080p video

Microphone quality is another area that can be enhanced. The Droid X’s camcorder has three microphones and four different audio recording modes.

Running Out of Space?

Storage can be a problem for those who take lots of pictures and movies. Some phones on have 16 or 32GB of storage and that’s not enough for some users. Expandable storage is available today on most Android devices, but many limit this to 32GB. Those who need more than this, should consider devices with hybrid or solid-state disk (SSD) drives which provide up to 250MB of storage. Because SSD drives have no moving parts, they are up to 2 to 5 times faster than conventional hard drives. Because these devices are larger, initially, they will only be available with tablets.

The Last Word

The cameras found in the best mobile devices take photos in good light which look surprisingly good. In some cases, they look similar to those taken with a point-and-shoot camera. Although a good DSLR still has it’s place, you can’t beat the convenience of camera phones and the quality of their photos continues to improve.

Thanks to @rossrubin for pointing out that camera phones with optical zooms are available in Japan.
Copyright 2011 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.

Review: A First Look at Rhapsody Cloud Sync

This is the first (and only) review of Rhapsody’s new cloud-based music sync service. When you see this on Engadget in a few months, remember that you saw it here first.

Even though cloud-based music services like Rhapsody have been around for more than ten years, they are the hottest thing in digital music today. Spotify, Google, Amazon and of course Apple are all getting tons of press about their cloud-based music services. There are two different types of cloud-based music services:

  1. Subscription music services like Spotify and Rhapsody
  2. Music lockers like Apple’s iTunes Match, Google Music and Amazon’s Cloud Drive. And of course we can’t forget the world’s first music locker: My.MP3.com, which launched all the way back in January of 2000.

With so many music lockers out there, does the world really need another one? Rhapsody apparently thinks it does. So let’s take a first look at Rhapsody Cloud Sync and see if we agree.

The Pitch

All cloud-based music lockers have the same basic benefit: Sync your music with the cloud once, then access it from your computer or mobile devices anywhere in the world. Sounds good to me. Let’s see what the system requirements are:

There’s nothing too scary in the system requirements. Rhapsody Cloud Sync should work with most computers and Netbooks sold over the past five years. Some people will be disapointed that no lossless file formats are supported (e.g. FLAC). And of course if you purchased music from iTunes before they removed DRM, you’re out of luck.

Membership has its Privileges

Rhapsody Cloud Sync is currently in Beta and only available to what Rhapsody calls Sounding Board Members. I was probably added to this list because I’ve participated in earlier Rhapsody polls. Although this Beta is closed to the general public you can download Rhapsody Cloud Sync for yourself if you follow me on Twitter @rickschwar. I recently tweeted the download link along with the username and password that you’ll need to get access to the software. You’re welcome.

The Installation Process

After you enter the credentials and log-in, you’ll see the first installer screen. For most, there’s nothing to change here, so press Continue and move on.

I didn’t take the time to read the license agreement. I just blindly clicked “I Agree” like everyone else does. What we don’t know can’t hurt us right? Reminds me of the South Park “Human CentiPad” episode.

The actual download and installation process was fairly fast.

Hurdle #1: Now we’re asked to log-in to Rhapsody. It would have been nice if they mentioned that a Rhapsody account is needed in the System Requirements. Although I have an account, here is where most people will stop. It’s worth mentioning that it took about 15 seconds to authenticate me after I logged in. Hopefully it doesn’t take that long every time you log-in.

Of course the software needs to know where your music is in order to scan it. If you have your music in the My Music folder, or the default iTunes path, you can press the Scan and Match button now.

The Long Wait

Hurdle #2: I don’t know why I thought something would happen within a few minutes, but that is not the case. Here is how my screen looked after one hour and ten minutes. Notice that the software has only been able to sync about a third of my music library so far. :(

During the syncing process, it was clear to me that something was slowing my computer  down. I checked the CPU usage and found it jumping between 4 and 20%. That surprised me considering the fact that I have an Intel i7 860 CPU which runs at 2.79GHz. My network bandwidth is 42Mbps upstream and 45Mbps downstream, so network bandwidth was not the cause of the slowdown either.

The Result

After about 2 hours and ten minutes the cloud sync process finally finished. The bad news: Only 4849 of my 6923 tracks were identified. It’s possible that some tracks were identified, but Rhapsody doesn’t have permission to sync them, but I scanned the error log and 99% of the missed tracks said “No match found in catalog”. And it wasn’t just the more obscure songs that were missed, many popular artists had albums which could not be sync’d.

Hurdle #3: I then clicked on the Open My Library button for the big payoff I had been waiting 2 hours for, but I had to sign-in again. This is probably a temporary restriction due to the Beta status of this software, so I won’t complain about it.

Hurdle #4: Really? Another sign-in page? This is starting to test my patience…

As you can see, Rhapsody is promoting the social features of their music service. Since I’m fed up with Spotify announcing what I do to my Facebook friends, I passed on the option to setup a music profile and connect to Facebook.

The Big Payoff

Although the software is still beta, it’s not the cleanest user-interface I’ve ever seen. I clicked on profile and was a little surprised to see that Taylor Swift was my favorite artist. I never listen to her music. I was even more surprised to see that cabaret was one of my favorite styles of music. Again, I never listen to that type of music — not that there’s anything wrong with it. Then I remembered my daughter uses my Sonos controller 24/7 to music from Glee and Taylor Swift. Mystery solved!

The Interface

There are six tabs on the interface: Profile, People, Library, Playlists, Listening History and Suggestions. All of the tabs are pretty self-explanatory. You can see the Suggestions tab above. Profile contains info about me and my favorite artists. The People tab is blank because I didn’t link with Facebook. Playlists showed all of my Rhapsody playlists, which is nice.

The Browse and My Music tabs at the top also take you to the Rhapsody subscription music pages. I like the player interface on the right, and how it works for my sync’d songs and music in the Rhapsody service. Playback was almost instant. Sound quality was good, but not great. Last I checked, Rhapsody was using the Windows Media codec streaming at 160kbps.

Cloud to Mobile

I launched the Rhapsody app on my iPhone 3G to see what the experience was. Truth be told, I don’t use this app, because the last time I tried it is was painfully slow. It appears not much has changed. It took almost a minute simply to launch the app. The splash screen touted substantially improved music playback times. I can’t wait to find out if that’s true. I clicked on the My Library cloud icon at the bottom. Nothing appeared on the screen for the next 30 seconds. Then a screen worth of artists appeared, but it took another minute for the Updating icon to go away. I clicked on the artist “Adele” and it took more than a minute for album art and songs to appear on the screen. Granted, I currently have Wi-Fi off and I’m on AT&T’s horrible 3G network, this performance is unacceptable. Finally a picture of Adele appeared along with her bio, but still no songs. Another few minutes goes by… and finally two albums appear. This time it only took about 12 seconds to display the songs. I click on a song and 20 seconds later I hear music. If this is “substantially improved” playback, I can imagine what it was like before.

UPDATE:
I just tried Rhapsody Cloud Sync with an Android phone running on Verizon’s 3G network. Playback speeds were much better on both 3G and Wi-Fi. It took about 2 seconds to begin playback over Wi-Fi, and 5-10 seconds to begin playback over 3G. I suspect their iOS app is capable of similar performance over Wi-Fi or a good 3G/4G network. Rhapsody has also release a new update for tablets, but I can’t run it because my Rhapsody account only lets me run on one mobile device. You have to pay more to run on 3 devices.

The Rhapsody Beta program has been expanded to include a new tablet version.

Final Words

Rhapsody Cloud Sync appears to work pretty well on computers. Although it’s still Beta, I didn’t encounter any problems other than the ones I attribute to their slow iOS app. Although this service seems to work as advertised, I gotta be honest, while I’m a big fan of subscription music services like Spotify and Rhapsody, I don’t see that much value in uploading music to the cloud. The idea of anytime access to my music from computer, tablet or phone sounds good, but it only works when you have a good Internet connection. My experience using Rhapsody Cloud Sync over AT&T’s 3G network was very poor.

Maybe I just don’t get it. Make a comment below to let me know what you think about this (and other) cloud-based music lockers.

- Rick

Copyright 2011 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.

Follow me on Twitter @mostlytech1

Connected Home Best Practices

Last update: February 17, 2013

This article has had almost 300,000 views! Thanks for reading it.

Back in 2009, there wasn’t much information around to help people set up a home network for multimedia, so I wrote an article called Connected Home Best Practices. This is an updated version of that article.

Connected Home Benefits

Before I get into any details, I thought I’d mention some of the benefits you might experience if you follow my guidelines below.

  • Watch all of your of your movies on any TV in the house without inserting a disc into a DVD player

    You can use a game console like this to access your media

  • Access your entire music collection of CDs and downloaded music from your receiver, computer, tablet or smartphone. You can even play different music in every room if you want
  • View any photo you’ve ever taken on any TV in your house or any mobile device
  • Drag and drop photos from Flickr, Facebook, Photobucket or Picasa Web onto a device to view them
  • Access your media 24/7 without turning on a computer
  • Copy media from your computers to mobile devices with needing a cable
  • Access all of your media from a game console
  • Have media automatically copied from your mobile device to your backup drive when you enter your home

These are just a few of the things which are possible with a multimedia network and connected devices.

Step 1 – Preparing Your Media

This first step is to collect all of your media assets. If you haven’t scanned your analog photos and digitized your home movies, you should consider doing that first. If you have DVD  movies, you might want to consider converting those to digital files as well. There is already a lot of info on the Internet about this, so I’m not covering it here. Here are some important things to consider as you prepare your media to be shared.

Some people digitize their DVD movie collections for easy access

  1. As you create your digital media library, try to use formats which are supported by the devices you plan to use. If you’re using AirPlay devices like Apple TV, you should use the following: AAC, MP3, Apple Lossless, AIFF and WAV audio; JPEG, GIF and TIFF images; H.264, MPEG-4 and Motion JPEG video (up to 720p). More info. If you’re using DLNA-certified devices you should try to stick with MP3 or LPCM audio; JPEG photos; and MPEG-2, MPEG4, WMV9 video. More info.
  2. Avoid buying copy-protected media when the same content exists in a legal, unprotected form. Unprotected media is superior because any device can play it and you’ll never have to worry about losing your licenses.
  3. When ripping audio CDs, choose high-bit rate MP3 or linear audio (WAV) over FLAC or Apple Lossless (ALAC), because not every device can play these formats. If you insist on lossless audio make sure all of your devices can play the format you plan to use.
  4. It’s essential that all of your music files have accurate ID3 tags. Your media server uses these tags to create its navigation trees. If any of your music files are missing artist, genre or album tags, those artists/genres/albums won’t appear in the navigation tree. You can still access that media from the song list, but it’s more time consuming. Tip: Software like Tag & Rename, can convert filenames into ID3 tags.
  5. Avoid editing metadata using iTunes or Windows Media Player unless you’re sure the changes you make are stored in your media as a standard tag format. Older versions of iTunes and Windows Media Player stored changes in the local database, so they would be lost when a file was moved. It’s better to use specialized software like Media Monkey, which enters metadata directly into an ID3 or EXIF tag, so it can be imported by software on any Mac or PC.
  6. This drive backs up 2TB of media for only $159

  7. Create separate folders for each artist in your music library. Each artist folder should contain separate folders for each album. Each album folder should contain a JPEG file for the album cover. Normally this file is named “folder.jpg”. Your media server will use this file as album art. You can also embed album art in each music file as an ID3 tag, but doing this with file formats like WAV can cause problems with some media players.
  8. It’s a good idea to create separate folders for each year in your My Photos folder. Inside each year folder, you should have subfolders for different photo albums.
  9. You may want to also use software like Windows Live Photo Gallery to add tags or descriptions to your photos.
  10. And last but not least, make sure to perform regular backups of your media. After you do all this work, you won’t want to lose it.

Step 2 – Selecting a Media Server

  1. If you want to access your media without a computer on, you’ll want to get a network-attached storage device (NAS). Make sure your NAS has an embedded media server. Beware of older or inexpensive NAS devices. Some of these have memory limitations or slow CPUs have problems with large media collections.
  2. Do not encrypt the data on your NAS (at the partition or at a file level). The performance hit which occurs when you do this  is massive and the drop in transfer rates is likely to cause problems streaming video.
  3. A NAS provides 24/7 access to your media

  4. Avoid using software like Microsoft’s Windows Media Player or Apple’s iTunes to share your media files. Premium media servers like TwonkyServer (and others) are faster and more reliable. They also support more devices and file formats.
  5. Make sure the virus scanner on your computer or NAS is not a CPU hog. Poorly designed virus scanners can cause skipping  problems during playback.
  6. Avoid running software firewalls like ZoneAlarm (unless you know how to configure them so they don’t cause problems). Make sure your software firewall isn’t blocking any of the ports it needs to function. Check the manufacturers’ site to obtain this info.
  7. Avoid storing media on a network share. It’s better to share content from a hard drive in the same device where the media server resides. Network shares increase the traffic on your network and can be unreliable.
  8. Don’t nest your media deeply under many levels of folders. Doing so, can slow down media scanning and increase the size of your media database.
  9. Be careful which folder you select as your watched folder. Do not select a folder your Operating System constantly updates, like a Temp folder, bit-torrent download folder, or the Windows System folder. A watched folder with lots of changes can slow down your media server.

Step 3 – Choosing a Connected Media Player

There is no single media player that’s good at everything. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Here are some suggestions which will help you to choose the right media player for your needs:

  1. Consider buying products which have been DLNA-certified because they normally undergo a higher level of testing than other connected devices. You can search for DLNA-certified products here.
  2. Not all DLNA-certified devices can be externally controlled. Make sure your media player can accept media which is pushed from your computer or mobile device. Many devices only can pull media using their remote controls. You can find a list of devices that meet this requirement here.
  3. If you’re having problems with a device, check to see if a newer firmware update addresses those problems. Keep in mind installing new firmware can create problems, so you should only do so if you know it will fix a problem you’re experiencing, or you can revert to a previous version if needed.
  4. The Sony PS3 is a photo and music player, but you can't beam media to it.

  5. Before using a game console as a media player, you should be aware of their limitations:
  6. You cannot beam media from your PC or mobile device to a Sony PS3 or Nintendo Wii. The Xbox 360 can accept pushed media, but only when it’s in Media Center Extender mode.
  7. Game consoles do not support as many formats as other digital media players.
  8. The Xbox 360 does not display all of the items in the Twonky navigation tree. As a result, you won’t see things like By Folder, Artist Index, Artist Album, Genre Index, Genre/Artist.
  9. Most game consoles, connected TVs and Blu-ray players can only play a limited number of media formats. Because of this, you’re often better off purchasing a low-cost connected media player, like a WD TV, which supports a wider range of formats.
  10. What to look for in a connected photo and video player

    1. Make sure your digital media player can automatically scale photos so they appear full-screen. Not all connected media players and TVs can do this.
    2. Apple TV handles pushed slideshows well

    3. The best digital media players, like the PS3, have nice transitions in-between photos and let you play music in the background while you are watching a slideshow. Xbox 360 has a nice zoom transition effect on photos. At this time, there are no media players other than Apple TV, which can display a continuous slideshow of photos pushed from a computer or mobile device. In most cases, a black or blue screen appears in-between each photo. If you experience this problem, use the remote which came with your device and select a folder of images to view. If you do this, you should see nice transitions between every photo.
    4. Don’t assume all media players can stream 1080p videos. Some can only play 720p, or have stuttering problems when they play 1080p.
    5. Don’t assume your connected TV will be able to play all popular media formats. Most DLNA-certified TVs can only play MPEG-2, AVCHD and a few other formats. Don’t expect 3GP, QuickTime, DivX, MKV or YouTube videos to play on these devices. If you want to play YouTube videos, you’ll need a Samsung TV, Sony TV (2011  or later), Xbox 360 or a WD TV Live.

    What to look for in a connected music player

    1. Should be able to play all popular music formats (e.g. MP3, FLAC, AAC/M4A, ALAC, WMA and Ogg Vorbis).
    2. If you don’t have a connected receiver you should connect a media player your stereo receiver.
    3. Don’t assume that all media players can accept music playlists that are beamed from computers or mobile devices. Some only allow one song to be sent at a time.
    4. Don’t assume all connected devices can have their volume changed externally. Most stereo receivers disable this feature.
    5. Look for media players which can be grouped so you can have the same music playing in different rooms of your home. Examples: Linn multi-room music systems, Philips Streamium players, Sonos ZonePlayers, etc.
    6. If you have a great stereo system, make sure your media player has an optical output or good audio converters (e.g. Linn products, Sonos Zone Players).

    What to look for in a media controller


    Your computer or mobile device can act as a media controller. They can be used like a remote to play/stop or skip media. They can also stream media directly to certain devices.

    1. Should work with DLNA-certified devices and AirPlay-certified devices like Apple TV.
    2. A good controller should be available for Android and iOS mobile devices as well as Mac and PCs.
    3. A good mobile controller should be able to automatically hand off it’s playlists to an always-on device like a NAS. That way playback will not stop when the mobile device leaves the network or goes into power standby.

    Network-related Advice

    Not all home networks are ready to stream high-definition video. Here are some suggestions which will make your home network multimedia-ready.

    Wired Network Tips

    1. Connect your media players using a wired connection when you have a choice. Wired networks capable of much higher throughput. Cat 6 Ethernet is up to 5 times faster than 802.11n wireless and less likely to have stuttering problems when streaming HD video. 802.11g Wi-Fi is fine for streaming music and photos, but can be problematic for HD video. The data-rate required for DVD-quality video is 9.8Mbps, while Blu-ray is around 40Mbps. Although it seems like a 54Mbps wireless router should be able to handle this amount of data, in reality, it probably can’t. Wired connections also don’t “drop” or have range problems like wireless connections do.
    2. Don’t back up your computer while you’re trying to stream HD video. This can cause videos to buffer.
    3. Don’t connect any of your PCs or devices to the “Internet” or “Uplink” ports on your router or switch.
    4. If you want to stream HD video over the Internet, check your Internet connection speed using sites like this. Most HD Internet movie streaming sites recommend a download speed of at least 3.0 Mbps.
    5. Use Cat 5e or Cat 6 network patch cords and cabling. They cost about the same as regular cable and could be a little faster.

    Wireless Network Tips

    1. Dual-band Wi-Fi routers like the Linksys N600, N750, N900 over AC1750 are better for multimedia streaming because they support the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. The 5GHz band is much less prone to interference. Use the 5GHz band if your devices support it and range is not a problem.
    2. If you have problems with wireless devices on your network, consider power-line networking alternatives like HomePlug Powerline AV adapters. If you go this route, make sure your adapter is HomePlug AV-compatible so you can mix and match devices from other companies. According a recent article in Maximum PC, last-generation Homeplug AV 200 adapters were supposed to be capable of speeds of up to 200Mb/s. Even though they only got real world speeds were 60-70Mb/s, that’s enough for a single HD stream. Newer devices support the IEEE 1903 standard which is capable of theoretical speeds up to 500Mbps and real world speeds up to 100Mbps. These speeds are even faster than you can get over standard Ethernet wiring, so you should be able to stream multiple HD movies at once in your home using multiple adapters. Consider the TP-Link AV-500 TL-PA511KIT or eNetgear Nano 500 XAVB5101 adapters. Those are two of the best affordable adapters available today.
    3. Another good wireless alternative is Ethernet over coax MoCA adapters like these. Both of these are much more reliable than wireless routers. They are also capable of higher data rates. However, HomePlug is not without problems, it sometimes has issues with split-phase wiring and surge protectors. When using HomePlug, avoid using an AC power strip and plug the unit directly into the wall.
    4. If your wireless devices are having trouble seeing your media server running on your LAN, check your router to make sure that multicast is enabled.
    5. To increase performance, you should try to use wireless channels which do not overlap with your neighbors. If you have an Android device, you should download the “Wi-Fi analyzer” app by FARPROC. It shows which channel has the best signal strength.
    6. Try to place your wireless router in a location where it is as close to your media players as possible. Every time the signal has to pass through a wall it drops in strength. 5GHz wireless loses more signal than 2.4GHz when going through walls.
    7. Be aware that cordless phones, baby monitors, wireless security cameras and microwave ovens can all interfere with 2.4GHz wireless networks.

    Router Suggestions

    1. Having devices connected to both wired and wireless networks at the same time can cause problems. If you can’t see your media server or some media players on your network, this could be the cause.

      Free apps like this make it easy to see wireless congestion

    2. Use DHCP because it makes setup easier. Don’t use fancy network setups with multiple subnets and hubs. Doing so can introduce latencies that cause problems with UPnP data.
    3. If you want to be able to stream multiple HD videos at once, make sure there are no 10Mbps routers or switches on your LAN. Use Gigabit Ethernet switches instead.
    4. Some routers and switches work better than others for media streaming. Problems with media playback stopping or stuttering often go away when a new router or switch is used.
    5. Changing router settings can also sometimes improve media streaming performance. Before changing any router setting, make sure to write down the old setting, in case you need to go back to it. If you have a busy network, collisions can occur that reduce your throughput. Lowering the fragmentation threshold can improve performance by reducing re-transmissions. Try setting the fragmentation threshold to 1,000 bytes and see if that improves media streaming. Be aware that using smaller packet adds extra overhead, so you shouldn’t set this value too low. Setting the threshold to the largest value (2,346 bytes) effectively disables fragmentation. Do not change this setting if you are not having media streaming problems. Another parameter that some users experiment with is the UPnP Advertisement Period. Some claim lowering this parameter can cause devices to appear faster on the network.
    6. If your router has a setting to enable or disable UPnP, it’s important you understand what this setting does.
      1. “UPnP AV” is a streaming protocol that allows UPnP software to discover and communicate with other UPnP devices. If this is disabled, you may not be able to discover media servers or media players/renderers on your network. This should be enabled for proper operation.
      2. “UPnP IGD” (Internet Gateway Device protocol) allows software to automatic configure port forwarding for remote access. This setting does not have to be enabled to browse or stream media. In some countries this setting is disabled by default because it can make it easier for hackers to punch a hole in your router’s firewall and gain access to your network. Keep this disabled, unless you need to allow remote access and do not know how to configure this manually. If the router lists UPnP without more details it probably refers to UPnP IGD. Check its manual to make sure.

      The Final Word

      If you’ve made it this far, you know what you need to optimize your home network for multimedia streaming. I hope you find some of this information to be useful. If you have any additional suggestions, please leave them in the Comments section.

      Thanks.

      - Rick

      Thanks to Christian Gran, Jim Pfeifer, Angela Scheller, Cindy Vivoli, Ken Clapp and pcfe for also contributing to this article.

      Copyright 2009-2013 Rick Schwartz. All rights reserved. Linking to this article is encouraged.

      Follow me on Twitter @mostlytech1

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