September 29, 2009

Hands on with Sprint's Hero and Instinct HD

What a difference a year makes Last September the first Diamonds were trickling into the market while some were holding out for their beloved QWERTY keyboard, but the Instinct still reigned supreme at Sprint. All were fine devices, to be sure, but the landscape has changed drastically since. In June Sprint released the most anticipated device of the year (Pre,) then followed it up with the best BlackBerry ever (Tour,) and maybe the best Windows device ever (Touch Pro2.) Not content to rest on their laurels, the fast-moving company is looking to kick the competition when it's down: enter the HTC Hero and Samsung Instinct HD.

Samsung Instinct HD
The latter is the proper refresh to the original Instinct, bumping the spec sheet in nearly every way. It is the first phone in the US to offer HD video recording, and with an optional HDMI cable content can be displayed on an HDTV. The 5 megapixel camera with flash is a hefty jump up from the original 2MP shooter without. There are proper apps this time around, including the ever-popular Facebook, Twitter, and Google Maps. The interface has been slightly reworked for the better, allowing outlets like and CNN to deliver content straight to the homescreen. The screen has been upgraded to 3.2" at 320x480 and is much crisper, and an accelerometer lets the user switch to landscape easily. WiFi has been added for those of you who don't live in 3G areas, and the HD marks the first time we've seen the Opera Mobile browser outside of Windows Mobile. All in all, we're really impressed with the upgrades...just not enough to justify the $250 pricetag.

HTC Hero
For a full $70 less you will be able to score yourself an HTC Hero on October 11. Sprint has been on-board with the Open Handset Alliance since launch, but this marks the first Android phone for the carrier. On paper the device is simply the CDMA variant of the European GSM unit, but it has undergone a complete visual makeover. Gone is the distinctive chin, a huge plus in our book, and the the hard lines have been replaced for hand-caressing curves. The buttons have also been mercifully rearranged to be more symmetrical. We wouldn't have minded seeing a dash of color, but the silver-on-gray looks better than it sounds, and the phone feels wonderful in your hands. As for features, Sprint has left the device pretty much alone. Their TV, NFL, NASCAR and navigation apps come preloaded, and visual voicemail has been thankfully included. Beyond that it is the same Sense UI-running Android beast that it was when we first took a look at it. Everything we loved is still there, and the major lag issue seems to be fixed, though some minor lag is still present at times.

So let's review Sprint's lineup again. Best (only) webOS device, check. Best BlackBerry, check. Best Windows Mobile device, check. Best Android device, check. Best (overpriced) dumbphone, check. Best plans, check. Can you hear them now? Check back for a full review of both units soon!
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September 15, 2009

Double-Nucleus Galaxies More Common than Thought

A Cauldron of Stars at the Galaxy's Center: the central white patch in the image is the dense star cluster at the center of our galaxy
Enlarge picture
Established astronomical knowledge had it that galaxies with two nuclei were very rare. Experts believed that small galaxies had one made up of a star cluster, whereas the more massive ones had a black hole at their cores. But a new study comes to prove that the double-nucleus galaxy is, in fact, not that rare of an occurrence. In the research, which analyzed 50 regular galaxies, 12 were found to have both a black hole and a star cluster at their cores. A paper detailing the finds appears in the latest issue of the scientific journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, ScienceDaily reports.

In charge of the new investigation were Swinburne University of Technology (SUT) Associate Professor Alister Graham and Dr. Lee Spitler. Much to their amazement, they discovered that it was not at all uncommon for regular galaxies to have a black hole at their cores, as well as a cluster containing up to ten million stars around them. The presence of such a significant number of double-nucleus galaxies increases the chance of some peculiar astronomical phenomena occurring, Graham reveals. One example consists of black holes beginning to consume nearby stars.

“When stars get too close to massive black holes, the gravitational attraction is such that they can be devoured. When you’ve got up to a million stars within the immediate vicinity of a black hole, the chance of this occurring increases significantly,” the expert says. He adds that such proximity could mean that there are also more hyper-velocity stars in existence than first estimated. “This is when a star approaches a massive black hole and gets caught in a gravitational slingshot. When this happens stars can be ejected from galaxies at speeds in excess of 500 kilometers per second,” Graham explains.

The team also says that double-nucleus galaxies increase chances that the phenomenon known as gravitational radiation actually exists. “Such emission has been predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, but has never been observed. It is theorized that when stars spiral quickly around a black hole the motion will create gravitational waves – causing ripples in the space-time continuum,” Spitler shares.

“As part of our study we were able to look at star clusters and black holes and determine their mass in proportion to each other and their host galaxies. This knowledge is going to affect the way astronomers develop models for galaxy formation and evolution. Previously evolution models only dealt with one type of nucleus per galaxy. We now have the rationale and data to develop hybrid models that can account for co-existing nuclei and hopefully explore their dynamic joint evolution,” Graham concludes.
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Nintendo Wii Price Cut Imminent

Sony released a new version of the PlayStation 3, styled Slim, but also cut the price of its gaming console significantly. Microsoft responded the same way, slashing the price of the Xbox 360 Elite version. Nintendo did nothing. Of course, the executives at the company talked about how their device was already well positioned to appeal to a wide array of customers and that it was selling extremely well at the current price point. But it seems that the company is already talking to big retailers about a coming price drop.

Videogame consumer site Kotaku is reporting having access to an advanced copy of an add set to appear in Wal Mart stores in October, talking about a “rollback” for the Nintendo Wii.

Nintendo of America issued its standard response to such rumors, saying that it does not comment on speculation and Wal Mart did not comment on the issue either but it makes sense for the Japanese console manufacturer to first introduce a price cut at big retailers, those that tend to move the biggest amount of devices.

The speculation is that Nintendo is worried about the latest NPD Group numbers, which show a decline for the Wii year over year, while the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3 are set to gain traction due to the reduced price. The Wii is still selling for the 250 dollars it has cost since its launch and shaving 50 off that would surely mean that it will become more attractive during the all-important Christmas shopping season.

There are speculations that an announcement would come at the Kyoto Cross Media Experience 2009, an event set to begin on September 26. On its home territory, Nintendo might choose to make a grand announcement and maybe even talk about updating its console through an HD version that should come in the future, countering the attraction that Microsoft and Sony might generate with Project Natal and the motion tracking wand.
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September 1, 2009

Samsung Announces App Store Launch for September 14

South Korean mobile phone maker Samsung has announced today that it plans on opening its on-device application store for all Samsung smartphones on September 14. Already expected to kick off this year, the Application Store is set to be launched in the UK, France and Italy, the company states, mentioning that it will also come to over 30 countries in the near future, including Germany and Spain. At the same time, it should be noted that the app portal will only be available on Omnia and I8910 HD handsets, with Omnia II (I8000) and OmniaLITE (B7300) to see support shortly after the launch.

The new Samsung Application Store comes to the market in line with other application portals launched by leading mobile phone makers and wireless carriers, in a trend that was initiated by Apple's App Store. According to Samsung, mobile phone users will find a wide range of applications available at its app portal, including games, references, social networking, e-books and other solutions. In order to access the store, Omnia users will have to install a mobile client available for download at, while I8910 HD ones only need to update their software.

The client comes with support for English, French and Italian, and for credit card and phone billing. In addition, the company also says that those who haven't yet signed up as members of the Application Store will still be able to download and purchase apps, only that they will use the phone billing payment option. There will be more than 300 software solutions available at launch, and their number should rise to over 2,000 before the end of the year, the company says.

“Samsung is a proven leader in delivering a fantastic end-to-end mobile experience and continues to demonstrate its dedication to its customers with the new Samsung Application Store,” said Paul Reddick, CEO of Handmark. “As the exclusive content aggregator for the store, we are excited to bring the largest catalogue of both Handmark content as well as popular titles from our extensive network of partners to Samsung customers on day one.” Hosoo Lee, executive vice president of Samsung’s Media Solution Center, added,“The Application Store will expand the service channel, not only on handheld devices but also on PCs through the launch of new PC software. The software will allow customers to download applications and manage them on a PC to maximize service usability
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