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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sony Announces New D-SLR and NEX Cameras

Sony made some noise this morning with announcement of five cameras. The new cameras include the Alpha A65 and A77 D-SLRs, both with a translucent mirror and OLED viewfinder. Three NEX cameras, the NEX-5N and NEX-7 for photographers and the NEX-VG20 for videographers arrived on the scene, along with a trio of new E-mount lenses.

The Alpha A77, which replaces the A700, is built around a 24.3-megapixel APS-C Exmor CMOS image sensor, and features a new Bionz image processor and a translucent mirror that allows the camera to shoot at an amazing 12 frames per second with continuous autofocus. An innovative shutter, which uses an electronic first curtain, helps to speed up shooting and reduces shutter lag to less than 50 milliseconds.

The camera's eye-level electronic viewfinder is built on OLED technology, and it's astounding to look through. It refreshes very quickly and boasts an extremely sharp 2.359 million dot resolution, with none of the light fall off or coverage issues that are present when using a pentaprism or pentamirror optical viewfinder.

Its rear LCD features an innovative hinge system, which makes it possible to position it so you can view it form the top, bottom, or either side of the camera. The A77 can capture video at 1080p60 or 1080p24 resolution using the AVCHD Progressive codec. If you’d rather record direct to MP4, you can do so at 1080i60 or 1080p30.

The camera’s magnesium alloy body is sealed against the elements, and includes built-in GPS for geotagging. A vertical battery grip accessory is available, which is also sealed. Sony is launching a new kit lens with the A77, a 16-50mm f/2.8 SSM zoom lens. The camera will be available in October for $1,399 as a body only or for $1,999 with the kit lens.

The A65

The A65, which will be made available at the same time, is a pared-down version of the A77, targeted at a consumer audience. The camera features a 24-megapixel Exmor CMOS sensor, and is capable of 10 frames per second shooting with continuous autofocus. Its AF system is less advanced than that of the A77, its kit lens is the standard 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 variety, and its LCD features a simplified tilting mechanism. The camera’s body is polycarbonate, and it is a bit smaller than the A77. There are many shared features between the two cameras, including the OLED EVF, GPS support, and the translucent mirror design. The A65 will be available as a body only for $899 or with the kit lens for $999.

The NEX-7

The second generation of the NEX system continues to roll out, featuring two more upgraded bodies and one completely new camera. The latter, the NEX-7, is an enthusiast-targeted mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, loaded with the same 24.3-megapixel sensor, OLED EVF, and video capabilities found in the A77. The camera features the same tilting 3” LCD that has been used across the NEX line, and is packed with as many manual controls as Sony could fit on its svelte body. It is capable of shooting images at 10 frames per second, and cuts shutter lag to 0.02 second thanks to its use of an electronic first curtain design.

The Tri-Navi system, which uses three control wheels, allows you to quickly adjust shooting settings, without having to delve into menus. It somehow manages to squeeze a built-in pop-up flash and an Alpha hot shoe in as well. The camera will be available in November at a price of $1,199 for the body only or $1,349 with an 18-55mm kit lens with a matching black finish. That lens will be available only in the kit.

The NEX-5N

The NEX-5N, which replaces the NEX-5, is a 16.1-megapixel camera with a touch-screen interface. Sony has designed the interface so that the screen augments the physical buttons on the camera rather than replacing them. The camera shares the shutter design of the NEX-7 for extremely fast performance, although it does not include an integrated OLED EVF. Rather, an accessory viewfinder, which will only be compatible with the NEX-5N, will be available to add the same high-resolution OLED to the camera, priced at $349. The camera will be available in early September in black, silver, or white as a body only for $599, or $699 with the 18-55mm lens.

Sony has also released an update to their NEX-VG10 camcorder, the NEX-VG20. Available in November for $2,199 with an 18-200mm lens, or $1,599 as a body only, the camcorder offers a few upgrades over its previous incarnation. Its resolution has been improved to 16.2 megapixels, and it can now capture RAW stills, 1080p60 and 1080p24 video, and 5.1-channel sound. A new grip and belt design, an additional Record button, and a wireless remote control are also now part of the package.

The NEX lens line-up is also expanding with three new optics. The E 50mm F1.8 OSS adds a fast, standard angle prime lens to the system, which should really work well in low-light situations when coupled with the outstanding high ISO capability of the NEX system. Sony has also announced a companion telezoom that should match well with the existing 18-55mm kit lens. The E 55-210mm F4.5-6.3 OSS lens will come in handy for situations when you need some extra reach with the camera, such as at sporting events or the zoo. Finally, the Carl Zeiss SonnarT* E 24mm F1.8, the first Zeiss-designed lens for the NEX system, steps in to provide fast, wide-angle coverage. Its offers a field of view that is equivalent to 36mm on full frame cameras, making it a great asset to street photographers, photojournalists, and others with the aspiration to be the next Cartier-Bresson.

Rounding out the announcements is a new Alpha lens adapter for the NEX system. It does not replace the existing adapter; instead it brings improved autofocus performance when using Alpha lenses on a NEX camera. The LA-EA2 adapter, set to retail for $399, features a translucent mirror and a dedicated phase detect autofocus sensor. This provides much faster focus performance than the contrast detect system currently used in the NEX. It is compatible with all NEX cameras, although a firmware update will be required for older bodies.

TouchPad Fever--Why Do We Suddenly Love WebOS?

Consumers are going absolutely crazy for HP's touchpad thanks to the recent fire sale pricing of $99. The tablet sells out at stores across the country faster than stores can pull them off the trucks. On eBay, the tablets are being sold for upwards of $300.

The real question here is, why? We had serious issues with WebOS and that--combined with HP's recent announcement that WebOS would be shut down--it's unlikely that those problems will be solved any time soon.

Barely a week ago there was hardly any interest in the TouchPad. Even when HP slashed $100 off the price nobody noticed. But apparently the company just didn't discount the tablet enough. Suddenly the TouchPad is the most sought-after tech object in the country. And while a price point that low is hard to argue with, it has to be said that some consumers are have gone a little bit nuts on their deal hunts.

Messages From The Hunt
With the huge demand for relatively low numbers of TouchPads, consumers are forced to rush from store to store to find a TouchPad in stock. After this morning's East coast quake Twitter user @transamcruiser even joked: "Was that an earthquake or did best buy just get like 3 touchpads in?"

The TouchPad has also inspired huge discussion threads at sites like Slickdeals where rabid dealhunters recount near misses and moments of triumph as they hunt for the WebOS tablet.

In a Slickdeals thread that's seeing almost ten posts every minute and has now grown to over 1000 pages, users post updates on stores that do and don't have the tablet in stock. They also trade quips like this from user Steeldeals: "We're in Hotel TouchPad: You can check out, but you can never leave..."

Even though the TouchPad failed at going toe to toe with the Apple iPad before it even got out of the gate, now--at $99--the HP tablet has basically no competition. If nothing else, this shows there's still a real market for a competent bare-bones tablet at the bottom end of the market. It's just a shame that once TouchPad fever flares out there'll be nothing even close to its price point.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Motorola Mobility buy could boost Google's enterprise push

Google has been pushing hard to work its way into the enterprise, but it remains to be seen whether that effort will be aided by this week's acquisition of Motorola Mobility, analysts say.

Google Monday announced that it had agreed to buy the smartphone manufacturer, which was spun out of Motorola Inc. in January, for $12.5 billion. Since then, industry observers have been mulling over whether the deal can provide a significant boost to Google's ongoing effort to become a formidable enterprise alternative to rival Microsoft.
Motorola has had its moments in the cellphone business, long before Google's announcement that it was buying Motorola Mobility. In 1983, it was Motorola that marketed the first cellphone in the United States, and from 2003 to 2007, its Razr was by far the best-selling cellphone of all time.

Then came Apple's iPhone, and Motorola has struggled ever since to keep up. Its one success -- not a lasting one, but a success -- was the Droid, a smartphone that ran on Google's Android software

Seth Harris, managing director of Cook Associates, a consulting company that focuses on merger and acquisition services, said the move should help Google as consumers using Motorola Mobility's popular Droid smartphone and other devices are likely to push their employers to support them for business use.

"The consumer now is in a unique position to influence, through their buying behavior, what kinds of platforms and standards their companies need to support," Harris told Computerworld. "Android is a hugely popular operating system. A Google phone with a Google operating system could be quite appealing. Any enterprise now is going to be forced to integrate those platforms into their enterprise for their knowledge workers."

And owning the handset hardware, as well as the operating system, is a powerful combination that should further drive Android adoption, he added.

"I think Google's acquisition here is pretty important because they're getting a respected handset manufacturer," said Harris. "They have the hardware system and the operating system and this combination has worked beautifully for Apple."

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, agrees the Google-Motorola Mobility combination will prove popular with consumers, but added that it's likely to take a while for it to affect its enterprise business.

"While there might be some way that this purchase links into a Google master plan to dominate the enterprise, I'm just not seeing it now," said Olds. "To me, the major push behind the purchase of Motorola is consumer-based, with mobility and set-top box type devices and using the large Motorola patent holdings as both an offensive and defensive weapon."

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, agreed that the move probably won't immediately boost Google's enterprise business, but added that the search giant can be expected to make additional acquisitions of mobile technologies.

He noted that some observers are keeping an eye out for Google to move to buy Research in Motion (RIM), maker of the BlackBerry smartphone that has long been a staple of the corporate world.

"[The Motorola Mobility purchase] likely doesn't help them that much, which is why some of us are suggesting they may try to buy RIM next," said Enderle. "RIM has the enterprise connections they really want. The enterprise is very hard to penetrate -- it isn't a product problem, it is a trust/risk mitigation problem. They have to mitigate that to succeed there."

The analysts generally agreed that Google will work hard to weave its various offerings -- such as its search engine, Google Maps, Google Docs and Android -- into one cohesive unit.

"They're in a wonderful position to tie it all together," said Harris. "There's a lot being said about how the PC might finally be dead and the utility of how we work, how we buy things, how we bank is being pushed down into a single mobile device."

Harris noted that tying all of Google's offerings together with popular Motorola Mobility hardware would let people get work done wherever they are without having to lug a laptop around.

"Google has got the content, the hardware and the software to enable the enterprise to offer a stable platform for all of those workforce needs," said Harris. "All of the chess pieces are being moved around the board right now."

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