In-Flight Entertainment Update
If you've flown this summer, you've probably experienced flight cancellations or delays, jam-packed airline cabins, and long lines at security checkpoints. And short of staying grounded, there's not much you can do about any of that.
But you can at least entertain yourself on a long flight. And you don't even have to bring a DVD-equipped laptop. Here's a look at some new and upcoming options for video entertainment in the air.
With its 3.5-inch touch screen, watching video on Apple's iPhone ($500 for 4GB, $600 for 8GB) is a cool way to make time fly. Of course, you must first download TV shows, movies, and other content to iTunes on your computer, then transfer them to your iPhone. You can also view your own video productions, after converting them to an iPhone-compatible format (in iTunes, choose Advanced, Convert Selection for iPod). Read more about video on iPhones in our review, "The iPhone: Lots to Love, but Flaws Too."
Don't forget to put your iPhone in Airplane mode, which turns off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cell phone signals.
Blue Raven Technology's MediaMate
The MediaMate is one of the few--perhaps the only--portable media player with the built-in ability to record video directly from TV and other sources. (Other portable media players require a docking station for recording from TV or only accept content transferred from a computer.) The device has a roomy, 7-inch wide-screen LCD--and at $379 for a 40GB hard-drive model and $430 for an 80GB version, it's reasonably affordable.
In my informal tests, however, I found the MediaMate screen a bit too dim--and you can't increase its brightness. The control buttons are difficult to figure out, at least initially. Also, the device's size (7.95 by 4.57 by 1.04 inches) and weight (over 1 pound, excluding AC adapter) make it awkward to carry.
Archos' Wi-Fi Media Players
French company Archos regularly churns out compelling portable media players. For example, the company claims its Archos 404Camcorder was the first product to combine a camcorder with a portable multimedia player. I reviewed the 404Camcorder a few months back and found that its image quality is nothing special, but overall it's pretty good.
Recent Archos devices include a new feature that you can't use in flight--but which may help you leave your laptop at home on your next trip. The Archos 605 Wi-Fi and 705 Wi-Fi are the first portable media players that let you wirelessly surf the Web using an optional browser plug-in ($30) and a Wi-Fi network, the company claims. You can view Web video, such as clips on YouTube, as well as download video wirelessly from Archos' new Content Portal. Both devices will be available in the U.S. in September, Archos says. The 605 Wi-Fi will sell for $300 (30GB) and $400 (160GB). As of this writing, U.S. prices for the 705 Wi-Fi weren't available.
Before you go, check your airline's Web site for its in-flight entertainment options. Increasingly, many long-haul flights offer passengers personal video options, such as multichannel screens that pop out from armrests or are located on seatbacks. Others let you rent portable multimedia players preloaded with content. Check out my blog, Traveler 2.0, for a look at one example: Hawaiian Airlines' portable digEplayer, which the airline rents to coach passengers for $15 per flight.
Low-fare airline JetBlue raised the bar on in-flight entertainment with its DirecTV satellite system. Typically, though, foreign airlines offer the most sophisticated personal entertainment choices. Case in point: Singapore Airlines recently upgraded its seatback on-demand system to offer more than 1000 programming choices in multiple languages in all three cabins. The airline claims its seatback screens have the highest resolution of any airline in-seat entertainment system, 1280 by 768 pixels. And the system includes built-in PC software. If you remember to bring your USB keyboard and mouse, you can get work done throughout the flight--without a laptop. (You store your files on your own USB thumb drive, according to the airline.)
Just for Fun
What was the first feature film shown aboard a commercial flight? In what year was the first video game offered to airline travelers? For answers to these and other completely trivial questions, check out my blog, Traveler 2.0. And take a minute to watch the YouTube video clip, a mash-up of the airline disaster spoof Airplane! and its granddaddy, a low-budget 1957 thriller called Zero Hour.
Mobile Computing News, Reviews, & Tips
RIM's Dual-Mode BlackBerry: Research In Motion's BlackBerry 8820 offers both cellular and Wi-Fi connectivity. The phone's Wi-Fi ability would be useful for looking up stocks, traffic, and weather at hotspots, and it provides lower cost, high-speed data surfing on the road. But experts quoted in a recent Computerworld article warned about the security risks associated with using unsecured public hotspots.
How to Shop for a New Cell Phone: You may not be convinced Apple's iPhone is right for you. But after getting a look at it, one thing is for sure: Your old cell phone probably looks pretty tired by comparison. If you're in the market for a new handset, read our tip-packed feature, "Before You Buy a Cell Phone."
How to Do E-Mail: You probably know all about sending and receiving e-mail. But our Steve Bass has some helpful pointers on how to use e-mail sensibly--to ensure your messages get read. Read his Tips & Tweaks column, "Don't Send That E-Mail (Read This First)."
Is there a particularly cool mobile computing product or service I've missed? Got a spare story idea in your back pocket? Tell me about it. However, I regret that I'm unable to respond to tech-support questions, due to the volume of e-mail I receive.