D-Link DIR-605L Cloud Router

D-Link’s DIR-605L Cloud Router, ($40) announced at this year’s CES, is not a remarkably noteworthy router. It’s notable for what it lacks: It’s a single-band, has no Gigabit Ethernet ports, and no USB port. It’s also noteworthy for the one new feature it has: D-Link’s mydlink cloud service. However, even with some of the remote capabilities you get using the mydlink service, the router lacks in performance and management.

Hardware
The DIR-605L is a cheap router and certainly does not support the latest and greatest in networking hardware specs. Four 10/100 Fast Ethernet ports are on the rear panel. Two external 5dBi antennas are fixed to the chassis; you can’t upgrade to antennas with higher gain. Theoretical throughput is up to 300 Mbps; considerably slower than single-band routers currently available that are capable of up to 450 Mbps, such as the Buffalo AirStation Nfiniti High Power Giga Wireless-N Router Access Point (WZR-HP-G450H). Internal components include Realtek’s RTL8196C chip.

View Slideshow
See all (6) slides


D-Link DIR 605L Cloud Router : Angle


D-Link DIR 605L Cloud Router : Back


D-Link DIR 605L Cloud Router : Front


D-Link DIR 605L Cloud Router : Rear Ports

The chassis also features reset and WPS buttons. The device is small, with a plastic, black housing. There are seven LEDs on the top representing power, WAN activity, wireless status, and LAN port activity.

Setup
The D-Link DIR-605L is one of the few routers on the market that does not ship with a setup CD. Instead, an accompanying quick install guide gives instructions on how to connect the router and then use a browser to access the management interface.

On entering the browser-based management interface, the software tries to detect the type of Internet connection you have. My connection, WiMAX with DHCP addressing, could not be automatically detected. I manually selected “DHCP” which enabled the WAN link.

You have the choice to use automated or manual setup. The automated setup is rather limited; for instance, automatic set up of wireless security only displayed the option to apply WPA/WPA2 encryption.

Clicking on “Manual Setup” brings up the standard black-and-orange interface that’s been in D-Link routers for the last couple of years. In this interface view you can see security to WEP, WPA, WPA2 or WPA/WPA2. I didn’t see a way, at first, to set wireless mode (to 802.11n only or Mixed) or to set channel width. Those options are in the advanced wireless screen as well as more granular settings such as transmit power.

The setup process is sufficient and certainly it isn’t terribly difficult to set up the DIR-605L. However, compared to other consumer routers that are on the market with robust wireless setup which is almost automated (save for the fact you need to run a CD), the DIR-605L’s setup seems dated.

Working Within the Interface
The DIR-605L offers the standard features found in most consumers routers. There’s MAC/ACL filtering, DMZ, SPI firewall, Dynamic DNS and other more common capabilities.

The QoS offering is a bit thin, but you can use the feature “Traffic Control” to allocate a specific amount of bandwidth to a client on your network. This is to keep any one machine from hogging bandwidth. There is no way though, to manage the bandwidth of specific applications; such as allocating more bandwidth to gaming or Skype traffic like there is in DD-WRT-flashed routers, or in a single-band router dedicated to gamers, such as the EnGenius ESR9855G Multimedia Enhanced Wireless 300N Gaming Router. Per representatives at D-Link, because this is a low-cost router, the option to perform QoS by application-specific traffic is not included.

The feature most advertised with the DIR-605L, is the mydlink service. The service lets you manage your network devices, receive notifications, browse users connected to your network, and configure the router from an iPhone, iPod, or Android device. The service does allow you to do those tasks, but it doesn’t offer full remote management of the router.

Rdio

Rdio (pronounced are-dee-oh) may not have the name recognition or the relatively lengthy history of streaming music sites such as Pandora Radio (Free, 3.5 stars), Slacker Radio (Free, 4.5 stars), or Last.fm (Free, 4 stars), but since its August 2010 American and Canadian release, it’s managed to carve out a niche of its own for those who prefer social music discovery instead of algorithm selections. A recent overhaul brings a much-needed free listening option and a new interface that simplifies navigation while retaining the service’s unique features. Rdio’s a very solid service, but Spotify remains the Editors’ Choice for paid streaming music services (the playlist-based Songza gets the Editors’ Choice nod for free services).

Signing Up and Getting Started
Rdio has a varied pricing scheme. Rdio Web ($4.99 per month) lets you stream unlimited music to a browser and desktop apps for Windows (XP, Vista, 7) and Mac OS X (version 10.6 or higher). Rdio Unlimited ($9.99 per month) opens the door to unlimited Web and mobile streaming, as well as music caching for offline listening. Rdio Unlimited Family lets you add a second or third person for $17.99 and $22.99 per month, respectively.

View Slideshow
See all (5) slides


Rdio : Album Review


Rdio : New Interface


Rdio : New Releases


Rdio : Sharing Options

Users create Rdio accounts by completing an online form, or by logging in with Facebook credentials. The previous version pushed the social networking angle as soon as you logged in by displaying a banner across the top of the page that read, “Before you start listening… Follow people on Rdio to discover new music.” Not anymore.

Rdio now displays “Heavy Rotation,” a collection of recommended albums based on artists you’ve listened to and the fellow users and brands you follow on the music site. Rdio will display a list of recently added albums if you haven’t listened to any songs or followed any users or brands. You can play the individual albums, the songs within those albums, or songs from within “Heavy Rotation” as a whole.

A column to the right of the main content area lets you view the people or brands you follow (“Your Network”), or discover interesting users (“Who to Follow”). The “Who to Follow” influencers comprise music experts, record labels, magazines, and music-related companies such as Dave Holmes, Def Jam, The Fader, Spin, and Vice. Next to each company listing is a + icon that lets you follow the person or brand. When I clicked Vice’s “follow” button, artists such as The Black Lips and King Khan and the Shrines populated my “Heavy Rotation” dashboard. You can also find and invite people from Facebook, Gmail, Last.FM, Twitter, and other online services.

The Rdio Experience
The dashboard displays a grid of album art featuring a mix of artists from Vice’s music division—Black Lips, Clocks and Hearts Keep, Raekown, and others. Mousing over a King Khan album icon opens a variety of options that let me add the highlighted album to my collection, sync it to a Rdio mobile app (available on the Android, BlackBerry, iOS, and Windows Phone 7 platforms), add it to the queue, or share it to Facebook or Twitter. All of the options worked flawlessly. An option to purchase digital albums is in the works, too.

Collaborative playlists are the service’s best feature as multiple people can manage playlists. You simply visit your playlist page and then check the box marked “Enable Collaboration.” You then select which Rdio users can add songs to the playlist. This is a great tool for those looking to create party mixes.

Rdio for Windows is a desktop application that lets you enjoy Rdio without a Web browser. Functionally, it looks and behaves very much like the Web version, but with one significant difference that helps you quickly populate your music catalog: music matching. Clicking Match Collection causes the program to scan iTunes and Windows Media Player for music to duplicate within Rdio library. In my tests, Rdio Desktop recognized the Gorillaz tracks on my PC and mirrored the songs, using Rdio’s catalog, in my library. Match Collection made it very simple for me to recreate my favorite music compilations without search for individual tracks within the Rdio library.

When you click a song, a music player appears south of the main content area. It displays the usual suspects—album art, album title, song length, and playback controls. Clicking an artist’s name opens a page that lists their albums, songs, and user reviews. Visiting the album page opens a list of songs (along with runtimes), fellow listeners, the number of plays, and other information. You can add content to a playlists, or to “Collection” of your favorite songs.

Unfortunately, Rdio doesn’t support song lyrics, which is a significant flaw for listeners like me who like to read along—especially to songs that are unfamiliar. It’s easily one of my favorite Slacker features as I could view lyrics from within the app instead of opening a lyrics site (many of which are pretty shady). Worse, Rdio only has one Dirtbombs (one of my favorite rock bands) album available for streaming. It’s unfortunate that the band isn’t part of Rdio’s catalog as it forces me to visit Slacker or Spotify instead.

Rdio streamed crisp, hiccup-free audio over my home and office network connections. Unless you’re an audiophile, Rdio’s sound quality will satisfy even when the audio is pumped through computer speakers. A pair of Sony MDR headphones revealed bouncy bass and a good separation of high and low sounds when I listened to the Gorillaz’ Demon Days album.

Tune Into Rdio
Music fans who want a dash of social networking in their streaming music experience will find a lot to like in Rdio. It may lack song lyrics and a few of my favorite indie albums, but what it does offer—a rich library, very respectable sound quality, mobile apps, and collaborative playlists—makes it one worth consideration. Spotify remains the Editors’ Choice in the paid streaming music category for unique features all its own (celebrity playlists, MP3 uploads), but check out Rdio if you want to sample a highly social service.

More Music Services and Players Reviews:
•   Rdio
•   Spotify (for iPad)
•   AOL Radio
•   Turntable
•   Spotify
•  more

Vizio M3D550KD

Vizio strikes again with a low-priced, well-equipped edge-lit LED HDTV. Last year, we tested the 65-inch Vizio XVT3D650SV ($3,699.99, 4 stars) and were pleased by its Web features, passive 3D, and picture quality. Now, the M3D550KD follows suit, with just as many useful features and a much, much lower $1,429.99 (direct) price tag. Its 3D isn’t quite as crisp as with some active 3D HDTVs, but considering everything you get for the price, the M3D550KD earns our Editors’ Choice for budget HDTVs.

Design
Plain and unassuming, the M3D550KD has a slightly glossy and rounded black bezel with a backlit Vizio logo on the bottom and no other design flourishes. A row of controls sit behind the right edge of the screen, offering Power, Menu, Input, Channel Up/Down, and Volume Up/Down buttons. The inputs face left and downward in a recessed part of the back panel of the HDTV, with four HDMI ports and two USB ports accessible from the left side. Oddly, the analog and optical audio inputs are above the HDMI and USB ports, making cable management slightly inconvenient if you use a soundbar under the HDTV.

View Slideshow
See all (6) slides


Vizio M3D550KD : Angle


Vizio M3D550KD : Front


Vizio M3D550KD : Remote


Vizio M3D550KD : Angle

The remote is a thick brick of a controller that hides a keyboard that slides out from its bottom half. It’s a Bluetooth remote, so you don’t need line of sight with the HDTV to use it once it’s paired. Pairing the remote is a simple process that the HDTV walks you through when you first turn it on, and after that you can use Vizio’s Internet Apps (VIA) and other online features with text input through the remote’s QWERTY keyboard. Though the remote is thick, it also feels flimsy because of the sliding keyboard, and its size makes it less comfortable to handle than conventional remotes.

You can access VIA over the M3D550KD’s built-in Wi-Fi, which includes a wide variety of apps, widgets, and services. The HDTV can access Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Pandora, and other streaming media services, plus social networks like Facebook and Twitter and an assortment of news, sports, weather, and other information apps. You can even video chat on Skype with the optional $150 XCV100 camera accessory. The only thing the HDTV is really missing is a Web browser, like those found on LG, Panasonic, and Sony HDTVs. A browser would have really made the QWERTY keyboard on the remote useful.

Performance
We test HDTV picture quality with a Konica-Minolta CS-200 chromameter after basic brightness and contrast calibrations, and the M3D550KD performed very well, reaching a peak white level of 364.75 cd/m2 and a very dark black level of 0.02 cd/m2 for a contrast ratio of 18,237:1. Colors were similarly excellent; using Spectracal’s CalMAN software and the DisplayMate test patterns to measure color, the HDTV’s red, green, and blue channels were nearly perfectly aligned with the CIE ideal values. The chart below shows the ideal CIE values (the red, green, and blue boxes), and the values the screen displayed (the gred, green, and blue circles). It doesn’t reach the inky blacks of our high-end Editors’ Choice Sharp Elite Pro-60X5FD ($5,999, 4 stars), but you’d have a hard time finding a screen that gets brighter or darker anywhere near the M3D550KD’s price.

Vizio M3D550KD

I watched Piranha on Blu-ray, and the contrast ratio of the HDTV showed well in the movie’s bright beach scenes and murky underwater shots. The party atmosphere looked warm and colorful, with the beach and people contrasting nicely against the blue-green of the water. Underwater, the darker texture of seaweed and fish showed detail, though the very dark parts of the scenes still got a bit muddy. While a slight bloom appeared in our test pattern tests, it wasn’t noticeable when watching movies. Because the M3D550KD is edge-lit by LEDs and not backlit (the lights light the screen from the edges instead of from directly behind it), this bloom is a normal occurence.

As a passive 3D HDTV, the M3D550KD uses polarized lenses instead of electronic shutters. This means the screen comes with four pairs of glasses, and that additional pairs are inexpensive compared to most active shutter glasses at as little as a few dollars each. The passive 3D picture is roundly excellent, with little crosstalk and significant depth. I watched several 3D PlayStation 3 game demos on the set, and they were clean and clear. Cars in Gran Turismo 5 popped out as they drove down the track, and the large weapons and open battlefields in Ratchet Clank: All 4 One showed generous distance. Some crosstalk appeared when I turned my head, but from most positions the 3D picture looked very sharp. 

The M3D550KD uses an average of 135 watts, and no energy efficiency settings are readily available in the menu. While this is decent for a 55-inch HDTV, the LG 55LM6700 ($2,299.99, 4 stars) consumes less than half as much power at 67 watts, and even the larger 60-inch Sharp Aquos LC-60LE640U ($1,899.99, 4 stars) consumes just 115 watts.

If you want a big, full-featured HDTV for a low price, the Vizio M3D550KD should be at the top of your list. At $1,430 it’s not exactly an impulse buy, but for offering 3D with four pairs of glasses, Wi-Fi, lots of Web options, a QWERTY remote, and excellent contrast and color for a lot less than similar-sized and similar-equipped HDTVs, it’s our Editors’ Choice for budget HDTVs.

More HDTV Reviews:
•   Vizio M3D550KD
•   Sharp Elite Pro-60X5FD
•   Sharp Aquos LC-60LE640U
•   LG 55LM6700
•   Sony HMZ-T1 Personal 3D Viewer
•  more 

Apple Mac OS X Lion 10.7.4

Apple, welcome to Microsoft’s world, a world of constantly sending out updates to counter new security threats to your desktop operating system. That’s the big story behind the latest Mac OS X Lion update, 10.7.4, which patches 32 vulnerabilities. Though the update doesn’t bring new major features, it does fix some behaviors even beyond tightening security. Maybe the biggest addresses a problem where restarting always opened the apps that were running when you shut down, even if you hadn’t chosen that option. Quite a few fixes apply to business use of the OS. And finally, a hardened version of Safari is included.

None of this effects our overall verdict on Mac OS X Lion: Each new version of Apple’s desktop operating system resets the bar as the best consumer-level operating system ever created. At just $29.99, OS X Lion continues the tradition. It includes convenience and safety features never seen before on a desktop operating system, with the latest of these being iCloud syncing to iOS devices. Lion also can save documents automatically as you work—so you never have to save a file and can recover previous versions effortlessly and can start apps automatically in the same state they were in when you closed them. Lion also includes hundreds of major improvements and minor tweaks that combine to make OS X both the most convenient and the most powerful operating system ever.

The three main things you need to know about OS X Lion are these: It’s faster and more flexible than ever. It’s more powerful than ever. And you don’t have to climb a learning curve to use it. Read on for the details.

Three things to know about Lion:
First, OS X Lion is easier to use and more flexible than ever. The interface now includes some ease-of-use features taken from the iOS operating system used in the iPhone and iPad. Also, at long last, OS X 10.7 Lion borrows from Windows the few interface features in which Windows still had an advantage, such as full-screen windows and resizing from any window border, not just the lower-right corner as in earlier OS X versions. Lion’s feature that automatically saves and resumes your applications exactly where you left off is borrowed from iOS, and works only with applications that have been updated to support it.

View Slideshow
See all (22) slides


Apple Mac OS X Lion 10.7 : Installer


Apple Mac OS X Lion 10.7 : Installer Running


Apple Mac OS X Lion 10.7 : First Desktop


Apple Mac OS X Lion 10.7 : Plain Desktop

Apple’s iLife and iWork suites get an immediate update that adds the automatic-save feature. Microsoft hasn’t said when Office for the Mac will get updated to work with Lion’s file saving feature, but I doubt you’ll need to wait long. You probably won’t have to wait very long for Adobe and other vendors to offer similar updates.

Second, OS X Lion is more powerful than ever. Thanks to its built-in apps, OS X 10.7 Lion lets you hit the ground running as soon as you start using it, unlike Windows 7, where you’ll need to install third-party and download-only Microsoft software before you can view PDFs or run an e-mail client. Lion’s Preview app, for example now displays and prints Microsoft Office and iWork documents in addition to PDFs and most graphic formats—something that Windows 7 can’t do until you add Office and a PDF viewer such as Adobe Reader. A why-didn’t-anyone-do-this-before feature called AirDrop lets you copy files to other nearby Macs without setting up networking—even if both machines are on different networks.

Speaking of networks, the 10.7.3 release added some networking capabilities that will be important in corporate settings. It also brings a new version of Server Admin Tools, fixes for Apple Remote Desktop. The update also improves features in the Server version of Lion, with better display of details about connected users, better VPN support (including a choice of enabling L2TP or L2TP and PPTP protocols), an improved Wiki server, and better Open Directory support.

A persistent headache for ex-Windows users is also finally eliminated: when you copy one folder over another with the same name, Lion finally lets you choose whether to merge or replace the existing folder instead of simply overwriting the existing folder and all its contents. Similarly, when you copy a new file over an existing file with the same name, Lion asks whether you want both versions or only the new one—and it does so with a far simpler dialog box than the nightmarishly confusing “Copy and Replace?” dialog in Windows 7 (though Windows 8 aims to fix this).

Ford Sync (With MyFord Touch)

Ford has come a long way with Sync, its flagship in-car infotainment system. Unlike with stand-alone GPS navigation devices, we don’t normally review in-car systems as separate products—especially since the layout and features can vary from model to model. Besides, we’re not a car magazine. But we do cover car tech, and we’re of the opinion that Ford has reached a bit of a milestone with this extremely capable system. It’s worth a close look. And despite a lengthy list of minor irritants, it’s still worth buying, particularly in its top-of-the-line MyFord Touch configuration—Ford has really taken the lead here in bringing tech into mainstream vehicles.

Displays and Sync Interface
For this review, I tested the revised Ford Sync with MyFord Touch in the newly refreshed 2013 Ford Taurus SHO, as part of a weeklong excursion for PCMag’s Fastest Mobile Networks 2012. For the uninitiated, Ford Sync attempts to integrate the car’s GPS navigation, entertainment options (including iPod and satellite radio), climate controls, and hands-free voice calling into a single, unified in-dash interface. There are four main Sync packages, some of which are available in different cars; Ford’s website details them all in a feature comparison table.

With the Taurus, Ford Sync with MyFord Touch is standard on the SHO and Limited models, available as an $800 upgrade on the SEL, but not available on the SE. Ford Sync with MyFord Touch is also available on the Ford Edge, Explorer, Focus, and Fusion, as well as the Lincoln MKX and upcoming 2013 Lincoln MKZ. During this review, I’m going to focus entirely on Ford Sync, and de-emphasize other features like the rear-view backup camera, the various safety systems, and the twin-turbo V6-powered Taurus SHO’s overall performance and handling—which was surprisingly excellent, despite the car’s 202-inch length and 4,300-pound curb weight.

With all that out of the way, let’s get to the Ford Sync system itself. Inside the Taurus SHO, you get a distinct sense of being in a “Car of the Future,” even though the system has been available for several years now, albeit in lesser form. The first thing that hits you are the multiple displays. A large, 8-inch, plastic resistive touch screen sits in the center of the dashboard. Two smaller, non-touch, 4.2-inch LCD cluster screens flank an oversized speedometer in front of the driver. All three screens are bright and colorful, with finely drawn fonts.

Ford Sync (2013 Ford Taurus SHO)

Two five-way control pads—once on each steering wheel spoke—control each of the cluster LCDs. Numerous dashboard and additional steering wheel buttons also control various aspects of the system. Open the center-mounted armrest and you’ll reveal two USB ports, an SD card slot, and a set of composite audio and video jacks.

Ford has listened to some of the criticism regarding Sync, and has upgraded the system significantly for 2013. It’s most obvious in the user interface, which now features larger fonts, clearer buttons, and streamlined menus. Getting around the Sync with MyFord Touch interface now qualifies as intuitive for the most part. But at times, it’s still frustrating. On the main screen, for example, there’s a four-quadrant interface, with each quadrant color-coded to a specific task: Entertainment, Navigation, Climate, and Voice. The UI is laid out well enough, but to switch modes, you must press the absolute corner of the screen—why not just press anywhere in the quadrant to switch?

But the main culprit is still touch sensitivity. For the 8-inch center-mounted screen, Ford employs a plastic resistive touch display, which requires deliberate presses and often doesn’t trigger properly. I found myself pressing the screen two or three times just to advance each step. On a few occasions, the screen stopped responding entirely. When this happened, I had to jump back to the home screen, and then return manually to where I was to restore functionality. Other times, the system blinked out entirely, returned to the home screen, and forgot what mode I was in altogether. Cars generally don’t feature glass capacitive touch screens—Ford is far from alone here—but given the level of sophistication inherent in Ford Sync, it could use one.

POI Database and Destination Search
Ford gives you a variety of options for setting up destinations, including a comprehensive POI (point-of-interest) database, as well as the ability to enter street addresses and intersections. You can also search for POIs near the car and near a particular city. There are several sublevels of POI categories, most of which are sensibly organized. You can also set up multi-segment routing, entering each destination as a waypoint.

Crib notes: What you need to know before buying a mattress

White crib in a blue room

Buying a crib mattress may not seem like nearly as much fun as picking out a designer stroller or dolling up the nursery, but it’s one of the most important baby products you’ll buy.

“Babies spend up to 70 percent of the time in their crib and they’re bones are soft and growing faster than at any other time of their life. They need the support of a firm crib mattress,” says Dennis Schuetz, director of marketing, merchandising and special accounts for Colgate Kids, a crib mattress company based in Atlanta. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a firm crib mattress, too. Either a foam or inner-spring mattress will do the job. The opening bid for a high-quality foam or innerspring crib mattress is around $149, Schuetz says. Trouble is, mushy mattresses tend to cost less than that. And they’re the most popular sellers because many parents don’t realize how important a good crib mattress is, so they go with the lowest priced.

In fact, “a crib mattress is such an important purchase that you should actually go to the store and feel it,” Schuetz says, rather than just buy one blindly online. Do the push test: Sandwich the mattress between your hands and squeeze from both sides in the middle. If the mattress doesn’t give much at all, you’ve got a contender. Think brick. What might seem too hard for you, isn’t too firm for your baby to sleep on.

You can spend a lot more than $149 for a crib mattress. On Amazon, you can shell out up to $699 for a crib mattress that happens to have dual firmness (a firm side for infants and a cushier side for toddlers). It’s “organic,” too. But spending a lot isn’t necessarily better. Babies can get used to sleeping on a firm surface and won’t suddenly object to it once they become toddlers, Schuetz says. Also, there’s no standard definition of organic in the crib mattress industry. A mattress company can call a crib mattress organic even if just the mattress cover is made from certified organic cotton, which may not be water proof and isn’t great for diaper leaks. And if the organic mattress happens to squish a little in the middle when you test it, it’s definitely not a healthy choice for your baby. “You could easily pay more for an organic mattress and not get as good a mattress,” Schuetz says.

Bottom line: Do your homework in the store and do the push test. And keep in mind that all crib mattresses sold in the U.S. must meet safety standards established by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008. As a result, “every crib mattress in America has components that are chemically safe for a baby,” Schuetz says.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1)

The Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1) ($399.99, 16GB) joins the ever-growing, all-sizes-covered lineup of Samsung tablets, following right behind its baby brother, the Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) ($249.99, 4 stars). The Tab 2 (10.1) attempts to strike a balance between price and performance, forgoing hardware upgrades and instead focusing on an improved user experience from Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich.” We found the 7.0 to be a bargain at $249. But at $399, the 10.1 just can’t deliver against the same-price Apple iPad 2 ($399, 4 stars) and the less-expensive Asus Transformer Pad TF300 ($379, 4 stars).

Design and Features
While it won’t win any awards for innovative design, the Tab 2 (10.1) is still an attractively built plastic tablet. At 10.10 by 6.90 by 0.38 inches (HWD) and 1.25 pounds, it is nearly identical in size and weight to the original Galaxy Tab 10.1 ($499, 3.5 stars). The iPad 2 is slightly thinner at 0.34 inch. Along the top edge are the Power and Volume buttons, as well as a microSD card slot, micro USB port, and standard-size 3.5mm headphone jack. The addition of a microSD card slot is one of the notable variations between the Tab 2 (10.1) and the original Tab 10.1, which offered no storage expandability. Our 64GB SanDisk card worked fine in the Tab 2 (10.1). Samsung offers only a single 16GB model of the tablet, so the expandable memory is a welcome addition.

View Slideshow
See all (5) slides


Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1) : Angle


Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1) : Angle


Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1) : Screen


Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1) : Touch Screen


The same 1,280-by-800-pixel TFT display remains, and it’s higher resolution than the iPad 2′s 1,024-by-768-pixel display. The TF300 has the same screen size and resolution, but the Tab 2 (10.1) gets noticeably brighter, with a bit more color saturation. Neither, however, is quite as brilliant as the Asus Transformer Prime’s ($499, 4 stars) Super IPS+ display. And the Retina display on the New iPad ($499, 4.5 stars) at 2,048 by 1,536, well, that’s still in a class of its own.

A Wi-Fi only tablet, the Tab 2.0 (10.1) connects to 802.11b/g/n networks and integrates Bluetooth 3.0. The rear-facing 3-megapixel camera from the original Tab 10.1 remains, but Samsung downgraded the front-facing camera from 2 megapixels to VGA resolution.

Hardware, Apps, and Performance
The Tab 2 (10.1) is powered by a now-aging 1GHz dual-core TI OMAP 4430 processor and 1GB RAM. That differs slightly from the 1GHz dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 chip featured on the original Tab 10.1. In our benchmark tests, the Tab 2 (10.1) scored significantly lower than the less-expensive Transformer Pad TF300, which features Nvidia’s quad-core Tegra 3 processor. In real world usage, the Tab 2 (10.1) felt slower than the TF300. Gaming performance was also lacking, with the Tab 2 (10.1) scoring just 18.7 frames per second on our graphics benchmark, compared with the TF300′s much smoother 47.1 frames per second.  

Android 4.0 is a major upgrade from 3.2 (Honeycomb), but there are still some problems here. Samsung adds its signature TouchWiz Android overlay and animations like swiping between home screens lack the fluidity found in other ICS tablets, like the TF300, and the mini app tray that was so useful on the 7.0 was often laggy in my tests.

App availability for 10-inch Android tablets still falls far short of the Apple iPad, which has over 200,000 third-party apps with UIs designed specifically for tablets. To help remedy the problem, Samsung loads its own app store, which offers up a few hundred well-selected apps. You can also get the Tablified Market ($1.49, 4 stars), with its list of 1,500 or so top-notch tablet apps. All the same preloaded apps and widgets on the 7.0 are here on the 10.1, including Netflix, Kindle, and Dropbox (with a free 50GB of storage for a year). Bloatware is non-existent.

You get the same IR port and Peel Remote app found on the 7.0, both of which worked fine in my tests. Media playback was no problem; the tablet handled Xvid, DivX, MPEG4, H.264, and AVI videos (at 1080p resolution) and MP3, AAC, FLAC, OGG, WAV, and WMA audio files. The 3-megapixel camera takes better photos than the iPad 2′s subpar camera does, but it’s still not a viable replacement for a digital camera. Video recording tops out at 720p, while the TF300 can capture full 1080p HD with its 8-megapixel camera.

The Tab 2 (10.1) includes a 7,000mAh battery that Samsung rates at up to 9 hours of video playback. In our test, which loops a video with the screen set to maximum brightness, and Wi-Fi switched on, the Tab 2 (10.1) lasted 6 hours, 17 minutes. That’s significantly less than the Transformer Pad TF300′s 7 hours, 53 minutes. 

Conclusions
Overall, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1) costs too much for the mediocre performance it delivers. The Galaxy Tab 2 (7.0) is a good deal at $250, offering a host of useful features for its budget price. But with the Asus Transformer Pad TF300 and Apple iPad 2 both in the 10-inch mix, the Galaxy Tab 2 loses out falling short in both performance and app selection. If you have to have a Samsung tablet, go for the 7-inch Tab 2, or hold out for the Galaxy Note 10.1, which is expected later this year. If you need integrated LTE, the Galaxy Tab 7.7 ($699.99, 3.5 stars) is one of the most elegantly designed tablets around, but it’s also one of the priciest.

More Tablet Reviews:
•   Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 (10.1)
•   Toshiba Excite 10 LE
•   Acer Iconia Tab A510
•   Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.7 (Verizon Wireless)
•   Asus Transformer Pad TF300
•  more

IGN UK Podcast: Behind The Xbox Scenes


And now for something a little different…

This week on the IGN UK Podcast we talk to three people who spend their days making games (and you might just remember them from last week’s podcast).

Rog Carpenter, a producer at Microsoft Studios responsible for its European Arcade output, joins us to talk Trials Evolution and Minecraft on XBLA.

Jen Clixby, who is a producer over Lionhead Studios, and her colleague and game designer Ted Timmins also drop into the podcast to talk about working on the recent Fable Heroes.

So join Stu and Daniel to find out how our guests got their breaks in the industry, what really goes into making a game, and what it’s really like working with the inimitable Peter Molyneux.

You can listen to the podcast right now:

Or download later to listen whenever suits you:


Remember, if you’ve got something to say to the IGN UK team, grab us on Twitter page, our Facebook page, or via email at ignukfeedback@ign.com.

Game Scoop! Podcast: Episode 245


Welcome back to Game Scoop!, IGN’s weekly show that attacks your funny bone for massive damage. Your guides this week will be Daemon Hatfield, Greg Miller, Mitch Dyer, and Brian Altano.

This week: Assassin’s Creed III, Hitman: Absolution, The Avengers, and a surprise visit from an old friend.

Want to download this podcast automatically each week? Subscribe here.

Please to enjoy:

Inquiring minds: e-mail us your questions.

Lather, rinse, reuse, repeat

Woman holding reusable shopping bag full of groceries.

Raise your hand if you’re guilty of this: You schlep unwashed produce, drippy meat packages and sweaty milk containers, along with a smorgasbord of groceries and cleaning products, in your reusable grocery bags week after week, without so much as a thought to cleaning those, now potentially, bacterially contaminated bags. You simply hang them back on the hook, ready for your next eco-conscious shopping trip.

You (and I) are not alone: Only 15 percent of Americans bother to regularly clean their reusable bags, according to a new survey by the Home Food Safety program, a collaboration between the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) and ConAgra Foods.

While we may be saving the environment with our burlap, canvas or recycled plastic totes, we may be putting ourselves at risk for food poisoning if we don’t treat them like we do any other food container–by washing them after each use.

“Cross-contamination occurs when juices from raw meats or germs from unclean objects come in contact with cooked or ready-to-eat foods like breads or produce,” said registered dietitian and Academy spokesperson Ruth Frechman, in a released statement. “Unwashed grocery bags are lingering with bacteria which can easily contaminate your foods.”

Home Food Safety offers these tips to keep your grocery totes a healthy vehicle for food transportation. (I’ve added some food for thought, where appropriate):

  • Wash totes in the washing machine, or by hand, with hot, soapy water. The machine will probably work best for fabric totes. And some fabric totes may shrink, so you’ll either want to line dry them or dry them on low setting. You should probably use elbow grease for your recycled plastic totes. To get all the nooks and crannies, turn the tote inside out and then wash it down.
  • To prevent juices from meat, fish and poultry from leaking, put these packages into a separate plastic bag before placing in your tote, and keep these items in a tote separate from other foods. Since the use of plastic bags kind of defeats the entire purpose of reusable grocery totes, you may want to mark, and designate, a certain bag specifically for these items. Just be sure to tell the bagger about it.
  • Clean all areas where you place your totes, to avoid cross contamination. Yes, the undersides of totes can harbor germs, too, especially if you place them directly into bacteria-crawling grocery carts and kitchen floors.
  • Store clean totes in a clean, dry location. Avoid storing totes in the trunk of your vehicle, especially if they aren’t clean since hot and humid conditions cause bacteria to flourish.