Weekly output: When tech reviews go wrong (x2), TV show streams, Lightning cables

In addition to the stories below, I was on the local news this week–but not for anything related to my work. A WJLA correspondent and cameraman were looking for quotes from passerby in Ballston about the possible sequestration budget cuts, and an optimistic sentence or two from me showed up on Monday’s broadcast.

2/13/2013: When The Gadget You Review Can Also Review Your Work, Disruptive Competition Project

In the first of two posts about Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk’s attack on a negative review of the Model S by New York Times reporter John Broder, I looked at how the rise of social media and the ability of connected devices and apps to log a journalist’s use change the dynamic between reviewer and review. For more thoughts along those lines, see Dan Frommer and Mathew Ingram.

2/15/2013: How Breakthrough Technology Can Get Beaten Up In The Press, Disruptive Competition Project

After reading enough comments accusing Broder of being a liar, a shill or worse (as opposed to placing too much trust in tech support from Tesla executives that normal drivers wouldn’t get anyway), I followed up by unpacking some real reasons why the media can misread disruptive technology so badly. One example: my first review of the iPad.

USAT Web-only TV column2/17/2013: Why are some TV show streams web-only?, USA Today

Months ago, my column briefly mentioned the uselessness of ESPN’s WatchESPN app: Unlike its site of the same name, that program doesn’t let us watch ESPN3. I exchanged a few e-mails with PR reps for the sports network about that, then had an excuse to revisit the gap between Web and app availability of online video after getting annoyed by 30 Rock’s absence from Hulu’s mobile and connected-TV apps.

The column also shares advice (hat tip, MacRumors and Lifehacker) about getting non-Apple Lightning cables for less at Amazon and Monoprice. Why so few alternatives so long after the debut of that connector? Apple engineered Lightning to enforce a sort of DRM on the accessories market, as the New York Times’ Brian X. Chen explained this week.

On Sulia, I shared my skepticism about the latest connected-watch fad (now with more Apple rumors!), discussed the unsettling but unavoidable PR trend of enticing reporters with all the Web traffic the agency or the client’s social-media channels can send to a post, and noted how Microsoft’s checkbook hasn’t been able to buy enough updates to the Windows Phone Foursquare client it hired an outside developer to write. You also would have gotten a preview of Wednesday’s post on Monday; Sulia’s more generous character count made it a better place than Twitter to sketch out that story idea.

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When review hardware goes bad

I hate it when this happens.

ImageThe low-battery logo you see at right comes from the screen of the Nokia Lumia 900 that I reviewed last week. That–and the AT&T logo it occasionally gets stuck on as the phone attempts to boot–represent the only signs of life this review model has shown since the weekend.

What I thought was an isolated charging problem–I was foolishly extrapolating from a gripe in TechnoBuffalo’s review about the phone not charging when powered off–seems to be a more serious issue, well beyond my ability to fix.

(No, I can’t pop out the battery; it’s sealed inside the 900′s case. The force-rebooting techniques suggested by Nokia PR haven’t worked either.)

In case you were convinced that all loaner hardware has been carefully inspected, massaged and polished to rule out any chance of failure, consider this as contrary proof. And it’s not even the first time this year I’ve had a loaner device go sideways; the Galaxy Nexus provided by Verizon drained its battery at a frightening rate with WiFi active and somehow saved a few photos without the usual timestamp.

Nokia says they’ll replace the defective phone, but in the bargain I have to count on them to wipe my info from the device. Not that I don’t trust them to do that–but I’m a lot more comfortable when review hardware heads home without any of my personal data on board.

This also means that if you come to my CEA Web chat–noon to 1 p.m. Eastern on this Friday April 13–with questions about the Nokia 900 or Windows Phone 7, I may have to wing some of my answers. But please stop by anyway.

Moving out, part 1: returning review hardware

It’s been a heart-warming few days reading my e-mail and the occasional supportive blog post (seriously, doesn’t somebody want to highlight the hack work I’ve subjected readers to?), but I do have a day job.

And part of that involves logistics: returning review hardware.

One lesser-known fact about tech PR is that while some loaner hardware comes with strict return deadlines, a lot of it doesn’t. When you add in my typical level of distraction and forgetfulness, plus the storage space available here and at home, you get a backlog of gadgets past their sell-by date–despite my avowed policy of not keeping review hardware for personal use. Here’s a partial list:

  • Logitech Revue Google TV (I had legitimate aspirations of revisiting my earlier review, but when I turned it on one last time and got the only software update available, it still doesn’t feature the Android Market that was supposed to arrive “in early 2011″)
  • Xbox 360 and Kinect sensor
  • MacBook Air laptop (I have to confess that I’ve used this for some work trips)
  • Verizon iPhone, Sprint Samsung Epic, T-Mobile MyTouch 4G and AT&T Samsung Focus phones (I don’t know that I even turned on the 4G)
  • Two USB mobile-broadband modems
  • “ClearStream” over-the-air TV antenna (it didn’t seem to work better than the hardware I had at home)
  • Peek wireless e-mail reader (never turned on)
  • A collection of Powermat inductive-charging mats and adapters
  • Zune HD player (Microsoft said I could keep it around for reference purposes, then it never left a desk drawer until reports of the Zune’s demise emerged last month).
  • Various Bluetooth headsets sent unsolicited
  • Elgato eyeTV and and turbo.264 video-to-Mac adapters (the date on my eyeTV review actually understates how long that’s been sitting around)
  • ClickFree external backup hard drive (yikes, that might have been collecting dust in a drawer for even longer)
  • Far too many random, unidentifiable cables to count

That inventory leaves out things I’ve reviewed within the past month or so, such as the iPad 2 and Motorola Xoom tablets and three of the four Android 4G phones I covered two weeks ago.

It also omits an embarrassing oversight remedied only recently: Months after trashing AT&T’s HTC Pure smartphone for its “inept” Windows Mobile 6.5 software, I discovered that I must have sent back an empty box to Microsoft’s PR firm. The phone itself was hiding at the bottom of the desk drawer–and nobody had even called me on that. (See, nobody cared about WM 6.5!)

So if you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to around the office, there’s one answer: I’m trying to contact the publicists involved to see if they want any of this back. If they don’t, I may hand the hardware off to my colleagues for their possible use.

Or it will get sent to the Post’s equivalent of the Island of Misfit Toys. Every December, we fill an auditorium with all the leftover things sent here for review, from novels to cookbooks to DVDs to bottles of wine, sell it off to employees at going-out-of-business prices and then donate the proceeds of this exercise in crazed capitalism (typically over $10,000) to the N Street Village homeless shelter a few blocks away.

That annual discounted-shopping opportunity is one thing I’ll miss about this place. But not the only thing.