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Hands on with the Google phone: a solid device that won't unseat the iPhone

I kind of felt like I was cheating on my wife — in this case an iPhone — when I checked out the new Google phone the other day at a T-Mobile store. I must admit I was seduced.

After more than a year of writing about the so-called Google phone and the Android mobile operating system, I actually held one in my hands. The G1, as it is known, called to me. It wasn’t as poorly manufactured as I feared it might be; its display was bright, crisp and intoxicating; its operating system seemed fun and promising.

At first blush, I was smitten. But as in any relationship, the more time you spend with someone — or in this case something — the more you learn.

What I learned about the G1 I’m sharing with you. Like the wise Om Malik, I prefer a less formal review format because there are many fine reviewers out there who’ve been testing the G1 for weeks. Like Uncle Walt from the Wall Street Journal. Or David Pogue at The New York Times. And all the usual gadget and mobile blogs.

I tend to focus on the user experience of any product, which in this case is important as the G1’s chief competitor, Apple’s iPhone, seemingly has cornered the market on usability and consumer imagination. Since the release of the iPhone 3G in July, Apple has sold nearly seven million phones this quarter.

For the so-called Google phone to reach that kind of success, it must complete with Apple on the user experience battlefield, not just over features and functions. This will be harder for the G1 because it has three parents, not one like the iPhone.

There’s Google, developer of Android.

There’s HTC, the manufacturer.

And there’s T-Mobile, the carrier.

In the near future, other manufacturers and carriers will be involved with the development of Google phones. All of them will provide different interpretations of Android with new features and functions and user experiences. Will they rival that of the iPhone? Or will they become another, albeit solid, contender?

We have our first answer.

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NBC should give "Saturday Night Live" its own dedicated Web site

No matter what you think of “Saturday Night Live,” NBC’s late-night comedy program deserves its own dedicated Web site.

Comedy Central has given Web sites to “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “South Park,” so why shouldn’t one of the longest-running, seminal TV shows have its own dedicated site?

“Saturday Night Live” head writer Seth Meyers said in a podcast with ESPN’s Bill Simmons late last week that NBC was working on an “SNL” site. Meyers said plans for the site have gained momentum with the recent success of the hilarious Tina Fey-Sarah Palin clips on Hulu and [See Broadcasting & Cable report.]

Among ideas being discussed, Meyers said the site would include a mix of sketches from the “SNL” library and dress rehearsals that never aired. The site might also feature original comedy, cast member Web pages, their “Top 10” sketches of all time, as well as the favorite moments from that week’s guest host.

During a hotly contested political race, like the one Barack Obama and John McCain are currently embroiled in, it makes sense for “SNL” to have its own Web site. But what about non-political seasons? As Rafat Ali notes at, “My two cents: SNL beyond the election skits still sucks, so stick to the knitting, don’t get into the rights-clearing quagmire, and keep pushing on Hulu and”

I agree that “SNL” has sucked for many, many years, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it shouldn’t have its own dedicated site — especially in light of the success of “The Daily Show” and “South Park.”

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YouTube adds select TV shows from CBS; takes aim at Hulu for long-form video content

We wouldn’t call YouTube a sleeping giant necessarily, but when it comes to long-form video the world’s dominant video-sharing site certainly seems to be cat-napping.

Other sites such as Hulu, the joint venture between Fox and NBC, have been getting much of the long-form video attention and name recognition, whereas YouTube remains known for short-form content that lasts 10 minutes or less.

Google, YouTube’s parent, is seeking to change this as it has added select full-length content from CBS in an attempt to take on Hulu and attract other network content to YouTube. [YouTube blog]

Available full-length shows include 20- to 48-minute episodes from CBS’s past and present lineup, including “Star Trek,” “MacGyver,” and “Beverly Hills 90210.” The season premiers of “Dexter” and “Californication” and current episodes of “Young and Restless” will also be shown on YouTube.

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First look: YouTube's e-commerce leaves lots of room for improvement

In an effort to make money from YouTube, Google introduced this week an e-commerce component to the popular video-sharing site that allows users to click buttons to buy music, video, and games from iTunes or Amazon.

The idea has merit, but its execution — at least in this early stage — is in need of improvement. It’s not unlike other Google initial-release products.

Here’s how it works: The Good

Say you’re messing around on YouTube and you watch a video from an artist you like — Katy Perry or Raphael Saadiq. Just underneath the video, below the ratings and the sharing and social network links, there are two buttons to download the song or video from Amazon’s MP3 store or iTunes.

Clicking on either one takes  you directly to the song at either store. The purchase process is exactly what you’re used to at AmazonMP3 or iTunes.

“If you like the song,  you don’t need to leave Google or leave the site to buy it,” Bakari Brock, business affairs counsel at  YouTube, told The New York Times. [See also Advertising Age]

That’s not exactly true. Clicking on Amazon, of course, takes you to AmazonMP3, while clicking on iTunes takes you to, naturally, iTunes. But you still leave YouTube, although the page you were viewing remains intact.

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UK pop/rock stars join Featured Artists Coalition to put pressure for change on music industry

It’s certainly a noble notion — and here’s to the success of the Featured Artists’ Coalition, even if it does appear to be a longshot.

Dozens of UK pop and rock stars, including Radiohead, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, Kate Nash, Gang of Four, and The Verve, are among the acts who have signed on to a new music-industry pressure group, the Featured Artists’ Coalition [via the BBC and others].

As the music industry continues to shuffle, kicking and screaming, into the digital age, the FAC seeks to protect the artists’ rights over their own music, in addition to having a greater say in how their songs are sold and getting a bigger slice of the profits.

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Sony continues to plug along, introducing promising third-generation eBook reader

Sony announced its third-generation electronic book reader this week at the same time it appears that the iPhone has overtaken the Kindle as the industry’s No. 1 reader.

Stanza, a book-reading application available through Apple’s App Store, has been downloaded more than 395,000 times and continues to be installed at an average rate of 5,000 copies a day, according its developer Lexcycle [via Forbes].

Forbes notes than Citigroup has estimated that Amazon will sell around 380,000 Kindles in 2008, making the iPhone — at least in loosely-defined terms — the No. 1 eBook device. Titles available for Stanza are mostly public domain, not best-sellers.

Sony, which entered the eBook market long before Amazon or Apple (through third-party developers), isn’t expected to sell nearly as many Readers as Kindles or approach as many users as Stanza on the iPhone. Even so, with its third-generation Reader Sony continues to plug along and, in nearly every respect, has the best eBook device.

Without actually seeing and using the device, it’s hard to say if the new Sony Reader will live up to its specs and is worth $400, but the improvements seem substantial with a few exceptions.

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Taking aim at Apple and Sony, Nintendo announces new DSi portable media device

Meet the Nintendo DSi.

As expected, Nintendo announced its latest portable gaming device, dubbed the DSi, at its fall press conference. The DSi is not a game-only device, however, as it includes browsing capabilities, Wi-Fi, a 3-megapixel camera, and other enhancements that bring it more in line with Apple’s iPod Touch and iPhone and Sony’s PlayStation Portable products. In fact, the DSi is not considered a replacement for the current DS Lite line but a complement, or “third platform.”

The juicy DSi details, brought to us by the folks at Kotaku, include:

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Will Android be Motorola's savior? Company confirms its interest in Google's mobile OS

This comes as no shock, and it just might save Motorola’s cell phone hide.

According to BetaNews, Motorola has confirmed it is working on a new phone that utilizes Google’s mobile operating system Android. It’s no surprise because Motorola was a founding member of the Google-led Open Handset Alliance.

“We’re excited about the innovation possibilities on Android, and (we) look forward to delivering great products in partnership with Google and the Open Handset Alliance (OHA),” Motorola said in a statement.

Since the announcement of Android at the end of last year, HTC, Motorola, Samsung, and LG Electronics all have been rumored to be interested in manufacturing an Android handset. HTC is the first to deliver an Android phone, the G1, which will be available later this month and sold by T-Mobile in the U.S.

Other handset manufacturers have laid low, however, keeping their Android plans quiet. For its part, Motorola has been working diligently to solve its ailing cell phone business. Earlier this year it decided to spin off its troubled cell phone division from the rest of the company.

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Another crisis looming? Report: Apple threatens to shut down iTunes over royalty rates

The headlines were pretty jarring . . .

“Apple threatens to shut down the iTunes Store over royalty rate increases”

“Apple threatens to shut down iTunes Store (really!) if forced to pay higher rates”

“Apple’s digital music showdown” … “an Apple threat to close iTunes looms”

Huh? What gives?

Seems that the Copyright Royalty Board, a three-judge panel that oversees statutory licenses granted under federal copyright law, is expected to rule Thursday on a request by the National Publishers’ Association to increase royalty rates paid to its members on songs purchased from online stores like iTunes.

The publishers’ association wants rates increased from 9 cents to 15 cents a track. At the same time, the Digital Media Association, which represents digital music stores, wants rates lowered to 4.8 cents per track.

Apple, the No. 1 music seller in the world, accounts for 85 percent of digital songs sold. It pays an estimated 70 percent of digital music revenue to record companies, who pass on a percentage to artists.

Eddy Cue, an Apple vice president, filed a statement with the board around April 2007 — why it’s coming to light now is anybody’s guess — said, “If the [iTunes Store] was forced to absorb any increase in the . . . royalty rate, the result would be to significantly increase the likelihood of the store operating at a financial loss — which is no alternative at all.

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Review: MySpace Music is perfect for those who like MySpace

The new MySpace Music is exactly what you’d expect from MySpace: organized clutter, lots of Flash movement, overwhelming advertising, banner ads, and everything screaming for your attention at once.

For some of us (read: older folks and those with no interest in MySpace), MySpace Music holds little interest. But to the tens of millions of kids and young adults who cruise through MySpace daily, MySpace Music might be just what they want.

Developing MySpace Music is an excellent strategic move by MySpace, but how successful it will be in the long run depends on its execution and relationship with Amazon’s MP3 store.

I spent the day playing around with MySpace Music, and this is what I found — besides a wonderful R&B album by Raphael Saadiq.

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