Weekend Tech Scan: Need another reason to buy a Kindle Fire?

The development of a Slingbox app for Amazon's best selling device adds to its usefulness as an all-media device. The Samsung Note emerges into a tech marketplace primed for tablets.

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The Samsung Galaxy Note is slated for release Feb. 19 through AT&T.

The development of a Slingbox app for Amazon's best selling device adds to its usefulness as an all-media device. The Samsung Note emerges into a tech marketplace primed for tablets.

If you’ve been lustfully eyeing Amazon's Kindle Fire or even been on the ropes about buying one, there’s now an excellent reason to take the plunge. Sling TV is now available on the Kindle Fire.

Sling — or the SlingBox — is a heavenly gift for TV lovers. A Sling Media player allows you to watch anything from your cable TV: local, cable, and premium channels, video on demand, and any video you’re stored on your digital video recorder. Use it on a WiFi or cell network: If you can connect to the Internet, you can watch cable television.

The announcement this past week that the Sling Media app is now a reality for the Fire fills a major hole in the device's entertainment range. Users can now add live TV to the video services already available — Amazon  Prime, Amazon Instant Video, and Hulu Plus (HBO Go is still an apparent holdout). Your $199 gadget is now a full fledged media powerhouse: books, music, movies, radio, games, and live TV.

Of course the Slingbox app is nothing new — the Kindle Fire is virtually the last major system to get the app and it’s available on any PC or Mac computer and any Apple, Android, or Windows Mobile tablet or smartphone. It’s even available on Facebook.

Neither is initiating a Slingbox habit cheap: Setup costs can run anywhere from $200 to $300, not including your monthly cable bill. The app cost for any device is the same ($29.99), but once you’ve paid the one-time equipment charges, you're left with the most portable and smallest possible TV on the market (and well-developed on-screen controls).

The Slingbox (an actual box) needs to plug into both your cable TV set-top box and home wireless router. There are standard TV and HDTV versions. The HD retails for $299.99 and the standard TV for $179.99, though Newegg and Amazon both offer the HD version for under $240 and the Solo for under $150. I would recommend the HD version if you watch HD cable.

Speaking of tablets, the Kindle Fire has broken open the market for inexpensive 7-inch tablets. Starting February 19, another highly touted tablet — the Samsung Galaxy Note — will become available at AT&T stores.

The Note, a tablet/smartphone/sketchpad, was introduced last month with great fanfare at the CES electronics show, where I picked it as one of my favorite devices at CES. Samsung has managed to pack the best features of both a tablet and a smartphone into a single device, and its ability to respond to handwritten notes and drawings is an added plus. 

This is a lightweight (6.3 oz.) 4G LTE phone network-compatible device with a huge 5.3-inch high-resolution AMOLED screen, Gorilla Glass, powerful processor, an 8-megapixel camera, the Android Gingerbread operating system, (a Samsung representative said it will upgrade to the new Ice Cream Sandwich OS), and 13.3 hours of talk time at 3G speeds.

To say that opinions about the Note have been all over the map would be an understatement. Engadget noted “you’ll either completely love or totally hate [it];" TheVerge called it “a bad idea done extremely well” and Wired posed the question, “Does the world really need a 5-inch phone with a stylus?”

To paraphrase that old hackneyed Clinton-era phrase, “It’s the size, stupid.” You’ll either find the 5.3-inch (diagonal) screen tolerable — an iPhone 4S, by contrast, has a 3.5-inch screen — or a deal-killer.  If you like the idea of an all-in-one device, this is as close to that ideal as any yet released. It will behoove you to go into a store, pick it up, and try it for yourself.

Initially, the Note will be sold exclusively at AT&T stores, with pre-orders starting this weekend. The cost is $299 with a two-year plan, and it will retail for about $600 with no plan, according to an AT&T spokesperson.

Meanwhile, Geekwire is reporting that 96 percent of all Washington state residents have access to broadband.

In a report released this past week, the Washington State Broadband Office indicated that 2011 was a “watershed year for broadband connectivity in Washington.” A reported 96.1 percent of residents now have access to broadband connections of 3 Mbps or higher, backed by broad public and private investment. There was an especially significant rise in the heavily populated I-5 corridor, where connectivity speeds leaped from under 10 Mbps in June 2010 to as much as 25 Mbps a year later.

Washington state ranked 23rd out of 56 states and territories in terms of broadband connectivity. The report also found that 44 percent of residents have access to at least four wireline carriers (landline providers) — well above the national average of 9.3 percent. This might not come as a surprise for a state that's birthed two of the nation's largest tech companies, but Washingtonians are a pretty connected bunch.


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