Author: Bobby Green

The poor Sony Mylo: It just can’t get no respect. Even with its beautiful hi-resolution color touch screen and its slide-out, backlit QWERTY keyboard, reviewers constantly lambaste it for not being an Iphone or a PSP or a Blackberry. Sadly, they’ve pretty much missed the entire point of what the Mylo does, and does very, very nicely. Equipped with a built in 802.11B/G interface, the Mylo can surf the web for free anywhere you can find a free WiFi hotspot. Sony has partnered with Wayport to insure that the nearest free hot spot is a close as your local McDonald’s.

The Mylo is one of a number of new MID’s (Mobile Internet Devices) that lets people stay in touch with all their IM and e-mail buddies without having to lug a laptop around. The redesigned Sony Mylo COM-2 (an acronym for “MY Life Online”) corrects a number of serious shortcomings in the first version and adds important new features. The ability to connect to the web for free at various WiFi hotspots in coffee shops and colleges makes it very attractive to chronically impoverished high school and college students. When set to demo mode, the attractive young adults showing off Mylo’s various features clearly indicate that the device is meant for skateboarders, not shuffleboarders.
Viking Electronics – Free Catalog

Reviewers have been hard on poor little Mylo 2 and his older sibling, the original Mylo. The Mylo brothers are forever faulted for not being a *real* cell phone, able to connect to the web anywhere there’s a cell tower. Those reviewers completely miss Mylo’s entire reason for being: no onerous cell phone contract. The Mylo is a perfect choice for teenagers wanting to surf the net, check Facebook, look up something in Google and make Skype phone calls. As long as they can find a free WiFi hotspot, they can surf all they like because there’s no minute meter constantly running. That alone would make at least a few industrious youngsters look quite diligently for free hotpots. The web site claims there are 24647 free WiFi hotspots in the US.

While a number of tech pundits dismiss the Mylo as “no threat” to cell phones, Verizon must be worried just a little bit. Their latest “jail house” themed TV ads urge current WiFi’ers: “don’t be tethered by WiFi hot spots, get Verizon broadband.” Of course, the cost for that freedom from that tether is hardly mentioned. While things have improved slightly, a typical cell phone carrier bill for web use is loaded with extra fees for text messages, premium content, roaming, exceeding download limits and much, much more. As many cell phone users have discovered, the many surcharges for web use make mobile computing a very pricey proposition indeed. And who hasn’t heard the news stories about teenagers running up thousands of dollars in fees on cell phones because they had no idea what each call was costing?

With prices skyrocketing everywhere and cell phone companies looking to lock users into two year “penalty for early withdrawal” contracts, the Mylo’s ability to tap into free WiFi hotspots can end up as quite a bonanza for the right end users. The Mylo 2 is far kinder to one’s wallet than any cell phone web surfing solution. Users should save a substantial sum by year’s end if they can get by accessing the many thousands of open access points nationwide.

To insure that the Mylo has a fighting chance, Sony has partnered with Wayport to offer free Mylo access through December 31, 2010. Mylo 2 customers will have a free access to Wayport’s WiFi network at more than 9000 McDonald’s and various hotels, airports and other venues. Check for coverage details.

Weighing in at just over 5″ x 1″ x 2.5″ the Mylo 2 comes with 1 GB of RAM. It also has a slot for a Memory Stick Duo/Pro Duo. Unfortunately 8GB is the largest capacity Memory stick currently on the market, lagging behind other memory card formats. Mylo supports both the IEEE 802.11b and the IEEE 802.11g wireless network protocols at 11 and 54 Mbps, respectively.

While the first Mylo, released in 2006, did not enjoy widespread success, the second version of Sony has certainly learned from past mistakes. The newer version has a slide out, back-lit keyboard that makes it easy to use in dim lighting.

The original Mylo used the slower, 11Mbps WiFi B technology, whereas the new unit utilizes WiFi G that runs at 54Mmbps as well as the older 11 Mbps B speeds. The display has been bumped from 320 by 240 to an incredible 800 by 480 pixel touch screen. The Mylo 2 also comes with a 1.3 megapixel camera, file upload and download via WiFi or USB cable as well as an integrated RSS reader, customized widgets and a $50 lower list price of $299.

The multiple key function QWERTY keyboard, which slides quite slickly out from under the screen, is among the best we’ve seen. The look is of a high tech Euro sports car dashboard. The individual keys are small but there’s enough room around them to make them easier to hit than some other handhelds we have tried. For password and sign-in text entry, it’s far better than the multiple tap numeric keypad method of far too many cell phones. The number keys take a bit of getting used to because they aren’t highlighted or marked differently from the other keys so they’re a bit hard to find at first. There’s also a joystick on the left that scrolls through the various menus. You press it down to select an item. There’s a sensor that detects when it’s dark and turns on the backlight automatically. Sweet!

The Mylo’s 800 by 480 resolution blows the doors right off the Apple Iphone’s 480×320 pixel display. The Mylo also allows you to upload and download content, something that’s sorely lacking from Apple’s Iphone and Ipod Touch. While you need excellent vision to surf the web and read text with the Mylo, it IS possible and more importantly, it works without having to drive yourself crazy panning left and right to read a normal width screen. The remarkably readable display is the “killer” feature that helps makes the Mylo stand out from the rest of the pack. The Mylo 2 provides a sorely-needed HDTV-like bump in quality to handheld devices.

Mylo’s WiFi is very easy to configure. You simply press the SCAN button and Mylo 2 scans and connects to an open WiFi hotspot. Sitting in the McDonald’s parking lot, a single click on SCAN got us on-line and surfing in less than a minute. Without any hassle we were surfing at Google, listening to net radio and fighting off a horde of pop-up windows that the Sony browser does not seem to inhibit anywhere near as well as Firefox. McDonald’s presents the user with a small survey after the login is completed. After assuring them that theWifi connection was the real reason for the visit, we opted out of the rest of the survey and then went off to Google News to read the day’s headlines. We thought that visiting the various news sites would be a good test of the Mylo’s abilities.

If you want to connect to a particular network, you just have to enter the Network settings, choose a network and enter the password. The Mylo 2 is able to connect using the secure WEP network protocol. That’s one of the reasons we acquired the Mylo. We intend to use it as a remote device to interact with our home automation system through a new PC that will be configured as a local hot spot. But that’s the subject of a future article.

The Mylo comes preloaded with several instant-messaging clients, including Google Talk, Yahoo and AIM. While Mylo COM2 does not have cellular phone capabilities, it does have a built in version of Skype on it so you can make VoIP calls to others with VoIP. Fidelity is amazingly clear and indistinguishable from Skype on a desktop.

While you can dial from the keyboard, the difficulty in working with numbers or symbols (which require holding down a function key simultaneously) means you’re gonna love the virtually phone keypad they provide to dial out. These are the sorts of functions that really showcase the abilities of a good touch screen device.

Mylo also allows you to listen to Internet radio, with excellent fidelity. This is something you wouldn’t think of doing casually at typical cellular web access pricing. When we finish building the new WiFi access-point PC we’ll be able to sit out in the yard and listen to BBC radio without worrying about the meter running on a cell phone. There were only a few stations that were using an audio format that Mylo was unable to decode.

Mylo gives you immediate access to Google search, YouTube and Facebook and provides a number of other widgets that you can add. Sony has indicated that they will actively encourage end-user widget development.

Overall, the built-in web browser is quite adequate. It’s not Firefox, but it rendered most sites to look quite like they do on a desktop or laptop. There’s Adobe Flash support with direct downloads and uploads, optimizing the experience of sites like YouTube, MySpace, and Facebook. While there’s no built-in email client, there’s really not much need for it anymore with free web email sites like Gmail and Yahoo. Mylo’s Web browser renders full HTML and not the squashed down, stripped down WAP pages like browsers found on many cell phones and other mobile Internet devices. That a much more helpful feature than it sounds when trying to get around familiar sites on a mobile device.

The Mylo 2 is also a “music box” that supports MP3, AAC, WMA and ATRAC music formats. The sound quality is quite good, and thanks to the fact that Sony’s headset cable accepts standard headphones (although not standard mic/headset combinations) means that you can plug the Mylo 2 into your home stereo system. It’s not quite as convenient as an Ipod dock, but it will do. Sony scores points for allowing multiple paths to the same objective. You can control volume either through the touch screen or via the volume button on the side of the unit. Very nice when you have the unit in your pocket. The volume switch even has a raised bump on the volume increase button so that you can tell whether you are raising or lowering the volume just by tactile feedback.

While it takes a pretty decent picture for a cell phone-like camera (1.3MP) the Mylo 2 is awkward to hold and it is hard to get sharp images as a result. Sony provides a zoom (digital) as well as five sizes and quality choices, white balance settings and a macro mode. There’s a self-portrait mirror on the back, and from the demo video built into the unit, it’s pretty obvious it’s meant to take casual snaps and not Ansel Adams museum quality photographs. Unlike many other embedded electronic cameras, the photos had a good, natural-looking color cast, even under difficult, mixed lighting conditions. The Mylo includes an integrated photo editor for image edits and an image viewer with slide show capabilities.

Battery life is rated at 20 hours for music playback, six hours of constant Skype talk time and seven hours of video playback. Included with the handheld is a microphone, stereo headphones, USB cable, a stylus (wisely attached via a wrist strap) and soft carrying case. You can also buy accessories for the Mylo 2 like faceplates ($20 per pair) and an optional charging cradle ($30). Aside from music and video, you can also listen to podcasts and subscribe to RSS feeds.

Faults? Well, there are a few. While the slide out keyboard is back-lit, the navigation pads that surround the screen are not and make for an interesting experience when using the machine in the dark. We found that we were activating the Home, Back and Options navigation touch spots accidentally far too often when the only light was coming from the screen. That’s a surprising omission given Sony’s determination to improve this version’s human interface. The control pads should either be lit or they should have some surface texturing that tells your fingertips “this is a control area.” This is a lot more important than it might seem at first glance. Since web page loading time can sometimes be quite slow, Sony should have tried a little harder to keep people from accidentally pressing buttons that add even more time to the process.

Another problem is that the microphone and headset use a Sony proprietary connector instead of the industry standard mini-phone plug. This is a rather constant complaint with Sony. Their defense in the past has been that they only deviate from standards when they feel those standards aren’t up to snuff. That’s probably the case here, because like it or not, the Sony connector appears to be stronger and more resistant to accidental disconnection than the standard headset plug. They may also be planning for future expansion of some sort because there are 20 pins on the headset connector, far more than a normal microphone/earphone combination would normally require.

The proprietary problem is reduced somewhat by Sony’s design: The headset cable starts with the special Sony 20 pin right angle connector and when it reaches the microphone they transition back to the standard stereo mini-plug connector for the headphones. This means you can use the headphones that work best for you and not be stuck with Sony’s ear buds. Anyone plagued with big or odd shaped ears that don’t adequately hold onto tiny ear buds will really appreciate this design compromise.

Speaking of non-standard, the unit also uses Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick Duo/Pro format. We could always wish they would wake up and smell the coffee so we’ll just say this, Sony. If you’re so smart about your proprietary formats, who won the Betamax war? Hint: It *wasn’t* Sony!

Bluetooth technology might have been a nice addition for those who hate earphone wires. The Mylo 2, although using much faster wireless technology than the its older sibling, can also be p-a-i-n-f-u-l-l-y slow to load web pages. It also is unable to record video or even voice, which some reviewers assume will be added in a future release since there was so much buzz among the beta testers about it being in the current model before it went on sale. There’s also a knockout in the side of the case that’s not currently in use, leading to more speculation that video may be on the way. Mylo’s gigabyte of memory and excellent quality microphone make the absence of simple voice recording capabilities somewhat perplexing.

The web-surfing experience on the Mylo 2 is far from perfect. A few web sites wouldn’t load at all and left us looking at a blank screen with no hint of what was wrong. Other pages momentarily hang for no apparent reason. Users have to be careful not to upset the Mylo when downloading a page. The browser does not appear to use a cache so each page reloads from scratch if you change magnification or inadvertently hit the BACK touch pad or one of the other touch pads. We hope those sorts of accidental function button activations will diminish as soon as our hands become more use to Mylo’s touch screen. The problem is a thorny one, though, because Sony has placed those activation touch pads around the perimeter of the viewing screen and that’s exactly where people put their thumbs and forefingers, just to hold the darn thing!

Ditto with the camera lens, which is located off to the side and tends to be right where your fingers tend to grab the unit. There’s no on-screen indicator when you switch to and from macro mode, and this presents another vector for blurry pictures. If you get a chance to look at the demo video that comes with the Mylo 2, you’ll see how unnaturally the young woman holds the unit when taking a picture. Be prepared for a lot of blurry photos and at least a few pictures of your own thumb until your fingers adjust and you learn how to brace yourself and the camera when taking pictures. Photography clearly isn’t Mylo’s strongest suit, but it’s nice to have *some* capacity to record images, and Sony’s effort is at least “good enough” for a portable WiFi device.

Sony might want to consider some improvements in the typing of numbers from the keypad as well. It’s just too error-prone at the moment and it seems to be a complaint voiced by many Mylo 2 users on the Mylo forums.

The power switch has an issue, as do so many Sony portable devices. It’s shaped exactly like the wireless LAN switch, and is mounted symmetrically on the case so that the two are easy to confuse. A power button should be unique and hard to mistake for another button in the dark.

The Mylo 2 is not for the ham-handed or those with less than perfect vision. If you’re not blessed with 20/20 vision or you have trouble with your fingers, you had better pass on the Mylo. As Web sites are becoming more and more cluttered, a small screen does little to improve the visual overload most sites create. It’s a shame that more web designers haven’t figured out that Google got so stinking rich by keeping a simple, clean, easy to navigate interface that loads quickly every time.

Many sites have separate areas optimized for reading on the small screen. The New York Times does an excellent job of catering to both the 24″ screen and the 2″ screen. It won’t be long before surfing via handhelds is the norm, not the exception. The sites that have figured out how to present information on the small screen are the ones that are going to get all the hits and all the dollars that follow. Using the Mylo made it quite obvious that for now, an 800 pixel wide screen is a necessity for painless surfing without a dizzying sequence of endless zooms and pans.

Using the Mylo for a few hours helped explain why films about the future always seem to have all these nerdy guys wearing huge telescoping flip-up magnifiers. That’s what they’ll need to read their tiny 1″ square, 10-megapixel wrist communicator Mylo 9 displays.