Monday, 6 December 2010

Blackberry Torch

If we're being totally honest, if you're lucky enough to have the choice of Android, Apple, Windows, Bada, or even Symbian, its very easy to overlook a new blackberry handset release as 'insignificant'. For many years now, Rim devices have had 'issues'. Issues that have annoyed, angered, infuriated many an ordinary customer and likewise sales rep. Bluetooth file transfer anyone? Menu's within menu's upon menu's, with sub menu's and sub sections have made the most simple of tasks daunting or impossible. A blackberry without a user manual, is like abseiling equipment in the hands of say, Susan Boyle.
But here it is, the latest release of Blackberrys operating system, I forget which number they're up to and for the sake of this review, it's irrelevant anyhow. Lets get started.
Boot up is difficult as the battery has zero charge in it. Nevertheless I hunt down a compatible Micro USB charger and plug it in. If the EU have done anything right, its standardising mobile phone chargers. Not quite sure how Apple manage to get away with their USB cable uniqueness though? Possibly because they're designed and made in California, although obviously they're sold in the EU. Anyway, after a normally long boot up time, the blackberry is now ready for action.
I'm told that there is no sim card in, which is a worry as there is. It's just not a connected one. No matter, I log onto wifi and hook up to the store wifi. I boot up the web brower and point it to apple.com. The page loads quickly enough, although typing in the address was the usual, alt affair to get the full stop. Still, no typo's with a full qwerty keyboard. The first thing you notice is, this is no galaxy S screen or retina display. Yes, its clearly the best screen on any blackberry I've seen, but it's not wonderful. Double tapping the screen zooms into portions and helps visibility. Opening a bealtes video, (yes, the Beatles are on iTunes, surely we all know now?) Quicktime movie link tries to open and the window displays, but the video doesn't start. The world wide web does seem to be giving smartphone developers a bit of a challenge. Or a headache! You tube is far more successful, a click on the first video and it opens the video immediately. It does look a smidge blocky though, as if its being compressed. But the speaker is excellent. I check the main screen and hit the menu key, from here I have to select 'open tray' (two buttons to open the main menu) I look for an easier way, but alas, there doesn't appear to be one. There are quick links to favourites across the bottom though. Click and hold doesn't work to drag onto the favourites, knowing the BB way, I select an icon and click the menu button, There it is, mark as favourite. I press the end call key, but infuriatingly this doesn't return me to the home screen. The back arrow takes me back. Sure enough, in my favourites is the icon. Menu>Remove gets rid. The dock across the bottom consists of Favourites, Media, Downloads, All and Frequent. The top four of these icons are shown. Brushing down opens THE TRAY! It can be done. Just goto All, swipe down. The Camera looks ok, it boots up fine and takes photo's. Facebook works and looks ok. The calendar is ok on first glance, Month view involves clicking the BB menu button and scrolling to view>Week>Day>Month, by comparison on the iphone, this same task is done with one button click. It plays music, it does video, there's a calculator, tasks, word, even presenter, is anyone still there?
To summarise, it has everything a smart phone should have. It does it all relatively competently. The menu's look smart and navigation is ok, I suppose, but its not the most intuitive by comparison. In all, there is nothing that really excites me. If I got one as a company mobile as has happened in the past, I most likely wouldn't choose it as my first phone. I find it hard to put my finger on what it is thats missing. Perhaps its the way everything has to be 'found out' perhaps it's bias from previous disappointments. But nothing whatsoever about this handset excites me.
Its a massive leap for Blackberry in the right direction. But its a massive leap into a big muddy puddle.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Powermat

The first time the Powermat came into our stores, it was an expensive option. You had to purchase a case for your device, then you also had to purchase the powermat to charge it. The powermat was priced at around £80. Now they sell an all in one box solution, but for one device only, (the powermat would charge up to three devices, so long as they had the case attached. This all in one box solution is only £40, so clearly its much better value for money. That said, the old powermat was pretty much future proof. So long as the device was powermat compatible, you'd be able to place it on the mat and it would charge. If in the future manufacturers decide that this tech could be in built, you'd still be able to use your old mat. With this, nice though it is, the charging mat is moulded to the exact shape of the case, so even if your shiny new iphone comes with Powermat compatibility in built (which admittedly is unlikely) it won't fit snugly in the charging stand. You'd just have to sell the old powermat with your old phone as an added extra.
Despite all of this we should acknowledge that powermat have made this technology far cheaper for everyone and if you fancy the idea of just throwing your iphone on its own little bed before you retire, then it makes sense. Whether it makes £15 more sense than the iphone or blackberry dock is another question. No denying it's cool though.

Dr Dre Beats Studio

These are the Beats Solo HD big brother. Firstly the thing that hasn't changed is the sound quality. If there is a difference it's not that noticeable, these sound a little more 'airy' as if there's more space between you and the music. Although that sounds like a bad thing, its not. It feels like a slightly larger sound stage. Although that could just be the psychological effect of the larger earpieces? Both the cheaper units and these sound stunning. There isn't a great argument for paying an extra £100 for the sound quality.
The Studio units are noticeably more comfortable. More in line with the V-Moda units tested earlier. They sit nicely on your head and completely cover your ear. This does away with a slightly odd sensation that happens from time to time of moving your jaw sideways and creating space with the Solo HD's which distorts the music a little.
These units also have noise reduction, although rather disappointingly the cover doesn't appear to close tight. When it's replaced after the 2 (supplied) AAA batteries are installed it can be moved easily. It doesn't rattle and when music is played, it isn't an issue. But these are £250 headphones, the cover shouldn't wobble, surely? Whats even more disappointing is that the noise reduction cannot be turned off. Well, not if you want to listen to music it can't. This is a huge drawback as it means listening to music will mean battery expenditure, even if you're in an almost silent room.
Again, like the V-Moda units, these more expensive units are cased in a hard satchel, but like the Solo HD's, they also still fold. The brackets are very well made and (ignoring the battery cover) they feel very well built.

Overall, these are a tremendous set of headphones. Whether its worth paying an extra £100 for the sound cancellation, Hard case and slightly comfier fit, with the drawback of the wobbly cover and noise cancellation that can't be switched off is up to the consumer, for me, it isn't. The Dr Dre Solo HD's still rule; but I do wish the earpieces were bigger.

Edifier MP300

We don't actually sell these little (and I mean tiny) speakers, but I really wish we did. I feel that I have to give them the praise that they deserve as they really are miniature marvels. I'll keep it sweet and short as there are plenty of other reviews on the internet for these, mostly favourable. The soundstage that these small cheap units produce is truly marvellous. They only achieved 4 stars on what hifi. But to my ears and taking into account their relative miniscularity (this is a word I just made up) they are small miracles. The key to the sound is two fold. 
1 The superwoofer. The kitchen roll shaped bass producing mid section which the satellite speakers attach to. 
2 The balance between the 3 speakers. It's just perfect. 
If you need speakers for your holidays, or even a (really) small room. You can't go far wrong with these. They come with a portable case as well for the mains adaptor and leads. Not as convenient as a dock, but the pay off in terms of sound quality is worth it. 
Thoroughly recommended. 

VModa Crossfades vs Beats Solo HD (by Dr Dre)

So a colleague walked into the office and said, "what sort of idiot is going to pay £150 for a set of headphones". Excitedly I explored the two options we had. £140-£150 is pretty much the upper limits most reasonable audiophiles would budget. Yes there are plenty of headphones more expensive, but for £150 you should expect pretty decent sound. More than this is starting to become the realms of lottery winners or people who care more about the sound than the music and have more money than sense?
The two sets of headphones here are,
1) Dr Dre Beats Solo HD by Monster and
2) V-Moda Crossfades.
Both headphones are closed back headphones, meaning you should be able to listen to some quality music, without disturbing your wife whilst she's watching X-Factor. From the outset, it's clear that the V-Moda headphones are the more comfortable. They don't so much sit on your head like the Beats headphones, they rest atop your head and feel seriously comfortable. The beats headphones squeeze your ears a little too much and I have noticed after prolonged use, that if I'm wearing my glasses, they do start to hurt. If I remove my glasses, they're fine. If you're planning on watching TV or read whilst listening to your headphones and you need your glasses to do so, I would look elsewhere. The V-Moda units cocoon your ears, where as the Dr Dre headphones sit 'on' your ear. Somewhat awkwardly by comparison.
Both of the units come with carry cases and again the V-Moda case is a nice solid moulded unit to protect your precious 'can's'. By comparison, the Dr Dre headphones are supplied with a soft bag. Both headphones supply an iPhone, meaning if you don't mind walking along the street in big £150 headphones you can control the volume and skip tracks. The Dr Dre headphones come with a normal lead as well.
As far as styling goes, I guess thats down to personal preference. The solid V-Moda units are well built, but the hexagonal shape of the earpiece isn't really my cup of tea. The more elegant Dr Dre headphones are much more pleasing to the eye and they also fold for added portability. I did read that they had a reputation for poor build on the first batch. But these feel plenty sturdy enough.
The Bass offered by both of these sets of headphones is incredible. 10 or 20 years ago you would really have struggled to get anywhere near the lows being achieved here. Both of these sets, with the right music, can really kick out a pumping beat.
The difference is within the midrange, and its a difference that is really quite staggering. The level of detail, the clarity and the all round excellent sound stage of the one set, makes the others sound completely mushy by comparison. This, despite the comfort issues is what makes the Dr Dre headphones the clear winners, which was enough to make this idiot purchase a set. If you have any passion for music, regardless of its genre (forget the Dr Dre link) they sound incredible enough to make you want them so badly. For the sound that they produce, they're comfortable enough.

LGP500 (or the Optimus 1)

Another android handset from LG hits the shelves and it becomes more difficult to differentiate one from another and again, LG give it a code number & a name, to confuse consumers and retailers alike. This one comes equipped with a 3mp camera and no flash (from first inspection). I get distracted and try a couple of failed attempts at switching it on. Then I realise the tiny power on button on the top of the phone. I peel off all of the protective stickers, (of which there are many) and I give it my full attention. I don't however peel off the screen protector, this looks as good as a case mate screen protector. I'm not sure how hard wearing its likely to be, but for the first month at least, I think I'd be tempted to leave it on and see how well it works. The screen seems responsive enough leaving it in place.
Upon boot up I'm given the option to enter my username and passwords. I am then presented with a vile alpha numeric keypad. So I click the cog, select inputs and change it to a qwerty. This gives me a crammed keyboard, so I rotate the handset and the phone happily obliges by rotating the screen, enlarging the keypad. Then I enter my data, so far so good. I make an input error and tap the cursor to the right part of the screen to correct. The thing that sets this apart from the older Optimus is the capacitative touchscreen and it's instantly obvious that it's far quicker to respond and doesn't need an annoying push. I tap in a couple of errors to see how it copes with correcting mistakes. It doesn't. After setup, a bright galaxy appears, a weather report and a link to the android market. I tap it and, infuriatingly, am asked for my gmail settings; again. Even though I just entered them! I struggle with the tiny qwerty keyboard on the portrait screen and I'm in. halfway through the process, I get a nice sounding reminder that I have 14 mails. I check and see that despite using a dummy gmail account, I have junk. I quickly and easily use the phones interface to see which are worthy of keeping, (none) and delete the rest. As I break to type, the phone keeps switching itself into standby, but switching it back on is easily achieved by hitting any of the keys on the front. From the home screen the main menu is displayed by hitting the middle key. 5 Multiple home screens are now the norm on these devices and they are all present and correct as expected. I click the search key and the familiar google search screen is displayed. Theres a mic button for voice recognition searches, but it's not auto activated by the proximity sensor like on the iphone. I test it however and, as it's server side processing, obviously it works equally as well as it does on other devices.
Maps is the usual google maps affair and to my amazement pinch and zoom works, although, if we're being honest, not particularly well. Otherwise, again, google maps is all present and correct. Although I have to confess, after trying to use google maps to locate 5 body shops around the Chester area, it's damn useless when you really need it, regardless of which phone it's on. Using google to obtain an accurate address, from a website, then punching that address into a sat nav is far more effective.
I boot up the web browser and it too works. Very small text looks blocky but when zoomed, (awkwardly using the pinch and zoom technique). Google Navigate is in the main menu but there is also a car home app, which appears to use navigate, only in a car only mode. There's a clock, calc, calendar, contacts, Gallery, etc. 

Google sky maps installs ok and looks good and proves the device has a working electronic compass. Angry birds looks great and shows off the screen brilliantly. 

It's hard to give a precise conclusion about this handset, it costs a little more than I expected it would, but it has just been pointed out to me, it does have a quicker processor than the Optimus and a bigger and much more responsive capacitative touch screen. So I guess the conclusion that I'm coming too is that yes, it is worthy of the price. It's clearly no galaxy S or iPhone, but then it's less than half the price of both of those. 

Recommended.