Friday, 14 December 2012

Ram mounts and cheaper alternatives.

I guess most people now have a convergence device, something that they use for a multitude of tasks. A smartphone that takes care of email, sat nav, music, dashmount cam, video etc etc. In which case, I also assume most people have, or need, a decent quality car mount. For most manufacturers, and I really do mean the majority, this means low production costs, medium to high RRP and margins, shoddy quality and high fail rate. If you recognise these traits and you're a bit sick of them. Then you could go straight to the best solution. Ram have been making mounts for a long time now, and the majority are based around ball and socket joints, with clamps. These units are modular, so you can customise your mount depending on your needs. The most effective, is the screw in base with a ball joint. This creates a really solid base for your device, but, if the idea of screwing into the dashboard of your car doesn't delight you, the traditional suction cup mount is also available. then you need a clamp arm, which you can get in a variety of lengths. Then you need your holder, the most inventive of these being the X-Grip mount. Which will fit pretty much most smartphones making it pretty much future-proof. These things aren't cheap, but if you want to use your smartdevice for in car videos, on track or for using apps like witness, then you'll struggle to get a more steady mount than a RAM. At the time of writing this (pictured) £35 unit is the cheapest and simplest solution that they offer. But with no middle section, the flexibility of where you can place this could be limited. For a windscreen mount, however you can't do much better.
If the cost puts you off, then a slightly cheaper option is to look for is exo mount or oso space mount. These both have a new 'hi-tech' style of suction cup mount which will grip onto a variety of surfaces, not just windscreens, or perfectly flat surfaces. The Exo mount promotional video show the grip pulling a Toyota Prius and even lifting a microwave, without the clamp even being locked! They use a simple clamp to grip your device and in practice they're pretty sturdy. They can prove difficult to move, and your device may budge when you push buttons on it. But then you shouldn't be using it when driving any way, even though thats not always practical. You should be able to pick up one of these for under £20. The Ram mount is probably the last mount you'll ever need to purchase, but the Exo-mounts offer similar performance for lower cost. If you've seen anything cheaper, my guess is, from years of experience. It won't last 2 years.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Samsung Galaxy Camera

As a keen photographer I was excited when this arrived in store. The handset is baffling, from one side a normal looking Android handset (Let's be honest, there are many that are starting to look pretty similar now aren't they... It's hard to find an android handset that's unique) and on the other side there's stonking camera. The first thing we tested was the zoom. The camera boasts a 21x optical zoom, and it's pretty damn impressive. Furthermore, it has Manual mode, Shutter Priority, Aperture priority etc and also an ISO of 3200. We took a pic outside and on manual in pretty dark street light conditions, it chose 800 and took a fairly clear picture. Close inspection showed mild graininess, but considering we overrode the flash settings and took it handheld, it was very very impressive. Of course having wifi, 3G and a full android interface and a fabulously competent camera strapped to the back makes photo management a new game to play. The device can upload all of your photo's straight to your dropbox account, picasa, skydrive or (I guess) ANY online cloud storage service you care to use (that has an accompanying Android App). You can also (of course) upload straight off the camera to twitter, facebook and send video's straight to youtube or vimeo etc. There's a Micro SD card slot, so you can also easily get images straight off the camera that way if you want. There's a pop up flash which is pretty neat and it feels really good in your hand. I went to a Killers concert a few nights after it came in and I reckoned with it's zoom and low light performance this would have been a killer camera to take with me (see what I did there). The sad thing is, I didn't. Very impressed, superb machine, great take on the compact portable camera and it makes so much sense to attach the android OS to the back to manage the photo's that you take on your camera. Very impressed, but pretty expensive at £400.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

3D Maps and Data usage.

In a training session this week, we did a little experiment. 

I reset my data counter and browsed the new 3d maps in iOS 6 on an iPhone. 

In 1 single minute, of looking at just a handful of streets in London (some which didn't even download), I had used 22mb of cellular data. Obviously this is something of an eye opener and something most customers are unlikely to be aware of. Circa 100Mb every 4 minutes is really quite horrendous and could see many customers data usage totally wiped out in well under an hour. 

The 3d maps on the iPhone is clearly quite revolutionary as well and something of significant curious interest. If people can't wait til they get home to try it, they'll be out of data within their first week. 

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Crayola colorstudio hd+

The Crayola Colorstudio HD+ is a big chunky pen designed to work with the ColorStudio HD app available for free from the app store. A number of users complain that the pen isn't responsive enough, and to be honest, from my first attempt, I found that was true as well. The pen takes a single AA battery and has a button at the end. I also thought the switch was faulty as it doesn't 'click' like it looks like it should, (like the click on the pen) however, when it's turned on, the light on the side illuminates, and if you hold it to your ears, you can hear it making a strange electrical sound. To prove you haven't just downloaded the free crayola app to use with your finger, you have to unlock it, using the magic pen. However, this is where you find out how to use the pen. Despite having a lovely round end. It only really registers if it's pretty much perpendicular with the surface of the iPad. You also have to press quite hard for it to register. After loading a couple of pictures, I started colouring in. It doesn't take much getting used to, and within a couple of minutes I was colouring like a 5 year old. There's a crayons box at the bottom and brush sizes to chose from. When the crayon palette opens, you can whizz the crayons round on a wheel to choose different ones. Although the felt pens only have a few colours to chose from. (Crayons has the most and there are plenty). What I do find odd is that there is an option to upload your creations to Facebook, bearing in mind the target market for this is probably not above the 13 year limit placed on Facebook users. What is quite cool, that I guess younger kids will really like about this, is that the pictures themselves are animated. They also have music and sound effects, but fortunately they can be turned off. You can also set it to 'stay within the lines' so if you're not that good at staying in the lines, your pictures will still look respectable, as it won't allow your scribble to go over. Overall, I'd say this is a fairly good product, I couldn't imagine, young kids having too much trouble using it, but I doubt my 7 year old daughter would be entertained by it for longer than an hour, at best. Really it's for younger kids, and to be honest. I'm not sure I'd be too happy to let my young kid press hard on my iPad screen with a rubber tipped pen. I dread to think what would happen if a small amount of grit got under the nib! It does what it promises though, although it could be easier to use. The app works much better (as the iPad was designed) with your finger. There are also free colouring apps, that are easy enough to find (sort by customer rating and free) that do the same thing for nothing.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Griffin Beacon for iPhone.

We got these in a couple of weeks ago and I completely overlooked it. Then a customer bought one and promptly returned it. There seems to be a flurry of reviews on other websites complaining of basic functionality and incompatibility, especially in the UK and with Sky+ boxes. With that in mind, and because we're selling them. I thought I ought to investigate. So I have. To get it working, you need to download the free Digit app from the Appstore and pair the beacon with your iPhone. I'll be honest, initially, I had a couple of problems getting the app to recognise the fact that I'd linked the device via bluetooth. I didn't read the instructions, but eventually the app saw it and I was ready to continue. I added a couple of devices and familiarised myself with the app layout before bringing the item home to test. At home, I'd got the Panasonic TV right, it worked straight away, but sure enough, the Sky choice I'd made didn't work. I clicked the help me choose option and skipped through a few Sky satellite choices that didn't work, then I found one that did... But the mute didn't work, so I continued exploring until I found number 15. Which worked, so I clicked the "use this one" blue button. I added my Dvd player, and Amp. Then started exploring. I found options greyed out, but to be honest, they were irrelevant. For example, track skip whilst watching sky. It wouldn't do anything anyhow. Everything, and I mean everything else worked exactly as it should. As for limited functionality, I found the menu button, record, fast forward, pause, Info. I couldn't think of anything that it wouldn't do. You do have to tap the play button to show full controls, like FF, REW, Pause etc. 
Then I discovered the 'activities' button. This idea I believe has either been inspired by, (or ripped off) by logitech. Their Harmony remotes are truly fantastic, but a little long winded to set up. The idea of an activity is that you tell the device that you want to watch TV. It asks some simple questions, for example, what devices controls the volume, which device changes the channel? Then a new style interface comes up, offering full functionality over everything relevant. It wasn't quite as good as the logitech, as the Harmony remotes will ensure that the Tv and Amp are set to the right input. Although this is much more complex to set up, it does work better in the long run. The activities on the Beacon remote simply power the right devices up. Perhaps this will be something that they release in future updates... Griffin? From the App you can also check the battery levels of the remote. Overall, I have to say I am mightily impressed and it worked far, far better than I expected. If you don't fancy the idea of taking out a second mortgage to invest in a top of the range Harmony remote, then this comes a pretty close second. not quite as good. But for the money, a top buy. Highly recommended. I do think it would be improved if it has a little fountain coming out of the top though. And it was mains powered instead. Pretty little gadget though. Perhaps they can add a water feature in a future update?

Friday, 15 June 2012

Google and Chrome Privacy settings.

At home, I occasionally use google chrome. I don't find it as good as Safari, so to be honest, I've only dabbled. Perhaps this is where the problem came from. I've signed in using 2 accounts. A team account that I created to let my team view work documents and an administrator one that I use to edit and create documents. The passwords are different. I have logged in and out on both accounts, but it would appear that, at some point, I signed into Chrome (not simply google) using the team account.

At some point, Chrome has decided it will collect, group and remember all of the passwords that it sees. Including my (different) personal account.

Today, my team have set up a new computer at work and signed into chrome using the team account. Unbeknown to me, on a computer that I've never sat at, that I've never entered my password on, by default, my email address AND password both auto populate the sign in fields!

Now as if this wasn't bad enough, trying to disassociate the two is also a nightmare. Fortunately, I work with a very tech competent guy and eventually we managed to disassociate the two. Now, Chrome doesn't remember my password and I guess I'm a little more secure, but wow! There's a lesson I won't forget in a hurry! I'll also be steering well clear of Chrome with my own personal account.

The geek laughed it off and told me it was naivety and that I've not known what I was doing, however, I beg to differ, I didn't expect Chrome to remember all of my passwords on a separate computer!

Beware!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Sony Experia Smart Tags.

I got really excited when I saw these, they work using Near Field Communication (NFC). The tech thats behind cardless payments systems. To look at, they look like key rings. So I jumped to the conclusion that perhaps your phone would keep an eye on your keys, your wallet etc? No, thats not it at all. These funny looking sticky tabs stick to your car dashboard and allow you  to personalise your phone for the different environments. So for example, in the car, you may want wifi off and bluetooth on, in the office, that could be opposite. In the toilet, you may want youtube to start, or a news app, depending on what you do in the toilet?






So, perhaps of some use to someone, but not as handy as I'd thought it might be. Would you buy an Xperia, just so you could do this?

Monday, 23 April 2012

Tanla 12x Telephoto lens for iPhone 4 & 4S

First up it should be noted that this is a telephoto lens and not a Zoom lens. So it won't allow a great deal of flexibility in terms of photography. For example you won't be able to compose a shot with 'a bit more sky' or 'zooming in a bit closer' on the subject. After breaking my way into the ghastly moulded packaging, I first took out the beautifully machined lens. This is very weighty and high quality. In terms of optics, it's good, for the price it is. It's clearly not intended to be in competition with high end lens manufacturers, but overall the clarity is perfectly acceptable. It has a twist to focus function that works well (although it does confuse the iphone auto focus a little). It comes with all of the attachments you would need. But with the exception of the lens caps, the rest of the contents really lets the package down. Firstly the tripod. It's a mini tripod, with a normal screw for attaching to the bottom of a camera. For any keen photographer who's needed a tripod abroad and been forced into a cheap camera shop, even though you may only have parted with a fistful of Euros, this tripod is the same sort of quality. It's really pretty bad. The iphone case is fair quality, but the thread (along with the rest of the case) is made of soft plastic. A bit of ham fisted attaching and I don't think it would be long before attaching the lens to the case would become a problem. However, this may not be a bad thing as on it's own, the little lens is far more impressive when held up to your eye. We spent much longer spying on the people across the road and reading car registration plates of passing cars through the 'telescope' than we did trying to achieve acceptable results with the iPhone. In a nutshell it does what it says on the tin. Quite who would have a need for this, I'm less sure. Peeping toms perhaps who live a set distance from the point they're trying to observe, I guess then it would be worth it? Or perhaps, birdwatchers who have feeders outside their back windows and no other means of photographing them? Perfect.   Dad!

Saturday, 21 April 2012

You learn something new every day.

Can't believe I didn't know that you can format your text on iOS devices. By double tapping the word and selecting biu.

Doesn't work in all apps though.... Like blog press, (which I'm writing this on).

But you can in emails...... See?



- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Kogeto Dot thing

Oh the irony. about 6 months ago I emailed our buying team and told them about the GoPano 360, a device we ought to consider selling. Then when the buying team found out the RRP they decided against it, calling it a niche product, they were probably right. This week though, we've had this product in which performs exactly the same function... it captures 360 degree video. The two products seem to achieve the result in slightly different ways though. The strangely named Kogeto Dot seems to use a fish eye lens, where as the GoPano uses a conical mirror. Now before I need to explain my results, if you have an iOS device, you probably don't need to read on. Simply download the free 'looker' app from the apple app store. From here if you navigate to 'featured' and you'll see the videos that other users have uploaded.  Actually you can make your mind without an iOS device by looking at the videos on the dot website. However you view the videos though you will notice that they vary in quality. Some are quite fuzzy and difficult to make out. Others have a little more crisp results. I guess that the iPhone 4S with it's 8mp camera will perform somewhat better, however with the iPhone 4's 5mp camera the results I got were pretty dismal. However, I guess the same rules will apply to the GoPano. The app itself is very simple to use, however the calibration screen is particularly odd, easy enough to use, you simply need to move (using pinch and zoom) a polo shape over the polo part of the picture. Yet once this is done... you can't move it to the middle, or resize it. After calibration (correctly calibrated) my little polo was hanging off the edge of my screen. Yet in the example the polo is slap bang in the middle, and yes, I had clipped it on properly (ok, I didn't the first time, but it still wasnt central). The GoPano micro has a mirror so that you can see what you're filming whilst holding the phone upright (naturally); it works like a periscope. As you can see from the picture, the Dot needs to be held flat though which makes filming quite difficult and it also means a portion of your video will have the back of your phone and your fingertips in it. However, it does the same function for half the price of the GoPano, albeit with varying results. You can share, from the app, your results to facebook twitter etc, or upload them to the dot website. So if you have the need for a cheap 360 degree video in your life. It's perhaps worth investigating. If you can live with 360 degree stills, then I would suggest the fantastic 69p 360 degree panorama app. which can be downloaded here. If you need high quality 360 degree video's (lord know why anyone 'needs' 360 degree videos) Go Pano make top end models for DSLR cameras, but they're not cheap!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Counterfeit Beats in-ear Tour headphones.

Genuine Box, book and case on the left.
I'm going to use this next post to help identify the difference between a set of genuine Monster Beats headphones, and a counterfeit set that we've obtained. Before we start, it's important that you know, in isolation, without a set to compare, and without this previous knowledge, you'll most likely be duped into thinking that the fake set, are genuine. We asked a couple of team members to examine the headphones and asked if they could find a reason why a customer would return them (we didn't let on that they were fake) and they couldn't. We made up a story about the logo being not quite straight (which it isn't) and, more worryingly, they said they'd exchange them, although they'd think the customer was being pretty picky. Then, to their surprise we told them they were fake, and they were pretty shocked. Until we showed them next to a real pair. What I intend to do now, is to highlight, just how close they are as copies, and how you need to keep your wits about you to recognise them apart from the real ones. We won't be doing a sound comparison, that's not the reason for the post. These are illegal copies and shouldn't be on the market. Real Monster products sound exceptional, insist on the genuine product from an authorised reseller.
Genuine zipper on top.

Lets start with the box. Side by side, this is the weakest part of the copies. The money thats gone into replicating the headphones has been saved on the box. Seriously, the two couldn't be more different. Monster headphones are packaged in Apple-esque hinged solid boxes, that magnetically close when sealed properly. The counterfeit box is poorly made and flimsy by comparison, although it too, does close magnetically. These headphones aren't totally identical, the genuine set we have also include the 'control talk' button (for use with mobile phones), but you can see there is a significant difference in the two boxes. The user guide has also seen the criminals save a few pennies. The Monster book, is Monster by comparison to the 4 page effort that resides in the fakes. The same is true of the accompanying accessory leaflet. It isn't even folded properly in the fake set, yet the genuine copy folds out nicely. The pouches have their differences too, but again, in isolation, you'd be hard pushed to tell one from the other. The embossed 'b' is slightly shallower on the originals.
 One side of the zipper tag is damn near perfect, yet the font on the opposite side is ever so slightly thinner. Otherwise the pouch is one of the more accurate parts of the set.

The headphones, are harder to tell apart. Much harder. As mentioned earlier, two members of our team, couldn't tell them apart until they had both sets side by side to compare. But there are differences. Firstly, the cable is slightly different. Obviously
Genuine book folded properly on the left.
Monster are one of the market leaders for high quality cables. The anti-tangle cables for the beats headphones feel high quality and they have slightly rounded edges. The red on the two is ever so slightly different, but more than that, the cable on the copies feels a bit more like strawberry lace material. It's also has much more of a pronounced 'edge' to it (it would be more rectangular in cross section). But they are very, very similar. The gold plated plugs at the end of the cable are also slightly different. All of the monster cables we have here have L shaped plugs, The Beats Studio headphones do have straight 3.5mm plugs, but they go into the headphones, not the audio output socket. Moreover, every Monster plug has the monster name branded somewhere on it (at each end). The fakes do not. The Y splitter halfway down the cables is also significantly different. The quality of the Beats again coming into play. The fakes are rubberised and have a pretty poor representation of the word 'MONSTER' on them.
The font appears to go up at the end, and the S seems fatter than other letters in the word. The genuine Y splitter is nothing like. It has Beats written on it, is plastic and has chrome trim, the picture shows the significant difference between the two. As I said earlier, these aren't quite the same headphones and I don't have genuine headphones without 'Control talk' on, but this isn't the piece with the button/mic in it, so I see no reason why on these almost identical headphones, Monster wouldn't use a shared part for the Y splitter. Internet research hasn't helped either, but what we can definitely say is, this set of genuine headphones looks like the picture.
Genuine Y splitter Top


Telling the fake set from the real set apart from the earpieces is far more challenging. This is clearly where the effort has gone from the contraband creators. The earpieces are from a distance, almost identical. But again, after examing them for a while we spotted some significant differences. Firstly, when you lay them side by side, with the L or R pointing up, the direction that the fakes point is completely wrong. The part that slides in your inner ear is angled. The real one's seem to point inwards and up, the fakes point down and in. If this direction is wrong, this could be very uncomfortable over a prolonged period of time.
Grooves on the copies (left)

The section that has the L or R on it is grooved like an LP on the circumference. On the fakes (left in the picture), it's significantly grooved. On the real set, it's much much finer.  The b's on the outside, perhaps not surprisingly, are pretty much identical. While this picture which is a close up Macro shot does seem to suggest that the b is noticeably more raised, in reality, the difference between the two is less noticeable the b is recessed in both. There does appear to be a bit more of a manufacturing 'edge' around the copies. The genuines being more moulded, although there is a ridge in the same place. On the removable rubberised earplug part, the back (behind the identical seams) was slightly shinier on the fakes. The seam is less obvious on the genuine article, and the surface all over, is much more uniform. The fakes (on the bottom again, below) don't look like the b is perfectly central. To the casual observer however, the back of these pointing out of someone's ear's will make it look like they have invested in one of the best sets of in ear headphones on the market.... only they won't have done. Finally, one more safeguard. The fakes boast on the side that they come with 3 sets of comfortable earbud sizes for the most comfortable and secure fit. The genuine tour headphones come with a whopping 6....two of which are Etymotic in style, and a shirt clip, as well as (hidden in the pouch) over the top bright red 'n' shaped ear clips. Replica's they may call them, real and legal, they are not.
They look like a pair, but the unit on top is real. The bottom one is counterfeit.

Monster beats counterfeit information.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Motocast

Motocast is Motorola's alternative to Slingbox. The difference is that Slingbox uses a signal from a TV or a broadcast. Motocast streams your media, music and video, from a computer connected to the internet and running the motocast software. In a nutshell, Motocast will allow you to browse through the content on an internet connected PC, then stream the content to your motorola device no matter where you are. Both sling box and Motocast allow you to view content whilst out on the move. Services such as tvcatchup have rendered services such as sling box pretty much redundant. Although if you MUST see a TV only event, only available through a subscribed channel. Slingbox is your only option. We tested Motocast earlier this afternoon and over a slow internet connection, with a weak signal, it worked pretty well. With a good signal, it had no problems at all. Obviously using a service like this over 3G is going to incur hefty data charges or use significant portions of your data allowance. It's not perfect, but thats primarily down to the speed and quality of the data connection. We had more success with MP3 streaming than video, but, the interface is clean and easy to navigate (using the Motocast software on a Xoom2) the service on the Mac indexed several thousand audio tracks in a short period of time (I'm still trying to index my google music library) and it worked adequately well. A nearby geek advised that the same results could be achieved via VLC, then proceeded to show how easy it wasn't. Trust me, it's no alternative. For the man on the street, Motocast just works really well and gives Motorola tablet devices a pretty neat USP. Assuming that you have a PC, that you can leave on, at home, all the time, as a media server.

Perhaps cloud services are the future?