Tech Review Archive

BassBoomz Bluetooth Portable Speaker

Review by Phil Wheat

Designed with an innovative Bass Expansion System for an impressive volume-to-size digital amplifier giving you deep, rich bass tones BassBoomz come with a built-in high performance Li-ion rechargeable battery, so you can hear your music at 70% volume for an amazing 5-6 hours. The solid aluminium construction with high grip base provides stability, reduced interference and vibration dampening when used on hard surfaces.

All this impressive design and technology is packed into a portable, pocket-sized high performance Bluetooth speaker for music on the go – simply twist and release to activate an enhanced entertainment experience. BassBoomz are compatible with all Bluetooth enabled devices such as laptops, smartphones and tablets and with non Bluetooth devices, such as MP3 players, via a 3.5mm AUX input.

What’s in the box:

  • BassBoomz portable Bluetooth speaker
  • USB charging cable
  • AUX cable

Thanks to the guys at Bassbuds.co.uk we have an exclusive voucher code which gives £30 off the RRP of the BassBoomz speaker for the whole month: BBZ304612

Dane-Elec Avengers USB Memory Stick

Review by Phil Wheat

For over 25 years Dane-Elec has consistently provided high-quality, industry-leading products to customers around the world and now they’ve turned their hand to a new range of USB memory sticks in the form of super heroes from Marvel. Styled on much-loved comic characters such as Spiderman, Wolverine, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor and Captain America, these USB sticks have a capacity of either 4GB or 8GB and retail at £8.99 and £11.99 respectively from Amazon.co.uk and Play.co.uk

The folks at Dane-Elec sent us a fantastic Hulk USB memory stick to review and you can check out my thoughts in the video below:

Razer Deathadder Gaming Mouse

Review by Phil Wheat

Product: Deathadder Gaming Mouse
Manufacturer: Razer
RRP: £64.99

As a long-term Mac user, at both home and at work, my mouse usage has been mainly limited to Apple’s official products – as I type this I’m using a wireless Magic Mouse with my Macbook Pro; whilst at work I use a wired version. So my experience with PC mice, and especially those PC gaming variety, has become a bit dated. In fact the last time I owned a PC, let alone played games on one, was at least two years ago. And it seems there have been a LOT of changes in the intervening years…

Leading the pack in the latest generation of gaming mice is the Razer Deathadder 2013 Gaming Mouse which is, according to the specs, the most precise gaming mouse currently on the market, boasting an optical sensor with sensitivity at a whopping 6400dpi (the previous Deathadder model ran at 3500dpi). What that means to non-gamers isn’t that much, 6400dpi isn’t going to improve the speed and fluidity that you surf the web, but after running a few swift tests with some Steam games – including CS:GO and Serious Sam 3 – in comparison with my standard mouse you can really see and feel the difference, and not just in terms of it’s sensitivity.

The real difference between the Razer Deathadder and other mice I currently use is the ergonomics. Perfectly sized to fit in the palm of my large man-hand allowing me to completely rest my hand whilst using the mouse, the device also features rubber grips on the side – which essentially means you’ll still have a grip on the mouse even after a few hours of sweaty gaming! The Deathadder features 4 mouse buttons – a left and right button, both of which are incredibly responsive and light to the touch; and two further buttons accessible on the left side of the mouse, both of which are positioned perfectly for use with your thumb.

Design-wise the Razer Deathadder 2013 model also stands out from the crowd. With a textured matt finish, glowing green internal light which also lights up the Razer logo on top of the mouse, super-long corded cable (no plastic here folks) and a gold-plated USB connection, there are not many mice out there like this one.

However the innovations in both sensitivity and design come at a price. The Razer Deathadder 2013 Gaming Mouse will set you back a whopping £64.99, which means you have to be REALLY serious about your gaming to grab once of these. If that sounds like you then you should definitely snap one up as soon as you can.

Razer Electra Headphones

Review by Phil Wheat

Product: Electra Gaming & Music Headset
Manufacturer: Razer
Input: 3.5mm jack (with/without mic)
RRP: £54.99

I’ve reviewed and road-tested plenty of different makes on models here on Blogomatic3000 – yet I still keep going back to the same pair of iLuv earphones every time. However I’m always on the lookout for the next good pair of earphones and/or headphones, be they for music use or for when I’m gaming. So when the folks at Razer asked if I want to check out their Electra Gaming and Music Headset I jumped at the chance.

With any earphones or headphones I try there are always two main criteria: 1) how comfortable are they to wear for a long period of time; and 2) how good the bass sounds. And on those two criteria, the Razer Electra’s score very highly. In terms of comfort, the Electra headset features large cups with substantial leather cushions which made them very comfortable on the ears. The only issue I had was with the heat build-up and the strange sensation that the headphones were always trying to slip off the back of my head! Whether this was because I have a wide head and the Electra’s weren’t sitting right or because the head band was too weighty is debatable. Either way the Razer Electra’s passed the real test of comfort – how the headphones feel sat on the ears – with flying colours.

So what about the sound quality? Well, the Electra Gaming and Music Headset is leaps and bounds above other similar priced headphones – especially when used for music. Paired with my iPhone 4S, the sound reproduction is incredibly well-rounded. The bass feels meaty, with plenty of earthy tones; whilst the treble manages to convey a crispness that isn’t usually found in sub-£100 headphones, which means that voice reproduction sounds has a real clarity – which is great if you a lyric fan like me.

Whilst the sound quality is great there are other issues with the Razer Electra’s. Namely that the in-line microphone isn’t really suitable for using with consoles, yet at the same time doesn’t feature decent in-line remote controls. Which means the Electra Gaming and Music Headset is really aimed at music fans and perhaps mobile gamers – but given the bulkiness of the headphones many are likely not to take these outdoors. However I found the Electra headset great for watching TV and movies on my iPad/Blu-ray player in bed – perfect for when you don’t want to disturb the missus!

If you love over-the-ear headphones and don’t want to fork out for expensive headphones such as beats then the Razer Electra headset is a great alternative choice.

Visopix Wireless Mini Keyboard

Review by Phil Wheat

The Visopix Wireless Mini Keyboard is, as the name suggests, a universal wireless keyboard that connects to multiple devices using a USB dongle connection – meaning you can use it with a Smart TV, PC, console (we tried it out with the PS3 with which it worked perfectly) or even compatible mobile phone.

About the same length as a standard TV remote, the Visopix Wireless Mini Keyboard is a little wider, yet thinner that a typical remote, with a recessed compartment in the base to house the USB dongle – making it great to take out and about as you should, in theory, never lose the dongle. Also on the base of the unit is the on/off switch, a button which operates the laser pointer and a micro USB port for charging the keyboard (the device uses a non-removeable internal battery, no doubt to keep the device thin and light).

The keyboard itself is comprised of rubberised, responsive touch keys that feel more substantial than others I’ve experienced on small portable keyboards. On the right of the keyboard is a trackpad which works very much like a trackpad on a laptop, with the ability to double-tap to click and/or soft left and right mouse buttons built in. The orientation of the trackpad can also be changed to enable its use at the same time as the laser pointer.

Just the right size to carry around with you or to leave on a table with the rest of your remotes, the mini keyboard is, as they say, small but perfectly formed. Couple that with the ability to easily hook up the keyboard to any device through the plug-n-play dongle and there’s a lot to recommend about Visopix Wireless Mini Keyboard.

The Visopix Wireless Mini Keyboard is available now from all good electrical retailers for £29.99 RRP.

Gioteck EX-05 Gaming Headset

Review by Kat English

Headphones have always been treated with reverence by audiophiles but as videogames become more and more immersive experiences gamers are approaching gaming headphones in the same manner as music lovers do – often spending serious money on headsets that offer the best sound, comfort and voice reproduction.

But fantastic comfort and superb sound don’t have to come at a high price – as anyone who has used Gioteck’s EX-05 gaming headset will attest.

Available in both wired and bluetooth versions (we road-tested the wired versions), the EX-05 headset is the ideal choice for serious gamers. Designed with comfort in mind, Gioteck have manufactured these headsets with a super-lightweight mesh headband, which come complete with sturdy metal adjusters and deep, cushioned breathable micro-fibre ERA ear cups that ensure users’ comfort during those marathon gaming sessions! SOund reproduction is superb thanks to the EX-05′s 40mm HQ stereo drivers which deliver crisp treble and deep base sans any distortion – even if you’re stood next to a huge explosion in Black Ops 2!

The comfortable, and I do mean comfortable – some of the most comfortable I’ve ever worn if I’m honest – headphones are coupled with a noise-eliminating flexible boom mic that reproduces your voice loud and clear to fellow gamers. All of which is finished in the sleek military style gamers have become accustomed to (I blame COD). The wired versions of the EX-05 headset also feature ergonomic voice and game sound control at your fingertips – both of which are independently controlled…

The Gioteck EX-05 Gaming Headset is available now from many retailers across the UK. RRP is around £39.99

Virgin TV Anywhere: Hands-on Report

Review by Phil Wheat

TVAnywhere

Last Friday I had the pleasure of visiting Virgin’s Hammersmith HQ to check out their new TV Anywhere service which is set to challenge the Sky-dominated world of on-demand and remote record apps. At the core of the service is a new iPad and iPhone app and a newly revitalised website…

The App

Taking the best of what’s currently available, Virgin TV’s new app combines attributes typically found in tablet-based on demand apps, adds an intelligent and comprehensive TV guide and, coming soon to the app, a social media aspect that will – if the discussion I had with Virgin’s social media head is to be believed – rival any “second-screen” app already available (think Zeebox, only better). The app also allows you to set recordings on your Tivo-powered Virgin TV box – which is already available on other HDD based TV services, but unlike its competitors Virgin’s app will also enable you to manage and delete your recordings directly from the app!

Virgin’s TV Anywhere app works in two modes: out of the home and indoors. Out of the home the app allows you stream 30 channels (upon launch), browse your Tivo recordings, set new recordings and peruse the TV guide. For the time-being it’s not possible to watch VOD movies (due to app integration issues) and shows or your Tivo recordings, but that is something Virgin representatives stated they are working on. In the home the app features the same functions, however it also talks directly to your Tivo box and operates as a large remote control – which means you can keep watching your current programme whilst browsing the TV guide and instantly switch channels in a couple of onscreen taps. The remote portion of the app is also available in two versions – a traditional-style button-based touchscreen remote or a gesture-based one, both of which offer much greater control than a standard handheld remote.

The TV Anywhere app also allows for a greater ability to discover and explore new content. Not only can you search for your favourite show but, much like the IMDB, you can also click on any actors/directors and view any other movie or TV programme they’re in – you can then set series reminders, Tivo recordings etc. based on the actor or directors details rather than any particular programme names or movie titles.

The Website

Virgin’s new website works in pretty much the same way as their app, only with a few small changes. Firstly you can stream 60 channels of content (twice as many as the app) via the web as well as enjoying all of Virgin’s VOD content. The website once again features a traditional EPG, however the the website, whilst still allowing for box management (deleteing and amending recordings etc.), does not allow you to control the Tivo box a la a remote like in the app – a small sacrifice considering all the video on demand that is available online.

The Future

Whilst the version of the app we saw at Virgin HQ will be rolled out to customers, completely free I may add, the company is already working on future upgrades. Chiefly among them is social media integration and the idea of recommendations – be it via tradition Twitter hashtags or friend recommendations a la Netflix – the future, as one Virgin representative told me, is to have an app that tells you what you should be watching when you can’t decide! Virgin are also researching the viability of being able to watch your Tivo recordings whilst out and about, as well as the availability of more channels and VOD content via your iPad. Oh, and there will eventually be an Android app for you non-Apple folks out there!

The Conclusion

Combining many of the iPad apps I use on a regular basis (Zeebox, Sky Go/iPlayer/4od etc., TV Guide) in one intuitive, user-friendly and super-fast app, Virgin’s TV Anywhere is an essential download for Virgin customers – if you have Virgin’s Tivo box and don’t use this app then you missing out. A lot.

For more information and to discuss the new app check out Twitter using the hashtag #VirginTVAnywhere

Pac-Man Speaker

Review by Phil Wheat

Pac-Man

In video gaming history there are numerous iconic characters but none more so than Pac-Man. Having been around since 1980, Pac-Man is synonymous with gaming. However Pac-Man has also made his way into other aspects of pop culture, from clothing to comics, TV to technology… Which leads us nicely in to this new Pac-Man Speaker which is now available from the National Media Museum in Bradford.

The Pac-Man Speaker comes in a well-designed presentation box which also houses the supplied 3.5mm audio cable, meaning the speaker is compatible with any audio playback device with a 3.5mm jack.

Small but perfectly formed, the speaker measures just 7.5cm in diameter and weighs only 116g, making it ideal to take out and about with you – especially given that it’s powered by three AAA batteries – and whilst you wouldn’t expect much from such a small device, the speaker packs a 2 watt speaker that belies it’s size and kicks out plenty of powerful sound. The real surprise however was the on/off switch, as there is none. Amazingly the Pac-Man Speaker is switched on and off when you insert the audio cable – it completes the circuit switching the speaker on!

I put the Pac-Man Speaker through it’s paces using my trusty iPhone 4S and a selection of tracks of all genres to see how it coped with different levels of audio, cranking up the volume whilst playing a selection of tracks. From pop tunes like the current number one Gangnam Style to classic rock tracks such as Journey’s Separate Ways and Styx’s Mr. Roboto the speaker had no problems. The only time the product had any problems was with some of the bombastic classic music from Jonathan & Charlotte – his bass tones caused some crackling and breaking up at full volume. But otherwise the Pac-Man Speaker performed and coped amicably…

A great gift for fans of Pac-Man or retro gaming in general, the Pac-Man Speaker costs £15 and is available via mail order from the National Media Museum. Call 01274 203 448 to order.

Jabra Clipper

Review by Kat English

Jabra’s Clipper is a wireless bluetooth device, that unlike a lot of bluetooth earpieces is not actually meant to be worn on the ear, instead the device looks like a regular clip and can clip on almost everything – in most cases the wearers clothing. It comes with a pair of in-ear headphones and three different size buds, but will take any headphones that have the standard 3.5mm jack, which is a good job – the supplied earphones didn’t feel quite so comfortable as my Jelly headphones (my go-to make of earphones); for one the cables seem to be at awkward sizes with the wire that’s supposed to fit around your head (front or back it’s your choice) didn’t feel long enough. However sound reproduction, no matter the earphones used is surprisingly good, which wasn’t what I was expecting…

The Clipper comes in five different colours, black, white, orange, blue and pink (pictured above) – we road-tested the pink versions – and pairing the device is simple, plus you only need to do it once. Although we didn’t test the capability, Jabra claim that if you have a laptop or PC which has bluetooth you can also pair the Clipper to those, as well as a bluetooth-enabled stereo or boombox to create your own portable home entertainment system.

Key features of the Jabra Clipper:

  • different lights for battery and status’ and tones if losing range.
  • answer, decline, make and redirect a call.
  • volume up and down, next song track/previous song track.

Jabra’s Clipper is, in the end, a stylish, convenient and functional clip-on device that enables users to listen to music wirelessly and effortlessly, while flicking between calls and music. With excellent sound quality, as well as 6 hours talk time and 8 hours standby time, the Clipper proves to be an essential tool for mobile workers.

Disgo tablet 8104

Review by Kat English

The Disgo 8104 is a tablet device running Android 4 (Ice Cream Sandwich), featuring a 10.1” display with 1024 x 600 pixel resolution, 1.2 GHz Boxchip Cortex A8 ARM processor and 512MB DDR3 of system memory, with 4GB of internal storage plus a microSD card slot for adding more (but it can only be expanded to 36GB). The 8104, unlike Apple’s iPad, also runs Flash 11.1. There’s a front camera which only shoots at 320 x 240 pixels and no back camera, but with the Disgo being larger than my phone I can imagine it would be difficult to keep the device still and be able to take a decent picture – I think I’ll stick to using my phone (which is with me no matter where I go) to take pictures.

As usual the 8104 allows allows multitasking, sends notifications, customisable home screens, widgets, etc., all of which is brilliant and pretty standard for any device running Android. However… the apps, oh the apps! Load Google Play… oops sorry, unlike most Android mobiles which allow you to download apps from Google Play (or marketplace as it was once known) you have to use Slide ME to get apps and even though it has a fair few (in the 1000′s) it isn’t the full list of apps you would find on Google Play. The Disgo 8104 comes with another bookmark called Disgo apps, which only has a mere NINETEEN(!?) apps such as Angry Birds, Facebook and Twitter.

It seems fairly easy to close down running programs, which could save a bit of battery life but like most Android tablets on the market the battery life isn’t that great to begin with! With minimal use (only checking emails, Facebook and Twitter) it can last up to about 5 hours, before needing to be charged during the day or over night (which is my preferred choice). The way it charges is via mini USB – the same cable you use to charge Playstation 3 controllers, which is handy if you want to charge the Disgo 8104 in the front room, mid-PS3 gaming session! Another thing which isn’t that great about the 8104 is the sound: we tested a YouTube video in HD and the built-in speaker on the back was too quiet and the sound quality was rather poor.

All in all I like what Disgo are trying to do in releasing an affordable tablet device but it has a long way to go till I class it as a competitor in this difficult and over-crowded marketplace. Le sigh, why can’t someone create a tablet that is as great as the Apple iPad but using an Android OS…

TwelveSouth’s BookArc (iPad)

Review by Kat English

TwelveSouth’s BookArc is a stylish tabletop stand for iPad. Built from one solid piece of steel with 2 silicone inserts – one for an iPad with no case and another silicone insert for iPads with smart covers and other cases. The device comes with the insert for iPad with no cases already in, so it is ready to go if your not taking it our of the house (because you ALWAYS want to keep your iPad cased if you’re on the road). However removing and switching the inserts is a bit tricky, you need to slide from / to the middle to be removed and change inserts.

The BookArc can hold iPad’s in multiple positions either vertical or horizontal and each way has two options – either straight up or leaning back. To play an aggressive app however it is still advised that you play with the iPad in your hands as the BookArc may not support aggressive tapping on the screen (throwing the balance off is typically the case). Of course once you’ve finished you can simply place the iPad back in its place… The BookArc stand is also space-saving (read: small) enough that it can be used as a portable device, so can also be used if you wish to pair it out and about with a bluetooth keyboard. The box the BookArc comes in is well designed and interestingly the leaflet inside also suggests twelve ideas on how to re-purpose it once your not using it to house the device!

Also available in models for both Macbook Air’s and Macbook Pro’s, the BookArc is a neat and clean way to store your Apple products. The BookArc for iPad retails for around £30 and is available at all good stockists

Yeti Pro Mic (Blue Microphones)

Review by Phil Wheat

The Yeti Pro desk microphone from Blue is an advanced multi-pattern USB mic, featuring triple capsule array for recording in stereo or a choice of three unique patterns – cardioid (picking up sound directly in front at full volume), omnidirectional (picking up all sound at equal volume) and bidirectional (picking up sound in front and to the rear), allowing the Yeti to provide recording capabilities that would typically require multiple microphones.

The Yeti Pro also has a plethora of other features, including a built in headphone jack that allows you plug headphones directly into the microphone – useful checking audio levels; a mute button allowing you to instantly mute the microphone; knobs to control both the volume of the audio output and the gain (sensitivity) of the microphone – and believe me, the Yeti is VERY sensitive, it will pick up the smallest noise… The device itself feels very substantial and weighs a ton – the base is weighted and balanced meaning there’s no chance of the Yeti falling over should your become over-excited during your next recording session. Coming from Blue, who are renowned for their high-end audio products, the sound quality is superb and unlike may recording devices the audio take from the Yeti Pro sounds exactly as it did going in – with no loss of quality or warping of vocal tones etc., that I’ve experienced with lesser products.

Unlike its cheaper (yet equally as impressive) mic, the Yeti Pro adds 24bit/192 kHz digital recording resolution and XLR output, meaning it really is THE choice for professional and amateur alike. Of course you get what you pay for and the Yeti Pro doesn’t come cheap, with an RRP of £229.99 you’ve got to be serious about your sound to pick up one of these. But if you are, the Yeti Pro is well worth the price.

System requirements:

  • PC: Windows 7, Windows Vista, XP Home Edition or XP Professional; USB 2.0 High Speed; 256 MB RAM (minimum)
  • Macintosh: Mac OSX (10.6.4 or higher); USB 2.0 High Speed; 256 MB RAM (minimum)

Libratone Live Airplay Speaker

Review by Phil Wheat

Ever wanted a luxurious, cashmere covered wireless Airplay speaker? You do? Well Copenhagen-based audio company Libratone have you covered with the Libratone Live. Designed to complement a living space, the Live comes in a range of colours and features superior sound quality which is beamed from the speaker in a full 360 degrees, giving exception (and very loud) performance results.

The Libratone Live offers full AirPlay support, allowing audio to flow freely without wires or a loss of sound quality and it’s all set-up in a few simple steps – just tap the button on the front of the speaker, connect to the Live via a web interface, enter your wifi network details, tap the button again and wait for it to connect to your home network. Then it’s a simple case of playing your music through iTunes on your PC, Mac, iPhone or iPad and Airplaying it to the Libratone Live.

Whilst the Libratone Live ships ready to plug and play, Libratone also provide a universal iOS app which lets you manually correct the audio based upon the speaker’s location, adapting the sound to the acoustical characteristics of the room. The iOS app can (apparently) also be used to apply firmware updates to the Live.

The Live pumps out 150 watts of sound, with five dedicated amps powering a 5-inch bass unit, a pair of 3-inch midrange drivers, and a pair of 1-inch ribbon-based tweeters; all working together to produce what Libratone are calling 360 degree FullRoom acoustic sound… And what sound. The Libratone Live has become my go-to speaker for when it’s time to rock out, with a good choice of positioning the Live can literally fill any room with sound – with enough bass to shake the house down!

One of the best speakers I’ve ever had the pleasure of reviewing, the Libratone Live is available from Apple for £599

Wacom Bamboo Pen & Touch

Review by Phil Wheat

As a designer I often have to use tablets in my creative pursuits and I’ve experienced all manner of different makes and models – some good, a lot of bad. So when we were offered the opportunity to review Wacom’s Bamboo Pen & Touch I jumped at the chance, after all Wacom are, at least in my experience, at the forefront of both design and use…

Wacom’s Bamboo Pen & Touch is both Mac and PC-friendly and designed for left and right handed use. The tablet comes with an integrated pen holder, a new eraser shape and four customisable ExpressKeys for extra comfort and easy navigation. Unlike a lot of drawing tablets, the Bamboo Pen & Touch is made for consumers rather than professionals, however that doesn’t mean Wacom have scrimped on the design or the quality.

The stylus is pressure-sensitive so you can simulate pen and brush strokes in paint apps such as Photoshop, you can also tap to left-click or use the rocker button near the nib for a right-click. The Pen & Touch also has four buttons, which you can customise in any way you choose. The “touch” aspect of the tablet comes via the ability to use your fingers and multi-touch gestures to navigate through you operating system – however given Apple’s penchant for gestures this aspect of the Pen & Touch works considerably better on a Mac. The Pen & Touch also supports Bamboo apps which means that you can download various programs for use with the tablet including puzzles, games and, of course, drawing apps.

If I had any qualms about the Bamboo Pen & Touch it would be that the tablet’s touch-sensitive area is not as large as I would have liked and I did, on more than one occasion, tap the stylus in a non-touch area; and the fact that to make the device wireless you need to buy a wireless kit which costs almost as much as the tablet itself!

Medion Akoya P5704 D PC

Review by Phil Wheat

At first glance Medion’s Akoya P5704 D PC is nothing to write home about. The case, in particular the angular front panel feels cheap and plasticky the angular design seems at odds with the current trend for smooth edges and gorgeous curves – and the flimsy keyboard and mouse don’t help matters much! However despite is less-than-stellar appearance, the P5704 D packs one hell of a computing wallop with all the real salivating to be done over the components within…

The processor is a Core i7-2600 running at 3.4GHz, which features four cores and hyper-threading, plus it also has turbo boost, which lets it run in an overclocked speed temporarily during intensive processor-heavy tasks. Supporting the processor there’s a huge 8Gb of RAM, which in our tests came in very handy for video editing and Blu-ray burning – yes the P5704 D comes with a Blu-ray writer! Sadly the speedy processor and RAM are let down by the included 1Gb AMD Radeon HD 6750, when it comes to gaming. Whilst the graphics card apparently features the latest version of AMD’s Unified Video Decoder on the chip, we struggled to run graphically intensive games at full capacity (we had to turn down the graphics on games such as Crysis 2 for example). Which is something I would not have expected from a machine as (overall) well-specced as this.

Thankfully the rest of the P5704 D’s specification is a lot more impressive, coming as it does with the aforementioned Blu-ray writer, two USB3 ports and the standard memory card reader for SD, Memory Stick and xD cards on the front, and eight USB2 ports on the back. Also on the back are the DVI, VGA and HDMI video outputs – we hooked the PC up to both a 19 inch HDTV and 42 inch HDTV via the HDMI port with no hassles whatsoever.

There’s 7.1 surround sound for the audio enthusiasts and 1TB of storage for all you music photos and movies. Best of all? IT features a fast 64Gb SSD which is used as the system disk, meaning super-fast boot-up every time. The Akoya P5704 D also reportedly features a built-in 802.11n wireless however we we couldn’t get it working on our review model and there was no adapter showing in the OS.

For those PC users who like to expand their machines after-the fact there’s actually some great and not-so-great additions to the PC. Firstly, and impressively for an off the shelf machine, there’s a caddy under the Blu-ray drive to add a hot-swappable SATA HDD and there are two free memory slots so you can increase the RAM if needed, plus there’s a couple of free PCI Express slots. Sadly there’s no room for a separate DVD-R/RW drive which I would have liked given the flakiness I’ve experienced when burning other formats in BD-writers – a minor niggle in a machine as well-specced as this.

In the end the Medion Akoya P5704 D is a powerful PC that has some fantastic features. Yes it’s quiet. Yes it’s fast. But it’s also let down by the poor graphics card. If you can get it for less than the RRP and secure a decent graphics card with the money you’ve saved then this is a solid purchase. Otherwise I’d wait for the next (upgraded?) model…

SoundFreaq SFQ-01A Sound Platform

Review by Phil Wheat

SFQ-01A

Soundfreaq’s new SFQ-01A Sound Platform is the latest in a long line of speaker docks we’ve reviewed here at Blogomatic3000, and it may be the best. The SFQ-01A is designed to fit easily in any room and fill it with exceptional acoustics. Crafted for natural bass response, vocal clarity and full stereo separation the SFQ-01A is custom- engineered with Kevlar reinforced balanced drivers, acoustically tuned dual-port chamber and comes with what Soundfreaq have dubbed the UQ3 spatial enhancement processor – which when activated gives an incredibly rich and well-rounded sound like I have never heard from a speaker dock.

Not only is the SFQ-01A made to house iPhones and iPods, thanks to the built in “future-proof” A2DP Bluetooth it is also compatible with tons of other smart phones, as well as tablets, netbooks and laptops including (but not limited to) Blackberrys, Android devices, Mac’s and Windows PC’s. Which means you can keep using your mobile devices whilst streaming audio directly to the SoundFreaq SFQ-01A Sound Platform via the freely available Soundfreaq Remote App.

Appearance-wise, the SFQ-01A is a lightweight device clad in a high-gloss piano black with ambient lighting in both sides of the dock; one side also houses the remote (which was sadly missing from our review unit) behind a push-to-release door. A silver trim runs across the back of the dock and across the two sub woofers which pump out serious bass in the UQ3 (or U-cubed) mode. The silver trim also runs across the front of the dock, which is home to the devices LCD screen, touch-sensitive buttons (play, stop etc.) and the standard bass and treble EQ dial, along with the UQ3 control.

If I had any qualms about the SoundFreaq SFQ-01A Sound Platform, it’s the price. Available online for around £140-150, the SFQ-01A is more expensive than some of the docks we have reviewed, and despite the added Bluetooth connectivity it would be hard to justify dropping that much money on ANY speaker dock. But if you have got the cash and are in the market for a new speaker dock then definitely check out the SoundFreaq SFQ-01A Sound Platform.

Medion Erazer X6815 Laptop

Review by Phil Wheat

Medion have been slowly making a name for themselves, here in the UK at least, as one of the most value-for-money computer manufacturers out there today. With a mix of high-spec machines and low prices (compared to similarly specced counterparts) the company has, with its Erazer range, targeted the PC gaming market in full force, offering machines to die for, and the Medion Erazer X6815 is no exception.

Packed with both impressive multimedia credentials and plenty of power for the hardcore gamer the X8615 is powered by a 2GHz quad core Intel Core i7 processor, the i7-2630QM, one of Intel’s latest Sandy Bridge range of processors (which with turbo boost runs at 2.9GHz), coupled with a massive 4Gb of RAM and a DIrectX 11 compatible (top-end) mid-range NVIDIA GeForce GT555M graphics card. As if that’s not enough, the X6815 features a 15.6″ Full HD (1920 x 1080 pixels at 16:9 ratio) screen, Blu-ray drive/DVD-writer combo drive, 500Gb HDD, Dolby Home Theatre V4 certified HD audio and the latest USB 3.0 ports!

Running the 64 bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium, the Medion Erazer X6815 is constructed out of high-gloss black plastic, which easily fills with fingerprints even after the briefest of uses. But said plastic feels very sturdy, as does the overall construction of the laptop. The body of the X6815 is filed with ports and connections – 2x USB 2.0, 2x USB 3.0, 1 VGA, 1 HDMI, kensington lock, microphone out, line-out, multi-format (SD,SDHC,SDXC,MMC,MS,MS Pro) card reader, and even a biometric fingerprint reader! The screen/lid also houses a 1.3 megapixel webcam and microphone, and thankfully Medion have highlighted (in a electric blue) both the USB 3.0 ports so they’ll never be any confusion there – unlike other machines I’ve roadtested recently. As is per the norm with laptops, the X6815 comes complete with built-in wifi, supporting B/G and N networks, a Gigabit LAN port and Bluetooth support, this time of the 3.0 variety.

Billed as both a multimedia and gaming laptop we of course couldn’t NOT try and put the Erazer X6815 through its paces. On the movies side of things the laptop handled Blu-ray to perfection thanks to Cyberlink’s PowerDVD software. We also tested out hi-res MKV files and hi-res MP4 video files, which again the X6815 handled without a hitch. On the gaming side of things there were some stumbling blocks – the GeForce GT555M is only a mid-range card so we had to turn down some of the graphics settings in games such as Crysis 2, which when played at full 1920×1080 stuttered and lagged. But a swift switch to a slightly lower res and everything was running a-OK. At least until the X6815 got waaay too hot to play on thanks to the over-working graphics card and CPU… Thankfully the internal fans aren’t of the “jet taking off” type – I’ve actually heard louder from my old Macbook when watching YouTube videos…

If I had any issues with the Erazer X6815 it was with – as is the case with a lot of laptops it seems these days – the battery life. Running in anything other than maximum energy saving mode when not connected to a power socket meant a typical battery life of 2.5 hours when surfing the web, and gaming? That was MUCH less. Using the maximum energy saving options meant we managed to squeak 5 hours battery life out of the X6815, although that did mean also switching off the wifi when not in use. There are also some smaller issues with the slightly flimsy feeling keyboard, a sometimes unresponsive multi-touch mousepad and the slow-accessing HDD, but when you consider what you ARE getting for the price these are mere drops in a much more well-specced ocean.

A great balance between specifications, design and price, the Medion Erazer X6815 is worthy of your consideration should you require a desktop replacement. Overall the X6815 is a great all-rounder and is, for the moment, future-proofed thanks to its Blu-ray drive, USB 3.0 ports and quad core processor. Plus you’d be hard-pressed to find such a well-equipped machine for the same price from anyone else…

iLuv iMM514 ArtStation Pro iPad dock

Review by Phil Wheat

After my review of iLuv’s original ArtStation, the good folks at iLuv asked if I wanted to check out their very latest iPad dock, the iMM514 ArtStation Pro and whilst I loved its look, feel and sound, there was – at least this time round – something lacking about this iPad dock.

On the face of it, the ArtStation Pro looks absolutely fantastic. The dock consists of a large rectangular speaker unit which also functions as the base of the unit and attached to it is a swivel arm which allows you to change the screen orientation, horizontal or vertical of the connected iPad. The arm can accommodate an iPad 2, an original iPad, and an iPhone with the separate adaptor/arm. Now here’s my own and only issue with this dock: the design of the ArtStation Pro means that the swivel arm does not tilt forward or back (like the iMM727), therefore you can’t change the viewing angle of the iPad – which is fine if you’re using it at eye level or above but if, for example, as I did, you place the dock/speaker on a higher shelf the screen becomes unviewable. A small issue, but one nonetheless.

As with all of iLuv’s docks connecting your iPad for the first time sees an on-screen message pop-upon your device asking if you want to download the iLuv app which contains an alarm clock, internet radio, weather forecasts and the iLuv store.  As with all iPad or iPhone docks, the iMM514 both plays your iPad content and charges the device at the same time, you can also connect the dock – if you should wish – to a PC or Mac via a mini USB cable and transfer content to you iPad without having to remove it from the dock.

The iMM514 ArtStation Pro is a classic black and silver affair, matching the colour of the original iPad perfectly. The base is comprised of a cloth-covered speaker trimmed with a silver edging, and glossy piano black top and a large silver arm that features the now-typical three pronged iPad grip. There are a handful  of controls on the top of the unit and the rest are on the accompanying remote. The reverse of the base houses the power input, mini USB port and  3.5mm audio jack for connecting other audio devices. Like the previous iPad dock(s) from iLuv, the ArtStation Pro pumps out a fair amount of bass and the sound quality is crisp and clear – no doubt thanks to the jAura sound found in most of iLuv’s dock range. But like the iMM727 the volume is not independent of you iPad, which again is a small niggle that I hope could be corrected in future models – although I have a feeling the lack of independent volume may be down to distortion issues, i.e. more volume over and above the iPad’s output probably would lead to much more distortion in the audio from the speaker.

All in all, apart from one or two niggling little issues, the iMM514 ArtStation Pro speaker dock is yet another excellent addition to the iLuv range and the iPad dock market. The iMM514 is available now at iluv.co.uk

BeBook Live Android Tablet

Review by Phil Wheat

BeBook, more commonly known for their e-book readers, have ventured into tabloid territory with their new 7-inch tablet, the BeBook Live. Like many of the cheaper range of tablets on the high street, the Live doesn’t feature the latest version of Google’s Android software, running Android 2.2 (Froyo) rather than the latest Honeycomb (3.0) software found on devices such as the Asus Eee Pad – which isn’t that big a deal for joe public who are more concerned with price than the latest features it seems…

Whilst the software may be lacking, the look and feel of the BeBook Live is definitely not. The tablet features a matte finish which has an odd material-like, almost suede, feel, and that’s despite being made entirely out of plastic – again a compromise to keep the price down, but at least the matte finish makes the Live almost finger-print proof! The silver finished edging houses the devices many connections and controls – including a mini HDMI and mini USB, an external micro SD card slot (which accepts cards up to 32Gb), two speakers, a volume rocker, standby button and a screen orientation lock. All very familiar if you’ve ever used any tablet before.

Where the BeBook Live differs from other tablets is on the face. Unlike many other 7-inch tablets, the device have a smaller screen that doesn’t fill the entirety of the device thanks to its 4:3 aspect ratio rather than the typical 5:3, leaving room for three buttons down the right hand side of the screen – back, menu and home. Again all very familiar. The display itself is a less than stellar 800 x 600 pixels and the viewing angle isn’t much to shout about either – as someone who typically uses his tablet in bed in all sorts of strange angles and positions it was somewhat frustrating to keep having to adjust myself to the Live’s screen rather than adjusting it to my position. Battery life is sadly a little weak as well, the BeBook Live typically ran out of charge after a days use and charging it seemed to take longer than its contemporaries too.

Also housed on the front of the Live is a 2 megapixel camera, which apparently will capture video up to 720p. I put the camera up to a small test, shooting footage via the front-facing camera and uploading it straight to YouTube without any compression etc. And whilst it worked well capturing my less than super visage in low light, its not the greatest of results – plus if you watch the video you’ll realise the audio recording quality isn’t up to much either, with an underlying hiss that appeared on all my attempted recordings:

The BeBook Live is powered by a 1GHz Samsung Cortex A8 processor with 512MB RAM and like some other tablets that shall remain nameless, the Live is also fully compatible with Adobe Flash. Of course the Android experience is identical to the rest of the crowded tablet marketplace so there’s nothing much to write home about there, although unlike some tablets the Live isn’t completely compatible with all file formats out of the box – mp4 for video and mp3 for audio are more than fine, but throw anything else at the device and its a no go: so no mkv or divx/xvid files sadly, but there may be some video players downloadable from Android Marketplace that may rectify that situation – the processor is definitely up to the task, and of course online video plays 100% fine though, so iPlayer, ITV player and 4OD, as well as YouTube et al are all at your disposal.

Its hard to judge the BeBook Live. It has a decent processor that will handle HD content, feels good in the hand, plus its not that expensive – but at the same time the camera and audio quality are sub-par, the battery life is lacking and device is only running Android 2.2. It’s definitely a mixed bag and is one of the rare cases where “you get what you pay for” is entirely true… If you’re happy to compromise on specs to save money then the BeBook Live may be for you.

iLuv iMM727 Artstation Stereo Speaker Dock

Review by Phil Wheat

Yes folks, it’s yet another review of an iLuv product, and why not? iLuv are producing some of the best and most affordable iPad and iPhone accessories on the market today… We’ve already reviewed the iPhone Rotating Speaker Dock and it’ll be interesting to see how the two docks compare – especially since they both use jAura technology for sound reproduction.

The iMM727 Artstation Stereo Speaker Dock is the first iPad compatible dock I’ve managed to lay my hands on to review – I’ve had a go with a few a recent tech shows such as the Gagdet Show Live, but this is the first time I’ve been able to really put one through it’s paces, and I don’t think I could have started with a better model.

The dock consists of a large speaker unit which also functions as the base of the unit and attached to it is a multi-directional arm which allows you to change the screen orientation and angle of the connected iPad. The arm can accommodate an iPad 2 easily, and with a little extra force an original iPad – for those that wish to use an iPhone you can – I could even connect my iPhone whilst still in its case, unlike numerous other iPhone docks I’ve experienced. However iLuv’s Artstation is really built for the iPad. Interestingly, once you’ve connected your iPad, the entire thing resembles a small desktop PC (actually it looks more like the old G4 iMac)… So of course I had to pair my iPad with a bluetooth keyboard and actually gave it a go as a desktop machine – and it worked like a dream.

What took me by surprise about this dock was that the first time i connected my iPad to the Artstation I actually received an on-screen message telling me I could download an app for the device! Selecting OK took me straight to the App Store and to the iLuv app page. Fantastic. As with all iPad or iPhone docks, the iMM727 both plays your iPad content and charges the device at the same time – and like the iMM289 dock did with iPhones, the iMM727 Artstation Stereo Speaker Dock charges your iPad at a faster rate (at least in my opinion) than the official Apple wall charger.

Design-wise the iMM727 Artstation Stereo Speaker Dock has a nice all-black appearance, with glossy plastic and cloth-covered speakers. The speakers take up less room than expected thanks to the angular design and the small footprint of the base is supported by a stand at the back. There are only two controls on the front of the unit, power and volume, the rest are on the accompanying remote – which given that you’ll need to be close to the dock to use the connected iPad makes sense. The reverse of the dock features two bass boosting speakers, power input, mini USB port, 3.5mm audio jack for connecting other audio devices and, this is the cool part: a magnetic remote holder – check it out at work in the image at the top of this review… In terms of sound, the dock performs surprisingly well, pumping out a fair amount of bass thanks to the bass boosters on the back of the dock, I just wish the volume worked independently of the iPad that way you could REALLY crank up the noise!

Of course the mini USB port means that you can sync your iPad whilst its in situ, which means unlike some other docks you don’t need to remove your iPad from the dock every time you want to update, sync or transfer files. Although whether you’d have the dock close enough to your Mac or PC to use the cable remains to be seen. Personally I think the iMM727 Artstation Stereo Speaker Dock deserves a nice space on your bedside cabinet, that’s where I’ve been placing this review unit – that way I can watch videos in bed, set the photo slideshow (turning my iPad into a digital photo frame) and use my iPad as an alarm clock / clock radio.

The iMM727 Artstation Stereo Speaker Dock is available at Argos or via i-luv-uk.co.uk

Wacom Bamboo Stylus & Bamboo Paper App

Review by Phil Wheat

Wacom, the name in graphics tablets, is expanding their range with the addition of the Bamboo Stylus, which is available now, and the Bamboo Paper iPad app which is due to be launched today. What does that mean? Well the Stylus makes drawing, painting and writing on your iPad feel more natural and allows for more control of your on-screen “pen” – have you tried drawing neatly on an iPad with chubby man-fingers? No? Well let me tell you it’s not easy – couple that with the Paper app and you have total control over all your drawing and writing needs, furthering the touch experience and adding a LOT more accuracy…

Wacom

The Bamboo Stylus
Straight out of the box you’ll realise that Wacom’s addition to the growing iPad stylus market is light years ahead of it’s competitors – for one it actually looks and feels like a pen… Yes, forget those other so-called stylus’ that are no more than flimsy plastic sticks with a pointed tip! Designed to look like a real pen a la Parker, the Bamboo Stylus has a sophisticated look with a black and silver design and satin finish, replete with soft pen nib and feels solid enough to withstand plenty of in-bag bashing. Plus it has a really satisfying feel as you use it. My one gripe? A lack of pressure sensitivity… But how to do that on an iPad with capacitive screen I’ve no idea? Some sort of bluetooth communication perhaps? But then that would probably price any device out of the market…

The Bamboo Paper App
To accompany the Bamboo Stylus, Wacom have developed a brand new iPad app, the Bamboo Paper app which turns your iPad into a digital notepad. Sketch out ideas, brainstorming, write out notes, compile lists, and much more – in fact anything you could with a pen and paper you can do with the Bamboo Paper App. Plus all your notes, sketches etc., are all stored away in your iPad for future reference. In fact check out this video from Wacom to see some ideas of how you can use the Bamboo Paper app in everyday situations:

Team the app with the stylus and you have one superb visual tool that expands the capabilities of the iPad. Again, like the stylus I have only one major gripe with the Bamboo Paper app, and that’s the lack of colours and pen sizes – something which could easily be rectified in future app updates and besides, if you want more sketching possibilities there are other apps out there which will team up fantastically with the Wacom Bamboo Stylus.

Wacom’s Bamboo Stylus is available now from Wacom.eu

iLuv iMM289 Stereo Speaker Dock

Review by Phil Wheat

The iLuv iMM289 Stereo Speaker Dock is a desktop or bedside speaker compatible with both the iPhone and iPod that features a sleek and compact design and a unique 90° rollover capability allowing the dock to hold you iPhone or iPod either vertically or horizontally – making it ideal for watching videos and movies while docked.

Besides the innovative rotating design, the iLuv iMM289 also features jAura Echo Soundcell technologywhich optimally balances the forward firing sound and backward boost delivering unparalleled depth and richness to the sound output.

As with any mains powered iPhone/iPod dock the iMM289 plays and charges your device at the same time, only iLuv’s dock has a 5W quick charge feature – and when they say quick charging they REALLY mean quick charging, it seemed considerably faster than Apple’s standard USB/plug adapter in my tests! The speakers are 2 x 1.5 watts RMS, which, coupled with the jAura sound technology, actually produce a louder sound than expected.

The audio quality at low levels offered good sound reproduction, with a well-rounded bass and good top end, however crank up the volume and the iLuv iMM289 Stereo Speaker Dock suffers from a, for want of a better word, “crackly” output which distorts at all ends of the sound spectrum. No doubt this is due to the limitations of the audio to volume ratio – interestingly the iMM289 looks to use the audio output from your Apple device and not an external audio amplifier, I was surprised when turning up the volume on the speaker dock that it actually turned up the volume of my iPhone not the dock itself!

The iMM289 supports many of Apple’s devices, including iPod Classic, iPod Touch 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th gen, iPod nano (all versions),  iPhone, iPhone 3, 3Gs and iPhone 4 – meaning it’s perfect for music loving Apple fans! As is typically the norm on iPhone and iPod docks, the iLuv iMM289 Stereo Speaker Dock also has an auxiliary line input for any audio devices with a 3.5mm jack.

Magicbox Ark iPod dock

Review by Phil Wheat

Compatible with the iPod and iPhone, the Magicbox Ark speaker/docking station is a well built, stylish and affordable dock that mixes a sleek design with excellent sound reproduction and the ability to charge your Apple devices.

The Magicbox Ark is mains powered, with an 8 watt RMS stereo speaker that produces a deep base and a crisp top end – my kind of music (if you pardon the pun). The sound quality is as good at low levels as it is cranked up to full volume, which makes full use of the 8W of output to blast out bass-bumping, head pounding audio.

Besides sounding good, the Magicbox Ark also looks good, with a small footprint and piano black finish. Couple that with minimalist controls – the Ark only features a volume up and down button on its fascia – and a scifi-ish blue light that signifies the unit is on and you have one gorgeous looking speaker dock.

The Ark supports many of Apple’s devices, including iPod Touch 1st and 2nd gen, iPhone 3, 3Gs and 4, as well as iPod nano 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th generation – meaning it’s perfect for music loving Apple fans! For the non-Apple households out there – don’t fret, the Ark also features a 3.5mm auxiliary input for connecting standard MP3 players.

The Magicbox Ark retails for a low £40, meaning you get a lot of sound for your money. Yes this isn’t going to please the hardcore audiophiles out there but for everyone else, the Ark is simple to use, stylish and well worth the money.

Nintendo Dsi XL and Huawei E585 Mi-Fi

Review by Phil Wheat

When the guys at Three, the UK’s biggest 3G mobile network, got in touch recently and asked if I’d like to check out a Nintendo DSi XL I jumped at the chance as I’ve been using a DS Lite since launch and have often wondered if it’s worth upgrading to an XL. Then they said “How would you like a Huawei E585 Mi-Fi to review along with it? Then you can game on the move and have access to the web via the DSi XL too.” Well colour me excited! After all I’d just bought a wi-fi only iPad and I was looking at going down the mi-fi route after a friend recommended it to me. But to have the chance at test driving both a DSi XL and a Mi-Fi BEFORE buying? Yes please!

First things first, the Nintendo DSi XL is big, in fact compared to the DS Lite it really lives up to it’s XL name! For one the screens are bigger, both the top screen and the touch screen are a whopping 4.2 inch (apparently 93% bigger than the DS Lite screens I have been used to). It’s also heavier, especially at the side where the battery is sited, but the heaviness is also accompanied by a robustness that makes the DSi XL feel like it could take a beating at the hands of any younger gamer and keep on ticking – although the size of the unit makes it feel more of a “grown-ups” handheld console!

The robust feel of the unit is matched by the robust feel of the buttons – each and every button feels more responsive, although I wish Nintendo had decided to increase the size of the D-pad and A/B/X/Y buttons, they’re still at the same size as they appear on the much smaller DS Lite! The L and R buttons however are much improved, as is the stylus – well if you use the all-new pen stylus that comes in the box that is! Yes, the DSi XL comes with two stylus’. The first is the traditonal one that fits neatly into the case of the DSi XL – this stylus is slightly larger than that found on the DS Lite, but not much. However Nintendo have also seen fit to include a matching, and just as robust, pen shaped stylus which, whilst you can’t store it in the DSi XL’s case, does actually match the large and more robust feel of the console.

The DSi XL unit I received came with some applications and a game, the well-known Dr. Kawashima’s Brain Training: Arts Edition, pre installed. The applications include Dictionary 6 in 1, and – unlike the DS Lite I had been used to – the Web Browser. Having previously been used to having to install a cartridge to browse the web on my DS Lite, having an in-built browser was a bit of a revelation. And then to pair it with the Huwaei E585 Mi-Fi and take web browsing out and about with me? Superb!

I’d long been used to connecting my DS Lite to my home network via wi-fi, but using the Nintendo DS browser in my own home seemed like a waste of time when I could just as easily use my laptop. However travelling with the DSi XL and the E585 mi-fi meant I could take my gaming on the road – and believe me I never thought I’d use the browser as much as I did! Turns out, when you’re stuck on a particularly difficult game, it’s really good to be able to go online and look for tips and walkthroughs… And pairing the two devices couldn’t have been simpler. The Huwaei E585 is truly one of the easiest wi-fi hubs I have ever had the pleasure of using – inside the case there’s a little sticker with the SSID and the WiFi Key printed on it, pop both into the DSi XL’s wireless network config screen and voila! Online in seconds. Really.

And it’s just as easy to connect any of your wireless devices – iPad, mobile phone, or laptop etc. – to the Huwaei E585 Mi-Fi. Test-driving one certainly sold me on the device. So much so I bought one!

For more information on the Huwaei E585 Mi-fi go to Three.co.uk

Western Digital WDTV Live

Review by MovieDan

Set top boxes are very much grabbing the headlines at the moment. There are a number of Google TV equipped boxes and TVs, there’s the recently released Boxee Box, and there’s the new second generation Apple TV.

Predating most of these new devices, and getting less press these days, is the Western Digital WDTV Live. Considering the device is available for less than the Apple TV, which in itself is the cheapest of the three devices mentioned above, I spent a little time with Western Digital’s offering to see how it compares.

wdtv

The box itself is small, around the size of a paperback book. It’s supplied with a selection of cables, a remote control, and a power supply. It has two USB connections, an HDMI port, sockets for component and composite outputs, optical audio output, and ethernet.

The user interface is pretty, if somewhat minimal. It reminds me of a vertical version of the Playstation 3′s XMB. Icons scroll up and down for Music, Video, Photos, and settings, and a push to the right brings up another vertical list containing destinations: local drives (connected via the USB ports), Media Servers, or Network Shares. It’s not the most user friendly interface in the world, but it gets the job done.

You can see a good example video on Western Digital’s site here.

Once you’ve accessed your media, the fun begins. The WDTV Live was able to play pretty much everything I asked it to. 720p MKVs, Xvids, MP4s, DVR-MS files recorded with Microsoft’s Media Center, videos recorded on the iPhone 4, videos from still cameras, and more. The only file I managed to upset it with was a huge .TS stream recorded from BBC HD, and I suspect that was more to do with network bandwidth than the capabilities of the device itself. If that laundry list of media formats didn’t mean a lot to you, I’ll sum it up – the WDTV Live plays pretty much anything.

As a Media Streamer for content on your local network or a USB drive it’s an impressive bit of equipment. Beyond that, the online services on this particular box are limited to YouTube for video, Pandora and Live365 for music, and Flickr for photos. Oddly you can sign in to a YouTube account, but not Flickr.

On this basis the Internet connectivity elements aren’t going to worry the competition – Boxee is all about making a business out of supplying web content, and given that Google TV is a Google product you already know what its intentions are – but it’s worth noting that Western Digital also offer Live Plus and Live Hub versions of the hardware, which extend the online capabilities further. Specifically, the Live Hub features an internal hard disk drive and a redesigned user interface as well as more online services.

It’s also worth noting that there’s no wifi capability out of the box. The device does support specific usb wireless adaptors, but you’re limited to local and ethernet playback ordinarily. I tried the device using a 200mbps homeplug and it worked just as well as a wired ethernet connection.

For non-techies the WDTV Live will probably take a bit of effort to live up to its full potential. If you’re already streaming content at home, or you know how to share folders or copy content onto USB storage for playback, this is highly recommended for its staggeringly extensive media streaming capabilities, small form factor, and silent operation.

Bottom line: if you’re reading this thinking “I know where I could put that” then I suspect you’ll be entirely happy with your purchase. If you’re not entirely certain what you’d do with it then buying one isn’t going to change that overnight. Similarly if you’ve got a lot of content squirreled away in Apple’s digital receptacles, you might want to look elsewhere. It’s worth looking into the Live Hub version of this hardware though, as that might be of more use to you.

iLuv iEP515 Earphones

Earphones… If you’re anything like me you’ll struggle to find a pair you love, and a pair that perform as good as you’d like. Well finally the search, for me, is over. Yes, with the iLuv iEP515′s I have finally found a pair of earphones that not only feel good to wear, but also provide the type of sound I love – and best of all they work with iPod and iPhone.

iluv-iep515

The iEP515 earphones are precision-engineered high quality earphones that create a sound quality which rivals any live music performance with drivers that create a perfect balance of high and low frequencies which provides a rich, bassy, and best of all loud, sound that I adore. These light, comfortable, well-crafted and good-looking earphones are complemented with iPod and iPhone control, with an inline remote and built-in microphone that allow for hands free calling, easy track control, and voice over (for iPod shuffle) – the iEP515′s do everything any Apple-branded earphone does, only they also provide quality sound reproduction!

With some of the best bass and sound reproduction I’ve ever heard in a sub-£100 earphone, the iLuv iEp515′s are without a doubt the BEST earphones I have ever had the privilege of using with my iPhone 3GS and iPad.

The iLuv iEP515 earphones are compatible with iPhone 3GS/4, iPod Touch 2nd/3rd/4th Gen, iPod Nano 4th/5th/6th Gen, iPod Classic 120Gb, iPod Shuffle 3rd/4th Gen and iPad; and are available at Argos for £49.99 (SRP)

Datel Wireless Microphone

I’ve always been a big music game fan, spending many an evening playing on the PS3 on Rock Band or Guitar Hero, with me on guitar with my girlfriend singing along on a mic. However I have only ever owned the wireless guitar for my Wii, which often means I end up playing that game alone (sad I know, but don’t cry) so when I recently came to review Activision’s Band Hero on the Wii I decided it was time to invest in a wireless mic for the console so I could enjoy the two player experience… When it comes to wireless Wii mics there are really only two (reliable) manufacturers to choose from: Logitech or Datel. I opted for Datel.

Datel-Wii-Mic

Datel have made a name for themselves as the world’s largest third party developer of videogame peripherals, manufacturing CD, DVD, and peripheral products for all the major console platforms, including Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS/DS Lite and Sony PSP. Datel’s Wireless Mic features VHF technology for crystal clear sound, with a huge 15ft range and is compatible with Disney’s Sing It series, the Guitar Hero and Rockband titles, Boogie and the US-released Karaoke Revolution games… and Singstar! (more about that later).

In the Datel Wireless Microphone package you get the wireless mic, wireless receiver with USB cable to connect it to the Wii and batteries. Yes, you read that right, a wireless receiver. As the Wii already uses wireless technology I was only expecting to get a mic, so the receiver came as something of a suprise – what’s more interesting is the fact the receiver has a switch on the reverse to allow you to switch between Sing It, Guitar Hero, Rockband, Boogie and Karaoke Revolution compatibilty and Singstar compatibility; I suspect this means that the unit can be used with a PS2/PS3 as Singstar is a Sony exclusive series, and both of those consoles have the requisite USB ports.

So how does it compare to other wireless mics on the market? Well the mic itself feels incredibly sturdy, feeling very much like a PA quality mic rather than the typically cheap microphones made for the home market. A nice touch on the mic is the LED display – when you switch the mic on the LED flashes once to signal a full battery. When the battery begins to wane the LED will flash intermittently and then stay on all the time when the battery is about to run out, which means you should never lose power without your knowledge right in the middle of an important game ever again.

The wireless reciever feels a little plasticky, but as you’re not going to be handling it that often after set-up, that can be forgiven somewhat. The receiver takes two seconds to set up – connect the USB cable to the back of the receiver and then the Wii, select the correct switch setting and away you go, It’s as easy as that. The receiver is powered by the USB port so there’s no need to worry about an extra plug socket and LEDs on the front of the unit tell you when there is power and when the mic is transmitting/in range. Switch on your game and the only setting you need to worry about is the volume – there is a separate volume knob on the front of the wireless receiver that works independently of any game setttings so you may need to adjust that otherwise you can find yourself drowning out the game!

Datel have yet again made another great third party peripheral in the Wireless Microphone, the ease of set-up of the unit and the quality of the mic make for an excellent package that’s hard to fault – even the obligatory free battery seems to have an extraordinary long life, managing to still be fully charged after 16 hours of gameplay! If you need a new wireless mic for your Wii then I can fully recommend the Datel Wireless Microphone and at only £19.99 for the single mic set with receiver and £26.99 for the dual mic package it’s a lot cheaper than official peripherals and just as good, if not better…

Dane-Elec ‘Maori’ USB Flash Drive

The surfer’s lifestyle is an idyllic one, hitting the waves all day, and beach parties at night… But if like me the nearest you get to surfing is surfing the internet, then maybe Dane-Elec‘s new range of USB flash drives are for you.

The Maori USB Flash Drive is shaped like a traditional surfboard and features a black and white tribal design with a whale motif. There’s a keyring slot at the end of the drive, which means you can add it to your key chain or, if you’re feeling like a surfer dude, even hang it round your neck!

maori

I was kindly sent a 2Gb Maori USB Flash Drive for review, and so I’ve been putting it through it’s paces over the past week – cramming the drive with data, transporting it on my keyring and sharing the information on it across 3 PC’s (2 desktop’s and a laptop) and an Apple Mac without fail. The design of the Maori drive is super-slim compared to the USB flash drive I usually use, about the same thickness as a pound coin – however the surf board design is slightly longer the other models available, but the design is what makes this drive unique.

Transfer speeds were fast in USB 2.0 ports – in particular on my PC laptop, however the drive’s transfer speed slowed considerably when connected to my Apple Mac via the USB on the keyboard, however this can be attributed more to the port being USB 1.1 rather than 2.0. There’s nothing I can fault with this drive… I intend to keep putting it through it’s paces and I’ll report back if the situation changes.

As I mentioned earlier, the Maori USB Flash Drive I was sent for review was the 2Gb model, however the drives are also available in 4Gb, and 8Gb versions. And Dane-Elec’s flash drives (according to the companies website) all come with a 5 year guarantee and are high-speed USB certified (USB 2.0).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>