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Whilst the world waits for Amazon to (literally) deliver on it's promises of drones, you don't need to wait: drones have already become something that normal (albeit relatively affluent) people can own. One of the newer drones - or quadcopters as they're known - is the DJI Phantom 2 Vision - which comes complete with a built-in camera. Here's our review.

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What's in the Box

The Phantom is made up of a central unit containing the battery and the camera, and four stems, which each have helicopter-style blades on the ends (hence quadcopter). Assembly is relatively easy - just screw in the blades, charge the battery and plug it in and you're half way there. There's also a big jumbo remote controller with two control sticks on and a range extender device that will boost the distance you can fly with wifi. Helpfully, it's possible to mount both the range extender and your phone on the remote control - it comes with a clip to make it easy.

It's then simply a case of powering up the battery, switching the camera to on, and turning on the controls and you're ready to go. The Phantom will make a noise and flash lights to show you that it's ready to fly... flip the control switches into the go position and you're ready.

Setting Up

Let me tell you a story... I actually got hold of the drone about a month ago, but had a slightly frustrating time finding an opportunity to test it.

If you take one thing away from this review, then let it be this: for god's sake, make sure you've got enough room to fly the damn thing! I live in a tiny flat, and when I got the drone I made the mistake of switching it on inside. Though relatively diminutive compared to, say, Obama's flying death machines, at only 29cm square (and 18cm deep), as soon as the blades start spinning at flight speed, you realise that taking off next to the TV might not be such a wise idea. You start to understand why the Taliban get worried when they see one in the sky.

Undeterred I then took the drone to a fairly large hall in central London to fly it inside there (with permission of the people who run it) - thinking that it'll be easier to avoid the winter weather, and also decrease the chances of me being shot for flying an unidentified flying object in central London. Unfortunately after switching it on I realise that maybe this wasn't wise either - as even in the open expanse of a hall, the Phantom lifted into the air and drifted terrifyingly close to an expensive lighting rig.

So finally I managed to get round to taking it out of London - to a large park where I could fly it outside. As far as I was aware, there wasn't a royal palace or world heritage site nearby, so all was well - and I finally got to experience the Phantom 2 in full.

Here's a ropey video of me and my girlfriend giving it a try:

Essentially if you're going to commit to the Phantom 2, then make sure you have somewhere to make the most of it. If you live in a big city then this could be problematic - but if you live in the country, you might just be about to find a brand new hobby.

Control & Flight

In short: Wow!

In long:

It's pretty weird to be in control of a flying machine - which can move in three dimensions, at some speed too. It's super easy to control - what was slightly unexpected was all of those hours flying helicopters in Grand Theft Auto 5 had actually provided some decent training, as it flies on the same principles. On the controller, one stick controls height and rotation, and the other controls movement in horizontal directions... and just like GTA5 (or, er, a real helicopter, I guess), to move forward the whole drone tilts forward a little, and so on.

The real magic is in what the drone can do itself. The reason flight is so easy is because the Phantom's on-board computer does the difficult job of making sure it stays in the air - it uses built in gyroscopes and accelerometers to ensure that it will remain stable and upright, so if you like you can leave it ominously floating in the same place in the air.

I was relatively timid with what I tried - I didn't go too far off the ground, or let it fly too far away but it seems capable of extraordinary range - especially with the range extender. Check out this video which DJI have made to prove this point:

And if you want to see how high these things can go, check out this video of Edinburgh. The drone used was nearly identical (it was a DJI Phantom) but lacked the built-in camera - so they mounted one themselves. So don't judge picture quality from this - but look how high and how far!

I've no doubt with a little practice though it'd be possible to do lots of nice swishing about with sweeping dives that don't end in a crash at the end.

Durability

Brilliantly, it seems fairly durable too. Obviously I have tried my best not to test the durability, but during my time testing there were a few bumps and scrapes. Luckily, even during a hard landing, the Phantom remained intact. The blades are flexible when not spinning, so will not snap at the drop of a hat. That said - when I, umm, hit a wall one of the blades definitely snapped in two... but luckily DJI expect this, so have included spares in the box - and a quick Google suggests that spare parts are available in abundance. The main drone unit itself - where all of the expensive stuff sits lives inside some pretty tough plastic casing.

The Camera

So I've covered the control - but what about the camera? This is what truly makes the Phantom seem futuristic. Not only can it video what it sees when it flies about... but it can beam it back to your phone in real time. All you have to do is download the associated app from the iPhone or Android app stores, and connect to the wifi hotspot that that drone itself creates - then you'll see the view from the camera. From the app you can then move and tilt the camera in real time - independent of the movement of the drone - and record video and take photos. And this works in real time - isn't that incredible?

The camera itself is 14 megapixels and can record in full 1080 HD resolution - at 60 fps interlaced, or 30fps progressive scan. It can take photos in either JPG or even RAW format. It's not messing about. The video that is sent back to the app is somewhat lower res - but the full quality recording is saved to a Micro-SD card that is in the back of the camera.

Whilst I can't claim to be an expert on lenses, there's three different fields of vision available: 90, 120 and 140 degrees, so you can make sure that you capture everything.

Bells and Whistles

There's a few extra niceties built into the Phantom that make it a more awesome experience (other than the fact you can watch the camera in real time!). As it has GPS built in, and you have GPS on your phone, you can tell it to automatically come back and find you if it flies off too far/out of range. If it's out of sight, you can even view it on the "radar" on the app.

Similarly the app will give you real time flight data - such as the altitude and speed the Phantom is moving. It's pretty incredible.

My favourite feature too is the fact that the battery is easily removable, and crucially can be charged separately. This means that if you pick up an extra battery or two, it's perfectly possible to charge one whilst using the other - meaning more flight time.

The Verdict

When testing the Phantom at the back of my mind was the assumption that it costs around £350. Having done a bit of Googling since then, I've since discovered that it costs... around £850. I wish I'd been a bit more careful now.

Let's not be coy - the done is awesome fun to fly, and it's so fully featured I can imagine all sorts of professional uses for it too - it's not just a toy. It's surely inevitably that the Phantom 2 Vision will end up being used by news broadcasters and filmmakers too?

So in principle, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this in a second. It's the Ferrari of unmanned aerial vehicles.

In practice though - I am also a sensible consumer. £850 is a lot of money - and if I had £850 to spare (I wish I did), I'm not sure a drone would be top of the list. Though if you do have £850 and want to buy the ultimate toy (perhaps you're one of the Rich Kids of Instagram or having a midlife crisis) then this is a good bet. Just remember to find somewhere with lots of space and that every time you send the drone into the air... that's £850 you're essentially gambling every time the drone dips or falls a bit too steeply. What I mean is, you don't tend to throw your Macbook Air into the air with as much regularity as you would a Phantom 2.

So in conclusion - it's awesome. But expensive - so go and buy one! But at risk of sounding like a concerned parent, make sure that you can afford it first!

Think you know about Assassin's Creed? Have you travelled the world with Ezio? Then prove it by taking our Assassin's Creed Travel Quiz.

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The Assassin's Creed series has come a long way from it's beginnings running around the rooftops of 12th century Palestine. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, which is actually the sixth (or maybe seventh, depending on how you count) game in the series keeps the core mechanics the same - but takes the series in a more swashbuckling direction. Should you be settling down for a TV Party tonight with the game? Read on to find out.

The plot

The game is set during the Golden Age of Piracy in the 18th century - a couple of generations before the events of Assassin's Creed 3. You play as Edward Kenway - the father of Haytham Kenway and grandfather of Conor, who are the playable characters in the previous game.

Kenway is a privateer, who heads to the Caribbean to make his fortune, but on the way gets mixed up in piracy, and after a fatal encounter with an Assassin is embroiled in the war with the Templars, and their quest to find the 'Observatory' that would grant them some severely draconian magical powers. What's particularly apparent about Kenway is that unlike his grandson, he seems like less of a personality vacuum - and like Ezio from AC2, is a more engaging character.

So far, so Assassin's Creed - and this is a good thing. I was a bit nervous when the game was first announced it would be pirate based. "What a bunch of sell-outs", I thought - clearly pirates are too commercial and they're just trying to cash-in on Pirates of the Caribbean? I prefer my pseudo-historical adventure games to be based on more obscure time periods, like, say, Renaissance Italy.

Anyway - it turns out my fears were unfounded. Luckily the game retains the same sort of tone as the earlier games, and a sense of history in keeping with the historical time period. Though there's many of the standard pirate tropes - hell, even Blackbeard makes an appearance - it still feels 'real' rather than 'panto' (umm, relatively speaking).

In terms of jolliness, the pirates in the game are about mid-way between Captain Pugwash and Captain Phillips.

The traditional game

So what of the gameplay? Well - if you haven't liked the Assassin's Creed series until now, this probably isn't going to change your mind. Though why fix what isn't broken?

Apart from the significant sailing sections (more on those in a bit), when you're on land, it'll all feel very familiar. Air assassinations, hiding in bushes to kill targets, tailing moving targets to listen into conversations - it's all pretty much the same as before.

One nice improvement is the adoption of the "standard" style of how guns should work - rather than just have the Y button assigned to fire a gun at, er, pretty much the person nearest to you, you can instead freely aim with the left trigger and shoot with the right trigger - just like GTA5, Max Payne 3, and pretty much every other game involving a gun in the last two years. Maddeningly though, gun/non-blade selection is still done through an awful D-Pad selection, rather than the more modern "L-button-and-a-wheel" type weapon select we've seen most recently in GTA5.

Don't worry though - guns aren't too pivotal - back in the Golden Age guns were just about crappy enough to not have a huge impact, so you'll still be using your hidden blades to a satisfyingly stealthy extent.

As ever with AC, there's a large emphasis on side-missions and collecting things - so if you don't want to race through, you can spend hours searching out every last bonus assassination mission and treasure box. One nice addition is finding buried treasure maps on corpses - which give you a rough location and an illustration of roughly where the treasure is.

Hunting also makes a return - with different materials able to be crafted together to make better kit and ammunition. My favourite new crafting addition is the berserk darts. You can sit in a bush and shoot someone with it, and they'll proceed to start a fight with the people around them. It's immensely satisfying to watch.

Perhaps the most ridiculous thing to collect though is sea shanties. If you don't like sea shanties, you're going to have a bad time with this game. In the previous game you may remember you'd occasionally see letters drifting through the air and you'd have to chase after them before they flew away - in this game, you'll collecting shanties. Why? So when you're sailing the high seas, the men on your ship as you'll be ready for a Nervous Breakdown as they head into another chorus of Old Billy Reilly

With all of this to do though, it can often feel like a collecting game and something that's not driven by the plot. In fact, at one point one of these missions Kenway himself says "It feels like I'm running errands, not living my life". I'm not sure if this was a meta-criticism from the developers but it made me laugh as I ran around chasing after yet another bloody sea shanty.

Don't get me wrong though - this isn't necessarily a bad thing. If you're the sort of person who enjoys exploring every aspect of a richly designed world then there's many, many hours of gameplay here.

Assassin's at sea

The big new thing gameplay mechanic in the game is sailing. Assassin's Creed 3 had a few sailing missions - but this has now been developed into the major way of traversing the overworld. It's like Zelda: Wind Waker with more gruesome deaths.

The sailing - the handling of the boat, the naval combat and and all that is surprisingly accomplished. It's fun to sail around and behave like a pirate. Fire on ships, loot their cargo, even sale up close and jump aboard and start a swordfight. Great.

It's not just used to get from city to city either - there's naval assassination missions, and every area has a fort that must be assaulted by sea first, to break it's defences, before going in on foot once it is sufficiently Damaged.

So fair play to the developers for building what would be - without Assassin's Creed - on it's own a very accomplished naval warfare game. The thing is though... well... it's not really Assassin's Creed, is it? Obviously games must evolve to stay fresh - but at the same time, what happened to running about on tightly-packed European (or Middle Eastern) rooftops and sneaking about? It's surely quite hard to be stealthy in a pirate ship?

I guess the game is suffering from the Tomb Raider problem. Whilst the first game was about raiding tombs - as the series went on it really should have been called "Lara Croft". Whilst this is no bad thing if it's fun to play, it's definitely different from the core experience. In AC4, there's a whole whale-hunting mini-game which whilst it is assassinating whales, it's not quite as rewarding as knifing a templar in the back.

But hey - maybe the sea stuff will grow on me? I suspect I'm just bitter about having better ideas about where the game should be set.

The outer-world

So what of the story in the outside world? We all know that Assassin's Creed takes place in a 'simulation' run by modern day Templar-front Abstergo . In this latest game, following the, er, end of Desmond's story, the game picks up in the offices of "Abstergo Entertainment", who use the Animus to make historical simulation games. You play these sections (in the first person) on an initially unexplained mission to gain as much intelligence on what they're up to as possible - all whilst working there investigating Kenway's history.

For all of the flaws of Desmond's plot (especially the end), the new outside world hasn't really grabbed me. It all seems like an excuse for the AC4 developers to make some too-clever-by-half jokes about games development (at one point it shows a clip of the first game, and complains it's not a commercial enough setting). But I'm sure it sounded like a great idea on paper.

Multiplayer

Multiplayer also makes a return from AC3. The premise of the main multiplayer game is that you and the other players must hide amongst a bustling scene, stake out your designated target player and kill them - with penalties for killing civilians.

It's fun to play too - the trick is to be sneaky as running about will not only show the others that you are in fact a human-controlled character, but also the whispering noises your target will hear when you're close will get louder. There's various different configurations for it - including time limits and the like. It's a nice change of pace from the likes of Call of Duty - especially if, like me, you're a bit crap and tend to get killed every 10 seconds on shooting games.

There's also a fairly extensive custom rules modes - so, for example, you can have only gunshot kills win points. In my experience, this tends to make the game more frantic - as running around with a gun suddenly seems like a sensible thing to do.

The Verdict

So does Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Rise Above the earlier games in the series? Or is it a Wasted opportunity?

As I said earlier - if you didn't like the AC series before, this isn't going to change your mind - though if you're a fan, then it is definitely worth checking in with the latest in the series. Despite all of the sometimes unnecessary bells and whistles, the core gameplay is still great - and the pseudo-historical narrative is enjoyable for history junkies and people looking for something a bit different alike.

So yes - I think we can safely say that it's yo ho ho and a bottle of fun indeed.

Now can we please have Assassin's Creed 5 set in revolutionary Paris?

The Sonos Play range have long been at the elite end of music streaming systems, requiring kit costing hundreds of pounds to get the most out of what it can do. With the Play 1, Sonos are attempting to create an entry level device that can still hold it's own when compared to the likes of the beefier Play 5. Does succeed? Is it worth sinking £169 on a single speaker? Read on for our review.

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How Sonos Works

It's hard to review the Play 1 without understand what it is trying to do. In short, it's a wifi speaker that will stream audio from the internet and your local music collection. Combine this with other Sonos speakers and you can stream to any room in the house, all controlled with an app on your computer or smartphone.

Cleverly, Sonos system works by plugging a bridge into your router, and then all of the speakers connecting to that via a mesh network - meaning that the connections get better and stronger the more devices you add. The down side is that this means to make the Play 1 work you'll also need a Sonos Bridge, adding another £39 to the cost, but the up side is that until the new year, Sonos are chucking a Bridge in for free with every purchase of a Play 1.

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The Device

The Play 1 itself is pretty nifty. Despite being positioned as an "entry level" device, it certainly looks pretty classy. The main body is metal (compared to plastic on the earlier Play 5), so it feels expensive. Other than a couple of buttons on top though, there's not much to it - all of the magic happens on the inside.

Sound-wise it's pretty excellent for the price. Crank the volume up nice and loud and the bass doesn't sound at all weedy (you'll never want to listen to anything out of tinny laptop speakers ever again), and in my completely unscientific test, the quality of the audio held up when moving around the room (there was not noticeable sweet-spot - things like lyrics were audible throughout). This said - I'm happy to caveat my opinion on the sound quality on the basis that I like punk, which uses three chords and shouts - so if you're more into your Stravinsky than your Strummer, your mileage may vary.

Connecting to your Sonos bridge is nice and easy too - simply choose to add a device in the software, hit the two buttons on top simultaneously and within seconds it'll have connected to the system.

The one new feature that the Play 1 introduces to the Sonos range is the "Mute" button, which is found on older devices has been replaced with a "Play/Pause" button - the subtle difference is that it means you can pick-up listening wherever you left off, and crucially, it allows you to get home, walk into your house and tap the top of your Play 1 and start music playing immediately - rather than going through the app. Cleverly though - this functionality won't be exclusive to the Play 1, as it's being added to the older kit through software updates.

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The Eco-System

How the Play 1 interacts with the rest of the Sonos system is the interesting bit. After all - connections are what makes things interesting. If you've used a Sonos before this will all be familiar to you - they haven't broke what already works so well.

Setting up the software is easy. On the desktop app (I tested on the Mac OS version), it'll walk you through adding devices (and installing any software updates), and then you'll be presented with a familiar media player. You can add your music folders on your computer as media sources, which the software will then read all of your music from, and here you can also select to tune into internet radio (powered by TuneIn) or add other services - such as Spotify.

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Mercifully, given the wide range of media options you can also add different sources as a "Sonos Favourite" giving access to your favourite radio stations, albums and Spotify playlists in less clicks.

Once you have your media setup, it's simply a case of selecting a speaker, or a group of speakers and hitting play. It may be a simple pleasure - but in the course of testing the Play 1, I've discovered there's a simple pleasure in being able to listen to some ska and skank from the living room into the kitchen, uninterrupted.

What's cool is that you can group speakers - so simultaneously have some black metal playing in the living room and kitchen, whilst having Coldplay boring everyone in the bedroom. You can also pair speakers in the same room, creating left and right channels - and apparently if you're affluent enough to buy all of the Sonos kit (say, for you yacht), then you can use the Play 1 in conjunction with a Sonos Playbar on your telly, to create a Dolby 5.1 surround sound system where you can also pump the sound output around your house.

My favourite thing about the way Sonos works is that you don't have to leave any specific device on. If you're listening to a stream (such as Spotify or the radio), it's all controlled through the Sonos devices, so you can shut down your computer - it takes the stream directly rather than 'via' your computer.

Delightfully, there's also a sleep timer and alarm clock functionality. This meant I was able to go to sleep last night listening to the gentle strumming of Billy Bragg's latest album (faded out nicely rather than stopped dead after 30 minutes), and wake up this morning to the Today Programme on Radio 4 (because why wake up happy when you can wake up angry?).

The Verdict

The Sonos is really great - but it's also really expensive. Unsurprisingly if you pay Ferrari prices, you'll tend to get a Ferrari - and it's the same here. Whilst I'm not entirely convinced £169 is "entry level", it doesn't stop me from recommending the Sonos Play 1 to anyone looking for an easy and functional music streaming solution.

There are a few things missing that I'd hope/expect to have on such a premium device. It'd be nice if, like with the Apple competitor Airplay, there were some way to take all of the audio from my computer and output it to the Play 1. It seems mad that I've got these really nice speakers, yet if I want to watch a YouTube video or edit my podcast, then I have to do it with my laptop's crappy speakers.

Similarly - whilst there are huge advantages of running all of the plug-in services, like Spotify, from inside the Sonos app, it does make functionality slightly more limited. I've no doubt Sonos will keep pace with new features and the like eventually, but it'd be great if they could hurry up and add Spotify Radio functionality - in which you can select an artist, and it will cycle through similar artists.

It'd also be great if the Sonos software supported podcasts and the BBC iPlayer, for catch-up radio.

What should be clear though is that these quibbles are very minor indeed. And if the only criticisms I have are this small - then Sonos are definitely doing something very, very right.

The Sonos Play ecosystem is a hugely impressive one - and the Play 1 in particular is a well built, easy to use device. Whilst as I say, I'm sceptical of the "entry level" tag, if you can afford it then the Play 1 is is a great device to start your Sonos system off, and could change the way you consume audio in your home.

It'll be available from the 29th October for £169.

With any new technology it always takes a little while to figure out exactly how it should work. Remember the crappy touchscreen phones that required a stylus before the iPhone came along? Or how motion controls were only ever used for stupid party-game collection before the... hmm... no, sorry. Er, ignore that.

Anyway - the next big technological unknown looks set to be smartwatches. The tech is just about mature enough to mean that you won't be carrying around a refrigerator on your wrist, and we're currently watching as the big tech companies experiment to find the way to make a smartwatch a must-have device. Here's ten of the leading competitors at the moment.

10 best new free iPhone games

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The iPhone is chock-full of games available for download - but what's been happening lately? What games should we be getting excited about on the platform?

Warning: This feature could seriously eat up a lot of your time - not directly, but eventually. If you're a known procrastinator, please treat these recommendations with the utmost care.

2014thumb.pngOne of the big trends in mobile technology in 2014 looks set to be flexible screens - with LG apparently launching their first flexible phone by the end of this year. Surely this won't be the only innovation we can expect though? So here's five more things that we're hoping to see next year.

5 games to play when you get bored of GTA5

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You know what it's like - you spend long enough in one place and eventually you'll want a change of scene. I don't know about you, but since GTA5 was released - I've spent far more time than be healthy pounding the streets of Los Santos. Maybe it's time for a holiday - so here's five more games to try once you're bored of GTA5.

gerald-apes.jpgSo then. It's time to share some news I've been sitting on for some time now.

I'm...having a baby!

No, just kidding - I've not turned into some "Schwarzenegger-in-Junior" style freak of nature. The real news, as you've probably figured out by reading the headline here before my ham-fisted attempt at a joke is that today is my last day as Editor for Tech Digest.

* sob! *

After four great years manning the ship here, it's time for me to move on and to try something slightly different. It's been a blast, and I hope you've found my work here at Tech Digest over the past couple of years both informative and entertaining. If you've read the site much since October of 2009, you've been putting up with my ranting and raving, for which I salute you and am eternally grateful. I've written 6,463 (!) posts for Tech Digest, and if there's anyone out there mad enough to have read them all I'll buy that person a beer the next time we're down the pub together.

Behind being a member of The Beatles, it's pretty much been the best job I could have hoped for, from larking about in centrifuges and on roller-coasters, to meeting some of my all time heroes and getting my hands on some of the most cutting-edge technology out there ahead of the masses.

That last point in particular is an important one. Us tech writers are in an incredibly privileged position, standing on the frontlines of a rapidly changing industry, observing and reporting on the technologies and gadgets that could and often do shape and challenge the way we live. Keeping you loyal Tech Digest readers informed with that information has been a great and welcome responsibility, and one I hope you feel I've been up to the task for.

And there are few sites more exciting than Tech Digest to have done that reporting for. Through good times and bad, Tech Digest's co-owners Chris and Ashley have been the best bosses you could hope for, taking a chance on me when I arrived fresh on the scene back in 2009 and supporting me right through to my last days here. Cheers guys! And then there are the great people I've worked with over the years here, with special shout-outs going to Anna, Becca, Liz and Sheldon. You all kick ass, but you already know that anyway.

Tech Digest will continue to be a superb source for tech news and reviews, and Chris and Ashley have some really neat things lined up in the coming weeks and months. The site's in safe hands, so don't touch that bookmark!

As for me, I'll be popping up at another major UK tech website in the next few days, so keep your eyes peeled. If you just can't get enough of me, you can follow me on Twitter. Find me at twitter.com/geegeemidnight.

So yeah. Technology. Always and forever, always and forever.

Gerald

twitter.com/geegeemidnight

iphone-5s-r-3.jpgApple have lifted the covers off the iPhone 5S, the successor to the iPhone 5 and the premium option over the newly-revealed cheaper iPhone 5C.

The headlining feature is the smartphone's new (and long-rumoured) fingerprint scanner, which Apple calls Touch ID. It's 170 microns thin and sits within the Home button, scanning your sub-epidermal skin layers with a definition up to 500ppi.

Reading in any orientation, it can be used to unlock your phone or used instead of an iTunes password when making purchases. Made from sapphire, it should be safe from scratches which could otherwise affect its readings. All fingerprint scans are encrypted, and "secured inside a secure enclave", for tinfoil-hat wearers worried about the prints falling into the wrong hands.
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Sporting the brand new A7 processor, Apple claim the chipset inside the iPhone 5S is the first 64-bit chip available in a smartphone, with the new iOS 7 operating system and all native apps now optimised for 64-bit performance. It boasts over 1 billion transistors.

Overall, the A7 chip will give a 40x boost to CPU performance, with a 56x leap in graphics performance. Apple showed off the graphically demanding Infinity Blade 3 to hammer home the point. OpenGL ES 3.0 will also be supported by the chip.

The iPhone 5S will also sport the M7 chip, a new addition to the iPhone line that continuously measures motion data through the accelerometer, gyroscope and compass, and will enable all-new experiences in health and fitness apps.
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In terms of camera specs, the iPhone 5S will sport an 8MP sensor, with redesigned five-element Apple-designed lens with an F2.2 aperture. The sensor has a 15% larger active area, packing in pixel 1.5 microns, going for the "bigger pixels is better than more pixels" approach that HTC took in the HTC One's Ultrapixel camera system. A dual LED flash system (one LED being cool white, the other a warm amber), also features. When combined in over 1,000 variations, the flash can dish out just the right colour balance straight off the bat. Auto image stabilisation will also feature, as will a new 10 fps burst shooting mode. Slow motion shooting at 720p / 120fps will also be supported for the first time.

Though looking almost identical to the iPhone 5, it will be available in three different colours - silver, "space grey" and gold, just as was rumoured. The chassis will be made of a high-grade aluminium - far more durable than the glass-backed days of the iPhone 4 and 4S.

Battery life for the iPhone 5S is said to be 10 hours of 3G talk time, 8 hours of 3G web browsing, 10 hours of LTE or Wi-FI browsing, and a whopping 250 hours of standby.
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In terms of pricing, you're looking at $199 for the 16GB version, $299 for the 32GB model and $399 for the 64GB daddy. UK pricing is £549 for the 16GB model, £629 for the 32GB model and £709 for the 64GB version. New cases will also be available at $39 a go, £35 in the UK.

The phone will be hitting stores on September 20. No pre-order available this time around, so better dust off your queuing shoes.

iphone-5c-official-top.jpgApple have finally confirmed the long-rumoured iPhone 5C handset. It's set to be the cheap option in the iPhone tonight, sitting below the new top-tier iPhone 5S handset.

Following months of rumours and analyst speculation, the new entry to the iPhone line has been confirmed to come in a number of colours, looking almost identical to the many leaks that have hit the web over the past few weeks.

The back and sides of the iPhone 5C are made from a single piece of hard-coated polycarbonate plastic, with white, blue, green, red, and yellow colored cases available. Apple's Phil Shiller claims you "won't see seams, or part lines, or joins." Despite being Apple's "budget" offering, the handset looked very neat, similar in style to Nokia's Lumia line-up.
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Very similar also to the iPhone 5, the handset features a 4-inch Retina display, and is powered by the A6 processor. It also shares the iPhone 5's 8MP camera, with an improved FaceTime HD camera around the front. The handset will also support "more LTE bands" than any rival smartphone. It will come running the new iOS 7 operating system

Custom cases made from a "soft-feel" silicone rubber will also be available, offering an additional colour option to mix-and-match on the handset, and priced at $29 a pop.

The iPhone 5C will start at $99 for the 16GB model, rising to $199 for the 32GB model, both based on two-year contracts. SIM-free and off contract in the UK, that'll be £469 for the 16GB model and £549 for the 32GB version, which, sadly, will unlikely be the sort of saving that British consumers were hoping for.

Pre-orders for the handset open on September 13, with the phone hitting stores on September 20.

HANDS-ON REVIEW: Sony Xperia Z1

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Sony-Xperia-Z1-preview-1.JPGSony's mobile departments have been making great strides of late, with the Xperia Z (revealed back at CES 2013) the impressive culmination of years of hard work in the Android market. Fast forward to this week's IFA 2013 conference in Berlin and its successor has already been announced, the Xperia Z1. We went hands-on with the Xperia Z1 for our first-impressions review and, even with a relatively short development time between it and its predecessor, it's looking like an incredibly worthy handset indeed.

Though at a glance similar looking to the Xperia Z, the Xperia Z1 is rammed full of improvements both internally and and in its external design. Measuring 144mm x 74mm x 85mm, and weighing just 170g, it sits more comfortably in the hand than its predecessor thanks to a chassis that's had its edges softened just a tad. There's still a glass backplate (with the phone available in either black or white), with a surrounding frame made of a single piece of anodised metal that doubles up as the phone's antenna. Plastics are used sparingly, only visible as a thin bezel around the edge of the screen.
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And that screen is a corker. A 5-inch, 1080p display, it burrows tech from Sony's HDTV lines to offer as striking an image as possible. Alongside the X Reality engine that was also present in the Xperia Z, the Z1 also uses Sony's Triluminos display tech from the Bravia range, giving colour a punchy look but without scrimping on the subtleties of life-like skin tones. Even under the harsh lighting of the IFA conference show floor the screen looked a treat, with brightness levels that bode well for viewing when out on a sunny day.

Under the hood their are ample improvements too, with the Z1 sporting the speedy 2.2GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor and 2GB RAM. Running Android 4.2.2 (though an upgrade to 4.3 "KitKat" will be delivered as soon as possible), the handset zipped through demanding applications, including a novelty AR app that had a dinosaur running around the IFA show floor (and harking back to the original demo disc that came with the first PlayStation - a reference Tech Digest readers of a certain age will surely appreciate!).
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16GB of storage is also onboard, expandable via microSD cards, will a capacious 3000mAh battery will store enough juice to see even a heavy day's worth of use through without needing to dive for a charger. Sony also offer a magnetic charging option on the Z1, allowing you to pop it into a docking station to feed it power. 4G, NFC, GPS, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are all of course also supported.

Perhaps most impressive of all however is the new camera system onboard. Using an Exmor RS 1/2.3-inch 20.7-megapixel sensor, Bionz processor and packing in a G lens, it's borrowing tech from Sony's compact camera line, and leaving merely an optical zoom off the spec sheet. As such, our time with the camera delivered detailed shots and a speedy response time from the camera application itself. We'll reserve full judgement until we can blow the images up onto a big screen, but the early signs here are promising.
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The camera UI also has a number of interesting new features included. As well as the aforementioned AR tricks, there's a Time Shift Burst option that takes 61 shots in a go (30 before the shutter is pressed, 30 after, and one as the shutter is hit), and a Social Live option that will enable you to livestream video to Facebook in 10 minute chunks, letting viewers add comments along the way.
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Refinements have been made to the handset's waterproofing features too. Though there are still annoying flaps protecting the microUSB and SIM tray slots from a good dunking, the headphone socket is now thankfully left exposed, and yet remains safe when submerged in water. allowing you to easily plug in your cans without having to fiddle with a cover.

Very promising then. Sony executives have pinned the handset down for a release as soon as September 16th, so if you're on the market for a new Android phone this should be shooting to the top of your wishlist. We'll have more on the Xperia Z1 shortly, so stay tuned.

REVIEW: Orbitsound airSOUND Base

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Orbitsound-sb60-1.JPGreview-line.JPGName: Orbitsound SB60 airSOUND Base

Type: Home cinema speaker system

Specs: Click here for full specs

Price: £299

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Orbitsound's march into your living room continues with the SB60 airSOUND Base system, a speaker box designed to accompany your flat screen TV. Neither surround sound system nor sound bar, can this intriguing speaker find its niche among home cinema enthusiasts? Read our full review to find out!

review-line.JPGOrbitsound have impressed us over the years with their ever-improving soundbar range, garnering glowing reviews in the Tech Digest test chambers. This latest unit, the Orbitsound SB60 airSOUND Base however is quite a departure for the company. Described as a "one-box TV sound solution", it has an integrated sub and resembles an oversized DVD player in design, intended to be sat beneath a TV screen rather than to the sides as you would have a surround sound system, or in front with a traditional soundbar.
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Featuring a wooden enclosure finished in gloss black, it's not an unattractive unit, with a detachable front-grille protecting its front-facing speakers that can be swapped out for an included silver front strip, should that suit your tastes better. It is however quite chunky. Measuring 60cm x 30cm x 8cm, the idea is that your flatscreen TV is perched on top of the SB60 airSOUND Base, with the speaker good to hold screens between 32 and 42-inches in size and, dependant on the model and stand design, some as large as 55-inches. Though you could reasonably house the speaker in an AV cabinet, the use of Orbitsound's patented Spatial Stereo directional speaker arrays makes that far from ideal, diminishing the speaker's stereo image if its sides are blocked. As such, those with wall mounted TVs as opposed to those on a stand may find it difficult to satisfyingly place the SB60 airSOUND Base.

The rear of the speaker doesn't have any HDMI In or HDMI Out ports, instead hooking up to your TV over digital optical or phono analogue connections. Alongside a volume dial, the rear also houses a power switch and a 3.5mm input for connecting an MP3 player or smartphone.
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The SB60 airSOUND Base comes complete with both analogue and optical cables for hooking up your TV and a small, black-gloss remote control. The remote is the same as can be found with recent Orbitsound speaker systems, including the M9, offering standby control, a source swapping button, volume controls and buttons to fine-tune treble and bass levels. It also features an "iMenu" button, a remnant of previous Orbitsound gear's iPhone docking remote controls, and a presentational slip considering it's unsupported with this latest model. Seeing as it's the same remote as last time, it unsurprisingly has the same pros and cons - good weight and size, let down by flimsy-feeling buttons.
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Fire up the SB60 airSOUND Base, and it quickly becomes clear why it is the size it is - raised slightly on rubber feet, the enclosure houses a sizeable 5-inch down-firing subwoofer that offers bass considerably more booming than what a weedy flatscreen TV is capable of. It's partnered with two 2-inch front speakers and two 2-inch side-firing speakers, independently sealed on the left and right of the box, together offering a room-filling 200W output.

It sounds great. The Spatial Stereo technology still works wonders and delivers stereo sound without a sweetspot to pretty much any space in a room. It comes into its own in fast moving action scenes, where you get a real sense of movement from the speaker, far more so than you'd ever get from a lone TV speaker array (if not quite as enveloping as a true surround system). There's warmth to the sound too, with the bass giving some decent bottom end to proceedings without ever overpowering the detail-delivering higher audio ranges.
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And yet, the SB60 airSOUND Base's subwoofer didn't quite live up to what we'd hoped for, given the punch of the dedicated sub seen featured with the Orbitsound M9. While it was well suited to music (the Love Forever Changes concert DVD sounded sublime through the SB60), it couldn't deliver the rumble we like to see accompany our blockbusters. The bass-heavy crash sequence of sci-fi flick Prometheus for instance didn't have the intensity we've grown accustomed to, and the same could be said of a run through of some bombastic Call of Duty Black Ops 2 missions. It's by no means bad - in fact, in many scenarios it's rather pleasant and detailed. However, if you're lining up a Michael Bay marathon, your explosive taste may be better served elsewhere, be that with a standard surround sound system, or even some of the beefier soundbars.

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An unusual sound system then, the Orbitsound SB60 airSOUND Base is a viable alternative to a standard soundbar unit, offering neither dramatically better nor worse sound than rival accomplished home cinema speaker systems offer. It really then comes down to its size, and whether or not that suits your AV set up comfortably. Given that the size-defining subwoofer isn't the boldest we've heard, it's likely that a soundbar less physically deep than the SB60 airSOUND Base will be a better fit for most.

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4/5
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img_zoom_product_4.jpgreview-line.JPGName: Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom

Type: Android smartphone (Jellybean 4.2.2) with 10 x optical zoom lens

Specifications: Click here for full specs

Price as reviewed: £399 (without contract)

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 A jack of all trades smart phone with a built in compact camera complete with optical zoom lens, the Samsung S4 Zoom is unique alright. But can it be possibly be the master of two very different disciplines. Read on to find out...

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Is it a camera, is it a phone? I still don't know

Having been a loyal iPhone fan for many years, I must admit it has been difficult to consider being unfaithful. After all she was so beautiful when I first met her and all my friends seemed to love her. But just recently she seems to have let herself go a bit and then all these attractive new models keep turning my head. 

And although I haven't been tempted by the big Phablet beasts I must admit having secretly lusted after this design for a few weeks - lured by newspaper ads and the thought of having a decent enough smart phone with a camera that is, on paper at least, better than anything else on the market.

That was until I held the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom in my hand for the first time and began to wonder what the hell I'd done. Don't get me wrong, it's a brave concept and for that it must be applauded. It's just I'm still not sure I made the right choice to leave the iPhone. Here's the deal; on one side the S4 Zoom is really just a Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, while flip it over and basically it's a compact camera with a decent-ish 10x optical zoom. 

Get it out in a meeting lens side up as I did the other day and people will automatically assume you are taking their picture and start grinning. Put it in your pocket and people really will think you are pleased to see them, especially with the zoom lens out! Even with the zoom lens in it's a pretty bulky beast. Samsung claims it is just 125mm thick, but that doesn't include the metal housing for the lens or the grip handle which adds another 100mm or so. Nor is it light either. Tipping the scales at 208g, it's even heavier than the Nokia Lumia 920. Certainly I found it quite heavy in the hand when out running with it using the Nike Running app.

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Thanks for the memory - not

Yet despite its bulkiness I am enjoying using the Galaxy S4 Zoom. Screen resolution isn't the highest at 256 pixels per inch (compared to the iPhone's 326ppi and the HTC 1's 469ppi) but I certainly haven't had any issues reading text or even looking at pictures. Perhaps the screen has a little more contrast than I am used to, but this is a problem I find with all Samsung devices which seem a little 'zingy' to me. 

One thing's for sure, Android is very different to the Apple iOS and this has taken a lot of getting used to. Whereas Apple tends to offer limited functionality and keep you locked into their eco-system, with Android (this is running Jellybean 4.2.2) there are options for just about everything which means endlessly sifting through menus to get things how you want. 

One big criticism I would have though is the lack of storage on the device. The Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom has just 8GB on board which is a bit crazy, given this is a phone aimed at photo and video enthusiasts. By the time I'd added my music, image and small video library I'd filled up the memory entirely. This was before adding any apps from the Google Play store. This meant a trip out to Maplin to invest in a 64Gb Micro SD storage card (an extra £60 on top of what's already a £400 phone). Processing speed isn't the fastest either meaning internet pages don't always load up quickly even on a decent speed wi-fi connection (to be honest that's true of the iPhone too). Rather than a quad core processor favoured by many of the latest smartphones, the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom comes with a dual core processor running at 1.5GHz. So it does feel a little slower than I was expecting.

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Say cheese!

Curiously for a device that's supposed to be half phone, half camera, actually switching the camera on is quite difficult. Unlike a compact camera where you just have to press a button to take a picture, with the Galaxy Zoom you either have to boot up the phone or - if it's already on - press the camera icon or hold the shutter button down for several seconds. Whichever way you do it, it takes well over five seconds to even get the lens open and ready to take the picture (not great for photographers taking spontaneous shots). That said, the camera isn't half bad at all once it's ready. Obviously this is the only camera phone on the market with optical zoom lens so it's difficult to make direct comparisons. Perhaps the nearest model on the market is the 41 Megapixel Nokia Lumia 1020 and although the Nokia offers much higher resolution on paper, the reality is that it's still better to have a proper zoom lens than having to artificially crop from a larger image. 

In the couple of weeks since getting the phone I've spent a lot of time taking pictures with it and have been happy with the results. One criticism I would have is that it does feel a little slippy in the hands, not helped by the glossy white finish. Taking pictures of The Thames I was terrified that I was going to drop the device in the River - hence I've already ordered a silicone case to give me a bit more grip. 

Various photographic modes are provided including Night mode (good for taking pictures in low light conditions where flash isn't appropriate - ie. gigs), Macro (for close ups, see flowers below) and even a Beauty Mode where you can enlarge people's eyes and make them look a bit thinner - a bit gimmicky that one I thought. 

For budding professionals there are also several manual modes, including aperture control (to control the amount of light coming to the lens) and shutter speed to give more control especially when shooting fast moving objects.

In addition to the 16MP CMOS Sensor there's also a 1.9MP front facing camera. Focal length starts at a very wide angle 24mm and goes up to an impressive 240mm. Either you can zoom using the plus and minus buttons on the touch screen or you can use the sturdy zoom ring on the front to zoom in up to 10x. The Zoom ring can also be used to show detail in images you have taken on the 4.3inch display and is handy for getting close ups when shooting video too. All in all the camera works quite well once you have managed to switch it on!

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The globe theatre taken from the North bank of The Thames - click on picture for full sized image. 

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A flower bed outside City of London School for Boys, taken using the camera phone's Macro mode. Click on picture for full sized image.


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A view of St Paul's taken from close to the Millennium Bridge. Click on picture for full sized image.

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Suede on stage at Kenwood House, Hampstead, London. This was taken with Night Mode using the zoom lens. Click on picture for full sized image. 

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Verdict:

You know what they say about Jack of all Trades. Well never has this been more true of a device than than the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom. You have to applaud the manufacturer for continuing to innovate. If nothing else it gives journalists something to get their teeth stuck into. It's just this particular model doesn't quite work. As a camera phone it's not bad, but there are better. As a camera it's much better in terms of quality than any other smart phone I've ever used. But there are limitations - most notably that it adds considerable bulk/weight to the phone and the camera takes much longer to switch on than a standard compact camera

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3/5

Mark Rober.jpgIt's not every day you get to interview a former NASA scientist, but that's exactly what Mark Rober was - at least until two months ago. One of a team of about 4,000 people working on the Curiosity Mars Rover, Mark had an idea a couple of years back that would change the course of his entire career.

After doing a Facetime chat at a party with two iPads attached to his front and back so it looked like he'd blown a whole in his body, he came up with an idea for a gruesome digital clothing range, later to become Digital Dudz. "Within hours of putting up the YouTube video we'd made all the money we'd invested in the product and design back in sales," enthuses the young rocket scientist turned entrepreneur.

Now the range comprises six spooky T-Shirts and two iWound bibs which you wear under your clothes to look like you've got a gaping flesh wound or an exposed torso revealing your beating heart. Nice.

The really clever bit though isn't the actual clothing, it's the smart phone app that Mark has developed to interact with the clothes. "What we've been able to do is turn a relatively cheap item like a T Shirt into something worth hundreds of pounds thanks to a processor in your smart phone that is actually more powerful than the one we put in the Mars Curiosity!"

The idea is really quite simple. Digital Dudz has created a range of free designs which you download from its app store onto your digital device (iPod Touch, iPhone, Android). The smart phone then sits inside the £25 T-Shirt or bib to give you the desired effect. A personal favourite of Mark's is the Haunted Mansion Portrait T-Shirt inspired by Scooby Do, though during our interview Mark was wearing the frantically moving eye ball shirt which I must admit was a bit unnerving. "I got some funny looks at first from customs officers when I landed in the UK wearing one of the shirts, but then they seemed really enthusiastic and wanted to know how it all worked."

So what next? Well Mark has just sold Digital Dudz to Scotland-based 'fancy dress' company Morph Costume Company and has left NASA to work full time on new digital designs from California. "For years the fancy dress market didn't really change. It was the same old boring pirate costumes," explains Rober.

"Now we can simulate a flesh wound revealing a beating heart or even thousands of maggots inside a zombie pirate costume." It might not be everyone's cup of tea - but it's sure gonna get you noticed.

You can order the T-Shirts and i-Wounds here

You can see my interview with Mark Rober on YouTube below:


review-line.JPGName: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Genre: Adventure / Puzzle

Platform: Xbox 360 (Xbox Live Arcade)

Price: 1200 MS Points

review-line.JPGThis year's Xbox Live Summer of Arcade kicks off in style, with the wonderful Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, warming Tech Digest's cockles. Read our full review to find out just why we think it's so special.

review-line.JPGThe Xbox's Fable and the PS3's indie smash Journey don't seem the most obvious of bedfellows, but they're the two games that jump to the forefront of my mind when trying to draw comparisons to the marvellous Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. An excellent example of the unique strengths of narrative in game design, wrapped up in a sumptuous fantasy world, Brothers is a short but sweet game that I expect will be universally enjoyed.

As the title suggests, the game follows the adventures of a pair of brothers. After watching them lose their mother in an opening scene, we then jump forward to watching the duo care for their sickly father. In true fairytale style, it quickly transpires that his life depends on the pair recovering the only special item that can restore his health, which will require a perilous journey across a magical kingdom to acquire.
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The pair will have to work together, co-operate. But this is a "co-op" title with a twist. Rather than control one of the two brothers, you control both the younger and older sibling simultaneously. Each is assigned one analogue stick and one trigger with which to interact with the world, and you must learn to make both work in tandem for the pair to be successful on their quest.

It's an ingenious, though initially admittedly frustrating control scheme. It's like trying to play the old playground game of patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time, an oddly disorientating experience, and one that's exacerbated should either of the brothers cross paths to find themselves moving on the opposite side of their controller designations. However, this gameplay mechanic soon finds itself falling into a simple rhythm as your brain comes to terms with controlling the two, and one that subtly reinforces the bond between the two and you, the player - there are no passengers in this tale, each has a role to play and you are responsible for both.
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Indeed, the tale itself is the most important element here, and "true gaming" moments are really only here to propel the brothers towards further interactions with the world. As such, puzzles (and the game's difficulty overall) are a little on the easy side; most consist of ensuring the pair work in tandem to cross obstacles, with one brother boosting another to a ledge, or holding a lever to allow safe passage through a trap for the other. A few standout moments, such as guiding a hang-glider down a canyon requiring both siblings to shift their weight equally and evenly, show the dual-control scheme working at its best.

With the challenge kept to a minimum then, it's the world on show and the way that the brothers individually interact with it that makes the game really come to life. Overseen by Swedish film director Josef Fares, the game thrusts the siblings from one gorgeous location to another, from a quaint Nordic village to an icy tundra, a cliff-top prison to an ancient battleground strewn with the bodies of giant warriors. Full of life and a sense of history, it's a well-realised world I'd love to see more of.
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These locations are not merely eye-candy, but filled with unique secrets and character interactions to bear witness to. With the game's characters speaking a nonsensical language and no subtitles to guide meaning, all story-telling here is visual, and having the brothers individually interact with objects and NPCs in the game helps tie the edges of the story together. Both brothers have distinct personalities; the younger proves himself to be a musical whizz when prompted to play a harp, while the older is tone deaf. The younger has a more carefree attitude to the world, while the older is serious, preferring to act quickly and work diligently when presented with a problem.

Fairly linear, the game is richly populated with things to do, and those who rush through the main thrust of the quest will miss out on some truly touching moments. An entirely optional side-moment (I use "side-moment" here as opposed to side-quest as it's a short but poignant event, the likes of which are littered liberally throughout the game) that sees the pair prevent a man from committing suicide is one of the most affecting I've taken part in in recent times.
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Like Journey before it, Brothers benefits from being experienced somewhat blindly. There's so much I wish to share with you, but withhold for fear of spoiling your own intimate reactions to the events that transpire in the game. Rest assured, Brothers is a game that will stick with you long after the credits have rolled.

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Verdict:

Though the game is short at around three hours long, the brothers' struggle will see you care deeply for the two. And while the game isn't particularly difficult, it's full of some of the most emotionally resonant and memorable scenes I've seen all year. A magical experience as rich as the greatest of Grimm's fairytales, expect this to be a dark horse contender when the best-of lists start popping up towards the end of the year.

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4.5/5
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REVIEW: Finis Neptune SwiMP3 player

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Finis Neptune MP3 player.jpgType: Underwater MP3 player

Specifications: Click here for full specs

Price as reviewed: £119.99

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This latest generation underwater MP3 player is Finis' first to feature a separate component housing the electronics. Will having to strap this to your goggles in addition to the two ear-pieces make it much more difficult to use? Read our full review to find out!

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Design

I must admit when I first saw the design of this MP3 player my heart sank. As a keen swimmer who likes to listen to music while ploughing up and down the lane of my local pool, I've always favoured Finis' products. Of course there are other products on the market that do the job (ie Speedo's range of Aquabeat MP3 players), but of the great things about the Finis range is that there are only two parts to the product - effectively two ear-pieces, one of which houses the electronics to switch between the tracks and turn the volume up and down. That is, until now.

With the latest incarnation, the Finis Neptune, the US company has effectively taken the electronics out of one of the ear-pieces and put it inside a third component which straps to the back of the goggles (similar in principle to the Speedo Aquabeat). Obviously this creates a bit more drag through the water (not something I'm worried too much about) but more importantly it does make it more fiddly to put on before you swim. When you are desperate to get a lane to yourself before some head up breaststroker spoils your training session those few minutes can make all the difference!

Increased storage capacity

Clearly the main reason for this change of strategy is the Finis Neptune's increased storage capacity. From memory my first blue/white Finis SwiMP3 player had only 512MB of music storage which meant it really couldn't hold that many songs. The yellow/black version before this one (see picture below) was much better with 2GB storage, but I found after continued use for over a year it could no longer hold its charge in the water for more than a few minutes.

By comparison, the Finis Neptune boasts 4GB storage (enough for 1000 songs) and can, so the specs claim, go for 8 hours without needing to be recharged. That's long enough to get at least half way across the channel if you are feeling really ambitious. Another key difference is that previous players plugged straight into your PC or USB wall charger (not provided). This one has a separate USB lead, presumably to prevent corrosion of the USB points which can stop the device charging at all after a period of time, especially in heavily chlorinated pools.

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Drag and drop

As you would expect from any MP3 player, loading the device up with songs is simplicity itself. Just connect the USB adaptor lead to your PC or Mac (OS9 or higher) and drag them across into the Finis folder. The Neptune is compatible with non protected MP3s and WMA files but if you have AAC files from iTunes then you will need to convert them in iTunes first. Protected MP3/AAC and WMA files can't be played.

One key benefit of the Finis Neptune is that, unlike previous models, it comes with a digital display built into the main unit. At first I thought what's the point of this given that the component is going to sit on the back of your head throughout your swim. But actually it's pretty useful to check battery levels (I've been caught out several times with the MP3 player dying during my swim) and also to choose what music you listen to before setting off. In order to save battery power, the display automatically switches off after about 20 seconds.


Ease of use

At the beginning of this review I made a big deal about how important ease of use is with these devices and how you need to be able to strap them on quickly and simply while in the water. And that the key advantage of previous Finis SwiMP3 models compared to rivals like the Speedo Aquabeat is that you don't have to attach a separate piece of electronics to the back of your head.

neptune-component.jpgWell, I still think that's true. But I must admit I got used to attaching the Finis Neptune to my goggles much quicker than I thought. Importantly, unlike the Speedo Aquabeat which threads through the goggles strap like a belt through a belt loop (believe me, not easy when it's on the back of your head) the Finis Neptune simply clips down onto the back of your goggles like a peg hanging the washing out on the line.

Similarly, the ear-pieces which are a bit smaller than those on previous models (presumably because they don't house the electronics) clip up onto the goggles using a much sturdier and springier grip than earlier units. Why the ear-pieces clip up onto the goggles strap and the MP3 component clips down at the back of the head I'm not quite sure. In addition to the digital display on the main unit there's also a play/pause button on one of the ear-pieces, in case you want to pause briefly to speak to another swimmer or lifeguard. You could do this on previous models too, but it's a much bigger button and therefore much easier to activate in the water.

Bone conduction technology

bone_conduction_text.jpgGenerally listening to music under water can be a quite underwhelming experience. Conventional earphones are difficult to put in your ear in the first place and tend to slip and slide all over the place as you are swimming, thereby impairing sound quality.

The great thing about the Finis ear pieces is that they are not only much sturdier than standard ear buds they also work much more effectively by conducting sound through your bones to your inner ear. This means that although they don't sound great on land, underwater they really come into their own. And although Finis has been using this technology for some time I really do think these are the best I have tested in terms of overall sound performance - in fact much the same as listening to music from an iPod or iPhone.


KEY SPECS

Bone Conduction Audio Transmission
Clear sound in the water without the use of ear buds

Plays all popular audio formats including AAC, MP3,WMA
Compatible with iTunes®, listen to music, audio books, podcasts and more

4GB of Storage
Stores approximately 1000 songs or 60 hours of playback

High Contrast OLED screen
Easily scroll through artist and songs, and view playback features

Hydrodynamic Clips
Spring clips slip on securely to goggle straps and rest on cheekbones for secure placement

Rechargeable Lithium-Ion Battery
Lasts over 8 hours per charge

Waterproof to 3 meters (10ft)
Sound is clearest when submerged in water

Gold Plated Connection Pins
Allows for quick song upload and charging while preventing corrosion in the water

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Verdict:

Though I was initially sceptical about the design of the Finis Neptune because I thought it would compromise ease of use too much, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I think having firm clips you can grip onto your goggles helps enormously and the digital display is surprisingly useful in helping you to choose what to listen to before setting off on your swim and monitoring battery level. Certainly after the first couple of swims I had learned to put the Neptune on in around a minute which isn't bad going considering there are three components to attach to your goggles. Another major benefit is that sound quality is easily the best I've heard underwater. Let's just hope this model doesn't suffer the corrosion that has limited the lifespan of previous models.

4/5

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lg-g2-launch.jpgLG have finally unwrapped their long-awaited, often-leaked LG G2 Android smartphone. The new flagship phone for the company, it features a number of nifty features to that could tempt loyal Apple and Samsung fan into the LG fold.

Packing in a 2.26GHz quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, backed by 2GB of RAM and powering an edge-to-edge 5.2-inch 1080p display, the LG G2 promises to be an incredibly speedy handset.

Running Android 4.2.2 and available in 16GB and 32GB storage sizes and black or white case shades, it also packs in a rear 13MP camera, 4G connectivity and 3,000mAh battery.
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Measuring 138.5 x 70.9 x 8.9mm, the handset has been designed from the ground-up with usability and ergonomics in mind. It's not just the 5.2-inch IPS screen (which is the biggest size a user can comfortably grip according to LG's research), but also the introduction of an interesting rear-mounted button, the only physical button on the entire handset.

The Rear Key "came from the realisation when studying users that the larger the phone became, the more difficult it was to properly access the side buttons." Using the Rear Key, users can adjust volume levels, or long press to launch a QuickMemo app or the camera app.

If the phone is placed on its back without access to the Rear Key, a user can double tap the display to quickly wake the phone from sleep too.

There's also a range of unique UI features. LG describe them as follows:

  • Answer Me -- Automatically answers the call after lowering the ringtone when the phone is raised to one's ear
  • Plug & Pop -- Recommends options or related features to choose from when the earphone or USB cable is detected
  • Text Link -- Information embedded in text messages can be selected and easily saved in memo or calendar and searched on a map or the internet
  • QuickRemote -- Not only can LG G2 be used to remotely control popular home entertainment devices, it can also learn from conventional remote controls and be customised to operate multiple devices with flexible layouts and keys
  • Slide Aside -- Enables easier multitasking by simply "sliding" open apps off to the side using a three-finger swipe
  • Guest Mode -- Protects owner's privacy by displaying only pre-selected apps when guests access the phone with a secondary unlock pattern
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"It's the most ambitious phone of the smartphone era," said Dr. Jong-seok Park, president and CEO of LG Mobile.

"Technology without empathy cannot be considered innovation. Innovation for the sake of innovation is old school. Innovations must resonate with consumers. We do our very best to understand the needs of consumers, their behaviours and habits. Our smartphone better detects, learns and adapts to human behaviours and needs."

Though pricing has yet to be revealed, the LG G2 will be released globally in over 130 carriers in the next eight weeks starting in South Korea followed by North America, Europe and other key markets.

The handset enters into a particularly competitive Android market, with both Samsung and HTC offering luxurious handsets in the form of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One respectively, while Sony continue to further impress with their Xperia line-up, including the forthcoming giant Xperia Z Ultra handset. And, being just a few weeks away from the IFA 2013 conference in Berlin, expect all the major mobile players to reveal brand new wares, with the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 hotly tipped to make an appearance.

So what do you think of the LG G2? Worth the wait? Is it the Android handset to take LG's mobile offering into the big leagues? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!

We've looked at the best free and paid gaming apps of 2013 for iPhone already, and now its time to turn our attentions to the best free Android games of the first half of the year. In recent years Android has played second-fiddle to Apple's iOS platform when it comes to gaming, especially in relation to free games. That's not the case this year however! There are a ton of great Android games available for free this year, many of which have totally reasonable in-app purchases that can be bypassed altogether if you're on a tight budget. From Temple Run 2 to Candy Crush Saga, here are our top picks of the year so far!

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iPhone gaming apps! If the storm clouds gathering over our office are anything to go by, the summer's almost up and we'll all soon be hunkering down for some quality time with our favourite games. This year more than ever, we're increasingly finding that most of our favourite titles are on Apple's iPhone rather than other gaming platform. We've already revealed our top 10 best free iPhone games of the year so far, and now its time to turn our attention to the slew of top quality paid-for games released on the App Store over the first half of 2013. From Gemini Rue to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, 2013 is looking like a vintage iPhone gaming year.

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