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  1. The first thing to note is that whilst many cheaper soundbars provide basic stereo sound, the YSP-2500 creates a 7.1 surround sound effect. How? It has sixteen small speakers hidden behind it’s front grill, which bounce beams of sound off the walls of your living room to create the surround effect. It also comes with a wireless subwoofer to add bass to your experience. Features & Specification Alongside the surround sound and wireless subwoofer already mentioned, the YSP-2500 has 3 HDMI inputs (and one output), two digital optical inputs, one digital coaxial input, and even a socket to add an additional / alternative subwoofer. The HDMI sockets are 2.0 / ARC and allow you to pass through 4K and 3D video, as well have being able to be controlled by your TV remote. Which is just as well as the remote is very dull. If you do need to control setup or the advanced features such as sound modes, then there’s also a very handy app available for iOS and Android which works well and is really easy to use. Other than that, the soundbar supports a host of surround sound formats and also has bluetooth aptX to stream high definition audio from your phone. Build Taking it out of the box, the first thing you notice is that it’s a lot bigger than you expect if you’ve been looking at supermarket soundbars. Saying that, it’s still surprisingly small compared to other high end sounders, and less likely to block IR sensors on your TV. As an added bonus, the large feet on the bottom of the speaker are removable and can be replaced by small feet, making it shorter still. It also comes with a very handy, easy to use template too if you’d like to wall mount it. Length wise, this YSP-2500 is suited to being used with larger TV’s. Whilst you can start using it with 50” screens, I’d personally recommend using it with 55”+ size screens purely from an aesthetic point of view. The speaker itself is solidly built and has a nice, premium finish. To the left of the front, it has simple display which tells you which inputs are selected and the volume. There’s a couple of input selector and volume buttons on the top, two discrete sockets on the front for headphones and the set-up mic, and everything else is behind. The wireless subwoofer still needs to be plugged into the mains, but otherwise you're free to position it where you like in your living room, and it isn't bad looking either. It’s slim and can be positioned either standing, or lying flat, which makes it even more flexible. Performance First thing to note is that set up is really super duper easy. You plug in the mic which is included, plop in on a cardboard stand which comes with it, put that in the viewing position. Tell it to start, leave the room, and come back 3 minutes later after it’s made a variety of strange noises. That’s it. Yamaha really are very good at auto set up on all their AV gear. Coming back to it’s performance. If you’ve never used external speakers before, you’ll immediately be left wondering why not. It’s a night and day experience compared to any TV’s built in speakers. Everything sounds 1000% better. The subwoofer also works seamlessly with the main speaker to create the missing depth, and there’s a general improved ‘ambience’ to the sound. If you’re used to a decent separates system, and speakers, then you’ll still be surprised that you’re not sacrificing much. It’s only if you’re used to higher end equipment, that you’ll notice a drop in sound quality. The one thing everyone’s asked me is, does the surround sound work? I’m afraid it’s a bit of a yes / no answer. I’m used to using a 5.1 speaker set up and no matter how clever Yamaha is in bouncing sound beams off walls, it’s not as good as the real thing. Saying that, it gives a pretty good go. Whilst some people were amazed by the surround sound effects of the YSP-2500, I personally felt it didn’t give the same directness of a 5.1 speaker system, but did create and enveloping sound scape which did bring you into what you were watching. That may partially be down to the lay out of my living room, which has a number of curtains which reduce the amount of surfaces sound can be bounced off. Sound doesn’t bounce off soft furnishing or windows that well compared to walls, and it’s worth noting for all similar soundbars if you’re exploring such an option. One other factor to consider is the size of your living room. This will work excellently with your average size living room, but starts to lose its potency in large rooms. I really enjoyed watching a variety of films and programmes. The star of the show was the subwoofer, which was well balanced and had good control over the sound. It’s musical performance though is best described as pleasant. Although you can improve the overall sound of music being streamed from your phone, by adjusting the direction of the sound beams, I found that some sounds in the music sometimes went ‘missing’ so I wouldn’t recommend trying it. Otherwise, whilst not as good as a dedicated pair of stereo speakers, if you simply want to play music, and not worry about the fidelity of it, then the YSP-2500 does a decent job playing music and doesn’t draw any attention to any shortcomings. Summary The Yamaha YSP-2500 is both attractive and well built. It has a great list of features, but part of me was wishing it also had built in streaming services such as Spotify/ Deezer / Google Play etc. It wasn’t a significant niggle, as I could still stream music from my phone, but would become an issue if I received calls etc. At £700, this isn’t a cheap option. I know plenty of people who wouldn’t spend that on their TV. What this is is an excellent option for people who want to enjoy their TV viewing by improving the audio experience, without cluttering up the living room with extra boxes and cables. At a push, I could probably buy a better sounding separates system for the same price, but it lacks the simplicity and elegance of the YSP-2500, and therefore it still makes an excellent choice.
  2. Well. Here's a video! It's currently selling for £100 on Amazon. If you don't have a good juicer yet, I'd highly recommend this, just don't believe Philips marketing about super easy cleaning system.
  3. First of all, I'll start with an apology. This is more a jumble of thoughts, comments and opinions, and may not make the most coherent or consistent read. I may even contradict myself at points, but that's nothing new. Apple are the last of the main players to the smartwatch arena. We keep being told that wearables are the future by press, analysts and the companies themselves. Apple decided to cast a long shadow over the rest of the industry by taking its time to release the Apple Watch. It also took the extraordinary step of launching it more than 6 months before release just to take the wind of Google's sails with its launch of Android Wear last summer. It was a rather cynical attempt to stop people buying Android Wear products over the last few months of 2014, and wait for the Apple Watch. The one key thing Apple's hype machine did achieve though was to raise awareness of smartwatches. My Mum wants an Apple Watch, but doesn't seem to know why, and I'm still not sure if I do either. As far as I can tell, the primary function of a smartwatch is to provide you with the time and notifications. Naturally, there are secondary functions such as fitness and other potentially useful things such as easy payments, and security devices to open doors etc. If you want to have a quick gander at every email, message, tweet, like etc without having to pick up your phone, then this might be for you. Then again, if you don't give a monkey's uncle about checking your notifications on your phone, then smartwatches probably aren't for you either. I must admit that I'm somewhere in the middle, and I'll try to go into my experiences at some point during this article. I'll try going through my experiences in some sort of chronological order, but I may well stray, or go off in complete tangents. The first thing I noticed was that the Apple Watch is packaged differently, according to what model you buy. The Sport comes in a long thin plastic box, whilst the Watch comes in a box more akin to conventional watches, although both do have their own take. The feeling when opening either will be familiar to anyone who's owned Apple products before. There's something pornographic about unpackaging an Apple product. Other companies have tried to replicate the experience, but Apple remains the king of geek porn. Both watches are attractive, but the Sport looks and feels more like a well made conventional tech product, whilst the Watch looks and feels like a genuine piece of jewellery. I can't comment on the Edition, as my credit card doesn't stretch that far! I would however expect a chorus of 'Hallelujah's' and a mandatory cheer, whoop and slap on the back from an Apple sales assistant when opening the box. This leads me to my first thought. Are you wearing a piece of tech or a piece of jewellery? There's a definite divide here. It's a question of form or function being most important to you. How conscious are you of your appearance etc? If all you care about is the tech, then buy a Sport. Getting back to the unboxing, you also find a long (2 metre) charging cable and a plug in each box. I wondered about why I got such a long cable, but then slowly came to realise that this is meant for a bedside table, rather than attached to your laptop. Naturally, the distance from the plug socket to a good place on your bedside table may be further, especially if you want to cable hidden away nicely. In that way, it's a real shame Apple hasn't adopted wireless charging for the Watch. It's not much effort to plonk the watch on the charger and feel it magnetically click into place, but wireless charging would be, well, a future feature I guess. A special shout out should go to the plug, for not being the standard 3 pin plug in the UK, but one which is flickable. Obviously, Apple did this to reduce packaging size, but it'd be nice if all detachable plugs came this way. As for the set up process, I won't go into it much as there's an excellent guide on how to set up your watch (I almost wrote phone!) here. I must however comment on how sexy the QR globe is when setting up. It's hypnotic. It's really beautiful. I mean it. I love it and wish it was a watch face. It takes about an hour to set up and sync. I allowed it to sync all my apps automatically, but I deleted most of them quite quickly. I'll go into the reasons later. Whilst set up is a relative Apple like experience, I did find it veering into bad Android type patterns when completing my set up. I was having to delve into a variety of menus/ options etc switching things on and off. Very un-Apple and I saw Jonny Ive's halo slip fractionally. Speaking of switching things on/off. If you haven't turned off audio notifications from your watch within minutes of setting it up, I don't want to talk to you. You're obviously as annoying as the constant pings emitted from your wrist. Why Apple have this switched on by default is beyond me. Did I see Ive's halo slip a bit further? I'm guessing not many people have had more than one Watch to this point, but it's good to report that if you migrate from one Watch to another, set up is painless and a very quick and easy process. One real shame is that I couldn't pair more than one Watch with my iPhone, and it wouldn't pair with an iPad. Sticking with notifications for a minute, I do have my concerns. Whilst it's easy to swipe down whenever you see a red dot at the top of your screen (which is lovely, even in daylight by the way), I find it really annoying that you might be doing something on your watch, when a notification comes in and overrides what you're doing and you can't ignore it until you dismiss it. Speaking of which, whilst a smartwatch is good at giving you notifications, what happens when you get lots of them either from an overactive Twitter feed or a very noisy WhatsApp group? Whilst you can tweak your Twitter notifications, it's all or nothing with WhatsApp and really quite annoying. Also on the subject of annoying, I personally find email notifications pointless, firstly it will only show you text, and no HTML, but also I find smartwatches pointless as scrolling down a long message, whether an email or anything else, a painful experience. I've discovered I'm using the Watch wrong. I hardly use the dial / crown. It's too fiddly for my liking, and I use my finger to scroll along the screen. The crown is basically reduced to one of two buttons for me to press. What does work however is the Taptic Engine. It does have to be turned up to maximum, but it does do the job nicely in telling you to look at the Watch either for a notification, reminder or letting me know I've got a call when my phone is on silent. What also works really well is Siri. A long press of the crown brings Siri up and I found myself regularly using it to either launch apps or give commands, especially when driving. I also found it good for having phone conversations whilst driving. Obviously, I wouldn't do that whilst walking down the street, in case I get thrown into a padded cell, or someone eavesdrops into my secret plans for world domination. (Ha! Ha! Ha!) Speaking of which. I was obviously lifting my left hand wrongly until now. I'm definitely in the camp which is annoyed by the watch face not being on all the time. To add insult to injury, I found that when I lifted the watch to look at it, it didn't always automatically flick on. So I either had to give the screen a long touch, or repeatedly flick my wrist in a way that some people might think was waving obscene gestures at them. I can see that halo slipping further as Jonny makes us look like a bunch of w**kers. That reminds me! Watch faces. There aren't many of them, and they're not as personalised as I'd like either. It's really annoying that Apple won't let third party watch faces as the animated ones of jelly fish or butterflies really only shout "Hey! I've got an Apple Watch everyone!" They've got no other real purpose. Battery life on the Watch is well beyond my expectations. It never went below 50% remaining no matter what I did, and how long the day. On the flip side though, I did find the iPhone took a serious hit, of at least 20% a day. To top it all off, since using a Watch in conjunction with my iPhone, I often find that the phone's screen often doesn't switch off, and remains on for no apparent reason; draining the battery further unless I actively press the power button on the phone. Whilst the battery will never let you down if you're out for the whole day. It does mean that you do have to carry an extra charging cable (2 metres remember) if you're away overnight. Before I get to the software, I thought I'd mention the bands. The Milanese Loop is lovely to look at, but then again, my everyday watch has the same design. It did seem fiddly at first putting it on, but I got used to it within a few days and it was very comfortable and infinitely adjustable thanks to it's magnetic strap. What I didn't like though was thanks to it's magnetic strap, I was having to tighten it again every hour or two as my muscle flexing seemed to loosen the strap. I've never had to do with this with a watch before. Conversely, whilst the Sport band was a bit fiddly to put on, I also found it less comfortable (although not uncomfortable) and it kept emphasising to me how hairy my arms are. It did this by either tugging on my hairs when putting the watch on and tucking away the strap, or by just slipping under my hairs and highlighting them in a peculiar fashion. It made me think that I needed to shave my wrists! Before I forget, I also found that I kept accidentally taking screen shots of the clock whilst going about my daily business. I only found out when looking at the photo gallery on my phone. Not sure how I managed it, especially as other people say it's hard to do deliberately. Software! I finally made it this far. (And thank you too if you have). I'm not sure what to make of it. Despite having watched all of Apple's videos before receiving my Watch, I still had difficulty using it naturally. Am I supposed to press the crown now? Do I force touch? Which way should I swipe? There didn't seem a coherent logic to it as far as I could tell. For example, when using the Fitness app on the watch, when finishing my run, I wanted to stop the activity on the watch, logic told me I should either swipe left or up from having used the Watch for more than a week. I finally found out that it's the one app which makes you swipe right! Whilst I'm not the smartest person around, I do like to think I've got a reasonably good handle on tech, and the Apple Watch challenged me. I must admit that I liked the Activity App. It's simple and works on the nudge principle to get you doing what you know you should be doing. Saying that, I've ignored a couple of reminders to stand up whilst writing this piece.... I do wish that there was a bit more coordination between apps, so for example the heart rate monitor and accelerometers worked with third party apps such as Runtastic. Or that the calories burnt during a day went into MyFitnessPal. Apple has sealed off much of the software from outside developers, and that becomes particularly apparent when using Glances. Glances are activated with a flick up the screen, and you can edit on your phone what you use. (Tip - Fewer the better.) What's frustrating is that Apple's Glances are interactive, ie. you can press something and do something. Third party Glances only tell you one single piece of information and that's it. This does lead to the issue of being a first generation product. Most developers didn't have access to the actual Watch before it was released and so made some pretty ropey apps. I hardly use any of them in honesty. Shazam is one of the few, as I found sticking my wrist out to hear music less obtrusive than putting a phone in the air. In addition, apps seem to take ages to launch, which is probably due to a combination of bad programming (from not having previous access), and also the iPhone acting as the brain for the Watch and relaying messages between each other all the time. This makes it all the more a frustrating experience and makes you want to pull out your phone to do a task.... One final thing which I did look into was the Health App on the iPhone. I've never looked at it until now, but it starts to give hints at where Apple is aiming to go. A smartwatch which can measure many of the parameters it offers in the App, becomes a very helpful tool in managing your health. Sure it won't be able to record everything, but if they can develop the Health Data collection in the Health App along with many other devices, it good get me very interested. One bone of contention though; it knows my weight, it knows my height. Why can't it work out my BMI? Closing thoughts. Whilst this might be the best smartwatch I've used to date, I'm still disappointed, and don't think I need one yet. Beyond using it in the car, I don't think it's changed my life in any way which a simpler and cheaper fitness band wouldn't. To add to that, the software still needs much tweaking, and developers need to be able to be given more time and access to the Watch to make things work better. Whilst the Apple Watch with Milanese Loop is nice to own, and makes a good replacement for my watch (which cost £100), it costs nearly £600. Add that onto £600 for an iPhone which you must have to use the Watch, and things start to look pretty expensive. In addition, if you're ever tempted by an Android phone, then you've just made your Watch redundant. I'd like to see more interoperability between ecosystems, but I guess that's not what the corporations want.
  4. Build As projectors go, it is relatively small and elegant. It’s made from white plastic, is well designed and doesn’t look out of place in a home. It comes with a carry bag, remote control, a power lead and HDMI cable. It has a large bulbous lens on the front, some simple controls on top and two HDMI sockets, 3.5mm Headphone socket, a mini-USB port and also has a 12v trigger port (in case you wanted to connect it to an automated screen). Some people might complain about the lack of VGA or DVI ports, but in this day and age, virtually everything can output via HDMI. Inside, it’s optics are based around a single chip DLP system, with a claimed brightness of 2800 lumens and a contrast of 25000:1. Impressive numbers, but ones which we take with a pinch of salt in the real world. It’s also worth noting that it has a built in 10w speaker. Performance Setting up the projector is interesting in itself. Firstly as it’s very simple. Stick it on a coffee table in front of a screen/wall, and turn it on. I would like to complain a little though. Given it is a projector, and is likely to be that bit further away from the rest of your AV gear, it wouldn’t have hurt to have included slightly longer power and HDMI cables than the 2 metre ones included. Although technically long enough, it does make things look a bit messy. The next thing to note is that as it’s a short throw projector, you only have to place it a metre away from the screen to get a lovely big picture. As it has a fixed lens, it does mean that you need to move the projector closer/ further away to adjust the picture size. The GT1080 also has three adjustable screw feet (one front / two back) to help adjust the positioning of the image, and also a digital keystone system to straighten the edges. The back-lit remote control helps adjust picture images further. You can adjust all the typical colour settings, but there are also a couple of presets included depending on the type of viewing your making. I did fiddle with the Brilliant Colour and Dynamic Black settings, but I found they created artificial looking images. Once set up, I found the images to be sharp, with good detail, and there were few signs of other issues such as motion blur and judder which often affects affordable projectors. It did suffer occasional rainbow effects when watching bright objects against dark backgrounds, but it rarely interfered with overall enjoyment. I’ll be blunt. This is never likely to be your main home display for films/ TV programmes. Although pictures are large and sharp, I found the blacks / contrast limited compared to any decent flat screen TV. The built in speaker is at best also comparable to a budget TV. It’s nice to have, but I’d recommend connecting this to some external speakers. Where this projector does come into it’s own, is with gaming. The Optoma GT1080 has a gaming mode which improves the response time. If you’re the type of person obsessed by response time, I’m guessing this isn’t the type of display you’re looking for, but for the rest of us, this is really good. As this is a short throw projector, this came into it’s own set up with the Xbox Kinect. The problem with most conventional projectors is that you’re jumping around infront of the image, and creating shadows. With this, it’s not a problem at all. So it becomes an instant hit with any people who like to jump around in front of their console. For more sedate people sitting on their sofa and shooting baddies or racing around etc, this still provides a large and involving picture which adds an extra dimension to your enjoyment. Speaking of extra dimensions. This is also able to pump out 3D images, but rather annoyingly doesn’t include the needed accessories to do so. A single pair of glasses and transmitter costs an additional £90. I should mention operating noise. The fan does kick in immediately and it’s not quite. You will hear a consistent whirr in quite scenes, and even when on standby, it does continue to make a quite noise. If you’re playing games, then it’s not really a problem, if you’re watching a tense psychological drama, then it does ruin the ambience a bit… Getting back to the images. They’re bright, with vibrant colours. Unsurprisingly, you do find you need to use the GT1080 projector in a darkened room to get the best out of it. You can use it in a dimly lit room, but everything looks washed out. Summary I must admit that I’ve really enjoyed using the Optoma GT1080. It opened up a new world of gaming for me. Whether it was playing football, shooting baddies or jumping around and making myself look a fool in front of the console (and my friends), the big screen action created by the short throw projector made for a compelling experience. Would I buy one myself? Available around £590, in terms of picture quality, it’s not going to replace a conventional TV at that price, but it does make an excellent second room option if you’re lucky enough to have a games room. It also makes an excellent option for doubling up to show the big game with a few friends. You can watch football matches and other sporting events and make it more of a social event with this short throw projector.
  5. . The first question many people might have is , what is it for? Most people's desktop or laptop computers probably don't have high end audio cards in them, and so the purpose of the NuForce uDAC 3 is to enable you to have an improved listening experience from your computer, either through headphones or connected to your stereo. Build As I've already mentioned, it's rather small. It's about half the size of a pack of cards and feels about the same weight. You get a small metal box with a volume dial and headphone socket on the front, and RCA stereo outputs and a Coaxial socket on the back for those who want to connect it to a stereo. It connects to your computer via micro-USB at the rear, and requires no other external power source. Whilst the device is small and well made, I did find the micro-USB cable didn't plug all the way into the device and wobbled as a consequence. It didn't affect usage, but it didn't fill me with confidence either, despite being secure. Spec wise, the uDAC 3 has quite a lot going on under the hood. Not only does it support high bit rate audio in virtually any format you care to mention, but it also does so asynchronously. This means that it's less likely to suffer audio jitter when playing high bit rate audio, including high end stuff like DSD (Direct Stream Digital) which some manufacturers are starting to promote. The uDAC 3 is designed to be plug and play, but rather counter-intuitively, I found I had to manually select audio output on both my Windows desktop and MacBook. Maybe it's me doing things wrong again! Performance I must admit this is a bit of a surprise! This tiny little device makes a world of difference to my audio. Whether listening to music, podcasts, or even films and games, audio always sounded much clearer and more enjoyable. I wouldn't describe the DAC as clinical or neutral, but it does give a warm natural sound. This is a warm blanket on a crisp winter day. Whilst increasing detail I could here on tracks, they also sounded transparent, a little closer, more energetic. Bass had a bit more oomph, without getting carried away, and whilst the midrange and high ends had a bit more snap. It was never tiring, just the opposite, it made everything more enjoyable, lush and invigorating. I admit that some people may not like this colouring of audio, but I think the vast majority of people will appreciate the huge difference it makes compared to the standard audio from your computer, no matter how high a quality recording it is. There are very slight differences between the sound when connected to a stereo via the coax, and via the headphones, but that could be down to the equipment connected to it. Summary I'm normally torn about what to say at this point of a review, weighing up pros and cons etc. Before I started using the NuForce uDac 3, I was a bit sceptical about such devices, but this has completely won me over. Ok, I lie. Not completely. I am slightly concerned by the shallow micro-usb socket, and I don't think it's too much to ask for a small pouch to be included when buying this. I've had to supply my own so I can chuck it in my laptop bag and pull it out when needed. Let me be blunt. Do you want to improve your audio experience when listening to anything from your computer? Yes? Buy it! £100 seems like a small price to pay for a small, portable piece of HiFi which potentially makes a big difference to your everyday life. I'm seriously considering pairing one of these with some quality desktop speakers at home, as well as using it when travelling, but listening to music / watching films on my laptop.
  6. First I think a little introduction to Spotify Connect is needed. It's a new standard which means that approved devices are able to stream music, via WiFi, from your Spotify Premium account. Don't have a Spotify Premium account? You'll need to either sign up (£10 pm). Build Both the SW700M and SW750M have the same sleek look. Both are solidly built, and feel well made, looking elegant, and with good quality buttons on the top. I must admit getting annoyed that it really wasn't easy to peel off the Spotify Connect stickers on the top! That's probably my own ineptitude.... Getting back to the speakers, the SW700M has two built in 2.5" full range drivers and twin bass ports in them. The SW750M also has base ports, and larger 3" drivers, with two tweeters also added. On the rear, you have two buttons for setup and a power socket, no other inputs. Set Up Philips claim that this is really easy to set up and get going in minutes. I must admit that my ineptitude continued, and I didn't find it as easy as promised. You need to download an app, connect the speaker to your WiFi, and then open Spotify to play your music. Watch my video to see how I got along. As you can see, if you live within range of more than one WiFi network, things are a bit more complicated than planned. Whilst I'm having a moan, the Philips Speaker Setup app is a bit restrictive, in that there aren't many options for setting up multi-room set ups. Want to play different music in different rooms? You can't. Nor can you pair two speakers to act as left/right stereo speakers. One other warning. A free month trial of Spotify Premium is included in the box, but if you've ever had a free trial before, and then sign on via the link given you, it charges you £10 without warning. Thank you Spotify. Performance Neither speaker has any physical inputs. Neither has Bluetooth either. So you can't stream music from your phone/tablet to them. You can't even attach a cable out of your headphone socket and into the speakers to play music. It is Spotify over you local WIFI network, not even via downloaded tracks in your Spotify App on your phone, or nothing. Controlling the music is easy enough. You can either use the buttons on top of the speakers, or use your Spotify app as you would any other time. Sound wise, I'd start off by saying it's difficult to like the SW700M. It sounds muddy. Music is muffled and there's no clear separation of sound. It reminds me of cheap kitchen radios from my childhood playing music from a long wave station. (Kids can go and look up what I mean!). Thankfully, the SW750M restores pride to the family. It has a clear and pleasant sound, offering clarity and warmth. Both speakers play reasonably loudly without distortion, but don't do much in the way of producing a stereo sound stage. Summary I do find Philips decision not to include any audio inputs or other methods of streaming in these speakers baffling. These are aimed exclusively at people who want a speaker to play only Spotify, within range of your router, and nothing else. Set up isn't always as easy as you'd hope for, and your control of the speakers, if you have more than one in your home, is limited. With these things in mind, would I buy one? It's very hard to recommend the SW700M on any front, unless it's comes with at least six months of Spotify Premium included in the price. Retro may be very cool, but being reminded of cheap radios from the 70's isn't. It simply doesn't sound very good. The SW750M does sound good, and whilst not the last word in audio fidelity, it would please most people who just want their favourite music in the background. I do find the SW750M's lack of versatility a bit of a problem though. I can't get my head around paying £130 for a speaker which only lets you stream music you're paying £10 per month for. A drop in price may make this more attractive, but it will still need a Spotify Premium account, and so it's also not an ideal gift unless the recipient already has a Spotify Premium account. I'll be honest and say I'm not convinced by Philips first offering of Spotify Connect speakers, and hope that their next generation is far more versatile.
  7. Appearances are a matter of taste. This is certainly not discreet! It’s black shiny with a sliver of silver down the middle and three antenna make me think it belongs to an alien in some film, and so I’ve chosen not to have it clearly visible. It is well built though, and feels solid. Spec wise, it has three gigabit LAN ports and one WAN/LAN port. It also has two USB 2.0 sockets, WPS, WiFi On/Off and power buttons on the back, as well as an ADSL socket. Strangely, for such a high spec model, the modem isn’t geared up to working with Fibre broadband, and delivers slower speeds, so you may still need a Fibre modem as well as this. Setting up was really easy. The menu system does look rather old, not having pleasant graphical flourishes, but that doesn’t mean it’s missing anything. It’s still easy to use, and with almost every option you dare to think about available. It also does have some tips available when selecting certain options. As for performance. Whilst it’s described as an AC 1750, don’t think you’ll get anything like 1750MBps. 802.11AC theoretically gives 1300 MBPs and .11n gives a maximum of 450Mbps. The key word here is theoretical. In reality, whilst in the same room as the modem/router it’s more than comfortable streaming HD videos to a .11AC enabled computer. Things do tend to go down significantly in most domestic settings where you may have a couple of walls in between your router and computer. In these cases, I found range to be pretty average, so don’t expect it to make the far room connected, and speed, whilst great for Youtube and general browsing etc, not able to stream Full HD video. If you’re in the next room (and don’t’ have super thick walls), then this should still just about play Full HD films. This is a good affordable option for people looking for a 802.11AC router if their fibre provider gave them a modem with poor WiFi. For people looking to improve range /speed over an existing decent modem/router, then this might not be the best option if you’re looking to use it at home. TP-Link maybe should have dropped the modem altogether and made this cheaper still, and easier to whole heartedly recommend.
  8. Build The Yamaha A-S201 looks very attractive. It matches Yamaha’s other HiFi components and has a flat front face, which looks both modern, and classic. It comes in silver or black, and with a black remote control, which can also control a Yamaha CD player. From an aesthetic point of view, we wish the remote matched the amplifiers colour. The amplifier feels solid and well built, on the front, it has a power button, headphone jack, speaker selection, bass / treble controls, input selection, pure direct mode, and volume dial. On the rear, it has inputs for phono (with ground), CD, Tuner, Line 1 / 2 (Line 2 is able to record). It also has two sets of speaker terminals, so you can either set up speakers in separate rooms (in these multi-room streaming days, does anyone still do that?), or bi-wire your speakers. I must admit that the speaker terminals are really annoying if you use banana plugs. It takes an age and much skill to remove the little plastic plugs on the ends of the terminals. At least you only do it once! The amplifier has an integrated power cable. Performance It should be mentioned that Yamaha claims 100w per channel and this amplifier certainly is plenty loud enough for virtually any scenario. More importantly, it’s also able to manage large volume swings in music, avoiding any distortion. One thing which you will notice if you have particularly sensitive speakers is that there’s a very subtle hiss whilst the amplifier is on, but not playing any music. It’s barely noticeable, but it is there. Being old school, I was taught not to worry much about electricity consumption, and keep the amplifier on / warm to improve performance, but Yamaha is decidedly more modern than me and you can set the amplifier to go into standby if it’s not used for long periods of time. What about the music? Firstly, Yamaha tune all their musical components to give a more natural sound. That means they try not to colour the music, and let the artists decide how the music should sound. Although I’m a great fan of this approach, this might not suit everyone. The music sounds smooth and relaxing. It’s not in your face. It doesn’t mean that it can’t handle a bit of rock/ dance etc, but it may sound different to how some people expect. It’s not aggressive. The benefit is that you’ll find you can listen to music longer without tiring. I keep having to go back to this being an entry level amplifier. It does sound pretty good. It does provide a decent stereo sound stage, doesn’t allow bass or treble to get out of control, and is certainly pleasing. Where it’s budget does show most is in the lack of separation of voices and instruments, and in detail. You hear more of a collective sound, rather than being able to place different instruments, and I found myself looking for little details in the music which you’d find on higher end systems. Summary When I think back more than 25 years to when I bought my first HiFi seperates system, it’s amazing how things have changed. Even at this level, you find features such as phone stages (for that Vinyl Revival) and being able to bi-wire speakers. Nor does it look or feel cheap. It would look perfectly happy next to components twice the price. So. Would I buy one? Stereo amplifiers are very much a forgotten component these days, but the Yamaha A-S201 offers significantly better musical ability than entry level AV amplifiers. There’s a lot less things getting in the way of the sound, and so if you only want to listen to music, and aren’t looking for your music to be turned up to 11 in terms of excitement, than this becomes an extremely attractive affordable offering. It’s certainly better than what I could get 25 years ago!
  9. Build When buying such a cheap handset, with a high specification, it’s a real worry that it might not feel solid, and feel cheap to boot. Some top end handsets can be accused of that. Given that this phone costs half the price of some of its competitors, I can report that this feels excellently made. This will not win any design awards for its hardware appearance, but doesn’t need to hide itself in a paper bag out of shame. It comes in two colours, silk white and sandstone black. The white one is covered in smooth plastic, and the black one can only be described as having a soft, fine sandpaper texture. It’s a lot more pleasant than the description! Specs wise, this handset packs an awful lot in for the money. It’s hard to know where to start. It has a 5.5” 1080p IPS LCD screen, a top of the range Snapdragon 801, processor, 13MP rear camera, 5MP front camera, 3100mAh non-removable battery, 802.11 ac WiFi, 3GB of RAM and up to 64GB of internal storage. This is non-expandable. That’s a lot of top end stuff going into a reasonably priced handset. To put that into perspective, we were wow’d by Google producing the Nexus 5 for £339. This is £60 cheaper and a whole load more handset. A lot of people have complained about this 5.5” phone being too big to use, but I must be honest and say I completely disagree. The phone is slender and light. It feels really comfortable to hold, and also has excellent weight distribution so it feels planted in the palm of your hand. Somewhat breaking from convention, the slim volume rocker is on the left hand side of the device, and the power button is on the right. There’s an unobtrusive sim tray on the left too, which takes micro sims. I’ll remind people again, there is no space for expandable storage, and the battery isn’t removable, but the back cover is, in case you’d like to swap it for the promised wood/ denim or other colour back covers. Given that the company has promised these since launch, and these expensive pieces of plastic have yet to materialise, I wouldn’t hold your breathe for those. The screen is also Corning Gorilla Glass 3, so there’s less worry about scratches. Software The OnePlus One is unusual in that it’s not Android in the sense most people understand it. This is in fact a modified Android experience with custom firmware made by CyanogenMod, which is an Android Open Source Project. This handset uses CM11s firmware, which is based around Google’s Android 4.4 Kitkat. At first glance, this looks very similar to the native android on a Nexus device, with some slight changes to the icons. This is not like Amazon’s closed garden version of Android. This is very much open, and still based around Google’s services. What this is, is highly customisable. You can tweak this handset’s appearance and alter functions to your heart’s content. Although this has capacitive keys at the bottom of the screen, you can opt for always on software keys on the screen if you like. You can change the appearance of the skins until you’re blue in the face. If you like Samsung’s design, you can purchase a skin to make it look like a Samsung handset….. There’s lot of subtle adjustments to standard Android throughout. I’m sure I’ve not found them all, but overall, I’ve found them to add, and not subtract from the experience, and I hope other companies’ designers are looking at this for ideas. There were little things such as the different ways of unlocking the handset included entering a Pin and not pressing enter afterwards, or how the lock screen has a subtle equaliser on it when playing audio. The camera app is also a pleasure to use, and being able to access different shooting modes and filters simply by flicking down the screen is really pleasing to use. Even these options are customisable! This does make the inability to alter the gesture controls on the phone that bit more confusing. Flick a ‘V’ and on comes the torch. ‘O’ and the camera, double tap to activate the screen etc. I can’t figure out why I can’t change these….. The software hasn’t been written by a large multinational, but is based around the work of many volunteers, and so it’s not faultless. The Gallery app frustrates me with its poor sorting of photos and it’s the first time I’ve found myself downloading a 3rd party app for this. Also, I’m not sure if I can describe it as a bug or not, but it has a strange way of handling large quantities of files transferred to it from a computer and I struggle to re-sort them into something more coherent. On the plus side, software updates can be expected to be more frequent as they fix bugs and add new features. For example, the last update last week included several bug fixes and added new features such as adjusting the calibration of the screen and also something called Clear Image, which I’ll talk about later. Performance Let’s get the easy bits out of the way. This has more than enough power for any task you care to think of. Also the screen is excellent. It’s supposed to be a more power efficient screen, which may help explain the very good battery life, but it’s also very pleasing to the eye, and has excellent viewing angles indoor and out. Some people have reported the screen showing warm whites, but I can’t detect any such issues, although the last firmware update may have something to do with that. What does bother me is the antenna. There’s no getting away from the fact that it’s not as good as most other leading handsets at picking up a signal. Maybe I’ve noticed this more as I live and work in places with poor network coverage and appreciate those handsets which still get me a connection. This simply doesn’t meet that criteria. On top of that, I feel that in order to help maintain the battery life, it also makes less effort in trying to get hold of a good signal. I find that I’m regularly having to switch the phone into airplane mode and back for it to establish a connection when I’m somewhere with borderline signal. Also, it doesn’t seem to be as willing to switch between HSPA and LTE, but that could again be linked to the ‘refresh rate’ of the antenna. Whilst talking about LTE, I should mention that only EE and Three customers (and their virtual networks) will be able to use LTE in the UK. The bandwidths used by Vodafone and O2 are not supported. Sorry. Perversely, this issue with the antenna may have a knock on effect onto my experience of battery life. Although it doesn’t attempt to get a signal as often as I’d like, because it continually fails to get a signal, it continues to try for longer, and I think that may explain why I don’t get as good battery life as some people have reported. Battery life, is excellent, in that I have no concerns that it will last me a whole working day, but whether it’s because of the signal issues, or the fact I use Bluetooth and GPS more than most other users, I can’t get the 24 hour + usage others can get with heavy usage. It’s a step down from the best, and that is compounded by the fact that this has no special battery saving modes which seem increasingly common these days. Speaking of Bluetooth. I also find that this phone is not as solid as I’ve become used to. It doesn’t connect every time, 60% of the time ( ), and it can occasionally stutter. I’ve not had such an issue in a long time now with any other device. It’s not poor, but it’s not perfect. Other people have reported problems about call and speaker volume, but I have no concerns. Calls are crystal clear, and volume always feels comfortably loud. I should mention that this does make a very good music player. Audio through my earphones is very pleasant. It’s also worth noting that this is able to perform voice ‘OK Google’ commands, but not when asleep, and only with US language settings. Camera The OnePlus One has a 13MP Sony Exmor rear camera sensor with a f2.0 lens. This does perform reasonably well, and produce generally pleasant results, but I feel that experience of the big boys edge them ahead here. This will produce nice photos, but never great photos, when compared to the flagship devices. But put this next to any other mid-range handset and it does well. In perfect lighting conditions in normally produces a good photo first time, in any other condition, it struggles to decide which mode to take a picture in when it’s in ‘Auto mode’ and can get it wrong. It also doesn’t have the best low light performance either, with noise and blurring too easy to achieve compared to the top end phones. This handset does lack Optical Image Stabilisation, and although there are software attempt to alleviate matters, no other Android manufacturer has succeeded, and neither has Oneplus. Videos can be slightly choppy, and microphone sensitivity does seem a bit off, with the front microphone picking up more noise then I’m happy with when using the rear camera for video. It is worth noting again that the phone has 5MP front camera which puts it near the front for selfies, and OnePlus have also recently added Clear Image mode to the camera too. This mode has been ‘borrowed’ from OPPO, and takes 10 images very quickly and then blends them into a single 13MP photo with increased clarity (the OPPO version stitches the images together to make a bulging 50MP photo). To be honest, I think the results could be a lot better and this is no panacea for the lack of OIS. It does improve images in perfect conditions if taking a picture without any moving people/objects, and a steady hand, but otherwise it has little benefit most of the time. HDR mode also isn’t that good, and the results look unrealistic, and would need to be edited by the excellent editing facilities available on the phone in order to look more ‘normal’. Summary OnePlus has made a rod for its own back with its many claims and motto of ‘Never Settle’. The benchmark is high, and the price low. Some things which appear regularly on flagship devices such as wireless charging, microSD slots, two-tone flash, health sensors and waterproofing, have been forsaken. But that does mean that the company has been able to concentrate on the core side of the phone, and not the extra ‘gimmicks’. When judging the OnePlus One, it’s hard to decide how to mark it. Should it be against the benchmark it set, or by its price? This is an admirable first handset from any manufacturer. I don’t think anyone else has got so much right first time. There are flaws such as the ambiguous handling of file transfers, the gallery app, Bluetooth, and most importantly signal retention. But there is so much right about the phone. It looks pleasant, feels good, is well built, is super fast, and has a great screen and very good battery life. So, would I buy one? Leaving aside the fact that I did, I would again. I’ve enjoyed using the phone, and the ‘negatives’ haven’t detracted from that. This offers outstanding value and I can’t think of a phone less than £400 which comes close. It doesn’t quite come up to the same level as the leaders from Sony, Samsung, HTC and LG, but it comes close behind the photo finish, and at about half the price. What’s not to like?
  10. Here's my video review. I should also mention that the +drive also comes with an additional disc you can you to mount on dashboards.
  11. Build It’s quite an attractive monitor. Clearly aimed at the business professional, it’s smart and unfussy. Some people may moan at the large black bezels around it, but it’s also svelte from the side, with an attractive curve, and on a minimalist metal stand. It is also wall mountable. Specification wise, it doesn’t match most of Dell’s other Ulrasharp IPS monitors. This has been built with price mind, and so offers a 1920x1080 Full HD picture, compared to the more expensive monitors which have a resolution of 2560x1440, but most business users probably won’t mind. It also has a 2MP webcam and stereo speakers discreetly hidden under the screen. There’s a good range of connectivity with two HDMI sockets which can also be connected to your mobile phone to watch films etc. There’s also a VGA port, two USB 3.0 sockets and a DisplayPort on the back. There is an additional headphone/microphone socket on the side of the monitor, which could be useful for dictations. There’s also a range of touch sensitive controls on the lower bezel which give you good controls for volume, inputs and adjusting picture etc. One gripe about the stand, although it keeps the screen very stable, it only tilts on the vertical axis, can not swivel horizontally, nor can not be height adjusted. Performance I’ll start at the top and work my way down. The built in 2 megapixel camera and mic are fine, although I should mention that the first review sample had problems with the microphone not working. The webcam's picture quality is adequate for Skype / video conferencing, and the mic does a decent job of suppressing background sound, although it can be a bit overenthusiastic at times and also cut out the user’s voice too. As mentioned previously, this has a 1920x1080 monitor, which seems a bit mean on such a large screen. As from it’s looks, you can see it’s not aimed at designers or gamers. It does offer excellent crisp text and detail though, and very good backlight uniformity, so it is easy on the eye, even in darkened rooms. Where it does fall down is on colour accuracy and also showing blacks. Only photographers, artists, film watchers and designers will mind the lack of colour accuracy, but the lack of depth of the blacks can be frustrating when trying to use this screen to watch films on. It’s more dark grey, than black. It does have a reasonable fast response time at about 13ms, but it’s not really aimed at shoot’em up gamers. For everything else, it is fine. The speakers are excellent. Whilst they don’t offer very loud volumes or bass, they’re clear and pleasing to the ear in most situations. Excellent for Skype conversations, watching YouTube videos and even a bit of music. Your eyes and ears won’t tire using this monitor. Summary The Dell UZ2715H retails for about £350 on Dell’s website, but can be bought for about £250 elsewhere online. It’s aimed primarily at business users, who’d also appreciate the smart, unfussy design, large, crisp screen, and it’s respectable webcam and speakers. It’s a tidy proposition, but would I buy one? At its retail price, certainly not. At its discounted price, I’d certainly consider it. In an ideal world, I’d like a higher resolution picture, smaller frame, better built in mic, and keep the speakers, but that would all mount up in price! I do like the screen despite its flaws. If it did have better colour accuracy for photo editing, and better contrast and blacks for watching films, I’d certainly buy it. If those things don’t worry you so much and you want an affordable large screen monitor for office work and video conferences, I’d certainly recommend finding one online.
  12. Obviously, time moves on, so does technology and desires. This also made me slightly nervous. Very few companies manage to follow up a hit with another hit, so there was always a risk that I'd be very disappointed this time round. Cutting to the chase, now I've had it nearly three weeks, what is it like? Design and Build The first thing you'll notice, compared to last year's model, is that it's taller. Not hugely so, but it does need to accommodate the increase from 4.7" to 5" display. This isn't unusually large by this year's standards, but the phone is physically bigger than its competitors due to the speakers above and below the screen. It should also be noted that the M8 now uses Corning Glass 3. The overall design follows the same language as last year's model, and the speakers, despite taking up more space, are one of the attractions to the phone. To put things simply, these are the best external speakers on any mobile phone. They are loud, and crystal clear. Also on the front, HTC has ditched the black band with two capacitive buttons. This did require some getting used to, and the new One reverts back to traditional Android design language with the usual buttons at the bottom of the screen. Some people may still be frustrated by the existence of a black bar at the bottom of the screen though, as it does add to the size of the handset, and has no purpose other than to have the branding written there. Around the back, and sides, there have been some further subtle improvements. Firstly, and most importantly to me, there is now an external micro SD tray which slots into the side, and also HTC have improved the volume buttons too but raising them slightly out of the body. Some people did complain that it was difficult to use the older version as the rocker buttons were flush against the body last year. I should also mention that this phone has a tray for a nano-sim. The back is significantly different to its predecessor. Firstly, HTC have made great play that there is less plastic, and more metal, than before. The metal also has an elegant brushed metal finish. It comes in three colours, Gunmetal Grey, Glacial Silver, and Amber Gold. I even like how the HTC logo is engraved into the back. The other obvious change is that there are two lenses on the back, and also a dual colour flash, but we'll talk about those later. Overall, I can't help but admire the appearance of the handset. In my opinion, whilst HTC may have gone overboard with its marketing of the handset as a piece of crafted jewellery, it's certainly the best looking handset on the market. If I had any criticism, it would be that the weight distribution is a little top heavy, and means that the phone doesn't plant itself into your hand, and you have to grip it more firmly. This is a common complaint I have about many of the current range of flagships'.. Internally there have been some significant changes, and non-changes. The processor has had an upgrade from being slightly behind the curve last year with a Snapdragon 600, to being the first to launch with a Snapdragon 801. The battery has also increased in size from 2300 mAh to 2600maH. This may look like small numbers, but we'll go into this later. Whilst the front facing camera has been bumped up to an impressive 5 megapixels for the people who like selfies and video chats, the main rear sensor is the same as last year's 4 ultrapixel one, but is now accompanied by a smaller sensor, which I believe is in fact last year's front facing camera sensor. Camera I've broken with my traditional flow of reviews because there's been a great deal of discussion about the camera, and it's abilities. I was an advocate last year for HTC's brave decision to focus on quality of pixels vs quantity of pixels. HTC uses larger "ultrapixels" on it's main camera sensor. It was called a 4 ultrapixel camera, whilst its competitors boasted 16 megapixels. Although HTC were probably right to follow the path they did, they did fail to explain this to customers, and may have lost out on significant sales. There are pluses and minuses to this approach with sensors, and that has been exacerbated this year'. Before going into the rear camera in greater depth, I'll quickly cover the front camera. It feels "quirky" saying that the front camera has 5 megapixels, whilst the rear has 4 ultrapixels. We're used to the front camera having a smaller number than the rear. I didn't test the front camera in any meaningful way, but can simply say, that as a front facing camera, it is excellent. When used for video chats, it produces better pictures than the webcams on any of my computers / laptops. Also it produce good wide-ish angle selfies in selfie mode, and also picture in picture in dual capture mode (basically, take a picture with the main rear camera, and a simultaneous one of yourself taking the picture . I've no idea why people like this.) One thing that can be said for dual capture mode, is that you can move the smaller picture of yourself around to fit in with the rest of the picture, which is a bonus. Deep breath... The rear camera.... As mentioned before, HTC have opted for the same 4 ultrapixel sensor as on last year's phone. This is now accompanied by a 1.4 megapixel sensor on the rear to help it gauge depth in photos. Before I go into that, I'll mention why I thought last year's decision was the right one. Basically, it meant that low light performance was excellent for indoor / night-time shots, but it also meant that there weren't so many pixels to play with for daytime shots if you wanted to use digital zoom. I had hoped that this year, HTC would follow the same logic as before, but increase the number of ultrapixels, so the zoom side improved. I was disappointed there. The other significant change is that HTC removed Optical Image Stabilisation from the rear camera. The M7 was amongst the first mainstream handsets to incorporate OIS, and was part of what made it an excellent camera phone. It was certainly a shock to see that it had been removed. HTC were very quick to explain at launch that this was due to it not being able to work with the dual camera. ie you can only get it to work with one sensor, and not coordinate OIS with two sensors (or maybe it was a cost issue?). HTC did go on to explain that they had used some software tweaks to compensate. There is unfortunately one fundamental flaw in their logic. The dual cameras do not work together in low light situations, and only use the main camera sensor, and OIS could have been useful. One other issue with the lack of OIS, is that it makes videos considerably more choppy compared videos taken with cameras with OIS. It is true that HTC have made some tweaks though which did help, but it's not all about taking multiple shots, but also about the software in the camera app. Whilst auto mode in the camera app is excellent, it choose the focus point and white balance very well, it is over aggressive with its upping of ISO, leading to unnecessarily noisier photos than need be. Thankfully, this can be easily overridden by using manual settings. Adjusting manual settings on this phone is remarkably easy, and reminiscent of the Nokia 1020. There is also the ability to save your own manual settings to create new photo modes. I limited the maximum ISO usage in night time shots and got some impressive pictures for a camera phone. Whilst talking about ISO, I should also mention that I do have some concern about the minimum ISO setting. HTC seem to use ISO 100 as the lowest setting, but this can lead to overexposure in very bright scenes. This can become a bit annoying if trying to use HDR mode where there is a very bright area next to a shadier one. I know HTC would want me to wax lyrically about the Duo Camera, but I won't. To cut it short, when used in the right conditions, where there is a clear segregation between foreground and background (and in good light), it does work excellently and create some lovely bokeh effects with the foreground image pin sharp and background blurred (or vice versa). In addition, there are some entertaining additional modes when editing the photos on the camera. You can add effects so that, for example, the foreground image is sharp and add sketch or cartoon filters to the background. Or you can add video effects of leaves falling in the picture. Finally the depth function does actually make it better at snipping pictures of people out of photos, and adding them to other photos. I should also add that the improved depth editing makes the editing better at adding stickers of funny hats/hair/moustaches to pictures of people if you're that way inclined. HTC's Zoe mode and Highlight's reel still exist and have in fact been improved. Zoe mode allows you to take short videos via a series of quickly taken photos (the time limit has been removed and is now adjustable by keeping the finger pressed on the camera button), and highlight mode is more adjustable too, but does make excellent highlight video reels combing photos and videos. It really is an excellent tool for making short clips to share with friends via social media. In fact, if you upload your video to HTC's own site, friend can add their own snaps to your reel and it will make a new video! A couple of other points worth mentioning whilst discussing the camera. I can hear an audible clicking from the camera sometimes whilst using it. I think it's whilst adjusting focus, but I'm not sure as it doesn't always happen. Also the camera app is a bizarre combination of not sensitive enough to my fingers and oversensitive at others. I do find it hard to pinch zoom reliably on the screen, but when looking to press the onscreen camera button, or mode button, I regularly inadvertently press the home or go back buttons, leading to frustrated swearing. In summary, I'm not too sure what to make of the camera. It is certainly no longer class leading, the market has moved on. But if you're only taking shots to share with friends, then to be honest, I don't think it makes any difference, it's excellent. If on the other hand, your taking shots to be shown on a big screen, or larger prints, then I'd pause for thought if this is a overriding feature above all others on a mobile phone (then again, I'd also suggest you buy a good quality camera to carry around.) Software As I've already discussed, there are some significant improvements to the camera app, as there are too with the Gallery app where you can edit photos and highlights videos. Now that HTC no longer uses the two capacitive buttons to control the handset, it doesn't muck around much with the basic Android software very much unlike some competitors. It is a very clean experience, and nothing is shoved down your throat (apart from Google's services) The other key software tweak is HTC's Sense 6.0 user interface. This is fundamentally a very usable and adjustable Flipboard like homescreen which you can add/remove news and social media sources to your heart's content. The look as been "modernised" to follow recent trends, but apart from it's increasing adjustability, it remains possibly the best manufacturer added interface for being simple, useful, and can also be easily turned off too. HTC have also added motion sensors to the M8, which don't appear to detract from the battery life. Anyone familiar with LG's latest handsets will like the double tapping of the screen to switch the screen on. You can also swipe the screen to perform various functions such as answering/rejecting calls, bring the handset to your head to answer calls and appears to be a pretty good motion sensor to be used also as a pedometer. I should also mention that this is the first handset I've used where the Mirrorcast function actually worked with my car stereo! Other handsets should have worked, but never did. I'd given up on Mirrorcast as a technology, but found it be really useful whilst driving. Performance The M8's screen has been increased from 4.7" to 5", but remains a 1080p display. This means that the pixel resolution is in fact lower than the M7. This really isn't anything to be concerned about. The screen is excellent. Everything looks pin sharp, colours are lovely, and viewing angles are excellent. The display remains beautiful to look at. The processor has had a very significant bump. The M7 used a Snapdragon 600, whilst the M8 uses Snapdragon 801 processor. In real world terms, this makes the M8 very snappy and fast to use, but this will be common to all the latest flagship handsets which use this processor. The handset has also had an antenna upgrade and it does hold on impressively to voice and data. What impresses me most about the M8 is that despite a larger screen, much more powerful processor, and slight increase in battery size, is the overall battery life has significantly improved. Using completely arbitrary measures, I'd say by about 30-50%. This makes it a guaranteed all day heavy usage phone. On top of that, as is the fashion, there's also an extreme power mode which HTC claims will give you 15 hours of battery life from your last 5%. This can only be used for phone/sms/mail/calendar/calculator. All other unnecessary antennae, sensors and apps are turned off. I should also mention that I did experience occasional freezes to the handset where the screen was no longer responsive Accessories HTC kindly included a DotView flip case. I must admit that I'm always sceptical about flip cases because of the need to open them to use the handset, and because I find they get in the way when taking quick photos. It must be said, through gritted teeth, that it's actually quite nice. It is made from good quality material, and somehow feels easy to live with, although it doesn't solve my photo problem. The dot matrix view when double tapping the phone is also very nice (if also very retro), but unfortunately is completely useless in bright conditions. I also had the pleasure of using Ottorbox's Commuter case. As with all the cases in this series, it comes with a screen protector, and the case is two parts, one soft silicone, the other hard plastic. It does add slightly to the bulk of the handset, but that is the price you pay for excellent protection from knocks and drops. Naturally, it does take away from the fine aesthetics of the phone, and the plastic on the back could be more textured for better grip, but if protection of your valuable handset overrides these concerns, I'd highly recommend one. Summary It's been a year since the M7 came out, and it remains an excellent phone by today's standards, even though the world has moved on. The M8 has built upon these strong foundations, by increasing power, adding expandable storage, and battery life, as well as making an already desirable phone even nicer to hold and look at. Apart from the camera, many of the components will be similar to those found in its latest competitors. This starts to make differentiation harder. Many companies are offering new power saving modes. Tap/motion control is also becoming increasingly common. I'm sure voice control will also become more common. The HTC One (M8) is undoubtedly a great phone. I am however left with only two things to look at which significantly differentiate it from its peers. The camera and it's physical appearance. I can't help feeling that although nice to have, the hardware Duo Camera, is unnecessary and doesn't add any regular significant benefit, compared to the lack of OIS if you use video regularly. I do think that the software tweaks and improved UI for the camera mean that the lack of OIS doesn't detract from photos in most situations, but I also can't help wonder if the improved controls could actually the M7 better. Once again, if the camera on the phone is the end all and be all, then look elsewhere, but don't think for a minute that this is a poor camera phone. It isn't. It's just not the best on the market. This leaves me with the eternal question, will I be buying one for myself? Strangely, despite my criticisms, yes! Why? HTC have got so much right in the design of the phone. It hits the "emotional point". I like the phone, I look at the phone, it gives me pleasure using it, despite the niggles. And camera aside, the niggles are easily fixable. They're small software issues which I hope HTC will resolve with sufficient feedback. Given how mobiles are increasingly becoming functional items with similar abilities; looks and feel matter and HTC gets it right.
  13. . I'm not going to spend much time talking about Windows Phone 8, but would primarily like to talk about the handset itself and what Nokia has done. Windows Phone should be covered and deserves it's own separate review, but I'm not doing that now! Design and Build Nokia's Lumia 1020 builds upon a now familiar design language. It uses a matt unibody polycarbonate case, with Gorilla Glass 3 for the 1280 x 768 screen, which is flush to the case. It feels like a quality product as soon as you pick it up. It takes some getting used to the weight distribution in your hand. This is due to the rather massive camera on the back the handset, but we'll talk more about that later. The handset is well built, feels solid, and the matt polycarbonate makes it less of a fingerprint magnet than many other handsets. Some people have complained about it being slippery, but I disagree. I'd go as far as saying, that because of the gentle curved nature of the casing, it's really comfortable and easy to hold. If anything, it feels like a comforting large, flat smooth pebble you might find on a beach before skimming it across the water (please do not try to use this for skimming!) The build quality can be felt across the buttons on the edge of the phone. It has a micro sim tray (very nice tray and mechanism compared to Sony's current design) and headphone socket on top, and volume, power and camera button on the right of the handset. On the back there is a large black circular lump which is the camera module. it also contains two flashes. One LED one for video and focus assist, and then a xenon one for photography. This does mean that the handset won't lie flat on it's back, but that's not an issue, as it doesn't wobble either. The 4.5" AMOLED screen has a resolution of 1280 x 768 (334ppi) which works excellently in daylight. In fact, you can also adjust brightness, saturation and sensitivity in the settings. Contrast levels are excellent, and colours are bright. The relatively low resolution does make it less sharp though than other top end handsets, and also means it displays less text when browsing. Otherwise, outdoor use is excellent, and Nokia have also made it usable with gloves on too. Software I know modern smartphones are like carrying computers in your pocket, but it does take what feels like an eternity to boot up. I don't know if this is due to Windows Phone or Nokia. I know I said I wouldn't talk much about Windows Phone 8, but I didn't say I wouldn't talk about it at all..... I don't like it. I don't mean this in a bad way. I mean that it feels like an embryonic OS which has developed a lot since I last used it, but I'd never choose one as my main smartphone at present. I said exactly the same about Android only a couple of years ago, and now I find it a much more refined product which seriously challenges iOS, if not beats it in some ways. There's hope still, and I'm confident Microsoft will get it right in the end, especially now the new CEO as highlighted it has a key marker for corporate success. I don't want to turn this into a whinge fest about the OS, but they really need to make it more user friendly, and require less key presses to do the same functions as on other OS's, and stop demanding to ask if I want to download the picture for every individual email. It drives me mad! I like the design language of Windows Phone, but as everyone else will tell you, it's missing lots of apps. What use is (spoiler alert) the best camera on a phone, if you don't have most of the key apps to share your work with? I know there are substitute apps, but one chap in a bedsit is rarely as good as a multi-million pound business at producing polished apps. One other gripe in regards to the OS. It's rubbish for Gmail users. I'm sure it's very good with Microsoft's Hotmail and Outlook accounts, but it's rarely in sync with Gmail emails and calendar, and it crashes with Gmail contacts since Google announced it was changing standards a year ago. I know it may seem strange to Microsoft, but quite a few people use Google products, and the fact that the address book is not compatible with Google's seems, well, a little crap after a year. There are third party apps to help solve this problem, but it doesn't play perfectly with the OS overall. Sort it out. Please. Nokia has added a lot of its own apps to the 1020, and genuinely does add a lot of value. For example, the new Nokia Camera app is possibly one of the best camera apps on any mobile OS. It's so easy to use, it positively encourages not to use auto modes and to experiment. It really is that good. It also helps that when adjusting things such as temperature, exposure etc, you can actually see the effects live on your screen. I know Google have tried to copy the 'solar system' style of manual adjustments, but Nokia is master. Talking of camera apps, it also has a number of other apps which help you produce excellent editing facilities and features so you can choose best photos out of a burst, remove unwanted object, create movement effects, flare and all sorts of filters, as well as cropping etc. Because of the super high 38MP shots, it leaves a lot of flexibility it processing, but we'll talk about that later. Nokia's mapping software is also excellent. It's Here Maps, public transport information and drive GPS apps are all brilliant. As a bonus, maps can easily be downloaded and be offline, which makes it far better than many competitors. A couple of other features are worth mentioning. It's bluetooth adaptation made speech control much easier in the car, and also Glance is it's permanently on lock screen when the phone is not in use. It shows the time and also notifications for selected apps. I don't know why, but its really attractive, in a goosebumps kind of way. I also like that it has a night-time mode which makes it a really attractive bed side accessory. Performance I'm torn. Should I talk about general performance or the camera first? I know what everyone wants to know about is the camera, but it is a mobile phone! The Nokia Lumia 1020 uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 plus processor. What's particularly interesting about that fact is that it doesn't support high resolution cameras and Nokia has had to work with Qualcomm to make sure it all worked. Apparently, they've been so successful in their cooperation that they could in future produce processors which could handle over 50MP snaps! Otherwise, the phone is kitted with a handy 2GB RAM and a 2000mAh battery. It doesn't sound particularly big, but it works well and is power efficient. You should be able to get a full working day's use out of it, but I doubt you'll use it beyond 24 hours. Nokia seems to be good at controlling Wifi, GPS and Bluetooth power usage, as well as the AMOLED screen not taking huge amounts of power. You never feel that the phone is slow, although it's not as fast to use as the fastest out there. Whilst on the subject. The GPS locks on amazingly quickly and the phone holds onto signals that bit better than other leading handsets. One issue I have come across though is when using it as a hotspot. It does tend to drop the wifi signal enough times to become annoying. The Camera. You almost certainly know by now that its a bit special, and different, but you may not know why. You may remember the Wall-e looking Nokia Pureview 808 which was ground-breaking in 2012. It many ways, it still is. It takes pictures simultaneously in several different resolutions, ranging from 3 to 38 megapixels) and then combines the photos through oversampling to create a higher quality image with no bayer patterns and much improved low light performance. It also means that it creates lossless zoom, so you can use digital zoom without losing detail. A technological masterpiece! Nokia did not stop there. It improved the lens mechanism, and introduced optical image stabilisation (OIS) to make pictures brighter in the day and less blurred at night. I'm not going to bore you with lots of pixel gazing pictures. All I want to say is that it is the best camera on any mobile phone. I would go as far as to say that it's better than 90% of compact cameras too. Unless you're serious about your photography, this may well be the only camera you need. It's easy to use, has loads of function, can fiddle with settings, filters, has a reasonable zoom for most situations, improved low light performance with the last updates, good flash. What's not to like? Accessories I'd like to thank Clove for providing some very useful accessories during this review. Whilst I'm generally not a fan of brand accessories, and tend to favour third party manufacturers, I must admit that I'm really impressed by Nokia. The first one to mention is the Camera Grip. Without ruining the summary, if you are going to buy a Nokia 1020, I highly recommend that you buy this. Not only does it significantly improve battery life (adds about 50%), but it also makes it really easy to hold the camera when taking photos. It fits into the pocket of all but skinny jeans, and turns you into an every day street photographer. Also, if you're wanting to use the phone for more advanced photography, it also has a tripod mount on the case, which makes it great to use with even miniature tripods such as this. The one downside of the Camera Grip is that it's not compatible with Nokia's wireless charging stand. Whilst Nokia also produce wireless charging plates and pillows, I really like the stand as I've been using it as a bedside accessory. When paired with the wireless charging cover, it makes the 1020 a really attractive bedside alarm. The Glance lockscreen looks like a high definition alarm clock and just looks really yummy. Whilst I'm not convinced that wireless charging (as it exists at the moment) will replace USB charging, there's no getting away from the usefulness of just plonking your phone down on the stand at night and going to sleep. The case is also effective in adding protection to the body, as I did drop mine once or twice with no negative effect..... I'll also mention the Nokia wireless car charger. It plugs into the car's power supply, sticks to the windscreen very effectively and holds your handset whilst charging. No need to stick in any other cables into the phone each time you jump in. I found this really handy when also using the GPS on long journeys. It meant I never got a flat battery whilst travelling. As I mentioned before, I found these accessories very well built and designed, and do highly recommend them if you do buy a Nokia 1020 or other similar handsets. Summary I remember when I was younger, I used to have chats with my mates about people who looked great from behind, but looked like mingers when they turned round. The Nokia 1020 reminds me of those conversations. As a piece of hardware, this is excellent. But start using the OS and you come across a variety of issues which leave you dissatisfied when compared to Android and iOS. Windows Phone 8 is genuinely a good OS, but it's still developing to reach it's potential. I look forward to future releases, as I see how much progress has been made. So what to make of this handset? If you're looking for a smartphone which covers the basics ie calls, text, small amount of browsing and emails, as well as maps etc) and want a good camera phone, then this is perfect. Build quality is excellent, it feels really good to hold, battery life is very good and the camera is second to none.
  14. This is my first video review, so your advice and feedback is welcome, as well as your thoughts of seeing iOS 7 in action (if you've not already got it on your iDevice)