Geek News: Latest Technology, Product Reviews, Gadgets and Tech Podcast News for Geeks


Sprint adds International Wi-Fi Calling

Posted by JenThorpe at 8:43 PM on August 31, 2014

Sprint logoSprint is about to release something that could make life a little easier for people who do a lot of traveling. It will also help families who are in the United States and who make calls to family members who are traveling. Sprint is going to update Sprint Spark and add international Wi-Fi calling (to certain locations) at no additional cost.

This update is specifically for the Samsung Galaxy S 4 with Sprint Spark. It will become the first device from Sprint to get their international Wi-Fi calling update. The new feature lets users who are traveling abroad, with Wi-Fi Calling enabled phones, to make and receive calls to friends and family in the United States, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico at no additional charge (while connected to a Wi-Fi network).

International Wi-Fi Calling enables Sprint customers to use voice and messaging services over existing home, office, and public Wi-Fi networks in more than 100 countries outside the United states back to the United States, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico phone numbers without being charged or using monthly plan minutes.

That being said, it is recommended that you check with your Wi-Fi provider to see if data charges may apply. It would also be a good idea to check with Sprint about standard or discounted pricing for international calling that is applicable to Wi-Fi.

The Galaxy S 4 with Sprint Spark will be the first smartphone from Sprint to get the International Wi-Fi Calling update. Sprint is planning to expand that offer to additional devices throughout 2014. Sprint is making it easier for people who are traveling overseas to connect with friends or family that are in the United States, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico in a very affordable way.

Ignore No More App Locks Your Kid’s Phone

Posted by JenThorpe at 6:47 PM on August 14, 2014

Ignore No More! app logoWant to take complete and total control of your kid’s cellphone? There’s an app for that! It is called Ignore No More! The purpose of the app is to enable parents to remotely lock down their kid’s (or teen’s) phone. The only way to get the phone unlocked is to call mom (or dad) back and ask for the four digit lock code.

It was created by Sharon Stindifird a Texas mom who was got “absolutely livid” one day when she texted her teens and they refused to text or call her back. This motivated her to learn how to create an app that would force her teens to stop ignoring her.

The Ignore No More! app is only available on Android. It requires Android Version 3.0 and costs just $1.99. The description of the app states that it can “be up and running in less than 10 minutes”. It says it is easy to install, cannot be disabled, and does not interfere with ICE or First Responder calls.

What if you have more than one teen whose phone you want to be able to lock on a whim? One account can control multiple “child” devices from multiple “parent” devices. Locking a child’s phone prevents that phone from being used to call friends, to send text messages to anyone, and to play games. Suddenly, the phone has only one function.

Full disclosure, I’m not a parent, so this isn’t something I would have a need for. I can see where it might be useful for parents who have grounded their teen from using their phone for a certain amount of time. The parent can give the four digit code to the teen after they are done being grounded.

However, I don’t think this app is going to improve communication between parents and their teens. Yes, it can force teens to call their parent and listen to what the parent has to say. The problem is that this communication is being forced upon them. I think it will cause a lot of resentment, especially if a parent frequently uses the lock. This is not going to build trust between parent and teen.

There are some quoted reviews on Google Play store where you can purchase this app. One man gave it four out of five stars and wrote: “This is a very good idea.. It also is great for locking my wife’s phone if she is ignoring me…lol…” Ignore No More! is going to be a very attractive app for control freaks. I mean, if this guy feels comfortable announcing that he wants to use it to force his wife to call him, imagine how many other guys out there thought the same thing!

Long Term Hulu Plus Thoughts

Posted by tomwiles at 10:03 AM on July 10, 2014

hulu_plusI have been using Hulu Plus for several months, and I have a few additional comments about the service.

I tend to watch lots of science documentaries. Over time, I’ve seemed to nearly exhaust the documentaries available on Netflix and Amazon videos. One of the things I really like about the Hulu Plus is that it includes shows from the BBC, Canada and Australia. This opens up a new world of high quality documentary material that isn’t available to me otherwise.

From a technical streaming point of view, the service always seems to stream well. I have encountered no server issues streaming either via DSL or mobile data connections.

The various Hulu Plus apps themselves do have a few issues. I regularly use the iOS, Android and Roku versions of the Hulu Plus apps. The interfaces seem mostly straightforward, though there are a few quirks and differences from one app to the next.

The biggest problem I’ve encountered is the service being able to remember where I’m stopped at in an individual video as well as a series of videos. For example, let’s say I’m in the 5th episode of a season. The service may or may not remember that I’ve already watched the previous 4 episodes.

Additionally, if I pause in the middle of a video, there’s at least a 50% chance that if I come back to the series later, instead of starting me out exactly where I was in the paused video, the service will kick me to the next episode even though I haven’t finished watching the prior episode.

These synching problems seem to be consistent across all of Hulu Plus’ apps. I can use only one app, say on my iPad Air, and will likely encounter the synching issue the next time I open the app to try to get back to where I left off. Moving to a different device entirely I will still encounter the same synching problem.

These synching issues are areas where Netflix and Amazon really seem to have this nailed down and leave Hulu Plus lagging behind.

Even with the synching issues, I really like Hulu Plus and make extensive use of it. In my view it is well worth the $8 monthly charge.

Archos Helium 50 4G Smartphone Review

Posted by Andrew at 8:57 AM on June 19, 2014

Archos LogoFrench firm Archos has been in the smartphone business since 2013 with a range of over 10 models but the phones are still relatively rare outside of their home country. At this year’s CES, Archos announced the Helium 45 and 50, affordable 4G smartphones with 4.5″ and 5″ screens respectively and Archos have kindly sent me a Helium 50 for review. Let’s take a look.

The Helium 50 doesn’t stray far from the classic smartphone form factor: it’s a rectangle with curved corners and there’s nothing really to make it stand out from the crowd – let’s say it could do with a bit more Gallic flair. Dimensions are 145 x 7.5 x 9 mm (5.7” x 2.8” x 0.35”) and weighs in at 160g. The build quality feels good and the rear shell clips on firmly.

Front View

No major surprises – head phone socket on top, volume rocker on left, power on the right and microUSB on the bottom right for charging. Oddly for a new smartphone model, the buttons at the bottom are fixed – they’re not the expected soft buttons – and one of them is a menu button too, which I believe is deprecated on the newer versions of Android.

Rear View

Although a slim phone regardless, the camera isn’t quite flush with the back.

Archos 50 Camera

Perhaps slightly of note is that when you peek inside, between the microSD card slot and the SIM slot, there’s an empty slot that could potentially take a second SIM.

Inside

On paper, the Archos 50 is running Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean) on a 1.2 GHz quad-core Qualcomm ARM processor, partnered with an Adreno GPU driving a 5” 1280 x 720 (HD) screen with IPS. There’s 1 GB RAM, 8GB storage plus a microSD slot under the back cover. Not cutting edge specs by any means. Running Geekbench 3, the Helium 50 scores 341 in the Single-Core and 1156 in the Multi-Core test (cf 502 and 1499 for the Nexus 4). Disappointingly, although advertised as an 8 GB phone only 4 GB seems to be available to the user. Clearly a microSD should be an early purchase for new owners.

Archos 50 Specs Benchmarks

Initially, the smartphone’s performance seems good. Nova Launcher animations are smooth and games like Shardlands and Iron Man 3 look detailed and fluid with the Adreno GPU earning its keep. Unfortunately after using the phone for a time the lack of RAM becomes noticeable: while running apps work fine, returning to a previous app often requires the app to restart rather than smoothly switching back.

Shardlands

While talking about games, Ingress shows up the Helium’s GPS. While it’s accurate enough once settled, the GPS can be slow to update and sometimes stalls in one place for 20-odd seconds. It’s probably not so much of an issue with less demanding uses but in Ingress, fast and accurate GPS is critical to hacking and taking a portal.

On the plus side, Android seems to be mostly stock Jelly Bean with a few minor tweaks and some custom Archos apps for music, videos, FM radio and file management. The apps are good and in their favour is that they have built-in access to SMB shares and UPnP servers, which is a definite “thumbs up” from me. If interested, the Video Player is available from Google Play to try out on other phones.

Media Menu Media Player

Moving on to the camera, it has the most comprehensive range of settings that I’ve seen on any camera app – there are no less than three separate settings menus with several options that I didn’t have a clue about – “Max longshot NUM” anyone?! Despite the plethora of settings photographs were a little disappointing with the default settings. Even on “Super fine”, photos were a little grainy.

LionZoom In

Finally, in terms of connectivity, 4G is nippy and watching films via Netflix or BBC’s iPlayer is feasible over 4G (but beware the volume caps!) There’s no doubt that this is the future and I can see that this will appeal to commuters on public transport who want to take advantage of the spare time. Obviously speed and 4G availability will be dependent on your mobile operator but I was pleased with EE’s performance when I was able to get a 4G signal.

In conclusion, I used the Archos Helium 50 4G as my daily phone for about a month and it works: it works fine. All the apps run, it has a big screen, it plays music and it’s well-built, but there’s no doubt that the uninspiring design and low RAM drop it down the leaderboard in comparison with other Android smartphones. On the flip side, the Helium 50 is a 4G smartphone with a 5″ screen, priced at only £199 off-contract which is attractive, especially when compared to other 4G phones at twice the price.

Thanks to Archos for the loan of the Helium 50.

Optoma ML1500 DLP Projector Review

Posted by Andrew at 12:33 AM on June 10, 2014

Optoma LogoThe Optoma ML1500 DLP Projector is a stylish ultra mobile LED projector which pretty much does it all in a very neat little package with a good complement of ports, connections and fun tricks. Let’s take a look.

Optoma Front

Measuring just 27 x 17 x 4.5 cm and weighing only 1.4 kg, the ML1500 is very portable and comes with a neoprene carrying case. As you’ll see from the photos, the projector is attractively styled, with the ports on the back and a touchpad on the top. The touchpad can be used to operate the built-in menus to control the ML1500 and there is also a supplied remote control for when changes need to be made from afar. On the bottom, a third leg can be screwed in and out to adjust the angle, and a standard photo mount allows the projector to be hung from above. Finally, a lever on the side controls the focus.

Optoma ML1500 Rear

Round the back there is a plethora of connections, with composite video, HDMI and VGA connectors, 3.5mm jacks for audio and microUSB, USB and SD card slots. Connect up the ML1500 to a PC or laptop and it appears as an Optoma WXGA (1280×800) monitor and with suitable OS, you can do the usual tricks of either reproducing the current desktop or extending the desktop to the ML1500′s display. Locking onto the VGA signal took a second or two, but nothing out of the ordinary. The small size of the projector meant that I could keep it on my desk and if I needed to have an impromptu team meeting that needed something shown, I could quickly turn the ML1500 onto a nearby wall, rather than everyone huddle round a monitor.

Optoma ML1500 Remote ControlOn the fun side, the ML1500 makes a good partner to mini media streamers like the Roku Streaming Stick or Chromecast. The stick can be plugged into the ML1500′s HDMI sockets and power pulled from an adjacent USB socket. All set and good to watch Netflix or other streaming service with minimum of fuss.

The ML1500 does a few other tricks up its sleeve (or USB port as the case may be). First of all, the projector has a built-in media player and office document viewer that will show films, play music and display Word, Excel, Powerpoint and PDF files directly from either an SD card or USB memory stick. I didn’t deliberately try to break the viewer but the ML1500 managed to cope with all the Office documents that I threw at it. It’s relatively easy to navigate round the documents and zoom in or out with the remote control. The on-screen menus are easy to navigate with large friendly icons showing the way.

Playing movies is cool too, with the ML1500 handling mp4, avi and mov format files (though I didn’t confirm the codecs inside each). The presentation is good with the projector keeping up with the action and the picture is fine in unlit room – it doesn’t need to be darkened. Obviously you can have a pretty big screen if you want – I watched a couple of films and really got into the cinematic feel of things. Colours were good and sound is ok – it’s not hifi but you can connect up via a 3.5 mm jack if you want more oomph.

Optoma WiFi DongleNext on the list of clever things is the USB wifi dongle which plugs into the ML1500. Once connected to the “Optoma Display” wireless network, you can use an app on your smartphone or tablet to play presentations and display media. I used WiFi-Doc on Android and the app is available for iPhone and iPad too. It’s easy to use – select what you want to show and it’ll be shown by the ML1500. You can zoom in and out of photos and documents, and about a second later, the projector will update to show the change. Here’s the app showing a photo of the house that Mel Gibson used while filming Braveheart. The app wasn’t quite as good as the built-in player when it came showing office files as a couple of pdfs had missing images.WiFi-Doc App

A final nifty feature was auto-keystone correction, where the ML1500 automatically adjusts the projection to account for the angle of the projector, which means that the picture on the screen is always rectangular and not fatter at the top than the bottom.

One minor niggle is that adjusting the focus has to be done manually and it can’t be corrected using the remote control. Not a big deal in most circumstances but could be an issue if the projector was mounted high up.

Although I’m not a projector expert, I enjoyed putting the ML1500 through its paces. Its comprehensive ports and built-in media player make it a good choice for both business and pleasure, and for those on the move, the low weight and PC-free capabilities, are attractive. I think it’s priced about right too at under £700.

Thanks to Optoma for the review unit.

Libratone Zipp Wireless Speaker Review

Posted by Andrew at 2:16 AM on May 27, 2014

I first came across Libratone at the The Gadget Show earlier in the year where their colourful hi-fi speakers with interchangeable covers stood out against the more run-of-the-mill Bluetooth speakers. On the back of my interview, Libratone kindly sent me a Zipp, a portable wireless AirPlay speaker, to further my education in their products. Let’s take a look and a listen.

Libratone Zipp Box

The Libratone Zipp is very much fashioned in iStyle but takes a welcome break from monochrome with interchangeable coloured covers. The Zipp comes with three covers in the box from three collections and the supplied Zipp came with the “Funky collection” – pepper black, plum purple and pineapple yellow. Additional covers are £39 which may seem expensive but the covers aren’t felt or fleece, they’re Italian wool. Here’s the Zipp in its different clothes.

Libratone Zipp Magenta

Libratone Zipp Mustard Strap

Changing a cover is easy – just unzip the cover, carefully remove it, fit the the new cover and zip it back up. There’s a small frame which fits around the control panel but it clips in firmly and helps get everything lined up. The panel’s neatly hidden behind the leather carry strap.

Libratone Zipp Mustard Strap Up

As a wireless speaker, the Zipp uses wifi rather than Bluetooth to stream music and until relatively recently, you would have needed Apple products to use AirPlay. Android users can now join the party as the Zipp now provides a DLNA interface which several music apps now support including Robin Davies’ 2player, which I used for this review. Sadly, many don’t, including Spotify, which is a shame.

The speaker can work in two modes, DirectPlay and WiFi Play. In the first, the speaker creates its own little wifi hotspot and the smartphone or tablet connects to the hotspot. This mode is used both for initial configuration and for playing music away from home, say, at a friend’s BBQ. With the WiFi Play mode, the Zipp connects to the same wifi network as the music-playing device, which is the way you’d use the Zipp at home.

Setting up the Zipp is a little fiddly but otherwise straightforward and only needs to be done once. Libratone’s free app helps with this but the steps are broadly turn on the Zipp, connect to the Zipp’s wifi hotspot, enter the main wifi key and restart the Zipp. It’ll then connect up to the main wifi network and the speaker will be available for music output.

Libratone App 2player Erasure

Obviously the Zipp is only a single unit, although it has an amazing capacity to fill a room. Libratone have developed a set of acoustic tricks called “FullRoom” which let the Zipp’s tweeters and drivers expand the sound, but you need to tell the Zipp where it is in the room to take full advantage. The Libratone app helps with that too. You can hear the impact of some of the changes if you fiddle with the settings while music is playing but much of the change is subtle.

Voicing Position

In addition to setting the spatial characteristics, the type of music can be enhanced through preset equalisations such as “Easy Listening” and “Rock the House”.

Aside from the interchangeable covers, the other cool feature is that the Zipp is portable and has a built-in battery which Libratone says will last about 4 hours playing music over wifi and twice as long using a cable. I didn’t try running the Zipp very long from a lead but the time seems about right for wifi. The Libratone app helpfully shows the battery level so you know when to recharge. There’s a small bag included in the box but Libratone could do with a dedicated Zipp carrying bag as it’s heavy to lug around – it’s portable but it’s not a travel accessory.  I liked the liberty that this gave as I moved the Zipp between rooms and was able to have music in rooms that didn’t normally have sound without using headphones.

Libratone Zipp Panel Libratone Zipp Top Control

The pictures above show the panel on the side and the top-mounted controller. The USB port on the side-panel can be used to power the music player (and for configuration when using Apple devices) when using the 3.5mm jack for the audio feed.

Generally the Zipp worked well. I did have the occasional problem with the Zipp not being recognised either as an output option in the 2player app or by the Libratone app when trying to change the FullRoom config. Usually a restart of either the app or the Zipp itself would sort it out but it’s a bit irritating when the dropout occurs halfway through an album. To be fair, the issue could lie with my wifi network or with the music app itself and I’ve no experience with other AirPlay devices for comparison. For now, it’s something to be aware of.

As a reminder, Android users needs to confirm that the apps that they want to use with the Zipp are AirPlay or DLNA-compatible. Unlike Bluetooth speakers, where the driver is at lower level and makes almost any app capable of outputting sound to a wireless speaker, the apps needs to be DLNA-aware to use the Zipp wirelessly. Searching the Play Store reveals several good apps that can be checked for full compatibility.

So….does the Zipp sound good? In short, it’s very impressive with music retaining clarity and detail even at higher volumes and the Zipp has a surprising amount of volume for such a small unit. Obviously any single speaker unit is going to be lacking in comparison with hi-fi separates but the Zipp knocks into a cocked hat any of the speaker docks that I’ve heard. Finally, it’s absolutely, definitely the best portable speaker that I’ve ever listened to. At GB£369, it’s not cheap but if you have a bijou pad that needs filled with sound, you should give the Zipp a listen. It looks great too.

Thanks to Libratone for the loan of the Zipp.

Payleven Mobile Payments at The Gadget Show

Posted by Andrew at 4:39 PM on April 27, 2014

Payleven Chip and PINOne of the common problems facing start-ups and small businesses are the costs associated with taking credit card payments. The transaction costs can be high for small turnovers and point-of-sale machines are expensive with a monthly rental fee. To counter this problem, Payleven offers a low-cost mobile payment solution for European businesses using a Chip’n’PIN card reader that uses Bluetooth to communicate with both Apple, Android and Amazon smartphones and tablets. The Chip’n’PIN unit costs only GB£60 (ex-VAT) with a transaction charge of 2.75%. Payleven have partnered with GoTab to offer a complete solution for around £250 including a tablet and the card reader.

The approach is similar to US-based Square, but as Chip’n’PIN is only beginning to be required across the pond, Square’s reader unit is a simpler card-swipe device that plugs straight into the smartphone. Having a full Chip’n’PIN card reader in Europe is a necessity but the independent unit makes the transaction look much more professional anyway.

Simon from Payleven tells me about their solution and takes me through some of the features.

My.com Launches the First Mobile-Only Email Service

Posted by JenThorpe at 5:58 PM on April 24, 2014

my.com logoMy.com is offering an interesting alternative to the desktop based email service that you are currently using. The @my.com email service is a mobile-only approach that has been designed to fit with the increasingly mobile-centric worldwide trend.

The @my.com email service functions within my.com’s myMail app (which was launched in November of 2013). The myMail mobile app was designed for managing multiple email accounts like Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, and more. Those who are currently using the myMail app can now add @my.com to that list. If you are already using myMail, you will be prompted to create a @my.com email account when your app is updated on your device.

Those who want to register for their own @my.com email address can do so now. Registration is open and it is 100% free. The myMail app is available for Apple iOS on iPad and iPhone and for Android smartphones. (The myMail app, by the way, is free to download).

Some of the features of myMail include push notifications, quick gestures for moving to folders or deleting, a clean user interface, and spam/virus protection. It also gives users 150 GB of free email storage. That is 10 times the amount of email storage that Google provides in Gmail!

You won’t need to create a password. Instead, you will receive an SMS code after you register for myMail. Once you use the SMS code, it becomes invalid for anyone else. In short, you won’t have to remember a yet another password and you won’t have to login to your email.

All email traffic through myMail is encrypted as an additional security measure. This is very different than the typical desktop based email service that can be compromised by hacking, phishing, or from a stolen password.

Optoma Pico-Projector at The Gadget Show

Posted by Andrew at 12:50 AM on April 24, 2014

Optoma specialise in digital projectors with a range going from personal pico-projectors all the way up to professional stacking projectors for large-scale installations. Here at The Gadget Show, Optoma were showing off their  ML750, an ultra-compact LED projector about 12 cm square and 4 cm deep. The picture below doesn’t get over how small the unit is.

Optoma ML-750 Projector

James from Optoma runs through the features of the ML750, which with the addition of a small wireless dongle (the little white object in the top left of the photo) allows presentation and streaming directly from the tablets and smartphones over wi-fi to the projector. The feature works with both Apple and Android devices using a downloadable app.

The native resolution is 1280×800 but will show 720p and 1080i video sources. It’ll even do 3D with additional active shutter glasses, though I’m not sure anyone is interested anymore. Still, the feature’s there.

I’m not a big projector expert, but at the event the ML750 was showing a series of film clips and it was very watchable. Obviously nothing like an HD monitor but for a portable device showing a 32″ display, it was impressive.

Available online for GB£400.

Libratone Speakers at The Gadget Show

Posted by Andrew at 1:45 AM on April 21, 2014

Danish audio specialists Libratone are relative new kids on the block, being established in 2009/10, but they’re making a strong impression with their colour co-ordinated hi-fi wireless speakers. I took the opportunity to learn more about Libratone’s range from Tom at The Gadget Show.

Libratone Speakers

Libratone ZippLibratone works with both Apple and Android devices supporting a range of protocols, including AirPlay, Wi-Fi Direct and DLNA, Libratone has four models in the range;
- the Lounge, a soundbar to go below a flatscreen TV
- the Zipp, a cylindrical speaker which is both AC and battery powered
- the Loop, a freestanding or wall-mounting round speaker
- the Live, a freestanding three-sided dipole speaker

All the speakers have removable covers that can be changed to suit the decor, either fitting in discreetly or standing out as a feature. Although it’s difficult to assess the audio quality in an exhibition hall, the demo I heard was suitably impressive and if you are in the market for this kind of product, I would definitely give them a listen.