Huawei TalkBand B1 Review

Huawei Logo2014 seems to have been the year of the fitness tracker and there will be plenty nestling underneath the Christmas tree come 25th December. Huawei has joined the market with the TalkBand B1, a wrist-worn fitness and sleep tracker fused with a Bluetooth earpiece. You may think that this is a somewhat odd combination so let’s take a look at the TalkBand B1 and see whether walking and talking is a killer combination.

The Huawei TalkBand B1 was first shown back in February at Mobile World Congress and it hasn’t change much since then. The B1 consists of a coloured wristband (white, grey, black, yellow, red and blue) with an embedded 1.4″ OLED display that shows the current time, steps taken, calories burned and time snoozed. The button on the top moves the display between the four different stats. The wristband comes in two sizes, small and large: the review unit was the small one and I could only just get the B1 on my wrist using the very end holes – if you are buying, make sure that you get the right size.

Huawei Talkband B1

When a phone call comes into a paired phone, the screen shows the caller or phone number, but where’s the Bluetooth earpiece? Cleverly, the OLED display unit pops out of the wristband and becomes the earpiece. As you’d expect, the display shows who is on the line when the phone rings. The earpiece was comfortable to wear but it’s not that secure, though there are three different sizes of loop to help keep it in the ear, but I think you’d only wear it while on a call and put it back when you are done.

Huawei Talkband B1 Earpiece

Huawei Talkband B1 earpiece

The TalkBand B1 charges via a USB connector cleverly hidden in the strap. The battery life is good and over the two week loan, I only had to charge the band a few times. YMMV as they say. The B1 is IP57 rated so it’s water resistant enough that jogging in the rain won’t be a problem.

Huawei Talkband B1 USB

In use the B1 seemed reasonably accurate. I say “reasonably” because if I walked 10 deliberate steps and checked the counter I would have done 10 steps, but I found that the B1 didn’t always count more casual steps. For example, one afternoon when I did a combination of walking, standing and sitting, my Fitbit said that I’d done 2780 steps to the B1’s 2330. I guess it depends on your point of view as to whether you only want full steps to count towards your daily 10,000 steps (which can be changed to suit your own goals).

The B1 also tracks sleep and kept a good note of that – it appeared to easily tell the difference between lounging on the sofa and having a good snooze. If you have been still too long, the B1 will buzz you and show a little animation to encourage a bit of stretching or movement. The instructions suggested the time between prompts could be altered but I couldn’t see how to do it; it’s possible that it was an iOS feature not available on Android which brings us neatly to the app.

A complementary (and complimentary) app syncs the step and sleep information via Bluetooth from the Talkband B1 to both Android and iOS smartphones, showing stats on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. I was using the Android version.

Summary

Activity Graph

Sleep Tracking

The app is straightforward but doesn’t offer much beyond recording activity and some simple interpretation. Disappointingly, there didn’t wasn’t the possibility to upload or share the information between multiple devices, which I think is very much needed when most people have both tablets and smartphones. As mentioned earlier and from reading the instructions, it would appear that the iOS app has greater functionality but I wasn’t able to check that out.

In terms of negatives, the main downside of the Talkband B1 is its size and that it rises well above the wrist. For me, I found it wouldn’t slide under shirt sleeves and in particular, it caught on my trouser pocket every time I reached in to get my wallet out. On the plus side, the instant availability of a Bluetooth headset was great, especially when driving.

Overall, the Huawei TalkBand B1 worked well and was useful but because of the size I’d find it hard to recommend as an everyday wear fitness tracker. I could very much see myself keeping it in my sports bag and putting it on before going for a run or using the treadmill. The Bluetooth earpiece was handy too, so if  the next iteration was a bit smaller or flatter, it could be a winner.

The TalkBand B1 is available from retailers for around GB£100. Thanks to Huawei for the loan of the TalkBand B1.

Gazelle Sells “Previously Enjoyed” Tech

Gazelle LogoGazelle’s trade-in programme for unwanted smartphones, tablets and other gadgets is well known and has featured in GNC before. If ebay doesn’t work for you then Gazelle is a good way to generate a bit of cash from stuff you don’t need any longer.

In addition to buying gadgets, Gazelle are now in the business of selling with “Gazelle Certified Pre-Owned” which offers a small range of gently used phones and tablets. At the moment it’s mostly iDevices, with the iPhone 4 from $159 and the iPad 2 from $249. The Samsung Galaxy SIII is there too at $159 and I imagine they’ll be extending the range of devices over time.

Store

The phones and tablets are graded and are described as “Certified Like New” or “Certified Good”. On the devices I checked over, the condition doesn’t appear to make any difference to the price but I assume that in some instances the price goes up for the like new ones. Gazelle say that all the devices go through a 30 point inspection to ensure the devices are fully functional and back this up with a 30 day no quibble money back guarantee.

I think the prices aren’t too far away from what you’d pay on ebay and Gazelle offers a much better proposition when it comes to getting what you paid for. A previously enjoyed smartphone or tablet can be ideal for a careless child or tough environments such as the kitchen where you might not want to risk your shiny new top-of-the range iPad Air.

A Week With My iPhone 6

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 4.16.07 AM

I was up at midnight, PST to preorder my iPhone 6 from the Verizon Wireless site. I had zero problems getting through and getting it ordered. I was already done and back to reading Facebook when I see Robert Scoble complaining that he can’t get anywhere on the Apple site. Apparently everyone thought that was the only place to go for preorders…? Anyway, a week later, I got my shiny new iPhone 6. The upside to preorders is, no lines to wait in. At around 10:30am last Friday, Fedex rings the bell and drops it off. Done. The downside is, you don’t get to actually touch the phone until you get it. I figured I didn’t need to hold the iPhone 6 Plus because I could already tell it was going to be just too big. My phones go in my front pocket. My keys and money go in the other. If my phone is too big to comfortably fit in my front pocket, it’s just no good. I don’t carry a bag or fanny pack, so it seemed unnecessary to me. A female friend of mine wants a Plus, but that makes sense to me because her phone goes in the purse. No problem. (And don’t get me started about it bending in pockets. We can all see that was a massive over-hype by now.)

Anyway. I got my 6, did a smooth restore from my old 5’s backup and began the tedious task of trying to remember all my passwords and some ringtones, as none of those things transfer from restore to restore. Finally, I was up to par and could actually start using it and appreciating it.

I love the size and feel of the 6. I love the bigger screen and how light it is. It doesn’t feel cheap to me either. iOS8 has some great features that really shine on the 6. I got the 64gb version this time as I got tired of constantly clearing photos and videos off my old 16gb 5. And I’m really glad I upped my space. One of my favorite features is the high speed camera for video. I think everyone I know did a slo-mo video of themselves doing something stupid with their lips. I moved from that to filming my dog drinking water and then saw a helicopter slow its rotors down to nearly nothing. Impressive stuff. The time lapse mode is equally impressive. And the lens seems to handle macro shots really well too. As a photographer I may be biased, but I love all the new slick stuff that’s camera/photo related on the new phones / iOS.

My 5 didn’t have thumbprint recognition, so I’m really digging that. It works really well and it’s nice to just use my thumb when buying stuff from the iTunes and App stores. I’m still finding new things that I like and very few that I don’t. I’ve had a few issues with bluetooth and wifi dropping, but that may have been cleared up with the 8.0.2 update. I’ll have to take note.

All in all, I’m really digging it.

Using NFC For The First Time

NFC.pndNFC, short for Near Field Communication, is a technological set of standards that has been around for several years. Many Android phones have come equipped with NFC chips for several years. Some retailers along with fast food outlets such as McDonald’s support NFC transactions on every credit card reader.

My first NFC-enabled phone was a Galaxy S3, but I never felt compelled to even give it a try. For some reason I made the completely erroneous assumption that if I paid with my phone via NFC it would be charged to my phone bill.

Since Apple is now supporting NFC with the introduction of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus phones, I decided I would give NFC a try on my Note 3 using Google Wallet.

I already had a Google Wallet account because I have bought apps via the Google Playstore. I have also used Google Wallet to purchase hotel rooms via online booking.

To use NFC, I installed the Google Wallet app on my phone. I authorized the app to tie to my existing Google Wallet account. I authorized the Google Wallet app to use my existing debit card by setting up a pin number inside the Google Wallet app. Next I went into the phone settings to turn on the integrated NFC radio chip.

I used NFC for the first time today at a McDonald’s in Shelby, Iowa. When it came time to pay, I simply turned the phone screen on and held the phone against the top of the McDonald’s credit card reader where there’s a sort of sideways WiFi-like symbol. It’s not even necessary to start up the app – that happens completely automatically. It popped up on my phone screen asking me to input my Google Wallet pin number, and the transaction was quickly completed. The McDonald’s order-taker and his manager were astonished!

It automatically debited my bank account. My existing bank debit card remained in my wallet.

As nearly as I can tell, the Apple Pay version of NFC differs from Google Wallet and other NFC payment schemes in that the Apple Pay app only works on NFC-enabled iPhones. The iPhone 6 finger print reader substitute’s for the pin number.

It is possible to pay using Google Wallet in two basic ways – either have it pay via a selected debit or credit card, or set up a Google Wallet cash card that you can transfer money into and out of. With the Google Wallet cash card it is possible to email money to anyone with an email address, which would require them to set up a Google Wallet account in case they don’t already have one set up.

Will I use NFC again? I certainly will. I’m constantly on the road and I find myself eating at McDonald’s and other fast food outlets far more than I’d like. So long as an NFC terminal is set up and I would be paying with my bank debit card, I will try utilizing NFC instead.

Perhaps now that Apple is putting its marketing, educational, and PR muscle behind NFC it will finally have a chance to catch on. If nothing else it’s worth it just to see the amazed reactions of the store clerks!

Read An eBook Day

Read an ebook dayJust in case you were going to miss it, Thursday is “Read an a eBook Day“, a celebration of modern storytelling. Surprisingly, it’s not sponsored by Amazon on behalf of the Kindle but rather OverDrive whose apps let you borrow library books for free. Yes, for free.

It’s probably one of the best keep secrets in the whole tablet and ereader business. Contrary to what Amazon would  have you believe, you don’t have to buy ebooks from them as there are plenty of up-to-date novels available from your local library. The downside is that transferring books isn’t that slick and you need an ereader that’s not tied in to the Amazon ecosystem. I have a Nook, but ereaders from Sony and Kobo are supported as well, and you need to load the books via a PC rather than downloading across the Net.

If you have tablet, it’s much easier as the OverDrive app is available for iOS, Android, Kindle and Windows Phone, as well as for Windows and Mac desktop platforms. Check the appropriate app store or else try OverDrive‘s web site. Once you have the app, all that’s needed is a membership of a library and you can download directly from your library to your tablet.

Instead of “Read an eBook Day”, Thursday should be “Read a Free eBook from your Local Library Day”.

Apple Discontinues Aperture

Aperture appApple has announced that it is ceasing development of its Aperture and iPhoto apps. Instead, Apple will be replacing them with its new Photos app (that was announced during its Worldwide Developers Conference).

Jim Dalrymple, at The Loop was given the following statement from Apple:

With the introduction of the new Photos app and iCloud Photo Library, enabling you to safely store all of your photos in iCloud and access them from anywhere, there will be no new development of Aperture. When Photos for OS X ships next year, users will be able to migrate their existing Aperture libraries to Photos for OS X.

The Aperture Blog notes that Apple has said they will provide an update so that Aperture will still work with OS X Yosemite. This will give Aperture users some time to make a decision about where to move their photos to.

Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear Headphones Review

Sennheiser LogoI was watching an ABBA retrospective on BBC4 last night and to my surprise, there was Benny and Bjorn wearing Sennheiser HD414s in the recording studio. Lest anyone think that I’m a complete Sennheiser nerd, the HD414s have bright yellow earpads and are very recognisable. With the trip down memory lane complete, let’s take a look and a listen to an entirely more modern set of headphones, the Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear.

Momentum On-Ear

Extending Sennheiser’s Momentum range, the On-Ear is is more compact version of the original over-ear Momentum, and is aimed squarely at the fashion-conscious, iPhone-toting music lover. Although lighter and small, the On-Ear retains much of the luxury and audio quality of its bigger brother but with smaller cups that rest on the ears rather than enclosing them completely.

It’s the attention to detail on the headphones that really stands out – the adjustment, the fixings, the stitching, the soft Alacantara material on the headband and ear cups. The Momentums are a pleasure to handle, hold and wear. I found them comfortable but the trick to extended listening was to keep the cups slightly forward. Too far back and my ears started to get sore.

Ear AdjustmentScrewsStitchingEar Cups

Audio-wise, the Momentum On-Ears are everything that you’d expect from headphones in this price range. Excellent definition and clarity, with musical subtleties coming through beautifully. As might be expected, on lower bit-rate MP3s the On-Ears easily showed up the limitations of the format, while with higher bit-rates, the sound filled out nicely revealing the detail. Plugged into an amp (a Yamaha DSP-AX763) with a CD player source (a Technics SL-PG580A) , the music was incredibly good. I could really listen to the tracks rather than just hear them. It’s hard to get over the audio experience in words, but let’s just say I’m impressed.

ConnectorIncluded in the box with the headphones is a semi-rigid case, a soft carrying bag and two leads. One has a standard 3.5″mm stereo jack for connecting into digital music players or amps, but the other lead has an in-line iRemote for use with Apple products such as the iPhone. The leads have a neat little moulding on the headphone-end that secures the connector into the headset so it doesn’t come out unintentionally.

The Momentum On-Ears come in a range of seven colours – high-gloss black, classic brown, red, ivory, blue, green and pink. There’s a new Samba edition to tie in with World Cup in Brazil this summer which has yellow cups, bringing us back to the original 414s.

Priced at £169.99, these aren’t pocket money, but they are lovely headphones. As with all things hi-fi, there will always be better and more expensive headphones but the Momentum On-Ears seem to occupy a good spot, balancing cost and audio quality. Try them out for yourself.

Thanks to Sennheiser for the loan of the Momentum On-Ears.

Libratone Zipp Wireless Speaker Review

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.

iPadlock

iPadlockiPad Air Frustrations

My current iPad Air is a frustrating device. It has so much obvious potential, but its functionality is deliberately being hamstrung by Apple itself.

There are certain tasks I’d like to accomplish with the aid of my iPad Air in conjunction with my other devices that seem difficult or impossible because of Apple-imposed restrictions. Most of the time, I would like to be able to easily move my files to and from the iPad for processing.

Apple seems to still be trying to position the iPad primarily as an iTunes storefront complete with DRM, thus hobbling the iPad’s potential as a real-world productivity device.

Unless I want to jailbreak it so I can do what I want to with it, I’m ending up using it mostly as a very expensive streaming video player. Jailbreaking really isn’t a good answer either. Software apps are continually being updated, which ultimately will interfere with the jailbreak.

The restrictive, claustrophobic nature of iOS is becoming ever more apparent, especially since having moved to a Galaxy Note 3. I am finding that I’m doing ever-more real-world work with the phone that I’d like to be able to do on the iPad Air’s larger screen.

Why does Apple have to be so frustrating? My first years with Apple computers and moving away from Windows was a very positive experience. Apple computers seemed worth the premium price because everything just worked with minimal frustrations.

At this point it seems like I’m constantly running into locked doors.

ReSound LiNX Hearing Aid at The Gadget Show

Danish firm ReSound launched their iPhone-connected hearing aid, LiNX, at the Gadget Show. The world’s first “Made for iPhone” hearing aid uses both the technology and usability features of the Apple iPhone to bring hearing aids to a generation of users who expect more from their technology than the current generation of aids.

The hearing aid itself is discrete and fits neatly over the ear and pairs with the iPhone much like any other Bluetooth headset.

ReSound LiNXReSound LiNX In-Ear

Once this is done, the benefits of having a smartphone-connected hearing aid become apparent. Starting with the obvious, phone calls can be re-directed from the phone to hearing aid, again just like a Bluetooth headset. Similarly, audio from music and video apps will play through the hearing aid, giving the wearing a much better experience than they’re used to.

Moving on, an iPhone (or iPad) app lets the amplification level be adjusted from the iPhone without fiddling around the ear. Who thinks anything of anyone using their smartphone in a public place now? The frequency response can be adjusted too, suiting both the wearer and the environment that they find themselves in, whether at in the quiet at home or a noisy restaurant. Background noise can be filtered out and speech enhanced.

ReSound LiNX

This is where it starts to get really clever. By using GPS and geo-fencing to locate the user, previously saved settings can be automatically selected based on location. For example, if the wearer frequently goes to a local bar, the GPS location and hearing aid settings are saved so that the next time the wearer goes to the bar, the settings are reused.

ReSound LiNX app

David from GN ReSound takes me through the features of the ReSound LiNX in more detail. After the interview I had an “ears-on” trial of the LiNX and it was impressive with a well-designed app. I’m not hearing-impaired so can’t comment on the audio enhancing features, but I could hear the effects of the different frequency responses.