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


Philips Hue Android Apps

Posted by Andrew at 6:14 PM on December 28, 2013

Hue Personal Wireless LightingLast week, I had a first look at the Hue “Personal Wireless Lighting” kit from Philips. As I mentioned in the review, Philips has opened up the lighting system to developers via an API and this week, I’ll take a look at some of the apps available, both from 3rd party developers. As you’d expect, they run the gamut from “could do with more work” all the way through to “brilliant” but broadly fall into two categories, firstly those that are primarily concerned with setting the colour of the lights, and secondly those that do more interesting things. This review covers the apps that are currently available from Google Play and there are many similar apps available for iOS.

Hue Limited Edition, Colorful, Light Control, Speedy Hue and LampShade are all variants on the “set the colour of the lights”. All offer grouping of lamps into sets and the saving of colour combinations into favourites or presets. Here are a few screenshots, showing the main screens from each. As you’ll see, they pretty much do the same thing in different ways.

Hue Limited Edition

Hue Limited Edition

Colorful

Colorful

Speedy Hue

Speedy Hue

LampShade

LampShade

Light Control

Light Control

All worked as advertised, but I found that in this instance, less was often more. If I wanted to run an app with favourites or presets, I tended to use the Philips Hue app to set all the lights at once. However to quickly set the colour of a single light, I used Hue Limited Edition, rather than anything else. Light Control came a close second and Speedy Hue gets an honourable mention for the inclusion of a scheduler which will turn the lights on and off at specified times.

Speaking of alarms, Hue Alarm Clock takes waking up to the next level. Instead of an incessant beeping, Alarm Clock gently fades in a colour of your choice to wake you from your slumber. The screenshot is from the limited free version, not the paid version which has more options.

Hue Alarm Clock

There are two apps which purport to support voice recognition, and like “Star Trek”, you too can walk into a room and say, “Lights!” and the illumination comes up. Hue Talk takes an almost canned approach to the voice recognition with the user able to predefine the voice commands for  around 20 features, from turning all the lights on, turning the lights up and down, and changing the colour. The suggested voice commands are memorable phrases, such as “Yellow Submarine” and “Purple Rain” turning the lights the respective colours. You can change the commands to whatever you prefer so there’s no real intelligence here but it works well.

Hue Talk

On the other hand, SpeechHue, looks like it supports natural language but I could never get the app to work in the way that I imagined it should work. Some of the comments in the Google Play store say that it’s good once you work it out. Sorry, if I need to work out how the app works, it’s failed. Zero stars.

SpeechHue

LampShade and Colorful (after paid upgrades) work with NFC to set the lights. In theory, each room could have an NFC tag (or tags) such that when the tag is swiped by the smartphone, the app sets the lights just for that room or mood. It’s a neat idea but I wasn’t able to test the NFC features as I don’t have any NFC tags. I’ve ordered so I may report back later.

I’ve been saving the best until last and we come to apps from IJS Design who make the best Hue apps on Android bar none. Currently, there are four IJS apps, of which three – Christmas, Halloween and Fireworks – link holidays into Hue. So for the Christmas app, which includes New Year too, you get sound effects linked into Hue colour changes and effects. Think of it as a soundboard with lights. The apps also have moods which are longer music pieces with light effects and are more atmospheric, which are especially good when the sound is passed through a hifi.

Hue Christmas

Huey New Year

And finally, IJS Design’s Hue Disco is the single best Hue app on the market (IMHO). Simply, you play music on your hifi, place your smartphone or tablet nearby and Hue Disco changes the colour of the Hue lights in time to the track. There’s loads of adjustment possible, including microphone sensitivity, transition speed, brightness, colour temperature and strobe effects. For something more subtle, there’s Mood Control which cycles the lights on themed colours, such as sunrise or Christmas. All-in-all, totally brilliant and money well spent.

Hue Disco

A screenshot can’t show what it’s like in action, so here’s a video showing Hue Disco in action. You really can have a disco in your front room and it’s fantastic when paired with a music service like Spotify. I’ve been playing Christmas tracks non-stop.

That summarises the state of the Android Hue app space which appears to be growing healthily and similar apps are available for Apple devices. For me, the keeper apps are Hue Limited Edition and Hue Disco with Hue Talk close behind needing a bit of polishing. Have fun.

Philips Hue Personal Wireless Lighting Review

Posted by Andrew at 12:51 AM on December 16, 2013

Kevin Ashton coined the phrase “The Internet of Things” back in 1999, but a decade later most of the on-line gadgets in my house are still recognisable as being technology. My fridge is still a fridge, my front door still needs a key and my house doesn’t talk to me.

That was the situation until a couple of weeks when I received a Philips Hue “Personal Wireless Lighting” kit which lets me control the colour of light bulbs from my smartphone, both in the house and from outside across the internet. That’s the Internet of Things.

I can imagine that a number of GNC readers are going, “Huh? Why would I want to control the colour of my lightbulbs from my smartphone?” Until you see in action, you can’t believe how much fun and how cool it really is. Not only can you turn your house lights on as you drive up the road, you can co-ordinate the lighting with your mood or your decor. Want a Christmassy green and red? Not a problem. We’ll see exactly how it works a little later on.

So let’s take a quick look at what’s in the box of Philips Hue in more detail.

Philips Hue Box Exterior

Opening it up reveals two of the three main components, the wireless bridge and the bulbs themselves.

Philips Vue Interior

The bridge connects to your network via an ethernet cable and communicates with the light bulbs using Zigbee.

Hue Bridge

The bulbs are standard ES bulbs and there are GU10 and GR30 (SES) variants available as well. There doesn’t seem to be any bayonet cap versions (BC) so if you only have BC light fittings you might have to get some converters.

Hue Light Bulb

Setting up the system is very easy. Screw the bulbs into the lights. Connect the Hue bridge to the network with the ethernet cable and plug in the power adaptor. Load the Hue app onto your Android or iOS smartphone or tablet. Job done. It’s that straightforward. The first time the app runs, it looks for the Hue bridge on the network and once it’s found, you authorise the app to access Hue by pressing the button in the middle of the bridge. It’s a layer of security that stops unauthorised people or apps from accessing the Hue.

The Hue app lets you control all the lights connected to your bridge mainly via “scenes” which act as presets for each light’s colour settings. Here’s the main screen. Each mini photograph is a preset for a number of lights and it can be just one or all three.

Main Screen

Typically the settings are based on colours picked out from the picture associated with the scene. The screenshot below shows that lamp 1 will be orange and lamp 2 will be magenta.

Colour Scenes

It’s all a bit abstract until you see it in action, so here’s a short video of my controlling one lamp using a series of the scenes to run through some colour changes. It was filmed with my smartphone, so don’t expect too much! Remember too, that this is just one light  and try to imagine all three lights working together to colour a single room.

Philips have opened up Hue to developers and are steadily building an ecosystem around both their products and other apps developed by third parties. If you are already have a Philips TV with Ambilight, Hue can further enhance the experience with additional colour lighting. Light strips and Philip’s Living Colors Bloom can take the lighting effects beyond lights and lamps.

There’s a solid community behind Hue with people contributing their own scenes and I’ll be taking a look at some of the 3rd party apps in a follow up post next week, along with a further look at the main Hue app.

Philips Hue is available from the Apple Store and the starter kit used here costs a little under £180, which isn’t cheap, but compared with the costs of some of the custom solutions in this space, it’s a bargain. Note that although it’s sold through the Apple Store, it works with both iOS and Android devices.

Finally, Philips are running a Facebook competition to come up with inspirational ways of using Hue, if you want to win some Hue goodies.

Thanks to Philips for the loan of the Hue starter kit.

Pandora brings alarm feature to iOS app

Posted by Alan at 11:02 AM on December 9, 2013

pandora logoThere’s no shortage of music apps to choose from for both iOS and Android customers. While the former is synonyms with iTunes, that is by no means what you have to use. In fact there are countless alternatives, including personalized radio service Pandora, which today has unveiled a nice little update for Apple customers.

The update brings a new alarm feature that allows you to awaken to your music of choice. “When the alarm goes off, your music will begin to play with album art scrolling in the background. At this point, you can choose to snooze, keep listening to your music or turn off the alarm simply by tapping the song title or artist name on your phone screen”, Mike Grishaver of Pandora explains.

Snooze can be set for 5, 10, 15 or 20 minutes and when the option is pushed your music will pause for that pre-defined period. The feature can also be enabled by simply picking up your device and giving it a shake — in case your eyes aren’t open enough to see the button.

For now this new update is only available on iOS, but Pandora promises that it’s hard at work to bring this functionality to Android customers as soon as possible.

BlueFlame Named CES Award Honoree

Posted by JenThorpe at 3:39 PM on November 24, 2013

BlueFlame logoBlueFlame has been chosen as an International CES Innovation 2014 Design and Engineering Awards Honoree. It is for their product called The Conductor that was recently launched. It offers you a new way to charge your smartphone.

The Conductor can power up your iPhone 5 very quickly via its magnetic charging case and sleek wall plate. Put the wall plate into a closet outlet and stick your iPhone to its magnetic charger. That’s all you need to do! You can also move The Conductor from one room to another, or take it with you as while traveling.

One obvious advantage of The Conductor is that it is cordless. It avoids the problem people face when they travel and have to untangle a cord before they can charge their phone. Vice President of Product Development at BlueFlame, Craig Small, had this to say:

“We spent a lot of time looking at what was missing from cell phone chargers and created The Conductor as a smart and simple alternative charging solution for the busy mobile device user. The Conductor represents the next level of hands-free, wire-free device charging. It is an honor to see our design receive this recognition from the CES Innovations committee.”

You can check out The Conductor from BlueFlame at the 2014 International CES. It will be on display in The Venetian. The Conductor will also be displayed at CES Unveiled: The Official Media Event of the International CES on Sunday, January 5, 2014, in the South Seas Ballroom C at Mandalay Bay.

Podcast From an iPad

Posted by tomwiles at 12:35 PM on November 19, 2013

Podcasting has long been a multistep process for the majority of podcasters. There have been a few pieces of software written over the years that attempt to bring all of the podcasting tasks into single pieces of software, with varying results.

Most podcasters have a physical mixer to plug their mic(s) into, an application that records audio and can spit out an MP3 file, some way of editing the ID3 tags, an FTP program to upload the file to their server, and then post it to the back end web interface of a blog such as WordPress to generate their podcast RSS feed. None of these steps are really that hard, but because they are broken up they can be quite time-consuming. It reminds me of people who write paper checks to pay their bills each month and then send them off in the snail mail. The excuse is that it doesn’t take much time. The reality is that writing out checks to pay bills, putting them into the envelopes, making sure the envelopes are properly stamped and finally mailing them at the Post Office is quite time-consuming.

On the Mac I use a now-defunct podcasting application called “Ubercaster” that stopped being developed shortly after OS/X Lion came out. Ubercaster, which runs really well on non-updated Snow Leopard, can record audio with real-time audio effects, play interactive audio, record from Skype or other audio chat applications, edit and even upload via FTP. There is no other OS/X application I have found that can do all of these things the way Ubercaster can. Therefore my Macs will remain forever on Snow Leopard since Ubercaster will not run on newer versions of OS/X.

For some time now I’ve been periodically attempting to podcast from mobile devices, such as an iPad, a Nexus 7, and my Galaxy S3. While it is possible to record, edit and post from these devices, the process has been convoluted and more difficult than it needs to be. Also, the audio quality has been compromised.

I recently came up with a hardware and software combination that enables extremly high quality, no-compromise recordings on an iPad using a high-quality microphone like my Heil PR-40 that has an XLR connector. The piece of hardware is an iRig Pre and sells on Amazon for around $40 dollars. The iRig Pre (not to be confused with numerous other iRig models that offer other functions) runs on a 9-volt battery and can work with either dynamic microphones or microphones that require phantom power. The iRig Pre has a variable input gain that allows you to amplify its output signal so you can have more than adequate output volume. The iRig pre output plugs into a standard headset/microphone input jack on the iPad or even a smartphone such as the Samsung Galaxy S3. The audio quality coming out of the iRig Pre that records onto my iPad is excellent.

The iPad software app that I came up with to record podcasts with is called Bossjock Studio, a universal app for sale in the iOS App Store. It has the ability to load multiple carts, enabling interactive audio. It can render MP3 files. It works with many other apps including Dropbox. Bossjock even has built-in FTP functionality.

Bossjock’s audio quality is absolutely top-notch.

There is only one downside to Bossjock Studio — the MP3 file rendering process is slow. I contacted the developer about this and they say it renders slowly on the iPad because the MP3 rendering process cannot use the GPU and must use the regular processor. On an iPad 2 exporting to an MP3 file is pretty much real time. An hour long file will take about an hour to export to MP3.

However, the good news is on a new iPad Air the MP3 rendering time seems to be greatly sped up, likely due to the processing speed of the new A7 chip versus the A5 chip in the iPad 2. An hour long recording will render to an MP3 file on an iPad Air in about 15 minutes or so. That’s still slow compared to a tradtional computer, but easier to live with than real-time rendering on the slower A5 processor.

Getting a complex interactive MP3 file recorded and uploaded to the server is most of the battle. This leaves only the step of posting the file to a blog such as WordPress. If one is making the blog post via logging in to the backend of WordPress through a browser, posts can be made, but the process is way more clunky than it needs to be. Posting to WordPress through a touchscreen via a broswer is a rather torturous process. If only I could attach a mouse to my iPad… Sorry, not allowed by Apple.

So on the rare occasions I find myself going to a motel room, I leave the laptop behind in favor of increasingly-capable mobile devices that require only a fraction of the space. The process is much easier and more steamlined than it was, but still has some needlessly clunky aspects to it.

 

A Microsoft Future

Posted by Andrew at 5:56 PM on November 14, 2013

Microsoft Windows 8Last week’s “Microsoft Fantasy” here on GNC suggested that Microsoft was in danger of fading into irrelevance; that it should retreat to servers and gaming; that it should re-orient its mobile strategy around Android. I suggest that Microsoft is now very well positioned to offer far more than its competitors. And to negate any ad hominem attacks, I’m no Microsoft fanboy – I’ve a Linux desktop, Android tablet, Nexus smartphone and a Chromebook – but I can see a better strategy in Microsoft than defeat and retreat.

There are three players in the OS space – Microsoft with Windows, Google with Android and Apple with iOS. Each of these pairings has strengths and weaknesses. Microsoft is strong in servers, PCs and gaming. Google is good in mobile. Apple’s strength lies in PCs, entertainment and mobile. Obviously there are other players, such as Sony who are strong in gaming, but they can be discounted without OS aspirations.

Microsoft is a large organisation. It can be slow to respond and doesn’t always identify and embrace future technologies as fast as it should. The internet and Internet Explorer is a pretty good example. Other times, it moves into new markets, starting slowly and building up: look at the Xbox – it’s the market-leader. Certainly Microsoft has never been strong in the smartphone market being overshadowed previously by Blackberry and Palm, but it has a track record of trying tablet-type devices. Anyone remember Windows XP Tablet Edition? No, you probably don’t, but it existed.

But let’s think about how Microsoft’s competitors can realistically move in on their turf. For all the rise of BYOD, most large organisations use Windows on the desktop, Exchange for email, Ms Server on the tin. Google is trying hard to offer software as service in the cloud but there’s still lots of nervousness about the cloud and the leaks about US snooping aren’t going to help. Apple isn’t big in business by any stretch of the imagination and this is unlikely change. Both Apple and Google are into entertainment but neither have expressed much interest in hardcore gaming. It’s certainly not impossible for a hot Android or iOS console to come out but for now I think we can discount that.

Accepting then that Microsoft is reasonably unassailable (without being complacent) in gaming or business, let’s look at mobile and tablets in particular. Both Apple’s iPad and Android-based tablets are great devices, but even the most ardent fan will admit that tablets are generally best for consumption rather than production – it’s watching videos, surfing the web, listening to music. For creation, most people return to the keyboard and mouse on a desktop or laptop. Looking at business, while opportunities exist for tablets in business without a doubt, the bread and butter is still going to orient around Word and Excel.

The trend to mobile has been going on for years: from the desktop to the laptop to the tablet. But it’s extension to new devices, not extinction of the old. When laptops came out, did all the desktops go away? No. And it will be no different with tablets. We can see the rebalancing in the slow down of PC sales but this is entirely to be expected.

And this is Microsoft’s killer advantage – a potentially seamless suite of devices and form-factors from servers, through desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Business in particular want to use what they have already invested in – ActiveDirectory, Group Policies, Sharepoint. Microsoft and its partners are responding to this with devices that offer both a touch interface via the Modern UI and a traditional desktop for legacy applications where a keyboard and mouse is needed. The bottom line is that there’s no longer any need to shoehorn in Apple or Android onto the infrastructure at extra cost.

But what about the consumers? They’re not businesses, they’ve no investment, they’re not going to be swayed by ActiveDirectory concerns. They want apps! Absolutely, but let’s be honest about apps – most key apps and popular games are available across all platforms, and the relative low cost of apps means that it is easier to jump ship to a different OS.  Windows 8 isn’t perfect, but I would lay good money that if a 7″ Windows-based tablet was available for Nexus 7 money, they’d sell shed-loads. A similar argument follows for smartphones and Windows Phone has actually been doing quite well recently with solid gains according a recent IDC survey.

Microsoft is ahead of the game in recognising that the future is not a tablet future, but a touch future, and building touch into the core of Windows is a winner. For me, all Microsoft needs to do it get the prices down, tweak the usability of Windows 8 and continue with the “Windows Everywhere” advertising. It’s a Microsoft future.

iPhone 5S Battery Problem – Apple is Replacing Certain iPhone 5S Models

Posted by J Powers at 9:08 AM on October 30, 2013
iPhone 5S

iPhone 5S

Apparently, a manufacturing issue has come to the point that Apple is proactively replacing certain iPhone 5S models.

The issue causes the battery to drain and not recharge fast enough. Although Apple is not saying the actual problem, they assure it’s not a battery issue.  It’s a good summation this issue could cause the phone to burn out or even become a fire hazzard.

“We recently discovered a manufacturing issue affecting a very limited number of iPhone 5S devices that could cause the battery to take longer to charge or result in reduced battery life,” Apple spokesperson Teresa Brewer told the New York Times. “We are reaching out to customers with affected phones and will provide them with a replacement phone.”

Apple will be contacting those with iPhones that meet the qualification – (i.e. serial number range). This is expected to be a few thousand units. Since Apple has sold over 9 million handsets, this could be (at worst) 1 in 100 handset issue. In the meantime, if you are seeing battery charging issues with your new iPhone, contact Apple support to report the problem so Apple doesn’t overlook your device.

RebelMouse Launches its iPhone App

Posted by JenThorpe at 6:25 PM on October 23, 2013

RebelMouse LogoIt was only a matter of time. About a month ago, RebelMouse launched its very first app. It was specifically for Android. At the time of the announcement, I suspected that RebelMouse was also working on the creation of an iOS app.

This time, my suspicions were correct. RebelMouse has now released its iPhone app. You can get it at the App Store for free.

The purpose of the app (either for iPhone or Android) is to make it easier for people who use RebelMouse to post stuff to it while they are away from their desktop computers. It gives you a more convenient way to post directly to your RebelMouse while you are out attending an event. The app is not replacing way you currently use RebelMouse. It just gives you more options on how and when to use it.

What can you do with the RebelMouse iPhone app? You can share or repost your favorite tweets, videos and photos. You can use the app to create a beautiful blog post from any photo, link, or page. The app can also be used to help you find interesting content on RebelMouse that was posted by other RebelMouse users in one stream that is easy to view.

iPhone Speed Test Comparison with Every Version of iPhone

Posted by J Powers at 7:41 AM on September 30, 2013


Do you wonder how the iPhone 5S compares to the first version? Maybe you just want to compare between 5S and 5 or 4S to see if you really want to upgrade. If you don’t have every iPhone to test your theories out on, then check out this video by Everything Apple Pro.

This YouTube video tries to show you how fast the different iPhones react. The 5S, 5C, 5, 4S and 4 all with iOS7 and the 3GS, 3G and 2G (EDGE) with their highest level of iOS software.

Things We Learned from this iPhone Speed Test

  • Some cases, the 2G out-performed the newer models (it turns off the fastest, for sure).
  • 5S shows its lightning speed (when connected to Wifi)
  • You can see the size progression from each model
  • Unlocking all of them at once is pretty sweet!

It also shows that unless you want the fingerprint sensor and M7 co-processor functionality or if you want a colorful iPhone and the dynamic background of iOS7, then upgrading from the 5 or 4S might not be necessary at this time.

The Apple M7 Co-Processor: What it Is, What it Does

Posted by J Powers at 11:14 AM on September 11, 2013

Apple-M7Last time I had to deal with co-processors was in the 90′s when I put in a 386SX/DX combo into a PC. Technically, co-processors are in your computer still – just as one chip. However, Apple has separated the processors once again with the iPhone 5S. The A7 and the M7 processor.

The A7 processor will be the primary processing unit for your iPhone. A chip that brings the smartphone to 64-bit processing, the A7 will be able to give you some great gameplay while managing your apps and even using the muli-task features of iOS7.

The M7 is going to handle the accelerometer, gyroscope and compass information. This instantly turns your phone more into a pedometer, heart-rate monitor, location tracker and more.

The M7 runs at lower power so it doesn’t drain your battery when you are on a walk or run. It can also free up CPU time from the A7 chip so location-based apps work a little better.

Expect the healthcare industry to utilize this chip as they put out more apps that can monitor your health. Companies like Fitbit and Nike Fuelband can utilize this chip for their exercise apps. If an iWatch is in the works, it could possibly have monitors that would report straight to the M7. As for location tracking, the M7 will be able to geo-tag photos and video better.

Ultimately, with this co-processor, Apple has been able to tout a 40x difference in speed and 56x graphics difference from the original iPhone. It even is close to doubling the speed of a iPhone5 (from the chart Apple provided at the event).

The 5S breaks some new boundaries. The M7 chip looks to give location tracking and healthcare apps the ability to build strong programs that help in your everyday life. If it all comes together right, the iPhone 5S could be a major shift in the mobile computing market.