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

Review of Spider + App by Brainium Studios

Posted by JenThorpe at 1:32 AM on September 3, 2012

Lately, I’ve become a bit nostalgic for some aspects of what computers were like in the early days of the internet. Remember when PCs used to come with one, simple, solitaire game installed? I spent countless hours playing with the virtual cards on my computer even though I had a perfectly good deck of real cards that I could have been using. There was something relaxing about playing solitaire on my computer, and it was nice to not have to put away the cards when I was finished.

Today, many of the “time-waster” games have gotten rather complex. I’ve grown tired of the games that require you to get online, log into Facebook, and hope that your friends will send you enough “virtual stuff” to complete the quest, build something, or advance in the game. It started to feel very tedious.

Recently, I asked my friends to suggest an easy, “time-waster” game that did not require me to log into Facebook every time I wanted to play it. The game that got the most mentions was Spider Solitaire. I now use a Mac, and a brief search of the App Store revealed a game called Spider + that was created by Brainium Studios.

The app costs $1.99 on the Mac App Store. The version for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad requires iOS 4.0 or later, and is free. The Android version cost $0.99. You can find a quick link to whichever version works best for you through the Brainium Studios website.

I am really enjoying this app! The cards make a flicking sound as they are placed. If you move a group of cards from one row to another, it makes a soft, “shh” sound. The game is very relaxing! You can customize the design that appears on the back of the cards, and the background the cards sit on, by choosing from a few different designs, or by selecting an image from your computer.

The game keeps track of how long it took you to win in the last game you played, and your best (and fastest) time completing the game. It also shows you how many moves it took for to you to complete the last game, what score you earned in that game, and a total of all your scores. The cards shuffle quickly, and I haven’t had any glitches or bugs at all. I highly recommend this game to those of you who long for the days when you could easily spend a couple of minutes playing with virtual cards.

Apple, Samsung and a Third Way for Patents

Posted by Andrew at 6:00 AM on August 26, 2012

Samsung LogoWhen I heard the verdict on the Apple v. Samsung case, I was angry. Angry with Samsung for copying, angry with Apple for suing, angry with jurors for naivety, angry with the legal system for letting itself be a pawn. Over the weekend, I’ve mellowed a little but I’m still concerned about the impact it will have on consumers.

Apple is not a great first inventor. It didn’t invent the PC, the GUI, the digital music player, the smartphone or the tablet: I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to educate themselves as to who did. Apple is great at design, marketing, timing and extracting value from suppliers, partners and customers. Absolutely no doubts there and they have the bank balance to prove it.

Android LogoThe word on the street was that Apple was looking for a $30 licensing fee to cover the use of the patents. As a consumer, I think that’s a rip off when compared to the overall price of the device. None of those patents are intrinsic to the device and I would happily have a phone or tablet that doesn’t have those features. Multitouch and pinch-to-zoom is over-rated generally, and as for the bounce-back, it’s a waste of CPU cycles.

Obviously there are two possible outcomes from an Android perspective. Either the patents are circumvented and Android users get an arguably lesser experience or the manufacturers stump up the licensing fees.

But there is a third way…Wouldn’t it be great if, as an Android consumer, one could choose whether to avail of certain patents or not? You could accept the Apple licensing and pay the extra $30 or else decline and get the non-infringing version. How brilliant would that be and it would let the market decide which patents are valuable and which aren’t.

Of course, the chances of it happening are slim but remember Google and Samsung, you read it here first.

Activision Pitfall Updated and Released for iOS

Posted by Alan at 9:22 AM on August 9, 2012

Some of you may know the game Pitfall thanks to it being kept alive through computer emulators, and a few of you may even remember playing it on your Atari game console.  Now Activision has revived the classic with a remake for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch devices.

The game has been redesigned for modern mobile devices, so don’t expect any nostalgic 8 bit graphics here.  The work was done by Blast Furnace, a new Activision UK game studio.  Gordon Hall, head of the studio, said, “The team has kept the elements that made the original so much fun to play, and merged them with a cool, retro HD art style, updated controls and play mechanics to keep both old-school fans and newcomers happy.”

The new Pitfall coincides, not by accident, with the 30 year anniversary of the original Atari version from 1982.  An Android version is also planned, but no release date has yet been scheduled.

FiiO E6 Headphone Amplifier Review

Posted by Andrew at 9:36 PM on June 24, 2012

The FiiO E6 is small headphone amplifier designed to improve the listening experience from personal music players and smartphones. With a couple of equalisation settings, the E6 can enhance the bass range to counteract the high-frequency tendencies of digital compression.

FiiO E6 in Retail Packaging

In the box, there’s the E6 itself, two clips for attaching the E6 to clothing, a USB charging cable and two stereo 3.5 mm cables, 12 cm and 75 cm. For hooking up iDevices, an Apple connector-to-3.5 mm jack is available to buy. There’s also a small instruction manual.

FiiO E6 Contents

The E6 is 40 x 40 x 9 mm, approximately the size of an Apple Nano. The main features are a mini-USB port for charging, two 3.5 mm stereo sockets (one in, one out), a volume rocker and an on/off slider. There’s a small LED on one side, but until the E6 is powered up, you might mistake it for a reset hole.

The E6 is quite light as the case is plastic. Coincidentally, the finish was a good match for from my Sansa  player and could easily be mistaken as a complementary accessory, but clearly that feature depends on your particular mp3 player!

Sliding up the on/off switch turns the E6 on, with a blue LED illuminating the silver corner. The volume rocker switch turns the volume up and down and as this is an amplifier, it’s possible to exceed the volume of the original device, so mind your ears. The battery life is given as around 10 hours which would be in line with my experience of the E6.

On the back, there’s a small pinhole LED showing the equalisation – off, red, blue and lilac. Each further upwards push of the on/off switch steps through to next setting. According to the manual, the four settings are equalisation off, 3 dB boost, 6 dB boost and -3 dB boost, i.e. reduction, but the effects are more subtle than simply amping up or amping down.

Generally, the equalisation boosted the bass while reducing the treble and while my personal preference was for the first setting, both were very acceptable. The equalisation was done well, in that while the balance of frequencies was being adjusted, the clarity was still there. Although reduced in significance, the higher frequencies weren’t muddied and the overall impression was of greater warmth.

A small amount of background hiss was only noticeable between tracks when using the earbuds in quiet surroundings. When using over-the-ear headphones, it couldn’t be detected.

Currently priced at £18.99 from Advanced MP3 Players, the E6 is an inexpensive personal amplifier. It might have a budget price but the E6 punches above its weight, counteracting the tinniness of digitally compressed sound with depth and feeling.

Most of testing was carried out with Sennheiser CX-300 earbuds, Sennheiser eH1430 headphones and a Sansa e250 mp3 player.

Thanks to Advanced MP3 Players for the loan of the E6.

RSS Talk IOS App

Posted by tomwiles at 2:48 PM on June 19, 2012

I was talking to a friend early this morning about what I’d like to see in an RSS reader app. As a truck driver, I’ve got endless listening hours. I want an RSS reader app that can use text-to-speech and read articles to me in a non-stop fashion.

To my surprise, my friend told me that such an app already exists in the iTunes App Store. It’s called RSS Talk. It comes pre-populated with a variety of different mainstream RSS feeds, in addition to the ability to manually add feeds of the user’s choosing. RSS Talk sells for $1.99 and has very positive user comments. I immediately downloaded the app and gave it a try. It really does work as advertised! The female voice is very clear and natural. It does a great job of just reading the article and completely avoids reading non-article elements that most text-to-speech schemes end up reading such as formatting tags.

This is one of those rare apps that brings the best elements of hardware and software together in an easy-to-use app form. Once it is started playing there’s no need for human intervention. It makes the perfect reading companion, enabling me to listen to all of those RSS feed articles I’ve been subscribed to for years but rarely have time to actually read.

This app is a buy!


Amazon Cloud Player App Finally Available for iOS

Posted by Alan at 9:10 AM on June 12, 2012

Amazon Cloud Player has been available for Android devices since it launched, but today Amazon announced that the music app is now available for iPad and iPhone.  That’s great news for iOS owners, especially given that the other big player in this field, Google Music, is also not available for Apple’s mobile platform.

Amazon Cloud Player offers 5 GB of free storage for your MP3′s.  Customers can not only store the music they purchase through the Amazon MP3 Store, but also upload their existing music to the service.  Additional storage is available at tiered rates, which are pretty reasonably priced.  New users can sign up for the service over at Amazon.  The app is available now through the iTunes Store.  The app is free for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch and requires iOS 4.3 or higher.  Amazon Cloud Player is also available for Android and on the web.

iPhone and iPod touch

IDAPT i1 Eco Universal Charger Review

Posted by Andrew at 2:46 PM on May 14, 2012

The Idapt i1 Eco is the portable member of Idapt’s family of universal chargers: by using the same interchangeable tips as the dual and triple versions, the usefulness of the system is extended from the home to the car and travel.

Idapt i1 Eco Universal Charger

If you aren’t familiar with Idapt, their system offers a wide selection of charging tips that are snapped into a charging station which has anything from one (i1 Eco) to three (i4) changeable charging points. The benefit is that the charging station can be uniquely customised to your mobile device usage. For example, your phone might have a micro-USB connector, your iPod has an Apple connector and your Nintendo DSi has its own connector. By using the relevant tips, all three devices can be charged at once. Geek News Central reviewed the Idapt i4 earlier in the year.

Within this context, let’s take a look at the i1 Eco. Out of the box, you get a the i1 unit itself, a mains power connector, a USB power connector, a car USB adaptor and three charging tips – mini-USB, micro-USB and Apple.

Idapt Charging Tips

The main unit takes only one of these at a time, but there’s an additional full-size USB port on the side, so two devices can be charged simultaneously.

The i1 Eco can be powered either from the mains or from a USB power source: the cables interchange at the lime green coloured multi-connector. As you can see from the picture below, these are standard connector types, namely micro-USB and IEC “shotgun”.

The power transformer is incorporated into the body of the Eco 1 so there’s no “wall wart”, only an ordinary plug on the end of the cable. The advantage of this will become clear shortly and when buying the i1 Eco, UK, USA or Euro mains plugs can be specified.

Power cable

At the other end of the Eco 1 is the socket for the charging tips. These pop in and out and are exactly the same as the ones used in the tabletop models, which is handy if you have invested in a range of tips.

Tip Socket Tip Inserted

The USB socket on the side is used to charge a second device via a cable, which is best used for tablets or other larger devices which can be unwieldy to connect on the end of the i1 Eco.

i1 Side Shot

As might be guessed from the name, it’s intended to be a green charger. The packaging is all recycled cardboard and the body of the i1 Eco is made from recycled plastic. Even more unusual is the presence of a power button on the side of the i1 Eco, which is there to help save energy.

Most consumer electronics chargers don’t have an on-off switch and most gang extension sockets don’t have on-off switches either, which means that to fully turn off a charger, it has to be pulled out of the socket, which is pretty inconvenient and most of us don’t bother. The chargers continue to consume power even when there’s no device being charged and this power is completely wasted.

The i1 Eco eliminates this problem by having an on-off switch and by automatically powering off when the recharging gadgets are fully charged. This is a great feature and as a result, no power is wasted when gadgets are connected but fully charged and the Eco 1 can be safely plugged in all the time.

Overall, it’s all very clever, useful and green to boot!

Are there any downsides? There are a couple but nothing too serious. First of all, the USB car adaptor that goes in the cigarette lighter socket is a bit flimsy and lets the overall package down. For comparison, the Griffin PowerJolt is a far better adaptor.

Secondly, the auto-power off feature is sometimes a bit over-enthusiastic. On occasion I’d connect up my tablet (Motorola Xoom 2 ME) to charge and I’d come back later to find that the i1 Eco had switched off while the tablet was still only part charged. Other times it worked perfectly with the tablet and I had no problems with other devices (Bluetooth headset, mp3 player, ereader). To be fair, the included literature does mention that some smartphones can be incompatible with this feature so I guess this includes tablets too.

Update: Idapt contacted me to say that with troublesome devices, simply hold the on-off button down for about a second when turning the charger on and this reduces the auto-off sensitivity. I carried out some further testing of the i1 Eco with the tablet and can confirm that this solution works so problem solved. Thanks, Idapt.

The i1 Eco is a clever and flexible portable charging solution that will particularly appeal to those who have already bought into the Idapt way and have a full set of charging tips.

The i1 Eco is available from Idapt for £19.99 and extra tips are mostly £5.95.

Thanks to Idapt for providing the i1 Eco for review.

WD TV Live at The Gadget Show Live

Posted by Andrew at 12:27 AM on April 23, 2012

WD TV LiveWestern Digital’s TV Live series of media players has been around for a couple of years and they’ve gained a sizeable following with over 3.5 million devices sold. The 3rd generation WD TV Live has been released recently and Daniel Mauerhofer was kind enough to give me an interview at The Gadget Show Live.

The new WD TV Live model introduces wi-fi connectivity which was absent on the previous model and it’s now been localised for the UK market with the inclusion of iPlayer and Spotify. Coming in two models, one without an internal hard drive (£99), which is available now, and a second which will have a 1 TB drive and will be available later in the year (approx. £129).

As ever, there’s a complementary remote control app for Android and iOS devices, which looks pretty useful; it’s certainly more than just a button-for-button replacement of the IR remote control.

My personal pet peeve in this area was that media players seemed either play from the local network or stream from the Internet but it was a rare device that could do both. The WD TV Live does both so it’s a thumbs up from me.

Griffin and Crayola Create Kid-Friendly MyPhones

Posted by JenThorpe at 1:26 PM on April 19, 2012

Here’s something for all the parents out there. Your children love music, but you don’t love the particular music that they have become enamored with. Are you tired of hearing that same song over and over again? You may have considered handing your child your own, personal, headphones or earbuds, but this can be problematic in many ways.

Griffin and Crayola have teamed up to make the perfect solution for these types of situations. It is called MyPhones. They are fully adjustable, volume limiting, earbuds and headphones that are kid-sized. They come with a built in, always-on, sound-control circuit that caps peak volume levels at 85 decibels. Kids wearing MyPhones will hear music that is slightly louder than typical conversation but is quite a bit lower than what a typical mp3 player puts out at max volume. It helps to protect your child from hearing loss.

The MyPhones headphones come in two color combinations. Choose from pink/purple or blue/green. They come with stickers and Crayola markers which kids can use to customize their headphones to express their own, unique, personality. The MyPhones headphones are available from Target and cost $29.99.

The MyPhones earbuds come in a cute carrying case that looks like a large Crayola crayon. It snaps open to reveal 3 sizes of soft silicone ear cushions. Pick the one that best fits into your child’s ear. The MyPhones earbuds come in three Crayola colors: “Purple Pizzazz”, “Caribbean Green”, “Blue Berry”, and “Cotton Candy” (which is pink). The MyPhones earbuds are also available from Target and cost $14.99.

This solves the problem of having to share your earbuds with your child. But, how will you protect your iPod Touch from potential damage that can occur while your child uses it to play music? Griffin and Crayola have you covered here, too!

How about a colorful Crayola Classics Case? Each one has the familiar design that you see on the paper that covers a Crayola crayon. These protective shells come in a variety of Crayola colors including: “Purple Pizzazz”, “Cotton Candy”, “Caribbean Green”, “Blue Berry”, and “Radical Red”.

Color Clickers is something different. It combines a protective polycarbonate shell with 28 interchangeable color stripes. Your child can pull these off and rearrange them as often as he or she wants to. Both the Color Clickers and the Crayola Classics cases are priced at $24.99 and are available through Griffin.

iPhone Makeover with mendmyi at the The Gadget Show

Posted by Andrew at 1:33 PM on April 15, 2012

The iPhone might be one of the hottest gadgets out there but it’s really just a Ford – any colour as long as it’s black (or white). But not for much longer…iPhone repair outfit mendmyi now offer a customisation service called Colour Lab which offers over 170,000 colour combinations for the iPhone 4 and 4S.

mendmyi colours

Effectively, you can choose from 11 different colours or finishes for the front glass, front frame, back glass, back frame and home button. The parts call be all the same colour or all different colours; it’s your choice.

Coloured iPhones

The makeover is currently priced at £96 and if you think that’s expensive, you have to remember that these coloured replacement parts, not stickers, skins or covers. I saw the iPhones in the picture above and the quality is fantastic – you’d think they were manufacturer parts.

If you are interested in having the coolest iPhone in the office, check out my interview with Adrian from mendmyi at The Gadget Show.