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


Safe Games for Kids by Toca Boca at The Gadget Show

Posted by Andrew at 12:45 AM on April 16, 2014

Toca BocaAs a a parent with a tablet-loving daughter, I’m always worried that she’s either playing inappropriate games or else building up whopping a credit card bill via in-app purchases. Being tech-savvy, I can easily rectify the latter by controlling the password to my account, but this doesn’t always negate pester-power. The former is still a concern and I’m not alone as these two issues are relevant to parents everywhere.

To help mums and dads, Swedish outfit Toca Boca, “a play studio that makes digital toys for kids” have created a range of open-ended, non-competitive games that appeal to children where the initial purchase cost is the only time you need to flex the credit card. There are over 20 apps available for Apple, Android and Amazon devices, and include games for young hairdressers, chefs, doctors, vets, chemists, scientists and drivers. The themes are very similar to some of the popular “free” games that are out there; the Toca Boca versions usually cost US$2.99 but there are no subsequent in-app purchases.

I chat to Sonia about the Toca Boca apps and how parents can be more confident in what their children playing on their tablets without the worry of an enlarged credit card bill.

Kingston Wi-Drive Review

Posted by Andrew at 1:20 AM on April 8, 2014

Kingston Technology LogoIn the final review of this series on Kingston storage solutions for smartphones and tablets, I’ll be putting the Wi-Drive portable wireless storage through its paces. We’ve already seen the DataTraveler microDuo and the MobileLite Wireless so what’s the Wi-Drive’s niche? It’s definitely the most stylish; let’s take a look.

Wi-Drive in Box

The Wi-Drive is a slim shiny unit that’s very similar to some of the 2.5″ external hard drives that are on the market. It’s very pocketable at around 12 x 6 x 1 cm and it feels just right in the hand – not too heavy, not too light. At the bottom centre, there’s a miniUSB (not microUSB) port for connecting the Wi-Drive to a PC and for charging. On the side, there’s an on/off button that lights up green when on, turns to orange when the battery is getting low, before going red when it’s just about to die. Finally, on the top surface are two blue LEDs that display WiFi and Internet connectivity status. It’s all very sleek.

WiDrive

Connecting the Wi-Drive to a PC is the easiest way to load the drive with media and as usual, it’s simple drag’n’drop once attached with the supplied USB2 to miniUSB cable. It’s only USB2, which probably isn’t a serious handicap – I think most people will upload movies and music occasionally for more frequent wireless use.

The Wi-Drive works very similarly to the MobileLite Wireless. Turn it on, and the Wi-Drive becomes a wireless access point. Connect to the wireless network with your tablet or smartphone and then use the Wi-Drive app to access files and media on the Wi-Drive.  As with the MobileLite Wireless, the Wi-Drive can itself then connect to another wireless network so that connectivity to the Internet is maintained. However, unlike the MobileLite Wireless, I did have a problems connecting to other wireless networks – I couldn’t get a successful bridge connection to either a Sagemcom F@ST2504n or a Netgear WNR2200 router. I did successfully connect through to a Huawei E586.

The Wi-Drive app is available for Apple, Amazon and Android devices and I tested it on a Kindle Fire HDX 8.9″ tablet, a Nexus 10 tablet and a Nexus 4 smartphone. Frankly, the Wi-Drive app is disappointing – it’s like an early beta of the version that was finally deployed with the MobileLite Wireless. While app broadly works and is stable, the user interface is dated, the photo thumbnails are miniscule, the music player is clunky and there’s no use of a tablet’s larger screen. Here are a few screenshots to illustrate my point.

Wi-Drive browser Thumbnails

Music Player Wi-Drive Web Interface

Handily, there is also a web interface for both configuration and for accessing the media, which is great for PCs and Chromebooks; you can see this in the bottom right screenshot. The IP address is always 192.168.200.254 so it’s easily bookmarked.

On the positive side, video playback is smooth and glitch-free, and looked great on the tablets and as with the MobileLite Wireless  you can stream to three devices simultaneously. In terms of video playback, I felt that the Wi-Drive had the edge over the MobileLite Wireless as the latter occasionally stuttered. Battery life was also good: Kingston’s specs for the Wi-Drive say four hours but I was able to get about 10 minutes more with continuous video playback before the Wi-Drive died.

That covers the main areas of the Wi-Drive and to summarise, the Wi-Drive is good-looking and convenient device which is let down in a couple of areas, particularly by the Wi-Drive app. To me, it’s still a beta product that needs the last few bugs ironed out. The 32GB version is available for a little over GB £40 and expect to pay around £70 for the 64GB one.

Looking at all three Kingston storage devices, what are the pros and cons? For a single user with an Android smartphone or tablet that supports OTG, the microDuo is hard to beat as you get lots of storage for not very much money, though it’s going to stick out the side. The MobileLite Wireless will suit those who use SD cards or USB memory sticks as it’s a useful all-round tool for removable storage and although I wasn’t able to test with Apple devices I imagine this might be particularly handy for those owners. Finally, the Wi-Drive is the most stylish and a better choice where children are involved as there’s nothing small to lose or forget. Just get it fixed, Kingston, as it could be great.

Thanks to Kingston for all the review units.

Amazon Fire TV

Posted by Andrew at 4:52 PM on April 2, 2014

Amazon Fire TVAfter weeks of speculation, Amazon has finally shown its hand in the set-top box game with the Fire TV. It’s a $99 box with a Bluetooth remote control that connects to your HD TV and shows Amazon content plus media from partners, including Netflix, Hulu, ESPN and Pandora.

Amazon Fire TV

Initially, this doesn’t sound terribly different from the Roku and Apple TV units, but when you get into the feature set, it’s pretty impressive. There’s voice search which helps you find the shows without the laborious letter selection that bedevils remote controls. ASAP is a predictive feature that pre-loads content so that shows start instantly without the buffering delay. WhisperSync synchronises watching and listening across multiple devices so you never lose a second, and X-Ray takes the movie experience further, showing film and character information on your second screen Kindle Fire HDX.

As you’d expect, the Fire TV is seamlessly integrated with Prime Instant Video, Amazon’s subscription streaming service, giving access to tens of thousands of movies and TV episodes. With Dolby Digital Plus, films and music will sound amazing and any media stored in Amazon’s Cloud Drive from photos to personal videos can be played through the Fire TV.

Tiny box, huge specs, tons of content, incredible price—people are going to love Fire TV,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com Founder and CEO. “Voice search that actually works means no more typing on an alphabet grid. Our exclusive new ASAP feature predicts the shows you’ll want to watch and gets them ready to stream instantly. And our open approach gives you not just Amazon Instant Video and Prime Instant Video, but also Netflix, Hulu Plus, and more. On Fire TV you can watch Alpha House and House of Cards.

Amazon are definitely taking the fight to the competition as the Fire TV is a mini powerhouse, with a quad-core processor and 2 GB RAM, which lets the unit double as a gaming unit with over 100 games available at launch. Already available are Minecraft, Monsters University, The Game of Life, The Walking Dead, NBA2K14, Asphalt 8, Riptide GP2, Despicable Me: Minion Rush and Amazon has signed up EA, Disney, Gameloft, Ubisoft, Telltale, Mojang, 2K, and Sega to bring their games to Fire TV.  To complement the gaming, there’s an additional game controller that will set you back a penny shy of $40. The controller connects via Bluetooth too and will run for up to 55 hours on AA batteries.

Simplistically, it’s a desktop version of the Kindle Fire tablets and sure enough, Fire TV runs the latest version of Fire OS “Mojito,” which is based on Android. This means that apps should be easily ported over to the Fire TV (and Kindle Fires).

The Kindle Fire TV is available now in the US. No news on international availability yet.

Kingston MobileLite Wireless Review

Posted by Andrew at 8:24 AM on March 26, 2014

Kingston Technology LogoLast week I reviewed Kingston’s microDuo which is a great solution if your smartphone or tablet supports OTG. Unfortunately, many devices don’t and if yours falls into this category, Kingston can still help you with both the MobileLite Wireless and the Wi-Drive. In this review, I’ll be checking out the MobileLite Wireless and will follow up with the Wi-Drive later in the week.

Kingston MobileLite Wireless Box

The Kingston MobileLite Wireless  is described as “Reader – Media Streamer – Charger” and combines a USB reader, SD card reader, media streamer and USB charger all in one. Sounds impressive, so let’s take a look.

Kingston MobileLite Wireless Left Side

As you’ll see from the picture, the MobileLite is a small rectangular unit, around 12.5 x 6 x 1.6 cm. It weighs 98g and it feels a little lighter than it should. On one end is the SD card slot and on the other two USB sockets; one USB2 and the other microUSB. There’s a power button on the side and couple of indicator LEDs on the top. As well as the instructions, a USB-to-microUSB cable and a microSD-to-SD card adaptor is included in the box.

Kingston MobileLite Wireless Right Side

Taking each of the MobileLite Wireless features in turn and starting with “Reader”, the MobileLite can act as an SD card and USB reader. Simply connect the supplied cable from your PC’s USB port to the microUSB port on the device and two new drive letters or storage locations will appear on the desktop. Drag’n’drop, view photos, play movies, all the usual activities, no problem. Obviously it’s only USB2 but right now, that’s no big deal.

Moving to the “Charger” feature, swap over the cable so that the USB connector is plugged into the MobileLite Wireless and the other end into your smartphone or other power-sapping device. The battery is only 1800 mAh, so there’s really only one full charge of a smartphone in there.

Finally, it’s time for the “Media Streamer” feature, which lets up to three devices stream movies and other content from the MobileLite Wireless over WiFi. Which it does. Here’s Todd and the GNC show on three devices, all streaming from the one MobileLite Wireless.

Streaming To Three Devices

The tablets and smartphones have to load a Kingston app to access the media, but the app is available from Apple’s App Store, Google Play and Amazon’s Appstore.  The inclusion of Amazon is great as it means I can use the MobileLite Wireless with the Kindle Fire HDX – it’s the middle tablet in the shot above. However, the app is fairly basic and largely limited to navigating the folder hierarchy, selecting different content types, viewing and playing content plus operations such as email, copy and delete. It’s designed for smartphones rather than tablets so doesn’t take advantage of the larger screen real estate. Definitely room for improvement here. The app does have a couple of introductory pages to operative the MobileLite Wireless which have a cool hand-drawn feel to them.

App FIle Manager

The MobileLite Wireless also presents a web interface which can be used by PCs and Chromebooks to access the same files, though I didn’t seem to be able to upload content. The web interface has additional tools to adjust the wireless settings for greater security. One cool feature is that you can add the MobileLite Wireless to your main WiFi network and once connected up will pass on any requests onto the Internet, so you can browse the internet at the same time as listening to music coming from the MobileLite Wireless.

Wireless Settings

Battery life is “up to 5 hours of continuous use” and I managed a little under four hours playing a film continuously. Your mileage may vary but it’s enough to watch a couple of films.

In summing up, the MobileLite Wireless is a handy little device that I feel will appeal to those who frequently use SD cards and other removable storage. Obviously it would be great for photographers who want to review material on a larger screen but it’s also handy if you need to transfer material to a smartphone or tablet from a USB memory stick as outside of the Windows ecosystem, few tablets have full size USB ports. It certainly works well for streaming video and music too, but Kingston’s Wi-Drive might be a better solution for those who simply don’t have much space on their smartphone or tablet. The negatives are that the app could do with a refresh and a bigger battery would make the charger more effective, but other than that, there’s little to complain about.

The MobileLite Wireless is available on-line for around £35.

Thanks to Kingston for the review unit.

 

Free eBooks From Your Local Library

Posted by Andrew at 8:19 AM on September 13, 2013

These are tough economic times and if you want to save yourself a few pennies, stop buying ebooks, join your local library and borrow ebooks for free. The OverDrive Media Console app lets you download and read ebooks offered by your local library for nothing, and if audiobooks are of more interest, the app can handle those as well. The OverDrive app is available for most common smartphones and tablets, including iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, Kindle Fire and Nook tablets. If you have a Kobo, Sony or Nook ereader, you can still borrow books from your library but you’ll need to use Adobe’s Digital Editions to download via your PC. If you have a Kindle ereader, you’re out of luck.

The app can be downloaded from most app stores and directly from OverDrive if your device’s app store doesn’t host the app. In the first instance, the app asks you to find your local library via simple search. Poking around I was able to find libraries in UK, USA, Canada, Mexico, Germany, India and Japan, so it has worldwide coverage but I’ve no real idea of how extensive it is.

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For my library, I had enter my borrower number and again I assume it will be similar for most public libraries. Once you are in the system, you can browse for your favourite novels and authors, and then borrow the book you want. Before you can download the book, you’ll need to sign-up for an Adobe ID and put it into Overdrive’s settings. This is all part of the ePub DRM, but getting an ID is straightforward and free of charge.

image

Obviously the range of books is entirely dependent on your library but I found a good selection of books available (several of which I already owned!) and once you’ve got your reading selection downloaded, you can swap to Overdrive’s bookshelf to see what’s available for reading.

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As a reader app, OverDrive Media Console is good. There’s a bit of delay when opening a book for the very first time, but after that it’s snappy. All the other usual features are there – typeface selection, font size, line spacing, colour schemes, animations, but overall it’s well done. Reading books is easy and a pleasure.

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So, if you don’t want pay for ebooks and you’ve a tablet or smartphone, download the OverDrive Media Console, join your local library and start saving money. It’s a no-brainer!

Kindle Matchbook is Launching in October

Posted by JenThorpe at 5:09 PM on September 5, 2013

Kindle MatchbookAmazon has announced that it will be offering something innovative in October of this year. Kindle Matchbook will launch. It isn’t a new type of Kindle device. Instead, it is a very unique way of allowing people to access books.

The Kindle (and other ebook readers) are fairly new, especially when you consider how long mass produced printed books have been available. Typically, this means that people who are currently using a Kindle probably have shelves of “paper books” somewhere in their home. The majority (if not all) of those books were probably purchased before the person got a Kindle.

Kindle Matchbook, in essence, will help people “match” the books on their shelves with the ones in their Kindle. It works like this. You purchased a brand new book from Amazon sometime between today and 1995. If that title is part of the “qualifying books” offered through Kindle Matchbook, you will be able to pick up the Kindle edition of your print book for a low price. The Kindle versions will be offered for $2.99, $1.99, $0.99, or for free.

What if you bought the paper books that are currently cluttering your shelves from Barnes & Noble, or from a used book store, instead of from Amazon? Sorry, the Kindle Matchbook offer will not apply. The offer is only for new (not used) copies of (qualifying) books that you purchased from Amazon.

I find the Kindle Matchbook offer to be very interesting. It is going to make it less expensive to pick up the Kindle version of thousands of books (assuming you bought a new copy of the printed book from Amazon after 1995).

Amazon might have found a unique way to encourage customers to buy new copies of printed books from them, instead of another retailer, who cannot do the Kindle Matchbook offer. If you have been looking for a reason to transition from printed books to ebooks, it seems that Kindle Matchbook will help you to do that. It appears that fellow Geek News Central writer Andrew was right on track when he noted that the the paperback is an endangered species!

The Paperback is an Endangered Species

Posted by Andrew at 4:44 PM on September 5, 2013

Nook ClassicPicture the scene….I’m on holiday, lying by the swimming pool, relaxing in the summer sun. It’s a 4-star hotel, nothing fancy, catering to families from all round Europe; Britain, France, Germany, Norway. As I look around my fellow guests, I notice that many of them are reading from ereaders – Kindles, Kobos and the odd Nook. A few people are reading celebrity magazines like Hello and Chat. What does surprise me is the total absence of paperbacks – in all the rows of sun loungers that I can see, there’s not a single paperback book. It’s as if the paperback became an endangered species from one year to the next.

In reality this shouldn’t be a surprise. Ebooks and ereaders have become popular and the continual reductions in weight allowances by the budget airlines have encouraged travellers to leave heavy paper at home. The result is children, parents and grandparents are all lying round the pool, electronics in hand. The paperback is on the verge of extinction.

And while the paperback is all but gone, this isn’t the death of the novel. By all evidence round the pool, the written word is still alive and well. Only the medium has changed from paper and ink to glass and eInk. I see a bright future for authors and novelists.

I’ve certainly no regrets myself, but it does make it very hard to see what your fellow sun-worshippers are reading.

Eason Fails to Sell eBooks via Billboard

Posted by Andrew at 2:05 AM on November 28, 2012

…or “Why DRM is killing ebook sales outside of Amazon or Barnes & Noble”.

Being a international superstar and global jetsetter*, I had the pleasure of passing through Dublin’s Connolly railway station today. In the atrium there was a billboard display of book covers complete with QR codes.

Billboard of Books

“Totally cool,” I thought. Scan the QR code, buy the ebook, download to my tablet and start reading. The bookstore, Eason, had helpfully included free wifi in the area to get on-line. (For those not familiar with Ireland, Eason would be the leading newsagent, stationers and bookstore, comparable to WHSmith in GB). I scanned this book:

Book cover

The QR code took me to this page. Strangely, the book offered was a paperback and not an ebook. Huh?

Book purchase

Then I looked at the original poster, “1. Choose your book 2. Scan your QR code 3. Make your purchase 4. Wait for the post 5. Enjoy your book!”

Seriously…”Wait for the post”. Have these guys actually heard of ebooks or did the Kindle completely pass them by? Sure enough, Eason does have a section for ebooks on their website. It says, “Eason eBooks are compatible with Sony, Iriver and Elonex eReaders, as well as all devices that support Adobe EPUB DRM eBooks. Our eBooks are not currently compatible with Apple iOS, Google Android or Amazon devices - this includes iPads, iPhones, iPods, Android phones and tablets, and Kindles.

So let me get this straight….Eason is appealing to a travelling customer, offering the QR codes to smartphones that will typically be iPhones or Android devices, but ebooks can’t be offered on these because of Adobe’s ePub DRM? Fail, fail, fail.

It’s both totally unbelievable yet completely expected. It’s no wonder Amazon and the Kindle are dominating the market because everyone else is fighting with one hand tied behind their back with DRM. Eason, I had a two hour train journey ahead of me and you had a 100% chance of an ebook sale but you blew it. I’ll turn on my tablet, fire up my Kindle or Nook app and buy directly from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Fail.

* This is completely untrue.

Will You Be Getting an eBook Refund?

Posted by JenThorpe at 2:38 AM on October 16, 2012

Those of you who have a Kindle might have a refund coming your way, eventually. This is a result of a recent antitrust lawsuit settlement between Amazon and the ebook publishers that were named in the lawsuit: Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster, and their many subsidiaries.

Amazon.com has started sending email to some of their customers to tell them that they may be eligible for a credit This specifically relates to ebooks that were purchased between April of 2010 and May of 2012 by the above mentioned publishers. Consumers might receive anywhere between $0.30 and $1.32 for each ebook they purchased during that time frame.

How much you get depends on a few things. First, you have to have purchased an ebook from Amazon during that time frame. The amount of refund you get depends upon if the book was on the New York Times Bestseller list when it was purchased. If so, you could be getting a $1.32 refund for that book. If not, you may be getting less, (as low as $0.30) as a refund for that particular book. If you bought a bunch of ebooks during the time frame the settlement specifies, you could be in for quite a refund.

Before you get too excited, realize that the refunds will not be made until after the courts approve of the settlements. That hearing is scheduled for February of 2013. In addition to Amazon.com, Apple and Barnes & Noble will also be issuing refunds (but the amount hasn’t been released as of yet). The refunds will come in the form of an account credit. It may also be possible for you to request your refund in the form of a check, instead.

It seems to me that most of the time, when lawsuits like these happen, consumers don’t end up receiving anything at all. It is interesting that this time, at least some people will be getting a credit.

Image: Stock Photo Young Woman Reading On eBook by BigStock

Angry Birds Star Wars – Choose Your Side!

Posted by JenThorpe at 11:33 PM on October 10, 2012

Rovio Entertainment is getting ready to release Angry Birds Star Wars. It is going to be available on November 8, 2012. I’m beginning to think that Star Wars is the “bacon” of geekdom. Everything tastes better with bacon. Adding just a little bit of Star Wars, to just about anything, can only enhance it. If you like Angry Birds, then you will probably love Angry Birds with an added Star Wars flavor.

The Angry Birds Tumblr is filled with Angry Birds Star Wars wallpapers that you can download, interesting fan art, and a countdown until when the game will be out. The tumbler page also says “Choose Your Side”. Will you say: “I’m on the Porkside”? Or, are you more of a “Rebel Without a Squawk”? If you feel inspired, you can submit your own Angry Birds fan art.

StarWars.com has an announcement that Angry Birds Star Wars is a collaboration between Rovio Entertainment and Lucasfilm Ltd. The game will be available on iOS, Android, Amazon Kindle Fire, Mac, PC, Windows Phone and Windows 8. The announcement also says:

“Angry Birds Star Wars combines the classic gameplay and art style of Angry Birds with the legendary characters, designs, stories, and locales of the Star Wars saga. Gamers will take on the Empire in famous settings like Tatooine and the Death Star, but with the Angry Birds stable of characters playing the beloved Star Wars roles; the innovative touch-screen controls pioneered by Angry Birds are intact and improved, and the game’s humor is as sharp as ever”.

What’s not to like about a round, fuzzy, Angry Bird/Chewbacca, or a golden, metallic, Angry Bird/C3PO? On October 28, 2012, Angry Birds Star Wars merchandise will start appearing on store shelves. This will include Halloween costumes, plush toys, and action figures.