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


Boosty Your Broadband at The Gadget Show

Posted by Andrew at 2:31 PM on April 14, 2014

Boosty BoxWhile many of us are fortunate enough to be served by fibre connections to our homes, many of us are still stuck on copper ADSL circuits with single digit download speeds. This isn’t great, especially with the rise of on-line gaming, movies-on-demand and second screening. Most of us have a another high speed data connection in our smartphone and this is where Boosty comes in, seamlessly adding a 3G / 4G mobile data connection to your home network.

I talk to Paul about how easy it is to add the box to your network and the accompanying service which lets you control who uses the mobile data and how much data is used. The Boosty box can use a WiFi connected smartphone or a 3G/4G USB dongle.

Boosty will be available in the next few weeks for £69.99 which includes the cost of the Boosty box plus a year’s subscription to the service. Pre-order at the Boosty site now.

TP-Link 3G Mobile WiFi and Power Bank Review

Posted by Andrew at 4:38 PM on March 20, 2014

TP-LInk LogoThe TP-Link 3G Mobile WiFi and 5200 mAh Power Bank (M5360) combines two of the handiest portable accessories – a 3G wireless hotspot and a USB battery pack – into a single unit. Sounds good on paper, but convergence doesn’t always work out. Let’s take a look.

3G Wireless and Power Bank

The M5360 comes neatly packaged in a slide-out box. Included with the 3G Mobile WiFi are instructions, a charger, USB-to-microUSB cable and some SIM adaptors which hold the smaller SIM sizes. The 3G Mobile WiFi itself is larger than the average mobile hotspot but this hardly unexpected given that there’s an additional 5200 mAh battery stashed in there. Overall, it’s 44 x 29 x 100 mm and while the weight isn’t officially given, my kitchen scales say 150g.

TP-Link 3G Mobile WiFi

As you’ll see, the 3G Mobile WiFi is white with a clear plastic cover over the OLED screen. Moving round the unit, at the top there is a microUSB socket to charge up the Power Bank. On the right side, a power button turns the unit on, off and toggles between charging only and simultaneous 3G sharing and charging. There’s a reset button (that I never had to use) and covered slots for the SIM and micro SD cards. Finally on the bottom is USB socket that can be used for charging other devices. It’s only rated at 1A, so it’s more suited to charging smartphones and media players than 10″ tablets.

Getting going is simple – slip a SIM in and power the 3G Mobile WiFi up. As the unit is not network-locked you can use whatever SIM you choose, and helpfully on the rear of the device is all the information necessary for connecting to the WiFi network, including SSID and password. The 3G Mobile WiFi generally self-configures, but if you need to change anything, you can log on to the unit via a web browser and make changes.

Profile Management

With a 3 SIM everything went smoothly but I also tried the unit with a SIM from MVNO Giffgaff, which actually uses the O2 network. In this instance, I had to log on to the 3G Mobile WiFi and make some changes to the profile. To be perfectly clear, this reconfiguration is needed because of the MVNO nature of Giffgaff and illustrates the flexibility of the 3G Power Bank.

The small screen gives the usual information about the 3G Mobile WiFi side of things, including signal strength, connectivity, client number, battery and SMS messages. The download rate, upload rate and data volume are shown too. The unit supports the usual GSM protocols up to HSPA+ so in theory the max download rate is 21.6 Mb/s with 5.76 Mb/s upload, but local conditions are likely to significantly reduce this. With respect to WiFi, it’s 11b/g/n and up to 10 clients can connect at once.

TP-Link 3G Mobile WiFi Screen

Now for the best bit….using the internal battery, the M5360 will run for over two (working days) without recharging. TP-Link quote 16-17 hours under heavy use by a single person and up to 26 hours will lighter use. I’m inclined to agree with TP-Link as I was able to use the 3G Power Bank for two and a half working days of relatively light use before recharging. Sweet.

In addition to powering the 3G Mobile WiFi, the battery can be used to charge another device as well. There are two options, wireless sharing and charging, and charging only; a quick double press of the power button toggles between the two modes. The 5200 mAh battery is roughly double the size of a smartphone battery, so expect to fully recharge your phone twice from the Power Bank.

Any problems? No, not really. My only feedback is the the positioning of the charging USB port on the top seems a bit odd as it simply looks funny when the 3G Power Bank is standing on its end. I would have preferred the socket on the side towards the bottom, or even on the bottom with an optional charging dock. Minor points, I know.

Overall, the TP-Link 3G Mobile WiFi and 5200 mAh Power Bank is a useful combination of the two. The ability to run the hotspot for a full working day (and then some) with several connected clients is attractive. The only downside is that the M5360 is heavier than a normal WiFi hotspot but that’s the price you pay for a bigger battery, but if it’s sitting on a desk, there’s no issue anyway.

Speaking of price, expect to pay somewhere around GB£70 for the M5360.

Thanks to TP-Link for supplying the review unit.

Luiqipel discusses its latest smartphone protection

Posted by Alan at 10:01 PM on March 2, 2014

luiqipelLuiqipel, as the name implies, is the company who waterproofs your phone. But now it has taken things a bit further, attempting to prevent other damage as well.

Impacts? Screen scratches? Those are two areas the company is focusing upon. The latest technology is a think film that may look like it’s close to nothing, but actually provides the damage control that customers are looking for, both from drops and encounters with keys in pocket or purse. The company claims that a screen can survive a four foot drop of a steel ball upon it. There’s a demo of the latest product, and you’ll need to watch the video below to get a look. You can visit Liquipel to learn more.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network

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Rovio electrifies Angry Birds with new levels

Posted by Alan at 8:06 AM on November 26, 2013

Fans of the Rovio series of games can rejoice today, as the Finnish game maker is rolling out an update to its flagship mobile product. While it’s probably no longer the most popular Angry Birds, the original has become a classic in the minds of many gamers.

“Today Angry Birds received an electrifying new update with 30 fun-filled levels set in Professor Pig’s lab”, the company states. It then proceeds to describe that customers will find the new levels contain a bonus — the Bomb Bird has now become electrified. “His temper has grown after he accidentally stumbles upon powerful potions and electricity in the Professor’s lab”, as Rovio describes it.

Not to let a marketing opportunity fail to pass them by, the studio is also pushing a new tee-shirt emblazoned with the logo “shockwave”. It has also release a short trailer video to get you familiar with this latest update. You can watch the video below, but beating the levels is something we can’t help you with.

GNC Exclusive: My.com Launches myMail & myChat

Posted by geeknews at 6:01 AM on November 19, 2013

Last week at Techonomy 13 I was able to sit down with Dmitry Grishin Chairman and CEO of Mail.Ru Group one of the worlds largest Internet companies to talk about the launch of his new company MY.com in the United States Today. Dmirty demonstrated two their new apps that they are launching today.

mymailThe first myMail an innovative email application, that is very visual, and has a design unlike anything seen to date in an email application. This is an app where you can manage all of your email accounts and switch between them easily. Unique to myMail is that it allows users to customize and enable real-time push notifications even if the email providers do not support them.  myMail was extremely fast, a lot of time has went into optimizing the app.

What intrigued me the most was the visual qualities. The screen show provided does little to show off the design, built in filters and ease of navigation.  I encourage you to try myMail launching for free today on both iOS and Android.

Dmitry said “I’m happy to introduce our new products to the competitive U.S. Internet market,”  “Russian developers tend to have outstanding backgrounds in mathematics, physics and engineering, which have propelled Russian companies to the forefront of the domestic Internet market. Now we will use all the skills and experience we’ve earned to enter the U.S. market.”

mychatThe second if myChat a mobile messaging service for free text, voice and video messaging. myChat’s conversation-centric interface allows for ongoing, streaming chat and sharing of media, like photos and pre-recorded video messages. Voice and video calling are seamless no matter what platform users are on – iOS or Android. myChat it is my opinion that the versatility of this app will give all competing apps a run for their money.

The third is myGames which is part of a growing collection of fun, free mobile games already available here in the United States. myGames’ title Jungle Heat is a Top 25 Android bestseller; it has already generated nearly 1.5 million downloads on the iOS platform and 6 million downloads on the Android platform.

The current collection of games also includes Poker Arena and Lucky Fields, which has seen more than 1.2 million Android installs since being soft-launched in August.


 

Nokia Lumia 1520 sneaks out early

Posted by Alan at 5:53 AM on November 17, 2013

Windows Phone fans anxiously await the next versions of the Lumia Windows Phone 8 devices from Nokia. For some fortunate customers, like the Xbox One, a few lucky people are getting the handset just a bit early. The latest in the line of Nokia phones falls into a category that has been dubbed a ‘phablet’, which loosely translates to an oversized smartpahone – one that rivals Android devices like the Galaxy Note.

The Nokia Lumia 1520 is set to be released in late November, when Microsoft has plans to also launch its next-generation gaming console, the Xbox One.  The 1520 purports 4G LTE and a 3,300mAh battery, with a 20 MP rear camera. And, now the oversized phone has hit the market a bit early, with an advance version apparently being sold at an AT&T retail location.

A poster in the forums over at Windows Phone Central has managed to land the device and posted images and a receipt as evidence. “Ok here is a copy of the receipt, this should provide all the ‘Proof’ that I own the phone”, says Michelle SV. Then, she proceeded to post images of the box being taken apart as well. It was compelling evidence, though not foolproof, as these things have been faked before,

The phone was sold unlocked and, beyond that, the customer claimed to have entered a second store and was also offered a Lumia 1520. Microsoft has, so far, failed to issue comment. However, given the recent travails with Xbox One thanks to another retailer, the company is possibly game planning a strategy to deal with these, increasingly common, mishaps that seem to be occurring.

nokia lumia 1520

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.

AVG Android Performance Apps

Posted by Andrew at 8:28 AM on November 11, 2013

AVGAnti-virus outfit AVG have released a suite of small Android apps which aim to improve the performance of your smartphone or tablet. The free apps Cleaner, TuneUp and Uninstaller all help to keep your device ticking over smoothly. Here’s what each app offers.

AVG Memory & Cache Cleaner – The Cleaner apps cleans out all the cruft and detritus that accumulates on your smartphone or tablet in caches, downloads and histories. Overtime, this material can build-up and have a significant impact on functionality. For example, on my tablet the Play Store sometimes gets stuck and can’t upgrade an app until I clear out its cache and this app sorts it out. The app provides plenty of options to clear out certain sets of information while leaving others intact but the best feature is the Auto Clean which lets the user set how often the Cleaner app removes the rubbish. I have mine set to clear out once a week and I’m regularly seeing 100 MB or over being tidied up.

AVG Cleaner

AVG Battery Saver & TuneUp – This app has four distinct parts, Task Killer, Battery Consumption, Data Usage and Storage Usage, which together are less focussed that the other two apps. However, this doesn’t stop them being useful.

  • Task Killer is self-explanatory and kills user-selected tasks and processes. I think tasks are the same as running apps and processes are equivalent to background processes, but this could be clearer. Helpfully the tasks can be ordered by memory use so you can see which apps are hogging the space.
  • Battery Consumption lets the user setup a power saving mode by turning off various radios and other options. When the battery level reaches this level, the power saving mode is entered automatically.
  • Data Usage does what it says, monitoring the data used by the phone and alerting you when it gets to a predefined level. There are quite a few options around setting volume and reset dates but there doesn’t seem to be any discrimination between 3G and Wifi data which would be a useful enhancement.
  • Finally, Storage Usage shows the apps that use the most storage space with the option to uninstall the worst offenders. There’s an overlap here with the Uninstaller app but it’s no big deal.

AVG TuneUp

AVG Uninstaller – The Uninstaller app doesn’t just uninstall apps, though it seems to do this competently enough. What it does do is present different views of apps on the device so that you can make an informed choice as whether to uninstall an app or not. The four views provided are by usage, by data, by battery and by storage. Personally, I find by usage the most useful as it lets you see the apps that you really never use and aren’t going to miss. There’s a weekly reminder feature which reviews the app usage and recommends apps for uninstallation based on lack of use.

The other Uninstaller views could be useful if you are having a problem, but I already know that Ingress is consuming a large percentage of my battery. The storage view is handy too if you are wondering where your memory has gone but that option didn’t throw up too many surprises for me either.

AVG Uninstall

Overall, these are all handy little apps that are worth the free download. If you’ve already got AVG Antivirus, you’ll find that these apps integrate into the Antivirus app so you can launch Cleaner and Uninstaller from within Antivirus. The Battery Saver and TuneUp app’s functionality is already built-in to the Antivirus app so this app is not required if you have AVG Antivirus.

The only irritating aspect of these apps is the advertising. It’s not that I’m against the advertising per se – the apps are free after all – but it’s that the adverts are for apps that I’ve installed already! AVG, please don’t waste the screen real estate for apps I’ve got, and if you were to introduce paid versions, I’d buy them.

All are available to download from the Play Store. Tomorrow, I’ll be looking at two other AVG apps, Privacy Fix and Image Shrink & Share.

A Microsoft Fantasy

Posted by tomwiles at 10:20 PM on November 6, 2013

MandroidMicrosoft and their “Windows Everywhere” strategy — it’s a painful thing to watch.  Microsoft is becoming the new Blackberry.

Technology is always improving at an ever-accelerating pace.  Mobile devices combined with ubiquitous, ever-present Internet, combined with ever-increasing bandwidth have come together to disrupt the traditional PC market, which itself was a disruption.

Companies that ride the wave of technological disruption frequently become household names. Once upon a time one of them was Microsoft, which was able to ride the crest of the wave of the personal computer revolution. Microsoft software was once almost everywhere. Alas, the next wave of disruption came along in the form of mobile hand-held computers with always-on connectivity, and now Microsoft in many respects is drowning behind that next wave.

I believe people at Microsoft see the handwriting on the wall – traditional PC sales numbers are dropping like a stone into a bottomless pit. The vast majority of people don’t need a traditional computer because modern handheld touchscreen devices such as iPads and smartphones frequently do most of what consumers want faster and better.

So, with Windows 8 Microsoft tried to force Windows users away from the traditional PC desktop to a new touchscreen interface dubbed “Metro” that seems to be sort of half-baked. When users rebelled, they released a semi-compromise in the form of Windows 8.1. Apparently the thinking must have been that if they could get end-users of desktop Windows computers used to the new interface, they would naturally gravitate towards the same interface on Microsoft smartphones and tablets. Thus – “Windows Everywhere” has been implemented and is clearly floundering, with good reason.

Microsoft is still a profitable enterprise, largely because of the X-Box and server software. In my opinion, Microsoft should concentrate on these two profitable areas of their business and forget about selling tablets and smartphones.

A Radical Suggestion

However, if Microsoft can’t bring themselves to abandon the mobile device market, I have a radical suggestion for them. It’s clear to me the only remote chance Microsoft has of success in todays’s mobile market is if they would dump mobile versions of Windows and adopt Android. They could call it Mandroid.

Microsoft now owns Nokia, and even before the Nokia purchase Microsoft has demonstrated it can produce sleek hardware.

Microsoft, if you want ANY chance of the vast majority of consumers considering buying your mobile products, re-develop them with Android. You would have the huge instant advantage of the Android app market, and a stable mobile OS that already has plenty of marketplace traction.

Will Microsoft adopt Android? Not a chance. If Microsoft is lucky it will end up like IBM, a beached shell of its former self.

Microsoft Bluetooth Notebook Mouse 5000 Review

Posted by Andrew at 2:50 AM on October 31, 2013

Wireless mice are commonplace these days but many only work with their own brand wireless transceiver, which restricts their use to devices equipped with USB ports. Less common are Bluetooth-based mice which have the potential to work with any Bluetooth-equipped unit, including Android and iOS tablets, potentially making them much more useful. On review here is one such mouse, the Microsoft Bluetooth Notebook Mouse 5000. Snappy name, but let’s take a look.

The 5000 is fairly typical of notebook mice being smaller than a typical desktop mouse at only 9 cm long and about 5.5 cm wide. People with large hands may find the mouse is too small but for occasional use with a tablet or notebook, it’s fine. I certainly wouldn’t want it as my main mouse as I can’t really rest my hand on it, but this is all subjective and some people may find it perfect.

image

Looks-wise, it’s not a Microsoft Arc or a Logitech Ultrathin, but it’s not entirely unattractive. This is the version with silvery-white buttons and dark gray body; there is a version with these colours reversed too. The silver matched my Samsung Chromebook rather nicely but the colour does vary with the light.

Two Duracell AA batteries power the 5000, which are supplied in the packaging and Duracell’s make a welcome change from the generic AAs that usually accompany remote controls and other battery-powered accessories. There’s an on/off switch on the bottom to conserve power when not in use. I’ve been using the mouse for about a week and I’ve yet to replace the batteries.

To pair the mouse, there’s a second button on the underside that needs to be pressed for a few seconds to put the mouse into a pairing mode. After that, the mouse should appear in the device list of whatever computer is to connect to the mouse. I successfully paired with an Android tablet, a Windows 8 tablet and a Chromebook. I imagine that it will work with iPads and other iOS devices but I didn’t have one at hand to test.

image

In use, the 5000 works pretty much like any mouse. It’s an optical mouse with a laser motion tracker so resistance will depend entirely on the surface in use. There are four buttons: left, right, middle and “back”, which is next to the main left button and can pressed by your thumb to take your web browser back a page – you can see it in the top picture. Great if you are right-handed, but a waste of time if you are left-handed. The scroll wheel has a bit of stiffness to it but I like that as it prevents accidental scrolling.

Overall, the Microsoft Bluetooth Notebook Mouse 5000 is a good mouse but not a great mouse. It’s nothing special but there’s nothing wrong with it either (except for the back button only being useful to right-handed users) . The 5000 is available from all good retailers for around £25.

Disclaimer: this was a personal purchase.