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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.

Minimalist Momentum Headphones from Sennheiser at CES

Posted by Andrew at 6:30 AM on January 10, 2014

Sennheiser LogoSennheiser are usually my headphone manufacturer of choice when it comes to music, so I’m always interested in the latest news from the German team. To be honest, it’s not massive news but when the headphones look as good as these, who cares?

For CES, Sennheiser have updated their “minimalist urban” headphones, the Momentum On-Ear with three new colours; high-gloss black, classic brown and intense red. Nice. The ear pads and headband have been finished in Alcantara, a high-tech soft-touch material produced in Italy. Alcantara provides a combination of suppleness, durability and breathability that makes it popular in the fashion, interior design, and automotive industries, and the use of the material by Sennheiser makes the headphones very comfortable for long listening sessions. The headband is made of brushed stainless steel. All round, they look great.

Momentum On-Ear

Audio-wise, the On-Ear is driven by Sennheiser’s proprietary 18-ohm transducers, delivering the usual Sennheiser experience of incredible clarity and detail with a slight bass emphasis. The closed, on-ear design ensures reliable isolation from external noise for a great listening experience on the move, even in noisy urban environments.

The Momentum On-Ear headphones feature a single-sided detachable cable with in-line remote and microphone for Apple devices to control music playback, and to make and receive calls on the go.

With the three new colour versions, Sennheiser has reimagined this essential, cool design in richer, more subtle tones,” said Charles Cha, Product Manager at Sennheiser. “Where the Momentum On-Ear headphones first showed their playful and extroverted character, the new versions are a more discrete revelation of luxury that hints at their superb performance.

The MSRP seems to be US$299 but they currently seem to be on-sale in the Sennheiser store for $199.

I want.

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.

 

Moxytronix CordCruncher Earbuds Review

Posted by Andrew at 3:50 PM on October 22, 2013

Moxytronix‘s CordCruncher earbud headphones are the latest attempt to defeat that bane of modern life, knotted and twisted audio cords. These tangle-free headphones solve the problem by using a secondary rubber tube to retract and hold the cords when not in use. Cunning.

image

The headphones come in a small pack, with three pairs of different-sized interchangeable earbuds. I would imagine that anyone who is used to wearing earbuds will have no problems here. The CordCrunchers are available in a range of colours, included a very hot pink which the photos below completely fail to reproduce – it’s a gamut thing.

image

The picture above shows the CordCruncher in the retracted state with all the cord inside the rubber tube – it’s only about 18″ long. To use the headphones, hold the jack end and pull on the earbud cords, drawing the leads out of the tube to a full length of over 3 feet. The picture below shows the Crunchers with the cords extracted. The zigzag gives a clue as to how the cord “crunches” up inside the tube.

Headphones extracted

To pack the earbuds away, hold the jack in one hand and then pull the black collar away from the jack. The rubber tube is latex and stretches enormously until the cables are back inside. Gently relax and everything concertinas back up to the original length, tucking all the cables away. It’s not that easy to explain, so here’s a video.

After using the CordCrunchers for a week or two, I can confirm that they actually work and tangled cords are a thing of the past. I carried these round in my sports bag during testing and I never had a single tangle. Yank them out, stick them in your ears and get to work.

Sonically they’re not the greatest earbuds ever and in comparison with Sennheiser CX-300s, the sound is muddy and poorly defined. To be fair, the CX-300s cost about twice the price and audio fidelity isn’t the main reason for buying the CordCrunchers. However, I hope that Moxytronic do consider a higher end model in the future for those who demand more.

Pricewise, they’re around US$25 and here in the UK, they’re being sold by Advanced MP3 Players for a £19.99 in a range of four colours (pink, green, black and blue).

Finally, my six year-old daughter thought they were cool, which is probably more to do with the pinkness than anything else.

Thanks to DAD and Advanced MP3 Players for providing the CordCrunchers for review.

Google Music

Posted by tomwiles at 8:43 PM on June 23, 2013

Once a pon a time a number of years ago I went through a period of several years where I spent a fair amount of money on compact discs. Those days are long gone and have been for some time.

It’s probably just my age showing more than anything, but in recent years I lost interest in finding new music. I stopped listening to the radio the better part of ten years ago. When I did listen to music, it was to the old stuff.

To my surprise, I’ve become more interested in listening again. There’s a genre of music I paid scant attention to in the past called “electronic” that has caught my ear in the past couple of months. Mind you, not enough to start shelling out money for CD’s or even MP3′s, but these days that isn’t necessary. The “electronic” category of music is not for everyone. It is created with synthesizers and some of the sounds are very aggressive; some people would consider them noise. To my surprise, I’m really enjoying listening to this stuff — not enough to buy the music outright, but enough to pay to have access.

Google Music is currently offering a 30 day free trial. The price after the free trial is $7.99 per month if you lock it in by subscribing before the June 30 expiration date. The regular subscription price is $10 dollars per month.

I subscribed to the free offer, and so far I like it. I searched for the names of some of the electronic artists such as Hardwell and Armin van Buuren. I was easily able to figure out how to start the “radio” feature, which is initiated from a particular song. Once tracks started playing, I gave many of them a “thumbs up” if I really liked them and a few tracks a “thumbs down” if I didn’t like them. Google Music seems to do a great job of figuring out what I like over time.

Google Music claims to offer access to millions of tracks. A few experimental searches seems to indicate that they do offer a broad selection of both new and back catalog tracks.

You can download any track to your device by adding it to your library. I didn’t read the terms of service, but I’m sure once you cancel any downloaded music will go away once you stop paying the rent.

Renting access to music is actually a great idea if you want to casually listen, but don’t want to spend a fortune doing it.

Audio Evolution Mobile App

Posted by tomwiles at 3:36 PM on May 28, 2013

Audio Evolution Mobile 1.7.2 is a powerful multitrack audio recorder for Android that is somewhat reminiscent of Adobe Audition 1.5 in both form and function. Priced at $7.45 US, the app is a real bargain for anyone looking to do serious multitrack audio recording and editing on an Android tablet or smartphone.

Back a few years ago I switched from Windows to Mac, and Adobe Audition 1.5 is one of the pieces of software I had to let go of on a day-to-day basis in order to end the endless frustration of dealing with Windows. Newer versions of Adobe Audition have never struck me as having the same appeal of Adobe Audition 1.5.

It might be just me and the way I relate to software interfaces, but I’ve never had much use for Garageband on either the Mac or on my iPad. I was able to make use of Apple’s Soundtrack app, but it was just never as quick or as easy as Adobe Audition 1.5 was in quickly cranking out a tightly-edited piece of audio.

Audio Evolution Mobile 1.7.2 was easy for me to instantly make use of. The software maker suggests that you download the trial version to try on your particular Android hardware before you buy it, to make sure it will work for you. I downloaded the trial version onto my Galaxy S3 smartphone, and quickly determined that it would not only work but that I really liked the software and the way it worked. I uninstalled the trial version and purchased the full paid version and was able to crank out an hour-long edited recording quite easily with a minimum of confusion.

The software vendor makes it very clear that Audio Evolution Mobile 1.7.2 cannot directly output into the MP3 audio file format because of MP3 file format licensing issues. The app can output mixdown files to WAV, AIFF, FLAC or OGG file formats.

Of course the podcast file format standard is MP3, so in order to be able to convert the mixdown files to the MP3 file format, I downloaded the free MediaConverter app that converts files using the open-source FFMPEG libraries from many different file formats to MP3.

To add ID3 tags to the converted MP3 files, I installed the free MP3dit app that is able to edit ID3 tags for many different audio file formats.

To upload the MP3 file to my podcast server, I use the free ANDftp FTP client for Android.

Finally, to make the WordPress post I simply go to a browser such as Firefox for Android to the regular full browser view, log in and make the post as I would on a regular desktop or laptop computer.

To be honest, the last step is the hardest to accomplish on a tablet device. WordPress just isn’t laid out in a very touchscreen-friendly manner, but it can be made to work in a pinch.

From a podcaster standpoint, the mobile device recording, editing and posting software is slowly getting there.

Amazon — Buy an app, get a free MP3

Posted by Alan at 8:36 AM on March 7, 2013

amazon logo

While it has not been largely publicized, Amazon has a deal going on right now for Android customers and music lovers. The online retail giant is offering a trade-off — buy an app and get a free song.

The deal is not exactly temporary either. It began back on February 13, 2013 and will run through December 31, 2013. Customers need not do anything to qualify — simply purchase an app from the Amazon Appstore for Android and then, shortly after making the purchase, you will receive an email from the company that includes a code for $1 credit to Amazon MP3. The code is good until 11:59 PM PST on January 31, 2014, so you have plenty of time to decide on your song.

As many of you likely know, Amazon offers a paid app every single day as its “Free app of the Day”. As it turns out, these also count, meaning you need not even spend anything to land your MP3 credit.

Amazon Introduces AutoRip

Posted by JenThorpe at 2:07 AM on January 15, 2013

AudioRip logo Amazon has introduced a brand new service called AutoRip. This is a very different way of looking at music storage. In short, it takes the CD that you purchased from Amazon and puts it into your Amazon Cloud Player. It also will make that album available on your PC or Mac, Kindle Fire, Android phone, iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Right now, this service is only available to customers in the United States.

This is a rather unexpected move in a time when record companies are screaming about pirating and copyright. Perhaps they aren’t complaining about AutoRip because it only allows users to put CDs that they really have purchased into the Amazon Cloud Player? I’m not sure.

It is clear that gifts of CDs that your friends or family purchased for you from Amazon are not eligible for AutoRip. There is also this interesting piece of “fine print”:

Some record companies require us (Amazon) to insert identifiers in the metadata that accompanies music when you download it from the Amazon MP3 Store or Cloud Player. This includes the music you have purchased from Amazon.com and matched music imported to Cloud Player from your device.

These identifies may include a random number Amazon assigns to your order or copy, purchase date and time, an indicator that the music was downloaded from Amazon, codes that identify the album or song (the UPC and ISRC), Amazon’s digital signature, an identifier that can be used to determine whether the audio has been modified, and an indicator whether the music was purchased from the MP3 store or imported to the Cloud Player.

Look for the AutoRip icon in search results and CD detail pages to find out if it is one you can use with this new service. The MP3 versions of your past AutoRip eligible CD purchases are already available in the Cloud Player, where they are being stored for free. CDs that you purchased through Amazon, from as far back as 1998, are eligible for AutoRip.

Underneath The Pringles Tree

Posted by Andrew at 5:22 PM on December 13, 2012

PringlesPringles are running a Pringles Tree competition in December and each day you can open a virtual Pringles can to reveal the prize within. The prizes are inexpensive but there seems to be a good chance of winning as I’ve picked up a Pringles Speaker and a voucher for 7digital already. Other prizes include on-line games and receipes.

The Pringles Speaker arrived yesterday and it’s much better than I expected. The idea is that the speaker is inserted into the top of a Pringles tube once the contents have been munched. Powered by three AAA batteries (supplied), the sound quality and output is surprisingly good. For sure it’s not hifi and the bass isn’t great but for an impromptu party, it’s perfect. Plug in your mp3 player or smartphone and away you go.

Pringles Speaker

There’s 11 days left of Pringles Tree. Get popping, though it looks like this promotion is for UK residents only.

Sharkfin Self-Molding Earbuds

Posted by Andrew at 12:10 AM on September 24, 2012

Custom-fit earbuds and headphones can be scarily expensive because the price often includes high quality sound drivers as well as the custom moulding. Advanced MP3 Players have come up with a product that solves this problem by adding a molding to already-owned earbuds – the Sharkfin Self-Molding Earbuds.

Sharkfin Self-Molding Earbuds Retail Pack

Inside the somewhat Spock-esque package are two small pots of self-molding silicone that when mixed together will set in about 5 mins. There’s a choice of two colours at the time of purchase, white or gray.

Silicone Pots

The idea is that you mix the silicone together, wrap a small roll of the material round the outer part of the earbuds, pop the earbuds in your ears, then knead the silicone into the auricle (or pinna) of the ear, before leaving to set. Here’s a video of the process.

Once set, you have a pair of earbuds or headphones customised perfectly to your ears that stay in place even when you are working out.

Naturally in the interests of research for the readers of GNC, I used the Sharkfins on a pair of Sennheiser earbuds. There’s sufficient molding material to do three fittings, so if the first one doesn’t work out, you get a second chance….which you’ll probably need. On the first one, I didn’t get sufficient coverage on the earbud itself and the molding came away from the earbud. The second time I was more successful.

Here’s a picture of my earbuds with the molding in place. I admit it’s not that pretty and it would have looked better with white earbuds but they definitely stay in your ear. I never knew my ear was so wiggly!

Ear Moldings

Another tip from the fitting would be to keep them in your ears a bit longer that the suggested 5 mins. The silicone was still quite soft at 5 mins, but had firmed up nicely by 10 mins. Leave for a few hours to make sure it really sets.

Any downsides? Depends on your point of view….I think I might be too self-conscious to wear these in any circumstances other than at the gym or running. Putting in the expanded earbuds takes a little getting used to, but once they were in, they were in. Finally, the silicone didn’t stick to my earbuds which meant that the moulding was easy to remove when I wanted my earbuds back to normal. That may be a positive or negative.

The Sharkfin Self-Molding Earbuds cost just £4.99, which I think is a good deal. If you try them out and don’t like them, you aren’t out a lot of money. Similarly, if you break your headphones at the gym, it’s not going to cost much to replace them.

Overall, a good idea at an excellent price that suffers aesthetically but if function wins out over form, these are for you.

Disclosure – the Sharkfin Self-Molding Earbuds were provided free of charge by Advanced MP3 Players.