Huawei Ascend Y550 Smartphone Review

From the level of press coverage, it’s very easy to think that the only smartphones on the market have huge screens and price tags to match. If it’s not an iPhone 6 Plus or Nexus 6, it’s not worth talking about. Contrary to the column inches, there’s a wide selection of phones that have smaller screens for less cash which still offer a great deal. Which brings us to the Huawei Ascend Y550 4G Android smartphone. Let’s take a look.

Y550 with Pencil

The Huawei Ascend Y550 doesn’t stray too far from the “black slab” formula: 4.5″ screen on the front, camera in the top centre on the back with flash to one side, headphone jack on the top, micro USB on the bottom, volume and power buttons on the right. It’s not super-slim phone but at 9.5 mm and a little over 150g, it’s in the right spot. The Y550 feels comfortable in the hand, though the graphite-coloured back is fairly smooth and I think a case would be recommended to avoid the phone slipping to disastrous end.

Y550 Cover OffSpecwise, it’s a 4.5″ IPS screen with 480 x 854 pixel resolution driven by a Qualcomm MSM8916 Quad-Core 1.2 GHz processor and supported by 1 GB RAM but only 4 GB of storage, of which less than 2 GB is available to the user. Getting the back off the phone is easy as there’s a notch in the back cover to use with your fingernail. Inside, there’s the battery, micro SIM and micro SD slots, which can be used to upgrade the storage. Physically, the screen seems to be polycarbonate; there’s no Gorilla Glass here but that’s not surprising at this price point.

There’s the usual accoutrement of radios – wifi 11gbn, Bluetooth 4, GPS and of course, this is a 4G phone. Overall, the phone is 133 mm x 68 mm x 9.5 mm. The battery is 2000 mAh, which keeps the phone going for at least a day on normal use, but firing up Ingress will hit the battery just as on any other phone. The main camera is 5MP autofocus and will record 720p video. The front facing camera is 2MP with a fixed focus. I was pleasantly surprised with the photos from the main camera – colour reproduction was good even in overcast conditions.

Settings Unsurprisingly it’s Android 4.4.4 (KitKat) under the hood but Huawei have added their own Emotion UI on top, which goes in entirely the opposite direction to Google’s Material Design. Instead of flat blocks of colour, Emotion uses shading and three dimension effects and frankly, doesn’t look too bad at all. The other big difference is that there’s no difference between the Desktop and Drawer screens, with all the apps accessible from the Desktop. Widgets and regularly used apps can be added to the screens as well so it’s a bit different from what many people might be used to.

Simple HomeIf this is too complicated, Simple Home is a tab-style combined dialer and app launcher that I assume is aimed at older people with a maximum of 8 apps or contacts per screen in grid layout. Dare I say it, but the layout is reminiscent of Microsoft’s Modern UI with slightly rounded edges.

Huawei have added their Emotion UI to most of the built-in apps and there are a few extra value-adding apps provided to including Cast, which lets you share your phone screen with friends and Remote Camera, which turns the phone into a webcam that can be accesses across the ‘net. Notifications have been improved too in keeping with the Emotion look and feel.

Geekbench 3Checking the performance, Geekbench 3 scored the Y550 at 468 on on the single core and 1348 on the multicore. Interesting, the two year old Nexus 4 scores similarly at 473 / 1477 and I’d say that’s a fair reflection of the Y550 in use. Apps were responsive and there was no lag.

The lack of RAM does occasionally reveal itself and the most obvious instance of this was when an app launched the camera app to take a picture with the expectation of switching back to the original app. On some occasions, I’d find that the original app would have closed while taking the photo and would have to restart. It’s no big deal.

Phone CrashThe other problem that I had which was a bit more disconcerting was the that the phone module would sometimes crash. It never happened while I was on a call but it would take about half a minute for the phone module to reset and services to resume. Huawei need to get this fixed – this particular handset may be an early review model so take that into consideration. I’ll update the review as I hear more.

Overall the Huawei Ascend Y550 is representative of a £100 off-contract phone and it’s good to see 4G reaching this price point. The Y550 does feel more expensive in the hand but is let down by the small amount of storage RAM; 8 GB would seem more appropriate as this would give the user around 6 GB  to use. The Emotion UI is both a pro and a con, although the Simple Home is handy for less experienced users. If you are in the market for a phone at this level, put it on your list.

The Ascend Y550 is available for retailers for around £100 SIM-free or on contract from Carphone Warehouse at £10 per month.

Thanks to Huawei for the loan of the Ascend Y550.

Huawei TalkBand B1 Review

Huawei Logo2014 seems to have been the year of the fitness tracker and there will be plenty nestling underneath the Christmas tree come 25th December. Huawei has joined the market with the TalkBand B1, a wrist-worn fitness and sleep tracker fused with a Bluetooth earpiece. You may think that this is a somewhat odd combination so let’s take a look at the TalkBand B1 and see whether walking and talking is a killer combination.

The Huawei TalkBand B1 was first shown back in February at Mobile World Congress and it hasn’t change much since then. The B1 consists of a coloured wristband (white, grey, black, yellow, red and blue) with an embedded 1.4″ OLED display that shows the current time, steps taken, calories burned and time snoozed. The button on the top moves the display between the four different stats. The wristband comes in two sizes, small and large: the review unit was the small one and I could only just get the B1 on my wrist using the very end holes – if you are buying, make sure that you get the right size.

Huawei Talkband B1

When a phone call comes into a paired phone, the screen shows the caller or phone number, but where’s the Bluetooth earpiece? Cleverly, the OLED display unit pops out of the wristband and becomes the earpiece. As you’d expect, the display shows who is on the line when the phone rings. The earpiece was comfortable to wear but it’s not that secure, though there are three different sizes of loop to help keep it in the ear, but I think you’d only wear it while on a call and put it back when you are done.

Huawei Talkband B1 Earpiece

Huawei Talkband B1 earpiece

The TalkBand B1 charges via a USB connector cleverly hidden in the strap. The battery life is good and over the two week loan, I only had to charge the band a few times. YMMV as they say. The B1 is IP57 rated so it’s water resistant enough that jogging in the rain won’t be a problem.

Huawei Talkband B1 USB

In use the B1 seemed reasonably accurate. I say “reasonably” because if I walked 10 deliberate steps and checked the counter I would have done 10 steps, but I found that the B1 didn’t always count more casual steps. For example, one afternoon when I did a combination of walking, standing and sitting, my Fitbit said that I’d done 2780 steps to the B1’s 2330. I guess it depends on your point of view as to whether you only want full steps to count towards your daily 10,000 steps (which can be changed to suit your own goals).

The B1 also tracks sleep and kept a good note of that – it appeared to easily tell the difference between lounging on the sofa and having a good snooze. If you have been still too long, the B1 will buzz you and show a little animation to encourage a bit of stretching or movement. The instructions suggested the time between prompts could be altered but I couldn’t see how to do it; it’s possible that it was an iOS feature not available on Android which brings us neatly to the app.

A complementary (and complimentary) app syncs the step and sleep information via Bluetooth from the Talkband B1 to both Android and iOS smartphones, showing stats on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. I was using the Android version.

Summary

Activity Graph

Sleep Tracking

The app is straightforward but doesn’t offer much beyond recording activity and some simple interpretation. Disappointingly, there didn’t wasn’t the possibility to upload or share the information between multiple devices, which I think is very much needed when most people have both tablets and smartphones. As mentioned earlier and from reading the instructions, it would appear that the iOS app has greater functionality but I wasn’t able to check that out.

In terms of negatives, the main downside of the Talkband B1 is its size and that it rises well above the wrist. For me, I found it wouldn’t slide under shirt sleeves and in particular, it caught on my trouser pocket every time I reached in to get my wallet out. On the plus side, the instant availability of a Bluetooth headset was great, especially when driving.

Overall, the Huawei TalkBand B1 worked well and was useful but because of the size I’d find it hard to recommend as an everyday wear fitness tracker. I could very much see myself keeping it in my sports bag and putting it on before going for a run or using the treadmill. The Bluetooth earpiece was handy too, so if  the next iteration was a bit smaller or flatter, it could be a winner.

The TalkBand B1 is available from retailers for around GB£100. Thanks to Huawei for the loan of the TalkBand B1.

Swimbuds Sport Waterproof Headphone Review

swimbudsHere in Hawaii we are either at the beach or at a pool on a regular basis. My daughter is a lifeguard at a local city pool, and while she is not allowed to wear headphones / earbuds while on lifeguard duty  she does swim laps each day before / after work and loves to jam out at the same time.

Since our review last year of the Water Proof iPod Shuffle she has been using both the shuffle and underwater ear-buds from Underwater Audio. So when I tossed her the new Swimbuds Sport Waterproof Headphones from Underwater Audio she was eager to try them out..

Today was the day that I asked her for her impressions. First thing she did was started gushing about how awesome they where, and how her co-workers where amazed at the sound quality. They had already seen here previous pair and was amazed those continued to work after 7 months of abuse. During the two weeks she has had these she felt the sound quality and the seal was as good or better than the previous version.

She wanted me to emphasize that one of the things Underwater Audio did right on these was to include a huge selection of ear insert styles, everyone’s ears are a little different and she experimented till she found the best combination.

One added benefit was that she said wearing these underwater earbuds also kept the most of the water out of here ears. When she takes them off she does a fresh water rinse shakes them out and lets them air dry. Retail is @ $70.00 for folks that spend a lot of time in the water they are worth every penny and can be used of course on dry land as well.

IClever HIMBOX Bluetooth Car Hands Free Kit

himboxDo you have a vehicle that does not have a hands free system? Well the folks at  ICLEVER®  have the Himbox Bluetooth Car Hands Free Kit, that packs a lot of punch in a small package.  What I love about this Handsfree device is the simplicity and small size.

Setup could not have been easier. 1st insert the dual power adapter plug  in your cars 12/24v power outlet. 2nd plug the audio cable into your cars 3.5mm aux input port.  If your car does not have an aux port you will not be able to hear the callers audio.  3rd you find a level surface in proximity to the driver and mount the control/ microphone button with included magnetic base and adhesive.

You then pair the unit, once that’s done your ready to start making calls, listening to music via Bluetooth. The control button has multiple functions to support play/pause, volume up/down, next or previous track, answer call, reject call and even switch to private talk by double clicking the button during a call.

In my testing the microphone picked me up fine and sounded good to my callers. It was handy to adjust the caller volume with the audio control on my steering wheel.  My vehicle has a hands free system already in it, so I had to un-pair from my car during the test but surprisingly the quality seemed as good as my in car system.

This device is made by the HisGadget team under their iClever brand. Priced at an amazing $35.99  with Amazon Prime free shipping, you really cannot beat the price and for the quality their is no need to go out and buy the more expensive units on the market

With this review they also sent over a ICLEVER® 4.2A/21W Car Charger price @ $9.99 with Prime shipping at Amazon.  The USB charger worked as advertised and charged a variety of devices without fail.

Be sure to check out their full line of products at HisGadget.com

 

xPrintServer iPad & iPhone Printing Review

xprintThe xPrintServer Home Edition from Lantronix makes iPad & iPhone Printing easy without disrupting printing with your computer. The XPrintServer Home Edition is a  device that simply connects to between your USB Printer Port and your Wireless Switch.

When I see devices come in for review that claim to be easy to setup, I want to make sure it does just that. The xPrintServer came with a Quick Start Guide, the xPrintServer not much bigger than a deck of cards, power cable, and Ethernet cable.

As instructed I connected my printers USB cable to the xPrintServer, connected the network cable to my wireless switch and powered it up.

It took about 60 seconds for everything to sync up, and then the X on top of the device started blinking slowly indicating it was ready to print.  My printer was on their compatible printer list and it had no problem connecting up. I had read that even printers not on the list can be made to work you just need to talk with their support team.

On my iPad I loaded a photo an from the printer option windows chose my now networked usb printer. Clicked print and the image printed fine. I then proceeded to print some Google docs, web pages and various other apps that had a print function which all turned out great.

I had to re-add my printers on my computers though so be aware of this,  the Macs where simple,  if you are using windows you have to install the Bonjour Print Services which was a bit of a pain, but once loaded it detected the networked printer and added it.  For those of you that do not already have a networked printer, this is a great way to get a older USB only based printer to be available on the network versus printing through a dedicated computer via a share.  I had no issues with the device and the whole process took about 10 minutes to have all devices, and existing computers to be able to print through the xPrintServer.

One thing I was not able to test was with a multi-function computer. The existing multi-function printer I already have is a wifi based connected printer that was too far away from the network switch to do a test. Priced at $99.95 from Lantronix this is a great device to make printing available to iOS devices on those USB printers you have in your home.

Evutec Kevlar iPhone 6 Case

evutecWith Bendgate on everyone’s mind everyone is taking a lot closer look at the quality of the cases they buy.   So when I saw that the folks at Evutec have came out with a case embedded with Kevlar fibers I knew they where on to something big.  The Karbon S Series cases are slim yet tough as nails an yet stylish. They come in 4 different colors that are visibly lined with Dupont™ Kevlar®.

When I look at cases today for the iPhone 6 series I look for durability, in the dozen or so cases I have looked at the Evutec line strikes the best balance of toughness and style. Priced at $39.95 they are a little more than other iPhone 6 cases, but in my opinion you are getting your moneys worth.

Be sure to check out their full line of cases @ Evutec.com

Seenda Music Speaker Mouse

seendaI thought I had seen just about ever possible configuration for a mouse, but when the folks at Seenda asked me to review a Music Speaker Mouse I said sure why not.  On the surface this mouse looks like any other average mouse available on the market but what makes it different it has a speaker and microphone built in.

On the bottom of the mouse their are two switches, a standard On/Off, and a “Speaker On/Off”.  As soon as I turned on the speaker, the mouse spoke to me a said “pairing” I paired the mouse with my iPhone, and like any other speaker you pair was able to start playing music through the mouse speaker while at the same time using it as a standard mouse.  I actually discovered the microphone by accident when I answered a call and the mouse acted as speaker phone.

What surprised me the most was that the audio quality was not that bad. The mouse is capable of 3 watts and so long as your not actually using the mouse it sounds pretty good. When you are using your mouse the music is obviously muffled a little bit by your hand.  For $40.00 this may end up being a cool stocking stuffer or better yet it could come in handy for Skype calls.

There are controls on the mouse that let you return last calls, answer & decline calls.  There is a volume up and down button and of course standard wireless mouse functions.

One feature I like is the 900mAh rechargeable battery. The Music Mouse recharges over Micro-USB in a couple of hours while still using it. Seenda says you should expect six hours life when playing music, or up to 70 hours standard use.

The Seenda Music Speaker mouse is definitely pretty unique and a fun product to boot.

 

ACCELL DisplayPort 1.2 to 2 DisplayPort Multi-Display MST Hub Review

accell1As well all know productivity goes exponentially upwards when we go from 1 to 2 monitors and incrementally when one goes from 1 to 3 monitors.  I am fortunate that I have been able to work in a multi-monitor environment for a long time. I personally do better with three monitors than two, but sadly not everyone can afford a multi-display video card. Luckily for all of us their are some great options to expand the number of monitors we can have from a single video output.

The folks from ACCELL have introduced the ACCELL DisplayPort 1.2 to 2 DisplayPort Multi-Display MST Hub (K088B-004B) that allows you to easily connect 2 DisplayPort Monitors to a Single DisplayPort output.   From their website they say the hub utilizes multi-stream transport (MST) protocol, supporting up to 2 displays independently at 2560×1600 @ 60Hz (reduced blanking) or 3840×2160 @ 30Hz (reduced blanking) each with DP 1.2.

So while we all can read a spec I wanted to see how the performance was using a Windows 7 desktop that I have, that has a single display port output on the video card. Hooking the device up was as simple at plugging in the display port plug to the video card and the USB cable to one of my computers usb ports.  I connected both monitors to the hub and booted my computer. It took a little longer to initially sync things up the first boot but I had video..  It was a simple process of arranging how I wanted the displays to replicate within windows display settings.

The monitors I tested this on had a maximum resolution of 2560×1600, so I was not able to test all the way to the top 4k specification but performance at 2560 was flawless. My son loaded and played couple of mid-level video games without any issue or noticeable latency.

Even more exciting is that I know I could use this adapter with two 4k monitors. I have tested these types of devices in the past, and I will say there is a vast improvement in video quality and refresh speed. The Multi-Transport (MST) protocols being used by ACCELL are making a big difference as refresh rates supported go as high as 266khz on a 4k display

At $79.99 this is small price to pay if you want to expand from 1 to 2 monitors. ACCELL has 1 to 3 port hubs available on their website as well, so be sure to check out all the input / output options.

 

 

 

VisionTek Charging Hubs Review

Today almost every household has multiple devices that need to be charged. If I look at my house hold we have 4 – Mobile Phones, 2 – iPad’s, 2-Andorid Tablets and bunch of miscellaneous devices that have their own charging cable and power converter.. Quite simply it is boarding on insanity the number of devices we are charging each evening and can make for a serious cable mess.

The folks at VisionTek provided two VisionTek Charging Hubs that I have been testing in my household, that has first and foremost reduced the number of power adapters, and consolidated the charge cable mess. The charging hubs have allowed me to consolidate charging devices to a couple of areas in my house. Simply reducing the number of wall warts (power adapters)  from a safety stand point of view is refreshing,  in that I am able to unplug the two charging stations versus having charging going on everywhere in the house.

visiontek1First up is the VisionTek High Power USB Seven Port Charging Hub.

It Features:

  • 4 – 1A plugs
  • 3 – 2.1A plugs.
  • USB 3.0/2.0 compatible.
  • Switch to turn unit on/off
  • $49.99

What I really love about this charging hub is that you can charge 7 devices at once as fast at the factory charger.  You can hide the power transformer, and just have the charging bus where you need it.

visiontek2Next is the VisionTek High Power USB Four Port Charging Hub

It Features:

  • 3 – 1A plugs
  • 1 – 2.1A Plug
  • Built in Power Adapter
  • $19.99

I like both of these charging hubs a great deal. From an ascetics point of view, the 4 port charger was more suitable for a kitchen/living room. While the 7 port was fine for my office. The only thing I wish VisionTek would do, would be to build the power adapter into the 7 port. They do have another 7 port charging hub that uses a more traditional wall power adapter that may be more suitable that also includes a sync capability.

The way things are going I can see having a 4 port in each of my kids bedrooms which will allow us to really simply how things get charged around the house.

 

Olloclip 4-in-1 Lens for Samsung Galaxy Review

Olloclip LogoFor the “point’n’shoot” photographer, smartphones and their built-in cameras have almost completely replaced the compact camera which has seen a huge drop in sales over the past few years. Despite the handiness of the smartphone camera and the myriad of post-processing effects beloved by Instagram, there are times where the problem is getting the right image in the first place. Smartphones with macro or wide-angle lenses aren’t common.

This is where Olloclip saw a gap in the market and via a Kickstarter campaign back in 2011, developed a selection of clip-on lenses for the iPhone and iPad, including macro, fisheye and wide-angle lenses. These have become fairly well-known and I’ve even seen a few people using Olloclips on their iPhone in real life. Not content with Apple owners having all the fun, Olloclip have launched a version of the 4-in-1 lens for the Samsung Galaxy S4 and S5. Let’s take a look.

The 4-in-1 lens system for the Galaxy S4 consists of a mounting bracket that holds two macro lenses and two additional feature lenses that screw in on top of the macro lenses. One of the lenses is a fisheye and the other wide-angle. The bracket is well-made, with metal inserts to hold the screw-in lenses and the lenses are glass; by using different threads on the bracket, it’s not possible screw in the wrong lens. The bracket can be attached from the left or the right to get the correct lens in front of the phones camera. Take a look at the pictures of the Olloclip below to see how it all works.

Olloclip with Lenses

Olloclip with Lenses Removed

Samsung with Olloclip

In use, the Olloclip is straightforward – clip on the bracket with the lens you want to use in front of the camera and then start taking pictures using your favourite camera app. Simples!

To test out the Olloclip 4-in-1, I used a Samsung Galaxy S4 borrowed from a colleague and got snapping. Here are a few macro pictures that I took of a coin and the detail is impressive.

Olloclip Macro

Olloclip Macro

Olloclip Macro

And here are a few photos of a local landmark using the normal S4 camera, the wide-angle lens and the fisheye lens. I’m no Ansel Adams, that’s for sure.

Native S4 Camera

Olloclip Wide-Angle

Olloclip Fisheye

I was impressed with the Olloclip and with more interesting subject matter, I could have a lot of fun. I particularly liked the macro capabilities and the fisheye was fun too; I was quite surprised at the width of the field of view. Overall, the 4-in-1 was easy to use, clipping on and off in seconds, and significantly increased the photographic possibilities of the Galaxy S4. . On the downside, you do have to remember to bring the Olloclip with you, and the on/off and volume buttons are obstructed by the bracket when in use. The other problem can be with Samsung cases, which often replace the smartphone’s back. If you have one of these cases, you’ll find that the Olloclip won’t clip on and you’ll need to revert to the original case.

The Olloclip 4-in-1 for the Samsung Galaxy S4 or S5 is available direct from the website or through other on-line retailers. Priced at a penny under US$70 or GB£60, it’s more than an impulse purchase but if you are photographer or want to get more from your camera, it’s worth forking out for. Hopefully enough Galaxy owners will purchase to persuade Olloclip to look at other popular Android smartphones as well.

Thanks to Olloclip for the review 4-in-1 lens and to Jacinta for the loan of the Galaxy S4.