Booq Boa Shift Backpack Review

booq LogoOn review here is the Booq Boa Shift, a lightweight laptop backpack and brother to the Booq Taipan Shock reviewed a few weeks ago. Cut from the same cloth, both physical and metaphorically, the Shift takes laptops up to 17″ compared with the Shock’s 16″, but there’s little in it terms of overall size at 46 x 34 x 20 cm. There’s plenty of room inside for the gadgets and gear, with a slim pocket for the laptop, a larger section for gear and a couple of outer pockets for easy access. It’s a svelte, streamlined pack when all zipped up.

booq Boa Shift

The outer material is 1680D triweave water-repellent polyester closed with YKK zips and all the stitching is neatly finished and taped over on the inside. It looks like a quality product – there are no stray threads or sticky zips. The specs say the Shift weighs around 1.4 kg (3 lb) which is heavier than the Shock and although I don’t have the benefit of the two backpacks side by side, the Shift does feel a little more substantial with extra internal pockets.

The dedicated laptop section is closest to the back side of the Shift and has padding on all sides. It took every laptop I had with ease, including a hefty HP ProBook with a near 16″ screen. My small Chromebook almost disappeared inside it.

booq Boa Shift Internal Pocket

In the main section, there’s a selection of zipped pockets, netted areas, keyrings and pen-holders with plenty of room for books and lunchboxes too. The Boa Shift has flashes of yellow both inside and on the back. The main pocket opens good and wide for easy access to the insides.

booq Boa Shift Internal Pocket

The Boa is loaded with features. To start with all the zips are YKK’s water-repellent versions, so once closed up the bag will keep gear dry in a rain shower, and the bag looks neat as there are no zip teeth showing. Each side of the bag has two open pockets which will take a small bottle of water or perhaps boarding passes. The shoulder straps have two small elastic pockets that can take small items, such as an mp3 player. On the rear, there’s a separate zipped pocket, just the right size for an ereader or small tablet.

booq Boa Shift back

One final touch is a small separate zipped pouch for bits’n’pieces like headphones or credit cards. I can see it being handy travelling too, as you could put all the essentials in it and simply pull out the pouch before putting the Shift in the overhead bin.

Comfort-wise, the shoulder straps are well padded and can be adjusted for fit. There are little loops on the end of the straps to help tighten when needed. There’s an airmesh back padding to help with the load while keeping cool. I loaded the Boa up with some books and lugged it around for a bit and there’s no complaints here.

booq Boa Shift Straps

Finally, as with all Booq backpacks, the Boa Shift comes with Terralinq, a service designed to reunite lost bags with owners. By pairing a serial number on the backpack with the purchaser, the Shift can be returned should it be found.

Overall, as with Taipan Shock, the Booq Boa Shift is a well-made backpack that has plenty of pockets and space for safely toting the biggest of laptops and all the gear that goes with them. The Boa Shift is available from Amazon.co.uk for around GB£120, which is pricey enough and given that the Shock is currently retailing for about half the price, unless you need that extra 1″ or so, I’d stick with the Shock. However, if size matters (or you want a more streamlined pack), take a look at the Boa Shift.

Thanks to Booq for the loan of the Boa Shift.

OnePlus 2 Unboxing

Never SettleMy personal phone has been the OnePlus One for nearly a year and I’ve liked it a great deal. In terms of performance, screen, storage and price, it’s hard to beat. I was never a great fan of the styling, particularly regarding the flat metal trim round the screen, so when I saw the OnePlus 2 had really upped the design, I was in straightaway for an early invite…

…and the new 2 arrived a few hours ago. I restrained myself enough to take a few unboxing photos as I went for GNC readers tech gratification.

Unlike the original One, which came in a flat slip case, the 2 comes in a more traditional shoebox style case. OnePlus has stuck with the vibrant red.

OnePlus 2 in box in wrap

Let’s whip the shrink wrap off.

OnePlus 2 in box

Opening the box reveals the OnePlus 2 itself.

OnePlus 2 box open

Taking the phone out, there’s a “Getting Started” guide underneath and below that is the charger (UK model) and the flat USB cable.

OnePlus 2 under tray

Looking more closely at the USB cable, it’s fully reversible with USB A on one end and new-fangled USB C on the other.

PICT4632

A few gratuitous close ups. Here’s the rear camera.

OnePlus 2 Rear Camera

The Alert Slide. Best idea ever. Hold on, didn’t the Palm Treo 650 have one of these?

OnePlus 2 side

The fingerprint sensor and the USB C port at the bottom of the phone.

OnePlus 2 USB C

Top of the phone and the audio jack socket.

OnePlus 2 Top

I bought a case too. I really wanted a yellow one but it was out-of-stock. :-(

OnePlus 2 Case

The cases replace the rear cover using OnePlus’ StyleSwap feature. The case and rear covers have little clips that click into the back of the phone. Anyone who had a Nexus 10 and genuine flip cover with recognise the way it works. It’s neat and means that rear covers don’t add any bulk and cases become an integral part of the phone. You can also see the dual SIM carrier.

OnePlus 2 StyleSwap

Finally, here’s the OnePlus 2 snug in its new case, ready for setup.

OnePlus 2 in case

That’s it for now. I’m still loading all my apps and getting it configured the way I like it. I’ve still to get my SIM card swapped to a nano SIM too. Early impressions are good, especially in terms of the styling. Fingerprint sensor is pretty cool.

Disclosure – this was a personal purchase though the early invite was enabled by OnePlus’ PR team.

PicLab HD: Spice Up Your iPhone Photos

hd-iconLike many photographers, I’ve spent countless hours experimenting with a seemingly endless stream of photo apps for iPhone. While Photoshop is great for hardcore RAW editing on a desktop, sometimes you need a quick and simple solution for editing photos on the go. The latest addition to my mobile photo arsenal is a beautiful little tool called PicLab HD.

PicLab HD is a powerful design studio that enhances your photos with a plethora of effects and overlays. Just import a photo from your photo library and browse through the extensive catalog of filters, moods, stickers, and overlays. You can also perform basic adjustments such as contrast, brightness, saturation, and blur.

The cool thing that sets PicLab HD apart from other photo editors is its wide variety of text and artwork overlays, all created by professional designers. You can customize the size and color of the overlays to create the perfect addition to any picture. The $1.99 app includes several collections of these stickers, and you can purchase additional packages for $0.99 each, or purchase the entire catalog of artwork for $2.99.THIS TO THISThe free version of PicLab doesn’t include as many features as PicLab HD, but it’s a good place to start experimenting with what the PicLab ecosystem has to offer. You can upgrade from within the free app to access the features of the HD version, or download PicLab HD directly for $1.99 in the App Store. If you’re a serious photographer/designer/artist/enthusiast, I recommend making the plunge and buying PicLab HD– it’s most definitely worth it!

App Review: Thyme for iOS

Thyme logoCooking meals at home used to be a way of life for most Americans. But over time, we’ve become more accustomed to dining out or ordering in. Having food prepared outside of the home is nice, but that food is often more expensive and less healthy than home-cooked fair. And for those of us who are trying to rely less on carryout and more on our own kitchens, there are a variety of apps that aid in the process. One such app is called Thyme and I’ve been using it for awhile.

Thyme bills itself as “the smart kitchen timer app.” And that’s a pretty accurate description. The app is very straightforward and dead simple to use. Upon loading, Thyme gives you a familiar-looking graphic that mirrors the layout of a typical stove, with four circles on top that represent burners and one larger circle at the bottom that represents an oven.

Thyme app

Thyme suggests that you “tap a plate” to set a timer. Doing so brings up a screen that allows you to set that specific timer. Pick the time you need by dragging a finger around the edge of the timer circle.

Thyme app

Thyme begins counting down on that specific timer. Repeat the process for as many other items as you need to time. Here’s what Thyme looks like when one burner and the oven are being timed simultaneously:

Thyme app

When a timer is completed, Thyme will send a push notification including an audible alarm sound. If you have the app open when a timer expires, it looks like this:

Thyme app

Keep in mind that if you have your iOS device’s volume turned off, you won’t hear the alarm when it sounds. So, make sure the device hasn’t been switched to silent before starting a timer.

Thyme isn’t packed with features but it’s a fine little app for what it does. Thyme is available for $0.99 on the App Store but it does occasionally turn up as a free download. Check this app out if you’re in need of a comprehensive kitchen timer.

UltraAV Mini DisplayPort Y-Cable Docking Station Review

minidockWhen it comes to Laptops these days manufactures are releasing them with fewer ports to connect gear. Often time you will need to buy either a limited expansion device by the manufacture or you have to make do and constantly unplug and plug in gear.

When Accell sent me their new UltraAV Mini DisplayPort Y-Cable Docking Station I was contemplating where to do the test.. With two Dell XPS 15 inch laptops in my home with my daughter owning one, I knew this would be a great opportunity for her to experience the benefit of having a dock for her mobile  / home life. For the past two weeks she has had it setup in her bedroom, along with a couple of my display port monitors. Today when I asked for her comments and the dock back,  she gave me that look ad said your not taking this away from me are you dad? My answer was yes it has to go back to the company, and she decided at that moment I was going to have to order her one she could keep. I think this is the first review that has cost me money but it is a testament to the dock.

With the Docking Station plugged into just her Display Port &  USB 3.0 port she was able to take advantage of the docking stations features. She loved being able to have three monitors, 3 USB 3.0 Ports, and have the Lan and other peripherals connected to it. Accell has packed a lot into this docking station making it one of the most robust after market docking stations I have seen in a long time. The docking station specs are below.

  • Provides two Mini DisplayPort 1.2 output ports
  • Expands a USB 3.0 port to three USB 3.0 ports
  • Includes one Gigabit Ethernet RJ45 port
  • AC adapter with US, EU, AUS and UK power plugs
  • DP 1.2 max link rate: 5.4 Gbps (HBR2) per lane
  • DP++ enabled Mini DisplayPort outputs
  • Supports DP 1.2 Multi-Stream Transport (MST)
  • Ethernet supports Wake-on-LAN technology, crossover detection, auto-correction
  • Supports USB 3.0 Charging Downstream Port (CDP)
  • Compliance: DisplayPort 1.2, 1.1a, VESA DDM, HDCP 1.3, DisplayID and EDID 1.4

In a small compact package about the size of your hand you can place it anyplace on your desk or hidden for cable concealment.  Priced at $149.00 you cannot beat the price if you have a computer with a display port dock the best part is the ability to quickly unplug the two connections from the Y cable and go mobile all the while leaving everything on the desk hooked up.

accell2

Creative Sound Blaster Roar Review

Creative LogoWhile everyone’s eyes have been on drones, portable Bluetooth speakers have been the sleeper hit of the past few years. From low-fi to hi-fi and prices to match, there’s a speaker for everyone. On review here is Creative’s Sound Blaster Roar, a compact portable Bluetooth wireless speaker with NFC, though this description sells it short by a long way. Let’s take a look.

To start with, the SoundBlaster Roar is about the size of four DVD boxes stacked on top of each other, though it’s a bit narrower (57 x 202 x 115 mm). It’s no lightweight either with a bit of mass (1.1 kg), which is reassuring when it comes speakers. There’s metal mesh on four sides and a swathe of controls, slots and sockets on the fifth with soft touch rubber which spills over onto the top. The design itself won a Red Dot Award in 2014.

Creative Roar

Some of the controls are self-evident such as the power button and volume controls, but it’s not immediately apparent why there are buttons for record, play and pause. Even more surprising and concerning is the switch marked “ARM”, which fortunately is in the off position for now.

The Roar is much more than a Bluetooth wireless speaker. It’s a hands-free speaker phone, a USB digital sound card, an MP3 player, an audio recorder, microSD card reader, a battery pack and a siren. It’s quite the box of tricks with versatility to take it from the office to the party.

Powering up the Roar plays a satisfying little jingle – it’s on and ready to rock. Starting with the basics and playing music from a smartphone, it’s straightforward to pair the Roar, with a choice of two techniques. Pair via the normal Bluetooth passcode or else swipe the NFC hotspot on the Roar to automatically set the pairing, assuming your device has NFC.

With the pairing done, it’s time to play some music. Given Creative’s long history in audio, it’s not unsurprising that the Roar sounds good. For it’s size, it’s very good indeed which rich sound that’s far bigger than the box itself. To achieve this presence, the Roar houses five speakers in the unit’s body, with sets of speakers tuned to deliver in the bass, mid and high frequency ranges. For extra volume, the ROAR button will turn it up to eleven, through it needs to be plugged into the mains to get maximum volume output.

The Roar is a portable speaker and as a necessity there’s a built-in battery that according the specs gives eight hours of playback. I’m not going to disagree with that – it’s in the right space. The Roar can be recharged either from a supplied power brick or via micro-USB through a port on the rear. There’s a full size USB port too for recharging other devices such as smartphones and tablets from the Roar. Battery status is shown by three round green LEDs on the top.

That’s the main presentation out of the way and if that’s all that’s needed from a portable wireless speaker, the Roar delivers well and is worthy of closer inspection.

Creative Roar

But it’s so much more. As the speaker pairs with smartphones via Bluetooth, it’s not entirely unexpected that Roar doubles up as a speakerphone. In use, call quality was good and echo was minimal, and unlike most speakerphones, the audio from the phone call can be recorded to the inserted microSD card. Potentially a useful feature, but check the legality of recording conversations in the relevant jurisdiction.

The Roar works as a USB audio device too, and installation is largely limited to plugging a USB cable between the PC and Roar. Windows auto-loads the drivers and a few seconds later, the Roar is good to go to play music (and other sounds) from the PC. In this mode, the Roar is powered by the PC and the battery charges up as well. The Roar complements music streaming services such as Spotify or Google Music.

Next up, the Creative Roar can work as a standalone music speaker. Load up a microSD card with mp3s and pop it into the Roar. There are simple controls for play, next track, previous track, repeat and shuffle.

Finally, returning to the ARM button, the Roar has a siren feature. Arm the unit with the switch at the top and press the Alarm button to get a whoop-whoop siren to get everyone’s attention. What more could you want?

Overall this a portable wireless speaker that is crammed full of features and the Roar is everything you need for music on the go, in the office or at home. It’s a great sounding wireless Bluetooth speaker, speakerphone, call recorder, MP3 player, USB digital sound card, battery pack and personal alarm in a portable package costing GB£129. There’s nothing to quibble about here, though I’d really like to see it in yellow. Available now from good retailers and direct from Creative’s store.

Thanks to Creative for the loan of the Roar.

Power Support Anti-Glare Film Set for iPhone 6 Plus Review

Overall, I’m pretty happy with my iPhone 6 Plus. But one problem I keep having to deal with is screen glare, especially in sunlight. The problem is compounded by my visual impairment and it makes the phone almost unusable outdoors. After doing some online research, I decided to pick up a Power Support Anti-Glare set at my local Apple Store.

Power Support anti-glare set for iPhone 6 Plus

 

Power Support anti-glare set

The set is pretty straight forward. It comes with a set of instructions along with two adhesive anti-glare films and one adhesive dust remover. For good measure, I removed my iPhone from its protective case (the instructions don’t specifically recommend doing this) and polished the screen using some Juce screen cleaner. Next, I used the included dust removal adhesive strip by applying one half of the strip at a time until the entire front of the phone was covered.

Power Support dust remover

 

Power Support dust remover

[Read more…]

Archos 52 Platinum with Fusion Storage Review

Archos LogoOn review here is the Archos 52 Platinum smartphone, a mid-range phone with a couple of tricks up its sleeve. First, the smartphone takes dual SIMs and second, it has a microSD slot. The latter is perhaps not a great trick on its own but when paired with Archos’ new Fusion storage, it’s a smartphone with masses of space. Let’s take a look.

Archos Platinum 52

They say first impressions count and my first impression of the Platinum 52 on opening the box is how much the smartphone looks like a bigger Nexus 4. It’s the silver surround on the front and while round the back it’s not the sparkly glass of the Nexus, I’m still a big fan as it’s a neat clean look.

The physical dimensions are 77 mm wide, 150 mm tall and only 8.8 mm thick. Weighing in at 161 g, it’s a tidy package for a big screen phone.

Specwise, the Platinum 52 is a 3G quad-core 1.3 GHz device with 1 GB of RAM, 8 GB storage and a microSD card slot. It’s not a cutting edge processor by any stretch of the imagination but it’s a solid performer that will handle most tasks thrown at it. The 1 GB RAM is a bit meagre but once Fusion Storage has been experienced, it forgives the 8 GB storage memory. Out of the box, the 52 is running KitKat with extra Archos apps but no significant changes to stock Android.

It’s a 5.25″ IPS screen with a 1280 x 720 HD screen which looks bright with good contrast. The Platinum 52 has hard buttons at the bottom of the screen. I prefer the soft buttons of the Nexus series but that’s a personal choice.

There are two cameras, an 8 MP rear camera and a front 2 MP one. No great surprises from either camera, either good or bad.

Archos Platinum 52 BackRound the back and inside is a removable 1750 mAh battery – performance was in-line with expectations. Also inside is the Platinum 52’s first trick; a SIM carrier that takes two SIMs, one micro and one nano (though the Archos website says that they’re mini and micro).

SIM cardsHaving dual SIMs opens up possibilities that having one SIM doesn’t. One SIM for personal and other for work. One SIM for home and your main number, one SIM for the local country and data services.

When a new SIM card is put into the Platinum 52, the phone prompts to set the defaults for each card, so if on travels, set the data connection to the local SIM to avoid whopping data charges. It’s pretty neat.

The next trick is Archos Fusion storage and the Platinum 52 is one of the first smartphones to take advantage of  the feature. Simply, the internal 8 GB storage memory is joined with the inserted microSD card. Put in a 32 GB card and the Platinum 52 has 40 GB of storage.

It’s a two step process; first enable Fusion and then optimise the storage. It’s straightforward and pain-free, though the optimising process takes a little while as files are shuffled around.

Archos Fusion  Archos Optimise

Archos Games with FusionOnce the process is finished, the addition of the microSD card to the storage memory is seamless. After inserting a 32 GB card, I was able to load a stack of massive games onto an “8 GB” phone – Monument Valley, GTA III, Shardlands, Iron Man 3, The Room, The Dark Knight, Galaxy on Fire 2. In practical use, I could tell no difference – possibly games took a little bit longer to load but these are big games and take time even on standard phone. As far as I could tell, the Fusion storage system worked perfectly; Archos have done a really good job here.

At an RRP of GB£129.99, the Archos Platinum 52 is up against some stiff competition but on the whole comes out ahead in both price, specification and looks. The dual SIMs and Fusion Storage are compelling selling points which should set it apart from the herd, especially for travellers. Fusion Storage is clever, works well and gives the low internal storage a valuable boost.

Booq Taipan Shock Backpack Review

booq LogoThe Booq Taipan Shock is a lightweight laptop backpack for devices with screens up to 16″, designed to store the laptop safely in a padded section, placing all the accoutrements of mobile life in other pockets and compartments. As can be seen in the photos, it’s a relatively big backpack at 46 × 33 × 21 cm giving it a large internal volume for plenty of gear. The outer material is 1680D triweave water-repellent polyester closed with YKK zips and all the stitching is neatly finished and taped over on the inside. The specs say it weighs just under a kilo.

Booq Taipan Shock back

Booq Taipan Shock strap sideThe dedicated laptop section is closest to the back side of the Shock and has padding on all sides with a flash of red material. The Shock easily took a chunky HP ProBook with a 15.6″ screen and a more svelte 13″ Lenovo Yoga looked almost lost inside the padded laptop pocket.

Booq Taipan Shock laptop pocket

In the main section, there’s a selection of zipped pockets, netted areas, pen-holders and slots for paper pads. There’s plenty of room for books and lunchboxes too.

Inside the Taipan Shock

Booq Taipan Shock Removable KeyringThe Taipan Shock has loads of neat features. To start with all the zips are YKK’s water-repellent versions, so once closed up the bag will keep gear dry in a rain shower. As the zips are covered with a layer of material, they look neat and tidy, with none of the zip teeth showing. For convenience, one of the side pockets has a detachable keyring, and while the arm straps can be adjusted for fit, any extra webbing can be neatly wrapped and retain with velcro to stop it flapping around. Finally on the rear of the backpack, there’s a pocket that’s just the right size for an ereader or 7″ tablet, which is handy for easy access.

Booq TagsThe Taipan Shock looks very smart in grey but for a bit of brightness a few coloured leather pull-tabs are included which can be swapped in. It’s a neat touch.

Finally, the Booq Taipan Shock comes with Terralinq, a service designed to reunite lost bags with owners. By pairing a serial number on the backpack with the purchaser, the Shock can be returned should it be found.

Overall, the Booq Taipan Shock is a well-made backpack that has plenty of pockets and space for safely toting larger laptops. The Taipan Shock is vailable from Amazon.co.uk with an RRP of £80.

Thanks to Booq for the loan of the Taipan Shock.

Divoom Airbeat-10 Bluetooth Speaker Review

Divoom LogoIt’s rare that products sent for review offer any great surprises: usually gadgets arriving on my desk meet my expectations in terms of build, functionality and price. However, occasionally a device delivers more than expected and I’m pleased to say that this is one such occasion. The Divoom Airbeat-10 punches well above its weight with loudness and clarity that belies its diminutive size. Sorry if this ruined the review but let’s take a look anyway.

The Divoom Airbeat-10 is portable Bluetooth speaker with speakerphone. It’s splashproof and comes with a suction cup and bike mount, though Airboot is just as happy to sit on the table or hang from a hook. A USB to micro-USB cable is included for charging and a 3.5 mm stereo lead comes in the box for devices without Bluetooth.

Airbeat-10 Contents

The Airbeat-10 is about 9 cm along the sides and around 4.5 cm tall. Covered in a soft touch rubber, it’s available in four colours; black, white, red and blue. An LED on the top lights up to show Bluetooth and charging activity, on the side there are four buttons for power, phone functions and volume up/down, along with a covered port for USB charging and 3.5 mm aux in. On the back of the Airbeat is a standard camera screw mount which is used for the suction cup and bike attachment but can be used with other camera accessories such as a GorillaPod. The Airbeat 10 weighs in at 155 g, meaning that it’s not hollow plastic.

Airbeat-10 Buttons

Pairing is straightforward. Turn the Airbeat-10 on, search from the Bluetooth settings on the phone or tablet and pair up. Easy-peasy and time to make some noise.

And this is where the Airbeat-10 delivered well beyond my expectation – it produced rich and surprisingly loud sound for such a small device. Certainly it’s not audiophile hi-fi and it’s not stereo but for a pocket-sized portable device the Airbeat-10 is very good indeed. Music comes across well through the range with little of the tinniness normally associated with small lightweight devices and good amount of lower end bass.

Airbeat Speaker with SuckerI had the Airbeat on my desk for the review period and it was great to have it handy for a quick listen for both music and podcasts. It’s portability and wireless connectivity meant that I could move it round my desk as I needed space. Battery life is a claimed six hours and that seems about right – I found that I needed to charge the Airbeat-10 once or twice a week depending on usage.

The Airbeat-10 is splashproof as well and with the suction mount, it’s ideal for use in the shower. I whacked it onto the tiles with the sucker, started the radio app before stepping in and listened to the morning news in the shower without getting my smartphone wet. Excellent.

There are three minor issues that I found with the Airbeat. First, when using it as a speakerphone, the microphone on the side needed to be pointing at the speaker otherwise the caller on the other end of the line didn’t hear too well. The second was that sometimes “silence detection” seemed to be overly aggressive and between music tracks or between people talking in podcasts, the Airbeat would go silent (presumably to save power) but then there would be a small pop as the sound restarted and the first half-second of speech or music would be lost. Adjusting the volume upwards on the smartphone or tablet usually helped. Finally, the soft touch rubber coating was a bit of a fluff magnet!

These niggles aside, I was impressed by the Divoom Airbeat-10. Although small, the quality of the sound and volume is better than anything I’ve heard at this size, and the portability and wireless connectivity make it the perfect casual speaker whether in the office, in the shower or out-and-about. At this time of year, I’d recommend it to the music Festival crowd and later in the year I’d be suggesting it as a great stocking-filler.

The Divoom Airbeat-10 is available from retailers worldwide with an RRP of £29.99 in the UK.

Thanks to Divoom for the Airbeat-10 for review.