Category Archives: review

Kanex MultiSync Aluminum Mac Keyboard Review


Are you like me and have 2-3 keyboards in your office or studio. Well I actually have 4 Mac’s. 1x Mac Pro, 3x Max Mini’s.  Yes I’m a bit over the top, but in order to run my studio, and manage everything prior and during a show I used to have 4 seperate keyboards that I had to keep batteries charged and organized. Honestly it was a mess.

kanexTo the rescue the Kanex MultiSync Aluminum Mac Keyboard which allows me to control 4 devices.  This is the most ingenious keyboard I have ever had the please of having on my desk. All I needed to do was sync each Mac via Bluetooth to one of the four available presets, and I went from 4 keyboard to one. This is a full sized Mac Key Layout with all function features from powering on a device to controlling screen brightness.

The keyboard action is great, and the profile is one most of you using and external Mac keyboard will be used to.  While most of you will not have 4, Macs you may have 2-3 Mac devices and you can sync and type to each independently from this single keyboard.

Priced @ $99 you cannot beat it if you need one keyboard to service a number of devices.

LG G5 Review

lg-g5The LG G5 Mobile phone I have reviewed from AT&T is an absolute pleasure to hold. Often when I get a mobile phone to review these days I think they should send a protective shell for it. As I feel like I am going to be prone to dropping it. Not the LG G5! The way it fits in my hand gave me a good feeling about the phone from the start. It is hard today with the myriad of phones to really break them out but LG has really went the extra distance to try and make this phone different introducing what I think is the first modular, multi-purpose device.

A few things I can say about the LG G5 Mobile is that the screen is not as bright as some of the models out there, but using it both indoor / outdoor usage specifically the beach here in Hawaii on a sunny day the screen held its own for being able to view it without trouble. I love the power on button which is in the back and double tap screen sleep feature that a lot of the phones are supporting now. The icons on the screen had nice contrast and action on the touch screen was where I would expect it to be. Performance was fine and executed applications fast.

lg-g52The LG G5 is unique though in that it allows for the battery to be pulled out and a LG module plugged in it’s place. Its the first modular phone, I have seen and while I did not get to test any modular accessories it did feel really odd pulling the bottom section of the phone and pulling the battery out. But I suppose you can but another battery pack to slap in. It sure beats having to have it plugged into a external battery when you need a boost.

LG has really rolled the dice here and to date I have not heard of anyone buying additional modules to plugin to the device. Looking at the LG site they do have some cool options that allow you to take your phone to the next level and have a multi-purpose device. But I will admit it’s a bit weird pulling the phone apart.  Overall loved testing the phone and if you are looking to geek out this may be the mobile for you.

Standard Specifications for the mobile courtesy of LG. Head over to AT&T to test one out. You can buy it for $688 or $23.00 a month with a 30 month contract.



Venturer BravoWin Hybrid Notebook Review

Venturer LogoMicrosoft and small Windows devices are in a difficult space. There’s no doubt that for serious work, a full desktop or laptop is needed, whether based on an Apple or Microsoft OS. When it comes to tablets and phones, Windows is away in the distance behind iOS and Android.

Into this place comes the Venturer 2-in-1 Mini Windows Notebooks, consisting of the BravoWin 10KT at GB£149 and the EliteWin 11KT at £199. These are hybrid devices, capable of switching between tablet and notebook mode by detaching the keyboard. The main difference between the two models is the screen size (10.1″ 1280×800 v. 11.6″ 1366×768) and here we have the little brother, the BravoWin. I’d never heard of Venturer before but they’re a Hong Kong-based outfit so let’s take a look.

BravoWin Tablet

As a hybrid, the BravoWin comes in two pieces, namely the screen and the keyboard, which come together by slotting the screen into a hinge on the keyboard. The overall dimensions are roughly 26.6 cm by 16.8 cm by 2.4 cm when closed up with a bit of an air gap between the keyboard and screen, though it tapers towards the front. The tablet itself is 1 cm thick.

Opening the BravoWin as a notebook, the hinge rotates downwards to raise the rear of the keyboard up for a slight slope. A soft felt pad along the hinge protects the surface and while the keys on the keyboard are quite small, they do travel nicely. There’s a small button-less touchpad at the front too where double tapping on the left and right side of the keyboard simulates the mouse buttons.

BravoWin Hybrid Tablet

While beauty might be in the eye of the beholder, the BravoWin is no looker. It’s two tone plastic, part dark gray, part silver with buttons, speaker grilles and ports all over the place. Well, not quite everywhere; most are located on one end of the tablet. There’s an HDMI mini, micro SD slot, DC power in, micro USB port, 3.5mm earphone, power on/off button, USB 2 port and Windows button. The BravoWin can be charged both via the micro USB and the DC power in, with a PSU supplied in the box. On the back of the tablet, there’s volume up / down controls and reset button. There’s nothing on the keyboard which is a pity as an extra USB port or two would have been handy.

Edge of BravoWin

In terms of build quality, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The keyboard and keyboard hinge seem quite sturdy. The tablet itself is plastic and it creaks a little in use. It’s not flimsy but it’s not tremendously reassuring either. Having said that, the promotional material extols the BravoWin’s drop resistance, claiming that it’ll survive a drop from 1.2 m. I didn’t test this…..

BravoWin Hinge

The 10.1″ 1280×800 screen is perfectly acceptable and possibly quite a bit better than some I’ve seen recently. It does suffer a little from backlight bleeding around some of the edges, but it’s most noticeable around the hinge when the notebook is booting and the screen is black. It’s not something I’d worry about in day-to-day use, though. In terms of touch, I found the screen responsive and at times, I ended up using the touchscreen more than the touchpad.

The processor is an Intel Atom Z3735F quad-core clocked at 1.3 GHz (boosts to 1.8 GHz) with 2 GB RAM and 32 GB (28 GB reported) of storage and there’s around 16 GB of space free so the micro SD slot is going to come in useful – it will take cards up to 64 GB. Windows 10 Home is installed, though it’s only the 32bit version despite the 64-bit processor. There’s 11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth too.

Performance is perfectly adequate for what you might call undemanding tasks – surfing the web, watching YouTube, playing Cut The Rope – and you can have a few apps open before switching apps slows it down. Obviously this depends on the apps you are using and the BravoWin is no Surface Pro 4, so adjust expectations accordingly. Regardless, I found it very usable. Battery life is rated at 8 hours and I got over six hours one day without completely exhausting the battery.

BravoWin Back

The 2 MP cameras are a bit disappointing (tablet cameras usually are) and I couldn’t get the front-facing camera to work in the standard Camera app – the app kept crashing. It did work fine in Skype so it’s not a hardware problem in itself. Cortana wasn’t very happy with the microphone either, complaining about low volume. The microphone is positioned on the end of the tablet along with the ports and wasn’t very good at picking up sound unless you were quite close to the mic.

My biggest problem though was with the keyboard and touchpad, and while this sounds like a break-up letter, the problem was me. I’m a man with big hands and I really did not get on with this keyboard. Technically it worked fine but I was constantly pressing the wrong keys, hitting the touchpad when I didn’t mean to and so on. Probably a better choice for children or people with smaller hands than mine.

The BravoWin is the first tablet I’ve used with Windows 10 and it’s certainly much better than its OS predecessors. I still get frustrated at the hybrid nature of Windows 10 at times, with it seemly unable to decide whether it’s a desktop or tablet operating system. Still, this is hardly the fault of the BravoWin so we’ll move on.

Coming to the end of the review, it’s difficult to place the Venturer BravoWin in the marketplace. It’s competing both against Windows laptops and notebooks, and against Android and Apple tablets. It’s not easy to pigeonhole the BravoWin and identify the best use cases, though the obvious ones are people who need Windows on a device strong enough to throw in a bag without worrying. Sounds like a student to me.

Let’s state this plainly: the BravoWin is a cheap small robust hybrid notebook running Microsoft Windows 10. If that’s what you need and you don’t have much cash, then take a look as it fits the bill nicely. People with large hands might want to check out the bigger EliteWin.

Both the BravoWin and the EliteWin are available from Amazon and other good retailers with an RRP of GB£149 and £199 respectively.

Thanks to Venturer for the loan of the BravoWin and if you like the wallpaper, check out Smashing Magazine’s monthly selection.

LIFX Color 1000 Smart Bulb Review

If you are looking for a last minute Fathers’ Day present then an LIFX smart bulb might be just the thing. Getting into smart lighting can be expensive as there’s often an additional wireless hub to control the lights but LIFX have taken a different approach with their lamps as each one connects via WiFi. There’s no Z-Wave or Zigbee here. The folks at LIFX kindly sent one of their smart bulbs for review, so let’s take a look.

LIFX offer four different bulbs, in a combination of two shapes and colour v white only. On review here is the Color 1000 in the A19 size (BR30 is the other size) in a UK variant with bayonet cap. A screw cap is also available and interestingly works across US and UK voltages.

LIFX Color 1000 in box LIFX Color 1000 in box

In the box, there’s the light plus instructions. In addition to the physical light, an app needs to be downloaded from the appropriate app store to your smartphone or tablet. Apps are available for Android, iOS and Windows.

The bulb itself is solid, weighing in at 243 g and measuring 117 mm tall and 63 mm wide. It’s no lightweight.

LIFX Color 1000 LIFX Color 1000

In common with most “IoT” Wi-Fi devices, there’s a two step setup process that the app takes you through. When first powered up, the light will create a small Wi-Fi network that your smartphone connects to. Using the app, you can then configure the bulb to connect to your home’s Wi-Fi, selecting the SSID and providing the passcode. Both the smartphone and bulb disconnect and reconnect as normal to the Wi-Fi network. With the configuration out of the way, you can now start to have fun.

During the setup, you need to create a username and password which you generally don’t need to use unless you are going to use the bulb with other smart home gear, such as Samsung’s SmartThings. More on this later.

As an aside, during my setup, the bulb needed a quick firmware update which all happened automatically and painlessly, though it did delay getting going by a few moments. Good to see that it’s easy to keep the bulbs up-to-date.

The LIFX app provides all the tools you might expect to manage bulbs in a smartly-lit house. Bulbs can be collected into names spaces, such as “bedroom” providing quick access to multiple bulbs based on location. Obviously in this example I only had one room.

Screenshot_20160609-001949 LIFX Colour Wheel LIFX White Wheel

The bulb can be switched between colour and white modes depending on you mood, with a straightforward wheel to choose the desired hue. The brightness can be controlled too using the control in the middle of the wheel.

LIFX White LIFX RedLIFX Greeen

LIFX say that the Color 1000 puts out a little over 1000 lumens which is equivalent to a 75 W incandescent bulb. It was definitely a bit brighter than my Philips Hue colour bulbs, though I did notice that the Color 1000 got fairly warm too and will consume 11 W at full brightness.

Fiddling around with the LIFX Color 1000 is tremendous fun and children will love co-ordinating with their favourite Disney colours. You can imagine the colours generated from Frozen…. There’s even a special effects mode which has selections like “Spooky”, “Flicker” and “Color Cycle”. Themes sets up preset colours for easy access and schedules can turn lights on and off automatically it’s all simple to use.

Contrary to my original review, the Color 1000 can be controlled from outside out of the premises. Using my mobile phone and 3G only, it worked as if I was at home, turning the light on and off, changing colours and so on. Great if you want to use the LIFX as a security light and turn it on when you are unexpectedly late coming home.(I’m not sure what went wrong the first time I tested and it didn’t work, but I can only assume it was a temporary connectivity problem from outside my home. It definitely does work – sorry LIFX.)

In addition to being able to control the bulb via the native app, LIFX have put some work into integration with connectivity from Nest, IFTTT, “Ok Google”, SmartThings, Echo and Logitech’s Harmony. I tried it with Samsung’s SmartThings and it was very easy and straightforwad. Select LIFX lights in SmartThings, stick in the username and password created during setup, and job done with the Color 1000 appearing in SmartThings for control.

In summary, the LIFX Color 1000 is a good choice if you want to get into smart lighting at a reasonable cost – the UK price of the bulb is £59.99. Admittedly that’s still not cheap and it is £10 dearer than the equivalent Philips Hue but you don’t have to buy the Hue Hub at £50 before you get going. LIFX have future-proofed the investment with their integrations, so if you get into smart lighting and then smart homes, the LIFX Color 1000 can still be used as part of the system. The Color 1000 is a big bulb so if there’s a particular lamp that you want to use with it, just check the bulb’s going to fit.

The LIFX is available from Amazon and other online retailers. Thanks to LIFX for the Color 1000 to review.

Dell Thunderbolt Dock TB15 Review

tb15When Dell sent me the XPS 12 2 in 1 they also included a variety of accessories, one of those was their brand new Dell Thunderbolt Dock Model TB15 which turns out to be one of the most versatile docks I have tested, not to mention lightning fast supporting data transfer speeds up to 40gbps through the Thunderbolt 3 inner connects.

When the dock is paired with the Dell XPS 12 2 in 1 LaptopDell UltraSharp 32 Ultra HD 4k – UP3216Q Monitor & Fusion Thunderbolt 3 PCIe Flash Drive the dock turns the portable XPS 12 2 in 1  into a powerful desktop business solution . After being out of the office all day, all I needed to do was plug the Thunderbolt 3 cable from the dock into the Dell XPS 12, and instantly the monitor and hard drive sync’d up and became available for use. While at the same time charging the XPS 12 via the docks separate power supply.

Through a single Thunderbolt 3 connector between the XPS 12 and the TB15 dock. My interconnections expanded dramatically! The TB15 allows a combination of monitor connections whether it be a standard VGA, Thunderbolt, Mini DisplayPort, DisplayPort or HDMI connection. Three USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0, plus an additional Thunderbolt 3 Port (for external hard drive or other peripheral), GB Lan Connector with Pass-through MAC Address, and Headphone / Mic port. This new dock by Dell is a winner across the board.

fusionThe provided Sonnet Fusion Thunderbolt 3 PCIe Flash drive was the fastest drive I have ever used! With transfer speeds up to 2100 mb/s. I was able to offload 4k drone video files from a Micro SD card via USB 3 to the external Thunderbolt drive and then edit with no lag whatsoever. In the past I would have had to have worked on the video on the internal drive of the laptop.  With the drive being Bus powered no exta cables to worry about, small and rugged this drive will go anywhere.

As reviewed this package from dell is simply incredible. Today the Dell Thunderbolt Dock Model TB15 is currently sold out at dell but should be in stock shortly.

For Purchase Information:
Dell XPS 12 2 in 1
Dell UltraSharp 32 Ultra HD 4k – UP3216Q
Sonnet Fusion Thunderbolt 3 PCIe Flash drive

Dell has provides all items in this review for review. All products have been used in real world conditions and office environment for the past six weeks.


Devolo dLAN 550 WiFi Starter Kit Review

Devolo LogoDevolo’s recent expansion into smart homes and home automation doesn’t mean that they’ve been neglecting their powerline network business. After upping their game with their top-of-the-line dLAN 1200 series, they’ve turned their attention to the mid-range, refreshing the design and boosting speeds. The new dLAN 550 series updates the dLAN 500s, offering greater in-house range and faster WiFi transmission rates. For those unaware of powerline networking, it’s a system that uses electrical wiring to carry network data, with ethernet-to-power adaptors where networking is required. Devolo kindly supplied me with a dLAN 550 WiFi Starter Kit to check out. Let’s take a look.

Devolo 550 Starter Kit Box

The box is Devolo’s usual fare, with a printed outer box and a plain cardboard inner box. In the box there are two powerline adaptors, one 550 Duo+ and one 550 WiFi. There’s also a white network cable, instructions and a couple of flimsies on “conformity”. The new style Duo+ is roughly twice the size of the WiFi unit, extending upwards from the UK-style power plug. The unit has twin network ports on the top and power pass through. There’s a small button on one side and a single white LED above the power socket. As for the more compact WiFi unit, it’s had a design refresh too, with a single ethernet port on the bottom, and two round buttons on the front which double up as indicator LEDs.

Devolo 550 Starter Kit

Getting going is easy. Plug the Duo+ into a power socket near a router and connect both of them with an ethernet cable. Plug the WiFi adaptor into a socket where additional wireless coverage is need. The two adaptors are paired out of the box and a few seconds after plugging in the units, the white LEDs will stop flashing and go solid. If the adaptors need to be paired (or added into an existing powerline network), it’s simply a case of pressing the pair button on both devices for a few seconds and they’ll sync up.

Devolo 550 Starter Kit Side View

To setup the WiFi, there’s a couple of options. Devolo have desktop app, Cockpit, for Microsoft Windows, Apple OS X and Ubuntu Linux which can be downloaded from Devolo. This provides a graphical representation of the dLAN network which clicks through to individual adaptors. The application finds everything automatically and can check that all the adaptors are running the latest versions of their respective firmware, upgrading as necessary. I take some of the data transmission speeds with a pinch of salt, and rely on “bigger is better”.

Devolo Cockpit

There’s a mobile version of Cockpit available from Apple’s App Store and Google Play, called “My Devolo”. It’s not as graphical as the full software but it’s still feature rich, allowing access to a wide range of device features. Here’s detail for the 550 WiFi.

Devolo dLAN 550 WiFi  Devolo dLAN 550 details  Devolo dLAN 550 features

Devolo 550 WiFi wirelessIn the app, the wifi network can be configured as preferred with SSID, passphrase, channel, mode and encryption standard. Everything expected of a wireless access point. Aside from the wireless settings, there are sections for parental controls, guest access and MAC address filtering and WPS features.

The 550 WiFi is an 11n device working in the 2.4 GHz frequencies. It’s not 11ac 5GHz, but the 550 boosts transmission rates to 300 Mb/s over the 500’s lower 150 Mb/s by using 2×2 MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) technology. Obviously, the laptop or tablet has to support the faster wireless rate and while the base data rate may have doubled, actual data transfer won’t. A quick bit of testing suggests that a real-world increase of around 50%-60% is realistic under good conditions. YMMV.

Returning to the Duo+, the adaptor uses all three electrical cables (live, neutral and earth) for networking, which increases performance and range by a third from a notional maximum of 300m to 400m, though this will be affected by local circumstances. My house isn’t big enough to test this, so we’ll just have to trust Devolo on this one.

The dLAN 550 WiFi is now available online and in stores. The Starter Kit costs GB£99.99 and consists of a dLAN 550 WiFi and an additional dLAN 550 duo+ adapter. A Network Kit with three adapters (two 550 dLAN WiFi adapters and one dLAN 550 duo+) is available for £149.99, while single adapters for extending the WiFi network are available for £59.99.

Thanks to Devolo for the 550 WiFi Starter Kit for review.

Dell UltraSharp 32 Ultra HD 4k – UP3216Q Monitor Review

dellI will start off by saying the Dell UltraSharp 32 Ultra HD 4k – UP3216Q is the most incredible monitor I have ever reviewed. For the past month I have been using it as my primary desktop monitor connected via the Dell Thunderbolt Dock and a Dell XPS 12 2 in 1.

When I received this monitor, I was a bit apprehensive due to it’s 32 inch size, but as soon as I made some room for it on my desktop, and turned it on I was blown away. Honestly I am astonished every time I sit in front of it has a phenomenal viewing experience. The color clarity, brightness and crispness is simply remarkable.

While this monitor is specifically designed for graphics professionals and delivers accurate, consistent color w/ PremierColor . My wife saw it, and immediately demanded that I order one for her desktop based on just seeing it even before I run it through it’s paces.

In the years I have been doing video / photo editing, I have never felt I needed to color correct. Having a monitor that is color accuraet from the start has given me a new perspective into some of my editing strategies.

You do not have to be a video or photo editor to get tremendous value from this monitor. In my opinion I walk away with less eye stress and also feel that I have a new perspective on website design work etc. I am not going to dive deep on the spec’s Dell does that better than I ever could. You will want to make sure you review the connection options with the monitor, to make sure your computer supports it. Connectivity includes DP, mDP, HDMI (MHL), 4 x USB3 with one charging port, 1 x USB3 upstream, Media Card Reader

Let me say this, if your looking for a new monitor and it’s in your budget it will be a worthy investement to step up to the Dell UltraSharp 32 Ultra HD 4k – UP3216Q.

Disclosure: Dell has provided me this monitor to review, it has been utilized in real world office conditions for the past month.

OnePlus Loop VR Review

OnePlus LogoOnePlus is launching the next model in its wildly successful line of smartphones on 14 June and its going to do the launch in VR, basing the event on an orbiting spacestation called The Loop. Although the fourth phone from the Chinese outfit, it’s going to be the OnePlus 3 following on from the 1, 2 and X. I’ve personally bought the 1 and 2 after falling out with the Nexus 5.

To support the VR launch of the 3, OnePlus gave away 30,000 Loop VR headsets with purchasers paying only for the postage. Of course there was a massive rush, but I managed to snag one and it arrived today. It’s been developed in partnership with AntVR, who launched a VR system through Kickstarter in later 2014.

Here are a few snaps.

Loop VR in box

OnePlus Loop VR in box

OnePlus Loop VR Front

OnePlus Loop VR Lenses

OnePlus Loop VR Side

OnePlus Loop VR

OnePlus Loop VR

OnePlus Loop VR

I don’t have much experience with VR headsets but build quality is on the solid plastic side of things. The elastic headbands are adjustable and the lenses can be adjusted to three positions. I wouldn’t exactly say that it’s comfortable to wear but it’s probably what you’d expect from lump of plastic strapped to your face.

The smartphone slides in the front for the screen….and this is where it all came to a stop. How are you supposed to control the smartphone when it’s in headset? You can’t tap on anything as the phone’s on your head. Do you need a Bluetooth mouse or similar? The links to an AntVR app don’t seem to work and the OnePlus Loop VR is counting down to 14 June. I kind of assumed that Google Cardboard apps would work as common denominator on Android but no, that doesn’t seem to work either – I can’t seem to select any menu options.

Massively disappointed. All very much reminds me of 3D TVs….

I hope things improve once the OnePlus Loop VR app comes to life on 14 June but if any GNC readers want to educate me on the ways of VR headsets, please fill me in through the comments.

Archos 80b Helium 4G Tablet Review

Archos LogoTablets have become ubiquitous over the past five years to the point that Android devices are almost a commodity item in the smaller screen sizes. Regrettably favourites such as the Nexus 7 and Tesco Hudl have been discontinued and the Amazon Fire tablets are tied to their own ecosystem. What’s a geek to do for a secondary tablet or younger family member?

Fortunately there are other models and suppliers. Here we have the Archos 80b Helium 4G tablet for under £100 online. On paper it seems like a great deal – 8″ HD screen, quad core processor, 4G connectivity, 16 GB RAM, microSD slot and dual cameras. Let’s take a look and see whether it lives up to expectations.

Archos 80b Helium Tablet Box

Opening the box reveals the 80b Helium tablet plus a USB travel charger with UK and continental adapters. The charger manual does mention a US adapter but there wasn’t one in the box I received. There are two booklets, though one is only warranty and legal information. The other is a Quick Start Guide in a dozen languages.

Archos 80b Helium Tablet Front

The 80b tablet has a white screen surround on the front and a silvered back panel on the rear. The top above the camera on the back pops off to reveal the slots for the microSD card and not just one, but two SIM cards. The part that comes off is a little flimsy, so I wouldn’t expect to be switching memory cards or SIMs on a regular basis. (The dirty smudges in the picture below are where I’ve blurred out IMEIs).

Archos 80b Helium Card Slots

The 80b Helium feels good with slight texture to the metal back: it’s easily held in one hand. There’s a small ridge round the edge of the screen and a microphone and camera at the top. There’s a single speaker on the rear, plus power button and volume rocker on the upper right hand side. Finally the top side has the micro USB port and 3.5 mm audio socket. The top micro USB port may not be to everyone’s taste and the slight downside of a single speaker on the rear is that it can be easily muffled when the tablet is on a soft surface.

Archos 80b Helium Tablet Rear

Turning the 80b on, the tablet runs largely stock Android 5.1 Lollipop and you have to look fairly hard to find the Archos customisations. As a bonus, Archos has pre-installed a selection of software including Angry Birds, Asphalt O, Green Farm 3, Little Big City, News Republic, Jamendo and MobiSystems’ OfficeSuite, to name a few. There’s also Archos Video player and FM Radio. As the 80b has a SIM slot, there’s a phone app too, and the tablet can be used as a giant phone. Probably best used with a headset as aside from not looking like an idiot, there’s no proximity sensor and ears press the screen.
(Note: some of the online specs say that the 80b runs KitKat but the version sent for review had Lollipop both installed on the tablet and printed on the box).

In addition to making phone calls, having mobile connectivity on-board was handy and meant that I wasn’t always having to look for a wi-fi hotspot to download my latest email or news feed. Obviously there’s the cost of the extra SIM plan though I found that having the extra screen real estate over my phone meant that I was more inclined to get a little real work done on email.

The screen is an 8″ 1280 x 800 IPS display with a plastic surface and this gives screen a slight soft or diffuse appearance at times and benefits from having the backlight turned up. There’s no ambient light sensor in the 80b Helium so it’s a manual adjustment. Depending on the expected use of the tablet, having a plastic screen may be a benefit as perhaps it’s more robust than a glass one. In terms of resolution, 1280 x 800 is the same as the original Nexus 7, though the 2013 model upped it to 1920 x 1200 in a 7″ screen. I like that extra inch in screen size and it’s just enough to make reading magazines a bit more comfortable.

Performance-wise, the 80b is not the fastest tablet in the world. Running Geekbench 3 benchmarks shows that the 1 GHz quad-core MediaTek ARM CPU runs somewhere between the original Nexus 7 and the 2013 revision. Having said that, I felt that Archos tablet responded well and played games like Alto’s Adventure well enough. What I did notice was that loading times were a little slow and switching between apps wasn’t that nippy. The solitary 1 GB of main RAM probably has good deal to do with this.

Archos 80b Helium Single Core Archos 80b Helium Multi Core

Although I didn’t do a full battery test, in normal use the tablet seemed to get through the power source at the expected rate. It neither lasted ages or burned up quickly, though playing any high powered game reduced the charge fast.

The cameras are specced at 2 megapixels (1600 x 1200) for the rear one and 0.3 (640 x 480) for the front facing camera. The camera app has a couple of interesting features. First, a picture can be taken using the “V for victory” sign which is handy for group shots where everyone needs to be in the frame. I found it worked best in well-lit situations and it was a little hit-or-miss where the light levels were low. Second, there’s a “live photo” feature, which is a 5 second video with an inset, perfect for uploading to social media sites. In the live photo mode, the camera is constantly recording, so the clip is the 5 seconds before the shutter button is pressed. Other than that, there are a few controls for white balance, exposure, scenes and effects. Below is an untouched picture (click through for the full image) taken with the 80b’s rear camera on high sharpness.

Archos 80b Tree

Way before Android 6 Marshmallow introduced adoptable storage, Archos had Fusion, a clever OS mod which melded internal storage with a semi-permanently installled SD card. Inserting a 32 GB microSD card and formatting it for Fusion gives the 80b an effective internal memory of 48 GB and the Fusion system is completely transparent to installed apps. It’s neat idea, especially for pre-Marshmallow tablets.

I think we’ve covered all the main bases and it’s time to review the findings. In summary, the Archos 80b Helium is not a flagship device by a long way but as it only costs £92 it would be unfair to expect it to be. This is a budget tablet with 4G mobile connectivity which makes the 80b a bit of a rarity and a useful one too.

For example, I would see the 80b Helium being good for travel where undemanding usage as an ereader and media player along with the bigger 8″ screen make it a suitable choice for entertainment on the go. It’s robust enough to be thrown in a bag and paired with a suitable data plan (such as Three’s Feel at Home), there’s no need to pay for expensive hotel wifi. And at less than a hundred quid, it’s not a disaster if it’s damaged or stolen.

To hit that price point, the Archos 80b Helium is all about compromise. On the downside, it’s slow, the screen quality’s not great and the camera’s poor. On the other hand, the screen’s bigger at 8″, there’s expandable memory with Archos Fusion and 4G mobile connectivity for information on the go. Ultimately, I liked the 80b and it migrated to my bedside, but it’s not going to be replacing my Nexus 9 anytime soon.

The Archos 80b Helium 4G tablet is available from Ballicom and other online retailers.

Thanks to Archos for providing the 80b Helium for review.

Dell XPS 12 2-in-1 (Laptop or Tablet) Review

xps124Last year I reviewed an Dell XPS 13 and absolutely fell in love with the Laptop, so when given a chance to review the Dell XPS 12 2-in-1 (Laptop or Tablet) and a bunch of accessories I jumped at the chance. With any device that I review they get a real world test, in this case I have been using the Dell XPS 12 2-in-1 now for three weeks which included a two week road trip as my only Laptop / Tablet.

I have never had a Laptop with a detachable screen so my main concern was not so much it being detachable, my concern was more based on performance. Would the XPS 12 act more like a Tablet or a Laptop. My typical travel does not require me to edit video, but on this trip beyond normal work stuff, I had 4 videos that I needed to edit for a client and the XPS 12 handled them like a champ. I was actually taken back a little bit, encoding video is typically the true test on a computers performance and the XPS 12 performed remarkably well with the Intel 6th Generation M5 Processor.

The Dell XPS line has set the bar in workmanship, just like other XPS models this one utilizes premium materials such as Carbon Fiber, Machined Aluminum and screen hardened with Corning Gorilla Glass. Weighing in at 2.8lbs with the keyboard base of 1.75lbs with just the tablet. The build of the Dell XPS 12 2-in-1 is solid and elegant. While XPS Laptops are thin to begin with this one has already garnered a lot of attention by the folks I have exposed it to.

The screen docking utilizes magnets to snap it into place to establish a solid link between the keyboard and the screen. The 12.5 inch 4k Ultra HD display using the XPS 12 in tablet mode is simply incredible bright and vibrant. When you detach the screen from the keyboard you are asked if you want to stay in PC mode or switch to Tablet. Either choice is fine with Windows 10 the experience is pretty much seamless. The screen features a 352 DPI and has 8 million pixels resulting in an incredible screen experience. I cannot say it enough the screens of the XPS line is really what sets Dell apart from the competition.

The XPS comes with 2 cameras a 5MP user facing camera an 8MP world facing camera. Perfect for high res photos or web-chatting. Thunderbolt 3 has arrived in a big way the XPS 12 has two Thunderbolt 3 ports with the new Type-C connector for blazing fast file transfers.

xps123Let’s talk about the keyboard’s, when you order your XPS 12 you will be able to choose between two keyboard’s. When I tested the XPS 13 last year, I felt that the keyboard on that laptop, was the best keyboard ever designed for a laptop. When I received the XPS 12 with it came their Premier Keyboard with Premier Magnetic Folio which has a 1.9mm travel, when I expressed to the Dell team that I really loved the XPS 13 keyboard they surprised me by sending me the XPS Slim 12 Keyboard – with 1.3mm travel and adjustable viewing angles up to 150 degrees. xps122This blew me away, in that I could have “my” choice of keyboards. Do not get me wrong the premier keyboard is a great keyboard, if you like a little deeper keyboard action the premier is for you.

The XPS fits into a business environment with all the management and security features of a Latitude. The new Dell Thunderbolt dock, a story in itself connects to the XPS 12 with a single cable. I will be talking in detail in a later article about dock and other key peripherals.

For travel the Dell Adapter – USB Type C to HDMI/ VGA / Ethernet / USB 3.0 allows you to quickly connect for presentations and or hard wired networks. The Dell Active Pen allows you to interact with the XPS 12 with a stylus.

During my last trip, I was late in preparing a report for my company, which required about 4 hours of work. So while on the plane ride home, in coach I was able to knock out the report in laptop mode and then watch a 4k movie with plenty of battery life left comfortably on the tray table. It’s a sweet time to have this much power and versatility.

No longer do you have to travel with a massive laptop to get the performance and screen real-estate to get work done. Whether I am crunching multiple spreadsheets one moment in laptop mode, or watching a video in bed in tablet mode the Dell XPS 12 2-in-1 (Laptop or Tablet) is the perfect business or travel device. In a world where versatility in being able to get multiple functions out of one device the XPS 12 has allowed me to lighten my travel load while at the same time provide the power I need to do what I do whether at the office, home or travel.

Bit of a side note if you’re looking at other options. I used a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 recently for a few hours so it’s not a full comparison here. But if I was asked to choose between one or the other the choice is very easy, my pick is the Dell XPS 12 2-in-1.

Disclaimer: I have been provided the Dell XPS 12 2-in-1 (Laptop or Tablet) to review from Dell. The views and commentary are my own and represent my experience with the product line.