Laptops are data gold mines that criminals love to target. Due to my regular travel schedule, I have always put the majority of my media on external secure drives. I have used just about everything in the book when it comes to encryption and many of those tools are painful to use and often slow. For many years I carried an external Hard-Drive that required a biometric finger swipe to unlock. It was always a pain as I would have to swipe three or four times to get it to unlock. The folks at iStorage contacted me about there new DiskaShur 2 Secure Encrypted Hard Drive and over the past two weeks, I have been using it while on travel.
This is a device that I am honest requires few words to explain how to use it but the details of what it does is simply incredible. The DiskaShur 2 they sent for review was a 500gb drive that unlocked by entering an 8 digit pin and clicking unlock on the drive. The instructions to change the default pin are clear and concise and foolproof so that you will not brick the device in the process. It works with any operating system that can attach a drive via USB 3.0
But what blew me away was the level they go to encrypt the data on the Hard-Drive and protect the data once it’s copied to the drive. This thing is like Fort Knox just reading the security precautions they put in place, makes you realize that this product is in a class of its own. Let me try to summarize the features and in all honesty to get the full perspective you need to read their full product page.
EDGETM (Enhanced Dual Generating Encryption) Technology – built-in FIPS PUB 197 validated AES-XTS 256-bit hardware encryption engine. The data encryption key is randomly generated by a Common Criteria EAL4+ ready Random Number Generator and protected by FIPS validated wrapping algorithms.
FIPS PUB 197 Validated Encryption Algorithm – Employing AES-XTS 256-bit hardware encryption, the iStorage diskAshur2 seamlessly encrypts all data on the drive in real-time, keeping your data safe even if the hard drive is removed from its enclosure.
Brute Force Hack Defence Mechanism – That destroys all data on the drive after a set number of incorrect password entries.
Drive Reset Feature – Which employs a useful drive reset feature, which can be implemented with a unique command. This clears all PINs and data and resets the drive to be redeployed.
Unattended Auto-Lock Feature
Tamper Proof Design – Any hacker trying to get to the electronics as everything is covered in a tough epoxy.
Data at rest protection – All data, PINs, and encryption keys are always encrypted while at rest.
Wear Resistant Epoxy Coated Keypad – Prevents keypad wear in allowing someone to determine keys utilized
So far as performance goes when the drive is unlocked it is fast and there is no slow down in copying information to the drive. But with a single click I can lock the drive down or in the worse case scenario I can enter the self-destruct pin and all data is cleared from the drive and is non-recoverable.
iStorage DiskaShur 2 Hard Drive Prices starting at around $210 dollars you really cannot go wrong. If you do not want to carry an external drive they also have USB sticks that employ the same technology. My goal is to make it hard as possible for a criminal to get to my data. So while my laptop may be the main target in a room robbery. Even if they get my secure hard-drive they are not going to spend the time and resources to get the information as they really put forth some incredible security barriers to do so. This is the security product that you will find being carried in my computer bag where I can be at ease, knowing that my data is secure.
The RCA Mercury 7L Pro tablet is a 7″ Android tablet with budget specs and a price to match, at just GB£49. That’s about US$65 and it’s right in there as an impulse purchase. But is it a case of buying in haste, repent at leisure? Let’s take a look.
Sold by Asda in the UK, the Mercury 7L is the little sister to the Saturn 10 Pro and both carry the RCA branding: I reviewed the 10 Pro a couple of weeks ago here on GNC and I’ll confess upfront to lifting parts of the Saturn’s review: unsurprisingly, the 7L shares many of the 10 Pro’s traits. There are two other models in the line up; a 7R which has double the internal storage at 16GB and 7 Pro with a folio Bluetooth keyboard.
Taking a quick look over the tablet, the first impressions is how small it is. It’s a 7″ 1024 x 600 screen and the device is 8.25″ across the whole diagonal. For metric people, the Mercury 7 is 185 x 113.8 mm and is 12.5 mm deep and as expected, it’s all pastic. In places, it actually feels that someone thought about how it might be used but in other areas, gets it totally wrong. For example, the bezel on one side is slightly thicker and if you hold it in your right hand in landscape mode, the front-facing camera is neatly positioned to the top right, away from your thumb. Briliant….except that the same hand covers up the microphone. So close….
Quickly reviewing features, there’s a microphone, reset button (that I never had to use), microSD slot, 5V DC jack (never used), microUSB (used for charging), 3.5 mm headphone jack, power button and volume rocker. The single speaker round the back is loud. It’s not terribly clear from the website but I think microSD cards up to 128GB can be used. It’s light at 280g.
Despite the name, speed is not one of Mercury 7L’s strengths. Although equipped with a 1.3 GHz quad core processor it’s held back by the paltry 1 GB of RAM. Once apps get going, they’re fine, but starting a new app or switching between apps can be a little slow. For whatever reason, Geek Bench 4 refused to run so I can’t give a definitive comparison. Having said that Alto’s Adventure play surprisingly well (once it started).
The display could be better too but at this price, it’s in-line with expectations. 1024 x 600 on a 7″ screen is acceptable, the colours are strong and it’s reasonably bright. My only real criticism is that the viewing angle is a little narrow – it’s most noticeable when holding the tablet in portrait mode.
And as for the camera, lots of light is needed to get anything worthwhile from the one megapixel but for a bit of Skype, it’s ok.
As on the Saturn 10, the user interface for the Mercury 7L would appear to be mainly stock Android 6.0 (June 2016 security patch) with a couple of customisations. The most obvious is the that status bar has few additional icons. Pressing the camera on the left takes a screenshot and the speaker icons control the tablet volume. It’s a smart idea to have onscreen volume controls though I would have preferred keeping the Home button centred as my muscle memory expects it in the middle.
The other change is more of a disappointment – the “Firmware update” screen is black screen with a grey “CHECK NOW”. How hard would it have been to code a screen in keeping with the rest of the OS? It’s somewhat concerning too that the most recent security update is from June 2016.
Everything else is as expected for an Android tablet with full access to Google products; Play Store, Music, Movies, Games, Maps and so on. It’s all there – the Mercury 7L is fully functional Android tablet (specs). Battery life is quoted at six hours and that’s not far from the truth.
After owning the Mercury for a couple of weeks, I think the niche for this tablet is in the portable media space. It’s fine for listening to Spotify, watching Netflix and reading ebooks on OverDrive, plus the microSD card slot gives plenty of room for media. Switching apps can be slow, so if you’re a social butterfly mixing Facebook with Twitter and Instagram, you might need some patience. Overall, it’s a budget tablet for a budget price. Understand this and you won’t be disappointed.
If the Mercury 7L is of interest, it’s available from Asda for GB£49 at time of writing. Thanks to Venturer for supplying the tablet for review.
We live a very active lifestyle here in Hawaii whether it be beach outings or sports events the kids are involved in. The folks at Homitt sent me their 20 Cans Soft Pack Cooler to review. Like any product we test here at Geek News Central it gets a real world use. Yesterday my son had a cross country meet where we were going to be at the event for six hours. So at the last minute, I grabbed the Homitt 20 Cans Soft Pack Cooler and loaded it up with ice, water, gator aide and stuffed in some food to keep cool.
The cooler has a very thick barrier to keep the cold in and the heat out. It’s small enough to be perfect for a day outing and large enough to keep refreshments cold for the duration. Overall I was pleased with the performance as the cooler was in direct Hawaii sunlight for 5 hours and yet at the end of the day, there was still unmelted ice in the bag. It was in direct 90-degree sunlight for five hours most coolers would not have fared as well.
The only challenge I had with the cooler and it may because it’s new is that the zipper is really tight. Not to take anything away from the cooler you just have to use some force to unzip the top of the bag. Hopefully, designed that way to maintain cooler integrity.
Checking the bag 24 hours later, the bag still has a little bit of ice and the water is still cold. So overall I am pleased with the performance. I only put about 1/3 of a 10-pound bag of ice in the bag to start with. The price on this cooler does not come in cheap it retails for $109.99 but given the performance and holding up to five hours of direct sunlight and keeping things cold for its utility and the capacity this is a great beach or day trip cooler that’s easy to carry and you can be assured your refreshments will stay cold.
While air is all around us, colourless and odourless, we often seek a semi-mythical fresh air; at the seaside, in a spring meadow, after rain on a summer’s day, on crisp winter morning. We all have our favourite. On the other hand, bad air can be difficulty to identify too. Unless there’s mould on the wall or the smell of fresh paint, many pollutants are invisible too.
Around 5 million people in the UK suffer from various levels of asthma and for people with this condition, air quality can be an important factor in their quality of life. This was a reality for Jacques Touillon, whose son suffered from asthma. Back in 2014, he started a successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for an indoor air quality monitor called Foobot (formerly Alima) and now the Foobot is available for sale in North America, Europe and Australia. Let’s take a look.
The Foobot is a semi-cylindrical gadget a little taller than a smart phone (17 cm), with what looks like an air vent on top. It’s not dissimilar to an Amazon Echo, only a little shorter. Unlike the Echo, the Foobot has sophisticated sensors to measure gases and chemicals in the air, glowing blue when air quality is good and orange when poor. In particular, the Foobot measures:
VOCs – Volatile Organic Compounds, which are toxic gases like ammonia and formaldehyde
PM2.5s – Particulate Matter smaller than 2.5 micrometres, like dust, pollen and pet dander
Carbon Monoxide, which can be deadly as it binds irreversibly with the haemoglobin in the blood
Humidity. High humidity can lead to damp and low humidity is an irritation
As a smart device, the Foobot integrates with other smart home solutions, from Google Nest to Amazon Echo, and with the help of IFTTT, Foobot can also connect to over 120 home appliances, including Hive, the connected thermostat from British Gas. Of course, there’s a complementary smartphone app for iOS and Android that shows both real-time and historical information.
Powered by a USB charger, the Foobot connects via wifi and the setup procedure is very straightforward, using the clever trick of turning the Foobot upside down to initiate the start up procedure. The app then gets the wifi connection established, owner’s account set up, timezone confirmed, room location set, Celsius v Fahrenheit chosen. All exactly what you’d expect from an indoor air quality monitor.
What you might not expect is that the Foobot takes about a week to calibrate the sensors and settle down. Until this happens, there are warnings about the inaccuracy of the readings and some app features like notifications and alerts are unavailable until the bedding in period is complete.
Although light on the detail, the Foobot does colour itself to express air quality based on the GPI – the Global Pollution Index. Information on how it’s calculated is a little sparse though apparently it’s “a weighted compound of the different pollutants measured by Foobot“. Smaller is better, so less than 25 is great, 25-50 is good, 50-75 is fair and 75+ is poor (just move out). The Foobot will glow blue for great and good, and orange for a GPI over 50. The length of the lights is an indicator for how good or bad the GPI is.
The Foobot glows lilac if you disturb it by rocking or tapping it. The smartphone app will register and notify on the disturbance too. They’re called “knock knock” notifications and Foobot suggests they could be used to tell a parent that a child is home safe.
The really juicy stuff is in the smartphone app which is a free download from the relevant app store. To start with, the colour of the app will mimic the Foobot but more detail on the level of Particulate Matter, Volatile Compounds and Carbon Dioxide is available. Humidity and Temperature are shown too. A couple of different views present the information in varying levels of detail.
Swiping up from the bottom shows historical information and swiping left or right moves between the measures. The information is presented by minutes, hours, days or weeks.
The Foobot app supports notifications and if any threshold is breached, sends the app a notfication. Notifications can be individually controlled but the thresholds seem fixed. Here in Northern Ireland it’s fairly damp much of time so the default 60% humidity threshold meant that I got lots of notifications. I turned it off.
Along with the notification, Foobot asks for clarification on what you think might have caused the peak and offers the choice of things like cleaning and cooking. One curious option is “olfactive decorator” which I think translates to “smelly paint”.
What surprised me was how much air quality was affected by people being around. The graph on the right shows a day where there was no-one home between 9-5 and we got an early night. During the day and night, the GPI drops to less than ten when there’s no-one about, but jumps up as soon as someone’s home.
The Foobot app has a couple of other settings. The intensity of the LEDs can be adjusted and the LEDs can be put on a timer so that if the Foobot is in, say, a bedroom, they can be timed to go off at night.
As a smart device, the Foobot can be integrated with other smart home systems to do clever things. There is official integration with Alexa but at the moment it’s limited to asking Foobot for an air quality summary (GPI), and turning the Foobot’s lights on or off. You can’t get specifics of temperature, humidity, VOC or particulates. On the other hand, you can unofficially integrate Foobot with Samsung SmartThings to get this information – see left. There’s integration too with Nest and Lux thermostats from within the Foobot app: I don’t have either of those so couldn’t test further. At a higher level, there’s integration with IFTTT so there’s plenty of options there too. If air quality poor, turn up the ventilation….
What improvements would I like? Two things come to mind….one, for the alert thresholds to be adjustable to allow for damp countries and, second, for there to be a specific detection and alert for carbon monoxide (CO) with the option of alerting multiple people should it be sensed. CO is a dangerous poisonous gas produced by burning gas, wood, propane, charcoal or other fuel that kills people in their sleep. I have a gas-burning stove in my home so I’m always conscious of this risk (yes, I have a CO-detector).
Overall, the Foobot does what it sets out to do – it measures indoor air quality – and if you do have a family member who suffers from a condition affected by air quality I think the Foobot is money well spent. I’ve had the Foobot operational in my home for about two months over the summer and I can already see trends associated with weather and indoor activity such as cooking (or burning!). If you are then able to match trends to symptoms, you are well on the way to better managing the medical condition.
Other scenarios might be if you lived near a busy road or a factory, and were concerned about pollution, or even to keep an eye on an elderly relative without going for the complexity of a whole smart home. The relative could “knock knock” every now and then, and you could make sure he or she is warm enough and not skimping on the heating. Just a thought…
I can’t comment on the accuracy of the VOC and particulate figures, but the humidity and temperature measurements were very similar to the values recorded by other smart sensors. Further, the general trends appeared to be correct – people in the room, vacuuming, opening windows, cooking – all impacted as expected on the measurements, so broadly I believe the figures are correct.
The Foobot is available direct from their website priced at US$199 and EU€199. The Foobot is on Amazon.co.uk too for GB£179.
Thanks to Foobot for supplying the unit for review. There’s an unboxing and review video below.
The RCA Saturn 10 Pro tablet is a 10″ Android tablet that marries budget specs with high-end features at an astonishingly low price, GB£109. That’s about US$140. Amazingly, that price includes a detachable keyboard, but have they cut the corners in the right places, or is this true value for money? Let’s take a look.
Sold by Asda in the UK, the Saturn 10 Pro is the big brother to the Mercury 7L and both carry the RCA branding though I’m not sure if the RCA brand is as strong in the UK as it might be in the US. Eagle-eyed GNC readers will spot a great deal of similarity with the Venturer EliteWin which I reviewed previously. Unsurprisingly it’s no coincidence as the Saturn 10 Pro is produced by Venturer under the RCA brand. For those wondering what happened to RCA as a company, it was purchased and then broken up by GE in the 1980s.
Taking a quick look over the tablet, I think the design has got stronger with each iteration of the tablet. MoMA won’t be asking for an exhibit any time soon, but the Saturn Pro isn’t far off some of the other low cost tablets from a certain large on-line retailer. Mind you, it’s still quite thick at 11 mm without keyboard. Handily, most of the controls and features have been concentrated on what I perceive as the left-hand side. This is a good thing as it means there’s one unencumbered short edge which can be used to grasp the Saturn Pro in portrait mode.
Quickly reviewing features, there’s a microphone, HDMI connector, reset button (that I never had to use), microSD slot, 5V DC jack (never used), microUSB (used for charging), 3.5 mm headphone jack, power button, volume rocker and full-size USB port. The keyboard connects onto a long edge via four pogo pings with magnets keeping the tablet in place. The single speaker round the back is possibly one of the loudest I’ve ever heard on a phone or tablet.
Speed is not one of the Saturn 10’s strengths. Although equipped with a 1.3 GHz quad core processor and 32 GB of storage, it’s held back by the paltry 1 GB of RAM. In benchmarking, Geek Bench 3 gave the Saturn 387 and 1113 in the single and multicore tests respectively. For comparison a Nexus 5 from 2013 scores 859 and 1764. In real world conditions, that means Alto’s Adventure takes over 20 seconds to launch. Still, it’s playable when it gets going though the tablet sometimes stutters when there’s too much action in the games. Surfing the web and watching YouTube is fine – give it time to get the videos loaded.
The display could be better too. 1280 x 800 on a 10″ screen simply is disappointingly low and at times there’s a hint of blurriness round text in places. Look closely at the “t” in the photo – it’s not crisp. 1280 x 800 was the resolution of the original Nexus 7 in 2012, and that had a 7″ screen. The Nexus 9 is 2048 x 1536 in a 9″ screen. To be fair, most of the time it’s not noticeable but open a text-heavy magazine in Zinio and it’s quite obvious.
And as for the cameras, lots of light is needed to get anything worthwhile from the two megapixels. Stick to using the camera in your smartphone.
What’s good? The plethora of ports is definitely interesting – full-size USB, microUSB, microSD and HDMI are all handy, particularly for photos and documents. Plug in a memory stick or card, fire up Google Photos and flick through the photos. Copy between media using ES File Explorer. I’m not sure if I had a setting wrong somewhere but I didn’t seem to be able to use the microUSB port for anything other than charging. Connecting up the Saturn to my PC via USB didn’t show any additional drives.
Connecting the Saturn to a big TV via HDMI is fun. I had the tablet on holiday with me and I could take the day’s GoPro footage and check it out on the big screen in the evening with the family watching. It’s good from that point of view.
Of course, the keyboard and touchpad are a win too. The keys are small but big enough for even a fat-fingered typist like myself to touch-type without too many errors and the key action is perfect acceptable. The keyboard has a sixth row of keys for back, home, search and other functions which greatly improved the Android-with-a-keyboard experience. Turning the tablet screen off is possible with the keyboard, but it’s not possible to wake the tablet from keyboard. The touchpad is sensitive, though I found it suffered a bit from stray fingers brushing the surface and occasionally text would end up being typed in the wrong place.
On first inspection, the user interface would appear to be mainly stock Android 6.0 (June 2016 security patch) but there are a couple of customisations. The most obvious is the that status bar has few additional icons. Pressing the camera on the left takes a screenshot and the speaker icons control the tablet volume. It’s a smart idea to have onscreen volume controls though I would have preferred keeping the Home button centred.
The other change is more of a disappointment – the “Firmware update” screen is black screen with a grey “CHECK NOW”. How hard would it have been to code a screen in keeping with the rest of the OS? It’s somewhat concerning too that the most recent security update is from June 2016.
Everything else is as expected for an Android tablet with full access to Google products; Play Store, Music, Movies, Games, Maps and so on. It’s all there – the Saturn 10 Pro is fully functional Android tablet (specs). Battery life is quoted at six hours and that’s not far from the truth.
Let’s be clear, the Saturn 10 Pro is not a Pixel C but then again, you’d get three Saturn 10s for the price of one Pixel C. The Saturn 10 is a budget tablet with a great deal of functionality from a microSD slot to a full-sized USB port, HDMI out and a keyboard. On the other hand, the tablet is slow, cameras are low-res and the screen is disappointing for a 10″ display. What’s important to you will determine if £109 is money well spent on the Saturn 10.
As an example, I wouldn’t buy one personally because I read lots of magazines on my tablet and I want a glossy hi-res screen to enjoy the features. That’s important to me, but if you want to do a bit of email on the sofa, having the keyboard might make it a killer proposition at the price. As an aside, if Venturer was able to produce a tablet that bumped the specs to the mid-range and priced it well, I think they’d have a real winner.
If the Saturn 10 Pro makes your shortlist, it’s available from Asda for GB£109 at time of writing. Video unboxing and review below.
Thanks to RCA Venturer for providing the Saturn 10 Pro for review.
As I unpacked the box for the 1MoreE1001 triple driver headphones, I realised that there was good chance that these earbuds might be something a little bit special given both the attention to detail on the packaging and the price at just under GB£100. Was I disappointed? Let’s take a look and find out.
Starting with the E1001’s box, it’s designed to look like a much-loved hardback book, with detailing on three sides to give the impression of pages. Held shut by a magnetic catch, opening the outer cover reveals pencil-drawn draughts of the headphones construction. On the right are the earbuds, and lifting the tray reveals accessories in neat boxes.
The largest box holds additional eartips for the E1001s. In total, there are six sizes of silicon earbuds going from 10 mm up to 14.5 mm, plus three sizes of foam tips at 11, 13 and 14.5 mm sizes. With having a range of sizes, swapping based on use is realistic: one size for listening at home on the sofa and a larger size for walking in the park.
Other boxes contained instructions, a pleather case for the headphones, an aircraft adaptor and a clip for holding the cable in place. The clip does make a big difference when using the E1001s on a call as otherwise the microphone picks up too much background noise. Both the adaptor and the clip are finished in brush gold effect.
Returning to the headphones themselves, the body of the earbud is made entirely from metal; there’s no plastic here. With two contrasting colours on the earbuds – soft gold and blue grey – the E1001s live up to expectations with a lovely finish. If gold’s not your colour, there’s a silver version to lower the bling level. The earbuds point forwards slightly and I had no problems with comfort and fit.
The cables running from the earbuds are equal length, and the right side has an inline control for volume, next track and taking calls. The control sticks with the grey and gold colouring. 1More keep it simple when it comes to the control – don’t expect to be able to manage two calls or anything fancy, but it does work on both iOS and Android. The lower part of the cable is braided and ends in TRRS 3.5mm jack. The total length is about 1.2 m from jack to earbud.
With the physical review completed, let’s move onto the important bit….what do they sound like? In one word, stunning. Tuned by a Grammy-award winning sound engineer, Luca Bignardi, they deliver an accurate listening experience which is frankly wasted on smartphones and mp3s. I hooked up the E1001s to a Yamaha amp with Pioneer CD source and listened to albums all over again. I particularly enjoyed listening to acoustic tracks, especially R&B like Keb’ Mo’ where you can hear every slap of the guitar, every nuance in the vocals, every thump of the bass. There’s tremendous clarity and detail in the sound coming out of these earbuds and the triple drivers deliver where it’s needed. Unless I’m going to the gym, these are my current favourites for listening.
Priced at GB£99.99 and US$99.99, these aren’t cheap but in terms of bang for buck, the E1001s are great value. If you are interested in buying from the UK, there’s currently a coupon on the website to get 20% off, which is an even better deal. When you consider 1More released its first headphones in 2015, it’s astonishing that it’s now producing earbuds of this quality in 2017: the established players in this market should be concerned.
Thanks to 1More for providing the E1001 triple driver headphones for review. Unboxing video below.
Earlier this year, I bought a refurbished Apple Watch Series 2 from the online Apple Store. It’s a cool device. But it shipped with the bare essentials, including the watch, a small manual, and a magnetic battery charger.
That meant that, when I needed to charge my Apple Watch, I had to set it on a table like this:
And doing that technically works. But it’s kind of an inelegant solution. It also looks just plain awkward. That’s why I was excited to receive an iXCC Stand for Apple Watch. The manufacturer of the stand recently sent me a review model in exchange for posting my thoughts on the device here at Geek News Central.
The iXCC Stand for Apple Watch works with both 38mm and 42mm Apple Watches (I have the 42mm version). The iXCC Stand comes in a white box that contains the stand and a small booklet that shows how you can connect with the manufacturer online, if needed.
Using the iXCC Stand for Apple Watch is a straightforward process. The stand itself doesn’t have any built-in electronics. Instead, the stand has a path molded into its design that allows you to run the Apple Watch’s stock magnetic charger thru the stand, with the magnet at the top. This diagram from the back of the box tells you everything you need to know:
It takes a little time and effort to get the magnetic adapter cable to slide into place. But once it’s in, it’s good and doesn’t feel like it’s just going to fall out of place. When that’s done, all that’s left to do is to place the Apple Watch onto the stand. Tuck the lower part of the watch band underneath the head of the stand, and the Apple Watch easily magnetizes to the charging adapter.
That looks a lot better than just resting the watch on the table! I know for sure the watch is charging because the charging indicator is lit on the watch, and the watch also made its signature charging tone when I placed it onto the stand.
The only negative I’ve found with the design of this stand is that, when you go to remove the watch from the stand, the magnetic adapter slightly pops out of the stand. But it’s easy enough to just push it back in. Also, it might be possible to alleviate this condition by placing some pressure down onto the stand next to the watch with one hand while removing the watch from the stand with the other.
Overall, I’ve found this to be a simple and effective stand for charging and displaying my Apple Watch when the watch isn’t in use. The iXCC Stand for Apple Watch retails for $7.99 at Amazon and other online retailers.
The Samsung DeX Station converts a Galaxy S8 or S8+ smartphone into a desktop computer. Plop the S8 in the DeX, plug in a keyboard and mouse, hook up a TV, and you’re set with Android on the big screen. That’s the theory, what about in practice? Let’s take a look.
The DeX hardware is circular device, about 10 cm across, with a top surface that sweeps smoothly back and up to reveal the USB C connector for the smartphone.
Around the base are two USB 2 ports, a full-size HDMI socket, a 100 Mb/s network connector and a USB C for powering the DeX.
Getting setup is simplicity itself. Connect all the hardware up and slot the phone in. There’s no additional software to add as it’s all built-in to the S8 and the DeX itself. I used a wireless keyboard and mouse combo connecting to a USB transmitter. The TV connected to the HDMI port with a cable and I used the WiFi on the S8 for networking.
When the S8 is placed in the DeX, a prompt appears asking whether to start DeX or to only mirror the S8 screen. Choosing the former gets the DeX desktop in its full HD glory and it looks convincing. But what’s it really like?
Let’s start with the positives…the DeX desktop is what you’d expect an Android desktop to be like, using familiar apps in a windowed world. It’s fast and all the apps on the phone are available through DeX. Google Maps works and it’s perfect for YouTube and web browsing. Samsung promotes DeX-optimised apps via its app store.
But while many apps seemed to be quite happy with DeX and run in both full screen and windowed modes, some apps don’t like DeX and display as if they are on the S8 in portrait. This is frustrating and while this could be expected for games like Monument Valley, it seems odd that Netflix can’t cope – surely this would be seen as a “must have” by Samsung? Some apps don’t have all the necessary controls either – it’s tricky to pinch-to-zoom with only a mouse pointer.
Of course, games players and movie watchers aren’t the target audience for DeX. Samsung see this as a tool for business and promote the benefits of Microsoft apps and Office365 in the literature. For example, instead of a lugging a laptop for a presentation, take DeX, plug it into the data projector and you’re sorted. Need to do a quick bit of editing? Steal a desk, connect up DeX, fire up Word and you’re working.
Where DeX also scores well is with VDIs (Virtual Desktop Infrastructures) like Citrix. Connect through to your office backend to run a virtual Windows PC and you can be working as if you are at your own desk. From that point of view, it’s slick. While DeX isn’t going to replace a laptop on an extended business trip, it makes sense for a short visit when you want to travel light.
Pricewise, the DeX station has an RRP of GB£129, though it’s already discounted by £40 in several online stores. It’s still a percentage on top of the S8 and S8+.
Overall, DeX does what it sets out to do and the key question here is not about the technology. It’s whether Samsung’s vision and the DeX Station match your way of working. YMMV, as they say.
With the new BTH20, iClever‘s improved both the fit and audio quality for its next generation of Bluetooth wireless earphones. These headphones are a good match for my ears and the soft silicon rubber hooks keep them in place during the most vigorous exercise, so I like them. Let’s take a look a closer look and see what iClever’s done; we might even listen to them too.
Starting with the fit, the new headphones achieve better comfort by maximising the contact surface. Additionally, by using an offset for the inwards leaning hook, it lines up better with the ear folds. The outer part of the earbud is a small cylinder that is half covered in silicon rubber and fills out the ear a little bit more than usual. The thin hook comes out from the far end of the cylinder and the narrowness lets it get into the folds and creases. In my humble opinion, these are the best earbuds at staying in place but obviously people’s ears vary a good deal so YMMV, as they say.
Both the earbud itself and the ear hook part can be switched for different sizes – the BTH20 comes with three of each, say, small, medium and large, meaning that there are nine possible combinations for the best aural fit. The headphones are very light too at only 13g (says the spec sheet). Fitness fans will be pleased to hear that the ‘phones are sweat resistant. Give them a wipe down after a session but don’t dunk them in the sink.
The left and right earphones are connected via a round cable with an inline control close to the right ear. The three buttons on the control manage volume, music and phone calls, though some of button combinations can be challenging to get right. Additionally, the control houses the microUSB port for charging and there’s a very small status LED which can be orange or white depending on activity. There’s a short tangle-free USB to microUSB cable for charging in the box. Battery life is quoted at 8 hours, which seems about right based on the couple of afternoons I listened on the earphones without recharging.
Pairing the headphones with a smartphone was straightforward (as it should be) and I did notice that the BTH20 were quick to establish a connection when turned on. For telephone calls, callers came through to me clear and I didn’t have any complaints from them about hearing me, which you’d expect with noise-cancelling phones. I still always find it a little disconcerting to hear people in both ears….
Finally, let’s take a listen. It’s time for the summer hits and without a doubt, Despacito is the summer hit of 2017, sitting at #1 in the UK and breaking the YouTube streaming record. And it sounds good on the BTH20, which really suits the big summer hits – there’s plenty of bass without overwhelming the vocals and well-defined treble keeps the hi-hats crisp. The BTH20 really delivers on those by-the-pool numbers – One Dance, Cheerleader, Get Lucky – they all sound fantastic.
Finally, the price. It’s GB£19.99 from Amazon.co.uk and US$19.99 from Amazon.com which I think is very good value. Yes, there are cheaper Bluetooth headphones out there but the combination of fit and sound quality is hard to beat.
Any improvements?….colour other than black would be cool as these deserve to be noticed. Apparently there is a silver version but it’s currently unavailable.
Wrapping up, the iClever BTH20 Bluetooth headphones are currently my favourite headphones for “out and about”. The sound is good, the fit is great (for me) and the price is right. Perfect for the summer holidays! Put them in your bag.
Thanks to iClever for providing the BTH20 for review. Unboxing video below.
The OxyLED T35 Desk Lamp is a small silver grey LED desk light powered by USB. It’s a neat idea given the availability of USB ports and reduces the need for mains power sockets, which are always in short supply. Let’s take look and see if the T35 can replace my Anglepoise.
The T35 has three main parts – a weighted base, an upright with microUSB power socket and a cross-piece with two rows of white LEDs at the end of the longer side. The cross-piece is hinged at the upright to raise or lower the light. and can fold parallel to the upright. The base is 13.5 cm across and with the cross-piece horizontal, the light is 24.5 cm tall. At full reach, the T35 is just under 45 cm. From a distance the silver grey finish does a fairly good impression of being metal, but it’s obviously plastic when you touch it.
In the box, there’s the lamp itself along with a 1.5 m USB cable. The cable is white, which might appeal to Apple lovers, but I would have preferred a colour matched cable in dark grey. Even black would have been better in my opinion. It’s also a pity that the microUSB port isn’t a bit lower down the the upright…or a right-angle microUSB plug would have been good too.
Some descriptions of the T35 refer to the lamp as being USB-charged but let’s be clear here: it’s USB-powered as there’s no battery. Pull out the cable and the light goes off. Obviously the T35 can be run from a USB battery pack if needed. The low voltage is good for children too – no-one’s going to get a shock off this.
On the plus side, the OxyLED lamp can adjust the LED brightness. Tap the on/off button once and the T35 comes on full power (160 lm), but now hold the button and the brightness will slowly fade to the desired level. Tap it again and the light will go completely off. I like this feature as I can get the light level just right. The LEDs put out a slightly yellow colour, which is much better than the harsh blue white of some LEDs.
The max power output of the T35 is 4W so clearly there are energy-saving benefits over a normal desk lamp that at worst, has a 60W incandescent bulb. The LEDs are expected to have a 20,000 hour lifespan. That’s over 2 years.
Where it goes wrong for the T35 is the price – it’s currently on Amazon.co.uk for a penny under GB£40 (though it’s a slightly more reasonable US$29.99 on Amazon.com). That’s too expensive for a plastic light without a battery no matter how stylish. I think somewhere around £15-£20 would be about right.
Thanks to OxyLED for providing the T35 for review. Unboxing video below.