Category Archives: smartphone

Mpow iSnap X Bluetooth Selfie Stick Review



Mpow LogoOfficially this is the “Mpow iSnap X Bluetooth Self-Portrait Monopod” but everyone will recognise it as a selfie stick, not a self-portrait monopod. Personally, I like selfie sticks though I fully admit that there are some right idiots out there who shouldn’t be let anywhere near a knife and fork, never mind a three foot long pole with a small weight on the end. I’ve seen and used a couple of self sticks in my time, some of which were utter rubbish, but fortunately the Mpow iSnap X is the best I’ve used so far as it ticks all the boxes. Easy-to-use, well made, holds the smartphone securely and the remote trigger works. Let’s take a look in more detail.

Starting with the physical aspects, folded up the iSnap X measures 187 mm (or 7½”)  long and extending the telescopic pole will take it to 723 mm (or 2’4½”). Including arms, that means the smartphone will be sitting a little over 1 metre or 3½ feet from the person holding the stick.

Mpow iSnap X

The handle is covered in a soft touch rubber coating which easy to grip and there’s a wrist lanyard for extra security. At the other end, the mount has sprung-loaded grips that hold phones 55 mm wide up to 85mm. The spring is good and strong, but the rubber coating will stop the grips marking the phone. The grips are angled inwards to ensure that any phone is held firmly and I tried a range of phones from the Nexus 4 through to the OnePlus 2 without any concerns as to loss.

The Mpow iSnap X feels reassuringly well made. The telescopic extension is tight, with little play once fully extended and it seems screwed into the handle rather than only using plastic clips. There’s an interlocking groove in the extension to ensure that the mount stays in the upright position. The thumb screw on the mount seems fairly solid but the position is held only by friction. Time will tell how well this holds up.

Mpow iSnap X with Phone

The iSnap X uses Bluetooth for remote control of the camera shutter. Pairing is straightforward: hold down the “M” button for three seconds and then choose the iSnap X from within the Bluetooth settings on the smartphone. Once done, pressing the blue “M” button on the handle simultaneously presses the shutter on the camera. I used both a Mpow iSnap X handleNexus 4 and OnePlus 2 to test and they worked fine with still pictures. Video was a little different, with a single click working on the OnePlus 2, but the Nexus 4 needed a double click. The instructions suggest holding down the button to take video; perhaps this works with Apple phones. YMMV, as they say but the compatibility list indicates Samsung, Motorola, Nexus and Apple phones should work. Windows Phone and Blackberry are apparently not.

Mpow iSnap X HandleIn the end of the handle, there’s a micro USB port for charging the iSnap X and a tangle-free (flat) USB to micro-USB cable is provided in the box. I’ve no idea how many photos between charges – I’ve had the stick for two weeks and haven’t had to recharge.

Overall, the Mpow iSnap X seems to be the ideal selfie stick. It’s well made and grips the phone with confidence, which is exactly what you want when sticking a £400 smartphone on the end of a 3ft stick. The iSnap X is available from Amazon.co.uk for GB£8.99 for the black version. It’s a bit more for the pink and blue versions but whatever the colour, it’s money well spent.

Thanks to Mpow and Patuoxun for the review iSnap X Self-portait Monopod.


Sengled Pulse Lamp and Speaker Review



redlogoThe Sengled Pulse is a pair of Bluetooth controlled LED lamps (or lights) with built-in stereo speakers. Who would have thought it? A single product bringing together two technological memes; functional convergence and the smart home. Let’s take a look and see what the Sengled Pulse offers on both these themes.

Sengled Pulse Box

Two things struck me as I opened the Sengled Pulse box. The first was the bright red colour of the lamp cases and the second was the size of them. These are big heavy bulbs and it’s going to restrict what fittings can be used with the lamps. The fitting options are further reduced by the direction of the light emitted from the lamps as there’s little sideways illumination. In short, a pendant fitting with a large shade is your basic option.

Sengled Pulse Lamps

The Sengled Pulse is installed just like any other lamp – screw it in! Both screw and bayonet bases are available, which will please UK readers, though in this instance, I was supplied with the screw base variant anyway. Once screwed in and turned on, the lamps are white and bright, and a little brighter than my current Philips Hue bulbs. The box says 600 lumens.

One lamp is designated as the Master and the other as the Satellite. To get them connected together, the easiest way is to power them up close to each other. Once they’ve paired, the Pulses can be moved apart. The other option is to use the Pulse app: more on this later.

Communication with a smartphone is via Bluetooth and the usual process applies for pairing the smartphone with the Sengled Pulse lamps. I was testing with a OnePlus 2 and had no problems.

Sengled Pulse Brightness Sengled Pulse Volume Sengled Pulse Adding

Once paired, the smartphone can control both the brightness of light and loudness of sound through the Pulse app, available from the Apple App Store and the Google Play. Music or other audio plays directly from apps via Bluetooth. The Pulse app is straightforward with two tabs, one for lights and one for sounds. The app handles device management too and a clever pairing feature uses the smartphone’s camera to scan QR codes on the sides of the Pulse lamps. Up to eight Pulse lamps can be joined together.Sengled Pulse QR Code

The app is a bit short on “smart home” features. For example, there’s no way to set the lights to come on at a pre-determined time or to automatically turn on when a Bluetooth connection is made. I was hoping for more.

The speakers in the Pulse lamps are “JBL by Harman” which means that they ought to sound half decent and they do. Music is clear with perhaps a little too much treble at times but given the size of the lamps, there’s never going to be much power behind them. Big powerful songs like Frozen’s Let It Go or Adele’s Skyfall lose their impact. Without damning with faint praise, the Pulse’s sound better than you’d expect speakers-in-lamps to sound and they’re fine for casual music and radio listening.

Ultimately, the Sengled Pulse is a neat solution which compromises the sound to fit everything into the lamp shell, but if convergence is your thing (or you want cool looking red LED lamps), the Pulse is available from Sengled’s online shop for €129 (which is about GB£100) or US$149. It’s available from other online and real-world stores too.

Thanks to Sengled for the review Pulse.


OnePlus 2 Book Case Comparison Review



OnePlus LogoChoosing the perfect case for your smartphone is a very personal journey and my preference is for the book-style flip case where the cover is on the long edge of the phone. Even then, there’s choices to be made regarding features and material.

As a new OnePlus 2 owner, I’ve bought three cases to find the personal favourite.

In the video below, I review the three cases.

What’s your favourite?


OnePlus 2 Open Sale



OnePlus LogoIf you’ve been thinking about a OnePlus 2 but you’ve been put off by the invite queue, there’s an opportunity to grab the new phone in a series of open sales on Monday 12 October. Spread across four timezones, each sale will be open for only an hour.

OnePlus Open Sale

Asia: 12:00-13:00 HKT
Inda: 12:00-1:00 pm IST (via amazon.in)
Europe: 12:00-13:00 CEST
North America: 12:00-1:00 pm PDT​

I’m currently rocking a OnePlus 2, which I bought with my own money, and I like it. The phone itself is beautifully made, the camera is great and the fingerprint scanner works well. While there have been issues with OxygenOS, OnePlus’ Android fork, the company has regularly rolled out updates (three since launch) which have steadily eliminated problems. Set your alarms for 12 noon!


Android 6 Marshmallow – Meh!



Marshmallow LogoGoogle’s new motto might be “Do the Right Thing” but after loading Marshmallow on my Nexus 9 tablet last night I’m wondering if Google did anything at all. With a 700MB download I was expecting something new and fresh from Google but I can’t tell the difference between the previous version Lollipop and Marshmallow.

Both Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0) and Lollipop (5.0) introduced a new look at the same time as the upgrade but with Marshmallow (6.0) the only difference I can see is that the app drawer scrolls vertically instead of paging horizontally. It’s still Material Design and that scrolling comes as part of the launcher, not the OS itself.

Google has improved the volume controls and Google on Tap is interesting but it’s not a killer feature and needs work. Too often it picks up on the wrong thing. I’m sure it’ll get better over time but right now it’s uninspiring.

Overall, Marshmallow is to Lollipop what Jelly Bean and KitKat were to Ice Cream Sandwich. There’s not enough to Marshmallow to justify a full version number upgrade and there would be no beef if Marshmallow was 5.2 rather than 6.0. It’s a fine incremental update though labelling it as 6.0 sets unrealistic expectations as to what it delivers. Meh!

If you’ve got Marshmallow on your Nexus, what do you think?

For reference, here are the Android versions with monikers and year of release. It’s come a long way in five years.
2.2 Froyo (2010)
2.3 Gingerbread (2011)
4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (2011)
4.1, 4.2 & 4.3 Jelly Bean (2012-2013)
4.4 KitKat (2013)
5.0 & 5.1 Lollipop (2014-2015)
6.0 Marshmallow (2015)


Plantronics Calisto 620 Speakerphone Review



Plantronics Logo

On review here is the Plantronics Calisto 620 UC wireless Bluetooth speakerphone. It’s designed to pair with a smartphone or tablet for impromptu teleconferences and as the UC (Unified Communications) variant, the Calisto comes with a pre-paired USB Bluetooth transceiver, working well with IP-based telephony such as Microsoft’s Lync or Skype for Business.

In my experience, speakerphones fall into two categories; those that are normal phones with a speakerphone capability and those that are dedicated speakerphones and typically have no handset. The former usually sound rubbish with the feature added to tick a box, whereas the latter can provide clear communication into a meeting. Let’s take a look and see if the Calisto 620 also provides that much needed clear communication.

With the unboxing video out of the way, how well does the Calisto work in practice? It’s certainly very easy to use. Once paired with a smartphone, it can be treated as simple Bluetooth headset. The 620 doesn’t have voice dialling or voice commands, so calls have to be placed via the smartphone. I don’t see this as an issue given the expected usage of the Calisto 620 within an office environment. Incoming calls can be answered by pressing the call button on the unit.

Using the 620 with IP telephony was similarly easy. The pre-paired Bluetooth transceiver plugs into a spare USB port on the PC and the connection to the 620 is established automatically. For incoming calls, press the call button to take the call; for outbound calls, select the Calisto as the audio device in Lync and dial via the softphone.

The Calisto 620 supports A2DP meaning that music or video soundtrack can played through the speaker. Ok, it’s not hi-fi, but it’s a massive improvement on most smartphone speakers. The volume isn’t going to fill a lecture theatre but for a conference room or office, it’s perfectly adequate.

With regard to audio quality, it’s surprisingly good on both sides of the call. According to the Plantronics specification, the Calisto has “Bi-directional microphones (that) activate in the direction of speaker’s voice” and “Full duplex audio with 360° room coverage”. What that means is that 620 can pick out whoever is talking wherever they are in the room…

One of the biggest benefits is simply that the Calisto 620 is battery powered and can be located wherever is most convenient. Cabled (speaker)phones are still restricted to the length of the cord. Battery life is rated at seven hours talk time which I think is accurate as I got a working day of music out of the 620, with a few breaks here and there.

In summary, the Plantronics Calisto 620 wireless speakerphone is an ideal addition to the office arsenal of technology. Whether paired to a smartphone or IP telephony, the 620 provides portable voice-conferencing for small groups which can be up and running in seconds. At around GB£80, it’s competitively priced against its rivals, many of which don’t have the seamless integration with Microsoft Lync or other IP telephony systems.

Thanks to Plantronics for supplying the review Calisto 620 speakerphone. Feedback welcome from GNC readers on the unboxing video.


Roku 4 Delivers 4K for UHD



ROKU LogoApple, Amazon and Google have all recently announced their refreshed streaming TV media players and today market leader Roku has responded with the latest iteration in the Roku series, the Roku 4. In a happy numbering coincidence, the Roku 4 will deliver UHD 4K content for the latest ultra high definition TVs. As you’d expect given the relative rarity of UHD TVs and content, the Roku 4 will work well with normal HD TVs too.

Key features of the new Roku include a quad core processor to drive 4K streaming at 60 Hz. HDCP2 2.2 is supported and there’s optical audio out for the AV amplifier. For connectivity, there’s a gig network port along with 11ac MIMO Wi-Fi.

Roku 4 Streaming Player

The Roku 4 will run Roku OS 7, the latest update to the streaming OS which boosts previous features, particularly the Roku Feed and it now allows owners to track films, TV shows, actors and directors to receive automatic notifications about pricing and availability. In a response to a much requested feature, OS 7 can now work with wireless networks where login credentials are required.

At launch, there’s a handful of 4K channels including Netflix, M-Go, Amazon Instant Video, ToonGoogles, Vudu and You Tube, though there will be some variation depending on geographic region.

The Roku remote control has the previously-seen voice search and a headphone jack, but new to this version is the remote finder, which will help owners find the remote when it’s stuck down the back of the sofa. It’s worth buying for this feature alone!

The Roku mobile app for Android and iOS has been updated too, offering full device control including playing photos, videos and music on TV from the smartphone. A big bonus for me is “pinch to zoom” on photos which will bring out the detail from the snaps. The new app offers other Roku features such as Search, Feed, Remote Control and Play on Roku.

The new Roku 4 goes on pre-order today at roku.com for US$129.99 with delivery later in October. Pricing for other countries has not been announced yet.

If you are already a Roku owner, OS 7 will roll out to current-generation Roku players in the U.S., Canada and the UK, and Roku TVs in the US and Canada through a software update beginning in mid-October and is expected to be completed in November.


Plantronics Voyager Edge Bluetooth Headset Review



Plantronics LogoWhile smartphones and tablets are the poster children for the mobile revolution, the Bluetooth headset is an often forgotten cousin. Many of us have used headsets in vehicles out of necessity but being hands-free at the desk is a revelation and once freed from the tyranny of the telephone handset, there’s no going back. Perfect for this journey to freedom is Plantronics latest model in the Voyager series, the Voyager Edge UC. Let’s take a look.

Plantronics Voyager Edge Headset

The Voyager Edge is an in-ear Bluetooth headset with a battery-enhanced carry case. With a squarish head and a short stubby microphone arm, the Edge is designed to sit snugly in the ear without the traditional over-the-ear loop. A selection of three silicon ear pieces help get the right fit and I found that a slight rotation of the ear piece kept the Edge firmly in my ear. Looking round the headset, there are an on-off switch and volume rocker on the sides. The whole top surface is a “call” button and there’s a command or “voice” button on the microphone arm.

Plantronics Voyager Edge with Earpieces

In the box, there’s a charger with both European and UK plugs, a USB cable and the previously mentioned selection of clear silicone earpieces designed to achieve the perfect fit for headset wearers. Obviously, there’s the Voyager Edge itself and there’s the curiously shaped charging carry case.

PICT4676

The charging case itself verges on genius. First of all, I love the shape and texture; the curved and ribbed rubber hints at a more natural form, whether bark or shell, I’m not sure. It’s rugged too and I don’t worry about the case rolling around in the bottom of my bag – I’m not so sure I’d say the same thing about the Voyager Legend‘s case. The Edge’s case holds both the headset on the top and the Bluetooth transceiver on the bottom. Pushing the headset into the case lights up blue LEDs which show the battery level of both the case and the Edge. The lights turn to red when the battery gets low and charging from the case to the headset starts automatically. The headset is held firmly in the case, needing a good tug with a finger to pull free and in daily use, I rarely returned the Edge to the case except at the end of the day.

There are micro USB ports on both the case and the headset to charge. Talk time is rated at six hours, standby at seven days and the case will recharge the headset about one and half times, giving a total talk time of sixteen hours away from a power supply. Although I was never able to use the headset until the battery died, I’d be confident the figures aren’t far off the mark.

Plantronics Voyager Edge Charging Case

Being the UC or Unified Communications variant of the Voyager Edge, a pre-paired Bluetooth USB transceiver is included which can be kept in the bottom of the charging case when not in use. Getting the Edge setup with Skype for Business or other IP-based telephony system is simply base of plugging the transceiver into a spare USB port and turning the Edge on.

Plantronics Voyager Edge Charge Case

Pairing with a phone can be done in two ways, both of which are easy. If the phone is NFC equipped, hold it up to the top surface of the Edge and pairing will begin automatically. Without NFC, press the voice button on the boom, say, “Pair” and then pair on the phone as normal. I paired with a range of smartphones and tablets without any problems. The Edge will store pairings with up to eight devices, although only two can be active at any time.

The Edge does a great deal based on sensors and voice commands. Putting on the headset will auto-answer an incoming call. With the headset already on ear, saying, “Answer” or “Ignore” will direct the call as desired. Pressing the call button on the top surface will pass voice commands through to the phone’s dialler and calls can be placed without touching the phone.

Call quality was excellent, both when connected via IP telephony and smartphone. When used with Microsoft Lync (or Skype for Business as it’s branded now), no-one had any idea that I was on a headset rather than a handset. I simply love being hands-free at my desk.

Overall, I liked the Voyager Edge. I found it comfortable to wear for extended periods, call quality was excellent and worked well with both my smartphone and corporate telephony. The charge case was robust and didn’t need to be treated too carefully. The truth is that the Edge is currently my headset of choice when I’m out and about, either taking calls on my OnePlus Two or connected into my laptop for internal calls.

At the best part of GB£100 the Plantronics Voyage Edge UC isn’t cheap (the non-UC version is about GB£75) but the Edge is a very good Bluetooth headset that is well matched to today’s high end smartphones and IP telephony solutions.

Thanks to Plantronics for supplying the Voyager Edge UC for review.


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.


Second Helpings with the OnePlus 2



Never SettleI’ll have to be honest….this morning’s OnePlus 2 launch event at 3 am was waaayyyy too early to entice me out of my bed when the alarm clock started ringing. I gave it a thump and went back to sleep. Sorry OnePlus but “Never Settle” doesn’t work at 3 in the morning. Still, I reviewed the launch with the help of the VR app and have to give that experience the full thumbs up. The VR part is good if you have Google Cardboard or similar, but even to have a 2D “in the audience” experience at a major launch event was fun and the Android app worked well – there was no faffing about finding the webpage and checking whether the PC has the right plugins. Major win as far as I’m concerned and something that should be taken on for other launch events.

OnePlus 2

With regard to the OnePlus 2 itself, things are much as expected for a flagship phone – 64-bit Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 processor paired with 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM and 64GB storage, though later in the year, there will be a cheaper version with 3GB RAM and 16GB storage. No change in the screen as far as I can tell, with a 5.5″ IPS LCD screen which is excellent in the One. Battery is up from 3100 mAh in the One to 3300 mAh in the 2.

Of course the big change is the inclusion of a fingerprint reader which will quickly unlock the OnePlus 2 with a finger press. Difficult to say how well it will work until I get hold of a 2 but I’m expecting it to be good and useful. The other new feature is the USB C port which is hard to get overly excited about. Yes, reversibility is handy and the flat cable tangle-free but wireless charging would have been even better.

OnePlus 2 USB C

The camera has been given a boost with the addition of an advanced Optical Image Stabilization system and rear-mounted laser focussing which sharpens the camera in microseconds. Sweet. As we knew beforehand, there are dual SIM slots for world-travellers and data hogs.

OnePlus 2 Rear Covers

For styling, the press release says, “Unified by a resilient, lightweight aluminium and magnesium alloy frame and stainless steel accents, the OnePlus 2’s sleek, minimalistic design marries durability and class with an unrivalled premium feel.” Translation – it’s got metal edges, looks cool and expensive.

Size-wise, the 2 is slightly smaller but fatter and a tad heavier this time round by 13g (like you’d notice). There’s going to be a selection of StyleSwap backs available from the original Sandstone Black and Bamboo to the new Kevlar, Black Apricot and Rosewood.

Lollipop-based (5.1) OxygenOS replaces CyanogenOS in the OnePlus 2 and continues the customisations seen in the One, including gestures and themes. There are some new features, including a dark mode for use at night, custom LED notifications and greater app permission control.

If you like what you see, how much is the 2 going to cost and when will it be available? The former is easy: the 64GB version will be GB£289, EU€399 and US$389, which frankly is a bargain. I’ll be ordering one as soon as I can, which brings us to the latter. As with the One, the 2 is going to be sold via invites but assuming you get an invite by hook or by crook, you’ll be able to order from 11 August with delivery around 3 weeks later.

OnePlus 2 Experience

To whet your appetite further, fans can visit one of nine pop up experience centres located around the world on 31 July to sign up for an invite and be one of the first in the world to see the OnePlus 2. Get in line.