Booking.com Launches Booking Now App

Booking.com logoI was somewhat surprised to learn that 50% of travel bookings made within 48 hours of departure are booked on a mobile device. On reflection, it’s perhaps not that surprising, given that the spontaneous decision to travel is likely to be followed up immediately, rather than waiting to get home to get the laptop out.

It’s with this opportunity in mind that accommodation site Booking.com has launched Booking Now, an instant booking app that can get a place to stay in as little as two taps. After a successful launch in the US and Canada, the app is now available in the UK for iOS devices with an Android version to follow. The app’s built-in intelligence, along with GPS, helps it choose the best properties based on your preferences from over 600,000 properties in 70,000 destinations.

Booking Now - Booking.com UK imageWith the launch of Booking Now, we’re increasing our investment in mobile by leveraging our global scale, assets and partnerships to accommodate the growing number of customers who are booking reservations within two days or less of their stay,” said Darren Huston, Chief Executive Officer of Booking.com. “The new app puts users at the centre of the booking experience, drawing from our vast database of properties to meet their specific preferences at the very moment they need to book. Booking Now is designed to deliver a seamless mobile experience for spontaneous consumers, fitting perfectly into their multi-device, on-demand lifestyle.

Booking Now personalises real-time search results based on the traveller profile created by each user when they first start to use the app. The profile indicates specific accommodation preferences, such as budget and options like parking, included breakfast and wifi. Users are then presented with the most relevant accommodation available based on profile and location. The traveller can then modify their choice of accommodation to suit their itinerary and the places that they want to see. With Booking Now’s predictive analytics, the more frequently customers use the app, the more personalised their recommended matches become. Additionally, as user’s swipe through the app, they can pin their top hotel choice to the map so they can see where the hotel is relative to their location or other attractions.

The Booking Now app can be downloaded from the relevant app stores – iOS only for now with Android coming soon.

If only I had more time and more money to be spontaneous!

Pocket-Sized Big Screen TV

Lumex_Picomax_SmartpodPocket-Wouldn’t it be cool if you could carry around a big screen smart TV in your pocket?

Actually, that is now possible.

I recently purchased a Lumex Picomax Smartpod pocket pico projector via Amazon.Com. A pico projector is a miniature pocket-sized projector that typically has a built-in battery that can also be operated off of AC household current. Pico projectors can produce surprisingly bright, crisp projected images and traditionally have been handy for people who are traveling and need to give presentations.

What sets apart a “smart” projector from a regular projector is the same things that set a smartphone apart from a feature phone, or a smart TV apart from a regular TV. Smart projectors include not only connectivity such as WiFi and Bluetooth but also come with a built-in operating system such as Android that includes access to the Google Play Store. With the Google Play Store comes video streaming apps such as Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime Videos, YouTube, etc., etc.

 

Projected_80_inch_imageThis is a picture of a streaming movie projected onto an 80 inch screen in a darkened room. The photo was taken from about 25 to 30 feet from the projection screen.

I drive a truck over-the-road, so with the Lumex Picomax Spartpod projector I can easily connect it to my MiFi hotspot and project a 45 to 50 inch screen onto a blank wall area of my truck’s sleeper. I connect the projector to a high-quality Bluetooth speaker for excellent stereo sound. Watching a 45 to 50 inch image is a much nicer experience than watching the same material on a much smaller iPad Air screen. It also has the added advantage of extreme portability so I can easily carry it with me and use it in a motel room.

The projector is about the size of a Roku or Apple TV box. It also has a variety of other built-in connectors, such as mini HDMI, VGA, Micro SD Card and standard 4 pin USB port. It uses Texas Instruments DLP chip and the light source is a 20,000 hour LED lamp. The projector comes with a small remote control, and also has a touchpad built-in to the top of the unit itself.

The unit will run about an hour and a half to two hours on the built-in battery. It outputs a 70 lumens when running on battery power and automatically jumps up to 100 lumens when connected to the included AC adapter.

It produces a bright, colorful image. The native resolution is 800 x 480, so it is not 720p, but 480p widescreen.

The WiFi and Bluetooth connect and stream flawlessly.at the same time. While the integrated touchpad mouse works okay, I prefer to use a wireless three button mouse. I plug the mouse dongle into the standard USB port on the side of the unit and the mouse instantly connects. With this configuration along with a wireless keyboard it could easily be used as a computer. There is a small integrated fan that runs when the unit is running in order to keep things cool internally. The fan is actually very quiet and doesn’t produce much fan noise at all.

I do have a few criticisms of the unit. First, the manual focus seems a bit sloppy. It is easy to rotate the knob past the optimum focus. When rotating back the knob will rotate freely about half a turn before it starts moving the focus back in the opposite direction, making it difficult to zone in back and forth to obtain the maximum sharpness.

Also, the integrated touchpad does not include mouse buttons like an actual mouse does. It is possible to scroll vertically running your finger along the black vertical dotted line along the edge of the touchpad, but it takes a bit of getting used to. A wireless mouse makes for a much more fluid and satisfying experience.

The tiny integrated speaker doesn’t produce much sound, so it is close to being useless. I strongly suggest using a wired speaker or a Bluetooth speaker for an adequate sound experience. Stereo headphones or ear buds can also be used.

Despite my criticisms I am quite happy with my purchase. The Lumex Picomax Smartpod WiFi projector currently sells for $399.97 on Amazon. It really is like being able to carry around a big-screen smart TV in my pocket.

Powerocks with New Battery Products at CES

Powerocks LogoUSB power packs for charging smartphones and tablets are ubiquitous and companies are striving hard to find their niche in a market that’s full of products from both established names and up-and-coming specialists. Todd talks with Craig Miller from Powerocks about how they’re going to set themselves apart.

Powerocks has adopted a two pronged approach. In its established market for mobile devices, it’s taking USB battery packs and giving them a lifestyle makeover, in this case a leather covering, to make them more appealing to a wider audience and sold in mainstream stores.

Secondly, Powerocks is using its battery expertise to be build products that aren’t only smartphone chargers but still have a battery at the core. The Jump Starter vehicle emergency unit includes a 10,000 mAh battery, USB charging ports, an LED signal light, a torch, a distress alarm, a steel break-glass and a car jump-starter all in one unit. Seriously!

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Tens Sunglasses Review

Tens LogoThis summer I’ve been feeling uber-cool with my Tens “Real Life Photo Filter” sunglasses. In a classic style, the Tens sunglasses are tinted to give a “an extra burst of colour to your summer” and that they do, with everything coloured that little bit brighter. Everything’s richer and more vivid – I love them.

Originally, an Indiegogo campaign, I took a chance on these shades, partly because I needed new sunglasses but partly because it was good to see a campaign from the British side of the Atlantic. The team’s actually based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Overall, I’ve been very pleased with the Tens sunglasses. The frames seem solid, with sturdy hinges and the lenses are clear and distortion free. I find them comfortable to wear too. Here are some photos to show you what they’re like.

Tens Sunglasses

Tens Sunglasses Hinge

The Tens sunglasses come with a neat little drawstring bag to keep them free from scratches when not in use.

Tens Sunglasses Bag

I was lucky enough to get in on the Indigogo campaign and paid only GB£44. Available in a choice of four frame colours (black, navy, deep red and teal), if you want your own pair of Tens glasses, they’ll currently set you back £64. I’ll probably buy a second pair once they start doing prescription versions.

Fingers crossed for a few more days of sunshine before summer comes to an end!

Game Over Foursquare

Foursquare logoIt’s game over, Foursquare. After several years of intermittent playing, I’ve decided to pack it all in and delete my account from the site. I’m no longer happy to take a service without questioning the value and cost to me and Foursquare doesn’t break even anymore.

Foursquare may have been at the forefront of gamification and I like games, honing skill and strategy to succeed, but the problem with Foursquare was that the limit of expertise was how much time you can spend in a local hostelry. Yes, there were occasional benefits of being a mayor, but most places that rewarded frequent visitors ran a loyalty programme anyway. Of course, the really good shops and restaurants knew you because they paid attention.

The reviews helped maintain interest for awhile but the puerile (“the waitress is hot”) and trivial (“the drinks were nice”) usually outweighed any valuable critical assessment of places to visit. In the end, I didn’t bother putting the app back on my smartphone after changing devices and that was the end of it all.

I’m not going to leave my personal data lying around for the next security breach, so it’s time to delete the account. To its credit, Foursquare make it easy to go.

Delete Foursquare Account

Facebook…you’re next.

Travels in a Foreign Land

Three LogoI’ve been doing a little travelling in Europe over the past few months and with modern life being what it is, mobile connectivity is a must. In my case, it’s provided by UK’s Three and this year’s situation is much improved over previous years. Three has introduced “Feel At Home” which lets customers use their mobile phone for both voice and data in 16 countries round the world at no extra cost. The countries include USA, Australia, France, Italy and Ireland and the limitations are reasonable, such as no tethering and a 25 GB data cap. When you are in one of the 16 countries, it is brilliant – you can play Ingress, call home and check your email without worries of bill shock on your return. Good job, Three.

Outside of the 16 countries, it’s not so rosy. Three have a tariff called “Euro Internet Pass” which is GB£5 for a day of unlimited data. Sounds ok, but “a day” ends at midnight UK time no matter what time you purchase the Pass or the time zone that you are in. But my biggest complaint is how frustratingly difficult it is to buy the Euro Pass. To start with, I can’t simply go into My3 account and buy the Pass; I have to go via a special link to a particular web page. Second, the phone has to have a 3G connection, not wi-fi. Yes, you read that right – you have to be data roaming on 3G to buy the Euro Internet Pass even if you have a perfectly good wi-fi connection. Three helpfully suggests disabling push notifications to avoid per MB roaming charges immediately prior to purchasing a Pass. You can read that gem on their website here – point 2. It’s ridiculous – at times I got so cross with the whole process while trying to buy the pass that I simply gave up and used free wi-fi where I could. The Spanish cortados make the trip to the coffee bar worthwhile, though….

Orca Gear to Launch at NAB

Orca LogoPro gear and accessory firm Orca has announced that their official launch will take place at the upcoming NAB Show in Las Vegas on 7 April.

With over 30 years’ experience in the film industry, Orca’s research and development team has created a top-flight range of gear bags and accessories. The team produced the entire Orca line specifically for the audio-visual industry, designing a range of smart bags and accessories, carefully crafted to carry and protect video, lighting and sound equipment.

Integrating with their new Trolley System, Orca’s designs include the Audio Bag, Shoulder Video Bag, Light Case, and Backpack, incorporating aluminium frames and multiple access points for both protection and convenience. Additional offerings will include the Rain Cover and LCD Hood, and the full product line will be on show at NAB.

Band Pro Film & Digital have confirmed that they will carry the range following Orca’s NAB launch. Amnon Band, Band Pro’s President and CEO, remarked: “These are the best bags I’ve seen in a long time.  We’ve always prided ourselves on carrying nothing but the best, and that’s what Orca products are.  I’m really impressed with their entire product line.”

Drop in with Orca at the Band Pro Film & Digital’s booth #C10408

TP-Link 3G Mobile WiFi and Power Bank Review

TP-LInk LogoThe TP-Link 3G Mobile WiFi and 5200 mAh Power Bank (M5360) combines two of the handiest portable accessories – a 3G wireless hotspot and a USB battery pack – into a single unit. Sounds good on paper, but convergence doesn’t always work out. Let’s take a look.

3G Wireless and Power Bank

The M5360 comes neatly packaged in a slide-out box. Included with the 3G Mobile WiFi are instructions, a charger, USB-to-microUSB cable and some SIM adaptors which hold the smaller SIM sizes. The 3G Mobile WiFi itself is larger than the average mobile hotspot but this hardly unexpected given that there’s an additional 5200 mAh battery stashed in there. Overall, it’s 44 x 29 x 100 mm and while the weight isn’t officially given, my kitchen scales say 150g.

TP-Link 3G Mobile WiFi

As you’ll see, the 3G Mobile WiFi is white with a clear plastic cover over the OLED screen. Moving round the unit, at the top there is a microUSB socket to charge up the Power Bank. On the right side, a power button turns the unit on, off and toggles between charging only and simultaneous 3G sharing and charging. There’s a reset button (that I never had to use) and covered slots for the SIM and micro SD cards. Finally on the bottom is USB socket that can be used for charging other devices. It’s only rated at 1A, so it’s more suited to charging smartphones and media players than 10″ tablets.

Getting going is simple – slip a SIM in and power the 3G Mobile WiFi up. As the unit is not network-locked you can use whatever SIM you choose, and helpfully on the rear of the device is all the information necessary for connecting to the WiFi network, including SSID and password. The 3G Mobile WiFi generally self-configures, but if you need to change anything, you can log on to the unit via a web browser and make changes.

Profile Management

With a 3 SIM everything went smoothly but I also tried the unit with a SIM from MVNO Giffgaff, which actually uses the O2 network. In this instance, I had to log on to the 3G Mobile WiFi and make some changes to the profile. To be perfectly clear, this reconfiguration is needed because of the MVNO nature of Giffgaff and illustrates the flexibility of the 3G Power Bank.

The small screen gives the usual information about the 3G Mobile WiFi side of things, including signal strength, connectivity, client number, battery and SMS messages. The download rate, upload rate and data volume are shown too. The unit supports the usual GSM protocols up to HSPA+ so in theory the max download rate is 21.6 Mb/s with 5.76 Mb/s upload, but local conditions are likely to significantly reduce this. With respect to WiFi, it’s 11b/g/n and up to 10 clients can connect at once.

TP-Link 3G Mobile WiFi Screen

Now for the best bit….using the internal battery, the M5360 will run for over two (working days) without recharging. TP-Link quote 16-17 hours under heavy use by a single person and up to 26 hours will lighter use. I’m inclined to agree with TP-Link as I was able to use the 3G Power Bank for two and a half working days of relatively light use before recharging. Sweet.

In addition to powering the 3G Mobile WiFi, the battery can be used to charge another device as well. There are two options, wireless sharing and charging, and charging only; a quick double press of the power button toggles between the two modes. The 5200 mAh battery is roughly double the size of a smartphone battery, so expect to fully recharge your phone twice from the Power Bank.

Any problems? No, not really. My only feedback is the the positioning of the charging USB port on the top seems a bit odd as it simply looks funny when the 3G Power Bank is standing on its end. I would have preferred the socket on the side towards the bottom, or even on the bottom with an optional charging dock. Minor points, I know.

Overall, the TP-Link 3G Mobile WiFi and 5200 mAh Power Bank is a useful combination of the two. The ability to run the hotspot for a full working day (and then some) with several connected clients is attractive. The only downside is that the M5360 is heavier than a normal WiFi hotspot but that’s the price you pay for a bigger battery, but if it’s sitting on a desk, there’s no issue anyway.

Speaking of price, expect to pay somewhere around GB£70 for the M5360.

Thanks to TP-Link for supplying the review unit.

Ventev Battery Packs and Chargers

Ventev LogoVentev offers innovative combined battery packs and chargers for smartphones and tablets. Scott Franklin, Director, chats with Todd and Don about Ventev’s latest mobile accessories at CES.

External battery backs for smart phones and tablet are very common these days, but the benefit of Ventev’s unit is that the charger is integrated into the pack itself; there’s no need for additional external charger. Scott shows off three different packs in the interview;

  1. the powercell 6000+, a 6000 mAh unit ($74.99) that plugs directly into the mains electricity socket. Two USB ports, rated at 1 A and 2.1 A.
  2. the powerdash r900, a cylindrical 900 mAh unit ($39.99) which charges from a car cigarette lighter. One USB port rated at 2.1 A when plugged in and 1 A when running from the battery.
  3. the utilitycharger 2100, a charger only ($39.99) but powers from both from the mains and from a car lighter. Two USB ports rated at 1 A each.

For more information on availability, visit Ventev’s website at www.ventev.com.

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor and Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Plantronics Voyager Legend Bluetooth Headset Review

I’ve been a user of Plantronics’ Bluetooth headsets for many years, starting with the Explorer 320 and more recently the Voyager Pro. I’ve always liked them because I found them a good fit on my ears but they’re trouble-free and easy-to-use with no problems pairing on a wide range of phones. More recently, I’ve taken receipt of a Voyager Legend and, so far, it’s living up to its name.

On review here is the full Voyager Legend UC package which comes with the headset itself, Bluetooth adaptor, desktop charging stand and charging case. This is the complete outfit for those in the office and on the go, aimed at those who use both mobile phones and IP-based communications, such as Microsoft’s Lync or Skype. This is the Microsoft version with an alternative version supporting Avaya, Cisco and IBM services. The Legend can manage two Bluetooth connections simultaneously so calls coming in from both routes can be answered on the headset and speaking from experience, this is very handy.

Plantronics Legend Box

The Voyager Legend UC comes in a plain box but opening it up reveals a wealth of accessories and adaptors, including UK and continental plug adaptors plus various USB connectors and chargers.

Plantronics Legend Inside Box

Here’s the charging case with the USB Bluetooth adaptor and the Voyager Legend itself. The Bluetooth adaptor is half the size of the previous generation that came with the Voyager Pro.

Plantronics Legend Charging Case

As might be guessed from the name, this is a charging case and the case has a built-in rechargeable battery which charges the Legend when it is in the case. In the photo below, you can see the contacts in the case on the right. It’s a clever idea, especially when on extended travel as you don’t need to lug around chargers – the case itself recharges via a micro-USB connection.

Charging Contacts

Of course, the desktop dock provides a convenient place to keep the Legend and charge it at the same time. There’s a magnetic catch to snap the headset in place.

Plantronics Legend Headset and Dock

Plantronics Legend in Dock

In use I find the Legend very comfortable to wear and I almost use it almost exclusively to answer my calls at my desk, whether the call comes through on my mobile or my desk phone. The headset is stylish enough to wear without feeling self-conscious, though I tend to take it off when I’m away from my desk. The Legend has three earpiece sizes in the box to accommodate different ears and can be worn on either the left or the right ear.

The Legend has some great features, such as auto answer, which detects when the headset is lifted from the dock and answers the call automatically. The Legend accepts voice commands, letting you put the headset into pairing mode, answer or decline calls and check battery level with ease. There are hardware controls on the headset for on/off, volume up/down, accept call and a multi-function button which does a couple of different things.

The talk time is rated at 7 hours and I never had any trouble with the battery running down unexpectedly. The charging case extends this even further with two full recharges from the case taking the total call time to 21 hours. Call quality is excellent, with callers sounding clear and natural, and most people don’t realise that I’m on a Bluetooth headset. The Legend also supports A2DP, which is handy if you want to listen to music or podcasts, albeit with one ear.

Plantronics have an Android smartphone app which, amongst other things, can help you track down where you last used the headset via GPS. It’s a neat idea but I found the app didn’t always play nicely with other GPS-using apps as the Plantronics app would turn off the GPS after getting a lock. The other app would than flail around looking for a signal lock. I submitted a bug report to Plantronics so hopefully they’ll get that fixed soon as it’s very irritating when playing Ingress.

There’s no two ways about it, the Plantronics Voyager Legend UC is a brilliant headset which I’m sure will do me for years – it has both the features and the construction to last. It’s definitely a premium product and it doesn’t come cheap: the RRP is over £150 but you can find it online for less than £100 including the carry case. However, it’s worth it if you want to to use a hands-free headset on an extended basis both at the desk and on the go.

The Voyager Legend UC was provided by Plantronics for review.