Swatch may Bring a Smartwatch to Market in August

Swatch logoSwatch, the Swiss watch maker best known for its colorful and untraditional designs, is looking to enter the smartwatch market. It’s still unclear as to what exactly Swatch is planning. But at a recent company meeting, Swatch CEO Nick Hayak stated that Swatch’s smartwatch will be launching in two countries within the next three months.

2015 is definitely shaping up to be the year of the smartwatch. And while tech companies like Apple, Motorola and Pebble have all made headlines this year in the smartwatch space, it seems few established watchmakers have entered the fray. Given its history as a known and trusted brand in watchmaking, could Swatch bring a new perspective to the field?

Little is known yet about Swatch’s proposed smartwatch. Will Swatch develop a proprietary OS? Will the company implement some version of the Android operating system? During that company meeting, Hayak said that Swatch will launch its smartwatch in two countries. The first will be Switzerland and the other was only described as a “large country.” It seems logical that this other country would be the United States. But Swatch has made deals with China UnionPay, a Chinese financial firm, and it’s likely that the Swatch smartwatch will ship with a near field communication chip that could allow the device to make mobile payments. Given the prevalence of the Apple Watch and Android Wearables in the U.S., perhaps Swatch’s second launch country will be China instead.

Despite its rapid growth in recent months, the smartwatch space is still fairly new and much is likely to change. If Swatch is able to bring a product to consumers that’s unique and reasonably priced, the watchmaker might just find a whole new market to tap into.

Archos Fusion Storage OTA Incoming

Archos Fusion StorageBack in March at MWC, French firm Archos announced “Archos Fusion”, an Android storage technology that seamlessly joins a smartphone or tablet’s internal memory with an inserted memory card. Archos Platinum 52The merger of the two memories is invisible to apps and other services, with Archos Fusion automatically managing and moving files around. Apps tend to stay on the internal memory and media gets moved to the external card.

The clear advantage here is that there’s loads more space made available to the user with almost zero effort. Another advantage is a reversibility of the process: the fusion of internal storage with the external storage card is seamless and the user can return to the original separated settings at any time.

GNC covered the announcement at the time, but the good news is that Archos are delivering on the promise and a free OTA is expected very shortly for owners of the Archos 101 Oxygen tablet, along with the 50 Oxygen Plus, 50 Diamond and 52 Platinum smartphones.

By pure coincidence I have an Archos 52 Platinum smartphone on review at the moment so I’ll be reporting back on the OTA and the Archos Fusion technology, which looks really clever and a huge benefit.

Archos Fusion will be available on the new 62 Xenon and 59 Xenon out of the box.

Archos Connected Scale Review

Archos LogoOver the past few years, we’ve all seen the rise of the fitness tracker and their transformation into wearables. While the goal of encouraging greater fitness is laudable and essential for the future health of the nation, to some extent the tracker is the gamification of fitness. For evidence of weight loss, reduction in BMI and reduced body fat, you need scales (and hard work)….which brings us neatly to the Archos Connected Scale.


Connected Scale

The Archos Connected Scale is a set of stylish bathroom scales which measures weight and body fat transmitting the recordings via Bluetooth to a complementary app on the smartphone. I think these would look good in any bathroom or home gym.

Archos Connected Scale ReadingIn the box, there’s the scales, four AAA batteries plus a couple of guides. Getting going is simply a case of installing the batteries and once they’re in, the Archos scales will measure weight like any other bathroom scales. The display is backlight and lights up with a cool blue.

Of course, the real benefit with these scales is that the readings can be sent to the owner’s smartphone and recorded in the Archos Connected Self app, available for both Android and Apple iOS devices. The app stores information from three different sources to record data on weight, blood pressure and distance from Archos devices the Connected Scale, Blood Pressure Monitor and Activity Tracker.

To get the readings from the scales via Bluetooth, the Connected Scale need to be paired with the smartphone and that’s straightforward: press and hold the Unit button on the rear and then pair as normal.

Archos App User Scale Binding

On the Connected Self app, the first step is to set up a user account and the second is to attach the Connected Scale to the user. With all that done, every time you step on the scale, weight and body fat percentage are transmitted to the app. It’s that easy. As recordings build up, the app can show graphs on weekly, monthly and annual basis. It can also show the data in a tabular form.

Graph Values

If needed, weight measurements can be added manually and some additional information can be added too including blood pressure and heart rate.

In use, the Archos Connected Scale worked well, sending the weight readings to the smartphone. I did have one glitch which was only resolved by re-pairing the scale, but in my experience of Bluetooth devices, this isn’t unusual. One tip for potential users – don’t bother taking your smartphone into the bathroom every day. The Connected Scale will remember several week’s worth of readings and upload them when there is a connection to the phone.

The only downside is that as with all of these wearables and health devices, they don’t talk to each other and each supplier is trying to build their own ecosystem. Simply I can’t load Archos Connected Scales information into my Fitbit app or I can’t load my Fitbit steps into the Archos app. Very frustrating.

With an RRP of £49.99, the Archos Connected Scale is about twice the price of a similarly stylish but unconnected set of bathroom scales. Having said that, the Connected Scale can be found on-line for a little less (£35-ish), which I think makes it a fairly good buy even if you are only looking for stylish bathroom scales.

Thanks to Archos for the loan of the Connected Scale.

Homes Just Got Smarter with Kibbi

British Inventors ProjectWith the Internet of Things and smart homes being all the rage, it’s inevitable that there would be at least one smart home system at Gadget Show Live taking part in the British Inventors Project. Here’s the Kibbi – homes just got smarter.

KibbiThe Kibbi intelligent hub provides round the clock security combined with entertainment. The built-in HD wide angle security camera monitors 24×7 with motion detection and night vision, and saves video footage to either cloud servers or local USB storage. The keyfob-size Kibbi sensors are fixed to doors, windows, fridges and measure movement, vibrations and temperature. The speaker announces alerts and can wirelessly stream music too from smartphones.

The complementary Kibbi app works with Android, iOS and Windows – it’s good to see the Windows app here too.

The Kibbi previously raised nearly $57,000 on Indiegogo and pre-orders (£170) can be made through the Kibbi website with Deliveries expected from May 2015.

Secure Your Vehicle With Your Smartphone

British Inventors ProjectRegrettably car theft is a major problem worldwide and while car security has improved significantly over the past years, an increasing number of cars are being stolen using cloned keys or bypassing keyless security systems. Demonstrated at Gadget Show Live, My Smart Remote is an additional layer of security that prevents thieves from stealing a vehicle even if they have the key, whether physical or otherwise.

MySmartRemoteMy Smart Remote consists of a small electronic unit and a smartphone app for both Android and iOS. The electronic unit is installed discreetly in the car and this can lock down the vehicle and stop the car from being started. The electronic unit communicates via Bluetooth with an app on the owner’s smartphone putting in extra security which is largely invisible and crucially unrelated to the vehicle itself. Consequently, even with a cloned key, the car is going nowhere. An enhanced version of My Smart Remote can also control internal features of the vehicle including the horn, air-conditioning and opening the boot (trunk). There’s an anti-carjacking feature too.

My Smart Remote is on pre-order at CrowdShed. £159 gets the standard security version and for additional internal control, the enhanced version costs £299.

Huawei Announces P8 and P8 Max Smartphones

Huawei LogoThis afternoon Huawei announced in London a pair of new Android smartphones; the expected P8 and the entirely unexpected P8 Max. The latter is a total whopper of a phone but more of this later.

I watched the show the on-line (in between streaming drop outs) to see CEO Huawei Consumer Business Group Richard Yu show off the P8 and its strengths. The presentation focussed on four areas – Design, Camera, Connectivity and Usability.

hw_424126The P8 looks good – it’s a metal unibody design with an almost frameless 5.2″ screen on the front, a rear camera that’s flush with the back  and only 6.4 mm thin.

The presentation spent a great deal of time over the camera. That’s because it’s very impressive. The specs say that it’s a 4 colour (RGBW) 13 MP camera with OIS but it’s the other features that stand-out.

Enhanced for low light conditions. Macro capability. Director mode controls three cameras to capture a scene from different angle. Built-in time-lapse photography. Dual tone camera flash with both a white and warm light. Fast face recognition. Scene detection.

Despite being a metal unibody, Huawei have done clever things with the antennas resulting in 50% fewer dropped calls and a 20% increase in call connection rate. Other tweaks include “Wi-Fi+” designed to provide best quality of experience based on history and hotspot connectivity. The P8 is three times faster at connecting to the network when powered on, say, after being on a flight.

The P8 can take two nano SIM cards. With one dedicated SIM slot, the other slot can take either an extra SIM or a microSD card up to 128 MB card.

The smartphone is powered by Kirin 930 64 bit octacore CPU, with four 2.0 GHz cores plus four 1.5 GHz cores. As you’d expect, the cores are allocated tasks appropriate to their speed.

Average battery life is expected to be 1.5 days or 1 day of heavy use. A new and unique feature is what Huawei called a “power firewall” which is design to stop excessive or abnormal requests from apps, thus improving the battery life by an extra 2.3 days of standby time.

Another unique is a new gesture called “knuckle sense technology”. It’s slightly bizarre but simply the P8 can tell the difference between touching the screen with a knuckle rather than a finger.This is then used to do special things like cutting out selections.

Voice+ gives a 58% volume increase for noisy environments and the phone achieves a 90% wind reduction even when using a single mic headset. There’s also a “Super hands-free” mode for conference calls. The press release also mentions a P8 variant with a rear eInk screen which will handy for reading ebooks.

All-in-all, it’s a very impressive package and shows how far Huawei has come. There are two versions of the P8; the standard device for €499 and the premium version for €599, which is competitively priced as long as they use a reasonable exchange rate.

Turning to the P8 Max, it’s a full fat version of the P8 with a whopping 6.8″ screen, 64 GB RAM and 4360 mAh battery (cf 5.2″, 16 GB, 2680 mAh). Huge!!!

Check out the features of the P8 in the video below. If you want to see the whole presentation, it’s here.

 

OnePlus’ OxygenOS Joins The Android Party

OnePlus LogoThe first release of OnePlusOxygenOS arrived today, bringing a choice of Android flavours to owners of the OnePlus One handset. As part of OnePlus’ long-term strategy, the current Cyanogen KitKat-based OS is being replaced by an in-house build based on Google’s Lollipop AOSP. OnePlus’ relationship with Cyanogen soured after the latter signed an exclusive deal with India’s Micromax for the subcontinent, but a Lollipop-based version of Cyanogen for the OnePlus One is still expected shortly.

Feedback from early adopters suggests that OxygenOS is close to vanilla Lollipop with a few customisations but not nearly as many as Cyanogen offers. Nexus meets OnePlus, as it were. A few known issues are present and installing the drop isn’t for the faint-hearted as the deployment is not an OTA update; flashing the ROM is required. OnePlus have produced a short video showing off the OS’ capabilities.

Early adopters have reported a few issues too, which leaves me in a quandary as a OnePlus One owner. I’m a big Nexus fan having owned the Nexus 4, 7, 9 and 10, and I think OxygenOS will suit me well. However, I moved away from the Nexus 4 after the first Lollipop release ruined the phone (sometimes calls connect but the caller can’t be heard) so I can’t afford another half-working phone. At this point, I’m going to hold off until there have been a few updates but I’m looking forward to a long-term future with OxygenOS.

Archos Creates World’s First 256GB Android Tablet with “Fusion Storage”

Archos LogoWhile tablets are overall a relatively new technology, they’ve evolved a lot since the first iPad was released in 2010. And now Archos is continuing that evolution with its new Magnus tablets, including the company’s innovative “Fusion Storage” technology.

Fusion Storage optimizes data storage by fusing internal memory with external micro SD card memory. Once activated, Fusion Storage automatically migrates data from the micro SD card and optimizes memory balance, resulting in an increase in install space for apps and games, as well as more storage for media and large files. Fusion Storage will be available on all new ARCHOS tablets and smartphones, including the new Magnus tablets, and through Over-The-Air updates on select models.

Along with this new storage technology, the Archos 101 Magnus Plus and 94 Magnus feature  powerful Cortex A17 quad-core processors capable of running apps and games smoothly while remaining energy efficient and maintaining longer battery life.

These new Archos tablets will hit the market next month. The 101 Magnus Plus 128 GB and the 94 Magnus 256 GB are expected to retail at $349.00. Archos will also be launching the 101 Magnus, the first tablet with 64 GB of internal storage for $179.

IK Multimedia’s iRig 2 is Here for On-The-Go Music Production

iRig 2One of the more remarkable developments that’s happened in the post-iOS world is the rise of hardware and software that allows an iPad or iPhone user to create high-quality multitrack audio. One of the pioneers in this mobile recording technology is IK Multimedia. The company kicked things off with its simple but effective iRig, an adapter that connected to an iOS device’s headphone port and allowed users to plug in instruments like guitars and then use those instruments to interact with a wide range of apps.

Now IK Multimedia has upped the game with the release of its iRig 2. It improves on its predecessor by providing better sound quality and more universal compatibility. It does this while maintaining the convenience and ease-of-use that have made it a staple piece of gear for many musicians.

Like the first iRig, the new iRig 2 plugs directly into the headphone jack input of a mobile device. It lets musicians send an instrument signal to apps, such as IK’s AmpliTube, while also providing on-board output for real-time monitoring. Unlike the original iRig, the new model comes with a built-in gain control. This means that it can be customized to always provide the best sound, no matter what type of guitar, bass or line-level instrument or device is used.

[Read more…]

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!