Jamstik Guitar For Your iPad

Zivix LogoLearning to play a musical instrument is both challenging and rewarding but fitting practice into today’s busy lives can be difficult. Zivix Jamstik – the guitar for iOS – could be the answer. Chris Heille from Zivix shows the two Todds a few riffs.

The Jamstik is 16″ lightweight, portable guitar with six real strings and five frets designed to fit into modern life. It’s also a MIDI guitar controller which wirelessly connects with the iPad, iPhone and Mac. The Jamstik gives you the ability to use all of the nuances of guitar playing to control your favourite music creation iOS apps or Mac software.

Jamstik is a new idea in guitar controllers because it uses infrared light to “see” what your hands are doing in real time. Unlike other MIDI guitar solutions that rely on audio analysis and conversion to MIDI, the Jamstik scans the fretboard to detect what your fretting hand is up to before your picking hand ever hits a string.

If you want to learn the guitar, the included JamTutor iPad app will get you going through the basics of playing guitar without the hassles of tuning, lesson scheduling or expensive guitar teachers.

The Jamstik is available now for $299 from a range of retailers including select Apple stores. If buying direct from jamstik.com, look out for the limited time discount code CES2015JSSAVER.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central and Todd Aune of The Elder Divide for the TechPodcast Network.

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CES 2015 has Apple Home Kit compatible devices from Incipio

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Home automation, sometimes known by the scary name of “internet of things”, is a big deal these days. The recent CES show in Las Vegas did nothing to banish that notion. To compliment Apple’s recent Home Kit release, Incipio brought along some products to show off.

“When Apple announced HomeKit, our team immediately went to work on developing cost effective solutions that are deeply integrated with iOS and that have more compatibility than current home automation devices on the market,” says Andy Fathollahi, Chief Executive. “Today, Incipio delivers three user-friendly home automation solutions and a complimentary app, at an incredible value, that will truly impact and simplify day-to-day routines with just a tap of your device or a Siri voice command”.

The Incipio DIRECT Wireless Smart Outlet was unveiled, bringing automation to your plugged in items. There is also the Light Bulb Adapter and Power Strip. All products are compatible with Siri, can be used to create zones and controlled by the company’s own app. Pricing details follow below.

  • Incipio DIRECT Wireless Smart Outlet – MSRP $24.99
  • Incipio DIRECT Wireless Smart Light Bulb Adapter – MSRP $24.99
  • Incipio DIRECT Wireless Smart Power Strip – MSRP $59.99

Ion Audio Gets The Party Going at CES 2015

Ion Sound Experience

The great thing about Ion Audio is that they concentrate on fun audio products: seriously, who else puts a speaker in plant pot? At CES, Ion has continued in the tradition of fun with two products for two very different environments. Todd listens in with Wendy Fortin, Ion Product Manager.

First up is the Block Party Live, a 50W PA speaker on luggage wheels complete with light show. No really, there’s a light dome on top that projects coloured lights. Music can be streamed via Bluetooth and there’s an Apple and Android app to control the lights. Available now for $199.

Coming inside, the Sound Shine are wireless stereo speakers with built-in LED lighting. Screwed into a standard lamp holder the two speakers can either work as independent mono speakers or can be paired up for stereo sound. As with the Block Party, music is streamed via Bluetooth and both the music and light output can be controlled via an app for both Android and Apple devices. Available in Q1, $69 buys a single lamp and $129 gets a pair.

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

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Free Beer from Alcohoot at CES!

Alcohoot Logo

Alcohoot are offering free beer for visitors to their stand at CES (booth 74549). On the surface, it’s a cheap trick but as they sell breathalyzers there’s a certain relevance to it. No doubt the merit of personal breathalyzers will continue to be debated for years to come but focussing on the technology, Alcohoot have produced a portable breathalyzer that plugs into the headphone jack of both Android and Apple smartphones. The Alcohoot uses an FDA-registered fuel cell sensor built into a hand-sized pocket device to record the owner’s alcohol level as he or she breathes into the unit.

Alcohoot and Phone

The complementary app is available on both the Android and iOS platforms and lets the owner track his or her consumption. Handily, it can provide contact details for taxis when over the legal limit for driving.

App Screens

The Alcohoot was a winner of the Red Dot Design Award, 2014, which puts it in good company along with Apple, Beats By Dre, Bose, BMW, Nest, Nespresso, Blackberry, Lenovo, Nike+ FuelBand, LG and many more.

Available in three colours – black, white and red – the Alcohoot can be bought from their store for $99.99 along with extra mouthpieces.

If you want to learn more, pop into Alcohoot’s CES booth 74549 at the Sands Expo Center for a few beers. Cheers!

Urbanears Brings Gear to CES

Urbanears LogoSwedish headphone outfit Urbanears today announced a new line of accessories for the traveller, commuter and music fan. The colourful gear will be released throughout 2015 and will include the everything needed to ease the stress of modern life.

If you are an Urbanears fan, you’ll notice their DNA and design aesthetic in the accessories. Fabric cables and tags echo their headsets, and the clever SnapConstruction keeps the pieces together.

Urbanears Accessories
The first accessories to hit the stores this spring are the Thunderous Lightning Cable, the Concerned Micro-USB Cable and the Helpful Phone Case, for iPhone 5 and iPhone 6. Available in seven different colours – black, dark grey, tomato, true white, chick, jam and mint, they’ll be on sale at select Urbanears retailers worldwide, and at urbanears.com by March 24th.

The Helpful Phone Case is simple but clever. It looks like any normal iPhone case for the 5 or 6, but it has a hidden slot to take an RFID travel or metro card. It’s then a case (sorry!) of swiping your phone to get through the barrier and on your way. Genius.

Gazelle Sells “Previously Enjoyed” Tech

Gazelle LogoGazelle’s trade-in programme for unwanted smartphones, tablets and other gadgets is well known and has featured in GNC before. If ebay doesn’t work for you then Gazelle is a good way to generate a bit of cash from stuff you don’t need any longer.

In addition to buying gadgets, Gazelle are now in the business of selling with “Gazelle Certified Pre-Owned” which offers a small range of gently used phones and tablets. At the moment it’s mostly iDevices, with the iPhone 4 from $159 and the iPad 2 from $249. The Samsung Galaxy SIII is there too at $159 and I imagine they’ll be extending the range of devices over time.

Store

The phones and tablets are graded and are described as “Certified Like New” or “Certified Good”. On the devices I checked over, the condition doesn’t appear to make any difference to the price but I assume that in some instances the price goes up for the like new ones. Gazelle say that all the devices go through a 30 point inspection to ensure the devices are fully functional and back this up with a 30 day no quibble money back guarantee.

I think the prices aren’t too far away from what you’d pay on ebay and Gazelle offers a much better proposition when it comes to getting what you paid for. A previously enjoyed smartphone or tablet can be ideal for a careless child or tough environments such as the kitchen where you might not want to risk your shiny new top-of-the range iPad Air.

A Week With My iPhone 6

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 4.16.07 AM

I was up at midnight, PST to preorder my iPhone 6 from the Verizon Wireless site. I had zero problems getting through and getting it ordered. I was already done and back to reading Facebook when I see Robert Scoble complaining that he can’t get anywhere on the Apple site. Apparently everyone thought that was the only place to go for preorders…? Anyway, a week later, I got my shiny new iPhone 6. The upside to preorders is, no lines to wait in. At around 10:30am last Friday, Fedex rings the bell and drops it off. Done. The downside is, you don’t get to actually touch the phone until you get it. I figured I didn’t need to hold the iPhone 6 Plus because I could already tell it was going to be just too big. My phones go in my front pocket. My keys and money go in the other. If my phone is too big to comfortably fit in my front pocket, it’s just no good. I don’t carry a bag or fanny pack, so it seemed unnecessary to me. A female friend of mine wants a Plus, but that makes sense to me because her phone goes in the purse. No problem. (And don’t get me started about it bending in pockets. We can all see that was a massive over-hype by now.)

Anyway. I got my 6, did a smooth restore from my old 5’s backup and began the tedious task of trying to remember all my passwords and some ringtones, as none of those things transfer from restore to restore. Finally, I was up to par and could actually start using it and appreciating it.

I love the size and feel of the 6. I love the bigger screen and how light it is. It doesn’t feel cheap to me either. iOS8 has some great features that really shine on the 6. I got the 64gb version this time as I got tired of constantly clearing photos and videos off my old 16gb 5. And I’m really glad I upped my space. One of my favorite features is the high speed camera for video. I think everyone I know did a slo-mo video of themselves doing something stupid with their lips. I moved from that to filming my dog drinking water and then saw a helicopter slow its rotors down to nearly nothing. Impressive stuff. The time lapse mode is equally impressive. And the lens seems to handle macro shots really well too. As a photographer I may be biased, but I love all the new slick stuff that’s camera/photo related on the new phones / iOS.

My 5 didn’t have thumbprint recognition, so I’m really digging that. It works really well and it’s nice to just use my thumb when buying stuff from the iTunes and App stores. I’m still finding new things that I like and very few that I don’t. I’ve had a few issues with bluetooth and wifi dropping, but that may have been cleared up with the 8.0.2 update. I’ll have to take note.

All in all, I’m really digging it.

Apple Discontinues Aperture

Aperture appApple has announced that it is ceasing development of its Aperture and iPhoto apps. Instead, Apple will be replacing them with its new Photos app (that was announced during its Worldwide Developers Conference).

Jim Dalrymple, at The Loop was given the following statement from Apple:

With the introduction of the new Photos app and iCloud Photo Library, enabling you to safely store all of your photos in iCloud and access them from anywhere, there will be no new development of Aperture. When Photos for OS X ships next year, users will be able to migrate their existing Aperture libraries to Photos for OS X.

The Aperture Blog notes that Apple has said they will provide an update so that Aperture will still work with OS X Yosemite. This will give Aperture users some time to make a decision about where to move their photos to.

Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear Headphones Review

Sennheiser LogoI was watching an ABBA retrospective on BBC4 last night and to my surprise, there was Benny and Bjorn wearing Sennheiser HD414s in the recording studio. Lest anyone think that I’m a complete Sennheiser nerd, the HD414s have bright yellow earpads and are very recognisable. With the trip down memory lane complete, let’s take a look and a listen to an entirely more modern set of headphones, the Sennheiser Momentum On-Ear.

Momentum On-Ear

Extending Sennheiser’s Momentum range, the On-Ear is is more compact version of the original over-ear Momentum, and is aimed squarely at the fashion-conscious, iPhone-toting music lover. Although lighter and small, the On-Ear retains much of the luxury and audio quality of its bigger brother but with smaller cups that rest on the ears rather than enclosing them completely.

It’s the attention to detail on the headphones that really stands out – the adjustment, the fixings, the stitching, the soft Alacantara material on the headband and ear cups. The Momentums are a pleasure to handle, hold and wear. I found them comfortable but the trick to extended listening was to keep the cups slightly forward. Too far back and my ears started to get sore.

Ear AdjustmentScrewsStitchingEar Cups

Audio-wise, the Momentum On-Ears are everything that you’d expect from headphones in this price range. Excellent definition and clarity, with musical subtleties coming through beautifully. As might be expected, on lower bit-rate MP3s the On-Ears easily showed up the limitations of the format, while with higher bit-rates, the sound filled out nicely revealing the detail. Plugged into an amp (a Yamaha DSP-AX763) with a CD player source (a Technics SL-PG580A) , the music was incredibly good. I could really listen to the tracks rather than just hear them. It’s hard to get over the audio experience in words, but let’s just say I’m impressed.

ConnectorIncluded in the box with the headphones is a semi-rigid case, a soft carrying bag and two leads. One has a standard 3.5″mm stereo jack for connecting into digital music players or amps, but the other lead has an in-line iRemote for use with Apple products such as the iPhone. The leads have a neat little moulding on the headphone-end that secures the connector into the headset so it doesn’t come out unintentionally.

The Momentum On-Ears come in a range of seven colours – high-gloss black, classic brown, red, ivory, blue, green and pink. There’s a new Samba edition to tie in with World Cup in Brazil this summer which has yellow cups, bringing us back to the original 414s.

Priced at £169.99, these aren’t pocket money, but they are lovely headphones. As with all things hi-fi, there will always be better and more expensive headphones but the Momentum On-Ears seem to occupy a good spot, balancing cost and audio quality. Try them out for yourself.

Thanks to Sennheiser for the loan of the Momentum On-Ears.

Libratone Zipp Wireless Speaker Review

I first came across Libratone at the The Gadget Show earlier in the year where their colourful hi-fi speakers with interchangeable covers stood out against the more run-of-the-mill Bluetooth speakers. On the back of my interview, Libratone kindly sent me a Zipp, a portable wireless AirPlay speaker, to further my education in their products. Let’s take a look and a listen.

Libratone Zipp Box

The Libratone Zipp is very much fashioned in iStyle but takes a welcome break from monochrome with interchangeable coloured covers. The Zipp comes with three covers in the box from three collections and the supplied Zipp came with the “Funky collection” – pepper black, plum purple and pineapple yellow. Additional covers are £39 which may seem expensive but the covers aren’t felt or fleece, they’re Italian wool. Here’s the Zipp in its different clothes.

Libratone Zipp Magenta

Libratone Zipp Mustard Strap

Changing a cover is easy – just unzip the cover, carefully remove it, fit the the new cover and zip it back up. There’s a small frame which fits around the control panel but it clips in firmly and helps get everything lined up. The panel’s neatly hidden behind the leather carry strap.

Libratone Zipp Mustard Strap Up

As a wireless speaker, the Zipp uses wifi rather than Bluetooth to stream music and until relatively recently, you would have needed Apple products to use AirPlay. Android users can now join the party as the Zipp now provides a DLNA interface which several music apps now support including Robin Davis’ 2player, which I used for this review. Sadly, many don’t, including Spotify, which is a shame.

The speaker can work in two modes, DirectPlay and WiFi Play. In the first, the speaker creates its own little wifi hotspot and the smartphone or tablet connects to the hotspot. This mode is used both for initial configuration and for playing music away from home, say, at a friend’s BBQ. With the WiFi Play mode, the Zipp connects to the same wifi network as the music-playing device, which is the way you’d use the Zipp at home.

Setting up the Zipp is a little fiddly but otherwise straightforward and only needs to be done once. Libratone’s free app helps with this but the steps are broadly turn on the Zipp, connect to the Zipp’s wifi hotspot, enter the main wifi key and restart the Zipp. It’ll then connect up to the main wifi network and the speaker will be available for music output.

Libratone App 2player Erasure

Obviously the Zipp is only a single unit, although it has an amazing capacity to fill a room. Libratone have developed a set of acoustic tricks called “FullRoom” which let the Zipp’s tweeters and drivers expand the sound, but you need to tell the Zipp where it is in the room to take full advantage. The Libratone app helps with that too. You can hear the impact of some of the changes if you fiddle with the settings while music is playing but much of the change is subtle.

Voicing Position

In addition to setting the spatial characteristics, the type of music can be enhanced through preset equalisations such as “Easy Listening” and “Rock the House”.

Aside from the interchangeable covers, the other cool feature is that the Zipp is portable and has a built-in battery which Libratone says will last about 4 hours playing music over wifi and twice as long using a cable. I didn’t try running the Zipp very long from a lead but the time seems about right for wifi. The Libratone app helpfully shows the battery level so you know when to recharge. There’s a small bag included in the box but Libratone could do with a dedicated Zipp carrying bag as it’s heavy to lug around – it’s portable but it’s not a travel accessory.  I liked the liberty that this gave as I moved the Zipp between rooms and was able to have music in rooms that didn’t normally have sound without using headphones.

Libratone Zipp Panel Libratone Zipp Top Control

The pictures above show the panel on the side and the top-mounted controller. The USB port on the side-panel can be used to power the music player (and for configuration when using Apple devices) when using the 3.5mm jack for the audio feed.

Generally the Zipp worked well. I did have the occasional problem with the Zipp not being recognised either as an output option in the 2player app or by the Libratone app when trying to change the FullRoom config. Usually a restart of either the app or the Zipp itself would sort it out but it’s a bit irritating when the dropout occurs halfway through an album. To be fair, the issue could lie with my wifi network or with the music app itself and I’ve no experience with other AirPlay devices for comparison. For now, it’s something to be aware of.

As a reminder, Android users needs to confirm that the apps that they want to use with the Zipp are AirPlay or DLNA-compatible. Unlike Bluetooth speakers, where the driver is at lower level and makes almost any app capable of outputting sound to a wireless speaker, the apps needs to be DLNA-aware to use the Zipp wirelessly. Searching the Play Store reveals several good apps that can be checked for full compatibility.

So….does the Zipp sound good? In short, it’s very impressive with music retaining clarity and detail even at higher volumes and the Zipp has a surprising amount of volume for such a small unit. Obviously any single speaker unit is going to be lacking in comparison with hi-fi separates but the Zipp knocks into a cocked hat any of the speaker docks that I’ve heard. Finally, it’s absolutely, definitely the best portable speaker that I’ve ever listened to. At GB£369, it’s not cheap but if you have a bijou pad that needs filled with sound, you should give the Zipp a listen. It looks great too.

Thanks to Libratone for the loan of the Zipp.