Booq Taipan Shock Backpack Review

booq LogoThe Booq Taipan Shock is a lightweight laptop backpack for devices with screens up to 16″, designed to store the laptop safely in a padded section, placing all the accoutrements of mobile life in other pockets and compartments. As can be seen in the photos, it’s a relatively big backpack at 46 × 33 × 21 cm giving it a large internal volume for plenty of gear. The outer material is 1680D triweave water-repellent polyester closed with YKK zips and all the stitching is neatly finished and taped over on the inside. The specs say it weighs just under a kilo.

Booq Taipan Shock back

Booq Taipan Shock strap sideThe dedicated laptop section is closest to the back side of the Shock and has padding on all sides with a flash of red material. The Shock easily took a chunky HP ProBook with a 15.6″ screen and a more svelte 13″ Lenovo Yoga looked almost lost inside the padded laptop pocket.

Booq Taipan Shock laptop pocket

In the main section, there’s a selection of zipped pockets, netted areas, pen-holders and slots for paper pads. There’s plenty of room for books and lunchboxes too.

Inside the Taipan Shock

Booq Taipan Shock Removable KeyringThe Taipan Shock has loads of neat features. To start with all the zips are YKK’s water-repellent versions, so once closed up the bag will keep gear dry in a rain shower. As the zips are covered with a layer of material, they look neat and tidy, with none of the zip teeth showing. For convenience, one of the side pockets has a detachable keyring, and while the arm straps can be adjusted for fit, any extra webbing can be neatly wrapped and retain with velcro to stop it flapping around. Finally on the rear of the backpack, there’s a pocket that’s just the right size for an ereader or 7″ tablet, which is handy for easy access.

Booq TagsThe Taipan Shock looks very smart in grey but for a bit of brightness a few coloured leather pull-tabs are included which can be swapped in. It’s a neat touch.

Finally, the Booq Taipan Shock comes with Terralinq, a service designed to reunite lost bags with owners. By pairing a serial number on the backpack with the purchaser, the Shock can be returned should it be found.

Overall, the Booq Taipan Shock is a well-made backpack that has plenty of pockets and space for safely toting larger laptops. The Taipan Shock is vailable from Amazon.co.uk with an RRP of £80.

Thanks to Booq for the loan of the Taipan Shock.

Toast Tech Covers from Natural Materials

toastlogoThe Moto X and new G4 smartphones have shown that there’s a market for personalisation using natural materials; a synthesis of the traditional with technology. Where glass, metal and plastic pervade, there’s an opportunity for the natural in wood and leather. Into this space step Toast, specialising in natural material covers for smartphones, tablets and small laptops. Built on the back of a successful Kickstarter campaign, the Portland-based firm provides after-market products that look custom-crafted.

Using hardwood from North America, bamboo from Asia and leather from America cattle, Toast’s covers are crafted to perfectly match the device’s openings and cut-outs. With wooden backs, designs and decorations can be cut into the surface using a laser. There’s a selection of designs available to order but Toast is happy to take custom orders as well.

Toast CoversPrices very depending on phone model and material, but expect to pay from $24-$34 for a wooden back and around $45 for a leather one. For more information, listen to my interview with Danielle and Matias from Toast at Gadget Show Live.

MSI Bridges the Performance and Affordability Gap with New Gaming PC’s

MSI laptopIt’s the eternal struggle. You need a powerful PC to maximize your gaming experience. And while high-end systems bring premium features and performance, they often demand an equally premium price. PC manufacturer MSI Computer Corp is making the divide between pricing and performance ever smaller with its new line of laptops and all-in-ones.

One qualification for a high-performance system is a quality graphics processor. MSI delivers here as the company’s Gaming 24GE AIOs, GE60/GE70 Apache and GP60/GP70 Leopard series gaming laptops will be outfitted with NVIDIA’s GTX 960M, 950M and 940M GPU’s. Designed to bring desktop graphics to a laptop, NVIDIA’s latest GTX GPUs deliver impressive gameplay at 1080p resolutions, allowing gamers to experience even the smallest particles of digital dust. The new GTX 960M, 950M and 940M GPUs also decrease energy consumption when compared to previous models, enabling longer play time without having to find a wall outlet.

Of course, high-quality video is nothing without a matching level of audio. That’s why MSI’c systems supply 3-D sound by Nahimic, an audio performance technology that offers virtual 7.1 sound in immersive high definition. Designed to work with standard stereo equipment, Nahimic technology transports gamers into the action, allowing them to sense every footstep, hear each bullet whizzing past, and feel every explosion around them. Nahimic technology highlights even the smallest sounds, intensifies gameplay by boosting bass, and reducing noise for optimum in-game voice clarity and comprehension. It also features a high definition audio recorder to easily capture studio quality sound. This new technology currently is available for the GE60 / GE70 Apache gaming notebooks and the Gaming 24GE AIO.

[Read more…]

Zolt Charger Plus Is Ready For Your Power-Hungry Devices at CES

Zolt logoRemember a time when all you needed to worry about was keeping the battery in your laptop charged? Now, there’s the laptop battery, smartphone, Bluetooth headset, camera… the list goes on. What to do when you’re on the go and all of these devices start giving the low-battery warning? Plug those power-hungry monsters into the new Charger Plus from Zolt.

Chris had a chance to speak with Steve Gibson from Zolt. Steve explained how Charger Plus can be used to charge a laptop computer, using a special USB cable plugged into the top USB port of the charger, leaving the second port free to charge another device. Charger Plus will ship with adapters that work with most of the popular laptops on the market. (A special adapter for MacBooks will be sold separately.)

Charger Plus is available for preorder now at $79.99. It will have a full retail release early summer at $99.99.

Interview by Chris Davis for the TechPodcast Network.

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Microsoft Bluetooth Notebook Mouse 5000 Review

Wireless mice are commonplace these days but many only work with their own brand wireless transceiver, which restricts their use to devices equipped with USB ports. Less common are Bluetooth-based mice which have the potential to work with any Bluetooth-equipped unit, including Android and iOS tablets, potentially making them much more useful. On review here is one such mouse, the Microsoft Bluetooth Notebook Mouse 5000. Snappy name, but let’s take a look.

The 5000 is fairly typical of notebook mice being smaller than a typical desktop mouse at only 9 cm long and about 5.5 cm wide. People with large hands may find the mouse is too small but for occasional use with a tablet or notebook, it’s fine. I certainly wouldn’t want it as my main mouse as I can’t really rest my hand on it, but this is all subjective and some people may find it perfect.

image

Looks-wise, it’s not a Microsoft Arc or a Logitech Ultrathin, but it’s not entirely unattractive. This is the version with silvery-white buttons and dark gray body; there is a version with these colours reversed too. The silver matched my Samsung Chromebook rather nicely but the colour does vary with the light.

Two Duracell AA batteries power the 5000, which are supplied in the packaging and Duracell’s make a welcome change from the generic AAs that usually accompany remote controls and other battery-powered accessories. There’s an on/off switch on the bottom to conserve power when not in use. I’ve been using the mouse for about a week and I’ve yet to replace the batteries.

To pair the mouse, there’s a second button on the underside that needs to be pressed for a few seconds to put the mouse into a pairing mode. After that, the mouse should appear in the device list of whatever computer is to connect to the mouse. I successfully paired with an Android tablet, a Windows 8 tablet and a Chromebook. I imagine that it will work with iPads and other iOS devices but I didn’t have one at hand to test.

image

In use, the 5000 works pretty much like any mouse. It’s an optical mouse with a laser motion tracker so resistance will depend entirely on the surface in use. There are four buttons: left, right, middle and “back”, which is next to the main left button and can pressed by your thumb to take your web browser back a page – you can see it in the top picture. Great if you are right-handed, but a waste of time if you are left-handed. The scroll wheel has a bit of stiffness to it but I like that as it prevents accidental scrolling.

Overall, the Microsoft Bluetooth Notebook Mouse 5000 is a good mouse but not a great mouse. It’s nothing special but there’s nothing wrong with it either (except for the back button only being useful to right-handed users) . The 5000 is available from all good retailers for around £25.

Disclaimer: this was a personal purchase.

New Chromebooks

Chrome logoYesterday on the Chrome blog, Google announced that new Chromebooks from Acer, Asus, HP and Toshiba were on their way. Arriving in the next few months the new Chromebooks are based on Intel’s Haswell chips rather than the current ARM processors and the chip’s low power consumption will double the battery life.

Chromebook 14These new Chromebooks are (roughly) the third iteration of the laptops and it’s great to see new entrants, Asus and Toshiba, joining the party. HP’s new Chromebook 14 will be out before the holiday season, cost $300 and come in a range of colours. Although Acer will be bringing out a new model as well, there’s no news on whether Samsung will be refreshing its line-up. The eye-wateringly expensive Pixel seems to remain the only touch-screen model in the range but that could change as details emerge on the new models.

Google quotes that in the sub-$300 computer segment, Chromebooks have taken a little less than a quarter of the market and around 5,000 US schools have also provided Chromebooks to students. For a product that’s just 2 years old, it’s pretty impressive.

I’m looking forward to the new models as I’m currently using a Samsung Chromebook to write this article and I’m bought into a web and cloud-centric view, especially for people who actually want to get stuff done wherever they are. Neat, low-cost, instant-on devices with a keyboard make Chromebooks very handy to have around. More apps are appearing, particularly business ones and if you haven’t considered a Chromebook in the past, you might want to consider one.

Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro Review

The Samsung ATIV Series 7 Smart PC Pro is a Windows 8 hybrid: a touchscreen tablet that that slots into a keyboard, converting the tablet into a laptop. Sounds like a great idea but how well does it work in practice? Let’s get it out the box first – apologies for some of these photos, there was a bit too much reflection in the office.

ATIV Smart PC Pro Box

ATIV Pro PC tablet

The ATIV Smart PC is a big tablet. This is not unsurprising as it comes with an 11.6″ screen but here’s what it looks like next to a Motorola Xoom 2 which has a 10.1″ screen. And the extra size translates into weight. The Smart PC is 888g without the keyboard and it nearly doubles when the keyboard is added. For comparison, the Xoom 2 is 599g and Series 3 Chromebook is 1.1 kg.

Smart PC Pro v Xoom 2

The Smart PC has a good selection of ports and controls around the outside of the tablet. Most of the ports have small covers, which while maintaining the tablet’s sleek lines, become a bit of pain when it comes to plugging stuff in and out. On the left, there’s the volume rocker and and a mini HDMI socket. Along the top, there’s a headphone jack, on/off button, rotation lock button, USB 3 port and microSD slot. The right-hand side is bare except for the stylus silo at the bottom. Yes, the tablet supports Samsung’s S Pen and it’s pretty nifty. Finally, the bottom edge has the keyboard dock connector and the DC-in socket. To round the peripherals out, the Smart PC has cameras on both the front and back of the tablet, stereo speakers and last, the Windows button.

IMG_20130806_123013

Dropping the tablet into the keyboard dock is easy – it just slots in – and there’s a central eject button on the hinge for when you want to detach the two. The keyboard comes with the two further USB ports, but I don’t think they’re USB 3 as they’re not coloured blue.

ATIV Smart PC Pro Hinge

Together, the tablet and the keyboard ought to be a smooth, cool looking unit but the presentation is let down by various conformity declarations for the FCC, CE and others. Of course, Intel and Microsoft have to get their stickers on too and while those can be peeled off, the declarations are etched onto the case itself. The overall presentation of the device when closed up is unattractive and a disappointment. Honestly, it looks like the back of a desktop monitor.

Smart PC Pro Back

On the plus side, the hinge mechanism is positive and sturdy. When open, the keyboard is tilted at a very slight angle which makes it more comfortable to use. Keyboard is good and the touchpad is one of the newer button-less kind, which I found easy to use.

IMG_20130806_123358

Running Windows 8, the ATIV Smart PC is smooth as it should be, being powered by a 1.7 GHz Core i5 processor paired with an SSD. Animations are slick, the Live Tiles look great and apps are generally snappy. Regrettably Windows 8 is still the confused merger of a desktop and tablet OS but that’s hardly the Samsung’s fault so we’ll not hold that against it. What is surprisingly good is the S Pen, Samsung’s active stylus.

The S Pen stylus is a stubby affair reminiscent of a short ballpoint pen but the unflattering looks belie its usefulness. Simply, it makes “desktop” Windows 8 useful on a tablet as it provides the accurate pointing and clicking that would otherwise be delivered by a mouse. Without the S Pen, legacy Windows apps are at best, hit-or-miss, and at worst, a exercise in total frustration. The S Pen changes that completely. Further, Samsung have bundled their S Note app which takes full advantage of the S Pen, letting the user write notes and sketch on different pad designs. It’s a bit like a really colourful (skeumorphic?) version of Evernote. Handwriting recognition converts scrawls into text and the accuracy is pretty good. I was impressed.

Pricewise, the version with a 128 GB SSD and 3G connectivity costs nearly £1200. Dropping the 3G and the SSD to 64 GB will knock £200 off, as will losing the keyboard, setting the entry level model at about £800 (prices from Amazon.co.uk). Ultimately, the ATIV Smart PC Pro is an expensive and heavy tablet that will only appeal to those who absolutely need full Windows 8-compatibility. Anyone else will buy an iPad or Android tablet for about half the price. The S Pen is cool, but it’s not enough.

[Disclosure: The ATIV Smart PC Pro was not supplied by Samsung for review.]

Samsung UK Chromebook Offer

Samsung LogoJust a quickie….Samsung UK have an offer on at the moment that if you buy one of their Chromebooks during August, you can claim a free smartphone. Don’t get too excited as the phone is only a Galaxy Mini but it’s better than nothing and you can always flog it on ebay. There are further goodies if you buy a 3G Chromebook.

Pay attention to the small print as you have to wait 14 days from the date of purchase before you can apply for the phone.

Vivick’s Latest Gadgets

Vivick HeadphonesCanadian firm Vivick produce a wide range of gadgets, covering everything from iPhone cases, laptop accessories and AV gear. Andy and Scott look at three of the latest products.

On show from Vivick is anLED desk lamp speaker that can be driven via Bluetooth but wouldn’t look out of place on the set of a 70s sci-fi movie. Continuing the theme, they had a Bluetooth headset which looked a bit more up-to-date but I can’t comment on the sound quality. Finally, they showed off a combo-laptop / USB rechargeable battery which had some really good design ideas. It seems to be a brand new product as it doesn’t yet feature on their website, but if you are a battery hogging traveller, keep an eye out for it.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News and Scott Ertz of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology for the TechPodcast Network, who should be commended for keeping the interview going.

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Apple Keyboard Overlays from KB Covers

KB Cover Keyboard OverlayKB Covers produce lightweight and flexible keyboard overlays for Apple Macs to help make people more productive with complex software applications or type in foreign languages. Andy and Scott find out what’s happening with KB Covers from Bruce Franklin.

KB Covers produces overlays for Apple Macintosh desktop and laptop computers, covering both current and older models. Generally there are three kinds of overlays: those for protection or decoration, for foreign languages and for advanced application use, where keyboard shortcuts are key to being proficient in the app. Each year, KB Covers comes out with additional overlays for extra languages and new applications, often at the suggestion of customers.

The overlays are available on-line from around $20.

Interview by Andy McCaskey of SDR News and Scott Ertz of F5 Live: Refreshing Technology for the TechPodcast Network.

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