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Great Features on a Budget Tablet – RCA Saturn 10 Pro



The RCA Saturn 10 Pro tablet is a 10″ Android tablet that marries budget specs with high-end features at an astonishingly low price, GB£109. That’s about US$140. Amazingly, that price includes a detachable keyboard, but have they cut the corners in the right places, or is this true value for money? Let’s take a look.

Sold by Asda in the UK, the Saturn 10 Pro is the big brother to the Mercury 7L and both carry the RCA branding though I’m not sure if the RCA brand is as strong in the UK as it might be in the US. Eagle-eyed GNC readers will spot a great deal of similarity with the Venturer EliteWin which I reviewed previously. Unsurprisingly it’s no coincidence as the Saturn 10 Pro is produced by Venturer under the RCA brand. For those wondering what happened to RCA as a company, it was purchased and then broken up by GE in the 1980s.

Taking a quick look over the tablet, I think the design has got stronger with each iteration of the tablet. MoMA won’t be asking for an exhibit any time soon, but the Saturn Pro isn’t far off some of the other low cost tablets from a certain large on-line retailer. Mind you, it’s still quite thick at 11 mm without keyboard. Handily, most of the controls and features have been concentrated on what I perceive as the left-hand side. This is a good thing as it means there’s one unencumbered short edge which can be used to grasp the Saturn Pro in portrait mode.

Quickly reviewing features, there’s a microphone, HDMI connector, reset button (that I never had to use), microSD slot, 5V DC jack (never used), microUSB (used for charging), 3.5 mm headphone jack, power button, volume rocker and full-size USB port. The keyboard connects onto a long edge via four pogo pings with magnets keeping the tablet in place. The single speaker round the back is possibly one of the loudest I’ve ever heard on a phone or tablet.

Speed is not one of the Saturn 10’s strengths. Although equipped with a 1.3 GHz quad core processor and 32 GB of storage, it’s held back by the paltry 1 GB of RAM. In benchmarking, Geek Bench 3 gave the Saturn 387 and 1113 in the single and multicore tests respectively. For comparison a Nexus 5 from 2013 scores 859 and 1764. In real world conditions, that means Alto’s Adventure takes over 20 seconds to launch. Still, it’s playable when it gets going though the tablet sometimes stutters when there’s too much action in the games. Surfing the web and watching YouTube is fine – give it time to get the videos loaded.

The display could be better too. 1280 x 800 on a 10″ screen simply is disappointingly low and at times there’s a hint of blurriness round text in places. Look closely at the “t” in the photo – it’s not crisp. 1280 x 800 was the resolution of the original Nexus 7 in 2012, and that had a 7″ screen. The Nexus 9 is 2048 x 1536 in a 9″ screen. To be fair, most of the time it’s not noticeable but open a text-heavy magazine in Zinio and it’s quite obvious.

And as for the cameras, lots of light is needed to get anything worthwhile from the two megapixels. Stick to using the camera in your smartphone.

What’s good? The plethora of ports is definitely interesting – full-size USB, microUSB, microSD and HDMI are all handy, particularly for photos and documents. Plug in a memory stick or card, fire up Google Photos and flick through the photos. Copy between media using ES File Explorer. I’m not sure if I had a setting wrong somewhere but I didn’t seem to be able to use the microUSB port for anything other than charging. Connecting up the Saturn to my PC via USB didn’t show any additional drives.

Connecting the Saturn to a big TV via HDMI is fun. I had the tablet on holiday with me and I could take the day’s GoPro footage and check it out on the big screen in the evening with the family watching. It’s good from that point of view.

Of course, the keyboard and touchpad are a win too. The keys are small but big enough for even a fat-fingered typist like myself to touch-type without too many errors and the key action is perfect acceptable. The keyboard has a sixth row of keys for back, home, search and other functions which greatly improved the Android-with-a-keyboard experience. Turning the tablet screen off is possible with the keyboard, but it’s not possible to wake the tablet from keyboard. The touchpad is sensitive, though I found it suffered a bit from stray fingers brushing the surface and occasionally text would end up being typed in the wrong place.

On first inspection, the user interface would appear to be mainly stock Android 6.0 (June 2016 security patch) but there are a couple of customisations. The most obvious is the that status bar has few additional icons. Pressing the camera on the left takes a screenshot and the speaker icons control the tablet volume. It’s a smart idea to have onscreen volume controls though I would have preferred keeping the Home button centred.

The other change is more of a disappointment – the “Firmware update” screen is black screen with a grey “CHECK NOW”. How hard would it have been to code a screen in keeping with the rest of the OS? It’s somewhat concerning too that the most recent security update is from June 2016.

Everything else is as expected for an Android tablet with full access to Google products; Play Store, Music, Movies, Games, Maps and so on. It’s all there – the Saturn 10 Pro is fully functional Android tablet (specs). Battery life is quoted at six hours and that’s not far from the truth.

Let’s be clear, the Saturn 10 Pro is not a Pixel C but then again, you’d get three Saturn 10s for the price of one Pixel C. The Saturn 10 is a budget tablet with a great deal of functionality from a microSD slot to a full-sized USB port,  HDMI out and a keyboard. On the other hand, the tablet is slow, cameras are low-res and the screen is disappointing for a 10″ display. What’s important to you will determine if £109 is money well spent on the Saturn 10.

As an example, I wouldn’t buy one personally because I read lots of magazines on my tablet and I want a glossy hi-res screen to enjoy the features. That’s important to me, but if you want to do a bit of email on the sofa, having the keyboard might make it a killer proposition at the price. As an aside, if Venturer was able to produce a tablet that bumped the specs to the mid-range and priced it well, I think they’d have a real winner.

If the Saturn 10 Pro makes your shortlist, it’s available from Asda for GB£109 at time of writing. Video unboxing and review below.

Thanks to RCA Venturer for providing the Saturn 10 Pro for review.


1More E1001 Triple Driver Earbuds



As I unpacked the box for the 1More E1001 triple driver headphones, I realised that there was good chance that these earbuds might be something a little bit special given both the attention to detail on the packaging and the price at just under GB£100. Was I disappointed? Let’s take a look and find out.

Starting with the E1001’s box, it’s designed to look like a much-loved hardback book, with detailing on three sides to give the impression of pages. Held shut by a magnetic catch, opening the outer cover reveals pencil-drawn draughts of the headphones construction. On the right are the earbuds, and lifting the tray reveals accessories in neat boxes.

The largest box holds additional eartips for the E1001s. In total, there are six sizes of silicon earbuds going from 10 mm up to 14.5 mm, plus three sizes of foam tips at 11, 13 and 14.5 mm sizes. With having a range of sizes, swapping based on use is realistic: one size for listening at home on the sofa and a larger size for walking in the park.

Other boxes contained instructions, a pleather case for the headphones, an aircraft adaptor and a clip for holding the cable in place. The clip does make a big difference when using the E1001s on a call as otherwise the microphone picks up too much background noise. Both the adaptor and the clip are finished in brush gold effect.

Returning to the headphones themselves, the body of the earbud is made entirely from metal; there’s no plastic here.  With two contrasting colours on the earbuds – soft gold and blue grey – the E1001s live up to expectations with a lovely finish. If gold’s not your colour, there’s a silver version to lower the bling level. The earbuds point forwards slightly and I had no problems with comfort and fit.

The cables running from the earbuds are equal length, and the right side has an inline control for volume, next track and taking calls. The control sticks with the grey and gold colouring. 1More keep it simple when it comes to the control – don’t expect to be able to manage two calls or anything fancy, but it does work on both iOS and Android. The lower part of the cable is braided and ends in TRRS 3.5mm jack. The total length is about 1.2 m from jack to earbud.

With the physical review completed, let’s move onto the important bit….what do they sound like? In one word, stunning. Tuned by a Grammy-award winning sound engineer, Luca Bignardi, they deliver an accurate listening experience which is frankly wasted on smartphones and mp3s. I hooked up the E1001s to a Yamaha amp with Pioneer CD source and listened to albums all over again. I particularly enjoyed listening to acoustic tracks, especially R&B like Keb’ Mo’ where you can hear every slap of the guitar, every nuance in the vocals, every thump of the bass. There’s tremendous clarity and detail in the sound coming out of these earbuds and the triple drivers deliver where it’s needed. Unless I’m going to the gym, these are my current favourites for listening.

Priced at GB£99.99 and US$99.99, these aren’t cheap but in terms of bang for buck, the E1001s are great value. If you are interested in buying from the UK, there’s currently a coupon on the website to get 20% off, which is an even better deal. When you consider 1More released its first headphones in 2015, it’s astonishing that it’s now producing earbuds of this quality in 2017: the established players in this market should be concerned.

Thanks to 1More for providing the E1001 triple driver headphones for review. Unboxing video below.


Samsung DeX



The Samsung DeX Station converts a Galaxy S8 or S8+ smartphone into a desktop computer. Plop the S8 in the DeX, plug in a keyboard and mouse, hook up a TV, and you’re set with Android on the big screen. That’s the theory, what about in practice? Let’s take a look.

The DeX hardware is circular device, about 10 cm across, with a top surface that sweeps smoothly back and up to reveal the USB C connector for the smartphone.

Around the base are two USB 2 ports, a full-size HDMI socket, a 100 Mb/s network connector and a USB C for powering the DeX.

Getting setup is simplicity itself. Connect all the hardware up and slot the phone in. There’s no additional software to add as it’s all built-in to the S8 and the DeX itself. I used a wireless keyboard and mouse combo connecting to a USB transmitter. The TV connected to the HDMI port with a cable and I used the WiFi on the S8 for networking.

When the S8 is placed in the DeX, a prompt appears asking whether to start DeX or to only mirror the S8 screen. Choosing the former gets the DeX desktop in its full HD glory and it looks convincing. But what’s it really like?

  

Let’s start with the positives…the DeX desktop is what you’d expect an Android desktop to be like, using familiar apps in a windowed world. It’s fast and all the apps on the phone are available through DeX. Google Maps works and it’s perfect for YouTube and web browsing. Samsung promotes DeX-optimised apps via its app store.

  

But while many apps seemed to be quite happy with DeX and run in both full screen and windowed modes, some apps don’t like DeX and display as if they are on the S8 in portrait. This is frustrating and while this could be expected for games like Monument Valley, it seems odd that Netflix can’t cope – surely this would be seen as a “must have” by Samsung? Some apps don’t have all the necessary controls either – it’s tricky to pinch-to-zoom with only a mouse pointer.

  

Of course, games players and movie watchers aren’t the target audience for DeX. Samsung see this as a tool for business and promote the benefits of Microsoft apps and Office365 in the literature. For example, instead of a lugging a laptop for a presentation, take DeX, plug it into the data projector and you’re sorted. Need to do a quick bit of editing? Steal a desk, connect up DeX, fire up Word and you’re working.

Where DeX also scores well is with VDIs (Virtual Desktop Infrastructures) like Citrix. Connect through to your office backend to run a virtual Windows PC and you can be working as if you are at your own desk. From that point of view, it’s slick. While DeX isn’t going to replace a laptop on an extended business trip, it makes sense for a short visit when you want to travel light.

Pricewise, the DeX station has an RRP of GB£129, though it’s already discounted by £40 in several online stores. It’s still a percentage on top of the S8 and S8+.

Overall, DeX does what it sets out to do and the key question here is not about the technology. It’s whether Samsung’s vision and the DeX Station match your way of working. YMMV, as they say.


Hooked by iClever Bluetooth Headphones



With the new BTH20, iClever‘s improved both the fit and audio quality for its next generation of Bluetooth wireless earphones. These headphones are a good match for my ears and the soft silicon rubber hooks keep them in place during the most vigorous exercise, so I like them. Let’s take a look a closer look and see what iClever’s done; we might even listen to them too.

Starting with the fit, the new headphones achieve better comfort by maximising the contact surface. Additionally, by using an offset for the inwards leaning hook, it lines up better with the ear folds. The outer part of the earbud is a small cylinder that is half covered in silicon rubber and fills out the ear a little bit more than usual. The thin hook comes out from the far end of the cylinder and the narrowness lets it get into the folds and creases. In my humble opinion, these are the best earbuds at staying in place but obviously people’s ears vary a good deal so YMMV, as they say.

Both the earbud itself and the ear hook part can be switched for different sizes – the BTH20 comes with three of each, say, small, medium and large, meaning that there are nine possible combinations for the best aural fit. The headphones are very light too at only 13g (says the spec sheet). Fitness fans will be pleased to hear that the ‘phones are sweat resistant. Give them a wipe down after a session but don’t dunk them in the sink.

The left and right earphones are connected via a round cable with an inline control close to the right ear. The three buttons on the control manage volume, music and phone calls, though some of button combinations can be challenging to get right. Additionally, the control houses the microUSB port for charging and there’s a very small status LED which can be orange or white depending on activity. There’s a short tangle-free USB to microUSB cable for charging in the box. Battery life is quoted at 8 hours, which seems about right based on the couple of afternoons I listened on the earphones without recharging.

Pairing the headphones with a smartphone was straightforward (as it should be) and I did notice that the BTH20 were quick to establish a connection when turned on. For telephone calls, callers came through to me clear and I didn’t have any complaints from them about hearing me, which you’d expect with noise-cancelling phones. I still always find it a little disconcerting to hear people in both ears….

Finally, let’s take a listen. It’s time for the summer hits and without a doubt, Despacito is the summer hit of 2017, sitting at #1 in the UK and breaking the YouTube streaming record. And it sounds good on the BTH20, which really suits the big summer hits – there’s plenty of bass without overwhelming the vocals and well-defined treble keeps the hi-hats crisp. The BTH20 really delivers on those by-the-pool numbers – One Dance, Cheerleader, Get Lucky – they all sound fantastic.

Finally, the price. It’s GB£19.99 from Amazon.co.uk and US$19.99 from Amazon.com which I think is very good value. Yes, there are cheaper Bluetooth headphones out there but the combination of fit and sound quality is hard to beat.

Any improvements?….colour other than black would be cool as these deserve to be noticed. Apparently there is a silver version but it’s currently unavailable.

Wrapping up, the iClever BTH20 Bluetooth headphones are currently my favourite headphones for “out and about”. The sound is good, the fit is great (for me) and the price is right. Perfect for the summer holidays! Put them in your bag.

Thanks to iClever for providing the BTH20 for review. Unboxing video below.

 


OxyLED T35 LED Desk Lamp Review



The OxyLED T35 Desk Lamp is a small silver grey LED desk light powered by USB. It’s a neat idea given the availability of USB ports and reduces the need for mains power sockets, which are always in short supply. Let’s take look and see if the T35 can replace my Anglepoise.

The T35 has three main parts – a weighted base, an upright with microUSB power socket and a cross-piece with two rows of white LEDs at the end of the longer side. The cross-piece is hinged at the upright to raise or lower the light. and can fold parallel to the upright. The base is 13.5 cm across and with the cross-piece horizontal, the light is 24.5 cm tall. At full reach, the T35 is just under 45 cm. From a distance the silver grey finish does a fairly good impression of being metal, but it’s obviously plastic when you touch it.

In the box, there’s the lamp itself along with a 1.5 m USB cable. The cable is white, which might appeal to Apple lovers, but I would have preferred a colour matched cable in dark grey. Even black would have been better in my opinion. It’s also a pity that the microUSB port isn’t a bit lower down the the upright…or a right-angle microUSB plug would have been good too.

Some descriptions of the T35 refer to the lamp as being USB-charged but let’s be clear here: it’s USB-powered as there’s no battery. Pull out the cable and the light goes off. Obviously the T35 can be run from a USB battery pack if needed. The low voltage is good for children too – no-one’s going to get a shock off this.

On the plus side, the OxyLED lamp can adjust the LED brightness. Tap the on/off button once and the T35 comes on full power (160 lm), but now hold the button and the brightness will slowly fade to the desired level. Tap it again and the light will go completely off. I like this feature as I can get the light level just right. The LEDs put out a slightly yellow colour, which is much better than the harsh blue white of some LEDs.

The max power output of the T35 is 4W so clearly there are energy-saving benefits over a normal desk lamp that at worst, has a 60W incandescent bulb. The LEDs are expected to have a 20,000 hour lifespan. That’s over 2 years.

Where it goes wrong for the T35 is the price – it’s currently on Amazon.co.uk for a penny under GB£40 (though it’s a slightly more reasonable US$29.99 on Amazon.com). That’s too expensive for a plastic light without a battery no matter how stylish. I think somewhere around £15-£20 would be about right.

Thanks to OxyLED for providing the T35 for review. Unboxing video below.


Sitpack 2 Gets Shorty



Continuing their mission to make waiting a little more comfortable, Sitpack have announced version two of their portable compact seat. At first glance, the new model looks exactly like the old one but there are two important improvements which will be covered shortly. I reviewed the original Sitpack back in May and as most of the review still stands, this update will focus on the new features only.

As a quick refresh, initially the Sitpack looks much like a 500 ml drinks can and weighs about the same. Made from glass-fibre reinforced polycarbonate, it’s secret is that it opens up and telescopes out into a T-shaped lean-to seat. The tired owner then rests on the Sitpack with a slight lean backwards. It’s surprisingly effective once any self-consciousness is overcome.

The new version 2 has two main improvements. First, Sitpack v2 has more height adjustment. The telescopic leg has six segments and in the first version, the only adjustment involved the topmost segment which could be extended or collapsed. Simply, v1 only had two different heights (87 cm or 75 cm). With the new version, each segment can be collapsed if needed and v2 has six possible heights, from 32 cm to 87 cm in 11 cm increments. This makes the Sitpack v2 much more useful for shorter people and children, though I have trouble getting my kids to sit still at any time…

I received an early production model of the new version and the instructions still had dire warnings about not collapsing any tubes other than top one, but I’m sure this will be addressed before the Sitpack v2 goes on wider sale. Here’s the Sitpack fully extended showing all the segments on the left, and it shortened to just four segments on the right. As before, the leg locks into place by twisting the segments.

     

The second change involves the rubber foot, which now pops in and out much more easily. With v1, getting the foot out was easy enough with some tugging, but getting it back in involved much twisting and pushing. There’s no change to the foot itself, but there’s now a plastic collar to ease it in to the Sitpack tube.

Currently the Sitpack is available in three colours; Pitch Black, Easy Blue and Black Camo. Base pricing is in euros but the Danish outfit sells to Europe, UK, USA, Canda, Australia, Japan and Hong Kong, to name just a few. The Black and Blue editions are currently €47 (GB£41, US$54) and the Camo one is slightly more at €55 (GB£48, US$63).

Thanks to Mono+Mono for providing the Sitpack for review.

 


iBeani Tablet Stand



iBeani is a small bean bag promoted as a tablet stand for iPads and other tablets….but it’s so much more. Tablet stand, book holder, doll recliner – if you want to rest something so you can see it better, iBeani’s your gadget of choice. Best of all, it doesn’t need batteries and doesn’t look out of place on the sofa.

The iBeani bean bag is designed to prop up a tablet or book at the perfect angle for reading or games. As a bean bag, it can sit on a flat surface or adapt to more awkward shapes, like sofas or knees. The iBeani is about 30 cm / 12″ across when squashed down and has a loop at the top for easy carrying and pocket for battery packs, mobile phones, spectacles, whatever…

The iBeani comes in a range of around 40 fabrics and there’s something for everyone. From geometric patterns to paw prints and classical art, it’s not hard to find an iBeani to suit your style. The fabric seems durable without being coarse and the bean bag is double zipped on the bottom to avoid any accidents involving small balls.

Made in Britain, the iBeani’s standard price is GB£24.99 including postage within the UK. There are a few sale items at £19.99 and a couple of more expensive ones at GB£29.99. I’m guessing that it’s the licensing of the art work that pushes the price up on those models.

iBeani is very handy. It’s infinitely adjustable and looks like a soft furnishing rather than a tablet stand. If you need to position a book or tablet “just so”, it’s ideal, and it’s great for children or older people who don’t want some convoluted stand with legs to unfold. It’s simple and it works.

Thanks to iBeani for supplying the bean bag for review. YouTube video below.

 

 


iClever BoostCube 2-Port USB Wall Charger Review



USB chargers are two-a-penny these days but often they are cheap knock-offs with poor quality transformers that either pose a fire hazard or fail to deliver the required current to quickly recharge a smartphone or tablet. For not much more money, iClever offers a CE-marked UK spec wall charger with two USB A ports, delivering up to 2.4A from each. Let’s take a quick look at the IC-TC02.

The charger goes with the fairly standard design of a small cuboid connected to a power plug – I guess this is the BoostCube. This isn’t a travel charger (at least not in the UK spec), so there’s a three pin plug which doesn’t detach or fold up. Having said that, it does only weigh 82g. The charger appears well built and has a high gloss finish which makes some of the photos look a little odd because of the reflections. Hidden blue LEDs in the ports give off a soft glow.

The iClever BoostCube solves nicely the two device problem by having two charging ports. Many people have both a smartphone and a tablet so either two chargers are needed or one has to be charged before the other. Both ports will supply up to 2.4A each and iClever’s SmartID technology will ensure that the right current flows to the device.

I tried the charger with a couple of devices and encountered no problems. There was warmth to the transformer under full load but nothing close to being hot. Charging rates were as expected.

The iClever BoostCube 2-Port USB wall charger is available from Amazon UK for GB£8.99 at time of writing.

There’s an unboxing video below.

Thanks to iClever for providing the charger for review.


Sitpack Portable Compact Seat Review



Rather than the usual “hands-on” review, this is more of a “bottoms-on” assessment as here we have a Sitpack Portable Compact Seat. Based in Copenhagen, Denmark, Mono+Mono announced the Sitpack on Kickstarter in 2014 and since then, over 35,000 Sitpacks have been shipped worldwide. Apparently it’s very popular in Japan, so let’s take a closer look.

At first glance, the Sitpack is not unlike a large drinks can and looks nothing like a chair, but it handily unfolds and telescopes out to T-shaped structure for an impromptu lean-to seat.

All folded up, the Sitpack is much the same size a 500 ml drinks can and weighs about 600 g. Made of glass-fiber reinforced polycarbonate, it’s solid in the hand and weighs in at 600 g. There’s a hinge on one end and peeling apart the other end reveals the telescopic pole, albeit slightly hidden by a large rubber foot.

The Sitpack uses a simple “extend and twist” to lock in place each segment of the leg. Fully extend a leg section and twist through about ten degrees until markers on each segment line up. Obviously it’s tricky the first few times, but it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it.

   

Fully extended the Sitpack is 87 cm tall. The Sitpack can be shortened by one segment for a smaller person, with shorter height of 75 cm. The material suggests that there is an even shorter length of 65 cm but I couldn’t figure out how to shorten it further as there are dire warnings on the top tube of shortening any other tube. If you want to see the extending and collapsing in more detail, Sitpack have a video.

What’s it like to use? The first few goes are really about building up confidence in the Sitpack and deciding the best length. I’m about 5’7″ and I eventually decided that the shorter length worked for me best as it was more of a sitting rather than leaning posture. At full extension, I felt I was leaning against the Sitpack and I didn’t have the confidence, especially on loose or slippy surfaces.

Is the Sitpack comfortable? Well, I’m not going to pretend that the top of the Sitpack is anything other than hard plastic and even Sitpack don’t recommend using it for more than 40 minutes at a time….but it does take the weight off your feet and it kind of feels that you are resting rather than standing. There is a seat cushion accessory (€25) for additional comfort but I wasn’t able to try it out.

For me, Sitpack works best when, say, waiting for a bus or train and you want to read your ereader or tablet. TIimes when you are reasonably static and either on your own or with adult company. It wasn’t a great success on a family outing, as trying to constantly corral two children meant that you never got two minutes to Sitpack still (sorry). I’d also suggest that the Sitpack isn’t the solution for an unsteady elderly relative: you need to be able to balance on the Sitpack.

Sitpack’s customer service is superlative. I had an unfortunate accident and managed to break one of the tubes. To start with, the Sitpack fully disassembles and there’s a video here on how to do it. I contacted Sitpack as an ordinary owner and they sent me out a replacement tube free of charge which arrived from Denmark within a few days. Brilliant.

The Sitpack comes in a range of colours; Pearl White, Pitch Black, Easy Blue and Power Pink plus a couple of special editions such as St. Patrick’s Green and Camo Black (it’s a camouflage pattern). The standard price is €55 / GB£46 / US$60 with one or two versions priced either side (€46 / €65). The foot can be customised too, with the standard black rubber swapped out for six other colours. It would be fun if Sitpack offered colour mixing as a black and white Sitpack with alternating sections would be cool.

Overall I liked the Sitpack and I can see the possibilities, especially for commuters on busy train stations without enough seats. Upfront, it does seem expensive at €55 but I think it’s one of these things where “the quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten”. And Sitpack’s customer service is great. On the downside, it is relatively heavy – you’re not going to be carrying the Sitpack just in case, and you do get a bit of numb bum after awhile. The sacrifices I make for Geek News Central….

Thanks to Mono+Mono for providing the Sitpack for review.

 


Optoma EH400+ Digital Projector Review



This month, I’ve been tinkering with the Optoma EH400+ digital projector (DLP). Unlike last month’s diminutive ML750ST personal projector, the EH400+ is a multipurpose projector suitable for professional presentations in meeting rooms and training centres. Let’s take a closer look, though be careful as it’s very bright…

The EH400+ is about the size of a generous tin of biscuits, measuring 30 x 23 x 9.6 cm and weighing 2.5 kg. It’s entirely luggable, but prospective purchasers should note that there’s no carry case included in the box, though it is an optional extra. While we are on the topic, there’s only the projector, power lead and IR remote control in the box. It’s a standard kettle-style power lead (IEC C13) with no power brick.

White on the top and dark grey round the sides, the Optoma projector ticks all the standard projector boxes. Lens on front, buttons on top and ports on the rear. The recessed lens on the front will form an image on a screen from as close as 1 m to as far away as 12 m and at the furthest limit, the image will be over 7 m wide. That’s fairly big. The bulb puts out 4,000 lumens which is 5 times what the ML750ST put out, so can easily project a strong image in well-lit rooms. The large lens rotates smoothly through about 180 degrees to focus the image and there’s a lever on the top to zoom the image.

The buttons on the top of the projector offer the usual functions –  turning it on, adjusting the image, accessing menus, etc. but the main area of interest is round the back with a selection of connectors, ports and sockets. There are two HDMI, two VGA, S-Video, composite video, two stereo sockets and a network port. Yes, a network port….

Turning the projector over, there are three rubber feet for setting the EH400+ on a table or other smooth surface. The foot at the front spins out to about a 1 cm to raise the projector up. For suspension from a ceiling in a permanent installation, there’s a three-point mount.

Turned on, the EH400+ is pleasingly quiet, though it does put out some light through the fan along with a fair amount of heat, as you’d expect with something this bright.

Connect up the EH400+ to a PC or laptop via HDMI and it appears as a full HD (1920 x 1080) monitor and with a suitable OS you can do the usual tricks of either reproducing the current desktop or extending the desktop to the EH400’s display. In most environments, it’s going to be showing the same display as the monitor but it’s a useful feature to have.

As with most digital projectors, the EH400+ has an on-screen display (OSD) for configuring the display and all the usual options are there for keystoning, image shifting and similar. But unlike most other projectors, there are far more options than are usually available. For example, there’s a small suite of test patterns to ensure the image is displayed perfectly. There’s even an option to adjust the colour output to compensate for the colour of the wall being used for projection.

On the downside, I didn’t find that the projector was very good at finding the input source automatically and most times I selected the input manually with the remote. Once selected, it took a few seconds to lock on but after that, the EH400+ stayed locked on.

While Powerpoint presentations are likely to be the bread’n’butter of the EH400+, it’s perfectly capable of showing films and movies too. I connected up my Sky Q and watched a few movies plus the new series of Thunderbirds in HD and 3 m across. My son loved it. The picture was good and the colours reproduced well, which is one of the headline features of EH400+ giving an accurate sRGB colourspace. The bright 4000 lumens coped well with an ordinarily lit room and while the sound from the built-in speakers would be acceptable in a meeting or training environment as it’s pretty loud, the quality isn’t going to win any hifi awards from the audiophiles.

And don’t forget, with two HDMI ports, a media streaming stick like the Roku or Amazon Fire TV can be plugged in permanently and powered from the USB port.

There’s no wifi with this Optoma projector (optional extra) but there is a network port which, at a minimum, can be used to control the EH400+. The projector can work with some audiovisual systems such as Crestron and PJ Link. I’ve no idea about these, but the web interface was actually a fairly handy way to control the projector – no faffing around pointing the remote at the projector and scrolling through options – just point and click. It’s even possible to sent email alerts from the projector if there’s a fan error or lamp life is exceeded. The web interface doesn’t cover all the features available via the built-in menus but it covers the main ones. Here’s a screen shot.

That’s about it. In summary, the EH400+ comes across as a solid DLP workhorse that will perform well in professional environments, displaying presentations and media to a high standard with good colour reproduction. Priced at just under GB£750 inc VAT, this is definitely business territory and would be a good choice when replacing a legacy projector with a more up-to-date unit and more relevant connections. The network port and web interface is handy too, especially when the battery has died in the remote control.

The EH400+ can be bought through Optoma‘s partners including Currys PC World and Just Projectors. The Currys price seems a little high…

There’s a short video below and I must apologise for there being no demonstration of the EH400+’s projection capability. I didn’t have a suitable projection space and had to use a small screen which was incredibly bright at such a short distance. Suffice to say that the quality is impressive.

Update: I previously described this as a digital LED projector. It’s not, as DLP stands for Digital Light Proceessing.

Thanks to Optoma for the loan of the review unit.