TP-Link 3G Mobile WiFi and Power Bank Review

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

3G Wireless and Power Bank

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

TP-Link 3G Mobile WiFi

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

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

Profile Management

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

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

TP-Link 3G Mobile WiFi Screen

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to TP-Link for supplying the review unit.

HTC One Max Smartphone Review

HTC LogoHTC are expected to announced a new iteration of their One smartphone in a few weeks, but here today I have the current version of the HTC One Max on my desk. And it’s definitely on my desk, because this is not a small phone, no. With a whopping 5.9″ screen this easily the largest phone I’ve ever handled, verging into phablet territory. But is it too big? Let’s take a look.

As you’ll see from the pictures, the One Max looks broadly the same as the standard One, with the top and bottom speakers. Although it’s not obvious in the photograph, the curved aluminium back raises the phone off the desk, making it easy to pick up off a smooth surface. The build quality seems good, although I’m not a big fan of the hard plastic bevel round the edge.

HTC One Max Front

Using the One Max, it’s clear this isn’t a phone for one handed use. With a bit of effort, I can use my Nexus 4 single-handedly, but there’s no way I can do this with the HTC. You also know that you’re holding it, as the One Max is a relatively heavy phone at 217 g. It’s not really a surprise – more glass, more metal, more battery – it’s going to weigh more.

Looking round the back, the cover pops off using a small release mechanism making it one of the easiest phones to get into. Inside there’s the slot for the micro SIM and a microSD card (top right). Re-attaching the rear cover is a straightforward and during the review period, I didn’t have any problems with the back coming off accidently.

HTC One Max Back  Naked HTC One Max

Observant readers will have spotted the strange black square underneath the camera; that’s the fingerprint reader to which we will return. Round the edges, there’s an IR port and headset socket along the top; volume rocker and on/off down the right, micro USB connector on the bottom and back release up the left. USB OTG is supported via the micro USB so files and media can be transferred with the appropriate adaptor. I did find that the positioning of the on/off button close to the volume rocker led to a bit of fumbling at times – a bit more space between the two wouldn’t have hurt.

It’s difficult to get an idea of the size of the One Max but here’s a picture with the HTC alongside an LG Nexus 4 and an Apple iPhone 5. Yup, it’s big, but it is a lovely screen with a full HD display at 1,920 x 1,080.

HTC One Max, Nexus 4 and iPhone 5

Moving on from the physical size, the One Max runs Android 4.3 with HTC’s Sense UI. Whether you like Sense UI or prefer vanilla Android is entirely a personal preference but there are some nice touches. If you are big into your social networks, the phone’s home screen is taken over with BlinkFeed which pulls information from your networks and displays it in a magazine style. It’s nicely done. I did find it a little frustrating to have to double tap the “home” icon to get to the list of recently run apps, but I’m sure you’d get used to that if the One Max was your daily phone.

BlinkFeed  Recently Run

There are a few extra apps included too, including a remote control app that uses the IR port to control TVs and other AV devices. If you have children, the most significant is the Zoodles Kid Mode app which creates a safe environment for children to play with the Max and keeps them away from your vital data.

Zoodles Kids Geek Bench 3

Play is definitely something the One Max is good at. Processor-wise, the One Max is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 600 processor 1.7 GHz quad-core CPU, scoring 640 / 1977 in Geekbench 3 (cf 500 / 1344 for the LG Nexus 4). In practice, the phone is quick, and plays games and movies smoothly. I’ve been having a blast with Zombie Gunship recently, but music and video is where the Max excels. The bigger screen is good but what really sets the phone apart are the stereo speakers which deliver superior sound for the size of device.

Battery life was impressive. Ok, so it has 3300 mAh battery, which is at leat 50% more than the average smartphone but it was great to get throught the working day with plenty of juice to spare. Combined with the large screen, it’s the perfect Ingress phone!

The camera is good too, with a much improved camera app that adds both Instagram-style filters and several cool editing effects including removing unwanted objects, such as people, from photos. You can also create action shots that combine images into a single shot – my efforts to do this were a bit rubbish so I’m not going to share them with you but the camera and apps are definitely one highlights of the One Max as the larger screen really helps with the editing process.

Finally returning to the fingerprint sensor, this is a neat but slightly flawed feature. Simply, the One Max can use your fingerprint to unlock the phone instead of a PIN or similar. Setting it up is straightforward and it works as advertised. Swipe your finger across the pad, and hey presto, phone unlocks. The two problems I had were these: first the fingerprint sensor is very close to the camera and many times I found myself swiping the camera lens, not the fingerprint sensor, and the lens gets grubby. Second, over time I found that the accuracy of the sensor seemed to fall, presumably because of subtle changes in my finger. Re-registering the fingerprint would solve the problem for the next few days, but eventually it would begin to take a a couple of swipes to get in, rather than just one. When it works, the fingerprint sensor is very convenient for unlocking the phone and despite much trying, I never managed to get the phone to unlock using the wrong finger or someone else’s finger.

To sum up, the HTC One Max is a powerful smartphone with a big screen. It’s great for games and entertainment, and the camera is one of the best I’ve used…..but I don’t think I’d buy one. It was useful to have around during the review period but overall it’s too big and heavy to be my daily phone. As a secondary device, it’s great and in many instances, could replace a 7″ tablet, but then again it’s more expensive, so it’s difficult to see the Max’s niche. However, if you are thinking of a phablet-style device for whatever reason, do give the One Max your consideration as I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Thanks very much to HTC for the loan of the One Max.

Buffalo LS-421 Diskless NAS Review

Buffalo LogoThe Buffalo LinkStation LS-421 Diskless NAS represents a small departure from the norm for Buffalo in that this is the first consumer-oriented unit to be offered as an enclosure without drives. While replacing drives in the previous generation of LinkStations was easy, it’s good to see this being offered as an option from the start. GNC has reviewed several Buffalo units in the past and many have been no slouch in the speed department. The LS-421 features the new generation Marvell ARMADA 370, 1.2GHz ARMv7 CPU core and DDR3 512MB RAM so let’s see if it stands up to the claims of “up to 80 MB/s” .

Buffalo LS-420 Box

From the outside, the LS-421 hasn’t significantly changed since the previous version with a slightly front rounded surface. The previous iteration of the product had blue LEDs on a black fascia; this time it’s white LEDs on silvery-grey which looks good when they’re flickering away. Overall, it’s not going to win any design awards, but it’s not going to offend either. There are two USB ports, a USB 3 one on the front and a USB 2 on the rear. These can be used for additional storage or printers.

Buffalo LS-420 NAS

 

Buffalo LS-421 rear

Installing the disks is straightforward, needing only a screwdriver to screen the hard drives into plastic frames which then guide the drives into place in the NAS. The front of the unit simply pops on and off. Once the two drives are in place, the network cable can be connected and the power plugged in. For those interested, it’s an external PSU.

Buffalo LS-421 with disks

On power-up for the first time, there’s about ten minutes of activity while the LS-421 sorts itself out. While that’s happening, the supplied Buffalo NAS Navigator 2 software can be installed on the PC or laptop. It’s much improved over the previous version, but it’s not essential software as the NAS is largely configured via a web client. However, it is useful for troubleshooting and finding the IP address of the LS-421 for the first time.

Linkstations

Those used to the old tabbed style of web interface will discover that Buffalo has gone all Metro with a tile-based UI, albeit without the Microsoft colours. All the usual configuration features are present and correct – disk format, share administration, users, groups, RAID 0 / 1 and so on. Buffalo also gets brownie points for prompting to change the administrator password whenever the web client starts.

Buffalo LS-421 Tile Interface

The LS-421 isn’t only a network NAS, as it has Bittorrent and DLNA services built-in. Having a NAS-based Bittorrent client is useful as you don’t need to leave your PC on for large downloads and once downloaded, the server with contribute back to others downloading the same file. The DLNA server worked fine too, letting me play mp3s via the Roku.

Apps are available for iOS and Android to access files on smartphones and tablets, and it’s possible to configure access to the NAS across the Internet so that you can upload and download files while out and about. Obviously the speed is going to be limited by the network or broadband connection but it’s a useful to have the facility in case you need it.

With all of that out the way, how fast is it? I tested using Totusoft’s LAN Speed Test from a fairly old laptop running Windows 8.1 and also with dd and bonnie++ from a newer SuSE 12.1 Linux desktop. All tests were run at least three times and both computers were connected into the same gigabit switch that the LS-421 was connected into.

From the laptop, LAN Speed Test gave an average over a couple of a runs around 33 MB/s for writes and 22.5 MB/s.
On the desktop, dd gave a write speed of 63 MB/s, and bonnie++ wrote at 45 MB/s and read at 68 MB/s. Remember these figures reflect the performance of the LS-421 in my environment and YMMV as they say. Certainly, the bonnie++ read of 68 MB/s isn’t very far away from Buffalo’s claims of 80 MB/s.

Overall, the LS-421 is a tidy NAS unit and with an online price of GB£85 (without drives), it’s definitely one of the cheaper NAS enclosures. It’s nippy and with a total capacity potential of 8 TB, it can grow as your needs require.

Thanks to Buffalo for the loan of the review unit.

Motorola Moto G Smartphone Review

In the last few months, Motorola has returned to the smartphone spotlight with the Moto X and the Moto G. While the X currently isn’t available in the UK (though there’s a hotly-tipped press event in London this week), the Moto G follows the underrated Razr, Razr Maxx and variants that have been released since 2011, eschewing the Droid slider in favour of the candybar handset while stepping away from the carbon-fibre of the Razrs. In short, there’s a new design style in town.

Not content with a new look, Motorola are pricing the Moto G very aggressively, coming in at around GB£135 on the street, unlocked and off-contract. The Nexus line has always been competitively priced and it might be Motorola is following suit at the entry-level. I hesitate to say budget, because you’ll see that the Moto G is anything but.

Motorola lent GNC one of the pre-production handsets to GNC for review and as you’ll see from the photos, there are a few markings on the face of the phone that won’t be present on the retail versions, but otherwise, it’s what will be shipped. I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks so let’s take a look at the Motorola Moto G.

Specwise, it’s a 4.5” 1280 by 720 HD screen powered by a Qualcomm 1.2 MHz quad-core A7 processor supported by an Adreno GPU, There’s 1 GB RAM and a choice of 8 GB or 16 GB of storage. Comes with Android 4.3 out of the box with a guaranteed upgrade to KitKat (4.4) that according to some websites is already being pushed out. A 2070 mAh battery keeps the Moto G going. It’s a world-wide phone, with CDMA and  GSM variants, but no LTE. Dimensions are 66 x 130 x 11.6 mm (6.0 mm at the narrowest point) and weighs in at 143g.

Moto G

The Moto G looks good, black with chrome accents, Gorilla Glass screen and a curved replaceable back. It fits nicely into the hand and the curved back reminds me a little of the Palm Pre and its pebble design cue. The back pops off and replacement coloured backs (shells) are available for around GB£10 for those wishing to customise and there’s a flip door cover version for around GB£20 – they’re all bright and funky.

Shells

There’s definitely a bit of weight to the phone but it feels reassuring rather than heavy. The right-hand side has the on/off button and a volume rocker. There’s a micro-USB socket at the bottom and 3.5 mm audio jack at the top. The back has the rear-facing camera with flash and there’s an interesting little dimple in the back.

Moto G Lockscreen

Powering the phone up reveals two things….first the screen is tremendous and second that Motorola haven’t strayed too far from the stock Android experience. Although not a full 1080 HD screen, the 720 in 4.5″ gives a high pixel density and apps look good. Colours are strong and vibrant, and slightly richer than on the LG Nexus 4. Blacks are black and contrast is good. There’s definitely nothing to worry about here: it’s one of the best screens on a phone. No budget screen here.

Returning to the user interface, anyone familiar with a Nexus device will be totally at home. It’s all fairly standard and what Motorola has done is to tweak some of the standard apps and include a few value-adding apps which you can use or not use, as you wish.

Assist – this is a personal assistant-type app that sets up rules for when the phone needs to be quiet, based on driving, meetings or sleeping. Similar apps are available in the store but the Motorola version is clean and simple. Nice touches include exceptions so that although you might be sleeping and the phone quiet, if a call comes in from your wife or child, the rule is overruled and the call comes through.

Assist

Motorola Migrate – this app helps transfer information from an older phone to the Moto G. It covers text messages, call history, SIM contacts, media and volume settings. Innovatively uses wifi and QR codes.

Moto Care – AT first glance, this looks like a mundane help and FAQ app, but it’s considerably more, providing useful suggestions and live chat with a Motorola rep should you need it.

FM Radio – The Moto G has an FM radio built-in and there’s an app for that as well. I haven’t used an FM radio in years but if it’s something you need, the Moto G has it. As with many similar devices, the headphones act as the FM antenna so you need to have them plugged in for the radio to work. That’s a bit of a problem if you normally use Bluetooth headphones…

Moving on to the camera, I found that the camera had both pros and cons. The camera was good when the scene was well-lit and the colours came out strongly. In these circumstances I thought the camera was better than the Nexus 4. Here’s an outside shot of a nearby building plus a screenshot of a zoomed-in area.

City Hospital

Zoom City Hospital

As much as the camera worked well in good light conditions, the Moto G was almost unusable in low light conditions. The autofocus struggled to lock on and nearly all the low light shots I took were blurry. A little disappointing but perhaps something that can be fixed via an app update.

Returning to the fundamental function of a mobile phone, i.e. the ability to make and receive phone calls, there are no problems here. Call quality was excellent and both participants could hear each other well, even in areas of relatively low signal strength.

Using Geekbench 3, the Moto G clocks in at 1152 on the multicore test and the LG Nexus 4 scores 1630. In real world use, Moto G is quick when running an app: I had no problems playing Ingress, Cut The Rope, Where’s My Water?, Plants v Zombies, etc. The 1 GB (v 2 GB in the Nexus 4) meant that switching to a previously-run app sometimes necessitated the full relaunch of the app. I notice it because I’m used to the Nexus but I suspect many owners will never even realise.

Overall, this is a great entry level phone and is excellent value for money. It’s an all round solid performer that easily outclasses the lower end of the market, especially the Samsung Galaxy phones, such as the Ace and the Y. The only quibble is with the low-light abilities of the camera and regardless, you’d be an idiot to buy any other off-contract phone unless you really need the bigger screen of a Nexus 5 or an HTC One. Motorola have set a new standard and the Moto G deserves to succeed.

Thanks again to Motorola for providing the Moto G for review.

Philips Hue and IFTTT

Hue Personal Wireless LightingIn my first post on Philips Hue, I referred to “The Internet of things” where normally dumb devices such as fridges and washing machines are connected to the network. Having a washing machine with an IP address may mean that I can check whether the spin cycle has finished without getting out of my chair, but the real value of the internet of things comes when the devices start communicating among themselves. Not in a nefarious SkyNet way, but in a more practical sense: the washing machine counts the number of washes and when the soap is getting low, automatically orders your preferred brand from your preferred grocery service.

Obviously, it’s going to take a little while until this is a reality, but the web site IFTTT is beginning to show what is possible as more and more services are on-line and cloud-based. IFTTT is an abbreviation of “IThis, Then That” and reflects what IFTTT can do. It automates “If something happens, then I want that to happen”. In IFTTT-speak, a trigger on a channel generates an action on another (or the same) channel. A channel is typically an on-line or cloud-based service such as Twitter, Dropbox, Gmail, Evernote or Weather. An example of what could happen is, “If I get a tweet on Twitter, copy it to Evernote” or “Every morning at 7.00 am, text me the weather forecast”. These are recipes, as IFTTT calls them, and there’s a large range of them already cooked up on the IFTTT web site.

It’s at this point in the story that Philips Hue comes in as a channel on IFTTT, which means that the lights in your home can be controlled by external events via the recipes on IFTTT. Here are some examples of recipes already available; at sunset, turn on the lights; when it’s freezing outside, turn the lights blue; when you receive an email from a particular person, blink the links; when the stockmarket closes down, turn the lights red. Some recipes are perhaps more useful than others, but the range of channels means that there’s tremendous flexibility. There are currently 77 channels on IFTTT and you can browse by channel, so it’s easy to see all the recipes that involve Philips Hue.

Setting up your Hue to work with IFTTT is two step process but it only has to be done once. The first step is to register with the Philips Hue website and allow the site to access the bridge unit within your home. Once you’ve done this and have a username and password, you can control your lights from outside your home using the Hue app on your smartphone too, so it’s probably something that most Hue owners have already done.

Back at IFTTT, the second step is then to activate your Hue channel. You’ll need to supply your Hue username and password, and authorise IFTTT to access your account.

Activate Hue

Now I’m going reuse a recipe that someone else has already created. In this instance, I’m going to flash the lights when I receive an email with the latest GNC podcast. I’ve already activated my Gmail channel.

Gmail to Hue

All I have to do is put in the email address – geeknews at gmail.com – and any time I get an email from Todd, the lights flash. This is the basic recipe; there are others that use keywords or other information likely to be in an email. If I want to, I can choose one particular light or all of them. Once the information is typed in and the recipe has been activated, all I have to do is sit back and wait for the latest podcast email to come in. Blink, blink.

That’s it. All pretty straightforward. If you are more adventurous, you can delve deeper into the recipes to customise them to your needs but there are plenty on IFTTT to get you started and provide inspiration. Philips Hue aside, the insight into the possibilities of the “Internet of things” is incredible.

I hope you have enjoyed this short series of articles on Philips Hue. It’s the first time that I’ve done this kind of short serial, so I’d welcome feedback in the comments on whether to actively search out similar opportunities.

Thanks again to Philips for the loan of the Hue Personal Wireless Lighting System.

Philips Hue Chrome App

Hue Personal Wireless LightingWhile researching the Philips Hue Android apps, I discovered that currently there is a single Hue app for Chrome. It’s called Hueful and while it’s fairly basic, it deserves a mention as (a) it’s the only app on Chrome but (b) it shows that Chrome can support this kind of hardware-oriented app. Previously I would have discounted Chrome from being an option but Hueful works fine on my Chromebook.

Hueful isn’t a very advanced Hue app, being limited to setting colours of selected lamps and colour cycling. Sometimes lamps need to be told twice to take on a setting but they usually get there in the end.

Hueful

 

Hueful is free from the Chrome store.

Philips Hue Android Apps

Hue Personal Wireless LightingLast week, I had a first look at the Hue “Personal Wireless Lighting” kit from Philips. As I mentioned in the review, Philips has opened up the lighting system to developers via an API and this week, I’ll take a look at some of the apps available, both from 3rd party developers. As you’d expect, they run the gamut from “could do with more work” all the way through to “brilliant” but broadly fall into two categories, firstly those that are primarily concerned with setting the colour of the lights, and secondly those that do more interesting things. This review covers the apps that are currently available from Google Play and there are many similar apps available for iOS.

Hue Limited Edition, Colorful, Light Control, Speedy Hue and LampShade are all variants on the “set the colour of the lights”. All offer grouping of lamps into sets and the saving of colour combinations into favourites or presets. Here are a few screenshots, showing the main screens from each. As you’ll see, they pretty much do the same thing in different ways.

Hue Limited Edition

Hue Limited Edition

Colorful

Colorful

Speedy Hue

Speedy Hue

LampShade

LampShade

Light Control

Light Control

All worked as advertised, but I found that in this instance, less was often more. If I wanted to run an app with favourites or presets, I tended to use the Philips Hue app to set all the lights at once. However to quickly set the colour of a single light, I used Hue Limited Edition, rather than anything else. Light Control came a close second and Speedy Hue gets an honourable mention for the inclusion of a scheduler which will turn the lights on and off at specified times.

Speaking of alarms, Hue Alarm Clock takes waking up to the next level. Instead of an incessant beeping, Alarm Clock gently fades in a colour of your choice to wake you from your slumber. The screenshot is from the limited free version, not the paid version which has more options.

Hue Alarm Clock

There are two apps which purport to support voice recognition, and like “Star Trek”, you too can walk into a room and say, “Lights!” and the illumination comes up. Hue Talk takes an almost canned approach to the voice recognition with the user able to predefine the voice commands for  around 20 features, from turning all the lights on, turning the lights up and down, and changing the colour. The suggested voice commands are memorable phrases, such as “Yellow Submarine” and “Purple Rain” turning the lights the respective colours. You can change the commands to whatever you prefer so there’s no real intelligence here but it works well.

Hue Talk

On the other hand, SpeechHue, looks like it supports natural language but I could never get the app to work in the way that I imagined it should work. Some of the comments in the Google Play store say that it’s good once you work it out. Sorry, if I need to work out how the app works, it’s failed. Zero stars.

SpeechHue

LampShade and Colorful (after paid upgrades) work with NFC to set the lights. In theory, each room could have an NFC tag (or tags) such that when the tag is swiped by the smartphone, the app sets the lights just for that room or mood. It’s a neat idea but I wasn’t able to test the NFC features as I don’t have any NFC tags. I’ve ordered so I may report back later.

I’ve been saving the best until last and we come to apps from IJS Design who make the best Hue apps on Android bar none. Currently, there are four IJS apps, of which three – Christmas, Halloween and Fireworks – link holidays into Hue. So for the Christmas app, which includes New Year too, you get sound effects linked into Hue colour changes and effects. Think of it as a soundboard with lights. The apps also have moods which are longer music pieces with light effects and are more atmospheric, which are especially good when the sound is passed through a hifi.

Hue Christmas

Huey New Year

And finally, IJS Design’s Hue Disco is the single best Hue app on the market (IMHO). Simply, you play music on your hifi, place your smartphone or tablet nearby and Hue Disco changes the colour of the Hue lights in time to the track. There’s loads of adjustment possible, including microphone sensitivity, transition speed, brightness, colour temperature and strobe effects. For something more subtle, there’s Mood Control which cycles the lights on themed colours, such as sunrise or Christmas. All-in-all, totally brilliant and money well spent.

Hue Disco

A screenshot can’t show what it’s like in action, so here’s a video showing Hue Disco in action. You really can have a disco in your front room and it’s fantastic when paired with a music service like Spotify. I’ve been playing Christmas tracks non-stop.

That summarises the state of the Android Hue app space which appears to be growing healthily and similar apps are available for Apple devices. For me, the keeper apps are Hue Limited Edition and Hue Disco with Hue Talk close behind needing a bit of polishing. Have fun.

Philips Hue Personal Wireless Lighting Review

Kevin Ashton coined the phrase “The Internet of Things” back in 1999, but a decade later most of the on-line gadgets in my house are still recognisable as being technology. My fridge is still a fridge, my front door still needs a key and my house doesn’t talk to me.

That was the situation until a couple of weeks when I received a Philips Hue “Personal Wireless Lighting” kit which lets me control the colour of light bulbs from my smartphone, both in the house and from outside across the internet. That’s the Internet of Things.

I can imagine that a number of GNC readers are going, “Huh? Why would I want to control the colour of my lightbulbs from my smartphone?” Until you see in action, you can’t believe how much fun and how cool it really is. Not only can you turn your house lights on as you drive up the road, you can co-ordinate the lighting with your mood or your decor. Want a Christmassy green and red? Not a problem. We’ll see exactly how it works a little later on.

So let’s take a quick look at what’s in the box of Philips Hue in more detail.

Philips Hue Box Exterior

Opening it up reveals two of the three main components, the wireless bridge and the bulbs themselves.

Philips Vue Interior

The bridge connects to your network via an ethernet cable and communicates with the light bulbs using Zigbee.

Hue Bridge

The bulbs are standard ES bulbs and there are GU10 and GR30 (SES) variants available as well. There doesn’t seem to be any bayonet cap versions (BC) so if you only have BC light fittings you might have to get some converters.

Hue Light Bulb

Setting up the system is very easy. Screw the bulbs into the lights. Connect the Hue bridge to the network with the ethernet cable and plug in the power adaptor. Load the Hue app onto your Android or iOS smartphone or tablet. Job done. It’s that straightforward. The first time the app runs, it looks for the Hue bridge on the network and once it’s found, you authorise the app to access Hue by pressing the button in the middle of the bridge. It’s a layer of security that stops unauthorised people or apps from accessing the Hue.

The Hue app lets you control all the lights connected to your bridge mainly via “scenes” which act as presets for each light’s colour settings. Here’s the main screen. Each mini photograph is a preset for a number of lights and it can be just one or all three.

Main Screen

Typically the settings are based on colours picked out from the picture associated with the scene. The screenshot below shows that lamp 1 will be orange and lamp 2 will be magenta.

Colour Scenes

It’s all a bit abstract until you see it in action, so here’s a short video of my controlling one lamp using a series of the scenes to run through some colour changes. It was filmed with my smartphone, so don’t expect too much! Remember too, that this is just one light  and try to imagine all three lights working together to colour a single room.

Philips have opened up Hue to developers and are steadily building an ecosystem around both their products and other apps developed by third parties. If you are already have a Philips TV with Ambilight, Hue can further enhance the experience with additional colour lighting. Light strips and Philip’s Living Colors Bloom can take the lighting effects beyond lights and lamps.

There’s a solid community behind Hue with people contributing their own scenes and I’ll be taking a look at some of the 3rd party apps in a follow up post next week, along with a further look at the main Hue app.

Philips Hue is available from the Apple Store and the starter kit used here costs a little under £180, which isn’t cheap, but compared with the costs of some of the custom solutions in this space, it’s a bargain. Note that although it’s sold through the Apple Store, it works with both iOS and Android devices.

Finally, Philips are running a Facebook competition to come up with inspirational ways of using Hue, if you want to win some Hue goodies.

Thanks to Philips for the loan of the Hue starter kit.

Plantronics Voyager Legend Bluetooth Headset Review

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

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

Plantronics Legend Box

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

Plantronics Legend Inside Box

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

Plantronics Legend Charging Case

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

Charging Contacts

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

Plantronics Legend Headset and Dock

Plantronics Legend in Dock

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

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

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

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

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

The Voyager Legend UC was provided by Plantronics for review.

Mugenizer N11 Qi Charger with Battery Review

Mugen Power Batteries LogoHere on GNC I’ve reviewed a succession of USB rechargeable battery packs and I’ve tested a couple of Qi chargers for my Nexus 4. Now for the first time I can review both at the same time with the Mugenizer N11 Wireless Charger Power Bank. Fundamentally, it’s Qi charger with a built-in rechargeable 4800 mAh battery. Genius!

Mugen kindly sent me an N11 as soon as it was released and I’ve been using it for about a week or so. First impressions were good as it came in an attractive card box which smoothly slid open.

N11 Box

The box holds the N11, a USB-to-microUSB cable and a power supply, all in matching white.

N11 in Box

The N11 is made from a hard shiny plastic with a rubber ring in the centre to help hold the charging smartphone over the Qi charging spot. There’s a row of charge lights on the top surface and one end has the on/off switch, charging USB port and recharging microUSB port.

N11 End View

If you are wondering how big the N11 is, it’s almost exactly the same size as a Nexus 4. Here’s mine but note the Nexus is sitting back on the charger a little bit.

N11 and Nexus 4

Enough of how it all looked, how well did the N11 work? Frankly, it worked great. Unlike some of the other Qi chargers I’ve tested, it’s easy to spot where the Qi charging coil is. This makes aligning the phone with charger really straightforward and there’s a beep from the N11 to let you know everything is lined up. Here’s a screen shot from Battery+ showing the excellent charging rate.

N11 Charging

The N11 worked equally well with devices that needed a USB cable to charge. The battery is 4800 mAh which means you could recharge most modern smartphones twice from flat. Generally I was able to recharge my Nexus 4 three times from around 20%. The N11 supports charging from the USB port and the Qi charger at the same time, which can be handy. The port is rated at 1 A.

My only criticism of the product is that it was sometimes difficult to pick out the exact charge level on the blue LEDs as the light bled from one to the next. Is it fully charged or 90%? As the power level fell, it was easier to make the level out.

Charging lights aside, this is great product and it’s now my main charging device for my Nexus 4. It’s pricey enough at a nickel under US $70, but the combined Qi charger and battery pack make this essential for anyone who has a Qi-equipped smartphone such as the Nexus 4 / 5 and  some of the Nokia Lumias. You can use the N11 on your desk or on the go. Recommended.

Thanks again to Mugen Power for the review unit.