Sleep Time by Azumio Review

Sleep Time I work from home, and although I don’t have a required schedule I like getting up around the same time each weekday morning between 5 and 6:00 AM. My goal is to get between seven and seven and half hours of sleep. Anything less than that I feel like a zombie all day and anymore then that my day always seems out of sorts. In order for me to get up this early consistently I need to use an alarm clock. The trouble with most alarm clocks is that they tend to jar you awake and you get “that where am I feeling.” It then takes several minutes to feel normal. The solution I found to this problem is an app call Sleep Time by Azumio.

Sleep Time is available both in the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store. With Sleep Time you set the time you want to get up and the alarm goes off by default within 30 minutes from when you set it. You can adjust the window of time under Settings then Wake Up Phase from thirty minutes down to zero minutes (which has Sleep Time working like a normal alarm). If you set the time period for anything other than zero then Sleep Time will wake you up during that window at a time when you are in light sleep status. This way you will wake up feeling refreshed and rested instead of like a zombie. Under settings you can change sound of the alarm or set it for vibrate only. You can also change or turn off the snooze time under settings.  Sleep Time measure your sleep status by using the phones accelerometer which measures how much you are moving. Sleep Time also keeps a record of how you have slept during the night, showing how much you were awake, in light sleep and in heavy sleep.

I like the Sleep Time app and have been using it now successfully for several months, however it is not without it’s faults. The first is that in order for it to work properly you must have it laying next to you on your bed. If you sleep with another person or animal Sleep Time will still work as long as you keep it close to you. It is also recommended that you keep the phone plugged in so the battery doesn’t go dead. So if you don’t sleep near an outlet you are kind of out of luck. Also some people may feel uncomfortable sleeping with an electronic device so close to their head. The second issue is if you are a restless sleeper there is a chance you could knock your phone off your bed. The final issue is that on rare occasions I have had the app freeze up on me, but this doesn’t happen very often. Despite these issues I like the Sleep Time app and would recommend it to anyone who is looking for an alarm clock.

Ouya Review

Ouya My Ouya finally came late yesterday afternoon. First a little background from me, I am not a gamer, I have no hand to eye coordination so I am not very good, but I enjoy playing them. I have been without a gaming console for a couple of years now and I miss not having one. I had thought about buying a Xbox 360 or a Playstation 3 but I couldn’t bring my self to pay $400 to $500 on a console that I knew was going to be replaced in a short time. When I heard all the noise about the new gaming console that was a Kickstarter project called Ouya I became intrigued. So, at the beginning of April after the Kickstarter project had become successful I preordered one. The email I received from Ouya stated that I would not receive the console until June, which was fine with me. I was aware how Kickstarter worked. However I have to admit when yesterday rolled around and I started seeing articles that the Ouya would be available for purchase at places like Amazon, Best Buy, Target and more I was a little upset that I hadn’t received mine yet. I was therefor very happy when my husband came in with it, saying it had been thrown in the bushes.

The Ouya comes in a small box about the size of a shoe box but slightly narrower. In the box you get the console, one controller, a power cable, a HDMI cable and a brief instruction book. The Ouya console itself is quite small. It is only three inches by three inches by three inches and is square with a rounded front. The console is made of plastic, but feels fairly solid and heavy for it size. There is a fan on one end and the power button on the other end. On the back there is a HDMI port, a power input, an ethernet input and a USB input. I was actually pleasantly surprised that a HDMI cable came with the console, although it is fairly short. The controller, which is bigger then the console does feels cheap. You can tell that it was made from a mold. The buttons on the controller are placed similar to how the Xbox controller is set up. Because it is so large and I have small hands (although normal I think for a women) it does feel a little awkward to me.

The setup went fairly smoothly after and initial hiccup. Because the Ouya is black I didn’t see the power button on the front, so when I first plugged the Ouya in and connected it to my monitor and nothing happened I was quite upset. I even tried a different outlet and still nothing. I was getting ready to send it back, when I took a closer look at it and noticed the indentation on the front face and when I pushed it the power came on. A simple red line around it to indicate power would have been appreciated. That problem solved the rest of the set up went fairly quickly and without a hitch. It does take some time since it has to be updated with the latest firmware. During the setup process you do have to provide a credit card number so you will need to have one available. Once setup is done you have to pair the controller. I had no problem with that once I figured out that the batteries went into the wings of the controllers. I have noticed also that the controller loses its pairing with the console occasionally. Not when playing a game but when I restart the console I will sometimes will have to reconnect the controller to it. Once you fire the Ouya up the first screen you will see is the management screen on it there is an option to play the games you have already chosen, discover new games, make a new games (if you are a developer) and manage your account, and the system.


Most of the games you will find on the Ouya are not ones you will recognize, unless you play a lot of independent games. However there are some that will feel familiar to you even if the names are different. There is one called Polarity which is a lot like Portal and another one called Puddle which reminds me of World of Goo my iPad. There were a some games I did recognize like Final Fantasy III, You Don’t Know Jack and Canabalt. I played a little bit of a couple of games, including Polarity and Puddle and everything seemed to work fine. The reaction time between when I pushed the button on the controller and the movement on the screen was a little slow, but not terrible. If this had been a $500 machine I would have said it was pretty bad, but for $99.00 it is fine. That is the one thing I would tell anyone who buys a Ouya  to remember is that this console only cost you $99.00 and if you compare it to an Xbox 360 or a Playstation 3 you will be highly disappointed. However if you remember that it is a $99.00 console I think you will have a lot of fun playing the games that are available on it. You may even find some independent games that you really like. Overall despite the few problems, so far I am happy I purchased the Ouya. If you are looking for a gaming console you can play on your TV and it will not break the bank, then the Ouya is worth a look.

New Trent iCarrier IMP120D External Battery Review

The fast processors and large screens of modern day smartphones draw power like it’s going out of fashion. A battery that would have lasted several weeks in the Nokia 6210 now struggles to get through a day of calls, email and web surfing. And that’s before starting to play Ingress.

Desktop chargers have their place but sometimes it’s not possible to get back to a power outlet to plug in. External battery packs and chargers fill this space and on review here is the New Trent iCarrier IMP120D external battery and charger. With a 12,000 mAh battery, it’s roughly 6 times the capacity of a smartphone battery and 3 times the size of a 7″ tablet’s. Physically, it’s around 9 x 9.5 x 2.5 cm and there’s bit of weight to it at 280g / 10 oz but it fits comfortably in the hand, especially with the soft curved edges of the iCarrier.

New Trent IMP120D

As the pictures show, it’s not unattractive for a battery pack and gets away from the standard rectangular brick. The black plastic enclosure has a blue central band with just four features – an on-off button, a power input socket and two USB ports. The on-off button lights up when charging  and a short press of the button briefly shows the iCarrier’s charge level using three blue LEDs for low, medium and high.

New Trent IMP120D - front

Two USB sockets obviously allow two devices to be charged at once. One socket is rated at 1 A and the other at 2.1 A, which practically means that you can charge a phone and a tablet at the same time. In the box along with the iCarrier, there’s an AC wall charger, a USB to microUSB charging cable, a charging cable for Samsung devices and a soft carry pouch. Contrary to the “i” moniker, the iCarrier will charge anything that will charge from USB, not just Apple devices.

Unlike some other devices, it’s possible to charge both the iCarrier at the same time as it charges other devices, which means that when travelling, only the iCarrier’s charger needed to get everything charged up overnight – the battery pack plus two other devices. The iCarrier does take a good few hours to get itself charged up, which given the larger than average battery isn’t to be unexpected. There are some other handy features too. For example, the iCarrier automatically shuts off once attached devices are fully charged.

In use, the iCarrier can be simply used as a backup battery pack to recharge phones or other devices when their internal batteries get low. More usefully, the iCarrier can be used to extend the life of portable equipment such as personal wireless routers. My MiFi can run for a couple of hours on its own battery, but connect it up to the iCarrier and I can get a whole day of use out of the hotspot without any trouble at all.

Overall, the iCarrier is a very handy gadget, essential for any heavy smartphone user or frequent traveller. It’s competitively priced at around $70 in the USA or £40 in the UK. Recommended.

Disclosure – The iCarrier IMP120D was a personal purchase.

G-Technology G-Drive Mobile Review

On review today is the G-Technology G-Drive Mobile, a 1 TB mobile external hard drive. Aimed squarely at the Apple MacBook crowd, the brushed aluminium finish and white LED compliments the host machine, and the combination of both USB3 and FireWire 800 show its Mac heritage. Of course the drive can be formatted for Windows or Linux use but the G-Drive is pre-formatted for HFS+ and is TimeMachine-compatible. As expected, the G-Drive is bus powered so there’s no power adaptor.

G-Drive Mobile

 

G-Drive Mobile Ports

The G-Drive Mobile has a couple of touches that set it apart from the other mobile drive offerings. To start with, it comes with all the cables that might be needed, so in the box there’s a USB3 cable, a FireWire 800 cable and a FireWire 400 to 800 cable. There’s no getting the box home only to find the cable need for your setup is missing.

G Drive Mobile Cables

Second, the packaging presents the G-Drive to best effect and the “Getting Started” instructions are printed on the inside  lid of the box. Again, it comes back to appealing to the Apple crowd who expect good design.

G-Drive Package

But enough of how it looks. How does it go? Pretty well actually. Connected up to USB 3, the G-Drive Mobile recorded the following data rates:

– hdparm gave 107 MB/s for buffered disk reads.
– dd gave write speeds around 105 MB/s.
- bonnie++ gave 104 MB/s for writes and 141 MB/s for reads.

I’m fairly sure that those figures make G-Drive Mobile the fastest USB3 unit tested, beating the previous holder by a considerable margin. Under FireWire 400, the figures were obviously slower, but are provided here for comparison.

– hdparm gave 36 MB/s for buffered disk reads.
– dd gave write speeds around 22 MB/s.
– bonnie++ gave 22 MB/s for writes and 55 MB/s for reads.

Price-wise, the model here costs £129.95 but if you want USB3 only, there’s a much sleeker and cheaper version at £109.95 in the Apple store. However, if you need FireWire with USB3, the model viewed above is hard to beat, giving historical compatibility with older gear while also offering fast data transfers on newer kit.

Thanks to G-Technology for providing the G-Drive Mobile to review.

Yamaha RX-V373 5.1-Channel AV Receiver Review

Yamaha RX-V373Recently my old Kenwood receiver gave up the ghost. It was time to replace it anyway, it was so old that it had a connection for a tape deck and a laser disc player. So over the holiday I picked up a Yamaha receiver, model RX-V373. This is part of the RX-V series of receivers. It is a basic receiver, but it has all the inputs and capabilities that I was looking for.  It has the following input and outputs.

  • 4/1 HDMI inputs/outputs,
  • 2/1 components inputs/outputs,
  • 4 composite video and audio inputs
  • 1 composite video and audio output.
  • 2 digital audio inputs (optical)
  • a USB jack
  • 1 headphone jack
  • FM and AM connection

You can connect an iOs device to the USB jack and the receiver will recognize the music on it. You can than play and control the music through the receiver, using the receiver’s remote control. The receiver will also recognize the music on a USB drive. Since I don’t have a iOs device I haven’t been able to test the iOs capabilities. I did connect a USB drive that had some music it on it. I could view what was playing and do basic functions, like play, pause, forward and rewind. Everything was in text and there was no album art. Using the digital audio input and a Toslink cable I was able to connect my Mac Mini to it. Now I can listen to my music library in full stereo.

As I said before this is a good basic receiver. However if you are looking for a smart receiver that you can connect to your network and has more advance capabilities this is not the receiver for you. If you are looking for a new receiver the Yamaha RX-V373 is currently available on Amazon for $249.95.

Vizio Co-Star Review

vizio Co-StarOn the day that the Vizio Co-Star became available for pre-order I ordered one and it arrived late yesterday afternoon. It is small about the size of an Apple TV only thicker. The unit comes with a power cable, a remote, batteries for the remote and a quick start guide. HDMI cables are not included.   ifixit did a tear down of the device and all the specs are available on their webisite

The setup is fairly easily although there is some information you want to have in front of you. There are two HDMI inputs one to attach your cable box, if you have one, and the other one goes to your TV monitor. The Co-star has no sound output, so all the sound has to come from the monitor and what ever sound system that is attached to it. You are now ready to plug the Vizio Co-Star in. The Co-star has no on off button so you have to turn it on and off using the remote control.

Once you have it turned on, it will take you thru the setup process. In order for the remote control to pair with your cable box you may need to input the make and model of the cable box.  Although I was able to pair the remote with my Comcast cable box without having the model number. You can also pair the remote control with your TV, sound system and Blu-Ray Player. To do this you will need the make and model number for each.

During the set up you will quickly notice the limitations of the remote control that comes with the Vizio Co-Star. It has no back light, so it is useless in a dark room.  It hard to type on the keyboard. In order to type a number or symbol you have to hold down the function key while hitting the number. This quickly gets tiring when you are trying to type in a password for a web site. If you have an Android device I would recommend tossing the remote control that comes with the Vizio Co-Star and use the Able Remote which you can download from the Google Play Store.  The Google TV remote app from the iOs also works. However because the Vizio Co-Star doesn’t have an internal or cabled IR blaster the Able or Google TV remote can’t control your regular TV.  I am thinking about getting a USB ir blaster, but I am not sure that would work. Despite these limitation I still recommend downloading one of these apps, if only for the keyboard. I actual like the Able remote the best so far because it is customizable.

Having used the Vizio Co-Star for a day now I am happy I purchased it, however I am not sure it is ready for prime time. Part of the problem there are too many choices and those choices are not always clear. For example there is an app called Made for TV, which if you click on it allows you to easily access sites like CNET, Vimeo, Chow ,etc. However unless you click on it you would never know this. There is a USB input and I tried to attach a USB hard drive to it, but I have not figure out how to get the Vizio Co-Star too read the USB drive. I tried to follow the directions, but it didn’t seem to work. At this point I am probably going to download the Plex app and handle it that way.

The video playback has been very good so far, the only time I have had a problem is on a Web site that had an embedded live Ustream video on it. It kept on freezing, and occasionally crashing. I have had similar problems with the site before on a computer, so I think the problem maybe with Ustream and not the Vizio Co-Star.

I have both the current Apple TV and 1st generation Roku Player and the Vizio Co-Star is definitely replacing the Roku Player. I especially like the fact that I can easily switch from regular TV to TV on the web. You can also easily pull up and use sites like Facebook or Twitter, which is something you can’t do on a Roku Player. Plus the Roku Player buffers a lot and so far I haven’t had that problem with the Vizio Co-Star. I am going to move the Roku to the TV downstairs, where the Apple TV is.  If you are thinking about getting a Google TV, the Vizio Co-Star, at $99.00 is definitely worth a look.

A Review of the Galaxy Nexus HSPA

I had been an owner of an iPhone since the first one came out. This past March, my iPhone died and I needed something new and inexpensive. I picked up the Motorola Atrix 2 for less than $100.00. After the I got a new phone feeling wore off, I almost immediately regretted the purchase. I didn’t like the bloatware that AT&T had added to the phone. It also quickly became clear that it was not going to be updated and I would be stuck on Gingerbread until I brought a new phone. I thought about waiting for the new iPhone in September, but that would force me to sign up a new 2 year contract with AT&T and the phone would still cost me over $400.00. The answer clearly was an unlocked phone. I wanted something with the latest build and without the carrier bloatware. That is when I started looking at the Galaxy Nexus HSPA, which had been dropped to a price of $349.00 ($381 with taxes and shipping) for the unlocked version through the Google Play Store. Then I discovered it would work with my AT&T sim card and was scheduled to be upgraded to Jelly Bean from Ice Cream Sandwich. I ordered one this past Tuesday and it was in my hand Saturday morning.

The first thing I did was transfer the Sim card from the Motorola Atrix 2 to the Galaxy Nexus HSPA and it worked fine. Once I powered up the phone it had me sign into my Google Account and synced the information to the phone. When I checked for a system update, Jellybean was available for download and install. Once I finished charging the phone, the download and installation of Jellybean went fine. I installed some of the apps I had purchased from the Google Play store previously. I then started to play with the phone. It is slightly taller than the Motorola Atrix 2, but much thinner and lighter. I think the screen is gorgeous. I especially notice it when looking at text.  The text is so clear and crisp. Some people say the image is grainy at full brightness, but to be honest I haven’t noticed it. Everything moves smoothly, there is no herky-jerky motion when you open an app or move from page to page. Google Now came with the installation of Jellybean. I still learning how to use it and I realize that there are privacy concerns involved with it for some, but I love it potential.

The Galaxy Nexus HSPA is has its downside. First the back cover is very flimsy and hard to put back on. I didn’t get a full day out of the battery today, so I have downloaded a battery widget to see what is draining it. The camera is not the best, but it is pretty good. Despite these small and solvable problems I love the Galaxy Nexus HSPA so far. I love having no bloatware and in 15 months I will finish with my contact with AT&T, assuming I don’t pay to get out earlier. If you are looking for an Android phone with no contract, then the Galaxy Nexus HSPA is worth a look.

First Look at Mountain Lion

It took from 8:37 AM to 11:25 AM  to download and install Mountain Lion. I suspect this is because everybody was trying to do it at the same time and this process will get a lot faster. The first thing you’ll notice when Mountain Lion starts are that Notifications and Notes and have been added to your dock. Both of Notifications and Notes work pretty much as they do on the iPad or iPhone if you have one. To control what apps can send a notification and how it will appear on your desktop go into System Preferences and then Notifications and then set the preferences  for each how you want it. You have a choice of None, Banners which appears and then disappears and Alerts which will remain on the screen until you dismiss them. If you want to turn off Notifications all together click on the notification icon in the upper right hand corner of your screen and then pull it down and you’ll see the option to turn Notifications off. Or you can simply option-click in the Notification icon to turn it on and off. I have to admit I hardly ever use Notes on the iPad but with the ability to do notes on the desktop and have it sync to the iPad I suspect I will be using it more.

The next thing I tried was mirroring my Mac Mini desktop to my Apple TV and it worked perfectly. It appears that as long as your Mac Mini and AppleTV are on the same network mirroring will work. You can only turn off mirroring at the computer as far as I can tell, which doesn’t make sense to me. However it is possible that I am missing something. I not sure how often I will be using mirroring, it would make more sense if I had a lap top, but it is nice to have.

I then tried dictation. To start to dictate you simply hit the function key twice within any application, and the microphone will show up or you can go up to the menu bar and under edit and hit start dictation. You can change the keyboard shortcut by going into System preference and then Dictation. If you have a Mac Mini like I do, you will need a microphone for this to work. Dictation is excellent at not picking up background noise. While testing dictation I was watching Security Now and it didn’t pick any of it up. Dictation worked surprisingly well and I suspect it will work even better once I learn how to do it correctly.

The first time you tweet something it will ask if you want to use this Twitter account for all OSX applications. If you use Safari, you can share a page by clicking on the icon in the upper left corner. At this time point you can share to Twitter, Messages and by email. Facebook should be added later this fall. I am disappointed but not surprised that there is no way to share to Google Plus. I also wish there was a keyboard shortcut for each option, right now the only one available is if you want to email a page to someone.  Also what you can share to seems to be app specific, for example Notes only shares to Messages and email, while  you can also share to Twitter if you use TextEdit

When I started up Safari I got the message that the Safari Omnibar extension that I had installed was no longer valid. I had to download the uninstaller from the Web site and when I went to deploy it I got a message that I couldn’t open it because it was from an unidentified developer. To open it I had to go into Security & Privacy and under General set the “Allow applications downloaded from” to anywhere. Unless you know what you are doing I recommend leaving it at the default which is Mac App Store and identified developers.

I am still going through the hidden things that are available on Mountain Lion, so far I am most impressed by dictation. I have run across a couple of hiccups, such as the ability to crop being grayed out in Preview and the application Skitch keeps crashing. Have you tried Mountain Lion yet. Do you like it and have you discovered any hidden tricks.

Behringer Xenyx 502 Audio Mixer

Behringer XenyxRecently I purchased a Behringer Xenyx 502 Mixer. Behringer is a German audio company which makes products such as mixers, studio monitors, amplifiers, midi controllers and other audio equipment.

The Behringer Xenyx 502 is one of their lower end mixers. It is a small audio mixer that is highly portable. You can add up to five audio inputs to the mixer including Skype, musical instruments and microphones. You can control each of them separately by turning the appropriate knob. There is also an input and output for a CD or Tape Deck. You can control gain, EQ, pan, low and level for the main input.  You can control the balance and level of the secondary inputs. There is a headphone input so you can hear exactly what you are recording. You can also control the levels going into your headphones. To output to your computer or recording equipment you can either use a 1/4 stereo plug or use an RCA cable with the CD and Tape deck output. I use the RCA cable since using the 1/4 stereo outputs would require a special adapter.

This is the first mixer I have purchase so I don’t have anything to compare it to. That being said so far I am happy with this mixer. It is highly portable and was fairly inexpensive at $40.00. However it does have its negative points. The first is there is no on/off switch. The only way to turn it off is to disconnect the power. When it is plugged in a bright led light comes on, which could be a problem in a dark room. A bit of masking tape can solve this problem easily. You use knobs for all the controls and I suspect that sliders would be easier to control. Despite these negatives, if you are looking for small portable mixer I would recommend taking a look at the Behringer Xenyx 502.

Shure PG48 Microphone Review

Shure PG48I do a small non-tech related podcast and this month I decided I needed to upgrade my equipment. I had previously been using the headphones that I use with my android phone and after 10 episodes I decided it was time to do an upgrade. I have been following and listening to the Podcast Answer Man, Cliff Ravenscraft for several years now, and he recommends getting a dynamic XLR microphone for office recording. Although he does love the Heil PR40 it is a little steep for my bank account. I ended up getting the Shure PG48 Vocal Cardioid Dynamic Microphone. The microphone comes with a Mic clip, a 15 foot XLR cable and a carrying pouch. I also purchased a XLR female to 1/4 Male adapter separately. The Shure PG48-XLR list price is $49.00, but was on sale for $39.00 through Amazon. This is a dynamic microphone so it is built to pick up sound from the front while filtering out most sound from the side and back. It is supposed to be able to handle extreme volume level without distortion. It has a frequency response of 70 to 15,000 Hz. The microphone itself feels good and sturdy. It has an on/off switch which I love. I have done a short test of the Shure PG48-XLR which I have enclosed here.

Testing the P48

I still waiting for the mic stand I ordered and my mixer before my current setup is complete. If you listen to the audio above especially with headphones, you can clearly hear the difference. With the PG48 there is very little background noise and its much clearer. I have to admit I am not an audio snob, but even to my ears the PG48 sounds much better. At this point I am glad I purchased it.