StickyPassword Password Manager at CES

StickyPasswordOne of the plagues of modern life is the need to remember umpteen passwords and it’s getting worse as hackers get more sophisticated and passwords need to get longer and more complex. The ex-AVG team at StickyPassword have put together a comprehensive cross-platform password management solution. Todd sits down with Thomas to learn more.

StickyPassword Premium is available for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Amazon devices, and can synchronise between multiple devices either via direct wifi or through the Amazon cloud. Security appears to covered with AES256 encryption and the data file is encrypted before transmission minimising the risk of interception during a sync. Where available, i.e. the iPhone, fingerprints can be used to secure the app and data: for everyone else it’s a single master password.

If you want to try it out, there’s a free version that has everything except the sync. For that it’s $19.99 a year.

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

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Griffin PowerDock Pro at CES

Griffin LogoIf your house is like my home, there’s a plethora of gadgets to be recharged overnight and a quick tally gives five devices to be plugged in on a regular basis, from phones to tablets to mi-fis. The good news is that Griffin might have the answer with new PowerDock Pro which both charges and organises devices at the same time. Todd finds out more from Heather at the Griffin booth.

The PowerDock Pro can charge five devices at once while neatly racking the smartphones and tablets in bays to keep them tidy with cable management hidden in the base. Smart electronics charge the devices without overcharging and because it charges via USB, it’s device agnostic. Regrettably the PowerDock Pro won’t be available until Q3 with an anticipated price of $130. (If you can’t wait that long, the PowerDock 5 is available now).

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

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Ventev Battery Packs and Accessories at CES

Ventev LogoAlthough there have been great improvements in battery technology, the bigger screens, thinner devices and faster processors mean that I still have to watch my smartphone’s battery level. USB power packs go someway in alleviating battery anxiety and Marlo chats to Scott Franklin of Ventev to see what they can offer the charge concerned.

Ventev offer a selection of mobile accessories including battery packs and cables with some specifically aimed at Apple owners with Lightning connector. On show in the video are battery packs with combinations of built-in wall chargers, capacity and intergrated cables. With prices from $39.99 up to $99.99, there’s a pack for every situation and price.

Interview by Marlo Anderson of The Tech Ranch. Note that the early part of the interview is missing.

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Perfect Bake with Connected Scales at CES

Perfect BakeAlthough the Internet of Things is very much of the moment, sometimes all you need is a connected device. In this case, the device being connected is a set of kitchen scales. Todd and Todd start cooking with Darin Barri and Perfect Bake Scale and App.

Targetted at cooks and bakers, Perfect Bake combines digital scales with a tablet app to make sure that the weight (or more correctly mass) is just right. Connected via the audio jack, scales can weigh in real-time, showing the quantity on the tablet screen. The app has hundreds of recipes and can walk the baker through the steps with mixing times and instructional videos. The scales come with colour-coded preparation bowls to help too and the app can adjust quantities to suit appetite.

There’s an even an oven thermometer to make sure the temperature is right, so whatever’s baked, it’s baked perfectly every single time.

The app available for both Android and Apple devices, the Perfect Bake Scale and App is available now for $69.99 from Brookstone. A Bluetooth wireless version will be available later in 2015.

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

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Jamstik Guitar For Your iPad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hexoskin Smart Shirt Now Comes In Small

Hexoskin LogoCanadian outfit Hexoskin has been in the wearables market longer than most, starting out in 2006 and now has a range of smart shirts with a built-in body metric system to measure heart rate, breathing, activity and sleeping using sensors woven into the fabric of the shirt.

Hexoskin, with the support of NASA and the Canadian Space Agency, created sensors made of textile, leaving almost no hardware in the shirt – there’s no watch or tight fitting chest band required. There is a small recording unit that slips into a side pocket on the shirt and communicates with a smartphone via Bluetooth. Both iOS (Apple) and Android phones are supported, and a downloaded app keeps track of all the data. With over 42,000 data points recorded every minute, there’s a fair amount of data.

In addition to the usual metrics, the Hexoskin system also measures heart rate recovery, heart rate variability, breathing rate, breathing volume, activity level, acceleration and cadence, all in real time. These metrics give users the information they need to plan their training programmes and surpass their fitness and athletic goals. Essentially a wearable precision lab, Hexoskin provides its users with high quality metrics in real time – these are tools for people serious about their performance.

Today, Hexoskin announced child and youth sizes for the Hexoskin shirt, making it the world’s first biometric smart shirt tailor-made for kids and teens. Adapted to fit all the same sensors of the adult shirts into the smaller shirt size, the Hexoskin Junior will be available in sizes XXS to XL.

Hexoskin Kids

Youth athletics are popular all over the world,” said Pierre-Alexandre Fournier, Co-Founder and CEO of Hexoskin.  “Whether it’s hockey, baseball, football, soccer, volleyball or track & field, kids are part of intense training programs that are training them to become champions and Olympians.  With the addition of Hexoskin Junior, we’ve set out to provide coaches, parents and kids the invaluable tools our adult shirts provide.

By reviewing the data before, during and after workout sessions, users can exert maximum training effort, while still avoiding fatigue, overtraining and injuries.  This is particularly important with young athletes, especially since they are still growing and can be at a greater risk for injury than adult athletes.

Hexoskin Junior is available for pre-order in sizes XXS to XL and will retail for $149 for the shirt alone. A full starter pack with monitoring devices is $379. Not cheap but if you are going for gold, it’s probably money well spent. For more information, visit www.hexoskin.com.

Archos Boosts Entry-Level 4G Smartphones for CES

Archos LogoArchos today announced the new Archos 50 Diamond 4G smartphone as the new top-of-the-line model in Archos’ sub-$200 4G smartphone range. French company Archos has a long history with Android tablets and smartphones and 50 Diamond takes over from the Helium 50 as the Archos’ flagship devices. Revealed at “Paris CES Unveiled”, the new phone will run Android 4.4 KitKat out the box and presumably an upgrade to Lollipop is in the offing, though it’s not confirmed.

Archos 50 DiamondSpec-wise, the phone is powered by a 1.5 GHz octa core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 with 2 GB of RAM. The 50 Diamond sports a 5″ full HD IPS screen and 16 GB RAM. Usefully, there’s a micro SD slot to expand the storage if needed. Other features are as expected in this price range with 16 MP and 8 MP cameras. In terms of 4G and LTE, the radios support 800 / 1800 / 2100 / 2600 MHz frequencies with LTE cat 4 150 Mbps / 50 Mbps. Interestingly, the 50 Diamond can take dual micro SIMs, which could be handy for frequently travellers or those who have to juggle personal and business phones.

In 2014, consumers don’t have access to high performance handsets from traditional smartphone vendors below $500” says Loïc Poirier, General Director of Archos. “With the Archos 50 Diamond, we are pushing forward the same advanced technology but we make it accessible to all consumers.

In related news, Archos also announced the refresh of Helium smartphone line plus new tablets: the 80b Helium 4G, an “over-equipped” Android tablet (their words, not mine!) will retail for $150. It’s an 8″ tablet and joins 7″ and 10″ siblings in the Helium tablet line-up.

For more information about Archos and its entire selection of smartphones and tablets, visit Archos during CES 2015 at Sands Expo Hall A-C, Booth 70437 or at www.archos.com

Fitbit Flex Review

Fitbit LogoOver the past year, I’ve noticed more and more people wearing activity tracking devices and here in Northern Ireland I tend to see Fitbits rather than anything else.  Fitbit has been advertising on TV lately too with “It’s All Fit” and I’m sure that there will be a good number of Zips, Flexes and Charges under the Christmas tree come 25th December. I’ve worn a Zip for nearly two years as part of my efforts to keep my weight down and on review today I have the next model up, the Fitbit Flex. Let’s take a look.

FItbit Flex Package

The Fitbit Flex comes in a neat transparent package that shows off the coloured wristband and opening the packaging reveals the fitness tracker itself, large and small wrist bands, a USB sync dongle and a USB charging dock.

Fitbit Flex Contents

The fitness tracker itself is the small black rectangular unit and it’s slipped inside a small pocket in the wristband to be worn both during the day and asleep at night. The wristbands are made of a soft plastic and are available in ten different colours with additional coloured bands on sale from Fitbit’s online store. The large size fitted me well and the smaller one will suit women and children. It’s not obvious in the pictures, but the Flex uses a push-through buckle to keep the band on. It’s a little tricky to get clicked in sometimes, but it keeps the wristband on and in the two weeks of testing I’ve not had any problems with the Flex falling off accidentally. The Flex is supposed to be water resistant to 10m (30ft) and while I didn’t go that deep, it did survive 1000m of surface swimming.

The tracker has a set of LEDs which show through the transparent plastic window on the wrist band. The user interface is simple with five round LEDs used to communicate with the owner and at a basic level, each dot represents a fifth of the way towards the daily target. For example, if the target is 10,000 steps, one LED is worth 2,000 steps. The picture below shows the tracker has measured 6,000 steps, give or take. Normally none of the lights are on but tap on the band at the tracker and the lights come on.

Fitbit Flex

The Flex has an internal rechargeable battery which lasts about 5 days between charges. To charge the Flex up, the tracker unit is taken out of the wristband and placed in the USB charging cradle which in turn is plugged into any available USB port. Charging is relatively quick, typically taking less than an hour.

Getting the activity data off the Flex is easy too, with syncing available between the Flex and both PCs and smartphones. Fitbit is agnostic with clients available for Windows, Macs, Android and iOS, though check compatibility to be sure as the phone or tablet has to support the Low Energy (LE) version of Bluetooth. Syncing with a desktop or laptop is a case of downloading and installing the app, sticking the USB dongle in and getting going. The dongle and Flex are pre-paired so there’s nothing to worry about there. Sync to a phone is similar – download the app from the relevant store and run it. The app will automatically search for the Flex and connect up. A Fitbit login is needed from fitbit.com and signing up for that is free. There’s a full lifestyle portal online which gives access to fitness stats from any web browser.

Personally I used my Flex almost exclusively with my Android phone (Nexus 4) and tablet (Nexus 9). The app shows daily activity, sleep patterns and can record exercise, weight, food and water if the information is added in conscientiously.

Flex Summary  Flex Summar

Different views of the data can be shown – on the left below is a weekly view. Contrary to indications, I didn’t spend Saturday lounging in front of the TV, but forgot to put the Flex on! The Flex can also track sleep patterns, though it can’t automatically detect sleep and needs the wearer to indicate the approximate time of going to bed and getting up.

Weekly Flex Summary  Flex Sleep Tracking

The Flex unit can vibrate too and vibration is used to give feedback to the wearer on attaining goals. It can be used as an alarm as well and although I wasn’t really keen on wearing the Flex in bed, the wake-up alarm worked well for me, prodding me to stir when I’d turned my other alarm off. I don’t normally wear a watch in bed so I did find wearing the Flex at night a little odd but that’s very much a personal feeling.

In the two weeks I used the Flex, I didn’t come across any other problems bar one time that the unit needed reset. I’m not sure what happened: I think I might have tried to sync with the Flex from both phone and the tablet at the same time but resetting the Flex was simple using the normal paperclip-in-reset-hole and no activity data was lost.

I came to this review as a Fitbit Zip wearer and to start with, I did think that the Flex was a little bit of a backward step as I couldn’t see the number of paces that I’d taken – the Zip shows this information on a small LCD screen.  However, over the course of the trial, I’ve got used to it and if I really want to know, I can do a quick sync with my phone to get the data. The Flex is much better than the Zip when it comes to wearing during activity and doesn’t get accidentally pulled off or left in the locker on trousers. The water resistance of the Flex is a bonus too. One downside is that the Flex doesn’t tell the time, so it can’t replace a wristwatch. For many people this isn’t an issue as they don’t wear a watch but for those who do, the Fitbit Charge is perhaps the answer.

The Fitbit Flex is priced at £79.99 RRP but can be found a little cheaper on-line.

Thanks to Fitbit for providing the Flex for review.

Gazelle Sells “Previously Enjoyed” Tech

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

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

Store

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

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

Apps and Android Fragmentation

Smashing Magazine LogoWhen it comes to developing for Google’s favourite operating system, Android fragmentation is often bandied around as an issue for app developers. But how bad is it really and what’s the impact?

Fortunately you don’t have to make do with my wild guesses and assumptions as Smashing Magazine have a done a comprehensive critical analysis of testing done by app and game developers using the TestDroid cloud-based testing suite. Over 17 million tests were run on 288 different devices over 3 months early in 2014. Depending on region and measurement, the 288 devices represent somewhere between 92% and 97% of Android phones. With the credentials laid out, let’s take a look and see what the testing revealed.

Most of us will have seen the version stats from Google, showing the relative percentage of Android versions. Put simply, Froyo is less than 1%, Gingerbread is around 10% and ditto for Ice Cream Sandwich. Jelly Bean takes the lion’s share at nearly 55% and KitKat comes in second at about 25%.

Android LogoSmashing Magazine’s testing showed that on average 23% of apps exhibit a problem when moving between versions of Android. The biggest problems arose with Gingerbread (30%) followed by KitKat at 21%. Jelly Bean and ancient Honeycomb were next. Interestingly, although Gingerbread is the oldest version with significant market share, 40% of tested apps still work with this version.

The figures also reveal that ICS is the most stable version of Android with a low failure rate that broadly continues through Jelly Bean, though KitKat was more problematic with an increased error rate.

While the OS can cause problems, the hardware’s not blameless either. The research looked at screen resolution and the impact of memory on apps as well. Devices with resolutions of  2560 × 1600, 1280 × 800 and 1280 × 720 pixels gave the fewest problems, typically 1.5% or less. Small screen resolutions were the worst with 400 × 240 and 320 × 240 pixels being particularly bad.

On the RAM front, 512 MB seems to be a significant cut-off point and it’s no surprise that Google recommends this as a minimum. With this amount of memory or less, around 40% of tested apps exhibited problems. At 768 MB and above, the error rate falls to 16% and by 1 GB RAM, it’s down to 1%.

Overall, this is all interesting stuff and a fascinating insight into what app developers have to put up with. I’ve only covered a few of the areas and there’s additional analysis on drivers, OEM customisations and chipsets. I thoroughly recommend that you read the whole article over at Smashing Magazine to understand more.

Taking a slightly different view from a user perspective, if you want a really stable device, you should be buying a high resolution device, with 1 GB RAM and running Ice Cream Sandwich. Hmm.