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Fix Rubbish TV Sound with the Roku Streambar



The new Streambar is the latest addition to Roku‘s range of media streamers in the UK. Unlike the other devices in the range, Express, Premiere and Streaming Stick+, which simply stream channels and programmes to the TV, the Streambar looks to address the problem of poor sound from flatscreen TVs by combining a Roku streamer with a compact soundbar. Is this the best of both worlds or a Jack of all trades? Let’s take a look…and a listen.

While the transition from bulky CRTs to LCD flat screens led to 4K and HDR, it didn’t help audio presentation at all. Thinness and narrow bezels aren’t friends to speakers and sound quality suffered. While A/V setups have been popular, they’re typically expensive and require wires all around the room to speakers in the corners. As an alternative, soundbars have become popular in the last few years, providing significant audio improvement without all the cables.

The Roku Streambar isn’t as long as some of the soundbars on the market, measuring around 35.6 cm wide, 6.1 cm high and 10.7 cm deep, and at this size, it fits neatly in front or below the TV. Inside the Streambar are four 1.9″ speakers, two facing forwards and two to the left and the right, providing much-improved audio. There’s a discreet LED just above the Roku logo that’s white in use and red when in standby.

Round the back of the Streambar, there are connections for power, digital audio (S/PDIF), HDMI and a USB port, along with a reset button. If the Streambar needs to be wall-mounted, there are a pair of screw sockets.

The Streambar follows Roku’s long tradition of including everything in the box: there’s no need to nip out for batteries at the last minute. Inside there’s the Streambar, voice IR remote control with AAA batteries, HDMI cable, digital optical cable, power supply (with both UK and European plugs).

Continuing in tradition, the Streambar follows the usual pattern of Roku setup with a couple of tweaks to accommodate the audio requirements. Simplistically, the Roku needs connected to the wifi (11ac – there’s no ethernet) and you need to sign up or sign in.

The main difference between an ordinary Roku media streamer and the Streambar is the sound and the clever trick here is that the Streambar can play audio from any device connected to the TV, whether Freeview, SkyQ or a Bluray player. The Streambar takes advantage of HDMI ARC – Audio Return Channel – which carries the sound signal to the device. It’s available on most new-ish TVs and it’s usually HDMI 1.

If there’s no HDMI ARC, the alternative is to use digital audio and that’s what I had to do with my TV. I have an HD Samsung TV that’s well over ten years old and there’s no HDMI ARC, so it was a digital connection for me. The Roku setup process runs through these different options and shows the necessary steps. It really only takes a few minutes to get the setup done.

Once configured, the Streambar is very much the Roku we all know and love, supporting 4K and HDR. The Roku uses the idea of channels which are kind of like apps, and all the usual UK suspects are available: BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, 4, My5. In addition, there’s all the subscription channels you can afford: Netflix, Prime Video, NowTV, Apple TV, Disney+, BritBox, Spotify. For your country’s regional variations, check www.roku.com/channelchecker to see what’s available.

Existing Roku users will have all their channels auto-loaded during the Streambar setup and new users can quickly add their favourites by browsing categories or searching for particular apps/channels.

I’m not going to review the Roku user interface in detail as it’s well covered elsewhere (check out my Roku reviews on YouTube) other than to say that the Roku is my favourite media streamer. The UI is simple, straightforward and isn’t trying to sell something all the time (I’m looking at you, Amazon Fire Stick). It seems like I’m not the only one either: over the past five years, Roku’s been the market leader in streaming media players, holding about a third of the market in the US.

There are a few customisations for the Streambar which don’t appear in the other Roku models and as you’d expect, they’re to do with sound. For starters, and most obviously given the tile on the screen, there’s a special Bluetooth app for connecting other devices to the Streambar in order to take advantage of the better speaker.

In addition, there are settings to adjust the audio including the bass, volume and, one of my personal favourites, speech clarity, which makes a reasonable attempt to promote speech over effects.

Prior to installation, my biggest concern about the Streambar was that I was going to have to use multiple remotes to control the volume – that’s the problem I currently have with my Yamaha AV amp. Fortunately, this was completely unfounded and even though my Samsung TV is over ten years old, the TV and Streambar played well together, outputting all sound to the Streambar, regardless of whether the sound signal came from Sky, Freeview or the Bluray player. Any remote could be used to control the volume.

One problem that my wife did encounter was that sometimes the Roku Streambar would go to sleep and wouldn’t rise from its slumber when the TV was turned back on. Using the Roku remote volume buttons normally solved the problem and woke it up but I later discovered that changing the Power setting to Fast Start resolved the issue as well.

As this is a soundbar, let’s focus on the Streambar’s audio qualities. Technically, it supports Dolby Audio but is the sound better than the TV’s? Yes, by a long way. It’s much richer, fuller and deeper with good clarity. TV soundtracks sound much better and more natural, and the effects in films become more emphatic and engaging. I also found it noticeable playing video games on my Nintendo Switch, and there’s a particular jingle on BBC’s Newsround which sounds terrible on my kitchen TV which is totally transformed by the Roku Streambar. Even better, it’s actually possible to listen to Spotify through the Streambar without cringing.

As the Roku Streambar is only 35 cm wide, the stereo separation is fairly limited, but apart from that the Roku Streambar performs well for the money. For sure, it doesn’t sound as impressive as a Dolby 5.1 Surround system, but then the Streambar costs a quarter of the price and doesn’t need cables everywhere. Regardless it’s still a significant improvement over a standard TV.

Before wrapping up the review, an honourable mention needs to go to the inclusion of a USB port on the Streambar. Plug in a memory stick or external hard drive and local media can be played directly, which is great for those with collections of ripped DVDs or home videos. This is the only model in the UK range to offer this, though all models can play from NAS units. And let’s not forget the complementary Roku app which will show smartphone photos and videos on the TV screen.

Having used the Roku for a couple of weeks, I think it’s a worthy upgrade for a not-very-smart flatscreen TV such as my ancient Samsung. You get a top-end Roku media streamer along with a soundbar, just as it says on the box. The RRP of the Roku Streambar is GB£129.99 but there’s currently a Black Friday offer on bringing the price down to £99.99 (offer ends 16/12/20). At either price, it’s a good deal. Available from all good stores.

There’s more in the video below.

The Roku Streambar was provided for review by Roku.


OnePlus 8 Hands-On Review



True to form, OnePlus has announced its spring line up of smartphones, the OnePlus 8 and the OnePlus 8 Pro. Fortunately, I was sent a pair of review handsets and in this article, I’ll be going over the 8. While rumours still abound about a third lower level phone, the 8 remains the entry point into OnePlus’ range. I think it will be very popular as it shares many of the characteristics of its big brother but at a lower price. Let’s take a look…but first a word of warning. It’s really hard to write two completely different reviews for two very similar phones, so I’m going to admit right up front that some of the paragraphs are completely lifted from the review of the 8 Pro only with the detail changed for the 8. Sorry.

The 8 comes in rectangular box, bathed in the usual OnePlus red. Inside the box, the phone comes initially clothed in a slightly opaque covering. Once unwrapped, the frosted glass Glacial Green on the back becomes apparent. It’s lovely, both to look at and hold. There’s a slight matte texture to the rear glass so it’s not super slippy to hold (unlike my 6T), but you’re going need a case, and OnePlus kindly includes a transparent bumper case in the box too. In terms of colours, the Pro will offer two colour options in the UK. Onyx Black which will have 8 GB RAM and 128 GB storage, and Glacial Green with 12 GB RAM and 256 GB storage. A third colour, Interstellar Glow, will not available in the UK. I know the rear looks blue in the photos but that’s the way the back reflects light under different conditions.

Physically, the phone is 160.2 x 72.9 x 8.0 mm and weighs in at 180 g, so it’s slightly shorter and lighter than the 8 Pro, but these dimensions are very much in-line with previous generations of the phone, like the 6T. However, it’s a bigger screen for the same body size. Returning to the physical characteristics, it follows a similar layout to most OnePlus phones. USB-C 3.1 port on the bottom, volume controls on the left, power button on the right, alert slider on the right above power, cameras on the back. The SIM tray is at the bottom next to the USB port and supports two SIMS that are inserted back-to-back. A SIM ejection tool is included. There’s no audio socket and there hasn’t been for a couple of generations.

For the screen, the 8 has a lovely 90 Hz “fluid display”. It’s very fast, it’s clear and the colours look great. With a resolution of 2400 x 1080 pixels and a screen size of 6.34″/6.55″, it comes out as 402 ppi. I can’t see the dots unless I look really close. The screen has rounded edges, hence the two measurements for size. It’s an AMOLED screen with 3D Corning Gorilla Glass on top keeping it safe. Like the 8 Pro, the screen has the curved edges, but I think the curves are sharper on the 8, making it more like a traditional flat screen. There’s an in-display fingerprint sensor which is impressively fast – it’s noticeably quicker than the one on my 6T.

Under the hood, and just like the 8 Pro, there’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 CPU, paired with an Adreno 650 GPU. The RAM is LPDDR4 and storage is courtesy of UFS 3.0 at either 128 GB or 256 GB. 5G is provided by the X55 chipset and WiFi 6 is supported. Performance-wise, after three runs GeekBench 5 gave average scores of 915 single-core and 3385 multi-core which comfortably beat last year’s 7T. Bizarrely, the 8’s GeekBench 5 score actually beats the 8 Pro.  I don’t know why.

Unlike the 7 and 7T, the 8 doesn’t have a teardrop camera and instead has a discreet hole-punch 16 MP camera in the top left of the screen. Round the back, the 8 has three other cameras; a 2 MP macro camera, a 16 MP ultrawide with a 116 degree field of view and a 48 MP main camera. The front camera and main camera all use Sony sensors. The cameras do stick out the back by a couple of millimetres, so a case of some kind is going to be essential to avoid scratching. The camera app itself has been improved to take advantage of the cameras automatically and will sometimes suggest that a photo would be better taken in a different mode. If you want bokeh, the portrait mode does a good job blurring the background. The macro camera’s good fun and you can play with your children to capture some of those ever-popular mini-beasts. I was really impressed by the level of magnification that was possible with the 48 MP camera and the colours are good and true to life.

The two photos below were taken from the same spot at nearly the same time. The upper one is the ultrawide and middle one is the main camera without any magnification, and the lower one is the main camera with 2x magnification.

Unlike the 8 Pro, there’s no funky colour filter camera, but there are still some effects available within the app. Here’s my shed in “black and white”. Astute readers will notice that it’s been painted (cf 8 Pro review).

Inside the phone is a 4500 mAh battery which is only 10 mAh smaller than the 8 Pro. Hmm, I think there might be a little shenanigans there to make sure that the top-end phone has the bigger battery. In what I think of as ordinary use, I got the best part of two days out of a charge, but yes, game playing is still energy expensive. For charging, OnePlus’ Warp Charge 30T delivers 30W of power and will charge the 8 from 1% to 50% in 22 minutes – I’ve actually tested this and it’s true. A Warp Charge 30 charger and cable come in the box with the 8, so there’s nothing extra to buy.

The other new feature relates to battery longevity. The perceived wisdom is that keeping lithium-ion batteries at 100% is not optimal and that overtime the capacity of the battery degrades. The 8 now has a feature (undoubtedly powered by AI) where the phone uses behaviour patterns to predict when 100% charge is needed and to charge to hit the target. For example, if you plug the 8 in at night just before going to bed, it won’t start charging until say, 0530, knowing that you usually grab the phone while having breakfast at 0700.

Based on Android 10, OxygenOS has seen a few improvements here and there but retains its closeness to stock Android that is very much part of its appeal. The most obvious of these is dynamic backgrounds which swirl and morph when the phone is turned on or you swipe between launcher pages. It’s really fun. For lovers of dark modes, OnePlus has developed a new mode theme from the ground up. I’m not generally a dark mode user, but what I did see during testing looked good: I could be a convert.

Games play really well on the 8. I tried out Call of Duty, X-Plane and Galaxy on Fire for starters and they’re all great. The 8 includes “gaming mode” and “fnatic mode” which lets you tailor the gaming experience by devoting resources and blocking notifications when you’re in the zone, as it were. It’s a super smooth experience.

The only downside I’ve discovered to the 8 is with the pre-installed screen protector. First, it’s not as well installed as it is on the 8 Pro. On the Pro, I had to look really hard to find the edges of the screen protector; it’s just about seamless and there’s no cut-out for the camera. Whereas on the 8, it’s quite obvious, particularly round the hole-punch camera. And secondly, the screen protector on the 8 seems to be a perfect dust magnet! I didn’t have this problem with the 8 Pro and it’s very annoying.

Pricing-wise…

OnePlus 8
8 GB / 128 GB – US$699 / GB£599
12 GB / 256 GB – US$799 / GB£699
The OnePlus 8 series will be available SIM-free from OnePlus.com, John Lewis and Amazon from 0900 on 21 April, with all John Lewis purchases also coming with Bullets Wireless 2 headphones while stock lasts.

Overall, this is a seriously good phone at a good price and very much continues the progression of the standard OnePlus phones. It’s a premium-feeling phone, it looks fabulous, there’s no skimping on the performance and everything else like the screen and the cameras are within spitting distance of the 8 Pro. You get 5G, WiFi 6, fast charging and OxygenOS. Frankly, if it was my money and the choice was between an 8 at £599 and an 8 Pro at £799, I think I’d buy the 8 and keep the £200 change.

Thanks to OnePlus for supplying the 8 for review.


OnePlus 8 Pro Hands-On Review



OnePlus typically announces new models in the spring and the autumn, and despite Covid-19 this year is no different with the launch today (14th April)  of the OnePlus 8 and the flagship 8 Pro. Fortunately, I was sent a pair of review handsets and in this article, I’ll be going over the flagship edition, the 8 Pro. As will be seen shortly, the Pro has a couple of new features that bring OnePlus back to the top of its game. Let’s take a look.

The 8 Pro comes in rectangular box, bathed in the usual OnePlus red. Inside the box, the phone comes initially clothed in a slightly opaque covering. Once unwrapped, the frosted glass Glacial Green on the back becomes apparent. It’s lovely, both to look at and hold. There’s a slight matte texture to the rear glass so it’s not super slippy to hold (unlike my 6T), but you’re going need a case, and OnePlus kindly includes a transparent bumper case in the box too. In terms of colours, the Pro will offer two colour options in the UK. Onyx Black which will have 8 GB RAM and 128 GB storage, and Glacial Green with 12 GB RAM and 256 GB storage. A third colour, Ultramarine Blue, will not available in the UK. I know the rear looks blue in the photos but that’s the way the back reflects light under different conditions.

Physically, the phone is 165.3 x 74.4 x 8.5 mm and weighs in at 199 g, so it’s slightly taller than you might expect but this is reflected in the screen’s 19.8-to-9 aspect ration. More on the screen in a minute… Returning to the physical characteristics, it follows a similar layout to most OnePlus phones. USB-C port on the bottom, volume controls on the left, power button on the right, alert slider (yay!) on the right above power, cameras on the back. The SIM tray is at the bottom next to the USB port and supports two SIMS that are inserted back-to-back. A SIM ejection tool is included. There’s no audio socket and there hasn’t been for a couple of generations, but in an OnePlus first, the 8 Pro comes with an IP68 rating, meaning it will withstand water ingress at 1.5 m for 30 minutes. Perfect in case you have a little accident (but I didn’t test this).

For the screen, the 8 Pro has a gorgeous 120 Hz “fluid display” which scored the Best Smartphone Display accolade from DisplayMate, getting top scores in ten different areas. I can’t comment on that level of detail other than to say it’s pretty impressive. It’s very fast, it’s clear and the colours look fantastic. With a resolution of 3168 x 1440 pixels and a screen size of 6.55″/6.78″, it comes out as 513ppi. I can’t see the dots. The screen has rounded edges, hence the two measurements for size. It’s an AMOLED screen with 3D Corning Gorilla Glass on top keeping it safe. The display supports HDR giving blacker blacks and whiter whites, and the colour accuracy has been improved too with 10-bit colour representation. There’s an in-display fingerprint sensor which is impressively fast – it’s noticeably quicker than the one on my 6T.

Under the hood, there’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 CPU, paired with an Adreno 650 GPU. The RAM is LPDDR5 which is both faster (30%) and more energy-efficient (20%) than the previous generation. Storage is courtesy of UFS 3.0 at either 128 GB or 256 GB, though there are couple of new tricks to improve performance. 5G is courtesy of the X55 chipset and WiFi 6 is supported. Performance-wise, after three runs GeekBench 5 gave average scores of 893 single-core and 3302 multi-core which comfortably beat last year’s 7T.

Unlike previous the previous two Pros, the 8 doesn’t have a pop-up selfie camera and instead has a discreet hole-punch 16 MP camera in the top left of the screen. Round the back, the 8 Pro has four other cameras; a 8 MP 3x telephoto with OIS, a 48 MP ultrawide with a nearly 120 degree field of view, a 48 MP main camera and a 5 MP colour filter camera. The front camera, the ultrawide and main camera all use Sony sensors. The cameras do stick out the back by a couple of millimetres, so a case of some kind is going to be essential. The camera app itself has been improved to take advantage of the cameras automatically and will sometimes suggest that a photo would be better taken in a different mode. If you want bokeh, the portrait mode does a good job blurring the background. I was really impressed by the level of magnification that was possible – I took a photograph of a horse and could zoom in on my PC to see the individual eyelashes round her eyes.

For video, the 8 Pro uses both OIS and EIS together for smooth video, and a technology called 3-HDR which enhances lighting in video. It’s impressive especially when there’s a strong backlight.

The two photos below were taken from the same spot at nearly the same time. The upper one is the ultrawide, the middle is the main camera and lower one is the telephoto.

The colour filter camera lets you do funky things with the colours. I haven’t quite figured out all the settings but here’s my shed. Yes, it’s in need of paint, but the one on the left is colour enriched and on the right, it’s erm, different. Perfect for standing out on Instagram.

And in big (but pre-announced) news, the 8 Pro will support wireless charging. The Warp Charge 30 Wireless delivers 30W of power and will charge the 8 Pro from 0% to 50% in 30 minutes. I wasn’t able to test this as wireless chargers weren’t provided, but wired charging worked as specified, boosting the battery by 50% in 23 minutes. The wireless charging conforms to the Qi standard for 5W and 10W charging: I was able to use an old Zens wireless charger successfully on the 8 Pro but it does charge much more slowly! A Warp Charge 30 charger and cable come in the box with the 8 Pro.

Inside the phone is a 4510 mAh battery which gives absolutely oodles of power. In what I think of as ordinary use, I got the best part of two days out of a charge, but yes, game playing is still energy expensive. The other new feature relates to battery longevity. The perceived wisdom is that keeping lithium-ion batteries at 100% is not optimal and that overtime the capacity of the battery degrades. The 8 Pro now has a feature (undoubtedly powered by AI) where the phone uses behaviour patterns to predict when 100% charge is needed and to charge to hit the target. For example, if you plug the 8 Pro in at night just before going to bed, it won’t start charging until say, 0530, knowing that you usually grab the phone while having breakfast at 0700.

Based on Android 10, OxygenOS has seen a few improvements here and there but retains its closeness to stock Android that is very much part of its appeal. The most obvious of these is dynamic backgrounds which swirl and morph when the phone is turned on or you swipe between launcher pages. It’s really fun. There’s also motion estimate and motion compensation (MEMC) to smooth video playback on the 120 Hz screen. It’s intended to interpolate frames, and reduce motion blur and ghosting, when watching films and videos recorded at lower frame rates. The feature can be turned off, but Netflix looked and sounded great.

Games play really well on the 8 Pro. I tried out Call of Duty, X-Plane and Galaxy on Fire for starters and they’re all great. The 8 Pro includes “gaming mode” and “fnatic mode” which lets you tailor the gaming experience by devoting resources and blocking notifications when you’re in the zone, as it were. It’s a super smooth experience. In addition, Google Stadia is coming to the One Plus 8 Pro and other OnePlus phones.

Pricing-wise…

OnePlus 8 Pro
8 GB / 128 GB – US$899 / GB£799
12 GB / 256 GB – US$999 / GB£899
The OnePlus 8 series will be available SIM-free from OnePlus.com, John Lewis and Amazon from 0900 on 21 April, with all John Lewis purchases also coming with Bullets Wireless 2 headphones while stock lasts.

Overall, this is a flagship phone with premium materials and high-end features. The feel in the hand is lovely, the cameras are impressive, the display is gorgeous. And the new features like 5G, IP68 and wireless charging are all very welcome. I’m not going to pretend the 8 Pro is cheap, because it’s not, but you are buying a great phone.

Thanks to OnePlus for supplying the 8 Pro for review.


Pacum Sucks…And That’s a Good Thing



Master Space LogoBudget airlines have revolutionised air travel over the past few decades, and while the seats might be cheap, putting luggage in the hold can be pricey: I was recently on a trip where the ticket price trebled when hold baggage was added, so you really want to try and get everything into your hand luggage to get the cost down. Clothes can be bulky, though, and it’s difficult to get everything needed into a small trolley case.

Sitting on the bag in the hope of getting the zip done up isn’t the solution, but the Masterspace Pacum Travel Vacuum Compressor might be. It’s a personal vacuum packer, meaning the clothes go in an airtight bag before the air is sucked out by the Pacum, squeezing the garments down to a fraction of their size. That’s how you get more clothes in the trolley case. Let’s take a closer look.

Pacum vacuum compressor with accessoriesThe Pacum comes in a box which belies the diminutive size of the Pacum itself. Available in three colours; red, white and black, the Pacum is smaller than a 330 ml drinks can and is more rectangular than round. The actual dimensions are 86 x 43 x 43 mm and weighs in at 145 g. The Pacum looks good with features on three of the six surfaces. On the bottom are two rubberised air holes, one for vacuuming and one for inflation. On the top is a USB C port for powering the Pacum and on the side are three buttons for Eco, Super and Inflation modes.

In the box, there’s the Pacum itself, a 1 m USB C cable, a Pacum vacuum bag and adaptors for other vacuum bags, pool toys and sports balls, plus a small travel drawstring bag. To be clear, there is no USB charger supplied and, contrary to my first thoughts, there’s no battery in the Pacum either. It’s fully powered by the USB C port on the top, and a 2 A power supply is required, either from a mains charger or a battery pack. 1 A will not work and the Pacum will cut out with a flashing red light. Trust me on this.

Pacum on Bag Before CompressionReady to go on your holidays? Put the clothes you’re taking into the vacuum bag and arrange them to suit the available space in the luggage – you’ll not be able to do this afterwards. Close up the bag and make sure it’s properly sealed along the edge. Unscrew the cap in middle on the vacuum bag and then slip the Pacum over the nozzle. It uses the larger of the two air holes on the bottom so it’s hard to go wrong.

Assuming that the power cable is plugged in to suitable power source, pressing either of the two “minus” buttons (-) and (=) will start the Pacum up in either Eco or Super mode. Simplistically, Super sucks harder than Eco, although I can’t really see any good reason to use Eco mode. While sucking, the light on the Pacum flashes blue and it’ll go red if there’s not enough power being supplied to the device.

Pacum on Bag After CompressionUsing the supplied bag with a couple of t-shirts and jumper (that’s a sweater for those across the pond), it took about 90 seconds for the Pacum to evacuate all the air from the bag, resulting in a stiff but thin packet that uses a fraction of the original space. The two before and after pictures show the difference and you can watch my review video below.

The main purpose for Pacum is to remove air from vacuum bags, but that’s not its only trick. Inflating holiday pool toys usually involves much huffing and puffing, but Pacum will pump up the inflatables in no time. Use one of the three adaptors in the air outlet and press the Inflation (+) button. It would take awhile to inflate a large paddling pool but makes short work of rubber rings and footballs. The air outlet looks to be a standard size, so existing adaptors will likely work fine with the Pacum.

My only real gripe with the Pacum is that the supplied USB C cable is frustratingly short at only 1 m and would recommend twice the length for any practical use. Yes, you might get lucky with a hotel that has sockets on the counter but frequently they’re down behind the bed which is just a PITA with a short cable.

Pricewise, the Pacum is currently on sale at US$60 / GB£46 (RRP is $80/£61) and a set of five vacuum bags is US$29 / GB£22 (prices are rounded).

Overall, the Pacum is really neat little gadget that’s well-designed and works as described. Is it worth buying? Ultimately that’s a maths problem. If you fly frequently or travel as a family, I imagine it will be easy to save money with the Pacum by reducing or avoiding hold luggage charges. Do the sums.

There’s more in the unboxing and demo video below.

Thanks to Master Space for providing the Pacum for review.


S-Charge 10,000 mAh Portable Power for Nintendo Switch Review



The Nintendo Switch is unique among the current generation of gaming devices, morphing between a console and a handheld. It’s a novel idea implemented well and a key factor in my choice to buy one for Christmas last year. For gaming on the go, the internal battery lasts a couple of hours which is usually enough for a commute, but for long journeys the Switch will need a recharge and this is where InDemand Design’s S-Charge comes in. Let’s take a look.

The S-Charge is a 10,000 mAh battery case for the Nintendo Switch that combines extra power with card storage and a multi-angle kick-stand. Originally, an Indiegogo project, the S-Charge is now available direct either from S-Charge or from Amazon for GB£65. This price includes the S-Charge itself, a carry case that takes a Switch with the S-Charge attached, a 45cm USB A to C cable and a screen protector.

The Switch slots into the S-Charge much like it slots into the standard TV dock, connecting into the lower USB C port. The Switch is retained in the S-Charge by a top hinge which rotates round and clicks into place, holding the the Switch securely while still giving access to the buttons and vents along the top edge of the console. The card slot’s not realistically available but it’s not much effort to flip the top up and switch the game card over.

Once connected up, pressing a small button on the left side powers up the S-Charge and there are four small white LEDs which show the battery level. Next to the button is a standard USB A port for charging other devices, such as phones or Bluetooth earbuds. Finally, there’s a USB C port for recharging the S-Charge via the supplied cable.

The long and adjustable kickstand on the S-Charge addresses one of the Switch’s other weak points, namely the flimsy, offset and single position built-in stand. The one on the S-Charge runs the full length of the unit and will click into about five different angles to get the Switch just right. Underneath the kickstand is space for two game cartridges.

Using the Switch with the S-Charge attached in handheld mode takes a little getting used for two reasons. One, the S-Charge weighs 325g and two, where do you put your fingers? A Switch with joycons attached tips the scales at 400g, so once the S-Charge is added, it’s 725g all in, which is hefty enough to hold. Depending on hand-size, fingers can either curl behind the joycons or lie along the the back of the S-Charge, but it’ll take a little getting used to. Obviously, neither of these are an issue if primarily using the Switch in tabletop mode.

The carbon fibre effect carry case is good too. It’ll take a Switch with both the S-Charge and joycons attached and there’s space for an extra six game cartridges. In the lid, there’s a zipped pocket to keep the charging cable and any other extras, like a screen cleaning cloth. The only thing I’d say about the case is that the zipped pocket has a metal pull on the zip itself. For the sake of the left hand joycon, I would have preferred a plastic one or at least a rubber coating.

The battery in the S-Charge is a beefy 10,000 mAh – that’s over twice the capacity of the Switch which Nintendo says is 4,310 mAh. How much extra gameplay depends entirely on the games being played with Zelda burning through the standard battery in less than three hours. Starting with the Switch and S-Charge at full capacity, Breath of the Wild play time could be extended to ten hours.

I used the S-Charge extensively over a couple of weeks and while I never managed to fit in a whole day of non-stop portable gaming, my experience was very much in-line with expectations. Taking the console round to another family’s home over Christmas, there was some serious Mario Kart for a couple of hours with only the loss of one white LED.

The S-Charge isn’t a pocket money purchase at GB£65, but you do get a multi-functional unit with a carry case and overall I think it’s a very good solution. Not only does it extend gaming-on-the-go to at least ten hours, the stand is much better, there’s cartridge storage and the S-Charge can recharge other devices too. It’s the perfect travelling companion for the Nintendo Switch.

There’s more on my YouTube video.

Thanks to InDemand Design for providing the S-Charge for review.


Jingle All The Way with a Bluetooth Bauble Speaker



Looking for the final decoration to finish off dressing your O Christmas Tree? Well take a look, or rather a listen, to the Accelerate Holiday Tunes bauble with Bluetooth speaker. Connect to a smartphone via Bluetooth and instead of a Silent Night you’ll be Rocking Around the Christmas Tree. The decoration comes in four different colours – Red, Gold, Green and Silver Bells.

The 200 mAh battery will Jingle Bells for about two hours before needing a charge via the supplied USB cable. There’s a microUSB charging port on the back and it takes a similar amount time recharge. You could go for a Sleigh Ride while you’re waiting.

Avoiding a Blue Christmas is straightforward. Hold down the power button to put the bauble into pairing mode and look for HOLIDAY TUNES in the Bluetooth settings of your smartphone. Once paired up, any music played on the phone from Spotify, Amazon Music, iTunes, etc. will come out the Holiday Tunes bauble. It’s not worth Driving Home for Christmas just to hear the music but the sound quality’s better than you’d imagine. There’s a hanging loop for putting the bauble on the tree.

The Holiday Tunes bauble is available from Amazon.co.uk, priced at around GB£12-£15 (the price changes a little). You may find it cheaper in store too – try Home Bargains. It’s kitsch Christmas fun so even if it’s a White Christmas and It’s Cold Outside, you’ll have a Holly Jolly Christmas with your favourite tunes.

More in the YouTube video below. It really is the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

Disclaimer: This was a personal purchase.


Kärcher 10 Year Window Vac Anniversary Edition Review



The clue is in the title….it’s been ten years since Kärcher introduced its first Window Vac for streak-free glass cleaning. Competing with sponge and squeegee for the perfect finish, the Window Vac sucks water from the smooth surface of the window, removing drips and drops, and leaving the glass dry. Sounds like a great a idea, but do windows need a vacuum cleaner? Let’s take a closer look.

The box for this anniversary edition is a marginal step up from the normal six sides of cardboard, with a magnetically closed gatefold showing the evolution of the product from the original in 2008 through to 2018. There’s been six editions of the Window Vac but all remain true to the original from ten years ago with steady incremental changes between each one. This year’s model promises extended battery life….

 

While this all looks lovely, disappointingly Kärcher haven’t really got their heads round the presentation of the contents of the box – inside everything is higgledy-piggledy. I appreciate that it’s low environmental impact but a bit more organisation would improve that first impression. This is a gadget that has a list price of GB£100 after all.

Setting this to one inside, inside the box is the Window Vac itself, in the usual black and yellow Kärcher combination. There are two wiper blades, one 280 mm and the other 170 mm. These clip in and out of the Window Vac to suit the size of the window being cleaned. To charge up the Vac, there’s a neat AC power adaptor too with a 120 cm cable. There’s a nifty spray bottle which comes with an attachment to take a microfibre cloth, which is actually really handy. Finally, there’s a set of paper manuals and guides, and a small sachet of cleaning concentrate for use with the spray bottle.

 

The Window Vac is not dissimilar to a handheld vacuum cleaner and it’s surprisingly lightweight – officially it’s 600 g. The two wiper blades clip in and out at the top, there’s a charging port at the bottom, wastewater bottle on the underside and the Vac is designed to sit on its end when not in use. There’s an push on/off button on the handle with an LED which goes solid green when on. The Max line on the water bottle lets you know when it’s time to pour the sucked-up water out by lift out the plug in the top of the bottle. It is possible to remove the top section of the Vac completely, which is handy when you accidentally suck up something a bit larger than usual, such as a leaf.

Looking at the power adaptor, it’s a relatively small unit, sticking out about 6 cm from the wall but with very little height or thickness – it won’t obstruct neighbouring sockets at all. The cable ends in a neat plug which slots into the bottom of the handle. A matching slot and groove stops the connector being put in the wrong way round. Charging from flat is slow, taking several hours – 185 minutes! I found the best approach was to be disciplined and fully charge the Window Vac before putting it away, meaning that vacuum was ready for the next cleaning session.

Before we get to the performance of the Window Vac, I have to give a big thumbs up to the spray bottle and cloth attachment. I don’t know if Kärcher came up with this idea but whoever did, it’s brilliant. Simply, it means that you can spray cleaning solution onto a window (or other surface) and then wipe the liquid over the window with the cloth using just one hand. There’s no squirting-putting-down-picking-up-wiping. It’s excellent and with the spray bottle in one hand and the Window Vac in the other, you’re a window cleaning machine!

So…what’s the Window Vac like in action? I tried it in four scenarios – windows, mirrors, roof windows (Velux) and a shower cubicle. For those who prefer video, here’s my review on YouTube.

For GNC readers, each scenario provided slightly different challenges and associated benefits, and the Kärcher acquitted itself well. For me, the overall big benefit was not the dry, clean and sparkling finish, but that there was no dripping water on the floor or hands getting cold and wet. It’s the package of spray bottle with cloth and Window Vac that is the winning combination. Let’s look in turn at each scenario. By the way, the Window Vac makes very little noise.

Mirrors are easily cleaned with the Window Vac. Typically not really dirty anyway, but quick squirt with glass cleaner and then run over the mirror with the Vac. Gets the liquid off the mirror faster than kitchen towel and less rubbing.

Standard windows. Big benefit over using a squeegee is that the water goes into the Kärcher Vac rather than over your hands and you do get a really good streak-free finish. Obviously it doesn’t clean round the edges of the window frames to get rid of spider webs, so I found the best approach was to go round the window frames with the bucket and sponge first, and then do the window with the Window Vac. In terms of battery life, I cleaned three glass doors and eight windows without any trouble. The specs say 35 minutes, 105 m² or 35 windows.

Roof windows are where the Window Vac really shines. The big problem with Veluxes and similar is that while the window rotates to allow cleaning from the inside, all the muck, dirty and water falls into the room. Normally cleaning is a big hassle with dust sheets but with the Vac, the grubby water gets vacuumed up without hitting the floor. This is a big win for me.

Shower cubicle. Technically the Kärcher worked fine, sucking up the water on the shower cubicle walls and glass door but the value was limited – you’re not worried about water on the floor or streak-free tiles and the Vac needs to be to hand. Squeegee wins in this scenario.

There is one final scenario that didn’t make into the video and only became apparent after recent storms. The Kärcher Window Vac is really good for clearing rainwater off garden trampolines. It sucks up the surface water quickly so that the trampoline can be towelled dry and it’s back to bouncing for the children. Result!

Overall, I’m quite pleased with Kärcher 10 Year Window Vac Anniversary Edition. It makes cleaning windows much easier and is great for roof windows. I have to say that it’s not something I would have thought of buying and it’s not an impulse buy with a list price of £99. However, you can easily find it reduced and it’s currently only £49.99 at several online retailers, including Kärcher, which makes it much more reasonable.

Disclosure: I paid the current sale price for the Window Vac as part of The Insiders UK Kärcher campaign.