Review: VicTsing Quad Core Android Smart TV Box

So here’s an interesting device. With the smart TV market heating up, there are more and more devices finding their way into consumers hands. Of course we’ve all heard of the big brands like the Amazon Fire TV, and the Apple TV, so what room does that leave for other, smaller, brands?

Well, apparently there is room! I personally use an Amazon TV box and I love it, so when I booted this device up I had some pretty high expectations. The first thing that struck me was the custom launcher installed on the device, something that I didn’t expect to find. I thought it would just ship with plain old Android, making it difficult to use as a TV box, but the custom launcher makes using this with a remote an absolute breeze.

The box comes pre-loaded with media streaming apps such as Netflix and there are plenty more available from the Google Play store (a bit of advice, when I first logged into the Play Store it didn’t work, however once I updated it, it worked perfectly).

Content looked great when streamed from Netflix, with sound and picture quality rivaling the big names, and having access to the Google Play Store gives users a huge range of content. Basically, if you can get something on your phone then you’ll find it on this device.

There are some issues with this device, but they are to be expected at such a low price. First thing, and it’s not a huge gripe, but the box itself is incredibly light, to the point that if you knock a cable it will go flying. The remote it comes packaged with needs clear line of sight, we really are talking direct line with no obstacles. I thought the remote had stopped working, but it was just not pointed direct at the box.

To be honest this is worth checking out. Granted, the user interface isn’t quite as nice as the big name TV boxes out there, but for the price you can’t go wrong. If all you’re after is streaming TV and Movies to your big screen then this is worth giving a go. The cons are relatively minimal, and there really are plenty of great points!

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News: Google Cardboard gets an update

The Google I/O has been taking place today and one thing that got announced was an update to Google Cardboard. Now, as a fan of VR, this is something that I find quite fun and intriguing, and after taking the first Google Cardboard out for a spin I was surprised by how well it works.

So what’s new with the latest build? Well, for starters it supports devices with screen sizes up to 6″ which will come in handy considering how mobile phones seem to be continually getting larger. Google have now shrunk the steps to build the device from twelve to only three, meaning once you unpack your new D.I.Y VR kit it will only take a couple of minutes to get up and running.

Perhaps the biggest update is that Google Cardboard will now support iOS, meaning that all of you iPhone users out there will get to have fun with some makeshift VR.

For anyone out there who wants to experience virtual reality without handing over a huge sum of money then this is probably worth taking a look at. Google can now boast to having over 1 million Cardboard users and over 500 apps available for the VR market. Not bad eh?

My Top 5 Productivity Apps for the iPad

Introduction

So I decided to throw together a quick list of my top 5 productivity tools and apps for the iPad. These are apps that I use myself and find extremely handy, in fact I couldn't do without them! My iPad has come pretty close to replacing my Macbook and without some of these trusty little apps it wouldn't even come close to achieving that.

So take a peak and see if any of them might help you out.

Pages

Pages is Apples take on Microsoft Word and I'm a big fan. Out of every application I have for my iPad, this is top of my list. The entire user interface is very touch friendly and there are plenty of tools to make your documents look absolutely fantastic. This isn't just some cheap word processor like some you would normally find on a tablet, it's a full blown piece of kit that allows real work to be completed.

Another great feature is that all of your documents will automatically sync with your iCloud information, allowing you to access them anywhere that has an internet connection. If you have an iPhone or Mac then it gets even better, with documents automatically syncing across all of your devices, allowing you to start something on one device then resume it on another.

Google Sheets

Google Sheets is a mobile and tablet friendly spreadsheet application. It works in the cloud, allowing you to edit on the go through any browser, simply by logging in with your Google information.

The application works great and is pretty touch friendly. Although you probably won't find yourself throwing together huge spreadsheets using this, the app is more than capable and easy to use. As mentioned above, due to it being cloud based you can do some more serious work on a browser and then complete or use the spreadsheets on your iPad. This comes in great if you're using any form of trackers on the go!

Keynote

Keynote is a powerful presentation creation tool. It allows the user to throw together great looking presentations using nothing but their iPad and it's designed from the ground up to work with touch screens. Although sometimes the lack of mouse input and the smaller screen can make things fiddly, the overall experience is pretty good using the app. The app really helps the user by helping to align images and text boxes, helping you to avoid those little mistakes.

When combined with an iPhone the app becomes even more powerful. Not only do you have the same iCloud sync options like you have in Pages, but you also have a host of presentation tools. You can add notes for each of your slides and use your iPhone to view these while also using your iPhone as a remote for your presentation. This comes in really handy when you give the iPad to someone to view and you can guide them through your presentation with nothing in your hands but your iPhone.

Garage Band

Now this might not really be a super productive app, but if you like to create music then this is a very nifty little app. For anyone who has used the app on a Mac then you will immediately feel at home, with a whole host of tools to help you record real instruments or software instruments. It's powerful and I've never had any issues with input lag etc, recording a range of guitars, vocals and bass using this tool to create tracks.

There is a huge range of virtual/software instruments and rum kits to help really flesh your track out and experiment. Editing your tracks couldn't be easier as the app has been designed to work with just touch input. Throw in the fact that like other Apple apps it syncs across iCloud, this makes the app a really valuable tool for those who want to record music on the go!

Dropbox

For all your online storage needs Dropbox is the perfect companion. It is easy to use with a range of mobile apps and desktop apps, synchronizing with a large range of productivity tools. A large range of my desktop applications allow me to save directly to Dropbox and that's the same within my iPad. Although you'll probably already be using iCloud, Dropbox offers better compatibility with other operating systems.

Dropbox also offers a good range of picture and folder back up for your iPad and mobile devices. You can enable auto backup of your photos and built into the tool you can share any files saved, helping you to work collaboratively with others.

Chromebooks

Up until a month ago I had never played with a Chromebook. I saw them as watered down laptop, capable of barely anything, but now I’ve had a tinker with a few, changing my perception.

What got me think was, what do I actually use my laptop for? Writing, browsing and the occasional spreadsheet, all of which a Chromebook can handle. They are nice and lightweight, and the best bit, they are very reasonably priced.

I almost want to get, my carry everywhere device, but that seems a little wasteful considering I have my macbook pro. However it’s something I’m considering for the future. It offers everything that I need and at a pretty good price.

What really struck me was how likely it is that these devices could really start to eat into Microsofts territory. For students a Chromebook is pretty perfect and for a lot of other people these Chromebooks will really fulfil most needs.

What I’d like to see from the Chromebooks is either a 15 inch model, or a hybrid, a great tablet and keyboard combination, like a Surface running Chrome. Fingers crossed either of these things come along, and then maybe I’ll say farewell to my Macbook.

I think it should be an interesting year seeing how Chromebooks evolve and push their way into the market. They’ve become serious competitors now, offering more than enough to steal users away from Windows. Who knows what the future hold, but with Microsoft offering a hugely pricey Surface 3 in response, the future isn’t look bright for them.

Amazon TV Fire

The new Amazon TV Fire is an intriguing bit of kit. It’s a set top box, but a pretty powerful one, one that represents Amazons first step into gaming.

Alongside the TV Fire, Amazon also announced a controller to go along side their device, and also a new in house games development studio. They’ve had some top talent from within the gaming industry joining their team and this could spell the start of something very interesting.

For me it’s not the media capabilities that interest me, but the fact that a large brand such as Amazon has put their money behind a product that will act as a mini Android gaming console. The media stuff has been done before, and in fairness so has the gaming, but with the resources Amazon have available this could be the beginning of something very interesting.

Android Wear

Well with the revelation of Android Wear things in the wearable department just got a whole lot meatier! It’s great to see that wearables will soon sport properly developed OS’s to work with our small devices rather than what we have at the moment.

What really caught my eye was Motorola’s new watch, the Moto 360. It looks smart, sleek, and above all like a watch. I can’t wait to see the flood of new wearables that will soon be hitting the market. There have been a fair few manufactures jumping onboard this announcement, proclaiming their intent to bring wearable tech to the market.

For a long time now we’ve been forced to wear clunky devices, that feel more like test products than anything else, if we have wanted to dive into the world of wearable tech. With Google’s latest announcement, a sort of Nexus platform for wearables, things look like they will soon be changing.

 


Xperia Z1 Review

Introduction

The Xperia Z1, Sony’s latest flagship, is an amazing bit of kit. The specs are formidable and the build quality is fantastic. So what does this all add up to in real world use?

Look and Feel

As I mentioned above the Xperia Z1 is a wonderfully built piece of kit. It feels premium to hold. It’s a combination of glass and metal which really helps the Z1 to stand out against the competition.

The screen quality is superb, full HD 1080 with Bravia technology which really makes the screen stand out. The colors look natural and the picture quality is extremely sharp. I really can’t fault the display on the Xperia.

Where the Xperia falls short is the size of the thing. It’s a big phone, and that’s coming from someone who used the Galaxy Note 2 for almost a year. Due to the device being water and dust proof Sony have compromised on size. The Xperia Z1 is far larger than its rivals and at times can be pretty uncomfortable to hold, its sharp corners digging into your palms and making one handed usage almost impossible.

User Interface

The Xperia Z1 runs on Android and is extremely snappy, responding to almost everything I could throw at it without any lag. I found that Sony hadn’t loaded the device with too much bloat ware and their custom launcher was nice to use which is a pleasant surprise.

Camera

The Z1 packs a whopping 20.7 mega pixel camera which works fantastically well in low light conditions due to the size if its lens. Adding to this is the return of the hardware camera key on the side of the Z1 which helps to snap those perfect shots.

I absolutely loved and hated the camera on the Z1. It’s an odd beast, either taking some of the best shots I’ve ever managed or alternatively snapping nothing but a blurry mess.

I found that a lot of the issues cropped up when I used Sony’s ‘Superior Auto’ shooting mode which automatically switches settings in order to capture the best shot. I’ll warn you now, more often than not it gets things wrong.

Switching the phone into manual shooting mode gives a much higher chance of snapping a fantastic shot, but still my experience was plagued with awful blurry pics. I don’t know why the Z1 is inconsistent but unfortunately it is. In comparison to other smartphones it may be capable of taking the better pictures but more often than not it will let you down.

Battery

For a phone like this the battery life is pretty good, which is handy considering it is built in. Consistently I’ll get a full days worth of battery which includes just over 4 hours of screen on time. For the power users amongst you I would suggest carrying a portable battery if you are going to be away from a charger for a lengthy period of time.

What I liked

I absolutely love the build quality and waterproof feature on this phone. The Z1, despite its size, is a joy to handle. Throw in the added bonus that I don’t have to worry about using it in the rain and I can capture novelty underwater photos and you’re onto a winner.

What I disliked

Potentially the best and the worst feature on the Z1, its camera. I loved how amazing some of the photos captured on the device look but I hate how inconsistent it is. Even in the exact same scene, with the exact same settings photo quality will differ drastically.

Ultimately it ruins the camera for me as it just can’t be trusted to capture those fantastic shots it is capable of. Fingers crossed it is just a software fault and not hardware.

Conclusion

The Xperia Z1 is a beautiful phone with the specs to match. For those camera enthusiasts amongst you it is worth giving a shot, that is if you can tolerate the inconsistent quality issues.

Be warned, for those who have smaller hands this may not be the device for you. It’s closer in size to the Galaxy Note 2 than it is to its 5 inch screen competitors.

For a full run down of specs check out the Sony Xperia Z1.



Nexus 7 2013

So I recently acquired a Nexus 7 2013 and so far my impressions are mixed. Its a lovely little device, small, compact and powerful. Despite this however there’s something I’m just not getting on with.

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look and feel

As I mentioned above the Nexus 7 is a small and compact device, perfect for portability. It has a lovely matte finish and the screen quality is superb. I’ve found that due to its light weight the Nexus is easy to hold in one hand for a relatively long time making it perfect for all you eBook readers out there.

What I do dislike about the Nexus is the huge bezels above and below the screen. They’ve got such slim bezels on the side that this makes the Nexus ridiculously long and partially uncomfortable for portrait typing due to the corners being so far from the screen. To me it just feels like wasted space,Im sure its not and that there is a perfectly good internal reason but nonetheless it really puts me off the design.

User Experience

Pure Android is always a good thing. There are far too may manufactures out there who destroy perfectly good hardware with their poor launchers and awful bloatware. With a Nexus device theres no need to worry about this.

The result is something lightning fast, responding without lag almost every time. There’s the odd stutter but its rare. Users also have the ability to customise from the ground up, either selecting the pre loaded apps and widgets or choose from a huge range and selection from the Play Store.

I can’t really fault the Nexus when it comes to using it. My only gripes are that the screen is a little too small for my taste and it also suffers from the occasional ghost press which drives me mad when typing. Apart from these two things the Nexus is a superb device when it comes to experience.

Stand Out Feature

The stand out feature has to be how powerful the Nexus is despite its size. Gaming on the go is superb due to the monstrous specs Asus have managed to squeeze in. Combined with the 7 inch screen this make a the Nexus 7 comfortable to game on unlike larger tablets where your thumbs are stretched.

For those who are a fan of mobile gaming the Nexus is the perfect companion. Comfortable, small and powerful.

Conclusion

I can’t really fault the Nexus 7. Its a gorgeous little device that can handle pretty much anything you throw at it. I feel its a little small but that’s personal taste.

For anyone who is looking for a well priced smaller tablet then the Nexus 7 should definitely be on the top of your list.

My Top 10 Gadgets 2013

Below is a list of my top 10 favourite gadgets that I used throughout 2013. I got to play with a whole load of different toys and enjoyed most of those. Check out my thoughts below and click the links for more details in Amazon.

1: Macbook Pro Retina 13 inch 

 

Recently I took the plunge and upgraded from my 11 inch Macbook Air and I’m very glad I did. The Macbook Pro is a stunning machine. Its fast, responsive and above all the screen is beautiful.  

I’m no Apple fan boy, far from it in fact, but I’ve got a place in my heart reserved for MacBooks. So far my pro has served me well and is a fantastic step up from my Macbook Air. I love the larger screen size and the retina display is to die for. 

The device just feels premium and is everything I could ask for. For what I need, the Macbook Pro Retina is perfect and I would recommend it above everything else. True love has been found in 2013. 

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The Samsung Galaxy Note 2 was my personal phone for the best part of 2013 and I loved it. I recently changed to the Sony Xperia Z1 and find that I miss the screen size and stylus from my Note. Even it’s cheaper plastic finish isn’t enough to put me off, in fact its a bonus, making the device light weight. The Note 2 is easily my favourite phone that I used in 2013. 

Sony hit a niche market with this product. The camera on my phone is one of the biggest features I use and now with the QX10 lens I don’t really need to worry about the camera quality onboard my chosen phone. The device has god battery, is small and compact and relatively easy to use even for an amateur like myself.  

The zoom is absolutely fantastic and snapping pics in low light conditions is amazing. The lens far exceeds any dedicated camera built into a smart phone that I have used so far and that includes the Nokia Lumia 1020. 

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So I felt it was time to upgrade my graphics card in 2013 and I’m glad I did. This was the first year that I played some big name single player games from start to finish and actually enjoyed them. Games like Bioshock Infinite ran like a dead dog on my previous card but after installing my GTX 680 it ran like a dream. 

Nvidias physx also added a little spice compared to my previous AMD card. Its nothing to really shout about but there were a few noticeable differences in certain games that caught my eye, the biggest being in Planet Side 2 with its oddly beautiful teleporter effects. 

2013 was the year that I returned to dedicated portable gaming hardware thanks to Pokemon’s lure. I had always used a tablet or phone for casual gaming, singing the devices praises and condemning portable gaming hardware, saying how redundant it was. It wasn’t until I returned to true hardware controls that I realised how wrong I had been. 

The 3DS is a lovely size and very comfortable to hold. Its got a great sized screen and has a pretty good catalogue of games. I’m glad I made the move back to a portable console and couldn’t be more impressed with this device. 

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I have a love hate relationship with Sony. I want to love their products but I’ve always been unlucky in the past with all my Sony branded products going faulty. So with great reluctance I gave up my note 2 and got myself an Xperia Z1. 

Am I glad I did? Kind of. The camera is hit and miss, half of the time it takes better quality photos than I’ve ever taken before, the other half it captures horrid blurs. It feels so solid and premium unlike most Android devices which is a welcome change and the waterproof feature actually works! Its beyond fast, responding like lightning and very rarely lagging. 

The downside is its huge and my device is already faulty which is a real shame. I’ve had it exchanged and the second unit was faulty so it appears my bad luck with Sony has continued. 

The Nexus 7 is my tablet of choice at the moment. Its a relatively low cost, yet powerful device. Sporting pure Android with no manufacturer interference leaves the Nexus running blazingly fast. 

Its light weight and feels great in the hand, its rubberised back and sides stopping it from sliding all over the place and making it easier to grip. The screen size is both a positive and a negative, small enough for light browsing, gaming and work but too small for anything more. 

Overall I’m impressed with the Nexus and have so far enjoyed using it on the train to work.  

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Ah the iPad mini. This would easily be my device of the year if it wasnt for a certain software update. The iPad mini feels and looks fantastic. The screen size is perfect for on the go work and gaming. Its not too big and not too small, the best tablet size I have used. The battery life was good and it ran smoothly, never skipping a beat. 

So what changed? iOS 7 landed, turning my iPad mini into a horribly slow device. My iPad was so slow it had become unbearable to use. I understand that older Apple hardware begins to run terribly slow as new software updates land but the iPad Mini was still a current device at the time of iOS 7. In my opinion this was a terrible move by Apple. 

I miss my iPad mini as it was easily the best tablet I have ever used. After the way Apple destroyed my device I don’t think I’ll be taking the plunge and updating to the latest model. 

My first Windows 8 tablet. There is huge potential from these hybrid devices but I still don’t feel like any manufacture has gotten dit right so far. I really enjoyed my time with the Ativ Smart PC Pro but it ultimately felt like a jack of all trades. As a tablet it was average and as a laptop it was average. 

The keyboard dock was plagued with disconnection issues and as tablet the device was just too big and bulky. The thing that really killed my experience was Windows 8 which offered a very jarring experience. Modern UI and desktop mode just don’t fit together at all killing any seamless experience you would expect from a device such as this. 

The concept is sound and the potential is massive but I can’t help but feel that these hybrid devices are just lacking. 

So I mentioned already that I have a love hate relationship with Sony and the same applies with the Xperia Tablet Z. I loved the feel of it. Its so slim, with a beautiful screen and gorgeous matte finish. Its probably the nicest looking Android tablet out there. 

However its incredibly slow. Almost everything I did on the device was laggy unless I installed a custom launcher. Web browsing was poor and just navigating menus was slow. I’m not entirely sure what Sony did to this device to make it respond so poorly! Needless to say my time was short lived with this device.

 

 

Wearable Tech

So wearable tech seems to be all the rage right now. We have Google Glass just around the corner and wrist watches that pair up with our smartphones. Despite the torrent of new devices flooding the market I’m yet to be blown away by any.

There’s a few nice little devices I’ve played with. I’m intrigued by Samsung’s Galaxy Gear but it’s lack of compatibility is pretty disappointing. It’s got a whole range of features but I really don’t fancy changing my phone just to use a smart watch. I’ve had a good play with the Gear and it’s a very responsive device. The camera is pretty good quality but I can’t understand why it doesn’t just have a front facing camera instead? I’m sure Samsung will address the devices short comings with the Galaxy Gear 2 and hopefully throw in some compatibility with other devices.

On the other hand we have Sony’s Smart Watch which is compatible with most Android devices but it lacks features. It’s really a fancy second screen for your smartphone with no real ability to interact with whats happening on your device. You get a notification and in order to interact you have to pull out your smartphone. Pointless really.

I’ve just backed the Neptune Pine on Kickstarter. It’s a nice looking device with loads of potential. It can do pretty much everything my smartphone can but it is a little large. It can be used as a phone thats strapped to your wrist or you can download a companion app onto your smartphone and use the Neptune Pine as a feature packed smart watch. It’s a powerful little beast and packs a front facing camera so video calls on the go could get interesting. I’ll get my device sometime in January so I’ll write a review on it when it arrives.

2013 hasn’t been a fantastic year for wearable tech but I believe 2014 will see a massive range of devices storming into the market and hopefully they will be far better than what we have on offer right now.

Technology Got Stuck

I can’t help but shake the feeling that right now technology feels stuck in the novelty and experimental stage. Progression seems to be mixed with different companies and industries experimenting with all sorts. Where will a product line end up?

Let’s take tablets and netbooks, hell, even laptops as an example. Apple undoubtedly managed to persuade the general public that every single one of them needed an iPad to replace their laptop and now other manufactures are following this example. But who’s going to come out on top? Everyone is experimenting. We have ultrabooks, we have hybrid tablets, we have convertibles we have plain simple tablets… then we have iOS, we have Android, we have windows…. and thats just tablets…. there’s more operating systems coming!

This isn’t the only example. Look at smart phones currently. Manufactures are simply recycling their older products and bumping up the screen size and internal specs. Where has the innovation gone? I remember eagerly watching as a phone was announced and being wowed or shocked by the complete new design. Gone are those days.

I just can’t help but shake the feeling that manufactures are pushing their products into niches they just don’t fit into. It reminds me of the HD DVD vs BLU Ray race. People held off dedicating themselves to a technology because they didn’t know what would win out. I feel the same right now, especially with things such as tablets/laptops. I honestly couldn’t say which is going to win out and last into the foreseeable future.

Everything just seems as though its manufactures testing the water and experimenting without actually truly dedicating to what it is they want to do. Come on guys back to what made technology so exciting! Stick with the direction you want to go in and throw your weight behind it! 😀

Another Smartphone OS

I find myself reading through the tech blogs and websites on a regular basis. It’s how I keep up to date with my job and I love it. However one thing coming or of MWC this year that I find relatively shocking is we are one again being treated to hands on demos of a new smartphone os from Mozilla.
Continue reading “Another Smartphone OS” »