Battle of the Smart Bands

This week I’ll be taking two Smart Bands out for a test drive in the hopes of finding out which one is better! The two bands that are battling it out are as follows, the Microsoft Band and the Sony Smartband Talk SWR30.

The Microsoft Band launched in the UK not so long ago and I’ve already really enjoyed using the device. I’ve been a user for about 4 weeks now and I’ve got to say I’m impressed by how accurate it seems to be with regards to its fitness tracking features.

The Sony Smartband Talk has a lot to live up to, but I like what I’ve seen from the Lifelog app. Combined with a nice looking e-ink display and talk functions for taking phone calls, I’m sure Sony is going to stand its ground in this weeks arena!

Stay tuned for my thoughts and feelings on both devices next Monday when I’ll have had a good length of time to really see what they are both capable of.

In the meantime feel free to check out my initial thoughts regarding the Microsoft Band in the video below.

Project Morpheus

Sony have just unveiled their take on virtual reality with their new Project Morpheus. It should be interesting to see how his turns out and will also offer virtual reality for consoles, something that the Oculus Rift wasn’t going to deliver.

The device will run at full 1080p resolution and offer and work with existing Playstation accessories. When paired up with the Playstation Camera things get a little more in depth, offering another level of head tracking.

So the future of virtual reality is looking healthier, with a first party hardware and software manufacture joining in on the action. It will be interesting to see how the Oculus Rift team respond to this, but I’m sure they’re not worried, battling in the PC arena rather than console.

 

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.



CES 2014

So CES is just around the corner and I must admit I’m intrigued to see what this years show has to offer.

I’m sure we will see a whole range of wearable tech being shown off with manufacturers battling to be the first to get this right. So far no one has really brought a product to market that has had a large market appeal so 2014 could prove to be exciting for wearables.

Tablets have my attention. I’m tired of the increasing specs and what I really want to see is something with a larger screen. Samsung are rumoured to be working on something around the 12 inch mark. With bezels getting smaller there’s so much more room to increase screen size. We’ve seen it happen with mobile phones so fingers crossed that will translate into the tablet market.

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.