Category: Smartphones

ASUS to launch a Windows detachable laptop with detachable Android smartphone

Article

ASUS Transformer Book V is a Windows hybrid laptop with a detachable Android phone | Engadget

My Comments

There have been various devices that were effectively multiple devices in one package with one device being able to be detached to perform its own function. One of these devices that came to my mind was Hitachi’s TRK-W1 boombox of the early 80s. This was a high-quality radio-cassette unit with two cassette transports but one of the transports in this unit was in fact capable of becoming a cassette Walkman once it was detached from the main unit and effectively combined two portable-audio paradigms that were underscored through that time period.

ASUS has applied this same concept to the Transformer Book V detachable laptop which has a separately-detachable smartphone. Here, you had a 12” detachable “hybrid” laptop running Windows 8.1 which could become a tablet one moment and a laptop the next like with the HP x2 series. But you could clip a supplied 5” Android smartphone in to the back of the tablet to provide for access to the mobile broadband service.

The tablet could run Windows 8.1 or, with the phone attached, could run Android 4.4 KitKat in a “virtual-phone” window or run as a full-on Android tablet / laptop. It has 4Gb RAM and 128Gb solid-state storage but has a 1Tb hard disk in the battery-less keyboard attachment. The phone would have 64Gb of its own storage and 2Gb of its own RAM. But there is a limitation that each operating system can only use its own storage space.

Who knows when ASUS would officially launch it with many people looking at it housed in a glass showcase. As well, who knows if this would he launched to all of the markets but ASUS are showing that a device integrating Windows and Android in all the useable form factors can be made available.

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Make Spotify and Shazam work with your favourite bar or cafe

 

A cafe who can benefit from DLNA network AV technology

A cafe who can benefit from DLNA network AV technology

Spotify, Shazam and similar programs are music programs that can come in handy with people who have a café or bar as a favourite watering hole. This is whether through creating a playlist that relates to this location or identifying songs that are playing on the music system there.

As a café or bar owner

A café or bar can make Spotify work with their Website even if they can’t legally play content from this service through their music system. The manager could create a Spoitify account which is a so-called “public account” and use this just for sharing the playlists. Here, they identify tracks that are in the current playlist or on the music system and create a Spotify playlist based on these tracks.

Shazam for Android

Shazam song-identification for Android

This is then inserted in to their Website using the code that Spotify supply for inserting playable playlists in to a Website. Customers who visit the Website can have these songs playing through their computer which should be connected to a hi-fi or a pair of good speakers. They can even “subscribe” to these playlists to have them play through their Spotify-Connect-enabled equipment or their mobile devices.

As a “regular” customer

Customers can put Shazam, MusicID or similar music-recognition apps in to service to identify tracks that they like playing through the venue’s music system. This is more important with venues that have music systems that don’t readily show details about what’s currently playing but can be a problem in crowded venues where there is a lot of noise contesting the music.

These apps keep a record of what you have identified using them and have a link to various apps and services. For example, one could share the track names through Facebook or other social networks or play the tracks on Spotify or buy them through iTunes or other affiliated “download-to-own” online music stores.

Spotify screenshot with album tracklist

Spotify, one of the most popular online music-streaming services

What I even do is create a “favourite places” playlist on Spotify which is comprised of songs that I have identified at my favourite cafes and bars. Here, I can then play this playlist on Spotify or use this as a reference for purchasing music or syncing it to my phone.

iOS users simply buy the songs from iTunes Music Store and download them to their to their iPhone or iPad “as they go”. Then they sync them to a Macintosh or Windows computer using the iTunes desktop software. Android users use a music store that supplies music as MP3s on a download-to-own basis like Amazon or Big Pond Music. If you aren’t comfortable with downloading the music to your device, you can use the store’s “wishlist” function to create a memo list of the music you have liked when you trawl around Amazon to buy CDs online or visit your favourite music store.

Once you have bought your music, you could then work on a playlist or compilation CD/MiniDisc/cassette that focuses on these songs in a similar vein to what can be done with a subscription music service like Spotify.

Conclusion

Once you use Shazam, Spotify and similar software on your mobile computing environment, you can be able to get more out of your favourite watering holes.

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Is the Motorola Project Ara to do to smartphones what the IBM PC did for desktop computers?

Articles

Motorola unveils Project Ara, customizable smartphone effort | CNET

Motorola’s ‘Project Ara’ modular smartphone setup switches out hardware like apps  | Engadget

Project Ara: Motorola Wants to Make Your Smartphone Modular | Mashable

My Comments

The IBM PC of 1981 had not just become the standard for a business-class desktop computer as far as software was concerned but epitonised the concept of a highly-modular hardware design. This was highly evident in the way the computer’s system unit was designed where there were user-upgradeable parts, a concept that was so heavily underscored with the PC/AT “second-generation” design.

Here these computers had a continuous update and upgrade lifecycle where one could install faster microprocessors, highly-capable graphics cards, hard disks of increasing capacity, increased RAM, newer secondary-storage media like backup tapes, 3.5” disks and CD-ROMs  along with various communications devices like modems and network cards. This capability evolved with the ATX form factor along with newer smaller form-factors such as microITX.

In my experience with desktop computers since the early 1990s, I kept “dragging through”components from a previous chassis to a newer chassis to keep them useful and valid while being able to, in some cases, junk dud components like power supplies with nearly-worn-out fans and replace them myself. This has allowed me to maintain a longer service life for my desktop computing experience.and achieve this goal with minimal expense.

Similarly, I have seen most offices equipped with computers that have the “right mix” of software and hardware but where most of the componentry is affordable and the only expensive aspects of the system are components that suit a particular job. For that matter, this modularity opened up the business desktop-computing boom in the late 1980s.

Now Google’s Motorola smartphone arm is bringing this concept to the smartphone in the form of “click-together” components that snap on to a “skeleton” which is similar to a PC’s motherboard. Google wanted to achieve a platform for the hardware like what Android has done for the software. The goal with the Ara platform would be to have user-replaceable processors, displays, keyboards and the like that also allow these phones to work to newer technologies or work to specific needs.

For example, a higher-capacity flash storage could be planted in these phones or a Bluetooth module compliant to the latest Bluetooth specification could come in to play here. Similarly, the cracked screen could be easily replaced with something newer and brighter or an extra switch array could come in to place for one-touch access to functions. A newer sensor could come in to place to allow the phone to measure newer quantities as a dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi radio links the phone to the networks.

Of course this will lead to the longer service life for these phones as people “spin them out” further to their ever-changing needs and as technology marches onwards.

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Handling the many-source one-destination situation with Bluetooth audio devices

Pure Jongo T6 wireless speaker

There may be difficulties running a Bluetooth speaker like this with multiple source devices in the same room

The Bluetooth A2DP audio playback setup which provides a wireless link between a mobile device and a sound system or Bluetooth speaker has now brought along its own set of complications. This is something that will show up more as the number of Bluetooth-capable wireless speakers, audio adaptors and music systems in circulation increases.

One main complication is that the last-connected Bluetooth-capable source device “lays claim” to the Bluetooth-capable sound system until either device’s Bluetooth functionality is turned off. This is even though the user of that source device stopped playing the audio content using the media player and can cause complications where, for example, an “established” Bluetooth device like a tablet cannot be used with the sound system it is normally used with because a guest “walked up” to the sound system and paired their iPhone full of their music collection to that unit to play some of their tunes.

The practice is expected to be common with music systems that are operated during a party where you want to let a guest “look after the tunes” for the evening; and will become common with cars when a group of people go on a long journey and one of these passengers offers to “look after the tunes” for a part of the trip. At the Australian Audio And AV Show 2013, the people who were demonstrating the Aktimate active speakers with a Bluetooth adaptor allowed me to try the speakers with a track on my phone but asked me to make sure the Bluetooth on my phone is off or the speakers removed from the phone’s devices list after I had finished playing the music.

Nokia BH-111 headphone adaptor connected to headphones

Two or more devices paired to the one Bluetooth headset and on in the same vicinity may cause problems.

It can also show up when you use the same Bluetooth headset or audio adaptor amongst a group of devices which is common when you want to use your headset with your smartphone while walking down the street or use it with your laptop to make that Skype or Lync call.

How do you handle this situation

When you have finished using a Bluetooth sound system, especially one you use on an ad-hoc basis, you have to make sure you logically disconnect your computer or mobile device from that sound system. Most commonly, you may have to turn off your computer’s or mobile device’s Bluetooth functionality. But if you are using your own Bluetooth peripherals, then you have to enable the Bluetooth functionality again.

Logically disconnecting the device

The recent versions of the Android mobile operating system handle this better by allowing a Bluetooth device to be “disconnected” without the Android smartphone or tablet losing its paring data. Here, you enter the Android Bluetooth menu to tap on the currently-connected device to disconnect it immediately.  The ability to retain the pairing is important if you are using a particular Bluetooth device regularly such as a car sound system in the car you regularly drive or a commonly-used Bluetooth-capable hi-fi setup.

Unpairing or removing the device from your operating system

Most other desktop and mobile platforms require you to “remove” or “”unpair” the music system from the Bluetooth-capable source device. Then if you want to use the same Bluetooth device again, you have to put that device in to pairing mode which typically requires you to press and hold a button to invoke this mode; and use the operating system’s Bluetooth menu or “Add New Device” menu to add or pair with a new Bluetooth device.

In Windows, this requires you to go to the Devices Menu, select the device and select the Remove option to remove the sound system. There is the Bluetooth icon in the Taskbar which has the right-click option to “Show Connected Devices” to bring up all the Bluetooth devices associated with your system.

Macintosh users have to click on the “System Preferences” item under the Apple menu, select the Bluetooth icon in the System Preferences window, select the device in the left-hand list box and click the “-“ button to remove the device.

For iOS, you may have to go to the Bluetooth menu under Settings – General. and touch “Unpair” to detach the sound system.

What needs to happen

Support for “connect / disconnect” on all desktop and mobile operating systems

An improvement that needs to be able to exist for an operating system’s Bluetooth functionality is to allow the user to logically “connect” and “disconnect” a Bluetooth peripheral manually. Here, the parings are retained in the host device while it is disconnected yet, when you connect, they come in to play as part of attempting to connect up with the device. This doesn’t remove the ability for a device to immediately connect when it is paired but  allows it to stay paired without being connected.

Bluetooth-capable audio equipment to support multiple connections

We are starting to see some Bluetooth headsets, speakers and in-car setups able to support multiple connections to different devices. This is typically to facilitate a media-player-only device like an Apple iPod Touch to play content while the device serves as a hands-free for a smartphone that is not necessarily used as a media player. Sony has made an effort with their SBH-20 Bluetooth headset adaptor to support the multiple-connection requirement for two smartphones thus facilitating one-touch answer from either phone.

Similarly, a Bluetooth-capable audio device could implement a multiple-connection setup where it can stay connected to many Bluetooth host devices. Each of these host devices can be enumerated as a virtual source as far as the Bluetooth-capable audio device is concerned and there is a user interface on the Bluetooth audio device to select between the different hosts.

Automotive implementations could allow multiple smartphones to connect with one being determined as a “primary” device for making and taking calls and receiving messages and others determined as either “secondary” devices used primarily to take calls or as “media-player” devices that only play media.

Conclusion

This issue of having Bluetooth devices, especially Bluetooth audio devices, work with multiple host computing devices is something that has caused headaches and will be doing so until the people designing the operating systems and devices can handle this reality properly and easily.

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Internationaler Funkaustellung 2013

IFA LogoThis year’s Internationaler Funkaustellung has been about strengthening the personal IT space especially with the “phablet” smartphones, newer tablet-laptop hybrid computers and the smartwatch. Similarly, there has been some concerted activity in the living-room space with the 4K ultra-high-definition TV technology amongst other things.

Personal IT

Over the last year, the Android platform has gained ground with some very impressive mobile devices that have come through from Samsung, Sony, HTC and others. This has been underscored through various platform-exclusive features like an open development environment, the use of NFC “touch-and-go” functionality, large high-resolution screens amongst other features and one observer at Samsung’s “Unpacked 2” press event which was part of this show described the up-and-coming Apple iPhone 5S as being “fool’s gold”.

Smartphones

The rise of the “phablet”

Nearly every manufacturer is offering a “phablet” – a smartphone with a 5”-6.5” screen that is pitched as a bridge between a tablet and a regular handheld smartphone. These handheld devices, typically the size of one of the pocketable scientific or financial calculators exploit the large screen as a user interface feature yet can be held in one hand.

Samsung, who had launched the first of these devices and defined this product category through the Galaxy Note family, has launched the Galaxy Note 3 which is the third-generation. This Android 4.3 smartphone has a 5.7” Super AMOLED screen, the ability to film video in 4K UHDTV resolution with a 13 megapixel rear camera, 2.5Gb RAM, Wi-Fi connectivity that even reaches to the 802.11ac wireless segments amongst more desireable features.

Sony had fielded their “phablet” which is the 6.4” XPeria Z Ultra. Alcatel have fielded the “One Touch Hero” which has a 6” Full-HD screen, 2Gb RAM, 8 or 16Gb storage, 13 Megapixel rear camera / 2 Megapixel front camera and Android 4.2. It is able to come with accessories like an E-ink cover or a wireless-charging cover. Not to be missed, HTC have launched the One Max 6” Full-HD phablet.

Sony raises the bar for smartphone photography

Sony has launched the XPeria Z1 which has its rear camera able to be as good as a standalone compact “point-and-shoot” digital camera.

Similarly, they have sold two “lens-cameras” which clip on to and pair with most smartphones. These are cameras that have a proper lens structure equivalent to that of a digital camera but send the photos to the smartphone using their own Wi-Fi network that is created with the host phone. They will work with handler apps for both the iOS and Android platforms so you can get the pictures you took with them off the lens camera to your phone’s storage and on to Facebook. The QX10 has a fixed-focal-length prime lens while the QX100 has a 10x optical-zoom lens.

For Android users, these lens-cameras implement the NFC “touch-and-go” setup to reduce the hassle involved with getting them going.

Other smartphone products

Lenovo had tendered their first smartphone which was known as the Vibe X which is a 5” Android model.

Tablets and Notebooks

Rather than 7” and 10” tablets being focused on mobile operating platforms like iOS or Android. we are seeing some of the tablets in this size range being available to work with the up-and-coming Windows 8.1 operating system. These are becoming effectively like a regular computer that is pitched to the consumer rather than a “toy” or an “enterprise workflow / kiosk” tablet. As for the Windows-based computers, most of these will be released with Windows 8.1 from the factory or may allow you to upgrade to the operating system in October if it cam with Windows 8.

Even the connvertible tablet-notebook computers and the detachable keyboard “hybrid” tablets have finally grown up and been considered a valuable part of a person’s or business’s computing “arsenal”.

Different forms of convertible or detachable-keyboard tablets showing up

The convertible tablet-notebook computer grows up.

This class of device also is encompassing an increased range of convertible laptop-tablet computers of the 11”-13” size as well as 20” adaptive-all-in-one desktop-tablet computers answering the Sony VAIO Tap 20. What we are seeing here is that there are two paths for a primarily-touch-based computing experience – a unit with an ARM-based RISC processor that runs the Android operating system or a unit with an Intel-Architecture processor that runs the Windows 8.1 operating system.

Sony has taken another path for a convertible tablet which is known as the VAIO Fit Series. These 13” and 15” computers work in a similar manner to the Lenovo Yoga convertibles where they can fold the keyboard outwards to become a tablet. This hasn’t been seen as a way to displace the Duo slider-convertible design as shown with the VAIO Duo 11.. As well, Sony have launched the VAIO Tap 11 which is a Windows 8.1 tablet that uses a magnetic detachable keyboard and is claimed to be the world’s thinnest Windows 8 tablet coming in at 9.9mm thick. Like the Duo that I reviewed, this also implements the Full HD display which is said to be a benefit for photos and movies alike.

Lenovo have also pitched newer or refreshed computers in the Yoga and Flex lineup of convertible tablet-notebook computers. Infact Lenovo’s latest ThinkPad Yoga has given the convertible Ultrabook form-factor some “balls” by being something that can do most computing tasks very adeptly rather than being a second-rate performer. This is due to it being kitted out with some serious horsepower in the form of the Haswell graphics chipset and an i7 processor.

Acer have even provided the  the Aspire P3 Ultrabook which is an 11.6” detachable-keyboard tablet and has today’s expectations for performance and storage for this class of computer. They also have launched the Aspire R7 which is a 15” convertible in a similar vein to the Dell XPS 12 but uses a pedestal-type arm as the support for the screen and is one of the few 15” mainstream laptops to be in the form of a convertible touch-operated computer.

Samsung, not to be outdone had launched the Ativ Q which is a slider convertible tablet  with a variable angle. But this unit is a dual-boot design capable of being operated on Windows 8 or Android operating systems.

Regular tablet computers

Of course, Samsung have launched a regular 10” Android tablet in the form of the Galaxy Note 10.1 which is implementing the Android 4.3 operating system. Thomson have returned to the personal IT fold by releasing the TO7 and TO8 Android tablets which have four-core processors and IPS LCD screens and is amongst a number of personal computing equipment including a laptop computer.

The adaptive all-in-one takes hold

They also released the VAIO Tap 21 which is really a current-generation “refresh” of the previously-reviewed VAIO Tap 20. This machine has been answered by a few other “adaptive all-in-one” models including the Panasonic ToughPad UT-M85 which implements a 4K display.

HP have also taken another spin on the “adaptive all-in-one” design by releasing the Envy Recline series of all-in-one computers. These are like a regular all-in-one computer with the pedestal but can be laid flat to be like a tablet rather than the separate tablet with integrated kickstand.

Toshiba have also pitched their detachable-keyboard hybrid tablet answer to the HP X2 family with a Satellite 30t and a Satellite 30dt which will also be known as the Satellite Click. These will have a 13.1” display. There is also the Encore which is an 8” tablet kitted out with Windows 8.1. The Satellite (Pro) N810 family of subnotebooks will have touchscreen on some models but also will be kitted out with today’s laptop computing expectations.

The rise of the smartwatch

The digital watch of the 80s returns with a vengeance

During the time when “Footloose”, “Holiday”, “Flashdance…What A Feeling”, “The Reflex” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” were hot on the mix-tapes, or when the “A-Team” or “Knight Rider” were on the TV; the thing to be seen with on your wrist was a digital watch where the more functions it had, the better it was. Sometimes, you invoked curiosity and a bit more if you were seen “jabbing” side of that watch to “pull up” the various functions.

Now these digital watches have returned with a vengeance in the form of the smartwatch which Samsung, Sony and a few others were premiering. These watches use a touchscreen to switch between the functions which are presented in the form of apps that can be loaded to these watches. They work hand in glove with your smartphone or tablet by making use of a Bluetooth link, serving as an extension display and control surface for the mobile device.

Samsung’s watch is in the form of the Galaxy Gear which works with the Galaxy Note 3 phablet and Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet but there is expected to be a software update that will make it work with other Samsung Galaxy phones like the S3 and the S4. It uses a Super AMOLED touchscreen as its man control surface and has an integrated microphone, speaker and band-mounted camera. Its stainless-steel band doesn’t just come in the natural finish but in different colours.

For that matter, Qualcomm are selling the Toq smartwatch which has been described as a “spitting image” of the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch.

Sony had launched the second-generation of their smartwatch which is simply known as the “Smartwatch 2”. This doesn’t have the microphone, speaker or camera but can last for 4 days compared to 1 day with the Samsung before needing to be charged up. It also uses NFC-based “touch-and-go” setup and can work with most Android phones.

Digital cameras

The IFA also has been a chance for Sony to launch the DSC-RX100 II which is the successor to the ‘RX100, considered to be one of the top dogs when it came to small digital cameras.

For Sony, it also became the point to launch an API which allows Wi-Fi-based control of their Wi-Fi-capable digital cameras from computers, smartphones and tablets. This allowed for functionality such as remote shutter release / movie start-stop, remote viewfinder, exposure configuration and other photography aspects as well as the ability to download the images from your camera via the Wi-Fi network.

Sony has also mad 4K UHDTV digital videography affordable for the serious hobbyist or the small video studio who videos corporate, school or family events like weddings by offering a camcorder affordable to these kind of users’ pockets. This is in the form of the FDR-AX1 which has what is needed to get in to 4K recording. It uses XQD memory cards, a noninterchangeable 20x zoom lens and a 1/2.3″ sensor and records with the XAVC S codec which will be available down the line with most desktop-video software.

Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and NFC in the personal-technology space

NFC “touch-and-go” technology has become increasingly relevant as a data-transfer technology for personal health and wellbeing thanks to Plus Prevention. Here, they had released the TapCheck range of personal medical devices such as blood glucose meters, blood pressure monitors and a pedometer that can transfer their data to your NFC-capable Android smartphone which runs one of two companion apps. The data can be sent onwards via email or SMS to your health-care providers or family members. The goal that Plus Prevention had with these devices is that the technology is on a level playing field to be available to everybody.

As for the trend with small speakers for use with personal IT equipment, these either connect via Bluetooth as an A2DP Profile audio device or connect via the home network or, in some cases, a local Wi-Fi access point created by the speaker itself using Apple AirPlay or DLNA. Most, if not all, of the Bluetooth-enabled speakers will come with NFC “touch-and-go” paring and connection.

Another key trend is the emphasis on “app-cessories”. This is where a device that exhibits connectivity with a smartphone or tablet through Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or even USB-wired exploits this connectivity through the use of a manufacturer-developed app. I will be covering this in the next article on Internationaler Funkaustellung 2013.

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802.11ac for smartphones shown in an HTC Android phone

Article

Extended battery life with 802.11ac | Wi-Fi Alliance

My Comments

HTC have announced the next “refresh” of their One Android smartphone is to be equipped for 802.11ac 5GHz Wi-Fi segments. Plus there is some talk of other manufacturers fielding similarly-equipped smartphones for the up-and-coming Mobile World Congress that is to occur in Barcelona, Spain.

But, as with 802.11n, these phones will implement a single-stream variant of the technology. The reason why this is to be is because the digital signal processing required for handling a multi-stream signal required for these “MIMO-capable” systems is very taxing on the device’s battery runtime as has been explained in the article.

There will still be a significant data throughput and bandwidth bonus offered by these devices and, of course, smartphones that are equipped for 802.11ac will work with 802.11n networks on either the 2.4GHz or the 5GHz bands. This could really open up the 5GHz band for more of the handheld devices and legitimise its place in the creation of Wi-Fi segments.

A reality that is often missed with 5GHz is the fact that this band is like traditional FM radio on the 88-108MHz waveband compared to traditional AM radio on the 540-1600khz waveband. As I have observed even from childhood, it was feasible to pick up the AM stations over very long distances, even to the country areas while FM stations could be heard within the main urban areas. In some cases, a few AM stations with very low frequencies effectively covered the state of Victoria in Australia with a strong signal.

In this case, I would notice that access points operating on the 5GHz band used for 802.11n and 802.11ac will have shorter coverage areas compared to those on the 2.4GHz band for 802.11n. This will manifest in some situations where one router may cover a suburban block yet you may have to add a 5GHz range extender or access point with a wired backbone for the same coverage or the same router may have to use a stronger 5GHz antenna.

On the other hand, this band may allow for better handling of dense living areas like apartment blocks, but would require all Wi-Fi devices to support it in order to gain this benefit.

Who knows what this means for the evolution of the Wi-Fi wireless local area network especially as it is also considered as an offload companion to the 3G or 4G mobile broadband service?

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A Bluetooth audio adaptor that can run for 8 hours courtesy of LG

Article

LG outs diminutive Bluetooth headset with 8 hours of battery life

My Comments

I use the previously-reviewed Nokia BH-111 Bluetooth headphone audio adaptor with my Samsung Galaxy Note II Android smartphone so I can use a pair of ordinary headphones as a Bluetooth headset for that phone.

With this device, I can be able to get effectively a few hours of door-to-door music listening and perhaps a half-hour phone conversation out of this adaptor before it says it is out of battery life. But LG have upped the ante on these Bluetooth headphone audio adaptors by just releasing one that can have a net runtime of 8 hours before it needs charging. Like the Nokia BH-111, these will come with a pair of earphones but you could use any headphones, active speakers, line-level connection or cassette adaptor with them to convert the headphones to a Bluetooth headset or make a Bluetooth handsfree setup out of the active speakers or home / car music system.

Here, this could allow for service as an add-on in-vehicle handsfree that connects to a car stereo but can survive a long road trip, or to work with a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to entertain you through a long-haul flight. Even just spending the day out and about on the bike, walking long distances or making heavy use of public transport and having your smartphone play music through this device won’t have you worry about the device complaining of low batteries before you get home.

The same situation also extends to using the LG Bluetooth audio adaptor to work with TVs, home-theatre systems, games consoles and the like for a long viewing or gaming time without the fear of the audio adaptor or headset “giving out” in the midst of a game or movie. Of course, this device would work to the best with Bluetooth 3.0 setups and implement the aptX audio codec for best results with devices that support that codec.

It is also an example of the effort being put in to Bluetooth and other wireless technologies to have a device like this run for a long time in an interactive manner before it needs charging.

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Serious challenges to Apple from the Windows and Android front

Article

Sony Vaio Pro 13 Ultrabook v Apple MacBook Air For Photographers

My Comments

Previously, Apple had a stronghold on computing for the creative industries with most of their Macintosh computers. This was even since the Macintosh platform was launched where these computers with their graphical-user-interface being run alongside a laser printer brought in the concept of desktop publishing.

Similarly, they had a few years cornering the mobile computing platform with their iPhone and iPad devices. It also included capturing the premium “stylish computing” market with their MacBook Air and, in some cases, the MacBook Pro laptops.

Now a few computing devices and platforms are challenging Apple in a lot of these fronts. Over the last year, Samsung, HTC and Sony have fielded some very impressive highly-capable smartphones that have put the iPhone on notice like the Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4. These phones also show an impressive “cool” style about them as well as the phones being able to take as good an image as an Apple iPhone.

As for mobile tablets, the 7” coat-pocket tablets like the Google Nexus 7 have created a distinct market niche which Apple couldn’t successfully fill with the right device. Similar, Sony had tendered the XPeria Z which has come close to competing with the iPad as far as 10” tablets are concerned.

HP Envy 15-3000 Series laptop

HP Envy 15-3000 Series Beats Edition multimedia laptop

Over the last few years, there have been a number of laptops and notebooks that have answered the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air in many ways. For example, the HP Envy 15-3000 which I previously reviewed provided a construction look and feel that is very close to the MacBook Pro series of laptops. Lately, Sony fielded the VAIO Pro 13 which is a Windows 8 Ultrabook that has been described in a review by “The Age” as having a photo-grade display and is capable of answering a similar-size MacBook Air as a portable workflow computer for a professional photographer. Here, this one implemented a highly-controllable Full HD display which was able to yield the proper colour temperature for photography.

Toshiba Satellite P870 desktop-replacement laptop Harman-Kardon speakers

Harman-Kardon speakers to give this laptop full sound

As well, companies who have a strong presence in the recording and reproduction of music are becoming involved in the quest for improved sound quality in Windows-based laptops. Examples of these include Beats by Dr Dre working with HP to provide improved sound for HP Envy laptops; premium Toshiba laptops being equipped with Harman-Kardon speakers and ASUS laptops having Bang & Olufsen sound tuning. Who knows what would be happening soon with even the conversion of audio signals between the digital and analogue domains being worked on so as to provide a line-level sound quality equal to or better than the Apple MacBook Pro.

Of course, the Windows and Android equipment have supported an “open-frame” operating environment for both the hardware and software where common standards set by industry groups have been respected. For example, the Android smartphones use MicroUSB as a power / data connection, it is easier for users to gain access to the files held on their Windows or Android devices, and users can integrate an Android or Windows device to a Wi-Fi wireless network at the touch of a button using WPS setup.

What I do see is that regular and mobile computing is swinging from Apple being considered the “cool kid” for both these applications to a situation where they are considered a has-been.

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Gadget List–Essential smartphone and tablet accessories

You have just bought that new smartphone or tablet and want to make sure it is complete when it comes to accessories. These are about charging that “do-it-all” device up or running it from external power; connecting the device to other devices like speakers or car stereos; or simply allowing you to operate your device safely and protecting it from unnecessary damage.

Power supply

Each charger should have at least one USB Type-A socket so you can connect the smartphone, tablet or other mobile device to it via its USB data cord. Some devices that use a DC plug or other connection form can be connected to these chargers using a USB power-adaptor cable which may come with the charger or can be picked up as an accessory.

As for power capacity, I would recommend using a charger that works at 2.1 amps if you are using a tablet or are likely to charge two or more devices at once. It is also worth noting that you can use a charger as a way of powering the phone or tablet in a manner to conserve battery runtime. This comes in handy when you are, for example, using your phone for navigation or music as you drive or using a smartphone as a network access point.

AC-USB charger

AC USB charger

AC-USB charger

You never can have too many of these chargers especially if you need to top up a phone or tablet that is always running out of juice or being used heavily.

The small USB chargers can be useful as part of a small accessory bag that you take with you when you travel, even as you go out and about. Similarly, there are the USB chargers that have an integrated AC socket as well as the USB sockets. These are very handy if you come across situations where lamps and appliances are constantly unplugged by people wanting to charge up their smartphones or tablets or run these devices at home without compromising their battery runtime.

On the other hand, a self-powered USB hub with its power supply can serve as an AC-USB charger for up to four or seven devices.

Cigar-lighter-USB car charger

USB car charger

USB car charger which plugs in to a vehicle’s cigar-lighter socket

The USB car chargers that plug in to a vehicle’s cigar-lighter socket can be very handy whether you drive a vehicle or not. In some cases, they can come in very handy with other accessories that work on the same voltage such as Bluetooth audio adaptors and most of these are as big as a thumbnail thus not occupying much space in your accessory bag.

External battery pack

USB external battery pack

USB external battery pack

These accessories come in two forms – a rechargeable battery pack that is charged by a USB connection or a battery holder that takes two to four AA batteries and converts the power from the batteries to USB power for your phone.

There are variants of this device that are designed for the older Apple iPhones which use the legacy 30-pin dock connector. Here, these units can be charged from an Apple-compliant dock and be clipped on to the iPhone they are to power. Further variants of this device come in the form of a case that the iPhone sits in rather than a battery pack that clips on to the iPhone.

Similarly, some of the rechargeable battery packs may use an integrated or accessory solar panel to allow you to charge them from the sun. These typically are to allow you to operate your phone independently of the AC power and are sold on an “eco” or “green-living” promise, but they take a long time to charge up fully from the sun and require the charger to see bright sunshine.

Lower-capacity devices may work well for charging up a smartphone once or “boosting” (adding power) to a 5” smartphone or tablet. This is compared to higher-capacity devices which could charge up a smartphone two or three times or a tablet once or twice; or simply be effective in providing “long-run” power to the smartphone or tablet.

It may be worth noticing with some of the rechargeable battery packs that have two or more USB output sockets in that if they are connected to a charger and switched on, they could supply power to two or more devices. This can come in handy if you want to cut down on the number of AC or car chargers you take with you.

Cables

USB data cables

USB data cable

USB data / power cable

This cable is essentially how you get power in to your phone or tablet and it should have a Type A USB connector on one end and the connector that fits your device on the other end. This typically will be a MicroUSB connector for most non-Apple devices, a 30-pin Apple Dock connector for older Apple devices or the small Lightning connector for new Apple devices. You could get by with one or more cables that have the Apple Dock connector and some Dock-Lightning plug adaptors if you have a mix of Apple devices that have the different connectors.

Audio connectivity

For any portable audio device, I consider the following cables as essential to keep with the device:

  • A cable with a 3.5mm stereo mini phone plug at each end
  • A cable with a 3.5mm stereo mini phone plug at one end and two RCA (phono or cinch) plugs at the othe end
  • A cassette adaptor which slots in to car cassette players and connects to your phone or tablet
3.5mm to 3.5mm stereo audio cable

3.5mm to 3.5mm stereo audio cable

The first cable comes in handy with an increasing number of car stereos, home-theatre receivers and other AV devices that use a 3.5mm (1/8”) mini phone jack on the front. This is to allow you to walk up and connect portable audio devices to these units and have them play through the system’s speakers.

3.5mm stereo to 2 RCA plug audio cable for most audio equipment

3.5mm stereo to 2 RCA plug audio cable for most audio equipment

The second cable comes in handy with connecting your phone or tablet to just about every piece of home audio equipment, including some mid-range and higher-end “ghetto blasters” made through the 1980s and 1990s just by using any vacant line-level input i.e. a “tape”, “CD”, “tuner” or “aux” input.

Cassette adaptor

A cassette adaptor that allows you to use your smartphone with a cassette-based car stereo

Some of you may see the cassette adaptor as a dated accessory especially with an Apple iPhone but it still has its place with your smartphone or tablet. For example, you may be using a late-70s / early-80s classic car that is kept “true to its era” and have tracked down and fitted a cassette player or retained the factory-supplied cassette car stereo in the dash of that car to keep the car that way. Similarly, some of you may have kept a cheap old car radio-cassette stereo with that “fast-forward / eject” button in that old car because you are in a risky neighbourhood and a nice car stereo would be asking for a brick through the window. You may also deal with a late-80s or mid-90s car that has an integrated cassette car stereo and you can’t substitute it easily with aftermarket car audio equipment. Here, the cassette adaptor effectively converts the cassette mechanism, hence the cassette slot, in to an auxiliary input through the use of a head mounted in the adaptor that inductively couples with the cassette player’s playback head to pass the sound to the player’s amplification circuitry. This means that even if the mechanism was prone to “chewing” the tape when it played tapes, it can work with these cassette adaptors.

Realistic car stereo radio-cassette (12-1892) - 1981 catalog shot - RadioShackCatalogs.com

With a cassette adaptor, you can play your smartphone or other device through this old car stereo

Other accessories

Removable windscreen mount

Another accessory that I find very important for smartphone users is the removable windscreen mount. Here, this device “grips” the phone and sticks to the windscreen (windshield) using a suction cup so you have the phone in a stable position. This is important when you are using the phone with a good maps app for navigation, as a music player / Internet car radio, or want to be sure whether to answer that incoming call when it rings. The fact that you can remove the removable windscreen mount is important if you need to take your device between cars that don’t have a phone mount, such as rental or borrowed vehicles, or want to conceal the phone mount thus avoiding the chance of your car being broken into.

Bluetooth audio adaptor with microphone.

Nokia BH-111 headphone adaptor connected to headphones

Now these good headphones or other audio device can work as a stereo Bluetooth headset for your smartphone with a Bluetooth audio adaptor

A device that can come in very handy with any smartphone or tablet is a Bluetooth audio adaptor like the Nokia BH-111 or a recently-issued Kogan Bluetooth adaptor. These devices effectively work as Bluetooth handsfree kits by supporting headset or hands-free operating modes as well as the A2DP media-streaming operating mode, but are connected to headphones or external audio equipment for their audio output.

This can be handy with temporary setups where you want handsfree telephony or audio playback through existing equipment such as with home or portable audio equipment or rented or borrowed cars.  For car use, they may be best secured to the middle of the dashboard with double-sided tape or a good amount of Blu-Tack.

A lot of these devices will have an integrated microphone so you can speak to your caller during that call. There may be some good Bluetooth portable-handsfree kits which have an integrated speaker that may also have a 3.5mm stereo mini phone jack as an audio output especially when streaming music content from your device. This kind of setup may feed the Bluetooth Headset / Hands-Free Profile audio to the integrated speaker and the Bluetooth A2DP stereo audio to the external device.

Wraps or covers for your device

Any of the wraps or covers that are available for your particular phone or tablet work well in protecting the device as well as conveying your sense of style to your device. Some can range from a simple vinyl finish to a luxurious leather finish which has that look of that special wallet and, of course, the more you pay the more likely it will last for a long time. But, if you use an NFC-capable Android phone or tablet, you have to make sure that the wrap or cover doesn’t interfere with the NFC functionality. Similarly, you may find your Android device thinking it has cottoned on to an NFC device if you store your “touch-and-go” transport card or security pass in your billfold-style device cover with your device.

Conclusion

When you equip your smartphone or tablet with these accessories, you have the ability to gain more flexibility out of your mobile device. This is whether to avoid compromising your device’s battery runtime or have your device highly available; or to make it work with a wide range of computer or audio equipment; or simply be able to use the device safely and protect it from damage.

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Smartphone cameras and compact digital cameras–how I see them

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Smartphone Cameras v Point And Shoot Digital Cameras | Photography

My Comments

Often we think of the cameras that are integrated in the typical smartphones as competing with the traditional compact digital cameras. Typically the smartphone and tablet cameras win out on integration in to the device we carry around frequently and immediate access to the online world for sharing what we have taken, whereas the compact cameras, especially those modelled on the 35mm compact camera, win out on the body shape, optics, sensor and electronics being tuned for the act of photography.

Taking images further

The main obstacle was taking the images that you took with the camera further using mobile-computing apps and Web sites. This is to do things like “throw” a copy of that image you took to the subject for them to take further or simply to share that image with your friends via Flickr, Picasa or Facebook.

Some newer trends have occurred where the cameras have been equipped with Wi-Fi wireless, Bluetooth or integrated wireless broadband in order to facilitate sharing of images held on the camera. The connection is augmented with front-end apps for image-sharing, cloud-storage and social-network services installed on the camera. There are even a few cases of digital cameras which have the Android mobile operating system as their operating system, with access to the same Google Play app store as you would have on an Android smartphone. This setup allows one to use the apps that exist for the Android platform such as the Dropbox and Facebook mobile front-ends with these cameras.

It is to mitigate the common situation where images have to be downloaded to a computer before they can be shared, whether through the camera being “tethered” to that computer or one removing the “film” i.e. the memory card from the camera and inserting it in the computer.

On the other hand, those of us who have newer Android smartphones and tablets could use a USB “On The Go” cable and either the camera’s USB cable or a card reader to “get at” the images we took with our cameras. Similarly Apple sells an iPad accessory kit which offers this similar function for the iOS devices.

Similarly, cameras that work with the “Eye-Fi” cards can allow you to share the images to your smartphone or tablet so you can take them further with the apps on these devices. They could utilise mobile NAS units of the likes of the Seagate GoFlex Satellite or the Kingston Wi-Drive as extra storage for the images and footage.

How I see this

I see the compact digital cameras existing as a way for those of us who value good-quality images to take these images on the go, including working as an auxiliary camera for big-time photographers.

Whereas the smartphone cameras would work more like the entry-level “quick-snap” cameras of the ilk of the Kodak Instamatics, the Polaroid instant-film cameras and the fixed-focus entry-level 35mm cameras where the goal is simply to grab a quick snapshot of the moment. They would also serve as a tool to create images they can refer to when doing tasks such as dismantling an item or grabbing reference numbers.

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