Category: Product Review

Product Review – Hewlett-Packard Photosmart Wireless network multifunction printer

B109n I am reviewing the Hewlett-Packard B109n Photosmart Wireless network multifunction printer which is HP’s latest entry in to the basic network-enabled consumer multifunction printer market. It is based on their basic HP Photosmart printer, but has 802.11g WPA2 WPS wireless networking added to it.

The Photosmart Wireless is a piano-black machine with a very small LCD mounted at an angle on the left of the unit. The display has touch-buttons that light up in a “pinball-machine” fashion to provide an operation experience similar to most automatic-teller machines. This is with buttons placed on the edge of the screen and whatever the button does is indicated on the display screen.

HP Photosmart Wireless display

Control panel

Setup

The setup experience is typical for many consumer multifunction printers, where you have to install drivers from a CD-ROM supplied with the printer. You can download the software from HP’s website if you want to make sure the printer works with the latest drivers for your operating system, and will have to do so for Windows 7 systems.

Loading ink cartridges

 

This printer has been improved as far as access to its interior is concerned. When you open it up to load ink cartridges, you don’t need to operate any catch to release the lid. As well, the lid stays open and wide without the need to work with any stays or levers to prop it up, which is also of benefit for people who are short-sighted

There is no need to apply any extra pressure to remove or install any of the ink cartridges, which I consider important for older people or people who have arthritis or similar limitations.

4 ink cartridges that are easy to load

This printer uses one cartridge per colour, which allows you to replace the colours that you need to replace when they run out. This is compared to an inefficient practice older colour inkjet printers where you replace a “colour” cartridge if any of the colours run out. It can work with a standard cartridge or, a large-capacity cartridge which is available at a slight price premium over; and you can choose to run with either of these types for each of the colours.

Network capability and setup

B109n connected only to power

Only cable connected to printer is the power cable

There is the ability for this printer to support “push-button” or “PIN-number” setup from its control panel if you have a WPS-enabled Wi-Fi network. On the other hand, you have to connect it to a host PC and run the software on the CD-ROM to set it up to work with a Wi-Fi network.

The printer doesn’t have an Ethernet port, so that puts other network technologies like regular Ethernet or HomePlug powerline out of the picture. This may not be an issue with typical wooden or brick-veneer suburban homes where you can receive Wi-Fi everywhere from one router, but can be an issue with older double-brick homes or larger homes.

As far as network functionality is concerned, you can print or scan via the network. There isn’t a “wake-up” arrangement which allows you to bring the printer out of low-power mode from any network-connected computer. Therefore you have to make sure that the printer is fully on when you want to start printing or scanning.

Printing

There were no major hassles involved with printing documents, which it was able to do very quickly. I even ran a “pressure-test” print of one of the HP manuals for this unit from HP’s website to see how it can handle a large printing job like a school assignment or large report. It was able to allow 30 pages to “pile up” on the paper tray without causing reliability problems. As well, I was able to replenish the paper supply and continue printing by using the unit’s controls and without having to go back to the host computer when it ran out of paper.

This reliability has been provided for because Hewlett-Packard had stuck to the same kind of inkjet printing mechanism for their desktop inkjet printers ever since they released the original Deskjet in 1988.

For photographic work, the unit worked well with keeping the colour balance and flesh tones right. Infact it didn’t “over-saturate” pictures even when a person who was in the picture had a reddish complexion. It still took its time to print the photographic images because of the requirements of that job.

It can also print from camera cards including SDHC camera cards, and can print DPOF print orders that you set using your camera’s user interface. It still has the usual limitations of requiring the card to stay in the slot during printing, which can be a limitation when you want to grab more “moments” while the unit is printing your pictures.

Scanning

The printer can scan documents and images, whether direct-connected or network-connected. If you want to start the scanning job from the printer’s control panel, you will need to make sure that you select the desired computer to send the job to. This is determined by whichever computers have the HP software installed on them.

I have scanned some 35mm prints using this machine, including some pictures of people and the printer’s scanner was able to reproduce the pictures properly. This included a picture that I took with people who had different complexions and this kind of scenario could be a trial for some scanners.

The Photosmart Wireless printer took around 15 seconds to copy an A4 page, no matter whether the unit was to make a colour or monochrome copy of that page. This would still make the printer suitable as a convenience copier for most households.

Fit and finish

This printer is finished in that “gloss piano black” look that makes it appeal to home use. This would be more of an advantage with rooms where the furniture is primarily a “dark wood” finish or a finish similar to that lacquered-black grand piano. The only disadvantage with this finish is that it attracts fingermarks too quickly.

There is still that sense of sturdiness that is common with good-quality printers with everything snapping in to place in an assured manner.

Advantages

It is easy to perform routine maintenance tasks on this printer like replacing ink cartridges because there isn’t much effort required to open the lid or remove and install the cartridges. As I have said before, this is important for those with weaker hands like older people.

The printer is very quick at most of the routine tasks that you would expect it to do. It also has the hallmarks of Hewlett-Packard’s build quality and reliability that they have been known for.

The software isn’t likely to get in the way of your computing tasks or place unnecessary burdens on your computer’s performance. Infact, the only way it makes its presence felt is to inform you of your print-job status or to accept scanned documents or images if you start the scan from the printer’s control panel.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

One main limitation is that you have to connect the unit to a computer running supplied software via USB for it to work with Wi-Fi network segments that don’t use WPS configuration. It cannot be used with wireless networks that use WPA-Enterprise security, nor does it have an Ethernet socket for use with other networking technologies. These particular limitations are most likely to be typical of a low-end Wi-Fi-enabled consumer multifunction printer.

There isn’t a USB host socket, which rules out the use of the printer for PictBridge printing or printing from USB memory keys. As well, the small display screen may be a hindrance for some people, especially those who have eyesight limitations.

Now that the cost of secondary-storage flash memory is becoming very cheap, manufacturers like Hewlett-Packard could install an extra SDHC card slot or low-capacity flash memory in these printers and use it as a low-capacity “hard disk”. This could permit print-job buffering for memory-card or network print jobs, CD-free setup for USB or network installations and improved network-scanning workflow.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I would recommend buying this printer as an entry-level Wi-Fi network all-in-one printer, especially if you are moving your computing lifestyle towards the “new computing environment”. This is based around a laptop that connects wirelessly to the Internet via a wireless router and is likely to be used around the house. It would also work well as a secondary Wi-Fi network printer for the home such as one that would be placed in the family room while you have the more-expensive unit placed in the study or home office; or as a Wi-Fi network printer for use at a secondary home location like a holiday house or city flat.

For small-business use, this printer could work well as an “away-from-office” multi-purpose printer/scanner where there are occasional small print runs or the need to do “quick copies”. The network ability would only support Wi-Fi network setups that don’t use enterprise-level authentication. This would mean that it can work properly with the typical 3G routers that “edge” temporary networks.

The machine is priced at a “street price” of AUD$129 (obtained from Officeworks advertisement) with original-name (HP Genuine) ink cartridges (part number 564) costing AUD$18.76 for the black and AUD$16.76 for each colour. You can also buy original-name (HP Genuine XL)  “extra-yield” (part number 564XL) cartridges for AUD$51.20 for the black and AUD$29.56 for each colour if you find you do a lot more printing.

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Product Review – Revo Domino Internet table radio (Frontier Internet Radio Platform)

I am reviewing one of Revo’s latest Internet radios – the Domino FM/DAB+/Internet table radio which one of many of the radios appearing in this class.Revo Domino 2

This set comes in a charcoal-grey rubber-textured housing, with a joystick on the front as the main selection control. It also has a knob for selecting between operation modes and another knob to turn the volume up and down. As well, you turn the radio on and off by pressing this knob in a similar manner to most car radios.

The display is in the left “porthole” on the front of the set and is a small OLED display with a similar “off-white” colour to the vacuum-fluorescent displays on most consumer electronics made by Sony and Panasonic.

Revo Domino - display close-up There is an integrated iPod dock that is covered by a removable panel and the set came with Apple-style iPod inserts that work with whichever iPod or iPhone you have.

It also comes with a card-style remote control which, like its stablemate, allows for operation from a distance and allows for direct access to the locally-preset stations.

Setup

This process is similar to most Frontier-platform Internet radios like the Kogan and the Revo iBlik. The set is capable of supporting “quick-setup” with WPS “push-button-setup” routers and is the first one that I have reviewed to offer this method/ But this option isn’t made as part of the Network Setup Wizard, rather you have to go to System Settings – Network menu and select “PBC setup” to instigate this kind of setup.

It is also the first Internet radio that I have reviewed that supports multiple wireless-network profiles (SSID and security-parameter combinations). Here, this set can remember the profiles for the four last-used wireless networks but the user can delete a particular network profile from the list.Revo Domino - remote control

Operation

It works in a manner similar to the other Internet radios that I have tried, with a “mode selector” and heavy use of menus. The unit also supports FM radio with RDS and DAB/DAB+ digital radio for regular RF-based radio service. The aerial for this is a telescopic rod one that is clipped vertically on the back of the unit so you don’t have to unclip it when you just need to extend it upwards.

The set stores 10 preset stations for each “band” – FM, DAB and Internet radio; and you select them by pressing the star button and highlighting the station with the joystick then pressing the joystick to hear it. To set a station as a preset, you press the star button to show preset list, then hold joystick button in until “Preset saved” comes up on display. For Internet radio, this is in addition to the favourite stations that you have identified at the wifiradio-frontier.com Website.

The set works properly with a UPnP AV / DLNA home media network and the transport controls on top of the set allow you to move across the music collection that you are playing.

The set can work as a replacement for the old clock radio in the bedroom. The Alarm button on the front of the set is for enabling different previously-set alarm times when the set is off or to set the alarm times when the set is on. You can set two different alarm times and determine what to wake to – buzzer, FM station, DAB station, Internet station or iPod for each alarm time. Like the iBlik that I reviewed previously, you can set an alarm event to occur on a particular date, every day, every weekday or every weekend. When the alarm sounds. all the buttons on the unit reset the alarm. The joystick works as “snooze button” and repeated pressing of it allows you to extend the snooze time. There is a sleep-off timer that causes the set to stop playing after a known time. but you have to go through the menus to start the sleep timer, something you wouldn’t do if you are very tired and just want to drift off to music.

There is inherent support for the last.fm “personal-music” service which can “learn” your music tastes from music played from your iPod, last.fm’s Internet radio service or a UPnP AV media server.

Sound quality

The Revo Domino is the first Internet radio that I have reviewed to have tone controls. These are found under “Equaliser” option in “System Settings” menu. There are 5 preset tone settings plus a user-determined tone setup – bass, treble and loudness-compensation.

The NXT “dual-radiator” speaker allows for some “punch” in the sound without suffocating the vocals when music is played. It also reproduces speech very clearly and the set can put up a significantly loud volume without distorting. This can be of benefit if you need to use it in noisy environments.

This unit has the similar output level to most radios of its kind, enough to fill a reasonably-size room with easily–identifiable music and can compete with the noise emitted by typical kitchen appliances.

Points for improvement

There are a few places where the Revo Domino could be improved.

One is that the OLED display could be made a bit larger. This could improve its useability, especially if the user doesn’t have good eyesight, which may be common with senior citizens.

It also could benefit from having a headphone jack installed, which can cater for late-night listening or for playing it through an active speaker system.

Conclusion and placement notes

Beyond the above-mentioned limitations associated with a small display and the lack of a headphone jack, there isn’t anything much else that I could fault this set on.

Here, I would recommend that the Revo Domino be best sold as a “step-up” Internet radio / iPod-dock combination for use in the kitchen, office, workshop, or small shop. It can also work well as a clock radio even though you have to go in to the Main Menu to set the alarm or enable the sleep timer.

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Product Review – Kaspersky Internet Security 2010

This is my first Internet-security product review for this blog and this product class is a very competitive one, now that there are free “home edition” or “entry edition” programs being offered to Windows platform users from the likes of AVG, Avast and Microsoft. Kaspersky has been known to offer a line of affordable desktop and network security programs that have been built on a strong security platform and this program is no exception.

Installation and Use

The installation went ahead very smoothly and was able to draw attention to a clash between this program and my prior setup which was Windows Firewall as the desktop firewall solution and Avast Home Edition as the anti-malware solution, and offered to uninstall Avast Home Edition before installing itself.

Kaspersky - dashboard

Kaspersky's main operating console

The main software dashboard has a “traffic-light” bar at the top which glows green for a safe environment, yellow for situations that need your attention and red for dangerous environments. It uses a tabbed interface which can show information that pertains to particular aspects of the program. This dashboard can be minimised to a “red K” indicator located in the System Notification Area on the Taskbar and ends up being relative unobtrusive. If it needs to draw your attention, a coloured “pop-up” message shows near that area. You don’t even see “splash screens” when the program starts during the system’s boot cycle, unlike what happens with Norton AntiVirus and other computer-security software delivered as “crapware” with many Windows computers.

Kaspersky - notification bar

Notification Tray icon

The program does download many updates through the day because of the nature of the computer-security threats that evolve too quickly. This is typically indicated with a “globe” symbol underneath the “red K” indicator when the program is minimised to the System Notification Area.

Performance

Kaspersky’s performance under a “full-scan” situation is typical for may desktop computer-security applications because this involves reading files from the computer’s hard disk which is competitive with applications that need use of the hard disk. It had highlighted a password-protected executable file as a risk because of the fact that this can become a way of concealing malware.

The software’s “behind-the-scenes” behaviour can impinge on system performance if you are doing anything that is graphic intensive. But there is an option to have the program concede resources to other computing tasks.

Kaspersky - Gaming profile

Gaming Profile option

The program also has options available for optimising its behaviour to particular situations. For example, there is an option to disable scheduled scans when a laptop computer is running on batteries and a “gaming mode” which reduces its presence and can disable scheduled scans and updates when you are playing a full-screen game or video and you don’t want the program to interrupt you.

From what I have observed, Kaspersky does a very good job at maintaining a “sterile zone” for your computer. For example, if you plug in a USB memory key, the program will scan the memory key for malware. This is important with malware like the Conficker worm that has been attacking Windows computers and creeping on to USB memory keys.

Privacy protection and security options

There is an optional on-screen virtual keyboard that works against keystroke loggers which capture data from the hardware keyboard.It may not be a defence against keystroke loggers that capture the character stream that is received by an application or software that records on-screen activity.

There is also an anti-banner-ad module which may appeal only to those who “hear no ads, see no ads, speak no ads”. I wouldn’t use this for most Web browsing activities and you still need to be careful that you run only one “pop-up blocker” at a time. I would rather that this can be used to filter advertising that is used for “fly-by-night” offers.

The e-mail protection does work with Windows Live Mail but, if you want to run it as an anti-spam solution for any e-mail client, you have to have it list your mail on a separate screen so you can tell which mail is which. This feature may be useless if you are running multiple other anti-spam measures such as a spam filter integrated in to your mail client or provided as part of your email service.

Desktop content filter

I do have a personal reservation about desktop-based “parental-control” programs because these programs only control the content that arrives at the computer that they run on. This may be OK for situations where the Internet access is primarily on the general-purpose computer that they run on. It doesn’t suit an increasingly-real environment where Internet access is being done on other terminals such as smartphones, multifunction Internet devices, games consoles, and Internet-enabled TVs. Here, I would prefer a “clean feed” that is provided as an option in the Internet service or the content-filtering software to be installed in a very fast router. The desktop filter can work well if a computer is taken to places like hotspots that don’t provide a filtered Internet service.

The content control is also limited to few categories such as the “usual suspects” (porn, gambling, drugs, violence, weapons, explicit language). There isn’t the ability to filter on “hatred” and “intolerance” sites which may be a real issue in today’s world, although the weapons and violence categories may encompass some of that material. I would like to see more granular filtering to suit different age groups and needs.

Nice to have

A feature that this program could have is management of interface to UPnP IGD routers. This could include identifying port-forward requests by applications and checking that these port-forward requests are destroyed when the application is stopped. This could include destroying port-forward requests when the application crashes or clearing all port-forward requests when the system starts so as to clean up port-forwarding “holes” left when a UPnP-enabled application or the system crashes. This is because I have noticed port-forward settings being left standing when an instant-messaging application, game or similar UPnP-enabled application crashes and the router’s UPnP port-forward list has settings from these prior sessions still open. This can provide various back door opportunities to exist for hackers and botnets to operate.

Macintosh users are looked after by Kaspersky through the “Kaspersky AntiVirus For Mac” program which provides virus protection for that platform. It doesn’t provide the full Internet security options that this program has to offer but there may be a desktop firewall built in to MacOS X which can protect against Internet hacks.

As far as the desktop content filter is concerned, I would like to see increased filtering options like an option to filter out “hatred” / “intolerance” sites; and “games and sports” for business needs. There should also be the ability to set up granular filtering options to suit different user needs.

Conclusion

This program may be a valid option for those of us who want to pay for “that bit more” out of our computer security software and want to go beyond the operating-system-standard desktop firewall and the free anti-virus programs like AVG and Avast.

Statement of benefit: I have been provided with the 3-computer 2-year subscription which is worth AUD$159.95 including GST (street price $84 including GST) as a complementary product in order for me to review it.

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Product Review – Pure Evoke Flow portable Internet radio (Frontier Internet Radio Platform)

Pure Evoke Flow This radio that I am reviewing is the top-end network-enabled model of Pure’s popular Evoke series of DAB digital portable radios. All of the models have different functionality but a very similar style, with an oval-shaped accent encompassing the speaker and control area. The lower-end units have a wood cabinet and a plastic front panel which is varied according to the model.

Description

This particular unit has a gloss-black finish with a large yellow OEL bit-map display and knobs for the volume and tuning controls. Other functions are operated using touch buttons that are lit up in yellow where applicable. This is intended to make the set look more classy, especially with the “piano-black” finish.

OEL display on Pure Evoke Flow The OEL or “organic electroluminescent” display is based upon the displayed letters and segments needing the power to light up rather than the LCD display being dependent on a backlight to be easily visible. This is similar to what is used on my Nokia N85 phone reviewed in the blog and is very appropriate as a display method for devices that work on low power. I even refer to the OEL display as the “vacuum fluorescent display” for battery-operated devices because of the fact that the display yields the same brightness and contrast as the typical self-illuminating vacuum fluorescent display often used as a user-information display on VCRs, DVD players, home theatre receivers and similar equipment but doesn’t chew through the batteries to achieve that aim.

The Evoke Flow, like the rest of the Pure Evoke range of radios, is capable of operating as a two-piece stereo set when you purchase and use the optional matching external speaker. Similarly, this radio, like the rest of the Evoke range, can be used as a battery-powered portable radio when you buy a Pure rechargeable battery pack from the same retailer that you bought the set. These accessories haven’t come with my review sample, so I won’t be able to assess how it works with these accessories.

Features

As well as its Internet-radio and network media player functionality, this set is also capable of receiving DAB+ digital radio and FM radio with RDS RadioText.

For connectivity, it also has a 3.5mm auxiliary input jack for playing music from an iPod or portable CD player and a 3.5mm line-out jack for use with external amplifiers or recording devices. There is also a 3.5mm headphone socket as well as the socket for the accessory stereo speaker. All these connections are located on the back of the set, in a similar manner to the Kogan and Revo Internet radios reviewed in this blog. I have always preferred these sets to have the headphone jack located on the front panel of the set, or at least on the side, to permit “walk-up” headphone use where you didn’t have to move the set to plug in a pair of headphones which are used on an ad-hoc basis. This is a practice I have often seen with most portable audio equipment I have seen and used through the 1970s and 1980s.

Pure do supply an iPod dock as an optional accessory for this radio but it doesn’t have a power input connector so the iPod can be run on external power while playing through the radio. Instead, I would use the Apple Universal Dock or an iPod dock with a USB, Apple Dock or DC socket so that I can connect an external power supply to the iPod or iPhone that is in the dock.

The set can connect to the home network and the Internet via a 802.11g WiFi network segment but this network can be secured to WEP, WPA-PSK or WPA2-Personal standards. This is the same for other Internet radios, which also means it can’t log in to a “corporate-standard” WPA(2)-Enterprise network or a wireless hotspot that uses Web-based authentication.

An improvement I would like to see on the setup when it comes to enrolling the set with a WiFi network would be to allow it to keep configuration details for multiple networks. This is more so because this radio is an easily-portable design and capable of working on batteries. thus could be taken between locations at a moment’s notice.

It can also stream audio from DLNA-compliant media servers like TwonkyMedia Manager or Windows Media Player (Windows Media Connect) or most NAS units.

The unit has the built-in Internet radio directory but benefits more if you associate it to the Pure Lounge portal. Here you benefit from facilities like persistent Internet radio presets and extra content. The Lounge service also provides background sound-effect loops like waves for situations where a sound-effect loop is needed. Such applications may include having the sound of waves to help you drift off to sleep or the sound of thunderstorms to help in getting a dog used to thunderclaps. This also includes a reference tone set representing the strings of a guitar for use when tuning your guitar.

Use

When you use the Internet radio, you can browse a worldwide directory of all the stations registered with Pure’s Internet-radio directory or use a “form-based” search to narrow down the list. Here, when you touch the “Search” option, you see a form and select the attribute to filter the list by. This can be by “Genre”, “Country”, “Availability”, and “Bit Rate”. Then you press the Tuning knob to set the attribute’s value. After that, you touch the “Go” option to see your reduced selection. This is different to the Kogan and Revo radios where you went through a menu tree to select the Internet-radio station that you want.

Unlike the Kogan and Revo radios, there isn’t a row of preset buttons for allocating favourite stations. Instead, you select the “Favourite stations” which is marked with a heart symbol to go to your preset list and browse through the preset list and press the Tuning knob to play that station. When you listen to a station that you want to add to the list, you touch the “Add to Favourites” option to set it in your preset list.

The set can work as a DLNA music player but you can only play the content by using the set’s controls rather than over the network using software like TwonkyMedia Manager.

FM tuning is based on a “seek by default” method so that when you turn the knob, the radio finds the next strongest signal. The DAB function is based on selecting from a list of stations sorted by alphabetic order. There is a “trim station list” option for clearing up dead station entries, which is handy if you move the set between cities or the DAB multiplexes are being reorganised.

Sound and Useability

The set sounds more “soft and rich” compared to most small portable radios, including the Kogan and the Revo, but has a similar sound output level. Like the other Internet radios I have reviewed, there isn’t a tone control, whether as an easily accessible control or within the menus.

The OLED display is much more legible than the typical LCD display found on most Internet radios and is a bit too bright for night-time use. There is the option to dim the display or to have the display dark whenever the set is turned off. The clock display is large enough for easy reading across a room. Even if you dim the display, it is still legible, which can be a bonus if you have the set in your bedroom as a clock radio or have it in a hall or other room and still like the clock display to work as a “nightlight”.

Fit and finish

The set’s fit and finish represent a high-quality product that is enjoyable to use. The knobs even have a feel associated with you operating a piece of quality equipment. The main limitation with the black gloss finish is that it could harbour fingermarks too easily and you may have to wipe those off frequently.

The telescopic aerial that you need to use for FM or DAB reception is much different from what I have seen in use on most portable radios that I have used. Here, this set, like a National Panasonic RX-C52 “ghetto blaster” that I have had once,  has a dedicated screw for anchoring the aerial. This will definitely make it easier the user to buy and fit a replacement aerial if this aerial is damaged, as is common with a lot of portable radios that I have seen and used. Good marks to Pure for realising what often happens with many portable radios and making the aerial easy to replace on their Evoke radios.

Points of improvement

The Pure Evoke Flow isn’t a perfect portable digital / Internet radio and needs a few points of improvement for its product class. One would be for Pure to release a cheaper “junior model” in the “Evoke Flow” line that has a finish similar to the rest of the Evoke series and uses a two-line alphanumeric display rather than a bitmap display.

As far as connectivity is concerned, I would at least like to see the headphone socket located up front or on the side to allow “walk-up” headphone use. For battery use, there could be the possibility of the set working on any of the “regular battery sizes” i.e. AA, C or D through the use of an add-on battery module that takes these batteries, so that one can use these commonly-available “Duracell” or “Energizer” batteries with the radio.

The wireless-network connectivity could be improved through support for WPS “quick-setup” and / or the ability to work with multiple networks to suit its nature as a portable radio. The set could provide information that is necessary for enrolment to the “Lounge” portal on the display through a set-up option.

Conclusion

The set’s “piano-black” look will appeal to people who like a “classy look” for their Internet radio solution. This would typically encompass a lot of office users, especially professionals. It may also look the part with a home office or on a shelf in that classy kitchen. But it can definitely work very well as a “floater” portable Internet radio that can be taken around the house as required because of the light size and integrated handle. The fact that the handle doubles as a snooze bar may make the set appeal as a clock radio, although you have to descend through menus to set or enable the alarm clock, sleep timer or countdown timer.

The set’s display would be suitable for people with limited eyesight and the fact that you use knobs to adjust the volume and select stations may make the set appeal to mature and older users who are more comfortable with using knobs to select stations or adjust the sound.

The main limitation with this set is that it is significently expensive, usually around AUD$400-600 depending on the retailer.

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Product Review – Kogan Wi-Fi Internet Table Radio with iPod Dock (Frontier Internet Radio Platform)

Overview

Kogan Internet radio

Kogan is an Australia company who are selling good-quality value-priced consumer electronics like LCD TVs in a manner that is considered common in the USA but rare in Australia. It is to sell the goods under their own brand through what used to be known as mail-order. You can buy equipment like this Internet table radio by visiting their Website or calling 1300 304 292.

The set, which is sold direct for $169 excluding delivery but including Australian GST, looks like a mantel radio made during the late 70s just before that style of radio went out of fashion and has a generous-sized front-facing speaker behind a mesh grille. An iPod or a USB memory stick can be connected to sockets installed on the top of the set.

The set is powered from the mains through a small AC adaptor but the adaptor that came with the review sample had something that can be annoying if you were to properly switch it on or off at the wall, because it sticks upwards.

Connectivity

The set has an iPod dock which can work with most of the Apple iPod range; and a USB port for connecting USB memory keys, MP3 players and other devices that present themselves as USB Mass-Storage Devices. This port may be better placed on the front or back of the radio so as to avoid dust, crumbs and other nasties falling in to the set and causing unreliable operation with USB devices.

It also has a 3.5mm jack for connecting up another MP3 player, Discman or similar device to play through the built-in speaker; and has a 3.5mm headphone jack which can also be used to play the set through a pair of better-sounding active speakers.

Setup

When you unpack the set, you don’t get the instruction manual as part of the packaging. Instead, you have to go to the support section of Kogan’s web site to download the manual as a PDF file.Kogan Internet radio - close-up

There are some issues that affect the way you integrate the radio to the Wi-Fi home network. One is that there needs to be a clear indication for “enter” to confirm the WPA-PSK key and another clear indication for “backspace delete” of erroneous characters.

As well, you have to make sure that your router’s wireless-network security is working in a “pure” WEP or WPA-PSK mode rather than a “compatibility mode” that may be common on some routers made when WPA just started to come in as a Wi-Fi link-level security option.

Once the radio is on the home network, everything is effectively “plain sailing”. The unit can be set up to get the time from the Internet, but you have to determine the time zone yourself by going to the Main Menu – System Settings – Clock Settings option. You will also have to change the time zone by an hour every time we switch from standard time to daylight-saving time. For example, in Sydney and Melbourne, you would have to set the Time Zone to +10 during Standard Time and to +11 during Summer Time. This may be rectified in a future firmware update for this set.

As far as the DAB (digital radio) operation goes, there isn’t a “clean-up and scan” routine available. Typically you have to do the “full scan” routine which adds new stations to the multiplex roster. This was annoying because the review sample, like the Revo iBlik RS clock radio reviewed in a separate review, had come down from Sydney and had references to the Sydney DAB multiplexes and stations. It can also be a headache for those of us who move between towns, or if there is a situation where the DAB multiplexes are being re-organised.

Use

The menus on the set are mainly navigated through the use of the tuning control which you turn to select the option and press to confirm the selection. There is a “Back” button to go back through the menus if you need to do so. The volume is adjusted with a smaller knob rather than “up-down” buttons. You change between FM, DAB, Internet Radio, Media Player, USB, iPod and Aux modes by pressing a MODE button. This control arrangement  makes the set appeal to be easier and comfortable for older people to use and makes you think of it as a proper radio.

Access to Internet radio stations is through an integrated directory that is regularly updated. You can select stations by “home area”, “country” or genre. I did a test to find Heart 106.2 London, a radio station that I often listen to over the Internet. Here, I went to “all stations”, then “country”, then “Europe”, then “United Kingdom” to filter for UK radio stations. After that, I went to all stations and browsed the list of UK stations to find “Heart London”.

There are five preset buttons which you can assign to a station in each of the radio modes. This means you have 5 FM stations, 5 DAB stations and 5 Internet radio stations held as “one-touch” presets You associate the button with the currently-playing station in the same manner as most car radios that are currently in use i.e.: hold the button for around 10 seconds until the display shows that the station is with the preset.

The radio also works well as a DLNA network audio player with the ability to honour the UPnP AV Media Server’s media hierarchy. It even worked well with playing music hosted on my computer by allowing a smooth playout experience. One main problem was that the transport keys such as the play-pause button didn’t work for the network media stream.

The radio does work well as an iPod speaker dock and the function keys worked properly when navigating the iPod’s content. I also attempted to adjust the volume from the iPod, but the sound came through at the same level, thus requiring you to use the radio’s volume control to adjust the sound.

Sound quality

The sound was something typical of either a classic mantel radio or one of those mono radio-cassette recorders made during the 1970s. There isn’t any way to adjust the tone on the set, whether through the menus or a separate control. There is still some “punchiness” in the sound but not the full bass expected by today’s young generation. A difficult-to-reproduce piece like the BBC brass-band rendition of “God Save The Queen” played at the end of the day (UK time) on Radio 4 may sound “difficult” at times. For talk-radio broadcasts, the sound is clear and intelligible whether turned up loud or at a modest listening level.

The sound volume is relatively loud, thus allowing the set to fill a room with its sound and can compete with a noisy appliance operated nearby. I even ran our noisy rangehood fan while the set was playing and it could easily compete with that. This means that it could work well at “belting out the tunes” in a takeaway-food shop, café or similar establishment.

Fit and finish

I have observed that this unit has avoided fingermark-attractive “gloss” finishes but this may be considered as a set that is dull and boring. But this also has been a bonus with a review unit that has “done the rounds” and been handled by many reviewers. This would be a bonus for radios that are likely to be handled by many users or spend their working life in a kitchen.

When I bought my own one of these sets, I had it working as a “utility radio” for the household and at times had seen it used in a workshop and outdoors while there was carpentry work going on. This hasn’t had any impact on the set’s finish or operation.

Points of improvement and product-class development

Connectivity improvements

The 3.5mm headphone jack could be positioned up front so as to allow “walk-up” headphone use and could be set to override a 3.5mm external-output jack on the back as well as the built-in speaker. The role of this rear-mounted jack could be determined by a menu option as a “line-out” jack independent of the volume control and headphone jack or an “external speaker” jack that is dependent on the volume control that can be set to either run with or override the internal speaker. This would allow Kogan to supply a “right-channel” active speaker as an accessory thus causing the radio to become a 2-piece stereo radio.

The manufacturers could relocate the USB port to the front of the set thus removing the risk of problems associated with dust and foreign objects falling in to the top-mounted USB socket.

Improved display

The display could be improved as far as legibility goes. It could be a high-contrast LCD with a strong LED-array backlight. Some other reviewers wanted to see a variable backlight display, which could make the set fit for use in a bedroom. This would be best executed with a backlight setting for standby use and a setting for whenever the set is in operation.

Possibility of tone control

There could be the possibility of some form of tone control, not just as a “bass-boost” option. This could be in the form of the classic “tone” control knob used on older sets which provided a bass-rich sound at the low setting and a bright treble-rich sound at the high setting.

WiFi connectivity improvements

Some users may take one of these sets between multiple locations like home and work or home and a friend’s house or holiday home; as I have often seen with some clock radios and portable radios. An improvement that I would like to see would be to allow the user to have up to eight “network profiles” stored in the radio, like what happens with computers and mobile phones. There could be an SSID and WEP/WPA passphrase associated with each of the profiles so the set doesn’t have to be reconfigured when it is taken between regular locations.

Similarly the set could support WPS “quick-connect” options so as to avoid messing with “pick-and-choose” WPA passphrase entry.

Conclusion and Best Placing

This set would be best suited as a radio you may use in a small office, household kitchen, small shop or waiting room at a doctor’s or lawyer’s office. It is also a set worth considering for the workshop or garage even though it is as loud is most typical clock radios because of the fact its finish isn’t susceptible to these working environments. It wouldn’t be appropriate in the bedroom as a replacement for that old clock radio because the set would be too big for a bedside table, the display is too bright even when switched off and the alarm-clock functionality isn’t easily accessible.

I also applaud Kogan for providing a tabletop Internet radio that is positioned at a price that most people can afford and this could be a way for them to cut in to the premium table radio scene. They could go further with a unit that has two speakers, a portable DAB+/Internet radio that can run on batteries or AC, or a tuner that can pick up FM, DAB+ and Internet radio; with all these sets being capable of playing audio from DLNA Home Media Networks.

But I would still recommend the Kogan Wi-Fi Digital Radio with iPod Dock as a value-priced entry-level DAB/Internet radio for situations such as your first Internet radio or when giving someone an Internet radio as a gift. It may also be a good excuse to ditch that tired old radio in the kitchen or office for something that offers a lot more.

Purchase online:
Kogan Web site

I have had this set on loan for a week courtesy of Kogan and their public-relations company, Profession Public Relations. As well, Professional Public Relations have offered the set for sale to me at a reduced price as per their standard practice with media and I had taken up this offer.

The review has been updated with further notes from my experience with this set and may help with your purchasing decisions.

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Product Review – Revo iBlik RadioStation Internet clock radio (Frontier Internet Radio Platform)

Revo iBlik RS 1 I am reviewing the Revo iBlik RadioStation Internet clock radio which can work as a speaker dock for the iPod. As well Marks & Spencers, the British department store commonly known as “Marks & Sparks”, sell the same radio under their private label but without DAB digital radio as the M&S Internet Radio with iPod Dock.

Overview

This radio looks like one of the classic clock radios sold through the 1970s and 1980s but, instead of being a flat box with the faux wood-grain finish, it has a trapezoid look that is finished in dark charcoal grey. The top of the radio has a random-styled speaker grille and a removeable panel where you dock an Apple iPod or iPhone, and the right had side of the top surface has all of the radio’s control buttons. The front of the radio has a darker middle stripe with the LCD display. The set uses a telescopic aerial (antenna) rather than the ordinary “pigtail” aerial wire that is common with clock radios for FM and DAB operation. The only limitation, which is common with most portable radios, is that you can’t replace a broken telescopic aerial yourself. The Wi-Fi aerial is totally integrated in to the set.

2009-11-07 001 When the unit is turned off, the display is just bright enough to be a nightlight, which makes it suitable for bedroom use. The display becomes significantly bright when the set is in operation, but there could be improvements in the contrast issue. Revo could have improved the display by using a fully-bitmapped display which can allow for a full-height time display which would be more appropriate for this class of radio than a two-line date and time display.

The set comes with a slim remote control which can be a bonus if you need to operate it from the other side of the room. The only problem with this was that you had to be relatively close to the set to operate the remote control. This may be a problem with the review sample that had “done the rounds” and the remote control’s battery was nearly exhausted and had been transported with the battery in place.

Connectivity

The set has a 3.5nn line input jack (referred to as an mPort jack) for use with portable CD players and the like as well as a pair of RCA line-out connectors on the back for use when connecting to an external sound system or a recording device.This connection is a boon to small businesses who may want to connect the radio to a music-on-hold setup or public-address system if they want to play DAB, Internet radio or music held on a computer over the network through these devices.

Setup

This set is set up in a manner similar to other Frontier-based radios like the Kogan reviewed elsewhere in the blog. <Hyperlink to Kogan review> There is still that niggle with the confusing arrow and “return” symbol when you enter your wireless network’s passphrase. As well, you need to make sure your router isn’t using a WEP-WPA compatibility mode because the set may not connect to the wireless network.

The radio has the option of obtaining the time from the Internet or the local DAB multiplex so it sets itself to the correct time. If you set it to refer to the Internet, you then determine your local time zone. It also has a dedicated “DST” option which you turn on when the clocks go forward for Daylight-Saving time and turn off when the clocks go back for regular time. This is unlike the Kogan where you have to advance the time zone by an hour when the clocks go forward.

The DAB function doesn’t have a “clean-up and scan” option for situations where your set may be moved between locations or if the local DAB multiplexes are re-arranged. This was more of a problem with this review sample which had been taken between Sydney and Melbourne.

Use

Revo iBlik RadioStation - control panel You navigate the menus using four “arrow keys” and a “select” button in the centre of those keys. They are also used to tune the radio amongst the FM, DAB or Internet stations. There is a “mode” button to change between the different sources such as the Internet radio, DLNA music player, DAB radio, FM radio, iPod or aux inputs.

The set can store 10 preset stations in each of the FM, DAB or Internet-radio “bands”, which can be an asset if you dabble in many of the Internet-radio stations. This radio also works as a DLNA media player but can only support control from the set’s control panel or remote control.

Suitability for the bedside table

To set the alarm clock, you press the ALARM key. Here you have room for four different alarm times that can be set to apply once only, every day, Monday-Friday or Saturday-Sunday. This could be useful for setting an earlier wakeup time for the work week and a later time for the weekend where you can afford to have that sleep-in; and you can even have a different wake time for him and her on both the work week and the weekend.

You can set the unit to wake you to the buzzer; a particular station on either FM, DAB or Internet radio; or music held on an attached iPod at a chosen volume. What you set the radio to wake you to can be different for each alarm event, so you can factor in different radio programs that are broadcasting on different times. This definitely offers more than the typical clock radio that most of us use where you have up to two different events and you can wake either to the buzzer or the last-tuned radio station.

When you set the alarm, you have to make sure you save the changes by highlighting the “Save” option and pressing SELECT. This is also true if you want to override the alarm clock by turning it off. The ability to set the alarm clock to come on to a nominated radio program allows you to sleep to music from your iPod, DLNA network media server or a different radio station while you wake to your favourite radio program.

The all-important snooze bar is located at the front edge of the control buttons and is bracketed by two other buttons which are radio presets or “previous-next” buttons when the set works as a media player or with an iPod. This same button can be used to set up the sleep timer. Here, you press this button repeatedly to determine how long the radio can play before switching itself off, then press the “select” button to engage the sleep timer whereupon the radio will turn itself off after the nominated time.

Sound quality

The sound quality is similar to what you would expect for a typical 1980s-issue clock radio. This is because it uses the same speaker size as these units and the speaker is positioned to come out the top of the set in the same manner.

Fit and finish

The finish is a “satin-style” plastic finish that is similar to most current-issue clock radios and portable radios. This hasn’t harboured unnecessary fingermarks and the buttons are quick and responsive. It does then have the look and feel of a good-quality clock radio.

Points of Improvement

For this class of radio, the main point of improvement would be a larger bitmapped display with an EL backlight or a larger bitmapped OEL display which can show the time in large figures which makes it suitable for viewing from a distance. Other than that, the radio suits its best-placing very well, as a clock radio for the bedroom.

There could be an option to have the alarm set for particular days of the week, such as Monday, Saturday or Sunday; as well as Monday-Friday and Saturday-Sunday so you can cater for situations where you may have to factor in particular shifts that occur on particular days.

Conclusion and Best Placing

This is an Internet radio / iPod dock / network music player that I would recommend for use in the bedroom as a highly-flexible alternative to that old clock radio. This is more so if you want to wake up to more than regular FM and AM radio or need something that provides a highly-flexible alarm clock. It can also be used in the office, kitchen, shop or waiting room as a radio or background-music device, and can become a conversation piece in itself because of its shape. 

If you are after this radio in Australia, from my experience, I have found it for sale at the electrical department of the David Jones department stores at Westfield Shoppingtown Doncaster. You may also find it available in other premium department stores like Marks & Spencers.

I have had this set on loan for a week courtesy of Bush Australia. As well, Bush Australia have offered the set for sale to me at a reduced price as per their standard practice with media.

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Product Review – Nokia N85 3G Multimedia Phone (Symbian S60 version 3)

Introduction

Nokia N85 smartphone I am reviewing the Nokia N85 3G Multimedia Phone, which is part of Nokia’s high-end “N-series” multimedia phones. It has been positioned as a second-tier model in their lineup and is one that can be easily missed in the crowded multipurpose mobile phone market, especially where this market is dominated by the Apple iPhone for personal use and the Blackberry phones for business use.

Software availability

This phone is part of the Symbian S60 Version 3 platform which has a wide availability of software from different places. This means that additional functions can be added “off the Web” by visiting Handango, software providers’ Web sites and S60-themed Web sites as well as the Ovi application store. This puts it as a decent alternative to the Apple iTunes App Store model that is being implemented by the “King Of Cool” with the iPhone.

As a multimedia phone terminal

High-contrast OLED 2

The N85's high-contrast OLED display

The display is based on OLED technology rather than the usual LCD technology which makes it easier to read in all light. The display is very bright and can be seen at extreme angles. Infact, I consider this display the “vacuum-fluorescent display for battery-operated devices” because it has the same brightness and consistency as the vacuum-fluorescent displays used on most home-installed consumer-electronics devices, especially Panasonic or Sony equipment. A disadvantage that this display may have is that this may lead to some pictures, especially some photographs, appearing too saturated and with a bit too much contrast but it may be how the OLED display reproduces the pictures. It may be a boon with text or diagrams such as the Ovi Maps.

The phone’s battery life is very good even when used as a music player as well as a phone. If you use 3G or WiFi data connectivity or the integrated navigation functionality for a significant amount of time, you can compromise the battery life. You can get around this problem while getting the most out of the phone while you are out and about but cannot readily use the supplied charger by investing in an external battery pack such as one of those “AA-battery”-powered mobile phone chargers. The phone’s MicroUSB socket is its power socket, which means that USB=based power devices used along with a micro-USB flylead can become the phone’s external power supply. The only problem with this is that some USB hubs may not be logically seen by the phone as a charger.

The phone as a GPS unit

The phone has integrated GPS but I am using this function with Ovi-based Maps 3.0 with City Guide subscription. For people who do a lot of walking, the subscription is very good value. One thing that I would like to see in the maps data is public paths for use by low-speed traffic like pedestrians, cyclists or horseback riders; but this is an issue with Navteq and the data they provide to Nokia. The GPS function can be used by other S60 3rd Edition location-driven applications like Nokia’s Sport Tracker GPS pedometer / workout diary or Google’s S60 siftware.

The phone as a Walkman

This phone beats the iPhone when it comes to personal-stereo functionality. This is demonstrable in the FM radio and the integrated music player, especially in how you can add music to the phone.

The phone has an integrated RDS FM radio which works only with wired headsets because the headset’s wire also is the radio’s aerial. There are a few discrepancies when it comes to working with RDS-enabled FM stations. If you preset an RDS radio station, the callsign details that are supplied through RDS aren’t used as a default station reference name. Instead, you have to manually copy the station’s name in to the station’s preset details. The phone doesn’t work with the so-called “dynamic RDS” features like TA/TP/EON traffic-information priority – a feature which can be a boon to public-transport users; PTY program-type functionality (including news priority) or RadioText dynamic text display. It does work with Visual Radio, which is an interactive radio service with 3G or WiFi as data backhaul.

The built-in music player is definitely flexible when it comes to handling music content because it works from music held on the microSDHC cards up to 16Gb / card in capacity. These can be exchanged at will in a similar manner to the classic cassette or MiniDisc formats. Similarly, you can enlarge the storage capacity by upgrading the memory card to a higher capacity. It is compatible with the SlotMusic “musicassette” idea that Sandisk put forward; and the MicroSDHC cards can be loaded with music through a “drag-drop” method via the file system and Nokia PC Suite or directly on to the microSDHC card in an SDHC card reader with the use of an SD card adaptor; or the phone can be synced through Nokia PC Suite or Windows Media Player.

As well, you can download content from a DLNA music server that you are connected to via the WiFi network. This yields a lot more flexibility than the Apple iPod / iPhone system when it comes to adding newer music to your portable collection  As far as codecs are concerned, the phone works with MP3, WMA and AAC codecs and can work with WMA up to 192kbps and MP3 up to 320kbps. The music player is operated in a manner similar to most MP3 players and if you make or take a call, the music pauses and resumes from where it left off. There is even the nice touch of the music fading up gracefully when you finish the call.

The integrated camera

The integrated camera is capable of high-resolution pictures and works well as an auxiliary camera if your main digital camera is out of action. It also works very well for video photography and will use the available memory on the microSD card for the footage rather a particular time limit.

One main problem with it is that if you intend to take pictures to send as MMS messages, it will prefer to send the high-resolution pictures which may not work with most mobile phones. To send an MMS, you would have to set the camera to work at a lower resolution before you take the picture. The picture you save would be a low-resolution picture. A point of improvement that could exist would be to have downscaling for MMS images when an image is sent as an MMS message.This is where a downscaled copy of the image is sent out as an MMS image.

Other than that, pictures and video that you take with the built-in camera can be transferred or printed out using PTP, Picthridge or Bluetooth or a PC can import pictures using Nokia PC Suite and any of the picture import functions that are part of Windows.

There is also a low-resolution camera on the front of the phone which comes in handy if you make a 3G videocall, but you can select to use the main camera during the videocall if you intend to show the other caller something rather than yourself.

Connectivity

As far as regular mobile-phone connectivity goes, this phone offers whatever is expected from a high-end mobile phone or smartphone.

The phone has a MicroUSB data and power socket and a 3.5” 4-conductor jack for headphones / AV lineout and headset / audio adaptor use. I use the phone with a Nokia-supplied headset audio adaptor with built-in microphone that is connected to a set of premium headphones so as to gain good-quality sound. The phone can connect to cassette adaptors for use with car cassette players or classic ghetto blasters; either directly or through an audio adaptor.

The main problem I have had with the audio adaptors is their flimsy tie-clips anchored to these adaptors that break under typical use. If this happens to you, I would suggest using either a metal “bobby-pin” or tie-clip; or a regular plastic clothes-peg from the laundry, attached to the audio adaptor with a rubber band. The only problem is that it may look a bit ugly especially in conjunction with formal wear or good headphones; and, for women, may be uncomfortable against the cleavage. To do this, wrap the rubber band around the audio adaptor making sure it isn’t pressing any of the buttons. Then open the clothes-peg, tie-clip or “bobby-pin” and pass one of the jaws of the clip through the rubber band. You then are able to clip the audio adaptor to your collar, lapel or tie with the tie clip, clothes peg or “bobby pin”.

The phone has a built-in PLL-controlled FM transmitter which you can use alongside an FM radio for music playback. If it was able to use this FM-based link for handsfree calling, I wouldn’t use that functionality at all because of having to set up the radio to handle the call every time a call comes in – one step too many.

The Bluetooth functionality is equally comprehensive in that is supports the Headset and Handsfree profiles for handsfree calling; A2DP / AVRCP audio playback profiles for music streaming functionality; and SIM Card Profile and Phone Book Profile for the increasing number of advanced in-car handsfree devices available with newer premium vehicles or on the aftermarket. This certainly means that the phone can partner with all of the good Bluetooth headsets and helmets as well as all of the good in-car handsfree setups.

Existence in the small network

WiFi Networks

The phone’s main method of connection to a small home or business network is through the built-in WiFi transceiver.

This transceiver works with 802.11g WPA networks that work purely to the WPA or WPA2 modes as well as to insecure WEP networks. This avoids routers or access points that are set up for WEP/WPA compatibility modes. For business and other high-security networks, the phone can work with most EAP-based enterprise security network setups; including SIM-based security. The phone can be programmed to work with wireless networks that have their SSID hidden, with use of a “hidden” option when you create an access point. The WiFi radio is very sensitive, which can come in handy whenever you use wireless hotspots.

The main gap the the phone has concerning WiFi-network connectivity is the lack of ability to support the WPS easy-enrolment setup that is becoming the norm for currently-issued wireless routers.

UPnP / DLNA Functionality

The phone works “out of the box” as a media player to the phone’s display and speakers or as a UPnP AV Control Point for pushing content held locally or on anther DLNA media server to another UPnP AV / DLNA Media Renderer device. It can also share content held on its memory card to a DLNA Media Network. Playlist management – can it push the contents of a container to a device?

Mail terminal

The built-in Symbian mail client supports IMAP4 and POP3/SMTP e-mail systems and uses a similar auto-setup routine to Windows Live Mail, where you just supply your fully-qualified e-mail address and password and the phone just works it out. The client is a similar standard to what is integrated in most smartphones but due to 12-key data entry, may be best used for reading e-mail and sending short replies or notes.

Web browsing

The web-browsing experience is similar to most other smartphones and is limited by the small screen. It can be viewed horizontally by selecting a mode to “view horizontal”. Password entry for social-networking and similar pages can be difficult due to the 12-key text-entry method primarily used in this class of phone.

Internet Radio

There is an integrated Internet Radio receiver function that can work with WiFi networks or 3G networks. If you want to use this function with a 3G network, it will need to work on an “all-you-can-eat” data plan if you want to do a lot of Internet-radio listening. The station directory is similar to that offered by Reciva or vTuner; which means having the stations sorted by country or genre. The phone can also “pipe” the Internet radio sound through the Bluetooth A2DP audio stream which allows you to play Internet radio broadcasts through Bluetooth speakers and similar audio accessories.

Conclusion, including the phone’s “cool factor”

This phone will appeal to the mature users who want a fully-functional yet flexible multimedia mobile phone but don’t intend to do a lot of text entry on it. As well, the phone “sets the cat amongst the pigeons” with the OLED display which is different from the LCD-display norm, thus can appeal to those who don’t have good eyesight.

What Nokia needs to do is to offer phones equipped with this OLED display and Symbian S60 to cut in to established smartphone markets like the QWERTY-keypad business phone (whether Blackberry-style or lengthways) or the touchscreen phone.

I have bought this phone on a published 24-month Telstra 3G “cap” contract under the regular terms and conditions for all customers who sign up to the contract. Therefore I am not writing this out of fear or favour.

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Product Review – TwonkyBeam (beta version)

TwonkyMedia have capitalised on their UPnP AV / DLNA expertise and developed a browser helper object that can play user-selected music, pictures and video from a Web site that you are browsing on to a DLNA-enabled media renderer device “there and then”.

What is TwonkyBeam

TwonkyBeam is a browser helper object which allows you to “push” media found on a Web page to your UPnP AV-enabled media device(s). This can come in handy with YouTube videos, Facebook or Flickr photos, last.fm music or similar sites where you may want to have the media on devices other than your PC’s screen or your laptop’s tinny speakers.

At the moment, the program has been written to work with Windows and Internet Explorer, but will be ported to other desktop Web-viewing environments.

How does it work

Once the software is installed, there is a window that lists all compatible media on the Website and you select which media you want to use. As you select the different media, the media file’s URL is highlighted in the main Web page. In that same window, there is a list of UPnP AV-enabled media players on your network that accept “push” content.

The user identifies the media player that they want to push the media to and selects the media to be viewed in the media list. Then, to show the image, they press the “play” button in that window above the media player list.

On the other hand, the user can right-click on the link and select “TwonkyBeam to” as a way of putting the media on to the DLNA device.

Limitations with certain Websites

At the moment, the current version that is available is a “rough diamond” beta version. In some ways, the program doesn’t provide full access to photo albums that are broken in to groups of, say, 20. This may limit its usefulness with large Facebook photo albums or Flickr photostreams, which is what I have often used the program with when testing it against the “TwonkyMedia Manage UPnP AV Media Renderer”. Nor does it provide access to embedded media clips like most of YouTube’s pages or video clips that are set up in news articles, blogs and social-networking sites. These are the ones where there are playback controls integrated in to the site’s user interface and you can typically see the video in the Web page.

Web developers may have to provide an “all images” view as an option for photo albums or write a “link” URL for video clips that are ordinarily embedded to work around the limitation. The “link” URL could be part of the article’s copy or as a separate link under the embedded video.

Development ideas

One way of improving this program would be for Websites to support media XML files that describe the primary media assets. This would include collections that are broken up in to paginated groups like most Web photo albums.

Similarly, there could be support for handling Flash-embedded videos that are common to YouTube sites and most Web sites that include video material. This could be looked at through the development of applets that “click on” to TwonkyBeam and similar programs and expose the video clips to these programs.

Conclusion

This program can work as a “quick and easy” way to get media that is in a Web site up on to the large screen or better speakers of a DLNA-connected TV or stereo system. It could, in some ways, legitimise the need for one of the Sony or Samsung DLNA-enabled flatscreen TVs in the office or conference room.

The review will be updated whenever the beta version of this program is “polished up” and ready for full release.

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Product Review – TwonkyMedia Manager 1.0

Originally published 23 February 2009 on my original homenetworking01.wordpress.com blog
Updated 20 September 2009 with experience from newer versions of TwonkyMedia Manager

This review of TwonkyMedia Manager is the first review of any hardware or software product that I have done for this blog.

TwonkyMedia Manager is a follow-on program from the classic TwonkyVision UPnP AV / DLNA media server that had been released since 2003/ The server, which has been ported to the major operating systems, has been deployed in many of the respected network-attached storage devices. As well, some consumer-electronics manufacturers include this program with their network media players as a “get-you-going” media server so you can start establishing a DLNA media network with your computer and their product. This program now has a management screen and a built-in media player so it can act as a media “jukebox” program in a similar vein to the likes of iTunes, WinAmp or Windows Media Player.

The TwonkyMedia Manager supports and adheres to the UPnP AV / DLNA “3-box” model of a “media server”, “media controller” and “media renderer”. Even a single-computer setup can work in this manner because the “3-box” model is represented by TwonkyMedia Server being the “media server” and TMMPlayer, which is a separate music-player program started by TwonkyMedia Manager, being the “media player” and the program’s user interface being the “media controller”. The software can discover other UPnP AV (DLNA) media servers and (externally-manageable) UPnP AV media renderers on the same network and allow them to be controlled from the user interface.

This is useful for demonstrating the UPnP AV / DLNA media-control concept or testing out UPnP AV hardware and software, as well as being the media jukebox based on the UPnP AV / DLNA model.

The main limitation about this media-management program is that it doesn’t have integrated facilities for adding media to the media library such as a CD-ripping function. This is because you are meant to use it alongside an existing media management program like Apple iTunes or Windows Media Player which does this job very well.

Instead, you would use the other media management program to add your media to the server. Then you would have to set the media management program(s) to load the media to one or more nominated folders. Then you have TwonkyMedia Server, which is the server function in the TwonkyMedia Manager, serve the media files to the DLNA / UPnP AV Media Network, which are all of the network media client devices on your network that work to these standards, from those nominated directories.

This program would end up being of benefit to those people who use Apple iTunes or other programs that don’t have UPnP AV server functionality as their media “jukebox” program, because they just point the TwonkyMedia Server to the program’s media folder such as the iTunes Music folder as explained further.

Use Experience

I am testing the program on a Windows Vista computer running the Windows Media Player 11 with its Windows Media Server function enabled for DLNA server comparison. The Windows Media Server is a UPnP AV MediaServer program which has been integrated in Windows Media Player 10 and 11 for Windows XP / Vista. The server program was initially available as Windows Media Connect which was a separate free download from Microsoft for Windows XP computers running Windows Media Player 9. Both programs are serving content from the same music and picture folders. so I can make a true comparison between the programs.

The program was slow at the start to know what was in the libraries for the TwonkyMedia Server and the Windows Media Server, but this can be typical in the first run of the program, and I had built up a large music and photo library that was made available to the servers.

I have done a test to find the iTunes library, even though I have iTunes in place but am running Windows Media Player as my media jukebox. Like most UPnP MediaServer programs, you have to find the iTunes Music folder and add that particular folder to the list of folders available to TwonkyMedia Server. This information will be located in the “Advanced” tab in the “Preferences” dialog box in iTunes.

The integrated playlist management is only available if you are using the TwonkyMedia Server as your media server. If you use other UPnP MediaServer programs, you will have to make sure they see the playlists as a hierarchy with each playlist as a collection that is a member of the “Playlists” tree. This is exactly what Windows Media Player 11 does with the playlists.

I have noticed that if the computer isn’t busy, especially with disk-intensive tasks, the program is likely to work properly.

When you add songs, albums or other audio content to the playlist for a UPnP AV MediaRenderer device, including the program’s own TMMPlayer software player, all the songs are added to a “now-playing” list for that device with the currently-playing song emphasised in bold white text and with an arrow at the beginning of the title. The full “album, artist, title” metadata appears in a panel at the top of the list.  To delete a song from the playlist so it doesn’t play, you just press the DEL key. When you want to move a song for earlier or later playback, you just drag the song to the desired position.

When you buy the program for US$39.95 or €29.95, you are licensed to use the program on 3 computers concurrently. This appeals to setups like my review setup which is a desktop computer being a media server and a laptop being a media controller. Similarly, you could run a laptop as a controller for an HTPC serving the content and playing through a home theatre setup, running TwonkyMedia Manager.

I have done a playback test using a laptop with a desktop, each running these programs and the desktop computer being the media server. The tests are being done this way to determine how TwonkyMedia Manager performs in all of the roles and with other UPnP AV MediaServers. Another reason is because I don’t have ready access to a hardware network media player that works to the UPnP AV or DLNA standards.

The first test involved the laptop being used as a remote controller according to UPnP AV Control Point / DLNA Media Controller standards. It went according to plan, with the metadata about the currently-playing song being displayed on the media-controller laptop, but not on the desktop which was playing the song. This would be similar to using PlugPlayer or iMediaSuite on your iPhone or iPod Touch; or your Nokia N-Series phone to control the music playing out on your computer via the wireless network.

I have set the laptop up as a remote digital media renderer and it goes to plan, but TMMPlayer doesn’t show the metadata of what it is currently playing when it is under remote control. I had tried a “track skip” at the laptop (which is the media renderer) and it didn’t move to the next track in the media queue immediately.

This version of the program has gateway support for Internet radio, YouTube video and Flickr photo support. But there are some limitations on how this is run. For YouTube, there isn’t an option to monitor your channel subscriptions, which can be of benefit if you make use of YouTube channels. The Internet radio option can be of benefit if your UPnP digital media hardware doesn’t have native support for Internet-radio functionality.

Advantages

This program has the ability to work as a “push and play” console if any UPnP AV MediaRenderer device can support being a network-controlled MediaRenderer device. This definitely can come in handy with network media adaptors that are controllable only by you viewing the attached TV screen and working a remote control or with devices like electronic picture frames that have a flimsy remote control.

This same ability can put TwonkyMedia Manager in a better league than Apple iTunes, Windows Media Player, WinAmp and other computer-based music players. Here, one could have the computer like a laptop or netbook be simply a music selector while a NAS box and a network media adaptor like the Roku SoundBridge can do the work of playing out the music.

Another key advantage is the software’s light footprint on the system’s resources. This may be of benefit if you are putting an older computer to use as a media server and you don’t have much in the way of memory or CPU power available on that computer. Similarly, this may appeal to those of us who want to install the program on a netbook or low-end ex-business laptop simply for use as a network media controller. Watch out there, Sonos!

Limitations

TwonkyMedia Server doesn’t support “browse by keyword” for photographs, but can support “search by keyword”. This function can be useful where the tags that are part of Windows (Live) Photo Gallery are used as another “folder tree” for indexing photos. Examples of this would include indexing car pictures by marque and model, even if you go to many car shows; or indexing travel pictures by town and landmark even if you travel a lot at different times.

The inbuilt TMMPlayer MediaRenderer program has a tendency to “give up” early if it doesn’t get the music file in time. The problem is more common if TwonkyMedia Manager is being operated on a busy computer and could be rectified by the use of a user-variable maximum timeout control that is similar to what is provided in most e-mail programs for their server connections.

Another common limitation with this program is that the highly-publicised “album-art” function runs very slowly and doesn’t respond with all UPnP AV MediaServers. This same functionality only works with the art being part of an MP3 file, rather than what Windows Media or other codecs do in handling album art. In the TwonkyForum websites, this functionality was not looked upon in a favourable light because of not being able to find content quickly.

Nice to have

The TwonkyMedia Manager could support a “jukebox” mode where it can be feasible to add songs to a playlist from a server’s content list but not delete or move them, especially from remote control points. The same mode can support dual-tiered playlists so that there could be a “background music” playlist that is played sequentially or randomly but when someone selects a song, this song is added to the “primary” playlist which is then immediately played. These modes, which would be useful during parties, could be achieved through a “master control point” which can manage the media-renderer device(s) and remote control points working through the “master control point”.

Another “nice to have” function would be to allow one to view the contents of one server while another server is already streaming content. This would be more important on networks where there are multiple MediaServers.

It would also be worth providing a component-based installation routine where one can just install the “manager” software so they can prepare a laptop or netbook as a media control point. This would avoid memory or hard disk space being used for media-server functionality on a computer that wouldn’t necessarily be doing that job.

The online services could support “push off a link” functionality where if you select a YouTube, Flickr photostream or audio-stream link on the Web, you could “push” the YouTube video, photostream or audio-stream to a UPnP digital media renderer.

Summary

Although I am reviewing a 1.0 version of the software, it certainly is capable of fulfilling all the UPnP AV functionality it is meant to do and is a must-have for any Windows XP or Vista user who wants to have all of this functionality on their computer.

Update – 20 September 2009

There have been some improvements and new features added to TwonkyMedia Manager since this version was reviewed. Some of the features include “follow-me” play where you can push content that is already playing on one UPnP AV device to another UPnP AV device from the point that you left off at; and a text chat function for use between multiple TwonkyMedia Manager installations. As well, one can set up a subset of an already-playing playlist and have that playing on another UPnP AV device or TwonkyMedia Manager installation.

The newer versions have allowed for “browse by keyword” including keyword trees but this function isn’t fully polished yet. The main limitation is that it doesn’t handle comma-punctuated keywords such as “explained names” like “Jon, Joan’s brother” or “place addresses” as keywords like “Dudley Street, Melbourne”. Here, the comma is seen as a delimiter between two keywords and separate keyword buckets are created for each side of the comma.

As far as online services go, YouTube and Flickr photostream functionality has been added to TwonkyMedia Manager. In the case of YouTube, you can play your favourite videos or videos from selected “new-video” and “top-video” lists. I have tested this functionality by pulling up the viral “JK wedding entrance dance” video through TwonkyMedia Manager after marking the video and another video showing an enactment of the same dance by Channel 7 Australia’s “Dancing With The Stars”.  There isn’t support for access to user-subscribed YouTube channels at the moment.

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