Category: Product Review

Product Review–Brother MFC-L8850CDW Colour Laser Multifunction Printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer which is positioned as the step-up model in Brother’s full-speed colour laser multifunction printer lineup. This model is based on their HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer and is equipped with single-pass duplex scanning and a wide range of copy, fax and scan features.

Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer

Print Scan Copy Fax /
E-mail
Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour Colour / B/W Colour 1 x A4 USB 2.0
Method
Laser xerographic
2400dpi from platen ID copy
Optimised receipt copy, enlarged text copy
Super G3 Optional high-capacity paper tray Ethernet,
802.11g/n Wi-Fi
Auto-duplex Single-pass duplex ADF T.37 Internet fax, Scan-to-email multi-purpose tray IPv6

Prices

Printer

RRP: AUD$849

Optional Extras:

High-capacity paper tray: AUD$249

Inks and Toners

Standard High-Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$109 2500 AUD$123.95 4500
Cyan AUD$109 1500 AUD$179.95 3500
Magenta AUD$109 1500 AUD$179.95 3500
Yellow AUD$109 1500 AUD$179.95 3500

 

Servicing and Other Parts (Laser Printers)

Price Pages
Drum Kit AUD$267.95 25000
Belt Kit AUD$179.95 50000
Wast Toner Kit AUD$29.95 50000

The printer itself

Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer

How the printer looks when it is used for any of these tasks

The Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer is based on the single-function Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer and others in the series, thus sharing the same improved colour laser-printing technology as its single-function stablemate. This has all the same abilities like the quick page-turnout and the duplex printing that this series is known for where it appears to work on both sides of two pages at one time.

Like other Brother laser printers and multifunctions, this unit has serparately-replaceable components for the print engine such as the drum unit and belt unit. This means that you can gain a longer service life out of these machines and their parts and can factor in these costs over the lifetime of the unit while not paying too much every time you need to replace the toner. One perceived disadvantage may be that you may run in to print-quality and reliability issues when you are using a drum unit or belt unit that is near the end of its useful life.

Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer LCD touchscreen

Large LCD touchscreen

One feature I admire about the Brother MFC-L8850CDW multifunction printer is that it is equipped with a large LCD touchscreen that is its “walk-up” user interface. There is also a touch-operated keypad that lights up when you have to enter numbers in to the machine like dialling a fax number or determining the number of copies you can do.

Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer user interface

LCD touchscreen and numeric keypad that shows when it is needed

People who have eyesight difficulties may benefit from this because of the large display area and avoiding unnecessary user-interface clutter which is a problem with a lot of business-focused multifunction devices that are in circulation.The only niggle that some people will find with this display is that the clock display takes a few seconds to update when you “wake up” the machine to start using it.

The automatic document feeder is a single-pass duplex type which scans both sides of a document at once for such jobs as double-sided copying. If you have to deal with bound original documents, this lid can be lifted up at the sides so that it lies flat on the original documents.

It, like most of the recent Brother business multifunction printer range, can work as a colour Super-G3 fax machine with a regular telephone connection or can work as a T.37-compliant Internet fax machine. This includes the ability to work as an “Internet-fax off-ramp” where it can receive a fax from the Internet and send it along regular telephone lines to an ordinary fax machine. This feature is pitched at users who have multiple locations separated by long distances and want to avoid huge long-distance telephony bills for sending documents by fax.

Walk-up functions – can be started from printer’s control surface

Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer user interface

Task-specific copying options

This machine’s display leads to a simplified user interface that makes it easier for people to use it even if they haven’t used this model before. This is taken from the design cues used in today’s smartphones and tablets and you have such situations as function lists that scroll sideways and one-touch access to the common tasks.

When you copy documents with the Brother MFC-L8850CDW after not using it for a while, the unit will start scanning the originals to memory while the print engine warms up to start printing. This benefits such tasks as copying many pages from bound documents or simply to have the originals returned to whoever gave them to you.

The ID-copy function is, like on most recent Brother multifunction printers, still very simple to use because you don’t have to reposition the card when you flip it to copy the other side. On the other hand, if you line up any document to the edge of the glass surface, the printer clips a few millimetres from the edge of the document which can be of concern for those documents that are “worked to the edge”.

Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer app options

Task-specific apps now available

There are a variety of apps which provide extra functionality such as copying a section of text like a newspaper article. These apps also work alongside the popular online services like Dropbox, Facebook and Evernote so you can “scan to” these services. The Brother printer also supports the ability to print from these online services and the Brother Web Connect system allows multiple users to register their own accounts for each service on the same device. Furthermore, each user can protect their presence on these accounts using a PIN number.

The Brother MFC-L8850CDW does work with Brother’s iPrint&Scan mobile-printing software and the Apple AirPrint ecosystem to allow you to print from smartphones and tablets.

Computer functions

I downloaded the driver software for the Brother MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction printer and had found it quick to install but you have to make sure you install the correct driver that pertains to the correct model of printer.

There is the “print-options at a glance” layout for specifying how the print job should be printed and you bring this option up when you click on the “Preferences” or “Properties” option when you specify your print job. This includes rough-previewing of how a duplex, booklet or “tiled” print-job should look like.

The Brother-supplied “ControlCenter4” scan software could benefit from direct access from the desktop rather than via the “Brother Tools” app and could allow you to organise the order of the scanned pages rather than having to delete then re-scan pages to achieve a particular page order for that PDF.

Print Quality and Useability

Like the Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer I previously reviewed, the Brother MFC-L8850CDW multifunction implements the “drawer-style” of consumable loading. This is where you pull out the drum unit as if it is a drawer to change the toner cartridges. This also extends to access to the printer’s internals when you have to deal with paper jamming or similar situations.

The Brother colour laser multifunction has a 6-second delay till the first page comes out when it hasn’t been used for a while. This is something that has to be expected of laser printers because of the way the toner is “fixed” on to the paper using hot rollers.

It was able to competently turn out a large double-sided document properly and reliably, although there it does pause for a few seconds after 30 pages. It may be to receive more data bot also to keep the machine’s running temperature in check. Like the single-function HL-L8350CDW and its stablemates, this Brother printer can effectively “work” both sides of two sheets of paper during a duplex-printing job. This only works with jobs that you submit from the computer rather than any of the “walk-up” printing jobs.

I also had to run a batch of mailing labels on this printer and had a problem with the printer jamming. The large LCD screen showed clearly where to remove any jammed paper and this process didn’t involve groping around in dark places to remove that paper. Then I re-ran the job on some newer labels and had to make sure I was specifying labels rather than plain paper when doing this kind of run.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The copy and scan functions could benefit from additional optimised-copy / optimised-scan modes to suit working with thin paper or with bound materials like books. As well, the “app” functionality could also benefit from functions to turn out “pre-ruled paper” like ruled notepaper, graph paper, check lists and music staves similar to what has been offered by HP and Canon for their inkjet and laser printers.’

A problem that can occur when printing a single double-sided document is where the printed document “curls up” in the output bay. This may happen when you use the printer earlier on in its service life. As well, I would also like to see the “quick duplex-printing” functionality where these Brother colour laser printers effectively work both sides of two pages improved to work with jobs you specify from the control panel or for continual printing of many pages.

As for scanning, the Brother multifunction printers could have the scan head able to scan “to the edge” of the glass when scanning documents from the glass platen rather than the automatic document feeder. This is because most of us would line up documents against the edge of the glass when scanning them to achieve a good-quality scan.

Another features that would be nice to have would be the display clock being synced to an NTP time server and supporting local time zone rules like what happens with computers or mobile devices. This can avoid the need to set the clock every time daylight-saving time changes for example as well as a desire to have an accurate clock for fax logs, etc. There could be a menu option to allow the USB port to work as a “plug-and-charge” USB port when the printer is in sleep or hibernate mode as well as supporting 1 amp or 2.1 amps power at that port, so as to allow us to charge smartphones, tablets and their accessories from the printer’s USB port at all times.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

If you are considering a heavy-duty desktop multifunction colour laser printer for that office where you expect to yield a lot of colour documents, I would give the Brother MFC-L885CDW some serious consideration. This is more so if you also expect to include the idea of scanning one or more large runs of documents to PDF and want to get both sides at once.

You could even consider teaming this printer along with one of the Brother A3 single-tray inkjet multifunction printers to set up an “all-inclusive” desktop printing / scanning setup for your small business, home office or non-profit organisation. Here, this unit could handle most regular A4-based printing jobs while you could run the inkjet unit on A3 jobs or those jobs that require special inkjet-compliant media.

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Product Review–Brother PT-P750W Wireless Label Printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother PT-P750W Wireless Label Printer which is the first portable label printer to be designed to work with smartphones and tablets.This is brought about using integrated Wi-Fi wireless network connectivity with Wireless-Direct (own access-point) operation along with the ability to work with a mobile-platform label printing app.

Brother P-Touch PT-P750W Wireless Label Printer

Price (Printer unit): AUD$249

The printer itself

Brother P-Touch PT-P750W wireless label printer with Samsung Android smartphone

This is what this Brother label printer is all about

The Brother PT-P750W Wireless Label Printer has “three-way” power where it can work from AC power via a supplied AC adaptor, 6 AA batteries or an optional rechargeable battery pack. If you run it on the AA batteries, you can only connect to it using the USB cable which limits its printing abilities to laptop computers or tablets running the “regular” Windows or MacOS X operating systems.

It uses the TZe series of P-Touch thermal label tapes which snap in to the Brother labeller in a manner not dissimilar to an audio cassette tape. Here, you have a wide variety of label tapes that can suit the different situations ranging from coloured labels through tamper-evident labels even to waterproof labels.

Connectivity

Label printed by Brother PT-P750W printer from Samsung smartphone

Light-switch label turned out by the above-illustrated setup

This machine can be connected directly to a regular computer via the USB cable or can be connected to regular computers or mobile computer devices via an existing Wi-Fi network segment or Wi-Fi Direct link. This includes the ability for Android phones that have an NFC connection and the Brither iPrint&Label app to “touch and go” for printing. As for the existing Wi-Fi segments, this can work with small networks that implement pre-shared key methods like WEP or WPA-PSK or can sign in to enterprise networks with a username and password. In these situations, if the network segment doesn’t implement WPS “push-to-connect” functionality, you have to use a regular computer running Brother’s “Printer Setting Tool” which you download from Brother’s Website and connect the printer to the computer via a USB cable to supply to the printer the parameters for the Wi-Fi segment you intend to have this printer work with.

Brother P-Touch PT-P750W wireless label printer - label cassette bay

Uses TZe label cassettes

This network functionality can only work if the printer is connected to AC power or the optional lithium-ion rechargeable battery pack. As well, it doesn’t implement the web-based “own-access-point” Wi-Fi setup that is common of a lot of wireless devices for integration with existing Wi-Fi segments. This may not be an issue with those of you who would keep this machine in the back of the van, ready to turn out labels as needed. If you have a device that doesn’t support NFC “touch-and-go” connectivity, you just need to turn on Wi-Fi and the printer will go in to Wi-FI Direct mode if it isn’t connected successfully to the

If you are printing from your smartphone or tablet, you would need to use the Brother iPrint&Label app to turn out the labels. This app worked well with my Samsung Android smartphone and it didn’t take long for me to link the smartphone up directly to this device and turn out a test label. It worked very well with a clean easy-to-use interface that allows you to get the job done.

Personally, I would have liked this app to support the ability for one to supply network connectivity information to the printer using that app’s interface as well as being able to print direct. Using a flashing Wi-Fi light to indicate Wireless Direct can have us think that something is going wrong even though the steady NFC light to indicate connection can lead to operator confusion. Rather, I would implement a dual-colour LED for the Wi-Fi light to indicate “infrastructure connection successful” in green and “Wireless Direct connection successful” in red or yellow. As well, have the light flash during connection establishment.

Label Quality

The labels have come out of the Brother PT-P750W labeller very crisply and clearly even when I have used the iPrint&Label app.  The app even implemented “right-sized” labelling to fit multiple-line text on the same piece of tape.

Usage Notes

Brother P-Touch PT-P750W Wireless label printerI used this device at the church I attend to help one of the men who is a licensed electrician and does the AV and electrical work for that congregation to turn out a label for the external-lighting switch. Here, I found that the Brother PT-P750W “tries” for my home network and doesn’t immediately fall over to Wireless Direct behaviour every time it is powered up. Personally, I would like to have a switch on the unit that enforces Wireless-Direct as an operation mode there and then, in a similar way to some of the Pioneer wireless speakers that have a switch on the unit to enforce this mode, and this mode is highlighted by the Wi-Fi light changing to a different colour to indicate “independent” wireless-network operation.

The man’s wife was intrigued by the way the Brother PT-P750W operates with a smartphone like his iPhone so as to make better use of that phone through the day. I had explained to the man how the device worked where he used his iPhone or iPad to label switches and outlets and he was even approaching me regarding how much it cost.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

An accessory that may be nice to have and may gain traction with this device’s target market would be a DC power adaptor. This would plug in to a vehicle’s cigar-lighter socket to allow this unit to be powered or charged from the vehicle’s 12-volt circuitry. Here it would earn its keep with those of us who work out of the back of a van by allowing us to charge the Brother label printer’s rechargeable battery while we are driving between jobs or locations, or have the unit working with the full wireless abilities and printing from our smartphones when we are preparing labels in the back of the van but without needing to have the optional rechargeable battery or compromising the battery’s runtime.

Another accessory that Brother could supply, whether “in the box” or as an optional extra, is a matching fitted carry-bag or road-case for this printer where the printer, its AC adaptor, a USB cable and a few label cassettes can be kept safely while it is taken “on the road”. Here, it also provides a single known place for the machine and these accessories so you don’t lose anything easily as you take it between locations.

As I have said before. the Brother software could support the ability to use one of their labellers to create a calibrated measuring tape. This could come in handy when you want to make a surface become a reference for measuring an item’s length or height.

Conclusion

I would pitch the Brother PT-P750W at electricians and other tradesmen along with maintenance departments who place value on using a smartphone or tablet to turn out labels as part of the job. The fact that it can work as its own Wi-Fi wireless segment as well as working with an existing Wi-Fi wireless network increases its portability even more because you don’t have to pair your mobile device or this printer with an existing Wi-Fi wireless network.

For that matter, I would see this machine as a viable tool rather than a toy. If you are intending to use the Brother PT-P750W Wireless Label Printer “on the road”, I would recommend that you purchase the rechargeable battery pack and have this set up for Wireless Direct exclusively for a truly portable setup with your mobile device.

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Product Review–Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook

Introduction

I am reviewing the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook which is Lenovo’s latest in its lineup of Yoga 360-degree convertible notebooks. This convertible notebook is a 13” portable-typewriter-size unit in a similar vein to the Sony VAIO Fit 13a convertible, with the idea of a screen and keyboard that is comfortably large for creating a significant amount of written content but also appeals as a large-screen tablet.

There is a baseline package which comes with the Intel i5 processor, 4Gb RAM, and 128Gb solid-state drive which is packaged in a 1960s-era orange housing (feelin’ groovy), along with a premium package that has an Intel i7 processor, 8Gb RAM and 256Gb solid-state drive which is packaged in a silver-grey housing. These product variants are available through the retail sector. But you purchase a package which has the Intel i7 processor, 8Gb RAM and 256Gb solid-state drive but fashioned in the orange housing directly from Lenovo’s online storefront.

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook at Phamish St Kilda

Price
– this configuration
RRP
Form factor Convertible – 360-degree hinge
Processor Intel i5-4210U CPU extra cost:
Intel i7-4500 CPU
RAM 4Gb RAM
extra cost
8Gb
shared with graphics
Secondary storage 128Gb solid-state drive,
extra cost:
256Gb solid-state drive
SDXC card reader
Display Subsystem Intel HD 4400 integrated display Display memory in discrete options
Screen 13” widescreen touchscreen
(3200×1800)
LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD integrated audio
Audio Improvements Dolby Home Theater tuning
Network Wi-Fi 802.11g/n
Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready
Modems Dial-up or wireless broadband
Connectivity USB 1 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0
High-speed connections eSATA, Thunderbolt, etc
Video Micro HDMI
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack
Expansion
Authentication and Security Fingerprint readers, TPM
Operating System on supplied configuration Windows 8.1
Windows Experience Index – this configuration Overall: Graphics:
Advanced Graphics:
Insert variants with relative price shifts

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook - tablet view

As a tablet

The Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro is a 360-degree convertible notebook that has the keyboard swing behind the screen to become a tablet. This also allows for setups like a “viewer” setup with the screen at a convenient angle but the keyboard not jutting out or even as a “tent” setup with the hinge at the top of the screen like a table tent-card. This mechanism has been able to operate smoothly with the display changing quickly and responsively.

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook - image-viewer view

As a viewer

It has the rubberised feel on the outside and on the palm rest with a distinct non-rubber feel for the actual keys and trackpad area. This make the computer so much easier to operate by touch.

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook - as a tent card

As a tent card

The base-model Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro comes in that bright orange colour that was a well-favoured colour for cars, appliances, furniture upholstery or interior design through the 1960s “Flower Power” era. The premium model with the higher specifications comes in a silver-grey colour. But people can order a higher-specified model with that bright-orange colour when they buy the computer directly from Lenovo’s online store.

The Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro does keep its cool properly due to a ventilation grille installed between the hinges. This can be uncomfortable to use when you are operating it as a tablet and holding it like a book.

User Interface

Like most computers that have the 13.3” screen size, the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro has a keyboard that is comfortably large for fast touch-typing and creating of large amounts of written content. It does feel shallow but you can still have the proper tactile feedback to adequately touch-type.

The trackpad is still very responsive but could have hardware override especially if you are touch-typing quickly and use the touchscreen and / or an external mouse to navigate the user interface.

All the supplementary controls are located on the right edge of the computer with buttons for just the volume control and to turn the computer on and off as required. Personally, I would like the on-off button to be easier to identify by feel and this could be preferably a larger button.

Audio and Video

The Lenovo Yogo 2 Pro’s display was very responsive and true to colour when watching online videos but the desktop experience on the high resolution display is stymied by the way most current-generation desktop operating systems like Windows handle high-pixel-density displays. This is where they make the text smaller and, in some cases, harder to read.

The sound does come through clearly for most voice based content when you are listening close to the computer but if you want to get more out of the music or good game effects, I would suggest that you use headphones or external speakers.

Connectivity, Storage and Expansion

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook Right-hand side - Power switch, Volume buttons, 3.5mm audio jack, USB 2.0 port

Right-hand side – Power switch, Volume buttons, 3.5mm audio jack, USB 2.0 port

There is a USB port on each side of the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro with one of each type allow for a common reality where one could be using a wired mouse and something like a USB external hard disk to offload extra data while travelling.

The model I am reviewing came with 256Gb of solid-state storage which was quick and responsive. The cheapest model has a 128Gb solid-state drive which would work well just for documents that you create but you may have toe eventually need a USB external hard disk. This is augmented by an SD card reader which comes in handy with your digital camera when you want to quickly download your pictures to take them further.

Battery run-time

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook left-hand side - power connection, USB 3.0 port, microHDMI socket, SDXC card reader

Left-hand side – power connection, USB 3.0 port, microHDMI socket, SDXC card reader

For a highly-portable computer, I am able to complete most regular computing tasks like text editing and Web browsing on the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro without finding I am out of “juice”. Some tasks like continual gaming or video watching may place a bit more strain on the batteries here.

Other usage notes

From my observation with different people, the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro has yielded different levels of interest. This ranged from a perception of it being too heavy to something that appeals as a flexible large secondary computer.

For example, it has been seen to be heavier than other devices that some people are used to using as secondary or companion computer devices like the Apple iPad. Conversely, a friend of mine whom I stay with liked the idea of the 13” convertible form-factor with it able to be a large easy-to-see tablet or something to type copy on.

But the Yoga 360-degree convertible design has piqued some curiosity because of the way it operates causing the system to be a tablet or a laptop computer.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

There is always the problem with the 13” ultraportable laptops being a bit too pricey compared to other computers of smaller or larger screen sizes. This is although they are likely to be considered as secondary computers for those of us who use desktops or larger laptops. The Lenovo still doesn’t change the fact here when it comes to the price of these computers.

Lenovo could offer a step-up model with the Intel i5 processor, 4Gb RAM and a 256Gb solid-state drive and / or offer an entry-level model of the Yoga 2 Pro with the Intel i3 processor for those of us who see it more as the secondary portable computer. It could also be the beginning of a run of colourful convertible notebooks that appeal to the idea of a highly personal computing experience.

Conclusion

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro convertible notebook rear view

Rear view – feelin’ groovy orange

The Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro computer would still come in to its own as a valid option for a secondary computer to create content on even though you have a larger “at-home” desktop or laptop computer, or as a large-screen tablet. Even the entry-level model is worth considering for those of us who value them in this way but want to save money.

The 360-degree convertible mechanism would be of value for those of us who value a convertible or detachable computer that is simple and hassle-free to switch between operation modes. This is especially important for those of us with limited dexterity  or are easily confused.

Attention: Look at this article to know how to remove the Superfish Visual Discovery adware from your Yoga 2 Pro.

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Product Review–ZCan Plus scanner mouse

Introduction

I have been given a chance to review an advance sample of the ZCan+ scanner mouse. This is a USB-connected mouse that works also as a convenience scanner using an integrated digital camera and supplied software.

There is a variant of the ZCan mouse that is coming soon and will implement Wi-Fi Direct connectivity and software for smartphones and tablets that run the mobile operating environments.

ZCan+ USB scanner mouse

The ZCan+ Mouse itself

The Zcan+ Mouse works properly as a USB-connected plug-and-play three-button scroll mouse using the standard operating-system drivers and configuration options.

Where the scanning takes place in the ZCan+ scanner mouse

Where the scanning takes place in the ZCan+ scanner mouse

But as a scanner, this works in a manner that is totally different to early-generation handheld scanners which worked on a “line-by-line” basis. You have to install a special program on your Windows or Macintosh computer from a supplied DVD or download the program from the manufacturer’s Website listed in the instruction manual if your computer doesn’t have an optical drive. This software is important because when you scan with this mouse, it “stitches” the images taken with the mouse’s camera together in a similar vein to the software you may use to create “panorama” photos with your digital camera.

You have to connect the ZCan+ mouse directly to your computer’s USB ports rather than via a bus-powered USB hub or a keyboard that has USB sockets especially if you want to use the scanner functionality. This is because the scanner functionality demands more power than if the device is just working as a mouse.

ZCan application screenshot - scanning

Screen-grab during my scanning of a business card

To start scanning, you press the illuminated blue button on the mouse and drag it over the item you want to scan in a zig-zag motion. When you press that illuminated blue button, the software will start and show the object on the screen. It will also highlight areas you need to re-scan if you missed parts of them. Once you stop scanning, you have the ability to crop the area you scanned and it makes it easier to identify the area to crop. The resultant images are shown as high-resolution images which would please anyone who is doing desktop publishing, wants to print the images or work with them on high-resolution displays.

You can save what you scanned as a JPEG, PNG or PDF image file or use the software to “read the text” to save as a Word document, text document or Excel spreadsheet.

ZCan application with scanned business card

ZCan application with scanned business card

It works well with scanning small areas like newspaper articles, snapshot photos, till receipts and the like and can even scan actual object surfaces very well. But I wouldn’t ask it to work a complete A4 or Letter page because you can find you end up with a messy scanning result as I have tried for myself after scanning a magazine page.

The OCR function only works with images you have created with the ZCan+ scanner and works properly when you have the document held still such as having it in the “scanner mat”. As well, the software has the ability to use Google Translate to allow you to translate printed text to another language. The software also supports direct “in-place” sharing to Facebook, Dropbox, Evernote and Flickr along with the ability to “read” QR codes. This function is so useful if you use a regular desktop or laptop computer and want to “delve in to” that link in a newspaper or magazine that is represented as a QR code using that computer.

Where do I see this scanner mouse fit in?

I see the scanner mouse work as a “convenience” scanner for whenever you are targeting small items. For example, I would use it for scanning business cards so I can get the contact details in to Outlook, scan till receipts as PDF files for expense-claim purposes, scan snapshots to JPEG image files to send to someone or share using Dropbox or Facebook, or transcribe newspaper and magazine articles. People who dabble with various hobbies or crafts may find the ZCan+ useful for scanning a pattern from clothing, soft-furnishings or similar items that they like to save as a JPEG image for “taking further” in the digital space.

It wouldn’t really replace the regular A4 desktop scanner or the multifunction printer’s scanning function for scanning most business documents or newspaper articles that cover an A4 or similar-sized sheet.

Point of improvement

The  ZCan+ scanner mouse could implement a setup method that I have seen with some USB 3G modems or with some HP printers that I have reviewed in order to make it easier to install on computers that neither have an optical drive nor access to an Internet connection. This is where the device contains the necessary software on memory integrated in the device and exposed to the computer as if it is a USB memory stick.

Similarly, it could use a TWAIN or WIA scanning application interface so it can work as a scanner for third-party applications like a lot of graphics and image-management packages.

Conclusion – Is the ZCan+ a tool or a toy?

I would call the ZCan+ scanner mouse a tool for supplementary or convenience scanning needs when handling small documents.

This device will strongly appeal to the traveller with a Windows or Macintosh-based laptop or tablet who is scanning business cards, receipts, images, etc; business or home computing applications where you want to quickly scan small objects and documents but find the regular scanner in “all-in-one” unwieldy or unsuitable for the job, and people who are involved with genealogy and want to scan family snapshot photos or small documents for archival purposes.

The “two-in-one” ability of a convenience scanner and a mouse would strongly appeal to laptop users who like the regular mouse over the touch-pad as their pointing device, along with the highlighted convenience scanning feature.

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Product Review – Braven BRV-X Outdoor Bluetooth Speaker

Introduction

I am reviewing the Braven BRV-X outdoor Bluetooth speaker which is effectively the “out-and-about” equivalent of the Braven 710 Bluetooth speaker. This unit is designed for rugged outdoor operation and even has a sound-optimisation mode for use when outdoors and you want to cover a large area. As well, it has the ability to charge other devices, mostly smartphones, Mi-Fi routers and the like, from its own battery as what most of the Braven speakers could do.

Braven BRV-X outdoor Bluetooth speaker

Price

The unit itself:

RRP including tax AUD $299.99

Form Factor

Single-piece speaker

Connections

Input Count as for a device
Audio Line Input
(connect a tape deck, CD player, etc)
1 x 3.5mm stereo socket
Digital Audio Input Bluetooth
Network  
Bluetooth A2DP and Hands-Free Profile with NFC setup

Speakers

Output Power Watts (RMS, FTC or other honest standard) per channel Stereo
Speaker Layout Not known Not known

The unit itself

 

Braven BRV-X Bluetooth speaker screw cap that covers connections

Rear view with screw cap that covers connections and NFC touch-to-pair area

The Braven BRV-X Bluetooth speaker is designed from the outset to be rugged and suitable for use outside. It is housed in a rubber enclosure with a metal perforated grille and some rubber pads act as the speaker’s control surface. The screw cap, which reminds you of a jar’s cap protects the sockets on the back of the speaker from water and other contaminants. These lead to another Bluetooth speaker that excels when it comes to build quality. As well, they supply a carry strap which you thread on to the speaker to make it easy to carry. Unlike the Braven 710, this unit is charged using a supplied “wall-wart” power transformer rather than being connected to a computer or USB charger.

 

Braven BRV-X outdoor Bluetooth speaker connections - USB power out for phones, AUX IN for wired audio connections, battery level indication, INDOOR-OUTDOOR tone switch

Connections – USB power out for phones, AUX IN for wired audio connections, battery level indication, INDOOR-OUTDOOR tone switch

The unit is easy to set up and integrate with your phone, tablet or computer. Here, you can pair your Android or Windows NFC-capable device to the speaker using NFC-based “touch-to-pair” setup. On the other hand, you would have to pair Apple devices and other devices that don’t implement NFC by holding down the PLAY button until you hear a distinct tone before scanning for it using your device and the speaker will show up as “BRAVEN BRV-X” on the device list.

Like other Braven speakers such as the previously-reviewed Braven 710, you can pair the BRV-X with another Braven speaker to establish a wirelessly-linked stereo speaker pair for better stereo channel separation. As well, it can work as an external battery pack for most smartphones, “Mi-Fi”devices and the like, whether to offer “boost-charging” or extended run-time. This has the same power capabilities like the Braven 710 previously reviewed.

Sound quality

The Braven BRV-X speaker does sound clear but doesn’t come across with tight bass even for today’s bass-heavy popular music. It can be set for indoor or outdoor operation through a simple two-position switch. When set for indoor operation, it can come across as being a bit rich for bass while the outdoor position gives a brighter sound, apparently to cover a larger area.

Braven BRV-X outdoor Bluetooth speaker rubberised control buttons

Rubberised control buttons for your smartphone, tablet or laptop

I can adjust the speaker to just about the maximum level before it sounds awful but this would cover a small room or be good enough for listening while you are close to that speaker. Most likely, I would say it comes across as sounding like a lot of mid-sized portable radios commonly available during the 1970s or like a lot of the Internet radios previously reviewed on this site.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

As I have said with the Braven 710, this could be released as a variant with an integrated radio tuner to serve as an FM or, perhaps, DAB+ digital radio.

Braven could implement an easy-to-attach carry-strap setup to improve on the useability of this unit with its carry strap. This could be achieved in a similar manner to the way the seatbelts work in your car where they clip in to place but are released when you push a button on the buckle.

Conclusion

I would recommend the Braven BRV-X Bluetooth speaker as a unit that would appeal to those of us who engage in a lot of outdoor activity and want to see it as a Bluetooth answer to the typical small portable radio that ends up being used outdoors.

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Product Review–Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer which is similar in capability to the HL-4150CDN and HL-4570CDW colour laser printers. This is the kind of printer one would consider as being useful for high-throughput printing of presentations and marketing collateral for a small business i.e. the organisational “short-run” printing press. The classic example of this would be a real-estate agent or auctioneer who has to turn out flyers that describe the property or goods that are for sale to hand to prospective purchasers when the property or auction lot is available for inspection. Or a church or funeral home could use these printers to bring colour in to those “order-of-service” cards or other similar short-run printing jobs.

There is a cheaper variant of this printer, known as the Brother HL-L8250CDN. This has a slower output speed and only has Ethernet as its network connection but is fast enough for most colour printing applications.

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer

Print Paper Trays Connections
Colour / B/W 1 x A4 USB 2.0
Laser xerographic Optional high-capacity A4 tray Ethernet,
802.11g/n Wi-Fi,
Wi-Fi Direct
Auto-duplex multi-purpose tray IPv6

Prices

Printer

Recommended Retail Price:

HL-L8250CDN: AUD$399

HL-L8350CDW: AUD$499

Optional Extras:

High-capacity paper tray: AUD$249

Inks and Toners

Standard High-Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$109 2500 AUD$123.95 4500
Cyan AUD$109 1500 AUD$179.95 3500
Magenta AUD$109 1500 AUD$179.95 3500
Yellow AUD$109 1500 AUD$179.95 3500

 

Servicing and Other Parts (Laser Printers)

Price Pages
Drum Unit AUD$267.45 25000
Belt Unit AUD$179.95 50000
Waste Toner Unit AUD$29.95 50000

The printer itself

Setup

The Brother HL-L8350CDW printer is apparently easy to set up or prepare for transport compared to previous-generation Brother colour laser printers. Here, there isn’t a need to remove catches and other pieces to prepare the HL-J8350CDW for use. There isn’t also a need to prepare the printer’s print engine for transport such as installing special fittings if the machine needs to be transported.

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer toner cartridges and drum unit

Toner cartridges and drum unit as a drawer

Like the Brother HL-4150CDN, the HL-L8350CDW has the drum unit working effectively as a “drawer” when you have to change toners, which would make this process a lot more easier. As well, like all of the Brother printers or multi-function units that implement laser or LED xerographic technology, these use a print engine with running parts like the imaging drum and/or transfer belt that the user can separately replace, along with the option to purchase toner cartridges that have a higher yield. These features allow for the printers to be effectively cheap to keep going.

It is capable of being setup for an Ethernet of Wi-Fi wireless network or even supporting Wi-Fi Direct so you can print directly from your mobile device without the need for the printer to be connected to a network. But the Wi-FI Direct function cannot be operated at the same time as the printer being connected to your network.

There is the ability to set these printers up for advanced print jobs such as working with envelopes or thicker media. This is through a drop-down “manual-bypass” tray that accommodates up to 50 sheets of the media along with the back of the printer being able to be dropped down for “straight-path” printing of envelopes. This ability places the Brother HL-L8350CDW and its peers along with the higher-capacity monochrome laser printers at an advantage compared with cheaper Brother printers for working wiht special media.

Walk-up functions

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer USB walk-up socket

USB socket for plugging in USB flash drives

You can print PDF or similar files from a USB memory stick by plugging it in to a USB port on the front of the unit. One disadvantage here is that it is slower to turn out a 2-sided PDF print job which may come as a limitation when you want to turn out that flyer where the artwork is on a memory stick.

It is also worth knowing that the USB port can serve as a “walk-up” charging port for your smartphone or similar devices. The manual doesn’t seem to support this but I haven’t had error messages thrown up as a result of my charging of gadgets this way. This function even operates when the printer is in the “Sleep” mode or in active use. It doesn’t work this way in the “Deep Sleep” mode.

Computer functions

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser pritner control panel

Control panel

An issue with a lot of Brother printers is that they make one driver package for each model even though most or all models of a series have common abilities and features.  This can cause problems with installation especially over the network. Other than that, the software installation worked smoothly.

For printing, it took only a few seconds for the printer to “wake up” and turn out the first page of a job once you submitted it. This was from its “sleep” state. As for heat build-up, there wasn’t much of that during a small print run but it starts to occur through larger print runs say, for example, after 20 double-side pages are turned out. As well, the noise level is similar to what is expected for most laser printers and photocopiers.

The on-machine user interface is similar to the HL4150CDN’s user interface, which has the small LCD display and four-way arrow keys. This doesn’t have the ability to show up how much toner is currently available or provide an easy-to-implement “confidential-print” or “walk-up” printing function.

Print speed and quality

Brother HL-L8350CDW colour laser printer special-media tray

Multi-page special-media tray

The text and graphics documents came out of the Brother HL-L8350CDW very sharply and clearly. This was exemplified with a personal “desktop-publishing” job that I had run as well as other print jobs that I had done with this machine.

The automatic duplex functionality came across as being very quick for jobs that were sent from the host computer. It was something that was very similar to what had happened with the Brother HL-4150CDN where it apparently worked both sides of two pages at the same time. This didn’t cause problems with registration shift, which could make it work well for turning out bookmarks and similar documents or proofing documents that are to be printed on card-stock by a print shop.

As for photos, these came through sharp and vibrant, which is above average for a colour laser printer. Here, I was able to see bright reds in the test images which also came through very brightly and with good contrast. This would increase the Brother HL-L8350CDW’s appeal to people like estate agents who need to turn out a run of flyers to have on hand during an “open-for-inspection” visit.

Build quality and serviceability

The Brother HL-L8350CDW is built very well and, as I have mentioned before, hasn’t had issues with heat buildup or excessive noise. This has been through use of proper cool-down procedures. As well, all the doors and drawers snapped shut properly and didn’t come across as being flimsy.

For serviceability, the rear door exposes most of the output print path so you can remove jammed pages easily. The fact that the drum unit is separately replaceable makes it easier to reach inside the unit if you had to deal with paper jams inside the unit. This makes the job of rectifying most printer paper-transport problems less of a chore.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The Brother HL-L8350CDW could show the amount of toner available in the unit on the LCD display so you don’t have to operate a computer to know when it’s time to put a replacement toner cartridge on the shopping list. This could simply be shown as a bar graph and not only when the supply is critically low.

The USB device port on these machines could be implemented for more than just walk-up printing from USB flash drives. For example, this port could support PictBridge printing from digital cameras so you could obtain a quick printout of a digital photo you took with your camera. As well, it could use the USB Human Interface Device class to work with an external numeric keypad for applications such as Secure Print or whenever you are setting it up with a wireless network. It then avoids the need to “pick and choose” numbers for code entry.

A nice-to-have feature that the machine’s owner could separately enable would be a “plug-and-charge” function that is available at all times the printer is plugged in to AC power rather than when it is active or in “sleep” mode. Here, this means that the USB port could provide 1 amp or 2.1 amps of power available irrespective of sleep-mode status so you can charge up a smartphone, tablet or similar gadget from the printer’s USB port. It is one of those features that is becoming more important as the USB port is seen as a universal power outlet for personal gadgets.

Brother could improve on the automatic duplexer in these printers to improve its throughput so that the “sheet output” approaches that of half of the machine’s rated single-sided throughput. This is although these machines do excel on that feature by effectively “working” two sheets at once. It would then raise the bar with those of us who are using this feature as part of our desktop-publishing needs. Similarly, these laser-printer automatic duplexers could be worked further to handle A5 and similar small sizes of paper for those of us who expect them to work as “short-run” printing presses.

As for replaceable parts, Brother could offer for these colour laser printers a “heavy-duty” replacement-parts kit with a drum unit and belt unit that are optimised to handle longer more-intense print runs as an option. This could appeal to small businesses and non-profit organisations who are more likely to run these machines constantly as the organisational short-run printing press.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I would recommend the Brother HL-L8350CDW as a cost-effective high-volume colour laser printer for those of us who turn out a lot of colour business or presentation documents and place value on the laser xerographic print method for this application. Those of us who are on a budget could opt for the HL-L8250CDN which has a slower throughput and just uses Ethernet network connectivity.

As well, I would run these printers with the TN-346 series of toner cartridges when you are expecting to push them hard on a lot of promotional printout work. Most users can run them with the TN-341 cartridges when on a budget or even use a TN-346K black cartridge along with the TN-341 colour cartridges as a way of stretching your dollar further.

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Product Review–Denon DHT-S514 soundbar

Introduction

Previously, I reviewed the Denon DHT-T100 TV speaker base which was the first of the “TV extension speaker” products which are to improve an existing flat-screen TV’s sound output without the need for a full-on many-speaker surround-sound system. It was in the form of a speaker-equipped “plinth” which the TV sits on,

Now I am reviewing the Denon DHT-S514 soundbar which is in the other form-factor for this class of device. Here, it is a long tube or bar that has the speakers and is placed in front of the TV or mounted underneath the TV if it is wall-mounted. These devices also need to use a subwoofer to reproduce the bass notes due to the small size of the speakers and enclosure.

IMG_1852

Price

RRP: AUD$999

Specifications

Connections

TV
Analogue 1 x 3.5mm stereo input jack
Digital SPDIF PCM or Bitstream (Dolby AC-3)
Optical via Toslink socket,
Coaxial via RCA socket
HDMI ARC return feed
Other sources
Video peripheral HDMI input
Aux Input Bluetooth A2DP

Sound Decoding

Surround Sound Dolby Digital AC-3
Stereo PCM

Amplifier And Speakers

Arrangement Single-piece unit with 2 channels plus external active subwoofer
Amplifiers
Speakers – per channel 14mm tweeter,
51x127mm midrange
Speakers – subwoofer 2 x 133mm woofers

 The soundbar itself

Setup

Denon DHT-S514 soundbar unit

The soundbar unit

It can use HDMI connectivity but the ARC functionality isn’t all that polished especially whein I tried to connect this soundbar between a TiVo PVR and the HDMI-ARC-equipped Samsung Smart TV. Here, it preferred to play the TiVo’s audio rather than the Samsung TV’s audio when I selected the Samsung TV’s integrated tuner using the TV’s remote.

Denon DHT-S514 wireless subwoofer

The wireless subwoofer – handles all the bass

What really worked well in a surefire manner was to connect the Denon soundbar to the TV’s SPDIF digital output and have it learn the TV remote’s volume and mute commands for regulating its sound level. The soundbar also comes with an infra-red repeater which can work well with very-low-slung TVs where installing the unit gets in the way of the TV’s remote “eye”.

Denon DHT-S514 soundbar controls

Simple controls on the soundbar

Installing the subwoofer was effectively a simple “plug and play” operation where there was no need to “pair” it with the soundbar. This is due to an automatic routine that takes place when it is first powered up while the soundbar is on.

Sound response

Denon DHT-S514 HDMI (input and output) and IR blaster connections

HDMI (input and output) and IR blaster connections

I found that the Denon DHT-S514, like the Denon DHT-T100, worked well on the “Movie” mode which provided the “focused” dialogue while music and effects were placed “further out”. This appealed to most TV content that we watched including some “studio-based” TV content like “The Voice” as well as some good-quality British and European drama content.

Denon DHT-S514 soundbarSPDIF (optical and coaxial) and analog input connections

SPDIF (optical and coaxial) and analog input connections

The subwoofer was very effective with the bass response and I found that having its level control set between 45-50% yielded a certain amount of punch to the sound without it being excessively boomy. Sometimes you may have to roll its level control back slightly when you are playing bass-rich content through the soundbar at very high levels. As well, you may have to increase the subwoofer volume in a room replete with plenty of soft furnishings like wall-to-wall carpeting or heavy drapes.

With audio equipment, I turn the volume up with music-based content to see how loud it can go before it starts to clip and sound awful. I can run the Denon DHT-S514 at 80% volume and find it fills the large open area with clear sound before it starts to sound awful.

Denon DHT-S514 subwoofer volume setting

An ideal position to have the subwoofer set so it doesn’t dominate too easily

The “night mode”, which is accessible by you pressing on the “sound mode” button for a long time until the lights dim, does provide a compressed sound and contain the bass. This would be effective for people who watch content late at night without disturbing others.

I had noticed that the sound came across clearly across all TV content requirements with the voices having that bit of “fullness” in them. Sound effects came across with a distinct “punch” and this wasn’t just limited to the highly dramatic effects associated with stunts. Even ambient sound gained a bit of that “fullness” while hearing someone knock on a door or a door closing in the movie had that sense of authenticity about it.  It didn’t treat music like a second-class citizen but gave it that full “hi-fi” sound even for someone singing in “The Voice”.

There is also that apparent wide sound separation even if you are viewing “from the wings” when you are watching the TV content through the Denon DHT-S514 soundbar.

Limitations and Points of Improvement

There are a few items that Denon could work on when refining their soundbar products especially to improve their useability.

One would be to improve the HDMI behaviour so that you can use the remote control for an HDMI-ARC-enabled TV to switch between the TV’s sources and any HDMI sources connected directly to the Denon soundbar. This could make things easier if you connect the soundbar between a cable box, Blu-Ray player or other video peripheral and the TV because all of the available HDMI sockets on that set are occupied by your video peripherals.

Another would be to provide an improved “night-mode” indication such as on-unit LEDs that light a different colour while in this mode rather than dimming, which may be hard to notice visually. Similarly, the “night mode” could be made accessible through a separate button on the soundbar itself because most of us will drive this system with the TV’s remote rather than juggling two or more remotes.

As for the subwoofer, an improvement that could come for this setup could be the ability to adjust its volume at the soundbar or its remote control rather than adjusting a small knob on the subwoofer itself. This could effectively make it easier to adjust the bass response to your liking.

Use of advanced sound-management technologies like those offered by Audyssey or Dolby in these soundbars can go a long way in providing consistent volume or bass levels when you are watching different video content.

The Bluetooth could also support A2DP source functionality so the soundbar can be used with a Bluetooth headset for late-night listening or to help a person with hearing limitations hear the TV content.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

The Denon DHT-S514 soundbar could become a more powerful alternative to the DHT-T100 speaker base when you are thinking of a dedicated-device solution to improve your TV’s sound reproduction. These are especially important for those of us who use a stereo system to play our music and don’t want to head down the path of the “full-on” surround-sound system. They are also important for those of us who find it difficult to cope with different operating procedures or juggling different remote controls when it comes to watching TV.

This would come in handy with larger lounge areas or lounge areas that are replete with heavy soft furnishings that absorb the sound too easily because of its increased output power. As well, it would work well with larger TVs or sets that are mounted on the wall or on an adjustable bracket because of the lightweight soundbar that can be mounted on the wall under the TV or anchored to the adjustable bracket along with the TV using appropriate mounting strips.

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Product Review–Lenovo ThinkPad G50-70 laptop

Introduction

I am reviewing the Lenovo G50-70 15” laptop which is a model that Lenovo are pitching as an affordable model for families to consider as the household laptop or a student who is wanting one to use for their studies and party life.

There are three different variants of this laptop model with this one offering an Intel i5 processor, 4Gb on the RAM and 500Gb on the hard disk. It also comes with AMD discrete graphics that work alongside the Intel integrated graphics in an “overdrive” fashion.

There is a cheaper variant that uses an Intel i3 processor and integrated graphics only while the premium variant offers an Intel i7 processor, the full discrete graphics treatment along with 8Gb on the RAM and 1Tb on the hard disk.

Lenovo Thinkpad G50-70 Laptop

Price
– this configuration
RRP AUD$699
Form factor Regular laptop
Processor Intel i5-4200U cheaper
Intel i3-4005U
extra cost
Intel i7-4500U
RAM 4 Gb
extra cost:
8 Gb
shared with graphics
Secondary storage 500Gb hard disk
extra cost:
1 Tb hard disk
DVD-RW burner, SDHC card reader
variants available
Display Subsystem AMD Radeon R5 M230 discrete graphics +
Intel HD integrated graphics

cheaper:
Intel HD4400 integrated graphics
2Gb Display memory
Screen 15” widescreen
(1366×768)
LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD Audio
Audio Improvements Dolby Digital Plus
Network Wi-Fi 802.11g/n
Ethernet 10/100 Ethernet
Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready
Modems Dial-up or wireless broadband
Connectivity USB 2 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0
Video HDMI output, VGA
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack, digital output via HDMI
Operating System on supplied configuration Windows 8.1

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

The Lenovo G50-70 Series is a well-built regular laptop with a charcoal grey finish like other products. It also exhibits the same level of durability that is associated with that name.

This unit hasn’t had heat build-up and you may be able to work with it on your knees. As well, I haven’t heard a fan kick in frequently while it is in operation.

User Interface

The Lenovo G50’s keyboard uses a chiclet design but is laid out for accurate touch-typing. It feels responsive and hard this having the proper tactile feedback. The function keys are offered as a default function without you needing to press the Fn key to gain that function – Alt-F4 to close a program is still Alt-F4 rather than Alt-Fn-F4.

The trackpad does its job properly but can, like most trackpads, be susceptible to being triggered accidentally in a bout of touch-typing. Personally, I would have a trackpad ovverride switch for those of us who use mice or do a long bout of touch-typing.

Audio and Video

Lenovo Thinkpd G50 laptop - Left-hand-side view - VGA, Ethernet, HDMI, USB 3.0, USB 2.0

Left-hand-side view – VGA, Ethernet, HDMI, USB 3.0, USB 2.0

Thanks to the use of dedicated graphics infrastructure, I would expect this variant of the Lenovo G50-70 to come up well with multimedia and games and it did so when I ran the DVD to test its battery runtime. Like most consumer laptops, there is the issue of a glossy screen which can perplex some users.

Audio, altuough being equipped with Dolby tuning, is typical for most laptops – small speakers that contest with other circuitry for sounding space.

Connectivity, Storage and Expansion

Lenovo Thinkpad G50 laptop -Right-hand side view - Audio jack, SD card reader, USB 3.0. DVD burner

Right-hand side view – Audio jack, SD card reader, USB 3.0. DVD burner

The Lenovo G50 comes with 3 USB ports, two ofhich are USB 3.0 ports along with an audio in-out socket. You could connect it to external video displays and projectors using the HDMI or VGA sockets which can also suit use with older monitors and economy data projectors.

For network connectivity, you can connect to a wired Ethernet network using a “clothespeg-style” Ethernet connector similar to what has been used with the HP Envy4 series of computers and the Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider convertible connector. But the wired connection can only go up to 100Mbps which doesn’t allow for today’s next-generation broadband requirements. The Wi-Fi segment is a single-band 802.11g/n setup which will suit most home, work and coffee-shop wireless networks while you have Bluetooth 4.0 Low-Energy (Bluetooth Smart Ready) operation for wireless peripherals.

The 500Gb hard disk has the right capacity for most users and I am pleased that the whole series comes with a DVD burner, something that is starting to disappear in this day and age as far as secondary storage is concerned. Think of kids watching DVDs on the long journey, being able to share data via a very cheap optical disk or even loading some retail-box software like games still delivered on optical disk.

Battery life

The Lenovo G50’s battery life was very typical for most “mainstream” laptops where it could work for a long time on basic tasks but not so well for multimedia tasks. This was aided by the implementation of a dual-graphics setup which can be configured to prefer the integrated graphics for battery use.

I even run this for one and a half hours playing a DVD before the battery gave up the ghost. This was to see how it would handle activities like playing multimedia content while “on the road”.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The Lenovo G50 Series could benefit from having a full Gigabit Ethernet port for wired networks while it could have at least dual-band 8802.11n Wi-Fi network abilities which would be now considered for today’s networks with the imminent arrival of next-generation broadband.

As well, for a family laptop, it could benefit from the same keyboard and trackpad design that the Thinkpad laptop range implement due to the ruggedness that was effectively built in to these models. This could be augmented with an override switch so you are not always triggering the trackpad.

Conclusion

Lenovo Thinkpad G50-70 laptop lidview

Unassuming lid view

The Lenovo G50-70 Series is really the laptop equivalent of a middle-of-the-road “family car” like a Ford Falcon or Holden Commodore sedan in Australia and New Zealand.  It is available in a range of models that can “do the job”with one offering baseline functionality, one offering what most people want and a premium model that has “all the fruit”. It is infact one of a few I would recommend for a household to consider as a candidate for the “family laptop” or for someone to consider as a personal “all-purpose” laptop.

Most families and students after this model could get by with the mid-tier package that I reviewed with it being able to do most “across-the-board” computing tasks.Those who are seeking performance or on-board storage capacity may find it better to head for the top-shelf model.

Attention: Look at this article to know how to remove the Superfish Visual Discovery adware from this machine.

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Product Review–Brother MFC-J6720DW A3 colour inkjet multifunction printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother MFC-6720DW A3 colour inkjet multifunction printer which is the latest in Brother’s A3-capable multifunction inkjet printers

The model I am reviewing is the second-tier model in Brother’s new A3 multifunction range with the Brother MFC-J6520DW economy model having only one paper tray and the top-shelf Brother MFC-J6920DW having single-pass duplex scanning and NFC / Wi-Fi Direct mobile connectivity

Brother MFC-J6720DW A3 inkjet multifunction printer

Print Scan Copy Fax /
E-mail
Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour A3 Colour Colour 2 x A3 USB 2.0
Piezoelectric Ink-jet 2400 dpi ID copy,
Book-optimised copy
Super G3 Ethernet, 802.11g/n Wi-Fi
Auto-duplex A3-capable ADF T.37 Internet faxing multi-purpose tray IPv6 dual-stack

Prices

Printer

Brother MFC-J6520DW: AUD$279 (Single paper tray)

Brother MFC-J6720DW: AUD$299 (Two paper trays)

Brother MFC-J6920DW: AUD$429 (Two paper trays, single-pass duplex scan, NFC support)

Inks and Toners

Standard High-Capacity Extra High Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages Price
Black AUD$43.79 600 AUD$54.95 2400
Cyan AUD$28.16 600 AUD$31.95 1200
Magenta AUD$28.16 600 AUD$31.95 1200
Yellow AUD$28.16 600 AUD$31.95 1200

It is also worth noting that the Brother LC-133 series ink cartridges, which are standard-capacity cartridges for these printers are compatible with most of Brother’s newly-released consumer and small-business inkjet printer range whether as standard cartridges for some models or high-capacity for others. This may allow you to buy and run different Brother inkjet printers from that range yet be able to buy the same lot of cartridges to replenish them which can be a bonus if your supplier does sell them in quantity at a cost-effective price.

The printer itself

Setup

Brother MFC-J6720DW A3 multifunction inkjet printer

Brother MFC-J6720DW loaded with documents

Like most of the recent Brother multifunction printers, the trend is to place the network and USB computer-connectivity sockets within the machine and have the machine open up in a clamshell manner to expose these sockets. But Brother also moved the telephony connections used for regular telephony-based faxing to this same area. This can confuse some users who are installing the printer for the first time or moving the printer to a newer location.

Other than that, this printer worked well when it came to setting it up. But Brother still needs to work on the computer software so it doesn’t time out and throw an error message if it can’t find the printer quickly enough or prefer to use the operating system to discover the hardware.

This printer, like the other Brother A3-capable inkjet multifunction printers uses a paper tray that extends to a large size for A3 or collapses for A4 and smaller paper. As well, you load the ink cartridges in a compartment that is at the front of the machine, moving away from the need to lift heavy lids to replace them. Personally, I would like the printer to identify if multiple new cartridges are being replaced at a time which can come in handy if you were doing a few large printing projects and you needed to replace a lot of cartridges.

Walk-up functions – can be started from printer’s control surface

I have done quite a few copying jobs such as some family trees for someone who lives with me and this has yielded high-quality copies although it doesn’t print to the absolute edge and can clip the original at the edge. As well, it “copies to memory” so that you can remove the original document before the copies are printed which can come in handy with multiple-copy copy jobs. Even the ID copy function worked properly with you having to keep the card in the same corner when you turn it over.

Like with most of the recent Brother printers, there could be an option for the printer to keep the same settings rather than timeout to default settings. This would make things easier if you were doing larger copy, scan or fax jobs where you have to spend some time organising the original documents to be worked with. Luckily there is the ability to “preset” common setups as shortcuts which can make this workflow quicker and easier.

For that matter, when you copy, fax or scan from the glass platen rather than the automatic document feeder, you have to position the original lengthways. This confused me initially due to using the Brother MFC-J4710DW which was the first to use landscape printing and required the original in “portrait” mode.

The fax functionality works both with the regular telephone, offering Super G3 with a best case of colour A3 or T.37 store-and-forward with monochrome A4 faxing. If the standard was extended, it could support JPEG colour faxing. The T.37 store-and-forward faxing function is available with a free firmware update from Brother’s Web site.

Like other recent Brother inkjet printers, these printers implement the Web Connect functionality which allows them to be used with a lot of hosted services like Dropbox and Facebook. This comes in to its own with the “download-to-print” functionality for photos or PDFs that these services can offer.

Computer functions

The software that Brother supplies with this printer and most of the other printers gives up too easily when it is searching for the device. It could use the host operating system’s hardware-discovery methods to find the printer.

As for printing, it can turn out most jobs quickly but you would have to set the print driver to the “best quality” if you want to turn out “presentation-grade” colour work.

The A3 functionality comes a long way for larger graphics work including most signage but use the “Booklet” printing with A3 and you turn out a double-sided four-page A4 booklet which could save you money or give you a desktop-publishing bonus.

For operation speed, it turns out most most business documents very quickly but takes a slightly longer time to turn out “best-quality” work. Even turning out the A4 booklet on A3 paper came out properly and quickly.

I have printed some test photos and noticed that this printer does work heavier on the yellow and turn out a darker image. There is still a bit of a redder flesh-tone in people’s faces and this may have an impact with turning out best-quality brochures. For a small-business inkjet printer, these don’t beat the previously-reviewed HP OfficeJet 8600a as a high-quality photo/brochure printer.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

One area I would like to see improvement take place is with the software where the onus for discovering the printer is placed on Windows rather than the printer’s software.

These Brother printers like the MFC-J6720Dw could implement a straight-through paper path for their automatic document feeders, especially with machines that have the single-pass duplex scanner. This makes them easier to trust with documents that are on fragile paper. Similarly, they could benefit from increased flash memory or a dedicated SDXC card slot for “fax vault” functionality, caching of print queues and similar functionality.

Also a midrange Brother A3 multifunction printer could still implement A4 duplex scanning with A3 one-side scanning as has been achieved with the prior generation of Brother A3 multifunction printers such as tbe Brother MFC-J6910DW that I previously reviewed. This is while a premium model could still support the full-duplex operation for all paper sizes.

Similarly Brother could work on these printers and the rest of their business inkjet printer range to make them answer HP’s OfficeJet Pro 8600 multifunction printer when it comes to printing brochures, flyers and similar marketing collateral. They could achieve this by making the colours more vibrant in most printing modes especially with coated or gloss / matt paper and being able to handle multiple sheets of special-media paper whether in the manual-bypass tray or the paper drawer.

This is due to inkjet printing being material-flexible due to the absence of heat in the printing process. It would be highly relevant with the Brother A3 inkjet printer range because of that paper size appealing to noticeboard or shop-window use or to creation of A4 booklets when the printer is set up to print in “Booklet” mode on A3 paper.

Another way that Brother could “cut in” with their A3 printers woudl be to provide an A3 single-function printer that can answer a lot of the “wide-carriage” A3 inkjet printers offered by Canon and HP or a DCP-series A3 multifunction printer without fax abilities to come in to its own as a cost-effective A3 multifunction when A3 faxing is not on the agenda.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

Any of us who handle large documents regularly would find this latest range of Brother’s A3-capable multifunction printers earning their keep. For most of use, the Brother MFC-J6720DW would come in handy especially if we are also using it as the main printer. The MFC-J6520DW costs $20 cheaper but I would consider it a false economy due to having to switch paper when you want to print on a different paper size. The MFC-J6920DW, which costs significantly more, is for those of us who copy or scan a lot of double-sided documents or want the ability to work with Android-based mobile devices in a standalone manner.

You could easily partner one of these printers with Brother’s HL-4150CDN or HL-4570CDW colour laser printers or the cheaper HL-3150CDN or HL-3170CDW for a high-performance colour desktop-publishing setup for your small business or other organisation. This is where you can use the laser printer with laser-capable media for high print runs while you use these inkjet printers for smaller print runs, large A3 documents, double-sided single-sheet A5 flyers or A4 multi-page booklets on A3 paper and similar work.

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Short commentary–Cyrus Lyric network-enabled CD receiver

Cyrus Lyric 09 CD receiver

Cyrus Lyric CD receiver – playing a CD

Normally I would have a product for a few weeks to be able to test-drive it, but I had a very short opportunity to try out a Cyrus Lyric network-enabled CD receiver at Carlton Audio Visual. The demo unit was intended to be shifted to this hi-fi dealer’s stand at the HIA Home Show. I have given space to this product as another example of its class since it was premiered at the Melbourne Audio & AV Show 2013 at Intercontinental Melbourne The Rialto .

Carlton Audio Visual is one of a few remaining specialist hi-fi and home-AV dealers existing in Melbourne and who maintain a “bricks-and-mortar” storefront where you can actually try out the equipment you want to purchase or specify.

The functionality I was able to try out with this unit was the CD-playback functionality and the ability to “pair up” and play music from my smartphone and the unit was connected to a pair of Monitor Audio floor-standing speakers which demonstrated how flexible this class of network-enabled CD receiver was. I played the Big Break Records CD-remaster of Delegation’s “Eau De Vie” through this system and found that it came across with that same “punch” that was important for popular music, especially funk, soul and similar music.

Cyrus Lyric source list - CD, Network (UPnP), Internet radio, DAB/FM radio, Aux, Bluetooth

The many functions that the Cyrus Lyric has

As well, I had done some other research and found that the Lyric does well for connectivity with 2 optical and 2 coaxial digital (PCM) inputs for equipment like a TV or set-top box with digital output, or a MiniDisc deck. It can also work as a “virtual sound card” for your laptop computer using a USB Type-B connector, but you also have a line-level analog input and an analog output that can be configured to be a line-level output for a recording device or amplifier, or a pre-level output for a power amplifier or active speakers like the Bang & Olufsen Beolab or Bose Powered Acoustimass speakers.

There is even the ability to have a Cyrus Lyric set up for “2.1” operation with an active subwoofer and while its own amplifier drives a set of speakers that don’t rate well for bass like very small bookshelf speakers or smaller “cube-style” speakers. This means that you can adjust bass volume and cutoff frequency for this setup at the CD receiver’s control panel.

There are some useability improvements that could be provided here. For example, when the Lyric is actually in operation but you want the system not to light up fully, it could “light up” the volume control “buttons” and a “menu/source button” all the time so one can know where to go if you needed to adjust the volume quickly such as to turn the music down when you want to speak with someone or “wind up the wick” for a favourite song.  It is symptomatic of a trend in designing consumer and small-business electronics where you have a dark-coloured control or display panel which lights up items on an “as-required” basis as has been done with pinball machines.

From my experience with the Cyrus Lyric, I do see some good things coming of it being Cyrus Audio’s example for a high-quality network-connected CD receiver expected to last a very long time. I would recommend someone to purchase the Lyric 05 low-powered model along with a pair of smaller bookshelf speakers or for that small apartment if they had their eye on this model. This may also apply with people teaming one of these units with a pair of older speakers that were in good condition. The Lyric 09 would come in to its own with newer speakers that could handle its greater power output.

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