Category: Product Review

Product Review–Brother MFC-J5720DW Multifunction Inkjet Printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother MFC-J5720DW multifunction inkjet printer which is the second generation of Brother’s landscape-printing A4/Letter inkjet printers. It still has the compact form factor of these printers and can be set up to print on A3/Ledger paper by you either using the feed tray on the back of the printer or elongating one of the paper drawers.

IMG_2398 Brother MFC-J5720DW

Print Scan Copy Fax /
E-mail
Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour Colour / B/W Colour 2 x A4 USB 2.0
Piezoelectric ink-jet Resolution ID copy
Optimised book copy,
App-driven cropping
Super G3 Options Ethernet,
802.11g/n Wi-Fi
Auto-duplex Single-pass duplex ADF T.37, T.38, other email-based transmission and reception Multi-purpose tray – A3 IPv6 dual-stack

Prices

Printer

The machine’s standard price: AUD$299 Recommended Retail Price

Inks and Toners

Standard High-Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$40.95 550 AUD$54.95 2400
Cyan AUD$26.95 550 AUD$31.95 1200
Magenta AUD$26.95 550 AUD$31.95 1200
Yellow AUD$26.95 550 AUD$31.95 1200

 

The printer itself

A highly compact printer

A highly compact printer

The Brother MFC-J5720DW and the MFC-J5320DW come across as being a highly compact printer that doesn’t take up much desk space. This is thanks to the landscape printing inkjet mechanism which works on the long edge of the sheet of A4 or Letter paper. It also lets them print on to A3 or Ledger paper which can come in handy with signs and other similar work.

The model I am reviewing is the MFC-J5370DW which has as its extra features a single-pass double-sided scanner as well as an extra tray whereas the cheaper MFC-J5320DW omits these features.

Setup

Up-front ink cartridges

Up-front ink cartridges

The printer is capable of being connected to a Wi-Fi wireless network with WPS setup or an Ethernet network and I chose the latter more for reliability and the fact that it is better to connect printers that are normally sessile to a network via a wired connectioni.e. Cat5 Ethernet, HomePlug AV or MoCA.

The printer, like other recent Brother inkjets, requires you to lift the lid to connect it to a computer or wired network. This can be confusing but allows you to have it tightly against a wall.

Everything about this printer was simple when it came to getting it going for the first time. This included installing ink cartridges which are located up front.

Walk-up functions

Loaded view - with document in ADF and printed output.

Loaded view – with document in ADF and printed output.

The copying function comes through easily because of the use of “one-touch” access to the common copying jobs. The copies come out very sharp and clear but you may miss a few millimetres at the edge and this shows up when I was doing a test ID-copy on a hotel keycard, and this can exasperate users who put documents to the edge to make sure they square up when copying off the platen. Even a duplex copy went according to plan with both sides coming through properly and quickly. Here it achieves the speed goal by scanning to memory before printing.

USB socket and SD card slot

USB socket and SD card slot

It has the card slots so you can quickly print from camera cards or USB thumbdrives if you just want that picture or document “there and then”.

It has access to mobile printing services like Google Cloud Print and Apple AirPrint along with the ability to print from online services like Dropbox, Evernote and Facebook. This is through an interface that Brother has set up for these devices and it allows you to have multiple accounts of the same service set up.

Computer functions

The driver software installed properly as long as you specified the model that was being installed and there was the “at-a-glance” layout for driver settings. They also use the ControlCenter scanner software which could benefit from the ability to reorder pages when you are scanning multiple documents or creating a “document-of-documents” PDF file.

Brother still maintains the ability to load ink cartridges from the front of the printer like they have done with most of their inkjet printers. This makes for an easy-to-use printer. The only let-down is that they are using newer cartridges which may be disappoint people who are upgrading from previous generations of Brother inkjet printer but have extra cartridges for their older equipment..

The multipurpose tray was a bit hard to use because of the effective availability of two trays as part if this tray. This can confuse anyone who wants to use the multipurpose tray to print a few sheets of paper.

Print Speed and Quality

I had this printer turn out a large report on both sides of the paper and it didn’t falter through the print job which is an example of a typical office print job. The landscape printing was able to help with improving the printing speed.

Regular documents came out of the Brother MFC-J5720DW with the same sharpness that is expected for office documents and this didn’t matter whether the printer was working single-sided or double-sided.

It comes across with the saturation for business graphics but could do a bit better when working with plain paper. This was from what I observed with a “carols by candlelight” bulletin for the church I go to and I showed my printout of that same bulletin to my pastor who had colour printouts of it done by a local Officeworks and he reckoned that it didn’t have the same as what they provided.

I printed out some test photographs on Kodak paper and had still noticed proper contrast, brightness and definition. But it still came across with a yellow tinge which may not play well with some pictures which may impair colour fidelity. This is although there is the strong colour saturation which may be desireable to make marketing materials “pop”. In my opinion, it is getting closer to the HP OfficeJet Pro 8600 Series but doesn’t overthrow it when it comes to a business inkjet printer that has marketing-collateral printing prowess.

Compared to the previous generation of Brother landscape-printing inkjet printers, the MFC-J5720DW and its peers have made better strides in print quality for photos and other similar material.

Limitations and Points Of Improvements

There are still some improvements that Brother could apply to the MFC-J5720DW and its peers.

One would be to improve the colour fidelity so that photos don’t come out with a heavy yellow tinge but come out with a proper amount of yellow. As well, Brother could still keep up the work with optimising their colour inkjet and laser printers to turn out the quality needed for them to become the short-run printing press for small organisations.

The mechanism can be improved by the use of an output shelf that isn’t integrated in to the paper cassette. This can allow for improvements like a self-retracting output shelf or one that comes out when a print job is being turned out.

Similarly, Brother could implement in to their business inkjet printers an A4 paper cassette which has a mezzanine shelf for 4”x6” paper like photo snapshots or index cards.

As for the on-machine user interface, it doesn’t come up to the standard of the MFC-L8850CDW colour laser multifunction which has a screen that is very large and useable or the HP business inkjets with their large touchscreens. Here, Brother could improve on this with a large LCD or OLED touchscreen for their inkjet printers. For that matter, printer manufacturers could try implementing OLED display technology on their printer’s control surface in a similar manner to what is being used on a lot of Android smartphones.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I would consider the Brother MFC-J5720 multifunction inkjet printer as a all-round office printer for a home office or other small office. It can even satisfy short-run promotional printing needs very easily like turning out proofs or small infill jobs. If you want to save money and can do without the duplex scanning or second paper tray, the MFC-J5320 can satisfy your needs.

Update – Further conversation with a fellow user

After this review was published and I had promoted the review on LinkedIn, a church pastor had let me know that he had bought this same printer for his home office before I had run this review. I had subsequent conversation with him about his experience with this machine and he has enjoyed using it and took advantage of its A3-printing ability to turn out notices for his church’s noticeboard.

He found that it is of better value to use the higher-capacity cartridges especially if you are turning out a lot of A3 material. He also reckoned that the A3-printing feature would end up suiting small community organisations who need to print up material for their noticeboards.

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Product Review-Western Digital MyPassport Wireless mobile network-attached storage

Introduction

I am reviewing the Western Digital MyPassport Wireless mobile network-attached storage which I have found to be “above the ordinary” when it comes to this class of device.

Typically, most of these devices are to work as their own network to allow users to pick up or drop off files normally held on their mobile devices and, in most cases, that is all when it comes to functionality. If you intended to transfer files to or from a regular computer that runs Windows, Mac OS X or Linux, you have to tether these devices to the computer via USB. Read on about how this can do more for you compared to most of these devices.

Capacity Price
1 Terabytes AUD$249
2 Terabytes AUD$299

WD MyPassport Wireless mobile NAS

Class Portable Network Attached Storage
Storage
Capacity 1 Terabyte
2 Terabytes
Disks 1 x 2.5” hard disk
Removable Storage SDHC card reader
Connection
Network Connection 802.11g/n Wi-Fi (access point / network client)
Host Connection USB 3.0
Device Discovery
UPnP Yes
Bonjour No
UPnP Internet Gateway Control No
Features and Protocols
SMB / CIFS
DLNA Media Server Yes
General Web Server
Remote Access WD MyCloud
Remote NAS Sync
Cloud-Storage Client
Download Manager
Other functions

 

The Network-Attached Storage System itself

WD MyPassport Wireless mobile NAS front - ower and WPS / SD Card transfer buttons, Charge / Sync connector

Power and WPS / SD Card transfer buttons, Charge / Sync connector

The WD MyPassport Wireless’s battery is charged through a USB “sync-and-charge” cable that works with a proprietary connection on one end and USB plug on other end. This also is used to copy data to and from the hard disk as if it is a portable USB hard disk.

Setup Experience

You can set the WD MyPassport Wireless mobile NAS without the need for client software by linking your regular or mobile computer to the device’s “MyPassport” ESSID and logging in to the “MyPassport” Webpage to configure it.  iOS and Android users can configure it using the WD MyCloud mobile-platform app and this also serves as a way of transferring data between the mobile device and the NAS.

When you plug this device in to your computer, it shows up on Windows as a single hard disk like most of the small external hard disks. It can even be plugged in to a computer’s USB 3.0 port and take advantage of the high bandwidth that it offers. It most likely won’t work well with devices like printers, routers or smart TVs that have a USB port for connecting an external hard disk due to the power requirement that it has.

Here, you have the ability to create a user-defined ESSID or device name or have it work as a bridge between an existing Wi-Fi network and the mobile device. This latter functionality can be set up in a “private manner” if the other network is a public-access Wi-Fi hotspot like what your hotel provides.

Capabilities

WD MyPassport Wireless mobile NAS with SD card

Quickly transfer your camera card contents to this mobile NAS

I see the WD MyPassport Wireless as a highly-capable mobile NAS in its own right.

It can be a network bridge between another Wi-Fi network like home network or Wi-Fi hotspot. This even includes the ability to clone a device’s MAC address so you can share hotel-based Wi-Fi Internet which is regulated or accounted by device amongst multiple devices.

As well, when it works as a bridge, you can set it to serve files to both the local and remote Wi-Fi segments which would earn its keep with your home or small-business network.

WD MyPassport Wireless mobile NAS beside Samsung Galaxy Note 2 smartphone

Same size as one of the latest smartphones

There is an SD card slot so you can transfer data from SD cards to the NAS at the touch of a button. The classic scenario would be to copy pictures from your camera or camcorder to this mobile NAS to “clear space” for more photography and back up the images and footage you have taken. This is a bonus with the ability to view the images or video “rushes” on a DLNA-capable TV that exists on the network or “work on” what you have taken using your laptop computer.

Another feature that I so love is the fact that the WD MyPassport Wireless is a capable DLNA Media Server which is something that one of Sony’s mobile NAS units can do. The server software indexes all folders on the hard disk for media and can serve this media to its own access point or the network it is a client of in the case of a home network. I have tried this for myself by “fronting” it to the home network and pulling up WD’s demo videos that were on the hard disk on the household’s Samsung DLNA-capable Smart TV. These clips played through in a very stable manner. This makes the WD MyPassport Wireless as a device to “BYO” video content to show on a smart TV or play the latest tunes on your friend’s DLNA-capable music system for that party.

System performance

WD MyPassport Wireless mobile NAS in my shirt pocket

Call this pocketable

I performed a file-by-file transfer of the music I have on my smartphone in order to set it up for a DLNA network media test. There was very little noise through file transfer and the unit wasn’t demanding much of its battery power through this transfer when both devices were close together and working with its own access point.

As for DLNA, it streamed the demo video clips smoothly without dropping out when I had it connected to the above-mentioned Smart TV via the home network. Here, the NAS was part of the home network’s Wi-Fi segment and the TV was connected to the router via a HomePlug AV segment and this yielded the smooth performance. I tried it with music when using an Internet radio that had UPnP AV functionality and having the system with both devices on the same Wi-Fi segment with the radio located at the fringe of the segment. Here, there were some jitter issues coming about when playing the content. It works as best as the network would allow as long as you have the NAS able to pick up a strong signal.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

WD could use a standard microUSB connection with full On-The-Go abilities similar to what newer Android phones are equipped with for the device’s power and data transfer. This could let WD provide an accessory Ethernet adaptor for “walk-up” Ethernet connectivity or to provide an expansion module with a built-in power supply and Gigabit Ethernet socket for connection to existing home and business networks.

Another feature that could augment this device would be to have a micro-HDMI socket with HDMI-CEC functionality. This could allow you to show images and footage on a large-screen TV using its remote control or a smartphone running a control app to select the content.

The Wi-Fi functionality could be improved with the ability to set up multiple network profiles so you can choose how this device behaves when connected with particular networks you have used. These could be saved by a user-defined name with the network’s ESSID as the default identifier. Here, each network could have settings like “request to clone MAC”, “share files to network” amongst other options.

Like a lot of wireless NAS units on the market, the WD MyPassport Wireless could benefit from SMB/CIFS-based file sharing so as to allow the same kind of file navigation that you could do with most desktop NAS units when you use most regular-computer operating systems.

Conclusion

From my experience with the WD MyPassport Wireless mobile NAS, I do see it as a very capable portable NAS unit. This is more so for those of us who do a lot of digital photography and video work, or want to use this to take our favourite media with us, including play it at a friend’s house. It is due to use of an SD card slot for quick transfer of digital images, the ability to be set up to serve files to a home network or its own access point as well as being a DLNA-compliant media server.

These features would play in to the hands of someone like a wedding or news photographer who may want to take a lot of pictures during their shoot and “dump” them to this device. Then they would be able to show the pictures to the lucky couple for them to choose for the wedding album or to show to the participants of a news story to, for example, elicit more commentary.

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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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