Category: Product Review

Product Review–Sony VAIO Fit 15E mainstream laptop computer (Model: SVF1521JCG Series)

Introduction

I am reviewing the Sony VAIO Fit 15E laptop computer which is Sony’s latest take of the VAIO E series of mainstream laptop computers. This is where these computers come with the 15” screen and extra secondary storage, in some cases an optical drive of some sort.

Sony offers a variant with an Intel i7 processor and 8Gb of RAM as the deluxe option but that is all that they offer to make it worthwhile whereas I would like to see a few more features like a higher-resolution display offered as a more convincing upsell for most people.

Sony VAIO Fit 15e on dining table

Price
– this configuration
RRP AUD$999
Form factor Regular laptop
Processor Intel i5 processor extra cost
Intel i7 processor
RAM 4Gb
extra cost: 8Gb
shared with graphics
Secondary storage 750Gb hard disk,
variants available
DVD burner, SDHC card drive
Display Subsystem NVIDIA GeFORCE GT740M + Intel HD 4000 Graphics (NVIDIA Optimus automatic switch) 1Gb display memory
Screen 15” widescreen
(1366×768) touchscreen, variants
LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD Audio
Audio Improvements All audio tuning available
Network Wi-Fi 802.11g/n
Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready
Connectivity USB USB 3.0 x 2 (1 with Sleep and Charge), USB 2.0 x 2
High-speed connections eSATA, Thunderbolt, etc
Video HDMI
Audio 3.5mm stereo  output jack, 3.5mm stereo input jack, digital audio output via HDMI
Sensors Touchscreen Yes
NFC Yes
Operating System on supplied configuration Windows 8
Windows Experience Index – this configuration Overall: Graphics:
Advanced Graphics:

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

IMG_1166The VAIO Fit 15e series comes as a regular clamshell laptop computer but has a touchscreen like the previously-reviewed HP Envy4 Touchsmart Ultrabook. The action associated with this computer is very durable.

As I opened with, this laptop is equipped with a DVD burner which raises mainstream laptop credentials while satisfying realities with software, especially games, that are still delivered on optical disc.

There is a reduced chance of heat build-up with the computer having ventilation slots on the underneath as well as the sides. This makes the laptop more comfortable to use on your lap as well as less likelihood of the performance suffering due to heat stress.

This model is available in black, pink or white with the white variant, which I am reviewing, appeals to those of us who want to personalise it more.

User Interface

The Sony VAIO Fit 15e’s keyboard is a chiclet-style keyboard but is commensurate to touch-typing thus making it comfortable to use for a laptop keyboard. This along with the numeric keypad ticks the boxes when it comes to a highly practical keyboard surface for a mainstream laptop.

The trackpad sometimes acts in a jumpy manner when you are typing but could benefit from a hardware switch to turn off trackpad.

Sony VAIN Fit 15e laptop - optical drive

Equipped with an optical drive for burning or playing CDs and DVDs

There is an NFC reader on the palm rest and it worked properly with my Samsung Galaxy Note II Android mobile phone. But its implementation in the laptop would take off if there were some quality Windows 8 applications or Android / Windows 8 app ecosystems that took advantage of it.

The touchscreen also comes across as being very accurate and responsive, making it suitable for coarse navigation.

Audio and Video

The VAIO Fit 15e’s graphics system is based around a NVIDIA discrete chipset and Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics. NVIDIA even implements the Optimus function which switches over between these graphics subsystems when the goal is battery economy or graphics performance.

There is the glossy screen which bedevils most consumer-grade laptop computers and requires them to be very bright when used outdoors. This can frustrate users when it comes to battery runtime.

Sony VAIO Fit 15e laptop right-hand-side view with optical drive and two USB 2.0 connectors

Right-hand-side view with optical drive and two USB 2.0 connectors

Sony have implemented a 2.1 speaker arrangement which has a separate bass driver that provides some “kick” in the sound. This can be a bonus when you can only use the integrated speakers for portability but headphones or external equipment for better sound.

Connectivity, Storage and Expansion

This laptop has 4 of the USB connectors with two being a USB 3.0 type for external storage. As for video display connectivity, you only have an HDMI socket which rules out older and cheaper data projectors for a larger screen. There are separate audio input and audio output jacks on the left for connecting headphones or a microphone.

Sony VAIO FIt 15e laptop Left-hand-side view - Ethernet societ, HDMI output socket, 2 USB 3.0 sockets and 3.5mm stereo audio input and output jacks

Left-hand-side view – Ethernet societ, HDMI output socket, 2 USB 3.0 sockets and 3.5mm stereo audio input and output jacks

Network connectivity comes in the form of a Gigabit Ethernet socket for wired network segments as well as support for 802.11g/n 2.4GHz wireless network segments. As well, there is Bluetooth connectivity up to the 4.0 Smart Ready standard which supports low-power use.

Across the VAIO Fit 15e platform, the secondary-storage options are the same with 750Gb on the hard disk and a DVD burner which still is relevant in this day and age. This is relevant for activities like cost-effective data sharing or if your comfort zone for music, video and PC games is still the “bricks-and-mortar” shop. As well, the SD card slot is located on the front of the laptop at the centre.

Battery life

The VAIO Fit 15e’s battery performed properly for day-to-day regular use. This was augmented by a properly-implemented sleep functionality allowing me to use the laptop over two days without needing to charge it.

For playing a DVD, the VAIO could make it through the feature movie and end up with 10% of remaining battery runtime. This is something I would expect for most of the consumer mainstream laptops and may limit them for long-term portable multimedia and gaming activities.

Other usage notes

I took this laptop with me to Ballarat when I was seeing a close friend of mine for the weekend and this friend was impressed with the fact that the computer was equipped with a touchscreen that worked tightly with the Windows 8 user experience. Like most people, he hasn’t come across a mainstream 15” consumer or small-business laptop that was equipped with a touchscreen. He was also impressed with the build quality of this machine and described it as being a good quality substitute for most mainstream laptops like the ThinkPad.

He even mentioned to me that the touchscreen interface will be very desireable due to the fact that most of us use smartphones and tablets with the touchscreen interface.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Sony could equip the higher-end variant of the VAIO Fit 15E with more options than just the more powerful processor and increased RAM in order to make for a convincing upsell option. Here, they could offer a BD-ROM / DVD burner as the optical drive, a 1080p Full HD display and / or dual-band Wi-Fi networking and / or a higher-capacity hard-disk for secondary storage.

These could allow Sony to create three variants with the same screen size and pitched at the same market as car builders like Ford and Holden have done with their popular family-car ranges. This is the laptop that serves primarily as the main household computer for Web browsing, games, running one’s “startup” small business and other activities.

As well, the NFC sensor could be duplicated on the back of the computer to cater for Sony’s NFC Easy Connect equipment-pairing ability.

Conclusion

ISony VAIO Fit 15e laptop rear view would position the Sony VAIO Fit 15e series of laptops as an all-round mainstream “dining-table” laptop for most households. Similarly it would work well as a small-business work-home laptop or as something that suits travellers who work from a particular location at their destination such as their friend’s house, a hotel room or ship’s cabin.

Here, Sony’s multimedia prowess would come in to its own when you want to dabble with photos, movies or music on the road.. The only sore point here may be the price being offered for this model but it is worth looking for the good deals on this unit.

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Product Review–Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock

Introduction

I am reviewing the Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock which is the first item issued as a tribute to Marantz’s 60th anniversary as a major force in hi-fi sound. The name came about from the first product issued under this brand which was an amplifier which was about top-notch record reproduction and mono hi-fi sound.

Here, we are talking about one of a few top-shelf speaker docks or network-enabled single-piece audio systems that are all about top-notch sound reproduction/

 

Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock

Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock

 

Price

The unit itself:

RRP including tax: AUD$1650

Form Factor

One-piece music system with integrated speakers (stereo speakers).

Functions

Internet audio Internet radio via vTuner,
Network Media DLNA network audio client with Renderer remote-play function, AirPlay remote-play function
Stored Memory USB port (Mass-Storage)
Apple iPod support 30-pin dock, USB connection,

 

Connections

Input Count as for a device
Audio Line Input
(connect a tape deck, CD player, etc)
1 x RCA-socket pair

Speakers

Output Power Bi-amplified
25 watts per channel (tweeters)
50 wats per channel (woofers – bridged (BTL) amplifers)
Stereo
Speaker Layout 1 speaker system per channel Per channel
2.6” midrange / tweeter
4.3” woofer

Network

Wireless 802.11g/n with WPS setup
Wired Ethernet

The unit itself

Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock control panel detail

Control panel detail – press on the Marantz logo to reveal the 30-pin dock for legacy iPods and iPhones

The Marantz Audio Consolette has been designed as a high-grade hi-fi system with a timber back panel that is effectively curved amongst other symbols of elegance.

There are the elements of style that are very consistent with some of the high-end Marantz amplifiers, tuners and receivers over the years, such as a large thumbwheel for tuning and a porthole style presentation for power / tuning-aid meters found on these components.

Here this is reflected with a large thumbwheel that serves as a volume control or selection control as well as a “porthole” display for showing the unit’s operational status including the current time.

Marantz Audio Consolette rear view with wooden back

Rear view with wooden back

There are six power amplifiers integrated in this unit (3 per channel) and these are arranged in a combination of a bi-amplified and a bridged setup. For each channel, one 25 watt amplifier looks after the middle and high frequencies while a pair of 25-watt amplifiers bridged to work as a 50-watt amplifier handle the bass frequencies. This makes sure that this unit can provide a clean and meaty sound as well as not “running out of steam” when it is taken to higher volume levels.

Setup and connectivity experience

The Marantz Audio Consolette follows the trend for most network-based audio equipment when it comes to network setup. Here. the device becomes its own access point and Web server during the setup phase to obtain Wi-Fi network parameters for non-WPS networks and you have to associate a smartphone, tablet or laptop that is equipped with Wi-FI to this access point and open a Web page hosted on the device’s Web server to determine your Wi-Fi network’s credentials.

Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock external equipment connections

External connections – RCA connections for other hi-fi components as well as Ethernet connection and network setup buttons

You can also connect this unit to an Ethernet network and the line-in connections for existing hi-fi components are infact gold-plated RCA sockets rather than the typical 3.5mm mini phone jack.

Pushing on the Marantz logo bar under the speakers yields a 30-pin dock for Apple iPhone and iPod devices that are suitable equipped such as the iPod Classics, the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 3GS. You may have to buy a Lightning-Connector adaptor to use this connection with newer iPhones or iPads.

Useability

Marantz Audio Consolette remote control

Remote control

It can work with most third-party DLNA control point programs for music playback from network resources. This comes in handy when a control point program excels in certain tasks like playing from a mobile phone’s music collection or an online music service.

If you are using the Internet radio function, you would need to use Marantz Consolette app to find the stations you are after but can use this to allocate them to the presets that you can use to directly access them on the remote control.

There is the large thumbwheel on the front of the unit for adjusting volume or selecting options and sources. But you can also operate this unit with its supplied infra-red remote control for source selection, track navigation and other basic tasks. Here, the remote control has that metallic feel that is all about quality equipment.

Sound quality and network prowess

The Marantz Audio Consolette speaker dock does sound very clear with most sources and yields a very tight bassline that doesn’t dominate even with the latest dance tracks, which I had observed with a few of the Hed Kandi dance tracks.

I was able to get this speaker dock to 80%-90% of the volume level before it started to clip and sound awful, which shows that the amplifier array including the BTL-bridged power amplifiers makes for a very powerful system. This would make the Consolette be able to fill larger rooms like dining rooms or small lounge areas with good-sounding music and could satisfy party needs or even challenge the Sonos as a music system for that small café or bar.

As far as the home network was concerned, the the Marantz Audio Consolette worked well even on the “edge” of the Wi-Fi network segment, staying associated with the the Wi-Fi segment. When it cam to streaming Internet content like the Internet-radio channels, it kept the stream going and didn’t “give out” even in worse conditions.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Personally, I would see this system equipped with Bluetooth A2DP wireless audio for environments which don’t represent the typical small network such as business networks or resorts that implement Wi-Fi hotspots which require Web-based login.

As well, the Marantz Audio Consolette could benefit from access to Spotify and related services from Android and other devices or simply from the unit’s control surface.

To satisfy the newer network trends, this could benefit from dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi networking as we see a move away from the crowded 2.4GHz band for the small Wi-Fi wireless network. The RCA connections can be complemented with a 3.5mm stereo jack for walk-up connection of smartphones, laptops and similar devices.

Similarly, Marantz could also provide the ability to operate Internet-radio and DLNA media player functionality using either the controls on the unit or the remote control rather than you using a smartphone app to perform these tasks easily.

Conclusion

I would position the Marantz Audio Consolette for a person who wants a single-piece speaker dock / Internet radio for an iOS device or for a small network that has DLNA-based media sources but places high value on the sound quality.

Here, the Audio Consolette could come in to its own with the trend for downsizing to the many city apartments or simply for use as something that can earn its place on the dining-room sideboard as a secondary music system.

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Product Review–Denon Urban Raver AH-D320 headset

Introduction

I am reviewing the Denon Urban Raver AH-D320 headset which is a circum-aural headset that can be used with smartphones or as a pair of regular headphones with other audio equipment. These headphones are pitched for most popular music such as dance music by having a strong bass response that can accent the bass line and rhythm.

Denon UrbanRaver AH-D320 headset

Price

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$199

Type

Headphone Assembly Traditional over-the-head
Driver Positioning Circum-aural (over the ear with sound-containing foam wall)
Driver Enclosure Closed Back
Microphone Position Integrated in one of the earpiece assemblies
Connectivity
Headset Detachable cord with 3.5mm 4-conductor phone plug at each end
Adaptors 6.5mm stereo phone plug adaptor

The headset itself

The Denon Urban Raver AH-D320 headset is a well-built unit with a circum-aural solid-back earpiece design thus allowing for the strong bass response. They are available either with blue highlights or red highlights.

Connectivity

Denon UrbanRaver AH-D320 headset detachable cable

Detachable cable on this headset makes for something that will last a long time

A feature that I admire with the Denon Urban Raver AH-D320 headset is the use of a detachable cord which is able to be unplugged from the headset itself. This allows for a user to replace the cord with another one should the cord is damaged which is something that commonly happens with many headphones and earphones, often having the user write off a pair of headphones when this happens.

The fact that the microphone and controls are integrated in one of the earpieces rather than an inline pod or a boom attached to the headset, and the headset uses a single-sided connection as well means that a simple four-conductor cable with a 3.5mm four-conductor plug at each end can be bought or made up easily should something happen to the cable. It also does away with the need for a boom which can be easily broken off through regular use.

This headset worked with my Sansung Galaxy Note II phone as a proper smartphone headset. The limitation here with Android phones is that the only remote control ability is the multifunction button functionality for starting and stopping music or answering / ending calls.

It also works properly as a pair of regular headphones with most devices that use the 3.5mm stereo headphone jack or a 6.5mm stereo-headphone jack adaptor.

 

Deono UrbanRaver headphones - smartphone control knob and microphone

Where the mocrophone and smartphone-control knob is on these headphones

As for durability, these headphones look to me as though they could last a long time. This is through the absence of any earcup supports that could easily break after a fair bit of use and the wiring that exists to pass the sound to the other earcup isn’t just a wire integrated in the headband. Instead there is the use of metal strips that are pat of the headband’s design when you adjust the headphones for your head that does the job.

Comfort

The Denon Urban Raver AH-D320 headset felt tight but didn’t feel very “sticky” even for long journeys. As well, I hadn’t noticed the headband very much because of the use of an appropriate amount of padding. Here, you could wear these “cans” for a significant amount of time without them becoming uncomfortable.

Sound

The Denon Urban Raver AH-D320 headset is very efficient in that you don’t need to turn the volume up to have the sound come through clearly. This is a bonus for headsets that are pitched for portable equipment like smartphones and tablets because if you don’t need to turn the equipment up loud to gain that ideal sound, you are saving on battery runtime. As well, there is a chance for the headset to sound its best without requiring the device’s amplifier to clip.

The music comes across with a lot more bite across the frequencies thus being able to sound clear and without any colouring which could cause fatigue.

I have noticed the very tight bass response but these headphones can sound muddled on some tracks where there is a lot of competition in the bass end such as a bass-guitar along with drums. The other instruments do come across clearly even though there is the preference for the bass response on this headset.

I made a phone call using this headset and the caller’s voice had come across very clearly and they were able to hear and understand me through the headset’s microphone. As well, the headset’s microphone worked properly with Google Voice by being able to pass through what I said clearly to the Android smartphone.

As for use in noisy environments, the Denon Urban Raver AH-D320s worked well by providing some noise reduction. I had used them in the CBD (downtown area) of Melbourne and noticed some reduction in the city noise but was able to hear essential noises that alert me to vehicle presence.

As well, I had noticed a distinct noise reduction when I was using them while sitting up the back of a regular transit bus through a long journey. Here, I was able to hear the program content from my phone even as the bus was at cruising speed and had noticed less of the engine noise. This would improve on their suitability for people who ride on diesel trains or buses where there is the increased noise during travel.

Other Usage Notes

I let some friends who are in to funk, soul, 70s-era American disco and related music try the Denon Urban Raver AH-D320 headphones with their Samsung phones which were full with this music. They tried it with Daft Punk’s northen-summer party anthem of 2013 “Get Lucky” and Stevie Wonder’s classic “Jammin’” and were very impressed with the way these headphones came across with these numbers. One of them who used to be a DJ in the disco heyday of the 70s found that these headphones had a better response to the $1000 cans he used in those days.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Denon could provide a microphone-headphone breakout cable and/or a USB communications-audio module as optional accessories for their headsets. These accessories would please gamers who use them as communications headsets for their favourite online games.

They, like other headset manufacturers could provide an inline switch on the cable for switching between Apple or OMTP headset wiring to provide maximum compatibility with smartphones or other communications devices that use either wiring.

Another point of improvement, which could lead to a model variation, would be to offer a Bluetooth wireless variant. Here, they can offer the wireless link that a lot of us crave for our mobile devices.

Conclusion

I would recommend the Denon Urban Raver AH-D320 headset as a cost-effective decent headset that does justice to most popular music. Here, these headphones could come in to play as a step-up from that pair of cheaper headphones that you use with your smartphone or media player or could work as a pair of DJ “cue” headphones.

They would also be a good gift idea for something to give someone who is in to rock, soul, dance or similar popular music and a group of people who pitch in together for these headphones, like a couple or family, can ease the burden when it comes to purchasing these as a gift.

Statement Of Benefit

After realising that there was a friend of mine loves his rock music wery much, I have purchased a set of these headphones close to Christmas to give to him as a gift. I was able to purchase the set for AUD$99 off the recommended retail price effectively from the distributor’s warehouse door.

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Product Review–Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider convertible tablet (Model: SVT11215CGB)

Introduction

I am reviewing the Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet computer which is a Windows 8 tablet computer that has a keyboard that slides from under the screen if you lift the back of the screen up.

There is a more expensive variant which has a faster processor and more capacity on the solid-state drive compared to the model I am reviewing.

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet

Price
– this configuration
RRP  AUD$1499
Form factor Slider convertible tablet
Processor Intel Core i5-3317U CPU extra cost
Intel i7-3517U CPU
RAM 4 Gb
Extra cost: 8Gb
shared with graphics
Secondary storage 128 Gb solid-state drive,
extra cost: 256 Gb solid-state drive
SDXC card / MemoryStick reader
Display Subsystem Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics
Screen 11” widescreen (Full HD) LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD Audio
Audio Improvements Dolby Home Theater, Sony S-Master headphone amplifier
Network Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n
Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready
Connectivity USB 2 x USB 3.0
Video HDMI, VGA
Audio 3.5mm stereo headphone jack
Authentication and Security Fingerprint readers, TPM
Sensors Touchscreen, NFC, accelerometer, gyro, digital compass
Operating System on supplied configuration Windows 8 extra cost:
Windows 8 Pro
Windows Experience Index – this configuration Overall: Graphics:
Advanced Graphics:
Insert variants with relative price shifts

The computer itsel

Aesthetics and Build Quality

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet computerThe Sony VAIO Duo 11 is a beautifully-designed slider convertible computer where the keyboard pulls up from under the touchscreen which also appears at an angle. It could have an identifying mark to guide users to lift the top upwards to slide out the keyboard because it can be confusing for first-timers to lift the bottom of the screen to pull out the keyboard.

The slider mechanism worked very smoothly even though I was dealing with a well-used demo / review-sample unit. As for a lightweight highly-portable computer, the VAIO had ticked the boxes for something that is able to be taken around and about be having a small footprint even when used as a keyboard as well as being lightweight enough to stow in a shoulder bag.

There was very little heat buildup when I watched video material on this computer due to the use of strategically-placed vents on the back of the tablet.

User Interface

The Sony VAIO Duo 11’s illuminated keyboard is large enough to comfortably touch-type on. This is of importance when you are using this unit to do something like live-blog or take notes for a significant amount of time.

But the keyboard area works as a trackpad along with a joystick in the middle of the keyboard. This doesn’t do a good job for fine navigation and a Bluetooth mouse would be an essential accessory for content creation.

The touchscreen does its job properly for coarse navigation and even works well with food-coated fingers that would be expected when you are using this unit in a Wi-Fi-hotspot cafe. Here, it is very responsive and accurate.

As for supplementary controls, the VAIO could also benefit from always-accessible controls for sound volume and “airplane mode”.

Audio and Video

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet - Right-hand-side view - 2 USB 3.0 ports and an HDMI port

Right-hand-side view – 2 USB 3.0 ports and an HDMI port

The Intel HD video display subsystem was very smooth and responsive for both regular desktop content and video content. The high-resolution setup can be a problem for desktop applications unless you configure the text display to magnify the text by 150% or zoom in oh the copy that you are typing.

As for the screen, it is very glossy but it is bright so you can see the content easily. The sound will be typical for a laptop and excels well for voice and sound effects. Headphones or external audio equipment would be of benefit for better sound quality.

Connectivity, Storage and Expansion

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet computer left-hand-side view - VGA port, memory card slots (SDXC and MemoryStick), audio output jack

Left-hand-side view – VGA port, memory card slots (SDXC and MemoryStick), audio output jack

The Sony VAIO Duo 11 has the full video complement for the old economy projector or the new HDTV by offering a VGA connector and an HDMI connector for either of these devices.

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet -Rear view - Power connection and clothespeg-style Ethernet connectio

Rear view – Power connection and clothespeg-style Ethernet connection

There are 2 USB 3.0 ports which would be enough for a USB memory key, USB wireless-broadband modem or a mobile printer. The VAIO also has a clothespeg-style Ethernet port like what the HP Envy 4 computers use, thus allowing you to connect it to wired network segments. As for Wi-Fi networks, there is the full dual-band 802.11a/g/n complement which makes this computer so adept to any current network. This level of connectivity would please not just those involved with troubleshooting home or business networks but anyone who valuse connectivity to any Internet-bearing computer network without the need to carry accessories with them. As for Bluetooth, the hardware is ready for Bluetooth 4.0 Smart devices – if wireless keyboards and mice exploit this technology, they could run for a long time on a pair of AA batteries.

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet -Clothespeg-style Ethernet connector for wired networks

Clothespeg-style Ethernet connector for wired networks

The solid-state hard disk has the appropriate capacity for secondary-computer use and has that instant responsiveness expected for this class of secondary storage. This is complemented with a slot for SD cards or Sony’s MemoryStick cards which comes in to its own when you want to “take the film out” of your digital camera or camcorder to gain access to your images or video.

Battery life

For day-to-day regular use, the Sony VAIO Duo 11 sips power but video streaming does place a demand on the battery. This was observed with half the battery available at the end of a 1-hour TV serial streamed down from SBS On-Demand via a Wi-Fi network.

Like with some of the smaller VAIO laptops, Sony offers an external battery pack as an accessory if you are finding that you want to run this on batteries for a very long time especially with video streaming or previewing.

Other usage notes

Sony VAIO Duo 11 slider-convertible tablet - rear viewThe slider-convertible design that the Sony VAIO Duo 11 has is the feature that impresses most bystanders in a similar manner to a sports car’s pop-up headlights or the way a convertible’s rag-top retracts at the push of a button.

One person who lives with me and uses an HP netbook as a secondary travel computer was impressed by the size of this computer and the way the keyboard comes out for regular typing. A cafe owner in trendy Brunswick Street, Fitzroy was also impressed with the way this computer changes from a tablet to a notebook computer when I was talking with him about it. This is although he sees a lot of people using Apple MacBook computers at his cafe-bar which has a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The Sony VAIO Duo 11 could benefit from the use of a thumbstick as the main fine-navigation tool rather than a keyboard-wide touchpad.

As well, a sleeve could be supplied as a standard accessory to protect the screen from scratches as it is taken around in your bag. Windows 8 could also benefit from an option to implement a same text pitch across all resolutions on small screens so as to improve readability in Desktop mode.

The NFC sensor could also be duplicated on the front of the computer or on the keyboard edge as well as on the rear of the computer so you can transfer Web links easily between an Android phone and this device.

Conclusion

I would recommend this computer as a portable secondary computer for those of us who want to create content. Here, it would come in to its own with email, taking notes and similar activities. As well, those of us who like working at the “second-office” cafes, lounges and bars, or do a lot of travel would value this computer and its peers even though we use a larger computer like a desktop or larger laptop as the main computer.

Here, the Sony VAIO Duo 11, Dell XPS 12 or the HP Envy x2 would become more the “open-frame” touch-enabled answer to a MacBook Air 11-inch as far as a small notebook is concerned and is a sign of a very crowded market for this class of computer. They can also become a challenge to the 10″ tablets when it becomes desireable to have the full content-creation functionality without the need to carry extra accessories. I would consider this if you value less fiddling with “swivel-head” mechanisms or detachable keyboards and always want to have a simplified single-piece device that can serves as a tablet or a notebook computer.

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Product Review–Boston Acoustics MC-200 Air wireless speaker

Introduction

I am reviewing the Boston Acoustics MC-200 Air wireless speaker system which uses a home network to work as a speaker with Apple AirPlay or DLNA playback setups. This is in a similar vein to the previously-reviewed Sony SA-NS410 and SA-NS-510 speakers which were optimised to work with smartphones and tablet computers in this context.

But unlike the Sony speakers and the similar ones offered by Pionner, this unit does just work as an AirPlay/DLNA network speaker without the integrated Internet-radio functionality or “Party Streaming” functionality. It also simply runs on AC power unlike some of the speakers of this class which work on integrated rechargeable batteries. Here, the design is focused on sound quality in a similar vein to the likes of the Bose SoundDock 10 speaker dock which are designed by companies who have strong hi-fi speaker design heritage.

Boston Acoustics MC-200 Air wireless speaker

Price

The unit itself:

RRP including tax AUD$429

Functions

Network Media DLNA network audio client, AirPlay
Apple iPod support USB connection,

 

Connections

Input Count as for a device
Audio Line Input
(connect a tape deck, CD player, etc)
1 x 3.5mm stereo jack
Output Count as for a device
Headphones output
(overrides all speakers)
3.5mm jack
Network
Wi-Fi wireless 802.11g/n WPA2 WPS
Ethernet 10/100Mbps Ethernet

Speakers

Output Power Unknown power output Stereo
Speaker Layout Integrated stereo speakers 1 x 3.5” full-range speaker per channel

The unit itself

Setup

Boston Acoustics MC-200 Air wireless speaker left hand side view - headphone and AUX IN sockets

Left hand side view – headphone and AUX IN sockets

You can set the Boston Acoustics MC-200 Air speaker easily with Wi-Fi wireless network segments that implement WPS push-button setup, whereupon you press the SETUP button on the back of ths unit before pressing your wireless router’s or access point’s WPS button. But if you set this unit up with Wi-Fi segments that don’t have this setup routine and are part of a regular small network, you have to hold down the SETUP button for a few seconds to make the device be its own access point and Web server. Then you have to work through a Webpage presented by this device to supply the SSID and WEP or WPA security key details.

Like all these kind of network-enabled consumer-electronics devices, this unit wouldn’t be able to work with “enterprise-type” networks which require user-specific or device-specific details to log in. Nor would it work with wireless hotspots that implement Web-based login.

Boston Acoustics MC-200 Air wireless speaker rear connections and SETUP button

Rear connections – Ethernet socket, USB socket for Apple devices and SETUP button (press quickly to start WPS setup, press and hold for setup with other wireless networks)

As a network device, this unit worked well on the Wi-Fi wireless network even in parts of the house where some other devices struggle to associate. This is due to the use of a “whip” aerial rather than one totally integrated in to the wireless speaker which is common with other wireless speakers. It also streams the content properly and smoothly with stuttering or buffering.

Operation

The Boston Acosustics MC-200 Air wireless speaker works properly as a DLNA-capable network media renderer device with Twonky Mobile on my Android phone and with Windows Media Player on my Windows 8 PC. In this situation, you have to press the AIR button until it glows blue. When this button is glowing green, this device is responsinve to iTunes or Apple iOS devices.

There is also a USB connection so you can play Apple iPods, iPhones or iPads that are connected via a USB data cable through the speaker. This would be totally relevant with newer iOS devices that use the new “Lightning” connection. It also comes with a 3.5mm stereo line-input jack so you connect laptop computers, Discmans, and other audio equipment to this speaker.

It also comes with a small infra-red remote control which duplicates the function of the buttons on the top of the wireless speaker. This includes being able to start and stop the music for AirPlay, DLNA and USB playback scenarios as well as quickly adjusting the volume or muting the sound for all sources.

The music comes out of the Boston Acoustics MC-200 Air wireless speaker very clearly without sounding tinny or voice-dominant. The bass response is still there, giving the music that extra bit of “kick” without sounding too boomy.

I was able to take the MC-200 Air effectively just shy of full volume before it started to clip and sound awful. It can play comfortably loud to fill a small room like a bedroom.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

One feature that could be nice to have would be a USB Type B socket and USB Audio Device support for connection to host computers. This would come in to its own with laptops, Ultrabooks and similar computers that don’t have good speakers due to their small size.

Similarly, it should be feasible to set up the Boston Acoustics MC-200 Air as its own access point, with or without DHCP server functionality so you can run it as its own network. This is important if you want to use it wirelessly with a smartphone, tablet or laptop in an environment where their isn’t a small network that you can have it part of.

Similarly, this system could offer Internet-radio functionality to compete with Pioneer and Sony speakers but this feature may not be necessary. It would also need Boston Acoustics to create a fully-fledged remote control app for the smartphone and tablet platforms.

Conclusion

I would recommend the Boston Acoustics MC-200 Air wireless speaker for use as a basic high-quality network speaker for a small network if you are using an AirPlay or DLNA setup. It can also serve those people who also use an Apple iOS device and need to use it at the end of a USB data cord.

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Product Review–Sony VAIO Tap 20 desktop-tablet computer

Introduction

Previously, I have given the Sony VAIO Tap 20 “adaptive all-in-one” computer a fair bit of coverage on HomeNetworking01.info as a bridge between a tablet computer and a desktop computer. This included commenting on a Microsoft article where it was presented to the article author’s parents at their house to assess its prowess with different computing skill levels.

Now I have the chance to review this computer and see for myself what it is like as a representative of this new class of computer, especially as a “lifestyle computer”.

Sony VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one computer as a desktop

Sony VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one computer as a tablet

Price
– this configuration
AUD$1499
Form factor Adaptive All-in-one
Processor i5-3317u
RAM 4 Gb shared with graphics
Secondary Storage 500 Gb hard disk SDXC and MemoryStick card readers
Display Subsystem Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics
Screen 20” widescreen (1600 x 900) LED-backlit LCD
Sensors Touchscreen
Near-field communications
Audio Subsystem Intel HD Audio
Network Wi-Fi 802.11g/n
Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready
Connections USB 2 x USB 3.0
Audio 3.5mm audio input jack, 3.5mm audio output jack
Operating System on supplied unit Microsoft Windows 8
Windows Experience Index – this configuration Overall: 4.8 Graphics: 4.8
Advanced Graphics: 6.2

The computer itself

 

Sony VAI Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one computer with its kickstand

The VAIO Tap 20 using a simple kickstand for desktop use

The Sony VAIO Tap 20 can be set up to work as a desktop computer with its supplied wireless keyboard and mouse or it can be laid flat to work as a touchscreen-driven tablet computer. This appeals for a range of activities like game-playing or Web-browsing at the kitchen table to regular content creation at a desk.

Aesthetics and Build quality

The Sony VAIO Tap 20 has a style that can be described as being a large tablet computer or a large picture frame. There is the Windows button located at the bottom and a group of status lights located at the top of the screen.

The unit rests on a very sturdy aluminium kickstand which doesn’t slip but can double as a handle when you take the VAIO Tap 20 from room to room. This comes in to play even if you use the computer as a tablet in order to provide a useable operating angle when it is rested on a table or similar surface.

When I was watching an on-demand video throigh the VAIO Tap 20, I had not noticed any overheating. This is due to the use of venting on back of the computer to avoid heat build-up. There also wasn’t any heat build-up through regular use.

User interface

The supplied keyboard has a full numeric keypad plus access to system functions like volume control. It is able to sustain touch-typing comfortably nut you may find that a regular desktop keyboard may work better for this activity. It also has that hard feel which gives the proper feedback for when you type away on it.

The suppled wireless mouse works properly as expected for a three-button thumbwheel mouse and comes in handy for detailed navigation as would be expected.

The touchscreen works as expected for a large touchscreen and can serve well for coarse navigation of a desktop user interface or proper navigation of touch-optimised software like Windows 8’s “Modern” user interface. The large screen size can even allow you to type on the on-screen keyboard for longer periods, which can be useful if the wireless keyboard’s batteries died or you didn’t want to bother carrying the keyboard with you for a short bit of typing.

The VAIO Tap 20 has integrated NFC “touch-and-go” support but the sensor is located on the rear of the tablet unit. It does support what Windows 8 can do for NFC applications, especially the ability to transfer vCard contact data and Web-page URLs between this unit and Android devices. It may be able to do NFC data transfer for more data with Windows devices.

Audio and Video

Sony VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one computer right-hand-side connections - Gigabit Ethernet socket and power socket

Right-hand-side connections – Gigabit Ethernet socket and power socket

The touchscreen display works well for regular computing activities including Google Maps browsing. But it was able to perform smoothly and yield a good colour display for video playback as I observed with SBS On-Demand.

There is the glossy display surface which can be a problem under some lighting conditions and also can harbour fingermarks through regular use. But this is common with consumer-grade equipment.

The sound from the integrated speakers does sound “full” rather than “tinny” for most applications. But it has the volume that is good enough for close listening and wouldn’t be described as “room-filling”. I noticed this when I used TuneIn Radio to listen to Heart 106.2 London through the VAIO’s speakers while preparing the copy for this review.

The supplied VAIO Pictures and Music media browsers, available through the Windows 8 “Modern” user interface work properly as media browsers whether the media is on local storage or on a DLNA-compliant network-attached storage device.

Battery life

Sony VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one computer left-hand-side connections - Memory-card reader, 2 USB 3.0 connections, 3.5mm audio input jack and 3.5mm audio output jack

Left-hand-side connections – Memory-card reader, 2 USB 3.0 connections, 3.5mm audio input jack and 3.5mm audio output jack

I wouldn’t expect the battery in the Sony VAIO Tap 20 to run for more than four hours with regular work because of the large screen area. Even watching an hour-long on-demand TV show had the Tap 20 register half battery capacity even when I started watching it on full capacity. Here, the battery can serve as continuity when you move it between different areas or for short amounts of use away from AC power.

It is something that will be expected out of this class of “adaptive all-in-one” computer as these are pitched simply as transportable computers.

Connectivity and Expansion

The Sony VAIO Tap 20 has 2 USB 3.0 ports and a pair of 3.5mm stereo jacks for audio input and output. Unlike most other computers, it doesn’t have the ability to connect to an external video display, which may not be of concern for its role as a home “lifestyle” computer. If you wanted to use an external display, you would need to use a USB DisplayLink adaptor or network display link such as one based on Intel WiDi technology.

As for a network, it can connect to an 802.11g or n Wi-Fi segment or a Gigabit Ethernet wired segment, which is typical for most of these computers. It can also connect to Bluetooth wireless peripherals and even supports the Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready connection specification, which can allow for sensor devices, keyboards, mice and similar devices to be designed for battery economy.

Other experience notes

I had shown this computer to the lady of the house who has some elementary computer skills and she was impressed with the large screen and its substantial weight but saw it as a different kettle of fish to her Apple iPad tablet. She reckoned that it may work well as a transportable desktop computer for an application we were talking about where this unit may be used on a dining table and be easy to clear up when when it comes time to set the table for dinner.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The NFC sensor could be duplicated on the front of the VAIO Tap 20 so you can easily use it with smaller devices like Android smartphones or when using NFC to set up wireless peripherals. As well, the kickstand could benefit from a rubber grip along the long edge so as to avoid the risk of good furniture being scratched.

I would recommend that Sony provide an optional expansion module / docking station similar to what was available for the VAIO Z Series notebooks for this unit. This is where it had an optical drive and extra USB ports for use at the main desktop computing location. A USB digital-TV tuner module could come in handy as an option, making it work well as the supplementary kitchen TV. Similarly, Sony could also offer a bag or caddy to make it easier to transport the keyboard and mouse with the computer.

Sony could also provide a “performance” variant which uses an Intel i7 CPU, extra RAM and discrete graphics for those who value higher system performance. This could be used as a way to develop the product line further.

Conclusion

The Sony VAIO Tap 20 fits in between a 17” desktop-replacement laptop computer and a tyical “all-in-one” desktop computer as a regular computer that can be easily taken around the house or stored away when not needed.

Here this would work well where you want a large-screen tablet computer that can be stood up or laid flat on a bench or table for Web browsing and similar tasks; or a computer that can be used in the conventional form with a keyboard for content creation. It would underscore the VAIO Tap 20’s role as an alternative to the iPad or regular laptop for a common transportable “casual-use” computer and could fit the bill as a “lifestyle computer”.

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Product Review–HP Envy 120 Multifunction Inkjet Printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the HP Envy 120 multifunction inkjet printer which is the latest in HP’s “Envy” range of designer slimline multifunction printers. This unit has the same pedigree as the HP Envy 100 printer which I previously reviewed, where it implements a low-profile auto-duplex inkjet print mechanism in a very stylish cabinet reminiscent of home audio and video equipment.

But this model has had a few changes like face-up scanning with a clear glass lid for previewing your originals as well as a swing-open panel for the USB socket and memory card slots. This is alongside the idea of having it finished in an “all-black” housing.

HP Envy 120 designer all-in-one printer

Print Scan Copy Fax /
E-mail
Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour Colour Colour 1 x A4 USB 2.0
Ink-jet Resolution HP ePrint receive, Scan-to-email 802.11g/n WPS Wi-Fi wireless
Auto-duplex Face-side-up scanning with preview window UPnP Printing

Prices

Printer

The machine’s standard price: AUD$329

Inks and Toners

Standard High-Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$25 200 AUD$48 600
Colour AUD$30 165 AUD$56 440

 

The printer itself

Envy 120 designer all-in-one printer printing a document

The Envy 120 printer when it is printing

Like the rest of the HP Envy printer series, this model conveys the kind of operation you would expect from high-end audio and video equipment like the classic Bang & Olufsen Beosystem 5000 Series hi-fi systems. For example, when a document is being printed, the front panel swings up and a small bar comes out in anticipation of that printed document. Then, when you collect the document, the front panel swings down.

Similarly, when you need to load paper in to the printer, you touch the “eject” button on the front and the paper drawer comes out in a manner not dissimilar to a CD player’s disc drawer. Then, when you have loaded the paper, you either touch the “eject” button or push the drawer slightly to close the paper drawer.

Walk-up functions

The printer is able to copy documents placed in the scanner area or print from memory cards or USB memory sticks using the touchscreen control panel. As well, you can use the HP ePrintCenter functionality to print out a wide range of documents ranging from notepaper to newspapers or comics.

It also works with the HP ePrint “email-to-print” function but also has a “scan-to-email” function which is infact an HP ePrintCenter app. This isn’t dependent on the machine knowing a POP3 or IMAP4 email service but through HP’s ePrint service. When you first set this feature up, you would need to enter your email address in to the printer’s control panel whereupon it would send you a PIN number via email. You enter these details in to the printer and can have them stored there. Subsequently, when the printer shows the “sender and recipient” screen, you can touch the “Modify Recipient” button to determine a different recipient. The documents can be sent as a JPEG or single-page PDF.

HP Envy 120 designer all-in-one printer card reader and USB port

The USB port (where you can charge smartphones) and the memory card slots behind a swing-down door

The USB socket that is used for walk-up printing from  and walk-up scanning to USB flash drives and similar devices also has been optimised as a device-charging socket. If you connect a smartphone, external battery pack or similar gadget to this socket, it will supply power to the device in order to charge it or avoid compromising the device’s battery runtime. This even happens when the printer is turned off using the on-off button on the front, This socket, along with the SD card slot that serves the same purpose of walk-up printing and scanning is hidden behind a hinged door on the front of the Envy printer.

Mobile-device functions

The HP Envy 120 works properly with the iOS and Android mobile devices using AirPrint (iOS only) or the HP ePrint app for both platforms. This app can work from JPEGs, PDFs or text files and can allow the printer to print both sides for multipage documents.

It does also support UPnP-Print for those devices that are willing to exploit this standard for network-based driver-free printing. At the moment, we don’t see any consumer devices on the market that are willing to exploit the UPnP-Print function but this could be relevant to cameras or interactive-TV applications.

Computer functions

I loaded the latest full-function driver software from HP’s Website and this loaded and installed very promptly without issues.

There is a problem that if the PC comes out of “hibernate mode”, it takes a bit too long to discover the printer on the network for scan-to-PC operation and shows up an error message as if the printer wasn’t there. But it can scan to the computer properly.

For printing, the print driver was very responsive and didn’t show any extra unnecessary information through the print process.

Print quality

The HP Envy 120 was able to turn out documents with a similar quality to other consumer inkjet printers. But when it comes to photos, it can lose a bit of the definition compared to the original Envy 100. Here, it also yields darker images with reduced contrast. Of course, this wouldn’t be a match with the Photosmart printers which yield higher photo quality for HP’s consumer inkjet printers.

When the Envy 120 prints on both sides of a page, there is a slight shift between the front and the back of the page. This can be annoying if you are using this feature for desktop-publishing especially with luggage labels and similar odd-shaped documents.

Scanning

HP Envy 120 designer all-in-one printer see-through scanner lid

See-through scanner lid

The scanner has the scan head integrated in to the lid so as to provide a “preview” window for how you scan or copy the documents or photos. This can work well for snapshots and single-page documents but can be difficult to use when it comes to working with bound material such as copying out recipes from a cookbook to avoid damaging that cookbook in the kitchen.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

One weakness across the HP Envy printers and the slimline printing mechanism is that they use two ink cartridges – one black cartridge and one “three-colour” cartridge. This can make these printers expensive to run especially if you consider regular use out of them because if you run out of one colour in the colour cartridge, you have to replace that cartridge.

Here, HP could improve on the low-profile auto-duplex print mechanism by using separate cartridges for each colour. It can also allow HP to use photo-grade inks that are used with the Photosmart series of inkjet printers, thus giving the Envy series deluxe credentials in the output as well as the looks.

The other weakness with this model is the scanner design not being able to work with bound material very well due to the it working “face-side-up”. This could be improved with a lid that uses a pantograph-style or “Z-style” hinge so it can lie flat on the bound material during scanning thus achieving best results.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

Like the HP Envy 100, I would see this printer work more as a secondary printer to keep in a living area where you value elegance and aesthetics. This also would appeal to households who want a multifunction printer but use it on an ad-hoc basis and also value the aesthetics. For example, this could exist in a family room, living room or main hallway while a workhorse printer could be mainly used in the home office for the big runs.

It wouldn’t impress people who place value on the price of the printer or the cost to keep it running especially as a primary workhorse machine.

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Product Review–Denon CEOL Series micro music systems

Introduction

I am reviewing the Denon CEOL Series music systems and had a chance to review the CEOL but am focusing on the CEOL Piccolo. Both these stereo systems are “three-piece” micro systems with a main unit and two speakers, and can work with Internet radio, Last.FM, Spotify, DLNA Home media networks and music held on USB storage or an iPod device. The larger CEOL system also has an FM broadcast tuner and a CD player whereas the smaller CEOL Piccolo just focuses on the online sources.

Denon CEOL Piccolo music system

Denon CEOL Piccolo main unit

Denon CEOL music system (Image courtesy of Denon)

Denon CEOL with CD and FM radio as well

Price

The unit itself:

Recommended Retail Price:

Denon CEOL: AUD$999

Denon CEOL Piccolo: AUD$799

Form Factor

Both systems: Three-piece stereo music system with separate speakers

Functions

Analogue radio / TV CEOL: FM RDS radio
CEOL Piccolo: None
Internet audio Internet radio via vTuner
Last.FM
Spotify
Network Media DLNA network audio (local / external control point); AirPlay
Optical Disc CEOL: CD
CEOL Piccolo: None
Stored Memory USB port (front)
Apple iPod support 30-pin dock or USB port

 

Connections

Input Count as for a device
Audio Line Input
(connect a tape deck, CD player, etc)
CEOL: 1 x 3.5mm stereo jack, 2 x RCA-socket pair
CEOL Piccolo: 1 x RCA-socket pair
Digital Audio Input SP/DIF via 1 x Toslink optical socket
Output Count as for a device
Speakers
(count as for a pair with stereo, a 5.1 surround set for surround)
1 x Binding posts pair
Headphones output
(overrides all speakers)
3.5mm phone jack
Preamplifier output
(For active speakers and power amplifiers, affected by main volume and tone)
1 x RCA socket for subwoofer
Network
Ethernet Regular 10/100Mbps Ethernet
Wireless 802.11g/n Wi-Fi with WPS

Speakers

Output Power 65 watts / channel
(4 ohms, 1khz, 0.7 THD)
2 channels stereo
Speaker Layout 2 separate speakers Each speaker:
Back-ported bass-reflex construction,
12cm woofer,
2.5cm balanced dome tweeter
Speaker Connections Binding posts on main unit Binding post on speakers

The unit itself

Denon CEOL Piccolo remote control

Remote control

The Denon CEOL stereo systems come with a comprehensive remote control or can work from a Denon smartphone app available through the iOS and Android app stores. But they can be worked from the units themselves, with the CEOL’s controls on the front and the CEOL Piccolo’s controls on the top of the main unit.

The main units in these systems are equipped with a monochrome bitmapped OLED display which is a delight to use. Here, the display is bright and easy-to-read, which I find is important for older people or those of us who don’t have good eyesight. As well, the bright display also comes in to its own if you are one of those people who like that dim lighting for romance.

Both systems are very easy to integrate in to your home network with them running a “quick setup” when they are first connected to AC power. This same option can be invoked through the Setup menu which is selected as a “source” when you use the Source button. They can work with most small Wi-Fi wireless networks that implement passphrase-based WEP or WPA network security.

The Denon CEOL comes with a tacky piece of wire as its FM aerial (antenna), which doesn’t do the system justice. Here, I would like to see something better like the classic “T-wire” aerial like what most manufacturers use for their receivers and tuners or the “rabbit’s ears” aerials that were always used with portable TVs. Even the Internet radios that I have reviewed used that telescopic aerial that most portable radios use as their aerial. On the other hand, I would recommend users connect the CEOL to the outdoor TV aerial or buy an indoor TV aerial like the classic “rabbit’s ears” if they want to use it for FM broadcast radio.

The USB port on both these systems can only supply power to peripheral while the equipment is fully on, which can be a limitation if you wanted to charge that Android smartphone overnight. It supports “remote IOS” behaviour where you can connect Apple iOS devices to this port and they behave as if they are iOS devices connected to the docking connector on top of the console unit. This is important when you use an iPad, iPod Shuffle or any newer iOS device that uses that Lightning connector for power and data connectivity.

The USB connections on both systems can also work with Mass Storage Devices like USB flash drives but can’t support MTP functionality which is important with some MP3 players and newer Samsung Android phones.

The speakers that come with the Denon CEOL systems are very well-built and have that piano-gloss finish. The grille is of an unusual shape but the cloth is fixed to a removable plastic frame.

Of course, they yield a clear tight sound with that proper bass response that can do a lot of music justice. Here, you could notice that punchy sound through the newer dance tracks or hear the whole of the sound mix with clear vocals.

Also, I have found that I could run the Denon CEOL systems to 80% of the volume level before they started to clip and sound awful. At that point, it is loud enough to fill a medium-size room. This shows that they are very capable for a small music system.

The CEOL systems do work well for Wi-Fi network reception if they are picking up a good signal from the access point. They also have an Ethernet connection which would allow them to be connected to an Ethernet or HomePlug AV segment for more reliable operation.

As for Internet media reliability, they don’t handle things well if the Internet media source isn’t working well for quality-of-service, which can happen at peak times for Internet-radio streams. Here, they give up the ghost on the stream and require you to re-select that stream if you want to continue listening to it again. This is unlike a lot of Internet radios that provide a better allowance for failure by having a longer wait time.

The CEOL systems work properly as a part of the DLNA Home Media Network in that they can either pull up content from a media-server device or can accept content that is pushed to them. The interaction for this feature is very quick, including advertising their presence to a control point.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

I am finding that it is hard to look for limitations that concern the Denon CEOL music systems, especially for the kind of user that it is targeted at. It works to the DLNA standards and is easy to use from your smartphone, remote control or the unit;s control panel.

Like a lot of these systems, the USB port could have a user-selectable mode which allows “always-on” power so it can charge mobile phones even while it is on standby.

Denon could also supply models in to this series with a DAB+/DMB tuner or HD radio tuner for markets where these digital broadcast systems are in situ. This is because I have noticed the Sony CMT-MX750Ni being able to work with DAB/DAB+ broadcasts.

Similarly, they could offer a variant of the CEOL with a DVD or Blu-Ray player, an HDMI input and HDMI output with Audio Return Channel, and “two-speaker surround”. This would be pitched as an answer to Yamaha’s MCR-755 micro A/V system and build out the “quality” home entertainment system for a dorm room, studio apartment or similar application.

Here, this could be a way for Denon to build out the CEOL range as a series of high-quality micro-form-factor 3-piece AV systems.

Conclusion

I would recommend the Denon CEOL or CEOL Piccolo as an option for any  application where you value good sound quality but desire a music system that doesn’t take up too much space. This could range from something that would work well in that nice studio or one-bedroom apartment in the city to something that could work as a personal music system for that master bedroom or den.

Here, I would value the CEOL for anywhere that you place importance on CD playback, FM broadcast radio or “walk-up” device connectivity. This is important with hotels and serviced apartments who want to have a system that best suits their premium offerings. The CEOL Piccolo would be of importance if you just value file-based audio, online audio services like the “new shortwave” as in the Internet radio or want something for that MP3 player.

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Product Review–Seagate GoFlex Home Network Attached Storage System

Introduction

I am reviewing the Seagate GoFlex Home network-attached storage system which I had first seen in action at the Australian Audio and AV Show at the Melbourne Marriott Hotel. Here, this unit was working as a DLNA media server for a small network that was to feed music to a Naim ND5 network media adaptor component.

Now, due to my WD MyBook World Edition network-attached-storage becoming full, I had wishlisted a network-attached storage device as a birthday gift and received this unit as a gift.

Prices (may change as you seek better deals)

3Tb hard disk AUD$299
2Tb hard disk AUD$199
1Tb hard disk AUD$219

Seagate GoFlex Home network-attached storage

Class Consumer Network Attached Storage
Storage
Capacity 3 Tb
Other capacities
Disks 1 detachable hard disk
Connection
Network Connection
Host Connection USB or similar connection to connect directly to a host
USB Device Connection Type x quantity
Devices supported
Peripheral Connections eSATA, Thunderbolt
Device Discovery
UPnP Yes
Bonjour Yes
UPnP Internet Gateway Control Yes
Features and Protocols
SMB / CIFS Yes
Media Server DLNA / iTunes
Remote Access Yes –
Remote NAS Sync No

The Network-Attached Storage System itself

Seagate GoFlex removable hard disk module

The Seagate GoFlex removable hard disk module

The Seagate GoFlex Home network-attached storage system is based around Seagate’s “GoFlex” detachable hard disk setup. Here, the hard disk is housed in a module that clips on to a connectivity base. This could allow people who have the smaller-capacity units to upgrade to larger-capacity variants by purchasing the larger-capacity disks. Similarly, one can easily replace a failed or damaged disk unit by buying the replacement GoFlex module and clipping it on to the base.

Setup Experience

Seagate GoFlex Home NAS base with USB, Gigabit Ethernet and power

The base that connects to the power and home network – USB, Gigabit Ethernet and power

Like most consumer NAS units, the Seagate GoFlex Home can be difficult to set up without the use of the software that comes on a supplied CD. This is although you can discover the NAS using the UPnP abilities in Windows XP onwards so you can get to the setup screen. The CD-supplied “Seagate Dashboard” software hasn’t been updated for Windows 8, so anyone running that software on this operating system will get an error message to that effect.

I was still able to work through the setup routine using the NAS unit’s Web interface but the Seagate required you to determine its own login parameters and couldn’t learn any existing login parameters that existed for other NAS units or network shares on the operating environment.

Seagate GoFlex Home NAS base

Where the hard disk module drops in to the base

The only time you can create a distinct identifier is through the setup process. This is reflected in the NetBIOS / SMV network name that is visible in the Network View for Windows. It is also reflected in the DLNA server list as <Network_Name>:UPNP-AV. Personally I would like to see this made available in the management menu so you can get the name right especially if you have multiple GoFlex Home or GoFlex Net devices on the same network.

Capabilities

The Seagate GoFlex Home uses the SMB / CIFS (Samba) method of sharing its disk resources which is expected as a standard with Windows, MacOS X and Linux.

For backing up your computers, there is the supplied Memeo backup software. But you can use your operating system’s backup software like Apple’s Time Machine or the Windows Backup for this task.

The supplied DLNA Media Server abilities have it that the media library is indexed by the date or the folders. There is the ability to have the DLNA server share particular folders in the Public tree which can be good for funnelling what appears on your Smart TV. This setup can improve the library-aggregation performance and reduce the number of confusing “non-media” files appearing in your media list that appears on that smart TV.

When you discover this NAS on your DLNA client device, the server appends “UPnP-AV” to the NAS’s name to remind you are looking at the device’s DLNA server and the media behind it.

You can also connect a USB hard disk or flash drive to the GoFlex and either use it as a destination for making a backup copy of what is on the NAS or simply to share extra data that is hosted on the external storage device across the home network. An example application of this could be share a USB hard disk which has the back issues of a classic magazine title like National Geographic across the network.

System performance

Seagate GoFlex Home NAS next to CD case

Nearly as small as a regular CD case

The Seagate GoFlex Home NAS yielded a consistent throughput of 500Mbps when transferring data from the existing WD MyBook World Edition to it. Of course, it is worth remembering that a connection’s rated speed like the Gigabit Ethernet’s capability is really the medium’s link speed.

For media streaming, I had observed that the GoFlex could yield a smooth and reliable experience with audio and video content. This was in both the experience with a similar unit at the Australian Audio and AV Show in 2010 and with this unit when I ran one of the “how-to” demo video found on this unit through our Samsung Smart TV.

As for operating noise, I had noticed very little of this even through the data transfer between the two NAS units. There was a bit of buzzing but this was due to a hard disk being active as data is being transferred to it.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Seagate GoFlex Home NAS - an example of an entry-level NAS

A similar Seagate GoFlex Home single-disk network-attached storage working at a hi-fi show as a DLNA server

Here, I would like to see Seagate implement simplified device naming, including access to this function in the setup menu. This would then apply to what it is known as in the “cloud”, on the network and via your DLNA-capable media devices.

As well. Seagate could implement always-available “public folders” that don’t need you to supply credentials to login. This can be useful if you are wanting to run this device as a “content pool” for drivers, PDFs and similar material or you need “non-computer” devices to gain access to a shared resource.

Like a lot of consumer network-attached storage devices, this could support “cloud-driven” NAS-to-NAS data synchronisation / backup. It could come in to its own with units located at secondary locations or as secondary storage for a business-tier NAS.

Conclusion

I would recommend that one purchases the Seagate GoFlex Home network-attached storage as either an entry-level network-attached-storage solution or a secondary network storage point for their home network. This could be as a simple backup solution, a file-transfer point, a communal file pool or for sharing media content to DLNA-capable devices.

Business users can see NAS units of the same calibre to this one work well as a DLNA media server for serving images or videos to a few endpoint devices, or simply as a secondary network file storage for less-critical files.

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Product Review–Sony VAIO E Series standard-size laptop (Model No: SVE15129CG)

Introduction

I am revinewing the latest of Sony’s VAIO E Series laptops which is the latest in Sony’s mainstream laptops for the new computing lifestyle. As for an entertainment-focused company, these computers are typically optimised for “entertainment” read multimedia use rather than just as a laptop for doing homework on.

Sony VAIO E-Series mainstream laptop SVE15129CGS

Price
– this configuration
AUD$1299
Form factor Regular laptop
Processor Intel i7-3632QM cheaper
Intel i5-3230M
RAM 4Gb RAM, other variants shared with graphics
Secondary storage 750Gb hard disk
variants available
DVD burner, SD card reader, MemoryStick Pro card reader
Display Subsystem AMD Radeon HD 7650M 2Gb display memory
Screen 15” widescreen
(1366×768)
LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD Audio
Audio Improvements xLoud and ClearPhase sound tuning
Network Wi-Fi 802.11g/n
Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet
Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready
Modems Dial-up or wireless broadband
Connectivity USB USB 3.0 with charging function x 1, USB 2.0 x 3
Video VGA, HDMI
Audio 3.5mm audio in, 3.5mm audio out, digital via HDMI
Operating System on supplied configuration Windows 8
Windows Experience Index – this configuration Overall: 5.9 Graphics: 6.7
Advanced Graphics:6.7

The computer itself

Although Sony is running some 14” models in the VAIO E Series lineup, I am deliberately focusing the review on the 15” models which appeal to the mainstream user base. It is the current iteration of the E Series “entertainment laptop” computers, a few examples of which I have reviewed before.

Like most laptops targeted at this market, the VAIO is a regular clamshell laptop without any convertible functionality or extra screen. It doesn’t even have a touchscreen which is something I would like to see appear in this class of laptop.

There is a variant in this series (Model: SVE15137CG)  with the same screen size that is AUD$400 cheaper but comes with the Intel i5 CPU that may suit mainstream users who don’t chase the ultimate performance from the processor. Other than that, it has the same display, storage and connectivity specifications as this model that I am reviewing.

Aesthetics and build quality

Sony VAIO E-Series mainstream laptop SVE-15129CG illuminated keyboard

Illuminated keyboard

The VAIO E Series computer is very durable even though I am using a sample model. There is an increased amount of plastic used on the body rather than the a metal-finish palmrest. The metal finish is used mainly on the lid.

When I review laptops, I pay attention to the temperature control issues during use and notice any heat buildup or overheating that can occur. Here, I noticed some hat coming out of the vent on the left hand side of the laptop during video playback. This means that it can keep its cool with no need to run the fan, yet it calms down a few minutes after video playback. This is something to be expected for the larger laptops.

User Interface

The VAIO E Series is equipped with an illuminated keyboard that is easy to type on especially if you are touch-typing. There is also the full numeric keypad which can come in handy when you do business work.

The trackpad doesn’t jump around as easily when typing but feels a bit loose although I am reviewing a pre-issue computer.

As far as the switches go, there are the usual power, Web-direct and assist-direct buttons but this laptop doesn’t have buttons for direct access to “flight-mode” Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on/off or volume controls, which I would find as being of use with any laptop.

Audio and Video

The AMD video graphics subsystem in the Sony VAIO E-Series laptop provided me with a smooth graphics experience even for online video. Personally, I would like to have the option to make the VAIO run on a battery-conserve mode with use of integrated graphics for when you use it on the road.

Like a lot of consumer laptops, the VAIO has that same glossy screen which may cause problems in some usage environments.

As for the sound reproduction, the integrated speakers do sound thin even though there is the sound-tuning that Sony provides. This would be good enough for speech-driven applications like Skype but I would find that headphones or external speakers work better if you want better sound.

Connectivity, Storage and Expansion

Sony VAIO E-Series mainstream laptop SVE15129CG Left-hand-side connections - Gigabit Ethernet, VGA, HDMI, USB 3.0, 3.5mm microphone jack, 3.5mm audio output jack and SD and MemoryStick card readers

Left-hand-side connections – Gigabit Ethernet, VGA, HDMI, USB 3.0, 3.5mm microphone jack, 3.5mm audio output jack amd SD amd MemoryStick card readers

There is one USB 3.0 connector with the Sleep and Charge option for use with charging your phone or tablet while the system is in sleep mode. But the other USB connections are USB 2.0 which would suit most non-storage devices. Personally I would rather that all the USB ports are USB 3.0 types.

Other than that, there is a good complement of connectors on the VAIO E-Series laptop. This includes an HDMI connection for modern flat-panel displays, a VGA display for economy data projectors as well as separate microphone and headphone sockets for audio connection.

Sony VAIO E-Series mainstream laptop SVE15129CG right hand side connections - DVD burner and 3 USB 2.0 ports

Right-hand side connections – 3 USB 2.0 ports and a DVD burner

For network connectivity, this computer can work with a Gigabit Ethernet segment or a 2.4GHz g/n Wi-Fi wireless segment. Personally I would like to see this be equipped with a dual-band Wi-Fi network adaptor to take advantage of higher-throughput less-occupied 5.4GHx wireless networks. There is also support for Bluetooth 4.0 which makes it work with power-conserving Bluetooth Smart sensor peripherals.

There is a 750Gb hard disk but it has some of the space taken up by the system recovery partition. As well, it has an integrated DVD burner, a feature that still has some relevance but is likely to disappear especially with slimmer laptops. Like other Sony laptops, there is a separate MemoryStick slot as well as the SD card slot for removable data storage options.

Battery life

The battery runtime was OK for day-to-day use but if you were watching multimedia content, it ran out quickly. I noticed that the battery was half-empty after watching the on-demand video and I .could get 2 hours from a DVD movie.

The problem could be easily mitigated through allowing the user to run with integrated graphics when the laptop is running on battery. But on the other hand, this may not be an issue when the VAIO is used as a work-home laptop computer and ran mainly on AC power.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Sony VAIO E-Series SVE15129CGS lid view

Lid view

Here, we need to see the arrival of touchscreens for the 15”-17” class of laptops in order for Windows 8 to be relevant to this class, as I have noticed before when I reviewed the Toshiba Satellite P870 and as I notice with this VAIO laptop.

Sony could offer a premium 15” variant for the VAIO E Series with a 1Tb hard disk, along with a BD-ROM / DVD burner optical drive, 8Gb RAM as well as dual-band Wi-Fi. Here, this could work as a deal maker for those of us who want a 15” laptop that has all the fruit.

Conclusion

I would recommend the current 15” Sony VAIO E-Series laptops more as a laptop to take between work and home or use as a regular household laptop. This is especially if multimedia and gaming is a key function that you chase and you value the Sony VAIO brand. If you needed to save a bit of money, you could go for the cheaper variant that I have mentioned in this review.

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