Category: Product Review

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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Product Review–Sony SRS-BTV5 Bluetooth Speaker

Introduction

I am reviewing the Sony SRS-BTV5 which is the second of the Bluetooth speakers that Sony have released lately. This unit is the same size and shape as an egg and even comes in an egg-crate package with three coloured eggs to demonstrate its small size.

Sony SRS-BTV5 Portable Bluetooth Speaker

Price

The unit itself:

RRP including tax: AUD$79

Connections

Input Count as for a device
Audio Line Input
(connect a tape deck, CD player, etc)
1 x 3.5mm stereo
Digital Audio Input Bluetooth wireless

Speakers

Output Power Watts (RMS, FTC or other honest standard) per channel Stereo
Speaker Layout 1

The unit itself

The Sony SRS-BTV5 isn’t like a lot of Bluetooth speakers due to its small size, thus it operates on an internal rechargeable battery. Here, you charge this using a charging setup that uses a microUSB connection, which is becoming the way to go.

Useability

Sony SRS-BTV5 Portable Bluetooth Speaker control switch for pairing

A very confusing switch that is used for instigating standard device pairing.

There is a switch on the underside of the Sony SRS-BTV5 which selects between NFC-disabled, NFC-enabled and pairing but it is easy to confuse for a power switch.  The NFC-based pairing routine didn’t take long between when I touched my Samsung Android smartphone to it and when it was ready to use.

If I wanted to have the Bluetooth speaker shut down so as to conserve battery runtime, I would need to “disconnect” the Bluetooth host device from the speaker using its Bluetooth device menu. This can be annoying for users who want better control over their speakers.

Like the Sony SRS-BTM8 and most other recent Bluetooth speakers, this speaker can work as a hands-free speakerphone for your mobile phone/ As well, you can connect it to your cassette / radio Walkman, Discman or music-filled iPod using a 3.5mm phone jack on the side of the speaker. This jack, along with the microUSB charging socket, is hidden behind a cover that you pull away easily so as to keep dust out of the device.

Sound quality

There is not enough sound-output volume put out by the Sony SRS-BTV5 for use other than close-listening applications. It is on a par to most of the larger smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy Note II that I own. As well, the sound quality is very similar to a small transistor radio with not enough bass.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Personally, I would like Sony to equip the SRS-BTV5 Bluetooth speaker with a power switch so you can have proper control over the battery runtime. Other than that, there isn’t nothing much to fault it for a speaker of its size and application class.

As well, Windows and Android could have native support for NFC-assisted Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Direct setup so there isn’t a need to download applications to set up these devices using Near Field Communication pairing.

Conclusion

The Sony SRS-BTV5 Bluetooth speaker appeals more to those who value the novelty factor due to its egg size and shape. But it can go well as a small personal speaker for “close-listening” needs especially if you use an MP3 player, Walkman, Discman or small smartphone.

It can appeal more as a “stocking-stuffer” gift for most occasions where the recipient may value a small speaker for close-up personal listening.

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Product Review–Sony SRS-BTM8 Portable Bluetooth speaker

Introduction

I am reviewing the Sony SRS-BTM8 Bluetooth speaker which is one of the newer Bluetooth speakers optimised for that music-filled smartphone, tablet or Ultrabook. Here, it allows you to use your NFC-equipped Android smartphone or tablet to facilitate “touch-and-go” setup for that device as well as an easy-to-access pair-up button for other Bluetooth devices.

Sony SRS-BTM8 Portable Bluetooth Speaker

Price

The unit itself:

RRP including tax: AUD$129

Connections

Input Count as for a device
Audio Line Input
(connect a tape deck, CD player, etc)
1 x 3.5mm stereo
Digital Audio Input Bluetooth wireless

Speakers

Output Power 2W RMS Stereo
Speaker Layout 1 2″ (50mm) full range speaker

The unit itself

The Sony SRS-BTM8 Bluetooth speaker system can work on 4 AA batteries which are installed underneath the unit, or the supplied AC adaptor. Here, it supports orthodox power arrangement for portable audio equipment where the AC power is more about avoiding the need to compromise battery runtime or allow the unit to run with batteries. The fact that this unit can run on regular batteries can mean that you can safely use it in the bathroom or by the pool.

Useability

Sony SRS-BTM8 Portable Bluetooth speaker controls

Controls located across the top of the Bluetooth speaker. Also where you touch your NFC-capable Android phone when you set it up with the speaker.

The near-field-communication setup routine works as expected with the Sony NFC setup ap. But you have to hold the phone or other device to the speaker until the connection procedure is finished, which is indicated by a blue light that glows steadily.

Here, it paired up quickly with my Samsung Galaxy Note II phone. I also tried to pair it up with an iPhone using the standard pairing routine and this was very simple, thanks to the “pairing” button.

As well, I wanted to find out whether this speaker can be reinstated to an existing device without you needing to pair up the device again, a problem I have noticed with some Bluetooth speakers, car stereos and other devices that I have had to help people out with. Here, it didn’t take long for the Sony speaker to reinstate itself with my phone once I used the “connect” function on my phone’s Android user interface.

Like with most Bluetooth speaker systems, you can press this Sony unit in to service as a handsfree speakerphone for your smartphone or Skype-equipped computer. Here, this can come in handy for group calls or if you just want the ability to answer that call while you are undertaking another activity.

There is also a 3.5mm line-input jack that you can use to connect that Discman, DAB portable radio, cassette Walkman or music-full iPod Classic to keep those tunes flowing.

Of course, all the controls are located across the top for volume adjustment and control of Bluetooth devices, including call management when serving as a speakerphone. This makes it easier to locate all the controls when using the speaker such as in a bathroom.

Sound quality

The Sony SRS-BTM8 speaker sound like a small radio yet is able to provide some bass in to the sound mix. It also provides a sound that is more room-filling than the speakers that are typically integrated in a smartphone, tablet or small laptop.

Other usage notes

A teenager who lives with us tried the speaker with his music-filled iPhone and found that it worked well for bedroom or bathroom use and was impressed with the sound for the product’s class.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Sony could have this as the base product for a variant that has a built-in broadcast radio tuner i.e. as a Bluetooth-equipped portable radio.

As well, Windows and Android could have native support for NFC-assisted Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Direct setup so there isn’t a need to download applications to set up these devices using Near Field Communication pairing.

Conclusion

I would recommend this as an alternative to a small boombox when you want to use it to amplify the sound from a smartphone, tablet or Ultrabook. As I mentioned before, it would come in handy with use by the pool, in the bathroom or in the kitchen due to the fact that it runs on batteries.

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Product Review–Toshiba Satellite P870 multimedia laptop computer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Toshiba Satellite P870 which is a 17” desktop-replacement laptop that has a lot of features and expectations of a modest fully-equipped desktop in a laptop chassis. It is the first of its kind that I have reviewed that comes with Windows 8 but the lack of a touchscreen doesn’t really do the operating system justice.

There are some variants of this model including one variant that has all the multimedia fruit such as 16Gb system RAM, 1.5Tb hard-disk storage with 8Gb solid-state caching, a 1080p screen and a full Blu-Ray burner.

Toshiba Satellite P870 desktop-replacement laptop

Price
– this configuration
RRP AUD$1599
Form factor Regular laptop
Processor Intel Ivy Bridge i7-3630M
RAM 8Gb
extra cost:
16Gb
red with graphics
Secondary storage 1 Tb hard disk,
extra cost:
1.5Tb hard disk
1 Tb with 8Gb SSD cache
1.5Tb with 8Gb SSD cache
Blu-Ray ROM / DVD burner, SD card reader
Extra cost:
Blu-Ray burner
Display Subsystem NVIDIA Geforce GT 630M 3D discrete graphics + Intel HD4000 integrated graphics 2Gb discrete display memory
Screen 17” widescreen
(1600×900)

extra cost:
17” widescreen (1080p)
LED backlit LCD
Broadcast Reception Extra cost:
digital / analog TV tuner
Audio Subsystem Intel HD audio
Audio Improvements Harman-Kardon speakers
Network Wi-Fi 802.11g/n
Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet
Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready
Connectivity USB 3 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB 2.0 with Sleep and Charge
Video VGA, HDMI
Audio 3.5mm audio input, 3.5mm audio output, digital output via HDMI
Operating System on supplied configuration Windows 8
Windows Experience Index – this configuration Overall:5.9 Graphics: 6.5
Advanced Graphics:6.5

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

There is a lot of use of the aluminium panelling around the Toshiba Satellite P870’s keyboard escutcheon and palm rest as well as on the back of the lid. This provides for a use experience that feels more cool to the touch and less sweaty.

I have noticed the durable construction for a machine of its value as well as no overheating under normal use. Even video playback doesn’t cause the Toshiba to overheat. This means that you can use it on your knees without it feeling hot, and you don’t hear a fan kicking in, trying to cool the laptop down, as you use the computer.

User Interface

The keyboard that the Toshiba Satellite P870 is equipped with has the backlit keys. But they are pretty slippery. On the other hand, the keys are easy to locate by touch and wide enough so you can touch-type comfortably.

There is a numeric keypad which is good for working spreadsheets, bookkeeping and other number-crunching applications.

The trackpad is overly sensitive when it comes to typing and the ability to disable it is very similar to what happens with recent HP laptops and can cause confusion. Personally, I would prefer that Toshiba maintain the separate hardware switch for controlling the trackpad. As well, I would prefer Windows 8 users to use a Bluetooth mouse for better control of the screen because this computer isn’t equipped with a touchscreen and the trackpad can take a fair bit of getting used to.

Audio and Video

Toshiba Satellite P870 desktop-replacement laptop Harman-Kardon speakers

Harman-Kardon speakers to give this laptop full sound

The visual experience for the Toshiba Satellite P870 was very smooth and responsive although you may not know what graphics mode you may be using for the application, thanks to the NVIDIA Optimus setup. Here, this engages discrete or integrated graphics depending on what you are doing as well as whether there is much battery runtime left in the computer’s battery.

When I played some music using Toshiba’s Media Player software, the laptop yielded full-response sound, thanks to the Harman-Kardon sound tuning. It didn’t sound wimpy and was adequate for a desktop replacement computer. Also, I was watching some content from SBS Video On Demand and found that the sound quality was impressive when it reproduced the dialogue and sound effects from the movie while I was using the integrated speakers.

Connectivity, Storage and Expansion

Toshiba Satellite P870 desktop-replacement Left-hand-site - Gigabit Ethernet, 2 USB ports and a Blu-Ray reader / DVD burner driver.

Left-hand-site – Gigabit Ethernet, 2 USB ports and a Blu-Ray reader / DVD burner driver.

The Toshiba Satellite P870 has plenty of connections like a VGA and HDMI output, separate audio input and output jacks, Gigabit Ethernet and 4 USB ports. Three of these are the 3.0 variety for newer higher-performance peripherals while one of these is a 2.0 variety for external mice and similar peripherals. The USB 2.0 port also provides the user-selectable “Sleep and Charge” function so you can charge your mobile phone or other USB-charged gadgets from this laptop especially while it is plugged in to AC power. This function worked as expected when I set the Toshiba up to charge my Samsung Galaxy Note II smartphone and can be a bonus if you are in those areas where there aren’t many power outlets to plug mobile-phone charges in to.

Toshiba Satellite P870 desktop-replacement right-hand side - audio input and output, 2 USB ports, HDMI and VGA video outputs.

Right-hand side – audio input and output, 2 USB ports, HDMI and VGA video outputs.

The hard-disk capacity for each of the variants of this model is realistic to current expectations for a desktop replacement especially where you intend to take the Toshiba between home and work. This is more so if you are a media packrat and you have heaps of digital pictures, music tracks and video material on the hard disk.

The release button on the optical drive is located on bevel underneath the laptop, and is asking for trouble due to accidental opening when the computer is switched on. Personally, I would have the switch located on the front of the optical-drive tray or, for the price position, I would prefer to run with a slot-load drive.

Battery life

For regular use, the battery runtime is very good when you engage in most tasks. If you do intend to watch online video for longer than an hour, you have to make sure that the battery is charged up fully or you are using external power.Similarly playing a DVD would last for around two and a half hours from a full battery.

With this class of machine, I wouldn’t really expect to have a long-tine of battery use when engaging in multimedia.

Other usage notes

The Toshiba Media app that come with this laptop is no crapware. Infact it worked tightly with the home network and was able to play what was on my WD MyBook World Edition network-attached storage clearly and reliably.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Toshiba Satellite P870 desktop-replacement lid viewFor a laptop of its price range, the Toshiba Satellite P870 could benefit from a touchscreen, which would make the Windows 8 user experience worthwhile. Similarly, the Wi-Fi network functionality could be set up for 802.11a/g/n dual-band across the range.

Conclusion

I would recommend the Toshiba Satellite P870 Series of desktop-replacement laptops for its purpose as a desktop-replacement computer rather than primarily for portable “on-the-road” use. This would be preferred by those who value the large screen for imaging, multimedia and related activities. It is one of these laptop computers that suit a person who lives out of their car boot (trunk) and only uses it in the location where they stay; or those of us who want to have a computer that they can easily move around the house or stow away in a drawer out of sight.

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Product Review-Western Digital MyNet Range Extender

Introduction

I am reviewing the Western Digital MyNet Range Extender which is a surprising take for the new crop of Wi-Fi range extenders. This dual-band range-extender has the Ethernet port so it becomes a client bridge for an existing Wi-Fi segment, but it has the ability to work as an Wi-Fi access point for a wired network segment. This means that it can be set up to extend a wireless network’s coverage once you use it with a HomePlug AV kit or an existing wired Ethernet backbone.

WD MyNet Range Extender

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$149.99

LAN Connectivity

Ethernet 1
Wireless 802.11a/g/n dual-band single-radio WPA2-Personal WPS
– access point, repeater, client-bridge

The device itself

A lot of devices of this class can show their worst side when you are setting them up and integrating them in to your home network. Manufacturers tend to say that they are easy to set up but they can be difficult to set up for reliable operation.

Setup

WD MyNet Range Extender connections - Ethernet and band selector

Connections on rear of the range extender – Ethernet connection, band selector and power

The WD MyNet Range Extender is very much close to plug and play installation if you are using a router or access point that works with the WPS “push-to-setup” method for the wireless network. On the other hand, you have to log in to a special SSID to set the unit up for most networks. Don’t expect this dual-band range extender to work like a radio or TV “translator” station where it can pick up on one band and extend the network to another band, like picking up on the 2.4GHz band and repeating to the 5GHz band – it doesn’t support this functionality.

There is the problem of a worrying error message that mentions that the network connection has failed when you are setting up wirelessly even though it can work. Another problem that also worries me is the use of the same SSID and channel for “extending” the network. This can cause problems that lead to this same error message due to a “beat” frequency being created by the range extender or the risk of a data storm being created. As well, I had to configure the range extender so that its “extended” area is identified separately to the main router so as to identify if it is working properly.

Other than that, the use of a signal meter on the side of the WD MyNet Range Extender allows you to determine how strong the signal is to allow for optimum positioning, whether it serves as a range extender or a client bridge.

The WD Range extender also works well as a client bridge for an Ethernet-ended device even while it works as a range extender, serving one or more wireless devices. This is although the manual says that it is to serve on device but if you use a switch with this device, it could be a different case. It is worth knowing that the bandwidth for the wireless cell created by this device is effectively half of what would be normally available from the router but this is more about assuring reliable operation for your network equipment and it would be installed at the “fringe” of your main access point’s coverage.

The fact that the DC power comes in from the supplied AC adaptor as 12 volts 1.5 amps may also please people who may want to use this device in a vehicle or a boat to “draw out” a caravan park’s or marina’s Wi-Fi coverage or feed it to an Ethernet device without the need of an inverter.

On the other hand, I had a fair bit of trouble getting this unit to work as an access point and found that the review sample wouldn’t even obtain the DHCP address and identify itself on to the network. Following the instructions in the online manual was a futile exercise and I would suggest that WD make the job of setting up as an access point an easy effort. For example, the use of DHCP or Auto-IP be implemented properly on the Ethernet connection in this mode.

Operation

I used the WD MyNet Range Extender as a “fringe coverage” extender for the existing network and found that it was able to work with my phone when it came to streaming Internet radio at the London-based station’s maximum rate.

I also ran it as a client bridge but it also works as the “fringe coverage” extender and it was able to work properly with an old laptop that didn’t come with integrated Wi-Fi wireless.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Western Digital could offer a simultaneous dual-band variant of the MyNet Range Extender that could extend both bands of a simultaneous dual-band router or work as a simultaneous dual-band access point.

Similarly they could have this unit be able to work properly as an access point including using DHCP or Auto-IP setup for integrating itself to the Ethernet segment so you can configure it. It could also support an “access-point” setup mode for simplifying the setup of an extended-service-set where one of the access points is equipped with WPS or you run it as a “client bridge” or range extender and it locks on to the wireless network you intend to “extend”. This issue could be sorted out through a firmware update that could apply to equipment that is in current circulation.

As well, there should be a “client WPS” button so you can quickly enroll client devices to the MyNet Range Extender rather than just enrolling the Range Extender to the host router.

Conclusion

Like most wireless range extenders, the WD MyNet Range Extender would require a bit of work in getting them to extend a small wireless network properly. It works well as a client bridge but the access point function does need more work on it. I would recommend it more as a dual-band client-bridge or range extender for someone who has had experience in setting these devices up.

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Product Review–HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook (Model: Envy 4-1121TU)

Introduction

I am reviewing the HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook which is a newer take on the previously-reviewed Envy 4 Sleekbook. But this unit also comes with a touchscreen that takes advantage of the touch-enabled interface that Windows 8 is all about. Of course you have the regular keyboard and touchpad for content creation, especially if you want to create content.

HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook at Intercontinental Melbourne On Rialto

Price
– this configuration
RRP AUD$999
Form factor Regular laptop
Processor Intel i3-3217U Ivy Bridge
RAM 4 Gb RAM shared with graphics
Secondary storage 320Gb HDD  with 32Gb SSD cache SDHC card reader
Display Subsystem Intel HD4000 integrated graphics
Screen 14” widescreen
(1366×768)
LED backlit LCD touchscreen
Audio Subsystem Intel HD audio
Audio Improvements Beats Audio by Dr Dre
Network Wi-Fi 802.11g/n
Ethernet Gigabit Ethernet
Bluetooth 4.0
Connectivity USB USB 2.0 x 1, USB 3.0 x 2
Video HDMI
Audio 3.5mm stereo output jack, 3.5mm stereo input jack, digital audio via HDMI
Operating System on supplied configuration Windows 8
Windows Experience Index – this configuration Overall: 4.8 Graphics:  4.8
Advanced Graphics: 6.2
Insert variants with relative price shifts

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

HP Envy 4 Touchsmart UltrabookThe HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook is the regular slimline clamshell laptop that satisfys Intel’s “Ultrabook” specifications but uses an aluminium escutcheon around the keyboard and trackpad. This yields a luxurious and cool finish where there is nothing plasticky about using this machine. Even things like rubber feet that aren’t as ready to come off along with a non-slip rubberised finish for the underside show that we are dealing with a well-built computer.

It is small and light enough to stash in to a shoulder bag or “bike bag” for easy transport. It doesn’t matter whether you are doing a lot of travelling or simply visiting your favourite “second-office” cafe or lounge.

HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook with Windows 8 Modern UI

This Ultrabook makes use of the Windows 8 Modern (Metro) touch-enabled user interface with the touchscreen

It feels slightly warm to use when you are using it on your knees, this not as ready to overheat for most computing tasks. This is due to the grillework on the top between the hinges and a ventilatilation grille underneath the Envy computer.

User Interface

The Envy 4’s keyboard has that distinct feel that allows accurate touch-typing. Here, the keys are also finished in black rather than the matching grey so as to make them easier to identify.

he trackpad is very accurate but, like trackpads used on other recent-issue HP laptops, it has the enabe-disable function which requires you to dwell on the top left corner. This can cause you to mistakenly disable it if you are dragging an element and you take too long about it.

As for the touchscreen, it does its job with providing the coarse navigation and selection by responding properly and promptly.

Audio and Video

The visual experience with the HP Envy 4 is what I have expected from a recent laptop where it can handle most tasks properly with a proper frame rate out of video playback. I wouldn’t expect this kind of performance for “on-edge” gaming or advanced video editing tasks.

The Beats Audio sound-tuning had done its bit in providing some “body” to the sound even through the integrated speakers which are located above the keyboard. But I would gain best performance out of this laptop for sound when I use headphones or external speakers.

Connectivity, Storage and Expansion

HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook left-hand-side connections - Ethernet, HDMI, 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader

Left-hand-side connections – Ethernet “clothes-peg” connector, HDMI, 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader

Like the previously-reviewed Envy 4 Sleekbook, this HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook uses the same “clothespeg” Ethernet socket so as to allow “dongle=free” connectivity to a Gigabit Ethernet segment. As well, there is a good complement of connections for use with current-generation peripherals such as an HDMI video connector and 3 USB sockets.

The 320Gb hard disk is big enough for most secondary-computer needs especially if you 00Gb hardmove data off it when you are finished with the data. But I would also like to see either a 256Gb solid-state disk for faster performance or a 500Gb hard disk for extra capacity available as an option.

HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook right-hand-side connections - separate headphone and microphone jacks, USB 2.0 connector and power socket

Right-hand-side connections – separate headphone and microphone jacks, USB 2.0 connector and power socket

I am pleased that this computer still uses the SD card slot as removeable storage, which I consider important for those of us who download images from our digital cameras by removing the memory card out of the camera. This is compared to some Ultrabooks like the Dell XPS 13 which omit this feature, and would earn its keep with those of us who take pictures and coarsely edit them while on the road.

Battery life

The HP Envy 4 is not demanding for battery life when subjected to most regular computing tasks especially if the computer is working with a Wi-Fi network.  But, after I watched a 90-minute video from SBS On-Demand, I found that the battery was at half capacity at the end of the video.

Other comments

When I used the HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook in the lounge at the Intercontinental Melbourne on Rialto hotel, the staff were amazed at the touchscreen interface that this computer has. This was a difference for them as they were used to guests who use the lounge as a “second office” using laptops and not touching the screen to work with the computer or the guests touching the screens on tablets and smartphones.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook rear view

Rear view of the Ultrabook

One improvemeit I would like to see for the HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook is the availability of a deluxe version with extra RAM and secondary storage as well as 802.11a/g/n Wi-Fi. As I have said before, this would encourage us to think of having more storage when we are on the go for longer times as well as having the computer be future proof for high-speed 5GHz Wi-Fi networks. Similarly, going for 3 USB 3.0 connectors can work well as we move towards more USB 3.0 peripherals like secondary-storage devices.

Other than, there isn’t much to improve on for a secondary travel computer with a large screen.

Conclusion

The HP Envy 4 Touchsmart Ultrabook earns its place as the logical successor to the Envy 4 Sleekbook. Here, it comes across as another example of a  lightweight secondary travel computer option where you value the  13”-14” screen. This is where you place value on content creation including creating elementary graphical content like PowerPoint slides or going through digital photos you have taken as well as creating written content on the go.

It then ends up alongside the HP Envy 4 Sleekbook, the Acer Aspire S3 and Sony VAIO T Series in my short list of ultraportable computers that I would use or recommend as a secondary portable computer for one who uses a desktop or larger laptop at home or the office.

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Product Review–Denon MusicManiac AH-D600 Audiophile Headset

Introduction

I am reviewing the Denon MusicManiac AH-D600 audiophile headset which is a pair of closed-back circum-aural headphones pitched at those who value their music. They have a long replaceable cord to connect to the computer, amplifier or CD player but they also have a separate mobile cord with an integrated microphone pod that converts them in to a headset that works with your smartphone or laptop for communications purposes.

Denon MusicMainiac AH-D600 stereo audiophile headset

Price

RRP AUD$600 / US$499.99

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 In-line on mobile cord
Connectivity
Headset 3.5mm four-conductor plug on mobile headset cord
3.5mm stereo phone plug on long cord
Adaptors 6.5mm stereo phone-plug adaptor

The headset itself

Connectivity

 

Denon MusicManiac AH-D600 headphones with stereo-equipment cord

The headphones with the regular cord for use with your hi-fi

The Denon MusicManiac AH-D600 headphones come with two separate cords that plug in to the earcups. One of these cords is a long one that has a cloth-effect insulation for use when listening to your hi-fi or laptop whereas the other is a short headset cord with a pod that houses three control buttons and a microphone, thus making it become a mobile headset for your smartphone.

 

Denon MusicManiac AH-D600 headphones plug

Gold-plated equipment plug as expected for good headphones

All the plugs are gold-plated for optimum connectivity to the headset and the device you are using. As well, the separate mobile cord can work in “headset mode” with both the Apple iPhone and the Android handsets, the latter of which I tested for myself where it worked properly with my Samsung Galaxy Note II during a test call.

 

Denon MusicManiac AH-D600 stereo headphones with mobile headset cord

The headphones working as a fully-fledged audiophile headset for your smartphone, tablet or computer

I also like the concept of the detachable cords because you can easily repair broken plugs or replace broken cords, thus allowing you to gain a lot more mileage out of these headphones.

Comfort

The Denon MusicManiac AH-D600 headphones are comfortable to wear for a significant amount of time even though they do feel heavy. This is brought on through the use of leather earcups, which can be sweaty at times with hot weather. Of course, you can’t feel the headband when you wear them due to a well-cushioned headband design.

 

Denon MusicManiac AH-D600 stereo headphones earcup detail

The earcups with a cloth-lined grille and leather-wrapped foam rings allowing for long-term comfortable wear

Even for a pair of circum-aural headphones, you don’t find that the speaker grille in the earcups doesn’t touch your ears at all and you have a cloth speaker grille rather than the typical plastic or metal-mesh one that can be par for the course for this headphone class. This makes it appeal to you wearing the headset for a long time compared to most headphones of this type.

Sound

The Denon MusicManiac AH-D600 does satisfy the expectation associated with a pair of good circum-aural hi-fi headphones.

 

Denon MusicManiac AH-D600 stereo headphones headband

A soft and comfortable leather-lined headband

I have listened to a range of different music content on these headphones and have noticed tight bass with clear sound for the popular music including the current dance and R&B music. Here, the bass didn’t dominate unnecessarily while you could hear the vocals and lead instruments clearly. For classical music and other music that requires detailed listening, the Denon headphones still lived up to that ability, allowing the instruments to be heard individually.

I placed a “confirmation call” to the public-relations agency who lent me these headphones using my Samsung Galaxy Note II and the headphones with the “mobile” cord to observe how they performed as a headset for a mobile phone. Here, I heard the staff member’s voice very clearly through the headset and they heard me clearly from the microphone on their telephone equipment. This feature comes in to its own for use when you use your smartphone as a music player while you are on public transport. As well, the centre button on the microphone module works as a call-control button for Android handsets as well as iPhones. But you don’t have audio control for anything other than the Apple iOS platform.

You do have very significant noise reduction which may be a boon for noisy transport environments, but it may be at a disadvantage if you are walking along the street and need to hear the traffic.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The Denon AH-D600 with its mobile headset cord could appeal to some teenagers and young men as a gaming headset due to reduced ambient noise so you could hear that other player talk to you. But this ability is limited by Denon not supplying a headphone / microphone breakout cord or USB communiactions audio adaptor to allow it to work with a PC for talking with your comrades while playing that MMO game. Here, they could offer the gaming interface cables and adaptors for PCs or consoles as optional accessories.

Other than that, I have found very little to fault this headset as a premium all-purpose pair of circum-aural headphones

Conclusion

I would position the Denon MusicManiac AH-D600 as an all-purpose music-grade circum-aural headset that cam be used where you want to concentrate on the audio content. It doesn’t matter whether you are on the train or plane listening to music on that smartphone, tablet or laptop; you want to listen to that CD or record in detail through that good amplifier, you are doing some serious recording in the studio or with that good recording device; or are wanting something as an alternative to the fashionable DJ headphones as cue / monitor headphones for your DJ work. The headset cable will also come a long way with communications devices (including mixing-desk talkback setups) that exploit the standard headset plug wiring used for mobile phones.

For that matter, I would recommend these headphones as a major-special-occasion gift for someone in your life who loves their music very much. This could be something like a major birthday. graduation or retirement gift and could be best purchased by a group of people like a family.

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Product Review- HP Envy X2 detachable-screen hybrid tablet computer

Introduction

This is the first chance for me to review a touch-enabled Windows 8 computer in the form of the HP Envy X2. This computer comes in the form of a detachable-keyboard “hybrid” tablet  which exploits the Windows 8 abilities. Last month, I had set up my primary desktop computer with Windows 8 and established the Microsoft.com single-sign-on arrangement so I can exploit this operating environment in a manner as it is to be exploited on these computers.

This experience has shown that it is easy to have a common operating experience across a primary computer and a secondary computer such as the HP Envy X2 thus reducing the need to reconfigure both units exactly.

HP Envy X2 Detachable-Keyboard Hybrid Tablet

Price – this configuration AUD$999 / USD$899
Form factor Detachable-keyboard hybrid
Processor Intel Atom Z2760
RAM 2Gb RAM shared with graphics
Secondary storage 64Gb solid-state drive MicriSDHC card reader on tabet + SD card reader on keyboard module
Display Subsystem Intel HD display Display memory in discrete options
Screen 11” widescreen (1366×768) LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD audio
Audio Improvements Beats Audio by Dr. Dre
Network Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n single-stream
Bluetooth 4.0 Smart Ready
Connectivity USB USB 2.0 x 2 on keyboard
Video HDMI socket on keyboard unit
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack on keyboard unit 3.5mm headphone jack on tablet
Authentication and Security TPM
Sensors 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

This Windows-8 computer comes in the “hybrid tablet” form factor which has the “system” integrated in the screen and has a detachable keyboard. This would remind you of the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime Android-driven tablet which put this concept on the map.

The HP Envy X2 is finished in a brushed-aluminium finish with metallic-black keys on the keyboard and a black bezel that surrounds the touchscreen. Here, I have not noticed any overheating or other temperature issues when I have used this computer even with viewing video content.

I have also noticed that this computer is built very well and even things like the mechanism to detach and attach the screen had that solid but easy-to-use feel about it.

User Interface

HP Envy X2 Hybrid Tablet detachable-keyboard dock

The detachable keyboard dock

Like most netbooks and small notebooks, the HP Envy X2 is equipped with the shallow chiclet keyboard but the way the Envy’s keys are spaced apart makes it supportive for an improved typing experience. I also admire the idea of having the keys finished in black rather than the same silver colour so they are easier to identify.

The trackpad can become a bit “hair-trigger” at times but it still uses the hold-down square in the top left to enable and disable it. This is a common foible with recent HP laptops and I would like to see a separate switch with indicator used for this function because if you dwell on the square to drag an item, you could accidentally defeat the trackpad.

The touchscreen is very responsive and accurate with there being very few issues with hair-trigger behaivour. This is more important if you are using the computer in the tablet mode The screen and keyboard are easy to detach from each other with you just having to move a latch above the keyboard to release the screen. When you want to reassemble the computer, it is as simple as dropping the tablet in to the groove atop the keyboard dock.

Audio and Video

The HP Envy X2 yielded a smooth visual experience for the display, even with the video playback which I did with the SBS On Demand service. Of course there is the glossy display that is common with consumer-market portable computing equipment and can be a problem in bright sunlight.

HP still does their best effort with improving the audio experience but even the Beats Audio sound tuning doesn’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The only bonus with this detachable-keyboard tablet layout is that the speakers “fire forward” from the screen when the keyboard is attached to the screen. Instead, I would use headphones or external speakers if you want the best out of your music or video content.

Connectivity, Storage and Expansion

HP Envy X2 main tablet unit connected to the charger

Main tablet unit connected to the charger – microSD slot and audio jack

There are two USB 2.0 connections and an HDMI connection on the HP Envy X2’s keyboard dock but the tablet itself could benefit from at least one USB connection. The power is supplied through a special plug which can connect in to a slot on the right-had-side of the keyboard or the docking slot on the tablet itself, and can be confusing for new users when they want to charge the tablet itself without carrying the keyboard dock with them.

HP Envy X2 Hybrid Tablet left-hand side connections - HDMI, USB 2.0 and 3.5mm audio jack

Left-hand side connections – HDMI, USB 2.0 and 3.5mm audio jack

There is 2Gb RAM and 64Gb as solid-state secondary storage but it could benefit from more capacity but this is limited by the design constraints brought about by the tablet design.

You can add on a microSD memory card to the tablet itself or use a regular SD “camera card” with the keyboard dock for storage expansion. This can be limiting if you just want to show pictures from your camera on the Envy’s screen without the need for a keyboard dock.

HP Envy X2 Hybrid Tablet Right hand side connections - SD card slot, USB 2.0 port and charging socket

Right-hand side connections – SD card slot, USB 2.0 port and charging socket

Battery life

There is the typical long-lasting battery that can work well with using the Envy X2 in a portable context but it doesn’t identify whether there is a secondary battery in the keyboard dock to allow the computer to run for a longer time.

Other usage notes

The HP Envy x2 has a digital camera on the back and the front so you can “grab” pictures using this computer, something you could benefit from if you do something like take things apart yet want to create  reference images. It also has the NFC panels on the screen and the back so you could transfer Web links and contact details between the Envy and other Windows 8, Windows Phone or Android devices (Sorry Apple!)

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

HP could offer a variant of the Envy X2 with a 128 Gb SSD and 4Gb RAM as a higher-performance option rather than the simplified “second-duty” tablet computer that this is pitched as.

The Envy X2 could benefit from a regular SD on the tablet rather than the microSD so you can use the digital-camera SD cards when you want to quickly show and use pictures from your digital camera. Similarly there could be a microUSB “On The Go” socket or standard USB 2.0 socket on the tablet so you can connect USB memory keys directly or using an “On The Go” cable without the need for the keyboard.

Conclusion

HP Envy x2 Hybrid Tablet rear view

Rear view of tablet

The HP Envy x2 is positioned more as a detachable-keyboard hybrid tablet computer that runs a regular-computer operating system using a lightweight “regular-computing” processor. This can be useful for those of you who like a detachable-keyboard tablet computer but would like to run the Windows 8 operating environment that you run on your desktop or large laptop computer.

But you may find that the price is too steep unless you place value on a hardy construction and orthodox look and feel for this kind of computer. On the other hand, I would even recommend this to ASUS Transformer Prime users who want a portable computer with a similar form factor yet would like to run the “regular-computer” operating environment.

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Product Review–Sony SA-NS510 Portable Wireless Speaker

Introduction

Previously I have reviewed the Sony SA-NS410 wireless speaker as an example of one of Sony’s new wireless speakers. This time, I am reviewing the Sony SA-NS510 portable wirelesss speaker which a larger speaker in this series, that has the ability to work for five hours on its own battery as well as working on AC power.

Sony SA-NS510 Portable Wireless speaker

Price

The unit itself:

RRP including tax: AUD$429

Functions

Internet audio Internet radio via vTuner, MusicConnect streaming music service
Network Media DLNA MediaRenderer, Apple AirPlay

 

Connections

Input Count as for a device
Audio Line Input
(connect a tape deck, CD player, etc)
1 x 3.5mm stereo jack
Network
Ethernet 100Mbps Ethernet
Wi-Fi wireless 802.11g WPS wireless

Speakers

Output Power 12 Watts (RMS) per channel for high frequencies +
Watts (RMS) for low frequencies
Stereo
Biamplification
Speaker Layout 2.1 speaker layout 2 x 30mm (1 3/16”) tweeters per channel + 110mm (4 3/8”) woofer

The unit itself

Sony SA-NS510 portable wireless speaker sound port and main controls

The sound port that doubles as a carry handle; as well as the main controls for this speaker

The Sony SA-NS510 portable wireless speaker is in the form of a tapered tube which is able to yield an efficient sound output without much amplifier power. At the top of this tube, where the controls for the power, volume and “Party Streaming” mode are, there is a port which doubles as the speaker’s carrying handle. This port is part of the acoustic design for the speaker and is lit up in blue when the speaker is ready to use and in white while it is playing.

I needed to reset this speaker using the ALL-RESET button before enrolling it with the home network. This speaker, like the rest of the NS series of wireless speakers could benefit from an “easier-to-implement” first-time-setup mode like the OPERATE switch (which turns the power on an off fully) having a “SETUP” momentary position.

The speaker is easy to carry with one hand using the abovementioned port where there is a hand-grip, and runs on a rechargeable battery as well as AC power. When it is on battery, the “CHARGE / BATT” light glows green whereas it glows red while charging from the external power. This light is off when you run this speaker from external power so as you know it is using that power rather than the battery.

Sony SA-NS510 portable wireless speaker sound port with glowing status light

The status light glows in the sound port

Having the power, volume and other controls on the top of the speaker makes it easier to operate these essential functions without looking for hard-to-read buttons on a bottom edge or a remote control if you needed to “drop the volume” to make a phone call. Yet there is the remote control which is the same as the one that comes with the SA-NS410 speaker.

As for the sound, there is that punchy tight bass with the clear sound from vocals and other higher frequencies. I have taken this speaker to higher levels without it sounding muddled or confused due to clipping and it can provide that room-filling sound for a small room.

 

Sony SA-NS510 portable wireless speaker connections - Poewer connection, 3.5mm line-in jack, Ethernet jack, Firmware update button and WPS setup button

Connections available – Power socket, 3.5mm line-in jack, Ethernet socket, Firmware update button and WPS setup button

The Sony SA-NS510 had very good network prowess for a wireless speaker. It could pick up well for a speaker positioned at the other end of the house thus performing as expected with the Wi-Fi network. There wasn’t any issues with streaming content from the network sources and the Internet-radio sources. Even the ability to be “discovered” with Airplay worked well when a teenager who lived with us was trying out that function on his iPhone and the music came through promptly on the speaker. Like the SA-NS410 stablemate, it presented the streaming-media sources as two empty folders to other DLNA media devices but wouldn’t list out the Internet radio stations or similar resources.

Of course, there is the ability to connect this speaker to a wired (Ethernet or HomePlug AV) network segment via the Ethernet socket. This is alongside the ability to have this speaker playing from a Walkman, Discman or iPod full of tunes via the 3.5mm input jack.

The Party Streaming function does perform although it was a bit glitchy at times. This was with this speaker picking up the DLNA content from my phone and the SA-NS410 acting as a guest role. This can be a problem as the Sony speakers keep a best effort to satisfy the network-wide broadcast requirements for Party Streaming across the Wi-Fi segment.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Sony wireless speakers remote control

The remote control that comes with these speakers

The Sony SA-NS510 could benefit from simple access to a “new-network-setup” mode so you can get going with enrolling it with that wireless network.

Other improvements I would like to see regarding network setup for these speakers is the ability to remember two or four wireless-network parameters as well as a Wi-Fi Direct / own-access-point mode. The former feature could work when you do things like use them with a “Mi-Fi” mobile router or a wireless range extender or temporarily at another person’s house; whereas the latter feature could come in handy if the speaker is used alone with a smartphone or tablet.

As well the “Network Audio Remote” Android smartphone software could benefit from a bit more work. For example, it could be quick about reflecting new status changes with the speakers or showing the latest changes as they occur such as when you adjust the volume using the controls on the speaker or “push” a new song to the speaker using another DLNA controller program.

I went through the instructions for this speaker and it talked of the time to replace the battery in this speaker was something to be done at the end of the speaker’s useful life. But I would like to see this being allowable if the battery started to lose its charge over the years of use, something that can happen if you use the speaker on an occasional basis. Here, I would like to see the battery available as a spare easily-replaceable accessory that can extend the speaker’s useful life.

Conclusion

I would specify the Sony SA-NS510 Portable Wireless Speaker as being suitable for applications where portability is to be important. This includes situations where you expect that the speaker could be used near wet areas such as to play music to accompany a pool party or serenade a long bath because of the fact that you are not supplying it with AC power to have it in operation.

If you intend to use this speaker “on the road”, the five-hour battery runtime may be a bit short for this application. As well, you would have to use it alongside a MiFi device if you are away from a home network or similar small network.

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Product Review–Sony SA-NS410 Network Speaker

Introduction

Previously, I had covered the concept of the Wi-Fi-based wireless speakers on this Website including writing an article about how to get the most out of these and the Bluetooth variants. Now I have the chance to review two Wi-FI-enabled speaker sets from Sony – one being the midrange SA-NS410 and the other being the more-expensive SA-NS510 which will come up in a separate review.

Sony SA-NS410 wireless speaker

Price

The unit itself:

RRP including tax: AUD$299

Functions

Internet audio Internet radio via vTuner,
MusicConnect streaming music service

Connections

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

Speakers

Output Power 15 Watts (RMS) per channel  for high frequencies + 15 Watts (RMS) for low frequencies Stereo
Biamplification
Speaker Layout Integrated speakers
– 2.1 stereo layout
2 x 30mm (1 3/16”) tweeter per channel +
1 x 110mm (4 3/8”) woofer

The unit itself

Sony SA-NS410 wireless speaker control details 1 - volume, party streaming, input select, firmware update

Speaker controls – volume, input select, Party Streaming, firmware update

The Sony SA-NS410 wireless speaker is a deep speaker with a leaf-shape profile. You see a blue status halo appears from the bottom of the speaker if in standby but this halo glows white when the speaker is in full action playing music. There are local controls on the bottom edge of the speaker to turn it on and off, invoke WPS network enrolment, adjust the volume and select whatever is connected to the 3.5mm input jack on the back of the unit.

Sony SA-NS410 wireless speaker control details 2 - power switch, Party Streaming

Other controls – the power switch and the Party Streaming button.

There is also another button to invoke the “Party Streaming” function which is an audio-broadcast function that is part of recent network-capable Sony home AV equipment. Here, you can have audio content playing on one of these devices such as the Sony CMT-MX750Ni music system configured as a “Party Streaming Host” and press this button to “pick up” the content through this speaker. Similarly, you could have content served to this speaker via a DLNA Media Server and “pick it up” from another of these speakers using the “Party Streaming” button.

Sony wireless speakers remote control

The remote control that comes with these speakers

Of course, this speaker can also be controlled by a card-sized infra-red remote control as well as your computer or mobile device running the Network Audio Remote app.

For setup, I was able to integrate the Sony SA-NS410 wireless speaker with the home network using the “Network Setup” App on my Android phone. This required me to transcribe the SSID and security passphrase in to the phone. The app could support the ability to transfer the parameters of the network you were connected to or another network from the phone to the speaker. The speaker works as its own access point during the setup phase but I would like to have it able to work as a WiFi Direct master device or own access point so it can work as a standalone setup when you don’t have a proper small network to use it with when you want to play music from your phone. Of course, you can use these speakers with an Ethernet or HomePlug wired network segment thanks to an Ethernet jack being provided on the back of this speaker.

It is also worth noticing that these speakers have a “Network Standby” switch so you not have them come alive from DLNA control-point apps on the home network including the Audio Remote app. This can be useful if you have network problems or don’t necessarily want people to play a practical joke on you if you have the speakers in the bedroom.

Sony SA-NS410 wireless speaker connections - WPS button, power connection, 3.5mm line-in jack, Ethernet jack, Standby - Network-Standby switch

Connections on the back of the speaker – WPS setup button, power connection, 3.5mm audio line-input jack, Ethernet jack, Standby – Network Standby switch

The Network Audio Remote app worked properly managing the volume and pushing music from other media servers. It could find Internet radio stations and programs but this function does leave a lot to be desired with filling out the list of stations or areas. This is where it stalls when downloading these lists and then reloads the last few stations and can be a pain with US and European localities with many stations. This was “fixed up” through a firmware update that Sony “pushed” out to this speaker and the SA-NS510 speaker.

Personally, I would recommend that Sony offers a DLNA media server with the Android “Network Audio Remote” application so you don’t have to find one of these apps to “push out” music held on your Android device. But I used the Twonky Mobile DLNA server to share out the music on my Android phone and had it controlled via the Network Audio Remote and this may be an ideal path if you have DLNA software on your Android phone that serves well but is balky as a control point.

For the computer, I was able to use the “Play To” function in Windows 8 to push music to the Sony SA-NS410 speaker from the PC and the NAS and this worked properly. If you still run a Windows XP box and use it as a DLNA server, you may have to use other DLNA control point software on that computer or use Network Audio Remote on your smartphone or tablet to manage your music.

The Sony SA-NS410 speaker was still sensitive with the Wi-Fi network although it took a few attempts to register to the router. The music played very smoothly from the DLNA server on the network-attached storage and from a French Internet-radio station. As for this Internet radio station, this was noticed during the day and with good bandwidth.

I have run the Sony SA-NS410 at the maximum level possible with Network Audio Remote and played  some Italian folk songs recorded in the 1970s and a recently-issued dance track. Here, I was doing this to identify any points where the speaker can “stress out” and make the music sound awful. At that level, I noticed very minimal amounts of clipping with the dance track and the bass accompaniment was there and came through very tight. The folk music tracks sounded clear with the guitar accompaniment and even when there was full accompaniment going on, it didn’t sound muddled.

This speaker performed well as a Party Streaming guest device but can sound glitchy due to the network not supporting proper multicast behaviour over the Wi-FI segment.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

I would like to improve the way that the Sony SA-NS410 wireless speaker and its peers are set up so as to allow for transportability. Here, it could have an easy-to-invoke “new-network-setup” mode like holding down the Standby button to have it act as if it is to be set up with a new network.

Similarly, it could benefit from the ability to remember the parameters for up to five wireless networks. This could have it work with range extenders or “Mi-Fi” routers as well as being able to be taken between two different home networks for party applications. As well, the speaker could work fully as an 802.11n single-stream wireless client device rather than using 802.11g as the preferred wireless network setup. This is a problem that will beset a lot of small comsumer-electronics devices like these speakers until a wide number of manufacturers make the single-stream 802.11n WiFi chipsets for these devices at cost-effective prices.

The “Network Audio Remote” Android software could be improved so it responds to changes that affect the device as soon as they occur with minimal time lag. It could also benefit from an associated DLNA server for Android phones so you don’t have to “hunt for” separate DLNA server apps from the Google Play store.

Conclusion

I would recommend the Sony SA-NS410 wireless network speaker as being suitable for most network-speaker applications where you want the speaker to yield room-filling sound that has tight bass and good response across the frequencies. It would work with DLNA or AirPlay setups as well as being a line-level amplified speaker that doesn’t sound wimpy.

The Sony Party-Streaming feature can also go a long way if you have recent Sony network-capable music or home-theatre systems in use on your home network and it could add a fair bit of extra value to these systems.

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