Category: Product Review

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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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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