Product Review Archive

Product Review–Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar

Introduction

When Creative Labs launched the Stage Air desktop soundbar, they were positioning it as a single-piece soundbar to exist on your desktop under your computer monitor. This is in the same vein as those soundbars or TV speaker bases that are connected to larger TV sets to improve their sound. This unit isn’t just a desktop soundbar but able to work as a portable Bluetooth speaker thanks to it having its own battery power.

I then organised to review one of these desktop soundbars to find out how they perform as a desktop computer speaker system or portable Bluetooth speaker and am now reviewing one of these units.

Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar speaker

Price

The Unit Itself

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$79.95

Form Factor

Single Piece soundbar

Connections

Input Count as for a device
Analogue Inputs 1 x 3.5mm stereo line input
Digital Inputs Bluetooth 4.2 A2DP wireless connection
Network
Bluetooth A2DP with AVRCP

Speakers

Output Power 5W per channel Stereo
Speaker Layout 2 speakers in one cabinet 2 x full-range speakers
Enclosure Audio Qualities Use of one passive radiator

The unit itself

Setup and Connection

Creative Labs Stage Air connection Options: 3.5mm stereo line-in jack, USB Micro-B charging port, USB Type-A port for MP3 playback from USB Mass-Storage Devices

Connection Options: 3.5mm stereo line-in jack, USB Micro-B charging port, USB Type-A port for MP3 playback from USB Mass-Storage Devices

The Creative Stage Air desktop soundbar sits just under my monitor properly and would be able to fit under most of the monitors or all-in-one computers easily. The connections are in a recessed space on the back of the speaker with a 3.5mm stereo jack for your computer, a USB Micro-B power connection and a USB Type-A connection for use with a memory key full of MP3 audio files.

The controls are located on the right-had-side of the speaker with the power / source button located on the right near you. Here, you press this button until the lamp on the front turns green to use the line input connection for your computer sound.

Creative Labs Stage Air desktop soundbar controls on right side - Power, Up, Down, Bluetooth pairing

Controls on right side – Power, Up, Down, Bluetooth pairing

To use it as a Bluetooth speaker, you would press this source button until the lamp turns blue. If no device is paired to this unit, the light will flash and the speaker will announce an invitation to put your Bluetooth host device in to pairing mode to complete the setup.

To have the speaker work with a new Bluetooth device. you would need to hold down the  Bluetooth-icon button to start the pairing process. This may be a procedure you need to do whenever you want to have it work with a new Bluetooth device and there is no knowledge of whether the Creative Stage Air soundbar can work in a multipoint fashion supporting multiple Bluetooth devices.

Useability

It is easy to tell which input source you are using by the colour of the front light – blue for Bluetooth and green for line-in. As well, the voice prompts for the Bluetooth setup process make it easy for new users to enrol a new device with the Creative Stage Air desktop soundbar.

Initially adjusting the volume may be confusing with the + button located towards you and the – button located away from you where you may be used to setups that have buttons in the reverse order. But you can still feel the controls to identify which ones they are when adjusting the volume from the speaker.

Network Performance

While I was using the Creative Stage Air desktop soundbar with my smartphone as a Bluetooth speaker, I noticed that it didn’t take long to pair up with the smartphone. As well, there wasn’t any jitter in the sound while I was playing music using the Bluetooth connection.

Sound Quality

What really shows up with a speaker system is its sound quality including whether it is too bassy or too brittle in the sound.

Firstly, I had run some audio content from my smartphone and from the computer with it coming across with a tonal quality that has a rich bass sound and a treble sound that is bright enough. It can cope with bass-heavy electronic dance music and yield the appropriate amount of “punch” in that music.

I have played some video content through my desktop PC and have found that the Creative Stage Air desktop soundbar does treat the audio mix properly. This is to assess how a speaker or headphone setup can handle speech, sound effects and music with it affecting its prowess for viewing video content, playing games, engaging in videocalls or similar activities.

The speech comes across clearly with male voices having a deep rich sound. The sound effects come across with some authenticity, something I had noticed while watching an episode Julie Zemiro’s Home Delivery on ABC iView with the sound of the car engine whenever they went anywhere. It is while the music in the video content contains the right balance of clarity and depth. I also watched an episode of a police drama and found that some effects like the gunshots had that bit of punch in them, something that would be of importance when playing a lot of first-person shooter games.

Achieving the right amount of bass response for a small area is facilitated using a passive radiator which is like a speaker driver but not driven by the amplifier circuitry. This was used in some “ghetto-blaster” designs to increase the bass response in a power-efficient manner and is commonly used on many Bluetooth speakers for the same purpose.

As part of testing speaker setups, I take the volume setting up to as high as it will go before I notice any clipping or distortion in the sound. This is to identify how powerful the amplifier circuitry really is and I could take it up all the way without it distorting.

The sound output would really be loud enough for close-up listening at your computer desk or to fill a small area while there is still a rich tone.

Other issues

The unit can run on its own battery for what would be expected for a portable Bluetooth speaker but if you are using it regularly with a computer, I would have it work with a USB power supply.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

One design improvement I would like to see is the implementation of USB Audio as an audio pathway for this device. This is rather than just using the USB Micro-B port for providing power to the speaker. It would then mean that one cable can be used to provide sound and power from the host computer to the speaker rather than using another connection method like Bluetooth or line-level analogue for that purpose.

Similarly, Creative Labs could move towards using USB-C for power and audio connections especially where more computers are being equipped with this connection. It can also lead to them evolving the Stage Air desktop soundbar towards an elementary USB hub function especially where laptops and small-form desktop computers are being equipped with fewer USB connections.

Other alternative connections that can be looked at include the use of an HDMI or DisplayPort input and output connection so that the speaker can be connected between a host computer and a monitor that uses one of these connections and you want to use the “display audio” function that is part of the host’s graphics infrastructure.

The side controls could be made easier to identify by touch so you can know which one is which quickly without looking at them. This could be through raised O, + and – symbols for the power / source and volume buttons or through other means. It is because most of us may he simply used to using the speaker’s volume controls to quickly raise and lower the volume of our computers.

If Creative wants to support playback of file-based audio content from a USB Mass Storage device, they could have the Stage Air also work with other file codecs, especially FLAC and AAC. This is more so as these codecs, especially the FLAC codec, gain traction as higher-quality alternatives to the MP3 audio codec.

As well, if the Stage Air desktop soundbar is to live under that monitor or all-in-one’s screen most of its working life, I would recommend the use of a headphone jack or Bluetooth headphone support. This would avoid the need to swap out the speaker cable for your headphones when you want to connect them to your computer.

Conclusion

I would position the Creative Stage Air desktop soundbar as something that can serve as a portable Bluetooth speaker or as a single-piece alternative to a modest two-piece desktop computer speaker setup. It can also include improving your DAB+ or Internet radio’s sound output, something you may want to do with a small unit that has a headphone connection on it.

But you may find that its sound output is more so for use in the office or at home where you aren’t placing value on a heavy bass response.  The idea that the Stage Air is battery powered may come into its own when you are travelling and want something powerful enough to fill a small room like your average hotel room with music from your laptop, smartphone or a portable audio device. This is while it doesn’t take up much room in your luggage.

On the other hand, if you place value on stronger bass response, most of the three-piece desktop computer speaker setups with a dedicated active subwoofer may answer your needs.

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Product Review–Brother VC-500W Colour Label Printer

I am reviewing the  Brother VC-500W colour thermal label printer which is the first label printer to implement colour direct-thermal printing. This was a machine I had previously covered when it was launched in to Europe due to its use of a direct-thermal colour printing process to turn out labels.

This is based on ZINK colour direct-thermal printing which was an R&D project within Polaroid to combine what their legendary SX-70 instant-camera platform was about with digital photography. But this effort was spun off as a separate entity which licensed it to different product manufacturers who primarily made pocket photo printers and similar devices. Polaroid even used this technology recently to create a digital instant camera that conveyed what their best-selling instant cameras were  about in to the digital world.

Brother VC-500W direct-thermal colour label printer

Connectivity

Touch control on Brother VC-500W colour direct-thermal label printer

Touch control on Brother VC-500W direct-thermal colour label printer.
Left touch panel glows blue for connection to a Wi-Fi network or white when it is its own access point.
Moving your finger in the ridge at the front while it is lit up cuts off the label

The Brother VC-500W colour label printer uses Wi-Fi for network connectivity. This is in addition to it using USB connectivity for regular computers. This can be as its own access point or as part of an extant Wi-Fi network. You can switch between these two modes by pressing the Wi-Fi button on the top left of the unit. If this button glows white, you are using it as its own access point which has the ESSID (network identifier) which starts with VC-500W. If the button glows blue, you have successfully connected it to an existing Wi-Fi network. As well, if the button is dark, the Wi-Fi functionality is disabled. This arrangement avoids situations where you don’t know if your printer switched to own-access-point mode or infrastructure mode on its own accord.

If you are not using Wi-Fi, you connect the Brother VC-500W colour label printer to a regular computer’s USB port using a supplied Type-A to Type-Micro-B cable. This will work with most regular computers as long as you download and install the Brother driver software from their Website.

This unit requires you to set it up as its own access point then log in to its own home page in order to configure it to work with an existing Wi-Fi network. Here, you press the Wi-Fi button until it turns white. Then you connect your regular computer or mobile device to this label printer by Wi-Fi to the ESSID that starts with VC-500W and has the last four digits of the unit’s serial number written on its underside. Then you point your Web browser to 192.168.0.1 and work through the online wizard to enrol it with the Wi-Fi network of choice.

Brother ZINK label roll installed in VC-500W direct thermal colour label printer

ZINK-based colour label roll installed in the printer

The existing-network Wi-Fi functionality is limited to the basic level of Wi-Fi network setup. Here, you can only connect it to a Wi-Fi network that is typically set up for home or small-business use with the WPA2-Personal (common Wi-Fi password) configuration. You can’t operate it on advanced enterprise networks or properly-configured public-access Wi-Fi. As well, this printer doesn’t support WPS push-button setup. As well, if you intend to take your printer between home and work and use it with the existing networks in both locations, you have to configure the printer to each network every time you start using it in that location.

From my experience, I had found that the software download and installation on both my Windows-based desktop computer and my Android phone worked according to plan.

Use

Colour label printed out of Brother VC-500W direct-thermal colour label printer

Colour label printed out by this label printer

I was using the Brother Color Label Editor which is available for iOS or Android on my Android-based smartphone to test the Brother VC-500W colour label printer out. Here, I found that like most newly-released devices, the printer needed to be brought up-to-date with the latest firmware.

The only form of driver-free app-free printing that this printer supports is for the Apple AirPrint platform and this only works with handling image files and PDF files.

The Brother P-Touch Editor and Color Label Editor software does take some time to get used to and both these applications that are supplied for use with this printer  The software is primarily pitched towards home users who create gift tags and the like where beauty is more important.

As well, it is as though the bar-code functionality on P-Touch Editor has been disabled for this printer which is a shame especially for small businesses who may want to create colour labels or ID tags that have machine-readable barcodes or want to use the QR code for something like Wi-Fi network details or Weblinks to be read by a smartphone’s QR-code reader. Here, you would have to use another program or Website to create the barcode then paste the image in to P-Touch Editor.

The colour output is mostly highly saturated and vivid which would suit most applications. Here, I am not thinking of high-quality photo reproduction but something of use to an ordinary household or small business who just wants colour labels.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

The Brother VC-500W colour label printer could implement WPS-PBC, Wi-Fi Easy Connect or similar technologies to permit a simplified Wi-Fi setup experience. As well, it could benefit from a mobile-platform app-based setup experience especially if intend to use it primarily with mobile devices. Support for Wi-Fi enterprise connectivity could go a long way towards having this machine appeal to the business community.

The fact that the Brother VC-500W is a very compact label printer which encourages us to take it between places could incite Brother to allow this printer to remember the configuration of preferably four or five Wi-Fi networks. This could encourage the ability for users to take it between places.

As for driver-free printing, Brother could add support for the Mopria standard in order to allow it to work with Android or Windows devices in that way.

Brother could see the use of ZINK technology come in to its own for direct-thermal colour transactional printing. If they were able to work with ZINK, they could share the knowledge that they built up with their PocketJet direct-thermal printers and making this medium more stable then lead towards improving the stability and longevity of ZINK-based documents. It can also extend to the idea of creating ZINK-based receipt/coupon printers for business applications where full-colour printing comes in to its own.

A wider-framed version of the Brother VC-500W that can take wider ZINK rolls could allow it to compete with the HP Sprocket and other ZINK-based photo printers. It can also open up increased use cases for colour labelling like personnel ID tags, cleanskin wine-bottle labelling amongst other applications.

The printer’s P-Touch software should be able to expose the business-focused printing abilities as well as the craft-focused printing abilities rather than limiting it to the craft-focused functionality. This can be important for people who value full-colour label and tag printing within the office especially if it is also about data-driven or barcode printing.

A question that also needs to be raised about the ZINK-based printing technology that this printer uses is the shelf life for consumables based on this technology. Here it may be about how long the rolls can exist whether within or out of their wrapping before they either print below par or jam up inside the printer. This is because of a reality where we would buy multiple sizes of the label tape to suit different printing needs and use each different one according to need.

Conclusion

I would see the Brother VC-500W Colour Label Printer satisfy most colour-labelling needs especially for householders who are using this kind of labelling for their personal crafts.

For example, I would see it come in to its own with people who are doing their own preserving and bottling and want to use personalised jar or bottle labels for those jars of jam, marmalade or something similar they are giving to their friends and family. In this case, the printer can be used with the CZ2005 50mm-wide roll of tape because they have a larger area for their graphics or photos.

It may also earn its keep in the education and allied sectors for creating unique and distinctive IDs for managing staff, students and other people who visit the premises.

In this case, I don’t really see the Brother VC-500W as being a “toy”. It also is a chance for Brother to exploit the ZINK technology for direct-thermal colour transactional printing applications.

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Product Review–Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible laptop

Introduction

I am reviewing Dell’s value-priced 2-in-1 laptop computer, the Inspiron 14 5000 which is positioned as a mid-tier computer for this class.

There is a model in the lineup that costs under AUD$1000 which has the Intel i3 CPU,  4Gb RAM and 256Gb SSD storage. I would see this as being of value for most users who are dabbling in the idea of a Windows-based 2-in-1.

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 at Rydges Melbourne (Locanda)

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 - viewer arrangement at Rydges Melbourne (Locanda)

 

Price
– this configuration
AUD$1398
Market Positioning Mainstream consumer laptop
Form Factor Convertible laptop
Processor Intel i5-8265U
cheaper option:
Intel i3-8145U
better option:
Intel i7-8565U
RAM 8GB
cheaper option: 4GB
Secondary storage 256GB SSD
cheaper option: 128Gb
SDXC card reader
Display Subsystem Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics
better option:
NVIDIA GeForce MX130 Discrete graphics with Optimus (2Gb)
Screen 14” widescreen touch display (Full HD) LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD audio
Audio Improvements MaxxAudio Pro
Network Wi-Fi Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac)
2 streams
Ethernet
Bluetooth 4.1
Modems
Connectivity USB and Thunderbolt 3 1 x USB-C with DisplayPort alt and PowerDelivery
2 x USB 3.0
1 x USB 2.0
Other Data Connections
Video DisplayPort via USB-C
HDMI 1.4b
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack
Digital via HDMI or DisplayPort
Authentication and Security
Operating System in supplied configuration Windows 10 Home

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

The Dell Inspiron 14 5000 has a very similar styling to most of today’s laptops with the grey housing and black keys and screen escutcheon. It doesn’t come across with a cheap-looking finish.

This computer doesn’t come across as being flimsy. It can work smoothly between the different setups whether it be a tablet, tent mode or the traditional laptop setup. Here, you don’t need to exert much pressure on the lid and it moves very smoothly. A problem that can occur if you use it in viewer mode is that if you put a bit too much pressure on the screen, you can find that the screen collapses too quickly. This may be of concern for those of us who attempt to type with the on-screen keyboard.

There is venting along the back and on the bottom of the keyboard unit. In normal use in all modes, I have noticed that the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 hasn’t built up any heat or become too hot to be comfortable.

User Interface

The illuminated keyboard on the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 looks like what is expected for most of the value-priced consumer-grade laptops. It has the tactile feel that is expected for most modern keyboards and you still have the ability to touch-type accurately. The illumination could be improved through the use of an “on-demand” mode to prevent the keyboard lighting up longer after you stop interacting with it and this could come in to play while the unit is running on batteries.

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible - keyboard left hand side connections (USB-C, HDMI, 2 x USB 3.0, audio jack)

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible – keyboard left hand side connections (USB-C, HDMI, 2 x USB 3.0, audio jack)

The trackpad on this Dell Inspiron 2-in-1 has the full precision ability which allows for multi-touch operation as expected for relatively-modern laptops. The touchscreen is also responsive and accurate as expected and isn’t easily triggered by you typing on the keyboard.

Unlike some very cheap Chinese-built 2-in-1 convertible laptops, the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 disables the keyboard and trackpad when it is placed in a tablet, viewer or tent mode. This means it fulfils the expectations of a 2-in-1 convertible and you don’t have accidental operation.

An improvement that I would like to see for use in any of the “tablet” modes would be to have a power switch and volume buttons located on one of the sides of the screen. This could allow the user to quickly shut the unit down or adjust the sound output when it is used as a tablet or a viewer setup.

Audio / Video

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible - keyboard right hand side connections (SD card reader, USB 2.0 port)

Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible – keyboard right hand side connections (SD card reader, USB 2.0 port)

Dell has implemented the Waves MaxxAudio sound tuning but this doesn’t really improve the sound quality especially for music when you use this computer’s speakers. This is still a problem with laptops because of the shallow cramped design that is part of their construction. Here, I would recommend the use of headphones ore external speakers if you want more out of these computers.

The Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics performed properly for handling Web video but I have done further research on this graphics subsystem. Here, it is able to be an all-rounder for most tasks including some gaming where you aren’t critical about its performance. The high-end variant with the NVIDIA discrete graphics infrastructure would come in handy if you are wanting performance for gaming or photo and video editing.

Dell has done the right thing for battery life by keeping the display resolution for the integrated display at Full HD rather than offering a configuration with a 4K UHDTV screen resolution. The DisplayPort via USB-C connection option can come in to its own for higher resolution computing needs when you have this computer teamed with an external monitor or TV of that resolution.

Connectivity, Storage And Expansion

This computer, like most of the configurations of the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 comes with the 256Gb solid-state storage. This is while one of the configurations equipped with 8Gb RAM comes with 128Gb. It can work well for most “secondary-computer” applications but could be made as an across-the-board baseline. As well, a 512Gb solid-state drive could be offered as a premium option.

The solid-state storage that serves as the Dell Inspiron’s system disk is augmented by a full SD card reader that can work with the standard SD cards. This means that you could load your photos from your digital camera in to your computer without the need for using an SD-card reader.

The RAM capacity satisfies most needs but a 16Gb RAM specification could be offered as a premium option especially for units kitted with the i7 CPU.

The Wi-FI does come across as being strong and quick for most of today’s Wi-Fi networks and hasn’t been much of a worry. The Bluetooth connection also worked properly with my JBL headphones and is a feature that is to be made use of on a laptop for private listening or wireless keyboards and mice.

The USB connectivity does suit most needs including having a USB-C connection with DisplayPort alt and Power Delivery support. Here, it can play well with setting up a USB-C monitor or dock as the heart of a laptop-centric desktop workspace where you are implementing an external monitor, keyboard and mouse.

The two traditional Type-A connections on the left work to USB 3.0 specifications while the right-had Type-A connection works to the 2.0 specification. This can come up as a problem if you are using high-performance plug-in USB peripherals like USB modems that answer high-bandwidth mobile broadband services or USB memory keys with high storage capacity and high performance.

There is also an HDMI connection for existing flatscreen TVs and monitors when you want the second screen, while you have the 3.5mm audio jack for connecting headphones or speakers for better sound.

Battery Life

The Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1’s integral battery can satisfy a workday of ordinary text-based computing. This is even if you do your computing totally online such as Web-surfing on your home network or at a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Online video streaming for 90 minutes with full-screen video and the sound via a Bluetooth headset allowed the battery to run from full capacity to half capacity. You may find that you have to use an external power supply like a USB-C PD battery pack or the computer’s supplied battery charger if you are considering full-on binge-viewing or similar activity for over two to three hours flat-out.

Other Usage Notes

I showed the Del Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 convertible to the chairman of the Men’s Shed that I go to regularly and he found that the screen size was “just right” – not to small or too big. Another person who is involved in business IT saw this computer as being suitable as a general-purpose household or personal computer where you are not asking for anything special in performance or security.

As well, I had used the Dell Inspiron 14 5000 2-in-1 during the broadcast of the Australian Federal Election vote count. Here, I found that the tablet mode worked very well for using the computer as a “second screen” in this context.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

A feature that I would like to see with the Dell Inspiron family of value-priced 2-in-1 laptops is for one or more variants to be equipped with the Thunderbolt 3 connector. This is more so on machines that are targeted towards affordable price segments due to the fact that they could be optioned up for better graphics with an external graphics module.

It could also be a good idea to implement USB 3.0 for all of the Type-A connections on this computer. Here, it can be of benefit to users who are likely to use two unwieldly-sized plug-in USB 3.0 peripherals that have a large form factor like some mobile-broadband modems or high-capacity USB memory keys.

Another feature that would work well for this class of laptop is to have a power switch and volume buttons installed on the edge of the screen. This can simplify the process of regulating the volume or quickly turning off the laptop when you are done.

The illuminated-keyboard feature could have an option to work only while you are working with the keyboard with it turning off a few seconds after you stop using the keyboard. This can be a way to allow for improved battery runtime.

Conclusion

The Dell Inspiron 14 5000 series 2-in-1s fills the gap for a convertible notebook that suits the needs of most householders without sacrificing performance for most computing tasks. This includes using it as a second screen or viewing online video, with the fact that the 14” screen keeps the idea of a highly portable computer alive while maintaining a larger screen.

This model even has some configurations that suit a budget user, someone who wants an all-round performer and someone who is after improved graphics performance.

I would make sure that Dell keeps the Inspiron 14 5000 series of 2-in-1 laptop computers as a value-priced product that suits most users and to keep one model with some desirable specs at an affordable price point. Here, it could be about preserving a lineup of 2-in-1 convertible laptops of different screen sizes, powertrains (CPUs, graphics processors, chipsets), RAM capacities and storage capacities under the Inspiron banner in order to make this computer class affordable for most users.

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Product Review–Brother MFC-J1300DW INKVestment colour inkjet multifunction printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother MFC-J1300DW INKVestment colour inkjet multifunction printer. This is Brother’s attempt at a high-ink-capacity approach to inkjet printing where there is an ink tank for each colour. But, unlike Epson who use separate tanks that are filled from a bottle, they use cartridges which hold some of the ink and the ink is transferred to a holding tank before it is used.

There is the Brother DCP-J1100DW which doesn’t have the fax ability and may be an economical path. Luckily it has the automatic document feeder which is of importance if you do want to scan or copy multiple pages at once.

Brother MFC-J1300DW INKVestment colour inkjet multifunction printer

Print Scan Copy Paper Trays Connections
Colour Colour Colour
B/W
A4 x 1 USB 2.0
Piezoelectric Ink-Jet 1200 dpi ID Copy
Book Copy
Thin Paper Copy
Multi-purpose tray capacity Ethernet
Wi-Fi 4
(802.11g/n)
Own-access-point
Wi-Fi 4
(802.11g/n)
(Auto-Duplex ADF IPv6 capability
Document Send/Receive
Real-Time Super-G3 Colour Fax via phone
Email-based Scan-to-email TIFF-FAX
JPG
PDF
Walk-up Print and Scan USB
SD Card
PDF Print
JPG (Print and Scan)
TIFF (Print and Scan)
Mobile Printing Apple AirPrint
Google CloudPrint
MoPria support
NFC support with Android iPrint
Online Services Print From Scan To
Dropbox, Box.com, OneDrive, Googlr Drive

Evernote, OneNote

Dropbox, Box.com, OneDrive

Evernote, Onenote

Multiple Users for Online Services Yes
“Own Account” Guest Access for Online Services No

 

Prices

Printer

Recommended Retail Price: AUD$300

Inks and Toners

Standard High Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$41 3000
Cyan AUD$41 1500
Magenta AUD$41 1500
Yellow AUD$41 1500

The printer itself

Connectivity and Setup

The printer can be connected directly to the host computer using a USB cable. But it can be connected to your network via Ethernet cable or Wi-Fi wireless. This supports the ability to directly enter your Wi-Fi network’s passphrase as part of a wizard-based setup routine on the control panel.

Like with most of Brother’s inkjet printers, the cables for the USB or Ethernet connection are snaked in under the scanner platen which may be seen as being awkward for a newcomer.

Brother MFC-J1300DW INKVestment colour inkjet multifunction printer - ink cartridges

Ink cartridges as part of Brother INKVestment system – no need to deal with ink bottles

The Brother INKVestment approach offered by the MFC-J1300DW inkjet multifunction printer is based around high-capacity cartridges that offload ink in to tanks integrated in the machine. This is based upon a continuous-inking approach that Epson and others use for their “tank-based” printers but uses the simplicity associated with cartridge-based printers. It meant that there were no special procedures needed to be performed to get the printer up and running.

Paper Handling

Being a compact printer, the Brother MFC-J1300DW uses the traditional portrait feed-through method that most inkjet printers use. As well, it has a small A4 paper tray for storing paper, but this can be a limitation if you expect it to print a large job.

There is a low-profile automatic document feeder that works as expected and can come in handy for copying or scanning multiple pages or sending a fax.

Walk-up functions

Brother MFC-J1300DW INKvestment colour inkjet multifunction printer

A low-profile design is what this printer is about

There is support for Brother’s cloud-driven Web Connect functionality. This includes cloud-hosted scan-to-email, a fax-vault function with the ability to receive faxes to email or online storage, amongst other things.

A problem that can appear with “walk-up” scanning directly to removeable media is that the pictures don’t come out with a similar kind of quality that you would expect if you scan to a regular computer. I had noticed this with a project where I was to scan some pictures for broadcast use and found that you can’t determine the level of JPEG compression for pictures stored to the removable medium. This could be rectified through the use of an option to determine the JPEG compression level for SDXC cards or large-capacity high-speed USB devices along with support for USB 3.0 for the “walk-up” USB interface.

There is a USB port and SD card slot for printing photos from memory cards but this function is very limited. It doesn’t support DPOF printing where you can set up a print order on your camera, nor does it support PictBridge printing from your camera. As well, I could only see the first 300 pictures on an SDHC card that has 1099 pictures on it available for printing. What seems to be happening is that the user class who value the high-quality digital cameras is being forgotten about when it comes to walk-up printing functionality.

The Brother MFC-J1300DW is able to work as a Super G3 fax machine but doesn’t support T.37 or T.38 IP-fax endpoint abilities. It may not be seen as an important feature except for some professions like the legal and medical profession who do rely on fax transmission of documents. This is augmented with a “fax vault” function that allows received faxes to be forwarded to an online-storage service like Dropbox or an email address, but this function requires forwarded faxes to be printed locally by the machine as they arrive.

I would personally require this forwarding-to-online-storage function to have an option of not printing faxes successfully forwarded to online storage. This would be of value for out-of-hours fax reception in an environment where there is a risk of confidential faxes being seen by the wrong eyes. It could also use an SSD or SD card as an alternative to these options where you don’t want confidential material on an online service or via an insecure email setup.

Computer and mobile-device functions

I have installed the drivers from Brother’s Website for this printer on to both my Windows 10 computer and a friend’s Macintosh running one of the newer versions of MacOS which was to be used by them to scan some photos. Here, the driver-installation procedure went according to plan for both platforms.

I used my Samsung Android mobile phone to print out an email using the Mopria driver-free printing protocol and this setup worked properly via the home network. Here, the Mopria subsystem discovered the printer properly and turned out the document as expected.

Print / scan speed and quality

The print speed was very typical for an average inkjet printer that uses the orthodox printing arrangement rather than the newer landscape printing arrangement.  Here, it still turned out a sharp document for each print job I had sent to it.

I kept an eye on how this printer handles two-sided printing, especially when it comes to any “drifting” between the front and back of the page. There wasn’t any of that issue with this machine which would make it work properly with desktop-publishing jobs involving oddly-shaped documents like bookmarks or hang-tags.

I have test-printed two photos on to photo-grade paper and have found that there is the sharpness and definition in the images. The pictures do come out bright but the colour saturation could be improved slightly especially when handling reds.

I have scanned some photos with this printer and have found that there are problems with handling high-contrast photos especially if they are the kind of snapshot prints you get from a minilab. It may be a problem associated with most consumer scanners especially when it comes to reflective material.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

This baseline home printer could be improved upon through the use of landscape printing. It is more so if the goal is to make this class of home multifunction printer more compact. As well, it could benefit from a “mezzanine” photo-printing tray like what the previous Brother home MFC printers offered along with having a deeper paper tray so you can have a larger amount of paper on board.

Having a higher-capacity paper tray can exploit the INKVestment system further by allowing for larger print runs to be fulfilled. Here, it would work well towards the end of school or college / university semesters where there is the likelihood of large assignments being printed out, whether at a proof-reading stage or for handing in.

Similarly, having the output tray as a separate item that is integrated with the printer rather than being attached to the paper tray can make the printer easier to load. This could also allow Brother to innovate further by designing an output tray that automatically extends when a print job is about to be turned out and retracts when the documents are removed.

Most of these Brother printers could support SMB or HTTP-based scanning to or printing from network and Internet resources. A feature like that could make more use of NAS systems as a digital document archive. Similarly, Brother could maintain interest in the standards associated with walk-up printing of digital images from cameras , be it PictBridge wired connectivity or DPOF removable-media-based print orders. This would earn its keep with printing out “there-and-then” prints of photos you took with your digital camera.

A question that can easily crop up with the Brother “INKVestment” approach is the cost of buying replacement ink cartridges at a later time like after that promised year of use. Here, it will be about whether it would be cost-effective to buy newer cartridges for the printer or simply to replace it with a machine of similar standard. But I have found that the cost to replace all cartridges on this printer wouldn’t be more than the initial purchase price of this machine, thus it doesn’t appear to be “disposable”.

Similarly, using the tank approach in the INKVestment system could allow for the ability to replace empty cartridges while there is ink in the tank so as to cater for heavy print runs. This could be facilitated through the use of an indicator that shows whether a cartridge is empty while there is reserve ink in the tank. Even an option for higher-capacity cartridges can come in handy where there is a situation of peak usage.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

I expect that the Brother MFC-J1300DW INKVestment colour inkjet multifunction printer is being positioned as a general-purpose home or home-office printer with the focus on a long time between replacing ink. Here, I would see it work well as a multifunction printer to be kept in a study or similar location and handle a typical household’s print requirements.

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Product Review–Brother HL-L3230CDW Colour LED Printer

Introduction

I am reviewing the Brother HL-L3230CDW which is their latest iteration of a colour LED-based xerographic printer. These xerographic printers works in a similar manner to a laser printer but uses a row of LEDs rather than a laser steered by moving mirrors to light the imaging drum with what you are printing as part of the printing process.

Brother is positioning the HL-L3230CDW as a follow-on model to their HL-3170CDW colour LED printer and its stablemates. But they are also running this model as a baseline printer for their new colour LED xerographic printing engine. The higher-priced pureplay stablemates based on the new engine also have a colour LCD touchscreen and offer more in the way of walk-up printing options such as working with Brother’s Web Connect online printing subsystem. There are also some colour LED multifunction printers with the fax-equipped models supporting this same Web Connect as well.

Brother HL-L3230CDW colour LED printer

Print Scan Copy Paper Trays Connections
Colour 1 A4 tray(standard) USB 2.0
LED xerographic 1 sheet multi-purpose tray Ethernet
Wi-Fi 4 (802.11g/n)
Own-access-point Wi-Fi 4 (802.11g/n)
Auto-Duplex IPv6 capability
Document Send/Receive
Mobile Printing Apple AirPrint
Google CloudPrint
MoPria support

 

Prices

Printer

RRP: AUD$329

Toners

Standard High Capacity
Price Pages Price Pages
Black AUD$146 2500
Cyan AUD$106 1300 AUD$159 2500
Magenta AUD$106 1300 AUD$159 2500
Yellow AUD$106 1300 AUD$159 2500

Servicing and Other Parts (Laser Printers)

Price Pages
Drum Kit – per colour AUD$299 18000
Belt Kit (Colour lasers) AUD$194.50 50000
Waste Toner Bin AUD$43 50000

The printer itself

Connectivity and Setup

Brother HL-L3230CDW colour LED printer control panel

The control panel on the Brother HL-L3230CDW colour LED printer

The Brother HL-L3230CDW is able to connect to your computer directly via USB or via your home network using Wi-Fi 4 (802.11g/n) or Ethernet. This review will be the first product review on HomeNetworking01.info to implement the new Wi-Fi Alliance “generation mumbering” scheme that has just been set in stone when it comes to what kind of connectivity to expect from a Wi-Fi wireless-network device.

There is a small LCD display as well as a D-pad for basic machine setup functionality so you are not expecting much from this printer beyond a baseline print device.

Brother HL-L3230CDW colour LED printer toners in place

Toner cartridges and drum units in the Brother HL-L3230CDW colour LED printer

You have to open a lid to gain access to the toner cartridges. drum units and belt unit. Here, each colour toner cartridge is installed in its drum unit but you separately replace the toner cartridge and the drum unit unlike what happens with HP LaserJet printers.

Here, each of the parts are easy to remove and reinstall which can be of benefit when dealing with paper jams. If you are dealing with a paper jam that occurred around the back of the printer, the fuser rollers are exposed when you open the back panel and release another black plastic panel to rectify the paper jam. This is a risky situation due to these rollers being hot after a print job.

Brother DR-253CL drum and TN-253Y toner cartridge

Toner cartridge and drum unit as separate pieces – installed in a similar manner to Brother monochrome laser printers

A security issue that will always come up regarding dedicated-function devices that connect to your network and the Internet is making sure these devices are kept up-to-date with the latest firmware. This is something I will be paying attention to regarding these devices and writing up about in these product reviews.

Brother integrates in to their print monitor software installed on your computer a software-update monitoring function. If there are new versions of the driver or printer firmware, this program will let you know so you can update this software, whereupon you can update this software. It will lead to the installation of a printer-firmware update tool to install newer firmware.

Paper Handling

The Brother HL-L3230CDW has a standard paper tray for ordinary document paper. But like most of the popularly-priced Brother printers. it has a single-sheet multipurpose feed slot which can be annoying if you are doing things like run a batch of labels or print on special media.

Walk-up functions

Due to its position in the market for its product type as an economy “bare-bones” printer, this printer doesn’t offer walk-up printing from USB, network or online resources.

Computer functions

I have installed the driver software on to my Windows 10 computer from Brother’s official support Website and this installation went according to plan.

As for printing from mobile devices, the Brother HL-L3230CDW can print using Brother’s own iPrint&Scan app. But it supports driver-free printing in the form of Apple’s AirPrint and the Mopria platform as well as supporting Google Cloud Print.

There is support for code-based secure job release but it requires you to enter the pre-determined release code using a “pick-and-choose” method not dissimilar to text entry on a Smart TV or video peripheral using its remote control.

Print speed and quality

If the Brother HL-L3230CDW colour LED printer hasn’t been used for a significant amount of time, it would take around 20 seconds to yield the first page of the document from when you send the print job from your computer. If it was recently used, the printer would take around 10 seconds to turn out the first page of the print job. This is something that would be expected for most economy laser printers.

This printer would yield sharp crisp document output even for colour work thus making it suitable for basic office printing including printing of desktop publishing work.

I printed two test photos using Windows 10 Photos app along using the best printing-quality setting available and they came out slightly pale compared with Brother’s recent premium colour laser printer – the HL-L8350CDW. Most of the colours still come out vibrant although it doesn’t handle the flesh tones really well.

Even though I haven’t had the chance to personally test the Brother HL-3170CDW or its stablemates that are based on the second-generation LED xerographic print engine, I had noticed a significant improvement on photo output quality over the generations compared to when I tested the HL-3075CW which used Brother’s first-generation LED xerographic print engine.  What is showing up with the Brother HL-L3230CDW is that it is capable of yielding photo output that is good for ordinary use but not fully presentation-grade.

The Brother HL-L3230CDW’s LED print engine is the second colour LED print engine that Brother designed to implement an automatic duplexer across all of the models. But I have paid some attention to registration shift between the front and back of the same sheet of paper during a double-sided print run. Here, I had noticed a slight vertical shift where the back page was slightly shifted down from the front by a few millimetres. This is something that may be common with most desktop printers equipped with this feature but may be of concern with turning out print jobs like doorknob hangers, luggage tags or the like where you need to cut out a particular shape.

Unlike the premium Brother colour laser printers, the Brother HL-L3230 doesn’t implement a “quick turnaround” approach to automatic duplexing. Rather it seems to work one sheet of paper at a time while doing a double-sided print run.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

One feature that Brother could work on with the economy colour LED printers is the registration shift for auto-duplexing. Here, they could make sure that there isn’t any drift between the front and back of the printed page, which can be of benefit for printing special-shaped work. It can also lead towards designing automatic duplexer mechanisms for printers that are paper-agile such as being able to work with smaller paper sizes or thicker paper.

The manual bypass tray could be able to support multiple sheets of paper, which can be of benefit if you are turning out a significant quantity of labels, printed envelopes or other special documents.

Another issue that will be of concern is the cost to replace the drum units when they come up for replacement. This can cause one to consider buying a new printer from the same range rather than replacing the necessary parts. It is more so where the drum units are being rated for fewer pages than the other components.

Another improvement I would like to see regarding this printer is the option to start a firmware update for a network-connected printer from its control panel through the “Machine Info” menu. This could be augmented through a message on the printer’s display to say that new firmware is available like I have seen with some of the multifunction units they offer.

Conclusion and Placement Notes

Personally, I would see the Brother HL-L3230CDW as an entry-level casual-use option for a xerographic-based colour printer that is suited for small jobs. This could be something that is a home office or a private “document-preview” printer.

An issue that will be of concern is that if at least one drum unit or the belt unit comes up for replacement at the same time as a toner replacement, it could make us think that this printer is worth replacing rather than the necessary parts. This is a problem that I see being endemic with economy-positioned printers.

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Product Review–Brother P-Touch PT-P710BT Bluetooth Label Printer

I am reviewing the Brother P-Touch PT-P710BT portable Bluetooth label printer which is designed to work alongside your smartphone or tablet as a label-printing solution. This is simply through the device talking with your smartphone or tablet via a Bluetooth link.

It can work with your regular computer like a laptop if you are using Brother’s labelling software and a Bluetooth connection, which would really come in handy for those of us who use a laptop computer.

Brother PT-P710BT portable Bluetooth label printer with smartphone

The label printer itself

I would describe the Brother PT-P701BT printer’s size as being compact – slightly larger than four cakes of soap stacked face-to-face. Here, it would be something that you could hold in the palm of your hand.

The label printer uses the TZ family of label tapes that are kept in special cassettes. This same family of label tapes is infact used across a large number of their label writers or Wi-Fi label printers in Brother’s stable. This can be of benefit when it comes to ordering supplies for these machines.

Setup

Bluetooth PT-P710BT Bluetooth label printer

The labels come out of this side

It runs on its own replaceable rechargeable battery. Here, this battery is charged by you connecting this printer to a USB charger using a Micro-USB cable like you would with most open-frame smartphones or Bluetooth accessories. Or you could use this same cable to connect the printer to a Windows or MacOS regular computer so you can use Brother’s P-Touch Editor software to create labels.

The setup process to make it work with your Bluetooth-equipped computer or mobile device is that you have to hold down the power button to make the printer discoverable. Then you use the host device’s operating system to find the printer as a new Bluetooth device, similar to what you would do with a Bluetooth headset. It didn’t take long for me to pair this device up with my Android smartphone.

Brother PT-P710BT portable Bluetooth label printer with TZE label tape in place

Brother PT-P710BT portable Bluetooth label printer with TZE label tape in place

When I use this printer with my Windows 10 computer, I found it easier to set the Brother PT-P710BT printer to work as a USB label printer rather than with Bluetooth. It would be achieved by connecting the printer to the host computer using a USB Type-A to USB Type-microB cable or USB Type-C to USB Type-microB cable depending on the connection the host computer has. This is because there wasn’t the software support to allow a proper Bluetooth connection between the host computer and the printer.

Use

I used this label printer to label the fuel tank of a small engine to remind its user of whether to use petrol or 2-stroke mix with this engine. Here, I used the iPrint&Label app on my Samsung Android smartphone and it didn’t take long to turn out that label although I would like to see that app have a quick opportunity to “clear the canvas” on any new setup. The resulting label then came out sharp and clear.

Limitations

Brother could take advantage of various enhanced Bluetooth-peripheral setup experiences such as NFC-based “tap-and-go” pairing for Android phones for Bluetooth label printers and similar peripherals. They could also support the Bluetooth “fast pairing” setup experience being put forward by Apple, Google and Microsoft including, where applicable, the ability to lead users to install the extra software needed to get the most out of the device. This would also include the ability for this printer to work properly with a MacOS or Windows regular computer that is connected to it by Bluetooth, something that would be valued by those of us who use highly-portable computers like laptops.

As well, I would like to have the ability for the Brother P-Touch PT-P710BT label printer be able to operate while connected to the USB power source rather than use that source just for battery charging even if the battery is being charged or at full capacity. This could allow for battery energy conservation while you are at home or in a vehicle, or cater towards using a USB power bank with more battery capacity for longer field projects. Such a state could be indicated with the battery charging LED glowing green while the unit is switched on and connected to a USB source to indicate operation from external power and glowing yellow to indicate that the battery is charging.

To avoid confusion, I would personally like to see the Power LED glow steady while the printer is on and connected to a host device whether by Bluetooth or USB. Then have it glow yellow to indicate that it is discoverable by a Bluetooth host and flash during the pairing-up phase. Having a light that flashes regularly on a device can be seen to be an indication of a fault or warning condition rather than normal operation.

Conclusion – Is it a tool or a toy?

I would position the Brother PT-P710BT Bluetooth label printer as a basic label printer for those of us who use highly-portable computing equipment especially smartphones and always want to use it while “on the go”. Here, I value the ability to provide wireless connectivity without the need to worry about Wi-Fi network issues. It may not work well for team-based work where multiple-host-device connectivity is essential such as for work teams.

It is easy to see this labeller as a toy but for most of us who want to use our “many-function” smartphones to the hilt, it could be seen as a highly-portable tool. This is more so if we are wanting something that is highly compact and ready to go.

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Product Review–Dell XPS 13 8th Generation Ultrabook (9360)

Introduction

I have been following the Dell XPS 13 series of clamshell Ultrabooks which are an effort Dell have been undertaking to get the right mix of performance, build quality and functionality in an affordable package. It was also about not losing sight of this goal while evolving the model towards newer technologies and specifications. Now I have the chance to review the latest iteration of this series known as the “9360” series and equipped with the 8th Generation silicon in the higher-specified packages.

This computer represents the latest in the Dell XPS 13 clamshell Ultrabook dynasty and has a technical refresh with the new Intel 8th Generation silicon. There is the “9370” series which is more expensive and implements more of the USB-C connectivity in lieu of the USB-A connections and exclusively uses Intel 8th Generation silicon.

Dell has been maintaining the key features that make the XPS 13 series earn its keep as a value-for-money all-round Ultrabook rather than adding too many “bells and whistles”. As I referred to in a previous article on the XPS 13, I was describing this effort as “ticking all the boxes” for what the market expected.

Dell XPS 13 8th Generation Ultrabook at QT Melbourne rooftop bar

 

Price
– this configuration
AUD $2199
Market Positioning Consumer ultraportable
Form Factor Clamshell laptop
Processor Intel Core i7-8550U
cheaper option:
Intel Core i5-7200U
Intel Core i7-7560U
RAM 8 GB
Secondary storage 256 GB SSD SD card reader
Display Subsystem Intel UHD integrated graphics
cheaper option:
Intel HD 620 integrated graphics
better option:
Intel Iris 640 integrated graphics
Can support eGPU modules
Screen 13.3” widescreen display (1920×1080)
better option
13.3” widescreen touch display
(3200×1800)
LED backlit LCD
Audio Subsystem Intel HD audio
Audio Improvements Waves MaxxAudio
Network Wi-Fi 802.11a/g/n/ac dual stream
Ethernet
Bluetooth 4.1 Smart Ready
Modems Dial-up or mobile-broadband modems
Connectivity USB and Thunderbolt 3 1 x Thunderbolt 3 over USB-C with Power Delivery
2 x USB 3.0 – 1 with Power Delivery
Other Data Connections
Video DisplayPort via USB-C
Audio 3.5mm input-output jack
Authentication and Security Fingerprint Reader
Operating System in supplied configuration Windows 10 Home

The computer itself

Aesthetics and Build Quality

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation clamshell Ultrabook

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation clamshell Ultrabook

The Dell XPS 13 didn’t come across as being flimsy or weak in any way. Rather it maintained the similar build quality and aesthetics of a good-quality clamshell Ultrabook.

There was a situation that I noticed where the computer was slightly warmer underneath during a software update but it wasn’t uncomfortable to use when you are using it on your lap. Luckily the heat buildup occured in the centre of the laptop’s base but was dispersed thanks to the metal housing. It will be a situation to expect with most of the ultraportable computers due to their small size.

User Interface

The backlit keyboard is accurate for touch-typing and the backlighting is not too dominant when used in daylight or average room light. The backlighting also does properly turn off when you aren’t using the keyboard.

The precision multi-touch trackpad works properly with all of the advanced multi-finger gestures as well as single-finger mousing around. It doesn’t act too hair-trigger and select things it shouldn’t when you are typing even if you use the XPS 13 Ultrabook on your lap.

The integrated fingerprint reader works tightly with Windows Hello and is accurate most of the time. Having very dry fingers after, perhaps, outdoor work may cause it not to be accurate and you may have to log in with your Windows PIN. As well, during the initial setup phase, make sure that the fingerprint reader catches your fingerprint at different angles.

Audio / Video

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation Ultrabook - left side ports - Thunderbolt 3 over USB Type C port, USB Type A port, audio jack

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation Ultrabook – left side ports – Thunderbolt 3 over USB Type C port, USB Type A port, audio jack

The Intel integrated video chipset works smoothly with streamed content after I had viewed an overseas video through this laptop. But personally, I would see this chipset serve most ordinary computing tasks effectively. I am also pleased about Dell having the XPS 13 Ultrabook equipped with the necessary Thunderbolt 3 port for those of us who want to have that bit of extra video performance provided by an external graphics module.

The Waves MaxxAudio still is about trying to improve the integrated speakers’ sound. But it is still the same issue with ultraportable notebook computers that you have to use headphones, external speakers or a sound system to achieve better sound from these computers.

Connectivity, Storage And Expansion

The 256Gb solid-state drive is the only integrated secondary-storage option available across the Dell XPS 13 series. This would offer the right amount of storage for most needs but you may have to use a USB hard disk if you are wanting to offload photos and the like to keep essential data on the SSD.

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation Ultrabook - right side ports (USB Type A port and SD card reader)

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation Ultrabook – right side ports (USB Type A port and SD card reader)

Speaking of which, there is an integrated standard SD-card reader which is useful for those of us who use digital cameras for our photography. As I have experienced, you don’t need to deal with USB-based SD card readers if you deal with photos from your camera.

If you are dealing with newer networking equipment, the Wi-Fi networking infrastructure performs very adequately and maintains the expected throughput. The Bluetooth functionality works very well even for streaming audio to a headset.

Dell has maintained the Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C port on the XPS 13 Ultrabook to assure users of a path towards higher-performance graphics. This could allow a user to purchase an external graphics module for better graphics performance “at home” or “at work”, while it provides USB Power Delivery connectivity as an alternative power input if you use an expansion module with power-supply abilities to that standard.

Battery Life

The reviewed configuration of the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook is within the expectations for a portable computer to have a long battery live and I was able to do regular computing and Internet tasks for most of the day without finding that it is going to die out quickly.

I was able to stream a video for 90 minutes with the sound coming via a Bluetooth headset and found that the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook had 87% battery capacity at the end of the video. This was assuring proper glitch-free throughput and smooth playback.

One of the factors that I see with achieving the ideal battery life is the review configuration being kitted out with an integrated screen that sticks with the ideal 1920×1080 screen resolution which I would find as being fine for most users.

Other Usage Notes

Dell XPS 13 9360 8th Generation rear viewI have used the Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook in front of other people and they have seen it as a highly portable highly viable computer to use “on the road”. Infact I was showing it in front of a man who was considering what to purchase for a “travel” laptop and he saw this as a good example of what he wanted to use. This is for soneone who maintains a desktop computer with the large screen as their main home computer.

Limitations And Points Of Improvement

Dell would need to avoiding losing the vision of what the XPS 13 Ultrabook is about – a robust capable ultraportable computer that offers what most users want for the right price. It is similar to what Toyota have been doing with their Hiace vans and Hilux pickup trucks – improving on these vehicles without losing sight of the reputation they have earnt over the generations.

A question that will come across to Dell is whether to maintain a large range of XPS 13 configurations for all markets or not. This may be an approach to provide some affordable variants that can appeal to students and the like while offering higher-performance configurations for those who can afford them.

Dell would have to maintain at least one Thunderbolt 3 connection on all computers of the series in order to allow users to “pep up” the graphics with an external graphics module. In the same context, they could easily offer one or more of these external graphics modules as an optional accessory for these systems.

As Dell evolves the XPS 13 series, they could easily consider supplying a 512Gb SSD as an integrated storage option for some of the configurations. This would be at the time that this capacity becomes affordable to specify for the same physical size. It could then make the XPS 13 Ultrabooks earn their keep as a sole computing device. Similarly, they could offer a touchscreen with a 1920×1080 resolution as an intermediary display option so you are still able to stay with that resolution to conserve battery runtime yet benefit from touch-driven operation.

Conclusion

Dell is keeping the performance, functionality and quality to the same expectations for this generation of the XPS 13 Ultrabook as they have done for the previous generations of this Ultrabook dynasty.

Personally I would see the 9360 Series of the XPS 13 as a machine for those of us who want more value for our money. In some cases, I would recommend even looking at variants with the prior-generation Intel processor for those of us who are on a budget yet want some performance out of these machines.

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Product Review–Brother QL-1110NWB label printer

I am reviewing the Brother QL-1110NWB wide-format network label printer which is the premium model for Brother’s QL-1100 series of wide-format label printers. It is seen as something that can work with applications where barcodes, graphics or extra details like weights and use-by dates are to be placed on a label like with packaging or commercial-kitchen food management.

There are two machines that are part of the Brother QL-1110 Series label printer lineup – the QL-1110 and the QL-1110NWB. The QL-1110 can only connect to the host computing device via USB and also supports USB-host connectivity for HID-class USB barcode readers. Android users can use USB OTG or USB Type-C adaptor cables to connect their devices to this printer and print using the Brother apps.

Brother QL-1110NWB network label printer

The QL-1110NWB supports the abovementioned USB connections but also supports network connectivity via Wi-Fi or Ethernet along with support for wireless connectivity via Bluetooth or direct (own access point) Wi-Fi connectivity,

Both of these machines run from AC power using an integrated power supply where you are not dealing with a “wall-wart” or “power brick” to supply power to them. Rather you are simply using the same kind of AC cord that you would use to power a portable radio and that leads towards a cable you can easily replace if the original one goes missing.

Connection to your computer or network

Brother QL-1110NWB network label printer connections - USB to host computer, USB for peripherals, Ethernet

Brother QL-1110NWB network label printer connections – USB for direct to host connection, USB for barcode readers and Ethernet

The Brother QL-1110NWB can connect to your network via Ethernet or Wi-Fi wireless as well as being able to print from mobile devices using either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi Direct connections. But if you are setting up this machine for Wi-Fi-based network connectivity, you have to connect it to a regular computer running Windows via USB and run the supplied Printer Setting Tool to configure it. This doesn’t apply if you use WPS “push-to-connect” Wi-Fi setup or Ethernet connectivity on a small network.

I had found that the Printer Setting Tool was not surefire in its approach for Wi-Fi network setup and couldn’t even get it connected to my home network. But I could simply plug it in to the Ethernet connection which can be of use for setups where your premises is wired for Ethernet or you use a HomePlug powerline setup.

There is support for Web-based configuration but this only applies if you have it connected to your network.

It also supports Apple’s AirPrint driver-free printing standard so it can work with iOS and MacOS hosts without needing driver software.

Personally, I had found that the Brother QL-1110NWB label printer yielded a surefire connection when I used it with an Ethernet connection or a USB direct-to-host connection.

The label printers also have an integrated guillotine which makes it simpler and more elegant to manage the labels. This works under programmatic control or you can cut the labels manually through a push-button on the machine’s control panel.

Loading label stock in the label printer

Brother QL-1110NWB network label printer loaded with standard label tape

Loading the label tape in the Brother QL-1110 Network Label Printer

The Brother QL-1110 Series label printers can take the same standard-width label stock as the rest of the QL series reel-feed label printers. But they can take label stock that is wider than normal thus allowing for the creation of larger labels including the possibility of printing out standard name-badge or address labels in landscape form.

Loading any of the Brother QL-1110 Series label printers is a relatively simple chore no matter whether you are using the wide label stock or the narrow label stock. These label printers use a clamshell design and you release the lid by operating two latches at the same time, which doesn’t require much pressure. Then you drop the label reel in, making sure it engages with the ridge on the right hand side of the compartment.

Then you thread the label paper through the machine taking care to make sure the paper is under a black sensor box on the right side of the compartment while it emerges through the front. Here, there is very little effort needed to make sure that the paper is threaded properly.

The Brother label printer uses microswitches that sense mouldings and holes on the reel along with other microswitches that sense the width of the reel to determine what kind of label tape is in the printer including whether it is a wide-format label tape. Here, you would have to be careful that the correct label tape is on the correct reel if you want this unit to work properly.

System-integration support

A systems integrator or yourself could upload label template designs created using P-Touch Editor and set up a “computer-free” label-creation arrangement for data read from barcodes. This can work with an HID-compliant barcode reader connected to the USB host port (both models) or linked via Bluetooth (QL-1110NWB only). That setup would then appeal to stock-control and similar applications.

There is also support for ESC/P printing codes so that these label printers can work with other third-party labelling or similar software that implements this kind of output control.

Supplied software

All the Brother label machines including these units support the P-Touch Editor software which works as a quick way to turn out labels. If you use a smartphone or mobile-platform tablet, the Brother iPrint&Label app works in the same vein for turning out labels from these devices.

If you use P-Touch Editor, you could set it that way by selecting “Vertical” in the Orientation setting under the Paper tab. This means that it will print out parallel to the printer. Here, I would recommend this if you want to exploit the wide-format label tape for turning out address labels or name badges.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

Brother could make sure these label printers support any and all device classes to do with printing for POS, gaming and allied applications no matter the connection type as well as supporting other driver-free printing standards like Mopria Alliance and IPP Everywhere,

Similarly, Brother could look towards the use of other USB or Bluetooth input devices like keyboards or digital scales as a way to enter data for use with stored label templates. Here, it could work well with environments where you can’t use a smartphone or regular computer to enter data for a labelling environment.

I have always called on Brother to add a “measuring-tape” creation function to their P-Touch Editor software. Such a function would allow someone to use a label printer loaded with continuous-tape label stock to create a measuring tape that could be stuck to something like a worktop edge or door frame thus making that surface something to measure length or height with. This feature would appeal to laboratories, the medical profession, child care, education or a whole host of other professions who are always measuring things like people’s height for example.

As well, the P-Touch Address Book software could support country-specific addressing better by using nation-specific address layouts or omitting the ZIP Code barcode for non-USA addresses. It could be taken further through the implementation of machine-readable barcoding techniques that other countries may use to improve mail delivery.

Conclusion

The Brother QL-1100 Series label printers have become an example of legitimising wide-format thermal-based label printing for small businesses. This would be of importance for logistics and inventory-management applications where there is requirement for more detail on the label or to make heavy use of large barcodes.

But I would recommend the Brother QL-1110NWB specifically for those setups where you expect the printer to be located away from a regular computer.

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My Experience with the USB-C connection type

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Ultrabook - USB-C power

USB-C as the power connection for a Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 Ultrabook

I have given a fair bit of space on HomeNetworking01.info to the USB-C host-peripheral connection type since it was launched. It was more to do with a simplified high-throughput high-reliability connection type that will grace our computers, smartphones and similar devices.

But just lately I had upgraded to a new Samsung Galaxy S8+ Android smartphone due to my previous smartphone failing. But I had some previous experience with the USB-C connection through my reviewing of the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 convertible Ultrabook, which was powered using USB-C as its primary connection type. The previous Android smartphones that I had before implemented a USB microAB connection for their power and data-transfer needs and recent iterations of Android which I experienced on the Galaxy Note series of phones supported USB OTG host-operation modes.

USB-C connector on Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

Samsung S8 Plus Android phone using USB-C connection for power and data

The main feature that I liked was the simple approach to connecting devices to my phone. Here, I didn’t have to worry about which way the cable plugged in to my phone, something that was important when it came to connecting it to a charger or power pack.

A situation I was previously encountering with the USB micro-B connector on the previous phones was the need to replace USB cables due to the USB micro-B plug wearing out in the USB micro-AB socket in these phones due to frequent connection and disconnection. This would be typical in relationship to connecting a phone up to a charger for charging then subsequently disconnecting it from the charger for regular use. Then I ended up buying replacement USB A to USB micro-B cables to remedy this problem.

Now I am ending up with a sure-fire connection experience for USB devices similar to using the regular USB connections commonly fitted to regular computers or peripherals.

That situation was often brought on through the use of leaf-spring-type lugs on the USB micro-B connector that were used to make sure the plug fitted properly in the common USB micro-AB socket fitted to smartphones. Here, they can easily wear out and lose their springiness through repeated use. The USB-C connector doesn’t make use of those leaf springs to secure the plug in the socket thanks to it being one plug design for data input and output.

Memory card reader connected to USB-C adaptor for Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphone

USB-C also works for connecting this phone to a memory card reader for reading photos from my camera

Another benefit that I have experienced is the ability to use the same kind of connector whether the phone is to be a host to a peripheral or to be connected to another computer device. This avoids the need to worry about having to use a USB OTG cable if, for example, I wanted to use a photo from my camera’s SD card to post on Instagram. But I still needed to use a USB-A (female) to USB-C adaptor with the SD card reader but would find this useful if I wanted to use the SD card reader or a USB memory key with any USB-C host device.

Again, I wouldn’t need to worry about which way the cable plugged in to a computer or smartphone equipped with this connector. This can come in handy if I was dealing with USB memory keys attached to keyrings or USB peripherals hanging off a USB cable.

Personally, I see the USB Type-C connection appearing as a viable connection type for laptops, tablets and smartphones especially where these devices are designed to be slim.

One way this connection can be exploited further would be for smartphone manufacturers to install two USB Type-C connectors at the bottom of their products. Similarly, a USB battery pack with USB Type-C connectivity could have have three USB-C sockets and have USB hub functionality. This could then allow for multiple devices to be connected to the same host device.

This article will be built out further as I deal with more connection setups that are based around the USB Type-C connector.

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Product Review–JBL E45BT On-Ear Bluetooth Headset

Introduction

I am reviewing the JBL E45BT Bluetooth headset which is a Bluetooth-equipped follow-on for the JBL E30 headset that I previously reviewed. It is my first effort at reviewing a Bluetooth headset that JBL is positioning as one that is fit for general-purpose applications.

JBL E45BT Bluetooth wireless headset

Price

RRP: AUD$149.95

Headset Type

Headphone Assembly Traditional over-the-ear
Driver Positioning Supra-aural (sits on the ear)
Driver Enclosure Closed back
Primary sound path Digital
Microphone position Microphone integrated in earcup

Functionality

Pitched for Commuting / street-use
Active Noise Cancellation No
Remote Control Music Transport (Bluetooth AVRCP)
Sound Volume
Call control (Wired / Bluetooth HFP)
Voice Assistant (Wired)

Connectivity

Connection for main operation Wired
Bluetooth 4.0 wireless
Wired path 2.5mm 4-pole analogue jack
Supplementary adaptors 3.5mm headset cord

The headset itself

The JBL E45BT On-Ear Bluetooth Headset is capable of being a wired headset using an included wired-headset cable that has a built-in microphone and control button. Or it can become a standalone Bluetooth wireless headset when linked to your smartphone or computer via Bluetooth.

As far a storage is concerned, both of the earcups can be swiveled flat and parallel with the headband. This makes for compact storage in your briefcase, laptop bag or other personal luggage.

Connectivity and Functionality

The JBL E45BT Bluetooth headset honours the Bluetooth Hands-Free and A2DP / AVRCP application profiles thus allowing it to work as a headset for a communications device or a music-playback device compliant to these standards.

The remote-control buttons for the volume and call-management functions are on the right-hand earcup, but JBL could make the middle button which serves as a play/pause or call answer/end button have a different tactile feel so it is easy to identify quickly. You have to hold the volume buttons down until you hear a beep to activate track-skip functionality.

JBL E45BT Bluetooth headset Bluetooth controls and wired-headset socket

Volume / media-transport controls for Bluetooth, wired headset socket, Bluetooth pairing button

This control arrangement doesn’t allow you to start redialling a missed call or busy number or instigate a session with Siri or the Google Assistant using Bluetooth. But it provides what is essential to start and stop music, take calls, change tracks or adjust the sound.

Users can connect the JBL E45BT to the host device in a wired manner using the supplied headset cord, something that can come in handy if the headset’s battery had died out or you have to operate your mobile device on “flight mode” where you can’t use its wireless functionality. But you can’t enable Bluetooth operation while you are using the wired connection, which puts aside the idea of connecting it to a Walkman, portable radio or iPod while having it monitor your smartphone for calls.

Multipoint support for two devices

There is multipoint support so you can use one pair of these headphones with two host devices. One situation that this can cater for would be if you use two phones such as a personal phone tied with your own account and a work-supplied phone tied to your employer’s account. Or it could cater towards you using a smartphone and a laptop or tablet at the same time with the laptop or tablet being used with video content, music or games while you have the smartphone ready to answer calls.

JBL E45BT Bluetooth headset MicroUSB charging port

MicroUSB charging port on left hand earcup

The setup procedure is relatively simple by you pressing the Bluetooth button on the headset’s right earcup to make it discoverable for the second source device then using the second device’s user interface to connect with the headset. In the case of a Windows-10-equipped laptop, you would use the Bluetooth menu in the Devices part of the Control Panel and click “Add A Device”. The headset will then be exclusively used by the second device.

Then your press the Bluetooth button again on the headset to make the headset discoverable and reconnect the original host device to the headset using that device’s user interface. Here, you have established a simple multipoint setup where whichever source device “comes on” plays through the headset. Phone calls or communications applications on each of the host devices that use the Bluetooth Hands Free Profile will always have priority over either device’s multimedia sources.

The multipoint functionality is destroyed if either device is disconnected but the JBL headset will normally re-establish this setup if you simply enable the connection again for both the same host devices.

Comfort

The user-comfort level for the JBL E45BT headset is very similar to most of the recent supra-aural headsets in that they don’t feel heavy or hard on your head even after a long time of use. The vinyl-covered earcups don’t even become sticky when you use this headset on a hot day.

Sound Quality

Music

The JBL E45BT Bluetooth headset can handle strong bass response but you need to use equalisation at the source device to ramp up the bass and treble. Other than than it does well with music and similar content.

As well, it conveys a sound quality that doesn’t cause listener fatigue during extended listening.

Video and game content

I have watched a foreign-language European TV crime drama and had found that the voices come through intelligibly and clearly with the full weight. As well, the sound effects came through clearly and naturally especially with gunshot or vehicle sounds which will also matter with the games played by “core” gamers.

Communications on phone or computer

The JBL E45BT Bluetooth headset even works well for communications applications with the ability to hear whom I talk to clearly while they can understand me. It doesn’t matter whether it is the regular mobile-telephony use or through one of the various VoIP services. As well, it can handle soft-spoken callers or those with a distinct accent as well as those who are on a difficult connection.

Noise Reduction and handling of noisy environments

I assess headphones also to identify how they perform in noisy environments like on a bus or in an underground train. This is to assess how they would cope when being used to provide you with entertainment while travelling on public transport or whether they can even shut out a noisy environment so you can make that videocall or listen to some music.

The JBL E45BT Bluetooth headset doesn’t provide much in the way of noise reduction and you would have to make sure your program material or your phone’s call-volume setting was significantly loud if you want to have it compete in a noisy environment. This is something that would be expected for on-ear headphones.

Limitations and Points Of Improvement

One key feature that the JBL E45BT is mission out on is the ability to support a “press-and-hold” operation for the Play/Pause/Call button. This would provide access to voice-driven operation on smartphones that run a voice-driven personal assistant, or could allow the ability to use the headset’s buttons to redial the last call you made or a call you missed.

Personally, I would like to see the microUSB connection on a headset used not just for charging a Bluetooth wireless headset like the JBL E45BT. Here, I would like to see these devices implement the USB Audio Class and Human Interface Device classes so they can become a wired digital headset when connected to a host device using a USB or Apple Lightning connection. This could be seen as a way to provide high-quality digital audio from a laptop or newer smartphone especially where the 3.5mm audio jack is likely to be seen as being one the way out.

As for the battery, I would personally like to see it being user-replaceable so you can keep the headset going as a Bluetooth headset for a long time rather than throwing it away if the battery starts to die out.

JBL could provide support for concurrent “wired + wireless” operation so that the headset could work as a wireless headset for one device but as wired headphones for another device. A situation where this can come in handy is whenever you use a headset like this with a music player or portable radio for audio content and your smartphone for calls. This situation is underscored especially with portable FM or DAB radios that use the headphone cable as their antenna, but is also underscored if you are using legacy media like cassettes or CDs or are using a high-capacity digital audio player for your music.

Another issue still to be ironed out with the use of Bluetooth headsets is to allow you to manage calls from VoIP platform software like Facebook Messenger or Viber using the controls on these headsets. At least this should be about the call-control buttons to answer or end an incoming call, but it will be an issue that needs to be addressed by Apple and Google as part of developing their iOS and Android mobile operating systems.

Conclusion

The JBL E45BT represents what is feasible for a good-quality baseline “over-the-ear” Bluetooth headset. Here, I would recommend this headset as something to be after if you want a general-purpose headset to work with your smartphone, tablet or laptop.

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