Hands-on review: Withings Aura review

Withings Aura gives us the atmospheric vibe that it’ll be the best sleep tracking device of 2014 because it’s designed to monitor rest and, believe it or not, actively increase the amount of sleep you get throughout the night.That’s better than the handful of sleep tracking gadgets out there right now, from the accurate Jawbone Up bracelet to the less-competent-at-sleep Fitbit Force activity band. The Sleep Cycle alarm clock, a simple iOS app for iPhone, does all of this for a fraction of the price too. But none of these devices nor apps go beyond basic minute-by-minute metrics and scores.Withings Aura takes sleep tracking to the next REM stage with a two-part system that we tested during our non-stop CES 2014 coverage. Off our feet and onto the demo bed, we found a soft sleep sensor tucked underneath the mattress and an odd-shaped, light emitting alarm clock at our bedside.The white-cloth sensor was physically flat, but the sleep patterns it detected came to life thanks to real-time data on a dedicated app. It told us about our body movement, breathing cycles and heart rate, even though it was buried 3 inches beneath a mattress.Light-emitting alarm clockThe more interesting component is what Withings calls the “bedside device,” a light-emitting alarm clock that looks more like a ship’s horn-shaped vent.Glowing from this vent-like opening is multi-colored LED dimming lighting technology, which the company says is “scientifically-validated light.” It glows a red or orange melatonin-inducing wavelength at night and transitions to a peaceful blue color to do the opposite by morning.Soothing sounds also play a part in the bedside device’s attempt to mimic the body’s circadian rhythm. There are relaxing frequencies at night for falling asleep and stimulating […]

By |January 14th, 2014|News, Phone Reviews|0 Comments

Review: Updated: Moto G

Introduction Motorola’s back, and it’s kicking off its global smartphone revival with the keenly priced Moto G handset. A mid-range handset with a low-end price tag and Android KitKat – okay Moto, I’m listening.First things first then, the Motorola Moto G price. You can pick the handset up in two storage sizes – 8GB and 16GB. The former will set you back just £135/$175 (around AU$190), while the larger size is still a very palatable £159/$199 (around AU$215).So where does this place the Moto G in the market? Well at that price it has the likes of the Samsung Galaxy Fame, Nokia Lumia 520 and LG Optimus L3 2 for company, but dive into the spec list and you’ll note the Moto G wipes the floor with them.In terms of design the Moto G takes most of its cues from the firm’s first, post-Google takeover handset, the Moto X. It’s hardly groundbreaking in terms of looks, but the soft, curved edges of the Moto G make it relatively attractive and the swath of plastic feels solid and well built.Weighing in at 143g the Moto G has a pleasing, well balanced presence in the hand without being overbearing, and while it may measure 11.6mm thick in the middle the tapered edges make it feel thinner than it is.Couple that with a rubberized rear plate which slightly hugs the side of the handset too, and the Moto G fits comfortably in the palm, providing a decent level of grip.The Moto G features a water repellent coating which means you’ll be able to whip it out in the rain without fear of a short circuit, but it is not waterproof – so no jumping in the pool with […]

By |January 14th, 2014|News, Phone Reviews|0 Comments

Review: Android 4.4 KitKat

IntroductionEveryone was expecting Key Lime Pie to serve as the delicious moniker for the next version of Android. Google surprised us all by bucking tradition and releasing Android 4.4 under the name KitKat.Version 4.0 started life as Ice Cream Sandwich, but the last three decimal additions came under the Jelly Bean banner. This new version was obviously deemed different enough to snag a new nickname, but not different enough to merit a jump to version 5.0. That 0.1 bump hardly does it justice. Don’t be fooled: this is an important step up for Android. KitKat is super-smooth, the UI is refined and elegant, there are improvements to the long-neglected calling and messaging side of the platform, a new focus on productivity, and your fortune-telling digital assistant is brought front and centre as Google Now reaches maturity.General surprise in the tech world wasn’t just based on the erroneous supposition that Key Lime Pie had to be next; there were also some raised eyebrows at the idea of Google entering into a tawdry cross-licensing deal with Nestle which would see a flood of Android-shaped KitKats hitting the shops offering buyers the chance to win Nexus 7 tablets or Google Play credit.According to Google the promotion was its idea and no money changed hands. With Nestle producing 50 million Android KitKat bars it certainly looks like a sweet deal for them.Naming conventions aside, the 4.4 update is about addressing some of the Android criticisms that simply won’t go away and it does so with aplomb.There’s a real focus on the consumer here, with a smattering of useful new features, a noticeable bump in performance, and some optimization to ensure that budget hardware is not left behind. Android 4.4 […]

By |January 14th, 2014|News, Phone Reviews|0 Comments

Review: Updated: Windows 8.1

Introduction and installationWindows 8.1 is here. And you can download it for free. But does it fix what was wrong with Windows 8?From Facebook to the full-featured Mail app and modern Outlook to a “peek” bar in the modern version of Internet Explorer 11 to the new Windows Scan app, you get all of the promised Windows 8.1 extras. We are still waiting for the proper touch versions of the Office apps but that’s the way things work in Microsoft’s new ‘continuous development’ world. And of course you get the interface changes and SkyDrive integration we saw in the Windows 8.1 Preview. The Start button is back, you can boot to the desktop and use the same image for your Start screen as your desktop background. SkyDrive is built in to sync files – on both Windows 8.1 and Windows 8.1 RT – as well as settings and the layout for your Start screen and desktop taskbar.But Microsoft’s second bite at the convergence of PCs and tablets doesn’t back away from what we still want to call Metro; in fact there are more built in modern apps than in Windows 8, more settings you can change without jumping to the desktop and more options for how you place modern apps on screen. The question is how well these two worlds sit together, and how much of an improvement Microsoft has been able to deliver in a year. Installing Windows 8.1If you already have Windows 8, upgrading to Windows 8.1 is very simple. It will be the first app you see every time you open the Windows Store and the installation happens very quickly. You don’t have to reinstall your desktop applications or your Windows Store […]

By |January 14th, 2014|News, Phone Reviews|0 Comments

Hands-on review: TCL Roku TV review

The TCL Roku TV is a natural fit for the No. 1 Chinese television manufacturer’s expansion into the Western marketplace. It joins the company, unfamiliar to many consumers outside of China, with the well-established Roku streaming platform.We got a chance to channel surf using their app-filled offspring at CES 2014. Both the 48-inch TCL 48E4610R and the 55-inch TCL 55E4610R run the new smart TV operating system that Roku users should be immediately familiar with. That means apps like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, HBO Go and Crackle are all pinned to the customizable home screen.What makes Roku even better is that it has just about every special interest streaming app too. From the more known food channel Chow and the anime channel Crunchyroll to the almost certainly unknown Vietnamese American Real Estate and esoteric sciences channel Occult TV, there’s no shortage of content for niche audiences.In fact, there are over 1,000 streaming apps here, giving Roku the ability to claim that its platform has “more streaming channels than other Smart TVs at CES… combined.” Those bragging rights were previously confined to set-top boxes like the Roku 3 or a streaming USB stick the size of the Chromecast. Roku’s integration directly into TVs like the TCL 48E4610R and 55E4610R gives you one more reason to consider its low-priced 1080p television sets.Roku TV updates, new featuresTelevision manufacturers haven’t been the best arbiter of app channel curation and deal-making. Not next to a streaming leader like Roku, and frankly, that’s why this partnership is in place. It’s the apps we want combined we the fluid interface that just works. So it’s a relief to know that Roku is being put in charge of the entire […]

By |January 13th, 2014|News, Phone Reviews|0 Comments

Review: Creative T4 Wireless

It’s been over five years since we reviewed the excellent Creative T3 2.1 speakers.I still have them in my kitchen at home and use them for bouncing around the kitchen to loud music while I cook.If you forget the perplexingly dismal Creative ZiiSound T6 system that Creative burped out a few years after the T3s and skip straight to today’s menu, the new T4 Wireless 2.1 system is Creative’s follow-up and it’s excellent.Packing two satellite speakers, Creative ‘Slam’ subwoofer, Bluetooth 3.0. aptX support and NFC for pairing, it’s essentially the T3 system reborn for the smartphone generation, and we really like them a lot.You can pump them full of your music using 3.5mm jack, optical in, Bluetooth and you can also plug in via USB and use the subwoofer as a functional plug-and-play soundcard if you so wish. The addition of NFC means you can walk through your front door, tap your NFC-enabled smartphone against the audio control pod and continue listening to whatever you had in your ears moments before.NFC gets a bad rap from some quarters, but for pairing audio devices it’s super-useful, and using Creative Multipoint, the T4 Wireless can actually pair with two separate devices at a time, making switching between sources super, super easy.Wireless operationTo avoid confusing anyone who isn’t accustomed to using Bluetooth speaker systems like this, the ‘Wireless’ aspect of this product’s name refers only to the Bluetooth functionality. The satellite speakers and the volume pod are all very much wired into the subwoofer (a browse through comments on Amazon reveal this has been a cause of some confusion since the product went on sale).Setting upThe T4 Wireless system didn’t make an immediate impact on set up. The […]

By |January 13th, 2014|News, Phone Reviews|0 Comments

Hands-on review: CES 2014: Acer Aspire V5

We reviewed the previous version of the Acer Aspire V5 recently and weren’t terrifically impressed with it, but Acer has tried again with this updated model that we were shown at CES 2014. It’s a budget €599 (around GBP £500, USD $817, AUD $903) Ultrabook that makes several compromises to hit its price point. Most interesting is the fact Acer has responded to feedback on the previous V5 and has reintroduced an optical drive into the mix. At this price point it seems people still want a way to install legacy applications from disc. The drive also features M-DISC technology, which is designed to make discs resistant to extreme conditions as well as age. Essentially, it means your data lasts longer thanks to a modified layer on the disc. You need to buy special M-DISCs to take advantage of the drive, but the data can be read by any DVD drive. The 15.6-inch laptop comes with up to 16GB of RAM, plus a 1,368 x 768 HD LED-backlit display (not Full HD, note) with 10-point multi touch. The display features what Acer calls Direct Bonding technology for closer screen layering, which increases contrast ratio. AMD Radeon R5 or R7 graphics are included depending on the specification you choose, as well as one of the range of lastest-generation Haswell Intel Core processors. The trackpad is sizeable and reasonably responsive, while the keyboard is standard Acer fayre – nice enough to use, but not the best you’ve ever experienced. Appearance-wise, the V5 is utilitarian, but the silver lid does make it seem a little more distinctive than your average black laptop. The V5 comes toting Windows 8, though we’d expect it to have Windows 8.1 by the […]

By |January 13th, 2014|News, Phone Reviews|0 Comments

Hands-on review: SteelSeries Stratus

Although SteelSeries already has an iOS controller out on the market called the SteelSeries Free it does not quite jive with iOS 7, so now the gaming peripheral company is out to improve and iterate on the design with a new controller called the Stratus.Like its predecessor, the Stratus is an incredible small controller compared to the other mobile controllers like the Samsung GamePad. Labeled as the first wireless controller for iOS 7 (sorry Android users) the Sratus is roughly the size of an iPhone 4S.Just right for GoldilocksEven with its diminutive size, the controller still feels beefy enough in our hands. The back is contoured with lines for our fingers to slip in and its overall shape is designed for grasping.Users with slightly larger hands will also be able to attach the plastic guard cover, normally on the front during travel, onto the back to make the controller feel more substantial. The version we played with was still preproduction and a SteelSeries representative told us the final model could have a textured pattern on the back to make the extra shell more grippy. At first glance the controller is pretty much a mash up of Xbox buttons with a Sony DualShock inspired stick layout and design. The D-Pad feels a bit flat for our tastes with virtually 1mm of space for it to depress. The analog sticks, however, have a nice bit of travel and enough resistance to automatically center on their own.NES players will be glad to know the face buttons feel like the classic controller and are just as responsive. On the top of the Stratus, we also found a set of four bumpers in an overlapping arrangement that were easy to […]

By |January 11th, 2014|News, Phone Reviews|0 Comments

Hands-on review: Alienware Steam Machine review

Alienware went through eight revisions over two years in collaboration with Valve before the gaming PC vendor came to its final Steam Machine. That’s how serious Alienware claims to be about Valve’s hardware initiative, and it shows in the design.This Steam box is more subdued than most of Alienware rigs, with the only lighting on the all-black box being on its glossy face. Naturally, the Alienware logo glows, but so does Valve’s logo, which appears in a triangular cut into the bottom-left corner of the device. At the moment, the Alienware logo is a hard button that changes the lighting from blue to green to red and so on.Up front, the unit houses two standard USB ports. Around back, Alienware kept the I/O simple, with just two USB 3.0 ports, Ethernet and HDMI-out below two large vent outputs. (Intake lines the bottom edges of the unit.) Up top, the unit is coated in a soft touch finish.Honestly, after eight revisions, I would expect something more radical, but Alienware’s Steam Machine is right up there with the PS4 in terms of size and style. The company doesn’t dance around that it borrowed heavily from its X51 mini gaming PC design in crafting its version. Smart move.How will it play?While the company brought just a mockup to CES 2014, I’m told that the design is final. If the show were a month later, Alienware would have a working model to show, a Dell (Alienware’s parent company) representative told me. Instead, Alienware had an X51 running Steam OS to give an idea of how the final Steam Machine would operate.I played a few incredibly clumsy minutes of Metro: Last Light in 1080p with the latest version of Valve’s […]

By |January 11th, 2014|News, Phone Reviews|0 Comments

Hands-on review: CES 2014: Neptune Pine Smartwatch

Just like there are big screen phablets, there are also big screen smartphones. Neptune’s Pine Smartwatch is by far the largest wearable device we’ve ever slapped onto our wrists. Featuring a 2.4-inch screen, Pine has no reservations to replace smartphones.It’s big. Let’s just get that out of the way. To put that in perspective, the Pine’s screen is about just shy of being half the size of the iPhone 5S’ screen size. It’s definitely a step up from other wearable devices we’ve seen like the 1.63-inch screened Samsung Galaxy Gear and Pebble with a 1.26-inch screen. The Pine smartwatch’s face is about 2-inches wide on its own and the device sticks out about an inch and a half. Even the band on the back of the smartwatch gets to be about one and half inches wide.The bulk was enough to scrunch up our sleeves and make the arm ends of our jackets look odd. But, if you’re okay with all the inevitable odd looks directed to your wrist, the Pine has one of the best looking screens out of all the smartwatches. The complete smartphone replacementSporting a 320 x 240 QVGA resolution screen, the Pine runs a full build of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean with a slightly reduced six icon home screen. Just as we’d expect of a miniature Android device, we could use the touchscreen to tap open applications and swipe through the Jelly Bean interface. Swiping down from the top of the screen also pulls down the settings and notifications tray.Aside from the familiar Android OS, we were even able to type with two thumbs despite each key being a little over three-millimeters wide. Using the Android Pine really is like popping […]

By |January 11th, 2014|News, Phone Reviews|0 Comments