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Audio Pro Living LV1TX

December 24, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

The stylish design & smart wireless streaming can’t mask deeper problems.

 

  • Gordon Kelly
  • 20 December 2012

Score 6/10

Pros
Smart, minimalist design
Simple, platform neutral setup
Clever zonal music streaming system

Cons
Harsh treble with lackluster bass
Overly expensive compared to rivals
Devices without USB must tether via 3.5mm cable to the wireless dongle

Review Price £499.00

Key Features: Proprietary lossless streaming; 4x 35W digital Class D amplifiers; 2x 3.5in drivers, 2x 1in soft dome tweeters; 50 – 22,000Hz frequency response; Wireless dongle optional

Intro
AirPlay has a lot to answer for. The wireless audio and video streaming technology may be a fine solution for Apple products – but it comes with hefty licensing fees, Apple-exclusivity, and is far from perfect with a frequently complex setup and lots of latency. In consequence, many manufacturers have looked elsewhere, but without Apple’s influence their solutions have become fragmented. Audio Pro is a perfect example of this.

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The 34-year old Swedish audio specialist has made wireless streaming a primary focus in recent years, built around its own proprietary technology. The technology is excellent (more on which later) as we have seen in its WF100 transmitter, and it has the sonic chops as demonstrated with its LV2e HiFi speakers, but its latest creation takes a very different route. The Living LV1 is a compact (220 x 300 x 100mm) wireless speaker aiming to take a bite out of the premium dock market, which has taken a hit after Apple switched to the new Lightning connector.

Design
In terms of looks Audio Pro has got the LV1 spot on. Scandinavian design has a reputation for elegant minimalism and once more we have a product living up to the stereotype. Essentially a slim rectangular box, Audio Pro has really thought about the LV1’s build materials. A premium case is wrapped in leather around the sides (red, white and black finishes available) in a way that feels luxurious rather than tacky.

One quirk is the inclusion of a rest. The LV1 sits on it and this places the speaker at an upwards-tilted angle. This is to help audio dispersion and it looks nice, but it is nothing more than a carved block with no electronics or fixings inside.

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As for the front grill, it is stretchy fabric and semi-transparent, allowing a digital volume level to be seen. The grill is also removable which reveals volume and control buttons along with some surprisingly narrow fitted drivers and tweeters. On the rear is just a power port and a 3.5mm auxiliary jack which Audio Pro hopes you won’t need much.

Connectivity
Of course the reason for this is Audio Pro’s aforementioned wireless technology – and it does indeed have much to recommend it. Like AirPlay it is lossless, allowing uncompressed audio files to stream smoothly and, unlike AirPlay, it offers near instantaneous response thanks to a mere 20ms delay (AirPlay tends to be 3-5 seconds). Range is also roughly akin to WiFi which enables streaming all over the home.

Why this becomes important is the technology’s most impressive trick: house codes. Being a proprietary solution it requires dongles at the source, but each dongle has three house codes which can correspond to a different Audio Pro speaker – whether it is an LV1, LV2e or any other Audio Pro model. This means you can switch output destinations at the flick of a switch. Conversely multiple dongles will allow different people to stream to different speakers. Think Sonos without the need for apps or software.

home-setup

Downsides? By far the most significant is Audio Pro only makes USB dongles and, while they feature a 3.5mm jack to tether a phone or tablet, the lack of a dedicated phone dongle (iPhone or otherwise) is a shame. Given this is a home based system that isn’t a deal breaker, but it would be convenient – especially as the phone would double as a remote control.

To that end Audio Pro includes a dedicated remote control. Like most rivals the remote doesn’t get the same care and attention as the speaker itself and is made from fairly rudimentary plastics, but it has basic controls for power and playback, along with the three house codes. This is a sample, to read about how the LV1 sounds read the full review @ TrustedReviews


Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

 

 

2012 Has Taken a Bite Out of Apple

December 24, 2012 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

The year Apple lost its cool? Maybe not – but it’s been a tough one. I explain why for MSN UK Social Voices

“While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.” – Tim Cook, Apple CEO, 28 September 2012

‘Try a competitor’s product, right now ours isn’t very good’, this was something Steve Jobs would never have said. Then again, many argue Tim Cook has just presided over a year Steve Jobs would never have allowed. They are probably right.

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The famous Apple slogan ‘It just works’ exhibited was taking on painful irony.
2012 has been a strange year for Apple, in fact it has been strange since 5 October 2011 – the day Steve Jobs died. Within a week of his passing Apple had announced Siri, the ‘intelligent personal assistant’ which for many proved anything but, and admitted the service was launched in beta. Siri only came out of beta in November this year, 13 months later, and it still feels like a work in progress. The famous Apple slogan ‘It just works’ exhibited was taking on painful irony.

From here things snowballed:

  • The company was seen to cheat customers by releasing the third and fourth generation iPads less than eight months apart
  • The same senior executives behind Siri were behind the failed Apple Maps launch, suggesting problems at an executive level
  • Apple became embroiled in endless lawsuits, most notably with Samsung its key components supplier
  • Its financial results consistently missed analyst expectations in key sectors over four successive quarters- its share price has also dropped dramatically
  • Upon unveiling the iPhone 5 was dubbed ‘boring'; while the iPad mini was attacked for being too expensive and underpowered
  • Apple was pilloried for replacing its age old dock connector with the Lightning connector and charging premium prices for adaptors.

And all the while major rivals are getting their game together: sales of Android handsets in general are spectacular, sales of Samsung’s Galaxy S III have topped sales of the iPhone 4S in particular and Google Maps’ kudos has never been higher. Microsoft has finally got its mobile platform together with Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 offers a radical (if controversial) vision of touchscreen desktop and laptop computing for which Mac OS currently appears to have no answer.

So Apple has lost its cool, right? Well, not exactly.

Certainly Apple has had a tough 12 months, but it has not been the horror year many have painted. On the business side Apple remains not just the biggest technology company, but the biggest publicly traded company in the world. Its financial results may have missed estimates and its share price may have taken a tumble, but it is still turning in record earnings and profits. Meanwhile on product side the iPhone 5 may be conservative, but it can’t be that uncool having shipped over 5 million units in its first weekend – and it is easier to track down Lord Lucan than stock of the iPad mini.

Furthermore Tim Cook is fast becoming a formidable leader. His sincere apology for Apple Maps was interpreted by some as a sign of weakness, but it is also indicative of a more open and more humble Apple which is to be welcomed. That said Cook is by no means a pushover having fired senior vice president and former Jobs’ golden boy Scott Forstall for his leadership role in Siri and Apple Maps.

As for the spectre of Steve Jobs, it was Jobs who gave Forstall this dual role in the first place and Jobs’ overall brilliance must not hide the fact Apple development timelines show both projects were predominantly developed under his command. Antenna Gate, MobileMe, scratching iPod nanos, shattering iPhone glass and skeuomorphism also all happened on Jobs’ watch. Apple remained fashionable throughout.

So while 2012 was not quite the year Apple lost its cool – its sales figures alone demonstrate that – it was the year something more interesting happened: it was the year it became cool to like brands other than Apple… but that’s another topic.


Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

Google Maps Will Force Apple to Collaborate

December 18, 2012 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

Apple’s quest for independence has suffered a fatal blow.

You were probably never told ‘Collaboration’ is a dirty word. Then again you probably don’t work for Apple. For years Apple has been trying to rid itself of the need for collaboration, but after getting so close to being able to tell its rivals to get stuffed the dream has come crashing down. Worst still the blow has been struck by Google and App Store developers may inadvertently then stamp on the pieces.

So Good It Hurts
It all started on Thursday 12th December 2012: Google Maps hit the App Store. Interestingly Google has chosen not to publicise the impending launch or even respond to repeated questions about when such an app may appear. Instead it sat back with a smug grin on its face. Within hours of launch the app was number one in the Apple charts, tech and mainstream media outlets rushed out news stories and the reviews were coming in: it was good, very good. “We took a step back,” Daniel Graf, Director of Google Maps for Mobile, told The Verge, “we had an opportunity to create a new experience from scratch.”

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Part of that new experience was the surprising absence of ads, “we wanted to nail the main usage cases,” Graf explained. For ‘main usage cases’ he could have easily substituted ‘Apple’. This may seem a strange point to make, after all hadn’t Google helped Apple? Not really. What Google had done was help Apple customers, those poor saps who felt conned by Apple Maps and were perhaps even on the verge of breaking their iDevice allegiance for Android. What Google had not done, however, was help Apple – it had enslaved it.

What Google had done was put all its resources into making the best mobile mapping experience available, even better than the one it provides on its own operating system. That can come later. The reason is it was determined to make a point to every iPhone user: ‘You already missed us, but now we are going to save you with something so good you will never give Apple Maps a second chance.’

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All Your Apps Are Belong to Us
Furthermore Google has built an API into Google Maps on iOS that allows other app makers to use it as their default mapping. If you don’t have Google Maps installed the links will go to Google Maps for download in the App Store, not divert to Apple Maps. The clamour for users to have this in their apps should be such that the very developers which made the iPhone such a success in the first place could well damage Apple Maps irreparably.

When he launched the iPhone in 2007 Steve Jobs said it was five years ahead of the competition. In 2012 Google can look at Apple Maps and probably call up a bigger number. This is a sample, to read about the warning signs Apple should have seen click the link to the full article @ TrustedReviews


Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

 

Dyson Hot

December 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Air Multiplier technology makes its way into the companies first heater, with mixed results.

 

Score 6/10
Review Price £250.00

Pros
2-in-1 heater and fan
Stylish, safe bladeless design
Precise temperature adjustment

Cons
Weak performance
Extremely expensive
Noisy

Key Features: Air Multiplier dispersion technology; Heater and fan; Bladeless design; Cuts out if knocked over; Remote control

There is something hugely admirable about Dyson. The British company regularly invents what arguably could be considered revolutionary technology, but chooses to do so for humdrum household objects like vacuum cleaners, hand dryers and fans. It’s bonkers, but brilliant and typically with price tags to match. So what happens when Dyson makes a heater?

dyson-hot-family

Design
The result is the Dyson Hot (AM04) and, naturally enough, it aims to revolutionise the way the well heeled keep warm. The design is pure Dyson, minimalist yet curvy, though it diverges from the lollipop-shaped Air Multiplier (AM01) fan in favour of a straighter design which looks like the close up of the eye of a needle. Dyson doesn’t explain the shape change, which seems primarily to distinguish the models, but it does mean the Hot takes up less space than its chilly predecessor.

As for build quality, the same love it/hate it Dyson qualities are also on show with a primarily plastic construction, matt finish and the usual choice of just two colours: silver or grey with a blue insert. The latter looks better to us, though clearly your choice will depend on your existing decor. Like most Dyson products the Hot gives the impression it will be durable and wear well.

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Features
Of course what really sells the Hot, however, is the technology inside. This is the same Air Multiplier technology Dyson uses in the AM01 (which we now think should be rebranded the ‘Cold’) and it works by sucking in air from the rear, spinning it around the hidden turbine in the base and firing the airflow from thin vents around the inside of the open section. The benefits are a more consistent flow of air and the increased safety from no exposed fan blades, something particularly of value to parents of children with prying fingers.

Other innovations inside the Hot include an automatic cut out if the unit is tipped over, the ability to also blow cold air making it equally useful during the summer, a touch tilt and rotation on its base to distribute warm or cold air over a wide angle. For those unable or too lazy to get up, the Hot comes with a simple remote with power, speed and temperature controls as well as the ability to start or stop rotating. A nice touch is the controller contains a magnet and will store neatly on the top of the Hot.

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Performance
If we tell you the Hot’s turbine shares core technology with turbochargers and jet engines you’d think this creates a pretty good precursor to how the unit performs. Sadly you’d be wrong. The biggest complaint we have with the Hot is it is not powerful enough. Temperature settings are wide offering a range from zero to 37 degrees Celsius and they’re adjustable by one degree intervals, but the Hot simply fails to disperse whatever temperature it pumps out widely enough. This is a sample, to understand the failings of the Dyson Hot’s performance, whether it is 2-in-1 functionality offers good value for money and to see the final verdict read my full review @ Trustedreviews

 

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

 

 

Burnt Bridges: Apple’s Rise Now Sees It Stand Alone

December 11, 2012 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

Apple has made too many enemies getting to number 1 and now they may come back to haunt it.

“Are you sad because you’re on your own?” sang the Beatles before famously replying, “No, I get by with a little help from my friends.” If only Apple could answer the same. The last 20 years have seen Apple survive near-bankruptcy to become the largest publicly traded company in the world. Yet as 2012 draws to a close the company increasingly appears without allies and as everyone from The Beatles to the Blues Brothers will tell you, that spells trouble.

For Whom the Bell Tolls
Nowhere was evidence of Apple’s friendless status more evident than this week’s Spotify press conference. In a major update Spotify announced new tools for discovering music, improved social media integration, upgraded mobile and desktop clients (below) as well as confirmation that a browser-based client would arrive next year.

Furthermore Spotify couldn’t have wished for more friends. Damon Albarn, Zane Lowe, Paul McCartney, Metallica and even Barack Obama were all unveiled as accounts people could ‘follow’ for music inspiration on the upgraded service with Metallica’s Lars Ulrich describing Spotify as “the only” streaming service as far as he is concerned. Ouch, iTunes Match didn’t get a look in.

Of course Lars isn’t really kicking Apple as it hasn’t managed to get a full Spotify-like streaming service off the ground. iTunes Match only lets you stream music you already own. Yes while Spotify, Napster, Rdio and many other much smaller companies find it no problem negotiating streaming deals with the major music labels, Apple has been getting nowhere.

In fact this week CNET reported “multiple music industry sources [say] the deal that Apple has offered… has left the major record companies cold [and] a deal with all the majors is nowhere near to being completed.” These are the same companies that were famously railroaded by Apple as it pushed for universal pricing within iTunes and DRM-free files. Apple may have changed an industry, but it seems the industry has a long memory.

The Empire Strikes Back
It is a similar case with film. While iTunes offers a wide variety of TV and movie content to rent or buy it again has not taken the more progressive step into streaming seen by the likes of Hulu, Netflix, LoveFilm and others. Former Apple CEO Steve Jobs’s pull from his position on the board of Pixar has gone and so, it seems, has Apple’s ability to successfully negotiate deals in an industry as angry as the music companies for the same flat rate pricing and reducing premiums forced upon it by Apple, when it was the only swinger in town.

Of course it could just be that suitable terms are complex to agree with a company of Apple’s international reach, but again where it has failed so many others appear to have made significant strides. Do ongoing rumours Apple will muscle into the television market also hurt? It is unlikely to help.

Patently Problematic
Content isn’t the only battle ground where Apple’s ruthless surge to the top has left scars… This is a sample, to read how Apple’s patent battles risk coming back to haunt it and while it still ultimately remains the most powerful technology company in the world read the full editorial @ TrustedReviews (published all on one page). 


Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

Scandyna SmallPod Active Bluetooth Speakers

December 7, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Danish audio specialist adds amplification & Bluetooth to its popular speaker range.

 

Score 7/10
Review Price £629.00

Pros
Detailed, balanced audio performance
Distinctive design
Surprisingly powerful

Cons
Distinctive design
Expensive
Bluetooth streaming inadequate

Key Features: Active Monitors; Integrated Bluetooth ; 4in woofer, 3/4 tweeter; Remote control

When you need a bit of crazy tech it seems you should look to the Nordics. Already famed for Angry Birds, Adipose-look-a-likes and furry cashmere docks, this time it is the turn of Danish audio specialist Scandyna to remind us they can be bonkers too. The result is the Orko-esque ‘SmallPod Bluetooth’.

Design
In fairness to Scandyna, the most bonkers part of the SmallPod Bluetooth has been here for some time. The company’s famed nautilus-style enclosures actually originated within Bowers & Wilkins, but was transferred to the Danes in the mid-90s where it has become their trademark. We’ll discuss the reasons for the shape later, but superficially it certainly makes the SmallPod Bluetooth stand out from the field and creates an instant love/hate first impression that will largely be influenced by your choice in decor.

Red, white and black finishes are available and while the 256 x 160 x 157mm, 1.8Kg design may polarise, we are a little less enthusiastic about the build materials. The SmallPod Bluetooth enclosures are glossy plastic which further distinguishes them from the legion of traditional matt wood rectangular speakers out there, but it does mean they show up finger prints and dust. There is also a rather visible vertical join between the front and rear of the enclosures which diminishes the curved sweeping aesthetic and which we feel could be better disguised.

In addition we found the power cable at the rear is too easily dislodged (which frustratingly resets the speaker volume) and the bundled tripod legs for each speaker (which Scandyna recommends for optimal performance) don’t provide the best stability so be careful not to position them somewhere they will get bumped.

Features
Ultimately this isn’t the most auspicious of starts, even if some will be sold on looks alone, but things take a sharp upward swing when we get to the good stuff: namely the audio. Despite its radical appearance the SmallPod Bluetooth’s nautilus design is very much about substance over style and replicated in Scandyna’s smaller ‘MicroPod’ and larger ‘MiniPod’, ‘BigPod’ and ‘MegaPod’.

Original B&W creator John Bowers called the development of the nautilus design the search for the perfect dipoles and in short he found it reduced rear radiation and coloration while greatly improving response. What defines nautilus is the way the speaker tapers towards the back, acting to deaden the sound waves reverberating in that space.

Backing up these potential acoustic benefits, each SmallPod Bluetooth speaker is active meaning it has the power amplifier built into the speaker cabinet, each of which also contain a 4in Kevlar woofer and 3/4in tweeter. Output power is an amply small room-filling 2x 40 watts RMS, while frequency response is rated at 20Hz – 20KHz, giving these speakers the specs to suggest a well rounded powerful sound. A reasonable >85dB signal noise ratio further hints at quality.

As the name spells out, the speakers also have integrated Bluetooth for wireless streaming. Bluetooth is a surprising choice for premium speakers compared to lossless standards like WiFi Direct and AirPlay, even more so when the high quality aptX Bluetooth codec is also omitted.

On the plus side the SmallPod Bluetooth does further show its mainstream pretensions by including a bundled remote (still far from a given with speakers). The plastic construction is a little cheap, but the ability to switch sources and pair Bluetooth devices is welcome in addition to the usual play/pause/skip and power commands. This is a sample, to read about how the SmallPod Bluetooth perform, whether it is good value for money and my overall verdict read the full review @ TrustedReviews

 
Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

Google Has Fumbled Its Phone Revolution

December 1, 2012 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

A weak supply chain is wrecking the potential of the Google Nexus 4, a game-changing device.

“Is it really that good?” a friend of mine asked me earlier this week. He was, of course, referring to the Google Nexus 4, a revolutionarily-priced new smartphone.

I confirmed to him that for the asking price (£239 8GB edition; £279 16GB edition) it most certainly was. Later that evening, unable to buy a Nexus 4 from Google’s site, my friend went onto eBay and bought two Nexus 4s for a total of nearly $1,200 – the second for a friend, forgetting all about the UK’s alarmingly expensive import duty and taxes. Several frantic emails later he is now dutifully waiting for the Nexus 4 to come back into stock in the UK.

Search the web and you’ll see this type of story isn’t uncommon. In launching a handset with truly cutting edge specifications in the price bracket of a low-end smartphone Google has caused a sensation. Sadly, however, the botched launch has caused equal frustration and hysteria.

It went wrong from the outset. The Google Nexus 4 went on sale on 13 November at 8.45am, 15 minutes earlier than expected, and caused a virtual stampede. The Google Play store ground to a halt and within 30 minutes all Nexus 4 stock was sold. It took about the same amount of time for the recriminations to start. Some users complained of having successfully placed orders only for Play not to register it, others found they had inadvertently bought two, their anger subsiding when they realised the aforementioned eBay potential.

Google said more stock would be “coming soon”, but in the two weeks since there was no communication, no option to pre-order, no restock dates – nothing. On 26 November, Google finally told US customers sales would restart the following day. At the time of writing, outside the US the silence continues.

Had this been Apple by now we would have had a smug self congratulatory press release detailing the millions of units sold in the opening week. Selling out in less than 30 minutes, however, suggests Google is far from shifting millions and it is also far from implementing the same slick supply chain as its Cupertino-based rival. Making a device people want is hard enough, getting the stock in place to meet the demand it generates is in some cases even harder.

What makes this worse is the opportunity being missed because the Google Nexus 4 has the potential to change not just the smartphone sector, but the entire telecommunications industry. The pricing makes purchasing a flagship handset more or less incidental (by comparison a 16GB iPhone 5 costs £529) and it reduces the need for long term contracts, putting the consumer in a position to choose better value SIM-free monthly deals and taking the power away from greedy networks.

And they are greedy. Since the contract-free Nexus 4 sold out on Google Play networks have been quite simply exploiting their customers… This is a sample, to read just how badly customers are being exploited and how rivals can now capitalise on Google’s misjudgements read the full editorial @ TrustedReviews [full article on one page]


Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings. 

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