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MetaWatch Strata

September 18, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

This open source smartwatch is rough around the edges, but has huge potential…

 

Pros
Durable construction
Simple setup
Great value for money
Long battery life

Cons
Dull design
Limited app support
Bulky

Review Price £83.00

Our Score 8/10 

Key Features: Smartphone notifications sent to watch screen; Rugged, water resistant, sports design; Battery life 5-7 days; Open source SDK; iPhone and Android compatible

What is the MetaWatch Strata?
An open source alternative to the much hyped Pebble smartwatch and much rumoured Apple iWatch. It pairs with an iPhone or Android smartphone over Bluetooth to deliver their notifications to your wrist. Like all smartwatches the theory is it will allow you to keep your phone in your pocket more often by giving you the context of received alerts. A particular benefit on the move or when exercising.

MetaWatch Strata – Design
The Strata is the thicker of two models currently offered by MetaWatch and focuses on durability and value. The more expensive ‘Frame’ is slimmer and targeted towards the fashion segment.

At first glance the Strata appears to have a face only a mother could love. The design hasn’t changed since we previewed it in September (link in the tab above this review) and the wide bezel and relatively small 1-inch, 96 x 96 pixel display are a world away from what we expect from our smartphones. But the Strata turns out to look far better on the wrist than off and we regularly received queries and compliments.

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Furthermore the Strata’s design is carefully considered. The body is double injection moulded polyurethane giving the Strata a 5 ATM rated water resistance (verses the Frame’s 3ATM) which is enough to swim in. The downside is this is achieved by omitting a standard microUSB charge port. Instead the Strata has four metal contact points on the rear and a separate microUSB charge clip clamps to them.

On the plus side the Strata is available in multiple colours (black – aka ‘Stealth’ – is the most attractive for our money) and its construction material makes it extremely durable. The screen itself is “polymer network LCD” and made from mineral hardened, scratch resistant glass lens while a strainless steel top ring also protects the screen from impact. Despite several heart in mouth drops during our time with the Strata it remained unblemished.

As for the display itself it has an anti-glare coating and adapts to light, looking monochrome in normal conditions and becoming silver in direct sunlight. As such we found it readable in even the strongest outdoor sun and should you be in darkness it has a backlight.

Inside the Strata is battery sipping Bluetooth 4.0 and MetaWatch claims it will last up to a week on a single charge. There is also a vibrating motor to give the wearer a gentle buzz when they receive alerts…

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MetaWatch Strata – Features
But what are these alerts? Much like the Pebble – which promised the earth but launched with limited service support – the notifications the Strata can deliver are a mixed bag.

The core supported services are accepting/rejecting incoming calls (with caller ID), SMS, emails, and calendar alerts. The handset can also display weather, replicate alarms and show routing information. In addition the Strata can play and pause music playback, which allows it to act like a remote control – useful if your handset is docked, you are swimming (or in the shower) or if your headphones lack dedicated music controls.

The caveats are there is currently no support for social media (though MetaWatch says this is in the pipeline) and to work with routing the apps need to be made compatible. In the case of routing this rules out Apple Maps and Google Maps at present (this should change with the expanded APIs of iOS7), but Telenav’s Scout app bales you out for now.

Meanwhile setup couldn’t be simpler. Since the Strata is a thin client, all management is done via official apps in the App Store and Google Play (Android version below). Install them, pair the Strata over Bluetooth and you’re ready to go. Customisation is easy. The MetaWatch has four homescreens divided into quadrants and each can be selected in the app to be filled by single, double (horizontal or vertical) and full screen widgets such as time, weather, email and so forth.

MetaWatch-App

Interestingly because MetaWatch has open sourced its code there are also third party apps available. We found the most impressive to be ‘MetaWatch Manager Community Edition’ on Android which actually has more widgets than the official app (including dividing the screen into thirds) and greater customisation options. These include the ability to customise vibration types, download new themes, choose specific calendars and more.

We would like to see the official app offer support for these third party innovations (a kind of app store within the app) over time to tap into what seems to be a thriving developer community.

To read the full review and learn about how the MetaWatch performs and what rivals are on the horizon click here to 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. 

 

AVM Fritz!Box 3390

September 17, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

The German market leader launches a VDSL router to tackle the UK.

Score 7/10

 

Pros
Decent 2.4GHz &5GHz WiFi performance
Distinctive, fun design
Highly customisable user settings
Integrated VDSL modem

Cons
No dedicated WAN port
Baffling default settings
No power or reset buttons

Review Price £119.00

Key Features: Dual band 802.11n WiFi ; Integrated VDSL modem; Integrated media server; 4x Gigabit Ethernet; 2x USB 2.0

What is the AVM FRITZ!Box 3390?

This is the new flagship in the German networking company’s 3000 series. It is the first to offer dual band 802.11n in this range and marks the first major attempt of Fritz!Box (and its curiously placed exclamation mark) to break into the UK after taking nearly 70 per cent of the DSL market in its homeland.

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FRITZ!Box 3390: Design

Come in Thunderbird 6! Yes while Fritz!Box and its history may stem from Germany, the design of the 3390 immediately makes us think of 1960s UK cult show Thunderbirds. Its curved lines, matt red and silver paint job and distinctive fins (which hide antennas) certainly give the 3390 the look of a retro space ship and make it a welcome entry into a sector with only a few distinctive designs. Less interesting is the build quality which, while sturdy, lacks a premium feel. The problem is the chassis is constructed from a series of individual pieces that don’t quite fit together as well as they should and produce a slight rattle when tapped (update: having requested a second sample we found this flaw to be a one-off).

The 3390 also bizarrely lacks dedicated reboot and power buttons, which means pulling out the power cord is the only way to switch it off. We aren’t fans of the five huge green activity LEDs either, which can prove distracting and while their flashing patterns can be adjusted they cannot be dimmed or switched off completely. On the plus side the 3390 can be wall mounted and it is just interesting enough to look at that this might be an appealing option to those with a bold choice of interior design.
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FRITZ!Box 3390: Features

The router’s looks got our attention and its feature list isn’t bad, either. This isn’t a next-gen 802.11ac device, but it does bring the aforementioned 2.4GHz and 5GHz 802.11n to Fritz!Box’s 3000 series for the first time.

Furthermore, it joins a fairly limited number of routers in integrating a VDSL (100Mb/s) modem making it ideal for fibre optic DSL customers who want an all-in-one product to replace their ISP’s modem and router. Interestingly, the 3390 also integrates a ‘Fritz!NAS’ which lets you network folders from connected devices directly through the router as it includes a built-in media server.

This won’t replace a dedicated NAS, but it is a step up from simply plugging in a USB hard drive. That said you can go this latter route too as the 3390 has two USB 2.0 ports and ticks off all the functionality you’d expect from a premium third-party router including WPA/WPA2 and WPS security, Dynamic DNS, IPv6 support and DNLA compatibility.

One downside is there is no dedicated WAN port, so those wanting to use the 3390 with cable broadband will have to give up the dual purpose LAN1 Gigabit Ethernet port, leaving you with just three 10/100/1000 ports for the rest of your wired devices.

FRITZ-Box-3390-UI-2

FRITZ!Box 3390: Setup

We have gotten used to the well trodden paths of Linksys, D-Link, Netgear and others so it was interesting to see Fritz!Box take a fresh approach to getting up and running.

Like the best modern routers, the 3390’s entire setup is browser based so there’s no CD and the large round WPS button on its top means connecting to its wireless signal takes seconds. That said we did find a number of quirks such as a reboot merely after setting our language and country and extensive energy consumption settings which, while theoretically welcome, means the 3390 restricts its Ethernet ports to 10/100 rather than Gigabit by default. We also don’t like the company’s decision to unify its 2.4GHz and 5GHz SSIDs out the box.

It may keep things simple, but devices with faster 5GHz WiFi cannot choose which signal they connect to and it requires some digging around in advanced settings to change this. On the plus side Fritz!Box has taken a methodical approach to its UI (found at fritz.com or 192.168.178.1) with clear categories for each section and an array of options that go far deeper than most rivals. The downside is this approach will scare off the less tech savvy and it isn’t as slick as the Linksys Smart WiFi cloud-based platform which still sets the industry standard.

FRITZ-Box-3390-UI

 

802.11n 5GHzFRITZ!Box 3390: Performance

Up to now the 3390 has proved a mixture of pros and cons, but we found its wireless performance to be reasonably good. In our residential test environment speeds at 2m and 10m line of sight and 13m behind two standing walls 802.11n 5GHz produced speeds of 18.1MB/s (144.8Mb/s), 14.7MB/s (117.6Mb/s) and 5.63MB/s (45.05Mb/s).

This paces it close to the D-Link DIR-845L, the fastest dual band wireless n router we’d reviewed to date, except at 13m where it pulls away hitting 7.1MB/s (56.8Mb/s). The 3390 is also comfortably ahead of both the Virgin new Super Hub and BT Home Hub 4. 2.4GHz performance was strong too. Its 2m, 10m and 13m speeds of 11.4MB/s (91.2Mb/s), 8.48MB (67.84Mb/s) and 4.64MB/s (37.04Mb/s) place it in the upper echelons of 802.11n 2.4GHz performance – though again just behind the DIR-845L. USB performance was less impressive coming in at 3.2MB/s (25.6Mb/s).

This is fairly mediocre and illustrates the lack of computing horsepower in current routers, which must be addressed if networked USB is going to become a viable Ethernet alternative. Should I buy the FRITZ!Box 3390? Coming in at £119 we’d say it depends entirely on your circumstances. The integrated VDSL modem pushes up the price significantly, but it will be worth it for those determined to have a neat single box solution and with the tech skills to comfortably negotiate the 3390’s UI (which is necessary to enable basics like Gigabit Ethernet). If all-in-one isn’t a priority we’d steer clear.

The faster (though router-only) DIR-845L can be found for less than £100 online and the £150-160 price range will get you an 802.11ac router that not only future proofs your network, but brings significantly stronger 802.11n 5GHz performance as a consequence. How much faster? Over 20MB/s (160Mb/s) at both 2m and 10m and circa 10MB/s (80Mb/s) at 13m. Yes, it is strongly worth thinking about.

Verdict

After carving out an impressive reputation in Germany, Fritz!Box has made an compelling play for greater attention in the UK.

The 3390’s wireless performance competes with the best 802.11n dual band routers, it integrates a VDSL modem and the design is both fun and distinctive. Then again out of the box setup issues and the fact it retails within touching distance of some much faster 802.11ac routers mean it just falls shy of a recommended award.

My original review for TrustedReviews can be found here

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.   

En Voyage – Take Control

September 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

Every month I write the gadget column for Eva Air’s in-flight magazine. Eva Air is one of the biggest airlines in the Far East.

For September I looked at the peripherals to make control of our gadgets easier on the move.

Grabs from the magazine as below (click to enlarge). You can read a digital version of the En Voyage September edition here

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Click to enlarge

 

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.

MSN – Nokia deal begins Microsoft’s assault on Apple, Google and Samsung

September 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

The last roll of the smartphone dice from a company that missed the mobile boat or an aggressive all-out attack? Writing for MSN I argue it’s a bit of both…. screengrab below – click to enlarge (original here). 

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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.   

TR – Microsoft buys Nokia, gambles on success without partners

September 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

What does the deal mean for Microsoft, its partners and its rivals?

Over the last three months Microsoft has shown the future of the Xbox, the future of Windows, the future of its business structure and now the future of its mobile business… and it is a gamble which makes bad reading for partners.

The deal in a nutshell is this: Microsoft will pay €5.44 billion (£4.6bn) to Nokia for its devices and services division and the rights to license its patents and mapping services. Affected Nokia employees will stay where they are but become employees of Microsoft and Nokia itself will evolve to become a telecoms infrastructure business. The deal is expected to go through during Q1 2014.

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Microsoft buying Nokia: what it means for Microsoft
Like Apple and to a lesser extent Google and Samsung, Microsoft now has vertical integration in the market – i.e. it makes both the software and hardware. This model will allow it to develop Windows Phone and Lumia handsets (if the branding remains) in conjunction therefore optimising design, functionality, performance and maximising profit.

Crucially, the deal will also give Microsoft access to emerging markets. 45.5 per cent of Nokia shipments were to Greater China, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America in 2012.

Microsoft buying Nokia: what it means for its rivals
For its competitors the deal should see a more competitive Microsoft, but the company’s decision to build its own phones will also result in Microsoft entering direct competition with its Windows Phone partners.

In reality, this is likely to place greater strain on Microsoft than the likes of HTC, ZTE and Samsung as none have consistently shown strong commitment to the OS and will now be unable to compete with the license fee Microsoft charges itself: nothing. Given this scenario, many may well ditch Windows Phone handset development altogether.

The problem for them is it would mean throwing all their eggs into one basket with Android (except for Samsung which has Tizen) – and Google is ramping up its own Nexus and Motorola ranges.

Naturally, Microsoft going it alone in handsets would be new territory for the company and for the moment it is trying to appease partners. Company EVP for Operating Systems, Terry Myerson, today claimed “[the deal] will help make the market for all Windows Phones, from Microsoft or our OEM partners.”

But the reality is Microsoft earns substantial royalties from Android and the Nokia patents purchases are only likely to increase that so partners – given their underwhelming efforts – will no longer be its primary concern.

Microsoft buying Nokia: what it means for you
In the short term the answer is: not a lot. For the next 3-6 months, Nokia handsets will continue to be sold as before and even once the purchase completes next year Nokia’s roadmap will be set in stone for such a period that it could be a few years before the first truly Microsoft-inspired handset goes on sale. Look at the timescale of Google buying Motorola (August 2011) and the Moto X (August 2013).

Microsoft will also be honouring all Nokia warranties and keeping all Nokia employees, so little should change in the supply chain.

On the flip side, Microsoft and Nokia have been working together since their exclusive partnership began in February 2011, so what you are seeing from today’s Lumias is unlikely to be far from Microsoft’s vision. Microsoft also enforces a number of strict design, button layout and hardware parameters in any case, so why would we see radical change?

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Microsoft and Nokia: why you should care
If little is likely to change in the short term then why should you care? Because it will change things substantially in the long term.

The most likely to suffer are smaller handset makers as the deal reduces Windows Phone’s appeal yet pushes them into bed with Android, which weakens them as choice evaporates. Whether this will make Google feel doubly secure and see it push its own hardware (either through the Nexus brand or Motorola) remains to be seen.

Similarly, the deal will vindicate Samsung executives’ decision to develop Tizen and could see it accelerate the schedule for Tizen handset releases. Their success will make or break its long term relationship with Google.

As for Apple, it knows Microsoft now has new supply chain efficiencies and better opportunity to accelerate Windows Phone development, which means it will need to regain lost momentum.

Whether it sees the deal as a chance to stamp out Windows Phone with a budget iPhone is debatable as Apple is unlikely to hit the rock bottom price tags of the entry-level Lumias.

Microsoft and Nokia: the questions that remain
So general consensus is while the deal will change little in the short term the knock-on effects long term will be significant. Yet significant questions still remain:

  • Nokia CEO Stephen Elop’s return to Microsoft has made him the new favourite to take over from Steve Ballmer. But is the man who arguably brought down Nokia by scrapping its software independence really the visionary to lead the company forward?
  • How will fans of Microsoft and Windows Phone react to a potentially closed business model and will it push them towards Android – can Microsoft really survive without partners?
  • Has Nokia truly left the handset business? Small print on the deal only forbids Nokia from making handsets under its own brand until 31 December 2015, then the reins are off. Could Jolla be the most elaborate of plots to spin off then bring back the abandoned MeeGo project with Intel?
  • And finally (and most fancifully) what of ‘the Trojan horse’? Ever since Elop joined Nokia from Microsoft in September 2010 talk has been of a secret role to a) make the company dependent on Microsoft, b) bring down its value to an affordable level and consequently c) gain Microsoft a handset division through a buy-out. All three have been accomplished, but will Elop ever come clean? We doubt it.

Originally published on TrustedReviews, read it here

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.   

 

Apple Airport Extreme 2013

September 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Style over substance as Apple’s stylish debut 802.11ac router disappoints.

Score 6/10

 

Pros
Class leading design and build quality
Smooth Mac OS X & iOS setup
Strong 802.11n 5GHz performance

Cons
Poor 802.11ac & 802.11n 2.4GHz performance
3x Gigabit Ethernet
Single USB 2.0 port
Limited WPS support
Review Price £169.00

Key Features: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac wireless; 3x Gigabit Ethernet; WPA/WPA2 encryption; USB 2.0 port; Integrated PSU
Manufacturer: Apple

What is the Apple AirPort Extreme (2013)?

As the brackets suggest, this is the 2013 edition of Apple’s AirPort Extreme wireless router. The big news this time around is Apple has added the next generation 802.11ac wireless standard to bring it up to date with the latest flagship routers from the likes of Asus, D-Link, Linksys and Netgear. Given the previous AirPort Extreme was released over two years ago, Apple has also overhauled the design, which the company claims is “rebuilt for speed”.

 

2011-2013

Apple AirPort Extreme (2013) – Design

So what does this spruce up entail? Gone is the formerly flat, traditional rectangular design of the 2011 edition to be replaced by what can only be described as a white, elongated Apple TV (see comparison above). The logic is the switch in form factor allows Apple to position the antennas at the top, creating a higher platform for signal dispersal. It also reduces the Extreme’s desktop footprint by 64 per cent with the base measuring just 98 x 98mm compared to the 16.5 x 16.5mm of its predecessor.

This being Apple ‘rebuilt for speed’ isn’t the only motivation, there is no doubt that ‘rebuilt for style’ was also a key consideration as the AirPort Extreme is by far the best looking router we have ever seen. This might seem glib for a product which is essentially a white, angular tube, but the result is a router that is both minimalist and eye-catching and the gentle curves are simple yet dramatic enough that we can imagine Jonathan Ive agonising with his protractor for weeks.

A nice touch is Apple has built in the power supply to keep cabling neat. In short, the company has rewritten the rule book for router design.

Construction is outstanding, too. Typically we forgive routers their somewhat hollow and cheap plastic construction because of the protests that this is needed to let signal pass through. Apple has scoffed at this and the new AirPort Extreme is solid, weighing in at a hefty 945g, and the casing is clearly cut in a single piece with beautifully drilled port and power slots.

If we were to quibble, Apple’s choice of a matt finish for the top and gloss finish for the sides is a little inconsistent, but it isn’t overly noticeable and both are highly resistant to fingerprints. It also seems laughable Apple has including just a single pinhole status light on the front, but many will stomach such wild impracticality for the superficial benefits it brings.
AirPort Extreme 2

Apple AirPort Extreme (2013) – Features

2We haven’t talked so long about router design before so we’ll crack on through the features and the first thing to notice is the theme of minimalism continues, but this time in an area it is not welcome.

Of course the headline act is the new Extreme’s 802.11ac wireless and its backwards compatibility with 802.11a/b/g, but aside from this numerous corners are cut. Illustrating Apple’s stubbornness over standards it dislikes, the Extreme is the only modern, premium router we’ve seen to omit WPS and even takes the effort of fudging the standard with pin codes to connect WPS-based printers.

Apple isn’t overly keen on incorporating standards it does like either and, like the new Time Capsule range, the 2013 Extreme continues to ignore AirPlay missing out on a powerful differentiator. There are also just three Gigabit Ethernet ports rather than the usual four to accompany the WAN port and a single USB 2.0 port, for sharing a hard drive or printer across the network, when a minimum of two or at least one USB 3.0 port tends to be the bare minimum for high-end routers these days.

One the plus side, the Extreme can operate both as a router and wireless bridge (at which point the WAN port can be used as a fourth Gigabit LAN), there’s IPv6 support (which works over PPOE for the first time) and WPA and WPA2 encryption standards aboard. But it isn’t enough.

Apple AirPort Extreme (2013) – Setup

Great looks and restricted functionality mean so far so very Apple, but does the cliché extend to the company’s slogan: ‘it just works’? Well yes and no.

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Approach the Extreme from Mac OS X and the setup is seamless. It detects not just any old router, but an Apple router and configures automatically and enables you to customise settings. The process is almost as straightforward with iOS, but once connected you will need to download the AirPort app for full configuration options, though that is painless enough.

When it comes to Windows, however, things become more complicated. There is no web browser control for the Extreme so users must download the ‘AirPort Utility for Windows’ which hasn’t been updated for the new model and is 15 months old. It is an ugly, text heavy window full of tabs, menus and tick boxes and we found it wasn’t always reliable in detecting the new Extreme.

AirPort-Extreme-UI

Hopefully things will improve if/when Apple brings Extreme management into iCloud to rival the Cloud platforms created by Asus, D-Link and Linksys, but right now it is a mess and we’d advise Windows users to steer clear even if they’re tempted by the Extreme’s design.

Apple AirPort Extreme (2013) – Performance

High on style, light on substance and disinterested in other platforms continues the Apple stereotype, but unfortunately our test results found the Extreme eschews the company’s most important one: a premium user experience.

AirPort-Extreme-ACAirPort Extreme AC 2In our test environment at 2m and 10m line of sight and 13m behind two standing walls the Extreme’s wireless ac performance fell flat, hitting just 26.2MB/s (209.6Mb/s), 25.2MB/s (201.6Mb/s) and 19.8MB/s (158.4Mb/s).

These speeds make the Extreme the slowest wireless AC router we have tested at 2m. It improves dramatically by holding its speed at distance, but it still trails every wireless AC router we’ve tested this year and is a mile off the 2m record of 39.1MB/s (312.8Mb/s) for the Asus RT-AC66U and the 10m and 13m benchmarks of the Linksys EA6700 – which just edged the Asus – hitting 35.2MB/s (281.6Mb/s) and 28.8MB/s (230.4Mb/s).

When you’re beaten at 2m by a router at 13m behind two standing walls, it simply isn’t good enough.

There was better news for the Extreme when tested at 5GHz 802.11n. 2m, 10m and 13m test positions recorded 23.7MB/s (189Mb/s), 18MB/s (144Mb/s) and 9.72MB/s (77.62Mb/s), which place it right up with the fastest routers we have tested (the D-Link DIR-868L’s incredible 14.1MB/s at 13m aside).

AirPort Extreme 2.4GHzDisappointingly, however, the respite was brief as the Extreme’s 802.11n 2.4GHz performance was again off the pace. 7.78MB/s (62.24MB/s) at 2m is amongst the slowest speeds we’ve seen (bettered even by the PlusNet Fibre single band router) and while 10m performance held up better (7.49MB/s – 59.92Mb/s) at 13m rates of 2.54MB/s (20.32Mb/s) are roughly 50 per cent below what we would expect.

Lastly USB performance was little to write home about. The Extreme achieved 3.3MB/s (26.4Mb/s), which sits it squarely in the middle of the pack. This is enough to stream HD video, but as we have said many times before: until routers up their processor power all USB network connectivity will remain a damp squib.

5

Should I buy the Apple AirPort Extreme (2013)?

Even for those highly tempted by the Extreme’s good looks the answer is no. Functionality and performance fall flat and they are ultimately compounded by a £169.99 price tag. This makes the Extreme one of the most expensive 802.11ac routers we have tested (the bizarrely priced £179.99 Belkin AC1800 DB aside) and while 802.11n 5GHz performance is a lone shining light, every modern wireless AC rival gives it a good kicking.

Verdict

The most attractive, well crafted router on the market is sadly a letdown. The AirPort Extreme may have added 802.11ac to a great redesign but its performance falls flat and functionality is heavily compromised compared to other next gen alternatives. Apple detractors argue the company is about style over substance. That isn’t true, but sadly they are right in this case.

Scores In Detail

Build Quality 9/10
Design 9/10
Features 5/10
Performance 6/10
Usability 6/10
Value 5/10

Originally published on TrustedReviews, read it here

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.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belkin AC 1800 DB 802.11ac router

September 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Belkin’s flagship 802.11ac router has loads of features: does it perform?

Score 7/10

 

Pros
Competitive wireless ac speeds
Interesting looks
Integrated Norton parental controls

Cons
Weak 802.11n 2.4GHz performance
No Cloud platform
Overpriced

Review Price £179.99

Key Features: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi; Norton parental controls; 4x Gigabit Ethernet; Dual USB 2.0 ports; WPA/WPA2 and WPS security

What is the Belkin AC1800 DB?
This is Belkin’s flagship 802.11ac wireless router. It joins an increasingly packed wireless ac marketplace where the likes of Linksys and D-Link have already released their second generation products. Belkin has equipped the AC1800 DB with a healthy feature set and will hope recruiting Norton to beef up its parental controls will give it an edge as competition heats up.

AC1800 DB – Design71VpuFfQPnL-SL1500-
The Belkin AC1800 also sets itself apart when it comes to looks. The vertically standing router gives the impression it was stolen off a 1950s science fiction show with its sweeping curves and air outlets that trace the circumference of its central silver band. The outlets keep the router cool at all times and like most premium routers it operates silently. The sleek look does necessarily widen out at the back to fit its array of ports, but it doesn’t spoil the overall appearance.

That said there are some downsides. While solidly put together the Belkin AC1800 has a piano black gloss finish that preserves every ring of a finger print and there is a distinct lack of useful activity lights other than power and WPS. The upside is the AC1800 won’t distract you with a multitude of blinks, but indicators for the internet status and Ethernet, wireless and USB activity would have been more practical. The Belkin AC1800 also can’t be wall mounted as its stand is fixed, but this isn’t a great loss with an upright router.

Belkin AC1800 DB – Features
Belkin-AC-1200-DB-2-Belkin may be a smaller name in networking, but it ticks most of the right boxes with the AC1800. It is 802.11a/b/g/n/ac compatible with four Gigabit Ethernet ports and dual USB 2.0 ports. USB 3.0 doesn’t make an appearance, but this isn’t a major issue given routers’ chipset performance so far remains a greater bottleneck on USB speeds than USB 2.0. In addition, the Belkin AC1800 comes with the staples of WPA/WPA2 and WPS security and support for IPv6 plus DLNA streaming.

Belkin is also making a big noise about its integrated ‘IntelliStream’ QoS (Quality of Service), which automatically prioritises network traffic from video and gaming (much like ‘FasTrack’ on the Western Digital My Net AC1300) and its collaboration with Norton to integrate parental controls.The latter amounts to basic website filtering with malicious, adult and ‘non-family friendly’ site blocking that it defines as “malware, phishing, and scam sites and also sites that contain sexually explicit material, mature content, abortion, alcohol, tobacco, crime, cult, drugs, gambling, hate, suicide or violence”. In reality many free software alternatives will do this, but it does have the benefit of referencing Norton’s continually updated website databases.

Overall this amounts to a pretty solid feature set, but there are two flies in the ointment. The first is the absence of any Cloud platform like D-Link, Linksys (which Belkin recently bought from Cisco) and Asus, which allow remote management of the router. The second is a rather weedy treatment of 802.11n with a reduction that sees Belkin quote 300Mbit rather than the usual 450Mbit theoretical maximum for a top of the range router. Of course the theoretical numbers are always nonsense, but it does throw up a red flag.

Belkin AC1800 DB – Setup
The Belkin AC1800 setup is also a little antiquated. Belkin supplies a CD with the AC1800 when many routers (in the age of tablets and Ultrabooks) are moving to a CD-less setup (configuration on first connection), but the process remains smooth guiding you through wireless connection and setting your default wireless and admin passwords.
Advanced users will be able to skip this, connecting wirelessly using WPS and finding the router’s admin settings at 192.168.2.1.

These settings are clearly laid out with a simple graphical UI and it will try to assist with basic connectivity problems should they be detected. As you might expect diving into advanced settings is less user friendly and heavily text based, but numerous options are available including management of Intellistream, Norton’s website filter (which should arguably be in the main menu) and Firewall, LAN and WAN settings.

Belkin AC1800 DB – Performance
Belkin AC1800 BD 802 11ac Belkin AC 1800 DB 802.11ac routerThe Belkin AC1800′s appealing looks and functionality are also backed up by solid 802.11ac test results.

Belkin-AC1800-BD-802-11acIn our test environment at 2m and 10m line of sight and 13m behind two standing walls the router recorded speeds of 35.5MBps (284Mbps), 27.7MBps (221.6Mbps) and 23.5MBps (188Mbps). At 2m this makes the Belkin AC1800 the third fastest router we have tested ahead of the D-Link DIR-868L at 34MBps (272Mbps), but behind the Linksys EA6700 and Asus RT-AC66U, which recorded 36.7Mbps (293.6Mbps) and 39.1MBps (312.8Mbps) respectively. That said it drops behind all three at 10m and is actually slower than them and the WD My Net AC1300 (24.3MBps – 194.4Mbps) at 13m.

It was a similar story testing 802.11n over 5GHz (images in the gallery above). The AC1800′s 2m, 10m and 13m speeds of 22MBps (176Mbps), 17.6MBps (140.8Mbps) and 10.2MBps (81.6Mbps) make it the second fastest router behind the EA6700 at 2m, but it slipped behind the Asus and D-Link at 10m and 13m only holding off the EA6700′s bizarrely weak performance (7.7MBps – 61.6Mbps) at the latter distance.

With 802.11n 2.4GHz our fears about the AC1800′s reduced number of antennas came to fruition. At 2m, 10m and 13m it produced highly inconsistent speeds of 9.3MBps (74.4Mbps), 5MBps (40Mbps) and 2.4MBps (19.2Mbps) with its 10m and 13m speeds 50-100 per cent down on EA6700, AC66U, 868L and My Net AC1300 meaning it actually placed closer to first generation wireless ac routers like the Linksys EA6500 and D-Link DIR-865L which seemed to treat 802.11n 2.4GHz as an afterthought.

Network performance over USB was nothing to write home about either coming in at 3.9MBps (31.2Mbps) compared to 7.1MBps (56.8Mbps), 4.9MBps (39.2Mbps) and 4.8MBps (38.4Mbps) from the EA6700, 868L, My Net AC1300 with the AC66U (3.1MBps – 24.8Mbps) its only scalp.

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Should I buy the Belkin AC1800 DB?
Based on everything so far the answer would be ‘maybe’, but it depends on one critical factor the Belkin AC1800 sadly gets badly wrong: price. Belkin retails for the router for an astonishing £179.99 and surprisingly we haven’t seen many cuts from online retailers.

This makes the it roughly £30-50 more expensive than its major rivals, which is hard to fathom. We contacted Belkin about this and while it admitted the gap will narrow with future products, it currently has no plans to drop the price any time soon. If you are a concerned parent thinking the AC1800′s Norton controls are worth the extra expense we’d point you to this an array of free software alternatives that will do an even better job.

Verdict
The Belkin AC1800 DB gets many things right. It is nicely designed, has an appealing feature set and performs reasonably well, but unfortunately all this good work is sabotaged by an unrealistic price tag.

Scores In Detail
Build Quality 7/10
Design 8/10
Features 7/10
Performance 7/10
Usability 7/10
Value 6/10

Originally published on TrustedReviews, read it here.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

TR – Three the best choice for 4G despite starting late

September 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

Pricing and spectrum put the underdog in pole position…

Times have changed since Aesop told us the tortoise beat the hare in circa 500BC. Today, particularly in technology, it is a race to push out products and services as fast as possible… public betas… fix it with firmware… patch, patch, patch. And yet Aesop’s moral of ‘less haste more speed’ is due a comeback because 4G slowcoach Three seems like the best bet for 4G.

Pricing vs Timing

So what makes Three the fabled tortoise? As by far the smallest UK telco it is an obvious underdog, but it is also slow off the mark with the company announcing this week that it will not launch its 4G service until December. By contrast 4G services from O2 and Vodafone went live on Thursday and UK market leader EE switch on 4G in October 2012.

Three 4G promoBut what really makes Three the tortoise is its smart strategy. The most appealing part is the pricing. Three won’t charge customers a premium for using 4G and it won’t be changing its tariffs, its 3G tariffs are its 4G tariffs.

Customers with 4G compatible phones will get a small network software update when 4G goes live and off they go – no new contracts and unlimited data and tethering options remain. By contrast EE, O2 and Vodafone have all significantly upped the cost of 4G services and introduced a boggling array of new tariffs.

So far price is proving a major obstacle to 4G adoption with EE signing up just 500,000 customers in its first 7 months from a 23 million subscriber base.

Of course customers may be prepared to wait for these cost savings, but they won’t wait forever. EE has now launched 4G services in over 100 towns and cities giving it a major advantage. That said Three’s launch areas of London, Manchester and Birmingham are arguably more appealing than O2 (London, Leeds, Bradford) and Vodafone (London only) and more widely distributed. Meanwhile, Three claims it will cover 98 per cent of the population with 4G by the end of 2015.

Unpicking the frequencies
This issue of coverage is also vital to Three’s 3G-only network, which is currently badly affected by restriction to the 2100MHz band. Our guide to 4G frequencies is available here, but in short: the higher the band the faster its potential speed but the lower its range and worse its ability to penetrate solid objects like walls.

This limitation has dogged Three since it launched in the UK over 10 years ago, but with February’s 4G auction it made a beeline for the 800MHz spectrum – the lowest frequency available for 4G – which will finally give it parity with EE, O2 and Vodafone.

Three didn’t get any of the blazing fast, short-range 2600MHz frequency (arguably that isn’t needed for the size of its customer base), but it also got a large slice of 1800MHz (the best all-rounder) from EE for a capped price (£425m) as part of the deal that let the Orange/T-Mobile tie-up launch 4G services early in the first place. The result is Three should have a price advantage without its historical range and indoor coverage compromises.

Furthermore, with the only truly unlimited 4G data plans, Three also has a potentially major benefit of appealing to rural customers who can replace their typically slow fixed line broadband with a single MiFi subscription or phone subscription that includes tethering.

The best deals at the wrong time
LTE iPhoneThe only serious problem with opting for Three for a 4G phone or contract is its tardiness. It may hold a clear pricing advantage, but Vodafone and O2 are more competitive than EE when it launched with the 4G marketplace all to itself, while EE has also subsequently revised prices.

Furthermore this trio all have their 4G services in place just in time for some of the most appealing handset launches of the year. The iPhone 5S and 5C are expected to launch in September, the same time as Samsung is expected to announce the Galaxy Note 3 and HTC formally unveil the One Max. LG will also release the G2 in September and there’s the little matter of October’s predicted Nexus 5 reveal.

The temptation to grab a shiny new handset with 4G from the off with be strong and the contracts will be long. While Three seems like the best deal on paper, it does mean waiting a few months. I think it’s worth waiting, but anyone buying the latest iPhone probably won’t agree or even consider it.

It’s worth waiting
But if you have the patience, it’s still worth waiting. While its customer call centres still need work, its value is underlined by the recent move to begin scrapping European roaming fees (initially in the Republic of Ireland, Australia, Italy, Austria, Hong Kong, Sweden and Denmark) 11 months ahead of the EU deadline – an atypical consumer friendly move for a telco.

Moreover, while its 4G lags behind somewhat, its shiny new DC-HSDPA 3G network (with theoretical speeds up to 42.2Mbps) means many can enjoy 4G-like speeds while they wait for the real thing – it should become faster when 4G comes online, too.

None of which is likely to see Three move from its position as the UK’s smallest mobile network, but then again like the tortoise a route to success has only opened up because of the overconfidence and complacency of rivals. And this is one occasion where supporting the underdog is not just a romantic choice, it’s the sensible choice, too.

My editorial was originally published on TrustedReviews, it can be read here 

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.   

TR – 7 Reasons why the Xbox One is better than the PS4

September 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

Contrary to popular opinion Microsoft’s Xbox One console looks a better bet than the PS4 in the long term.

Given the vitriol directed at the Xbox One since its unveiling in May you’d think it was a competition to see who could throw the nastiest insult. It is too expensive, underpowered, unfocused, overly restrictive and invasive of our privacy.

Except I think it isn’t. Certainly there are flaws, but I still think the Xbox One will be a big hit and (controversially) a bigger hit than Sony’s much praised PS4 in the long run. Here are the reasons why:

Content will be more innovative

Microsoft-Xbox-One-consoleBundling Kinect means the Xbox One’s £429 RRP is significantly more than the PS4’s £349, but it also means this remarkable technology will be fundamental to developers and provide them with a consistent platform to work with letting their innovation run wild.

By contrast the PS4 makes its Kinect-equivalent £55 PlayStation Camera optional to win a price war. This is popular in our economically savaged times, but even if Camera sales are huge they will never cover 100 per cent of PS4 owners and developers can never code with the confidence they can for the Xbox One.

Furthermore with the outlay for the PlayStation Camera, the PS4 totals £405. For the sake of £25, it wasn’t worth fracturing the PS4 platform.

The Xbox One’s performance shortfall will be irrelevant

Some impressive analysis of Xbox One and PS4’s performance has been made, but in reality it is unlikely to matter.The PS3 was also more powerful than the Xbox 360, but coding difficulties meant gamers rarely saw the benefit. Now the machines are so similar much of the code can be shared and that issue has gone, but two problems remain: laziness and the PC.

The first has me questioning whether developers will take the time and effort to truly code incremental improvements into the visuals of PS4 titles and even then whether the majority will actually notice the difference.As for the PC, its performance stands above both consoles this time around and its titles will likely be the source code for multi-format conversions rather than separate development of each format.

In this scenario tweaks to prioritise one console’s performance over the other seems even less likely, especially as Xbox One titles should look incredible in any case.

Greater functionality will give it a longer shelf life

Much anger has been expressed that the Xbox One is a jack of all trades with not enough focus on gaming.

The problem with this stance is the One actually gives games developers a more ambitious and creative core platform for titles then provides a greater multimedia experience on top.Both consoles come with a range of US and UK centric streaming services (with more inevitably in the pipeline) and Blu-ray drives, but the key differential is the One’s HDMI pass-thru. This lets the console control your television and potentially any connected digibox allowing the One to become centre of your living room. There are a lot of ifs and buts here, but the PS4 simply cannot ever do this. Yes a £40 annual Xbox Live Gold pass will be required, but it looks far more ambitious and integral to our long term home entertainment than the PS4.

Better controller The PS4 adds a lot into its new Sixaxis – Move, a trackpad and a share button to share moments of gameplay – but it doesn’t do enough to address its predecessor’s biggest problem: it simply isn’t as comfortable as the Xbox controller.On top of this the Xbox One controller has added trigger rumble motors, a flush battery pack, new low power state when not in use, upgraded headset audio data rates, WiFi Direct pairing and Kinect integration which can automatically orientate split screen gaming based on users’ positions during same room multiplayer.
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Better launch line up / launch bundling

The most subjective of these points is the quality of the consoles’ games selection, but as we approach launch to me it is the Xbox One that looks to have both the better launch line-up and base bundle.

Following Gamescom we now know the Xbox One will have 22 boxed titles at launch verses 15 for the PS4 and arguably bigger exclusives: Halo 5, Forza 5, Dead Rising 3, Ryse, TitanFall, Killer Instinct, Sunset Overdrive, Project Spark, Quantum Break and Below verses Drive Club, Killzone: Shadowfall, Infamous: Second Son, Knack, Octodad: Deadliest Catch and The Order: 1886.On top of this the £429 RPP of the Xbox One will see it come bundled with FIFA 14 (worth £55), the aforementioned Kinect and a headset. The £349 PS4 will also come with a headset, but no games or PlayStation Camera. To match the One bundle would cost PS4 owners £460. No wonder Sony execs are becoming a little more cautious.

SmartGlass verses Remote Play

Good news for PlayStation fans – recently Sony dropped the price of the floundering PlayStation Vita from $299 to just $199 (£190 to £126) which makes Remote Play between it and the PS4 even more appealing. Furthermore we have Sony’s promise that Cloud advances will see the Vita be able to play PS4 games on the move in the coming years.The problem for Sony is that Microsoft’s rival SmartGlass has a much greater scope.

Whereas Remote Play currently offers second screen functionality for a PS3 or PS4 with a PSP or Vita, SmartGlass on the Xbox 360 and Xbox One offers this with devices running Windows 8, Windows RT, Windows Phone, Windows Server 2012, iOS and Android – devices we no doubt already own. With phones and tablets also looking like the portable gaming formats of the future Sony may need to significantly redesign Remote Play to match it.

Flexibility

For our final point, we’re not talking SmartGlass or the wider multimedia capabilities of the Xbox One and its bundled Kinect, but rather something which initially infuriated everyone: Microsoft’s attitude.

It is clear with the Xbox One that Microsoft is listening to concerns and taking action. Since the initial reveal it has reversed the console’s always-on requirements, mandatory use of Kinect, embraced self-publishing and indie games, taken restrictions off second hand games and added a headset and FIFA14 to the basic bundle to offset the £429 asking price. It has also fractionally boosted the speed of the Xbox One GPU with talk of another spec bump before release.

By contrast Sony has done nothing. In many respects it did not need to, but it hasn’t responded to Microsoft repeatedly sweetening the Xbox One bundle and doesn’t have a great track record when things do go wrong. Sony has been increasingly smug in recent times, but it is Microsoft actually proving it is determined to act and that attitude when combined with Microsoft’s greater financial resources bodes well for the future of the Xbox One long term.

To read the original article on TrustedReviews click here

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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