Tag Archives: reviews

First Impressions of Windows 8

I panned Windows 8’s modern UI when I first saw it, and then again when it finally came out. Now I’ve actually installed it on a desktop PC I’m starting to think differently. It’s actually pretty good and now I’ve played with it for a few hours I love it.

Above is my somewhat customised ‘Start Screen’ that everyone seems to hate. It’s the first thing you learn about Windows 8 and it soon becomes the first thing you hate. Use it for a while though, and it starts to make sense. I have logged into my facebook, twitter and google accounts so the left side of my screen is filled with useful bits of information.

Windows 8 Startscreen

My calendar (using this tweak you can sync more than one google calendar, a limitation of the built in calendar app), email, and facebook/twitter updates all appear without needing to load the websites in my browser (Sounds silly, but it’s handy)
The middle tiles are all custom made using a program called OblyTile along with tile images I found around the internet. The result is quite snazzy I think. The tiles for Microsoft Office are custom too since the automatic tiles are a bit poor (See the chemistry programs a few tiles down).

The modern UI in Windows 8 isn’t bad at all. It just takes getting used to. Learning the keyboard shortcuts is a must on a desktop or laptop without a touchscreen. Win+C opens the ‘charms bar’ which is a context sensitive shortcut bar to everything you’re probably looking for. An example of this bar is seen to the right.

Modern UI apps (or ‘metro’ as they were originally known as) can be stuck to the side of the screen sort of in an aero snap way (like you could in Windows 7). As I am writing this post in Windows Live Writer (which runs in the desktop mode) I can see my Skype permanently stuck to the right-hand side of my workspace. Any modern UI app can be run like this. You can see this below with the standard included weather application.

So far I am really liking Windows 8 (from two weeks ago when I absolutely hated it). My girlfriend is jealous of the social aspect of the start screen and wants it on her laptop. Time will tell if I continue to like it or whether it’ll get in the way when I try and actually get some work done. I will report back in a few weeks.

Metro Sidedocking

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Skypix Handscanner Handheld Document Scanner Review

Being in halls this year, I don’t have a lot of space. My desk is tiny. I hate tiny desks. This pretty much rules out flat bed scanners completely.

I was browsing Amazon looking to waste money like I normally do when I stumbled across handheld portable document scanners for under £30. ‘Hmm’ I wondered, how could can they possibly be? The answer is pretty good!

The Skypix TSN410 scanner is portable, lightweight, and not bad quality for an amazing price.

Being in halls this year, I don’t have a lot of space. My desk is tiny. I hate tiny desks. This pretty much rules out flat bed scanners completely.

I was browsing Amazon looking to waste money like I normally do when I stumbled across handheld portable document scanners for under £30. ‘Hmm’ I wondered, how could can they possibly be? The answer is pretty good!

The Skypix TSN410 Handscanner is portable, lightweight, and not bad quality for an amazing price.

Skypix Handscanner

Skypix Handscanner

It takes 2 AA batteries (Buy decent ones, the Zinc Carbon ones I got in a hurry lost 1/3 of their charge after about 25-30 scans), transfers via a mini USB cable (Annoying since pretty much everything I own now uses MicroUSB… How things change?) and saves scans to a MicroSD card. (I’m using an 8gb MicroSDHC card I got online for a few quid)

The scanner does feel a little fragile, but it does a really good job. I probably wouldn’t take it with me in my bag, rather just safely store it in a draw except for when I need it.

Included with my scanner was a piece of software called “ABBYY Screenshot Reader” which does a good job of converting the images scanned into editable text. The scanner itself scans to JPEG images at either ‘low’ or ‘high’ resolution. The except spec escapes me… 300 and 600dpi rings a bell though. You can also set it to scan in colour or black and white.

Here are some sample scan of a leaflet that arrived in the post earlier. This is scanned a low resolution because I find the high setting just makes the files ridiculously large without a great deal of benefit.

The Portable Scanner

And the recognized text from the yellow panels: (I haven’t correct the errors on purpose)

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As you can see the quality of the scan is awesome, and the OCR is pretty good too. There are a few errors, but it’s to be expected surely? It wouldn’t take longer than a few seconds to correct them manually. To the left of the scanned image, there is a slight waviness present. The scanner internally adjusts the image if you don’t scan in a perfect straight line. It does a pretty good job, but with the knack of a few scans you get pretty good at pulling the paper/moving the scanner perfectly.

For around £30, I think the scanner is a good investment for students like myself who get handed a ton of handouts that invariably go missing within a week… Now I can store them all in Evernote and not lose them ever.

The Portable Scanner

The Portable Scanner

Android O2 MMS Settings

My Galaxy S2 has been failing to receive picture messages (MMS) since I flashed it with CyanogenMod a few months back. Not a big deal, but it was kind of annoying. No amount of fiddling with the APN settings seemed to help, and I was at a loss.

Along came ‘Tweakker’ a free android app that promised to correct my settings. And it did. First time. I rebooted my phone, and the picture message I had received earlier in the morning downloaded immediately!

Worth a shot if you flash custom roms, or your settings just flat out do not work. It’s free from Android Marketplace.

3DS Circle Pad Pro Review

I have pretty big hands, because I’m a pretty big guy. I love my DSi XL for this reason: it’s the most comfortable handheld console I’ve ever owned. I played three hours straight of Dragon Quest on it the other evening. The 3DS is completely different: it makes my hands cramp within half an hour of playing. This is more prevalent in games that use the shoulder buttons such as Mario Kart 7, than it simpler controlled games such as Pushmo.

At the beginning of January I was going to order a Nyko Power Grip for around £30 from the US, but I saw Zavvi selling the Circle Pad Pro and RE: Revelations for £30 delivered so I ordered that instead thinking I’d get a free game and something to solve my hand cramping issues.

The Circle Pad itself is pretty comfortable, but the new buttons (including the replacement R shoulder button) only work in games that support it (such as RE!) making the Pad pretty useless for making the 3DS more comfortable for normal use in the games I’m going to play the most. The R button is still sort of accessible if you have super bendy fingers. For some reason I guess I expected this to work. Don’t get me wrong I didn’t expect the new slider to magically work but the R button was…disappointing to say the least. As the main reason I purchased the unit was the make the 3DS more comfortable, something it does pretty well otherwise! (In my short 1 GP game of Mario Kart to test it)

Including with the Circle Pad Pro is a AAA battery (rated for something like 450 hours), the instructions, and a snazy wrist strap. I didn’t try it out with Resident Evil Revelations as I’d already sold the bundle to my friend who didn’t preorder it in time so I could order just the Pad from Amazon for 15. After trying out the device on Friday however I quickly cancelled my preorder as Amazon had failed to get stock soon enough which was handy!

If Nintendo manage to release an update that allows every game to use at least the replacement R button then I may try it again in the future until then I’ll keep looking at alternatives like the Nyko Power Grip and others.

3DS Circle Pad Pro Review

I have pretty big hands, because I’m a pretty big guy. I love my DSi XL for this reason: it’s the most comfortable handheld console I’ve ever owned. I played three hours straight of Dragon Quest on it the other evening.  The 3DS is completely different: it makes my hands cramp within half an hour of playing. This is more prevalent in games that use the shoulder buttons such as Mario Kart 7, than it simpler controlled games such as Pushmo.

At the beginning of January I was going to order a Nyko Power Grip for around £30 from the US, but I saw Zavvi selling the Circle Pad Pro and RE: Revelations for £30 delivered so I ordered that instead thinking I’d get a free game and something to solve my hand cramping issues.

I was wrong.

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Logitech Bluetooth Stereo Adapter Review

I recently purchased a Logitech Bluetooth Stereo adapter to compliment my Airport Express and allow me to stream audio (podcasts!) from my Samsung Galaxy S2 android phone. It’s a neat little piece of hardware that has only one button and a few audio connections on that back. That’s it.

logitech02

Setting up the device is simple with the provided 3.5mm to RCA jack connection. Either connect the auxiliary jack on the on the device or the red / white jacks to the appropriate connection on your speakers. In my case, I went auxiliary to red/white but from what I can tell it works whatever way you want to.

IMG_20120120_210145

Audio quality listening to podcasts was perfectly acceptable, and listen to high quality streamed tracks on Spotify sounded good too (Video Games by Lana Del Ray sounded fine, this is currently my goto test song as well as my current favourite song…)

I’ve tested the unit with a Samsung Galaxy S2 running Cyanogen Mod 7.1 which worked as expected. Before I installed CyanogenMod on my phone, it had problems pairing to a set of bluetooth speakers (the Bose Sounddocks) so I am not sure if this will have the same issue. If someone has tested this, I’d love to know if it works or not. Additionally I have tested with a first generation iPad (wifi model) and it worked streaming audio from the Music app as well as Youtube.

Overall for £30 this is a pretty cool gadget if you like listening to music or podcasts and own a device for which there isn’t a lot of docking systems available for. Totally worth it, as now my alarm clock from my phone is an awful lot louder and I get to keep my phone by my bed without running cables across the room…

Available from Amazon, Dixons and other retailers. Check out Google Shopping, or something.

Podcasts that you should listen to, because I do…

And now for some recommendations for you to listen to… Here are three podcasts which I really quite like.

Skeptoid

Weekly podcast about things you should be skeptical about. Recent episodes include The Mystery of the Mary Celeste, The Toxic Lady, and the Top 10 Worst Anti-Science websites. Short and to the point.

Chemistry in its element

Another short weekly podcast about you guessed it… chemicals! Produced by the Naked Scientists (who also do several brilliant longer weekly podcasts about science news), each episode is delivered by different people on varying elements, and substances. Once a week, five minutes long.

Stuff you should know

One of the several How Stuff Works podcasts, this one deals with things you should well.. know? A great way to kill an hour with an always interesting topic. Coffee and orgasms came up recently.


I’ll post some more recommendations later! Have fun listening to these and let me know what you think!

The £89 Kindle

I’ve had my shiny new kindle for a week now, and having upgraded from a (somewhat) ancient Sony PRS-505 I’m much happier for it. The screen refreshes that much quicker, it doesn’t flash to black on every page turn and some of the bargains I’ve found in the Kindle eBook store are amazing. Tom Reynold’s sequel to his book Blood, Sweat and Tea about the London Ambulance Service is just 49p to download. How much better can it get? 😀 (If you haven’t read them, you should! )

I could of course read books on my phone, or my tablet but to really get into a book and get lost in it, e-ink wins out hands down. Of course, only second to paper. But who likes boring old paper??

Thoughts about PogoPlug

pogo

The PogoPlug Pro is an awesome piece of networking kit that allows you to share one or more USB storage devices across your network (and the internet if you want). Simply make an account, plug your drives in and away you go. Apparently the original Pogoplug has been discontinued and the Pro has taken its place. The only difference I am aware between the two models was the Pro featured Wifi (which I think probably isn’t the best idea for a file server…)

I have a 2tb Western Digital drive hooked up to mine, formatted as HFS+ (Journaled). I was thoroughly surprised that it worked, but it did out of the box. On the client side I’m running a MacBook Air running the latest version of Snow Leopard and my PC is running Windows 7 Professional 64bit. File access is great on both, even over wireless on the laptop. I have only really encountered a problem when I was driving to store my iTunes library on the PogoPlug and run it over the network. iTunes didn’t appreciate this idea, as awesome as it seemed to me. It would randomly lose files and whatnot, even though I could still happily browse the pogo drive. I moved iTunes back to my PC in the end.

PS3 Media Server, and Airvideo run fine when looking for their respective media stores on the Pogo (from the Windows PC). I was slightly disappointed in media stream capabilities built into the device, whilst it works, I thoroughly recommend using PS3 Media Server as you probably already are. As for having to pay $29 to upgrade to the ‘premium’ software to stream video to mobile devices? No thanks. Airvideo does all that and more for £1.99.

I’d definitely recommend the PogoPlug Pro to anyone who is serious about sharing files with multiple computers, although I haven’t had a chance to test out sharing to 3rd parties over the net so I cannot comment on that!

Apple AirPort Express

Replaced an old wireless access point with an Apple AirPort Express this week. It’s pretty neat, the best part being wireless speakers connected to any iPod touch or iPhone in the house. Wherever you are! Also, my wireless actually works now which is also a benefit.

The Express plugs directly into any stereo system and will play music from any iTunes library or iDevice. There is even software available that will let you redirect sound from an application (such as Spotify) to the Airport. Spotify in the living room! Now that is useful.

It can function as an access point, like I currently have it set up or it can connect to an existing network allowing you to connect it to a remote speaker system in a bedroom or garage for example. Apparently you can extend network range too, but I haven’t looked into that yet.

Airfoil is the program I played with to redirectsound from a Windows PC. Available for Mac and Windows. It has a trial mode limited to ten minutes, but it definitely works with Spotify and probably a few other programs. Grooveshark, maybe?

Probably the best bit of wireless kit I’ve ever purchased!