Archive for February, 2008

By February 29, 2008 Read More →

Over one million video views!

I was just looking at my YouTube profile and was amazed to see that the unbox videos that I’ve been posting on there have now been viewed more than one million times!!

I want to say a big thank you to everyone that’s supported the site and watched my unbox videos. I’ve recorded over 70 device unbox videos now and there’s no sign of that stopping. I have three more to do this week and who knows how many next week. All good fun!

Thanks also to those of you that supply the products for review, unbox videos would be somewhat dull without you!

Please do take a look at my YouTube profile where you can see everything that I’ve posted over the past year and if you subscribe to my channel you’ll even get a notification when I add something new.

As always, if you have any comments or suggestions then please do drop me a line.

Posted by: Matt

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Posted in: News
By February 28, 2008 Read More →

i-mate JAMA 101 unboxed

I-mate have certainly been releasing a lot of devices lately and we’ve just managed to get our hands on another new model, this time the i-mate JAMA 101.

The i-mate JAMA 101 reminds me of the old i-mate Jam (HTC Magician) and looks like an updated version of that device. It’s small, light and has decent syling. The JAMA 101 is one of the world’s most compact Windows Mobile 6 professional phones. The 2.4″ touch screen is housed in a stylish jet-black rubberised finish.

The specification is somewhat basic but the JAMA is a good entry level device offering decent features considering the size of the package.

The unbox video below should give you a better idea of the size of the device and we’ll follow up with a review in a week or so.

Panasonic HDC-SD5 unboxed

i-mate JAMA 101 Specification:

  • Tri-Band GSM/GPRS 900/1800/1900
  • Samsung 300MHz CPU
  • 64MB RAM/128MB ROM
  • Windows Mobile® 6 Professional
  • Bluetooth
  • 2.4″ TFT 65K colour screen
  • 2.0 Megapixel digital camera/video with flash and auto focus and 4X digital zoom
  • Supports microSD expansion cards
  • Windows Media Player: Supports MP3/AMR/WAV/WMA
  • Posted by: Matt

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    Posted in: Videos/Unboxings
    By February 27, 2008 Read More →

    HTC respond again to HTCClassAction

    The issues caused by the lack of video drivers on many of the latest HTC devices is well documented, in fact you’ll be hard pushed to find a technology or mobile site that’s not reporting the problem at the moment.

    Last month HTC responded to the complaints raised by HTCClassAction.org and all but dismissed the claims.

    I guess HTC must be starting to see sense and yesterday released the following response that not only acknowledges the problem but also states that a software fix is on its way.

    “Some of our top engineers have investigated video performance on our devices and have discovered a fix that they claim will dramatically improve performance for common on-screen tasks like scrolling and the like. Their fix would help most of our recent touch-screen products including the Touch family of devices and TYTN II / Tilt, Mogul / XV6900. The update is in testing and we hope to release it soon.

    However this fix is not a new video driver to utilize hardware acceleration; it is a software optimization. Video drivers are a much more complicated issue that involves companies and engineers beyond HTC alone. We do not want to lead anyone to believe they should expect these. To explain why we are not releasing video acceleration instead of the optimization I offer you our official statement…”

    “HTC DOES plan to offer software upgrades that will increase feature functionality, over the air wireless speeds and other enhancements for some of the phones being criticized, but we do not anticipate including any additional support for the video acceleration issues cited in customer complaints. It is important for customers to understand that bringing this functionality to market is not a trivial driver update and requires extensive software development and time.

    HTC will utilize hardware video acceleration like the ATI Imageon in many upcoming products. Our users have made it clear that they expect our products to offer an improved visual experience, and we have included this feedback into planning and development of future products. To address lingering questions about HTC’s current MSM 7xxx devices, it is important to establish that a chipset like an MSM7xxx is a platform with a vast multitude of features that enable a wide range of devices with varied functionality. It is common that devices built on platforms like Qualcomm’s will not enable every feature or function.

    In addition to making sure the required hardware is present, unlocking extended capabilities of chipsets like the MSM 7xxx requires in-depth and time consuming software development, complicated licensing negotiations, potential intellectual property negotiations, added licensing fees, and in the case of devices that are sold through operators, the desire of the operator to include the additional functionality. To make an informed decision about which handset suits them best, consumers should look at the product specification itself instead of using the underlying chipset specifications to define what the product could potentially become.”

    Let’s hope this isn’t vapourware!

    Posted by: Matt

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    Posted in: News
    By February 26, 2008 Read More →

    OQO Model e2 review

    OQOs e2, the future of portable computing?

    The 10 second review:

    Device: OQO Model e2
    Cost: from £909 to £1400
    Available from: eXpansys
    Summary: A good looking, powerful, UMPC. A credible notebook replacement

    Best of: You can leave your notebook at home, no really you can.
    Worst Of: Well nothing really, being really picky you could say it’s a bit too heavy for the pocket with the extended battery
    Ho hum: Style marring 3G whip aerial, thumb keyboard a bit fiddly

    OQO Model e2

    OQO Model e2

    OQO revealed the Model 01 back in 2005 to great reviews and I can remember lusting after it at the time. I was really quite excited when the postie arrived with the package that contained OQO’s latest model e2, complete with its docking station.

    There are a couple of limitations in this review as the review device we’ve been sent was not quite the latest incarnation of the Model e2 as it came with Windows XP pro rather than XP tablet edition or Vista installed. There are a few other enhancements you can add but more of this later.

    The Full Review:

    Ultra mobile computing has been a fascination of mine for a while, my old Toshiba Libretto 50CT was one of the first sub notebooks and its always been a favourite, very portable but now far too under specified to be of any real use apart from geek bragging rights. For the first time since using the Libretto I’ve found a device that is as equally portable and sufficiently powerful to compare it to its larger contemporaries.

    Environment

    I set out to use the Model e2 as a fully fledged notebook replacement for a full working week; it was a typical week for me a couple of days working from home on client proposals, a couple of days on customer site and a day in the office. My regular kit bag was otherwise the same Windows Mobile Smartphone for email triage and quick calendar and a pen and pad for note taking. I’d hoped to use the OQO to take notes using Microsoft OneNote in meetings, which is a real UMPC benefit but the review device had XP pro onboard which prevented this, I did however put the powered up unit on the table, to assess how obtrusive the noise it generates is.

    OQO Model e2 Specification:

    • Up to 1.6GHz VIA C7-M CPU
    • Up to 120GB HDD and available 32GB Solid State Drive (SSD)
    • Up to 1.0GB DDR2 SDRAM
    • Integrated WiFi 802.11a/b/g with diversity and Bluetooth 2.0 with EDR
    • Ergonomic illuminated thumb keyboard
    • Ultra bright 5” (127mm) 800×480 display with zooming up to 1200×720 interpolated mode
    • Windows® XP Professional, XP Tablet PC Edition 2005, or Windows Vista®
    • Handheld form factor at 142mm x 84mm x 26mm and only 454 grams
    • UK keyboard with Pound Sterling, Euro, and Japanese Yen shortcut keys
    • Up to 6 hours of continuous usage and 3 days of standby time with extended battery
    OQO Model e2

    The e2 as supplied was almost the top of the range model, a 1.6 GHz VIA CPU, 1 Gbyte DDR2 SDRAM, 120 Gbyte, drop detect shock mounted HDD. The review device was fitted with the HSDPA option so Connectivity is 802.11a/b/g WiFi, Bluetooth 2, and ‘mobile broadband’ it’s unclear as to which variant of HSDPA is supported but I was getting reasonable performance. Windows XP pro was the OS of choice.

    You can now get the e2 with vista Ultimate or Business installed and the latest offering from OQO is the inclusion of a solid state drive of either 32 Gb ( add about £300 to the cost ) or 64 Gb with a sunlight optimised display (add about £700). The e2 is also available in the states with embedded WIMAX a novelty for most of us today but a taste of the future.

    I’m not sure how the OQO would cope with Vista’s demands, the Gbyte of RAM is below recommended levels and I’d be intrigued to see the device in action, a comparable notebook of mine runs vista in XP mode (all the prettiness turned off) without too much difficulty.

    Pricing
    The e2 can be yours with the 1.5 GHz CPU, 60 Gb HDD and Vista Business for about £850, add about £15 to get XP. The 1.6 GHz model starts at about £1000 with the top pf the range 1.6 GHz, 64 Gbyte SSD sunlight optimised display version just squeezing in under £2000.

    Highlights:

    • A credible notebook replacement: the e2 easily replaced my HP notebook, was way more portable and is a whole order of magnitude sexier.
    • Connectivity: the e2 supports 3G, 802.11g & Bluetooth WIMAX is available in the states so you truly have connectivity on the move.
    • Size: it’s tiny; with the standard battery you can fit the e2 into a jacket pocket.
    • Performance: the OQO is up to the job for most tasks, there were a couple of hiccups, Groove takes a while to sync up but apart from that the e2 flies

    No Lights:

    • Thumbpad: notwithstanding the fact that OQO call the thumbpad a thumbpad and it’s a good thumbpad, I’d prefer a keyboard I could touch type on it’s the only real disappointment with the e2 for me (and it’s a personal opinion). I got round it using a separate Bluetooth peripheral but that’s more stuff for the kitbag. Tablet handwriting recognition would help but unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to try it out.
    • Wireless Application: frankly it’s a bit of a pain to set up and grumbles in conjunction with the XP zero configuration wireless service but once up and running it’s OK
    • 3G Performance: the SIM holder is perched on the back of the device, not recessed and there seemed to be occasional problems with the SIM connection in the review device once or twice the battery had to come off to wiggle the SIM to get the wireless app. to recognise it was installed. The e2 is supposed to support up to 3.6 Mbits 3G but I was never able to take advantage of it.

    Lowlights:

    • Nothing: really Nothing!

    REVIEW

    First impressions were great, unboxing the device was a pleasure, you can ignore this bit if you want to skip to my impressions of the device itself however the presentation of the unit and the docking station in their boxes was excellent.

    I’ve revealed my shallowness before and there is no point hiding the fact that when I shell out a chunk of money on a device my eco warrior credentials slip and I like to see packaging that reflects the fact that I’ve exchanged several hundred pounds for a piece of technology.

    Packaging can play a big part of avoiding the technology disillusionment that can hit you when you hold your latest gizmo in your hand. Apple are absolute masters of great packaging and although it may seem a little facile, great packaging demonstrates consideration of the customer experience from end to end which is essential no matter what solution you are providing.

    The device

    Fantastic is the word that springs to mind when describing many of the attributes of the e2 build quality is fantastic, size is fantastic, performance is fantastic, styling is fantastic, the form factor is mostly fantastic.

    The device looks great, glossy black, a great 5” WVGA screen, not touch sensitive but tablet capable with the OQO pen which costs around £20.

    OQO Model e2 closed

    OQO Model e2 closed

    Closed it’s about the size of a small notepad with thumbpad exposed its a little larger but still easily hand portable,

    The thumbpad is very positive, well implemented, and ergonomically pleasing but remember OQO are being honest when calling it a Thumbpad. The thumbpad is QWERTY with other characters accessible by the function key and has a separate number pad, for sending a short email or quickly editing a document it’s spot on, for more extensive documents it’s not brilliant but adequate in an emergency.

    OQO Model e2 keyboard

    OQO Model e2 keypad

    The mouse nipple falls readily under the right thumb and the left and right mouse buttons under left thumb, you can whiz the pointer around the screen really easily. Function, Ctrl, Alt and shift, are sticky keys with a handy LED next to the key to notify you that they are activated.

    The pad has the same layout as other OQO models and does the job well, however I found the keys a little small for my liking, personally I’d prefer relocating the number keys onto the main keyboard and having slightly larger regular keys that said it’s a thumbpad.

    Layout Is logical, power, battery release and Kensington lock port to the left

    OQO Model e2 left side

    OQO Model e2 left side

    3G whip aerial to the right, you can also see the battery charge indicator on the main body of the battery on the bottom right of this shot, another nice touch, it works independently of the main power and on a disconnected battery so you can quickly press it and get an LED indication of remaining charge in your spare batteries.

    OQO Model e2 right side

    OQO Model e2 right side

    HDMI adapter port, docking station/ Ethernet adapter port and USB2 port to the bottom

    OQO Model e2 bottom

    OQO Model e2 bottom

    Size wise the OQO is definitely a hand portable device; pocketable (with the standard battery, a bit of a struggle with the extended battery) you can carry the standard device in a suit pocket without too much difficulty.

    There are some very pleasant visual design cues, fancy grilles for the fan outlets the touch sensitive scroll bars next to the bottom right of the screen are perfectly placed.

    Operation

    The e2 seems to be pretty responsive regular applications (OpenOffice, Outlook, OneNote) run well without glitches, as I mentioned above Groove took a while to synchronise and there was the occasional momentary hang when switching applications however for its size the e2 is brilliant. It doesn’t run too hot either as the device seems to be well vented.

    I had the e2 running for over two hours on the standard and over four hours on the extended battery with WiFi in use and Bluetooth for an external keyboard, this is pretty impressive for a full XP device, again Vista might make a difference to this, but with both batteries to hand you can get a full working day out of the device without recharging.

    I couldn’t test out the use of the e2 as a tablet, however I did have the device on and on the table in couple of meetings, apart from the interest this elicited the e2 runs silently enough so as not to be obtrusive, if you’re a OneNote fan as I am you really could use the e2 in meetings.

    Configuration

    The OQO is great, the device is very well put together and well thought out, the inclusion of a USB port on the main body of the unit is a real boon there’s always a tendency to leave these on the docking station to save space but it’s a real pain when you want to transfer files in these post floppy days.

    The supplied power adapter is compact and easily portable, the package as a whole, with the VGA adapter is easy to slip into small bag and take with you, and if you were to decide to take the docking station with you as well you’d still end up with a package that’s smaller than the average notebook.

    My one reservation is that the SIM holder is a bit exposed and it seems that the SIM occasionally gets disconnected if you move the device too violently.

    OQO Model e2 SIM card slot

    OQO Model e2 SIM card slot

    Look and Feel

    We’re talking good old Windows XP and not a great deal to add to this really, it’s familiar and reliable and does the job.

    Applications

    The standard bundle is pretty light, you get full XP pro or Vista but there’s no Microsoft Office, there are a handful of OQO specific applications but nothing that adds a great deal, as a consumer to be honest I’d have liked to have seen Office here, as a corporate user I suppose there’s a good change office is already licensed within the business. There’s always OpenOffice which runs like a dream.

    Peripherals

    Docking station, with built in CD or DVD recorder, it retains the visual styling of the e2 and

    OQO Model e2 docking station sockets

    OQO Model e2 docking station sockets

    Provides plenty of ports, the e2 looks really good when docked and if you’ve embraced the benefits of dual monitors you can make use of LCD and e2 screen at the same time.

    OQO Model e2 docked

    OQO Model e2 docked

    The docking station is really compact so you could, if you wished, carry it with you to provide full notebook facilities.

    There’s also a capacitive pen for use with table edition for about £20 you can use the e2 screen as a touch screen and take advantage of the handwriting recognition

    Overall Assessment

    I can’t stress it enough, the e2 is really a mini notebook, with the docking station and pen you get a fully featured tablet and with the new SSD options you should experience next gen mobile computing faster boot and better battery life. If it weren’t for the imminent arrival of the HTC shift I’d be tempted to shell out on one myself, I may yet do so.

    Review by: Alasdair

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    Posted in: Laptops, Reviews
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    By February 25, 2008 Read More →

    Panasonic HDC-SD5 HD Camcorder unboxed

    For the past few weeks I’ve been trying out the Panasonic HDC-SD5 HD Camcorder and have been using it to record some of our unbox videos. Regular readers may have noticed the improvement in the video quality/clarity of our more recent recordings.

    So far I’m enjoying using the SD5, tranferring video to the PC for editing is nice and easy thanks the fact that video is recorded on the standard SD or SDHC memory cards that can either by inderted into a card reader or else read via the SD5 itself when connected to a PC via USB.

    The only issue we have at the moment is the seeming lack of support for Full HD video recorded in AVCHD format (native on the DS5) in almost every piece of editing software we’ve tried. The only alternative I’ve found is to convert the videos to 720×576 MPEG’s prior to editing.

    I’ll cover this more in the final review, but until then have a look at the unbox video (recorded on a Sony DVD camcorder):

    Panasonic HDC-SD5 unboxed

    Panasonic HDC-SD5 specification:

  • Image Sensor Type: 3×1/6inch CCD
  • CCD Quantity: 3
  • Camcorder Resolution: High Definition
  • Recording Media: SD/SDHC
  • Connectivity: USB, Component Video, HDMI
  • Filter Diameter: 37 mm
  • Optical Zoom :10 x
  • Aspect Ratio: 16:9
  • Display Size: 2.7 inches
  • Focus Adjustments: Auto & Manual
  • Sound Output Modes: Dolby Digital
  • Dimensions: 65 x 67 x 135 mm (w x h x d)
  • Weight: 400 grams
  • Posted by: Matt

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    Posted in: Videos/Unboxings
    By February 24, 2008 Read More →

    SanDisk Sansa View review

    INTRODUCTION

    The problem with any mp3 player these days, is that they will always, rightly or wrongly, be compared to the iPod brand of players. A lot of people don’t believe the iPod to be anywhere near the quality the apple marketing machine have it appear.

    Having two mp3 players during the review gave me a chance to compare and contrast, and also see what the Sansa excels at. Sandisk are legends in the flash memory trade, so I guess it’s a pretty small jump to make a splash in the mp3 market.

    SanDisk Sansa View
    SanDisk Sansa View

    The Sansa comes in a very small package – with just a carton inside holding the mp3 player itself, connection cable and earphones. Take a look at our unbox video for a more detailed look at the Sansa View.

    SanDisk Sansa View specification:

  • 16GB internal flash memory
  • 2.4” 240 x 320 Colour TFT screen
  • FM Radio
  • Built in microphone for recording
  • Expandable MicroSD/SDHC™ card slot for additional storage
  • MPEG4 and WMV video support
  • 4.29 x 1.95 x 0.41″
  • DESIGN

    The new Sansa is more evolution than revolution. It certainly improves on older devices like the e270, but still maintains a similar look and feel to its predecessor. Still glossy black finish on the front, and a new rubberised back panel the view looks a lot more sturdy than the scratch-tastic back of most iPods.

    At 49.5 x 109mm x 10.4mm the View has actually filled out in comparison with earlier models, and is actually 3 times the size of the newest Nano’s. A deliberate differentiator? One thing I’ve noticed about my Nano though, is that it’s not exactly easy to hold – so the View’s form factor does have its benefits. The rubber back panel also feels nice and secure in the hand but perhaps doesn’t quite have the “coolness” of the Nano’s aluminium finish (however, nor does it have the scratches).

    SanDisk Sansa View back
    SanDisk Sansa View back

    I’d say the Sansa View also loses out to the Nano with its screen. Don’t worry Sandisk fans – it does get better! The 2.4inch screen has a resolution is 240×320 (and for the stupid, 320×240 in landscape mode), but doesn’t have anything close to the Nano’s vibrant 2inch display. Personally, as much as it pains me to say it, the View is not going to be a good choice for videos. However, it does have areas it excels in. As a tool for accessing the rather cool and usable navigation menu, its fine – and its large size helps for scrolling playlists and albums too. It’s also worth noting that the screen resolution, coupled with support for most apple codecs, means any iPod video converters and tools will work fine with the Sansa View

    We see the most major changes within the hardware navigation buttons. There’s a true ‘thumb wheel’ which I MUCH prefer to the fiddly Nano’s touch wheel. Some will have noticed from my Mobile reviews that I really dislike touch screens and panels in general – hardware buttons and wheels make things so much easier, and I put ease of use over looks every time (there are some rather vain reasons why I went for an iPod Nano I’m afraid). My only concern with the wheel, is whether it will get damaged in the pocket, since it is raised slightly from the main casing. Within the wheel, you also have a 4 way direction pad for even more functionality.

    There is also a dedicated button to return to the main menu towards the top right of the navigation wheel.

    SanDisk Sansa View left side
    SanDisk Sansa View left side

    On the right hand side the View starts to trounce the iPod with its microSD slot. Excellent feature, and all mp3 player manufacturers should be able to add a card slot at minimal cost, so there really is no excuse. SanDisk’s flash memory core business may have had something to do with it though!

    SanDisk Sansa View right side
    SanDisk Sansa View right side

    The bottom of the player is where the – sadly proprietary – dock connector lives, along with a standard 3.5inch audio jack. While we can moan about the proprietary connector, it is unfortunately common to almost all mp3 players now. What is a valid criticism though, is the jack location being on the bottom. On previous SanDisk models, the jack was located at the top of the player, which was useful when listening while it was docked on charge for example. Not sure why it was moved really.

    SanDisk Sansa View bottom
    SanDisk Sansa View bottom

    The Sansa earphones are good, if not great, and perfectly acceptable to get you started. Most audiophiles will have their own set anyway I guess.

    SOFTWARE

    Not a great deal of change to report really. Thing have been tidied up, but the interface was always good to look at, made sense and was easy to use. The scroll wheel suits the interface perfectly – and much better than the latest non-touch iPod. The main menu is icon based, but changes to text as we go deeper into mp3/video lists.

    The main menu consists of Music, Photo, Voice, Video, Extras and Settings, all selected with the scroll wheel.

    The music library filters are pretty standard to both Sandisk players, and players in general, with Play All tracks starting us off at the top, along with Artist, Album, Songs, Genres, My Top Rated, Recordings, and Playlists as options. On the playback screen, you get thumbnail album art, track info, and a time-elapsed meter. Pressing the select button takes you to a neat graphic-level meter, full-size album art, and the next song.

    Finally, confessional time – I didn’t even find the small CD containing the software until I had to send the device back. Based on previous experience, this will be a waste of time and almost certainly more annoying than using either the Removable drive, or MTP USB profiles built into windows. Transfer speed is not lightning, but is about bearable even filling up 16GB of space.

    Sound Quality

    Better than the Nano. Basically that’s what it boils down to. I can only judge on the supplied earphones, and since Apple don’t bother to supply decent quality buds, SanDisk wipe the floor – at least with supplied kit from each manufacturer. Don’t get me wrong – Sandisk have hardly pushed the boat out with their supplied ‘phones either – but they, coupled with the mp3 player itself seem to produce a better “out of the box” sound.

    There are various EQ modes and sound level adjustments available in the menu too which will help get the sound perfectly suited to various audio devices.

    Pros:

    AMAZING battery life. Seriously, I hardly charged it. I’ll try and add the SanDisk quoted figures later today, but take it from me – they are good.

    Massive storage. 16gb. The Nano doesn’t even attempt more than 8GB, so another 1-up for SanDisk

    Price point. These aren’t expensive, and like everything in this industry, its price will only drop.

    Cons:

    Not an iPod. If you are vain (And a bit sad admittedly), the lack of iPod branding is a Con. Sorry guys… but for some, that’s killer.

    Conclusion

    I like the Sansa. The price and storage capacity suit me down to the ground, but being SanDisk you’ll know the quality will be there too. While there are better and bigger brands available, very few can match the price vs storage vs quality benchmarks set by SanDisk

    Review by: Mark

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    Posted in: Reviews
    By February 23, 2008 Read More →

    Vista SP1 warning!

    Microsoft is warning Windows Vista users that a forthcoming service pack for the operating system may stop some third-party programs working.

    Microsoft have released a list of programs that will NOT work once the service pack has been applied to Vista. As if rendering third-party applications useless wasn’t bad enough then take a look at the applications that are on the list almost all of them are programs designed to protect your PC whether it be antivirus or firewall software.

    PROGRAMS HIT BY SP1

  • BitDefender AV
  • Fujitsu Shock Sensor
  • Jiangmin KV Antivirus 10
  • Jiangmin KV Antivirus 2008
  • Trend Micro Internet Security
  • Zone Alarm Security Suite
  • Iron Speed Designer
  • Xheo Licensing
  • Free Allegiance
  • NYT Reader
  • Rising Personal Firewall
  • Novell ZCM Agent
  • MS also warn that the above list is not comprehensive so I guess that means that there will be LOTS of other issues! MS asked people to get in touch with the maker of any affected software to fix problems. I suspect that the solution given will be to remove SP1!

    Writing on the Windows Vista blog, Nick White, Microsoft product manager, said the company had withdrawn the preparatory update while it investigated.

    Isolated reports suggest that some machines on which the preliminary update has been applied go into an update loop.

    He wrote: “We are working to identify possible solutions and will make the update available again shortly after we address the issue.”

    Once again – Well Done Microsoft!

    EDIT: Most of these programs have been patched by MS – Thanks Steve for the update.

    Posted by: Matt

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    Posted in: Apps & Games
    By February 22, 2008 Read More →

    Experience a Wild West adventure with Westward

    Astraware and Sandlot Games have just released another excellent title for Pocket PC, Palm and Smartphone devices. Become a frontier settler in the wild, rough and tumble world of Westward.

    Westward
    Westward

    Press release:

    Astraware and Sandlot Games, the world’s premier developer and publisher of casual and family-friendly games, invite you to experience the life of a Frontier settler in the wild, rough and tumble world of Westward for Palm OS and Windows Mobile smartphones and PDAs.

    Based on the highly acclaimed PC game by Sandlot Games, Westward offers many hours of absorbing game play as you guide your townsfolk in making camp, collecting valuable resources, seeing-off dangerous bandits, and building their communities.

    As you progress through Westward, you’ll explore 4 different locations over more than 20 levels as your hopeful citizens set up towns and seek their fortune in the Old Wild West. With over 25 types of building you’ll customize your town and attract new citizens whilst completing a range of side tasks and chasing down the Mad Russian to bring him to justice.

    Westward has been optimized for smartphones and PDAs and can be controlled using 5-way, key controls or stylus. The game is available for Palm OS(R) devices with hi-res screens and for Windows Mobile(R) touchscreen and non-touchscreen phones and PDAs running WM2003, 2003SE, 5 & 6, priced $19.95.

    To download a trial or to purchase, visit http://www.astraware.com/westward

    Posted by: Matt

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    Posted in: Apps & Games
    By February 21, 2008 Read More →

    Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 review

    After the huge success of Panasonic’s Lumix range of Compact Digital Cameras, can they repeat this success with the specialist Digital SLR Market with their second DSLR release the D10? Panasonic’s Lumix DMC L10 comes under scrutiny in our review.

    Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10
    Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10

    Introduction

    Panasonic released their first DSLR camera, the L1, to the market in 2006, a rather unusual looking camera for sure but they have certainly come “back to the norm” with the look and styling of their latest release, the L10. That’s where the comparison with current DLSR cameras on the market changes as Panasonic have attempted to build in many of the features found on a compact Digital Camera.

    Whilst many purists may have issues with this technology on a Digital SLR camera, I’m sure it has been aimed at helping users migrating from a small compact camera to get good pictures straight from the box.

    Lumix L10
    Lumix L10

    What’s in the Box?

    Well, a rather stereotypical silver camera box hides the Panasonic L10 camera, and the rather special Leica lens. The L10 we reviewed was part of a Kit with the body, battery, and LEICA D Vario-ELMAR 14-50mm f3.8-5.6 lens. This lens has Panasonics/Leica’s Optical Image Stabilisation built in. More on this later. Please have a look at our unboxing video which can be found HERE.

    Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10 Specification:

  • Interchangeable lens digital SLR camera
  • SD/SDHC memory card slot
  • Image sensor size 17.3 x 13.0 mm
  • 10.1 Mega pixels
  • ISO sensitivity: Auto / 100 / 200 / 400 / 800 / 1600
  • Light metering system: TTL Full Aperture Light Metering by 49 Zones Multi-pattern Sensing system
  • White balance: Auto / Daylight / Cloudy / Shade / Halogen / Flash
  • Shutter speed: 1/4000
  • Dimensions (W x H x D): 134.5 x 95.5 x 77.5mm
  • Weight: Approx. 480g(Body only)
  • Battery life: Approx. 450 images
  • General

    Looking and feeling like a pretty generic DSLR Camera, the L10 has many of the standard buttons and controls you would expect. Starting at the top of the camera we have the following controls:

    Lumix L10 top view
    Lumix L10 top view

    Located on the right hand side is the standard thumb wheel used to select standard SLR features such as Automatic, Manual F settings and Shutter speed. The On Off switch is located just under the thumb wheel (Watch this as you can manage to turn the camera off by accident whist using the thumb wheel). Just to the right of this is the Film Mode select. Again, watch changing these settings by accident.

    The shutter button is located at the front if the camera in a very comfortable easy to use position. Just below this is a standard thumb wheel used to control additional settings on the camera depending on the mode selected.

    A TTL based external flash unit can be mounted on the hot shoe. The built in flash can be flipped out by using the catch to the left of the hotshoe.

    The rear of the camera contains the remaining controls for accessing the camera menus, setting changes and viewing modes.

    Lumix L10 controls
    Lumix L10 controls

    To the left of these controls we find a world first in DLSR cameras, the 270 degree rotating LCD viewing screen. This flip out screens allows simple shooting from the waist, above your head as well as well as being used for self portraits etc. I do have to say though, this excellent screen is let down by the appalling catch mechanism used by Panasonic on this screen. Its can be quite painful flicking the screen out as the catch holding the screen seems way too stiff and the catches dig into your fingers. Perhaps this may improve as catches start to get worn for example?

    Lumix L10 live view screen
    Lumix L10 live view screen

    The remaining connectors are located to the right of the camera for SD cards and the DV out and remote shutter controls.

    Lumix L10 USB and DV connectors
    Lumix L10 USB and DV connectors
    Lumix L10 SD card slot
    Lumix L10 SD card slot

    Highlights and Lowlights

    Using the camera in a wide range of environments has shown a number of really good features with this camera, as well as a number of items that Panasonic may wish to look at in future firmware or product changes:

    Highlights

  • The Leica Lens is an excellent wide angle lens (14mm) but can’t help feel a more substantial Zoom could have been incorporated in the kit (50mm)
    The colours are very vivid and dynamic (However see comments about flash later)
  • Picture speed once focused is very fast for multiple shots
  • Very sharp pictures from the Leica lens and sensor
  • Very small lens distortion on edges
  • Good flash pictures indoors (Again, see comments on flash later)
  • Lowlights

  • Liveview – Very good in some circumstances but really increases time to take shots.
  • Camera very noisy taking pictures (Even worse when running liveview as the mirror has to be moved away first) so not great for wildlife or quite situations
  • LCD screen catch is very difficult to open and could easily be impossible for any less able bodied users.
  • With a camera aimed at people transitioning from Compact cameras to DLSR, the controls are not very informative or user friendly. For example, Menu options uses icons for L, M, S sizes for example but gives no indication as to pixel size or compression etc.
  • Slow focus under low light conditions
  • Flash does not reach all of target on close up (gets shadow from lens) – however most people would probably use additional flash gun
  • Reds are very red under low light flash conditions.
  • Lumix L10 front view
    Lumix L10 front view

    Review

    Well, I have to admit to own one of the original Canon 10D DLSR’s as well as a Panasonic Lumix FX33 Compact Digital camera so I was interested to see how these would compare in action. Never claiming to be the world’s expert in photography, I also invited our good friend Steve Davis an excellent photography to cast his eyes over the camera to get some different feedback.

    After taking the camera out of the bag, my first impressions were of an excellent well built and constructed lens (The Leica D) and a lighter weight quite plastic feeling DSLR Camera. Once hooked together the overall weight and balance was however very good. The camera uses the Four Thirds standard for its lenses rather than the typical 35mm used by some. Designed for Digital Cameras the Four Thirds system has a good following and many lens manufacturers allowing scope for change and upgrades.

    Switching the camera on and dropping into automatic mode and we were off shooting within seconds. Warm up time is sub 1 second allowing very quick impromptu shots if your camera is every switched off.

    Flicking out the LCD screen, (as mentioned previously please, please Panasonic sort out this catch and mechanism…) allows a good view to the side of the camera. This allows taking shots at various camera heights and by simply tilting the screen getting a good view of the proposed shot. Panasonics LiveView incorporates a mirror in front of the sensor so the LCD screen shows the image live. A feature of course standard in Compact cameras but far more difficult to incorporate with an DSLR.

    Lumix L10 front view
    Lumix L10 front view

    The other advantage of this LCD screen is it can be placed back on the camera with the LCD facing inwards – Protecting the LCD screen very well.

    Shooting in a rather overcast garden still produced quality shots with excellent colours. The automatic mode copes with most circumstances we could find and unless you want to be “artistic” will probably stay in this mode for most users.

    Maybe it’s the old school approach but I still found myself using the view finder on most occasions. The LiveView is very good in what it does. But the down side is the additional time taken to take shots if this is enabled. The camera has to move the mirror first and you may miss that split second moment. Talking with Matt he has found the LiveView very good with macro photography (Close Up Work) so this may be a good use for this facility.

    After taking a multitude of shots, we decided to try out some of the scene settings and additional features. This is where the camera tries to incorporate many of the features of a compact digital Camera.

    Moving the thumb wheel onto the SCN selector changes the LCD so we can now choose the type of scene. This is where Steve and I looked at each other slightly surprised. The Scenes on offer start with the typical Sunset option and then bizarrely give options for Food, Baby1, Baby2 and Pet. Now, please don’t get me wrong – If you were at a Baby’s Christening, with your Pet Dog and eating food this would pretty much cover your whole days camera settings. For day to day work you may understand our surprise at these choices.

    However, there are different automatic settings on the camera and these include, Portrait, Scenery, Macro, Sports and Night Scenery.

    This does give a more useful range of options such as indoor settings, outdoor settings and a “Creative” setting for each option. The Creative Setting allows the thumb wheel at the front to be used to change the look and feel of the picture. In SLR terms all this actually does is change the F setting and shutter speed to increase or decrease the depth of field. An option available at all times from the manual modes on the Thumb Wheel. I found the manual changes were easy and required less menu navigation than the Creative Settings.

    Lumix L10 body
    Lumix L10 body

    Knowing Panasonic have aimed this camera as a transition from Compact Digital, I can’t help but feel the menus could have been made a little user friendly. They are very easy to navigate and quite uncluttered, however they seem to lack information. For example, changing the picture quality simple gives L,M and S for Large Medium and Small. Maybe it’s the techie side of me, but I would rather have been provided with a little more information or in a different way. For example – 10Mpixel, 5Mpixel and 2MPixel. I feel this would give the user a better understanding of the option they are choosing without having to RTFM. (Read the manual…)

    After taking a great deal of shots, we thought we would try indoor use. The popup flash performs extremely well in a whole range of low light conditions. The infrared sensor kicks in to help focusing at low light levels (This can be painfully slow as the infrared light does not seem very intense and the lens does have to hunt a while before getting focus). On general pictures, portraits etc the light balance was very, very good. The downside we noticed though was the colour saturation, especially red was a little over the top on flash shots and may require external editing of the images to reduce this.

    The Leica lens however is the star of this show. It’s extremely well made and the 14mm Wide Angle will easily allow excellent coverage of the inside of many rooms. Under normal light conditions the focus is very fast and the outstanding Optical Image Stabilisation can save many a tricky situation, even allowing good quality low light shots to be taken without a tripod and showing very little evidence of camera shake. It’s important to remember the stabalisation is built into the lens and not the camera so change lenses and you lose this option.

    Lumix L10 Leica Lens
    Lumix L10 Leica Lens

    Conclusion

    The Panasonic L10 is only available in kit form with the lens and body and is priced at a recommended £900. Compared to a number of other DSLR cameras on the market, this is quite high and needs to pull something special out of the bag to compete. The camera is quite easy to use and very quick to start to take images. The overall look and feel of the camera is quite lightweight and plastic but the controls are in good positions and apart from the on off switch being located under the tumbwheel perform well.

    The plastic feel is finished off by the terrible catch on the lcd screen, perhaps a little more research or design work could have prevented this.

    Picture quality is outstanding across the board with only the high concentrations of red on some flash shots letting the camera down slightly. The sensor is obviously very capable and the compression software quick and effective.

    Battery life is some 450 standard shots so that should last most outings and couple with the powersave features and ability to turn the lcd off should certainly help.

    I have heard a rumour that Panasonic are planning to sell the lens separately at £600, which is 2/3rds the cost of the kit. This would help explain the obvious differences in quality and look and feel of the camera and lens.

    The package overall does work well, I’m not convinced on some of the compact digital camera features that have been added (although face detection is a worthwhile addition for sure). But for high quality pictures and if you stick to Auto mode simple ease of use its not half bad. There are however many exceptional camera kits in this and lower price ranges that split the costs of the camera and lens more evenly, with the L10 it looks as though you are really buying an excellent lens, with a digital SLR bolted on.

    Review by: John

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    Posted in: Reviews
    By February 20, 2008 Read More →

    Sony adds to the WALKMAN range

    The Sony Walkman range has moved on a little since the days of the cassette based players and Sony have just announced the latest devices in their Walkman MP3 player range.

    Sony WALKMAN range
    Sony WALKMAN range

    From the press release:

    Big screen, big battery life: new NWZ-A820 series WALKMAN® Video MP3 Players with Bluetooth® Stereo

  • Clear, bright 2.4-inch QVGA screen for high quality video playback
  • Bluetooth® connectivity for wireless music enjoyment
  • Supplied 13.5mm EX headphones plus DSEE, Clear Bass and Clear Stereo technologies for superior sound
  • Up to 16GB storage capacity and long battery life
  • Easy file transfers
  • Sony expands the innovative WALKMAN® family of digital media players with the easy-to-use NWZ-A820 series of WALKMAN® Video MP3 players. Delivering superb audio and video quality, it’s packed with advanced WALKMAN® features, extra-long battery life, a large 2.4-inch screen and quick connection by Bluetooth® stereo to enhance today’s digital lifestyles.

    Slim, light and beautifully styled, the NWZ-A820 series is offered in a choice of four colour variations (black, silver, gold, and pink). Three storage sizes are available. The NWZ A829 (16GB) of or 3,800can store an incredible 62 hours . Thevideo plus sound songs NWZ-A828 (8GB) boosts minsthis to 30 hours 40 of video/audio. or 1,850 songs The NWZ-A826 (4GB) can of video or 925 songsstore up to 15 hours .

    The NWZ-A820 series lets you enjoy your personal media collection on the move for longer. Generous battery life allows of video playback or 36up to 10 of uninterrupted music playback. Even hours withhours Bluetooth® stereo enabled, playback stretches to 7 hours of video or 15 hours of music.

    The clear, bright 2.4-inch QVGA screen on all models supports super-smooth video playback at up to 30 frames per second with excellent contrast and colour reproduction. For extra flexibility, videos and photos can be viewed in any screen orientation (left, vertical, right) to suit personal tastes. Photo collections can also be viewed as slideshows accompanied by your chosen music track.

    Support for Bluetooth® stereo opens up an exciting world of wireless connectivity options to enhance your enjoyment of digital media on the move. The NWZ-A820 series can stream audio files and track/artist data through a Bluetooth® stereo enabled micro hi-fi such as the Sony CMT-HX70BTR and CMT-HX50BTR. (CMT-HX90BTR in UK)

    If you’re out and about, it’s easy to enjoy a high-quality digital music experience via your Bluetooth® headphones such as the Sony DR-BT50 or a Bluetooth® in-car head unit like the Sony MEX-BT5100. A conveniently placed button on the side of the player allows one-touch connection to other Bluetooth® devices.

    In common with all WALKMAN® models, the NWZ-A820 series supports a broad range of media formats. These include security-enhanced Windows Media Audio (WMA), copyright-free AAC, MP3 and Linear PCM music formats, plus JPEG files for photos. High quality video codecs support playback of AVC (H.264/AVC) Baseline Profile and MPEG-4 video files.

    The NWZ-A820 series is perfect for enjoying your personal media collection as well as podcasts and video content downloaded from sharing sites on the web.

    Certified for Windows Vista, the new range also carries Microsoft’s ‘PlaysForSure’ logo, indicating compatibility with a wide range of certified online content providers. It’s easy to transfer files from a connected PC to the NWZ-A820 series via Windows Media Player 11, simple drag-and-drop file management or using supplied Sony Media Manager for WALKMAN® software.

    “We are continuing to add products to our WALKMAN® portfolio that offer customers the flexibility and freedom to choose how they download and manage their digital music content, which only open standards can provide”, said Paul Gyles, Strategic Product Manager for Audio Marketing at Sony Europe. “And now with added Bluetooth® compatibility in the NWZ-A820 series, it’s never been easier to enjoy your music on the go, without the hassle of wires.”

    Superior sound of WALKMAN® is assured by four ‘Clear Audio’ Technologies. The supplied 13.5mm EX headphones feature extra-large driver units for dynamic playback with extended frequency response and solid, powerful bass. The Sony-developed Digital Sound Enhancement Engine (DSEE) restores high frequencies that are degraded by audio compression for more natural sound that’s closer to the original source. Clear Stereo prevents audio signals from leaking between left and right channels, resulting in a cleaner, more widely separated stereo soundstage. Furthermore, Clear Bass strengthens low frequency reproduction without adding distortion that conventional equalizers can impose on the signal. Even richer audio is provided by a choice of effect settings including a 5-Band Equalizer, VPT Acoustic Engine and Dynamic Normalizer.

    While it’s packed with advanced features, the NWZ-A820 series is easy to use with an intuitive on-screen menu plus improved play and search functions. Super-quick scrolling makes it easy to search for the right track when you’re in a hurry.

    We should be reviewing some of these soon!

    Posted by: Matt

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    Posted in: News
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