Apple Watch Review Roundup – One Wearable To Rule Them All?

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It’s finally here. Well, almost. After months of speculation and anticipation the Apple Watch has become available in the UK for pre-order. Will it revolutionise another market? Will it change the way we live our lives? Will it turn us all into fitness gurus? Only time will tell. Always predestined to become the biggest selling smartwatch due to its hordes of loyal followers it almost seems like a nailed on success already. But for less dedicated Apple fans and those who have been sitting on the fence when it comes to a wearable investment, it’s probably worth finding out if it’s any good.

Let’s get a quick reminder of the specs. It’s available in two sizes and resolutions – 1.5” (272×340) and 1.7” (319×390), and has a whole range of different straps from colourful plastic to classic buckle – in total in fact there are 34 different combinations. It runs on Apple’s S1 chip, has 8GB of storage with 2GB for music and Bluetooth 4.0 and Wi-Fi built-in. There’s also IPX7 waterproofing, which is the fairly basic one that safeguards it against “short durations of immersion” at a depth of less than a metre.

The battery, which we’ll come back to later, is claimed to last 18 hours, or 3 hours talk time, 6.5 hours audio playback and 48 hours if you just check the time. Through inductive charging it claims to boost 80% in just an hour and a half, with a full charge taking an hour longer.

Of course many of these specs don’t mean a great deal at this stage – it’s all about real world use. And for this we go to a number of lucky journos who have already got their hands on this year’s most desirable gadget.

The Telegraph can kick things off by gushing over an area that seems in little doubt – the looks. It’s “a luxurious, even beautiful fashion accessory” and “from the clever magnetic strap to its understated design, it has attracted attention for all the right reasons.” The fashion test is declared “passed” here, the range of strap and face combinations makes for an interesting degree of personalisation and the face itself adds a whole new layer of control – it’s described as “almost infinitely customisable”.

When it comes to actual operation the Apple Watch is quite accurately described as a “filter for your phone”. This is both good and bad, as while notifications and alerts are now sent to the more accessible area of your wrist, having too many appearing can result in “an irritating blizzard of notifications that I quickly started to ignore altogether.” Core functions like making calls can be done through the watch, or if you don’t want to talk into your wrist and are wearing a hands-free set you can answer and reject calls from the wearable’s display. Text messages can be replied to with intelligent, contextually aware phrases, and a music app lets you control what’s playing on your phone – there’s no headphones port to listen directly via the watch but it can stream via Bluetooth if you have a compatible headset.

Interacting with all this is a mixed experience. There’s an initial learning curve for what seems like overly complicated controls that often require what seems like one button press too many.

“It takes two clicks of the crown to get the device to turn on then move from watchface to apps. It’s hard to see how to do it better, but it’s imperfect nonetheless”.

It also comments on the fact that the apps are generally easy to find, but rarely feel properly developed. Overall The Telegraph concludes that Apple fans should perhaps think twice about rushing out to buy, history does after all tell us that it takes a second or third generation device to iron out a lot of the creases.

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CNet has given the Apple Watch a full review, and awards it 3.5/5, which is hardly the stellar result many die-hards will have been hoping for. It also likes the design and construction and lauds the range of features, but the battery life has been given a test here and predictably doesn’t come out too well – just 5/10 for this sub-category in fact.

A thorough test of the features offers some examples of how it can be used:

“I’ve tracked walks and measured my heart rate, paid for lunch, listened to albums while exploring parks without my phone, chatted with family, kept up on email, looked for Uber cars, kept up on news, navigated on long car trips for Passover, controlled my Apple TV with it and followed baseball games while I was supposed to be watching my 2-year-old.”

But despite cramming so much functionality into its first generation device, “the Apple Watch still leaves plenty to be desired.” One fairly central reason is that it needs the iPhone to do just about anything – or rather it needs to be within 30 feet or so unless connecting over Wi-Fi. Then there’s the battery life – despite best efforts it still never lasted longer than a day, and “hit 50 percent or lower in battery capacity by around 2-3 p.m. pretty regularly.”

And finally it can be a little awkward to use – “there are so many features that I felt a little lost at times.” Knowing whether to swipe, click, touch or speak can be a dilemma, and issues with lost notifications, nested interfaces and managing the pairing process can be frustrating. On the plus side it has a positive mention for Siri, which seems to be a fair bit more useful on a watch as “a catch-all way to speak and do things in ways that can cut through the menus and swipes.”

Finally, The Verge has given it a particularly fancy looking, extensive review and awards it 7/10, calling it “easily the nicest smartwatch available” but goes on to cite issues with performance, notifications and price. It’s described as “kind of slow”, stuttering with notifications and struggling to pull data wirelessly, with apps that take a bit too long to load. Apple promises software updates to help address these issues. The display is terrific though, “easily the best smartwatch display on the market”, and the interface is nicely customisable with app icons that can be rearranged to make them easier to prioritise and access.

One feature that does seem to work well is the activity tracker. This is split into Activity and Workout, with the former being “beautiful, but extremely basic” and allows you to manage goals and calories during exercise and standing, which are displayed with three concentric rings and prompts for you to stand up or get a bit of fresh air if needed. Workout has a series of presets for cardio that again work nicely on the whole, though it’s noted that there’s no social element here for sharing data with friends and the heart rate monitor did struggle at times for accuracy.

Other features such as Digital Touch – the ability to send drawings, heartbeats and taps seems fairly gimmicky – in fact being described as:

“all remarkably small-time. It’s cute, but it’s a weird thing to hype as much as it’s been hyped, especially because it has such a deep network effect problem — it’s only useful if you know other people with Apple Watches.”

So what to make of the Apple Watch so far? Bloomberg seems to sum it up quite nicely in an article entitled “Apple Watch Review: You’ll Want One, but You Don’t Need One”, and this seems to be the general consensus.

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Pricing starts at £299 for the small “Sport” version, which is built of anodized aluminium instead of stainless steel. The regular models cost between £479 and £949 with the price difference amazingly just based on the type of strap – and the most expensive isn’t studded with diamonds, it’s just a black stainless steel link bracelet. And let’s put a shout out to the 18-carat gold edition, which will cost you between £8,000 and £12,000.

If you’re still determined to splash the cash and can’t wait for the second or third generation, you’ll still have to wait a bit longer for the first. Apple’s initial shipping date for the Apple Watch was April 24th, though we’ve been hearing it has been delayed in some areas so you might want to find out more before you get too excited.

For more information visit Apple.

Asus’ ZenWatch delves into wearable tech: what do the critics think?

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Not content sticking with laptops, tablets and smartphones, Asus is broadening its horizons and is moving on to wearable technology, starting with the ZenWatch.
The Asus ZenWatch pairs with an Android smartphone to serve as a personal wellness manager. Despite its high-tech capabilities the ZenWatch resembles a rectangular-faced and traditional-crafted watch and even comes with a premium, stitched-leather strap.

It might look like an elegant piece of premium watchmaking, but how does Asus’ bold move into wearable tech fare with the tech press?

An Apple Watch likeness

According to Tech Crunch, the ZenWatch is the closest the Android camp have come to resembling an Apple Watch. It is however, you may be pleased to learn, by no means a clone.
The ZenWatch’s pros are, according to Tech Crunch, its great design which is “among the most striking and unique Android Wear devices available.”
We have to admit, with its curved face with Gorilla Glass 3 surrounded by a polished rectangular stainless steel rim, clasped together by a quality leather strap, the ZenWatch possesses retro appeal.
Latest Gadgets is not however a fashion review site and whilst it might look good what can the ZenWatch actually do?
Well you can get notifications from your Android smartphone. Something Engadget refers to as an “incessant flow of information in the form of Google Now cards and notifications.”
The Engadget review of the ZenWatch is also quick to highlight Asus’ wearable device boasts “impeccable voice recognition”, has a tap-and-swipe friendly navigation and all the other bits we’ve come to expect from a smartwatch.

The ZenWatch Manager

Though it’s from a separate Android app known as the ZenWatch Manager which all these “other bits” lean on. As Engadget informs, from the ZenWatch Manager you can customise the colours on the watch face and fire up extras, such as a warning alert that warns you when wondered too far from your phone.

The Wellness manager uses a built-in bio sensor which enables the phone to measure relaxation levels and then report back a relaxation score to its user. Based on that score, the watch then proceeds to provide the user with tips on how to reduce stress and increase relaxation and wellness.

Via the Wellness app, you can set activity goals, such as a target number of steps each day. The ‘wellness’ stats are then presented to the user in a weekly summary.

And the downsides?

One downside of the ZenWatch, according to Pocket Lint’s review, is that there is no direct charging available. Instead, it needs to be attached to a “limpet-like charging base that connects to the back.”
The Verge is also quick to point out the ZenWatch’s lack of wireless charging capabilities. Not only this but, like most Android Wear devices, it needs to be charged pretty much every day.
Whilst on the whole The Verge believes the ZenWatch performs as well as any other Android Wear Watch, the tech review site is certainly not shy in mentioning the watch’s annoying attributes.

According to The Verge’s review, the Asus smartwatch can be “annoyingly slow” at times, isn’t as responsive to voice commands as the Moto 360, and has a poor response to the wrist motion to wake up the display.

Though The Verge has to admit, despite its faults and imperfections, if they had to choose an Android Wear watch to wear every day, the would choose the ZenWatch.

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And being this feature-rich and well-designed, for £199.99 we might be inclined to agree.

The Zenwatch is available now. Visit Asus to find out more.

 

 

CES 2015 Video: Virtuix Omni

CES displays a staggering amount of pioneering tech every year in every field, and it certainly hasn’t disappointed the gaming crowd this year. The Virtuix Omni promises to take gaming to where it has previously been unable to tread – full virtual reality, right down to physical movement. Using a raised platform and paired with Virtual Reality kits created by Oculus Rift, the player’s running speed, actions and manoeuvres are recorded right down to the slightest detail. The system will reportedly be compatible with all PC games, with console support as yet to be announced. Watch the video above and discover more about what may be the future of high-tech, high-immersion gaming.

The system will be available in April 2015 at a price of $499, until February 2016 when this price raises to $699. Visit Virtuix to find out more.

The 40-inch 4K Philips UHD display – size matters, but what of the price?

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They say size doesn’t matter. Well try telling that the big screen-loving consumer fraternity, who, no matter how small a room might be, are determined to squeeze a mighty and domineering monitor in the corner. Given our burgeoning love-affair for large monitors, such products are likely to be amongst the best-selling festive items this Christmas. And boy are they getting bigger.

Enter the 40-inch Philips 4K monitor, which offers users a 3840 x 2160 pixels resolution.

We have to admit that at a first glance, with a sleek design, squared-corners and slim frame, the Philips 40-inch 4K UHD display certainly looks the part. But what about, excuse the pun, the bigger picture?

PCR Online are quick to point out MMDs, the technology and brand license partner for Philips monitors, newest arrival to the Philips’ TV range, has a screen that offers up to four times the resolution of a full HD monitor, packing four times as many pixels in the same area. PCR also seem impressed by the wide range of ports the 40-inch 40K comes equipped with – a USB 3.0, DisplayPort 1.2, and an HDMI 1.4.

4K News and Reviews eagerly report on everything entering the marketplace with a 4K display. As you can imagine, 4K jumped on the Philips 4K set. Talking about the new Philips screen, 4K said:

“[It] is almost the size of a smaller Ultra HD TV at 40 diagonal inches and this is excellent news for gamers and design prose who are falling in love with 4K graphics.”

Asides boasting an on-screen PPI density which is “truly close to ideal”, 4K is quick to highlight that users have the benefit of 176 degree viewing angles, eight bit colour depth and a SRGB colour gamut.

Room to spread out

The Channel Post is impressed by the capabilities the device’s extra-large display provides. With plenty of room, the Channel Post states, users can spread out and navigate multiple applications and windows simultaneously.

“The 4K UHD gives an extra edge for professional users such as photographers and videographers, fine detail with unrivalled clarity, and the new display’s true 8-bit and FRC colour depth ensures colour fidelity as well as UltraClear images,” says Channel Post.

The IT analysis site also believes the Philips 4K UHD will be great for finance professionals, as the new display will mean users can run data-intensive applications in multiple windows, whilst retaining space, clarity and attention to detail.

A price war has commenced

In its 4.5 star review of the 4K TV, Tech Radar says that because Philips isn’t normally associated with “aggressive value”, selling its first 4K/UHD TV for a price that undercuts all of its 65-inch 4k UHD TV rivals, is a “startling bold move.”

Tech Radar is impressed with the mostly excellent picture quality of the monitor, its “ground-breaking” price, its effective ambilight configuration and its good audio. The site is however less bowled-over by the Philip’s 4K’s meticulous set-up requirements, its over-ambitious processing, its limited viewing angle and limited online content.

So is the 4K TV from Philips about to start a price war in 4K TVs?

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Retailing at £549, the Philip’s 40-inch 4K monitor is a whopping £500 cheaper than the Sony KDL – 65X9005A and Samsung UE65F9000 – And having an extra 500 quid in your bin has to be worth something!

Samsung Gear S first look and hands-on

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There’s a debate around whether smart watches are a passing fad or a genuinely useful accessory that’ll make it into that elusive group of “must have” gadgets. To date some of the more successful models have sacrificed a degree of Smartphone-esque functionality in order to retain a stylish façade – an essential prerequisite of most good watches, but as we’ve just seen from Apple, full-on functionality devices are not going away, and Samsung has one lined up and ready in the form of the Samsung Gear S.

It has a 2” (360×480) display with Wifi and Bluetooth connectivity so you can stay in touch on the move, but the headline feature here is 3G, which increases its flexibility even further. All of the usual wrist-tech is here and then some – accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, heart rate monitor, barometer plus compatibility with Samsung’s S Health and Nike+ Running. There’s turn-by-turn pedestrian navigation by HERE, advanced-reading technology from Spritz and a range of customisable screen options and changeable straps so you can customise depending on your mood. Samsung claims up to two days usage on a single charge, though we’d be very surprised if it got close to this in the real world. It’s not set to be released in global markets until October, but that hasn’t stopped it doing the rounds in terms of hands-ons and previews, so let’s take a look.

Despite the dynamic changeable watch faces that help it to look quite svelte in photos and will have you believe makes it rival Cartier for chic styling, there’s no skirting the elephant in the room – its size. TechRadar picks up on this immediately, along with the rather unwieldy strap in its hands-on: “The Gear S is bulbous; wearing this device is a statement that you have joined the smartwatch revolution – it is a device that will definitely get you noticed. I wasn’t enamoured with the strap, though. It felt that it was too thick for my wrist.”  This certainly seems one for the type of person that wants everyone to know they have a smartwatch – it goes on to state that  “if you are looking for a smartwatch that looks like a watch then the Gear S isn’t for you.”. If you’re not looking for a smartwatch that looks like a watch though, there’s plenty on offer, largely due to the size of the display. The software appears to be very impressive, with intuitive swipes for navigation and notifications, an improved look and feel for apps and good use of the in-built GPS. The display is also lauded; in fact described as “a thing of beauty”, and all in all contributes well to what is a very usable experience.

AndroidCentral is also very fond of the display, which it calls “pretty stunning” (but also “freaking huge”) but does query the practicality of the curved design, which may take some getting used to – “Do you focus on the top of the display, which is starting over the smartwatch horizon, requiring you to move your wrist? Or at the bottom?” It also questions whether consumers will be happy introducing yet another SIM contract into their lives – with shared plans this may not be so much of an issue, but at some point in time these will have to become more accessible. It concludes with a simple but effective statement that, despite the large size, sums up its first impression quite well: “Damn. That’s cool.”

Finally, Wired went hands-on and took a closer look at some of the nice touches, such as the array of watch faces you can choose from, which include dials to display data like how many steps you’ve walked and how many notifications you have. “When it comes to notifications, you can reply to messages from the watch itself, either by using dictation, or by using the on-screen keyboard. Despite the tiny size of the keys, we were pleased to find that this was very accurate.”

The curved screen made it more comfortable to wear than others of its kind, and spiralling 3G costs may not be an issue for most as the Gear S is effective at turning “from companion mode to standalone mode depending whether or not it is near to the phone it is paired to, if paired at all”

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It’s early days in terms of gathering more information on the Gear S, but it seems clear at this stage that this is certainly not an inconspicuous smartwatch and that it certainly is putting its eggs in the “functional” rather than “stylish” basket. If you’re happy with a chunky unit sitting on your wrist, it seems fairly well stocked with features, so could well be worth a look.

Further information is available from Samsung.

What the critics think of the new Apple Watch

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Apple had two big announcements at its Cupertino event – the new iPhone, of course, and somewhat surprisingly, the Apple Watch. It’s been finished at last. Well, it hasn’t been finished – it’s not going to be available until early 2015 at the earliest, but it did have prototypes on show and successfully worked an audience from foaming anticipation through to raucous applause and tearful whooping with a rather cool video showcasing its smooth lines.

It’s the Apple Watch, not the iWatch, and in coming to market now (soon) with what could be the next big thing, Apple has done what Apple does – wait for someone else to create, market and sell a product, watch carefully from the sidelines and then come in with something bigger, better, sleeker (and more expensive). It’s a strategy that has worked well in the past but allows little room for error, as seen in the Smartphone market where it has been overtaken in both technical innovation and platform share.

While the job of the iPhone6 is to play a serious game of catch-up in this well-established arena, the new Apple Watch is well poised to take advantage of a (relatively) slowly building interest in wearable tech. Could it be the device to start smartwatch fever by perfecting that awkward blend of functionality and comfort?

TIME magazine seems to think so – its writer says that:“having gotten to wear and play with the device, one thing is for certain: The Apple Watch is a beautifully designed piece of technology with enormous potential”, and goes so far to say that “In fact, I’d say it’s the most exciting gadget since the iPad, from Apple or any other company.”  This seems to be a lot to do with the design, which feels solid yet lightweight and fits on the wrist naturally. It looks “more like a piece of jewellery” than a typical smartwatch due to the curved, bezel-less screen, which establishes a slightly feminine quality. Other platitudes include it not feeling showy or intrusive to the point where you could even forget you’re wearing it.

TechCrunch delves into the features. NFC and Apple’s new “Secure Element” for storing payment information will allow you to use Apple Pay (currently only available in the US) to make purchases. Other quirks include “the new paired communication mode that Apple demoed, which allows one user to connect directly to another for real-time sharing of hand-drawn messages, customized animated smileys, heartbeats and more”, and “Taptic” feedback, that makes it feel like someone is gently tapping your wrist – far subtler than “the jarring notification vibration of Android Wear smartwatches”. The range of bands available also get a mention, with the sports band appearing as though it’d be comfortable during exercise and the link bracelet offering quick adjustments for size.

When it comes to operation, Wired highlights the “digital crown”, a side-mounted dial used to control some of the functions. What’s interesting about this, it says, is the fact that “an analogue flourish blends a physical, and, in today’s Apple portfolio, unconventionally mechanical, interface into the otherwise high-tech digital proceedings.” Used to rotate through menus or options, or to return to the home screen at a push, it complements the touchscreen interface though early reports seem to indicate it offers little or no feedback response, spinning perhaps a little too freely. When it comes to the interface itself, it’s typically minimalist. For example, there are no words on-screen to help you recognise apps – “Logos for the applications each icon represents have had to be designed to communicate meaning without a helping hand from the alphabet.” The only potential issue with this, it suggests, is introducing a learning curve for techno-phobes. Other highlights here include the ability to use the screen as a viewfinder for an iPhone camera, an IR function for TV control and maps that vibrate left or right to tell you the way.

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Perhaps the biggest issue the Apple Watch will have to overcome is well described here – how “smart” is it really? The author suggests that for the high price of purchase:

I don’t want another screen to just see notifications on, or to pause a song, or to see whether the sun has got his hat on. I want it to be intelligent, decide certain things for me, disturb me only when it knows I’m likely to find a disturbance both convenient and necessary.

Alongside questions over battery life, an area that was deliberately side-stepped during the initial presentation, the fact that there’s no headphones port despite the ability to store media and no built-in WiFi (you’ll need to use a paired iPhone) it’s clear that this isn’t a feature-packed all-in-one, it is an accessory, and we’ve seen those already. Will comfort and looks be enough to convince people that a smartwatch is now a must-have? Sadly we’ll have to wait until next year to find out.

Acton’s RocketSkates – first smart electric skates

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RocketSkaters by ACTON are the newest on-shoe skating option. Take roller-skates, add electric engines and balancing technologies and you get RocketSkaters! They may sound simple but it took a lot of research and hard work for the founder of ACTON to rocket the SpnKix prototype to the next level.

After a successful campaign on Kickstarter, ACTON is preparing itself to launch its electric roller-skates into the 21st century. Created for the street, there are 3 different models that are all capable of a maximum speed of 12mph and are remote-free. The 1st option has a battery life of 45min that has enough juice for about 6miles, the 2nd set have a battery life of 70min that will do 8miles and as for the 3rd it can last up to 90min and carry you about 10 miles – much easier than walking. All three models model weigh in at about 3kg and have strap in design that let you choose the shoes you’d like to wear with them – within reason that is!

To start you will have to choose your leading foot, like you do for snow-boarding. This foot will wear the leading skate even if both are motorised – one foot will lead the other and tell the follower skate what speed to go at as they are both equipped with microprocessor.

The RocketSkaters are water resistant but not waterproof, so make sure to avoid deep puddles – the tractor version is not yet available! A good point is that you can walk as well with them, no need to take them off to walk. However, walking with two 3kg weights on your feet may not be particularly easy!

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The skaters include a dashboard giving you simple information like distance travelled, battery power, and skate diagnostics. It doesn’t stop there either, the skates are equipped with Bluetooth and drivers apps have been developed so you can tell your skates to come to you or send them on a spy mission with a camera. A route mapping app is available too, allowing you to plan your journey. You can also use this app to team up with the RocketSkates community and meet up for races and events.

ACTON plan to start shipping RocketSkates in October 2014 in the U.S and should start in Europe and Asia by November 2014, with no word on pricing as yet.

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For more information visit ACTON.

Singtrix, the next generation of karaoke machines?

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The makers of Guitar Hero, Singtrix have announced a new all-in-one Karaoke system that promises to make bad singers sound good and good singers sound great. So does it deliver on its promise? Retailing at £299 for the party bundle pack, you get a vocal processor module, a 40-watt floor speaker, a mic stand, microphone, all the necessary cables and a smartphone tray. But if you manage to snag the limited edition bundle you’ll get a second microphone (for backing vocals), a tablet holder and additional pre-installed voice effects.

Where Singtrix stands out from the Karaoke crowd is the inclusion of vocal processing module. This magic box basically gives you your own in-house *producer of sorts who can add professional-sounding effects to your singing at the touch of button. *(note; you don’t actually get a producer!) As well as dozens of professional effects such as reverb, delay and hard tune, Singtrix also lets you add up to four harmony voices (backing singers) to your favourite song with Singtrix Live Harmony.

Singtrix works with any device with YouTube access and a headphone jack. There is, though, an optional app that boasts an additional 13,000 songs. With a monthly fee levied on top if you want to stream or download the songs. During their review, Wired spent a great deal of time messing around with myriad of comedy-sounding effects and stated it brought their weekly band practice “to a hilarious standstill.” But once they got past the need to sing in Daft Punk robot voices they did begin to use the effects to actually enhance their singing: “It took 90 minutes of screwing around before we started using it in earnest to enhance the backing vocals of songs.”

Overall, Engadget felt that Singtrix delivers on its promise of making bad singers sound good and good singers sound great: “Singtrix makes good on its promise to improve bad singing. It’s a digital security blanket for those of us not blessed with golden pipes.” So much so that their review noted: “I’d personally be far more inclined to sing in public with the Singtrix on hand than without.” But they felt that price point was a little too steep for your average karaoke enthusiast – who usually rolls up to a karaoke bar once a year, blind drunk ready to sing Celine Dion ‘I Will Always Love You’:

At $300, though, you’d likely need to be more than just a casual karaoke fan to justify the cost […] while other pricing tiers haven’t been announced yet, offering the effects processor as a standalone product seems like a no-brainer, enabling those with existing karaoke rigs to incorporate the module into their setups.

Wired also agreed that why it did succeed in making bad singers better they also weren’t too enamored with the asking price: “At $300, the kit is meant for someone who really, really likes karaoke.” Overall, Singtrix is a welcomed addition to the Karaoke market, and because it’s an all-in-one solution you’ll be safe in the knowledge that you have everything you’ll ever need for an entertaining karaoke party for years to come.

The Singtrix bundle includes the Singtrix ‘Studio’ vocal effects unit, custom microphone, professional mic stand and 40-watt, 2.1 Stereo Speaker System, and is available to purchase via www.Singtrix.co.uk for £299.