Wikipad, The Tablet For Gamers, Comes To The UK

wikipad-comes-to-uk

Handheld gaming is big business these days, with apps-a-plenty for those who want to take anything from Monopoly to Minecraft for a whirl on a smartphone or tablet. Merging such technology with dedicated controls hasn’t always faired so well however, just ask the Gizmondo, Nokia’s N-Gage, or the PlayStation Vita.

Undeterred, the Wikipad is taking a crack at this market and is bold enough to introduce it to everyone’s favourite new handheld – the tablet. The Wikipad 7 is itself a 7” Android tablet with some pretty reasonable specs. An NVIDIA Tegra 3 quad-core processor is a little long in the tooth now, but still capable of handling most modern games and comes alongside a 12-core NVIDIA GPU. Elsewhere there’s 16GB of onboard memory (with microSD for up to another 32GB), 1GB of internal DDR3, a 16:10 aspect ratio, HDMI-out and 2MP front facing camera, along with all the standard features you’ve come to expect.

What differentiates the Wikipad 7, obviously, is the attachable controller station, which connects via micro USB and attempts to mirror a typical gamepad with dual analog sticks, trigger and bumper buttons and a D-pad alongside the other essentials. It can also render 3D games on the fly and send a 3D signal to 3D TVs, which could be a neat little feature if you have the technology.

We can certainly see the appeal of a controller for more action-packed titles or when a touchscreen just doesn’t cut it, something which is echoed by Tomas Slapota, Vice President of MADFINGER Games. “Using Wikipad’s dual-analog gamepad controller transforms our mobile games, such as the multiplayer Shadowgun: DeadZone and the action FPS Dead Trigger into entertaining AAA console-like experiences.”

As always with these tech-hybrids, the proof is in the pudding, and luckily you don’t have to wait for the first UK reviews to appear as it’s already doing the rounds in the US. So far it’s fairly positive. TabletGamingReviews did note that the Wikipad can struggle with some modern gaming titles, but were overall impressed by the controller unit, stating that “it can change the experience almost completely since it keeps your hands out of the way of what you’re looking at and allows you to feel like you’re using something more like an actual gaming console”.

Venturebeat was a little less complimentary, claiming that the controller unit felt cheap and added significant and unnecessary bulk to what is essentially quite an attractive tablet, though did note that on the whole the controls were pretty responsive.

And for what it’s worth, Amazon.com has generally positive (albeit few) reviews, and both here and elsewhere the Wikipad tablet is compared to the original Nexus 7. It certainly seems to fit snugly into the “mid-range” category, which is no real surprise considering the price, but considering you can now get some impressive mid-range 10” tablets now for a similar amount, you’ll need to be a pretty avid gamer and a fan of titles that the Wikipad controller can help improve. In this case we could be looking at an appealing, if niche device, but reports so far so suggest trying before you buy.

Wikipad tablet will be available to UK consumers on September 27th, 2013 at a retail price of £249.99

Hands On with Huawei’s Ascend P6: World’s Slimmest Smartphone

Ascend-P6-in-the-hand

I didn’t have much awareness of the Huawei brand beyond dongles but after a fairly intimate 6 hours session with their engineers, managers and PR people in London’s Roundhouse it feels like it’s all I’ve ever know. Huawei chose June 18 to launch the superslim Ascend P6 smartphone as it’s just 6.18 mm thin. I was quite worried about how easily I could break a phone that thin. Wouldn’t it bend or break easily? However, the Ascend P6 looks and feels like a very high quality device with the aluminium frame and brushed steel familiar to iPhone users. It’s sleek and stylish with recessed controls and feels reassuringly robust, despite only weighing 120 g.

It’s not all svelteness without sophistication – the Ascend P6 features a 1.5GHz quad-core processor, Android 4.2.2 operating system, 2000mAh battery, 4.7-inch HD in-cell LCD screen technology, and ‘MagicTouch’ for enhanced screen responsiveness even when wearing gloves.

The camera is very impressive. The 10mp rear camera comes packed with easy to use features to make your phone snaps look great including a 4cm macro view for great close ups – if you like taking endless pictures of your food this is the camera for you. It also produces very good images in low light. But, in a sad reflection of the times this is a phone that was made for selfies with a 5MP front-facing camera that even has a beauty filter which supposedly makes you look up to ten years younger. Sadly there were no 9 year olds in the crowd to test this on.

The Ascend P6 comes in black, white and a lovely soft pink. Huawei’s new superslim device will be available from July with a recommended retail price of EUR449 (GBP385).

Stock Android: Pros and Cons

Nexus-Phone

The Nexus 4 comes with stock Android, but now more phones are getting in on the act. Once the exclusive preserve of Nexus-branded devices (and rooters), the stock version of Android is set to appear on the Samsung Galaxy S4, the HTC One and the Sony Xperia Z in the coming months (initially in the USA with a wider roll-out expected eventually). But what is stock Android, exactly? And why should you consider getting a phone with it installed?

Stock-Android

What is stock Android?

Simply speaking, stock Android is the plain, vanilla edition of the operating system, straight from the Google conveyor belt. Manufacturers such as Samsung, Sony and HTC tend to add their own bells and whistles to Android, most notably when it comes to flashy camera functions and social network widgets. In the same way that computer retailers such as Dell and HP load extra utilities and shortcuts on top of Windows, the phone manufacturers do the same with Android, often providing easy links to their own services and stores. Stock Android is the purest form of Android without any of these extras added on top. Whether or not it’s the best Android for you depends on how attached you are to these manufacturer customisations and skins.

Quicker updates

Perhaps the biggest advantage of using stock Android is that you get new versions of the operating system as quickly as possible. Whenever Google releases a new update, it hits Nexus devices almost immediately. Owners of other phones and tablets must wait until Sony, HTC, Samsung or another company have had a play around with it, added their own layer on top, and shipped it back out to customers with all bugs fixed and scenarios tested.

This trend for customising Android has exacerbated the software’s fragmentation problem. Gingerbread (Android 2.3.3-2.3.7) remains the most common version of the OS in use today, with the most recent Jelly Bean release accounting for 28.4% of the Android phone and tablet market. By using stock Android, you’re less likely to be left behind.

More apps

Google has been steadily spinning apps out of the main Android OS for some time now — most recently the stock keyboard appeared on Google Play — but one of the benefits of using the pure version of the operating system is that it ensures compatibility with the latest apps.

Twitter’s Vine, for example, recently launched on Android and requires version 4.0 or above. If you want to use the lock screen widget built into Google Now, you’ll need Android 4.1 or higher. The more recent your version of Android, the more apps and features you have access to.

Fewer apps

Of course, at the same time you get fewer apps because you’re living without the customised add-ons and widgets produced by the phone manufacturers. In the case of the HTC One, you won’t get the social networking stream widget BlinkFeed; in the case of the Samsung Galaxy S4, you’ll miss out on the Smart Pause utility that pauses videos whenever you look away from the screen. Whether these omissions will be of interest to you depends on whether you view them as useful add-ons or needless gimmicks.

Optimisations

These stock Android versions of existing phones have another disadvantage when compared with pure Nexus devices — the hardware and software haven’t been developed in unison, so you might not experience a fully optimised experience. Stock Android will certainly work without any major problems on the latest smartphones, but you might notice one or two inconsistencies (the HTC One doesn’t have a multi-tasking button, for starters).

Stock Android has much going for it, but the trend of slapping the vanilla OS on any smartphone isn’t without its problems. You’re also more likely to pay a premium for devices sporting stock Android, though LG’s competitive pricing on the Nexus 4 is an exception to that rule. Whichever version of Android you find yourself leaning towards, having the choice can only be good for buyers.

Embrace+: Colour Changing Notification Bracelet

Embrace+

Perfect for those moments when that handy flashing green light on your smartphone isn’t quite enough information: The Embrace+ reveals exactly what type of communication you’ve just received without so much as glancing at your handset.

We’ve all been there; broken meetings, conversations and gatherings to check our phone… Only to find that bleep or flashing light is just another spam email, an unnecessary Facebook notification or, worse still, an unsolicited text message urging you to cash in your PPI millions today.

Mercifully these social faux pas can become a thing of the past thanks to the Embrace+, a smart bracelet that speaks directly to your iPhone or Android phone. Fully customisable, you can configure each type of communication so the optical fibre in the band flashes different colours and different length blinks. From Tweets to Tumblr to texts from your mum, the bracelet tells you exactly who’s getting in touch… While making you look pretty darned cool and futuristic in the process.

There’s more: other configurations include alerts for low battery, reception range, important calendar dates and specific contacts and groups so you know whether it’s your boss or your better half on the blower. Neat, right?

No buttons, no screws and tastefully designed with a shape and myriad colour options to suit boys and girls: as our smartphones become larger to include the many functions we now desire and require while out and about, there’s more of a call for a device like this. Simply check your Embrace+ and decide whether it’s worth delving deep into your bag or bottomless pockets.

Besides exercise-specific smart bracelets such as the recently launched Amiigo fitness bracelet, the Embrace+ is a unique concept. Right now it’s at prototype stage, and they’re looking for a little help with the final push to market. Visit their Kickstarter page and get involved in the future.

Sony Xperia Z Review Roundup

Sony-Xperia-Z

We had a play with Sony Xperia Z, most of which involved dunking the giant smartphone into tanks of water and marvelling at how it still functioned. Packing a huge screen, great camera and a zippy processor it’s everything you want from a modern Android smartphone.

What do the experts have to say about Sony’s flagship smartphone?

Engadget: this is Sony’s best-looking smartphone ever.

Lacking any removable panel to access the battery meant that the Xperia Z’s components could be squeezed together into a slender profile measuring a mere 7.9mm (0.31 inch) and weighing in at 146g (5.15 ounces). Thanks in part to the hidden ports, light is able to bounce off the phone’s white sides. In short, it’s a real beauty… That glass-coated backing brings the Xperia Z into such esteemed company as the Nexus 4 and iPhone 4S, although Sony has differentiated its design by extending these glass panels to the sides too.

Expert Reviews: The display’s certainly good enough, and large enough …

The display is hugely bright, but we did notice some slight light leakage around the edges when looking at large blocks of black. The screen also suffers in comparison to AMOLED screens such as that of the Samsung Galaxy Note 2, which has far deeper blacks. It’s still an impressive display, though, and seeing as no smartphone has an AMOLED screen of both this size and resolution it would be churlish to complain.

CNET: Lush shots regardless of lighting conditions.

The usual selection of options are present and correct, including image stabilisation and HDR. You can also use ‘Superior Auto’ and allow the phone itself to select the correct scene for the snap you’re taking. HDR is also available during video recording, which results in some gorgeous footage — although like HDR stills, you should be prepared for some almost unreal, otherworldly results.

T3: The battery life is not exceptional. It’s not bad, either.

Battery Stamina mode extends the life considerably.A screen in the program reveals how long your phone will keep going on its current charge (a handy innovation in itself). Turn on Battery Stamina and watch the numbers jump. It only calculates standby time, but for example an 8-hour estimate leapt to 2 days 17 hours with Stamina invoked.

23snaps: Adorable Digital Memory Books

23snaps

Some of us may use Facebook to document our child’s milestones, achievements, and so on, but are probably well aware that a) our non-child-interested contacts probably sigh every time they find out that little Johnny or Jemima has lost a tooth, learned a new word or done something ‘soooo cute!’ and b) you probably don’t really want to share their every detail with your 237 ‘close’ Facebook friends.

That’s why a pair of dads-to-be came up with the idea for 23snaps, a personalised memory book where you can record photos, videos, milestones – even growth charts – with your very nearest and dearest.

This digital journal means you can share all kinds of precious moments with family and close friends – no matter how far away they live.

23snaps is both a website and an app, and has been built by the two dads with privacy and family in mind. Updates can be shared either in real time or in email digests. Family friendly features include weight and height status updates, joint profiles for partners – even funny sounds to get kids to look at the camera.

And why is it called 23snaps? Did you know that there are 23 pairs of chromosomes that carry all of the genetic information that makes your child a unique person? As they say at 23snaps, one chromosome, like one photograph, is just not enough to tell the whole story. You can find out more at 23snaps or download it from the App Store or Google Play for free.

Accel’s Voyager: Connected Car Smartphone Technology

Voyager

Considering integrated GPS and mobile telephony has been around for many years now, we all have something we use in our cars for hands free communications or navigation, via either Bluetooth connectivity or built right into the car’s console display system. Either way, the technology is no stranger.

However, in many cases getting an all singing and dancing console system is only available in top of the range models, so perhaps something which offers an alternative but with the added benefit of WiFi might well be a very handy device indeed.

Voyager from Israeli based telecommunications company Accel may well be the answer. It is a stand alone connected car smartphone which can be easily installed in any car and operates using an existing phone number via a twin-SIM.

The Android software works with an HSUPA Qualcomm module to deliver Waze navigation, an innovative social media based GPS system offering turn by turn directions garnered from community data, an in-car 3G WiFi Hotspot connection, voice activated dialling and even on board engine diagnostics via Bluetooth or RS232. Google and Exchange are already built in to the software and accessed via the hard keys on the device.

“Our user-friendly, cost effective and secure Carfone devices have seen substantial market success. We expect strong demand for the new generation VOYAGER Connected Car Smartphone device in both European and US markets in line with recent industry reports and our own research with industry influencers.”

Marc Seelenfreund, CEO Accel

Voyager is poised to enter the European market but prices are yet to be finalised.

Gamestick: the “most portable” gaming console

GameStick

Used to be that you’d have to fly out to CES to catch a glimpse of the future. Fortunately now you can save on your carbon footprint and simply head on to Kickstarter and marvel at what could be. Even better you can actively make a difference and bring amazing technology, art and music into the world. After endless whining in the 2000s about the internet and consumers killing these things it’s great to see people banding together to produce something like The Thrilling Adventure Hour.

For those interested in the possible future of gaming PlayJam – a SmartTV casual gaming platform have launched a Kickstarter campaign for GameStick – their dedicated games console. If you’ve ever played Game Dev Centre you’ll have a glimpse of how difficult a venture this is (you’ll need an elusive Hardware Engineer for a start).

GameStick is a small yet powerful, dedicated games console that plugs directly into a TV’s HDMI slot and comes with a fully featured Bluetooth controller – ready to go right out of the box. When on the move, the two combine into a single unit, putting big screen gaming right into the pocket. The device will be compatible with other Bluetooth controllers enabling multi-player functionality yet priced at just $79.

“We wanted to create a games console that helped further our overriding mission to bring affordable gaming to the big screen. Not only that, we wanted to push the boundaries of what has been achieved up to now by packing sufficient power into the most portable of devices, enabling users to carry that experience with them wherever they go.” – Jasper Smith, CEO PlayJam

GameStick will feature a purpose-built game store through which users will be able to browse and download content. 100s of high-quality Android games will be available – at Android game prices so your over spend will stay pretty low, whilst your levels of enjoyment should run pretty high.

Update: 1000+ Kickstarter backers pushed the team over their $100,000 funding goal in just 30 hours. In a press release celebrating their success the team also added that they’ll be providing XBMC and DLNA support to the console so home theatre enthusiasts have a whole other reason to rejoice.

Update 2: Check out this GameStick unboxing video