The Smartwatch market is waiting with bated breath to see if Apple’s new number can help jump-start an industry that has been idling along rather more slowly than many manufacturers would like. There could be any number of reasons why people haven’t put this down as the next must-have gadget – conflicting style, bulky designs, the fact that nobody’s sure whether respect or revulsion will be afforded to them if they’re caught out in public with a miniature Smartphone on their arm. Or it could be the expense – for what a Smartwatch gives you is it really worth splashing the cash?
Hannspree wants to find out the answer to that question and has released its Smart Sports Watch for the low, low price of just £29.99. It’s inspired in no small part by the Misfit Flash, with a minimalist look that’s predictably devoid of bells and whistles but also comes across as quite unassuming, which should help you test the water. Inside the little disc that fits into the rubberised strap is a range of technology that’s actually pretty impressive considering the current “budget” market for this sort of accessory. There’s exercise tracking with a Pedometer and distance calculator of course, which also tells you roughly how many calories you’ve burned, sleep monitoring, plus call and message notification, an alarm clock and a decent battery that’ll last 5-8 days.
The 0.68” OLED display, while basic and monochrome, seems to offer just enough clarity to tell the time and work out what notifications you have pending, and reminders set on your phone can also be transferred to the watch via Bluetooth to give you an audible or vibrate alert. It can store 20 days worth of data before it needs to be synced, which should be plenty, and it’s also quoted as splashproof, which usually means you’re fine for rain and washing your hands, are taking your chances in a shower and probably shouldn’t use it in the bath or while swimming.
If you were to be totally accurate about this device it’s more of a cross between a smartwatch and a fitness tracker, but with notifications and alerts from a phone at least provides some of the more basic advantages that are supposed to form the appeal of the more fully featured models, and as such should be a nice compromise between the two.
Available in either black or blue and supplied with an optional necklace band if for some reason you don’t want it on the wrist, “soon” is the most accurate release date we can find for the Sports Watch touching down in the UK.
These days, if you’ve got a PC or a Mac, a little hard disk space and an internet connection you’ve already got everything you need to produce music. No, you don’t need to buy any more hardware and you don’t need to spend any money on software. None at all!
So, getting started is simple. But, as any dedicated producer will tell you, simple doesn’t always equate to easy. After all, the best tools are wasted on the inexperienced craftsman, right?
So, no, we can’t help you become a production wizard in one article, be we can help you down that path, and honour our promise that you can start without a single penny’s outlay.
And who knows, maybe a fruitful career in the music industry awaits, a little later down the line?
Too Much Choice And Too Much Information
But there’s the all pervasive software problem. Of all the masses of freely available software, where to begin?
Well, take it from me, as a composer/producer since about 2006, I’ve tried a lot of stuff, both on Windows and OSX. I’ve wasted many hundreds of hours testing glitchy software, suffering crashes, hard drive failures and pretty much all that bad stuff technology throws at you.
But I’ve also found some real diamonds in the rough too.
So, the purpose of this article is to cut through all the noise and give you a list of things that have stood the test of time and just worked. I intend to spare you many hours of frustration.
Let’s see how we do.
Thus Simple: Good
And, obviously, with so many styles of music to produce, so many types of plugins and so many individual ways of working – we’re simplifying a little here for the sake of your convenience (though it sure beats information overload).
So, let the simplifications begin!
Introducing The DAWs
A ‘DAW’ (Digital Audio Workstation) is essentially the tool that you use to take your musical ideas into musical reality. Everything from recording, to synthesis, to sampling to eventually mixing and mastering, is handled by your DAW.
(Insert Light My Fire joke here as/if appropriate…)
Commercial DAWs start at around £30 and go all the way into the four figure range. True, you aren’t going to get £1000s worth of functionality with a piece of freeware – but you don’t necessarily need all of those features if you are. In fact it might be better not to get stuck on detail and face the all to prevalent overwhelm which can get in the way of your actually making music…
First up is COCKOS’ Reaper. Reaper comes up as #1 because in terms of speed and flexibility, I’ve found nothing to beat it. REAPER isn’t actually free, but COCKOS as super cool guys have made the trial effectively endless, and priced it quite reasonably for personal use. They probably find that those who stick with it eventually buy, and for $60 it’s a steal. Try it and see.
I don’t have quite so much experience with MU.LAB, spending most of my time in Reaper, but from what I’ve seen of it I don’t know why it isn’t more popular. Unlike many other freeware DAWs the UI is sophisticated and the featureset is quite extensive. Considering you pay nothing, it’s a sweet deal.
Again, I don’t have all that much experience with Ardour either, but it’s got a clean & intuitive interface, excellent plugin compatibility and awesome functions, such as matrix style plugin patching. Again, sweet deal for nothing…
The Plugin Suites
An audio plugin, as it’s name may suggest, is a piece of software that ‘plugs in’ to your DAW, expanding your sonic possibilities. For our intents and purposes they come in two main formats; VST, and AU (OSX only).
Plugins can do pretty much anything, butsimplifying again, we’ll divide them into 3 types…
Synthesisers: Generate (synthesise) a unique sound, which ranges from obviously digital in nature, to more ‘natural’ sounding, and everything in between!
Samplers: Are used like ‘loaders/players’ for existing sounds (often banks made up of pre recorded sounds – ‘samples’, such as a drum kit, or a brass instrument)
FX/Processing: Are used to take an existing sound and make it sound different. An example of an FX is reverb, which creates the psychoacoustic impression of space and can make things sound ‘big’.
There are many hundreds, possibly thousands of these plugins available. To save you time I’ve grouped them into ‘suites’, by developer.
Native Instruments are one of the biggest players in the music production industry. Their Komplete range is an amazing (and expensive) set of plugins that pretty much covers the bases in synthesis and sampling . But they also do a little free giveaway in the form of their Komplete Players, which though just a fraction of the paid offering, are still incredible.
u-HE are one of my favourite developers, and they make some seriously incredible and versatile synths. All of their free synths are worth trying out too, being just as quirky as powerful as their paid offerings (albeit with a little less functionality)
DSK are beyond ridiculously generous in their (pretty awesome) free plugin offerings. There’s way too many to list here, but it runs from traditional Indian instruments to synths that specialise in making spacey pads. Shame there’s no OSX offerings…
Which contains a bunch of plugins under the FSU category (I’ll let you guess what the acronym stands for) Glitch 1.3, Crusher, Stretch & TapeStop. As of this date the plugins were no longer supported, but they still work, and for adding carnage to your mixes, it’s hard to beat them.
Soundhack (who teaches computer science) has some FX offerings that are slightly more…esoteric than some of the other free FX you might find. They’re presented in that wonderful minimalist UI that you might come to love and treasure.
The Single Plugins
These are same as the above ‘bundles’ but are individual plugins. Though not grouped in any convenient collection, these ones were too good to miss…
AAS are perhaps best known as masters of creating realistic (and far out) sounding string synths. Think note for note reproductions of Eddie Van Halen’s lead guitar tone or crazy alien violins. Swatches is preset player that lets you try out the best sounds from all of AAS’s synths.
IK’s Sampletank is the smallest of IK’s sampler series. Packing 58 free instruments and half a gig of samples, all sampled in the high quality IK is known for, it’s worth getting your hands on this one.
Camel Audio’s Alchemy is an extremely versatile sampler/synth hybrid. The full version is incredible, and the freeware ‘player’ still comes with over 200 instruments and a gig of samples – I think this one’s an essential!
This should be enough to get you started. Hopefully I’ve landed this article somewhere in that sweet spot between too little and too much information. What do you think?
Also, if you are looking for some audio hardware to get the most out aural pleasure and accuracy of your mixes (and yeah this’ll probably involve shelling out cash) – you may want to check out what’s big in our Audio Video category
The downside of being always plugged in … is that I’m always plugged in. That might seem a little obvious but the various shiny gadgets that I’ve accrued as a professional gadgeteer litter my house the like children and pets of more balanced individuals, all sucking electricity and draining my finances. Wouldn’t it be great if I could keep tabs on everything I’m spending. Wouldn’t it great if I knew how much all these devices cost me. Wouldn’t it be great to be … in the Loop.
Loop (yes I’m smooth) is a cool energy saving device that tracks exactly how much energy you use, when you use it and shows you how much it’s really costing on your tariff. When I tried Loop out I was concerned that it might be “fiddly”. For the most part it’s one of the simpler installations I’ve done. There’s an illustrated process to guide you through every step, which is handy. You need an online account and then to plug a dongle into your broadband router and clip another onto the cable by your electricity meter. This was the most difficult bit as I live in a tiny flat (London living), and gaining access to my electricity meter required some allen-key based ingenuity. That small hurdle aside, things are relatively simple and Loop lets you know when you’re up and running and immediately starts measuring your energy.
And boy do I use a lot of energy. Loop provides a live energy feed providing all the depressing details, in kWh, CO2 and hard cash. It was really good being able to wave a screen with exactly energy usage in front of my housemate in an accusatory fashion. There are even charges for spending over time. I do love a good chart. You can also set hard targets for budgets over set time periods which I also loved – I harbour a secret dream to be an accountant. Loop is also empowering as it you can compare you exact usage on various tariffs and shop around for a great deal.
For too long households have had to put up with complicated bills, often based on estimated usage. For the first time, Loop gives you everything you need to make the right energy choices, from up to the minute usage information on what you are really using, right through to knowing when you can and should switch to get a better deal.
Chris Saunders, CEO at Navetas, the company behind Loop
The Loop starter kit and 12 month subscription to Loop online is available to buy now from Amazon, priced at £29.99, with a money back guarantee if you don’t save in the first 12 months. For more information visit www.your-loop.com
Electronics firm Archos has added a new member to the tablet club as they release the Archos 97 Carbon this month.
The model is the first in a range called “Elements”. Designed as an entry-level device, the tablets are affordable, stylish and portable. The 97 Carbon is available in three different sizes: 7, 8 and 9.7 inches. Each tablet has full access to Google Play and comes pre-loaded with a full suite of Google apps, including Office Suite Viewer, which lets you view office documents on the go.
“We wanted to introduce a new series that not only combines affordability with a new slim design, but features the best that Google has to offer. With the ELEMENTS series we have done just that. It’s the perfect balance of hardware, software optimization and content through the Google Play ecosystem.”
Henri Crohas, ARCHOS Founder and CEO
Features and Specifications
Weighing in at only 618 grams, with a thickness of just 11.4mm and a premium aluminum finish, the Archos 97 Carbon is designed for ease of use. Front and back cameras give users the flexibility to take photos and make video calls.
The Archos 97 Carbon is powered with a 1GHz processor and comes with 1GB of RAM. With a 5x iPS multi-touch screen, users get wide viewing angles and a sharp, vivid picture. The device comes with 16GB of internal flash memory, which users can increase using the microSD slot, or via a USB flash drive.
Running on Ice Cream Sandwich, the 97 Carbon comes with the latest Android operating system. Using Google Play, users can access over 600,000 apps and games, the world’s largest collection of eBooks, and thousands of movies, directly through the device. Users also get up to 5GB of storage for free with Google’s cloud storage service, Google Drive.
As well as Office Suite Viewer, the device comes with popular puzzle game World of Goo, News Republic, and personal organizer Brief Me, which manages users’ world news and customised social media feeds.
The Archos 97 Carbon is available in July and has an RRP of £219.99.
The release of Apple’s first iPad changed the mobile technology market forever. Since then, many competitors have been quick to jump on the tablet bandwagon, and the market has sprung to life. While the majority of tablets have been targeted at the businessman, the busy commuter, or the freelancer, lower-priced ‘lifestyle’ tablets are now starting to creep onto the market.
One such tablet is the US-produced E FUN Nextbook Next 7S, an Android-based tablet that runs Ice Cream Sandwich and comes with a $129.99 price tag. With a 1 GHz processor, over-the-air updates, a front-facing camera, and Flash support, the light-weight tablet is designed to target consumers who wouldn’t necessarily purchase the device for work purposes.
In the UK, developers disgo have released the 8104, a tablet with a 10.1 inch touch-screen, Ice Cream Sandwich OS, and 4GB memory, which expands to 36GB with the help of a micro-SD card. The tablet is on sale for £149.99 – £250 less than the iPad 3.
Luke Noonan, Purchasing Director of disgo, commented on the company’s intent to try and and target as many consumer groups as possible, explaining
“Each time we launch a new tablet we are excited by the advancements and new features that we are able to bring. We want to continue our lead in the next generation of affordable tablets and the 8104 fits the bill. It’s great to offer consumers a tablet that offers the latest in Android and tablet technology, without a hefty price tag. The 8104 has great diversity and will appeal to many users from families and children to commuters.”
It remains to be seen whether disgo’s tablet will be a direct competitor to high-end producers like Apple, or whether they will appeal to a different market altogether. What is clear, however, is that the tablet has moved away from being purely a business accessory, and, like the mobile phone and laptop before them, are fast becoming a household item.
Looking for stocking fillers, or struggling for inspiration for the office Secret Santa? Here’s a few ideas that shouldn’t leave you out of pocket…
Joystick for iPad
More gaming fun can be had on an iPad with this clever little add-on, which attaches with suction cups for easy setup and removal. The coiled spring provides force feedback that automatically returns it to the centre position and the joystick can be stored in the included carrying pouch.
Santa Speaker Blanket Have a laugh on Christmas morning with this Santa Speaker Blanket – from Sound Asleep, it features hidden speakers in the hood, which can be connected to iPods, TVs, radios and so on – the sound simply plays through the item without uncomfortable headphones or messy wires. No batteries required; powered from the connected device.
Doodle iPhone Case For anyone arty, they’ll enjoy the opportunity to personalise their own iPhone cover with the Doodle Case. Don’t like the design or fancy a change? Just wipe it off and create a new design.
Can’t guaranteed the children a white Christmas this year? Not to worry, grab a Snowimal and keep the kids entertained creating their very own miniature snowmen. Made from malleable putty, the Snowimal comes with a range of accessories to make lots of different snowpeople.
Actually – these blow our budget, but they’re so cute we wanted to include them somewhere. At only three inches high, these are the funkiest portable plug-in speakers around, which plug in to any Ipod, MP3 player, mobile phone, computer or computer game console. They come with a USB charging cable, connection cord and a key chain loop. Choose from characters include the yellow Smiley, Sumo and Ninja.
It happened with baked beans, it happened with DVD players, now it’s happening with tablets, with Kogan launching a tablet price war in the UK by thrusting two new tablets on to the market for little more than £100!
Kogan, a lesser known consumer electronics’ designer, manufacturer and retailer, has been propelled to global notoriety overnight, by launching the Agora 8” Tablet, which starts from £119 and the Agora 10” Tablet, which starts at £149, both of which are powered by Android.
The Agora 8” – the ‘best value Android tablet in the world’, boasts a powerful 1 Ghz processor, has illuminated soft keys, HDMI output, microSD card input, Wi-Fi, and access to thousands of apps and games in the Android market. This apparently beautifully designed, lightweight and easy to carry tablet has, according to Kogan, been able to be made so cheaply by ‘cutting out all the middlemen, trimming the fat, and keeping prices extremely low.’
Its slightly more expensive sibling boasts a larger screen but what is equally as bright and responsive, with the same illuminated soft keys. Similar internal capabilities include built in Wi-Fi, Media Player, various desktop widgets, including weather, calendar, clock and YouTube, supports 720p HD Playback, has a HDMI video output, and is capable of reading and writing emails with the Gmail or Email app.
Taking a somewhat presumptuous and slightly ‘moral high ground’ about his new, almost giveaway tablet creation, Ruslan Kogan, founder and CEO of Kogan, said:
“We’re entering the tablet wars in a concerted way and ensuring that we have the best value option. We know we’re creating a device that we be loved by anyone wanting to own their tablet without feeling guilty for forking out an arm and a leg.”
In ‘trimming the fat’, these tablets are void of a camera and lack the ‘sophistication’ of the likes of the iPad, but hey, for just over £100, who’s complaining!
It worked for Tesco’s in its ‘pile it high, sell it cheap’ philosophy, and tablet punters watch this space, ‘put your Christmas tablet shopping on hold, as Kogan may have just initiated a tablet price war!’
In case you were wondering I’m not a fashion-obsessed teenage girl – or any kind of teenage girl really. But I couldn’t help but emit a “kawaiii” (an adjective routinely emitted by Japanese girls when adorable or cute things swing into their line of sight) on seeing the Alcatel OT-810 (despite its distinctively un-kawaii name).
Why? Well it’s just so gosh-darn cute, but that aside the palm shaped clamshell phone has a lot to say for itself. The outside has an LED matrix that throws up a number of patters – like twinkly stars or bunny rabbits. It’s also very shiny so you can check yourself, well in advance of wreaking yourself. For the more practically minded (and seriously what are you doing looking at this phone) there is a full QWERTY keyboard, which is handy for avid texting teens.
The OT-810 also has a range of modern connectivity options. You can SMS obviously but you can also IM, Tweet or Facebook with relative ease. Even better you can access most webmail accounts and apparently it supports push mail so you won’t have to obsessively check it every 5 minutes (although I check my push-mail enabled iPhone almost constantly anyway). It also packs and FM radio and Opera mini.
There’s a micro-SD slot so you can expand storage up to 16GB. There’s also a neat little USB feature that allows you to stream video from the 2.0 megapixel camera so you can clip it onto the edge of a PC monitor and have a make-shift web cam.
Whilst this isn’t the latest and greatest in mobile phone technology, it’s a to know that there’s a lot out there for anyone shopping on a budget.
Out at the start of November from Carphone Warehouse for £30. If you buy one in store you will get a free gift voucher to redeem a Barry M lipgloss. How can you say no to that?