Native Instruments Kontrol Z1: Unbeatable Precision

Native-Instruments-Kontrol-Z1

Having caught our attention with its recently released Traktor DJ app (free for a limited time), Native Instruments today released the world’s smallest professional mixer and audio interface, the Kontrol Z1.

The new controller takes the company’s new app and transforms it into a professional DJ system combining the best of a touchscreen with the unbeatable precision of a physical tactile controller.

Combined the recently released app (which is currently free on the App Store) and the Z1 controller you get a fully-fledged DJ system with headphone cueing, dedicated faders, filters, effects controls and crucially a 3-band EQ for each of the 2 channels.

Where the Z1 begins to make even more sense is the inclusion of an integrated 24-bit audio interface that dramatically improves the output sound quality to club-ready levels – all without interfering with Traktor DJs engineered touch interface.

The beauty of the Z1 is it gives users physical controls that complement the touchscreen controls on the app, all faders, filter, effects controls, and 3-band EQ are automatically mapped and synced to Traktor, giving aspiring DJs hands-on, physical control over their iPad or iPhone setups.

Kontrol-Hardware-and-Software

With the Kontrol Z1 added, Traktor DJ becomes a compelling tool for crafting credible live mixes, utilising the app’s looping, cueing and effects functionality to create professional mixes than can even be recorded within the app to be then shared with your fans and friends.

To use the Z1 with Traktor DJ does, however, require an AC adapter for power, meaning the possibility of using it anywhere are off the cards, but it has the added advantage of supplying power to your iPad or iPhone. So at least you know you won’t run out of juice mid-set.

If you want to use the Z1 as a MIDI controller and/or audio interface for other software, you can just open up Ableton Live or whatever you have, and the Z1 should be recognizable and configurable from the jump. We were able to map it to Live 8 using the software’s MIDI map function with no problem at.

The Z1’s cue section introduces channel headphone monitoring to iOS setups, allowing for track pre-listening – a first for any app-based mixing software. The inclusion of a professional 24-bit integrated soundcard delivers quality club-level sound without the need for an additional audio interface.

Traktor Kontrol Z1 is the world’s smallest professional mixer for Traktor Pro 2 too – perfect for intimate after-party gigs or any situation that requires both compact size and professional performance features.

Traktor Kontrol Z1 also comes with a license for Traktor LE 2 and connects to iPad and iPhone with the included 30-pin connectors. For those of you who have the Lightning connector devices you’ll need to pick up the Lightning adaptor which is sold separately unfortunately.

Traktor Kontrol Z1 is available at retailers worldwide and at the NI Online Shop for $199 / 199 € / 20,800 ¥. ??All Z1 customers receive a personal $50 / 50 € e-voucher, which is? delivered by email upon registration of the Z1 hardware.

Netamo’s Urban Weather Station: Health Benefits and Meteorological Readings

Netatmo

We Brits love our weather – if all other avenues of conversation dry up, the damp and blustery conditions are one sure-fire fall-back. Now Netatmo is planning to exploit our meteorological weakness with the Urban Weather Station, a device it describes as “the first personal weather station with Air quality sensors, for iPhone, iPad and Android devices”. You shell out the princely sum of £159 for two sleek, cylindrical devices that between them measure both weather conditions and air quality inside and outside your home, then view those results via a free app on your iPad, iPhone or Android mobile.

Setup is simple, as demonstrated by  our video unboxing guide: the outdoor device, powered by four AAA batteries, straps to a suitably sheltered point outside using a bracket or supplied Velcro belt, while the indoor cylinder plugs into a handy power socket. Constructed from a mixture of aluminium and white plastic, each cylinder is designed to look sleek and unobtrusive, so should fit seamlessly into most living or office spaces.

Both devices need to be within range of your Wi-Fi network, but setup is simple: just temporarily plug in your mobile to the indoor cylinder, and it’ll grab the connection details it needs. Once done, both devices can start funnelling data to your mobile at scheduled intervals, or whenever you tap the button on top of the indoor device.

The Weather Station uses your phone to get an exact location, which ensures it’s able to calibrate its barometric-pressure sensor to your altitude. The sensors collect information about temperature, humidity, air pressure, noise, CO2 levels and air quality, before delivering all this information to your phone. MacWorld noted in its recent review that early readings tend to fluctuate as the unit acclimatises itself to its new home, but once settled down, it delivers accurate results.

The app not only provides a beautiful display of all the information provided by the Urban Weather Station, it also stores every scrap of information it receives, eventually providing graphs of all the data for comparative purposes. The app also provides up to six days of local weather forecasts, while users can sign up to Netatmo’s Urban Weather Programme, which shares your station’s data for the benefit of others living close by as well as meteorologists, scientists and environmentalists.

Those looking for a complete weather breakdown may be disappointed by the lack of options for measuring wind direction and speed, but the Urban Weather Station offers more than just a glorified barometer and thermometer; it also measures air quality and noise levels indoors and outdoors. Armed with this information, the app can provide timely reminders about when to ventilate your home as the CO2 levels rise plus warn you to stay inside when air pollution levels are at their worst.

With the UK’s increasing problems with air pollution starting to make national headlines, Netatmo’s timing in releasing the Urban Weather Station couldn’t be better. It could become the urban dweller’s must-have accessory this summer.

Netatmo’s Urban Weather Station is now available for £159 at netatmo.com.

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.

iLP: Cut out the middle man in vinyl to digital conversion

Yes I know – another article about iOS accessories. But the iOS world is drawing a lot of the brightest minds in the gadget game. And the makers of a lot of crap too. I would love to do a list of all the stuff that doesn’t make it onto Latest Gadgets but Engadget have that game pretty well sewn up already. Anyway if you have lot of vinyl and want to take it on the go with you, buying it all again seems ridiculous (and seemed ridiculous even in the CD age). You could try and find it again on Spotify (which I’ve been doing) but there are always hard to find tracks that you’re missing out. There are some great USB conversion turntables out there but wouldn’t it be great to cut out the middle man in journey from LP to iPod?

ilp

ION, who have really been cranking it out of late, have announced iLP, a digital conversion turntable for iPad, iPhone, and iPod, which includes a free app for converting vinyl records into digital music.

ION pioneered and expanded upon the concept of the USB conversion turntable and iLP updates it with a way to transfer music directly from records to iPad, iPhone, or iPod.

With iLP’s built-in dock and included EZ Vinyl and Tape Converter app the conversion process is simple. The app even automatically separates tracks. ION have confirm that for iOS devices with Apple’s new Lightning Connecter, iLP works with Apple’s Lightning to 30-pin Adapter (sold separately) as this isn’t always the case – I had a headache with this exact issue just last week so it’s handy to know.

iLP is can be connected to a home stereo system standard RCA outputs and music can be transferred to iPad, iPhone, or iPod while you listen. And if you also want to store music on a laptop or desktop computer, iLP can do that, too, by simply connecting it to a Mac or PC with the included USB cable. Pretty neat.

Pricing and avaliablity TBC but for more information, visit Ion Audio.

ION All-Star Dance: Wireless iPad Dance Mat

Apple haven’t been to CES for a long, long time yet still manage to dominate the show – much like Goddot in Stoppard’s classic play. The success of the iOS ecosystem has created many, many weird and wonderful peripherals that help you work, rest and play with you iOS device (and if you were wondering there is a Mars Bar app on the iPhone but I have no idea what it does).

ION what to bring DDR levels of Nerdy Joy to your iPad with All Star Dance, a lighted and wireless dance mat for the iPad. You might rememeber ION from the All-Star Guitar a fun, giant guitar controller.

All-Star-Dance

All-Star Dance connects wirelessly via Bluetooth technology and promises hours of dancing fun. There were no specifics on battery life but I’ve never seen a dancing mat-led party go on for longer than 3 hours so they’re definitely good for at least one outing. ION have promised many great dance games as well as a library of over 500 ION Arcade compatible games although I couldn’t find any on the App story when I had a cursory glance.

The All-Star Dance experience is not unlike having a padded touchscreen under your feet. Dancers follow the lighted pads to learn the next steps and watch the iPad’s screen for fun tips and easy-to-follow instructions. There’s an included stand to hold the iPad at the perfect viewing height and the entire system folds up in seconds if you have the sudden urge to take this show on the road.

“This is the world’s first controller for mobile dance apps. People will never be bored in a waiting room again! But seriously, we’re really excited to give our customers yet another way to have fun and interact with their music.”

Wendy Fortin, ION Product Manager.

Pricing and avaliablity TBC but for more information, visit Ion Audio.

Bloom FM: iOS streaming radio done right

I love music and when I was 15-18 nothing in the world was more exciting to me than a free CD. When I started reviewing albums at university and was given, yes *given* free CDs every week I couldn’t believe my good fortune and was pretty sure that I was the luckiest guy on the planet. Then in my second year we suddenly had unrestricted access to the internet and an amazing site called AudioGalaxy that seemed to have *all* the music in the world and lots of amazing Aphex Twin remixes all for free. Well illegally but what teenager cares about that. And you could buy 100 blank CDs for £14. As music piracy ran rampant it became very, very easy to take “free” music for granted. But it was also problematic – duplicates in iTunes, tagging issues, poor quality rips and such. The growth in streaming music services such as Spotify was brilliant – for a nominal sum you had access to CD quality music. But whilst it shines on the desktop, mobile Spotify is a bit of a road block for some people. You can’t access the app without a premium subscription – which at £10 a month is more than some people are willing to pay.

Bloom-FM

Enter Bloom. A new free iPhone app with a library of over 16 million tracks, legally licensed from leading major and independent record labels.

“From the very beginning we wanted to design Bloom specifically for mobile; to take advantage of the touchscreen with a unique interface that contributes to the user experience rather than take away from it. Music excites people and we think software should too!”

Thong Nguyen, Chief Technical Officer of Bloom.fm

Bloom takes a radio approach, so you can enjoy your favourite music with over 150 free genre based radio stations, covering tastes from Pop to Metal, and free ‘related artist’ radios. I’ve not seen any Tuuvan throat singing but everything else seems well covered.

Unlike the aforementioned Spotify, Bloom has a much more flexible mobile approach and has an odd ‘borrow, enjoy, return’ system that let you download and store a limited amount of music offline.

Bloom 20: for just £1 per month borrow and store up to 20 tracks at a time on your phone. You’re welcome to exchange these songs when you want something new.

Bloom 200: for £5 per month borrow and store up to 200 tracks at a time on your phone. Again, these 200 tracks can be exchanged at any time.

Full Bloom: the £10 per month premium subscription lets you borrow and store as many tracks as your phone can handle and also enjoy full on-demand streaming.

Bloom-App

But Bloom is more than just a way to save a little. The interface is delightfully well designed and great for discovering related artists (again the Spotify desktop client it brilliant at this. The app … not so much). You hit a little button and the algothrim presents artists, albums or songs that promise more of the same – laid out in a deisgn nod to the classic iPod scroller. Borrowing albums or songs is a simple one-tap process and gives you offline access to songs.

“We are delighted to launch very encouraged by the industry-wide support – from the likes of Sony Music, Universal, EMI, Beggars, Orchard, PIAS, INgrooves and dozens more Indie labels – for our desire to bring a service to the UK consumer that is not only beautiful and easy to use, but also offers an amazing entry price of only £1 a month. We believe that Bloom.fm will excite millions of music lovers who find existing price points too high for their needs and we hope our fantastic discovery features will help everyone find a new favourite artist.”

Oleg Fomenko, Chief Executive Officer of Bloom.fm

Bloom.fm can be download here: Bloom.fm.

A look at Digital Theatre’s iOS app

Digital-Theatre

I love a good theatrical experience and in this month I’ve had my mind blown by Fueza Bruta and the Master and Margarita (both of which are amazing artistically and technically and come highly recommended). But with so many amazing productions it can be hard to keep up – or find time to see them all. Digital Theatre realise this and have resolved to bring the best of British Theatre straight to your iPad.

Filming theatre is a tricky business – I’ve seen some amazing stage shows look flat and lifeless on screen. It’s why something magical like improv is hard to capture on TV. Digital theatre however “do it right” and manage to capture live performance authentically onscreen in high definition from multiple camera angles.

The iPad app is a great and productions look amazing. You can see trailers and all sorts of additional information about the shows on offer. You can push content to a big screen via AirPlay – and the app is also available on certain Samsung SmartTVs.The Digital Theatre iPad app also gives access to The Journal, a daily arts blog with content sourced from artists and practitioners around the world.

One minor frustration is the inability to purchase things in the app. You can view pre-purchased downloads and rentals easily but if you press the BUY button you are directed to the website to load up your cart from there. I’m guessing this is to circumvent Apple’s in-app purchasing charges – but who knows. It certainly was a mild head-scratcher – but is the only quibble.

The catalogue is limited at present – what is there is high quality and from a reasonably broad enough pool to please most people including four critically acclaimed productions from Shakespeare’s Globe’s 2010 season, part of Digital Theatre Collections launched in October 2012. I hope the platform will grow in time and hopefully embrace some more experimental works as it develops.

“We developed our iPad app as a direct response to feedback from our audience and we’re delighted to bring Digital Theatre productions to a device with the convenience and ubiquity of the iPad. Our apps for iPad and Samsung Smart TV form the start of a multi-platform strategy that will allow audiences to enjoy Digital Theatre productions where and when they are.”
Digital Theatre Co-Founder and CEO Robert Delamere

The Digital Theatre app is available now in the Apple App Store as a free download and downloadable shows are £8-10 and less to rent.

Getting Things Done: Great productivity apps for the New Year

I always marvel at people who “get things done” and have lives that run like a well-oiled machine. Especially when my life seems to be a series of badly timed misadventures, barely held together with duct tape. The arbitrary change in calendar is as good a time as any to take a look at Productivity Apps that can help you take 2013 up a notch.

Clear-LG

Clear
It’s very easy to dismiss Clear as style over substance – the very opposite of what a productivity app should be. Unlike other apps that replete with seemingly endless options and customisations, Clear is one of the most barebones apps – with just a list of todo items that fills the screen. There are no alarms, scheduling or any of the features you’d want from more sophisticated apps. However, this barebones approach is also the app’s key strength and its laser-like focus makes it one of my go-to productivity apps. The clever use of the touchscreen interface makes entering items fast to the point where it’s almost second nature. Plus they’ve expanded the Clear universe to include a Mac OS app, which syncs via iCloud to your iPhone.

Out now on the App store for 69p

Reminders
It would be remiss of me to wax poetic about Clear without mentioning its most obvious direct competitor Apple Reminders that ships with every iPhone. Not only is it free, but it also provides wireless desktop synching via iCloud. Data entry is nowhere near as smooth as it is with Clear but it does have voice input via Siri and geo-fencing. The ability to push a button whilst jogging, say “remind me to buy new shoes when I get home” and for that to be logged and triggered when you get back to your door is pretty good for £0.00.

Workflowy

Workflowy
Amazingly Clear isn’t the most basic looking app on the list and minimalism is clearly a trend. Workflows offers little more than a cascaded list of things. But sometimes – or in my case often – that’s all you need. The ability to create text-based cascading lists around areas or interest and to then drill down into seemingly limitless sub lists is great. The text based system lets you use hashtags and @s to allocate tasks and priorities – e.g., Pick up laundry #today or Discuss presentation with @Geoff. The beauty of text means that Workflowy works on most platforms – I love using the web-based interface for inputting large blocks of text. Like most cloud computing it falls down a little when you don’t have internet access which is frustrating when you just want to look at a list. In addition, the iPhone and iPad apps are a tad lacking in sophistication and you can’t help but want to swipe, pinch and zoom around the interface. Still it’s one of my favourite ways to collate and organise lists.

Out now for free on the App Store

30_30-LG

30/30

30/30 is a great time-based todo list that functions both as a list of your a upcoming tasks and a cattle prod to get you to actually do them. The clever interface utilises a variety of swipes, pinches and taps to input todos (it’s very proudly button free) but what really sets it apart is the large timer that counts down however much time you allocated to the task you are currently doing. Nothing makes me more productive than a deadline – as the old showbiz saying goes you can’t reschedule Monday. You can of course hit a little buffer button to give yourself an extra 5 minutes if you’re running late – or knock off 5 if you’re ahead of schedule. You can also schedule breaks which is an important part of any working day. iCloud syncing means that you can set up a day on your multiple devices and then have a phone or iPad out on your desk giving you that extra incentive. The app runs in the background as well (a lot of my todos involve other apps on my iPad/iPhone). The name (and concept behind it) is that you work for 30 minutes, focused only on a single task (and they mean focused with no distractions).

When the time is up, you give your mind a break and do something completely unrelated, also for 30 minutes and then you repeat the cycle: work/break, work/break – 30/30, 30/30. Obviously you can vary the pattern to suit your work style.

30/30 is “always free” and out now at the App Store.