Panasonic HX-WA10 HD action camera review

Having grown up with hydrophobic electronics, there’s always a perverse pleasure that comes with dunking £200-worth of unreleased equipment in a vat of water. Thanks to the waterproof and shockproof Panasonic HX-WA10 camcorder, that joy is now linked to the excitement of full HD recording in a cool, fun form.

Panasonic-HX-WA10

Panasonic invited us to try the new HX-WA10 (alongside its little brother, the HM-TA20) at the Go Ape adventure activity centre where we agreed to give it hell. Rain? It was fine (it can be submerged down to 3 metres). Mud? No problem. Dropping it? No impact (although we’re told the safe limit for drops is 1.5 metres – keep that in mind!).

Of course, a rock can also do all of these things. The real question with the camcorder is: how does it record?

Video
The shadowy realms of the Go Ape jungle were an ideal setting to test the camera’s ability. And even in the difficult recording environment – one that swaps quickly from bright sunshine to dark, under-the-canopy close-ups – the HX-WA10 performed admirably. The good low-light performance comes thanks to a backside-illuminated sensor – a technology you’ll recognise from the iPhone 4.

Auto-exposure adjustment was rapid, while video noise was minimal in the dark areas. Even flying down a zip-wire, the focus kept up with our frantic camera-wielding. With a 16 megapixel sensor (that can record at 1080p), we noticed no artefacting or motion blur in typical fast-moving situations – even at 60fps. The full range of recording options are 1080/60i, 1080/30p, 720/60p, 720/30p, 540/30p and 480/30p.

Zoom

Much has been made of Panasonic’s Advanced Zoom, which claims to record at 12x with no drop in image quality. We were dubious before we saw it – and are still unconvinced. We’ll admit that it’s undoubtedly much better than traditional digital zoom (which we wish would die), but it’s not quite at optical zoom standards (5x on the WA10). It’s actually usable, though – something digital zooms have never achieved.

Controls

We come to this camera from the old Sanyo Xacti VPC-CG10 pistol-grip, with its 720p recording. The Panasonic bests the two-year old Sanyo in every department – except controls. The Xacti has a thumbstick exactly where your thumb rests on the back of the camera, for super-quick menu navigation and menu options.

The Panasonic has this horrible little d-pad on the side of the camera that makes it difficult to fiddle-and-video at the same time. It’s a real shocker – but not a deal-breaker. As this is our biggest complaint about the camcorder, you can probably understand the quality of the rest of the device.

Conclusion

As we said in the video (look at one minute in – that’s us!), it’s great for families. It’s tough – it can cope with the beach, the sea – even the drops and scrapes of letting the kids play with it. And it manages all this while providing excellent video quality. Recommended!

Get the power whether you’re at a festival or camping with One For All’s chargers

So Glastonbury is over for another year and you’ve got the muddy boots to prove it, but there are still plenty of other events where you might be stuck in the middle of a field suffering from gadget withdrawal symptoms. But fear not, for there are yet more gadgets that can help you keep connected.

Festival-Gadgets
Image courtesy of Flickr user john_charalambous

And of course they’re not only good for festivals – if you’re camping this year (or even glamping if you go in for that kind of thing) and are concerned about keeping yourself online, on your phone or maintaining your poker-straight hair –there is help at hand…

The folk at One for All have come up with a veritable plethora of charging implements to keep the watts (or is it amps?) flowing…

First up is the One For All car charger (£16.99), which turns your car cigarette lighter into a charging station and comes complete with seven tips for charging up your mobile phone, MP3 player, PDA, digital camera or game player.

If you want to use your laptop (or get at your barnet with the hair straighteners) you’ll be shelling out £29.99 for the One For All in-car power socket, which converts the cigarette lighter into a 220V mains power point. Also handy for hair dryers (and with the British weather what it is, that could be really useful!).

If you’re not a car owner and will be combining cycling or walking with camping, or indeed have got the train to a festival, there’s also a charger for you. The One For All Universal Travel Power Pack has a 1050 mAh battery which, once pre-charged, gives up to 100 hours of extra power (standby time) when the device’s own battery has run down. It costs £29.99. More on these devices at http://www.oneforall.co.uk

Finally if you need to charge up your phone or iPad quickly, then you might consider the TomTom high-speed multi-charger, which has a 1.2 amp USB charging port for mobile phones or MP3 players, plus a 2.1 amp port to speed-charge high power USB devices such as an iPad or iPhone. It also features a third port for powering 12V in-car devices such as DVD players, and costs £19.99. More at http://www.tomtom.com

Ultra Motor Fast4ward cycles

Ultra Motor, the makers of electric bikes, may be one of the biggest names in transport that you’ve never heard of. Producing over 250,000 electric motors a year, its creations have ended up in the hands of Leonardo Di Caprio, Johnny Vaughan and Jay Leno. And with its new Fast4ward range, electric bikes may just have got better than ever.

Fast4ward-Edge

The new Fast4ward cycles were designed to outrun the preconception that electric bikes are slow, heavy and ugly. As such, all three bikes in the range reach up to 15.5mph – 50% above the average cycling speed.

They also weigh between 19kg – 21kg, shaving a few kilos off of rival electric bike systems. And the look – well, look at the pictures and tell us. All of the bikes were designed by a German team of designers with over 16 years of experience.

• The Fast4ward range is also relatively affordable. Starting at £999 for the Edge (20″ wheels, 26v battery), the range increases to 26″ for the Ride (£1,099) and in size and battery (36v) for the Peak (£1,249). Once you’ve bought the bike, however, Ultra Motor assure us that it’s about 7p of electricity for 40 miles of motoring. Bargain.
• The Panasonic Lithium-Ion batteries take four hours to fully recharge, although you should get 80% power in 120 minutes. The smaller, 26v battery pumps out up to 25 miles of travelling, while the bigger version manages an impressive 40.
• If you’re curious, Ultra Motor is currently inviting people to give the new Fast4ward a free trial. Anyone interested in buying an e-bike can borrow one for a maximum of three days – and hand it back if they’re not interested.
• Testers will be encouraged to create a video diary of their e-biking experience and upload them to YouTube, with one lucky vlogger given a free bike at the end.

Ocean Leisure press day: Underwater and sailing gadgets

Ocean Leisure is one of the UK’s premier marine and water sports superstore and they recently held a press day to show off their latest and greatest pieces of equipment. Promising the Latest Gadgets team wet and wonderful gadgets, the likes of which I had never seen before I headed down to their 8000 sq ft store in the heart of London. Ocean Leisure has over thirty specialist staff, including diving instructors, dinghy sailors and ocean yachtsmen, who all seemed happy to deal with a series of “… oooh what does this do” style questions from me.

Ocean-Leisure

The first thing to elicit an oooh from me was the Bladefish, a lightweight James Bond style driver propulsion vehicle with a built in propeller that pulls you along under water. It has a nice safety feature to prevent you fingers from getting chopped off – you have to depress tabs on both sides to engage the engine. There are a variety of models that have differing battery capacities and engine strengths with the Bladefish 7000 coming top of the charts with 2 hours of battery life and the ability to happily withstand depths of up to 40 metres, making it ideal for a diving enthusiast.

Other useful innovations included the solargorilla – huge slabs of solar panels to charge your phones, tablets of laptops whilst you were out on the open sea. They also had cool little water bouy devices to help you find your keys or other equipment if they happened to go overboard (something similar was on the most recent series of It’s Always Sunny in Philiadelphia). And if you go overboard, Personal Location Beacons from Fast Find should help to find you, beaming your exact GPS co-ordinates to rescue services.  They also had hand held anemometers – the SKYWATCH Xplorer 4 Anemometer (JDC X4), which is a pocket sized meteorological instrument that measures Windspeed, Temperature, Windchill factor, Digital compass, Altitude, Barometric air pressure. Useful if you ever need to know any of those things obviously and great for windsurfers and their ilk. And h20 audio had an amazing enclosure beloved by divers waiting to decompress that enabled you to use an iPhone or iPod touch underwater (pictured).

Want to know more? Head to http://www.oceanleisure.co.uk/

Autoglass 2020 Vision

Fortune-telling is a dubious business. And if Gypsy women with mystic balls and hordes of magic charms aren’t to be believed, what chance do windscreen manufacturer Autoglass have? Well, when the future is this cool, hopefully quite a lot.

Autoglass

Autoglass has created a “2020 Vision campaign”, pondering what information our windscreens will show us in 2020.

The video, included below, suggests combining augmented reality, visual sensors and GPS technology to make – undeniably – one of the coolest windscreens we’ve ever seen.

Key information such as speed, fuel and car issues are displayed right on the glass, meaning you never have to look anywhere else. It also means you’ll feel like you’re playing Wipeout 2097 or any other futuristic racing sim, where overlays keep you up-to-date about your racer.

It also shows overlays for nearby places of interest, which, using GPS technology is already widely implemented – only now, it’s got an awesome display. It also prompts deals along the bottom of the screen for nearby restaurants or bars – something that could be genuinely useful for road users (and might help supplement the huge rising costs of fuel!)

Visual sensors could also be implemented, recognising nearby pedestrians and cyclists and highlighting them as potential hazards. It’s all very computer-gamey – and therefore awesome.

The demo shows pedestrians being highlighted, deals popping up (perhaps distractingly so…) and the fuel gauge drop low, whereby the screen informs the driver of the location of the nearest petrol station and directs him on-screen, with arrows overlaying atop the real world.

The soundtracks pretty cool, too.

iBike Dash Cycling Computer

It seems there is no end to the versatility of your iPhone as entrepreneurial creatives continuously find more opportunities to harness its resources in ways its original designers never thought possible.

Now cyclists get the benefits with an app and hardware combo that provides personal fitness coaching as you pedal.

iBike-Dash-CC

Developed by Velocomp, a leader in cycling computers and power metres, the iBike Dash app provides real time speed, distance and ride time calculations in combination with the built in iPhone GPS, as well as monitoring your heart rate and calories burned using on board sensors. A ‘smart phone booth’ provides safe and snug housing for your iPhone and protects it from water and road shock, so you’re all set to pedal your way to health and fitness.

The app allows for full touch screen control even when you’re wearing cycling gloves and will provide odometer readings of your progress, whilst the calendar feature will keep track of your weekly performance so you’ll quickly be able to see how you’ve improved. There’s even a built in virtual coach who’ll help you pace yourself properly as you grind out those last few miles.

Handily, Velocomp has included a rechargeable quick swap battery in the phone booth to give you an extra seven hours talk time, just as well as the unit is fully compatible with any standard Bluetooth headset device.

If you’re not interested in fitness, but just looking for a robust way of safely fitting your iphone onto your bike instead, the iBike Phone Booth bicycle mount will tick that box for you. It uses the same materials you find in bike helmets so plenty of protection there, and provides the same water and shock protection as the iBike Dash.

The iBike Dash Cycling Computer is available now at £199 from Apple stores worldwide.

Review: Soulra solar-powered sound system for iPod and iPhone

Our garden has been filled with the sound of music for the past couple of weeks while I’ve been trying out the Soulra solar-powered sound system for iPod and iPhone.

The first test for any gadget I try out is its ease of use out of the box. Like many of us, I simply don’t have the time or inclination to fiddle about with my new technology, spending a weekend reading the user manual before I get any joy. Happily, I had the unit out of its box and working within a couple of minutes, which gives it a big thumbs-up.

Soulra

My second bugbear is that every time I use a new piece of Apple-optimised gear, I find I haven’t got the most up to date gadget or piece of software and it’s suddenly not compatible. So I was delighted when I found my ancient iPod (circa 2006) was happily accepted by the sound system. So thumbs-up number two. The system is also compatible with iPhones.

Next, on to its solar charging abilities. The makers say that you’ll get four horurs of playback for every 10 hours of solar charging, or four hours of sounds for four hours of charging via the AC power cable supplied.

I tried it first on the AC power, just to check out the sound quality – which, with options to change the bass levels (although nothing else) – was excellent. A quick 10-minute solar charge got us up and running too, and I have spent the past couple of weeks with the unit on the garden table, providing non-stop tunes all day. The only caveat is that we have had an exceptionally sunny fortnight, so I have definitely benefited from the sun’s power. A simple display of lit icons give you info on whether it is being solar charged and how much juice is left in the battery.

Your tunes can be controlled either by rubberised buttons on the top or using the remote control, which we found worked from up to 20ft away.

The unit itself is good looking and has a rubberised body, which makes it feel a bit more durable for outside use – the solar panel flips up and does not benefit from the rubberised coating, so I’m not sure how it would stand up should it get knocked off a table while the panel was flipped up.

The body is also splashproof (if the panel is closed), so if it gets sprinkled during a rain shower it should be okay.

For anyone who spends a lot of time in the garden, goes camping or works on an allotment, this is an excellent choice of sound system to access all the sounds on your iPod or iPhone at a pretty reasonable £149.

Find out more at www.etoncorp.co.uk

Review: Bright Light Ranger and Eton Scorpion

If you go camping, boating or fishing, or indeed need a light at the bottom of the garden, the low-energy ultra-bright LED Bright Light Ranger lamp has been designed for you.

Bright-Light-Ranger

Now don’t think this a torch that you can slip in your pocket – it’s a bigger piece of kit – around the size of a portable DVD drive – and quite weighty. However, it does send out a decent wide angle beam that can cover a 40-square metre area and offers 12 hours from a single charge.

The lamp boasts 12 Power LEDs, which are brighter than ordinary LEDs, and should the light die at a vital moment you have several choices for charging – you can plug it into the mains to get juice into the rechargeable battery, use a 12V car socket, or in a real emergency, use the wind-up handle, which fits neatly into the side of the body.

Nowadays, we come to expect gear designed for use outdoors to have a rubberised body, which the Bright Light Ranger doesn’t have. It does feel pretty sturdy, but I’m not sure how much hard use it would survive – if you’re outside camping, or in a stables or boating environment, things tend to get a bit of a bashing.

It’s not cheap at £89.99, but it does do a better job than most of the camping lanterns I’ve tried over recent years, and as an emergency power source – you might even keep it to use if there’s a power cut at home, it’s probably worth a punt. Yours from www.nevadaradio.co.uk

Also aimed at the outside user is the Eton Scorpion, a solar powered radio, mobile phone charger, LED flashlight and bottle opener! That might give you a clue to the type of user it is aimed at – it would be great for campers and festival goers.

Eton-Scorpion

The good-looking gadget fits in the hand, although it’s quite chunky and comes in either black and bright orange or black and vibrant green. Its body is rubberised to withstand knocks and shocks and it has a carabineer clip so that you can hook it to a tent, line or wire.

The radio picked up a decent signal in our village, which from I know doesn’t benefit from the best reception, and the torch is a really useful addition. The charger managed to power up an iPhone, and if you run out of juice you can use the solar panel, DC adaptor or the crank dynamo in an emergency. The only not-so-rugged part of the unit is the rubber cover for the power and headphone ports, which I suspect would easily get pulled off with continued use.

It’s a nifty, good looking and fun piece of kit for the traveller – and you can always do with an extra bottle opener! Priced at £49.99 from www.etoncorp.co.uk