HTC One Max review round-up

HTC-One-max

HTC received a much needed boost to a flagging reputation when it released the HTC One, so it’s not entirely surprising to see the Taiwanese smartphone giant milking this success at every opportunity. The HTC One Mini was fairly well received, retaining many of the most lauded qualities of its predecessor, including the premium metal body and Boomsound speakers. The One Max continues this trend, though is obviously significantly larger than the original. There’s nothing inherently wrong with shrinking or enlarging a wildly successful design per se, as long as it doesn’t end up watering down an inspirational brand if it fails. So with the HTC One Max doing the rounds in the UK the big question is, can it maintain an elite reputation among the tech press?

First up it’s worth checking out Gizmag for a nice comparison of the One Max and another big player in this market – the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. Two important differences here are two of the most common problems we’ve seen mentioned in reviews – dimensions and processing power.

These “phablet” devices are walking a fine line when it comes to something that’s still portable enough to use as a phone yet represents a significant upgrade (often purely in screen real estate) over a more traditional smartphone, and HTC appears to have fallen to the wrong side of it with the One Max. Despite being only 4mm wider, it’s 14mm longer and 2mm thicker than the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, and seems to have overstepped the mark in terms of something that’s comfortable to hold and use.

Pocket Lint, who gave the HTC One 5/5 and still rates it as the best smartphone around, is less impressed by the One Max largely for these reasons, scoring it 3.5. Alongside relatively underpowered hardware, which hasn’t been significantly improved since the One, it adds that “it just feels too big” and “The original handset feels better in the hand, it’s nicer to hold and use day-to-day…

CNet feels the same, listing these two features as the only notable drawbacks in its 4/5 review, concluding that “It’s undeniably cumbersome though so most of you will likely find the standard model a more manageable size”, though is impressed by the display, battery life and the new Sense 5.5 interface.

Power-Flip-Case
Power Flip Case

Another common issue is the built-in fingerprint scanner, which sits on the rear of the phone under the camera lens and appears to be a bit of a disappointment, certainly compared to the iPhone 5S, which was generally well received.  TechRadar was particularly irked by this, calling it “pointless” and “a real waste of time”. It too argues that by effectively creating an HTC One with a bigger screen, HTC hasn’t done enough to impress in this market, and though it does praise the battery life, expandable storage and software additions such as 50GB of Google Drive storage, is largely put off by the price “…it’s so expensive. Ridiculously so. We’d have understood if the specs were updated, but to bring to market something that doesn’t even have an improved list over the original (released over half a year ago) this isn’t something we can come close to recommending.

This is echoed by GSMArena, who argues that “Unless HTC delivers a prompt upgrade that makes the fingerprint scanner a real game-changer, it will probably have to cut the One Max’s price a bit to keep the phablet relevant.

Finally, Engadget, like most others, praises the display, stating “HTC’s Super LCD 3 panel is still the best in its class, and the best on the whole market if, like us, you prefer the natural colors of an LCD display to the over-saturated appearance of an AMOLED panel” and twinned with Boomsound makes it “a perfect video-watching experience.” Added to an impressive battery life, which on a rundown test lasted 30% longer than the Galaxy Note 3, it states that “It will especially appeal to someone, such as a frequent flyer, who wants a big screen and big battery specifically for the purpose of consuming video and music”. However, as an overall package it still suffers from the issues described above here, and interestingly Engadget got in touch with HTC to ask why. The general consensus seems to be that “The One Max is a mid-term addition rather than a new flagship, perhaps primarily designed to cater for an Asian niche, and so it was never going to be the target of big investment”, so by this token it seems that HTC weren’t planning to push the boat out with the One Max anyway, which does rather sound like a lack of ambition given the original’s success.

So there you have it. In summary, the HTC One Max is effectively a large HTC One with few notable additions. While this does mean that it still looks and sounds great, it appears to be a bit too large to feel comfortable, a bit too expensive to represent value for money and a bit too underpowered to compete with capable rivals. If it’s true that HTC didn’t really see this as a significant release outside the Asian market, let’s just hope it has something major in the pipeline to help truly build on the success of the One.

Pure’s Avalon 300R PVR: Hands On Review

pure-avalon-pvr

We were excited to learn at this years CES (doesn’t January seem like a long time ago?!) that Pure, one of our favourite audio gadget manufacturers, was branching out into the crowded market of Freeview set top boxes.

So when Avalon 300R Cpmmect was released; like all sensible men we started setting up without too much reference to the instructions. Easy to configure, the auto tune function got the Freeview HD side of things up and running, and apart from a tricky caps lock issue with the wifi password, the network connection was also up and running in double quick time.

Almost immediately, however, the box set about updating itself to the latest software, which once it had run, left the box in standby, mode which I hadn’t been expecting. Once back on, the network connection seemingly was forgotten, but resetting the network connections got everything back on track.

The interface moving from web based content (iPlayer or YouTube) to Freeview was a little clunky, appearing to power the box down and up again (as the tv displayed the “source lost” message), but after a few seconds it was back to the Freeview content.

A little irritation was that when you’ve viewed information on the screen regarding your program, pressing the “back” button removed the info but left a general channel banner, which if you try to remove with the back button, you end up changing channel to the last one selected (exit is the right button to remove the channel banner).

On searching for particular programs, and series linking where applicable, both were easy to use. The auto offer HD when available (a prompt that tells you if you could be watching in better quality) is a useful feature that really does add value.

Another quirky feature which we found strangely addictive (maybe because we hate the thought we’re missing something better on the other side!) was Avalon’s use of picture in picture. If you’re just browsing, you’re given the option to watch what’s on the other channel in a mini screen.

Now, I know you’re thinking picture in picture’s not that innovative, certainly been possible on Humax boxes for some time, but the design of the interface linking to channel browsing is certainly helpful.

pure-epg1

The EPG, or electronic program guide, appears a little cramped, with only 6 channels info showing at any one time, with the rest of the screen pretty much empty, which feels like a waste. There are animations on moving between channels (like flicking pages of a book) which are cute to begin with, but don’t offer any functionality, and leave the interface with a “gimmicky” feel.

As Bill Gates once said, “content is king”, and in the world of Freeview set top boxes, never has that sentiment been more appropriate. With no Netflix, Lovefilm or Now TV (Sky’s “lite” offering for consumers who are commitment phobic (their marketing speak, not ours!)) or even the free ITV or 4OD players, Pure does risk looking restrictive in this respect. Particularly when you consider that the content in these areas is expanding rapidly (Sky now offer Sky Sports via the Now TV platform), and Netflix ever growing library of box sets.

Pure’s entry into the market has two key features that will make it stand out; the Pure music subscription content service and built in wifi connect-ability. The Pure Connect interface was easy to navigate, and while it’s no Apple TV, we were able to get around with no problems. The Connect service, which allows users to either buy tracks or albums for playing on their Pure connected devices, or stream unlimited content for a monthly fee, is well established on the brands audio devices. At present there is no video content available to buy or rent via this service, although Pure say expanding on demand video offerings is an area they are working on.

Overall the lack of on demand providers at present make this entry look quite expensive at GBP349.95 for a 1TB unit, (YouView 1TB box is £50 cheaper; johnlewis.com), but if you’re already a subscriber to the music service, or want to take advantage of the wifi being built in and avoid another trailing wire in the living room, this maybe a great solution for you.

Windows 8 review of reviews: Fireman’s poles, tiles and hyperbole?

Let’s for one minute, strip away the hysteria and PR hyperbole that accompanies every Windows release and get down to the brass tacks of this latest release. Is it really the best thing Microsoft has produced since the dawn of time as it would lead us to believe? Microsoft is saying it’s the biggest upgrade to the operating system in 17 years, but what do the reviewers make of it?

Charles Arthur at The Guardian reckons it’s more like Windows 7+1 and uses a wonderful analogy of sliding down the fireman’s pole if you want to visit the more familiar Windows 7 desktop.

“The “Start screen”, as Microsoft calls it, consists only of those big tiles, and completely replaces the desktop you first see on Windows – although, let’s be clear, that old Windows desktop is still there. It’s just hidden one layer down, and if you want to jump down into it there’s a perfectly good fireman’s pole in the form of a tile called “Desktop”. Click or touch that, and you’re in Windows 7″

Win-8-Start

Engadget opens up with perhaps a more obvious statement on the much heralded tiles:

“It’s safe to say the Windows Phone-esque Live Tiles have been the single most polarizing thing about Windows 8. Which makes sense: the new, mobile-inspired Start Screen looks wholly different from anything we’ve seen on previous versions of Windows. What’s more, you can’t even interact with these apps the same way: they run at full-screen, and can’t be minimized or re-sized like the windows you’re used to. In short, these tiles are the cornerstone of the Windows 8 experience, and they’re impossible to avoid, even if you plan on doing much of your work in the traditional desktop”

Matt Warman, Consumer Technology Editor at The Telegraph on the other hand discusses whether or not trying to combine an operating system for both tablets and PC’s is a wise move: “If you have an existing PC that doesn’t have a touchscreen, Windows 8 is more of an enticement to buy a new one than it is a reason to upgrade”

Win-8-Pics

And then goes on to highlight the more eccentric aspects of the OS:

“For new users, Windows 8 will sometimes be infuriating – how do you close a programme? Why are there two versions of Internet Explorer, one for desktop, one for Windows 8 proper? (Because Windows 8 proper is more powerful.) Why is there no Facebook app, when Microsoft is a Facebook investor? Why is logging in to a wired network different from a wireless one? None of these are crises, but all of them indicate that Windows 8 remains the future – it will certainly not be the present until Intel chips power it to its full potential. And by then, the software will have been polished and the apps library filled. January can’t come soon enough”.

It seems the jury is out as to Microsoft’s bold tactic of trying to crowbar one operating system into two platforms, but reviewers are united in their praise of Live Tiles although confusion will reign at first as Jim Martin from PC Advisor says: “It’s at this point which many people will feel lost, but as with any new interface, it takes only a few minutes to gain your bearings and figure out where things are and how to accomplish tasks.”

Samsung ML-1865W review

Samsung-ML-1865W

Removing the Samsung ML-1865W from its box causes a moment of quiet reflection – remember when wireless laser printers were the size of photocopiers? The 1865 is tiny (341 x 224 x 184mm). We’re talking pretty-much-inkjet size. And it all folds away into a neat little box. AND it looks nice. So what else is good?

The printer’s not just small in size – it’s small on noise. Samsung state that it’s quieter “than the gentle hum of a running refrigerator” while printing – just under 50dBA. We can concur, albeit we didn’t pitch it head-to-head in our kitchen. It’s quiet though, eerily quiet.

The quality, 1200 x 1200, is impressive – as is the print time, a huge 18 pages per minute.  It’s also pretty quick from the off – it takes about nine seconds to start printing from cold. In fact, the 1865 is a bit of a speed demon all-round – it loads from eco-off to print-ready promptly, with the “On” button right on the front of the device.

Here’s a video review from Micro Center

Another useful button is One Touch. One touch of this button lets you print the contents of your screen quickly and easily – even when you’re away from your desk. Hold down the button for two seconds (One Touch and hold?) and the printer will work out your last activated window and print that – be it a website, email, document, picture – anything with a print function. Cool.

Set-up is a breeze – especially if your router supports WPS (Wifi protected set-up). You simply select the WPS option on your router, and then press the WPS button on the printer and you’re done.

If you don’t have WPS, you have to hook it up to your PC with a USB to set the Wi-fi settings. You only have to do this once, but it’s a little annoying. We’d much prefer a complete solution that involved no cables at all – then you could easily lend your printer to less technology practiced relatives. Once WPS gets more widespread we’ll be okay.

If you’re only interested in mono printing, the Samsung ML-1865W is wonderful. It’s small, quick and wireless – so you can tuck it away when not in use. It’s also cheap, too – around £75.

TuneUp Utilities 2011 review

TuneUp

Like people, computers seem to slow down as they get old. With human ageing, it’s usually losing information that slows things down. With a PC, however, it’s the opposite – too much data. Accumulate enough old and redundant files and even the fastest system will struggle. Over 20 million people have turned to TuneUp to solve these issues. We got hold of the 2011 edition to find out why.

After a painless install, TuneUp automatically boots and asks if you want to scan your system. Its part of the 1-Click Maintenance service, which cleans and defragments the registry, removes broken shortcuts, deletes temporary files and optimises system start-up.

When ran on my six-month old computer, it found 582 registry issues, 96 broken shortcuts, 484.16MB of pointless temporary files and 11 potential system start-up optimisation. Suddenly, I felt like an abusive parent.

A quick browse of the “show details” option showed that I’d been fairly caught, too – most of the errors in the registry were from installed software referencing to absent files. Not exactly my fault, but it was clear that TuneUp wasn’t making the number up.

While most users will have to take TuneUp’s recommendations as gospel, even less advanced users might be able to understand the start-up optimisation options. Clicking “show details” launches a panel that reveals superfluous boot-up software – the stuff that slows down your computer’s loading time.

Not only can it tell you to remove some of them, but it also recommends moving some of the programme updates to weekly schedules rather than to run on boot. This is perfect for updating software – you’ll keep up with the latest releases but prevent a mammoth boot time.

There is plenty of functionality other than 1-Click Maintenance to dig through, although the most memorable is Turbo Mode. At the click of a button, TuneUp will change some preset (by you) system settings, such as graphic options and unused system processes, and free up computer power for whatever important task you’re doing. This is a godsend for older computers tugging along, although it won’t make too much difference to your top-end system.

After ten minutes of following wizards, I’d finished.  Rebooting my computer, start-up had definitely improved. Of course, ten minutes of Googlin’ can tell you how to increase your boot-up times using the Windows built-in MSCONFIG.

As for the rest of the optimisations – I couldn’t tell. I’ve got a lightning fast system, so the difference is hard to notice, and realistically, probably minimal. Having looked at what the programme does, however, I can say for a fact that older systems will love this programme.

If you aren’t an advanced computer user, I almost guarantee that this programme will prevent your computer from unbearably slowness. There’s a 15-day free trial, so it can’t hurt to give it a try – especially on a system over a year old. I think I’ll get it for my Dad.

Nintendo 3DS: Review round up and hands-on

Nintendo-3DS

The 3DS, successor to Nintendo’s uber-popular DS handheld console, has been much anticipated and long awaited among bloggers, gamers and tech obsessives everywhere. Finally, at the E3 conference last week, a few lucky journalists were able to get up close and personal with the device.

Almost as soon as the 3DS been unveiled by Nintendo’s CEO Satoru Iwata, the blogosphere was awash with seemingly universal praise for the gadget. Keith Stuart at the Guardian was certainly impressed: “It works beautifully,” he gushed. “Nintendo is almost certain to have used an off-the-shelf lenticular screen technology, already seen in several mobile phones and laptops… Rich colours, a robust 3D experience and some intriguing games, this was my moment of the E3 experience so far.”

The Telegraph were quick to highlight the device’s impressive capabilities, (although Nintendo have yet to confirm the actual specifications): “Improving the hardware specifications of Nintendo’s best-selling DS handheld, the new 3DS gets improved graphics, a slide pad controller for more intuitive control and an internal gyroscope and motion sensor – like Apple’s iPhone. A slider at the side of the device lets users choose the intensity of the 3D display, from an extreme ‘in your face’ experience to a more subtle effect.”

The graphics were an obvious point of interest for many bloggers. Nintendo has long hinted that the gadget would boast crystal clear 3D graphics, without the need those silly 3D glasses, but have they managed to deliver? Wired thinks so, hailing the device as “unbelievable”. Chris Kohler wrote on their website: “It never feels like it’s straining your eyes and you don’t get any of that ghosting (when you can see a faint double image) you sometimes see at the movies. It’s was certainly the cleanest, clearest 3D we saw on the show floor, better than any of the 3D Sony Bravia sets we played PS3 games on.”

The picture-perfect graphics will also make gameplay much more satisfying, according to Mike Jackson at Techradar.com: “[The 3D graphics] made it easier to make acute judgments in the games. Flying through hoops or under bridges felt easier to accomplish just because you’re armed with depth perception like in real life.”

Amid the near-constant stream of kudos however, Michael Sawh at T3 noted a potential flaw: “The one slight let-down of 3DS is that nothing actually ‘jumps out’ of the screen in your direct vision. This is much more about what’s going on in the background.”

Suffice to say he wasn’t too disappointed though, as he then went on to claim: “Nintendo may have just created the most important piece of entertainment technology in decades.”

Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too long out to discover if this is true, but with no official release date (although a pre-Christmas roll-out seems likely) and no details on price (rumours range from £125 to £300), we’ll just have to twiddle our thumbs and be patient.

Nintendo 3DS Hands on (by Shem Pennant)

Nintendo were kind enough to invite Latest Gadgets to a top secret location in London town to have a hands on play with a prototype of their hot new handheld the 3DS.

Unfortunately they didn’t have a fully working unit, so no one was able to fully confirm any hardware specifications, release dates or prices. It was more an opportunity for us to hold units, watch units and go wow.

Hands on with Nintendo 3DS

Fortunately there is a lot to be wowed by. The glasses-free 3D works well with the 3DS screen and can adjusted (or switched off completely) by a little slider on the side – which may or may not be there in the finished model.

There are two cameras in the back that enable you to take 3D images. Whilst I wasn’t blown away by the quality of the images I took, it was a fun little feature and I’m sure if you are snapping something a little more interesting than a room filled with surly technology journalists you could probably get some decent images.

There was also a trailer for a 3D movie which you could play back on the device (although how you got them on there in the first place was “unconfirmed”.

I saw unplayable 3D demos for Kid Icarus, Mario Kart and Metal Gear Solid, all of which looked pretty impressive – the 3D seemed to benefit Mario Kart the most. There was also a playable demo for Nintendogs which showed off some of the 3DS’s face recognition abilities. As I moved the unit to my face a small puppy ran at me and licked my cheek. Tilting my head left or right caused the puppy to mimic my actions. All pretty kawaiii.

In addition, there were some playable demos of Wii titles on display. Kirby’s Epic Yarn was a cute looking platform game, where everything was made from wool and Metroid: Other M had an immersive soundtrack and storyline. There was some sort of dancing game, where lots of Nintendo staff were happily bopping to Vampire Weekend but I quickly ran past to get to Goldeneye, which was a remake of the N64 classic (Pistols, Complex, License to Kill = ultimate test of skill) – right down to the ability to play OddJob and annoy your opponents.

Unfortunately, everything was TBA (Soon, we’ll rid the world of T.B.A.!) but hopefully should be out in stores later in the year.

Apple iMac (late 2009) 27-inch Review

new-imac-quadcore-led

iMac’s used to be the obvious choice for people who prefer style over substance. This is no longer the case, over the last 10 years Apple have steadily improved their all-in-one computer and the latest incarnation is the fastest all-in-one solution on the market to date. The two ultra-high-end 27-inch iMacs are the first to uses Intel’s Core i5 and i7 quad-core processors. And the other lower spec iMac’s feature Intel’s core 2 duo.

The Display

The first thing you will notice in Apple’s new all-in-one computer range is the amazing screen. The 27-inch model is bite the back of your hand beautiful and has been made with high definition video in mind. Featuring an insanely high resolution of 2560×1440 graphic designers and techie types will certainly take notice of the new iMac screen, especially now that it features energy efficient LED technology. Like many of the top LED HDTVs, the black border that surrounds the new iMac screen reaches out to the very edge; the aluminium border from previous iMac’s has now gone and Apple’s engineers have managed something quite beautiful.

The never-ending glass edge gives the impression that the screen is bigger than it really is. The only downside of screen is the glossy finished which often means you can see yourself in the reflection. But, on the upside the glossy finish allows the display to produce deep blacks and rich eye-popping colours. With the increased screen real estate the question you will ask yourself is: “Do I put this in the office or in the living room to show off?”

The Look & Sound

The body of the new iMac is made entirely of aluminium, the plastics from previous models have gone and you’re now left with the best looking computer on the market. Like previous iMacs, the ports are located behind the computer in the bottom left corner. Featuring a headphone/optical output minjack, an audio line/optical digital audio input minijack, four USB 2.0 ports, one firewire 800 port, a mini DisplayPort and a Gigabit Ethernet port. Apple has strengthened the possibility of using this piece of kit as part of an entertainment centre with an upgraded speaker system. The new speakers are a vast improvement. You’ll still probably want to add some external speaker if you put it in a big room, but if you have it a normal sized bedroom, den or office the new speaker have more than enough power.

Performance & Kit

Apple has included quad-core compatibility for the first time in an iMac; they give you the option of Intel’s I5 2.66 quad-core or i7 2.80 quad-core. The i5 features technology that Intel calls Turbo Boost. If an application isn’t using every available core, the cores that are idle shut off, and the active core speeds up to 3.20 Ghz.

For the first time the new iMac come with Bluetooth keyboard (not a full sized effort with the number pad missing) and the much lauded Magic Mouse. The mouse has been attracting quite a bit of attention, first of all the new mouse looks beautiful and feels instantly comfortable. Apple claims nothing less than a reinvention of the computer mouse. But then, Apple would. It features the trackpad technology used is Apple’s laptops to the surface of the mouse. The mouse’s surface allows you scroll up and down with supreme smoothness and a quick flick of you two fingers left or right will allow you to move between photos or back and forward in the web browser. Over the lat few days I have begun to warm to the magic mouse to the point that when I went back to using a track wheel it felt peculiar and alien after the smooth surface of the Magic Mouse.

Conclusion

The iMac is a marvellous piece of design and now if features the raw power that we have all been waiting for. Sure it does have its down sides the lack of a Blu-ray drive and no HDMI might seem unforgivable to some. But Apple has managed to create an all-in-one solution that rarely disappoints and will surely fly of the shelves over Christmas.

Our Score

4/5