Category Archives: Reviews

Tech reviews: laptops, notebooks, cellphones etc.

Google Glass Review: Functions and Flaws

There has been a lot of hype over one of Google’s latest gadgets – Google Glass. The multi-billion dollar company never fails to create huge excitement around their products, which is evident in this case by their impressive video trailer “How It Feels [through Glass]”

It’s easy to get really excited about Google Glass after watching something like this. The song alone almost makes you want to go ski-diving and start living a fuller life.

However, since Google Glass became available to more ordinary folk (at a price tag of $1500), several videos have since surfaced that highlight the inherent flaws in this technology. A Google Glass review by Engadget mentions some of these shortfalls.

Google Glass Review: Functions & Flaws

Google Glass Review - Sergey Brin (image: news.cnet.com)First and foremost, there are MAJOR concerns about privacy. Google Glass wearers could be filming you while in the bathroom or recording your daily movements. Stalking would be taken to a whole new level.

It is also not mentioned that Google Glass requires a wireless connection to your smartphone (which comes at an additional cost). Users have also reported that battery-life is really only a few hours and that the device needs to be charged often via a micro USB.

Functionality also seems to be quite limited with this early edition of Google Glass. You can’t browse webpages or make use of any apps at this point. What Google Glass does allow you to do is check weather forecasts, take pictures and videos (and share these), do basic searches, read and reply to emails or messages, hang out on Google+, get directions, tell you the time and respond to voice prompts. I’m sure there are a few more functions of Google Glass, but at this point, it is essentially a low-end smartphone for your face.

There’s no doubt that Google Glass will evolve into something more impressive over time, but it is also most likely that credit for this will be due to non-Google developers and rather users of the technology – a cheap and effective method of outsourcing. But at least Google has planted the seeds for a possible future behind a screen.

Article originally posted on cDs Global Blog

 

New & Free Online Games at Playberry!

GAMING: Fresh offerings from Playberry

As a games critic, I have to say that I am hugely impressed with the quality of both free online games and mobile games. There are of course hundreds of really unimpressive free online games, but if you know where to look, there are many gems among the rough that are certainly worth giving a bash.

One new website that offers some quality free online games, is Playberry. Described as a “social gaming website dedicated to bringing great gaming content to your browser”, Playberry both develops and handpicks some really great games. It is made by gamers, for gamers.

Playberry Website – Free Online Games

Playberry - Free Online Games

There is a great range of freebies on Playberry, from zombie shoot-em-ups such as In Death We Rise to off-road speedsters such as Renegade Racing. Games are also voted on by Playberry users, providing a user-generated list of the most popular choices.

Playberry covers every major genre of games – from action, adventure and shooters to puzzlers, sports and strategy. Best part is that all these games are free to play and require no registration of any kind. Just visit www.playberry.com and dive right in!

There are of course benefits to registering with Playberry, which is free and can simply be done using your Facebook account. You’ll receive updates of new releases, and I see that they are creating a forum whereby users can make suggestions for new releases. A great feature for any online gaming site.

Playberry is building up a steady following on Facebook, and if you register with your Facebook account, you’ll also have the option of sharing your gaming awesomeness and progress with your friends.

So if you are a gaming enthusiast and are looking for the latest offerings of free online games, check out Playberry and get your game-face on! These games are so nice and small – making them perfect for playing while waiting around or whenever you can sneak in a few minutes of quality playtime.

2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog – Witness This.

Here’s an excerpt:

About 55,000 tourists visit Liechtenstein every year. This blog was viewed about 230,000 times in 2012. If it were Liechtenstein, it would take about 4 years for that many people to see it. Your blog had more visits than a small country in Europe!

Click here to see the complete report.

 

2011 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog. The report offers some very valuable information, such as which posts and pictures received the most views, top referral sites and a traffic map. All this info has been represented graphically. Great job WordPress monkeys!

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 210,000 times in 2011. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 9 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Bulungula Lodge: Green and Serene

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BULUNGULA LODGE: Green and eco-friendly

THERE are very few lodges in the world that can say they run on the same amount of power used by a toaster; a full 24-hour day on what a toaster uses in an hour, to be exact. Bulungula, situated just south of Coffee Bay on South Africa’s Wild Coast, is one such lodge.

Where hills and sea meetThe Wild Coast earns its name by being a watery graveyard to several shipwrecks. Whale bones dot the coastline and it is largely an unfenced area populated by pastoral communities. Bulungula was founded where hills meet sea and is in among a variety of flora and fauna. From the lodge one looks down onto a glorious beach and estuary. The backdrop is those lovely velvety hills with springy grass that spills down the dunes and kisses the rocks and sand below. Goats, cows, chickens, ducks, dogs, donkeys, pigs, sheep and horses all roam freely, and down by the river’s edge, mangroves flourish.

Bulungula, with its use of solar power, rocket showers and compost toilets, is a living example of how tourism can, in fact, be eco-friendly, clean and sustainable. Grey water from the sinks feeds the vegetable garden and the lodge has calculated its annual carbon footprint and plants trees to offset this. Cultural fusion is at its heart, and the realisation that there are many different ways to live your life is something that will have you hankering for more.

Accommodation at Bulungula Lodge

Bulungula Safari TentBulungula offers lodgings in either rondavels or safari tents. Four-bed dormitories are available for those on a budget­. The huts are more spacious and central, but the tents are more private­. I opted for the latter and although I often had to fight my way through the dune bush in pitch darkness, the double bed that awaited was cosy and the wooden deck perfect for star gazing.

(It says on the Bulungula website that if you don’t see a shooting star within half an hour during a clear night, you get that night’s accommodation free. I checked and saw three).

One is able to go to bed with the tent door left open with the roar of the ocean in your ears. In the mornings you can view the sunrise over the horizon without lifting your head from your pillow.

Bulungula Lodge: South Africa

Crime and safety at Bulungula Lodge

It’s hard for a South African to think of any place in the country as crime free. Because the Bulungula community owns 40% of the lodge, there is a vested interest, and since its establishment in 2004, there has been no recorded incident of even the most minor theft. Once you accept that crime is non-existent, it’s quite liberating not having to constantly worry about your belongings going walkabout.

Cellphones lie in a neat row on the kitchen windowsill while cameras and laptops lay about on tables and couches. Anything can be left quite safely in your unlocked hut or open tent. So long as an inquisitive goat doesn’t mistake your goods for lunch, everything can be left with peace of mind.

The Bulungula Lodge is the realisation of a dream dreamt during years of travels through the most remote parts of Africa, China and South America: to create an eco-friendly backpackers lodge in the most beautiful place in South Africa in partnership with a vibrant, traditional community.” – www.bulungula.com

The people you meet at Bulungula

A place like Bulungula attracts people of all ages from all walks of life and from all corners of the globe. During my four-day stay, I crossed paths with Sam — a video editor from north London, Matt — a surfer and ex-banker from New Zealand who sold all his possessions to spend a year travelling through South America; sweet, tattoo-clad Stephanie from Switzerland, Melissa, the 23-year-old Canadian who is bravely journeying from Cape to Cairo, Keegan from Cape Town, and a few American girls doing missionary work. It was a real treat to interact with such well-travelled, open and friendly people.

Things to do at Bulungula Lodge

BulungulaIf lying on the grass with a beer and good book or wallowing in a rock pool isn’t enough action for you, there are several things to do at Bulungula. The lodge and its activities have completely uplifted the surrounding villages and several community members have started their own small businesses. There is much to learn too if you immerse yourself within Xhosa culture.

I indulged in a two-hour horse ride which started along the beach and then headed inland and uphill. With the horses being as tame and well-disciplined as they are, no riding experience is required. Other options are to take a tour with the local herbalist, enjoy a full body massage, hike, fish, crayfish dive, glide down the Xora River in a canoe, or learn how to play the hypnotic bongos. Popular board games are available for rainy days.

I honestly can’t commend Bulungula enough. However, if luxury, comfort and privacy is your thing, it may not be your cup of tea, but I think it’s a must-do for any city dweller with a sense of adventure. The laid-back nature of the place, the hospitality, safety and friendliness may well change one’s outlook in pretty profound ways.

Just be warned that the ride is rough when driving there. It is unknown how solid your bones need to be in order to traverse a severely pot-holed road for 36 kilometres. But then again, isn’t being hard to get to one of the definitions of a paradise?

The Apple of my iPad


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APPLE IPAD: Hands-on, touch technology at its best

DIGITAL entertainment technology has a nasty habit of being released onto the market too soon — usually before it can be fully tested, optimised, fine-tuned and sold at a fair price. The Apple iPad, on the other hand, couldn’t have come soon enough, and is the perfect balance between a smartphone — such as the iPhone — and a netbook or MacBook. It is also one gadget being marketed at a very reasonable price.

Apple iPad iBook storeWe South Africans, however, may have to wait a little longer to get our eager hands on iPads and experience them for ourselves. Nonetheless, several bloggers and tech experts have been raving about the iPad since it’s unveiling on January 28; but not all of it has been positive.

Techsperts are arguing that the biggest downfall of the iPad is that it is trying to be the best at everything and failing to be the best at anything. It’s great if you already own a laptop and an iPhone, they say, but perhaps not so great as a stand-alone device.

I would argue differently, and propose that the iPad is perfect for people who own neither an iPhone nor a netbook — or any Apple product for that matter. For starters, you would only be paying for one gadget (it is the cheapest of the three), which is able to do what the netbook and iPhone can … even if not as well.

What is an Apple iPad?
The iPad is a tablet computer. It is a flat, magazine-sized device with a multi-touch screen that allows users to surf the web, watch video content, send emails and read online media and ebooks (electronic books), among other things.

The real technology lies in the high-resolution, multi-touch screen, which is essentially what the iPad is. It requires no input devices such as a keyboard and mouse; everything is performed with the touch or sweep of a finger. A virtual on-screen keyboard appears when wanting to type something such as an email.

The iPad really resembles a large iPhone, but does not have built-in phone capabilities. However, the iPad is not marketed as a phone and it is still possible to web chat and communicate using social media websites and services.

Size and specs
The iPad is two centimetres thin and weighs just 0,7 kg. It features an accelerometre, compass, speaker, microphone, headphone jack, dock connector, 802.11n WiFi networking, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, 16/32/64GB of storage, and Apple’s brand new, super-fast A4 1GHz processor.

That’s one tight package with a lot of talent. Some iPad models will also feature 3G connectivity to cellphone networks. Battery life is said to be 10 hours during active use and one month during standby.

What does the iPad do?
Apple CEO Steve Jobs punted the iPad’s capabilities as an electronic reader of books, newspapers and magazines. In this way, it operates in a similar manner to the Amazon Kindle; one is able to browse and download ebooks onto the device to be read on the screen. This saw the birth of the iBooks application, which users can use to find, purchase, and download e-books from the iBook Store using their iPads.

Users can also download podcasts and vidcasts or buy music, TV shows, movies and applications from the built-in iTunes Store and App Store. All applications that currently work on the iPhone will run in an iPhone-sized window or in a maximized view on the iPad. Apple’s latest iPad model — the SDK — will allow developers to further customise applications for the larger screen size.

iPad Apps
The iPad comes with several built-in applications, such as Safari, Mail, iCal, Address Book, Google Maps, YouTube, Photos, and Music (to name a few). All these applications (which already existed in the iPhone) have been redesigned and optimised for the large multi-touch iPad screen. Data can also be synchronised with a Mac or PC via USB cable.

iPad features and shortfalls
Jobs showed off various features of the iPad during the unveiling ceremony, which include browsing the web, checking email, working with spreadsheets and charts, playing videogames, listening to music and watching video. That’s a lot to ask for in just one device, yet it still lacks a couple of important capabilities.

Apple iPad - NY TimesSome critics predicted the iPad would become the best-selling electronics device of 2010, while others pointed to its shortfalls, complaining that it has no built-in camera, cannot multi-task, can’t be used as a phone and doesn’t support Adobe Flash.

The lack of Flash support is possibly the major shortfall, as many websites today incorporate Flash for rich media content. Several news websites make use of Flash video and banners, which simply cannot be viewed or accessed using an iPad.

iPad Pros
The iPhone has been hailed as a revolutionary device. Since its release, a huge library of thousands of applications has been developed and made available to iPhone users – for nominal fees, of course.

It is not incorrect to say that the iPhone acted as a sort of testing ground for new applications, as it was the only device that could make first and proper use of them. It is also not incorrect to state that many of the applications were borderline useless and often left iPhone users who had purchased the applications feeling a little ripped off.

The iPad, on the other hand, had the advantage of determining which iPhone applications were most successful and popular, and the best ones have been incorporated, with considerable upgrades to them.

What I would argue is the strongest selling point of the iPad from a consumer perspective is that it is simple and easy to use. Microsoft Surface showed how quickly all types of people can get to grips with hi-end technology by using natural hand gestures to operate it.

The iPad has no right or wrong way of being held — whatever is on the screen will rotate and orientate itself to how you hold it. Clicking on links, playing video content, resizing and zooming in on images, using Google Maps, playing games … is all done intuitively, using your fingers. It is hands-on technology at its best.

iPad Cons

“The iPad isn’t the transformational device so many Apple enthusiasts were hoping for. It won’t turn all the content industries upside down, it won’t be your primary computing device and it’s not even a bigger, better iPhone.” — Mashable.

Without Flash support the iPad is unfortunately not the best web browser, which is what Apple is claiming it to be. However, it is still highly capable and can do a lot more than just web-browsing. It is not meant to be used as your primary computing device and it will not replace your cellphone.

Battery life, however, may be an issue. There seems to be a major focus on making gadgets as small and lightweight as physically possible these days, which can hamper functionality. The Apple iPad is just two centimetres thick. Battery life is said to be 10 hours. I would much prefer a thicker device with a larger battery if that means I can use it for longer.

Yet the iPad’s ease-of-use appeal and links to Apple’s online music, book and applications stores will make it an entertainment gadget that appeals to a broader group of people than previous attempts to market tablet computers.

iPad Prices & Release Dates
Apple has said that the basic iPad would be available worldwide in late March at a starting price of $499 (roughly R4 000). A 32GB version will cost $599 and a 64GB version will cost $699.

All iPads can access the Internet using WiFi, but Apple will also be selling versions of the iPad that connect to high-speed 3G wireless networks. These will cost an additional $130 (roughly R1 000). It is important to note that the 3G versions will also require an Internet data plan.

If sales speak any truth
Steve Jobs said that due to iPods, iPhones, and MacBooks, Apple is the largest mobile devices business in the world today – generating more revenue than Sony, Samsung & Nokia. Add the iPad to that list and Apple seems unstoppable.

PS: I’m hoping to get my paws on an Apple iPad when they are released and write a proper, full review. Until then, watch this space …

Related post: Microsoft Surface – touch technology

Samsung R610 notebook review

REVIEW: Samsung R610 – a new noteworthy notebook

LAPTOPS may have been all the rage in 2008, but now attention has shifted to focus on their slimmer counterparts, namely notebooks and netbooks. It seems that slimness and light-weight mobile devices will always win favour over heftier ones, and none is lighter than the Samsung R610.

Weighing in at around 2.7kgs, the Samsung R610 is part of the latest generation of notebook PCs. It may be the lightest notebook currently available, yet it does have a hefty price-tag (close to R10 000). However, after playing with one for a week I’m confident that you get what you pay for. Let’s take a closer look.

Samsung R610 notebook

Operating system
The Samsung R610 should come equipped with either Windows Vista Ultimate or Windows 7 Ultimate – the latter being the latest operating system to date. If you are currently a Vista user, Windows 7 should be a warm welcome. It is the most user-friendly operating system I have ever experienced and by far the most visually-appealing.

If you shave off what Windows 7 Ultimate would have cost if purchased separately (roughly R2000), the cost of the notebook in question may seem less frightening.

CyberLink DVD Suite
Unlike netbooks (which are specifically designed and optimised for web-browsing and related activity), the Samsung R610 notebook encourages users to engage in multimedia production. It offers a software package called CyberLink DVD Suite, which has great programs such as PowerProducer and PowerDirector, which are all you need for managing data, photos, music, movies, creating DVDs and backing up your content.

What’s the difference between notebooks, netbooks and laptops?

  • LAPTOPS are mobile computers with full-sized keyboards, flip up monitors and space for built in optical or floppy disk storage drives. They are not usually as powerful as desktop PCs.
  • NOTEBOOKS are often referred to as portable “desktop replacement” PCs, which can do as any normal computer can. The latest models have full-sized keyboards as well as relatively large storage drives. In other words, a notebook is a more potent laptop.
  • NETBOOKS are ultra-mobile computers with keyboards smaller than full size and therefore a lot smaller than laptops and notebooks. They are designed and optimised for Internet use and can handle small programs such as MP3 players.

Touchpad
I have never quite managed to get used to using the touchpads on laptops as appose to a standard mouse. I’d rather plug in a mouse even if it’s a miniature one. Unfortunately the touchy bit on the Samsung R610 is smaller than usual and a bit of a nightmare to use. To make matters worse it has a scroll function on the same pad which changes the function of the mouse pointer into a scroller. This is really annoying if you fingertip ventures too far to the right, which will happen unless you’re a veteran laptop user.

I don’t understand why they don’t make the touchpad bigger, or at least separate the scroll function by placing it further away. There seems to be a lot of wasted space alongside the touchpad, which I would call a design flaw.

Keyboard
What often puts a lot of people off ever buying a laptop is the idea that the keyboard is a lot smaller than that of a desktop PC. It’s hard enough trying to operate a cellphone with small keys if you don’t have the slim and nimble fingers of a 13-year-old. However, this is not the case with most notebooks – the keys are simply more compact and just as easy to use as any standard keyboard.

Samsung R610 notebookLaptop keyboards have also taken things a step further by introducing function keys. When pressed, these give certain keys on the keyboard additional functions, such as checking battery life, adjusting monitor settings and managing volume control.

Battery
Battery life may be a second major concern for those considering buying a laptop. While some standard laptops can’t get more than two hours work done before going to bed, the Samsung R610’s battery can last for over three hours.

However, it’s important to note that battery life is relative to what you use your device for. There is a useful function key that makes it easy to monitor how much battery life you have left and I’m confident that it’s reliable enough to keep you entertained on a long trip.

Screen
The Samsung R610 has a sixteen inch HD gloss screen. I treated myself with a huge HD Samsung screen over Christmas last year and have never looked back. The picture quality of Samsung screens is really something to be admired, especially when viewing something recorded in HD. However, even watching low-quality videos on a smaller notebook screen will still look better than expected.

Other features
To be honest I can’t actually think of anything that the Samsung R610 doesn’t have. Apart from the above, it has 4 USB ports (for inserting flash-drives, cameras, external hard-drives or a good old-fashioned mouse), a 3-in-1 SD card slot (for quickly uploading photos), a slot for attaching a camcorder, a DVD drive, micro-phone and headphone holes and an internal 1.3 mega-pixel webcam (great for Skype).

It really has everything you could want in a well-designed notebook that will certainly make a statement. If you’re prepared to spend ten grand I would certainly recommend the Samsung R610. Christmas is right around the corner and prices might even drop during the festive season. It would make a great end of the year treat. Feel free to email me for my address details 🙂

Samsung R610 notebook specs

• Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium or Windows 7 Ultimate.
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T6400 (2.00GHz, 800MHz, 2MB).
System Memory: 3GB (DDR2 / 1GB x 1 + 2GB x 1 ).
LCD: 16” HD (1366 x 768) 16:9 Gloss.
Graphic Processor: nVIDIA GeForce Go 9200M GS; HDMI ouput.
Sound: HD (High Definition) Audio; 4W Stereo Speaker (2W x 2).
Multimedia Player: Play AVStation.
Camera: 1.3MP Web Camera.
Storage: HDD: 250GB (5,400rpm S-ATA).
ODD: Super Multi Dual Layer (S-ATA).
• Connectivity: Wired Ethernet LAN: Gigabit LAN.
Wireless LAN: Intel 802.11a/b/g/n 1 x 2 (MIMO).
Bluetooth 2.0 + EDR; 4 x USB 2.0
• Multi Card Slot: 3-in-1 (SD, SDHC, MMC).
Keyboard: 100 Key (Silver Nano Anti-Bacteria Keyboard).
Battery: standard 6-cell, (up to 3 hours battery-life).
AC Adapter: 90W.
Dimensions: 379.2 x 265.2 x 31.8 — 38.45mm.
Weight: 2.75kg

Related Review: The Samsung NC10 netbook