11 Sep 2015

Apple TV: Everything You Need to Know

Guest post by Maria Ramos

Apple TV, released in 2007, has hitherto been a minor player in Apple's product lineup, accounting for less than five percent of the cellphone and computer maker's sales. An update to Apple TV was announced on September 9th in San Francisco, perhaps signaling a new emphasis on the product by Apple. This is the first change in three years for Apple's attempt to conquer the living room. The new model is expected to go on sale in late October.

Perhaps the most important upgrade is the remote control that ships with the television. The previous version used a design with two buttons and a four-way directional pad, but the new Apple TV remote comes with a touch-screen surface and voice recognition capabilities. The user can speak into the built-in microphone to search for programming, rewind the action and request other information. The Apple TV now incorporates Siri, the virtual assistant that has been standard for a while on iPhones, so it will be easy for users to operate the television using natural language commands.

Apple TV. From the Apple Website. Available for $69.

Apps are a new area of emphasis for AppleTV. CEO Tim Cook has even stated, “We believe the future of television is apps. In fact this transition has already begun - we are spending more time watching TV on our iPhones and iPads via apps.” The old version of the hardware had apps too, but these were pre-selected pieces of software that shipped already installed with the TV. There's now a new app store specifically for Apple TV users, which will enable them to customize the performance of their units according to personal preference.

There are indications that Apple will release what it calls “universal apps”: applications that will interoperate across iPads, iPhones and Apple TVs. This will allow consumers to access their favorite apps seamlessly from whatever interface they want without having to download, install and sync several different instances of the same app. In order to spur on development of apps for Apple TV, there's a new operating system, tvOS, which will have development tools in line with what has been released for other Apple devices.

While Cupertino is trying to push game development for its new television solution, there's a distinct lack of new gaming features. The games that were demonstrated by Apple personnel included Guitar Hero and Crossy Road, but there's no game controller either standard with the TV or available as an add-on. Players can use their remotes to play games, or they can use third-party controller units.

While the recent improvements come as a welcome enhancement to a product that has been languishing for a few years, there's still more work to be done. Apple TV still lacks apps for Amazon Instant Video, Spotify and other popular streaming services. What makes this omission all the more notable is the fact that such apps are readily available on Apple's mobile platforms. Apple's planned streaming TV service seems like it would be a no-brainer addition to the Apple TV, but alas it isn't quite ready for prime-time yet.

One little-discussed area in which the Apple TV may be very useful is as a central hub for home automation devices. Current smarthome solutions mostly employ a dedicated control unit, often pricey and only compatible with a narrow selection of devices. Through the Apple HomeKit interface, users of the TV will be able to manage a wider range of automated home systems, such as lights, security systems, and thermostats, right from the comfort of their living room couches.

While the new AppleTV undoubtedly offers greater ease-of-use and functionality than the previous model, there are still a few key features missing. The price has jumped from $69 to $149 for a unit with 32GB of storage and $199 for 64GB. It's likely that customers will balk at these higher prices until the new apps store and other features are able to deliver on their potential.

About the author:

Maria is a freelance writer currently living in Chicago. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a minor in Communication. She blogs about environmentally friendly tips, technological advancements, and healthy active lifestyles. You can follow her in Twitter @MariaRamos1889

10 Aug 2015

Remote controlled helicopter with camera

A couple of years ago I blogged about my radio controlled mini helicopter. I still have it and take it out for a spin once in a while with the kids. However, I am a bit bored with it and was on the lookout for a replacement - something bigger and more fun this time.

I think I might have found the perfect replacement - a remote control helicopter with camera. It just costs $44.99 in the US and best of all, FREE shipping.

The i-helicopter from ThinkGizmos can be controlled using an iPhone / iPod / iPad / or Compatible Android device by downloading their app on the device.

The helicopter has a camera which comes with a 2GB SD card which can record over 1 hours flight time. The videos are recorded at resolutions of 680 x 480 at 25 frames per second.

Fully charged, the helicopter gives you fun filled flying time of about 6-7 minutes. The charging time is about 45 minutes using the included USB cable.

If you live in Europe, you can buy this amazing toy from Amazon.de for EUR 52.99.

9 Aug 2015

Computer speakers for all budgets

Here is my selection of three different computer speakers to suit different budgets. Space or the lack of was my main concern when considering the speakers and so out of my list were all the huge surround sound systems. So here are the three speakers starting with the least expensive.

A. Budget Option: Vinnfier VS200

They are not the cheapest or the smallest in the market but the sound quality was acceptable. All other cheaper speakers I tried were simply not up to the mark.  The two speakers delivers a total of 6W with frequency response between 90Hz – 20KHz and impedance: 4 ohms. Power supply is via a USB cable (5V).

Price: Approx. RM30 (Malaysia)

 B. Mid-range Option: JBL Pebbles

JBL Pebbles]
When you want quality sound, small profile and not break the bank, you have to go for the JBL Pebbles. Mine is the white-orange combination. Despite its small dimensions (13 cm high x 15 cm deep x 7.7 cm wide), the speakers deliver amazing sound - amazing clarity and deep bass.

Not sure about the wattage (no information was provided with the packaging) but the frequency response is between 70Hz – 20kHz with maximum SPL / signal to noise ratio at 89dB@1m. I love the simple integrated rotating volume control on the side of the main speaker. You can connect other devices via the 3.5mm Aux-in Port.

Price: $49.95 (US)/ RM 299.00 (Malaysia)

 B. High-end Option: Harman Kardon NOVA 

If you are an audiophile and have money to spend, this is the option to go for. For it's size, this high-performance stereo speaker system delivers really amazing sound - excellent clarity and rich lows. You can also press the bass button for improved deeper bass.

The transparent futuristic looking speakers include Performance-tuned 2.5” drivers, 1.25” tweeters and passive radiators. Moreover, the speakers allow Bluetooth wireless streaming with NFC compatibility with any device via analog 3.5mm connector and optical inputs.

One of the cool features is the touch sensitive volume control slider on the top of the main speaker. Unfortunately the kids love playing with it.

Specs for the technically minded:
Frequency Response between 70 Hz - 20,00kHz
Impedance: 8 ohms;
Crossover Description: 3.5kHz;
RMS Power Range - Amplifiers: 40 watts

Unlike the two previous speakers, the NOVA requires a connection to a power outlet.

For a change, this is a PC speaker which looks nice and it sounds nice as well.

Price: $299.95 (US)/ RM1199 (Malaysia, best price on Lazada)

28 Jun 2015

Remote controlled robot

I have always loved robots. Maybe growing up reading Asimov and sci-fi movies may have something to do with it and ended up with a collection of several robot - battery operated flashing robots that made noises and moved around or even toys that looked like robots - including the popular Playskool Major Morgan, which was not actually a robot but a musical toy. I am not sure where they all went but I have not stopped collecting and still into robot, only thing is that they are a bit more sophisticated now.

My daughter's birthday is coming up soon and no I am not going to give her a Frozen toy - she's just not into them. I think I might have found the perfect gift: A robot or more precisely a remote controlled robot. The RC robot from Thinkgizmos.com is available on Amazon.com for just $39.99 with free shipping (down from the original price of $69.99). The robot walks and talks - lines like "Freeze!" "Identify yourself or I will shoot" and "Surrender now!". You can also fire small plastic discs from it's chest when you press 'fire' on the remote and and it even dances. You can even programme the robot to do stuff on its own.

Made in China, the robot is about 30cm tall and requires 6 AA Batteries (not included). It is suitable for ages 3 and above - so great fun for everyone.

If you are in Europe you can order the robot from Amazon.de.

Looks like I am going to end up buying two - one for my daughter and one for myself.

19 Jun 2015

Casio G-Shock GA - 100MC - 1 AER dive test

I recently went on a long overdue week long holiday with my family and decided to get myself certified as a PADI open water diver as well. I took only my Casio G-Shock GA - 100MC - 1 AER watch and decided that it would be great to actually test out whether it was really water resistant to 200M. I only found out later that 200M water resistance means that I can use it during swimming, snorkeling, jet-skiing but not while scuba diving. For scuba diving (with air tanks), you are supposed to wear watches with the words "DIVER'S WATCH 200M".

The maximum depth I went down to was around 17 meters and the watch survived the dive. Legibility was good but I realised that the lights were not very useful when using the digital timer.

The only Casio watches which are certified "DIVER'S WATCH 200M" are those in the Frogman series. The latest model is the GF-1000-1 which is now on my wish list. A few older models are available on Amazon UK.

Unlike other G-shock models which are held by 4 screws, the GF-1000-1 features a Screw Lock Back. The back and bezel are made of diamond-like carbon that resists scratching and wear.

Other features include Moon Phase Graph, Moon Age Indicator, Tide Graph (very useful), World Time and 5 alarms. It is solar powered (Tough Solar). Specifically for divers, useful functions include Dive time and surface interval measurement function. It records one set of data (dive time, dive start time, dive date) in it's memory. This watch is not meant to replace the Dive computer but as a backup.


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