Plantronics BackBeat 216 In-Ear Headphones review


I picked up these smart earbuds for £40 in Leigh Delamere service station in my desperation to find something to provide some noise isolation. I walked out of the shop and promptly put them on in a bid to try and block out some of the 70 mph gale about my helmet. I know you’re supposed to run these things in, but people have places to be.

The headphones themselves have an attractive black body and bronze accents, with a rugged (and essential for my riding) rain resistant braided cable and the chunkiest mic / remote I’ve ever had the pleasure of using – a real blessing compared to having to fish blind for the tiny remote with leather motorcycle gloves. The unit itself is cylindrical, a little over an inch long and matches the earphones’ colour scheme. It uses the common Vol+ play/pause/call Vol – layout for 3 buttons, although these buttons seem only to be fully recognised by iPhones and recent Mac computers.

So, what about sound quality and call quality? I can report that the sound produced is wonderfully deep and rich, without missing out on any of the high details. This is all provided that you are using the right size of in ear cup- it makes all the difference. Listening to any music on these is a pure delight, comparable to my Sennheiser HD 202′s. Obviously, both sets are for entirely different purposes, but I enjoy listening to these little beauties just as much- plus they fit in under a motorbike helmet. They provide a good deal of noise isolation, though one shouldn’t expect BOSE levels of quiet from the outer world while they are in. Adequate is what I’d call it.

Oddly, I think I can tell the difference in audio hardware between my Mac and the iPhone 3GS that has been by my side for so long.

Worth the £40, for sure!


Samsung Galaxy Xcover 2 announced


Today Samsung officially unveiled their latest mobile phone: the rugged Galaxy Xcover 2. The phone is a direct successor to 2011’s Xcover, and again trades leading specifications for added elemental resistance.

According to their announcement via Engadget, we’re looking at a phone with water resistance of up to one meter for half an hour – not amazing, but certainly enough to allow careful underwater photography and the like. The phone should also be physically rugged enough to withstand scratches and drops too, thanks to its reinforced chassis.

As the original Xcover was reminiscent of the Galaxy S yet was released after the Galaxy S II, this Xcover seems to have similar specifications to the Galaxy S II yet comes after the Galaxy S III.

Specifically, we’re looking at a larger 4-inch phone with a WVGA display, a dual-core 1 GHz processor and 1 GB of RAM. Storage is also decent, at 4 GB upgradeable via  microSD. The cameras are also okay, at five megapixels on the rear but only VGA on the front. Still, there is a physical camera button. Finally, we’ve got a 1700 mAh battery powering everything.

While these aren’t terrible specs by any means, there are a few points of worry. That 1700 mAh battery is only 200 mAh larger than the original, which seems like too littlw when you consider the additional screen size and faster components. The phone is also much heavier – at 148 grams, this is one of the heaviest 4-inch phones I’ve ever seen.

The software has been monumentally improved in the last two years here, and it’s put to good use in the Xcover 2. We’ve got the phone shipping with Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, rather the Android 2.3 Gingerbread of its predecessor.

The OS used will include the same Motion UI features (including turning over the phone to mute incoming calls) as other recent Samsung phones, which is a blessing or a curse depending on your appreciation of Samsung’s additions. There’s also due to be a Cardio Trainer Pro workout application, which could prove useful for the more presumably active buyers of the phone.

While we don’t have any pricing or availability information on the Samsung Xcover 2 at this time, we’re certainly due to receive some during the Mobile World Congress, which is now only about one month away. The Barcelona-based event is always home to some interesting announcements, and I’m sure that’ll also be the case here.

What do you think of the phone? I believe a lot will depend on its final price point. Given that its rugged properties could be duplicated with a good Samsung Galaxy S3 case and you’d be getting a much more powerful phone, I think it’ll have to be quite low in order to prove a success.

Thanks for reading the article. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to share them below. Regardless, have a good day and enjoy your weekend.

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Vizio 11.6″ tablet impresses at CES

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While new PC manufacturer Vizio impressed with its nigh-weightless 10″ Tegra 4 tablet at CES, its as-of-yet unnamed 11.6″ Windows 8 tablet also drew plaudits.

The tablet’s standout feature is its beautiful 1080p display, which in turn informs the choice of an AMD processor over an Intel one. The tablet is one of the first to come to market with the AMD Z-60 processor, which is a dual-core CPU running at 1 GHz. That’s more than enough horsepower for the full Windows 8 experience, and also ensures that you’ll have access to all of your legacy applications from previous versions of Windows.

The CPU is also reportedly powerful enough to run some games, although Vizio wasn’t demonstrating this on the show floor. These games aren’t likely to run at the tablet’s full 1080p resolution, but 720p is only a settings change away. Notably, the version of Windows 8 installed is called a ‘Windows Signature’ installation, as it includes absolutely no bloatware or added-on programs – you just get the core Windows 8 apps.

The Vizio tablet is backed with 2 GB of RAM, 64 GB of solid state storage, a 2 megapixel front-facing camera and both micro HDMI and micro USB ports. These specifications put it behind pricier Windows 8 tablets using Intel Core i5 processors, which also typically enjoy 4 GB of RAM and at least 128 GB of storage. While you’re not getting as much raw strength, it does indicate that we’ll see this tablet appear at a lower price point.

The emphasis on hitting a lower price point comes across in the design, too. While the back of the tablet is covered in a nice-feeling soft touch material, the front of the tablet is a less nicely constructed. Specifically, there’s a kind of double bezel effect on the front, as the normal black screen bezel is constricted by a further silver metal one. That takes it away from the unibody look that’s been employed to great effect in the case of the iPad 4 and the Surface RT, but it’s by no means a deal-breaker.

Vizio are yet to announce pricing and availability information for this tablet. Count on an American and likely European launch later this year though, and probably at a fairly aggressive price point too.

What do you think of this 1080p AMD tablet from Vizio? Let us know in the comments below! Thanks for reading and be sure to stay posted for all of the latest tech news.

Bethesda launches Battlecry Studios, could be working on Fallout MMO?

It looks like Bethesda’s expansion continues! They have begun  a new studio in Austin, Texas, called Battlecry Studios. The dev lab will be working on a new, unannounced project, likely an MMO given the appointment of Rich Vogel as the studio’s head. Vogel has worked on Star Wars: The Old Republic, as well as Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies. With Bethesda’s recent re-capture of the rights to make a Fallout MMO, is that what we’re likely to see out of the new studio? I think so.

Full press release below:

October 4, 2012 (London, UK) – Bethesda Softworks®, a ZeniMax® Media company, is pleased to announce it has established a new studio in Austin, Texas, Battlecry Studios, to be headed by long-time industry veteran Rich Vogel. Most recently, Vogel worked at Bioware where he served as the executive producer on the development of Star Wars: The Old Republic. Rich has a long history in the industry having worked on Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies as well as other online and console titles during his 20+ years in game development. The new studio is currently hiring other experienced game developers to fill key roles for an unannounced project.

“I have always admired and respected Bethesda’s approach to making great, original games,” said Vogel. “It’s a belief and passion I share, and I’m looking forward to building a team of high quality developers who want to bring that same commitment and creative energy to the games we’ll be creating.”

“We are very pleased to have someone with Rich’s vast experience join us at Bethesda,” said Vlatko Andonov, President of Bethesda Softworks. “Rich has a history of building and managing talented development teams and bringing high quality games to market, and we look forward to working with him on a new exciting project.”

Battlecry Studios will be the second ZeniMax studio located in Austin, joining Arkane® Studios, whose highly-anticipated title, Dishonored™, ships this month. For more information about Bethesda Softworks and available jobs at Battlecry Studios, visit:http://jobs.zenimax.com/.


Top 5 iPhone apps for brewing coffee

In this article, we’ll be looking at the best apps for brewing your very own coffee. Whether you’re choosing from Senseo pods, roasting your own beans or anything in between, you should find these apps expand your knowledge and help you make that perfect cup. Let’s get right into it!

1. Affogato – £0.69

Affogata is the perfect app for beginner baristas. It gives simple step by step instructions for creating all manner of Italian coffee brews. Each step is in plain English and often a diagram is included, so it’s very difficult to go wrong. There’s even information on how the various brewing machines work – all very essential stuff.

2. Spro – £1.49

Like Affogato, Spro is a coffee app that shows you how to make Italian coffee. It takes a more minimalistic approach, with graphics that explain the proportions required without a lot of text. You can also use Spro to create a custom drink by specifying the ingredients that you want in it – pretty neat!

3. Art of Coffee – £1.99

If you’ve ever seen pictures on the internet of those awesome coffees topped with interesting designs, then you’ve seen what’s known as ‘espresso art.’ This app lets you become an espresso artist yourself, with step by step instructions to creating dozens of different designs across three difficulty levels – basics, essentials and advanced.

4. Coffee Cellar – £0.69

Coffee Cellar is for those that have gone off the deep end and are roasting their own coffee. The app is a simple way of recording where all of the beans that you buy have come from, so you have an easy way of remaking that perfect roast. You can add tasting notes, note the origin, take photos and share the results, as well as look back through your whole cellar of coffee when you’re making that difficult decision about which beans to get next.

5. Intelligentsia Coffee – Free

This app goes further than Coffee Cellar, with step by step instructions on roasting your own beans as well as a directory of shops that’ll sell your their beans. Plenty of brands are supported and more are added all the time, so if you’re roasting your own then this is definitely an app you should be using.


I hope you find these coffee makin’ apps useful. Be sure to let me know what you think in the comments below, and I’ve left off your favourite coffee app then be sure to include it in your comment!  Thanks for reading and have a good one.


LinkedIn app released for Windows Phone

Microsoft are continuing to narrow that app gap that so hamstrings their platform – today, the big name they’re announcing is none other than LinkedIn, the professional social network.

The app, which comes just after LinkedIn was released on iPad, is free to download for all and includes all of the features that you’d expect. You can browse through job listings, see updates from your connections in real time, view group information and updates, as well as sharing updates yourself.

The app fits perfectly into the Metro guidelines, and may perhaps be the most nicely designed Windows Phone apps I’ve ever seen, allowing for all of the same functionality as the iOS and Android versions but in an instantly recognisable Windows Phone format. It also has a few special features just on Windows Phone, including Live Tile notifications for incoming messages and invitations. There’s also the ability to create a secondary Live Tile for group updates.

It’s definitely an impressive showing for a first release and is already the equal of its brethren on other platforms. Everything runs smoothly and efficiently as should be the case for the Lumia 900 and the five start reviews keep piling in, so get downloading now!


Try Out Windows Phone 7 Now!

If you’ve ever wondered what Windows Phone 7 is really like, now you can try it out on your iPhone or Android phone without making any permanent changes. You can even run it on your PC… so how does that work?

Well, it works because Microsoft have set up a web-based emulator for the OS, which you can find on their official website. You can check out the Messaging, People, Local Scout, Outlook, Calendar, Family and Phone apps, which gives a pretty good preview of the way that everything is laid out.

Sadly, it doesn’t interface with your existing phone — so you can’t really accomplish anything other than swiping around the menus. Still, it’s an interesting concept and one that you should definitely have a go at if you haven’t used a Windows Phone before.

The Metro stylings of Windows Phone are also coming to Windows 8, so this might be a good way to see what you’ll be getting into — of course another way is to download and install the Windows 8 developer preview, but that’s a little too hardcore for most.

Windows Phone 7 is definitely a nicer OS than it gets credit for, and this is a cool way that Microsoft can show off their work.

Check Out the Windows Phone 7 Emulator Here!

This article was sponsored by Mobile Fun, the UK’s leading online retailer of  the official Kindle cover, other Kindle covers, and even a Panasonic Lumix case line.


Tivoli Audio PAL+, Expertly Crafted DAB Radio

American audio master-crafters Tivoli Audio have released an update to their seminal PAL radio, called the PAL+. The new design takes the minimalist radio into the modern day with the inclusion of digital DAB radio. The radio, which is portable and weather-resistant radio looks surprisingly well suited to a variety of roles, from home life to travel or even the great outdoors.Continue reading