AKG N60NC noise cancelling headphones: When you want some peace & quiet

 

I have to admit that until I was offered a set of AKG’s N60NC wireless noise cancelling headphones for review, I hadn’t heard of the Austrian manufacturer before. Now, I’m a convert.

Thanks to Mr Google, I now know that AKG is an Austrian acoustics company and manufacturer founded in 1927 by Dr. Rudolf Görike and Ernest Plass, has its headquartered in Vienna, Austria and is now owned by Samsung Electronics through its Harman division (lightbulb moment: Now I know why the earbuds that come with the Samsung Galaxy S9 are “tuned by AKG”)

Comfort is important to me when it comes to headphones (hell, I’m sure I’m not alone in that) and the on-ear N60NCs are comfortable, thanks to a nice amount of foam on the ear cups. They really do cancel out noise, too, handy for when you want to listen to something and not hear the family chattering in the background, or you want to block out office noise (which it does brilliantly).

Pairing to a Bluetooth device, be it laptop or phone, is quick enough thanks to the switch on the right ear cup, and they paired to my MacBook Pro and Samsung’s Galaxy S9 easily. The N60NC build quality oozes quality, right down to the chrome edging around the ear cups and the nice braided 3.5mm audio cable if you like to go old-school and go for wired headphones. There’s also a nice braided USB charge cable.

The N60s folds in on itself to create a tight package and there’s a nice foam carry bag that also houses the USB cable and the audio cable. I think I only used the 3.5mm audio cable once as the headset offers hours of battery life on one charge.

But what is the sound like? Do the AKG N60NCs deliver incredible sound? According to my ears, yes they do. I tested the N60s watching movies off Netflix, playing Yakuza 6 and listening to my Hits of the 80s playlist on Spotify, and the N60NCs delivered every time, throwing back strong bass notes, while handling the mid range with aplomb. Everything just sounded crisp and was a delight. Look, I tried to find something wrong with them but I just couldn’t. I just couldn’t.

In New Zealand, the AKG N60NCs go for between $420 and $499 which, for a decent pair of noise cancelling headphones, doesn’t seem too bad to me, after all you get what you pay for – and with the N60NCs your’re getting top-notch sound and great noise cancelling properties.

Just the ticket for when you want to drown out the world, eh?

Samsung Galaxy S9: Your ears will love you long time

 

A  work colleague proudly proclaimed the other day:  “I’m getting one of those phones that you can unlock by doing this” (she then proceeds to contort her face, screwing up her eyes and mouth)

“I’m just going to do this all day with it,”she said. She pull another funny face, this time screwing her lips up in a bizarre fashion.

I step in, all casual like. “Oh, you mean one of these,?” I say, thrusting the loaner Samsung Galaxy S9 I happened to have with me in the direction of her eyeballs.

“Oh, do the face, do the face!,” she implores.

I look at the phone – with a normal face, mind you –  unlocking the screen with the power of my eyes. I have magical eyes, don’t you know? (Oh, and in fairness, it’s not mandatory that you pull a funny face to unlock the phone: You can just user your normal face. Or a fingerprint. Or an old-fashioned PIN number. It’s up to you)

The Galaxy S9 (RRP $1399. There’s also the S9+ model which adds another two hundy to the price tag) is the latest in the Korean company’s flagship smartphone range – and it’s a beauty, to be honest.

My normal day-to-day phone is a Galaxy S7, and it’s alright, but, sorry S7, the S9 blows it right out of the water – then hoovers up all the charred fragments, popping them in an airtight shoe box before burying said box 50 metres underground, never to see the light of day again.

The S9’s screen is nothing short of breathtaking, at least to me (remember my normal day-to-day phone is an S7), with videos and images vivid and bright, and colours really do pop on the panel. The build quality, as you’d expect from a flagship smart phone, is nothing short of spectacular and it really does look beautiful. As you’d expect with a glossy, metallic back plate, though, you’re going to see those fingerprints so I’d recommend you get a  protective case pretty early on.

Compared to the S8, which came out last year and my teenage son got as a replacement for his Nexus 6P which slowly died, there is little to tell the two handsets apart: From the naked eye the only real cosmetic difference is the placement of rear fingerprint scanner: It’s been shifted across a bit. The S9 isn’t a major revamp of the S8: It’s a refinement of that great phone.

I’m not going to get bogged down by technical specs – you can hunt those down somewhere else – but in terms of features, I’m really liking the People Edge feature (where you swipe from the right to reveal your four favourite phone contacts) and haven’t grown tired of unlocking the phone with my magical eyes. The S9 feels really nice in your hand, too.

Samsung is making a big noise about the camera on the S9, especially the super slo-mo feature, which captures the action at 960 frames a second. The NZ division’s launch that I went to in Auckland a couple of weeks ago had 25 S9s set up in a room to capture 5 seconds of action that was then edited into a video that was played to the crowd. Capture stuff included an S9 dropping into a martini glass, some coloured jellies dropping onto a display with someone dusting it with icing sugar and a dance troop busting some moves. I actually missed most of the 5 seconds shooting so it was good seeing it in short film format.

The S9’s takes great photos (I’ve included some I took here)  but I’m not a professional photographer so I don’t really know a good photo from a better one, to be honest. I m just an average Joe with an average Job  taking photos of average things (the dog, the river near my work building, some sport event I went to last weekend).

The slo-mo is a neat feature, but to be honest, I can’t see myself using it much at all, and the AR Emoji feature (which turns a photo of your into an emoji that you can slap onto photos and the like),  seems a bit of gimmick to me but will probably appeal to the social media generation. 

For me, what it perhaps one of the most impressive features on the S9 that isn’t the most talked about is the audio quality – and the fact that the S9 has two stereo speakers featuring Dolby Atmos sound, something the S7 certainly doesn’t have. That for me – using a word I detest – is a game-changer for the Galaxy S range.

Stereo speakers, obviously, means music sounds fantastic and audio in videos and movies sounds, well, fantastic, too. Just how good?

Phenomenal, actually. Home alone one Thursday night, my teenage son and I blasted out 80s tunes from the likes of Flock of Seagulls, Men at Work, David Bowie, The Clash, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel, Toto, REO Speedwagon – and Venga Boys – from the S9 (and his S8: The S9 sounded better, though) and it just sounded magical. It sounded magical. My ears were in heaven!

[Sidenote: Flicking through the sound settings, I noticed there is an option to adapt the sound for music, calls and video with presets for users aged under 30 years old, 30 to 60 years old and over 60 years old. Thanks for thinking of us oldies with “selective” hearing, Samsung.]

Look, if you own an S8, I can’t really see much to gain by upgrading to the S9. Sure you get a better camera and stereo speakers, but the S8 is still a fantastic phone and the differences between the two doesn’t really justify the upgrade. For all intents and purposes, there’s little to differentiate between the S8 & S9. Save it for the S10 (which we all know is already being designed).

However, if you’re upgrading from, say,  an older Galaxy, say an S7, then take the leap, my friend,  without hesitation. It’ll be well worth it – and if  you’re a music lover, your ears will love you long time.

Big thanks to Samsung NZ and its New Zealand PR company Acumen Republic for a loaner of a Samsung Galaxy S9 to review and for flying me up to Auckland (and putting me up in a hotel) for the Galaxy S9 launch. It had blue martinis to drink (not a fan)  and jelly nibbles to munch on. 

Huawi Mediapad T3 10 tablet: The perfect bedside companion

I’m a creature of habit when it comes to bed time, these days.

While my wife reads a book on her iPad for a while, I tend to open up the laptop, load up Netflix or Neon and watch an episode of my current TV show – or start watching a movie – until I inevitably fall asleep, waking a few minutes later, startled, the laptop still resting on my lap.

The Huawei Mediapad T3 meant I could still maintain my bedtime routine but it was much more pleasant and comfortable compared to a hefty laptop..

With a 9.6-inch IPS display (a resolution of 1080p x 800), the T3 feels comfortable in your hands but at its price – $499 – it’s a mid-priced tablet so it’s not competing against Apple’s top-end iPads.

Running Android 7.0  (Nougat) wrapped in Huawei’s EMUI 5.1 operating system, the tablet’s display might not look as sharp as Apple’s top-end iPads (and it doesn’t as it does appear noticeably dimmer compared to a full HD panel) but it’s perfect for consuming media, be that browsing the web or watching movies or your favourite streaming service.

Designwise, thanks to the one-piece anodised aluminum body, the T3 looks smart, and won’t look out-of-place on the bedside cabinet or kitchen bench top,  but a kick-stand at the back  would have been nice when you wanted to prop the device on a table or bedside cabinet to watch Netflix or a movie. The battery had really good life but on the other toss of the coin, the tablet look a while to charge: It seemed much slower to charge than previous tablets that I’ve used.

Huawei’s Mediapad T3 10 tablet is a funny beast: It’s not a top-end device but it’s not a low-end one, either. It’s middle of the road which will be perfect if you want a good tablet for a good price.

Thanks to Huawei for loaning me the Mediapad T3 for review

Samsung T5 SSD: Pint size storage

Think about this for a minute: Samsung’s T5 SSD is smaller than my work business card.

At 74mm x 57.3mm x 10.5mm, the T5 can fit in the palm of my hand. It can slip into a jean’s pocket without any problem.

It might be small but this pint-sized aluminum-clad SSD (solid state drive) packs a whallop when it comes to storage space. Available in three flavours – 500Gb, 1Tb and 2Tb – the portable drive is reported to have a transfer speed of up to 540Mb per second (through a USB 3.1 Gen 2 10Gbps connection), which is blazingly fast for a portable drive. The aluminum body means things are kept nice and cool and it’s sturdy, too, claimed to be able to withstand falls from up to 2m.

Look, there’s not much I can really say about an SSD: It’s not as if it’s like a phone and it has multiple applications. The drive does one thing: Let you store stuff and access stuff – and it does it extremely well. I used it to store work content and  a couple of (legally owned movies (John Wick and Star Wars The Force Awakens) that I watched during a two-day work trip, and it does what it says on the box. It’s Windows/Mac/Android compatible, meaning you can use it to transfer content from your Android smartphone to help free up space.

The T5 will set you back close to $400  (I found it ranged from #+$344 to $379 online in NZ), so it is on the pricey side, but the T5 is a great all round portable drive that will take care of all your storage needs for some time to come.

Just make sure you don’t forget where you put it: It might take a while to find it, considering it’s so small.

Edifier G4 gaming headset review: You can hear a pin drop

Sometimes, in the heat of battle, knowing where an opponent is can mean the difference between life and death. The difference between victory and defeat.

When you’re gaming and don’t want to upset your partner, a good set of gaming headphones can be worth their weight in loot crates/prize chests/gold/virtual currency, and give that extra advantage, letting you hearing approaching footprints from behind or that crucial moment when an enemy reloads a weapon. Let me introduce the Edifier G4 gaming headset.

The control box.

The retractable boom microphone.

The G4’s cable, at 2.5m in length and plugs in via USB (so, no, you can’t use these on your smartphone), was long enough to plug into my console in the entertainment unit and I could still sit on the couch and play Shadow of the Colossus & Monster Hunter World. The on-cable control box is a little bulky but doesn’t get in the way, which is good. The retractable boom mic cleverly disappears into the left ear cup, which means if you don’t need to use it, you don’t have to worry about smacking your face with it (it also has an illuminated LED at the tip, which is a small but nice touch).

The ear cups have plenty of foam to cushion your ears.

My review G4’s were bright green and black in colour, and the ear cups illuminated a brilliant green when they were turned on. The ear cups are big and roomy with a good amount of padding so should accommodate any size of ear and the exterior of the ear cup has a mesh grill, covering the 40mm neodymium driver. They look super smart.

While sleek, the black plastic is a bit of a fingerprint magnet.

Aimed at the budget gamer, The G4s are a mix of shiny and flat plastics and I noticed that the shiny plastic that made up the body of the headphones was something of a fingerprint magnet: Keep a soft cloth handy if smudges annoy you! The headset felt comfortable on my head and the ear cups cushioned my ears nicely.

There’s software that you can download to tweak sound settings but it seemed overly complicated, to be honest, so I didn’t rely on it much.

OK, so how did the G4s sound, though? It’s not bad. Not bad at all.

The G4’s have a built-in sound card virtual 7.1 channel audio and have really good high and mid range notes and even to my old man ears, the sound was great, with ambient noises and sounds popping thanks to the G4s.

Game soundtracks and ambient effects sounded clear and crisp, although I thought at times the G4 lacked a really deep, thumping bass but then, to confuse things, it depending on what game I was playing. In Shadow of the Colossus, for example, when a colossi was defeated and tumbled to the ground, the bass vibrated nicely as it hit the ground.

And the price? This is probably the really surprising thing about the G4s. You can pick them up in NZ for around $120 (I saw one site selling them for $109). That’s multiple dollars less than my much-loved Sol Republic bluetooth headphones that my children bought me for my birthday a couple of years ago, and my son reckons the G4’s delivered better sound, too. I think I agree with him.

For a budget priced gaming headset, I was impressed with Edifier’s G4s. They do the job, look the part, and, importantly if you’re budget conscious, they won’t break the bank.

Huawei nova 2i: A budget smartphone in a premium package

The fingerprint scanner on Huawei’s nova 2i smartphone, which retails for less than $500NZ, is blazingly fast.

It’s so fast that for the first few hours I had the phone I just locked it then unlocked it using the fingerprint scanner as many times as I could. BAM! Unlocked. SHAZAM! Unlocked. KAPOW! Unlocked.

Even my son, who has a Samsung Galaxy S8, was impressed with the speed of the nova 2i’s fingerprint scanner (he still screwed his nose up a little because it’s a “mid-range, budget” phone). It’s a small thing, but the speed of the fingerprint scanner is just one of many pleasing features on this budget handset, to be honest, and the quality belies the cost.

Sporting a 5.9-inch IPS screen (maximum resolution of 2160 x 1080), a Kirin Octa core CPU (1.7Ghz),  4Gb of RAM, 64Gb of on-board storage and Android 7.0, the nova 2i has impressed the pants off of me – but the biggest thing that has impressed me is the price: I still can’t believe that it’s only $NZ499.

Huawei says the nova 2i is its first smart phone with dual-lens front and rear cameras and it takes remarkably good images. I’ve posted a variety that I took. Colours seemed to be vibrant and the phone seemed to handle low-light conditions pretty well.

For a mid-price smart phone, the nova 2i has a build quality that is top-notch. It doesn’t feel like a budget smart phone, thanks to the metal and glass construction. Sure the display might not pop as vividly as those top-end phones like the iPhone X or Galaxy S8 but remember, the nova 2i isn’t a top-end phone: It’s a mid-range, budget model and one that I would gladly use every day.

I was impressed with the battery life, too: sporting a 3340mAh battery, the nova 2i handled a day or more of average use before needing a charge. It lasts a heck of a lot longer than my Samsung Galaxy S7, although granted it’s an older phone with a smaller capacity battery.

Look, the nova 2i isn’t going to knock the top-end Huawei, iPhone and Samsung models from their perch but that’s not its target market: It’s not aimed at the user who must have the latest smart phone bling. It’s the perfect candidate for someone who wants a quality value for money smart phone but doesn’t want to break the bank.

Thanks to Pead PR and Huawei in New Zealand for providing the Huawei nova 2i for review.

Nest launches security products in NZ

I’ve always wondered what our dog gets up to when we’re at work and he’s alone at home: Does he chill on the lawn? Does he dig holes? Does he run around flat out for a bit?

Well, it’s probably all of the above but the Nest line-up of camera and alarm systems could just be the ticket for me keeping tabs on my four-legged friend, especially the Nest Cam Outdoor.

Nest is the sister company of powerhouse Google and its range is now available in New Zealand. Products include:

  • Nest Protect (NZD$219): a smoke and carbon monoxide alarm which doesn’t just yell at you, but talks to you when there’s something important you need to know. A product like no other in New Zealand.
  • Nest Cam Indoor (NZD$359): the market leading camera which helps you not only monitor what’s happening in your home, but talk to it. Always on, think of it as your very own security guard.
  • Nest Cam Outdoor (NZD$359): sometimes we keep our valuables outside. The weatherproof Nest Cam Outdoor takes care of those too. The proven most effective deterrent for would-be burglars.
  • Nest Cam IQ Indoor (NZD$549): instead of just showing you what’s happening, Nest Cam IQ is smart enough to differentiate between a person and your cat, automatically zooming in on and tracking the person in the frame and alerting you accordingly.
  • Nest Aware (from NZD$16): advanced cloud algorithms that kick in to give your camera smarter alerts and video history. Think of it like putting an entire supercomputer into your Nest Cam.

The products will be available online, in-store and through Meridian Energy from now.

 

Ultimate Ears Wonderboom: Pint-sized powerhouse

UE Wonderboom

For a pint-sized portable speaker, Ultimate Ears’ Wonderboom pumps out remarkable sound.

I’ve long been a fan of UE’s Boom Bluetooth portable speaker: We bought one a few years ago to take away on holiday and it proved a hit with the family (although arguments did ensue over what music playlist had to be played next) so I was excited to see how the company had upped the ante with this compact cousin. It’s upped the ante big time.

Like the UE Boom before it, the Wonderboom gives 360 degree sound, meaning you’ll hear the music no matter where you put it – and believe me, we heard it when it was being used: My teenage son loves his music while he showers so the Wonderboom was a constant companion at shower time (good job it’s waterproof, too, although he didn’t put the unit in the shower, it’s nice to know it’ll survive a dunking). Sometimes, we’d sit in the lounge during a weekend afternoon, just listening to music out of the Wonderboom and smile at how good things sound from such a small speaker.

The sound is so good on the Wonderboom that I could hear the music easily from a few rooms away. Like the UE Boom before it, this pint-sized unit features large volume up and down buttons and a charge port secured by a sturdy waterproof flap. No water’s going to get into this beast. It has a range of around 30m and pairing is quick and easy. The only niggle I have is the loop that you can pick it up with: It’s too small to slip a finger through.

Ultimate Ears reckons the battery life is around 10 hours, and it’s not far off that, when put through its paces at reasonable volume. Soundwise, the Wonderboom is excellent, offering toe-tapping bass, and nice mid-tones and high notes. Your music will feel right at home with the Wonderboom.

For a waterproof, portable speaker that offers fantastic sound and great portability, you’d be hard pressed to find anything better than the UE Wonderboom. Seriously, this is a wonderful Bluetooth speaker that will fill your home with the sound of music.

 

Jaybird X3 earbuds: Bluetooth sports buddies

Jaybird’s X3s are probably the first set of earbuds that didn’t feel uncomfortable in my ears.

The beauty of the X3 earbuds is that you can wear them either over the ear (with the cable running behind your ear) or under the ear, just like normal ear buds. I tended to wear them under the ear, using a fin, mainly because that’s how I’m used to wearing earbuds. I can see the over ear method ideal for sports like mountain bike or running.

Unlike many other ear buds that I’ve tried, the X3s managed to fit snugly into my ears without falling out. The ear buds come with a variety of ear tips and ear fins (as well as cord clips so things don’t get tangled up) so you can get the perfect fit. That said, I did manage to “misplace” one of the silicon ear fins while I was out riding my bike. I have no idea how that happened.

Like all modern pieces of tech these days, there is also a smartphone app for the X3s which lets you set custom sound scapes and the like, and they connected first time, every time when I turned them on, unlike some other Bluetooth headphones I’ve tried in the past. A female voice tells you how much battery life you have left, which is a nice touch. The control module is about 3cm from the right earbud, and it was the perfect spot for me to access.

The X3s worked flawlessly at the gym: I’d put my phone in one of the cubicles in the gym area and the connection would be sweet. The music dropped out occasionally but generally, it was as solid as a rock. On the bike, though, things weren’t so simple. For some reason, whenever I used the X3s on my bike, the music would cut in and out, often for multiple seconds at a time, even though my phone was in my cycling jersey’s back pocket that was 2 feet away, at most. I couldn’t fathom it: Often the first couple of minutes were punctuated by songs cutting in an out.

My son, who bought a pair of X3s a few months earlier, wondered whether it could be to do with the Bluetooth version on my phone, and I suppose he could be right. Any technophiles smarter than me think he might be right? The X3s use Bluetooth 4.1 while my Samsung Galaxy S7 apparently uses Bluetooth 4.2.

The sound from the X3s seemed great to my ears, delivering consistent tones whether it was the Smashing Pumpkins and Jeff Buckley or The Prodigy or Disturbed. Of course, I tested the sound purely unscientifically.

Jaybird’s X3 earbuds will set you back anything between $197 to $229 in New Zealand, depending on the retailer, but given how well they perform, especially when used at the gym, I don’t think that’s too bad. These are my earbuds of choice right now – and will be for a while, I reckon. There’s no way I’ll go back to those budget ones I used to use.

Logitech G Pro gaming mouse: FPS weapon

Logitech G Pro gaming mouse ($70)

I’m mesmerised by the light show that displays on the Logitech G Pro gaming mouse.

Seriously, I am: The mouse has LEDs around its mid-point and in its big G log that change colour from green, to light blue, to dark blue to yellow to green to pink to violet.

Light show aside, there’s more to the G Pro gaming mouse than in impressive light show: It’s a bloody good mouse for fans of low-profile and lightweight mouses (mice?).

With six buttons (left click, right click, a clickable scroll wheel, two thumb buttons on the left side and a DPI (dots per inch sensitivity) button behind the scroll wheel) and weighing in at 85 grams, the G Pro gaming mouse isn’t cluttered with options but the buttons all feel responsive, with a nice feel to them. This is one of the nicest gaming  mice I’ve used in a long, long time.

It really does feel nice in the hand and the braided mouse cable just gives it a classy look. Testing the mouse on Bethesda’s Wolfenstein: The New Order (which I only started playing over the weekend after finding it for sale on Steam) and early access game Astroneer, the mouse didn’t miss a beat. It really is a solid, gaming performer. I like it. A lot.

The DPI button lets you switch between 200 and 12,000 DPI and if you download and install Logitech’s Gaming Software, you can customise the lighting and button configurations as well as using default configurations for a variety of games. The software will search your system for installed games and assign a set up, if appropriate. That’s just amazing.

In terms of colours, Logitech says there is something like 16.8 million colour combinations but I’ll take its word for it: I’m not selecting them all to find out.

While aimed at the e-sports gaming market, Logitech’s G Pro gaming mouse is a robust, high-performing mouse that will perform superbly no matter what game you throw at it. I’m impressed.