Category Archives: Hardware

D-Link Covr C1203: Enveloping your home in Wi-fi goodness

D-Link Covr C1203 seamless Wi-fi system ($599,99)

D-Link’s Covr C1203 system is the solution for when you have shit Wi-fi around your home.

I have shit Wi-fi in my house and chances are, if your house is anything like mine, the further you get away from the router  (mine’s located behind my TV in the main lounge at the front of the house), the shittier the wi-fi connection gets. Heck, before I installed the Covr C1203 system I was struggling to pick up a decent wi-fi signal from the kitchen, which is maybe 8m to 10m away from the router in the lounge.

After countless calls to the ISP’s helpdesk and tweaking of settings, things didn’t improve much: Sometimes we’d be watching Netflix using Apple TV over wi-fi and the picture quality would suddenly degrade to SD for a few minutes before cranking back up to HD. It was less than ideal.

D-Link’s Powerline solution.

Now, being the techie that I am, I’m not happy with sub-par wi-fi so before the Covr C1203 system, I bought a D-Link’s Wi-fi boosting Powerline solution, which you plug into a power socket and it boosts the internet signal using the electrical wiring in your house.

While adequate, speeds were pretty flakey at times and it wasn’t all that reliable, with the signal dropping out from time to time, I was still able to surf the web and watch Netflix easy enough using Wi-fi but couldn’t watch a streaming service like SkyTV’s Neon, which just refused to load.

D-Link’s Covr C1203 claims it’ll give up to 1200Mbps Wi-fi and each unit has three receiving antennas, which means it’ll detect the Wi-fi signal easier and provide a consistent signal. Set-up was easy enough using D-Link’s Android app. You can either use the default network name or create your own and you connect the base station to you router then dot the secondary stations around your house (the kit came with two secondary stations).

Once powered on, a  flashing white Covr logo on top of the base station means a weak wi-fi signal and a solid white logo means a solid Wi-fi signal. I had to move the around the house until I was happy with the signal.

D-Link’s Covr C1203 solution in its natural environment.

The Covr C1203 is what is called a mesh system, meaning it envelopes your house in a wi-fi, um, net, meaning there are no dead spots and you’ve got consistent coverage between the base stations. I was now getting Wi-fi all around the house: No more flakey speeds, no more buffering streams.

I took a few days to find the right placement for the secondary nodes. I originally had one in the kitchen and one in the laundry but the signal wasn’t the strongest so every day or so I moved one or two to another location: laundry, bathroom, my bedroom. I finally settled on one secondary node in bedroom 1 and the second in bedroom 2. If you measured a line from the base station in the lounge to the node in bedroom 2, you’d pretty much have a straight line from point A to point B. Each node has two ethernet ports as well.

My house is, I suspect, a pretty typical one of its time period: Build in the late 1990s, it has timber framing with a brick exterior. It’s around 225sqm in size but has a few walls between where the router is and the bedroom end of the house. I tested the wi-fi signal from three points around the house before I installed the Cover C1203.

Pre Covr testing: Lounge: 256Mbps down, 350Mbps up; bedroom 1: 69.1Mbps down, 19.5Mbps up; My bedroom: Failed the test (no signal)

Post-Covr installation: Lounge: 334Mbps down, 248Mbps up; bedroom 1: 81.2Mbps down, 102Mbps up; My bedroom:52.9Mbps down, 63.8Mbps up.

I’m impressed with the Covr C1203. Now, I can watch Neon on my iPad in HD in my bedroom and not skip a beat: It’s seamless and buffer free. We get strong wi-fi speeds right around the house now, which is something we didn’t get when both my children were at home – and they constantly complained about it.

Thanks to D-Link’s Covr system, I’m now getting decent Wi-fi speeds all over the house, which I’m really stoked about, especially during those cold winter nights when I can stay in bed and watch movies or early-morning E3 press conferences.

One thing that would have been nice to be able to do with the smartphone app is turn off or turn down the brightness of the illumination on the base station’s cover: It can easily light up an entire room when it’s pitch black. Apparently you can do that in the system’s web-based menu system but try as I might, I just wasn’t able to access it either through the covr.local website or the router4’s IP address.

Thanks to D-Link and its Covr solution, I’m a happy chappy.

Thanks for D-Link ANZ for the review unit.

Something On My Mind: Has Xbox lost its way?

Something On My Mind is an occasional thought piece about,  well, something that has been on my mind for a while. 

Last console generation, I could confidently say that the most played console in my household was the Xbox 360.

Microsoft couldn’t do anything wrong with that console and just seemed to have nailed it with the Xbox 360. I played games on it much more than my PlayStation 3.

This generation, however, it’s a complete reversal: My Xbox One console sits gathering dust underneath my TV, with my Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 getting all my gaming attention. I know it’s been a while since I used my Xbox One when every time I turn it on there’s a hefty update for it.

The reason? I think it’s because, for me, the Xbox One doesn’t have any compelling single-player experiences like the PlayStation does, and I’m a strong single-player campaign gamer. Give me single-player any day of the week.

The last time I turned on the Xbox One was to download Mad Max using the Xbox Game Pass (which I think is a good scheme) and Sea of Thieves (which I quickly stopped playing through lack of content) and State of Decay 2, two games that are strongly multi-player or co-operatively focused titles.

Sure, Backward Compatibility on the Xbox One is a nice feature,  but to be honest, I don’t have a current generation console so that I can re-play games that I’ve already played on my Xbox 360, even if they’re in a higher resolution and run at faster frame rates (look, my eyes are getting so bad these days I’m not sure I can pick up frame rate drops anymore). I have my Xbox 360 if I want to play games from the last generation.

For me, I want engaging, compelling narrative-driven games and I get that with the PlayStation: God of War, Detroit Become Human, Horizon Zero Dawn, the Yakuza series. While Sony was investing in development studios and putting faith in single player games, Xbox was focusing on Kinect and its  vision of the Xbox One being an all-singing, all-dancing entertainment centre – and I think that’s hurt Xbox.

I may be wrong here, but these days, Xbox’s target market seems to be more and more the multiplayer crowd, given its investment in games like Sea of Thieves, Player Unknown’s Underground (PUBG) and State of Decay 2.

Microsoft’s Xbox One X might be the world’s most powerful console – and I’ve no doubt it is – but for me, what’s the point of having an amazingly powerful piece of hardware without must-have, compelling single-player games for it?

I’m not a fan boy of any gaming platform: Sure, I play most of my games on a console, but I still buy and play games on my PC (I have a huge backlog of Steam games I’ve bought but haven’t played yet). As far as I’m concerned, if you play games, no matter what platform, you’re a gamer.

I’m hoping that at E3 in a couple of weeks, Xbox announces a line-up of games that will restore my faith in the hardware maker and make the most of its console’s power. All I want is some really strong single-player games that make me want to play my Xbox One just as much as my PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.

Is that too much to ask?

 

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.

« Older Entries Recent Entries »