Review: OWC Data Doubler Kit For Mac Mini

The Mac mini is a great little machine if you’re just getting into OS X or if you’re a long time user. Because of the Mini’s small form factor, it can be used in a variety of situations, from the office to the home theater. Another nice thing about the Mac mini is how upgradable it is. While it may not look like it from afar, once you’re up-close and personal with the machine, you’ll realize how easy it is to swap drives and throw more RAM into the machine.

So, you’re thinking of upgrading your Mini’s hard drive. Sure, you could purchase a new drive and throw your old one into another computer or an external enclosure, but why not keep it in your Mini for extra storage? Even though this may seem like an impossible feat at first due to the Mini’s very small enclosure, it is actually quite possible.

When Apple designed the 2011 Mac mini, they removed the optical drive, making it identical to the server edition Mac mini. The Mac mini server sports two 500GB drive standard, enabling RAID and other dual-drive solutions. Because of this, the standard version of the 2011 and 2012 Mac mini have an extra empty 2.5″ hard drive bay which needs a few simple parts to be fully active and capable of connecting another drive to your Mac. While you can buy all of these parts individually and follow a seedy tutorial on YouTube, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to purchase all of the tools, parts as well as an installation guide at once? That’s where Other World Computing comes in with the Data Doubler.

OWC’s Data Doubler for the 2011-2012 Mac mini is an awesome little kit. For a penny under $40, the product includes all screw drivers, parts and tutorials you need to install a second drive in your Mac mini. Most importantly, the Data Doubler includes a custom made  SATA cable which attaches to your Mini’s motherboard. This adds a second SATA connection to be used with the mounted drive. The only thing not included is the actual drive which you’ll be installing, but you can purchase one from OWC if needed.

Now that you’ve purchased a Data Doubler kit and a secondary drive for your Mini, how difficult is the installation process? Upon first glance, it may be pretty intimidating as you have to take your Mini completely apart for installing the secondary drive. However, as long as you follow Other World Computing’s professional video guide, you shouldn’t have an issue with the installation. I installed the Data Doubler kit in my Mac mini in about 45 minutes by following OWC’s guide.

All in all, I highly recommend OWC’s Data Doubler kit for the Mac mini to the type of person who doesn’t mind taking their Mac apart. You can purchase the Data Doubler for 2011-2012 Mac mini via Other World Computing’s website for $39.99.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 Review

We have reviewed a number of smartphones, tablets, music players and other gadgets at Techie Buzz. Now, for the first time, we are going to review a digital camera at your favorite blog. Panasonic recently sent us its flagship super-zoom digital camera, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200. After playing with the device for a couple of weeks, it completely changed my perception regarding bridge cameras. The Lumix FZ200 is the successor of the last year’s Lumix FZ150. The Lumix FZ200 is the first super-zoom camera which packs a 12.1 megapixel High Sensitivity MOS sensor with 24x zoom and maintains a fixed aperture f/2.8 lens starting from 25mm to 600mm.

Apart from that, the FZ200 comes with a 3 inch rotating LCD display, 0.2 inch electronic viewfinder (EVF) with 1.31 million dot equivalent resolution, full HD (1080p) video recording at 60fps, manaual shooting mode, Panorama shot mode, iA (Intelligent Auto) mode, Creative Control mode, 12fps continuous shooting without autofocus and 5.5fps with autofocus, 3D still images, RAW format support and much more. It captures the same amount of light throughout the zoom range and take amazing pictures even in low light and with higher ISO settings.

Specifications:

What’s In The Box?

  • Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ200 camera
  • Battery Pack (DMW-BLC12)
  • Battery Charger
  • USB Cable
  • Lens Hood
  • Lens Cap
  • Lens Cap String
  • Shoulder strap
  • CD-ROM
  • Basic Manual

Norton 360 Multi-Device Review

Most of you might be familiar with the Symantec’s popular anti-virus software, the Norton 360. I’ve been using the Norton 360 from the last 3 years and I never had a single virus on my desktop and laptop. Earlier this year, Symantec launched a new product, Norton 360 multi-device. It is nothing but the Norton 360 Premier Edition for PC, Norton Internet Security for Mac and Norton Mobile Security for Android devices packed in a single product. Norton 360 multi-device is also called as Norton 360 Everywhere in some countries. It allows you to protect up to 5 device with a single license.

I have installed the Norton 360 multi-device on my laptop powered by Windows 8, desktop PC with Windows 7 and smartphone running on the Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) OS. Some anti-virus software takes more than 10 minutes to install, but Norton didn’t take more than 2 minutes to complete the installation. The UI will be quite familiar to those who have previously used the Norton 360. As soon as you start the program, you will be greeted with a start screen as shown below.

The Norton 360 start screen has 4 sections – security, identity, backup and tuneup.

Security:

After installing the software, Norton will scan your computer and check for threats. If it does not detect any virus, spyware or other threats, then the security section will marked as ‘protected’. Norton 360 protects your important stuff from viruses, spyware and other threats. It not only detects any possible threats from your computer, but also removes them before they can cause problems for you.

The security section allows you to view details regarding the last time you have scanned your computer. It also checks whether the virus and spyware definitions are up to date. If you have not updated the program from a long time, then there is no need to worry. You can just hit the ‘Run LiveUpdate’ option and the program will automatically check for update and download it within a few seconds.

Norton 360 not only scan your computer for virus and threats, but it also scans your Facebook wall and check whether the shared links are safe from online threats. The ‘Quick Scan’ option allows you to examine only key areas of your computer. On the other hand, ‘Full System Scan’ allows you to examine your entire computer and run a file backup. You can also manage your firewall, create custom internet access for individual programs or block all internet traffic from the security section.

Identity:

The identity section lets you view whether your computer is protected from online threats. It come with the ‘Norton Identity Safe’, which is nothing but a password manager similar to LastPass and 1Password. It stores your passwords in a secure, cloud-based vault that can be accessed only by you. However, if you forget the password, then there is no way to recover it. We recommend you to use a password hint which can easily remind you of the master password.

Norton Identity Safe allows you to save passwords to the vault, autofill addresses, credit cards and save notes. It keeps your passwords synchronized across different computers, browsers, and mobile devices. It works with Google Chorme, Mozilla Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer on the windows platform. It is also available for OS X, iOS and Android devices. Norton Identity Safe warns you of unsafe sites in your search results and blocks them immediately.

These days identity thieves use SPAM, malicious Web sites, email messages and instant messages to trick people into divulging sensitive information, such as bank and credit card accounts. Norton’s Antiphishing component analyzes the security level of the Web sites that you visit and protects you from visiting unsafe Web sites. Norton phishing protection also blocks navigation to the Web sites that are confirmed to be fraudulent.

Backup:

Norton 360 offers 2 GB of cloud storage, however the Norton 360 Multi-Device comes with 25 GB of online storage. The Backup section allows you to backup all your important files and folders to other location such as external drives, DVDs, USB flash drives, etc. You will need to create a set by specifying the files you want to backup and the external location. The backups will help you to restore all your important files and folders in case your computer hard drive crashes or if you delete something by accident. To restore your files, just hit the ‘Restore Files’ option and follow the instructions.

Tuneup:

The Tuneup section packs some important tools such as Disk Optimization, File Cleanup, Startup Manager and Diagnostic report. The Disk Optimization defragments your hard disk and free up space, while the File Cleanup deletes the temporary files that are left behind after Internet browsing as well as deletes the unnecessary files that are left in Windows Temporary folders after a program has been installed or updated.

The Diagnostic report lets you view the details of the Norton 360 product version, details of the operating system, date installed, country code, version of Internet Explorer, Windows update setup, latest Windows Hotfix date, the operating system user language, system restore points and much more. The Startup Manager helps you to manage and control your startup programs. You can additional use the ‘delay start’ option to delay the start of a program when you turn on your computer.

Norton Mobile Security:

Norton Mobile Security is available Android smartphones, tablets, iPhone and iPad. It not only protects your smartphones and tablets from malware and viruses, but also protects all your data if the device is accidentally damaged, lost or stolen. We have installed the Norton Mobile Security on our smartphone running on the Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) OS and iPad 3 with iOS 6. You can easily download the lite version of this app from the Google Play Store and upgrade to the full version by using the same product key provided with Norton 360 Multi-Device.

The anti-Malware checks for malware on your device internal storage as well as on the SD card. You can schedule a daily, weekly or monthly scan to detect malware from time to time. The backup feature helps you to backup all your contacts to your Norton account. If your device is lost or the data is deleted due to the OS upgrade, you can easily restore your contact back to your smartphone. Other important feature is call blocking. You can add contact from your call log, sms log, contacts or directly input a phone number to block all the unwanted calls.

The Anti-theft is the most important feature of the Norton Mobile Security. If your smartphone or tablet is lost or stolen, you can easily lock your device to prevent strangers from using it and access your important files, pictures and videos. The Remote wipe feature lets you erase the information on your missing mobile device, including any data on phone memory cards. Sadly, this feature does not work with iPhone and iPad.

The Sneak Peek feature remotely takes a photo to help identify who has your missing device. However, you will need a device with front-facing camera to access this feature. Other useful feature is the Scream alarm, which activates a scream alarm, so you can quickly find your missing mobile device. Last but not the least is the Remote locate, which locates your lost or stolen Android and iOS device on a map to help you find it easily.

Conclusion:

I have been using Norton 360 from the last 3 years and I always recommend my friends to get this product as it have never failed to protect my PC. The Norton 360 Multi-Device takes the basic Norton 360 to the next level. I own a Windows laptop, desktop, Android smartphones and iPad. Previously, I had to purchase a seprate license for multiple devices on multiple platforms. However, Norton 360 multi-device solved this problem and allowed me to use a single product key for 5 different devices on multiple platforms.

Norton 360 comes with 2 GB of online storage, however the Norton 360 multi-device offers 25 GB of storage which is extemely useful if you accidentally lose important data from your computer. The only thing I didn’t liked about the Norton Mobile Security for ipad is that the Anti-theft feature is not available for Wi-Fi iPads. You are stuck with just contact backup feature. If you are someone like me who owns multiple devices, then I would definitely recommend you to get the Norton 360 Multi-Device.

Norton 360 Multi-Device for up to 3 device is available for Rs.2999.99, while you can purchase the license for up to 5 device at Rs.4189.99. To order the Norton 360 Multi-Device, head over to this page.

Rating: 4/5

Review: Notability Note Taking & PDF Annotation App

Notability

If you use an iPad and are looking for a great app for taking notes and annotating PDF files, then look no further than Notability. Notability is by far one of the best note taking apps I have seen and is the only one that has taken some of my attention away from Evernote. Unlike Evernote, it is not free however, it is only $1.99 and it is packed full of features.

Organized

In the picture below, you can see how Notability allows you to organize your notes into nice note books called categories and tabs called subjects on the left side of the page. In the top bar you have a simple set of tools. The “Edit” button allows you to rename, delete, and reorganize your notes and notebooks. The right pointing arrow button to the right of “Edit” will allow you to share a particular note. Notability will connect to your email, Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, WebDav, printers, iTunes, and even other apps on your iPad. The second arrow button in the top right corner will allow you to import documents, PDFs, pictures, etc… from these connected services such as Dropbox. The final button in the right corner is used to start a new note.

Organize

Stylus and Finger Friendly

One of the few frustrations I have with Evernote has been the lack of an ink note on the iPad. An ink note will allow you to use a stylus, or your finger, to write on the tablet. Notability works great with a stylus. In the image below, notice the different colors of handwriting that was used as well as, the colorful sketches that were done. The ink in Notability is smooth as silk. If you press and hold on the pencil icon at the top of the note, you get several options for pen thicknesses, styles, and colors.

Ink Pen

Media Rich

Notability has the ability to insert a lot of media into a note. Below, you will where I inserted a picture of an apple pie I made. You will also see the little “plus” sign menu dropped down showing the different media available to you in Notability. Notice that I have a purple triangle inserted as a shape. I used the “figure” option to draw this into my note. You can also insert “Stickies” with all sorts of different paper colors and lines available. Another really cool trick is the “Web Clip” option they put into Notability. You can browse out to a web page and clip a picture of it into your note. This would be great if you were working on a website design team or if there is some important information on the web that you don’t want to lose. You will also notice the microphone icon at the top of the note. This allows you to make voice notes. This is excellent for those of us who work in construction and we want to give ourselves reminders as we walk through the initial stages of a project.

Media Rich

The Good:

For a $1.99, this app is fantastic. This app is fantastic for $10. It works very nicely with a stylus and it adds flair to your notes that a lot of other note taking apps just don’t do. For instance, the fact that you can pick lined or grid paper, or have color paper instead of plain white are great examples of the thoughtful additions Notability offers. It connects to most major cross browser cloud storage apps like Dropbox and Google Drive. You can also send you note in a variety of formats such as PDF.

The Bad:

Notability will let you create text boxes that you can type in and move around, but they are a little buggy at times. Sometimes selecting and deselecting the boxes is difficult and they will move around on you as well. It doesn’t integrate with QuickOffice so you can’t import a spreadsheet in as a spreadsheet. It wants to convert it using Google Drive. It is currently not available for Android.

All that being said, those very small flaws are the only reason I can’t give this a perfect score, but it is pretty darn close in my mind. Notability is a must have app for the student, project manager, or someone who likes to keep up with good notes. I am confident that they are working to add better capabilities to this already wonderful app. It’s a 4 star app going on 5 soon.

 

Review: The Willy And FrameShift Stands By Insanely Great Products

If you’re in the market for a stand for either your iPhone or iPad, you may or may not have heard of Insanely Great Products. Insanely Great is a smaller iOS accessory maker who specializes in handcrafted stands for both the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad. Its whole line of stands are made from extremely high quality materials, like aluminium and sturdy acrylics. Because of this, most of the stands manufactured by Insanely Great Products feature a very industrial look, something which I’m a huge fan of.

Insanely Great Products was nice enough to let me test out a couple of their stands: the Willy and the Frameshift. The Willy Stand is made for the iPhone, but can be used with pretty much any smartphone. The FramesShift is an iPad stand which works with most tablets and eReaders on the market. Below, I’ve written up an individual review for each product, giving you my opinion on whether or not I think you should purchase either of the stands for yourself.

FrameShift For iPad

The FrameShift is a pretty awesome stand for the iPad, though it’s compatible with most tablet devices. It’s constructed completely out of anodized aircraft aluminium, and is available in three colors: red, blue and black. All three of these colors look absolutely stunning, though I prefer blue. Since the FrameShift is made out of aluminium, you don’t have to worry about the stand breaking, denting or cracking. Also, all of the nuts, bolts and washers used to construct the FrameShift are standard, so if anything gets broken, you can easily replace the part yourself.

One nice thing about the FrameShift is how versatile it is. The stand’s arm can be configured in multiple angles, allowing for easier viewing of movies and typing. Because of this, the FramesShift can also fold flat, which is helpful when traveling. Also, the interior of the FrameShift is padded with rubber, ensuring that your iPad won’t come in contact with the Frameshift’s metal construction.

All in all, I’d be happy to recommend the FrameShift as an iPad stand, though the price is a bit steep at $99 USD. For the price, however, you’re getting an extremely durable stand for your iPad which should be able to withstand most any situation, whether you’re storing it in your messenger bag or watching movies on the airplane. The fact that the FrameShift can be used to position your iPad at pretty much any angle really seals the deal for me.

Willy For iPhone

Willy For iPhone

If you’re looking for a cheap and functional iPhone stand, the Willy is your match. The Willy is made out of a sturdy acrylic material and features a non-skid bottom, so you don’t have to worry about using the Willy on your nightstand or desk.

Your iPhone is held into the Willy using one of two suction cups. The secondary suction cup can be used to mount the Willy to your car’s dashboard, your whiteboard or even the bathroom mirror. One of my favorite uses for the Willy is for positioning my iPhone comfortably between my ear and shoulder when on long calls. When used on a table, the Willy is positioned at a perfect angle for hands-free movie viewing and FaceTime calling.

If you’d like to purchase the Willy for yourself, expect to drop $20 on Insanely Great Products’ website. With such a low price-tag for such a functional product, I have no trouble recommending the Willy to any smartphone user.

Disclosure: Insanely Great Products provided both the FrameShift and Willy for review purposes. All opinions are my own.

Need For Speed: Most Wanted (2012) Review [Xbox 360]

Back in 2005, when EA released Need For Speed: Most Wanted, I was hooked to it. I had a pretty decently powerful PC back then, and loved playing the game at Full HD resolution with all the settings to max. Not only did the game look absolutely fabulous, it was insanely fun to play as well. I even went ahead and got an Xbox 360 controller for PC so that I could enjoy playing the game more.

After Most Wanted, the next racing game that I got hooked to was   Burnout Revenge when EA finally released it for PC. I had heard a lot about Burnout on consoles and from my hardcore gamer friends that how much better the series is compared to NFS.

Once I started playing Burnout Revenge, I could not agree less with my friends. The game was really well done, and had more than just ‘racing’ to it. In between, I never tried any of the NFS games that were released including Shift, Run and more. They all got horrible reviews, and I really did not want to spoil all the good memories I had of playing NFS: MW in my mind.

So, when EA and Criterion released Need For Speed: Most Wanted again this year, I was more than excited. So, here is my review of Need For Speed: Most Wanted after playing the game for the last couple of weeks.

The Story/Gameplay

In nearly all the racing games, the gamer needs to win races, or earn bonus/XP/points to unlock better and powerful cars. Most Wanted bucks this trend. You can roam around in the city – Fairhaven – aimlessly and find all the cars you want to. It’s an open-world out there, and it is up to you to explore it!

The game does have a pretty loose narrative though. Winning races will earn you speed points, which will allow you to challenge the top 10 Most Wanted drivers in the city. These top 10 most wanted racers drive the most desirable cards including many concept cars. Keep in mind that only beating a most wanted driver in a race is not enough to earn his car; you need to takedown his car as well.

Winning races also have another incentive apart from earning speed points, you get to unlock mods for your car, including shorter gears, lighter chassis etc. Every new car that you get is completely stock, so you need to win races to not only earn speed points, but also mods for your car. Every car has five different races allotted to it ranging from easy to hard.

One thing, which Most Wanted absolutely nails, is the handling of the cars. All the cars handle differently at varying speeds, with different mods, at different corners.

The Criterion/Burnout effect in Most Wanted is also clearly visible with billboards that can be smashed, hidden corners/shortcuts. The ‘Burnout’ effect is definitely there, and I mean it in a positive way.

Most Wanted also has a very different approach to races. There is no starting line here. Instead, players are greeted with a stunning track intro video, which is different for different tracks, before they are put in control of their car right in the middle of the race.

If it is a city based racing game, cops have to be there, and Most Wanted is no exception. There are 6 different heat levels, and according to the heat level, the cops get tougher by bringing in SUVs or by deploying spike stripes. Evading cops in Most Wanted is no easy task. I actually spent more than an hour trying to evade cops once, before giving up. You can evade cops by either aiming for the horizon and flat-out outpacing them or by taking some quick corners and hiding somewhere underground.

The Good

The open-world, the graphics, the ability to drive a Lamborghini Gallardo right from the start without the need to win a race, the Burnout effect, the EasyDrive navigation system to select mods or races for your car are easily the strengths of the game. The tracks of the game are really well executed as well. They are not only limited to the city roads but include a bit of off-roading and hidden shortcuts as well.

The attention-to-detail in Most Wanted is amazing as well — watching the debris flying from another car and then sending it into oblivion by knocking it with your car — all while driving your car at insane speeds. Each and every car in Most Wanted has been given the treatment they deserve, right from the Ford Focus ST to the Lamborghini Countach.

Don’t expect to win races easily in Most Wanted. The competing cars can sometimes be clearly much more faster than you, and if you miss those barely visible shortcuts, there is a fat chance of you winning the game. In some races, you will be on your toes and will have to make full use of the nitrous boost to rank among the top 3. You may win the ‘Easy’ races on stock cars, but beyond that, if you are not gonna modify your car, the chances of you winning are going to get extremely slim.

The Bad

As much as I like Most Wanted, I am not hooked to it. Blame my lack of gaming experience or the game itself, but there are no indicators or barriers in the racetracks so as to prevent the player from going off-road. Imagine driving an Aston Marin at nearly 200MPH on a flat road in a race, which you are leading, only to realize that you missed a turn. While there is an on-screen map that highlights the racing path, it is simply not possible to take your eyes off the road when you are driving at such high speeds. Do so, and you end up crashing your car.

The baffling part? There are actually virtual barriers present in certain points in some tracks. Why not everywhere? Or a virtual indicator like in Forza? I am fine with a game being very tough to play, but the lack of any kind of indicator makes me absolutely want smash my console or TV out of frustration. Nothing can be more frustrating that losing a race because you took a wrong turn.

This is perhaps the sole reason why I won’t recommend Most Wanted to anyone. The game does have some other oddities as well. If cops chasing you take you down, you will not be busted. Instead, the game resumes from the same place where you crashed. You can wreck you car into pieces, but it will not affect the performance of the car.

Conclusion

If you are a racing game freak, you are going to love Most Wanted. Nearly every aspect of the game has been executed very well, and the several oddities in the game are nothing too much to be bothered about. However, if you are new to racing games or a casual gamer, I will recommend you to not to spend your money on Most Wanted. ‘The Bad’ part of my review clearly sums up my lone frustration with the game and why I won’t play the game and recommend it to anyone.

P.S. – What’s up with the need for an Origin account? Is not an Xbox Live Account enough? I really don’t see the point of creating any kind of accounts for Xbox games, especially when I am already paying for an Xbox Live account.

Review: Lenovo Thinkpad Twist Ultrabook

I recently had the good fortune to get my hands on a new Windows 8 Ultrabook manufactured by Lenovo. I have been playing with Windows 8 since it came out in developer preview so before I dive too deeply into this review I have to say that if you are considering a Windows 8 computer, YOU MUST get a touchscreen or your selling yourself short. Windows 8 with a conventional mouse is one clunky beast. The new Lenovo Thinkpad Twist however, is not.

Pictured above, on my somewhat messy work table, is the Twist. If you are familiar with the Thinkpad brand, you will recognize the design. It has the signature red mouse “nub” seated inside the keyboard area.  The first thing I noticed when getting this thing out of the box is that it feels really nice in your hands. It is made of a magnesium alloy that grips really well. It also has an outer texture that resists fingerprints which is very nice. It probably isn’t the lightest ultrabook on the market. It weighs 3.48 pounds. I will say that it is very thin and just feels really natural in your hands, so I don’t think the weight is that big of an issue.

Twist

The screen is extremely bright and incorporates battery saving features. For instance, it will dim pretty quickly if you aren’t actively using it. Pictured above, you can see that the Thinkpad Twist lives up to its name. That screen will go in just about any position imaginable. You can turn it completely around, fold it up and sit it like a tent on the table, lay it completely over the keyboard to form a tablet, and use it like a regular laptop. This makes it extremely versatile and useful in my opinion.

Twist

You can see me holding the Lenovo Thinkpad Twist in its tablet form above. I have rather small hands and it wasn’t cumbersome for me to hold at all. The screen rotates around to whatever orientation you are holding it. However, it does have a little button on the side that will allow you to lock the screen orientation if you don’t want it to move.

The Good

It’s fast. The one I got my hands on had an Intel i5 processor and it was zippy. It has a lot of nice ports including mini-HDMI and USB ports. It also has a media card reader to support your camera’s memory cards. The screen is beautiful. Battery life is pretty good too.

The Bad

The speakers are horrible. I have had AM transistor radios that had better speakers than this thing. This was a real disappointment for me because the screen is just so nice. I was really hoping to get an outstanding multimedia experience and that just didn’t happen.

With Black Friday coming, it appears this ultrabook will be available for around $699. If you are seriously thinking about the Microsoft Surface, for $200 extra you have to give this a look. It has the full version of Windows 8 which doesn’t have the limitation of the RT version of Windows 8 that is on the surface. Plus, it is just so much more versatile than the surface. Anyone wanting to venture into Windows 8 should seriously give the Lenovo ThinkPad Twist a look.

LG Optimus Vu P895 Review

Samsung’s original Note singlehandedly created the segment of smartphones that is commonly referred to as Phablet. These are devices that are larger than most conventional phones, but smaller than tablets. I have never been a big fan of phablets. They are essentially compromise devices – too large to be conveniently used as a phone, yet too small to confer the multimedia benefits of a tablet. I found the original Note to be simply a bloated version of the S2. However, clearly, a large section of the populace didn’t mind the giant screen, as the original Note sold quite well. The recently introduced Note 2 has been doing even better – selling more than three million units in less than a month.

Now, other manufactures are also getting in on the act, and last month, LG introduced its first phablet – the Optimus Vu P895 in India. Soon Kwon – MD of LG India, believes that the Vu has everything that the competition fails to offer. I used the Vu as my primary device for the better half of the past week to find out if it lives up to the promise.

Appearance

LG-Optimus-Vu-Front

Even though LG’s 2012 series of smartphones have been a bit all over the place in terms of overall quality, one thing they have consistently delivered on is design. The Optimus Vu is no exception. It is exceedingly thin (8.5 mm), and feels solidly constructed. There’s a lot of plastic, but it doesn’t feel cheap and flimsy. I have been a fan of LG’s bold rectangular design principle, and the Vu holds onto much of what I liked about the Optimus 4X. The matte finish of the back cover makes the Vu easier to grip, and the sliding door covering the micro-USB port is a nice touch. However, the most striking feature of the Optimus Vu is just wide it is. At 90.4 mm, the Optimus Vu is about a centimeter wider than the Note 2. The extra width means that unless you have a really big hand, you are going to have a hard time gripping the Vu. I found it extremely uncomfortable (almost painful) to hold the Vu during long conversations. Thankfully, in spite of the bulk, the Vu is fairly light, weighing just 168 grams.

LG-Optimus-Vu-Galaxy-S3-One-X
LG Optimus Vu next to a Galaxy SIII and an One X

LG has utilized the extra width to pack in a couple of additional buttons. At the top left there is an additional button that triggers the QuickMemo app. At the bottom, there is an additional capacitive button for launching the new Android task switcher. Both of these are non-essential additions, but are nice to have.

LG-Optimus-Vu-Back

LG could have slimmed down the Vu a bit more by shrinking the rather wide bezels. However, the extra bezel space has eliminated the accidental button press problem that I encountered in the Optimus 4X.

Display

The Vu features a 5’’ HD-IPS LCD screen with a resolution of 1024-by-768 pixels. LG claims that the PC-like 4:3 aspect ratio is ‘perfect for multitasking’. I will take a closer look to see if that claim has any substance in the Software section of this review. The screen is bright and offers good outdoor visibility with excellent viewing angles. It’s not as vibrant as the Note 2’s or One X’s display, but doesn’t appear washed out like some of the other LG displays.

Hardware

The Optimus Vu ships with a Quad-core 1.5 GHz Tegra 3 processor and 1 GB RAM. Performance-wise it’s very similar to the Optimus 4X. It scored 11593 in AnTuTu, 2749 in AnTuTu 3D, and 4411 in Quadrant. These scores mean that the Vu is significantly faster than the original Note, but is handsomely beaten by the likes of Note 2 and Optimus G. In real life, the Optimus Vu’s performance offered little reason for complaint. Whether I was browsing through the gallery, surfing JavaScript intensive websites, or playing Nova 3, the Vu didn’t miss a beat.

The Optimus Vu ships with a 5.5’’ Rubberdium stylus. Vu’s stylus falls somewhere between the original Note’s and the Note 2’s stylus. It’s thicker than most styluses, but not as think as the new S Pen, which can be actually gripped like a pen. Since, the Vu needs to be used with two hands anyway, it’s a smart move to include a stylus. Unfortunately, all the benefits that the stylus could have offered is rendered moot by sheer stupidity. LG has thrown in a stylus, but the phone itself doesn’t have any slot for storing the stylus. Instead, you have to actually carry around the stylus in your pocket. This is of course a major annoyance. I already almost lost the stylus once, and after a couple of days, I simply stopped carrying around the stylus. Samsung on the other hand, not only provides a mechanism to store the stylus, but actually reminds you if you forget to tuck your stylus into the phone before walking away. The second sore point is that the Optimus Vu stylus is not pressure sensitive. The S Pen stylus for the Note 2, on the other hand, can differentiate between 1024 pressure levels. So, the Vu stylus can only be used as a pointing device or for scribbling. Don’t think about drawing or doodling with it. The final and the biggest point of annoyance is that you can actually tap on the capacitive buttons with the stylus. So, while using the stylus, you will have to consistently toggle between using your finger and the stylus. The stylus really seems to be something that LG tucked on to the Vu at the last moment for namesake.

Software

LG-Optimus-Vu-Home-Screen

The Optimus Vu ships with Android 4.0.4, and is slated to get Android 4.1 (Jellybean) in first quarter of next year. No word on whether it will receive Android 4.2 or not. There is the customary LG Optimus UX running on top of stock ICS. While some aspects of the Optimus UX – like its overuse of bright colors – are annoying, there are plenty of thoughtful additions. LG has a TouchWiz like scrollable notification bar, but unlike in TouchWiz, it’s completely customizable. In fact, customizability is one of the strongest points of Optimus UX. For example, everything about the lock screen can be changed including how the clock looks or what shortcuts appear in the dock.

LG-Optimus-Vu-Notification-Quick-Settings

LG’s QuickMemo, which we earlier saw in the 4X and the L-series handsets, has made it to the Vu too. It is essentially an enhanced note taking app that is now accessible through its dedicated physical button. You can annotate presentations, documents, webpages, and just about anything with QuickMemo. You can save your memos for later reference or share them with your contacts.

In addition to QuickMemo, LG has added another note taking app called Notebook. In fact, all QuickMemos go into a single folder inside the Notebook. The Notebook allows you to create elaborate notes with images, drawings, and text. Other bundled apps include a backup tool, a news reader, Polaris office, and a video editor called Video Wiz.

LG-Optimus-Vu-Notebook-Handwriting

One aspect of the Vu where LG has put in a lot of thought and effort is the keyboard. The keyboard has four distinct modes – a classic feature phone layout (that I am sure no one will use), QWERTY layout for tap typing, QWERTY layout for Swype style shape writing, and a handwriting recognition mode. Normally, typing with single hand is impossible on the Vu. However, the keyboard has a special singlehanded typing mode that can be triggered via convenient gestures. When in this mode, the keyboard automatically shrinks and sticks to one edge of the screen (left or right). Although, I found the stylus to be pretty unusable in its current form, I did give handwriting recognition a fair spin and came away impressed. It was able to pick up my shabby handwriting with surprising amount of accuracy. Not only is the recognition engine accurate, but also quite fast. It’s a pity that the stylus is so unusable. The only complaint that I have is that most keyboard settings are buried several levels deep in the Android interface.

LG-Optimus-Vu-Keyboard-Modes

LG claims that the 4:3 interface is best for multitasking. After taking the Vu for a spin, I can’t say that I am convinced. LG might be onto something, but the Vu’s software fails to drive that point home. In fact, the Note 2 with its multi-window multi-tasking is a lot more productive. Even, QSlide from Optimus G with added support for streaming videos, would have been quite handy. However, with the standard interface, I don’t see how the Vu is better suited for multitasking than any of the other current generation smartphones. In fact, the 4:3 aspect ratio has a negative impact on the multimedia experience, since almost all video content is in widescreen aspect ratios. Some apps like Subway Surfer also have a problem with the Vu’s resolution and need to be scaled. The only aspect where the Vu really benefits from its resolution is web browsing in portrait mode.

LG-Optimus-Vu-Width

Multimedia

LG Optimus Vu P895 ships with an 8 megapixel camera, which may not be the best mobile camera in the market, but produces good quality images and acceptable videos. Its weakest point is low light capture, where it performs significantly worse than the S3. However, under proper lighting conditions, the Vu takes well balanced, detailed images. The algorithm that LG is using is really smart and manages to get the settings bang on in most cases. In keeping with Optimus UX’s focus on customizability, the camera interface is also adjustable. The usual features including panorama, HDR, and burst modes are present. The Vu lacks an option for macro-focusing. However, don’t let that fool you into thinking that the Vu can’t take close up pics. The auto-mode is really good at figuring out when you want to use macro mode. The camera app’s biggest draw is ‘Time Catch Shot’, which we first saw in the Optimus 4X. When you enable this feature, the Vu captures five shots in a quick succession, including shots from moments before you clicked on the shoot button, from which you can select and keep the best shot. With Time Catch, even if you are too late or too early with the shoot button, you can still capture the moment you wanted. Another gimmicky feature called Cheese shot captures the pic when you say ‘cheese’.

LG-Optimus-Vu-Camera-Sample-Landscape
LG Optimus Vu Camera Sample: Landscape
LG-Optimus-Vu-Camera-Sample-HDR
LG Optimus Vu Camera Sample: HDR
LG-Optimus-Vu-Camera-Sample-Macro
LG Optimus Vu Camera Sample: Macro

The Vu shoots videos at 1080p with 30 frames per second. LG has thrown in a couple of interesting video effects. You can remove the video background and instead use a disco, sunset, or space background. You can also pick a video from your own library to use as a background. Be warned though, in order for this feature to work, your background needs to be stationary and the phone needs to be extremely stable. You also have bunch of face wrap options for playing with your friends.

The video player in Vu boasts of all the excellent enhancements we saw in the Optimus 4X. They are –

  • Fingertip seek, which shows a YouTube like preview of the frame you are about to jump to while seeking.
  • Speed controller, which allows you to slow down or speed up the video on the fly.
  • Split-Screen view, which allows you to quickly browse through your library.
  • Pinch-to-zoom, which allows you to zoom into any video you are watching. While this is not something that you will use regularly, it is a nice to have enhancement.

Others

LG Optimus Vu features a number of connectivity options including NFC, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, Wi-Fi Direct, DLNA, and Bluetooth 4.0. Like Sony, LG includes a couple of NFC Tags called Tag+, which can be used to automatically change your phone’s settings to a preset mode. These tags can be configured with the companion Android app.

The Optimus Vu includes a 2080 mAh non-user replaceable battery. This can be a real headache, given that the Vu doesn’t really last all that long. I only got about nine hours with moderate usage on 3G. This is unacceptable for a phablet, since its strong point is supposed to be watching videos and surfing the web. The Note 2 on the other hand comes with a 3100 mAh battery.

LG has also opted to not include an expandable memory slot. However, this is unlikely to be a major problem for most users, given that Vu ships with 32 GB of internal storage.

Conclusion

As I mentioned in the beginning, I am not a big fan of phablets, and the Vu did nothing to change that. However, if I keep my preferences aside, then I must admit that the Vu is an interesting device. It certainly has a lot going for itself. It’s fast, well designed, sports a good camera and a feature-packed video player. It also makes a few mistakes. Unfortunately for LG, the Vu’s oversights are really big, and they end up hurting what would have otherwise been an excellent product.

I tried really hard to understand why LG would go for a 4:3 screen, but failed to come up with anything concrete. My takeaway is that with this odd proportion, LG has sacrificed too much to gain too little. The next slipup is with the Stylus. In fact, LG gets the stylus so wrong that you should pretty much ignore it all together. You are unlikely to be using it a lot. And, even if you want to use it, you will probably lose it very quickly. My final grudge is with the battery. If you are going to make the battery non user replaceable, you better make sure that it has enough juice to last a day.

When I began to use the Vu, I really liked the device. Yes, it was too big, but it had a nice display, was really smooth and fast, had a nice speaker, and took great snaps. Unfortunately, the poor battery subconsciously affected how I used the Vu. I started watching YouTube less frequently as I was afraid that I would run out of battery before I reached home. This is a real pity, because the Vu had a lot of promise. It’s sensibly priced and can currently be picked up for Rs. 30,000. Yes, it costs the same as Samsung’s previous generation Note. And, that’s the biggest redeeming factor for the Vu. On the whole, the Vu fails to live up to Mr. Kwon’s promise. It simply can’t compete against the Note 2. However, it’s also significantly cheaper. If you want the best phablet that money can buy, you should get the Note 2. However, if you want something cheaper, take a long and hard look at both the Note and the Vu. If you can live with Vu’s odd proportion, and don’t mind carrying your charger around, it might make sense for you to go for the Vu instead of the Note. It’s hardware is a generation ahead of the Note. Otherwise, the Vu might end up frustrating you.

Adidas Sennheiser CX680i Review

Reviewing audio equipment such as headphones/IEMs is often a tough task; audio quality is often quite subjective — different people have different preferences and expectations as to how their audio equipment should behave.   Having said that, Sennheiser’s audio products are known to be pretty good and I was thrilled to receive a review unit of the Sennheiser CX680i. Let’s see how it plays.

Box Contents, Design &  Look And Feel

Along with the earphones, the box pack comes with a shirt clip, a cleaning tool, few extra tips and an Adidas branded carrying case.

The Sennheiser CX680i at first glance looks like pretty much standard IEM. However, the CX680i’s funky color is the first thing that’s going to grab most people’s attention. Personally, I found the near-florescent yellow color a bit jarring and flashy for my taste. Having said that, it does grab attention and I was asked by few of my colleagues for more details on the IEM. You don’t see that happening often!

Color issues aside, the CX680i is tagged as a sports-optimized design and there’s a neat little fin which helps the IEM hit snugly in-between your earlobes, preventing the IEMs from falling down while jogging.

Earphone pictures courtesy Sennheiser’s product page

 

The CX680i also acts as a headset, with an inbuilt-microphone and remote control jack for adjusting volume/activating voice controls/picking up calls. Unfortunately, this seems to be optimized only across iOS devices – for neither the control for accepting calls not the buttons for adjusting volumes/changing tracks worked with my Android-based Samsung Galaxy S II.  A shame this, having it work universally across devices is what Sennheiser should have aimed to do, rather than limit it to iOS devices.

Audio Quality & Performance

While I’m no audiophile, I do like investing on a  quality set of earphones, since I listen to music quite a lot. With this in mind, I had to judge the Sennheiser CX680i against my current earphones – the Denon AH-C360 and the Klipsch S4a.

When compared to the Denon & the Klipsch, the Sennheiser CX680i performed admirably well. The CX680i didn’t have the same level of thumping bass that the Denon had, but nonetheless was well pronounced and could be felt well. On the mids and highs side, the CX680i was not too harsh, well balanced and was quite pleasant to listen to. Pumping up the volumes to high levels didn’t introduce distortions and when plugged into a Fiio E5 earphone amplifier, the CX680i responded well, especially with the bass response. Overall, the 680i responded well to sounds across the spectrum, making your gym workout a pleasure to listen to. The fins on the earphone tips did well enough to prevent the earphones from falling out during mild jogging and the passive noise isolation worked very well —  so much so that I often wouldn’t realize I had people calling me out despite them standing right in front of me.

Pricing & Conclusion

With a retail price of about $100, the CX 680i isn’t exactly inexpensive. But with features such as sweat and water resistance and a Kevlar reinforced cable, the CX 680i is ideal if you listen to a lot of music and have an extensive workout set that keeps destroying your earphones.

Product page – Sennheiser CX 680i

 

HTC One X Case Review – Case-Mate vs Official HTC Case

The HTC One X sports a polycarbonate unibody construction and Corning Gorilla glass display. In theory, both of them should make HTC’s precious flagship more durable. In reality though, as the amply shattered glass of my friend’s One X suggests, there is still plenty of room for improvement. In fact, HTC’s sleek construction with a protruding display might have made the One X more vulnerable. It’s never a bad idea to get some extra protection for your beloved smartphone. I asked Mobilefun, a leading retailer of phone accessories, to send across a couple of cases for review, and they obliged.

The first case I wanted to check out was ‘Case-Mate Barely There for HTC One X’. As the name suggests, this case is extremely slim (just over a millimeter), and adds very little bulk to the phone. It’s made from flexible plastic and seems to be pretty durable. The case features neatly cut out orifices to provide you access to all the functionality, including camera and charging. Although the Case-Mate case is precisely crafted, portions of it overflow onto the screen, which is a good thing, since it offers protection for the screen on the sides.

HTC-One-X-Case-Mate-Barely-There

The One X is a pretty good looking phone. If not for its frog-eyed lens, it would have been a real stunner. The Barely There case does justice to the One X’s appearance and retains most of its beauty. Unfortunately, after a few days of usage, my unit developed ugly white patches that you can see in the image above. Mobilefun indicates that this is the first complaint it has received about the case, so it might be one of those one-off manufacturing defects.

HTC-One-X-Case-Mate-Barely-There-Sideview

The second case I reviewed is the official HTC Hard Case for the One X. The hard case is one of the most distinctive looking cases you are likely to see. Its perforated back renders it a unique appearance, while also improving grip. The case itself seems to be a lot more rugged than the Barely There case, and didn’t pick up any scratches or other deformities during my usage. HTC also claims that the mesh at the back improves ventilation and helps keep the phone cool during heavy usage. However, the perforations have one significant disadvantage – they also allow dust to accumulate. You will have to clean up your phone once in a while, if you don’t want to end up with ugly dirt spots (second image below).

HTC-One-X-Official-Hard-Case

HTC-One-X-Hard-Case-2

Both the HTC One X phone covers received from Mobilefun were excellent. The Case-Mate Barely There for HTC One X costs £15.95 in the UK and Rs. 1121.99 in India, while the HTC One X Official Hard Case costs £17.99 in the UK and Rs. 1266.00 in India. Given the nominal price difference between the two, I will prefer the official Hard Case. It appears to be more rugged, and also provides a better grip, while lending your phone a distinctive look.

HTC One X Official Hard Case: 4/5 (Excellent)
Case-Mate Barely There For HTC One X: 3/5 (Good)

[ Disclaimer: Cases reviewed were supplied by MobileFun ]