Amazon Fire TV Stick released in the US

Amazon Fire TV StickThe Amazon Fire TV box was released in the US back in April to rival other set-top streaming boxes such as Roku, Apple TV and Google Chromecast. With 2GB of memory, a super fast quad-core processor, voice activated technology that actually works, and gaming capabilities, Fire TV has been lauded as  a real contender in the battle for set-top streaming supremacy. The only downside being its $100 (£64) price tag.

With Roku and Chromecast coming in portable HDMI stick form, it was only a matter of time before Amazon repackaged Fire TV and put it in a stick. The Amazon Fire TV Stick has just been released in the US and is a much more affordable $39 (£25), or only $19 (£12) if you subscribe to Amazon Prime.

With the reduced price and size comes an inevitable trade off in specs, which are pretty much halved. The Fire TV Stick only has 1GB of memory, a dual core processor, a cheaper remote that doesn’t have voice search, and only around half as many games that are run more slowly. However, as a portable streaming device, it serves its purpose well and compares favourably with its competitors.

Unfortunately, as with Fire TV, which was only released in the UK in October, us Brits are going to have to wait for the Fire TV Stick. As before, Amazon haven’t made any comment on when it will arrive on these shores but it’s expected to be some time in the new year.

Do you use a portable HDMI streaming stick? Do you like the sound of Amazon Fire TV Stick?

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Microsoft steps into the wearables arena with the Microsoft Band

While chunky smartwatches are taking a while to catch on, fitness bands are big business, with more and more companies targeting this area of the wearables market

Microsoft Band-1200-80Microsoft is the latest to get in on the action with the release of the Microsoft Band, which has all the functions of your average fitness band, plus a bit more. Intended to be worn 24 hours a day, the relatively unobtrusive Band offers 24 hour heart rate tracking and sleep monitoring as well as GPS mapping and a range of guided workouts, through the Microsoft Health platform.

With its first foray into the world of wearables, Microsoft will undoubtedly be looking to rival the Apple Watch, and although the two are very different products, Apple could well have a challenge on its hands. Or should that be wrists?

Although predominantly a fitness monitor, Microsoft Band also alerts you to Incoming calls, texts, emails, social media updates, calendar alerts and other information. Windows users can also access Cortana via the band.

One big selling point for the Band is the fact that it’s cross-platform, with the Microsoft Health software is available on iOS and Android as well as Windows Phone.

Another is its price point, which at $200 (£125) is pretty reasonable considering its functionality, and considerably cheaper than the $350 (£220) Apple Watch.

What do you think of the Microsoft Band? Do you think it can rival the Apple Watch?

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iPad Air 2: is it worth upgrading?

ipad-air-2-thin3Last week Apple released the iPad Air 2, to great acclaim. It’s been heralded by many as the best tablet on the market, and there’s no doubt that it’s an impressive piece of tech, but is it worth the upgrade, given its £399-£559 price tag?

There wasn’t much about the iPad Air that needed improving, but Apple has managed to do so nonetheless. For starters, they’ve made it even thinner than the, already thin, iPad Air, trimming it down from 7.5mm to only 6.1mm to make it one of the thinnest tablets on the market.

Not only is it slimmer, but also considerably more powerful and has a new processor, the AX8, which is 40% faster than previous generations.

The 9.7 inch screen has the same 2048 x 1536 resolution as its predecessor but the iPad Air 2 now has an anti reflective screen, which Apple claims reduces glare by around 56% compared to the iPad Air.

The iPad Air 2 also now has Touch ID, which will come as a relief to those who’ve got used to using the feature on their iPhone and keep trying to unlock their iPad with their thumb!

iPad_Air_2_Touch_ID_1000It also has new improved cameras for those who don’t feel silly taking photos with their tablet. The rear camera has been upgraded from 5 to 8 megapixels and now has time lapse, slow motion and multi burst functions. Perhaps more pertinent to tablet use is the 1.2 megapixel front camera with improved sensor, which allows for much improved FaceTime calls, especially in low light.

The only potential downside appears to be the battery, which has been reduced from 8,827 mAh to 7,340 mAh in order to accommodate the new slimmer design. Apple claims that the smaller battery will not affect battery life, which will remain at 10 hours. However, early reviews suggest that it has been reduced slightly.

So, is it worth the upgrade? If you already own an iPad Air, it’s probably not worth the additional expense, but those with previous generations of iPad will certainly notice a considerable improvement. There are certainly worse things you could spend your hard earned cash on!

What do you think of the iPad Air 2? Are you upgrading?

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Hendo Hoverboard finally makes fiction reality

Ever since Marty McFly took to a hoverboard in 1989’s Back to the Future II, the world has been eagerly awaiting the day when we too can fly around on one. And with 21st October 2015, the date that Marty arrived in the future, drawing ever closer, the race to make fiction reality has picked up.

hendo-hoverboards-003-1500x1000There have been many attempts to create a hoverboard but none have come anywhere close to emulating the classic prop, until now. Arx Pax, a small company from California, has done the seemingly impossible and created an actual hoverboard!

The Hendo hoverboard will hover around 3cm off the ground for up to 15 minutes at a time, carrying up to 140kg. The board works using a strong magnetic field that repels the surface below, in much the same way as Maglev trains. This means that it only works on a non-ferrous metal surface such as aluminium or copper. The current prototype also doesn’t have any kind of forceful propulsion, so don’t expect to see anyone whizzing around the streets on one any time soon!

Arx Pax has launched the Hendo hoverboard on Kickstarter and already by far exceeded its $250,000 funding goal with 51 days to go. They’ve also sold all ten of their first production hoverboards for a whopping $10,000 each.

The team is also offering pledgers small developers’ boxes, which incorporate the technology and can be controlled using a smartphone app.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the ten backers who pledged $10,000 will be presented with their hoverboards on 21st October 2015, and all their childhood dreams will come true. Possibly.

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Bluesmart suitcase allows you to weigh, lock and track your luggage using your phone

Although travelling’s great, it can also be a real hassle. Excess baggage charges, lost luggage and dead phone/tablet batteries are just some of the things that have the Bluesmartpotential to ruin a trip. However, a team from New York aim to make travelling as hassle free as possible with a smart suitcase that can be locked, weighed and tracked from your phone, as well as keep your device charged and provide information on your trip.

Billed as the “world’s first smart, connected carry-on”, Bluesmart was launched on crowdfunding site Indigogo yesterday and reached its goal of $50,000 in only two hours.

The Bluesmart suitcase connects wirelessly to your phone via Bluetooth and syncs with a dedicated app to provide a range of information and features. To weigh your case simply pull up the handle of the suitcase to activate its inbuilt scale and the weight will be displayed on your phone. Proximity sensors detect when you, or rather your phone, are away from your case and lock it automatically. Tracking sensors also allow you to locate your luggage if it goes missing.

Another useful feature is an inbuilt battery with two USB ports and enough juice to charge up to six devices.

bluesmart-designboom01Entering your flight number into the app will also provide details on the status of your flight as well as information about your destination, such as weather and time.

The suitcase measures 21.5” x 14” x 9 inches (54.6 x 35.6 x 22.9cm), which makes it suitable to use as carry on baggage, and weighs 8.5lbs (3.8kg).

Early backers were able to secure a Bluesmart case for $195 (£120) but those were snapped up quickly and they’re now going for $215. The team expects to start shipping in August 2015.

What do you think of the Bluesmart suitcase? Would you buy one?

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Apple Pay to launch in the US this weekend

A leaked memo to Walgreens, one of the retailers signed up to Apple’s mobile payments system, Apple Pay, has sparked rumours that the service will launch in the US this weekend.

apple-pay-cardsThe service, which uses NFC chips to wirelessly and securely transmit payment details, will allow owners of the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus to pay for goods using their handset.

Users add bank details to their phone by simply taking a photo of their bankcard using the inbuilt iSight camera. The details are then saved in the Passbook app. To make a payment the user simply taps their phone against a compatible payment terminal and presses their finger on the Touch ID sensor to authenticate the purchase.

Details of the transaction pass directly to your bank so the shop doesn’t get to see your payment details, and Apple doesn’t receive any information on the purchase. All of this, Apple claims, makes the process ultra secure.

There are several other US retailers already signed up to start using Apple Pay including Mcdonalds, Macy’s and Staples, with many more expected to follow suit.

There are still no details on when it will be launched in the UK yet although Apple says it’s working hard to roll out the service in other countries.

The UK already has 40 million contactless NFC payment cards in use, which may make it less likely to take off here than in the US where the credit card system is less sophisticated.

Do you think Apple Pay will take off in the UK? Would you feel confident using it?



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EE launches TV streaming service

ee_tv_box_w650pxNot content with being the UK’s biggest mobile network, EE is looking to increase its dominance further still with the launch of a new TV and video streaming service to rival those of companies such as BSkyB and TalkTalk.

EE TV is a set top box that can stream different live programmes to a TV and up to three smartphones or tablets connected to the same WiFi network, simultaneously. You’ll also be able to control the content directly from your mobile device. The service will offer over 70 Freeview channels, as well as various catch-up and on-demand services.

The box also has a 1TB hard drive, which is capable of storing around 600 hours of recorded TV or film, and has a feature that allows you to record and view up to four channels at a time.

EE tvEE TV will be free for subscribers to its broadband service, which is certain to attract new customers, particularly as the fee for EE’s mobile-only customers (£9.95 per month) will be the same as they would pay for EE broadband (minus the landline fee).

The service could also be seen as a cunning way to entice more of its mobile customers to upgrade to 4G, which is much more conducive to streaming TV and video.

Although the content on offer is not as diverse as certain rival companies (no Sky or Netflix, for example), EE insists that over time it will “include an ever growing range of content applications”. Let’s just hope that appearances by Kevin Bacon are kept to a minimum!

What do you think of EE TV? Would it be enough to make you switch broadband provider?

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Take the perfect selfie with Nixie, the wearable drone camera

nixieSelfies may be all the rage but even with front facing cameras on smartphones, they aren’t particularly easy to take. However, struggling to line up the perfect selfie could be a thing of the past thanks to a physics researcher at Stanford University who’s developed a wearable drone camera that flies off your wrist at the touch of a button and tracks your movements so it can position itself to film you from the perfect angle.

Nixie is a cross between a GoPro camera and a quadcopter drone that folds up and fastens around the user’s wrist. Once you’ve finished filming you can beckon the drone using hand gestures or set a timer so that it returns automatically.

nixie-drone-watch-4This clever device has made it as a finalist in Intel’s Make It Wearable competition earning its creator, Dr Christoph Kohstall and his team $50,000 (£30,700) in funding to bring the idea to fruition.

While it’s unlikely that we’ll all be wearing drone cameras any time soon, we think it’s a pretty cool invention that’s definitely a worthy competition winner. The winner of Intel’s competition will be announced on 3 November.

Do you think Nixie could take off? Pardon the pun ;)

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Go Pro announces new Hero 4 range

Go pro hero 4Go Pro has just announced three new action cameras including two high-end models and a budget version.

Rather than replace the previous range of Hero 3 cameras, the new models are intended to expand on the current range and offer the consumer more choice, although the advanced features of the new premium models are certain to make owners of the current versions desperate to upgrade.

The Go Pro Hero 4 Black is Go Pro’s most sophisticated camera to date and is capable of capturing cinema quality 4K video at 30 frames per second, which is twice as good as its predecessor. It can also film 2.7K video at 50 fps and 1080p video at 120 fps, and has a gopro-hero4-640x0completely redesigned audio system that captures high fidelity sound with 2x the dynamic range of previous models. Other enhancements include improved image quality, low light performance and an easier to use interface.

The Go Pro Hero 4 Silver substitutes the 4K filming capability for touch screen controls that make the camera easier to use. It can record 2.7K video at 30fps, 1080p video at 60fps, and 720p video at 120fps, and has the same image quality as the Black.

The third new camera is a budget version, dubbed simply the Go Pro Hero, and is designed to target a wider market that may not previously have been able to justify spending £200+ on an action camera. The Hero can capture video at up to 1080p at 30fps GoPro-HERO-Budget-Camera-to-Be-Unveiled-Along-GoPro-HERO4-on-October-8-460243-2and 720p at 60fps, has a lower resolution camera, and generally lower specs, but is still a good little camera for novice filmmakers.

Freestyle skier Xavier La Rue and Danny MacAskill have already got their hands on a Go Pro Hero 4 Black and Silver respectively so we can’t wait to see what they produce with them!

The Go Pro Hero will be priced at £100, the Hero 4 Silver £290, and the Hero 4 Black £370. All three will go on sale on 5 October.

What do you think of the new Go Pro Range? Will you be buying one?

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nPower offers free Nest Learning Thermostat to customers

If you’ve been toying with the idea of getting a smart thermostat, but been put off by the price or overwhelmed by all the different brands that have suddenly appeared on the market, nPower could have the solution you’ve been waiting for.

nest_coolingThe energy provider has decided to offer a free Nest Learning Thermostat plus free installation to customers who sign up to its new ‘Intelligent Control – October 2016’ electricity and gas tariff. This ‘dual fuel’ tariff guarantees a fixed price until October 2016 and price comparison website uSwitch says that it “represents great value for anyone looking to purchase a Nest Learning Thermostat”, which normally costs £249 including installation.

Their findings are based on the average household so you should consider your energy consumption before being seduced by the offer, but it’s certainly a great deal if you fit into that bracket.

The Nest Learning Thermostat can detect when you’re home, learns your daily and weekly routines, and then automatically controls your heating system accordingly. It also allows you to control your heating remotely via your smartphone when you deviate from your usual routine. Nest claims that the device can save you around £150-£200 a year on heating bills.

Nest first teamed up with nPower earlier this year to offer the Learning Thermostat for £99 on a different tariff, however the latest deal offers a much more tempting proposition.

Are you tempted to get a smart thermostat, or perhaps you already have one? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below…

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