Samsung Galaxy Note II Review

Samsung Galaxy Note II

A couple of weeks ago I got my hands on the Samsung Galaxy Note II to put it through its paces and review what is Samsung’s latest powerhouse device, with a spec list even more impressive than the hugely successful and popular Galaxy S III that came out earlier in the year. Might I add this is not just a test unit but my daily phone and for a couple of reasons. Well, three in all. First and foremost was the screen size, which of my (6 month) old Sony at 4.3″ just wasn’t big enough for me. I do a fair amount of web browsing on my phone and like the large real estate the phone gives for this. The Samsung Galaxy Note II has a 5.55″ screen and although it has a lower ppi (pixel per inch) density than the Sony Xperia S I had, the Note II does have a much clearer screen, thanks to some clever sub-pixel wizardry I’ll touch on later.

The second factor to aide my decision in plunging my short arms into my deep pockets was the sheer power of the device. Running a 1.6GHz quad-core processor and 2GB RAM it makes it one of the most powerful phones on the market right now, with the likes of Google’s new Nexus 4 up there too. The third point is a little gimmicky, but the S Pen that the Samsung Galaxy Note II comes with. It really is the cherry on top. Gone are the days of resistive touchscreens with clunky pens, this is a full capacitive touchscreen that allows the use of a pen, but I’ll pick up on that later too.

It was the aforementioned spec list of this phone which I felt was incredible. As a quick run down, this phone has a 1.6GHz quad-core chipset with 2GB RAM along with Android’s latest Jelly Bean OS which has their famous Project Butter implementation which controls the GPU and CPU governance, this phone is really fast. An 8MP camera takes stunning photos with a really intuitive autofocus, and full 1080p video recording capabilities with image stabilisation for some impressive HD videos. A 1.9MP camera up front for video calls is a good quality image, though honestly it’s not something I ever use, I have always felt self-portrait photos taken with the front facing camera a little too “MySpace-esque” for my liking.

Samsung Galaxy Note II S Pen

The S Pen is the true selling point of this phone, if the 5.55” screen isn’t quite enough of an attention grabber for you. Samsung have built into their TouchWiz UI some really clever tricks which help the S Pen feel part of the phone, not just an aftermarket attachment. There are little tweaks like when pressing the pen’s button and double tapping on screen calls up a post-it note you can doodle or makes notes on, with quick toggles on screen to make it smaller, full screen, and by touching and dragging the header bar the top can be dragged around the screen. The S Pen also fits perfectly inside the phone, and has been developed on since the original Samsung Galaxy Note to be much more ergonomic and with a nice satin feel has a much more tactile quality.

Samsung Galaxy Note II grey

I have never been a fan of manufacturer’s added software or “bloatware” they add to enhance an operating system, most notably HTC’s Sense UI as I feel it is just adding to the overall OS which has to be run by the phone’s processor, however this time Samsung have done a great job adding useful tweaks into their UI, TouchWiz. The overall UI for the Samsung Galaxy Note II is very similar to the Galaxy S III’s interface whilst building on that with added functionality for the S Pen. The post-it note function for notes, drawings and sheer text can be doodled or written on and saved, which is really handy when pen and paper aren’t to hand. I’ve used this a few times and it’s really good, though personally speaking it’s not something I’ll use daily, but that’s not to say others wouldn’t use it. TouchWiz also has a swype-like text input function built in which when using the pen makes for really fast and simple text input. Similar can be seen on Android’s latest 4.2 update. If you find the screen a bit large for one-handed operation, there is a setting in which you can set it for left or right hand use on the Samsung Keyboard which just shrinks it down a little and makes for simple one handed use. This was a feature I really liked, however when I had to text anything I found myself reaching for the pen to use the swipe function which I have always liked. Samsung get a good +1 from me for their UI tweaks to Android for this phone. Yes it is bloatware, but they are all useful tweaks. This said I unlocked the bootloader and had the phone rooted within a week to put a nightly version of CyanogenMod 10 on, which removes all of the aforementioned bloatware and runs a pure vanilla version of Android (v4.1.2 at the moment) with just a few tweaks to the UI like wallpapers and lock screen functions, courtesy of Trebuchet. A much preferred option for myself.

The screen is another jaw-dropping highlight of the Samsung Galaxy Note II. It’s size at 5.55″ makes it the largest screened phone on the market at the moment and fills that nice void between a standard phone at the now typical 4″ or 4.3″ screen size and the now popular 7″ tablets and, on bridging that said gap Samsung have decided to name this a phablet, part phone part tablet, almost making a new category of devices. Although this screen is bigger than the original Samsung Galaxy Note, the Note II has as narrower screen, thanks to changing the aspect ratio from 16:10 to 16:9 which gives it that lovely cinema style screen and really lends itself towards watching videos and YouTube.

New screen matrix of the Note II on the left, and the old PenTile Matrix on the right, of the original Galaxy Note

Now in reducing the width of the screen, it has resulted in a slightly lower resolution at 1280×720 down from its predecessor at 1280×800 and also a lower ppi (pixel per inch) density down from 285ppi to 267ppi. Samsung have played around with the matrix and gives a higher perceivable clarity and sharpness. Here’s the techy bit. They have done away with the PenTile matrix and changed the colour from green to blue of the sub pixel, also breaking the main pixels up from single red and blue cells, to half red half green cells. As you can see from the image, this really makes a huge difference to the crispness of the screen. It is nice to see Samsung standing up and proving that a high ppi doesn’t necessarily mean a better quality screen.

The camera quality is good. It’s not the best quality camera phone on the market, but Samsung make up for that with some nice functionality on the phone, like burst shot, capturing stills while video recording and different colourways to apply to photos such as sepia and black and white. Taking photos was one area the size of the phone comes into fruition and hinderance. It really is nice to have this lovely screen size to utilise as a viewfinder, though physically holding it for photo taking felt too much. I felt like one of those tourists you see in London taking photos of Big Ben with an iPad. That just can’t be practical! For me I’ve never looked at a phone as also my dedicated camera, for me a phone is also my MP3 player and media device, so I can live with using it just for the occasional snapshots and using my D-SLR for real “David Bailey” moments.

Samsung Galaxy Note II screen and S Pen

So screen size, a fancy pen and a more powerful processor than most 5 year old laptops, just how good is this to use as a daily device? It took me about 48 hours to adjust to the size of the phone/phablet in my hands. Luckily I’ve large enough hands to not worry about single-handed operation, however Samsung have put some nice tweaks into TouchWiz to cater for those that struggle with the screen size. I always felt more inclined to reach for the S Pen before I cursed the large screen and went playing with the one-handed operation adjustments within the settings. Now I have removed the Samsung software and run CyanogenMod these functions aren’t there, and as I’d not used them, I don’t miss them. It’s one of those screen sizes you will either adjust to really quickly and love, or instantly not get on with. At 183g this is not a light phone, though I have never liked light phones as I personally like to always know it’s in my pocket, particularly when zipping on the underground in London. The overall size of the phone is not a concern for use, but I do now think which jeans to throw on as some have shallow or narrow pockets that then makes this uncomfy throw in.

Being on Android you know the overall usability of the device is going to be great, it’s so simple and effective, putting all control in the end user and allowing you to show the information, apps and widgets on your homescreen as you wish. It’s great that Samsung pushed this device out to the public with the latest version of Android, nearly, running Jelly Bean v4.1.1 which is only a stone’s throw away from the very new v4.2 Jelly Bean update, which I hope Samsung pushes to Galaxy Note II users in the new year.

Ultimately I am really pleased with the Samsung Galaxy Note II. It did take me a couple of days to get used to the size, but within mere moments I was in love with the screen, its size and clarity are excellent. One gripe are the capacitive touch keys at the bottom of the front of the phone. They are very sensitive and sometimes when holding the phone in my hand firmly I have accidently pressed them. Their positioning perhaps could have been re-thought. The hardware home key does sometimes require a firm press, a gentle click in doesn’t always activate the command due. With a phone screen this size I’m surprised Samsung didn’t opt for Android’s in screen navigation bar, though that wouldn’t sit in line with the Galaxy branding style. I’m not sure where manufacturers are going to go with screen size now, I do feel this is as large as you’d want to go. There are parts of the Note II I don’t like, partly Samsung’s “bloatware” as although some of it, in particular the S Pen tweaks were good, I didn’t really use them and personally didn’t need them, however I do see how they are good tweaks, so good that people are currently looking at building them into custom software ROM’s. The S Pen itself is fantastic. It has a sublime ergonomic quality to it, and I go to grab it out the bottom of the phone each time I pick it up, regardless of whether I need to use it or not. It works fantastically well controlling games like Angry Birds of my favourite game Flow, and the handwriting recognition really is good, even picking up most of my scrawls for actual words.

Samsung Galaxy Note II in Grey and White

If you can adjust to the screen size, your hands and pockets are big enough to hold it, it really is worth considering over the Samsung Galaxy S III as it does have that larger processor for faster operating speeds. The Samsung Galaxy Note II comes in 16/32/64GB internal memory versions, though all are capable of taking up to a 64GB MicroSD card, so internal memory isn’t greatly needed and you will find that most retailers like Carphone Warehouse or E2Save will just be stocking the 16GB variant until the price drops a little. In white and grey now, the colour options are limited though there has been speculation of new colours coming out in the new year.

I’d highly recommend this phone if you like big phones, or even just powerful phones and it’s worth considering if you are looking at the Samsung Galaxy S III, give the Note II a look at see what you think. I for one am certain I made the right decision and thoroughly pleased with this phone, there aren’t enough superlatives to describe it!

Marshall Minor FX Headphones – Review

Marshall Minor FX Headphones in Black

Marshall Minor FX Headphones in black

When you hear the name Marshall you’d be forgiven for not thinking of headphones, and daydreaming about 80’s rockers thrashing out guitar solo’s on their Les Paul’s, however when Ben Hargreaves from Digital TV Selector stumbled across the Marshall Minor FX range of headphones did he find that the same technology that was so good for their guitar amps translate to their range of headphones too? Read his Gadget Stylist review to find out more…

Headphones have been a real bug bear in my life, in the last 5 years, I’ve probably had 5 pairs of headphones, and inevitably they have had issues of some description, ranging from the poor sound quality on some of the cheaper pairs, to the ruggedness of the more expensive pairs that I’ve purchased.

Marshall Minor FX Ear Buds White

The Minor FX white drivers are pretty striking

The biggest disappointment in recent times was a pair of Sennheiser in ear headphones which I picked up for £40, quite expensive, but I felt at the time it would be worth paying the extra for the quality after my old Sony headphones gave up the ghost. Ultimately, the headphone jack on the Sennheisers was flimsy and as a result the right earpiece stopped working, this rendered the Sennheisers useless, and a waste of £40.

It was by chance that I ended up speaking to a friend, and I saw that he had a pair of Marshall headphones. At first I was sceptical, but after having a closer look there was something different about these headphones that piqued my interest.

I was always aware of the Marshall brand because of their guitar amps, but would a pair of headphones from the same company be any good? Logic says yes, but the only way to truly find out for myself would be to take the plunge and spend £60 on a pair.

Now I’d just like to say £60 for a pair of headphones would usually be well out of my price range, but the only reason that I felt that it was worth spending this kind of money on a pair of headphones was because of a closer inspection of the kit.

Marshall Minor FX White Plug

The headphone plug is high quality like a guitar lead

The first thing that immediately struck me was the actual quality of the headphones, the 3.5mm gold plated headphone jack in particular. Unlike other headphones, the plug on the end of the cable was sturdy and the connector was knurled and didn’t look flimsy like other headphones that I’ve previously owned. It immediately told me that the cable wouldn’t break in a hurry, and thus avoiding the same issue that I had with my Sennheiser’s.

The second thing that was noticeable about the Marshall Minor FX Headphones was the cord itself, unlike other headphones that I’ve owned which usually have a PVC/Vinyl cord, the Marshall Minor FX headphones have a cord which is woven and hardwearing like an actual rope cord. Again, it would take a lot to damage the cord and stop the earpieces from working and this was enough for me to warrant taking the risk and spending the £60 on them!

Marshall Minor FX Headphones Box

The Minor FX come in retro-cool recycled style package

The Marshall Minor FX Headphones arrived in a classy brown cardboard cube box with Marshall branding and information about the operation on the sides. The contents of the box included the Marshall Minor FX Headphones, some instructions, a cord clip branded with the Marshall Logo, and 4 pairs of ear clips which come in a different set of sizes, but I’ll come to these later.

The Marshall Minor FX Headphones also come complete with a remote in built into the cord on the left earpiece. The remote itself is pretty simplistic, again branded with the distinctive Marshall logo there are three buttons, two to control the volume (up and down), and a main button which controls navigation of your MP3 player. Controls are also easy to use, click the gold button on the centre of the remote twice to skip forward one song, or three times to go back.

The Marshall Minor FX Headphone Remote

The smartphone remote controls

If you have your phone connected to the Marshall Minor FX Headphones the remote also doubles up as a microphone meaning that you can effectively use it as a handsfree kit. When you get an incoming call simply press the gold button to answer it and away you go!

Whilst the remote does function, it is a disappointment that the Marshall Minor FX Headphones are only really optimised for Apple devices such as the iPhone, iPad, and iPod. I use a Samsung Galaxy SII, so immediately the volume controls do not work with my phone, and the skip back to the previous song feature doesn’t work either, though the remote does support the handsfree phone functionality. It will be interesting to see if in time Marshall adapt the remote to work with other devices. Given the build quality I was surprised that Marshall chose to overlook this.

Marshall Minor FX Ear Buds

A range of ear bud sizes are included in the pack

Other than that issue it was time to test out the actual headphones. I mentioned earlier that the Marshall Minor FX headphones came with 4 different sizes of earclips, and these were particularly interesting as they were unlike any other earclips I had ever seen before. Conventional in-ear headphones, normally use ear buds to hold the earpiece in place with the rubber expanding to fit the ear canal, and in some cases these can be uncomfortable and fall out. On others there is a clip which fits around the ear to hold the earpiece in place, and I’ve personally found this more effective, and not uncomfortable.

On the Marshall Minor FX Headphones, the earclips are made out of rubber, and clip into the earpiece. The idea is that when you push the earpiece into your ear, the rubber presses gently against the top of the ear thus holding it in place, Marshall call this their ‘earclick’ system. On inspection, I was worried that this would be uncomfortable, and on the first use it was, however after changing the size of the earclip I didn’t have any problems, and the earpiece remained in my ear despite my best attempts to make it fall out, it was near impossible, and these rubber earclips provided a brilliant way of securing the earpiece which I’ve never seen on another pair of headphones.

Marshall Minor FX Headphones

The unique design and high quality materials help the Marhall Minor FX stand out from the crowd

Next was the acid test, was the sound quality any good? On my old pair of Sennheiser’s my real gripe was on the physical quality of the headphones themselves rather that the quality of the sound output. Could Marshall translate the output from their guitar amplifiers to a pair of headphones? The answer perhaps unsurprisingly was yes!

It is hard to describe sound quality as these things tend to be subjective to the listener, however the first piece of music I listened to was a classical piece of music by Elgar which was Nimrod through my laptop on Spotify, I felt that this would give the best range of sounds and really give me an appreciation as to how the headphones would sound. The output was soft and crisp with the quality exemplary and as good if not better than my old Sennheisers. You could hear all of the detail, with no hiss or distortion, and it really did do the piece justice, even with the brass section at the end which built up into a crescendo, the piece of music remained soft, and sounded as if you were in a concert hall listening to an orchestra playing it.

As a next test, I thought to listen to something with a range of frequencies, and played Galvanise by the Chemical Brothers, this time the sound was sharp and clear which reflected the music, there was no distortion, and you could hear all of the notes played from the electronic sounds from the piece.

Ulitmately I was impressed most of all by the Marshall Minor FX Headphones ability to adapt to two completely separate styles of music and seemingly reflect them in a different way. They really had come up trumps, and with the sturdiness of the headphones, I felt that it was £60 well spent.

There are many different pairs of headphones out there in the market, from a range of different manufacturers all purporting to perform impeccably. The Marshall Minor FX headphones do not spring to mind as an instant choice of headphones to purchase when you think of other fancy names such as Beats by Dr Dre, but if you are a lover of music and listen to a wide range of genres, you shouldn’t overlook these headphones as the chances are that like me they simply will blow you away!

You can read more of Ben Hargreaves’ musings and his eye on the latest digital tv news and deals at Digital TV Selector

Sony Xperia S Review

Sony Xperia S

The Sony Xperia S is the first flagship phone from Sony after divorcing Ericsson but does it really live up to the flagship status it’s been given? I feel a full Gadget Stylist review coming on.

After getting hold of a test unit I was eager to look at it after reviewing the Sony Ericsson Xperia Ray a few weeks ago as I wanted to see how the Xperia brand followed suit. We know that the brands like the old Walkman phones and their Cybershot phones had a set design brief and the Xperia set were the top dogs in the old Sony Ericsson camp, but how well does it translate now Ericsson have been removed from the equation? Can this phone really walk the walk? Did Sony buying out of Ericsson really work as a smart business move? Only time will tell.

At the end of last year it was announced that the Sony Ericsson joint venture were to split, with the Japanese electronics company buying out the 50% share for around 1.05bn Euros. This is seen as good for both parties as Ericsson now have a large wallet, and Sony can be more of a competitor to Apple and Google as they have a large content package, what with Sony SEN (Sony Entertainment Network) and Playstation now tapping into phones.

Back to the Xperia S. The phone comes boxed really well, and upon opening presents the handset dead centre, with all the cables, packaged charger and headphones hidden. The Xperia S comes in two colours, black and white, with the black being a matte finish and the white being much more glossy, but still stylish. We prefer the black as the glossy white is a bit too bling for us, though both are practical being coated in an anti-stain coating, simply put it detracts fingerprints, but if you search the forums, we found a chap writing in permanent pen on it, and just rubbing it off with a rubber. I don’t know whether rubbing the pen ink off takes the anti stain coating off too, so I wouldn’t try it personally.

Back Panel

The Xperia S has the good old fashioned “Sony” logo having ditched the Sony Ericsson logo, though I was confused that it still has the silver framed green heart logo on the back cover, I thought that was also a Sony Ericsson logo. The design of the phone itself is a clean square looking device with a slightly bevelled back battery cover but the great highlight of the design is below the screen. There is a transparent, luminescent strip, lighting up white in colour when touching one of the 3 capacitive keys, be it back, home or menu, and Sony have said that this light bar with also in time be used for notifications. There is an LED light at the top of the phone that flashes different colours for notifications such as blue for text messages, green for Twitter, Facebook and emails, and flashes red indicating a low battery level.

Included in the box can be different things depending on which network you grab yours on, or directly from Sony, but all will offer up headphones, USB lead and charger adaptor. Some networks such as Orange offer a free mini-HDMI cable to plug your phone into a TV to view your videos or photos on, others like O2, offer up 2 smart tags which are an NFC tool. More on that later. The phone comes pre-installed with a screen protector that I didn’t even notice to begin with, as it’s not written down as included at all, but it is laminated on to the screen and offers up an anti-shatter quality, so if you drop the phone it will be much more likely not to smash. Annoyingly this isn’t also an anti-scratch protector, so does scratch up very easily. If peeled off you uncover the actual screen which scratch-resistant glass which long term would prove more beneficial I’m sure, just be aware that without the pre-installed screen protector you are losing the anti-shatter properties although I’d weigh it up and see which is more important to you, for me it is the anti-scratch screen as I never drop my phone, it sits on my desk all day.

For me there are 4 important areas of a feature phone that’s claiming to be a flagship device so these are where I focussed my attention on testing the Sony Xperia S, which are screen quality, performance, camera quality and the user experience which is defined by the operating system and user interface. I realise there are many more aspects of a phone that are deemed important, such as playing music and connectivity options so I will cover off those too.

Xperia S Black

The 4.3″ screen is a real joy to look at, even more so the brighter the screen is, which you really have to crank up for sunlight legibility. The Sony Xperia S does something very clever in it’s marketing for the screen. Unlike the iPhone, they don’t make a big fuss about the PPI density (pixels per inch) or that it’s a fantastic Retina display with more pixels than your naked eye can take in, oh no, they say it’s simply a 720p screen. Yes it has a much higher PPI density but they don’t harp on about it(iPhone 4S 330ppi Vs. Xperia S 342ppi). It’s a real unsung feature of the phone that is great to look at, being 4.3″ so it’s much bigger than the iPhones 3.5″ and coupled with the Bravia engine from Sony to enhance video and photo quality on screen, it’s stunning. I am in awe of this screen. A stupid statement but i can’t stop looking at it the colour reproduction and clarity are superb. There are simply not enough superlatives to describe the quality of this screen it’s a true testament to Sony’s dedication to high quality screens as seen on their TV sets. As you can imagine a large screen doesn’t do much for the battery life, if the brightness is turned up and the Bravia engine turned on, though luckily Sony have very recently put out a FOTA (Firmware update Over The Air) to .75 which looks into this and improves battery performance. Phones currently shipping come boxed with .67 Sony Firmware which wasn’t as good at conserving battery life, which is important as the Sony Xperia S is a fixed unit in that the battery doesn’t come out. On that note, neither does the memory, it is a built in 32GB.

The performance of the phone does well for a device that is up against the likes of the HTC One X and the Samsung Galaxy S3 which run off quad-core processors whereas the Sony runs off a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, but does perform very well. I stuck a 1.2GB video onto the phone and played it through the obligatory video player app, MX video player, and it played it seamlessly with no judders, file buffering or audio/video mis-syncing. It did perform just as well on the homebrew video player though I personally prefer MX as the user interface is more intuitive. The true test of a phones performance has to be Temple Run as it’s a seriously popular game and it is a heavily 3D graphic intensive app with sound, touch screen and gesture control. Again, played it without a hitch even to the point I became far to engrossed in it and scored over 2.1million collecting over 4,500 coins. Leave a comment below if you can better me, and I’ll take it on to beat you. As Barney Stinson says, “Challenge, accepted!”

The Xperia S has a 32GB onboard memory which is a decent size for a phone, though that is your lot as there is no memory card slot. It does partition it to 1.5GB as SDCARD memory and aroung 25GB for user storage. 1GB of RAM as well so plenty of power for those games. Of course you don’t have access to the full 32GB as it is partly used for the Operating System and Network add-ons.

All of this adds up to a really good user experience, if we can live with the fact that Sony have launched a flagship phone running Android OS v2.3.7 Gingerbread when Ice Cream Sandwich is already out and on phones. Disappointing as this is a brand new phone with not such a brand new OS running on it, although Sony have promised v4.0.4 ICS to come out end of Q2, so really in just a couple of weeks. Sony have made some “enhancements” (or bloatware as us tech heads call it) which make it feel much more like ICS already, so the jump from GB up to ICS won’t feel as drastic a change. The update might mean a slight reduction in the level of bloatware the phone has, unless Sony decided to enhance ICS which is the reason for the delayed update.

It’s not really an issue as Gingerbread is a good operating system and now Google have pushed out Google Play onto GB, with a separate app for books and one for movies which makes the access to apps and games much easier and simpler to navigate through, so if not everything is updated at least some parts are fresh thanks to Google.

Sony Xperia S Camera

The other big performing act of the Sony Xperia S is the camera. Subtly embedded on the back panel with no extrusion like HTC phones often have, is a 12MP shooter with serious capabilities. It sucks in 4000×3000 pixels so is capable of being blown up to a very large size. The LED flash isn’t great for a 12MP camera as a flash like this can often give false colour depiction when used, whereas a xenon flash is a much truer colour representation. Video capture is great on this device too as it takes it in full 1080p@30fps with continuous autofocus to ensure you don’t get a blurry shot half way through. There are a host of other camera features the phone offers up including Geo-tagging, touch focus, face and smile detection, image stabilisation and 3D sweep panorama which is very clever but can only be viewed if plugged in to a 3DTV via the mini-HDMI cable, so kind of useless to the average consumer.

The Sony Xperia S also has NFC (Near Field Communication) built in which in time will offer up more functionality but the Smart Tags Sony sell separately (unless bundled in) have really clever tricks. There is one for the car that when you touch the phone against automatically turns on the Sat-Nav, one for the bedroom that turns the phone to silent and turns Wi-Fi etc off whilst turning the alarm on for your morning wake up call.

The music player on the Xperia S is fantastic. It is the generic Android player but with a few Sony tweaks here and there, and it becomes apparent that Sony did make Walkman devices, if forgotten these days, and put all their knowledge of improving audio quality into this phone so you can play with the EQ to get a tone you want, or simply choose a pre-defined one. It is just a shame that the Sony Xperia S comes bundled with Sony Ericsson headphones. Really Sony? What happened you had surplus stock you wanted to get rid of? For a flagship device I was wanting some decent quality in-ear ‘fones, even from Sony’s mid-range level products. I wasn’t looking for the best, merely better than the awful SE ones.

Via bluetooth the phone can also connect to other devices, such as the Sony Wireless Headset Pro which hasn’t been released just yet, and the Sony SmartWatch which we reviewed very recently.  

For developers and phone geeks, Sony do allow you to unlock the Bootloader to then root and flash a different ROM onto it, often to get rid of the aforementioned bloatware that manufacturers and networks stick on it. To see if your phone allows you to do this just type in *#*#7378423#*#* (the numbers spelling SERVICE on a phonepad) and enter the system info and configuration. More often than not networks will lock this feature once they have put their additional value added content on to the phone, so sit back and wait for an exploit if you so wish to root your phone. Just be aware there is always a risk of bricking your phone, basically rendering it into one expensive paperweight.

In summary I cannot speak highly enough for this phone. There are parts of the Sony Xperia S that aren’t an attractive proposition, such as the older Android version but the pros far outweigh the cons and when this phone does get Ice Cream Sandwich it should be a real contender for the top Android phone spot. I don’t think it is the best Android phone in the market now, with the likes of the previously mentioned HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy S3 out there, though with the Sony’s screen and camera really they add armour to the battle and although the SmartWatch can connect to any Android phone, it was made for the Xperia S and follows its design style taken from the Xperia line up so does help fight for the Sony’s cause. 

Sony Xperia S

Ultimately this is one seriously capable Android device and the connectivity options make it a really unique phone. One of these can be had cheaper than other Android devices, I presume as this doesn’t have that flashy new OS, even though it shortly will. The Xperia S has been out since early March so is still new to the market, does not have a successor yet and is still Sony’s flagship device, which after reviewing I think it really does deserve to be called.

You can get one for yourself if this review has piqued your interest, either on a contract by looking at the available deals here, or purchasing outright so you’re not tied in to that 24 month contract, and can get a better deal on either Sim only or Pay as you Go. Amazon and Play.com have them in stock for a really good price, just under £360 Sim free, which is a great way to spend your ill-gotten gains.

Krups Nescafé Dulce Gusto – Review

Krups Nescafé Dulce Gusto

The Krups Nescafé Dulce Gusto is more than just a coffee machine which is why it gets a mention here on Gadget Stylist. This is unlike those old filter coffee machines and is so much simpler and easier to use than a full espresso maker like they use in coffee shops. The Dulce Gusto is the most gadget inspired machine out there, and is also good at refuelling us tech heads with a nice cup of coffee. We need to stay wired. This isn’t the only kind of coffee machine where adding a pod to make a drink is all it takes, there are other kinds, hell, even Tesco make one, but for just a few pennies more one of these can be had.

Now the unboxing of the Krups coffee maker isn’t much to write about, but everything you need is in the box and I put it together in a matter of minutes. It’s really just a drip tray with a metal plate and the water tank. There are a few steps to run through when you first start it up, such as flushing hot and cold water through it, so on and so forth but the instruction manual is ever so simple, even if it looks busy on the eye as it’s written in so many langauges.

Once it’s all set up which all in only took around 15 minutes it is ready to make a coffee, and this is the fun gadget part of the machine. The Dulce Gusto comes with 12 free pods for drinks, but I did go out and buy a few boxes to try a few different brews and see just how well it makes them. A little insight in to me, years and years ago I was a trained Barista whilst studying at school, so I know how to make an espresso and how to froth milk making me fully capable of saying just how good this machine is at making one a latté or cappuccino.

The Dulce Gusto is a really simple coffee machine to use. At the front there is a lever that you lift, and a little drawer you pull out. You place one of the pods into the drawer and put it back into the machine, pull the lever down and it’s all set. Each type of pod has a different use. Some, like the espresso you only run for a 40ml drink, whereas the americano, for example, you run for almost a full cup of coffee. Don’t worry though as each box of pods tell you how much water to run through a pod. There is a lever on top that flicks left for cold water or right for hot water. All the coffee pods I have bought require the hot water so I’m not sure why there is a cold water option, but maybe if you don’t want a red hot coffee and want to drink it quickly a dash of cold water helps.

Some of the pods, like the chococino ones I bought, come in two parts, one pod for the chocolate and one for the milk. For this drink, you run the chocolate pod first for half a cup and the milk pod for the other half. It’s not the same as real milk but it works really well and is a lot quicker and easier than heating your milk up. How it tastes is extremely good too. On Saturday my house became a coffee shop with my friends, a bit like Central Perk in a way, and we were all drinking the different type of coffee and I was getting everyone’s opinions. I was singing the Rembrandts song in my head all day.

We started with the basic, a classic americano. This is like an espresso shot, but not a tiny drink a full cup and then you can just add a dash of milk, or not if you want it black. This was a really decent coffee and much better than an instant coffee. What’s great is that this takes about 15 seconds whereas boiling a kettle takes much longer. This is good as gives us more time on our gadgets. The coffee tasted smooth and rich but not overpoweringly strong. Swiftly we moved on to a lungo. This is very similar to an americano but deeper and not as watery. A very nice coffee indeed. It made me think of the americano after this as a posh filter coffee.

The latté was a good one to try as this is one of the drinks that uses two pods, the coffee and the milk pod. For this you run the milk pod first and put just over 3/4’s of a cup in, and then the coffee pod next just topping it up. Again these tasted very good. It wasn’t as milky tasting as a real latté with heated milk, but as a super posh instant coffee it was really nice. The milk had a slight froth to it, and the coffee came out and left a lovely café creme, which tells me that it really is fresh coffee, not instant granules.

The last coffee we made was a cappuccino. A cappuccino should be served in equal measures. By this I mean one third of the cup the espresso, one third hot milk and one third froth, the lovely velvety head that gets a chocolate dusting. The pods made a good cappuccino, though sadly wasn’t a true Italian cappuccino. The espresso was the first pod, and I ran it for a third of the cup which looked lovely, smelt fresh and had that really nice café creme on top. The next pod is the milk pod but it didn’t give a true third milk, third froth finish. There was a nice amount of froth and hot milk, but the head wasn’t as vast as a fresh cappuccino made in Starbucks or Costa, and didn’t stay on top for long, it kind of fizzled out. They did taste really good though and was a pleasant cup of coffee.

I know what you’re now thinking. Yes this is a gadget blog and I have spent half of this talking about coffee, but this is because it is like a gadget coffee machine. Back to the machine in question, it is very simple to use once you find the English text in the user manual. The switch on the front has an LED around it which glows red/green depending on what you’re doing, and the manual tells you what to do under each circumstance. The water tank holds 1.3 litres which is plenty I feel, you wouldn’t want more than in there in case the water goes stale. I’m not sure whether it would but I wouldn’t want a coffee with water than had been sitting in there for a while. There’s nothing against turning it off at the plug, so it’s good that you don’t have to keep it on and use electricity on it all day.

Krups Nescafé Dulce Gusto red

I do have a couple of grievances with it though. My first is the water tank. It holds 1.3L but there is no indication on the side of it where that is, and I filled it up, and after leaving it a couple of hours full without use, I noticed that I had a large pool of water on my worktop. I had clearly filled it up too much, but there is no marker telling me where to stop. The machine is quite noisy too when running the water through a pod, I know this is probably the element inside heating the water or the water feed pulling the water up into the machine, but it just doesn’t give a good impression of build quality, even though it is a very good build quality.

There are 26 different types of pods for the Dulce Gusto, even including Nesquik chocolate flavour but there are no pods available for tea drinkers. I am also an avid tea drinker and was slightly upset by this. The Tassimo coffee machine, the Dulce Gusto’s biggest rival does several different tea pods.

Krups Nescafé Dulce Gusto Ivory

All told this is a really good coffee maker though. The Dulce Gusto can make a coffee in around 20/30 seconds depending on what variety, be it americano, latté or lungo. The ease of use and simplicity is really very good and I can’t speak highly enough of it.The Dulce Gusto black is £99.99 through Currys and the red one is on offer(at time of publishing) for £89.99 , and the pods are between £3 or £4 in the shops but as I found, not all shops sell all of them. Tesco had a limited range as they were pushing the pods for their own machine.

This will fit into most people’s kitchen decors as it does come in a choice of colours. The black is standard, but also comes in Ivory, Red and a few others. This is the perfect gadget for a tech fan such as myself as it’s quick to use and doesn’t make you sit and wait for the kettle to boil, leaving you with more time to play with your gadgets, phone or what have you.

So if you’re really into coffee or hot chocolate this is certainly one machine to consider, in fact the only one to consider. It is much simpler than a dedicated espresso machine, but so much nicer on the pallet than instant coffee or a filter coffee machine. Ultimately this is the perfect “inbetweener” for coffee lovers. If I was on The Gadget Show, I’d give this 4 out of 5 G’s – which can work for Gadget Stylist too – for it only loses 1 point for the little grievances I have, but these aren’t powerful enough to detract you from purchasing.

AKG K450 Headphones Review

The AKG K450 – The subtle alternative to the bad boy Beats bass-heavy range?

AKG K450 Headphones

The subtle styling is the antidote to 'Beats bling'

After reading Gary’s reviews of the B&W headphone range I thought I should join the fray with a review of my AKG K450s. I listen to music a lot and since the days when I bought top of the range Sony Walkmans (yes that of the cassette tape variety kids!) I’ve always upgraded the cheap and nasty in-box headphones for something that makes the most of the music capabilities of the device rather than strangle the sound at source.

Apple’s standard headphones are quite frankly a joke and I usually rely on Sennheiser to replace them with the incredible sounding, incredibile value CX300 fones that improve the audio quality no end. However, Beats by Dre have made over the ear headphones as much a fashion statement as a piece of audio kit and I’ve been keen to get my hands on some for a while now.

I was very tempted to join the Beats-bois and nearly pressed the ‘Buy Now’ button on more than one occasion but after loads of research and some testing I chose to spend my hard earned cash on a pair of AKG K450 headphones.

AKG K450 Headphones

The AKG K450 Headphones

The consensus opinion in all the expert reviews (What HiFi – Headphones of the Year 2011),  and many user reviews was that if you valued sound quality and comfort above style and branding the AKG K450 were the best headphones for around the £100 mark. Now I’d never heard of AKG – they apparently make super-expensive reference headphones for home use – so this felt like a bit of a risk. The fact I picked them up for £50, about half the original retail price, made the decision a lot easier.

First impression of the K450’s was that the design was good but not beautiful. The navy/grey finish isn’t particularly sexy but then you’re buying these partly because you value sounds over style. The headphones are nice and light – really important if you want to wear them for extended periods when travelling or crouched over a laptop for several hours at a time – but at the same time they feel solidly built and well engineered.

AKG K450 Headphones Folded

The K450's fold flat for stowing in their hard case

The clever folding design means the headphones stow away nice and snugly in the accompanying hard case which means they will survive a bit of a battering in a your gadget laden bag!

The biggest concern I have with the product design itself is with the cables. There a range of short and long cables included in the pack but they and particularly the connectors are all a bit thin and fragile. Most headphone connectors I’ve used in the past few years have an L-shape so that they are less likely to get damaged when attached to your iPhone in your pocket. The use of a proprietary bayonet style connector on the end which connects to the headphones also means you can’t replace them with a more sturdy Beats style cable.

In terms of sound quality the AKG K450’s live up to their billing. I’m no audio expert but I am fussy about sound quality. The K450’s sound great with all genre’s I’ve tried and my eclectic tastes shift from Bombay Bicycle Club to Nirvana, Gorillaz to Jay-Z and far beyond.

AKG K450 Headphones Close Up

The AKG K450

There’s plenty of bass, not Beats by Dre levels but more than enough, just the right spread of highs and mid. You hear all the detail of the track to which you are listening, whatever the genre. Importantly there’s no sound leakage meaning you won’t be annoying your fellow tube passengers when you crank up the volume.

I’ve tried them head to head with the Beats Solo headphones and in my opinion they sound far better for less than half the price (if you shop around) and perhaps most important of all you dont look like yet another sheep following the Beats flock.

So in summary, if you want good value but amazing sounding over the ear heaphones rather than a pure style statement the AKG K450’s could be for you – and at £50 they are a steal!  A five star product even at full price.  

You can buy the AKG K450s for around £50 from Amazon, and Play.com

What headphones do you rock? What’s more important to you – style or sounds? Let us know in the comments section below.