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Networking Knowhow What you need to set up a home/office network
Spec Savvy De-code notebook tech specs with our handy guide
E-Waste 101 What to do with those old electronics
Save Your Data All about backing up your vital data
History Lesson The evolution of portable computers
What isâ€Ś. the PlayStation Vita? We delve into Sonyâ€™s lively new portable PlayStation
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omputers controlled by hand gestures, processors with 14 million transistors on a pinhead in your smartphone, and simply touching a credit card onto a keypad to perform an online transaction. Sound unbelievable? These were just some of the mindboggling technologies on display at this year’s Consumer Electronic Expo in Las Vegas. And before you know it, words like Ultrabooks, OLED TVs and maybe even Ivy Bridge will be entering your digital vocabulary. After all, you’ve got to keep up, right? If you’re after technology that’s easy to understand, you’ve come to the right place. Connect magazine is about simplifying your digital experience, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re buying a new gadget (this month, we’re talking home networking, see pg 10), or want to find out about the latest technology (Sony’s PlayStation Vita launches this month; read more from Christo van Gemert on pg 26). If you’re in the market for a new laptop, Deon du Plessis will get you spec-savvy (pg 14) to help you along. Once you’ve decided on your new baby, we’ll also give you the low-down on back-ups, a necessary time-saving tool. And with an emphasis on the environment, this issue of Connect explains e-waste and how to get rid of those obsolete items effectively. See pg 18. Stay Connect-ed with the February issue of the only tech magazine that speaks your language. Enjoy the issue, Tiana Cline
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in the news...
Omni-ous all-in-one from HP All-in-one PCs, those computers that look like just a plain LCD monitor but have all their computing innards cleverly packaged, are getting a lot of attention lately. HP’s newest arrival, the Omni27, is the company’s largest one yet – a 27” display mated to advanced graphics hardware, up to 2TB of storage, a Blu-ray drive, Beats audio, and even an optional TV tuner. Despite not having a touch-enabled display the Omni27 is still loaded with HP’s Magic Canvas software that lets photo and video content make the best use of the available screen space. > There’s no confirmed word on local availability of this mega all-in-one, but watch this space!
Flawless phones Nissan, yes, the car maker, has some great tech for all the clumsy gadget fiends out there. A few years ago it introduced its Scratch Shield paint technology that would let cars keep their shine using self-healing technology. Now it’s introduced a concept design for a plastic iPhone case that is finished in the polyrotaxanebased coating. The idea is that you can keep your phone free from scratches in a protective case that will itself remain scratch-free. The technology has been licensed to Japanese cell phone network NTT DoCoMo, so there’s no word yet on a commercial product being made available for the rest of the world.
Slimmer Samsung Series 9 Last year Samsung gave the world its Macbook Air-competing Series 9 ultrabook, and the engineers at the Korean company haven’t been resting on their laurels. At CES, in January, it announced a 15” version of the Series 9. Interstingly, they’ve managed to squeeze a 15” LCD into an aluminium shell that’s the same size as most 14” notebooks. While it might sound like they’ve defeated the laws of physics it’s actually a case of clever packaging: the LCD has a very thin bezel. The 15” Series 9 is available with either 128GB or 256GB of SSD storage, and either 4GB or 8GB of RAM. > Recommended retail prices could not be confirmed at the time of going to print, but local availability is expected as soon as February.
App of the Month Smarter Settings While the iPhone and iPad let you easily access your applications with a grid of icons, navigating the settings menu can be a bit of a pain. For instance, the option to turn on or off your Bluetooth radio is hidden three layers deep. To remedy this, one clever developer has made a web app for the iPhone that’ll let you add icons to your home screen for instant access to certain settings. Now turning on your Bluetooth is two taps away, and there are instant-access shortcuts for many other settings, including: iCloud, network settings, Safari, Wallpaper, Notification Centre, and Flight mode. Simply visit HYPERLINK “http://brdrck.me/settings/” http://brdrck.me/ settings/ on your iPhone or iPad and bookmark the site by adding it as a shortcut to your home screen.
6 | connect | FEBRUARY 2012
network. Unleash your network. devices. Unleash your devices.
techno jargon // by Deon Du PLessis
8 | connect | January 2012
We love networking; it’s such a broad technology that we could fill a magazine just busting its buzzwords. We’ll have to make do with a handful for now, as well as a few non-networking words we thought we’d chuck in for good measure. Internet Protocol (IP) A protocol is a set of rules that defines the way something behaves, and in this case that “thing” is how information is transmitted across a network.
IP Address A neighbourhood full of houses is a good metaphor for a network. Each home is connected to the other homes by roads, and each home has an address so it can be found. In a similar way, an IP address is a string of numbers that identifies each computer on a network, and thus all computers on the network, each with their own IP address, can find each other.
Static IP A static IP is an IP address that does not change. Once a device is assigned one of these, the address belongs to that device indefinitely, or until an administrator changes it manually.
tickets, and these are handed out as people enter the park but people don’t hand in their tickets when they leave, the park would quickly run out of tickets and no new customers would be able to enter. By “dynamically” handing tickets out to entering patrons and accepting them back when people leave, the park ensures it will make the best possible use of those 1 000 tickets. Dynamic IP addresses work in the same way.
PPPoE The abbreviation stands for “Point-to-Point Protocol over Ethernet”, and it’s used mainly in DSL modem routers, which connect to DSL networks using phone lines. PPPoE is a way to send the information received over the DSL network to any devices connected to the router.
Wi-Fi Antenna Inside each Wi-Fi router is at least one antenna, and it’s responsible for sending and receiving information wirelessly to compatible devices. Some routers use more than one antenna, which enables them to create an even larger coverage area, increase the speed of the router’s wireless transmissions, improve reliability, or all 3.
PPTP The “Point-to-Point Tunnelling Protocol” is used in the creation of a secure connection between VPNs. It’s called a tunnelling protocol because of the secure tunnel that is formed in the process that encrypted data flows through. To use more metaphors, think of an actual tunnel being policed by an aggressive security force that doesn’t let any traffic through unless it has the proper credentials, and you have an idea of how PPTP operates.
Dynamic IP A Dynamic IP is an IP address that changes every time a computer joins the network. This is needed so that the pool of available addresses (which is limited) doesn’t get used up by devices that are no longer connected. Think of it as a ticket system at an amusement park – if the park only has 1 000
secure), a VPN is a way for a company to create a secure connection between their network and the remote user. It does this by encrypting the data on both the sending and receiving ends and creating a secure “tunnel” between the two.
Quality of Service (QoS) This option, found in most routers sold today, is there in case the administrator needs a certain level of performance from the router. By enabling QoS, the router is guaranteed to meet a pre-determined performance level. Prioritising certain types of network traffic is one of the many techniques used to achieve this.
Banding (printing) VPN A “Virtual Private Network” is a way for a company to allow remote offices or individual employees access to their corporate networks over the Internet. Because the Internet is essentially an open network (i.e. it can be used by anyone and is therefore not
If a printer leaves visible lines on a printed image, this is called “banding”. This usually happens because of clogged or mis-aligned print heads, but can also be as a result of a low-quality image, printer settings and even the wrong type of paper being used.
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buying advice: networking //by deon du plessis
10 | connect | February 2012
Buying the right equipment is essential for the smooth and easy operation of any home or office network. Here is a closer look at the products involved in getting set up... Router
Top tip Compatibility To make the most of any IEEE802.11n router, it’s wise to have a notebook that has an IEEE802.11n Wi-Fi network card. If yours doesn’t, consider buying a USB Wi-Fi dongle that supports it, because that way, you’ll experience faster data transfers and be able to access your wireless network over greater distances.
A router is used to connect computers in one location together so they can share resources like printers, storage devices and files. You can buy one that only uses cables to connect, or a combined wired/wireless router for the greatest versatility. Routers don’t have any way of connecting directly to the Internet, though – they have to connect to other devices that do it, like broadband routers and cable modems (cable modems are common in countries that have cable TV). Routers are also used to connect separate networks together, as they are able to pass data between networks that use different addresses. For the average user, however, routers are best used to connect computers together to form what’s called a “Local Area Network”, commonly referred to as a LAN.
Buy this if... You need to distribute an Internet connection among several computers. You are setting up a small local-only network. You need to join 2 or more separate networks together.
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buying advice: networking //by deon du plessis
Broadband Router (also called modem router) Broadband routers are the jack-of-all-trades in the consumer networking space. They connect to the Internet and distribute that signal over wireless and wired connections to all the computers connected to them. They have built-in firewalls to help prevent unauthorised access to important data, and can automatically assign network addresses to any new devices that connect. Most broadband routers connect to the Internet using ADSL, while others offer 3G as a primary or secondary option. Compared to ADSL, 3G data is expensive, but can be the perfect solution for offices or homes that donâ€™t have access to a telephone line. Some of the more high-end ones also support advanced services like Dynamic DNS (a service that allows the router to be accessible from the Internet) and the use of proxy servers. Itâ€™s even possible to connect USB hard drives and memory sticks to some routers. This allows central storage to be shared by all the computers on the network. Because of this flexibility, these handy devices are the first choice for the networking needs of small offices and homes.
Buy this if...
You need an all-in-one networking solution to create a small and secure network consisting of wired and wireless clients that connect to the Internet using ADSL or 3G.
Cordless Quickness The IEEE802.11n wireless networking standard officially supports speeds of up to 300mbits/s, or 37.5MB per second. That same movie file would download in 21.3s over a wireless N connection under ideal conditions. Some routers use technical wizardry to increase that maximum speed, but 300mbits/s is the baseline standard that all N-class routers can achieve under the right circumstances.
12 | connect | February 2012
Range Extender Expanding the area a wireless network reliably covers can be done by using a range extender. These are small devices that connect to the original router by a network cable, and broadcast the same wireless network signal from a second location. Homes and businesses with more than a single storey to cover benefit from range extenders. By placing the router downstairs and the range extender upstairs, a reliable wireless signal can be spread throughout the premises, and Wi-Fi-capable computers, notebooks, tablets and smartphones can connect to the network from almost anywhere on the property.
Did you know? Wireless network speeds decrease the further the client is from the router. Objects in the room can also interfere with the quality of the network signal, especially other wireless electronic devices. Microwaves are also good at interfering with wireless networks when they’re in use.
Buy this if... You’d like to add more computers to an existing network using Ethernet cables.
Buy this if... Your wireless network signal strength is very weak and/or unreliable in certain parts of your home or office.
Switch A switch is similar to a router, but it can’t automatically assign network addresses, has no built-in security, and most consumer-level variants don’t support wireless connectivity. Those available at retail have either 4 or 8 ports for network cables (ones aimed more at business have a lot more, of course), and while they are not as smart as routers, switches are clever enough to examine each packet of data as it arrives before sending it on to the intended recipient. Home users probably won’t have much need for network switches, but they are excellent for adding more computers to an existing network found in small to medium-sized businesses.
Switch Wired for Speed The fastest wired networking technology, called Gigabit Ethernet, can copy data at a maximum rate of 125MB per second. An 800MB movie file, for example, can be copied in 6.4 seconds.
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spec savvy //by deon du plessis
Know your Notebook Thinking of replacing your notebook? Here’s some advice to help you buy the one that’s right for you.
n this article, we’re going to break down the hardware specs and delve into what they mean for the end user. By the end, you’ll be able to glance at the specifications of any notebook you see, and know whether or not it suits your needs. Here we go!
The processor is the single most important component. It determines how fast your operating system responds and how quickly programs perform their tasks. Skimping here means slightly worse overall system responsiveness.
Top tip core of the matter When it comes to processor cores – the number of individual processors packed onto a single processor chip – more is better. A dual-core chip is acceptable, but you really want 4 cores or more working for you. More cores mean more processing power, which, in turn, means more overall speed.
14 | connect | February 2012
Intel Core i7
Intel Core i5
Intel Core i3
Intel Core 2 Duo
Optical Drives Optical drives come in several flavours: DVD readers, DVD readers and writers, Blu-ray combo drives (i.e. they read Blu-ray discs and can burn DVDs), and Blu-ray burners (these can also read and write to DVDs). Your needs will establish which of these will suit you best. We’re quite fond of Blu-ray combo drives as they’re very versatile and not as expensive as Blu-ray burners, but even just a DVD burner should be good enough for most people.
Memory Having plenty of Random Access Memory (RAM) is very important. Without enough RAM, a computer with the fastest processor in the world would be slowed by the process of reading and writing information to a hard drive (the alternative to reading and writing it directly to RAM). Complex operating systems like Windows Vista and Windows 7 benefit from a lot of RAM, and are able to put it to good use regardless of how much the system is configured with. RAM also benefits applications that work with a lot of information at a time, like multimedia software (photo-editing, videoediting and creation, Computer Aided Design, etc.).
How much RAM do i need?
1GB – Bad idea! Avoid if possible, system performance will be just short of pathetic 2GB – Acceptable on a system with a very low workload (e-mail, word processing, general Internet) 3GB – A good place to start for semi-serious home and business users 4GB – Now we’re talking! 4GB is great for business notebooks 6GB – A very nice amount for professionals and gamers 8GB – The sweet spot! A great balance between affordability and performance 12GB – Essential for users of CAD programs 16GB – Excellent for power users, but overkill for most others
Need to know 32-bit or 64bit version of Windows? While there is a whole story behind the limitations of a 32-bit operating system (it’s extremely technical and involves lots of maths), all the savvy consumer needs to know is that if they want their computer to make use of more than 4GB of system RAM, they need to choose a 64-bit version of Windows. Here is a table detailing the amount of RAM each version of Windows 7 supports, courtesy of Microsoft: Operating System 32-bit 64-bit Windows 7 Ultimate 4GB 192GB Windows 7 Enterprise 4GB 192GB Windows 7 Professional 4GB 192GB Windows 7 Home Premium 4GB 16GB Windows 7 Home Basic 4GB 8GB
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spec savvy The Screen Screen size determines the physical size of a notebook. We recommend looking at notebooks with screens listed as anything from 14” to 15.6”, as these offer the best viewing experience while not over-burdening the carrier with unnecessary bulkiness. Nowadays, LED backlighting is standard on all notebook screens as it provides excellent brightness while also saving on power (and thus extending battery life). Perhaps most important is the screen’s resolution.
The 3 most common resolutions: 1 366 x 768, 1 600 x 900 1 920 x 1 080 Higher resolutions mean crisper graphics, but also tiny onscreen text (text can be adjusted later, of course). If you like to watch 1 080p HD movie files on your notebook, 1 920 x 1 080 is the resolution to go for.
Hard Drive Space When it comes to storage, size is important, and the more gigabytes a computer has, the better. Our advice when it comes to capacity is to get as much as your budget will allow. At the moment, 500GB drives offer the happiest medium between price and capacity.
Need to know SSD vs Regular Hard drives are now available in a format called “Solid State Storage”, abbreviated to SSD (Solid State Drive). They typically offer much smaller capacities than conventional hard drives, but because they are essentially memory chips packed into a 2.5” hard drive casing, they are a whole lot faster and use less electricity, which extends battery life quite a bit. SSDs are expensive, but the speed and power-saving benefits they offer can prove to be worth the price premium. We believe 128GB SSD drives occupy the price/performance sweet spot at the moment.
Card Readers Having a card reader built into your notebook makes transferring information from devices like cameras and cellphones to your notebook incredibly easy. There are several popular memory card formats, so it’s ideal to buy a notebook that has the ability to read and write to multiple formats.
Happily, this is a nobrainer. All notebooks sold today come standard with N-class wireless networking capabilities, which is the best commercially-available wireless networking standard as it offers speeds of up to 300mbps as well as a good range. What you may have to double-check is the speed of the wired network port – it’ll be rated at either “10/100” or “Gigabit” (also written as “10/100/1000”). Gigabit is 10 times faster than 10/100, and is the better choice.
A typical “5-in-1” card reader can read the following formats: SD (Secure Digital, including the popular microSD format) Sony Memory Stick Sony Memory Stick Pro MMC (MultiMedia Card) xD Picture Card (used mainly in older cameras)
16 | connect | February 2012
Here’s where it gets a little tricky. A notebook’s graphics chip determines how well it copes with 3D graphics (games) and HD video content. If you like to game on your notebook, it’s vital to get a powerful graphics chip as otherwise games will frustrate with poor performance. On the video side, we’re pleased to say that even the most underwhelming notebook graphics chip produced today can comfortably and smoothly play back HD videos.
Intel HD Graphics 3000: Somewhat powerful but very cost-effective graphics chips. Plays most games fairly smoothly on Medium settings, but lags a bit (the visuals appear to slow down and not respond well to your input) on higher-detail settings. NVIDIA GeForce GT 525M / AMD Radeon HD5650: These are what we consider to be entry-level gaming graphics chips for notebook gamers. Any cards with model numbers higher than these will run games pretty smoothly, and, of course, the higher those numbers go, the better the performance.
Video Card Memory
Notebooks often have a number – in gigabytes – listed after the graphics chip; this is the amount of dedicated video memory the card has. Sadly, a bigger number here does not necessarily signify a better-performing card, and we recommend you ignore it and make your choice based on the card model instead.
recycling //by Tiana Cline
e-waste At the end of an electronic product’s lifecycle, it’s important to recycle it. 18 | connect | February 2012
8 GOING GREEN FACTS AND FIGURES 1 E-waste now makes up 5 percent of all municipal solid waste worldwide, nearly the same amount as all plastic packaging. 2 Computers and display units contain significant amounts of material that is hazardous to human health. When these products are placed in landfills or incinerated, they pose serious health risks. 3 Monitors and televisions constitute 40% of all lead and 70% of all heavy metals found in landfills.
s the production costs of electronic devices decline and technology grows at a rapid pace, your not-so-instant camera or 2D TV from a few years back is probably already obsolete. And what happens when your keyboard finally conks in? Or your drowned smartphone cannot be fixed? Electronic waste (or e-waste) includes all devices that require electricity to operate. If it plugs in, charges up, or takes batteries, it’s considered e-waste when it breaks. Therefore, e-waste (electronic and electrical waste) includes computers, entertainment electronics, mobile phones, household appliances and less obvious items such as spent fluorescent tubes, batteries and battery-operated toys. E-waste also consists of expensive and more or less durable products used for data processing, telecommunications or entertainment in households and businesses. E-waste is a growing problem in South Africa – it is estimated that approximately one million tons of electronic scrap is dumped in this country every year. E-waste contains toxic substances that are harmful to humans and the environment if handled and discarded improperly. On the flipside, e-waste is valuable as a source of secondary raw material.
4 Large amounts of e-waste have been sent to countries such as China, India and Kenya, where lower environmental standards and working conditions make processing e-waste more profitable. 5 Around 80% of the e-waste in the US is exported to Asia. 6 Flat-panel computer monitors and notebooks often contain small amounts of mercury in the bulbs used to light them.
Break it down Electronic devices are a complex mixture of several hundred materials. A mobile phone, for example, contains 500 to 1 000 components. Many of these contain toxic heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cadmium and beryllium, and hazardous chemicals like brominated flame retardants. Polluting PVC plastic is also frequently used. These dangerous substances cause serious pollution and put workers at risk of exposure when the products are produced or disposed of. According to ecycle.co.za, pollutants found in the common household computer include: Lead in cathode ray tubes and solder Arsenic in older cathode ray tubes Selenium circuit boards as power supply Polybrominated flame retardants in plastic castings, cables and circuit boards Antimony trioxide as flame retardant Cadmium in circuit boards and semi-conductors Chromium in steel as corrosion protection Cobalt in steel for structure and magnetivity Mercury in switches and housing
How to recycle e-waste Incredible Connection has teamed up with DESCO, an accredited recycler of electronic waste, to help you become more eco-friendly. Look out for large green DESCO bins in all IC stores in which to throw your e-waste. DESCO collects and either recycles or disposes of e-waste in an environmentally responsible manner. And if you take your old toners and cartridges into any Incredible Connection store, and place them in the Enviro Connection bin near the till point, you will receive a discount on your next purchase. Batteries are also considered e-waste, so don’t throw them into your bin at home. In basic terms, if it’s not costeffective to fix a broken device, recycle it.
7 Cathode ray tubes in older TVs and computers typically contain about 4lbs of lead and sometimes as much as 7lbs. 8 Fewer than 20% of cellphones are recycled each year. Recycling one million cellphones would reduce greenhouse gas emissions equal to taking 1 368 cars off the road for a year.
www.connectmag.co.za | 19
save your data //by christo van gemert
The basics of...
B ckups Computers are very reliable these days, but even with the most robust hardware, data loss is a problem. It can happen to anybody, but many steps can be taken to prevent losing something permanently.
20 | connect | February 2012
t’s something that can happen so easily. Whether you hit “delete” accidentally, unwittingly empty your computer’s recycle bin, or suffer a hard drive crash, data loss is bound to occur at some time. With cheap data storage and Internet access, the threat is less ominous these days. Here’s how to keep your most precious data safe from (almost) total destruction.
It won’t happen to me! Nobody is immune from potential data loss. It can happen at any time, to any device, and in a number of ways. Your laptop might be stashed and switched off in your backpack, where data won’t disappear or be deleted, but it can still be stolen. That’s all your data, right there, gone in a matter of seconds. Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can just download all that data again. Financial records, work documents, personal photos and videos, and other user-unique data cannot be replaced without a proper backup.
Quick tip In case your laptop or computer is ever stolen, you can use tracking tools like Prey (www. preyproject.com) to attempt to track it down, but don’t forget to make a full backup!
Important files first In an ideal scenario, every last bit and byte of your data gets backed up using a solution you choose. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world. In the second half of 2011, there were severe floods in Thailand, where most of the world’s hard drives are made. This has significantly pushed up prices for hard drives, making it expensive to back up all your data on a single 2TB hard drive. Sometimes it’s also not possible to have a big hard drive for backups. This is where it’s important to establish which files you save first, and what can be backed up later, or less often. Anything personal is of utmost importance: photos and videos from your cameras, software licences, bank statements, financial documents, and work-related files should be kept in triplicate, if possible. Music, movies, and certain software can be downloaded again, in most instances. Obviously it’s more convenient to keep backups of these, but they aren’t crucial in the grand scheme of things. At the least, keep a list of the files you’ve downloaded and put that list with your personal documents. In the event of a total loss, you’ll know what to get when you start getting back on track.
Quick tip If you just want a backup of specific files, it’s as simple as manually creating a copy on an external hard drive, USB flash drive, or e-mailing it to yourself. Manual backups are quick and convenient. A full system backup is a mirror copy of your entire hard drive, including files for your operating system – a perfect solution in case of a hard drive crash.
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save your data
Smart software If you’re using an external hard drive for your backups, it should be used in conjunction with backup software. Windows 7 has a good backup tool, but 3rd-party software such as Nero BackItUp and Acronis TrueImage offer powerful options for customising your backups and making the most of the available backup space. Mac users can use the included Time Machine software that creates a seamless backup of the entire Mac’s data, including system files. It allows recovery of a single file, or a full system restore by booting off the backup hard drive.
Backup buddies The device you use for backups depends on the kind of backup you want to make. If you’re doing manual backups of your documents folder, you can simply burn a DVD or Blu-ray with a copy of that folder. Another solution is to use a USB flash drive. Flash drives are cheap, and a 16GB drive will hold almost anybody’s collection of Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, or e-mail archive. If you want to back up your photo library, video and movie collection, or perform a system backup, an external hard drive is necessary. A good rule of thumb is for the backup drive to be at least 5 times the capacity of your total data set. Your computer might have a 500GB hard drive, but only 200GB of that will be used. So a 1TB (1 000GB) backup drive will suffice. Backup software will take care of the complexities surrounding redundancy, so don’t worry about running out of space. If you only have a small amount of data to back up, and a sufficiently speedy Internet connection, there are a number of online services available for remote backup. Just bear in mind that uploading the data to the remote server will take a long time, and downloading a lost or deleted file also takes time (depending on the size of the file). Online services (such as Dropbox – www.dropbox. com) are seamless, and also allow you to roll back to an earlier version of a file – handy! Quick tip Storing data on a DVD or Blu-ray is very secure as long as you don’t use cheap media, and handle the discs carefully. Using archive-quality optical discs for backups can keep data safe for up to 100 years.
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Overnight express When you do your backups depends on the solution you’ve chosen. It’s not always possible to have a USB drive plugged into your computer. Even then, a full system backup can make your machine slow down. In this case, an initial backup should be run overnight – even if you normally switch off your computer, doing it once will not run up the electricity bill. After that, a daily backup can be scheduled. Let it run after hours, or when your computer is idle. At the very least, perform a weekly backup. Many little changes occur in a single day and if you try to recover from a two-week-old backup, you will potentially lose a lot of data.
flashback //by christo van gemert
The history of...
portable computing At the turn of the millennium, the computing landscape was vastly different to what it is now. Large desktop machines were the norm, while laptop computers were a novelty – something used by only the most dedicated businesspeople and professionals. With the mobile revolution, however, things have changed. They’re more powerful, more affordable, and more compact than ever before, and the world is all the better for it. 1985 The Bondwell 2 becomes the first portable computer with a hinged LCD display, boasting a resolution of 80 x 25 characters. It has a 3.5” floppy disk drive, 4MHz processor and 64KB of RAM.
An inventor called Adam Osborne releases the creatively named Osborne 1, a portable computer with a 5” CRT display, two floppy disk drives, and a fold-down keyboard. At 10.7kg, it weighs about 6 times as much as modern 15” laptops.
Compaq releases the SLT/296, the world’s first laptop to boast a VGA colour display and an internal hard disk. It is also battery-powered, something that is becoming common among these portable machines.
1986 IBM, despite having earlier non-IBM-compatible portable computers, finally releases a competitive laptop offering. The IBM PC Convertible has a flip-up colour LCD screen, 2 floppy drives, a carry handle, and a modest weight of just 5.8kg.
1982 The GRiD Compass 1101 becomes the first real laptop computer with a clamshell design. With an $8 000 to $10 000 pricetag, it’s more than 5 times the price of other laptops, but it still gets snapped up by NASA and the US military. It sports a battery and electroluminescent display.
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1989 In Japan, NEC unveils its UItralite, a laptop computer that PC Magazine features on its cover and refers to as a “notebook” – to help distinguish the 2kg, ultra-thin computer from its luggable laptop cousins.
2007 While Centrino and subsequent evolutions became the adopted platform for regular notebook computers, netbook computers offer an even smaller solution for people who simply want basic Web access and applications. The 7” to 10” computers see a lot of excitement, thanks to very affordable pricing.
1990s Apple’s Powerbook range hits the market with some pioneering innovations: palm rests, trackpads, 16-bit sound with stereo speakers, built-in Ethernet, and more. Microsoft’s Windows 95 contributes significantly to portable computing, offering much-needed power management. Battery technology improves extensively, while Intel’s processor innovations help sap less power. New TFT LCD displays bring colour while also reducing the drain on batteries.
2003 Intel’s Centrino platform becomes the first complete hardware solution for laptop manufacturers. It consists of a wireless module and highperformance processor that outperforms desktop computers. This is the first standardisation of a mobile computing platform, and gets rapidly adopted.
2008 to present 2001 Manufacturers start releasing the first tablet computers. These are just laptops with a special joint on which the LCD pivots, allowing it to switch between laptop and tablet form factors. They are expensive, but an important turning point for technology.
Apple’s next major contribution to mobile computing is the Macbook Air – so tiny that it can fit in a manila envelope. It won’t be until 2011 that Apple’s anorexic portable sees major competition in a category of portable machines now called ultrabooks. Tablets are following on, but offer more specific functionality. The future of mobile computing will see machines going exclusively wireless, as optical disc drives fall away. Battery life has reached the 8-hour milestone, making for a full workday on a single charge.
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what is it? //by Christo van gemert
What is the...
The new portable gaming console from Sony has a name that doesn’t quite indicate what it is, but its hardware specs show clear intent: high-quality graphics and gaming in the palm of your hands.
t the beginning of 2011, Sony unveiled its “Next Generation Portable”, a handheld console that would be the successor of the PSP – the PlayStation Portable. It was expected that the “NGP” moniker would be replaced with PSP2, but just 6 months later, it was announced that the console would be named the Vita – Italian for “life”. It doesn’t quite make sense, but that doesn’t matter. The Vita’s hardware shows that it means business.
While the games will look nearly as good as those on the PS3, what about the controls? Fortunately those games that get ported to the Vita can be controlled in the same way: there are 2 analogue sticks on the console, along with the other buttons you’ll find on a PlayStation controller. Three more control interfaces are also present: the main display is touch-sensitive, and there’s a touch-sensitive panel on the back of the console. Add the Sixaxis motion-sensing technology, and developers have a lot of opportunity to get creative with their games.
Following the success of app stores for smartphones, the Vita will have its own special place on the PlayStation Network (PSN), where downloadable software will be made available. This isn’t just limited to games, though: the console ships with a Web browser, and social applications for Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Skype are available as free downloads. Obviously the games are a big part of the experience – being a game console and all – and to that end, the Vita is backwards-compatible with downloadable versions only of PSP and original PlayStation games. More gaming goodness will follow in the form of PlayStation Minis and PlayStation Suite games. Both models of the Vita will offer online access, with the wireless-only model coming in at R2 799.95 and the 3G + wireless model at R3 599.95. At launch, games will cost between R299.95 and R549.95.
Vita visuals At the centre, quite literally, of the new handheld sits a 5” OLED display – the same technology used by Samsung and Motorola on their latest smartphones. It has a native resolution of 960 x 544. Driving visuals is a PowerVR SGX quad-core graphics processor, and powering everything else is a quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor. It has 512MB of system memory and 128MB of graphics memory – a total that is more than both the PS3 and Xbox 360. It also blows the PSP out of the water, graphically, and Sony says that games will look almost as good as they do on the PS3. Storage comes courtesy of a new proprietary PS Vita memory card, available in sizes between 2GB and 32GB, and games will be shipped on PlayStation Vita Cards.
26 | connect | FEBRUARY 2012
product reviews // by Deon Du PLessis & Christo van Gemert
I OWE, I OWE, IT’S BACK TO WORK I GO
elcome to that phase of the year when everything returns to normal. Kids are back at school, work hours have resumed and traffic volumes are back to their pre-holiday levels. Here at Connect, we’re getting back into the swing of things too, and have lined up some pretty cool reviews to kick off the year just right. A lot happened at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year, and we’ve brought you 3 First Looks at some of the tech announced there that we’re excited about. From the look of things, 2012’s gadgets are going to get even lighter and tougher, and batteries are going to last longer than ever, thanks to some pretty nifty innovations. My colleague Christo van Gemert has rounded up 4 sets of speakers and put them through their paces to see which one is most worthy of your cash. Given the line-up, the results may surprise you. Check it out on pages 43 through 48. I reviewed some interesting products this month, including a printer I didn’t think I would be impressed by and an amazing little tablet PC for kids that I found has a great deal to offer. The year is off to a great start, and I hope you enjoy this month’s reviews. Until next time! Cheers Deon
While we make every effort to ensure pricing is accurate before we go to print, sometimes through circumstances we have no control over, the prices in Connect may differ from those you’ll see on store shelves. In all cases, shelf pricing takes precedence. 28 | connect | FEBRUARY 2012
Contents 30 31 32 34 36 38 40 41 43 50 52 54 55 56
First Look – Samsung Galaxy Nexus First Look – Nokia Lumia 900 First Look – Gorilla Glass 2 First Look HP OfficeJet 7500A Wide Format e-All-in-One Printer Dell XPS 15 L502X Notebook Leapfrog LeapPad Explorer Canon S100 Dell XPS 8300 Desktop Speaker Roundup iHome IHM79 Mini Speaker Energizer Energi To Go AP750 Logitech Marathon Mouse M705 Microsoft Wireless Desktop 800 Accessorise
Girls with technology on the brain 24/7
product FIRST LOOK
Product Samsung Galaxy Nexus
Samsung Galaxy Nexus • Processor: 1.2GHz Dual Core • Display: 4.65-inch 1280X720 HD Super AMOLED • OS: Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich • Cameras: 5MP/1.3MP Rear/ Front facing • Connectivity: 21Mbps HSPA+ Modem • Connectivity: Bluetooth technology v 3.0 • Connectivity: Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n
NEED TO KNOW • Google’s flagship smartphone; • First smartphone with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich • 4.65” Super AMOLED touchscreen Availability: Q1 2012
Towards the end of 2011, the number of smartphones that ship with Google’s Android operating system shot past the number of phones that use Apple’s iOS, making Android the biggest smartphone platform in the world. With Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich beginning to roll out on new handsets (and some older models released in the last year) the prediction is that Google’s success is only going to grow from strength to strength. Besides Android 4.0’s aim of unifying the handset and tablet markets with a single operating system and application framework, Ice Cream Sandwich has a greatly improved multi-tasking engine, more polished notifications system, built-in Wi-Fi hotspot capability, NFC support and an improved web browsing experience. Additionally, there’s a number of new gee–whizz features like Face Unlock which uses facial recognition to unlock the phone and Android Beam, which allows users to quickly share web pages, apps, and YouTube videos with each other by simply tapping their phones together. And right now, the only way to get your hands on the new OS is to get your hands on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus – Google’s Flagship smartphone and the first phone to ship with the OS preloaded. Light on the pocket and easy on the eye, there’s a ton more to this 9mm thin little number than Google’s new operating system. Hardware wise, it features Samsung’s signature 4.65” Super AMOLED
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display technology running at a resolution of 1 280 x 720, a 1.2GHz dual core processor, 21Mbps HSPA+ connectivity and 5MP/1.3MP rear and front-facing cameras. That means it zips through applications, owns gaming, browses the Internet like a treat and even handles video calling without breaking a sweat. It’s also no slouch in the media department, zipping through highdefinition video playback with ease and playing tunes back perfectly. Unlike Samsung’s other smartphones that feature a number of interface enhancements, the Galaxy Nexus is Google’s own choice and as such has been designed to provide a “pure Google” experience. Not only does that mean the Galaxy Nexus’ software image is one of the purest reflections of Google’s Android, but also that owners of this handset will be the first to receive software upgrades and new applications as they become available. It also features a number of Google Mobile services, including: Android Market, Gmail, Google Maps 5.0 with 3D maps and turn-by-turn navigation, Google Earth, Movie Studio, YouTube, syncing with Google Calendar, and a redesigned Google+ app.
• The purest Google experience on a smartphone so far • Beautiful Super AMOLED display • Unlocks with face recognition
• We’d have liked to see a better camera • No memory card slot for expanded storage
product FIRST LOOK
Nokia Lumia 900 Smartphone
Nokia Lumia 900 Smartphone NEED TO KNOW • Nokia’s first 4G LTE smartphone • Powered by Windows Phone 7 • 4.3” AMOLED display Availability: Sometime in 2012
January saw the unveiling of Nokia’s newest smartphone, the Lumia 900. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Nokia launched its predecessor, the Lumia 800, only a few months back. From what we know of it, it seems fair to say the Lumia 900 is the phone the 800 could have been, but wasn’t. Nokia has addressed the 800’s perceived shortcomings with a healthy injection of cutting-edge phone technology, and the result is an amazing piece of kit that may even challenge the domination of Apple’s seemingly-unassailable iPhone. Just how cutting-edge, you ask? Let’s run through the tech specs and you can decide for yourself. Firstly, the 900 uses LTE technology, which is an evolution of 3G connectivity and is thus a lot faster when it comes to data downloads. Then there’s the 4.3” AMOLED “ClearBlack” capacitive touchscreen, 512MB of system memory, 16GB of built-in storage, a battery that provides up to 7 hours of talk time, an 8MP camera that uses a Carl Zeiss lens and shoots 720p videos, and a front-facing camera that enables two-way video chats. All this is powered by Microsoft’s excellent new Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system, pimped out with the new “Mango” update. Based on this list alone, the lot of us here at Connect can’t wait to see the phone in action for realsies. The Lumia 900 is clearly meant to be more than just a nicely-specced phone, though. Nokia has poured a lot of effort into making it attractive
to look at and comfortable to hold, too. Much was made of its sleek “polycarbonate unibody” body – a fancy way of saying it’s made out of a single piece of hard-wearing, durable material, and from the look of it, the hype is actually justified. The smooth edges and slim body give the impression that the phone is probably very comfortable to hold and use. It also looks like the 900 will make for a capable entertainment device, with 60 hours of music and 6.5 hours of video playback available on a single charge. Its large screen will quite possibly make for an enjoyable viewing experience, too, not to mention as a gaming platform. Speaking of which, the Lumia 900 enjoys the same Xbox Live integration available on all Windows Phone 7 devices, giving keen gamers the chance to amass Gamerscore while playing their favourite Xbox Live games on their phones while on the bus/plane/in the loo. Lastly, tight integration with popular social media services will give gregarious types all the access they need to keep themselves connected to their social circles. With so much packed into its shell, the Lumia 900 is set to be a popular choice when it hits South African shores sometime later this year. Pros
• Beautiful unibody design • Incredibly fast LTE connectivity • Dual cameras enable 2-way videochatting
• Only 16GB of internal storage
• Built for speed and the Internet: A 1.4 GHz processor, 4G LTE wireless technology, Bing, Internet Explorer 9, HTML5, integrated N-class Wi-Fi • Design: 4.3” AMOLED ClearBlack glass touchscreen, one-piece polycarbonate body, excellent antenna performance • Cameras: 8MP main camera, Carl Zeiss optics, dual LED flash, Auto Focus, 1MP front camera, video-calling • Battery: All-day battery life, up to 7 hours of talk time and up to 300 hours of standby time • Social: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, e-mail, Chat, SMS
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product FIRST LOOK
Gorilla Glass 2 NEED TO KNOW • Very strong, damage-resistant glass • Same strength, now 20% thinner • First-gen Gorilla Glass used in over 575 devices Availability: Appearing in all kinds of electronic devices from Q1, 2012
Gorilla Glass 2 • Glass designed for a high degree of chemical strengthening • High compressive stress – compresses, doesn’t break • Deep compression layer provides flexibility • High retained strength after use • High resistance to scratch damage • Superior surface quality • Ideal protective cover for displays • Smartphones • Laptop screens • Tablet computer screens • Desktop monitors • Mobile devices • TVs
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We love gadgets with screens, but we don’t like them when they break or get damaged. It can be hard to keep them pristine, though, as the simple act of carrying them in pockets and purses leaves them vulnerable to getting damaged, and protective covers can only do so much against accidental drops. Many of us have dropped our phones at some point or accidentally scratched them with our car keys, and it’s a rage-inducing experience. That’s why the world’s most famous glass manufacturer, Corning, developed a really tough substance they called “Gorilla Glass”,first introduced in 2007. It was built to be entirely scratch-resistant and could withstand over 100lb of pressure per square inch, a very impressive feat for glass that measured only 1mm in thickness. Since its release, Gorilla Glass has been used in over 575 consumer products, including smartphones, tablet PCs, Ultrabooks, TVs, computer monitors, notebooks and more. Now, Corning has announced Gorilla Glass 2, an updated product that’s thinner and lighter but just as strong and damage-resistant as the original. Corning representatives demonstrated the strength of the new Gorilla Glass at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January 2012. At only 0.8mm thick, Gorilla Glass 2 is able to absorb over 110lb of pressure per square inch without breaking.
The key to the success of this new glass is its thinness, because thinner glass means thinner devices, better touch-sensitivity and even superior brightness, all without sacrificing durability. Corning has hinted that many of the big manufacturers have committed to using it in their products, and this includes big hitters like Acer, Sony, Asus and LG. Mobile phones have the most to gain from this development, as the space freed up by the stronger Gorilla Glass 2 could be used to make phones even slimmer, or allow engineers to pack in a battery with slightly more capacity, resulting in longer gaps between recharging. While it’s not an earth-shaking announcement, it certainly bodes well for consumers who’ve been enjoying the trend towards thinnerthan-ever gadgets. We can’t wait to see what creative companies do with Corning’s latest innovation. At the very least, we expect many of 2012’s consumer devices to surprise and impress with their new dimensions and toughness. Pros
• 20% thinner than the original Gorilla Glass • Same awesome strength and damage resistance • Plenty of new products will be tougher and thinner than ever
• No more spectacular screen shatters • More expensive than less tough glass
HP OfficeJet 7500A Wide Format e-All-in-One Printer NEED TO KNOW • Multi-function, ePrint-enabled wide-format printer • Prints on paper up to A3 in size • Can also scan A3 pages R2 999.95
We’ve seen a lot of HP’s home and small office printers, and they’ve been pretty good. What we haven’t seen much of are printers in HP’s consumer stable that can print on pages bigger than A4, which is why we were so keen to see what the 7500A could offer. Basically, it’s everything good about HP’s OfficeJet series – good print quality, decent speed and extras like ePrint and AirPrint - with the added ability to scan and print pages up to A3 in size. The 7500A is a great all-round printer, able to scan, print and fax documents, and it can even produce nice-looking photos (although these don’t look quite as good as those printed by dedicated photo printers). It can connect to both wired and wireless networks, has a built-in card reader that can read image and document data off memory cards, has a 2.3” touchscreen and supports 2 “print from anywhere” technologies, namely HP’s own ePrinting and Apple’s AirPrint. ePrinting, as regular readers will know, is the ability to send print jobs to the printer using any device capable of sending an e-mail. All you have to do is fire up your device and send an e-mail to the printer’s ePrint address (established during the setup process) and a few seconds 34 | connect | February 2012
later, the mail and any attachments emerge from the printer. AirPrint is an Apple technology that lets you use iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches to print from supported Apps, without needing to load any additional software. Unpacking the printer is the usual process of removing all the safety tape and packaging materials, and then installing the print head and cartridges. As always, it’s very easy to do – not only does HP include all the necessary instructions, but the LCD panel displays animations that show you exactly what you need to do. Once the print head and the individual ink cartridges are installed, the printer goes through a calibration process that takes about 10 minutes. Once that is complete, the printer is ready to go. As with many of HP’s other consumer printers, the 7500A can make use of the many “Print Apps” available online, that let users add new functionality to their HP printers by downloading them directly to the device. It’s possible to access Web-based photo site Flickr from the 7500A and print out any photos you might have stored there; you can even print out maps, Sudoku puzzles, and fun art projects for kids. There are a lot of different apps to choose from, and it’s a nice way to get more from your printer. To make use of these features, the printer must be connected to the Internet. Connecting the 7500A to an Internet-connected network is pretty straightforward; connecting via a network cable is as simple as plugging one into the printer, whereas a wireless connection takes
HP PhotoSmart Premium Fax Allin-One
If it’s superb, lab-quality photos you’re after and you’d like a bit of multifunction magic as well, HP’s excellent PhotoSmart Premium Fax All-in-One is the printer to go for.
a little longer. It’s still quite easy thanks to the Wireless Connection Wizard embedded in the printer’s menu system, and within mere minutes we had it connected to our wireless network. From there, we had to run the included software to install drivers and ensure our PC could see and use the printer, a process that took a few minutes more. Of course, it’s the wide-format printing and scanning that gives this printer its appeal, and we’re pleased to say that it does a great job of both. Printing onto A3 paper is as simple as inserting the paper into the tray and extending the plastic support arm, and the documents we used as a test came out looking very good indeed. Even A3 photos looked nice, once Best was chosen in the print settings. Normal quality looked all right, but Best produced noticeably improved results. The 7500A’s most unusual trick is its ability to scan A3 documents, as it doesn’t have a paper carriage big enough to do it automatically. What you have to do is scan both halves of the page using the flatbed scanner and the software then “stitches” them together to form the final image. It’s an easy process, made even easier by the step-by-step instructions provided by the included software. While we haven’t been exposed to the need for such a feature, we’re sure architects, graphic designers and other creative types will love it. Some less-than-stellar points bear mentioning, however. Firstly, the 7500A is a really big printer that weighs a very serious 14kg; secondly, its paper input tray only holds 150 pages and lastly, it doesn’t print on both sides of the paper as it has no automatic duplexing unit. These minor
quibbles aside, the 7500A is an excellent choice for offices or homes with wide-format printing needs, as its speed, quality and versatility are definitely worth the cash. NOTEWORTHY SPECS • Printer Type: Thermal Inkjet • Cartridges: Individual Black, Cyan, Magenta and Yellow • Copy Speed: Up to 33 ppm (Black, draft quality) • Print Speed: Up to 33ppm (Black, draft), up to 32ppm (Colour,draft) • Connectivity: 802.11b/g/n, USB 2.0, Ethernet, memory card slots • Total media capacity: 150 sheets up to A3, 35 page automatic document feeder • Paper handling: Custom sizes up to A3 • Scanner: A4 Flatbed, up to 4800 x 4800 resolution • OS: Windows 7/Vista/XP, Mac OS X v10.8.4, v10.6 • Weight: 14kg Pros
• Printing and scanning pages up to A3 • Good all-round print quality • Easy to set up • Plenty of value-adding extras
• Is heavy and takes up a lot of desk room • No automatic duplexing • Average-capacity paper input tray
HP Advanced Photo Paper If you want your photos to look as good as possible, there is no better choice than HP’s own Advanced Photo Paper
Belkin Play Max Router By setting up a home or office network with this router, you’ll provide vital access to the Internet as well as any compatible network devices to your family or staff members.
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Dell XPS 15 L502X 15.6” Notebook NEED TO KNOW Dell XPS 14z
If thin and light is more to your liking, this 14” notebook from Dell is a great choice. It’s slim, powered by a Core i5 processor, and it looks great too.
Sony Vaio VPCEH18
We love Sony notebooks because they look good, perform really well and don’t cost the earth. This one is a great example of all 3 of these principles, and thus well worth the cash.
Samsung Series 9
Long battery life and super-sleek looks are the Series 9’s hallmarks. Best of all, performance isn’t compromised, making it a fantastic all-rounder for work and travel.
• Great work and multimedia notebook • Core i7 processor • Full HD screen R14 999.95
Late last year we reviewed Dell’s XPS L702X, a very big, entertainment-focused notebook that could pretty much do anything, from running serious business applications to playing demanding 3D games and even viewing Blu-ray movies in 3D. As much as we loved the notebook, it was overkill for the average South African consumer. For people interested in something a bit more sedate, Dell has brought out a 15.6” model, the XPS 15 L502X. It’s a somewhat more mainstream notebook sporting many of the features that made the L702X great, but with a few tweaks and changes that bring the price to a more manageable level. It’s still plenty powerful, of course, but it’s more focused power and, as a result, the L502X is better-suited as a work machine than its entertainment-crazy sibling. It can still amuse and entertain, just not on the same level as the L702X. We were pleased to note the similarities between the 2 notebooks when it comes to build quality and looks. Basically, the L502X is just a smaller version of the L702X, so it’s just as strong and sturdy, but not as portly. It’s by no means a slim machine – it has more in common with notebooks of the early 2000s in the thickness department – but it’s definitely not as awkward to carry. Even so, it’s better as a notebook that won’t move around much rather than as a travel companion. The L502X’s glossy 15” screen might not appeal to everyone (glossy screens are more reflective than their matte counterparts), but the images it showed off looked good enough that we’d encourage matte-screen enthusiasts to overlook its reflectiveness. Colours were nice and bright and blacks were especially dark, just what is needed when watching movies and doing design work. Unusually, the screen is Full HD, with a native resolution of 1 920 x 1 080, and visuals are therefore razor-sharp. Behind the scenes lurks quite a bit of computing power. Dell has opted for Intel’s 2nd-generation Sandy Bridge processors, and in this case they went with a high-end Core i7; the 2630QM clocked at 2.0GHZ, so it’s plenty fast.
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The rest of the notebook’s hardware is a mix of notable (6GB of DDR3 RAM) and “expected”. It has a 500GB hard drive, a DVD burner, wireless N networking capabilities and runs Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit, so it’s certainly a capable machine. Professionals may want to upgrade the operating system to Win7 Professional to make it a bit more Enterprisefriendly, however. With its 6-cell battery, you’ll get around 4 hours out of the L502X before needing a recharge. If more up-time is required, consider upgrading to a 9-cell battery. As with the L702X, the L502X has fantastic sound thanks to its JBL speakers (including a hidden subwoofer), powered by Maxx Audio. Music and movies sound simply amazing on this notebook, even when played at really high volumes. It’s an incredible achievement. We really liked the L502X – it’s a very good multimedia notebook and a great work machine. Its fewer frills keep the price down, and while we wouldn’t recommend it for gaming, it’s got enough under the hood that it could manage, in a pinch. An all-round good buy. NOTEWORTHY SPECS • Processor: Intel Core i7-2630QM @ 2.0GHz • RAM: 6GB DDR3 • Storage: 500GB SATA-II • Display: LED-backlit Full HD @ 1 920 x 1 080 • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GT525 1GB • Networking: IEEE 802.11b/g/n Wireless, Gigabit Ethernet • Ports: 3 x USB 3.0, HDMI-out, card reader • Audio: JBL 2.1 speakers with Maxx Audio • Operating system: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
• Very good general performance • Solid build quality • Amazing audio
• Operating system not Enterprisefriendly • Not an easy travel companion
Leapfrog LeapPad Explorer Learning Tablet NEED TO KNOW • Educational tablet for kids • 5” touchscreen • Rugged design • Teaches essential skills R1 199.95
Kids love gadgets as much as grown-ups do, if the stories we’ve heard from parents about their toddlers hijacking their phones and tablet PCs are anything to go by. Enterprising educational toy company Leapfrog has seen the opportunity this presents, and brought out several electronic toys, aimed specifically at kids. The most popular of these has so far been the Leapster, a handheld games console that lets very young kids play educational games like older teenagers would play on their Nintendo DSes and PlayStation Portables. Leapfrog’s boffins have followed up the Leapster with a proper tablet PC for kids aged between 4 and 9, called the LeapPad Explorer. It’s not a toy that looks like a tablet either; it’s a genuine, proper tablet PC with touchscreen 38 | connect | February 2012
and everything, and it’s been built tough to survive the average encounter with a young tyke. It’s perfectly sized, too – not too big for small hands, and its 5” screen is just big enough for kids to work with. What really sells it is that it’s packed with a ton of things for kids to do. They can play educational games, watch videos, read interactive ebooks, shoot pictures and videos with the built-in camera and even record their voices using the LeapPad’s microphone. They can also draw with Art Studio, an application that kids can use to create fun pictures using the stylus and a collection of tools designed to appeal to youngsters. So not only does the device come with a whole bunch of things to keep kids occupied, the quality of each activity is really high. Take Leapfrog’s “Ultra ebooks”, for example. These aren’t your everyday, boring, static PDF-type ebooks stuffed with mountains of text – they’re interactive, fully-animated and properly narrated storybooks that kids can follow along by listening, reading, or both. The story plays out on the page much like a cartoon does, with the words spoken by the narrator displayed alongside the excellent animations. If any of the words are strange or new, kids can tap on them with the stylus
and the narrator will say them aloud and explain their meaning. The whole point of the ebooks is to give kids an interactive, educational experience that will help them recognise words and aid their reading skills. The quality of the stories is truly brilliant, and there are quite a few available through Leapfrog’s online store. Leapfrog has partnered with big names in the entertainment industry like Disney and Pixar and brought out a number of ebooks, educational games and creative activities based on those companies’ popular characters and franchises, so expect kids to take to them like ducks to water. The LeapPad Explorer also teaches you how to write. When kids first set up their profiles (yes, the LeapPad Explorer allows separate profiles so one device can be shared among several children), they can choose a virtual pet, and one of the mini-games that centres around these pets includes one that has kids tracing the shapes of letters of the alphabet. Using clever green and red indicators that show where each stroke of the stylus starts and stops, the app gently shows kids how to write each letter. Once complete, a word is formed with that letter that is acted out by the virtual pet, which “dances”, gets “X-rayed”, and shows how “happy” he/she is, etc. It’s subtle, fun and really effective. Parents who bought the Leapster might be groaning at the thought of now having to shell out more cash on games for a new device, but will be happy to know that the Leapster’s game cartridges work on the LeapPad as well. The device itself, while delightfully true to the concept of a tablet PC despite being for kids, is not as advanced as an adult tablet in that it doesn’t have Wi-Fi. Getting apps, books and games onto the LeapPad involves connecting it to a PC or a Mac over USB and buying the content through Leapfrog’s Website. It’s not the end of the world, but it is a little more complicated than a store accessible directly from the tablet would be. We highly recommend buying a few sets of rechargeable AA batteries, as the LeapPad eats regular batteries for breakfast, lunch and dinner, lasting about an hour per set. That’s the only real design flaw we picked up on, and we’d love to see a rechargeable lithium-ion battery in the next version as it’s just so much easier recharging over USB than it is to worry about batteries.
We love the LeapPad. It’s perfect for young ‘uns as it engages them on their level. There are so many things to do and ways to learn that kids are bound to improve at school. It’s not perfect, but it’s quite cheap and there are lots of benefits to kids spending time with it. At the very least, they will no longer demand your iPad or smartphone to play Angry Birds.
Leapfrog Leapster Explorer
A handheld educational game console that helps kids learn and have fun at the same time.
NOTEWORTHY FEATURES • A library of 100+ cartridge games, apps, digital books, videos and flash cards (sold separately, works with all Leapster Explorer games and apps) • Includes a built-in camera and video recorder • Includes 4 apps (Pet Pad, Story Studio, Art Studio and one app of your choice) • 5” touchscreen for use with finger or included stylus • 2GB of memory enable it to host a robust suite of apps, including: innovative Ultra ebooks that provide a fully interactive, multimedia cinematic reading experience with word-by-word support and state-ofthe-art gameplay • A Story Studio to combine art, audio and writing • Art, Animation and Photo studios to inspire imaginations • Skill levels automatically adjust the challenge to match each child’s pace and remember progress from game to game and book to book • Access to see learning progress through the online LeapFrog Learning Path; parents can also share their child’s achievements, artwork and creations with loved ones • Limitless learning and endless play for children aged 4 to 9 • Requires 4 AA batteries (not included) Pros
• Games and activities genuinely teach • Wide variety of fun activities • Geared towards the child’s level
• Eats batteries • Apps and games are expensive • No built-in app store or Wi-Fi
Apple iPad 2
It’s a tablet for grown-ups, but kids seem to like it too for its superb responsiveness and the wide range of awesome games that are available for it through Apple’s iStore.
Spongebob Squarepants The Clam Prix for Leapster Read, spell and race to the finish with Spongebob and his whacky friends!
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Canon Powershot S100 Fujifilm Finepix X100
If the Canon S100 is not hands-on enough for you, Fuji’s X100 has more professional features… for a bit more of a premium.
Golla Bag This Finnish bag manufacturer has all your gadget-carrying needs met with a range of camera and laptop bags.
Sandisk SD Card Sandisk’s range of high-speed SD cards is perfect for the S100 – it can munch up megabytes with RAW photos and HD video.
NEED TO KNOW • Powerful compact camera • 12-megapixel images and full-HD video • GPS function for geotagging R4 199.95
Camera manufacturers offer a wide range of compact digital cameras to satisfy the discerning buying public. There are sub-R1 000 cameras, and then there are models available at every price point, in R100 increments, all the way up to R4 000 or R5 000. This makes the buying decision more difficult as potential customers are swayed by getting an additional 2 or 3 megapixels for “just” R100 or R200” more than their initial budget. And that’s before they realise they can get a bargain-bin digital SLR for “about the same money” – foregoing compactness in favour of big and shiny gadget lust. It offers everything you realistically need in a small pocket camera, with results that pretty close to those you’ll find in a digital SLR. Canon’s Powershot S100, the successor to the hugely capable and highly successful S95, avoids all those complications. It’s an honest-togoodness compact camera with exactly the sort of features we’ve come to expect from a proper bit of modern electronics. There are no cut corners and it doesn’t rely on large numbers to sell itself. Instead, it has a modest 12-megapixel image sensor for photos (and HD video), while the lens is an even more humble 5 x optical zoom unit. There’s that old adage “quantity over quality”, and over the last 2 years, that’s become more relevant than ever when describing compact cameras. Twelve megapixels from 2012 are far better than the 16 megapixels of 2008 – especially with this sensor boasting Canon’s HS system. The lens in this might only offer 5 x magnification, but it has a maximum aperture of f/1.8. This means it can capture light more efficiently in dim scenes. Combined with the HS system used in the image sensor, the S100 is capable of recording remarkably clear images (for a compact camera) in low-light conditions. It’s only when cranking the ISO sensitivity to 3 200 or 6 400 that the images lose some of their crispness as the camera’s noise processing tries to fix things. There might be cameras with more megapixels and longer zoom lenses, but the results from the S100 are far better than the jack-of-all-
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trades competitors. Colours are very crisp and edges are well-defined. It encourages more hands-on photography with its selection of manual modes. It’s easy to take control of aperture and shutter speed, especially with the ring control around the lens. Twist that and it changes the values just like a digital SLR camera. Depending on the operating mode, the twist dial can be reassigned to zoom, scene selection, aperture, shutter speed and other functions. Grievances are limited only to the 3 points mentioned in the cons section below. The camera’s popup flash gets in the way, pushing your left finger up when it automatically extends. We even managed to get a finger snagged when it retracted. High ISO photos, as mentioned before, do get a bit soft, but the ultimate results are still far more usable than any other camera in this category. Finally, some of the settings – such as manually selecting a focus point – are hidden in the menus, rather than being easily accessible from a dedicated button. Those downsides are hardly dealbreakers, though, and the S100 is a phenomenally good compact camera for the money. You could pay R1 000 or R2 000 less for a cheaper camera, but it won’t have the same powerful functions and image quality on offer here. NOTEWORTHY SPECS • Sensor: 12.1 megapixels • Video: Up to 1 080P • Lens: 5 x optical zoom • ISO range: 80 – 6 400 • Rear display: 3.0” • Scene modes: Manual control modes, 32 scene modes, smile shutter • Storage: SD card slot Pros
• Fantastic image quality • Built-in GPS for geotagging • Excellent manual controls
• High ISO shots are a bit soft • Popup flash gets in the way • Some settings are hidden deep in the menus
Dell XPS 8300 Desktop NEED TO KNOW • Pre-assembled desktop PC • Graphics by AMD Radeon • THX TruStudio PC audio • Great as a home or office PC R9 999.95
This new XPS desktop from Dell is well-equipped for daily use, and has been designed from the ground up to look good, perform well and have everything the average computer user could need to get through the work day. It skimps a bit in the graphics department and doesn’t come with a monitor, so it’s not perfect, but in terms of design, everyday processing power and aesthetic appeal, it’s spot-on. The first thing we noticed about the 8300 was its chassis. Dell has used a glossy black front panel with silver trim and placed it on a slightly angled off-white mid-tower case that has plenty of smooth, rounded edges. Shiny black panels hide a handful of ports and the PC’s optical drive, and there is a collection of card readers on the very top of the front panel. The top of the case has a small recess that’s handy for storing USB drives or any other small objects temporarily, and on the back wall of this recess sits a pair of USB ports and a microphone and speaker jack, for easy access. The subtlety of the design must be commended – Dell has managed to create a very attractive, understated case that will look good no matter whether it’s in a home or office. Inside the case is an Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive, along with a DVD writer and an AMD Radeon HD5450 graphics card. The cables have been tidied away quite nicely using cable ties. Astute readers will see that this is a fairly good mid-range configuration, making the 8300 more than capable of functioning comfortably as a home or office PC. The Core i5 processor is quick and offers the best balance between performance and value. 4GB of RAM, while not an amazing amount, is enough that Windows performance should be smooth in all but the most demanding of applications. The gaming capabilities of the 8300 are, sadly, not all that wonderful, as AMD’s Radeon HD5450 is a very basic graphics card, even with its gigabyte of video memory. Where the HD5450 is strong is in the fact that it lets you connect more than one screen to the PC, which can
dramatically expand your Windows workspace. This is especially useful when working on multiple programs at the same time. On the connectivity side, the 8300 is well looked after: it has tons of USB ports, a Gigabit Ethernet jack for wired networking and an eSATA port for connecting supported external hard drives. Dell has included audio technology from THX called THX TruStudio PC that really enhances the sound in games, music and movies. We hooked the 8300 up to Creative’s SBS A320 speakers– and were completely blown away. Even with a 2.1 speaker setup, the movies and music we put on sounded simply incredible. We were very impressed with Dell’s XPS 8300 PC. It’s fast, it looks amazing and it has a handful of touches that make it better than the average home or office desktop. While gaming isn’t really advised, the 8300 is a competent PC and will happily perform any and all processing duties required of a home or office PC, and do it in style. NOTEWORTHY SPECS • Processor: Intel Core i5-2300QM @ 2.8GHz • RAM: 4GB DDR3 • Storage: 1TB SATA-II • Display: None • Graphics: AMD Radeon HD5450 1GB • Networking: Gigabit Ethernet • Ports: 8 x USB 2.0, HDMI-out, card reader • Audio: THX TruStudio PC • Operating system: Windows 7 Home Premium Pros
• Mid-range hardware offers power and affordability • Beautiful chassis immediately draws you in • Stunning THX TruStudio PC audio
• Graphics card is a bit weak • No monitor included in the price
Dell ST2420L 24” Monitor Complete the XPS 8300 with this full HD 24” screen from Dell. It’s bright, has a 5ms response time and great contrast levels.
Microsoft Wireless Desktop 800 If you don’t like the wired keyboard and mouse that come with the 8300, grab this affordable wireless set from Microsoft and enjoy the freedom it provides.
Creative SBS A320 2.1 Speakers These speakers are surprisingly punchy given their sub-R500 price tag, and impressed us with their rich tones and hard-hitting bass.
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LUD! By Christo van Gemert
After a big monitor, a decent set of speakers is a must-have for your computer – be it a desktop or laptop. This month’s roundup has four contenders that’ll vie for your hard-earned cash. For the average PC user, there’s no need to have a huge, cumbersome 5.1 desktop audio system. Yes, we’d all like to have enveloping surround sound with earth-moving bass, but that’s not always practical – for either our wallets or limited desktop real estate. A simple 2-channel speaker system fits the bill almost every time, and if you’ve got a bit of space under your desk, you can always throw a subwoofer into the mix. This month’s roundup has 2 systems with subwoofers included as standard, with a third contender boasting an output for a bass box, should you need it. But all 4 sets on test are compact, simple to set up, and offer a significant improvement over the standard built-in or included speakers your computer might have come with. We tested using games, movies, and music – the 3 multimedia tasks most computers will get used for – and chose an overall winner. Read on to see our findings.
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Bose Companion 2 Box
Bose is a brand that many will know for offering high-end home audio installations, but this American company also has a few multimedia speaker systems in its range. The Companion 2 is its entry-level setup, offering two simple desktop speakers for great stereo sound. The right-hand speaker houses volume controls, a headphone output, and 2 stereo RCA inputs (with a stereo RCA lead included for hooking up your first device). There’s an output for the left-hand speaker, too, and all the cables are long enough to space things out properly.
the house, and there’s decent fidelity. Sadly, bass is noticeable by its absence. It’s even more obvious when you’ve used a system that has a subwoofer. Good, balanced sound sounds very flat when there’s no low-down punch. Buyer?
If you enjoy light rock, classical music, and just want a good set of high-quality desktop speakers, these are good. The lack of any big boom makes them not-that-great for heavy-duty work, though.
Part of the Bose’s appeal is that it manages to squeeze big sound out of very small, unassuming speakers. The Companion 2 drivers are pretty plain-looking – no flash or bling here. They have a design that angles them upwards, so the sound hits you directly when placed on a desktop – but that’s true for all the other speakers on test here. Fire them up and the sound is balanced. Everything sounds as you’d expect, with highs being crisp while mid-range and bass frequencies aren’t overdone. Crank the volume, though, and it’s not all as rosy. The speakers seem to have some sort of circuitry to prevent distortion, so if you’re playing music with sudden transient spikes, the sound gets filtered unevenly. This only manifests itself when playing at higher volume levels (when the dial is at 2/3rds or higher). Keep it in the middle, where there’s enough punch to listen to music without waking 44 | connect | February 2012
R1 299.95 Pros
• Good audio fidelity • Simple layout • Dual inputs
• Power suffers • Lacks bass
Creative Labs A320 Box
Creative Labs has a great history in the multimedia space. It offered the hugely successful Soundblaster soundcards when 16-bit sound was still a big deal, and partnered up with Cambridge Soundworks to offer matching speaker systems. With years of audio knowhow, the company now offers a wide range of speakers, and the range-topping Gigaworks systems are definitely lustworthy. Right here, though, we have the entry-level A320 2.1 system – 2 tiny satellites and a modest little subwoofer. A single input is available to connect to any device with a mini audio jack, but there’s no headphone output. The right-hand satellite has volume controls and the subwoofer has its own volume dial – a little inconvenient if you like to finetune things.
bit of strain (to the point of distorting) when you crank the music to full blast, but you’ll have people asking you to turn it down way before you get to that point. Rap, rock, classical, metal, dance – you name it, and the A320 stepped up to the occasion, far beyond our expectations of a R500 speaker system. Buyer?
It doesn’t have extra audio inputs and the lack of a headphone output is a pain in the butt, but these budget-priced speakers’ remarkable performance makes it difficult to not recommend them to almost anybody. R499.95
Simple in appearance and diminutive in design, the A320 shows that dynamite comes in small packages. It offers remarkably clear sound thanks to the 2” drivers in the satellite speakers, and the ported, non-directional subwoofer produces fantastic bass. In fact, it’s even better bass than the bigger subwoofer used in the Logitech Z523. Despite the bass volume having to be adjusted on the subwoofer, it doesn’t need constant fiddling. Simply set it to a level that’s comfortable. With clever positioning, the subwoofer can be even more impressive. In movies, games and music, these little wonders never fail to amaze. Look, they take a
• Crystal-clear and balanced sound • Punches above its weight • Excellent value
• Suffers at high volume, or in “busy” music • Only one input, no headphone jack
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XtremeMac Tango Bar Box
Bose stereo setup – although the subwoofer output could remedy that. Sadly, even the cheapest subwoofer to use with this system would cost around R1 000 – making the total investment nearly double that of the more powerful Logitech Z523. In fact, R2 000 can almost get a set of studio-quality desktop speakers. Ultimately the Tango Bar is a great upgrade for the built-in audio on your laptop or all-inone speaker, but if you’re serious about sound, then this is just a pretty poseur.
Here’s something completely different, from a company that has a very prominent brand name in its own right. XtremeMac makes a bunch of accessories for Apple’s devices, including iPads, iPhones, and, of course, the Mac computers. The Tango Bar is a USB-powered speaker aimed at iMac users. It’s designed to fit in right under the iMac’s display, where you’d usually stash the keyboard, and takes up less desk space than a normal speaker setup. Of course, it can be used with laptops and desktop computers of the non-Mac denomination, and should be appealing to owners of Acer, HP, Dell or Lenovo’s all-in-one desktop computers. Audio is piped via USB when plugged into a computer, and there’s an audio input for other devices too. Interestingly, there’s also a subwoofer output. This can send bass to any active subwoofer – although there isn’t one offered by XtremeMac.
Unless you’re really limited for desk space or simply want a basic upgrade of your computer’s sound, the Tango Bar won’t really appeal. It is definitely more capable than any built-in or basic desktop speakers, offering clearer, more powerful sound. Music and movies, sure, but games are better enjoyed with either headphones or a more powerful system.
Just like the sound bar speakers used in home theatre systems, the Tango Bar has a number of smaller speakers hidden in its oblong body. In this case, 2 tweeters and 2 mid-range drivers. Unlike those home theatre sound bar speakers, however, this doesn’t have any clever processing to give you virtual surround sound. As a result, the sound stage is very narrow and remains focused on the source. Interestingly, it does manage to have clear sound from a number of angles. It also doesn’t have as much punch as a theatre sound bar, since the USB port on computers can only supply a very limited amount of current. That said, on paper, it matches the Bose Companion 2 speakers for total power output. In practice, it lacks even more bass than the 46 | connect | February 2012
• USB-powered • Subwoofer output • Compact design
• Limited punch • Pricey
Logitech Z523 Box
Logitech came onto the scene a while after Creative Labs offered speakers to a burgeoning market of multimedia enthusiasts. But it managed to step up its game in a short time, soon offering surround speaker systems that far outclassed anything on offer from Creative, or any other manufacturers. The Z523 is one of many sets of 2.1 speaker systems, and has an innovative design. The gloss-black satellite speakers have what appears to be a single 2” driver, but around the back – facing backwards – is a second driver of the same size. For bass, the omnidirectional subwoofer has a downward-firing driver, with a passive bass driver installed on the side. Multiple inputs are offered: one for a PC, one for an MP3 player, and a third (on the subwoofer) for a DVD player or similar. Both bass and volume controls are present on the right-hand satellite speaker.
enclosure – air that’s being moved by the active speaker. Sadly, it doesn’t manage to reproduce the naturally rolling bass we heard from the smaller subwoofer in the Creative A320. In addition to that, the bass level has to be constantly tweaked. At low volume, you’ll need to add a bit of bass; at higher volumes, bass needs to be dialled down a bit – and the sub start to take strain when you push it past 50% power. Buyer?
It’s the loudest on test, but the disappointing bass response leaves it in the wake of the A320 for overall sound quality. Sometimes it’s not good enough being the strongest, biggest fighter in the room, because a little skill can go a long way – and the Z523 is an expensive brown belt to the A320’s black belt. R1 299.95
Sometimes through sheer power, other times through a combination of punch and precision, Logitech’s speakers have always been good to the ears of PC users. The Z523 errs towards the former, offering loads of power from its 2 desktop satellites. These have 2 drivers each, one facing forwards and another backwards, so the sound is distributed around the room and clearly audible from all angles. Where the Creative Labs A320 has slightly harsh treble, the Z523 reins in the highs and keeps things a bit more balanced – but this is down to preference. The downward-firing subwoofer has a 5.25” driver, complemented by a passive bass radiator. This is similar to having a second speaker, but it’s powered by the air inside the
• Multiple inputs • Volume and bass controls on satellite • Multidirectional design
• Subwoofer struggles at high volume • Bass needs constant adjustment
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’s tor i d E ice Cho
Everybody likes an underdog, and after rigorous testing, we can gladly crown the little guy as the champ. The Creative Labs A320 was by far the most impressive speaker set in our roundup. The Logitech system was more powerful, the Bose more versatile, and the Tango Bar sexier, but the A320 showed up as an honest competitor, impressing us with powerful and balanced sound.
For R500, we’d be fools to pick on its lack of multiple inputs and outputs, or the short cables. For people who want more than one device connected, the other 3 competitors offer varied connectivity options. The powerful Logitechs will be preferred by gamers who want a lot of punch; the XtremeMac bar by people who’d like some clever design; the Bose system by folks in need of a dependable brand with great sound quality.
Bose Companion II • Layout 2.0 • Drivers (per speaker) 1 x 2.5” satellite driver • Inputs 2 x stereo RCA inputs • Outputs 1 x headphone output • Power output 10 watts total • Controls Volume • Power supply 12v DC adapter
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Creative Labs SBS A320
XtremeMac Tango Bar
• Layout 2.1 • Drivers (per speaker) 1 x 2” satellite drivers, 5” subwoofer • Inputs 1 x audio input • Outputs None • Power output 16 watts total • Controls Volume on satellite; bass on sub • Power supply AC input
• Layout Stereo sound bar • Drivers (per speaker) 2 x tweeters, 2 x midrange drivers • Inputs 1 x USB audio input, 1 x audio input • Outputs 1 x headphone output, 1 x subwoofer output • Power output 10 watts total • Controls Volume on sound bar • Power supply USB-powered
Logitech Z523 • Layout 2.1 • Drivers (per speaker) 2 x 2” satellite drivers, 1 x 5.25” subwoofer • Inputs 2 x audio input, 1 x stereo RCA input • Outputs 1 x headphone output • Power output 40 watts total • Controls Volume and bass on satellite • Power supply AC input
iHome IHM79 Portable Speakers ShoX Mini Speakers
NEED TO KNOW
These tiny rechargeable portable speakers offer an 8-hour battery life and can play audio from any device that uses a 3.5mm jack.
• Small portable speakers • Rechargeable over USB • Snap together for easy transport • 3.5mm audio jack R399.95
iHome’s IHM79 portable speakers are small yet very loud speakers that can be plugged into any audio device that outputs sound using a 3.5mm jack. They use batteries so don’t need a power source for anything but recharging, have an on/off switch each, an LED light indicating whether they’re on (blue), off (dark) or recharging (red), and their bases snap together to form a rugby ball-shaped whole that’s very easy to transport. They come with a carry bag, making it even easier to transport them from place to place. On paper, iHome has done a great job putting together a likeable and desirable set of portable speakers that every music-loving consumer should find at least a little appealing. In practice, however, there are a few things that bothered us, preventing us from wholeheartedly recommending you run out and get yourself a pair. The first was the accompanying cable. While it had all the necessary connectors, once everything was hooked up, the mess was noticeable. We had them plugged into a USB port for power, then connected to each other with the mini USB portion, and, lastly, the 3.5mm section had to be plugged into the laptop’s audio jack. Because it’s a single cable with all the required connectors attached, it’s somewhat awkward to work with and ends up not looking all that great once everything is set up. The mess on its own is bad enough, but the length of the cable limited the placement of the speakers as well. We found setting up the speakers to be a rather frustrating experience, but that was minor because we expected the sound to more than make up for it. Unfortunately, we were in for a nasty surprise – the speakers suffer quite noticeably from distortion at high volumes. We connected them up to a notebook, and with the notebook’s volume set to its highest level, we heard unpleasant fizzing and popping that completely ruined the music we were playing. When nothing was playing, a slight hiss could be heard; this went away once we lowered the volume, but it’s not a good sign. Both hissing and distortion remained even when we tried a different
Acer Aspire One Happy Netbooks sometimes need a bit of help in the audio department, making a set of portable speakers a must-buy if you plan on using them for entertainment purposes.
Apple iPod Shuffle A tiny music player needs tiny speakers. Apple’s smallest iPod is an affordable alternative to its screen-laden cousins.
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sound source, so the problem was clearly not with the playback device. This is really frustrating, because without the hiss and distortion, the speakers would actually sound pretty good. Very good, even. Bass is particularly punchy thanks to the collapsible design that lets the speakers expand (improved airflow is vital to hitting those low notes), mid-range sounds are actually quite clear and high-end sounds aren’t shrill and unpleasant. These speakers are also pretty loud, considering how small they are, so the fact that we were let down by music-spoiling distortion is nothing short of a tragedy. Granted, nobody has to play their music at high volumes all the time, and when they’re set to a less head-banging level, the IHM79s put out some pretty good sound. Still, there will be times when loud volume will be called for, and on those occasions, expectant listeners will be disappointed. NOTEWORTHY SPECS • Collapsible mini speakers go anywhere • Built-in lithium-ion batteries can be charged via USB using the included cable • Unique design provides sound that’s beyond size • Magnetic base keeps speakers together during travel • Dual audio USB cable for connecting to audio device and USB power source • On/Off switch • LED indicator light • Rubberised paint in a variety of colours for a cool look and soft feel to suit your style Pros
• Impressive sound quality at medium volume • Pleasantly portable • Produces really good bass for such small speakers
• Distortion at high volume is very noticeable • Hissing is audible when nothing is playing • Cable is very awkward to work with
BlackBerry Bold 9900 This beautiful smartphone has one of the most responsive touchscreens ever seen on a BlackBerry, using what BlackBerry calls “Liquid Graphics” to ensure smooth and fluid interactions.
HTC Cha Cha HTC’s solidly-built Cha Cha is definitely one of the better Facebook/social media phones around with its awesome keyboard and touchscreen combo.
Samsung Galaxy S II Or, instead of relying on a backup battery, get yourself a phone with a very big battery. Samsung’s Galaxy S II lets you talk – continuously – for just over 11 hours on a single charge.
Energizer Energi To Go for Smartphones AP750 NEED TO KNOW • Portable battery and charger • Recharges all phones that use microUSB • Weighs less than 20g R249.95
Running out of battery power is something most of us dread, considering how intertwined our lives are with our phones. Car chargers form part of the solution to the problem, but often it’s when we’re far from any sort of power outlet that the worst happens. Battery company Energizer has a solution in the way of a compact portable battery that can resurrect dead phones and add around 90 minutes of battery life to those that are close, but not quite dead yet. It’s called the Energi To Go for Smartphones, and it’s a 650maH battery with a micro USB connector that fits any smartphone made since 2009 (when most of the big manufacturers agreed not to use proprietary connectors on their phones any longer and use microUSB instead). To charge it, a USB cable connected to a power source is required, and Energizer claims it can be recharged up to 500 times. The cable needed to perform the recharge, however, is not included in the package – you need to either buy one or are expected to have one lying around somewhere. Energizer has marketed it as being pocket-sized and small enough to fit onto a keychain, but while that may be the case, it’s too oddly-shaped to make carrying that keychain in a pocket a comfortable affair. Besides that, we were concerned that if we were to carry it around on a keychain, the other keys might bash into the microUSB connector and cause enough damage over time to render the charger inoperable. If you feel differently and would like to give it a go, a little string thingy is included in the packaging that will help you join the AP750 to your keychain. Actual experience with the charger was pretty impressive. Charging it was a snap – after plugging it into a notebook, a red light came on to indicate charging, and turned green once it was done. Now fully charged, we plugged it into a completely dead phone (an HTC Cha Cha), upon which
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a green light lit up on the AP750 to indicate charging was happening. Once the charge had finished transferring, the Cha Cha’s battery indicator was at just under the quarter mark, more than enough for an emergency call or two. Even though it’s an awkward shape, the way the AP750 connects to a phone makes it possible to use the phone with the charger attached, so you don’t have to wait for the charging to finish before making that allimportant call. In that way, it’s not just a charger, but a backup battery too. So is it worth the cash? We think so. Having one of these in your briefcase/work bag/purse/on a keychain ensures you’ll never again run out of phone power at an inopportune moment, and that in itself is easily worth a couple hundred bucks. . NOTEWORTHY FEATURES • Super slim profile: Take it anywhere • Easy charging: Plugs into any microUSB smartphone • Dual purpose: Lets you charge and talk at the same time • Maintains charge: For up to 1 year • Adds: Up to 90 minutes of charge • Charge time: 4 hours • Rechargeable: Up to 500 times • Weight: 14g
• Fits any smartphone with a micro USB port • Acts as a recharger and a backup battery • Extra power when you need it most
• Odd shape for comfortable pocket transport • Doesn’t hold a huge amount of charge • No USB charging cable included
t e a m i l t U e h T n o i n a p m o C l e v a r T
Logitech Marathon Mouse M705 Logitech Performance Mouse MX
This is one of Logitech’s best mice ever, and it enjoys multiple sensitivity settings, Darkfield tracking and a super-comfortable, ergonomic design. It’s even good for gamers.
Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse
This bizarrely brilliant mouse is not only sensitive to touch, but it folds flat after use for easy storage and transport.
Logitech Wireless Keyboard K250 Pair up this wireless keyboard with the M705 mouse and you’ll only need to use a single Unifying USB dongle to connect them up to your PC or Mac.
NEED TO KNOW • Wireless mouse with Unifying USB receiver • Batteries last up to 3 years • Incredibly fast and smooth scrolling R799.95
The Marathon Mouse M705 is a combination of many things Logitech has proven to be so good at. It’s a wireless mouse that uses a tiny Unifying USB dongle. It’s shaped very similarly to the amazingly comfortable Performance Mouse MX and has the superb scroll wheel of the MX range that lets you scroll really quickly through long documents with the swipe of a finger. Other tricks up its sleeve include a design intended to accommodate average-sized hands, a thumb-rest located on the left side of the mouse that is coated with a delightfully soft rubber finish, and 3 incredibly useful buttons located within easy reach of any average-sized thumb. These are Forward and Back buttons that make browsing the Internet and navigating around Windows Explorer a bit easier. The third button lets you quickly switch between running programs. Perhaps most impressive of all is the M705’s amazing 3-year battery life. Logitech claims this is possible using regular batteries, and that’s due to the M705’s design, which uses half the voltage of other mice to do the same job. Whether you get 3 years or not probably depends on how you use the mouse and whether or not you switch it off after every use, but it’s an impressive claim nonetheless. The M705 uses 2 AA batteries, and the battery compartment is located on the underside of the mouse, towards the back, an area that also has a space for the Unifying USB receiver when the mouse is in transport. If the mouse feels too heavy in your hand, you can always remove a battery, as the M705 works just fine on only 1. You won’t get your 3 years of battery then, but it’s a small price to pay for comfort. That’s an area the M705 excels in – not only does it fit really well into average-sized hands, but it’s super-comfortable to use for hours on end. It’s also smooth and responsive, although it’s not possible to adjust its sensitivity like you can with the Performance Mouse MX. Only serious gamers really like this feature, so if you’re a regular user or just like to play
54 | connect | February 2012
a game every now and then, the 1000dpi sensitivity will be fine. In case you’ve missed the fuss about Logitech’s Unifying technology, all you need to know is that it lets you connect multiple Logitech devices (providing they support it, of course) to a single USB receiver. This means you can mix and match mice and keyboards without having to plug multiple USB receivers into your computer – 1 is all you need. We did have 2 concerns with the M705, though. The first was the imperfect wireless performance when the USB dongle was plugged into a PC located close to a wall and positioned on the left side of a desk (we’re right-handed). The second was the fact that the M705 doesn’t use Logitech’s excellent Darkfield, a tracking technology that allows you to use the mouse on almost any surface. Laser tracking is okay, and works well enough, but at this price point, we’d hoped for something with a little more bite. The M705 is a good buy – it’s slightly cheaper than other high-end mice, is pleasantly-sized and makes use of several of Logitech’s stand-out features to great effect. NOTEWORTHY SPECS • Laser tracking • 1000dpi tracking resolution • Forward, Back, program switch buttons • Hyper-scroll wheel • 3-year battery life • Unifying USB receiver • Sculpted right-hand design Pros
• Comfortable to hold and use • Useful additional buttons • Scroll wheel is super-handy • Extreme battery life • Tiny USB receiver
• USB dongle prone to interference if improperly placed • Does not use Logitech’s Darkfield tracking technology • Pricey
Microsoft Wireless Desktop 800 NEED TO KNOW • Affordable wireless keyboard and mouse • Tiny USB dongle • A selection of handy function keys • For Windows and Mac OS X R299.95
A wireless keyboard and mouse set is a great way to start eliminating desktop cables. If you haven’t done so yet because you think wireless desktops are expensive, think again. Microsoft has introduced a very affordable set that will satisfy the need for wirelessness without compromising on performance or functionality, and called it the Wireless Desktop 800. At R299.95, it’s an absolute bargain, but more importantly, the solid quality on offer doesn’t reflect the low price. The keyboard is lightweight but sturdy and has all the keys the average user could want (plus a few more), and the mouse feels really good in the hand. Included in the box are 4 batteries that power the wireless connection, so no additional purchase is required to get going. Once installed, the batteries add a nice feel of weight to both the keyboard and mouse. Microsoft states on the product’s Web page that batteries can last for “up to 15 months”. While we can’t verify that, it’s an interesting fact and at the very least it means months, not weeks, of continuous use before batteries will need replacing. Microsoft has featured low, flat keys in its keyboards for a few years now, and the Wireless Desktop 800 continues this trend. Successful key presses require very little finger pressure thanks to each key’s short travel distance, and typing is smooth and accurate even at high speeds. In our testing, we comfortably achieved a typing speed of 90wpm, with accuracy in the high 90s. The Function keys found above the main keys have been slimmed down, presumably to keep the size of the keyboard in check. There are only a handful of extra keys, but they’re definitely useful. These include a button for the Windows calculator, a Play/Pause button, up & down volume controls and a dedicated Mute button. We’d have really liked to see Previous Track and Next Track buttons as well, but, alas, they are nowhere to be found. The looks of the accompanying mouse have much in common
with Microsoft’s older Wheel Mouse Optical, minus a bit of thickness. The mouse is actually a little small for average-sized hands, and fits somewhere between tiny notebook mice and the comparative bulk of their desktop counterparts. It’s still comfortable to use, and as accurate and smooth as we’ve come to expect from Microsoft. All was not well in our testing, however. We experienced some unexpected wireless signal interference when using a USB port located on the back of our test PC for the desktop set’s tiny USB dongle. The keyboard and mouse both responded sporadically, and it was only once the dongle was moved to a front-mounted USB port that it came right again. We’re happy it did, and it hasn’t given a moment’s grief since then, but it’s a bit of a worry as it means the wireless signal is susceptible to interference from something as simple as the USB dongle being plugged into a rear USB port on a PC. So, if you’re able to position your PC in such a way that the dongle experiences no interference at all (some trial and error may be necessary to find that location), this is a really good wireless desktop set for the money. NOTEWORTHY SPECS • Secure wireless connection: Microsoft 2.4 GHz wireless delivers a secured and reliable connection with up to a 15-foot range • Battery status indicator: Light lets you know when your batteries are running low • Optimised power management: Power management system extends battery life • Easy access hot keys: Includes calculator, volume controls and Mute • Longer battery life: Fewer interruptions with up to 15 months of battery life
• Very affordable way to clear your desk of wires • Comfortable typing action, smooth and accurate mouse • Tiny USB dongle doesn’t take up much space • Handy shortcut keys
• Susceptible to wireless interference depending on the dongle’s position • No Next Track or Previous Track shortcut keys • Mouse might be a wee bit small for some
Logitech MK120 Wireless Desktop
If you prefer Logitech’s key layout and style, this entrylevel wireless desktop set is sure to appeal.
Microsoft Wireless Desktop 2000
If you want a more luxurious wireless desktop set that has more special function keys, a bulkier mouse and a heavier feel to it, check out this one, also from Microsoft’s hardware division.
USB Extension Cable A workable solution to the potential wireless interference issue is a USB extension cable that will give you more placement options for the WD800’s USB dongle.
www.connectmag.co.za | 55
Accessorise! Let’s not forget those essential – and sometimes not-thatessential – bits and pieces that complement our favourite gadgets. Whether it’s enhancing your tech, prettifying a phone, or expanding functionality, you’ll find the three best accessories on this page every month.
> Golla Cave 15” Laptop Bag Those fashionable Finnish bag designers at Golla haven’t let pretty things get in the way of practicality. The Cave is designed to accommodate your 15” laptop, with space to spare for your charger, a book (or Kindle), tablet, phone, and more. Obviously this messenger sling bag manages to do all of that while looking suave, and it’s made using some super tough fabric that’ll stand up to the daily knocks, bumps, and drops.
> Hama iPhone Sync Cable It’s not all that difficult to lose a charging cable for your iPod, and an official Apple replacement might not always be easy to Find. Thankfully, third-party accessory expert Hama offers a replacement cable using Apple’s universal dock connector. As the name suggests, it’s universally compatible with the iPhone, iPod, and iPad, and Hama even offers a version that includes a compact USB car charger – power on the go, and a perfectly good sync cable, all in one package.
> Griffin Tablet Stylus The allure of the iPad and other tablets is their touch-screen interface. But when you’re looking for precision control, your fingers might not always cut it. Fortunately, there is salvation. The type of touch technology used on the new tablets requires a special type of stylus that works in the same way your fingers do, and Griffin’s Tablet Stylus performs perfectly in that role. Now your handwriting, note-taking, and random scribbling will be a lot neater and more precise than ever before.
56 | connect | February 2012
Our way of protecting the environment
Bring in any old technology and we will either re-furbish and donate it to those in need or we will ensure that the items are disposed of in an environmentally responsible manner with Enviro Connection and Desco. Enjoy discounts off your purchase of a new printer cartridge or toner when you bring in your empty ones. (Terms & conditions apply)
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gaming special //by tiana Cline
14BEST! OF THE...
More than a dozen great up-and-coming videogames worth looking out for! MASS EFFECT 3 Blending shooter combat with interactive, cinematic storytelling, it’s the end of the trilogy and not everyone will survive. This is Mass Effect 3, a game from BioWare, where an ancient alien race known only as “Reapers” has launched an all-out invasion of the galaxy, leaving nothing but a trail of destruction in their wake. Earth has been taken, the galaxy is on the verge of total annihilation, and you (as Commander Shepard) are the only one who can stop them. The price of failure? Extinction. Need to know You can expect blockbuster action and heartwrenching emotion from this epic sci-fi shooter. Pre-order this!
RIDGE RACER: UNBOUNDED Drive, destroy and dominate – this is the mantra of the latest addition to Namco Bandai’s racing series. While some car games are all about realism (Gran Turismo) and others about unlockables and fun powerups (Mario Kart), Unbounded will take you on a Burnout-like track. From trashing everything in sight to being the last player on the road, there’s even an arcade drifting and duelling mode. And in addition to all the destruction physics, there’s a City Creator that will let you create and share unlimited tracks. Quick look Unbounded looks set to be the most visceral racing game of 2012 58 | connect | FEBRUARY 2012
MAX PAYNE 3
PREY 2 Published by Bethesda (the people behind Fallout), Prey 2 is a first-person shooter with a bit of a kick. You were a US marshal, but after being abducted (circa the original Prey game), Killian Samuels is now an interstellar bounty hunter on the alien world Exodus. What we’re most excited to try out is the agile combat, a system of jumping, sliding and hanging that gets you to enemies quicker and keeps the action fast-paced – it’s all about profit! Quick look Prey 2 is the sandbox, single-player experience to keep your eyes open for.
How far away will NYPD detective Max Payne go to escape his past? Now in São Paulo, Brazil, Payne is working private security, but it isn’t as cushy as it sounds… not when the family under Payne’s protection is being targeted by gangs. This is the 3rd and much-anticipated Max Payne game from Rockstar. Staying true to the original, MP3 is a 3rd-person shooter but with revolutionary graphics and new gunplay physics that update the beloved franchise for modern audiences and gaming platforms. Need to know Not only will there be an extensive single-player campaign, it will be the first title in the series to introduce a multiplayer mode, maps and all. Plus, Bullet time!
BIOSHOCK INFINITE Say goodbye to the underwater city that is Rapture as you’re catapulted into the sky. With no scary Big Daddies or Little Sisters, BioShock Infinite is set to redefine 2K’s award-winning first-person shooter experience. You’re Booker DeWitt, a former Pinkerton agent on a mission to rescue a girl named Elizabeth, trapped in Columbia. But will DeWitt be able to save her before the city falls from the sky? Expect highspeed air battles, combat in the clouds and exciting new abilities. Need to know BioShock Infinite has more weapons, new dangerous enemies, an all-new animation engine and AI system built specially for the game.
XCOM An intense sci-fi FPS thriller from 2K, XCOM is a gripping tactical action experience set in 1962, where you’ll lead an elite field team of specialised government agents into battle. As FBI agent William Carter, you’re tasked with tough decisions as you struggle to identify and find a way to combat a mysterious and growing alien threat. This new XCOM game is a first-person shooter that
explores the origin story of XCOM, before it became the huge global organisation seen in the original games. So from conducting field research, to commanding a science and engineering team, how you fight this hostile, extra-terrestrial invasion is entirely up to you. Quick look The narrative is rich, the choices are yours – and everything you think you know about the enemy is about to change…
Tomb Raider Archaeologist Lara Croft is one of the most well-known videogame characters of all time. Portrayed by Angelina Jolie in the film adaptation of the game series, the British explorer has become a female icon, capable of everything from melee combat to deciphering ancient puzzles. But who was Lara Croft before she acquired these highly-skilled moves? Crystal Dynamics’ new Tomb Raider goes back in time, telling the origin story of Lara Croft. It’s an intense and gritty tale, where you’ll see a Lara like you’ve never seen her before. Quick look Lara is only 21 and armed with instinct. It’s a survival story, it’s dark and we cannot wait to play it. www.connectmag.co.za | 59
gaming special TOMS CLANCY’S GHOST RECON: FUTURE SOLDIER Cutting-edge technology, high-tech weaponry and state-of-the-art single-player and multiplayer modes are what make the upcoming Tom Clancy title so exciting. So what’s a Future Soldier? Only the very best soldiers with a unique mix of skills on and off the battlefield get to wear the coveted Ghost insignia and in the game, that’s you. You’re Sergeant John Kozak, a new squad member who will get to fight alongside 3 veteran operators in a character-focused, 10-hour storyline. Need to know There are 14 campaign missions (that can be played through co-operatively with up to 3 friends) as well as 4 innovative multiplayer modes.
DIABLO III Is Diablo III the action RPG that everyone is waiting for? This Blizzard game may be taking its time to come out, but with talk of a real-money auction house and PvP mode in addition to the campaign, there are a lot of high hopes for this muchloved franchise. What we do know is that Diablo III will require a constant Internet
connection to play, and that the dark, moody atmosphere and engaging itemgrabbing gameplay is similar to previous titles. What has changed, however, is the character customisation for the 5 classes. There are also smarter combat, improved controls and new difficulty levels. Quick look Let the battle between good and evil begin! Again!
HITMAN: ABSOLUTION Your favourite cold-blooded assassin, Agent 47, is back. Absolution takes the protagonist on a personal journey, as well as on his most dangerous assignment yet. Bald and barcoded, you’ll play 47 as he runs from the police. The game promises constant choices that will determine how you will solve challenges – will you use stealth, sneaking past security, or go at them with guns a-blazing? There are several ways to play out every level, challenge and situation, as well as an Instinct Mode to help those new to the game tackle tricky enemy AI. Quick look As expected, Hitman: Absolution will play beautifully, with excellent cinematic graphics and a great soundtrack.
60 | connect | FEBRUARY 2012
DARKSIDERS II The 4 horsemen of the Apocalypse have returned! Interestingly enough, Darksiders 2 is not a sequel but rather a story running parallel to the events of the original game. It’s set to be an addictive, action-adventure title (with added RPG elements) that takes Death through light and dark realms in an attempt to redeem his brother War. It features a full weapon and armour upgrade system – hammers, clubs, maces, spears – as well as more challenging dungeons and combat. Need to know Other new additions to the Darksiders II gameplay include quests, enemies that drop loot and over-the-top environments to explore.
BORDERLANDS 2 Set years after the events of Borderlands, the sequel serves up awesome cel-shaded visuals and similar “role-playing shooter” gameplay that made Borderlands so popular. Character skill trees have been overhauled to provide more depth, and the driving model has been tweaked to allow awesome moves BORDERLANDS 2 like drifting that better thanthe before. Thisserves time up awesome cel-shaded visuals and similar “roleSetmake yearsvehicles after thehandle eventseven of Borderlands, sequel you –shooter” as one ofgameplay 4 new character classes - are trying to playing that made Borderlands so popular. Character skill trees have been overhauled to unitemore the 4 depth, “vault hunters” from the original to provide and the driving model has game been tweaked to allow awesome moves like drifting that make help you overthrow a newthan threat to Pandora, vehicles handle even better before. This timeandyouthe– as one of 4 new character classes - are trying to unite promises be fast-paced andgame frantic. theaction 4 “vault hunters”tofrom the original to help you overthrow a new threat to Pandora, and the action Quick promises to belook fast-paced andCel-shaded frantic. graphics, Quick look memorable characters,Cel-shaded a seamlessgraphics, open world and characters, a seamless open world and enhanced memorable enhanced co-operative will set apart Borderlands co-operative gameplay willgameplay set Borderlands from other shooters in 2012. apart from other shooters in 2012.
METAL GEAR RISING: REVENGEANCE What makes Revengeance different from other games in Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid series is that it’s not stealth-based. It’s also going to be available on multiple consoles. That said, Revengeance is a spin-off action game starring the katana-wielding cyborgninja Raiden. Taking place several years after Guns of the Patriots, the slice-and-dice gameplay will have you disabling robots to reuse their parts and cutting through enemies and vehicles. Quick look While not too much has been said about the storyline, we can’t wait to play this breath-taking action title.
GRAND THEFT AUTO V The few snippets developer Rockstar has released on the upcoming Grand Theft Auto so far hint at a new character and a whole new story line set in an area loosely based on Southern California, an area known for sun, sand and mischief. GTA V promises more of the gritty, open-world, no-holds-barred third-person gameplay that has won the series so many awards (and controversies), and we can’t wait to see what the developers have in store for us this time. Whether GTA V comes out in 2012 or beyond, it’ll easily be one of the biggest games of that year. Quick look GTA V should serve up more of the fun and chaotic 3rd-person action found in other GTA games, along with a hard-hitting story about a down-on-his-luck protagonist. 62 | connect | FEBRUARY 2012
Changing the face of technology armed with nothing more than a gin and tonic and a penchant for Doctor Who.
issue of the month: Q:
I want to buy a new keyboard and recently saw one that was split in half down the middle. Why? Keyboard in Karoo
Keyboards split down the middle have been designed to fit naturally with the way your hands sit so you are more comfortable, and are called “ergonomic keyboards”. I use the Microsoft Natural version of this, and have done so for years as I have found it to be far better for doing lots of typing. But opinion is split on these. Some people find them intuitively better and easier to use, while others think they are horrible and can’t work on them at all. Ergonomic keyboards can be very expensive, so before you rush out and buy one, try to spend some time trying one out first. See if you find it more comfortable. Don’t worry if you struggle to type on it when you start out, as it will take time for you to get used to it. What’s important is that you find your hands are better supported and that you get less wrist strain. I recommend these to people who suffer from carpal tunnel issues or who spend a lot of time sitting in front of the PC.
If you have questions, gripes or just seek some solace, e-mail Tamsin, our friendly tech tannie at firstname.lastname@example.org 64 | connect | February 2012
Lately I keep hearing this word “NFC”. What is it? Curious in Cape Town
Ah, what a lekker question. I love this topic. It’s very Terminator meets Minority Report and yet ever so simple and logical. First off, NFC stands for Near Field Communications – not KFC, which is an entirely different thing involving chickens and breadcrumbs. NFC is basically where 2 machines or devices can talk to each other because they happen to have a chip or a tag or a relevant type of technology built into them. Take Android Bump, for example – this application can be found with the latest Android operating system and allows 2 people with the app to “bump” their phones together and exchange personal information. That’s NFC at its simplest. Other examples include contactless transport payments or card payments. In the UK, they have the Oyster Card, which commuters top up with cash and then just tap it to the turnstiles as they go until their cash runs out. The whole point, in most cases, is to make our lives easier. Once everyone gets used to the idea – there are the usual flurries of security fears and personal privacy concerns that you may or may not find relevant to you – it will probably start rolling out a lot faster around the world. The applications are endless. One brilliant example I recently heard of is tags in wine bottles. So you meander into Pick ‘n Pay to grab yourself some wine for a braai tonight. You tap your phone to the bottle and it will tell you all sorts of information about it, from where it was made, what year, what grape type, when it was bottled, who transported it, to how cold it is and its optimum temperature. For wine lovers, that’s got to be cool. In future, you’ll even be able to use it to tap your digital camera to your printer to automatically transfer images and print them. In Japan, they already have smart billboards like the ones seen in Minority Report, which identify you and offer you services based on your gender. The potential is enormous and it is something I find very exciting…
I recently bought a wireless mouse and keyboard, but every so often they go completely awry and nothing works properly. Why is this happening? I spent a lot of money on these! Wireless in Welkom
Ahh, the wonders of wireless technology. The answer to your problem is probably very, very simple. Has someone been vacuuming near you whenever things have gone whacky? You see, the wireless mouse and keyboard you own have been allocated a specific radio frequency to communicate with your computer (or laptop or whatever) and sometimes another device will sit on the same frequency and cause all sorts of issues. These problems are actually rare nowadays as devices are built with
these conflicts in mind and tend to be a lot better at filtering out problem signals. What you may find is that someone else has a similar device on the same frequency nearby or that perhaps your receiver is not well placed to receive the signal. Pay attention to whatever is around you the next time you have a problem and see if you can pinpoint the source of the conflict. Hopefully it will be easy enough for you to resolve the issue. If not, you may have to consider investing in a wired set to avoid these problems.
What is a coaxial cable and where do I use it? Cabled in Nelspruit
The name sounds really complicated, doesn’t it? Coaxial cable. It sounds as if it could be used to power spaceships or sort out the economic crisis. Well, sadly, it can do neither. Coaxial cables are very robust and were commonly used by the cable television industry and for computer networks – they can withstand quite a bit of interference and carry a lot of information at once. However, these are mostly being replaced with fibre optics now, although most of the cable television receivers still use coaxial cables to carry signals over short distances.
www.connectmag.co.za | 65
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disconnect //By adam oxford
Get Smart Dare you get excited about the latest TV tech?
o, the show is finally over. The CES show, that is – the annual tech jamboree in Las Vegas, Nevada, where every electronics manufacturer worth their salt tries to woo us with the latest and greatest, and convince us that we need to upgrade all our gadgets once again. The big theme for this year is televisions. Again. Two years ago it was wafer-thin LED screens, and we all upgraded. Last year it was 3D glasses, and we didn’t. This year it’s the turn of the Internet-enabled connected set, or ‘smart TV’. It’s hoped it will have us spending a recession-busting amount to keep the CEOs of Samsung, LG et al in caviar baths for 12 months. Except, haven’t we been here before? I’ve reviewed enough smart TVs already to be wary of selling this as a must-have upgrade. Trying to surf the Net, browse YouTube or sign in to Flickr from any of the current generation of smart TVs is enough to send even the most fervent Apple hater off to buy an iPad. Slow, buggy and operated by remote control – so far, in my experience, using a smart TV is like swapping your sleek, modern Web browser for Internet Explorer version 1. Only slightly worse. Still, I’m nothing if not open-minded, and I’m happy to accept that this time around, the TV companies might be on to something. Samsung’s latest set does look quite intriguing. It’s designed to play files from and to an Android tablet, with a 55” OLED screen and the ability to load apps and download TV shows from premium services, all as smoothly as a modern laptop.
68 | connect | February 2012
Then there’s Lenovo, that well-known TV brand. Its first set (as far as I’m aware) is going straight for the big one. Designers there have ported Google’s tablet operating system, Android 4.0 – also known as Ice Cream Sandwich – straight onto the big screen, packing a dual core processor. The thing is, there are just so many stats and tech specs that hardware buffs can geek out about and acronyms with which they can disguise their own lack of intelligence. The reason smart TVs haven’t caught on – I think – is that normal people simply don’t want to use the TV as an interactive tool. When I want to browse a social network, play a simple puzzle game or send an e-mail, I’ll reach for my phone, or tablet, or laptop. These things are all designed to be used close-up, to allow me to concentrate on the tiny details and text that are important for tasks like that. I don’t watch much TV, but when I do, I want to watch it and not be distracted from my favourite shows by an alert telling me a friend has just beaten my score in some terrible Angry Birds clone. I get ratty enough if someone coughs at the wrong moment while I’m immersed in a drama. I know I’m being Canute-like in my attempts to put off the inevitable. If the rumour mills are right, Apple’s next big thing will be to launch an all-singing, all-dancing, all-aluminium set that’s iTuned up to the max for beaming TV shows straight from camera to retina. And once that happens, we’ll all have to invest in a new set just to see what all the fuss is about. In the meantime, I’m off to rent a DVD.
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