VR Shinecon & mini gamepad review

2016-05-02_1412.png

Last week a colleague brought his Samsung Gear VR to work. I tried VR for the first time and really liked it so I considered buying one. Unfortunately it turned out that my Samsung Note 4 doesn’t fit in it though (only the Note 5 or the latest S models do). To make it fit I would need to break out four plastic pieces. I realized that Samsung has a pretty unique app ecosystem but thought that Google Cardboard should have the same. Instead of ordering the cheap looking Cardboard I got a set of VR glasses by Shinecon and a mini gamepad for the controls.

VR Glasses:

http://www.amazon.de/ELEGIANT-Universal-Einstellbar-virtuelle-Pappkarton/dp/B015HCKZ50/276-0325754-5544109?ie=UTF8&ref_=cm_sw_r_fa_awd_YBOixbHS5MWAF

Mini gamepad:

http://www.amazon.de/ELEGIANT-Fernbedinung-Fernsteuerpult-Controller-Fernbedienung-Schwarz/dp/B015PFONRK/ref=pd_bxgy_107_img_2?ie=UTF8&refRID=1MJFXKG2YKGGCYATQK2M

Cons:

  1. I have been surprised to find out it’s not really Google Cardboard compatible because it doesn’t have the magnet button that is necessary to press buttons in the virtual reality environment.
  2. The mini gamepad is not configured to act as a left mouse click by default. I had to reboot the gamepad by pressing reset with a nail on the rear side and pressing the upper start and lower A (circle) button simultaneously. The gamepad switch on the side has to be set to key as well.
  3. It’s almost impossible to play games that rely on precise head movements when sitting. I found myself looking to the side after starting in a straight forward looking head position while I should be looking still straight forward according to the virtual space. The Google Cardboard VR apps are using the built in phone’s sensors and have much worse head tracking in the sense of drift, lag, and jitter compared to a Samsung Gear VR.
  4. The sound comes out of the phone and is in a strange non centered position. It’s for sure no stereo.

Pros:

  1. The picture is very sharp in combination with my Note 4. On the Samsung Gear VR I experienced a certain blur that didn’t go away by adjusting the focus.
  2. There is no ghosting. On the Samsung Gear VR I had ghosting effects.
  3. VR video on YouTube is really fun to watch. I especially enjoy roller coasters ūüôā
  4. There are some games like Deep Space VR that work well even with the sluggish head tracking.

 

 

Amazon Fire HD 7 2014 (4th generation) review

2015-01-14_08-17-57 After my Medion (Lenovo) Lifetab E7316 7″ Android tablet broke because it felt down from the bedside table I started looking for a replacement. That said I found it astonishing how thin the glass on the screen of the Medion was. The tablet was inside a leather case when it felt down but not even that could save the glass from cracking. I never really considered the Kindle Fire HD models before because of the Amazon ecosystem but since several months I have Prime so I thought I give it a try. Some benefits like the free books access of Prime are available only on real Kindle devices and not through the Amazon App. Amazon also offered a 30 Euro discount on the new 2014 models during the Christmas sale so I went for a 16 GB 7″ Fire HD. After using it for about a month I can say I’m fully satisfied but there are some downsides too. Pros:

  • Powerful Texas Instruments OMAP 4460 SoC with 1,5 GHz (http://www.ti.com/product/omap4460). Amazon says it’s a quad core but it’s more of a dual core with two extra cores for low profile tasks. Dead Trigger 2 and Riptide GP 2 run smoothly.
  • Sharp 1280×800 screen with good view angles. Brightness can be turned up really well to deal with strong sunshine.
  • Excellent Dolby stereo speakers. Try putting the tablet on a table. It’s amazing because they are positioned in a way that it will boost the volume.
  • Awesome Wi-Fi reception. Where my other wireless devices fail the Fire HD manages to get a good signal strength.
  • Fast battery charging. I think I never saw any mobile device that charges so fast.
  • HDR-Capable camera with face recognition and video recording in 1080p.
  • Easy to use Fire OS based on the latest Android 4.4 with a favorite apps carousel, good on-screen keyboard and user accounts for family members. Amazon Instant Video that I get with Prime is nicely integrated.
  • Silk Browser. The browser is really fast and the compatibility is great.
  • Good choice of cases from third-party suppliers. I got one from iHarbort that fits really well.
  • Good support by email and phone but no video live chat. This might be US only.
  • Price. Even without the sale the regular price is really good compared to models by Samsung I.e.
  • 7″ and the black border together make the device perfect for holding in one hand. Even typing is possible with the thumb if necessary. Some might find the thickness of the device disturbing but I find it useful for holding it.
  • Last but not least the device is available in a range of colors and in the U.S. there is even a kids edition. This is not available yet in Europe apparently.

Cons:

  • Walled Garden. The App Store can’t compete with Google Play. You get the most important Apps but you can’t find everything in the Amazon App Store. The most recent titles like new games aren’t available either. The only good thing is that Amazon gives away free Apps from time to time. I also noticed Apps are a bit more expensive than in the Google play store.
  • No Google Apps like YouTube or Google Maps. Google seems to be pissed about Amazon using Android and putting Bing as the default search. There are alternative apps for the same though. The down side is that they are ad supported in most cases.
  • Battery doesn’t hold long but at least charges fast.
  • Buggy family profiles. In-App-Purchases can’t be transferred to a user profile although the App itself can be. Videos a family member records can’t get uploaded to the cloud storage. Family members can’t watch Amazon Instant Video.
  • Buggy Browser. Although it’s fast and renders sites correctly there are bugs like links not being opened from the Facebook app sometimes. Shared posts on Facebook get entered twice.

Here is a short hands on review by CNET: I highly recommend this Fire fan page with tons of tutorials and tips & tricks like side loading Google Play Apps without rooting: http://www.lovemyfire.com/

The tale of my AMD FX-9590 Easter-PC

2014-08-17_08-01-40

I usually never participate in sweepstakes. Last Easter I decided to participate in a sweepstake promoted on the AMD Facebook page for a change. The chellange was to find hidden easter eggs on an online shop and then put together a word from the letters on the eggs. I figured out the word (the riddle wasn’t easy for sure) and sent it in for the drawing. Surprisingly I won a high-end AMD PC worth 1900 Euro built by a German computer manufacturer that I don’t want to mention because I don’t want any bad press for them. After all they have been really nice to me. It just took some time till I had the PC running… like 3-4 months ūüėČ Initially the PC, an AMD FX-9590 based water cooled rig in a stylish white Corsiar 600T case arrived with

a.) a totally broken graphics card that turned out to be a 7970 instead of a R9 290X

b.) a H80i Corsair water cooler running at maximum RPM not throttling down being loud as hell and

c.) a missing SSD that was on the specs.

You can’t imagine the disappointment. I never won something that expensive and that broken!

2014-08-18_08-53-11

The company where I won the PC sent me a new graphics card as a replacement that was finally a R9 290X as listed on the specs. Unfortunately it either wasn’t really new (it didn’t come in a package but just in a foil bag – later they claimed it was from a bulk buy) or the reference design fan couldn’t cope with the heat of the GPU reaching 95¬į C on full load. After a week it stopped working correctly and artifacts showed up after booting from time to time. Meanwhile I found out why the water cooler was running so loud. The person who assembled the computer forgot to connect the water cooler pump heatsink element sitting on the CPU with the mainboard via an USB cable. While trying to plug in the wrong cable in it I broke the socket of the USB connector but the manufacturer sent me a completely new water cooler. That was reall nice by them. So far so good… The water cooler was still not throttling down. It turned out the Corsair Link software for the fan control is incompatible with Windows 8.1 that came with the PC. I had to manually change some entries in the registey after finding the solution on a forum. There I was now with a SSD, a new water cooler I managed to mount and get running properly and a randomly working graphics card. Of course the company where I won the PC promised to change the parts for free. I got a shock when they sent me a collection letter and thought I would need to give this case to a lawyer. It turned out to be a mistake. Then they sent me an all new R290 (no R290X) but one that was much better because it had 2 fans, a PowerColor Radeon R9 290 TurboDuo. This one came in a package and worked flawlessly. When using the PC for gaming I noticed freezes after 1-2 hours of playing. It turned out the CPU needs a more aggressive water cooler than the H80i but I was able to create a custom profile that runs on slow and silent 1000-1500 RPM in idle mode and moderately loud high 2000-2700 RPM in games while keeping the CPU stable at 4,7 GHz (depending on the room temperature).

2014-08-18_08-51-36

Generally speaking the PC has an outstanding performance that runs every game in stereoscopic 3D on at least 30 fps via Tridef and everything else in normal 3D on rock solid 60 fps on maxed out settings. It’s not very silent but you can get used to it. The noise level is barable in my opinion. As the AMD FX-9590 is the last of it’s kind in the lost arms race with Intel it’s a special feeling owning such a machine. The CPU wars in future won’t be fought in the high-end segment for gaming rigs! AMD lost the race there but placed their APUs in the PS4 and XB1 next-gen consoles. The CPU wars of the future will be fought in the tablet and mobile segment!

This PC might be even my last true Desktop rig. As an AMD fanboy maybe I’ll get a nice Kaveri Notebook with an AMD FX-7600P or A10-7300 APU for content creation and coding on Windows or Linux and a PlayStation 4 running an AMD APU for gaming. Intel will keep staying outside my Android tablets BTW… No matter how much they pay the tablet makers there is nothing better than an ARM SoC!

Medion Lifetab E7316

12854264924_c6fe3004ac_h

Most reviews I read about the Medion Lifetab E7316 indicate the reviewers haven’t had the real device for testing and just tried to assess the specifications. I bought it on day-1 when it became available at my local Aldi store in Munich. I had to return the first device as it had a hardware problem with the touchscreen. A part of the touchscreen didn’t react to inputs randomly. My local Aldi supermarket changed it without any problems to a new one even though I bought it in a different location. I was lucky they still had a device I could get two days after the start of the sale. As I expected it was sold out but the lady at the supermarket pulled out the show case device for me. Let’s recap my experience with the device so far.

Pros:

  • Fast Cortex A9 ARM Quad-Core SoC with 1,6 GHz. Games like Need for Speed Most Wanted, Nova 3, Dead Trigger 2 or Modern Combat 4 run smoothly.
  • Android Jelly Bean. Pretty recent version with Google Play Store. Other low-cost tablets don’t even have that.
  • Visually appealing design with brushed metal on the back.
  • The black borders might look strange but are good for holding it.
  • Lightweight. It’s amazing how convenient it is holding the tablet.
  • Front and rear camera are nothing special but good enough for Skype and funny shots. I don’t think anyone really uses tablets for photography.
  • Sound volume is sufficient on 100%. Not that long ago tablets had much worse speakers.
  • Sufficient battery life with 4 hours. That’s fine for normal usage at home. It gets charged at night and used during the day.
  • Price: 99 EUR is simply outstanding!

Cons:

  • The display. It’s only 1024×600, not very sharp and has poor viewing angles. For games and video this is fine but longer reading hurts the eyes. The brightness can be turned up though.
  • 8 GB. Only 5,7 GB of are available for Apps. For casual games that’s OK but not for having several blockbuster titles installed at the same time.
  • The SD Card setup sucks. Photos are not saved to external cards when inserted. The internal memory emulates an SD card already. Apps can’t be moved to the SD card without rooting the tablet, using Link2SD or GL to SD and specially partitioned¬† SD cards. This doesn’t always work though . Link2SD or GL to SD sometimes can’t move games or loses either the link to the files on the SD card or even the entire mounting script.

The device is sold as Medion but it’s a Lenovo, the parent company of Medion from China that might be more familiar in general. The identifier is buried deep inside the system information though. The performance in benchmarks is on paid with the Asus Nexus 7: http://www.androidbenchmark.net/phone.php?phone=Lenovo+LIFETAB_E7316

Recap: The Lifetab E7316 is just perfect for gaming and doesn’t cost much.

Ubuntu Edge – It’s the future, today.

A mobile device as powerful as a PC connected to a screen, keyboard and mouse for office work and touch input for the usage on the go is a concept I would have rather expected  from Microsoft but those guys seem to be too busy with cleaning up the mess of Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 that are not compatible among each other. Instead the idea comes from Canonical, the makers of the great Ubuntu Linux operating system.

To build this device Canonical will need $32M for that kind of hardware. Especially in times of absolute government surveillance it’s more important then ever to support open and trusted infrastructures.

Please join me in supporting the campaign for funding the Ubuntu Edge device (I went for the 20$ perk just to support it): http://igg.me/at/ubuntuedge/x/4043517

If you want to invest more and can afford to spend even 800$ for this device I would like to encourage everyone to do so.

Make it happen! It’s the future, today.

Edit: Too bad the crowdfunding campaign didn’t reach the goal. It seems it’s too early for this kind of technology.

TVPeCee HDMI-Stick MMS-874 Android Mini-Computer

8478899218_5f4655a7fc_c

Downloading Xvid movies via Torrent or some other P2P network is out. Not even Peerblockers with blacklists of honeypots can protect users anymore (more: http://torrentfreak.com/anti-piracy-blocklists-dont-keep-bittorrent-spies-out-120904/). Today you can “rent” movies online for a few Euro (or Dollar) on most platforms like consoles, video-on-demand boxes by your ISP or other vendors, Smart TVs, Notebooks, Tablets, Barebones, HTPCs¬†and even mobile phones. You can also watch a wide range of movies via Web-Streaming i.e. from YouTube or other sites via Flash, HTML5 or native apps.

The problem with most platforms is that still most video streaming content¬†on the web is Flash-based. That’s where most of the platforms fail… for instance the Internet Explorer¬†for the Xbox 360 (that requires Gold membership BTW) doesn’t show Flash, Apple TV wouldn’t even dare to show Flash, ARM-based Raspberry Pi would be cool enough but there is no Flash player for the Linux and the browser running on it. So what to do if your TV is not “smart” (Internet connected) yet or Flash-enabled? Of course you can connect your Notebook or Tablet via HDMI to your TV, use some Air-Play service or buy a Barebone-PC or HTPC but I was looking for a cheap convenient and noiseless Always-On solution. What could be better for that than an Operating System and CPU (more a SoC) of a mobile phone? Android runs Flash too!¬†Although any new¬†updates or¬†versions won’t be released for it the old version is good enough for most Flash video content on the web.

I decided to try out such a device that you connect via HDMI to your TV.¬†First I ordered the MMS 864 TVPeCee that turned out to be a total disaster. It has a slow single-core ARM, runs Android 4.0 with an ugly custom UI, doesn’t play Flash in full screen and has¬†black screens from time to time. The successor model the MMS 874 with Android 4.1 cures¬†all those weaknesses though!

The MMS 874 has a fast dual-core CPU and a quad-core GPU that is on the level of the Galaxy Nexus performance wise (more: http://www.androidbenchmark.net/phone.php?phone=Rockchip+MMS-874.dualcore), runs the vanilla Android UI, shows Flash in full screen and has better passive cooling. See full specs here: http://www.pearl.de/a-ZX1005-1602.shtml (German). I extended the device with  a 16 GB microSDHC memory card, an USB hub, a wireless keyboard and a gamepad. This way the device becomes a console too as many games support a gamepad on Android (more: http://www.jayceooi.com/2012/09/11/android-games-with-native-gamepad-support/).

8545611982_c7924260d0_b

For about 150 Euro (including all peripherals) you get a nice Android Mini-Computer that can be used to stream videos, play games, check social networks etc. on your TV screen¬†. It’s noiseless compared to some fan-equipped PC-Barebones, not bound to any video platform like the Apple TV with iTunes Store or any ISP video-on-demand box and relatively¬†cheap compared to consoles, PC-Barebones or¬†HTPCs. Forget about Google TV or this Air-Play black ball device (Nexus Q) they tried to release… Vanilla Android is more than enough to make your TV “smart” and connected.

The future of the PC

8269195505_3cea982395_c

The machine on the photo above is my current PC. An AMD FX-6300@4,5GHz with 16GB RAM, Radeon HD 6870, Samsung 128GB 840 SSD, 1TB HDD and a case with 5x 120mm fans… but this desktop computer running Windows 7, built for optimal gaming performance and value, is a dinosaur.¬†The desktop PC era is coming to an end and the big players in the PC world understood it. The Home Personal Computer that had a specific immobile place in your¬†apartment¬†or house is dead. Most people use notebooks, tablets, smart phones or video game consoles for media and content¬†consumption as well as social¬†actives.¬†Microsoft made the bold move with Windows 8 and hardware makers along with chip makers like Intel and AMD try to adapt to the new situation. CPUs tend to become System-On-Chips integrating¬† GPUs even in the x86 world as they would try to copy ARM, the dominant architecture for mobile chips. For home consumers I think the Windows x86 PC will survive as a hybrid tablet and Microsoft did a good job so far in initiating this transition. They killed the desktop user interface along with the task bar and the start button and adapted Windows to work with a touch interface. Not many people know but Microsoft was behind the design of most first generation Windows 8 Tablet hardware along with releasing their own reference device, the Surface RT and Surface Pro (more info: http://news.cnet.com/8301-10805_3-57561849-75/how-microsoft-became-a-control-freak-with-tablet-makers/).

The big question is if corporations will adapt to Windows 8. I talked with the IT support folks in my company and none of them can imagine using Windows 8 in the corporate environment. There is also a funny video about an admin reacting to Windows 8 on YouTube:

Everyone who is into content creation, will it be image or video/audio editing, print layout (aka DTP), web design or programming, won’t give up a mouse and a desktop user interface designed for it. No matter if on a Windows 7 PC, Linux PC, or Mac Pro or even a Notebook/Ultrabook or MacBook Pro/iMac/Mac mini. All of them are designed to be used with a track-pad or mouse. OK, it’s possible to do some nice content creation with touch and there are some cool Apps but I feel they are still toys compared to the mature software packages used on desktop machines. Also the classic office application suite is difficult to use on touch and you need also a wireless printer even though I reckon Microsoft did a good job with Office 2013. For typing a physical keyboard is a must but most Windows 8 tablets are hybrids anyway. It’s understandable why Microsoft want’s to keep this exclusive to Windows 8 and is not releasing an iOS Office version (more: http://www.zdnet.com/why-ballmer-doesnt-want-office-on-the-ipad-7000010566/). So the problem of Windows 8 is the hardware but it’s about innovative corporate hardware!

The following article by a professional analyst comes to the same conclusion more or less: http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9236658/If_the_PC_dies_Windows_8_will_be_its_killer_says_analyst

So far I didn’t see many corporate hardware concepts for Windows 8 that are compelling enough but the ones that are our there come surprisingly from Dell (yes, the company that went private lately). It seems that most hardware makers like Lenovo with the Yoga 13 forgot to release a docking station. In my option an essential piece of hardware making life easier in a corporate environment is a docking station (or do you want to plug in your keyboard, mouse, wired network and monitor each time?). Windows 8 has multi-monitor support so such a configuration can work pretty well in my option (more: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/b8/archive/2012/05/21/enhancing-windows-8-for-multiple-monitors.aspx).

Latitude10_dock_image

Another concept that makes sense is a kind of stand for the tablet that connects keyboard and mouse wireless.

tablet-docking-station

Of course you could tilt a touch PC like this Dell and use it in a kind of Star Trek Geordi La Forge manner by typing and touching the interface.

w8hw3a_medium-1

My advice to Microsoft would be to release a set of Windows 8 (or Windows Blue by that time) reference devices similar to the Surface Pro especially optimized for the office corporate environment and content creation. The Surface Pro is a good start but more has to follow and most importantly those devices have to prove they improve efficiency similar to what is shown on the video below.