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A PC component maker in a post-PC world

If you had a desktop PC during the early naughties, your first encounter with Creative likely involved sound cards. Back then, if you wanted to upgrade the audio on your desktop, a Creative sound card was often the most affordable, or accessible option. If the name Sound Blaster resonates with you at all, there’s a good chance you were one of these people. You may have fond memories of enjoying your burgeoning (and possibly illegal) MP3 collection through it. You might also recall lost hours downloading what you hoped were the right drivers to your specific model, only to find they were minutely, yet critically, different from the best match you found on the support website. My experience was mostly the latter. I’ll admit I never thought I’d consider buying Creative ever again. There wasn’t anything overly wrong with its products — just nothing overly compelling about them either.

Back here in the present day, I know I’ve plugged my headphones into the right connector, because I can hear music. It feels a little subdued though. I look around for a volume control and find it, but it’s already up to maximum. I check my phone, and make sure the audio settings are all as they should be. They are. Hmmm. It’s at this point I notice a thin sliver of metal visible between the headphone jack and the port. I gently apply pressure to the connector; it clicks into place and — good lord — it all suddenly kicks off in my ears. This is a Sound Blaster? In 2014? Oh my!

This is a Sound Blaster? In 2014? Oh my!

Creative is, of course, very much still going. Its catalog of current products, however, still has a whiff of the year 2000 about it — boyish, overly “gadgety” in appearance. That image is changing, though, and it’s immediately evident as music pumps its way into my skull via the company’s forthcoming E1 headphone amplifier. The E1 is a $50 unit that’s not overly boyish, and only a little gadgety in its looks. What it is, however, is impressive. This little, battery-powered device could easily upgrade most users’ desktop audio experiences.

Consumer habits have clearly moved on since I was reaching around the back of my beige PC, trying to blindly locate the 3.5mm port on my Sound Blaster PCI 128 though. The E1′s simple, yet functional design feels like a small, though significant acknowledgement of that. And the headphone amplifier isn’t the only product heading to US shores that shows the company’s new approach. If Creative can figure out how to shake off its old public image, it might just become relevant again. For that, it’ll need to start taking itself more seriously.

If Creative can figure out how to shake off its old public image, it might just become relevant again.

For example, slide a tiny switch from left to right, and the $200 Sound Blaster Roar (SB20) Bluetooth speaker will produce random noises at equally random intervals. It’s called “Life-Saver” mode. The idea, apparently, is that while driving home alone one dark night, you might have your trusty speaker beside you on the passenger seat, not playing music, but instead startling you with surprise “trombone” or “baby laughing” noises. It sounds crazy, because it is (figuratively and literally). I have the pleasure (and sometimes displeasure) of experiencing many audio gadgets. This includes Bluetooth speakers — many, many Bluetooth speakers. But, despite my general apathy for the category, despite the expendable Life-Saver mode and despite those cumulative hours cussing Creative while under a desk tending to my PCI 128, I quickly became fond of the Sound Blaster Roar.

It’s not without caveat though. While the E1 shows that Creative can do simple, the Roar is a mix of over-thought features and understated design. It’s progress for sure. The build quality of the Roar definitely makes it a desirable object. It’s easy to use, and fills a modest- to decent-sized room with sound quite easily. But Life-Saver mode (there are, in fact, two Life-Saver modes; don’t ask me the difference) isn’t the only superfluous functionality. There’s a bedtime mode (that gradually lowers the volume) as well as an alarm (as in SIREN, not wakey-wakey) that I’ll never use. Ever.

Look past the fancy-dress features, though, and you’ll find some genuinely useful ones. The rechargeable battery sets it free from outlets and can also charge your phone. You can also play music from, and record directly onto (via the mic, aux and Bluetooth inputs) microSD cards. There’s even an option to have two devices connected via Bluetooth at the same time. That’s not bad. You can also plug your PC into it directly, or use it as a hands-free device with your phone. Vitally, there’s support for higher-quality audio codecs such as aptX. None of these features is necessarily revolutionary on its own, but they’re all there, and out of sight, neatly tucked around the back for the most part. Some of them are features you won’t find on pricier, big-name competitors. As much as the younger version of me wants to dislike the product, it’s hard to ignore that the company is at least trying to adapt.

As much as the younger version of me wants to dislike the product, it’s hard to ignore that the company is at least trying to adapt.

I plug another set of headphones into the E1. As a much more expensive set, the different impedance makes them much quieter. Or it doesn’t. Once again, I really need to force the connector in for it to sit properly — it’s very “snug.” At least it’s not too loose; that’d be much more annoying. The impedance is making a difference, but the sound is still impressive. Robust. Dynamic. As is the sound you get from the Roar (in Bluetooth speaker terms). Both do feel slightly augmented around the usual mid-bass and top-end frequencies (even before you press the “Roar” mega-bass button on the SB20), something that’s not uncommon in either category.

Of course, we’re talking about a $50 peripheral, and a Bluetooth speaker. These are for kitchens, desks, those times you’re out on the move, etc. A little nudge on certain frequencies probably helps it cut through the sound of the copy machine, or traffic noise, right? For some reason, it seems our brains are programmed to interpret such adjustments as audio “depth” and “sparkle” if we’re not paying attention, and manufacturers like to exploit this. For casual listening, it mostly doesn’t offend. Dare I say, for my particular listening habits, it works?

So, what’s so different about Creative in 2014? Why am I easing up on an old foe? It’s hard to put my finger on it, but it feels like the company might be finally shedding its dated, old approach and dabbling with a more contemporary strategy. These newest products hint at a new direction, one that is adapting to current user needs and expectations. There’s still a tendency to overcook it. Features like Life-Saver mode are distractions from products that show enough promise in their core functionality alone. But, if we’re to truly be friends again, Creative, I’d love to see more focus on the strengths (the build and design of the Roar are solid) than the addition of bullet points on the feature list. Somewhere between the E1 and the Roar, there’s a sweet spot, and I really hope you find it. But, most of all, I’m happy there are no more drivers to deal with.

Filed under: Home Entertainment



Apple Customer Support Claims Apple Stymied by Phone-Switching iMessage Glitch

imessage.jpgThere is a long-standing problem with lost iMessages for select users when they switch from an iPhone to another device. Apple allegedly is aware of the problem and not able to provide a fix, claims former LifeHacker editor-in-chief Adam Pash, whose iPhone was affected by this message delivery problem.

After disabling their iPhones, some users experience an issue where iMessages sent from other iPhone owners are routed to the now-disabled iPhone and not forwarded as a text message to the active phone. The recipient never receives the text message, creating a situation that is frustrating for both people involved in the conversation.

Pash spoke to Apple’s customer support after he stopped receiving messages from iPhone-owning friends when he switched to an Android phone. The support personnel confirmed “this is a problem a lot of people are facing” and “added that engineering team is working on it but is apparently clueless as to how to fix it.”

In the meantime, Apple has completely hijacked my text messaging and my phone number portability (portability between devices, not networks). No one can fix this but Apple because it’s a problem at the device level, which means people in my position have no recourse but to wait for Apple to figure out what the problem is. But Apple isn’t offering any public support on the issue that I’ve been able to find (and it’s worth repeating that proper support is behind a $20 paywall for most people who’ve switched devices, who would also be the most commonly affected by this problem)

This issue with iMessage has been reported as far back as 2011, shortly after the messaging service debuted as a flagship feature of iOS 5. iPhone owners are advised to disable iMessages before they deactivate their phone in order to remove the device from Apple’s system and allow messages to be forwarded properly as text messages to their new handset. This precautionary step of disabling iMessage apparently works for some, but not all iPhone owners who switch to another smartphone platform.


LG G3 renders leaked ahead of formal debut

LG G3 1

Thanks to the folks at Phone Arena, we have seen the official, “unofficial” press renders leak of the unannounced LG G3.  Mostly we have seen blurry or just plane terrible pictures of the highly anticipated device.

However, we now have some juicy close ups of the LG G3 with its beautiful brushed finish in Gold, White, and Gray!  Now that we know what it looks like, we just can’t wait for the official announce on May 27th. Check out the pictures below!

LG G3 2
LG G3 3
LG G3 4
LG G3 5

Source: Phone Arena

The post LG G3 renders leaked ahead of formal debut appeared first on AndroidGuys.


Students get iOS apps running (slowly) on Android

iPhone 5 and Galaxy S5

Running apps from one mobile platform on another is theoretically great for boosting your app selection, but it’s not a trivial task — even BlackBerry’s Android support is rough. However, some Columbia University students have managed the daunting feat of running iOS apps on Android with their Cider compatibility layer. This isn’t a regular emulator or virtual machine, like you might expect. Instead, it simply tricks apps into believing that they’re in a native environment: they adapt code on the fly to make it work with Android’s kernel and programming libraries. Even 3D benchmarks run properly.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite the Holy Grail of cross-platform compatibility… at least, not yet. As you’ll see in the (sadly vertical) demo below, most iOS apps run at glacially slow pace. They also don’t have access to most hardware features, so GPS tracking and other staple features are right out. This is still better than previous efforts, though, and it raises hopes that platform exclusives won’t be as important in choosing a mobile device as they have been in the past.

Filed under: Cellphones, Tablets, Software, Mobile


Via: 9to5 Mac, The Next Web

Source: Columbia University


Prius battery guru says future EVs will be powered by nothing but cotton

The road to the perfect EV battery is already littered with burnt out husks, so it’s only right to be wary of big promises. Nevertheless, a startup called Power Japan Plus (PJP) says it has developed an organic, cotton-based battery that’s cheaper, safer, more durable and quicker to charge than the best lithium ion power packs currently used in electric cars, with a range of up to 300 miles. PJP possesses no track record to speak of, but it does have some pedigree courtesy of a partnership with Kyushu University, and also thanks to its CTO, Kaname Takeya, whose CV includes R&D for the battery system used in Toyota’s Prius hybrids.

Takeya and his colleagues say they’ve built a pilot production line that will begin manufacturing thousands of organic “Ryden” batteries before the end of this year, so it shouldn’t be long before we have something concrete to go on, beyond just the promo video after the break. As for how the battery works, the video (sort of) explains that part too: It involves fibers that have somehow been treated to act as anodes and cathodes inside a conducting liquid, such that the only active ingredient is the carbon inside the cotton.

Filed under: Transportation, Science


Source: The Atlantic, Power Japan Plus


Sony Alpha 6000 review: a do-it-all mirrorless camera that’s worth every penny

Sony Alpha 6000 review: a do-it-all mirrorless camera that's worth every penny

By now, you’ve probably had a chance to shoot with a compact interchangeable-lens camera, or you’ve at least caught a whiff of that never-ending mirrorless cam hype. Sure, we’ve run into a few duds, but the last few years have brought a slew of models that exceeded our already lofty expectations, with Sony often leading the pack. Still, $800 (or £669 in the UK) is a lot to spend on any gadget, and while you’d probably be safe making a purchase based on Sony’s reputation in this space, we don’t blame you for wanting a review.

We invite you to stick around even if you’re not thinking about buying a camera today — we’re going to have some fun with this one. Sony’s Alpha 6000 met its match with monkeys in Bali, delicious Hong Kong dim sum and the brilliant skyline of Singapore. Strap in and join us on a wild Southeast Asian adventure, powerful ILC in tow.

Hardware and user interface

The A6000 is one of Sony’s beefiest-looking mirrorless cameras yet. The body is still quite compact, but a high-quality metal build means it should survive minor bumps and tumbles without suffering any dents and scratches. This model replaces Sony’s NEX-6, retaining the OLED electronic viewfinder, full-size hot shoe, dedicated mode dial and pop-up flash. There’s a 3-inch, 921k-dot, tilting LCD, as well as a 24.7-megapixel CMOS sensor, WiFi, 1080/60p video and a top sensitivity of ISO 51,200. It’s clearly not lacking in the spec department.

The A6000 is hardly the most intimidating mirrorless camera, but it does have its fair share of buttons and dials. You can select your shooting mode using a dedicated wheel mounted up top, then make tweaks to aperture and shutter speed with the secondary dial to its right. The bundled 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 power zoom lens has a toggle on the side for adjusting focal length, or you can zoom in and out by turning the front lens wheel. There are plenty of dedicated and customizable buttons on the back, ranging from exposure compensation to ISO, along with a video record button positioned beside the thumb rest.

The camera’s software interface is identical to what you’ll find with recent NEX and Alpha cameras. While there’s no touchscreen, individual tabs make it easy to click through to the setting you need. You can also make tweaks on the fly using the quick-function menu, and you can fire pics and videos off to a smartphone or computer over WiFi by pressing the clearly marked transfer button.

Performance and battery life

Sony claims that the A6000 sports the “world’s fastest autofocus.” That’s difficult to verify without testing several recent models side by side, but the Alpha is certainly speedy. There are 179 autofocus points, making it easy to get a sharp shot quickly even with complex scenes and the 11 frames-per-second consecutive-shooting mode should serve sports shooters just fine. The only process that remains a bit time-consuming is transferring shots to a connected smartphone. After you pair the two devices, you’ll still need to wait for your phone to connect to the camera’s WiFi network before you can start moving photos over, either one by one or several at a time.

As for battery life, Sony’s managed to make improvements over the years without replacing the 1,080mAh cell. The A6000 comes bundled with Sony’s NP-FW50 battery back, which has been shipping with the company’s mirrorless cameras since the NEX-3, a model that first hit stores just about four years ago. Officially, you can expect to get 360 shots with a full charge, though we got through a full day of shooting, including more than 500 stills and three minutes of HD video, with a nearly 50 percent charge remaining.

Image quality

The A6000 offers fantastic image quality, on par with recent Sony NEX and Alpha cameras. You won’t necessarily notice a tremendous difference if stepping up from the NEX-6 or comparable models, but if you’re moving over to this ILC system, you should be quite pleased with the results. Click through the gallery below for some examples, then scroll down as we evaluate a selection of images.

The A6000′s automatic mode captured this Balinese rice terrace beautifully, with accurate exposure and colors. You can see the sharpness of details in the 100 percent insets above, shot at f/9 with a 1/100-second shutter speed and a sensitivity of ISO 100.

The camera’s speedy focus made it possible to snap this shot on a whim. The Balinese countryside looks vibrant and properly exposed. With more time to prepare, I would have adjusted the aperture from f/11 in order to bump up the shutter speed from 1/125 of a second to something that would have counteracted the movement of our car. Regardless, with a sensitivity of ISO 100, there’s no noise in sight.

A sensitivity of ISO 1250 allowed for a 1/160-second shutter speed with an aperture of f/4.5 in this shady shot, enabling the camera to capture sharp details at Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest.

This midday scene at Bali’s Ulun Danu temple is slightly overexposed, though colors are accurate and details are sharp in this 1/125-second, f/10 exposure at ISO 100.

Set at Ubud’s Royal Kirana Spa, this tranquil scene was captured at 1/160 of a second and f/4, with a sensitivity of ISO 200. Details are incredibly sharp, with accurate color and exposure.

Singapore’s skyline shines brightly from the top of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Details are sharp, with relatively low noise at ISO 3200, with an exposure of 1/15 of a second at f/3.5.

I bumped the ISO up to 6400 to snap this sharp shot at Singapore’s Flight Experience. Details are crisp and clear in this Boeing 737 simulator, with an exposure of f/3.5 and a 1/40-second shutter speed.

Video quality was also excellent, as you can see in the sample reel above. The camera exposed properly and adjusted quickly, with speedy focus as well. Zoom is also improved over previous models, thanks to the motorized lens and integrated toggle.

The competition

Competition is stiff in the mirrorless camera market, but you can’t do much better than the Alpha 6000 kit for 800 bucks. If you’re willing to spend a bit more, Sony’s A7 full-frame model is a phenomenal option, but that’ll run you $1,700 without a lens. In the 6000′s price range, Samsung’s NX30 is a solid choice — it’s available for $940 with an 18-55mm lens. Photographers also seem to love Panasonic’s GH3, which ships for $1,000 without a lens, and the Olympus E-M1, available for $1,300 body only.


Sony is continuing its winning streak with the Alpha 6000. This well-rounded camera should last you for several years of top-notch shooting, and at $800 (or £669) with the 16-50mm power zoom lens, your wallet will be in good shape, too. Advanced shooters will find dedicated controls, speedy performance and excellent image quality, while ILC newbies will benefit from accurate full-auto options and a straightforward interface, also making it a solid fit for beginners with the cash to spare. In other words, while the macaques at Bali’s Sacred Monkey Forest will steal any camera, if they’re serious about their photography, they’ll want to opt for Sony’s Alpha 6000.

Filed under: Cameras, Sony



Apple May Adopt 1704 x 960 Resolution Display for Upcoming iPhone 6

Apple’s next generation iPhone 6 may adopt a higher resolution display, jumping from the current iPhone 5s resolution of 1136 x 640 to a sharper 1704 x 960 resolution, reports 9to5Mac. On the rumored 4.7-inch model, this would result in a display with 416 ppi and the same 16:9 ratio of the iPhone 5/5s/5c, while a 5.5-inch model at the same resolution would carry a density of 356 ppi.

With Apple’s rumored move to larger displays in the iPhone 6, much discussion has been centered around what resolution Apple will use and how any changes would affect developers. Some speculation had suggested Apple might simply maintain the same resolution as on the iPhone 5s, making a seamless transition for developers. This stretch process would, however, drop the pixel density of the display below Apple’s criteria for a “Retina” display.

Alternatively, Apple could boost the resolution to maintain or increase the pixel density, although this move would require work from app developers to maintain compatibility with the new devices. KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo suggested last month that Apple would maintain the current 326 ppi density, which could be achieved by bumping a 4.7-inch display to 1334 x 750, and we previously explored how that might work.

But according to 9to5Mac, Apple may adopt an even higher-resolution display that triples the base number of pixels of the iPhone screen in both length and width. This “3x” mode would take the base “1x” resolution of 568 x 320 and expand it to 1704 x 960. Using this method, Apple would retain the Retina branding at 416 ppi and keep the current 16:9 ratio of the iPhone 5/5s/5c.

This means that Apple will likely be tripling the aforementioned “base resolution” (568 x 320) of the iPhone screen in both directions, and that the iPhone screen resolution will be scaled with an increase of 150% from the current 2X resolution of 1136 x 640. Of course, Apple tests several different iPhones and display technologies, so it is possible that Apple chooses to take another route for display specifications for the 2014 iPhone upgrade.

Apple has allegedly been testing this 1704 x 960 resolution and while the design specs for the iPhone 6 are undoubtedly complete, it is not known for sure if Apple has elected to proceed with this resolution. Apple may be preparing to launch the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 sometime this fall with a faster A8 processor and improved camera technology.


Automatic and Jawbone Team Up to Integrate Automatic Data Into Jawbone UP App [iOS Blog]

Automatic and Jawbone today announced a new partnership that will see Automatic’s car-tracking data integrated with the UP by Jawbone iOS app that connects to Jawbone’s fitness band. By incorporating data from Automatic, a connected driving assistant system that measures car information like miles traveled and gas used, Jawbone will be able to give users an idea of how their car usage impacts their overall fitness.


Physical activity and driving are related to each other, but its not always easy to see exactly how. When you are driving, you are not generally physically active. More time driving leaves less time for walking and exercise. Automatic and Jawbone have teamed up to provide drivers insights on how their physical fitness and wellness is connected to their driving behavior.

Automatic data will be imported into the UP by Jawbone app automatically, which will provide insights on the relationship between driving and walking. It allows users to compare movement collected by the Jawbone UP band with driving times from Automatic on the same timeline, with the overall goal of encouraging more walking and physical activity.

In addition to Automatic integration, the Jawbone UP app is able to incorporate data from a wide range of popular apps, though most are notably more fitness related. For example, the app connects to MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper, Strava, Withings, Lose It, and more.

Automatic is automatic — Drive data from Automatic is synced automatically with the Jawbone Up app.
Integrated travel — See your walking and driving compiled in one place. Discover the impact that walking to work once a week has on your fitness.
Share with friends — Automatic trip summaries can be shared with other Jawbone Up users.
Prevent road rage — Jawbone Up tracks your mood and diet. Compare this to the time spent in the car each day and routes traveled to see what makes you happiest.
iPhone or Android — The Automatic Jawbone integration works on both iOS and Android

Using the Automatic with the Jawbone UP will require both pieces of hardware. The Automatic can be purchased from the Automatic website for $99.95, while the Jawbone UP is available from the Jawbone website starting at $129.99. The UP by Jawbone app can be downloaded from the App Store for free. [Direct Link]


Transition to ‘3x’ iPhone 6 at 1704 x 960 Likely Smoother Than Move to Retina

With an expected transition to a larger screen on the iPhone 6, MacRumors forum member pgiguere1 has taken a look at how non-optimized apps would appear on a rumored 1704 x 960 display that would move from the current “2x” pixel doubling technique to achieve Retina quality to a “3x” technique.

In Apple’s earlier transition to 2x Retina displays, it was relatively simple for non-Retina assets to be scaled up using automatic pixel doubling techniques to represent a single non-Retina pixel as a 2×2 grid of Retina pixels until developers could get up to speed. But with a potential move to 3x (or 1.5 times current Retina), many have wondered if that transition would be awkward.

As pgiguere1 shows, while developers will undoubtedly want to optimize their apps with new 3x graphical assets, automatic scaling of current 2x assets will look considerably better on this new iPhone display than non-Retina assets did during the transition to 2x.


Keep in mind however that unlike with the @1x -> @2x transition we had in 2010, this time we’d only have a 50% enlargement rather than 100%.

The thing is, a 50% enlargement with interpolation doesn’t look worse than a 100% enlargement with pixel-doubling, despite the loss of details due to the interpolation. […]

As you can see, older non-@3x-optimized apps would actually look better on an @3x iPhone than non-@2x-opitmized apps did on an @2x iPhone. Add to this the fact that the screen’s pixel density would be higher this time around, and the perceived image quality difference would be even smaller.

While Apple is unlikely to announce a new resolution for the iPhone 6 at next month’s Worldwide Developers Conference, the company is likely to begin providing more tools and encouraging developers to speed a push toward resolution-independent vector graphics and other changes that will facilitate a smooth transition to denser displays. But for those developers who are not ready by iPhone 6 launch day, their users are likely to still have a decent experience with unoptimized apps.


How to save online maps for offline use in Google Maps[Tutorial]

Google Maps

Last Tuesday, Google unveiled a host of new features for its Maps app.  Bringing the update to version 8.0, the biggest features include transit travel times with walking time included, lane guidance in turn-by-turn navigation, and the ability to save maps offline.

Today we’ll be discussing about how to save those maps offline, so when you’re in an area with no data connection, you won’t be left in the dark.  In previous versions of Google Maps, there was some offline map caching, but it wasn’t as friendly as it has now become.

Well lets dive in and start navigating!

1. Open Google Maps and navigate/zoom into what part of the map you would like to save.

Maps 1


2. Now just tap on the search bar, scroll down and tap “Save map to use offline.”

Maps 2


3. You will then be prompted to adjust the size of the map by pinching or zooming.  When you’re done just tap, save.

Maps 3

4. You will then be prompted to name your offline map. After you have named it, just tap the little person shaped icon at the top and to the right of the search bar.  Scroll down to the bottom and select your newly saved offline map.

Maps 4


5.  Now you can also click on “View all and manage” where you can rename, update, or delete the saved map all together.

Maps 6


Saving your maps is a great way to help navigate around when you don’t have any data.  Imagine you’re on a trip to Rome and you don’t have mobile data except for the Wi-Fi in the hotel.  What to do? Well just save the whole city of Rome and walk around using your phone’s GPS to guide your way!

The only downfall is if your driving down the interstate and you have no service, you lose the ability of turn-by-turn navigation, but at least you still have your base map functionality.

Let us know if you plan on using this new feature from Google on your trips abroad or if you plan on hiking in the middle of nowhere!

The post How to save online maps for offline use in Google Maps[Tutorial] appeared first on AndroidGuys.

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