Archive for the ‘Automotive’ Category

Fresh in for review today from Satechi is the Bluetooth Button Series.

The series consists of three buttons, the Shutter Button, Media Button and Home Button.

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The Shutter Button, as you might expect, is for taking remote photos on your smartphone and is ideal for tripods.

The Media Button allows you to control your smartphone video or music apps.

The Home Button is simply a clone of your home button.

All three of the devices have a solid industrial design with what looks like brushed aluminium edging.

So, let’s get on with the review…

Shutter Button

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This will probably be one of the easiest things I’ll ever have to review. By pressing the button when you have the camera app open on your phone, it will take a photo for you. Simple and effective. It’s also responsive enough for you to hold the button down and take burst photos.

Media Button

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The Media Button is what had me most excited. It’s a simple enough device, using the Bluetooth AVRCP protocol to access Play/Pause, Previous / Next track and Volume Up / Down.

Many devices have the same AVRCP functionality as the Satechi but nearly always as part of an audio receiver set. What I mean by this is that audio is redirected over the Bluetooth A2DP protocol away from the source device, usually to a headphone socket on the media remote.

Take a look at the Sony SBH-20 which at first glance looks like a competing product. It has the same media controls but the unit is both an AVRCP and A2DP device using what’s called a ‘Bluetooth Audio Sink’. This means that all audio is redirected to the headphone jack on the SBH-20 the moment you press a button.

The thing that gets me about the Satechi Media Button is that this kind of device is so rare and yet it’s perfect for parties. Let me explain:

Let’s say you have a few friends over for a BBQ.

You have an iPhone connected to your home stereo via a headphone > auxiliary connection, a couple of the speakers placed near the windows and you’re playing your favourite music through Spotify.

You’ve started playing a playlist and left your phone in the house with the stereo out of harms way.

You could take the Media Button out into the garden with all the food and drink and just leave it on the table. Skip a track? No problem. Turn the volume up? You got it.

You cannot do this with something like the SBH-20 or any other AVRCP device I’ve found online for that matter. The second you press a button, the music from the stereo would stop, re-routed to a device that nobody is listening to.

It really is as far as I can tell, a unique product.

The price of it also means it’s not the end of the world if your mate knocks his beer over it. Until all phones are waterproof, I’d much prefer this scenario.

Home Button

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The Home Button is simply a remote ‘Home’ button. On my test iPhone 6 Plus, it does exactly what the normal home button does – a short press exits applications, a long press activates Siri. Double tapping takes you to the app switcher.

The only use I’ve found for this is in my car. I mounted it to my dashboard using the supplied adhesive pad and can now dictate to Siri and keep my eyes on the road. For this one purpose, I’ve found it invaluable.

The Shutter Button and Home Button are normally available for £19.99 at Amazon, with the Media Button priced at £23.99.

However, Satechi have provided Amazon discount codes of 15% for readers of TheTechSpy, valid until 24/07/2016.

Media Button: 88EWX7F8 
Shutter Button : X9E6I4CR
Home Button : Z7HQ2TVZ

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In the last few years BMW have been known for the fibre optic iDrive system, a screen in the centre console which not only can see the status of many aspects of the car, but also let you control a great deal of those aspects. This system has had its faults (As all BMW drivers will tell you) but it was still ahead of most of the competition.

Recent BMW’s have been arriving with the new updated versions of iDrive which include connected apps and more integration with our smartphones. This is a great move for the German car company as what we would all like is the API’s to be released so that developers could make their own apps to control/see parts of the car.

Today, BMW announced the updates to ConnectDrive which is a great step in the right direction. Apple’s Siri stepping straight in to control overall voice command and the addition of Samsung’s very own S-Voice, offering the option to Android users. These service will allow the user to dictate messages along with voice commands inside the car while on the move.

Along with this update, we also see a touch pad creeping onto the centre console which can be used instead of the infamous twist controller, this can be used to zoom in and out of maps. A USB connection will also not be required in order to access one’s music library on an Apple iPhone or iPod Touch. iAP will make it possible to browse and select music using the BMW controller and screen via a wireless A2DP Bluetooth connection with the same functionality as with USB connection. We also now see updates across Navigation, web access and Real time traffic info, but BMW have said that they are moving towards having automatic collision notifications being as standard, so a call centre will know when an air bag is deployed and where you are.

The other cool update is the amount of 3rd party apps that are being accepted, this includes Pandora, TuneIn and Rhapsody and soon will include Android compatibility for all of you who do not own an iPhone.

Our cars are slowly catching up with the rest of the tech world, but are seriously lagging considering what we can do with most other devices in our lives.

Come on guys, there is so much more potential in these information/entertainment systems, open source them and let developers have a play, then we will see how advanced our cars can really be!

connecteddrive

 

 

It was only a few years ago when we were all playing CD’s in our cars, with our glove boxes crammed with alphabetised CD holders to store our delicate discs. We were all worried about every bump in the road that would skip our prized collection while out on a summer’s day.

Now in 2013 things are very different! Technology has left no industry untouched and cars are really starting to see a massive change to keep up with these advancements.

Pioneer, no stranger to being top of the market have now released the AVIC-F50BT….the all singing, all dancing powerhouse for your motor.

This in-dash unit (type 2 DIN) has a motorised 7″ multi-touch, hi-Res, anti-glare display which looks amazing day or night. Packing a CD/DVD drive it will play films (DIVX) and music alike and even has a GPS chip in-built for navigation. The maps come pre-installed for 45 countries and will include 9.2 million POI’s and TMC traffic receiver for a superb navigational experience.

In terms of connections, it’s probably easier for me to list what it can’t have connected, but then that would be no fun at all. So here is the list;

– Bluetooth – Hands-free calling, music streaming via A2DP and phone book transfer.

– Micro SD/USB slots/Aux in – Playback functionality

– HDMI – Android smartphone connection

– 2 rear auxillary inputs

– iPhone/iPod connection – charging, music and video playback

– Steering wheel button connection – Using the factory fitted buttons to control the head unit.

Using its dual zone entertainment facility, you can display films on rear screens for any passengers you are carrying. It will also allow you to input climate and parking sensor data onto the screen (with compatible cars) to further integrate this monster into your car. A mic is included in the box to aid with audio setup using the inbuilt AUTO EQ for the best possible sound which shows Pioneer’s experience in this area creeping into the design.

My one gripe with these in-car units is security is not normally high on the agenda. Unlike the old style head units which came away to put off any would-be thief, the screen based units normally proudly sat in place with no real security function. But, the F50BT is not only password protected, but has a detachable screen plate….well done Pioneer!

The big thing in cars at the moment is app mirroring and Pioneer have not left this out. This allows the user to use compatible apps directly on-screen through the connected smartphone. With the likes of Apple rumoured to be pushing Siri onto your dashboard, voice guidance and text to speech have been included.

This unit will not only look great but perform it too. At £899.99 in the UK, and with 18 languages in-built, this is a serious upgrade to any car, but expect this to go on sale when the Siri integration really starts to gain momentum.

AVIC-F50BT

Continuing on from Part 1 of the iOS Replacement Apps blog, here are some of the next apps which could replace the stock apps on your iPhone to make your life easier and maybe even a little more fun!

 

Apple: Safari

Non Apple: Opera – Free

Now, let me first say, there is not a lot wrong with Apple’s offering, Safari is a great browser but sometimes we get bored and just want those added features. Opera includes all the standards, tabbed browsing, bookmarking and of course the “find in page” option, but also has some added features like share options to easily share with the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Google + and of course email.

One of the best features is the in-built data usage tracker, which can show you how long you have spent off of WiFi which could become particularly helpful while on holiday on those expensive roaming charges.

This app is a step up from Apple’s offering, but you may also want to take a look at the competition in the form of Google Chrome which is also a great alternative.

 

Apple: Camera

Non Apple: Camera+ – 69p

Camera + is an immense app which will change the way you take photos with the iPhone. Not only can you take photos with it, but also edit them after. While taking a photo, you can edit the exposure and focus in real-time. You also have a variation of shooting modes (Burst, stabilised and even timer) and the unique ability to have the iPhone’s light on continuously to take a picture so that you can see what you are doing in low light conditions.

Editing shots are easy, but you can also import into Lightbox for even more possibilities with the choice of automatic sync available. From the app, you can transform your pictures with almost professional tools, allowing many possible Effects, brushing and layering at your fingertips. The app also allows you to share with the likes of Facebook and Twitter direct from the app after editing and is now available on the iPad.

 

Apple: iBooks

Non Apple: Kindle – Free

iBooks I think has a nice feel to the app, but some of you may not like the life-like design that Apple opt for. The only problem I see with this app, is those of you who like to purchase books and build up a huge collection are going to be stuck with Apple’s collection and of course staying with iOS from now on. Kindle changes that, you can buy books through the Kindle store which offers over 1.5million titles including books, magazines, newspapers and PDF’s.

The attraction for me is that you can pick the book up from the very page you left on in any device across iOS, Kindle devices, PC/Mac and Android meaning you are not stuck with iOS for the rest of your life. Some of the newspapers available are the The Spectator, The Daily Mail and The Guardian and the best features include dictionary look-up, search inside the book and the ability to change font, size and margins.

A great all-rounder which is free and solves a lot of issues.

 

Apple: Music

Non Apple: Groove 2 – £1.49

Once again the stock music app from Apple does the job, but it does have some short comings. Along with being a little bit boring and no major changes in the app being done in the last few years, one of the things that really gets to me is the creation of playlists. Going through my huge music collection to add songs to my newest playlist, I would like to be able to briefly hear the song I am about to choose (just like you can in the iTunes store before purchasing) but Apple have missed this.

Groove 2 is a great app which studies your listening habits and creates a wide variety of instant mixes like your own personal DJ. They claim that you will never have to create playlists again.

Winning quite a few awards, this app has some cool features. When you are in the car, you can use smart gestures to control volume, playback and get new mixes while keeping your eyes firmly on the road. It can also create playlists for you with a touch of a button which before BBQs and parties can be a valuable tool to save time.

You will not regret upgrading to Groove 2, if you are serious about your music, this is the app for you.

Apple Apps

 

 

 

 

The big question on everyone’s lips at the moment with Apple is “What next?” for the giant whose share price has fallen from grace in the last few months. The company issued a record $17bn of bonds yesterday to raise money for future ventures even though it has a mammoth cash pile that the likes of Cyprus would be jealous of. The problem is the money can’t be moved back to the US due to the serious amount of tax that they will incur in doing so, as most is held overseas.

At first glance it looks worrying, but I really don’t think they have anything to worry about. After the high-profile bodge-job they made with the new maps and the subsequent firings at the company to repair the damage, the company is left with trying to fix the issue and coming out with new ideas and products to sustain their reign at the top.

Apple have begun creeping into the car market, with signings like Ferrari and Bentley using the personal assistant Siri to aid driving assistance. According to multiple sources close to the project, Apple plan to move aggressively into the in-car integration space within 2013. As more and more companies offer accessories for the car, Apple have moved away from creating accessories trying to cash into their products doing it natively, slowly removing market share from everyone else. The company has always been concerned with 2nd rate accessories being used with their products they have concentrated so much to perfect.

Apple is apparently working with car makers to update car centre consoles to work with iOS devices. The iPhone could be plugged into a car using a redesigned version of Apple Maps which would appear on the car’s built-in display in a mirror format. The benefit with this is that user will always have access to updated maps controlled by Apple and the millions of developers who could create apps for it using API’s and external info. Currently, the best offerings are from companies like Dension, which are good, but still a little limited due to the car manufacturers not properly teaming up with them. The big problem with the stock systems that come from the car manufacturers is the fact they are poorly updated and limited. Our state of the art cars, too frequently have not caught up with the advancements in tech, so mostly disappoint when you use the control system.

Apple announced at WWDC that it is working with car makers on the Eyes-Free Siri system, including BMW, Toyota, Audio, Honda, and Land Rover. It is likely that Apple is talking to the car makers to take advantage of the new Maps which they will hopefully release in June along with Siri’s car-integrated offerings.

One of the most interesting moves at Apple is the fact that the meticulous product visionary Jonathan Ive is now heading up software. He has already promised to make a complete overhaul of the look and design of iOS which some would say is overdue. The company is rumoured to be trying to finish iOS7 for June’s preview at WWDC, but no release date has been set as yet.

Apple seems to have always had an interest in the car market, with Eddie Cue now sitting on the Ferrari board of directors and Steve Jobs reportedly wanted to take on Detroit with a car design of his own….imagine that, the iCar!

This will be a very interesting sector for Apple to get into as there is so much scope for improvement and not forgetting the famous Apple-esque refinement that some of the luxury brands are missing.

BMW

 

Not all of us can afford to drive the kind of cars that have tech built into the dash, but now Parrot want everyone to be able to have access to it.

Bring on the Asteroid Smart, this Android powered, double-din, clever little unit will provide most cars with the ability to be connected and of course give you the kind of tech normally found in luxury motors.

The unit comes with Wi-Fi in-built, 4 x USB slots, Bluetooth, 6.7” capacitive touchscreen display, SD slot and is camera ready. You can download apps from the Asteroid Marketplace to allow you to have internet radio, music on demand and even driver assistance, so all units are customisable to the owner.

The Asteroid Smart can connect via Wi-Fi, USB 3/4g dongle or even connected via compatible smartphone to pull the data it needs to keep you informed. This can be used to access weather reports, emails, internet pages etc. It is also packing a GPS sensor which when combined with the choice of navigational apps will keep you on the right path.

Music can be played from a connected USB or SD card and has the ability to play directly from your iPod/iPhone via cable or using A2DP over Bluetooth direct from your iPhone. The most exciting part is the ability to download the likes of Spotify to potentially give you a huge database to choose from.

This unit is an outstanding piece of kit for any car and will catapult your vehicle into the 21st century, but one issue that we have to mention, is that although the unit has a partial detachable faceplate, will this deter thieves from breaking into your car as they see the beautiful screen proudly displayed?

This point aside, at about £475 this device is not cheap, but we believe you get what you pay for and Parrot have certainly given us everything!

Asteroid Smart

Hey everyone and welcome to The Tech Spy’s blog.

What better way to kick this off this week with news of the Ferrari and Apple tie up finally ripening after Eddie Cue (Apple’s Vice President of Internet Software and Services) joined Ferrari’s board of directors in November, the super car makers finally announced Siri and the iPad mini being at the core of the cars infotainment system.

Announced at the Geneva Motor Show, the FF which is Ferrari’s all wheel drive 4 seater will have iPad Minis in the headrests as part of a new rear-seat entertainment package for passengers to enjoy games and movies. The driver will be able to enjoy a personal assistant in the form of Siri’s complete package to aid them while enjoying the 651 bhp.

The Bentley Mulsanne was the first car that could be specified with iPads and wireless keyboards for rear-seat passengers, so does this show us what could be possible for the future of Apple and Ferrari? The unique collaboration with Apple will be as standard in all 2013 future models.