Archive for the ‘Connectivity’ Category

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So, iOS10 has finally dropped, it has bricked some iPhones but the majority have got away unscathed. We are still trying to decide what we think, but here are the changes this shiny new firmware will bring you;

iMessage – This is probably the biggest update in iOS10 with the ability to be able to draw messages with your finger and send the animation to someone else. You’ll be able to use rich links in Messages. Share a link and, as it would in Slack or Twitter, artwork and a precis of the article may be pulled in, so your friends can get an idea of what they are about to click on.

Bad news for the emoji haters as iMessage will now add emojis into predictive text giving you the option to swap full words for pictures. The death of the English language is nigh.

It has also been opened up to third party developers, meaning that there will soon be apps in the messaging service that can be used to order food, shop, book tickets and send people money within a chat. We are loving the iMessage Super Mario App.

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Voicemail Transcription – iOS is apparently going to put your voicemail into text so that you can glance at it without having to listen to it. It will be interesting to see how accurate this is.

Home App (HomeKit) – Finally the launch of the hotly anticipated HomeKit. Those of you with automated homes will be able to link most devices under one app which has always been an annoying thing with automation. HomeKit will allow you to quickly dim lights, tell Siri to turn up the heating and have access from the lock screen to do all of these. We are especially looking forward to seeing how this feature handles scenes which will allow at a click of a button or a few words to Siri and your room will be ready for movie night with a raft of set processes starting ie lights going off, Apple TV turning on and blinds closing.

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News – Redesigned and now looking simpler, the News app is the go-to for any news. Subscriptions have now been allowed so we assume Newstand will soon disappear. There is also a ‘Breaking news’ notifications from the app. You can toggle the feature from settings and even custom-tune the publications you wish to see pushed to your device.

Photos – Apple says it will use deep learning techniques to analyse faces, places and objects. The app can now draw together photos and videos that are linked by place, people and time and then automatically create reels and trip customisable short clips which Apple is calling ‘Memories’.

Siri – We have seen a deeper involvement with Siri in iOS10 with HomeKit making full use of voice control. But more interestingly it has been opened up to third party developers meaning that soon you will be able to ask Siri to check other apps other than Apple ones. A great step forward.

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Feature Changes; 

•’Slide to Unlock’ has been removed, and instead you’ll see ‘Press home to open’. This will prompt you to enter your pass-code or will unlock the phone if you use Touch ID.

• Deleting Stock apps has been a real issue for some people and now you can delete as you wish. Enjoy the power!

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• Apple will now keep track of where you park your car so you don’t have to bother. Apple maps will detect when you park and automatically drop a pin so that you can find it later.

• Bedtime is the new clock feature which you tell what time you want to get to bed on a given night of the week, and your phone will let you know when the clock strikes that hour to remind you to get some shut eye.

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• The update will bring with it more than a hundred new and redesigned emoji characters with multicultural and gender types.

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The new MacBook is undoubtably the most portable MacBook Apple have ever made. But this ultra portability comes with a price – the shedding of almost every port bar one: the USB-C port. For the first time, the Universal Serial Bus is truly deserving of its name. USB-C has power rails both ways, allowing charging of a laptop while simultaneously providing power to charge peripherals over USB 3.0. It can also drive a 4K display (or two 1080p displays) over HDMI and still have spare bandwidth for things like Gigabit Ethernet.

Of course, it is a major pain that there’s only a single USB-C on the MacBook. Let’s get one thing out of the way – two would’ve been so much better. Apple apologists may argue that we need to adapt and move with the times now that this holy grail of ports has been released. They are wrong. I could live with a single port for all I/O if there was a dedicated power port as well, preferably MagSafe. One port though is a massive pain.  Despite the relatively long 10-hour battery life, you will still need to charge your MacBook sometimes and that means unplugging peripherals to do so.

This is the main drawback for many people when deciding if this is the laptop for them. Even if they decide that they can live with the inconvenience, there is another contentious issue – adapters are needed for almost everything. Want to connect your iPhone directly? Your existing lightning cables won’t work, but Apple will sell you a Lightning to USB-C cable for £25. Want to connect to a TV or second monitor? Apple have you covered with the Digital AV to USB-C adaptor for £60. It all adds up, and many are left wondering just how portable the machine really is when you have to carry around 3 or 4 adaptors as well. I agree with that line of thought. I’d rather the MacBook was 2mm thicker and retained a single USB 3.0 type-A socket for existing peripherals.

There were very vocal criticisms over the MacBook’s single USB-C port when it first launched in 2015 but Apple obviously disagreed and decided to stick with the single port  on the revamped 2016 model. If I know Apple as well as I think I do, there’s very little chance of a change of heart in the future. Whether you view this as a mistake, arrogance or sheer stupidity, it won’t matter. When asked by a member of original Mac development team if they should run something by a focus group, Steve Jobs famously replied “No, because  people don’t know what they want until you show it to them”. This mantra has helped Apple lead the pack over the years with groundbreaking products like the iPod and iPhone. But you could argue that it also applies to more mundane things like the shedding of legacy ports. Floppy drives, SCSI, ADB, Serial ports, Optical Drives have all been ditched in pursuit of newer technology, often many years before the general public are ready for it.

The fact is that this single USB-C port setup doesn’t appear to be an experiment – it’s here to stay. It appears like a cavalier attitude  right now but in a few years time when the world has moved to USB-C for everything else, no doubt people will look back and say it was ‘bold’ and ‘genius’.

Solutions

There are workarounds to the lack of ports  available right now in the form of USB-C port replicators. These vary in functionality and size but all provide the same basic promise – to add ports while allowing you to charge your MacBook at the same time.

We have three port replicators for review today:

The KADi Port, The HooToo HT-UC001 and the Minix Neo-C. We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get on with it:

KADi Port:

The Kadi Port from Kadi Creative is the smallest and lightest of the three. It is also unique in its design:

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Preferring a device that is contoured to the shape of the MacBook body and using a stubby USB-C connector over a cable, KADi has created by far the neatest device of the three. It’s also the only one which has a USB-C out in addition to the standard USB-C power in to allow daisy chaining of USB-C devices. The KADi Port also provides a single USB 3.0 port and HDMI out.

There is one drawback to the KADi Port and that is it’s inability to charge the MacBook from a standard USB outlet. Plug the MacBook itself into any 2A USB outlet using a USB-C to USB-A cable and you can charge with no problems. This allows the MacBook to charge from standard USB battery packs and is such a useful feature if you get caught out with a dying battery.

We reached out to Sam at KADi Creative about this and he said:

“[The KADi Port] has been designed to only be charged via USB 3.1 (C-C). When designing the KADi Port: We used a USB C-C power charging chip over the Legacy cable (A-C) chip for the following reasons:

When a hub is connected, you will notice passthrough charging is not as fast as directly inputting your C-C charging cable (on any hub device). This slowing rate of charge hardly affects a C-C charge but quite drastically effects an A-C charging cable. As you will know, A-C cables @ 2A is the only level of charge that can sustain and increase the Macbook’s power when plugged in directly, however most standard USB A ports are 0.5-1.5A.”

To keep the KADi Port size minimal, we opted for the smaller C-C chip for this reason.

It does not need the official Adapter 29W Adapter, It is universal to any C-C AC Adapter.”

So there you have it. Sam is correct, if you connect the MacBook directly to a USB charger with less than a 2A output using an A-C cable, it just slows the rate of battery drain if the machine is powered up. I have however been caught out at a hotel with only my Apple Watch charger and a USB A-C cable. With the MacBook powered off, I managed to get from 12% charge to 65% overnight. It’s a cool feature, but Sam is right to point out than in most use cases, the advantages of the A-C charging circuitry are largely moot.

Features: 6/10
Portability: 9/10
Price (£40): 9/10

8/10

Minix Neo-C

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The Minix Neo-C has HDMI capable of supporting 4K, a CF/SD Slot, Micro SD slot, 2x USB 3.0 ports and a Gigabit Ethernet RJ45 port. It’s the most feature-rich device of the three units we have on test as well as boasting the best build quality with its full aluminium body. I have to say, I think they’ve made the wrong choice on this for a number of reasons:

1.) It weighs a ton (metaphorically) or 100 grams (if you want facts). Honestly, it’s way too heavy for an accessory to the most portable of all ultraportable laptops.

2.) It gets hot. Very hot. It’s hard to describe but my colleague summed it up nicely when he placed his hand on top of it, quickly recoiled, and stated that he could fry an egg  on it.

Minix’s John Scutt has been quoted as saying “The power delivery protocol is comprised of exceptionally complicated logic. Our software engineers have spent months testing and fine-tuning the firmware to ensure that the end result is a product that exceeds expectations and guarantees seamless integration with Apple’s hardware.”.

This circuitry and associated logic is one of the reasons that the Minix will allow you to charge your MacBook from any USB cable, unlike the KADi Port.

Ethernet works as expected and is true Gigabit. It even works with VMware Fusion as a true Windows device thanks to the supplied Windows drivers. I can force the device into full duplex 1000Mbit mode and it’s lightning quick.

Features: 10/10
Portability: 6/10
Price (£69): 7/10

7/10

HooToo HT-UC001

The HooToo HT-UC001 is a step up in terms of features from the KADi Port, but then it is around twice the size. Adding a further two USB 3.0 Ports and CF/SD card slot certainly make the device a lot more attractive as a full and compact port replicator. With the same A-C charging circuitry as the Neo-C, the HooToo has all of the same associated benefits – passthrough A-C charging even from a USB battery pack and the ability to charge USB devices without even being plugged into the MacBook, essentially turning it into powered USB hub (but only on one port marked with a lightning bolt).

Build quality is good – the body of the HooToo is made from plastic, which is a good choice for a number of reasons. Firstly, heat dissipation – with the same charging circuitry as the Neo-C, you would expect the HooToo to get very hot as well but it’s just not the case. Tepid I’d say… Secondly, it keeps weight down. Plastic is never going to be seen as a ‘premium’ material but the HooToo is solid and light. When most people who purchase the MacBook are already feeling cheated by Apple for their connectivity difficulties, the last thing they want it to have to lug around a heavy replicator. HooToo have absolutely made the right choice here.

It’s also worth pointing out that the unit has a very cool glowing HooToo logo when powered up. It may be irritating for some if using it in the bedroom though as it is quite bright. In the office though, it looks great.

Features: 8/10
Portability: 8/10
Price (£40): 9/10

9/10

Final thoughts

The Minix NEO-C is contrary to the whole idea of ultraportables. Having said that, Minix could well market the Neo-C as a device that you leave in the office and it would suit that very well. I am always concerned about how hot it gets though.

 

Runner up

As the MacBook is all about portability, the KADi Port may well be the answer for most people. I highly recommend it due to its simplicity, aesthetics and weigh (or lack of). I’m almost certain that it’s the only port replicator of the three that most people would be happy taking with them everywhere. The trade-off of course its single USB type-A port.

WINNER

There can be only one, and the HooToo for me just edges it. It’s the perfect all rounder, with all the features of the NEO-C except the Ethernet port, but it’s lighter, runs cooler and is a LOT cheaper.

Get one, you won’t be disappointed.

Following the successful launch last year, Photofast have raised the bar again with their new CR-8800. The MemoriesCable, for those of you that don’t remember, gave a new lease of life to iOS devices with low storage capacities and provided users – for the first time -with the ability to transfer files between iOS devices and an external storage medium.

The cable could also be plugged into any computer via USB to transfer content to the built-in memory and to be honest, it worked brilliantly. The companion app was a delight to use, with powerful copy tools, backup features and even a built in video player seemingly capable of playing all video codecs.

I couldn’t think of many drawbacks –  it really did bring removable storage to fixed storage iOS devices and it felt ground-breaking.

But there was one drawback.- only made so glaringly apparent by this new unit – and that’s true removable storage. More on that shortly.

Let’s get on with the unboxing!

The unit is very nicely packaged in a clear plastic box reminiscent of CD jewel cases:

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Anybody remember CDs? No? Nevermind…

The unit is absolutely tiny, only a little bigger than the micro-SD cards it uses:

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For comparison, here is the unit next to a 64GB Samsung Micro-SDXC card and adaptor that I bought for testing:

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Once plugged into your iPad/iPhone, iOS will prompt you to download the companion app, or, if already installed, to launch it.

The app used is the same, excellent One app from Photofast, first seen on the TechSpy in our MemoriesCable review:

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The same functionality is here as before, and I’m not going to go through all the features again, as we already have it in detail.

 

So what does the CR-8800 bring to the table over the MemoriesCable ?

True removable storage.

In my review of the Mio MiVue 518 dashcam, I had to use a USB card reader and a laptop to view the recorded videos on a larger screen. It was cumbersome but how often would I need to do that anyway?

The GoPro use case is much clearer. Let’s say I’ve gone out for a day mountain biking and I’ve recorded footage of my exploits on my GoPro. In the past, I would have had to finish for the day, go home and put the SD card into my computer before I could select and edit the clips.

Now I can do the selection and editing without a computer. Armed with just the CR-8800 and an iPhone / iPad, I can spend all day biking and recording, instantly discarding bad shots and editing good ones in the field (so to speak).

Other more mundane uses include DSLR video imports and AVCHD camcorder video imports, neither of which are possible using Apple’s Lightning to USB Camera Adapter.

At only £32 at the time of writing, the CR-8800 is a steal. It’s well designed and comes backed with an established app with an extensive features list.

The CR-8800 is available now on Amazon

The Tech Spy rating:  9.5 /10

As an exclusive offer, The Tech Spy readers can get 15% off using the code: tts15off

 

There is only one thing that TheTechSpy team need in the morning to get them going and that is a good cup of coffee.

Whether it’s a cappuccino, flat white or even a swift espresso, most of us feel better with that little hit of caffeine to get the old grey matter sparking.

So you can imagine, when one of coffee’s giants Nespresso announced the release of a new coffee machine which now includes a little smartphone connectivity, we were more than interested.

Nespresso Prodigio is one of a handful of connected home coffee machines that we have  seen….and my is it a beauty.

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Nespresso have always been an elegantly styled company and this machine is totally in line with their brand. I couldn’t see this machine out of place in any home and the fact it is a small form factor helps as it would be perfect for an apartment.

Now, the techie side….this machine is not yet connected to the internet of things, but that’s not to say that they will not do this in the future. It all works through a Bluetooth connected app which allows you to see water level, when the machine needs descaling and also when you need to buy more capsules (which you can order through the same app). All these notifications will be useful to any person using this on a daily basis.

But what we really wanted to see was some sort of remote use, which when you think about is a little pointless as at present my ordinary bog standard Nespresso machine only has one button to press after putting a pod in and turning it on. But if we looked at all tech like this, I think we would see a lot of devices would not even exist under this premise.

The app allows you to remotely make a cup of coffee at 3 set sizes, which potentially has some good use. If I am honest, after a week of waking up at 5.15am I would probably be fed up with opening an app and making a coffee like this, but where it would get interesting is if Nespresso worked with IFTTT which would allow you to set a chain of actions, for example when my alarm goes off start brewing my espresso or when I get in from work start making a coffee.

I think this machine is cool, but it represents the advancement of technology in a sector that normally would not be associated with this. That is the important thing here, that companies like Nespresso are realising that this is needed. The firm’s managing director Francisco Noguiera said that the machine is to “showcase the latest coffee technology” and to “listen to the consumer need for greater convenience and personalisation of products” which in my opinion although true, this machine is a little half hearted in that sense.

The device in its current state is merely a talking point when friends come around, but if we set aside the actual tech it is a beautiful looking machine albeit a little overpriced at £200+.

Would I go out and buy this? No, for the first time in a long time I think I will stick with my existing unconnected Nespresso machine which merely asks me to turn it on and then make a choice of 4 buttons as to which coffee I want.

Once again, we look forward to the future of this booming sector.

TheTechSpy

 

 

 

 

Following on from our review of the D-Link Smart Home Plug, we have decided to take a look at the other products in the ‘mydlink Home’ range. In this review, we’ll be looking at the Monitor HD video camera.

The PIR Sensor will be covered in an upcoming review.

Introduction

The Monitor HD is a 720p video camera that can be used anywhere in the home. The camera has night capabilities with IR LEDs capable of illuminating  up to 5m, and so for the purposes of this review, I will be installing it in my nursery as a baby monitor.

First impressions

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It’s a nice looking camera with a gloss white finish which should compliment most interiors. On lifting it from the box, the first thing that hit me was just how incredibly light it is. This may sound odd, but before I even start to use it, I want to weigh the thing down!

Setup

Sure enough, after plugging the mains cable in and positioning the camera where I wanted it, the slight curvature of the mains cable angled the camera away. It took a few attemps to get it to sit still in the right direction. Fortunately you can mount it on a wall using screws and D-Link kindly provide a drilling template in the box should you wish to go down that route.

As with the other products in the range, the camera has a WPS button on the side which when pressed in combination with the WPS button on your  router, will connect to your home Wi-Fi network.

D-Link advertise the camera as for use exclusively with it’s mydlink Home app (available on iOS or Android). Indeed, for most people, this will be what they use and it will be more than satisfactory. However, after digging a little deeper I discovered that it’s capable of operating as a standard IP camera over HTTP/S, RTSP and UPNP. It’s worth noting this as I don’t think D-Link are doing themselves any favours by ignoring traditional IP camera sales when it works so well.

So just to reiterate, you can view the video/audio stream in the mydlink Home app, or any IP camera app. The initial setup of the camera and any firmware updates will need to be done in-app though.

Firmware updates are applied in-app, automatically…

 

 

Performance

Here is a full colour daytime shot taken from the nursery window:


And a full colour daytime shot in the nursery:


This is a split view showing the D-Link DCS-935L operating as a traditional IP camera alongside a Foscam IP camera on the fantastic LiveCams Pro app.

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Top: D-Link DCS-935L (IR LED on). Bottom: Foscam 9804W  (IR LED on).

Extras

Audio is provided via a built-in microphone, but there’s no 2-way baby-soothing audio functionality.

Summary

As a starter camera, I can honestly think of nothing  better due to its integration with the mydlink Home app and the provided setup wizard.

It really is the kind of thing you could buy for your grandmother and she’ll be able to configure it for herself. Dig a little further though and D-Link have provided the features to make this a good investment as a standalone IP camera too. It’s a product that will grow with you if you’re new to this sort of thing.

 

TheTechSpy rating: 8/10

PF32

The PhotoFast 32GB USB 3.0 MemoriesCable for iPod, iPhone and iPad arrived for review last week and I couldn’t wait to try it out.

This little Lightning to USB cable houses storage (16/32/64/128GB) on the cable itself, allowing you to easily transfer files between iOS devices and your computer.

I’ve longed for an easier method of backing up photos and video on my iPhone and iPad for years now but have never found anything that fits the bill. PhotoFast think they have cracked it. Have they? Let’s find out…

When you first plug the cable into your iOS device, a popup will inform you that the accessory requires an app from the App Store:

The companion app for the hardware is the new PhotoFast One app, not that you need to know the name of it because clicking App Store on the pop-up will take you directly to it. It’s a nice touch.

Once the app is downloaded and installed, any subsequent cable insertions generate the following pop up. If you click Allow, you will be taken directly to the app.

The app itself is very well designed and packed with features. There are clear sections at the top of the screen for accessing In-App Storage and External Storage.

At the bottom of the screen are buttons for Music/Photos/Video, YouTube (downloader) Google Drive (browser) and Dropbox (browser).

Swiping to the right takes you to a second page almost entirely dedicated to backup buttons.

I tested the Contact Backup option first and it saved all 600 of my contacts to a .vcf file in a matter of seconds.

Next up was the Photo Backup, some 693 photos in my camera roll, all saved in under 2 minutes.

It’s all very impressive.

To test the transfer speed side of things, I copied a 1GB test file from my PC (using a USB 3.0 port) and was able to achieve write speeds of ~19MB/s. Read speeds of ~33MB/s were consistently achievable.

The app isn’t just for backups and file transfers though. It also has built-in music and video players which can be used to stream content from the cable storage. In fact, the video player is compatible with MP4, MOV, M4V, MKV, AVI, FLV, RM, RMVB, WMV, VOB and 3GP formats.

The Settings section is also full of features, including the ability to protect the app with a passcode or Touch ID.

There is even an option to completely encrypt the storage, although this will render the cable unusable on a computer. If you are just transferring files to and from your iOS devices though, this may be a valuable option.

The Auto Backup feature is what really interested me for the simple reason that Apple are bordering on the sadistic with their 5GB free iCloud storage limit. Granted, Apple are trying to upsell to their paid plans but 5GB is used up in no time, usually due to iCloud photo backups.

This is where Auto Backup comes in. Every time you open the app, an incremental backup can be performed.

So now I plug the MemoriesCable into my wall charger and iPhone before I go to bed, and the app takes care of backing up my photos, contacts and calendar items, all while charging.

I have set my iCloud backup to ignore photos now and as a result, I can backup daily to iCloud with no more of the annoying ‘Storage Full’ messages I usually wake up to.

All in all, this is an excellent product that really unshackles Apple devices and their famously non-expandable memory.

PhotoFast are currently running an Indiegogo campaign from the 3rd – 24th August, where units can be obtained for significantly lower prices than RRP.

More details here: http://igg.me/at/PhotoFast

TheTechSpy rating:  9/10

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

-pc