Posts Tagged ‘USB’

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.

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UK customers are now able to pre-order Amazon’s Fire TV Stick – a cut down version of the Fire TV set-top box.

The Fire TV Stick was previously only available in the USA, but the UK will shortly have a rival to the Chromecast and Roku in the battle for the living room.

The Fire TV Stick plugs directly into a spare HDMI port on your TV and is USB powered, so it can all be tucked away discreetly. Netflix and Amazon Instant Video support come as standard and the device also supports 3rd party apps such as Spotify and BBC iPlayer.

Downloadable games are also supported and for those that require a little more control than the supplied remote can provide, a dedicated joypad can be purchased separately for £35.

Pre-orders start today on Amazon.co.uk and the stick will be officially released on April 15th. The normal price of £35 is reduced to just £19 for existing Amazon Prime members if reserved by 08:00 tomorrow (26/03). Those of you without a Prime subscription are in luck too – Amazon will sell you the stick for just £7 after a rebate if you take out an Amazon Prime membership.

Fire TV Stick features:

• Dual-core processor
• 8 GB storage
• 1 GB RAM
• Dolby Digital Plus support
• Remote control
• 1080p Video output
• Voice search and secondary remote control via iOS / Android app

You can find more details on the promotion via the link below:
Amazon FireTV Promotion

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Our smartphones have come a long way when it comes to audio, but the problem is the thinner they become the less likely the audio quality will improve.

Take the iPhone for example, no one can argue that it is a superb phone and the audio output is pretty good, but it could be much better. Without a massive advancement in technology, this isn’t happening anytime soon.

Shure, the audio specialists, make some of the best earphones in the business, but even they think that plugging the Shure 535’s into the iPhone really doesn’t show off their potential. Try it, plug-in your best headphones into your iPhone and listen to a track, then listen to the same track with the same headphones on your computer with a dedicated sound card and you will very quickly hear the difference.

The only solution is a portable amp which magnifies the audio signal to amplify the sound. Otherwise without this, the louder you make the music the more distorted it will become. These portable amps need to be powered and are normally expensive and bulky and are aimed at the audiophile.

The guys over at UAMP want to change this with a Kickstarter campaign.

“We wanted to capture that premium sound you get from hi-end audio equipment and make it available on every device, without the complications, terrible interfaces, or exorbitant costs. Uamp provides the same hi-fi sound for a fraction of the price and size of standard amplifiers. The Uamp unit measures 43 x 43 x 9mm and weighs just 26 grams – we’ve crammed all the electronics of a hi-end amp into one tiny device. Its nano design means it can easily fit into the smallest of pockets, allowing you to carry it with you anywhere – walking, jogging and cycling, or travelling on the bus, train and plane. Combined with its ten hour battery life, Uamp is truly a portable device.”

The difference here is not only its size and ability to be recharged by USB, but also its price. With postage to the UK, this will cost you about £40 which for anyone who has spent £250+ on headphones it’s a small price to pay. UAMP have kept this simple and stylish, with little LED’s and a slick design. You simply plug-in your iPhone and then your headphones on the other side and away you go.

uamp2

With a 10 hour rechargeable battery and adjustable EQ levels, working with every device no matter the makers, this really is an amp for the budding audiophile. Priced at about £45 all in on this campaign, it really is worth a punt, especially if the manufacturer delivers as much as they promise.

uamp

UAMP

Bluetooth is a wonderful thing, and since the likes of Apple have created AirPlay, our devices can connect to others to release our playlists from the palm of our hands. 

The problem most of us face, is having to move on with the times….yes we all have the iPod, iPhone or Android handset, but our sound systems do not connect wirelessly, pushing us to connect our lovely portable devices via AUX and leave them by the sound system’s side. 

OK, you could go out and buy a whole new sound system, plenty of Samsung, Onyko and Pioneer Amps now include AirPlay, but you will have to part with around £500 for the pleasure. 

In come the guys at Audioengine who bring us the B1. This little device is an adapter designed solely for Audiophiles (doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t get involved), with high-fidelity output that directly connects into your sound system. It lets you stream audio wirelessly via Bluetooth from your smartphone or Bluetooth enabled computer with superb sound quality. 

The B1 is housed in aluminium which oozes quality and sets to warrant the price tag. It measures 1″H 3.5″W by 4″D and has an adjustable antenna on the front. On the back panel we find the RCA stereo output for your receiver, a 24-bit digital optical output, and a micro USB port for power through the included power adaptor. The RCA cable is included in the box. 

B1 Rear

Under the hood, the B1 includes a 24-bit upsampling DAC (digital-to-analog converter) which provides the high fidelity music. This device will work beautifully with high quality music files and will play them at their best. A lot of the other devices on the market tend to make your music sound worse, this device will never degrade what you have and that is the beauty of it. 

The B1 supports the aptX codec and both the A2DP and AVRCP Bluetooth profiles and is simple to set up, with the iPhone 5S taking just seconds to pair. Inside the box you get a small drawstring carrying pouch in addition to the USB cable and power adaptor if you want to travel with it. 

This device performs well, sounds great and is the epitome of wireless audio for 2014. If you like your music and find that nothing out there does your playlist any justice, then give the B1 a go…..this is a force to be reckoned with!

£140 here in the UK or $189 for the US. 

Audioengine-B1

As you can imagine TheTechSpy not only sees a lot of gadgetry pass in front of its eyes but also gets to play and review some of these products.

Of course, you get to see some of these wonderful devices appear on our blog, but not all devices we see cut the mustard when it comes to something we are passionate to talk about.

One of these products is the portable battery. It seems like everyone and his friend is queuing up to offer their take on portable power. We see such a variety of different types and quite frankly are bored of testing these products which basically are all the same and have now real definition to make them stand out from the crowd.

Most of the batteries sent to us lay here in TechSpy Towers looking very sorry for themselves as we really see no point of bringing these to your attention…..until now!

From the minute we started dealing with Zendure, I have to say the service has been impeccable. This aside, when we received the products you immediately see the difference between this and every other battery we have come across. The packaging has been thought about which quite often gets left when it comes to crowd funded products, so it shows an element of professionalism right from the start as the company displays no characteristics of a start-up.

Zendure kindly sent us not one, but two batteries to take a look at and we instantly fell in love. Firstly we were sent the Gridder One, which is an 8000mAh portable battery which is water, dust and shock proof. Straight from the off you can see with the design of the product and its packaging it is being aimed at the outdoor type with its IP65 rating. Like all of the batteries the company produces, they allow you to charge your device while the battery itself is being charged which is very useful indeed.

The Gridder One feels like a rugged product and even has little doors to protect the USB sockets within which do not feel like they are going to break at the first instance. The device has small LED’s on its side to show how much charge is remaining and to go with the rugged design, its LED can be turned on to perform SOS signals when you are in some real trouble.

gridder-group

The second battery in Zendure’s arsenal is the A2, which is the smallest of the range. Made with a ABS/PC composite for its reinforced shell the company demoed the device’s durability by driving a car over it and it withstood the pressure.

The A2 is a 6000mAh battery and looks like one of those cool Samsonite cases that you see at airports. Again, I could bore you with more talk of the effort put into the packaging, but I think this particular product speaks for itself. The battery has the ability to output 5v 2.1A which is enough to charge your iPad at a very reasonable speed.

The size and feel of this product is what makes it so desirable. You can charge this while it is charging your device via the USB socket and also turn the charging on and off by the button at the top of the battery.

a2

I have extensively tested both batteries and both seem to perform alike. the 2.1A allows you to charge an iPhone 5s from 60% to 100% in just over 40mins which in real life testing is probably the best we have seen.

The testament to this product is with all the devices that we have seen over 2013-2014, the A2 is the first I personally have wanted to own and use on a day to day basis. Its the one that I would have gone out and spent my hard earned cash on and not looked back. This battery takes pride of place in my bag I take to work and even sits happily in my suit jacket pocket.

This company is one to watch, get your orders in for Fathers Day as they are selling for around $60.

 

 

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