Lenovo's answer to Google Glass - function over fashion?

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I wrote a story a little while ago about Beecham Research's survey on wearable tech. The study found consumers will not partake in wearable technology if it does not match their fashion needs as well as their functional requirements.

So when I saw these pictures of the Lenovo smartglasses prototype, my eye went straight to the necklace battery.

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Photo: Lenovo

I couldn't help but wonder whether this addition would end up hindering the sales of the product in the future. This is a classic case of function - increased battery life - over fashion. And besides, wouldn't it get hot during use? If the PC maker is hoping to compete with Google Glass, it might have to try a little harder aesthetically.

Although Lenovo has been doing well in the PC market, it has recently been looking into ways to collaborate with other organisations to extend its market reach.

The glasses have been developed as part of Lenovo's New Business Development (NBD) initiative aiming to accelerate internet of things based Chinese startups. The smartglasses are one of three smart devices developed, including a router and an air purifier.

These products are aimed at the Chinese market, and run Chinese operating systems optimised for use with the internet in that particular region. 

A non-reviewer's review of the HTC One M8 smartphone

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I find it's becoming increasingly difficult to review mobile devices unless your audience really is interested in the detailed minutiae of the technology.

Even though I'm a technology journalist, I'm not really a product reviewer. I'm not megabothered about the megahertz of my quad-core processor or the megapixels of my camera. I'm even less interested in the angle of the bezel on the screen or the difference between Gorilla and Sapphire glass. 

All I really care about is whether the device will do the job I want it to do.

So if you're anything like me and want the most straightforward of reviews, then I can tell you now with confidence that the HTC One M8 is a very good phone, you won't be disappointed with it, and if you like Android and can afford a top-of-the-range device, then you won't find anything that's much better.

If you want to find out a little more about what it's like to use the M8 based on my experiences over a couple of weeks, read on. If you want to know a bunch of detailed specifications, check the HTC website. But if you just want to know if it's worth spending your cash on one, then be reassured - it is. Thanks for reading this far.

HTC_One_M8_gold_3V.jpgSo, for the rest of you:

I've been a fan of HTC for some time, which is why I fancied a look at the M8. I used to have a Desire, then an HTC One X+, but I've since been unfaithful and currently have a Nexus 5 from Google/LG, which is a perfectly good device but a lot cheaper than its equivalently spec'd HTC or Samsung.

You see, that's the problem with being an Android phone - one similarly priced device is not that much different from another. You might like the supplier-specific add-ons of course - personally, not that bothered - but really, on a day to day basis, they are all fairly interchangeable.

It's also difficult to assess a phone specifically for how well it operates in the workplace, because most of them are equally capable in one way or another. Not that it matters, since nobody really worries about how a phone will perform for work when buying one for primarily personal use - not unless you're the bloke in the latest Windows Phone advert, at least.

So why might you choose an HTC One M8? (And I should say that I really hope M8 is not meant to be a chummy attempt to call a phone "Mate")

HTC_One_M8_11.jpgWell, its main attraction is that it's a bit of a beast - it's big and meaty, fast, powerful, with an aesthetically appealing brushed metal case that sends out the message: this is a serious phone for serious phone users. If you have small hands or small pockets (physically or financially) this is probably not the phone for you.

The big problem with HTC has always been battery life - that was another reason I switched away to try the Nexus, only to learn it's just as power hungry. But in two weeks with the M8, I found I was often getting a couple of days of average use between charges - although my past experience has been that HTC battery performance degraded quickly after about six months of regular use.

I use a reasonable amount of data - getting towards a 1MB monthly allowance - but reserve video/music streaming or downloads for Wi-Fi. For regular browsing, social media and email - the M8 is as fast a phone as I've used, making up even for some of the vagaries and unpredictability of the O2 data network.

And to be honest, that's as much as I needed to know. For the rest of it - it's Android, if you like Android (I do). It has a camera that is up to the quality you would expect of a flagship device - although I'm sure there are better cameras on other phones, but unless you're a real aficionado I expect it will do everything you want it to do at a perfectly acceptable level of quality.

HTC_One_M8_01.jpgMusic playback is perfectly good. Usability is fine, the buttons are all in sensible places. I can access all the fun personal apps and information I want, and I can download all my work email quickly and efficiently. It's as useful at home as it is in work.

It does the job I want it to do.

Niggles? Well, a few, but nothing major. I found the screen to be somewhat over-sensitive, often accidentally starting apps I didn't mean to start with a careless mis-swipe of a clumsy finger.

I'm not a great fan of the HTC software customisations on the phone, but they were easy enough to switch off - although the box suggesting I use HTC cloud storage that kept popping up at frequent and unpredictable moments despite ticking "Don't show me this box again" every time, was getting very annoying.

The review device we used had an HTC flip case - a bit like on an iPad, it automatically puts the device in and out of sleep mode when you close and open the cover. But I hated the case because it was spring-loaded and that meant you always needed to use two hands or it flipped shut when you didn't hold it open. But that's easy to remove.

Will this phone be a success? Well, that depends on other factors.

If you're like me - a keen smartphone user with a passing interest in the detailed specifications - you will be pretty happy with it.

If you're a dedicated Android fan who really likes a top-spec device - you'll be very happy with it.

If you're the 80% of smartphone users who just want something you can afford, with a reliable brand name, that does everything you need it to do - frankly, you're unlikely to buy the M8 because it's not an iPhone, nor is it Samsung, nor is it Nokia or Sony or LG. It's poor HTC, which has never quite got it right when it comes to consumer mass marketing.

So there you have it - the HTC One M8 is a very good smartphone, for people with sufficient interest to want to find out about it, and who don't automatically buy the obvious and most popular brands.

Good luck to HTC - I hope sponsoring the Champions League proves worthwhile.

Meanwhile, for those of you who like the specifications - here they are, freely cut and pasted straight from the HTC website:



  • Size: 146.36 x 70.6 x 9.35 mm
  • CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, quad-core CPU
  • Weight: 160g
  • Display: 5.0 inch, Full HD 1080p
  • SIM Card Type: Nano SIM
  • Total storage: 16GB, available capacity varies; RAM: 2GB
  • Expansion card slot supports microSD memory card for up to 128GB additional storage
  • Rear camera: HTC UltraPixelcamera, BSI sensor, pixel size 2.0 um, sensor size 1/3", f/2.0, 28mm lens. HTC ImageChip 2. 1080p Full HD video recording with HDR video
  • Front camera: 5MP, BSI sensor, wide angle lens. with HDR capability, 1080p Full HD video recording
  • Networks supported: 2G/2.5G - GSM/GPRS/EDGE, 850/900/1800/1900 MHz; 3G - WCDMA 850/900/1900/2100 MHz with HSPA+ up to 42 Mbps; 4G - LTE 800/900/1800/2600 MHz
  • Battery: Embedded rechargeable Li-polymer battery; Capacity:2600 mAh; Talk time: Up to 20 hours for 3G; Standby time: Up to 496 hours for 3G


REVIEW: Nokia Lumia 930 first impressions

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In this guest post David McClelland gives his impressions of the Nokia Lumia 930,
the first high-end handset to launch with Windows Phone 8.1.

Hardware

The Nokia Lumia 930 is a substantial handset in more ways than one. First up, the body: Nokia has adopted a sturdy aluminium unibody for its latest flagship, but has still chosen to decorate its back with the signature polycarbonate - neon green and orange get the Lumia treatment this season, with white and black completing line-up. 

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The Lumia 930's Full HD 5-inch OLED screen is striking too: blacks are black, colours pop and despite the high-gloss it repels greasy fingermarks well, remaining readable even in direct sunlight. The bezel is narrow enough, and the curved edges of the scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 3 screen lap onto the handset's chassis, mirroring the contours on the rear. 

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The volume rocker, power and camera shutter buttons all sit along one side of the handset. This keeps the aesthetic clean but means that securing the 930 into most after-market car kits will result in one or more buttons being permanently depressed. Form 1, Function 0.

Beneath the vibrant exterior sits a quad-core 2.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chipset, 2 GB RAM and 32 GB storage. While the CPU is last-year's model it's certainly no slouch. Despite the missing MicroSD card slot Microsoft now bundles 15 GB of OneDrive cloud storage for free, and 1 TB if you've an Office 365 account.

Battery and Wireless Charging

As with other unibody handsets the 930's battery isn't removable, although I found the 2420 mAh unit lasted through the day. 

Having toyed with wireless charging on the Lumia 920, Nokia once again integrates the feature and this time includes an induction charger in the retail box. 

Disappointingly, I found it a bit flaky. On more than one occasion I left the handset atop the charger to find it hadn't charged the phone. Software bugs need to be ironed out too, with the 930 insisting it was still charging hours after its removal from the charger.

Wireless charging is seen as a panacea by some but until reliability is improved many might still prefer the reassurance of a cable over the questionable convenience of a mat.  

Also worth pointing out is that the chassis can get very, very hot on charge or in use.

Camera

The Lumia 930 features a terrific 20-megapixel PureView camera which makes shallow depth of field shots look natural without any clunky software processing. Optical image stabilisation, ZEISS 6-lens optics, dual-LED flash and lossless zoom top out the specs, but again the Lumia's screen steals the show, making pictures pop like a print.

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Software

Windows Phone 8.1 is the newest version of Microsoft's mobile operating system introducing features which many hoped might bring it in line with its competitors.

Action Centre apes the notification bars seen in Android and iOS. A swipe from the top of the screen recalls missed messages, a customisable quick menu and a shortcut to the phone's main settings. A welcome addition to the operating system.

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Swipe-style typing also debuts and, once you've the hang of it, is very accurate. However, Cortana, Windows Phone's answer to Siri, hasn't made it onto UK handsets yet - expect to see it (her?) on Windows Phones by the end of the year.

Email and Productivity Apps

For many email will be a main driver and Microsoft makes setting up accounts simple. I didn't get the chance to try the 930 with an Exchange mailbox, but it handled multiple outlook.com, IMAP, Gmail and POP mailboxes with aplomb.

Windows Phone 8 also does some useful things around the concept of the unified inbox. Instead of a single inbox encompassing all configured accounts, individual email accounts can be grouped or 'linked' together. This makes it possible to combine work email addresses into one unified inbox and personal accounts into another, each accessible through its own live tile.

The bundled Bing News and Bing Sport apps are intuitive and well designed pulling news from a variety of credible sources. Fundamentally, for a news app to succeed it needs to leave me feeling as if I've caught up - these do exactly that, with style, and allow custom feeds too.


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Microsoft Office connects you with documents stored on your OneDrive or Office 365 cloud as well as with email attachments. Excel, Powerpoint and Word are well executed apps, although losing what feels like two-thirds of the display to the over-sized on-screen keyboard is a shame.

Windows Phone UI

Microsoft's spartan UI works hard to differentiate itself from its identikit competitors and, in general, it works well. However, for the sake of productivity I'd prefer to see more actual content on the screen. 

A case in point is the official Twitter app - even with the smallest font I can see no more than three or four tweets per screen; similarly, the email app reveals up to six messages before scrolling. At 5 inches and 1920 vertical pixels there's a lot of screen real estate on the Lumia but the important apps just don't seem to fill enough of it.

Conclusion

Despite the '80s-styling on the rear the Nokia Lumia 930 is Windows Phone's most mature handset to date.  

Its productivity credentials are top notch, and OS integration with Microsoft cloud apps and services mean it's a capable business workhorse as well as a fun down-time device. 

All the Windows Phone ecosystem needs now is more apps, and with high-quality handsets such as this they'll be sure to follow.

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Specs at a Glance:
Nokia Lumia 930
    • Screen: 5-inch AMOLED 1920 x 1080 Full HD
    • Camera: ZEISS 20-MP PureView
    • Chipset: Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 @ 2.2 GHz
    • Memory: 2 GB 
    • Storage: 32 GB (no expansion)
    • Operating System: Microsoft Windows Phone 8.1
    • Connectivity: LTE, HSPA+, GSM, WCDMA; NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 LE; Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac

From free with a £28.00/month contract, or £438.16 SIM-free. Details correct at time of publishing (July 2014).*

Love your smartphone? Huawei thinks you could love it more

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At Huawei's most recent innovation day in Milan, there was a lot of talk about innovation in Europe, research and development centres, and the highly anticipated 5G. 

Quite clearly very passionate about the technology, chief Huawei device designer Joonsuh Kim told me that the main aim for him was to make people fall in love with Huawei devices. Kim hopes to provide consumers with something other than just technology.

He said: "Literally we are touching the consumer's heart. That means you can feel that you are emotionally engaged with a Huawei device."

To Kim, the device is all about user preference, and he believes that once consumers start adapting to their devices, they will want to use them for everything. 

He states that even though the Huawei brand may not be big yet, it's starting to get through to consumers. Its aim it to deliver users with a "pleasant surprise" through usability, comfort, and a perfect combination of hardware and software.

When building the concept for a phone, Kim considers several user scenarios to make sure there is always a device that caters to what consumers want - including the ability to have multiple SIMs, a more professional device which is lighter for increased portability, low-cost devices, or a personal-only device.  

The design team make sure that the hardware appeals to the user they are targeting, providing particular features to appeal to different types of audience such as business professionals, young users and entry-level users. 

Kim also believes that using Huawei's knowledge and connectivity in networking, it can be a leader in 5G when the time comes. 

During a presentation on device innovation, Kim used Angelina Jolie as an example of a perfect human being (following up by commenting that although she might have been considered the most attractive woman in the world, that was several years ago... ouch) and that aesthetics are very important when targeting the appropriate market. 

It just goes to show that even the smallest tweaks in design can make the biggest difference to consumer behaviour.

Amazon Fire smartphone - do we really need 3D?

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This week the first smartphone designed by online retail giant Amazon was revealed, and its Dynamic Perspective feature allows the screen to present images in 3D to the user based upon the position of their heads. The question is whether or not this is what people actually want or need. 

The Dynamic Perspective feature, which uses four front-facing cameras and infra-red LEDs all built into the screen of the phone, allows the device to perform functions such as automatic scrolling to prevent users from having to touch the screen, and screen tilt depending on the user's head position. 

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Photo: Amazon.com

Although these things may improve user experience, my main concern would be the feeling that you're being watched, as the phone monitors you to ensure that you are fully immersed in any activities you are taking part in, such as watching videos or playing games. 

Perhaps more worrying, then,  is the never-before-seen Firefly feature, which uses data that Amazon has collected on physical items, text, audio and text and audio recognition in order to allow users to scan products barcodes or QR codes in order to search on Amazon to allow purchases from its online store. 

This also works for TV programs or songs; Firefly will recognise things in the environment around you and allow you to buy it right then and there through the Amazon store. All through the touch of the built in Firefly button. 

Specs at a glance:

Amazon Fire

Processor: Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 2.2 GHz 

Memory: 2GB RAM 

Display: 4.7-inch HD 

Camera: 13MP rear-facing camera, 2.1MP front-facing camera.


Whether consumers will see this as a genius invention or a ploy to make them spend more hard earned cash where it counts has yet to be seen, but its other feature - the Mayday button - is similar to that on the Kindle Fire and allows the user to video chat with a helpline whenever they need assistance with the device, which contributes to a good consumer experience. 

The device will be available in the US by the end of July, exclusively on AT&T, at a starting price of $199.








INFOGRAPHIC: The real cost of business downtime

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Many a business has suffered the wrath of IT downtime, and in 2013, networking firm Enterasys claimed that businesses grew when investment had been made in important business backbones, as sufficient preparations are in place should things start to go downhill.

This infographic from TSG shows the effect downtime can have on small to medium sized enterprises, including what can cause outages, the knock-on effect that outages can have, and a formula that can be used to calculate how much a downtime can cost an organisation. 

The Real Cost of Business Downtime Infographic.jpg

Apple announces iOS 8 at WWDC 2014

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At this week's WWDC 2014 - the conference that tells developers everything they need to know about what Apple has planned for the future - Apple introduced its next mobile operating system iOS 8.

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The new OS brings with it over 4000 new APIs in order to allow developers more opportunity to make applications for Apple's flagship iPad and iPhone devices.

There was a focus on the new HealthKit API, which will allow developers to build apps directed towards fitness and health services. With speculation of an Apple wearable on the horizon, enabling applications such as this could be a step in the smartwatch direction.

Apple also took a leap towards the internet-of-things trend with its new HomeKit API, designed to allow developers to make apps that will allow communication with other devices around the home.

Finally, Apple lightened the restrictions on its touch ID technology, meaning that users will now not only be allowed to access their iPhone lockscreens with the touchpad, but also log into apps. This is of course only on the 5S at the moment, but may also be used with future iPhones.

Although this announcement isn't quite as exciting as the eagerly speculated iWatch, it still encourages the use of smartbands/watches with Apple devices in the future, and brings us one step closer to using our phones to control all things household.

Developers have access to iOS 8 now, but the rest of us will just have to wait.


Samsung Simband - The future of health technology?

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All this week we've been hearing reports on how the health crisis in the UK is growing ever more serious and although there have been positive initiatives launched to help the sector, such as the health tech competition, progress in the industry still seems slow. 

Not to worry, because Samsung has come to the rescue with its "Digital Health Initiative", a project that uses open hardware and software platforms that will increase innovation and speed up development of technology in the personal healthcare technology industry.

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The initiative will look into developing advanced sensors, algorithms and data analysis in order to allow consumers to better keep track of and understand their own health.

The firm has developed an open hardware design called Samsung Simband - the Samsung concept of how a smartband should be. The suggestion is that smartbands such as this could be used with the Samsung Architecture for Multimodal Interactions (SAMI) concept, which will be a cloud-based open software platform capable of collecting data from various sources for analysis which can then be delivered to any other device.

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Earlier this week Samsung's team from its Strategy and Innovation Centre demonstrated that the Samsung open platform can be used with wearable wristband hardware in order to track heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate. Data collected from these various sources can then be displayed in a format that will help users to better understand their health and how these measurements are affecting them.

There have already been a number of advancements in the wearable technology space including smart watches and smartbands that help to measure physical activity, and the Samsung Galaxy S5 is able to measure the user's heart rate, but no one device yet measures all of these at the same time,  which is exactly what Samsung hopes the combination of SAMI and designs such as the Simband will be able to do, all so that you can know what your body is trying to tell you about your health. 

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Microsoft announces new Windows Surface 3

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Microsoft announced the new Windows Surface Pro 3 tablet at an event in New York today. 

 

The device, which is 12 inches, is designed to fit perfectly into user's lives, with Surface product manager Panos Panay claiming that this could be "the tablet that replaces the laptop." 

 

The Surface Twitter feed was inundated with updates, labelling  the tablet an "entertainment powerhouse" due to its 2160 x 1440 resolution and Dolby sound capabilities.


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The new kickstand is multi-position, so you can angle the tablet any way you want to if placed on a table, although an emphasis was made about the "lapability" of the device, which apparently means it can be used to comfortably complete work from your lap.


As the tablet runs Windows 8.1 Pro OS, you can use all of the features and applications that you are used to, with the added ability to use the new stylus to generate hand-written documents in OneNote. 

 

Specs at a glace:

Surface Pro 3

  • Size: 12 inches
  • Resolution: 2160 x 1440
  • Weight: 800g
  • Thickness: 9.1mm
  • OS: Windows 8.1 Pro
  • Memory: Up to 8GB of RAM
  • Battery: Up to 9 hours
  • Storage: Varies from 64 GB up to 512 GB

 

The device includes features such as a redesigned keyboard that is larger than the previous model and includes an improved trackpad. The device also comes with an accompanying stylus dubbed the Surface Pen to make writing easier. Looks like this device might not only replace the laptop, but may also wipe out pen and paper altogether.

 

The new Surface is 800g, only 9.1mm thick, and is built to apply to Satya Nadella's vision of "empowering people to do more and be more."  

Could programmable robots teach kids to code?

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With the pending changes to the IT curriculum steadily approaching, teachers are learning how best to teach children how to code.

In September of this year, schools in the UK will be required to teach children from the ages of five to 16 how to 'computing' rather than ICT, making the required subject content of lessons less about business processes and more about software engineering.

However, there are a lot of misconceptions around the kind of person who codes, and what it takes to teach this complex subject.

British Entrepreneur Ben Pirt believes that the use of robots will not only aid teachers in the learning process, but also help children to better engage with and understand the process of coding.

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Pirt's Kickstarter campaign for a build-it-yourself wifi robot kit, called Mirobot, was fully funded one week after launching, and with a couple of weeks still left is now 300% funded. Both the software and the hardware is opened source.

Pirt hopes that Mirobot will help and encourage children to learn about coding and engineering as it brings the on-screen and physical aspects of software and hardware engineering together in front of the child's eyes as they use code to manipulate the robot's movements

Pirt says: "My aim is to get Mirobot into the hands of as many children as possible. I want to help children understand how the technology surrounding them actually works. Kickstarter is Mirobot's first outing and has shown that there is a great deal of interest in using simple robotics kits like this to engage the next generation."

Pirt hopes that Mirobots will start shipping in September, and will include educational support material to help teacher's to fully utilise them in the classroom. 

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How virtual reality can be used to train fire service personnel

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When Facebook announced earlier this year its plans to buy Oculus VR, developers of gaming headset the Oculus Rift, many gaming companies announced that they would not develop games for use with the Oculus in the future.

However, as a virtual reality headset, the Oculus Rift has shown the ability for use in other industries too, and that's where G2G3 come in.

Immersive simulation designer G2G3 has developed a 3D emergency services simulation, initially for use by the Fire Service College, which can be used with the Oculus to train fire fighters to face virtual reality emergencies before they enter the field.

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Representatives from G2G3 commented that since the number of emergencies has dropped over the years there has been less opportunity to train individuals in real-life situations.

Although the lack of emergencies is a huge positive, it is important for junior fire fighters to be aware of how they would react in an emergency situation.

The Oculus allows these trainees to be immersed in several different emergency scenarios to enable them to learn how to cope during a response operation and determine whether or not they would be capable of making the correct decisions under pressure.

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The system allows the trainee to watch, move around in and assess the situation through the Oculus headset and tell their instructor what they think the next action should be. The instructor can then manipulate the environment remotely and also monitor the trainee's performance.

I was able to test the environment at the recent IT Support Show in Earl's Court, and it does feel very real. The display shows smoke and the people around you, and the environment includes realistic backdrops including broken windows and damaged vehicles.

I've even been told that the simulation displays different coloured and textured smoke depending on the type of fire simulation that has been selected to display.

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You can look around you with 360 degree vision in the headset, but use an external controller in order to turn and move your 'body'.

It really immerses you into the surroundings, and you sometimes forget that there are other people around you outside of the headset - exactly the reaction that is needed in order to place your mind-set in the seriousness of an emergency situation.

Unfortunately during testing I did experience slight motion sickness, which is apparently not uncommon when first using the headset as your vision does not always face the same direction as your body.

The simulation currently assesses Fire Services Incident Commanders to level 1 accreditation, and includes 14 different types of scenario representative of real-life situations that emergency personnel could find themselves in.

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G2G3 has plans to develop the platform in the future in order to encompass assessment for higher levels of accreditation in order to further help to develop the education of the emergency services.

With technologies such as the Oculus steadily growing, G2G3 has even speculated that there may be the opportunity to add other features in the future to increase realism and really prepare for these life-or-death situations, including the ability to physically walk around a simulation, record heart rate and stress level or even the injection of smell into the simulation. As the technology for virtual reality continues to progress, it is becoming clear that these technologies can be used for all manner of things, from gaming to training and beyond.

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INFOGRAPHIC: Destructive data loss

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Since the discovery of the OpenSSL Heartbleed bug, organisations and individuals alike have shown great concern over their data and how best to protect it.

With the growing use of smartphones and BYOD in businesses, there is also an increased security risk if organisations do not properly employ a mobile device management (MDM) solution.

Verizon's recent 2014 Data Breach Investigations Report revealed that most cyber security attacks only use three attack patterns in order to gain access to data, with 92% of attacks in the last 10 years following the same 9 basic patterns. 

These patterns include malware, denial of service attacks, payment card skimmers and cyber espionage.

The following infographic from internet-based solutions provider Imprima highlights research into data loss, how it occurs and the impact that it can have on organisations.

The research, based on insider information from Imprima and data collected from resources such as the Kaspersky Security Bulletin 2012, Trend Micro and the Boston Computing Network, also details how organisations can avoid data loss. 

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Gadget Show Live 2014: 3D printing

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Ever since last year, the 3D printing sensation has been steadily growing, with Gartner predicting that 3D printer sales will double by 2015.

This year 3D printing is still a prominent trend, except now the printers are smaller and cheaper, making them more easily accessible to businesses or even home users.

They can be used for a number of different things, from creating parts for use in product production, to rapid prototyping, to just making something fun. The government has even invested in research into 3D printing, after claiming that the technology could drive growth in education and manufacturing in the future. 

The Gadget Show Live was packed with stands displaying the latest 3D printers, and I happened to stop at one to take note of the technology currently being used in the 3D printing industry.

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RoboSavvy, a firm that specialises in providing robotics and DIY products, had a range of 3D printers on display, all of which were under £2500.

Among these was the MakerBot Replicator, a desktop 3D printer allowing the user to make 3D models from digital blueprints. The technology for this has been around for a while, but this particular printer also has an on board camera so you can see the progress of your model while it is printing.

It also has a 100 micron resolution to create the smoothest models possible that shouldn't need sanding after printing, and is available for around £2340.

To take the printing process full circle, the MakerBot Digitizer was also on display. This gadget allows you to scan in an already existing object to create a digital model - effectively 3D printing in reverse. 

This can then be used with a 3D printer to print out a replica of the original product. If you really wanted to, you could then scan the model in order to make another digital replica to be printed out again.

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Although 3D printing has been around for a while, with every model the printers get more and more advanced. And let's face it; even though they will soon become the norm, they're still really cool. 

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Gadget show live 2014: SunnyCam video recording eyewear

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The wearable technology trend that is sweeping the world has so far mainly been about health monitors and fitness bands to track your activities.

 

But the SunnyCam is more towards the Google Glass end of the spectrum, and features a pair of cool sunnies with an embedded camera between the lenses to record your life as you're living it.


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As well as having a camera built into the frame, each pair of glasses also has a port for a Micro SD card to record on to so videos can be uploaded straight from the device after filming.

 

The glasses are capable of recording HD 1280 x 720 AVIs or taking regular JPGs through a mount free camera situated between interchangeable lenses.

 

Although this device does not use the lenses themselves to relay information to the user as Google Glass would, these glasses are still a step up from other similar gadgets on the market such as a GoPro camera, as you don't have a tiny camera sticking out of your helmet.


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The pair that was on display at the Gadget Show had quite chunky arms, presumably to incorporate the touch controls, Micro SD card and rechargeable battery that fit into the frame.

 

This did make the glasses slightly uncomfortable, but I was told that a new slimmer version of the specs will be released this year.


They're available on the net for around £89.99, and there are lots of cool accessories you can get for them too such as new lenses, glasses cleaners and screen cleaners. 

 


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Gadget show live 2014 hands on: Toshiba Encore tablet and Toshiba Kira Ultrabook

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With Windows XP reaching the end of its days, a lot of people are considering moving onwards and upwards. We've reviewed devices running Windows 8.1 before, such as the Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet, and once you get used to it, it's a simple and easy operating system to use.

These Toshiba products, namely the Toshiba Kira Ultrabook and the Toshiba Encore tablet, use the Windows 8.1 operating system, and are designed to be highly portable for people on the go.

The Encore, although not brand new, is extremely light and stylish. The screen is only 8 inches, which seems the standard in the current tablet market. Although it is smaller than some other tablets, for example the iPad Air or Sony Xperia, is still too big to comfortably use with one hand.

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What really makes this particular device stand out amongst others is the amount of connectivity options it has available. The device has a micro HDMI port, which would prove handy for presentations or just for watching videos on a larger screen. It also has a Micro SD slot, and a micro-USB port for quick transfer of data.

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The Encore also comes with Office 365 built in as standard, so all of the applications needed for work can be used as normal. The only downside is that the battery life is only up to 7 hours, but the tablet features 'InstantGo' in order to lower power consumption to combat this.

The Toshiba Kira Ultrabook is one of the newer products in the Toshiba range, featuring Windows 8.1 Pro and a 13.3 inch 2560 x 1440 PixelPure display.

The display fits in 221 pixels per inch, which is 90% more pixels than a normal HD display, and it definitely shows.

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It's extremely thin and light, and wouldn't be out of place on a train, plane or just at home if you were hoping to get some work done away from the office.

As well as being portable, this laptop is designed to be durable, with a honeycomb structured chassis to make it more sturdy.  

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The battery life can last up to 91 hours, so there are no worries about taking this laptop out and about, and with added extras to increase usability such as a backlit keyboard, Harman Kardon speakers and a 10 finger touch-screen display, it seems like the perfect device for a mobile worker. 

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REVIEW: G-Drive USB mass storage device

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Portable mass storage is becoming the norm these days, whether for transporting data or just for a backup you can hide somewhere safe.  

The G-Drive from G Technology is designed to provide a highly portable storage solution that will allow the average person to save and transport large amounts of data without having to invest in a permanent storage unit. 

The G-Drive is light, feels durable and has a light silver aluminium exterior with plastic edging. It's easy to carry around in your bag, and is only slightly bigger than a smartphone, measuring 129 x 82 x 13 mm. 

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With a capacity of 1TB of data, you could back up the contents of your whole Mac or PC and rest assured that there will still be space to add bigger files from elsewhere without running out of space. 

Specs at a glace: 
G-Drive USB mass storage device 
Capacity: 1TB
Speed: 5400RPM
Compatible with: Mac OS 10.6 +; Windows 8, 7 and Vista
Price: Approximately £108

Unfortunately, setting up the G-Drive was not as easy as it seemed. When the box arrived claiming to be a portable USB drive for Apple Laptops, it raised a bit of concern. I'm not a Mac owner, and all of the documentation I had seen had claimed that it would be compatible with a Windows PC and operating system. 

I decided there was only one way to find out, and plugged in. Unfortunately nothing happened and I had to find a friend with a Mac to format the drive for my machine before I could use it.  

Once it was up and running though, it worked perfectly. The super-fast USB 3.0 connection makes uploading files so easy that a huge amount of files can be transferred in the blink of an eye.  

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The drive is USB/FireWire powered, so it does not require any external power sources, making it easily portable. It can also be used in conjunction with  Mac Time Machine - the built-in back up feature for OS X. 

When it comes to backing up important files and data, no one wants to skimp on quality. This drive is fast, durable and has a large storage capacity. What more do you need?

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Znap mobile payment platform

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Payment methods have been slowly evolving for over the last ten years, from cash, to cheques to cards. Now you can even pay in cheques using a smartphone and use contactless card payment in supermarkets.

Despite these advancements, the payment process can often be a cause of pinch points in shops and other venues, causing queues and bottlenecks.

Znap aims to provide a solution to these issues, and I have to admit it's an efficient system that feels futuristic, and has cool sound effects to boot.

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Znap could fall under the m-commerce category, since all payments take place on your phone. Znap has gone one further, claiming to be 'omni-commerce' because the solution offers a bridge between different commerce channels, as well as offers merchants a means to fully interact with consumers through their likes and dislikes to cater deals and offers towards individuals.

Once you download the Znap app and set up an account, you can add the details of any credit or debit card you have. Then you select a four digit PIN to act as a verifier when using the app. Once this is done, you can use the Znap system wherever possible to pay for goods or use vouchers. These are just some of the solutions where Znap could be used to increase ease of payment and consumer-merchant interaction:

Supermarket

Znap can integrate with a POS system. Once items have been scanned by the shop assistant, the customer can scan a QR code at the till or use NFC touch technology to view their shopping list, apply any coupons they may have saved through Znap and then pay for the whole shop through their phone.

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This system can also be used for self-checkout. As you arrive at the supermarket you check in using a unique QR code and then scan goods on your phone as you're walking around the supermarket, using a checkout QR code to pay by the same method at the end.

Travel

If there's a long queue at the standard check-in desk at an airport, a Znap QR code could be used to register for a fast pass to join a different queue to reduce waiting times. Then once you arrive at your hotel, if you have bought your hotel reservation through Znap, location functionality within the app can detect your location and send a message to your phone informing you of your automatic check in, and directing you to your room where your phone can be used as your room key through the Znap application.

Paying bills

Your bills will come through with a Znap QR code on them ready to scan. Once scanned, Znap will allow you to enter the amount of the bill you wish to pay and make the transaction on your phone. The payment will be associated to you so if you share a house, you can prove that your section of a bill has been paid. It will also inform you if the bill has already been dealt with, so you don't end up paying a bill twice or overpaying.

Sales shopping

You see an advert for some jeans you like with a Znap QR code underneath. You scan the QR code and select what size or style you want, and whether you want the jeans delivered or to pick them up from a store near you. If you select pick up, you can pay and then go and get your ready-packaged jeans later when you're in the right area.

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Sports arena - How Znap is being used at Twickenham

These methods were put into practice at Twickenham where the Rugby Football Union elected ZNAP as its supplier for an m-commerce solution following a trial at the QBE Internationals. Sports fans were able to order and pay for their drinks and food beforehand through Znap, and were then able to approach a special till where they could collect their drinks, queue free with no extra staff needed.

These solutions not only offer consumers an easier way to pay, but allow merchants to turn over customers faster, and offer individual customer-focussed deals that are tailored to the habits of that particular consumer.

With the number of consumers shopping on their smartphones ever increasing and queues putting shoppers off of physically entering shops at all, this could be the next step in commerce that the industry really needs to get people back on the highstreet.

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REVIEW: Panasonic Toughbook CF - C2

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With the tablet market booming, it's no longer just traditional office employees that have laptops and tablets in the workplace.

We've written before about ruggedised tablets being adopted in certain working environments, for example Panasonic Toughpads are now used for producing documents in the aviation industry.

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The Panasonic Toughbook CF - C2 is a semi-rugged hybrid device that can be used as both a laptop and a tablet.

The screen rotates and flattens to become a tablet, with handy indicators to ensure that you know which direction to turn the screen in order to switch between the two modes. 

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I did manage to get my finger caught in the mechanism though, and since the device is quite bulky, it could cause some real damage if you're not careful.

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Keys on the keyboard are slightly smaller than I would have imagined for a rugged tablet, especially if the user is wearing protective gloves while using the device.

The laptop itself is quite heavy, but has a strap attached to the back to make it easier to hold and to ensure that it doesn't get dropped. It's in the perfect position for holding the laptop upright, but when in tablet mode it's not in a comfortable place, and would be a lot better if it was adjustable.

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The standard battery can last up to 14 hours due to reduced power consumption, with a higher capacity battery available to provide up to 19 hours of power, and the device also features a bridge battery so that a new battery can be swapped in without having to power down.

The 10-finger multi-touch display is made of strengthened glass and is efficient and accurate, but could become annoying if trying to touch smaller icons on such as button to close a window.

Specs at a glance:

Panasonic Toughbook CF - C2

    • Display: 12.4 inch HD Screen (1366x768)
    • OS: Windows 8.1 Pro
    • Camera: Front HD 720p, Rear 5 MP
    • Hard Drive: 500GB HDD standard and 128GB or 256GB SSD optional
    • Memory: 4GB RAM
    • Processor:  Intel® CoreTM i5-4300U Processor with Intel® Turbo Boost Technology


The device we had to test was running Windows 7, but would work very well with the Windows 8 OS, especially due to the touch screen capabilities and tablet orientation.

Where this devices really comes into its own is in its toughness:

We dropped it several times in testing of its rugged label, and it didn't break, bend or smash and worked perfectly afterwards. We even threw some water on it to see if it really does have a "water resistant keyboard and touchpad" and I'm pleased to say that the Toughbook came through completely unscathed and fully functioning, and would work well in a work situation where knocks and drops are likely. 

The Panasonic Toughbook CF - C2 is now available in the UK at a starting price of around £1441.

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REVIEW: Dell Venue 8 Pro

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The tablet market is stronger than ever, with a 68% increase in tablet and hybrid device sales over the 2013 period.

Although Apple still remains in the top spot, there are plenty of alternatives to the ever popular iPad, including the Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet.

This 8 inch tablet, running Windows 8.1, comes with a full Microsoft Office suite of applications and is an easy to use platform upon which to experience windows 8.

In this video, we give an overview of the device and its specs:



The size of the tablet is small enough that it comfortably fits in one hand, with an appealing rubber-like texture on the back which makes it easy to grip. It also is very light at just under 400g, as well as its small size making it easily portable for working on-the-go such as on the tube or at home.

The usual Windows button, which would normally be located on the front of a Windows tablet, is a physical button at the side of the device, which impeded use a little, and I found it easier to use the swipe-menu feature to navigate instead.

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We had particular trouble using the on-screen keyboard, but there are a number of different accessories available to make this tablet easier to use when out and about, including a wireless keyboard, stylus and a tablet cover that doubles up as a stand, but it will cost you extra.

The display, which is HD 800p, is vibrantly coloured and good for watching videos or looking at documents and presentations, and with the full Office suite available all of your work is at your fingertips.

Although the battery life lasts all day when in use, it seemed to run down just as quickly when on standby, and I would have expected it to last longer.

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The processor is quite powerful considering the tablet's size, with an Intel Atom Z3740D Processor, so the apps load quickly. The dual-band Wi-Fi also ensures that web pages load quickly, although it can only be used where there are Wi-Fi hotspots or a reliable connection as the device has no SIM capabilities.

The tablet also features wireless display technology, allowing videos, photos or presentations to be streamed from your tablet to the nearest compatible TV using a Miracast secure direct connection.

Specs at a glance:

Dell Venue 8 Pro

    • Display: 8 inch HD 800p
    • OS: Windows 8.1
    • Camera: Front 1.2 MP, Rear 5 MP
    • Hard Drive: 32GB/64GB eMMC Hard Drive
    • Memory: 2GB Single Channel DDR3L-RS 1600MHz
    • Processor:  Intel  Atom Processor Z3740D (2MB Cache, up to 1.8GHz Quad-Core)

As far as small affordable tablets go, this is definitely one of the best for getting work done on a commute. The review unit was supplied to us by Ebuyer, where you can currently buy the Dell Venue Tablet Pro for £239.99.

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MWC REVIEW: Tech21 Impact Band

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I picked this nifty gadget up during Showstoppers at the MWC conference in Barcelona. This phone case/band uses a substance called D30 to reduce impact to your phone when you drop it. 

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The band of D30 implanted around the case disperses the force of the impact so that the rest of your band feels the force as opposed to your phone. This video shows a demonstration of the D30 material:

The case did feel a little loose on my phone, but not loose enough that it would slip or fall off. As well as the band, the case comes with a plastic back cover to protect the other side of your phone, but this part doesn't seem necessary. When you're constantly travelling or multitasking, making sure you invest in a good case for those breath-stopping moments when your phone slips from your hand is vitally important.

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I did take the plunge and drop the phone with the case on, and the device survived intact with no damage, so it seems that Tech21 is on to a winner. The official price for this is around £18, but can be found elsewhere online for less, and as well as providing protection for your phone, it also looks pretty funky and comes in a range of colours. 

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