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. 

MWC FIRST LOOK: Lenovo Yoga Tablet 10 HD+

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Over the last year the news has been filled with stories of Lenovo's success and it seems that they are slowly climbing their way to the top of the technology ladder.

The company even saw its smartphone sales increase by 102% over the course of 2013. So it's not surprising that during MWC, Lenovo has a whole new range of products to get excited about.

I focused on the new Lenovo Yoga table, since it will be available in the UK, and it was nice to take a look at something a bit different.

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The tablet has a cylindrical battery running along one edge of the device, which not only provides up to 18 hours of battery life, but also acts as an extremely comfortable handle for holding when reading documents or books and taking pictures.

There is a kick-stand built in, which has been extended for flexibility of angles, allowing the device to stand upright when viewing content such as videos or presentations, but it folds away nicely when you're not using it, and doesn't get in the way when you want to pick up and hold the device.

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The camera has been upgraded to an 8 megapixel camera, which takes pretty good photos and coupled with the battery/handle it's easier to take pictures than on traditionally shaped tablets.

Specs at a glance: 

Lenovo Yoga Tablet 10 HD+

    • Processor: Snapdragon 1.6GHz
    • Camera: 8MP Front Camera
    • Memory: 2GB
    • Storage: 32GB
    • OS: Android 4.3

The Bluetooth keyboard has been updated, and also functions as a cover for the tablet with a strengthened back plate that slides across the screen to protect it from damage and also to make it easier to carry both parts around in a bag. It also puts the tablet to sleep when you slide the cover on, which ensures that it doesn't get activated in your bag and saves battery.


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The tablet and keyboard are also charged via micro USB as opposed to the previous proprietary charger, and the Yoga has a micro USB port with OTG capability, so it can be used to charge other devices when you're out and about.

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They might not be market leaders in the tablet sector, but this device is stylish and has enough features to set it apart from other devices in the same vein. 


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MWC FIRST LOOK: Sony Xperia Z2 and Sony SmartBand

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With Sony recently bowing out of the PC market in favour of pushing its smartphone arm, we expected big things from any new devices announced at MWC.

It seemed that the new Xperia Z2 is really an upgrade of Sony's previous phone. However, i's full little changes that make all the difference. For example, the Z2 uses a wider colour spectrum on its 5.2 inch screen than on previous devices. It uses TRILUMINOUS display technology to better show reds and greens, so images look really clear, and when next to an older smartphone, you can clearly see the difference in colour when looking at the same picture.

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It also has a capability called X-Reality which cleans up low resolution video by analysing a clip and filling in gaps and pixilation.

From a business perspective, the Z2 supports a new feature called Small Apps, which essentially allows the user to multitask by running an app in a small floating window, which could come in quite useful if you needed to look at two things at once in a meeting or presentation.

Obviously any Android business apps that take your fancy are available, as well as the Xperia calendar, Email and Contacts apps to keep everything in order. Plus, any data held on the internal SD card is secured by 256-bit AES encryption.

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It's still water and dust proof, it's light and thin, and it hits the spot for those in the market for a premium Android device. And the best bit? It also comes in deep purple. Perhaps Sony has made the right decision.

You can also use the new Sony SmartBand alongside the Xperia Z2, a life-tracking band that has an advantage over other health monitors.

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The band monitors pretty much everything you do in life and on your phone. It knows when you're walking, running, sleeping, cycling, gaming, driving, chatting. It has a small unit that sits in a rubber band which you strap to your wrist. The core unit can tell by your movement what action you're currently partaking in, and it monitors the applications used on your phone for data such as when you're talking or playing Angry Birds.


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The strap was slightly uncomfortable and a bit loose on my wrist, with two little prongs that press through holes in the wrist band to loosen and tighten the strap. The texture of the band was comfortable though, and it comes in a number of different colours.

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The core has to be taken out and charged once a week. The band is water proof, and the idea is to wear it 24/7 - even in the shower. As everyone in the world keeps getting busier, these devices that can tell us where we're going right or wrong are becoming increasingly more popular, and this band goes the extra mile in giving you more information about your day beyond how you slept, the steps you've taken and the calories you've burnt.

We're hoping to get these devices in for a full review soon, so make sure to check back. 

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MWC 2014 First Look: Huawei MediaPad X1 7.0

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This week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona has seen a slew of new devices hit the show floor, ranging from the high end market dominators like the new Samsung Galaxy S5 through to the entry level smartphones running Mozilla Firefox's mobile OS.

But trying to be heard through all the noise was Chinese manufacturer Huawei. Despite the media focus on its networking solutions - and the security of them - the firm also has a thriving mobile devices unit and used MWC to launch a number of new products.

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One that drew a lot of attention was the Huawei MediaPad X1 7.0. The Android-based tablet only runs Jelly Bean - 4.2 - rather than the most current OS KitKat - 4.4 - but comes with Huawei's own Emotion UI to give swiping through the screens and lists of apps a nippy and stylish feel. It does mean it will launch behind its other Android rivals though so we still think missing out of the latest software was a mistake.

It runs on an Huawei built quadcore 1.6GHz processor, which is not quite as quick as the favoured Snapdragon chipsets, but still offers speed and performance necessary for such a tablet size. The device comes with 2GB of RAM and available in either a 16GB or 32GB model.

The seven inch device looks very sleek, measuring just 7.18mm thick and weighing in at 239g. It was very comfortable to hold without the slipping or stickiness other devices have.

It also competed well with alternative seven inch tablets when it came to its stunning screen, offering a resolution of 1920 x 1200 pixels and Corning Gorilla Glass for a smooth finish.

Where it tops other tablets in this size range, however, it the fact it has phone capabilities. Arguably this puts it into the smartphone/phablet market rather than tablet, but it is clear from the design it is meant to be a tablet first with extra communication capabilities.

Huawei offers 4G versions of the device and although one feels very silly holding such a large tablet/smartphone up to your ear, the appeal of an all-in-one device will definitely win some customers over.

This does, of course, raise the price of the MediaPad X1 7.0 when compared to the likes of Google's Nexus 7. The latter comes in at less than £200 whereas Huawei is expecting to launch for around £329.

But, if it is a strong tablet device with the extra communication attached that you are looking for, this could be a contender. If only they would update it to Android KitKat...

A launch date has yet to be confirmed. 

More photos of the Huawei MediaPad X1 7.0

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MWC 2014 FIRST LOOK: Nokia X and Nokia XL

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After all of the fuss that was made about Microsoft acquiring Nokia's mobile phone arm, the Finnish giants have gone and released a phone running Android as opposed to Windows 8 Phone.

Among the gasps at the announcement, there were also some murmurs along the lines of "that makes sense" - especially since the phone is aimed more at emerging markets that do not need the whole shebang of a fully functioning Windows experience.

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I took a look at the new Nokia X and Nokia XL at MWC, and the first thing that I thought was that the phone felt very square. The edges aren't rounded, and although this is unusual, it isn't uncomfortable, and still fits nicely in your hand.

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I've said before that I will always choose Apple products first, but Nokia devices always come in at a close second. And, even though the new 'Nokia X family' is aimed at entry-level markets as opposed to those wanting extreme gadgetry, I still found it a treat to test out.

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Some of the use of the phone requires some knowledge of already having used a smartphone, such as swiping to left and right in order to dismiss or open an application, which I thought was inconvenient in a phone designed for those just entering the smartphone space.

Again, the bright colours available appeal to me, and the outside casing has a similar light feeling to the iPhone 5C, but the plastic is matte instead of shiny.

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The Android interface is easy to use, and not that far off of the tiles used in the Windows 8 OS. As said by Stephen Elop in the release presentation, it offers new smartphone users an introduction to Microsoft without actually giving them a Windows Phone.

It has a lot of the Microsoft applications pre-loaded, such as Skype, as well as access to the Nokia app store instead of Google play.

The Nokia X fits perfectly in the hand, whereas the XL, as the name would suggest, is slightly bigger and is more in Lumia territory size-wise. It was therefore slightly too big to fit comfortably in the hand, but was still very stylish and offered the same user experience in terms of ease of use.

Although the X, XL and new Asha phones are always nice to see, there were no new Lumia models announced at MWC. Not to worry though, as you can read our review of the Lumia 1520 right here, and we hope to get the new devices in for a full review soon. 

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MWC 2014 FIRST LOOK: Samsung Galaxy S5

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Samsung has been very busy this year, having already launched a new range of products in January at CES in Vegas.

They definitely saved the best until last though, as the new Samsung Galaxy S5, announced at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, is an ultra-stylish and easy to use smartphone.

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As I approached the stands I had my usual sinking feeling when I noticed its size; it's another quite big smartphone, and I often complain that I find larger phones hard to use. Expecting the size to make it heavy, I used a considerable amount of force when picking it up, and then almost dropped it because it was actually extremely light.

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This, in turn, makes it easy to use, as it fits nicely in your hand, but gives you the opportunity to move your hand around a bit to cover the larger screen without fear of dropping it.

The interface is easy to figure out, and the buttons that you will need most, including the icon that switches the phone between home screen and app screen, are situated near the thumb so that they can be easily reached and pressed.

There are obviously the usual improvements on previous models, including a much faster and clearer camera and faster usage speeds. A few nifty features of the phone, though, include the ability to be totally emerged in up to a meter of water for up to 30 minutes, which is a nice step beyond basic splash-proofing.

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It also has a power saving mode for sticky situations, allowing you to shut off almost all functions of the phone, including the colour, and receive only calls and text messages. It may seem like a drastic step, but it will conserve the battery life for 5-8 days, which could be really helpful if you're stranded somewhere without a charger.

I received a practical demonstration of a new feature that allows the phone to use a combination of Wi-Fi and 4G in order to increase internet speeds. Considering the thousands of people using the Wi-Fi and data connection at the event, the web really did zoom.

It also has a new built-in heart rate monitor for use with sporting or whatever it is you'd want to use a heart rate monitor for. You simply hold your finger over the sensor for a few seconds and stand perfectly still until it tells you what your heart rate is. I have to admit though, and I'm not a doctor so I don't know how accurate it was, but when I tested it, my heart rate seemed a little lower than normal. Let's chalk it up to the noise level in the room interfering with the sensor.

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Finally I also got to take a little look at the Samsung Gear 2 smartwatch, which has a new home button, which does what it says on the tin, a repositioned microphone so that the angle of the arm is more comfortable during calls, and the ability to be used as a remote control. It was easier to use than I expected. I had previously thought that smartwatches were not worth having, but this changed my mind.

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In summary, these devices are easy to use, and after a while using them I found myself happily browsing the apps and features without trouble. We're hoping to get these devices in for a full review soon, so please check back for more detailed specs! 

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REVIEW: Fujitsu U904 Ultrabook

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Windows 8 has been slowly seeping into our lives over the last few years, and yet I still feel overwhelmingly confused when I come across laptops running the no-longer-new OS. 

This Fujitsu Ultrabook laptop, through its size and comfortable usability, helped me to move past my fear of new things and embrace this strange hybrid operating system as much as I could bear to. 

In order to fully utilise Windows 8, the device has a combination of keyboard, mousepad and touchscreen. As with many computers with this combination it can often be awkward to use as there is a lot of reaching forward to use the touchscreen, then moving arms back and forth to switch between using the touch screen and the keyboard. When not using a tablet, I've never been sure whether a touch-screen element is actually necessary, but this laptop provides it in order to fully embrace the Windows 8 experience. 

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If you're not totally comfortable with the Windows 8 view, you can switch to classic view, and are automatically switched to classic view to use applications such as Microsoft office. It is a bit more difficult to navigate, however, as the menu bar has been replaced with the new Windows button, taking you back to the application menu filled with colourful panels and widgets. 

Windows 8 allows the use of a Microsoft account to log into the laptop, automatically set up a profile and sync apps using your Windows profile, which can be quite handy if you don't want to go through a lengthily setup process. 

Specs at a glance:

Fujitsu U904 Ultrabook
    • Display: 14 inch frameless touch screen
    • OS: Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit
    • Resolution: 3200 x 1800
    • RAM: Maximum 10GB available
    • Optional 3G/4G
    • Battery life: up to 10 hours
    • Available processors: Intel® Core™ vPro™, Intel® Core™ i5-4300U , or Intel® Core™ i7-4600U 
    • Warranty: 2 years (depending on country)

The overall look of this device is very easy on the eye. The lid is black, with a nice glittery finish, very symmetrical and is only 15.5mm thick. Although it only weighs 1.39kg it felt slightly heavier than I expected. It's by no means a monster though, and would be fine for those looking for portability. The only complaint I had about the physical appearance of the Ultrabook is the small toggle on the front of the lid to help open and close it. It's obviously very practical, but it spoils the clean-cut aesthetics a little bit. 

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It's slightly larger than other business-focused laptops, but the use of both keys, mousepad and touchscreen makes it easier to use with the Windows 8 operating system, and it has docking station capabilities, as well as an integrated battery and a built in economy battery button to indicate when the device should conserve energy if you're out and about. 

The integrated camera was slightly grainy, but fine for use with Skype calls or other similar applications. The keyboard also has a back-lighting feature that can be used in darker locations, for example if you're trying to use it during a presentation or seminar. 

Prices vary depending on the retailer, but it seems you can snatch one up starting at around £1300, which although isn't cheap is still a good price based on the capabilities of the machine. 

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The Fujistu Ultrabook is sleek, it's usable, and it has a shiny metallic finish with a bit of sparkle. Who doesn't love that?

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INFOGRAPHIC: The importance of communication

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Valentine's Day is upon us, and as we text, email, PM, snapchat, IM and tweet our loved ones a special message, we realise the importance of communication in this technology-centric age. Many a relationship has failed due to lack of communication, and cloud-based communications provider j2 Global has made this special infographic to display how better means of communication could have saved these doomed movie relationships:

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Happy Valentine's Day!

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HANDS ON: Polycom HDX 4500

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Earlier this month I took a look at the HDX 4500, a piece of conferencing equipment that doubles up as a desk monitor, so you can take part in several conference calls every day without ever having to leave your desk. 

This conferencing solution is perfect for those who have a home office as well as those working on-site, and uses half the bandwidth of some other similar devices using H.264 High Profile video compression. 

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The video quality is extremely clear, and has a 24 inch LCD HDTV standard wide screen (20.1 inches for the smaller HDX 4002 model) and keeps a real life standard of video quality with Polycom Lost Packet Recovery to avoid any pixilation and to keep the conversation flowing naturally. 

To further enhance the life-like meeting experience, the device uses Polycom HD Voice technology in and built-in microphones for clarity of speech, and two built in speakers (four on the HDX 4002 model) to make it feel like you and your buddies on the conference are in the same room. 

Specs at a glance: 

HDX 4500
    • Display: 24 inch 1080p LCD Widescreen
    • Resolution: 1920 x 1080
    • Camera: 1920 x 1080 video capture resolution
    • Two built in speakers
    • Package: People+Content, People+Content IP, People on Content, control pad and cables
    • UI: International languages and Polycom Converged Management Application/
      Web based UI
HDX 4002
    • Display: 20.1 inch LCD Widescreen
    • Resolution: 1680 x 1050
    • Camera: 1280 x 720 video capture resolution
    • Four built in speakers
In the demo I saw, there were several devices and cameras set up around the room, and they appeared in separate participant windows, each looking and sounding very clear. You can also share documents, graphics and websites with other participants on a call, choosing whether to display only the shared content, or insert your image in the foreground to appear as part of a presentation using embedded Polycom People on Content.

The HDX 4500, has a privacy filter which covers the camera so no one can spy on you, even when on a call, and a panel from which you can control calls and general functionality.

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The main appeal for me is that this conferencing solution also functions as a monitor for PCs and Macs, so you could have your own conferencing suite right at your desk. This could be very beneficial for those who work at home, or those who work at an international organisation where conferencing calling is a regular occurrence. 

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REVIEW: Nokia Lumia 1520

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The Lumia phones have always appealed to me because they were one of the first smartphones to come in a range of bright and cheerful colours (and I was slightly disappointed that the review copy we got was black, even though it was still very sleek).

Since I've always been an Apple fan, I have to admit when I first held this giant tablet disguised as a phone, it felt distinctly alien. The Windows Phone 8 OS was something I had vowed I would never get used to, and I'd never used a phone with touch-screen only buttons before.

After fiddling around with it for a while I realised it's not that different from iOS; there are tiles that open apps, there's a windows button that takes you to your home screen, and there's a back button that's actually easier to find than those included in most iOS applications. 

Then I got down to answering the big question: can this phone actually be used as a business device? 

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I whipped out the Microsoft Office applications and started giving them a good test. Because the phone has quite a large screen (6 inches!) it's not too difficult to work and type on. Creating word documents and the other necessary pieces of work you might need is easy, it was getting them off the phone that I found more difficult. You can plug the phone into your laptop and transfer them over that way, which would be quite useful if you were using your phone to finish things off on-the-go, then pop them straight back on to your laptop. You can also share them to other devices via Bluetooth and NFC. 

As always, the tablet and phone version of any desktop application is never quite the same as the real deal. In terms of using for work on a commute however, it was very handy, especially due to its size.

The Nokia Screen Beamer is quite a handy feature for business environments. It allows you to send what's currently displayed on your phone to another device connected to the internet. You go to https://beam.nokia.com/ on the device you want to share with, and then scan the QR code with your phone. Then, whatever is displayed on your phone can be 'beamed' to the other device. To update the remote screen, you shake your phone as if you're flicking the data over. Simple things please simple minds, but I thought this was hugely cool and useful. 

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Some of Nokia's own apps such as Nokia Music and Nokia Cinemagraph were extremely fun. My personal favourite was the Nokia Creative Studio, which allows you to edit pictures you have taken by blurring certain parts of an image, highlighting a particular colour in a photo, or creating collages of your favorite pictures. 

And of course the review would not be complete without mentioning the legendary camera. I used the Nokia Pro Cam software integrated with the camera. It allows you to use dial-shaped sliders on the screen to adjust the image before taking it. It takes a lot of fiddling, and seems to work better on close-ups than landscapes, but the images looked stunning on the 1080p full HD display. 

Although this phone performs tasks well, I couldn't help but feel like a fool when I held it up to my ear to make a call. It's huge, and holding a block the size of my face up for too long gave me an arm-ache. 

These phones are social and encourage a lot of creativity, they may not be marketed as business phones, but they can still be used as such. It does everything a normal phone will. It can sync calendars, create documents, and access emails. It's a good choice for a personal phone or a BYOD plan, but it still wasn't for me. 

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Huddle for Office - A new integrated experience

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It has been a busy year for Huddle, with its launch of the Huddle Note app for collaborative file sharing and its partnership with Tibbr for file sharing in the cloud.

Now, Huddle has announced that it is integrating with Microsoft Office to allow employees to collaborate on documents in the Huddle secure cloud via Microsoft Office applications.

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Users will be able to save their work directly into their Huddle accounts through Microsoft Office, and Office documents such as Powerpoints, Word documents and Excel files will have the Huddle comments stream alongside it to allow users to interact and collaborate on work.

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Huddle believes the next step for business is to move into the cloud, and provides content collaboration platforms for enterprises and governments. http://www.computerweekly.com/news/2240212784/Barnardos-uses-Huddle-Note-for-collaboration-and-communication

Huddle for Office integration will allow users to save documents directly to the Huddle cloud, comment on files directly from Office applications, view recent files instantly and track changes, comments and updates via Huddle's full audit trail.

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Alastair Mitchell, Huddle CEO, said: "Skipping between the applications on your desktop and cloud service to share information and discuss files with people is time-consuming and disrupts your workflow. With Huddle for Office, you can continue working in the desktop tools you're used to, but all of your feedback, files and updates are stored and shared in Huddle's secure cloud.

Huddle's Office integration is available now. 

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REVIEW: Logitech ConferenceCam CC3000e

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Having the right conferencing system can significantly increase communication quality throughout and organisation, especially when your enterprise is split across continents or you have customers abroad.

Today Logitech has introduced a new conference system which offers an improved video and voice conferencing environment at a reasonable starting price of £699.

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It's not abnormal to step into a conferencing room five minutes before a meeting is due to start and then have to call in an engineer to show you how to use the equipment. The CC3000e is so simple to use, however, that you'll never need to get helpdesk involved again.

The ConferenceCam allows you to control the call using your PC, meaning that you can use whatever communications software you would usually use. It has plug-and-play capabilities so should support calls made through any available software, and is Skype, Cisco Jabber, Vidyo and Microsoft Lync certified, so you can choose whatever software you're used to in order to make a call.

The video quality is extremely clear and doesn't suffer at all from lag or pixilation. The room I saw it demoed in had brightly painted patterns on the wall, which were displayed beautifully on the on-screen image, which would be great for sending visuals of graphs, slideshows or whiteboards if using the conferencing system for presentations. The device supports 1080p HD video and high-quality audio that is clear even if you are sitting quite a distance from the speakerphone, working up to 20-feet away.

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It also has similar capabilities to the portable Logitech P710e speakerphone; it can pair smartphone devices using Bluetooth or NFC to allow hands free communication.

When making a call, the contact you are communicating with is displayed on the central console. The camera features a 90-degree field of view with remote controlled 260-degree panning and 10 times lossless zoom. A 'home' position for the camera can also be set so that when using the camera for conferencing you can return the camera to the correct position by pressing a single button.

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Although this system is slightly less portable than previously, it is still movable and could be transported and easily set up in a different location if your usual conferencing space is not available. It comes in three parts; a camera, the speakerphone unit and a central hub that is used to connect all of the devices (including your PC) together. 

This device is simple to use, very affordable, and perfect for any small to medium sized enterprises in need of reliable conferencing equipment. 

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REVIEW: short and long term evaluation of Nike+ smartwatch

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I've been using a Nike+ Sportwatch for six weeks and 153km of running, since switching from a Garmin Forerunner 310 XT, which I've had for over two years.

In this blog I am writing down how I have found it. I've also asked a colleague who has been a Nike user for three and a half years, for his view of the Nike+ system, which the Sportwatch uses to track your progress.

The main reason for using the Nike+ device over the Garmin was that my old 310XT was taking ages to lock onto GPS.

The Sportwatch is pretty fast at getting a GPS lock but it did seem to get my pace wrong occasionally. I'm not sure why, but the GPS signal outside our office is rubbish so I can only assume it didn't lock onto the satellite properly.

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I also purchased the £15 footpod Nike+ pedometer and a little pouch for £5, which holds the pod in non Nike running shoes. Nike recommends using the footpod with the GPS for about half an hour to improve its accuracy - and the combination of footpod and GPS seems to work great and my pace seems to be recorded correctly now.

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Getting started on a run with the Sportwatch is a bit fiddly compared to the Garmin 310 XT, where the user simply pressed Start.

On the Sportwatch you have to scroll down a menu and make sure either or both the GPS and the Footpod are ticked on. There has been a few occasions when GPS seemed to disable itself before I begun my run when I was outside, which is not great because I like seeing a map of my route.

To configure and get the most out of the Sportwatch it has to be connected to the Nike+ website and you need to set up a free account. The Sportwatch plugs into a USB port on your computer and connects to the Nike+ website automatically after you have installed Nike's driver software.

Once connected to Nike+ it's possible to configure which parameters the Sportwatch displays while running. I use average pace, and my Sportwatch will automatically scroll through other parameters like distance, elapsed time etc. You can also set auto pause for when you're waiting to cross a road.

Once you finish a run, you have to go into the menu and select the end run option. Again, this is not as easy as on the Garmin, but you get used to it.

Unlike my old Garmin, where the watch communicated wirelessly with a Garmin Ant+ USB adapter on my computer, the Sportwatch needs to be plugged into a USB port to upload data to Nike+.

The USB adapter folds into the watch buckle and Nike provides a USB extension cable. Personally I feel the USB connector on the Sportwatch is a bit fragile and I'm concerned that rinsing the watch could tarnish the USB contacts, which could impact its ability to connect to Nike+.

Nike+

Like Garmin, Nike has a dashboard where you can see your runs and compare how you are doing. It doesn't seem as sophisticated as Garmin's Connect site. The brightly coloured bar graphs, animated playback of your run and trophy chest feel more like a computer game than a serious running aid.

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I think it would be hard to measure how my 5k pace has changed over a set period, or compare it to last year's pace. This is something I have been able to do on Garmin's alternative Connect dashboard with my old 310 XT.

The more I use Nike+, the more I think the stats are nonsense.

1. The whole thing about comparing against men of your age is a bit false and probably a bit dangerous from a health perspective given that no one is average - weight, general health, fitness level and  training objectives all need to be taken into account.

2. Average length of run (on Nike+) = average over a month or week (including the days you have  off). For me it does not reflect that I tend to run two or more 8km runs + a long run (like 16 km) each week - ie Nike+ says my average is 6km over 7 days rather than 16+8+8/3=10km average per run.

If I were being mean I'd say the Nike marketing people want you running every day so you wear out your shoes quicker!

3. I'd like to compare how I run against people in the Nike+ community who have the same training objectives ie they are training for a marathon, but Nike+ only appears to let me see how I compare against people my age.

Personally, I would find it really useful if Nike+ could take into account my last race time and training objective (I'm training for a marathon) to show me how much people with the same training goals are doing, their pace, the distance they run on average, and how many times they go out running.

And if it also presented a dashboard where I could then dial down my marathon finishing time to see what level of training I needed - that would be perfect!

Fellow runner Simon Quicke has been a Nike+ Sportband user for over three years. I asked him for some feedback as a long-term Nike+ user.

He said: "If you look at the recent support tweets there have been numerous problems with synching. My main problem with Nike+ is that it is too inconsistent. All you need is one problem and this undermines your belief in the whole system."

In fairness he said technical support has been excellent But he said: "It is the problems that cause distress. You tend to always run with a wariness that the system could go wrong."

Simon's other grip is that the whole system seems to be very US based. "Sometimes Nike will be doing work on the server at times suitable for the States but not good for UK users."

This is quite a long review. Since I switched from a Garmin Forerunner, my expectations are a bit different to someone buying their first smartwatch. For balance I included the views of a long-term user.

Both our experiences illustrate areas where Nike can make improvements.

As a wearable device, the Sportwatch feels bulky, but it is similar in size to my old Garmin Forerunner 310 XT. It is functional and can reliably record run stats. My biggest concern, and this will be a challenge not just to Nike, but to other smartwatch makers, is that these devices live and die by the quality of the software. An unfortunately, neither myself nor Simon think the Nike+ back-end meet our expectations for a device whose main purpose is to measure fitness.

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