WIN! £15 to spend at Amazon.co.uk

It’s competition time again! We’ve got another £15 Amazon.co.uk voucher up for grabs – ideal for if you’ve been saving up to buy some new tech (although you can spend it on whatever you want!).

To enter, simply fill in the form below and like GEEK! on Facebook – it’s that simple. You’ve got until Friday 18th September to enter – rules are at the bottom of this post as normal!

Hopefully this goes without saying, but you can enter even if you’ve previously entered GEEK! competitions and/or if you already like GEEK! on Facebook.

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Review: 1byone Bluetooth LED Light Bulb with Speaker

Rating: ★★★★★

RRP £24.99, best price at time of writing £15.99 on Amazon

“Smart” technology is very much a thing of the present with everything from TVs to central heating systems to security systems all now being available with enhanced functionality when connected to the internet or another device. Another device we’ve seen become “smart” lately is the light bulb. Philips Hue lighting is a great example of this – a light bulb that you can control over your wi-fi, use with a wide variety of colours, and even use (with other hardware) to sync up to devices like your TV or games console. The only issue is that it’s rather expensive technology and won’t suit everyone. So what if you want something a bit more wallet-friendly?

1byone were kind enough to send me one of their latest offerings – their 1byone Bluetooth LED Light Bulb. Available from around £16 on Amazon, it’s a fraction of the cost of the Philips Hue and should offer similar features, as well as having the bonus of a built in speaker. Lets find out!

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The bulb comes very well packaged in a decent cardboard box so is unlikely to get damaged in transit. Inside the box you’ll find the bulb together with some short instructions.

Setting up the bulb is really easy. Simply screw it into any Edison screw bulb holder (you can get bayonet adapters separately if you need them), turn on the light and it’ll immediately power up. It’ll default with a cool white light if no device is connected and that works nicely. At this point you can pair it up to a device (it’ll reconnect automatically once it’s paired) and get started. You then simply need to download the free TecPowerBulb app for either Android or iOS and you can get started.

Once you’ve got the app open you can access a number of controls. Use the lamp tab to choose pretty much any colour you like from a colour picker – the lamp responds almost instantly and output is really good – a very decent bright output. You can also use setting tab to set a delay before turning the lamp off – ideal if you need a security light while you’re going out or if you simply want a night light. The clock with the movable hands makes it really easy to set a switch-off time.

If you want, you can also use the music tab to set a song to play, but in my test with iOS 8 I could simply use the onboard music player to transmit audio through to the onboard speaker – a method I much prefer. The onboard speaker was surprisingly good – a warm sound (if a tiny bit tinny) which fills the room very effectively. Really not bad at all. It actually makes quite a lot of sense because if your ceiling light fitting is in the centre of the room, the omni-directional speaker does a fantastic job of directing volume equally. I was very surprised at how well it worked.

The only feature I felt the device lacked was an automatic on-off feature. It’d be nice if you could automatically turn the lamp on when it becomes in Bluetooth range of your phone, and then turn off when it falls out of range – but I feel this is a feature that could easily be added in future. This would certainly appeal to people trying to be “green” with the environment.

Overall, I am very happy with the device. For the 6W of energy the lamp uses, it produces a really bright output. The colour customisation really appeals to various moods – love the idea of mood lighting. It isn’t quite perfect, but it’s damn near close for a Bluetooth bulb – and the minor things that are missing could easily be added with an app update. At around £16, it’s a bargain, and if you’re looking for a budget colour-changing light bulb – this could be a great option.

Buy the 1byone Bluetooth LED Light Bulb from Amazon

Review: Intel Compute Stick – an entire PC in a dongle?

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Rating: ★★★★☆

RRP £119, best price at time of writing £115 on Amazon

Over the past few years we’ve seen computing get much smaller – the Raspberry Pi revolutionised the lower powered computing market with its tiny build size and its ability to run various flavours of Linux.

When Intel first announced the Compute Stick, I was interested to see what kind of computing power today’s world is looking at in incredibly small spaces. And who else better to try and pack multiple processor cores into a small space than Intel themselves? So I picked one up and decided to give it a test drive to see what we’re looking at.

There are actually two versions of the Compute Stick – a Linux designed version which is cheaper and comes with more basic specs – and this one which comes with a full fat version of Windows 8.1 ready to go. In terms of tech specs, you’re looking at a quad core Intel Atom processor, 2GB of RAM, a MicroSD card slot, one USB port and an HDMI connector.

Set up is as simple as any other Windows device really. Plug in the HDMI connector into any TV or monitor, the micro USB connector into the supplied power adapter and you’re just about ready to go. As soon as the device powers up it’ll go straight into Windows setup. Before you know it, you’ll be at a Windows desktop, ready to use the machine.

It’s not the most powerful computer in the world – I think it’s best to compare it to a decent spec Windows tablet. However, you’d be surprised at what it is capable of doing. Without too much trouble at all I had Microsoft Office 2016 running smoothly together with my favourite music streaming apps and basic Windows store games. It’ll happily play streaming video in 1080p – YouTube videos were playing without any dropped frames.

The device has a significant advantage over other low powered Windows devices because it does have a small fan fitted over the CPU. When the Compute Stick is idle, it runs completely silently – it’s often quite eerie using a desktop computer and not being able to hear anything. If CPU load starts to run quite high, then the CPU fan will kick in – it’s reasonably quiet but not by any means silent. What this means is that the Compute Stick can sustain higher CPU loads, whereas other devices like tablets would be forced to reduce clock speed to prevent overheating. The device can therefore use the full potential of the top 1.83Ghz turbo boost clock speed – not bad.

So who is this device aimed at? Well I think this is ideally someone who wants to turn a TV or projector setup into a smart setup with Windows. Having Windows on your TV is about as good as it gets for smart functionality as you have very little limitation in terms of which services you can use as they’re pretty much all going to work with Windows. This device would also work well for those who need to take their computer with them everywhere but don’t want the weight of a laptop. For example, if you spend quite a lot of time in hotel rooms then this could be ideal for you as it really is just plug and play. Your whole computer is ready to go wherever you go – in something the size of a large USB stick.

There are one or two downsides. Firstly, I found that I had to do a number of driver updates to get the most out of the device – all of which were available on Intel’s website – but I felt it made such a noticeable difference that it is worth recommending to everyone. Secondly, the single USB port does make connectivity quite difficult particularly when you’re probably going to be using the port for a wireless keyboard and mouse. You can quite happily run a powered USB hub with the device to get extra ports, but it somewhat defeats the point.

Other than those minor niggles, this really is a fantastic device that’s ideal for people who want to transform a TV or have ultimate PC portability. At around £120 here in the UK and around $150 in the US, it is a fantastic price for a tiny PC – especially when you consider it comes with full Windows 8.1 (which should be upgradable to Windows 10 once all Windows updates are applied) and a year of McAfee antivirus.

Buy the Intel Compute Stick on Amazon

Google Chrome being unresponsive or unusually slow? Here’s a fix!

In recent weeks I’ve been finding my favourite browser, Google Chrome, walking on thin ice. It used to be a seriously speedy browser dancing from page to page… OK, cut the fairy tale. Nonetheless, it was getting increasingly slow performing basic tasks like opening new tabs and launching video playback. It even seemed to cause mouse lag when multiple tabs were open.

Nonetheless, I was fiddling with settings and finally seem to have found a reasonable solution. It seems hardware acceleration has been a relatively new feature for Chrome (available from early 2014-ish). but many seem to be reporting this has led to Chrome becoming slower rather than faster.

Try turning it off using the instructions below and see if it makes a difference.

  1. Type chrome://settings into your address bar. Alternatively, click on the Google Chrome customize button (far top right button in Chrome with the 3 lines, then click Settings)
  2. Scroll to the bottom and click Show advanced settings…
  3. Scroll all the way to the bottom and find the System section. Untick Use hardware acceleration where available. Chrome will tell you it’ll need to restart, so do that by clicking restart (or closing Chrome fully and reloading it)

Try browsing to some sites now or opening some new tabs. I noticed an immediate improvement myself, but let me know if it makes any difference for you.

Mpow Cheetah wireless earphones review – bargain sports earphones?

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Minimalistic packaging is something I always like to see – easily recyclable and no cut-yourself-when-you-open-it nightmares here!

PROS:

  • Nice fit to the head, even if it takes a little while to get used to
  • Handy functions such as phone number readout
  • Minimalist easy-to-open recyclable packaging
  • Available in a variety of colours
  • Bluetooth 4.1 spec

CONS:

  • Audio quality a little lacking, poor treble and bass in my view
  • Dimwitted mapping of buttons

Rating: ★★★★☆

Price at review: £16 – buy from Amazon

Over the past few years I’ve tried and tested a number of wireless earphones and headphones. Many of them are very much the same – great idea, but poor design and average audio quality. I picked up a set of the Mpow Cheetah wireless earphones last week with the hope that these might be slightly different. Their design very much interested me because if you ask most sports earphone users, their number one complaint is that they fall out of the ears. Here are my thoughts.

The earphones arrive in firm but simplistic packaging which is nice to see – no annoying and wasteful plastic inserts or anything like that. Inside you’ll find the earphones, together with two extra sets of earbuds bring a total of three wearable sizes (small, medium, large), a micro-USB charging cable and some basic instructions and warranty information.

Setting up the earphones is very easy. Simply switch them on by keeping you’re finger pressed on the multifunction button – keep the button pressed until they beep to confirm they’re in pairing mode. Then grab your phone or other bluetooth device and pair the two devices up. Once that’s done, you’ll get a nice audible confirmation from the headset and you’re ready to go.

In terms of functionality, I was impressed with the wide range of functions that the headset can perform. As well as being able to play music through the headset, you’re also able to skip tracks, adjust volume, and even take phone calls with the device’s built in microphone.

There are one or two fundamental flaws though. First of all, the microphone that’s built in is nothing to shout about. The microphone just isn’t in the right place to catch your voice effectively enough to use as a long term handsfree device – it’s not really the device’s fault as no comparable wireless headset would be able to put the microphone close enough to your mouth that you’d get good feedback. It’s OK for the odd phone call here and there, but I wouldn’t use it all the time for that task. On the other hand, the device will read you the number of the person that’s calling when your phone rings which is a handy extra feature.

The second flaw I’ve found is a little more dimwitted. You can skip tracks and adjust volume by using the forward and back buttons on the right earpiece. You tap the buttons to adjust the volume up and down or hold the buttons to skip forward or back. However, those two functions are alternately placed on the device – so the button that turns the volume up is the same button that skips back a track – you’d think it would make sense that the volume up button would skip forward and vice versa. Small niggle but it’s irritating nonetheless.

I did really like one little feature though. As the device uses a recent Bluetooth specification, it can do things like tell your phone the device’s current battery charge level. A small feature, but useful nonetheless.

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The device can report battery charge level to your phone’s notification icon area – see the top right of this image.

In terms of sound quality, I found it wasn’t much to shout about. There are a number of reviews (particularly on Amazon) which give mixed feedback about the audio quality and I, for one, can’t help but feel it’s a little disappointing. Fair enough, if you’re going to use the device for it’s intended purpose (running, most likely), it’s probably not going to hugely bother you whether they sound amazing. However, when using them in a less active environment, I found that the audio quality was fairly flat and that both the bass and treble were lacking. For a £16 pair of wireless earphones, don’t expect the world, but I still couldn’t help but feel I’d tried £10 wired earphones with better audio quality.

Overall, they are a decent set of earphones with a reasonably good fit to the head (it takes a little getting used to but does result in a good fit) with handy functions, but leaving a little to be desired in terms of audio quality. A good buy for £16, but I’d spend a little more if you’ve got the budget available.

Buy from Amazon