Author Archives: GEEK!

Linx 10V64 Review – the budget Windows 10 tablet on a new playing field?

Rating: ★★★★

PROS:

  • Improved Atom processor and 4GB RAM for the first time in the Linx range
  • Windows 10 performance better than ever
  • New kickstand definitely a welcome design improvement

CONS:

  • Low resolution 720p screen (still!)
  • Touchpad leaves something to be desired
  • Slow to charge

Buy now from Amazon – £219

Linx are stepping up to the challenge of improving performance on their portable, lightweight tablet range this year and the latest product to reach the high street is this – the Linx 10V64. It packs a punch for the pricetag with a brand new Intel Atom processor and an impressive upgrade to the memory with it now boasting 4GB of RAM – but are the new features enough to make it the best budget Windows tablet around right now? Let’s find out!

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Introduction

The Linx 10V64 is far from the first Windows tablet they’ve ever made, and Linx now have a growing range of options to suit a wide variety of needs. They’ve come a long way from the Linx 10 they first released back in 2014 with a wide range of designs now available all with different accessories and specifications.

The current generation of Linx tablets for 2016 includes the Linx 820 for those who prefer the smaller screen size, the Linx 1020 which looks remarkably similar to last year’s 1010 and this – the Linx 10V64, which is a new specification baseline for 2016.

Where does this one stand? I’d say the 10V64 is aimed at slightly more power hungry users who are looking for more of a casual laptop substitute as opposed to a travel tool or toy. Don’t get me wrong – it’s never going to give the Microsoft Surface Pro a run for it’s money, but you’ll certainly be able to multitask more practically with it and possibly even handle light gaming (emphasis on the light, though!).

Design

The Linx 10V64 shares more design similarities with its distant ancestor, the Linx 10, than with its more recent predecesssors. With this model, you’ll notice the reintroduction of the fold-over material cover design, but with several improvements. Most signficantly, you now have a physical kickstand, and it’s fair to say this is world’s apart from the oragami style stand we had with the Linx 10. You have the capability to stand the tablet at two decent viewing angles – one that’s aimed at close up usage and the other that’s more aimed at film viewing. The kickstand is sturdy and while a little thinner than I’d like, it does have a reassuring level of strength that suggests it should withstand day to day usage happily.

Other design changes include the clip on keyboard cover, which makes a satisfying click when docking it to the tablet itself. Additionally, they’ve made a couple of connectivity changes which might be seen as better or worse depending on the angle from which you’re standing. You now only have a single USB 3.0 Type-A port (instead of two on the 1010), but you do get a microUSB OTG cable in the box to provide you with that extra port should you need it. The charger is now a hardwired microUSB plug which provides 2A of power – I’m not entirely sure why Linx decided to go down this route instead of providing a power brick with a USB port. Cost savings, maybe?

Hardware

Under the hood is where you’re going to notice the vast majority of improvements. The Linx 10V64 sports an Intel Atom x5-z8300 quad core processor which has a higher general clock speed and a lower SDP, resulting in greater performance with less battery drain. In addition, you now get 4GB of DDR3 RAM instead of 2GB. As a result, the device is much more capable of multitasking and will quite happily juggle 3 or 4 applications at the same time without any signifant slowdown.

64GB of eMMC storage is fitted by default (around 20GB of which is used by the device itself) – this isn’t a gargantuan amount but will happily store your office software and a small multimedia collection. For those that need more, there’s a MicroSD card slot which supposedly will allow you to add up to 200GB more storage with the right card.

Network connectivity is little improved since the last model with the device still supporting 802.11b/g/n. Sadly there’s still no 5GHz support which is a shame, but most day-to-day users probably won’t notice the difference.

The only real area of disappointment is the screen, which still only operates at a resolution of 1280×800 (720p). I’d have happily paid a little more to see this reach 1080p, but Linx clearly have a few old display units they need to use up!

Battery life

Battery life is one area where the Linx 10V64 carries the baton from the last generation. Under normal use (web browsing and music playback), I was able to achieve around 6 hours of usage which is more than usable. Dim the display a little and you might even squeeze out another hour of juice.

Unfortunately, the same level of enthusiasm isn’t felt when it comes to charging the tablet. From flat to full, it took almost as long to charge as it took to discharge. This is largely down to the poor 2A power input which really should have been improved since the last model.

Display, keyboard and mouse

I used the tablet as my daily driver for a few days just to get an idea of the user experience, and for the most part I was pretty impressed.

Typing isn’t a problem at all with this tablet – the soft keys took a little while for me to get used to but I found myself typing at a decent speed in no time. Key travel is average and the keys sometimes feel a little stubborn, but it’s more than acceptable for a device of this size with a decent amount of space between each key.

The touchpad is, as usual for this kind of device, fairly disappointing. In fairness, moving the mouse and clicking with the touchpad is pretty comfortable – however, it has a huge tendancy to be over-confident with the pinch to zoom function, meaning it’s all too easy to zoom in and out while browsing a webpage in error. If you’re going to be using this tablet a lot at a desk, I’d strongly consider investing in a Bluetooth or USB mouse.

Thankfully, the usability of the device is redeemed as soon as you start working with the touchscreen. It’s incredibly precise and has no input lag whatsoever – this is really great to see. Colours are a little washed out when viewing photos, but the brightness of the device makes it easy to work with it a well-lit environment.

Worth the upgrade?

If you’re still using a Linx 10 or any other old Windows 8 tablet, I think there’s definitely a fair argument in favour of upgrading. Linx have made the effort to improve the raw performance, and this does show when using the device for extended periods. Apps launch much more quickly than on older models and the boot up from cold speed is a matter of seconds – something that puts devices like the iPad to shame considering the size of the Windows operating system. You’re going to struggle to get better value for the specifications – when you consider you’re getting a specification equivelent to a mid-range small laptop, it’s hard to beat for a little over £200.

For those using the Linx 1010, it’s a more difficult set of scales to balance. The form factor is very different compared to the 1010, and those who want a solid keyboard/touchpad cover will be disappointed. However, if you’re looking for a power boost and you’re not too worried about the loss of one of your USB ports, this could still easily be soon as good value for money.

For the first time Windows tablet buyers…

This is a steal. If you’re in the market for a Windows 10 tablet and you haven’t got the cash to go for a Microsoft Surface, this is the one to go for in my view. You’ll want to look elsewhere if you’re going to be using this for professional video editing or gaming (although older, less demanding pre-2013 games will probably run just fine), but if you’re considering this as a university computer or a Netflix streamer this will be more than capable.

Buy now from Amazon – £239

Review: 1byone 4000DPI Programmable Wired USB Gaming Mouse

Rating: ★★★★

PROS:

  • Very comfortable to use
  • Braided cable for extra durability
  • Performs well in game, easy to map buttons as per requirements
  • Inexpensive

CONS:

  • Only 6 LED colours to choose from, no fully fledged RGB system
  • Would have liked more programmable buttons
  • Software can only be installed from CD

Buy now from Amazon

Learn more about this product at 1byone.co.uk

I wouldn’t call myself a heavy gamer, but I do enjoy the odd PC game from time to time when I get the chance. Historically, I’ve very much been a controller-based gamer, typically relying on an Xbox 360 or Xbox One PC controller. 1byone got in touch with me and said they thought I should try gaming with a high DPI mouse designed for gaming, so i took them up on their offer to sample one of their latest models.

The mouse comes packaged in a simple cardboard box which thankfully doesn’t require any frustrating man-handling to open, and arrives together with a mini-CD containing the software required to use the mouse’s high DPI functionality. The software is fully compatible with most recent versions of Windows including Windows 10 but unfortunately can only be used as a standard mouse within Mac.

IMG_0253

The mouse itself fits very nicely in the hand and is a good size. If anything I might have liked it to be a tiny bit larger but that’s just personal preference and most will feel it’s an ample size for the job at hand. Buttons are well placed with a button marked ‘DPI’ on the top which by selects each DPI profile that has been configured (and simulatenously changes the configured colour scheme ready for each profile). There are then two other buttons on the left hand side of the mouse which by default act as back and forward buttons for your web browser.

Getting started is simple. Simply plug in your new mouse and then run the bundled setup.exe program within the installation CD and in a few easy steps you’ll be good to go. Once the software is installed, you can configure up to 5 gaming profiles and even assign the profiles to an individual game. The profile can even be automatically selected when a particular game starts.

Gaming_mouse_option_5a81854bfc124af8aa861d37bf9fbf38

Bar a minor spelling error, the interface is well designed and allows easy configuration of gaming profiles.

Playing games with the mouse is very easy and the comfortable thumb rest makes use of the mouse for extended periods of time comfortable. I’m not sure how I’d use the mouse in my left hand as it does seem to be manufactured for right-handed gamers, but that’s likely to be an issue that won’t affect many. The two buttons above your thumb are well placed so you don’t hit them by accident and have a very decent level of feedback and a loud click upon pressing.

Every button on the mouse including the left and right mouse button can be mapped, which can be particularly useful if you want to avoid using a keyboard almost altogether. One of my criticisms is the lack of buttons for you to be able to map – I’d like to have seen a couple more custom buttons myself but overall feel that the choice 1byone made is reflected well in the price.

IMG_0256

My biggest gripe with the mouse is the lack of downloadable software for it. At the time of writing, the only way you can install the software (which is absolutely mandatory if you want to do any form of gaming with the mouse) is to use the provided mini disk. If you don’t have a CD drive on your computer (and let’s face it, many of us don’t these days) you’re going to find the software difficult to install unless you have another computer with a CD drive kicking about. 1byone could however easily fix this!

Aside from those relatively minor niggles, this is a solid budget gaming mouse with as much accuracy as most will ever need. At around £15, it fits nicely within its price range and certainly feels well built and designed to last. If 1byone could fix the software download issue this would be suitable for all games no matter how their computer is configured. If you’re in need of a reliable gaming mouse that won’t cost the Earth, this is a good choice.

Buy now from Amazon

Review: Nuance PowerPDF 2 Standard – great all-rounder at less than half the cost of Adobe

Rating: ★★★★ VALUE CHOICE

PROS:

  • Inexpensive – sells for around £80 while Adobe’s equivelant is £282 upfront
  • Easy integration with Microsoft Office
  • PDF editor is quick and simple to use if a little basic
  • Wide array of security options including password protection and certificate implementation
  • Easy creation of interactive forms – ideal for making data collection more user friendly

CONS:

  • UI a tad dull and feels plain
  • Mac version not included (limited version available seperately)

Learn more about Power PDF 2.0

Rendering PDFs is something that is now a lot simpler than it used to be. Microsoft Office has had built in PDF support for some time allowing you to export most documents as a PDF and there are numerous online converters that will translate images and documents into PDFs in a single click. However, the task of actually creating PDFs from scratch or using more advanced PDF functionalities such as encryption, write protection and built-in word processing capabilities is still a premium feature within PDF software. Nowadays, there’s quite a lot of choice in terms of software in this category – with the obvious choice being an Adobe solution, but they’re horrendously overpriced. The question is, can other providers do the same thing for less? I’ve got some new software in my hands to try!

Nuance isn’t new to the PDF market – their previous Power PDF software was well received by critics as a good value choice for working with PDFs. Their recently released new version, Power PDF 2, is designed to build on previous success and provide some new functionality to bring up to speed.

Using Power PDF 2 is a piece of cake. The simple controls along the title bar work in a very similar way to Microsoft Office, providing simple tabs to find key controls. In a similar way, it also has a “ribbon” type menu under the file menu, making usability a key highlight in this program.

You are able to import documents to form PDFs in a number of ways using the simple tiles within the “ribbon” menu, and one of the key new features in Power PDF 2 is the ability to import from and export to cloud services such as Dropbox and Evernote. You can even import multiple documents simletaneously to mould into a single PDF document – great if you need to stick together multiple collaborated files or simply want to stitch together a document and spreadsheet into a report.

All of the usual security features are present and accounted for – with the simple security panel you can encrypt your documents, restrict editing, prevent copying and even create certificates for providing authenticity.

Power PDF 2 also adds new integration into Microsoft Office – making it easy to transport any document, spreadsheet or presentation into the software and apply any advanced functionality a simple conversion wouldn’t offer.

Power PDF 2 Office plug-in

Power PDF 2 adds an easy to access tab to each of your Office applications, making exporting as easy as can be.

One of the most powerful features of the software, in my view, is the ability to really easily create fillable PDF forms from existing documents. Isn’t it really irritating when you’re asked to fill in a document online that you have to print, fill in by hand and then scan? With Power PDF 2, you simply open any document that has space for a user input, select the FormTyper function, and the software automatically works out where text inputs or checkboxes can be filled in. This is almost flawless, managing to work out around 95% of the user inputs in my sample NHS doctor registration document.

Power PDF 2 automatically creates text and data inputs for your existing forms, making them completely interactive in a couple of clicks!

Power PDF 2 automatically creates text and data inputs for your existing forms, making them completely interactive in a couple of clicks!

My only real gripe with the software is the UI and design. Don’t get me wrong – all of the important functions are really easy to access and Nuance have done a good job of going halfway between the Microsoft Office ribbon and the Adobe sidebar controls. It just feels a little dull and uninviting – something I’m sure business users will be undeterred by, but as a home office user, it’s a little uninspiring!

Overall, though, it’s easy to see that the software is absolutely solid. At just £80, it’s reachable for a fraction of the cost of the Adobe Acrobat software while offering mostly identical features. It would have been nice if Nuance had made Power PDF 2 Mac compatible too – but they do offer a cut-down alternative for Apple users (at an additional cost). If you need to use the advanced features of the PDF platform but don’t want to shell out huge amounts of money to Adobe, this is the way to go – and I’ve given it a value choice award for its attractive price tag. Power PDF 2 is avaialble now directly from Nuance and should eventually be availalable from other third parties, too.

Buy now from Nuance direct – best price at time of writing £79.99

Guide: Make almost any printer AirPrint compatible with a Raspberry Pi in 20 minutes!

Got a printer kicking around that you wish had AirPrint? Maybe it’s one you’ve had for several years, or maybe it’s a cheaper one you recently picked up and wished it had support for your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. In any case, if you’ve got yourself a Raspberry Pi, have 20 minutes to spare and a tiny bit of experience with SSH, you can get your printer working natively in AirPrint in a flash!

It doesn’t matter whether your printer connects via USB, Ethernet or Wi-Fi – this trick will still work. I’ll guide you through the process!

Step 1: Ensure your Raspberry Pi is up to date.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but you’ll find yourself installing out of date software if you don’t keep your Pi’s sources up to date. Open up a VNC connection with your Pi and then open Terminal. Run the following:

sudo apt-get update

then

sudo apt-get upgrade

If there are any upgrades listed, type Y and press Enter to continue installing updates. Once that’s done, you can start installing your device.

Step 2: (If you’re connecting via USB) Connect your printer with its USB cable.

If you printer normally connects via USB, now would be a good time to connect it to your Pi’s USB port. If you’re currently connecting your printer via Ethernet or Wi-Fi, run straight to step 3. Don’t panic about unplugging it from about PC that it was connected to before – it’ll be a wireless printer soon!

Connect the printer to your Pi and reboot the Pi with the following command:

sudo reboot

Once it has rebooted and you’re back at a desktop, run Terminal again and then run:

lsusb

All devices that are connected via USB should be listed at this point. If your printer doesn’t show, make sure it is turned on and functioning normally.

Step 3: Install samba and CUPS.

At this point you can start installing the backbone software that will provide the printer networking. In terminal, run the following commands:

sudo apt-get install samba

You’ll probably see apt asking to install a relatively large number of packages – don’t worry about this, just press and then Enter to continue. When that’s done, then run:

sudo apt-get install cups

Again, you’ll see apt wanting to install an assortment of packages. Carry on as before! After that, you just need to add a printing administrator so that CUPS can manage printers on the Pi. Run the following command:

sudo usermod –a –G lpadmin pi

Step 4: Add your printer. 

You now need to add your printer to your print server. To do this, you need to navigate to the CUPS user interface. Open up a web browser on your Pi and then navigate to 127.0.0.1:631. You should see something like this:

Home_-_CUPS_1.7.5_-_Google_Chrome_fcf924dd4bd74bcf8f5a3dacc57b826d

CUPS admin homepage

Click the Administration tab, then click Add Printer. You may be asked to switch to SSL at this point – just follow the link it tells you to go to. You’ll then be prompted to log in – just use your normal Pi credentials (username is usually Pi and the password either raspberry or whatever you might have changed it to.

Once you’re logged in, you should be given a list of currently connected printers. Find yours in the list – it should show up however it is connected (either by USB or over your network). Select it, then click Continue.

At the next step, give it a name (you can keep the default if you wish), a description (this is how your printer will be identified to your iDevice) and a location (optional). Make sure you tick Share This Printer and then click Continue.

Next, you need to select a driver. With any luck your Pi should have already identified a suitable driver – if not, you may need to scroll through the list until you find a suitable candidate. Then click Add Printer and select any default preferences you may have. Click Set Default Options when you’re done and that’s the hardest bit done!

You can check the printer has been added successfully by heading over to the Printers tab and ensuring your printer is shown. To print a test page, select your printer from the list, click the Maintenance dropdown and then click Print Test Page.

Printers_-_CUPS_1.7.5_-_Google_Chrome_abe2589dedeb489098fd507ed7490519

Hopefully your printer is listed at this point!

Step 5: Fine tune a few settings.

A few settings should be fine tuned here to get best performance. Return to the Administration tab and check Share printers connected to this system. If you want to be able to manage CUPS (i.e. add new printers) remotely in future over your network, also check Allow remote administration. Then click Change Settings, the server will then reboot and you’re all good at this point.

Step 6: (Optional) Add Samba support for Windows networking

If you want to use your printer with a Windows device after this setup, you’ll need to activate Samba for Windows. To do this, run Terminal once more and run the following:

sudo nano /etc/samba/smb.conf

Scroll right to the bottom and then paste in the following:

# CUPS printing. See also the cupsaddsmb(8) manpage in the
# cupsys-client package.
printing = cups
printcap name = cups
[printers]
comment = All Printers
browseable = no
path = /var/spool/samba
printable = yes
guest ok = yes
read only = yes
create mask = 0700

# Windows clients look for this share name as a source of downloadable
# printer drivers
[print$]
comment = Printer Drivers
path = /usr/share/cups/drivers
browseable = yes
read only = yes
guest ok = no

Now, do CTRL and type in workgroup, followed by Enter to find workgroup configuration. Your workgroup is probably already correctly set it if you haven’t ever changed your workgroup before – if you have, set the correct name at workgroup =. Then change wins support = no to wins support = yes.

Then do CTTL + on your keyboard, followed by Enter, to save that configuration.

Restart samba with the following command:

sudo /etc/init.d/samba restart

Your printer will now work on a Windows network.

Step 7: (If your Raspberry Pi is connected to your network via Wi-Fi) Change a quick setting here.

Skip this step if your Pi connects to your network via an Ethernet cable. If it uses Wi-Fi, you need to turn off power saving for its Wi-Fi adapter to prevent it going to sleep and isolating AirPrint. To do this, you need to edit a file in Terminal:

sudo nano /etc/modprobe.d/8192cu.conf

Add the following at the bottom:

# No power saving
options 8192cu rtw_power_mgnt=0 rtw_enusbss=1 rtw_ips_mode=1

Then do another CTRL O, followed by Enter to save changes.

Step 8: Install Bonjour for AirPrint

Nearly there, I promise! You now need to install the AirPrint software. This is a doddle, thankfully!

Still in your Terminal, run the following command:

sudo apt-get install avahi-discover

Let that install as normal – this shouldn’t take long! Once that’s done, it would be a good idea to reboot your Pi to let all these settings sink in. In terminal, run:

sudo reboot

Step 9: Test it out! 

All should now be up and running – you’ll be pleased to know that’s the configuration done! Grab an iOS device, open up an email or Safari page, and follow the Share icon until you find a Print option. Hit Select Printer and yours should (fairly quickly) appear. If it doesn’t, don’t panic! Give it a couple more minutes and then try again – it should appear after a couple of tries the first time.

Your printer should appear at this point.

Your printer should appear at this point.

If you click the (i), you might even be able to check ink levels.

If you click the (i), you might even be able to check ink levels.

Select your printer, adjust any preferences you wish, and then click Print. Voila! It might take a few seconds to spool with your printer – this is to be expected.

Once you've chosen the printer, adjust any preferences such as number of copies and page selection, then click Print.

Once you’ve chosen the printer, adjust any preferences such as number of copies and page selection, then click Print.

And there you have it! An AirPrint printer with a little configuration from your Pi. If you’d like to add more printers to your network, you’ll need to return to the CUPS administration panel and repeat Step 4. In any case, you should now have a printer that works over your network and on all of your favourite iOS devices, without the need for any third party app!

Review: Parrot Bebop 2 with Skycontroller and Flight Plan – fully kitted out!

Rating: ★★★★★

PROS:

  • Very easy to fly thanks to well made app and unbeatable Skycontroller
  • Flight Plan makes flying completely autonomous and allows for flights over huge distance
  • Battery life dramatically improved over original Bebop – now around 25 minutes
  • Stunning footage (if lacking a little clarity) and impressive image stabilisation

CONS:

  • Flying experience less fun without Skycontroller with less range
  • Flight Plan add-on costs £15
  • On-board memory not expandable

Buy now from Amazon – Bebop 2 only

Buy now from Amazon – Bebop 2 + Skycontroller

Parrot FreeFlight 3 app for iOS | Parrot FreeFlight 3 app for Android

I’m by no means new to the drone or quadcopter scene. In fact, I’ve owned several in the last few years and have experimented to various degrees and with varying levels of success. Most of the quadcopters I’ve tested in the past have been relatively basic – simple manually controlled quads with no ‘aritifical intelligence’ or automotive behaviour. The problem with the more basic quadcopters – such as the Syma X8C – is that they’re notoriously difficult to fly, borderline impossible to hover with and don’t take very good footage whatsoever! Their low price justifies them as they’re a very good starting point and basis for learning to fly – but they’re relatively useless if you want to want to take your quadcopter flying any further.

With that – bring in the Parrot Bebop 2! The Bebop 2 focuses on improving some of the drawbacks in the original Bebop. I was lucky enough to get to try the original Bebop last year, but unfortunately was let down by it’s poor build quality and terribly unstable connectivity with the app and Skycontroller. Not only that – but it really felt like a half-arsed effort, with a battery connector that had a cable hanging out and had to be tied in with velcro and a styrofoam type body kit! It was so poor that I even decided it wasn’t worth reviewing here – as I felt that most of the views I had were already online from some very frustrated customers!

Moving on from that though, Parrot went back to the drawing and gave it a facelift ready for MK2! Not only that, but they re-thought many of the key aspects of the device, including power, bodywork and functionality. I’m happy to say that, in my view, the new Bebop 2 is a huge improvement on the original and deserves a warm round of applause to Parrot. I’ve managed to get my hands on the full kit – the Bebop 2 itself, together with the professional Skycontroller and the Freeflight 3 app with Flight Plan functionality. You can guess what the rest of this post will be about – right?

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