Welcome to my first “Quick Review”. As well as recently purchasing a new desktop PC for myself, I’ve also bought a Laptop for my daughter and have also been looking for various accessories to go with recently reviewed products. As a consequence, I’ve bought a lot of small accessories which I now want to review.
And, first up, is the TeckNet M002 wireless mouse, which I bought from Amazon for just £9.98. I bought the black version, but the box indicates that other colours may be available.
It has a rubber section on top, where your palm and fingers will rest and the remainder is in shiny piano black. Size wise (94x61x37mm) , it sits between a mini laptop mouse and a full size desktop equivalent – this is the size that my daughter was looking for, and this is for new laptop.
Slotted into the bottom of the mouse is a nano receiver – a tiny USB RF receiver which, once plugged into your PC, hardly sticks out and allows the mouse to operate up to 10 metres away. The mouse itself will automatically power off and has an Intelligent Power Saving facility. It doesn’t come with batteries and takes 2 x AAAs.
Summary of TeckNet M002 Wireless Mouse
It feels well built and works well. It has compatibility with Windows ME onwards and doesn’t require any drivers to be installed.
For many Netbook owners, the lack of a CD/DVD drive is one of the biggest problems, whether it’s for listening to music or installing software. If you have a PC with DVD drive at home, you can map to that drive using your home network, but what if you’re not at home? Thankfully, external USB-powered drives are available and I’ve got my hands on possibly the most compact – the Lite-On eTAU108.
This is a top-loading DVD writer jointly made with Philips and measures just 14.2 x 14.4cm (and 2cm deep) and weighs less than 350g. It works with dual layer DVDs, writing at 6x speed, single layer at 8x and CDs at 24x. CD reading is at 24x.
The box contents are the DVD writer itself, a USB cable and a plastic bag containing a quick installation guide and a software disk. The disk contains Nero 8 Essentials for Windows and Nero Linux 3 Essentials. The USB cable stores on the underside of the writer for easy portability – this is an excellent idea. One thing lacking, though, that would be nice is a bag to put the drive in whilst carrying it about.
Connect the USB cable to the back of the drive and the other end into your PC and it should automatically install. There is a side sliding lever on the front of the drive to eject the top lid. On top is an access light and a “stop” button. With a “normal” internal DVD drive, pressing the eject button doesn’t physically open the drive. Instead, this sends a command for it to be opened, which it will be once the disk inside has stopped spinning (and hence why there is a small “eject” hole in which you can stick a paper click to force the drive to open).
With this drive, however, the front slide switch physical opens the lid there and then so the “stop” button should be pressed first, forcing the CD/DVD inside to stop spinning. You can then safely open the drive.
What can I say? It works as described, and at a bargain price. It’s quiet (well, as quiet as optical drives normally are!) and only gets slightly warm in use (you could certainly put it on your favourite coffee table and not worry about it – indeed, it has 4 rubber feet underneath as well). With no vents to cover, you don’t have to worry about where you put it when in use.
When front loading external drives are retailing for £40+, the idea of a cheaper, more manual, top loading equivalent for just under £30 is very appealing. Certainly I’d been put off buying one in the past because of the price. Now there’s no excuse.
If you’ve not come across Pogoplug before, it’s a bright pink box (don’t let the colour put you off) that you connect to your home router. Then, into the Pogoplug, you attach a hard drive to one of the 4 USB ports – it can be external hard drives or even memory sticks. Now you can access the contents of the drives where ever you are, via their website or Windows Explorer (like any other drive).
It’s simple, and the functionality is constantly being expanded via the Pogoplug website (it’s via the site that your drive is connected to your remote PC). They even have a public API, to allow developers to expand the capabilities.
To top it all off, they have iPhone and Android apps to enable you to access your Pogoplug as well.
Well, starting from today, Dixons have an exclusive £10 off, making it now only £69.99. I have one right now for review and, without giving one away, I’d recommend getting one whilst you can
After managing to break my home PC (note – don’t mess around with graphics cards when you still have power to your PC!) I found myself suddenly in the market for a new one. I did have a large tower system (an EZ Cool case that looks remarkable like an Apple G5 server, combined with the innards of a Mesh PC) but used little of its bulk, with the exception of two DVD writers. I therefore decided to look for something more discrete – I rarely use my PC for heavy processing tasks, so something a little less powerful would be fine.
In the end I settled on the Dell Zino HD. Obviously inspired by the Apple Mac Mini, this is a dinky plastic box containing a reasonably powerful AMD dual-core processor.
There are 2 base models to choose from, each available as the base unit only or with a monitor. I originally costed the lower end model, adding various extras that I needed, but I found that because the higher end model already had many of these extras it wasn’t much more. Indeed, I found that for only £70 more I would get a more powerful graphics card, 2GB more memory, a wireless card and a Blu-ray player. Well worth the extra money!
So, that full spec includes 6GB memory, Athlon 6850e processor, Radeon HD 4330 graphics, 1TB hard drive. All of this runs the 64-bit version of Windows 7.
It turned up within a matter of days and the box (which also contains a wireless mouse and keyboard) could be easily carried in one hand (it has a carry handle on the top of the box!). As I showed it off at work, people were truly amazed by its compact dimensions – just 8 by 8 inches.
The lid is replaceable and is available in a number of different colours (mine is red!). The power button resides on the top. On the front is the DVD/Blu-Ray player, which is a laptop style version, 2 USB ports, SD card reader and headphone socket.
On the rear is 2 further USB ports, 2 eSata ports, VGA, HDMI, line out, microphone socket, Gigabit Ethernet, Kensington lock socket and a power connector. No PSU is built in – instead this uses an external laptop “brick”.
As I mentioned earlier, the Zino comes with a wireless keyboard and mouse (both operating from a single wireless USB dongle). The mouse has a magnetic top, allowing you to easily lift it off and replace the batteries. It works well and I continue to use it. The keyboard, however, is a different matter – I found that keys had to be pressed quite firmly and, even then, I was often missing out keystrokes. It’s also quite noisy as well. In the end, using another USB port, I’ve put it in the wired Microsoft keyboard that I bought only a few months ago.
And USB ports are a concern, as it sports just 4 in total (with 2 on the front). But if that’s the worst problem I can find (and it is) that’s not too bad – a Belkin 7 port hub has sorted that out!
Pre-installed trial software was minimal – just McAfee needed uninstalling. Once done, I used the included Dell software to make an image of the build.
I’ve not used Windows 7 before (or Vista), so there’s been a bit of a learning curve for that. I was worried about hardware compatibility with W7 but, as it turned out, the only casualty was my webcam – it was top-of-the-range at the time, but it was quite a while ago and Logitech stopped producing drivers for it after XP. Printer, scanner, etc, all work happily. So, I’m now in the market for a webcam!
My monitor only has a VGA and DVI connector, so I purchased an HDMI to DVI lead from eBuyer (which cost only a few pounds) – this works a treat, but Blu-ray movies take exception to it (DRM is not present on DVI, unlike HDMI). It’s not my intention so sit and watch movies with it anyway, so it’s not a concern – however, when I buy a new monitor I will look out for one with HDMI.
I also ordered from eBuyer a SATA dock – I simply dropped my old hard drive into this and connected it to my Dell using a supplied USB cable – I was then able to transfer all my files over. Quick tip – Windows 7 took exception to me accessing the drive in the dock and just hung when trying to access certain folders. I found turning off UAC resolved this.
One last Windows 7 tip – I had problems sharing files between Win7 and WinXP. It turns out the Homegroup feature of Win7 isn’t compatible, so I turned that off and set up sharing “the old fashioned way”.
Summary of Dell Inspiron Zino HD
Heartily recommended – small, very quiet and rather powerful for its diminutive size.
Sometime ago I managed to break (don’t ask) my Sandisk Sansa MP3 player. My phone is okay but it just doesn’t have the features (and sound) of a dedicated player. So, I’m now a proud owner of a Creative Zen X-Fi Style player.
The “style” range of Creative Zen players are one of a number of models that Creative produce and the 8GB red version that I have can be found for £65.60 at Amazon. In comparison, the cheapest 8GB Apple iPod available at Amazon is the black Nano at £102.60 (more money for other colours). The Style is also available in 16 and 32GB models, as well as colours of black or white.
Packaging wise, Creative have kept it very minimal with a simple plastic exterior holding the player in front in full view, containing a box with all the manuals and accessories in. There is no full manual or software included – I’ll mention that in a bit. However, you get a quick start guide, headphones (which are reasonable – nothing too exciting, but better than those provided with most players) and a short USB cable (which is used for data transfer and recharging).
The player itself is quite dinky but houses a 2.4″ screen (the iPod Nano screen is 2.2″). It’s held in landscape and to the right of the screen is a 4-way selector (and click centre to select) and is flanked top and bottom with 2 rocker switches – the top one is a back and menu button and the bottom one is a user shortcut and play/pause button. The back is always white, but the top reflects the colour you chose (in my case red), shown in a fake carbon fibre effect. The screen is seamless – there’s no step or ridge between it and the rest of the case. The case, though, is plastic and the buttons feel particularly cheap – considering the price, this is the kind of thing you’ll have to expect. None-the-less, they work well.
On the top of the player is a microphone and a power (and hold) button, on the side is the headphone socket and USB connection and on the bottom is a reset button. To the rear is a speaker grill. Creative have gone down the frustrating Apple route, in that the battery appears to be non-replaceable. It’s recharged via USB but there’s no obvious way to access it if you need to change it in future. However, it does go 25 hours between charges (which playing music).
In use, the Zen takes a few seconds to “boot up”, after which you are presented with a clear colour screen (320×240 pixels) with good viewing angles. The menu is easy to navigate and, generally, the whole device is easy to use.
The “X-Fi” part of the products name is a technology of Creatives that improves the quality of compressed audio (i.e. MP3). By default this isn’t turned on, but can be easily done via the X-Fi menu option.
The Style is not just a music player, but will also display photos, play video and has an FM radio. There is an offline RSS reader (the software to synchronise feeds is actually on the player itself and you run it from your PC once the Style is connected to it) and organiser function and the microphone can be used for voice recording.
The radio has good reception but isn’t RDS, although you can name stations yourself.
Audio, photos and videos can all be converted to compatible formats by using the downloadable software, named Creative Centrale. To keep packaging to a minimum, the full manual and software is on the player (in the folder named “Starter Pack”) or downloadable from their website. This will catalogue your media and transfer it to your player, converting the format, if required. It will also synchronise with the organiser as well from products such as Microsoft Outlook. The software is okay – it’s not always obvious how you do things and it lacks any “power” options for the more advanced user (e.g. conversion options) but, well, it works and I was happily transferring files onto the player. You can use Windows Media Player instead, but that won’t provide the automatic format conversion.
So, the music and video itself. The audio is excellent - especially when paired with a good set of headphones – and it can be played through the headphones or the rear-facing speaker. The speaker is not particularly loud, but is as good as you’d expect from one as small as it is and is a useful addition to have! Video too is excellent with crisp colours and a clear output.
I’d recommend upgrading the player to the latest firmware – this is easy to do and, as it will cause your custom settings to be lost, is well worth doing quite early on. All of my tests have been done with the latest 1.03.04 firmware (it comes with 1.00.04 by default).
One of the downsides of buying any MP3 player, other than an iPod, is the lack of accessories as most manufacturers seem to concentrate entirely on Apple products. Creative themselves have a few accessories available – screen protectors, silicon case, an AV cable (so you can view videos and photos directly on your TV!) and a power cable (that runs from the mains). They’re not cheap however, and eBay comes up empty (with the exception of the power connector). I’d recommend a silicon skin, but only if you’re buying the player from Creative in the first place – they’re £12.99 in the first place and with delivery of £5, that makes a grand total of £17.99. For a case.
The Zen X-Fi Style is an excellent music and video player for the money – the sound output and display are superb and all the extras (such as the radio and speaker) make it excellent value for money.