Orbitsound SB60 Airsound vs M9 Soundbar

A little while back, I was contacted by reps from Orbitsound to ask whether I wanted to check out their SB60 Airsound Base. I’ve been looking for something with a bit more oomph than the plain old TV speakers, so I took them up on the offer.

SB60 Airsound™ Base

If I’m honest, I was pretty unimpressed with the SB60. It added a bit more volume to the TV output, but I found the overall output very muddy, especially when it comes to voices. Not being able to clearly distinguish voices from background noise and music is a fairly fundamental flaw for a device designed to sit under your television.

I’m not sure if it was the particular acoustics of our TV cabinet, or a fundamental flaw with the SB60, but it was bad enough that we found ourselves using the TV sound more often than not.

So, when I returned the SB60 and Orbitsound came back with an offer to also try their M9 Soundbar, I wasn’t expecting to be impressed.

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Two Weeks with the Apple iPhone 4S

I’m just going to focus on a couple of things here, because you know what this phone is and what it can do.

Siri Speaks Kiwi

Yes she does, and pretty well at that. Siri is the best voice recognition system I’ve used on a phone. Apart from the occasional weird word (“egg” comes to mind), accuracy was incredibly good, even with background music and talking. It struggled a bit when I was driving, but then who wouldn’t in the wall of sound that is my Nissan Sunny. Hey, it’s economical.

But let’s get this straight: Siri is so much more than voice recognition. It’s the lack of “commands” that really does the job. Everything else I’ve used requires you to speak a command: “dial x”, “message y”. Some allow you to use variations like “call/ring/dial”. But you have to remember those commands. Get them wrong, and the phone complains pleasantly.

Siri is different. She gets the general idea of what you’re asking. It doesn’t matter if you say “set a reminder for …” or “remind me to….tomorow” or “tomorrow, remind me to …”, or even “don’t let me forget to …”. The genius in Siri is her ability to find meaning in your statement and build a result around it. Whichever way you put it, 9 times out of 10 Siri will do the right thing.

Combine Siri with the addition of location based reminders, and “remind me to get milk on the way home” becomes something seamless and wonderful. It’s genuinely futuristic.

The big gap for Siri in New Zealand is not the accent. It’s the lack of location services. Ask Siri to “find me a Korean restaurant”, and she’ll politely decline. “Sorry Ben, I can only look for businesses in the United States”. Let’s hope this gap is being closed.

It’s The Ecosystem, Stupid

Chances are – in New Zealand especially – at least a couple of your friends have iPhones. You might have an iPad yourself. Perhaps like me you grabbed an Apple TV just because they’re so damn cheap? The new version of iOS really ties this ecosystem together. Sure there’s been synergy before, but iOS 5 takes it further.

Find my Friends, which I considered creepy, is properly useful and even a bit fun. While camping on Waiheke, friends offered to bring fish & chips for dinner. I invited them to a temporary Find my Friends share (24 hours by default) earlier in the day. Around dinner time, I picked up my phone, expecting to make the normal “What time are you coming? Here’s the address”, call. Instead I fired up Find my Friends and saw them already halfway across the island, homing in on my position. Fun and useful.

iMessage likewise. If you have friends with iOS5 devices, your messages just became free-as-in-data. Certainly much cheaper than SMS messages assuming you have any sort of data plan on your device.

iCloud helps make sense of multiple devices.

  • Sync your mail, contacts and calendar between all your devices. Useful if you don’t have a corporate email account, or if you like to keep your personal stuff separate.
  • Photo Stream automatically syncs your last few photos (actually up to 1000, stored for 30 days), to all your devices. Snap a shot on your iPhone, and it’s automatically available on other devices, including as a slideshow on Apple TV.
  • The iWork integration with iCloud is excellent. Edit a document or presentation (or other iWork doc) on any device, and changes are synced to other devices automatically. You can even download a PDF copy from a browser – probably the simplest PDF conversion I’ve ever seen.
  • iCloud Backup does the backup that iTunes did previously, but stores it safely in The Cloud. In fact, combine iCloud Backup with the new WiFi sync, and you barely need to connect the phone to a computer anymore.

Airplay is great – view a video or song on your iPhone and stream it instantly to Apple TV. Airplay Mirroring (4S only) is a vision into the future of gaming: use your iPhone as a control and dashboard, while the big screen (via Apple TV) is your gameplay screen. Mirroring was flakey for me, and for others I’ve talked. Once it is nailed down it will be a great function.

And we haven’t yet touched on the huge hardware ecosystem, which is arguably more reason to go with the iPhone than anything above. Just check out, for example, this awesome add-on that my boss pointed out. Just one of about three billion different docks, dongles and doo-dads that plug into an iPhone’s dock connector.

Should I Buy One?

The $1,049 to $1,349 question. I’ve broken this one down before. Unless you have a particular need for open devices or crazy large screen sizes, the iPhone 4S is (still) the best phone out there. iOS has matured to the extent that rough edges are really hard to come by. Everything just works.

It pains me to say it, but moving back to iOS after a year with Windows Phone, it’s brutally obvious where Windows Phone needs to catch up: polish and ecosystem. XBox has been around for a lot longer than Apple TV. Why, quite frankly, the HELL does WP7 not integrate with XBox (the device, not the XBox Live back-end) the way iPhone and Apple TV work together? And infrequent but hugely annoying bugs like the “disappearing keyboard” in Mango are just downright frustrating. So close, but just not there yet. Bring on the Nokias.

And then there’s Android. Again, so close but just not there. Unless you have a pressing desire to have an “open” device or giant screen sizes, the iPhone is probably a better choice.

In an alternate universe, Apple would build services like Airplay, Find my Friends, iMessage and iCloud on open protocols so that all devices could play equally. In this universe, that’s never going to happen. So if you want a part of that truly useful, seamless ecosystem, just put your koolaid drinks up and party in the iPhone club.

Review: Vestax Spin DJ Controller

Vestax Spin ControllerHave you ever eyed up those guys behind the decks, looking so cool with one headphone tucked against their shoulder? Ok well I have. Stop laughing.

Thing is, I have no vinyl. I think the last record I bought was Queen: Live at Wembley. The one with the big fold-out cover shot of the band in front of a gigantic crowd. I used to imagine being part of the crowd when Freddie did his doo-wop scat thing and the crowd repeated it back to him, until he just went crazy and they all laughed.

Where was I? DJs. And vinyl. Spinning tracks and scratching and all that. With MP3s. I’m not in the scene, but I’m lead to believe that this is fairly standard issue these days. Digital DJs have the choice of anything from the Pioneer CDJ decks with USB ports for MP3 libraries, through to the super-pro Serato gear, with its time-coded vinyl (which, incidentally is designed by a bunch of Kiwis!).

The Vestax Spin sits at the very entry level of this type of technology. The deck and software is only NZ$499, and operates as a basic USB controller using your iTunes music library. The included software is Mac-only, but if you hunt around you’ll notice the Spin is compatible with some alternative Windows software.

The whole thing is amazingly intuitive and responsive. Drag an MP3 file onto one of the on-screen turntables, and it starts playing. From there, you can use the physical decks and mixers to stop, spin, mix and loop the tracks. Each deck has independent controls for tempo, equalizer, gain, and a few other tricks.

A microphone is included in the box, so all you need is a Mac, and some serious looking DJ headphones that you can tuck under your ear. Then you just need to practise that one-handed wave dancing thing that DJs do.

Please don’t take the video below as any more than an example of how easy the device is to use. I’m sure you could do a lot more with it than mix Akon and Willie Nelson like we did:

In summary: bloody good fun, $499 from Mix Foundation.

This Week: Cars, Boats, and More

Stick around, this week is going to be a bit mad.

  • On Tuesday I’m picking up the new E-Class Coupe from Mercedes for a test drive, and swapping it for the sedan on Friday. I’ll be writing a number of articles on the incredible technology in this vehicle. If you’re around Auckland on Sunday afternoon, follow me on twitter and you might get a ride.
  • Wednesday is my TVNZ Breakfast gadgets day. This week’s topic is boating and fishing.
  • On Thursday afternoon XBox is launching their new karaoke game Lips: Number One Hits, complete with an appearance from MC Hammer. My inner 14 year old is giddy with excitement. Not sure if I should wear my parachute pants though.

It’s a hard life being a technology reviewer.

Canon EOS 5Dmkii is “Life Changing”

Popphoto.com confirms my amateur gut-feel with a more detailed, scientific review, and comes to the conclusion that the new 5D is the shizzle.


And the vast amount of detail that goes along with 21.1MP, as well as the sophisticated image processing served up by its new DIGIC 4 engine, cannot be understated — it’s a wow! The low-light image quality is almost life-changing.


So there you have it. Thankfully my drooling and fawning on TVNZ Breakfast this morning has been backed up by a real review!

EOS 5Dmkii