January 27, 2012

MEElectronics A151 Earphones: Where’d The Sound Go? [Review]

MEElectronics A151 Earphones: Where’d The Sound Go? [Review]

I distinctly recall a bit of maneuvering when Joe Daileda, head of sales and marketing at MEElectronics, contacted us about reviewing some of their earphones. Joe seemed particularly keen on getting a pair of their ceramic CC51Ps in our hands, but I wanted none of it — being the armature junkie I am, I was fixated on their armature-powered A151s ($ 75). Joe eventually ended up sending us three models (impressions of the unique, modular SP51 coming soon to a review near you).

Joe’s favoritism may have been entirely in my head — I get like that sometimes; but true enough, the CC51Ps turned out to be a stunning revelation. The A151s? Not so much.

The Bad:

I’m going to break with convention here and list the bad stuff first. There’s a lot I need to get off my chest.

Let’s start with the fact that they’re not particularly comfortable. The tips are partly to blame: Like the sets that come with the CC51s (and common to other IEMs from smaller manufacturers), the surface of these tips have a kind of roughness to them that made inserting more difficult. Tip shapes are also fairly standard — three sizes of round, and two variety of flanged tips — with no foam (we love foam tips!) option included.

Also, the long flanged tips are actually longer than the housing nozzle, which made them practically useless as the pinnacle of the tip just sort of flopped around when I tried inserting it into my ear. Argh.

Then there’s the fact that the A151s aren’t equipped with a microphone or control button like many other IEMs these days. Which is fine, if, after all the sacrificing, they sound great — because then it’s all been worth it, right? Unfortunately, good sound isn’t in the cards here.

I was pretty surprised at how lackluster this set sounded. They exhibited little of the realism, clarity and smooth, even tone good armature-driven IEMs are so highly regarded for. Instead, sound was comparatively muddy; bass was there, but lacked good definition, and highs were dull. Soundscapes seemed compressed, with instruments on top of each other.

The Good:

The earpieces themselves are designed to be worn s that the cords can hang down or wrap around the top of the user’s ears, and apart from the tip issue, work well either way. The cord is also one of the most tangle-free in the biz.

Verdict:

If you’re looking for a good set of armature-driven canalphones, check out the matchless Ultimate Ears 600vi; if you want to sample what MEElectronics has to offer, try their marvelous CC51Ps instead. Either way, give the A151s a miss.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

MEElectronics A151 Earphones: Where’d The Sound Go? [Review]

MEElectronics A151 Earphones: Where’d The Sound Go? [Review]

Cult of Mac

Photogram: A Beautiful Way To View Instagram On The Web [Review]

Photogram: A Beautiful Way To View Instagram On The Web [Review]

We love Jeff Broderick’s work here at Cult of Mac. We’ve told you about some of his web app projects, like QuickWiFi and QuickContact, and his latest creation is called Photogram. As the name implies, you can use Photogram to view Instagram in your web browser. The app is beautiful and optimized for both the desktop and mobile experience.

Instagram is the most popular mobile social network in existence, but the official app is only available on the iPhone. While there are plenty of third-party apps for the Mac and iPad that let you view and interact with your account, Photogram is a platform agnostic web portal with the polish of a native iOS app.

Photogram: A Beautiful Way To View Instagram On The Web [Review]

Photogram: A Beautiful Way To View Instagram On The Web [Review]

To try the public beta of Photogram, head over to Photogram.co/connect from your device’s browser and authenticate the app with your Instagram account. You’ll then be taken to Photogram’s simplistic interface for viewing the retro, hipsterfied snapshots of food and sunsets we all love. Hovering your mouse cursor over a specific photo will reveal its creator and accompanying title.

Photogram: A Beautiful Way To View Instagram On The Web [Review]

You can toggle between your own photos and your Instagram feed. You can like and comment on photos and see where a certain pic was taken. Instagram accounts can be viewed and followed. Everything you’d expect from the Instagram iPhone app is included in Photogram except the ability to actually take pictures.

Photogram: A Beautiful Way To View Instagram On The Web [Review]

Photogram is very much a work in progress, and Broderick is working daily to improve the app and add new features. While chatting with Cult of Mac about Photogram, Broderick said, “I want to make Instagram more about the photos and where they are taken.”

While he acknowledges that the social aspect of Instagram is crucial, he wants to “rethink the whole thing.” Make it less about the social experience, and more about the actual photos. Photogram seems like the perfect app for viewing Instagram on the big screen in the living room. Broderick said that he wants his app to require “as little interaction as possible” from the viewer. Never before has there been more of a reason for the Apple TV to have a web browser.

Cult of Mac

Evi Siri-Alike Tries Hard To Please [Review]

Evi gets facts

Meet one-eyed Evi, a one-dollar alternative to Siri which works on older (non-4S) iPhones.

She’s had a bit of a rough introduction to life, thanks to a much-hyped launch followed by 24 hours or so of struggling to keep up with demand.

All my efforts to get useful information from Evi yesterday came to nothing, constantly met with a request that I try again later. But this morning things are much improved (no doubt as a result of Evi’s makers rushing to give her a helping hand) and the answers started to appear.

Evi does science

The first thing to note is that Evi isn’t a personal assistant like Siri. Evi is better described as an information assistant, delivering answers to specific questions. She can’t send a text for you (although her Nuance-powered voice recognition is excellent), she can’t set reminders or alarms or calendar entries.

But she can do simple calculations, currency conversions, and fact-finding.

Sorry Dave, I can't do that

And like all good virtual assistants these days, she knows that she’s not supposed to open the Pod Bay doors when you ask, and that the answer to life, the universe and everything is 42 (of course).

That’s because Evi is powered by True Knowledge, a Cambridge (UK)-based information service that calls itself “the internet answer engine”. True Knowledge knew 635,025,637 facts at the time of writing, and is learning new ones all the time. Chances are the nugget you need might well be hidden among them.

It really is the place to go

Evi’s local knowledge is better than I expected, too. I live in a small market town but she knew about the award-winning Thai restaurant down the road, and how to get to my nearest pub. Well done Evi. As long as your server issues don’t continue to bog you down, you’re worth a dollar for those of us who can’t use Siri because our phones are too old.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Cult of Mac

Serenity App Hopes To Soothe Away The Worries Of The Day [Review]

Serenity for iPad screenshot

New from Tap Tap Tap is Serenity, a relaxation app for iPhone or iPad.

Relaxation app? What’s one of those? It’s an app for relaxing by; in this case, a digital jukebox of all things peaceful, calm, tranquil, and imperturbable. It plays sounds and moving images to lull you to sleep, or at least to a less troubled state. It’s an anti-alarm clock. Without the clock.

You’re presented with five pages of calm settings to flip through, and a shuffle button for those times when you’re too damned stressed to decide which peaceful scenario you want JUST INJECT THE CALM RIGHT HERE BUDDY.

Ahem. As I was saying, there are five screens, each one with a theme and six peaceful serene moods for you to choose from. There are beaches at sunset, babbling streams at dusk, roaring waterfalls, birdsong-rich woodlands, and floaty-spacey places playing something that sounds like Brian Eno.

There really isn’t that much to it. The only other control is a sleep timer, so you can leave this thing babbling, roaring, birdsinging or Eno-ing in the background until you drift off.

It’s beautifully made, as you’d expect from Tap Tap Tap. Not all the different moods (places? settings? concepts?) work, at least not for me. I found the ones with natural soundscapes far more interesting than the ones playing soft piano.

It’s only a dollar and purely in terms of the work that’s gone into it, that’s a bargain. The question you need to ask yourself is: do I want to relax in front of another screen? For me, the answer is no, I’d rather do my relaxing away from screens and gadgets.

But it’s not always about going to sleep. You might like Serenity playing in the background while you work, or playing while you meditate or do some yoga. It’s only a dollar, and you certainly get a helluva bucket of calm for your money.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Cult of Mac

Video: Weekend Tech Review: iBooks Event Week 3 2012

Sunday, January 22, 2012

By Daniel Eran Dilger

Published: 03:21 AM EST (12:21 AM PST)
Here’s a video recap of the top tech stories involving Apple for the third week of 2012, including a look at Apple’s iBooks Event, product news, the week’s business stories, and upcoming events.

You can also follow us on Twitter: @appleinsider and @DanielEran.

AppleInsider

iHealth HS3 Wireless Bluetooth Scale: Down to the Bare Bones [Review, Fitness Special]

iHealth HS3 Wireless Bluetooth Scale: Down to the Bare Bones [Review, Fitness Special]

Out of the box, the iHealth HS3 Wireless Bluetooth Scale ($ 70) is somewhat impressive. With its digital (albeit not backlit) display and snazzy looking-glass top, this is a scale that will at least look spiffy in your bathroom when company is over. Even in the box, the scale makes a good case for gadget adoption: It promises to keep track of your weight, calories and exercise easily using only the scale itself and an accompanying app that can be used on your iPhone or iPad. Technically, the iHealth Scale does do that, but there are a few kinks that make this product’s promises fall flat.

The Good:

As mentioned earlier, the scale is aesthetically pleasing. Looking at its glass top and metallic finish, its weight is a bit of a surprise as when you lift it, you’d expect it to feel a lot heavier. Thank the black plastic bottom for that one. Within that black plastic base is where the four AAA batteries are housed that power the scale.

The scale is activated like most digital scales on the market. Simply step on the scale to activate the digital display and your weight is displayed in less than three seconds. The weight seems fairly accurate, changing bit by bit as items were added to my person to test the sensitivity of the scale. As a simple digital scale, the iHealth does a fairly decent job of delivering the numbers.

The Bad:

The problem is, the iHealth Scale is an iOS fitness device and that is where it falls flat. The iHealth scale connects to a free app that tracks your daily weight as well as calories and exercise. And here’s where it starts to get a little too funky.

In order for the device to connect with the app, the device uses a Bluetooth connection. Simple, right? I mean, all I have to do to have one of my headsets or wireless keyboards connect to my iPad via Bluetooth is turn them on. Bluetooth connection is secured after the initial pairing. With the iHealth scale, you must manually connect the Bluetooth connection every time you use the scale. Instead of the scale coming on and being recognized by your Apple device, you must go into the device’s settings and activate the pairing. Every time. Meanwhile, if the scale powers off before you make the connection, you have to go through the process all over again. It’s clunky and a bit old-school for the slightly pricey iHealth scale.

The app itself is, unfortunately, not much more intuitive. In order to enter your caloric intake, you have to work with the weight of the food you’ve consumed. For instance, if I want to tell the app that I’ve eaten 12 wheat crackers, instead of entering units, I have to enter the amount of food in ounces. Not only that, but the food choices within the app’s search function are severely limited. As someone who has used the free and fabulous MyFitnessPal app for nearly a year, which allows you to search by brand name, type of food and even restaurant name, I was surprised by how archaic the iHealth’s app seemed in comparison. Aside from the ability, albeit it manually, to attach itself to the scale, there are much better caloric and exercise counters available for free or very little via iTunes.

Overall, the scale just doesn’t really cut it as an iOS fitness device. Sure, it measures weight just fine and will, to some degree, keep track of your weight via the app; but the additional measures you have to go through in order to use the app with the scale are no different from using any other (less expensive) digital scale on the market and tracking the weight yourself.

Verdict:

An example of how advanced technology can actually make something less useful.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

iHealth HS3 Wireless Bluetooth Scale: Down to the Bare Bones [Review, Fitness Special]

iHealth HS3 Wireless Bluetooth Scale: Down to the Bare Bones [Review, Fitness Special]

Cult of Mac

Stonehenge Experience App Takes You On A Pocket Sized Guided Tour [Review]

Stonehenge Experience for iOS

I’m lucky: the real Stonehenge is only about 40 minutes drive from my front door, so I can go and visit whenever I like. For students of prehistoric monuments who live further afield, the Stonehenge Experience app for iPad offers a tiny glimpse of what this ancient English stone circle is all about.

It’s not an “official” Stonehenge app, in the sense that it’s not produced by English Heritage, the body that looks after Stonehenge. But it has been put together with proper care, and gives you a decent overview of the history of the site.

Most of this is done with computer generated 3D scenes, which you can manipulate to a certain extent. These let you zoom in and out of Stonehenge-as-was, and view it from any angle. Short voice commentaries provide some historical context.

Stonehenge is just one monument at the centre of a much larger network of sites spread over many miles, and it was good to see that this app doesn’t ignore them. It includes information about Durrington Walls, Woodhenge and the Amesbury Archer, among others.

There isn’t a huge amount of detail, and you can get through all the content here pretty quickly. There are some small errors that are a bit jarring (just mis-spellings, mostly), and some of the animation is a bit juddery, but other than that there’s little to find fault with.

Whether you’re a keen student of ancient history, or just planning to visit Stonehenge next time you’re in the UK, this three-dollar app is a good introduction to the basics, and might provide you with some useful starting points for further reading.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Cult of Mac

Video: Weekend Tech Review: CES Week 2 2012

Sunday, January 15, 2012

By Daniel Eran Dilger

Published: 06:46 PM EST (03:46 PM PST)
Here’s a video recap of the top tech stories involving Apple for the second week of 2012, including a tour of CES 2012, Steve Ballmer’s keynote, big product news, the week’s business stories, and upcoming events.

AppleInsider staff was on location at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show, reporting on the new and noteworthy. Be sure to check in and share your comments and video feedback via email.

You can also follow us on Twitter: @appleinsider and @DanielEran.

AppleInsider

Zeo Sleep Manager Mobile: It’s a Scale — But For Sleep, Not Weight [Review, Fitness Special]

Zeo Sleep Manager Mobile: It’s a Scale — But For Sleep, Not Weight [Review, Fitness Special]

The idea behind the Zeo Sleep Manager Mobile ($ 99) is that the quality of your sleep affects your health in a bigger way than we generally recognize, and that measuring the amount of time we sleep and its quality — then quantifying that sleep with a number on a 100-point scale — will give us the information we need to improve our sleep, and ultimately our health.

The Zeo works by measuring the different sleep stages throughout your sleep cycle via a headband, which sends the information to a receiver unit via Bluetooth. The whole thing is controlled via an iOS app that also displays the data in a well-designed, easy-to-read interface.

The Good:

The system was remarkably simple to use. Pairing is easy; I simply popped the headband onto my forehead when I was reay to go to sleep, launched the app and went to sleep. In the morning, a bat graph appeared displaying how many minutes I spent in light, deep and REM sleep, and also how many minutes I spent awake. The bar graphs are color-coded to represent the different modes of sleep. As important is what Zeo calls the “ZQ Sleep Score,” a quantified rating of how well you slept last night. That score is the easiest way to measure how lifestyle changes affect the quality of your sleep. For example, by measuring caffeine intake against ZQ Score will not just tell you if the former affects the latter (duh), but how much it’s affected.

Zeo Sleep Manager Mobile: It’s a Scale — But For Sleep, Not Weight [Review, Fitness Special]

Journalists don’t sleep very well…

Everything is laid out clearly and colorfully, and the readout couldn’t be any easier to understand.

The whole thing — headband and receiver — are small enough to pack in a corner of an overnight bag. The system comes with a charger, but the power input is a mini-USB port, which makes finding alternatives easy if you misplace the cable.

Multiple nights of sleep data can be stored on the device used to record it, then uploaded at any time to your Zeo account, at which point the data can be downloaded to any device with the free Zeo app logged in to your account.

Just like any good web-based health service, data from your Zeo account can be shared and plugged in to other services: RunKeeper and DailyBurn both integrate the ZQ Sleep Score to give an idea of how well you’ve recovered from a workout.

The Bad:

The SmartWake alarm — intended to wake you at the optimum point in your sleep cycle, when sleep is shifting from REM to light, after you set a rough target time  — never really worked for me. I tended to actually wake up before it went off; when I did wake up from the alarm, I didn’t really feel better or worse than had I used a standard “dumb” alarm.

Zeo recommends replacing the sensor pad every three months, as body oils an degrade the padded contacts to the point where they can’t pick up data. The good news is that the pad snaps off easily; the bad news is that replacements are $ 20 a pop (or $ 50 for three).

Then there’s the headband itself. beside the fact that the tight band could be a little uncomfortable at times, it was simply a hassle to put on every night. Erratic sleep patterns, falling asleep before intending to contribute to lack of use. The iDevice receiving the info also needs to be plugged in before it’ll receive data; although this isn’t much of a detractor, because you’re probably plugging in the device at night anyway.

The big issue is the ease with which the info collected can be used — and right now, it’s just not all that easy. The consensus among the medical community seems to be that how we sleep is an important factor to health, and has a big impact in our daily lives. But despite DailyBurn and RunKeeper, there aren’t many fitness or health systems integrating the Zeo’s information just yet.

Verdict:

For some, the Zeo should prove a useful tool; for others, not so much. While the system works well, neither the data collected nor the method used to collect it is as easy to apply as we’d like. At least, not yet.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Zeo Sleep Manager Mobile: It’s a Scale — But For Sleep, Not Weight [Review, Fitness Special]

The sensor attaches to the headband and sensor pads via snaps.

Zeo Sleep Manager Mobile: It’s a Scale — But For Sleep, Not Weight [Review, Fitness Special]

Replaceable sensor pad.

Zeo Sleep Manager Mobile: It’s a Scale — But For Sleep, Not Weight [Review, Fitness Special]

In the box: travel-ready charger, strap and sensor pads (in the foil packet), receiver, sensor, not-very-useful interactive chart.

Cult of Mac

Withings WiFi Body Scale: Quite Possibly The Best Way to Live Longer [Review, Fitness Special]]

Withings WiFi Body Scale: Quite Possibly The Best Way to Live Longer [Review, Fitness Special]]

Despite all our 21st-century technical wizardry, one of the easiest and least expensive ways to get a very basic idea of physical health is through a metric that’s been used for a very long time: body weight.

The Withings WiFi Body Scale ($ 160) takes this concept to the next level in many ways, including allowing you access to all your data on a gorgeously designed iOS app. It also adds an even more important metric, body fat percentage, and goes a long way to erasing many of the pitfalls using a simple scale can lead to — and it does this all while remaining incredibly easy to use. In fact, it might be the most effective tool I’ve used to keep healthy.

The Good:

The secret to the scale’s effectiveness is its link to the Internet. Once you setup your Withings account online and connected the scale wirelessly over your home network — which like everything else about the Withings, took about five minutes and was practically effortless — the scale will begin sending data to your secure account every time you weigh yourself. This has two big payoffs: a) you no longer have to track your weight by hand, which can be time-consuming and, frankly, too much of a bother if you’re as lazy as I am, and b) it allows Withings’ sophisticated, web-housed algorithm to crunch the numbers and create an easy-to-grasp trend curve.

That trend curve is key, because it shows you where your weight is headed in a much more useful way than single measurements or plots on a graph — which, because weight can fluctuate dramatically from day-to-day, makes you less apt to freak out when you hit a heavy day, and gives you a better idea of whether or not your diet and/or exercise regimen is having the desired effect.

Another key feature is the Withings’ ability to measure body fat percentage, actually a more accurate metric of health than simple weight (again, there are other scales that measure this, but this time we’re getting much closer in price to the Withings). That metric is also uploaded, and can be graphed alongside weight.

Almost all the information is available through Withings’ Universal iOS app. It’s a gorgeous app: hold the iPhone in portrait mode and you’ll see individual entries — which you can scroll through via a virtual dial — with weight, percentage body fat and body-mass index; tilt the iPhone to landscape and the slick, clearly illustrated graph appears. It looks great on the iPad too, but I was impressed at just how well they managed to make the UI look and work so fabulously on the iPhone’s comparatively tiny screen.

Everything smacks of quality and looks well-finished. The scale’s display is bright and easy to read, and I was a little taken aback at how much I admired the good looks of the scale’s polished glass surface. Let’s face it, this is a major bathroom appliance, a little eye candy doesn’t hurt.

Even multiuser households are easily handled. If there are several people using the same scale, you can set up a separate account for each, and choose whether the data is private or not. when someone steps on the scale, it’ll make a good guess as to who’s being weighed and assign the weight to them (it’ll display who it’s assigned the measurement to). It’s very intuitive; my ex-roommate and I are of similar height and build, and the scale surprised us by only very rarely confusing the two of  us. Whan that happened, the scale simply asked whomever was being weighed to step on one side of the scale or the other to attribute the measurement. And measurements could always be easily re-attributed later through the account.

To top it all off, data can be easily shared with friends and family or healthcare professionals. There’s also the ability to take the entries and plug them into other services like RunKeeper, which allows tight integration of cause (calories expended through running) and effect.

The Bad:

About the only thing negative we can say about the Withings Scale is that its price. But taking into account its effectiveness at one of the most important aspects of our lives — our health — it’s worth the plunge.

Oh, one other thing. Because the scale sends a tiny current through your body to measure body fat percentage, it’s not suitable for people with pacemakers or anything that an electrical current could interfere with; if you’re in doubt, check with your doctor first. If you’re not augmented with anything like that, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about and you won’t feel a thing.

Verdict:

The Withings Scale is well-designed, looks good and just works — and therefore fits in perfectly in any Apple adherent’s life. More importantly though, its brilliant combination of features make it a highly effective tool for healthy living.

Rating: ★★★★★

Withings WiFi Body Scale: Quite Possibly The Best Way to Live Longer [Review, Fitness Special]]

I lost something close to ten pounds with the help of the scale. The pink area represents the range of plot points, the white line is the trend plot. In the lower right corner is an individual entry.

Withings WiFi Body Scale: Quite Possibly The Best Way to Live Longer [Review, Fitness Special]]

Withings WiFi Body Scale: Quite Possibly The Best Way to Live Longer [Review, Fitness Special]]

Withings WiFi Body Scale: Quite Possibly The Best Way to Live Longer [Review, Fitness Special]]

In the box: WiFi Scale, USB cable (for initial setup), batteries, feet (for stability if using on carpet) and measuring tape.

Cult of Mac