The OrbitSound: Great Stereo, Small Package
The iPhone and iPod have created huge accessory markets around them, the most expensive being music systems based around the tiny devices. The OrbitSound T12 is more than just another dock though. I think of it as the ultimate sound system for posh student digs and studio flats, or if you’re rich enough, secondary living rooms in the house. It’s designed to be a music system but also to boost the sound from your TV to give you a slightly more cinematic experience than your typical TV speakers might deliver.
The T12v3 comes in two parts – an 80cm long ‘sound bar’ featuring an array of small speakers, and an associated subwoofer that stands about the same height off the floor. The audio source can be an iPod in the integrated dock on top of the soundbar, or an optical or 3.5mm jack line in on the back. It comes with a small remote control and there’s a master volume control on the device itself hidden way. There’s no display other than a multi-function LED that changes colour and flashes depending on the devices state.
Build quality isn’t bad but for the price you might expect it to feel a little meatier. For example, nicer quality cables and connectors between sound bar and sub would really add to the quality feel. The thin wires and clip connectors feel more bargain basement than Bang & Olufsen.
That’s where the complaints end though because the sound is absolutely staggering. This is the best-integrated sub and speaker package I have experienced, bar none. The stereo field is incredible, giving a real ‘live’ feel to all sorts of music. Volume is enough to wake the neighbours but you’ll be so lost in your music you won’t hear them banging.
I did have some problems with the T12, as you will have heard if you listened to Darryl Morris’s show on BBC Radio Manchester a couple of weeks back. But since it was a pre-production model I was testing, I have to forgive those.
Overall I think this presents pretty good value for money for the sound it delivers. If you’re looking for a dinky sound system that will do your music justice and give your TV a boost, but don’t have the space (or patience for cabling) for a full surround system, this is a great bet. It’s close to getting five stars on the sound quality alone, but the not-quite-there build quality limits it to four.
The Griffin Beacon
Remote controls are a funny thing. They feel like a bit of a hangover from the eighties to me: they certainly haven’t changed much in design since then. But much like the keyboard and mouse, we haven’t yet found a better alternative. A fact sadly reinforced by the latest attempt from Griffin.
Much like the Gear4 Unity I reviewed before, this uses Bluetooth to connect to your iPhone, and then rebroadcasts commands from there to your TV etc via Infra Red. Commands are entered into the iPhone using an app called Dijit, which gives you a set of virtual buttons on screen to replicate those on your other remotes.
The connection between the Beacon and the iPhone is pretty straightforward as you’d expect. Where it falls down is the programming of the commands into Dijit. I’m not sure whether I was unlucky but Dijit didn’t recognise any of the devices I tried to add. And it’s not like my kit is exactly esoteric: primarily a mainstream Sony system with a Sky box. This meant that I had to programme each button individually: a faff. Programming the Gear4 unit was a much faster affair.
I feel bad for Griffin: it has produced hardware that fundamentally does what it says on the box. It looks OK and though it feels a little plasticky, it’s not expensive. What lets the product down is the third-party software.
This adds to the same problem that the Gear4 Unity suffers: funky as it is to be able to control everything from your iPhone, it’s simply not as easy or quick as just picking up the old remote. Certainly I will never convince my wife to pick up an iPod, turn it on, and select the right app before she can watch the TV. I’ve already made it complicated enough (watching TV requires three remotes as it is).
So for now, just like the old keyboard and mouse, the traditional IR remote survives. And the Griffin Beacon gets a slightly generous three stars.
The new Nokia Lumia 800, will this be your wallet and more?
Predicting the future is never an easy task. But I’ve come to the conclusion that it is fun to try. Let’s face it: wrong guesses are more entertaining than right ones. Like the Replicator in the original Book of the Future, a machine that can copy just about anything atom by atom. According to the Book of the Future we should have these by now, and I’m pretty doubtful we will see such a thing commercially available in the next fifty years (though I’d like to be wrong).
If you look much closer to the current day, it gets much easier to see the line that trends are taking. One thing is particularly clear to me at the moment: the smartphone will replace the PC as the centre of our digital worlds for the next twenty years.
That may sound like a safe bet but think about what it means: Firstly, that though the keyboard and mouse aren’t going anywhere soon, the form factor we know as a PC will soon be second fiddle. Apple’s iOS5 largely removes the need to have a PC to get the most out of a smartphone. Most of our access of digital and content will come through the small (probably touch) screen of a smartphone.
The smartphone will also be the arbiter of your identity. It will provide your access to your finances, friends, travel, media, entertainment and government services. Rather than syncing content from your PC to your phone as you do today; instead your phone will give your PC identity so that you it can access your services.
That’s a lot of faith to put in a single device, particularly one that is effectively leased to you by a corporation.
We’ve twice been reminded recently just how fragile or technology infrastructure remains. First of all BT suffered a massive failure in its broadband network, wiping out Internet access for thousands of individuals and businesses. Then just after 10:00 today, RIM’s Slough datacentre had some unspecified failure, taking out the Internet, email and BBM access for Blackberry users across two continents. It’s still not back up as I sit writing this close to midnight (at the 5live studios waiting to go on air).
BlackBery Fail - image courtesy of failblog.org
There’s two significant lessons here. Firstly, not all of our service providers on whom we increasingly rely have taken sufficient care with their service architecture. On the information available it seems both these outages stemmed from single points of failure. Not clever.
Secondly, failures are inevitable. Even though most brazen and hubristic marketer wouldn’t dare lay claim to 100% uptime for an IT system, hence the heavily deployed phrase ‘five nines reliability’. I.e. “We expect this system to remain live 99.999% of the time’.
The more reliant we become on technology, the higher the standards to which we will – and will have to – hold our service providers. But at the same time we should never be under the illusion that our services are or will ever be (at least for the foreseeable future), 100% reliable. Complex systems fail, and when they do, we need to be prepared as individuals and as a society for the consequences.
Next time it might be more than our Internet access that we lose.