We're now exactly a month away from Christmas... so now is the time to start thinking about gifts! Here's our pick of ten quirky gadget gifts for the geek in your life!
Think you know about Assassin's Creed? Have you travelled the world with Ezio? Then prove it by taking our Assassin's Creed Travel Quiz.
If you're a geek, or are looking for the perfect gift for the geek in your life, Etsy is a goldmine. Whether it's Doctor Who, Harry Potter or the Legend of Zelda, there's going to be someone on Etsy who spends their time handcrafting some amazingly cool stuff in tribute to these franchises. Here's our pick of the ten coolest geeky gifts on there.
Feeling eeeeeeevil? *scary scream*. Here's our top scary outfits and assorted scary stuff for this extra creepy '13 Halloween.....Whoah-hah-hah-hah-harrrrrrrrrr! (coughs)
These days it takes quite a lot to get me excited about an iOS app. However I can realy see the potential of Spin a brand new app for both iPad and iPhone that has launched this week. It is an app that might just take video communication via phones and tablets to a new level.
On one level it is a video chatting app that enables the user to chat to a group of people. The difference between Spin and say Skype is that the unlike other video-chatting apps such as Skype, is that Spin presents each person in the conversation in a square which can be moved around the screen. It works superbly on the iPad, less well on the titchy screen of the iPhone. However the smart bit is that it lets the users do so much more such as sharing video or image content.
In this way Spin lets you easily access Facebook and Flickr photos or YouTube videos which you can then shares with up to nine other people. So for example you could share holiday snaps with you entire family or share your latest music video with a posse of your fans.
There's also some interactivity options too so you can throw paper aeroplanes at people or send them visual messages.
The company is also taking the high ground in terms of quality claiming its HD visuals and 44kHz audio are superior to its rivals.
The platforms works seamlessly on the iPad but does highlight the limitations of the small screen of the iPhone. Hopefully an Android version is imminent so we can see how it works on the Galaxy Note and the Sony Xperia Z Ultra.
Well, after all the rumours about slow demand it turned out that the iPhone 5S is Apple's fastes selling mobile ever. Did you nab one? If so check out our list of the best female-friendly cases.
Well that didn't take long. As soon as the wraps came off Apple's budget new iPhone the accessory mob piled in with new cases for the phone.
This time they do have a bit of competition with Apple's own take. But if you don't fancy that then here are some others that are worth taking a look at.
Despite its male-dominated beginnings, 48% of gamers are now women - and it's easy to see why. With so many games available for mobile operating systems like Android, it's almost impossible not to be drawn in by an overwhelming desire to collect gold coins, or wreak vengeance on virtual enemies. With that in mind - here's a selection of some of the best Android games out there.
Wearable tech goes vintage, well that is kind of the concept that designer Sean Miles had in mind with this collaboration with 02. He has basically created a collection of vintage fashion accessories made from recycled mobile phones, which have included Christian Louboutin heels, a pair of vintage Miu Miu gloves and an Alexander McQueen clutch bag.
The cool part is that all of them double as mobile phones.
The items, which 02 is billing as the O2 Recycled collection, was unveiled to coincide with the end of London Fashion Week.
Sean Miles said:
"We wanted to showcase the possibilities of wearable technology - from shoes to gloves to bags - and how fashion and technology can go hand in hand. Further, the hope is that all the creations for this innovative project will get people to notice what can be done with mobile phones rather than just sending them to landfill. If we can combine the best of fashion whilst also recycling gadgets we can be trendsetters in more than one way. This has been an amazing journey for me and really has opened up my eyes and wardrobe to new things!"
The creations included
"Walkie Talkies" vintage footwear (including a pair of brogues, Nike Air trainer, Hunter Wellies and a Christian Louboutin high heel shoe which all can be used as phones.)
"Talk to the Hand" vintage Miu Miu and Pineider gloves which had an old mobile phone's speaker unit embedded in the thumb and microphone built into in the little finger of the gloves while they chat through Bluetooth connection.
"The Bags That Talk" a vintage Celine box handbag, a Chloe shoulder bag, and an Alexander McQueen clutch bag, with old Nokia and LG handsets integrated into them.
So the vinyl revival continues with hipsters across the globe discovering that the best way to listen to music is via an old school record deck.
But while sales of vinyl albums may have gone stratospheric, it is early days for the record player revival. Specialist audio dealers and record stores are reporting a bit of an upsurge and there appears to be a good market for second hand decks.
However there isn't a huge amount of innovation and design going on at the lower end of the marker which means that Crosley and Ion - companies with two very different types of record players seem to be cleaning up.
If you are thinking of buying a record player of some sort then here are five that I can vouch for. Prices start at under £100 for a basic deck and run through to £1,500. The more money you pay the better quality the components and build quality and ultimately better performance. If you do opt for a pricier model remember too that you'll need an amplifier and speakers too.
There's an interesting article in the New Yorker today which suggests that Facebook, that loveable social network, might actually be making you unhappy. It isn't the first time that social networks have been accused of adding to human misery but this article, which references a new study from the University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross, says it makes us feel sad and lonely.
Here's what Kross and his team discovered.
In the course of two weeks Kross and his colleagues sent text messages to eighty-two Ann Arbor residents five times per day. The researchers wanted to know a few things: how their subjects felt overall, how worried and lonely they were, how much they had used Facebook, and how often they had had direct interaction with others since the previous text message. Kross found that the more people used Facebook in the time between the two texts, the less happy they felt--and the more their overall satisfaction declined from the beginning of the study until its end. The data, he argues, shows that Facebook was making them unhappy.
The article also mentions older surveys which concur in some way with Kross' conclusions and points to a 2010 analysis of forty studies which suggests that the Internet use had a small, significant detrimental effect on overall well-being.
Finally it mentions that old classic jealousy. Apparently Facebook users feel their life is nowhere near as exciting as all their friends who are posting pictures of their adventures.
I don't know about you, but I think that Facebook is fairly neutral and that, if anything it tends to amplify feelings that we already have. If you are a depressed person you are possibly going to find things that will make you feel sad. If you are happy, other people's good news might make you feel even more elated.
And to be fair the article doesn't mention surveys which have highlighted Facebook's uplifting nature.
On a personal level all I can say is that Facebook has enabled me to develop friendships with people across the globe that enrich my life. Without it I would have never met them. Also I have a much deeper understanding of the lives of many of my friends as, though their updates I know a great deal more about their lives than I did in pre-social networking days.
Finally the thousands of groups for people who faces challenges in their lives have to be a good and uplifting thing. There is nothing more positive than finding someone else who has been through the same difficult experiences as you have and then sharing with them and maybe learning how they handled things.
So what do you think? Does Facebook make you sad?
In less than week's time the great and the good of the consumer electronics world will descend on Berlin's rather splendid modernist exhibition centre for the annual IFA gadget fest.
Second only to to its American cousin CES, iFA is sure to yield some of the biggest products announcements of the year with Sony and Samsung in particular promising some serious goodies.
So what can we expect? Here are a few gadgets that are on the cards.
In less than a week's time Sony will take the wraps of its Xperia Z1 smartphone at the IFA exhibition in Berlin. If you can't wait until then take a gander at these images.
They come from a Chinese website 365dian and give us a very clear idea of what the phone will look like- assuming it is the device that we think it is - this looks very much like a prototype.
In case you missed the earlier rumours the phone will be Sony's flagship and include a 20 mega pixel camera as well as a 5-inch 1080p display, a Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of internal storage, plus 4G LTE, NFC and a 3,000mAh battery.
Ok, so now we have heard from all four big UK networks about their 4G plans. EE, Vodafone and O2 are live now and Three will follow in December. So which of the quartet has got the best deal. Here is a quick round up.
Best 4G prices
Three of the four networks have pitched their 4G offerings at around the same price, they all start at £26 a month and then go up to £51 a month from EE if you want an awful lot of data.
If you do start at the bottom and pay £26 per month for a SIM-only package at present EE limits users to 1GB of data a month. O2 is the same. Vodafone has a 2GB cap. Vodafone is also a little more generous in its data offering in other packages than O2.
EE has some high-end packages if you pay £44 a month you get 10GB of data is on offer, or if you fancy 20GB that will set you back £51pm - both deals include a handset. O2's top-end SIM-only deal is £36 a month for which you get a hefty 5GB of data - EE has a SIM-only deal at a similar price.
With O2 you can also supercharge the data package with each additional 500MB costing £6 per month, or £10 a month for each additional 1GB.
As for Three, it is a simple upgrade process for existing customers who are on their 3G service. In theory you can get 4G via Three on the Huawei Ascend P2 is which is 4G compatible and that sells for £20 per month. In a major plus on Three you also get unlimited data. If you just want a SIM only then Three's base SIM-only tariff starts at £6.90 per month and gives you 500MB of data.
Overall then the price structure is fairly competitive. Three is the most generous in its data offering with its unlimited data which makes it very attractive.
Best 4G coverage
There's not a huge difference here between O2 and Vodafone as they share the same network. And both go live on 29th August in London with Birmingham, Bradford, Coventry, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield will all live by the end of the year. The plan is for 98 percent coverage across the UK by the end of 2015.
Meanwhile EE already has 4G coverage for over 60% of the UK including Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Derby, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Nottingham and Sheffield.
Three has announced that its 4G services will kick off in December with a roll out in London, Birmingham and Manchester. It promises to have 4G live in 50 cities by the end of 2014 and as much as 98 percent of the population could have 4G via Three by the end of 2015.
Best 4G speed
Vodafone and O2 are offering speeds of around 25Mbps. 4G in this speed is also available from EE in 50% of the UK.
About a quarter of the UK (12 cities including London, Birmingham and Cardiff) can also access EE's new double speed 4G which offers speeds of up to 80mbps at full capacity. We don't know yet what Three's 4G speed will be when it launches in December.
Voda has a great selection with a choice of free Spotify Premium or free Sky Sports Mobile TV (which features all the sports channels and includes live Premiership football.) EE has free cinema tickets via its Orange Wednesday promotion plus either a Deezer music subscription, a games offering or a TV selection that includes ITV and Channel Four. More details here. O2 has 4G Music Tracks which offers playlist, video and Top 40 streaming free for 12 months. Or for sports fans exclusive NBA and rugby content. Gamers can access Gameloft mobile titles including Asphalt 8: Airborne, Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour and Zombiewood multiplayer over 4G without eating into their data allowances.
At the present time Three hasn't announced its add-ons.
EE has a strong selection with the Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC One, Sony Xperia Z and the iPhone 5, Blackberry Q5, Samsung Galaxy S3, Nokia Lumia 820 and Nokia Lumia 625 all included.
As for Vodafone it offers the Samsung Galaxy S4 (and S4 mini) HTC One, Sony Xperia Z, Blackberry Q10, BlackBerry Z10, Samsung Galaxy S3, Nokia Lumia 820, Nokia Lumia 920, Nokia Lumia 925 and Nokia Lumia 625.
O2 has gone with the Samsung Galaxy S4 (and S4 mini) HTC One, Sony Xperia Z, Sony Xperia SP, Blackberry Q10, BlackBerry Z10, Samsung Galaxy S3, Nokia Lumia 820, Nokia Lumia 920, Nokia Lumia 925 and Nokia Lumia 625.
Three has among others the HTC One, Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Apple iPhone 5.
The only significant difference is that if you want a 4G iPhone 5 then you have to go with EE or Three.
If you want a basic 4G package - then Three with is flexibility and unlimited data is the place to start. of the other three Voda shades it for now with its more generous data allowance and excellent Sky and Spotify freebies.
If you want a top-end package - Then it has to be EE which has faster speeds and a top-end package with a ridiculous amount of data.
If you want a 4G iPhone 5 - Then it has to be EE or Three. Neither O2 or Voda are offering a 4G version of the Apple phone.
The big news this morning is that Google Music, which was announced in the spring and has been working in the US for several months now, has become available in the UK and other European countries.
You can sign up now and get a month for free and then pay an intro rate of £7.99 per month. It will eventually cost £9.99.
But what is it and how does it stack up against the current king of online music Spotify?
In many ways the services have a lot in common, They both allow you to stream whole albums and the catalogue of tracks they boast is very similar. There's no Beatles or Led Zeppelin on either of them, but then you guessed that already. They both have deals with companies to deliver new albums though Spotify has the edge on indie and European music for now.
The music discovering offerings are also similar too with Google Music including offering up recommendations on what to listen to next based on your listening habits.
Listeners can also turn any song into a "radio station", with the service intelligently creating an endless playlist of songs based around the artist and track you've selected, with each song complementing your original choice.
Both services stream music at a maximum of 320kbps.
But there are some key differences
Price - Spotify has a lot more flexibility here. For starters it has a free ad supported version - Google starts at £7.99 a month. Spotify's PC only version is cheaper too at £5.99 per month. For the full versions both will come in at £9.99 a month (though Google has an introductory offer of £7.99) which will let you listen to and store songs on mobile. Google scores here as you can store up to 20,000 tracks, a lot more than the 3,333 offered by Spotify.
Platforms - Google can be played from a browser on a PC or Mac, and on an Android based smartphone. If you have an iPhone you can access the service via the browser. Spotify has a browser service for PCs, an app for PCs as well as apps for both iOS and Android devices.
Music integration - Google has an edge on Spotify in that the new service integrates with its cloud based storage system. So you can upload all your music to the cloud and it will be accessible on any PC using Google Music. This is very useful for people who like music in genres which aren't well represented on either of the streaming services (obscure 60s stuff, jazz, easy listening, exotica etc). It also means that it is easy to create playlists that contain both yours and Google Music which are then available anywhere. For some users this is a serious advantage over Spotify.
Overall - Which one you choose I think depends on a number of factors. If you are a casual music streamer then Spotify's free service will probably suffice for you. If you are an Apple diehard too Spotify has the edge. Where Google Music scores is the integration of your own music with the streaming catalogue. that is a small, but significant niche. It will be interesting to see if and when Spotify addresses this.
Over the past few months we have seen lots of mock ups of what the Apple iWatch might look like, but as for the Samsung watch, well not so much. Stepping manfully into the breach is website www.vouchercodespro.co.uk who asked their patent and trademark insider to help them devise what the Samsung Smartwatch may look like.
We will have to take them at their word that they have done their home work, but we do know that Samsung has filed patents for the watch in both the US and South Korea.
The patent says the following, which admittedly isn't that much
"Wearable digital electronic devices in the form of a wristwatch, wrist band or bangle capable of providing access to the Internet and for sending and receiving phone calls, electronic mails and messages. It would be used for the wireless receipt, storage and/or transmission of data and messages and for keeping track of or managing personal information; smart phones; tablet computers; portable computers."
If you were to tell me I had to lose every single website and app but could keep one (on my desert island apps interview) I would keep Spotify. I adore the music service and have been a subscriber since it first made its apps available.
The way in which I can listen to music as the artist intended, as a whole album played in the right order, as well as being able to access that huge back catalogue makes Spotify for me the most important innovation since the web itself.
However increasingly the service is coming under attack from musicians - the latest to stick the boot in are Thom Yorke and music producer Nigel Godrich, who claim that the service is failing new music.
Nigel Godrich's argument is detailed in a series of tweets here, but to paraphrase, he believes that Spotify is great for listening to back catalogues, but fails new bands as they don't make enough money from its royalties pay outs. The industry average offers 0.4p per stream - meaning that 1m streams of a song generate about £3,800. Most songs receive far fewer streams, which in fairness won't even keep some bands in plectrums for long.
Godrich finishes his rant by throwing down the gauntlet. He says that either Spotify needs to change its approach to new music, or that musicians should vote with their feet and follow Thom Yorke's example and takes their tunes off the service.
To be fair to Godrich he doesn't come across as being too anti-Spotify, but he is addressing the fact that there is a very real issue with how the service works. He has been retweeting some interesting pro-Spotify replies too.
Some of the other tweets and posts this morning though have been a lot more critical of the service.
I am not too convinced though that the Spotify bashing is really that helpful - here's why.
1 Spotify is the best things that has ever happened to music online - Almost every significant album in history available for users to stream at any time. Come on, ten years ago that was the stuff of dreams. How many new bands have created music that is influenced by older bands - and the first place they got to hear the Gang of Four, Soft Boys and Cleaners From Venus etc was on Spotify.
Also some snooty musicians have been moaning about how Spotify has opened up the floodgates to all kinds of hapless amateurs. This is utterly wrong IMO. I have heard many more great new bands in the last three years than I did in the ten that proceeded them. There has been an explosion of new music and that has been fuelled by Spotify.
2 Spotify has got to get its business model right - The problem here is that Spotify could charge £20 a month for its services and give a big chunk of that to the musicians who provide new releases. But is anyone going to pay it? Personally I wouldn't have any issues with that. There is however a much more deep rooted problem. It revolves around the under of music in our society now. One musician friend of mine recently tweeted that people seem happier to spend five quid on a big bag of popcorn at the cinema than they do on an album.
At the other end of the scale there are those who are using Spotify's free service yet forking out the best part of £20 for new album releases on vinyl. Spotify has got to get its business plan right. It has many real and potential rivals and quite a few of them come from companies that are way more aggressive like Google, Amazon and Apple. I know which of the four companies which one I'd rather give money too.
3 How can it change that business model? Godrich makes many good points, but he doesn't offer any real suggestions as to what Spotify should do. Here's a few ideas.
* Charge people an extra £5 a month to hear albums and tracks that have been released in the last five months.
* Introduce an optional levy on subscriptions where people can pay extra to support new artists
Err that's it. Unless anyone else has any better ideas.
Spotify won't push number one because - well people won't pay more for streamed online music and it creates an opportunity for a rival to offer that serve more cheaply.
Spotify could do two, but ultimately it wouldn't do musicians any favours as it makes them look like charity cases.
If musicians take their music off Spotify then ultimately it will wither away.
4 Musicians never made that much money from royalties anyhow - Let's be serious about this, did radio plays of anything other Walking On Sunshine and Unbelievable generate enough money to pay anyone's mortgages? Thought not. Here's a view on this from the legend that is @solobasssteve . Musicians have traditionally made their money in other ways. At the very least Spotify does give bands profile, and that profile could lead to much greater things.
5 New musicians need to use Spotify strategically - Rather than place their whole album on there why not stick a few tracks on Spotify. Put the rest on Bandcamp, where incidentally people can still stream for nothing, or make the music available just as downloads. If people get hooked enough on your music then maybe just maybe they might pay for it.
6 Spotify needs to reach out to musicians more - How about some dialogue? Get some musicians on a board with maybe one of their representatives as part of the management team. It would be good PR for the company and might even help to resolve some of the issues musicians have with the service.
So finally can we please stop bashing Spotify. The big challenge for musicians, and indeed anyone who loves music, is to create a culture in which it is valued and that people are prepared to pay for it. Any ideas on how you achieve that are much appreciated.
Btw here's a load of great new music - if you like a bit of psych/shoegaze/dreampop
The jury really is out on most retro gadgets. Quite often they try a little too hard and come across as a pale pastiche of the products they are trying to imitate. Or they are so low-tech that they are almost useless in the modern world.
Here are nine though that we think deserve the moniker of retro gadget classics.
I imagine that when Kickstarter was first set up its founders imagined it being the vehicle by which all manner of high-tech projects got funded. From new computer games to off the wall gadgets and more. In fact even things like this amazing swimming pool.
I am not too sure though that they ever considered that the site would evolve as a significant funder of, wait for it, the vinyl revival, but that is increasingly becoming the case.
Imagine that you are a small band with a dedicated following. It is easy to set up a Bandcamp account and start selling your music. For credibility's sake though you need it created in a physical format. I work for a magazine which these days won't review anyhting that isn't in a physical format (ie CD, vinyl) as well as a download.
Personally I think that's a bit short-sighted but I do understand why they do it. It certainly sorts the wheat from the chaff.
But if you are a band with ambition just creating a CD doesn't really cut it. For credibility's sake you need vinyl. There is a growing army of music buyers who still download songs, but for whom their main source of listening pleasure is good old vinyl records. And if you are making dance music, or are part of alternative music genres like psychedelia, vinyl is a must.
Enter Kickstarter which these days is chocka with bands wanting to release their music on record.
And amazingly a high percentage of seem to be getting funded. Take for example Astro Nautico - they are a New York based group who major on soulful electronic sounds.They wanted $8000 for to create a vinyl album of their music- and they got it funded.
Also doing very well at the movement is a massive favourite of mine - Kosmischer Läufer (see video at the top) - who are hoping to take the digital download they created a few months back and make it into a proper record. The superb music is either- East German Kraut Rock from the 70s that was designed to help athletes run faster, or a groups of Scots with a wicked sense of humour. You decide. Nevertheless the tracks are fantastic and I am pleased to say that they look on target to reach the £1500 they need to create an album.
Also on the verge of a Kickstarter funded vinyl project -in this case a single - is Salisbury's very own Sgt Pepper Beaulieu Porch. The one man band who released a superb Strawberry Fields Forever style psych album last year and followed it up with another corker this year too.
Beaulieu is hoping to raise around £650 to create a single of his track The View From Gainsborough and with 20 or so days to go is half way there. Asked why he has chosen the format Simon Berry aka Beaulieu Porch said.
As for vinyl, I have noticed a growing trend amongst music fans for vinyl over CDs and downloads, which is probably, quite rightly, down to the overall aesthetic of the thing. I'm serious about what I do and for me, making my music and the artwork and all is an absolute pleasure and delight.
It seems then that in order to make Kickstarter work as a band looking to create a single you do have to have something of a track record. but as source of investment for vinyl it looks like it is becoming very useful.
Our affection for retro looking cameras probably never really went away. Old school snapper are however very much back in the spotlight thanks to the Lomography craze, the re-invention of instant cameras and even digital snappers, like the Fujifilm XF1, being kitted out with a really striking liveries.
Here are eight of our favourites