Monthly Archives: March 2011

Review: Lenco iPD-4500 portable iPod dock–zip up your sounds

Today’s gadget is an iPod travel dock with a few distinctive features. The Lenco iPD-4500 zips up to look like a sturdy travel bag; though at 250 x 180 x 80mm it is on the bulky side.

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It is not really a bag, but unzips to form an iPod dock in the base with speakers in the top.

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Although  it looks as if there are four speaker drivers it seems only the lower pair are active. The top panel is ported for better bass extension.

The unit has a built-in rechargeable NiMH battery which claims up to 8 hours of playback from a full charge. A mains adaptor is supplied. If mains power is on, then when seated in the dock, the iPod or iPhone charges, but not when on battery.

Along with the iPod dock there is a standard mini-jack input for non-Apple devices or smaller iPods. Controls on the device itself are limited to on-off and volume, but a compartment on the base unit opens to reveal a tiny remote, secured in a clip, with on-off, play-pause, track forward and back, and volume.

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Lenco also supplies a short mini-jack cable. I would have preferred a longer cable, since the short one will be awkward if you want to connect, say, a laptop for playing a movie; but of course you can use your own cable.

Sound quality

So how does it sound? Contrary to what I had expected from the advertised “bass boost”, this is not a particularly bass-heavy or boomy unit but has a pleasantly balanced sound. It is important to set your expectations. No, the iPD-4500 does not sound as good as docks geared more for home use, that are heavier, larger and more expensive. Compare it to the tiny speaker in an iPhone though, and it is a massive improvement. I rate it one of the better-sounding travel docks I have tried. It is worth experimenting with position too; you can get a weightier sound by positioning the dock near a wall or in a corner. As with any audio device, I recommend hearing it before purchase if possible.

According to the rather uninformative specifications there are 2 x 3W speakers, though without qualification 3W does not mean much. What you really want to know is how loud it goes; and the answer is loud enough for enjoying music in a hotel room or a small tent; but not loud enough if you really want to rock out or drown out significant background noise.

Design and appearance

It has to be said, this is not a beautiful device. A colleague said it looks like a toasted sandwich maker; and I see her point. It does not bother me because I care more about the convenience and the sound, but it is a factor.

I also noticed that the hinged panel which gives access to the front compartment tends to catch when you try to close it so needs to be operated with care.

On the plus side, when zipped up the iPD-4500 does feel securely protected from knocks and bumps, and I would be more confident about subjecting this to the rough and tumble of travel luggage than with most portable speakers.

A flaw is that the mains adaptor does not fit in the pouch, but has to be carried separately. Further, if you were camping rather than in a hotel, it might not be easy to recharge. A car adaptor would be worth considering.

Value for money

The iPD-4500 is on offer for around £75.00 which is at the upper end of the price range for a portable iPod dock. Then again, it sounds good, includes a rechargeable battery and a remote, and has a particularly robust integrated case.

It still strikes me as a premium price; and bear in mind that the Logitech Rechargeable Speaker S315i, for example, claims up to 20 hours playback, though with no remote, and plays somewhat louder. The S315i is nominally more expensive, but seems widely discounted to below the price of the iPD-4500.

What might swing it is if you particularly like the sound quality, or if the strong packaging suits your travelling lifestyle.

 

More germs on an iPhone than on a toilet seat? Proporta’s screen protectors kill the other kind of bugs.

Today’s inbox brings the disturbing news that:

In independent laboratory tests, the E. coli population on an untreated screen protector soared from 200,000 to 13 million in 24 hours.

Note the inclusion of the word “untreated” in this sentence, preparing us for the good news that:

The unique SteriTouch® coating on Proporta Antimicrobial Screen Protectors not only prevent this unbridled growth, but eradicates the E. coli completely.

The idea is that touch screens get, well, touched a lot; possibly even by more than one person. Touching spreads germs, so if you want to be safe maybe Proporta’s new “anti-bacterial germ resistant advanced screen protector with steritouch for iPad2” is just the thing for you. Bug-zapping screen protectors are also available for iPhone4, iPod touch, HTC Desire HD, Blackberry Torch, and Samsung Galaxy S2.

If this sounds like your thing, head over to Proporta’s site where you can also learn that

the average mobile has 25,127 germs per square inch, whilst the average toilet seat has just 49.

While quoting this sounds like a great way of annoying an Apple fanperson, the scientist in me would like a bit more information please. What about other things in our life that are touched frequently, door handles for example? How does the risk from using an “untreated” mobile device compare with that from, say, shaking hands with someone? Or travelling on the London Underground in the rush hour?

I am all in favour of a cleaner, healthier world; though I also recall theories that too much hygiene can be counter-productive since the body’s built-in defences need some enemies to munch on in order to operate at full efficiency. It makes some kind of intuitive sense.

Still, if you would like your shiny new Apple iPad2 to be more germ-free than a toilet seat, it looks like an Antimicrobial Screen Protector is the answer.

Amazon introduces its cloud player – but Spotify makes more sense

Amazon has introduced its Cloud Drive and Cloud Player. Cloud Drive offers 5GB of online storage free, with further storage available for a fee. For example, an additional 15GB costs $20 per year, and you can have a full 1000GB for $1000 per year.

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Having said that, a note in the FAQ says that:

The 5 GB free storage plan is available to all Amazon.com customers, however further upgrades to the storage plan are currently unavailable in the following countries

where the list is of countries in Europe including the UK.

The Cloud Drive looks nicely implemented except that there is no provision as far as I can tell for sharing. It is an odd omission, unless Amazon sees Cloud Drive as mainly for storing personal music and media purchases and wishes to discourage breach of copyright, so I am guessing this is the case. This does make rivals like Microsoft’s SkyDrive more interesting for general cloud storage though, particularly as you get 25GB free with SkyDrive.

So on to the Cloud Player. There are two versions, a web player that is part of Cloud Drive, and an Android player which is part of the Amazon MP3 application. My first attempt at using the web player failed – US customers only:

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However, when I uploaded some MP3 files to the Cloud Drive they played fine in the Cloud Player:

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I tried the Android player briefly. It worked well with MP3s already on my device, but I have not yet attempted to sign into the Cloud Drive.

There is no player for Apple iOS and when I visited the site in mobile Safari even the web player did not appear, though this may be another UK/USA issue.

Naturally Amazon is encouraging use of Cloud Drive and Cloud Player with its MP3 store. The idea is that you no longer need bother to download MP3 files. Just store them in Cloud Drive, and play them wherever you are, though download remains an option either on purchase or later from the Cloud Drive.

A few observations. Cloud Drive is a welcome feature, though it is nothing new and crippled by lack of sharing capability. Other applications built on Amazon S3 cloud storage do include the ability to share files.

Cloud Player enhances the Amazon MP3 store and I suppose is worth having, though I am sceptical about this model of music purchase. Once you have moved the focus of music storage from local drives to the cloud, and playback from the local network to cloud streaming, then a subscription model that offers everything available on the service makes more sense. This is what Spotify does successfully, though I appreciate that not all music is available on Spotify, and that some countries including the USA cannot use it.

I wonder what happens when you store an MP3 purchase in Cloud Drive? Does Amazon really store a separate copy for every user, or does it simply link to its master copy so that it appears to be in your personal space? The latter would save storage space; and the idea shows that technically it might not be difficult for Amazon to transition from a model based on individual track purchase to one based on all-you-can-hear subscription.

Agreeing this with the music labels and making financial sense of such a deal is another matter; but I hope that this new Cloud Player is a step in that direction.

Fixing modern plastic junk that should be thrown away

I have a Canon MX700 all-in-one printer. I have written about it before. It went wrong and would do nothing but issue a sullen error 6a80. I discovered a way of clearing the error but still could not print; I remarked:

I now think that somehow cleaning up this part of the printer (which is hard to get at) could fix it.

This weekend the time came to prove it, or else to chuck it away. I should have thrown it away. Even though I pretty much fixed it, the time it took and the frustration it caused was really not worth it. Well, it could be worth it if you enjoy such things as a hobby; I am not sure if I do, but I do hate throwing stuff away that can be made to work with a bit of effort, so I guess I get some satisfaction from the process.

Technically of course the correct advice is to get a machine like this fixed by an authorised Canon service engineer, but this is not cost-effective for a three-year-old cheapish all-in-one inkjet printer. It might well have cost more than a new printer of better specification. A skilled engineer would have worked faster than I worked; but you have to get the machine to her and back again; it still takes a certain amount of time to strip a machine down, clean it up and re-assemble it; a professional engineer would probably have replaced parts that I was happy to clean up and re-use, so there would have been a parts cost; and there is an overhead of invoicing and so on; it is not surprising that the costs mount up.

My further observation is that machines like this which are mostly clipped together are not designed for extensive servicing. It is hard to take it apart without breaking a few delicate plastic clips or tabs. I guess once you learn exactly where to tug and how hard to press you get better at it; but clip on parts are not ideal if you plan to remove and re-assemble them with any frequency.

If we were serious about reducing waste we would address this. For example, if you require manufacturers to offer extended warranties as standard, then it is in their interests to make products that are more reliable and more fixable.

In the meantime, fools like me waste time fixing modern plastic junk that should be thrown away.

15 minutes with the Nintendo 3DS

Today I got to try a Nintendo 3DS for the first time. A few first impressions.

It is a neat unit though it feels a little flimsy compared to the original DS or the DS Lite. I like the charging dock that comes in the box. Here it is, complete with genuine user fingerprints. The joystick (or circle pad) on the left is beautifully responsive.

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My first question was: what is the 3D like? The answer is that it really works.

I spent some time playing with the Augmented Reality game, where you lay cards on a table, point the 3DS rear cameras at them, and see magic happen as three dimensional creatures emerge, intermingled with the real world around them.

Photographing this takes more skill than I possess, but to give you the idea, here are four Augmented Reality cards (all in the box as standard) that I have laid on the desk:

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and here is a snap of the 3DS top screen viewing those cards in the AR game:

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You cannot see it from this image, but the 3D effect is vivid, and the background is the desk on which the cards are placed. A gimmick, but an engaging one.

The built-in AR game is a lot of fun and makes use of the AR background in that you have to pan the camera around the targets to shoot successfully, something which cannot be reproduced in a purely screen-based game.

What about eye strain? I am not sure; but the 3D screen did seem to strain my eyes slightly. There is a slider which lets you reduce or disable the 3D effect easily, so the eye strain possibility should not deter you, except that since you are paying for a 3D device it is a shame not to use it.

There is a lot more packed into the 3Ds though. It has an accelerometer and gyroscope, one front and two rear (for 3D) cameras, and wireless LAN that supports WPA/WPA2 at last – this was an annoyance with the older WEP-only models.

The software has the usual Nintendo quality, complete with the ability to create Mii avatars similar to those on the Wii, but this time they can be based on a snapshot of someone’s face taken with the built-in camera.

The downside versus the original DS is the battery life – just 3-5 hours.

Still, DS fans will love the 3DS. But will it grow its market? I’m doubtful. A lot of the market for casual gaming has passed to smartphones now; and for someone with a modern smartphone, the 3DS duplicates a lot of functionality. Few smartphones have 3D of course, though I did see the LG Optimus 3D at Mobile World Congress last month.

But how important a feature is 3D? That is an open question, and I guess depends on how much difference it makes to gameplay. My quick impression is that while it is truly impressive when first encountered, it is something you soon feel you could manage without – but that is only a quick impression and I could be proved wrong.

Review: Plantronics Voyager Pro UC v2 – go hands free everywhere

Today’s gadget is a Bluetooth headset, the Plantronics Voyager Pro UC v2. This little guy fits snugly in your ear and provides hands-free calls with your mobile or PC softphone. The UC stands for Unified Communications; and indeed, once I had plugged in the supplied Bluetooth adapter, which is pre-paired with the headset, my Microsoft Lync client automatically picked it up. It also works well with Skype.

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While that sounds simple, there are actually a fair number of features packed into this device. Some are more successful than others, but it is high quality and thoughtfully put together, right down to the unobtrusive magnetic closure on the padded case.

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Not shown in the picture above, the set also includes a few foam ear tip covers, which are comfortable but tricky to fit, and a mains adapter for charging when there is no suitable PC or laptop to hand.

I have to say that the fit of this headset is excellent: once in place you soon forget about it, and it feels secure and stable. Having wrestled with numerous more awkward headset designs over the years, this is not something I take for granted.

Now a few details. The headset has several controls: volume up and down on the top of the ear clip, power button near the bottom of the ear clip (above the micro USB charging port), and a call button at the ear end of the microphone stalk, in effect on top of the ear pad. These buttons have multiple functions depending on the state of the device and how you press them, so there is a bit of a learning process. For example, pressing and holding both volume buttons when music is playing pauses or resumes the music. Pressing and holding both volume buttons during a call mutes or unmutes the microphone.

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Much of the time you will be pressing these buttons while the headset is on, so you need to feel your way, as it were. How easy you find this will vary from one person to another. I found the volume buttons natural and easy to use, partly because if you rest your thumb on the bottom of the unit, you can easily squeeze the buttons at the top. The power button is a bit harder to find and use, but that does not matter too much because you would most likely take the headset off to use it, though it does speak the remaining talk time if you tap it and this can be handy.

I was less happy with the call button. If you are wearing the headset, and a call comes in, you have to tap this to answer. You can also use two taps to call back the last number, and tap and hold to use voice dialling on your mobile. I found the call button awkward to press and insufficiently tactile, though I am sure this improves with practice.

By way of mitigation, the Voyager has an auto-answer feature. A sensor in the device detects whether or not you are wearing it, and if you put the headset on when a call comes in, it will auto-answer.

The sensor also pauses music automatically when you remove the headset, and restarts when you put them back on.

If you pair the Voyager with an iPhone, you get a useful battery meter at the top right of the screen.

I found the Voyager rather good for listening to music. The quality is fine considering that it is mono. Of course it lacks the immersive sound and quality of stereo headphones; but that is the point – you would use the Voyager when you want private background music while still being in touch with what is going on around you. It is easy to carry on a conversation, for example, while music is playing.

I tried the voice dialling. This is a great idea in principle, since you can initiate a call without ever touching your mobile. First you have to press and hold the call button for two seconds, which is a little awkward as mentioned above. After a pause the Voyager beeps, and you can then speak a name to call. If you are lucky and it is found successfully, the Voyager reads the name to you, and if there are multiple numbers you can specify which one to call. If you are unlucky and your mobile starts calling the wrong person, a single tap on the call button ends the call.

I had some success with this, though it is a bit of an adventure. The key is patience. Once you have spoken the name, there is a wait of several seconds, at least with the iPhone, before anything happens.

PC Software

If you have a PC, you can install the Plantronics software to control your Voyager. The software is downloaded from the Plantronics site. You get a battery monitor that sits in the notification area:

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and a control panel that reports the detail of your device model and firmware, and offers a number of settings.

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Once again, the Voyager earns its UC designation by letting you automatically set your presence status when the device is worn or removed, though I struggled to find a setting for this that made sense for me personally.

One nice feature is that the Voyager integrates with PC media players as well as softphones, though some of my favourite media players are missing from the list.

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If you are a Mac user it seems you are less well served by software, though Bluetooth audio still works, and note that the Voyager integrates well with the Apple iPhone.

The Voyager Pro UC copes with both a PC and a mobile connected simultaneously – that is one of the things you are paying extra for – but I found that some details could get confused. For example, the iPhone got into an state where it could not play music though the Voyager until I disconnected the PC.

Extras

The Voyager is expensive for a Bluetooth headset, but is particularly well equipped. The case is well made and has a belt clip as well as a little pocket for the USB Bluetooth adapter. The mains adapter has an LED to indicate the charging state. The Bluetooth adapter has an LED to show whether the headset is connected, and flashes while data is being transmitted.

Conclusion

Overall I am impressed with both the quality and the range of features in the Voyager Pro. It works well alongside Microsoft Lync, for which it is optimized, and in my view it works even better as a headset for an iPhone or other smartphone.

Note though that if you do not need the Unified Communications features or the USB Bluetooth adapter, then the older Voyager Pro + model is less than half the price. However this model lacks the Smart Sensor of the Pro UC v2.

My main gripe is with the awkward call button. Personally I’d like to see this repositioned next to the volume buttons for easier access.

It is also worth noting that even six hours talk time, which you get from a full charge, soon disappears if you play background music, so charging can be a bit of a nuisance.

Nevertheless, using a device like this shows that it really is not necessary to juggle with a handset just to take a phone call; and if you can get voice dialling to work, you can keep the mobile out of sight until you need it for something important like browsing the web or, well, playing a game.

 

Review: Plantronics Calisto 825: a speakerphone for Microsoft Lync, iPhone or other mobiles

When I was at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this month I came across the Plantronics Calisto 825, a speakerphone for Microsoft Lync (formerly known as Office Communications Server) or for any mobile over Bluetooth.

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The device is USB powered and seems particularly well designed and built. The sound quality is excellent, the touchscreen buttons clear and nicely spaced, and there are some neat extras.

But what does this thing do? When I received it I did not have Lync installed, so I tried it with an Apple iPhone. You pair the mobile with the Calisto, and once done, the device picks up the iPhone whenever it is within range.

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Answer yes, and calls to and from the mobile are routed through Calisto. I am a big fan of hands-free devices, and this one works really well.

If you get one of these, I recommend that you also get the optional PA50 wireless mic.

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This little guy docks and charges on the Calisto when not in use. When you are at your desk, you clip it to your collar. Speakerphones work better with an external mic, as otherwise the mic is in the same box as the speaker, making it hard to avoid feedback or echo. The PA50 has good audio quality. It also has a mute button on the sides – essentially you squeeze the unit to mute the mic – and a big button to answer or end the current call.

The PA50 has what Plantronics calls 360 degree sound. This means you can lay it on the middle of a table and use it as a mic for an entire meeting.

This is an effective iPhone speakerphone then; but it is also designed to work with Microsoft Lync Server, which I have just installed on my test network.

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Setting up Lync Server is not trivial, but that will be subject of a separate post. Once installed up though, integration with Calisto was simple: plug it in, and it works. I did have to set Calisto as the default audio and microphone for the Lync client:

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The beauty of this system is that now both your mobile and Lync calls arrive on the same device; and for dialling out you can choose between them. Note though that Calisto is not a full Lync client, in that it does not offer a pick-list of Lync contacts or show their availability: to get that, you have to use the client on the PC.

Some Calisto models can link to a landline as well, giving you three ways to connect.

I am impressed with Calisto, which is a nicely designed unit, particularly in conjunction with the PA50 wireless mic.

Review: Seagate GoFlex for Mac portable hard drive

I have been trying Seagate’s GoFlex for Mac portable drive, which packs 1TB of storage into a small, light, USB-powered package.

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The drive measures around 120x88x22mm – small enough to fit easily in a pocket or bag. Spin speed is 5400 RPM which is a little disappointing.

But what makes it a “Mac” drive? Mainly that it comes pre-formatted with Apple’s HFS + (Hierarchical File System Plus) file system, which is ideal for performance and reliability under OS X. A possible snag is that HFS+ is not readable from Windows by default, though Seagate has a solution, of which more in a moment.

It is worth noting that you can easily reformat the drive for Windows NTFS if you want.

There is a GoFlex app for the Mac which includes an information tab, a drive test, and the ability to disable the activity lights on the drive. I cannot imagine why you would want to do that.

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Seagate’s GoFlex series has a few extra tricks. The most distinctive is that the interface is removable, which means you are not restricted to the usual USB 2.0. This GoFlex for Mac drive come with two, one for USB 2.0 and the other for FireWire 800, which is substantially faster: up to 786Mbps vs 480 Mbps. USB 3.0 and eSATA interfaces are available separately.

Currently the MacBook Pro, iMac, Mac mini and Mac Pro have FireWire 800 ports. It does make sense to use the faster port when available, especially with a drive of this size, though I cannot help thinking it would have been even handier if Seagate had managed to build the two ports into the main case, rather than having them as clip-on extras.

Still, the fact that you can remove the interface enables another GoFlex trick, the ability to slot the drive into a Media Sharing Dock. I’ve reviewed this dock here; it is a handy device though I have some usability concerns. I tried this with the GoFlex Mac and it worked well, an advantage being that you can access the files over a network irrespective of whether your operating system understands HFS+. Trivial point: the GoFlex drive is silver whereas the dock is black, a slight visual mismatch.

But what if you want to direct-attach your GoFlex for Mac drive to a Windows machine? Seagate has done a deal with Paragon to bundle its HFS for Windows driver. This normally costs around $40.00. It works too; though installation was not quite seamless. The problem is that the drive has to be attached for the install to work, presumably to protect Paragon from unauthorised installs. But when you attach the drive, both Windows and the Seagate Manager for Windows (if installed) prompt you to format it.

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If you agree to format the drive, you will lose any files already on it, so I clicked Cancel. However, while installing the drive software I got this dialog *again* – I suppose the thing to do is to check “don’t show again”. Seagate should update its Windows manager software to be HFS-aware. Once I had the Paragon HFS+ driver installed, and restarted Windows, everything was fine.

I would guess though that most customers for this drive will be using it with Macs and will not run into this issue. It is nice to have a drive designed with the Apple Mac in mind, and with generous 1TB or 1.5TB capacity this is a solid product.

Disclosure: Kudos to Seagate for asking me to mention in my review that that the review sample does not have to be returned.

Poor usability in Microsoft’s Xbox Live billing and support

Leaving aside the defective hardware in its first release, Microsoft’s Xbox console is generally easy to use. I am not so impressed with the way Xbox Live purchases and accounts are handled though.

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Today’s story begins when I followed a link on the XBox 360 dashboard to upgrade my Live Account to Gold and get a free game: one of Kinect Sports, Kinectimals, Fable 3, or Halo Reach.

I followed the link and tried to pay. I got error 80190848. That’s right, just the number.

Of course I googled it. It seems that it indicates a problem authorising the credit card. Fair enough; the card on file was out of date. But what is wrong with a message that says “We could not authorise your payment; please check your card details”? This is poor usability.

Next, I found I could not delete the old card from my account. To do this you have to go to the Xbox Live website on your PC. However, you cannot take advantage of the special offer from the Xbox Live website. No, you have to use the dashboard, otherwise it does not apply.

OK, I left the dud card there for the moment, added a new card, and made the purchase.

That went through OK, but what about the free game? Nothing. No on-screen information. No message. No email.

OK, so I contacted support. This isn’t too good either. You go to the support page and have to find the tiny contact us link at the bottom of the page. At least that one works. Some paths through the site just don’t work at all. For example, go to My Xbox – Accounts – View Billing History. On the Billing account overview, click Contact support. You get this:

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Lovely. Note that for Xbox, it says go to to the Xbox Live Accounts and Billing page. Yes, that was where I just came from. I click it anyway:

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Nice.

Apparently Microsoft has lost a significant amount of money because of weak cryptography in its Xbox Live Points scheme. I wonder how much more it has lost thanks to annoyed or frustrated would-be customers?

Review: Seagate GoFlex media sharing dock – Pogoplug in disguise

Seagate’s GoFlex media sharing device, also called GoFlex Net, is a dock with an ethernet connection. You can either attach a single USB drive – though the port is only USB 2.0, sadly – or else plug a GoFlex portable drive (reviewed here) into one or both of the two slots on top.

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If you use one of the slots, then a four-position LED gauge at the front indicates how full your drive is. Lots of lights means nearly full.

Now your drive(s) are attached to the network – but how do you access them? The key thing to realise is that this dock is also a Pogoplug. This is an online service that communicates with your local drives and enables you to access your files over the internet, or share them with friends.

This means that you have to register with Pogoplug, starting with a link on Seagate’s site for registering and activating your dock. I ran into a small problem here. First, I am behind a firewall and I had to enable UDP 4365 send and receive in order to enable Pogoplug to communicate with the Pogoplug service. Second, I had to type in the serial number from the device in order to activate, which in my case meant disconnecting it from the network temporarily. This might explain why there was a long delay before I received a confirming email; and until you click the link in this email your Pogoplug is not really activated.

I also found some usability issues in the setup. I looked at the Security Settings in my Pogoplug web dashboard and wanted to know the purpose of Enable SSH access for this Pogoplug device:

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As you can see from the screen, there is a help link at top right. However, clicking this takes you to the home page for Seagate support:

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Pretty useless in this context.

It turns out there is a story behind this. Each Pogoplug device runs Linux. Cloud Engines, the company which runs Pogoplug, had the bright idea of enabling access to the Linux terminal over SSH, so you could log into your Pogoplug from anywhere and do anything, provided you know Linux. SSH was enabled by default, and with a default password too.

This was a security hole, as bloggers like Rob Pickering observed. So now SSH access is disabled by default, and when you enable it you are prompted to create a new password. Much better.

In fact the security risk was not all that great, because typically Pogoplug is behind a firewall and unless you redirect the SSH port to the device, attempts to access it from the internet would fail anyway.

Anyway, I enabled it for internal access only, and was was able to get to the Linux shell.

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I also downloaded the Pogoplug software which enables you to access your attached drives as drive letters in Windows. There is similar software for Linux and the Mac. I was puzzled by the option to Enable multi-drive mode; again there is no help for this.

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It is no big deal and you can find it explained here; it makes a small difference to how the drives appear in your file manager, for example Windows Explorer.

Once I had done all this I had a P drive on my desktop:

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If you use this on a laptop, you can still see the P drive when out and about, provided you are on the Internet.

The folder called “Files shared with me” is initially perplexing. This refers to files shared with you by other Pogoplug users. It is nothing to do with files you are sharing out.

I thought, “There must be an iPhone app for this”; and there is. I downloaded it. It worked great over home wifi and I could access the drive; but what about when on the go? I turned the wifi off, so I was connecting over 3G only. Sadly the results were poor and I kept getting Error code 5 when I tried to view some images. In the end I created a tiny text file and managed to view it successfully, proving that the system can work:

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Note that Pogoplug never copies your stuff to its own drives, and when you access files locally they are not going over the Internet. Nothing is backed up online, even though it appears as if you can see your files on the Web.

But what about the GoFlex dock?

Indeed. This is meant to be a review of Seagate’s GoFlex media sharing device, but it is mostly about Pogoplug.

This is an issue. The front of the GoFlex box does not mention Pogoplug, though it is named on the back. The fact is, someone might buy this expecting a simple NAS (Networked Attached Storage) device, expecting to get immediately to the stage where the attached drives appear in Windows Explorer.

Instead, they find themselves having to agree to Pogoplug terms and conditions, and being handed a bunch of Internet features which may or may not be required. As I discovered, you can also have firewall issues.

It is possible to access the drives over a Windows network without using Pogoplug – but only after enabling Windows File Sharing for each drive, which is done through … the Pogoplug service. See the GoFlex Net User Guide [PDF] for more details.

It is also worth noting that this is a media sharing device and not a media streaming device. Well, that is not quite true; Pogoplus has added some basic media streaming using Upnp; but I had limited success when trying to use it with a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360. On the PS3 I could view pictures OK, but even playing an MP3 file stuttered.

More positively, it is also true that the Pogoplug tie-in offers genuinely useful features. In a nutshell, it is file sharing over the Internet. There are other solutions for this, some aimed mainly at businesses, but Pogoplug’s effort is simple and cost-effective. Since the files remain on your own drive, there are no issues about having to purchase more space as there are with Internet synchronisation services like Dropbox. If you have a large amount of files which you want to make available from anywhere, Pogoplug is worth investigating.

Of course you could just buy a Pogoplug rather than Seagate’s GoFlex dock. The most obvious difference is that the basic Pogoplug, which costs much the same as Seagate’s device, has four USB 2.0 ports, whereas the GoFlex has one USB 2.0 port and two of special GoFlex docks which only fit GoFlex portable drives. If you do have GoFlex drives, the Seagate option is more convenient and looks better too.

Could do better

This is a decent product, but as is often the case among vendors other than Apple, strong features are spoilt by poor documentation and presentation.

My suggestion to Seagate: redesign the product slightly so that Pogoplug services are optional rather than required; and have an install application that does the magic of enabling Windows File Sharing without the need to register for Pogoplug at all. Then Pogoplug can be presented as an optional benefit, rather than being something forced upon you.

The packaging should be clearer and more open about the Pogoplug element of the product.

I’d add that both Seagate and Pogoplug need to work on conveying the essence of what the service does clearly, accurately and concisely. Misunderstandings seem to be common.

Nevertheless, this is a clever and capable device. It is just that it is nothing special as a NAS device, and poor as a media streamer.

Disclosure: Kudos to Seagate for asking me to mention in my review that that the review sample does not have to be returned.