Tag Archives: logitech

Review: Logitech K811 Bluetooth Easy-Switch keyboard for iPad, Mac and more

I travel a lot and use a tablet rather than a laptop, and have gone through numerous Bluetooth keyboards. These are a necessity for me, since the tablet I use is either an iPad, which has no USB slot for a wireless transceiver, or a Windows slate that has only one USB slot that is often occupied.

It is surprising how much can go wrong. Some of the issues I have had (NOT with this keyboard let me emphasise) are keyboards turning themselves on in your bag and performing random actions; keys physically coming off the keyboard while in your bag; and tedious reconnection attempts when the Bluetooth pairing somehow breaks.
Another annoyance is that most Bluetooth keyboards can only pair with one device, forcing you to re-pair every time you switch.

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Not any more. Logitech’s K811 keyboard can be paired with up to three devices simultaneously. The first three function keys across the top of the keyboard select which one you want to use.

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This keyboard is designed for iPad, iPhone or Mac, but I found it also worked fine with the Windows tablet subject to few annoyances (keys that are incorrectly marked).

Specifically, on Windows all the alphabetic keys work correctly, as do the numbers, and most of the special characters. The main issues are that backslash types # but can be found on the § key, and @ and ” are transposed. No Windows key of course, but Ctrl-Esc works. Really not too bad.

Note that there is a PC version of the keyboard, called the K810, which seems similar but is a little cheaper. So get that if you only have PCs, but if you have a mix of devices, the Apple one is fine.

While the keyboard is probably not a good choice if you only use a non-Apple tablet, if you have a mix then it can still be useful.

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This is a standard Mac keyboard though too small to have a separate numeric pad. The function keys default to the special functions, like dimming the backlight, and you have to press the Fn key to get the standard functions.

Physically the keyboard feels sturdy and well-made though it can flex just slightly in the middle since it has four small rubber feet. This did not cause me any problems. The keyboard is big enough for typing at speed and in comfort, and small enough that it tucks easily into most bags. It is 29cm on the longest side.

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There are some little details that I like. The Connect button can be depressed easily with a finger, no need to find a small pointed object, though I have never pressed it accidentally. There is an on-off switch that is unlikely to slide by accident, avoiding those bag-typing problems mentioned above.

The keyboard has a built-in, non-replaceable rechargeable battery, charged via a USB cable. Battery life is said to be 20 hours of typing with the backlight on, or an impressive one year with the backlight off. You can adjust the brightness of the backlight using the function keys, though it resets when you next switch off and on, so you will probably end up with the backlight on most of the time, though it does dim automatically if you do not type for a while.

The coolest feature is a sensor that detects your hands and turns the backlight on, if the keyboard has been idle, before your hands touch the keys. A bit of a gimmick, but you can’t help admiring it.

Bluetooth switching really does work. I tried a test with an iPad and a Windows tablet. Press the key for the 1st device, and typed text appears on the iPad. Press the key for the 2nd device, and typed text appears on the Windows tablet. Reconnection seems quicker than average.

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Overall I love the keyboard, and recommend it. I would have liked a protective bag to help prevent damage to the keys when loose in a larger bag, and suggest care with this as it is a common problem.

If you just want a keyboard for an iPad, you might be better off with one of the Logitech keyboard covers. If you have several mobile devices though, this is great, with a quality and convenience that justifies its price.

   

Review: Logitech t620 Touch Mouse for Windows 8

Slowly but surely, the humble mouse has been getting more sophisticated. The first examples had just one button. Then came two buttons, then two buttons and a scroll wheel (which is also a third button), and of course wireless so you get a tidier desk at the expense of regular battery replacement.

The touch mouse takes the concept further, with a surface that detects gestures as well as clicks. Logitech’s t620 has an unblemished smooth polished surface and works by detecting where and how you stroke or tap it. It also has a physical click which functions as right, left or middle click depending where and how you click it. Middle click is the trickiest: click the lower 2/3 of the mouse with 2 fingers.

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The “scroll wheel” on the t620 is a matter of stroking the mouse vertically pretty much anywhere on its surface. It takes some adjustment, but has an elegance that a mouse with physical controls lacks. The downside is occasional lack of precision, on which I have more to say below.

This is a smart mouse, and comes with a small bag, a USB wireless receiver, and a printed setup guide. It runs on 2 AA batteries, though you can use just one if you prefer and it will still work. I found it a lightweight mouse even with both installed.

When you connect the mouse for the first time, Windows 8 will prompt to download the SetPoint control software, or you can download this from Logitech if the automatic download fails for some reason.

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Windows 7 is also supported, though some of the gestures, like Show Charms, are specific to Windows 8. The mouse works fine on a Mac though without any gesture support as far as I can tell; you do get right and left click, scrolling and so on.

I also tried the mouse on Surface RT, with puzzling results. A driver seemed to be installed, but no SetPoint software, and some gestures work but not others. My favourite, Show Charms, does not work on the Surface RT.

The SetPoint software is rather good, and shows a mini video demonstration of each gesture. You can also enable or disable each gesture, and in some cases set options. For example, you can have a double-tap show the Windows start screen either when executed anywhere on the mouse, or only when carried out on the lower 2/3. The trade-off is convenience versus the risk of triggering the action accidentally.

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Another important setting sets the pointer speed. I found the speed too fast on the default setting, which means the pointer shoots across the screen and is hard to control. Reducing the speed a couple of notches fixes this.

Windows has its own pointer speed setting too, and I guess it depends whether you want to set this globally for any mouse, or specifically for the t620. One thing I noticed using SetPoint is that the mouse speed is faster immediately after booting, until the SetPoint software starts running.

The USB wireless receiver is a Logitech Unifying Receiver, which means you can connect other Logitech devices such as a wireless keyboard through this single receiver. This could be important if you have something like a Slate with only a single USB port. For the same reason, I prefer Bluetooth devices on a Slate, though connection can be more troublesome. It is time the hardware manufacturers got together with Microsoft to improve wireless device connectivity without needed USB dongles.

The gestures

How about the gestures then? You get the following special actions:

  • Middle click (click lower 2/3 of mouse with 2 fingers)
  • Start Screen (double-tap lower 2/3 with 1 finger)
  • Show desktop (double-tap lower 2/3 with 2 fingers)
  • Switch applications (swipe from left edge)
  • Show Charms (swipe from right edge)
  • Vertical scrolling (swipe up and down)
  • Horizontal scrolling (swipe left and right)
  • Back/Forward (swipe left and right with two fingers)

You can also set scroll options. I tried with and without inertia, which lets you flick for an iPad-like continuous decelerating scroll, and decided that I like the feature.

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How well do the gestures work? Fairly well, but the problem with any touch device is that you can sometimes trigger actions by accident. I found this a problem in the browser, which has gestures for Back and Forward, with pages disappearing unbidden. The solution is to disable any features that do not work for you.

There is also a problem with horizontal scrolling versus the actions that swipe from left or right. It is easy to trigger a swipe action when trying to scroll.

Sometimes the mouse seems inexplicably fussy about what will or will not trigger an action. I like the Show Charms gesture, because this is otherwise awkward to do using the mouse. It does normally work, but sometimes I swipe in and nothing happens. This may improve with practice, or maybe it is a bug somewhere, I am not sure.

In general, practice does make a difference. For example, I discovered that a very light double-tap is best for the Start Screen gesture. In general, this device responds well to a light touch; trying to force a gesture to work with firmness seems counter-productive.

These issues illustrate the point that a touch device introduces an element of imprecision which some will find infuriating. If you play games with fast action and where any mis-click could be fatal, this mouse is not suitable.

The gain is significant too. The ability to do more with the mouse means less switching between mouse and keyboard. The quick flick to Show Charms makes Windows 8 more user-friendly, if you are using it without a touch screen.

Overall I like it, but be prepared for some time learning to get the best from this mouse, and expect to change some of the settings from the default.

 

Async USB audio streaming at 24-bit 192Khz with Logitech Squeezebox Touch

The discontinued Logitech Squeezebox Touch is a fine product for multi-room audio streaming, though sadly discontinued. The Touch is limited to a maximum audio resolution of 24-bit and 96Khz – or is it? While this is true of the internal DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter), an audio enthusiast known as Triode set about modifying the firmware to output higher resolutions.

Another aspect of his work was to enable use of the USB port on the Touch, which was originally designed for attaching storage, to support an asynchronous USB DAC. The idea of async USB audio is that the clock which controls the decoding is in the DAC and independent of the source. There is an explanation by Vincent Kars here:

In this mode an external clock is used to clock the data out of the buffer and a feedback stream is setup to tell the host how much data to send.

A control circuit monitors the status of the buffer and tells the host to increase the amount of data if the buffer is getting too empty or to decrease if it’s getting too full.
Since the readout clock is not dependent on anything going on with the bus, it can be fed directly from a low jitter oscillator, no PLL need apply.

Is async USB audio really necessary? Is any resolution above 16/44 necessary for playback? I am sceptical, but after getting hold of a Teac UD-H01 which supports both async USB and resolutions up to 24/192 I thought it would be fun to try it. 

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I followed the steps here which worked perfectly. They involve installing a Squeezebox app called Enhanced Digital Output, and installing a modified Linux kernel (the Touch runs Linux). The modifications are reversible, which is reassuring.

I then tried one of the the few Flac-encoded music files I have in 24/192 format. I still cannot tell you whether either the format or the asynchronous aspect makes a difference; but I can say that the sound is exceptionally good, though it also sounds excellent with well-mastered 16/44 sources.

Subjectively it improves on the internal DAC in the Touch, with deeper bass, a more spacious sound, better separation between instruments, more natural vocals, and all the usual hi-fi clichés.

Leaving that aside though, kudos to Triode for his achievement.

Farewell to the Squeezebox

It looks as if Logitech has discontinued the Squeezebox, a range of devices for playing music streamed from the free Logitech Media Server. Logitech also runs a streaming service on the internet, Mysqueezebox.com, which supports internet radio, Spotify integration and more.

The Squeezebox devices are no longer on sale on Logitech’s web site, and a press release announces the Logitech UE range. This includes wireless speakers which play music via Bluetooth, a Smart Radio that connects to internet streaming radio and other services, earphones and headphones.

But what of Squeezebox? Here is the nearest I can find to an official announcement:

We’ve just announced our new brand, Logitech UE, and with it merging the design/engineering capability of Logitech and the Squeezebox product with the music know how of Ultimate Ears. We are positioning this new brand to serve music lovers across a wide range of music listening device, and amongst them the Logitech® UE Smart Radio.

Important for you to know, The UE Smart Radio can play alongside your Logitech Squeezebox products, but will operate and be controlled separately and will no longer receive updates. The team is working hard on releasing in a few weeks an optional software update for existing Squeezebox Radio users. This update will allow Squeezebox Radios to upgrade to the new Logitech UE Smart Radio experience.

Rest assured that the Squeezebox platform you’ve been enjoying over the years will continue to provide you access to a rich world of music and we’ll continue to address any questions or troubleshooting on our Logitech.com support page.

The news is sad but not surprising. Logitech is struggling with declining revenue and losses, and there are various reasons why the Squeezebox system no longer looks strategic. It works alongside iTunes but does not fit all that well with Apple products, it has always been a little bit too techie, and the era of filling huge hard drives at home with your music is probably in decline, thanks to internet streaming. I have been meaning to post about the good results I get from Google Music on the Nexus tablet, and of course there is Spotify.

I still love Squeezebox. If you want the uncompromised quality of lossless audio combined with multi-room support, where each player can play something different, it is a fantastic and cost-effective system. The Squeezebox Touch, reviewed here, is appreciated by audiophiles for its high quality audio.

Squeezebox might still be a viable for a company like Slim Devices, the original creator of the system, but makes less sense for a mass market company like Logitech, which acquired Slim Devices in 2006.

My thanks to the Squeezebox team for transforming audio at home for me and thousands of others.

Update: if you are wondering what is the future for Logitech Media Server (LMS) see this thread which has comment from a Logitech engineer. There is a new media server called UE Music Library (UEML) which is simplified compared to LMS and has no player control: the UE Radio can simply select music from the library and play it. No random play in UEML. UE Radio will not play music from LMS as far as I can tell. LMS is not going to receive major updates but will be supported with maintenance fixes for the time being.

Logitech’s Squeezebox app for iPhone and iPad: nice to have but a missed opportunity

Logitech has released a Squeezebox control app for iPhone and iPad, to match an existing app for Android.

I am a Squeezebox fan. The system is excellent for multi-room – just put a Squeezebox player in any room where you want music, put it on your home network (usually wifi), and it finds your music collection. You can get a player like the Touch, which I reviewed here, or an all-in-one unit like the Boom, which I reviewed here. I rip CDs to FLAC using dbPowerAmp. Squeezebox does multi-room properly, in that each player can play something different, and the sound quality is generally excellent. Internet radio is also available, and there is no need to have a separate tuner.

That said, the appeal of Squeezebox is limited by the techie nature of the product, especially the software. When Logitech acquired Slimdevices in 2006, I thought we might see a new focus on ease of use, but it has not really happened. Apple does this better, making it hard for Squeezebox to compete with iTunes and Airport Express or Apple TV, even though the Squeezebox system is more open and superior in some ways.

There are multiple ways to control a Squeezebox player. You can use a remote to navigate the display on the player, whether the simple but bold display on a Classic, or the graphical colour display on a Touch. You can use touch control on a Touch screen. You can use a web browser on a PC, Mac or any machine on the network. Or you use an app such as SqueezePlay on a PC, or third party apps like iPeng on iOS, or Squeezepad on an iPad.

All these methods work, but in general the web browser is the most feature-rich and good if you are sitting at a desk, while the apps are better if you have a suitable device like an iPhone, iPad, or Android smartphone. The remotes work, but you need to be close enough to read the display and navigation can be fiddly.

An iPhone app is ideal though, so it is great news that Logitech has now released an official app for the iPhone. It is free, and unless you already have iPeng a must-have for Squeezebox users who have an iPhone. Apps are better than a remote for all sorts of reasons:

  • No need to point at an infra-red receptor
  • No need to read a distant display
  • Album artwork on the remote
  • More features conveniently available

I downloaded the new app and ran it. The first thing you have to do is to log into Mysqueezebox.com, Logitech’s internet service. In fact, the impression you get is that you cannot use the app without logging on. I am not sure if there is any way round this, but it seems odd to me. Presuming you are using a local Squeezebox server, why require log-on to an internet service?

I already have a Mysqueezebox account though, so I logged on, whereupon the various players we have around the house appeared for selection. Once selected, I get a menu similar to that on a physical player or on SqueezePlay:

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If I click My Music, I can navigate using the usual range of options, including Artists, Albums, Genres, New Music (which means recently added) or my favourite, Random Mix. Just selected an album is not enough to play it, but shows the tracks; tapping the first track starts it playing. Eventually you will get the Now Playing screen, which you can also access by pressing the musical note icon on the Home screen.

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Perhaps I am fussy, but I am not happy with this screen. As you can see, the album artwork is overlaid with text and controls, and although a progress bar can be shown or hidden by tapping, the other controls seem immoveable, which means you cannot see the full artwork.

My other complaint is that the user interface, while familiar to those who already know Squeezebox, lacks the usability you expect from an iPhone app. Operating it takes too many taps. Take search, for example. You want to find a different song, so you tap Back to get the Home screen, then Search. Type something in, then click Search. The next screen then asks whether you want to search in My Music or Internet Radio. You tap My Music, and still get no results, just a list that says Artists, Albums, Songs, Playlists. You tap Songs, and now you finally get a results list. Tap a song to play.

Personally I think search is such a critical function that it should be available directly from the Now Playing screen; and that it should be smart enough to look for matches anywhere it can and present some top matches immediately.

Another annoyance is that you cannot actually play a song through the iPhone itself. This is such an obvious feature that I cannot understand why Logitech has not implemented it; it would enable your Squeezebox music collection for personal listening on a device. Perhaps Logitech imagines that it is protecting sales of its players, when in fact it is just undermining the appeal of the system.

Well, it is free, I like the Squeezebox system, and the app is useful, so perhaps I am complaining too much. It is frustrating though, because with a little investment in software Logitech could bring its excellent features to a broader group of users.

Spotify everywhere: now on Logitech Squeezebox as well as Sonos, Smartphones

Spotify, the music streaming service, has announced a partnership with Logitech to enable subscribers to play music via Squeezebox. Logitech already has a partnership with Napster for a similar service, but Spotify is winning in terms of usability, ubiquity and mind share.

It follows a similar agreement last September between Spotify and Sonos, a Squeezbox rival. The company has also announced support for Windows Phone 7, which joins Apple iPhone/iPad, Google Android, and Nokia Symbian among supported smartphones.

Spotify is available for free on a PC or Mac, but supported by advertising, making it like a commercial radio station where you choose the music. However only paying subscribers get the benefit of using the service from these other platforms.

In my view streaming is the future of mainstream music distribution, so I see this as significant. Why pay for downloads, when you can choose from a vast catalogue and play what you want when you want?

The main snag with Spotify is that some artists are not available on the service, and some countries (including the USA) cannot get Spotify. Still, if it builds a big enough customer base, the music industry may find it cannot do without the service.