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Griffin AirCurve Play: Simplicity always wins

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There are hundreds of iPhone docks and amplifiers around, but SEAN BACHER finds the Griffin AirCurve Play amplifier has the edge with clever engineering, simple design and ease of use.
The AirCurve Play is as simple as a gadget gets: a plastic box with a rubber dock for an iPhone 4 or 4S, that uses cleverly designed acoustics to amplify any sounds coming from the phone’s speaker.

Numerous amplifiers are available from various manufacturers, but most of them require some kind of power supply, and in many cases are more expensive than the AirCurve Play. But is the latter a viable alternative to the powered amplifiers?

We put it through the Gadget Five Question User Test .

1. Ease of use (including set-up)

The AirCurve Play is not merely an easy to use device. It is one of the easiest yet. There is no instruction manual and it is a gadget that you can work out for yourself. Just slot an iPhone into the rubber inset, browse to your music, push Play and adjust the volume to suit the mood.

Because the AirCurve uses no power, there are no volume or power buttons on the amplifier; everything is controlled from the iPhone.

Overall, there is no faulting the AirCurve Play. It is ready to work straight out of the box. without the need for charging or an additional power supply. This is almost unheard of in a device that is designed to amplify.

Score: 20/20

2. General performance

The Griffin AirCurve Play does not only amplify music. At the back of the unit is a stand for vertical or horizontal positioning on a desk or bedside-table. This allows easy access to the bottom of the phone for charging and also frees up your hands when video conferencing or when watching videos.

However, because the AirCurve Play amplifies vibrations from the iPhone’s speaker and turns them into sound, the phone has to fit snuggly into the rubber inset. So, before it can be used, any protective cases or bumpers that are on the iPhone need to be removed. I found this irritating as my phone’s case, (and I am sure many other users will have the same problem) is not designed to be taken off on the fly.

That said, the rubber inset can be removed and will act as a case, albeit not a very protective one.

Score: 17/20

3. Does it add value to your life?

The Griffin AirCurve Play is the kind of device that can be used in most environments. It doubles up as an iPhone stand, making it a great bedside and office accessory. However, it really shines outdoors, as you don’t have to carry around additional chargers or power adaptors in order to use it, as long as you’ve charged the iPhone.

The fact that you are not constricted to a power outlet makes the AirCurve Play a versatile accessory wherever you are.

I did find a problem with the AirCurve’s plastic shell. It felt rather brittle and, if dropped, would probably crack and destroy all the acoustic properties it offers.

Score: 17/20

4: Is it innovative?

Using acoustics instead of power to amplify sound is not new. The concept has been around for years; going back to the original megaphones or even the gramophone, first introduced in 1877.

But the idea of being able to amplify an iPhone’s speaker using nothing but acoustics is definitely a novel idea. Griffin gets full marks here.

Score: 20/20

5: Value for money

Many devices score very well in the first four questions, but fail miserably when it comes to value for money. This is largely due to the manufacturers spending so much money and time researching, developing and building the “perfect” device, they don’t spend enough time researching what consumers are willing to spend.

This is not the case with the AirCurve Play. You can’t get much cheaper than R199 for performance like this.

Score: 20/20

Total: 94/100

Conclusion

The scores speak for themselves. The AirCurve Play got full marks in all but two departments. Overall, it scored 94%, the highest of any gadget we have put through the Gadget Five Question User Test, which shows it is often the most basic devices that come out top.

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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Amazfit Bip – An unassuming smartwatch competitor

The Amazfit Bip has everything a smartwatch needs: notifications, heart rate monitoring and a month-long battery life, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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The Amazfit Bip is one of the most appealing devices in the smartwatch lineup from Huami, a low-cost brand backed by Xiaomi.

Coming in at around R1500 depending on where you shop, the price point puts the Bip into the budget smartwatch space. Combined with a large set of offerings, it makes one wonder: “Why aren’t more smartwatches like this?”

Aesthetically, the rectangular face is similar to the Apple Watch but, on closer inspection, is more reminiscent of the Pebble Time smartwatch. Ergonomically, the Bip has a single button which mostly acts as an unlock button and a back button in menus. The watch strap is made of hypoallergenic silicone and is replaceable. 

The Bip has an always-on transflective colour screen with a backlight for darker situations. This kind of display is very similar to a 90’s Gameboy, and happens to be quite the power saver. The display is covered with 2.5D curved Corning Gorilla glass with an anti-fingerprint coating, giving that extra bit of knock resistance.

The unit is 18 grams without the strap and 32 with it on, making for an extremely light smartwatch that’s roughly half the weight of the Apple Watch. While the Bip is rated IP68 in terms of waterproofing and dustproofing (meaning it can withstand 30 minutes of being under 1.5 meters of water), Huami’s website says that it should not be used while swimming, diving or bathing, and should not be taken into a sauna. When the Bip we used got dirty from rock climbing, it was washed with a soap-free cleanser (as Fitbit recommends) and a soft-bristled toothbrush.

GPS tracking with a visual route of a run.

The number of sensors in the Bip is astonishing: heart rate sensor, accelerometer, geomagnetic sensor, barometer, and GPS. This sensor set is usually reserved for the premium smartwatch market but budget Bip packs all of these. Most interestingly, the geomagnetic sensor allows for compass readings (as well as assisting the GPS in locating the watch while it’s moving) and the barometer for measuring elevation by detecting changes in pressure. 

Battery life has been optimised to a month of regular use, with some reports measuring up to 45-days with the heart rate sensor off. Huami claims the smartwatch can last for 4 months with only step and sleep tracking on. The 190mAh battery was run down in 28 hours with the GPS, barometer and heart rate sensor set to permanently on.

The built-in software is basic and lacks app support but redeems itself in other areas. Firstly, the customisation of watch faces is limited but can be easily changed with a third party app. Notifications are handled well, available for viewing only, and require the phone for replying or other interactions. 

A notification from Telegram on the Bip with the backlight on.

The menu options become available with a swipe left, notification settings with a swipe down, past notifications with a swipe up and the weather with a swipe right. The menu has options for checking one’s current status (steps, heart rate, distance, calories), followed by quick activity tracking (running, cycling, walking weather (a five-day forecast with icons), alarms, timers, compass and settings.

The companion app, Mi Fit, is well-designed and syncs quickly with the Bip. Mi Fit is where the watch and sync settings can be fine-tuned. Mi Fit also gives very detailed sleep analytics, including showing how much time one spent sleeping compared to other Mi Fit users. 

Overall, the Bip is an attractive smartwatch for those who are looking to purchase a device that provides value for money while being highly-functional.

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Samsung A51: Saviour of the mid-range

For a few years, Samsung has delivered some less than favourable mid-range devices compared to the competition. The Galaxy A51 is here to change all that, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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It’s not often one can look at a mid-range phone and mistake it for a flagship. That’s what you can expect to experience when taking the Galaxy A51 out into the open.

Samsung went back to the drawing board with its new range of devices, and it shows. The latest Galaxy A range features some of the highest quality, budget-friendly devices we’ve seen so far. The Samsung Galaxy A51 is one of the best phones we’ve seen in a while, not just aesthetically, but in what it packs into a sub-R7000 price tag.

Looking at the device briefly, it’s very easy to mistake it for a flagship. It features a four-camera array on the back, and an Infinity-O punch-hole display – both of which are features of the high-end Samsung devices. In fact, it features a similar camera array as the Galaxy Note10 Lite but features an additional lens in the array. The cameras line up in an L-shape, clearly avoiding looking like a stovetop.

Apart from the camera array, the back of the handset features a striking pattern called Prism Crush, a pattern of pastel shades that come in black, white, blue, and pink. For the review, we used the Prism Crush Blue colour and it looks really great. The feel is clearly plastic, which isn’t too surprising for a mid-range device, but the design is definitely something that will make users opt for a clear case. It’s also great to see a design pattern that deviates from the standard single iridescent colours many manufacturers have copied from Huawei’s design.

Along the sides, it features a metal-like frame, but again, it’s plastic. On the left side, we find a SIM and microSD card tray while the right side houses the power button and volume rocker. The bottom of the phone features a very welcome USB Type-C port and a 3.5mm headphone jack, which isn’t too uncommon for mid-range phones.

On the front, the device is pretty much all screen, at an 87.4% screen-to-body ratio, thanks to a tiny chin at the bottom and the small punch hole for the camera. The earpiece has also been hidden inside the frame in attempts to maximise this screen-to-body ratio. When powered on, the 6.5-inch display looks vivid and sharp. That’s because Samsung opted to put a Super AMOLED display into this midrange unit, giving it a resolution of 1080 x 2400 (at 405 ppi) in a 20:9 format. This makes the display FullHD+, and perfect for consuming video content like Netflix and YouTube in HD.

Hidden underneath the display is an in-screen fingerprint sensor, which is very surprising to find in a mid-range device. While it is extremely accurate, it takes some getting used to because the sensor is so large that one needs to put one’s entire finger over the right part of the display to unlock it. Most other types of non-in-screen fingerprint sensors don’t mind a partial fingerprint. The display itself feels nothing like the back and that’s because it’s not plastic, but rather Gorilla Glass 3, to prevent the screen from shattering easily.

What’s interesting about this device is finding accessories which aren’t quite available in phone stores yet. When browsing online for screen protectors, one has to be on the lookout for screen protectors that are compatible with the in-screen fingerprint sensor. Make sure to check out the reviews of users before purchasing them.

In terms of software, Samsung has made a great deal of effort to make the experience slick. Gone are the days of TouchWiz (thank goodness) and now we have OneUI in its second version. OneUI makes the phone easier to use by putting most of the interaction on the bottom half of the screen and most of the view on the top part of the screen, where one’s thumbs don’t usually reach.

Out of the box, the device came with Android 10. This is a huge step forward in terms of commitment to running the latest software for major feature updates as well as for Android security patches to keep the device secure.

It also has most of the cool features from the flagship devices, like Samsung Pay, Bixby, and Link to Windows. Samsung Pay is an absolute pleasure to use, even if it still confuses the person taking your payments. From linking my cards, I have stopped taking my wallet out with me because all merchants that accept tap-to-pay will accept Samsung Pay on the A51.

Bixby is useful if you’re in the Samsung app ecosystem, especially for owners of SmartThings devices like Samsung TVs and SmartThings-enabled smart home devices. Otherwise, Google Assistant is still accessible for those who still want to use the standard Google experience.

Link to Windows is an interesting feature that started with the Galaxy Note10 and has since trickled down into the mid-range. It allows users to send SMS messages, view recently taken photos, and receive notifications from the phone, all on a Windows 10 PC. This can be enabled by going to the Your Phone app found in the start menu.

The rear camera is phenomenal for a mid-range device and features a 48MP wide sensor. The photos come out as 12MP images, which is a common trick of many manufacturers to achieve high-quality photography. It does this by combining 4 pixels into a single superpixel to get the best colours out of the picture, while still remaining sharp. It also performs surprisingly well in low light, which is not something we were expecting from a mid-range device.

The 12MP ultra-wide angle lens spans 123-degrees, which is very wide and also useful for getting shots in where one can’t move back further. It’s not as great as the main lens but does the trick for getting everyone in for a group photo in a galley kitchen.

The 5MP depth-sensing lens supplements the portrait mode, which adds a blur effect to the background of the photo – the same lens as its predecessor, the Galaxy A50. It features a 32MP wide-angle selfie camera, which is perfect for fitting everyone into a large group selfie.

The processor is an Exynos 9611, which is an Octa-core processor. It performs well in most situations, and there is software built in to give games a boost, so it performs well with graphically intensive games too. In terms of RAM, there are 4GB, 6GB, and 8GB variants, so keep an eye out for which one you are trying. For the review, we had the 4GB, and it performs well with multitasking and day-to-day tasks.

For storage, it comes in a 128GB model on Samsung’s website, which seems to be the standard size. This is extremely welcome in the mid-range segment and is the largest we’ve seen for internal storage capacity as a starting point.

At a recommended selling price of R6,999, the Samsung Galaxy A51 marks the beginning of a great era for Samsung, because it provides a feature-rich handset at an affordable price.

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