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Product Reviews

The flashlight reinvented

Two new LED flashlights from Chinese company Klarus prove that the torch is no longer merely a tube with batteries, writes JOEL DORFAN.

Klarus Lighting Technology based in Shenzhen, China, is one of the newer flashlight innovators and manufactures to take advantage of what LED’s have to offer to the handheld flashlight industry.

The flashlight is no longer just a tube with some batteries, a lamp and a switch. LEDs combined with electronic circuitry have allowed the flashlight to become a really useful tool.

Long runtime and low output, shorter runtime and high output, strobe modes and many more functions are now possible out of a single product.

Boost circuitry now allows the use of a single battery to power lights with enormous output. This means no longer having to leave the light at home or in the car.

Klarus have used the latest generation of Cree LEDs in two new lights: the XP-G2 and XM-L(U2). The RS1A will give you up to 210 lumens (100m beam distance) and the RS11 up to 620 lumens (160m beam distance). The AA battery form factor of the RS1A makes it easy to carry in jean’s pockets, with the larger 2xCR123 form factor RS11 allowing for easy jacket pocket carry.

Klarus have included features in these two lights that would appeal to the everyday user. For one thing, it has a body mounted switch rather than a tail cap switch. By doing this, they have left the real estate at the rear of the light available for the charger connector.

As versatile as these lights have become, this is not really a one-size-fits-all. You would still need to decide what the primary purpose of the light will be, choose the appropriate product whose primary function suits your need and then have the other functions as a bonus.

Law enforcement officers may require a light that always comes on as bright as possible the first time it is turned on without fiddling through modes and a tail cap switch (Klarus XT series).

The home user may want a light that comes on in a lower mode but then be able to ramp up the brightness as required.

Whereas maximum output is important, LEDs with electronic switching are now able to give you really low output as well. This is useful in the middle of the night when you just want a little light without waking up the family or when you need really long runtime in the event of a power outage. The RS1A will give you up to 68 hours and the RS11 up to 215 hours on a single fresh battery.

These two RS series lights from Klarus have an innovative charging setup. Both lights come with a charging cable that has USB plug the one end and magnetic plug the other end. The magnetic plug automatically locates snapping into place at the base of the light. Many products these days will charge using a standard USB port, so why should flashlights be any different?

To charge the battery you plug the cable into any USB power source. This could be a USB port on your computer, cell phone charger or the USB receptacle in your car.

Lwet’s see how it does on the gadget Five Question User Test:

1. Is it ready to use?

Neither light comes with a battery. To make use of the charge function you will require a rechargeable AA battery for the RS1A or a protected 18650 LiIon cell for the RS11.

Both lights will run on primary cells, which for the RS1A are standard alkaline AA batteries and for the RS11 2xCR123s. This is a useful feature should you run out of charge and not be able to recharge the cells.

Both lights come with detachable pocket clips. This is a great idea if you don’t like pocket clips. However,I found them both to be a little flimsy and failed to grip the pocket positively. They are also located quite far from the tail cap, not allowing for deep pocket carry. They do both however come with lanyards and a decent cordura pouch that can be worn on the belt or just used for protection for bag carry.

2. Is it easy to use?

The lights have 4 modes. High, medium, low and strobe. The user interface to change modes can take some getting used to.

The RS1A has a single button on the body. A momentary press and release will cause the light to come on and then go off. Hold the button down for just over half a second and the light will stay on.

Once on, if you then hold down the button the light will move to the next mode. You then need to release the button and then hold it down again to move to the third mode. Double click the switch at any time to access the strobe mode.

The RS11 has two buttons on the body: A larger raised front button that will act exactly the same as the button on the RS1A to access the 3 brightness modes: and a second more recessed button to access the strobe mode.

Both lights have last-used memory feature. This means that whatever level you had the light set on (for longer than 3 seconds) when you switched the light off, will be the level that the light will come on in next time you turn it on.

The manual that comes with both lights is adequate but changes need to be made to explain the operation of the lights more accurately.

3. Does it deliver on its promise?

With the exception of the slightly fiddly user interface mentioned above, both lights are excellent. Machining and anodizing are perfect. They will both handle some fairly harsh use and continue to function flawlessly. Both lights are rated IPX8 waterproof to 2m.

Beam pattern and throw are outstanding for any light let alone for lights of this size. Both lights tail stand perfectly, allowing the light to be bounced off the ceiling for more flood-like application. The stainless steel bezels on both lights are easily removed allowing for a slightly more slim lined and less aggressive look.

4. Is it innovative?

There are many up and coming flashlight manufacturers, but Klarus are the first to have the magnetic charging feature. No external DC sockets means nowhere for dust or water to get in. USB chargers have become so common that providing you have the proprietary charging cable, you should always be able to find somewhere to plug it in.

Many rechargeable products use a proprietary battery. These two lights will even run on standard primary cells easily available from your nearest battery store.

In all of their higher end lights, Klarus have gone to a lot of trouble to include an easily accessible strobe mode but, at the same time, have found ways to prevent accidental activation.

5. Is it value for money?

At a suggested retail of $74.95 for the RS1A and $116.95 for the RS11, these lights are not cheap. However if you look at all of the features on offer, you are getting a lot of light for you money, especially if you factor in the fact that they are both rechargeable.

* Klarus Lighting Technology have appointed Klarus Lights USA as their distributor in the USA. They carry stock and provide excellent levels of service both pre and post sales. Their contact details can be found at http://www.klaruslightusa.com. To find a dealer in your country contact Klarus Lighting Technology at http://www.klaruslight.com/

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Product Reviews

Bose Portable: quality at a price

The Bose SoundDock Portable looks great and performs well, but SEAN BACHER finds the price doesn’t justify the better sound quality.

Since its inception in 1964, American-based audio specialist, Bose, has built a name synonymous with quality. Along with that, it has built a reputation of being more expensive than many of its competitors, but not deterring many from making the expensive investment. The mini sound speakers are quite often used in boardrooms, bars and restaurants around the world and offer crystal-clear sound that rivals most speakers twice their size.

Testament to the Bose sound quality is that it is used as the standard audio system in luxury cars like Audi, BMW and Mercedes, and according to Wikipedia, Bose products can be found in many military and NASA applications.

It is therefore not surprising to find Bose accessories compatible with smartphones. One example is the Bose SoundDock Portable. A portable docking station for iPhones and iPods that works off rechargeable batteries.

We put the Bose SoundDock Portable through the Gadget Five Question User.

1. Ease of use (including set-up)

Although the Bose SoundDock Portable, comes with instructions, they are not needed and in most cases, it will be ready to operate the minute it is removed from the box and an iPhone or iPod is plugged into it.

If the batteries on either the phone or docking station are flat though, the charger needs to be plugged into it before it can be used. You don’t need to wait for the batteries to charge fully before using it.

Bose has taken the minimalist approach with the SoundDock as on the right are two touch-sensitive Volume buttons and that’s it. No Power or other controls. The included remote is also very easy to use. It uses standard Play, Pause, Volume and Skip buttons, all well labelled.

The front of the docking station is made up of a silver grill, below which is the retractable iPhone dock. Although the casing around the connector is designed to accommodate an iPhone’s protective skin, it was not big enough to for the bumper I had on my phone, which meant I had to take the phone out of the case every time I wanted to plug it in.

On the plus side though, unlike many other portable docking stations, the Bose will charge a docked phone even if it is just running off battery power.

The Bose SoundDock Portable’s ease of use along with its elegant design cannot be faulted. But its dock connector counts against it.

Score: 18/20

2. General performance

The two front facing speakers offer crisp sounds and when the volume is cranked up all the way the SoundDock does not distort at all and is deafeningly loud.

At the rear is 3.5mm jack, allowing you to connect non-Apple phones, MP3 players and other audio equipment.

According to Bose, the 1 900mAh rechargeable battery pack will offer up to three hours of music at a maximum volume a different approach to rating battery life as most other vendors rate operating times at ‚”typical listening volumes‚”. I have been using the SoundDock on and off and not at full tilt for the past week without having to plug the mains adapter in yet.

This is however a good thing. Although the Bose SoundDock Portable is elegant and well made, Bose didn’t pay to much attention to the adaptor. It is a bit bigger than two cellphone chargers placed next to each other. It monopolises all the other electrical outlets, when plugged into the wall, meaning you need a dedicated plug for when you want to charge the battery.

The Bose SoundDock Portable provides a beautiful sound, its battery life is great, but the giant-sized charger is a complete let down.

Score: 12/20

3. Does it add value to your life?

Unlike many docking stations that are designed for bedside listening, the Bose SoundDock Portable is powerful enough to offer good sound in an average sized dining room or lounge.

Weighing in at just under three kilograms, it is not the lightest of them all, but the rear, recessed-handle makes carrying it fairly easy. (A carry bag is available as an optional extra.) Overall, it is a nice addition for a picnic or where an electrical outlet is not available.

18/20

4. Innovation

Sound docks have been around for years, and although the SoundDock offers superior sound, it offers nothing in the way of innovation. In fact, the lack of Bluetooth or any wireless connectivity for that matter is limiting.

13/20

5. Value for money

Much like the die-hard Apple Mac fans that will spend more on a product that performs much the same as cheaper alternatives, you get the same in the audio/visual world.

This becomes especially clear when reading the various reviews posted on the Internet. Reviewers either dislike the Bose SoundDock Portable due to it price, while others like it, saying the sound quality justifies the price.

But at R5 000 for a docking station I would have to agree with the former reviewers. R5 000 is ridiculously overpriced, even though it offers superior sound.

10/20

Conclusion

There is no faulting the Bose SoundDock Portable in terms of elegance and sound, but its clunky charger and high price are complete turnoffs.

Total score: 71%

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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Product Reviews

Nokia Lumia 720: Well rounded: great battery

The new Nokia Lumia 720 has been punted as a mid-level phone. This means Nokia would have had to cut back on features and specifications to keep the phone’s price down. SEAN BACHER checks what’s missing.

For a few years, Nokia was almost forgotten in the smartphone market. This changed with the release of the N9, running its in-house developed MeeGo operating system. Sadly for its many fans, MeeGo was then summarily dropped. Instead, Nokia unveiled a range of high-end Lumia phones running the Windows 7.5 operating system and, finally, a second generation Lumia range running the Windows 8 platform. At the same time, the company targeted the entry-level market with its Asha feature phones, running the Symbian Series 40 operating system.

Between the top end Lumias and the Ashas, it has been quietly filling out its offering, The latest, the Lumia 720, is intended to be a mid-level phone with high-end features.

We put it through the Gadget Ten Question Task Test to see how it copes as a mid-level phone, and to find out what’s missing.

1. General look and feel (aesthetic judgement, differentiation in look and feel)

The Lumia 720 follows a similar design to its siblings in that it uses a unibody design, meaning there is no removable back plate or battery. Three virtual buttons are located below the screen and it has a Volume rocker, Power and Camera button on the right.

The plastic chassis has a rubber feel to it, which makes it easier to hold and less prone to scratches and dings. On the right is a microSIM card slot and at the top an SD card slot, both allowing for easy access.

The phone fits comfortably in your hand and is quite easy to operate with one hand.

7/10

2. Slippability (Weight and size, ability to slip into a pocket unnoticed)

Nokia has significantly cut down the weight of the Lumia 720, which comes in at 128g: the 920 hits 185g. Size-wise, it measures 128x66x9mm, making it a confortable fit for most pockets and its curved edges make it easy to lift off flat surfaces.

The phone cannot be faulted in terms of size and weight.

8/10

3. General performance (speed, responsiveness, multi-tasking)

Running the Windows Phone 8 operating system is a 1GHz Qualcomm dual-core CPU, which is complemented by a dedicated Adreno 305 GPU. The phone packs 512MB RAM and 8GB on-board storage. On paper, these specs are not too impressive, but in practice there is nothing wrong with them.

The Lumia shows no signs of slowing or freezing, even after numerous apps are opened. The active tiles update effortlessly and playing processor-intensive games like AE 3D Motor, which uses the phone’s accelerometers to guide a bike through traffic, does not jolt.

The 8GB of on-board storage is not that great, especially when movies and music start to fill the memory, but the Lumia 720 accepts SD cards, meaning that the storage can be beefed up to 64GB putting it on a par with high-end devices.

The phone performs very well, even with a lower-end set of specifications: the ability to install an SD card really is a plus.

9/10

4. Life as we know it (How’s the battery life?)

The non-removable Li-ion 2 000mAh battery is said to provide up to 520 hours of standby time and over 13 hours of talk time. Both of these claims are tall orders for most smartphones that typically provide just over a day’s usage before they need to be charged.

But, the Lumia 720 lives up to Nokia’s reputation of having some of the longest-lasting batteries found in a phone. Although I did not count the number of hours the 720 went without being charged, it was able to hold its own for over three days. In that time it was bombarded with new apps, was constantly being used for WhatsApp messaging and was also continually used for making and receiving calls. The battery went over and above what is required in terms battery-life on a current smartphone.

10/10

5. Vision of the future (picture, video and browsing quality)

The IPS (In Plane Switching) LCD capacitive touch screen measures 4,3‚” and boasts a maximum resolution of 480×800 pixel per inch. Although this is not the biggest, nor the clearest of screens, it was more than sufficient to view videos and images. In fact, the only time the sub-standard screen quality was noticeable was when the 720 was put next to its bigger brother, the 920.

Windows Explorer on the phone launched effortlessly and displayed all websites without any hassles: the pinch to zoom option came in very handy when inputting credentials to access a website.

The Lumia 720 uses a 6.1MP rear-facing camera, which features Carl Zeiss optics and thus makes images vibrant and clear. The front 1.2MP camera made a viable option for video calling and both record videos.

When making an entry or mid-level phone, manufacturers have to cut back on certain specifications to keep the price low. Even though the Lumia’s screen is not the greatest, it is more than adequate. But the oversized bezels around the screen count against the phone.

The bezels all around measured more than 5mm, which could have been converted into a larger screen.

7/10

6. Talk to me (quality of audio)

The Lumia 720 single loudspeaker is clear enough to hold conference calls, and is great for streaming music from TuneIn radio. No distortion was heard when the volume was cranked all the way up.

Overall, the audio quality is on a par with most other smartphones, but is not anything that will blow the user away.

7/10

7. Message in a bottle (range, speed and efficiency of messaging solutions)

Adding e-mail, Twitter and Facebook accounts is very easily done through the Account Settings function, but the phone streams all this content to a single hub, making it difficult to work out which message is from which account.

That said, individual apps are available from the Windows Phone Store that will present their relevant streams. Many of these apps can also be moved to the Home screen, and can be set to update on the fly, meaning that the latest content will be updated and automatically displayed.

8/10

8. Keep control (How effective are hardware and software controls?)

The physical buttons located on the right of the phone are all within easy reach when using the phone with one hand, and do not sit flush with the chassis, so are easy to identify in the dark.

The three virtual buttons at the bottom of the screen allow users to return to the Home screen, go back when in an app and quickly search the phone for a contact or app. Pressing and holding the Home button launches a task manager, from where apps can be closed and sent to the background and new ones opened.

The control buttons are very similar to other Windows Phone 8 smartphones, so the Lumia scores average here, too.

7/10

9. The new new (innovations, unique features)

On the hardware side the Lumia 720 offers no unique or ‚”wow‚” features, but a few of the preinstalled apps deserve a mention.

The phone is Office 365 ready, meaning that a user merely has to input his or her Office login details and is immediately able to view, edit and download documents from SkyDrive.

The Nokia Drive app contains most country maps, and a user merely has to choose a country, and the map is downloaded to the phone. Turn-by-turn instructions can also be downloaded and different languages can be chosen. Ever heard a woman giving you South African driving instructions in Chinese?

Then there is Nokia City Lens. Launch the app, calibrate it and point the phone down a street. The phone employs augmented reality and puts shopping, dining and points of interest on the screen with descriptions and contact details.

Although these apps are not unique to the Nokia Lumia 720, they count in its favour, especially when considering it is a mid-range phone.

8/10

10. The wallet test (Is it competitively priced?)

Coming at R5 500, the phone fits comfortably in the mid-range market. It also slots in well between the entry-level Lumia 520, which retails for R1 899, and the higher-end Lumia 820, which will cost R6 400.

8/10

Conclusion

Overall, the Lumia has a great set of features built into it. Its battery life is amazing and, even though the screen is of sub-quality, it is adequate.

Total score: 79%

* Follow Sean on Twitter on @seanbacher

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