Blumoo

Pros Controls multiple devices with one app. Streams music. Simple setup.

Cons App could use a makeover. Slightly choppy audio streaming. Some button lag. Bottom Line The Blumoo uses IR and Bluetooth technology to stream music and control your home entertainment devices from your smartphone. It supports a plethora of devices and is a snap to install, but the user interface could use a facelift and streaming audio is a little jittery.

By John R. Delaney

If you're tired of looking at that collection of remotes cluttering up your coffee table, it's time to trade them all in for a universal remote solution such as the Blumoo ($129.99) from Flyover Innovations. As with products like the Gear4 UnityRemote and the Logitech Harmony Link, the Blumoo uses Bluetooth and infrared wireless technology to control your home entertainment components using your iOS or Android mobile device. What sets it apart from the others is its ability to stream audio from service like iTunes, Spotify, and Pandora directly to your home stereo. The Blumoo is easy to set up and had no trouble controlling my older receiver and DVD player, but audio streaming was a little erratic and the remote overlays used in the app could use some sprucing up.

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Design and Installation
The Blumoo pod is an attractive little gadget with a translucent black cover and a silver metallic stand. It measures 2.8 by 1.9 by 2.2 inches (HWD) and contains six different infrared LEDs that allow you to control numerous devices. It also contains a Bluetooth 4.0 receiver that communicates with your Bluetooth-enabled mobile device. Sticking out of the back of the pod is a 9-inch-long, hard-wired cord with a 3-port dongle for power, analog audio, and IR extender connections. The kit comes with a power supply and an audio cable that plugs into your receiver's auxiliary audio ports, but you'll have to supply your own IR extender if needed.

An LED indicator hidden behind the black plastic lens glows red when the unit is powered up and turns blue when a Bluetooth connection is made. A green light indicates a firmware update is in progress.

Installing the Blumoo couldn't be easier. Since it uses line-of-sight infrared wireless technology to send remote codes to your various devices, you'll want to place it where it can "see" each device's infrared sensor. And if you want to control devices in more than one room, you'll need a separate pod for each one.

Blumoo inline

For this review, I placed the pod in the same room with my 10-year old Onkyo TX-series receiver, an even older Onkyo CD player, a Vizio HDTV, a Philips DVD player, and a Motorola cable box. I connected the audio cable to the receiver, plugged in the Blumoo's power supply, and was ready to download the app to my iPod Touch.

App and Performance
The Blumoo app is available for iOS and Android devices, but does not offer Web browser support. Aesthetically, it isn't much to look at; the remote templates are a dull gray and would benefit from a touch of color. That said, the app is very easy to set up and offers IR codes for over 200,000 different devices, including HDTVs, Blu-ray/DVD players, stereo receivers, and wireless speakers. To add or delete a device remote, simply tap the icon in the upper left corner of the Home screen and select Add Device, Add Custom Remote, Remove Device, or Reorder Remotes.

The Reorder Remotes function lets you change the order in which each device remote appears on the Home screen, while the Custom Remote function lets you create a remote that contains only the buttons you want. When you choose Add Device, you're presented with a screen with submenus for adding a TV, DVR, DVD/Blu-ray player, CD player, Speakers, Receiver, or Streaming Player. Within each submenu are hundreds of model choices for each device category, but if you can't find your exact model you can probably use another from the same manufacturer. If you still can't find a remote that works, send an email to Blumoo with a request to add your specific model. To find out if a remote code works, the app will ask you to use the code to power up the device. If it does, you're good to go; if not, it places a check mark next to each code so you know not to try it again.

At the bottom of the app are Home, Guide, Music, and Settings buttons. The Home button takes you to the Home screen, Guide launches your TV programming guide, Music opens your smartphone's music app so you can stream audio to your A/V receiver via Bluetooth, and Settings lets you change your TV provider (for the TV guide) and enable clicking sounds for remote buttons.

The Blumoo was able to control every device in my entertainment center, but I had to do a little remapping to make it happen. For example, the remote template for my FIOS box did not have a Mute button, so I had to create one and map it to my Vizio TV remote in order to mute the TV audio. The exact model numbers for my Onkyo receiver and Philips DVD player were not listed in the database, but I chose similar models and the remotes worked perfectly.

Blumoo app inline

My biggest gripe with the Blumoo has to do with the way it handles streaming audio. In my tests, every so often I'd notice a very slight skip when streaming songs from iTunes Radio and when playing songs from my playlists. This happened at least once during each song at random intervals, and occurred even when my iPod was in the same room as the Blumoo. Results were similar with my iPad. The folks at Blumoo hope to resolve this with a firmware update in the near future.

I also noticed a 2-3 second lag between the time I'd press a button on any remote and the time the device carried out the command. It's a minor annoyance that's easy to overlook when you have the ability to switch between remotes with a flip of your finger. I also loved the custom remote feature that lets you add buttons from all of your devices to a single remote template to create a true universal remote. I had no trouble controlling devices from my outdoor patio deck at up to 100 feet from the pod. However, once I moved beyond the 100-foot mark, some commands dropped and streaming audio would cut out frequently.

Conclusion
The Blumoo may be a bit more expensive than the Gear4 UnityRemote and the Logitech Harmony Link, but its ability to stream audio from your mobile device makes it worth the extra 30 bucks or so, despite the occasional playback hiccup. It successfully paired with all of my home entertainment devices, even the older components, and provided relatively good range. Button response could be quicker, but it's not slow enough to be considered a deal breaker.

If you're married to the idea of using a traditional wand, check out our Editors' Choice, the Logitech Harmony Ultimate . Granted, it's almost three times more expensive than the Blumoo, but in addition to controlling your entertainment devices it can control things like the Philips Hue lighting system, and it supports media playback on the PS3 and Nintendo Wii U gaming consoles. It has a smartphone app, too.


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Samsung NX30

Pros Snappy autofocus. 8.6fps burst shooting. Excellent high ISO performance. Solid control layout. Vari-angle touch-screen display. Tilting EVF. Integrated flash. Wi-Fi with NFC. 1080p60 video with mic input.

Cons Limited burst shooting. EVF lags in dim light. On the bulky side. No alternate kit or body only purchase options. Dedicated charger not included. Bottom Line The Samsung NX30 is an excellent mirrorless camera with a unique titling EVF, but its burst shooting duration is limited.

By Jim Fisher

The Samsung NX30 ($999.99 with 18-55mm lens) is the company's most full-featured mirrorless camera to date, thanks to innovations like an integrated, articulated electronic viewfinder and class-leading Wi-Fi. The 20-megapixel camera sports the same APS-C sensor size you'll find in D-SLRs, and its body design is similar to an SLR as well. If you're invested in the NX system, it's the camera to get if an EVF is a must (if not, the NX300 is a more compact option). It falls just short of winning our Editors' Choice award, which stays with Sony's Alpha 6000, which focuses and shoots a bit faster and is $200 less expensive when purchased with a lens.

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Design and Features
The NX30 measures 3.8 by 5 by 1.6 inches (HWD) and weighs about 1.4 pounds without a lens. The included zoom adds about 7.2 ounces, and adds about 3 inches to the depth. The design incorporates a sizable handgrip, an integrated pop-up flash, and an articulating EVF—if you didn't know this was a mirrorless camera, you might mistake it for a compact SLR. It's a bit larger and heavier than the Olympus OM-D E-M10 (3.2 by 4.7 by 1.8 inches, 14 ounces), which also incorporates a pop-up flash, EVF, and handgrip in its design.

Samsung NX30 : Sample Image

The 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS is included. It covers a 27-82.5mm field of view in 35mm full-frame terms, and features image stabilization. Like most mirrorless cameras, the NX system uses lens-based image stabilization. If you want in-body stabilization, you'll have to go for a model with a smaller image sensor like the Olympus E-M10 or the tiny Pentax Q7. If you've got an older Samsung camera and are upgrading to the NX30 there's a good chance that you already have this lens. And Samsung is not selling the NX30 as a body only, so you'll be buying it again. At this time the company is not offering the NX30 with any of its other zoom lenses, which include a non-stabilized 20-50mm f/3.5-5.6, a compact power zoom 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 ($349.99), and the pro-level 16-50mm f/2-2.8 S ED OIS.

All of the controls, save for the lens release button to the left of the mount, are located on the right side. There's a depth-of-field preview button on the faceplate, located so that you can engage it using your middle or ring finger, and the top plate houses the mode dial, drive mode dial, video record button, Wi-Fi button, metering control, control dial, shutter release, and the power switch. Rear controls include a flat command dial with four directional presses (Display, Autofocus, ISO, White Balance) and a center OK button, as well as buttons to adjust exposure compensation, engage autoexposure lock, play and delete images, and open the menu. Samsung also includes an Fn button, which brings up an overlay display that provides direct access to settings.

Samsung NX30 : Sample Image

The overlay menu can be controlled via touch, or via a combination of the rear command dial (its directional presses move from setting to setting) and the top control dial (it changes settings of the active box). Samsung has done an excellent job leveraging the display's touch input; it feels like an extension of the physical controls rather than an afterthought. Most mirrorless cameras with touch screens make it easy to tap the rear display to set a focus point, but the NX30 extends that capability to separate focus and exposure. Just tap and drag the active focus box and a separate box will appear to set the exposure point. The only thing missing is the ability to use the display to move the focus point while framing an image with the EVF, a feature that's still exclusive to Panasonic models like the Lumix GH3.

The display itself is 3 inches in size with a 1,037k-dot resolution. It's an OLED panel rather than an LCD, which gives it a look with a little bit more contrast, and with all those dots it's extremely sharp. I had no problems using it outdoors on a bright day, and the vari-angle design makes it possible to view from almost any angle. I was able to take low-angle shots without having to get down on the ground by flipping the display up and selecting my focus point via touch; that's not possible with a camera with a fixed rear display like the tiny Panasonic GM1.

The integrated EVF is also quite sharp thanks to a 2,359k-dot resolution. It's got a tilting design with four set positions that range from the standard position to one that's almost vertical; just pull it away from the body in order to adjust it. The EVF has more resolution than that of the Sony Alpha 6000, but even with a side-by-side comparison it's hard to tell the difference. Both are a bit choppy in dim conditions.

Wi-Fi is a standard feature in new cameras, but Samsung has been leading the pack in that functionality for some time now. The NX30 is no exception; it's easy enough to copy images and videos to your smartphone or tablet using the free Samsung Smart Camera app. You won't be able to transfer 1080p60 videos or Raw images, but otherwise it's a smooth process. You can also post directly to various social networks, including Facebook, Picasa, Dropbox, and Flickr, or send them via email. Instagram isn't supported like it is with the Android-powered Galaxy NX, but it's easy enough to copy images to your phone and then share them on the popular network. There's a remote control function as well; a Live View feed streams to your handheld device and full manual control is possible.


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Acer H276HL

Pros Affordable. Solid performance. Sleek design.

Cons Limited feature set. Reflective screen. Bottom Line The Acer H276HL is an attractive 27-inch monitor that uses In-Plane Switching (IPS) technology to deliver accurate color and gray-scale performance. At just under $250 this is one of the best values around.

By John R. Delaney

Whether you're working with multipage documents, surfing the Web, or playing the latest first-person shooter games, it's always better on a big-screen monitor. However, the cost of all that extra screen real estate has been prohibitive for users on a budget. Not anymore. The Acer H276HL ($249.99) is a 27-inch monitor based on In-Plane Switching (IPS) panel technology that provides solid all-around performance and stylish aesthetics for just under $250 list price. Features are limited on this model, and it has a somewhat reflective screen, but neither gripe prevents the H276HL from earning our Editors' Choice for affordable big-screen monitors.

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Design and Features
The monitor's sleek design belies its affordable price. The 1,920-by-1,080 panel sits inside a bezel-free cabinet that is only 1.3 inches thick and has a matte-black textured finish with a thin band of glossy-black trim around the edge. The 11-pound cabinet lacks VESA mounting holes, but is supported by a textured black base. The stand provides tilt adjustability, but does not support height, swivel, or pivot adjustments. The screen has a glossy coating that helps give colors a bit of pop, but its reflective properties can be distracting, especially when displaying a dark background.

On the back of the cabinet are HDMI, DVI, and VGA video ports, an audio port, and a headphone jack. You won't find any USB ports on this monitor, nor does it have a webcam or a DisplayPort input, but the HDMI port doubles as a Mobile High-definition Link (MHL) port and will display content from a compatible smartphone or tablet while charging it (an HDMI-to-MHL cable is not included). The H276HL also has a pair of 1.5-watt speakers that aren't very strong and lack bass; you'd be better off with a decent set of desktop speakers if you'll be watching movies or playing games.

There are five function buttons and a power switch mounted below the lower bezel. As with most Acer monitors, such as the Acer FT200HQL and the Acer B276HU, pressing any function button brings up an on-screen menu with labels for each button. From this menu you can select one of five picture presets (Standard, Eco, User, Graphics, and Movie), adjust speaker volume, select an input source, or enter the Main Menu. From the main menu, you can adjust Brightness, Contrast, and Color Temperature settings, as well as Focus, Clock, and Screen Position settings for when you're using an analog signal.

The H276HL comes with a three-year warranty on parts, labor, and backlight. It also comes with HDMI, DVI, VGA, and audio cables, a resource CD, and a printed User Guide.

Performance
The H276HL's colors were surprisingly accurate for a low-cost monitor. The chromaticity chart below shows red, green, and blue measurements (represented by the colored dots) in relation to their ideal CIE coordinates (represented by the boxes). As you can see, red and blue were inside their respective boxes, while green was just a little bit off, which is not uncommon in low-end and midrange monitors.

Acer H276HL

Color quality while watching The Wolverine on Blu-ray was excellent, and dark and light image detail was sharp, particularly in the scene where Logan protects Yashida from the nuke in the darkened underground cell. The fine shadow detail is a result of the panel's ability to display all shades of gray, which was apparent on the DisplayMate 64-Step Gray-Scale test. Granted, the H276HL's gray-scale performance can't compare with that of a high-end IPS monitor like the NEC MultiSync PA242W-BK, but it's very good for a low-cost display. IPS monitors are known for their wide viewing angles and the H276HL is no different. Colors remained true, and the panel remained bright when viewed from every angle.

The H276HL's 5-millisecond (gray-to-gray) pixel response did an adequate job of handling fast-action video while playing Aliens vs. Predator, but blurring artifacts did pop up from time to time. Chances are, this will go unnoticed by all but the most hardcore gamers, though.

The H276HL used 24 watts of power during testing while set to the Standard picture preset and 22 watts while set to the Eco preset. That's more energy-efficient than both the Acer K272HUL (38 and 30 watts, respectively) and the BenQ EW2740L (34 and 23 watts, respectively).

Conclusion
What the Acer H276HL lacks in features, it more than makes up for in bang for the buck. Its 27-inch IPS panel offers rich, accurate colors and better-than-average gray-scale performance for a monitor in the $250 price range. Moreover, its bezel-free design and slim cabinet make it look more expensive than it is. It can't match the performance or pixel count of its high-resolution sibling, the Acer K272HUL, but it is $200 cheaper and is an outstanding value. All that is why it earns our Editors' Choice for affordable big-screen monitors.


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Digital Storm Krypton

Pros Excellent performance. Packs Nvidia's latest mobile graphics card. Generous port selection. High-quality sound with amplification for headphones.

Cons FireWire 800 port protrudes slightly. Generic design with plastic construction. Bottom Line The Digital Storm Krypton is a midrange gaming laptop that leverages the latest Nvidia and Intel hardware to deliver top-notch performance.

By Brian Westover

The Digital Storm Krypton ($2,297, as tested) poses a common question for mobile gamers. What's more important in a gaming laptop, the total package or pure performance? While we grapple with this quandry every time we review a new gaming machine, the answer here is clear. The Krypton focuses on high performance, thanks to an overclocked Intel Core i7-4810MQ processor and a new Nvidia GeForce GTX 880M graphics card. Other systems may be prettier, or offer more storage and entertainment options, but as far as pure gaming power, the Krypton delivers. It's enough to make the Digital Storm Krypton our Editors' Choice for midrange gaming laptops.

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Design
Measuring 1.81 by 16.3 by 11.3 inches (HWD) and weighing 9.1 pounds, the Krypton is a big laptop that packs some potent hardware. The design itself is a bit generic, though. The Clevo chassis looks just like those we've seen from other manufacturers, and the black plastic with a matte finish isn't particularly exciting.

The 17.3-inch display has a 1,920-by-1,080 resolution, providing full HD support. With an anti-glare finish, there are no issues with reflectivity, though the blacks aren't quite as dark or rich as you might see on other displays. The accompanying audio—pumped out of two Onkyo speakers set just below the display and an integrated subwoofer on the underside of the chassis—is quite good, thanks to a Soundblaster X-Fi 3 sound card. The Krypton also adds amplification to the headphone output, which will help headset wearers to hear every little effect, from the crunch of footsteps to the staccato beat of enemy fire.

The keyboard offers plenty of roomDigital Storm Krypton
for typing and gaming, and it features square keys—adjacent to one another instead of spaced out, like on a chiclet-style keyboard—with blue LED backlighting. The touchpad just below has a glowing insignia across its surface, which rotates through several colors. The mouse features separate right and left buttons, with a fingerprint reader nestled between them for easy, secure logins.

Features
On the sides and rear of the Krypton, you'll find all manner of ports and connectors. On the right is a tray-loading Blu-ray player/DVD burner, along with several audio connections (for headphones, a mic, and external speakers), and a USB 2.0 port. On the left are two USB 3.0 ports, a combination USB/eSATA port, a Gigabit LAN port, a multiformat card reader (SD/MMC/MS), and a FireWire 800 port. The FireWire port is a head scratcher, not only because it's a bit out of date, but also because the port on our review unit protrudes slightly, just begging to get snagged on something.

Digital Storm Krypton

The rear of the chassis has a 4-pin power connector, an HDMI port, a DisplayPort, and a mini-DisplayPort. For wireless connectivity, there's Bluetooth 4.0 and dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi.

The Krypton has both 250GB solid-state drive (SSD) for booting and a larger 750GB, 7,200rpm hard drive. The laptop is refreshingly free of any bloatware. All you'll find when you first boot up are Windows 8.1 (64-bit), drivers and utilities for sound, and Nvidia GeForce Experience, which serves as the control center for the Nvidia graphics card. Recently added to GeForce Experience are features like ShadowPlay, which lets you record in-game video, Game Stream (for streaming your games to an Nvidia Shield), and Battery Boost, which offers dramatically improved gaming performance when the system is on battery power. Digital Storm backs up the Krypton with a three-year warranty on labor, with one-year of part replacement and lifetime tech support.

Performance
Digital Storm Krypton With a quad-core Intel Core i7-4810MQ (overclocked from 2.8GHz up to 3.8GHz) and 16GB of memory, the Krypton packs a punch when it comes to heavy processing. It scored 6, 375 points in PCMark 7, and cranked through our multimedia tests at a swift pace, finishing Handbrake in 33 seconds and Photoshop in 3 minutes 14 seconds. While none of these scores top the charts, they are competitive with gaming laptops that cost up to $1,000 more.

The Krypton is outfitted with a new Nvidia GeForce GTX 880M graphics card, the same GPU seen in the Alienware 17 (2014). In 3DMark 11, the Krypton scored 11,810 points at Entry settings, and 2,943 points at Extreme settings. In gaming tests, with the resolution set to full HD and the detail settings high, it cranked through Aliens vs. Predator at 46 frames per second (fps) and scored 49fps in Heaven. This system will play almost any game you throw at it, but for smoother gameplay (up in the 60fps range), it may be best back off of the eye candy a bit. For top-of-the-line graphics support, you might want to opt for a dual-GPU system, like the Origin EON17-SLX (2014); even with the newest Nvidia card, the Krypton couldn't top the graphics might of two GPUs working in tandem.

It's not built for portability, but the Krypton lasted a decent 4 hours 7 minutes on our battery rundown test. While that amount of time won't get you very far—and gaming will shorten it considerably—it lasted a good bit longer than the 3:19 of the MSI GT70 2PC Dominator, and was hours ahead of the paltry 1:13 of the Origin EON17-SLX (2014).

Conclusion
With its potent processing and graphics performance, the Digital Storm Krypton offers a lot for its midrange price, even competing against high-end systems. While paying more will get you things like improved design and construction, or a larger hard drive, these characteristics are secondary for a lot of gamers. What you really want for your hard-earned money is gaming power, and the Digital Storm Krypton delivers. Compared with our last winner in this category, the MSI GT70 2PC Dominator, the Krypton offers superior performance in several areas—graphics and gaming, battery life, and productivity—for nearly the same price. 


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InFocus IN126a

Pros Sharp text. Low price. 2GB of internal memory. 3D-compatible. Wide range of connection choices.

Cons Rainbow effect in video. Feeble audio. Data-image quality suffers over a VGA connection. Bottom Line The InFocus IN126a offers sharp text and a wide range of connection choices in a bright, modestly priced WXGA data projector.

By Tony Hoffman

As the highest-resolution model of three very similar projectors recently introduced by InFocus, the IN126a ($569) provides good brightness and text quality in a modestly priced WXGA data projector. Though not without its flaws—rainbow artifacts in video, feeble sound, and degraded data-image quality when a VGA connection is used—it's a good value for the money, especially for a business or school that shows a lot of text-heavy presentations.

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The IN126a uses a DLP light engine rated at 3,500 lumens. It has a native WXGA (1,280-by-800) resolution and a 16:10 aspect ratio. Also introduced with it were the InFocus IN122a, which has a native SVGA (800-by-600) resolution, and the InFocus IN124a, an XGA model with a 1,024-by-768 native resolution.

The projector, black with rounded corners, measures 4 by 11.5 by 8.7 inches (HWD) and weighs 5.2 pounds, making it easy enough to tote around. It lacks a soft carrying case, which is available from InFocus as a $39 accessory. It has a focus wheel and a zoom wheel, each accessible from behind the lens. The focus wheel is narrow and a little hard to use, but you should still be able to get a sharp focus from it.

It has a solid selection of ports, including two VGA ports (for connecting to computers); a monitor-out port; an HDMI port; an S-video port; an RCA composite video jack plus two audio-in ports; an audio-out port; an RS232 jack; a USB mini-B port to connect to your computer to display its screen; a USB Type B port for mouse control and firmware updates; and a USB Type A port that lets you run a computer-free presentation off of a USB thumb drive, or plug in an optional Wi-Fi adapter ($29). There's also 2GB of internal storage.

Data-Image Testing
I tested the IN126a from about 8 feet away from our screen, where it projected a 55-inch (diagonal) image that was bright and stood up well to ambient light. In data-image testing using the DisplayMate suite, its image quality was suitable for typical business presentations. Text quality was good; both black type on white and white type on black were crisp down to our second-smallest size (7.5 points).

Colors were generally a bit dull, with yellows looking mustardy. That's often an issue with DLP projectors, which tend to have lower color brightness than white brightness. Some gray backgrounds showed a green tint; there were traces of green in grays in all color modes. There was considerable pixel jitter in images made up of closely spaced lines. Switching from a VGA to an HDMI connection eliminated the jitter, and reduced tinting as well.

I also noticed the rainbow effect that is common among DLP projectors in images that tend to bring it out. It shows as little red-green-blue flashes, particularly in bright areas against dark backgrounds. It's not a significant issue in data images with the IN126a.

InFocus IN126a

Video and Audio
Video quality is suitable at best for short clips as part of a presentation. The rainbow effect was much more of a problem in video. They were noticeable often enough that they would be likely distracting to someone at all sensitive to the effect. Colors were generally a bit dull, and I also noticed posterization—the tendency for sudden shifts in color where they should be gradual—in several scenes.

Sound from the IN126a's 2-watt speaker is weak. It would probably suffice in a rather small room, but you'd be better off using a set of powered external speakers.

The IN126a lets you project 3D content, though you will need active-shutter DLP-Link 3D glasses for each member of your audience. InFocus sells them for $69 a pair.

This projector offers a higher resolution than the InFocus IN122a and the InFocus IN124a, at a higher price. Should your presentations frequently have small type or intricate diagrams, or should you display them on a large screen, the IN126a is the better choice of the three. Although none of the three models has very good video quality, the IN126a didn't show any pixelation, unlike the lower-resolution models, particularly the InFocus IN122a. But for typical presentations in a small room, the IN124a or IN122a should suffice, and you'll save some money in the process.

Conclusion
The IN126a's image quality for data or video is no match for the NEC NP-M311W, Editors' Choice for a WXGA data projector in its (5- to 7-pound) weight class, but it is lower in price, slightly brighter, and is 3D ready. However, the 3,100-lumen NEC NP-M311W is an LCD projector, so its color brightness should equal its white brightness, while DLP projectors tend to have lower color than white brightness, as seemed to be the case with the IN126a. The InFocus IN126a offers good brightness and text quality, and a solid set of connection choices, in a moderately priced business projector. Its video is passable, and the audio is weak enough that you'll probably want to hook up a pair of external speakers to it. You'd do best to avoid using a VGA connection, as its data image suffered as compared to over an HDMI connection. But it's a good choice as a bright, low-priced WXGA projector for offices or schools that show a lot of text-heavy presentations.


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Snapchat (for iPhone)

Pros Ephemeral. Fast, dirty, super-easy photo- and video-sharing. Bold, fresh design. Innovative video-chatting interface.

Cons Unique interface needs a primer. Poor video chatting. Stories sometimes inaccessible. Troubled security history. Bottom Line Snapchat's troubled history and some iffy video chatting, overshadows this unabashedly bold, young, and unique application for free image- and video-sharing on iPhone.

By Max Eddy

In my review of Snapchat for Android, I managed to not talk about sexting. This might surprise some readers, but Snapchat (free), which lets you share images and videos that vanish after a preset amount of time, isn't really about sexting or even being secretive. Instead, it completely ignores the idea of a social network as a scrapbook (like Facebook) or as artistry  (like with Instagram) and focuses on ephemerality.

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It's a very different idea, and Snapchat has a bold and unique design to match. The app's design is bright and unabashedly young, with an interface that shirks some of the smartphone design conventions that have been around for years. But some security missteps and a few bugs hold back what could be a watershed for mobile apps.

Snaps and Video
Snapchat is focused on quickly sharing videos and pictures—called "snaps"—so it's no surprise that you begin your Snapchat experience on the viewfinder screen. The interface is simple, with a large shutter button in the center and a toggle camera button in the upper right. Tap the shutter button to take a snap, or press and hold it to shoot 15 seconds of video. I particularly like the ability to tap the screen and refocus while filming.

Other options, such as filters and text toggles, are hidden until you need them, as is the ability to download an image you just took—hey, you might want it later! The most important tool is a clock in the bottom where you set a life span for your image. This is the app's original killer feature; your pictures are only accessible to recipients for as long as you allow them (unless they grab a screenshot, of course). You can choose a lifespan between one and ten seconds.

Snapchat (for iPhone)You can swipe in one of six filters only after you take a snap, but be warned that these are lackluster compared with what you find on Instagram or Flickr. You can also add captions over the image in a few, limited styles, or you can doodle in a set of vibrant colors. Only three filters affect the actual color of your image; the other three overlay time, temperature, or the current speed at which you are traveling. This last one presumably uses GPS data, as Snapchat requires location information.

Unlike Instagram or Flickr, Snapchat offers no filters for videos, but you can add time, temperature, or speedometer overlays. Like snaps, videos are very limited; you won't find the editing options on offer in Vine and Instagram.

Recipients view your snaps or videos by tapping and holding the screen. Once you tap the screen to view the snap, a counter in the corner runs down the time remaining to view the snap and, yes, they can take screenshots during this time. If you lift your thumb off the screen for even a second, the image will vanish but the counter will keep going down. Don't miss your chance to see the image. Note that videos have no life span; once a video finishes playing, it vanishes.

A warning: If you take a screenshot, Snapchat will send a message to the snap's sender. I really like this feature, which is also included in Confide. Weirdly, I could not get this feature to work in Android, though that might be a technical limitation.

Chat
Recipients can find your snaps in their inbox, just to the left of the viewfinder screen. Here, snaps, videos, and text messages are stored as threaded conversations. Swipe right to reveal the time of the last interaction, and further right to open a chat window with a Snapchat pal. You can send text, snaps, or videos directly from this screen, too. It looks simple, but it can be quite confusing as all of your images, videos, texts, and read receipts degrade and vanish over time. Wait a few days and you'll see a blank screen instead of a lively conversation.

Snapchat (for iPhone)Weirdly, Snapchat will put an alert into the threaded conversation if someone takes a screenshot of the text but it doesn't take note of when someone takes a screenshot of a snap. Those alerts exist solely in the iOS notification center.

When two users are in the same chat window, the camera icon turns blue. Tapping it opens a live video feed, which is a new feature to Snapchat. A preview of your own camera's view shows next to your thumb, with the other person's video stream running full screen in the background. Moving your thumb up and down toggles between your front- and rear-facing cameras.

The video chat system is one of Snapchat's best design flourishes. It feels totally fresh and made for mobile, albeit a bit confusing at first. Unfortunately, the design is better than the implementation. I found video chat to be laggy, verging on the unusable, when chatting between an iPhone 4s and an iPhone 5c over Wi-Fi. Performance was no better when using two Android phones, or a mix of Android and iOS devices, including the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Nexus 7.


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InFocus IN122a

Pros Good text quality. Low price. Bright. Has 2GB of internal memory. 3D ready. Good set of connectivity choices.

Cons Rainbow effect in video. Feeble audio. Lacks carrying case. Bottom Line The InFocus IN122a is a bright and inexpensive SVGA data projector that's well-suited for schools and businesses on a tight budget.

By Tony Hoffman

The InFocus IN122a ($409) provides good value in a lower-resolution, portable business projector. It's bright, has good text quality, and provides an ample set of connection choices. There are similar projectors with better overall image quality, but the IN122a is a well-rounded and capable data projector that's good for schools and businesses on a budget.

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The IN122a is the lowest-resolution model of a trio of nearly identical (except for price and resolution) budget data projectors recently introduced by InFocus. The InFocus IN124a provides XGA (1,024-by-768) native resolution, while the InFocus IN126a offers WXGA (1,280-by-800) native resolution.

The IN122a has native SVGA (800-by-600) resolution, in a 4:3 aspect ratio that's common in data presentations. It uses a DLP light engine rated at 3,500 lumens. The projector, black with rounded corners and a gently curving top, measures 4 by 11.5 by 8.7 inches (HWD) and weighs 5.2 pounds, making it easy enough to tote around. It doesn't come with a soft carrying case, but you can buy one from InFocus as a $39 accessory. It has a modest 1.1X optical zoom.

The port selection includes two VGA-in ports (for connecting to computers); a monitor-out port; an HDMI port; an S-Video port; an RCA composite video jack, plus two audio-in ports; an audio-out port; a RS232 jack; a USB mini-B port to project the contents of your computer screen; a USB Type B port to connect to a computer for mouse control and to download firmware updates; and a USB Type A port that lets you run a computer-free presentation off of a USB thumb drive, or plug in an optional Wi-Fi adapter ($29). The IN122a also includes 2GB of internal storage.

Data-Image Testing
I tested the IN122a from about 8 feet away from our 60-inch (diagonal) test screen. It produced a bright image that stood up well to ambient light. In data-image testing using the DisplayMate suite, its image quality proved suitable for typical business presentations. Text quality was good; black type on white was sharp down to 6.8 points and white type on black was fuzzy at the smallest size. Colors were a bit on the dark side, with yellows looking mustardy. Some gray backgrounds showed mild green tinting; I noticed some green in grays in all color modes. I also saw some pixel jitter in images made up of closely spaced lines; switching from a VGA to an HDMI connection eliminated it.

InFocus IN122a

Video and Audio
The IN122a's video quality is suitable at best for short clips as part of a presentation. The main issue is the rainbow effect that is common among DLP projectors. It manifests as little red-green-blue flashes, particularly in bright areas against dark backgrounds. I saw such rainbow artifacts often enough that they would likely be distracting to anyone sensitive to the effect. Colors tended to be on the dull side, and I noticed posterization—the tendency for sudden shifts in color where they should be gradual—in several scenes.

Sound from the IN122a's 2-watt speaker is weak. You might get by with its sound system in a small room, or if your audience is close to the projector, but you're better off using a set of powered external speakers.

This projector lets you project DLP-Link-compatible 3D content, though you will need active-shutter 3D glasses for each member of your audience. InFocus sells them for $69 a pair.

Conclusion
For a bit more money, you could get one of the IN122a's higher-resolution counterparts. The InFocus IN126a is a good choice if your presentations include very small text or detailed drawings. However, you'd best avoid using a VGA connection with it, as data image quality over VGA suffered more (compared with over HDMI) with the IN126a and IN124a than it did with the IN122a in our tests.

The IN122a is brighter than the comparably priced Epson EX3212 SVGA 3LCD Projector, our Editors' Choice for SVGA projectors, which is rated at 2,800 lumens; and unlike the EX3212, it can show 3D content. The LCD-based Epson EX3212, however, had much better image quality in our testing. Its data-image quality is excellent, and its (rainbow-free) video is considerably better than that of the IN122a. Although the IN122a is no match for the Epson EX3212, it's still a good choice as a bright, modestly priced SVGA projector with a solid set of connection choices.


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Sony SmartBand SWR10

Pros Innovative, versatile design. Waterproof. Beautiful app. Lots of graphs for stats lovers.

Cons Finicky band closure. Complicated setup process. Confusing notifications. Rudimentary fitness tracking capabilities. Virtually useless media controls. Bottom Line Part activity tracker, part notifications accessory, and part journaling tool, the Sony SmartBand SWR10 has a lot of potential, but needs more refinement.

By Alex Colon

As the activity tracker market matures, many new devices do more than record your daily motions. The $99.99 Sony SmartBand SWR10, for instance, is being billed as an accessory that logs your entire life. That's a pretty bold claim, and the SWR10 certainly doesn't live up to those ambitions. But it does log a good deal more than your standard activity tracker, recording things like books, conversations, music, photos, and more. It features an innovative design and beautiful companion app, and stats lovers will no doubt be pleased with all the graphs. But it's only average as an activity tracker, and many of its additional features feel either half-baked or superfluous. So while the SWR10 is interesting in theory, it's hard to recommend over other wearable devices on the market.

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Design and Fit
At a glance, the SWR10 looks a lot like your standard, nondescript activity tracking band, but that's only half of the story. The band itself is really just a body for what Sony calls the core, which is the brain of the device. Physically, the core is a small, white piece of plastic that measures roughly 1.5 by 0.6 by 0.3 inches (HWD) and weighs less than an ounce. It looks a bit like a thumb drive, or even the Fitbit One to a degree. It isn't meant to be seen, so the design is simple and functional: There's a micro USB port for charging on one end, and a multifunction button and three status lights on the side. There isn't really a clear top or bottom, but one of the ends has the model and serial number of the product along with other information, while the reverse features a recessed Sony logo.

The core comes with two different-size straps in which you can wear it, which is where the SmartBand aspect comes into play. The strap itself measures roughly 0.65 inches at its widest point, and just over a quarter of an inch deep. On the wrist, it looks extremely similar to the Fitbit Flex, minus the small display.

Sony SmartBand SWR10 inline

I found the smaller strap to be a reasonable fit on my somewhat large wrist, so I imagine it will also work for most other users. The strap is the same width no matter which size you choose, so it doesn't make any difference from a style perspective. The SWR10 ships with two black straps, but Sony plans to offer a number of replacement packs with different colors later this month. The default strap is made of a rubbery material with a lightly textured pattern which picks up stray bits of lint and debris. I can't speak for any other color, but it was definitely visible on the black strap.

Getting the strap onto my wrist was also an issue. There's a dual-prong silver toggle built on the bottom edge of the strap, but no matter how many times I wore it, securing the closure proved to be an exercise in frustration. It felt secure once in place, but I had a hard time getting it on in under a minute. Luckily, the SWR10 is meant to be worn all day, and Sony rates battery life up to five days, so you probably only have to take it off once or twice a week. It's also Sony Mobile's first product to be classified as waterproof (IP58) without a micro USB port lid, so you can wear the SWR10 in up to nine feet of fresh water. That goes for the band as well as the core itself. With those credentials, it's safe to say the SWR10 will also stand up to a shower.

That said, the generic styling doesn't really inspire me to wear the band all the time. It's fine for the gym, but I found myself taking it off before going out to meet up with friends. But this highlights the beauty of the SmartBand's design. The strap itself is just one way to carry the core. When I didn't want to wear it on my wrist, I could simply throw the core in my pocket to continue logging information. Theoretically, Sony could develop other ways to wear the core, such a clip-on case that would give it a form factor similar to the Fitbit One. That makes the SWR10 much more versatile than many other activity trackers on the market.

Lifelog

Setup
The SWR10 is compatible with smartphones running Android 4.4 (KitKat) and higher. That's more inclusive than the Samsung-only Gear Fit, but those requirements still rule out a huge amount of Android users, as well as the entire iOS community, so make sure you own a compatible device before buying in.

Getting started with the SWR10 is more complicated than it needs to be. Sony's scant documentation included with the SmartBand assumes your smartphone has NFC, and simply tells you to charge the SWR10, enable NFC on your smartphone, and tap the SWR10 to your phone's NFC plate. There's no information on what to do after that, or what to do without NFC.  

I paired the SWR10 with a Google Nexus 5, and luckily the pairing process describe above worked just fine via NFC, but there's still plenty you must do after. First off, using NFC simply pairs the devices via Bluetooth and brings you to a prompt in the Google Play store to download Sony's Smart Connect app. After that you need to download and install the app, and make sure the SWR10 is properly connected. The Smart Connect app allows you to edit settings such as notifications and smart alarms, but it doesn't let you see any of the information you've logged using the SWR10. For that you'll have to download another app (there's a link to do this in Smart Connect, but it isn't all that intuitive).


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Fujifilm Instax Share SP-1

Pros Fast, fun, photo printing from Android or iOS smartphones and tablets. Easy to set up and use.

Cons High cost per photo. Credit-card-size photos have large borders. Actual pictures are only 1.75 by 2.47 inches. Bottom Line The Fujifilm Instax Share SP-1 portable dedicated photo printer comes with a high cost per photo, but it's small, prints high-quality images quickly, and is fun to use.

By M. David Stone

One part retro, one part modern, and thoroughly fun to use, the Fujifilm Instax Share SP-1 ($199) is a surprisingly capable portable photo printer. It uses instant film to produce photos, and offers Wi-Fi Direct for printing from your smartphone or tablet. If you want an easy way to print credit-card-size photos from your Android or iOS phone or tablet, the SP-1 should be on your short list.

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There are plenty of portable photo printers available, including inkjets like the Editors' Choice Epson PictureMate Charm. However, the Epson PictureMate Charm prints at 4 by 6 inches, and it's nearly the size of a lunch box, making it big and heavy for a portable printer. Much closer in spirit to the SP-1 would be photo printers that use Zink technology, like the Polaroid Grey Label GL10 Instant Mobile Printer or the Pandigital Portable Photo Printer. The Zink photo paper, like film, doesn't need a separate ink source. Instead, it uses heat to activate the dye crystals embedded in the paper and create images.

Not needing a separate supply of ink means you don't have to worry about running out of ink and don't have to load cartridges, as with an inkjet. It also lets manufacturers build a smaller printer for any given size of photo paper than you would need for an inkjet, since they don't need to make room for a printhead and ink cartridges.

The SP-1 takes an even bigger step away from ink by using actual film instead of a digital printing technology. More precisely, it uses the same cartridges of Instax Mini instant film as Fujifilm Instax instant cameras. To print digital photos from your phone on the analog film, the camera uses red, green, and blue LEDs, along with a liquid crystal shutter to expose the film inside the printer, based on the red, green, and blue pixels in the digital photo. It then ejects the film, and you can watch the image develop over the next several minutes.

Basics and Setup
The SP-1 weighs a little more than 11 ounces, complete with batteries and film installed, and it measures just 1.7 by 4.0 by 4.8 inches (HWD). It looks more like a  gadget than most printers, with a rounded front and sides, and the top and bottom reflects light with an attractive specked effect.

One of the SP-1's strongest points is how easy it is to set up and use. Simply install the batteries, snap in a film cartridge, and you're ready to print. Note that Fujifilm supplies two 3-volt lithium batteries with the printer, but you have to buy the film separately.

A particularly welcome touch, the SP-1 offers a generous array of 13 easy-to-understand status lights instead of two or three lights that flash in variations that you need a decoder ring to comprehend. Three LEDs on the front show the power level for the batteries. Ten more show how much film is left in the currently installed photo pack. Each cartridge is limited to ten prints, with the number of lit LEDs telling you how many are still left in the printer. The only control on the printer besides the Power button is a Reprint button, which lets you print additional copies of a photo without having to resend it from your phone.

Printing
After setup, the only additional step before you can print is to download the Instax Share app to your Android or iOS device. For my tests, I used a Samsung Galaxy S III, but according to Fujifilm, the iOS app offers essentially the same features.

Once you've downloaded Instax Share, you can use it to call up your phone or tablet's Camera app to take pictures, as well as choose pictures to print from your phone's gallery, Facebook, or Instagram. The Instax Share app offers some simple editing features, including the ability to rotate the image before printing, set the image to print in sepia or black and white instead of color, and add a template frame, which will let you add text, the current date, or other information.

Thanks to Wi-Fi Direct, the printer functions as its own access point, so you can connect directly to it with your phone. The first time you print, you have to enter the SP-1 password The app will remember it going forward. There's also an option in the app for changing the password in the printer, if you want something harder to guess than the default "1111."

Print Speed, Output Quality, Photo Size, and Cost
Print speed in my tests varied from roughly 18 to 28 seconds, depending on whether the phone was already connected to the printer or first had to find it and make the connection. Using the Reprint button took just 16.5 seconds to print.

Photos comes out of the front slot with no image showing. The image begins to appear within a minute, just like a Polaroid photo, and continues developing for the next several minutes, with colors slowly becoming more saturated. Comparing two photos printed several minutes apart, I could still see a difference five minutes after printing the second photo, but the process seemed nearly finished by then.

There's not much to say about image quality, except that it's indistinguishable from photos taken with an analog instant camera that uses the same film. That makes it noticeably higher quality than photos printed with the Zink-based printers we've seen. On the plus side, the SP-1's photos are just as rugged as Zink photos. They're almost impossible to tear, and they're scratch- and water-resistant.

The photos are small, which is a little limiting. They measure roughly 2 by 3.5 inches, but with large white borders. The images themselves are just 1.75 by 2.47 inches. They're also expensive. Fujifilm says the film typically sells for $15 to $20 for a two-cartridge pack, which works out to $0.75 to $1.00 per photo. That's significantly more per photo than with the Polaroid GL10, the Pandigital Portable Photo Printer, or the our Editors' Choice photo printer, the Epson PictureMate Charm. 

That said, if a credit-card-size photo is appropriate for your needs, and you don't mind the cost per photo, the Fujifilm Instax Share SP-1 is a good choice. You can bring it with you anywhere, take pictures with your smartphone or tablet, and hand out copies on the spot at a rate of one print every 20 seconds or so. It's easy and fun to use, and it makes a terrific smartphone accessory.


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Vine (for iPhone)

Pros Fast, easy, video shooting and editing. Close connections to Twitter. Easily shareable. Private Vine Messages.

Cons No filters. No adjustments for lighting, other video issues. 6 second time limit. Bottom Line Vine offers simple, immediate video making and sharing, provided you can cram your creation into less than 6 seconds.

By Michael Muchmore, Max Eddy

When Vine burst onto the scene, we wondered if 6 seconds could ever really be enough time to do anything worthwhile on video. While the answer is a matter of opinion, there's no doubt that a great many people think it's plenty of time. Now in its second iteration on iPhone, Vine (free) has new editing tools and a more-polished presence on Apple's mobile platform. It's more capable than ever, provided you can cram your creation into just 6 seconds.

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To recap: Vine lets you create 6-second videos that loop endlessly. The videos, called Vines, can be embedded into other websites or shared via Twitter, so you've probably seen a few already. The app lets you create your own Vines, and its strong social networking features let you find, follow, and view the Vines of others using the service.

Signup and Setup
The app store entry for Vine says you must be over 17 to install it, and that it contains "Frequent/Intense Sexual Content or Nudity" (among other warnings). That actually was a problem at the app's original launch, when a porn Vine made it to the app's old Editor's Picks section, but earlier this year the company changed its license terms to disallow adult content. The app now requires an iOS 6.0 or later. It's optimized for iPhone 5, but not for iPad, where you'll either have to view it in a small window or zoomed in. During our testing, the app ran fine on both an iPhone 5c and a much older iPhone 4s.

As you'd expect with an app acquired by Twitter, you can sign in with your Twitter account; alternatively, you can create a new Vine account using an email address. The typical social app would also let you sign up via Facebook, but that's not an option for obvious reasons. You can also create a private account, which only users you specifically approve can see.

Interface
Vine (for iPhone)The well-designed and simple interface has just two buttons in the top corners above the feed—on the left is the Home button, and on the right a movie camera. Pressing the Home button reveals sections titled Explore, Activity, Profile, and Messages. It's very straightforward, though the Windows Phone version neatly eschews drop-down menus for an even cleaner experience. Competing social video app Viddy also keeps all the main buttons handy in its interface.

A banner across the top of the home screen encourages you to find your Vine-makers to follow. You can find these by scanning the phone's local address book or Twitter. You can also simply search for Vine user names or invite friends to the service using email or SMS.

The Home and Explore sections are inspiring and packed with curated content, reminiscent of the addictive and similar pages of Flickr. In the redesigned Explore, you get Popular Now and On the Rise, which makes discovering great Vines even easier. Colorful Windows 8-like tiles now offer YouTube-like sections such as Animals, Art, Comedy, and so forth.

As in every self-respecting social network, each user gets a profile page, and Vine's resembles Twitter's, except that Vine's offers separate tabs for Posts and Likes. On top is the user's photo, a text area for an inspirational self-description, and a big Follow button. If something or someone offends you, you can report or block a profile for inappropriate posting.

Once you do discover a video you love, you can Like (thanks to a smiley face button), comment, and "Revine" it. The last is just like retweeting in Twitter. As with the Like button, the Revine button turns dark green, and you can tap it again to undo your action.

If someone shares a Vine link, you can watch it on a bare-bones Vine-hosted Web page. Recent improvements now mean you can view all your own and your contacts' Vines as well as like, comment, share, and revine.


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BreakTime (for Mac)

Pros Prompts you to take breaks. Easy to use. Attractive interface. Supports automated scripts.

Cons Lacks sound- and graphics-tweaking options. Pricier than the competition. Bottom Line BreakTime notifies you when you need to step away from your Mac and rest those weary peepers, but unless you're enamored with its slick aesthetics, other apps do the same (and more!) for less money.

By Jeffrey L. Wilson

If you're a cubicle-dweller like me, you've probably read many articles about the health benefits that come from taking regular breaks throughout the work day. Unfortunately, when meetings, phone calls, deadlines, and other important tasks demand our attention, it's all too easy to forget to take a few minutes to clear the mind. BreakTime ($4.99) prompts you to take much-needed breaks, and locks down your Mac to make certain you do just that. However, the Editors' Choice award-winning Time Out Free is equally effective and delivers a few extra bells and whistles for less money.

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These Are the Breaks
You start by launching BreakTime and establishing break parameters. Preferences let you select the length of your break (in seconds) and the amount of time between breaks (also in seconds).

I wanted to set up BreakTime so that I would take a 5-minute break every 2 hours, so I entered 300 seconds into the Length of Break field and 7,200 seconds in the Time Between Breaks field. I liked that BreakTime let me key in those numbers; competitor Coffee Break utilizes a slider that makes it easy to overshoot the number you'd like to set.

Ten seconds before the BreakTime kicks in, a countdown meter appears on the desktop that gives you the opportunity to wrap up things before the app dims the screen. I prefer BreakTime's countdown clock to Time Out Free's screen fade, as it feels like a more forceful reminder that I should step away from my Mac.

BreakTime (for Mac)

A small box appears during the break that displays how much time remains until it's time to return to work. Clicking Done when the time expires causes the clock to count down the time until the next break. The Magic Reschedule feature causes BreakTime to push back a break when it detects that you haven't been using the Mac for a while, but you can't adjust this feature's time parameters, as you can in Time Out Free. If for some reason you need to delay your break, the box's In a Minute drop-down option lets you push back the break's start time by one minute, five minutes, or 15 minutes.

BreakTime lacks an option that would let you increase the size of the app's dialog and clock boxes as you can in Time Out Free. I like Breaktime's non-intrusive nature, but some worker bees will prefer a more in-your-face approach. Although BreakTime is a sleeker, more attractive utility than Time Out Free, its competitor lets you add sound effects that play as a break time starts or ends. Coffee Break, likewise, utilizes sound effects (in its case, percolating coffee) to alert you to get off your duff. Time Out Free also lets you tweak its color scheme, transparency, and other visual elements (BreakTime does not).

Don't Cheat Yourself
If you're serious about getting away from the computer, enable the Enforce Break option so that BreakTime prevents you from switching apps and clicking the Done button to return to the desktop. Enforce Break helps keep you honest, but BreakTime has another option designed to make sure you go get that cup of joe.

You can also disable the In a Minute feature, which is for those who are truly dedicated to taking breaks. With In a Minute disabled, there's no way to alter your break time (other than turning off the Mac), so you must stick to the scheduled time. I prefer this mode as it leaves me with no choice but to walk away from the Mac.

BreakTime also supports automated scripts that run whenever it's time to take a break so you can, for example, run iTunes during that downtime.

Take a Break, You've Earned It
If you know that you should frequently take breaks but fail to do so, BreakTime gets the job done. The five bucks that you'll spend nets neat features—the countdown clock, a well-designed, modern interface—but if you want a Mac break app with a little more functionality, check out the Editors' Choice-winning break-time manager for Macs, Time Out Free.


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Lenovo Yoga 2 13

Pros Excellent convertible design. Decent performance and battery life.

Cons Construction quality has dropped from previous Yogas. Bottom Line The Lenovo Yoga 2 13 is a well-designed convertible hybrid laptop, but the construction feels flimsier than that of previous iterations, and good-but-not-stellar performance doesn't help it stand out from the crowd.

By Brian Westover

The Yoga is back. The Lenovo Yoga 2 13 ($999 as tested) sits nicely between the smaller Yoga 2 11 and the premium Yoga 2 Pro with its high-resolution display. The new 13-inch ultrabook-class convertible hybrid laptop gets an updated design, new hardware, and a slightly shorter name (the company has dropped the IdeaPad designation). While the new chassis design improves usability, the quality of the construction seems to have fallen off somewhat.

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Design
The new Yoga 2 keeps the flip-and-fold functionality seen on the previous model, and the 360-degree hinge continues to be the one of the better designs in the convertible space. With the hinge, the Yoga becomes a multimode device, rather than a simple laptop. Open the display up and back to go from Laptop mode to Display mode. Flip it over to switch to Tent mode. Finally, by bringing the display all the way around, you have Tablet mode. All of these modes work as well on the new Yoga 2 13 as they did on the previous iteration.

The design has been changedLenovo Yoga 2 13
somewhat from the original iteration. The chassis incorporates more plastic into the construction, with aluminum across the lid of the laptop, but not the palm rest or the underside. The palm rest has a matte finish that unfortunately picks up smudges very easily, so it will look a bit grimy if you don't wipe it down regularly. A rubber bumper wraps around both the display and the keyboard edges, providing grip when in Tent Mode, and adding a bit of protection from bumps and bangs in both Laptop and Tablet modes. Folded closed, the Yoga 2 13 measures 0.6 by 13 by 8.7 inches (HWD), making it slimmer than the original IdeaPad Yoga 13, which was 0.66 by 13.4 by 8.85 inches (HWD), but a little heavier at 3.7 pounds (the first Yoga weighed just 3.4 pounds).

The 13-inch display has been upgraded to 1,920-by-1,080 resolution. This is a step up from the 1,600-by-900-resolution display on the original Lenovo Yoga 13, but not as impressive as the 3,200-by-1,800 (QHD+) resolution offered on the IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro. The full HD display strikes a happy medium, with all the resolution you need for multitasking and enjoying HD content, but without the high price and reduced battery life that comes with a higher-resolution screen. The touch-enabled display also boasts 10-finger tracking, giving you touch and gesture support in any mode.

The excellent AccuType keyboard is one of the best features, providing as good a typing experience as ever. The sculpted keycaps are comfortable, and the backlight provides good visibility in the dark. In modes where the keyboard isn't in use, such as Tablet, Tent, or Display mode, the keyboard deactivates to prevent unwanted key presses.

The only worrisome aspect of the design is that the keyboard is still fully exposed when flipped around into these other modes, and I have legitimate concerns about damage to the keys. This problem isn't new to this model, but it already has a solution—the business-focused Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga has a mechanism that raises the deck of the keyboard up flush with the tops of the keycaps, protecting the keyboard from potential damage. It looks like the feature hasn't migrated over to the consumer models yet. The Yoga 2 13 also boasts a clickable trackpad and support for Windows 8 gesture controls.

Two built-in stereo speakers provide decent sound, with Dolby Home Theater v4 software enhancement. When turned up, however, the volume produced is underwhelming. Listening to music and watching YouTube videos during testing, the sound quality also dropped off at high volume.

Features
The laptop is outfitted with two USB ports (one USB 3.0, one USB 2.0), a 2-in-1 card reader (SD/MMC), micro HDMI, and a headset jack. On the right side of the system, you'll find buttons for Power, Volume Up and Down, and Lenovo's OneKey Recovery (an automatic system recovery app). Inside, the Yoga 2 13 is equipped with 802.11n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0. Early customer reviews have mentioned Wi-Fi problems in the new Yoga laptops, but we didn't encounter any issues during our testing, which included streaming media, browsing with multiple tabs open, and writing portions of this review in Google Docs. The Yoga 2 13 has a hybrid storage solution, combining a 500GB, 5,400rpm hard drive with a 16GB solid-state drive (SSD) for speedy performance and fast boot times.

Lenovo Yoga 2 13

Lenovo includes plenty of software on the system, but most of it is useful, like 30-day trial subscriptions to McAfee Security Suite and Microsoft Office, and apps like AccuWeather, Evernote, Kindle, and Zinio Reader. There are also many Lenovo-branded apps and tools. Motion Control lets you perform simple tasks, like advancing through a playlist or turning a page with the wave of a hand, using the built-in webcam. Another is Voice Control, which lets you tell the laptop to perform basic functions, or even simply ask it a question. Lenovo has several other apps that take advantage of the different modes the Yoga can take, providing programs fit for Tablet, Laptop, or Tent and Display modes. Lenovo covers the Yoga 2 13 with a one-year warranty on parts and labor.

Performance
Lenovo Yoga 2 13 The Yoga 2 13 is similar in most respects to its sibling, the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro—both are outfitted with an Intel Core i5-4200U processor with 4GB of RAM. The biggest difference (apart from the display) is that the Yoga 2 13 has a 500GB hard drive and 16GB Flash cache, while the more expensive Yoga 2 Pro packs an SSD for better performance. Predictably, the Yoga 2 13 fell short of its premium sibling, but also other convertible hybrids, like the Dell XPS 12, which boasts an Intel Core i7 instead of a Core i5 processor. As such, the Yoga 2 13 scored 3,761 points in PCMark 7, falling behind both the Dell XPS 12 (4,638 points), and the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro (4,685 points). Overall, despite this gap, the Yoga 2 13 still offers good performance for most multimedia tasks, as evidenced by a decent CineBench score (2.50 points) and solid times in our multimedia tests. It finished Handbrake in 1 minute 23 seconds and Photoshop in 5:05.

With Intel's integrated graphics solution—the Intel HD Graphics 4400—the Yoga 2 Pro does reasonably well with all of the standard graphics tasks, but this machine clearly isn't made for gaming.

In our battery rundown test, the Yoga 2 13 lasted 5 hours 5 minutes on a single charge. This is par for the course among its peers; the Dell XPS 12 and the Sony VAIO Flip 15 (SVF15N190X) turned in nearly identical times (5:09 and 5:07, respectively).

Conclusion
All in all, the Lenovo Yoga 2 13 is a solid convertible hybrid laptop with good, but not stellar performance, and it doesn't quite live up to the build quality of past and current Yoga models. The convertible category is hit or miss, so we still haven't nailed down an Editors' Choice, but comparing it against the strongest competitors, namely the Dell XPS 12 and the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro, the Lenovo Yoga 2 13 falls a bit short.


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Apple iTunes 11.2

Pros Improved podcast management. Sleek design. Largest catalog of music and video around. Internet radio with large selection of genres. Excellent Mini Player interface. iCloud integration. Support for 1080p HD movies and TV shows. Wi-Fi syncing for mobile devices. iPhone and iPad app organization.

Cons Large disk space requirements for a media player. Pushes you toward purchases a bit too much. Device Authorization limit can be a problem for people with many devices. No "all-you-can-eat" music subscription service. Bottom Line Apple iTunes is still the mother of all media-player applications, with the biggest music and video store, free Internet radio, and great podcast features.

By Michael Muchmore

Though they may seem like a phenomenon of a decade ago, podcasts are more popular than ever: According to a recent USA Today article, Apple recently surpassed 1 billion subscriptions for podcasts via iTunes—and that's just one podcast client app. Newer players like TuneIn Radio are seeing heavy podcast engagement, too, so it's no wonder that Apple decided to beef up the podcasting feature in iTunes 11.2 (free) the latest iteration of Apple's killer media-player software.

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The previous release of the Swiss army knife of desktop media playing software, iTunes 11.1, also got a feature that goes head to head with TuneIn Radio and the like—iTunes Radio, which also tries to emulate the success of Pandora while leveraging Apple's installed player software. Those are just what's new in this one-stop-shop for all you media enjoyment needs. Read on to learn about the many other ways iTunes can please not only your ears, but also your eyes.

New iTunes Podcast Features
iTunes was already a more-than-competent podcast finder, player, and subscription manager before this update. In iTunes 11.1, Apple added one podcast feature, Podcast Stations—really just a way to organize your podcasts into similar-themed material. You can decide which podcasts to include in a station, set the order of play, how many recent episodes to include, and whether to include video or just audio. It's a convenient, if not momentous feature.

The 11.2 update adds even more conveniences that make podcast consumption and organization that much better. Apple's support page for the iTunes 11.2 update summarizes these podcast improvements as follows:

Quickly find episodes you haven't listened to in the new Unplayed tabBrowse episodes that are available to download or stream in the Feed tabSave your favorite episodes to keep them on your computerEpisodes can now be automatically deleted after you play them

If you keep on top of your podcasts religiously, the All Unplayed tab is a worthwhile feature. But if, like me, you're not a constant podcast listener, you may not like how it dumps all your podcast subscriptions into one list with no way to filter them. The auto-delete feature is actually pretty useful. Why would you want the media file taking up space on your hard drive after you've already played it? You can always re-download it if you really want to listen again. I should note that another music player I've been using lately, MusicBee, has had most of these features for a while, in addition to a helpful podcast directory, but the old standby Windows Media Player and the geek favorite VLC have nowhere near this kind of control over podcast consumption.

At first I missed the new Feed tab in iTunes 11.2, since it's not a main tab of the Podcast view, but a sub-tab of the My Podcasts view. The real point of this new sub-tab is to separate all incoming podcast episodes from the also new Saved and My Episodes sub-tabs. Feed lists all episodes from the podcast, My Episodes omits those you've already played, and Saved, obviously, only includes those you've specifically marked for saving, either with a right-click option or by choosing Save Episode from the arrow menu up top next to the episode name. If all this puzzles you, it may be because you won't see Podcasts in your Library dropdown menu until you've actually found and added a podcast from the iTunes Store search. Give it a shot—podcast listening is better than ever with these new tools.

iTunes Radio
When you first take iTunes up on its offer to try Radio, you'll see featured DJ stations across the top, and a box with a big plus sign in the bottom where you can enter your own favorite artist to start a station a la Pandora. Apple's website claims more than 250 curated stations, but I only saw 24. I started by playing DJ @iTunes: Electronic. At first I was worried that there was no Skip button, but, thankfully, the Fast Forward button next to the Pause button in the player does in fact let you skip. It even tells you how many skips you have left when you start running low. After six skips (that's how many you're allowed within an hour), the Fast Forward button became grayed out.

If you have a $25-a-year iTunes Match subscription, you won't hear any ads interrupting your iTunes Radio listening; that compares well with the $47.88 a year you'd pay for an ad-free Pandora One subscription, which doesn't include the cloud-based music locker of iTunes Match (see below). After disconnecting my Match account from iTunes, I did hear one advertisement, for the iTunes Festival in London—far less obnoxious than Pandora's localized ads, but Apple's just starting in this game. Later, I saw a full-window video ad for a Nissan car.

Pressing the star button next to the pause button shows Radio that you'd like to hear more similar tunes, the skip and star buttons take the place of the explicit thumbs up and thumbs down buttons in Pandora and Rdio. There's no reminder that you've previously liked a song, as you get in Pandora's thumb icon, which turns blue. Of course, there's a priced Buy button right next to the song name in the song info panel. The scrubber appears here, too, but you can't use it to advance or rewind within a song, as you can in Rdio.

iTunes Radio

When you go to create a musician- or song-based station of your own, iTunes actually proposes more genres in a dropdown of thumbnails. Start typing, and you'll see a top hit, then artists, and then songs listed. Once you select the artist or song to base your station on, you'll see a larger album cover and a discreet "Allow Explicit" option button to the right, which you can enable or not, depending on your level of prudery. Clicking on the album cover drops down a colored panel similar to the one iTunes 11 introduced for albums in your library, but for Radio it shows listening history with track info, a buy button, and a share button that generates a link or email.

iTunes Radio Dropdown

The dropdown that shows the Up Next list only shows history—you don't even get to see the next track in order, as you can in Pandora. I was impressed, though, that you could go back and re-play any song in your history. Most Internet radio services only show you the next track in line. Clicking the > that appears next to the song name at the top offers new, radio-relevant choices—New Station from Artist, and New Station from Song. What you don't get is artist information or lyrics, which other services like Slacker offer.

My custom station, based on British electronica group Orbital, cranked out the expected artists—Boards of Canada, Ulrich Schnauss, Aphex Twin. Less-mainstream options such as renaissance choral music and Bix Beiderbecke also engendered some relevant selections, but the library or algorithm played some romantic vocal music on the renaissance channel. I was only mildly impressed with the Apple DJ's electronica selections—they fell short of the excellent SOMAfm Internet radio stations. But the sound quality was all I could have hoped for. In all, iTunes Radio is a feather in iTunes' cap, though it's short of the full subscription service we've long been clamoring for. It's an especially appealing perk for existing Match subscribers.


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Martian Notifier

Pros Reasonable price. Fairly classic design. Many notification options.

Cons Tiny OLED display. Little functionality aside from notifications. Bottom Line The Martian Notifier brings plenty of notifications to a classic wristwatch design, but if you're looking to run apps from your wrist, this isn't the smartwatch for you.

By Alex Colon

What do you want from a smartwatch? It seems that even manufacturers themselves can't agree. Pebble is focused on apps, Basis is all about fitness, and Samsung hits a little bit of everything. Martian's first set of smartwatches, including the Passport, place an emphasis on voice control, letting you issue commands and take calls right from your wrist. Its latest wearable device, the $129 Notifier, is focused almost exclusively on notifications. It combines a fairly classic design with a reasonable price tag, making it a solid entry in the smartwatch category for newbies, though the Pebble is still a better choice overall, especially if you're looking to run apps.

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Design and Setup
I know I'm not in the majority on this, but I think that many of the futuristic-looking wearables devices on the market today are just plain ugly. So while there isn't anything fashion forward about the Notifier, I appreciate its relatively classic design. It features a standard circular face, and simple, easily swappable ribbed silicone straps. The straps are a bit sporty for my taste, but this is currently the closest you can get to a restrained, tasteful smartwatch design (though the upcoming Moto 360 looks promising).

The watch comes in three different colors: black, red, or white. Each features a resin plastic case with a stainless steel bezel. The black model is completely black, the red model has a red band and red face, and the white model has a white band, white face, and silver bezel. I reviewed the black model. Martian also offers a number of colorful replacement straps for $20 apiece, though the Notifier will also work with any 22mm band.

Martian Notifier red

The watch face measures 1.7 inches around and a slightly thick 0.5-inch deep. With the bands attached it weighs 1.92 ounces, which isn't much heavier than my 1.44-ounce Timex Weekender, though the large face makes it hard to forget that there's something on your wrist. As long as the cover to the microUSB charging port in the upper right corner of the watch is closed it's splash-resistant, but not waterproof, so it's probably not the best choice for a day at the beach.

The Notifier uses two batteries. A standard analog watch battery will keep its two hands moving for up to two years, while a rechargeable lithium polymer battery provides up to five days of notifications and other functionality. Since the watch will continue to tell time after the rechargeable battery has died, I'd say the five-day battery life here is easier to work with than watches with a fully digital screen, which will shut down completely once the battery is drained.  

Compatible with both Android and iOS devices, the Notifier connects to iOS devices using Bluetooth 4.0 LE, including the iPhone 4S and newer. For Android devices it uses Bluetooth 3.0, and generally supports devices running Android 2.3.3 (Gingerbread) or higher.

To set the time, simply pull out the button to right of the face and rotate it, just as you would on a traditional watch. Pairing with your phone is pretty easy as well. First download the Martian Notifier app from the Apple App Store or Google Play. Then activate Bluetooth on your device, run the app, and follow the simple on-screen instructions.

Features and Conclusions
Once connected, the Notifier is capable of delivering a number of notifications from your smartphone to a 0.7-inch OLED display at the bottom of the watch face. The one-line display is monochrome and features 96-by-16-pixel resolution. Size-wise, it's about large enough to display two words at once. Text is clear and easy to read, though obviously the low resolution makes it look a bit jagged. Still, I didn't have trouble clearly making out any incoming notifications as they scrolled horizontally across the screen.

Martian Notifier white

You can control which notifications you receive through the app. iPhone users running iOS 7 and above have the ability to receive every notification that is shown in the iPhone's Notification Center. Android users, meanwhile, can receive notifications from any installed app that provides push notifications. 

Martian's app provides an alert filter, which allows you to easily control which notifications make it to the watch. For instance, if you only want to receive incoming text messages, you can do that. But if you want to see pretty much everything, you can do that too. Better yet, Martian allows you to set customized vibration patterns for incoming notifications, so you'll have an idea of what it is without looking at your wrist. You can create a sequence that uses four lines of vibration, in which you can receive short or long vibrations, or a pause. You're essentially creating a Morse code for your wrist, and it works surprisingly well. For quick control, tapping the watch glass allows you dismiss incoming notifications, or recall the most recent notification you received in the last five minutes. 

In addition to notifications, the Notifier has a few other functions. There are two buttons on the left side of the watch face. The top button launches voice commands on your connected phone (and also dismisses them in iOS). You'll still need your phone nearby in order for it to hear your command, so I found this feature fairly useless. The top button also scrolls your notifications history forward, and accepts changes made in the phone's menu, which you can access with the bottom button.

The phone's on-screen menu gives you a few additional options, like activating an ineffective flashlight right above the display. It also allows you to enter Camera Mode, in which you can use the watch as a remote trigger for your smartphone camera, which is a bit more useful. A Leash mode will cause the watch to vibrate if you go out of range of your paired phone, and a Find Phone option will trigger an alarm to sound on your connected phone, even if the volume is turned off. In general, I was able to move about 30 feet away from my phone before losing connection, which is standard range for Bluetooth.  

If you want to dip your toe into the smartwatch waters, and you aren't looking for much more than notifications, the Martian Notifier is a solid choice. It's definitely a much better value than the Martian Passport, which costs more than twice as much, and really only adds an ineffective speakerphone option. If you want more, though, like apps, and you don't mind a bulky digital screen, the Pebble and our current Editors' Choice smartwatch, the Pebble Steel are better bets, as they offer the largest selection of high-quality watch apps available. The Samsung Gear 2 Neo is also a decent choice, but is only compatible with a limited number of Samsung devices.  


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