Retina MacBook Pro Dents and Scratches Easily

I received my new Retina MacBook Pro last month. I couldn't wait. It was all sup'd- up with a 750GB internal Flash drive, the highest clocked processor and the biggest RAM install I could get.

When it came, it didn't disappoint.

Until, I noticed the first dent. Then, another. And, another.

It seems that the aluminium shell isn't very tough - despite how it looks. I don't know how I scratched and dented mine - only that they appeared within days of using the laptop. I suspect that it's edges are too sharp and, therefore, extremely susceptible to being shaved off by anything they come in contact with - like tabletops and other assorted objects that it can knock against.

I searched around for some (inexpensive) way of protecting it. There were a number of sticker/decal solutions, which didn't sound particularly long-lasting. I was hoping to find a nice clear, gel suit to go around it. No such luck.

While I was searching, I noticed that I was not the only one with tales of woe. Many people were denting and scratching their MacBook Pro, too. Mysteriously, they didn't know how these blemishes came about either.

In the end, I went with the i-blazon Shell Case. It cost me $30 on Amazon Prime and arrived the next day.

I am extremely glad with this purchase. It's an ultra thin, matte black finish shell that comes in two pieces. One, slips over the top of the MacBook - the other, on the bottom.

It's very snug and doesn't add any noticeable weight or bulk. It's cut just right in order to allow all my ports to peek out, so I can access them.

As for the MacBook Pro itself... well, I'm still very happy with it. It's much faster than my MacBook Air ever was - and, even faster than my Quad-core desktop. Most of my applications look fantastic on the Retina display with one or two exceptions. Looking at a regular display afterwards does, well, look a bit fuzzy... so, it's going to be an upgrade that may start to irritate you until you upgrade your iPad to the 3rd version... and all your other non-Retina equipment!

I also bought a Buffalo 1TB Thunderbolt drive. I can't say that the difference in speed is blazing - except watching Blu-Ray movies from it. However, Time Machine is much happier for it. Now, my machine backs up very quickly.

Where to Buy:

BUY i-Blason Matte Shell for Retina MacBook Air from Amazon USA

Battle of the iPad Keyboards – Logitech Ultrathin & Zagg compared [Review]

When it comes to iPad keyboards, I just can't get enough of them. I currently own five different models. Each has its own idiosyncrasies. And, yet, I still have not found the perfect balance of weight, layout and functionality. Nevertheless, things are definitely getting better.

My most recent acquisitions were two from Logitech: the Ultrathin (for iPad 3) and the Fold-Up keyboard. Oh - and, yes - I purchased another ZaggFolio keyboard for my new iPad 3. Here, then, is what I have found after using all of them for the past couple of months...

The Logitech Ultrathin Cover for iPad 2/3

This is definitely the sleekest and sexiest of the bunch. Even though it's only a few microns thicker than the Zagg, it feels (and looks) thinner. That's probably on account of the aerodynamic metal finish. It's marketed as a keyboard cover, because that's exactly what it is - a cover for your iPad (that is an exact match in regards to metallic finish) that, also, happens to be a keyboard.

On the plus side, it looks great. It feels great. And, it's the lightest of the bunch. The keyboard is responsive, syncs fast on bluetooth and lasts up to six months on a single charge (when used roughly 2 hours a day). There's a lot to like about it.

And, yet, it's not perfect. Why? Well, first of all, the quality of the keyboard isn't as good as the Zagg, so I find myself mistyping and missing the Zagg layout. It feels a little less comfortable and more cramped. We're talking only a few millimetres, here, but - quite frankly - when space is a premium, every millimetre counts.

Because it's a cover, it's also a bit awkward. If you want to separate your iPad from it - it's very easy to do. The cover attaches to the iPad magnetically - like Apple's own covers. So, you can easily detach it by pulling the keyboard away from the iPad and apart. But this means you're left with two pieces of equipment. Sadly, the keyboard cover cannot be folded backwards (or, rolled up, like the Apple cover) and put out of the way. If you don't want it flapping off the side of your iPad, you're going to have to pull the two pieces apart. Which means that you'll have it sitting on your lap, or something. Not very elegant.

You are also forced to pull the cover apart from the iPad anyways when you want to use it as a keyboard. The iPad must be separated and then popped into the middle groove of the keyboard (which is also magnetic). The iPad is heavier than the keyboard, so it feels a bit top-heavy. It hasn't fallen out of my lap and onto the floor yet but it feels precarious.

Otherwise, it's a fantastic piece of kit and has the smallest footprint of any keyboard I've used.

Logitech Fold-Up Keyboard

Despite the fact that it's only supposed to be for the iPad 2, I can confirm that it fits the newer generation iPad 3 - but it's a tight squeeze. You have to force the prongs to close around it - but it works.

Unfortunately, it's not a cover. So, the front of your iPad is left exposed. You can use it in conjunction with an Apple, magnetic iPad cover, however.

The biggest problem with this keyboard is its bulk. Your iPad feels noticeably heavier and starts to feel as if you're lugging around a Macbook Air. Not that the Air is heavy, mind you, but you might begin to wonder why you don't just carry around an ultraportable notebook, instead.

The keyboard does give your hands extra real-estate for typing, which is nice. However, this is offset by the fact that the iPad no longer sits comfortably in your lap and using it to work in cramped conditions - such as airplane tray tables, back of a taxi, on the metro, etc - will be a less than pleasant experience. You have to do an awkward butterfly, origami move in order to get it to open. It's well-machined, so this isn't difficult, but it means that it takes a couple of steps to pop the keyboard open and orient the iPad towards you for typing. This is fussy when you're in a hurry. On the plus side, though, you can use your iPad on the go while standing up, because the keyboard is behind the iPad and doesn't need to be moved away during use. However, the keyboard isn't that fantastic, so when you do use it, you wonder if it really is all that amazing of an upgrade. Frankly, I found myself missing my Zagg.

ZaggFolio Keyboard for iPad 3

The ZaggFolio is still the best compromise between form and function, in my humble opinion. When you purchase the product direct from Zagg, you are able to customise the components. For example, you can buy a black or silver keyboard to go into a fake croccodile case (or, whatever design strikes your fancy). This way, you can mix and match components.

But this isn't what makes the ZaggFolio such a great piece of kit. The keyboard has a very nice response. It's also not to small as to be unusable and but not too big as to be unwieldy in tight spaces.

Another thing that I appreciate about the Zagg is that it acts like a cover but can be folded behind the unit when you want to use your iPad standing up (and driven by your finger). When folded behind - accordion style - you are able to hold onto the fold in the cover material, so you can get a good grip on it. This makes it extremely useful on the go. Whether you are sitting down, or standing up, you can whip out your iPad and make the most of it.

The only gripe I have with the cover is that it doesn't always put the iPad to sleep when it closes. I sometimes have to massage the cover latch when it's closed, until I hear the iPad 'click' and confirm that it's asleep. One time, I didn't do this and found that my iPad had been on for five hours in a row and that the battery was nearly dead. This is an unfortunate design flaw, in my opinion.

Despite the ZaggFolio's shortcomings, I find it to be the best protected and versatile keyboard case on the market. I use it when I'm traveling. Otherwise, for home to office, I use the Logitech Ultrathin cover keyboard, because it keeps the weight down and is so sleek.

 

Octava HDMI + IR HDMI over CAT 5/6 Extender [REVIEW]

The problem with writing reviews about products you love is that you can jinx them. At least that's what I discovered after covering the CYP Puma PU-106/107. I had used a pair of these to run HDMI video over a single CAT6 cable. However, after six weeks they died on me. I bought the CYP 108 and, then, after a couple of months, it died on me, too.

So, suffice to say, I think that the CYP have quality control issues. But I needed to find a solution, because I had a cable TV installation that I needed to transmit to a basement and there was no way that I'd be able to drop a suitable BNC cable down there. In fact, I learnt a lot more about cable and satellite than I ever wanted to. It seems that CAT6 cannot support the signal bandwidth required to transmit what comes down a cable/satellite cable from the street/roof. Consequently, there is no such thing as a transceiver for this signal over CAT6. So, I was back to square one. I needed an HDMI to CAT6 transmitter/receiver kit, if I had any hope of getting video from my cable installation down there.

After doing some research, I went with the Octava CAT5/6 extender. One of the reasons I chose it in the end is that it uses 2 CAT5/6 cables instead of one. This may sound like a step backwards but, frankly, HDMI is really fiddly and you increase your problems when you try to get it down a single CAT5/6 cable. One reason for this is that the signal becomes more susceptible to problems the longer your cable is. And, if you terminate your cables into punch-down blocks before connecting them to your equipment with additional leads, then you compound the problem. At the end of the day, you can increase the length of your run and get away with lesser quality cable if you use two instead of one.

I've been using the Octava for over a month and so far so good. It isn't completely trouble-free. The other day, there was snow on the TV and intermittent picture and sound problems. I went to the transmitter, pulled out the power cable, waited five seconds and then put the power back in. The problem went away. Not the end of the world but somewhat irritating.

I guess that, for the time being, there really isn't a trouble-free solution. Nevertheless, if you have a similar situation to mine, you don't have a choice. I'll keep you posted if I have any problems but, for now, I'd recommend you put your money on Octava - rather than CYP.

One handy thing about the Octava - as opposed to the CYP hardware - is that it only needs power at the transmitter end. The receiver gets power from the CAT5/6 cables that you are using. This removes the need to plug it into the wall where the TV is.

Is this the Smallest USB Flash Storage Device? Freecom DataBar XXS [REVIEW]

Freecom DataBar XXS

As much as I love living in the cloud, there are those inevitable moments when you need to move a large file between two machines - aka 'SneakerNet'. Having a USB Flash Memory device on demand is great.

I've been a big fan of the LaCie Iamakey. It fits on your keychain and even looks like a key! So, it's always there whenever you need it.

But, in my never-ending quest to find the smallest, lightest, most mission-critical devices for the urban nomad, I couldn't stop there. Which is why - when I saw the DataBar XXS from Freecom, I knew I had to buy one.

There are a couple of DataBar products from Freecom: the standard DataBar and the DataBar XXS. I have both. But my favourite is the XXS. The reason being that it's so incredibly small, light and durable that it fits well with my lifestyle.

Freecom DataBar (Standard)

As you can see from the picture (below), the XXS is way smaller than the Imakey. In fact, it feels like one of those tiny half-sized, lego pieces. The construction is durable and I've been hammering it on the road for the past couple of months. The contacts are exposed in the XXS, unlike the standard DataBar (where they are covered by a sleeve and can be pushed to 'pop' out). However, I haven't noticed any problem with this. They haven't worn down and the USB stick still works as new.

Without having a catalogue of every Flash memory USB in existence, I cannot put hand on heart and say, unequivocally, that this is the smallest USB memory stick out there. But it certainly is the smallest I've ever seen.

Where to Buy:
Freecom Databar XXS from Amazon (USA)
Freecom Databar XXS from Amazon (UK)
Freecom Databar (standard) from Amazon (USA)
Freecom Databar (standard) from Amazon (UK)
 


Freecom SilverStore2 NAS – Network Attached Storage Device [REVIEW]

Freecom SilverStore 2 NAS

I've been a major fan of ReadNAS for many years now, so when I received this demo unit from Freecom - The SilverStore2- I knew it had a lot to live up to. Rather than give you a long and drawn out review like so many other people do, let me try to keep this short and sweet.

Build-Quality

The Silverstore is well-built. It feels solid and the plastic parts are durable. The drives, however, are incredibly hard to remove. At first I thought I would snap the plastic lever off of the carrier just trying to remove them, because I had to use so much force but, eventually, they popped out.

Noise

This is an incredibly quiet drive. I've had it sitting next to me for nearly two months and I never notice it.

Ease-of-Use

The NAS has a simple Webserver built-in, so you can access its settings via a browser. To configure it for the very first time, however, you'll need to install some software on your Windows or Mac machine. I've included some photos of the Webserver interface, so you can see some of the features on offer.

System Overview
Advanced Settings

The interface design is clean, simple and not too difficult to navigate, although I didn't find the sections labeled in the most intuitive manner. If you spend some time away from the admin pages, you'll have to re-acquaint yourself where all the settings are. Unfortunately, interface design is not something that gets tremendous priority by hardware designers. Sometimes you feel as if it was designed by an electronic engineer than by a designer who has market-tested their UI.

Overall, I would say that the UI is pitched at the consumer, as opposed to the prosumer. Primary users will be home users, photographers, graphic artists and people who generally do not like to spend hours configuring, tweaking and optimising.

Storage Settings
Network Settings
Media Services

I did have a few glitches with the admin client. Sometimes I received errors that pages were not available. I suspect that the Webserver built into the SilverStore is either a bit buggy or underpowered. Usually this problem solved itself by waiting a few minutes and trying again, or refreshing the browser.

The Dreaded Error Screen

Functionality

This is a solid but no-frills device. It includes an iTunes music server and the ability to stream photo and video content to compatible UPnP media players (such as the XBox, see above).

I say 'no-frills' because - unlike the ReadyNAS - there isn't a vibrant community of modders creating plug-ins. This probably won't affect most people but for those who love to choose which bittorrent server they want to use, or who like to run all sorts of Linux services on top of their NAS device... then the Freecom SilverStore isn't going to be for you.

I suspect that this isn't really going to disappoint the majority of users out there. However, there was one service that I love and missed in the Freecom and that's the Logitech Media Server (previously known as Squeezeserver). For those of you who don't know what this is, you probably won't care. But for those of us with massive music libraries that we wish to distribute around our house, over the Web and on our iOS devices... the Logitech Media Server is a game-changer. And it runs as a service on top of the ReadyNAS. I really wish that the Freecom device supported it.

Apple users will be pleased to note that the SilverStore2 does support Time Machine backups.

There is a USB 3.0 port on the front, so you can do backups from and to a USB-attached hard drive at higher speeds than the norm.

Speed

This isn't the fastest NAS out there, so you won't be doing any video editing from this device. It's better for backups.

In Summary

This is a very solid and reliable NAS box. It's well-machined and simple to use. The Web interface is buggy but uncomplicated... but not as nicely laid out as it could be. The box is quiet and worked flawlessly during the few months that I've been using it. It may not be as fast as a directly connected RAID disk but it gives you most of the advantages of a networked attached storage device in that it's relatively portable, can be shared amongst users and is a good way to safeguard your data.

It doesn't offer much extendability in terms of mods, hacks or plugins - but that may be a bonus for most consumers and small-business users, who prefer simplicity over feature-set.

The SilverStore 2 is sold with or without hard drives installed, so make sure you get what you want when shopping!

Where to Buy:
Amazon UK
Amazon USA
DABS.com


iPad HardDrives [REVIEW] – Hyperdrive vs. Wi-Drive

Kingston Wi-Drive

[May 2012 UPDATE: Check out the Airstash - our current favourite!]

There are a number of hard drive for iPad solutions in the market, notably the Hypershop Hyperdrive, the Seagate GoFlex Satellite and the Kingston Wi-Drive. In this article, we take a look at two iPad harddrives: the Hyperdrive and the Wi-Drive and find ourselves preferring the Wi-Drive.

Before the Christmas holidays, I treated myself to my stocking stuffers early and packed a Hypershop Hyperdrive and a Kingston Wi-Drive to take with me on the road. Both products position themselves as the best external hard drives for the iPad but I discovered this not to be the case. To make a long story short, the Hyperdrive was HyperCRAP and the Kingston Wi-Drive was very capable. Here's why.

A Little Place for All my Crap

I have a 64GB 3G iPad 2 but it fills up pretty quickly. When I add up music, photos, app data, magazines, newspapers and periodicals, there isn't much left over for movies and television. When I go on a vacation or a business trip, I like to catch up on movies and TV episodes and the iPad is my preferred method of viewing.

I also carry an Apple TV with me. It's the size of a hockey puck and fits easily in my carry-on. I like to connect it to my hotel flat screen TV via HDMI. Thanks to Airplay, I can push anything that's on my iPad (or iPhone) directly to it and have it play on the big screen TV. That is, unless the hotel in-room entertainment system doesn't prevent you from changing the source input on the TV. More on this in another article.

It's nice to know that Apple's iCloud allows you to download whatever you want when you want… so long as you have an Internet connection. This isn't always the case - especially on most long-haul flights, busses, trains, or anywhere without inexpensive WiFi access. And, even if you are somewhere with WiFi - that's no guarantee. I recently stayed at someone's house in Silicon Valley and they only had 3Mbps Broadband! Can you believe it? The epicentre of the IT world yet stuck in a 90's modem-speed time warp. When I rented an HD movie from Apple TV, it said it would be ready to play in 90 minutes instead of 5 seconds!

Most TV episodes are about 270MB but movies can be anywhere from 700MB to 4GB, depending upon their quality/compression settings. I usually cannot store more than 8 movies on my iPad at any given time, because of all my other data. But I want to have all of my content with me at all times;  I never know what I'll be in the mood for watching. If you have kids, you'll probably want a big catalog of classics and favourites that you can play whenever required. For this reason an iPad harddrive makes a lot of sense.

Hyperdrive vs. Wi-Drive

Battery Power

Both devices offer self-powered storage, which is essential given that the iPad cannot supply power over USB to most devices save flash memory. This means you must keep these hard drives fully recharged before you hit the road. The Hypershop battery lasted me the entire trip without needing a recharge, because you only need it to use it to transfer files to your iPad. Otherwise, it sits idle and dormant. However, it comes with a special USB charging cable, which I promptly lost and, subsequently, am unable to recharge it anymore.

The Kingston Wi-Drive is a solid-state flash drive, which is power-friendly but the unit is in constant use, because it streams content to your iPad over WiFi. This means that you cannot use it for more than 4 hours at a time before having to recharge it. Sadly, it cannot recharge while it's in operation, so you have to finish using it first.

Connectivity

The Hyperdrive uses the Apple Connection Kit to connect directly to the iPad via USB. I bought the Hyperdrive enclosure and added my own 1TB hard drive, which was relatively painless. You then have to transfer your files to the iPad before you can use them.

The Kingston Wi-Drive connects to the iPad over WiFi, so it doesn't use any cables. First, you change your iPad WiFi settings to connect directly to the WiFi SSID of the Wi-Drive. Then, you use a special iPad App from Kingston to browse and play files on your Wi-Drive. You can even set up the Wi-Drive to connect to the local WiFi network (if there is one), so that it can act as a router for your iPad. This will enable it to offer Internet pass-through to your iPad, so that you aren't cut off from the Web while connected to the Wi-Drive's WiFi.

The Kingston Wi-Drive doesn't transfer files to the iPad. Instead, it streams them on-demand to the iPad through it's special audio/visual player App. The App is pretty simple and up to three devices can access the Wi-Drive at once, so it acts as a small but limited media hub. Their promotional materials often depict a family in a car all watching their favourite shows on their personal devices from the Wi-Drive. This makes sense, because the 4 hour battery life of the Wi-Drive limits how much time you can spend watching content.

Useability

Before I set off on my trip, I figured this wouldn't be much of a competition. My Hyperdrive had 1TB, compared to the Wi-Drive's puny 32GB. Since the Hyperdrive connected directly to the iPad, I imagined it would be more stable and reliable than a WiFi connection - especially when it came to 'importing' content versus 'streaming'. How wrong I was.

The Kingston Wi-Drive trumped the Hyperdrive in so many ways that I hesitate to recommend the Hyperdrive to anyone.

The Hyperdrive was buggy and unreliable. When I first loaded it with content, it kept crashing my iPad once it was connected to it. I spoke to Hyperdrive's tech support who gave me some pointers but, in the end, I simply filled it with photos first, before adding any video. It was happier with photos but still caused the iPad to reboot periodically.

The second major problem with the Hyperdrive is that it relies upon the iPad's built-in Photo App to access the content on the Hyperdrive. This means that all of your content will appear as stamp-sized icons without any filenames. This isn't a problem for photos but for video it's a nightmare. It defaults to using a random frame towards the beginning of the video file as the icon image - which for ripped movies tends to be credits. All I ended up with were black icons showing me the runtime of the video but without any filenames, I couldn't figure out which movie it was. Plus, I couldn't preview the movie, either, to help me figure it out. I needed to import the movie to the iPad in order to check it out.

You can create folders and put movies into folders, so you can navigate the content that way but it's very clumsy. It's also counterintuitive. To navigate within a folder you must 'import selected items'. Then do the same again to the sub-folder… and so on. Finally, you import the items that you want. And if the movie file is big, this import process can take awhile; long enough to make a cup of tea.

By contrast, the Kingston Wi-Drive uses a special Wi-Drive App in order to browse the files on the drive. The filenames are visible, so it's easy to know what is what. Because audio/video files are 'streamed' to the iPad, you don't have to wait for them to 'import'.

The Wi-Drive is very portable, sleek and an elegant. It only takes around 10-15 seconds to cold boot and it's ready. I'm happy to say that all the content that I put onto it played without any problems - so long as it was already pre-formatted for iPad support. This included iTunes movies that I had purchased.

Unfortunately, this DID NOT work with iTunes movie rentals. I presume this has something to do with the copyright protection mechanism that Apple has imposed. The Wi-Drive does not seem to be able to handle these rentals. I wish this wasn't the case, as I would have loved to have rented lots of movies and TV that I could offload to the Wi-Drive without cluttering my iPad. This problem doesn't crop up with the Hyperdrive, because it actually transfers the movie file to the iPad, which can handle the behind-the-scenes licensing negotiations. However, I rarely got the Hyperdrive to work consistently enough to test this on a regular basis.

Initially, I figured it wouldn't be much of a competition. I had installed a 1TB hard drive into the Hyperdrive casing and thought very little of the Wi-Drive's puny 32GB storage ceiling. But, at the end of the day, the Kingston came out trumps because of its user interface, software support and other intangibles that are far more important than storage size alone.

Conclusion

Why is the Kingston Wi-Drive superior? Primarily it comes down to the Wi-Drive iPad App that allows you to easily browse, open or play the audio, visual, or document files that you choose to store on the hard drive. The Wi-Drive itself is well-made, small and light-weight. It's a nice bonus that you can share content amongst three people at once.

The Hyperdrive, by contrast, does not have an app and, so, the files must be imported via the iPad's default Photo App. Unfortunately, this is buggy, slow and confusing. When the iPad isn't crashing, you'll be unable to figure out what content is what - with the exception of photos. It uses a proprietary USB recharging cable which, when lost, puts you in a bind. You might want to consider it if your primary use will be to store photos but it's terrible for videos.

However, the Kingston Wi-Drive isn't without its faults, either. For one, it has only 32GB of storage. Frankly, this only holds a handful of movies (in my case, I had about 11). This means you must load up the drive with only what you think you will need for the foreseeable short-term future. It's not a long-term video-on-demand solution for all your family's movies. Also, we'd appreciate it if the Wi-Drive App could handle Apple's copy protection process in order to allow us to watch movies that we'd rented from iTunes.

[EDITOR NOTE: We actually came across the AirStash recently and think it's the best WiFi Drive solution on the market]

Other Resources

Here's a great comparison of the Wi-Drive to the Seagate GoFlex (which is similar in principle to the Hyperdrive) via AnandTech

Where to Buy

Kingston Wi-Drive 32 GB - Buy from Amazon.com Buy from Amazon.co.uk
HyperDrive 1 TB Hard Drive for iPad/iPad 2 - Buy from Amazon.com - Buy from Amazon.co.uk

Forget Red Bull – This low calorie energy drink without caffeine kicks some serious backside! [REVIEW]

When I lived in Japan - long before Red Bull came along - I used to stand in line with the salarymen every morning at the drinks machine on the station platform and hammer home an energy drink. They came in wonderfully small screw cap bottles and had a semi-official medical look to them punctuated by tall claims and colourful graphics.

The truth is, Japan has been in the energy drink business for a long time. And with ferocious market competition, they have found a variety of very effective health energy drinks that don't use caffeine and taurine (like Red Bull) to make you think you're feeling good. They actually make you feel better.

For many, health energy drinks are used as hangover cures. Sure, they work that way, too. But they also give you a nice, power high that's more profound (and, probably, healthy) than caffeine.

I've noticed that Amazon has started offering a few energy drinks and sports drinks from Japan. Now's a great time to pick up some and experiment.

Ukon Energy Drink

Ukon Energy Drink

Like many health energy drinks, this one comes with vitamins - E and B to be exact. These are good for anti-stress. But the main active ingredient here is Turmeric, which is used as a detoxifier and is supposed to have a wealth of health benefits. It also has liver detox agents, which is probably why it feels so good after a heavy night of drinking.

The other great thing about this product is that it's a low calorie energy drink - only 30 calories per bottle - and an energy drink without caffeine (so you won't get the jitters).

Taste-wise it's a bit like cough syrup but less gloomy. Personally, I find it refreshing.

Pocari Sweat Sports Drink (Powder)

Pocari Sweat

When I first arrived in Japan - like many - I was bedazzled and bewildered. Often, very gullible. Somebody told me that 'Pocari' was a famous sumo wrestler. Given that there were vending machines with used girls' panties, I was inclined to believe this urban myth. Well - it's not true.

Pocari Sweat isn't, in fact, an energy drink. But since we're on the subject, I thought it was worth including, because after you drink the energy drink - Pocari Sweat makes an exceedingly good chaser.

It's a sports drink. Which is to say, that it has electrolytes that help replenish the body after it has exerted itself (sweated a lot). I really like the taste of Pocari Sweat. It's clean, fresh and has a hint of sweet grapefruit. On a hot and steamy day, this is far more refreshing than a coca-cola or Gatorade. In fact, Gatorade tastes to me like it belongs in the car radiator. It's far too sweet and chemical tasting. Pocari Sweat, on the other hand, is light and floral.

Japanese Energy Drinks on display

Where to Buy energy drinks:
Ukon Energy Drink from Amazon USA
Pokari Sweat Powder from Amazon USA
Pokari Sweat Drink from Amazon USA

Freecom Mobile Mg USB 3.0 Hard Disk Drive [REVIEW]

Freecom Mobile Mg USB 3.0 Hard Drive

USB 3.0 External Hard Drives are starting to pop up more and more now that Microsoft and others are standardising on the USB 3.0 Hard Drive interface. Here's a really slick looking drive from Freecom (Mobile Mg) that comes in a magnesium case echoing the style of a MacBook. Not only does it have a USB 3.0 hard drive interface but it feels feather-weight in your hands.

Here's an unboxing:

Freecom Mobile Mg

Freecom Mobile Mg Hard Drive

The magnesium casing gives the drive a pleasant feeling in your hand - smooth, sleek and pleasant aesthetic. Unfortunately, it scratches. I've had the drive for a month and already some of the exterior shine has worn away in a few places on the bottom of the unit.

The USB 3.0 hard drive interface is either a pain in the behind, or a boon - depending upon your computing equipment. For MacBook Air users like me, it's a pain. It would have been much better as a Thunderbolt hard drive that also came with a USB interface for backwards compatibility. As it is, I cannot use the full 3.0 USB spec of the interface. Plus, I have to carry around an extra cable that is harder to find (USB 2.0 on one end and a USB 3.0 compatible connector on the other). Given that I already have a lot of different USB cables (mini, micro, A, B, etc)... I am unhappy about this. There are rumours, though, of Apple upgrading the MacBooks to include a USB 3.0 port. We'll have to wait and see.

If you do have a USB 3.0 interface, which is likely to become the norm on Windows devices, then you'll be excited to get the full speed that the drive will allow without it being throttled by 2.0.

Bear in mind, however, that the actual drive inside the casing is a Hitachi 5400 rpm drive - which is somewhat slow to begin with. This helps when it comes to power management but doesn't offer the blistering speeds you might come to expect. Still, the USB 3.0 hard drive interface means that you might manage to get the 80MB/s transfer rates that you'd expect.

I've been a fan of Freecom when it comes to size. Check out our Portable Hard Drives - size comparison [VIDEO] and our posting: Hard Core Hard Drives - Best Portable External Hard Drives and Storage Solutions.

In terms of relative size, the Freecom XXS is still smaller than the Mg but the Mg is much more stylish. The Mg feels a bit longer than the XXS in your hand.

If you asked me which I preferred, it would be a tough call. I like the fact that the XXS is the smallest and has a rubber, non-slip casing. I'm often perching my hard drive on the edge of a seat tray, or train table, etc. Having it grip the surface has been very useful to me. It also comes in a 1TB model.

The Mg looks sleek, has a faster interface, is better protected than the XXS and actually feels lighter - although it isn't. Perception-wise, it's more stylish and a pleasure to handle. It does have four non-slip, rubber stubs (feet) on the bottom to give it some grip. It only goes up to 750GB at present. Although, there is a model that includes both a USB and Firewire interface.

If size (physical/storage) is your main concern, go with the XXS. If performance (and Firewire) matters most, go with the Mobile Mg.

If you can't decide... get both. You'll probably need the extra storage anyways!

Perhaps it's time, now, for a Thunderbolt version??

RocketU Quad USB 3.0 for Mac

If you've got a Mac Desktop computer and want to make use of your USB 3.0 hard drives, check out this product from Highpoint - RocketU Quad USB 3.0 for MacOS. That's four USB 3.0 ports from one PCI-E slot.

Where to Buy:
Direct from Freecom
Amazon UK

AVPlayerHD – Play Any Video on your iPad [REVIEW]

AVPlayerHD for iPad

Apple likes to keep things simple, right? "It just works..." - That was Steve Jobs' mantra at the last MacExpo. Unfortunately, simple is not always equal to "convenient".

For instance, take video. It's really annoying that the iOS only supports a limited type of video file formats. Everything that you want to play on your iPad or iPhone has to be just so...correct codec... otherwise "it just doesn't work"... In my humble experience.

I really don't want to spend the last few hours of the evening before a flight transcoding all the videos that I want to watch on my trip to the special iOS format. It's a waste of my time.

I had to play a video recently for a presentation and ended up downloading three iOS Apps: CineXPlayer, Movie Player and AVPlayerHD. Well, the first two didn't cut the mustard, so to speak. They either bombed, stuttered, or crashed.

AVPlayerHD on the other hand worked.

Intrigued, I threw lots of different file formats at it: WMV, AVI, Quicktime formats... no problem.

In fact, I think it's safe to say that AVPlayerHD is the VLC of iOS. Well, not entirely... it's not free. But, otherwise, it handled everything that I've thrown at it so far. It's never jittered, jived, bombed or dived.

You have to transfer video files directly to the App via iTunes, which is a bit of a pain - at least until iTunes is WiFi syncable and iCloud compatible... but it's a small price to pay in the scheme of things for the convenience.

All in all, I have to give it a happy thumbs-up. This is a truly dependable video player for the iPad.

Where to Buy:
iTunes USA - AVPlayerHD for iPad... and for iPhone.
iTunes UK - AVPlayerHD for iPad... and iPhone.

Bodum Bistro Coffee Grinder [REVIEW]

Bodum Bistro Coffee Grinder

Before I ground my own coffee, I used to assume it was a nuisance; an extra step between me and my caffeine that I didn't need. I went for convenience, bought my coffee pre-ground and stored it in the fridge.

Since then, I've learnt the error of my ways. Storing whole beans is a whole lot easier. They can happily keep for a couple of months (or more, probably, but I usually drink them by then) and don't have to be kept in special sealed containers, or the fridge, or some ridiculously expensive container like the sossbox. Just put them in the cupboard and they'll be fine.

As for grinders, you are spoilt for choice. Electrical coffee grinders are cheap, convenient and very little hassle. Personally, I like the Bodum products, because they are stylish. And with their Bodum Bistro Coffee Grinder range, they now come in a small rainbow of colours to make your day that much more enervating.

Let's be honest - a grinder is a grinder. Judging from the Amazon reviews of this product, you'd think that people were preparing for their Barista exam! No, this is not a professional grade grinder. Yes, it does the job perfectly well in the home for non-commercial use.

The blade isn't sharp like a knife. But it doesn't need to be, because it revolves around fast enough to chop and blend. Just hold down the button on the top to engage the motor. Need finer coffee? Then, hold it for longer. Coarse coffee? Hold it down less. It's very simple. With a little practice, you'll get the exact coffee grind you desire for caffetiere, stove top espresso or any other contraption you want to put your grinds into.

In terms of negative comments, people focus on the cord length and the difficulty in cleaning. First off, the cord is short. Yes - but it's designed to coil into the bottom for storage, so it's a trade-off. Frankly, how long a cord do you need? It's currently 6 inches and that pretty much allows you to plug it into a power outlet near to your work surface. If that doesn't work for you, then buy an extension cable. Sorted. I'm including this product in my travel intelligence blog, because it's small enough to pack and the fact that the cable can be neatly stored in the bottom of the unit makes it very smart for travel.

Next gripe - cleaning. You cannot immerse this thing in water, so don't clean it in the sink. You need to get a paper towel and brush the grinds out by hand. Big whoopee. It doesn't take long to do and as long as you haven't got anything moist, then it cleans pretty completely.

As an added bonus, if you are the type of person that likes to blend spices... the blade is set close to the bottom, so it will grind small amounts of spice at a time.

[UPDATE: The lifespan of this grinder is about 8 - 12 months with heavy use. Be forewarned that it isn't fixable, either. What happens is that the blade becomes loose and there is no way to tighten it. If you want a longer-lasting grinder, then pay the price to get something more serious]

Colour coordinate with your kitchen

Pick a colour to suit your mood!

Where to Buy:
Amazon USA
Amazon UK