Terrapin Leather Case for Samsung Galaxy S6 [review]

Samsung Galaxy S6 - red leather wallet style caseI have to be completely honest; my phone is the one accessory and gadget that I always have with me. No matter whether I am leaving the house for 5 minutes, 5 hours or 5 days, my phone is with me. Although my husband loves his many and varied gadgets, for me it’s all about my phone. New discoveries come and go, but the phone is the one luxury I don’t mind spending a little extra money on.

Since I see it as such a necessity and since I have been known to be a little clumsy in the past, a pretty but functional phone case is an essential. Terrapin Accessories offered me the chance to try out one of their cases, and I chose  a red leather wallet type case.

I have tried a few different styles over the years, and I have grown to love the wallet type. I feel this give the phone protection from the general bashes and bumps that I subject it to during a normal busy day. Immediately when I opened up this phone case I realised that it was a far superior quality to what I normally use on my phone. It felt soft, yet the case seemed very sturdy. My S6 easily fitted snugly and securely into the plastic holder in the case. A lot of cases I have used recently have had a more flexible holder but this was a more rigid plastic. It was still easy to slip the phone in, though, and it was obvious that it had been measured to perfection.

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Codemaster: Learning programming via board game

I think it’s important to teach children to program computers; as the world becomes increasingly reliant on technology the ability to make that technology do what you want is going to be a useful skill. There are so many ways to teach programming it’s unreal, and this one seems interesting: a board game designed to teach you to think like a programmer.

Codemaster Board Game The game consists of a series of puzzles where the aim is to move an avatar to a portal, picking crystals up along the way. The board itself is a matrix of coloured paths, and you complete the puzzle by selecting a sequence of coloured tokens matching the colours of the paths. If you get to the end of your sequence (or “program”) and you are either not at the portal or crystals still remain on the board, you need to rethink the program and start again.
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Terrapin Leather Case for iPhone SE [Review]

Terrapin Leather Case for iPhone SEYou don’t need me to remind you how much I love my gadgets; if you’ve been reading Geek-Speak for any length of time you’ll know that already! You may also know that I like my gadgets “naked”, without a cover or case. I think the design of technology these days has progressed to the point where gadgets look good on their own, not as if they’re there purely to fulfil a function.

When you drop a “naked” device, though, things can go really wrong really quickly. No cover means no protection and, since I’m not made of money, I can’t really afford to keep breaking things just because I don’t want to spoil the way they look.

Because I still want my gadgets to look good, I spend quite a bit of time choosing covers and cases, so when I was contacted by the people at Terrapin Accessories to see if I would like to review one of their cases, I spent quite a while looking through the range before deciding on the one I’d like to try. I finally settled on a leather wallet case for my iPhone 5S (which, I have to say, I’m very pleased is the same size as the more recent iPhone SE!)
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Testing the Syma X5SC Quadcopter

Syma X5SC QuadcopterIt’s flying season! Or, rather, it’s meant to be flying season but the weather doesn’t seem to want to cooperate. Despite the fact it’s the summer holidays here in Scotland, we’ve had some impressive downpours lately (no jokes about that being the Scottish summer, please).

Despite weather woes, I’ve been enjoying testing out the Syma X5SC Quadcopter, kindly sent to me by Mobile Fun. You may have seen my previous review of the Syma X4 Quadcopter, and the X5SC is its bigger brother. So let’s have a look at what Big Brother is like. [Read more…]

Getting started with SAM Labs’ Make

I love tinkering with gadgets and electronics. I remember as a child I would take different devices, like clocks, alarms, and cameras apart to try and figure out how they worked. If I’m honest, I always struggled because I had no idea what each individual part of the system did.

SAMLabs: MakeNow I’m a parent I’m keen to engender a similar desire for discovering how things work in my children so I was really interested when I came across SAM Labs.

SAM Labs is a system of interconnected blocks, each of which is either a sensor or an actor. The sensors may be things like a button or a tilt sensor while the actors are things like lights, motors or servos. What’s clever is that the modules are all Bluetooth-enabled, so there’s no need to wire them together to make a circuit; instead they all communicate wirelessly. [Read more…]

Taga 2.0 Family Bike Kickstarter

David Lumm is a professional programmer and all round geek with a passion for taking complex things and making them simple.

When you become a parent it’s inevitable that your priorities and perspective change; whilst we still get excited by the same things that excited us before, we also get excited by things that perhaps wouldn’t have interested us before we were parents. It’s in that vein that I noticed the pre-kickstarter adverts for the Taga 2.0 on Facebook – there’s a good chance that you saw them too. As a parent and an occasional cyclist I found the concept of a purpose built family bike intriguing, especially given the chance of getting such a capable bike for a mere $599 (or about £410).

If you haven’t seen the advert, or maybe if you just scrolled past it, you might not realise just how interesting this bike is, so let me tell you a little. First of all, you’ve got the tub at the front, a bit like the dutch bikes, but has three wheels with the front two moving independently of the cargo tub; much easier to steer and balance, much shorter too.

Taga 2.0 Options
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Otterbox Defender for iPhone 5, 5S and SE [review]

I’m usually very careful with my mobile devices but, even so, I’ve been known to drop them. Before too long, they start to look a little scratched and scuffed. Unfortunately, I have managed to damage a phone and a laptop by dropping… and boy was I annoyed at myself both times!

In my day to day life as an IT Consultant, I don’t need to worry too much about my phone being in a harsh environment. If I drop it, it’s usually only a fall from the desk to my office floor. But what if you need extra protection for your phone? I was given the opportunity to try out an Otterbox Defender case, which claims to offer superior protection.

Otterbox Defender for iPhone 5, 5S and SEThe first thing that comes to mind when I look at the Otterbox Defender is that it’s chunky. I usually prefer my cases to be quite slim, but I recognise that comes at the expense of ruggedness. The Defender is large, mostly because that gives it room to add extra protection. So what kind of protection are we talking about here?

The main body of the Defender is a two-part polycarbonate shell. This rigid shell offers good protection against scratches and drops, forming a barrier between your precious phone and the outside world. The shell has an integrated plastic screen protector which, again, just forms another barrier between your screen and harm’s way.

Around the polycarbonate shell is a rubber “bumper”. This does two things:

  • Firstly, it helps to keep the main shell closed. There are catches on the shell that would keep it closed without the bumper, but the bumper just holds the whole thing together and makes sure there’s no way the case can be accidentally opened.
  • Secondly, because the bumper is softer than the shell (although it has to be said, it’s not exactly bouncy) it provides a little extra shock absorption in the case of your phone slipping out of your hand.

Another layer of protection comes from a thin layer of neoprene inside the back of the shell case. Again, this provides some shock absorption if you happen to drop your phone on its back. Remember the key to surviving a drop is to absorb the energy from the fall, which is why it’s not enough just to have a strong but rigid case (that would just transfer the energy to the phone). Squidgy materials like rubber and neoprene will absorb the energy rather than transfer it, and enhance the survivability of the device within.

So far so good. It’s worth mentioning that there are several openings in the protection, albeit all ones that are necessary for the good operating of the phone. There’s a cutout on the screen protector so that you can use the iPhone SE/5/5S thumb scanner, another for the front-facing camera and earpiece, one on the back for the rear-facing camera and flash, and two on the bottom for the microphone and speaker. There’s also a window on the rear so you can see the Apple logo, but this is covered with the same kind of material as the main screen protector. All of these openings are recessed, so unless you happen to be very unlucky and hit a stone, you’re still well protected.

The rubber bumper has flaps that cover the side switch, headphone port, and charging/data port. These all seem to be quite snug fits, so they should do a good job of keeping dust and dirt out. I don’t know what it is, but my pockets seem to be really dusty, and so far none of that has made its way past the flaps.

Having said all that, there are a couple of things I don’t like, or that I found fiddly.

  • The first was getting the thing open in the first place! The instructions said to remove the bumper so that I could then open the polycarbonate shell, but I found it really hard to do so! I think it was just because the case was new and the rubber was quite stiff (it’s easier to remove it again now) but I was starting to wonder whether I was actually reading the instructions correctly for a while.
  • I’m not too keen on plastic screen protectors. I find they never sit completely flush with the screen so, when you tap, you can kind of feel the screen protector moving. I also find you eventually get dust behind them, so have to keep cleaning them out. It’s not a huge gripe, and perhaps it’s just personal preference, but I much prefer glass screen protectors.
  • Thirdly, the size. And I know this one is just personal preference. As I mentioned earlier, I like my devices to be slim but the Otterbox Defender certainly isn’t that. I just mention it here again to be clear… this is not a small case, but if you’re looking for superior protection you might need to sacrifice a slimline look to get it.

Despite those gripes, I think this is a good choice for people who need an extra layer of protection on their devices. It won’t save your phone from being dropped off a skyscraper or run over by a truck, but it will help to save you from those awful, “slipped out of my pocket” moments (yes, that’s how I broke my last iPhone!)

The Otterbox Defender for iPhone 5, 5S and SE is available from Mobile Fun, priced £29.99 at the time of writing.

Note: The Defender also comes with a belt clip/kickstand. I honestly can’t abide wearing a mobile phone on my belt, so I haven’t used it. If you do want to wear your phone on your belt, you have the option to do so with this case.

Revisiting Tesla’s Autopilot

Tesla Model S - rear quarterI posted a while ago about testing Tesla’s autopilot at 70mph… well, about someone else testing autopilot at 70mph. At that time, I hadn’t tried it myself but now I have and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. That might sound ridiculous, but let me explain what it was like.

I booked a short test drive at the Gadget Show Live in Birmingham and was taken out onto the local roads by a Tesla representative. I’d driven a Model S before but not since they had been upgraded to include 4-wheel-drive or autopilot, so I was curious to see what had changed.

I won’t talk much about the 4-wheel-drive except to say it does massively improve the traction and make it possible to carry out some impressive moves even on poor roads. I will also say the Tesla rep demonstrated that… I would have been too keenly aware that I was in a very expensive car to risk doing anything too dramatic!

The autopilot is what’s really captured my imagination, though. It works in two stages – pull one of the steering wheel stalks towards you and the car goes into adaptive cruise control. In this mode, it scans the road ahead to make sure you stay a certain distance from other cars. In our case, we set the car to travel at 70mph but were following a car doing about 40, so we tootled along the road while the Tesla’s sensors kept us a safe distance from the car in front.

Pull the cruise control stalk again and the car goes into autopilot, scanning the road ahead to make sure it stays within the lane (and, of course, still keeping you a safe distance from other cars). This was where it got very, very, strange; the Tesla rep told me to take my hands off the wheel and just let the car do its thing. I can’t describe the feeling of being in the driving seat of a moving car that I’m not actually driving! It faithfully followed some gentle curves in the road, and even navigated its way past a sliproad where, I would have thought, the abundance of lane markings could have confused it.

When the time comes to change lane, the autopilot can handle that too. Indicate over and you are prompted to put your hands on the wheel in case you need to take control in a pinch. I just had a light touch on the wheel, and it turned itself… again, a very odd feeling. Once we were in the other lane, the adaptive cruise control realised there was nothing in front of us anymore and we took off down the road with the autopilot doing its job to keep us safely in the lane again. A couple of seconds later, indicate left, touch the wheel, and it pulls back in again.

Even in that small time test driving the Model S, I was hooked. The whole experience of driving such a powerful and high-tech car is genuinely intoxicating (I only wish I could have had longer with it!) but it’s the autopilot that’s really stuck in my mind. Again, I can’t describe the feeling of sitting in the driving seat of a car and having it, essentially, drive itself. If this is an indication of how motoring technology is going, I’m very much looking forward to the future.

Syma X4 Quadcopter [review]

Syma X4 QuadcopterQuadcopters, or ‘drones’ as they are often called’ are great devices. I’ve always found them a little easier to control than RC helicopters and, if you have the safety guide on, they’re less likely to cause damage to people or property too.

My son got his hands on a Syma X4 Quadcopter recently; so what’s it like?

In short, it’s good! OK, you want more details. Let’s dive in then!

Features

The X4 is a 4-channel, 6-axis quadcopter. That gives it the full range of movement you would expect (3-channel helicopters, for instance, can’t jink to the side). It has running lights so that you can easily see which side is the front, and it doesn’t hurt that the lights also make it look good when flying it in the garden at night.

The controller is styled to look like an Xbox controller, down to having shoulder bumpers. That made it immediately comfortable for my son, who enjoys the Xbox as well. He’s tried the controller on my quadcopter, which isn’t exactly fancy, but found it a little difficult to get to grips with.

One very nice feature is the built-in flip function. Just press the right bumper on the controller, steer in any direction, and the quadcopter performs a flip! It looks impressive, but it’s actually very easy to do.

Easy to fly

That’s one of the best things about the X4; it’s easy to fly. My son is 7 and has already got pretty good with it. Let’s put it this way… he’s allowed to fly it in the living room now and I’m not in constant fear for the safety of the television!

Now, some of the material I’ve found online shows the X4’s packaging as indicating it’s for ages 14 and up, but the one my son has (which I think may have been repackaged for a particular chain of shops) says 8+. He’s more than able to cope at age 7, so I’d suggest that you use your own judgment to decide whether the X4 is suitable for your own children (of course, they’re also great fun for adults!)

No camera

One other thing I want to mention is that a review on the X4’s listing on Amazon  mentions recording footage. I’m not sure if that’s a mix-up, but the X4 does not come with a camera… it’s just a quadcopter.

Flight time

Battery life is always a frustration with flying toys. No matter how much power the battery holds, it’s never enough! You can expect to get around 5-7 minutes of flight out of the battery in the X4, and a recharge using the provided USB cable will take around an hour. That’s not too bad, but it does mean you won’t exactly be playing with it all day.

Conclusion

The Syma X4 is a decent, simple little quadcopter. It certainly does the job for my son to get to grips with his first drone. If you’re looking for something with a camera, are looking for longer flight times, or are looking for something a little more serious, I would suggest looking elsewhere. If you’re looking for an easy-to-fly entry into the world of quad rotors, however, the X4 is a decent place to start.

Testing Tesla Autopilot at 70mph

Before you get all excited, let me say I have not tested Tesla’s Autopilot at 70mph… sadly. But I do want to point you to a video today of someone else doing it, on UK roads, in real traffic. It’s quite amazing, so please do check the video out below.

I was lucky enough to test a Tesla Model S in late 2014. This was before they introduced 4-wheel drive or autopilot but it was still the most amazing car I have ever been in. Let me explain why.

Tesla Model S - plenty of room for passengers

Firstly, the sense of space. The Tesla Model S is a large car, but even so there’s a surprising amount of room inside it. This is because the “engine” sits right on the axle and, according the the chap who was showing me around, is about the size of a watermelon. This, along with the batteries being housed in the car’s floor, means there’s loads of room for people. There are no lumps and bumps for the drive-shaft to make its way down the length of the car or anything like that. The nice thing about the engine not being in its traditional position is that the front of the car is also freed up for an extra boot; handy if you have lots of luggage to transport.

Tesla Model S driver and front passenger seatsSecondly, the quality of the interior is superb. I know Tesla, like other car companies, uses their best vehicles for demonstrations, but it was stunning. The leather seats were comfortable, and the all-digital dashboard and centre console just spoke to the geek in me.

Thinking of looks, the exterior of the Model S is no slouch either! The looks I got as I drove through the streets of Glasgow were a sight to behold.

The main reason this is the most amazing car I have ever been in, though, is the way it drives. To be in a car that glides quietly through the streets is a lovely thing, although I’m aware from the number of electric cars our local council has that you can hear them coming… it’s just the tyre noise you hear rather than an engine.

What astonished me was the sheer power of the Model S. My demonstrator asked me to slow down at one point to let the car in front of me pull ahead, and then asked me to put my foot down hard. It was electrifying (pun intended) as we rocketed forward. I’m of the opinion that, even if you hardly ever use it, it’s good to know your car has extra power if you do happen to need it. There’s certainly no doubt in my mind that the Tesla Model S has as much power as you would ever want on the public roads… and then some.

I have to admit I fell in love with the Model S, even while at the same time accepting that I would never be able to afford it. See, it isn’t cheap. The base model in the UK is £54,000. Even knowing that, every time I see one on the road I think, “one day”.

The Model S has evolved significantly since I had my test drive, and continues to do so via over-the-air software updates. For the latest news and information, check out the Tesla UK website.