The Guide 2019
ORBITSOUND One P70w V2 £399
We've always been fans of Orbitsound's Airsound technology which somehow manages to give you great stereo placement and separation wherever you are in the room. Their earlier model soundbars were some of the first really good quality audio replacements for TV speakers at a reasonable price. They could be a little boomy at high volumes. Available in black or bamboo trim, the P70w is altogether more refined.
This thing is amazing. I've heard poorer sound from combinations of amplifiers and speakers thousands of pounds and yet this costs less than four hundred pounds at time of print.
Now this shouldn't be confused with the original P70w as the difference in the V2 is more than subtle. The original got good but not stellar reviews due to some audion inconsistencies. The good people at Orbitsound took that to heart and have brought some of the technology from their top of the range Air D1 (a £12000 beast of a speaker) into the V2 version.
This AirAmp technology is supposed to bring clarity across the frequency range by dynamically adjusting parameters in the amplification. This also reduces distortion.
Does it work? To my ears absolutely. From the thump of the built in subwoofer to a delicate high end this V2 version delivers clear, precise but most of all engaging audio.
Now there are some limitations here. This is purely a Stereo device, no Dolby Atmos here for example, and this is reflected in the connectivity with only Aux In and Optical In. The lack of HDMI connectivity does seem a miss in this day and age especially with some modern TVs removing Optical Out in exchange for HDMI Audio Return Channel.
Having said that the Orbitsound app does allow for Spotify Connect, TuneIn radio and Apple Music. One big miss there for us was Amazon Music. You will also notice that both Amazon's Alexa and Google Home are missing which may limit integration. You could always plug an echo device in though.
The Orbitsound does have its own multiroom audio system which unfortunately we couldn't test.
One small thing we were not too keen on was the sleep mode. To conserve energy the Orbitsound puts itself to sleep when not used. Not a bad thing but we found the time it took to wake up a little frustrating. It would sometime miss several seconds of dialogue when starting.
Overall though this thoroughly deserves to be auditioned. We usually unplug review speakers once finished with the review. This one is staying in our set-up until the sad time we have to send it back.
Talking about things we are sad to send back
Avanza® Bean to Cup Coffee Machine by Melitta (Seen at £499.99 Currys)
This bean to cup coffee machine has graced our office for the last few weeks getting a real-world test. The first thing to say is it makes brilliant coffee and is incredibly simple to set up.
The only thing that slightly confused us were the connections for the atachiment that makes frothy milk for Cappucinos etc.
The key here is it pumps through the tube connection at the side not the bottom. The bottom connection is just a storage dock.
You pull the tube out from here and place it in the milk you want to pump. This works really well with hot and very frothy steamed milk produced.
Where this unit really wins out other than ease of use is how small it is compared to most other bean to cup devices. It actually fits on one of our desks without overhanging unlike other devices we've tried.
Usage is really simple. Add beans in the top, add water in the reservoir, turn on - wait for the cleaning cycle to run, place a cup (or two a nice feature) under spout, adjust the size of coffee with the knob, the strength with a button and press the one cup or two cup buttons and you have great coffee.
One thing we would like changed is how late the warning to empty the drip tray comes on. It seems to wait until it is full to the brim before warning, which makes the trip to the sink to empty a bit precarious.
You will also need to finish one bean choice up before trying another which is one restriction of the size not allowing for two bean hoppers like some we've tried. Also the cleaning cycle seems a bit over-eager cleaning almost every cup. These, however are small problems and overall the size and convenience of this excellent coffee maker win out.
This one we didn't want to send back.
Blue Microphones YETI- X (£119 Amazon)
This is one of the first Microphones to appear from Blue since thier acquisiition by Logitech. The only real clue you get to this is that all the PC/Mac side software has become part of Logitech's G-Suite. This software is amazing it is effectively a full audio processing suite allowing you dynamically change setting on the fly or use pre-built defaults so as a traditional Radio voice or a warm voice. It has the ability to loop a small clip from the microphone and work with the effects until it sounds perfect. Really clever stuff. Now I have to say this software did crash on us a couple of times during use which always seemed to be related to use with Skype. Hopefully this is something they will fix.
The Yeti X looks like most other Blue Yeti microphones with a slight change to the button and control arrangement. I quite like the simplicity of a singe knob to control gain, headset volume and mix but some may find it fiddly. One thing I initially thought slightly gimicky is you can change the colour of the LEDs around this knob but a friend who is red/green colourblind thought this was fantastic as at last he could have a peak meter he could view.
Connection to the PC is by Micro-USB. I'm slightly suprised Microphone manufacturers generally haven't moved to USB-C but Micro-USB is still pretty much the norm,
This is an excellent Microphone on its own but when coupled with the software it is really a touch beyond. Highly recommended.
OHME Type 2 EV CHARGING CABLE £400
(discounts available for Octopus Energy users)
We reviewed the Ohme cable last issue where it deservedly won a TrulyFascinating award.
It is a brilliant device that turns any unintelligent untethered EV charger into a smart charger that can adapt to electric supply costs. Really useful if you have an older dumb wall charger with a type 2 socket (this is the socket most public low power chargers have)
Since that last issue went to press Ohme did have an issue with some of their cables where an incorrect part had been supplied to them which under very rare circumstances could cause the cable to lose waterproofing. Ohme have really impressed us with the way they handled this situation. They immediately owned the issue and contacted all affected users and have replaced the defective cables. We have no hesitation in still recommending this product.
Now lets look at some potential stocking fillers..
Kitsound Boombar + – Wireless Bluetooth speaker (£40)
This speaker comes with a carrying case, USB charging and audio cable. The speaker is quite lightweight and has a rubber wrist strap on this. Whilst listed at £40 we've seen it as low as a mere £15.99.
The battery takes 3 hours to charge but you then get 20 hours of playback - although this does depend on volume... crank it up and your playtime decreases. We have to say that on a reasonable volume we got slightly over 20 hours.
Also cranking it up really does mean loud for a small box it goes really loud with a suprising lack of distortion.
With Bluetooth 4.2 and 3.5mm audio in connectivity this is an excellent portable speaker for the price.
Stealth XP Classic Gold Headphones (£24.99 Argos) and Stand(£19.99)
With a pretty cool design and neat detachable microphone these sub 25 GBP gaming headphones really suprised us. Very comfortable to wear with really good audio quality to boot. I used these on a couple of episodes of TheDigitalLifestyle.com and the quality was definitely more than acceptable.
The separately sold curvey plastic stand is an excellent place to store them when not in use.
Well worth a look
SanDisk iXpand Wireless Charger 128 GB, 10W Fast Wireless Charger with Photo Backup for Qi-Compatible Phones (£54.99 Amazon)
This is a very stylish Qi charger which works very well with modern wireless charging enabled phones. If that was all it would be a really nice if exoensive charger but wait there is more the unit also contains 128GB drive which when coupled with an app on the phone automatically backs up your photos as you charge. A really nice feature which seems very well implemented.
Jbudsair True Wireless £49.99
These True-Wireless (meaning they have no cables attached in use) Bluetooth 5.0 headphones are more accessible than some due to the lower price point. They have the charger cable built into the case so you just unclip the usb and plug into any USB charger you have. Handy for travelling as that is one less cable to remember.
They are not noise cancelling however I did find that they fitted the ears well and connected easily and did block some sound. Just open the case and they connect straight away, one you have paired them up.
When using them to make calls so that the person you are on the phone can hear you against the row of noisy traffic, blaring horns and sirens they will need to turn up their volume as the microphone seems really quiet.
The strength is the length of battery life. I used these for nearly two weeks before they announced the battery was low.
Overall not bad for listening to music. There is a bit of a loss of detail on the mid-range but for a teenager who is not an audiophile you will probably get points for the fact these are wireless with good battery life.
Zhiyun Smooth Q2 Smartphone Gimbal Mobile Phone Stabilizer 3-Axis Handheld Stabilizer Up to 260g 86mm Width (£129)
We are currently reviewing this very portable Gimbal which in our initial tests seem excelent value for money. It is a little difficult to get balanced initially but when we do it really works well. So far we think it is one of the best phone gimbals we've used. Look out for more details in our next issue.
Now for something a little more expensive
Epson EF-100B Home Projector (£629 Amazon)
This lightweight projector is quick and easy to set up. Just use the foot at the front to get this to hit your wall at the sweet spot. It was good and bright. This came with a remote control and you could easily adjust the keystone on the horizontal and the vertical is automatic. There is a manual focus adjustment which is very straightforward.
I simply aimed this at a painted wall and added an amazon fire TV stick (others are available) and now had a super big screen to watch movies. My very own home cinema in a box - which was great.
The audio is acceptable rather than amazing however there is the option to connect this to speakers by apt-x Bluetooth.
The perceived contrast and resolution (it's only HD ready but you couldn't really tell) are very good but the thing that impressed us most was just how quiet this projector is. Yes it does have a fan like almost all projectors but this one is hardly noticeable.
It is obviously designed to work with a smart tv stick, like the aforementioned FireTV , with a very convenient USB power lead and HDMI input behind the back panel and discretely hidden in use. However it is still very usable with any external HDMI source like perhaps a Games System. This could make a very good alternative to a bedroom TV. It does have a tripod socket in the bottom which would make for an alternative mounting method.
One small point is that when doing an update the FireTV stick said it had too little power for proper operation and to use the external supply but in use with the inbuilt supply of the projector we didn't see any issues.
Overall this is an excellent device and as it doesn't use a traditional projector bulb. instead being currently the world's smallest 3 LCD laser projector, it should last many years.
TADO Smart Thermostat V3 and Extension Kit (£210 Amazon)
Note: Subcription required for intelligent services.
Tado caused a bit of controversy when they introduced their new V3 Thermostat a while ago when they started charging a subscription fee for parts of the system which had previosly been included in the price. To be fair to them you could continue to use your older devices fully featured if you didn't upgrade to the new application.
Now having used the new V3 system I have to say there is a lot of value here even without the automation offered by the subscription.
Firstly compared to other systems I've looked at this is incredibly easy to install especially if you have standard UK boiler wiring. The kit we got had both the Smart Thermostat and the extension kit. The extension kit is an add on if you also want to control hot water as well as heating.
For our test house we had a wired wall thermostat and a boiler with a separate controller unit which handles heater timing and hot water. The Tado app talked us through set up, we were a little confused initially that it went straight into pairing the thermostat device but this can be done before actually installing and is actually a really good idea. We have had previous devices where we were unable to pair once installed due to enviromental issues, like very solid walls, so it is a good idea to be able to check this first.
Once paired you are directed to the Tado Mobile web site which takes you through a questionnaire as to what your current set up is. This was really good with the exception that the list of manufacturers wasn't in alpha order. A bit of a pain if you wanted to scroll through the list to find your boiler manufacturer but not really an issue as you can search by typing. You are asked what type of set up you have with nice diagrams explaining the different types - also if you decide this is all too difficult you can book an installer to do it for you (obviously at a cost - although some of the retail packages do seem to be sold including installation) - if you are unfamiliar with heating systems or electrical systems generally this is probably the wise choice. We had the necessary skills available so continued with the self install
Once you've chosen the setup you need to identify the different parts of your system. In this case this was the thermostat, boiler and controller. Once identified, and you have confirmed that identification - careful here if you identify the wrong thing there is no easy way back without starting from scratch - it gives a step by step guide on how to replace each element.
In our case there was a little bit of wiring to do on the thermostat but the extension unit just slid on to our existing controller's back plate without any other wiring - we did have to change a jumper in the extension unit, so watch for that, but it was clearly explained.
So installation didn't take long at all. It did take a while for the Smart Thermostat to show the correct temperature - handling it seemed to mess this up but as it is wall mounted once installed you are unlikely to handle it. Operation is a simple button on the front of the thermostat to show the current temperature - nothing is shown until you press - and then to cycle through the settings with up down buttons becoming visible to adjust.
Most of the time you won't need to adjust as you can set up smart schedules in the app or on the website. We found this set up a little clunky but you only need do it once. One particular thing we would like is the ability to copy a schedule from one day to another. It does allow you to have all weekdays the same or all days the same but not all of us work 9 to 5 monday to friday now.
One thing it is particularly good at is geolocation allowing the traditional home and away settings. Without the subscription it will prompt you to set away mode when leaving the house. With the subscription that is automated as well as learning your behaviour to ramp up the heating as you approach home. It can also notice an open window and prompt you to drop the heating if you have opened one to cool the room - this can be automated with the subscription.
We didn't have any but Tado can also supply Radiator thermostats to allow for zone heating which is fully integrated.
The hot water integration with the extension kit is really nice. Once installed the Smart Thermostat gains another mode allowing heating to be turned on manually and through the app you can decide if this is just an hour boost or longer. Again you normally won't need this as you can apply smart schedules here as well.
Smart schedules for heating also allow for a ramp up time to actually be hot at the time of the scheduled temperature change rather than just turning on at the scheduled change. So if you say you want your room temperature to be 18 degrees at 7am the heating will turn on early enough for this to be the case. Some systems would only try to start warming to 18 degrees at 7am.
We really haven't had time to fully test the automation services yet so will be returning to this system in the next issue but for now this is one of the few systems you can get that can control hot water as well as heating. It is definitely one of the easiest to install and definitely worth a look - just be aware up front about the subscription cost but we think it adds a lot of value even without the subscription.
Now if you've got all these presents you need something to transport them in
MG ZS EV - Production Variant (From GBP22.5K)
This is MG’s first venture into the electric car market. MG’s parent SAIC do have electric cars overseas but have never launched one in the UK until now. The car comes with a mileage range of 163 miles which for many drivers is ideal as they go under 10 miles daily to and from work. Given the plan of the UK government to stop selling petrol and diesel cars in 2030 people will have to adapt to a new world.
The EV market is in early days with most manufacturers only launching their cars in 2020/2021. The cars that are available in the same crossover SUV segment at the moment are high end cars such as the Jaguar i-pace, Audi E-tron and Tesla which are unaffordable for many drivers. The next cars are Hyundai Kona and Kia with the Niro and Soul but they all are over £30,000 with long waiting lists.
MG are the first to reach market with an affordable SUV EV with two models being a Excite and Exclusive. The Excite is the basic model but still comes with the MG pilot software however the mirrors don’t fold and there is no reversing camera.
The Exclusive model comes with a panoramic sunroof, reversing camera, powered mirrors and electrically adjustable driver’s seat.
The pre- production model was not a bad drive and if you have a bad back it absorbs a lot of the poor state of UK roads reducing your pain level. However for someone used to sports cars you may find the ride a little less direct.
However in the production model MG have introduced what they call chimes but most drivers call them extremely annoying bongs that are excessive and mostly unnecessary. Every driver so far wants to know how to turn them off- MG are you listening they are not chimes- Big Ben would be quieter. How about a nice off button or an option to mute?
So onto MG Pilot- this incorporates:
Active cruise control
Automatic braking- in an emergency situation
Hazard awareness- such as cyclists/pedestrians
This means that for MG prices you get the car features that would be on a more expensive car.
There are some compromises though, in that the heated seat has only one option. The passenger seat is once again manual- why manufactures? Make both seats automated and value the front passenger as they often control the family budget!!
There is one anomaly in the back seats- three seatbelts but only two headrests so the car is probably only suitable for four and not five. This does seem a bit lazy as they could easily have fitted the middle headrest.
The luggage space is excellent and the base of the boot can be lifted and set at two levels. There are two side pockets which to be honest are more suitable for the charging cable than placing this under the boot which when you have a fully loaded car would simply be a pain! Manufacturers common sense please! In fairness most of the electric cars make the same mistake where they suggest they have a super arrangement for cable under the boot!! Impractical.
So it is a good car but for goodness sake MG turn off the irritating bongs!!
Note: since our previous review it has come to our attention that the ZS EV has a bug where timed charging cannot be used. This is a serious limitation and we hope MG are going to resolve it but until they do we cannot in all faith give the production version the TrulyFascinating award we gave the pre-production version.