Sennheiser U320 Gaming Headset Review

January 4, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews, Spotlight

Nobody keeps it simple anymore. Gaming headsets these days boast the most bombastic features, with names that would make the International Astronomical Union blush, and a price tag that would make our wallets cower in fear.  Nothing short of (virtual) 7.1 surround sound, and gimmick-ridden features like voice morphing usually does, and they all account for nothing when it comes to delivering good quality sound.

Sennheiser tends to be a little wiser, usually keeping it simple with its proven brand of solid, outstanding stereo headsets. The U320 falls in that category, a one-headset-to-rule-them-all for your PC, Mac, PS3 or Xbox 360 needs.

Design and Comfort

Sennheiser hasn’t experimented with the U320’s looks, which is similar to most of its X and PC series of gaming headsets. Nothing to fault here, the musical-note body looks classy with the black finish, and the light blue highlight gives it a very subtle oomph.

The only possible fault with the design is the lengthy cable the headset comes with, a necessary evil perhaps as it is designed to be used on multi-platforms. It would be impossible for Sennheiser to guess the normal distance an average user sits from his entertainment system, so an easy solution is to add length to the cables than one could ever possibly need. Still, if neatness is not your forte, the U320 will definitely add to the mess.

Sennheiser has kept the earcups free from any controls, except for the microphone which swivels from vertical to horizontal. The inline control module is where you will do most of the tuning. You can individually channel game audio and chat volumes, and choose to use the bass boost feature which helps make movies and games sound punchier. There is also a slide tone switch which allows you to monitor your own voice, ensuring you are not screaming at the top of your lungs while chatting with friends or in-game.

In terms of comfort, the U320 is a hit or miss at random. It’s one of those kinds of headset that is comfortable at one point in the day and uncomfortable at another. It’s quite comical to read that, I would think, but that has been true for me so far. I did not find the U320 consistently comfortable. Sometimes I would hardly notice it on my head, and sometimes it would be downright painful to wear. The U320 uses Sennheiser’s proprietary CricleFlex technology which automatically adjusts the earcup to the wearers head but that’s not immediately noticeable. It also features an open acoustic design that allows built up heat to escape around the ears, and while that works quite well, it also fits the headset in a ‘V’ position, which might be uncomfortable for some as it pressurizes on the neck than hover over the ear.

Performance

The Sennheiser brand usually ensures a high quality experience, and it’s no different with the U320. I tried the headset primarily on two games, Far Cry 3 on PC and Unfinished Swan on PS3, both extremely competent titles for sound testing, and so vastly different in cues and placement.

The U320 lapped up whatever was thrown at it, be it that grumbling panther scuffling in the tall grass in Far Cry 3, or the blobs and splashes, and the tinkling hints in Unfinished Swan. The U320 delivered excellent sound reproduction with incredible depth and clarity. The bass boost added to the experience, bringing the necessary kicks and punches in action sequences in not only games but movies as well.

The headset is competent with music, too, smoothly handling the lows and highs, and delivering clean mids. It is so good, in fact, that it made me revisit some of the old classics because it just brought me into the mood. That alone speaks volumes about how good the drivers on the U320 are.

Conclusion

The Sennheiser U320 is built with gaming in mind and that is quite apparent with how it delivers. In terms of sound quality and bang-for-buck, you absolutely cannot go wrong with this Sennheiser, especially as it is designed to work with most of the current platforms. The lengthy cable and the hit and miss comfort level might be a deterrent to some, so I do recommend you keep those points in mind before you take the plunge.

R.I.P Netbooks

January 2, 2013 by  
Filed under News

Asus and Acer today announced they will stop making netbooks, putting the final nail in the coffin for the once popular consumer PC.

Netbooks could be considered the precursor for tablet-PCs, for it was small, compact, and cheap, yet packing enough power to do basic tasks such as browsing, Word processing, or watching a movie. The trend kicked off in 2007 when Asus launched their Eee model, and was soon joined by other manufacturers such as Dell, Acer and HP as sales for netbooks skyrocketed.

But with the explosion of powerful tablet-PCs and touchscreen notebooks, netbooks no longer looked attractive, with sales slumping to just 1.1 million units in 2011. With such poor sales and an increasingly declining consumer interest, PC makers started to abandon making netbooks, with the final two being Acer and Asus now announcing that they are giving up on the platform as well.

Did you ever owned a netbook? Do you still use it or have you replaced it with a tablet-PC? Let us know in the comments below!

du unveils plans for Nokia Lumia phones

December 27, 2012 by  
Filed under News, Smartphones

UAE telcom operator du today unveiled its data package plans for Nokia’s latest flagship smartphones, the Lumia 920 and the Lumia 820.

New and existing customers of the Elite, Emirati and Pay as you Go plans will receive upto 1GB of free data on a “monthly minimum bill of AED 250.” Additionally, new Elite and Emirati plan subscribers will receive 4GB of data per month for the first 3 months after activation.

“We strive to continuously expand and enhance our portfolio of bundled data offers and smartphones.   Combined with our data offers, the Lumia Windows 8 range offers a compelling proposition for avid smartphone enthusiasts on the move, ” said Farid Faraidooni, Chief Commercial Officer, du.

The Nokia Lumia 920 and the Lumia 820 are available for AED 2499 and AED 1899, resp., across all UAE stores.

Acer Aspire S7 Ultrabook

December 24, 2012 by  
Filed under Product of the Week

Hailed as one of the most exciting Windows 8 ultrabooks, the Acer Aspire S7 is lightweight, and clean, with embellishments kept to an absolute minimum to maintain a clean and elegant look. The use of straight lines, glossy white glass, glowing light and anodized aluminum have culminated in a notebook that champions cutting edge technology alongside innovative design.

Read our review more info.

Facebook will place video adverts in your news feed

December 19, 2012 by  
Filed under News

According to AdAge, Facebook is looking to make “big chunks of money” by placing video advertisements in its user’s news feed. This will be on top of the sponsored news stories and Facebook pages that the company started promoting early this year.

The most annoying fact of the advertisements will be that the videos will automatically play, although it is unclear if audio will be auto-triggered or not. Not only that, the videos are designed to “grab a user’s attention by expanding out of the news feed into webpage real estate in both the left and right columns — or rails — of the screen.”

Facebook plans to roll out video adverts by April, according to the report, and it will be delivered on both desktop and mobile platforms.

If true, this is possibly the worst thing Facebook could do to itself. The sponsored stories and space-consuming list of pages that I should be liking is annoying in itself, and a bunch of video that automatically plays, of things that I am not interested, and taking up web page estate while I am only trying to read stuff that I am interested in from my feed is probably the last thing I want.

How do you feel about this? Let us know the comments below!

IBM believes computers will have our 5 senses in 5 years

December 18, 2012 by  
Filed under News

IBM is exploring what computers could do in a few years, and their research has led them to believe that in just 5 short years, computers as we know it, will be able to see and understand things, smell us and the  environment (deo sales will sky rocket), and even help us touch and taste things through it’s mechanical parts. In short, in 5 years we will have our own version of Skynet ready and fit to dominate. Fun times.

But jokes apart, what IBM is researching is nothing short of fantastical, and predicting that we will be able to do this in just 5 years, a technology we will be able to experience in our lifetimes, is incredible and awesome.

Let’s take a computer’s future ability to smell. Not only could it tell that you are smelling really bad, because there are not many discouraging elements in our lives already, but it will also be able to detect if you are going to have a cold before even you know it.

The computer’s ability to hear will be a boon to predict natural disasters such as earthquakes or flooding as it will be able to detect and understand the vibrations on the ground.

You will also be able touch and feel things through a computer screen through precise vibration technologies. So imagine shopping online and actually feeling the fabric of the clothes you want to purchase, or to check how heavy an object is. Of course, it is not only the retail industry that will benefit from this. Wink wink.

Check out the YouTube videos that describes what computer’s will be able to do in the future. And read more about it here.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gg3tmZrwbDs&w=600&h=350]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwfJVwknvRo&w=600&h=350]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-oKfWIgDTFs&w=600&h=350]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DNz23XXLa1E&w=600&h=350]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYkSvNKdyBM&w=600&h=350]

Apple iPhone 5

December 17, 2012 by  
Filed under Product of the Week

iPhone 5 is the thinnest and lightest iPhone ever, completely redesigned to feature a stunning new 4-inch Retina display; an Apple-designed A6 chip for blazing fast performance; and ultrafast wireless technology—all while delivering even better battery life.

Check out our review to know what we think about Apple’s new smartphone.

Soon you will be able to download all of your tweets

December 17, 2012 by  
Filed under News

Twitter has kept its promise of deploying an ‘archive’ feature that allows users to download every single 140-character tweet they have fired into the Twitter-verse.

According to The Next Web, Twitter has already rolled out the feature to a small section of users. To see if you have it, just go to the Settings page, and scroll down and look for ‘Your Twitter Archive’ section. Much like Facebook, users will first have to submit a request to Twitter to download their entire archive. Twitter will collect, process and build all of the tweets and send the user a download link when it’s ready.

The archive is done in HTML, with a nice Twitter-like interface and organized in a calendar format. Users also get fancy graphs that shows when they have been most active on Twitter.

It is unclear when Twitter plans to roll out the archive feature to all of its users, but we are hoping it will end of this year.

Nokia and Microsoft’s ‘The Midnight Developer Challenge’ beacons local talent

December 9, 2012 by  
Filed under News

Think you can make the next big app? Then ‘The Midnight Developer Challenge’ is where you want to be. In a move to promote local talent, Nokia and Microsoft will be hosting its first, and region’s biggest student app development competition from this month. The competition aims to provide students with exposure and training in the latest mobile and app development technologies in order to help them make the next Flipboard or WhatsApp.

Participating students will receive three months of technical training and coding sessions with Nokia and Microsoft software experts through weekly webinars and online support. Both the companies promises to work closely with students to help them conceptualize their ideas, and also with the universities to ensure full faculty support is provided for students who are participating in the competition.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for students to get real life experience in designing, developing and distributing a mobile app for consumers in an emerging app economy,” said Joe Devassy, Head of Developer Experience, Nokia IMEA. “We designed this competition to maximise the learning process of this entrepreneurial journey – that is, how to go from an abstract idea to a fully-developed Windows Phone 8 app available to millions of consumers worldwide.”

“This initiative, which empowers young local talent with world-class opportunities to develop and learn about the latest advances in mobile app technology, is testament to our commitment to the region. Windows Phone 8 is a great mobile platform and there is immense opportunity for developers to leverage and utilise the innovative features of the Nokia Lumia range including augmented reality navigation, NFC and imaging,” said Amintas Lopes Neto, Academia and Startups Lead, Microsoft MEA.

The contest will be divided into two categories – Apps and Games. Both categories will have a winner and runner’s up, with a total $33,000 worth of cash up for grabs. The winning team will receive $10,000 in cash, a trip to a Nokia Global event, and an Xbox 360 and Lumia 920 for each team member. The runner’s up team will receive $5,000 in cash, and an Xbox 360 and Lumia 920 for each team member. Participants of the competition will also have the opportunity to be eligible for the annual Microsoft Imagine Cup 2013 Windows Phone Challenge.

If you are interested in participating, make sure you have registered before December 15.

TurtleBeach Ear Force Tango Review

December 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews, Spotlight

A new trend in peripheral making is to partner up with a top gaming brand. With every major video game release, you will see manufacturers scattering to roll out their set of branded goodies, each promising a snazzy redesign of one of its existing products. TurtleBeach is quickly catching up to this trend, collaborating with Activision previously for Modern Warfare 3, and this year for Call of Duty: Black Ops II.

The product we are looking at today, the Ear Force Tango, sits at the top of this premium lineup. At AED 1599, the Tango offers an exciting lineup of features, including Dolby Digital Surround Sound, Bluetooth, programmable audio presets, and wireless performance via 2.4/5 GHz dual-band Wi-Fi. But is the Tango fit for the battlefield? Let’s give it a shot.

Design and Comfort

Right out of the box, the Ear Force Tango is an attractive package. Let’s look at the headset first. It’s an out-and-out Black Ops II product no doubt, matching the game box art’s black and white color scheme with a touch of orange. I particularly like the orange threading on the underside of the headrest, which gives it a very smart and sophisticated look.

The headset is ridden with all sorts of buttons. On the left cup you have four, namely Main, Game Presets, Chat/Mic Presets, and the Power button (I will talk about them further down). On the right, you have a slew of Bluetooth functions like volume, pairing and mute. The headset’s Bluetooth functionality enables you to pair it up with a phone to receive calls directly through the headset, so absolutely nothing comes between you and your game.

In terms of comfort, the Tango’s high quality foam-padding holds well during long sessions of gaming, though obviously it gets a little moisty after a few hours. The ear cups creates a suction whenever you put it on, which might cause discomfort to some but hasn’t been a problem for me.

Moving on to the receiver, it matches the headset’s look, with a large Call of Duty: Black Ops II logo emblazoned on the left. It also sports a nifty hanger for the headset, which admittedly is very useful. The receiver runs on USB power. It can be plugged either into a PC or a console, or even into a TV, if it supports USB ports.

When powered on, the receiver will indicate if it’s receiving sound through the optical input, and if the particular media you are playing supports Dolby Surround Sound. It also powers the touted surround sound feature of the headset, and gives you six surround angles to play with. More on this in later sections.

The Major General Sergeant

Wait, what? Let me explain. TurtleBeach has used voice acting talent from Black Ops II to include voice notifications whenever you turn the headset on, off, or when it’s low on power. So whenever the headset is turned on, a voice will ring off saying, “Ear Force Tango Powering On”, and when it’s turned off, it goes “Ear Force Tango Powering Off”. It’s a gimmick alright, and a cool one I will give TurtleBeach that. Have they actually used a voice talent from the game? TurtleBeach hasn’t said who, and I wouldn’t be able figure out from one generic major general sergeant voice to another if my life depended on it. So your guess is as good as mine.

The voice is tolerable for the most part, especially since you can avoid it entirely by powering it up before putting the headset on. What isn’t is the low battery voice notification. A voice will constantly bombard you with a “low battery” message, and will not cease until it’s plugged in for charging. It especially gets on the nerves when it goes off during cut scenes, making you miss important dialogue bits if it catches you off guard.

Battery & Range

It’s wise to keep the headset on charge all the time, alas the devil speaks of the ‘low battery’ again. But jokes apart, the Tango lasts a good 9-10 hours, which is excellent. Recharging takes anywhere between 3-4 hours from a PC; I haven’t tried charging it with a power outlet.

Range is quite good provided the line of path is unobstructed by walls. I moved around my house with the headsets on and it would immediately start breaking when walls came into play. I expected much more from a device sporting 5 Ghz dual-band Wi-Fi, but unfortunately it’s as average as other regular wireless solutions. If you were hoping to use the headset to listen to some music while working your daily chores, then you can forget about it.

Features & Performance

The Ear Force Tango is loaded with a ton of audio features at your disposal. Let’s look at the Game Presets first, a pre-tuned selection of audio settings that enhances sounds in various ways. You have 8 such presets – there is Bass and Treble Boost that let’s you feel the rumble and the highs. There is also Footstep Focus and Superhuman Hearing which enhances footsteps and low volume sounds, a boon no doubt for online play.

Do they work? Quite so. Would I recommend turning them on all the time? Eh, not quite. They do what it says on the tin, but they change the in-game sound so much that they are almost jarring in certain aspects. They are quite useful for multiplayer matches, which I guess are what these presets are meant to be used with, so if you find them helping you play better, then by all means have it on every time.

Such presets are also available for the microphone as well. Preset like Robot “transforms your voice into a metallic sound”, whereas the Hi-Pitch Morph preset morphs “your voice into a high-pitch tone.” Good god, let’s hope no Xbox Live teenager has the budget to afford this one!

Finally, you have the surround sound angles. There are six presets you can choose from, and they are by far the most gimmicky feature in the Ear Force Tango. Nearly indistinguishable, the six presets mimic actual speaker positions in various degrees and angles. It aims to enhance sound positioning, but only ends up making the sound hollow as if the speakers were placed some far off distance above the head.

The Tango works best alone, without any presets to keep company, and surround angles to keep watch. Then, it delivers truly outstanding sound quality, with pitch perfect bass, lows and highs, as well as just the right amount of punch required to make the explosions and gun fire sound better. Sound positing was solid, too. I had no problem spotting enemies in Call of Duty: Black Ops II, and it was especially accurate hunting animals in Far Cry 3. If you have played Ubisoft’s excellent shooter, you would agree that a good sound solution is absolutely required to hunt animals in Path of the Hunter quests, and the Tango had absolutely no problems spotting where that ferocious gold skin tiger was waiting.

Conclusion

Gimmicks aside, the TurtleBeach Ear Force Tango is an otherwise excellent product. Unfortunately, the gimmicks are what is driving the cost upwards to AED 1599, but also of course the Call of Duty branding. Still, if you have the pocket, are a fan of Call of Duty, and absolutely must showcase your fanboyism, you wouldn’t be able to do much better than Tango’s outstanding sound quality, comfort and wireless battery life.

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