If I could start all over again, I would get more into design, more specifically, industrial & product design. I get a lot of pleasure in finding products that are very functional and at the same time objects of desire. A lot of times I think on how to improve the existing products or grieve over the design flaws that to me are just so blatantly obvious! Unfortunately it’s a little too late for me to becomes a product designer, but I can still enjoy looking out for the good ones.
I’m starting a new series of articles called “Good Design” in which I will share those designs I find interesting. From the simplest things to those more complex; pencils to aircrafts! Whatever I find inspiring. I will start small however, from things around us and day to day objects that can add a little more colour to our daily lives.
Everyday we are surrounded by an insane amount of sound/noise around us. The busy city streets, transport, noisy work environments, living next to a construction site etc. I wonder often, that as an evolutionary change, will the humans in future have an inferior hearing ability as a result of being exposed to a lot of sound pollution. We get used to them very quickly. It’s only when you start protecting your ears by blocking some the sound out that you begin to notice. It’s quite frightening when you unplug and hear the volume. The other area where sound can affect us is sleeping and I’m finding myself much more sensitive to the music of the darkness as I’m ageing.
For the first article I’m going to write about a pair of ear plugs. As a light sleeper, I have been using earplugs for years in all forms and shapes and while some are better than the others, none had me satisfied, until now. There are three essential factors I believe to be required for a good earplug:
And this order is important. If they can block the noise effectively but not comfortably, or if they won’t last long, then it can’t be very helpful. I have tried all sorts that can be thought of; foams, plastic, wax. They all have their benefits and downsides and I kept looking for something that fits my criteria. Eventually the solution came from Sweden!
Happy Ears, a beautifully designed ear plugs, initially created by Karl Berglund and Jukka Viitasara in Sweden in 2012 and followed by a successful kickstarter campaign funded in 2015, are one of a kind. Their idea behind this product was reducing the volume while not blocking all the sound. This is a key design choice as there are many cases where you need to reduce the ambient noise but not to fully block it. For example outside and on a noisy street where sound is an essential part of navigational skill so you would want to hear, but reduce the harmful sounds. Also when used for sleeping in rooms shared with others, or wanting to find some peace in public places, an airport for example, you still want to pick up the important sounds. Not only they’ve been able to achieve that, these earplugs are also comfortable, re-usable and affordable!
According to their Kickstarter campaign page, the design is supposed to replicate the natural response of the ear canal using ABS plastic in the core and thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) on the outer surface. “The unique construction – with a hardened “foot” at one end and a soft “leg” at the other – reduces sound levels evenly across the frequency range without changing the sound quality or comfort. All materials used in the production of Happy Ears are allergically tested and medically approved.”
I have been using them for sleeping and often in commute and the result has been great. The fact that they also look good obviously adds a lot to the experience.
Functional and beautiful, Happy Ears earplugs get my first “Good Design” nod with a special mention for the the great protection box that is a showcase of an efficient and elegant design in which you only occupy as much space as is absolutely required. It comes in different sizes and colours of red, white and black. The only thing personally I would have liked to see was a way of providing different sound blocking level options. I think it would have been nice to have one designed specially for sleep as there’s nothing else out there as beautifully designed and made.
Finding them in the UK could be a little difficult. I found my pair in Stockholm and in a DesignTorget store, but it’s possible to order online from other countries or through Fancy. I reached out to them to see if they have an plans for future product but didn’t hear back.
The winner of my first Good Design award, Happyears earplug, for your happy ears:
Despite the wide array of gadgets in all shapes and forms available these days, finding the one that suits you both functionally and aesthetically is not an easy task. I have always struggled to buy devices that combine a good design with logical and well thought through features. From buying a mouse, a headphone, all the way to a PC. Even buying a tablet, that was made simple by Apple due to their superior quality, is not a clear choice anymore when they are saturating their own market share with profit only driven multiple choices and the drop in design quality ( yes, that camera hump in iPhone or iPad Pro is not acceptable).
So When I decided to buy a new keyboard for my mini work station, I knew it’ll be a mission! Specially since I wanted to buy a white keyboard, under £50 and designed for Windows. Up until this point I had no idea how limited the choices are for a good wireless Windows keyboard! It’s bad enough that I actually considered buying the Apple wireless keyboard. The best I could find was a white keyboard from Lenovo, but unfortunately it was bundled with a PC and no way of buying it separately.
I almost gave up and decided to just go for a black keyboard. This was not exactly a solution but at least more choices are available in terms of design and wireless connectivity, just before that however, I came across a compact looking white bluetooth keyboard from inateck. This German company that I had never heard of before, seemed to be offering me an option!
I usually avoid buying from lesser known brands that tend to offer more affordable prices, simply because my past experience has taught me you get what you pay for! You can spend hours researching but the end result is sadly most of them will underperform or have some random and unexpected flaws.
The reviews for Inateck Wireless Bluetooth Keyboard were mixed and at the end of the day there’s a limit to how much you can rely on reviews anyway. People have different needs so the perfect device for one could be the disappointment for the other. I decided to give it a ago after reviewing all the features and designs. It was ticking a lot of boxes for me;
-Compact but good keyboard layout
-Windows, Android and iOS shortcuts
-Light and portable
The keyboard arrived in a simple cardboard packaging containing a mini USB charging cable and a user manual. Setting up was easy and it connected to my Surface Pro 4 effortlessly. I also tried it on iPhone 6 with no hassle and with the added benefit of shortcut keys, although limited.
The keyboard is nicely designed with an aluminum finish on the back that rolls up to the other side on the bottom. The typing experience is decent and the keys have a good balance of firmness and height. Obviously it’s not as good as more premium alternatives, and it feels a little dry, but certainly more than adequate for this price range. It has a fixed design meaning you can’t adjust the angle of the keyboard but I found this not to be an issue specially if your hand are resting down on a desk. It’s not a full size keyboard but there’s enough space between the keys that it doesn’t make it feel crammed, although I would have preferred the enter key to be bigger. I feel a layout with more offset keys, could have improved the experience for longer typing sessions as you are able to translate to the next key in a more free form movement.
I did get use to it only after a few of hours and the experience did get better, but still I don’t feel this is ideal for anything more than a casual typing. It is not a full size keyboard replacement but a good mobile companion which is what it’s designed to be I suppose. Unfortunately however it has one flaw that for me it was difficult to accept.
The main issue I had, which sadly was big enough to make me return the keyboard, is the sleep function. The keyboard is supposed to go to sleep after 10 minutes of inactivity and come back on when any key is pressed, after 3 seconds, according to the user manual. The 3 seconds wake up is pretty long actually. Long enough for you not to be able to pause a playing video, or type for a while without realizing nothing has been typed. (In comparison for example on Microsoft Design Bluetooth keyboard that is 1.5 sec and they input still registers so no pressed keys are lost ) But that’s not the main problem. The energy saving mode doesn’t always kick in after 10 minutes, in fact it never does. In my numerous tests it was something between 2-5 minutes which is quite erratic. This again is a very short time for the keyboard go to sleep and since it’s unpredictable it becomes very noticeable. Sadly the same applies to wake up function and it could take up to 5 seconds for it to wake up, although the average is 3.5 seconds in my tests.
I reached out to Inateck’s tiwtter and asked whether the energy saving mode can be disabled as that could provide a temporary solution to this this problem. They suggested:
@samsalek Find the keyboard in Device Manager, right-click and choose Properties, go to the Power Management tab.
— Inateck (@InateckOfficial) May 23, 2016
So there is somewhat a solution if you are willing to burn through the battery life quicker. This also made me curious whether the issue I experienced is a design flaw or a software glitch. I sent a message to their twitter account and explained I’m writing a review and want to test another unit and inquired about the possibility of obtaining a test unit. They encouraged me to contact support, which I did. The support kind of ignored the fact that I mentioned this is for a review initially, and also that I have already returned the keyboard, and said:
“ To assist you further, could you please let us know the following information? I will double check with our product manager to see whether your on hand keyboard is defective or not. This help us decide whether a free replacement could solve your problem or not.
1. Whether the keyboard goes to sleep after about 2-5 minutes? Could you please let us know more details?
2. Your order number and shipping address.”
I answered the questions and explained again I don’t need a free replacement but just a test unit and I will return. I got another reply the next day with more questions:
Thanks for writing back with details.
If your first product is confirmed to be faulty, we are glad to send you a new one free of charge for you to review. However, if that problem is a design problem, a new one may be just the same as your returned one. That is why I ask more details before I ship a second one to you. Could you please kindly let us know the following information?
1. What is the exact model of your PC?
2. How do you find the keyboard goes to sleep? By checking the PC’s screen or the small bluetooth icon on your PC? Normally, the bluetooth icon on your PC will change to from black to grey after 10 minutes.
3. As for your concern about wake up time, whether you check this by looking at your PC? Your PC will take some time to wake up too. As advised by our quality engineer, the wake up time will takes about 3-5 seconds.
We look forward to hearing from you! Thanks.”
I replied back answering their questions and explained my method of testing which is by simply leaving the keyboard inactive and trying to time different intervals and check whether if it’s still active and how long it takes for it to exit standby. The wrote back me:
“ Dear Sam,It seems that your method of testing energy saving time is not correct. While testing, please don’t touch the keyboard. You may just connect your PC with keyboard only. And then calculate how long the bluetooth icon turns to grey.”
This sounded to me a very lab like test and not reflecting the real world conditions, and to expect the device to perform correctly when only the keyboard is paired with a device didn’t sound reasonable. But I felt I need to try this and although even if this works it won’t change the issue with the erratic energy saving pattern, but an insight to how they test their products.
Also interestingly after I returned the product their customer service got in touch with me and asked why I returned it and expressed their interest in improving their products, something that bigger companies will never do!. I replied to them and it was merged with my conversation with support which seemed to be managed both by the same person.
In their last email it was also said:
“By the way, I’ve forwarded your email address to our power user team (related to review issue). They will evaluate and contact you if needed. Thanks so much for your patience.”
I waited about two weeks but they never got in touch. I found myself in a strange position. I felt I don’t have enough information here to write a complete review. The investigative journalist side of me was telling me unless they send me another unit to try I can’t say for sure whether the one I got was faulty or there are issues with the design. I didn’t think they will ever get in touch with me again and frankly I didn’t want to beg for it! After sleeping on it for a while, I decided to buy another keyboard and test it. If it exhibited the same problem I would return it otherwise I can keep it as a backup keyboard.
The keyboard arrived a few days later and I was excited to try it and prove myself wrong, afterall we buy things with the hope that they are functional and helpful.
I paired the keyboard first to have a little play around when I was faced with an unpleasant surprise. As I was typing I realised some of the keys are not even working. I was very disappointed and this certainly wasn’t help their case.
I decided to test the energy saving function anyway.I tried their method first. I removed everything else connected to bluetooth and only left the keyboard connected and timed how long it will take for the bluetooth icon to go grey. No matter how long I waited the icon never went grey and I’m wondering if it ever does.The keyboard had already gone sleep of course.
So I tried my method again and with nothing else connected to my device there should not have been any interference. I got the same result and the keyboard always went to sleep in less than 10 minutes (2-5 minutes) and it took more than 3 seconds to come back.
Returning the keyboard for the second time gave me no pleasure. There was a lot of potential here and it’s sad to see a design flaw that the support decided not to acknowledge so it left me with little hope that they will improve it in future generations. The second unit suffering from non-functioning keys also didn’t paint a pretty picture.
It’s worth mentioning there are bluetooth keyboards that map your input while on standby, so when it comes back to life what you’ve typed isn’t lost. An argument can be made for the price/quality ratio but I believe the basic functions…
I reached to the front pocket of my suitcase and let my fingers feel it. The satisfyingly reassuring feeling of confirming the existence of what you need.
I bought “Sputnik Sweetheart” at Gatwick airport on my way to Stockholm. I did not got a chance to read it until on my way back to London at Vasteras airport. Flight delays being the theme of this short holiday, it didn’t come as a huge shock that the plane would leave 2 hours later. The airport didn’t announce the delay until an hour was already passed the departure time, but I already knew it thanks to the power of the Internet. I guess they didn’t want to upset the passengers too early!
I remembered the book right the second I was aware of the delay with a big grin on my face. Yet I still needed to confirm it was actually still in the front pocket of my luggage. Saved, is what I felt.
I was reading this on the back of “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle”, so my head was already full of Murakami. This one though punched me hard within only a few pages and a few tears rolled down my 4 days unshaven face. Sumire’s sudden love and Murakami’s way with words, made the time fly and kept my sleepy eyes open as if possessed.
Once during the flight I even fell asleep, but my hand was clinging to the book and not letting go! I was surprised to wake up and see I’m still holding the book.
I feel I shouldn’t read Murakami back to back. I’m picking up too many common themes that I don’t mind, but I don’t want to get distracted or reminded of some other character in some other story.
And just as I about to put it down and take a break, something happenes! Phew.. Murakami knows when just to reveal a twist!
This is the story of loss. The search to find a connection or a struggle not losing those you have. There are times that in order to carry on we give up a part of ourselves, but will the life be worth living afterwards? Perhaps only if you have a real connection to someone. Loneliness is a peculiar thing and the characters of this story find different ways to cope with it. I didn’t find their solutions helpful to me. I wish I could live in the dream world forever but the reality always yanks you back.
There’s a lot to absorb here and think about. Murakami’s ideas and philosophies on life seeping through the characters take you to different directions. It’s a kind of book that needs to be read slowly and to let one’s mind wonder.
Travelling is not easy! Chasing after the visa and all the admin aside, the stress/excitement of the night before and the usually tedious journey to the airport, only to face delays, don’t exactly paint a pretty picture. Once you step foot on a new ground however, it’ll be all worth it! The thrill of a being a total stranger in a new world with lots to discover and to marvel at is unlike anything other experience.
Last year I was lucky enough to see many places in Europe. I started with Copenhagen to break my over two years long travel spell. Brussels and Bruges were next and off to Annecy and Geneva afterwards. I relaxed in Split, Hvar and Dubronvik, met a friend in Bergen, figured out how to buy the metro ticket in Prague and watched a football match in Berlin. I ended the year with cheese and in awe with Amsterdam, Delft and Rotterdam. It feels like forever ago.
Having started my travels with Scandinavia last year, and loving the chilled Copenhagen and the beautiful Bergen, I felt compelled to begin this year’s adventures with a nod to the same region: Stockholm; the capital of Scandinavia.
Day 1: Love at first sight!
A sleepless night and the delayed flight took nothing away from my excitement. Arriving just before noon to Arlanda airport, I took the bus to the city. There are a few ways to get to the city from the airport. I found the airport shuttles (flygbussarna) to be the best in terms of the price and duration. 99SEK (or 119SEK if you don’t buy ahead online) takes you to the Cityterminalen in 45 minutes. There are stops outside all terminals but the bus starts from terminal 5 so go there if it’s too busy and save yourself a seat! There’s wifi In the bus and the time flies by.
The weather forecast had anticipated rain so arriving to a grey city wasn’t a surprise. Foggy and rainy , although not
too cold, never makes the best first impression. You obviously can’t blame the Swedes for their weather specially arriving from London. Stockholm is one of most culturally diverse cities in Europe. I was greeted with an Iranian born visa control officer and an airport filled with racially mixed background staffs.
The landscape felt somewhat familiar to other European countries, so I was eager to arrive to the city . Although everything did feel a bit greener. The Sun was coming in and out when I arrived and my umbrella was dancing to the rain intervals.
I headed to the accommodation to drop my luggage. The upside of the delayed flight was I could just check in now. Last time I stayed in a hostel was in Croatia with friends and this was in fact my first time staying in one alone. The expensive hotels in Stockholm and me travelling on a budget left me with little choice so I thought why not! (£25ppn for the hostel as opposed to around £80 for a dodgy hotel). The City Backpackers hostel was located very close to the central station and just under 10 minutes walk. It was clean and spacious. A good communal space, private showers and nice interior decorations. Staffs were all very friendly except one guy who I suppose was in a bad mood that day!
With the check in done, there was no time to waste and after saying hi to a few of my dorm mates I headed out. In the mood to wonder, I started walking aimlessly and found myself in Norrmalm district. The rain had given the air freshness and people were cheerfully walking down the shopping streets. I passed by Stockholm Concert Hall where there’s a daily market with mainly fruits and flowers, and walked all the way to the edge of Östermalm district. It is such a beautiful city and I felt in love with it right away.
For dinner I found a very special place. Since this was going to be the first and last time I treated myself nicely to meal in this trip, it was important to find the right place and luckily I did. Tradition, in Vasatan, was such a pleasant surprise. A very friendly staff and a modern & clean interior. I couldn’t resist but to order the Swedish meatballs and needless to say it was superb and obviously far better than those you get in IKEA. The salmon and cream cheese accompanied by bread and butter was a delightful starter as well. I love Scandinavian breads! They are so tasty and can be a meal on their own.
Lack of sleep started to catch up with me early in the evening and after 8 p.m. I could barely keep my eyes open. Although at the end I went to bed just before the midnight. The hostel was very noisy with drunk youth enjoying their time and I was just uploading some photos and going through my notes.
Day 2: Archipelago & Moderna Museet
I woke up early on the second day to go explore the Gamla stan (Old Town) before hordes of tourists arrive. It was cloudy which is actually good for photography providing a diffused lighting. This has been one of the most interesting part of my every European journey. Most cities have their old towns preserved, and although in most cases it has been turned to tourist trap with a lot of dodgy souvenirs shops, it is still amazing to be able to walk back in history and see these amazing architectures. Stockholm’s old town is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen and fairly big as well. It dates from the 13th century but most buildings are from the 17- and 1800s. It’s in a small island with many houses still residential. I even saw a few schools. I managed to take some nice photos of the pretty much empty streets.
Next for the day was a boat trip to Archipelago. I arrived early first to make sure I know where the departure point is before starting the explorer the area near the harbour. I walked around Ostermalm. A Quiet and beautiful area with a lot of pretty apartments . I had some breakfast in a small cafe and headed to the bay.
Stockholm’s archipelago is the second-largest in the Baltic Sea after Finland. There are nearly 30,000 islands, islets and rocks – from Arholma in the north to Landsort in the south. The journey I was taking the route to Vaxholm (capital of archipelago) and back. Admittedly I didn’t do a thorough research for this and just picked something based on tripadvisor rating and It was ok. The majority were the old people who had opted in for the lunch and cruising option. I just sat outside on the back deck and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. I would have preferred something a bit further outside in the sticks and to some of the inhabited islands, but it was still interesting to see what’s out there . It took 3 hours costing SEK270.00. If I ever visit again I would look into hiring a boat and going early to catch the sunrise and as the mist is covering the islands.
Jumping off the boat, remembering my journey through the Fjord in Bergen last year, I was pondering about planning a trip into nature somewhere away from the cities.
Looking at my list of places to visit I decided to pay a visit to the Moderna Museet (museum for modern and contemporary art) located on the island of Skeppsholmen.
It’s really fun to go to these small islands linked to each other with bridges. This is a free museum (except for special exhibitions) with an interesting collection that includes key works by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Dorothea Tanning, Andy Warhol and Niki de Saint Phalle.
The Enigma of William Tell – Dali
After a couple of hours there and satisfying my curiosity at their shop, I headed towards the City hall. It was too late to go inside but I had only one full day left and no time to ponder! It’s such a beautiful building standing tall by the bay. I walked around the nearby area for pretty much the rest of the day. I always enjoy seeing more of the residential side of the cities I’m visiting and not just the touristy bits. I explored Kungsholmen district to see many more beautiful buildings.
Stockholm City Hall
Day 3: Vasa and DesignTorget
Another noisy night at the hostel. Around 4 am there seemed to have been a crowd outside! They must have been pretty loud as their voices were penetrating my ear plugs! But I was tired so fell back asleep every time. On today’s agenda was Vasa museum to see the great (or not so great!) ship and then looking around some design shops. With most shops closing around 5pm, there is not much time to window shop unless the whole day is dedicated to shopping!
I left the hostel to find an amazing weather with the sun shining beautifully. Everything looked much more vibrant and saturated making this already colourful city even more so. I walked from the hostel with a stop at the central station to plan the final day’s departure. I was leaving from a different airport to catch a cheaper Ryan Air flight at Vasteras. The train tickets are cheaper if you buy in advanced. ( e.g. 99SEK instead of 140SEK). Also cheaper to buy from the ticket machine than the counter (e.g. 140SEK instead of 160SEK). Interesting too, if you choose not to add your name to the ticket and go nameless you will need to pay more. All the payments to the machines or buying bus tickets are done via cards and no cash is accepted. After a quick research I headed to Vasa. I like the scale of this city. It’s like a mixture of Copenhagen and Bergen but much bigger and denser!
Vasa museum, located on the island of Djurgården, is the house to a giant ship of the same name that sank almost instantly as it was let in water in 1628. What is amazing about it is the fact that they were able to salvage it, almost fully intact, about 300 years later. There was a really well made short film about its’ history at the museum’s cinemas. It’s a magnificent sight to behold.
Audio: an important part of our interactions with technology. Whether it’s your daily companion device, or at home with your other electronics, good sound comes at a price, perhaps often a little too much! In this series of articles I will attempt to introduce budget solutions for different scenarios based on my experience over the years.
I’ve tried perhaps hundreds of earphones (in-ear headphones) in the past decade! We get so many of them in different situations. In a rush at an airport, or desperate to listen to your music while out and having forgotten your existing one…solution: just grabbing the cheapest you find and it will get lost sooner or later. I don’t think we care much for them. Those who do, step it up by going to the next level and above the £50 mark where you can find some pretty decent offerings. But what if you just want something cheap & good? It doesn’t have to last forever, but while it does, it makes worth your while. I never thought I will find one, but after years of a passive search, I think I have finally struck gold.. Well, not exactly gold..maybe silver!
Panasonic RPTCM125EK Headphone (with Microphone), if you don’t mind the in-ear design, is one of the best I’ve ever seen. Priced at £11 from Amazon (US RRP $19.99,) they won’t break your bank while providing an ergonomic and comfortable design. The sound is very clear and balanced, and it fits firmly in your ears so you won’t have to worry about it slipping out now and then. Since it seats a little deeper than your average earphone (or buds!), it also does a better job of sound isolation. It comes with an inline microphone, which is pretty average, housing a button for play/pause or answering calls that works nicely with most smartphones.
It’s not without an issues or two however, with the main downside being the cord. If Panasonic updates this line with a flat tangle free alternative, then they will have a real winner.
RPTCM125EK is also available in different colours. If you don’t need the microphone there’s another model lacking so which is even cheaper.
+ Good clear sound
+ Ergonomic design
– Tangle bound cord
– Average microphone
Ok! Let me make sure I’m back in the realm of reality first…yes.. It appears so!
The story of Toru Okada, and his unexpected journey battling a new kind of darkness, is the longest and most thrilling of Murakami yet! What an engaging and interesting tale and Murakami delivers once again.
Having read seven of his other books, there are a lot of patterns and similarities starting to find shape in my mind. This is not a bad thing and there are still so many innovations, surprises and twists that make “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” anything but predictable. There’s a sense of more maturity in the way the events unfold and the outcome of things that I feel comes from the author’s change of view on life as he is aging. It feels, to me, that the laws of reality are creeping into his imaginations.
I especially enjoyed how he was experimenting with different time lines, some of which neither involved the protagonist directly nor actually occurred. They were but the creations of other characters’ minds and we break away from Toru’s narration through them.
There are so many characters in this book all connected together, although it may not appear on the surface. They inform each other beautifully and peel away from the mysteries surrounding Toru, who is often kept in the dark often even more than the reader! You wish you could whisper quietly to him “hey! you are not alone!” but at the end he doesn’t need anyone’s help once he accepts his fate.
As with other Murakami’s books, I feel a little sad to have reached the end. I wish I could stay in his fascinating mind a little longer… or perhaps there’s no time to waste! To the next!
The dream of being able to wirelessly stream or mirror content from any device you are holding to a bigger screen, has been chased by many of us over the years. It’s somewhat strange that despite all the technological advances made, specially in the past decade, there is still no unified system in place that can satisfy this thirst! Not only that, there are practically no complete solutions around even for a closed ecosystem! From Apple AirPlay to Google Chromecast or even the Microsoft Wireless adapter, none will answer all your demands. The best you can do is to pick and choose and use each device for a specific purpose.
When I came across Airtame on Indiegogo back in January 2014, I saw a potential in a device that was aiming for a cross platform solution. Although soon they realised they can’t provide screen mirroring for all devices due to the software limitation imposed by the big names, particularly in mobile, this Copenhagen based startup still had some interesting features that got my attention and I supported their campaign. My understanding was this is targeted for enterprise, company meetings and corporate use, but I was also curious to see how it will handle media streaming.
The device came out with the usual delays these crowdfunded projects seem to face, but nevertheless it was eventually shipped to the backers with BETA status. It’s nicely designed and uses a mini USB input to power up. The initial impression was not very good. The software was very patchy and so did the firmware. It was terribly slow and it got very frustrating very quickly. Media streaming was simply out of the question at this point.
I tried it again a few times within a 3 months window. Some updates were released and things got slightly better, but still it wasn’t reliable and seemed too much effort for so little result.
I wasn’t disappointed as I expected this to be the case for a newly released product and as an early adapter, you’ve already opted in to be a beta tester! It however was encouraging to see they were continuing to work on the software and performance. Almost a year later I revisited the little dongle to see what’s new and for the first time I could see the signs of maturity in Airtame.
The software was no longer confusing and unreliable and with a sleek UI and an easy to use set-up process, the interaction was taken to a much more streamlined experience. The streaming speed in the auto mode was great and perfectly adequate for presentations and meetings. This is the area where Airtame can really shine due to a full desktop mirroring support for Mac, Windows & Linux, also with the added benefit of everyone just being able to stream to any number of the Airtames within the local WIFI network or directly to them. There are also apps for mobile providing some limited streaming options that could be used for presentations.
Airtame modern UI
Next step was the media streaming and as expected Airtame was not able to handle it and I don’t think it ever will. Even connecting to the device directly to avoid the possible WIFI network performance issues, the frame rate was slow. Setting to a higher quality would simply render it completely unusable making me wonder why there are even such options in place, maybe for a next generation device?. One positive to mention here is when set to auto, although the frame rate drops, it manages to keep the audio synced to the image pretty successfully, so if you find yourself forced to play a video clip in a presentation, it could just barely pass.
The desktop application can still be refined further. Right now there’s a nice modern UI to control the streaming with access to some settings over the quality, but to see the advanced settings a new window will pop up. I think it will be better if all settings are contained within the more modern UI.
The dongle discovery still seems a bit patchy and you have to enter the ip address manually sometimes. While the performance is significantly better, there are still occasional disconnects and freezes.
Is Airtam the WIFI hdmi dongle of the future? I don’t think so, but it does provide a pretty good solution for a specific section of the market and it does it well. I’m sure the performance will be even more improved over the time and there’s a lot of room for Airtame to grow and increase it’s market share in other areas such as education.
Airtame streaming connected to a portable USB power brick
There’s a very interesting exhibition currently running at London Design Museum called “Designs of the Year 2015”. It’s a showcase of outstanding designs of the past year in 6 categories of architecture, digital,fashion, graphics, product and transport. It will be there until late August and it’s well worth a visit. I won’t get into much details as there’s a very comprehensive website with everything you need to know, but as I was walking around I started taking some notes on what a good design should be. I found the exhibition very inspiring and made me want to design something right away!. Here are some of my notes;
A good design:
1- Functions well
2- Easy to use
3- Understands the manufacturing process
4- Ingeniously uses the available materials
5- Easily affordable
6- Requires limited skills to make
7- Changes the way we live
8- Solve problems
9- Reflects innovation
10- Responds to its’ era
11- (allows to) Express individuality
12- Provokes debates
13- Open minded and not tied down to what’s established
14- Has clean and bold outlines
15- Understands the user
16- Captures the critical spirit without designing out the fun
17- Doesn’t obscure the function
18- Helps people re think things
19- Reflects past, present and future
20- Brings drama and magic
21- Has everyday impact
22- Touches emotions