Category Archives: laptops

image

Review: Verbatim’s USB audio bar – simple, well made, good sound

If you are in the habit of watching video or listening to music on a laptop, you will know that the average laptop has poor sound quality. That is partly because most laptop speakers are an afterthought, and partly because it is not easy to fit speakers of any quality into a laptop case.

External speakers are the answer, but while there are plenty to choose from, they can get in the way.

The Verbatim 49095 Portable USB Audio Bar Speaker is a neat solution. It is designed to fit on top of a laptop screen.

image

While that may sound precarious, the unit is cleverly designed with tabs at the front and a twist-down peg at the back which means it fits well on almost any laptop screen.

image

I was impressed with the sound, considering the modest price of this product, which retails at £14.99 or less. It is a vast improvement on the built-in speakers in the Dell laptop I tried. No, it is not as good as two separate loudspeakers positioned either side of the laptop; but the audio bar takes up almost no extra space and would easily tuck into most laptop bags when not in use.

Unfortunately you do need a laptop – running Windows 7, Vista, XP, or Mac OS X 10.1 or higher. Apple’s iPad has no USB port, and there is not an option to use an audio cable instead.

The unit is well made, works with USB 2.0 or 3.0, and claims output power of 2 watts RMS.

Recommended.

First eye-controlled laptop announced by Lenovo and Tobii

Lenovo and Tobii have announced the first eye-controlled laptop, at the Cebit event in Hannover. Tobii is a company specialising in eye tracking and eye control.

This image may look to you like just another man using a laptop; but Tobii assures us that:

In this image, Henrik Eskilsson, the CEO of Tobii Technology, uses the eye gaze to control the computer.

image

What is being shown at Cebit is a prototype; apparently 20 units have been produced “for development and demo purposes.” Says Tobii:

For users, eye control is thrilling and makes the computer interaction more effective. It is as if the computer understands you; just glance at an icon or gadget and more information will be presented; You can zoom pictures or maps and automatically center on the area you are looking at; The computer can auto-dim and brighten the screen when it recognizes your eyes to increase battery time. Eye control can also speed things up by enabling new and intuitive ways to switch between open windows, and browse your emails and documents.

It is a fascinating idea though one that I guess you have to try before assessing its value. It is in tune with developments like Microsoft’s Kinect, which which you use your body movements as input to a games console or computer.

Eye control is a perfect complement to traditional control interfaces, such as the mouse and keyboard, and it is anticipated to be the next step within natural user interfaces.

says Lenovo.

Fixing a laptop screen

When a friend showed me their two-year old Toshiba laptop that had suddenly developed a fault, I was not optimistic. The screen was showing a blur of horizontal lines and you could not even make out the image Windows was trying to show. Likely a faulty screen, but is it an economical repair?

I verified that it was only the screen that was faulty by connecting to an external display, which worked fine. Then I took a closer look at the faulty screen. I noticed that if I pressed the upper left screen trim, it started working. Release the pressure, and the lines reappeared. That seemed to me a good sign.

The last time I tangled with a laptop screen was a few years back. At that time, with the models I looked at, you had to remove the keyboard and numerous other parts to get at the screen; but it seems that it is simpler now. I removed the battery and power, and then unscrewed four screws in the screen trim, following which I could pop off the screen trim by gently prising it away. This enabled me to look at the back of the screen, where the model number was shown. It was a Samsung LCD screen. I figured it would probably be cheaper to search for the Samsung part, rather than finding out what Toshiba would charge for a replacement.

It turns out that a new screen is available for around £75-£85 from sites like this one. Probably worth it for a decent laptop just a couple of years old. The following video, from the same site, shows what is typically involved – though be warned, your particular laptop may be different.

Still, I was wondering if it needed a new screen at all. It might just be a loose connection, since I could fix it with finger pressure. I removed the screen completely by unscrewing it from its bracket, so I could easily get at the VGA connection. I lifted a small piece of tape and removed the connector. Then I reinserted it, pressing it home firmly. Reassembled the screen, replaced the battery and turned on.

Since then, no fault. Who knows, it may recur, but for nothing more than a short time with a screwdriver I am glad to have extended the life of this particular laptop.

PS If you try the above, you do so at your own risk. It is easy to do further damage, so if in doubt consult a specialist.