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Review: Creative Sound Blaster Axx SBX20
The monolithic Creative Sound Blaster Axx SBX 20 certainly has a unique look. The idea behind it - apart from making it stand out in your living room - is that the two speakers inside the Creative Sound Blaster Axx SBX 20 are stacked on top of each other but pointing towards opposite sides in a bid to improve stereo coverage.
While the single tower does a good job of filling a medium-sized room with sound, it doesn't perform as well as two separate stereo speakers spaced apart.
Of course, the Creative Sound Blaster Axx SBX 20 is designed to be compact and attractive, so some compromises have had to be made regarding stereo coverage. The sound quality itself is good, though not great, and a lack of bass leaves some music feeling a little flat.
While it doesn't excel in the sound department - somewhat disappointing, considering it's a speaker, and considering Creative's pedigree - we can't fault it for the wealth of features it packs.
It features Bluetooth connectivity for phones, and the results were very good.
Our test iPhone 4S found and connected to the Creative Sound Blaster Axx SBX 20 quickly, though it required pressing and holding the small Bluetooth button that's located at the back of the speakers at the bottom.
This could prove a little fiddly, depending on where you position the speaker. The touch interface on the top of the speaker, on the other hand, is elegant and responsive.
The built-in microphone provides excellent sound quality, and with some fancy Creative technology it does a good job of eliminating background noise. So you can talk into the Creative Sound Blaster Axx SBX 20 in a busy room, and your contact will have no trouble hearing what you're saying.
The Creative Sound Blaster Axx SBX 20 is powered entirely via USB, which is hugely impressive in itself, so it can be used as a PC speaker and even an external sound card.
An adaptor is also included that enables you to plug it into a power socket as well, if you want to use it as a standalone speaker. A free app can be downloaded for smartphones and tablets to enable you to tweak the sound quality, which is a nice touch.
The Creative Sound Blaster Axx SBX 20 is a striking looking speaker that has a lot of features, though we'd have liked a bit more attention spent on sound quality as well.
Interview: 'This is the most ambitious thing we've done since Windows 95'
"We have 65 centuries of telemetry data on Windows 8," says Microsoft's Windows 8 program manager Gabriel Aul.
He makes the statement in an almost throwaway fashion, knowing that the stat will speak for itself. Microsoft really thinks it has done its homework with this one.
"Yep, just absorb that statement. Quite mind-blowing," chimes Windows 8 marketing head Tami Reller.
Despite many fears about people getting used to the new OS, Microsoft knows – or thinks it knows – that Windows 8 will go down well with users when they start to use it from tomorrow.
"The 65 centuries is across all the different telemetry from all the different versions (previews and RTM). We've been able to see over time how people are using the Windows 8-style apps," says Aul. "As the apps have got more prolific and more rich, we're seeing more and more people using those apps more and going into the desktop less and less."
"We do also see a tremendous amount of desktop usage as well for people that need that and for heavy multi-tasking. It's been fascinating to watch the shift as we introduce more apps. Customers are liking it more."
Microsoft is clearly pumped about the new OS and understandably so as it prepares to launch its first Windows tablet alongside the new OS – Microsoft Surface. To mark the launch, TechRadar met with Aul and Reller for an extended interview and demo in London last week.
"We're very excited at reaching [this point], it's a pretty significant milestone for us," says Reller. "As we look at this project, as we look at this product, we think it's the most ambitious thing since Windows 95.
"I know you've heard us say this before, but Windows 8 is Windows 7 but even better. And it is, whether its boot time, whether it's security, performance, whatever. There is a fairly stunning difference between Windows 7 – which was great – and the performance of Windows 8.
"October 26 means a lot of things – it means that upgrades are going to be available for customers. And it's obvious from the price points that we're really trying to be as aggressive as ever and open up the upgrade to everyone.
"So whether it's the Windows upgrade offer which was hopefully easy to understand – one price, any PC, available through January 31 or [other offers] the upgrades are available and of course PCs are on shelves including tablets, convertibles touchscreen Ultrabooks which we're pretty excited about and of course Windows RT devices."
Will you be used to it after 24 hours?
Getting used to Windows 8 will be a challenge for new users. That's clear. But Microsoft believes that users should get used to Windows 8 around after 24 hours of use. Aul again:
"When we crunched the numbers we found that people that had the best success of learning the new things and the most enjoyable experience was when they just got a few hints about where to start, like the hot corners, the edges for touch and then they explored and found the rest.
"There's something fun they found about just finding things and new features, but knowing where the starting point was enabled them to do the discovery in a very natural way.
"From the telemetry we've seen and the data we've got from usability studies we've found that 80 per cent of customers are fully proficient after 24 hours. They can do all the navigation, charms, window management, Start Screen rearranging…the vast majority of people get there in 24 hours. It is new, there are some new things but we think that it's discoverable if you approach it with the right mindset.
The mindset challenge
That latter point is the key, users need to have the right mindset to take advantage of what Windows 8 offers. Those put off by pictures of the new Start Screen will be harder to adopt. Aul says the company has worked hard to give users just the right amount of education on how Windows 8 works.
"So you get a video, it's a short animated – it's elegant in the background, it's not in your face. There's a great story behind that video where we did a lot of usability testing with customers where we tested out different videos. So we went from just [letting people just use it] to intensive training where we pointed out every feature. "
"It's meant to be consumer friendly. I fact, the customers that got heavy training, it felt like they were at school, it was [a bit much]. "
Reller says she has been impressed at how quickly users have become used to the new UI, saying people get used to it "in rapid fashion actually. You become more immersed in the new UI, that's where you spend your time.
That's what we're finding with Windows 8 [users], they can always go back to what they're familiar with, with the desktop, but as they become used to more apps, as they become more familiar they spend more and more time on the Start Screen (using Windows 8-style apps). Our telemetry tells us that."
Personalisation is the key
"Where we see people first start to 'get it' and enjoy it is with hat first bit of personalisation, which happens fast," adds Reller. "Whether it's a photo you put in the lock screen or you do picture password or you see your Facebook pictures flow into the People app, that makes it come alive. And so that's the enjoyment side of it. That's a big deal. There's always that 'a-ha' moment when you go to another PC and everything appears – it's a magical moment for people."
Aul believes Windows 8 touch devices will take off simply because people are just used to touch devices now. "Yeah, you start touching everything when you use a touch device for any length of time, you touch big monitors, everything. There were a lot of questions about would a touch laptop work. When you're hands are here [gestures as if using a keyboard], would you touch the screen, was it something you would do and enjoy?
"We really kind of had to build one, make it up, because there wasn't one in existence, but when we ran people through using it, they enjoyed it, there's just something basic about touching something.
"But it's about making everything work with mouse and keyboard as well. We're expecting a great many traditional laptops [to launch with Windows 8] as well and as you said the hot corners and charms are designed to work with both."
Buying Guide: Best iPhone 5 case: 15 to choose from
Best iPhone 5 cases
So you bought an iPhone 5. That's a valuable piece of tech in your back pocket, especially if you plumped for maximum capacity.
Now imagine dropping it. Apple's new baby stands up to knocks fairly well, but even a scuff or a scratch on a half-grand device is going to grate. Isn't it time you put a case on it?
Here's our pick of the best iPhone 5 cases available now.
1. Griffin Protector - $19.99 (£12.50)
The Griffin Protector case acts as a middle ground for those wanting increased protection without the military-spec and bulk of the Griffin Survivor. The reinforced silicone boasts extra thickness at the edges, providing added assurance that your device is safe from mid-grade knocks, while the matte finish ensures a decent grip.
2. QDOS Smoothies - £19.99
This more elegant option marries a lush fascia with a clear polycarbonate, bevel-edged surround that offers decent covering for the edges of your phone. The QDOS case feels rigid enough to stand up to at least mild abuse, but steers well clear of the camera lens and doesn't impede access to buttons.
3. Griffin Survivor - $50 (£31)
Griffin's über-protective technology is already renowned for its Defense Standard specification, and this iPhone 5 version doesn't buck the trend. Shatter-resistant polycarbonate as well as hinged button and dock plugs cloak the phone, while a built-in screen protector seals in your device, keeping it safe from dirt, sand, rain, shock – pretty much anything the world can throw at it. The equivalent of wrapping your phone in cotton wool.
4. Scosche rawHIDE g6 - $30 (£19)
Suave yet simple, the rawHIDE is cut from hard black polycarbonate and wrapped in a layer of genuine leather. The case shell is stiff enough, but those wanting added protection with a little give on the rim and corners may want to look elsewhere.
5. Speck PixelSkin HD - $30 (£19)
Soft and durable grippiness defines the PixelSkin HD. Its rubbery, flexible casing pops on and off with ease, but only when you need it to. The raised bevel protects the front panel well, and shields the buttons from dings without impeding access.
6. Griffin Reveal - $20 (£12.50)
If you've got it, flaunt it. Griffin's Reveal stays true to the maxim with what at first appears to be a classic bumper. Closer inspection, though, reveals a transparent polycarbonate shell lined with a rubberised edge, providing fair-to-middling protection without veiling the machined beauty of your superior tech.
7. Proporta Leather Style - £24.95
If toughness isn't your thing and you can live with faux-leather then this Proporta case is a decent enough take on the 'c-clip' style cover. It's lightweight, soft to the touch and covers the front and rear completely without interfering with button access or camera operability.
8. Proporta Quiksilver - Blue Checks - £19.95
This snug-fitting hard case from Proporta really looks the part without smothering the iPhone's sleek aesthetic. The logo of outdoor sports fashion brand Quiksilver sits front and centre in its blue check design, although the protection on offer can't be said to match such ideals. It'll keep knocks and scratches at bay no problem, just keep it far from the surf.
9. Scosche kickBACK sport g6 - $30 (£19)
Scosche doubles down on protection with its latest sports cover, combining a textured polycarbonate outer case with a rubberized interior to absorb shock. The open design ensures connections and controls remain accessible, while an integrated kickstand only adds to the slick feel. The screen and chamfer do feel a little over-exposed for active lifestyles though.
10. Griffin Animal Parade - $20 (£12.50)
If you're looking for a cute and crazy option you could do a lot worse than this Griffin series. Thick silicone encases the handset, while a lovely round rim envelopes the display, which also serves to protect the screen from falls. The goofy design is perfect for kids – if you can trust them with a £500+ device…
11. Piel Frama iMagnum2 - 85 Euros (£69)
If you're willing to spend a little more to protect your phone then definitely check out this offering from Piel Frama. The Spanish company's handmade cases only use the highest quality cow skin leather, and it really shows. The inner lining is as luxuriant as the outer cover, which folds over the screen and stays there, secured by hidden magnets. It even comes with a removable belt clip.
12. Cygnett UrbanShield - £24.99
The close-fit and smooth bevelled edges of the UrbanShield emphasize the solid protection it gives your phone against keys and coins in your pocket. Meanwhile the rubber rim around the front panel protects the glass from falls, and dips into a nice carbon weave detail on the aluminium rear. A screen protector seals the look.
13. Otterbox Defender - £39.99
The Otterbox weds industrial protection with style in its multi-layer defence against heavy knocks and falls. A candy-coloured polycarbonate skeleton houses a solid inner shell with built-in screen protector, and a large belt clip holsters the entire unit for a third layer of protection. Not too slim then, but very secure.
14. X-Doria Dash - $34.99 (£21.60)
Rocking an oblong rear window and polka-dot fabric, X-Doria's Dash looks straight off the haute couture fashion line. It's not delicate either, thanks to its hard polycarbonate shell and rimmed edges, offering good resistance against everyday impacts.
15. Snugg Squared - £14.99
The Snugg Squared is made of rubberized silicone that stands up well against drops and shocks and feels grippy in the hand. The rounded rim puts ample space between the display and the floor to protect the glass and limit impact shock. Mould size has been known to vary on this range, so try before you buy if possible.
Microsoft 'fundamentally against' carrying both tablet and laptop
A Microsoft exec has insisted that the desktop is not being slowly killed by touch user interfaces, insisting that the company fundamentally disagrees with carrying around both a tablet and a laptop rather than one device.
Speaking at a round-table event for the launch of Windows 8, vice president of Windows web services Anthony LeBlonde insisted that choice is key.
"I would argue with [the assertion] that the desktop is dead because there are so many great desktop apps out there today and for a lot of people they are an important part of what they have to do day in and day out," said LeBlonde.
"Having a version of Windows that keeps running those things, maintains backwards compatibility and makes sure we can run those apps as well as we always have is a big part of the value of Windows and will continue to be.
"That being said, they are important for some people, but there are other people for whom that is not what they spend their time and in the world of no compromise in giving choice making sure that people can do what they want to do is the order of the day."
LeBlonde insists that having a traditional desktop and a more touch friendly 'modern' UI in the same operating system is vital for the current crop of computers and tablets.
"In a way I think of what we have done as being all about choice," added LeBlonde. "You can do what you want. You can run desktop apps, you can run Windows Store apps - you can do both.
"We talk a lot about the idea of Windows 8 being about not compromising. Not compromising between running the apps that exist today versus the apps that exist tomorrow.
"Running on a desktop or running on a tablet - you choose what you want and it's the same experience across all of these devices."
LeBlonde feels that people are doubling up on devices rather than having the best of both worlds, and he insists that Microsoft wants to solve the issue.
"I think if you cleave the world into two pieces you create an either or," he added.
"I'm going to be blunt about it, you just have to look at the amount of people who are walking around with multiple PCs today and that's because the world is cleaved in two.
"We're walking around with [a tablet] and we're walking around with a laptop and there's no reason [for that].
"There are the same components inside these things, it is just a software choice someone made on your behalf.
"A fundamental point of view we have is that you don't need to have multiple devices like this to do what you need to be doing - whether it's sitting on couch watching a movie or taking notes."
Updated: 27 years of Windows package design
Software packaging isn't exactly the epitome of great design. And, as the world's most used operating system - and being from Microsoft - Windows has had some rather dull boxes designed for it to sit within.
But it's also had some great packaging designed for it too, so we've gathered together images of the box art from each version of Windows, from 1985's Windows 1.0 to this week's Windows 8.
Enjoy - and check out our other Windows 8 content here:
- Windows 8 review
- Windows 8 vs Windows 7: 8 ways it's different
- 50 Windows 8 tips, tricks and secrets
- Windows 8 tablets: what you need to know
- Making sense of the Windows 8 versions
- All our Windows 8 content
Windows 1.0 - blue is the colour
An "operating environment," Windows 1.0 may have had an eye-catching ad featuring Steve Ballmer, but the design of the box was aimed squarely at business and featured the old Microsoft logo on a navy background.
Windows 2 (286 and 386 versions) - 80s stripes and snazzy desktops
Two versions for different PC variants, the Windows 2.0 boxes were also pretty dull but introduced typical 80s window blinds and images of the now-colourful Windows desktop. Note the new Microsoft logo, too (which has only recently been replaced).
Windows 3.0 - look at my clickety clack keyboard!
Notice that Windows 3.0 is still on 5.25-inch disks. Windows 3.0 is now called a "graphical environment" - still running atop MS DOS of course. But isn't the imagery still really, really dark and dingy? "Windows 3.0: underworld edition?"
Windows 3.1 - 90s clean lines and the Windows flag
Ah that's better. Now seven years old, 3.1 made its debut in 1992 and together with Workgroups (see below) was a huge success. A cleaner box design resulted (albeit with that strange, spidery font), while it's also the first time we see the Windows flag.
By contrast, the weird upgrade edition cover eschews the Windows flag completely.
Windows 3.1 for Workgroups - "yes! I have more than one PC!"
The Workgroups box suffered from a bit of font overload...
Windows 95 - more power AND fun
Wow! As well as upping the game in terms of the OS itself, Microsoft went all consumer on us for Windows 95's packaging. Indeed, Microsoft's subsequent reputation for putting too many messages on the box probably started here (see the "what if Microsoft packaged the iPod" video). Windows 95 still came on a floppy if you wanted it.
Windows NT - the night sky
The business-orientated NT version was the first fully 32-bit version of Windows and formed the basis for the Windows we still use today - all "home" versions after Windows Me (starting with Windows XP) were based on the more stable and secure NT codebase.
Windows 98 - works better, play better
A development on the Windows 95 box but easier on the eye, the Windows 98 packaging continued the "too much information" era. Shame the box was so similar to the Windows 95 one that Microsoft had to stick a NEW VERSION! flash on it.
Windows 2000 - the dullest Windows box yet
Apologies in advance, as you'll now have to suffer two poor packaging efforts. Returning to white, Microsoft went back to basics. It's a shame for Windows 2000, as it was a super OS - a leading anti-virus expert said the last of his userbase had only recently upgraded.
Windows Me - bland box, rubbish OS
Windows Me was Windows 98 with a few new bits from Windows 2000 and a renewed focus on media content. However, it was as rubbish as the box was dull. If you didn't use it, you were lucky.
Windows XP - the green and the blue
The non-shoutiness of the Windows XP packaging was surprising given the quantum leap forward that Windows XP represented over Me. But it was clever design - the difference between the editions was clear and nowhere near as confusing as the myriad of Vista versions that followed.
Windows Vista - plastic is, like, so green
On the Windows Blog, Nick White announced the new packaging for Vista and Office 2007. "The packaging has been completely revised and, we hope, foreshadows the great experience that awaits you once you open it." Hmmm. In a disappointing move environmentally, Microsoft moved to a chunky clear plastic design with a printed inner. Blogger Long Zheng was more positive, calling it "holy freaking super deliciously awesome."
Windows 7 - selling itself
Microsoft simplified the design for Windows 7, with a cardboard outer and plastic inner. "The plastic case protecting the Windows 7 disk is lighter and is recyclable," explained Microsoft blogger Brandon LeBlancon the Windows 7 blog. "The packaging itself has a 37 per cent weight reduction and the econometrics score has improved by 50 per cent over it's predecessor." Things would have been even better if there was no plastic though. It helped that the OS itself was ace.
Windows 8 - welcome to Metro
Or rather, welcome to Modern UI. Actually, welcome to the Microsoft design-style interface. It's a massive shame that the fab Metro name has had to be shelved. We're also not that keen on the packaging, which seems to be a little dull in comparison to the new Start Screen. This is a new beginning for Microsoft, and we'd like to have had something a little jazzier. Just as well we quite like Windows 8 itself.