Mobile Geeks http://www.mobilegeeks.com Covering the Latest Mobile Technology News Mon, 29 Jun 2015 07:28:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 Intel Compute Stick review http://www.mobilegeeks.com/intel-compute-stick-review/ http://www.mobilegeeks.com/intel-compute-stick-review/#comments Mon, 29 Jun 2015 07:28:25 +0000 http://www.mobilegeeks.com/?p=27345

Much more than a TV dongle, a bit less than a full-fledged PC. Intel Compute Stick is kinda like a first iPhone – it’s a great piece of hardware that needs some improvements. The next generation might be the real game-changer for the PC market, but now it’s something aimed at a narrow group of […]

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Much more than a TV dongle, a bit less than a full-fledged PC. Intel Compute Stick is kinda like a first iPhone – it’s a great piece of hardware that needs some improvements. The next generation might be the real game-changer for the PC market, but now it’s something aimed at a narrow group of users.

Design and package contents

Intel Compute Stick comes in a simple blue box with Intel’s logo on it, nothing special here but overall design is consistent with other Intel’s products. Inside there is the stick, a power supply with replaceable power plugs, a microUSB cable, and an HDMI extender cable.

Most of the time when the Intel Compute Stick is connected it will be hidden behind a TV so design should not be a major issue. Nevertheless, Intel did a good job in the design phase. Plastics are solid and the big Intel’s logo reminds us that this is not a no name TV dongle with Android system on board. It’s just simply good looking. The device is also much bigger than a typical USB stick. It measures about 102x37x12mm (4.01×1.45×0.47 inches), so it’s a little bit chunky and might not fit behind every TV. That is why included HDMI extender cable comes in handy. With its help there is no problem with connecting the stick to the TV.

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On the other hand the stick is lightweight and travel friendly. You can fit it in your pocket and if you only have access to a mice/keyboard you can take it with you anywhere.

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Just a micro SD card slot and an air vent on the side

After taking a closer look I was surprised to see air vents on the front and on the sides of the device. They are necessary because Intel has decided to apply an active cooling system. Yes, there is actually a small fan inside to help deal with the heat. This small fan can be a little noisy sometimes. It was louder than my laptop, but from the distance when the device is connected to the TV the fan is inaudible.

Specs

There are two versions of Intel’s Compute Stick and both of them are equipped with a quad-core Atom Z3735F, integrated 802.11n WIFI and Bluetooth 4.0. Both have a single USB 2.0 port, a MicroSD slot and a MicroUSB port for connecting a power supply. The stick must be plugged in all the time. There is no battery inside, and HDMI port does not provide power.

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USB 2.0 and a MicroUSB port for connecting a power supply

First and cheaper version is a Linux version running Ubuntu with 1GB of RAM and just 8GB of eMMC storage. It may seem that 1GB of ram with 8GB of storage is not much, but this configuration should be good enough to run Linux smoothly. Moreover, memory can be expanded with a MicroSD card. According to Intel, the stick works with cards up to 128GB. Suggested retail price for this version is about 89$.

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HDMI is the only way to connect the stick to the TV

The version I had a chance to test packs the same quad-core Atom Z3735F, but with 2GB of RAM (DDR3/1333), and 32GB of eMMC storage. The biggest difference is not amount of RAM, though but the OS. It is running a full version of 32-bit Windows 8.1 and it will be upgradable to Windows 10 for free in the future. Suggested retail price in the US is 150$.

Let’s get started!

My Intel Compute Stick came with a preinstalled version of Microsoft Windows 8.1 with Bing and it was ready to use right out of the box. Users just need to connect it to the TV and to the power supply. That’s all. It takes just a few minutes before the Stick is ready to go.

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The stick has to be plugged in order to work

The only inconvenience comes at the very beginning – to connect Bluetooth mice and keyboard at least a standard mice is needed to setup Microsoft account and pair devices. Typing at this stage can be done with on-screen keyboard. Using standard peripherals is fine too. Although Intel Compute Stick has only one USB 2.0 port, a USB HUB can be used to connect additional devices. 4 Port USB Hub worked perfectly.

Performance

Let’s be honest, the stick powered by the Atom Z3735F (Bay Trail) with its 4 cores (basic frequency is 1.33 GHz, up to 1.83GHz), Intel HD Graphics running at 311MHZ and 2GB of RAM is not a speed demon. It’s much closer to the tablet performance than to the desktop PC. But it’s powerful enough for simple, everyday tasks. You are probably thinking “What do you mean by simple everyday tasks?” What I mean is browsing the Internet seamlessly, writing e-mails, watching YouTube in 1080p, watching movies, streaming, writing documents in Word/Excel, do some very simple image editing in Photoshop etc. Even with Compute Stick’s limited hardware all those things can be accomplished. Just remember, this is not a tool for heavy/professional use. It was never meant to be one, nor was it marketed as such. One of the problems from my perspective is limited amount of RAM. 2GB is just not enough for heavy browsing (I usually have over 20 tabs opened in Chrome) or multi-tasking. I need at least 4GB of RAM, your mileage may vary.

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Geekbench 3, Intel Compute Stick has nothing to be proud of

The way I feel about the Stick’s performance is subjective, that’s why some cold benchmark data should help get a better view of what, and how fast can be done. This is not a high-end laptop, so in order to check the processing power of the Stick I just used Geekbench 3. The results are as follows:

  • Single-Core Score : 770
  • Multi-Core Score:   2181

Those results are similar to performance of most tablets with Atom Bay Trail and Windows 8.1. Below some attached screenshots with additional data regarding the performance.

Screenshot (12) Screenshot (13) Screenshot (14)

One tip, the performance might be slightly improved by changing the performance settings in the Compute Stick’s BIOS. Balanced performance is set by default. It can be changed to low-power or performance. When the high performance option is set, the stick will no longer allow you to use a 4-port USB HUB without an external power supply.

After testing I see the Intel Compute Stick not only as dongle which will turn your TV into a multimedia center. Thanks to the Windows 8.1 this device can be used as an office tool everywhere where a lot of power is not necessary.

Gaming

I decided to look at Intel Compute Stick from a little different perspective, from a perspective of a hardcore gamer. I know it’s not a powerful device and it wasn’t designed for gaming. Obviously it won’t run GTA V or even some less demanding modern games. But what’s the limit? What actually can be played on it?

Let’s start with some benchmarks first. I limited the test to 3DMark demo version. First, I tried Ice Storm Unlimited. This test is meant for lower end tablets and smartphones.

Screenshot (1)

3DMark demo version. Ice Storm Unlimited

The overall result was 10248 points, but the graphic score was only 9722 points. Both results (especially the graphics score) were lower than results of similar equipped tablets with Intel Atom. For quick comparison – ASUS MeMO 7 with Atom Z3745 obtained a score of 13644, with 12824 points for graphics.

Next I tried Cloud Gate Performance to compare the stick to other PCs. This time the score was only 945 points, which places the stick far behind “typical” office PC.

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Cloud Gate Performance

From the benchmarks it seems like Intel Compute Stick is slower than many smartphones and is able to run only some old flash games. It would not be fair to limit the tests just to few tables and points, though. The stick asked for some action!

The only way to check if Intel Compute Stick is suitable for games was to actually run some games on it. It was very hard to choose a proper set of games for this review, not only because of their number, but also because most of them either run perfectly or were just unplayable. In the end I picked up some modern and retro games to get the full picture of Compute Stick’s capabilities:

  • Sim City 2000
  • Syndicate
  • Ultima VIII
  • Leisure Suit Larry – Reloaded
  • Minecraft
  • Battlefield Bad Company 2
  • Counter Strike: Source
  • Half Life 2
  • Baldur’s Gate 2: Enhanced Edition
  • Dota 2
  • Asphalt 8: Airborne

I started with Sim City 2000, Syndicate and Ultima VIII. These classics were available for free on Origin and I already had them on my account. I must say that they worked perfectly. Everything was fast and smooth, which is not surprising as these games are over 20 years old now. They have stood the test of time and it was good to see them again on a big screen. If you are into retro games, then the stick will be more than enough to play them.

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On my GOG account I have the Leisure Suit Larry – Reloaded, so I gave it a try. No surprises here, game worked just fine, and that’s about it. Point and click game does not require a FPS check.

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Leisure Suit Larry – Reloaded

After these retro games I assume that every similar title will work just as well, as long as it can be played on Windows 8.1. The possibilities are endless. Nowadays thanks to the services like GOG, Origin or Steam players have access to thousands of retro games, and most of them will work on Intel Compute Stick.

Then I looked for something more recent and more popular. In the end I choose Minecraft, mainly because this game is available both on smartphones and computers so I could compare the stick’s performance to other hardware. For the sake of this review I have installed a Windows demo version. I also had access to the mobile version. I started the game on default settings and  I got only about 15 fps. Mining around at this stage wasn’t a big problem, it was still playable, but later in the game when more is happening on the screen 15 FPS will not be enough.

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Minecraft, default settings

In order to get a more pleasant experience I had to reduce render distance to 2 chunks. After that the game run mostly at 30 FPS with occasional drops when a lot was happening on the screen. In short, Minecraft was fully playable. I would not say it was as nice as on full-fledged PC, or even on a smartphone, and the stick should not be your main choice for playing Minecraft, but it can serve as an occasional platform for mining. For example during travel or when someone else is using your main PC.

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Encouraged by the fact that I was able to play Minecraft on a miniature PC I looked for something more demanding. I choose Battlefield Bad Company 2. It’s a game from 2010 so I had a little bit of hope that it will work. Sadly, it was a disaster.

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720p with low setting, just 10 fps

I set the resolution to 1280×720, other settings to low and I only tried a single player mode. It was just unplayable, between 4-10 frames per second. Intel Compute Stick is not good enough for Battlefield Bad Company 2. Period.

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1080p with low settings

Next one on my list was Counter Strike: Source and then Half Life 2, both running on a Source game engine. These are old games, but both are still good and fun to play.

Despite the fact that a newer version of Counter Strike is on the market for a couple of years now, there are people still playing CS:S. At least here in Asia I was always able to find some good servers and had a lot of fun.

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720p with low settings

Again, in order to make it playable I had to reduce graphics quality to the lowest possible and reduce the resolution. Playing in 1080p even on the lowest settings was impossible. 720p was fine, thought.

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720p with low settings

As you can see from the screenshots framerate varied between 30 and 50 fps, with serious drops when I was surrounded by smoke. Overall, CS:S was fully playable. To be fair I must say that Counter Strike: Source is still a good looking game, but not on the lowest settings. Game looked ugly and there is no other way around it. If you want to play it on miniature PC, then you have to turn a blind eye.

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720p with low settings

Then came the time for Half Life 2, which also runs on the Source game engine. Basically performance was similar to CS:S. In 1080p and everything on low I got around 15 fps, which of course is too less for a shooter. But after I set the resolution to 720p, everything was smooth enough to play without problems. Of course expect some drop-downs during action-heavy scenes.

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1080p with low settings

HL2 still holds up, the story and gameplay are as great as they were before, so if you don’t mind the looks and reduced resolution, then the stick can be used for playing it without any doubt.

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720p with low settings

The game I wanted to try the most was Baldur’s Gate 2: Enhanced Edition. This epic title with expansion packs provides hundreds of hours of gameplay, and it looks great after retouching. So, if the stick could run it, then it would be one of the best possible games to play on it.

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Baldurs Gate 2

After some time with BG2 I have mixed feelings. Baldur’s Gate 2: Enhanced Edition looked gorgeous on a big TV, everything worked great, but framerate was unstable. Usually I had about 30-20 fps, during fights it dropped below 20 fps. The good news is that in this case it doesn’t really matter. BG2 is a slow-pacing game and the one with an active-pause. It does not require constant 30 fps to play it comfortable. Yes, you can run BG2 on the stick, but again is not as good as on a full-fledged PC.

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Baldur’s Gate 2 – when a lot is happening on the screen the framerate goes down

Then I tried Dota 2. Released in 2013 is one of the most popular games on Steam and the first one on that platform to have over one million concurrent players. That means a lot when it comes to its popularity. I set it to 720p right away, turned off all graphics details that I possibly could, and set screen render quality to about 50%.

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Dota 2 with all details set to low. It doesn’t look good but it’s playable

Results? I know I sound repetitive – as you can see from the screenshots it was visually unpleasant but still playable. But the gameplay is still there. Most of the time game run above 20 fps which is good enough I think. If you want to enjoy Dota 2 in your living room, then Intel Compute Stick is good enough for some quick sessions.

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Dota 2, 720p

Last but not least I checked Asphalt 8: Airborne from the Windows Store. It was a bit too much for the stick and in this case there is no way to adjust graphics settings and make it work. Game was running slow, below comfortable level. That’s all I can say about it.

Screenshot (7)

Asphalt 8

The good news is that Windows Store if full of casual games which will run on Intel Compute Stick perfectly. The stick is definitely something that will not only play movies or stream video, but also will provide some casual fun for your kids in the living room.

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Asphalt 8, looks good but framerate was too low

Is the Intel Compute Stick a good piece of hardware for a gamer? I cannot answer this question clearly. Most of the games I tested were playable, but the experience was on the lower end. Paradoxically if you are a hardcore gamer who is into retro games, you can make use of the Intel Computer Stick, even as your main gaming platform. GOG and similar services offer hundreds of great games. They are cheap, much better than casual games on Android and they will work on the stick just fine.

On the other hand, games like Asphalt 8 and Battlefield Bad Company 2 were too much for the stick to handle. You can connect the stick to your LCD monitor or TV and use for gaming, and as long as you know the limitations of it you will surely find something for yourself. Just don’t expect it to be a full-time gaming platform.

So, should you buy it?

It’s very hard to answer this question. The main problem is – do you really need something like Intel Compute Stick? It’s a real PC, not a powerful one, but still it is one. Comparing it to TV Android dongles or even AMAZON Fire TV is just inappropriate. It has a full version of Windows 8.1 and that itself puts it far above anything with Android, the OS which should have stayed on the smartphones forever. And if you don’t like Windows, then you can pick up the Linux version which is even cheaper and should give you a similar experience.

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Intel Compute Stick is a handsome device

Intel Compute Stick will not only make your TV smart, it will turn it into a real PC experience, with all the benefits. You can freely use a full version of your favorite browser, you can stream videos and games, and you can even edit your Excel files, prepare a PowerPoint presentation or edit photos, if you really want to. Just don’t expect it to perform as well as your full-fledged PC or laptop. If you are thinking about making your TV really “smart” then there is no better way than Intel Compute Stick. If you just want to have access to some movie streaming services, then there are better and cheaper ways to do it.

With the compute stick Intel is trying something new and only time will tell how market will react to this idea. It’s the best “dongle” on the market but I am not convinced yet. I wish it had more power and more RAM for more professional use. Hopefully this is something we would find in the next generation.

 

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If Wearables are a Bubble, Where Will Innovation Come From? http://www.mobilegeeks.com/if-wearables-are-a-bubble-where-will-innovation-come-from/ http://www.mobilegeeks.com/if-wearables-are-a-bubble-where-will-innovation-come-from/#comments Fri, 19 Jun 2015 23:08:02 +0000 http://www.mobilegeeks.com/?p=28089

Controversy around the FitBit IPO is unsurprising. For those of us covering mobile technology, it’s clear that Wearables are being over hyped, use cases are still be identified and models validated. Fitbit however, is perfectly positioned to have their stock price initially trade at double their asking price, simply because they have a validated use […]

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Controversy around the FitBit IPO is unsurprising. For those of us covering mobile technology, it’s clear that Wearables are being over hyped, use cases are still be identified and models validated. Fitbit however, is perfectly positioned to have their stock price initially trade at double their asking price, simply because they have a validated use case.

Telecom’s wrote a great article “Fitbit IPO pop suggests speculative bubble around wearables and IoT” which goes over what the current ecosystem looks like as well as what’s happened to date with the FitBit IPO. (Spoiler, there are indications that the bubble isn’t just around Wearables).

So if adding sensors to your body and creating useful data for users around Health, Personal Awareness, increased productivity due to personal positioning or BioMedical are all bubble talk, then where else are we going to draw innovation from?

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Augmented Reality (AR) & Virtual Reality (VR) have to be considered Wearables, so they’re in the bubble…but honestly, my enthusiasm around them can be likened to someone who drank some cult-ish koolaid. This is the year of Altered Reality!  AR like the Microsoft HoloLens and VR with the HTC Vive (which is literally the HoloDesk from Star Trek) have set the stage for this vein of Wearables to gain ground. But, like I said, this is still technically a Wearable, and even though I’m personally hot on it, I am lumping it into the bubble.  So let’s keep looking.

Automotive is poised to do some interesting things. The thought of my Super Computer Car docking into my Super Computer House and doing Super Computer things with each other is coming. Right now we’re dealing with an industry that traditionally takes 7 years to turn out of product coming together with mobile development which has 6 month turn around times.  I judged a Mercedes Benz Hackathon over the weekend and did up an article that gives you a snapshot of what it looks like now for Automotive development.  We’re at the start and we’re going to see some interesting things.  Precision tooling and billions in engineering still hasn’t lead to a car that is smart. Telsa is the best example: a car that gets updates coupled with an alternative customer business relationship, since they’re maintaining a relationship by owning the charging stations. Telsa is getting into selling power. What automotive maker sells gas?

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The Car peaks my interest for another reason. I’m based in Taipei and spend a lot of time looking at Asia. China is all over the Autonomous car: Baidu (the Google of China) is working with BMW and Mercedes Benz.  Not surprising, and one might even think their just playing catch up, until you figure out that the Chinese government is trending pro-autonomous car.  Not many governments have the bandwidth to just  decide that cities or regions can have infrastructure. Imagine highways that have extra sensors or lanes just for autonomous vehicles. The potential for large scale immediate roll out feels salient in the conversations I’ve had.

This leads me to my next point, IoT and smart cities. Huge potential, but also experiencing a lot of hype.  It’s clear we can draw innovation from those emerging categories, but I’m going to acknowledge that they are firmly in buzzword territory. So I’m knocking those off the list since we aren’t reaching for any low hanging fruit in this article.

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For me if I’m going to identify where the real areas of innovation are happening, I’m looking broadly at where traditional industry blurs lines. We’re at an interesting inflection point, organizations are going to have a hard time breaking new ground at the pace they’ve maintained for the past few years. Where the disciplines crossover and intersect is where we’re seeing real innovation. If you’re looking for examples, it is actually most easily brought to light with the Internet of Things.

We’ve got a long way to go before big players can truly accept open innovation and allow sharing between industries.  Big players like Samsung, P&G, Dupont have their fingers in enough pies that they can actually blur lines between industries.  As much as I hated the Galaxy S5 & the S6 seems like an iPhone clone (yeah…I said it), Samsung makes cars, washing machines and they even have their own clothing line. Did you know that Samsung actually sponsors Koreans to go to Italy to get degrees in fashion and design? They’ve been doing it for years. Big Business suddenly has potential, but the little guy is quicker and more nimble.

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The other area that I’m keen on is the future of the human computer interface. This is more than Wearables like AR & VR, it’s about re-imaging how we interact with our devices. We’ve been using the keyboard for 300 years. We added a mouse and a trackpad, which was a big step, but the fundamental form factor hasn’t changed. Taking a look at the laptop we’ve just started adding depth sensing camera’s like the Intel Real Sense, which lets you unlock your computer with your face (and so much more like gestures) or Leap Motion which just lets you add gestures.  But looking at the emerging field there aren’t many universally accepted gestures for interacting with your devices.  It’s coming but we’ve got a long way to go and companies like Thalmic Labs or Nymi (Go Canada!) are at the bleeding edge of what that could look like.

I do get excited about Wearables and think that they’ve created this hyped up bubble for a reason. Admittedly, new ways of interacting with data is exciting. But as much as a nerd as I can be, I’m still waiting for a Smartwatch for Women that doesn’t make me look like I’m wearing my Boyfriends watch. (I did give the Apple watch a try…but it turns out I was wearing it wrong). This doesn’t mean that placing sensors on your body isn’t going to change the way to interact with our machines, it just means we haven’t nailed the usecase and form factor yet.

Which brings us back to where we started with the FitBit IPO. Clearly it’s not worth that much. But honestly, what else are people going to invest in that signifies the potential of a segment that has yet to figure it out?

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Taiwan’s East Coast – Tale of Road Warrior Sascha Pallenberg http://www.mobilegeeks.com/taiwans-east-coast-tale-road-warrior-sascha-pallenberg/ http://www.mobilegeeks.com/taiwans-east-coast-tale-road-warrior-sascha-pallenberg/#comments Wed, 17 Jun 2015 00:00:13 +0000 http://www.mobilegeeks.com/?p=20707

As a German, driving is pretty close to my heart. I love the feeling of release found on the open road. I’ll admit I was pretty revved up about the prospect of cruising down Taiwan’s East coast highway with its dramatic scenery, complete with crashing waves to the left and scraggy cliff faces on the […]

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As a German, driving is pretty close to my heart. I love the feeling of release found on the open road. I’ll admit I was pretty revved up about the prospect of cruising down Taiwan’s East coast highway with its dramatic scenery, complete with crashing waves to the left and scraggy cliff faces on the right.

As you guys know recently I’ve been having lots of fun driving the Audi RS6 official safety car on the way to LeMans and so of course my brand of choice for the twisty journey ahead was pretty instinctive. The only hard decision was which model. In the end I went for the Q5 which I knew would be able to handle steep mountainous roads and be roomy enough for our crew of five, plus equipment.

Driving in Taiwan’s cities is totally different from the orderliness of German roads. Pedestrians and cars share crosswalks simultaneously, the common courtesies of the road are entirely different, plus there are scooters and motorbikes in their hundreds weaving through the lanes on the main roads I was navigating at rush hour. However with a bit of nerve and a lot of swearing we soon made our way onto the relative bliss of the freeway. Although the speed limits didn’t allow me to push the Q5 to its max, as I expected it was smooth sailing down Freeway 5 and through Asia’s longest tunnel – the fourth largest in the world btw – the 12.9 km Xueshan Suidao, known locally as the Suao Tunnel.

Suao Tunnel Highway

Photo Credit – Taiwan Government

This tunnel is an engineering feet in its own right. It took 15 years for them to build the tunnel as mid-construction the workers hit on an unexpected bed of porous rock which was holding water from a nearby ancient aquifer. The engineers had to rethink everything, but they persevered and this major short-cut opened up around 8 years ago. The main advantage is that you can now get between east Taipei and the coast in around 30 minutes, traffic permitting. It’s best to avoid rush hours and weekends where possible (especially Sunday evening around 5-8 and Fridays 6-9 pm).

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The Audi Q5 really came into its own when we reached the glorious coast hugging Highway 9. Taiwan is essentially a ridge of mountains with large flatlands on the opposite west coast but here on the east coast you’re dealing with some pretty steep mountain roads. Audi pretty much invented the All-Wheel drive and back in Germany its Quattro system is known as the grandpa of all Quattro platforms. The performance and grip on potentially slippery roads and down the less smooth side tracks plus the amazing maneuverability combined to give a powerful feeling of control as you barrel along. The engine comes in a few different varieties of 2.0 TFSI, the more powerful of which gets the a seven-speed incarnation of S-tronic dual-clutch gearbox, as do the 3.2-litre petrol V6 and the larger of the two diesels, the 3.0-litre V6. The extra oomph along side precision steering was responsive and precise – especially important given that Highway 9 is pretty windy with some sheer drops down to the ocean.

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We’re talking a compact luxury SUV experience here, and we had 5 people and all our gear and kit to fit in– a bit of a push despite the nearly 60 cubic meters of the boot. Thankfully Stew turned out to be a packing genie and devised a way to fit everything in. The interior is well designed with plenty of legroom even in the back seats – pretty important on a road trip as after all not all of our crew are as short as Nicole.

audi packing

We were getting pretty hungry by now so we pulled over for a snack. Taiwan is famed for its food and especially snacks. Being German I know a thing or two about sausages so the sausage stand was no brainer. The pork sausage on a stick was Taiwan-style fatty combined with five or six Southeast Asian spices, barbecued right in front of you and slathered in a homemade slightly chunky garlicky sauce. It was absolutely delicious, trust me, Taiwan knows how to do sausages.

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Our whole trip was filled with fantastic food – fresh seafood, melt in the mouth sashimi plucked from the sea a couple of hours before and pineapple that that was so sweet and juicy that I felt like I’d never really eaten a pineapple before that point. But the sausage stole my heart.

lumia pineapple

Being in Asia of course it’s a bit of a tradition to take a snapshot of your food before you dive in and I was glad to have my Nokia Luma 930 to hand so I could wallow in the sharp definition of the 20MP Pureview camera shots, you might not be able to taste my food but these shots are enough to make anyone’s mouth water. I went for the Lumia 930 for my mobile device for this trip. The Nokia Lumia 930 smartphone with 5.00-inch 1080×1920 display powered by 2.2GHz processor alongside 2GB RAM and 20-megapixel rear camera.

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Another highlight was the smooth trip on the jungle-y road down to the beach at Neishuan Huting. The great suspension on the Q5 really came into play here and the All-wheel drive made the handling of the rough road a cinch. We had great fun sticking the Go Pro out of the sunroof to get some amazing on the go driving shots too (thanks Nicole!). Neishaun Huting is a great secret beach with fantastic pacific views.  So it seemed fitting that we finished off the evening playing Taiwan’s local favourite game Big 2 on the beach with some stunning cards that I picked up from Kickstarter. The Playing Arts cards each feature a unique piece of local art from around the world on the face of each card. It’s great to see the thought which has gone into the design of these. I love supporting Kickstarter projects and this one was definitely one of my favourites. They’d make a pretty neat present to as well as adding a splash of culture into our sundowner games. I don’t want to brag about who won, but it wasn’t Stew or I who had to buy the second round of drinks that evening.

Neishuan Huting Beach

Neishuan Huting Beach

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I wish that I could say that we spent all our downtime playing cards and swimming in the pacific, sadly though there’s no rest for the tech blogger and come the evenings I needed to get some work done. There’s nothing nicer than sitting out on a deck with a breeze in your hair as you write up the latest news though, so I was glad that I’d gone for the Nokia Lumia 2520. The fantastic battery life meant I never had to worry about finding a power outlet. I was getting 13 plus hours for browsing without the dock and a strong 16 plus hours when docked. I was a little bit worried about the keyboard as it’s one those flexible affairs that turns into the sleeve, but it turned out to be pretty much perfect for me. The only slight drawback was the small left and right shift keys. The teeny trackpad took a bit of getting used to, especially the right click mouse button but once I’d got the hang of it it was smooth sailing.It ran pretty niftily on the Snapdragon 800 and was easy to handle weighing just 615 grams and being just 8.9mm thick. All-in-all I found it to be a great work-travel companion device with its 2GB of RAM, especially given the speed of Taiwan’s fantastic new 4G network.

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I wish I could spend all of my work time sitting on a different Taiwanese beach or mountainside retreat. This trip really made me appreciate the incredible beauty of this island – especially once we hit Taidong’s lush unspoiled coastline. It’s easy to forget all that Taiwan has to offer outside of the excitement of Taipei. It’s not for nothing that Taiwan is being featured more and more heavily on bucket lists of places to travel to. Even though you can feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere the great connectivity across the island means you really can work as you go. I found myself wishing I had more time to spend travelling around my adopted homeland and less jetting off to conferences abroad. And if I were to do it all again I’d definitely go with the Q5 again, the roads really are a pleasure to take on in this kind of vehicle. The trains may be fast and slick, but I’ll stick with getting behind the wheel and pulling over for pineapple and sausages on a whim. You guys should really get over here – You don’t know what you’re missing.

If you’d like to see everything we’ve written about our trip down the East Coast of Taiwan, here is a link to our Out of the Box Tech and Travel Section.

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River Rafting to Hot Air Balloons – Nicole Takes on Taiwan’s East Coast http://www.mobilegeeks.com/river-rafting-hot-air-balloons-nicole-takes-taiwans-east-coast/ http://www.mobilegeeks.com/river-rafting-hot-air-balloons-nicole-takes-taiwans-east-coast/#comments Tue, 16 Jun 2015 23:55:32 +0000 http://www.mobilegeeks.com/?p=20712

I consider myself to be a digital nomad, the conference circuit and professional gadget hunting has me on the road a minimum of 5 months a year. So of all the places I could call home, that must make Taiwan a pretty interesting place. What I have always loved about it, is that it’s not […]

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I consider myself to be a digital nomad, the conference circuit and professional gadget hunting has me on the road a minimum of 5 months a year. So of all the places I could call home, that must make Taiwan a pretty interesting place. What I have always loved about it, is that it’s not an obvious choice, in a way that keeps the visitors interesting and the beaches almost private. In the time that I do spend here, Taipei has enough nightlife to keep my dance card full and the island is small enough that nowhere is actually an impossible road trip.

As a Canadian I’m pretty used to road trips, we do have a lot of land to drive over and a 3 hour drive to the cottage is something I’d do without thinking twice. I was a little hesitant at first about the Audi Q5, I wasn’t sure if it would be big enough for 5 people (Sascha, Stew, Hallie our videographer extraordinaire and Delia our producer and maintainer of the schedule) and all of our gear. But it seemed to work out thanks to Stew who apparently enjoys a good game of tetris more than most. With the three ladies sitting comfortably in the back and the men navigating our way down Taiwan’s curvaceous roads.

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On this journey I came armed with playlists galore on Soundcloud, which I’d luckily already listened to so they were cached on my LG G3. I selected this 5.5 Android handset out of the dozens we had at the office because of it’s camera. The 13MP shooter comes with a laser auto focus, an optical image stabilizer and a dual LED Flash. The display is Quad HD or 1440 x 2560 with a pixel density of 534. The very high resolution display means it is going to eat more battery, but the upside is that when I’m showing off the pictures they really do look stunning. Not wanting to wait on my phone for anything the G3 comes with a powerful Snapdragon 801 processor with 3GB of RAM 16GB of onboard storage and a MicroSD card slot that can accommodate up to 128GB. The ability to expand my phones storage came in handy half way through the trip when I ran out of space from snapping too many shots. Connectivity wise we’ve got LTE, Bluetooth 4.0, Wi-Fi Direct and DLNA which will make it easy to share my memories.

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LG G3

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Check Out the LG G3 Reivew Here

If there is one thing that you should know about me and Smartphones, is that I am a little bit of a Sony Fan Girl, I’ve loved all of my Xperia’s and one of the reasons is that it’s waterproof. This came in quite handy when we all needed a more exhilarating experience than just lazing at the beach. We wandered off the coastal road in land a bit to the East Rift Valley River which is littered with giant limestone boulders and white water rafting.

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Taiwan is great for water rafting, in the rainy season (June to October) there are significant amounts of rain and the mountains many watersheds feed the rivers. In general I’ve always had the impression that the Taiwanese are little over cautious, no swimming during ghost month..ok maybe that’s not caution, that’s superstition. Regardless, I wasn’t prepared for caution being thrown completely to the wind in an activity that does have moments where caution is appropriate. It quickly became apparent that the dozens of safety boats accompanying us down the river had their hands full speeding up and down the waterways. During some of the more dangerous parts of the rapids, splashing water at near by boats was the primary activity, not attempting to steer the boat away from rocks. As danger filled as the activity seemed at times, clearly everyone knew better and bobbing through the rapids with a life jacket (many of them freaking out that they couldn’t swim) seems to be a big part of the fun.

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Sony Xperia Z2 – Waterproof Smartphone at Changkai Shek Memorial Hall Taipei City

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Being a tech blogger definitely has its advantages, it was really lucky that we had a GoPro and the Sony Xperia Z2 with us. By the end of the 4 hours down the river, our guides began to seek out cool shots for us to get. We stopped by a small waterfall and pool where we got to muck around for a bit and he even caught a tiny fish to show off a bit. Only having to worry about not dropping my phone in the rapids is a much better feeling than worrying about ruining my phone and having to get a new one.

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Photo Credit – Spencer Huang Photography

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Speed boats raced around during the most dangerous parts of the rapids making sure the boats never actually got into any serious trouble. At some point all phones are going to come with a waterproof coating, but for now you’re limited to just a few, the Xperia line from Sony being my favorite and Samsung’s S5 is also water ready.

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Taking a dip wasn’t the only type of extreme sport that we took part in on our road trip, we also went to the Hot Air balloon festival in Taitung. Ok, so riding 350 feet in the air isn’t really an extreme sport, but you’ll have to tell that to Sascha who has a pretty big fear of heights and didn’t come along for the ride. We get up at 230am to make sure that we were first in line and make sure that we could set up to catch the first rays of light which started peaking just before 5am. When the video is all said and done, you realize just how much time goes into getting just a few seconds. But hey, not complaining, it was totally worth it!

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Hallie our Videographer Balloons!! As the balloons rose so did the sun

The Taiwan International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta kicks off on towards the end of May and goes until August. Hundreds of thousands end up passing through the picturesque Luye Gaotai. The 2014 will end up seeing a total of 55 pilots from 12 countries: Thailand, Belgium, Brazil, the United States, England, Germany, Slovak, the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, Spain, Vietnam and Taiwan. The Fiesta also claims to be the world’s longest hot air balloon festival.

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Since Sascha didn’t come up in the balloon with me, I was left on my own. I decided to take his Lumia 930 up in the air with me alongside an Audio Technica microphone that is especially designed for smartphones. I figured, a hot air balloon is pretty noisy, so this would be the perfect place to test it out. The ATR3350iS omnidirectional condenser lavalier mic which has a dual-mono 1/8-inch output plug and records on both the left and right channels.

Having great audio really makes a huge difference in the overall quality of your home videos. Having a machine that won’t keep you waiting is a necessity for anyone looking to engage in some movie making on their notebook. If you’re just looking at making home videos, Stew’s Yoga 2 Pro will be enough, considering it comes with Intel’s Quick Sync technology. Consumer video editing software like Cyberlink PowerDirector are feature packed to help you create professional looking videos. Think of Quick Sync as a graphics card for your laptop that won’t any extra battery life. I’ve exported a 5 minute full HD video in half real time.

Taking video more seriously than your average Joe, I edit the majority of our videos on Mobile Geeks which means that I’m actually in the market for a multimedia machine. My weapon of choice to keep productive on the road is the ASUS Zenbook Infinity UX301. It also comes with on board graphics from Intel, but this one comes with the ability to accelerate professional graphics programs like Adobe’s professional multimedia suite.
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The ASUS Zenbook Infinity comes with a gorilla glass lid and a stunning spun metal finish. This Ultrabook is high end class in a compact mobile package. At 15.5mm thin and weighing in at 1.4kg it comes with an Intel Core i7-4558U at 2.8 GHz 8GB of DDR3 RAM and a 13.3 inch high resolution display at 2560×1440. Connectivity wise it comes with 2 USB 3.0, 1 HDMI, 1 DisplayPort, Audio Connections and a 4 in 1 Card Reader. Deserving of a special mention are the speakers, they are Bang and Olufsen Ice speakers, since when I’m not working, I do enjoy watching the odd movie and it’s nice to have great audio when you need it.

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Griffith Park Backpack - Red Excellent Top Pocket Larger Version - Interior Shot

All of my gear fit nicely into my Case Logic backpack (review here), which is being modelled by, JD aka Just Dog aka John Deere who we rescued at SanXiaTai Brige. It was a scorching 36C outside and Sascha went back to the car while Stew and I slogged through talking about weather apps and regaling you with tales of the scalloped shaped bridge. On getting back to the car there was Sascha holding little JD who collapsed in front of him. Just skin and bones we couldn’t face putting him back on to the street. Beijing the luckiest and most handsome dog that has ever lived he was adopted within a few weeks of arriving back in Taipei.

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SanXianTai Bridge

I spent 4 months of the year travelling to technology conferences, so packing my bag to be productive on the road isn’t new. Piling into a car with 4 other people for 7 days of intense shooting was unforgettable.

If you’d like to see everything we’ve written about our trip down the East Coast of Taiwan, here is a link to our Out of the Box Tech and Travel Section.

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Out of the Box – Cars, Travel & Tech – This is our new show http://www.mobilegeeks.com/box-technology-focused-travel-show-taiwans-east-coast/ http://www.mobilegeeks.com/box-technology-focused-travel-show-taiwans-east-coast/#comments Tue, 16 Jun 2015 23:54:12 +0000 http://www.mobilegeeks.com/?p=22636

What gadget’s do you take with you when you go traveling? If you’re looking to get the most out of your Smartphone or can’t figure what what time of productivity device to bring along, then you’ve come to the right place. Sascha Pallenberg, Nicole Scott and Stewart Hasten journey down Taiwan’s East coast driving from […]

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What gadget’s do you take with you when you go traveling? If you’re looking to get the most out of your Smartphone or can’t figure what what time of productivity device to bring along, then you’ve come to the right place.

Sascha Pallenberg, Nicole Scott and Stewart Hasten journey down Taiwan’s East coast driving from Taipei all the way to Taitung for the International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta.

Along the way they stop by Yilan where the Museum’s architecture is well worth photographing or if that’s not your thing you can always head down to the beach.  A few hours south is Hualien where they pass by Taroko Gorge, one of Taiwan’s most visited attractions. Driving the Audi Q5 down the stretch of Highway between Hualien and Taitung got pretty interesting since the crew decided that they wanted to take a break from the beaches and brave the white water.  Heading into the East Rift Valley the crew went white water rafting, which was one of Nicole’s highlights since she got to bust out her waterproof Sony Smartphone. Dramatic mountains lined the winding river, it shows just how untouched Taiwan really is. The International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta was meant to be the climate of the journey but honestly, after driving down the coast it was just one of many stunning vista’s we enjoyed.

When it comes to gadgets everyone had a different weapon of choice. Sascha enjoyed his Nokia Lumia 930 Smartphone paired with a Nokia Lumia 2520 Windows RT tablet paired with a keyboard to stay connected.  You can find out all about Sascha’s experience on the road where he was in the cockpit behind the wheel of the Audi Q5.

Stewart armed himself with a OnePlus One Smartphone and a Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro a laptop that can turn itself into a tablet.  Apart from being a packing master, Stew’s been in Taiwan over a decade, on this week long road trip he found out there are still surprises around every corner in Taiwan. To learn more about Stew’s unique British Ex-Pat perspective on the East Coast of Taiwan and Tech, you can head on over to his road journal here.

Nicole has long been a digital nomad with a special love for on the road productivity. Gadgets of choice are the LG G3 with it’s QHD display a laser focus 13MP camera and the ASUS Zenbook Infinity Laptop featuring IRIS graphics for that extra punch when you need to run programs that are graphically intensive.  Want to know what this digital gypsie thought of her time trailing down the east coast, you can read her food and gadget focused ramblings here.

Not only do we show you some amazing places to eat and stretches of coast that seem to defy reality we also get into some apps that we can’t live without when we’re on the road.  If you’re looking for travel planning app for Windows Phone, we’ve got your covered. What about the best Photo Editing applications for Android? Pictures are the most important part of many vacations, so you definitely shouldn’t miss that one.  What about offline maps? In the show Nicole challenges Stew and Sascha to an offline maps challenge, find out some of the best alternative for travelling in Asia.

If you’re just looking for some resources for travelling down the east coast of Taiwan, we’ve got some resources on each of the cities we visited here.

Hualien Travel Guide
Yilan Travel Guide
Taitung Travel Guide

Enough of the back story! I bet all you guys want to do is sit back and enjoy the show! Grab some popcorn or maybe even a Taiwan Beer and follow 3 gadget freaks as they explore Formosa.

If you’d like to see everything we’ve written about our trip down the East Coast of Taiwan, here is a link to our Out of the Box Tech and Travel Section.

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Road Tripping Down the East Coast of Taiwan with Stew http://www.mobilegeeks.com/road-tripping-east-coast-taiwan-stew/ http://www.mobilegeeks.com/road-tripping-east-coast-taiwan-stew/#comments Tue, 16 Jun 2015 23:30:28 +0000 http://www.mobilegeeks.com/?p=20710

Having been kicking around Taiwan a wee while longer than Sascha and Nicole I’ve a bit more experience travelling around the island, however this was my first proper road trip as I’ve previously relied on Taiwan’s excellent (and ever-improving) public transport and affordable taxis to make my way around. And I have to say it […]

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Having been kicking around Taiwan a wee while longer than Sascha and Nicole I’ve a bit more experience travelling around the island, however this was my first proper road trip as I’ve previously relied on Taiwan’s excellent (and ever-improving) public transport and affordable taxis to make my way around. And I have to say it was very enjoyable too. There’s nothing quite like cruising along Taiwan’s East Coast highway with the sunroof down and the music going all the while being able to enjoy the view from the passenger seat.

Our first challenge was packing up the boot of the Q5. Of course five people’s kit and the recording gear isn’t an everyday amount of luggage to be getting into a car boot, SUV or no SUV. The first day was all good, and with a bit of Tetris inspired magic I got it all in there. Come the next though it seemed like the kit was suffering from a bit of overnight bloating and it took a little while to get it all back in place. Having said that the Q5 boot is plentiful enough for your normal travel needs and five passengers with average luggage should have no problems at all.

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While Nicole and Sascha opted for Flagship mobile devices for the trip I took along the utterly wicked Oneplus. As you know from my reviews I’m a tad besotted with this phone. The specs and the workmanship are outstanding for the price. It seemed particularly apt to take along the sandstone black back cover finish model, and I must say it looked right at home nestled among the rocks on Toucheng beach. Although the spiky coral rocks at the beach were a bit of a contrast to the almost fluffy handfeel of the phone itself.

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I’m big on my Shenzhen-born flagship-killer and it certainly held its own against the Nokia Lumia 930 and the LG G3. The OnePlus One has a 5.5 “ screen with a resolution of 1920x 1800.  It’s got excellent viewing angles give fantastic readability in bright sunlight, making it spot-on for use on the beach under the bright midday Taiwan sunlight. The 801 Snapdragon OS made for a bit of great mobile 3D gaming of an evening after finishing up my work too. The 13MP camera takes decent enough shots for travel purposes, although this is the one area where Nicole and Sascha’s phones had me a bit beat.

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I have mates who swear by popping their bikes onto the handy train cargo service and picking them up in Hualien to enjoy a few days cycling along the East coast but for me I’d have to say that the combination of driving your own motor and then opting for hiring an e-bike for a spot of cycling action at some particularly beautiful areas is the way to go. Taiwan really has the cycling tourist scene down with local hero Giant bike rental shops at nearly every train station along the way and cycle maintenance stations dotted along popular routes.

We went with the Giant EA03 hybrid bike in Hualien. The batteries are mounted off the back pannier-style and you recharge them as you pedal and as you brake. The control panel on the front handlebars allows you to change the mode from eco to normal or sport; great for when you want to vary your level of input/exercise depending on your aim. I imagine that commuters would find this a great asset: cycling in with minimum effort (read sweatiness) on eco and pedalling back firmly in sport mode to get your evening workout in. This is combined with a 7-speed Shimano gear shift so we’re certainly not talking a grandma leg saver cycle here. You can really choose to go for it or to let the bikes take a bit of the strain in the heat of the day, which isn’t half a bad idea when the thermometer is hitting the 33 degree mark. It’s a little pricier than renting a regular bike at NT$400 a day as opposed to NT$300, but I’d say the extra USD$3 was well worth it.

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I decided to take along the Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro for the trip as it’s a pretty rugged set-up with fantastic flexibility. It would be a good choice for use on trains and coaches too as you can flip the device into various positions depending on your needs at the time. The backlit chiclet keyboard allows for great touch typing, something which I find invaluable as a blogger. It’s light, has a vivid display and offers great performance with the core i5 processor. All-in-all I find it the perfect device for on the road because it’s great for both work and media consumption.

Photo Credit - Spencer Huang Photography

Photo Credit – Spencer Huang Photography

It was great to re-visit some of my favourite spots along the East coast, and interesting to see how by and large the tourist infrastructure has improved over time. There is certainly more information available in English than there was a few years back. The local governments are going for the eco-tourism card in a big way with fantastic hiking and cycling paths up and down the east coast. There’s clearly been a lot of thought and effort put into showing off.

Photo Credit - Life in M0n0

Photo Credit – Life in M0n0

Taiwan’s unique landscape and culture. The Langyang Museum in particular allowed you to get a real understanding of the local topography. And while it pays to get off the beaten track a bit, there’s nothing quite like watching bemused coachloads of mainland tourists trying to work out what is going on at Taidong’s Water Runs Upwards feature just down past Dulan. I’m hard pushed to say what my favourite part of the trip was. The food, of course, was delectable especially the seafood lunch at Toucheng. The sunrises over the pacific, particularly at Setana House from the vantage point of a hammock, were breathtaking. But I’ve got a particularly fond memory of Sascha’s face when he realised I’d outdone him on our map-challenge down in Taidong….

If you’d like to see everything we’ve written about our trip down the East Coast of Taiwan, here is a link to our Out of the Box Tech and Travel Section.

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Top Travel Planning Apps for Windows Phone http://www.mobilegeeks.com/top-travel-planning-apps-windows-phone/ http://www.mobilegeeks.com/top-travel-planning-apps-windows-phone/#comments Tue, 16 Jun 2015 18:15:40 +0000 http://www.mobilegeeks.com/?p=22612

It doesn’t cost anything to dream of taking a trip but it will cost you if you overpay for plane tickets and hotel rooms. If you’ve got a Windows Phone there are some pretty great options, we’re going to show you our favorites. Kayak and Orbitz are popular travel booking sites for hotels, flights and […]

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It doesn’t cost anything to dream of taking a trip but it will cost you if you overpay for plane tickets and hotel rooms. If you’ve got a Windows Phone there are some pretty great options, we’re going to show you our favorites.

Kayak and Orbitz are popular travel booking sites for hotels, flights and car rentals. What’s useful in both is hotel search actually provides you with a compass which is always nice if you’re travelling without a plan. Orbitz isn’t as well designed and lacks the ability to let you book a car, but it’s a handy app to have installed if you used the online version and just want your reservation information quickly on hand.

MSN Travel is Microsoft’s contribution, you can book flights, hotel and it’s a nice all around app with easy navigation to check your planned travel or read travel related articles.  The destination page is fun to play around with even if you’re not travelling since it shows you attractions, photos and provides the Frommer’s summary.

TripAdvisor Inc. Releases Earnings Data

Tripadvisor has been a long standing favorite of ours and it is set apart from the rest with restaurant recommendations. Though we have to warn you, since it’s a popular app in the West the top picks can be stacked towards foreigners.  Case and point, in Hualien the number 1 restaurant is Mexican, it was delicious, but not exactly what you expect.

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The last app is a must if you really are looking for the cheapest flight, especially if you’re traveling in Asia. Skyscanner will mix and match Airlines in a more aggressive way than other sites.  It will find you the cheapest combination of sites and airlines for you to use to do your booking.

If you haven’t checked out our drive down the east coast, here is our first episode of Out of the Box, if you’d like to see all the articles, here is a link to our Out of the Box Tech and Travel Section.

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Beaches, Museums & Good Eats – Yilan on Taiwan’s East Coast http://www.mobilegeeks.com/beaches-museums-good-eats-yilan-taiwans-east-coast/ http://www.mobilegeeks.com/beaches-museums-good-eats-yilan-taiwans-east-coast/#comments Tue, 16 Jun 2015 17:30:45 +0000 http://www.mobilegeeks.com/?p=20590

Yilan County is famous for three things: hotsprings, spring onions and rain. Of course rainy weather makes hotsprings enjoyable and helps the spring onions grow very well. Unlike normal spring onions Yilan ones are round, thick as sausages and really do pack a powerful punch in terms of flavour and fragrance. When you visit be […]

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Yilan County is famous for three things: hotsprings, spring onions and rain. Of course rainy weather makes hotsprings enjoyable and helps the spring onions grow very well. Unlike normal spring onions Yilan ones are round, thick as sausages and really do pack a powerful punch in terms of flavour and fragrance. When you visit be sure to pick up an Yilan style Spring Onion Pancake (Cong you bing) – here in Yilan the onion really takes the centre stage as the stuffing in either swirls or between layers of batter.

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Toucheng Beach Surfers at Toucheng Beach Wild Flowers green onion lady! green onion pancake with egg random path near Yilan

Yilan also offers some great surfing beaches and dramatic coastal scenery. Toucheng and Daxi (Honeymoon bay) are ever-popular with the local surf crowd, and Toucheng beach in particular is a lovely spot to spend a sunny afternoon. As you gaze out over the Pacific you will see Turtle Island – Taiwan’s only active volcano. The island is now a nature reserve with strictly controlled visitor numbers requiring an application at least a week advance.

img_2638The Lanyang Museum allows visitors to explore the nature of Yilan’s topography and culture across four floors and, like many museums in Taiwan, is a bargain at just NT$100 entry per adult. The museum won awards for the architecture and one can see why as the coral blue building manages to somehow jut gracefully from the surrounding land. Inside the exhibits are well organized and informative.

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The Hotsprings at Jiaoxi Township are also very popular. You can either choose the public nude baths (gender segregated) with four different temperatures of spring available ( NT$80) or opt for one of the many hotel and hotspring spas in the area (from around NT$300 each). Families with kids may prefer the spa/hotel options as some have a play area for the kids. Spa facilities generally have a series of water jets and water massage chairs in the pools and swimming costumes are to be worn. Look out for foot spas where fish nibble dead skin off your feet too. It’s also possible to rent out rooms with private hotspring tubs ensuite – although you can expect to pay considerably more for the privacy. Don’t forget to try out Jiaoxi’s famed Chilli Ice cream afterwards too!

If you’d like to see everything we’ve written about our trip down the East Coast of Taiwan, here is a link to our Out of the Box Tech and Travel Section.

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Taitung Hot Air Balloon Fiesta – A Real Taiwan Adventure http://www.mobilegeeks.com/taitung-hot-air-balloon-fiesta-1-reason-visit-taiwans-east-coast/ http://www.mobilegeeks.com/taitung-hot-air-balloon-fiesta-1-reason-visit-taiwans-east-coast/#comments Tue, 16 Jun 2015 17:10:38 +0000 http://www.mobilegeeks.com/?p=20563

Taitung County is one of Taiwan’s least visited and best-loved counties. The coastline and mountainous inland are stunning and largely unspoilt. There are larger resorts tucked away in the mountains for those seeking a five-star experience but most accommodation outside of the city itself is in the form of charming home stays. In February 2014 […]

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Taitung County is one of Taiwan’s least visited and best-loved counties. The coastline and mountainous inland are stunning and largely unspoilt. There are larger resorts tucked away in the mountains for those seeking a five-star experience but most accommodation outside of the city itself is in the form of charming home stays.

In February 2014 the Puyuma Express service launched, cutting travel time between the capital Taipei and Taitung city to a mere 3 and a half hours. The service runs five times a day, and is great value at just NT$783, but beware – it is a reservation only service with no standing permitted.

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Getting around the coastal areas does require some form of transport as the train does not run along the coast. Car, scooter and bicycle rentals are all possible. Most train stations in Taitung have a Giant bike rental place right by the station and cyclists are a common sight along the coastal road 11 as well as around the numerous inland towns. Serious cyclers can have their bikes shipped down ahead of them by train for a small fee.

Taitung Forest Park

Pineapple Field Pineapple Stand Pineapples! Pineapple's growing out of the ground Mountains by the Stand View from the Pineapple Stand

For those who prefer their cycling along non-motorised paths we strongly recommend checking out the Taitung Mountain/Ocean Bicycle trail. This 21 km trail winds from the Old Train Station to the Railway Artist Village and as the name suggests offers both mountain and Pacific Ocean views as well as passing through the forest. The path is level and flat making it a popular choice for families on holidays and at the weekends. You can also branch off and join other biking lanes in the Taitung City network from the path.20140802_055143

Hallie our Videographer Balloons!! As the balloons rose so did the sun

The East Rift Valley is home to the International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. You can be sure to get some great shots up close but also to some stunning views on the 23, the old Southern Cross Road (no longer a through road) as the road winds up the gorge. Several townships in the area also have well set up cycle paths including Guanshan and Chihshang (which are both accessible by local train).

Photo Credit Spence Huang Photography

Photo Credit Spence Huang Photography

These tend to pass by Ecological Reservation areas and Cultural heritage sites and are a great way to spend an afternoon. Taitung is very much a farming county so keep an eye out for which foods to try where – for example bento’s in Chihshang are famous for their soft rice and the seasonal fruit sold at the roadside is freshly picked and sweet.

If you haven’t checked out our drive down the east coast, here is our first episode of Out of the Box

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Hualien More Than Taroko – An Alternative Guide of What to Do http://www.mobilegeeks.com/hualien-taroko-beaches-vistas-windy-roads/ http://www.mobilegeeks.com/hualien-taroko-beaches-vistas-windy-roads/#comments Tue, 16 Jun 2015 17:00:45 +0000 http://www.mobilegeeks.com/?p=20577

The jewel in Hualien’s crown is often held to be the 19km long marble gorge – named Taroko from the local aborigine for beautiful and magnificent. There are myriad side hikes off the main road which wends its way through the gorge. Many are well trodden and suitable for all ages/capabilities but harder ones also […]

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The jewel in Hualien’s crown is often held to be the 19km long marble gorge – named Taroko from the local aborigine for beautiful and magnificent. There are myriad side hikes off the main road which wends its way through the gorge. Many are well trodden and suitable for all ages/capabilities but harder ones also abound for the more adventurous hiker.

Road from Hualien to Taroko

Road from Hualien to Taroko

Temple in Taroko Taroko Golden Buddha by the Temple

Even just driving or cycling through the area by car, scooter or bicycle is a rewarding experience (although cyclists would be advised to avoid the heavier weekend traffic). The gorge itself is stunning and the surroundings lush. Do be aware that hiking paths and sometimes even the road may be closed off due to damage caused by earthquakes or typhoons, or imminent torrential rain. Be sure to check conditions before you set out.

Chingszu TempleIn a marked contrast to the many ornate temples that dot the towns and countryside of Taiwan the Chingzhu Temple- or The Abode Of Still Thoughts – is a simple affair with delicate carvings and a staid grey exterior. The temple is the original homeplace of Taiwan’s influential Buddhist organisation and charity the Tzu-Chi Buddhist Foundation. There is also a Japanese Garden at the temple, perfect for wandering around and enjoying some quiet reflections.

Just south from Hualien is a little beach called Nuishan where we stopped to play with Playing Arts cards that we grabbed on KickStarter.  The beach might have a few people next to the entrance but a few hundred meters down you’ll be guaranteed to feel like it’s a private beach.

Niu Shan 03NiuShan 02NiuShan 01Head on down to Rueisuei for hotsprings – either in one of the old style Japanese Spa Hotels or river trace or hike to some wild hotsprings for a real immersion in the beauty of Mother Nature. The more adrenaline led can venture out on the Siouguluan river for a spot of white water rafting. Whale and dolphin watching trips also leave from Shiti harbour – the best months for sightings are said to be between June and August.

If you’re looking for some other options why not try Whale-watching? You can see dolphines and whales if you’re unlucky you’ll have the scenic view from the ocean to comfort you!  Ami Cultural Village,o is another options, here you can find the Ami tribe doing traditional aboriginal dances.

Hualien Farglory Ocean Park

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Since you’re by the sea stopping by the Hualien Farglory Ocean Park could be a good way to send the afternoon. The Park has a unique twist since it is combines a Victorian style hotel resort with a nature park that offers sea mammal performances.  It’s an amusement part style that you really only see in Asia and if you keep an open mind, it’s people watching and far fetched juxtapositions in style are worth experiencing.

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Ruisui Sunshine Hot Spring B&B

Further down the coast towards Taitung you’re going to pass a few spots that are worth checking out. There are three Hot Springs in the valley south of Hualien, Ruisui, Hongye and Antong. Ruisui was developed in 1919 and has a public bathing area and Japanese-style hotel. The open air pool is 48Cand is rich in iron which gives the water a yellowish hue, so don’t think it’s dirty water, it’s just mineral rich. The water is also a little salty and you’ll often find salt crystals floating around on the waters surface.

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Another stop and great place to escape the heat should you be traveling in the summer is the Wuhe Tourist Tea Plantation. Don’t let me name fool you, In 2006 the “Honey Peach Black Tea”, won the gold medal at the First World Tea Award.  It’s with its gentle fruit and honey aroma in iced or hot form are a regional must.

 

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Don’t forget to feast on mochi; a delicious sweet made from pounded rice and filled with a variety of fillings such as black sesame, peanut or seasonal fruits. For a savoury sensation eat some dumplings – Hualien is particularly famed for their wonton – or try a bamboo rice stick; an aboriginal delight of rice steamed in bamboo, we liked the ones with mushrooms best.

If you haven’t checked out our drive down the east coast, here is our first episode of Out of the Box

If you’d like to see everything we’ve written about our trip down the East Coast of Taiwan, here is a link to our Out of the Box Tech and Travel Section.

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