Thursday, 28 January 2021

Simple laptop buying advice.

If you're not on a budget, buy a Mac and don't worry about the specs. 

Mac computers are the user friendly alternatives to PC's. They're quicker to learn, more intuitive, and less prone to failure. People may disagree, but I've been using them for over 10 years and they're my go-to solution for everything. 

If you are on a budget, let's keep this simple, if you've found a website that sells laptops, it's likely got some filters on it, here's what I'd set my filters to, if I was looking for the best value for money I could find. For each category, the filter I'd set is in bold. In order of importance. 

Select the Laptop/Windows option. 

Windows PC's do everything a Chromebook can, and more. Chromebooks used to be significantly cheaper, now that seems less like that's the case. Be on the lookout for Windows S though, it only allows apps to be installed from Microsoft marketplace. 

Number one priority

Buy a machine with an SSD (solid state drive not HDD, [hard disk drive]), 128Gb machines should be your minimum for everyday use. Bigger hard disk drives (eg 1Tb+) in cheaper machines are likely to have a speed rating (eg 5400 or 7200rpm), these are normal HDD drives, not SSD drives and I'd urge anyone to avoid them nowadays. The speed benefits of an SSD are primarily what separates the budget machines apart. Some machines have both, which is ok. 

RAM

8Gb should be your starting point. Try and avoid 4Gb if you can, but deselect this option to bring the costs down, 4Gb is ok for home learning.

Processors

i3, i5, i7 etc, these are the processors to buy if you can stretch to a machine with one in. Or Ryzen chips (3 or 5 are good starting points). Celeron and Athlon are the lower end, so machines with these in should be much cheaper, if you're looking at machines with Celeron or Athlon processors, look for the speed rating, the higher the number the better. 

Screen and size. 

This is down to personal preference, 15" Laptops look great, but can be a handful, and quite heavy. Go for Full HD and get the highest resolution screen you can, if you want the best screen technology OLED offers outstanding clarity and depth, but LCD is much more common. 

Brand

The big names are Asus, Acer, Dell, Microsoft and Lenovo. I'd personally avoid Huawei at the moment (although they make great machines) because of the uncertainty with American business and UK data infrastructure. 

Finally

Look at the reviews, especially the negative ones. If a machine has a high number of reviews but a low score, I'd avoid it. If a machine only has a couple of reviews and the negative ones are a variety of reasons - for example, couldn't connect to wifi, couldn't transfer files over bluetooth, it's possible those might have been one off's that they'd have encountered due to a lack of knowledge, check other sites for reviews by putting the model number and 'reviews' into google.

I hope this is useful, let me know if there's something I've missed or that's confusing. 


 

Saturday, 23 January 2021

You should love the S21 ultra; but you probably shouldn't buy it.

Ok, so I admit, the features the Samsung S21 Ultra has are great. Let's look at them

The handset has a beautiful AMOLED screen. For those of you who haven't upgraded to the latest iPhone you may not know that OLED screens look amazing. Individual pixels can be turned off completely, this means it's much better for battery life than an LED screen. Blacks looks blacker and you also get the 'always on' feature that allows you to see your clock and notifications even when your phone is off. Very cool. 

Edge to edge display. This too is a great feature, a lovey design I like it a lot.

A wide angle lens, a telephoto lens and a normal lens on the camera. Superb for snapping creatively. 

Support for the S-Pen. having a pen on a smartphone can make workflow much much easier. Taking portions of screenshots, and annotating them is also really useful. 

A big battery, anything north of 4500mah in an android phone is going to give you genuine all day functionality. 

A fingerprint sensor under the screen in the front. Really useful, great for unlocking your phone easily. 

128Gb of storage on board. Great, but there's no expandable storage which is a bit of a drawback. 

For me, these are the useful features it has  that I value and appreciate in a phone, but Samsung make a phone for less than half the price, with all of these features (including the S-Pen). That phone is the handset I currently use, and it's the Note 10 Lite. On sale for £529 from Samsung and even less from other places, if you're a student registered with Unidays that drops to below £450*. That's £620 *(or more) less than the Ultra! If we were allowed on holiday, that saving could be an extra passenger! 

Ok, they are not the same handset, but the differences aren't as big as you might think. Of all of the features above, there are compromises, but in my mind, genuinely, they're really not important, and the Note 10 still scores some points over the S21 Ultra. (Starting with the lovely pearlescent back). 

Firstly, the big (perhaps only) compromise with the S21 Ultra. The S-Pen - there's a slot in the Note 10 lite... but none on the S21, so if it want to use one (and you really should) then you'd have to purchase a special case for it if you own the £1000 plus handset, but in the Note 10 Lite, it slots neatly in the bottom. 

On paper, the Note10 Camera options also appear better, all of the Wide/Zoom/Normal cameras are 12mp, where as some of the camera's on the S21 Ultra are only 10mp. I know the MP don't matter that much, and the S21 has 2 dedicated Zoom camera's which reach far further than the Note 10 Lite, but the options on the cheap choice are enough to keep the average user happy. I'm not arguing that the S21 Ultra camera isn't loads better, it is, but the Note 10 camera isn't shabby either. 

The Note 10 lite also has expandable storage, where as (previously mentioned) the Ultra does not. 

The S21 Ultra battery is 5000mah and it's only 4500mah in the Note 10 Lite; I can live with that. They're both big. 

The edge to edge display is 89% on the Ultra vs 86% on the Note 10. It does look like the bezels are a bit thinner on the S21, but it's barely noticeable from the front. 

So why is the S21 Ultra well over
£1100 when the Note 10 is only £529. Well, if you use your phone for gaming, you're going to notice a big difference. The RAM is twice as much, but 6Gb of RAM is still likely more than enough, 6Gb is enough, 12Gb is exceptional. Will you notice? Only if you game. 

The processor is twice as fast, measured in nm, the lower the number the better. It's 5 vs 10, again, unless you're a power user or gamer, you're unlikely to notice. 

The main camera on the S21 Ultra is 108mp, so it can zoom in far closer without losing detail and the lenses on the S21 are much higher quality. But you can still take lovely pics with the Note 10 Lite. 

The fingerprint sensor although it functions in the same way, is ultrasonic as opposed to optical. (No, I don't care either). 

I could go on, but the fact remains, if you want a phone with the key features that you will likely appreciate, (large display, choice of zoom settings, AMOLED screen, s-pen, big battery, etc) then you can get all of these, with the reassurance of the Samsung brand, in a much, much cheaper package. No, they're not the same phone at all, the components in the S21 are far newer, much higher spec and the handset will be quicker and much more responsive, (I haven't mentioned the display hz, or the higher resolution screen and the water proof-ness of the S21) but these things aren't important to most folk. If they are for you, perhaps they're deal breakers. 

I don't have a £4000 gaming PC, for the same reason as I don't have a top of the range phone. I don't need it. I research and I shop frugally, and for most people like me, the Note 10 Lite, with most of the 'cool' features are mid range bargains in the same way the Acer Swifts are generally great mid range laptops. 



Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Aerial Photography & Video in 2021

In 2021 UK drone regulations are changing in a significant number of ways to bring them more in line with the EU. 

With a number of caveats, Permission for commercial operation (PfCO) is no longer strictly required, although to acquire aerial images and/or video, insurance will be. The law still requires that pilots of larger drones, without PfCO, maintain 50m clear of buildings, people, property (such as cars) and 150m clear of urban, built up areas and do not fly over crowds of people ever, however if the drone is under 250g those rules do not apply, quote 'for short periods of time'. 

Verbatim, from the CAA "The (new) rules are based on the risk of the flight; where you fly, proximity to other people and the size and weight of your drone"

Pilots who have previously passed courses and flight tests might well find that their insurance quotes are significantly less than those who have no experience or qualifications. I have had a quote for one days work which has encouraged me to write this blog and share it with people with whom I've worked in the past. Having acquired an incredible drone that weighs less than 250g that's capable of half an hours flight, has return to home functionality will record super clear imagery in 4k at 30fps, or 60fps at 1080p and relays those images back to the controller at 720fps we are very much back in the aerial imagery business. 

This makes a lot of sense and is incredibly welcome news. The risk from a responsible pilot from flying a drone under 250g within a ceiling of 400ft and within Visual Line of Sight. (VLoS) is ridiculously low. For estate agent work, or a business/school just wanting a picture or incidental B roll footage for a 15 minute flight, passing the tests I did and writing and renewing a 40+ page operating manual seemed like overkill, which is why I left it behind. Although there was a risk the drone may have caught the wind, lost all contact with the controller and flown towards Broughton Airbus, the probability was almost nil. I did always have Hawarden phone number handy though. 

This means any keen videographer or photographer now has the ability to add aerial imagery to their repertoire, and honestly should. My advice to any potential client hiring a pilot, in order to stay legal, you should ensure that your pilot/photographer is insured for the day you want them to work.

If you're thinking your business might benefit from owning a drone to complete the occasional task then to be clear, none of the above is legal advice and you should definitely familiarise yourself for your own satisfactions with the 238 page CAP722 publication from the CAA which can be found here.

Insurance can be obtained from specialists such as Coverdrone. A brief overview of the changes being introduced is available from the CAA publication CAP2005

Monday, 7 December 2020

Google are losing all of their Unique Selling Points.

There was a time when you were looking for a technical solution that Google had a handy and convenient answer. 

Music, Photos and Files. Google had the solution, but as time has passed, all of these solutions are now past their best. Let's have a look at what they were and why they're no longer worth our time. 


Google Music

This used to be a great way to sync/backup your music collection and stream to your mobile device without eating into any of the storage on your phone, Great when storage was only 8 or 4Gb. You could also stream audio, from your laptop or device to your Chromecast plugged into your hifi at 320kbps and browse your collection with ease. 

Google Music is dead though and has now been replaced by the much more inferior YouTube music service. Much like Apple Music and Spotify, primarily it is now a streaming service you pay for. While you can transfer your files across from Google Play Music, the interface is aimed at the subscriber, and limitations on bit rate and streaming make it impractical for the audiophile who prefers to own their digital music collection. Searching through your music is difficult and presents you with the music video or youtube version of songs you already own. It also renders your Chromecast devices useless unless you pay for the service. 

Conclusion

We were conned into thinking Android users had a music USP over Apple. Storing music on your phone again and synchronising with your PC is now the best way to look after your digital collection without paying, buy a big memory card.


Google Photos

Like Apple Photos, Google Photos backed up your entire photo collection to your online storage space at photos.google.com however, come June next year, the storage you had will now be frozen and your allowance will be taken from your Google Drive. 15Gb (the free allowance you get) could last a year or so if you use your android device like most people, you're either going to have to delete your memories, or pay for more upgrade space. 

Conclusion

Again we were conned into thinking Android users had a USP over Apple, and sadly people's precious memories are likely entwined in a service that is soon to become an archive. 


Google Drive

This has been the biggest disappointment as it's been a vital, useful and essential tool for me and some of my work colleagues over the past few years. But by gawd they've created a monster. If you work with people now and you have a large workload, for goodness sake, think twice about how you share it. The complexities of a shared folder are immense. I left a partnership earlier this year and they, and myself are still encountering detritus which doesn't show in the usual 'shared with me' or 'My Drive'. I have removed myself from folder shares, but still have access to all of the contents of items within that folder. I have removed myself from shared items and found others have lost access too. I have removed items owned by other people from my own drive (everything still shows up in 'storage' and 'search') and found it's caused problems for others in the share. It really is a mess. Drive is cheap, there's no doubting that, and for short term sharing, projects that are time bound and can be deleted and moved on by 2 parties it's ok. But for teamwork, it's atrocious, Unless you buy a G Suite package for your work and control multiple logins for each user (giving each user corporate logins instead of their own) then it's hopeless. For freelancers and cohorts it's dreadful. 

Although it's pricier, I suspect Dropbox might manage folder and file permissions better, does anyone have experience of using Dropbox professionally, it is better?

As for Google, I have been an ambassador in the past. For many many years I've pushed their services. Back when I worked in Sales I explained to a fellow music lover who was buying a phone how great Google Music was, he agreed but said something that stuck with me, he said

"It does look great, but just wait till they've got you and they start charging for it" it would appear I'm not as cynical as I thought I once was, in fact I was far too trusting. It woud appear we can no longer trust Google at all. 

Conclusion

You get what you pay for, the shambles that we're given isn't a professional tool, it's chaotic when you come to 'un-share' complex folders with other professionals. It came so close and much of the functionality still works for schools, and business establishments with a G Suite domain. But folder hierarchy complexity makes it impossible for any geek to recommend to a cohort of fellow freelancers, it's just too goddamn infuriating to undo. It's like Brexit, only digital. 

Monday, 23 November 2020

Now Google are going to charge for Photos.

As has become the pattern with Google, the freemium products that entice you in to use their services and devices, like Google Music, manifest to become something utterly useless, unless of course you pay. But now, with Google Photos even if you pay, that service is still going to become useless, until you pay some more, and the year after that, even more and so on...

I love convenience and if there's a solution that offers it, I will usually be an early adopter. Google Music was tremendous as it let you synchronise the music on your computer, with a cloud based service so you could access your entire music collection from your (Google) Android device. That switched to YouTube music, a service that is worse in every respect. Lower streaming quality, a dreadful interface, and no more streaming from your phone to your Chromecast Audio that you bought in good faith.... from Google. 

And the same thing is happening with Google Photos. That superb service that allowed you to easily back up your Android phone photos, is (one assumes) running out of storage space. The popularity has become it's achilles heel, so now you are going to have to buy some storage, regardless of the quality that you upload in (previously Google Photos allowed unlimited storage for 'medium' quality images). Now you may think that if you're a Google Drive / One customer that you're some sort of VIP, but that's not true either. If, like me, for business you use Google Drive and have say a generous 100+Gb of storage, that's likely to last around 7 months. So you'll need more, and as your photos are unlikely to reduce in size (who in their right mind will be deleting their holiday snaps from Lanzarote to save a few quid; no one) then you're going to need to pay more, and more and more. 

So thanks once again Google for leading us down the garden path like Hansel and Gretel to the Gingerbread house of wireless worlds and techno tricks. We must rewind our internet history, download our photos and find alternative solutions that don't rely on greedy corporations. 

So what are we all going to do? 

Well, the good news is, we have several months to prepare, these changes don't take effect until June 2021. Plus it's only new images that you upload to Google that will start to eat into your free 15gb quota. You could in theory, delete the App and thus pause any future backups so as not to eat into your drive allowance. Then go back to the good old days of losing all your images every time you change your phone. To be honest, most of my phone photos tend to be throwaway shots anyway, so If I do want to keep anything specific, I'll probably use a USB cable and the pretty useless Android file transfer. Or, I'll find something better between now and June. 

I'm going to use my WD MyCloud as a Time Capsule backup. My Mac and my External USB Samsung EVO SSD. My time for the next few weeks will be spent trawling and cross referencing the differences between what's in the Photos app on my Mac and my Google Photos account, downloading and importing the different images and once complete, I will export a backup from the Mac to my External HDD. I will let Time Capsule perform it's usual magic and I will once again, have three backups of my images, which, is enough. 

If you use Google Photos, I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, my daughters Motorola Android devices ONLY have Google Photos on them, so they'll need to download the Motorola Gallery app from the play store and think about what they're going to need to do. In fact every Android user who uses Google Photos might now think twice about if they actually want an Android device at all and might want to consider the vast range of now cheaper iPhones. Every business decision has a consequence Google and this one is going to affect more people than your audiophile rug pull. 

Have a think everyone, because this affects 28 billion photos that are taken every week and backed up using this once mighty service. 

Friday, 20 November 2020

Transferring video files without losing quality.

Over the past few weeks and months I have been asked to produce a number of videos for virtual events.

For some I have done the filming which makes things super easy, but for others I have collated clips made by the clients. For some the most convenient way has been to use Google Drive, Microsoft One Drive or another cloud based storage solution, which from a Laptop or Desktop computer isn't too much of a problem. But capturing video on a mobile device makes so much sense, as the camera quality can be exceptional, and when paired with a lapel mic (which can be used with 99% of smartphones nowadays), a tripod and some natural light, near professional results aren't too difficult. 

But unless you're an everyday user of Google Drive, or Dropbox then transferring that video can prove tricky. Using Whats App or Email usually compresses the video to an unacceptable degree. Resolution is lost, sharpness is lost and the effort you put in, to get clear audio, can also be lost. 

So whats the easiest solution to send the file from your mobile device to your editor, without losing quality? Well a client of mine earlier this week used wetransfer from their mobile and the process is surprisingly easy, on both iOS and also Android although it does differ slightly. 


ANDROID 
First point Chrome or whatever web browser you're using to wetransfer.com
Tap Add your files (see images below)
Select your video file using the browser window that opens
Click Send and choose Email
Enter the person you want to send the file to's email, and your own. 

Once you have entered the information, you will be asked to enter a verification number that will be sent to your email. Enter the verification and your video file will send completely uncompressed. 



APPLE DEVICES
See pic below - On iOS again, point your browser Safari or Chrome to wetransfer.com
1) Accept the terms and conditions (might be 2 screens)
2) Tap the Blue + icon and then ...
3) Select photo library.
4) Tap the video in your photo library that you want to transfer.
5) Enter your editors email address, and then enter your own. 



Again, like Android, you'll be required to receive an authorisation code to your email which will enable the transfer to go ahead, at full quality. 

Is this the easiest way to transfer to clients without losing quality, or is there an even easier and faster way that you know about? Comment below if you know another way. 



Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Why my phone purchase gave me sleep anxiety.

I've had my Samsung S7 edge since 2017 and for the most part it's been a solid purchase.


It's a beautifully designed phone in gold, with wireless charging, fast performance, a tremendous camera an IP68 rating, glass rear, fingerprint sensor in the button, heart rate and O2 sensor. But now with my high usage, the battery is starting to let me down. Buying a replacement for a flagship handset has been a challenge. Upgrades should have all of the features of your old phone and then some, right?

Well, I also have a general rule which makes things far more difficult, I don't take contract phones (I have a £10 12Gb 30 day Sim deal from Voxi [voda] which is fine thanks, use link for the same deal and a £10 amazon voucher) and I don't buy phones for more than £500, in fact the S7 Edge was a bargain as I bagged it in a a Black Friday event for less than £380, so finding a replacement for this has been eye opening. The assumption that flagship features move down onto cheaper handsets, well I've found that's not really true. Waterproofing, wireless charging, high quality multi camera setups, aluminium frames and top notch gorilla glass, well that's where the prices stay high. 

So some compromises were needed, and my weeks of research have lead me down a path that might be useful if you're considering an upgrade soon. 

iPhone

First up, I wasn't precious about the operating system, I'm as comfortable with iOS as I am Android, so I could include the new much wider range of iPhone models in with my work. But here's the thing, no one really wants to buy a phone in 2020 without an edge to edge display do they? Which meant the cheaper iPhones were off the table very early on. Then we get to the iPhone 11 and I'll admit, I considered going over budget. At £599 now, these are an extremely tempting offer. But, over budget is still over budget, and the screen resolution, well, they're pretty low compared to others and it's only an IPS LCD display, which is old tech compared to the much much better AMOLED display I'm used to (seriously once you've seen a screen with perfect blacks, there's no going back). So, thanks Apple, when the 12 is £599, I could well be back.

Off Brand

So on to eastern manufacturers. Huawei were out because of Donald Trump, as a Google educator, I can hardly use an Android phone that's prohibited from using Google on it! Xiaomi, One Plus, Redmi, I looked at them all and always found one or two compromises that took their mid range phones into naff territory, and there are so many models to choose from that my work here was in depth and lengthy. While most features, were truly flagship busting, and most were better in one way or another, I found multi camera setups might have naff 2-5 mp macro or 'depth sense' cameras on them, LCD displays (Redmi), they didn't have expandable storage, or quite simply, they were too expensive. I honestly expected to find some that ticked all of the boxes within my budget, but none of them did. 

Motorola 

Motorola have made some amazing budget handsets recently so I thought a £500 budget would mean a flagship killer would be easy. Alas the £599 Edge is indeed a great phone, but it's got no official IP rating and one of the cameras is a meh-8mp telephoto, it's still well over budget and the design isn't quite as special looking as it could be. However if this was £100 cheaper, I'd likely own this now, it came closest of the also rans. 

Sony

If I wasn't working to a budget, I'd own the Xperia 1ii. The first handset I've seen that'll record in 25fps. The perfect companion for my UK (pal) camcorder that would be capable of capturing b roll footage that would fit perfectly into my professional life. But I am, and I'm stubborn and at £1100 this is a bit too much to be considered a win. The 5 looks ok, but no. If I bought that (which is still £800) I'd be constantly thinking how it's not as good as the 1ii..... Stupid names too. 

I considered if I need 5G 

5G tends to add a lot on to the handset price, and is only available in the sea off Llandudno in North Wales at the moment, plus, I don't need a service that could use my 12gb allowance in 3 seconds. I'm still fine with 4G. Speed is rarely an issue for my usage. In fact it's usually more dependable than my home broadband! 

Compromises and non negotiables

After all of this research I realised I needed compromises, I split must have features with things that were less necessary. 

Non negotiable - The new phone must have... an OLED display, once you've used a screen with truly black blacks, and you've seen the convenience of an always on display (that has minimal effect on battery life, because the black pixels are literally 'off') you simply won't want to use an LCD display again. A multicamera setup with no 5mp or less. I need these for quality photos, something good enough to capture B roll clips for my work. A 3500mah battery or higher. Fingerprint reader and an Aluminium frame. Image stabilisation & 4K recording. There, not too fussy hey?

The screen ppi, or pixels per inch is ridiculously high on the S7 edge, something over 300 should be fine, I turned it down to a lower resolution on the S7 as I couldn't tell the difference. 

Compromises - IP rating, although useful, waterproofing isn't essential. We did have fun with the old S7 on a holiday where we got video of jumping into the pool, but with lockdown the chance of that happening again are minute, so it wasn't a deal breaker. Also, as I'd be putting a Spigen case on it, the 'need' for a glass or aluminium back became moot. Although I quite liked the idea of Stereo speakers, they didn't really matter as I thought I'm unlikely to watch a feature length movie on my phone anyway, one speaker is fine for YouTube, which is my main video use on my phone. O2 and heartbeat sensor, they were novelty features really, I can live without them. 

But yeah, enough with compromises.... Oh and I wanted a headphone socket, and no notch, who wants a chunk of their screen missing? 

Back to the S range

So all this led me back to the Samsung S series handsets. Logically, the only way to get all the features is to upgrade the same model, right? The S20 though was well over budget and the S10 is ugly. Although the S20 is only £630 on Amazon (some £270 less than Samsung.com) it's still easy too much, although after my agonising research I did consider just biting the bullet. I saw the new S20 FE (fan edition), a budget version of the S20 with very little compromise for £599 abs was very tempted. Looking at the features, this does tick all of those boxes above. But still, it's a lot over budget. The Note series are ludicrously expensive, apart from, the Note 10 Lite. 

The Note 10 lite


Over budget, but only by £30, a massive 6.7" AMOLED screen, but edge to edge design means the handset is a very similar size to a Motorola G8 Plus, the one my daughter has, which was really handy for comparison (being in lockdown). Avoiding the tediously dull black option, the aura glow has a stunning rainbow effect rear case design. The Aluminium frame is polished and looks quite special. The battery is a hefty 4500mah, the Cameras are all over 12MP and useful too. Telephoto (x2), standard and ultra wide. In addition, you get the best features of the S pen. A handy tool used for note taking, writing on the calendar with scribbles (more useful than it sounds) taking screen shots of portions of the screen (something I do all the time) and doodling, something I've got back into. It's also a remote for the camera (as its Bluetooth) and students can get this with 15% discount via UniDays! 

So I'd done it, I did order it (and found a Spigen case that shows off the back colours), and despite it being delayed by a day (thanks DHL) I'm completely delighted with if. Apart from the focus on the outer edge of the ultra wide images being a bit naff, the rest of the phone is exceeding my expectations, battery life is great, the screen is amazing, the S pen features I'm using far more than I'd thought I would and now I've turned Bixby off (it's really rubbish) it's everything I wanted. 

I never want to upgrade ever again though. However if you're looking for an outstanding mid range phone, the S10 note lite is definitely worth a look. 



Simple laptop buying advice.