Saturday, 29 May 2010

Samsung's new Wave


The Samsung wave is the first phone we've seen from them with their new "Bada" operating system. First impressions are that whilst the handset is responsive and tactile, quick and efficient (Boot up time is very quick) on the surface, it seems to be another Jet/Tocco incarnation. Not that thats a bad thing as both the tocco and jet are both fine phones, in their sector. The screen looks fantastic, clear colours and crisp sharpness, but the fisher price clicking and plopping noises when skipping from screen to screen and menu to menu are the first things any 'savvy' user will disable. Which is easy enough. Like the Tocco and Jet, the UI only appears to have THREE initial customisable home screens (more about this in a mo'). Widgets can be added to these, but (conveniently) the handset warns you that installation of these widgets may incur data charges from your network. With Data not being an automatically enabled feature on all tariff's this is a thoughtful added step for the less aware customers. The handset design is nice, although the main menu button is a smidge too raised for my liking; it's like a wee jewel on the front of the handset. Convincing the handset to turn on again involves hitting the lock key on the side. Any other button press and the handset stays black, much like the HTC Android phones, which require the power button on top to be pushed. Trying to launch the web browser, or the app store highlights the handsets first shortcoming. Unlike Android handsets, the phone doesn't automatically configure itself when a new sim is inserted. A few pokes around the menu's and I've inadvertently clicked the right thing, as the phone now knows I want to internet!
Disappointingly I'm led to Samsungs woeful WAP homepage (the world wants google and the real internet, why don't manufacturers recognise this?) From here, I find it nigh on impossible to input a real website. There is no menu option, I can drag a small portion of the screen down from the top, pressing the menu jewel takes me back to the main menu. This isn't the real internet, I feel robbed. Then I suss it. Tap he screen anywhere and click the up arrow. Then the menu bar appears. My lack of imagination leads me to enter www.apple.com and the dreaded G for GPRS rears its ugly head. Time to boot up wifi. I'm getting used to this OS now and with a few logical key clicks, I throw Wifi on and head back to the browser. I have the comfort of a wifi radar signal and the web is working. Albeit small. To my amazement, Pinch'n'zoom work wonderfully. As does the now intuitive tap to zoom. Dragging the screen around is less fluid though and more than once I accidentally click a link I didn't mean to open. Entering ww.BBC.co.uk is spurned as the phone concentrates on my previous link click. So I'm churned back to reasons why Apple hate Flash. Auto rotate works fine so overall, Web browser; 8/10. Not bad at all. clicking through to iplayer, shows its fully compatible.... natively. Pic quality is 3gp but not too bad. Time to visit the Samsung App store Cannily titled "Samsung Apps". First impressions are good. Easy to navigate, simple to filter free from paid. The problem is, some of the Apps seem quite expensive, and the Samsung App store will never take off like the Apple one, or the Android one, so you'll be buying on hope. Not on friends recommendations. 
Moving on. I quickly get used to the unlock method and like the 'slide screen' approach to doing it. I find a BBC iPlayer widget for the homescreen thats available out of the box, but then I find its merely a link to the website, not an app at all! 
I find a feeds update, WHICH when I launch it, creates a FOURTH homescreen (it does have more than three, but they're automatically added when you run out of space. Cool. I trigger the friends feed, which integrates with the obligatory facebook. I discover pressing the .com button brings up other .net, .org, .co.uk options. Which is neat. I'm given the option to sync my facebook contacts and calendar(?) with my address book (not the first time I've seen this; will facebook contacts soon become the accepted norm for contact details?) I add a BBC news widget (which adds a FIFTH homescreen). 
Clicking the widget button opens up the widget tray at the bottom of the homescreen, here you can drag widgets onto and away from the homescreen. It works just like the widgets on the Mac and is very user friendly. 
A quick play with the Camera shows its highly capable as a point n shoot replacement. A quick shot of a fellow colleague from 1.5 metres was enough to show me (with pinch'n'zoom) that he'd shaved this morning. 
I have to confess after a very, very short time with this handset, I am really beginning to warm to it. I really didn't want to like yet ANOTHER OS. But first impressions of Bada as an OS in its own right are fine. I would easily recommend this to friends and family. 
But, I've saved the best 'til last. This little phone has a party trick. It will record video in FULL 1280x720 and it ain't half bad. A couple of test videos inside and out show this is a highly competent 5MP camera and a truly wonderful Video Camera. 2 ten second videos ate up over 50mb of memory, so a HUGE memory card is essential. 16Gb should be a minimum. playback on the phone is tremendous, playback on a 15" screen looks superb too. Considering this phone is currently available on £20 a month deals, I think Samsung should have a winner on their hands. I don't really see what else they can do. This is a wonderful little phone. 

PS. One slight problem.... Hard reset seems impossible! Memory reset and phone reset seem to do Nada!
PPS. While trying to hard reset the device, we've discovered that pressing the screen lock and menu button captures a screen shot. A'lå iPhone. 

Friday, 14 May 2010

NDrive for iPhone App. £5

For many months I've been using (or rather not using) Co-Pilot's relatively cheap Sat Nav software. It's slow and unresponsive, hard work and not particularly user friendly. Last night I downloaded NDrive, which is on special offer at the mo for only £4.99 from iTunes.
Dead simple, really easy to use and for a fiver, you'd be mad not to try it.
Download it from here (link to itunes store).
http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/ndrive-uk-ireland/id331883926?mt=8

Download Portal for Free

Steam are offering their great mind bending First person non shooter game Portal for free. All you need to do to qualify is to install their Steam software, which is a little clunky, but you need it anyway in order to play the game. Only until the 24th of May.
http://store.steampowered.com/freeportal/
Pc AND Mac!

The Sony Xperia X10.


I have high hopes. After the let down of the Vivaz, I'm still optimistic. The X10 proudly boasts the Android logo on the back of its box. Android is only as good as the developers that tweak it. HTC have made it their own and done a fantastic job with the slick OS. Time to see what Sony have done with it. First thing I notice, it weighs a ton. I reckon this thing will be sliding out of your hand before you know it! Upon boot up, I need to slide the arrow on a lovely arc to unlock the unit (nice). Then I see a semi familiar looking Android welcome screen, with icon shortcusts for Timescape (WTF?) Mediascape (Uh?) messaging and Dialler. swiping up from the bottom rids me of these wonders and shows me the standard Android main apps menu. I try and grab the scroll bar, but it is just for show. Its an iphone like swipe thats needed to browse the icons. To settings I go,  up the brightness, launch wifi and hook up to the store wifi, no problems. Looks rosy so far. Boot up the browser and despite the fact it lacks multitouch, (so no pinch and zoom) the handy +/- signs make zooming in and out a breeze as does the page expander button on the left. The screen is very clear and pleasing on the eye. The buttons at the base of the screen, show 1 square and a square divided into four. The square is the home button, the square divided into four, the menu button, Bit random, but easy enough to figure out. Sadly BBC iPlayer launches and states rather unsympathetically that the handset isn't supported. Which urges me to check out the app store, as I'm convinced the beebplayer app will. I struggle with the qwerty keyboard to punch my email address in and it auto fills as googlemail, when my email is gmail, then it blasts me with a "this field cannot be blank" message before I've even had a chance to fill it out. The Android Market looks sweet, this screen really is impressive. I boot up google maps while I'm waiting for beebplayer and google skymaps to install, which looks brilliant. Just like looking at a real backlit paper map. Google streetview fires up easy enough (press and hold a street, tap address and select street view). It looks nice and works easy enough. Trying to find 'my location' delivers the first minor disappointment. I'm told I need to adjust some settings, instead of being taken to them. Close app, Menu, Settings etc. No need in the 20th century, Please! Unlike the superb HTC desire, the Xperia only appears to have 3 customisable homescreens, perhaps this is a setting that could be changed, but 7 seems like a better number for me to have as a default amount. The music player (which is found under mediascape) and the photo viewer are clumsy and messy,whats wrong with simple folders and files? Time ti try TimeScape, booting this up shows me two options, to link TimeScape with twitter or Facebook. So clearly its a social networking App. Trying to enter my details into the keypad on the Xperia, I realise why I found it so difficult last time. To toggle between Letters and icons, you don't hit the shift key, you hit the globe/numbers button (Uh?). I then discover that should you make a mistake mid entry. you can't tap the screen (a'la iPhone) to the place where you made the error, or use the optical mouse to control the cursor (a'la Desire) you have to use the tiny on screen left/right cursors. However, when you've corrected the mistake, if you press 'right' again, tiny little 'o's appear (Why?) You have to change the field thats selected and go back. Ridiculous. 
Once this is set up, its clear that Timescape is much more than originally realised. Timescape has several tabs that appear at the bottom, music, video, facebook, calls, messages etc. Each tab animates blades that float in and out of view when the source is selected. So Timescape will show you, your most recent text conversations, emails, song's you've listened to, photo's you've taken or viewed and of course, status updates from Facebook. Which is rather cool. 
So to summarise, it's not half bad. Whilst it's true on the face of it, its a very slick and well presented machine, when you dig deep, its a little rough around the edges. Not quite as slick as the Desire, but innovative enough to make it feel special. Any body who ends up with one of these will realise that they have something quite special indeed. If brand name is important. Its a clear choice. Perhaps not the best choice, but its by no means poor. 

The Sony Vivaz

You can't say Sony don't try. For the past few years, prior to the iPhone launch, Sony pretty much dominated, in terms of handset functionality, attractiveness and reliability. There then came a flurry of software issues which they never really recovered from. Sony clearly hope the Experia and Vivaz will change all of that. The vivaz is from any angle an attractively built handset. The unit feels good in your hand and the buttons are well placed. Its only when you turn the thing on that things start to go wrong. Intuitive, it most certainly ain't. If you've owned a Sony in the past, it won't matter, all and sundry are going to have to consult the user manual. On initial boot up I am poking around and seeing what things do, without any success at all. I have this odd feeling that I may be missing something, so I consult the user manual. The main menu is accessed by pressing the single middle button in the bottom. This displays a drab grey looking 12 icon driven menu and you realise (like the Nokia) it is the same old Sony menu system! Booting up the wifi via settings shows me that the screen isn't that responsive, it takes a firm push to make selections, and even when you have (infuriatingly, like many Nokia menu options) you still have to push it a second time to confirm. The initial internet screen shows Sony's standard (very outdated) Playnow store, desperately in need of a revamp, and looking more WAP like than 3G. The unit connects to wifi, but won't allow me to search for a webpage using wifi, until the internet settings have been installed for the network. With the lack of a sensitive touch screen and being a bit small. I doubt I'm missing that much. A cursory glance in the media folder shows one standard photo that, if the handset is rotated to view properly, rotates so its the wrong way up again (chasing it 90 degrees to the left!) Useless. there is no music on it by default, so I can't test the speaker effectively, but I'm already losing enthusiasm. Perhaps I'm hopelessly bias, but again, at this price point, (which is the upper levels of the market) it should be so much more impressive and intuitive. I love gadgets, I love progress, I want easy to use and flash technology, this is making me lose the will to live. It seems like such hard work. I can't even be bothered to find out what the icons on the home screen are actually for. The up arrow seems to bring up a list of weird unrelated links, (apps, or shortcuts or favourites?) There's a twitter icon I don't want, a sky which simply shows me a full screen flowing blue sea/sky background (seriously, thats all it does) and a play icon, plus a favourite people? I don't know and to be frank, I don't care. This is 2010, we shouldn't need to ask. Wow me Sony Ericsson. This is pants. 

The Nokia X6

Upon opening the box, I find that the first part of the experience is open up the flimsy battery cover. No sign of your solid metal sliding back cover here, its a bendy 'snap on' affair. The like I have seen easily damaged by the ham fisted. Sliding (and indeed scraping) the sim in to the sim card holder. I have to confess, my initial feelings are not optimistic. After a hunt in the box for the battery, moving the standard bluetooth headphones out of the way (I would have no use for them) I locate it and power the unit up. The obligatory pixel count of the camera shows it sports a 5mp unit, whilst it also comes with the upper class Carl Zeiss lens. The boot up screen shows me its the same old Nokia Font, which now evokes many instances of disappointment. I find our location, although the UK seems like an unnecessary trawl through a million other countries. The screen seems nice and responsive, but I tap the text entry and don't get a keyboard? Then its the AM PM debacle, setting the time should be a doddle, but to get AM to PM you have to select the delete back arrow? How is that logical? Any way, once done, I'm in, the screen flickers a few times and alerts me that I am signing up for Nokia alerts, something that appears to be impossible to opt out of. That I still receive from time to time on my old sim. Once the unit has booted up, Its the same old Nokia OS. It seems quick enough navigating through the menu's. Everything is logically laid out. But there is nothing to excite. There is nothing visually appealing about the layout or the way the handset operates. It is most definitely a functional phone. There is a demo of Asphalt4 a racing game that feels so outdated it makes the phone feel old before its time. Speaking in car terms the X6 would be an Astra or a Focus. Wifi takes an impossibly long time to connect, in fact, it fails, not only from the network settings of the handset, but also from the browser; choosing a network. Not sure why, but it simply won't hook up to our in stores 'open' network. The screen auto rotates fairly efficiently, The Camera works ok and has autofocus and a two stage shutter release button. But not being able to see the internet working and the humdrum run of the mill everything else. I fail to drum up any enthusiasm at all for it. Nokia fans will no doubt be delighted, seriously there isn't anything wrong with this phone at all. But, like the Palm Pre, the current price of the unit means it's fighting in a market where there are such better options. It really isn't a wise choice for anyone without an unhealthy devotion to Nokia. Nice to see an omission of any Trend security software on here though! I close the box and put the handset away however, unimpressed.

Simple laptop buying advice.