Monday, 29 November 2010

Case-mate vs Zagg screen protectors.







For a long time now I've been extolling the virtues of the military inspired Zagg mobile screen protectors, aka Invisishields. For those of you who may not know, the Army use the same material to protect the blade edges of helicopters in the desert so that the sand doesn't damage the rotors. They are very good. But, they are an absolute pain for the majority of mammals with opposing thumbs and forefingers to fit. Only a few unique individuals can easily fit them. This summer I took my iPhone to Cyprus, and found that in the heat, the adhesive failed more than once and whilst shoving it into a camera bag pocket, it rolled up and ended up a right mess. Having said this, fitted correctly, in the right temperature conditions, they feel quality and offer a rubberised finish to your screen, which doesn't affect the responsiveness of the device at all. They are however, prior to installation, floppy, and this makes the world of difference. The case mate screen protectors on the other hand are fairly rigid, albeit thin transparent plastic 'rigid'. The upshot of this is that they're far, far easier to fit. Case mate advise the user to fit the protector from the bottom to the top of the device. You peel the white tab off, which removes the plastic backing, and then simply stick it on. I found however that there was far less margin for error if you installed it edge to edge. The adhesive removes most air bubbles as it sticks, but removing remaining ones is a doddle. Whats even more impressive, is that, so long as you've successfully cleaned the screen first (with the supplied cloth) and so long as there are no fibres left on the screen (AT ALL) the screen protector will be almost completely invisible.

As a solution, I prefer the case mate.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Windows HTC HD7

This is the first Windows 7 phone I've managed to get my hands on, and having completed the training several weeks back, I must confess, I'm a little excited. Microsoft have certainly managed to capture some of the anticipation and hype that is usually reserved for technology that bears fruit for it's logo. Although I appreciate that I'm most likely a minority. The build up for windows 7 has had far less of an impact on joe public. We're a few weeks late with these products rolling in and we don't have people forming disorderly and frantic queues. It's a sombre launch at best. No matter, the proof is in the pudding as they say.

Upon booting up the device, I'm greeted with an attractively scrolling windows 7 logo and I click the 'get started' button. I choose to set the phone up the 'recommended' way and have to set time date etc. First impressions are superb, even setting the time and date are an elegant process. I see my first glimpse of 'tiles' in action as I swoosh days and months up and down past the screen. I'm then asked to input my windows live details and the first negative point become apparent. Obviously there is no swype, and the keyboard can't auto correct my login, so I make a couple of typing errors inputting my email and password. The capacitive touch screen is responsive though and errors are easily corrected. You could blame my fat fingers. I click sign in, but I've a sim with no data connection in, so after blue boxes of thinking pass (tiny little blue squares sweep back and forth across the very edge of the top of the screen whilst it's busy), I'm alerted to a connection problem. So I skip this stage and click done. The main screen loads and I hunt for wifi. Within seconds, I've found the settings and wifi tab and a click later, it's connected. Simple. I click settings again and click 'accounts', I log in to Windows live, o2.co.uk and facebook. The unit synchronises. Several times I hit the .com button instead of @ and s instead of a, I will see if I can calibrate the screen as I appear to be making too many typo's. I hit the windows button and wait to see the tiles come to life and they have. Friends profile pictures are fading in and out on my 'people' tile, My FB profile pic has appeared on 'Me'. I hit the People tab and I'm presented with my last facebook update and, er, peculiarly a list of unrecognisable phone numbers, I scroll further down the list and see my list of normal contacts. Although it appears to be outdated. (I confess, I don't use Windows live for my contacts), I whizz across to hotmail on my Mac and click contacts there, then I notice a 'clean up contacts' option. This gets rid of all my duplicates; perhaps I'd underestimated windows live? I check the phone but can't see an option to 'clean up contacts' on the device. Scrolling across to whats new I see other people's updates, and a comment to my last. Reading it is child's play.

From the home screen I click on the messages tile and there's a short message from windows that urges me to click the link for 5 hot tips. I play the video and learn that you can search for things and pin people to the start menu. The video looks good, but the speaker on this device is poor.
I click the Me tile, which displays my latest facebook and email updates, I figure this may be useful, so I move it, with ease (tap and hold, to the top of the menu). I click email and see that my X-Box live membership ran out; today! Doh.
Time to get back on expert training zone methinks. Tapping to zoom works as well as it does on other leading smartphones and reading the email is easy. I trash the message and it deletes elegantly. Which is some respite I suppose from the bad news that it delivered. I turn the phone to the side and again, like other smartphones, it transitions beautifully to landscape mode. Bizarrely the main menu stays in portrait mode. I expected it would transition as well. I boot up the browser and navigate to a page displaying a link to a movie, as it's a quicktime movie, the browser won't talk to it. Obviously there's no download option, so this is a no go. This is noteworthy, on an iPhone I can navigate to the MS or Apple website and watch movies on products. On the windows 7 phone, I can only go one way, the Microsoft way. I navigate to the BBC news website and click a flash video. It too won't play and there is no flash player available to download. For You tube.... I need to install the app. I download the free app and find, oh... where is it? I see a right pointing arrow on the windows start menu, click it and find You tube at the bottom. I click and hold and sure enough, I get the option to pin it to the start menu. I also find lots of options I hadn't seen before. I boot up the youtube app and, well, er, it appears to be a link to the website, although now I can play the videos. Playback is smooth and clear, but the sound is quiet. After some frustration trying to find a mapping app in the marketplace, I find that there is one lurking in the (arrow) menu (why isn't this pinned to the start menu?). This pinpoints my location on rather unattractive 2d map. I click what I assume is the navigation arrow and enter a nearby town as my destination. After a while a route is calculated and the top half of the screen displays the 2d map, while the bottom has the instructions. It's impressive the way it leaps from instruction to instruction, but this is no google maps, or in car sat nav. I also find, curiously, that it wants to send me to a golf club, which is a good few miles outside of the town centre. Perhaps it knows my social standing needs improving? Bizarre.

I click the camera button and the screen quickly jumps to camera mode, the screen is clear and the button is a two stage button as found on the best camera's, halfway for focus, all of the way to zoom. It pings to tell me its focussed, but the cursor stays white. The picture quality is excellent. On first impressions the video doesn't seem to be as good although its apparently 720p. By comparison to other 720p hardware, it lacks the wow factor, that's most likely the hardware more than the software. The xbox tab shows me logged in as me, and has links to some xbox games. Oddly the screenshots are in landscape, but they rotate away from you when you turn the device!
The extras show me that I have Office pre-installed for dealing with spreadsheets, word documents and presentations, A calendar, which, like everything else, is elegant, impressive and easy to use, a Calculator, Alarm clock, Convertor (I'm going down the list), HTC Hub and Maps. It looks like a lot, but most of the list is duplicated from the main screen.
HTC Hub is the most interesting of these as it's obviously not going to be on all Windows 7 handsets. Booting into this shows an Android like clock with weather (auto updated) and some featured apps. Tiles are gone and the natural instinct to swipe, is met with a disappointing lack of co-operation from the handset. Instead I click a right arrow, which leads me to, TILES! Featured, Games and applications are my options, and, well, they all look a but dull to be honest. Clicking more changes the profile again and I get a list and more tiles (I'm getting a bit tiled of this now, I don't know where I am). Games, Featured and Applications are still the headers, but the tiles have been replaced with lists. Loading is somewhat tiresome.  It's disappointingly empty. A visit to the windows Marketplace paints a brighter picture. I click search for weather, (spelling it wrong, but being given a correction to select) Loading is painfully slow, which, judging by the browser, doesn't appear to be a network issue. I have a vast selection of apps to choose from and I choose the Weather channel. There is a problem completing the request error c101a7e3, (which is useful information) and I'm denied the pleasure.

Despite this Microsoft typical end to my experience, I cannot help but be wowed by the device. The interface is undoubtedly Microsoft's best operating system in many a year and despite the odd hiccup (which I am going to put down to teething problems) there is plenty to get excited about in this handset and a lot to like and love.
In terms of rank, on first impressions at least Windows may just have overtaken Android. Whether they've toppled Apple, I think perhaps they have, or if they haven't, they may do soon.
From a devout Apple iPhone, Mac and iPod 'fanboy' and Microsoft Windows loather (forgive me I suffered many hundreds of years of defragmentation, scan-disking, registry woes and error ridden pain) this is high praise indeed. I'm a firm believer that the most successful tech manufacturers will be the ones bringing the simplest technology to the masses with the lowest failure rate and most attractively warming interface.
This handset is very easy to get to grips with, drag and drop logic and expectations of what the device should do, mean any half tech savvy Mum should be able to get to grips with it in under a day.
Apple watch out, you could be usurped. I can see most customers being delighted with their cutting edge Windows 7 smartphone purchase.
Well done Microsoft. Believe the hype; even if there isn't much. It exceeded my expectations and puts Microsoft well and truly back in the game. Which is impressive considering prior to this release, they were, at best, rank outsider. Would I swap?

Not yet.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Gear4 Houseparty5 Speaker Dock

If you can get past the looks of this speaker dock, (I don't think my wife would approve of the design, anywhere in our house) then what you have here is a speaker dock for an ipod or iphone. Something that you may never have seen before. Ok, so the world is currently awash with iPod speaker docks. But as a species, we're sadly denied vast quantities of high quality sound at reasonable price speaker docks. This I guess fulfils the latter in terms of price as the RRP is below £50. Where it lets itself down is in the quality of the sound. It has two bass ports, two tweeters and two midrange. The potential to amaze is pretty high. But sadly, it just doesn't. The sound is messy and lacking punch. There is little detail and at times it comes across as shrill. It lacks involvement and coherence. As a machine for the kitchen, if you really don't have much time to look around, and you'll be listening from another room, then this may satisfy your needs. If you care more about how it sits next to the rest of your furniture and you own, say, less than 10 albums, and a black and yellow leather sofa, again, its pretty much perfect, otherwise, as a speaker dock, its just another substandard run of the mill, speaker dock. I do like the blue touch panel light up buttons on the front, although you'll be leaving fingerprints each time you make an adjustment. 

Plantronics K100

The K100 is a bit of an oddity. on the one hand its a simple sunvisor handsfree car kit. The likes of which we've seen time and time again. It has an inbuilt speaker, a rechargeable battery, a clip and a uniquely a ruddy great big volume dial in the middle. A great idea, especially when driving; the last thing you need to be doing is fumbling around trying to find the right button to increase or decrease the volume. 
Unlike other car kits though, the Visor K100 has an inbuilt FM transmitter. The sticker on the outside states that it "Streams Audio to car speakers". Naively I assumed this was audio as in music, but after testing, I can confirm that the audio from telephone conversations is also transmitted through the car hifi. Initially I had some problems locking onto the radio station. The frequency auto selects and the unit transmits on that same frequency. With the absence of any display panel, the unit relies on voice. So you click the FM button and the device tells you not only that FM is switched on, but also that its transmitting on frequency 95.1 (for example). I assumed the strength of the signal would be sufficient for me to be able to scan over the frequency and for the radio to lock onto it. But no, I had to manually dial the frequency in first and then store it. 
The K100 is very lightweight and the speaker significantly poor, as if to suggest its only really there to act as a backup for when the FM link is lost. What irks me most about these sun visors is that they hook onto the wrong side of the visor. I appreciate that if the units were clipped onto the front edge of the visor, you'd not be able to put your visor down, but clipping something to the edge closest to your face means that the weight of the unit pulls the visor down. Hit a speed bump and it could break your nose!
The K100 is a welcome addition to our product range, I'm grateful we've got a combined music/phone FM car kit back in stock. Indeed it's a clever peice of kit. To me, I could see it selling by the bucket load at £40, disappointingly, its £59.99, which puts it up against the Venturi mini, for which its not really great competition. The venturi mini sits neatly in your cigarette lighter, so you never need to recharge it, plus it displays the frequency, interrupts the music stream (even from another source) using TA technology, plus it also uses RDS technology to display call information on your radio display.
Nice try Plantronics, but someone did it much better two years ago.