Tuesday, 22 November 2011

HTC Radar and Windows Phone

One of these landed on my desk last week and within a week, I've warmed not only to the device, but also to the OS too. windows Phone used to be as complicated as any RIM offering, but now, it's as simple as you like. Two main screens make this phone function. The first screen you're presented with is the 'tile' display. These can be moved, deleted, added to and customised in whatever way you see fit. You scroll up and down through your tiles and tap to select, Facebook, email, weather, youtube, whatever you use most often. Swipe right to left and you enter a full list of apps with smaller icons, laid out alphabetically, top to bottom. Settings, initially being the lowest, until you add the vevo and youtube apps. What's exceptionally good however is the speech control. This is most easily explained by an example of a conversation you may have with your phone after you've pressed and held the windows key for a second or two.
Bleep.
"Text John"
"Which John"
"John Jones"
"What would you like to send?"
"Hi, really busy here, I'll call you later"
"Texting John, Hi Really busy here, I'll call you later, you can send or try again"
"Send"
...............
Message received, from john, would you like to read it or ignore?"
"read it"
"Text from John, No worries I'm bogged down too, speak later; you can say reply or I'm done"
"reply"
"what would you like to send?"
"brilliant, I'll call you later"
"texting brilliant, I'll call you later......... etc

And so on, until you're finished and you tell it "I'm done". I've had a play with Siri on the Apple iOS iPhone4 and it too is pretty impressive, functionally, Siri may be a small step ahead, but this really isn't far behind at all, and Microsoft just haven't made a big deal of it at all. Their marketing team need a real kick, as this should've been their big selling point (it worked for Apple!). The phone easily swipes between windows (would you expect any less) just by pressing and holding the back arrow key. The app store has most of the essentials, albeit not Skype. The panoramic camera mode is pretty damn decent, although the resulting image is only of adequate resolution on a computer. The software to update and sync (zune) is available for Mac and PC. This unit, the radar, is also pretty well built, but only comes with a mediocre 6gb. (I know, ONLY 6GB!) and more irritating, not SD card slot. But, despite it's quirks, I'm really enjoying it, what I haven't mentioned is the beautifully slick email interface which is allowing me to stay on top of my email at a most demanding time at work. Loving it. Thoroughly recommended.

Friday, 19 August 2011

HTC EVO 3D

Hot on the heels of the LG 3D is this offering from HTC. On the face of it, from the front at least, it looks just like any other HTC android phone. It's smart and the screen is very high resolution and clear. The menu's are the usual neat HTC affair, but unlike the LG there is no 'magical 3D portal'. In fact the only function on the handset that we can find is the camera. Now there are a handful of 3D pictures in the gallery to set you off, but we found these a bit hit n miss. There is no 'tuning' of the 3D like there is on the LG and several of us to start off with were a bit perplexed with the 3D effect. Initially its a little nauseating. Then, on one or two of the pictures, you'll get it. The sensation is very much like the moment you get a magic eye picture. One of those old garbled pictures, that eventually 'pop out' as a 3D cut out. Many people could never get the hang of those, so I guess, this could end up being the same? Some people may not ever be able to see it. Then again, when we went outside and took a couple of photo's of the car, these seemed to work particularly well. Yet inside, a palm plant was unrecognisable. The video is less convincing. Jerky in it's playback, it's hard to hold onto the 3D-ness of a film. Unless the camera is still and the motion slow. Like a flower blowing in the wind perhaps. Actually, I tried that and it was rubbish. Traffic driving by was pretty good. Initial tests seem to show scenery and things further away from the lenses are most impressive. There is a film rental service on the device and three trailers to get you started. Disappointingly, none of these are in 3D and because of a connection issue, I couldn't browse any others. So I navigated my way to youtube and looked at there setup page. There were a couple of options for glasses, but as this is a glasses-less device they weren't applicable. Interleaved is top/bottom (for TV's?), not side/side so that didn't work. side by side just showed two separate images, side by side and HTML5 didn't work either. So it seems incompatible with youtube's growing 3D content. So I looked on the market place for the phrase 3D, but it's so overly used I was presented with too many options, none of which looked hopeful. So I gave up and I guess that wraps up the review. Oh, it has a front facing camera as well and some nice mock 3D effects (unlocking and entering menus....by mock, I mean that aren't real 3D). Pinching the screen while the menu's are on, moves each screen around wildly, albeit in 2D.


Its another nice new HTC Android phone, with a 3D option for your own photos and videos at a push. But, seemingly no 3D games (as yet) nor 3D films either. As the tech becomes commonplace soon, all devices will be 3D, but unless they start focussing on the content a bit more, it'll be a bit of a let down. 

'Sigh', or as another team members perhaps phrased it better 'Meh'. 


Tuesday, 12 July 2011

HP touchpad pt2 (after the reboot).

I really want this device to win, so after the reboot, I try again. I click on photos again, and we appear to have loads more thumbnails. The whole thing now looks much nicer. But there are still loads missing.
I click email, it's sync'd with most of my webmail, which is a massive account. (perhaps that was causing the issues?). Either way, I read an important email and respond. It's becoming usable and it's correcting and highlighting my mistypes for me. I 'star/favourite inbox and sent items and they're the only mailboxes that appear. Neat touch. I go back to the apps and all of the yellow exclamation marks have gone. I click the HP app store and it loads. Categories. Featured. Bookmarks. Search. It looks gloriously like the Apple app store. I search for twitter again and am disappointed to find, no app. I install weTwit lite. It's another Palm pre app, only half the screen size of the touchpad. I delete. I return to just type and type "this isn't going as well as I'd hoped" now, Facebook has disappeared... and I'm signed in under accounts! I double check and then click settings - Just type. I uncheck twitter as a search and click, 'find more' from the web os store. Facebook for Touchpad... Bingo(?) 102 review 4.5 stars 96% positive. It loads, it knows my sign in details. It looks sweet! Pages within tend to swipe right to left (to move them out of the way). I return to just type and find it! UPDATE FACEBOOK STATUS. Result. Feel like I'm winning. Email alert. It's coming to life. Finally. Reply to email. Hunky dory. It's syncing with Exchange 2003 really well. Back to just type apps and I think I've found my twitter answer in a program called, er, Spaz HD. Uhm.
I install it and sure enough. It gets just type working the way I thought it ought to from 'out of the box'. Spaz HD requires me to log into twitter and paste a code. Copy and paste work excellently and I'm in. Three neat colums show me Home, Mentions and Messages. Ooh, I have a new one. I delete the messages column and add favourites. Neat program. Oddly though even after a google search, I can't get update using Spaz HD to appear in the just type menu. I close the program and re-open. I go back in and it appears in just type preferences. Although it's not as slick as I'd expected as it DOES open the program to post. Not that closing programs is difficult. swipe up, swipe up. done. Photo's still syncing. I try to display one as a background picture, but end up opening a new email. I can move it to another folder. Or print it. No I can't, because my networked printer is Canon, not an airprint compatible HP one! Doh. Screen and lock under settings allows me to choose another pic. Only..... er, not from my syncing facebook ones. No matter, I choose a stock photo and it transforms the device.... why isn't one on by default? :/ I click the messaging icon, And click find more, there is nothing more in the app store. AIM, google, Skype or Yahoo. That's yer lot. I get an email from a mail user at work. Mine was gobbledegook. I need the ability to send plain text. Email, preferences, nope. Oh dear.
Programs take too long to open, perhaps I should stop closing them down.
The front page of the app store has a magazine, which showcases several apps, some of which show NA at the mo. So many of these pre installed apps are set to work in a tiny screen, much like the iphone/ipad app problem and they're utter rubbish! The game we played at the training was far more impressive. Robotek HD... this looks promising. I let it install in the background and I throw a few apps into the favourites. It looks ace. This is much more impressive. I have no idea whats going on, but it looks great.
Some apps have links to videos in the app store, on you tube.. I look at the web browser again and restart top gear. This time.... it plays without a hitch. In fact.... it even remembers the place I left it! The sound really is excellent for a tablet. You can feel the back vibrate, which is supposed to make it sound better.

So.... now, it's working. I'm feeling involved with the content and it's all working well and good. I can open and close programs and group them together using 'cards'. After a truly terrible start. The little unit has redeemed itself. Flicking from program to program, issue to problem was swift and efficient. When you're more involved with the content, you can see it works well. The app store is still sadly lacking some basic apps, (like an official twitter app for starters) and I'm sure the OS will undergo some update to alleviate the initial problems. But. I like it and perhaps surprisingly. I really want one.

HP Touchpad

After an initially disappointing start to the day. I arrive in work to find the New HP Tablets have landed, or should I say; 'touched down'. Having been to the training for these several weeks back, it's great to see them finally land in store. Due for release to the general public on Friday the 15th, I think this could be the machine, to take the fight with Apple, one step further. The HP touchpa we tested was a prototype, with an OS that despite still in beta, was extremely slick with a number of neat touches, that make it stand out from the rest of the pack. The initial challenge comes in opening the box. The training materials etc all had magnetic flaps to secure them, this too appears to have a magnetic flap, but it's a decoy, it is in fact a slide out drawer. I succeed without causing the box any damage. On top of the box, the unit greets me. It's identical to the prototype and very iphone 3gs in appearance. Albeit far larger. But the back is sculpted in the same way. Without an accompanying palm pre, this will only be half a test, as there is interoperability across the two devices, that, (like the blackberry playbook) suggests it'd be best purchased as part of a bundle deal with the handset. For example Web URL's can be passed from the phone to the tablet, simply by touching the two devices together. For the time being, I'll have to see how it fares as a standalone product. To my delight, the unit has enough charge to power up. With just the small glowing HP logo in the centre, the initial impression (by comparison to a retina display) is that its pixelated. But this is an unfair assumption as the screen (eventually) lights up its WebOS welcome screen, it's clear to see it's excellent.  English>United Kingdom>tick>Select Wifi network>Accept terms and conditions and I have to create a HP account. But I can't, my email address is already associated with an account, so I ask it to resend me my password, but I can't, because it's not associated with an account. Doh.
I persevere and eventually. It's on. But it took far longer than I anticipated. Could be because it's a few days before it's official release? Regardless, it's restarting now it's finished it's lengthy setup process and........ wait......... wait..........HP logo is glowing (cue quick toilet break); we're in and it's on. The opening screen welcomes me with 6 icons and Just type at the top. Just type is HP's new way to do more stuff. Like spotlight on a Mac, or the start text entry on Windows. With just type, you can find programs, start a web search and link it with other apps, so you can send updates to facebook, or twitter, straight from the just type bar. I type "just testing the new HP touchpad" and I have the options to search maps/wikipedia/twitter/HP app catalogue. I press twitter and slide the screen up (during the detail entry screen) and like the palm products (and playbook) the window shrinks..... it's multitasking! Home settings>Wifi and I've switched wifi networks. It's highly intuitive. Swipe up, swipe up again and it disappears (with a satisfying woosh noise).  My twitter update, was in fact a search.... no one has updated twitter with this yet. I try and find a way to use just type to update twitter, (like we were advised would be do-able) but, I can't make it happen. I click on 'find more' to try and see if there is a twitter update app, but I get the error message 'unable to resolve host' (this isn't the wifi anymore, this is a problem).
There's no twitter app in the web Os App store.. I'm stumped. The only way to update twitter... Is by logging into the website? There are also other problems with some of the apps that came pre-installed, they have yellow exclamation marks next to them and clicking them enters https://index as a website url, which obviously, can't be found. This is looking sloppy! Downloads are failing and auto update isn't happening. Three days before launch, these sorts of problems shouldn't exist. The photos app isn't updating my facebook pics. Even when I log into a folder. Even though the internet signal is working fine. I boot up M racer and try and enter my usual screen name... it exists already. I get in making another one up, but the screen is tiny.... this is a Palm Pre game? In fact, it's not a racing game at all. Its a racing manager game... yawn! Delete.  I try to delete the errored apps, but they won't. Photo's have started syncing in the background, but it's very slow.
This is the biggest disappointment ever. This machine is looking more and more hopeless the more I use it.
I try something easier. I google iPlayer. I start iplayer.... it's struggling. Full screen won't happen. It catches up..... its running ok. I try another episode. Episode 2, where I missed the first 10 minutes. It works fine (with the exception of a lengthy buffer after 12 minutes). Success at last. The sound is excellent. Much better than any other tablets I've heard. It's a victory. 
Truth is... it was hopeless.
Perhaps.... system updates.... Nope. It's up to date. I can't get in the app store. I can't do anything. I can't even get the dam thing to turn off. I reset using both buttons.... like an iphone, it works.

Something has gone badly wrong. Perhaps it's just today?

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The LG P920 Read on!

I'm excited. Excited like it's Christmas, or like its an Apple product launch. Neighbouring stores have had this handset in, but we haven't. I'm distraught. Even though I've seen one before and been initally unimpressed*, with a brief encounter, everyone is now raving about it, so I figure, perhaps I've been too hasty. So I plea with a neighbouring store to let me borrow one. He transfers it across and excitedly, I go and pick it up. I ask the team.
"What's it like?"
"Amazing, unbelievable, really has got the wow factor".
I rush back to my store and show the team..... I've got one! One of the team members follows me into the back and we open it up. Upon boot, it would appear to be yet another humdrum Android handset, albeit fast. We skip through the usual setup process and finally we're in. There it is, straight in front of us. The button that reads "3D Space", no glasses required, this part of the menu leaps out at you with the content on the handset that is fully rendered in 3D. Youtube clips (which don't appear to work on first inspection), Games, Camera, (it has a full stereoscopic camera) tips and Gallery. Now.... either you've eyes that can cope with this, or, you've eyes that can't, or eye's that may take a bit of time to adjust. Although it can be tweaked, like the Nintendo 3DS, You'll either see it and be comfortable with it. Or you'll be endlessly adjusting it and giving yourself a headache in the process. Having said that, some content is clear and amazing, whilst other stuff really just doesn't work. The racing game Asphalt didn't work for me, although the trailer did, the game Nova on the other hand was a fab FPS which I had to remind myself I was at work and drag myself away from! For the time being though, this is a world first and it's a highly encouraging start. LG really have produced a stunning handset. Team members said either "wow, thats incredible", "I don't see it" or (somewhat unimpressed) "it looks like cardboard cutouts". After a small amount of time with the handset, I really could see the 3D pictures and most of the video content too (as I mentioned though, some is just plain bad). The photo's from the camera were especially impressive and I saw the full depth of the surfaces, where others just saw flat. The video was also good, although perhaps less impressive. I have to confess though, I think you perhaps need to be determined. I'm convinced, given enough time, people could battle through their initial nausea, (vomiting and migraine) and find a tuning setting that works for them. For me, it seems to be just over 2D. Oddly, this is where I get the most depth and clarity. Under the surface, on a day to day basis, yes, it is just another Android handset, you can change the layout of the menu's, you can have them in grid, or list, or pages. Although it does have a dual core processor, so it's quicker than many rivals. The screen, when viewed in portrait mode is not 3D and will not work in 3D, however it is as clear as any of its competitors. This ladies and gentleman, is going to be a VERY popular handset regardless of what else it's like.
Android handset are good, good ones are even better, 3D ones are currently unique. Most people love unique. If you want 3D without glasses on your handset and you want a top of the range handset, so far you only have one choice. Although I doubt too many people will be disappointed. Very, very impressive.
*The first time I saw this product was immediately after a demo of a 3D lg HD passive Tv, which was mind blowingly good. I guess the comparison of that, vs this, marred my initial reaction. It's no 3D HD tv, but... for a phone, it too is exceptionally good.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Sony Experia Neo

I've just had Sony's latest smartphone offering thrust my way, so it's only right that I should have a quick fiddle. Opening the now traditional Sony Folding box, I find wrapped in a 'greeheart' paper bag, a new phone. Looks like they're conveying some environmental message, although I'm not quite sure what? The unit itself seems smaller than the Experia Arc, the design is minimalist, but slightly cheap feeling, (at this point I have no idea of price). The back has a fab graduated blue black metallic appearance, and a simple HD in the middle.. (I guess it does 720 or 1080 video?). I hunt for the battery and prise the flimsy plastic back cover off, with difficulty. Fortunately nothing snaps. so I put the sim and battery in and fire the unit up. The  cover clips on well and I also notice a LED for the camera. On the top is a HDMi cover and usb conector cover, on the side  find the power button. The screen bursts to life and displays retina rivalling fonts and pixels. Impressive stuff. I swipe to unlock, (swiping the opposite way mute's or un-mute's the phone) and complete a quick 'get to know' your phone lesson. Timescape is present, (sony's twitter/facebook/message feed) Timescape's sits on the home screen, like scattered tiles you can swipe up and down through them to see whats happening in your 'connected life'! The main android menu's swipe left and right, much like a Samsung. Theres a nice big home button that appears mid screen to touch, just above the, er, home key. hitting a four square button makes the icons wobble so that you can move them around..... sound familiar, it should. It's eerie the way they move. Imitation is the highest form of flattery though! The button on the left in the menu, lets you re-order the icons, in Own, alphabetical, most used, or recently installed. Useful for when your handset becomes overridden with icons. Everything an android phone needs is here, GPS, compass, camera video, etc. Opening Maps highlights two finger gestures are made very good use of. Two fingers can; up/down = tilt the map. Spin = spin the map, and pinch to zoom. Impressive. It feels a bit more like google earth, than maps! Certainly VERY easy to navigate. Zooming in to birmingham city centre shows that 3D building mapping is integrated. Which looks fab. iPlayer works seamlessly. The speaker isn't bad either. The camera is excellent as you'd expect with a Sony product and the video is incredible. The most noticeable thing is that the image stabilisation works effortlessly and creates smooth professional looking footage. At first the image appeared yellow, but all of the settings (including white balance) are easily accessible and a quick adjust and things were back on track.
 Typical android home screen customisation, music controls, digital clock, tips, iplayer highlights, it's all very funky looking and usable. There's a cluster of recent video and pictures which links me to an animated film which shows of the devices screen off incredibly well. The music player reveals the speaker to be pretty good. Overall, I have to say it, this looks like it could well be Sony's best handset for a good many years. Although I'm only scratching the surface, of late, that's been enough to reveal a very rough product. You'll see in the past I've spoken ill of Sony ware's. This, on my brief encounter, cannot be faulted. Wonderfully impressive stuff and a great return to form. It's also equipped with the wonderful sony in ear headphones.
Having checked the unit is 300 pounds on Prepay and available, initially from 25 pounds per month. There are far worse choices. I like it alot.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Smartphones with headphones.

Just had a bit of a revelation. Using doublesync the other week, I inadvertently dumped 10% of my record collection onto my HTC desire. It's late. I'm not tired, kids and wife are in bed, so I decided to listen to some tunes on my Dr Dre Beats headphones. The HTC was the closest phone to hand, and seeing as it had alot of music on it, I thought, why not?

Them something odd happened. It didn't sound right. Was it me? it just sounded, 'central' and well, lacking in depth. It wasn't making the involving sounds happen that I've come to expect from these headphones, so I flicked through a few more songs, it was the same, Beatles, Foo fighters, Gerry Rafferty, all sounded, muted.

Tom Petty American girl came on, the live version,  a truly legendary track. No.... I wasn't feeling it.

I pulled up the same track on the iPhone 4 and tried again...... This is more like it! I wouldn't have believed there would have been such a difference. The stereo separation is the most noticeable difference. The Htc sounds almost, mono by comparison. The depth is the next thing you notice, the clear highs and the deep bass is so much better on the iPhone. Then finally the detail; which I guess ties in with the separation. Every instrument, every detail is less, well.... mushy on the iPhone.

I know I could be called a fanboy, but..... it's not without reason. The sound produced for music fans from the ipod inspired iphone is by far superior to the musicality of the HTC offering. Sorry HTC, but it's true and I guess any audiophile would agree. It's as clear as anything, even to an old fogey like me.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The Samsung Galaxy S ii

Is this becoming a bit of a bore now.... Yup, it's yet ANOTHER android handset. It's like spot the difference. This one is magnificently thin. To accomplish this look, the back cover is made of sugar paper. Yet another back cover that should be removed only once. Seriously, there are about ten clips around the outer edge and they all need some force to clip in one by one. But once the back cover is comfortably in place, it feels, er, thin. Really thin. Next to the iphone 4, the camera and thicker base push its height so its fractionally larger, (or higher off the ground) than the iphone. But in reality the middle section, is actually narrower that the iphone. But.... to be frank, I couldn't care less. The iphone is thin enough, so its a hollow victory. Especially when you consider the fact that you can't take the back off the iphone4 and snap it by breathing too hard on it. Front on and the Galaxy S mk 2 is something of a monster. It is noticeably larger than an iphone and has a much larger screen. Odd, as only the other day, I said to a work colleague, smartphones will become larger and tablets will become smaller and soon you won't be able to tell them apart. This is a small step towards a mobile tablet, but still nothing like a galaxy tab. The initial background image on the Galaxy S 2 has obviously been chosen because of its vibrant colours. It shows off the screens incredible colour reproduction fantastically well. You'll be impressed the first time you see it. I compared side by side with the iPhone and to be frank, they're both great. Obviously on a larger screen, bigger pictures streamed via iplayer and youtube seem a little more blocky. But, its a great screen nevertheless. I couldn't however get the iplayer controls to vanish! Which was slightly annoying. I watched a little of episode 5 of 'Don't get done, get Dom' which was on Currys, which was interesting. But eventually, it became unwatchable, flickering screen and jumpy playback. Perhaps due to internet connectivity, but annoying all the same. Apps are organised like on the Galaxy S into pages, which is old hat. But what isn't old hat, is the zoom feature on the web browser. Instead of the normal pinch to zoom affair (of yesteryear) here, we place two fingers on the screen and move the handset closer to our head.......
Yup, you read that right and it has to be seen to be believed. hold two fingers on a webpage, move the unit upright, and the page smoothly zooms in. Nice! Albeit pointless. If I want to look at something closer. I move it closer to my head anyway. The chances are, if I want to zoom in, I probably don't want to move my head closer to the device, so although it is cool. It's rubbish in the real world. Fortunately, pinch to zoom works too. Another 'motion' feature is the ability to move icons from page to page, simply by selecting them and moving the device left or right. It works, but again, whether this is more, or less useful that just sliding the icon to the edge of the page is debatable.
It has an fm radio, but, it is a genuine FM radio and thus, needs an aerial to work, so you have to plug the earphones in. Many radio apps now are connected via an internet link, and thus don't need an aerial. They're also better quality, although of course, they do use your data allowance. The camera is crisp and clear 8mp. The video is clear enough on its default setting, but I can see from within the menu, it goes up to 1920x1080! Wow. I take a quick clip and transfer it via bluetooth to my Mac. 7 seconds = 18 Mb! The results are impressive, even if motion is somewhat juddery. Freeze frames show the video to be of immense quality. I kidded a team mate into thinking it was the camera, Its that good. I note Kies Air is here, I guess this is sync over wifi (I have no time to test) but another one in the eye for Apple if it is. Voice commands is a new function I've not seen, powered by vlingo, so it needs an active internet connection to decipher what you've spoken. Unlike the iPhone, although in all honesty, that doesn't work. ("Play elbow" I told it, only for it to blast out Girls aloud, thus ruining any credibility I had left.) There's a photo editor, Game hub, and lots to discover. It's another nice Android handset, that continues to take Googles fight one step further (or closer) to Apple. Nice. Currently, being new, its only on top of the range contracts which means, in this time of sensible budgetting, the Desire S, or Incredible S would remain at the top of my shopping list.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The HTC Desire S

This Machine is a heavy little unit. But that gives it a great feeling of quality. The battery compartment is something of an oddity however. On first inspection, there is no way to get into the back of the handset. The top and bottom are slightly rubberised, but they don't prevent the unit slipping in your hand. But where to put your sim in isn't immediately obvious. When you figure that you have to slide the bottom portion off, things get even more unusual. Two exposed metal contacts sit on the battery cover, initially I thought this was to connect the Mic, but they're not, the mic is built into the phone on the opposite side, it just pokes out of a small hole. These contacts must let the phone know that the cover is on. I would've assumed then that these trigger the phone to dismount the memory card, to avoid the potential of read/write errors corrupting it, but no, the card is still accessible with the battery cover removed. So I have no idea why they're there. The battery is encased within the unit and a small flap must be unlocked and opened fully, in order to slide the battery out. Whilst the outside of the unit looks hardy and sturdy. The inside looks a little frail and delicate. I guess this is one to leave closed? The multicoloured default wallpaper signifies that this is without a doubt a HTC unit (see pic). Touch screen controls across it's base vibrate when touched and are as sensitive as the superbly clear and detailed screen. The buttons are Home, Menu, Back and Search. A great way to test to the processor speed and responsiveness of the handset is to tap your compass icon whilst in the maps application. Then spin around and see how fast the machine can keep up. This unit keeps up well with the change of direction and would most likely never let you down whilst out on the road. Likewise, Google sky Map is very responsive and fast to re-render the images of the night sky. The mirror app was sufficiently detailed to show me I really ought to face facts and buy myself a nasal hair trimmer. The Camera coped really well in a poorly lit room and fared even better outside, picking up the reg plate of a car about 30 yards away. Installing Skype caused a temporary glitch, but hitting the home key and relaunching fixed the problem. The neat little chrome edging around the front facing camera and earpiece give it a feeling of quality. Within the drop down menu HTC have added icons for all of your recently loaded apps, which is useful. (I do wish someone would introduce a way to easily terminate apps on android units).  HTC sense is present as you'd expect. There is a nice selection of custom skins, themes and wallpapers, with more available online. Metal looks good. One of the live wallpapers, is live maps, which shows a satellite image of wherever you are, which is pretty cool. Pinch to zoom works well in the browser. Pages look bright and vibrant. I still find it funny that apple videos don't seem to want to play! Unlike the Xoom, real flash websites on these small devices is still rubbish, (Cbeebies for example!) Screen rotate is quick though.
So overall its another quality unit from HTC. It's hard to get too excited about it as it doesn't do anything particularly special, even though, it's built very well, feels like a quality device and is reasonably cheap (free on £25 over 24 months at time of writing). These devices are becoming so accessible for all and sundry now, everyone should have a decent smartphone! But at the end of the day, it's just another great HTC phone. Which sounds like a criticism, but isn't.

Monday, 25 April 2011

How to sync an Android phone with a Mac for free.

This question has been rattling round in my skull for a while now. A quick google search and I found this link. http://www.ehow.com/how_5945326_sync-android-mac.html
I first checked the Apple Mac store and to my amazement, found it WAS available, for £8.99!
However, thats too easy. I want to do it for free. 

Ok, lets tackle these issues one by one....... firstly I have the details of my Gmail account. 

Contacts and Address book.  
All of the contacts I want are already stored in my gmail account. But what I really want is to add contacts in my Address book, and have them auto sync with my android phone. As they're already syncing, phone to gmail cloud. The issue becomes, how do I sync google with my mac? I boot up address book and click Address book>Preferences. I see a box; it says Sync with Google..... can it be this easy? I click it, and input my gmail details. Done.
Well, no actually, that option is only there because I own an iphone. And well, to be blunt. It won't work. 
After an hour or so investigation, I give up. 

E-Mail - Thanks to the wonderful tech that is IMAP, there is little more required than logging into the Mac Mail app with my default email settings, username and password and gmail is working fine, the folders, sent, received emails will sync across platforms with no further intervention required. 

Music, Videos and Photos next. An email that showed up whilst investigating reminded me I'd downloaded a free app called doubletwist for android. A link from the email leads me to the mac software. Upon opening, this shows a very itunes-esque window. A simple guide to tell me to mount my android and we're cooking on gas. I've hit the sync button after selecting the photos music and videos I'd like to sync and, Perhaps not surprisingly, it works; like a charm I might add. For a fairly modest fee of £3.99. I can have the wifi version. Meaning, yup, unlike iTunes and the iPhone, I can sync Over The Air! Heads up Apple!

Calendar. Ok another simple one. Preferences, Account Add, select Gmail from the Account types, enter username and password and I'm done. Calendars, sync'd too. This is too Easy. 

Back then, I guess, to contacts; which...... have synced! It took a while. But, they're done, and the "test" I wrote in the notes of a contact an hour ago, is also present. So it was that simple. Calendar>>preferences>>click the sync with google checkbox and add your details. 

Done..... For free! Seems Androids do like Apples!

The Motorola Xoom Tablet

I still can't decide whether there is room for one of these in my life or not. The argument I get from so many people is that, if they just want to look on the internet for something quick. A tablet is always on, so they could pick it up and launch their browser straight away. Now without wanting to spark a Windows vs Mac debate. I can already do that on my Mac anyway, even when its off, and even if I have to put my password in. Not only that, but sadly, due to a major lack of a social life. It's usually keeping my knee's warm anyway. However, What is it like to use? Well, it's always on, for a start. The android OS is dreamy to use. It really is simple and it has so much 'desktop' space to customise, I really think that there is more than most users would ever be able to make use of. The two camera's are useful for things like skype video calls and er, photos. The Camera is ok, although for a 5mp, it isn't quite as sharp as I'd expected. But its most certainly useable. The web browser is exceptionally good and I declare, for the first time ever, flash support is every bit as good as a PC. If you have a penchant for Moshi monsters and you absolutely must have a tablet, then I can wholeheartedly recommend it. There's also something still magical about 'touching' the pages, and moving them, using your fingers, where you want them to go. The music player, plays music fairly well, although having the headphone socket slap bang in the centre top of the device, when viewed in landscape mode is questionable.... I suppose if you spin it, it's dead centre bottom? The screen looks pretty good. The resolution is very impressive, albeit nothing to get over excited about. The one thing that is noticeable however is the weight of the thing. Without an ipad-esque folding stand cover screen protector, the unit either lies flat on your lap, or needs holding with your hand. After a while, holding the device becomes tiresome. As is also the norm, the screen becomes dirty after a relatively short period of url entering. What it really needs, I thought, Is a fold down keyboard, that could also act as a stand. This is when it dawned on me. What I'd far rather be using, is a macbook Air. Imagine if you will that the tablet form factor had preceded the laptop. How excited would you be about the manufacturer, that had developed a machine that
1) Folded away, so you didn't need to worry about the screen breaking?
2) Folded out, like a stand, so you didn't need to worry about holding it?
3) Had a wholly separate keyboard, so you could keep your screen cleaner for longer?
You'd be excited right?
The 11" Macbook air (which can sit on your lap) weighs just over 1kg. The Motorola Xoom (and iPad) weigh approximately 730g.

 I did run into several problems while trying to get it to work with iPlayer. The Beeb Player app refused to work. iplayer website via firefox for android and opera, didn't work. It would only work through the motorola installed browser. It also locked up on more than one occaision, but I did get it to play an episode of Top gear, in which I saw a small excerpt of the LFA test, and heard a small section of music that took me over a day to work out what it was. (Shazam failed).

So in a nutshell, it does what its supposed to. It has a wonderfully responsive touchscreen, it has a great big display. It'll play videos, music, it'll obviously do facebook and twitter, it has camera's where it should. It does everything pretty competently. But like all tablets. It doesn't do them quite as well as a laptop would. Well, at least not an Apple one. When Apple put a touchscreen on a Macbook Air, now there will be a machine!

Saturday, 2 April 2011

THE INCREDIBLE S!

The HTC desire was an exceptionally good class leading android handset, that catapulted HTC to the forefront of smart phone development and sales. The Wildfire was a good entry level Android phone. So how does the Incredible S stack up next to them? well, To start with, it feels like its got one of those 'extra battery' cases on it. Initially it feels odd. Although the matt black plastic feels high quality. If it weren't for the extra bulk, it would be as slim as an iphone4. But because of it, it isn't. All of the extra goodies in the box are wrapped in strange grey sealed body bags. Neat, but weird. I slip a sim in and boot up. What I'm hoping for here, is a Desire, with a better screen, sound and swype! Initial impressions are hopeful. The screen looks excellent. Clear and responsive too. It feels like a high quality device. Flicking from app to app, the handset copes brilliantly as I fumble my way through the menu's, changing my mind, the phone keeps up with my indecision. The clock is animated well, the time changes elegantly in the background. But, I notice the optical sensor is gone! This made editting previously input text (with errors) easy. So, I see what the incredible S user must do. I enter part of a message and tap earlier in the sentence. I see underneath a grab icon/pointer thing. I touch it and above a square window with the icons whereabouts on the sentence is highlighted, I can then drag the icon back and forth, easily seeing where the cursor is......it's an improvement! Whilst it's flattering to Apple, as its a mimic of their iOS method, it is nevertheless an improvement; the optical sensor loss is no bad thing. The web browser works well, pinch to zoom effective as ever. Then I notice something magical. I had spotted the icons on the bottom of the handset seemed to be illuminated a bit odd. From any other angle besides straight on, they dimmed. But, when you rotate the handset, INCREDIBLY, the seemingly static buttons also rotate! I'm wowed! I show the team, they think it's incredible. The camera compliments the screen, (or the screen compliments the camera) and images are sharp and extremely clear. From the viewer, the opportunity to upload to twitter, picasa, mail, message, flickr, facebook or simply send via bluetooth appears. Maps look beautiful and streetview is easily accessible. I play some music. It sounds shrill at first. Then I listen longer and re-assess, no, it sounds clear. There's lots of treble. Its not loud, but it is listenable. This may seem a tad overkill to rate a phone based on the quality of its internal speaker, but I find I do sometimes watch an episode of something, via iplayer, or tvcatchup and I do need to use the speaker. If it's shoddy, I'd resent it. Obviously headphones are preferable, but this isn't bad, I could live with it. To summarise. This is another pretty impressive HTC handset. Yes it will also have the usual excellent HTC touch services to back it up, but to live with on a day to day basis. It's seriously a top quality handset.

[edit] Another highly impressive feature, is it's boot up time, from standby, it takes less than 10 seconds! It's almost Mac like!
[edit] putting it back in the box I notice a front facing camera so skype video calling is clearly supported.

I like it alot. Even though it doesn't have swype*!


* It should possible to install swype, it probably involves allowing third party apps to install and finding the right source somewhere on the internet .....google it if you need it!

INQ Cloud aka Facebook phone.

The initial worry with any borderline 'droid phone is whether the screen is resistive or capacitive. Capacitive screens tend to be pretty responsive, where as resistive, require resistance, IE, they need to be pushed. The good news with this one, is, it's capacitative. After opening the very funky box, a simple user guide falls out. Seriously easy instructions to follow, one may assume this is a smartphone for beginners. Appropriately ignoring the guide, I put my sim in and ran through the initial setup. Simple, within about 6 simple setup screens, I was connected to both my network and wifi. I followed the 'learn more about your phone route' and found myself looking at the same simple instructions that fell out of the box earlier! Gmail details entered and a short while later, my screen is full of facebook (I didn't ask for this, it just appeared!) I duly enter my facebook details and surprise, surprise I'm logged into Facebook. Then, I allow INQ mobile to access my facebook profile, and post to my wall, access my profile etc. Once done, I'm presented with an alternative view of an Android homescreen, but, again, I'm being asked if I want to login to facebook! Uh. Moments later and it's logged in. The middle section of my phone has changed to a video, that was uploaded to facebook earlier. I click and the video opens in youtube. Our restrictive wifi, sternly warns me you tube isn't allowed, and I'm loathe to hunt through the settings. The square squares seems logical and this looks much more familiar, I'm in a typical android menu, now. Settings, Wifi, off and home again. I try again. This time HSDPA and Edge have fisticuffs and GPRS kicks in to split them up, and I see the video, just. Sound seems ok (better than most HTC devices) I hunt around in the background and see under the Facebook front, the handset is simply another android phone. The facebook main screen however offers a couple of interesting features.
1) There is a friends button. This takes you to your most important friends feeds. You can add or remove friends from here with ease. Swiping left/right moves you from friend to friend.
2) on the home screen, you can click back and forth through the latest posts from your stream. Visiting the web page though, I'm not convinced this stream is comprehensive. It's a bit like the 'most recent', 'top news' dilemma, I'm not quite sure which one I'm looking at, but the 'most recent' on the web, is different to what's being presented here. Clicking back and forth is also a little cumbersome, the buttons are too small and my fat fingers occasionally open up the link. Which I didn't want to do.
3) A calendar shows you upcoming facebook events and birthdays, AS WELL as your gmail calendar, which is handy.
4) Places takes you to the usual facebook check in screen, as seen on other facebook smartphone apps.
5) There is a notification icon, for, well, notifications.

I dabble around with the other features and am underwhelmed by the camera. Perhaps not surprisingly, it also has a share button in the photo browser, allowing you to upload to facebook, amongst other social networks. The other screens can be customised and (to my delight), the 'in yer face-book' apps can be dragged away from the INQ homescreen. Don't get me wrong, I don't hate facebook. But I'm sure there are more important things that you'd want as your homescreen instead of just this? I'm pretty certain even Mark Zuckerberg would agree with me on this one. When you strip way the facebook specialness, you're left with a pretty ordinary android handset. That's no bad thing, as most ordinary android handsets nowadays are of excellent quality, and terrific starter smartphones. But this is seriously a handset for facebook addicts only. The fact it has pinch to zoom on both the internet and maps and that both run reasonably well don't do enough to elevate this beyond the realms of normalcy. Some of the icons are a bit fisher price, the interface is sometimes a little clunky. It fits into a price bracket alongside Samsung Galaxy S. In this company, it comes second. Unless you're the biggest die hard facebook fan.

Not a bad phone at all, but is doesn't feel very adult, it's certainly not a class leader.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Feedback Beats vs Crossfades

I welcome comments and respect other people's difference of opinions. But if you're compelled to comment, do it with manners and/or respect. Otherwise, I'll simply ignore your ill-conceived diatribe.

Apparently the V-Moda crossfades improve over time, to be specific, one reader suggested 22 hours or more!! Wow. I have left them plugged into a music source for 50 hours now, and well, to be honest they still sound poor by comparison to the beats phones. Although some clarity of the mid range does appear to have improved. However they still play second fiddle to the balanced results from the Beats. Yes, on paper, in terms of frequency response, the V-Moda's should produce better results. The headphones I replaced had a better frequency response than the Beats, but they didn't sound half as good. Numbers don't always give one the full picture.

It would also appear that other reviewers (perhaps even with younger ears than mine) wouldn't rate the sonic ability of the V-Moda units that highly either. There are several other reviews I gleaned over after the feedback. It seems many share my opinion. I appreciate that everyone's ears are different though and if you're tone deaf and prefer the sound of a nightclub over the sound of well, music then you may prefer the V-Moda's.

But I doubt it.

Alcatel

Alcatel have surprised me in the past. Whilst this blog has focussed mainly on the high end smartphones. It's interesting from time to time to delve into the cheaper end of the spectrum. Like the used car forecourts, sometimes this end of the market can be more rewarding than the top end. Expectations are lower, therefore delights and surprises are more regular occurrences. Here I'll be giving the briefest of overviews of three current Alcatel offerings. The OT710, OT799 and the Android powered OT980.

The 710 is a svelte touch screen device, small and thinner than a palm pre. The screen is noticeably blocky by comparison to top end models and the colours look dour and pale. Although the menu's are well laid out, the resistive screen needs a good push to activate the icons, even swiping the screen to unlock is an annoyance. The camera doesn't appear to auto rotate image's (this really annoys me, especially when people upload pics to facebook etc, and you have to tip your head on one side to see them). But, the unit feels ok, it isn't ugly. It has a facebook (micro edition) app, Opera, but perhaps not surprisingly, no wifi. Selecting settings caused me no end of upwardly scrolling screen problems in the main menu. But, when you consider the fact that this unit can be had for 30 pounds. And it'd so anti-cool it is perhaps cool, without us geeks knowing it. It makes a much more sensible proposition.

The next handset, the 799, is clearly a blackberry wannabe. It's a borderline clone to the untrained eye (or even a trained eye from a distance). The back is rubberised and on the right hand side it has a scroll wheel, much like a clock radio volume control from the 70's. The screen is noticeably brighter and clearer than the 710, although its not a touchscreen handset. Unlocking the keypad is a nokia style two button combo and navigation the usual up/down/left/right select affair. This is preferable, to me, than a cheap resistive touchscreen. Again its missing Wifi, something that any modern day 'smart' phone really ought to have. Apps are Java based, Opera, Facebook, Twitter and gaming etc, they're all present and correct, Along with a very basic camera and video camera. The scroll wheel works well for highlighting icons and as you might expect, it clicks in to select items. There are hot keys to Camera and SMS on the front. But otherwise, its pretty ordinary. The last thing I discover about this handset, once again is its price. It too, can be had for £30 on Pay as you go. With that in mind, it's absolutely belting.

The problem with both of these handsets though is that to get the most out of them, you'd need a data plan, and when you talk about a data plan, you're talking about committing yourself to a monthly payment. Without wifi, data is essential, which makes them poor entry level contract phones. Which I guess brings me neatly onto the OT980.


The OT980, out of the felt lined box, already feels like a much better quality handset. It's heavier, partially rubberised on the front, and not unattractive in its design. Although the jury is out on the oversized home button. Turning the screen on, reveals a similarly blocky display to the 710. Resistive again, it's already showing it's shortcomings, but it seems faster, perhaps because it has a faster processor? I enter our gmail settings and fall in love with the keyboard. The keys are nicely raised, they're very high friction, and your nail naturally falls into the right key, meaning fast typing is a doddle. ('7' is tough though as its so close to the 'alt' key). I connect to wifi and login to gmail. The main menu's are accessed by sliding the bottom of the screen up, but if I'm being honest it's a little difficult. But, access to the Android market is there, meaning you can customise it and enjoy the same app's that the top end handsets do. But lets be frank. This is a budget handset and it's on entry level contracts. The screen is a little unresponsive, the display isn't anything to be wowed by. Yes, technically it is an Android handset, and it does a reasonable job of it too. For less than £30 outlay, this phone could be yours for £15 a month, with minutes, texts and internet. Compared to any 'ordinary' handset, for people on a budget, it's a no brainer as far as I'm concerned.

This proves that eventually this top end technology does filter down to the entry level market. Whether you like it or not, before long, you will own a smartphone. One day all cheap phones will be made this way, only they'll have incredible screens and much better responsiveness. Five years ago, this would have been one of the best smart phones on the market. Now, it's a mid range pay as you go, or an entry level contract phone. Whether it stands up to closer scrutiny next to the wildfire or Europa is your decision.

The Nexus S curved screen!

For those of you that noticed I didn't mention the Nexus S curved screen, you're absolutely right. I spent a whole morning with it looking over its features and hadn't noticed one of its unique selling points. Which goes to show, either it doesn't detract from the user experience, or its a complete waste of space. My belief is the latter, it makes absolutely no difference or benefit at all, and if the 'worlds first curved screen' is enough to rouse your interest levels, then you're an easily misguided fool.

Monday, 17 January 2011

The Samsung Nexus S

Ok, I've opened the box and, well, to be frank, with the exception of the buttons at the bottom of the screen, it doesn't look that much more different than a Galaxy S. Turning the unit on, and to get started, I have to touch up the Android. Is there some subtle psychological 'connection' here, by touching the android, somehow, I'm accepting it into my life? Then, as per usual, create or sign in using the gmail account I have, noticing in the process that Swype isn't enable out of the box, or as an input option. Why ever the hell not, it's one of the best things about android? Signing in shows us that, it hasn't realised it doesn't have a data connection, so it asks me to connect to wifi, which I do; and then re-input my password. There's a problem with our wifi too so, I skip the process to troubleshoot. I attempt to slide the menu from the top of the phone down, but I notice that the quick access wifi, bluetooth, options are no longer there, like on the Galaxy S. Again, logically, you have to ask, why ever the hell not? Who decided to take them away? So I access the wifi option in the main settings menu, and check eveything looks ok. Whilst in the wifi setting on the phone, I touch the Home button, but nothing happens. This really isn't the best start to a review ever. Although I appreciate some of the problems may not be down to the handset, but some are! Whilst breaking to type, I notice that the screen shuts down, like an old black and white TV. The screen crushes to a white line in the middle, which disappears into a white dot. Very slick. But so far, its all show and no go. The main menu icons, appear on a sort of roller, the middle 70% of the screen is flat, but the top and bottom roll away into the distance, a bit star wars credits like. Again, very showy, but so far we're struggling with the content side of things. This is quite a useful 'showy' feature however as you can just about make out what the icons just 'off screen' actually are. As well as being able to swipe between home screens, you can also tap just left and right of the dock, dots show you how many screens are to the left and right, zero dots, means you reached the last page. The home button, even from here, simply refuses to play ball though. I check to see how much information I can get from the wifi settings screen, but I have to revert back to my iPhone to realise, the damn router isn't dishing out IP addresses. So I reboot, and reboot again. Third time lucky, and now I can start testing! I boot up the browser easily enough and see that the screen is every bit as good as the Galaxy S. No improvement for sure, but the Galaxy S screen is superb, so it's no bad thing. I learn here, that the magnifying glass icon doesn't work either. The two remaining buttons, menu and back, fortunately work as expected, so getting back to the home screen, can be done, albeit with numerous button pushes, instead of just the one. I install google sky maps, and it installs and looks as good as expected, the magnetic compass working well too. I'm notified I have more junk email, which I sift through, passing up the opportunity to earn 25 million US dollars. I check the boxes and delete emails, Simple. I hammer the back button and fumble my way back to the home screen. This is surely a bug, (I think), so I reboot. I wait........
IT IS! Both the home button and the search buttons have decided to play ball. Huzzah! The dock at the bottom of the, now fully functioning, home screen display Phone, Menu and Browser. These cannot be amended, but perhaps thats no bad thing? There are also a couple of new wallpapers, polar clock and Microbes being very nice. A market place adverts app is on page two, which takes to straight to the market place app its advertising. The you tube app allows you to take video and upload it in a few simple steps. The phone is working as you'd expect. It's nice. But once again, as with many handset manufacturers it's a nice evolution of an existing great handset. There is nothing here that would wow you from choosing a Galaxy S. Apart from the knowledge that its a newer model. The phone does work swimmingly well though (not the buttons are working) it flicks from app to app and screen to screen and page to page with relative ease. It's definitely one of the best handsets around. But, when a manufacturer is releasing a handset like this one now, when the Galaxy S is still around, the question is why? I don't even know whether it's higher or lower spec than the Galaxy S, (that's not the purpose of this blog). Why do some manufacturers have to keep on reinventing and refining their product line up, when a company like Apple only need to produce one every year or two? Make me wonder if Samsung would have been better using their R&D money for making a classier less plastic case? Concentrating on the design, rather than the functionality? Or at least improving the balance? Or at least putting Swype on it!

Monday, 3 January 2011

Free online storage

Over the last few weeks, I've been exploring options for free online storage. Previously, I've been a keen advocate of Dropbox. So keen in fact that they've upped my storage allowance from the stadard 2gb to over 6gb, simply because I've successfully referred so many new customers. Dropbox has a simple app which creates a folder on your Mac, within your home folder, which simply stays up to date with their servers. Mp3's are indexed, so when you put them into a folder, although they eat into your allowance and do show as on your hard drive, they're simply pulled from a catalogue of pre stored Mp3's on Dropbox servers. So they sync pretty much instantly. There is also a dropbox iphone app, which can be pin protected and the same program also works well on PC. Folders can also be shared with other Dropbox users by right clicking and selecting sharing options. Humyo is a similar service which offers a far more generous 10Gb of storage, although its split, 50% for documents, 50% for media files, so don't expect to be able to back up 10Gb of photos or video, disappointingly, they now charge for the sync program. So for the purpose of this test, they're out.
Microsoft however allow a whopping 25Gb of storage space, but only 5Gb can be 'synchronised' with your PC or Mac, through a program called Windows Live Mesh. Unlike Dropbox (and oddly other Windows programs) it installs, the Mac way, by simply dragging the app to your app folder. When you load it, you simply enter your Windows Live ID and the program presents you with an options window..... choose a folder to sync. Wow; So simple.
I created a folder, selected sync, got the message about only 5Gb being free and clicked done. I renamed the folder, that didn't confuse it. I added files.... and they sync'd. As easily as dropbox. Like a Mac..... It just works. A quick butchers at the iPhone App store and disappointingly, but maybe unsurprisingly there is no iPhone app.

When files are synced using Windows Live Mesh, the actual file icons remain static. The main icon in the menu bar at the top rotates however to let you know its synchronising. Within the Dropbox folder, the actual files have a small icon next to them that clearly indicate if they're still synchronising or if they're done.

As a faithful customer of Dropbox, I have to admit, if I was starting out afresh with online storage, and 5gb was all I needed, I'd be tempted to use Live Mesh. But, considering I've earned 6Gb with Dropbox, and there's an iphone app too. I see little point in swapping. Although I will most likely use both.

Impressive stuff from both Microsoft and Dropbox.

Simple laptop buying advice.