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.

Simple laptop buying advice.