Category Archives: gadgets

Impressions on Android: Redux

I had an Android phone several years ago – the HTC Hero.  You may remember it as the one with the weird ‘chin’. Initially, I was quite pleased with it but I slowly started to notice issues with the apps and general ‘feel’ of the OS.

I kept getting a ridiculous ‘Socket is not connected‘ error. WTF? Signal strength in hilly Scotland back then was, let’s say, patchy at best – so I assume it was due to that but still, I don’t think that’s something an end-user should be viewing. Then there was the lack of finesse in the apps. They looked basic, like no one had bothered to design them beyond using bog standard UI.  The whole phone slowed down when it was downloading app updates, lockscreen clock lagged (which I found incredibly irritating) etc. etc.

Then I became most irritated when I discovered that my 6 month old phone wouldn’t be updated to the next version of Android.  Meanwhile, the shiny new Windows Phone 7 OS came along with its slick design. Android & I parted ways shortly afterwards – with me vowing never to go back.

Cut to last year, when, after several years of insisting that I had no use for a tablet, I decided that for £100, I could find a use for one. I bought a Nexus 7 (2013 edition) and I actually quite like it. Contrary to my previous beliefs I do have a use for it too. Don’t get me wrong there are moments when it’s installing things in the background & it lags the keyboard etc. where it drives me absolutely potty but on the whole, it’s pretty good. Continue reading Impressions on Android: Redux

Windows Phone 7

Having gone to a TechMeetUp way back at the start of September 2010, I signed up for one of the related events – Developing for Windows Phone 7 last year. This was a presentation given by Gergely Orosz at the Microsoft Edinburgh premises. Having done my MSc dissertation project in .net I was interested in seeing just how developing for Windows Phone 7 would work. Also, I must admit, I was partly drawn by the suggestion that there would be a pre-release developer device on hand to play with (ooh shiny!).

First off, I didn’t even know Microsoft HAD offices in Edinburgh! It turns out it’s in the old Waverley Gate building alongside NHS and Amazon that nearly burnt down a few years ago. Of course, it’s been completely gutted inside and it’s just the outer shell that’s got the old feel. I was instructed to take the lift to the 5th floor – and let’s just say, if the lifts in this building were set up as some kind of Google-style psychological testing facility, I failed completely! Lifts are evil to begin with but when they say ‘Going up’ and then proceed to do nothing there’s something mildly worrying. After standing around politely thinking ‘Just go already’, then 30 seconds of bashing the buttons, I noticed there was ANOTHER control panel on another wall. DUHHHHHH!

My inability to work lifts aside, I’d seen the Metro interface in some preview photos but it looked really nice – so nice, in fact, that I bought a second-hand Trophy from ebay earlier on this year.  The only thing I really missed were a few apps and the ability to send MMS (something I never thought I’d say).

Design-wise – it looks great, everything is pretty polished. A lot of thought has gone into the UI – not just to differentiate it from previous Windows phones but to stand out from the smart phone crowd. The way the user can select a colour to apply throughout and which is also available to app developers means that everything – including non-microsoft apps can have a consistent ‘look and feel’. As an Android user, this is appealing – god knows there are some ghastly-looking apps for Android. It is shiny enough to potentially win over some iPhone users (I admit this is quite far-fetched) and certainly has a great chance of coaxing the undecided back towards Microsoft.

Development-wise – the tools are awesome. There’s no escaping that. Microsoft have provided a barrage of tools – including libraries, Visual Studio express edition, Expression Blend 4, and tons of documentation. Apps are basically written in c# or XNA. This means that anyone with experience of writing Silverlight, websites or applications, or even XBox Arcade titles should be able to dip their toes in with little or no trouble. The app store has potential to grow vastly.

Games-wise – As previously mentioned, games can be written in XNA – this means that there is the potential for porting Arcade titles to the phone. Xbox Live support is built in to the OS, so while I’ve never been a big mobile gamer, I am enticed by the fact that I can collect gamerpoints on the go.

The mango update has added some nice touches – the ‘me’ tile for those who miss push notifications, MMS capability, better email integration, customisable ringtones etc.  Overall, I think it’s a great OS.

I wouldn’t go back to Android unless they changed it drastically and fixed the fragmentation with vendors (and iPhone is not an option).  I think Google are awesome but I’m rapidly losing faith in their ability to push out products.  Even if Google fixed those issues, the design, the smoothness, the consistency of the apps (they’re gorgeous compared to Android apps), the fact there is no push notification (yes, this is a selling point for me) make WP7 exactly right for me at the moment.  I’ll be interested to see where it goes with the new range of handsets coming out soon.

PS3 hard drive upgrade

Hard drives hate me. I can look at them the wrong way and they’ll develop faults. I once bought a 120Gb IDE HD from PC World, brought it home formatted it and discovered it would only allow me to use 70ish Gb.  That same year I think I went through about 3 hard drives (at least one of which was DOA).  I am super-careful so my power seems to lie somewhere in my ability to pick the product with the highest failure rate.

So when it came to upgrading my 40Gb PS3 hard drive, I thought ‘Well, everything I read says it’s easy and everyone seems to be using the same hard drives for it’ and it was approaching the stage where I’d need to start deleting things before I could install new games.  I love my PS3, so I was quite nervous despite the supposed ease of the process.

I followed this guide from Gamespot (yes, of course, I could have followed the actual Sony guide but I object to official instructions unless I’m really stuck, deal with it), the enclosure being different was a bit of a shock but getting the old hard drive out was easy.  I needed two screwdrivers (both had the same head on them but it’s best not to ask questions with these things) to get those damn screws out.  Everything went fine (the cat lurking around showing great interest in the hard drives was the most worrying part)….until I restarted it and then the whole plan veered off the beaten track a bit.

GameSpot PS3 upgrade instructions

According to the guides I should turn it back on and be asked if I wanted to format and restore the drive.  I sat with my eyes closed praying it’d work fine and I hadn’t bought yet another dud.  Nope.  It couldn’t find something on my backup drive.  I was told it needed to search for the latest firmware before it could do anything.  Great.  After the initial ‘Nooooooooooooooo!’ (think Darth Vader in Revenge of the Sith), there was much grumbling.

A few minutes on Google brought me this which escalated my grumbling up to swearing but at least it put my mind to rest.  Ah, the comfort of knowing that you’re not alone in your technological issues.  I had to resort to downloading it via pc, saving to a USB flash drive in folders named ‘PS3/UPDATE’, plug it in, then I was allowed to the next stage: format the drive, fill in the wifi details, restore from the backup…hey presto.

Thumbs up

The whole process was actually super-easy but man, a tiny little hiccup can really add a little spice to it – especially when all you’ve seen is comments from people saying ‘Great guide, it was so easy’ etc. on a guide that doesn’t explain your issue at all.  (And especially if you have my expectations of failure.)

Anyhoo, my PS3 now has room enough to swing a cat storage-wise so I’m off to download a ton of demos and Guitar Hero tracks.

Will e-readers really take off in the UK?

Amazon’s Kindle has been realesed in the UK and Europe (finally).  Hurrah!  Whilst I am eager to get my grubby paws on one (to have a play about), I am also skeptical about how it will all pan out. I’m not convinced that e-books will be all that successful here in the UK.  Yet.

Amazon's Kindle

I may be biased – I am an English graduate after all, and I vividly remember the discussions we had about the sacrilige of folding a page or breaking the spine of a book (although there seemed to be two distinct camps of anal-retentives there).  It strikes me that we have a deep-seated reverence for printed books in the UK – although, it can be argued that this is decreasing with each new generation – and the culture of buying second-hand (often pot-luck) books seems to be thriving amongs the old and the ‘hip’ (an odd mix).  This would all but disappear if printed books were to become a thing of the past.

There are other issues: how would our cherished libraries work if the books were only released in digital format? Never mind the fact that you’re paying for something which has zero resell value (one of my main gripes with digital products).  These issues aside, anyone who knows me probably knows that I am pretty indecisive a lot of the time. I know quite a few people who are the same. Maybe it’s just that we’re all so easy-going that we’re quite willing to concede to other people’s suggestions, or maybe it’s just that we’re sheep and will only do what we’re told.  If that’s the case, then we’re a marketing department’s wet dream.

With that in mind, I’d point out one issue that has stood in the way of digital print taking off so far: marketing.  As far as I can tell, the only people who even know what a Sony Reader or a Cool-er actually is are high-end business people or gadget fiends.

No wonder they haven’t taken off.  Someone is doing something wrong!  It seems to me that Sony and Cool-er (the two top sellers in the UK – given that competition is low) haven’t put much effort into their marketing.

Sure, the Sony Reader is advertised in Waterstones and various big highstreet book shops, but they didn’t have the same hype surrounding their release – the BBC news did a segment on the Kindle as if the Sony hadn’t been available here for 2 years or so.  Thus far the Kindle’s rivals have only attempted to crack a very specialised market – they haven’t succeeded in made ebooks look cool, easy to use, or indespensible. Thus far they’ve only managed to say, ‘Look, this is a shiny new gadget that can carry lots of books inside it.‘ Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t know anyone who will routinely carry around more than one novel at a time. Thus, pointing out that it can hold x amount of books seems rather daft to me.

Another issue is pricing.  The device itself is slightly expensive, but reasonable, I feel.  However, there is categorically no way I’d pay over the hardback price for an e-book (today, one look on the Borders web site shows the new Dan Brown novel at £15.19 in e-book, and £12.91 in hardback formats).  Correct me if I’m wrong but…there’s no printing, or raw materials involved, they should be cheaper than a hardback.  I am totally against paying nearly full price (which seems to be what Amazon etc. are expecting us to do too) for something that I can’t then sell on or give to someone else if it’s utter drivel.

It is distinctly possible that if Amazon starts a large advertising campaign (and actually makes a decent selling-point with it), they might just be able to pinch the top spot from Sony in the UK despite Sony’s head-start. But, as it stands, I think the digital book marketplace in the UK needs to make some substantial changes in order to make any real difference to consumer’s buying habits, and if anyone is going to do that it might just be Amazon with the Kindle.

I’m still not convinced that sitting around in a coffee shop peering at a chunk of white plastic will ever make anyone look cool or particularly interesting though.