All 23 entries tagged Gadgets
View all 32 entries tagged Gadgets on Warwick Blogs | View entries tagged Gadgets at Technorati | There are no images tagged Gadgets on this blog
July 22, 2008
[This turned out to be a bit longer than I expected – sorry about that:-]
I’ve had the device for a little over a week now, so it seems a good time to post my first thoughts, which are on the whole very favourable.First, let’s get some of the well publicised shortcomings:
- No MMS. Yes it seems bizarre that a modern phone doesn’t do MMS, and I don’t understand how Apple could have thought it was a good idea to leave it out. But, I’ve only ever sent one and received two, so for me it isn’t a big deal. If you are addicted to MMS though, this could be a big problem.
- No copy & paste, or indeed text selection of any kind. This I’d a bit of a pain, I concede, but only a bit. I don’t notice most of the time. Replying to emails, and having to delete large chunks of the included original is the main time I wish it was there.
- Bluetooth is useless. Largely true. You can connect to a Bluetooth headset for making calls. But not in stereo for listening to music. You can’t send or receive pictures, music or contacts via BT. Nor can you connect a laptop to use the iPhone as a modem.
- The battery life sucks. If you run it with everything turned on, and use it all the time, then yes, the battery doesn’t last a long time. But most people seem to be comparing it to a phone, which would normally have a battery life measured in large fractions of a week. This isn’t a phone, so that’s an unrealistic expectation. If you switch off and/or don’t use all the non-phone functionality, the battery life is not surprisingly much closer to that of a phone.
- Exchange sync doesn’t work. Well, you need ActiveSync enabled on your server, but as far as I know, once that is done (and it is on by default for version of Exchange that support it) it does seem to just work. For me at least. My iPhone beeps to indicate a new incoming message typically a few seconds before the Outlook running on my PC. And stuff created on my iPhone appears very quickly in Outlook.
OK, now that that’s over, let’s move on. For me, getting an iPhone was (hopefully) the end of a long search for a PDA to replace a Palm m505 that I had used for ages, but which was getting progressively irrelevant in these days of web services. I was using it less and less, and wanted a “PDA 2.0” equivalent. So, how does the iPhone match up? In particular, I’m looking at two different areas of functionality – web-based services and PDA functionality.
As far as PDA functionality goes, the connection to Exchange gives me contacts, calendar and email that is automatically synced and accessible from my PC and via the Exchange web interface too. The notes app on the iPhone does not sync with Exchange. Not that Exchange/Outlook’s notes functionality is that great. Being able to sync with OneNote would have been perfect. This was actually a bit of a problem for me, as taking notes on a PDA was something I did a lot. Then I discovered Evernote. This is a web-based notes app with Windows client and an iPhone client, but of which sync with the web, and therefore with each other. And all free, at least for low usage. Taking and storing lots of notes will eventually take you to the point where you have to pay, but even that is not a lot. That pretty much covers PDA functionality for me.
If you don’t have access to Exchange, you can still sync email, contacts and calendar with a local Outlook, which I’ve done for years with my Palm devices. Or pay for MobileMe. Or there are ways of faking push email using free services. Or if you are sure you’ll always have online access one way or another (part of the point of an iPhone, after all) you could just use Google’s web services.
Which brings us neatly to web functionality. The iPhone version of Safari is pretty good. With the exception of Flash, which doesn’t (yet) exist for the iPhone, everything seems to work as well as you’d expect, and generally better. The screen is small, but the multi-touch interface makes it very easy to zoom in on relevant sections of the page, and rotating the device to landscape can help a lot. I haven’t found a web site yet that I can’t use. That said, Safari has crashed on me a few times for no obvious reason. Going back to the same website immediately afterwards generally works fine. I suspect some sort of memory-related issue (leak?). Some sites detect the iPhone and present a “mobile-optimised” version of their site. Sometimes that is good, and sometimes I’d rather use the original. There isn’t usually a way of choosing. But that’s not the iPhone’s fault.
The lack of Flash is a pain, for me. Some people are enjoying browsing the web without Flash adverts and splash screens getting in the way. I’m not. There are a few sites that use Flash to present video (BBC News, ITV’s live channels, etc.) that I can’t use. For me, the sooner flash is available the better.
One thing some web service providers are doing is producing native iPhone apps to access their services, rather than providing a mobile-optimised site. I’ve already mentioned Evernote above. This approach lets them use local iPhone data, like adding camera pictures to notes or using the microphone to record voice notes. There’s a local Facebook app (and a MySpace app if you are a teenager:-), a Twitter app, etc.
Which again brings us neatly to the next point of interest – the App Store. Going back to my Palm days, there was (is) a huge development community developing applications for the Palm platform. Many are free. Those that aren’t are generally reasonably priced. And many of them are very, very good. Apple are clearly hoping to foster the same sort of developer community for the iPhone. They’ve got off to a good start. The app store has a fair amount of fluff in it, but there are gems hiding in there, even free ones. The Evernote app is great. There’s a last.fm app, if you’re a last.fm user. An eReader app, giving you access to lots of electronic books, both paid for and free. Lots of games, predictably. Finding, installing and upgrading apps is typically Apple-like, quick and easy. You can do it over the air, as well as through iTunes. You even get upgrade notifications, and can upgrade apps, over the air. It is too early to say how well this is going to take off, but there is a fair variety of apps there already so it has got off to a good start.And finally the two areas of functionality that give the device its name – music and phone. Both of them just work, as far as I can tell. You can make and receive phone calls and texts (but not MMS and mentioned right at the beginning). And the iPod app plays music as you’d expect. The built-in speaker is actually loud enough to use without external speaker in small rooms, or for just one or two people to listen to. It is just mono, though. There is one niggle I have with the phone/iPod functionality so far:
- I can’t see a way of forwarding a contact’s details as an SMS message – something I’m used to doing on my previous phones. Nor can you send them via Bluetooth as I said above, and of course copying and pasting into an SMS message doesn’t work either. A minor irritation for me, but an irritation nonetheless.
In summary, then, there are a few things about the device that annoyme. Things that Apple could have done differently. Fortunately, since they are all software features, there is a possibility that they will be fixed in future software upgrades. Lots of other people are moaning publically about the same things, so let’s hope Apple is listening. But in general, it is doing what I expected of it, and doing it well. And the UI is really, really nice. It is a pleasure to use! It is even a pleasure to hold!!
And since I’ve never been much of an Apple fan, that’s something I never expected to say of an Apple device. I hope this doesn’t spread, or I’ll have a MacBook Air on my shopping list next…:-)
July 16, 2008
After a just a few days of playing with the new toy, my main problem with it was the battery life. I seems to get somewhere between 24 and 36 hours between charges. Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised because I’m doing so much more with it that I ever did with a phone. I have WiFi & 3G enabled, and push email from Warwick’s exchange and 15 minute polls of my gmail account. And that’s before I do any surfing and other stuff. When you take all that into account, actually 36 hours between charges isn’t too bad. And the buzz on the web seems to suggest that the iPhone’s battery life is at least as good as, if not better that, most other similar smartphones.
But it does still leave me with a problem. Every once in a while I’m away from power for more than a couple of days. For example, for a week during the summer I’ll be in a tent in the middle of a field. Not a power socket in sight. Am I going to have to carry another phone to make sure I can last the week?
To try and answer that question I ran an experiment today. I turned off all the smart stuff. No WiFi. No 3G. No push or pull of email. No surfing. Just a 2G phone. As it happens, I had no calls either. The phone was configured like this after a charge yesterday evening and 24 hours later the battery indicator hadn’t moved from the green 100% full state. That’s good news. I take that to mean at least 4 days of use, and probably more, if configured just as a phone. I don’t plan on running the experiment that long, though. I can’t leave all the fun stuff turned off that long! I’ll find out for sure when I’m in my tent:-)
Actually, I do carry a FreeLoader which has an internal battery charged from solar panels, but also chargeable separately. In this country, this summer, I expect the solar panels to be useless but I’ll at least have one full re-charge for the iPhone. That should get me through the week, possibly even with a little spare for fun stuff!!!
Writing about web page http://www.apple.com/uk/iphone/
I couldn’t resist. I got one. I was fortunate enough to get my order in on the O2 website last Monday morning before it fell in a heap, so no queuing for me on Friday. Nice Mr. DHL brought it straight to my door. As you probably heard, the activation process was not entirely robust and I spent from 3:00pm to about 4:30pm trying to activate the thing with no success. Eventually I gave up for a while, and when I got back to it at 8pm it worked flawlessly, and very quickly. I’m not sure I understand why it needs activating in the first place, but by all accounts I got off lightly.
My first impressions are generally very good. The UI is just brilliant. I love everything about it. It is a joy to use. The screen is much lower resolution than the Nokia N810 I had on trial at the start of the year, and lower than I expected to be happy with, but actually it is fine. I think I even prefer it to the Nokia screen. The multi-touch interface is brilliant, although there are one or two places where it doesn’t quite work. Physically the device is nice to hold – helped I guess by the rounded edges. It isn’t too heavy, so doesn’t feel like a brick if you carry it in a shirt pocket.
On the whole, the built-in apps work as expected. I’ve had Safari crash on me a few times, for no obvious reason. It doesn’t affect the rest of the phone, though, so it is only mildly annoying. The push email/contacts/calendar functionality works perfectly with our Exchange server. In fact, the iPhone generally beeps at me just a couple of seconds before my Outlook client tells me of a new email. I’ve only played with a few of the apps from the app store, and so far only the free ones. Mostly they are OK, but I’ve deleted a couple because they are flaky and crash too often. There are a few non-free ones that a quite tempting and reasonably priced. It seems like the app store could work quite well. It even told me last night about an update to one of my apps, and happily downloaded and upgraded it when I told it to. And that was without having to go through iTunes.
Pretty much my only problem with the device so far is the battery life. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, but with everything turned on – WiFi, 3G, push email from Exchange and 15 minute polling of gmail, plus random browsing throughout the day, I don’t get much more than a day from the battery. This is no worse than the Nokia, but I’m used to my phone lasting a week between charges. Of course, this is more than a phone, and I’m not using it as a phone. Most of the battery tests elsewhere on the web suggest the battery life is actually pretty good when compared to other similarly capable smartphones. I’ll just have to get used to charging it everyday. I think a dock beside my bed, so it charges overnight, would work quite well.
Every once in a while, though, I’m away from power for a while. Charging it every night could be tricky during my week in a tent over the summer, for example. You can turn off all the fun stuff and just have it work as a plain 2G phone. I’ve currently got it configured that way to see how the battery copes. It is looking good so far.
I’ve not had time to do anything much with GPS & maps, other than check that it works. It gets a GPS fix pretty quickly, even indoors, and the maps do what you’d expect from Google maps.
I’ll run through the main apps in more detail once I’ve had more time to play with them and figure out what I like and don’t like about them. Watch this space.
July 02, 2008
[I’m not really obsessing about the iPhone, honest:-]
The O2 website still isn’t showing iPhone 3G PAYG pricing. But it did, briefly, a little while ago, and somebody took a screenshot.
In summary, the phones will cost £300 (8GB) or £360 (16GB), which is about £100 more than the same-sized iPod Touch. This gives you 6 months of unlimited data (3G/WiFi) after which that costs £10/month. On top of that you pay for phone calls at PAYG rates, obviously. For somebody like me that only makes a few calls, that works out at significantly less than getting one on contract.
The cheapest contract is £30, for a minimum of 18 months. Add in the £100 for the phone and that gets you to £640. The PAYG total is £510 – £300 for the phone, £120 for 12 months of unlimited data, and £5/month for calls/texts.
Of course, since these numbers have now leaked, they’ll probably change them – why else pull the pages? So all the above is probably complete rubbish:-)
June 26, 2008
The prices for an iPhone 3G on monthly contract were published a while ago. What’s of more interest to me, though are the prices on PAYG. I don’t make lots of phone calls or send lots of texts, so the monthly tariffs aren’t great value for my usage pattern. A PAYG tariff that had decent data costs would be perfect for me. O2 still haven’t announced PAYG pricing, and rumours continue to float about.
I’ve previously seen a cost of £270 suggested, but today saw a rumour of £370. £270 is quite tempting. £370 less so. It is still better than £30/month for 18 months, + £99, especially as I won’t use all the included calls and texts, but it is a steep up-front cost, and one I’d find hard to justify. And we still don’t know what the data costs will be.
So no I don’t know whether to abandon my search for a PDA/handheld machine and sit back and wait for July11th, or carry on looking. Not that I have much of an idea what the alternatives might be, at the moment…
June 09, 2008
Writing about web page http://www.engadget.com/2008/06/09/iphone-3g-is-finally-official/
The iPhone 3G seems to tick all the boxes, and if the UK pricing rumours turn out to be true then I think I’m going to have to be in a queue somewhere in July 11th. I can’t believe I’m saying that about an Apple product:-)
May 16, 2008
I’m still thinking. More than 18 months on from posting my first thoughts, I still haven’t found a device good enough to persuade me to buy it. Obviously I’m asking for too much, and that the device I’m looking for just doesn’t exist. So, time for some compromises, I think.
Going back to my experiences of the Nokia N82, I realise that that did pretty much everything I really want. Not in an ideal way, mostly because the screen is too small for “proper” web browsing. But for the occasions I would actually use it, it worked really well. Maybe a smartphone is what I need? If it was a 3G phone that worked as a modem for the rare occasions I need to use a laptop away from WiFi (which the N82 would, contract permitting) that would be a nice bonus.
Am I talking myself into an N82? I might be. But first, I guess there are other smartphone possibilities I just haven’t investigated because a smartphone wasn’t a device I was considering. Blackberries, Palm Treos, and others. The research continues…
January 22, 2008
There’s already been a discussion over in the comments on a previous entry about the iPod Touch as a possible alternative. The screen is lower resolution, but possibly better quality. The iPod’s Safari browser is almost as good as the Nokia’s Opera browser. The iPod multi-touch interface is nicer to use. If you want a media player with a browser as a secondary function the Touch could well be what you are after.
I noticed a few other products announced at CES this year. There seems to be a new category of “Mobile Internet Devices” (MIDs). Aigo and Gigabyte showed devices that look a lot like the Nokia. They both have a slightly bigger screen (4.8” compared to the Nokia’s 4.1”, which is higher resolution too (1024×600). They both have a slide-out keyboard which seems to have bigger keys, but with the same problem of lack of space above the top row. They are both Linux based, but each runs a different version. These devices are expected to be released in the second half of 2008, so don’t go looking for them just yet. It will be interesting to see how they compare to the Nokia, which has had this market pretty much to itself so far, and how Nokia reacts. Lets hope competition results in functionality going up and costs coming down:-)
There are alternatives in different sizes too. If you want an ultra-portable laptop, lots of people are raving about the Asus Eee PC. There will be competitors to this coming along soon, too. Not pocketable, but very, very portable. I’m almost tempted to buy one for home.
And the whole UMPC product range, as stupidly priced as it is, has some fans. They at least run familiar software, so make a good platform when compatibility is important with applications back in the office.
For me, pocketable is important, so I’ll be sticking to the newly named MID products. I quite like the looks of the Gigabyte device, so it will be interesting to see how it compares to the Nokia, when it is eventually released.
January 21, 2008
- text input
- the lack of offline PIM applications
I’ve specifically looked in more detail at both of those since then, and sadly not got great news.
Text inputThere are four different methods of getting text into this device:
- Small on-screen keyboard for use with the stylus
- Large on-screen keyboard for use with thumbs (i.e. rest the device on the fingers of both hands and use two thumbs on the screen)
- The slide-out keyboard
Handwriting is still unworkable for me, It is simply too slow. The slidey keyboard is much better, but still not as fast as I’d hoped. The small on-screen is no faster. The on-screen thumb keyboard is probably the fastest of the bunch, but is uses up a lot of the screen and so hides what you are typing into. Overall, I prefer the slide-out keyboard and use that most of the time.
I am disappointed, though. I guess I’ve been spoiled by a couple of previous devices. The keyboard on a Psion Series 3a I owned about 10 years ago was much better than this one. It was bigger, which helped, but that wasn’t the only reason it was better. The keys had a better feel. The keys on the N810 are a little too hard to press, and there just isn’t enough room above the top row.
And I’ve owned a couple of convertible laptop/tablet PCs and so used handwriting input in Windows XP Tablet edition and Windows Vista. I’m still astonished at how well that works. My handwriting is not great, but Windows seems to manage to make sense of it most of the time. Of course, it has more processor power to throw at the recognition task. But still, I find handwriting input under Windows very, very usable.
I’ve also used Palm devices and found Palm’s graffiti easy to learn and very quick. Ironically, one of the 3rd party apps you can install on the device is a PalmOS emulator. Naturally this supports graffiti text input which is for me faster than any of the native methods! I wonder if Nokia could manage to build graffiti into the standard product…:-)
So, I’m glad the N810 has the slide out keyboard. For me, that makes it a much more usable device than the N800. But I’m still disappointed.
There’s quite a nice application manager for installing 3rd party applications. I’ve had a lot of success putting games and a few other things on the machine. Just click on the download link from the relevant web page, open the file in Application Manager, and click “Install”. Quick and easy. And there seem to be quite a lot of applications out there.
I was specifically looking for PIM applications – calendar, ToDo list, address book. More specifically, applications that would work offline. Such things do exist for Linux systems. The GNU Palmtop Environment has these applications and more, and better still they can be synchronised with Outlook/Exchange. The main pieces of this suite have been ported to the Nokia platform, but sadly not the synchronisation components. So, GPE give me the offline functionality I need, but with no way of synchronising it with anything else. That’s a great shame. No doubt this will be ported in due course, but until then…
I was also looking for an app I could use for note-taking in meetings. The built-in notes application is pretty basic. It is essentially equivalent to Windows Notepad – i.e. just a text file editor. There’s no scope for hand-drawn content, nor any organisational functionality. There’s a 3rd party app that addresses both of these problems – maemopad+. Unfortunately, it didn’t come packed for an easy install, and I haven’t yet managed to find the right set of bits and pieces to install to make it all work. Disappointing again, because app sounds like exactly what I want. Maybe there’s be a properly packaged version of it soon?
So, mostly the support for 3rd party applications is pretty good, and there’s quite a variety of stuff out there. But, but everything I want is available yet, and not everything seems to be properly packaged yet. I guess these are relatively new devices and the development community hasn’t had enough chance to sort itself out. I’m sure these problems will resolve themselves over time, but until then the N810 doesn’t quite do it for me…
There’s a lot to like about this device. For casual web browsing it is hard to beat. Catching up with email or RSS feeds in odd 5-minute slots when you’re waiting for something else to happen saves me a lot of time, and this device does it well. It would be better with a bit more CPU grunt. I find Google Reader in particular to be a bit slow at times when popping up menus and similar. If I travelled a lot, being able to carry this device for checking email on the move and not have to bother with a laptop would be great. Despite the problems of text input, the N810 does this stuff very well. For sitting on the sofa & surfing during TV ad breaks, there’s nothing to beat it!
I have tried it with Google Documents and it coped very well with both documents and spreadsheets (didn’t try presentations).
It is less good at PIM-like tasks. To be fair, it isn’t designed for that, so maybe it is unfair to complain. But I don’t want to have to carry another device. That’s just silly! It is perfectly possible to put such functionality into the standard N810. Nokia take note… Or maybe I’m in the minority in wanting such functionality?
The media player works well enough, too. It isn’t an iPod, of course, but it plays music and video and makes it easy enough to find and manage. If my primary requirement was a music player I’d buy an iPod Touch, but as a secondary function of a PIM/browser device, I’m happy with what’s there.
Finally there’s the price. The N810 is too expensive for my tastes. The N800 is better, but without the slidey keyboard I wouldn’t buy it. Take the GPS functionality out of the N810 (I don’t want it, anyway) and call it an N805, reduce the price, and maybe I’d consider it. Assuming the PIM functionality was available, either built-in or from a 3rd party, of course.
January 14, 2008
I’ve had the N810 almost a week now, using it fairly intensively. To be honest, at the moment I can’t decide if I like it or not. I certainly have mixed feelings about it. Here are a few pros and cons:
The screen is very nice. Everything is of course quite small on an 800×480 screen with a 4” diagonal, but that doesn’t both me. I can cope with small text. And anything smaller would make some websites much harder to use. Google Reader is much less pleasant on a narrower screen.
Battery life has been surprisingly good. I’ve left gmail and google reader open in background windows all day, both refreshing over WiFi every few minutes as usual, and the machine has still lasted all day and had plenty of power for a few hours of browsing in addition. But still, you should expect to charge once a day, and probably carry a charger with you just in case.
The media player works well, and the speakers are surprisingly loud and of fairly decent. Obviously they are small and so there’s not much bass, but they don’t sound tinny, and nor do they distort at high volumes. I was impressed.
The slidey keyboard is really nice. Easy to slide out and back in.
The front and back of the case are metal. Real metal, not shiny plastic. That makes it feel quite robust. Unfortunately, the metal does scratch (sorry, WOM World:-), and I’ve been quite careful with it.
This last week I’ve been trying to use the device as much as possible “out of the box”. I’ve installed a couple of apps, and the install process is pretty straightforward. There are a few web sites listing 3rd-party and Nokia-developed apps, and an application manager that makes installation and updating pretty simple. I plan to explore the available apps this week to see what’s out there – see a “con” below for one reason why…
Performance isn’t spectacular. Google sites can be quite hard on systems resources these days, Google Reader in particular. They can be quite slow on this device. That’s frustrating when part of the reason for having it is to use those odd 2- and 3-minute periods to catch up with stuff, or check email. And with a Reader window open for a few hours of catching up on RSS feeds, I’ve run out of memory occasionally and had to close down all browser windows to get going again.
The wasn’t quite enough CPU grunt to keep up with the BBC’s iPlayer, but I guess that’s not entirely surprising.
As with the N82, the USB cable doesn’t charge the device which is really, really annoying. Why not?
The device comes with a soft leather-like slip case. I’d prefer it to have a hard side to protect the screen, not just from damage but from unintended screen presses which in transit. You can lock the screen, but I haven’t always remembered and have occasionally taken it out of my pocket or bag to find it doing something unexpected…Text input isn’t as good as I’d expected. I’m especially disappointed by the keyboard. A long, long time ago I used to own a Psion Series 3 and later a 3a, which looked like this:
It was very easy to thumb-type on that, and I suppose I was expecting the N810 keyboard to be similar. It just isn’t. I guess I’ll get better with practice but I find the keyboard slow to use. I’m especially frustrated by lack of space above the top row, before my thumbs knock against the screen.
But the keyboard is still a major advantage over the N800 and N770, though, because the other forms of input are worse! Handwriting recognition is painful and the onscreen keyboard isn’t much better. To be fair, you can train the handwriting recognition so it might get better with time, and I haven’t yet much used the onscreen “thumb keyboard”. I’ll have a better fell for both of those things by the end of the week.
Not having built-in offline PIM applications was more of a problem than I thought it would be. I have calendar information in my phone, but having to juggle multiple devices is just a pain. If I’ve got the N810 in my hands, I want my calendar there. Once the whole world is Wifi’d I can use Google Calendar, but right now that’s not an option. I could of course connect via my mobile phone, but that can get expensive very quickly. There are PIM apps out there that might do the job, and I’ll try them over the next few days, but it would be better if Nokia provided something…
GPS adds a lot to the cost, and I’m not interested in it. If Nokia produced an N800 with a slidey keyboard (an N805, perhaps!) that would be more interesting to me.
I’m actually impressed with how well the device works. What it does, it does well. It would benefit from a bit more CPU power, and a bit more RAM, but otherwise it does a good job. Unfortunately, at least out of the box, it isn’t quite the job I want doing! Built-in offline PIM applications, synch-able to Outlook, would make such a difference. Add that and I’d be sold…
So, now I’m off to see if they exist out there somewhere. One of the nice things about the device is that the openness of it means there’s a fair amount of software being developed for it, all/most available for free.