Month: November 2009

Google Navigation update: TomTom throws down the gauntlet

Posted by – November 25, 2009

TomTom want to charge £99 for a cradle for the iPhone and £59.99 for the application with Western Europe maps. That’s £160 (more than a standalone TomTom sat nav unit) for what Google is giving away for free. I really had to check to see that I had not misread the price for a piece of injection moulded plastic at £99 when it should be £9.99. Just for the record, when I get the Android 2.0 update I will be paying £30 a month for a free phone and an 18 month contract with unlimited internet, 800 texts and 600 minutes and I will have full Google voice guided navigation with just the cost of a cradle (seen on eBay for under £20). On the iPhone the closest matching tariff will cost me £184.98 for the phone, £34.26 p/m plus £160 for the TomTom kit.

In order to own an iPhone with decent sat nav I need to spend £160 on the GPS kit, £184.98 on the phone and an extra £4.26 p/m on the contract, which, minus the cradle for my G2 Touch, comes to an £401.66. I could buy the top of the line TomTom alongside my G2 Touch for less than that. This nonsense concerning the iPhone has to stop. The gross spend on this would come to £921.66.

I think it is time for someone to conduct a survey in to hallucinogenic drug use at TomTom in the sales/marketing departments.

Review: T-Mobile G2 Touch (HTC Hero)

Posted by – November 24, 2009

It was time to renew my mobile phone contract (well, actually my partner’s contract this time – she gets the hand-me-downs) and after my experience with Android using the HTC Magic this phone was only ever going to be Android again. I did not want a slide-out keyboard so my options were either the HTC Tattoo or this. Given the better camera and less chunky design I was sold on the G2 Touch very easily.

For anyone interested I quickly flicked through YouTube and dug up this promotional video:

On with my review now.

First Impressions

I have the black version, which is nice. In the box is the phone, headphones/hands free kit, battery, 2GB microSD card which is already loaded in to the phone, and a charger. The charger is nifty because the plug has a USB port meaning that a separate USB cable is not necessary – a nice saving, plus, I don’t know anyone who is ever stuck for a USB cable. They are everywhere, breeding like wire coat hangers. Picking it up for the first time felt good. It has a nice weight and it balances well in the hand. When I powered it up I went through the rigmarole of setting up my Google account, email and suchlike. I then immediately installed all the applications I had on my Magic. The performance of the G2 in doing so was better than the Magic, faster and smoother.

The screen is simply gorgeous – absolutely pin sharp and clear. I began to customise the phone and discovered what a superb interface it has.

Here you can see the screen. The wallpaper is customisable and you can have different ones for the lock screen and the open screen. What you can see here is the clock widget (one of 12 different clock widgets preloaded) and several shortcuts. The screen is one of seven fully customisable screens that are available with a swipe. It is set up so that the home key takes you to the ‘middle’ of the seven and obviously there are three screens either side, accessed via a swipe. Each screen has sixteen slots where application shortcuts or folders can be dragged, or widgets can be installed. Widgets vary in shape and size but as a rule you can install either a single full screen widget, two half screen widgets or four panel style widgets. The G2 comes preloaded with both Android widgets and HTC widgets. The Android widgets are functional but the HTC ones look way better. Currently pinned to my screens are the following:

  • Screen 1: (left most screen) Full screen weather widget
  • Screen 2: Twitter widget
  • Screen 3: People list (a neat widget that lets you add your frequently dialled contacts to a scrolling list – very cool)
  • Screen 4: (Home) shortcuts to my 16 most often used applications
  • Screen 5: Calendar widget and Google search widget
  • Screen 6: Photo album widget (allows you to scroll through your pics without opening the gallery application
  • Screen 7: TuneWiki widget
  • Installing these widgets makes the phone extremely user friendly and not only beats scrolling through the applications menu, but also the widgets such as Twitter, Facebook, music etc are live, real time widgets. As an Apple lover it pains me to say it, but sorry boys, this kicks the ass out of the iPhone interface. For my most frequently used applications it is often one tap, no opening of the application necessary. This is the most user friendly phone I have ever had in this respect. I think Android has an image issue as it is thought of as geeky because anyone who used this phone would think twice about iPhone. I never say never, but for my money Apple need to do something revolutionary to get my business back.

    The phone has, aside from the touch screen, 6 keys and a rocker button for volume. Red and green phone buttons with the expected functions, home, menu which accesses setting in all applications and another rocker key that is both back and opens a search field, again in all applications. They are all easily accessible and responsive. The on screen keyboard is easy to use. Typing is comfortable (I have large goalkeeper hands) and there is an excellent predictive text and spelling engine which also learns any new words typed – a nice touch that has been a glaring omission in previous phones, occasionally making me want to launch them skyward.

    Applications

    The first thing I did with the applications was open the browser. It’s the standard Android browser with interface add ons courtesy of HTC. It’s lighting fast, loads pages smoothly and never crashes. Panning is smooth with no lags or dragging frames. I then discovered it allows tapping, zooming and pinching iPhone stye. Result! This makes it Safari’s equal, and better for two reasons: it supports Flash, and functions can be adapted to applications, for example, if you tap a podcast feed link it will invite you to choose a default application to open it, either browser or whatever client you install. You can choose not to set a default and to just choose an application this one time too. After that I opened the albums application, where photos and video are accessed. Visual media look stunning on this screen, really beautiful. The interface allows you to scroll through photos or videos by swiping, and to view you simply tap. Excellent. Smooth, responsive and no lag. Bookmarks are viewed visually as thumbnails, and this can be exported to the home screen as a bookmarks widget. One up for Android.

    I then started to rummage around through various applications and I then noticed something we all enjoy: freebies! The phone is shipped with a Twitter client called Peep. Quick Office and a PDF Reader, all preloaded. This is very pleasing and I suspect it was done not only to sell phones, but also to showcase the interface and widget live feeds. Many users would not automatically install these applications so adding them gives a good reason to create widgets which showcases the phone’s power.

    Peep is a fully functional Twitter client supporting photo uploads, geotagging, retweeting and the widget is a live feed pinned on the home screen. It looks great, is slick in Twitter’s native black and cyan and can be customised for notifications.

    Perfect.

    Media

    Finally, a HTC phone with a standard 3.5 MM headphone jack! This is a revelation as the phone has no EQ, meaning that a decent set of headphones is a prerequisite for anything other than passing media usage. I plugged n my Sennheiser noise cancelling headphones and I found an extremely satisfying, bassy, full sound. This works for me as I always set EQ’s to bass boost anyway, but for hardened audiophiles the lack of an EQ may grate a little. The fact that the sound is good means that those who aren’t too worried should be more than happy with the sonic output of the G2. The excellent quality is borne out when listening to podcasts and viewing YouTube too, so clearly there is decent hardware onboard. I use TuneWiki for music, an application I recently reviewed. In terms of audio it is no different to the onboard application, but it integrates Last FM and Shoutcast radio plus a lyric stream and album art as well as the ability t
    o post updates to Facebook and Twitter saying you love/hate the current tune (or a custom message). The album art looks gorgeous on the screen and playback is smooth, no skips or lag at all.

    YouTube playback is excellent, with the 3.5 G connection making it very fast indeed, loading videos within a second or two. Video playback is again, smooth, no lag and an excellent frame rate. Uploading to YouTube is massively improved. The Magic permitted only one minute of footage to be uploaded, whereas the G2 allows the full 2 GB/ten minutes allowance per video. The video resolution on recordings is such that they will only ever look home made, but that’s more than enough for any mobile phone filmmaker. Videos can also be shared through your Google account, email and, by installing Qik or PixelPipe, practically every hosting service around. The video camera, as with the camera, struggles massively in poor or low light, often returning unusable footage in areas poorly lit. There is no flash or light in the phone to supplement the camera.

    Camera

    The camera is a 5 mega pixel, automatic zoom affair. It has no flash so well lit or daylight areas are as far as it goes really. Rather than tell you, below is a Picasa slideshow of the results it produces. It is the most random collection of images ever, but I went for all kinds of objects on all kinds of surfaces. I also did it in a hurry, so you might see a little shake-blur, wonkiness etc. I figure this all adds to the review. Click it to see the full size images.

    click for full size images

    There is so much to this phone that I could go on and on talking about it. It has ‘wowed’ me far more than iPhone ever did. Streaming applications such as Beebplayer (BBC iPlayer application) and internet radio streams work perfectly, as does photo editing software such as Picsay Lite and the superb, and free, Photoshop mobile. The Footprints application takes geotagged photos and links them to your maps in Google Maps, meaning you can take a tour of your photos through Maps, or have photos flag up when you pass/travel to locations you (or anyone else in your Google network) have already geotagged. This is similar to iPhoto on Mac, but this is mobile. This is one of the reasons that the cloud computing model is, I think, going to revolutionise computing, and in particular mobile computing. Also bundled are all the usual Google applications like Talk, Voice, Gmail etc. It is a testament to how far Android has already come that these excellent applications now look to be standard features, usurped in a review by the really flashy, slick stuff on board. Photos can be shared through Picasa, Facebook, Flickr, Peep (Twitter) – all of which are integrated in to the phone as baseline functions, meaning that no application is necessary to use the function, it’s practically a part of the OS, as well as any other applications you install, plus email and IM applications. This phone is connected via WiFi, 3G, 3.5G (HSDPA, up to 7 mbps – very impressive), Bluetooth, GPS (which has a pinpoint accuracy when tracking and locating) and is a media and Internet powerhouse, fully connected and connectable with all the major location services catered to such as Maps, My Tracks, Google Sky Map. It’s all there and it’s executed in what it is safe to call the best Android phone to date.

    And did I mention it makes and takes calls and texts as well? Very well it does too…

    Android Applications: TuneWiki

    Posted by – November 21, 2009

    This review is for another great android application, TuneWiki. If you use your phone for music (I currently don’t – more on that later) then this is the music application you need.

    If you have a quick look at their website you’ll see it is pretty interesting. You can download free music, get lyrics, post on forums and there is also a live feed displaying the music users are streaming. There is also a really cool music maps section where listeners are charted (anonymously) around the world according to location and taste. That would make for an interesting study in to musical tastes for anyone furnished not only the time, but also the inclination to study such things.

    So, on with the application. It comes in the usual two flavours, lite, which is ad-supported, and paid. The functionality of each is the same, save for the aforementioned ads which are unintrusive and very much bearable for a cheapskate like me. I know that some people hate ads and suchlike, however, since the options are either accept a few ads in return for an all you can eat music service, or pay a nominal fee to remove them, I cannot see why anyone but the most cantankerous users would complain. The only information exchanged seems to be an account and scrobbling so there are no privacy issues.

    Now, on to the application, which has several functions.

    Music Player

    TuneWiki plays the music stored on your Android device. Handy for a music player really. It goes further than that though. Album art is downloaded and encoded to the tracks, and a nice innovation is the lyrics stream. If TuneWiki has the lyrics to the song stored in its database then the lyrics are streamed to the device and, rather intelligently, played back in real time as they are sung, layered over the album art. All the usual controls are there, play, pause, skip forward & back, scrubbing, shuffle, repeat and repeat all. You have the option to search by artists, albums, songs, playlists or shuffle all. It never skips or stops and plays in the background, all the while happily keeping itself to itself and not hogging CPU capacity. A good start. I use my iPod as the HTC Magic has nothing like the same sound quality in headphones, however, if you use your phone for music it will serve you well. I do use it, say, in the bath or whilst I am busy and play music through the speaker, but as a music player it’s nowhere near the iPod. Let’s hope the Motorola Droid can change that. That is all to do with the hardware though. The software cannot change any of that.

    At the bottom of the library screen there are five buttons. The first one is a music note icon and it takes you to the music player. The second is a microphone and it takes you to…

    Internet Radio

    Internet radio is provided via Shoutcast, which I do not use, and Last FM. This is a real boon for TuneWiki, not only in terms of functionality, but also because the TuneWiki module for Last FM works far better than the Last FM native Android application. TuneWiki provides a wide variety of tracks that are scrobbled evenly. This might sound obvious but, in my experience, the Last FM application has an irritating tendency to playback the same few tracks. If this confuses you then don’t worry, you’re in good company as I do not understand why this is so either. I would imagine that the same algorithm powers both so I am baffled by this, however, after using Last FM for months and now switching to this, whatever the cause may be, the difference is remarkable.

    I also browsed Shoutcast, which differs from Last FM as it provides many internet radio streams rather than the Last FM library playback and scrobbling service. It plays just as well and the audio is excellent quality with no stops, skips or interference, thanks no doubt to the Magic’s 3.5G HSDPA downlink speeds.

    Internet radio via TuneWiki is first class, I have never heard better. It has the same album art and lyric streaming provided in the music player.

    Video Search

    This is another great innovation, and is accessed via the third button which is a screen icon. If you import music in to the TuneWiki library, for playback via the music player of course, then video search will automatically search YouTube and if it finds the music video, it links it to the song in your library, allowing you to watch the video whenever you like. This is another great embellishment which really enhances the feel and function of the application. It simply reeks of quality, and it is simple and easy to use. It does exactly what it says on the tin.

    TuneWIki Community

    TuneWiki community incorporates social networking in to the application. It provides several functions. The lyric search allows you to retrieve lyrics to songs other than those being played back. The aforementioned music maps:

    provides a nice touch, and, if you use it a lot, is a great way of finding new music from listeners with similar tastes, sort of like manual scrobbling. The next two functions are linked, TuneWiki top 50, which allows you to listen to the most popular music being played and also Playlists, which allows users to upload custom playlists. This is an excellent function and unlike iTunes playlists, is free to listen to. The final three options are free music downloads, providing music under the Creative Commons licence, help functions, and, rather cunningly, an ad which looks exactly like another button. It’s a crafty trick but, given the superb free benefits and functions you get with TuneWiki I’ll let them have that one for free. I didn’t fall for it anyway. The fifth and final button is a head wearing headphones icon and this takes you to the last song you were listening to in whichever medium it was. Remember this, because if you reopen the application itself then your last listening material is not there, although it is still retained via this key so it is not lost, just inaccessible through any other button. That’s a nice touch and a great way to keep up with your playlist.

    Other functions (oh yes, it’s not over yet!) that I love are the option to post status updates based upon what you are listening to Twitter, Facebook and Blip FM. You simply access the settings menu, provide login details and you stay logged in via the TuneWiki application, only after you enable it to access your profile of course. After that, should you wish to update your status you simply tap the speech bubble icon that is in the top right corner, above the album art, next to the title, and you have three buttons, either a ‘love it’ message, or ‘hate it’, or a custom button if you want to post your own mini reviews. This is superb, I absolutely love it, and my Facebook status updates and tweets will soon be showing these. I already linked my YouTube accounts with Twitter, Blogger and Facebook so this is a nice function that takes advantage of the integration functionality that is slowly infiltrating social networking. Provided you have the accelerometer switched on you can also flip to landscape for maps, art and video.

    This application is perfect in its execution and the only thing it lacks is an audiobook playback function. Of course it will play them as MP3 files but will
    not bookmark, download cover art or recognise chapter markers, all of which require M4B file compatibility. I am not too bothered about his yet as Android is young and audiobooks are very difficult to provide cheaply as the publishing industry is so resistant to the new technology. My own personal work experience has shown me how closed-minded the publishing industry is and believe me, you wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry if you knew the truth. It is currently having the debate we had with Napster all those years ago, and is more resistant than the music industry ever was. In light of that I understand why this function is not there. It would be an absolute nightmare fore TuneWiki, especially with Pandora yet to debut outside USA, meaning it’s this, Last FM and Imeem making the headway as well as a few independent applications run by online stations. For choice, variety and function TuneWiki is the one to beat.

    If you have Android then you must have TuneWiki. It’s simply too good not to own.

    Google Android Apps: My Tracks

    Posted by – November 7, 2009

    Google have struck gold in my opinion with My Tracks. My Tracks is the best of the glut of first generation GPS/location based applications to hit Android and it’s really great. I used it for the first time today, just a dry run to see what it does and how well it does it. The journey was a one lap hike around Clowbridge Reservoir in Lancashire, and here are the results:

    View Clowbridge Reservoir in a larger map

    Or:

    View it in Google Maps

    This is what you get. All you do is open the application and give it a few seconds to acquire a GPS fix. Once done, tap the menu button and the record option and it now records your journey in real time using GPS data. Once done, tap end recording and you can then export it to My Maps in your Google Account, to Google Docs and save it to SD as either a GPX file or a KML (to export to Google Earth), or both. This is a superb application that allows you to track things like mileage, speed and so forth. There are things I would like to see added such as a pedometer (using the accelerometer), a compass (all android phones have a magnetometer so it’s a simple process) and a calorie counter. These are the ones I can come up with off the top of my head anyway.

    Once I had exported to Google Earth and Maps I was able to wow the kids with a 3D rendering of our journey and show them various possible routes, diversions and sights. If you love outdoor sports, the great outdoors in general, travelling etc them this application is simply essential if you have any need for, or interest in statistical data about the journey, or if you simply want to look at where you have been over the months and years. Superb. I will be taking this everywhere, holidays, hikes, bike rides etc. To me it is simply indispensable, and I take my phone anyway so why not make use of it?

    Google strikes gold again. It’s free and it’s brilliant. Integration with Google Maps and Google Earth is seamless, ridiculously easy. I am really starting to love Android.

    Samsung SyncMaster T220 Widescreen 22" 16:10 TFT Monitor Review (Computers)

    Posted by – November 7, 2009

    Samsung SyncMaster T220

    Samsung T220 22-inch Widescreen LCD TFT Monitor, 2ms Response Time, Rose Black, 20000:1 Contrast Ratio DVI / VGA

    Samsung SyncMaster T220

    Why buy one? (or two) It’s one of the cheapest 22″ TFT monitors available with both DVI and VGA (most of the cheaper ones only have VGA) – and you want DVI for the highest picture quality possible. It doesn’t have HDMI input or speakers – but you’ll probably need to spend another £30 or £40 if you want these features (see the Samsung SyncMaster 2494HS or newer for these features).

    Samsung SyncMaster T220

    It’s got 84 reviews on Amazon UK, with an overall score of 4.5 / 5, even by Amazon standards – that’s pretty high! There’s more reviews on Ebuyer.com where the overall score is 5/5! Plus it’s only £129 from Amazon UK inc vat and free postage!

    Samsung SyncMaster T220

    Specs and Features:
    Ports: VGA / DVI / Power
    Speakers: No
    Touch buttons: 1 for power only
    Real buttons: Yes, on the side: Menu, Brightness, Up / Down, Source, Auto
    Power light: Red (fades in and out heartbeat style when in power saving)
    Warranty: 3 year warranty as standard
    Panel: TN TFT Active Matrix, Dot Pitch / Pixel Pitch: 0.282 mm
    Image Brightness 300 cd/m2
    Image Contrast Ratio 20000:1 (dynamic)
    Response Time 2 ms
    Power AC 120/230 V ( 50/60 Hz )
    Power Consumption Operational 45 Watt
    Environmental Standards EPA Energy Star , EPEAT Silver
    Display Positions Adjustments Tilt
    Low Power Consumption (0.3W Power Off, Energy Saving Mode)
    Contrast Ratio: DC 20,000:1(1000:1)(Typ.)
    Resolution: 1680×1050 (WSXGA+)
    Response Time: 2ms (GTG)
    Viewing Angle (Horizontal/Vertical): 170˚/160˚ (CR>10)

    Samsung SyncMaster T220 Pixels

    Dead pixels? No. Check yours with DeadPixelBuddy, but you do get a very nice screen cleaning cloth with the monitor.

    Samsung SyncMaster T220

    Screen finish: Matte – this means very low reflection, and even on bright days the screen is bright and easily viewable.

    Samsung SyncMaster T220 Quality

    Quality: Crisp – pixels are very crisp, sharp, clear. Colour appears to be very good, bright colourful, not TOO bright, not luminous. Black appears to be good. Will check colour performance more fully when I calibrate the monitor. After calibration – there was little difference – the pre-calibrated image was perhaps a little too bright, with a slightly magenta / blue cast.

    Samsung SyncMaster T220

    Looks: Did I mention it looks AWESOME? Has a very stylish glass effect surround – that’s perhaps a bit too reflective – but looks very cool.

    Samsung SyncMaster T220

    Tilting base. The screens a bit wobbly – not sure why? It’s like the metal plate doesn’t clip in properly into the monitor. Seems a shame that this is not more sturdy.

    Samsung SyncMaster T220

    Energy saving – the labelling on the monitor is quite subtle and barely noticeable in dim lighting. The monitor comes with all needed cables: power, VGA, and DVI.

    Samsung SyncMaster T220

    Back – things it says on the box: “Samsung Design that performs, 20000:1 Dynamic Contrast, Vivid Moving Picture. 2ms Fast Response Time. 0.3W softPower OFF, lowest Stand by Power.” and “SyncMaster T220 22″ Wide TFT – LCD Monitor, Up to 1680 x 1050 (WSXGA+) Windows Vista Premium Certification”

    Samsung SyncMaster T220

    Neat cable cover clips onto the back. Really there is very little to dislike about this monitor – maybe speakers would be nice to have – but it would add to the price, and you get better sound quality from headphones or dedicated speakers anyway. It’s a great monitor, at a great price. Highly Recommended!

    Pros:
    Excellent price
    Video Playback looks great
    All cables included
    Screen cleaning cloth included – nice unexpected bonus
    Very good colour
    Very good image quality
    Looks very good / stylish
    Good viewing angle
    No dead pixels

    Cons:
    Wobbly base

    Only £129 from Amazon UK inc vat and free postage!
    View larger pictures and photos of the Samsung SyncMaster T220 in the Gallery

    Samsung SyncMaster T220 (Left) next to Samsung SyncMaster 2494HS (Right):

    Google Listen Podcast Aggregator Client.

    Posted by – November 4, 2009

    Google Listen

    As one would expect, Google provides a raft of free apps for Android. One such app is Google Listen. Listen is a podcast aggregator and a very very good one. The catalogue of podcasts available is massive and every possible subject is covered, including commercial stuff such as BBC programs etc. Quality is superb. The sound is delivered through the speaker or headphones and the interface is simple, with controls, progress bar, subscription option buttons and album art which makes it look rather polished. The 3.5 G connection gives excellent playback. I have been using it for months and not once had a pause for buffering during playback. It buffers for a couple of seconds when you initially open the podcast and after that no breaks. Scrubbing is smooth and easy too.

    Listen integrates brilliantly with Browser too. Simply tap a podcast link and it will give you the option to open it with either Browser or Listen, and the option to set a default application for opening podcast enclosure links. I recommend Listen to anyone, particularly those who enjoy knowledge and media. There is a wealth of academic and popular material available via Listen and it is all free, every bit of it. If you have a hobby that you love, search for it and you will find a huge amount of material pertaining to it. Google Listen comes with my highest recommendation.

    The Beatles catalog on limited edition USB apple… (Music)

    Posted by – November 4, 2009


    I seriously can’t decide whether this is pure genius, or just complete madness, or whether it’s just another money hungry marketing trick designed to part money from the foolish. Can you backup the mp3s? Copy them to your PC or other MP3 device? Although it costs more for the USB drive – so it would make sense to buy the CDs, and then rip to mp3. It’s a limited edition (100 units in the UK?) and costs £200. I’m pretty sure that’s an insane price – especially as it only contains the stereo version – I’d expect every version ever made for that price. (via Engadget)