Month: December 2009

Reviewed: The Delonghi Cafe Treviso Espresso Coffee Maker – 5 Year Review (Coffee)

Posted by – December 30, 2009

Intro: The Delonghi Espresso Coffee Maker (aka “De’Longhi Bar 14 Café Treviso espresso cappuccino maker”), is a fairly compact electric presurised espresso maker with a milk steamer / frother. It’s £58 at Argos (link – Delonghi Pumped Espresso/Cappuccino Maker. Cat no: 422/3852) Delonghi Caffe Treviso is what it’s called on the machine. Nb. Also available from Amazon UK for £62 as the “De’Longhi Bar 14 Café Treviso espresso cappuccino maker”

The espresso machine has the right amount of pressure to make proper espresso’s (14/15 bar) – and the importance of being able to make a proper espresso should not be under-estimated – as it’s the basis for all real coffee. Too hot and the coffee burns (giving you a bitter taste), too much water and the flavour of the coffee goes and then you end up with effectively a filter coffee machine (and watery coffee).

Shown above: Ground Coffee that’s too coarse – it made watery (thin) coffee – with little crema – and a poor taste.

The coffee used with this machine is crucial – it must be espresso coffee to work properly – this is much more finely ground than standard “filter coffee” or ground coffee that says it’s “suitable for all coffee machines”. To get the best results, you may want to invest in a burr coffee grinder, such as the Dualit Burr Coffee Grinder (£87 from Amazon UK), and yes I do think it’s worth the money, as you can then buy roasted beans (or roast your own), and then get some of the freshest coffee available (the flavour, intensity and freshness of freshly roasted beans is highly recommended).

Pros:
– Can make very good latte’s and cappucinno’s (with the right coffee)
– giving you coffee like you’d get in a proper coffee shop (starbucks, cafe nero, coffee union, etc) but much much cheaper, and in your own home.

Just stuff that isn’t great, but isn’t terrible:
– needs the right coffee, eg. Lavazza / Rose? Espresso, and Illy’s make VERY good coffee. Dowe Egberts Espresso coffee isn’t suitable, other strength 5 coffee isn’t suitable (too coarse), unless it specifically says it’s
– some ‘Espresso’ coffee, and coffee that’s too fine might not be suitable either.
– 1 litre water tank isn’t very much so you regularly have to refill it.

Cons:
– Normal sized cups don’t fit under the coffee bit, or the steamer, as you can see in the picture – you do need the right size cups as they are not provided.
– you have to either buy a special small espresso cup (As shown in the pictures), or remove the drip tray to fit normal sized cups in it – also to steam / froth the milk you may have to lift the machine up to fit the cup under (unless you use smaller cups).
– There is no drip tray for the milk frother meaning your workbench gets all messy with milk.

Controls can be confusing:
– The controls, starting with the On/Off switch – this turns the machine on, when the machine is ready to make espresso the big red OK light lights up. To start making the espresso, you then switch on the top switch which has a coffee cup / tap symbol next to it
– you then switch this off when the big OK light turns off, meaning it’s finished making the espresso coffee. The second switch from the top, is the steamer switch, in order to steam the milk this needs to be on, and then you can turn the nob at the top to steam the milk.

The machine also has a small white “presser” which you can use to press the coffee down after you have put it into the holder. Under that is the water level meter, which you can use to see how much water is in the water tank.


I found the following method produced the best results for me: (Despite the manual saying you should leave it switched on for a certain amount of time to warm up the machine)


1. Switch the machine on, with the frother switch also switched on, (Start with fresh water every time you use the machine!)

2. When the ready light comes on: (you might like to froth / steam some water to clean it at this point, then) Froth a small amount of milk (normally 1/3rd of a cup – I use semi-skimmed), this would normally be warmed up enough with one froth (finish frothing when the red light goes off again) – it’s better to have the milk slightly colder than required rather than too hot, as making it too hot burns the milk and ruins the taste of milk for latte’s or cappuccinos

3. Once the milk is ready (sometimes you may need to wait for the red light to come on again and froth a little bit more if needed or wanted) you can switch off the froth switch.


Adams and Russell Coffee Beans are HIGHLY Recommended!
www.adamsandrussell.co.uk (Shown
here: “Dominican Republic Barahona AA” graded – Very intense and unique smooth
cream like taste, with little or no bitterness to the flavour – and the
Dualit
Burr Coffee Grinder
)

4. Run WATER ONLY (without coffee) through the coffee machine when the red light is on, using the coffee / tap switch, switch it off when the red light goes off. I normally do this 2 or 3 times so that the coffee machine has a) fresh water going through it, b) all parts are clean and free of any old coffee, c) the machine will be thoroughly warmed up and d) it lets you know if the machine is putting through the right amount of water consistently. If you have problems at this stage, for example if the water appears to stall or come through slowly, then you may need to clean your filter or check for blocked holes.

5. While the coffee machine is getting ready again, you can put ground coffee in the filter, push it down firmly with the “stamper”, then load the coffee machine, when the red light is on, switch on the coffee / tap switch, coffee should come through with a decent amount of crema and will fill around 1/2 a cup (depending on the size of the cup – sometimes more, sometimes less), when the red light goes off, SWITCH OFF THE COFFEE MACHINE (If you leave it on, hot water will continue to come through, and fill the cup, but you’ll end up with coffee that tastes like filter coffee – you don’t want that). You’re done.

6. Wait for the few remaining drips to come through, take the coffee, and add it to your cup with milk. Swirl the coffee cup so that the coffee is mixed with the milk, and you should be left with around 1/5th of the cup as white milk froth on top.

7. Clean out coffee, and frother, and clean / wipe over the machine, removing any spills, coffee, milk etc.

Overall: It can make very good coffee, although it can be a bit confusing, meaning you need to think about it when you first start using it, and the three switches all look very similar at a glance so it’s easy enough to accidentally leave the steamer switched off and not realise. It also seems as though it could have been designed much better, simply by allowing normal sized cups to be used, and by extending the drip tray. It also seems a bit random in it’s performance (unless you follow the routine outlined above), so whilst it is good, and is good value for money, you may be better looking at other espresso makers, if you want something easier to use.

I’ve had the coffee machine for nearly 5 years now and it took a long time to perfect the process – once this was done – it became very clear that the type of coffee used (the freshness, the source, whether it was freshly ground, the fineness of the ground coffee) plays a very important role in getting the best flavour from the machine. A burr coffee grinder is highly recommended and finding coffee beans that you like is worth pursuing. Comparing this coffee machine to others, this is perhaps the best value for money coffee machine available that can produce the kind of espresso needed for great coffee – spend any less and you might find you don’t have the right amount of pressure, or that the machine will burn the coffee and produce bitter coffee.

After 12 months the base of the coffee maker was quite rusty, as it’s quite easy to spill water underneath the drip tray and underneath the water container, the design of the coffee maker means that water doesn’t escape very easily. The feet of the coffee maker doesn’t raise the coffee maker very high either which means the coffee maker will simply sit in water, either water that’s on your work surface or water that’s managed to escape from the base after spillage from above. This means the base is quite successful at getting rusty. And it could be worth putting the coffee machine on a raised base.

After 5 years a small spider set-up home underneath the drip tray and was planning on making baby spiders – so it is very important that you clean all areas of the coffee machine (although some areas are very difficult / or impossible to access making it quite difficult). You may want to thoroughly clean the coffee machine more regularly than me!

Android Apps Update

Posted by – December 30, 2009

A couple of Android apps that are well worth a look

Photoshop Mobile

An excellent, free Photoshop lite. Obviously it’s nothing like the desktop thing, it’s a few simple functions to allow users to improve photos with editing tools. Open it for the first time and it generates thumbnails, then simply tap a photo and then select ‘edit’ from the home menu. It then offers the following tools from three tap-to-pull-down menus:

Crop
Straighten
Rotate
Flip

Exposure
Saturation
Tint
Black & White

Soft Focus

The interface is very clever. For example, to add tint, tap ‘tint’ on the menu, then slide your finger over the image. Slide right to increase the value, slide left to decrease it. Very clever. Once done, save image, upload etc. Superb, simple, user-friendly.

Scoreboard

A Google sports app. Who knew that geeks like football? Very simple. Install, open, select your sport, then the country, then the league, then the team. The app then runs in the background and pulls down live scores, providing periodic notifications. Great.

Aldiko

As a reader of Ebooks since the days of Palm I noted with interest recently that ebooks outsold paper books this Christmas for the first time. Aldiko is an ebook reader that has a great catalogue of freebies and will read Epub format ebooks. The interface is a virtual bookshelf and reading can be customised in terms of colour and touch controls. The only ebook reader for Android that is any good. Downloads are quick and there is a massive amount to read for free.

Review: The Nokia N86 8mp Camera Phone – Re-visited (Phones)

Posted by – December 29, 2009

Previously I was particularly scathing of the Nokia N86 8mp Camera Phone – but perhaps, after experiencing the touchscreen Sony Satio, and updating the firmware of the Nokia N86 – my experience using the phone has been a little more pleasant, and it seemed about time to post my re-evaluation of the phone.


Most of the issues originally reported still exist (and pretty much all of them are still relevant), but being aware of the limitations has let me work round most, sorry, some of the issues (and ignore or avoid the rest), until I can get a “real” smartphone (see Android phones), and finding 3rd party apps has certainly helped.

First of all you’ll need to install Opera Mini (version 5 Beta 2 works very well*) as the built in web browser is pretty rubbish, and data hungry. Another good app is J1CK.Tweet which is a simple and easy to use twitter app, with a decent number of features, such as letting you take photos and post them on twitter / twitpic (and then onwards to facebook if you use the facebook selective twitter app and #fb). See what I mean about needing to find a work-around or two?

You can also use Opera Mini for RSS feeds – but I haven’t found an app for this problem yet. (The built in RSS feed reader hides inside the built in web browser).

ISO100

The built in Sat-Nav software is still pretty annoying, and limited to 10 days of use. One feature you can use is the walking mode – and as long as you don’t drive over ~29mph – you can still use this as a handy navigation system when stuck with no other solution. (The N86’s built in Sat-Nav software is by Nokia, and called Nokia Maps – and is noticeably better than the Sony Satio’s bundled navigation software: “WisePilot” – when I first used it, it only had four locations available: Sweden, Germany, plus two other European countries, which were not much use when I was in the north of England!)

ISO100

There is still no facebook integration built in apart from the “Facebook app” – which is basically a shortcut to the website, and an icon. It uses the built in web browser, and the web browser still doesn’t accept email addresses with the subject defined after a ‘?’ question mark. You can get round this by adding an email account to the phone, and adding your facebook mobile email address to your contacts, or by using a 3rd party twitter app (see above). But it’s hardly elegant or particularly easy.

ISO100

Running too many programs at once is an issue – and by too many – I mean about 4 or 5 apps. Load up Opera Mini, Web Browser, Email, Music Player, etc and then try sending a text message to someone – and the phone will freeze, unable to open the text message page, and will give no error message, just an empty screen. You can go to each application and quit them one by one, but sometimes it’s just quicker and easier to switch the phone off and on again.

Battery life is still awful. The only solution to this is to carry a USB cable with you at all times so that you can charge it when you’re in front of a computer. If you’re staying anywhere overnight, you will need to take the wall charger, battery life is around 1 or 2 days. If you actually use it, the battery life is appalling.

ISO123

The battery life can noticeably affect the visibility of the screen in bright light – so it’s important to keep the phone charged at all times. The screen does look very good – the colours are very bright, the screen is clear and crisp, assuming the battery is fully charged – and the sun isn’t out. Although the screen does seem to scratch very easily.

ISO132 – Keep Off The Rocks” How about “No large notices?”

Since the last issue with ovi.com and their on-line services I’ve avoided them completely. However I’ve had to use the OVI desktop software – this is a big huge mess of an installation – centering around “Nokia Ovi Suite”. The most useful feature of this is the ability to plug in your phone and use it’s internet connection when yours is down, but the Sony Satio version of the software is much better, simpler to install and use, and gives you more useful information when connected to the internet. (The Sony Satio software is also easier to install, being cleverly stored on the phone, so that you can install it where-ever you take the phone, instead of the Nokia software coming on CD, or needing to be downloaded).

ISO107

The camera uses an LED flash, which despite Nokia’s claims of excellent low-light performance thanks
to the f2.4 aperture lens, just isn’t adequate for indoor shots of people. It simply isn’t bright enough when compared to cameras with a real flash (see DigiCamReview.com or the Sony Satio) and photos of people with any movement will come out blurry (see the examples below, these are fairly typical of the results you’ll get indoors). In fact it’s so bad that one nights photos with the Nokia N86 8mp were completely unusable – I took about 12 shots with the camera with flash, they were nearly all blurry, with poor colour, featured lots of red-eye, and were not even decent enough to put on Facebook (with it’s lower than VGA photo requirements). In comparison the same number of shots taken with the Sony Satio on the same night all came out well due to the Sony’s Xenon flash.

ISO100

Photos outside, in good light, can be pretty good. By pretty good, I mean good for a camera phone (see the examples shown – these are some of the better photos taken with the camera). I still think even the cheapest branded digital camera from Kodak (see below), Fuji, etc would be better than the Nokia N86. The macro mode is fairly good, but often the photos look a little washed out (lens flare?), and the camera is very sensitive to any dirt on the lens. Photos are still overly compressed and end up on average between 590kb and 1.9mb which is quite small for an 8mp camera (averaging around ~1.2mb).

Overall – this camera phone is pretty rubbish – but “acceptable” as a phone as long as you don’t expect too much of it. Don’t expect it to do RSS feeds properly or well (it needs a dedicated app for this), don’t expect it to do Facebook properly or well (ditto), and don’t expect it to do Twitter at all unless you get a 3rd party app. Most of all, don’t expect it to be a decent camera, simply because it can’t take decent photos indoors. The twin-LED flash solution, is just not good enough, and if you want a camera on your phone then you will need to get the Sony Satio with a real flash, or better yet, just get a cheap digital camera, such as the Kodak Easyshare C140 for £49 – it had a real 3x optical zoom lens, and a real flash!

After three months of use I’ve grown to accept the phone’s limitations – and grown to appreciate it’s design – I like the buttons, the sliding design, and compact size. It’s easy to text and phone people*, and the camera is acceptable in good weather**. But saying that, a dedicated digital camera is always going to be better, thanks to a real flash and better image quality – the images from the Nokia look over processed, and the colour seems poor generally. The phone works fairly well on the internet (better with Opera Mini) and is a decent enough phone if you don’t want to switch over to a touch screen, are a fan of Nokia, and you don’t expect too much from it. However, saying all this, it’s still pretty rubbish, and should have been, and could have been much better!

Pros:
Uses the new Micro USB connection which is now the world-wide standard for all mobile phones! Hooray!
The kickstand is quite useful for video watching (iplayer etc)
Uses the standard 3.5mm stereo jack
Wide angle 28mm AF lens

Cons:
Satnav limited to 10 days navigation.
LED Flash (no substitute for a real flash) – doesn’t light subject well, but does create red-eye
Poor value for money (especially when new, as with most new contract mobile phones – £238 sim free)

* apart from the crashes obviously.
** assuming you don’t have a real digital camera with you.

Tested with software version 20.115.229.01, 21-09-2009. Face detection was added with the firmware update.

Android 2.1 Flashed to a T-Mobile G2 Touch

Posted by – December 29, 2009

First of all, this was made possible through instructions posted on YouTube by a chap known as tech0StickyAsGlue and his YouTube channel can be found here. A big thank you to him, even though it is almost certain that he will never read this.

Before I go any further please be aware of the following:

IF YOU PROCEED WITH THIS, OR ANY OTHER MODIFICATIONS TO THE ROM IMAGE ON YOUR PHONE THEN YOU DO SO AT YOUR OWN RISK. THIS KIND OF MODIFICATION VOIDS ANY WARRANTY ON YOUR PHONE. THIS MEANS IF YOU ARE LEFT WITH A BRICK AS A RESULT OF MODIFYING IT YOU ARE LIABLE. YOUR PHONE COMPANY OR SERVICE PROVIDER WILL NOT PAY OUT FOR A NEW ONE AND NEITHER WILL I OR ANYONE ON THIS WEBSITE. IF YOU ARE UNSURE ABOUT ANYTHING IN THIS PROCEDURE, OR YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING THEN DO NOT PROCEED. IF YOU DO GO AHEAD YOU MUST BACK UP YOUR DATA FIRST. FLASHING YOUR PHONE WITH A NEW ROM IMAGE IS DONE ENTIRELY AT YOUR OWN RISK.

I MEAN IT

On top of that, this post is not a set of instructions on how to do it, nor is it a recommendation concerning which ROM to use. The video shows a particular ROM but I ended up using another in the end.

I decided to do this after getting extremely frustrated with T-Mobile. As I write HTC are preparing to roll out Android 2.1 to all HTC hero handsets and T-Mobile are still messing about with 1.6. Even more irritating than that is the fact that the update will not be rolled out over the air, instead the phone needs to be flashed. Even MORE IRRITATING THAN THAT is the fact that Mac is not supported so I have the most advanced phone on Earth and because of T-Mobile’s useless tech support I have to take it to the shop to update it! Bloody ridiculous. I decided that if I need to flash it I might as well do it myself and get 2.1 with all the benefits that it brings, including Google Navigation. In your squidgy, fat face, useless T-Mobile tech support.

Firstly, thank god I am finally rid of the buggy, laggy, inadequate 1.5 Android release. 1.6 onwards brings speed, stability and a better interface. The ROM I sued dispensed with all sings of T-Mobile interference with the image, except for the boot screen. I am sure I could dump that too but who cares. I just wanted them off my phone. I wish someone would stop mobile companies from installing all that crap like web ‘n’ walk and suchlike. Nobody likes it and it just clutters the phone, consuming memory. If you don’t believe me, look the success of iPhone on O2. Not a sign of O2 anywhere but the bills.

The only downside to this that I have come across so far are a few missing apps. It is a missing YouTube application. To be fair the image I used is not ready for full release yet so I can’t complain about that. I got around this by installing vTap, a free application, from the Android Market. Also peep, the preloaded HTC Twitter has gone and been replaced by a new social network called Plurk. I’ve signed up, we’ll see. worked around this by installing Twitli from the alternative, unoffical Android Market Mobentoo. One presumes that the name is a pun on ‘mobile’ and ‘Ubuntu’. Mobentoo has a fraction of the number of apps that the official market has, but there are some exclusives, including some great games, and freebies which are better. The Android Market could easily become a collection of Lite apps that don’t do much except annoy you in to buying the full versions. Still, variation can’t harm anything. No-one is forcing Mobentoo on anyone. Personally I like it. The website has their full application catalogue with data matrix barcodes, so instead of squinting at the phone you can read on your computer, scan the barcode to download. Excellent.

This ROM, even though it’s a cooked version of 2.0 is miles better than 1.5, which T-Mobile lumbered it’s customers with. In future I will go SIM free from Expansys and buy a contract to get the phone free. It’s far less hassle and you have control over your updates, meaning I on’t have to go through this farce again. I am not really too big on modding but sitting like a lemon with 1.5 whilst even G1 users are on 1.6, with talk of 2.0 looming is irritating to say the least, I would go so far as to say outrageous and shabby service. Performance in 2.1 is way up and whilst I could say it’s a nice surprise, it’s actually what I expect. Cyanogen 1, T-Mobile 0.

The main plus points:

Free emulators. Emulators are available for free from Mobentoo for the following: NES, Gameboy, Gameboy Advance, Sega Genesis.

2.0 retains integration with contacts and Facebook. It pulls down all Facebook data to your contact, including profile pictures. Nice touch.

HTC generic: no more Web ‘n’n Walk. This is good because when phone makers put that stuff on phones like this: WHAT’S THE POINT? Seriously, does anybody use that crap?

Tethering. Another glaring omission from Android thus far for me, being a Mac user and all. Plus, it’s unofficial so it comes within my data plan.

And finally, the biggie, Google Navigation. It’s every bit as good as everything else Google does. Voice commands are disabled in this ROM, I imagine the ROM coder will be on the case.Signal acquisition is quick, mapping and directions legible and it tracks perfectly. This is every bit the match for anything TomTom have ever come up with but the obvious kicker: IT’S FREE! Mark my words – this will blow the lid off the SatNav market. The others are going to have to innovate or die, it is that simple.

I will be watching to see what the Nexus One turns up. I may well get an Android powered netbook too if they are this good.

Kensington SlimBlade Trackball – £84 of Mouse (Computers)

Posted by – December 18, 2009

The Kensington SlimBlade Trackball may be the suitable for people with expensive RSI (Repetitive Strain Injuries) priced at £84 from Amazon UK. More details at Engadget, pic via SlipperyBrick.