Tag Archives: mobile

Technology Firsts

Two of my Technology Firsts.

My first computer technology experience involved buying a Sinclair ZX81 computer, and in a way it was my first technology disappointment. It was a small, light ‘home computer’ that came with 1k of memory (though I did get its 16k expansion pack) and fed its monochrome output to a television. It was, in its own way a fun device to use and could even play a far better game of chess than I ever could. (You try today to get someone to write a fully working chess game using less than 16k of ram!) However what let it down was an awful membrane keyboard, but what really killed it for me was an unreliable program loading and data saving system. The device had no internal storage system so you had to use a domestic cassette deck connecting its headphone and microphone sockets into the side of the ZX81. This was so temperamental and unreliable – getting the cassette player playback and record levels correct, sorting out cassette start and stop routines – it made using the ZX81 a real pain.

I could see that computers were the way to go, so later replaced this with a Commodore VIC-20. What I liked about the Commodore (compared to the then available Sinclair Spectrum) was that the Commodore had a really nice typewriter style keyboard and its own dedicated cassette tape drive for data storage.

Another technology first was my first mobile phone – a Sony CM-R111. This was a wonderful device. It could only do one thing – make phone calls – but I really loved it to bits. A small device which almost fitted in the palm of your hand (at the time when so many were large chunky ‘bricks’) and with a rather novel flip-down microphone. This was at the time when the mobile system was an analogue one, so no text messaging or fancy data systems, just simple phone calls!

YouTube video.

Samsung Galaxy Note 2

I’ve had my Samsung Galaxy Note 2 for a couple of months now, and I must admit I like it more than I expected.

As much as I also like my iPhone 3GS, towards the end of last year it started to physically fall to bits, my contract was fast approaching renewal time, and it was also approaching Apple announcement time for the new iPhone.

However as we’ll as looking forward to seeing what this new iPhone was going to be like, the Samsung Galaxy Note 2 had also got my attention. Something a bit new and different, but was very uncertain about its size. Then we had the new iPhone announcement and I was not overly impressed with it. A slightly bigger screen, a bit more powerful, more a collection of minor updates than anything new and exciting, so gave the Note 2 another look.

It was not an easy decision to actually go for it. A great deal of time was spent in phone shops handling the original Note and then the Note 2 once it arrived on the high street, but I eventually got fed up with all this messing around and went for it.

For me two things really stand out.

Firstly, the obvious one, size. Is it really too big for routine use? However within an hour of getting it out of its box I had acclimatised to it, it really was that quick. No longer did I see it as large but other devices now felt so small and dinky. Despite its size it fits into the hand quite nicely (unlike something like the iPad Mini where you’re having to stretch your hand around to hold it).

For those who like to do things one-handed, lots of tasks can still be performed that way. The virtual keyboard is within reach of your thumb, however you can bias it for left or right handed use if you prefer. Have all your commonly used icons located on the lower half of the screen and there’s very few times you have to really stretch or go two handed if you don’t want to.

However I much prefer using it two-handed (this has applied to all the phones I’ve had). I guess I’m an intrinsic two-handed user, I always found it so much more comfortable doing it that way. One hand for holding securely, the other for fast use.

The other thing that makes this phone stand out is its stylus. Hold the stylus with your hand positioned anywhere near the centre of the screen and with very little finger movement everything is within reach. The stylus is great for making note type jottings and the its handwriting recognition is far better than I expected. I’ve used various other devices with this feature over the years and up till now it always turned into a case of once the novelty wore off then that function fell into disuse, but the Note 2’s system works amazingly well. I’ve even just used a finger to write on the screen and that’s been good enough for the system to work with. The stylus is also pressure sensitive, so for those who like drawing and that sort of thing there’s potential for great fun there.

Going back to its size, it will fit into a typical back pocket, but over the years (regardless of size or type of phone) I’ve never been one for carrying phones around like that. Too easy to lose or damage. This, like all my earlier ones, happily lives in a pouch on my trouser belt. This also gets round the problem of remembering where you last put it; jacket pocket, hold-all, bag, on the table… I’ve never yet forgotten where my trousers are!

I use the phone mainly for data related stuff; it’s constantly monitoring various e-mail accounts, messaging, web browsing and general internet use. Also as an ‘office assistant’ for calendar and appointments, occasionally as a wi-fi hot spot, it’s not often used for voice or as a music device. I’m getting a comfortable two days (occasionally three) between recharges, though I do leave wi-fi and 3G switched off except when I need them.
I’ve found the current Android operating system (4.1) fast and snappy. As someone who also has an iPhone and an iPad, iOS now seems so clunky to use it’s becoming irritating, where this Android version seems to have the edge over it.

I have no special loyalty to Apple or to Android (or to any other operating system), they’re just systems and devices for getting jobs done. So when given the choice a couple of months ago of going either iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy Note 2 I went for the Note 2 and have no regrets.
I’ll be quite happy one day to go back to Apple, but if they want me back they’ll have to do something quite remarkable.

Belkin LiveAction Microphone

Last Christmas I was given a present of a Belkin LiveAction microphone, so I thought I’d give it the once over.

On the box it stated that it was for iPhone / iPad type devices, however it uses the standard jack plug that’s common across most devices. It worked without any problems on the two different Samsung phones I have.

It’s about 12 cm / 4.75 inches long, so not that large, but is quite big compared to the size of a phone. If plugged into the phone and you’re using the camera that facing the way the microphone is pointing, then end of the mic may come into view. (Just something to be aware of.)

Once plugged in, there is a small knob to turn that helps to secure the device to the phone. On the side there is a three position switch. Off, close-up directional, long distance ‘super-directional’. It uses a standard AAA size battery.

Over the years, phone manufacturers have spent a lot of time, money and effort in improving their internal microphones. Under standard indoor conditions I didn’t find any huge advantage to using the Belkin. Where it really did come into play was outside. Using its standard directional setting it picked up my voice quite nicely while cutting out (or at least reducing to an acceptable level) most of the other background sounds. At one time I was standing beside a busy road where the level of traffic noise was such that if I was talking to somebody standing beside me I’d have had to shout, however the Belkin picked up my speech nicely. I can see this having some potential in a gig or live event type situation where you want the sound from the stage while minimising the noise from the crowd beside you.

Using it switched to its super-directional mode it did pick up speech from quite a few metres / yards away. The quality of sound was not particularly good, however I’d rather have some sound that may be poor but I can work with that no sound at all! I can’t see myself using it in this mode very much, though I guess it’s handy to have there.

Overall I rather like it. With phone video quality improving more and more people are using this function when out and about, and under difficult conditions this Belkin does do a better job than the phone’s internal microphone. It does however still pick up wind noise, I must look out for a windshield / dead cat screen for it.

 

 

Voice recognition, Siri and Google Now.

It must have been well over 10 years ago when I first played with voice recognition and dictation software on my home PCs. I experimented with it as a lazy way of getting my essays done for a degree course I was doing. It were quite fun and did work, however they required a lot of effort, were not that reliable, and overall I thought not worth the effort, so in the end I was back to fingers on keyboard.

I’m not sure when voice activation for initiating calls and texts on mobile phones arrived, but it’s been around for a few years, however I’ve never yet met anyone who has actually seriously used them.

Siri was first brought to my attention when Apple included it as part of the iPhone 4S. Here we had an ‘intelligent personal assistant’ that should be able to recognise most commands and instructions which are given in the user’s natural language style, and then to respond accordingly. The trick with Siri compared to earlier systems was to transfer the language interpretation demand (and processing requirement) from the local device to Apple’s various data processing servers. My Apple hardware (3GS and iPad 2) could not run Siri, but again those people I know with appropriate hardware played with it to begin with, but once the novelty wore off now rarely use it.

This brings us to ‘today’ and owning a device with both Google’s Now and Samsung’s S Voice. Both of these have worked far better than expected. Both when given a phone action command will carry out that action. The only real difference between them is when you give them a general question, Now usually gives its responses as Google web page links and only occasionally speaking the answer, where as S Voice tends to speak the answer and only if it gets stuck directs you to relevant web page search results.

I think here is something I could actually start using, especially for web searches. It’s still far from perfect, but has reached a stage where I’m starting to get results more quickly by asking it rather than by using the keyboard to enter in my request.

I wonder how long it will be before it is constantly monitoring your speech as a background task, so that if you are discussing arranging a meeting with a colleague it will automatically put an entry into your calendar, and if that meeting then involves you talking about ordering up some spare parts it will already be scanning local suppliers for availability and prices. Or if you’re discussing something the government doesn’t like…. soon Big Brother may be closer to you than you realise!

iPhone 5

A few thoughts on the iPhone 5 (& what I would have liked).

So the iPhone 5 is out and clocked up record sales. Not surprised, quite a few people I know have been delaying their phone replacement, living with old, even faulty phones waiting for the new device to come to market.
It’s quits some phone (even allowing for the farce over the map function and some wi-fi problems) however the trouble is that there’s nothing there that really makes it stand out from the opposition.
The first iPhone had its touch screen interface which was far better than anything else then around. The 3G / GS gave us high speed Internet. The jump up to 4 gave the Retina screen, the best of its type at the time, but with this jump up to 5 – there’s nothing really special that stands out. A slightly larger screen, but still just ‘average size’. 4G, but many others have that. Maps that don’t work too well… and so on.
Here’s something that would have got my attention (not my idea but I can’t remember where I first read it), and that would be to take the baby watch size iPod Nano and integrate its functions in with the iPhone 5.

Wear the Nano as a watch (as many people do) but whenever a text or email arrived on the phone it would be displayed on the Nano. The phone rings, caller information displayed on the Nano. No more having to go digging your iPhone out from your pocket or bag only to find it’s someone you don’t want to talk to. Pictures or music on your iPhone, route them through the Nano.

Within the limits of its small screen have it as an iPhone remote controller. Now that would have got my attention.

What do I want from a mobile phone?

Well, what do I want from a mobile phone?! The least important thing is it as a speech communication device, the most important thing is it as a data communication device.

I do have an iPhone 3GS and I’m happy enough with it, however it does have its limitations. (One thing that has started to happen recently is that its battery life has fallen off. I don’t know if it’s because it’s now nearly 2 years old, or because of Apple updates, or both, but it is irritating.) Something I would find useful would be to have a device that could be used as a Wi-Fi hot spot, and I was actually on my way down to the shops to get a stand-alone MiFi dongle when by chance I bumped into a friend and mentioned this to him. He showed me his HTC Desire and said that the newer Android phones had that Wi-Fi service built in.

Being reasonably happy with my 3GS I’d not kept track of what had been coming out new onto the mobile phone market recently, so was quite surprised at how nice his Android phone was. (My only real experience of this family of phones had been with an early Google phone, and that had NOT impressed me!) This chance meeting got me into doing a bit of research into what else was around, and was impressed with what I saw. Although I have various Apple products I am not an Apple FanBoy, but I had assumed that my next phone would probably be whatever comes out to replace the iPhone 4. However it may well be time to switch across to Android.

So what do I want.

A 4.3 inch screen – big enough to be useful but still keeping the device pocket-size.
Dual core processor – I don’t want to spend a lot of money on something like a single core machine that’s just about to become ‘old generation technology’.
Front and rear cameras – I do like to make the occasional YouTube vlog using my phone, and a front facing camera would make that sooo much easier.
Wi-Fi hot spot facilities – the easiest way for me to have mobile internet for my lap tops and other devices.

So at the moment I’m just waiting for the HTC Sensation and Samsung Galaxy S II phones to hit the phone companies, and then we’ll see how things go.