Tag Archives: phone

BlackBerry Z10

I’ve never taken BlackBerry that seriously.

It’s main feature has been based around (secure) messaging, and the amount of messaging I do (secure or otherwise) is quite minimal. For me my mobile phones are primarily used as portable computing type gadgets, with an emphasis placed on internet-related stuff. (If my phone rings I totally freak out – using it for calls is its least used function.)

However it’s been this ‘internet-related’ bit that that got me looking at them. I wanted a fast 4G connection device suitable for lap-top and tablet tethering, but already having a really nice smartphone I didn’t want to spend large sums of money replacing that when the only gain would be 4G, so I was looking for a budget-end device to compliment this high-end phone.

This is where the BlackBerry Z10 came in. The cheapest 4G devices I could see were a couple of Nokia phones, but they had rather poor screens and would only tether as a Wi-Fi hotspot. I wanted this feature but I also wanted to be able to tether via a USB connection and these would not do that.

The next cheapest I could see was in the Carphonewarehouse chain which was selling the BlackBerry Z10 (unlocked) at a very competitive price. I did my research, read various reviews (which generally rated the phone quite highly, but at its original price rather over-priced) and then went ahead and got one.

From the moment I switched it on I was impressed. A really nice screen (1280 x 768 at 356 ppi, compared to the latest iPhone 5s at 1136 x 640 and 326 ppi) and gives crisp text and great colours. An operating system that I found quicker to learn and more intuitive that either iOS, Android or WP8, and with its ability to run most Android apps as well as native BlackBerry ones, no lack of app functionality. The browser is probably the best phone browser I’ve come across in a mobile phone, opening up difficult web pages faster and more completely than any other. Scrolling across screens is smooth and fast, apps open up quickly, the microSD card slot lets you add additional memory; it’s just a really nice device to use!

If I was going to ask for one improvement, then that would be battery life. It does give me a full day’s use but it would have been nice to be able to squeeze two days out of it. Naturally it will do my Wi-Fi and USB tethering. (It should tether through Bluetooth too, though I’ve never bothered with that.)

This has just been such an unexpectedly pleasant experience its got me re-thinking quite what I expect from a mobile phone or tablet type device. I suspected that Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 system will become over the next year or so far more popular, and where a few weeks ago I really could not have cared as to BlackBerry’s future, now I hope they do manage to get their problems sorted and give Microsoft a good run for their money at the alternative to the iOS / Android duopoly.

Some YouTube Z10 thoughts.

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.

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!

Phone size; Apple’s problem.

Phone size, Who is Apple’s target audience?

Those very first mobile phones were large brick-sized devices. They might seem a bit silly now but the size was just a reflection of the electronics of the time. However as technology developed they soon shrank down to small brick size then down to large hand held then on to pocket size items. Test messaging did not demand a particularly large screen so minimum phone size ended up very much controlled by keypad size and battery capacity.
There was then the arrival of “the Internet” on phone type devices so screens had to jump up in size to be able to present this data in a viewable format. So phones started to get a bit bigger again with this larger (colour) screen and mini QWERTY keyboards for alpha-numeric input.

In the way that early internet use on computers was dominated by the technologically literate and only later (with the arrival of broadband?) moved across to the more general population, so early phone data use was also dominated by this techno-crowd, and by its very nature, a relatively young crowd. These first internet displaying devices seemed to settle down to a screen size of 3 to 3.5 in (70 – 90 mm), a reasonable balance between physical size, screen quality and cost.

However more recently screen sizes have increased with numerous models covering the 4 inch (100 mm) range and things like the Galaxy Notes going well into the 5 inch (130mm) domain, though Apple has remained down at the smaller end of the scale, just tweaking its new iPhone up from 3.5 to 4 inches.

Is staying this small a wise move by Apple? These new larger size phones are proving quite popular, but then so is their iPhone. However by not providing something in the larger screen range I think Apple is losing out in a fast developing market – and that’s in the slightly older crowd who’s expanding their mobile phone use to include internet data; and what’s more, Apple could start (has started) losing people because of this.

Why? Once you get into middle age your eyes quite naturally lose a degree of their elascicity and it makes it harder to focus on near objects, reading becomes difficult, glasses or contact lenses become a necessity. So a small screen so easily used before becomes a burden where a larger screen makes interaction with your phone so much easier. Also with data speeds (both land line and mobile) increasing more is being expected from whatever device you are using, so trying to squash all that into a small screen is becoming problematic.

I have an iPhone 3GS, a great device. However some time ago I decided to do some upgrading but went the Samsung Galaxy S II route. I still use the 3GS, but that larger S II screen makes reading or looking at web pages a so much nicer experience. If I was to do an upgrade now (this is not long after the iPhone 5 release) top of my shortlist is the Galaxy Note II.
(By chance, while writing this I noticed a Tweet from Austin Evans (@duncan33303), a young highly technology literate guy with some good YT videos… “Just fired up Kindle for Android on the Galaxy Note II. It’s actually big enough to read comfortably.”)
To me this Note II gives a screen large enough to display maps and ‘detailed information’ nice and clearly, just large enough to have two applications running on the screen at the same time, yet is still small enough (just!) to be highly portable.

When Apple developed their iPad Mini they obviously wanted to differentiate it from the popular 7 inch tablet crowd such as the new Kindles or Nexus 7, so they’ve made it a 7.9 inch device. I personally think it’s a great device however it still leaves a big hole in their range of something pocket-size but still ‘big’. I so wish they’d made the new iPad different by going down to say 6 inch, so providing something for those who, like me, was very happy their iPhone but now wants that larger screened item.

Apple might say that they don’t care about this other market, they’re quite happy re-inventing the iPhone every now and again and catching the next group of teenagers wanting phones, but I think this is very ‘short sighted’ approach. I want a set-up where I can seamlessly go from phone to tablet to desk-top computer. If I end up moving away from the iPhones when my 3GS eventually dies a death then I’ll want my next tablet upgrade to match my phone’s system so good-bye old iPad, and of course I’ll want my desk-top to match…

 

(Austin Evans YouTube channel.)

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.