Tag Archives: iPad

Motoring Technology

Hardware lineup for 2014

For the last few years, I’ve written a post about my “hardware lineup” – the tech I use pretty much every day (2011, 2012, and 2013). This year, Dan Delaney reminded me when he borrowed the idea (and I originally stole it from someone else…) so here’s the belated 2014 line-up…

Car: Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI Sport

I’m still enjoying my current company car even as it approaches its 2 year anniversary and am actively working to keep the mileage down as I may buy it at the end of the lease. Whilst I might be able to get a deal on a second hand Q7 or Toureg, this was specced up the way I wanted it  including a retractable towbar and I’m more than happy. Verdict 8/10. Hold (tied into a 3-year lease).

Phones: Apple iPhone 4S and Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini

Windows Phone 7.8 was a disappointment and the lack of apps for the Windows Phone platform means I’ve gone back to iOS for my personal phone (second-hand from the SmartfoneStore), although I hope to jailbreak it to get some of the features that are missing for me in iOS 7. Meanwhile, my company iPhone 3GS has been replaced with an Android model (the Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini), which is infuriating in many ways but at least lets me get experience of working with the other dominant mobile platform. (iPhone) Verdict 7/10. Hold – something new is too expensive. (Galaxy Mini) Verdict 5/10. Not mine to sell!

Tablet: Apple iPad 3G 64GB

Apple iPadMy iPad never replaced a laptop as a primary computer but it’s still great as a Kindle, for catching up on social media content, and for casual gaming (read, occasional babysitter and childrens’ amusement on long car journeys). I was disappointed to have to pay to replace it after the screen developed a fault, but there’s no reason to trade up yet, especially since we bought a touch PC for the family (read on). If anything, I might consider a smaller tablet (maybe a Google Nexus 7 or a Tesco Hudl). Verdict 5/10. Hold, although it’s getting old now.

Everyday PC: Fujitsu Lifebook P702 (Intel Core i5 3210M 2.5GHz, 8GB RAM, 320GB hard disk)

This PC is my main computing device and is a small form-factor replacement for the previous Lifebook I used.  I like it, but a BYOC scheme would be more likely to leave me buying a competitor’s PC. Just as well we only have CYOD! Verdict 7/10. Still hoping for a BYOC scheme at work but not holding my breath.

Family PC: Lenovo Flex 15 (Intel Core i5 4200U 1.6GHz, 4GB RAM, 500GB hard disk)

Lenovo Flex 15When it eventually arrived, I set this PC up with Windows 8.1, Office 2013 and an account for everyone in the family.  It’s been a huge hit – the kids love it and I find it really useful to have a PC in the kitchen/family room.  I’m glad I held out for a touch screen – Windows 8 is so much better with Touch – but I should possibly have got something with a bit more memory… Verdict 8/10. A bit underpowered but a good balance between price and form factor.

Netbook: Lenovo S10e (Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz, 2GB RAM, 160GB hard disk)

Lenovo IdeaPad S10Rarely taken out of the drawer – only used when I want to play with Linux (Ubuntu) or upload some new code to the Arduino. Verdict 2/10. Not worth selling, so keep for tech projects.

Digital Cameras: Nikon D700 and Coolpix P7100

Nikon D700Nikon P7100Although I’ve fallen out of love with photography, I’m sure I’ll get back on the wagon some time. A full-frame DSLR is still my favourite format and the D700 will be with me for a while yet. Indeed, it’s more likely that I would buy some new lenses and a flashgun before I replace my camera body.  Newer bodies offer video but I don’t miss that, and the low light performance on the D700 is pretty good. The P7100 continues to function as my carry-everywhere camera (it lives in the car), offering entry-level DSLR levels of control in a small package, although it’s not as responsive as I’d like and I increasingly tolerate using the iPhone instead (poor camera, but always with me). (D700) Verdict 9/10. Hold. (P7100) Verdict 6/10. Hold.

Photography PC: Apple MacBook MB062LL/B (Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 2.2GHz, 4GB RAM, 750GB hard disk)

Apple Macbook White (late 2007)My MacBook is getting old and, although I upgraded to a 750GB disk, I’m struggling with disk space whilst 4GB of RAM is starting to feel a bit light for big Photoshop jobs but new Macs are expensive. Still too expensive to replace, but as long as I’m not doing much photography, this will last a while longer… Verdict 4/10. Hold.

Media: Samsung UE37ES6300 Smart TV

Samsung UE37ES6300Our late-2012 technology purchase, this replaced an aging (c1998) Sony Trinitron 32″ widescreen CRT and Internet-connected television is now an integral part of my family’s media consumption habit with my children watching more iPlayer content than live.  The software is a little “buggy” but it does the job – as a half decent TV it’s more than adequate and I’m thinking of getting a 22″ version for the den (when we build one…) Verdict 9/10. Hold.

Media: Apple Mac Mini MA206LL/A (Intel Core Duo 1.66GHz, 2GB RAM, 120GB hard disk)

(+ iPad, iPhone 4S, various iPods, Altec Lansing iM7 iPod speakers, Samsung UE37ES6300) Apple Mac MiniNo change here since last year and I still haven’t re-ripped my CDs after the NAS failure a couple of years ago (although the Dell server I bought a few years ago has come out of retirement in preparation for that task). We bought a Yamaha PSR E-343 music keyboard for my son this Christmas so this PC may be brought back to life with Garage Band or as a media server as it takes up almost no space at all. Verdict 6/10. Hold.

Gaming: Microsoft Xbox 360 S 250GB with Kinect Sensor

Microsoft Xbox 360sI don’t play this as much as I should but my sons make more and more use of it, and bought me a copy of FIFA 2014 for Christmas, so the Xbox is starting to get a lot more use. No plans to replace it with a newer model though. Verdict 7/10. Hold.

Servers and Storage: Raspberry Pi, 2x Netgear ReadyNAS Duo, various USB HDDs

The Raspberry Pi has replaced my atom-based infrastructure PC, whilst one ReadyNAS is used to back up my work and the other has still not been recovered from its multiple disk failure a couple of years ago.  I still need to consolidate the various USB hard drives onto the  3GB Seagate Backup Plus Desktop drive and sort out the various cloud-based services that I use. (Raspberry Pi) Verdict 10/10. What’s not to like about a computer that costs just £25? (ReadyNAS Duo) Verdict 5/10. RAID failures mean I’ve lost confidence.

Other tech: Arduino Uno, Canon ImageFormula P-215 document scanner

I’m still occasionally playing around with electronics using an Arduino – although I need to do more with this. I’m also slowly regaining control over my filing using the document scanner (and it’s very cathartic shredding old documents!) (Arduino Uno) Verdict 10/10. Inexpensive, with loads of scope for electronic prototyping and a thriving community for support. (Canon P-215) Verdict 9/10. Impressive scanner, although a little on the expensive side.

Potential new toys: Nest learning thermostatLego Mindstorms

Just as last year, I still have my eyes on home automation and tech toys but budgets (and other hobbies) mean they are unlikely to become real for a while yet.  A smart watch is a possibility too… just waiting for the right one…

Technology

Could low cost tablets actually knock the iPad off its perch?

Last weekend, my family went on a theatre trip to the Pantomime.  After Snow White had been rescued from her slumber by a charming prince, there was a short interlude whilst “Herbert the henchman” invited children with “golden tickets” onto the stage.  Asking one six-year-old what she had received for Christmas, she said “A Hudl“.

The bemused actor had not heard of a Hudl before and she went on to explain “it’s like an iPad, but without the button”.

Aside from amusing me that the Tesco device might actually have a name that could catch on with consumers (cf. the Kindle Fire HD that my kids referred to as “an iPad Kindle”), this got me thinking.  Could the low cost tablets from Tesco, Argos, et al be about to shake the iPad off it’s perch? I was reading a Which report over Christmas which lauded the iPad Mini as a great small form factor tablet but it’s expensive. Meanwhile even my Mum has bought a £100 Acer tablet (I wish she’d spoken to me first but, never mind).

My father-in-law was amazed that six-year-olds would be given a tablet but I highlighted that, at £120 (or as low as £60 with Clubcard vouchers) it was a consumable device – and that’s the beauty. It doesn’t have to be great, just good enough and cheap.  After all, my very expensive 64GB 3G first generation iPad was thrown on the scrap-heap by Apple with a lack of OS updates etc. after about 2 years.  Why spend £700 when I can spend far less and upgrade more frequently? The Google Nexus may be technically superior but buying a £120 tablet is very low risk.

Let me be clear: Apple has some great premium products – but with mass market acceptance of Android they have a problem. Whilst some of my friends have purchased iPad Minis for the family (one Christmas day Facebook update read “Operation iPad Mini declared a success – never seen the children so quiet”), how many more will go for the low cost option from the supermarket?

Technology

Shopping around for a smartphone? Have you considered buying second hand?

It used to be said that nobody got fired for buying IBM. These days it seems to be that, for non-geek consumers at least, the common denominator is iOS.

Now, before the Android and Windows Phone fans (Blackberry fans, anybody?) start flaming, let me explain…

My wife is not what you would call one of technology’s early adopters. To call her a laggard would be unkind but she only took her first tentative steps into social media last year and getting a smartphone was a big deal…

I consider iPhones to be overpriced but as I’ve never owned an Android phone I couldn’t really advise on alternatives. We did spend some time looking around in Carphone Warehouse but I had to leave Mrs W to it for fear of what I might say when the salesperson’s ill-informed “advice” got too much.

Android? Windows?

We liked the look of the HTC One X, but Mrs W was put off by some reviews on the ‘net (moral, never read reviews from non-tech writers…); some of the Samsungs looked OK too but whilst the form factor may have worked for my “man hands”, those of a daintier persuasion may find a large screen just a little too… large.

Indeed, far from helping my wife to choose a mid-priced Android handset, the experience actually swayed her towards the iPhone. I might have said take a look at Windows Phone 8 but my experience with Windows Phone 7.x has left me with little more than apathy for that platform (give me time, maybe I’ll be back in a couple of years if and when it finally takes off).

iPhone?

So, why not get an iPhone? After all, most of her friends have one. I’ve had one since the UK launch, either for personal use or for work. And “my” iPad seems to have become the family iPad now. I guess that means we’re pretty much an iOS household already.

But I still baulked at the price.

Buying second hand

Then, one of our friends mentioned smartfonestore.com. After waiting a few weeks for stock to come in, I managed to pick up a 16GB SIM-unlocked iPhone 4S for around £265, in mint (grade A) condition. Two days later and I had an SMS from Mrs W. saying how she loved her iPhone (yes, “love” was the emotion expressed by this non-geek consumer).

Ever since then, I’ve been admiring the 4S from afar, trying to convince myself that my Lumia 800 was better and that I could make do with the company-supplied 3GS. I tried to get myself another Grade A iPhone 4S but then, in a moment of weakness, I jumped for a Grade B condition unit instead. To be honest, when it arrived last Saturday, I couldn’t tell the difference!

SmartfoneStore send out the phones in their own packaging and both the iPhones I’ve purchased both came with a USB-dock cable and a SIM extraction tool. Mine also came with a screen protector and a bumper (although it’s not the Apple version, and not a great fit). I’ve yet to use the other side of the business (fonebank.com) but it may well be the destination for recycling my Lumia 800).

So now, we really are an iOS family. A 3GS, two 4Ss and an iPad.

(OK, so technically the 3GS is not mine – and I am considering replacing that with a cheap HTC Desire so that I can have a play with Android - but there are plenty of iDevices to go around…)

I’ve been impressed by SmartfoneStore (and remember, they were recommended to us by a friend too) so, if you’re in the market for a second-hand smartphone, they might be worth a look. Unfortunately there is no waiting list for a particular model to come into stock but you can register for notifications and soon enough, you should find something that suits for a lot less than the cost of a new handset.

Technology

Short takes: cyber security; stock images; PowerPoint presenter view; smart TVs, iPads and YouTube

Lots of ideas for blog posts this week but limited time to commit pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard for that matter. Here are the highlights of what might have been…

Cyber security

Last year, I assisted one of the lecturers at University College London (UCL) with some “expert” opinion on the bring your own device phenomenon, for a module as part of the MSc course in Human Computer Interaction. It seemed to go reasonably well and I was invited back to speak on this year’s topic – cyber security.  I can’t claim to be an expert, but I could present some supplier-side views on the UK Government’s “10 steps to cyber security” advice which seems very sensible but is also based on aspirational and tactical solutions which could be costly to implement in full, so need to be considered with an understanding of the relative risks and an eye to the future.

For anyone who’s interested, my presentation is available for viewing/download on SlideShare, although it’s very visual – full narrative is available in the notes.

 

Searching for good images

I’m a fan of full-page images on slides and limited text. I find it keeps the audience engaged and listening to the presenter, rather than reading pages of bullet points.  The down side is that it can be very time consuming to find the right images, especially without access to an account at a good stock library.

As my presentation to UCL was as in individual, not representing my employer, I was able to use images licensed for non-commercial use under Creative Commons and Compfight is a great tool for searching Flickr for these.  I’ve attributed all of the photographers used in the deck above, and if you don’t have access to iStockPhoto, Fotolia, etc. then this can be a good way to find images.

PowerPoint Presenter View

I’ve blogged before about PowerPoint’s presenter view and I’m amazed that more people don’t use it (although, the people who don’t are generally fans of dull corporate decks with lots of bullet points – yawn!). Somehow though, my PC had reverted to not using it, and I needed to Google to find where the option is in the PowerPoint 2007/2010 ribbon!  In the end, it was this Cybernet New post that showed me the important option: on the Slide Show tab, in the Monitors section.

YouTube smart TV and mobile apps

I wanted to re-watch a presentation that I’d missed last year and that I knew was on YouTube. Given that it was nearly an hour long, I thought the comfort of my living room would be a good place to do this, using the YouTube app on my smart TV. It was. At least until I lost the stream part way through and the Samsung YouTube app refused to play ball with the fast forward control. Another annoyance was that the “Watch Later” functionality in YouTube isn’t recognised by the a-little-bit-dumb app on the “smart” TV, so I needed to add the video to another playlist first.

Eventually, I finished up watching the second half of the video on my iPad. Here, again, it’s useful to know that the built-in iOS YouTube app is feature light and that there is a newer version available from Google in Apple’s AppStore.

Motoring Photography Technology

Hardware lineup for 2013

For the last couple of years, I’ve written a post about my “hardware lineup” – the tech I use pretty much every day (2011, 2012) and I thought I’d continue the theme as we enter 2013.

In these times of austerity, there’s not a lot of scope for new geek toys (some more camera lenses would be great, as would a new MacBook) but there’s no harm in a bit of aspiration, and it’s always interesting to take a look back and see how I thought things would work out and how that compares with reality.

So here’s the tech that I expect my life will revolve around this year…

Car: Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI Sport

My company car was replaced in April (a nice 40th birthday present) and the Volkswagen Tiguan I drive will be with me for at least 3 years. Whilst there are plenty of more capabile 4x4s and the space afforded by a 7-seater might be nice at times, “the Tig” has been great – my family all love the high riding position, my wife is happy swapping between this and her Golf (she should be – they are practically the same underneath the covers!) and, whilst I miss some of the refinement of my Audi, I get a lot more for my money with the Volkswagen.  Putting a retractable towbar on this car has created new possibilities too, allowing me to use a 4-bike towbar-attached carrier for family cycle trips.

Verdict 8/10. Hold (tied into a 3-year lease).

Phones: Nokia Lumia 800 and Apple iPhone 3GS

Apple iPhone 3GSNokia Lumia 800My initial enthusiasm for the Nokia Lumia 800 waned considerably, after Microsoft announced its Windows Phone 8 plans and the handset lost 60% of its value overnight.  That means I won’t be trading it in for a new model any time soon and, depending on whether Windows Phone 7.8 ever makes it out of the door, I might consider looking at options to run Android on the (rather nice) hardware instead.  Still, at least we got an update a few months ago that, finally, enables Internet Sharing on Lumias (Windows Phone 7.5 supported this capability, but the Lumia 800 firmware did not).

I still have an iPhone 3GS provided by my employer (and my iPad) to fall back on when apps are not available for Windows Phone (i.e. most of the time) and, whilst I’m unlikely to get another smartphone from the company, I am considering a second-hand 4S to replace this as the 3GS is getting a bit long in the tooth now…

(Lumia) Verdict 5/10. Hold, under duress.
(iPhone) Verdict 3/10. Not mine to sell!

Tablet: Apple iPad 3G 64GB

Apple iPadMy iPad never replaced a laptop as a primary computer but it’s still great as a Kindle, for catching up on social media content, and for casual gaming (read, occasional babysitter and childrens’ amusement on long car journeys). I was disappointed to have to pay to replace it after the screen developed a fault, but there’s no reason to trade up yet and there’s still nothing that comes close to the iPad from a media tablet perspective (except newer iPads).

If anything, I might consider a smaller tablet (maybe a Google Nexus 7 or an Amazon Kindle Fire) but and Apple’s decision to stick with a 4:3 screen ratio on the iPad Mini means I have little interest in that form factor (it’s almost the same hardware as my current iPad, albeit in a smaller package). If I were to get a new tablet, it’s more likely to be something that could really be a laptop replacement – perhaps a Microsoft Surface Pro? We’ll see…

Verdict 7/10. Hold, although it’s getting old now.

Everyday PC: Fujitsu Lifebook S7220 (Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 2.2GHz, 4GB RAM, 160GB hard disk)

Fujitsu Lifebook S7220This PC is my main computing device. I’d love a ThinkPad, but the Lifebook is a perfectly capable, solid, well-built notebook PC, although I frequently find myself running out of memory with the number of tabs I have open in a typical browsing session! A recent hard disk failure meant my free space dropped (my 250GB drive was replaced with a 160GB one) but it’s due for replacement soon.

I’ll be looking for a smaller form-factor device to reduce the weight of my work-bag – at least until BYOC becomes a possibility (an ultrabook, Surface Pro, or a MacBook Air would be nice, but not available to me on the company’s catalogue).

Verdict 6/10. Unlikely to be with me for much longer now, although still hoping for a BYOC scheme at work.

Netbook: Lenovo S10e (Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz, 2GB RAM, 160GB hard disk)

Lenovo IdeaPad S10Yet again, this device has hardly seen the light of day. Usurped by the iPad, it now runs Ubuntu and is only ever used for tech projects (e.g. uploading software to my Arduino). My kids have one too but even they are frustrated by the small screen and tend to use my wife’s notebook PC instead.

Verdict 2/10. Not worth selling, so keep for tech projects.

Digital Cameras: Nikon D700 and Coolpix P7100

Nikon D700Nikon P7100I still love my DSLR and the D700 will be with me for a while yet. Indeed, it’s more likely that I would buy some new lenses and a flashgun before I replace my camera body.  Newer bodies offer video but I don’t miss that, and the low light performance on the D700 is pretty good, even 2 years after launch.

The P7100 continues to function as my carry-everywhere camera (it lives in the car), offering entry-level DSLR levels of control in a small package, although it’s not as responsive as I’d like.

(D700) Verdict 9/10. Hold.
(P7100) Verdict 7/10. Hold.

Photography PC: Apple MacBook MB062LL/B (Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 2.2GHz, 4GB RAM, 750GB hard disk)

Apple Macbook White (late 2007)My MacBook is getting old and, although I upgraded to a 750GB disk, I’m struggling with disk space whilst 4GB of RAM is starting to feel a bit light for big Photoshop jobs but new Macs are expensive.

Still too expensive to replace, I think this will last another year, at least…

Verdict 4/10. Hold.

Media: Samsung UE37ES6300 Smart TV

Samsung UE37ES6300My most recent technology purchase, this replaced an aging (c1998) Sony Trinitron 32″ widescreen CRT and has given us back a lot of space in the living room! I’ve been really impressed with the Smart TV functionality (more on that over the next few days) and Internet-connected television is now an integral part of my media consumption habit.

In time, it may be joined by a sound bar (to improve the experience when watching films) but at the moment the TV’s built in speakers will have to make do.

Verdict 9/10. Hold.

Media: Apple Mac Mini MA206LL/A (Intel Core Duo 1.66GHz, 2GB RAM, 120GB hard disk)

(+ iPad, Lumia 800, iPhone 3GS, various iPods, Altec Lansing iM7 iPod speakers, Samsung UE37ES6300)

Apple Mac MiniNo change here since last year – except for the addition of a Smart TV – and I still haven’t re-ripped my CDs after the NAS failure a couple of years ago. I still haven’t bought the music keyboard and this PC’s role as a multimedia PC for the office with Spotify, iPlayer, etc. has been replaced by a Smart TV in the living room.

It may not be the most powerful of my PCs but it may be brought back to life as a media server as it takes up almost no space at all.

Verdict 6/10. Hold.

Gaming: Microsoft Xbox 360 S 250GB with Kinect Sensor

Microsoft Xbox 360sI don’t play this as much as I should to make full use of it but the arrival of BBC iPlayer and the death of our DVD player promoted the Xbox to be our living room  media centre, at least until the Smart TV arrived (and the two still complement each other). My sons are reaching the age where they play games too now, so the Xbox is starting to get a lot more use.

Verdict 9/10. Hold.

Servers and Storage: Atom-based PC, 2x Netgear ReadyNAS Duo, various USB HDDs

The Atom-based PC still provides infrastructure services for the home, whilst one ReadyNAS is used to back up my work and the other has still not been recovered from its multiple disk failure a couple of years ago. I recently bought a 3GB Seagate Backup Plus Desktop drive to replace an assortment of smaller USB hard disks and am preparing to supplement this with suitable cloud storage as we become more and more reliant on our digital assets.

Verdict 6/10. Hold.

New toys from 2012: Arduino Uno, Raspberry Pi, Canon ImageFormula P-215 document scanner

At the end of my 2012 post, I mentioned a few potential purchases and I did pick up one of the first Raspberry Pi computers, which is a fantastic hobby/educational machine to use with or without my children.  I also started to play around with electronics using an Arduino – which is great fun – and I hope to be doing more with both of them this year (more Raspberry Pi postsmore Arduino posts).

I’m slowly regaining control over my filing with the aid of a dedicated document scanner. It doesn’t matter to me that it’s portable, but the fast duplex scanning to PDF and multiple sheet handling (with very few mis-feeds) is a huge step forward compared with the all-in-one printer/scanner/copier I have in my home office.  Mine was an “Amazon Warehouse Deals” purchase (which saved me a few pounds) and the advertised condition suggested it may have a scratch or two but it seems to be in perfect condition to me. It will certainly be a big part of my push to digitise much of my paperwork this year.

(Raspberry Pi) Verdict 10/10. What’s not to like about a computer that costs just £25?
(Arduino Uno) Verdict 10/10. Inexpensive, with loads of scope for electronic prototyping and a thriving community for support.
(Canon P-215) Verdict 9/10. Impressive scanner, although a little on the expensive side.

Potential new toys: Nest learning thermostat, Romotive Robot, Lego Mindstorms

Of course, as a geek, I have my eye on a whole host of potential purchases and these were two that took my fancy in last year’s post, plus one more that I’ve had my eye on for a while (may be something for the kids to get and Dad to play with?).  In all honesty, I’m not sure that I’ll be buying much at all this year, but anything I do is likely to be in the general electronics, robotics and home automation field.

Technology

Does Apple consider itself to be above the law?

Those who were watching my Twitter stream last Friday and Saturday will have followed my saga with Apple and their apparent disregard for customer service or the law when my iPad developed a fault… “Apple?” you say, “but aren’t they renowned for their fantastic customer service?”. Well, they do have a reputation but my experience suggests it’s not deserved, at least not here in the UK…

I waited a few days before writing this post as anyone who criticises Apple is laid open to a barrage of abuse. Even so, I thought it was appropriate to share – and, by “cooling off”, I’m hoping to be objective.

What’s the problem?

A few months ago, I noticed a greenish glow on a small portion of the screen on my iPad, which I purchased in July 2010. It was particularly visible on dark areas, when the brightness is turned up (e.g. when using the iPad in a dark room). So, I booked an appointment at the Genius Bar in the Milton Keynes Apple Store to see what could be done to repair/replace the defective screen. I arrived on time and, whilst it was certainly busy, there were lots of blue t-shirts doing what, to a bystander, appeared to be very little. I’m sure they all had their own jobs but, after waiting 20 minutes past my appointment, I was seen, not by one of the staff who were at the Genius Bar, but by the guy who had been performing some kind of co-ordination role on the shop floor until that point. He took my iPad away, then came back to say that it was over a year old and so out of warranty – repair wasn’t an option and a refurbished replacement would cost £199. I was given the option of speaking to a Manager and I did, but he was equally unhelpful – and apparently unwilling to move an inch, even when I pointed out that the UK’s Sale of Goods Act gives me some rights here…

More support required

I went home and found a statement on the Apple website about Apple Products and EU Statutory Warranty, which directed me to call AppleCare. I opened a support case and, the next morning, I spoke to an Apple representative who listened, logged the call details, but ultimately advised me to contact the point of purchase (the Apple Store in Solihull). Solihull is an hour’s drive away so I called the store, who said I could visit Apple Retail location and I headed to Milton Keynes, where I had made a Genius Bar appointment in anticipation.

Five minutes before my appointment AppleCare called and said they had spoken to store and could handle a “consumer law” complaint on my behalf, and that I didn’t need to go to store. Ten minutes after that they called again and said they couldn’t after all and 15 minutes later they said EU Consumer Law doesn’t apply in the UK (it doesn’t – by the UK Sale of Goods Act does!) and that I should contact the local Trading Standards department. By then I was at the store again, where I spent the next couple of hours (including almost an hour waiting to be seen as AppleCare’s previous advice meant I’d missed my Genius Bar appointment and I was on standby), eventually being convinced to part with money to replace my iPad (more on that in a moment).

So how is this Apple’s problem?

Those in the US and elsewhere may well be thinking, “so you wanted Apple to repair or replace a product that was out of  warranty – are you for real” but in Europe, consumer law is on our side.

The UK hasn’t adopted this EU regulation because our own laws provide even better cover – The Sale of Goods Act gives  consumers up to six years to pursue claims. Although UK law does not specify how long a product should last (all products and manufacturers are different), a product is considered faulty if it stops working properly in less time than a reasonable person would expect the product to last. A screen defect within two years does not sound like something that Apple (or any reasonable person) would expect, and so I believe that Apple should have offered me a free repair or replacement with the same or similar product at no cost.

Instead, Apple tried to pass the buck. Initially I was batted back and forth between AppleCare (Apple’s support channel) and Apple Retail (who sold me the iPad). At one point I was advised to contact the actual store where my iPad was purchased (not my local store). Finally, Apple Retail attempted to pass me on to my local Trading Standards department and when I said that the problem was between Apple and myself, not with Milton Keynes Council (the Trading Standards authority in this case), the store manager started talking about me pursuing action in the small claims court, in a “David and Goliath” fashion, playing the part of “the small man” against the big company (and yes, those are quotes!). The arrogance of Apple’s retail management and of the company as a whole, which seems to put itself above the law is, frankly, astounding.

A compromise?

Eventually, one of the Managers in the Apple Store in Milton Keynes offered me a replacement iPad but it cost me £69 – a discount from the £199 originally quoted to the price that I would have paid for AppleCare, if I had taken it at the time of purchase. I didn’t take AppleCare because consumer law covers me against product defects, my home insurance covers me against accidental damage, and the Internet covers me against technical support. In short, I shouldn’t need to buy an extended warranty (AppleCare), and I’m still unhappy at having paid for something that should have been free of charge, if only Apple was prepared to accept the rule of law.

To use the words my friend Alex (@AlexColes):

“Apple set themselves up as the tech company that is way ahead of everyone else in the industry, but their after sales service is worse than mediocre. I used to be a fanboy.”

I think that just about sums it up!

I’m still tempted to contact the Trading Standards department at Milton Keynes Council – and maybe I will sue Apple for costs but, to be honest, my time is worth more than the £69 I paid for the replacement iPad and I’ve already spent several hours speaking to AppleCare, travelling back and forth to my local Apple Store, or hanging around waiting to be seen. Do I really need that hassle? No, I don’t, but there is a principle at stake here – the world’s largest company appears to be ignoring the rule of law – so maybe I should take this further. If I do, I’m sure you’ll read about it here…

Motoring Photography Technology

Hardware lineup for 2012

Last year I wrote a post about my “hardware lineup” – i.e. the tech I use almost every day so I thought I should really do the same for 2012.  Much of it’s still the same but there are some changes – it will be interesting to take a look in retrospect next year and see how my plans for 2012 have worked out. So, here’s the tech that I expect my life will revolve around this year.

Car: Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI Sport

My company car is due for replacement in the spring and I’ve ordered a Volkswagen Tiguan to drive for the next 3 years. I really like the Audi A4 Avant that I drive at the moment but it’s recently had a lot of money spent on it (new clutch and major service costing over £2,500 – thankfully not paid by me) and I’m not sure that a three-year-old car with 60,000 miles on the clock is  worth the money the lease company wants for me to take it on…

Due to price increases, another A4 with the same spec will cost me quite a lot more each month and, whilst the Tiguan is a little smaller, it’s also more practical (I looked at the Q3 too – but it’s “fugly”, overpriced and there is limited engine choice at the moment). With my growing family the addition of a towbar should allow me to take 4 bikes around on a carrier without scratching the car too.

Verdict who knows – it’s not been delivered yet!

Phones: Nokia Lumia 800 and Apple iPhone 3GS

Apple iPhone 3GSNokia Lumia 800I recently joined the 1.5% and jumped into the Windows Phone market. I like it – and want the platform to succeed – but really feel Microsoft has a long way to go. Thankfully I still have an iPhone 3GS provided by my employer (and my iPad) to fall back on when apps are not available or when the Lumia is just too infuriating…

It was a risk buying the Nokia Lumia but the hardware is lovely, the software will improve, and it was a major investment so, realistically, it’s likely to remain with me for the next 2 years! Meanwhile, I’m still hoping to get myself an iPhone 4 or 4S to replace the 3GS but the chances are best described as slim.

(Lumia) Verdict 7/10. Hold.
(iPhone) Verdict 3/10. Not mine to sell!

Tablet: Apple iPad 3G 64GB

Apple iPadNo change here – the iPad is my media tablet of choice and no-one else even comes close. I may be tempted by an Amazon Fire or the new (rumoured) baby iPad but at the time of writing this device is still great for occasional surfing, a bit of TV catchup, and social media on the move.  It’s also great for the kids to play games and catch up on vital episodes of childrens’ television programmes that they missed (using BBC iPlayer)!

Verdict 8/10. Hold.

Everyday PC: Fujitsu Lifebook S7220 (Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 2.2GHz, 4GB RAM, 250GB hard disk)

Fujitsu Lifebook S7220I’m still hoping for a BYOC scheme at work, but this PC is my main computing device. I’d love a ThinkPad, but the Lifebook is a perfectly capable, solid, well-built notebook PC, although I frequently find myself running out of memory with the number of tabs I have open in a typical browsing session!

When it comes up for replacement, I’ll see if I can blag something smaller (really need to be a grade more senior for that) and reduce the weight of my work-bag…

Verdict 6/10. Holding out for a BYOC scheme at work.

Netbook: Lenovo S10e (Intel Atom N270 1.6GHz, 2GB RAM, 160GB hard disk)

Lenovo IdeaPad S10Netbook, schmetbook. I hardly used this in 2011. I did install Ubuntu 11.04 on it and have a couple of blog posts to write before I use it to play with Windows 8. I bought the S10e for Windows 7 testing 3 years ago so it owes me nothing but the netbook form factor has been usurped by tablets and low-cost notebooks. My kids have one too but even they are frustrated by the small screen and tend to use my wife’s notebook PC instead

Verdict 2/10. Not worth selling, so keep for tech projects.

Digital Cameras: Nikon D700 and Coolpix P7100

Nikon D700Nikon P7100I still love my DSLR and the D700 will be with me for a while yet. Indeed, it’s more likely that I would buy some new lenses and a flashgun before I replace my camera body.

The P7100 joined me this year as a device to carry everywhere and it’s been pretty good, offering entry-level DSLR levels of control in a small package, although it’s not as responsive as I’d like.

(D700) Verdict 9/10. Hold.
(P7100) Verdict 7/10. Hold.

Photography PC: Apple MacBook MB062LL/B (Intel Core 2 Duo T7500 2.2GHz, 4GB RAM, 750GB hard disk)

Apple Macbook White (late 2007)This MacBook needs to last a while longer before I can justify its replacement but I did upgrade the hard disk in 2011 and it may get another upgrade this year. 4GB of RAM is starting to feel a bit light for big Photoshop jobs but new Macs are expensive. I’d better get saving for something new in 2013…

Verdict 5/10. Hold.

Media: Apple Mac Mini MA206LL/A (Intel Core Duo 1.66GHz, 2GB RAM, 120GB hard disk)

(+ iPad, Lumia 800, iPhone 3GS, various iPods, Altec Lansing iM7 iPod speakers)

Apple Mac MiniNo change here since last year – although both disks in one of my NASs failed and I need to re-rip my CDs for my music library (iTunes had already done a good job of mangling it). I still haven’t bought the music keyboard (maybe this year) but it’s lasting well as my multimedia PC for the office with Spotify, iPlayer, etc.

It may not be the most powerful of my PCs, but it’s more than up to this kind of work and it takes up almost no space at all.

Verdict 6/10. Hold.

Gaming: Microsoft Xbox 360 S 250GB with Kinect Sensor

Microsoft Xbox 360sI don’t play this as much as I should to make full use of it (although I am enjoying my latest purchase: Lego Pirates of the Caribbean). Hopefully the next few months will finally see iPlayer land on the Xbox at which point it will become a really useful media centre for the living room (it works with my aging SD TV).

Verdict 9/10. Hold.

Servers and Storage: Atom-based PC, 2x Netgear ReadyNAS Duo

My Dell PowerEdge 840 has been retired to save energy (although it could still be wheeled out for any virtual machine workloads to test infrastructure scenarios) and, as I already mentioned, one of my ReadyNASs has suffered a multiple disk failure (waiting for me to sort out some warranty replacement disks) but, once recovered, these machines will remain as the mainstay of my computing infrastructure. Cloud storage for my photos is still too expensive so I’m likely to add another NAS at a family member’s house to maintain an off-site backup.

Verdict 6/10. Hold.

Potential new toys: Nest learning thermostat, Romotive Robot, Raspberry Pi

These have taken my fancy and I’m seriously considering them all in 2012. Only time will tell what I buy (and when) but I’m sure you’ll hear about my exploits on the blog!

Technology

Making an “ordinary” O2 3G data SIM work in an iPad without a tariff change

The history of my various mobile telcommuncations contracts is a long one, so I’ll spare readers the details but after my recent customer service debacle with Three, I’ve cut them loose (they tried to offer me an iPad 2 for “free” to stay with them… the sort of “free” that involves a 2 year contract… no thanks…).

I planned to use an O2 SIM that was already activated for mobile data in my iPad so I cut it down to micro SIM size, using a cutter that I bought on the ‘net for a few pounds. After booting the iPad with the new SIM, it found the O2 network but told me that I didn’t have a data contract and gave me a number to call O2, and a reference to quote (the identifier for my SIM).

O2 told me that it would require a tariff change and that iPad data is different to mobile broadband. I’m sure they meant that it’s billed differently, rather than that it’s different in any other way (special Apple “iTCP/IP” or “iHTTPS”?) but Tim Biller (@Timbo_Baggins) suggested I look at the Access Point Name (APN) settings.

It took a while to find the right ones – googling for APN O2 iPad told me to change from ibrowse.o2.co.uk (username/password: browse/password) to idata.o2.co.uk (username/password: vertigo/password) but they didn’t work. I needed to think of this the other way around: my SIM works in a 3G dongle so I googled APN O2 dongle and found an extensive list of APNs for UK mobile network providers. Changing the APN in my iPad to mobile.o2.co.uk (username/password: web/web) did the trick, as tested by browsing the ‘net (albeit only GPRS where I live) with Wi-Fi turned off.

The advantage of this approach is that the same SIM now works in my iPad or in my dongle (using an adapter) allowing 3G data access from either device, on the same bill, but only one at a time (that’s fine).

Next step is to switch my phone over from O2 (£16.50 a month including 500MB data) to Giffgaff (£10 a month with unlimited data, same network…). I already have the SIM, just waiting to get Christmas out of the way before I try to transfer my phone number!

[Update 16 January 2012: Some time over the last few days, this stopped working for me. The SIM is still active and works in my 3G dongle, but I guess O2 have made some changes in the network that stop this simple APN change from working with an iPad - madness, as my iPad must place less load on the network than a dongle with a Windows PC, albeit more than a smartphone would...]

Technology

A workaround for iPad users/Three UK subscribers to access their mobile broadband bills on another device

Three UK (3) has just been added to my list of mobile operators who haven’t got a clue about customer service.

For the last few months I’ve been using Three’s mobile broadband service on my iPad. The in-store service when I joined the network was pretty lousy but today that got a whole lot worse. I needed to store a copy of my bills and found that the My 3 portal was only available to me over Three’s 3G network from my iPad. Access from a PC, or over Wi-Fi needed a password. And resetting that password needed the ability to receive SMS, a capability that my iPad does not have…

So I called Three. Actually, I rang several numbers for Three, trying to avoid paying for the call (I can’t use their free number because I don’t have a phone on their network…) and I spoke to someone who understood the issue but couldn’t help because they were in the mobile dongle department. He transferred me to someone in the iPad team (approx. 10 minute wait…) who confirmed I could only access my bills on my iPad and when I asked how I could download them he suggested either dragging and dropping them to my email (what?!). At this point, I think he was well off his script and just making things up but he asked me if I have an iPhone 4S. I don’t, so he suggested going into store, putting my SIM into the store’s iPhone 4S, and getting the password sent by SMS to it…

[Thinking about the situation as I write this post, I don't have an iPhone 4S but I do  have another phone that can take a micro SIM... but Three asked if I had an iPhone 4S]

My issues here are: having to pay to speak to a customer service agent and being kept on hold for a while; getting poor advice from the agent (unless Three can tell me how to drag and drop my bill from their portal to my email, on an iPad); and not getting an answer to my problem. Visiting a store is simply not worth the effort (20-odd mile drive, pay for parking, an hour of my time) – but could well lose Three a customer.

I did find a workaround though, for anyone who has Dropbox installed on their iPad…

  1. Disconnect from any Wi-Fi networks and open the My 3 portal on the iPad (My 3 loads in Safari without asking for credentials if you are connected to the Three network with a 3G connection).
  2. Navigate to Recent Bills and press/hold the PDF icon to open a bill.
  3. Once loaded, open the PDF in Dropbox – it will be saved as a file called viewInvoice.nocache, which is a PDF file, but without the correct file extension.
  4. Rename viewInvoice.nocache to add a .PDF file extension and open it as normal on any device you like.

Interestingly, O2 (whose incompetence caused me to switch my mobile broadband to Three in the first place, but who did later take steps to address the issue) still send me an email every month to say that my mobile broadband payment has failed… that suggests my account is still live… maybe with 5GB of data still loaded… perhaps I should search for that micro SIM and try it again…

Technology

Finding the SIM serial number for my iPad, without taking the SIM out

Earlier this afternoon, I was searching for my iPad’s cellular data number (CDN) and Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) serial number (I needed the last 6 digits for a password reset on my carrier’s billing portal).   The cellular data number is fairly straightforward (looking in the About screen in the General Settings) but the SIM is a little less so. My carrier (Three) advises taking the SIM out and physically inspecting it but I thought there had to be a way to do this in software…

…it turns out that there is: the SIM serial number is also known as the Integrated Circuit Card ID (ICCID) and Apple support article HT4061 details several ways to find this information, along with the device serial number, Universal Device Identifier (UDID), International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) and CDN.

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