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…

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.

Microsoft (finally) gets its mobility act together – but cuts loose early adopters of the Windows Phone OS

Last night, Microsoft announced plans for the next version of its Windows Phone operating system – Windows Phone 8. In many ways it was a great announcement. Windows smartphones will have a “common core” with desktop Windows. The Windows ecosystem is converging, maybe a little late, but I said Windows 8 could be a turning point for Microsoft and Windows Phone seems to be a part of that.

Tom Warren had a great post up almost immediately at the Verge on what what was announced for Windows Phone 8. But Tom also highlighted, as did Simon Bisson at ZDNet, that there was a sting in the tail. A very big sting. And its target is the very people who adopted Windows Phone 7 – arguably the community that Microsoft needs in order to make Windows Phone 8 a success.

Current generation Windows Phone (Mango) devices will not be upgradable to Windows Phone 8 (Apollo).

There will be an update for Windows Phone 7, taking it to 7.8 (extending Microsoft’s marketing abuse of version numbers) but it’s little more than a few cosmetic changes. Windows Phone 7 apps will run on Windows Phone 8 but not vice versa (exceptions being those that are not compiled to take advantage of new Windows Phone 8 functionality, or Siverlight apps for Windows Phone, themselves sidelined for XAML/C#). Given that we’re starting out from a fairly limited pool of apps, that pool is likely to get smaller as apps are updated; and it pretty much kills the current Windows Phone market stone dead.

I switched to Windows Phone because I thought it was fresh, different, and because Microsoft positioned it as the future of their smartphone story. The big reset happened when Windows Mobile was killed off two years ago in favour of Windows Phone. I thought (still do think) that iOS has become stale, its UI is tired and has become clunky in places (in fairness, so is Windows Phone at times) but at least the aging iPhone 3GS that my employer provides runs the latest version of iOS. Meanwhile, Android is fragmented and has its own problems around security and an incoherent tablet story (don’t write it off just yet though). I didn’t buy an HTC HD2 because I knew that Windows Mobile 6.5 devices wouldn’t be upgradable to Windows Phone 7 (that much was already known long before Windows 7 appeared). Instead, I waited for Nokia to release some (semi-) decent hardware for Windows Phone and, just 7 months later, they made it obsolete – and I simply don’t buy that they were unaware of Microsoft’s roadmap for Windows Phone. I know that technology adoption is a risky business but I expect my device to at least last as long as a standard mobile phone contract (2 years) and my Lumia 800 has a limited future ahead of it.

So my few months old Nokia Lumia 800 is EOL'ed in a few months. Gee thanks Microsoft.
@jonhoneyball
Jon Honeyball
Several people making the very valid point that Microsoft is rewarding its early adopters by cutting them adrift. Goodwill evaporates.
@bazzacollins
Barry Collins

Some say that users will always complain: either that there’s no legacy support; or that legacy support is bloating the OS – but a published roadmap that allows consumers to make informed choices (together with N-1 version support) should really be the minimum acceptable standard.

Microsoft owned the roadmap. Microsoft controlled the reference architecture. Microsoft prevented OEMs from increasing the hardware capabilities of Windows Phone devices (screen resolution, adding multiple cores, etc.) and now Microsoft is preventing even recent hardware from running its latest phone OS. In short, Microsoft is screwing its early adopters.

I really do hope that all those consumers that Microsoft and Nokia have been (knowingly) marketing dead-end Lumia devices too of late have an opportunity to force support for Windows Phone 7-class hardware to continue until Windows 9 comes along (giving users 2-3 years of current device support). Unfortunately, I don’t think that will happen (unless there are some very smart lawyers involved).

One thing’s for sure. This Windows Phone user will be thinking very, very carefully before committing to any future mobile device purchases running Windows. Once bitten, twice shy.

@ +1 And brand trust will become more important as more and more personal stuff is inside your phone
@caro_milanesi
carolina milanesi

Trying to tether the Nokia Lumia 800

Since my company-supplied SIM stopped working in my iPad (it’s not blocked – it works in a 3G dongle, just not in the iPad…) I’ve been looking at other solutions. Before we switched from Vodafone to O2, I had a fantastic Wi-Fi router but the software needs a Vodafone SIM so that’s not working for me any more.  Another option is to use my smartphone as a modem: my company-supplied iPhone does not have the personal hotspot functionality enabled (and it’s not jailbroken either), so that leaves my personal Nokia Lumia 800; except that Internet sharing isn’t available on that device…

I spent a bit of time yesterday evening looking into this and, even though I was ultimately unsuccessful, I thought I’d share my research, in case it comes in useful later:

  • If you’re thinking of using the Lumia 800 as a Bluetooth modem, you’re out of luck.  According to Nokia’s device specifications the supported Bluetooth profiles are A2DP 1.2, AVCTP 1.0, AVDTP 1.0, AVRCP 1.0, AVRCP 1.3, GAVDP 1.2, HFP 1.5, HSP 1.1, PBAP 1.0, RFCOMM 1.0, and SPP 1.0. It’s also missing FTP, OPP and GEOP so file/contact transfers are out of the question too…
  • Nokia Lumia 800 driver installation fails on Windows 7For a cable-based solution, there is a method of tethering LG and Samsung phones that involves enabling diagnostics mode and switching into serial mode (more information at ilaptopphone.com, mywpstory.com and mobilitydigest.com). I used the same method to switch the Lumia into serial mode (requires a reboot and disables Zune sync, until you switch it back again) but Windows was unable to find any drivers.
  • Windows Phone connection not shared errorInternet Sharing in Windows Phone settingsInternet sharing tile on Windows Phone, enabled with Supreme ShortcutsThe Supreme Shortcuts app was another route I tried – it can be used (on an unlocked phone) to enable an Internet Sharing icon for a Settings option that’s hidden on the Lumia 800. Sadly, turning it on results in a dialogue that says “Internet sharing isn’t currently available” – I suspect I might be able to do something in the registry, if only there was an interop unlock available for the Lumia 800, and there isn’t at the time of writing…

There is a glimmer of hope though. Some reports indicate that Nokia will enable tethering in a future update (I believe the Lumia 900 has this feature) but there is no date given yet (just some time in 2012).  I do hope it comes soon though – the Lumia 800 is a great handset but it’s held back by far too many artificial software limitations…

Gorilla Glass may be tough – but that doesn’t mean your screen won’t scratch

When I bought my a new mobile phone last month, I made a conscious decision to keep it in the case it was supplied with, and not to use a screen protector. Why? Because it has Corning Gorilla Glass, which is described by its manufacturer as follows:

“Gorilla Glass features exceptional damage resistance to the scratches, drops, and bumps of everyday use. It’s cool to the touch, and cleans easily – making it the perfect solution for sleek, seamless designs. And it’s sensitive enough to enable today’s most sophisticated touch applications.”

So, imagine my horror when, despite having been incredibly careful about not placing my phone in the same pocket as keys, money, etc. I spotted a small (about 3mm) scratch on the display of my two-week old phone.

I started to research this and found that, whilst GorillaGlass is practically shatterproof, above the glass are the touchscreen electronics and then another coating – and that’s what’s scratched (not the glass itself). I’ve tried to polish it out with Displex Touch Screen polish (which might have had some effect, but it’s still visible – incidentally there is a similar product for non-touch screens – the one you need is in a yellow tube).

I also tried to buy a screen protector for the Lumia 800 but, annoyingly, despite claiming that they were:

“for Nokia Lumia 800”

and that:

“Our Vikuiti screen protectors are cut by laser in Germany on state-of-the-art machinery. Exact tailoring to forms and excellent border adhesion are guaranteed”

I found that the 3M Vikuiti covers I ordered did not cover the entire screen area – and others have made the same complaint for the official Nokia covers. I contacted the manufacturer and retailer (Bedifol GmbH), who said:

“because of the curvature display there is no other crop for this device possible”

So much for a precision cut with state-of-the-art German machinery. I’ll be sending that back for a refund.

I’m sure I can protect the screen with something like an Invisible Shield but I have that stuff on one of my iPod and its a) not invisible and b) has a strange texture.  I think I’ll stick with naked glass and hope for the best.  After all that works for my iPad (although the case I use for that covers the screen). I’ve also seen an anecdotal report of using car polishing compounds to remove scratches but that sounds a little risky to me…

So why bother with this post? Well, because it might serve as a lesson to others who, like me, assume that a scratchproof glass means a scratchproof touchscreen – and unfortunately that’s just not the same thing!

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!

Windows Phone 7.5 on a Nokia Lumia 800, one week in

The number of Windows Phone-related posts on this blog recently is a pretty big clue that I have joined the 1.5%.

After a year or so of waiting for the platform to go somewhere, I was finally seduced by some rather nice hardware in the shape of a Nokia Lumia 800, inspired in no small part by Tim Anderson’s review of Nokia’s flagship Windows handset.

The Lumia 800 is slightly more expensive than I would like, but I still managed to get it contract-free for just under £400 (and I can’t get an iPhone 4S for that money, much as I’d like to for my wife…).

So, what’s it like? Well, before I answer that, I should explain how I got to this point:

  • I’m a heavy Apple user (two Macs, a succession of iPods, iPhones and an iPad) but I’m not religious about it. If anything, the evangelical approach that Apple fans tend to exhibit turns me off (I know that Apple devices have their faults too) and, frankly, after 4 or so years, I’m bored of iPhones (although I still use a 3GS at work, and my iPad is my social media triage/e-mail catch-up/media on the move device of choice).  I think iOS has become stale – generations of iterative updates have confused the interface in places and it’s in desperate need of an overhaul.
  • I’ve considered Android smartphones but I’m confused by the plethora of devices and operating system versions that may or may not be available for a given device and, frankly, more than a little alarmed by the lax security in the Google Android Market.
  • Blackberry is on a fast track to no-where: as far as I can tell they are in the middle of a transition between two operating systems (Blackberry OS and QNX); their tablet was a complete failure; and the company is now worth less than Apple’s App Store (just the App Store, a small part of Apple’s business).
  • Then there’s Windows Phone, which offers something different. A really innovative user interface, designed around the things we do with our phones; not about the device but about the data.  Except that no-one (well, nearly no-one) is buying it. The channel wasn’t ready (or sufficiently incentivised) and Microsoft has a huge hill to climb but they simply can’t afford not to have a mobile platform. I just hope they don’t try and kill it next year to put Windows 8 onto phone hardware. And I hope that the tie-up with Nokia helps to reverse the platform’s fortunes…
If you want an objective review of the phone and it’s operating system then check out the one that Tim Anderson wrote. Aside from the comments on screen capture (I managed to get around that with a third party unlock – although that option wouldn’t have been available when Tim wrote his review), there’s little there that I disagree with. Meanwhile, Charles Arthur goes into a lot of detail on Windows Phone in his review of the HTC Titan – and he’s not entirely complementary (although he is probably fair). [Mary Branscombe also has a review of the operating system in general, not on any particular device – although TechRadar spreads it over 8 pages so some might just want the verdict.] One thing’s for sure, it’s not for everyone. Maybe Microsoft can sort out some of the usability issues in the next release – after all, it’s always the third version that’s a success, right?
So it’s a good phone with a bad OS then? Well, no, not exactly. I still really like it but here are a some of the comments I have:
  • Hardware:
    • Nokia’s Lumia 800 unbox experience is as good as for the Apple iPhone. In fact, it’s better: Nokia includes a protective case for the phone and there is no need to connect to a PC to activate the handset. Unfortunately it did tell me that I needed to connect to a computer to install an update – I found the Windows Phone Connector for Mac to be horribly buggy (locking up the computer mid-update, at which point I risked bricking the phone by restarting everything…) and I resorted to installing the Zune software on a Windows PC.
    • The handset is attractive and well-made. It feels solid, but not too heavy (just 2g more than the iPhone 4S) and the 3.7″ AMOLED screen features Corning GorillaGlass, so I don’t use any screen protection. I’d like to have seen NFC and a multi-core CPU in the Nokia Lumia 800 specifications but I guess those features will come in a new handset next year.
    • The Lumia 800 takes a micro SIM, which means you might need to work with your mobile operator to get a replacement (I dropped into an O2 store and, although they said it could take up to 24 hours for the SIM swap to take place, it was done in a few minutes) – or you can cut down a regular SIM (as I will be doing later this week when my SIM cutter arrives…).
    • Charging is via a micro-USB cable (supplied in-box, with a mains adapter) but there is a flimsy cover to flip up and expose the socket. I can see that getting broken off and it’s a bit of an annoyance (although arguably it improves the aesthetic appeal of the phone). The port is also recessed which means that not all of my micro-USB cables will work with it. This means I take the Nokia-supplied one everywhere with me (can’t leave one at home, one in the office, etc.).
    • The supplied headset is much better quality than Apple’s stock earbuds as supplied with iPhones – and the earpieces stay in place when I’m running, which is a bonus. I do wish there was a volume control on the headset though, rather than just a play/pause button.
    • Based on my use of the Runkeeper app, GPS seems more accurate than on my iPhone (although the app itself is not as good as the iOS version).
    • Battery life is not fantastic either but it does get me through the day and seems to have improved since Nokia released a firmware update last week – I understand there will be further improvements in January (although I’m not the only one experiencing lock-ups after the phone goes into low-power mode).
    • There’s a built-in hardware diagnostic tool if you dial ##634# – although this tool told me that my battery was 65535% charged… so there are clearly some issues (Simon Bisson tells me that’s a common programming error)!
  • Operating system:
    • It takes a while to get used to the user interface but it does seem to work once you have got your head around it. Charles Arthur is correct about a lack of “information density” and I can’t disagree with his usability gripes either, although I haven’t found them to be a major issue.
    • Charles’ review also told me how to switch between running apps (press and hold the back button); how to display signal strength and battery status (top the top of the screen). After over a week of using the phone I hadn’t found these so, for all it’s good looks, the Windows Phone operating system is not as intuitive as it might be.
    • I wasn’t sure which version I was running – was this 7.5 or 7.1? It turns out that Windows Phone 7.5 (codenamed Mango) is a marketing name and the internal version is 7.1. This is madness, but not the first time Microsoft has let this happen (Windows 7 is Windows 6.1 – or Windows Vista R2 if you look at it another way!)
    • I love the live tiles, and that there is a QR code reader, music and voice seach built into the Bing search app (although Microsoft TellMe is not a match for Apple/Nuance Siri, yet). Local Scout is potentially useful too (although no substitute for real local knowledge).
    • Integration with Office 365 and Xbox Live is strong – which caters for my email and gaming (not that I’m much of a gamer) – and also meant that I had the phone working with my email (and other social media) pretty quickly.
    • The ability to link accounts in the People Hub is a great feature too, auto-suggesting potential links (like the same person on LinkedIn and Twitter) as well as letting me put husband and wife contacts together. Unfortunately the groups facility is severely handicapped, with a maximum of 20 contacts per group (and when you follow hundreds of people on Twitter, as I do, I’d like to be able to use groups to control my contact list).
    • Both the People hub and the applications list could become difficult to navigate as they grow in length but once the reach a certain size (I think, the behaviour certainly seemed to change after I’d had the device a few days) it become possible to click on a section heading (one per letter of the alphabet) and jump to another.
    • Getting media onto the device involves syncing with Zune (or iTunes, via the Windows Phone Connector for Mac), which is a slight annoyance as I’d like to download podcasts directly but the availability of a Spotify app (and the Nokia Mix app provided on the Lumia – more on the Nokia apps later) mean that there is plenty of music available to me when mobile.
    • Highlighting text is difficult, at best, with the cursor appearing underneath my finger.
    • The email signature can’t include HTML links (only plain text, which might then get converted to a link – but that depends on the link and generally doesn’t include phone numbers or @twitterhandle).
    • Screen capture requires an unlock, and installing a third party application that’s not in the marketplace.
  • Third-party apps:
    • The Windows Phone Marketplace is increasing in size but is no-where near Apple (or Android) in terms of app numbers but it does at least support trial purchases (something that Apple really should have implemented in its App Store by now). It’s also got far too many “trash” apps (e.g. simulating a blue screen of death). Some of my most common smartphone apps are there (Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Flickr, Amazon Kindle, Shazam, TV Guide, Spotify, Runkeeper) as well as Adobe Reader, Microsoft Lync, Microsoft Skydrive but no Dropbox, LinkedIn, etc. Also none of the apps I use for car parking are available for Windows Phone (although ParkMobile have a Windows Phone version of their app in development). Only time will tell if developers will start producing Windows Phone variants of applications in any great numbers but with limited budgets, focusing on iOS and Android makes sense given Windows Phone’s relatively low market share.
    • One smart feature is the ability to browse the Marketplace on a PC and then send an app to the phone (a bit like buying Kindle books from Amazon) but it comes over the mobile network (not Wi-Fi), which might be problematic if you live in a GPRS-only area, as I do!
    • Nokia has also put some of its apps on the Lumia 800 – I haven’t used them all, but Nokia Drive did a decent job of navigating its way to my hotel in Lincoln earlier this month and will come in handy when we drive to France next year (the maps and voices seem to be free of charge – although my data usage won’t be). Unfortunately that means I have two maps systems (Nokia and Bing) and two music systems (Nokia and Zune) – hopefully they will be more closely integrated in future.
In summary, great hardware (aside from battery life) but the operating system is still a little rough around the edges. In addition, the quantity (but more importantly, the quality) of available apps needs to increase. After that, one final tweet from Tim sums up the situation for me:
Windows Phone 7 #Mango feels like an under-populated city. It will be great if/when the people arrive.
@timanderson
Tim Anderson
[Update 22 December 2011: Added link to @marypcb‘s TechRadar article]

The day I thought my Nokia Lumia 800 had died…

Earlier today I noticed that my week-old Nokia Lumia 800 was switched off. I hadn’t charged it overnight and it had quite possibly run out of power, so I plugged it into the mains charger.

An hour later, it was still dead, and refusing to turn on.

First I panicked. Then I swore. Then I went to Google and found a Nokia support discussion forum post that advised pressing the volume down, power and camera buttons together to reset the phone… I guess that’s the ctrl-alt-del or sleep/wake-home of the Windows Phone world and it seemed to do the trick (at the time I had the phone connected to a PC).

Even though it showed a battery dead display (picture of a battery with a small amount of red inside it) when it turned on, it seems that the phone hadn’t completely run out of juice (or, if it had, then it was charging when it was plugged into the mains charger but needed a reset to take it out of a deep sleep) as it was at 70% when I disconnected it 10-15 minutes later.

I’ll be keeping an eye on this but hopefully it’s not a sign of impending battery issues.

[Update 31 January 2012: Be careful – volume down, power and camera is a hard reset and can result in lost data. Today, despite charging overnight, all night, and being fine when I went to bed, the Lumia was dead this morning. I used a soft reset instead (both volume buttons and power) to bring it back to life. There are more details, and diagrams, in this post at UK Mobile Review].