Weblog on the Internet and public policy, journalism, virtual community, and more from David Brake, a Canadian academic, consultant and journalist

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30 October 2008
Filed under:Gadgets,Mobile phone and PDA,Wireless at11:15 am

Here in the UK the iPod Touch starts at £169. The iPhone, which has a couple more features and makes phone calls is “free” but to get that deal you have to pay £45 or more a month to the  o2 network (which has exclusive access). I was hoping that the “google phone” might change things – after all, Google charges nothing for the operating system and I thought they might want to price aggressively to challenge Apple in the market but no – the new G1 is also only available on one network and only on tariffs of £40 a month or more.

Is it really still so expensive to build smart phones? I just want something which would cost like an iPod Touch and be available with a £10 a month tariff. The new Skypephone looks OK but I remember the previous model’s PC syncing was crap and its mac syncing was non-existent (see my earlier negative experiences with 3 and the original Skypephone). Guess I’ll have to keep waiting a while longer to replace my increasingly embarassing five year old T610. Unless one of you has any ideas?

14 October 2008
Filed under:Gadgets at10:56 am

A Macbook with accelerated graphics (ie a game-able notebook at a just-about-reasonable price). Now all I have to do is figure out how to convince my budget-holder that I need to replace my iBook G4…

24 September 2008

I was intrigued when I heard about Offbeat Guides – a service that lets you “build your own travel guide”. A fresh, tech-enabled stab at tourist information. My vision was getting the best info from a variety of existing travel guides mashed up with info pulled from the net, having it available on my iPod Touch or any other PDA or phone. Turns out
a) The service is paper or PDF only (at least to begin with).
b) None of the existing commercial guidebooks’ text is available. Instead , “we pull our information from dozens of locations and we’re continuing to add more. Sources include Wikitravel, Wikipedia, Yahoo Finance, AccuWeather, Google Maps, and Eventful”. And the results are predictably rather weak and dull (at least when I made myself a guide to London). I suppose there may be a market willing to pay $10 for a PDF that brings together web information that would take an hour or so of of copying and pasting to compile, but I was hoping for something a little more attractive. If it were free and ad supported I might consider it…

PS The service is in closed beta at the moment – you can request a code to try it though and once you are in they’re giving people two free guides to try out – so don’t take my word for it!

29 May 2008

Pat Miller explains how to surf the web, word process, email, do instant messaging and even make Internet phone calls all with a Nintendo DS.

Mind you, at least in the UK at £79 the DS is actually more expensive than an XO (the “one laptop per child“) would be (if we could buy one), and of course it lacks a keyboard. But doing all that on something that was designed to play simple games would certainly be good for one’s geek cred.

28 May 2008
Filed under:Gadgets at11:58 am

I’ve been grinding away at my thesis and particularly in the last few weeks I have found that I get the best ideas immediately after I wake up, usually while I am in the shower. I’m obviously not alone, because someone is marketing a shower whiteboard (though the online store that sold it seems not to work any more).

23 May 2008

This artwork/prank/pr stunt is fascinating. We take the fantastically complex technology involved in webcam chat for granted, but connect two points by fibre optic cable (I’m assuming that’s how this works!) and then let people look down the “telectroscope” using the naked eye and suddenly the experience becomes magical again…

Update: I just found that CNN has de-mystified the device – it’s actually a ‘conventional’ pair of very high definition webcams.

12 May 2008

The default notes app for the iPhone, Notes, does not get backed up and doesn’t allow you to enter notes on your desktop and sync them across. There are a couple of free apps that sort this out (RemoteNote or iphonenotes) but require you to “jailbreak” your device (which I have not done just in case this voids the warranty or breaks the device). I was using Noter until recently but found it a little clumsy and then discovered the developer was going to start charging a monthly fee to use their apps. No thanks! Fortunately, the User Interface Design blog features an extended discussion of this issue and points out two work-arounds – neither is ideal but creating dummy contacts containing my todos in the notes field will do until Apple sorts the problem out properly…

30 March 2008
Filed under:Gadgets,Mobile phone and PDA at12:49 pm

Don’t let three’s ingenious blog marketing campaign for the Skypephone fool you – this bright-sounding idea is not ready for prime time. I won’t repeat myself about the shortcomings of the phone I ran across in the first few days of use – if you want to know more read my previous post. Suffice it to say that I now understand why having a branded phone is important. Amoi, which built the phone, knew how to fit in attractive hardware features and hit a pricepoint but not how to integrate the phone to PCs properly or design a good UI – that’s where larger phone manufacturers have the edge. And since three’s offerings seem aimed squarely at Internet-using, techie users like myself, this is an important issue.

But the main reason I am going to stay away from three, attractive as its PAYG feature package appears to be, is that their customer service is dire. In brief, days after purchase I discovered I had to remove the SIM card from the phone in order to register online. When I did so, a tiny metal stud on the phone’s circuit board broke and unfortunately rendered the phone completely dead. It took me several calls (more than an hour) and two mis-handled courier pickups to send the phone to be repaired and a few days later the phone was returned to me with a note saying because it was damaged I would have to claim it on my insurance (without indicating what it would cost). I argued that if it broke that easily in removing a SIM card it was bad workmanship not user damage but the customer service person in India somewhere was adamant there was nothing to be done. I only had the phone for three days!

True, the phone is apparently a write-off (something that wasn’t indicated on the returns notice) but since this was not my own fault (it’s in mint condition except for the damage to the circuit board) and since I and my wife would have been potentially customers for several years to come you would have thought the company could have given me the benefit of the doubt! It’s not that I can’t afford to pay another £50 and get a replacement – it’s the principle, and the fact that the poorly organized and rigid way they’ve dealt with me so far bodes ill for the future.

I was surprised that when I asked around none of my tech journalist friends appeared to have signed up with three – I now suspect I know why.

As an aside I am also surprised that none of the reviews I read of the Skypephone online turned up any of the user interface or software sync problems – they just concentrated on the phone’s specifications (which you can get off the company’s website anyway).

Update: Having spoken to Three I requested that they email me their reply so I would have it on file. And they have done so… a month after my original query.

14 March 2008
Filed under:Gadgets,Mobile phone and PDA at3:11 pm

I gave our household a technological upgrade and it has been a rather frustrating experience. First I bought a three Skypephone then an iPod Touch. A number of the weaknesses of the Touch I was aware of – at least on the hardware side. No Bluetooth, no built-in ability to edit rich text documents, no microphone (though one has been hacked onto it). I knew less about the weaknesses of the Skypephone prior to purchase. Indeed, both from a hardware and a network proposition perspective it seemed a very attractive proposition. But in both cases I have run into what seems to me an extraordinarily long list of what seem to me to be entirely un-necessary and irritating problems.

In no particular order:

3 Skypephone

  • 3 Customer service is lousy – it takes 20 minutes to half an hour on the phone to sort anything out, things that are sorted out don’t stay sorted etc. Of course that may just be the normal things-not-working that one can expect from any company these days…
  • If you are a pay as you go customer and go abroad to Austria, Hong Kong, Ireland or Italy then it’s as if you were at home – cool! But on pay as you go their international roaming is very patchy. I could understand their not covering most of Eastern Europe but they don’t cover Canada or Scandinavia or even Switzerland! And it appears you can’t use their Internet services like MSN Messenger or Skype except in the 5 “home” countries – even at £3/Mb MSN messaging would probably be cheaper than texting between two Skypephones I am guessing
  • The Skypephone has a button on the side to activate the camera, but it doesn’t seem to over-ride whatever application you are in at the moment. So to take a picture you first have to use the task switcher to switch to the “idle” start screen then push the button.
  • You can email a picture from the phone but you can’t skype it to someone.
  • The PC ‘syncing’ software doesn’t sync with Outlook – you have to import and export. As far as I can tell you even have to import/export Outlook events individually!
  • At least there is PC sync software – the Skypephone is not supported by Apple’s iSync at all.

As for the iPod Touch I thought originally “OK its functionality is limited at the moment but what it does do it will do well with Apple’s customary attention to UI detail.” Er… not really. Particularly note the first two inexcusable oddities:

  • You can’t copy and paste?!
  • The touch’s version of iCal doesn’t support todos so you can’t sync todos from your Mac’s calendar
  • There’s no way to create, edit and sync rich text documents. In the January software update Apple added a “notes” application but a) it isn’t rich text and b) it doesn’t create a file you can read (or paste into) on the Mac – the only way to get it onto your Mac is to email it to yourself
  • The only way to read PDFs is to email them to your Touch.
  • The Touch has no bluetooth

I had rather hoped that for a fairly modest expenditure these new gadgets would help ease the transition into my 43rd year but all these hassles have rather ruined the fun! At least the Apple iPhone/Touch’s fanbase among early adopters encourages me to think some of these flaws might be addressed in the coming months…

25 February 2008
Filed under:Gadgets,Mobile phone and PDA at5:40 pm

I’m thinking of signing up for their Skypephone service.
1) I would be interested in hearing people’s experiences with 3 in general and (if possible) with the Skypephone in particular.
2) If you are a 3 contract user use this form to “recommend a friend”. Then let me know you’ve done this via comments and I’ll contact you and give you my email address and that of my wife to use as “friends” if we decide to go ahead and buy. You get £60, we get £60 and 3 gets two more customers.
3) If you are reading this and work at 3mobilebuzz or know someone who does, could you ask them to get in touch and send me a trial phone or two? If I have to try out the Skypephone the old-fashioned way (buying one) I might post a short bit about my experiences (and of course I might decide to stick with my existing phone). If 3 are good enough to send me the phone I will keep up my end of the deal and write something substantial about my experiences with it (though as you’d expect I won’t be swayed one way or another in my evaluation by their generosity).

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