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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23 November 2008

Evernote doesn’t work nearly as well offline as I had hoped – am sticking with it for the moment out of sheer cussedness but it’s less convenient than my old solution. The iPod Touch update that adds podcast downloading wirelessly which I was also looking forward to doesn’t let you automatically add new podcasts you are subscribed to – it only lets you subscribe to new ones or add podcasts manually (and then only if you already have at least one file downloaded for that podcast). The Touch doesn’t have a built in password protection option for files – how dumb is that? (I’m trying out SplashID Lite as a data store for starters). And the new S2 Skypephone which I am thinking of getting as a cheaper alternative to the Nokia 6220 is all very well but as far as I can tell there’s still no way to sync it with one’s address book using my Mac’s iSync (and my memory of the PC syncing software available with the original Skypephone is that it was dire).


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?

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…

29 February 2008
Filed under:Mobile phone and PDA,Personal at12:20 pm

tape player
I’ve lost my lovely iPod Nano and can’t find the MP3 player/radio/USB stick I had as a backup either. My phone is so old it doesn’t have an MP3 player in it and I can’t even find my old portable CD player, so I am back to using gasp! a tape player. It felt really ‘old school’ to be putting a tape into a device to listen to music. The upside is that I have stuff on tape I haven’t transferred to anything else and thus haven’t listened to for ages…

And if I tire of tape I can always dig up my minidisc player. But I am hoping that once we have established the iPod is definitely not somewhere around the house (and since my birthday is coming up!) I can justify getting an iPod Touch. The new Skypephone I also hope to get has an MP3 player of course, but now that I have all my playlists and podcasts in iTunes I am kinda trapped by Apple’s ease of use goodness…

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).