Tower Block

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I went to see this film on Sunday and it was not what I expected. It’s about a group of tower block residents who are in the process of being rehomed because the tower block is soon to be demolished.

The film starts with a brutal (and I mean brutal) murder of a teenager by 2 other teenagers. From there we start to get to know some of the residents – some are decent people, others intent on intimidation and violence. All of a sudden someone’s head explodes, and from there the residents learn that there is someone outside with a sniper rifle who is intent on seeing them all dead. From there we learn more about the characters, possible motivations of the killer, and their attempts to escape.

Some of the characters seemed a bit stereotyped, and the whole premise is a bit far-fetched. Even so, it was an enjoyable film that had me hooked, and I would definitely recommend it.

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Review: Apple Smart Cover for iPad

Despite my earlier post there are times when it's wise to put a case on your tablet. On the beach for example. Suncream and iPads really don't mix, and putting an unprotected device into a bag with suncream WILL end in disaster (I know from experience). So I thought I would try Apple's Smart Case, the version of the smart cover that fully covers the whole device. It's not cheap, but being an Apple product you generally get top quality goods, it can also be engraved at no extra charge.

Upon receiving the case I was mightily disappointed. For a start, it feels very cheap. It's not very sturdy, with the Smart Cover you can stand the iPad up and use it as a picture frame, or just watch a film. The Smart Case apparently supports this, but the iPad seems very precarious when in this position, any sight nudge of the table would send the iPad crashing forward to the floor. The Smart Case also adds an enormous bezel around the screen, making the iPad's screen seem small. It also seems to trap a lot of dust on the screen and doesn't work as a screen wipe when you close and open it as the cover does. Talking of opening it, it's not obvious which side you open it from, and when you have finally worked that out you will need long nails to open the magnetic case.

On the plus side it does protect the iPad well, even the back. However I can't recommend this product for day to day use, and seeing how bad it is, it seems a bit much to she'll out for occasional trips out to places such as the seaside. I'm not sure what happened at Apple, it's certainly not to their usual standards (but it's still at their usual prices). I have now gone back to using a Smart Cover and it's like I have a band new iPad 🙂

 

How to make your Kindle work with a BT Home Hub 3

If you search around for WiFi connection problems relating to the Kindle, you’ll soon discover that Amazon seem to have played a bit fast and loose with the WiFi specification and problems with the Kindle are rife.

It was no surprise to me then that when I switched to BT ADSL that both my Kindle 3 and my Dad’s Kindle 4 wouldn’t connect to the Home Hub 3 router. I counted 11 other devices in the house which connected without any trouble; laptops, iPods, Xboxes and phones of different makes – so I knew the problem was with the Kindle. After not getting much help from Amazon (for what its worth, their support staff answer the phone quickly, and were pleasant to deal with) I decided I would just need to go through a trial and error process myself. This was time consuming, because the problem only seemed to manifest itself once the Kindle had put the WiFi radio to sleep, so after making a change to the router’s configuration and reconnecting the Kindle, it would always work, and only after 30 minutes or so when the Kindle failed to connect would I know if there was still a problem.

Anyway, the solution for me was to disable mixed WPA and WPA2 encryption, and set the router to use only WPA2. Contrary to other Internet sites, changing the wireless channel or turning off ‘N’ mode made no difference to me. This fixed worked on my Kindle 3 3G and the new Kindle 4 WiFi. All my other devices still connect fine (event a first generation iPod Touch) so not having the original WPA specification in use doesn’t seem to have any drawbacks.

I hope this is of use to someone – let me know in the comments if you’ve had the same problem.

Samsung copying Apple?

There’s been a lot reported in the news lately about Apple and Samsung battling it out in court to stop each other from selling various products.

I broke my Acer laptop at the weekend (well, I put it in the boot of my car inside a laptop bag, and afterwards the screen stopped working, and I am a good driver I promise!) so I decided I needed a new laptop since the laptop was so cheap anyway the cost of a new screen plus the likelihood of it happening again just doesn’t justify a repair –and a PC is for me at the heart of all things digital that I do. I didn’t want to spend stupid money on a laptop (I would love a MacBook Air, but at £1000 for one with a decent spec, I’ll pass) so I found a Samsung with an i5 and 4GB of RAM for a decent price.

Clearly while Samsung may have taken inspiration from some of Apple’s design (or may not have depending on who’s argument you’re listening to) they certainly haven’t noticed that Apple are not just about shiny products but about the overall user experience. Unboxing and switching on an iPad for the first time is enjoyable, like getting in a brand new car for the first time – doing this for my Samsung laptop was all but enjoyable.The first screen I was greeted with was some partitioning software! Do Samsung really think the average user cares how their partitions are setup? Even I don’t and I’m a self confessed geek.

After finally getting to the desktop, (about 20 minutes later) the next thing I see is a warning from Kaplinsky Security telling me I need to pay up for some security software. Do theses companies not get it? The game’s changed and you can’t treat consumers like this any more. Microsoft have said Windows 8 will have built in antimalware, lets hope they also take control of the setup experience too.

Then I had to spend another hour or so removing crapware. An Apple-esque dock that sat above the Windows 7 taskbar, a Bing Bar, and media players I will never use.

Finally, for some reason the power management was set so that the laptop would use hybrid sleep, this is where instead of shutting down you put the system to sleep, and simultaneously the system hibernates, so if power is lost no data is lost. This is designed for desktops and should never be enabled for laptops, lots of disk activity when you are chucking your laptop in your bag is not a good idea, not to mention the battery drain of always being in standby.

So not a great experience, and nothing like getting a new Apple product. Can’t say I would be eager to try any other of their products after this – what are your experiences?

I did it, I bought an iPad

I have been tempted by the iPad for a while now, it seemed to offer the power of a laptop without the inconvenience of a laptop. A long battery, yet always connected and always on. I knew full well about the downsides and I didn’t expect to be typing large documents on it, but for browsing the web, checking email and chatting on instant messenger it seemed perfect. So was it?

Not prefect, but very good

The iPad 2, despite considerably lower specs than my laptop on paper feels snappy and rarely do I have to wait for anything to happen. Unlike a laptop, there is no fan – so I feel comfortable leaving it on my bed, or on the carpet knowing I’m not to come back and find it with fans whirling while it melts. The device seems durable, whereas the iPod has a an easy-to-scratch surface, the iPad won’t get scratched under normal use.

Lack of apps

One thing I have found is the lack of iPad specific apps. It’s still quite a new platform, so I can forgive app developers slightly – but the big hitters such as Spotify and Audible still make you use the iPhone versions of the app, which only work in portrait mode and look pixelated. The keyboard layout is also different for iPhone apps, which is rather confusing. While I can type pretty fast on the iPad, the lack of any blogging software as good as Windows Live Writer means I still prefer to fire up my laptop to write anything substantial. An iPad version of Google Chrome would be nice, or at least a way to sync your Google Chrome bookmarks easily (it can be done now, but involves using a 3rd party service and isn’t worth the hassle in my opinion).

Quality not quantity

Having said all that, the apps that come with the iPad are of a very high quality. The Mail, Calendar and Contacts app are very impressive. I was surprised Apple didn’t include an alarm clock and weather app, seeing as there is one available for the iPhone but it’s not a big deal as 3rd party apps have filled the gap.

For casually browsing the web or responding to emails, iPad wins. Booking a holiday? Then I’ll want 30 tabs open at once, and the iPad isn’t good at context switching. Overall I am impressed, it really does fill the void between a smartphone and a laptop. Tablets won’t replace laptops in my opinion, but they will take on many of their roles relegating laptops to the more comprehensive tasks.

Highly recommended.

Desire S Review (part 2)

Having been using the phone over a month now (nearly 2), I have a good idea of what I think of it and how it compares to the iPhone.

User Experience

The user experience is no where near as good as the iPhone. A good example of this is when I enter the contacts app and press the Search key. The search field does not automatically get focus so I have to tap at the top of the screen (having just pressed the search key right at the bottom), and then move back down again to begin typing. It feels awkward and unpolished. Then there’s the bundled apps. Like a new laptop, the phone was bundled with lots of OEM crapware, it seems HTC want me to use their Twitter client and there’s no way to delete it (or even remove the icon). What is it with hardware manufactures being wannabe software companies? Just like those pointless Wifi utilities or Launcher bars the likes of Acer and HP used to bundle in with their laptops (HP even made their own Media Centre, the  Me Too Edition). Anyway, it’s a small annoyance but the abundance of so many icons is sure to confuse a lot of people.

Battery Life

The battery life is abysmal. It will last a day if you don’t use it much, but if you do use it frequently then you’ll need to take a charger around with you. The iPhone wasn’t great, but the battery would always last a day and have plenty left over. On the other hand, this is the price you pay for having a much more powerful device in your pocket, one that actually can multitask (The iPhone currently just pretend to, save for a few limited tasks) and once you get used to that, I think it would be hard to go back to a single-task based system. Being able to have the phone download new podcasts automatically every night, update Google Reader on schedule is a breath of fresh air for anyone who used to do that 5 years ago on their Symbian or PocketPC based phone – and then (like me) switched to the iPhone when it was the big thing. There are numerous ways to improve battery life, the best is to turn off background data – which kind of defeats the point of having such a phone, but it’s nice to know you could i theory get a couple of days out of it if needed, great if you ever go camping at a festival (although the camera sucks the battery a lot too).

Missing iOS?

For all it’s UX faults, I prefer Android. You want Wifi Music Sync? There’s an app for that. Free SatNav? There’s an app for that. Tethering over Wifi? There’s an app for that. Want to download the latest albums? Guess what, you can do that too. In fact, there’s an app for almost anything there is on the iPhone, and the Android version is nearly always less restricted and cheaper. The exception here is games, but I’ve still found a number quality gems, just less of the big names. So I can’t say I miss iOS much, except for the eye-candy. Maybe iOS 5 will sway me next time.

A highly recommended phone.

My favourite music of 2010

Yes I know its nearly February but here’s what grabbed my attention the most last year (in no particular order).

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

The Suburbs

The Arcade Fire’s third album is one of those albums that sounds better as a whole that any single track. From the epic orchestral thumping of “Rococo” to the quiet introspection of “Wasted Hours” to the delightfully poppy “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” this collection of songs deserves your full attention while listening. While it probably is slightly too long, I couldn’t pick a song to drop and I’m glad they didn’t. There really is no filler on this album, a rarity indeed. Original,  catchy, melancholic this if my favourite album of the past 5 years, let alone 2010. It just hooks me every time, it has its rockier moments, it’s quiet moments but they all feel like one. The hallmark of a great album is one where your favourite track changes regularly, for now my favourite track is ‘We Used to Wait’ (checkout this amazing dynamic video) but in the past it has been Rococo, Deep Blue, Ready To Start (in fact they’ve all been a favourite at times). Brilliant.

Continue reading “My favourite music of 2010”

Audible finally release iPhone app in the UK

Audible UK have released an app for the iPhone. The best feature over the built in software is that it doesn’t rotate when you hold it sideways (I am certain this “feature” of the the iPhone exists solely for in-store demos, I find it very frustrating and wish it could be turned off).Audible UK iPhone App

Other features include the ability to download books over the Internet (but strangely, not 3G which would have been more useful), add bookmarks with notes, customise the length of time the rewind button goes back, a button-less interface for when in the car, and a sleep timer. Overall the user experience is much more suited to audiobooks than the default iPhone interface and I highly recommend it.

For those if you you haven’t discovered the joy of audiobooks, they are a great way to read while driving, doing household chores or just when your eyes feel too tired to read (I get that a lot since my job involves using a computer all day). If you like books then give them a try.

 

 

 

 

Now if only there was some kind of Kindle like device that would play audiobooks, but keep your place in sync between the audiobook and the eBook.

Halo Reach

OK so I am a little late to the party with this review, I like to wait until the price of an Xbox game comes down in price before shelling out for it.

I’ve been playing Halo Reach a lot over the Christmas period and I am really enjoying it. I was a huge fan of the original Halo, the story and simplicity (there were only 6 or 7 weapons) and nonstop action. Yes some of the levels were repetitive (I remember one level, where you had to get to the top of a building fighting The Flood, and each floor was essentially the same, meaning you did the same over and over level 5 or 6 times!) but others like the wide-open second level where you drove around the planet Halo were ground-braking for an FPS. Halo 2 was more of the same, now with dual-wielding and some more weapons, and multiplayer. What I didn’t like was playing as someone other than the Masterchief , I lost interest during these parts. Halo 3 was for me, more Halo 2 with prettier graphics and better online play. The story didn’t really grab my attention, possibly due to the parts I’d blanked out while playing Halo 2 and me not knowing what on earth was going on except there were enemies to shoot. ODST was a return to form for me, a totally new set of characters in a rich, dark, film-noir (Blade Runner-esque) atmosphere and good backstory that compelled me to keep playing.

The good

Halo Reach takes the good parts of ODST’s story and gameplay, but adds some new features such as jetpacks and the sprint ability. What makes a big difference between it and say, Halo 3 is the story seems to grab my attention and gives me a reason so shoot all those

Covenant. The levels are also very varied and don’t get boring. The multiplayer is rock-solid too, unlike Halo 3, I don’t seem to end up getting shot from out of nowhere every 10 seconds – it seems more well balanced.

The bad

Not all is good however. Only 2 months after its release, Bungie are expecting loyal fans to pay more for some extra maps in order to enjoy the full online experience. I am all for additional content that can be purchased, but it seems that these days games developers hold back content specifically and then sell you it a few months later. I wouldn’t mind if we were 1 or 2 years down the line but to release it so soon just makes me think that nowadays when you buy a game, you actually get 90% of it and can expect to pay another ~£7 in points to get the full experience in 2 or 3 months time. I have also seen the new maps being bundled with the game in shops for the same price as the original, further penalising the loyal fans who go out and buy this stuff when it comes out.

Conclusion

The game is great, and will provide hours of fun. There is plenty of replay value, not just with the online play, but also the solo campaign which can be played on multiple difficulties and with friends. I am slightly annoyed about the additional maps being released so soon (they should have come with the game), but I wouldn’t that spoil what is the best Halo game to date and one of the best shooters of the 360.

The Painted Man–by Peter V Brett

image_thumb[1]I don’t usually read fantasy books, in fact before I read The Painted Man I’d never read a fantasy book. Not that I am one for boxing things into genres – I am far more likely to pick up a book on the merit of its author’s previous work or by reading reviews. Luckily my brother recommended me this book, and so I took it on holiday with me to Greece. Having just finished Stephen King’s Salam’s Lot, the pace style of this book was difficult to get used to. Once you get going however, this book comes into its own. The author takes his time to build a realistic, plausible world, one that is plagued monsters that arise from the core of the earth whenever the sun sets. The book follows three characters over a number of years, and by the time the story climaxes you really feel you are inside their heads and can fully empathise with them and their actions.

Along the way there is of course plenty of action, heartbreak and surprises – but what really makes this book so good is the fascinating world it exists in and the characters than inhabit it.

I was sad when I finished this book, not because the ending was bad (it’s not) but because I knew I would be leaving that world behind. Luckily there is a second book, and I’ve just started that. So far so good.

I highly recommend this book.