Four years of ambient computing

It’s been four years since the Apple Watch was released, and I’ve worn a variant of the miniature device pretty much every day of my life for most of this time. You see them everywhere now, but in 2015, wearing a smart watch was a novel idea. I’ve always been interested in gadgets, owning my first “smartwatch”, as Casio Databank, when I was in secondary school. I remember the sum of £40 seeming like a huge amount when I bought the Casio watch, and to be fair, for a 12 year old in 1997, it was.  I would marvel with amazement that a Casio Databank watch could store and entire 50 names and phone numbers, schedule alarms way off into the future, and knew how many days were in each month (no need to manually skip over the date for shorter months). The idea of walking around with all that information and potential on my wrist was both mysterious and exciting. How exactly did such a small device know to sound an alarm at precisely the time I’d chosen? Where exactly did all those names and number go when I entered them? I studied computer science and got a job as a software developer and so now it’s much less of a mystery to me how it all works, but my curiosity for these kind of smart devices never went away.  

A UNIX Box on every wrist

Maybe it’s just because I’m now in my early thirties and relatively old, but it seems to me quite fantastical that the smart watches, especially the Apple Watch, are now mainstream. That it’s actually considered normal for someone to walk around with an always-on, UNIX-based computer strapped to their wrist – a computer far more powerful than any of the computers I grew up with back in the late nineties and early 2000s. 

I find this especially interesting because these days, other consumer hardwire such as smartphones and laptops (or tablets) just aren’t that interesting. Phones don’t really do anything new anymore. Nicer screens, easier ways to log in, slightly better cameras – incremental updates that make the experience a little bit nicer. Smart watches on the other hand are vastly more compelling from a geek’s point of view.

First, there is room for a variety of styles: some of the designs released by LG and Fossil look genuinely beautiful, though Apple Watch is in a league of its own on that front.

Secondly, there is plenty of potential for new sensor input on the wrist. At the moment we have heart rate, accelerometer, and now ECG sensors with the latest Apple Watch, and there is so much more potential for a device that’s always on, and always being worn. Will the smart watch eventually displace the smartphone, just as the wrist watch displaced the pocket watch? I don’t think it will be as clear cut but I think they will eventually surpass mobile phone usage for many tasks. I certainly find that I need my phone less when wearing a smart watch – I just prefer to use it for certain tasks, mainly idling time reading the news or Facebook, or using the camera – the former is something I want to cut down on anyway.

Yes, I'm pretty proud of that time!

Despite my initial skepticism, I’m now hooked on the Apple Watch.  My home is strangely devoid of clocks. Apart from various computing devices, and my microwave, I have no clocks that I can easily glance at (partly due to finding ticking annoying!).  Apart from making daylight saving days less of an event, it does mean I rely on a watch or smartphone to keep me on track during the morning. Outside of just telling the time, I’ve found the Apple Watch useful for using Siri to do things like set timers and reminders. This means I have no need for a dedicated smart assistant like Amazon Echo, a smart watch beats a stationary cylinder in many respects because it’s always with me. It’s now second nature to dictate reminders into my wrist. Those reminders can always be location based (“At work”, “when I leave my car” etc.), unlike an Echo or equivalent.  Admittedly, I’m not going to listen to music on the watch’s speaker, and the inability to easily control Sonos via the watch is disappointing (there are 3rd party apps, but they’re pretty clunky). Apart from this, I do occasionally reply to text messages and emails I receive while at home, more often though I’ll initiate a text via the watch using Siri to dictate.  Initially I thought I’d use the remote control ability for Apple TV more than I do, partly because there’s no volume control for the TV on the watch, nor the ability to send Siri input to the TV (for example to search for something), and so I end up usually needing the Apple TV remote anyway.

Wearing a fitness tracker like the Apple Watch has also helped motivate me to keep active. I was an occasional runner before I owned an Apple Watch, but since, I’ve really progressed in part due to the ability to easily measure my pace and exertion using the GPS and heart rate sensor. The built in activity app is pretty minimal, and so I find exporting to Strava useful to get some more useful insights into my progress. The ability to go for a run with just a watch and some headphones, and still have access to music, podcasts and statistics while I run is truly amazing.

The downside of wearing a computer all the time is that it can be difficult to switch off.  Whether it’s BBC News or Strava, companies and apps are desperate for our attention, and the watch can make it easier for them to grab it from us.  I’ll address this in a future post, but I feel the Apple Watch’s fitness goals and achievements are focused on gaining “streaks” and never missing a day. I’d love to see Apple admit that once in a while, disconnecting is also good for your health and reward users for doing so.

Overall though, I’ll admit I’m hooked.


iPhone SE

I did it. I bought a an iPhone SE. Not just any old iPhone SE, a Rose Gold one.

Why this madness?

iPhone SE, Rose Gold
iPhone SE, Rose Gold

The last phone I bought was an iPhone 5 back in December 2012. I was pleased with the phone and only gave it up last November when I decided to start using my company issued iPhone 6 as my main phone. The reason for switching was mainly because its ageing A6 processor was beginning to start showing its age, and the lack of M-series motion co-processor meant any motion tracking applications needed to keep the entire phone awake when in use, so battery life wasn’t that great for me. The iPhone 6 also has a much better camera. I’d refrained form upgrading my personal phone for so long because the iPhone 6 and the 6S did nothing for me – they don’t look particularly good, and they’re way too expensive for anything but the 16GB model, which I would not recommend to anyone but my worst enemy.

Modern processor niceties aside, I wasn’t too happy with the size of the iPhone 6. It was awkward to use with one hand, and impossible to put in a pocket while running – I needed to strap it to my arm instead. So when Apple announced the iPhone SE a few weeks ago, I knew this was the phone for me. The classic, beautiful iPhone 5 design and more importantly a usable size, but with the far superior camera and processing smarts of the iPhone 6S. I feel like this is a product Apple made just for me.

Upon going back to the smaller size everything felt so much nicer. The phone just sits in the hand much more naturally, and I can reach any part of the screen without using two hands or performing a balancing act in order not to drop it. There is also something particularly cool about using such powerful applications as Pixelmator, iMovie and Numbers on a 4 inch screen – there is a certain elegance in making an app that can do so much with such little screen real estate.

I went for the 64GB mode, which makes this the first iPhone I’ve ever owned with more than16GB of storage space. What a difference it makes. 16GB was fine back in 2009 when I had a 3GS, but in 2012 it made no sense, and it’s worrying that Apple still sells them. I can for the first time actually install apps without needing to delete something else first. Before I had to consciously keep applications installed to a minimum, in order that I could have 2 albums downloaded (for running) and space ready to take photos (usually 500MB or so). Now I don’t have to worry, and I can even install games. If anything, the storage upgrade is more significant than the superior processor and camera.

Finally I went for Rose Gold – why? I just felt like a change. I’ve always had the black iPhone, and Rose Gold was this year’s “new colour”. People can joke that it’s a girly colour, but honestly, I’m confident enough with my own masculinity to use a pink phone and not give a damn what anyone else thinks.

Overall I think it’s a brilliant upgrade over the iPhone 6. More usable, nicer camera and much faster. It is missing the barometer (sad face) and the front-facing camera isn’t as good, but that’s a small compromise, there’a also no camera bump.

Apple Watch – First Thoughts

I know that it seems everyone wants to blog about their experience with an Apple Watch, so why would I need to too? Well, I’m not a professional journalist (as if you can’t tell) – just an everyday person with an interest in technology, so perhaps I’ll offer a different perspective.

So after 3 weeks, what does a ‘normal’ technology enthusiast think? Well… I went for the 38mm black ‘Sport’ Model as I figured fitness would be my main usage scenario.

Wearing a watch

I’ve always loved watches. Not for the bling factor – for me something being expensive doesn’t equate to it being stylish or useful. Ever since my Granddad introduced me to a Casio watch at the age of 8 I’ve loved a good gadget watch, and so the Apple Watch was right up my street. I actually have a Casio which I wear at weekends. It’s a radio controlled analogue/digital hybrid. I don’t wear it to work during the week since I’m usually at a computer all day long, it doesn’t really add much utility. So wearing a watch isn’t a habit I’ve had to get back in to.


With the classic buckle strap

Needing the phone

So a major factor in anyone’s purchasing decision is going to be ‘do you own an iPhone 5 or newer’ – if you don’t you can’t make much use out of an Apple Watch. My two and a half year old iPhone 5 still does the job (and until Apple increase the base storage from 16GB, I won’t be upgrading), so I was fine.

The iPhone is needed for a number of things – most apps require the phone to either be in Bluetooth range or the watch to be on the same WiFi network as the phone. This is fine for me as my office has WiFi throughout the building, so I can easily leave my phone in a draw and walk anywhere in the office (even outside) and receive notifications – pretty cool. Some apps don’t even need your phone, they only need a WiFi connection. Messages is one of those apps – I left my phone in my car at the gym, but was able to send and receive iMessages from the watch no problem. Siri also works like this. Maps didn’t work, although it was able to determine my location (from the WiFi base station, I assume), just not show me the map.

Overall the ‘need’ to be tethered to an iPhone is overstated in my opinion, though one thing to note is that the watch will only connect to a WiFi network your phone has previously connected to. So you can’t just head to a coffeeshop with only your watch and expect to get online.


Most of the built in apps seem well thought through, though with some annoying limitations. I can reply to text messages, but not emails. Both the BBC News and Guardian apps only show me a paragraph before requesting I take my phone out. I’m sure people can make that choice for themselves, so why not show the whole article?


If you use it like a watch, the battery will easily last you all day. If you use the Workout app or play with apps a lot, you’re going to struggle to get through the day. My Casio is solar powered, so I’m used to feeling the warm rays beat down on my watch and thinking about all that goodness it’s doing charging the battery, however that’s sadly not the case with the Apple Watch. If anything the heat will kill the battery’s longevity. I do hope Apple add solar charging in future iterations.


It seems to be pretty accurate (once trained by running outside with your phone’s GPS). I tested it on a treadmill and it was a few percentage points out. I have a tendency to rest on the side of the treadmill for 10 seconds while I switch tracks, it knows I’ve stopped running unlike a treadmill. The ability to leave you phone at home when you go for a run is great, you can play music from the watch via Bluetooth headphones. Unfortunately changing a track while running is not easy (it made me pine for my iPod classic). You have to exit the ‘Workout app’ by pressing home, tap the Clock icon and then swipe up to get to glaces, then swipe across to the ‘Now Playing’ glance. You could also open the music app from the home screen, but it’s way too complex and an odd oversight from Apple.

The daily activity goals are good, however the recommendations are a bit basic. For example I had a daily active calorie burn goal of 400 – On 5 out of 7 days in a week I exceeded it, however it took my average calories over the entire week and suggested a new daily goal of 220 (I had a very lazy weekend). It seemed more logical that it would know that a lot of people will have different behavioural patterns on weekends and suggested something a bit more realistic.




I went for the cheapest option, the black Sport model (I went 38mm not for price but because I have skinny wrists). I looks pretty nice, even with the leather buckle. I probably wouldn’t wear it to a  formal occasion such as a wedding, but for business, or social it’s absolutely fine.



The best thing about notification is I never have to check my phone any more, since I know I will have gotten a tap on the wrist if anything of note has happened. I had to make sure all but the most critical apps were turned off however, I don’t really want to be interrupted because someone followed me on Twitter.

Text Input

The only way to input text is via voice-dictation. This is fine if your a technology journalist who works from home, or an exec who has their own office – but for the average person who works amount other people (this applies to social occasions too), it’s not polite to start dictating messages to your girlfriend in front of other people. I value my privacy, and so unless I’m alone I generally don’t enter text into the watch. What this device really needs is a way to enter text, Microsoft have the right idea, and I’m disappointed Apple haven’t even included this in watchOS version 2. (I guess it did take the iPhone OS 3 iterations to get copy and paste).


The Watch

One of the coolest things about the watch is the customisable watch faces. You can add widgets that show the weather, sunset time, battery life, next appointment and more. In this sense, the watch really has utility that makes it worth wearing. I can look down on my wrist and see my next appointment or the current weather conditions.

Watch Face

This is the one I use when I’m not at work – it shows me sunset time (how much time I have left to go out for a walk or run before it gets dark), the battery level,  the day of the week and my activity for the day.

Watch Face

When I’m at work I like to use this face, which gives me the timezone of our other office, in addition to putting the date front and centre.

Overall, I’m impressed and don’t regret the purchase. Plus, future versions of the device can only get better .👍🏻

Can an iPad replace a laptop, seriously?

Ever since I was convinced to buy an iPad 4 years ago, I’ve been a massive fan and predicted they would eventually replace laptops for most consumers. Just as not everyone needs a truck, not everyone needs a laptop right?

It turns out however, that iPad sales are falling. This is more likely a combination of people having much larger phones, iPads being reliable and not needing replacing, lack of innovation (today’s fifth generation iPad does the same as a second generation, only faster), and the fact that the vast majority of consumers don’t need anything more powerful than a phone. It saddens me that despite the Internet being a place where anyone can publish anything at very low cost (or for free in many cases), most people use it to consume TV and post frivolous Facebook updates that don’t require much more than a mobile phone – but that’s another topic altogether.

At the other end of the scale you have business and professional users, who tend to use laptops because they offer much more power. Processing power isn’t as far off as you might think, the power difference is now in the software. Take for example a simple task I needed to achieve last week – downloading an MP3 from a web site (legit I might add! It was to accompany a course I was taking) and add it to my iTunes Match Library so it would be available on all of my devices. This is easy to do on a Mac or Windows laptop, but impossible on an iPad. That’s ridiculous.

The other software issue that holds back these devices is the transient nature of applications. At any time your application might get terminated due to lack of memory. This rarely results in any loss of work, as developers usually code with this in min (until iOS 4, this happened overtime you left an app). Not many developers both to restore the state of an application (as they are suppose to), and even when they do having to wait for it to load again is painful.

So the answer is no, an iPad can’t replace a laptop at the moment. I would like to see Apple push forward with this vision. Why not have a simplified version of Xcode for the iPad? It could be a great way to introduce people to programming (and could feature the Playground function introduced last year). The built in applications should be updated to support ‘Open In’ so I can open that MP3 file in the Music app, for example.

For many users, nothing will beat a dual screen setup with a mouse and keyboard – but I can’t help thinking that 90% of my non-work computing needs could be done on an iPad if the software were better.

Update: 31/5/2015

I’ve been using an external keyboard with my iPad a lot recently, so hardware wise it’s more on par with a laptop. Here’s what I miss most from a full blown Windows/Mac laptop:

  • The a ability to have more than one document open within a single app. Some apps such as Mail support having mutipe drafts open at once, but all the apps I use most frequently such as Microsft Word, Pages and Excel can only open one document at a time. It takes about 30 seconds to close a document and to load another, which just slows me down.
  • Lack of keyboard shortcuts – such as being able to press ‘Enter’ to send a message, or CTRL + Enter to send an email. Also being able to switch between documents / apps using the keyboard would help too.
  • Applications getting unloaded from memory. Or rather lazy developers not bothering to reload the state of an app when it gets reloaded. Again, like with the document switching – it gets in the way when you return to a presentation and find the app has gone back to the open screen. 

Apple Watch

So the details are finally in, and I have to admit – I’m slightly disappointed. I was hoping Apple would unveil some major new functionality at last week’s event, but it was just filling the gaps between what we already knew.

In essence, the watch has 3 main functions: a fitness tracker, notification viewer and of course telling the time. You could also add a 4th function: fashion accessory.

The fitness tracker part of it excites me most, as I have used the Nike Fuelband previously and found it was good at telling me how inactive I was, convincing me to workout more often. After 6 or 7 months, I didn’t need to wear it anymore as I kind of knew when I was active and when I wasn’t. I guess if I was marathon training I might need more detail, but surely and GPS enabled Garmin watch would be more suited in this case? So for me I’m partially excited about this aspect of the watch, but it doesn’t seem groundbreaking to me.

The notification viewing aspect of the watch doesn’t excite me at all. Mainly because it requires I have my phone in the same building. Not being a high-flying executive who needs to view every email within seconds, the thought of having notifications on my wrist makes me shudder. If the watch had cellular networking and meant I could leave the house without a phone, then I would be interested. In fact, one day I see the iPhone being obsolete and the watch being the main connectivity device. When they need a bigger screen, people will tether their iPad to their watches.

Telling the time is of course a very useful function. At work (where lets face it, I spend a good chunk of my time) I have a computer in front of me with the time omnipresent, and typing with a watch on can be uncomfortable. So I only need this functionality at weekends or when I go out after work. My Casio serves its purpose here – do i really need an Apple Watch for this?

Then there’s the fashion element. Apple has, since the iPod been a fashion brand – though a slightly geeky  fashion brand. I have a feeling Smart Watches will end up like calculator watches in the 1980’s and early 1990’s – looking dated and ‘of their time’. Then there’s the ridiculously priced ‘Apple Watch Edition’ made out of solid gold. I get that some watches cost tens of thousands of pounds. However, isn’t part of what justifies the price of a Rolex that fact that they have been engineering watches for over a hundred years, and have a reputation for exceptional quality? If Volvo released a Rolls Royce-priced car, it wouldn’t make it comparable to a Rolls Royce. Making something expensive doesn’t make it fashionable. I personally go out of my way not to wear overtly branded clothing (to my dismay, the craze of wearing ‘Super Dry’ plastered over your front like you’re selling children’s nappies door-to-door hasn’t subsided yet, at least in the UK), and so I wouldn’t want a watch that was too ‘showy’.

Of course I haven’t mentioned the apps yet. This is where I think the watch could excel. it could be like the iPad, which I was doubtful about upon its release, but now I think it is the world’s greatest personal computer. Will I buy an Apple Watch? No. I’ll wait and see what the second generation has to offer. My hope is it will have a way of using the device purely over WiFi (I accept cellular is  a long way off for battery reasons) so I could realistically go out for the evening, and as long as the place I am going has WiFi, I can still keep in touch.

The Nifty MiniDrive

As anyone who owns a MacBook air will know, these amazing laptops fall down in one key area – storage capacity. Of course you’re free to plug in an external hard drive to get extra space, which with USB 3 will be super snappy. External hard drives are a bit clucky however, especially when you want a laptop to be portable and easy to use say, on you lap.

Luckily, the 13 inch MacBook Air models have an SD card slot, so it is possible to add in an SD card and gain additional storage that’s easily portable. The problem with most SD cards is they extrude from the side of the laptop – meaning anyone who leaves a card in all the time is likely to damage or loose it.

Enter the Nifty MiniDrive

Photo 17-05-2014 12 08 25

The Nifty MiniDrive looks great when inserted into my 2013 MacBook Air

The nifty MiniDrive promises to solve this problem by offering a microSD adapter that fits into the SD card slot. Unlike a normal SD card, it sits flush with the edge of the MacBook. What a brilliant idea. For £76.87 was able to increase the storage on my MacBook by 50% by ordering the Nifty adapter along with a 64GB microSD card – a bargain right? It depends…

Really slow

When I tried to move my 20GB iPhoto library on to the drive, iPhoto crawled to a halt and was unusable. I’m pretty tech savvy and so I of course took this on as a challenge and spent quite a lot of time trying to solve this; by rebuilding photo thumbnails, repairing permissions, making sure the drive was formatted HFS+, and even rebuilding my library from scratch. In the end I came to the conclusion that the microSD card supplied was simply not up to the job.

Battery Life

One of the best features of the MacBook Air is the ability to leave it in sleep mode for days on end without the battery draining much. I noticed after I’d started using the MiniDrive that my battery seemed to go down a lot while it was in sleep mode. After some digging, I discovered that Mac OS X will put the laptop into a “deep sleep” mode (similar to Hibernate on Windows) after a few hours in normal sleep to save on battery life. The problem I found is that Mac OS X will never do this if an SD card is inserted. That means standby time is significantly reduced when the Nifty MiniDrive left in, and the while point of the Nifty MiniDrive is that you leave it in. I must stress this is not the fault of the Nifty MiniDrive (any SD card will cause this to occur) but I was surprised to see it wasn’t mentioned on their FAQ page, as it could be a problem for some people.

So what’s it good for?

iTunes and Steam

I found it was quick enough to store my iTunes library on, and Steam had no trouble storing and loading games on it. Team Fortress 2 ran absolutely fine from the Nifty MiniDrive. For anyone with a MacBook bursting at the seams with games and music, the MiniDrive is probably worth getting. You could also theoretically move your Dropbox or OneDrive folders onto the drive.


Another often quoted use of the Nifty MiniDrive is as a Time Machine backup drive. This can work well in theory if you want to make use of Time Machine’s versioning features, but as a total backup solution, having your backup inside your laptop at all times means if your laptop gets lost or stolen then so does your backup, so for me this was a non-starter.

Worth buying?

So would I recommend the Nifty Minidrive? My answer is yes if you’re aware of it’s limitations. For people who routinely shutdown their Macs instead of using sleep, they shouldn’t notice any big changes in battery life. If you need to store large, rarely used files then you shouldn’t notice the performance issues either. Hopefully the next version of OS X will iron out the battery life issues, and faster microSD cards will be released in the future, making it a good investment.

Xbox One – Initial Thoughts

I was lucky enough to be bought an Xbox One for Christmas, so I thought I’d post some of my initial thoughts.

The games look amazing

I have one game (Forza 5) and at £50 a pop I will likely only have one game for many months to come. That said, together with the new controller that has vibration motors in each trigger (lets you feel feedback from the brakes), speeding around Circuit de la Sarthe has never felt so real. Whether it’s being blinded temporarily by the sun, or seeing a glimpse of the driver in the windscreen, it just feels so real.

The Interface is Confusing

While I wanted to love ‘Metro’ on the PC, after trying it for just over a month on my main development machine, I had to revert to using Start8 – it didn’t work out for me (loved it on the Surface RT, however) – so how does it stack up on the Xbox One? My view is that it could work, but the current execution isn’t great. On the main screen the positions of apps move about too often, so it’s impossible to remember where anything is. After a while I realised the tiles on the main screen amounted to a ‘recently used list’ the with exception of the left and right columns, which are fixed. There’s no visual differentiation, barley any visual hierarchy (the currently running app is the largest, everything else just looks like it was thrown in) and so it all gets rather confusing. To get to Settings for example, you have to go to ‘My Games & Apps’.

Apps for the sake of Apps

No device these days would be complete without an ‘App Store’ – however the Xbox One has taken this to extremes. For example, if you’re in a game and you get an achievement, in order to see the full details of that achievement you need to leave the current game and open another app (complete with an awful “splash screen” which makes the effect of leaving one app and going to another feel even slower), if the Xbox 360 could do this, surly the Xbox One should be able to? Another example of this was when browsing the video store, in order to view ‘TV Deals’ I had to install the Xbox Video app. It seems a bit ridiculous that this isn’t just built in.

Kinect is impressive if still work in progress

Having Kinect recognise you and automatically log you in is very clever. The speech recognition however is limited. Unlike Siri on an iPhone you need to keep to a precise syntax, and it’s not very forgiving. Say to Siri “Hello my friend, could please turn on the Bluetooth thingamajig” and it will turn on the Bluetooth radio. Ask your Xbox to “switch off” rather than “turn off” and it does nothing. I really hope this gets improved. That said it is still very useful, especially the “record that” function that lets you record the last 30 seconds of gameplay and share it online. I can’t imagine using the Xbox One without the Kinect plugged in, it just feels like work in progress still. I don’t have any Kinect games, so I can’t comment on how good it is for games, which I guess is its main purpose after all.

Everything is fast and fluid, it multitasks like a dream

The Xbox 360 despite being able to render Skyrim at a decent frame-rate was seemingly unable to load a simple system menu without a few seconds delay. Game updates would block the entire interface and it just felt very sluggish, The Xbox One however always feels snappy. Even mid game I was able to press the ‘home button’ and get straight back to the Start Screen, compete with a smooth transition and sound effect. Subsequently opening an app such as Skype or Internet Explorer was very quick. I was also able to install a demo from the store and keep playing. I hope it doesn’t slow down over time, but this fluidity will do a lot to tempt me to use the Xbox One rather than the Apple TV or Virgin TiVo box to access Netflix or rent movies etc

The best is yet to come

I hope (and predict) Microsoft will keep updating the Xbox One as they did with the 360. I’ve only used it for a couple of days so far and you can only fairly judge a a games console after many months of usage. Overall I’m very pleased with it, and look forward to more exciting releases.

Kindle Paperwhite

I decided to upgrade my Kindle Keyboard to the new Kindle Paperwhite. I wouldn’t usually upgrade such a device so soon (2 years after buying it) but my girlfriend was thinking of buying the basic £69 Kindle, so I used that as an excuse to let her have my old one, so I could try out the new one with the light 🙂

My first impression is that the lighted screen is beautiful to read from, and will make it easy to read in pitch-darkness. That’s the real benefit here, whether in bed at night or outside in the sun the screen just looks great. You may read reviews complaining about some unevenness in the lighting along the bottom of the screen, yes I noticed that but it’s really not an issue at all, since that part of the screen only shows your progress information anyway, not text from the book.

Unfortunately the touch screen is a major step backwards in page turning, instead of 2 large buttons on each side of the device for backwards and forwards, there’s an invisible grid on the screen tap over to the far left to go back, tap in the middle to right to go forwards, and at the top to bring up the menu. It feels clumsy and makes this device stop short of being the perfect reading device. The touch screen does make the virtual keyboard easy to use, so buying books is much easier. However I spend about 0.0001% of my time on the Kindle inputting text so I’d be happy do to without that. I often find myself getting lost in a book because I mistakenly went forwards instead of back.

So I’m mixed about this one. Great screen, but missing physical buttons. I guess Amazon need to save something back to make people upgrade again next year? 😉

Goodbye HTC Desire S, Hello iPhone

Did you read that right? Yes I posted to this blog in 2010 when I replaced my old iPhone 3GS with HTC’s Desire S. and 2 years before that when I replaced my Nokia N95 with the iPhone.

At the time of getting my Android phone I wasn’t too happy about the state of the iOS ecosystem. Apple was banning apps left right and enter, and the iPhone 4 didn’t excite me much. I took the plunge and switched to Android, and was immediately pleased with what I got. Over time however I came to regret that decision. What I took for granted in iOS was missing from Android – quality.

Quality is a difficult concept to describe. We all know it when we see it, but it isn’t always obvious to see when you’re looking for it. In the case of my HTC Desire S, quality means the small details in the user interface that you would never notice until you have to do without – take for example making a phone call to someone who isn’t available, I’d go to my recent contacts list (3rd in the list), tap their name, and wait while it rings. After 20 seconds it would hit voicemail. This was an urgent call, so I wanted to call back straight away. I hit ‘Hangup’ and went back to the recent call list, thinking to tap the name – still 3rd in the list. Just as I tap it however, it moved from 3rd in the list to 1st, and I end up calling someone else instead. The phone was just slow. It may have been dual-core compared to my single-core iPhone 3GS, but that comparison is like sitting a motorbike and a lorry next to each other with the same engine, and expecting them to hit 60 at the same time.

Then there was the lack of updates – it took a year for me to get Android 4.0 and when I  finally did it was through a HTC developers site (and made the phone even slower).

The on-board software was buggy and confusing. There seemed to be 2 of everything. A HTC Twitter app, the official Twitter app. A HTC mail client, and GMail, HTC Facebook and well, you get it. On the other hand with iOS you get minimalistic software that actually does useful stuff.

It wasn’t all bad of course, as by original blog post stated. You do get a lot more freedom, but I found myself not caring since Apple seems to be far more reasonable these days when it comes to App Store Approval (and I actually quite like the fact that Apps can’t take over system functions so easily).

So, I am glad to be back Smile

Microsoft Surface – Initial Thoughts

I've been using the new Microsoft Surface running Windows RT this weekend, so I thought I'd post by initial thoughts. This was one borrowed from the office.


I'd installed Windows 8 on my laptop and my first thoughts weren't that good. The 'Metro' interface was vastly different to Windows 7, and having to right-click to get menus to appear seemed counter-intuitive. I couldn't even work out how to copy a hyperlink from the built-in mail client. Having now used Windows 8 on a touch device for the first time, it finally made sense.



Based on ARM, the Surface only runs apps downloaded from the Microsoft App Store. You get Office Home and Student bundled, although these run in desktop mode. The only reason I can assume they run on the desktop is because Microsoft didn't have time to port them to Metro (no simple task, I'm sure). It does however make the surface confusing, since the desktop only shows up as 1 app when you use the Metro task switching functionality, when in reality you could have 3 or 4 apps open on the desktop.


The unique trick that surface has up its sleeve of course is the Touch Cover – a cover similar to the SmartCover for the iPad, that is also a keyboard with a trackpad. The Surface goes from tablet to notebook with ease. (note, I didn't say laptop, you won't want to use this on your lap, it's too unstable). Windows RT can also run two apps side by side, and have multiple user accounts on one device.


So while the hardware is certainly unique and very useful indeed, Windows RT can be confusing. This is compounded by a lack of apps. I am typing this now on an iPad, because there is no software that I could find in the Microsoft App Store that will let me connect and post to WordPress. This lack of software will hopefully be a temporary problem, and once this gets fixed and Office comes to Metro, the desktop can be removed and this tablet can stop being a split personality.


If you forget the desktop, and forget office then you have a promising device for consuming media. Sometimes it feels a bit laggy, like when rotating the screen or launching apps, but only occasionally – most of the time it feels pretty snappy. Whether not people who have invested in content on Android and iOS will want to put that aside and buy content from Microsoft is anther question. In theory if you buy a film on the Surface, you should be able to watch it on your Xbox 360. Browsing the web is frustrating because there seems to be no way to set Google as your search provider – this really would be a deal breaker for me, because Bing just isn't as good, and not having decent search at your fingertips is like forgetting to wear a watch, you really miss it when it's gone. Favourites are also difficult to find (you have to focus the address bar, and then swipe to the right, they cannot be grouped into folders). I prefer the iPad here, but this is an early version of IE for Metro despite the version being 10, I'm sure this will improve with time.


So is the device for? It's not gong to replace a PC for power-users, and the lack of Outlook/Desktop software will probably off business users. That leaves casual home users (would-be iPad buyers) – though I wonder whether the lack of a 7 inch version might sway those users towards the cheaper iPad Mini or the Kindle Fire. One group who this is made for however is students. This device is perfect for taking to lectures, typing up coursework and doing research on.


Overall I'm impressed, though I think I'll stick with. My iPad for now (despite that fact it feels really old now) and wait and see what Surface version 2 looks like.