Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

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I normally write these posts while the content is still fresh in my head, as I feel my initial impression is the most faithful. With the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, I wasn't sure how I felt. The fact that its the first Android phone to run Ice Cream Sandwhich is very exciting on its own; combine that with the hardware talents of Samsung, and this promises to be a ground breaking device.


I used the device for a week while overseas on holiday, in a more intense use-case mode than normal - not comfortable office based, but in and out of taxi's, public transport, planes, on the beach, by the pool side, etc. And specifically where connectivity was rubbish at best.


And so the verdict I'm happy to provide after more than a week of fairly intense testing is that while the operating system is excellent, the hardware its mated to is just too damn big (and soft) to be comfortable carrying around.


This device is bigger than a Samsung Galaxy S2; and thats a big phone. So you can't imagine how big this thing is. Sure, its light, and its thin, and that screen is gorgeous, but its uncomfortable to go into your pocket easily or retrieve in a hurry (like when its ringing). And you definitely shouldn't sit with it - highly unrecommended! And its even worse if you're a man ;-)


More detailed impressions;


  • Hardware
  1. The speaker is terribly soft - for ringing, audio calls, music, etc.
  2. The screen is gorgeous - colors stand out, depth looks amazing, and vibrancy of the screen is crazy. But its not Gorilla Glass - so how long will it last and how hardy will it be is questionable
  3. As mentioned, the dimensions of the phone are just uncomfortable to hold in one hand (unless you're a freakishly large person) and you need two hands to text, browse, etc - forget thumb-based texting with this, ain't going to be possible unless you're a yeti
  4. Because its so big, you're constantly scared you'll drop it


My overall impression is that this is the wrong hardware for this device. The screen real-estate space race needs to end.


  • Software
  1. Slick, polished, and lightning fast - transitions, the cool effect when you reach your home screen ends, etc - this is truly world class and eliminates the one argument all iPhone users have, which is around the speed of interacting with Android devices. Its finally fixed!
  2. App compatibility so far seems great, and I have yet to find an app that misbehaves
  3. The entire UI is obviously completely customisable, widgets galore and gorgeous yet subtle effects


The overall impression is that the software is amazing, and I find it hard to see how the traditional hardware manufacturers will differentiate now that Google has made the decision to reduce fragmentation based on UI.


PS. I will admit that this large estate makes this a wonderful smart device to carry around (note, I didn't say smartphone). So, my modus operandi now is to use an iPhone 4S to make/receive calls, and this device for everything else (social media, e-mail, etc). Seems to be a winning combo. In retrospect, that sounds like the girl taking a different phone with based on the handbag she's carrying. But bigger isn't always better, and walking around with this device over the smaller iPhone only exaggerates the size.

B&W C-5

C5 overview page main image template

I am a bit of a headphone / audio junkie; I have a very good pair of headphones, but was intrigued by B&W's foray into headphones. So I went and bought the C-5's, which feature an interesting "secure" loop design to keep the headphones in place. For those of you who are interested, its on special in South Africa at the moment. Very attractive, well weighted and incredibly comfortable to wear.

X749C5 F




The attractive Apple-esque packaging also doesn't hurt matters. So how do they sound ?


X749C5 o fit

I'm afraid that while the sound stage is very wide (impressively so), and the volume is good, the excessive bass response vs mid-range bass relegates these to iPhone / iPod use in cars, planes and the like. I'm afraid they are nowhere near the Klipsch's in terms of truthful reproduction of the music. It appears that B&W has tuned these for exactly that MP3 generation of music lovers. Not a bad thing, but not what I was looking for.


I have also ordered the P5's. Lets hope they don't suffer from the same problem.


PS. These cans come with the most rubbish carry case I've ever had the displeasure of using. Fiddly, without instructions and very easy to screw up. Fail!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


I like the idea of Apple's AirPlay. It works well on my Apple TV, but very often there is something on my phone or pad that I want to see on my Mac. I found AirServer, and have installed it; it works very well. Highly recommended!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

How does Vodacom expect to stay in business ?

Vodacom fail 185x138

I have had a good historical reason to stay with Vodacom. I've always liked their services, and frankly, they've been as rubbish as their competition. But recently, the number and scale of outages, and complete and utter ineptitude at managing their network has resulted in me being rather disappointed with them. If it wasn't for the crazy early cancellation fees, I would have ported over to someone else at least 6 months ago.


But I digress; lets focus on the last 3 weeks of ineptitude. I returned from an overseas trip with an iPhone 4S. I wanted to enable Visual Voicemail for it, and miracle of miracles, Vodacom has it. For the purposes of clarity, please see this article on their website. I tried to enable it on the 12th of November. Through an endless series of calls, first explaining what the service was, then that they did in fact have it, and that it wasn't activating, it finally started working  - on the 20th, with no explanation or understanding from the myriad operators I was speaking to as to what had changed. No-one knew why it wasn't working, and no-one knew why it started working. Major problem!


Then, I foolishly decided to add Voicemail Plus, which gives me the ability (theoretically) to forward my voicemail to an e-mail address; having both would have been voice messaging nirvana! I activated it (on the 21st), was immediately charged for it and received a summary notification saying my Visual Voicemail service was cancelled. No excuse, no explanation. So, for clarification, it appears you can't have both services together, even though none of the documentation (nor, for that matter, the operators) seem to know that.


And they're an innovative company! I decided the ability to get my voicemail as an e-mail was worth more than not having to sit through tons of tedious IVR messaging, and started looking for a place to enter my e-mail address. Lo and behold, hours on the web site, several calls to the help desk and two call references later, I still don't have my voicemail forwarded.


So, to summarise;

  1. It took 8 days to enable Visual Voicemail, a service that Vodacom advertises it has
  2. You can't have multiple value-added voicemail services at the same time (something I only learned when I activated another one) - there is nothing in the documentation or collateral that states otherwise
  3. I have been four days (and counting) without the ability to forward my voicemail to my e-mail, in spite of having being billed and have, as active, the service on my profile

Screen Shot 2011 11 24 at 5 50 57 PM

How do cellular operators expect to survive when they offer up such shit service ? Can't get the basics right (keep the network up and don't drop my calls), can't get the value added services right, and can't support the end-user when things break ? I'm a "premium" customer to them, paying over R1000 a month. Not for long; not for long.


Update: as of yesterday, December 30th, I now have the service working. No apology, no explanation and (still) no ability to configure it on the web. It has to be configured "on the back end".

Monday, November 21, 2011

Kindle 6"


KT slate main lg V166807011

Ligher, smaller, faster. That's how the new Kindle is introduced and sold. And it is; amazingly sma


ll to hold in the hand and very light. It was most annoying to know that the Kindle Touch isn't available in South Africa. I was passing through duty-free last week, and saw this version available, and decided what the hell.


I also got the official Kindle leather cover for it, which is outrageously priced by being a third of the price of the Kindle. Oh well.


I haven't read anything yet; saving that for December! But so far, quite impressive kit. Using the on-screen keyboard is quite difficult; but on an e-reader, I expect that you won't be doing that much.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Apple, you ruddy wankers.

Apple released iTunes Match, a cloud-based system whereby a copy of your music is stored online, and is retrievable (and critically, streamable!) from any authenticated device. But, you need an American credit card to make it work. Major suckage :-(


PS. Now that I'm in the ranting mood, isn't it weird how Google and Samsung postpone a device launch event out of respect for the death of Steve Jobs, but Apple themselves choose to launch new software and hardware for the same date. Talk about poor taste.

iPhone 4S

Siri hero

I feel dirty; I've gotten an iPhone 4S, and am using it for the last week or so. And it really doesn't suck as much as previous iPhone's used to. This version, and specifically with the OS build on it, 5.0, is really quite usable. I haven't been afflicted by the poor battery life problem.


And using Siri is great. It picks up on my South African accent, and is mostly accurate; very intuitive to use, and useful from about the third search (once you get over asking it really silly questions). I think its a game changer. Great!


I must be honest and say that some functionality is severely lacking, but because the device is so much faster, the poor functionality is more than made up by Siri and the mature app market.

Friday, October 7, 2011

2011 Mac Mini

Overview hero

The Mac Mini has always been an amazing piece of engineering; reasonably powerful innards paired with an attractive look, compact footprint and reasonable price. The 2011 devices are no different; I ordered one to run the media network in my home (notably, as a Printopia, Air Video and NFS server). I have a reasonable amount of storage, and the old notebook I was using to power all of it was failing (it is over 5 years old).


This new device has just slotted in and gets on with the job. Very powerful, and probably wasted in pure "server" mode, but a great asset to any home (media) network. Highly recommended!


Features hero rearview

PS. Upgrading the RAM in this one is very easy. You unscrew the lid, and pop more in. Easy.



The fastest SD card in the industry - not!


So when I heard a tagline like that, I had to test it. I ordered a Sandisk Extreme Pro SD card, and tested it in an Apple MacBook Pro, which I thought would have no interface or bus-related speed limits.


I also tested it against their Ultra and their Extreme cards. The summary of results is that there is a 1Mb/s difference (17Mb/s vs 16Mb/s) between the top end card (~R900), and the bottom end card (~R450).


Conclusion: its not worth paying more money for these "faster" SD cards. For double the money, I want to see more than 6% performance difference. Pfffft.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Apple TV 2

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Apple describe the Apple TV as a hobby project, which begs the question of why they are bothering with it. And the reason they're bothering is because to not have a toe in your lounge means giving up a large segment of your media spend; video. Apple relatively recently refreshed the 1st gen device with a newer, sleeker, smaller version. I had the old one, and am now busy playing with a 2nd generation version.


The 1st generation device had a hard drive in it, and you could either stream your content to it from any computer running iTunes (the devices all have built-in WiFi), store the content on the device and have no computer running or purchase content from the online store (or, as was usually the case, all three).


The new generation device is smaller, black and not white and is functionally more useless than the first one. It has lost the hard drive and now has flash storage. Great if you're in an environment with very fast, always-on connectivity. That is not true of SA. Its also lost its USB port, and has the same miserable compatibility in terms of media playback (i.e if its not in iTunes, it won't play it).


So why buy it ? Because, if you've gone to the effort of sorting out your media so that it plays and looks great on your iDevice, you want it available in your lounge in the same way too. And yes, you could dock your device, but thats dorky. This at least can be controlled by remote, makes that big TV useful by displaying album art and can drive 5.1 sound through its TOSlink output (the HDMI audio out seems to be of inferior quality).


Oh yes, this new gen device also supports Airplay; that is quite cool. Imagine you have a pic or video on your phone; you can get it onto your TV simply by selecting the Apple TV as your output screen - neat! That is a cool trick. And shifting the price point too was smart - $100 is reasonable and fair for a hobby, the old one at $300+ wasn't.

The coolest iPad2 cover - ever!

Ori2 471x600

Joby are better known for making funky portable tripods (aka the Gorillapod), but they also have a line for the favorite fondleslab of the moment; Ori for iPad 2.


Yes, your friends will laugh at you because it makes your sleek, svelte device thicker and heavier. Yes, they will laugh because it takes you a minute or three to setup once you get somewhere.


But you shouldn't care; the number of angles, the versatility of the positions, the front and back protection make it all worthwhile!


Check out the video to get an idea of how cool this cover is! I bought mine from Rene at Wintec Solutions, a very friendly gentleman who wowed me with his service and attitude.


Monday, October 3, 2011

Crashplan iOS and Android apps now available

I've spoken of Crashplan before; they have now released mobile applications. They work very well, and are a great way to retrieve your backed up data from almost anywhere. Neat!

HTC Sensation & LeeDroid


Htc sensation 1

I've been a big fan of HTC for a while; their Sense UI is really slick. I changed my previous Desire HD for a Sensation, which is essentially the same phone but dual-core.


There's not much to say, other than that its a slick device, good build quality, but a little boring with plain old factory software. I used in order to S-off the device, and installed LeeDroid on it. The combination is very fast, powerful and a pleasure to use. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How to revolutionize the way you backup your data

Free house

I always struggled with backups. I manually used to copy my data all over the place, and the only automated backup technique I implemented on a Mac was Time


Machine. But that had positives (was natvely built in and supported by the OS and more importantly, when doing a bare-metal restore), and negatives (I didn't always trust it, it requires more disk space than what you're backup up and it is physically next to your device; a fire would take both out).


And of course, it isn't cross-platform. Not an issue in my household, but it might be in yours.



I have "talked" about Dropbox before, but its too expensive when you're planning to backup 500GB or so of data (yes, my pics and music is that big). I always struggled with what to use, and then came across two excellent services; Mozy.Com and CrashPlan. I ended up using CrashPlan primarily because

  1. it supports machine to machine backups (you don't need to buy the cloud service)
  2. its cheaper when you have multiple systems


I've got it seutp and am banging away at cloud and machine-to-machine backups. Lets see how it goes! But so far, very impressed with the tech and the concept.


OS X Lion

Overview callout osx

I downloaded and installed Lion from the Apple App Store. Grrr.



Definitely not going to tell you anything you don't already know or can't read from other sites. Just some thoughts;


  1. Having a 4GB download sounds like a brilliant idea, until you realise you live in a country with shit broadband. Advice: copy the installer from the Applications folder to somewhere else after you've made the big investment
  2. One of the least touted features of Lion is the Recovery Partition. Its excellent, and a welcome addition
  3. Augmenting the above is the ability now to encrypt the entire OS file system using FileVault.
  4. The natural gestures, LaunchPad (for iTards) and Mission Control are gimmicky. I've left them on, but don't think its anything wonderful.
  5. The Apple ID is now quite pervasive in the OS; you link it to your user account, you assign encryption recovery keys to them etc, all pointing toward more powerful user and identity management across devices


Overall, on the surface, it feels like a maintenance release rather than a massive shift. But fundamental changes that improve security and manageability are never bad things. We'll just have to see how the big download concept works when you're not in the US or Europe.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

B&W MM-1's


B&W is an old-school speaker manufacturer, and they've applied the same skills and history to computer speakers - the MM-1's.


These have been extensively reviewed, so here are the salient points;


  • externally powered
  • USB sound input (which utilises the on-board DSP)
  • cabled output in case you want to run headphones
  • a remote control (which integrates into iTunes)


They are phenomenally clear, with powerful bass which is amazing given the lack of a satellite sub-woofer. They're also attractive and fit in well if you're running any Mac.


A good purchase indeed.

Klipsch Image Audio X10i in-ear headphones


In-ear headphones are great; they're discrete, sound is generally good because its right there (no dispersion loss), and your skull is an awesome natural amplifier. Problem is, there are so many different varieties out there, its hard to tell which ones are decent.


I had a pair of Sennheiser CX-300's for a long time, and they were awesome. I had an opportunity to try something different, and ordered a pair of Klipsch's. These headphones are bar none the best in-ear headphones I've tried. They're ridiculously priced, but the audio quality is unparalleled. The controls on the cable are also very convenient, esp. when you can't reach your device to control pause, increase volume, etc.


Due to their design, they do attract quite a bit of gunk quite quickly (ew), but they include a fancy paper clip to clean them, so guess I'm not the only one.


Highly recommended!


PS. The provided case, while very pretty, isn't very durable and certainly won't last in a backpack filled with other stuff.

Sennheiser RS-180 wireless headphones

RS 180 ProductImage

I'm a little fussy about the headphones I use; I've always been a fan of Sennheiser, and bought my first pair of over-ears from them - the PX200's. Besides for coming with the most ridiculous case, they are pretty good, and currently serve use as the resident bedside headphones.


They're light, relatively inexpensive and let enough noise in without affecting audio quality - useful for night-time listening. I had a pair of canal-ear style CX300's (excellent value for money) and CX400's (not worth the price difference and far too short a cable), but needed something for the office (see here for the current portable cans). I bought a pair of HD515's, but found the cord a real PITA on a desk; wires everywhere, too long, too short, etc, etc.


So I bought a pair of RS-180's for use at home; its sat on the shelf for a year, but the cord hassles at work forced me to try this out; I am truly amazed! These headphones are not only comfortable and attractive, but the cradle looks like a piece of art, and thanks to the Kleer technology in use, audio reproduction and quality is amazing.


Range is pretty good too; I can go for about 50m line of sight before encountering artifacts. Highly recommended!


PS. Price wise, they're outrageous. But so are good hearing aids ;-)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Android Market now available in SA!

One of my longest standing gripes with Google is the lack of availability in South Africa of paid market-apps! An announcement was made that clarifies that; the full Android market is coming to SA.


Brilliant news, and about bloody time!

Xoom running Honeycomb 3.1

I've managed to hack Honeycomb 3.1 onto the Motorola Xoom I am evaluating. The highlights that are outlined are all implemented, and to summarise;

  • its faster
  • screen transitions are smoother
  • Adobe Flash seems to have less impact on the device
  • Stock system widgets are now resizeable - duh!
  • Most importantly, the e-mail client now actually deletes mail from IMAP servers


Its an incremental upgrade and should have been called 3.02. But hey, marketing.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Motorola Xoom review

There are notoriously few decent Android tablets around, and the first tablet-

Motorola xoom

optimised version called Honeycomb, running on the Motorola Xoom, was announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2011.


I lusted after it immediately, but actual release was only in April 2011. To make matters more complicated, the tablet was launched in partnership with Verizon, which meant a US-centric launch plan. I managed to acquire one, and have spent two weeks with it. I also ordered the Portfolio case, an official accessory.


Pro's for the Xoom;

  • It doesn't run iOS
  • It can multi-task
  • It runs a tablet-specific operating system
  • Its CPU is dual-core
  • It can run for 8 hours continuously


Con's however outweigh the pro's;

  • There are so few Honeycomb-optimised apps that its not worth buying specifically
  • The official case will damage the device over time, and forces you to have it open when charging
  • The power button is at the back - very silly place for a power button
  • The few apps that do exist require you to be in the US to buy them - pretty useless if you don't live in the US or UK
  • Its heavy
  • Its expensive


Its disappointing, but on the weight of the device (literally) and the lack of optimised applications, I'd have to say that Google missed several really good tricks here. The software is severely buggy (e.g. the e-mail client can't delete mail from an IMAP server), and the lack of a decent app ecosystem makes this a dead duck.


In comparison to an Apple iPad (the original), the decision to go with this device was marginal; with the iPad2, you'd have to be an idiot.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Assertion: Most iOS apps exist to work around shit browsing

So I've got an iPod touch. And had an iPhone 1G (which sucked), a 3G (which sucked), a 3GS (which sucked a little bit less) and a 4 (which sucked the most because of the rubbish signal and battery life).


I also borrowed and used an iPad for about a month, as a laptop replacement. I therefore feel adequately exposed to comment on them. What I learned from all these devices that in spite of the gazillion apps that are in the Apple Store, most of them are simply to work around and/or circumvent the frankly shit browsing experience and/or lack of Adobe Flash that exists on these devices, and none of them multi-task properly.


I regularly see my colleagues and family showing me apps that frankly only exist to work around functionality that should exist with a proper ecosystem. And the app update process is simply a nightmare, if you mix/match store accounts.


Is it just me, or is that simply disingenuous ?

Monday, January 3, 2011

11" Macbook Air, Dropbox and LogMeIn

I received my 11" Macbook Air from The Core Group, the local Apple distributor in South Africa. The machine does not disappoint.


Exquisitely manufactured from aluminium unibody construction, the machine is

  • ridiculously compact and small
  • beautiful to use and travel with
  • easily powerful enough for what I need it to do

Battery life is better than I'm used to (about 3-5 hours), but not as good as the iPad (which is about a week). Fine for me, but might be troublesome to frequent fliers.


It is, in essence, a Mac netbook, which is precisely what I need. The only thing is that to protect it is rather difficult. Because its so small, conventional covers and the like just don't fit. I ordered a leather case off Amazon, and it arrived within a week! Now that is great service. The case works very well; gets a thumbs up!


A more interesting exercise is the syncing of data using Dropbox, which works flawlessly. Although fairly early in usage, I think the maturity of cloud services, and specifically cloud storage, makes it easy to move from system to system, environment to environment.


I've also signed up for LogMeIn Pro, a solution that allows you to remotely access computers. I had played with the software quite a while ago, and while I was impressed with the concept, thought the solution needed to go some ways before being ready for me to use it. That time has arrived; I went for the Pro option for the ability to transfer files easily. It is quite expensive ($100 for two machines), but I think it'll pay itself off quite quickly.