Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Popbox V8

8 2

I have waxed lyrical about the Popcorn Hour range of players before, but they're all too large to carry on extended holiday or business trips. I went to go buy a Popcorn Hour A-400, and spotted the Popbox V8, a small media player which, upon testing, delivers very good video playback performance and relatively good stability in a small, compact package.


And the codec support / playback performance is as good / great as its bigger brothers. Small enough to travel with, will be testing it out in the field next week. I suspect it will do quite well.

Popcorn Hour A-400


I've always been a fan of the Popcorn Hour devices, ever since Geoff Rehmet mentioned them to me and said these look awesome. I ordered the Popcorn Hour A-110, and when it was time to replace it, bought the C-200 (original product page) and then the A-200 (original product page). Nice devices, good physical build quality but very ropy software builds, which improved over time.


My C-200 died, and the A-400, I had hoped, would get around the rough beginnings of previous devices. I had skipped the A-300, having no need of a media player. While the interface is prettier than the previous generations, the software bugs peek through as soon as you do anything other than playback media. And the new video-wall style interface is notoriously buggy. It has crashed and corrupted itself literally every day I've tried to use it; I've removed my photo collection to see if that makes a difference, which I suspect it will - ok, maybe these things are not built for 120GB photo collections.


The device has significantly more horsepower while navigating than its predecessors, and it chews through MKV playback. Also, the picture quality is notably better than the previous units, so I'm quite happy with the raw performance. But the video wall interface needs a lot of work still, in its DB maintenance / generation.


I don't regret buying it (my old unit packed up), and it does what its supposed to do. I'm just annoyed that I have to fight with it to enable the "new" features. Overall, a worthy buy which does what it promises, but still with some rough edges.


PS. For raw video performance and network speed (even at 100Mbps), it still kicks the Apple TV's butt.

iPhone 5

120186 apple iphone 5 picture largeHowever much I didn't want to like the iPhone 5, I have to admit that after using it for a few days, I do. Physically, the only thing I really noticed was the fact that its larger/taller. Yes, its thinner. Yes, its lighter. Enough to buy a new phone ? If you have a 4S, nah; or a Galaxy S3, or an HTC One X. For anything else, its a real no-brainer. Get one.


The height makes it still usable with one hand, and it feels pretty good in the hand compared to the Samsung S3 or HTC One X. Its very fast, and battery life has improved notably - I used to get to 30% with a 4S, and 10% with a 4. With this 5, I now am sitting at 40% after a business day. So thats improved, which is great. And I'm seeing unbelievable network speeds, which means quite a lot of work went into the radios on this device. This is the device that should have been released instead of the 4S, which was the predecessor to this device.


But I don't like one thing, other than that I got it in white because thats all that was available. I love the Lightning connector because its so small, and doesn't matter which direction you stick it in. I don't love the fact that basically nothing that I have (docks, cables, adapters, chargers) work with it. So, I've done the only logical thing you can do; bought tons of micro-USB chargers and data cables, and bought a lightning-micro-USB adapter, and will stick to that. Micro-USB is almost universally available now, and the adapter really is well made and small - it should be, its damn expensive at R200+


Overall, a great device.


PS. The service I've been getting from Cell-C since I ported has been stellar. They had the phone for me when they said they would, nano-sim and all. And my bills are coming in literally at half Vodacom. No brainer if you're still with anyone else and paying your own bill; port!


PPS. WTF did they change the SIM design to a nano-sim ? Stupid.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

Feature shop V389693943

Best. Tech. Device. Ever. Amazon Kindle Paperwhite does what the 2011 Kindle I had, but with two significant upgrades; there is a touch interface (meh, not that interesting), and a built-in light! Yes, killer feature spotted!

Through some fancy technology, Amazon has managed to integrate a light into a device that does what it promises, consistently. So they were a bit behind the curve, but I think their implementation is very slick.

Feature lighttech V387885943

Technical V400693942

The device is still light (although feels heavier than the 2011 version), but the grain on the new leather cover is awesome, the magnetic click on/off is cool (although its annoying that you can't switch it off), but its the light that is the killer feature.


I bought the 3G version, which was probably a bit silly. Should have saved some money and bought the 3G version with ads / specials. You only see those on the "sleep" screen, which on this device you never see because it auto sleeps and wakes when you open and close the lid anyway. Not sure if it would be different if you had the ad-supported version.


But overall, a real winner. Does what it says it does, and does it well! 

Feature bed V400694065

Porting to Cell-C


I have been a Vodacom direct customer since 1995 (except for a brief stint of stupidity with Nashua Mobile, who make Vodacom SP look like angels). I have always had a Talk 500 contract or superior. Like a religious nut, I'd upgraded every two years, allowing a new handset to buy my loyalty and put up with ever increasing bad signal quality, network outages, rubbish data throughputs and perpetual price increases and value deflation for 12 years. This, combined with dropped calls at three distinct points on Cowie Road in Bryanston that hasn't been fixed in the 10 years I've complained about it has resulted in no loyalty from me.


I used to pay R899 for this privilege a month, without a handset, with no data and 100 SMS'. I have now ported to Cell-C, which was a painless / smooth experience. I am now paying effectively R500 for the same voice bundle, and receive 300 extra SMS' and 400MB of data included. In my books, thats about half the price. I plan to take the savings and use it to build a contract that suits me, whereby I'll get a new phone every year now. So, for the same money, I'm getting a phone every year as opposed to two, 400MB of data and 300 additional SMS'.


I've used the network now for 10 days continuously, as my primary voice and data provider. The service has been, from a voice perspective, superior to Vodacom. The data service has been great in almost all locations except underground parking locations. And because of VitalityMobile, my wife has cancelled her contract with Vodacom as well, and we'll be phoning each other for a fixed fee per month.


Goodbye Vodacom; hello Cell-C!

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Asus Nexus 7

File Front view of Nexus 7 cropped

I've always been a fan of Google's Nexus line; hardware purpose built to highlight features in the latest version of Android, usually in a skunkworks configuration with hardware and software teams working relatively close together (same building at any rate).


I've had the Nexus One, Xoom, the Galaxy Nexus (I skipped the Nexus S because I thought it wasn't frankly that interesting) and most recently the Nexus 7. I picked it up in Dubai for R3000, in Duty Free. First impression is that its a solid device, with a nice rubber feel at the back. Jellybean on this device is extremely responsive, and renders graphics at lightning speed.


The 7" form factor is interesting; I personally like it, but Android still suffers from a severe lack of tablet-optimised applications, which makes me think that while this device is blazing fast and a pleasure to use for what I need it to do (Chrome and Google Reader), the iPad Mini is going to dominate this sector. At the time I bought, there was no 3G version; that has been rectified and I think with a 3G radio, this is definitely a very interesting device, especially if its price holds at roughly half that of its competitors. For the money, its unbeatable.


PS It does have the capability to make media available via USB, which is a big winner for me.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Unotelly (or how to watch Netflix and Hulu Plus in South Africa)

So cool devices like the Apple TV and many other embedded / TV devices support services like Netflix, Hulu Plus and BBC's iPlayer, but getting them to work without lots of hackery with VPN clients (services like Hidemyass) is near impossible.

Until now.

I signed up for a trial with Unotelly, a DNS-resolver / cache-based solution. They claim its VPN free, but the only way I can see it working is that they redirect the supported list of channels through to their own application proxies, which then mask you from the content provider.

Who cares; it works well, its relatively cheap, easy to install and I had it up and running on my home network in minutes. And best of all, works equally well on laptop, tablet, smartphone, etc. Neat!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Facetime HD camera's and Skype

Just a quick post, noticed that my video using Skype was stretched on a laptop with a Facetime HD camera.

This blog post was quite useful in getting it sorted out.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Android 4.1 - Jelly Bean


I had written before about the Galaxy Nexus; I've upgraded it to Android Jelly Bean, and so far loving the new notification framework, and the overall smoothness and perceived speed jump in usage.


The ability to mass dismiss notifications is also quite cool. Not cool is the auto-resizing / scaling of widgets. Sometimes, you want widgets to stay just where they are dammit, and this sometimes gets in the way. Pity there is no way to "lock" a widget / home screen.


Time to go play and discover more :-)

Samsung Galaxy SIII vs HTC One X

Samsung galaxy s iii vs htc one x

So, the big decision; do you buy the Samsung Galaxy S III or the HTC One X ? I'm not a fan of change, and I'd really appreciated the HTC Sense interface; I felt it enhanced, rather than detracted from, stock Android.


I ordered both, and played with both (the Samsung for about 10 minutes, and the HTC is now my primary device). Samsung's TouchWiz just seems to get in the way, and over simplifies the phone approach. I can see how this works well if their goal is to convert people from the iPhone to Android. It frankly pisses me off, and I spent most of yesterday helping a friend clean it off and install Cyanogenmod 9. He spent most of yesterday evening telling me how great it was over the stock interface, and based on my extremely limited time with it, I'd agree with him. He's going to love Jelly Bean when it arrives.


The One X seems on the surface not dramatically different from previous phones and iterations of their overlay. It just feels polished, smooth and natural. You can see that they've tried very hard to abstract the interface issues away from Android and provide a more consistent interface.


It feels good in the hand, and although the non-removable battery and lack of micro-SD (almost standard these days in any phone other than from Apple) is a concern, frankly it feels better and more well constructed than its equally large competitor. No doubt the Samsung will get more sales, but is it a better device than the HTC ? Not convinced. Battery life is sucky on both.


Both are still too damn big to be used with one hand, so it will be interesting to see what the iPhone 5 looks like size-wise. Its going to be a touch act to follow though, as the 4S appears positively dated compared to these new giants. Lets see.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Hetzner DE rocks

So I used to host a box in the US with a company called Limestone Networks, for $130 pm for a Intel box with a 500gb drive and 3tb of bandwidth.

I switched over to Hetzner in Germany, who charge E60 for an 8 core box, 2x3tb drive and no bandwidth limit! Not quite true, because I get rate limited to 100mbit after 5tb. I think I'll manage ;-)

The management interface is brilliant, the support is world class and I've not had to phone anyone.

Go Hetzner :)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Joby Blade


Disclaimer: I did get a discount on these from the distributor, but would have bought them at full price regardless.


I have an irrational love of torches (as opposed to a rational love of pocket knives, which I can squarely blame my grandfather for). Not extreme military-grade torches, but I'm quite careful about planning for power outages and for non-traditional weapons in a pinch. Within stumbling distance at home I have Mag-Lite 4 cell torches (with LED lights), and two sets of replacement batteries. In the cars, I have Mag-Lite 2 cell torches, also with two sets of replacement batteries. But these torches are quite heavy, and quite bulky.


Specifically the car-intended ones, while very bright, are near useless when needing to do something that requires two hands (e.g. changing a tyre, fitting mud flaps, etc) - which more often than not is what you need a torch for in a car. You end up balancing the torch, it falls, and much frustration while you try and figure out how to stand the damn thing. So score 1 for weaponry, 0 for practicality.

Imgres 1


Enter left stage, the Joby Blade. Joby are the same crazy guys who brought us the funny looking tripods, and have recently augmented their range with a bunch of cool torches. This one specifically attaches the wrap-around legs, which are magnetized (very cool!), to a very powerful 60 lumen LED light (which has a "boost" mode up to 130 lumen) which is rechargeable via USB. Nifty! It seems durable and compact, and has already replaced one of the car torches. Score 5 for practicality (and unfortunately 0 for weaponry).


Recommended! Its distributed locally by Wintec Solutions, a bunch of guys who bring in some really neat brands and back it up with great service.

Powertraveller Discovery

Discovery zoom

Disclaimer: I did get a discount on these from the distributor, but would have bought them at full price regardless.


Carrying multiple portable, battery driven and USB-chargeable devices is painful. At any given time, I'm carrying 3 cell-phones, at least one tablet & a compact camera. Travelling with chargers for all these things is a nightmare. Thank goodness so many of them are standardizing on being chargeable via USB, and there is some movement on recent devices to standardize on the connector - micro-USB. Except of course for Apple. But even they have an adapter for their ridiculous connector.


But there is still a decent risk that you'll have forgotten to charge one of them. And thats where the Powertraveller Discovery comes in. Its a compact portable battery, that can recharge any of those devices I've mentioned above while on the move. It does what it advertises it does, and comes with a travel pouch/bag, which for me shows a massive amount of consideration around how you protect this thing when you throw it in your bag.


It comes with a set of connectors (micro-, mini-, Motorola, Samsung, Nokia), but I carry around micro-, mini- and Apple dock cables as a matter of course, so don't use the supplied ones.


Highly recommended! Its distributed locally by Wintec Solutions, a bunch of guys who bring in some really neat brands and back it up with great service.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sonic nirvana

P5 Sound Banner

I had reviewed the B&W C-5 headphones earlier, and mentioned I was disappointed in the overpowering bass; not what I was expecting from Bowers & Wilkins. I mentioned that I had ordered the P-5's, and was hoping that it wouldn't have the same problem. I am ecstatic to report that they don't.


Clear, faithful sound stage, vocal reproduction, an easy to use case and the ability to switch between iPod-compatible (controls for volume and ability to advance / rewind from the lanyard) and standard audio cables make this a winner! Highly, highly recommended! On top of that, they're extremely comfortable, feel well made and look like they're going to last. Its in the same league or superior to the Sennheiser RS-180's in terms of comfort. Being closed though, you get no leakage which is good for the other people in the room :-)


I've partnered them with a FiiO E7 headphone amplifier, with the EQ set to bass boost +1, and its amazing how neat the sound is. Highly recommended combination.