Category Archives: Technology

iPhone 5 – benefits of the larger screen

The new iPhone 5 was released a few weeks ago. Despite the enormous initial uptake, many people have yet to see the handset and may be wondering how it compares with previous models. The larger screen isn’t necessarily so obvious, as the screen takes up more of the handset’s length, in addition to the unit being slightly longer also, however the net result is a pleasingly larger area to work with. What better than to make some direct comparisons:

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Gameplay of Air Supremacy benefits from a wider viewing area with more space to use controls

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Articles in Flipboard can fit more text on screen – 11 lines compared to 7 on the 4S….

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…while there’s a couple of extra topics viewable on screen at once.

Of course perhaps the biggest benefit from the larger iPhone 5 screen is the new 16:9 ration – meaning viewing video now uses every pixel of the screen.

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All iPhone 4(S) all the time

iPhone 4S box

Somewhat late to the party on this one, we’ve finally become an all iPhone 4 household. Tara has taken my iPhone 4, freeing her finally from the shackles of an increasingly lumbering and senile iPhone 3G, while I’ve got a new iPhone 4S to keep up with my insatiable app and podcast addiction.

It’s proven a good move – Tara finally has a phone with a battery that comfortably lasts the day and is like a gazelle to the drunk tortoise of the 3G. The iPhone 4 is quick, fit for purpose and doesn’t require a tea break when making a Foursquare checkin.

My move to the iPhone 4S is a modest improvement, but the doubling of capacity on the 4 means I’m no longer struggling for space and can crack on with adding my back catalogue of music into iTunes. The 4S also offers an increase in speed, which has cut the frustratingly long start-up time of Camera+ to something much more reasonable. It also ensures that, until such time that the iPhone 5 graces us with its presence, my device has got the necessary oomph (a technical term, you understand) to deliver the demands of the latest apps.

Nowhere is the relentless march of technology felt as keenly as in the mobile marketplace, where the passage of only a couple of years can easily turn a top-of-the-range device into a struggling antique. Trying to keep up with this fearsome pace can prove an expensive business, which is one reason why, until now, our own devices have been lagging behind a little. The recent expense of house-buying and a wedding has meant we’ve taken the view of making do with what we have, so long as it does the job. While we may envy a little those with brand new devices boasting the latest features, our phones have done the core work we’ve asked of them, and that’s been fine. However time catches up with older devices, the slowness of the iPhone 3G was becoming more trouble than it was worth, and it was time to put it out to pasture. For now we’re back up to speed, and we’ll continue to enjoy it while it lasts.

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A 21st century festival family gathering

Christmas is traditionally a time for spending time with family, however the ease of travel enjoyed these days means that many extended families are spread across hundreds if not thousands of miles. Getting the family together in person may be impossible, however this modern problem can at least be eased by some similarly modern tech.

For the first time this year, we successfully brought together an entire side of the family on video chat using group video calling on Skype. Five video streams from across the UK and the USA all displayed on a single screen, everyone talking together, and it worked pretty well. Over the years we’ve tried all manner of services, including text, audio and video chat, but this is the first time that the infrastructure and technology has been able to offer something that allowed a quality of video and audio that’s enabled reasonably fluid conversation with everyone at once.

Getting the usability right by providing an interface that’s easy to use and that just works is essential for getting a broader audience on board who would easily be put off by technical issues. Aiding this ease of use is that fact that most people now own laptops that come with cameras and mics built-in. Suddenly we can all make video chats with no need for drivers and problems with third-party software. Our Christmas Skype chat needed no configuration aside from turning on the video and ensuring each person in the chat was a contact. Not exactly rocket science, and certainly a low level of complexity my parents could manage.

Group video calling from Skype isn’t free, but it only needs a single family member to be signed up to create the chat session. Following a hiatus from Skype of several years I’ll certainly now be looking at using it more regularly to keep in touch with the many distant family members.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Daniel and Tara at the Incovenient Mule!

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Make your smartphone happy for a tenner

I like to think I command an above average knowledge of Scottish phrases: Auld Reekie, dreich and many a mickle maks a muckle being among them. However, I’ve got to admit that giffgaff is a new one on me. It turns out to be an Old Scottish word meaning ‘mutual giving’, but it’s also the name of a UK mobile phone network offering some rather attractive bundles.

For the reasonably priced sum of £10 a month, giffgaff offers unlimited data, which prices it below even Three’s £15 PAYG offering. As a smartphone user, data is my top priority when it comes to network deals, yet finding data without paying through the nose has becoming increasingly difficult, as most networks have imposed strict 1GB or even 500Mb data caps over recent years.

Now these may sound like plenty of data for a mobile device to use over a month and yes, it’s fair to say that I don’t normally get near to this limit. The thing is, I’ve realised that I’ve learnt to curb my use of apps so I don’t risk breaching the limit, which has meant I’ve been avoiding media-rich content such as audio and video. I have in fact been failing to make full use of my smart phone because of data caps and it was time to put it right.

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iPhone 4: first thoughts

Okay, so I’m about three weeks behind everyone else on the iPhone 4 front. However, the phone that is taking 2010 by storm is now mine and from only 24 hours of ownership I can confidently say that it’s already making its mark.

A substantial upgrade

Some context is necessary, however, to explain just why I’m finding this new handset to be just as revolutionary as it is. I’ve made the upgrade to the iPhone 4 from the iPhone 3G. The 3G was, and is, a fine phone, and has served me well. However for a number of weeks it’s been running iOS4, which as many users have realised does the iPhone 3G no favours at all. It seems that iOS4 is trying to fit too many features across too great a range of handsets and it’s simply too demanding of the iPhone 3G’s hardware. I found that simple tasks such as texting became extremely slow and would often crash the app. Running apps while listening to a podcast – a task causing no problems at all under OS 3.1.3 – suddenly led to stuttering, apps crashing, and on occasion the iPhone crashing entirely. I stuck with iOS4 as I wanted to easily set-up the iPhone 4 using the existing restore, however the weeks of waiting did severely test me.

The delivery of my iPhone 4 yesterday finally saw end to this torment. Setting it up was simplicity itself, using the last restore point from the iPhone 3G and O2′s astoundingly straight-forward SIM swapping website. The hardest part of it all was getting the micro-SIM snapped out of the card it came in.

Using the restore point meant that the iPhone 4 was immediately familiar, with all the apps in their usual places, yet the speed increase was instantly noticeable. The iPhone 3G has always struggled with Twittelator Pro; my Twitter client of choice. As a result I’d always switched between it and the quicker Twitter for iPhone (formerly Tweetie) app. Now, Twittelator offers all the speed you’d want. It’s universally quick and responsive, and a joy to use, overcoming all of my bugbears with it on the 3G.

I quickly realised that the performance limitations of the 3G had actually greatly influenced the way I’d been using the phone and apps on it. iOS4 had caused such instability and performance issues that I’d avoided using certain apps and generally taken a cautious approach to using the phone’s functions as a whole. Essentially I’d not been using the phone to its full potential; shackles now broken with iPhone 4.

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iPhone app review: Plane Finder

This is an interesting little app for anyone who’s ever wondered about the planes flying overhead. Tapping into a network of home based receivers, the app places the location of commercial aircraft across the UK and parts of Europe on a map. As shown in the screenshots the app allows aircraft to be selected, displaying a range of information, most interestingly the route, airline, height and speed, and there’s even the option to look up some stock photos of the aircraft.

While researching this app, I also came across a website that offers similar information through a web interface: http://www.radarvirtuel.com

Of limited practical use, perhaps, but I find this app a bit of fun when I see a plane passing over and like to imagine it full of holidaymakers or interesting folk bound for somewhere far flung or exotic. Simple things…

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iPhone apps – new year round-up

I’ve had my iPhone for over a year now and over that time I’ve fairly packed it full of apps. The start of a New Year is as good a time as any to take stock what I’ve got and – with a bit of effort – thin out the chaff from the wheat. Here than is a look at some of the apps I’ve been using recently, and in some cases apps which seemed like a good idea at the time but which have forever languished, unused and forgotten.

Twitter & social media

Tweetie 2 – although I’ve a number of Twitter apps installed, I always automatically use Tweetie 2. It’s slick, quick and intuitive. The only negatives are its use of the new retweet system and that it can lose tweets when closed down which have to be reloaded. However the sheer pleasure of use and its support of lists for follower management makes this a winner.

Twitterlator Pro – I do keep trying to use this app for Twitter as it does offer good functionality, however I simply find it slower and clunkier than Tweetie 2. TP seldom loses tweets in the timeline and offers nice characters to use in Tweets, however the usability just doesn’t make me want to instinctively use it.

Tweetdeck – Undoubtedly the king of desktop Twitter clients, however as an iPhone app it’s never really worked for me. I found it slow, crashed too often and when it lost messages in the timeline(s) it seemed incapable of detecting those missing and reloading them. Overall this unfortunately made it a pain to use. No other app makes it as easy to view tweets from multiple accounts and groups, however the speed of Tweetie 2 makes it a closely run thing.

Facebook – Although I’m not sure a heavy Facebook users these days, the app offers a decent interface for keeping in touch with friends, viewing their latest photos and managing chat & messages.

Foursquare – The new social media site that allows users to tag the cafe/pub/restaurant where they are. This is one of a number of promising geo-location social media services, although it’s too early to tell if this will reach critical user mass to reach the big time or whether it will keep a more niche following. Continue reading

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iPhone app reviews: Twittelator, Train Search, Red Laser

Tracking down truly useful iPhone apps can be a tricky business. My iPhone is all but full with apps but when I think of it there’s relatively few I use on a regular basis; most falling into the category of ‘handy to have, just in case’. The App Store highlights the most popular and featured, which encompasses a good deal of the quality, yet some truly mediocre yet talked about apps can make their way into the top listings while niche apps may also fall into the relatively obscurity of the lower listings pages.

There follows three apps throughly worth investigating: Twittelator – perhaps the ultimate Twitter client for iPhone; Train Search – a newly released, free and excellent train timetable & live running app; RedLaser - scan the bar code of products you see in a shop and compare the prices online. For me each of these marks new heights in the function, quality and/or value of iPhone apps.

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TubeDeluxe: iPhone UK app review

I recently rediscovered Transport for London’s live departure boards for tube stations. I find this a useful feature as it allows me to plan my departure from home allowing me to arrive just in time to catch the train to work rather than just watch it leave as I do normally. It then struck me that there might be an iPhone app that incorporates it. Clearly the developers are way ahead of me on this and there indeed several that make available the departure boards in a handy interface.

To date I’ve been using London Tube Status which simply provides the status of the various London Underground lines. It does the job, looks nice and it’s free, however it seems I’ve been missing a trick. From the same author is TubeDeluxe, an app for just 59p which integrates the departure boards, journey planner, tube map and nearest station finder with the line status report. I browsed a number of London travel apps before going with TubeDeluxe and I have to say it’s proven a sound choice.

Let’s start with the departure boards. The Mule resides on the Met line; many miles outside of central London and with trains sufficiently far apart that you don’t really want to extend the commute even longer through having just missed one train and having to wait 10 mins or so for the next. Choose your line, your station and see when the train is due and plan your departure from home accordingly. Excellent. It’s effectively designed and on a line such as the Met where many station don’t show much if any live train information you can be keep a step ahead. Handily, for stations where the line is shared with Chiltern Railways, the departure boards show their departures too.

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