Browse Author

David Artiss

Happiness Engineer for the WordPress VIP team at Automattic. Gamer, entertainer and general fan of all things Marvel.

Picasa increases storage – but only to Google+ users

Hidden away in the Google help screens is something that gives Google+ users an extra reason to be happy!

The amount of free storage for Picasa Web Albums is 1GB. However, this doesn’t include certain photo sizes. For non-Google+ users this is anything up to 800 x 800 pixels. For Google+ users this is a much better 2048 x 2048.

For videos there are no changes for Google+ users – any videos less than 15 minutes long don’t count towards your limit.

If you get to your 1GB limit then anything you upload will automatically be resized to fit within the limitations of the free storage.

I think I've worked out why car insurance is so expensive

Image courtesy of ZoofyTheJi

Car insurance is pretty expensive. And getting more so year-on-year.

I’ve just renewed mine and although I’ve gone another without any claims or indeed anything happening that could affect my insurance, it’s gone up. In an ideal world you’d expect the opposite.

So, let’s just see how I got that insurance.

I went via Quidco, as I could get cashback from MoneySupermarket.com. MoneySupermarket.com put me onto Hastings Essentials. Hastings Essentials are a broker and, on the paperwork they’ve provided, state that my insurance is with “Advantage Ins”. If that’s the Advantage Insurance I think it is, they’re described as “an independent marketing organization that delivers products and services from insurance companies to its member firms in the Independent Brokerage Distribution Channel.” In other words, another broker. At some point at the end I suspect is an insurer. Somewhere.

So, here’s the chain…

  • Cashback website – Quidco
  • Cashback comparison site – MoneySupermarket.com
  • Broker – Hastings Essentials
  • Broker – Advantage Insurance
  • Insurer (we assume)

With each takings they own cut, is it any wonder how much we’re paying? Sadly, I don’t save any by going any more directly – the Hastings Essentials quote is no different if I go to their website or via MoneySupermarket, so I may as well make use of the £20 cashback I’d get from Quidco.

Of course, there are some who shun cashback and comparison sites – Aviva and Directline for example. However (and try and work this one out) their quotes were astronomical compared to what I got elsewhere.

 

 

Powermat – great idea, shame about the range

Powermat is a company, and range of products, that allow you to charge your electrical gadgets via conductive charging – that’s the same technology that most electric toothbrushes use, where charge is sent to the device without having to physical plug it in.

Instead you buy a “mat” which does the charging and each device has a special case or replacement battery compartment which accepts the charge.

It’s a US company but UK versions of their products are available. Indeed, their prices are quite competitive right now with massive price drops on many of their products.

But.. and there’s a but… their range is rubbish. If you don’t own an Apple or Blackberry you’re likely to be out of luck. They also support the Nintendo DS and DSi and 2 Android phones. The Apple iPod Touch is supported but not the latest generation and in the case of the Android phones, both are US models and don’t appear to be supported in the UK at all.

I contacted them via Twitter to ask if they had plans for a receiver for the incredibly popular Samsung Galaxy S 2… they didn’t.

So, it begs the question – “what’s the point?”. Well, unless you have a phone named after a fruit.

Trust ComfortLine Bluetooth Mini Mouse review

Now I have a sparkly new laptop replete with built-in Bluetooth, I thought it was time to move away from my wired mouse (especially as I never bother to connect it up) and invest in a Bluetooth solution.

However, when it comes to Bluetooth mice the choice is somewhat narrow – although still leaving me with choices from my usual suspects, Microsoft and Logitech. The Logitech mouse was, well, blue. Bright shiny blue. Didn’t like it. The Microsoft version was white (which would look odd with a black and red laptop) but it’s main problem was its steep price. Lenovo sell their own but, again, the price was high.

On Amazon, though, I found a £15 version from Trust. And very good it looked too. Unfortunately, Trust doesn’t have the greatest reputation for producing the greatest quality products but, now I have it, I can say that it really is a nice piece of kit.

It’s light, very rubbery (a thin rubber coat all over and a thicker coat on the left where your thumb rests) and very well put together. On the left hand side are 2 buttons – usually assigned to forward and back. On the top, behind the rubber and chrome scroll wheel is a DPI button, allowing to quickly switch between 500 and 1000 dpi – extremely handy!  On the underside is a power switch.

It comes in the type of sealed plastic packaging that you need scissors for (hate that!) and, other than an instructions sheet and a battery, nothing else is included with the mouse (as it uses your existing Bluetooth it doesn’t need drivers). To pair with your PC you simple add it as new device after pushing in a button on the bottom of the mouse for 5 seconds.

And after using it for a number of weeks now I don’t have any real issues. It sometimes looses it’s link but I think that’s more down to the laptop and Bluetooth in general rather than the mouse – a quick wiggle of the mouse and it soon comes back on.

Otherwise it’s comfortable in use and, as I said before, very well built.

[review]Comfortable, well built and cheap. A bargain from Trust.[/review]

Gallery

Amazing deal on Samsung Galaxy S II

My mobile phone contract is expiring soon and, in the middle of a house move, I’m trying to find ways to reduce outgoings. At first I was looking at getting the Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc, as I knew that was reasonable affordable. However, for the same money I’ve now, amazingly, found the Galaxy S II.

The details are as follows…

[box]Network: O2

Contract: 24 months
Phone cost: £29

Minutes: 100
Texts: 500
Mobile internet: 500MB[/box]

If all of that seems acceptable to you then it’s available from Dial-a-phone for just £21.50 a month.

And here’s how to make it even more affordable.

  1. O2 provide superb home broadband – I use them myself. They’re already competitively priced but if you have a phone with them you get a further £5 off per month. And they do home phone as well for just £7.50pm (inc. line rental). Combine all 3 and it will really save you some money.
  2. Use Quidco. Dial-a-phone are currently giving £50 cash back. If you also decide to switch broadband as well you can get up to £110 cashback from them.

So, in my case I’d get the Galaxy S II and home phone and broadband (on their all rounder package) for £44 p/m. It would cost me £29 up front for the phone but I’d also get £140 cash back from Quidco.

 UPDATE: The handset price is now £69

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 11

A few years ago I bought a netbook – an Acer Aspire One, which I considered the best netbook at the time. It’s worked brilliantly and its only limitations were those imposed on netbooks in general – small resolution screen, limited memory, performance, etc.

However, I’ve since realised that I need a bit more… erm… umph! More speed and a higher screen resolution to be more precise. However, I still didn’t want anything large. Hence, an “ultraportable” was what I needed – a full blown laptop but in a compact size. What I never understand is how these ultraportables cost more than their larger counterparts – they sport smaller screens, often lack optical drives and ports, have less powerful processors, etc, but cost more simply for the privilege of them being “shrunk” in size. However, there are some exceptions to this rule and the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge is one such device.

It has scrabble-tile keys and a glossy red case, but the Edge is still considered to be business “offerings”. None-the-less, that’s what I’ve now gone and bought thanks to its combination of features and price (and generally positive reviews).

As the name suggests it has an 11″ screen (11.6″ to be more precise) which is (mumble, mumble) glossy but is LCD and has a good resolution of 1366 × 768. Indeed, all the Edge laptops, up to 15″, have the same resolution screen. It doesn’t have an optical drive, but that’s no unusual for this size of laptop.

So, let’s look at some of the stats…

  • It’s just 1.1 inches thick and weighs 3.3 pounds.
  • Input is via a touchpad or Touchpoint
  • It has both Bluetooth 2 and Wireless N connectivity
  • Ports include a 5-in-1 card reader, 3 USB ports (1 always on), LAN, HDMI and headphone socket
  • It has a built-in microphone and webcam above the screen
  • Windows 7 Professional 64-bit is the installed operating system

The model I have has an Intel i3 U380 processor, 4GB of memory and a 320GB hard drive.

Ok, so what is it like? The keyboard is excellent – the little-used Function keys have become 2nd function to system and  media keys (i.e. instead of having to press Fn and then an F key to access system options, it now works the other way around). Both input methods – touchpad and Touchpoint – are easy to use (i usually use the latter).

The screen isn’t quite up to Lenovo standards as the viewing angles aren’t brilliant, but it’s still pretty good. Power wise, it’s exactly what I wanted – the i3 kicks out enough performance to keep me happy, although I’m hardly editing videos on it 😉

The Edge 11 has a 6-cell battery which sticks out of the back of the laptop – this isn’t an issue for me at all and provides quite a few hours of usage (sitting on my desk at work it will quite happily run for 6+ hours).

It comes with Lenovo’s own software – the majority of which I don’t use but it’s driver update software is particularly useful.

The box that the laptop comes in is unusually small – but that’s mainly because there’s so little in it. Only the laptop itself is protected with everything else “rattling around” inside – this is to minimise packaging and caused no issues for me. Other than the laptop, power supply and brief leaflets there’s nothing else. If you don’t have a bag or laptop sleeve, you’ll need to get something.

The Edge has some lovely touches that make it a pleasure to use..

  • The chrome coloured trim around the screen and keyboard look very nice.
  • The build quality is excellent – sturdy metal hinges and no flex in the screen
  • The power light is is the dot above the “i” in “ThinkPad” – this lights up both on the wrist rest but also on the back of the lid.

Criticisms? I have some, but none of them are major…

  • The aforementioned poor screen viewing angles
  • It’s supposed to have some enhancements to improve boot times but, I have to say, I’ve not seen any differences.
  • It has no hard disk activity light. Okay, it doesn’t have any keyboard lights (num lock, etc) either, but I can live without those. The lack of a hard drive light is quite an annoyance.
  • The Edge 11 came out last year and, although only a year old, it’s already showing it’s age – older processors, no USB 3, etc. A refresh of the range must be due soon.

Now, just for fun, and no criticism of Lenovo, I thought I’d share the details of the delivery of my laptop, and a soft case that I also bought for it. Upon ordering they’re despatched from Hong Kong and China and go all round the world. Below are the details – click on a thumbnail to zoom in. The fun one is the 2nd – the delivery of my laptop. Yes it really did come to the UK and then fly out again only to be returned again 😮

I have to say I got a bit of a bargain – Lenovo had a special offer at the time, and I used Quidco for cashback so ended up getting it for quite a lot below £500. Currently the same spec model is £621 – I didn’t get that much discount, so I think the model has had a recent price hike.

You can reduce this cost with a 2GB memory version and, in the past, they’ve had variations with AMD processors – however from reading reviews of laptops with these processors in them they run a lot hotter and therefore you get a lot of fan noise. However, AMD models of the Edge 11 are not currently available.

Indeed, the Edge 13 is not available at all and the Edge 15 is only available as an AMD version – this would suggest to me that Lenovo are discontinuing these products. This was why I thought they were running the recent money off – the fact this has ended and they’ve actually increased the price of the models is therefore puzzling.

[review]An excellent mini laptop which looks gorgeous and runs smoothly. Why Lenovo consider this to be a business model I don’t know – it would make a great consume model.

I’d give it a full 5 stars if it wasn’t for the current price level – as it is, it loses one mark. However, if you can get the 4GB Intel model for less than £500, it’s well worth it.[/review]

Gallery

Pogoplug Software

I’ve reviewed the Pogoplug hardware in the past, but now it’s time to review the actual desktop software. Why? Because with the recent version 3 release it can be used independently, offering a number of new features.

The new Pogoplug software then allows you to share files across your computers – not just those attached to a physical Pogoplug device. So, for instance, install Pogoplug on a desktop PC and a laptop and you can access files from each device from the other. It does this by creating virtual copies of the folders (with an extension of the computer name) within a mapped drive letter (you can also ask the software to create separate drive letters for each shared computer).

The software is not uploaded to “the cloud” but, instead, the device which the software resides on must be switched on. Clicking on a file will then cause it to be download from the other device. You can also access the files via their web interface.

You can also map printers to the software, allowing you to remotely access a printer connected to another computer.

Lastly, it offers a features named Active Copy. This lets you create pairs of folders where files will be automatically backed up from one to another. Originally designed to allow you to automatically backup to your Pogoplug device, this will now also allow backing up between PCs.

A premium version of the software is also available and retails at $29 – this allows you to stream media to mobile phones, consoles and internet TVs.

Issues? I cannot get it to work on my work PC. It’s either the proxy or the firewall software, but it doesn’t give much hint as to what the problem is – simply to contact Pogoplug about it.

When the software is updating its file information the icon in the system tray animates. Installing it on my main PC, with a lot of music and photo files, meant that it was going all night, hammering the hard drive but no indication of how far through it was. Do I leave it running indefinitely? Does it have a problem? I’m not sure.

[review]An excellent way of connecting between devices – obviously it does requires them all to be switched on. However, to get around this you’d need to uploaded all your files to a cloud service – and that wouldn’t be free. It also has a number of really useful options (printer, automatic backups, etc).

My main criticism – a lack of information about what’s happening. Whether it’s doing something or not because there’s a problem, it could do with more feedback to the user. But let’s not forget that the basic version is free. I don’t know if I’d purchase the premium version, but that’s down to whether you’d require the streaming features it offers.[/review]

 

Acer Aspire One slow Wi-Fi

This will possibly be my last post about my Acer Aspire One as I’ve now passed this onto my wife and I have a sparkly new laptop (more on that in a later post).

A known issue with the AA1 is that the Wi-Fi can be quite slow. This, as it turns out, is due to some overly aggressive power management.

  • Right click on My Computer and select Properties
  • Click on the Hardware tab and then the Device Manager Option
  • Expand the Network Adapters section. You should see an entry for the Atheros adapter. Right click on this and select Properties
  • Click on the Advanced tab
  • In the left hand column click on Power Save Mode and change the option on the side from Maximum to Off.
  • Finally, click OK and close Device Manager.

This is the workaround reported by many users and has certainly worked for me.

Armageddon Riders PS3

Last week I made mention of this game which had just turned up in the PlayStation Store. Now I’ve had a chance to play it.

Before I start, he’s a quick recap of the storyline behind it…

There has been a fatal accident in the Large Hadron Collider that plunged the nearby city into chaos, filling it with anomalies and turning the residents into zombies. The restricted zone became a Mecca for marauders and criminals who hunted for artifacts and thrills of dead city street racing. Outrageous speed, rivers of blood, brutal cars, equipped with instruments of destruction: spikes, saws and blades, and don’t forget the boosters. Hundreds of hungry zombies roam the streets, jumping on cars and trying to get to the drivers. To survive there and return to tell the tale is a real challenge.

So, basically, drive around, destroying others car and zombies. If you’ve ever played Carmageddon in the past you’ll know the score. It’s a real “blood fest” and has an 18+ certificate to go with it – zombies can be killed in all sorts of ways, including run over, sliced by knives that come out of your car or simply ground up in rollers mounted in front of the bonnet. Blood is splattered everywhere, including over the screen. Zombies can also jump onto your car and attempt to trash it – a hard handbrake turn or smashing it into a wall normally sorts it though 😉

There are loads of different types of missions and, as with all the best games, it’s “sandbox” style, allowing you to just freely roam around the levels doing whatever you wish – you can take part in a mission or just have fun. You can pick up various extras, including repairs and cash, the latter of which you can spend on improving your car – and there are some really interesting options! You have a boost for extra speed, handbrake turning, the lot.

The sound and graphics are superb. The controls are (I don’t know whether intentionally) pretty much a match for Burnout, so you’ll know just what to press. The cars are a bit more “skitish” than in Burnout though, almost as if you’re permanently driving on ice. However, this can be great fun sliding sideways towards a group of approaching zombies. What I haven’t yet tried is my Logitech GT wheel – I’ll report back once I have!

There isn’t an online play facility (not surprisingly considering that they’ve had to have their own server for this) but you can play it in split-screen 2 player mode (not enough games offer offline 2 player modes these days!).

[review]Cracking graphics and gameplay and gore by the bucket – what’s not to love? The best bit about the game, though, is the price – £7.99. Download it from the PlayStation store NOW![/review]

Useful Links

PSN Page

Official Armageddon Riders website

Video

Nintendo Wii U – my first impressions

Earlier this week the successor to the Nintendo Wii was announced – the Wii U.

The Wii was needing a replacement because, although popular at first, sales have slumped. The Wii was always behind the Xbox and PS3 in terms of processor and graphics capabilities but I think the lack of media capabilities drove more people to find consoles such as the PS3 a more tempting proposition – it’s recently come down to £200 and that includes a built in blu-ray player as well as iPlayer, ITV Player and 4oD built-in.

So, rumours with rife before the launch at E3. It had already leaked that the controller would have a built-in screen – I could image a small colour LCD that could display useful information. Further rumours including a hard drive, Blu-ray player and 4GB memory. None of these were scoffed by followers as they seemed eminently practical.

However, now we know the details I’m left deeply, deeply underwhelmed.

The console itself looks like a more rounded version of the Wii. It uses it’s own optical disc format – they appear to be Blu-ray capacity without being so. So no movie watching. Still. No hard drive either. The processor and GPU specs don’t appear to be definite but it looks like it may be as good as the PS3 and Xbox (hardly next generation) – at least it’s HD now. It’s backwards compatible with the Wii but not the Gamecube. And that’s about it.

The controller, on the other hand, is huge. It’s not a small screen built in, but a large one. Quite how this is to be used I’m not sure – I’m not sure how you concentrate on a game on your main screen and look at this at the same time.  It looks like a tablet and will probably feel heavy after a while. It does have a camera built-in though, so that could be interesting.

However, there’s not talk of the Wii U using a sensor bar so one of the revolutionary things about the Wii has been lost – indeed the controller doesn’t have a pointing device in it.

But here’s the big rub… you only get one controller with the Wii U and, because of the price of them, Nintendo say that they won’t be available to buy separately. I’m assuming Wii controllers are compatible, but where’s the fun of creating a new type of controller for a “family console” and restricting it to one each. Indeed, Microsoft Kinect in particular and Sony Play to a lesser extent are shifting away from the controllers and getting the console to do the work – that way you can have lots of people using it with a minimum of cost.

It will be out mid-2012. I’m not excited.