David Artiss

Author: David Artiss (page 63 of 127)

The GadgetShow and un-smart smartphone test

Tonights The GadgetShow included a “showdown” between 4 of the “latest” 1 smartphones – the iPhone 4, Nexus S, HTC HD7 and the Blackberry Torch (each representing a different OS – iOS, Android, Windows 7 and Blackberry, respectively).

Now, on Twitter I’ve denounced The Gadget Show a few times and said I’d never watch it again. But I do. Normally though it’s their lack of actual testing of tech 2 and reliance on padding with competition and “challenges”. I’ve gotten around that now by recording it and using the PVR to whiz through the results – sometimes I’ve had an episode down to 10 minutes. What does also annoy me though is their obvious fanboy-like obsession with Apple products (particularly from Jason).

So, before their Smartphone test I guessed the iPhone 4 would win. And, it did. But it was how it won that provokes questions.

The first test (and a phone was eliminated after each test – not sure why, as it may be excellent in the other tests) was ease of use. Which is a fair enough test. Except it was a in a speeding car and tested the time to turn it on, look something up on the internet and email something. The tester – Pollyanna  – obviously didn’t like the keyboard of the Blackberry generally and seemed to almost purposefully not try. But what kind of speed test is the switch on time? Most people wouldn’t leave it turned off, so this would never be an issue. The iPhone was the slowest to turn on but somehow came the 2nd fastest overall (it must have been REALLY quick to make up the time, but that somehow didn’t get mentioned).

Next, now with the Blackberry out of the testing, was a photo and video test. That to me, was good. The Nexus has best photos and the iPhone the best video (note how Jon Bentley goes on about the high quality of the video when he’s remained pretty quiet up to that point). So, the HD7 is now out of the running, leaving the Android powered Nexus S and the Android 4.

The last test was to test it’s apps. Hmm. This was done by leading the 2 testers around via a series of clues that they solved by using apps. They obviously knew which apps to use beforehand and were 100% clued up on how to achieve their goals. Their first task was translating a Spanish message to know they had to get dressed up. They then used an app to find somewhere for an outfitter and then had to print an invite – this invite told them where to go next. Jon reached this place first not because of the phone but (her words) Pollyanna took longer to choose an outfit and had to run in high heals. Once there he got first choice of a vehicle to get them to their final destination – he got a motorbike and Pollyanna got a horse-drawn carriage. Hardly a fair fight and nothing to do with the phones. At this point I realised that I was going to be correct and the iPhone would win. All they had to do was use a SatNav product to guide them to where they were going.

In a case of “Tortoise and the Hare”, however, the iPhone app failed Jon and he ended up going the wrong way. Would the iPhone not triumph after all? Of course it would. With Pollyanna nearly there and Jon still lost, the Nexus S mysteriously “went dead”. No explanation was given as to why (if it was battery life it couldn’t have properly charged beforehand) and the iPhone was declared the winner.

This is the iPhone that takes an age to switch on, has 2nd best speed of use, 2nd best photo capability, best video, an equal footing in apps but with a 2nd place free SatNav application, and somehow it was crowned the best Smartphone. Because the Nexus S “went dead”.

Fair, or badly biased? I know what I think. And Apple are laughing again.

  1. their words[]
  2. and when they do it’s often stuff that we, the average consumer, would be able to buy[]

Sennheiser BTD 300 Audio

Now I have a splendid pair of Bluetooth headphones I’d ideally like more ways to use them, in particular listening to the TV or the hi-fi wirelessly. Step forward Sennheiser’s BTD 300 Audio – a Bluetooth transmitter that plugs into a standard headphone socket! They also have apt-X built in, which means they make a great pairing with my Creative headphones.

Costing £59.99 (that’s the RRP – you can get them for £41.47 1 from Amazon) they are a little steep but are probably one of the best (and the few) solutions available. Coming in a small box you get the device (with captive audio cable), a USB charging cable (USB one end, micro USB the other) and a thick manual.

The whole unit is sealed so the battery and captive cable are not replaceable. At 10cm long that audio cable may be a little short in some situations and it’s quite a thin cable as well – it could be easily broken and, being captive, it’s not replaceable. Thankfully the product has a 2 year guarantee.

Like the Sennheiser headphones I’ve reviewed the manual is a bit rubbish. It’s thick, but that’s due to the large number of language translations. Each language gets just a few pages and most of them consist of poor illustrations.

On the device itself there is a simple button and light. The button is used for powering on and off and pairing. The unit is very light at just 17 grams.

Pairing with my Creative headphones was easy and the sound quality excellent. The battery should last up to 14 hours (and takes about 3 hours to full recharge) before needing a charge and the Bluetooth range is up to 10 metres.

One thing I’d like to ask Sennheiser, what does this mean…

Optimal performance with Sennheiser Bluetooth headphones

It sounds as if you’ll get a better result using their own headphones but I’m not sure how. Personally, I suspect this is just marketing BS.

[review]Excellent quality – both physically and aurally, but it looses vital marks for its high price and it’s poor instructions.[/review]
  1. at the time of this review[]

Do WordPress users need Jetpack?

Automattic, the people behind WordPress have announced JetPack. In essence, it’s a plugin for self-hosted WordPress owners that adds functionality that WordPress.com bloggers have had for a while.

That sounds a good thing, right?

Well, most of the plugins (bar one) are available separately from Automattic and, this way, you can at least only install the components you actually need (reducing bulk and load on your installation).

Here’s a run down of what Jetpack adds and where else, if possible, you can get the same functionality from…

  • WordPress.com stats – site stats delivered from WordPress.com. This is no longer available as a separate plugin.
  • Twitter Widget – the plugin library is chock full of Twitter widgets and general plugins. However, Automattic have their own Twitter widget named Wickett Twitter Widget which, looking at the code, looks pretty much to be the same plugin!
  • Gravatar Hovercards -various blogs have posted about how to add these to your WordPress blog yourself (as I have done). Alternatively, download a plugin from the directory.
  • WP.me shortlinks – a way of adding the WP.me URL shortener to your blog. As far as I can tell, this is not available as a separate plugin.
  • Sharedaddy – a social sharing tool. There are various alternatives, or you can download Sharedaddy from the plugin directory.
  • LaTeX – let’s you mark up your posts with the LaTeX markup language which is perfect, for example, for complex mathematical equations. Download from the plugin directory.
  • After the Deadline – adds advanced spell check and grammar checking facilities. Download from the plugin directory.
  • Shortcode Embed – puts LOADs of useful shortcodes to your fingertips, including video embedding. However, I suspect there are few of these that can’t be found elsewhere in other plugins. Instead of bulking up your site with shortcodes that may not be used, why not just install plugins to add those that you need?

From what I can tell, the only feature that you can’t get elsewhere is “WP.me shortcuts” (a feature I’d like!).

So, the answer is to install those that you want separately? It would be, but there’s a dark cloud in the Jetpack FAQ

As we upgrade each of our individual plugins to be a part of Jetpack, we’ll prompt you to switch over to the new, Jetpack-powered version.

Oh. You’re going to be forced to install all of them as Jetpack.

I don’t get it. What’s the point of Jetpack? Ok, so they’ve bundled a number of (their) plugins together – but isn’t the joy of WordPress plugins that you can mix and match as you choose from different authors, getting each just the way you need it?

This post has been updated from the original, as I thought that individual components of Jetpack couldn’t be deactivated, which would have lead to more serious concerns. After further testing, however, I’ve found that this is not the case.

So, what is EmbedPlus?

Yesterday I announced that my YouTube Embed WordPress plugin would include EmbedPlus. But what exactly is it?

First of all, let me explain YouTube embedding.

If you have your own website or blog chances are that you’ve uploaded or seen a video that you’d really like to add to your site.

Well, YouTube, via an “Embed” button next to the video, provide the code you need to do this. You can also switch on and off different options to configure exactly how you’d like it to appear.

What you end up with is a video on your site that offers the same options as it would have on the YouTube site.

Step forward EmbedPlus – they provide alternative embedding code that will add extra functionality to the resulting video. To achieve this the YouTube video is converted to Flash and delivered via EmbedPlus themselves – if the viewers device doesn’t support Flash then EmbedPlus will fall back to the standard YouTube embed code.

The additional options that EmbedPlus adds includes…

  • Instant Replay – replay an event soon after it happens.
  • Slow Motion – instantly watch videos at a slower rate to more clearly see what happens.
  • Movable Zoom – added accessibility. Dynamically magnifies the area you point over. Use it to get a close look at objects, writing, and things like moving athletes.
  • Crop – cut/splice/chop only the particularly interesting part of a video to show during playback.
  • Scene Skipping – like DVD chapter buttons, click these to skip to marked times.
  • Real-time Reactions – enable this button to show viewers the latest Internet reactions, right inside the player

If all of this wasn’t enough they now have a great new feature named Sweet Spot Marking. If you don’t use the Scene Skipping function this will create markers in the video based on social references. In other words they automatically analyse discussions about the video and mark positions in the video that people are talking about.

EmbedPlus is still a “work in progress” however, and they are promising further features soon. They’d be really interested in feedback so please feel free to contact them.

LG E2360V monitor

23/24″ 1920×1080 pixel widescreen monitors are becoming pretty much “the norm” these days. What makes the LG E2360V stand-out however is its slimness and generally attractive looks – not necessarily a bad thing in a sea of quite plain alternatives.

It maintains its slimness through a combination of factors – no extras (no USB hub or speakers), an external power supply and a back-lit LED screen. Not taking into account the stand, it’s just 31mm in depth!

The box contains the screen itself, minus the stand (well, not really, a short stubby bit is present, and this screws onto the other part of the stand), the stand, power supply, VGA cable, various paperwork and a CD (containing user guide and drivers). The monitor itself is shiny black plastic. It shows dust like you wouldn’t believe but does make the whole thing look very pleasing to the eye – the rear of the monitor almost acts like a mirror. The tiny bit of plastic holding the screen to the stand is transparent and from here a downward light (blue when on and red in standby) is reflected when the monitor is turned on – in essence, it creates the plastic part of the stand to light up. To the rear of the monitor are the connectors – you have VGA, HDMI, DVI, headphone jack and the power connector. By having the sockets stick outwards (rather than downwards with most monitors) they save even further on the depth of the monitor, but it does mean that you’re not going to be able to wall-mount this (or indeed get it right up against a wall on its stand). The stand doesn’t adjust, and that includes any swivel options, other than a small amount of tilting.

Underneath the screen are the power and menu buttons – 5 of the latter. These feel a bit plasticky to the touch and rattle. The menus themselves offer basic adjustment but nothing too complex. You can, however, store custom settings, and there  are a number to choose from (movie, internet, etc).

LG talk a lot about “Low Power Consumption” but I struggled to find any raw statistics. However, I did and it consumes 30W in normal use and just 0.99W in standby – both of these figures are excellent (LG – why aren’t you shouting more about this?)

Image wise, I don’t use professional display testing devices, but rather the combination of my eyes and various calibration tools – these can be found online, but I use the one built in Windows 7. Calibration showed Gamma to be quite high and brightness a little low. The latter is odd as the screen appears very bright (some say too bright). Brightness is already at full, so the only way to adjust this is downwards. However, with the Gamma adjusted the result was a lot improved. There was no visible back-light bleeding and Inception on Blu-Ray looked fantastic.

Visit the official LG site

Driver and manual updates are not available to download

[review]At the RRP of £229, this would put it in the price bracket of high end monitors of this size. Sadly, other than its slimness, it doesn’t have the features to compete. The display is excellent, but the lack of stand adjustment will be a real issue for some. However, you can pick this model up from Amazon for around £173 1 and at that price it becomes competitive again. Certainly, if you don’t need all those missing features and don’t generally fiddle with the stands on monitors and want a monitor that looks very nice then the LG comes highly recommended.[/review]

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  1. at the time of writing this review[]

Windows 7 and "No such interface supported" error

So, I connect my brand new monitor (details to follow) and attempt to look at the display settings in Windows (I’m running Windows 7 64-bit to be more precise). Except all I get is a pop-up boxed titled “explorer.exe” which states “No such interface supported”.

I’d also noticed that links in the Control Panel were often not working as well.

A Google of this error talked about repairing Internet Explorer 7 using the Windows installation disk (I don’t have one as my PC came with it pre-installed). Except I’m running IE9. I uninstalled it and dropped back to IE8 but had the same problems.

As it turns out the issue is more a general explorer problem (IE and Explorer are much the same thing).

Eventually, and via a Microsoft support page, I find the answer – on the site Internet Explorer FAQ they provide a number of scripts which can be used to repair IE (IE7 and IE8 and, I’m guessing, IE9). And they worked perfectly.

Read more and download the scripts – I wasn’t sure which one I needed to I rang both the 32-on-64 and 64-on-64 scripts.

Finding App APKs for Android Tablets

Most Android tablet devices come with their own, limited, app stores rather than the Google Marketplace. The easiest way around this is to install the apps you want manually – these are .APK files.

Other than using Google and searching for each individually, there are a number of sites which allow you to download APK files. The most popular include AndAppStore, AndroidFreeware.org, Androlib, Brothersoft, Freeware Lovers, Get Jar and SlideME.

In many cases they will ask you to select your phone – tablets aren’t normally included, so I’d just select something such as an HTC Hero.

Now, if you also have an Android phone then an alternative method is to…

  1. Install the app first from the Android Marketplace to your phone
  2. Backup your apps to SD card using a tool such as Astro File Manager or MyBackup Pro
  3. Connect your phone to your PC and browse to the backup folder on the SD card
  4. Within here, you should find APKs for all your backed-up apps. Copy these to your tablet

WordPress function get_the_shortlink

Many WordPress functions have a standard version which outputs the results directly and an additional version prefixed with get_ that returns the output – useful for adding to a string and manipulating before output.

One such exclusion is the_shortlink, which returns a short link to any page or post – there is no get_the_shortlink, so many people have to resort to just outputting the result in a FORM field for people to cut & paste.  However, here is a quick way to add the capability to your blog – simply add the following 5 lines to your theme’s function.php file…

Or, in one line…

Now you just need to call get_the_shortlink() from within your WordPress loop and it will return the shortlink URL.

Unlike the_shortlink it doesn’t accept any parameters, but this is a quick and simple solution.

Creative WP-300 Bluetooth Headphones Review

A while ago I reviewed a pair of Sennheiser Bluetooth Headphones. The review conclusion was that they were, shall we say, average. I found them uncomfortable and, at £119 (best price), expensive.

Today, I have Creative’s equivalent – the Creative WP-300. Again, these are “on ear” headphones boasting apt-X enhanced Bluetooth technology. This time, however, they have an RRP of £79.99 but can be found from as little as £66.34 (inc P&P) from Amazon – not far off half the price of the Sennheisers.

Once more Creative have boxed these nicely – the front cover opens up to reveal the headphones shown through a transparent panel. Under the headphones are a velvety draw-string storage bag, USB charging cable and a few leaflets, including a small manual.

The headphones are nicely padded – both on the headband and the actual earcups too. The remainder is rubber coated. Unless their Sennheiser equivalents, these don’t fold down to a small size, but you can rotate the earcups arounds to make them flatter for when packing away. On the left cup is a charging light and a micro USB charging port. On the right cup is a status light along with 4 flush control buttons – track next and prev, play/pause and power.  On the underside of the cup is two protruding rubber volume buttons.

There are rings of chrome on both the headband and on the earcups themselves – overall the headphones are nice to the touch and look very stylish.

In use, on my giant head, they just about fitted. The fact that the earcups rotate helps because I was able to put the band further forward on my head to give extra length to the band, and rotate the cups to still sit flat on my ears. It would be nicer is manufacturers made headphones more suitable for large headed people such as me!

As I mentioned before, the WP-300 boast the apt-X codec for improved Bluetooth audio. To benefit from this you will need to use a matching apt-X transmitter. If you don’t have anything already then Creative sell a number of plugin options for USB and iPods

Unlike the Sennheisers there is not a wired option if you’re unable to use Bluetooth – these can only be used wirelessly – and the battery cannot be removed.

Pairing is easy and quick and they have a 10 metre range. The battery should last up to 8 hours in use and then take an hour to recharge via USB.

In use they sound excellent (even more so with the apt-X option in use) and the controls are easy to use. Whether spoken audio, film soundtracks or some pounding music, they offer a good range with no interference and hiss.

[review]Nearly half the price of the Sennheiser equivalents with little lacking in comparison. Comfortable, good looking and with an excellent sound, these are THE Bluetooth headphones to have. Pair them with the Creative ZiiO for apt-X pairing and you get an unbeatable combination.[/review]

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Creative ZiiO 7" Tablet

Since the launch of the iPad the market has been saturated with tablets, the majority running on Android. Now, as much as I love Android, it was designed for phones and not tablets. As a result the user experience isn’t brilliant and the standard Market Place is out of bounds.

Android 3.0 – Honeycomb – designed specifically for tablet should remedy this. Meantime, however, the tablet releases are not reducing.

A recent release is the Creative ZiiO 7. This is a media-centric tablet with a white plastic surround and back and a resistive screen. The latter ensures the price is kept low – around £200 for the 8GB version, compared to the £360 for a Samsung Galaxy Tab (and don’t forget that was priced at around £500 when it was released last year). It sports wi-fi and Bluetooth connectivity, a micro-SD port for expansion and a standard headphone socket. PC Connectivity is via a USB port. It does not have GPS.

In the rather natty box 1 you will find the tablet, a single black stylus, mains charger, USB cable and a small box containing a quick start guide and various other leaflets. The main user guide is installed on the ZiiO itself.

Android

First things first, the Ziio is running Android 2.1 – Creative have said that an upgrade to 2.2 is due mid-March.

I know many people are holding back on tablet purchases until Android 3.0 is available – any manufacturer who can state that buying their device beforehand will not mean they miss out on this is certainly going to get early adopters. At the moment, though, Creative are saying that without knowing the requirements of Honeycomb they can’t yet say if the Ziio will ever get it.

Media Capabilities

It’s a media tablet because it comes with a collection of ZiiO specific media apps – audio, video, photo, RSS reader, book reader, etc – and has the X-fi audio enhancements included. If connecting via Bluetooth it also sports the apt-X audio codec. Stereo speakers are mounted at the bottom on the rear of the device and a microphone is on the very top.

What is is lacking is Flash. Having said, if it’s YouTube video that you hanker for then the official YouTube app will still happily play. Unfortunately, other apps such as the recently release iPlayer for Android does require Flash (or rather Android 2.2, which comes with Flash).

[box]Special Offer
From Monday 21st February until mid March, Creative are giving away a free pair of EP-630 noise-isolating headphones with every purchase of the ZiiO 7″.[/box]

Screen

It’s 7″ 480×800 screen isn’t particularly clear or vibrant, but the resistive screen is quite good in use. You can use your finger or the included stylus – I prefer the latter. Only one stylus is included though, which is a shame, and there’s no place to store it unless you buy the optional leather case.

It has a front-facing VGA camera (useful for, say, Skype) and a top-mounted HDMI port for connection to a big screen.

Processor

The processor is one of their own design but is rather nippy in use. Certainly, I had no issues, and it’s been tuned for media. Internet browsing is particularly quick.

Power

Battery life is excellent – I usually have to charge it once a week 2, although Creative have used their own power connector rather than a more usual USB type. An LED lights when charging is in progress – this is the only LED on this device as there is no notification light.

Creative appears to have implemented its own standby mode, overriding the standard Android standby. This means, for instance, that wifi will turn off when the screen does, even if you’ve specified otherwise in the Android settings. What this does mean though is that in standby (rather than turned fully off) the battery is hardly draining.

However, if you need to keep wi-fi alive (say for automatic podcast downloading) but don’t want to leave the screen on, then a new app has been released to the market named Advanced Wifi Lock. It does indeed work – I tested it on the ZiiO for the developer, and he’s even especially made the APK available directly for ZiiO users.

There is an additional power-saving mode, which I haven’t used, as it reduces processor speed. There’s no automatic screen dimming, however, so you’ll find yourself having to do this manually.

Unfortunately the battery is not replaceable.

The power button on the top is flush with the case – it’s neither protruding nor recessed. As a result it’s impossible to find it without actually tilting the tablet and looking for it. When using the tablet in the dark (and the book reader has a night reading mode, so I’m assuming they expect you to use it then!) it’s impossible to find! Having said that, the 4 touch buttons under the screen are not lit so they cannot be seen in the dark either.

Software

Without the standard Google Marketplace, getting hold of apps are a little more difficult. Creative provide their own equivalent but it’s not really very good (which is pretty much common with other company’s efforts). They also provide a “starter pack” of popular apps which can be downloaded from their site. The best solution is to to download APKs directly – I will be posting about this at a later time.

Games, I have to say, are perfect for this tablet – whether Angry Birds or Raging Thunder, the side and weight of the ZiiO is perfect and the screen and sound of excellent quality.

[review]I use it at work and will often use it at home for ad-hoc surfing – certainly it’s far better than my cramped HTC Hero screen, and a lot quicker than booting up my Netbook. And when it comes to media capabilities, it’s a huge amount of fun, especially when paired with Bluetooth headphones (leave the tablet on a desk and wander around listening to some excellent quality music).

PC Pro, when they reviewed the ZiiO thought it to be one of the better Android tablets – from my own experience, I have to agree. Running Android is not without its limitations and I still think Apple iOS is the leader in the tablet market. However, for pure value-for-money the ZiiO cannot currently be beaten.[/review]

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  1. Creative are rather good at their packaging![]
  2. this is with relatively light, non-media use[]
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