Friday, May 26, 2006

Nokia N80 verdict

Hopefully this will be my last post about phones, I'll try to think of something more interesting shortly. But I thought I'd respond to some of the comments from the previous post and summarise what I think of the Nokia N80.

It's a very good phone. It seems to have more features than any other phone available, yet still manages to look nice and fit in a reasonable size - less than a centimetre wider than my previous petite Samsung phone, but otherwise the same small size. The build quality's good, though there to seem to be a few stupid design decisions - there's no lense cover on the camera for starters. The joystick could also do with being a little less flimsy, and a spring assisted slider mechanism would have been nice. But I don't think there's any other small form factor phone that matches its features, so I can forgive those small shortcomings.

The thing that makes the N80 stand out (apart from a very good camera and the nifty Symbian OS) is its WiFi connectivity, home media centre software and Safari-based KHTML web browser.

Connecting to a WiFi hotspot is simplicity and shouldn't take more than thirty seconds to setup for the first time. Then you can either use the home media centre software to transfer any music, pictures and video back and forth between your phone and your PC, or browse the web properly with the excellent browser (the phone has two browsers actually, a WAP and KHTML browser, the good KHTML one being hidden under a 'My Own' menu). The phone's 2.1" 352x416 pixel screen is a bit limiting, but at least the browser renders web pages properly, and thoughtfully resizes columns of text to fit within the phones screen width. The full page preview button and visual back/forward tabs are pretty neat too. If browsing the web on your phone is something you like to do, then the N80's excellent.

Here's a screen capture I managed to take browsing the BBC's website. As tiny little phones go, it's impressive.


So, that's about it. I might as well upload a couple of samples from the camera too though. You can see a much bigger range and comparison against similar phones on GSMArena, but here are a couple I took;

Photo quality (click for larger size)


Video snapshot


So, the camera's not that bad. It's not going to replace a proper camera, but seeing as people always have their phone with them, being able to capture some decent quality photos is certainly no bad thing. The 3 megapixel photos are a little blurry, but seen as they come out at a massive 2048x1536 size, if you shrink them down to a more reasonable screen size, they look pretty decent. The video quality was a little surprising, better than I expected. The camera takes 352x288 MPEG-4 videos, which would easily be good enough to upload to some place like Youtube. You do need to keep the camera pretty still though, as the wobble from movement is really noticeable in the videos.

One slight bummer, is that currently there are hardly any applications available to download for the Series 60 Symbian OS. That's bound to change in a matter of months though - the prospect of Skype on the phone being one of the most noteworthy things. Already though, it's one of the most feature packed phones - it can even open MS Word and Excel documents, if you're an incredibly dull person.

So... it's good then! Of course, next year something much better will probably be out, but who cares about that now.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Dull phone talk

I got myself a nice new Nokia N80 today, a lovely upgrade over the annoying Samsung D600 I've been using for the last year.

It's worth mentioning, because being the geek that I am - it's one of the first phones available that sports a WiFi internet connection, 3 megapixel camera, and high resolution 352x416 screen, in a small form factor (it's quite chunky, but it's only 9cm tall). Seems a bit like a sales pitch, but so far, I'm loving it. It's a lovely hybrid of phone and PDA. It would probably benefit with a tiny QWERTY keyboard and touchscreen, but then it wouldn't be the nice size it is.

It runs the Symbian OS, so there's the potential to run almost any software on it - Skype is in the works, and with the phone's WiFi connection, that could be pretty great. The inbuilt Safari-based web browser it runs is lovely too, it renders pages in perfection, and modifies columns of text to fit in the screen width, so it doesn't feel like browsing a rubbish WAP version of the internet. Unfortunately 3G access is stupidly expensive, but if you're near a WiFi hotspot, it's great.

The media functions aren't bad too - 3 megapixel photos (which come out reasonably well, especially if you shrink them a bit in Photoshop, and it even has a proper flash), passable video capture, MP3 jukebox (which works ok when you stick a 1Gb MiniSD memory card in). And best of all, with the WiFi connection and Nokia software, you can run a media server between your phone and PC, to instantly transfer any media you want back and forth. Geeky!

The only possible downside, is that it's a bit bigger than my old phone, and the battery's supposed to die within 24-48 hours. But that's the price you pay for having a mini PC in a phone. I might post some proper photos with it eventually.

In other geek news, I got an IPEVO Skype phone too, which is a tiny little USB handset you plug in to use with Skype. There's nothing amazing about the phone itself, but it's much smaller and nicer than I originally expected, and it's simplicity to use. I already have a headset though, which has the benefit of being hands-free, but sometimes it's nice to use VoIP without looking like a telesales guy.

The pattern of this blog isn't going too well so far, is it? Phones, computers, eBay... Sorry for the geekery! I might try something more interesting later, but I'm not big on the personal diary stuff.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

I love/hate Apple

Big news for all geeks - Apple just unveiled the new iBook replacement, the MacBook.

I've been waiting for the new iBook for a long time now - my laptop needs replacing and I want a tiny, portable little Apple. Although the desktop PC I'm using at the moment is new, lovely, and very powerful, it's next to useless for taking on a plane.

Unfortunately, the new MacBook is a bit disappointing. It really isn't much different to the old iBook it's replacing. It now comes in white and black - but the identical black model has a €200 premium. Seems a bit silly.

My biggest complaint about the MacBook, is that it only comes in a 13.3" model with a relatively low resolution 1280x800 screen. I want the smallest laptop possible, something like the old 12" iBooks (I'd love a 10" MacBook), as I learnt after constantly lugging my 14" Sony Vaio notebook back and forth between Hong Kong and the UK - big laptops are annoying and prone to getting dented or dropped by evil security guards (and my Vaio's already really light).

It doesn't help that the new MacBook has a measly video card (an integrated Intel GMA 950 with 64MB shared memory - in other words, bad) and my work is allegedly graphic design and 3D animation. Which means the new MacBook would only be good for surfing the web and occasionally opening Photoshop. Apple's excuse for this, is that "professionals" will buy the more expensive MacBook Pro - except that's only available in gigantic 15" and 17" models, which no sane person wants to lug about.

I've wanted an excuse to jump on the Apple bandwagon, but it looks like I'll have to wait and stick with Sony for now. Why don't the manufacturers realise, some people want really small and powerful notebooks, that they can chuck into a bag but then plug into a cinema display later to get some real work done. For now, I still have to keep using a desktop and a laptop, fiddling between them.

Monday, May 15, 2006

eBay my arse

Just a quick rant...

Why is it that eBay are such insidious cunts?

Why is it impossible to talk to a real person at eBay? Specifically, why do eBay UK have no phone number to talk to a real person (their official number, 0208 605 3000, leads to an automated response that reads out the URL of their contact page, which asks to email all questions in).

I know for fact a normal person cannot phone a human at eBay. I know this, because I phoned their Powerseller Hotline (0208 605 3111), who told me they would only speak with Powersellers, and that no, as a normal user, I could not phone email and talk to a real person. Email was the only method to contact them.

eBay claim to respond to all emails in 12-48 hours. Except, I've never once (and this must be from over a dozen emails sent) received a hand-typed human reply. Every single reply has been automated, canned, pointing me in the direction of the unhelpful FAQ on their website. Great!

I'll close my account!

Except, no, I can't do that either. You can't close your account reasonably - you have to apply to close your account, and then, it will only be deleted after 18 months of inactivity.

Ok, well, I'll remove my credit card details from my account to stop them charging me for anymore fraudulent "services" (auctions where people "won" but never paid, yet eBay took their rather large percentage and failed to do anything about it). Except, no, I can't remove my credit card details from my eBay account, without substituting them for another valid card. And if eBay charge my card, they have "my full consent", apparently, because I once put my credit card on their website two or three years ago. It's basically impossible to stop eBay - at best, I can force my card company to reverse their charges, but as eBay "have my consent", each time I try, will take a month and written approval. A whole load of unnecessary shit - if I paid at a shop one time with my card, the shop wouldn't have consent to charge my card for anything they like in future, so why do eBay?

So, eBay are cunts.

But it's a bit futile really. No one will take action. Nothing will happen. eBay will still continue to make massive profits. My only hope is that Google's own online auction service eventually pushes eBay out of the market, but eBay will already have made their money by then, and it may just be switching one evil for a lesser evil.

eBay - just don't.

Show and tell

Someone mentioned I hadn't done anything with this blog yet. So for the sake of having something new for the two or three readers, I will make an effort to post something. But it's Monday, and my mind is shrivelled up, so I might have to resort to the worst kind of update - a "what books I've been reading!" style blog post. But replace reading with watching, and books with things I downloaded via BitTorrent or iTunes.

First off - TV. Worth mentioning, because the season five finale of Smallville aired last week, which is at least worth watching, but evidence of a show that has really gone downhill in the last year. I suppose there's only so much you can do when the main character is Superman and only has one easily exploitable weakness.

The second season of Lost is also about to finish this week. Last week's episode was interesting, as most episodes are, but as ever, nothing gets resolved. I don't know if the writers are genius marketing men or not, but it seems every episode continues with no actual progress made and a vaguely interesting cliff hanger. It worked to make the first season brilliant, but now it does feel as if the writers are taking the piss.

Two of the better things on TV at the moment, are Doctor Who and South Park. I've always been a fan of South Park, and the latest season remains brilliant, not much else to say. The new Doctor Who is just a very pleasant surprise though - apart from the stories themselves being interesting enough, David Tennant makes a great Doctor, despite dressing a bit like Jarvis Cocker. A cool, funny, charming Doctor, alongside a couple of slightly dopey cockney assistants - who could ask for more? Apparently I look a bit like David Tennant, but the person who said that might have been referring to the fact I'm a lanky, effeminate, foppy-haired Scotsman (even though I'm not Scottish - but living there long enough now makes me a Scotsman in the eyes of Londoners).

Green Wing is also pretty good too, if soley to witness a coffee enema.

On the music front, my most recent acquisitions have been Dirty Pretty Things' Waterloo to Anywhere, Flaming Lips' At War with the Mystics and Red Hot Chill Peppers' Stadium Arcadium. I really shouldn't be a music journalist or anything, all I can say is that they're all great albums and you should listen to them yourself. At least no one needs to read music reviews nowadays, in the age of try-before-you-buy iTunes/torrents.

I've also been watching, listening, reading and playing other things too, but this post is turning into a bit of a waffle. I think I've met my obligation of writing a thoroughly blog-like post, so I'll try to limit these in future. I have just finished downloading Almost Love though, a new Korean romantic comedy (a genre which accounts for 50% of Korean movies). Not that I condone piracy, but neither do I condone flying to South Korea to watch yet another romantic comedy that won't be released here. It could be a terrible film anyway, I haven't seen it yet, but it looked like it was worth downloading - the main character sports a lovely bowl-cut. I'll try to post something more insightful later.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Revenge of the Nerds

"Why the internet sucks, people are morons and Digg.com is bad."
(May also be interpreted as "How democracy can go bad" or "Are Google evil?" if you're lazy and prefer the tabloid version.)

It seems people are the future of the internet. Or, peer review.

Today Google announced Google Co-op. "Google Co-op is about sharing expertise" Or in other words, peer-review of the web. People subscribe to Google Co-op, surf the web, and as they find websites they like or dislike, they let Google Co-op know. Eventually, the idea is that Google will use Co-op to influence its search engine rankings, gather meta data, and find out what real people, rather than Google's search bots, like and dislike.

Which sounds like a pretty good idea - an evolution of the web, expanding upon the ideas of peer moderated websites like Slashdot and Digg. Except, sometimes the peers (read: bitter, angry nerds) get out of control.

I was reading this rather innocuous post on Digg.com - a user submitted post linking to video footage of the unfinished PlayStation 3 games system crashing. Ignoring the fact that this non-event somehow made the front page of an important news site, gathering hundreds of "diggs" (each digg is a thumbs up, or a vote, from a user who regards the post as worthy news) - the comments within this post's page are more worrying.

Every user's comments on Digg.com can be moderated by other users. A comment receives + or - diggs from other users. Each comment starts off neutral, but if it receives four or more negative diggs from other users, it is "hidden" (not deleted, just hidden from human eyes). Okay, this sounds fair enough - a system to prevent people harassing others on discussion boards. But in reality, if a handful of people don't like something? They digg it down. Bury the comment!

You don't even need to post inflamatory comments to be "dug down" and have your opinions pushed off the internet. Here we can see that comments such as "this is the fault of programmers, not the console" or "that's not particularly unexpected for an unfinished games system", can and will receive negative diggs (you can choose to view all comments, even though with negative diggs, by changing your user settings, but most viewers won't make this effort, so these people are effectively censored by the masses, or a small group of moderation vigilantes). Why the negative diggs? In this particular case, because a group of people, fans of Nintendo, not only refuse to hear negative criticism of Nintendo (their favourite multi-national company), but refuse to hear anything that doesn't go along with their own view point.

It's not such a big issue with Digg.com, because, popular as it is, you can still go else where if you don't like it. It is a very big issue with Google - Google is trusted as a portal, the search engine for the internet, if you're not on Google, you're barely online.

Google Co-ops peer review sounds harmless at first. It's not a true, fair democracy though - it's more an issue of who can get a large enough vigilante mob together to censor and "mark down" websites on the internet. Admittedly, it's unlikely Google will actively censor websites (though, they are doing that right now, on Google China), but they don't actually have to remove websites from their search listings. If enough users tell them "this site is rubbish!", it seems inevitable, that site will fall in Google's page rankings. Falling from the first page in Google's search results, to the third page, for some websites, is as bad as being censored. If there's a reason for it - because the site in question has nothing to do with the user's search, or is filled with spam - then great, everyone wins. But at the same time, angry nerd mobs could use this to demote things they simply don't like.

Ok, so everyone deserves a say. Don't take this as an anti-democracy message - I'm not trying to tell you something like "Hitler was elected!" (he wasn't really... well, sort of, if killing all the opposition and scaring everyone into voting for you counts). But, I do think even the moderators need to be moderated. The peers are reviewing the web, but who's reviewing the peers? Google, presumably. But do they have the man (or bot) power?

In the 2006 British local elections, the BNP got a small but news worthy share of the vote. Their party line seems to be something along the lines of "we don't like immigrants". In a general election, there isn't much fear of them ever winning - surely, not enough people are that bigotted and stupid. On the web though? On Google Co-op? Yes, half a million moronic bigots could probably join together to "digg this (fascist) site!" and "bury this (reasonable opinion) site!".

Or maybe gamer nerds will just form a mob to censor any site that says "the PlayStation 3 sucks". Maybe it doesn't matter at all. It's worth talking about though, without burying people we don't like.

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(Well, that's my first post, this peer internet thing sparked me into re-setting up some form of blog.)