Category Archives: Technology

Nick Harkaway’s Tigerman, & an Audible trial

So, like every other Amazon user I’ve been bombarded with ads for Audible for a little while. They’re tedious and overwhelming and I’ve generally ignored them. But since I’ve started listening to audiobooks whilst I run (or at least, using eBook apps like Kindle to read to me), I finally had cause to consider it more seriously. The free month trial sucked me in and I kicked off with Tigerman, the latest book from Nick Harkaway – an author I’ve respected and admired since the Gone Away World blew my mind a few years back.

It was a wonderful experience.

OK, listening to the audiobook whilst running wasn’t quite as relaxing as nodding off to it as I did as a child, but at least I didn’t have to rewind the tapes the next day to find where I’d dropped off so I could pick up the story again. But it’s amazing how you can lose yourself in a story in a way I’ve not been able to with music (not when exercising, anyway) for years. The voice acting by Matt Bates (this guy, I think) added a dimension to the reading I didn’t quite remember from the audiobooks of my youth… an additional pleasure, perhaps one I can appreciate more having grown accustomed to text-to-speech engines reading stuff to me in a robotic monotone (although Microsoft’s Cortana TTS engine is substantially better than Apple’s iPhone one).

It’s reawakened a love of the audiobook and – having planned to cancel the Audible trial, and gotten as far as hitting ‘cancel / due to the cost’ – I’ve found myself being sucked in by a three month at half price offer. We’ll see if I stick with it beyond that, but Mike Carey’s ‘Girl with all the gifts’ is next on my list and – as an added incentive, to make use of my one credit (audiobook) per month, I need to run through it over the weekends. With a run time of 13 hours, that means at least 120km clocked up on the roads in September…!

Also inspired to find the kids some good audiobooks to listen to…!

Windows Phone vs iPhone… continued

I’m continuing to love my Lumia 925, but two significant i-events have taken place since I started using it:

1. Apple admitted some of its batteries were flawed and are replacing them for free. I’m sorting that this Sunday.

2. Apple announced an event for 9 September.

So before I completely, 100% commit to this ecosystem switch, I’m going to see what happens on 9 September. But I think – right now – that I’m done with iOS for a year or two, and will probably (only probably) trade up from the 925 to the 930 unless Apple does something really unexpected and wonderful. The rumours – slightly bigger screen, Sapphire glass, the iOS8 features that are already widely reported… don’t do quite enough for me to merit the substantially larger price tag (expecting iPhone to cost around GBP630 vs. Lumia 930s GBP430 list price, and I can already get the Lumia 930 for around GBP 350 on eBay…

Windows Phone 8.1 vs. iOS 7: a personal dilemma

Update 11.08: thanks to Michael, Ivan, Simon and everyone else that’s offered workarounds for my various cons. The Pros list is expanding and I am increasingly sold!! My apologies to Amanda for boring you endlessly with phone chat…

I have been a (reluctantly) loyal iOS devotee since the 3GS came out, and have struggled to even look at rival OS – I was burned by the gradual deterioration of Windows Mobile in the mid 2000s, never convinced by the sluggish responsiveness of even the fastest Android phones (and the updates flowing to my Nexus 7 tablet – a gift – haven’t convinced me it will improve). However, of late, the flagging battery life of my ageing iPhone 5 (needs 2-3 charges a day depending on usage), and the phenomenal lack of joy you get from a new handset (oh… it looks and acts exactly like the old one), as well as the inevitable obsolescence caused by ageing handsets and upgraded operating systems, AND the crippling cost of an upgrade…. well, you get the picture.

TL, DR – I bought an older Lumia 925 handset and am trying it out. If I hate it and go back to the iOS fold, it can go back on eBay and I should make most of my money back (it’s already lost most of its year one resale depreciation value).

So, making a list of the things I like and dislike about it, with a view to weighing them up and thinking about a more permanent ecosystem shift. Let me know if I’ve missed anything to test, or you know a workaround to one of my cons, or you think I’ve missed a ‘pro’ on anything in particular. I’ll update this list ‘live’ over the next few weeks as I test it properly.

Updated list (11.08.14):


  • Beautiful screen
  • Slick UI, v natural interface, live tiles are helpful, searching through apps is cool
  • Very responsive typing, swype is remarkable
  • Less punishing autocorrect than iOS
  • Battery life is better – not ridiculously so but noticeably. Even running 10k using GPS (1h10 mins of GPS usage) the battery lasts through to the evening. And as you can imagine, with the new OS I am playing with it a LOT and unnecessarily so
  • Here maps is amazing! Local storage limits need to draw on data transfer for a variety of mapping services, e.g. Caledo (run keeper integrated running app)
  • Lock screen / photo rotation feature is lovely – love that it can draw on Facebook albums
  • 4G on O2 (Need iPhone 5S or 6 for that) – blisteringly fast
  • OneDrive >> iCloud as far as I can see, if I can get used to using it
  • IE actually seems pretty fast
  • App multitasking in most regards seems superior – apps genuinely ‘suspend’ unlike the iPhone which seems to have suffered greatly with the introduction of background app refresh. Lovely feature with the voice/music apps that they pause when voice notifications come in (e.g. running app telling you your splits pauses audible whilst playing, or music, or whatever) rather than speaking over it (as iPhone does)
  • I actually already prefer email handling in Windows phone – the left tap / multi-select option is actually quicker to use than repeatedly swipe/deleting emails in iPhone (and I know iPhone has an equivalent, but who uses it?)
  • I also like unlinked mailbox options – didn’t think I would but separating the personal from the professional is good for my work/life balance
  • DLNA projection via Nokia play-to doesn’t require an Apple TV or changing channels – just works. Not for all apps, but to be fair – we mainly use it to share pics and videos
  • 1 year old hardware feels new with new software (unlike Apple, most of the time) although see note re: camera responsiveness
  • Whilst I initially disliked Kindle’s nerfed capabilities (can’t open docs) I’ve discovered Tucan reader – a lovely independent ebook reader that uses the phone’s (amazing) text to speech capabilities to read stuff to you if you need it to. Much better for reading personal docs.
  • Dead heat
  • Cortana seems exactly as useful as Siri, i.e. a little but not ridiculously so. Absence of a ‘timer’ function is a fairly major omission but reminders/alarms work much to the same effect without a real-time countdown.
  • Camera picture quality seems superior but response time is worse than the iPhone so it comes out even – photos blur if you are expecting iPhone style responsiveness and don’t get it. May improve with newer hardware.

Still to be tested: 

  1. Skype video call quality
  2. High contrast mode in bright sunlight.
  3. What else? You tell me!


  • Few apps I want aren’t there in ‘proper’ versions (Feedly,  Todoist & some random lesser apps) – suspect I just need to ‘re-buy’ the premium versions of some of these. Lots of lesser apps don’t have a decent implementation at all… all in due course, no doubt. I heard that the Windows Phone app store doubled in scope in 12 months and Windows Phone’s market share is up to 10% – pretty remarkable given the trajectory it was on. I hear good things about Universal Apps too.
  • UI in some of the apps a little clunky (Facebook seems less natural)
  • Less punishing autocorrect than iOS (you have to go back through and correct red-underlined words that it doesn’t just guess and change for you, both a pro and a con)
  • Locks you into its ecosystem (as does Apple, to be fair)
  • Much vaunted wireless charing requires an additional case (OK, Apple doesn’t do this)
  • Screen smudging that much more obvious
  • No FaceTime or iMessage or O2 Tugo for offline / interoperating comms with, say, Amanda’s phone…
  • Limited Google ecosystem love – no Google Chrome, no native Gmail app, etc. – and I have in the past been a devotee (though obviously not of Android)
  • Camera lag – probably a consequence of the dated hardware the phone is running on, or the image stabilization which I haven’t turned off.

Original list: posted 6th August 2014


  • Beautiful screen
  • Slick UI, v natural interface, live tiles are helpful, searching through apps is cool
  • Very responsive typing
  • Less punishing autocorrect than iOS
  • Battery life seems better
  • Lock screen / photo rotation is lovely
  • 4G on O2 (Need iPhone 5S or 6 for that)
  • OneDrive >> iCloud as far as I can see, if I can get used to using it
  • IE actually seems blisteringly fast

As yet untested

  • Battery life – sim card adapter hasn’t arrived yet so can’t give it a proper run-in
  • Photos/camera
  • Cortana vs Siri


  • Few apps I want aren’t there in ‘proper’ versions (Feedly, Runkeeper doesn’t seem to work, Todoist & some random lesser apps)
  • UI in some of the apps a little clunky (Facebook seems less natural)
  • Less punishing autocorrect than iOS (you have to go back through and correct red-underlined words that it doesn’t just guess and change for you, both a pro and a con)
  • Kindle app doesn’t display documents
  • Haven’t figured out how to get Kindle to read to me yet / accessibility features
  • Email isn’t as intuitive (no ‘swipe to delete’, not clear if I’m archiving, deleting an email doesn’t take you to the next one in your inbox to review)
  • Locks you into its ecosystem (as does Apple, to be fair)
  • No DLNA projection / Apple TV equivalent in the 925 – and I have Apple TV and iPad
  • Much vaunted wireless charing requires an additional case (OK, Apple doesn’t do this)
  • Screen smudging that much more obvious
  • No FaceTime or iMessage or O2 Tugo for offline / interoperating comms with, say, Amanda’s phone…
  • Limited Google ecosystem love – no Google Chrome, no native Gmail app, etc. – and I am a devotee



Back posting on @coolsmartphone

After a lengthy bout of busy-ness, I’ve finally made some more contributions to the Coolsmartphone blog. Get over there to read my posts bemoaning the ongoing rubbishness of the iPhone 4S battery life (and my further efforts to resolve it), the beauty and emptiness of social network Path’s app for iOS (shortly before the privacy issues emerged!) and a mini review of Death Rally for iOS (Noel – remember Death Track?).

Coming soon: some posts about my investigations into Google Android as I consider leaving the iOS fold!


And an eBay new year!

We shared gift-lists over Christmas, and the resulting gift exchange was – whilst perhaps slightly less surprising than it otherwise might have been – extremely satisfying for all involved. We got things we wanted or needed and there’s less clutter in the house.

I’ve been making a concerted effort to get rid of old tech and other bits and bobs we no longer need, much of which is cluttering our garage and spare bathroom, and eBay will be my friend this year. My iPad (loved but unused since the Macbook arrived) and my Sony eReader (now second fiddle to my new Kindle and Kindle app on iPhone) have gone that way (part-funding the TV), and more will follow.

I’ll look to make a list this weekend, and if anyone wants to make me an offer for anything before it hits eBay, let me know…!

A new LED world

sony40My parents’ TV was reaching a certain age (I bought their Samsung Plasma in 2005), and I’d been longing for a new LED TV with enough HDMI ports for my consoles, Internet connectivity and some other good stuff. A seasonal cash back offer from Sony later, and a quick bit of horse trading with my folks, and we’re the proud owners of a new Sony KDL40EX723BU LED TV (catchy name, eh?).

Now, it’s hardly a dramatic world away from the old TV in terms of picture quality (the last TV was an LCD HDTV from Sony), but the frame is substantially smaller, and the software is a WHOLE lot cleverer; Wifi-enabled, the IPTV services are great (although my ADSL still sucks), the picture-in-picture Nav is awesome and the integration with our Sony DVR works much better.

I’ve not (and am not really intending on) bought any 3D glasses, despite the fact the TV is 3D capable. I’m not that curious about the format, so we’ll have to see whether anything really compelling happens in time to help me make the jump there. I have got, in my ageing but evidently still useful PS3, a 3D Blu-Ray player, so am ‘future-ready’ – assuming the future is 3D… but I’m open to persuasion!

My workspace

Here’s a photo of my workspace. I’m trying to take multi-tasking to new heights…


Too many screens? People ask what I use them for, and whilst there’s no hard and fast rule, generally speaking I have email open on one screen, Google Chrome open on another and whatever productivity app I’m using at any given time on the third. The Macbook is usually open with Evernote or Sparrow up front.

I’m lucky to have a brain that can cope with parallel processing at work, but I don’t think I could cope with any more than I have here…

Guest post: Things you can do to speed up your broadband connection

I’ve traded reciprocal guest posts with the nice people at Broadband Genie – my post on this topic lives here, so you can compare advice and see who you rate better :-). Yes, it’s a kind of mutual self-promotion, but I’ve written about the topic before and they’ve put together something that fit my specific request, which is how I’m always happy to receive (and indeed contribute) guest posts.

This post was conrtibuted by Rob Clymo from

If you live in the centre or even the outskirts of a town or city then chances are you will probably be able to enjoy high-speed Internet in one form or another. After all, the choices will be more extensive and connectivity is likely to be more durable too, either via ADSL or cable.

Out in the sticks

However, if you live out of town then it may well be an entirely different story because of less connectivity options and more issues with the technical side of things. Even if you live in an area covered by the extensive BT network, there are distinct possibilities that you’ll have to endure a poor level of performance due to your proximity to the local telephone exchange.

Broadband only deals and offers may well be plentiful back in town, but if you’re away from populated areas then you may well have to be just a little bit canny in order to pep up the performance of your current Internet connection.

People in this kind of scenario can often find that any chance of NGA, or next generation access, will be sorely forgotten because the range of next-generation optic fibres does not extend to them.

Faster, faster

Although Ofcom has already stated that the average UK broadband download speeds in the UK back in 2009 were 4.1mbps, many rural user still get far from that sort of performance even now. Of course, there are some things you can do to get a little bit more out of your current connection. Start by using the free tools on broadband comparison websites to find out what sort of speed you’re currently obtaining.

If it’s poor, or fluctuating, then you could try tracing back all of your cabling, repositioning routers, refreshing your supply of filters to the phone points and also shortening the distance between the connection point and your computer. If you’re on a conventional BT landline ADSL setup, or one that comes via their network, but through a different Internet service provider, then you may have the same problem.

Clearing interference

And while wireless broadband via a router at home can be handy, it can also mean slower connectivity. If you have problems, then try relocating your device to sit closer to the machine you’re using. Remember that these devices can suffer interference too, not only from things like walls and other obstructions, but also devices including baby monitors.

There are plenty of things that can slow down a broadband Internet connection, so working methodically back through the obvious potential suspects may reveal a defect or positioning issue that could resolve things a little and offer up a bit more speed.

Make a change

If all that fails to make much of a difference then consider another angle, including cable broadband from a provider such as Virgin Media. Their network doesn’t doesn’t cover all areas, but it could be a great alternative if you’re lucky enough to be in a catchment area.

Another route to take is that of mobile broadband, which is becoming cheaper, better performing and also very competitive. All of that means lots of great deals and offers for consumers, and although there are shortcomings with using large amounts of data, it can be an ideal solution if you consider yourself to be an average user of the high-speed Internet.

The Cloud vs the Environment

Fence & Cloud

I found myself having an argument with someone about that Greenpeace anti-cloud campaign from a couple of years ago or so.

Greenpeace’s argument here is:

  1. Cloud providers use a lot of energy to power their data centres.
  2. They need to increase the proportion of power that comes from renewables.

Unfortunately, most people ignore point (2) and interpret the implications of (1) in one of two ways:

  1. We depart the information age and don’t use computers as all
  2. We move back to the pre-cloud world of client-server and ISP hosted applications

Broadly interpreted as “cloud companies are bad, mmmkay?” But, if pause was given to think about it…

1) Is clearly totally untenable. We’re not willingly departing the information age unless we have to, in the event of some kind of apocalyptic event. And hopefully not even then – the Internet would be a great tool to help track down and wipe out nests of zombies.

2) is even worse for the environment. People forget that, before they had Gmail accounts, they had a email address, or a email address from their Internet Service Provider. Many still do. As many customers as these guys have, they pale in insignificance relative to the tens and hundreds of millions of users the cloud providers have. And therefore their systems are less efficient and consume and waste proportionately more energy.

Greenpeace should be campaigning for everyone to leave those services behind and embrace the cloud so a whole host of ISP email (and other…) servers can be retired.

What they’re actually focused on (not that you would have recognised this from the media coverage) is for data centres to become more efficient and use more power from renewable sources. Whether this is Greenpeace’s fault or the media’s for sensationalising the story, who can say, but either way, I now have to have this argument with people that whilst cloud computing might be bad for the environment in the way that any net-carbon positive activity is bad for the environment, it is an order of magnitude better than any of the alternatives… thankfully Google is helping me out by leading the way in renewable energy use, efficient data centre design, and good storytelling to boot…