Thursday, November 15, 2007

Review of iPhone UK

Today I have had my first experience with an iPhone. It is definitely in the Bleading Edge Technology category because it has plenty of serious shortcomings.

To summarise the only reason I would buy one is pose value - everyone who sees it will notice you have got the latest and greatest gadget to hit the phone market for ages. In my opinion it is a very nice gadget that will really raise the bar in terms of mobile handset design. Let it do its job and see what the competition release in response.

There is no such thing as a perfect mobile phone. I am of the opinion designers deliberatly leave features out so they can add them to the next version and you will part with more cash to upgrade. If the iPhone really did everything you would only buy one. The range will evolve and features will be enhanced.

The first problem with it is that it is not a 3G handset. If all you want to do is make voice calls this phone will do that perfectly on the 2G networks. In such an allegedly advanced phone this is unforgivable!

3G networks enable 3 very important enhancements.
1. Video Calling. 3G phones normally have a camera on the front of the phone so when you are in a call you can see your other party and they can see you.
2. Mobile TV. This is basically up to 15 special only-for-mobile channels from Sky including News Sport Music and Soaps. The channels are broadcast on demand to your handset - which would look great on the iPhone with its massive screen and with it being built for video.
3. Broadband speed Internet. The maximum speed internet connection possible over 2G is called GPRS. This is the same speed as an old fashioned dial-up modem: 56k. 3G enables 10x faster Internet access.

The touchscreen interface system is not as revolutionary as the hype makes out. It was actually annoying. I could speculate as to why, but I won't. About 1 in 4 times I touched a link or an icon the phone ignored my request and I had to try again - touching for longer or pressing more gently and more specifically on the link or icon. On a couple of occasions I would touch one place and the phone would sense my touch about an inch away from where I pressed.

I sampled all the ring tones in the shop and found myself having to move the phone nearer to my ear so I could hear them. If the phone was in my pocket there is no way the ring is loud enough for normal use - even on maximum volume. Fortunately there is a vibrate mode.

You must have heard all the hype about 'Cover Flow'. When browsing your music you tilt the phone 90 degrees and it shows all the cover artwork for your music. You can flick left and right through these to pick the album you want. When you find a track there was no way to do a 'add to playlist' feature, like holding the button on the normal iPod would. If you go through to the special screen for editing playlists the cover flow feature does not work. Common sense would also say if you were browsing your contacts and turned the phone round you could look through all the photos of your friends to find the picture of who you wanted to call. This does not happen. Cover flow cannot be used to pick between the photos and videos on your device. I am positive this will be added soon. It is such a serious short-sight. You cannot use good quality headphones with the iPhone - you have to use the supplied Apple in-ear headphones.

And there is more....... The camera is like a cheap point and shoot - reviews say the 2MP photos are poor quality. The ones I saw in the shop looked OK on the iPhone screen. There are no options at all. Most now have options like white balance, shoot mode, night settings etc. It also cannot shoot video. The iPhone does not support multi-media messaging. It cannot send MMS multi-media text messages with photos and videos etc. It only receives MMS as links which you have to open in the internet browser.

The devices come with 8Gb internal memory - which is very poor for a video device. I have outgrown my 15Gb iPod with just music! The memory cannot be replaced or upgraded for example with a memory stick as seen on most other phones and digital cameras. The battery cannot be removed - if you are on the move and it goes flat, you are goosed. You can't even get your SIM card out to put in another phone without the special tool.

Next - most gadget lovers that have high monthly phone bills travel around and need internet access anywhere. When you buy your iPhone the 18 month contract you have to sign to activate your phone includes internet data. Say I am on a customer site or in a hotel with my work laptop. It is not possible for your laptop to connect to the internet through your iPhone and the O2 network.

That's all my gripes after 2 hours with the unit in the shop - thanks to the guys at O2 in the Arndale Manchester for not throwing me out!

Last I have to mention the cost. £269 for the handset. Cheapest contract is 18 month @ £35 with 200 inclusive minutes. Total Cost of Ownership over 18 months £899 plus insurance.

My advice: Buy a PSP for games and videos @ £130. Buy an 80Gb (iPhone is 8Gb) Ipod Classic for music (can do videos but screen is a bit small) @ £150. For calls, email, internet, laptop connectivity and photography buy a Sony Ericsson W880i free on Vodafone 18 month contract @ £25 with 225 inclusive minutes. Oh and you don't really need the ipod anymore too - this is an amazing MP3 player. Total Cost over 18 months £730.

But I still came away from the store thinking I like the iPhone and it has potential - I will wait for a couple of evolutions like the addition of 3G and hope for one on a cheaper contract.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Reforming Europe

Mr Brown is still resisting calls for a referendum on the latest EU Constitution - oops I meant minor reform treaty!

I really thought when he came to power he was refusing so he could eventually make a U-turn and call the referundum telling everyone he had listened to them and subsequently improving his popularity. We were promised a referendum, and his case against one is extremely thin. I can't see any harm by calling one. And by the electorate saying no.

I feel a couple of everyday analogies will best illustrate my opinion about the governance of the EU.

First I will use Object Oriented Programming. The programmer is given a complete set of standard libraries to perform operations such as creating windows and making them function. Say for example in one application you need to change the appearance of your window by putting the popup menu on the bottom instead of the top. You can then write your own routines for displaying the popup menu. There are now two procedures for the same operation - the one that came with the computer by Microsoft and the custom one you wrote for your own application. It is my application and I am responsible for writing it so my own version will override the Microsoft one. But the parts of the default Window library that I am happy with and have not overridden will still apply. I only have to re-write the parts I wish to customise.

As a second example I refer to the structure of any company. The top boss and the board of directors will determine general company policy - for example the normal working day is 9AM to 5PM. However the IT department may have 24 hour operators so the standard working day for this team is different from the rest of the company. There is a specific policy for one department because the standard policy would not be suitable. That department manager has authority to deviate from the company standard when appropriate, and I don't know of many CEOs that would object to this scenario.

What our government is going to do within Europe is the opposite of the above. I approve of the single market so our companies can easily trade with customers in Europe. The argument for Europe having a single larger voice in international affairs is great. Having a united front is fine if it is united. Unfortunately discussions at every European summit come across as anything but united. What benefit to us is a larger voice if it doesn't say what our electorate thinks it should? But common sense has gone out the window in allowing Brussels the last say on British policies and laws.

What I strongly disagree with is our country being governed in the same way as all the other countries in Europe. The UK is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. The majority of members in Europe are developing countries. France is a socialist state. Governing a third world country or a socialist country is very different to governing an advanced capitalist country. One size fits all never works. Did we not learn anything from the collapse of the ERM in 1992? I also note even with Maggie's rebate that financially we gain nothing as we are one of the main net contributors to EU finances. It is daft that 40% of the EU money is wasted subsidising French farmers.

Lastly the government in Brussels is not elected by or accountable to the UK electorate in any way. They know very little about the operation of our country. Some European figureheads have even specifically been rejected (Neil Kinnock, Peter Mandelson, William Hague). The UK government that is elected and that understands the operation of the UK will become completely powerless. This is dangerous.

At present we have plenty of EU laws imposed on us. I question the benefit of many of these. After this treaty things will be much worse.

As this current treaty stands we would be better staying away and forming similar agreements with the Europe that is created as benefits us. I would rather be a United State of America with whom we have far more in common. There have been too many times over the last few years where Tony Blair has taken a different stance internationally to Europe and I have agreed with him on most of them.

I have written to my MP for an explanation exactly what the benefits are of being in Europe and adding my voice to the calling for the referendum. Will post here when/if I get a comprehensive reply.