Wednesday, 21 July 2010

What's on my iPad?

I've been using my iPad for a couple of weeks now (here in the UK we were late getting our hands on iPads!) and it's been even better than I expected. The big screen, instant startup and form factor all combine to make this a very useable device.

The built-in apps are great but it's necessary to go shopping in the App Store to find the apps you need, for the way you use mobile technology.

My starting point was apps I've come to depend on, on other devices, that would add value to my iPad experience. I've picked five favourites to cover here and will look at others in the future.

Whilst the iPad isn't a phone out of the box, adding a mobile VoIP app is a must for cheaper and often free calling.

I've been a big fan of Truphone since its early Nokia days and the iPad app is brilliant. Whilst the app works fine with the iPad's built-in speakers and microphone, I've been using it with my Freetalk Everyman headset for improved comfort. I suspect the iPad Camera Connection kit USB adaptor would deliver even better performance via the Freetalk USB connector. I know people who use this but unfortunately I've not yet been able to track one down in the UK. Truphone uses the existing iPad contacts, making it simple to call people.

ThingsThings is another favourite of mine. I've been using Things on my MacBook Pro and iPhone for a while and decided that if my iPad was going to be at the heart of my digital life, Things was a must on it. Things is a 'getting things done' task manager which makes the whole process simple to manage. Anything I need to do gets added and it does stop me forgetting stuff! I do have a couple of issues with Things - no cloud sync yet (although I hear it's coming) and by the time you've bought the OSX, iPhone and iPad versions the cost adds up! But overall a great app.

Osfoora. I'm a big Twitter user and Osfoora is the best iPad app for Twitter I've found so far. Scrolling through your timeline, clicking on links in tweets, checking your mentions, sending direct messages - Osfoora makes the whole Twitter experience simple to use and uses the iPad's big display to great advantage.

Evernote. Like many people I've been a big Evernote fan for a while. Evernote on my iPad is a natural extension to all the other places I can access my notes in. Whilst using Evernote on my iPhone is hampered by the size of the display, the iPad's display makes Evernote much more usable. Searching notes is speedy, whether it's titles, text or even the text in photos.

Instapaper. Using Twitter and Safari I regular come across links and pages I'd like to read later and potentially offline. Instapaper makes this easy. Osfoora seamlessly integrates with Instapaper and although the Safari setup process is a little fiddly, once it's done Instapaper becomes an ideal repository for interesting stuff that you come across online.

These apps range from free (Truphone, Evernote) to relatively expensive at £11.99 (Things) with the others in between. Over the next few weeks I plan to return to some of these apps and look in more detail at how they make a difference to me. In the meantime, what's on your iPad?

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Boingo Wireless - expanding in the UK

Originally published on The Really Mobile Project.

Last week I caught up with Christian Gunning from Boingo. Having seen that Boingo will be the sole public WiFi provider at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Southampton airports in the UK, I was keen to understand Boingo's plans for the UK.

Boingo provides access to approximately 132,000 WiFi hotspots across 171 networks in 103 countries. Boingo offers a range of tariff options in both US$ and £, including hour and day airport passes - but the tariff that caught my eye was Boingo Mobile's £3.95 per month for unlimited smartphone access worldwide. You can't use your laptop on this tariff but for iPhone, iPad or other handset access it's looks great value. Also in the handset space, the US iPhone and iPad App Store has 1 hour access available for $1.99, for users that don't want to commit to a monthly account. This is coming to the UK App Store shortly.

The UK airport coverage brings Boingo's overall airport coverage to 58 airports across the US & UK. Since the iPhone launched, non laptop devices have gone from less than 1% to 50% of devices on the Boingo network, with the iPhone and the iPad being the top devices. Following the airport deal, the UK footprint is due for a big expansion later this year.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The challenge of removing a redundant Exchange security policy from my Nokia E72

I recently needed to access my corporate email on my Nokia E72 and added the Exchange account using the pre-installed Mail for Exchange client. As expected, the handset asked me to set an autolock code to comply with the Exchange server security policy. Very simple process end-to-end and the handset immediately synced my email and calendar.

The next day, when I no longer needed Exchange email access I deleted the mailbox (as per Nokia's instructions). However despite removing the Exchange account, I could not remove the enforced autolock which cut in after 20 minutes. The menu option to change the timeout or remove the autolock was disabled. Searching online I discovered that Nokia's advice is a hard reset to remove a security policy that is no longer required - not helpful Nokia!

Eventually I came across a suggestion that because the handset can only cope with one Exchange security policy, if I installed another Exchange account with a security policy that did not enforce a security lock, the lock would be disabled. Further research came up with the suggestion to set up an account with I duly did, synced the handset and the lock disappeared! Unbelievable hassle to remove a security policy that was redundant. Very poor user experience from Nokia.

And by the way, the website is in Chinese! Where would we be without Google Translate!

Monday, 12 July 2010

Cases for the iPad

Recently I received two cases for the iPad to review from LaCie. Although billed as 10" laptop or 3.5" hard disk cases, they're just the right size for the iPad. My interest in comparing the two cases is that the LaCie Coat (designed by Sam Hecht) is made from the usual synthetic materials, albeit in a very strikingly designed case, and the LaCie Vegetal is an environmentally friendly case made out of linen, bamboo jersey and soya based foam padding! This is the first time I've looked at a case made out of plants!

I was expecting the Vegetal to be something of a compromise, in order to meet the environmental criteria, but was pleasantly surprised by the quality of construction and the fact it can be washed. Even the packaging is made out of recycled paper. Although a simpler design than the Coat, it's functional and practical and does the job well. It also gives you a nice feeling of protecting the environment - maybe!

The Coat is a smarter design and also manufactured to a high standard. I already use a smaller Coat for my WD Passport external drive and it provides excellent protection. The interior lining protects the iPad screen and the exterior Neoprene padding, with a curious but strangely attractive bubble effect, provides a cushion against impacts. As the case is designed for a netbook it's a little deep for the iPad but not enough to be an issue.

Both cases will also hold the iPad in the official Apple iPad case if you want the benefits of the Apple case (stand, prop etc) when you're using your iPad, as well as padded protection when you're out and about. As the Apple case increases the dimensions of the iPad it actually makes it a better fit in both cases.

I also dug out my old Samsung netbook, now in service with my son, and both cases are ideal for netbook protection.

One suggestion to LaCie - they should update the product packaging to make it clear these cases fit the iPad, otherwise they're missing a trick!

Which case do I prefer? Very tricky but I think I come down in favour of the Vegetal, despite the strange name, which sounds like something you can eat!

With thanks to the the team at @Axicom for organising the review.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

24 hours with the iPad

I've now been using my iPad for 24 hours and ... wow! I'm even more impressed with it than I thought I'd be. My usage sits somewhere between my iPhone and MacBook Pro. Email, Twitter, web browsing are much better experiences on the iPad, compared to the iPhone, and simpler, compared to the MacBook. I'm typing this blog post on the iPad; and the keypad, whilst similar in design to the iPhone, is so much easier to use because of the big keys.

I've installed Truphone to give me telephony and just need the iPad Camera Connection Kit to give me a USB port to connect the Freetalk Everyman headset to, for decent quality calls. Unfortunately the camera adaptors are impossible to get in the UK currently.

Using my home WiFi Internet connectivity is amazingly fast, especially compared to the iPhone. The display is outstanding, both to look at and to use as a touchscreen.

I've also bought the Apple iPad Case which seems a bit extortionate at £30 but does work well, both for lightweight protection and to prop up the iPad for typing.

Any disappointments so far? None!

Friday, 9 July 2010

Moving to the Mac

It's now been two months since my MacBook Pro arrived. I've always been sceptical about the benefits of moving to Apple. Windows covered both my business and personal computing and I felt that Apple products carried an excessive price premium. However I started to see the attraction of Apple technology when my business BlackBerry was swapped for an iPhone - as a business handset the iPhone is brilliant, especially for syncing with the Exchange server. When I canvassed views from friends with an interest in technology I got a very strong steer towards the MacBook Pro.

I decided to take the plunge and ordered a 15" MacBook Pro and I haven't been disappointed. The MacBook Pro offers a superb combination of hardware and software. The benefits of Apple controlling both the operating system and the hardware are apparent. Before I bought my MacBook someone said that the trackpad was worth the money alone! They weren't far wrong! The MacBook Pro trackpad is brilliant and has completely changed the way I interact with my laptop. I always used to use a mouse but that's redundant now. The trackpad makes the MacBook much more intuitive and enjoyable to use compared to my old laptop. The only problem I have is when I have to use the touchpad on my business HP laptop and realise how rubbish it is!

Hard to say if Mac OSX is more intuitive than Windows 7. I much prefer using it but that is probably down to personal taste. Most of the apps I used with Windows are available for the Mac or there's something as good or better. iWork has replaced Office, Chrome is still there, Evernote has a great Mac app - to name a few. I've installed top 'getting things done' app, Things, which is probably my favourite productivity app of all time because it's so useful and has made me much better organised. I'll return to Things in a future post. Any disappointments on the software side? Skype for Mac lags the Windows client and eWallet for Mac isn't great compared to the Windows version but moving all my data to an alternative secure wallet app looks like a nightmare!

The build quality of the MacBook Pro is fantastic. It's impossible to compare the aluminium construction to any laptop I've used in the past because it's so superior. The MacBook Pro is a bit light on USB ports, having only two, but in reality that hasn't been a problem. I love the MagSafe power adaptor connector - different and nicer to use! The display is also excellent, as you'd expect.

Of course, all this comes with a price premium but if you view Apple products as premium products then somehow that premium doesn't seem so unreasonable. Macs are not for everyone but if you're looking for a new PC I would definitely recommend you consider them.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

FREETALK EveryMan HD Webcam for Skype

My friends at In Store Solutions recently sent me FREETALK's Everyman HD Webcam to take a look at. The HD webcam's unique feature is it's designed for Skype HD calls using the latest version (4.2) of Skype for Windows. It also works well with my MacBook Pro but unfortunately the Skype for Mac client is way behind the Windows version and doesn't yet support HD calling (come on Skype!). I'm a big Skype fan so anything that enhances the Skype user experience interests me.

The quality of the video is excellent and using it with the FREETALK Everyman headset gives me top quality video and voice. For optimum results both callers should be using Skype HD but even when the other party is using a lower resolution webcam the video quality is great. The design of the webcam is clever; the base twists so it can either sit on top of your display or on your desk. One point to note is that the webcam does not have a microphone so a headset or other microphone is also required.

Video quality will be affected by broadband speed which is where I'm lucky with the speed I get from Be Broadband's excellent ADSL2+ service. This is much better than ADSL Max services I've used in the past. The system requirements for the webcam suggest that your broadband should support 1Mbps upload & download to get HD video.

Product specification summary:

  • High performance optical lens
  • 24-bit true color depth
  • Auto Exposure and Auto White Balance
  • Auto Focus capability
  • Supports HD video encoding at resolutions up to 1280x720 at up to 22 frames per second
  • Skype Certified™ High Definition Webcam
  • Universal clip for attaching to a wide variety of displays and monitors

If you're in the market for a webcam the FREETALK Everyman HD is well worth considering if top quality video is important to you. My only reservation is that £70.95 seems quite expensive for a webcam unless you need the HD quality. Before purchasing do check that your setup meets the technical requirements for the webcam.

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