Category Archives: Featured articles

Peak vs Elevate

Recently I’ve been pondering wether its possible to enhance your mental fitness. I mean its easy to improve your physical fitness – you can go to the gym, run, improve your diet etc – but when it comes to brain power is it really possible to see progress? Back in 2005 Nintendo certainly thought so with the introduction of Brain Age for the popular DS console. Brain Age had you solve simple math problems and complete basic tasks with the premise of making you smarter. Today however, there are several excellent options available for your smart device which make similar claims.
The three most popular brain training apps for mobile are Elevate, Peak and Luminosity. For me, Luminosity is way too expensive (£7.99/$11.99 per month) and as such I have opted to leave it out of this comparison. The two apps which really stood out for me as viable options were Elevate and Peak. Both apps offer a similar experience but they go about delivering it in a slightly different way. I subscribed to both premium services and have been using them frequently for about a month.
Elevate
Probably the most popular brain training app at the moment is Elevate. Although only launched in May 2014, at time of writing the app has been downloaded 5 million times. What makes Elevate great is its intuitive, bold design and slick execution. Recently Elevate hit the headlines when it was voted as Apples App of the year for 2014. New users to Elevate will first have to complete a quick diagnostics test which will tell the app the areas which need improving on etc. According to elevate the service focuses on your reading and writing skills, along with memory and focus. The app offers a customised service which adjusts appropriately to your performance over time.
Elevate comes with a pretty comprehensive free to use service but if you really want to reap the benefits you will want to subscribe to the premium service for £2.99/$4.99 a month or £31.99/$44.99 for the year. This will give you access to 8 exclusive premium games, unlimited access to all 25 games and also the ability to compare your performance to other Elevate users.
Peak
Peak brain training comes from the London based company Brainbow. It offers a very similar experience to Elevate and also comes with some very positive review. Peak also comes high in many app rankings and to date has been downloaded 2 million times. Like Elevate, Peak helps improve your language skills, but puts more of an emphasis on mental agility and problem solving. The service allows you to set your own training goals and like Elevate offers a customised service which adapts to you performance over time.
Sign up to Peaks pro subscription and gain access to the 6-game daily personal workouts, more comprehensive analytics and unlimited access to all games. The premium package will cost you £2.99/$4.99 a month or £24.99/$34.99 for a yearly subscription. There is also a pretty decent free version, although like its competitor you will need to subscribe to the premium service if your serious about seeing improvements.
Games and design
 
The structure of Elevate has improved recently and now comprises of three main sections: These ‘Training’, ‘Games’ and Elevate design‘Performance’. The ‘training’ tab gives you access to your daily training session and comprises of three specially selected games. The ‘games’ tab gives you access to all 25 games and allows you to practice them as much as you like, and the ‘performance’ tab gives you access to all you statistics and tracks your performance (more on this later).

Elevate games

The games are beautifully designed and incorporate bold colours, slick animations and great sound effects. Because the games
are so well designed and such fun to play you would hardly know you are working out at all. It is clear that a lot of effort has gone into creating this type of experience. Some games are locked until you reach a certain level in associated games, and others are only available in the premium service. There is usually a goal in each game (like maintaining propulsion of a space rocket or navigating a boat across an ocean) and it all helps to make Elevate both interesting and engaging.

Peak designPeak also has a lovely design which is easily recognisable. The app basically comprises of two screens. The first screen is centred around your daily goal and workout, and the second contains all you performance stats and progress. You can move between the two screens by swiping with you finger. There is also an icon in the top left hand corner which takes you to the menu, and another in the top right which takes you to the games archive. The interface is very slick looking and fairly easy to use. The games themselves are also very fun to play and offer enough variety to keep you interested. Unlike Elevate though, the games feel more functional rather than recreational.
Peak gamesWhilst both apps are exceptionally designed and lovely to use, Elevate is possible slightly simpler to navigate due to is tab based design. That said, I think Peak’s home screen design is a little bit more interesting and dynamic, particularly when you get used to it. Whilst games on both are great, Elevate perhaps shines a little more due to its use of animations and sounds.
Performance analytics
 
Your performance in Elevate is based on what has been coined ‘Elevate proficiency quotient’ (EPQ). This is based on you Elevavate statsperformance over time, how often you play and the variety of of games you play. It gives you a score ranging from 0 – 5000. Your EPQ is will give you an idea of how well you are performing in the five areas: Speaking, Writing, Reading, Listening and math and for each category Elevate will tell you which is your best game. You also get a percentile ranking which compares you against Elevate users. This is pretty cool although I’m not sure my writing skills would actually put me at 96.8% against other users. The scores do seem a little exaggerated.
Peak on the other hand does things a little differently. Importantly it gives you a single score based on your overall Peak Performance. This is scored out of 1000. There is also a graph which shows your score over the past week. If you want more in-depth statistics then Peak also breaks things down in much more detail. A very cool function is the ability to compare your Peak score to people within your age group or profession. This is great as it gives you a feel of how well you compare to others. The information is displayed in a spider chart which includes Peak brain score, memory, problem solving, language, mental agility and focus. As if this wasn’t enough there is also a graph charting your performance in each category over the last month and a break down of how you perform in each category compared to your age group.
Peak statsThe app further breaks down your performance and gives you a Peak brain score for every game you have played. It even tells you which day of the week you have performed best.
Whilst both Elevate and Peak have excellent performance trackers, there is no bout that Peak’s is more comprehensive. I also much prefer having a single score to keep me motivated. I find this gives me a target to focus on and means I don’t have to get bogged down in statistics if I don’t want to.
The science 
According to the Elevate website ‘Elevates games are designed in collaboration with experts in neuroscience and cognitive learning and are based on extensive scientific research’. Furthermore ‘Elevate’s brain training algorithms further focus the learning experience by drawing from research in memory studies to develop a personalised training program for each user’. 
Peak makes a similar claim ‘Designed in collaboration with experts in neuroscience, cognitive science and education, Peak makes brain training fun and rewarding. The scientific advisors involved with Peak includes Bruce Wexler, Professor Emeritus and Senior Research Scientist at Yale, and Amir Konigsberg, PhD from Princeton in cognitive psychology‘.
What this all means, I’m not really sure. Both claim to be based on scientific research but neither goes any way in explaining what this actually means to the end user. The subject of brain training is a slightly controversial subject at the minute. It has been suggested that there is actually little evidence to suggest that such activities actually have any positive impact on mental agility. That said, doing any sort of task repetitively will surely have some sort of benefit. If your interested you can take a look at this study which suggests mixed results concerning the effectiveness of computer based cognitive training.
From my point of view it is difficult to say wether I have personally seen results. Looking at my analytics from both apps, I seem to do well some days and then terribly bad on others. It is difficult to judge wether I have actually improved in any of the given areas or wether I have just become well practiced at particular tasks. I’m sure in the long term however I will start to see more positive results. That said, I’m not sue how all this transfers to the real world.
Final thoughts
 
Wether or not these brain training apps are actually having a positive effect, they are certainly fun to play and I can see that there must be some benefit to exercising my brain regularly. To which app is best is a difficult question to answer. Both are excellent and tailored for slightly different needs. Peak offers a more all over experience, but Elevate focuses more on language and math. Both are beautifully designed and offer a lot of variety to keep you engaged.
I would say that Elevate certainly has a more bold and dynamic design, but in my opinion Peak offers better analytics and progress tracking. It is very difficult to recommend one over the other but if I had to continue just one of my premium subscriptions it would probably be with Elevate.
If you have had any experience with Peak, Elevate or any other service then please let me know.

Everything you need to know about Windows 10

So its official – the latest version of Microsoft’s popular operating system is official, and will be known as Windows 10. But what happened to Windows 9 I hear you say? Well nothing really, Microsoft just decided to leapfrog it. The new operating system offers a new design and a host of new features. Read on to find out everything you need to know about Windows 10.

Design

The new design and interface is where the majority of the changes can be seen. As windows 8 was criticised for being too different, Microsoft have rolled back the interface to something more reminiscent of Windows 7. Microsoft have done away with the annoying tile like meta-interface, and have replaced it with a more compromised traditional look. A big reason for this shift in design is attributed to an acknowledgement by Microsoft that not everybody loved the touch screen focus of Windows 7.
Tech-Preview_Start-menu-500x281
Windows 10 then, is much more reminiscent of Windows 7, and Microsoft have even made the big decision to re-introduce the popular ’start’ menu. This is one area where users will notice a more balanced user interface, with the inclusion of resizable tilesTech-Preview_Start-menu-500x281 which can be customised with your favourite apps, people and websites. Microsoft acknowledge that many users are still using Windows 7 and as such want to make the transition to Windows 10 as seamless as possible.
If you prefer the full touch experience then don’t panic, the charm bar is still available for simple gesture controls and you still have the option of running the touch mode which will display tiles in the familiar Windows 8 style.

Continuum

Like Apple and Google, Microsoft wants want to lock you into their own eco-system with multi platform functionality. Windows 10 has been designed to run cross platform and will offer a bespoke interface depending on the hardware. There will also be just one Windows store running across all platforms.

Windows_Product_Family_9-30-Event-741x416

Continuum means that the operating system will detect the hardware set up and offer the best user experience. This means that the user interface for a mouse and keyboard setup will differ to that of a touchscreen tablet. This is good news for all-in-one devices as the operating system will be able to detect when the keyboard has been removed and adjust the interface appropriately.

Multi tasking

Multi tasking capabilities have also been greatly improved with new features aimed at the power user. Importantly, Microsoft have introduced a new ‘task view’ button which will give an overview of open virtual desktops and apps and gives a simple way of switching between them. This is something which has been available in OSX for ages so should come as good news for Windows diehards.
Tech-Preview_Virtual-desktop-500x281
Virtual desktops are a means of being able to increase productivity by having access to multiple desktops for with different setups. This is a feature which will be recognisable if you already use multiple monitors. If however you only have one display, then virtual desktops are available to give give you similar functionality.

Windows ‘snap assist’ has also been improved with a new user interface. This allows for apps to be snapped from multiple desktops and auto sized to fit either all or part of the display in a tiled format. This is a multi tasking feature which gives greater Tech-Preview_Three-program-snap-and-suggestions-500x281functionality by allowing multiple apps to be displayed besides each other in an expanded interface. A new improvement is the ability to now have up to 4 snapped apps running per desktop. Windows 10 also introduces a quirky little feature whereby it will recommend similar apps you may want to run besides them.

Windows Apps

Windows apps have also received an overhaul and are now capable of opening in the same format as desktop programs. These can be resized at will and moved around the desktop. This is a big improvement compared to Windows 7 apps which could only be opened in full screen mode. This is also good for cross platform functionality with the ability to adjust apps accordingly.

New search

Microsoft have gone and improved the search functionality with a search bar now present within the task bar and start menu. This is reminiscent of Apple’s Spotlight feature and will display results from both your computer and the internet.

Availability and price

Windows 10 is slated as being available to consumers by the end of 2015. There are still a lot of tweaks and improvements to be made and the OS will be available to business users first. Prices are still unknown but there have been previous rumours that it may be a free upgrade!

If you just can’t wait however then Microsoft are offering a beta program via the ‘Windows Insider Program’. Microsoft have pointed out however that this will give users access to a preview version of Windows 10 which will by no means be a final package. Therefore make sure you know what your doing and expect to encounter plenty of bugs and rough edges.

How to get the most money for your old smartphone

So, the latest and greatest smartphone is just on the horizon and you want it, you want it badly. Trouble is your only half way through you current phone contract and there is going to be a cost implication involved. And probably a large cost implication.

You have two choices: You either buy out of your contact early, or you buy your new device SIM-free and use it with your current contract or a pay as you go SIM. Depending on how long you have left on your contract will determine which option you go for.

Now I am a sucker for new tech, I really am. When I want something I just have to have it and ill do anything possible to get my hands on the latest smartphone. Yes it usual costs but if your clever about it you can minimise this cost a great deal. The trick is to use your current smartphone as equity towards your new one.

I have compiled this short guide to help you in getting the most money for your current smartphone, and as such avoid having to pay out too much towards your new one.

Apologies if your not from the UK. Although this article is based on UK prices etc, the concepts should still be relevant no matter where you live.

1. Think phone value.

You need to be smart right from the beginning and consider the future value of your phone. If like me you change your device IMG_0769more often than you change your pants (not literally of course) then this is important. If you sign a new phone contract today, think about how much your new device might be worth in a year. If you don’t know much about smartphones then do your research. Have a look at SIM free prices and consider the actual value of the phone. Remember some branded phones will depreciate in value quicker than others. For example Apple and Samsung branded devices hold their value very well.

2. Be careful if signing up to a contract.

Do not sign up to an expensive phone contract if all you are getting is a entry/mid level phone. Chances are it will only be worth a few hundred quid and if you want sell it in a years time it will have little worth. Also, think about how much you are paying a month and remember that if you do decide to buy out early you will need to pay your monthly fee times by the amount of months you have left. This can be expense so sometimes its a good idea to get a bit of equity in the device from the start.

3. Look after your phone.

This may sound obvious but look after you phone. Insure it, put a case on it and for the love of god don’t keep it in the same pocket that you keep you keys in! The future value of your phone depends massively on its condition. People looking for second hand phones on Ebay will be much more attracted to ones advertised as being ‘immaculate’ as opposed to devices listed as having ‘some light scratches’. Its not difficult to look after you device. Treat it like your own child and it will reward you later in life. Furthermore, make sure you keep the box, instructions and all accessories. This will effect the future price.

3. Know where to sell your device.

Chances are your network provider or local phone shop will give you bugger all for your old phone. To get the best price shop around. There are many different avenues for selling your smartphone. Lets explore these:

4. Ebay

Ebay is a very good means of selling your device. It takes a lot of stress out of the process and sorts most things for you. There is also some comeback if it all goes a bit Pete Tong (That means wrong my American friends). You will have to make sure you Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 20.21.57listing stands out so make sure you use loads of pictures showing off the condition of the device and pay attention to your excerpt. If your device is immaculate then make sure you get this in. Also don’t list it too high or you won’t get any attention. Think about your delivery costs too as anything too high will put people off. One downside of Ebay is the charges. Make sure you know how much you are going to be charged.

Just over a week after the iPhone 6 came out, the iPhone 5S 16GB is selling for around £260 on Ebay in the UK. After you take into consideration the 10% seller fees you are going to get less that £234. You need to decide wether you can get more money via other avenues.

5. Recycle websites.

Recycle websites are great at giving you quick access to selling your phone and you should definitely consider checking them out. The easiest option however is to just log on to a comparison website such as Sellmymobile.com and they will give you the best price. You are still worth checking individual websites yourself as some may be excluded for the comparison website searches. Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 17.49.35

Again, a week after the iPhone 6 came, the best price I could find for the iPhone 5S 16GB was £255. This isn’t bad when you consider this is the actual price you will get and all you have to do is post the phone to them.

6. High Street stores.

You should never discount high street stores as they will often give a good price for your old gadgets. You should definitely pop into your local town/city and explore the local trade in shops. Popular trade in stores in the UK include CEX and Game.

Screen Shot 2014-09-28 at 18.22.06Again for the 16GB iPhone 5s CEX would give me £258 and Game £260. Clearly this would be the preferable option based on the fact that that there are no hidden costs. These prices do however rely on the device being in perfect condition.

What is good news is that there are plenty of options for selling you smartphone when you decide that its time to get a new one. All you need to decide on is wether you want to sign up to a new contract, or wether you you can afford to buy a device SIM-free. Personally I opt for both options and try to purchase my devices outright whenever possible.

You will certainly save money in the long run if you buy your device outright but of course this often results in a much larger up front cost.  Remember, where there’s a will there’s a way. Think smart and think ahead. There is always a way of getting that shiny new smartphone!

Is the Blackberry Passport the ugliest phone ever?

I’m not quite sure what Blackberry were thinking with their curious new smartphone, the Passport. The device is a strange looking little thing with a screen aspect not commonly used in todays smartphones. Furthermore, the Passport may just be the ugliest smartphone I have ever laid my eyes on. I’m just clueless as to what Blackberry were thinking.

The new device is based around a decent sized 4.5 inch IPS display with a resolution of 1440 x 1440. This equates to a brilliantly sharp 453 pixels per inch (PPI). When you compare this to the 326 PPI of the iPhone 6 you can understand just how sharp this is. The display is really very good and is one of the smartphones best features.

Actually, talking about the other specifications, these are also rather good. The device features a speedy Snapdragon 801 Quad Core processor clocked at 2.26GHZ and even has 3GB of RAM. Furthermore, in the optics department we have a 13MP snapper which features optical image stabilisation.

What has to let the device down then is the peculiar design. As already mentioned the screen aspect is rather unconventional with a ratio of 1:1, and the device itself is pretty huge. It definitely falls into the phablet category with a width of 3.5 inches. In comparison, this is wider than even the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. From what we understand however the build quality is pretty good with a stainless steel rim running around the edges and a soft touch plastic battery cover on the back. Blackberry have also done away with their traditional 4 row keyboard and have opted for 3 rows. Its still full QWERTY but commentators are stating it feels rather squashed.

The Passport comes running Blackberry OS 10.3 with the Amazon App store pre-installed. Here lies a problem as you will not have access to the Google Play Store. Although the Amazon App store is now pretty comprehensive, you will still struggle to find some of your favourite games.

So whilst the Blackberry Passport has excellent specs and a great camera, the design is going to make it difficult to use. Can you imagine trying to squeeze this massive square into you pocket? It certainly isn’t going to be comfortable! Certainly not suitable for skinny jeans. The screen aspect is also going to make certain games and Apps feel awkward. That said, for business functionaltiy such as viewing and editing documents, it should be excellent. And it is indeed the business audience which Blackberry are targeting with this device.

With specs this good and a market leading display, I do wonder why Blackberry didn’t try to make a more universally appealing device. Although I appreciate that they have struggled to crack the domestic smartphone market and as such are clearly attempting to win back their traditional business customers.

So is the Blackberry Passport the ugliest smartphone on the planet? Possibly, although I imagine its rather like marmite – you either love it or you hate it!

Do I want one? Absolutely not…… actually I sort of love it.

Image from Trustedreviews.com

Deezer review

Deezer review

Music streaming is all the rage at the minute. With Apple acquiring Beats Music, and streaming becoming part of the UK music charts, we can be sure that this is the way music consumption is going. As less people begin paying for music downloads, streaming services such as Deezer are becoming far more popular. The concept of all you can eat music for a small monthly fee is actually rather exciting.

I have had been using Deezer for about a year now and as such I have had plenty of time to get to grips with the service and write this, hopefully, balanced Deezer review. I have also used both iOS and Android applications, though this review has been constructed using the iOS app. Both are ultimately the same however and differ little from the web version.

I am not an audio engineer or an expert in the field, so this Deezer review is concerned with my own experience of using the service.

I hope you find this informative.

Background

Deezer is a music streaming service which allows users to stream or download music for a small monthly fee. Similar services include the likes of Spotify, Beats Music and Google Play Music. Deezer was founded in 2006 by Daniel Marhely and initially launched in France in the guise of Blogmusik. Due to copyright infringements the company was actually shut down, but was relaunched in late 2007 as Deezer. The idea was that some of the revenue made by on site advertising would go towards paying copyright holders.

Although Deezer managed to sign up the four major record companies, they struggled to cope with rising costs. In 2009 the previously free service introduced a range of paid subscription options. Although uptake of the premium service was slow to start, telecommunications giant Orange soon  became a key shareholder and premium subscriptions surged.

Today, Deezer is one of the worlds most popular music streaming services and boasts a catalogue of about 30 million tracks. Deezer is available in 182 countries and this year became available in the US – historically a very difficult market to crack.

Presentation and navigation

Deezer menuDeezer is certainly a very pretty service to use, and the iOS app is very well presented and easy to navigate. The main menu can be accessed by the menu button at the top of the screen or quite simply by swiping the screen to the right. This is where you can select what you want to do. From here you can choose to access music recommendations, access music charts and radio channels, your own music library and synced music and playlists. There are also links to other apps and access to the apps settings.

A quick swipe to the left will hide the menu bar and reveal whichever feature it is that you are currently using. The app itself is very fluid and the graphics are very pleasing to the eye. The whole thing just feels really well designed and runs very smoothly. Its clear that a lot of though has gone into the design and the result is that it is simple to use and easy to navigate. You will rarely find yourself lost in the interface.

Features
Deezer is packed with cool features and one of my favourites is called ‘hear this’. Accessed from the top of the menu, Hear this presents itself as a music feed with a feature called ‘Flow’ at the top and music reccomendations beneath. ‘Flow’ basically takes all of your music content and music that you have streamed in the past, and stitches it all together in a non stop music feed.

Underneath ‘Flow’ are all of your music recommendations, based on your listening habits. This is easily one of my favourite featuresDeezer flow as it constantly recommends new artists, albums, tracks and radio channels which I may be interested in. This is particularly good because it recommends relevant content which fits within my music tastes, and it is an invaluable tool in discovering new and fantastic music. I have discovered so many news groups and bands through recommendations and I am not sure what I would do without it.

The ‘Explore’ feature gives access to Deezer recommendations. These are not personalised but rather generic recommendations. Also found here is the option to break down these recommendations regionally. So if your interested in seeing whats hot in South America for example then you have the option to do this.

IMG_0756Another feature gives access to Deezer charts. This shows what is currently popular on Deezer. This is broken down into Tracks, Albums, Artists and Playlists and is structured in the usual charts format. I find this very useful when looking for contemporary popular music and is perhaps one of my favourite features.

Deezer has a really great choice of radio channels. These are based around music genres (e.g pop, rock, hip hop etc) and Artists. For example if your into Maroon 5 the you can select this radio channel and listen to this particular group and other similar groups/artists. The genre feature is practically the same but plays music which belongs to that genre. Again this is a really fantastic feature, and one which I haven’t really used enough. This offers so mush variety and if your struggling with what to listen to at any given time then it is so useful to just default to a particular radio channel and let Deezer select the play list. Deezer Radio

Of course one of the main features of Deezer is the ability to just search for whatever you like. Wether you want the latest Ed Sheeran album or Arctic Monkeys single, you have so much choice with about 35 million tracks to choose from. There is a handy search icon to the top right of the interface where you can search to you hearts content. You always have the option to stream the track or download it. Either way you can add it to you library, but with a premium subscription you can download it to your device for offline use.

All your content is stored in your music library where you can choose to view all your music or just those albums or playlists which you have actually downloaded. Talking about playlists, you can either create your own or access them via the charts feature. One thing I don’t like about Playlists is the inability to search of them. It doesn’t really make sense to me because if you create your own, how have people supposed to be able to search for it? I actually emailed Deezer about this and they acknowledged the issues and said they would pass it on to the development team.

This is one area I feel where Spotify has an edge over Deezer. Playlists are a big deal nowadays and I would like to see more functionality within Deezer.

All in all, the features provided by Deezer are absolutely fantastic and you will struggle to get bored with it. There is so much content to discover, and the interface makes the process much less overwhelming.

Deezer does a lot with social media integration, and you can link in with friends via Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus. Once connected with friends you have the option to view their viewing habits and share music.

Sound quality

Sound quality is very good I am have rarely heard any deterioration in quality. I spend a good amount of time listening to Deezer via my car stereo and even at high volumes there are few issues with quality. Some of my tunes can become a little distorted but this tends to be older tracks which are not available with high quality audio.

The standard playback quality is pretty average, however premium subscribers get access to the much higher 320kbps which sounds great. Obviously this takes up more space if you choose to download, but sound quality is noticeably better.

If you live in the US then you are lucky as Deezer have just introduced ‘Deezer Elite’. This offers a stunning High Fidelity bitrate of 1411kpbs. This is true CD like quality. No word yet on when this will be rolled out to the rest of the world though.

Price

In the UK you basically get the option of the free ‘Discovery’ plan or for £9.99 a month you can subscribe to ‘Premium+’ which will give you high quality downloads and access to the offline mode. You also have the option to listen to Deezer via different sources i.e. you car stereo or HiFi.

Prices in the US range from $4.99 for the basic package and $9.99 for the premium option, though as mentioned there is a new ‘Elite’ option which starts at $14.99 a month but eventually goes up to a whopping $19.99.

My opinion is that for £9.99 in the UK for what is on offer, Deezer offers great value for money. I would be lost without it. Although it is a bit disappointing that it is much cheaper across the pond. This is pretty standard though where prices are concerned.

Conclusion

Deezer really is a fantastic service which offers some fantastic functionality. The music catalogue is absolutely massive and you will rarely not find what you are looking for. For me the playlist issue is a bit of a pain but certainly not a game changer. I just hope that they add the option to search for Playlists in the future as this is something which Spotify does better.

Since I have been subscribed to Deezer I have discovered so much new content and have found myself listening to things I wouldn’t ordinarily have. This is great as it has really broadened my listening habits. I Haven’t paid for a single track or album since I subscribed to Deezer so for me it represents fantastic value for money.

The interface is beautifully designed, simple to use and just feels so fluid. I love it and as such can thoroughly recommend Deezer to anyone who loves listening to music but finds high street prices too high.

Virtual Reality: Is it finally time?

I find the concept of consumer Virtual reality (VR) really exciting. To me what makes gaming more immersive and engaging is the attention to detail and the resulting sense of reality. The more immersed I feel, the better the experience. The result of gaming consoles becoming more powerful in recent years has resulted in contemporary video games feeling much more realistic and engaging. Modern day graphics processors have really pushed the boundaries of what we though possible and we are now entering a new age of realism.

3D technology was the last craze which was slated as taking things to the next level. Modern hardware was capable of rendering games in 3D but whilst the technology became largely affordable, it next quite took off as we had hoped. Having personally built my own 3D gaming PC I was amazed the first time I donned my bulky active shutter glasses and played Battlefield. It was a mesmerisingly beautiful experience and for the first time ever I felt as though I was actually within the virtual environment.

3D Vision

This initial excitement soon gave way to apathy, however as eventually I realised that the 3D experience was far from a relaxing one. The concept of putting the uncomfortable glasses on every time I wanted to play Battlefield became a bit of a barrier to my gaming experience. After a few months I just stopped using them. My problem is that I’m a casual gamer. I play computer games when I get a bit of frown time and ultimately I just want to sit down with a game and relax.

Whilst 3D goggles aren’t too much of an inconvenience, I just found that I tended not to bother with them. The 3D experience was not a relaxing one and I found I had to be really in the mood to want to play. Unfortunately I think many people had the same issue which is why the consumer 3D experience never really took off.

Now whilst I find the concept of virtual reality gaming particularly exciting, I do wonder whether my personal experience will be similar to that of 3D. Virtual reality is a logical progression when it comes to making gaming more engaging. The idea of feeling completely immersed in a fully 3D virtual word is frankly astounding. My fear however is that the virtual reality experience will struggle to become mainstream, as has previously been the case. Can the technology truly become cheap enough for mass consumption? And, will the experience ever be refined enough to keep us wanting more?

The concept of virtual reality is nothing new. Actually, the technology has been around since 60’s. Back then however VR tech took up entire rooms and was grossly expensive. Furthermore, the tech was largely used by the military for simulation purposes and was by no means a mainstream experience. There were many advances in the tech over the following two decades but it was not until the 90’s when we started to become obsessed with the concept of virtual reality. We were promised that a new generation of powerful gaming hardware would bring VR to the masses but ultimately it never did. The technology of the day was still expensive and as such struggled to become commercially viable.Virtual Boy

Nintendo had a crack at virtual reality in 1995 with the release of the Virtual Boy. Although the system differed to what we expect today, it did go some way in creating a unique gaming experience which was at least available to the masses. Unfortunately the system was a commercial flop. This was largely attributed to its high price and the discomfort that the system caused. Moreover, in order to keep costs down, Nintendo opted to use a rather limiting red monochromatic display as opposed to a full colour one. This coupled with poor design ergonomics made for a pretty uncomfortable, nausea inducing experience.

 

Fortunately today advances in technology have meant that consumer VR is much closer to reality. Modern day games consoles are far superior to those of the 90’s and capable of outputting some serious horse power. Furthermore, thanks mainly to Oculus and Sony, a lot of time and money has gone into developing consumer VR systems capable of finally making the tech mainstream.

It was a relatively unknown company called Oculus VR that first reignited our passion for virtual reality with the development of the Rift gaming headset. The Rift started off in life as a kickstarted project. Oculus hoped to obtain enough funding on kickstarted to see the project through but ultimately didn’t expect to make any profit. Fortunately for Oculus however thousands of people shared their passion for consumer VR and pledged almost two and a half million dollars in funding. As such the Rift was born.

Oculus Rift

Although the initial Rift prototype incorporated a low resolution display and was plagued with motion blur issues, the latest version sports a beautiful 1080p OLED display and an external camera capable of detecting the position of the head. The current Rift system is looking incredibly promising and looks to offer a very polished VR experience. Rather controversially, Oculus were acquired by Facebook in March this year for a massive $2 billion! Supporters of Oculus we’re furious and accuse Oculus of “selling out”.

Earlier this year Sony also caused a stir by announcing that they too had been developing a consumer based VR headset known as Morpheus. Morpheus is an immersive 3D headset which features a full HD LCD display and will connect to the PS4 via HDMI and USB. It also offers a 90 degrees field of view and links in with the Playstation camera for motion control. Sony state that at this stage the headset is only a prototype and by no means reflects the final design. Clearly a lot of consideration has gone into the current setup however with Sony claiming that Morpheus is designed for comfort and has good ventilation factored in to prevent the lenses steaming up. Project Morpheus

What is also interesting is that Samsung are also now known to be developing their own virtual reality interface for their high end smartphones. It later came to light via Engadget that this is in fact a joint project between Oculus and Samsung. This mutually beneficial arrangement will allow Samsung access to Oculus’ mobile software development kit, with Oculus having access to Samsung’s OLED technology in return. Samsung’s VR system will not be a standalone device but rather a VR interface to your smartphone.

Whilst consumer based VR systems are looking likely to take the word by storm, there is that concern that we have been here before. That VR craze of the mid 90’s (largely inspired by the infamous movie – Lawnmower man) did gather a lot of momentum but of course our expectations were too high and the technology just couldn’t deliver. The VR systems of the time were bulky, uncomfortable and expensive and frankly not what we expected. As such people quickly lost interest in the idea of VR.

It is arguably unfair, however to draw parallels with the past. Things are certainly different today. The technology has come a long way from the bulky underpowered systems of the 90’s. The current VR craze – heavily inspired by Oculus and Sony – is again gathering a huge amount of momentum. The VR gaming headsets being presented today promise to deliver, and I for one am inclined to believe the hype. I really hope this is the time for VR to finally become a commercial success but I still have some concerns.

The technology has to be truly affordable to be successful commercially. It’s no use if only a select few can afford to invest in VR headsets. Furthermore the systems have to be comfortable and easy to use. It is well known that both Rift and Morpheus have had some comfort issues that need assessing. At the end of the day, if I come back from a hard day at work and need a little down time, the last thing I want to do it strap some bulky uncomfortable headset to my head. If it causes me any discomfort at all I wont want to use it.

There is also the motion sickness issue. The VR experience is quite an intense one and renowned for being a little taxing. Again, if this issue is not overcome then I can see VR being a bit of a gimmick with no real long term potential. The experience has to feel refined and it has to make me want to come back for more.

I really hope consumer VR becomes a mainstream experience, I just don’t want it to feel taxing.

Why I hate feeling disconnected and why I pay so much in SKY subscriptions.

Ok folks, so heres a bit of a rant.

So I’ve been with sky TV for a year now. Having paid £59 per month for my HD package I am now presented with the concept of my bill going up to £82 per month! Thats a massive price increase, and a huge amount to pay. Yes I have broadband, sky movies and HD, but still, where do these prices actually come from?

Ill tell you where – it all derives from a serious lack of competition. Where I live SKY is the only provider of subscription based TV and I know this is the same issue with people up and down the country. We live in a digital age but yet there has still been a serious lack of investment in the data communications infrastructure. I could actually get a TV package with fibre optic broadband much cheaper from one of SKY’s main competitors, however none of these services are available in my area. I even pay for 4G data with EE, but of course I don’t actually get any signal where I live.

My point is that the telecommunications infrastructure in the UK is seriously lacking. Unless you live in a big city then chances are you have to put up with decades old technology which results in painfully slow broadband, poor mobile phone signal and high prices! I keep hearing companies such as BT and EE talking about rolling out data services to rural communities, but how long does this actually take? Ill be in old age before I get access to super fast fibre optic services.

Other countries are far ahead of the UK when it comes to data communications and frankly we are not doing enough to bring our services up to speed. It was funny hearing the Queens speech a few years ago when she stated the UK government would spend more money on infrastructure. Well it hasn’t made any difference to me because I’m still living in the stone age!

So the answer to my question of where do these prices come from is actually quite simple; they charge me extortionate subscription fees because they are my only option and they know it! The day fibre optic is available to all of the UK will be the day that SKY experiences proper competition and actually does something about it. I just can’t quite believe sometimes that its 2014 but yet I still only get broadband speeds similar to what I had about ten years ago! Moreover, people are now talking about 5G data services but I can’t even send a text message from my own home! There has to be something wrong there?

I really hate feeling disconnected, I hate not having access to fibre optic services, and I hate having to pay extra for services I can get as a result.

this makes me grumpy.

End of rant.

Should you buy a curved screen TV?

Just what exactly is the crack with curved screen TVs? Does having a curved screen really enhance you viewing experience or is it just a massive waste money? LG and Samsung are the current market leaders when it comes to curved screen technology and both currently have a range of curved TVs available to consumers. Both companies are adamant that curved screens represent the future of home entertainment and it would seem that the technology is here to stay. The question is then; just how good is the technology and does it actually enhance your viewing experience?

Background.

The first curved TV prototypes were only introduced to the world last year at the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) 2013 and within only a year we have already seen the technology develop, with both Samsung and LG showcasing their latest range of curved TVs at the CES 2014 earlier this year.

Although curved screen technology has been around for many years, It was actually Samsung who initially wowed the world when in 2010 it announced it was developing the worlds first curved screen Smartphone. Passionate about this technology they were quick to push through a prototype of the device which was showcased at the 2011 CES. Although this brought questionable benefits to the smartphone, it showed the world what the technology was capable of and got people talking. By the end of 2013 the worlds first curved screen smartphone was unleashed on the world. The Samsung Galaxy Round was born.

samsung galaxy round

When LG and Samsung announced their prototype curved TVs at the 2013 CES they both claimed to be the first to the market. LG however arguably had a slight advantage in that their curved screen supported 3D technology and they actually started taking orders at the show.

This year at the CES 2014 Samsung showcased what it claimed to be the worlds largest Ultra High Definition (UHD) curved screen TV – a 105 inch behemoth. For those of you not familiar with UHD, this is the latest Ultra Hight Definition format and is more commonly known as 4K. 4K is 4 times the resolution of full HD and as such is blisteringly sharp.

Of course LG weren’t to be overshadowed by Samsung and similarly boasted about their own record breaking TV. This was slated as being the worlds first and largest curved OLED UHD TV with a screen size of 77 inches. OLED stands for organic light emitting diode and basically means that each pixel is capable of producing its own light source. This does away with bulky internal lighting and makes for a much thinner and lighter display.

Although the technology is still in its infancy, within just a year we have seen some massive technological developments and some equally impressive price reductions. Both Samsung and LG are championing the technology and are passionate about the benefits it brings.

Why curved screen TV’s are awesome.

Now I don’t want to baffle you with science but an apparent major benefit to viewing a curved screen is concerned with what is known as the ‘sweet spot’. There is always an optimum position when watching TV and at the cinema the screen is so large that this isn’t really an issue. Many people can sit within the sweet spot and still get the optimum viewing experience. Gizmodo point out however that” the sweet spot in you’re living room covers one, maybe two people at most. This means that the best place to watch is from direct centre, with the middle of the screen at eye height”.

The reason for this is because the middle of the screen is closest to the viewer. As we move away from the centre and towards the edges there is a very slight distortion in the colours and image. This is due to the edges of the TV being further away and is more noticeable on larger screens with the viewer sitting further away. By adding even a slight curve to the screen this brings the edges further towards the viewer and thus reduces distortion. This, and the fact that the screen follows the curvature of the eye, makes for a more natural viewing experience. Viewing angles are also better as a result.

It is also noted that the wrap around nature of the screen makes for a more inclusive and immersive experience.

samsung

According to LG the curvature also creates a slight magnified effect, making the the screen appear larger and brighter than on a standard TV. The picture is brighter due to the light emitting from the display being more focused towards the audience.

There is also the wow factor associated with curved screen TVs. They have not yet become commonplace in peoples homes and by owning one you really will be the envy of all your mates. For someone such as myself who loves the latest and greatest tech the curved screen TV really is the thing of the future. Sometimes I buy things just because they wow me.

Things to consider.

Price should be a serious consideration when thinking about a curved screen TV. Whilst prices have reduced drastically in a short period of time, curved TVs are still more expensive than standard TVs. As mentioned prices on the high street range from about £2000 to £4000. That said I really must stress how much more affordable these TVs are compared to just a year ago. For example in 2013 it would have cost around £25000 to purchase a UHD curved screen TV. Today you can purchase one for as little as £4000. I say “as little as £4000” not because I could afford one, but rather because of how much more affordable the technology has become.

 

LG 55EA980W

Another potential problem is that curved screen TVs are not exactly easy to mount on the wall. Whilst mounting solutions have now become available, they are not exactly cheap or readily available. Curved screen TV’s are really designed to be free standing, and to be honest do you really want one protruding from you’re living room wall?

Size is another issue that needs considering with 55 inches being pretty much the smallest size available. For a lot of people this will just be too big, particularly if you have a smaller sized room. The size also adds to the issue of mounting.

Lastly, the technology is still evolving. Whilst LED and OLED technology is nothing new, you may be best off waiting a few years to get the best spec and the best price. At the moment OLED technology is very new to curved screen TVs and is only offered by LG. OLED TV screens are mesmerisingly thin and are clearly going to become more readily available. At the minute however you will have to choose between OLED technology and UHD (4K).

To be honest, you will get the more out of OLED technology at present than you will UHD. This is due to there being very few 4K sources. That said, Netflix will soon be streaming in 4K and this will look undoubtedly beautiful on your UHD TV screen. However, when spending this much money on a TV you will want a certain level of future proofing. Thats why I would suggest waiting until OLED and UHD come hand it hand and at a reasonable price.

So should I invest in one?

When Samsung released the Galaxy Round smartphone I fought it was a huge gimmick. I just couldn’t, and still can’t see the benefit of having a curved screen on a smartphone. It makes no difference at all to the viewing experience and just makes it really difficult to fit the device in your pocket. Im not sure Samsung released the Galaxy Round for any reason other than showing off the curved screen technology. Basically they put a curved screen on a smartphone because they could. This was the beginnings of the curved screen revolution and Samsung wanted to show the world what they were capable of.

Curved screen TVs are different, however. The technology has a practical implication and in my opinion enhances the viewing experience. I have to say that whilst I was still a little pessimistic about the concept of having a curved screen TV, I am now completely won over. Having viewed many different models I am absolutely mesmerised by how impressive these products are.

Even on the entry level Samsung 8000 series TV – with its mere 1080p resolution — the image quality is stunning. The 55 inch version retails at less that two grand in the UK and actually represents brilliant value for money. Whilst still more than what most people can afford, we are almost within the realms of affordability.

Samsung 8000

My opinion is that the technology is here to stay and that we need to embrace it. Whilst still a little expensive, prices have quickly stabilised and will continue to do so. My concern is that the technology is still young, however. My worry is that I would buy I curved screen TV today and within a year it will be out of date. If i’m spending a lot of money on a new TV I need to know that it will be relevant and current for at least 5 years. If you want my opinion wait a few years and then invest. Who knows, we may find curved screen TVs with UHD and OLED technologies retailing for less than a grand. That really would be great value!

Sources:

GizmodoTrusted ReviewsThe Independent

 

Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite preview

Apple’s new OS – OS X 10.10 Yosemite is the latest incarnation of the popular Mac Operating System. Announced at Apple’s 2014 Worldwide Developers Conference Keynote speech in June, the new OS brings with it plenty of visual enhancements and a new focus on what Apple is calling ‘continuity’. The OS is due to roll out later this year and like Mavericks will be completely free.

The new OS will include a host of new features:

Design Overhaul.

yosemite_macbook_air

Inspired very much by iOS 7, Yosemite has received a major visual overhaul. Like its mobile sister, Yosemite has gone for a much flatter design with simpler icons and a translucent theme giving toolbars and sidebars a transparent frosted glass effect, much similar to that of Microsoft’s ‘Aero’ as showcased by Windows Vista. This all makes for a much more refined and simple design. There has been a number of aesthetic improvements with improved fonts and tool bar optimisations.

Seamless experience.

Apple have been talking a lot about creating a seamless experience between Apple products. Apple emphasised this much at the Keynote Speech and Yosemite has been heavily optimised to sync seamlessly with you iOS devices. Apple have put a lot of effort into this ‘continuity’ and it really shows. Now all of your i-devices will automatically detect the presence of each other and enable some pretty powerful features. For example you will be notified on your iMac of incoming mobile phone calls and actually be able to answer them or cancel them from your computer. This feature also greatly enhances the messaging experience by allowing greater control over text messages and iMessages.You will now be able to manage all your messaging needs from you Mac.

Apple’s sharing service ‘iDrop’ has also seen an improvement which makes your Mac compatible with you i-device. Previously files could only be shared between i-devices.

Another new sync feature is the inclusion of a cool little ‘Handoff’ button. In essence this allows you, for example, to compile a spreadsheet on your iMac and by simply pressing the handoff button, have the whole project instantly transferred to you i-device so that you can continue working on it on the move. This works with many apps including Safari and Mail.

Much improved notification centre.

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Apple have put a lot of effort into overhauling the notification centre. Firstly, a brand new ‘today’ feature has been added which is almost identical to what you will seen on your with your i-device. This displays daily information such as appointments and reminders.

Secondly Apple have now included the use of widgets into the notification centre. This will link in with stock apps such as Calendar and weather, but apparently there is scope for supporting many third party apps as well.

Spotlight.

The spotlight search has been vastly improved and also benefits from the new transparency theme. Launch spotlight and you will be greeted with a large window will will pull together relevant search results from sources which now includes Wikipedia, Maps and others. This also links in with the iTunes store displaying relevant movies and books etc.

Another cool feature is the ability to search for contacts and be able to message or ring them through Spotlight. Highlighting the relevant contact number will give a number of options to contact said person.

Safari.

safari

Like many of the other visual improvements, Safari has also received a good amount of polish. The toolbar has been much improved with favourites being incorporated into the URL bar along with the search feature which includes spotlight. For those of us who have dozens of tabs open at once, multiple tab support is also much improved. There is now the ability to scroll over tabs and the new super cool ‘tab view’ gives you a snapshot of all the tabs you have open, over all of you i-devices and in one place.

Other improvements include an enhanced ability to share content via mail, the ability to open up a separate window for private browsing and optimisations which give improved power efficiency. Apparently this means you can get an extra 2 hours endurance when watching Netflix!

Better Mail.

The male app has also seen some pretty nifty improvements. Sending larger attachments up to 5GB is now a breeze with the new ‘Mail Drop’ feature. Basically large attachments are uploaded to iCloud, in essence freeing up the email client. There is also a feature to annotate mail attachments within the app through a feature called ‘Markup’. The Mail app is even intelligent enough to detect what it is your drawing and convert it into a nifty rendered drawing.

 

OS X Yosemite brings with it a host of new and exciting features making for a pretty impressive, and valid upgrade to your Mac. The OS is stated to be released in the summer but developers will be able to take part in the beta from June 2. For the rest of us Apple has promised to allow the first million subscribers access to the beta. You can sign up for this with your Apple ID via Appleseed.

I for one am dead excited by the new seamless functionality between Yosemite and iOS8 and cant wait to get my hands on another iPhone. Apple are certainly very good at getting consumers to buy into their products and it will certainly be beneficial owning several Apple devices.

Dam you Apple, why do you make me want to buy all your products!!!

What I love and hate about Samsung’s GS5

What I love and hate about Samsung’s Galaxy S5.

Samsung’s Galaxy S5 has been one of the biggest smartphone releases of the year. Its easy to see what people love about the device, but what about its flaws? Having owned the phone since release I can honestly say I have tested it to the max. Read on to discover what I love and hate about the device:

The things I hate:

Whilst the S5 is by no means an ugly device, it does leave a lot to be desired. Samsung never seem to listen to consumer feedback and even after 5 incarnations of the Galaxy smartphone Samsung has shown no signs of incorporating metal into its designs.

The micro USB port on the bottom is just stupid. I feel like a surgeon trying to get it plugged in to charge on a night. With the lights off its impossible. After a few beers…well I’m sure you get my point! Its by no means an easy task.

The screen always wakes up in my pocket. Ill be walking down the street when ill hear the touch tone key pad in my pocket. Or it will start dialling random numbers from my pocket. Perhaps the unlock button is too sensitive or just in the wrong place? It also regularly restarts itself because of the unlock button being depressed in the pocket. I have never had another phone cause so many issues from the pocket.

The external speaker is not very promising. Compared to the HTC One the S5’s speaker is a bit pants. Audio output via the headphones is also not as good as it could be and I’m always finding the volume doesn’t go loud enough.

I have found a number of software glitches. The whole voice activation has just stopped working all together. It started as an intermittent fault but now doesn’t work at all – even though it is enabled in the settings. Another problem is that sometimes apps don’t shut down properly and get stuck in the notification bar or on the lock screen. It means having to restart the device. The camera app is also a bit strange in that you cannot access the ‘mode’ option sometimes. I have no idea what causes this. Im not too concerned about this glitches however as I’m sure they will be resolved with future updates.

The finger print reader is s**t. There I said it. Its nowhere near as intuitive as that of the iPhone 5S as it requires two hand operation. It also rarely recognises my finger print unless I scan it exactly right – there is a sweet spot which is really difficult to master. The backup password option is also a bit frustrating as you are presented with the full qwerty keypad and have to use both letters and numbers as part of your password. On the iPhone you are just presented with a number pad. I wish you had this option with the Galaxy. The whole experience just lacks polish and is a little frustrating.

The things I love:

The device is very quick and responsive. Touchwiz is very smooth for once and switching between the home screens is glitch free. The device is ample powered and really eats through all the latest apps and games. The processor is clocked slightly higher than on the HTC One M8 which gives it a bit of an advantage. Im not sure why Samsung didn’t opt for 3GB RAM but it matters little as 2GB is just fine. Everything runs smoothly and the device is a pleasure to use.

The screen is easily the best I have ever seen. I was very impressed by that of the HTC One M8 but the S5’s Super Amoled HD display wins hands down for me. The colours really pop and contrast is excellent. Viewing angles are also very good and sunlight legibility is amongst the best I have seen. The screen really is stunning and has to be seen to be believed. Having owned an iPhone 5S for a number of months I find the S5’s screen really refreshing. I no longer have to squint to see things and browsing the internet is great. watching videos and playing games is also a really great experience on the S5 with the screen really bringing everything to life.

Battery life is excellent. I can use the device all day quite intensively and if I have less the 30% battery life when I go to sleep then its a bad day! there is also a battery saving mode if you need it. I use the built in pedometer all the time and as such I would have expected this to effect battery life. It doesn’t however. Smartphones rarely last more than a day on a full charge but I am really impressed with the S5’s endurance.

The camera is incredible. The device takes really quick and hassle free images. The 16MP snapper takes stunning images and also supports 4K video capture. Close ups look great and the ability to set the focal point is very cool. This is one area where the S5 trumps the HTC One M8. If you want a good camera then the S5 may be the phone for you!
Generally speaking the Galaxy S5 is a great smartphone with many strengths. I previously owned the HTC One M8 but of the two devices I do prefer the S5. The user experience is really nice and everything just seems to work as it should. Im sure the software issues mentioned above will get resolved with future updates and perhaps the finger print scanner experience will evolve a bit. I just wish Samsung would put a little more effort into the design. People are getting used to quality looking devices nowadays and Samsung just don’t seem to get it. The recent announcement that Samsung’s head of design has been relocated may prove to be a good move, indicating that the company may finally be upping its game and reconsidering its design philosophy.

Samsung Galaxy S5

A day in the life of the HTC One M8

I was well impressed with the HTC One M8 when I first laid my eyes on it in the EE shop. Its sexy brushed aluminium chassis and gorgeous curves made the iPhone 5S look almost ugly. I just knew I had to have one so I ordered one immediately. Well it got delivered yesterday and I have well over a full day to form some initial opinions.

As mentioned the build is exceptional. The device feels solid in the hand, has a good weight to it and and the brushed metal finish is really luxurious. The volume rocker now protrudes from the chassis slightly making it easier to use and the power button has moved to to the top right. This makes the device much easier to use but the large size of the device makes one handed operation tricky, particularly if you have small hands. The nano SIM slot is situated to the left of the device, with the very welcome SD slot to the right. The build is one of the key selling points of this device and I think it feels more solid than the iPhone 5S. I am very impressed with the overall feel and quality of the device.

The screen is frankly beautiful. It is pretty much the same screen from the original One but is now slightly larger. It is very clear and colours are nice and vibrant. Sunlight legibility is also very good for a LCD display. I am also quite impressed with the viewing angles. One thing I find slightly annoying is HTC’s inclusion of on-screen buttons. Basically the Android buttons are now incorporated into the screen which means about a centimetre of real estate are being used up. This is fine for the apps which run full screen, but for a lot of games and apps the onscreen buttons are permanently present and don’t disappear. Its a bit annoying but perhaps this is just because of certain apps not being optimised. The bezel at the bottom of the device is also quite large but according to HTC it is not merely empty space.

Performance wise the device runs buttery smooth all the time and I have noticed no slow down or frame rate issues whatsoever. The One runs on a Snapdragon 801 processor with a Adreno 330 in tow. This makes for a great user experience and all is this enhanced by the beautiful Sense 6 User Interface. Sense runs seamlessly with Android Kitkat and makes for a great user experience. You can actually wake up the screen just by double tapping and you have the ability to unlock the phone by swiping upwards even with the phone locked. I am very impressed with the latest version of Blink feed. This looks lovely on the huge screen and is very customisable. I liked Blink Feed on the original One but now it just feels more refined. Zoe is pretty the much the same as on the old device, the only real difference is that it is now accessed through a separate app. Im guessing that this isn’t yet enabled however as upon opening the app it merely says “coming soon”.

For some the camera will be a bit of an off put. Its 4MP camera sensor will not inspire many but others will be impressed with the low light performance and intuitive depth sensor. My experience so far has been a mixed bag. It is by no means a bad camera but pictures do lack some detail. Colours also look a bit washed out in some pictures and other pictures can look a bit artificial. The low resolution also means you lose a lot of detail if you zoom in. Another downsize is that the snapper can only support 1080p video and 4K is a no go. I have had a play around with some of the camera effects and find these quite interesting. I particularly like the ability to change the focus point post image capture. The front facing camera has a 5MP sensor and as such selfies come out pretty good. This is a much higher resolution that most competitors.

As you might expect the front facing Boom Sound speakers are quite exceptional. Sound quality is excellent and the volume goes nice and loud. These are certainly better than what you will find in a Samsung or Apple product and are a key selling point for the M8.

My experience with the One M8 has been a very positive one so far. I absolutely love the build quality which is miles ahead of anything else. Unfortunately my device has a bit of a screen bleed issue. This manifests as two lighter strips that run horizontally across the screen. Its going to have to go back for this reason which is a shame because I really love the phone. Its worth mentioning that call quality is excellent, as can be expected from a HTC device.

A lot of people will have to make a decision between buying this or Samsung’s GS5. The GS5 certainly has a better camera and some extra gadgetry but build quality doesn’t even come close to that of the HTC One M8. Both devices are very good at what they do but one thing I can say is that if you buy the M8 you will certainly not be disappointed.

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Samsung Galaxy S5 VS HTC One M8. Which is best?

gun-gun-metal-metal samsung-galaxy-s5-mwc-2014-colours

The Samsung Galaxy S5 and the the all new HTC One are two of the biggest handsets to be released this year. With both companies hoping to build on the success of previous models, we are sure to see some aggressive competition. The Samsung Galaxy S range has seen some of the most popular smartphones ever made and sales have matched and even beaten those of the ironing iPhone. For HTC however, It is no lie that they have been struggling lately. That said, the original HTC One won universal praise and is considered one of the best smartphones ever made. As such both companies will be hoping to top sales figures and claim the title of ‘smartphone of the year’. The question then, is which one should you get?

Design and build.

Yet again Samsung have stuck to their previous design philosophy by using an all plastic construction. The device does not look that dissimilar to the GS4 and still incorporates a aluminium look band which runs around the edges. The corners however are slightly squarer and the device now looks more like the Note 3. Samsung have gone for a leather look back for the device and although similar to that of the Note 3, it does look more plasticky. The Samsung Galaxy S5 is by no means an ugly device but the all plastic design started feeling old about three years ago. An added bonus with the GS5 however is that it is certified as water proof.

The original HTC One really challenged the excellent build quality of the iPhone with a mainly metal build. HTC have never in my mind built an ugly phone but the One was a step forward. The new HTC One M8 is even better that the original. HTC have now used a build which consists of 90% metal and the plastic rim of the original is gone. It is slightly taller and fatter than the original but it matters little. The HTC One is a stunning looking device.

There is frankly no competition here. The build quality of the HTC blows the GS5 out of the water (literally). Im frankly getting a little tired of Samsung’s choice of build materials and I really cant understand the reluctance to include a little metal. I probably won’t buy another Samsung because of this.

Specs

Both devices have some pretty awesome specs and use relatively similar hardware. Both use Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 801 processors with Adreno 330 GPU’s. These are some of the latest hardware components on the market and as such both devices are lightning fast. The GS5 however has a slight clock speed advantage at 2.5GHZ compared to the One’s 2.3GHZ. In reality however there will be little difference in performance. Both devices also sport 2GB RAM and will be available with either 16GB or 32GB internal storage. With regards to batteries, the Samsung’s is slightly bigger at 2800mAh vs HTC’s 2600mAh. Again there is little realtime difference as software optimisation will be a big element of battery life.

Its worth mentioning that the GS5 also incorporates a heart rate monitor and a finger print reader. It may be that this sways it for you, particularly if you are into your sports!

Its a difficult call to make with such similar specs, but with the GS5 wins technically with its higher clocked processor and slightly bigger battery. Not to mention the additional hardware mentioned above.

Screen

Screen technology is always a controversial issue with opinion playing a big part. This is an issue of LCD technology vs AMOLED technology. AMOLED usually produces more vibrant colours and better contrast, but LCD tends to produce more accurate colours and sometimes appears sharper. Personally I love the popping colours of a AMOLED display and Samsung have always made pretty awesome displays.

Samsung’s GS5 sports a 5.1 inch full 1080p Super AMOLED HD display with HTC’s One incorporating a 5 inch LCD 1080p IPS display. Both are incredibly good and are likely some of the best screens available. Technically the HTC has a higher pixel density with 441 pixels per once (PPI) compared to Samsung’s 431. This really wont make any difference however with the difference being marginal.

This is very difficult to call as it all comes down to personal opinion. Both screens are exceptional. Although I prefer AMOLED, I know plenty of people will prefer LCD. Lets call this one a draw.

Cameras

This isn’t going to be a straight forward comparison with both devices having different ideas about smartphone cameras. The samsung uses a 16mp auto focus snapper compared with HTC opting for an ultra pixel camera at 4MP. The HTC cant really compare to the Samsung with regards to pixel count as the GS5 is way higher. The Ultra pixel camera on the HTC however has supposed to capture more light and as such claims to be better in low light situations. Clearly however if you want larger high quality pictures then the Samsung will be best for you. HTC do have a trick up their sleeve however with the inclusion of a second sensor used to create debt. This means you can play around with the background and create 3d like images.

Its worth mentioning that the One incorporates a front facing 5 MP camera which is great for selfies. The GS5’s front camera has a lower 2MP sensor. That said Samsung have an advantage in that the GS5 records video in the 4K format whereas the One only supports 1080p. This may change however.

Whilst the HTC One’s intuitive camera can create some really cool effects, it cant really compete with the high pixel count of the GS5. Samsung are pretty good at doing cameras and as such this will be a win for Samsung.

Software

Both devices will come preinstalled with the latest version of Android – 4.4.2 Kitkat. Both will also include the latest UI’s (user interface) – HTC using Sense and Samsung Touch Wiz. HTC’s Sense 6 will include the innovative ‘Zoe’ app which allows you to put videos and pictures together into short clips. Blink feed is also included which works a bit like Flipboard. The GS5 has something similar called ‘my magazine’. The GS5 is also heavily fitness optimised and includes Samsung’s new ’S Health’ fitness tracker software which works with the imbedded heart rate monitor.

This is very difficult call to make with the GS5 perhaps being more desirable to fitness fanatics. However, I have said it before and I will say it again, HTC Sense is way better that Samsung’s Touch Wiz. This sways it for me and I reckon the HTC One is the better device where software is concerned.

Conclusion

Technically, judging by the comparisons above both devices are equally impressive. The GS5 has possibly a better camera and some cool but perhaps gimmicky add ons, but the HTC One is far better looking with a much nicer design. Really, both devices are exceptional and both should sell by the bucket load. It’s really going to come down to which one you prefer.

If you want my opinion then I prefer the HTC One. Build quality is a big motivator for me and the device looks much cooler that the GS5. It will likely last longer too. The camera isn’t really an issue for me as I only take casual images on my smartphone. The One’s ultra pixel camera is perfect for quick pictures and has loads of flexibility when it comes to adding cool effects. Also, as mentioned above I really cant forgive Samsung for continuing to use plastic. Its outdated and it feels cheap. Smartphones have become fashion accessories and I don’t think samsung are going to win any prizes.

Why your iPhone isn’t automatically the best

What exactly is the best smartphone available today? This really is the million dollar question. A question which is intensely difficult to answer because the answer is totally subjective.

Not so long ago when purchasing a new phone we had to make a choice. We had to choose between high end optics and power. Smartphone vs camera phone. Fortunately all that ended with the introduction of modern day smartphones. All of a sudden you could buy a device which incorporated the latest internals with a half decent camera. There were still decisions to be made however and that is marginally still the case today.

The original iPhone was an excellent example of an all round device. It had some of the latest hardware under the hood, intuitive software and included a camera as a bonus. There were however other smartphones on the market with better optics and more power under the hood.

Today this isn’t such an issue however as the latest smartphones offer similar characteristics; the latest hardware, cutting edge optics, super displays and the latest and best in software. So what makes one device better than another? If there is no longer such a variation in hardware then what is it that makes us buy one device over another? What makes one device better than another?

This is going to sound controversial but all smartphones are the same. We have one simple choice, and that is one of Operating System (OS). Typically your either into iOS, Android or Windows mobile. All modern day device use the latest hardware from the likes of Qualcomm and Samsung etc. So really we are just buying into a brand. I have used both Android and iOS for years. They are ultimately the same and offer the same user experience. They are both very good in what they do. The newer OS, Windows mobile is also good at what it does in that it is fresh looking and relatively simple to use.

This all leads me to the conclusion that there are two underlying factors which dictate what our next device will be. The first as already mention is the OS. This is really the only ‘choice’ we make. The second is concerned with brand loyalty. brand loyalty however ultimately revolves around good marketing and this is what dictates what we think is the best device.It has little to do with anything else as ultimately we are all suckers to marketing.

So the question as to which smartphone is the best all comes down to brand and popularity. Lets be honest all those people who buy into brand Apple. Do you actually know what you are buying or are you just being told that your Apple purchase is automatically the best thing ever for no reason other than it being Apple? The same point stands with Samsung. People will buy into the Galaxy brand for example because Samsung is very good at telling the consumer that the Galaxy range of phones are awesome.

Fanyboyism is not a good thing. It prevents people from making balanced decisions and choosing the smartphone which is right for them. People who buy into brand Apple fanatically believe that the iPhone is the phone of Christ and that nothing else is as good as it. Not so long ago I glided into work with my new HTC One smartphone. It was an exceptional device and a very well rounded product. Upon showing it off to my colleagues somebody said “yeah but its not iPhone is it?” What does this even mean!? I don’t think she knew herself. She couldn’t tell me the difference between LCD and OLED technology, or tell me what processor was powering her iPhone. No of course she couldn’t. And this is the point, she just assumed that the iPhone was the best thing ever because that is what she is led to believe. So if you ask somebody like this what the best smartphone is, they would merely reply “obviously iPhone”.

So what is the best smartphone ever? My opinion is that this is an impossible question because the answer is entirely subjective. I think I got pretty close with the HTC One. It had brilliant build quality, a nice camera, cutting edge internals and a cracking screen. It worked really well and HTC Sense does a really nice job of bringing everything together. It was also a great size. I also love the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. For people who chew through video and media, and surf the net then its perfect. I currently have an iPhone 5S. I got it at release. Its a good smartphone. Build quality is second to none, its very powerful and it has a good screen. That said, the screen is way to small (I cant type on it with my sausage fingers), the finger print reader is temperamental and the prices of accessories are frankly extortionate. I also rather dislike Apple’s philosophy. Why shouldn’t I be able to use a third party car charger just because its not made by Apple!?

The point i’m trying to make is that there is no such thing as the perfect smartphone. It totally depends on what you want. People are fundamentally ignorant when it comes to purchasing their new smartphone. They are taken in by cleaver marketing and the occasional loyalty to a particular brand. Consequently this is not always helpful. When you look at the story of HTC you will see my point. HTC make some absolutely excellent smartphones and in fact have done for years. HTC Sense is easily the best OS skin available and the company have always been at the forefront of Innovation and design. The problem is however they just cannot compete with the popularity of Apple and Samsung, not to mention their marketing budgets. So you see most people don’t actually know what the ‘best’ smartphone is. They just get told. They follow like sheep.

Its drives me mad when I look on online forums and see people arguing over which operating system is best, which brand is best. Accusing each other of being ‘fanboys’. These people don’t actually know what they are talking about. These people are like brainwashed religious fundamentals. No amount of education and persuasion is going to change their mind. They will die for the cause. But there will never be any change because this is brand power at its best. Apple have been incredibly successful at creating the brand. Apple devices have gone far beyond the function for which they are designed and are now designer accessories. Sporting the latest iPhone is like showing off an Armani suit. Its the cool thing that everyone needs.

So again, and in conclusion there really isn’t a ‘best smartphone’, it all depends on what your opinions are. Personally I don’t care about brand and reputation. When I get a new smartphone I think really carefully about what I need and whats best for me. In hindsight the iPhone 5S was a bit of a mistake, I should have stuck with my head and got a Galaxy Note 3. I just get frustrated with the iPhone, its just not as good as what your led to believe. So please don’t accuse me of being a fanboy because I don’t have a favourite brand. I just buy the things which are most compatible with my lifestyle and my needs.

This is my opinion anyway. Sorry if this is a little controversial. If you disagree, or ever agree then please let me know.

The future of virtual reality: Project Morphius

Today Sony have officially announced their new virtual reality headset ‘Project Morphius’. It seems previous rumours surrounding this were spot on as Sony confirmed this has been 3 years in development.

Morphius is an immersive 3D headset which features a full HD LCD display and will connect to the PS4 via HDMI and USB. It also offers a 90 degrees field of view and links in with the Playstation camera for motion control. Sony have said that at this stage the headset is only a prototype and is by no means the final design. Clearly a lot of consideration has gone into the current setup however with Sony stating that it it is designed to be comfortable and has good ventilation factored in to prevent the lenses steaming up.

It seems Sony are working with developers to ensure there will be plenty of content at release. When that will be however nobody knows.

Virtual Reality systems have never really been commercially successful in the past which is unfortunate because the concept has so much potential, particularly with todays modern gaming machines. Sony are clearly psyched about Project Morphius, and so they should be – it looks brilliant!

Is Google set for world domination?

What has made for quite extraordinary news recently is Googles sudden obsession with robotics, military tech and artificial intelligence. When Google bought Boston Dynamics last year, the company responsible for those creepy military robots which would look at home in a sci-fi movie, it made news headlines. People wondered what Google was up to. Just what exactly is their agenda? Are google set to become the world biggest arms supplier (think Stark Industries)? Or is there some other Agenda?

The rise of google as one of the worlds largest and most significant corporations has been staggering. Only when I was at school in mist of the new millennium, Google was just some widely unknown search engine. Goggle? Boogle? how do you spell it again?

If one thing is for sure its that Google are up to something. Perhaps they are merely adapting to emerging trends in technology and consumer habits. But the more concerning possibility is that the skippers at Google have been watching far too many Marvel movies. Something tells me Google are in the most of becoming on the of the worlds major suppliers of military hardware and technology.

In what the Guardian calls “an unprecedented shopping spree” they point out how Google has bought almost “every machine-learning and robotics company it can find”. The list includes the surprising acquisition of ‘Nest Lab’ the manufacturer of smart homes sensors, and the London based artificial intelligence (IA) startup ‘Deep Mind’. In addition to these key players, Google has also acquired many more robotics and AI companies and continues to hire top computer scientists, researchers and technologists (The Guardian).

One possible beneficiary of Googles acquisition of so many robotics and manufacturing companies is the US economy. Quoting a report from The Wall Street Journal, The Verge highlights how Google and Foxconn have been conspiring to develop new robotic manufacturing technologies which would benefit the economy by means of attracting companies back to the US with the “promise of higher productivity and lower labor costs”.

Although Its no secret that the US economy has been in decline, I find moral responsibility an unlikely reason for Googles recent behaviour. Generally speaking companies are interested in profits and expansion above all else. Of course I wouldn’t completely rule out President Obama’s push to grow investment in manufacturing and technology in the US as having something to do with it. Think financial reward.

What is concerning is the type of companies Google has been buying. For example look at Boston Dynamic. They are responsible for some of the creepiest robots you will ever see. ‘Big Dog’ for example has had a lot of exposure in the media because of its freaky mule type design. The machine is capable of carrying heavy loads over even the most difficult terrain and the Youtube video of ‘Big Dog’ regaining its balance on ice is frankly horrifying.

Big Dog is being developed for the US military with funding from the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). It is also no secret that the majority of funding for the major projects comes from the US military. Yes these projects may be non offensive military accessories and experiments but it does pain a rather concerning picture regarding Googles now close working relationship with the military.

On the other hand perhaps we theres no need to be concerned. Maybe this is just a natural development for the big G.

In 2012 Google brought on board the inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil as director of Engineering. A well know futurologist, Kurzweil successfully predicted a computer world beat a world chess player by 1998, and also predicted that the Web would explode at a time when it was in its very early stages (The Mail Online). Kurzweil is also well known for creating the concept of ‘singularity’, the idea that robots and humans will basically become the same thing. He has also controversially predicted that by 2029 robots will become more intelligent than humans. This is known as the ‘Turin Test moment’. It thus seems quite fitting that Google have employed him with a mandate to research and develop Artificial Intelligence.

Kurzweil clearly is the right man for the job when it comes to Google’s aspirations. His vision and passion for future technologies will likely be paramount in Google’s aim to become the leading entity in the field of robotics and artificial intelligence.

So Google really is a force to be reckoned with and has the potential to be very significant. I think a lot of questions are going to be asked regarding the companies aspirations and it will be very interesting to see what happens next. I for one am actually excited to see this vision coming from a company which has always been at the pinnacle of innovation. Google’s intentions are probably peaceful with their sole purpose being to further research into intelligent machinery. Wether or not machines become more intelligent than humans by 2029 I don’t know. Im sure however that if (when?) it does happen, Google will be responsible. Either directly or indirectly.

Sources: The Verge, The Guardian, The Mail Online.