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Mobile devices: Desktop killer?

Overview
Since the latter part of the 2000s, ‘smartphones’ smoothly sailed into the lives and pockets of most people in the western world. Previous to this, all of your social networking, browsing and emailing was done on a purpose made machine either in the form of a desktop computer or a laptop. Phones and tablets snook in and took over dominated the market seemingly overnight. Despite this, I am still sat at a computer at my desk typing away on my desktop. Now let’s find out why.

Phones
Smartphones are handheld, usually pocket friendly devices running a small but powerful operating system. They not only have the ability to send and receive text messages and voice call, but they are able to run a multitude of apps and have many features, including virtual assistants (in the shape of Cortana, Siri, Google assistant etc) media players, games and cameras. They have evolved to the point where they can pretty much replace computers in the home environment.

Computers
Computers are made up of the tower, monitor and peripherals like a mouse, keyboard and sometimes a printer. They consist of a fairly standard array of components, which include the motherboard, power supply, CPU and cooler, RAM units and a hard drive, either mechanical or SSD. This can be expanded exponentially, by adding optical drives, graphics card(s), sound card, PCI WiFi adapters and so on. The possibilities are endless. For the standard office use or home office use, you’ll probably spend a couple of hundred on the machine, but nothing too outrageous. For the gamer and enthusiast, you could spend thousands getting the absolute best machine you can buy. Or, you could buy a laptop. These offer less expandability and upgrade options, other than the HDD or RAM there’s not much more you can usually do.

Conclusion
In my opinion, I prefer the convenience and portability of a mobile device when I’m on the go, unless I’m typing a blog post where I would bring a laptop along. For word processing or anything similar, nothing beats a physical keyboard. If it comes as part of a laptop, a desktop or even a tablet, it’s a whole lot easier to use and more convenient. For on the go social networking, listening to music or even playing some games, the mobile device comes out on top.

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Polaroid PIC-300: Polaroid’s rebirth?

Overview

Dubbed as the ‘modern version of the classic Polaroid instant camera you’ve grown to love’ by Polaroid’s website, the PIC-300 is their current instant print camera offering. It is available in four colours, prints 2.1×3.4” photos instantly. The camera is analogue with four settings for different light types. The rear has a viewfinder, a counter with how many prints are left on the film and a compartment in which you can insert the film

Using the camera

When you hold the camera, it is bulky and rather uncomfortable. It is in a whole other universe to the Canon DSLR that I’m used to. To turn on the camera, you have to pull out the lens, which feels bizarre to be honest. When you can get past this and actually get to take a picture, you will need to make sure it’s perfect, as there is no second chances. And with the film being expensive (around £1-1.50 per print) you won’t want them all coming out looking terrible. The photographs take a few minutes to develop, and you DO NOT want to shake them. I found this out the hard way. The photographs themselves are nothing to rave about, with their quality being reminiscent of the film cameras that went out around 15 years ago.

Conclusion

The camera itself being a little under £70 will not break the bank. The film is between £10-20 for ten prints, which is not as convenient as an SD card and you can probably print cheaper and better quality using this option.

But, this camera wasn’t intended to be a professional grade photography instrument, but a nostalgia icon. Polaroid is a huge nostalgia point for the 70’s-80’s, and that is what this camera is meant for. Bringing that nostalgia to the present day.

UK Broadband quick post.

In the good old UK, you aren’t really limited to broadband providers. You are, however, limited to the method the magic of the internet can actually get into your house. You can have copper cable, used by Virgin Media, you can have ADSL broadband which uses telephone lines. This is used by BT, Sky and almost every other company. Or, if you’re really fancy, you can have Fibre Optic lines. These are offered by most companies in areas that are fibre equipped.

Now, is there really any difference between the two? (I’m not including fibre, as not all areas have it yet) The simple answer is yes, absolutely. I, personally, use Virgin Media’s highest speed broadband. Even at peak time, I’m getting 110mbps down and 6-7mbps up. I don’t live near a major city, the nearest is around 20 miles away. My partner’s parents, however, use ADSL supplied by Sky. They get around 4mbps down and 0.6mbps up. They live near a major city, and have the highest speed available. Part of this is due to the router, they use the ISP supplied router which is not great. I use the ISP supplied router too, although mine is dual band and is their latest offering.

To increase your speed, I highly recommend using wired where possible. Be this through the use of Powerline, access points or even wiring in a network the old fashion way. This needs a considerable amount of knowledge to do, but the rewards are great. Couple this with wireless access points, I recommend Ubiquiti’s offerings, and you’ve got a great network.

To conclude, if you’re looking for a new ISP in the UK, and live in a cabled area, I can definitely recommend Virgin Media. Their internet alone costs less than £40 per month and the speeds are just fantastic.

Windows 10 VS Ubuntu: Unfair comparison, but lets do it anyway

Overview

Windows 10 is the latest offering by Microsoft, and it’s a bit like Marmite in the UK: You either love it or you hate it. I personally love Windows 10, and did not like Windows 8 very much at all. The Windows 8 start menu was just a terrible idea, and I just did not like the overall UI. Windows 10, however, runs fast, performs well and is just generally pleasant to use.

Ubuntu is, as I have already touched on, a free and open source OS by the good folk at Canonical. It is free, lightweight and very simple to use. The UI is pleasing, the taskbar is a joy to use and it is fast.

Windows 10

Windows 10 was released in the latter half of 2014, with its consumer release in mid 2015. One key component is the ‘Universal Apps’ which are designed to run across many Microsoft products, including PC’s, embedded systems, Xbox One and many more. The UI has a so-called Tablet Mode, which gives you the familiar mobile/tablet-like start menu that was found on Windows 8. It supports fingerprint and even face recognition for login, which is pretty neat.

On my computer, a rather unremarkable Dell with a 500GB HDD and 4GB RAM, Windows 10 has a pretty impressive boot time of around 30-45 seconds.

Ubuntu

Ubuntu is a Debian-based Linux OS, supporting computers, tablets and smartphones, although this is the Touch edition, and also runs on network servers as the Server Edition. Canonical Ltd create and provide support for the software, which is called Lifetime Support when you download it, and it uses Unity as its main Graphical User Interface. Canonical are UK based, and they sell technical support and other Ubuntu-related services, but there is also an option to donate when you download. The donate feature is good, as you can choose what to donate, and it tells you what that cost would relate to, for example it may compare it to buying a cup of coffee.

The Ubuntu project is committed to the principles regarding open source software, meaning they encourage people to use it, learn how it works, make some improvements on it and then distribute it.

So what is it like to use? Extremely nice. It has a nice UI, simple to use and a comprehensive app store. It comes with Mozilla FireFox as standard, but that can be changed to Google’s Chromium browser. More advanced things can be done through terminal, but I won’t be going into that as the general user probably won’t need to access these functions.

How do they compare?

From boot, Ubuntu is faster and has a much more aesthetically pleasing log in screen. The amount of software that supports Windows is seemingly endless, whereas unfortunately not as many companies support Linux-based systems.

For gaming, Ubuntu does not support most games to my knowledge, where Windows does. For word processing, using Apache’s Open Office works perfectly on Ubuntu, as it does on Windows. Browsing is also just as easy on Ubuntu, using any of the previously mentioned browsers.

Do I recommend Ubuntu, or is Windows 10 the best?

The simple answer is, for a general use computer, I can definitely recommend Ubuntu. For daily browsing, word processing and other general home or small office work, Ubuntu is fantastic.

For anything more advanced, for example graphic designing, video editing and rendering, and gaming, Windows definitely comes out ahead.

Disclaimer

You should absolutely NOT delete Windows and install Ubuntu on a whim, do your research first and see if Ubuntu could really benefit you. However if you have a new hard drive and don’t have the funds to buy Windows yet, Ubuntu will probably be your best bet as a placeholder.

Smart TV’s: Passing fad or revolution in vision?

What is a Smart TV?

Put simply, a Smart TV is a television, usually LCD or LED, which connects to the internet and has a user interface that allows the user to download apps. The apps can be used to view internet TV, on demand streaming and paid subscription services (such as Netflix and Hulu). They can even be used to access home networking, to access things like media stored on a NAS server.

Are they actually good?

I have had a smart TV for some time now, and it has served me well. The picture is astounding, the network access is responsive and fast even over wireless and the app store is simple and pleasant to use. The TV has social networking ability, however I have never needed to use this.

The prices can be a little steep at around £200 for a small one and up to around £5,500 for a 75” model.

So what are the alternatives?

The alternatives are simple. Buy a regular TV and a smart set top box. These are made by companies like NOWTV, YouView, Amazon, Google and Apple. These can usually be found at around £100 or less, and come with more or less the same features as the smart televisions do.

You could go the way I went, and use a dedicated computer as a media server, using Kodi or openELEC. However, if you go with these, I absolutely DO NOT condone the use of any third party applications that may break laws in your respective country or province, and they may damage your system. Kodi is not as good without third party apps, but please do your research and don’t use it to break any laws.

Linux OS Quick Post

So you have a computer, and most likely it will be running Windows, or if you bought a Mac, it will run MacOS. But what if you wanted to venture into other systems? What are your options?

If you’re looking for a free and open source operating system, Ubuntu is definitely your best option. Ubuntu is created and maintained by Canonical. Ubuntu is free, although you can donate to Canonical when you’re downloading the installer. You could go with one of the other flavours or ‘distros’ of Linux, but as I have used Ubuntu that is the only one I can currently recommend. There are many more that are popular, such as Debian, RedHat and even Chrome OS (which I reviewed as the Chromebook).

My best advice is to experiment with them, but don’t overwrite your main OS on your HDD, as Windows and Mac OS can be expensive to replace. Also do your research before you try any new operating systems and weigh up all of your options.

Mobile Operating Systems: Which side are you on?

Overview

In the present day, when someone goes to buy a new phone, they are left with one burning question: IOS, Android or Windows. IOS and Android are the two most common, with the former being an Apple creation and the latter is the spawn of Google. Windows OS is much less common, ironic seeing as most of the computers you will come across are Windows based systems. So, let’s take a look at these systems, and see how well they compare.

A quick disclaimer, I have personally used devices which use each of these systems, and I’m not particularly crazy about any of them, I just use them because the alternative is a non-smartphone and, in 2017, that is not an option.

Apple IOS

The IOS, which was once called the iPhone OS, is a system made by Apple for Apple products only. The system was initially developed way back in 2007. Initially, as the original name suggested, the software was for the iPhone range of devices, but has since migrated over to the iPod Touch (late 2007) and the iPad (early 2010). The App store contains millions of applications which are downloadable either for free or for a price.

The immediate drawback with the Apple software is that it is limited to their own hardware. This hardware can be particularly pricey, but die-hard Apple fans don’t bat an eyelid to this.

So, what is it like to live with? I recently purchased my first Apple device, an iPhone, and I was excited to get it running and replace my Sony Xperia I was using. On first impressions, I liked the device and the system. That soon changed, however. The system was prone to crashing, the fingerprint sensor is a bit hit-and-miss, the app store was more complicated than the Google Play store and a host of other inconveniences. Putting music and other media onto the device must be done through iTunes, which is a bit annoying when you’re used to just downloading or drag and drop from a computer. The biggest flaw I have seen is the Wi-Fi. It is prone to cutting out, which is not caused by my access point as it is around 3 metres away from the phone most of the time and, when I want to connect to a new wireless point, I can’t just go in the drop down menu and do it from there like you can on android.

To conclude, I will rate the iPhone and OS a 7.5/10

Android

The Android system was initially developed by Android Inc, which Google bought in 2005. The OS was released in 2007, and the first commercial device brought in the latter part of 2008. Android is based on the Linux kernel and is aimed at mainly touchscreen devices. As with IOS, there is an App store in which the end user can install millions of apps (overall, not on one device. That would be absurd) either free or paid and they range from games to books to productivity apps and everything in between. The system is available on a massive array of devices, from Samsung to LG to Sony to HTC and many many more. The system is present in smart TV devices, which I will talk more about in another blog post, it is present in Smart Wear devices and even digital cameras. This variety means the devices are much more cost effective compared to Apple devices, as you can sacrifice quality in choosing lower spec models from different manufacturers.

The Android OS is nice to use, and every setting you’ll use regularly is accessible in the customisable drop down menu. The system does have it’s faults, programs crash, the phone will often freeze up and be unusable for a short period of time and the updates can often take a while.

Overall, Android gets an 8.5/10 from me, just because I think it is easier and more pleasant to use.

Windows Phone/ Windows 10 Mobile

The windows phone was initially released around 2010, and in 2011 it was announced that Microsoft was to partner with mobile giant Nokia, who were a main player in the mobile industry in the early to mid 2000s. I’m not too familiar with the system, so I won’t go into too much detail. The system is not very popular, and there is not as many applications available in the store as is the case with Apple and Android products.

To conclude

I prefer Android, but the beauty of mobile operating systems is there isn’t a massive choice, and most people will generally use one and stick with it.

Lenovo N20P Chromebook.

Overview

The Lenovo N20P is a multi mode laptop/tablet hybrid running Google’s own Chrome OS. The OS is relatively lightweight, giving the system an impressively short boot time of around 3 seconds. For someone that needs a versatile machine to do basic operations and word processing, it is perfect. However for anything more advanced, the laptop does offer some features, but not enough to put it in the same league as it’s Mac or Windows cousins. The user interface is surprisingly minimalistic, as is their related Chrome web browser.

The laptop boasts integrated apps for Google’s various web offerings, including Gmail, Google Docs, YouTube and more.

Specs and features

The pleasingly sleek and elegant design packs in some hardware that is neither impressive nor terrible. The Chromebook boasts a 16GB eMMC storage device, 2GB DDR3L RAM, an estimated 8 hour battery life out of the box, dependent on usage, stereo speakers and Intel’s HD graphics. This would be vastly unimpressive on a Windows machine, but for an OS as tiny and lightweight as Chrome, it is perfect. Weighing in at little over 1Kg, it is as light as it’s OS is.

The screen is a crystal clear 11.6inch HD screen, but the fun does not stop there. It is a multi mode laptop and with a flip of the keyboard, as well as some help from the 10-point Multi-Touch feature, you have a tablet that can stand up perfectly.

Living with the Chromebook

On first impressions, the Chromebook is a refreshing and elegant piece of computing machinery. So when the laptop boots up, I was met with a basic interface with a transparent taskbar. On pressing what I thought was a ‘start’ button, a button I was familiar with being an avid Windows user, I was given a pop up box with a list of a few apps that were installed, like a file manager, app store and Chrome browser. I actively dislike the Chrome browser, and the app store stocks mainly extensions to the browser.

The overall usability of the computer is questionable. The word processor is Google Docs, which is online. Google Drive streamlines the file storage and sharing process, however if you even thought about using the Chromebook offline, then think again. It relies on the internet for 90% of its actions, which is the main drawback to the system. The advantage, however, to Google Docs is that it saves your work automatically at regular intervals, which is good if anything happens and you should happen to close your browser.

The app store stocks a variety of apps and extensions to the browser to suit a range of purposes.

Summary

The Chromebook is a fantastic laptop for word processing, productivity and general browsing. It is fast, lightweight and flexible with a whole host of features and applications. It integrates seamlessly with most of Google’s vast array of services.

For all it’s faults, the Chromebook and Chrome OS is truly a revelation in lightweight but functional operating systems. However to do anything but the basic tasks and browsing, you are probably better off with the Chromebook’s Mac or Windows flavoured cousins.