Will 2013 bring more integration in gadgets?

January 7th, 2013 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Above is the new Canon Powershot-N camera, an interesting camera as it’s designed as an any-way-up camera, due to the square nature of the camera (although the screen only tilts upwards and technically it’s not quite square!). The any-way-up operation is achieved by two rings around the lens, one acting as the zoom ring, and the other the shutter button. Unless the information displayed on the screen also spins though, I suspect the majority of pictures will still be taken with the camera in the conventional position.

However, instead of including a GPS module within the camera (as Canon started to on their higher end models last year), they have used the WiFi link that you can establish between the camera and your smartphone or tablet (iOS and Android only supported) to feed the camera with the gps location information from the smartphone / tablet instead. This WiFi link also allows you to easily transfer the pictures to your device, and then onwards onto Social Media sites, and photo sharing sites (the Canon Image Gateway offers 10GB of personal storage, and the software has a direct upload to Facebook option, but I suspect once the picture is on the smartphone / tablet there will be plenty of ways of getting the picture onto other sites via the OS or specific applications for those sites). To top off the range of new features, the device can be charged via USB (historically Canon cameras have needed the battery to be removed and placed into a charger, so providing in camera charging is also something I’m glad to see).

With a 8x optical zoom, a 12.1MP CMOS sensor, and only measuring 78.6 x 60.2 x 29.3 mm (when lens retracted), yet still supporting Full HD video recording, this is an interesting new device which will be available in Black or White when it’s released in April around £270.

For completeness, I should mention that this same GPS integration is available on a range of other new Canon products announced this week (the Canon IXUS 140 and Canon PowerShot 3500IS in particular), in fact, what’s interesting is that you may not even need to maintain the link throughout the day whilst shooting your pictures, as Canon say “At the end of each day, Wi-Fi can be activated to pair the captured images on the camera with the location data recorded from the smartphone.”

Also announced today are two new Garmin EDGE cycling trip recorders, the Garmin EDGE 510 and Garmin EDGE 810 cycling devices. By utilising the Garmin Mobile Connect app, these devices are capable of additionally supporting live tracking, social media sharing and real-time weather updates as well as the more traditional functions of accurately track speed, distance, time, GPS position, elevation, calories burned, ascent and descent (and supporting heart rate monitors and other ANT+ sports devices such as speed / cadence sensors). The Garmin EDGE 810 would be my preferred device, as it additionally supports the ability to load maps onto the device, which can either be obtained from Garmin or by utilising data such as that produced by OpenStreetMap at no charge for personal use.

Again limited to iOS and Android only, Garmin Mobile Connect allows these devices (via Bluetooth) to

  • share all the details of their rides with friends, family and social media contacts
  • allow cyclists’ friends and family to follow their races and training rides in real-time
  • allow for wireless uploads of completed activities from the Edge 810/510 as soon as cyclists finish recording an activity to the Garmin Connect website

The Garmin EDGE 810 will be available in the next month or two in 3 UK versions, just the unit for £380, the unit plus a heart rate monitor and a speed / cadence sensor for £430, or the unit will the sensors and a data card loaded with European maps for £480.

Back to the original point; a couple of years ago we all wanted each and every device to come with a SIM card slot to allow us to connect it to the Internet, but unlike tablets, devices such as these aren’t going to be used every day of the year, or even every month, and suddenly the cost of the additional hardware support and maintaining a mobile phone contract for them does seem a burden, so by allowing them to connect to the internet via an existing mobile device suddenly makes a lot more sense, and with many of the UK mobile networks offering unlimited data offerings (whether or not these devices would fall foul of no-tethering clauses in contracts I’m not sure; for many of the functions, the devices are simply getting information to and from the smartphone, as opposed to direct onward internet access), then I can see devices like these becoming more common, and integration between different gadgets really taking off.

Having said that, with only iOS and Android support in both ranges of devices at launch, it is starting to look like other OSes (Windows Phone, BlackBerry 10 etc.) could potentially lose even more market share once people start buying other connected devices for use whilst out and about and need their smartphone to support those peripheral devices.


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Vodafone announce Red Hot; phone rental scheme

November 19th, 2012 Tags: , , , , ,

Sometimes a company offers something that’s actually quite innovative, and personally, I wonder if this is actually a very fantastic offer.

Vodafone has announced Red Hot, which is a scheme whereby you rent a phone (for a 12 month period), and also pay line rental, and then at the end of the 12 months, you can hand the phone back, and get a new phone. None of the traditional 24 month tie in that most mobile operators are concentrating on right now. Now, as with all these things, there’s a few good and bad points to consider if you are thinking about the deal:

  • It costs more than an normal contract, but then you get to change phones every year.

Let’s take the Samsung Galaxy S3 16GB, one of a small number of phones being offered on the deal (others include Apple iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy Note II); normally buying on a traditional plan, it would cost £42 per month (24 month contract, unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 2GB data per month on the new Red Data plan); the equivalent is £47 per month on Red Hot (12 month contract, unlimited minutes, unlimited texts, 2GB data per month). Given that the deal also includes insurance for the handset, it’s actually fairly comparable, and with the ability to change your phone after 12 months to the next greatest handset, quite a good deal.

  • If you don’t want to swap after 12 months (because the new phone you want isn’t quite released), you can hang onto the current phone for up to 6 months.
  • You don’t own the phone though, so although you can easily hand it back, you can’t sell it on ebay to recover any cost.
  • If you hand the phone back damaged, then charges will apply. Of course, with included handset insurance, it would seem sensible to claim on the insurance and then hand the phone back (assuming the damage is covered within the small print of the insurance, though an excess charge will apply).
  • You do need to return the phone and original charger.
  • With £75 charge for deep scratches or dents, you might be wise to buy a case to protect it (after all, it’s not your phone).
  • One final thing to watch out for; a “non-approved operating system” will occur the maximum damage charge, so you shouldn’t hand it back with a custom ROM installed (yes, I can see an argument that it’s still a variant of Android, but I suspect that’s not a gamble most people will want to take).
  • It’s not exactly clear how much a phone next year will cost, but of course, you would be free to walk away from the contract anyway.

Although there’s a lot to consider, I actually think the prices aren’t bad, and well worthy of consideration, especially for those who are happy to swap phones every phone (but not more often). More details can be found at the Vodafone Red Hot page.


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Amazon Black Friday deals start today

November 19th, 2012 Tags: , , ,

Amazon is again running Black Friday sales in the UK, where the idea of Black Friday is not so common (Black Friday referring to the always quiet shopping Friday directly after Thanksgiving). This is the third year of the sales, and hopefully there is something for everyone.

Amazon are providing lots of good deals across their whole range of goods, not just music and books, so it’s well worth a look to see what is on offer. As with previous years; many offers this morning were sold out within minutes if not seconds of being released (and Amazon only release the price at the start of the offer so if you are interested in one of their upcoming offers, do your price research before the offer is announced), as always the electronic and gaming items seem the most popular.

Head here for more information.


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Smart Cover case for Nexus 7

September 29th, 2012 Tags: , , , , ,

I picked up a Google Nexus 7 Tablet a few weeks ago, and I knew straight away I wanted a case to protect it. I also wanted a case that featured a “Smart Cover” facility; ie the ability to auto wake / auto sleep as the cover opened and closed (although not advertised with this feature, it was discovered the Nexus 7 had the support built into the hardware, and ever since, many of the 3rd party case suppliers have been supporting the feature).

So, Amazon was a logical choice (mainly for ease of purchase and keen pricing), and I selected this particular case as above; it acts as a Smart Cover case, but also can fold up to create a small stand for the tablet (it uses landscape, which the stock launcher doesn’t support, so look at purchasing Ultimate Rotation Control from the Play Store too, and setting it on Force Auto).  The case provides protection around the back of the tablet (the tablet clicks into the back panel) and the cover works well. This particular Amazon seller provides this Nexus 7 Case with a screen protector (currently untested) and stylus (tested and functional, and very similar to the iPad cheap stylus you can pick up).

At £8 (price may vary) including shipping, I thought the Nexus 7 Case was good value; the case arrived within a couple of days, so I assume this is a UK seller too, and the choice of colours allows you to select one to match other devices or simply select black.


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Vodafone dropping 18 month contracts

September 11th, 2012 Tags:

Just a quick headsup for anyone considering a new Vodafone contract in the next month or so; next week, Vodafone will be removing all 18 month contracts from sale, leaving most people with only the option for 24 month contracts, especially if you are looking for a new phone too.  Obviously other SIM Only contracts will continue to be offered, and their 24 month contracts have always seemed a little better value than their 18 month contracts anyway, but I thought it worth pointing out the change whilst everyone still had a few days to get the shorter contract.

My understanding is that the 18 month plans will all be removed by 19th September, although some 12 month deals will remain. As part of these changes, Vodafone will be pushing their new Red plans more, which generally offer unlimited minutes and texts, but will ‘only’ offer 1GB of data a month, so will not offer much to those heavy data users who rely upon the unlimited deals of Vodafone‘s competitors.


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Three now selling Nokia Lumia 610

August 3rd, 2012 Tags: , , , , , ,

3UK have announced today that they have started to sell the budget phone in the Lumia range, the Nokia Lumia 610. Now, this phone has less memory, and hence can’t run some of the multitasking features we all expect from Windows Phone; in particular, the Nokia Lumia 610 doesn’t support background tasks (especially those taking more than 90MB), fast app switching or live tiles updates (these mainly require background tasks). However, it’s available for £28 per month on the One Plan (24 month contract, but includes AYCE data and tethering support), or just £150 on PAYG, and this makes it a nice budget phone, unless you are a real power user.

Of course, the Nokia Lumia 710 is £200 on PAYG (or £32 per month on the One Plan), and that may well work out better value in the long run; the Nokia Lumia 610 does have touch buttons, whereas the Nokia Lumia 710 has real buttons (that’s a personal preference) but with the Lumia 710 supporting the full range of Windows Phone 7 features (and the new firmware that shipped last week adds the flip-to-silence and tethering options sorely missed on it), it does appear an overall better option.

However, another way of looking at it; what other device can you buy for £150 which offers free offline satnav features (Nokia Drive), free offline music (Nokia Mix Radio), and free public transport information (Nokia Transport, where data is available), and if bought on the One Plan can be used to provide you unlimited data for your other wifi devices, such as your tablet and PC?

If interested, head over to the 3UK website, where you can now purchase the phone, or, if you prefer, buy the Nokia Lumia 710.


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Three competing in roaming deals too

July 27th, 2012 Tags: , , ,

Last month I talked about the new Vodafone roaming deals, and the new offer of £3 per day to access your existing UK bundle. Well, Three UK also launched their offer; for £5 per day, you get All You Can Eat data for 24 hours (I assume it’s UK time, not local time). You also can’t (yet) buy this upfront for a whole holiday (you can buy in the UK on the day before you travel to cover the first day), or you can wait until you arrive and 3UK will text you details. It’s not the same as The One Plan; there’s no tethering allowed, and the quality of the roaming network may not be as good as the UK network which has been designed for high volumes of data, but it may be better than nothing.

As it’s the Euro Internet Pass, it doesn’t apply to all countries (especially those outside of the EU), but the 3UK website does have a list of countries that are and aren’t covered by it. Another small nice feature; the Euro Internet Pass website is actually free to access whilst roaming (though you would need to watch out for other background applications spotting the active connection which would be charged until you sign up for the day).

Obviously, if you were on a two week holiday, the costs are still going to mount up (eg 14 days would cost £70), but given that would provide you unlimited data usage, it’s not a bad deal, and if it helps to keep the kids happy, it may well be worth it. Local SIMs (or my suggestions for limiting data costs) may well help, but for those who use a lot of data, this may well be a sensible way forward.

For more information, head to the 3UK website.

Update: As Darren has pointed out in the comments, this only applies to phone contracts, and not Mobile Broadband or MiFi contracts.


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Roaming; how to keep costs down

June 22nd, 2012 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The last article was about Vodafone European roaming rates for PAYG customers, so I thought I would jot down some of the techniques I use to try to minimise my roaming costs when going abroad. I should note for my last trip abroad I used 30MB of data (over 4 days), and a handful of texts, yet kept my total spend below £10, and could not have spent more than £20, yet that spend actually got me a bundle of texts, calls and data for the UK leg of the journey, and whilst abroad I could have used upto 100MB without spending any more money!

So, what techniques do I use:

Firstly, I carried my primary UK phone number in a phone where I turned off roaming data whilst still in the UK. In fact, as I left the UK, I turned off mobile data completely. This phone I only use for emergencies, being contacted if needed. This limited usage kept the battery going for 2 days without a charge.

I then carried a second phone, in my case, an old Android phone from a year or so ago. This had been wiped clean and just had the apps needed, with most of the sync functions turned off (actually, I kept calendar / contacts syncing, and ran a couple of Social Network clients). Although I kept the syncing turned on, to minimise usage even further, I would turn this off, as it only adds to the usage, and most changes could wait until I returned. Again, roaming data was initially turned off.

This phone carried a Vodafone PAYG SIM, which I topped up with £20 before I set off. This topup gave me minutes, texts and 500MB of data in the UK. As I’m already opted in to Vodafone Passport, I knew that if I kept data to less than 25MB per day, my data costs would be £2 per day.

Before I left the UK, I used those bundled texts that came with the topup to alert a few key people that if they needed me over the next few days to use this number in preference to my normal number.

Once I arrived, I was greeted with text messages to both phones informing me of the rates (which, given it was before the new 1 July 2012 roaming limits are imposed, were somewhat of a shock (eg £3.07/MB for data!). I then turned on roaming data on the Vodafone SIM, and then used the normal data on/off functions to control my usage. I had a data counter installed (I use 3G Watchdog Pro, which included the ability to create a widget on the homescreen which monitored and reported my roaming usage) to ensure I was kept aware of my usage.

So, with careful use of data, I kept within the 25MB daily limit Vodafone include with the Passport option, sent and receive a few texts (11p per text, but coming out of the £20 credit), and spent under £10 all in. Given the phone only had a £20 credit, even if something went wrong with the Passport data options, or I suddenly started making lots of calls (or my phone had been stolen; though I’m not sure a two year old Android phone would have been that worthy), my absolute roaming spend was limited to that £20 topup. I appreciate the UK networks have now introduced roaming cost caps to limit bill shock, but this method truely limited my costs to a fixed amount.

In addition, I ran mapping software which allowed me to download the maps beforehand, so I wasn’t paying for Google Maps type data transfers of map data all the time (and in fact, since travelling, Google Maps on Android now has a formal offline feature for downloading the maps, but not the turn-by-turn navigation). I didn’t need to drive / travel any great distance, but if I had, Nokia Drive on Windows Phone (or Symbian) still makes a lot of sense as it provides true offline navigation.

Most importantly, as I was travelling with my family, by having an old phone without every latest bit of software installed, and a need to keep data usage down, I mainly had the phone for emergencies, and enjoyed the holiday.

If you are travelling abroad this summer, you will firstly benefit from lower roaming rates within the EU, but either way, spend some time thinking about the costs and researching it before you leave, and make sure you plan a way that works best for you; this is even more key when you leave the EU, where the caps and new low rates won’t apply. With many of the networks now offering bundles and good rates on PAYG SIMs, it’s well worth considering taking a second phone (or simply an old phone in the cupboard) to best save money and keep down the risk of bill shock.


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Vodafone and European Roaming

June 22nd, 2012 Tags: , , ,

As part of an EU Directive, all of the UK networks need to reduce their roaming costs, with the directive setting new maximums you pay for calls, texts, and data. Vodafone were one of the first to announce a new way forward; their new Vodafone Euro Traveller allows you to pay £3 per day and then you have full access to your UK minutes, texts and data. This is an improvement on their old scheme, which was competitive (compared to the other networks), which offered to make and receive calls for a 75p connection charge, and then use up your UK minutes.

With the £3 per day option, it’s nice and clear what you can and can’t use each day, although obviously a 14 day holiday would incur £42 of roaming charges, but at least the rest of your usage would be the same as the UK.

So, that’s nice and clear then?

Well, no.

If you opted into Vodafone Passport (to get those good roaming call rates before), then without Euro Traveller, you’ll stay on those Passport rates, except, for many people, these will no longer be the best rate to be on, as Vodafone is introducing a new set of roaming rates for non-Passport customers as from 1 July, which may well work out cheaper:

Vodafone Passport rates are:

Making a call Receiving a call Sending a text Sending a picture message Using mobile internet
75p connection charge plus your standard home rate or you can use your inclusive Vodafone Freedom Freebee minutes 75p connection charge, then no further charge for up to 60 minutes. Then 20p a minute after that. 11p a text 36p a text £2 a day for 25MB (midnight to midnight, UK time). £1 a MB after that

As from 1 July 2012, the Vodafone standard rates will be:

Making a call Receiving a call Sending a text Sending a picture message Using mobile internet
28p a min (minimum call charge of 30 seconds; after that, you’ll be charged per second) 7p a min (you’ll be charged per second) 8p a text 36p a text 69p a MB for the first 2.9MB. Then no further charge until 25MB. 69p a MB after that.

So, let’s take data; it was £2 for 25MB and then £1/MB afterwards, now it’s (assuming you use at least 3 MB) £2 for 25MB, and then £0.69/MB. The only case where it’s cheaper is if you used less than 3MB of data a day…

For calls, it’s less clear, if you make long calls, the old Passport rates may work out better overall, whereas for texts it’s clear the new rates are better.

Also, I should point out that I’ve been looking at this from a European perspective (and mainly PAYG rates); if you travel outside of the EU, you will need to study the Vodafone website very carefully to work out what deal is best for you. One nice feature (at the moment); you can opt in and out of Vodafone Passport as you please, so you don’t have to stick to one of these three pricing methods.

Vodafone continue to show a leading position in their roaming rates in my opinion, and should be a consideration for anyone going abroad.


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Update on Samsung Galaxy S3

May 30th, 2012 Tags: , ,

Further to the article last night about the Samsung Galaxy S3 on Vodafone, they have now informed me that any orders for the Samsung Galaxy S3 between now and 30th June may also be eligible for 2GB of data, for 24month contracts of £41 per month or more, instead of the usual 1GB of data (at that price).

Also, for those after the Pebble Blue variant, it seems there’s a delay of 2 to 3 weeks (according to Samsung) and right now there are only Marble White models for sale anywhere (in the UK).


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