Saturday, May 26, 2007

On my way to northern Germany

Blogging levels over the weekend will depend on internet access and inclination

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Gotheborg in West India Dock

I am photographing and moblogging directly from the K800i. I will see later how it turned out.

Update: Not bad. I was really quite impressed when I discovered the built in Blogger client on the phone, and when I discovered the phone will resize and upload photos to my blog automatically. I think the only problem is the small screen of the phone. The phone's camera is capable of taking quite reasonable pictures, but it is quite difficult to tell which ones are the good ones on the small screen of the phone. All digital photographers know this problem - you just don't know which are the good ones until you download them to a computer and look at them on a bigger screen later. (Actually, this particular photo is better if you click on it and look at the larger version. Still, the bright overcast sky behind the masts is tricky). Still, this is a fun feature. I am clearly going to use it. (The annoying thing is that data roaming charges are such that I probably won't use it when I am outside the UK - which is of course the time when I am most likely to want to use it).

One slightly odd interface issue is that it does not seem to be possible to associate the camera with a particular blog when you use it for the first time on your phone. You upload a picture for the first time and it creates a new blog. It then sends you a token by SMS, you type this into blogger on a computer, log in to your Google account, and the blog is then associated with your Google account. If you have any existing blogs, you are asked whether you want to move any mobile created content to one of those blogs. I did this, and the posts are then moved to your existing blog and the new blog is deleted. All future mobile posts go straight to the existing blog.

In truth, I suppose this is a reasonable way of doing it. I was expecting to be asked to log in to Google on my phone, and to be able to then choose which blog I uploaded to. As it was I was slightly baffled by this lack of option until I logged into a computer and everything was done for me. I suppose doing it this way avoids messing around with passwords and logins and the like on a tiny phone keyboard.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A touch more on phones

This piece from the Register on what is wrong with the mobile phone industry is quite entertaining.

The N-series must surely take the cake as the world's most ill-conceived range of phones, being slower than treacle, as reliable as Windows 3.1 and clearly designed by a committee of unloved marketing droids.

I haven't used a Nokia for quite a few years, and I certainly haven't used an N-Series, so I can't really comment on that, but the basic point that handsets having lots of functions that are hard to use (and that are weirdly configured and/or disabled to make operators happy) are driving us all mad is a fair one. The further point that I would make is that this is for the rich world only. In the developing world, handset design is much better. Handsets are simpler and cheaper, and the weird incentives to make handsets complicated and expensive are generally not there. So if you go to Africa handset design really is more Nokia circa 2000, and it is a lot better.

However, about my new phone

The K-series Sony Ericssons, otherwise almost perfect phones, have SIM card slots designed to punish the world's nail-biters and tragically have neglected a volume setting for message alerts.

He is quite right. The SIM card on the K800i is a partcularly difficult one to remove, but this is not Sony-Ericsson specific. SIM cards are almost always hard to remove. Here is where operators and handset manufacturers choose not to understand how consumers use phones. SIM card portability was just about the best feature that the GSM phone standard was designed with. Your phone number and phone bill is not associated with the phone, but with this little portable card you can move from phone to phone. CDMA does not (really) have this, and this is as big a reason as any for GSM's current dominance of the global market. It is this big a deal.

However, the whole phone industry pretends that this is not so. They sell you a SIM and a phone together, and they expect that you will use the SIM and phone together whatever you do with it and wherever you go with it. Sometimes they lock the phone so as to prevent you switching SIMs around. (The fact that a huge "unlocking" business has come into being to reverse this practice might have suggested to them that they have their business model wrong, but no). Always, though, they put the slot into which the SIM goes in a very inconvenient position, usually underneath the battery. Even if you will be charged ten times your usual call cost if you go abroad and keep your SIM, they somehow believe you will just pay, and not want to change to a cheaper local SIM. If they charge ten times as much for some service than do their competitor, they will somehow believe that you will pay them this rather than get a SIM from their competitor and swap them round.

But people don't behave like this. At least, many people don't. I have a number of active SIMs, and a number of phones. Which SIM goes in which phone varies from time to time, depending on what service I am using (data, SMS, internet), what time it is (I have an off-peak SIM that gives me practically free calls on the weekend) or where I am (I have an Australian pre-pay SIM that I use when I am in Australia). Sometimes I might run down a battery and I have a spare phone that is charged up, so I will switch the SIM.

But manufacturers make it hard for me to do this. I have to remove the back, remove the battery, get the SIM out of an awkward socket, then reverse the process and switch everything back on again. I don't want to do this. I want it to be simple. Why do they not understand this. If they do understand this, why do they try to change my behaviour rather than cater to what I want. What I want is external slots for my SIM cards. The K Series Sony-Ericsson phones are really good with respect to memory card slots - the memory card slot is external and you just open the cover and push and the spring loaded memory card pops out. (It's a shame that they feel the need to use Sony's proprietary Memory Stick rather than SD cards like everyone else, but that is Sony. It is not a big deal, as the Memory Stick is common enough). Why can't they do the same with SIM cards. It would really make me happy.

Rant off, anyway.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Playing with a new phone

I have just got myself a new phone. It's a Sony Ericsson K800i. This model was released about a year ago, so it is not quite state of the art. It is Sony "Cybershot" branded and has a 3.2 Mpixel camera. As phone cameras go this is not bad. It is certainly better than any other phone camera I have had, although it does not compare with a dedicated digital compact camera, let alone a digital SLR. What I want is for the camera in my phone to be good enough that if some dramatic news event happens in front of me, or merely if I see something in front of me that I want to photograph and blog, I will be able to take decent photographs. I am getting there, I think. This camera is sort of okay for this purpose. Not great, but okay.

The K800i phone was pretty state of the art a year ago, but Sony Ericsson have not really improved upon it since. They have just released a supposedly better K810i, but this is little more than consmetically different. The guts of the phone are the same. The release of the K810i has led to some particularly good deals becoming available on the K800i, which is why I have just obtained it. The state of the art camera phone (in Europe at least) seems to be the N95 from Nokia, which has a 5 megapixel camera and inbuilt GPS. I haven't played with one of these to see how good the camera is, but I am sure it is another incremental improvement. Inbuilt GPS is clearly a major feature. I have an external Bluetooth GPS unit that I use with one of my other phones, and it is tremendously useful. Having it built in will clearly be a step forward from that. It will probably be included on the phone I get next year.

However, the N95 is new and very expensive, so I have forsaken it in favour of the K800i for now. Stick a T-Mobile SIM with an unlimited data tariff in the K800i, and how good is it?

Firstly, it is a 3G phone. This is good. Accessing e-mail and websites is much faster than the GPRS phones I have used until now. Having now had a 3G phone, I am not going to go back to GPRS. This means that I am not going to buy a first generation iPhone. (This does not mean the iPhone will fail, particularly given that it is initially aimed at the US where 3G phones are less common than Europe. The key issue there is its user interface. If it is any good, the iPhone will succeed. If not, not).

However, what do I want to use the phone for, besides calls, photographs, and SMS messages? Music? No, I have an iPod for that, and the music player will run down my batteries. Although the K800i has a music player, I have no intention of using it. E-mail? Absolutely. I use gmail for my e-mail, and the first thing I do is download Google's very clever gmail applet. This is pretty good for reading e-mail on the go. Sending an e-mail is bit of a pain, but that is the price of trying to compose e-mail on a numeric keypad. Even with T9, it is tedious. Obviously if I got something with a full keyboard it would be easier. (It will be interesting to see how well the touch screen interface works on the iPhone).

While installing the gmail app, Google also suggests that I install the Google maps application. this is cool, and I immediately use it to look at satellite photographs of the building I am in, and a map of the nearby area. It can give directions too, which is clever. What would make it really good is an interface with inbuilt GPS. Oh well, next year for that.

Still, Google is doing well here, Microsoft has spent years trying to move the PC model to mobile phones, in which Microsoft provides the underlying operating system and takes a royalty on every phone sold. I personally think their resulting product (Windows Mobile) is quite decent, but the PC model isn't going to work. For one thing, Nokia, Motorola, and Ericsson have seen what Microsoft did to the PC market and they are not going to let that happen to them. Google are taking their web model to the phone, and are providing search and web based apps. This works better in the sense that it is going to get their software on more phones. From a revenue perspective it is trickier, though. Google's advertising model is to provide small advertisements on the top and side of a web page. On a 240x320 phone screen there is no space. I am not sure how they are going to overcome this.

What else do I want on my new phone? There is a standard web browser on the phone, but it isn't very good. In my experience the best mobile browsers by far are from Opera. Opera mobile runs on Windows Mobile and Symbian (and is excellent) but not on the K800i. The Java based Opera Mini does run on the K800i, so I install this and use it for web browsing. The combination of Opera Mini and the 3G data connection gives me easily the best phone based web browsing experience I have had.

One final thing is instant messaging. The phone did not come with an inbuild instant messaging client. What I would really like is Skype (just for its instant messaging - for voice I am perfectly happy to use a phone as a phone). However, I am also used to using MSN messenger, as my previous phone was running Windows Mobile. A bit of Googling confirms that there is a free Java based client called "QuickIM". I install this and it rather irritatingly sends advertisements for itself to my friends the first time I use it. But it works.

So the new phone really isn't bad at all. I like it. It can do quite a lot. Mobile based Java apps are useful. An unlimited data plan makes it far more useful than it would be without one. That is a big incentive to do business with T-Mobile or with 3, as these are the two networks presently offering them.

Blog Archive