"We wish you a techy Christmas... and an 'appy New Year..." #techreview December 2012 Special
"We wish you a techy Christmas... and an 'appy New Year..."
Welcome to the Christmas 'December Special' edition of the #techreview column - gadgets, guides, reviews and more in time for Christmas.
Windows 8 has been an interesting development, which I have been involved in ever since the initial Developer Preview, right up to the general public release. The obvious difference is reflected in the user interface (UI), with some additions and omissions being regarded as more positive than others. The UI, originally billed as 'Metro', now just known as 'Modern UI' completely changes the way users interact with their devices. I feel that, from a tablet perspective, Windows 8 actually works quite well. It's OK on desktop, although desktop users can't take advantage of gestures and other touch-enabled features, but truly, laptop users, with conventional trackpads, seem to be regarding Windows 8 as a negative upgrade, primarily down to the fact the UI is tablet-centric.
It seems the main point of importance when discussing Windows 8 is pricing and upgrading. Microsoft's current offer, running until the end of January 2013, allows users to upgrade from Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 for £24.99, or purchase Windows 8 Pro shipped physically for £49.99. I quite like the automatically updating (live) tile functionality, which seems to fit in nicely with the entire tablet experience.
I've been asked for lots of advice about upgrading to Windows 8, with a primary question being linked to the removal of Start functionality and the Desktop being 'demoted' to a tile-based 'screen'. Indeed, the Start button and menu have been removed, but in retrospect, the home screen with the 'array of coloured tiles' is now the Start screen, and the Desktop is still accessible directly from your tiles, reflecting the current wallpaper through this tile. Along with the enhancements and updates, various new features, setting 'flows' and services have been added, such as the Microsoft Store and also, user experience modifications such as a lock screen, full-screen apps and the "Recover and Refresh" setting flow.
I quite like the aesthetic of full-screen applications, which use one continuous screen to display information without the distraction of buttons, tabs or other forms of UI interaction which divert the user's attention from the application. Full-screen optimised applications are evidently again - a tablet-suited feature, which can still be used by desktop users, but with scrolling as opposed to gesture-based navigation. Recover and Refresh are features which allow you to reset your Windows 8 system without reinstalling the base system software, but instead, following a 'factory reset' flow, allowing you to set up and refresh (literally) your system from scratch. As with the iPad mini, it's quite a mixed debate on if Windows 8 is a step up from Windows 7 and desktop/laptop-centric Microsoft operating systems or has stemmed away from conventional interface practices to accommodate for tablet devices, such as Microsoft's own Surface.
Kindle Paperwhite (Wi-Fi): £109
The Kindle Paperwhite is one of the e-readers which 'flew off the shelves' during recent shopping events causing Amazon to backlog orders for shipping in the week of December 18th. I've been able to purchase a Paperwhite and have a hands-on look at the device with first impressions from a physical perspective being that it's actually quite a nice device with a form factor reflecting a feel which is neither bulky or overwhelming. A MicroUSB port, LED 'status light' and power button are situated on the device, with a small raised 'dent' to accommodate these essential components. This impacts the form factor slightly, although it's not a major physical issue.
The Kindle Paperwhite is sold in 'frustration-free' packaging with a USB cable for charging (adapters are available and sold separately) and a thin guide. For further reference, the full User Guide is preloaded as a 'publication' on the device - saving space and paper. On powering the device on, a setup wizard initialises after a few seconds wait, walking through various steps such as configuring the Wi-Fi connection (the 3G model is automatically configured to access the 3G network), signing in to your Amazon account and also configuring social media profiles. This setup wizard is integral to the Kindle experience as all your books, information, 'marks and places' and other data is synced through Kindle's cloud service, billed Whispersync, and across 3G, Whispernet. I quite like the user interface for it's focus on the reading experience, with a simple status bar with connection, battery, time and name information and under, pictographic icons for primary functions - Home, Back, Backlight, Store, Search and Settings. All documents and books are displayed under this, with a simple tap to open and continue reading right where you left off. Inside a publication, it's a simple right-side of the screen tap to turn the page forward and a left-side of the screen tap to turn the page back. Alternatively you can slide right-to-left to forward the page and left-to-right horizontally to turn backward. If you're not familiar with electronic readers, you may not be used to the display type: E-ink. A high quality display suited for reading, with a Paperwhite-optimised manually controllable backlight (with 24 levels of brightness) so you can read without eye strain or brightness issues, anywhere. For more customisation, typeface and spacing can also be adjusted. The essential parts of this article reflect the capacity and functionality.
The Paperwhite can hold up to 1,100 books, obviously depending on content and size. Battery life is also unparalleled, with an up to 8-week battery life if used for reading only. The Kindle Store is another great aspect of the Kindle experience, comprising of thousands of books, magazines and other publications. It's phenomenal that one book, heavier and thicker than the Paperwhite, around 700 pages, can be downloaded in minutes and stored, annotated and searched.
Citybus Placr.mobi Web App
I've found this web app quite invaluable over the months when travelling on Plymouth's Citybus bus service. By going to 'placr.mobi' on your smartphone/mobile device's web browser, you can access the web application (web app) and choose from viewing near-live route, bus and stop information directly after entering the specific operator (Plymouth Citybus), this data can be displayed from an 'up-to-the-minute' perspective per-route. Other information, such as the 'nearest stops overview', which uses your smartphone's GPS, can also be viewed directly via the web app. It's actually quite responsive and gives a sleek overview of each bus, it's route and stops.
Evernote (App + Basic Membership: Free)
- Pros: A well-rounded functional application for taking notes of multiple types, synced to the cloud with a vast range of additional features, supported applications and platforms.
- Cons: Non-Premium account (paid upgrade) has a 60MB note limit.
- Verdict: A great note-taking app which combines cloud functionality with a great and recently refreshed interface.
- Platforms: Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Windows Phone and WebOS
Tweetbot, £1.99 at time of writing
- Pros: Tweetbot is a modern and 'full-featured' Twitter application for your iOS device. It's smart and looks great on all iOS devices.
- Cons: It's a paid Twitter app, as opposed to free alternatives
- Verdict: One of my favourite paid iOS Twitter applications - a sleek interface and great execution.
- Platforms: iOS
- Pros: Aggregated social and published news from a vast range of sources, elegant and personalised
- Cons: none
- Verdict: Flipboard is an elegant and personal news aggregation app with great design and function merits.
- Platforms: iOS and Android
- Pros: Recently updated with more editing potential - spreadsheets are supported, synced directly with the cloud, unified interface
- Cons: Google Account needed - will auto-configure on Android, however
- Verdict: Google Drive combines Docs functionality with an effective and well-presented cloud storage solution.
- Platforms: iOS and Android
Minecraft Pocket Edition
You might remember the Minecraft review ("Survival, challenge, intrigue and discovery") from early 2012 - an in-depth look at the desktop version of the game. Minecraft Pocket Edition is literally a pocket version of the game developed for [some] Android devices as well as the iPod touch, iPhone and iPad. The game has recently experienced update 0.5.0 which brought a number of additions and bug fixes with the primary 'logistics' of the game being consistent in the mobile version - Survival and Creative modes, for example, with some features not currently present and requested. It's great on the iPad, especially if you want to test, show or experience Minecraft without being at/on a computer. For iOS users it's £4.99 on the App Store; it's also £4.99 for Android users on Google Play (formerly Android Market).
- Verdict: A great sandbox game for desktop and mobile; a familiar and enjoyable gaming experience.
- Platforms: iOS and Android
Redeeming an iTunes Voucher/Gift Card: Essential Guide
Received an iTunes/App Store gift card and unsure on how to redeem it? Sent an iTunes voucher for a song, movie, book or other form of content and want to download it on your iOS device? Have a look at this step-by-step guide.
If you're on an iPad, iPad mini, iPod touch or iPhone have a look below.
- Open iTunes or the App Store..
- Scroll/slide down to the bottom of the main screen
- Tap 'Redeem'
- Scratch off the 'silver panel' on the gift card and enter the code in the code input box
- If the code is valid you should be asked to enter your iTunes password.
- Enter the password and continue. Your item should be downloading or your iTunes credit should be applied to your account instantly.
If you're on a computer, have a look below:
- Open iTunes
- Access the iTunes Store
- Look for the Redeem link under the "QuickLinks section at the top of the main screen" and click on it
- Sign in with your iTunes ID password to start the redemption process
- Enter your code in the code input box
- Click Redeem. A confirmation of store credit being applied or of an item downloading should appear.
'For Your Relatives' Gift Guide
Targeted gift ideas for your relatives and family relations
This might seem like a weird targeted gift idea for the elderly, but, with a few accessibility options and specific apps the iPad is a great all-rounder device for your elderly relatives - with a vast range of apps - free and paid, features and more.
Prices differ, apple.com
Kurio Android Tablet
A young child-friendly Android tablet with a modified user interface, 10" screen and pre-loaded games and applications
Moleskine Evernote Smart Notebook
I've covered the Smart Notebook already; it's a great gift for creatives, writers and people who want to organise and categorise their notes.
£19-25, moleskine.com and evernote.com
GoPro HD Hero2
For the action-lover - a waterproof, dust-proof and scratch-proof 11 megapixel camera with clips and attachments for all sorts of sport and leisure activities.
The Kindle Paperwhite is a great eReader; this gift suggestion is directly related to the full feature to the left. A crisp and functional addition to the Kindle range.
£109 with Wi-Fi, amazon.com + tesco.com
Wii U by Nintendo
The Wii U is a revolutionary new gaming platform with some specific optimised games launched with it; there should be more optimised games in the future and it looks like a great innovation - if game developers adapt to the platform.
£250, multiple sites, primarily nintendo.com
Another previously-mentioned innovation; great for developers, Linux fans or generally, people who want to experience micro-computing with a reasonable price tag.
Around £20-£30, raspberrypi.org and other sites
Thanks for reading; #techreview will be returning in January.
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