Tag Archives: gadget

Living with the LG Arena

Thanks to the nice people over at LG, I’ve had the opportunity to play around with one of their devices for the past month – the LG Arena KM900. Let’s get the next bit out of the way straight off the bat…

Disclaimer: LG solicited my feedback on their products and provided me with a free phone for evaluation for one month.

Right, that piece is done 😉

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Bearing in mind that before the iPhone, my previous mobile phone was a pretty old Sony Ericsson T6xx, this was quite a change from the mobile phones I’d handled in the past. Of course, the flipside of that is that I’ve now been using an iPhone 3G and 3GS for more than a year, so the Arena had to cope with many of my prejudices formed on the basis of familiarity of how a touchscreen phone “should” (or, at least, could) work. I wanted to give it a fair chance, though, so I chose to ditch my BlackBerry Pearl 8100 for the period I had the Arena – frankly, not a hard choice, as I’m no fan of the BlackBerry UI, which I’m convinced was designed by someone who hates other people.

The out-of-the-box impression was certainly pretty good. It’s a sleek, shiny, device which feels well-made with a brushed metal and glass front. It’s got a great feature set, too – 5.0MP camera which also records video, Dolby Mobile audio, front and rear-facing cameras, wifi, bluetooth, Java, an FM transmitter, multiformat video playback including DIVX, 3G video calling… the list really goes on. It also has quite an interesting 3D user interface where the screen rotates around a virtual cube as you swipe left and right through the menus. So it scores highly on both the prettiness/style and the features. It’s lighter and smaller than the iPhone, too.

I’ll be honest… I had a mixed experience with with LG Arena. I think it could be a great consumer phone, if you take a step back and forget that the iPhone exists. The camera is great (and has a flash), and the video quality and playback were more than acceptable – very good, actually. I confess I didn’t try the music player much – I guess such things are becoming pretty commoditised and it seemed to be fairly standard. This was the first phone I’ve had with a front-facing camera for video calls, which was a nice feature – but I don’t know anyone who has a video call-capable phone or who uses that, so it was somewhat redundant. The range of stuff available on this handset is great, though. Email and web browsing, check and check… although the browser interface was a little finickity at times.

I had a few issues, the first being, sadly, the screen. Touchscreens are becoming de rigeur and this one looks good… until you try to view it in strong daylight, when the fact that it is highly reflective becomes a huge problem. Plus, it collects fingerprints like crazy. I also found that it wasn’t as responsive as other screens I’ve used, and some aspects of the UI were frustrating (swiping through menu options left-to-right, as well as through lists up and down, for instance). It looks stylish, but it’s not the best experience I’ve had. It does offer a level of haptic feedback, which I switched off straight away – by default, when you touch the screen it buzzes to simulate the experience of having been touched, but in practical terms I found this somewhat annoying.

The next drawback is fairly minor, as it’s mostly a business issue. I wasn’t able to use this on an office network, as the wireless didn’t support either 802.1x certificates or LEAP – disappointing, but not a core feature in a consumer model, I’ll accept. However, there was another problem with the way in which the wireless and networking support worked… it has a fairly complex set of profiles which (I think) are supposed to help to decide which type of network to use at which time, and I found that it kept prompting me to use wifi or GPRS rather than just defaulting to the faster option, which did drive me nuts from time-to-time.

The final complaint I have relates to probably the biggest emerging area in the mobile market… Applications. In theory, this is a Java / J2ME capable device. So, I merrily installed a series of applications, none of which were really suited to the touchscreen, and all of which looked very plain. An SDK is available, but I found it was poorly documented. There’s no centralised way of getting hold of apps, either. LG have a couple of downloadable “widgets” on their website, but having downloaded them to a PC I couldn’t find a way of installing them. All-in-all I felt it was a device that is highly capable, but crying out for an easier way to extend functionality.

Thank you, LG, for giving me the opportunity to take a look. I think it’s a nice handset, got a great combination of hardware features, a nice looking UI – but, in my opinion (and I’ll readily admit I’m an uber-fan of one of the competitors here), it’s let down by the “small touches” and by the software.

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A 3GS hit-and-run

I hadn’t intended to spend any time at all talking specifically about the iPhone 3GS here on the blog, but following a comment by Per[1] I thought I’d jot down a few notes.

Firstly, given my previous comments about O2 and the upgrade issue… I should explain why I bothered. I got the 3.0 upgrade on the 3G when it came out last Wednesday, and liked what I found, particularly the option to install more than the 2.0 OS limit of 144 / 9 pages of apps. It’s now effectively unlimited, since even if you don’t have space on a home screen, you can search for the app using Spotlight. That’s nice. However, I was already hitting my space limit on the 16Gb 3G, so room to breathe was going to be handy. I also liked the improved navigation and possibility to get the TomTom kit in the future, and once I’d tried the camera in-store, I thought that was going to be a big deal as well (more on that, below). There was a small amount of peer pressure too, given our conversation on last week’s Dogear Nation.

In the end I opted to get a PAYG phone, swap in my contract SIM, and sell the old handset to Mazuma. If I’d waited to upgrade and then wanted the same handset I now have, I’d’ve ended up on another 18 (or 24) month contract with the same upgrade trap in June, and probably on a higher tariff to subsidise the cost of a new handset. This way my existing contract will run out in due course, I stay on the same tariff, and the handset doesn’t cost much more than it would have done come “upgrade” time in 3-6 months.

So what’s good? It’s very clearly nippier. Every operation is obviously faster and cleaner. I’m liking the camera and video recording (zoom would be nice, but variable focus and auto-adjusting exposure/white balance work for me). It was a great move to retain the 3G body and form factor – my Clarifi case still fits perfectly, and the macro lens seems to let me focus marginally closer still than the 3GS can manage on its own (it does a good job by itself, though). Amongst the sprinkling of other functions I like, not specific to the new model, are the landscape keyboard and the improved podcast playback features – did you know you can slide horizontally to scrub through a track, and slide down to scrub more finely? Neat.

The real revelation so far though, has been the screen. The new smudge / grease-resistant coating is a marvel. So far I’ve not fitted a screen protector, and although I’m loath to allow it to become physically scratched, the new screen feels and looks so much better and remains much, much cleaner. It’s just… almost magic.

In the “miss” column we have the voice control feature, which I’m not sure I’ll be using much; and shake-to-shuffle (is this actually supposed to work if the display is locked, by the way? seems not to do so for me, which makes it even more pointless). Oh, and battery life seems worse, but I suspect the compass and the notifications feature are contributing to that, as are the wider range of ways I’m actually using it. May have to think about a Mophie Juice Pack Air.

I used the video function in anger for the first time today, uploading one clip from the Hursley Tri-Department sports tournament directly to YouTube, and later grabbed a set of clips from the phone via iPhoto (yes, iPhoto manages video from the iPhone, go figure) and edited them together in iMovie. It’s not the best quality but probably still as good as my cheap USB camcorder – plus the screen and on-device editing features are nice additions. Rumours are that the chipset is capable of 720p video, but I doubt we’ll get to see that in the current generation of device. I’ve posted a bunch of sample photos to Flickr as well, if you are interested – the Blue Eyeball shot was taken at close quarters with the Clarifi.

Really nothing more to say here. There are more than enough people getting excited about the device and as I said, I hadn’t planned to write up any thoughts – blame that Danish guy 🙂

[1] just because I responded to audience pressure this time, don’t expect me to do it every time, m’kay? 🙂

Poken are growing up?

Poken Me! It seems like just a few short months ago that I discovered Poken – neat little USB keychain devices which you can touch together when you meet someone else with one, in order to electronically exchange social network IDs and contact information. Actually… it was only a few months ago – we talked about them on Dogear Nation episode 88 in February, and in an example of serendipitous discovery, I picked one up a week later at Twestival in London. I immediately thought the idea was cool, but I was disappointed to discover how much they cost, and how few people had them.

I mentioned Poken in my presentation at SOMESSO a couple of weeks ago. Whilst I love the idea, I simply haven’t come across enough people who have a Poken to have made it worth my while. My basic comment at the time was that I felt they needed to make themselves more widespread in order to be useful. Since then, I’ve continued the discussion in comments on a couple of blogs. To quote myself:

However, I think there are a few issues…

  • [they] cost more than most people are prepared to pay for what is essentially a small capacity but cute looking memory stick, and they are not very readily available;
  • the cuteness factor can also be off-putting to some people, particularly those with a business purpose in mind and the disposable income to buy them;
  • too few core connectors and salesmen have them (see Gladwell’s The Tipping Point), IMHO they should seed more;
  • the value-add of the site (which actually manages the contacts) is low, so the business model is presumably centred on selling the devices.

I had yet another conversation about Poken at a tweetup in London last week, and again heard comment that they were too toy-like for business users, and too few people had them.

Well – things appear to be changing. For want of a better phrase, it seems as though Poken are going slightly more corporate.

In particular, I was delighted to discover that they are being used in a much broader context at IBM’s Information on Demand conference this year – shedding the cute image, and hopefully becoming a bit more widespread.

This is all great stuff. I engaged with the idea of Poken as soon as I heard about the concept, and I hope that I’ll be able to share and manage my information more easily in future. Maybe Poken won’t be the answer, but I’m glad to see the idea broadening out, and hopefully reaching a wider audience.

nanokey

Amongst a small swarm of gadgets which recently invaded my life (various coupons and things being spent… more soon!) I picked up this little gem – a diddy MIDI keyboard, about as wide as a 13″ MacBook and perfect for the odd GarageBand composition. I made a really quick video which is posted on my YouTube channel.

Polaroid past and present

I haven’t posted anything about photography lately 🙂

I was clearing a loft the other day and came across an instruction manual for an old Polaroid Land camera, which I can only assume my father owned at some point (his writing is on the back page, I’m guessing maybe he was costing out a kit purchase!). I thought I’d scan it in for posterity.

Manual cover


Diagram

As a child in the late 70s and 80s, I used to love Polaroids, even as the format was in decline with the widespread rise of 35mm combined with Supasnaps for processing. As we know, Polaroid have stopped making film now so it’s hard to actually find people using them, although I was captured on Polaroid at a Flickr party in London a while ago.

So what are the options? Well, nothing really gets close to the original pleasure of having a photo pop out of the camera and then the image appearing as it dried. However, there’s a nice piece of software called Poladroid which attempts to replicate the look and feel of the images themselves (down to the texture of the paper, and the slow drying film!).

Maldivian sunset


That’s still not good enough really, of course… it looks good but it’s not the same. Polaroid have announced that they will combine their PoGo mobile printer with Zink technology with a digital camera this year, although that will be starting off with a low pixel count sensor, and the Zink paper at the moment is fairly small… but I see it as a promising step in the right direction to bringing back a more fun, tactile photography.