Tag Archives: review

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? 🙂

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The Flip Mino in the UK

Regular readers will know that one of the things that I’ve been getting more into this year is video editing (see the page that I’ve just added as a teaser for things to come in 2009). This has been driven by the increasing ease-of-use of online services, the capabilities of the machines and software I have, and the gadgets I’ve been playing around with. In January I looked at a cheap USB video camera, and since then I’ve had even nicer toys to look at 🙂

Interview

Back in October I was invited to talk to the EMEA President of Flip Video, Ray Sangster, at the press launch of the Flip Mino in London. I imagined at the time that my earlier blog posts about this category of devices was at least partly responsible for the invitation.

Before the visit I’d canvassed some questions from my friends on Twitter, and I had some ideas and thoughts of my own that I wanted to discuss. For instance, why bother with a USB camcorder like a Flip when mobile phones are increasingly able to record video and connect to the Internet? Why are the Flip cameras later coming to Europe (typically several months behind the US launch?). Would the Flip cameras get external mics, or other accessories to make them more useful to journalists?

Ray kicked off the conversation by showing me some sample video made by college students in the US… and immediately also pointed out that the target audience for the camera is primarily the 14-25 age group who use the web more than TV, and also particularly with the Mino (which is slimmer and sleeker than the previous Flip Ultra) more slanted towards women, who capture “memories” more than “video for editing”.

The answer to my core question around the value of the device compared to, say, a mobile phone was a great one – Ray offered me his phone and suggested that I try to find the controls for recording video. It’s true that right now, it is relatively difficult to do that (and impossible on the iPhone, which still doesn’t support video, or have a decent resolution)… The very simplicity of the Flip is the selling point. It is reflected in the design of the hardware (big lens, big record button, flip-out USB connection, that’s about it!) and the use of the software, which I’ll talk about in a moment.

The time-delay on release was put down to the time needed to convert to European standards and languages, which is fair… although I remember when the original Flip came out, I got very frustrated waiting for the UK release. It would be great if they could reduce that window for future models.

The accessories include tripod, underwater casing (for the Ultra… I’ve not seen that for a Mino yet but I’ve not looked hard)… but it doesn’t seem likely to me that items such an external microphone are coming along, given the focus on simplicity and the consumer market.

I was interested to learn that the Mino is being used, in the words of the PR company, “from the catwalks to Kandahar” – they are being used to record fashion shows from people like Stella McCartney, and covering war stories in Afghanistan for upload back to the UK over a telephone modem.

A very enjoyable afternoon!

Hands-on

The Flip Mino itself is delivered in a smart box reminiscent of Apple packaging (particularly that of the iPhone). You get the camera, a soft carrying pouch, and that is it – all you need to get going.

You get a simple camera with no batteries to fiddle around with. It’s a fixed 2Gb capacity (60 minutes recording time), unlike some other devices on the market which can support additional storage like SD cards. You record your clips, plug in to a computer, and the software can upload directly to YouTube and MySpace… I was somewhat surprised that it doesn’t support other services like Viddler and Facebook too, given their growing popularity.

If you’re curious to see what I thought of the hardware and the Mac software, take a look at the short clip below.

A number of small things bother me about the Mac support for the Mino, some of which I mention in the video. Firstly, I notice that the software is PowerPC and therefore runs in Rosetta on an Intel Mac – why not ship a Universal binary? It doesn’t support logging in to YouTube with a Google ID (iMovie 08 does). The Save to Album option puts the videos into [homedir]/Documents/My Flip Video Library – which seems strange – why not use the Movies folder, or just use drag-and-drop on a Mac to copy the movies straight off the USB drive (which is actually what I ended up doing, and editing with iMovie). Generally, I’m left thinking that they could have done a better job of the Mac support. It works with OS X though, and that’s a step forward from previous models.

I also took the camera out with me on a weekend break with friends in November. It was a good opportunity to see how it performed outdoors, and also to see what others in the target age group thought about it. Here’s a chance to see what kind of audio and sound quality you get.

As for opinions: generally, friends were commenting that the screen was too small, and shared my impression that phones are moving into the same space, so many were doubtful that they would buy one… but they also don’t make many videos at the moment anyway. In all honesty, their reactions were not strongly positive.

By the way, you can also see those videos on my YouTube channel, along with some other examples of footage shot with the Mino.

So where is the “but”?

So far I’m probably sounding reasonably positive, and the fact is that I do like the Mino, despite the faults I’ve observed. It’s small, convenient, and “good enough” in most respects. My issues with it are that I think it’s somewhat expensive given the competition from alternatives like the bulkier and AA-battery-driven, but 720p-capable Kodak Zi6 HD; and that right around the corner are some other rather nice-looking HD devices. DSLRs are also increasingly getting HD video recording capabilities, so the market space for these devices is potentially narrowing. That said, there will always be something better on the horizon!

My overall feeling is that if you want a simple, straightforward video camera that is easy to use, portable and “good enough” then absolutely, check out the Flip Mino. And if you don’t want my opinion, then Scoble reckons the Flip was the best gadget he “stole” in 2008… although commenters on his post also note that the Kodak is a contender. You can also take a look at Julia Roy’s video review.

Available from Amazon in black or white (which, weirdly, is slightly cheaper!)

Matter Box Mark 2

One of my most popular video reviews was the overview of the original Matter Box that I did back in February. The second box finally (!) arrived at the beginning of December, and I’ve made another short video taking a look at the contents. It is embedded below, or you can watch it on my Viddler or YouTube channels.

Clarifi case for iPhone 3G

Quick review of the Clarifi case… with a couple of photos on Flickr… you can get it on Amazon

Alex Cornish at the Troubadour

This will be a first, I’ve not written a gig review before… bear with me…

Background

Somewhere around late summer last year I started listening to the Song by Toad podcast (aka the Toadcast). It’s a brilliant, weekly(ish) compilation of new music, or other random-but-strung-together-by-a-theme music, hosted by Matthew Young. Although Matthew is obviously far more informed and knowledgeable about music than I am – he actually goes to gigs and writes about music exclusively on his blog, whereas I write about anything that comes to hand – it seems as though we have a roughly similar taste and background… although I toyed around with metal and heavy rock in my later years at school, I was pretty much an indie kid at university and have been into a lot of guitar stuff ever since.

One of the first artists I discovered via the Toadcast was Alex Cornish, who was featured in Toadcast #5. I think I downloaded a track straight after listening to the podcast, and bought Alex’s album immediately after it was released on iTunes… in fact I remember exchanging emails with Alex at the time, I was travelling and wanted to get the album on download whereas he we encouraging me to get the CD, which to be honest I should have done. I’ve been following his MySpace ever since. Loved the album and had been hoping to catch him live, so when I saw he was going to be in London playing as part of Curious Generation at the Troubadour, I jumped at the chance to go along.

The venue

We’ve established that I’m not a regular gig-goer, and I’d never been to the Troubadour before. The website describes the venue as “the last 50s coffee house in Earls Court”, which sounded promising from the start. Basically it’s a coffee house / bar / restaurant upstairs with a small cellar for live music and poetry reading underneath. I stumbled in down the wrong staircase behind one of the bands, with the result that I arrived before the doors officially opened and was assumed to be part of someone’s entourage – kind of weird but I don’t think they minded my honest mistake too much. For reference, the way in to the cellar is right at the back of the coffee house! The cellar is an intimate venue – I don’t think there could have been more than a hundred or so people, and the music filled the space pretty nicely. I’d definitely go to other sets at the Troubadour in future.

Alex Cornish

Alex CornishThe overall sound of Alex’s album is a bit low-key and acoustic (which, in case you hadn’t guessed, I like). The difference here was that I’d not heard the tracks performed with a full band before, and I have to say that some of them were transformed. For example, one of my least-favourite tracks on the album is “Scotland the Brave”, but having heard it performed live my opinion has changed completely. In fact every track was superb. I was grinning like a mad thing throughout most of the set, and carried on grinning afterwards. It was an excellent gig. If you have a chance to see him on his current tour, I suggest you take it. Apparently the next gig in London is sold out already.

Chatting to Alex afterwards, it sounds like the next album is coming along well and that there is going to be a bigger sound now that he has the band together. We got a preview of one of the tracks, “Look Out” (prompting much excitement from my section of the audience since Alex’s friends have heard it before), and frankly I’m looking forward to hearing more.

Snippets of Alex Cornish

I’m told that Alex is “a talented footballer and an incredibly nice guy”. Well I can’t validate his footballing skills, but I do agree that he’s a tremendous guy. As a sidenote, it’s a bit of a weird experience when you and the artist recognise each other from MySpace! Very cool though. And it’s strange what can happen when you hand out Moo cards and take notes in a Moleskine notebook – apparently people think you’re “the press” or “a proper journalist”. Hardly, but thanks 🙂

Apologies for the poor-quality pictures, I wish I’d taken the DSLR rather than a compact.

Joker’s Daughter; Rosie and the Goldbug

Rosie and the Goldbug

It would be utterly unfair not to mention the other bands who were on on Tuesday night, since I enjoyed them too.

Joker’s Daughter kicked off proceedings. They were an acoustic pair who played some really beautiful, haunting folksy tunes. The venue was still sufficiently quiet to make them stand out, too – I think later in the evening as it got busier, they might have struggled to make an impact. I need to check them out in more detail, as I really liked the music.

Snippets of Joker’s Daughter

The third band of the evening, Rosie and the Goldbug, were seriously entertaining. I can’t quite figure out their influences… at times the sound was Tori Amos (“Soldier Boy”), at times nearly Blondie, and the look (glittering minidress and peacock feather) was reminiscent of Moloko. Some fantastic banter in between the tracks, and a lot of energy. Thundering bass and piano, and the lead singer kept demanding “more vocals” from the engineer! Another band I’ll be exploring some more.

Snippets of Rosie and the Goldbug

I wasn’t able to stay for the last artist, Ryan Scott, so I can’t comment. If anyone who was there has anything to add, please let me know what I missed!

The company

Met some fantastic folks, most of whom knew Alex already. I hope I didn’t come across as some kind of MySpace stalker 🙂

Now, if you want so read what a proper music blogger thinks about Alex Cornish, instead of the inane and under-informed ramblings of a random enthusiastic fan, go and read Matthew’s review of Monday’s gig in Edinburgh. You’ll also find a few samples of Alex’s music there, and on his MySpace page. And once you’ve done that, go get his album Until the Traffic Stops, from iTunes or Amazon or your vendor of choice (eMusic have his singles, but not the album). Do it!