Category: Hardware

Using the Huawei MiFi in Europe

Jun 25
Posted on June 25, 2010 23:44 in Hardware, Technology

We recently bought a Huawei MiFi (also known as the Three MiFi), which if you didn’t know is just a simple little 3G-to-WiFi router. We used the MiFi in combination with an iPod touch, iPad, and iPhone when on the road in the United Kingdom and The Netherlands.

Why get it?

Simple: instead of paying for mobile broadband for your iPhone, laptop, iPad, and other devices, it is often cheaper to just bring a MiFi on the road and just use the mobile broadband through one device. Additionally if you travel abroad you often don’t want to get a data plan for every device you own.

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iPhone 4 Price Plans Compared – The Correct Way [Updated x 2]

Jun 24
Posted on June 24, 2010 22:27 in Hardware, Technology

I am still using the original iPhone (2G) and I have been waiting for Apple to make a significant enough upgrade for me to justify investing in a new phone. The original iPhone was a major leap for me when I bought it 2.5 years ago and I would love to see a similar leap in my new phone.

So I have been tempted to get the new iPhone 4, but I was wondering what the investment cost would be for me. I currently have an unlocked iPhone with a Pay&Go O2 plan of £15 a month. For that I get 500mb data, 300 UK texts, and I can even call those £15 away (which I never do, cause I never call people).

Now there seems something wrong with most price comparisons that I’ve seen. Most of them don’t scale the TCO (total cost of ownership) to a per month basis, and often do they consider a 12 month plan to be better than a 24 month plan. In most of these comparisons either Three or Tesco comes out cheapest.

I on the other hand follow a different reasoning.

  • I want to know what the investment cost of owning an iPhone 4 would be on top of what I am already paying, not the TCO regardless of what I am paying at the moment
  • Therefore, I only see anything on top of the £15 per month I pay at the moment as “cost”.
  • I hope to be using my next iPhone as long as my previous one (at least 2 years, maybe even 3)
  • I don’t mind signing up for a contract for 12 or 18 months and then going to Pay&Go for the rest of the 2 year period

Based on that comparison I make the following comparison for a 16GB Black iPone 4:

  • Buying an unlocked iPhone: £499
  • O2: £479 (18 months * £30 contract + 6 months * £15 Pay&Go, £209 for phone)
  • Vodafone: £459 (24 months * £25, £219 for phone)
  • Three: £459 (24 months * £30, £99 for phone)
  • Tesco: £409 (12 month * £20 contract + 12 months * £15 Pay&Go, £349 for phone)
  • Three (Pay&Go Sim Only) £379 (£499 for unlocked iPhone, 24 * £10 Pay&Go Sim Only, thank you Sam Machin for suggesting)

As you can see, in my comparison the O2 contract is by far the cheapest. Considering that Tesco uses the same network as O2 I rather go with O2 directly. It turns out that Tesco is still one of the cheapest options, giving me about £90 discount on a new iPhone. Also, if you don’t want to go with a contract, I noticed that buying an iPhone directly from Apple is not that expensive actually. The cheapest contracts seem to be at most £40 cheaper than buying an unlocked phone.

It turns out that buying an unlocked iPhone and going with some kind of Pay&Go plan is probably the cheapest for me. Three offers 600 texts and 2GB data when you top up £10 a month (£5 cheaper than my current Pay&Go plan) after which you can still call away the £10. This gives me a total discount of £120 on an iPhone, making this a way better deal than most contracts.

Now I realize I might have missed some options here, and this clearly only applies to me and my sparse calling habits, but I thought it was an interesting alternative view. Let me know if you got some data to add.

iPad Sleeves Review – Belkin vs Crumpler

Jun 10
Posted on June 10, 2010 9:30 in Hardware, Offline

So yes, I bought an iPad, kind of, but that’s beside the point. When I bought my first Macbook Pro I didn’t directly buy a sleeve for it and I eternally regretted that after I gave it a big dent. So when I bought the iPad I bought the only sleeve that Currys had in store: an purple Belkin Grip Sleeve, but I soon after tried the Crumpler Giordano Special in a need to find something better.

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Reviewing the Creative Gigaworks T20 Series II Speakers

Feb 3
Posted on February 3, 2010 1:59 in Hardware

I think it’s about time for me to review some of the hardware I bought recently. First up is the new set of speakers that I got, the Creative Gigaworks T20 Series II.

My main workstation where I wanted to use them is a Mac Mini which doesn’t have any 5.1 output except for a digital optical out. Now, I don’t need any 5.1 on my workstation but i do like some loud music so I quickly started looking at 2.1 speakers on Amazon and eBay. Wow, there’s a lot of crap out there.

Loads of unknown brands, cheap little subwoofers, and dodgy looking 2mm-thick speakers. So like any geek I used the power of Twitter to quickly get an idea of what speakers other people liked. I got about 3 responses pointing me at the Creative Gigaworks T20 Series II so I quickly went ahead and looked at what all that was about.

Now, these 2.0 speakers are not the smallest, they are about 23cm high by 14cm deep and 9cm wide, but in exchange for that they don’t come with a big bulky subwoofer. Most of the subwoofers that come with 2.1 systems are very small and cheap and therefore not particularly good. Add to that all the wiring and you’re actually happy that these speakers don’t come with a subwoofer.

These 2 speakers though, wow, I didn’t expect such a good sound from a 2.0 system. The bass won’t bump you out of your seat, but is great for films and music and if you want you can pump up the volume and make your neighbours crazy without causing the sound to distort. The added bass and treble control is handy for controlling the kind of experience you want, especially if you sit only 10 cm away from them all day.

All and all I think these speakers are probably the best ones I ever bought and I totally agree with my Twitter advisors that these speakers are definitely worth the money (currently about £50 on Amazon).

The MacBook Mini Project

Dec 14
Posted on December 14, 2009 23:50 in Hardware, Projects

When I replaced my MacBook with a Mac Mini setup I was always planning to invest some time into a netbook. I recently ordered a (RED) Dell Mini 10v with the plan to turn it into a hackintosh. After a few days (*cough* weeks) of tinkering I now have a machine I’m happy with.

In short: It’s a (RED), as in the charity sponsoring colour,  Dell Mini 10v that retails for about £250. It has a 1.6GHz Atom processor, 2GB ram (custom), a 1024×600 screen, and a 160GB hard drive. I installed Windows 7 and Mac OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.1 on it and things are running smoothly. Here are some photos and some notes from my experience.

MacBook Mini

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Dell Mini 10/Linux – 2 Days of pain

Nov 19
Posted on November 19, 2009 1:00 in Hardware, Problems & Solutions, Projects

So yesterday my new laptop arrived. I decided to get a little Dell Mini 10 netbook as a companion to my new Mac Mini workstation. At the moment I’m at the point of selling it again though.

dell-mini10

I found a good deal on eBay for a Dell Mini 10 with integrated wireless-n, bluetooth, 3G/HSDPA, TV-tuner, HD screen and a 6 cell battery. Additionally I liked the model because everyone seems to like the Dell Mini 10 for  turning them into hackintoshes. Yeah, that’s where I was wrong.

The Dell Mini 10 has a little brother called the Dell Mini 10v (where the v stands for value). This model rarely comes with all the extras and has a atom N series processor. It turns out that my machines Z-series atom is actually the reason why I can’t run Mac OS X on it. Doh!

Now I promised myself at the beginning of the year to invest some more time in Linux, so I saw this as a good moment to try it out. I started off with Ubuntu 9.10, which is the newest Ubuntu version. After install the wifi didn’t work, neither did the graphics driver, nor the brightness controls, nor the sleep/suspend, nor the wifi, etc. I spend a few hours getting the wifi and screen to work correctly, and a hack gave me hibernation support. But by then the audio started acting up even more so I decided to do the wise thing to switch to Ubuntu 9.04 (the current long-term-support release).

I chose for the Netbook Remix release because I already started to notice that having a UI that’s optimized for a small screen and a small keyboard might be a wise plan. I managed to get everything to work pretty quickly (except for the TV tuner software) but realized that even the netbook remix doesn’t really run that smoothly on my Z530 with 1GB of ram.

Now to be fair, I’m used to machines with 4GB of ram for the least 4 years, so this is quite a step back. But the screen tearing and slow response is just sometimes killing me. So I decided to look into upgrading the RAM in this machine. This is when I realized this machine doesn’t have any upgradable RAM!

So at the moment I’m really contemplating my options. I love the built-in 3G in this machine, and the 6 cell battery is interesting, but the keyboard is crap, the upgradability sucks, and it won’t run Mac OS X.

So, what IS the best netbook out there that can run Mac OS X? Should I stick with this machine for now or maybe go back to Mac? A Macbook Air is starting to look very tempting.

Gadget Review: Flip Ultra

Aug 19
Posted on August 19, 2009 10:56 in Hardware, Video

We got to make a new Swede this weekend (more on that later), but instead of using a real camera we used a Flip Ultra (provided to us by Cisco).

I know a lot of people have been going crazy about this little camera, but I never understood it until this weekend. To give you a bit of background: in the years I’ve played with a lot of cameras both professionally and personally. We had a Sony PD-150 (mini DV) at our company ED-ME in 2005, and I had a Sony HDD digital video camera in 2008. You would assume I would view the Flip as nothing but a toy, and have to admit I did up till now.

The Flip

Flip

So what is the Flip? It is a little video camera that you hold like you’d hold a cameraphone. It’s actually quite similar to cameraphone as it’s about the size of one (an old one) and as light. There is a big red button on the back for turning recording on/off , and a four-way control for some of the “advanced” videos. When you managed to record your video you just plug in the Flip into the USB port of your PC with the nice flip-out USB connector (hence the name).

If you are a Windows user, you’ll get a nice bit of software that’s actually loaded and run from the Flip itself. It allows you to quickly edit and share your videos to major video sites. If you are on a Mac you can use iMovie or any other bit of video editing software.

The great thing about the Flip is that the digital files that it records your video to are actually editable in most software packages without needing any conversion first, unlike the kind of files you get on most JVC or Sony HDD cameras. So over are the days of Mini DV to digital conversion, or trying to figure out what to do with that .mod file.

The Downsides

There are some downsides to the Flip too. First of there is no image stabilization in the camera, and add that to the very unstable way of holding the device it makes for pretty shaky video. Most people probably won’t notice, but some might. Add to that the fact that there is no way of extending the camera with other accessories like lenses or microphones and you have a very limited device. The internal Mic is great but very limited, and if you ever want to add a better microphone to your camera you’re stuck with getting a new camera.

But inherently that’s not what this camera is made for. This camera is made for people that want to have a quick record-edit-upload workflow at a great price.

Making sense of Flip Ultra vs Flip Mino

The guys from Pure Digital who make the Flip have 4 models of it in production. There is the 4GB Flip Ultra, 8GB Flip Ultra HD, 2GB Flip Mino, and the 4GB Flip Mino HD. It took me a while to figure out what the differences are, but I figured it out. The difference between the Flip Mini and Flip Ultra is the form factor. The Mino is smaller and lighter and therefore can hold less capacity than the Flip Ultra. The Flip Ultra is also designable.

The biggest difference though is that because the Mino is smaller, it can only hold half the amount of video (60 minutes) as its bigger brother. Both the Mini and Ultra come in a larger capacity High Definition version which has the same form factor and video capacity as the normal versions (60 mins for the Mino, 120 minutes for the Ultra).

Where to buy?

I almost forgot! The best thing of the Flip is the price. The simplest model is about £95, the Mino HD is about £150 RRP. All and all a lot cheaper and easier than most other cameras.

Nikkor 50mm F1.8 showdown: AF vs AF-D

Dec 14
Posted on December 14, 2008 23:32 in Hardware, Photography

Together with my acquisition of a D80 came the time to get a nice prime lens. I had been looking at the Sigma 30mm F1.4 for a while, but at a whooping £234 it is way more pricey than some of the alternatives. I therefore decided to go for the Nikkor 50mm F1.8 prime. The lens has a bit longer focal length than the Sigma, which (on my D80 with a crop factor of 1.5) makes it a nice portrait lens (~75mm). It has the added “bonus” of not having a build-in focus motor, which makes it cheaper and lighter (and unusable on my D40).

The Lenses

The lens comes in two “versions”. The first version, labeled the Nikkor AF 50mm F1.8 was made first released in 1986. It is easily recognizable by the large pushpin on the side.

 

Nikkor 50mm 1.8

 

The pushpin locks the aperture ring into place. On most modern cameras you will want to keep the aperture ring into the highest aperture number (F22) so it’s a bit big for such a useless function. The rest of the lens feels pretty solid, dare I say heavy.

The second lens that’s a interesting alternative to the Sigma is the Nikkor AF-D 50mm F1.8. Notice the little added “D” that was added tot he previous model. By specification the new lens (launched in 2002 and replacing the previous model) is exactly the same. The most noticeable cosmetic changes are the loss of the push pin and a more plastic (and lighter) casing.

50mm18

 

Technically there’s one more important difference between the lens with and without the “D”, except for the fact that the earlier version has only one layer of coating. Which brings us to the showdown.

The Showdown

So what is the real-life difference between the two lenses? First off there’s a price difference of about £15 depending on where you get it. This doesn’t sound like much, but as the modern model goes for about £80 this sums up to about 18%. For a student or amateur on a budget the non-D version is therefore an interesting option.

In performance though, the lenses seem to be very, very different. I like most of Ken Rockwell’s articles on lenses, but in this case he seems to be rather wrong labeling the D functionality as a “almost meaningless feature”. To understand the difference between the single coated and multi-coated (D) lens you have to understand that lenses with large apertures quickly suffer from lens flares. Coating on a lens can help prevent the lens flares to some level and this makes a lot of difference.

Here is a photo I took with the single coated lens.

dsc_1133

As you can see in the left bottom corner there’s a big lens flare. It’s not that much of a problem in this photo but it also shows up as a more annoying and larger flare in normal conditions (I couldn’t find any of the worst photos because I deleted them already). 

The modern multi-coated lens still has this issue sometimes but not as large and intrusive as the single-coated version. It is for me at least the reason to get rid of the non-D version and get myself a D version. Even with a hood on the older version still generates massive lens flares and discoloration from time to time. A good example is this photo I took of Reinier:

dsc_1266

 

Conclusion

It seems that the AF-D lens performs much better under low light conditions with consideration to lens flares. Yes, the older version can be found about £15 less but it’s definitely not worth the trouble of lens flares and lack of build quality.