We’ve read the horror stories about people returning home from their dream holiday to find they’ve spent thousands on data. It’s remarkably easy to incur these charges, depending on your provider. Some UK networks (such as EE) won’t let you use the internet at all until you’ve bought a package. Others (such as 3) allow you to use data freely unless you call them to set a spend limit.
Any content you send or receive that’s not a phone call or a text message is data. Browsing the internet, sending WhatsApp messages, downloading and using apps, syncing email and weather. A lot of this happens in the background – convenient when at home, but a potential nightmare when abroad.
There are a few simple things you can do to avoid any nasty surprises. I chatted about these on Good Morning Britain with Ben Shephard and Kate Garraway.
In your phone settings, look for ‘Cellular’ or ‘Mobile Data’. It may be called something similar depending on your phone model. In there is a switch called ‘Data Roaming’. When switched on it allows usage of data over the cellular network, which will incur charges. Switch this off to know for sure that your phone is not using any data abroad. You can then switch it on for short periods should you need to, for instance, to search for a restaurant. Be aware that when you switch it on other apps and services will update and sync in the background, so switch it off as soon as you’re finished.
Take the opportunity to send photos, sync email and browse the web when availing of free Wi-Fi networks in public places.
Wi-Fi is internet access that relies largely on the landline telephone network. It is then distributed to laptops and phones by a wireless router in the home, office or public space. Whoever owns the router pays the bills, not the end user with a phone or laptop. This means that logging on at a café or hotel is free, unless payment is clearly requested to obtain access.
If the Wi-Fi network has a padlock symbol next to it in the list of available networks, ask a member of staff for the password.
If, like me, you hate the thought of being without Google Maps and TripAdvisor on holiday this tip is for you. Call or go on your carrier’s website to set up a package. Some will offer daily allowances with a daily charge, and some will offfer a total amount of data for the duration of your stay. Think about how much and how regularly you’ll use data services when choosing. And make sure your usage is capped at the package allowance, so you’re cut off when it’s used up.
Every carrier has an app or website for its customers to check their allowances and buy more. Download and login to the app at home before leaving. If it’s a website, load it in your phone’s browser so it’s in your history, or even better add as a favourite.
You’ll need to not be on Wi-Fi when accessing these as they identify you by your data connection over the mobile network. They never charge for accessing this, even when abroad.
So in conclusion, being a little bit prepared is the key. The internet is hugely useful when abroad for finding your way around and communicating. Spend a little time before you go and you can enjoy these benefits without the huge bills!
Last week I received Rock Jaw Audio’s latest in-ear headphones, the Alfa Genus V2. The follow-up to their Alfa Genus (which I never tried), they sport improved aluminium casing in place of wood, and the cable is now tangle-free thick rubber, in place of twisted rubber.
I can only compare them with my current loadout – Sennheisser MM 50 iP in-ear headphones and AKG K171 studio monitor headphones. First impressions are of course dominated by the prominent USP – three interchangeable frequency filters.
Silver offer enhanced bass, champagne (gold) offer a neutral response and black offer enhanced treble. The difference is marked and personally I prefer the default-fitted silver filters which give a response I think most consumers will be used to – a warm, bass-heavy sound which makes the most of rock and dance music as well as keeping podcasts smooth and easy to listen to. The neutral filters are very crisp and balanced in contrast, whilst the black treble filters are far too crisp and I can’t imagine anyone would wear these unless for a very specific, treble-heavy application. Whichever filters you use – and they take only a few seconds to swap out – the clarity of sound is impressive. Detail and separation are noticeably better than my Sennheisers after just a few seconds of listening to familiar tracks. I would expect this from a higher end pair of headphones but given the Alfa Genus V2 cost just £50 I’m impressed.
You get the usual selection of buds, including some expanding foam ones. The medium-sized rubber ones fit me best and provide a comfy seal allowing all that low-end goodness to fill my head. My only personal gripe would be that whilst there’s a microphone and button on the left ear cord, there are no volume buttons, something I use a lot as I switch between calls, music and podcasts in streets, trains and offices. Also, the right-angle jack is something I personally find less pocket-friendly but that’s a very minor issue.
Overall, I’ll definitely recommend these to people who ask me about good headphones under £50, even under £100.
The Watch is essentially an iPhone accessory
Whilst you’re made aware that you should only buy this product if you’re an iPhone owner, when you start using it you find that it is essentially a Bluetooth accessory, albeit a very fancy and clever one. It must be near to your phone to do pretty much anything except tell the time, listen to any music you’ve loaded onto the watch (up to 1GB, though this doesn’t include streaming music such as Spotify) and check health stats. It’s obvious why Apple made this compromise, because for the watch to have its own internet connection and more processing power it would have to be unwearably huge.
But it’s not an iPhone on your wrist
Whilst it’s an extension of your iPhone it’s a totally different device with different uses. It is not, for instance, at all useful for consuming content. Apps like Instagram, Digg or Guardian quickly go in the bin (though the latter’s alerts are useful). This is all about quick access to the most boiled down information and notifications. Once you realise this you go searching for apps you never thought about needing before…
You discover the App Store all over again
The apps you use on your phone most probably aren’t the ones you’ll use on your Watch. Your wrist is no place for the Facebook feed, Instagram, blog feeds or even Twitter. You start to want the essential data – minutes until next train home, miles cycled this week, time of high tide today, next calendar event, number of visitors to your site today etc, as well as one-tap utilities. There are great apps like Numerous which can help pull numbers from all over the place, as well as the IFTTT apps which allow you to create buttons to do all kinds of stuff from warming up your house to sending a map of your location to your partner instantly.
Some of the big apps are a disappointment
Another reason to go hunting in the App Store is that many of the apps you’re familiar with haven’t done a great job of extending their offering to your wrist. To be fair that is because no-one really knows how we’ll ultimately use this new device, and possibly some were rushed, but Twitter for instance shows either Top Trends or Timeline. The format and layout is fine but is that what you really want on your wrist? Would interactions be more important? The Apple apps are mostly fine but you’ll likely find better alternatives in the App Store such as Dark Sky’s superior weather app with brilliantly useful forecasts.
You need some time to properly set it up
Out of the box the watch is great. It pairs with your iPhone and automatically loads Watch extensions for any apps on your phone. However, for most users who have a lot of iPhone apps this causes instant bloat of the Watch homescreen, glances and notifications. You have to rethink how you want those apps to talk to you, and more fundamentally what information you actually want on your wrist. It took me hours and mostly involved turning off existing iPhone apps, trying new apps for different things and endlessly tweaking the settings using the Apple Watch app on my iPhone.
You’ll likely reactivate notifications
If, like me, you’ve switched all notifications off for all but the crucial apps (Phone, Twitter and WhatsApp for me), you’re likely to re-activate some of those for the Watch. Whilst I’m generally against being nagged by technology I’m currently enjoying being told about impending rain showers, breaking news and travel disruptions. Fortunately you can set different notification rules between your iPhone and Watch using the Apple Watch iPhone app.
This is a classic first version of a new Apple product
Using the Apple Watch it’s pretty easy to see where the improvements will come in future versions. They simply revolve around speed, reliance on iPhone and possibly screen resolution. The first two are related because everything on the Watch that relies on the web takes a few seconds to use your iPhone’s connection and possibly runs the app in the background on your phone to process that information. I also suspect the Watch isn’t packing a huge amount of CPU or RAM. If it was a standalone device everything would be quicker and there would of course be a much larger market for it outside of iPhone users. The screen resolution is already impressive but will no doubt be something they can boast about raising next year.
Apps hold the key to this being a truly mainstream product
Now it’s over to app developers to experiment, listen to users and create highly useful snippets of functionality from their iPhone apps. There are already thousands of compatible apps, but it will take time for them to be refined in response to how we use them.
But will the Watch endure?
With this new product line, Apple could be guilty of solving a problem we never had, which is usually a recipe for a fad. My personal opinion is that this is just early days, and the mainstream will start to care about Apple Watch once there are more apps and genuinely useful reasons to have it. Wearable technology and voice-activated cloud intelligence like Siri are advancing and converging fast. What our ’smart’ future looks like is unclear, but only by getting products like Watch to market can Apple find out, and have a chance of leading the smart revolution.
Today Google announced Project Glass – an ambitious augmented reality project which they’re asking for our help with here. The hardware (spectacles) and software (a simplified Android variant) work together to add the best of today’s web services to your field of vision. Sound like hell or the most useful thing ever? I’m certain this will be part of our lives within 10 years. Maddening as having an ever-present computer in your head sounds, it’s going to make pulling your phone out of your pocket and firing up an app seem like an awfully old-fashioned way to do something.
This Monday, 14th February, will see 50,000 people descend on Fira de Barcelona in the centre of the Catalonian capital to gather at Mobile World Congress, the biggest date in the mobile communications industry’s calendar. It is typically where the big players like LG, Motorola, Nokia, Sony, Samsung et al announce new technology, phones, tablets and gadgets. LG are kindly whisking myself, @alicam and @mayhemstudios out there to witness their product unveilings, which include the much-hyped first ever 3D phone! So in anticipation of this almighty tech-fest, here’s a quick look at what I’m most excited about seeing next week:
LG Optimus 3D
OK, so LG are the reason I’m out there. But seriously, a phone with 3D screen and camera? I need to see that. The grass is always greener on the other side and having had an iPhone for so long I could very easily be tempted to switch over to Android by this phone which is rumoured to have a dual-core 1GHz processor, an 8 megapixel camera and ‘multi-channel RAM’. I’ll publish full details as we get them at MWC, but in the meantime here’s a teaser trailer LG just released:
The ‘Playstation Phone’
I love my Playstation 3 and for a long time loved my (cracked) PSP, but the poor old handheld has been gathering dust since 2008 when the iPhone 3G gave us decent games, with internet, email, a phone and all your digital media thrown in too. So it would be cool to see Sony bring the goods with its ‘Xperia Play’. The Android phone/console hybrid will run Playstation One games though we don’t know what games will be available until MWC, and that ultimately will determine this device’s success.
Interestingly, by the end of 2011 Sony plans to have allowed other mobile and tablet manufacturers to adapt their Android OS to run Playstation games and have access to the forthcoming Playstation app store. Details are scant until the press conference on Sunday. Until then here’s the creepy ad Sony ran during Super Bowl to officially announce the phone:
Let’s face it, it will be years until someone other than Apple beats the iPad at the tablet game so I, like many, will be looking on in amusement and curiosity at the tablet launches at MWC to see what lengths manufacturers have gone to to try and tempt those considering Apple’s ‘magical and revolutionary’ device away from the easy choice.
Samsung’s Galaxy has been on of the more successful underdogs and it’s successor will be unveiled on Sunday night. Rumours are also circulating that the Samsung Galaxy’s successor will be announced and that HTC are preparing their first tablet to be unveiled. LG are also said to be launching a larger version of their Optimus 3D phone, a tablet with rear-facing stereoscopic camera and glasses-free 3D screen.
Whilst the gallery of speakers at MWC 2011 looks like the members book of a white supremacist chess club, there are a few heavyweight keynotes at MWC 2011 that I’ll be making an effort to see.
Eric Schmidt should be interesting because of Google’s burgeoning stake in the mobile OS market and how advertising might develop in mobile.
Steve Ballmer because I kinda hope he’ll go a bit mental… again.
Jack Dorsey because since co-founding Twitter he’s set up Square, a revolutionary product that is as beautifully simple and useful as his first famous venture. I’ll be interested to hear where he plans to take it and which industries they’re focussing their marketing efforts on (do market traders generally have iPhones?).
Dick Costolo because he’s CEO of my favourite social website – Twitter – and I’ll be keen to hear how things are going back at HQ and where they plan to take the business. He’s also an interesting figure in the start-up world having founded Feedburner and invested in several start-ups including Twitter back in 2007. I’m sure I’ll happen across other speakers and be pleasantly surprised, which I’ll report back on right here.
So stay tuned as I post videos, photos and new product specs as they’re announced. You can also follow the #MWC11 hashtag on Twitter, and also me – @willfrancis, @LGmobileMWC, @alicam and @mayhemstudios to see what we’re up to!
The pretty-much-default RSS reader for iPad and iPhone – Reeder – has burst out of iOS and onto our desktops. My browser homepage is set to Google Reader, which even with performance-enhancing Chrome extensions is an ugly and unwieldy page, so this is real progress in my bid to stay fully abreast of the important things in the world.
It’s basic (which is great because it’s simple and clean) and we’re warned the beta is buggy but it’s working brilliantly so far and I demand that you install it on your Mac. Here’s why:
Just like its mobile counterparts, this version is very clean and simple, which in the information-overloaded world of RSS feeds is a godsend. There are basically four areas of the app:
Show all items, your noted items, RSS feed items or items shared from people you’re following.
Showing the groups of feeds (as set up in Reader). I have my feeds grouped into ‘Tech’, ‘Business’, ‘Music’ etc and this makes it easy to just look at one category of news.
Your feed items, auto-updating as much as very 5 minutes (or just press ‘R’ to manually refresh).
Just like the mobile version, displays the news story with cached image and text in a pretty Helvetica-esque font (or is it just Arial?). From here you can do various things with the above toolbar like post to Twitter, Instapaper, Google and open in your browser. This toolbar is customisable so you can just keep the stuff you use there.
Dock Icon Badge
Unlike the mobile versions of Reeder, the desktop version updates automatically as often as every 5 minutes, displaying the number of unread items in the dock which is handy for keeping an eye on the zeitgeist passing you by.
All-in-all this is a robust, simple app and has already made it into my dock and allowed me to set my browser homepage back to the calmness of google.com . Get it for yourself over at madeatgloria.com
On the off-chance that you 1. feel the irresistible urge to tweet 2. reach into your pocket to find your phone is dead and 3. happen to be walking past one of these public Twitter booths recently installed in Russia’s tech hub Skolkova, all at the same time, then this might be of use to you. Though maybe ye olde public payphone’s fate awaits this fun experiment. My money’s on this being covered in piss and prostitute calling cards within a month.
Autumn is just round the corner and schoolkids, university and college students everywhere are dreading having to detach themselves from the comfortable life of luxury that is the summer break. Quite a few of them are also carefully weaving arguments supporting the vital need for their parents to buy them a shiny new computer to prevent them from failing everything and entering rehab or jail before they’re twenty years old, bringing shame on their family because their stupid Mum and Dad wouldn’t fork out a few hundred for a bit of consumer electronics.
With this surge in demand on the horizon Microsoft have launched ’Deciding between a PC and a Mac?’, a microsite which outlines why you should choose a Windows-compatible machine. I used to be a staunch PC lover myself but for none of the reasons listed here. The truth is that the great thing about PCs is the flexibility to hack, crack, customise, bastardise and generally experiment with them, as well as the cheapness and availability of components. The reasons Microsoft list here are, well, bollocks. They are:
Apparently PCs are great for ’enjoy[ing] movies, games, and HDTV’. Sure, as long as you’ve customised it enough to comfortably handle HD video and decent 3D graphics without jerking like a nervous dog having a bad dream.
’Intuitive, familiar, and easy to use, PCs do what you want: they just work.’ Actually, massive respect to whoever wrote that, that took balls to not only lift an old Mac marketing line but boldly boast about the PC’s biggest flaw.
They don’t really define what this actually means, but what piece of digital marketing these days is complete without the ’S’-word?
OK, you got me, PCs are compatible with absolutely everything. But that’s because when you have such a monopoly on software, hardware manufacturers have no choice but to build compatibility with your platform. I’m fairly sure they’d prefer building for predictable and stable environments only. And anyway, everyone has the sense to build in Mac compatibility nowadays, it’s not the closed shop it once was.
‘Pick a color you love. Midnight blue, espresso, or pink?’. OMFG, Microsoft you came out and presented the six earth-shattering reasons why PCs rule, and one of those reasons is that you can have one in any colour. Seriously? Of all the 101 reasons you brainstormed in that meeting (you presumably had) the big six that you picked out, that you’re absolutely convinced will win people over… include the ability to choose the colour of the brittle plastic shell that surrounds the computer? Wow, make mine brown.
Really Microsoft, just be downright honest and say “yeah, they’re a bit shit, but hell they’re cheap to buy or fix, durable(ish), run any old piece of software (legal or otherwise), less likely to get stolen and great if your student offspring is geeky enough to start taking it apart and messing with it”. That’s why I loved PCs anyway.
In a bid to spread my blogging far and wide across the internet like a thick but rich pollutant I’ve become a contributor for Brand Republic’s ‘The Wall’ blog which covers the latest developments in social media, marketing and technology.
Here are my first posts. Please go and read them and more importantly share them. I will then love you for eternity 🙂
16th July 2010 – New Figures Suggest iPad Is Killing Netbook
19th July 2010 – Foursquare Eyes Search Engine Partnerships