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Friday, December 19, 2014

New Tech - Episode Four

I've only had my Chromebook for a couple of weeks; but I'd never look back...

Here's my story so far...


I bought an Amazon Fire TV; switched to Android, with my HTC One M8 and bought a Chromecast.
The next purchase was a must have; to consolidate the Android/Google goodness.

I bought a Chromebook…

It's dinky, light-weight, and following trials of only using web-based applications, this has replaced my Samsung laptop.

As many have done, I thought I’d share my thoughts and reasons for moving from Windows to Chromebook; as well as give a short review of the Acer C720.

First things first… why move?

Windows has been my mainstay since day one (I’ve never been a MacPerson) so I’ve been very used to doing things their way.  Using Word, Excel, PowerPoint - all the usual.

Then along came Chrome; the browser.  I was an early adopter, got stuck straight in and never looked back (Internet Explorer what???) 

However, with Windows comes great responsibility… and cost.  Upgrades involve either buying a new laptop / desktop, or paying for the software designed to run on a machine far superior to the one you have!

Then there’s the applications.  Most of them cost serious money; others less so, but for a trade-off.  Not including anti-virus; which is a must on Windows.

All in all; running a Windows based machine is not a cheap experience; and now so many apps have good web presence, it seemed the time for change had come.

Not one for Apple (I don’t agree with their walled garden approach) the other alternative was a Chromebook.

Really! What took me so long?  I have been working in “the cloud” for a while; testing various apps using their web versions, to see how I got on.  I even wrote an article just over a year ago about Living The Online Life. It just took me a little longer to make the jump.

All I can say is that I am very pleased I have.  This Acer C720 is truly terrific.  It might not be the best in terms of spec; I have the 2Gb version, the screen isn’t exactly a retina display, but I don’t need that.  I open it up, and in less than a couple of seconds I’m off and running.  

I have 1Tb of storage, courtesy of an offer with Google, and it’s so portable I don’t even need a tablet!
Yes, it feels a little plasticky and the camera isn’t the greatest (I haven’t used it yet anyway) but it cost me less than £160…. yes, you read that right.  On sale at £180 with a further £20 voucher offer by the retailer, it cost me £160….

With my account sync’d across all devices, my bookmarks appeared, my apps appeared and it runs just beautifully.  I had a little trouble connecting with Google Cloud Print - but that was resolved by resetting the printer back to factory settings and registering it again.

My only gripe is with scanning.  It appears that I can only scan one page at a time, saved as individual files; rather than scanning a document as a whole.  Maybe it’s out there and I’ve still to find it - but it’s not a showstopper.

There’s a 16Gb solid state drive, for the small amount of memory you might need; a card-reader for SD card expansion, a couple of USB ports for plugging in an external drive and there's a headphone / microphone socket and webcam.

The ChromeOS software updates automatically, in the background.  You won’t even notice.
Those updates are free!  There’s virtually no chance of a virus; so no anti-virus required locally.

If you’re reading this, thinking about whether to get a Chromebook, then think no more.  If you appreciate that it’s designed to work with cloud-based services (and let’s face it, you rarely use your tablet unless it’s connected) then you’ll get along fine.

Having said that; there are a number of apps that allow you to work offline.  Google Drive is a prime example - I’m writing this on Docs, whilst sitting on the train.  You can also sync Gmail to work offline too (with a separate app).

Am I pleased to have moved away from my huge, heavy Samsung laptop, that takes ages to boot and is sluggish in performance?  You bet I am.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

Monday, December 15, 2014

New Tech - Episode Three

My third new piece of tech is something that I've been considering for a while, but it was only recently I decided to through caution to the wind (and £20 to Amazon) and buy a Chromecast.

This little dongle plugs directly into the HDMI socket on the television, and then, as the name suggests, you can "cast" pictures, music, video and websites, on to the big screen.

It's pretty much as simple as plug in, log into wi-fi and then cast whatever you want to watch.

Want to share a YouTube video with everyone in the room? Cast it
Share a photo album with everyone in the room? Cast it.
Watch a Netflix film on your bigger screen? Cast it.
Fancy some music?  You guessed it...

There's a whole host of possibilities.

How about showing a presentation from Google Drive?  With the Google Cast extension in your Chrome browser, you can cast tabs too - so using the Chromecast in a business environment is also a possibility.

Over the festive period there are also offers galore; including a free movie, 90 days of Google Play, and £15 of credit for the Google Play Store.... I've already got my money back, and more.

Have you got a Chromecast?  What do YOU think?

Friday, December 12, 2014

New Tech - Episode Two

In part two of my "new tech" acquisitions, I move to Android...

For those that have read previous posts, you'll know that I have been an advocate of BlackBerry for a number of years.  From the Curve, to the Torch, then the 9900 and the Z10 - I have been a staunch supporter of 'the underdog'.

However, the services and features that I needed aren't available to use on BlackBerry - namely those of Google.  I couldn't access Google Drive, or Gmail (not that I really needed to, because of the hub) or any other services.

This was having a serious impact on my productivity, so; time to change.

After much deliberation (and a poll on Google+) I decided to go for the HTC One m8.  A decision born out of the need for a large screen and as close to native Android as possible.  I had looked at Samsung, but was put off by the sheer amount of bloatware that is bundled on the phone.

It's not the lightest phone on the market, but for me, the HTC offers sleek lines, a nice large screen, high-end processor and enough RAM to keep the phone moving; along with a battery that gets me through the day.

In fact, the battery is one of the most impressive aspects.

Tie this in with access to Amazon Prime, and I can view programmes here too.

The move to Android hasn't been simple.  In fact, it was a surprisingly steep learning curve, when moving from BlackBerry.  The integrated hub is the feature I miss the most; and having to move between messaging apps to read and reply isn't ideal.  Plus, the near endless ways in which to personalise the phone is almost mind-boggling.

I'm still learning.

However, on balance, this was the correct move for me.  I have a phone that allows me to access and edit my documents and spreadsheet; and keep them sync'd in one place - Google Drive.
I use Google Inbox (that's another story), Evernote, Google Keep and Google+.
I also like that my photos are automatically backed up; when I connect to wi-fi.

I'll keep you posted on my life with HTC, but so far, it's a happy one.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

New Tech - Episode One

Its been a new tech kind of time.

Over the last few weeks I have acquired some new technology, to either enhance viewing pleasure or become more productive...

  • I started with an Amazon Fire TV
  • Followed by an htc ONE m8
  • Closely followed by a Chromecast
  • Finally, an Acer C720 Chromebook

So, I thought to myself, let's not keep it all to myself.  I decided to dig in, explain my reasoning, and even write a short review on each of the devices.

Let's start with the Amazon Fire TV.

As an Amazon Prime member, and since I had been watching their Prime service since day one, it made logical sense to buy the box (and save plugging my laptop into the TV each time I wanted to watch something).

There's been heavy debate about Amazon v Netflix; but since I have already invested in Prime, I wasn't going to pay another monthly fee.  Also; the offering by Amazon has improved greatly, with some top shows and films.

Without wishing to repeat all previous reviews, I'll just say this is a well made, high spec box, with a Bluetooth remote (so the box can be out of sight) and rather clever voice controlled search (which, currently, only searches Amazon content).
The interface is pretty user friendly; although there is room for improvement (it's not always easy to see where you are in the navigation).

It's important to bear in mind that these boxes are not the money-spinner for Amazon; they sell them at cost.  The business model is to get you hooked into the Amazon ecosystem and to spend your money there!!

What about content?  Is there anything to spend your money on?

Amazon have invested heavily in their Studios venture, with some wonderful new shows; and using their audience to decide on the future of these shows, via their Amazon Pilots. This means, as a viewer I see some great new content, and can provide feedback which contributes to decisions.

A couple of examples are Bosch (police drama based on the books by Michael Connelly), and Transparent (a unique comedy/drama by Jill Soloway).
The beauty of this kind of TV is that they can decide to release whole series in one go; like Alpha House, or weekly, such as what they did with Extant.  Another two great shows from Amazon Studios.

This may sound like an advert for Amazon; and let's face it, what they do, they do well (except the phone; that was a mistake in my view).  Whilst there may be the Amazon bashers out there; there's no denying their proposition.

Some of you may be wondering why I haven't mentioned Apple?  Well, I do own an Apple TV; but haven't used it in months.  I don't use iTunes any more, or purchase Apple content, and there's nothing to just 'watch' - unless you fixate on YouTube, Vevo etc.  It certainly isn't my "go to" service.  And I totally disagree with the "lock in" to the Apple ecosystem!

So; that concludes my first new piece of tech, bought recently.  Do you have any thoughts about which streaming media service you use?

Next is my move to Android... 

Friday, January 10, 2014

It's Elementary....

This weekend, we will see the final episode in the current series of Sherlock, on BBC1.

I love this series.  In true, BBC style, it has very high production values, is well shot; the stories are great (even if there are glaring plot holes) and the acting is sublime.

I take my (deerstalker) hat off to Benedict Cumberbatch, for his portrayal of the famous detective, and Martin Freeman is excellent as his sidekick, Watson.

With the third series wrapping up; and with the announcement that there are plans for a forth and fifth series, I thought I'd ask the question - modern or historical?

There's been a sort of renaissance with Sherlock Holmes, as not only have the Beeb done their bit; but Hollywood has also got involved; albeit with the historical setting and costume.

Robert Downey Jnr (he who wears an Iron suit) along with Jude Law, resurrected the character in a couple of big screen outings.  Now, these were great fun, lots of bang for your buck, with the wit and charm all included.  But - is this better than the high-brow, clever scripting of the Sherlock we've been watching on television?

Is it better, or just different?  Maybe they're both as good as each other, but to be taken with different points of view.

The dark, mystical, on-the-spectrum character; played by Cumberbatch, or the frivolous, comical and less serious version; as played by Downey Jnr?

Personally; I prefer the television version, for no other reason than it is just brilliantly written, acted, directed and produced; and there is depth of character and light humour in equal measure.  What more can you ask for on a cold, dark, winter night.

Here's the trailer for "His Last Vow" - Sunday 8:30pm on BBC 1

Now, dear reader.  It's over to you...


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