Acer Aspire Revo – First impressions

Product Reviews 5 Comments »

On Thursday I purchased the Acer Aspire Revo as my media centre solution. After living with it for a few days I thought I would write a quick round up of the positives and negatives of the Revo.

Positives

  • It is quiet… VERY quiet
  • Fairly small
  • Has a VESA mount (I used it to put it on the wall!)
  • Runs XBMC very well

Negatives

  • Doesn’t currently like playing DVD images, although hi-def content and divx work fine
  • No remote control
  • No IR port
  • Iphone remote is ok, but no solution full-fime, and keeps losing connection

The remote control issue doesn’t seem too important at first, until you look at the cost of remotes that will work with XBMC (no-IR port). They come in at around £20, but add this to the cost of the Revo, already more expensive than some media centres that come with remotes, and suddenly the cost is starting to creep up.

The main benefit I see of choosing the Revo over the likes of the Xtremer is the fact you can run XBMC on it. Some of the scripts and themes for XBMC are very slick indeed and the community is great.

One of the negatives I listed is playback of DVD images (std resolution). I think this could be the fact I am using the Alpha version of the new software. I cannot think of a reason why it could stream 1080p content fine yet struggle with DVD images. I will do a bit of digging and find out.

Overall I am very happy with my purchase. It does the job well (and quietly) and lets me run some excellent software on it. The only thing I am considering next is whether to replace the live version of XBMC with the Ubuntu version and see if I can add some TV playing/recording functionality in the future, maybe using MythTV?

UPDATE: I have figured out the issue with DVD’s. I run FreeNAS on one of my machines and for some reason it was maxing out around 1MB/s. I have upgraded the software version and now it is maxing out around 4MB/s, still not great but good enough for DVD playback. Anyway, as far as the Acer is concerned it is working fine :D

New Favicon generator/library

General Interest, Product Reviews No Comments »

I was recently looking for a favicon of a flag to use in a project I am working on. During my search I came across favicon.cc, a cool little site that lets you design your favicon online, share your creations, and use favicons others have created.favicon.cc

It really is a simple tool, but a genius concept. Sometimes I am looking to incorporate a logo into a favicon, but other times I am just wanting a favicon that reflects the site, and for this purpose this is great! There is quite a growing selection of favicons on there and it will only grow over time.

I have recommended the Dynamic Drive favicon generator in the past for converting images into favicons, but for creating from scratch or picking from a library this site is great!

iPhone 3GS – 2 weeks on

Product Reviews, Technical Info No Comments »

Last month I posted about my first impressions of the iPhone. Having owned  it for nearly 2 weeks I thought I would post my thoughts on what it is like to live with day to day.

Don’t drop the phone!

My first impression of the phone is it feels very very slippery. The smooth screen and the smooth plastic back make it feel like it is going to jump out of your hands. This is not just my opinion, everyone I have passed it to has handled it like it is made of crystal.

With this in mind my first purchase was a leather slip case from Ikonicedge. Without going into details, fantastic product!

Usability

I must say the new 3.0 features are really rather good. Push notification is coming to a lot of my day-to-day apps and it really is welcome. I can have IM+ active and will receive an alert when a new message arrives. I have seen a noticeable decrease in incoming SMS since that has been active, in favour of shooting over an IM instead.

The wifi works REALLY well! When I walk into the house it auto-connects to the wifi network, which is great for receiving calls on skype etc, and great if your house isn’t in a 3G area.

Features and Apps

Just like the adverts suggest, for most things you would need to do day to day there really is “an app for that”. Not all of them are free, but most of them are quite cheap and generally very good quality.

I like the way the app store auto checks for updates, and when I wake up in the morning I click update and several of my apps update to the latest version… slick!

One thing to beware of it I have found myself loading the phone with small cheap apps for 59p, then finding that 59p + 59p + 59p + 59p etc does add up! (yes, to £2.36!)

Addictive!

Oh… my… word… If you want your productivity levels to remain what they were before you bought the iPhone do NOT install games, specifically Flight Control. This is positively the most addictive game I have ever played and I just can’t put it down! You have been warned! BTW, if you buy it (just 59p at the moment) my high score is 74 on the default map.

Phone + email

As a phone it works great. The contacts list is slick, the interface is great and the call quality is fantastic. I can’t fault it one bit. If it had a blacklist feature (you can get this only by jailbreaking it) then it would be perfect.

Email works really well too. I don’t use push email so I have yet to experience that, but the standard 15 minute check works for me. If an email reply cant wait 15 mins then the sender really should have called me! The interface to mail is very nice. There are a few features I would like to have seen like the ability to “select all” or select a group of messages without having to click them individually, but for a mobile app it does the job and does it well.

SMS

The sms functionality is nice too. I used an N95 before which was nothing short of embarrassing… really!!! To have an SMS app that didn’t display the time the message was received, well, enough said about that!

The iPhone deals with SMS’s as conversation threads. When a message is received and you open it you also see the previous messages sent too and from the individual. I tend to send my SMS via JellySMS and clickatell (Internet SMS provider) as international SMS messages are much cheaper that way, consequently I only see half the conversation. For general use though, it works well.

Conclusion

I love the iPhone! Not in a physical way, that would be wrong(!), but as a phone/gadget it really is great. The camera in the 3GS is great (no flash, but you can’t have everything) and there are very few frustrations with it. Battery life would be one I suppose, but the N95 had the worst battery in the world, so even that seems good to me. With normal use it could last a couple of days.

I am still in the honeymoon period with this phone, where I am taking great care of it and making sure it does not get scratched/bashed etc. I imagine this will last a bit longer than it usually does with my phones, especially considering how much I paid for it.

I will no doubt post more updates as I go, but for now I am very happy with my purchase. As a phone is it value for money… hell no… not as a geek gadget does it make me smile when I use it, absofreakenlutely!

New iPhone 3GS

News, Product Reviews 3 Comments »

So I have finally jumped on the bandwagon and purchased a 16Gb iPhone 3GS in black. Those of you that know me will already know I have become somewhat of an Apple “fanboy” ever since purchasing my Macbook Pro a year and a half ago. It was only a matter of time before I jumped on the iPhone bandwagon too.

IMG_0005

Firstly I am ashamed to admit I was one of the first people the first person in line at the O2 store in Harrogate, waiting for the new iPhone. I got there at approximately 7:15am, hoping in the first instance to go to the Carphone Warehouse (who opened at 8), but only to be told by their manager they will not sell them on Pay & Go on launch day.

So, I trundled sprinted down to the O2 store, who opened at 9:02 (O2… gettit?!.. sad, I know!). I was so early that passing builders looked at me like I was some strange character with nowhere else to be. Little did they know I was a strange character who was WAITING FOR AN iPHONE!

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I got my iPhone then high-tailed it to work (another long story).

First impressions

My first impression of the phone is it feels very nice to hold, albeit a little on the smooth side which makes you feel as if you are always one slip away from dropping it. It does feel like it would not do to well in a phone vs pavement battle!

I have not owned an iPhone before, so some of the improvements were lost on me a little. 100% faster… err…ok, it feels quite fast, but I really don’t have a benchmark for that one. Copy and paste… did the previous model (or rather OS) REALLY not have that… Apple, you should hold your head in shame!

The activation process was pretty simple really, just plug it in and let iTunes do it’s thang! It sounds like it went a lot smoother over here than in the States, where people were waiting up to 48 hours for activation. One good thind about being ahead of the timezone race, I guess!

Killer Appz

The main reason I bought the iPhone is some of the apps that you can get for it, for free or for very little money. Surprisingly when I looked up most of the flagship apps that Apple features on their adverts the feedback was always very negative. The app that divvy’s up restaurant bills had one small bug… it couldn’t DIVIDE! Call me picky, but #AppFail on that one!

As my text usage is 99% international I wanted to find a way of sending texts via the Interweb. I found the solution, although it was a little tricky to setup. There is a better one which only runs on jailbroken phones, but as mine is not one of those, I settled for JellySMS.

It is a straight forward concept. You register an account with Clickatell, give it some credit, then hook up JellySMS to it. It works just as normal SMS would, it even pretends to be your number, so replies come to your phone. This could save a fortune on SMS bills. If you wanted to use your 100 free web texts from O2 (UK only) you can also register it to your O2 account!

There are a few TV guide apps that I like, the best so far is Tioti TX+. It is really easy to navigate and you can even record Sky+ on it. Damn… I was trying to find a reason to bin off my Sky+ and this has just given me a reason to keep it.

I haven’t had too much chance to pay games yet, but I had a quick go on copter (addictive) and Wolfenstein 3D (a blast fromthe past… literally!). Apparently the Tower Defense games are really good too, Field runners especially!

I won’t go into details about every app I have on there, but I will list them and you can feel free to ask questions:

  • The BMW Z4 game (had to be done!)
  • Tweetie (Twitter client)
  • Tweetdeck (another Twitter client)
  • AroundMe
  • Facebook
  • Google Earth
  • Evernote
  • Wimbledon (starts tomorrow)
  • F1 2009 (live stats etc)
  • iPint (really crap, but had to see it)
  • JellySMS
  • Remote (remote control your Mac itunes)
  • Skype
  • AIM
  • Copter
  • Dictionary
  • Dog Whistler (piss off the neighbors dog!)
  • ezShareLite
  • Flashlight (turns screen white… mmm)
  • Google App
  • Ebay
  • Handy Level
  • iTranslate
  • MultiConvert
  • News24
  • Sky News
  • RSS Runner
  • Paper toss (it’a a GAME!!)
  • Nearpics
  • Photobucket
  • Speed Test
  • Swine Flu Detector (dont ask!)
  • Tioti TV+
  • TVGuide
  • Translator
  • Whitenoise
  • GPSLite
  • POI Lite (speed cam alerts)
  • Truphone
  • Weather Maps
  • Wiki How
  • Wolfenstein
  • Sudoku

Blimey, that was quite an extensive list, considering I have only just got the thing. Luckily most of these are really small, so they take up next to no room.

A great feature for me is it is compatible with my iPod kit in my car, as well as the bluetooth phone, meaning it is an all in solution whilst I am in the car… I can take podcasts with me and listen to them as I drive.

I will post more when I have had it for a week or so. I have ordered a leather case for it (a slim, non-offensive one) as it looks to be a bit fragile. I will let you know about that too.

If any of you have one of these iPhones (and you know I know some of you do!), feel free to add your comments about how you got on with it, killer apps you found etc. It seems like it is definitely going to be a fun phone to live with!

Teleport for Mac OSX

Product Reviews No Comments »

I recently discovered a brilliant application for my Mac. It has been around for a long time so I guess I must have been sleeping, but nevertheless I thought I should blog about it.

Teleport is a method of controlling multiple Macs by sharing their desktop out. It does not work in the traditional remote desktop sense, in that you do not get the image of the remote machine on your desktop, but rather your keyboard and mouse *jump* over to the remote machine and you can control it.

image2
This is obviously only useful if you can see the remote machine, if you can’t then there are other more suitable utilities to do the job. This is useful if you have another machine in the room, used for other tasks (video editing, mail, or even Twitter!).

The way it works is you run the utility on the target machine and share out the desktop. You then run it on the client machine and you will see the target machine in the menu. You can then drag it to the edge of your screen (any edge) and then when you move your mouse off the side of the screen it appears on the target machine. Cool!

There are a bunch of settings to prevent you accidentally moving from one machine to another, such as holding the command key while moving the mouse off the edge of the screen.

It really is a cool application and very useful for those of us with multiple macs. It does just what it intends to do and it does it well!

http://abyssoft.com/software/teleport/

Samsung NC10 netbook

General Interest, Product Reviews 3 Comments »

I recently purchased a Samsung NC10 netbook. I chose the Samsung because my main computer is a Macbook Pro and of the handful of netbooks out there this seemed a good candidate for turning into a hackintosh (running OSX on it).samsungnc10

I decided that ideally I would keep the XP functionality just in case, so I am currently dual-booting it with XP/OSX. It took a little messing with to get OSX working fully, but it now works nicely. It is possible to get the in-built wireless card working, but it is a very messy process and the general consensus is just to swap it out with a cheap airport-compatible card, which I did.

The machine itself is really nice. It is a little heavier than some, but that is mainly due to the 6-cell battery it has, over the 3-cell batteries most of its competitors have. This gives the machine around 5-6 hours battery life in XP and 4-5 hours in OSX (the power management in XP is slightly better).

The keyboard is a major selling-point. It is very big in terms of netbook keyboards, over 90% of a full-size keyboard. This means that while it is not easy to touch-type, you can at least type reasonably fast and are less susceptible to mis-keying.

Speed-wise this little machine is pretty good. Boot times are very quick indeed and navigating either operating system seems pretty slick. Obviously this is no gaming platform, and you would not want to render a video on it (the Intel Atom processor is designed for battery life, not performance) but for what it is intended for it is a great little machine.

The OSX functionality is not perfect. I used the instructions from Mysticus C to get it working. It is fairly straight forward actually, once you understand how it works.

Aside from needing to swap out the wireless card the sound drivers are not perfect. There are some hacked ones out there that enable sound, but the in-built microphone is still not fully supported. Hopefully in coming weeks there will be a driver available to support this. The webcam is already supported, so once the mic is working this will be a great little video conf machine. Bluetooth works well, as does the trackpad (complete with multi-touch!).

I intend to end up with a triple-boot system by putting Windows 7 on there too, but the bootloader is slightly different so I need to work out if it will be straight forward or not. My main partition is FAT32, so all the operating systems can access it. I may at some point replace this with NTFS (there is an OSX driver to support it) but I am not sure that will be necessary.

I have only been using the NC10 for a short while, so I will post again once I have got used to it. For now I am very happy with it!

Photoshop vs Fireworks

General Interest, Product Reviews 10 Comments »

Ever since the days of Macromedia I have always used Fireworks for my web design and Photoshop for photo manipulation. Lots of people swear by Photoshop for web design too, yet every time I have tried it I have ended up swearing AT Photoshop instead.

I have compiled some thoughts on both these products, good and bad. These are just my views and experiences but I would like to get your thoughts on it too, as I feel that considering the amount of people using Photoshop for the layout and design of websites I must be missing something somewhere.

Photoshop_vs_Fireworks

Photoshop

As a photo manipulation package you cannot beat Photoshop. I love it, I love working with it, and I actually like the fact that it hasn’t drastically changed version to version. It feels comfortable.

When I turn to web design though, the story changes. I am so used to grabbing hold of my objects on the canvas and dragging them into place, like I was playing with objects on a desk. With Photoshop this task seems to be a bit more complicated. I have to look for my object on the layers toolbar, click on it, then I can drag it. If I want to drag another object out of the way I need to locate that too? There may be a shortcut to this, but I don’t know it.

If you are an organised designer you will name your layers as you go along. This makes Photoshop a LOT more manageable and saved scrolling through pages and pages of the layers lists all called layer1, layer2, layer3 etc.

Photoshop does win in certain web design areas though, such as text. Things like bullet lists can be mocked up quickly and easily. This is not possible in fireworks without an awful lot of messing.

Fireworks

I feel like I am a little biased in that I have been working with Fireworks ever since it was released, and I know it upside down and back to front. I live the way I can drag things around, work with objects as vector entities and knock together a site in half an hour. I don’t use it for generating code, I do that by hand, but as a web graphics tool I love it.

I love the slice tool in Fireworks. It is so easy to use and you have total control over the individual slice. This is not a deal breaker for me, but it works well.

Fireworks has some really useful vector tools. It also has a symbols panel. This is great if you use objects over and over again. Simply convert it into a symbol and add it to the panel. For UI design this is a real time saver and a definite advantage over Photoshop.

Fireworks is not without it’s faults though. On the Mac it seems to decide with the roll of a dice which fonts it is going to use. With Photoshop I activate and deactivate fonts and Photoshop picks that up (upon reload), but in Fireworks it seems to misplace certain fonts and I don’t know why.

Verdict?

After comparing the two I am left with the same view that I had at the beginning. Photoshop seems better for photo manipulation and Fireworks seems better for web design. Why then do so many people swear by Photoshop for web projects? I guess the answer lies in the fact that there are a lot of web designers who have come from a general design background and grown up with Photoshop. If you have taken years to master a tool, why bother to learn another?

I really would like to use Photoshop for web design projects but at the moment I feel it slows me down too much. That may be partly due to the product, but mainly because I am a lot more familiar with Fireworks. The purpose of this post was not to choose one over the other, but just to see why people use what they use and what strengths and weaknesses each product has.

I have only touched the surface with this post. There are a pleathora of options out there, Photoshop, Fireworks, GIMP, Coreldraw, Painshop Pro. Each of them have their own strengths and weaknesses.

What do you use for your web designs, and why?

Twitter

Product Reviews 8 Comments »

Months ago I made a plan to try out different technologies and report my findings. I have been trying Twitter for a little while now and to be honest it’s been a mixed bag.

I have decided to report on this experience by listing the positives and the negatives, rather than write an essay.

The positives

  • Occasionally there will be Tweets from people you don’t hear from often, it’s good to find out what they are up to
  • Certain people report interesting findings on the Internet. Lyndi does this, and it’s great to share the knowledge.
  • Sometimes you hear “breaking news” via a tweet, especially if it’s in a niche sector
  • If someone has a particularly interesting day (or job) it’s good to feel involved in what they are doing

The negatives

  • I really don’t need to know “Phil is eating toast”, really!!!
  • Some people seem to have a Twitter addiction. Every 5 minutes they are Tweeting something… too much!
  • I’m not sure if people feel offended if you don’t like their Tweets and delete them from the friends list?

Conclusion

I think I like Twitter. The positives certainly outweigh the negatives for me. I do think I will have to delete the people that wish to tell me they are eating breakfast, drinking tea or picking their nose! Whether they feel offended, we’ll see!

What is your experience of Twitter? Do you love it or do you hate it?

Kontera affiliate review

Marketing, Product Reviews 4 Comments »

konteralogoI decided a while back that I was going to use this blog as a springboard to try out new technologies and to write about them. I have tried a few and am in the process of experimenting with several others, but I have come to the end of the line with Kontera Affiliates and would like to share my experience.

As you can probably see I do have a small amount of monetization on this blog. Nothing too in your face or things that impede the user experience, but just a small amount which generates the odd click every now and again and puts a few pennies in the pot.

I have other sites that use heavier monetization strategies, but for the purpose of this blog I deliberately kept it light.

In August 2008 I implemented Kontera Affiliate links onto my blog. Kontera scans your content and links certain words in your content to adverts. As well as linking to the advert it also pops up a small advert when you roll over the word. To be honest the implementation is not too bad, although I am still unsure about the popups.

The problem I found is two fold. One, the earnings per click is very very low, in fact I would say lower than I have seen on any other network. The second issue is Kontera seems to have a very weird way of linking things. I would mention something about server speed or similar and it would link to Sun Microsystems. I can assure you most people looking at this blog will not be in the market for direct-purchasing a Sun server!

So, the failings are two fold and for this reason I have pulled the Kontera implementation before I even reached the minimum earnings for withdrawing the cash.

I don’t mind earnings being small, my focus is (and always will be) improving the content, earnings are just a bonus. What I do object to is diluting the quality of the blog by showing visitors adverts they have no interest in and have no relevance to their interests.

I will replace Kontera shortly and see how that goes.

If any of you have experienced Kontera, positively or negatively, I would be interested to hear your experiences.

Freshbooks review – first thoughts

General Interest, Industry News, Product Reviews 13 Comments »

Well I finally did it. After a few weeks of messing around with the free account, I finally signed up for the basic paid package from Freshbooks. There are several reasons for this, which I will get to in a minute, but I wanted to write a concise review of this product, along with comparing it with it’s competitors, so here goes.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty of the features I would like to let you know about the reasons I stood up and took notice of Freshbooks, aside from the very extensive feature set.

Excellent Pre-sales

When I first setup my free account I did a test. I integrated it into the 2Checkout account I have not used in a long time, since a lot of people prefer PayPal. I have since changed my domain name, and so updated my 2Checkout account to reflect this. The problem was, in order for the integration to work I had to provide the Freshbooks url instead, meaning that I couldn’t sell from my site as well. After going round in circles for ages with 2Checkout, eventually one of the Freshbooks team contacted them on my behalf and ironed the situation out! At this point I wasn’t even a paying Freshbooks customer. Now THAT’s service!

Later in the week I was experimenting a little more, and I found that the 2checkout page that takes payment wasn’t as neat as it could be. Mainly this is due to their interface not being the best. Anyway, I posted on the forums and within an hour or so one of the Freshbooks team asked me for a screenshot. I uploaded one and he went and asked the developers. He then came back to me and said they can and will do something to improve this. Again, great service considering I had yet to sign up!

Ok… enough of that, onto the review!

First Impressions

The initial impression of Freshbooks is just how polished it is. The interface is simple and intuitive enough to be called slick, and everything everything is exactly where I would expect it to be. At first it looks almost too simple, but after a bit of playing about you see it is actually very feature rich.

Look and feel

I took the time to customise the look and feel. This consisted of uploading a logo and giving it 3 colours for the menu (the bar, the active tab, and the other tabs). Once I had done this and saved it, the interface was transformed. Even the login screen embraced the new look!

The whole process took just a minute or two. This sounds like a small thing, but I have worked with several other systems that make this sort of thing either impossible or surprisingly difficult.

Ease of use

I can’t fault the system for ease of use. They have done a fine job of selecting the features people want, and implementing them in such a way they are a joy to use. From adding clients, to invoicing is seamless. One of the great selling points for me is being able to provide an estimate, and later take the estimate and turn it into an invoice.

Feature rich

I could go on about this all day, so rather than do that I will simply list some of the features I like most:

  • Recurring Invoices
  • Estimates
  • Automated payment reminders
  • Comprehensive reports
  • Outputting of data
  • Online Payment (PayPal, 2checkout, Authorise.net.. and more!)
  • Custom branding
  • They even deliver snail mail, if you like
  • Time tracking (they even have an OSX desktop widget!)

This product is really quite rich in features, and looking on the forums they are very focused on keeping the features people want and not filling it with crap that just a few people ask for. That said, there is one thing that is in the pipeline that I do very much like the idea of, and that is Google Checkout integration – some people don’t like PayPal, and Google checkout takes less % off the seller. This to me would be a great addition!

Cost

I was going to leave this til last, but it is quite important so I will talk about it now. The basic paid package is $14.95 and includes up to 25 clients and unlimited invoices. This is not bad, and for $10 more you can add another 250 clients… enough for most people, I’m sure you’ll agree. This price point is actually fairly similar to the competition, and of course the free account is great for deciding if you want to sign up for a paid account or not (the free one gives you up to 3 clients).

Comparison

The main competitor in my opinion is Blinksale. Blinksale is an invoicing system but not much else. On the face of it, it does exactly as it says on the tin, and it does it well. It has online payments (PayPal only) and email invoices.

Where the two differ mainly is Blinksale is invoice centric and Freshbooks is client centric. Allow me to explain.

If I am selling we hosting, for example. I will have a silver account. A customer signs up and in blinksale I open up the silver account and add the customer. This sets them on recurring billing and off they go. Simple!

Simple, that is until they come back the next month and say they want another account… ok, back into silver account, try to select the client… can’t… not there… WHAT? This is the crux of the problem for Blinksale, it completely misses my business model.

Freshbooks deals with it in a different way. I set up the products as items and for a new sign-up I select new recurring invoice… select the client, select the product, and away we go… same result, but a whole lot more flexible.

Where Blinksale is different though is they allow unlimited clients on the free account, but a limited number of invoices per month (3). In theory you could remain free longer on Blinksale, providing your billing is spread out throughout the year. That said, $14 is hardly breaking the bank.

Final thoughts

I don’t want this to sound like a party political broadcast for the Freshbooks party (maybe too late?) but my first impressions of this product are great. It is feature rich, easy to use, and has an enthusiastic, professional team working behind the scenes.

I will post in a month or two when it has bedded in. I’m sure there will be niggles along the way, no system is perfect, but for now I am happy.

Signup for a FREE account and try it for yourself