The BBC Rip Off Britain Pop Up Shop opened its doors at the Dudley Merry Hill shopping centre in June and once again I was behind the counter serving up healthy slices of consumer advice on all things technology and telecoms.
Roaming or using your mobile phone abroad was a recurring theme this year as was dealing with nuisance phone calls – in fact I’ve been investigating nuisance call blocker technology for another of this season’s episodes. Among the other items I’ve shot for this series include a film on safe online shopping and another uncovering the ingenuity of online advertising.
This year in Dudley also I ran two public workshops for the show: one on everyday mobile security and safety, revealing how public Wi-Fi hotspots might not be as safe as they seem, and another on how a lock screen passcode still isn’t enough to stop you getting stung if your smartphone gets lost or stolen.
The new series of Rip Off Britain airs on BBC One in September 2014, beginning on Monday the 15th September at 9.15am.
Recently I got an early hands-on with the striking new Nokia Lumia 930 smartphone. Writing for Computer Weekly, here were my first impressions:
This article first appeared in Computer Weekly in July 2014, find the original feature here.
Nokia Lumia 930 Hardware
The Nokia Lumia 930 is a substantial handset in more ways than one. First up, the body: Nokia has adopted a sturdy aluminium unibody for its latest flagship, but has still chosen to decorate its back with the signature polycarbonate – neon green and orange get the Lumia treatment this season, with white and black completing line-up.
The Lumia 930′s Full HD 5-inch OLED screen is striking too: blacks are black, colours pop and despite the high-gloss it repels greasy fingermarks well, remaining readable even in direct sunlight. The bezel is narrow enough, and the curved edges of the scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 3 screen lap onto the handset’s chassis, mirroring the contours on the rear.
The volume rocker, power and camera shutter buttons all sit along one side of the handset. This keeps the aesthetic clean but means that securing the 930 into most after-market car kits will result in one or more buttons being permanently depressed. Form 1, Function 0.
Beneath the vibrant exterior sits a quad-core 2.2 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 chipset, 2 GB RAM and 32 GB storage. While the CPU is last-year’s model it’s certainly no slouch. Despite the missing MicroSD card slot Microsoft now bundles 15 GB of OneDrivecloud storage for free, and 1 TB if you’ve an Office 365 account.
Battery and Wireless Charging
As with other unibody handsets the 930′s battery isn’t removable, although I found the 2420 mAh unit lasted through the day.
Having toyed with wireless charging on the Lumia 920, Nokia once again integrates the feature and this time includes an induction charger in the retail box.
Disappointingly, I found it a bit flaky. On more than one occasion I left the handset atop the charger to find it hadn’t charged the phone. Software bugs need to be ironed out too, with the 930 insisting it was still charging hours after its removal from the charger.
Wireless charging is seen as a panacea by some but until reliability is improved many might still prefer the reassurance of a cable over the questionable convenience of a mat.
Also worth pointing out is that the chassis can get very, very hot on charge or in use.
The Lumia 930 features a terrific 20-megapixel PureView camera which makes shallow depth of field shots look natural without any clunky software processing. Optical image stabilisation, ZEISS 6-lens optics, dual-LED flash and lossless zoom top out the specs, but again the Lumia’s screen steals the show, making pictures pop like a print.
Windows Phone 8.1 is the newest version of Microsoft’s mobile operating system introducing features which many hoped might bring it in line with its competitors.
Action Centre apes the notification bars seen in Android and iOS. A swipe from the top of the screen recalls missed messages, a customisable quick menu and a shortcut to the phone’s main settings. A welcome addition to the operating system.
Swipe-style typing also debuts and, once you’ve the hang of it, is very accurate. However, Cortana, Windows Phone’s answer to Siri, hasn’t made it onto UK handsets yet – expect to see it (her?) on Windows Phones by the end of the year.
Email and Productivity Apps
For many email will be a main driver and Microsoft makes setting up accounts simple. I didn’t get the chance to try the 930 with an Exchange mailbox, but it handled multiple outlook.com, IMAP, Gmail and POP mailboxes with aplomb.
Windows Phone 8 also does some useful things around the concept of the unified inbox. Instead of a single inbox encompassing all configured accounts, individual email accounts can be grouped or ‘linked’ together. This makes it possible to combine work email addresses into one unified inbox and personal accounts into another, each accessible through its own live tile.
The bundled Bing News and Bing Sport apps are intuitive and well designed pulling news from a variety of credible sources. Fundamentally, for a news app to succeed it needs to leave me feeling as if I’ve caught up – these do exactly that, with style, and allow custom feeds too.
Microsoft Office connects you with documents stored on your OneDrive or Office 365 cloud as well as with email attachments. Excel, Powerpoint and Word are well executed apps, although losing what feels like two-thirds of the display to the over-sized on-screen keyboard is a shame.
Windows Phone UI
Microsoft’s spartan UI works hard to differentiate itself from its identikit competitors and, in general, it works well. However, for the sake of productivity I’d prefer to see more actual content on the screen.
A case in point is the official Twitter app – even with the smallest font I can see no more than three or four tweets per screen; similarly, the email app reveals up to six messages before scrolling. At 5 inches and 1920 vertical pixels there’s a lot of screen real estate on the Lumia but the important apps just don’t seem to fill enough of it.
Despite the ’80s-styling on the rear the Nokia Lumia 930 is Windows Phone’s most mature handset to date.
Its productivity credentials are top notch, and OS integration with Microsoft cloud apps and services mean it’s a capable business workhorse as well as a fun down-time device.
All the Windows Phone ecosystem needs now is more apps, and with high-quality handsets such as this they’ll be sure to follow.
Specs at a Glance:
- Screen: 5-inch AMOLED 1920 x 1080 Full HD
- Camera: ZEISS 20-MP PureView
- Chipset: Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 @ 2.2 GHz
- Memory: 2 GB
- Storage: 32 GB (no expansion)
- Operating System: Microsoft Windows Phone 8.1
- Connectivity: LTE, HSPA+, GSM, WCDMA; NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 LE; Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
From free with a £28.00/month contract, or £438.16 SIM-free. Details correct at time of publishing (July 2014).*
First published 22nd July 2014 in Computer Weekly. Articles, features and reviews are reproduced on this site by prior arrangement as samples of my work and remain the property of their respective publishers.
Vorsprung durch Technik. Audi’s celebrated motto translates as Progress through Technology. Funnily enough it’s a vision I relate to.
Over the last few months I’ve been working with Audi on a series of films to showcase just how progressive their technology is.
The Power of Four is one of my favourites. Shot at the MIRA secure vehicle testing facility in Nuneaton we assembled a handful of high-end Audis, an award-winning precision driver and a super slow-motion camera, and drove the cars over treacherous road surfaces to show how quattro all-wheel drive helps when you need it most.
We’ve also just shot a couple of films about the A3 etron and the new Audi TT – I’ll be sure to post those here when they go live.
Hats off to the terrific team at Vertical Productions in London who produce the films for Audi.
You can keep up to date with all of Audi’s latest news by subscribing to the Audi Channel on YouTube.
Here’s what we know about Heartbleed (as of today – it’s a developing story) plus some pointers about what you need to do to protect yourself:
What is the Heartbleed Bug? The Heartbleed Bug (or CVE-2014-0160 to give it its official name) is a vulnerability in OpenSSL, the fundamental bit of code used by as many as 500,000 websites to encrypt the data we send online. The upshot is that sensitive data such as our usernames, passwords and credit card details could potentially have been exposed to hackers. It doesn’t matter what device you’re using to connect to the web – a laptop, Mac, Windows, iPhone or Android – the vulnerability is on the web server that you’re connecting to.
Is it serious? Heartbleed is a serious enough vulnerability that it’s forced website owners all over the world to update, to patch their web servers. And we’re talking about the big players, like Yahoo and its services such as Flickr and Tumblr; some banks and even the FBI’s website are impacted too, an estimated half a million sites in total. Some sites such as Google and Facebook managed to patch their services early on or before the vulnerability was made public, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t vulnerable beforehand. And it’s not just websites that use OpenSSL, it’s email and instant messaging services too.
Who has exploited it? Concerningly, even though the Heartbleed Bug has only just been made public (by researchers at Google and Codenomicon) this vulnerability has been around for a couple of years. Perhaps nobody knew it was there until the last week. Perhaps (and this is speculation) some people did know but, having free access to privileged and sensitive data, chose to keep quiet about it. As it’s difficult to trace if and when the vulnerability has been exploited, we may never know.
What can we do? Some of the knee-jerk advice online has been ‘don’t go to work until you’ve changed all of your passwords’, but that might actually put you at more risk until the affected servers get patched with the fixed version of the OpenSSL code. Good advice is to check whether your service was impacted by the bug - this link on Mashable is pretty comprehensive - and as per the advice change your password only when safe to do so. Whatever you don, don’t use the same password for multiple accounts – consider using a secure password manager to keep track of them all. And, as always, keep a close eye on your bank statements for suspicious transactions.
At the Gadget Show Live 2014 I will be hosting the British Invention of the Year event at the Innovation Theatre, an all-new feature for this year showcasing innovation, invention and the entrepreneur.
On Tuesday 8th April – press day at the Gadget Show Live – I’m hosting the awards event where the GSL British Invention of the Year will be announced.
From Wednesday 9th to Sunday 13th of April I’ll then be presenting two different live shows throughout the Gadget Show Live public days:
The British Inventors’ Project celebrates the UK innovation and startup scene. Having an idea is one thing – a very special thing – but having the meat to go to market with it and convince others to buy in to it is quite something else. Welcome to the world of the inventor. Featuring interviews with inventors and demonstrations of products ranging from wholly indispensable to the slightly strange, this show is a celebration of the very best of British invention.
The Future Tech Project is your chance to see the future before it hits the shelves! Live on the Innovation Theatre stage we’ll be getting a glimpse at the technology that will make a difference to the way we live our lives, showcasing everything from affordable 3D food printers to solar-powered racing cars.
The Innovation Theatre, in partnership with Wired, runs from 9th to 13th April 2014 in Hall 6 of the Gadget Show Live at the NEC Birmingham. Click here to find out more and book tickets for the Gadget Show Live.
Written by David McClelland for o2.co.uk’s The Blue, find the original post here.
Mobile World Congress 2014 has been abuzz with talk of the $25 Firefox Phone, but just what is it and who will want one?
Many will know Mozilla Firefox as a popular and powerful open-source web browser for PC, Mac and Android smartphones.
With more of what we do every day taking place through the web — email, word processing and even gaming — it stands to reason that a web browser on its own might make a solid platform for an operating system. Just ask Google, whose Chromebook laptops run nothing more than the Google Chrome web browser yet accounted for 2 of the 3 best selling laptops at Amazon last Christmas and 20% of all notebooks sold in the US last year.
Firefox OS then is a fully-featured free operating system for mobile phones, tablets and even televisions complete with its own app store.
At Mobile World Congress this year there were several announcements from Mozilla, the not-for-profit organisation which develops Firefox, including availability of 7 new handsets running the Firefox OS.
At the moment the operating system is predominantly used in smartphones destined for developing markets such as India and Africa, seen as a potential upgrade path from the less-functional ‘feature phones’. Aside from the commercial lure for handset manufacturers to expand their business into countries not already saturated by smartphones, affordable devices such as those running Firefox OS can be enablers for individuals, providing easier access to online resources such as banking, learning and retail.
Among the new handsets announced this week is the ZTE Open II. A budget smartphone running the latest version 1.3 of Firefox OS it sports a 3.5-inch display, 1.2 GHz dual core processor, 2 megapixel camera and 256 MB of storage. Paltry specifications in comparison even to low end smartphones in maturer markets but, at the right price, it’s an affordable and attractive upgrade from a candy bar feature phone in many countries.
The so-called $25 Firefox Phone unveiled this week is another developing market device, although it won’t be available quite yet. Mozilla has, in collaboration with a mobile chipset supplier Spreadtrum, shown a prototype handset which it claims manufacturers will be able to build and retail for as little as $25. That’s right, just £15 for a smartphone.
Again, the specifications aren’t great — on your 15 quid phone you won’t even be able to download data over 3G networks, but as a relative experience it’s significantly better than the handsets they’re set to replace.
While it’s unlikely we’ll see a £15 Firefox Phone making a splash in the UK any time soon, other handsets running Firefox OS have been a hit closer to home, particularly in some Eastern European countries. And thanks to a partnership with Mozilla, Firefox OS is now set to power a new range of smart TVs from Panasonic Corporation — if only they could cost as little as £15… ^DM
First published 27th February 2014 on 02.co.uk. Articles, features and reviews are reproduced on this site by prior arrangement as samples of my work and remain the property of their respective publishers.
For the last two series of BBC One’s Consumer Affairs show Rip Off Britain I’ve appeared as the Telecoms and Technology Expert primarily offering hints and advice to the millions of mobile phone users in the UK.
This week sees the second season of its successful spin-off show, Rip Off Britain: Holidays, and once again I’m delighted to be on hand to help.
With Britain in the grip of one of the wettest and windiest winters in a generation our thoughts naturally turn to an escape abroad to warmer and sunnier climes.
However, in an increasingly connected society, among the challenges of travelling abroad is how safely to use your mobile phone without getting a nasty surprise from an unexpectedly large bill upon your return home – so-called ‘bill shock’.
This is just a short iPlayer excerpt from a longer item, to see the full shows visit the Rip Off Britain website.
The BBC has also published a downloadable guide featuring my handy hints for taking your mobile abroad which you can download here.
Rip Off Britain: Holidays broadcasts on BBC One at 11am each day from Monday 6th to Friday 10th January 2014, repeated the following weekday on BBC Two at 7am.
With head mounted displays such as Google Glass augmenting spectators’ viewing experiences off the field, and sportsmen and women on the field sporting connected shoes, belts and even gumshields, wearable technology is at the very heart of this sporting revolution.
Fast Forward from O2 Guru TV explores future technology and trends; in previous episodes I’ve been hands on with Oculus Rift for a Next Generation Gaming Special, visited the world’s largest 3D printer store for Future of 3D Special and visited the future at the Future Technology Zone at The Gadget Show Live.
To keep up to date with the latest technology news and features subscribe to O2 Guru TV.