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Sonos S5 - is it the ultimate kitchen radio?

5 min read

[caption id="attachment_682" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="The Sonos S5 fits nicely on your kitchen counter"][/caption]

The Sonos S5 is a compact speaker that delivers more than just music, read on to find out why.

The S5 is a high-performance, all-in-one wireless music system that delivers crystal-clear, room-filling sound. Simply plug it in wherever you want music and enjoy. The 5-driver speaker system is individually powered by 5 dedicated digital amplifiers and includes 2 tweeters, 2 mid-range drivers and 1 subwoofer for high-quality sound that rivals much larger, more complicated audio equipment.
Source: http://www.sonos.com/products/zoneplayers/s5/default.aspx

So how does the Sonos S5 live up to these bold claims made on the Sonos website?
I've owned the S5 for around nine months now and I am thrilled with its performance, from the sound quality right through to the additional music services that compliment your existing music collection.

[caption id="attachment_725" align="alignright" width="300" caption="The Sonos iPad app really is a joy to use. It's free in the App store. An Android app is also available."][/caption]

So how does it work?
In addition to the Sonos S5 you need a device called a "zonebridge" which connects to your router and provides the S5 with the wireless internet access that really shows off the S5 for the magical device it is.

I should come clean now, the Sonos only works work with additional software. In other words you need to install software on your computer, your iOS device or your Android phone. You can also buy the Sonos controller, but that's an expensive remote. However, once you have these installed you have probably the best remote control you will ever have seen. If you have multiple Sonos speakers around the house, you can control them all from the one remote controller. This means you can specify what you can listen to in each "zone" or room.

It only takes about half an hour to get the Sonos up and running - from un-boxing to installing the zonebridge and the sonos software on your PC. While it's not quite plug and play, the effort is worth it as in the future everything can be controlled via the apps.

Getting music "into" your sonos is simply a matter of selecting the music on your computer or selecting an internet radio station. All music is streamed either over the Internet over over your home network.

[caption id="attachment_680" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="The front view of the Sonos S5"][/caption]

So, what makes the Sonos so compelling?

It's not that you can listen to your favourite radio stations and it's not that you can stream your own music collection. What sets it apart is the additional music services that integrate into the Sonos such as my favourite Napster. This is a paid service (£5 per month) that adds significant value to my limited music collection. Many of you will be familiar with Spotify but at £10 a month I do not value it more than Napster (yes I could take my collection on a mobile device, but for the same price I can do that with Napster). Other services includer Last.fm and deezer - both of which offer streaming with limited functionality.  I am a recent convert to Sticher radio and I use that to easily listen to my favourite podcasts.

One of the lesser known functions of the sonos is the ability to input audio, therefore allowing you to plugin your phone, iPod or laptop and use the Sonos as an external speaker. This function works well.

Sound quality.

[caption id="attachment_679" align="alignright" width="300" caption="The rear view of the Sonos S5. This is where the power, headphone and auxiliary ports are located."][/caption]

The Sonos S5 provides good quality sound (as you'd expect from a speaker in this price range) even when streaming lower bit rate tracks. Obviously the better the quality of the digital audio the better it sounds but overall I am very satisfied with this speaker. I am no audiophile but both bass and treble appear to perform well.

 

Conclusion
This post was sparked by the theory that the Sonos S5 could be the ultimate kitchen radio, so is it? I have to say that in my kitchen it most certainly is the daddy of all home music systems. It has reintroduced me to music and I now consider myself to be an avid radio listener. I much prefer powering on the Sonos S5 compared to watching the TV (in the kitchen). The breadth of options that the Sonos S5 brings definitely means that this is superior to the standard FM or DAB radio and the sound quality is superior to our Sony Hi-Fi, therefore making this the ultimate kitchen radio for me.
If you are considering a speaker dock or a wireless speaker system you should gives serious consideration to the Sonos S5, you will not be disappointed.

 

[caption id="attachment_681" align="alignleft" width="255" caption="Not much to note of the side on view, except the nice, clean design."][/caption]

 

 

The Guardian News App

2 min read

The Guardian have recently released an iPhone App [iTunes Link] priced at £2.39 and for this small free they are promising to make news available to you on your iPhone for free.  What's more, the App offers off-line viewing, something that really is worth paying for.

So how does this compare to The Guardian's mobile site?
I have to admit that I was dubious about how good this App could be, given that the mobile site worked very well and The Guardian provide most (if not all) of their stories via RSS, therefore, do we need to spend £2.39.  The short answer is YES!
The UI is pretty and uncomplicated, the product does what it's supposed i.e. serve up news and with off-line reading I can load the paper before I board a flight and read on board.

Pictured below is the home screen which is customisable:

Guardian iPhone App

By scrolling to the bottom of the home screen users are presented with photo galleries and the option to read selected columnists:

The App also provides trends and offers a screen dedicated to the most viewed news stories on The Guardian:

One interesting aspect of the App is that it offers the user the opportunity to listen to the latest Guardian podcasts, right within the App:

Sometimes you might just want to browse more sections and you can do that very easily:

Granted there is nothing really new here, everything that is provided I could have read / listened elsewhere, but isn't that the point? With this App I get it all in one place and The Guardian have made a significant statement: users are prepared to pay to access news.  The challenge for the industry is to replicate this and whether charging for the App and offfering free content there after is sustainable.  At the time of writing The Guardian App was the highest grossing application in the iTunes Store which would suggest a sizeable proportion of iPhone / iPod Touch owners have purchased the App.

I would recommend this App to anyone.

Here is the official Guardian video to promote the App:

What my ideal phone would be like

4 min read

Full disclosure first: I'm an iPhone fanatic.
I've been a mac user for 2 years and I honestly couldn't imagine using anything else now. The link between the iPhone and the Mac is seamless, if hard wired! I can honestly say that the iPhone 3G and now the 3GS are the best phones I've ever owned and used.

However! There are lots of things that annoy me about the iPhone.

1. The OS has taken a long time to get to where it is today and it's still locked down. Why should I have to jailbreak to get functionality that comes as standard on other handsets?
2. While I think Apple are exceptional at what they do, they are also total control freaks, which really annoys me as a consumer. I buy the hardware, I should be able to do what I want with it.
3. I have a love/hate relationship with the App store.
4. In order to backup, I have to sync with iTunes which requires the data cable. This isn't a problem for me as I download lots of podcasts which require syncing via cable.
WAIT hang on, that's another bug bear of mine.
5. The iPod app doesn't wirelessly download your podcasts on the fly. You can download over wifi, but only one at a time. My Nokia N95 was able to do that task.
6. The iPhone should be able to backup and sync over 3G or wifi even if you have to buy MobileMe.
7. The iPhone isn't that easy to use. Trust me, novices will find the entire ordeal troublesome and over complicated. I'm referring to those who only text and make calls on their current handset, of which there are many.
The iPhone essentially requires users to modify their use of a mobile phone and learn to sync their phone to their computer and to interface with the device via desktop software. This is a good thing however, and more people should learn to do this with their existing 'dumb' phones if only to avoid loosing data.

So what exactly is my ideal phone?
Hardware
At least 3.2MP camera - I really do not need more mega-pixels on a phone, but I do want a good sensor. A flash would be handy.
Expandable memory via MicroSD card or suitable alternative.
The size and shape of the iPhone, perfect for my hands and a big enough screen to watch films on the plane/train!
15 hour battery life from constant use. I can recharge at multiple opportunities throughout the day, but 15 hours of constant use is enough to get me through any arduous day or to most destinations.
3.5mm headphone jack.
Touchscreen

OS/Software

I'm getting very excited about Android. As well as being an Apple fanboy, I'm a total Google love child. My life is in constant sync with gmail/calendar/contacts/tasks and therefore Android is just begging to be tried.

Android is now maturing as a platform and being released on many new handsets and is therefore getting more and more support. Developers are going to port iPhone Apps and many developers will choose to develop for Android ahead of other platforms given the potential size of the Android user base. Therefore by having an Android device you will have the widest choice of apps available.

OS X is very nice, but the way Apple control the operating system always leaving me wanting more and therefore I will tire of it very soon.

Windows Mobile 6.5: let's just say that it would take a miracle for me to buy a winmo device - it's just not for me.

Network
A really important consideration for me given my experience on O2. I would ideally buy the handset unlocked for use any network, which would then allow me to buy a suitable 30 day sim only tariff. I would require a network with decent 3G coverage.

To conclude, my ideal phone would be of the hardware spec above running android on either Vodafone or Orange.

Of the handsets currently available I would only be tempted to ditch my iPhone 3GS for the HTC Hero which is a capable handset.

I suspect that my dream device is only around the corner in the shape of the rumoured google phone, but in the mean time I will continue to 'make do' with my 3GS as my ideal phone.

iPhone firmware 2.2

1 min read

Apple have released an update to the iPhone's firmware. This release brings bug fixes and security updates, but has a few interesting surprises.

Number one is the introduction of street view to google maps, which brings the desktop version to the palm of your hand. This does seem to be the best place for it!

After using safari for a couple of days, I can verify that the update has made it much more stable. Thank you apple.

The best part of the update in my opinion, is over the air downloading of podcasts. You can now get podcasts from the iTunes store, delete podcasts from the iPhone and download new episodes, all without having to connect to your computer.

For anyone who previously had jailbroken their phone, relax! You can safely update your phone in iTunes and use the latest version of quickpwn to jailbreak. Order restored :-)

Podcasts I’m listening to

2 min read

Podcasts, those downloadable 'radio' shows, are a great way to broaden your listening tastes.
A podcast is essentially the same as RSS (really simple syndication) which allows users to subscribe to their favourite websites and have feeds delivered directly to their browser or reader of choice (mines
google reader!). So by subscribing to a podcast you are actually subscribing to an alert system, which will tell you when new podcasts are available.

How you do this is a matter of opinion, but I use iTunes which then syncs the podcasts to my iPhone.
So what am I listening to?
TWIT- This Week in Technology, with Leo Laporte.
DGW
- The Daily Giz Wiz with hosts Dick De Bartola and Leo Laporte.
Digital Planet - Weekly round up from the BBC of technology stories from around the world.
Mac Geek Gab - A Mac and Apple podcast featuring tips and reviews.
The Tech Guy - With Leo Laporte. His radio show podcasted.
The Game - A soccer show from The Times newspaper.
Football Weekly - A soccer show from The Guardian newspaper.
National Geographic - Video podcasts (or vodcasts) from the National Geographic.
Channel Flip - Video podcasts featuring product reviews.
Chris Moyles - Like him or loathe him, this podcast is none the less, entertaining.
Mark Kermode - A weekly film review show from BBC Radio 5 Live.
Fighting Talk - A sports quiz show with host Colin Murray.
Macbreak Weekly Leo Laporte and friends discuss Apple news.
Net @ Night - With Amber MacArthur and Leo Laporte who bring you around up technology stories.
The Gadget Detectives - From the Daily Telegraph come a video podcast featuring product reviews.

All of this content is free and while some of it is ad supported, I find them worthwhile listening.

iPhone 3G

9 min read

Before I start, I'd like to point out that this review reflects my own experience after  2 months use and is probably likely to start some serious debate!

First impressions:

Well you can't argue with Apple for their design. It really is a thing of beauty. I was sceptical about its size, but I'll get by. I was really pleased with the device after the first hour of playing with it, it was very easy to use.

9/10



Phone:

Strange to have a category titled phone, but you need that for 'smart' phones. It can be a bit fiddly to call people, but generally easy to use and call clarity seems to be good. I've not had any complaints. The speaker phone is so good that I've yet to pair my bluetooth headset to the iPhone. One thing to be careful about is placing your hand over the mic!
As you'd expect from a mobile these days, phone calls sound clear and the iPhone is no different.

8/10

Texting:

This is where the iPhone starts to show signs of weakness. Read other reviews and they'll highlight the sms threading. Big deal, other phones have had that in the past, including my Nokia's (once you downloaded the app from Nokia) but the iPhone is a very limited text machine. I would not recommend one for those of you who send hundreds of texts per month.

For starters, there is no horizontal view on the sms app, therefore typing is made more difficult given that the qwerty keyboard looks squashed in comparison to typing in safari.
If you want to save a text for later, lets say a booking reference or directions, you're stuffed. Well, ok you don't have to delete it, but finding it will be difficult. For example, if you text your best mate loads (over 100) these texts will be displayed in order, first being at the top, most recent at the bottom. Let's say your mate said "meet me at 101 Nokia Street" at message 32, you will have to scroll all the way through your conversation to find that address. There is no way to delete parts of a conversation and no way to archive certain messages either. You cannot move texts to another folder.

OH AND YOU CAN'T FORWARD A TEXT EITHER, WTF???

Sorry, but this whole "email is better" mentality sucks. Texting is useful and most of us send more texts per month than emails. I personally send about 10 times as many, and I'm not a big texter. The iPhone's SMS app needs an overhaul. It is just too basic. Yes it looks nice, but function would be better in this case. The option to have drafts, save messages, have templates etc are all missing.  Oh, and don't get me started on the lack of cut and paste.

3/10

Email

As poor at communicating via SMS as the iPhone is, the mail.app more than makes up for. I for one will certainly be emailing my friends more often, I have set up gmail to forward to mobile me, therefore I am getting push email. This works well.
One gripe about the mail.app is that I can't seem to save files anywhere. For example, I send myself an email containing a text file, sure I can read it, but where do I save it to? Oh that's right, I can move it to a folder in mail. On the N95 I had a folder called 'docs' where `I simply placed files into for viewing at a later date.

Creating new emails are a breeze, but yet again there is no horizontal keyboard, making typing that little bit harder.

If you get pictures emailed to you, you can with save these to your 'camera roll'.  In other words, open up the photo app and your pics will be saved there.  Why is there not a similar process for documents and pdf's?


The mail.app still scores highly and is only really let down by Apples insistence on restricting access to the file structure.

8/10

Ipod

The dogs dangly bits!

Quite simply the best ipod I have. Sound quality is decent, certainly better than my first gen nano and on a par with my 4th gen ipod. Coverflow scrolling access to albums, itunes music store in your pocket and widescreen video make this an appealing purchase in itself.
I would like to be able to delete podcasts on the move and download new podcasts on the handset, but I will get by. It just means that when I'm away from the house I have to stream the .mp3.

The genius playlist generator also promises a lot.  Basically, say goodbye to the shuffle mode as genius will listen to a song of your choice and then generate a playlist from the songs in your library.  Simple.

Pretty much flawless.

10/10

Safari

Or the internet to the rest of us! For me, this make this device and that says a lot, as safari is as stable as the tenure of most premier league managers i.e. not stable at all.

It is simply, the best mobile phone internet browsing experience around. More or less like using your desktop.

Some of the gripes I have are firstly the stability. A quick google search reveals I'm not alone here. It is suggested that it's memory leakage, so should be addressed by a firmware update. (or not!) Secondly, the bookmarks. Can you move a bookmark into a folder? I can't figure this out, so please tell me!  The only way I've been able to do it, is by doing it on the desktop first and then using mobile me to sync the changes.  Why is this so hard?

No flash. OK, I suppose I'm hoping here, but on sites like the bbc news and sport site you miss out on a lot. Plus these sites scroll quite slowly, and I bet it's because they have flash and the safari browser doesn't perform well on those sorts of sites.

How do you save files? e.g. download and save an mp3 file or a text file or a pdf?  The only way is to jailbreak your iPhone. 

Despite the niggles, this is still the best mobile browser on any handset.

9/10

Camera

I debated whether or not to include this in the review as it's not really a camera, but rather what a digital camera was 10 years ago. Having said that, a camera is of no real benefit to me and I will probably never use it.

Why?

It's pants, can't send MMS, so attaching a pic and emailing it to my mate who doesn't have email access is pointless. There's no spontaneity.

There is no video recording.

Now I know I don't really use camera phones, but they do come in useful once a month, but alas, poor iPhone will be staying in the pocket next time my mate is so drunk that he starts singing!

I'm going to give them 1/10, purely because they did bother to put one in, but as it's so bad they should get a negative. This is a prime example of how new Apple are to the cell phone business. When rivals are pushing 5, 6, 7 and now 8 megapixles, Apple have 2, no flash, no video recording, no optical zoom, can you edit photos on the iPhone? I'm going to assume no as I've been afraid to look.

In case you forgot:

1/10

The app store:

Imagine a place where you could go and buy applications that have been written specifically for your device. Oh wait, this has already been done.

Yes, much has been written about the app store, yes it's good, but come on, I've been buying apps for Nokia's for years now, and god knows how long people have been buying apps for windows mobile devices.

That said, the app store is a welcome addition, especially to those early adopters who bought the original iphone.

The app store itself, works reasonably well. You can buy through itunes on your computer or over wifi on the handset.
It is well priced, with a lot of useful apps available free. There are plenty of games available and Sega have said the iPhone is as powerful as their dreamcast, so expect loads of quality games over the next 12 months.

7/10 - because it's a software shop and that is surely hard to get excited about?

Games

As Steve said at the 'Let's Rock' e
vent, the iphone and ipod touch are great gaming devices, and he's not wrong!  Plenty of free games in the app store such as Labyrinth, Aurora Feint, Brain Tuner, but also some great paid for games such as Crash Bandicoot and Spore.

Some of these games make use of the iPhones accelerometer and this truly is a unique experience.

7/10

OS stability

Well, to be honest I'm getting crashes, not to the same extent the N95 crashed, but still not as stable as I'd like. Safari crashed regularly and some of the apps I've downloaded from the famous app store crash, although the 2.1. update seems to have resolved some of these. Over all, I think it'll be a few firmware releases down the road until we really see the best of 2.X

Other:

It's not really a smartphone or PDA or whatever you want to call it. It's an iPhone which to me means that's it's a communications and entertainment device. I'm not sure the business market will take to it like they have to the blackberry.
Can you edit MS office docs?

O2:

Is it really fair to have such a device tethered to such a poor network?
Let me think about this. I've turned 3g off as it was not working! 2g edge is ok and I do get coverage everywhere, not edge or 3g but at least I can make and receive calls, but coming from three, this just isn't good enough.

I don't really want to talk about O2 in this review, but as it's the only network you can get an iPhone on, I suppose it's worth a mention.

So that's about all I can muster on this early sunday morning, If there is something you disagree with, please post, I'll not get offended. If there is something factually wrong, I'll be delighted to learn what it is, I am after all a novice to the iPhone.

Thanks for reading

Why I bought a mac mini

3 min read

So why did I buy a mac mini?Well quite simply it was the best product that met my requirements, that came within my budget. Apple are not often labelled ‘value for money’, but with the mini they have a great all in one solution for those looking to upgrade their home computing solution. I’ll not go into a detailed review (there are plenty around) but I will state that this is one fine machine.

The mini is my first Apple computer and although I have two ipods, I’ve haven’t been an Apple fan. They always produce products that divide their critics, appear over priced and somewhat arrogant. Take the ipod, for so many the best gadget ever produced, but others complain about the lack of features or that the sound quality doesn’t compare to others such as Sony or Creative. Just check out AV Forums to see user experiences and debate.

I have to confess that I love my ipods. I have a 4th gen 40GB and a 1stgen 2GB nano and both serve me well. I do encode my cd’s at a fairly high bit rate between 256 and 320 to ensure that I get the best out of my digital music. I also have a decent set of headphones.

Back to the mini.
Well for form it’s got it in bucket loads, it really is small, but they haven’t compromised on spec other than an integrated graphics card (but I’m not a pc gamer). I bought it primarily as my home computer / home theatre option.I have it connected to a 32” LCD via DVI and it looks great and subsequently has replaced my DVD player. One of Apples products is called OS X and is arguably their most famous product.OS X is Apples operating system that powers all the computers and even the iphone!I’ve always been a windows man and the change to OS X has been really easy.
When you hear things like ‘it just works’ you often wonder how real that is.Trust me, it’s very real, scarily so, especially when you come from a Microsoft background.The mac worked straight out of the box and detected my
MS wireless keyboard and mouse. On XP I had to install the drivers first! OS X has loads of features and as a former XP user seems to be a massive change, but it’s really intuitive and the you wonder how you lived without them for so long.
Take Front Row, you use your apple remote to navigate your photos, podcasts, music or movies.In a digital world this just makes sense. After I’ve had s few months to play with the mini and OS X I’ll write an update and let you k
now how I’ve got on.