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Reading Comics on the iPhone/iPad

April 4, 2010

It’s been years since I last read comics but have just started doing so again thanks to a couple of iPhone apps. I’ve always enjoyed comics since I was a kid, but as I got older I stopped doing so mainly because going to the store (the nearest decent one is 15 miles away) became a chore. I started to order online but eventually gave up on that due to it not having the instant gratification of picking up a new issue and reading straight away.

A few days ago I noticed that Marvel had released their own app for the iPhone so I downloaded it. I was a bit sceptical of how it would look on a small screen but they have plenty of free issues to try it out with. They have done an excellent job with the transfer, text is easy to read and navigating the pages/panels is a joy with slick smooth transitions.

The online store within the app is also easy to use and purchases are done “in app” through your iTunes account. There are some nice touches too like push notifications when new episodes of a particular series get released.

Since downloading the app I’ve noticed another one called Comics, by ComiXology. It has the exact same interface, the store and all settings look the same but it has the advantage of not only selling Marvel comics but lots of other publishers too. From what I can tell, the comixology app was released well before the Marvel one. So have Marvel ripped off the UI etc or struck up a deal with them. Either way I’ll probably be using the Comixology app from now on. The prices for Marvel releases are the same at £1.19 plus it has access to many more publishers, most of which sell their issues for 59p

Now I just can’t wait until the end of April when the iPad gets releases in the UK, comics on a portable device is not something I had thought about until now, but with that larger screen the artwork will look amazing.

— Post From My iPhone

Mac Mini to replace an Apple TV (part 2)

February 20, 2010

I’ve had the Mac Mini for a week now so it’s time to share my opinion of it as a media centre replacement for the Apple TV, on the whole it’s all very positive but there are a aspects of it where the Apple TV wins over the Mini depending on the type of person you are. Because of this I’ll try to write this review from two points of view where necessary, that of someone who it familiar with computers and Macs and does’t mind things not being ultra simple. And that of someone just wanting the simplest way to watch downloaded movies/TV/music on their TV.

What’s in the box and cost

With the Apple TV you get the device itself, a power cable and an Apple remote, the only other thing you need is an HDMI cable. The device costs£223, plus £10 for a reasonably priced HDMI cable, total cost £233. Now bear in mind that on top of this you will need a computer close enough to the Apple TV that you can connect the two via an ethernet cable, or a wireless network, and I would highly recommend that it’s wireless N otherwise transferring media onto the device is painfully slow.

With the Mac Mini you get the device, power supply and a mini displayport to DVI adapter. On top of this you will also need a keyboard, mouse, DVI to DVI/HDMI cable and sound system. Some have said that with certain TV’s the mini displayport will carry audio through a HDMI cable to the TV but that wasn’t the case for my set up so I can’t comment on if it works or not, or which TV’s it works with. The cheapest Mac Mini costs £510, plus £55 for the wireless Magic Mouse, plus £56 for a wireless keyboard and £25 for a DVI to HDMI cable, you could also add £15 for an Apple Remote if you want one. Total cost £661. You will also need speakers and an amp on top of that but I won’t include it in the cost because you could use anything from a £10 pair of computer speakers up to a few thousand for a 5.1 sound system. If you need all the accessories and don’t already have a keyboard, mouse etc. the cost is nearly three times as much as the Apple TV, but bear in mind that this is a computer, so you won’t need an additional one.

Functionality

The Apple TV gets all it’s media by syncing with iTunes, just like an iPhone or iPod. This means that if iTunes won’t play it then neither will the Apple TV, unless you patch it with modified software, but this is unofficial and can be buggy so I’m not going to cover that here. So no viewing AVI, MPG, FLV etc. if you have already used iTunes you’ll already be aware of what it can and can’t play. For anyone that uses iTunes to organise all their media then this won’t be a problem and I was quite happy with the Apple TV for nearly a year. As well as media that is synced over from your computer you can also access YouTube from the built in application, purchase and download movies and TV shows and also rent movies, all this is accessed using just the Apple remote.

The Mac Mini on the other hand can play nearly anything you throw at it, if a Mac can play it then so can the mini. You arent restricted to just content that iTunes can play, it will play all video and audio formats plus you have the advantage of streaming from other services too, such as BBC iPlayer, Hulu if you are in the U.S. and the recently launched SeeSaw. And it’s not just for watching pre recorded content, plug in a TV card and you can also watch/record live TV. The Mac Mini is a much more versatile device compared to the Apple TV and this is the main reason that I bought one. Also you aren’t restricted by hard drive size. The Apple TV comes with a 160GB drive and that’s all you can have, unless you modify the software like I mentioned earlier. With the Mac Mini you can plug in as many external hard drives as you like. I currently have my iTunes library stored on a 1TB external drive, that’s storing all my movies and TV shows but not music as I don’t used iTunes for that. This brings up another point, I don’t have any music in my iTunes library any more because I listen all music via Spotify, this is another thing that the Apple TV can’t do but the Mini can.

Usability

Now this is where the Apple TV really shines. Navigation the interface with the Apple Remote is so easy or you could use the iPhone/iPod Touch remote app, sit back, relax and browse through your collection for something to watch, or pop onto the iTunes store and look for something new, maybe watch a few trailers and buy or rent a movie. It’s so easy and enjoyable, I could easily pass an hour just looking round the store and watching trailers, time slips away, it’s a very easy and pleasurable experience. Before I got the Apple TV I hardly ever bought downloadable content, now most of my movies are bought or rented this way. It even makes piracy a hassle, no sitting at your computer having to look for a decent source with a reasonable amount of seeds, reading through all the comments to see what people are saying about the quality and if there are no comments then just hoping that it will be of a decent quality. Then waiting for half an hour to a few hours for it to download. Instead you sit back, relax, browse through the iTunes store, choose a film, select rent or buy, then 30 seconds later you can start watching it. It’s so simple and time saving.

The Mac Mini on the other hand isn’t as simple because you don’t have just one remote and interface to control everything, well you could do it all from an iPhone or iPod Touch using the remote app and an app like TouchMouse by Logitech both of which are free, but it isn’t ideal. Most of the time you will be controlling it via keyboard and mouse. There are multiple different media centre apps for mac, Front Row which comes as part of the OS, Boxee and XBMC but neither of them is perfect, they all have their pros and cons so I’ve just settled with Front Row for now. For some people like myself this is not a problem and a small price to pay for having a much more capable and versatile media device. For others, especially those that don’t like or aren t too familiar with computers this could be a huge downside. The difference in usability between the Apple TV and the Mac Mini is like night and day.

Conclusion

I haven’t really got a final conclusion on which one is best, for me using the Mac Mini as an alternative to an Apple TV is a huge upgrade and one that I’m glad I made, I wish I had done it earlier. For others the simplicity of the Apple TV and the ability to get away from a computer interface maybe just what they need. Both are great media devices and if it wasn’t for the Apple TV I probably wouldn’t have the Mac Mini now, it completely changed the way I purchase, rent and watch Movies/TV Shows.

Mac Mini to replace an Apple TV (part 1)

February 13, 2010

I’ve had an Apple TV for nearly a year now and as much as it’s one of the best home media devices I’ve ever bought (it has completely changed the way I watch films and TV) I do find it quite limiting. I’ve been toying with the idea of replacing it for a few months, and today I finally took the plunge. I opted for the cheapest model, the 160GB hard drive version, even the largest 500GB model would only just be enough for my current media collection, I would still need to connect an external hard drive in the near future, so I decided it would be best to buy the smaller capacity one now, plug in the 500GB external drive that I already have and put the savings towards a 1 or 2 TB drive in a few months.

I’ve only just set it up today so can’t yet comment on how well it works compared to the Apple TV, that will come in Part 2 next week. For now I’ll just mention the set up, which was straight forward. I bought the Mac Mini, a wireless keyboard and a belkin DVI to HDMI cable, I already have a Magic Mouse and was assured that that’s all I needed, other than a sound system because the DVI only carries video. I was a bit concerned about setting it up with all wireless peripherals as I’d read somewhere that a wired keyboard was needed for the initial set up. I was assured buy the Apple sales assistant that I had nothing to worry about and I didn’t, setup was flawless, it even detected the correct resolution for the TV, this had been another concern as I’d seen reports of the screen being shifted over to one side when connecting a Mac Mini to a TV via HDMI. Keyboard, mouse, TV and remote were all detected straight away and I was up and running within minutes of first booting it up.

So far it’s working well, got most of my media copied to iTunes on the external hard drive, live TV and PVR using and Eye-TV DTT deluxe is set up, and I’m relaxing in front of the TV typing this post on it while listening to Spotify playing in the background. Not much else to say at this point other than it was so simple to set up. I’ll report back in a week and comment on usability compared with the Apple TV.

Novatel 2352 MiFi Vs. Huawei E5830

February 10, 2010

I’ve been using a Huawei E5830 MiFi unit for a while now and as much as it’s a great little device it does have a few problems that niggle me. The main two are lack of WEP security for the WiFi connection and no Mac software. The unit has to be configured via that software that comes loaded on it and this is PC only, once configured using a PC the Huawei works fine with the Mac over WiFi, but should I need to make any changes to the settings I need to find a PC to do it. Now most of the time this isn’t a big deal, but the lack of WEP security adds to this problem and here’s why. If I want to connect my Nintendo DS to the unit I have to reconfigure the WiFi to be “open” because the DS doesn’t support any type of security other than WEP, this means booting up my netbook, changing the MiFi settings to “open”, play with the DS online then change the settings back to secure once I’ve finished, and if I’m nowhere near a PC then this becomes impossible to do, it’s either that or leave the MiFI open all the time, which I’m not prepared to do for obvious reasons. So I got a Novatel MiFi 2352 to see if it was any better.

Unlike the Huawei the Novatel does support WEP encryption and uses a web interface to configure the unit (just like most home broadband routers do). This means that it can be configured from any WiFi device with a browser, so settings can be changed from any PC, Mac or even a mobile phone. This alone is a HUGE advantage over the Huawei. The WiFi security settings come with 3 profiles, open which has no security, secure which can be set up however you want and temporary which is set to WEP. Most of the time I have security set to WPA2, but when I want to play an online DS game it only takes a minute to log into the device from any web browser, switch the profile from WPA2 to either open or temporary and I can play online.

Both the Huawei and the Novatel come with a Micro SD card slot, this shows up as a mass storage device when connected to a computer. The advantage of the Novatel is that it is also accessible wirelessly and it can be set up with a shared folder, so anyone using the MiFi network can access the files on the SD card. I must point out that I have never tried this as I don’t have a spare micro SD card, but this is how it should work.

Both units should be able to work tethered to a computer via the supplied USB cable. For the Huawei this was straight forward using a PC. You plug the device in, install the preloaded software, configure it and you’re good to go. That wasn’t the case with the Novatel, I failed to get it working on both Mac and PC. On the Mac I installed the drivers but they failed to show up in System Prefrences – Network. With the PC I plugged it in, the computer recognised a device and started to install the drivers then failed, I was running Windows 7 on the PC and Snow Leopard on the Mac. I didn’t look into the problems any further because I have no intention of using it tethered so didn’t want to waste any time, I just thought it was worth mentioning.  This does bring up another small problem with the Novatel, if you plug it into your computer via USB to charge the unit, it disables the WiFi and as I couldn’t get it set up to work via USB the device becomes useless. There are a few solutions to this problem. WiFi is disabled on the Novatel as soon as it detects a data conection via the USB port so you can either use a power only cable, or split the outer cable open and cut the two data wires inside, I think it’s the white and green ones. But the easiest solution is to use any USB cable, but when plugging it into the computer, only plug it in half way. If you look at a USB connector you will notice that the two outer prongs are longer than the inner two, these outer ones are for the power. So by only plugging it in part way the power connectors make contact but the two data ones don’t.

I’m now using the Novatel MiFi as my main mobile broadband device and keeping the Huawei as a backup. The lack of a web interface, Mac software and WEP on the Huawei is too much of a disadvantage for me.

The iPad has HUGE potential…. an example.

January 30, 2010
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Most of the backlash over the iPad is regarding it’s lack of Flash, no multitasking and its looks. For those reasons they say that it will fail and that it isn’t a replacement for a netbook or laptop. For me it will replace a netbook for others it won’t, but what about its potential as a completely different category of technology, it has huge potential for every walk of life if only you look at what it can do and not focus on what it can’t.

Here’s just one example

Middle aged couple. Wake up in the morning and read the daily paper on the device while having breakfast, quick look at the weather report and check email. Receive an email from their son/daughter with photos of their grandkids and save the photos to the photo gallery. One of them has a look through a recipe book or recipe online and spots something nice for their evening meal. They decide to go shopping so put the iPad in a dock in the living room. Come back from shopping and turn on the iPad to listen to some music via speakers plugged into the doc, activate the slideshow and it’s now a 9″ photoframe displaying the photos that were received in the email that morning. Later on one of them is watching tv so the other decides to do a crossword on the iPad. It’s late afternoon by now and they are both getting hungry so the ipad goes into the kitchen while a meal is being prepared using the recipe that was found on it earlier that day. Later that night they go to bed, one falls asleep while the other is reading a book on it.

That is a perfect example of how it could be used by an average person who has no need for it as a laptop replacement. Not only that but in that scenario it’s been used at its very basic, no additional software other than the crossword app, and it hasn’t even left the house. Add in the wealth of apps already available and its ability to be used at home, work, school, on the road etc. and this opens up the device to be used in thousands of different ways by anybody of any age group.

Yes the iPad does have a few drawbacks and a few things that I would like to be different. But no product it ever going to be 100% perfect for everyone. It is what it is, so don’t focus on the negative (all too common in today’s society especially on the Internet) and focus on the things that it can do… its potential to be huge far outweigh its potential to be a failure.

Could the iPad finally kill off Adobe Flash?

January 28, 2010

Do we need Flash on the Internet in 2010, simple answer is NO! It’s an ancient web technology that should have died a death a long time ago, there are much better options, it just needs web developers to learn how to use them.

One of the biggest users of Flash, YouTube has now started trials of a beta site using HTML5, if they can do it everyone can. Most of it’s uses are not needed anyway, adverts created in Flash? No need for them and they can be annoying.

Now if the iPad takes off in a big way I do believe it could bring about the death of Flash. When the iPod Touch and iPhone were first released it was touted as having the full web experience in your pocket, and it could view and render web sites in exactly the same layout as on a full sized computer or laptop. But still people rushed out and created “mobile optimized” versions of their site. Why? simple, viewing and navigating a fully rendered version of a web site on such a small screen is doable, but a mobile optimized version can be much more pleasurable.

Now if the iPad can have the same effect it will be even easier for web developers this time. No having to create a custom version, all they have to do is remove elements that the iPad refuses to display… FLASH!!

For most sites out there there are 10 others that provide the same information. If enough iPad’s are sold and people can’t view your site correctly because of Flash they ‘will’ go elsewhere, the user has the option of which sites the visit, the site owner has to attract them to theirs.

This could be the push that has been needed for a long time to truly rid the Internet of Flash… well that’s what I’m hoping, only time will tell.

My opinion of the iPad, will I get one?

January 28, 2010
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Straight after watching the live blogging of the Apple event my answer would have been most definitely NO!!! I didn’t like the screens aspect ratio and was hoping for a modified full blown version of Snow Leopard, not the iPhone OS. But now after weighing up the pros and cons of the device I will more than likely get one as soon as it’s released over here.

Sow what’s changed my mind? Well if I was to get an iPad it would be to replace my NetBook, that’s why I was wanting it to run a true “full” OS. But what do I do on my netbook, well I go on the Internet, email and… that’s about it really because for anything else a netbook is pretty shit. I’ve edited photos and video on it before, watched movies etc but it’s not an enjoyable experience, in fact at times it can be downright frustrating. And I think most people probably use their netbook much the same, just Internet and email, social networks etc.

I really do think that the ipad is Apples version of a netbook, it’s portable, lightweight and cheap (by apples standards) I rarely use my netbook these days, waiting for it to boot up, wait for the browser to load etc. I can get to the site I want to on my iPhone and be reading it before the netbook has finished booting up… and that is what I need, instant on with a larger display than the iPhone, the iPad has nailed my needs with just the browser. Then there’s all the other things, photo viewer, ebook reader….. I really hope they release an iPhone version of that that keeps books in sync like the kindle does, and the wealth of apps already out there in the store that I bought for the iPhone and will work on the iPad.

I’m sold on the idea now as a netbook replacement, so come UK launch day I’ll have one ordered. That is unless something about it changes my mind once the US public get their hands on it a few months earlier.