Why I switched from Apple iPhone to HTC One Android.

I’ve been an Apple customer for a very long time. I still am ‘that guy’ who harps on about Mac OS X at every available opportunity. But iOS, the operating system at the heart of every iPhone, is something quite different to that which keeps the Mac ahead of the other desktop operating systems; and that’s why this week I switched to Android.

HTC-ProductDetail-Hero-slide-04There are a million and one reasons to stick with iPhone once you’re already hooked into the iCloud ecosystem. Everything, as they say, ‘just works’. On top of that the iPhone 5’s styling is textbook Jonathan Ive; Apple’s British-born design guru who Steve Jobs called his righthand-man.

But while iPhone users have spent the last few years patting themselves on the back for not only having the nicest looking phones on the market, but the first truly smart-phones in the world, Google powered devices have been slowly but surely evolving from ‘me too’ cheap copies of the iPhone, into a whole new class of device; which with the arrival of the HTC One sees the whole Post-PC concept, first begun by Apple, taken into a radically new direction.

Upon the first arrival of the Android OS, it was true to say that most of the devices which ran it only succeeded because of how many iPhone-like functions they mimicked, but at a lower price-point. It’s easy to forget how many of the now commonplace functions of a mobile phone simply didn’t exist before Apple entered the market. But as a consequence of the corner-cutting which earlier Android powered devices had to take to keep costs and lawsuits down to a minimum, many of them merely looked on in awe at the iPhone, despite that on paper many had faster processors, bigger clearer screens, and higher resolution cameras. The weak link was the OS itself, and the image problem it gave devices that simply didn’t have that famous Apple finishing touch. Users who fell for the impressive specs while being given the sales-pitch in the showroom, soon found that after spending real time with their handset, something wasn’t quite right.

Well, I’ve lived with my HTC One for just over four days now, and I can’t begin to explain how impressively it does away with the notion that non-iOS powered smartphones are forever playing catch-up to Apple when it comes to the finer details. Those days, simply put, are well and truly over.

My old iPhone was the original model 4 — the 4S came along about 6 months into my previous contract with Three Mobile here in the UK˙; and if I’d switched-up to the iPhone 5 before the end of the contract it would have cost quite a lot of money. So since the regular iPhone 4 still ran the latest version of iOS — at least, that is, it claimed to — I settled myself with the belief that, once it came time to renew my contract and take out a new device, Apple would have come up with something to keep me happy in the intervening months; it was just a matter of waiting.

But then I started to think about what was really going on. It’s true that the iPhone 4 simply wasn’t powerful enough to run most apps properly. Back in the days when the desktop PC was the main portal through which most people accessed the internet, we were used to the notion of a computer becoming obsolete after 3 or 4 years — such was the pace of development in the sound, graphics and general processing which was happening in the PC space at that time.

But, once the notion of the post-PC device took ahold, the time it took for new devices to become old news increased dramatically. My iPhone 4 was less than 1 year old when it first started to randomly crash and run even very basic apps at a snail’s pace. Even the ubiquitous Apple Apps Store would become so unresponsive, simply by attempting to scroll through the selection of available apps, I began to contemplate an unnerving thought; and the uneasy feeling that Apple had deliberately included some unnecessarily processor hungry bits of code, just to leave users of older handsets feeling inadequate, solidified itself in my mind with the release of Siri; the voice command software which refused to run on the iPhone 4, even though the company who originally produced it had an earlier version running happily on the much slower iPhone 3.

While there’s nothing new about electronics manufacturers purposefully producing devices designed to fail, on the gambit that loyal users will simply upgrade to the latest hardware to run the latest software, the fact that this flies in the face of everything Apple were supposed to be about, leaves those of us who go all the way back to the mid-1990’s with Apple, feeling as if they’ve become the very thing they once stood sharply against, now that they are one of the world’s most profitable companies. “Think different” was never supposed to be an excuse to charge more for less; but that’s precisely the mantra Apple’s iPhone devision seems to have embraced in recent times; for shame.

Current iPhone users, who intend to upgrade to another iPhone within the next few months, should consider the following. Just one hour into using my HTC One, I’d…

• Installed a third party app without jailbreaking the device
• Downloaded a bunch of ringtones and alerts without having to open iTunes, stand on one leg, and whistle Dixie
• Switched the default browser to Chrome
• Re-installed every app which I’d previously used on the iPhone, without having to hand over my credit card details first
• Programmed the HTC One to be a remote control for my TV, Home Theatre System, and a time-shift scheduler for my PVR
• Dragged and dropped the music I want to listen to directly from the desktop without having to take a university degree course in using iTunes
• and — shock horror — I used it to make an actual phone call, and was able to hear everything the person on the other end was saying as well as they could hear me!

Listening to the Beats Audio sound system is a really weird (in a good way) experience. It’s like sitting in front of a decent home HiFi stereo speaker set-up twice the size of the phone itself. The pseudo-surround-sound software really works very well and the stereo spread is lifelike and focused, only starting to distort when you get into the ‘too loud anyway’ volume range.

The 4.7 inch 1080p display is bright and focused. It handles full HD video very easily, with no fragmentation or ripping. Every time I pick up the device, I’m as impressed all over again as the first time I switched it on by how sharp and slick looking the display is.

The case is made from robust materials which make the handset feel substantial. It’s not so thin you’d find yourself checking your pocket when out and about, to make sure you hadn’t dropped it — a common problem with the flyaway light iPhone 5.

The whole thing is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon Quadcore chip, running at 1.7GHz with 2GB of RAM. I’m old enough to remember when these were the sort of specifications desktop PC users drooled over, in anticipation of running the latest shoot-em-up video game. Not that pumping that sort of power into a mobile device necessarily means the software is capable of utilising it. Specs are vanity but software is reality, and many handhelds which boast impressive numbers fall short of delivering the sort of balances system performance which Apple perfected on the Mac and transferred to the iPhone. But, unlike previous Android powered phones, HTC have harnessed the full power of the hardware to compliment beautifully Android’s Open Source heritage — letting loose some genuinely jaw-dropping bells, whistles and impress the hell out of your friends gadgets and gizmos.

The camera, for example, is everything you’d want from a dedicated mid-priced point-and-shoot compact. As a pro-camera, I’ve been using a Canon EOS 300D for the past 10 years, but the HTC One actually performs way better in low-light. The full resolution HD video capture, which the DSLR doesn’t even do, much less at 60 frames per second, is truly staggering; and the neat slow-motion mode, which at first might seem gimmicky, actually adds a level of creativity I can imagine coming in super-useful when shooting sporting events, and other things which might happen quickly, but which the viewer wants to study later in better detail. This all adds up to actually inspiring me to go-back to my hobby of photography after a long time away, after becoming disillusioned with the flat-by-comparison performance of my other dedicated point and shoot, a Canon G10 — which at the time cost me nearly £400, doesn’t support full frame HD video and doesn’t exactly slip into the pocket.

Then there’s the photo software. HTC have made a smart move in concentrating on how the image is processed, rather than simply throwing megapixels at the ubiquitous problem of how much light it’s possible to get into a lens with a small surface area — the HTC One having just a 25mm aperture.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the same scene, one with low-light no-flash, and one with standard settings auto-flash, between the iPhone 4 and the HTC One:

iPhone with flash.  This is not a post-process effect, it really is that washed out.

iPhone with flash. This is not a post-process effect, it really is that washed out.

iPhone, no flash.  No option for low-light mode.

iPhone, no flash. No option for low-light mode.

HTC One with Flash

HTC One with Flash

HTC One without flash, on Standard Low-Light Setting

HTC One without flash, on Standard Low-Light Setting

In both cases, getting these photographs out of the two devices wasn’t easy. The HTC One Sync software works as well on the Mac as I suspect it would on Windows, but it wasn’t as Drag-and-Drop simple as it should be. But what you gain in fast loading times, and access to the whole Android file system, is a trade off against the rather clunky way of having to wait for the software to Sync the contents of the phone with the Sync folder on the computer. Having said that, when compared to the way the process is handled by the iPhone — insisting as it does on performing the whole thing via the slow, buggy and downright horrible iPhoto software — there is no comparison. In the time it’s taken me to write this entire paragraph iPhoto is still ‘thinking’ about what to do next, just to grab two photographs. Someone should tell Apple it’s 2013, and iLife as a whole desperately needs a make-over.

To be fair to iOS, there are some things which Android doesn’t do, which the iPhone thinks nothing of. Again, this is a spit and polish, finishing touches ‘thing’, which will no-doubt be fixed over time. For example, if you want to place a shortcut icon in the Dock at the base of the screen, you have to open the Icon View of all your apps, and long-hold, drag and drop, rather than simply being able to do it from the Home Screen. Similarly, there is discrepant behaviour in removing icons from the Dock as opposed to moving them from the regular Home Screen; for example, if you long-hold an icon in the Home Screen, you get two options — one to edit the app’s details, and one to remove it from the Home Screen. But if you do the same from the Dock, the only option is to uninstall the app. Why these three different options can’t be available from no matter where you long-hold the icon you want to move is a mystery to me.

Similarly, you’re limited to having only 5 left to right sweeping Home Screen panels, which soon fill up when you include a few Widgets — and for some again mysterious reason it isn’t possible to change the order of these panels simply by moving them around in the Edit Widgets screen — something made to seem even more unusual by nature of the fact you can actually long-hold on these panes, and move them around, despite that this doesn’t actually do anything to change the order in which they appear on the Home Screen.

One thing which is a vast improvement to the way iOS handles a similar operation is the long-hold Home button function, which on the iPhone launches Siri, and on the HTC One instantly switches to Google Now — Google’s latest way of presenting location aware content on useful ‘cards’, which are populated with relevant information about your interests and local services. This is a feature Google have only recently rolled out, and it seems set to become the main way in which voice-commands and at-a-glance information are accessed via Android powered devices.

While not all of these services are as-yet up and running, the HTC One already handles speech recognition much quicker and more accurately than Siri on the iPhone 5. With two clicks you can be Googling anything at all, without physically typing a single word — and while it lacks the occasionally quirky artificial intelligence of Siri, the speed with which data is transferred and displayed is very impressive, and the actual voice recognition software seems to play a lot better with regional British dialects like my strong Northern accent; whereas Siri sometimes demands that we adopt an American accent to be properly understood.

While it shouldn’t come as a shock that Google knows a lot about search, and processing complex data in an almost magically short timeframe (that is after all the number one reason why Google are who they are) Apple’s Siri is noticeably slower and less accurate in this area — although it is only fair to point out the comparison I’m using here is based upon my experience of Siri on a friend’s iPhone 5, and I didn’t personally use Siri day-to-day on my previous iPhone when for a few weeks last year I ran the Cydia jailbreak.

Summary Cons:
There are three of four ways to do something in Android and only one of them is useful. The included headphones feel absolutely horrible and sound even worse; and unless they’re plugged in the built-in FM radio doesn’t work at all. TV Tuner software feels unfinished, although the programmable remote control with built-in IR receiver is a really nice idea.

Summary Pros:
Ridiculously pretty, bright and focused screen with great colour separation. Very nice video and stills camera. Super fast multitasking processor; no waiting for even very intensive tasks. Seamless Google integration, with voice commands way more polished and accurate than Siri for iPhone.


Decrescent USB to HDMI converter on Mac OS X

Just took delivery of a Decrescent USB to HDMI converter box, from amazon.co.uk. Here’s a quick review.

One of the things Mac users pretty quickly learn to get used to, is the failure of European distributors of USB widgets and gizmos manufactured in China, to mention that the said device also works perfectly well under Mac OS X if you download the appropriate driver. So I was happy to see in the description for this USB to HDMI converter that it was indeed OS X compatible, and that the installation CD ROM included Mac software.

Sadly the CD ROM disc which shipped with the device was the mini style half-sized type, of the kind the music industry used to (and may well still) use for CD Singles; which are incompatible with slot loading CD ROM drives of the kind which all iMac, MacBook, and MacBook Pro’s were fitted with prior to Apple phasing out CD ROM altogether with their latest line of laptop and desktop machines. Slide-draw loading CD ROM drives are also increasingly rare on PC laptops and desktops.

Sadly Decrescent have compounded this issue by failing to host a link to the driver download direct from the product description page on their website, so I had to contact tech support via telephone. But after speaking to a very nice young lady, a link was sent to me via email, although curiously this was to a file hosted on MediaFire, as opposed to the product manufacturer’s site.

If you came here from Google, desparately searching for the driver software as I did until I contacted tech support, you can download the driver from this link.

Screen Shot 2013-01-21 at 14.15.28Teething troubles aside, a couple of minutes later the software was downloaded and ready to be installed. The .zip archive (above) contains the Windows and Mac version, but the Setup.app for OS X opens the Snow Leopard version by default, so you’ll have to manually open the Installations folder and choose the build for Mountain Lion, if you’re using the latest version of OS X.

After installation the Mac needs to restart, because the Display System Preferences pane needs to be updated, so your new third display can be positioned next to your second and first (see opposite).

Using the device:
iMac computers only have one display output in addition to the main built-in screen, and many people use this for a second VGA display to extend the desktop space, so that software ideally suited to a second screen, such as TweetDeck and Photoshop tools free up the main display for fullscreen applications, leaving the main working space uncluttered.

I personally like using the second display for plugins and editing screens in Apple’s music sequencing software Logic Studio Pro. I also have this display configured for portrait mode, but this means that when it comes time to watch a movie, I would either have to disconnect the second display altogether, and run a cable from the Mac to the HD TV, or sit at the computer desk to use the Mac as a TV — which seems an awful waste of the large screen on my nice big TV.

Luckily this device does away with all of that, by simply extending the two screen limit to three, by adding your HDMI compatible TV to the System Preferences Display Settings pane, which converts the desktop video out to 720p via the Decrescent branded hardware; which also contains a neat Audio Input that merges the Headphone Output of the Mac into the HDMI output, so the sound from the Mac doesn’t have to be routed to a second home theatre system, to be correctly positioned in the stereo sound field around the centre of the TV screen.

This means that watching High Definition movies either rented from iTunes or played from within VLC Media Player truly integrates the iMac into your home theatre set-up, without having to convert the video file into a format compatible with your Smart TV’s built-in media player, and copy it onto a USB stick — saving a lot of time.



Happy increment in arbitrarily assigned date day

Congratulations! You’ve managed to negotiate your way through another year. A year in which the media, celebrities and politicians — or as we collectively refer to them “twats” — flagellated themselves over hot coals for our viewing pleasure, desperately trying to convince us they shared the revulsion felt by actual human beings as to their own basic existence.

The sporting festival in London which Cadbury's McDonals Adidas don't want me to name cost £8.921 billion.  So here's a picture of Jessica Ennis with massive balls under her chin.

The sporting festival in London which Cadbury’s McDonals Adidas don’t want me to name cost £8.921 billion. So here’s a picture of Jessica Ennis with massive balls under her chin.

Well done to London, who hosted a sporting festival I probably can’t name for legal reasons, which saw Prince William in an Adidas top and the Queen of England jump from a helicopter, to celebrate some of the world’s most dedicated athletes reduce themselves to corporate salves in a multi-platform internationally syndicated best arse competition, pre-emptively won by Jessica Ennis.

It was also a big year for cynicism. Which is typical of my luck. Who’d have thought that the one noun which describes my entire worldview becoming a fashion trend would happen in the same year I got my first ever shirt and tie office job. Probably the same sort of person who predicted the company would go bust before anyone got paid.

On the upside, Tesco released a new range of ready meals for £1, while ditching the much loved blue and white ‘back to basics’ packaging of their Tesco Value range. Now the Chicken Jalfrezi with Rice microwave meal for one die cut box-art sports a brightly coloured dinner table scene with a welcoming fireplace in the background, and a lady’s delicate hand spooning the last flakes of rice onto a bone china plate with a shiny silver fork. Which I for one thought rather cruelly parodied the subzero concrete floor and food splattered microwave oven backdrop which usually plays host to this veritable feast of textured aromas and gastric chemistry par excellence. But hey, every little helps.

It was also a landmark year for gun control, in the United States. With the senseless destruction of innocent lives by gun wielding maniac after gun wielding maniac, aimlessly reigning murder upon the streets, 35 thousand feet above the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Northwest Pakistan. And how touching were the scenes, as people in their thousands lined the streets to protest and say “No more”, to the loony liberal media who turned a blind eye while peace loving libertarians warned such carnage would inevitably result from the removal of their God from the classroom.

And let us raise our glasses to the memory of those who we lost. The relentless charity work of the prolific peadophile and face of the BBC, Sir Jimmy Savile, whose actions were so well covered up, only a handful of senior television and radio executives, production assistants, presenters, editors, journalists and talk-show hosts knew about them for over 30 years. They’re cunning these weirdly dressed, cigar stenching child molesters. Who’d have thought that the ostensible altruism of Savile, who lived with his dead mum’s corpse, and surrounded himself with disabled children and psychiatric patients, masked such a sinister system of nods and winks between major multimillionaire players in the children’s entertainment industry.

Talking of Justin Beiber, it was a big year for the North East music scene, with James Arthur winning The X Factor. Who’d have thought it, eh? One hard working, guitar toting lad from the subdued town of Saltburn by the Sea heroically fighting off competition from thousands of hopefuls across the nation, who didn’t already have a development deal with SyCo Fremantle Thames TalkBack Sony BMG.

But as the nation was gripped with £1:50 a-go SMS fever, our attention was cruelly distracted by storm winds and floods around the world. While half of the Eastern Seaboard of the United States was plunged under a tidal wave of piss and tears, minor flooding devastated a park bench in the sleepy suburb of Oxbridge, in the picturesque hamlet of Stockton-upon-Tees. “So much for global warming” the yokels on both sides of the Atlantic scoffed, in the face of their own inability to understand that warm water evaporates.

And so we enter another no-doubt gag-packed year of austerity measures and back-to-back re-runs of The Big Bang Theory on E4 — looking forward as we do to will they won’t they news of another feature packed iPhone, so we can Facebook each other in 3D about every detail of our life as a hen, curling out horrified eggs of righteous indignation towards the surveillance state.

Same shit, different IP address. Happy New Year.

Apple’s OS X Mountain Lion: A triumphant return to form

One of the most pinged articles on this blog is a review I wrote last August, entitled ‘OS X Lion: Apple’s Vista moment‘.

At the time, I certainly wasn’t alone in feeling disappointed with Apple’s inability to fix issues which had plagued the Mac for years, while adding features which seemed surplus to requirement, useless (Lunchpad, for example) or just plain buggy.

Not only that, Lion made everything much more sluggish. For example, having a photo organiser application like gBrowser open at the same time as Photoshop, used so much RAM while hogging the processor, that having any other apps open at the same time was like swimming through treacle. You simply couldn’t have the usual fleet of creative apps open at the same time as Mail, Safari and Twitter, without slowing the whole machine down to a frustrating crawl.

And it wasn’t just the big apps, which traditionally require plenty of RAM, which OS X Lion seemed to struggle with. I had to start writing long posts, emails and forum comments in TextEdit.app, instead of Safari, in case I ever needed to use the Shift + Command + D float-over version of Dictionary.app, for fear that it would crash the entire browser and lose what I’d written. And the least said about the stability of Spotlight, Finder the better.

Ding dong the wicked witch is dead
Read my lips: OS X Mountain Lion fixes all of that! It’s like having my old computer back again — in a really good way. My main machine is a mid-2007 iMac with 4GB of RAM. Under Lion it was really beginning to show its age. Under Mountain Lion, it’s as fast as it was when new.

The external USB hard drives don’t spin up every time I go to use the Dock, as the system desperately goes in search of more and more swap space. Launching Mail.app doesn’t involve waiting 5 minutes, while every other App hangs. I can actually switch between currently open Applications, without summoning the spinning beach-ball of doom, and have several tabs with Flash content in them at the same time as listening to uninterrupted music in iTunes. Not rocket surgery, I admit, but if you’d seen the state of the damn thing under Lion, you’d agree this is a huge improvement!

So much for Apple finally putting right what Lion got horribly wrong. But what about the new features?

Twitter integration in the new Notifications centre is a breeze. You literally enter your username and password and start using it. Similarly, adding Vimeo, Flickr, GMail and Yahoo account details, is as simple as opening the System Preference pane, and hey presto they appear in all the relevant places for sharing.

There is no shortcut key enabled by default, to open and close the Notifications sliding panel, but you can define your own in System Preferences > Keyboard > Keyboard Shortcuts in the usual way.

The new Dictation and Speech pane, again set-up with a new System Preferences pane, brings a Siri-like voice to text pop-up into any text input area. Simply double tap the Function key (or a user defined alternative) and the familiar purple microphone flashes up, as in Siri on iOS.

This entire paragraph, in fact, was entered using this new dictation tool. As you can see it works a treat. You’ll have to take me at my word, that I didn’t alter any spellings or insert any punctuation by hand. As the saying goes, “it just works”.

iMessage is now fully integrated with your iOS devices, so you can start a chat on your iPhone and finish it on your Mac. Also FaceTime now works as expected.

The new Reminders app mirrors the events set on your iOS device, and it’s skeuomorphic design is nicely done. On the downside, the new Notes app appears incapable of seeing the Notes I have stored on iCloud, and the new Game Centre app doesn’t seem to work at all. It’s possible these apps will come into their own once iOS 6 is launched in Autumn 2012, although I fail to see why Notes in particular couldn’t be made to work right away. Also coming in the fall is iCloud integration with open Safari tabs on all iOS devices.

The new version of Safari browser appears to be more stable under Mountain Lion than under OS X 10.7. I installed Safari 6 before upgrading to OS X 10.8 and was disappointed to see it was sluggish and unstable. But under Mountain Lion the only real problem I’ve noticed so far, is that the newly integrated Search and Address bar no longer allows you to pop down your recent search terms history, and to change the default search engine you must now open Preferences > General. But on the plus side, it now supports Do Not Track in the Privacy settings, and although this feature is turned off by default, many will be pleased to know you can now automatically opt-out of being tracked by Facebook, and other social networks which use tracker cookies, which collect personal information about you even when you’re not logged in.

Although that’s pretty much it for headline grabbing new features, you get the feeling that what’s happening under the proverbial hood is a lot slicker and more efficient. Everything feels solid — that amorphous something which makes an Operating System feel reliable, which was almost completely absent from Lion, is back in bucket loads with Mountain Lion.

Simply put, for £13 you’d be mad not to upgrade as soon as possible.

Pros: Your Mac works properly again!
Cons: Takes a long time to download.
Pro-tip: Run Repair Disk Permissions and Repair Disk from Recovery Mode, before you begin to upgrade. Restart your Mac, and after the chime, hold down the Command and R keys ( + R) to boot from the install / recovery partition. Choose Disk Utilities from the options menu, and highlight your main hard drive in the side panel. Click Repair Disk Permissions, wait for the scan to complete, and then click Repair Disk. When this is done, reboot and launch the Mac App Store, to download Mountain Lion.

Christian Accelerated Education pass Ofsted inspection despite Michael Gove’s opposition to teaching creationism in UK classrooms

Jonny Scaramanga has unearthed evidence that, despite the Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove’s stated opposition to the teaching of creationism and anti-science in UK classrooms, that Christian Accelerated Education in the UK teach in their Ofsted approved curriculum, that The Loch Ness Monster “disproves” Darwinian Evolution by Natural Selection, that Solar Fusion is a “myth” and that Dinosaurs and Humans once coexisted.



I chatted with Jonny for the Fundamentally Flawed podcast about his findings, and the reluctance of the UK media to investigate his evidence further, due to a fear of legal issues, from the American creationist-backed organisation, who currently operate more than 60 schools around the United Kingdom.