Category Archives: Reviews

Reviewing the Samsung Galaxy Ace

A couple of months ago I had to unexpectedly bid farewell to my faithful Sony Ericsson C902 phone. For all its retro standings in the smartphone stakes, the camera was great, and the phone was robust. However, it was no match for a Macbook Pro falling from it at height – you may say it saved me a lot of money in breaking the fall – perhaps.

I am not a high maintenance phone user, with no contract. The landline, email, texting or skype does me fine and looks after my money, though I have been a very reliable, predictable customer to my mobile phone network for ten or more years. I didn’t want to put myself into a contract, but I did want to break into the smartphone world with my replacement handset – especially with all my work on content for ReallyAppy and Nonvert.

Cost

Without a contract, I was faced with the prospect of purchasing a phone outright. I spent several hours and several evenings reading reviews and watching videos or all manner of HTC, Nokia, Samsung phones, and gaping at the cost of iPhones and trying out a friend’s iPhone 3 (prior to iOS 5). Yes, I was mislead about the newer options in the iPhone, but neither was I able to shell out the money for the handset or a suitable data plan to feed the hungry thing.

Eventually, after much deliberation, I settled for the Samsung Galaxy Ace, which turned out to be at the centre of the patent war between Samsung and Apple, and is apparently now banned in the Netherlands. I can see why, as can my iPhone owning friends who are surprised at the similarities.

No Flash

The Ace is not powerful enough to support Flash, which at first seemed a little odd, but doesn’t bother me all that much. The YouTube app triggers pretty much seamlessly should I want to play a video on a website through the browser.

Battery Life

Many reviewers had a dispute with the battery life. Not being a heavy caller, I do find that I can make the phone last 2 days with light usage, but 1.5 days and on all night is usually enough to make it display ‘connect charger’ on the standby screen. I may be getting longer battery life because although I leave wireless on, I have data transfer switched off due to a lack of suitable data plan, which prevents a lot of background syncing.

When the battery life does get low, the phone appears to switch itself off, though I’ve never caught it in the act. My C902 used to have a fault that was either common or occasional in the handset depending on how lucky you were. I saw it switch off in front of my eyes twice while idle and on good battery life – however I have yet to catch the Ace doing this. Instead, it likes to switch off in my pocket, which I suspect may be to do with the power button being situated on the edge of the phone. Still, this behaviour correlates far more with battery being low.

Keypad

The initial keypad configuration was quite tricky to use – narrow like vertical iPhone keyboard but for a touchscreen newbie, a little too much. I have opted for the traditional keypad with multiple letters on each key for vertical and the qwerty horizontal keyboard when I require it. The most irritating thing about the vertical keyboard is the lack of apostrophe – one must use horizontal qwerty to get that character, a nightmare for strange people like me who insist on using correct punctuation even in IM and text messages.

Writing text messages can be quite amusing on the Ace. It uses text prediction – for some strange reason I must type ‘no sheep’ quite often, as ‘sheep’ will always be predicted after ‘no’ in my messages. At times when I use IM such as whatsapp that can have comic results especially as I struggled to not clip keys by accident.

However the prediction can be quite useful as it seems to use names and details out of its phonebook and teaching it words is pain-free (having just taught it ‘blogging’). There is the swype keyboard entry – its meant to hold a world record for speed. I may go back to have another go at it, but I did not find it as intuitive as typing with straight prediction in the first few weeks.

Camera

Calls are great quality, and the camera is super too – see my photo set for some examples. I recently used the camera on bonfire night and made us of the ‘fireworks’ setting. The flash is bright and clear, and it takes speedy photos. In comparison to my c902 the only disappointment has been that it seems to be more sensitive to light levels when taking panoramic photos. If anything, the zoom is better on the ACE – though they both have 5MP cameras.

Peripherals

The ACE comes with its own headphones for handsfree and an alternative colour back (white or black). The headphone socket is universal, which I have used to advantage with an audio cable for the car and my own headphones at work. The charger plug is also for data and a standard type of USB which is handy. I tend to carry the charger with me if I am not home at night so I can charge it that night or the next day, but its tiny and weighs practically nothing. Alternatively I can charge from a computer’s USB port.

Connecting & Bluetooth

I have not been successful in using the Samsung Kies software with the ACE due to its incompatibility with the phone and my Macbook. However, I am used to using bluetooth and after quite a while of being rather puzzled at how I could upload files via my standard mac bluetooth but not see files on the phone using it, I discovered that one needs to set bluetooth visibility individually on each file to make it visible. Once discovered, everything was fine, but it could benefit from a ‘select all’ functionality. Also I cannot delete using bluetooth, but there is a ‘select all > delete’ on the phone to please my clear-the-decks requirements after downloading photos.

Conclusion

Altogether, I have probably had the most teething problems of all the phones I have owned, with the Ace, but I half expect it as not only do smartphones use a lot of power, they are more complicated by design. For the money I paid at the time, there wasn’t much in the market, but I do wonder if I had paid out a little more, I might have got something a little faster, and a little more reliable – but probably a lot heavier, and bigger…

Why I love the John Lewis website

Since moving into a new property, I’ve trawled website after website and spent long weekends in furniture shops sorting out appliances and furniture. It turns out I’m just particularly picky, and also as its my first home to furnish (I previously short term rented furnished places due to studying etc) I had a lot to discover and contemplate.

Landing on the John Lewis website was a breath of fresh air amongst other retailers (particularly electrical ones…) with their cluttered websites and confusing product comparisons. So, these are my top 4 reasons:

Clean & Uncluttered

The John Lewis brand has a lovely, clean, elegant look of it. Even in stores there are dividers in just off white with some simple sans serif font. Whitespace appreciation gives breathing space. Everything about the clarity in the JL site makes you feel relaxed. Yes, one could argue it was a bit boring but in honesty, its a lot easier to read and find things when a hundred and two things aren’t blinking at your or crushed together.

The home page has a clear focus on a top panel which showcases some great photography and interesting products. It scrolls at a rate that doesn’t make my head spin, yet commands attention. The space beneath is divided neatly with images and text that fits well in proportion, and beneath that, at least for those signed in, is a recently viewed products and a neat, functional footer.

Menus

I know some people hate them, but I appreciate a well executed drop down menu with large drop downs. With such a vast array of products, its one way to cut down on the number of clicks between your visitor and your products. The menus on the JL site are easily read. I especially liked the Home & Garden menu – I was looking for furniture at the time – as it has been split into rooms, furniture, home furnishing and shop by type.

The women and men menus have a neat little ‘highlights’ column to pick up on trends or ad campaigns, and the gift menu handily splits between type of gift, the gift recipient and the occasion making life a lot easier. Shop by brand is the only one to buck the trend as it leads to an enormous directory of all the brands the shop holds across all lines for the brand lover.

Advice

I can safely say I didn’t know much at all about fridges before attempting to buy one – other than they kept things cool. However, I discovered what frost-free meant and the different energy ratings, sizes and different styles with the advice guide John Lewis provides. This extra info may be missed by quite a few shoppers, but offers valuable advice and tips which I found impartial – rather like the partners in each store.

Product Filtering

The product filtering on John Lewis was severely lacking from most other sites I visited to compare fridge freezers. Each category of product has slightly different filters – the fridge freezers for instance have brand, price, energy rating, fridge freezer type, frost free (freezer), and then the additional filters of type, colour, width refrigeration and rating.

There are quite a number of brands, so JL have shown the popular ones and then provided a handy expansion to see all the rest of the brands if you want to narrow it down. Handily they provide a number in each category too so you know how far you’re narrowing down your options.

As you interact with the filters the products and thumbnails begin to refresh, and so do the filters below. This saves time on page loading, and allows you to change your mind quickly. Once you have the filters in place, you can reorder and compare up to four side by side which makes comparison shopping a breeze.

What do you like and dislike?

Do you disagree? Do you hate the big menus and find the filters illogical? What have you spotted that you think is neat? I’d love to hear different opinions, so leave me a comment.

The image in the header of this post is CC use of: Westfield Stratford City – John Lewis by EG Focus on Flickr.

Reviews: Kaushik, Moll

Web Analytics: An Hour a Day, Avinash Kaushik

I’m still reading Kaushik, though he’s been invaluable to dip in and out of to read up on subjects. We freecycled a lot of books recently from work as part of our clear out to move upstairs, and this book singularly replaced all the ones in the collection. It not only deals with commerce, it discusses SEO for blogs amongst other things which was different to other books.

Yes, it was cursed with being a little behind with things because of publishing and the time it takes to write books (hence my supreme lack of purchasing IT course books during my final years at university, because they got out of date so quickly for their expense). It not only discusses the previous version of Google Analytics, but Overture and other enterprise implementations that I’ve not met yet – GA does the job for us, and our previous stats provider which Microsoft bought and terminated isn’t a patch on it.

I wouldn’t go as far as saying you couldn’t find the information in this publication elsewhere – it has revised a fair deal for me and can sometimes be heavy going. However, because I dip in and out of it as I need or have time for, its a little more manageable in smaller chunks.

Recommend it for someone with a basic knowledge in the stats, who wants to take it further than visits and top pages, or a non IT person who has business knowledge instead and wants to get a grip on it for their company. I wouldn’t recommend it for a beginner, there are plenty of web resources for that.

Mobile Web Design, Cameron Moll

Read in an hour or so (hah, that’s what education does, makes you into a skim reader) the book was written on the cusp of the iphone’s entrance to the marketplace. Moll is a very respected writer in the field, and I picked the book out because of this – and because the marketplace was full of books due to be published, or with little reviews or discussion on them, which makes me weary.

The most useful thing Moll does is discuss the different tactics one can take with making a website web compatible and their drawbacks – from leaving it and hoping it will just render, to the lack of support for mobile specific stylesheets, maintaining a second set of html or sniffing. He highlights even further how many different and non standard browsers there are.

The book left me feeling even more confused on where to start with mobile sites! Then, I drew out a diagram of the different techniques to more accurately weigh out the pros and cons while summarising it to colleagues. We all had differening experiences of web browsing on phones, and indeed in the past month, I’ve upgraded to the same handset as a colleague (see previous Katigori entry), while another has a jailbreak iphone and a third an android OS phone. The last two can connect to a local wireless network, support much more rich content.

We were amused when comparing the supported content of a colleague’s personal DJing website on each of the phones. Mine refused to display at all, and the other two did, with varying success. Incidentally, the site’s not complete yet.

Sony Ericsson C902

I’ve made a new phone purchase, defecting from Nokias (I did have the 6230i, with the 1.3mp camera) to the C902, which is a Sony Ericsson. It had great reviews, and also has a 5mp camera, which was the sort of level I was looking for in a pay as you go phone, since I’m not the sort to use my mobile extensively, it was not cost efficient for me to pay out a contract for the sake of a phone for ‘free’.

Anyhow, its working out ok, even if the old Nokia sits weeping after 4 solid years of sterling work for me. Only its camera is becoming silly, and its started turning itself off while I’m browsing the web, and if I leave it on at work on silent, I have almost a flat battery by the end of the day because of the poor signal out there. Yes, I really do work in the middle of nowhere – we call our internet line the “Global Footpath”.

The camera’s great, and not slow, and I love the fact you can copy, paste, switch between applications and such. The lens keeps clean as it slides out when you need it and tucks away otherwise. Its lovely and slim too. The Internet is different in that I have a mouse! I used to just be able to hop between links, text boxes and buttons by scrolling on the Nokia.

Photos CC from Irish Eyes/Irish Typepad on Flickr.