Review – Living with the HTC One

The Android platform has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, but if there’s one area were it lags behind iOS, and even Windows Phone, it’s that the premium handsets often don’t feel all that…premium.

Samsung devices may dominate the landscape, but they are hardly ever regarded as beautifully designed or manufactured, often the opposite.

It was a big deal then when HTC unveiled the One, and in doing so raised the stakes for all Android devices that will have to follow in its, rather large, footsteps.

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‘Be gone plastic!’ Cried the HTC designers. ‘Welcome aluminium!’ and thus it was.

There’s no denying the workmanship and quality that the One represents. From the gorgeously bright and detailed 4.7″ 1080p display, to the surprisingly effective twin, front facing, Boomsound speakers, you can see how much thought has gone into the design of this flagship handset. The camera boasts ultrapixels rather than mega ones (fancy), and produces pleasing results, especially when using the Zoe mode which shoots short videos from which you can select the best frames to make still images. All very clever.

It is an utter mystery to me then why I just never really fell for the One.

Build quality? No. This is a series piece of kit

Performance? Not at all. The phone is very speedy.

Feel? Well…maybe this is where it begins to fall away for me.

A few months back I wrote about how the Nexus 4 had initially felt too big and cumbersome, until one morning it just clicked. This never happened with the One. In fact I think the Nexus 4 is partly to blame.  In the hand the Nexus 4 was slightly shorter and possibly wider, albeit by a very tiny margin. The One though seems just too tall. Possibly the speaker at the top is the culprit, but the sound really is terrific (I’d say this is one of the best devices I’ve ever encountered for listening to podcasts on) so you wouldn’t want to take one away. But the real problem for me was that after spending time with stock Android on the Nexus, anything else seems a bit…clumsy.

The navigation on the HTC One is via a back button on the left and a home button on the right of the front panel. In the middle is a large HTC logo that does nothing except hamper the neat three button system that stock Android employs. This shouldn’t matter too much, but it does, it really does.

On a big handset you don’t want to be moving the device around in your hand any more than you already have to, but the arrangement of buttons made this inevitable. Plus I kept hitting the HTC logo by accident, which no doubt illustrates my inability to learn new tricks (old dog and all that) but i’m sure won’t make me unique.

HTC Sense also complicates things by proving less intuitive than stock and offering not much in the way of advantages for the perceived obfuscation.

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Now I realise that I am almost certainly in the minority with these qualms. The One has garnered very impressive reviews all across the tech press, and certainly the quality of the handset is worthy of the accolades. But for me I just can’t get excited. I really wanted to love this device. I’m a fan of HTC, Android is growing on me at a frightening rate, and my old iPhone is beginning to lurch, so a replacement is in order. After using the Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4 I was left cold, so the One was my great hope. Now, although there is nothing wrong with this phone, it just doesn’t seem to suit my particular (possibly odd) tastes either.

Maybe I’m just cheap. The Nexus 4 was reduced to £200 the other day and my eyes are definitely turning back to it, with only the prospect of a lower cost iPhone causing me to pause.

For many the One will be exactly the thing they’re looking for. Indeed if you want a larger screen, quality materials, and excellent sound then it ticks all the boxes. Those of us with a hankering for something smaller, or purer in the Android stakes, can also take heart that there are other offerings out in the world to meet our more diminutive needs.

 

 

 

Review – The Griffin SeeSaw

iPad cases come in many forms, but this new offering from Griffin has to stand out as one of the most unusual I’ve ever encountered.

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The reason for this is that unlike most other cases, which act as a folio-style protector or finicky external keyboard, the SeeSaw is primarily aimed at children. The first clue is the hard foamlike material from which the case is constructed. This acts as a solid enclosure that should survive a few knocks and even drops caused by any diminutive hands.

With the iPad inserted the screen is propped up at a comfortable angle for viewing content and occasional interaction. Typing is not really an option at this incline, but playing games, selecting answers to questions and such activities are easily accomplished. The case can also be positioned in either landscape or portrait mode, with both feeling sturdy and safe.

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Another advantage to the design is that it’s very light, so children can pick it up with ease, especially as there is a carrying groove in the back to aid grip. Next to this is also a handy slot for storing a stylus. The unit comes in two colours – bright yellow and blue – but I must admit if Griffin were to make one that looked like the original iMacs then they might capture a much wider market of adults who would love to have something as cool as that sitting on their desks.

One of these please Griffin!
One of these please Griffin!

To test the target appeal of the SeeSaw required the employment of two laboratory children, who were immediately drawn to the colourful exterior. Within minutes they’d fitted the iPad and were lost in Youtube. One slight problem they encountered was that the volume controls required quite a degree of force to get through to the iPad underneath. This may be a purposeful restriction to aid teachers in classrooms from having umpteen iPads blaring out at full volume, and if that’s the case then it’s a sensible choice. The one main issue I can see with the design in relation to being used in a classroom is how you would store the cases when not in use? Removing the iPads every time would soon get tiresome (not to mention probably loosen the cases grip), but as the screen is afforded no protection you wouldn’t want to pile them on top of each other.

For home use though the SeeSaw is a fascinating and quite charming little innovation. If you have an older iPad then handing it down to your progeny in one of these would make a great TV-lite device for their bedroom, or a perfect study companion for their homework.

The SeeSaw retails for £29.99 and would be a cool addition to any child’s desk. Now, just give me the iMac one to put on mine…

Living the Google Life – Day 10 : The Nexus 4

It’s been a little over a week now since I swapped all of my Apple gear for the current Google alternatives. On the whole it’s been a fascinating experiment as I’m learning how I actually use devices and services.

The Nexus 10, Samsung’s iPad rival, has been a challenge, partly due to the wider, shorter construction which feels less comfortable to use, but mainly the lack of tablet optimised apps that Android currently offers. This might not be the whole story though as I’ve found myself using the Nexus 4 for many of the jobs that a tablet was previously employed. Could it be that having a bigger screen on my phone means that I don’t need a tablet as much as before? Curious…

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The first time I held the Nexus 4 in my hand I thought…Crikey! This is a big phone. Coming from the diminutive lines of the iPhone 4S, the N4 seemed like a canoe in comparison. Holding it up to my face felt odd, silly even, and not being able to accomplish many common tasks with one hand took some getting used to. I’ll have to admit that throughout the first week I was seriously doubtful of the size and shape of the phone.

Then an odd thing happened.

On Monday morning, while going about my normal blog reading, podcast listening, article researching routine I realised  that the N4 had suddenly become normal. No decision to stoically endure the vaste expanse of gorilla glass had taken place, my hands hadn’t been charmed by the songs from WhooVille and grown two sizes that day, instead I’d simply gotten used to it. Even more mysterious still, returning to my iPhone quickly revealed that the up till now perfect screen looked…well, cramped. What kind of sorcery is this?

Part of the mental adjustment was not being an idiot on purpose. You see as a creature of habit I tend to keep all my app icons in the same locations when moving between handsets. This invariably means that Gmail, Facebook, Twitter and such things are on the left side of the screen so that I can, being left handed, access them all with my thumb. Now the Nexus 4 has its power button on the right hand side, so without thinking I started holding it in my right hand (so I could actually reach the button), and then found that tapping any of my daily icons was quite difficult. The problem initially appeared that the screen was just too big, but after realising what I was doing I moved the icons and, of course, suddenly I could navigate the phone with one hand again. I wonder how many other daft things I’m doing in life that I could fix with a little thinking?

The stock Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean OS runs very smoothly on the device and I have to say that in the week and a half that I’ve been using the Nexus 4 there hasn’t been a single error message or app that stopped responding. A nice change from the older iterations I used before. All of the apps I wanted where in the store, with the sad exception of the excellent Downcast podcasting app, which I use everyday on my iOS devices. I did try a few others but none of them really felt as friendly as Downcast, and in the end I returned to my previous app of choice Podkicker, which does the job well and is easy to use.

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Otherwise it was pretty much business as usual in smartphone land. My emails flowing gracefully into the Gmail app – which it should be noted looks and works a lot better here than it does on my iPhone. Calendars synched without issue, phone calls where loud, clear, and didn’t drop, while texting and browsing were transformed thanks to the swype style functions that Android offers on its keyboards. On my iPhone I have to type all the words in a traditional fashion letter by letter. Its fine because the iPhone keyboard is very accurate.  On Android I can quickly drag my finger over the various letters and the phone will decipher my scribblings into words, with impressive accuracy. It’s great! Writing long emails is now a fun game as I see how fast I can move my finger. This is undoubtedly one of the things I will miss most when I return to iOS.

Another impressive feature is the amount of services I can send files to. On iOS it tends to be a limited set of apps that I can either choose files from or send them to. Dropbox if you’re lucky, Camera Roll, Gallery, and iCloud are the regular offerings. Android opens this up much wider with Skydrive, Google Drive, Amazon, Dropbox, Bluetooth and several other often appearing in the options. I like this freer attitude to file access and still find Apple’s implementation rather crude and proprietary.

Even the camera on the Nexus 4 is good. I had heard rumours that it wasn’t up to much, but in use I haven’t seen this at all. Whereas it’s not quite as easy to use as the iPhone (size again), the result I achieved were the equal of its Apple counterpart, which was something that genuinely surprised me. In a good way.

An impressive camera makes the Nexus 4 a complete package.
An impressive camera makes the Nexus 4 a complete package.

After my initial concerns I have to admit that the Nexus 4 has gotten under my skin. Where once it was enormous, now it’s a handy screen size. The apps I want are pretty much all there, and the camera would make a transition from the excellent 4S feel like you weren’t losing out in any way. When you then consider the cost of buying a Nexus 4  –£279 in the Google Play store for the 16GB model off-contract model – it really does become a hugely compelling device. I can’t think of a better value-for-money phone out there that is anywhere near as good as this one.

Will I be switching? I don’t know…it’s still a big decision, but one that the Nexus 4 makes a lot less frightening.

Review – Living With the HTC 8X

Windows Phone 8 has been having a hard time cracking the stranglehold that iOS and Android have on customers at the moment. The Nokia Lumia phones have caught the eye with their bright colours and pretty, big icons, but the fact that they weigh the same as a VW Beetle probably hasn’t aided their adoption. HTC though have a much slimmer offering for those who fancy their digital bread buttered Windows side up.

The 8X is the champion set to battle it out among the Finnish heavyweights and from the outset you can see that the design ethos is very different. Whereas the Lumias feel sturdy and fat in the hand, the 8X is light, very thin, and far more of an elegant approach. It isn’t all smiles though as the flush buttons can be tricky to find and holding the unit in your hands sometimes feels a little uncomfortable due to the subtly sharp edges of the slight design.

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The software itself is probably the area that will decide whether you like the phone or not. Windows 8 Phone is very pretty, and the fonts used in the apps are beautiful, but after a while the novelty wears off and you realise that it just seem to take more user selections to get things done than feels necessary. Many of the built in apps are fine for light use and the range is slowly growing to include more mainstream favourites, but when compared to Android or iOS the functionality seems restricted by the absence of high quality applications. The phone does integrate well with other Microsoft software, and the Skydrive app is as useful as ever for storing and sharing files online. A continuing area of concern though is Microsoft’s inability to get developers interested in its mobile platform. In these days of app centric customers this could be damaging in the long run to the success of the OS. One advantage that Windows 8 phone offers is that all the handsets I’ve used that run it are fast and smooth due to the singular implementation of the software – something that isn’t generally true on Android. At the moment Windows Phone 8 does feel like the poor cousin of the other main mobile platforms, but Microsoft is an immense company and has far too much artillery to be counted out easily.

Otherwise the 8X offers a reasonable camera, all day battery life, and a rather fetching purple livery. Performance is snappy and the 8X does catch the occasional eye when you’re out and about due to its unique appearance. With Windows Phone 8 not yet drawing the crowds it also means that you can pick one of these up rather cheaply (we’ve seen them go for £150 barely used through online retailers like http://www.smartfonestore.com).  As long as you’re happy with the currently limited nature of the platform, then the HTC 8X is a smartphone that’s dependable, cool, and will run Facebook, Twitter, while gathering your emails without fuss. Pretty much what most people need, without the big bills to match.

Review – Living with the Samsung Galaxy Camera

There was a time when any budding, amateur photographer was required to drag around a copious amount of weighty kit in order to capture that one moment of magic.

But advances in smartphone technology have had a quite dramatic effect on how most of us take photographs. As the old adage goes, the best camera is the one you have with you, and such is the symbiotic relationship we have with our mobile devices that we’re now never more than an arms length away from our phones at any time.  Plus the cameras on the higher end models are about as good as most people will ever need, so does this spell the end for compact cameras?

Well, Samsung doesn’t think so.

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The Galaxy Camera is a curious beast that they’ve brought to the table, with features that make it more akin to our precious phones than a classic camera. On the front you’ll find a nice big lens that can zoom out to 21x magnification (try that on your iPhone), there are also traditional controls for the zoom, a shutter button, and even a neat pop-up flash for those darker moments.  Flipping the unit around shows where the phone influence comes in. A 4.8″ touchscreen covers the entire back, and switching the camera on reveals a fully functional version on Android 4.1 running inside. This means that you can use the camera as you would a smartphone (albeit without making calls). Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, and all the other normal candidates can be installed, all controlled via the large touchscreen which is clear and responsive. So now, in theory, you can take photos with your snazzy big camera and still post them up on Instagram or back them up to Dropbox, without the need for plugging the device into your computer. Truly these are the days of wonder.

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Well, they would be if the camera in question was really good. But sadly the Samsung Galaxy camera is only around average in the photo stakes. This is disappointing as I like the idea. Having a bigger lens, wider frame of view, and that all important zoom offers up plenty of opportunities for more impressive compositions than the standard smartphone fare. Indeed, after only a few minutes with the Galaxy Camera you realise how useful a superzoom is for capturing more candid, natural shots of people rather than the posed efforts phones often produce. The connectivity is also a fantastic feature as you can shoot away, upload your images, and then be clear to carry on for more without the hassle of clearing SD cards.

The problem is that there are quite a few compromises to carrying a device like this, and the results need to make them acceptable. First off it’s a bit heavy and certainly won’t be slipping into the pocket of your jeans anytime soon. The unit’s bulky design also makes using the screen for anything other than a quick selection of modes somewhat cumbersome. Moving between the apps themselves can also be frustratingly slow, which is something you never really think of with a camera where you just want to pick up and shoot. No viewfinder is a shame, especially when shooting outside in bright sunlight, although it must be said that the screen is still quite viewable so Samsung have done well there.  In the end though the images captured with the Galaxy just didn’t make all the disadvantages worth contending with. Subjects were often soft or noisy, the light balance could be a little off at times, and colours weren’t always accurate. Don’t get me wrong, the camera is decent, and there is a full manual mode with which you could take greater control of these issues, but it doesn’t feel much better than my iPhone 4S, or even my trusty old Sony W5 digital compact.

Here’s a few examples shots from the Galaxy Camera –

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2013-06-25 09.53.48 20130614_184809As you can see the Galaxy Camera is a good device that can capture some interesting images, but when you factor in the price of around £400 then it becomes hard to recommend. At the moment is feels very much like a first generation device. The concept I’m a big fan of, and given time and some hardware upgrades this type of camera could well become an incredibly attractive proposition. It’s early days though and the folks at Samsung have got a lot of work to do. I hope they’re up for it.

 

 

 

Living with Google – Day 3 : Getting to grips with the Nexus 10

I feel like I’m getting settled in now. The iPad and iPhone have been banished and the Nexus replacements are holding up well. In fact that term – holding – is a key part of my thinking at the moment.

When Steve Jobs announced the iPad he did so with the aid of a comfy chair. He sat, fondling his new magical device while telling the world how good it felt to hold and touch. Although this might seem like the pitch of a world class salesman (which it undoubtedly was) there’s no arguing with the truth that was being conveyed. The iPad is far better to hold than a laptop. No great surprises there. The thing is that after three years of using one I’ve grown very accustomed to that particular squarish shape, and am struggling a little to adjust to the sleeker design of the Nexus 10.

At first glance they’re not so different, both are slim, light, pieces of expansive glass with a black border around their edges. Stand them side by side and you’ll notice that the Nexus 10 is wider (thanks to its 16:10 aspect ratio) and a little shorter than it’s fruity alternative. This makes watching movies on it a pleasant experience, aided by a lovely HD screen and two forward facing speakers. The bass frequencies can be a little lacking, which is not unusual on slim tablets, but the volume is respectable and coming straight at you – always a bonus.

One of my favourite uses for a tablet is reading news and RSS feeds on the Pulse app. Thankfully Pulse is available on iOS and Android so swapping over is a breeze. Within a few minutes of visiting the Play store I had all my feeds synced and was away. The  layout is pretty much identical and meant that my transition from one device to another felt easy and with a minimum of fuss. Magazines aren’t quite so easy. On iOS I use Readr, which allows me to read lots of different magazines for a set price of £5.99 per month, saving me quite a bit of money. So far I haven’t found an equivalent on Android (if you know of one please let me know) and it’s also thrown up a small problem.

On my iPad I will often read magazines in portrait mode as I find it the best way to navigate around pages when zooming in and out. Holding the Nexus 10 in portrait mode just feels…weird. The taller, thinner nature is definitely designed to be used in landscape orientation, which is fine for video but not so great for magazines or comics. Of course this might not be an issue for you, but as I make my living writing for publications I also like to access them on my tablet. Amazon’s Kindle app works just great though.

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The rubber backing on the Nexus 10 is very comfortable. I wish the iPad had something similar so it didn’t keep trying to leap out of your hands and hurl itself to the ground. Surprisingly though the thinness of the device still makes it hard to lean it against something without a bit of slippage. In the hand though I’m a big fan of the softer, warmer textures under my fingers.

One criticism often levelled at Android is the lack of tablet specific apps that are designed for it. So far this is certainly the case as many of the normal apps I use – Facebook, Twitter, Audible and others – all looking stretched across the wide screen rather than tailored to the environment. It was noticeable on the Nexus 7, but on the 10 it really starts to standout. This is something that I shall have to investigate further.

It’s early days with the Nexus 10, and using something else for the jobs that my iPad has done pretty much without exception for a few years now just shows how used to a certain weight and balance I have become. I’m sure that as the days roll by I will adjust to this new design, but it does feel alien at the moment. Next up…the Nexus 4.

 

 

 

Living the Google Life – Day 1

Over the past few years I’ve noticed a few things about how I use my technology. Although the majority of the devices I own bare the markings of a certain California based fruit company (no not Apricot for you old-timers like me out there) the software I use has a distinctly Googly flavour. Gmail handles my communication, Google calendar attempts to bring order to my chaos, I write the articles that feed my family on Google Drive, Google Search aids my research, Google Maps help me get where I’m going, and Google + is fast becoming my preferred destination for social networking. If only the company made devices. Well, actually, it kind of does now. With the current range of Nexus devices we have tablets and phones that are intended to show us the mobile world as Google thinks it should be, and Chrome OS running on Chromebooks showcase how this translates to a full blown desktop operating system (stop that sniggering at the back!). So I thought, well, why not try living with them? Not piecemeal, but entirely.

I already have a Chromebook, which has proven itself over several months to be an excellent writing machine, and the Nexus 7 joined our family at Christmas. So it wouldn’t take much to skip over to the green fields of Android and complete the lineup. Armed with my univendor flavoured scheme I made a call to Google UK, who took pity on this impoverished freelance tech writer and agreed to loan me a Nexus 4 phone and Nexus 10 tablet for two weeks, possibly out of interest in my findings, but mainly to stop me calling them again.

And here I am. Nervous? Yep, just a little.

My iPhone 4S has been de-simmed and placed carefully in a dark draw, not to see the light of Facebook again for 14 days. The iPad 4 which accompanies me pretty much everywhere I go has been surgically removed from my hands, leaving the phantom tingles of a once present limb in its wake. Now I am in the company of strangers. The Nexus 4 will be my phone, the Nexus 7 my Kindle and handy sidekick, while the Nexus 10 takes on the challenges of the heavy duty tablet assignments. The Mr T of this technological A-Team if you will. Ensuring all the lovely plans come together is my Samsung Chromebook – you know, the really cheap one that I think is pretty damn wonderful.

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How will it all work out? I don’t know, but I’m hoping that by the end of the two weeks I’ll be a little wiser in the ways of Google Fu. I also hope you’ll join me as I take these steps into a fruit free fortnight. Time for a technical adventure…

Are you an experienced Nexus user? If so what apps should I be running? I’ve already downloaded the standards – Kindle, Dropbox, Facebook, Twitter, Evernote, Wunderlist, Pulse and Audible, but are there others that make life on a Nexus device a glorious thing? Let me know in the comments below, and please feel free to ask any questions or offer suggestions on things I can try while exploring the world of Google living. 

 

Living with the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon Touch

Since Windows 8 first made its way into my life it’s fair to say that we haven’t always been on the best of terms. My desktop machine, replete with non-touch controllable screen, felt hampered by the OS and took me back to those grand old times when people would swear loudly at their computers with gay abandon. Even after spending time with the Lenovo Yoga 13, a purpose built machine that literally bent over backwards to make Windows 8 work, I was still left cold by the whole experience. Thus, it seemed, I was destined to leave behind the progeny of Redmond and head back to the safer lands of OSX.

But, well, I’m kind of the stubborn sort. You see although Windows 8 does cause me to gouge my eyes and scream out in wild frustration, I do like some of the things that Microsoft are trying. It’s new for starters, which is always interesting, and as we become more attuned to the idea of touch on a laptop, possibly it will actually click into place. I have to admit that these are more idealistic rather than confident ponderings, but maybe it could just came down to a matter of decent hardware in the end.

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The Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon Touch carries on the long tradition of utterly dependable, workhorse Thinkpad machines, albeit with styling that looks more like it came from the thoroughbred stables. From the very first moment you set eyes on the matte, rubber-like coating over the carbon shell you know that this is a serious machine. Not in the stuffy, pink shirts with white collars type serious, rather the ‘let’s stop mucking about and get stuff done’ version instead – and that’s something I like. Opening up the case reveals the glorious keyboard, which in short order became probably the favourite surface to type on that I’ve encountered in ages. The keys are spread apart by more than I’m used to on my old MacBook, but they feel chunky and solid under the fingers, almost old school.

One of the Achilles heels of many Windows machines is the trackpad. All too often they drive users to despair with their unresponsive and somewhat random behaviour. Thankfully the generous and smooth offering here just gets on with it, while displaying a good deal of palm cancelling intelligence. The Windows 8 gestures did become a problem though, as far too often I’d move the cursor only to see the Charms bar appear, or the background app leap to the front. Disabling these features in the settings swiftly cured me of these ills, while still retaining two finger scrolling and general pointy duties.

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This led me into the previously painful territory of actually having to use the touchscreen. Well, I have to report that the implementation of these features on the X1 is excellent. Navigating via touch felt smooth and far more tempting than anything laptop based that I’d used before. The 14″ screen provided decent sized touch targets, responding quickly and accurately to the majority of hits. Glory be! Finally Windows 8 is beginning to make sense, in no small part due to the X1.

It’s not all roses and unicorns though. The touchpad was very hit and miss when I used the tap function to select anything, usually making me resort to the clickable section of the pad to execute commands, and although the screen is good it’s also not full HD (1600×900 instead), which is something of a surprise when you see the price tag that Lenovo have hung upon the X1.

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The model I have here, which boasts an i5 processor, 4GB RAM, and 128GB SSD retails for a wallet trembling £1479 including VAT. That really is quite a price. Compare that with the MacBook Air, which is the dominant player in this part of the market, and for about £100 less you could build a 13″ model to order which would sport an i7 (Haswell chip), 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, and the remarkable 13 hour battery life that has taken the tech world by storm. That’s not an easy comparison to keep.

Maybe the touchscreen does add quite a bit to the cost? Carbon fibre is also certainly an expensive material for construction. At the end of the day though the price is just too much of a hurdle for most of us to get over. The machine itself is absolutely gorgeous, and I think looks far better than the rather boring ‘any colour as long as its grey’ that Apple currently offer. There is a non-touchscreen version of the X1, which retails on the Lenovo site for £1,119, but it would seem a shame to have the machine that finally solved the Windows 8 conundrum revert back to a standard, albeit very lovely, laptop. Of course a Windows 7 version would be a very tempting alternative.

Do I want one? Absolutely. Can I afford one? Absolutely not, at least not the touch version.

Makes sense really. I find the laptop that can make Windows 8 work for me at last, one that has killer styling, a great keyboard, and is a joy to use. Then it gets undercut by Apple. Still, if the Microsoft path is the one you walk then this laptop is about the best there is.

Living with the HTC One SV

With Samsung currently dominating the Android market for phones, it can be easy to forget that not so long ago HTC were the big kids on the block. With models like the Legend and Desire the Taiwanese manufacturer quickly made fans of UK Android users, including myself who toted a Desire for couple of years. That phone was lovely to hold, had a great screen, but quickly succumbed to the paltry amount of internal memory. This left me having to avoid updates to large apps such as Facebook and Google Maps, while always having to juggle which app I could consider using in case it filled up the usable storage. Subsequent Android system updates that allowed some apps to be moved to the SD card was a welcome relief, but of course all the big ones didn’t offer this convenience. By the end of my contract I was glad to jump ship to iOS where the memory/storage issues didn’t cause the same headaches.

During my absence Android has quietly continued to refine its innards, becoming the dominant operating system on the mobile platform. It’s also resolved many of the issues that caused me anguish in the earlier days, so much so that I find my eyes wandering back to the greener side of the fence. It was with interest then that I took delivery of the new HTC One SV, a mid-range Android phone that seems a cut above some of the cheap and nasty devices I’ve come across in this area.

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In the hand, a rather important aspect for a device you’ll be holding all the time, the SV is a slim, light and comfortable handset to use. Its gently contoured back and grippy plastic casing means you don’t have the constant subliminal tension that your handset is going to leap from your grasp at any given moment, which is always nice. Perhaps one of the things that aids this sensation of inertia is that HTC has eschewed the current trend of hilariously large screens and instead fitted a 4.3” one to the SV. I must admit that I’ve yet to use a 5” screen that I didn’t find cumbersome, but this size seems almost like the perfect compromise between pocket and eye friendly design. It’s big enough to make me look at my iPhone 4S with a sense of inadequacy, but small enough to mostly navigate with one hand. Downloading the new Google keyboard helped in this fashion as the swipe feature (entering text by dragging your finger from key to key rather than hitting individual letters) meant that typing was also accurate and felt like a little game every time I wrote a text message.

The screen itself is also a respectable effort. It’s not quite up there with the retina displays of the world, and you can see jagged edges to text, but its perfectly usable and the size means apps look clean and clear, with bright colours. The HTC Sense 4+ skin is still one of the better adaptations available, but as usual I dropped it quickly in favour of the Go Launcher which I used to customise my layout. This really is something you forget about on iOS, just how easy it is to completely change the look and feel of your device on Android. Within ten minutes I’d personalised the entire UI, and I could change it back again with a couple of quick swipes. Brilliant. All this fiddling didn’t seem to bog down the SV, as the handset was snappy and responsive throughout the time I spent with it. One regret is that the version of Android running on here is 4.1.2, but that’s not surprising when previously premium models like the Samsung Galaxy S3 are still awaiting their upgrade to 4.2.2. The SV does have a standout feature though, that of 4G compatibility. For those lucky enough to live in the rarified areas of the UK that offer this provision of fast mobile data this will be a tempting offer. Of course the handset can do nothing about the prices that EE charge for access to the mobile superway, the monthly payments for which I imagine they must be collect via a masked man on horseback waving a loaded flintlock pistol at the terrified customer.

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Sadly the camera is nothing more than average on the SV. Images are lacking definition, somewhat washed out, and not always properly focussed. I say sadly because otherwise this is a very alluring handset. Many times I had my iPhone 4S and the SV sitting on the table and I’d find myself reaching for the HTC, and not just because I was reviewing it. I’m in love with the screen size, the light weight, and the possibilities that Android offer for tuning a UI to your particular preference.

The SV delivers on many levels as a workhorse handset, and if you only occasionally use the camera on your phone then I can’t see why you’d need to spend a lot more on a device. Those who want all the newest features that Android have to offer will be better suited with the Nexus 4, HTC One, or Samsung GS4, but if you just want a really good handset that’s pleasing to use and offers you a micro SD slot to store all your music on, then you wouldn’t go far wrong with the HTC SV.

Living with the…Humax HDR 1010s Freesat PVR

As times get tougher and money is harder to come by many of us are thinking that it might be a good idea to cut a few costs. One of the most likely candidates in our particular home is Sky TV. Yes it has all the best shows, and I know that the last season of Dexter is due to start in just over a month, but since we started a Netflix account recently we’ve spent a lot of time watching that instead. This means that with a decent PVR we could cut our increasingly expensive monthly TV bill by quite a margin. There’s one big problem though, we can’t use Freeview because our reception area is poor, and we’ve grown very used to being able to pause and rewind TV. Thankfully there is a solution – Freesat+.

A Freesat device plugs into your existing satellite dish and means you can receive the free-to-air channels such as BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and Channel 5 without the need for any other equipment. It seems a perfect fit for those moving away from Sky, but it does mean an initial investment that causes you to pause and consider whether you’re making the right decision. For a fully functioning Freesat+ unit you’re looking at paying somewhere in the region of £300, which is no small amount. Therefore you want to make sure you’re buying something reliable and hard wearing. This led me to the company that has built a strong reputation in both these areas, Humax.

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The Humax HDR 1010s is a tidy unit that offers a good deal of options for the money. Alongside the normal Freesat features mentioned above it also has online capabilities when connected to your router. BBC iPlayer and ITV player are currently active, with 4OD and 5 on Demand due to appear soon. There’s also a Youtube app, and compatibility with Flickr. For the more hackery types it can also handle content from DNLA servers on your network. So, a useful set of functions there then.

Of course all of this would be useless if the interface was badly designed – after all you spend a lot of time using one of those. Well there’s good news here too. The HDR 1010s comes complete with the new Freetime interface, which is very easy to use, looks classy, and even allows you to move backwards through the EPG to find the shows you missed earlier. If the program in question if available on the catchup services then all you have to do is click on the show and you are given the option to watch it via streaming. Everything is laid out sensibly and where you would expect to find it. Programs feature a nice information pane, and recorded shows are stored with titles, running times, and the number of episodes you currently have on the 1TB hard disk.

Freesat-freetime Before this descends into some kind of sycophantic babble there is one unfortunate problem with the device. The remote control, while looking nice and coming complete with a considered placement of buttons that do their jobs without issue, has a central circular area for navigation and selection. The Sky controller bears something similar, but whereas its choice of material is rubber, Humax unfortunately have opted for hard plastic. This results in a nasty clicking sound every time you use it, which cheapens the overall feel of the machine. It’s a real shame that such a basic design choice be so badly implemented, after all the only part of the device that you physically interact with is the control itself, and that’s the weakest part of the whole package. It works fine, but feels and sounds compromised.

That being said, the HDR 1010s is still a very good choice for anyone wanting to cut their ties with Sky, while still retaining a well made and easy to use system. The Freetime menus are excellent, as are the many features that the device offers, all of which are executed with little fuss or drama.  At £300 it isn’t cheap, but then it doesn’t behave like a cut-price option either.