Opinions

4 Last-minute gift ideas

Posted on Dec 16, 2012 in Hints, iPad, iPhone, Opinions, Reviews

Last-minute gift recommendations

Still haven’t found that perfect gift? Here are a few last-minute ideas for new products that I’ve had a chance to give or receive this year.

1) Sony Xperia tipo – low-end Android 4.0 smartphone: €100

While I’m not really an Android fan, I do understand that not everyone is willing to spend close to €650 on a smartphone. If you have a family member still using a feature-phone, the Sony tipo is a decent, affordable Android phone for a first-time smartphone owner. If you’re in Europe, you can use this SIM-unlocked phone with any cheapo provider.

Sony xperia tipo

Sony tipo at Amazon.de

Sony tipo at Amazon.com

2) tizi beat bag bluetooth speaker: €79

(Full disclaimer: this is an equinux product, so I’m completely biased.)

We researched a lot of bluetooth speakers while developing tizi beat bag, and I can honestly say that I’ve yet to hear one that offers more bang for your buck.

Nice and loud, very nicely balanced sound, bass reflex-chamber for some moderate (but not exaggerated) oomph, replaceable li-ion battery for ~10h listening on-the-go, bluetooth support for all your smartphones, laptops, tablets, etc, aux-in jack for anything that doesn’t have bluetooth…

If you already own our tizi TV receiver, you’ll also be glad to hear that it uses the same tizi battery, so you can easily swap.

And it has a snazzy handle, so it’s ideal for grabbing to use in the kitchen, out on your balcony, at your next garden party…

tizi beat bag at Amazon.de

3) Fender Squier USB & iOS Stratocaster: €199

I saw the Fender when it hit the Mac sites a few weeks ago, but wasn’t able to find much information about it. My amazing boss heard me raving about it and decided to get one for our office instrument collection.

It looks like any regular full-sized Squier strat, except that it has an additional back plastic panel on the back and a mini-USB and headphone port at the bottom of the guitar. In the box you’ll find a regular USB cable and a 30-pin cable for iOS devices.

And it’s amazing: plug it into your iPad, fire up Garageband and start jamming away. The guitar plays really nicely and the flexibility that the iPad offers you is great.

You’ll need a lightning adapter to use it with the latest generation of iOS devices, but it works fine.

Squier USB strat

Available exclusively from Apple’s online store.

4) Gordy’s Cameras straps: ~€15-25

Ideal for any camera and photography enthusiast, Gordy makes incredibly durable and robust leather cameras straps. They are all hand-made and look and feel much more substantial than the stock straps that come with most cameras. Plus you don’t feel like such a tourist with one of Gordy’s excellent wrist-straps. There is a wide selection depending on personal preference and camera model, so you may want to do this one as a voucher and let your giftee choose the colour and exact model.

gordy's camera straps

Gordy’s camera straps

That’s all folks! Granted, not the longest list you’ll find on the interwebs this time of year, just a few personal recommendations for products I’ve enjoyed.

Happy Holidays!

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Lightning wirecutters

Posted on Oct 5, 2012 in iPhone, Opinions

“Snips by Flickr user Sarae

When iOS 5 introduced wireless syncing, many people stopped connecting their iOS devices to their PCs and Macs altogether. But the dock connector and 30-pin accessories have meant that docking solutions have remained very popular for other accessories such as speaker docks, car connectors and other accessories.

Products like tizi and tizi+ started a trend of wi-fi based accessories and Apple’s continuing improvements to AirPlay and the slowly growing number of AirPlay devices have increased that trend. However the additional cost and slightly unfamiliar setup have meant that simple docking accessories have still been far more popular overall.

However the new lightning connector seems set to introduce a tectonic shift in favour of wireless accessories and audio devices: most users will be unwilling to invest in 30-pin accessories that are now seen as “legacy” or “outdated” technology (despite Apple’s insistence that they will support both connector technologies for some time).
At the same time, there will be many households that have 30-pin AND lightning-based devices (e.g. a new iPad and iPhone 5), so switching to lightning connector-only devices isn’t an option either.

Already the number of bluetooth-based AD2P-compatible devices seems to be increasing and manufacturers with wi-fi or bluetooth-based accessories and know-how will have an advantage for the foreseeable future. Newer standards like AirPlay and Bluetooth 4.0 will make these new accessories easier and more efficient to use, which should improve ease of adoption.

The lightning connector will push consumers towards wireless accessory standards. I for one welcome our new wireless future: the ubiquitousness of accessories like tizi+ on my home wireless network is far more convenient than conventional 30-pin accessories, so let’s hope we can cut some more wires in the next few years.

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Content creation apps: Make your users look good

Posted on Apr 7, 2012 in iPad, Opinions

The latest star on the App Store is Paper, a drawing and sketching app that has been getting lots of praise recently.

Apart from the lovely UI and hipsterific moleskine imagery, I was wondering how this particular app had managed to garner so much more attention than other similar apps. Penultimate and others offer similar features (and have done well), but didn’t get the same amount of buzz.

I think the secret is that the default pen that is preselected in Paper makes a typical user’s horrible tablet ‘strokes’ look stylish and slick. Try it! Scribble a note in one of the other drawing apps and then write the same note in Paper: in most apps my notes look like my handwriting – horrible. In Paper my notes actually look fairly decent and even have a vague hint of calligraphy.

Penultimate:

Paper:

Writing in Penultimate is certainly not terrible, and you could even argue it’s slightly more legible, but Paper’s default presentation feels more “artsy” in a good way. Paper also has a few other tricks up its sleeve (free to get started, innovative ‘undo’ gesture and customizable moleskine-esque notebooks) that probably contributed to its success, but the results you can achieve with the free drawing tools are certainly a good way to hook users in.

It’s the same principle you’ll find in Apple’s iLife and iWork apps: there are alternatives out there that give you more freedom to express your own creativity and style, but in the hands of untrained users, the results are disappointing. But it’s easy to create a slick trailer in iMovie or a nice presentation with Keynote, without having to go through a steep learning curve.

So if your app is designed for content creation, it’s probably a good idea to make sure that even untrained users can achieve great looking results on their first go.

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DIY iPad Wedding Photobooth

Posted on Aug 21, 2011 in Hints, iPad, Opinions, Reviews

When we were planning our wedding, we saw lots of wedding photo booth ideas. You can either rent a traditional photo booth, or there are various DIY setups involving digital cameras.

I started thinking and thought it would be cool to have a setup that would allow people to see their snaps rights away, without having to go around to the camera itself. With a DSLR that supports remote control from a laptop, that is fairly easy to set up, but as it turned out, my cameras don’t support remote control over USB. So I started looking into alternatives and soon hit on the idea of using an EyeFi card and my iPad. (A few weeks after I started planning our photo booth, a story popped up on Engadget about a similar, albeit more professional, setup.)

What you’ll need

  • A digital camera with remote shutter release (I used the Panasonic GF-1 with a cheap wireless remote shutter release from eBay)
  • An EyeFi SD card in the camera (make sure it’s a newer EyeFi card with support for “direct mode”)
  • An iPad connected to the EyeFi network running the free EyeFi app
  • A tall tripod
  • A table or stand of some kind for the iPad
  • (optional) A frame, backdrop or props of some kind for guests to pose with

Camera, remote shutter, iPad and EyeFi card

With this setup, guests could take a snapshot using the remote shutter and almost instantly see it on the iPad a few seconds later. To speed up the wireless transfers, I configured the EyeFi card to wirelessly transfer the JPEGs only, whilst keeping the large RAW files on the card. This also allowed us to place the camera somewhere out of the way and still gave the guests a way to view their pictures.

The photo booth setup – the iPad is just off to the side on a table

One of the snaps from the photo booth

Other Tips

  • Turn on face recognition if your camera supports it and make sure the autofocus is correctly detecting your guests.
  • Turn off any power saving options on the camera and iPad.
  • If your setup is indoors, connect the iPad and camera to AC adapters, if possible.
  • You’ll need a fairly tall tripod or something to stand it on to get the camera up high enough. Ours was a bit low so I ended up adjusting the perspective using Adobe Lightroom.
  • Explain the setup to someone beforehand and ask them to keep an eye on things to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Our guests had a lot of fun with our DIY photobooth and I love the way the pictures turned out, highly recommended!
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First Impressions: Panasonic GF-1 vs. Olympus E-PL1

Posted on Jun 17, 2011 in Opinions, Photography, Reviews

I’ve been a fan of the Micro Four-Thirds format since I first played with the Olympus E-P1 shortly after it was released. Last year I picked up the Olympus E-PL1 and absolutely love it. It’s certainly not without flaws, but it’s a cheap and fun way to get started with “proper” photography and to learn about aperture, shutter speeds and other mysteries.

I had been on the lookout for the Panasonic 20mm prime lens, as it’s considered to be one of the best Micro Four-Third lenses out there. When I spotted a package deal that offered the 20mm lens with the GF-1, I couldn’t resist. Although both the GF-1 and E-PL1 have both been succeeded by newer models, I thought I’d share my impressions after using the GF-1 for about two weeks.

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We Support Software

Posted on Nov 22, 2010 in Opinions, The web

Just a quick note to let you know about a new site I’m working on called
We Support Software. I work in the QA and support field, so the new site will allow me to write about that slightly more niche subject, in addition to the more general articles and reviews I post here.

As the name implies, I hope to turn the site into a useful resource for all of us in that kind of role, so for interview & articles about supporting and testing OS X and iOS apps, head on over to wesupportsoftware.com.

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