What SHOULD you look for when buying a phone?

When buying a new phone, there are so many names and figures thrown out which often confuse and make purchasing choices unnecessarily difficult. But what actually matters, and to what extent?

To find what you’re interested in quickly, press “Ctrl” and “F” on laptops and computers to allow you to search for the relevant section, because this is a long one!

  • Display: This is the screen which dominates all modern smartphones. There are many many different types of displays used which to the average user, make very little actual difference (In my humble opinion)
    • Curved: Quite a few phones brag about their curved displays, and honestly, they’re mostly a looks thing. There are some arguments which state having a curved screen is better for ergonomics as it means there are no hard edges, but it’s an unnecessary extra. Nice to have but not something to panic over.
    • Size: The vast majority of modern phones will have a 5 inch screen, this is entirely a subjective thing and users should choose based upon what they like.
    • IPS: As far as screens go, this is the screen type I look for. IPS screens provide good colour reproduction and better viewing angles (so the image doesn’t become distorted from the sides like old PC monitors) and just make a phone nicer to use. Not a deal breaker if not present but something I really like.

 

  • Camera: For some people this is a really important feature, and others, not so much. Phones will come with a front facing and backward facing camera and so users need to have a rough idea of what they want. Camera’s are a very complicated component, and as such the best way to get an accurate represntation if it’s important to you is via online reviews.
    • Megapixels: In general terms, the higher the megapixel count of the camera, the better the quality of the photos which will be taken. Or that was the case, but nowadays, cameras are of such good quality, it makes very little difference. Here is a good tech insider article for more information
    • Low Light: Something which does matter in certain circumstances however is the low light performance of a phone’s camera. Unfortunately it is very difficult to gauge this via numbers.
    • Dual: In theory, dual camera’s are an excellent idea, improving image quality and light capture. However, in my experience, there hasn’t been a single great implementation of this system leading to lackluster results and I’d choose to avoid them in future. Sadly.

 

  • Battery Life: A huge deal breaker for a great number of people, but honestly the numbers thrown about by manufacturers are pretty meaningless. The time a phone battery will last is entirely reliant on how much the consumer uses the device. On top of this every battery will be ever so slightly different and the battery will degrade over time. These days needing to charge a phone nightly is an unavoidable chore.
    • Quick Charge: When you’re using a device heavily (curse you Pokémon Go) there are going to be times when you need to charge a device quickly. In these situations, Quick Charge is a godsend. As the name suggests, your phone will charge quicker. If affordable, this is a feature I’d always hunt for.
    • Wireless Charging: Another very self-explanatory name! You can charge the phone from a pad rather than plugging in a cable, in theory saving time
    • Charging Port: This is what you plug in to power your shiny new tech. The new up and coming type is the USB type C port. Faster than the previous mainstream ports and reversible (no fumbling about, you can plug it in either way up!), if you can get a Type C, it’s worth doing. Apple has it’s own Lightning port which offers many of the same benefits

 

  • Storage: Essentially the memory of the device and again a feature heavily reliant on what the user wants from their device. The more photos you want to take, apps you want to download or music you want to listen to, the more you will need.
    • Internal: This is the baked in memory on the phone which is measured in Gigabytes (GB). One of the issues with internal storage is that this is also used to store the software running on the phone and so the actual usable memory will be far less than stated on the box. Bummer. For this reason I consider anything less than 32GB just not enough for a phone to survive several years of usage, unless it allows for…
    • Expandable: Many  (Android) phones allow for users to install their own extra memory (Generally MicroSD cards although a new standard of UFS card is looking like it might emerge due to higher speeds), and this is a key feature. As far as I’m concerned, this is a critical specification to look for to allow the phone to grow with the user’s needs.

Note: As far as I’m concerned, 16GB phones without expandable memory are just unacceptable (Yes I’m calling you out Apple). Users will quickly run out of memory and users need to avoid these.

 

  • Processor: This is the brain of the device that sits and does the maths which powers Angry Birds for you. Incredibly complicated little things, for all but power users, this generally won’t impact you.
    • No. of Cores: Bigger number is better and will generally give you better performance. There’s more to it than that, but for beginners, that will do. Higher end phones will be octa-core while low and mid-tier phones will be quad core.
    • GPU: This stands for Graphics Processing Unit and is where the images are generated that are displayed on the screen. High end phones will have a separate one and manufacturers will brag about it. Generally speaking, if it has one, you’re looking towards the high end of the market

 

  • RAM: If the Storage is the long term memory of the device, the RAM is the short term memory which allows the device to multi-task, and believe me, phones multi-task a lot.
    • More is best: Another case of more is better. Measured using the same metric as long-term storage anywhere between 1GB at the low end and 8GB at the extreme top end, a good number to aim for is generally on the 1.5 to 3GB mark to give users a good level of performance without breaking the bank

 

  • Audio: As a music lover, I appreciate a good audio setup from my phone, and there are a few features which are important to look for. If music isn’t something you’re concerned about, feel free to skip this section!
    • Front facing speakers: I miss the days when HTC used to have dual front-facing speakers on every phone. Front facing speakers mean that the speakers are aimed towards the user, providing a better sound experience
    • Dual Speakers: Stereo is better than Mono, and this manifests itself as dual speakers versus a single speaker which tends to give a rather disappointing sound. Not a deal breaker for most people but a big enough deal to make an audiophile sad

 

  • Operating System: This is the software which runs the entire device and manages everything on the phone
    • Android: The biggest operating system outside of Apple’s iOS, there are many different versions available which all go by different names. Android Nougat is due to launch any day now but most phone’s will run Android Marshmallow.  This won’t affect non-power users a massive amount but generally speaking the newer the version the more features Google will add to the system
      • Overlays: These are the things phone manufacturers use on top of Android to make things look and work the way they want them to. Personally I find the Samsung theme a tad clunky and comes with too much bloatware (Software I don’t want) while the HTC theme appeals to me more. It’s not free from bloatware but it’s more manageable. This is a highly subjective topic however and your mileage will vary. The only way to guarentee a life free of theme’s from the outset is to purchase one of Google’s Nexus devices which run stock Android only
    • iOS: Runs solely on Apple devices, this system is attractive and simple to use, however it is very restrictive and doesn’t allow much customisation. Has a habit of slowing devices down after every software update, seemingly pushing people running older devices into purchasing newer devices, and hence why I avoid Apple.
    • Windows: Don’t. Not enough users to get developers to pay attention to it, developers don’t pay it enough attention to make it good. A sad cycle. Avoid.

Ta-Da! As I’ve said throughout, these are all opinions and what I would recommend but above all I’d recommend looking up reviews before purchasing a device. Happy hunting!

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The Current State of the Mobile Phone Industry

Technology is something that is a part of everyone’s lives. From the smartphone in our pockets to the laptop I’m writing this blog on, it’s everywhere. Worryingly though, the majority of consumers are overwhelmed by the vast choice they have and the different numbers companies use to obfuscate device specifics.

Just recently, one of my friends and my girlfriend have both been in the market for a new phone, and bearing in mind both my interest and my area of study (Computing), I offered to help. So I plunged headfirst into the phone market and started researching.

My first thought was I missed the days when monstrosities like the Nokia NGage were a thing.

1920px-nokia-ngage-ll
By Evan-Amos – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33692791

Bloody hideous, a flawed concept from the start and the beginning of the end for Nokia, but so very different from everything else.Different form factors such as flip and sliding phones ruled, and it was easy to just point and pick a phone on which you thought would be the most comfortable. No such luck anymore in a world where smartphones are externally very similar.

So how then, does the average consumer differentiate between the myriad of similar looking devices? The next step is to look at the specifications of the internal hardware of the phone and we need to look at the software it is running, in short we need to get really picky. This in itself is complicated by product names and minute differences in microprocessor architecture, for example, without looking, do you know which is better out of the MediaTek helio P10 or the Exynos 8?

The whole system is designed to be a mess. The entire complicated system allows retailers to pretty much say whatever they want to customers, who have to then trust that they’ve got their best interests at heart and when commission is involved that is by no means certain. It’s no wonder then that consumers flock to the iPhone platform. It’s a name that they know, and many trust. I shall save my opinions on Apple for a separate blog as they are numerous and not flattering.

So, what’s the solution? Well a potential solution in the works is coming out of Google.

project_ara_scattered_parts
Source

Project Ara sees consumers buying a frame, and then features that matter to them. Care about a camera? You can buy a good camera module, or if you don’t, you don’t have to have a camera at all. The theme is choice. They have several fancy product videos which show the system off well. There are however, some issues:

  • It’s not available yet
  • Google need to have good support from third party manufacturers to get a good range of modules, else the ecosystem will fail
  • There is real potential for this system to be very pricey

Despite these issues, Project Ara has real potential to shake up the phone industry massively.

So without waiting for new systems or trawling the internet for years, what advice can I give? Honestly nothing beats going into a shop and holding the phones. Find ones that feel nice in the hand as this is incredibly important in a device people will be holding onto for years. Once a few have been found to be agreeable, heading online and looking up reviews is a way to ensure there are no glaring issues present. Review sites such as techradar are perfect for ensuring devices aren’t a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Or just buy an iPhone and be done with it as the sale of their Billionth device summarises current market trends perfectly.

What’s going to happen when Donald Trump loses the Presidential Election?

I want to precede this piece with a disclaimer where I point out that I am a) not American and thus my opinion doesn’t really matter and b) I’m not even close to being an expert, so go easy yeah?

I don’t know why everyone seems to think that this will be the end for Trump when (hopefully) he loses the Presidential race. Trump has proven time after time that when he’s beaten he only comes back stronger, and I don’t see how the forthcoming election will be any different.

The thing Trump has made clear is that if he is to lose the election, he will not go quietly. He’s already thrown around accusations of election fraud and he hasn’t even lost yet. This is in stark contrast to previous losing candidates who have encouraged unity for a better outcome for America. The problem is that Trump has both the financial clout and the backing of many vocal followers and moreover has the gumption to contest any result, and so if a few months after the election the US is embroiled in a huge political legal battle and Obama is still nominally in charge longing for a break, I won’t be surprised in the slightest. Trumps obstinance can’t be written off.

Just because Trump theoretically will lose the election, doesn’t mean he’s out of politics. As previously mentioned he has some support and he has the funding to stay in politics for as long as he fancies. One thing nobody can deny is that Trump has electrified American politics, and to elements within the Republican party he represents that is both attractive and useful. A failed bid at a Presidential spot does not mean that they’re ejected from the political spotlight, see Hillary Clinton and Senator John McCain for examples of people who failed to become president and retained significant political might, and this is the path I can see Trump following.

Trump isn’t an outlier or plucky underdog, he’s genuinely challenging for the Presidential hot seat, the reason for this being his seemingly never-ending swarm of supporters willing to overlook his blunders and blatant lies. This is a problem as they will be understandably disgruntled about their favoured candidate losing. How exactly to bring these supporters who’ve fled from the political norm then? These men and women are hugely motivated, believing in the incorruptible Mr Trump and as far as many are concerned, America is doomed without him, so expecting them to accept things quietly is incredibly naïve.

So moving onwards, Trump has been defeated, and his supporters soothed. Four years later, he has another chance to become President, and I’d be willing to bet he’d try (although whether the Republican Party will let him run for them again after the turmoil he seemingly creates is yet to be seen). He’ll play on his own character and he’ll play on his supporters fears once more, and if the previous President has failed in some regard, no matter the severity, he has the potential political momentum to swing a future election in his favour.

Mr Trump has consistently met challenges and defeat with resurgence and obstinance, and perhaps that’s a good thing, but you can be certain of one thing, the Trump legacy will not go down quietly.

More Sport, Less Rubbish

I like sport. I like competing, I like watching it and I love nail-biting finishes where you’re uncertain if your favorite is going to win or be defeated. Unfortunately, sport has baggage.

Currently, the Rio 2016 Olympics are underway, and it may be potentially the most controversial Olympics in human history. Preceding the games, all the media talked about was doping, which was disappointing. Hundreds if not thousands of athletes had prepared tirelessly for years to compete, and rather than this, the actions of a few dominated. Which is a great shame. The saddest thing about it was the amount of trust that was lost in hard working athletes. Rightly so, cheats were penalised, but it’s another case of news outlets focusing on the bad because it’s what sells, to the detriment of the achievements of the athletes competing and sport as a whole.

Formula One aggravates me intensely. I love cars and I love motorsport. But Formula One has a culture of rules which in my opinion make the sport worse. Regulations dictate practically every aspect of the car and I’m not saying we should deregulate the sport, these regulations are what keep the drivers alive, but arguably the period when Formula One was at it’s most popular was the mid Seventies, when monstrosities like this were on the prowl:

Image from Wikipedia

6 wheels. Because they could. Conversely, back in 2010 we had the “Kneegate” controversy, where regulations limited the use of active aerodynamics (essentially moving bodywork) and so McLaren added a small vent to their car which was activated by the movement of the drivers knee which essentially increased overtaking ability and this caused a storm as McLaren had blatantly sidestepped the FIA regulations to win.

F-Duct McLaren
Image from and more information available at formula1-dictionary.net

Not too surprising then that with this level of pettiness that Formula One has lost a third of it’s viewership since 2008. Bummer.

Recently I’ve had some interactions with the America’s Cup, specifically with the Land Rover Ben Ainslie Racing team, and the America’s Cup seemingly have a far better attitude. There are regulations of course which dictate things such as the size of the boats, but teams have enough freedom that while taking this photo, I wasn’t alone.

BAR HQ and Test Boat

In fact on a nearby pier there was someone from another team taking plenty of photos as well in an attempt to see what the BAR team were doing and see if there was anything they could learn and use themselves, very sneaky.

Regulations are needed in sport to make things fair, but the regulations should not impede the sport and in my opinion, there are too many which do. In turn there is too much utter rubbish surrounding sport half the time and I just want to enjoy it. Please let me.

Jaded and Bitter; Course Rep Extraordinaire

I don’t know what possessed me to become a course representative in my second year of University. I must have been mad. “It’ll look great on your CV!” they all say [citation needed]. Well being a course rep has been the biggest headache of my entire time at University and it was entirely self-inflicted… And I’ve loved every second of it. Sort of.

It sounds simple on paper. Turn up at a meeting per term as well as a training session or two at the beginning of the year and boom, you’re making a difference in the University and the floodgates of jobs will come rolling in.

Ahem. Not quite.

Unfortunately, I ended up in a department of very good course reps who actually wanted to make a difference, which kept me drudging forever onwards, rather than bailing and coasting off of the benefits.

Turning up at a meeting with a bunch of other Reps and stating what you want isn’t going to work, meetings don’t work like that, you need to go into them with a plan, and thus a pre-meeting meeting was required. On top of this, if there’s an issue with a specific unit or lecturer, that’s another meeting right there. Hopefully I’m painting an image of a life dominated by a million meetings on a vast swathe of topics.

Understandably, attendance plummets past the first meeting as people have work to focus on, forget or quite simply, can’t be arsed. I don’t blame them, the number of meetings which ended up achieving very little were staggering. And that’s simply because, many staff but by no means all, don’t really respect the Course Reps. And who can blame them when they hardly show up. And here we see the self fulfilling prophecy completed and why the system is a bit of a mess.

I should probably note, my experience of course repping was by no means normal. There was conflict along the way (a story for another blog post) at many different levels and I really wanted to give up for some time and at points, massively regretted becoming one, stubbornness being my downfall and what ultimately kept me going.

Ultimately, what being a course rep exposes you to is the non-sanitised view of the University business. You see the things that go on that the higher-ups don’t want you to see. Awful lecturers, mismanagement and a whole host of student issues left unchallenged. But here’s where the enjoyment kicks in. I can challenge those things. I can be a pain in the arse and make things happen. I can debate people and fight and meet staff and attempt to fix things. I can drag the University kicking and screaming in a better direction.

If I have any advice for anyone considering being a course rep, it’s these three things:

  1. You’ve got to want to make the University better, don’t do it just for the promise of potential job opportunities, the meetings will be dull and you’ll be wasting your time
  2. You’ve also got to be willing to see the bad side of things and not let it cloud your overall view. Yes there are bad things, but I love my University. It’s great, and I won’t let the improvements that can be made get to me.
  3. Expect opposition. There will be people who disagree and they will attempt to make your life hell

I haven’t painted a particularly nice image of what being a Course Representative is. But it’s not exactly nice. It’s hard work. Challenging an institution in such a way will bring out the worst in some people. It made me bitter. It made me jaded.

But I got a free hoody so it’s not all bad eh?

The Art of Failure

One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to contend with in my life has been failing, but as I’ve failed, I’ve steadily learned to get good at failing.

To be honest, the entire concept seems a little backward, “How can you be good at… Not being good at something?”, but let me explain.

Through both Primary and Secondary education I excelled. I was the little shit that did well and really didn’t make much of an effort. But as we all know, how well you performed at school means absolutely diddly-squat once you put on your big boy pants and go out into the real world and this reality rushed to meet me during my sixth form years undertaking the International Bacalaureate. Now I could make excuses about bullying and having a rough time but the reason I didn’t pass was because I attempted to coast the most rigorous educational standards I’d faced up to this day. I simply didn’t make enough, if any, effort.

And none too surprisingly, I failed. Actually, I thoroughly bombed it.

And it hit me like a truck.

Fast-forward a year of feeling very sorry for myself and I finally had a revelation. I wasn’t happy. I was doing nothing. No job, no prospects, nothing really. I suddenly saw where I was and where I was going and it simply wasn’t good enough. So I decided it was time for a change.

So here we are, College Diploma completed and University Degree well underway. And there have been failures. I didn’t get a placement year for my course for example. But I did the same thing I did after that first failure, although admittedly I expedited the process. Instead of moping and feeling miserable, I took it as a challenge. I’m now undertaking various other exciting projects which will make me stand out on the inevitable stack of CVs.

I see failure as a chance to fight for what I want, to prove that I really want it which means I can enjoy the satisfaction of completing the task and proving the doubters wrong all the more. I can take pride in my achievements, they’re mine and I fought for them.

A little self indulgent I know, but if it makes every failure not only bearable but borderline enjoyable, then I think I’ve just about got the knack of it.