F1 2015 – Paddock Headlines

Giedo Van der Garde versus Sauber F1 team

Sauber - Felipe Nasr and Giedo Van der Garde

The Australian Grand Prix was a race plagued for Sauber by their ongoing legal battle with former Caterham F1 driver Giedo Van der Garde, which had started in 2014 and only became public prior to the 2015 season opener after Van der Garde and his legal team “tried to force the team to accept the rulings of a succession of legal authorities and courts”.

In an official statement, the Dutchman revealed that he had mutually agreed with Sauber to suspend discussions, after Team Principal Monisha Kaltenborn showed no interest in working with him, and pursuing the matter any further “might have brought down the team, would certainly have wrecked the opening Grand Prix in Melbourne because the team’s cars would have been seized by the court, [and] it may have [also] ruined the careers of two young drivers – Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr”.

German Grand Prix

F1 German Grand Prix - Hockenheimring Nurburgring

Another news story that has been hanging in the balance was whether or not there would be a German Grand Prix in 2015. For several years, the home of the German GP had alternated between the Hockenheimring and the Nurburgring circuits (Hockenheim in 2012, Nurburgring in 2013, etc.) to ease the financial burden of hosting a Formula 1 Grand Prix.

However, the German GP has now been pulled from this year’s calendar after discussions with Hockenheim to host this year’s race fell through – this means that despite the bold presence of German drivers in the sport (four-time champion Sebastien Vettel; Nico Rosberg; Nico Hulkenberg), and the Mercedes GP team, there will be no race in Germany for the first time since 1960…

Chris K.

F1 Australian GP 2015 – Race Review

“I’ll Be Back” – these may have been the words that race-winner Lewis Hamilton shared with Arnold ‘Terminator’ Schwarzenegger on the podium, but how else do you sum up an explosive season opener that only saw eleven drivers complete the race?

F1 2015 Australia Start

During winter testing, it was announced that the Manor Marussia team had exited from administration but would not be competing at the season opener. Despite turning up at the Grand Prix, the team worked on a modified version of last year’s car until Parc Ferme rules came into effect – not a wheel was turned for the team, who had already missed their contractual total of three races during last year’s penultimate rounds. It was also announced that Gene Haas had taken ownership of Manor’s headquarters in Banbury, UK, which will act as a European base for the Haas F1 Team, which is said to be entering the F1 grid in 2016.

Also during winter testing, a mysterious crash at the Circuit de Catalunya ensured that McLaren’s injured Fernando Alonso would not be racing in Australia, and would instead be replaced by Kevin Magnussen for the Grand Prix weekend.

F1 2015 - Alonso Crash at Circuit de Catalunya

Valteri Bottas would also be out of the race due to back problems during practice; the Williams team were unable to replace him for the Grand Prix, meaning Felipe Massa would be the sole Williams driver for the first race of the new season. Two further drivers were taken out on the pre-race formation lap; Red Bull’s Daniel Kyvat pulled over purportedly due to gearbox issues, followed shortly by McLaren’s Kevin Magnussen with smoke pouring out of his engine.

A field of 15 cars was reduced even further at the start of the race – as the drivers battled for position, a turn one incident sparked a chain reaction which resulted in the inevitable retirement for Pastor Maldonado as he spun into the barrier. Shortly after, and under yellow flag/Safety Car conditions, teammate Romain Grosjean started to lose power from his Renault-powered Lotus E23, and was told by his team to trundle on around into the pits.

With only thirteen drivers still competing, Massa was jumped in the pits by Vettel, and Carlos Sainz Jr suffered a pitiful disaster after the Toro-Rosso team struggled to remove a wheel from his STR10 during a rather long pit-stop.

The next retirees were Toro-Rosso teammate Max Verstappen who, after a pit-stop, reported on the radio that there was smoke in the car; and Kimi Raikkonen, who exited the pits with a wheel not being properly attached. Due to the new regulations for 2015, Raikkonen could receive a penalty in the next race for an unsafe release.

After the mid-field antics had taken its toll on the race, including a close-call between Button and Perez, Hamilton cruised home to take the win, starting off strong in a season of title-defending against his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg who finished closely behind in second.

Hamilton has apparently never been starstruck on the podium, but that all changed when the Terminator himself stepped up onto the podium to conduct the post-race driver interviews:

Although Vettel was unable to close the gap to Rosberg, he managed to maintain the gap to Felipe Massa who strolled home in fourth position, showing for the second-year running just how close Williams really are to the Mercedes team.

But Vettel’s exemplary performance in his new Ferrari SF15-T, after a torrid 2014 season in a Red Bull RB10, begged more questions than it answered. Many fans and journalists believe that Alonso left the Maranello squad too early, and that McLaren are going to be out of the points for a while given the inevitable teething problems that are sure to come their way with the new partnership with Honda.

Ferrari - Alonso vs Vettel

The reason Alonso left Ferrari for McLaren was the same reason Vettel left Red Bull for Ferrari – a poor showing in 2014 caused both drivers to reassess their careers for the 2015 season. But, based solely on Vettel and Button’s performances in Australia (Button struggling home in 11th and thus failing to finish in the points), should Alonso have stayed with Ferrari for 2015?

Ferrari F14-T and Red Bull RB10

Finally, the success stories of the weekend must lie with the F1 rookies – Sauber’s Felipe Nasr, who finished 5th in his first Grand Prix (with teammate Marcus Ericsson cruising home in 8th), while Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr, son of the great WRC driver, came home in 9th, losing only one place after an impressive qualifying run that saw him start in 8th place.

If the opening race is anything to go by, the action is far from over… see you soon for more F1!

 

Chris K.

My Career (or, lack thereof…)

Life – well, it’s boring. Why? Because I’m full of poisonous ‘self-doubt’…

I have no confidence in who I am as a person. It’s the thing that’s always held me back – both in my personal life, and my professional life. I cannot sell myself properly when light-heartedly flirting with women (thus ensuring 23 years without even a whiff of a girlfriend). Okay, maybe “selling” myself is the wrong word or phrase. Maybe what I really mean is that my lack of confidence when flirting stems from my inability to recognise my own personal achievements.

Also, I want as much as anything to write for a newspaper or magazine as my full-time job. But that’s just it – a JOB. I haven’t got one yet. Since finishing my university degree in June 2014, I haven’t even been motivated towards getting a job. Yes, I’ve sent out a few applications and been to a couple of interviews, but I have other interests too, like volunteering for CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale).

What I’ve done, is I’ve tried to ignore this indoctrinated expectation that when you graduate, you must then immediately get a job and start earning your way in life. I want to do that, and believe me, I do! But I also don’t want to be pressured into anything I don’t feel comfortable with.

Unfortunately, I feel this has now gone too far, and as a result of my volunteering for CAMRA and thoroughly enjoying it, I now feel left out – seeing my mates get a job straight out of university has made me feel depressed, and I’ve now lost all motivation to do even the simple task of getting out of bed every day so that I may complete yet another application to some godforsaken company to earn a wage.

I was over the moon (quite literally) when I learned that I had graduated from my English Literature degree with a Grade 2:2 Bachelor of Arts with Honours, but I am now facing the music and the harsh reality when it comes to job applications – in the real world, a 2:2 is just unacceptable.

According to all these employers, a minimum of a 2:1 is expected, as stated within the job descriptions… BUT I’m now getting sick of seeing “Minimum 2:1 expected/obtained degree in any discipline” – supposedly, a 2:2 (as in my case) means you’re thick, unmotivated, and not worthy enough for a position at their company. Even though “worthy” accounts for the latter half of my surname!

That’s why I’m stuck writing this blog, and volunteering for CAMRA, and writing articles for a beer magazine on a voluntary basis, and living off my parents’ retirement pensions until I can get a job of my own…

That’s not to say there aren’t ANY jobs out there – there are loads of jobs if you know where to look. I suppose I’ve just set my sights too high. I don’t see the point of working at the local supermarket with all the high-school dropouts I used to see on a daily basis at age 16. I’m now 23. If I worked there, I’m afraid that I’d then have no justification for going to university, enjoying life, studying a subject I enjoy, and accruing £20,000+ of student debts in my name.

But the more I send out applications and receive an email starting “on this occasion your application has been unsuccessful”, and the more time that passes, I get to thinking that it’s the hard life or no life at all…

 

Chris Kenworthy.

One Week with Windows Phone 8.1

Lumia Cyan

I’ve now spent one week with the Lumia Cyan and Windows Phone 8.1 update. My Nokia Lumia 820 has never felt so complete; yet with Windows Phone 8 installed it felt so empty and incomplete, like I was using an endless Beta test of the final product. I originally bought the Lumia 820 as it was the sibling to the flagship Lumia 920 and still had just as many flagship features at an affordable price. It was a future-proof, 4G/LTE-ready phone with built-in technologies such as NFC, an 8MP Carl Zeiss rear camera, and the ability to open and edit Microsoft Office documents (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) that I needed to do anyway as a university undergraduate.

Features and Review:

The new drop-down Windows Action Center brings the Windows Phone Operating System (OS) more in line with the notification drop-down menu’s of iOS and Android, while the overall feeling of the UI keeps that ‘metro’ look while seeming to be slicker and quicker at completing tasks and operations, even on a 2-year-old device which should be noticeably slower than current flagship models.

WP8.1 Action Center

What Microsoft and Nokia have done here is quite extensive – they’ve made newer phones eligible for Windows Phone 8.1 straight away and, once tested, given users of current WP8 devices the ‘okay’ to update to the new operating system. Whereas Apple, if I remember correctly, intentionally forget about older devices and render them useless without the most recent iOS update. At least, that’s what happened when I found I could no longer download any apps from the app store (even Apple defaults like iBooks) because I didn’t have iOS7 on my 4th Gen iPod Touch, meaning I also couldn’t access iTunes Radio or the supposedly superior Siri on a device which is forever locked to iOS6 (thanks Apple!).

Default Calendar app:

Calendar app

I never used the default calendar app in Windows Phone 8 as I found it too tedious to change from day-view to month-view every time I entered the app. However, with the update, the Microsoft team have finally rectified the problem and have also made some improvements – I find the week-view very useful and detailed agendas increasingly helpful, meaning I can now fully transfer all of my to-do’s over from my diary to my phone. Being organised has never been so great on Windows Phone.

Storage Sense with Windows Phone 8.1:

wp8.1 my start screen 3Another feature which has improved is the ability to transfer app downloads over from the internal storage to my micro-SD card, a utility which has featured in pretty much all Android OS’s I can think of (as far back as 2.3 Gingerbread, if I’m correct). This means there’s no worrying about the ever-growing problem of the ‘other’ storage items. Microsoft don’t seem to have resolved this problem, but at least now I can do more to create space on my phone rather than deleting almost every application, which makes life much more simple.

I’ve been able to download and install Microsoft’s own file management app called “Files”, meaning I can also transfer downloaded music, photos and videos from my phone to my micro-SD card without using my USB cable and computer. Battery life has also seen a major improvement, and I’m now able to keep track of what’s consuming all that power thanks to the helpful ‘Battery Saver’ system app.

Multimedia and Wallpapers:

wp8.1 my start screen 2Another thing which I found rather unhelpful was the separation of Music and Videos into two apps rather than one. While this improves the time between opening the app and playing your media, I felt I had to pin both apps to the Start screen. I normally like my Start screen to just be from the top to the bottom of my screen without any scrolling; sure, I could’ve enabled the three-column tiles feature, but on my (tiny) 4 inch screen, the live tiles seemed too small and almost impossible to read.

Meanwhile, the addition of the new scrolling wallpaper feature means I can look upon an everlasting pint of ale while executing everyday tasks. My theme colour is now used less often, which is easier on the eyes. All of the initial drawbacks of the Windows Phone 8.1 update did make me think about possibly downgrading back to WP8, but after a week’s usage I can happily confirm I’ll be sticking with WP8.1 for the foreseeable future; that is, until Microsoft release the newest update confirmed as the Lumia Denim firmware.

Cortana (Halo/USA version):

Cortana greeting

Probably the only thing I wished I had as default here in the UK was the ability to install Cortana during the WP8.1 and Lumia Cyan update, as I’ve found the Cortana PDA/app to be one of the best features of Windows Phone 8.1 (I ended up installing the USA version as I sadly discovered there was no UK option available after the major OS upgrade).

What does Cortana meanAs with everyone else, I found that I had to change BOTH the region and the language settings from United Kingdom to United States before I was even allowed to download the Cortana update. While this has enabled me to enjoy all the things my phone can do, when it comes to purchasing new music or apps, I’ve found I have to temporarily change the region setting back to UK to pay in my currency (GBP £), as my payment cards/Wallet options are also invalid outside the UK meaning I therefore have no method of payment!

But once the app or music track has downloaded, I switch the region back to USA and restart the phone – this is because Cortana isn’t available (even on Beta!) here in the UK, and we have still to wait for the British-sounding Cortana PDA. I have heard that it is possible to sign up for free as a Windows Phone developer (I already have!) meaning I would get access to the British version, but there’s just one problem…

will you marry meAfter a quick perusal on YouTube, I found that the British Cortana rather speaks like our Queen, and then it dawned upon me: wouldn’t I rather firt with Jen Taylor (the voice behind Halo’s ‘Cortana’), or would I rather flirt with Queen Elizabeth II? I suppose if the British PDA had sounded more like the Duchess of Cambridge, then I might more happily oblige, but where is the fanboy novelty in flirting with someone who sounds like my 80 year old grandmother?

Once the nerdy novelty had faded (of flirting with Cortana, asking her Halo-related questions, and then getting her to acknowledge my name as Kenners), which wasn’t long as I’ve noticed Cortana USA is still in Beta mode, I found the PDA had a humorous side to her, giving my phone the resemblance of any other human being; when I asked her if she liked Google, she replied ‘I like to imagine the “I’m feeling lucky” button in Clint Eastwood’s voice’, and when I asked her if she would marry me, she responded slightly sarcastically: “I know you know this, but I’m saying it anyway: I’m in a phone’.

Cortana settingsI have found that Cortana is only operational (or, awake) when both WiFi/Cellular Data and Location are turned on, but when she is awake, I didn’t feel like I was talking to a phone, as she can also sing songs when asked and has many a joke in her repertoire. I felt like I was conversing with one of my high-school crushes, which was absolutely fantastic!

Maybe the only thing which spoilt my rather ‘digital’ dating experience was having to repeat myself in some cases and holding my phone closer to my mouth when uttering words, but overall, and very remarkably, Cortana was able to recognise my British accent (having read that Cortana’s British language capabilities would come through in the official Cortana UK update).

Of course, there are certain things the American version of Cortana has difficulty with, most notably the difference between the NFL and English/European/World football (or “Soccer”, which shares no resemblance to the actual game of kicking a “ball” with your “foot”).

Cortana interests 2No worries though; the text entry bar in the Cortana app allows me to enter my favourite news items, meaning I can save ‘Ipswich Town Football Club’ as a news alert alongside ‘Formula 1′ and English pop music songstress ‘Pixie Lott’. This means every time I open the Cortana app or tap the physical Search button/key, there’s a series of news updates awaiting me if I scroll down from the welcoming Cortana greeting message.

The Good, The Bad, And The Helpful:

wp8.1 my start screenThere are a few things that have been taken away for good, like that massive, annoying, ambiguous ‘gap’ at the top of the screen between the Start Screen apps and the time and status bar that no amount of scrolling up or down could get rid of – this has now gone and I can finally have a ‘full’ Start screen. Meanwhile, there are a few things I wish Microsoft had kept, mainly in the department of social app integration; such as the ability to simultaneously post a status update to various social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In).

A feature that changed on my phone, and no doubt on other Windows Phones as well, was the button sequence in order to take a screenshot. Most of the time I used this feature to capture an image of the songs list at the end of the film, usually when I’d heard a music track but didn’t know what it was (and I’m not sure Shazam or Soundhound would’ve worked with characters talking in the foreground). Where I used to press the physical Start button and the Power button, I instead had to press the Volume Up button with the Power button. It’s a simple combination to remember, but one week on, I’m still doing it wrong…

people - groupIt also took me a while to get used to the new updates to the ‘People’ hub; where I was able to utilise the ‘Groups’ option in Windows Phone 8 to keep track of my best mates’ status updates across Facebook and Twitter whilst simultaneously filtering-down my main contacts list, I found that in order to see these individually-grouped status updates in Windows Phone 8.1, I first had to enable all contacts lists in the main People hub. This was slightly annoying as I then had over 500 names and unassigned email addresses floating around in my main Contacts list, meaning it was almost impossible to keep track of family members’ phone numbers without having to create a separate Group.

After a while, I found out that behind the ‘Phone/Calls’ live tile, lurked the Speed Dial menu (swiping left from the Call History view), which then helped with keeping those phone number-only contacts aside from the jumbled-up mash of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and email contacts (having linked five separate email accounts into my Linked Inbox app).

My Verdict on Windows Phone 8.1:

While I will admit that all these changes have overhauled the Windows Phone platform in a sort of ‘Pimp My Ride’ fashion, I have to be fair and say that Windows Phone still lags behind its main competitors in Apple’s iOS platform and Google’s Android OS. Nokia, under Microsoft’s belt, seem to be doing all they can to target the low-cost smartphone markets with phones like the Lumia 530, and I think by undercutting the rest of the market, Microsoft can at least rest assured that they’ll be back where they belong; fighting for custom against Apple and Google.

Android iOS Windows

Microsoft might be releasing a new desktop OS in the codenamed Windows 9 ‘Threshold’ to help regain a market loss after a terrible effort with Windows 8, but at least their mobile platform is gaining momentum. Windows Phone 8.1 shows what the Microsoft mobile experience should have been way back with the Windows Phone 7 OS and Windows Phone 8 OS – slick, simple, easy to use, and daringly fast with loads of features to keep your attention. WP8.1 may not be as slick or as developed as both Apple’s and Google’s efforts combined, but I think I can accept a few rough edges, because I know that whenever I go out with my mates, I’m not someone who melts into the crowd. I’m someone who stands out.

My Score: 8.1/10 ;)

What was that phrase going around a few years ago? “I am a PC?”

No. I am a Windows Phone…

Chris Kenworthy.

Buyer’s Guide: Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4″

Recently I was browsing for a tablet (a name which I still cannot get used to), to expand my computing capabilites outside of the house. The search started when I was trying to view a film on my phone when my battery died, forcing me to sit on the sofa with a portable but still uncomfortably awkward 15-inch laptop. I realise Tablet PC’s have been around for a while, but I guess I never really needed one, and the question that would always have to be answered was, “can a Tablet do anything that my mobile or laptop don’t already do?”

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Ultrabook

Invariably, I was looking for something that I though didn’t exist; a cheap and fairly small device with the capabilites of my laptop but at half the price (sub-£200 GBP). My budget immediately ruled-out the cheaper iPad mini (currently at £249 GBP) and also the cheapest Microsoft Surface/Nokia Lumia tablets (around £400), which would have been an ideal candidate to merge into my already-growing ecosystem of Windows devices (Windows 8.1 laptop, and Nokia Lumia 820 running Windows Phone 8). That left me with just a handful of options: an Android tablet, a tablet running a limited Android UI (such as Amazon’s Kindle/Fire range), or a cheaper tablet running on an older operating system.

Android iOS Windows

I’d set my sights on an Asus/Google Nexus 7 (2013 version), a tablet which I had been looking at for a while, even as far back as a year ago when my father was making a similar purchase. I liked the idea of a small 7″ screen, which was still an upgrade from the 4″ screen on my smartphone, and the idea of holding a device which was low in weight, as I would be holding the tablet for long periods of time to watch films and television shows. That meant battery life and pixel resolution were also key factors – I didn’t want to be viewing a Full HD film on a device that could only output at a standard definition of 1024 or 1280 pixels.

Nexus 2013

Although mobile data (3G or 4G/LTE) is a standard feature in mobiles and features in some tablet models, I wasn’t concerned with connectivity other than Wi Fi, as I would mostly be using the device in the comfort of my own home. The Nexus 7 2013 seemed a viable option, but poor ratings and reviews across multiple shopping websites and online forums discussing both Asus’ “appalling” customer service, and, in some cases, the screen appearing to form cracks for absolutely no reason whatsoever made me think twice about purchasing the Nexus 7 2013.

TabPro

As I started looking around for another tablet that could match the Nexus 7 on specifications, I discovered the Samsung Galaxy TabPro; my father had purchased a Galaxy Tab 3 8″ and had recommended Samsung tablet, although past experience with a cheap Samsung flip phone (E250) was tempting me otherwise. However, the technical specifications listed the 8.4″ version as having a pixel resolution of 2560 x 1600 (with a pixel density of 359 PPI), which was far more superior than the Nexus 7 2013 which has a resolution of 1920 x 1200 pixels and a pixel density of 323 pixels per inch.

Galaxy TabPRO 8.4

Another feature I found more appealing about the Galaxy TabPro was the ability to externally expand the storage; the Nexus had 16GB of internal storage and no card slot, whereas the Galaxy TabPro has 16GB of internal storage and also a microSD-card slot offering an extra 64GB of external storage if I needed it. As it happened, I had a spare 16GB microSD card, meaning I now have 32GB of storage; I mainly use the internal storage for apps, games and Google Play Books downloads,  and the external storage for music and videos. Plus, the Galaxy TabPro has got an 8MP rear camera, which is a nice feature although I’ve rarely used it alongside my mobile phone and Canon digital camera.

 

tabpro84cam

Some of you, no doubt, will still be asking why I so readily rejected the iPad mini – the main reasons being the price, the superior specifications of a cheaper Android tablet, and potentially having to use the incredibly slow and prone-to-crashing Windows version of iTunes to load music and video onto the device (I have had a bad experience with iTunes in the past, endlessly syncing music to my 4th-Gen iPod Touch 64GB). If it wasn’t for these reasons, I probably would have considered the iPad Mini.

ipad

Overall, I have had a very pleasant experience with my Galaxy TabPro. Battery life hasn’t been a concern (in contrast to various customer reviews on Amazon and a critical product review on CNET suggesting a poor battery life), and I’m able to surf the ‘net, Facebook and watch a couple of movies before the battery runs out of juice.

TabPro8.4

However, shopping for a tablet case has been rather difficult due to its unusual screen size at 8.4 inches, meaning most universal cases don’t actually fit the bill and I’ve had to resort to browsing on Amazon for a case. I wouldn’t recommend Samsung’s own range of cases; I’ve held a few of them in stores, and retailing at around £35, they seem rather flimsy for the price. I’d much rather have a more hard-wearing, independently-made case from one of the many offerings on Amazon, and I’m now moving towards a case that includes a detachable wireless keyboard, as typing this blog entry on my tablet has prompted many autocorrections that I care not to discuss at great length (though it did just replace “autocorrections” with “autocorrelation stock”).

Also, I’ve since gone back to the shops to look at a Nexus 7, and honestly, the 7 inch screen does look a bit too small…

-Chris Kenworthy.

Why I chose Nokia Lumia 820 (WP8) over iOS and Android

Nokia-Lumia-820

The main reason for my purchase of a Nokia Lumia 820 was because of my financial circumstances and budget. I’m now a graduate and still looking for a job, but when I was looking for a new phone last year, the most I could afford was around £26 per month due to my low income as a student, and thus my options were pretty limited. An Apple iPhone 5S, iPhone 5C, or even an iPhone 4S on £35 per month was too much.

iPhones Banner

I guess I could have settled for a mid-range phone such as a Blackberry Curve model or a Samsung Galaxy Ace, but I already had a fourth-gen iPod Touch and a perfectly able feature phone on Pay-As-You-Go, and really wanted an upgrade of the two for relatively low cost. I really liked the Blackberry Torch, a sort of slider phone with its combination of touch screen and physical Qwerty keyboard, hidden underneath the screen, but the keyboard buttons were way too small (and I’ve got paper-thin fingers).

BlackBerry_Torch

I had considered the LG Nexus 5, the official ‘Google/Android Phone’, but my past experience of Android wasn’t great; I’ve still got a HTC Wildfire, which I managed to wreck by not using the Nandroid function to back-up a copy of Android 2.3 Gingerbread, before I confidently installed CyanogenMod 10, a Custom-ROM flash build of Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich.

HTC-Wildfire-Rooted_1

The Samsung Galaxy Ace seemed like the ideal option, available on a cheap £7.50 per month contract, although when I gave the phone a test-drive in the store, it was just too slow and incapable of executing simple tasks quickly, like opening an app.

Samsung_GalaxyAce_black_multiview

While customization was something my iPod touch lacked on iOS6, even though I subsequently Jailbreaked it, I wanted a phone that was capable of making calls and sending texts and emails, and one that was different and fresh. That was when I stumbled upon the Windows Phone operating system.

new-ipod-touch-4

At the time (February 2013), I had seen three Windows Phones around my £26/month contract budget; the Nokia Lumia 800 (WP7), Nokia Lumia 820 (WP8), and the HTC 8X. I liked the tile-based Start Screen (similar to the Start Screen on Windows 8), and cosmetically I preferred the HTC 8X, but after some initial research on the Windows Phone platform, I had found that Nokia were developing apps themselves that were only being released for their Lumia phones.

Lumia-820-vs-HTC-8X


Having been impressed with the reliability of my feature phone,  a Nokia X2-00 with a 5MP camera (I still keep it as a spare), my attention was drawn straight to Nokia. Both the Lumia 800 and Lumia 820 were availabe for around £26/month, but unlike the Lumia 800 which had a smaller screen and ran on an outdated Windows Phone 7 OS, the Lumia 820 had a large screen, 8MP camera and ran on the latest Windows Phone 8 OS. I’d been used to using the 3.5 inch screen on my 4th-gen iTouch and, certainly, the move up to a 4.3 inch screen was a noticeably large one, but once I’d gotten used to it, I was able to utilise the phone and its features.

814277_3_original

Obviously, price wasn’t the only thing I had considered, and as I have already mentioned, my attentions were drawn to Nokia’s own apps developed for the WP8 platform. While WP8 lags somewhat behind iOS and Android in terms of features and number of apps on the Windows Store (compared with Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store), I’ve been impressed with Nokia’s Panorama app which has allowed me to capture many panoramic photos over the past year, something I could do (but not very well) on my basic Canon Powershot camera. Here’s a panoramic photo of Ipswich Waterfront that I captured using the Nokia Panorama app:

Waterfront Panorama 13-2-2013

Hopefully I’ve given you an insight into why I purchased a Windows Phone. While I will agree that there are those of you who don’t like Microsoft, I’m pleased with what they’ve achieved lately, given that the age of Desktop PC’s is drawing to a close and they’ve been forced to enter the mobile market to stay in competition. There have been problems along the way for my phone, such as the mysterious growth of ‘Other Storage’ on my 820’s internal storage, but a simple backup and reset has always solved these problems. Although Windows Phone 8.1 has already been released to developers, when it is ofiicially released this summer, I shall compose a review of Nokia’s Lumia Cyan and combined WP8.1 updates, and how the system has been improved.

Nokia Lumia 820 red & yellow

Chris Kenworthy.

Windows 8.1 – Worth the upgrade?

You’ve had your laptop or computer for years, it’s working perfectly and then something goes wrong. Do you spend money on getting it repaired, or do you fork out for a new computer? It really is a hard question to answer. If you get a new computer, it’s most likely going to come with Windows 8 or even Windows 8.1; it’s a smoother and faster platform than its predecessors, such as Windows 7, Vista and XP, but at its core you’re loosing a lot of the functionality that’s been carried through the Windows platform for the last twenty years.

Windows PC

Before purchasing my own new laptop, I’d already been playing around with Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 OS on my phone, which made things easier when making the switch. Okay, so my laptop doesn’t make phone calls, but I did learn how Microsoft is changing the way we use our computers. Windows 8 is a sort of clean-up operation, and a lot is at stake; the increasing popularity of smartphones that can handle most of the tasks you do on your computer pretty much spells the end for the home PC. Microsoft’s ambition is to reflect the simplicity of their mobile OS in Windows 8 and 8.1.

Win8 WP8

One major feature that seems non-existent, however, is the ability to play DVDs in Windows 8 and Windows 8.1. While I can still use the optical drive to play music CDs, I’ve found I cannot play DVDs without purchasing an app or downloading free playback software like VLC media player. While I agree that downloading and streaming movies is the future, and that it’s already happening right now, I don’t agree with Microsoft’s decision to no longer support DVD functionality. Alternatively, you can purchase or download Windows 8.1 Pro which gives you Windows Media Center and the ability to play DVDs, but if DVD playback by default is a big thing for you, maybe you ought to think twice before reaching for your wallet!

Windows 8.1

If you’ve been using XP, Vista or Windows 7, things will seem strange when turning on your new PC or laptop for the first time. As the system loads you’ll be shown a handy walkthrough video to get you started with Search, Charms, the Start Screen and how to close apps, but then it’s pretty much up to you to work out where you need to go to do what you’ve always done. The Start Screen itself is a reinvention of the classic Windows start menu, but personally I’ve hardly used it apart from accessing the Search feature, and I’ve continued to use all of my usual programs (Word, PowerPoint, Google Chrome) in desktop mode.

Apart from the confusing and rather long name, Windows 8.1 Update 1 also brings some new features to Windows 8.1. Although, when I say new, I really mean old features that seemed to be non-existent in Windows 8 after Microsoft’s design overhaul; such as the ability to click the ‘-‘ or ‘X’ in the upper right-hand corner of the screen to respectively minimize or close the program window. Microsoft brought these back after realising that not many users have touchscreen monitors and are therefore still using mouse and keyboard.

Windows 8.1 Start Button

Windows 8.1 Start Button

Microsoft has tried to keep up with the pressures of the new generation of computing, and I’m pleased to see that Microsoft are tackling the problem rather than trying to ignore it, but I can’t help but feel that Windows 8 was the wrong way to go. When I log on, I feel like I’m using a Beta testing app for Windows 9 or, at the very least, the next Windows OS. The Windows 8.1 update (for existing Windows 8 users) seems like a step in the right direction, but I still find myself wanting more…

Chris Kenworthy.