Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Switch off fortnight? What? NOW? Craziness...

So which blithering idiot scheduled 'Switch off fortnight' in the UK for two weeks in the late Autumn? When it's cold enough that every device left 'on' actually contributes to heating our buildings and thus means less work for the heating system to do?

In other words, switching stuff off at this time of year has almost no 'net' effect whatsoever.....

'Switch off fortnight' needs to have happened in the SUMMER term, when dramatic overall savings could have been made.

As a physicist, I sometimes despair..... 8-)

Friday, November 09, 2012

Why I will never again buy a smartphone with a sealed battery

It's true that I've been objective in the past - I wrote a long and detailed article here, pointing out the pros and cons of sealed vs replaceable batteries in smartphones. I was honestly trying to see both points of view, despite my own feelings on the matter.

However, enough is enough. I realise that most tech commentators, supplied with far more loan/review phones than me and never getting to the point with any device where it's 'old', have been very vocal about 'sealed batteries being the way of the future' and that I should get used to it. The argument is usually along the lines that 200 million iPhone sales prove that Apple's 'sealed' designs are right. But just because the other appealing factors of the iPhone make it desirable doesn't mean that Apple are right about batteries.

But yes, Apple started the rot. And now we have the HTC One X and One S, the Nokia X7 and E7, the Lumia 800/900/920 and even (horror) the LG-made Nexus 4 all coming with 'sealed' batteries, Apple-style. It's a crime, it really is.

Funnily enough, the iPhone's battery isn't impossible to extract and replace if you're handy with the right screwdriver (see link below!) Though it'll void your warranty, of course. But some of these other models are just about impossible for the end user to think about opening.

So why am I making such a big deal over this? Personal experience, that's why. Let me take just two examples:
  • My Nokia E7. Great communicator, great keyboard, rather let down by a slow processor and quirky software. Sealed battery and a nightmare to get at. One day it simply refused to work. I tried every keypress and sequence, to no avail. What was needed was to remove the battery for a minute and then stick it back in again. Failing that, stick in a new battery. None of which was possible, since Nokia sealed the E7 battery in tighter than a seized car wheel nut. I ended up sending the E7 away for Nokia to (ahem) reseat the battery and send it back. Two weeks without the phone for something that should have taken 30 seconds on another device.
  • Another Nokia (nothing against the company, I just happen to have quite a few Nokias!), the Lumia 800, with the 'fabula' design. Curves everywhere, feels 'fabulous' in the hand, alright. But the device doesn't work anymore. As Monty Python would have said, it's an ex-phone. The battery life started getting worse and worse, to the point where it would only last a few hours. "Put in a new battery", I hear you cry. No can do - again, the design precludes any user access to the battery whatsoever. I guess it's off to the Nokia Care point.... again. In contrast, my Lumia 710, with proper battery compartment, is working like a champ, I've even started using a larger capacity cell in the bay, so the device's battery life has gone up! Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, sealed battery advocates....

Add in a variety of household gadgets over the last five years which are all sitting in landfill somewhere now because their sealed batteries failed and couldn't be revived. It's a waste. A criminal waste.

One my main arguments for not going for a sealed battery design has been that capacity will decrease over time and that with a replaceable battery design, you simply buy a new cell after a year or two and you're good to go. The counter argument is that if you look after a phone and don't discharge its battery too far and too often, then the battery will last the lifetime of the phone. Which is fair enough, but the reality is that almost all phones get abused at one point or another. And so they end up with significantly less capacity well before the typical phone contract is up.

More importantly though, there's the troubleshooting element that I ran into above. Call me a cynic, but no phone, no mobile OS is perfect and something will at some point go wrong. It always has, and the number one weapon in any phone user's armoury is to pull the battery. Ah. "What do you mean, I can't take the battery out?!" Most devices have a kill sequence, usually pressing and holding the power button for more than 12 seconds, or similar. Oops. Still nothing? We're screwed then.

I do appreciate that manufacturers like to stop end users fiddling too much with their devices - and popping batteries in and out (sadly) now seems to be verboten, but it's a step too far in my view and my headline above applies. I simply refuse to ever spend another penny on a phone for which I can't get access to the battery easily.

Now... one caveat and a pointer to the upcoming Nexus 4....

I mentioned the iPhone above and its fans are always eager to point out that it's easy enough to change the battery yourself (and here again on the iPhone 5). Hmm.... that doesn't look trivial.... but not impossible. My old Nokia N8 was supposed to be sealed too, but that turned out to be a 45 second replacement.

Which begs the question about how user serviceable new devices like the LG-made Nexus 4 are. You'll recall that the Galaxy Nexus, its predecessor, was made by Samsung, who are fans of replaceable batteries, just as I am. The '4' claims to have a sealed battery and I was oh, so close to not ordering it. It does seem as though battery removal is possible:


Though apparently the battery is stuck in with glue and has to be prised out rather carefully. Gah!!

At which point I suppose I should tweak my headline slightly. "Why I will never again buy a smartphone with a battery which isn't user serviceable." That doesn't exactly roll off the tongue though, does it?

I sometimes feel alone in the phone world in some of my views on technology - though I expect there will be a few kindred spirits who are with me on this issue, at least.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Troubleshooting Renault engine noise

Here's something that's been driving me crazy over the last week. My Renault Scenic (diesel) has developed an odd and annoying noise. It's directly related to engine speed (i.e. dies away as I move the transmission to neutral and let the revs drop.

I've videoed the problem/noise below, in the hope someone can suggest what the problem might be. You're listening for a highish pitched whistling/rubbing noise.

Renault Scenic belt system noise for troubleshooting from Steve Litchfield on Vimeo.

I thought it might be the belt itself, but the addition of a little talc didn't help. Anyone ever seen/heard this before? Possibly a dry bearing somewhere, but where do I start looking? Alternator? Water pump?

The car only had a new cam belt fitted a year or so ago, complete with new tensioners.

Many thanks if you can rack your brains for some pointers here!

[SOLVED] Turned out to be the tensioning pulleys, one of which did indeed have a dry bearing. New kit fitted and all quiet now 8-)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Android phones wake up to music and podcasts with a button press after all!

I just had a startling revelation, a discovery. And it will help anyone struggling with listening to stuff on headphones on an Android smartphone. But please be patient while I describe the scenario...

You're out for a walk listening to a podcast or music. The phone's in your pocket or in its belt case - and you're using the supplied wired stereo headset to deliver the tunes or spoken word. All is right with the world til you get interrupted. Perhaps you meet someone and stop for a chat? Or arrive at a shop and have to conduct some business or other. Either way, you press the single button on your headset and the music or podcast pauses.

Or you're in bed listening to a podcast, drifting off happily to sleep. OK, there's a fair chance you'll fall asleep and you'll miss most of the podcast, but I find I know when I'm too tired to listen on and I pause playback and remove the earbuds just before I settle down to actually sleep.

In either case, you've got an audio item paused and the phone's screen is now off, whether for 5 minutes or 5 hours. And in either case, leaving the shop or waking in the night and wanting to continue listening for a bit, you press the headset multi function button again and.... nothing happens.

Let's get this straight - you can stop playback with the button but you can't start it again? Gah. On my older Symbian handsets, the multimedia headsets provided full start/stop/cue/review/volume control and these worked to resume playback whatever state the phone was in.

So you're resigned to taking the Android phone from your pocket or case or bedside, unlocking the screen and then manually resuming playback and then replacing the phone. What a hassle. Surely there's got to be a better way?

Turns out there is.

My thoughts after trying the above were along the lines of "Darn it, with the Android phone screen turned off, the device is in some kind of idle mode and it's not paying attention to my button press". I soon worked out that if I even activated the keylock screen 'blind', i.e. in my pocket or with eyes closed, the Android phone was then awake enough to respond to the button press. So at least there's that half-solution, even though it involves a little more work.

But there's an even better way. That only involves the headset button.

Press it quickly several times - around 3 or 4 times is usually enough on my Galaxy Nexus. The activity is enough to wake the phone from even the deepest slumber and restart playback. In fact, it usually clicks in on about the third click and the fourth click then pauses playback agan - necessitating an extra click to get things going again! 8-)

It has worked every time for me on my Android smartphone and has been a real time saver and the removal of what, for me, was a big annoyance.

Comments welcome on compatibility with your Android device!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Spring PSC pub meet!

By popular demand, for anyone local to Berkshire, UK, I'm hosting another Phones Show Chat pub meet-up for smartphone enthusiasts on Tuesday 17th April 2012, from 7pm until whenever we call it a night. The venue is the usual The Lands End Pub, Park Lane, Charvil , Twyford, RG10 0UE. See below for a map. The Lands End is perfect for meets because there's no piped music, plenty of space, good food and drink, and plenty of parking. Oh, and it's also my local! 8-)

Use your sat nav to get to the general area. You can approach The Lands End from the East, but you have to go through the ford - not recommended if there's been a lot of rain. Usually about a foot or so deep, so 4x4's only! Approach via the arrowed directions if possible.

The idea is to swap phone tech stories, try out other people's favourite devices, down some decent beer and (maybe) do a few short pieces to camera for the show. If it turns out well, you might be a star(!)

If you want to come along, just confirm by emailing me at slitchfield@gmail.com with the subject line "Spring Meet". Thanks!

As long as even four or five people make it, the event's a goer. Hopefully we'll have quite a few more than that!

The Lands End

.0118 934 0700

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Living without fear

This is just really cool and heartwarming. OK, perhaps I exaggerate a little, but bear with me. This is our guinea pig run, complete with prowling neighbour's cat:

We've had the guinea pigs since they were babies, which means they've only ever known friendly life forms. So when they hear us, they rush to the wire (probably wanting food, but hey...) They have ZERO experience of predators, the only other furry creatures they've EVER seen are each other.

So they see this cat and quite happily go on grazing on the grass without a care in the world. For all the guinea pigs know, the cat is just another large furry friend. They have no concept of another creature that might want to tear them limb from limb.

So we see the cat sitting there each day, occasionally trying to pounce and coming up against the wire every time, all the while its intended prey just point blank ignores it! I suspect that this isn't a reaction a cat is used to getting!


Quite something, to live totally without fear, isn't it? The pets have no idea what fear or want or hurt or hunger is....

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Cold callers, spam, con calls - GAH

The sheer hatred I have for these people and companies knows no bounds.

Today alone:
- chap at the front door wanting to know if he could quote me for a new conservatory
- endless emails (thankfully mainly filtered by the excellent Gmail) and tweets offering me free iPhones and medication
- telephone call on my landline saying I could be entitled to thousands of pounds back on a "mortgage, credit card or debit card" (thanks for being so specific, guys) - all I had to do was press '5' and enter my personal details and account numbers

It has got to stop.

The only consolation is that I do seem to have won 15 million euros on a lottery. All I've got to do is reply to a Mr Smith in Italy.... oh wait. *#*^^*#