I know I’m not the only one who has wondered why so many things in the world of technology and communication are named after fruit, and why there are none named after vegetables (please feel free to point out any!). It’s probably because fruit conjures up images of sweetness, pleasantness and happiness whereas vegetables conjure up images of childhood protests and Baldrick. After all when you visit someone in hospital you take them grapes or a basket of fruit – not a bunch of carrots. Fruit is also funny, although I am sick of hearing the joke that does the rounds whenever there’s an issue with any Apple or Blackberry devices – usually a reference to crumble. So fruit is generally a good thing, although you’ll have your work cut out convincing my daughter of it. Ironic then that her task this week in Food Technology (Domestic Science or Home Economics as it was called in my schooldays) was to make fruit salad (and eat it). What with that and my son seeing how many journeys to and from school he could make a small pot of on-the-turn strawberries last, it’s been a bit of a fruit-themed week.
And, no more so than in the technology change that’s taken place in the hillplodder household. You see, I’ve finally called time on my Blackberry and moved on. My prime motivation for getting a blackberry (and it was a pretty basic one at that) just over 18 months ago, and just as the world was getting into touchscreen smartphones in a big way, was the fixed keyboard. Having used one for work for a few years, I’d got used to it, and so bought one for personal use. It’s no accident that its acquisition coincided with me getting into Facebook, Twitter and blogging in a much bigger way. After all with a keyboard I could do it on the go, and crucially when on a walking trip. The other reason I got one was the deal that Virgin were offering at the time.
As time has passed though, and as the iphone and Android devices have elbowed most others out of the market, I’ve found that people aren’t making apps for Blackberry, or that with its tiny screen, you don’t get the full benefit of the app. I loved my Blackberry – it was actually quite small and hence handy , it coped with my fat fingers much better than a touchscreen would and, best of all, it just worked. But a forthcoming contract renewal and upgrade on the horizon meant some research into what I might upgrade it for and in the end I concluded that even the top of the range Blackberry still was missing something. So I started looking around. I blame @PilgrimChris most of all as he’s really made me aware of the apps that I’m missing out on and the possibilities out there if I move past Blackberry.
The first decision was simple. Before moving to Virgin, I’d been happily with Orange for many years, and noticed the difference in terms of the signal, particularly in Snowdonia last year where all the locals had Orange phones. Now I know that Virgin now use Orange’s signal when you can’t get your normal Virgin one, but it seemed to only give you basic calling and texting and no data. So staying with Virgin wasn’t really on the cards. Unless there was a big difference in the deals on offer between the operators, I’d go back to Orange.
The second decision in the FRP (Fruit Replacement Plan) was easy. No way was I getting an iphone. I hate them, and every other Apple device I’ve used. Style over substance is not my bag. I want to use my device not cuddle it.
So I started looking at Android devices, and had a few requirements:
- I wanted something good, and not just the cheapest handset I could find with the features I needed.
- I needed a bigger screen after the 2.5″ I’d had to put up with on my Blackberry.
- If I was getting a touchscreen then it needed to be big enough to handle fat fingers.
- I was going to use it for business as well as personal use.
- A decent battery life.
- GPS, so that I could join in with social hiking etc.
I soon narrowed it down to two Samsung devices – the Galaxy S2 (or wait for the S3) and the Galaxy Note. There isn’t a massive amount in it, but I went with the Note because I felt it would be easier for the blogging and the things I want to see a lot on the screen. But it’s big, boy is it big.
Read any of the reviews of the Note and the main thing you’ll pick up is that it’s all about the size. You’ll see it described as a “Marmite” device – in that you’ll either love it or hate it. You’ll see references to people feeling silly holding it up to the ear (imagine pretending a Kindle was a phone), and struggling to find pockets big enough to hold it, whilst appreciating the usefulness of the screen for anything non-phone call related.
So it was a bit of a surprise to see how small the box it came in was. Now I should say at this stage that no I didn’t buy it blind – I had looked at them in the “flesh”, but you never get much of a sense in the shop. And I found it slipped into my shirt pocket no problem. Whether it will once I’ve got a case, remains to be seen however.
A number of the reviews I read called it a “phablet”, but it wasn’t until I’d seen this 3 or 4 times that I realised it was trying to convey a halfway house between a phone and a tablet, and not a hideous spelling mistake. Actually, I think the term’s accurate. I’ve struggled to find a use for a proper tablet as such, but I can appreciate the benefits of having a bigger screen than a phone has, and for me I think a “phablet” is the way to go. The fact that I can, on appropriate occasions, also use it instead of my Kindle is also good.
So first impressions on the size front are favourable. It’s going to be a issue sometimes and will spend time in my bag rather than my pocket, especially when out walking. But I can live with that – I think.
On the app front, I quickly twigged that the pre-installed stuff is largely bloatware and in particular the Social Hub isn’t a patch on the standalone apps for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. And with 7 pages of main screen, there’s a lot of customisation to do. So what other apps am I expecting to use?
- Google + : I’m finding as people gradually get on this, that it’s getting better. Broadly Google + is where I network with other walkers leaving Facebook for friends and family, and a few special others.
- Audioboo: I did my first Boo last week, and am hoping to do a few on my walks, potentially integrating them with Social Hiking.
- WordPress: a critical app. Without this I wouldn’t have changed, as I blog on the go – at the end of each day’s walking or sometimes on the train on the way home.
- Hootsuite: I’ve found this invaluable for keeping track of multiple social networking accounts and for being able to schedule tweets etc.
- Foursquare: I’m still not totally convinced about this and whether it adds anything other than showing off where I am.
- Xe: exchange rates, mainly for work.
- Skype: self-explanatory.
- Google Reader: otherwise I have no hope of keeping on top of people’s blog posts when I’m away from home.
- Kindle: for those occasions when I don’t need my actual Kindle.
- Bambuser: For streaming live video. PilgrimChris got me into this.
- Viewranger: for use with Social Hiking
- Anquet: when it emerges from testing. As I bought the early bird upgrade from v6 to their new software, I get the app free. As I plan most of my routes using Anquet, this could be of immense value.
I’ve also found an app called UK Stops which gives live bus timetables and route maps, and if this works in the wilds, could be seriously useful.
It’s too early to say whether I’ve done the right thing and how much of a difference this new device will make to my walking, or rather my sharing of my walking, but it does feel nice to have caught up with everyone else. So I guess I’ll leave it there and come back to this post in a few months time…