Monday, 23 December 2013

Nokia Lumia 1020 review and comparison to N8

After a great deal of waiting I have finally got hold of the phone some of us have been waiting for Nokia to make for the last couple of years, the Lumia 1020, so I thought I'd write up a quick review on it.
For the most part I'm comparing this to my old N8.
This may seem a bit of an odd comparison (why not any of the newer Apple, Samsung, HTC or Sony phones for example?) but there are two simple reasons for this:
1) I suspect a reasonable number of people who bought the N8 for its camera have been hanging on for the 1020 for the same reason.
2) I do not own any of the other above-mentioned smart phones (though I did manage a couple of comparisons with an iPhone5 on the same night).

Physically the 1020 is a much bigger unit that the old N8 (on a par with a Galaxy S3), though it's actually slightly shallower at the deepest point. It still slides into your pocket easily enough but, with my average-bloke-sized hands it's really not as easy to use one-handed as the N8. The lens bulge seems to sit in a a bit of a funny place when you're holding it as well. From a design perspective I really don't like how they've chosen to house the additional gubbins; there are a number of alternative methods that would have produced both an easier-to-hold design as well as one that looked a bit sleeker.
A different design approach might also have allowed them space to fit in a couple of the nice hardware touches from the old N8, e.g. an expandable memory slot and the HDMI output.
Overall, of course, the phone hardware is much better - as you'd expect from a device several generations newer - the screen is a delight, both from a display and a touch perspective. Though it can register a false touch if you hover your finger too close. It being a dual-core processor (and newer software) everything runs much faster, with the possible exception of the camera start-up, it's a world apart in terms of regular use.

This is my first windows phone (I shouldn't think there are many people who are on their second) and I have to say that overall I've found it very easy to use and I'm more than happy with the operating system. There's a couple of things that took me a couple of attempts to find, and I miss the slide down access to wifi / data / silent but aside from that it's been very simple to figure out. The only things I had to look up were how to add a playing song to an already extant playlist* and how to close down apps when they're running in the background (a two-touch process rather than the old one-touch one).
On the app front, anyone coming from an android or iphone will find nothing like the same range and number of apps (it's much more like the symbian store) but so far the only thing I'd like to have but haven't got is a Strava app, but that wasn't available on symbian either so...

Anyway, the thing that most people wanting a 1020 will want to know about is:

The Camera:
It's good. Better than the N8 by a chunk actually. The reason for that bulky protrusion on the back of the phone is so that it can fit in a whopping great 1/1.5 sensor. Interestingly this is smaller than the old Pureview 808 (which had a 1/1.2) but still about 4 times the size of most other top-end camera phones and also larger than a lot of budget point-and-shoot cameras.
Some reviews will tell you that you can dump your compact camera once you have one of these but that is going to depend on what your compact was, if it was a cheapish one then this is probably true, if you've got something quite nice then you might want to do a bit more research.
I even read one review that claimed you wouldn't need your DSLR anymore - this is what's technically known as "bollocks". It's good, but let's not be ridiculous.

So, some details.
Firstly the phone comes with two camera apps, SmartCam and ProCam, built in. SmartCam takes a sequence of photos and lets you do funky things like removing background objects, correcting blinking faces, picking the best shot of a sequence etc. All very nice - and probably good if you have kids or do lots of other people photography - but I've never used it.
ProCam is a nice little app that gives you a bit more manual control of your photos. A series of simple swipe arcs allow you to make basic adjustments to white balance, focus (as well as tap focus), ISO, shutter speed and aperture. Whilst these are fairly basic they're actually very useful. Being able to ramp up the ISO at a gig for example (no flash required, especially as there's a mechanical stabiliser on the camera too) or being able to crank up the shutter speed for action shots.
Again, it's nothing like a proper set of manual controls on an SLR but it does allow you be much more creative than the competition.

Before I link you to some sample shots, a quick word on the output files. The 1020 saves two files for each shot, an unprocessed 41mp file and an over-sampled 5mp file for easier sharing etc. Weirdly if you look at the 41mp file it can look kind of blurry and out of focus. I don't know why this should be but frankly I've been sufficiently happy with the 5mp shots that I've never felt the need to export the 41mp version and try and play around with it. Anyway, for the comparison shots below, it's a 12MP N8 shot vs a 5MP 1020 shot as I figure that's what most people will use most of the time. (These shots have been uploaded to picasa, I'm not sure what compression they might use so this could be a bit of a dodgy comparison but I'm afraid I don't have any personal web-hosting to put the uncompressed files on).

Sunny(ish) day, outside, detail and inside shots:
N8 Outside, N8 detail, N8 inside
1020 Outside, 1020 detail, 1020 inside

Very low light (Dan Webster gig) shots:
N8 Stage, 1020 Stage.

A few shots to show different ISO effects in low light:
ISO400, ISO1600, ISO4000

A couple of other gig shots to show the zoom effect (again, very low light):
Low Zoom, High Zoom

The video is pretty handy too. Not having any other kind of camcorder I don't have anything to compare this to but here's a couple of clips you can make your own mind up about:
Low Light, Daylight and a Low light recording from the N8

And finally a couple of shots to show that with any camera, when the light is right, you just have to point it in the right direction:
Brough Castle 1, Brough Castle 2

So that's it for now, any questions or follow-ups, please shout.

* The reason I couldn't figure out how to do this was simply because you can't, well, not without plugging the phone into a PC and doing a drag and drop. This isn't just on the music player that comes supplied, but on any of the independent apps either - I find that to be a significant, and odd, omission.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Wheelsmith 50mm Carbon Clinchers - Review

This site has been very music focused over the last few months so it's probably time to address the balance with a bit about cycling. It would be cheap of me to make reference to my recent win in the tourdepance vuelta so instead I shall give you a quick review of a new set of wheels that have recently come into my possession.
[EDIT] N.B. This is just a first ride review, I'll be posting an update when I've got some proper miles on them and can talk about how they hold up.
These are they:
They're a set of 50mm Gigantex carbon clinchers in the new 24mm width, built onto wheelsmith's own hubs with Sapim CX ray spokes. You can find them in the price list at £740 inc shipping.
I went with clinchers because even the idea of the hassle of a tub puncture puts me off them. Carbon because I wanted something lighter than my current wheels, and deep section because they look nice and if there is an aero advantage to be had, I want it.

So in chronological order: firstly I cannot recommend highly enough the service from wheelsmith. I ordered them on the friday, they were built up that afternoon and arrived on monday afternoon. All the while Derek was also available to answer my dumb questions via e-mail after we'd had an initial chat on the phone.
Almost needless to say they're as true as the scales of justice both horizontally and rotationally.

Secondly then, some numbers. weight excl skewers but inc rim tape = Front 687g, Rear 828g, total of 1515g. Not too shabby at all for a pair of deep rim clinchers.
Wheelsmith supply them with some nice light titanium skewers that weigh 44g the pair and they also include a set of carbon specific brake blocks. More on braking later.
I stuck a new pair of 25mm Michelin Pro 4 Service Courses on and with skewers, tyres and tubes the total weight came to 2205g for the pair. They're replacing a set of Planet-X model Bs with Schwalbe Luganos that weighed in at 2665g so I've saved nearly half a kilo but it's a fine example of the law of diminishing returns.

On the bike they look like this:
After much pressure (mainly from certain people who didn't do quite so well in the fantasy Vuelta) I have swapped the valve caps for black ones. Actually it wasn't much pressure at all, the yellow ones look naff.

Which brings us to thirdly, how do they ride?
Well despite my cunning attempt at a scientific control, this is where we leave all the numbers out of it and start getting into stuff like "feel" and "seemed like" and all that. If you're ok with that then read on, if you just want the numbers then that's your lot.

For the first ride I kept the tyres at the same pressure as I'd been running the (23mm) Luganos (but I might well drop this a bit, particularly over the winter) to try and minimise the variables and, with a similar aim in mind, headed out on a route we knew pretty well: fairly flat, 7-8 mph headwind on the way out, following on the way back.
Being a fair bit lighter I did feel the old "spinning up quickly" effect and generally stamping on the pedals resulted in a sprightly leap forward. Averaging about 18 mph or so outwards I cannot honestly say that the wheels felt any different to the model Bs on the flat. In order to provide an effective control I swapped bikes with my mate (also on an ultegra-equipped pro carbon but still with the old model Bs) unfortunately the change in set up made far more difference to the feel than any kind of kit change (though it did highlight my need to clean up my bottom bracket).
I did notice (or so I believe) the reduced weight going up the hills but I also noticed that as we picked up speed (between 30 and 35 on a couple of downhills - told you it was a flat route) that I was going quicker than I had previously. How much of that is psychosomatic I couldn't say. Similarly though, as we pushed on a bit on the way in, the faster we went the more my mate struggled to keep up. Last time we went out the boot was on the other foot.
Initial impressions therefore seem to back up the standard suggestion that the faster you go the more any benefits will take effect. This makes sense given that wind resistance increases as a square of your speed.

One final word on braking, I haven't used these in the wet yet, in the dry the braking has been fine, not noticeably different to my alloy rims. I will update this post when I've got some wet miles in.

Any questions?

Monday, 12 August 2013

Et tu McVitie's?

Dear McVitie's,
I am not happy with your new packet sizes, not happy at all. What, in the name of all that's holy, made you think that people who have been buying your products all this time would suddenly want fewer biscuits in the packet? Did you imagine that all across the country people were discarding, unwanted, the last half dozen biscuits in the packet? Throwing away your produce for fear of over-eating? Filling up store cupboards with the remnants of the packet twisted tight shut, never to be re-opened?
When I reach for a packet of dark chocolate hobnobs I want 300 grams of rich chocolately oatey goodness, not 262. If I want to eat an entire packet of dark chocolate digestives, and frequently I do, then I want to eat 400 grams of the king of biscuits, not 332.
For years we have had these measurements and whole journeys and adventures have been planned around the correct amount of biscuits being available in the packet.
My world has been rocked and I am most, most disappointed.
Yours Sincerely
Drew the-chocolate-fiend Stephenson.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

King of the meh

Is it me or has the King of the Mountains title become a bit devalued in the Tour de France recently?
The overall race lead is always going to be the daddy obviously but I'm certain I can recall, in my youth, a period where the polka-dot jersey was considered a bigger prize than the green jersey.
Now it seems to be a bit of an add-on, a bit like the white jersey for the best young rider. It's a nice thing to have but nothing to get too excited about.
Is this just because, with Cavendish regularly featuring in the points competition, the British press have given it that much more prominence? Or have we created that bias ourselves by focussing on the Manx Missile's success?
Has there been a bit of a dearth of top-flight climbers recently that has meant the competition has been swamped by GC contenders instead?
Or is it, as I opened with, just me? Is the polka-dot jersey still as important as it ever was to everyone else?

Monday, 8 July 2013

You turn your back for one minute...

And you get a fantastic piece of copyright fuckupery like this
Norwich city has, for some unexplained reason, installed a load of painted gorilla figures around the city.
Guess which one has triggered a copyright dispute? The Ironman one? The Batman one? The Optimus Prime one perhaps?
Nope, it's the Freddie Mercury one.
Really, what a fucking ridiculous claim and what a stupid thing to do by the The Mercury Phoenix Trust - seriously, what the hell do they think they're doing?
Simple, simple idiots.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Complete Manifesto

A while ago I started writing and posting a manifesto for the content industry. This spread over 15 blogs and about 10,000 words in the end. Obviously at this point a blog stops being a convenient mechanism for reading it so I've given it a bit of a polish and stuck it in a .pdf here:

Please read, comment, critique and share as much as you like.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Prototype (or There is a Change Coming)

There is a change coming.

A bunch of smart people, wanting to talk to each other, came up with a variety of bits of code and protocols
and tried them out.

Bits failed, bits succeed, bits got bolted together, pulled apart and stuck back together again.

An on-going prototype that is still evolving today, even though the testers make up about 50% of the planet
and the cost of the total failure of that prototype would be catastrophic.

I’m talking about the web* of course. The internet, the information super-highway**, this mesh of connections and conversations. From the actually-quite-hard-to-visualise wi-fi hotspot to the tangible words that you’re reading now; it’s still a prototype.

Because what’s coming next, the next set of prototypes, is the transition from virtual to actual. It won’t just be your phone / tablet / pc that’s connected, it’ll be your fridge, your luggage, your bicycle, your house and your 3D printer. All of these will be connected and communicating to each other. Hopefully with you in the middle of it all…

3D Printers may just be producing simple plastic parts at the moment but the price is coming down to real-
world levels, metal-matrix devices are in development and some very smart people are thinking about how
carbon structures might be “printed” at a near-molecular level.

There is another level of business and personal disruption coming, but that brings with it another iteration of
the usual challenges, and these are the biggest threat to this next level of interconnectedness.

It’s not the limitations of technology, it’s not the limitations of raw materials nor is it some hypothetical
limitation of mankind’s ability to handle the “future shock.” The biggest threat is the status quo.

The status quo of large vested interests’ control of political representatives.

The status quo of copyright and patent law being so broken that they no longer promote innovation and
creation but actively inhibit it.

The status quo of the groundless legal-action that drives a new competitor out of business, not on merit but
on the threat of an un-payable bill.

The status quo that measures value by the number of ideas locked up rather than the number shared.

This can’t continue.

From a practical perspective, it’s a war that can’t be won. The most effective mechanisms against illegal file-
sharing are not threats of disconnection, not Digital Rights Management software, not multi-million dollar law-suits or night-time raids on flamboyant businessmen in foreign countries. People, ignore, discard and work around these things. No, the most effective methods are making the product legally available at the right price, in the right format and at the right time to meet the customer demand.

For ethical reasons too, it needs to change. Every day people across the world are dying because ideas
that could have saved them are locked up in intellectual property. As the technology progresses, it will be
increasingly unethical to ship something halfway round the globe if it could be printed in your garage from
locally sourced materials. If knowledge can be shared instantly and at nearly zero cost, how do we ethically
explain the withholding of that knowledge?

Copyrights and Patents can still serve a very valuable purpose, but not in their current form. We need to
go back to the reason for their existence and start again before they lose all credibility and go the way of

There is a change coming. Maybe we could try a couple of prototypes first…

* though if you removed the “wanting to talk to each other” bit and changed your perception of the word
“code” you could equally be talking about capitalism. But I’m not.

** I always think of Clive James when I hear this phrase.