I recently attended a preview event showcasing some new products from Homedics – a company who also make the well known Salter range of kitchen gadgets. What I didn’t know is that they also make this “HMDX” range of audio products, and I was lucky enough to be given one of these little HMDX Jam Bluetooth speakers to play with.

This is a mono Bluetooth speaker with a rather cute design. Even the packaging is clever, with everything being contained in a “jam jar”. They come in a variety of colours, but I think this purple one is particularly fetching.

Connecting the speaker is simplicity itself. Just flick the switch on the bottom, pair it with your Android or IOS device and you’re good to go. For those with non-Bluetooth audio compatible devices, there’s a simple 3.5mm line in socket along with a short cable. There’s also a standard micro-USB cable included for charging.

I tried the device with my HTC One and it worked as expected. There’s a range of about 10 meters, so I could keep the phone in my pocket and wander around the room without any disconnection.

Having got used to the HTC One’s fantastic sound quality though, I was struck by the fact that my phone’s internal speakers actually sounded a lot better than the Jam. There’s a good volume to this little speaker, but it’s missing a lot of the high and low end, so consequently sounds a little muffled.

But it is significantly better quality than the speakers in some of my other devices. It worked great with my Nexus 7 and Acer Iconia A1 and offered a noticeable improvement over the built in speakers.

Overall, it may not be the greatest sound quality in the world, but it’s cute, well constructed, and gets the job done.

Would I buy this? For £25 (Amazon Link), I’d certainly consider it as a kitchen speaker for a tablet, but I think I’d be tempted to spend a little more to get the slightly better spec’d HMDX Jam Plus model which allows two speakers to be paired as left/right stereo.

Gordon Ramsay Bread Street Royal Doulton Range

As a chocolate blogger, I get invited to all kinds of food-related events. Unfortunately, most of them have little or nothing to do with chocolate and I have to decline them.

But occasionally an invitation comes along that I just can’t say no to. So when I was invited along to have “Breakfast With Gordon Ramsay” to promote his new “Bread Street” range of Royal Doulton tableware, I couldn’t refuse.

As it turned out, there was no chocolate involved at all, so I couldn’t justify writing about it on Chocablog, but I thought I’d write about it here instead.

The event took place at Gordon Ramsay’s “Bread Street Kitchen” in the city of London, somewhere I’d heard about but never been. I arrived bright and early on a beautiful summer moring and was directed upstairs to the restaurant. I drank coffee and ate croissants from the new range, which has been designed to be used in the restaurant as well as to go on sale to the public.

As it turns out it was a small event, with about 10 journalists from mainstream media… and me. I felt more than a little out of place, but still excited to be there. And my fellow journalists seemed genuinely interested in the world of the chocolate blogger (and equally confused by my presence). But I certainly wasn’t complaining. I never complain about free food.

The tableware, like the restaurant is rather attractive, and the two work well together. Everything comes in plain white with grey trim or slate grey with white trim. It’s very simple but also stylish. I was particularly drawn to the grey with white trim.

I ordered the Ricotta Hot Cakes with Banana & Honeycomb Butter which was completely delicious – so delicious that I was too engrossed in eating it to get any photos. As we ate, Gordon Ramsay arrived and talked about the restaurant and the range. I have to say he was incredibly nice and took the time to talk to everyone. I can confirm that he does swear in real life just as much as he does on TV though.

I didn’t stay long, but I did leave with a goodie bag containing a signed book and a single mug from the collection. I have to admit it’s quite tempting to go out and buy the rest of the set.

Acer Iconia A1 Tablet Review

This week I was invited to try the new Acer Iconia A1 tablet at an event at London’s W1 Hotel.

The tablet is best described as Acer’s competitor to the hugely successful Nexus 7. It features the latest Android 4.2.2, a 7.9 inch 4×3 IPS screen, MTK, quad core, 1.2 GHz processor, 1 GB RAM and 8 or 16Gb of storage. It also features front and rear facing cameras, a Micro SD slot and Micro HDMI for video out.

Acer are pricing the tablet competitively, starting at around £149 for the 8Gb model. That’s £10 cheaper than the base level Nexus 7.

Small But Chunky

Holding the the Iconia A1, the first thing you notice is how chunky it feels in the hand. Despite being just 0.65mm thicker than the Nexus 7, it feels much thicker in the hand. This is probably because the Nexus tapers slowly to its widest point while the Acer is much boxier.

At 11.1 mm compared to 7.2mm, it is significantly thicker than that other 7.9 inch device, the iPad Mini though. Despite being easy to mistake for each other front-on, the difference is obvious the moment you pick them up. The Acer’s plastic back feels cheap and almost toy like in comparison.


We were given the Wifi A1-810 model. The 3G model also includes a SIM card slot, pictured.

For a budget tablet, the Acer stands up quite well. It lacks NFC, but features pretty much everything else the Nexus 7 has and more. The most useful addition is probably the 5 Megapixel front facing camera. I tend not to use tablet cameras very much, but there have certainly been times when I’ve wished the Nexus had one. There’s no flash, but quality is pretty good as long as there’s sufficient light.

The 1.2Ghz quad core processor is no speed demon, but it’s perfectly adequate for every day use and the occasional game. I haven’t tried to push it, but general responsiveness is snappy.

The biggest departure from most Android tablets is the screen. The 7.9 inch 1024×768 IPS screen is the real differentiating factor from similar tablets. It’s a lower resolution than the Nexus 7’s 1280×800, but that 4×3 ratio gives you a little more width to play with. It’s clearly no retina display, but it’s bright and relatively sharp.

Battery life is good. Acer claim up to 8 hours of HD video playback. I didn’t get quite that much, but it in every day use, it seemed to outperform the Nexus by at least an hour. Being able to get a full day’s use out of the tablet means I’m much more likely to carry it around during the day as an alternative to a laptop, so that little bit extra went a long way for me.


One of the best things about this tablet is that it features an almost-stock Android Jelly Bean 4.2.2. Of course, there’s no telling if Acer will update this promptly with future Android updates, but it makes a refreshing change to have an almost untouched and up-to-date operating system out of the box.

I say almost untouched, because there are a few pieces of uninstallable bloatware on there, but they can at least be disabled.

The main addition to the OS seems to be Acer’s ‘Touch Wakeapp’, which lets you wake the device and launch a configurable app by touching all five fingers on the screen. By default, a five finger touch wakes the device, and touching both thumbs on the sides of the screen wakes and launches the camera. it’s a handy little addition, although I’m not sure it’s strictly necessary.

One thing I really appreciate is the simple fact that when you put the tablet in landscape mode, the volume up & down rocker reverses, so Volume Up is on the right and Volume Down is on the left. The fact that the Nexus 7 doesn’t do this has always been an annoyance to me.


Wrap Up

In summary, this is a great little tablet from Acer. It’s low cost, but not low end.

I’ve been using it a couple of days now, and I’m quite torn between the Acer Iconia A1 and the Nexus 7. Which you choose probably comes down to what you want to use it for. The Acer’s 4×3 screen is great for reading and browsing the web, but not so good for movies. In every day use though, I found the extra physical size more won out over the Nexus 7’s higher resolution.

The SD card slot is nice, but external storage isn’t particularly useful on Android Jelly Bean. The HDMI port is a nice addition, although I did’t have a chance to test that.

It’s certainly not a groundbreaking device, but if your budget is around £150 and you want a decent all-round tablet, then Acer Iconia A1 is certainly worth considering.

You can buy the Acer Iconia A1 on or



iPhone 4: Call Failed

The video above is an example of what has happened to every call I’ve received so far on my iPhone 4. From three bars to “call failed” in 20 seconds flat.

Actually, that’s not entire true. I managed to receive one brief call by holding the phone by the tips of my fingers, but nearly dropped the phone in the process. But I can consistently replicate the effect shown in the video above simply by lying the phone on the table and touching the outer rim with my fingertip.

Yet Apple refuses to admit this is a hardware issue. Instead, they’re planning on releasing a ‘software fix’, which will do nothing more than lower the number of bars shown on screen in the first place.

Will it stop the phone from dropping calls? I’m not convinced.

I’ve already tried to get a refund on my iPhone, but Carphone Warehouse have outright refused. They are willing to admit the hardware may be faulty, but simply will not give a refund, as the phone is tied to a non-refundable two year Vodafone contract. So it looks like I’ll be stuck with a phone that doesn’t work as a phone for the next two years.

I could of course spend £25 on a “bumper” case. But that’s not the point. You wouldn’t buy a luxury car, then expect to have to pay extra for a special ‘steering wheel adaptor’ if you don’t want it to automatically drive into walls. The point is that this is a phone that simply does not function as a phone.

Interestingly, in the same press release where Apple offers a software fix ‘within a few weeks’, they also offer to refund the full price for anyone who wants to return their phone. That’s a luxury I’ve been denied.

I may not be able to do anything much to improve things for me, but I can at least offer some useful buying advice:

1. Do not buy an iPhone 4, unless and until Apple releases a fix that’s proven to work and/or recalls the phone.
The problem appears to be a design flaw in the phone and affects pretty much everyone to some extent. People in areas that have particularly good coverage may not notice it, but the problem is still there.

2. Never, ever, ever buy anything from Carphone Warehouse.
Once they have your money, they’re simply not interested in helping you in any way. I learned the hard way.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I’m not some mindless Apple hater. This is my second iPhone, I have three Macs and several iPods. I don’t hate Apple – I just want a phone that works.

Lucid Lynx Chrome Theme

Update: You can now download this from the Google Chrome Webstore.

Having completely failed to find a Google Chrome theme that looked how I wanted with the new Ubuntu 10.04 look, I decided to create my own. All I wanted was something simple and minimal that looked good with the default dark title bar when maximised, as that’s the way I normally browse on my netbook.

As it turns out, this is very easy to do and only took a few minutes. This is what it looks like:


If you want to use the theme yourself, click here to install it.

If you want to tweak the theme, you can download the unpacked files here. To edit the colours, simply tweak the manifest.json file and the images in the ‘i’ folder. The “ntp_” entries refer to the browser home screen – everything else should be fairly self explanatory if you’ve ever edited a basic CSS file.

You can install your theme by going entering chrome:extensions in the address bar, enabling developer mode and selecting “load unpacked extension”.

Feel free to play, edit, redistribute, sell this, if you so desire.

Affiliate marketing must die

Fishpool gold coins by Lawrence OP

I’ve been meeting a lot of bloggers at various events lately, and one thing I’ve noticed is that their seems to be more and more ‘affiliate marketing bloggers’ around. You know the kind of person – they usually blog about products in a specific niche and their posts come packed with (often disguised) affiliate links. The blogger makes money when you, the reader, clicks through and buys the product they’re writing about.

The problem with this should be obvious. It’s in the blogger’s interest to talk up the product and make a sale, even if they’re not that into it. Even the most honest writer is going to find it difficult to resist saying something nice about a product when there’s money to be made. No sale, no payment.

And make no mistake, there’s big money to be made in affiliate blogging. There are many people making thousands of dollars a month from very little work. Sounds great, huh?

Well no. In the vast majority of cases, affiliate links on blogs aren’t marked as such. After all, why would you tell your readers that the whole point of your blog post was to try to sell them something? So most of the time, readers don’t even realise they’re just reading one giant ad. It’s a questionable practice at best. In some cases, it may even be illegal with new FTC rules in the US requiring all ads to be clearly marked as such.

Merchants, of course, love affiliate marketing. It’s an absolutely risk free way to sell more product. You let someone else do the selling for you, and you only have to pay them if they make a sale. But for us, the publishers, it can be an altogether more frustrating experience. Inexperienced bloggers often find themselves making no money at all, unless they’re prepared to really get their hands dirty. Experienced marketers can make big money, but it’s a shady, underground practice. There are plenty of ‘secret’ ‘underground’ exclusive clubs where you can find the best way to promote products, but the more you get into it, the shadier and more blackhat it becomes.

One particularly annoying offender is Darren Rowse of Problogger fame. Darren gives advice on how to make money blogging. He will regularly mix useful, interesting content with posts that ‘review’ a particular product. Embedded in these posts are links to buy the product. Affiliate links, of course. Rather than being actual reviews, the posts are simply unmarked ads, and the average reader has no idea. Here’s one example of that, and here’s another. My issue with this is that Darren does not disclose these affiliate links, and the one thing he never talks about on his own blog is that he makes a significant percentage of his revenue from tricking his readers like this.

And people wonder why bloggers are rarely taken seriously as journalists.

Most bloggers never take things that far though. Even I use affiliate links on Chocablog to some extent. But I don’t like doing it. Even when a staff writer has written a post and has no idea what ads will appear around it, there’s still that nagging feeling that it looks as though we’re trying to sell them something. We’re not – we just want to provide a link to the source, and if we happen to be able to make some money from that, then all the better.

But can you imagine a mainstream media source using affiliate advertising to generate revenue? A newspaper? Magazine? Maybe a film review TV show, perhaps, that only made money from people who actually went to see the film after seeing it? They would quickly learn never either to lie or simply never review anything bad. Even if the reviews are accurate and honest, the audience loses out, because they’re not getting the complete picture. But in the long run, the producers lose too. Advertisers have a greater influence on the range of content that can be produced profitably, and often the best, less-profitable content, gets left behind.

The same is true with blogs. Most of us want to make a bit of money from blogging, but if you’re using affiliate ads on your site and not telling your readers, you’re misleading them. You might not care. It’s your blog, not theirs. But if you do happen to care about your audience, you’ll think twice before doing it.

Picture Credit

Banned from Fotothing

Today I was banned and removed from Fotothing – the photo sharing site I founded nearly 5 years ago and late sold to ADVFN.

The reason for my ban?

After someone posted saying they wished someone who cared about the site would buy it from ADVFN, I replied with:

I just found 57p down the back of the sofa. I’m in!

And that it seems is all it takes to get you banned from the site. At some point in the last few years it has changed from a fun photo sharing site into a strange communist state where any form of criticism is unacceptable and punishable by “permanent deletion”.

This makes me very sad. And what makes me even more sad is that ADVFN are now systematically deleting any and all criticism from the forums.

Last time I ruffled ADVFN’s feathers, they threatened to sue me. But being removed from the site I founded – by people who neither understand the community or care about it – feels worse than that.

Fotothing took up a fairly big chunk of my life for a long time and I made a lot of good friends there. I find it utterly baffling how a company could deliberately run the site into the ground, squander opportunities and censor the community that made the site such an exciting and vibrant place.

Oh well. Luckily I have another photo site to work on. Anyone who wants to is welcome to join me there, but if you’re a Fotothing user, then personally I think you should stay and fight. Make yourself heard in the forums and with your own photos. It’s your site, not ADVFN’s.

Shiny Happy Environmental Fascism

I have to be honest, I’ve never considered myself an environmentalist, but it seems that Neal Campbell, producer of GeekBrief.TV thinks I’m a bit of an “environmental fascist“.

First, a little background.

Geekbrief has a video podcast hosted by Neal’s wife Luria Petrucci (aka Cali Lewis). It comes out roughly three times a week, and it’s a short, fun look at the latest gadget news. It’s well put together, but retains an amateur feel, which is something that appeals to me. Cali is a pretty good host – she knows her stuff, she’s very attractive, and most importantly of all, she never stops smiling.


Geekbrief has been on my subscription list for nearly two years, and I’ve donated money to the show to help out on more than one occasion.

I love my “Shiny, Happy Tech News”, but earlier this year, Cali announced that they were going to buy an RV and spend a year driving around the US, visiting every state.

This immediately didn’t sit quite right with me. My initial reaction was to wonder how they could afford to do this when they were apparently making the show on a shoestring and quite happy to take a few dollars here and there from fans.

Then I saw this video of them looking at RVs:

For this little jaunt, they’re looking at buying a vehicle that costs at least 6 figures – possibly as much as half a million dollars. I started to question not just where my money had gone, but the environmental impact of driving a “house” that does 5-10 miles per gallon around the US for an entire year.

I posted the simple question on a blog post about the trip:

I’m interested to know what you’re doing to offset the carbon emissions from this “trip”.

I had expected a simple response along the lines of “we’re looking into it” – but all I got was Neal’s jokey response “We’re going to eat more cows!”.

After trying to make my views a little clearer, Neal responded with:

The Big Trip is about celebrating American exceptionalism, not about politics. It’s perfectly okay for you not to celebrate with us. Here’s what I think about environmental fascism:

I don’t know if I’m getting old, but I find the use of the word ‘fascism’ to be a little tasteless. And while Neal didn’t directly call me a fascist personally, he certainly implied that’s how he felt about my views.

I will admit that the phrase “American exceptionalism” did make me laugh though.

But I do want to get one thing straight. I’m in no way a “rabid environmentalist”. But excessive waste does annoy me. And making even the tiniest concession to the environmental impact of driving such a huge vehicle around the country isn’t so much about global warming as it is about cleaning up yourself. Common courtesy.

But there are many other reasons why this “Big Trip” doesn’t sit right with me:

  • The fact that they’re happy to take money off viewers on the basis that they have to scrape together the cash to produce Geekbrief. Yet they don’t seem to bat an eyelid at spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a shiny RV.
  • The fact that they’re taking donations from fans for the trip, but haven’t said what will be happening to the RV and equipment after they get home. Presumably they’ll be keeping the RV for their own use whenever they want to go away. Nice.
  • The fact that it doesn’t seem to have crossed their mind how “insular” it looks to consider your own country to be the be all and end all of technical innovation.
  • The fact that the utter extravagance of it all has apparently not occurred to Neal and Cali.

To me, the “Big Trip” sums up everything that’s wrong with America. It refuses to acknowledge the world outside the USA. It’s a display of rampant consumerism that flies in the face of fans who have donated to get this small, amateur tech show off the ground. The lack of any notion of the environmental impact is just the tip of the iceberg.

It seems the whole trip is aimed at fulfilling Neal & Cali’s personal ambitions to drive around their country in total luxury. I don’t know where my personal donations ended up, but it feels like they’re being used to give the show’s producers the holiday of a lifetime. I find that a bit of a slap in the face when I have to scrape together enough money just to pay the rent every month.

I’m not asking them to cancel their trip. All I’m asking is that they be a little more open to the issues.

On Yahoo, Microsoft & Google

You’re probably well aware of Microsoft’s bid to buy Yahoo buy now, but this morning I read Google’s official reaction to the bid, and I’m a little stunned.

Google are clearly scared by the very notion of Microsoft being in control of Yahoo! This sentence in particular made me fall off my chair:

“While the Internet rewards competitive innovation, Microsoft has frequently sought to establish proprietary monopolies — and then leverage its dominance into new, adjacent markets.”

This, coming from the company that has a total monopoly on web search at the moment and frequently abuses that position. And let’s not forget that all these “open technologies” that Google so thoughtfully invests in are really just more ways to get access to your personal data, so it can show you more ads. Every last one of them.

Sometimes I think that Google has become so self obsessed that it’s losing track of reality.

Having said that…

I can’t think of two worse companies to be involved in right now than Microsoft and Yahoo. MS have failed to make the web work for them time and again, and Yahoo, while having wonderful intentions, have absolutely no sense of direction and just can’t seem to get their act together.

Yahoo constantly launch new products that never quite work with their existing products, yet manage to replicate 50% of the functionality of other parts of their network. They still make a fair amount of money from advertising, but I’m quite sure that’s simply because nobody can ever find what they’re looking for on Yahoo and end up just clicking an ad to get away from all the madness.

If MS and Y! do get together, you can be fairly certain that the result will be chaos. Whether or not the resulting company will survive long enough to take on Google remains to be seen. But I really don’t think Google have anything to worry about for the next couple of years.

iPod Nano Giveaway

iPod Nano

Just a quick note that I’m giving away my very own iPod Nano (8Gb, 3rd Gen) in a competition over on Money Blogger.

If you want to enter, all you need to is blog about Money Blogger. The competition ends a week on Friday and full details are available here. Good luck!