MacBook Air: One to avoid

I love Apple products, but lately they’re just not coming through for me in quite the same way they used to. Take the new MacBook Air, announced yesterday.

MacBook Air

As you can see, it looks fantastic. But unfortunately, Apple have seriously compromised on functionality – and more bafflingly, they’ve done it for no apparent reason. The only benefit of the MacBook Air is that it’s a bit thinner than a standard MacBook.

I have a simple question: Why?

For those of us looking for an ultraportable, ‘thinness’ is not one of the requirements that comes high on the list. The other dimensions are far more important! I want to be able to slip a laptop easily into pretty much any bag and go. I don’t care how pretty it looks or that people will say “Ooooh” and “Aaaaah” when I take it out. I just want to get stuff done on the go.

Here’s some more of the MacBook Air’s shortcomings:

  • The battery is not user replaceable. But that’s Ok, right? I mean, I’m never likely to want a bit more battery life when I’m on the go, am I? And it’s not as though laptop batteries are have a tendency to explode and need to be recalled? That could never happen….

    This laptop is apparently designed to be ultra portable – i.e. it’s easy to take with you anywhere… like far away from a power socket, for instance. In Apple’s entire range of laptops, this is the one that most needs a replaceable battery. Yet that’s simply not an option, and if something goes wrong, you’ll just have to send it back to Apple.

  • That 1.8″ hard drive. Not only is it impossibly slow, but it’s straight out of the iPod, and is known for being fairly unreliable. I can guarantee you that it will die at some point during the lifetime of the computer. And as for the 64Gb solid state drive… $1299 extra? Seriously, Apple…
  • Mono speaker (under the keyboard). Yup… all that beautiful design, and it still sounds like crap. Yes, I know you can get stereo through the headphone socket, but it seems to have escaped Apple’s notice that it’s the 21st century, and we’ve had stereo sound for quite a while now.
  • 1 USB socket, no firewire. This is going to be the killer for many people. Apple have taken away all that clutter with one hand, yet made it necessary to buy a raft of external accessories with the other.
  • The price. $1,799 (£1,199!) is too much. Way too much. Apple have made this laptop smaller by stripping out a huge amount of useful stuff (like the optical drive!). This should be cheaper than a basic MacBook, not the same price as a MacBook Pro!

Unfortunately, the MacBook Air is a case of Apple taking it’s current “form over function” philosophy way too far. It’s over priced, under spec’d and will almost certainly snap in half if you sit on it.

A genuinely small sub-notebook seems to be beyond Apple’s capability right now – despite the fact that they’re already more than half way there with the iPhone. Sigh.

Don’t Buy Me This!

I was going to post this on Chocablog, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. But it would be a crime not to post it somewhere, so I’ve decided to inflict this on you…

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… The Chocolate Anus.

Chocolate Starfish

This (apparently real) product could be yours in time for Christmas. But I don’t think we’ll be putting this on our Christmas list.

Luckily, the web site doesn’t say if it has a soft centre. Or if it contains nuts. Because I don’t want to know.

New Project: Money Blogger

Just want to give a quick mention to my new project, Money Blogger.

Money Blogger is a year long project to see just how accurate all these “make money from blogging” experts really are.

I’m starting out with a blank sheet – a brand new domain name and a virgin installation of WordPress, and will share all my experiences, tips – and even failures – with readers. So if you’re interested in making money from your blog, why not join me on my journey by subscribing now.

Money Blogger

NatWest Card Reader

NatWest Card Reader
I think it may be time to leave NatWest.

They are introducing “Chip & PIN” style card readers for customers to use with their online banking service.The reader (which is apparently only used for some transactions) takes your card, your PIN and an authorisation number on screen and generates an authorisation code which must match one on the screen.

Now, NatWest claim this adds an extra level of security to online banking. I disagree. I think it adds an extra headache and a whole lot more hassle to a system which is an actual fact, pretty secure.It also means I have to carry my card reader around if (for instance) I want to do banking from work or a friend/family’s computer. And I can tell you now, I do NOT want to be carrying this thing around with me all the time.

Aside from the hassle of just carrying the thing around with you (and risking losing it), the instructions on the NatWest site are likely to confuse the hell out of most people.

So instead of spending our money on clever looking gadgets that make online banking even more complicated, why don’t they just invest it in a high profile anti-phishing campaign. Because that’s that’s the real problem here – and I’d bet good money that most NatWest customers don’t even know what phishing is.

Still – I can’t help wondering if this thing is hackable

Ipod Nano 3rd Generation

Update: You could win this very iPod over at Money Blogger. Enter now!

Two years ago I bought a first generation iPod Nano on the day they came out. I fell in love with the Nano as soon as I saw it, and despite being covered in scratches now, I still love it.

I wasn’t a fan of the second gen Nano though. It looked way too much like the old Mini, and that was a step backwards in my book. It seem to me like Apple had rushed out a brushed aluminium case simply to deal with the scratching issue, and in the process had destroyed the sleek look of the original.

Last week, the third generation Nano was announced, and I immediately fell back in love with it.Having played with one in the Apple Store, I decided it was time to upgrade, and came home with this lovely blue 8Gb number.I’ve had it a couple of days now, so I thought I’d share some of my initial impressions.

Ipod Nano

Form Factor

The most noticeable change from the old Nanos is the completely new size shape, which has obviously been designed around the enlarged screen. Many people have called it the ‘fatty’, due to it’s shorter, wider form factor, but personally I love the way it looks.It’s not quite as easy to hold as the 1st and 2nd gen Nanos, but you get used to it pretty quickly.At the original Nano launch, Steve Jobs pulled a Nano from the little coin pocket in his jeans, but my old Nano never quite fit in that pocket for me. This third gen Nano is exactly the right size and shape for the small pocket on my Levi’s jeans. The scroll wheel even works through the denim, so when I’m out, I can take my Nano with me without having to worry about it getting scratched. Perfect.

Ipod Nano

Build Quality

One of the first things I noticed about this new Nano was the build quality. Two years ago, I thought the original Nano was a masterpiece, but this definitely takes it up a level. The brushed aluminium case is gently beveled on the front to give a pleasing feel in the hand, and it just feels solid and well put together.

Apple have gone back to using shiny aluminium for the back of the iPod again, which I do like, but seems to have the ability to attract finger prints just by looking at it. This is a bit of a shame as it’s very noticeable, and Apple don’t seem to have come any closer to solving the problem.

The Screen

The new Nanos all have a 2 inch 320×240 screen, which is a significant improvement over the old screens. In pixel density terms, it’s the highest resolution screen I’ve ever seen.Combined with the new software and the ability to play video, the screen is the real USP of the Nano. It’s bright and beautiful and text is so much easier to read than the old Nanos.


The Nano’s software has improved significantly in the last 2 years, and this version is the best yet. The menus are all familiar and easy to navigate with the scroll wheel – they just have more polish. The menus take up the left half of the screen with cover art, video stills and other useful, contextual information appearing on the right hand side.

The most touted addition to the software was ‘Cover Flow’ – an animated view of all your cover art that will be familiar from iTunes. I personally don’t find this particularly useful, and although the animation is quite smooth, there can be a noticeable delay in loading in new cover art if you scroll quickly.

I’ve also noticed a bug when playing a song that sometimes cover art just doesn’t load at all. Navigating to the next song, then back usually makes it appear, but it can be quite annoying at times. Hopefully this will be fixed with a firmware update.

VideoIpod Nano
This is probably the biggest addition to to the Nano and (along with the upgrade to 8Gb storage) was my main reason for upgrading. My video library is quite extensive and I tend to watch a lot of video podcasts, so being able to keep up to date with them wherever I happen to be is a big winner for me.And video looks great on the Nano. The screen may be small, but it’s easily good enough to watch video.

I wouldn’t recommend watching a full length feature film on it (I’ve tried), but that’s mainly because it’s quite difficult to keep the damn thing still for that length of time. It’s not the resolution or the brightness that’s the problem, it’s little movements that mean you have to refocus your eyes constantly.


Games have certainly improved since the first generation Nano. They actually feel like a modern game rather than something written in 1983 and hacked by Apple to use the scroll wheel. I particularly like the ‘iPod Quiz’ which uses your music library as the basis for the questions, but has a real game show feel to it.

The other games are pretty good too and obviously take advantage of the increased screen size and processing power of the Nano. I can definitely see Apple selling a lot more games on the iTunes store from now on.


What can I say – I love the new Nano. There are a couple of minor firmware bugs, but all in all it’s the nicest – and cutest – personal media player I’ve ever seen.

The only issue for some people will be the storage capacity. At a maximum of 8Gb, it’s just not going to be enough for some people. Personally, I make judicious use of Smart Playlists in iTunes and try to give everything in my library a rating. That way I can make sure I always have my absolute favourite songs along with a good selection of everything else in my library.

Aside from storage capacity, I don’t really know how Apple could improve the Nano in it’s current form. It can’t go much thinner and still incorporate a standard headphone jack, and it can’t really be made any smaller and still incorporate a scroll wheel.I expect we’ll see a touch screen Nano in the next couple of years with a bigger display, but without the scroll wheel. The screen is certainly getting towards the point where Apple’s “Multi Touch” technology would work. But knowing Apple, the next generation of iPods will come up with something even more exciting, and I’ll just have to go out and buy one again…


Today I received an interesting phone call from ADVFN.

If you don’t already know, ADVFN bought off me a couple of years ago. They’ve done an OK job of taking the site to over 135,000 users, but they haven’t really developed it further, and there has been a few “disagreements” with users over changes in the site over the last couple of years.

A year ago, I started another photo sharing site, Fotonomy. This is aimed more at people with a serious interest in amateur phtoography. Fotothing is more of a photo blog / photo diary. I don’t run Fotonomy as a business – it’s a small, friendly place, and I use it to develop my programming skills as much as anything. (I checked my contract with ADVFN to make sure this was OK before starting another site.)

Last week, out of the blue, Fotothing started serving Google ads to paying (Pro) members. Many of these members had specifically paid not to see ads, as it was listed as the one of the main benefits.Now, I still love Fotothing and have a lot of friends there. People who really helped out during the initial development. So when I read the discussions on the ads in their forums, I posted my own opinion. People who have paid not to see ads should not see ads. Period.


But I also posted saying people should not leave Fotothing.Anyway. Back to the phone call…”Hi Dom. Long time no see. How are you? I was just calling to give you a final warning.”

Yup, they’re threatening me. Threatening legal action. I have been told in no uncertain terms never to mention Fotonomy on Fotothing again. And to not say anything bad about them in general either.Apparently I’m stealing their users. Yes, my site with 460 users is stealing people from their site with 135,000 users and I’m a threat.

Yes, there are some Fotothing users who have joined Fotonomy, but as far as I’m aware none of them has actually left Fotothing – or wants to. They’re very different sites. And I have never initiated any conversation on the Fotothing forums about Fotonomy. I’m certainly not advertising it.

But for me, the really interesting part of the phone call was the person who called me. He’s a really nice guy and was nice about the whole thing. But as far as I know, he’s not directly involved in the day to day running of Fotothing. I can only assume he was asked to call me because we were friends. If that’s the case, then it’s as unfair on him as it is on me.

Now if senior management (you know who you are) had called me and just asked me politely if I could be a little less outspoken in the forums, I probably would have agreed – and even offered assistance if they needed it. But getting an old friend to do the dirty work (which is how it appears to me – I could be wrong), is a little underhanded.

Of course, this isn’t about me at all. It’s about Fotothing and the users that make the site what it is. What ADVFN don’t seem to realise is that I’m incredibly proud of what I – and they – have achieved with it. And the way to deal with pissed off customers is not to send threats, but to listen to them and address their concerns.

Will I be sued? Will I have my Fotothing account pulled for posting this on my own blog? Who knows. But I will continue to stand up for users. Because without users, nobody in the web development business would have a job.

London 2012 censoring comments?

Sometimes it’s the little things in life that annoy me most.

Yesterday I posted a comment on the official London 2012 blog about the new “logo”. It wasn’t a particularly kind comment, but it was relatively polite… all things considered.

But for some reason my comment has not been approved while other comments, posted later, have been. And judging by the comments that have been approved on the blog, they’re picking and choosing which comments they do post. While there are a few  (slightly) negative comments, it seems like they’re picking out the “kinder” comments and just posting a few less kind comments to give the appearance of “balance”.

London 2012I’ve no doubt they’ll say they can only post a selection of the best comments, but given the general reaction to the new logo, I can’t help but think they’re censoring comments in an attempt to make themselves look good.Oh – and you’ll notice I’ve used the old “candidate city” logo for this post. I refuse to use that excuse for a logo here. For one thing, I can think of far better uses for £400,000 of Londoners’ money (like maybe spend it on a venue that would have a lasting benefit for London). And I wouldn’t want to give anyone a seizure either.

UpdateLondon 2012 have posted a comment on their own blog which admits they are actively censoring negative coments:

We have received many comments that reflect the tenor of negative comments found elsewhere on the web. Rather than act as an echo chamber we have published a selection here that say something a little different.

Is it just me, or is that absolutely not the way to have a fair and open discussion? I’m quite sure there were plenty of well written – but negative – comments, but instead they’ve chosen to show only the comments that make them look good in the face of overwhelmingly bad publicity.

LG KE850 “Prada” Phone

LG PradaLast week I bought myself a Prada phone as a birthday present, and as it’s a bit different I thought I’d do a little review.

The Prada phone has been compared to Apple’s iPhone by many – primarily because of its large, buttonless touch screen but also because of the stylish interface.

My first impression on opening the box for the first time was simply “Oh”. Picking it up for the first time is not particularly excitement inducing. Without the battery, it’s very light and somewhat plasticy. The front looks nice, but the chrome colured side trim has a particularly cheap feel.

Parts of this phone are simply gorgeous and parts of it are stupidly annoying. The touchscreen interface takes a few days getting used to, but I don’t think I’d want to go back to a phone with buttons now. The entire interface is written in Flash and is simple and clean with nice little animations.

Typing texts is a bit difficult and emails aren’t worth bothering with – the on-screen keyboard simply replicates a standard phone keypad with [1abc] [2def] type keys. I’m sure they could have found a way to fit a QWERTY style keypad on the screen if they wanted to.The web browser is crap. I’ve installed Opera Mini on mine, which is much better although still a bit difficult to control with on-screen buttons overlaid on the screen.

LG Prada

The MP3 and video players are fairly decent. Video playback looks pretty damn good at full screen and the player allows you to stretch or zoom video to fill the screen. The MP3 player is one of the nicest I’ve seen on a phone and the speaker is loud enough to listen to music without headphones. It takes Micro SD cards, and you can get a 2Gb card for £10 these days, so it’s probably a viable alternative to an iPod Nano. Although I have found there seems to be an audible ‘click’ between tracks.

If you do want to use headphones, you have to plug them into a lead with external controls which in turn plugs into the power socket, so you can’t use headphones while charging it. And you have to plug the headphones in via the lead if you want to listen to the FM radio – so I can’t see me using that feature a lot.

Why phone manufacturers can’t just put a standard 3.5mm jack on phones is beyond me. Half modern phones are sold partly as personal media players these days, but it’s still a lot of hassle to actually use them as one.Speaking of hassle, the sync software that comes with the phone is supplied on a mini (8cm) CD and does not appear to be available for download anywhere. For me, that renders it completely useless. All the drives in all my computers are slot-load drives which can’t take 8cm CDs. How difficult would it be to include a full sized CD – or even to include the software on the memory card that comes with the phone. If you plug the phone into a USB port, it’s instantly recognised as a mass storage device anyway.

The (2 megapixel) camera is fairly average, but I’ve not played with it much. I don’t expect it will ever produce great results, given the lens (and the rest of the phone) are always covered with fingerprints.Battery life sucks somewhat. No more than a few hours MP3 playback and an absolute maximum of 3 days on standby. My old Windows Mobile phone managed 8-10 days between charges.

The build quality is just baffling. It has a gorgeous screen with a completely stupid chrome-effect plastic trip around the edge that just feels cheap. Oh, and a fiddly little plastic ‘door’ covering the power socket which I know is going to break off at some point.

But it’s still the nicest phone I’ve ever had and I’m glad I bought it and that’s mainly down to the touch screen interface. It just feels a bit like they rushed it out just to get to market before the iPhone. With a little bit more attention to detail it could have been an amazing phone.

Sponsor Louisa

A friend of mine, Louisa Cordle, is currently hitchhiking from London to Helsinki… dressed as an air hostess. Yes, this is clearly a very strange thing to do, but she’s doing it for charity and in honour of the UK entry in the Eurovision Song Contest which takes place in Helsinki this weekend.As far as I’m aware, she’s currently stuck inside a bin in Riga, Latvia, but is fighting her way out and hopes to be in Helsinki by tomorrow.In the mean time, if you can spare any change, please consider sponsoring her via her page at – and if you’re on Facebook, join the group to receive updates.Every penny you donate helps to get Louisa out of a bin somewhere – as well as helping children in some of Europe’s poorest nations.