Posted by Dan Delaney | 3rd Jan 2014
Each year, my Fujitsu colleague Mark Wilson reviews his hardware lineup (Update: Mark's Hardware Review 2014).
Channelling Shia LaBeouf I've decided to shamelessly plagiarise this idea and release my own tech review for 2013 and outline some of the things I'm looking out for in 2014. This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the gadgets I use, but includes most of the ones I care about..
Workhorse: Fujitsu S7220 (Core2Duo P8800 2.6Ghz, 4GB RAM, Windows 7)
Not surprisingly, the machine I use most of the time is my Fujitsu corporate laptop. I'm continually impressed with the quality of this machine. Despite using it for 3 years now, it's still very responsive and holds a considerable charge. I run multiple Windows 2008 virtual machines on top of Windows 7, and never experience any major issues until I start eating up too much memory after about 3 VMs. Although the newer i3/i5/i7 laptops would be a nice step up, for the time being this machine does everything I need it to do work-wise. The weight of the laptop would be an issue if I had a daily commute, but I'm fortunate enough to work at home most of the time. On the rare occasions I travel to London, having a decent laptop bag is enough to mitigate the weight.
Verdict: 8/10, No change needed.
Development: Mid-2007 MacBook MB061LL/A (Core2Duo T7200 2.0GHz, 3GB RAM, OS X 10.7.5)
I bought the MacBook initially to give myself something new to learn, from an eBay seller in July 2011. Since then it has replaced my i7 laptop (subsequently sold) as my development machine, as well as general use laptop. Since buying it, I've added an extra 2GB of memory to the machine and in 2013 I also replaced the internal hard disk with a 120GB SSD. This made a big difference to overall performance and was extremely helpful when it came to editing a video to be shown at my sister's wedding. I have a Windows 8.1 boot camp installation on the machine as well, for those times when I can't get away from it - but hardly ever use it. Overall, I'm really happy that I made the jump to Mac but this machine is starting to show its age. There is an intermittent flicker from the screen, particularly when waking up from sleep, and the keyboard occasionally stops responding. The on-board graphics also leave a lot to be desired, and the SSD is being throttled by the first generation SATA interface.
Verdict: 5/10, Start Saving!
Personal Phone: LG Nexus 5 32GB, Android 4.4.2
As much as I loved my Nexus 4, the problem I had with the charger and the fragile glass back on the device left me pining for something new. When the Nexus 5 was announced, I made the jump knowing that I would get a reasonable return on the Nexus 4. I sold it through Amazon Marketplace after the 5 arrived. I'm glad to say that none of the shipping issues that I'd encountered with the Nexus 7 (2012) or Nexus 4 happened again, and I actually got the device in under a week after ordering on Day 1 of the Play Store release. My initial reaction was that while the 5 is a beautiful device, it had a truly awful camera. Utterly useless. If it wasn't for Google+ Auto Awesome, I don't think I'd have had a single decent photo of my son's 4th birthday. Thankfully, the Android 4.4.1 update removed most, if not all, of my concerns about the camera and the 4.4.2 release improved it further. The Google Experience Launcher, and tight integration of Google Now and other Android KitKat updates make this my favourite piece of technology in 2013.
Verdict: 10/10, Perfect
Work Phone: Nokia Asha 300
2013 was the year my trusty Nokia 6021 finally gave up the ghost. After surviving being driven over, dropped more times than I care to mention and looking like it was going to fall apart it eventually refused to switch on. I'd had it since 2005, and it still went a full 5 days between charge, with bluetooth connectivity. A spectacular piece of hardware for what it was designed to do - make phone calls and send/receive texts.
As for the Asha 300, it's OK but doesn't feel as solidly built as the phone it replaced and I dislike the touchscreen. Battery life is pretty good, though I'll be very surprised if I'm still using it in 8 years' time.
Verdict: 5/10, No choice!
Nexus 7 (2013), Android 4.4.2
After a pretty stressful 2013, we finally moved into our new house in October. This may not seem very relevant, however the whole year was going pretty badly. A month before we moved in I bought a multi-pack of KitKats, entered the promo code and won a £5 gift voucher. KitKats became my snack of choice, and a couple of weeks after we moved I entered another code and nearly fell off my chair. Eventually after all the upheaval my luck had changed!
It took Nestlé about 3 weeks to deliver the tablet, but it's a fantastic device. After losing my original Nexus 7 to my wife, I got used to only having my phone so it has taken a while for me to get used to having it again, and put it to good use. Its screen really is a very big step in the right direction compared to the original Nexus 7, though I question the need to put a rear facing camera on the tablet. It's snappy, and sideloading the Google Experience Launcher means moving from the phone to tablet is pretty seamless in terms of experience.
Android really has grown up a lot in the last 12 months, but I wish Google would go further by putting their Launcher into the Play Store for everyone on 4.4 and above to use as their default, regardless of device.
Verdict: 8/10, Nice - but I need to find more use cases
TV: Toshiba 32WL66P
We've had our TV since 2006 and whilst it may not be a modern 1080p display the picture quality is as good as the day it was delivered. More importantly, the TV is stable to withstand any of the knocks our 2 little ones inflict on it.
Verdict: 6/10, Still going strong
Satellite: Humax FOXSAT-HDR 320GB
Back in 2010, when BT Infinity was released in the town where we live, I had to choose between continuing with slow ADSL or switching to Fibre. Working from home more and more often made the choice an easy one, however to keep costs down we had to drop our subscription to Sky TV. Whilst we lost Sky One and a few other channels that we watched from time to time, the majority of what we watched is available on FreeSat.
Along with custom firmware that allows the box to act as a DLNA streaming server amongst other things, the Humax box gives us HD (admittedly only in 720p on our TV) at no monthly cost.
Verdict 9/10, Value for money
TV Stick: MK808 (Rockchip RK3066) Android 4.2.1
Bought in 2012, the MK808 gets used almost every day. As a full Android system, we can use it for Netflix, YouTube, BT Sport and other streaming media applications. This negates any need to upgrade our TV for a newer 'Smart TV' anytime soon. We consume a huge amount of our entertainment through the likes of Netflix these days, and for £30 this device was an absolute bargain. Having said that, the onboard WiFi is absolutely dreadful, so I had to buy a powered USB hub to connect both a USB ethernet and mouse to the device after we moved, as it no longer connected wirelessly to our router reliably. On the other hand, having the USB hub means connecting a flash drive is no longer a faff. With an Android app that I can run on phone or tablet to control it from the sofa, it's a delight to use.
Verdict 8/10, Invaluable
My most recent technology purchase, the MOGA Pro is a Bluetooth controller which is supported by an increasing number of Android games. The integrated arm can hold my (large) Nexus 5 comfortably, even in its case. It also comes with a simple tablet stand.
In the hand it feels a lot like an XBOX 360 controller, and with the phone attached it acts much like you'd expect from a mobile gaming device such as the PS Vita. I've only had it for a week or so, but it is very nice to use and makes a huge difference to my performance in the games whilst using clunky touchscreen controls.
The only downside is that I'd not yet been able to get it to work with FIFA 14, so I'll need to see what can be done about that. Asphalt 8 is currently my game of choice, and I can play alongside my 4 year old while he 'controls' things with a battery deprived gamepad which means he can't make me crash every 2 seconds!
Verdict: 8/10, Time Will Tell
2013 saw the temporary retirement of the following gadgets:
Raspberry Pi - this will resurface when my son reaches an age where we can start using it to do some programming in Scratch or Minecraft Pi Edition.
Wii - Boxed up unloved, it will get taken back out of the garage when the kids are old enough to remember to attach the wrist strap, and avoid any controllers being thrown through the TV screen
2013 also saw the permanent demise of the following devices:
HP G6065EA - My main laptop from 2008 to 2011, it wasn't really used much for the last couple of years and eventually refused to switch on sometime in August.
Nokia 6021 - As mentioned above, this phone is sorely missed. We shall never see the likes of this simple - yet reliable - piece of technology again.
Having just moved house, I'm very constrained with what I can afford to do in 2014, however I'll likely have to replace the MacBook at some point later this year when it eventually dies. I could replace parts, but it would be just like sticking a plaster over an open wound, so I will keep putting a little aside for if and when it goes kaput.
Wearable computing is all the rage at the moment, with a deluge more devices likely to be unveiled at CES 2014 this coming week. Whilst I'm very interested in what is coming, I doubt I'll be actually purchasing anything in the next 12 months as I don't believe smart watches provide much benefit over a phone, and things like Google Glass are unlikely to be socially acceptable in the UK for a long time yet. Seeing the struggles early adopters have had with them in the States, I can only imagine what it would be like for those of us that live outside cities like London. Long term, I hope that someone comes up with a form factor that is both functional and socially acceptable but I suspect it will be a fairly long wait before anyone comes up with the magic formula.
While I love the MK808, I think the Chromecast may well be my technology purchase for the year, assuming it gets released in the UK at some point. Netflix, YouTube etc.. on a device that has proper wireless would be ideal and much more easily controlled from the tablets / phones in the house as well.
Here's to a great 2014.