Gadget speak

Ten questions to ask before you buy a new media player

When you consider buying a fizzy drink, you may typically opt for the brand leader, Coca Cola; and similarly, if you think about buying an MP3 player, most people will instantly picture the iPod. In the last few years, the BlackBerry device has achieved the same success in becoming the byword for smartphones.

Business road warriors will often request a BlackBerry because it has become a status symbol to be seen in the airport business lounge thumbing through your email with one hand while holding an espresso in the other.

But this might change with the new generation of smartphones entering the market. It was evident at this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that all the mobile phone manufacturers had taken notice of the success of Research In Motion's (RIM) BlackBerry and they all have comparable devices.

Some of these devices are capable of running RIM's client software over other operating systems. But the BlackBerry and its flattering imitators will soon be joined in the race by the most formidable electronic device competitor to date - the iPhone.

In March, Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO, announced the introduction of a software development kit (SDK) to third-party developers and also announced that the company will be working with Microsoft to enable the iPhone's email client to securely connect to corporate networks running Microsoft Exchange Server.

IT analysts at Gartner have suggested that this upgrade will make the iPhone 'fit for purpose' for business users - thereby opening up the lucrative corporate market for Apple.

IT directors, though, have valid concerns about the iPhone in its current iteration - in particular, the delivery mechanism for providing media content and software is the iTunes software that resides on personal computers. Some argue that it could potentially be used by hackers and become a backdoor for worms, viruses and Trojans.

Additionally, businesses would loathe the idea of their networks and machines being used to download and upload music and video files and the potential strain it would put on their infrastructure and legal department's case files.

Although speculative, we will find out in June when Apple will be announcing the software upgrade that will no doubt address some of these concerns.

A more immediate threat is the myriad of Windows Mobile 6 devices which are already in the market place. We particularly like Samsung's i780 device. It has a similar look and feel to the BlackBerry Curve, but with a larger display which is touch sensitive with the provided stylus.

We would hesitate to describe it as a 'best of both worlds' device, but it is certainly a stylishly slim device that will easily be discrete in a shirt pocket or handbag. No real expense is required by the IT department as they would only have to flick a switch on the Exchange Server 3 (or later) software to turn on the network capability of Windows Mobile 6 devices.

 

Technology clinic

 

iTunes connectivity

For some reason, my iPod Nano, which I received as a gift, will not work with my Mac. It works fine with my current iPod Mini. Why would this be the case?

E Henderson (by email)

It appears that you have a version of the Apple operating system that is older than 10.4.8 which the new Nano is not compatible with. Unfortunately, you cannot downgrade the software as a workaround. Your remaining option would be to shell out for an £85 software upgrade for your Mac.

According to Apple, newer models such as the new Nano and the iPod Touch tap into special features in the most recent versions of OS X. But is it fair to compel users to upgrade their Macs?

Cursive handwriting

Most of the personal correspondence, I receive is now via email, but I still prefer good old-fashioned pen and paper. Is there an option for me that will enable me write and transfer my scribbles digitally?

F Neave (by email)

There are two options available to you. Firstly, you could invest in a tablet format Windows PC with Microsoft OneNote which comes as standard when you buy the latest version of Microsoft Office. We have tried the technology and the handwriting recognition technology is the best we have seen. However, the combination of Tablet PCs and a new version
of office is pricey.

A cheaper option would be the Pegasus Mobile NoteTaker which costs around £100. This device uses a special pen but allows you to write on normal paper.

You will find that with both options, the handwriting technology software is not perfect at first, but the software learns and soon the accuracy will improve when translating your scribbles.

Video editing on the cheap

What is the best method for transferring videos that my wife has recorded on her camera to DVD without buying expensive video-editing software?

N Sodha (by email)

The good news is that your PC probably has most of necessary software to convert these files. However, you may need to shell out on a card reader (which costs anywhere from £10 to £20) if your computer does not have a compatible one built in.

The card reader enables you to transfer the file from your memory card to your computer.

Download a free video converter such as 'Any Video Converter' which will convert the file into a format which your computer can understand. Then use Windows DVD Maker or Apple's iDVD to burn the files on to a disc. Voilà, you can now have the video to watch on your DVD player in the living room

Steady camera

I am considering purchasing an SLR camera, but I would prefer image stabilisation. The Sony models have image stabilisation built into the camera body, but the Canon models do not and I have been told that I would have to buy lenses with image stabilisation built in.

Which is better?

J Fedora (by email)

The advantage of having the technology built into the camera body is cost. You will not have to shell out for expensive image stabilisation lenses which can cost four or five times the price of ordinary lenses.

With lens-based image stabilisation, the image you see through the view finder is the stabilised image. However, if you can live with looking at a shaky image through the eye piece, I would opt for the Sony model with the confidence that the final image will be much sharper.

Bricked iPhone

On a recent visit to the US, my son bought me an Apple iPhone, which worked fine with the Orange network in the UK for about a month, but now after an update from Apple, I get an error message saying that I had an incorrect SIM.

I took the SIM out of the iPhone and put it in my old phone, and it when I called my phone, it rang as expected. What should I do?

C Smith (by email)

It looks as if your iPhone has been 'bricked', which means that it cannot function in any capacity and there is nothing really that you can do about it. When your son signed up for the iPhone through AT&T in the US, he would have had to accept the terms and conditions which state that the user would have to accept automatic updates from Apple. Once this update occurred, it bricked your device.

The irony is that many who bought iPhones and SIM unlocked the devices are the most ardent fans of Apple and Steve Jobs. Such harsh treatment is likely to tick off Apple's grassroots fan base.

Win a Gear4 Bass Station. Do you have a gadget-related question? Is the array of TV choices baffling? Our regular Technology Clinic will answer these questions and the best one will win a bass station. Send your queries to ce.editor@theiet.org.

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