I’m all about that bass, ’bout that bass, no treble..

.. except there’s a decent amount of treble in Apple’s new HomePod “smart” speaker.  But that bass!

The press has certainly not been wrong in stating that this is perhaps the best quality of speaker of the current generation of “smart” speakers.  The bass and response of the sound emanating from this tiny, yet tubby speaker definitely has put my now redundant Alexa-enabled Echo Plus to shame.

The fibre mesh is lovely to touch, it’s almost difficult not to walk past and give it a bit of a stroke..

Set-up was extremely easy – just plug it into the mains and then hold your iPhone (it must be an iOS device – forget buying one of these if you’re not heavily tied into the Apple iOS ecosystem) near the speaker.  Set-up begins on your iPhone and ends when Siri fires up and prompts you to try her out.

The biggest weakness of this speaker aside from no physical inputs or outputs, plus no Bluetooth support?  Siri.  It has yet to get any of my requests of songs or playlists right (I’m an Apple Music subscriber – albeit using the 6 months free subscription with EE at the moment – I’ll have to start paying again in April) – but I can AirPlay stuff directly from the phone without any bother.

However, what Siri can do is interact with my Philips Hue lights far more quickly via Apple’s HomeKit than Amazon’s Alexa ever could.  I have been extremely impressed with HomeKit’s performance on iOS and Siri so far.  While HomeKit support is still fairly limited within the “smart” devices industry – for example, British Gas’ Hive could REALLY benefit from such support – it does mean that for many devices would have to be refreshed in order support a specific chipset that HomeKit requires.  So we may not see Hive support for quite some time.

If you’re curious to know what’s going on inside the HomePod, this iFixit teardown will show you that it’s next to impossible for the average consumer to fix.

It’s funny how the music industry has changed over the past few decades.  When I was a kid growing up in North East London, I was over the moon with the hand-me-down Amstrad tower system which compromised of a turntable, an FM/AM radio/tuner, dual deck tape deck (Amstrad was famous for this).  I didn’t even have a CD player for quite some time.

Now we tend to subscribe (monthly or annually) to music services rather than paying for individual tracks or albums, listen on mobile phones or computers, or stream music to speakers.  While many people who take music seriously will still have an amplifier with built-in equaliser (another thing that the HomePod does away with – it’ll automatically “equalise” the music for you), a great many people will still be using these smart speakers in place of a traditional hi-fi set-up.

I’ve been a big fan of Apple’s audio products over the years.  I started off with a 3rd generation click wheel iPod and have made my way up to the iPhone X.  I’ve also bought three types of Beats headphones – the Beats Solo 3 wireless, the Beats EP and the granddaddy of them all, the Beats Studio 3 wireless – and perhaps my favourite of all – the AirPods.  None of these is cheap, and none are the absolute best in class, but I’ve always found a use for them (the Studio 3 wireless is ideal when the neighbours are doing late evening DIY, the Solo 3 for general computing use, the AirPods for daily commuting, and the EP for anything else (I originally bought it in Edinburgh when the Solo 3 unit suffered a charging problem and I had to send it to Apple for repair).

Porgy and Mess: Star Wars – The Last Jedi

I finally went to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi this week after waiting it out and trying very hard to avoid internet spoilers.  My patience was rewarded (of sorts) as I went to see it outside of peak hours at the local Guildford Odeon.

ALAS!

Using my Odeon Limitless pass to book the showing was one of the most difficult things I’ve experienced so far during the time I’ve had the subscription.  I wanted to go to an earlier showing, but for some reason, the Odeon’s website was playing up.  I wasn’t able to book the same slot again, or the later slot.  For some reason, Odeon’s website locked off all uses of the Limitless cad and refused to let me use it.

More error codes then there were stars in heaven.

As the Odeon is now very heavily reliant on the website for bookings, the availability of customer service via telephone is rather limited (9am – 4pm Monday – Thursday, 9am – 5pm Friday at all other times).  I was booking this on Friday evening.

What really got my goat was that Odeon does not publish email addresses.  Internet standards are ignored – an email to [email protected] bounced.  This is extremely bad practice, Odeon.  Let me, as a customer, choose how to contact you.  Web forms aren’t always appropriate.

I had to wait until the following morning to call and try and sort this out – and even then, not much could be done.  The system enabled me to book for the later Monday performance, but there wasn’t confirmation that credit I used from an Odeon Gift card to upgrade seating would be refunded immediately.

I popped along to the Odeon on Monday and found this:

As I didn’t use a debit or credit card for this booking, I usually pick up tickets at the Box Office.  So I had to go to the confectionary counter to figure out what was going on.  I was told that the ATM machines can dispense tickets with a booking reference, but it’s not entirely obvious from the choices on display:

Perhaps Odeon needs to reword that third option – just say that if you have a booking reference, you can pick up tickets using that rather than implying it may only be for Tesco and Business Voucher holders.

The third complaint was that it appears Odeon do not sell Butterkist Toffee Popcorn.  I’m not a fan of the sweet or regular flavoured stuff served in buckets the size of my head.  In the end, I chose Aero mint balls and the smallest Coke Zero at the extortionate price of £6.68.  I’ll pay it, however, because I do like the Odeon and would still like to see cinemas remain in business.  But if I had a family, kids and all, this would definitely bankrupt me if we visited regularly.

As for the film?  It was alright.  I think the sooner the main franchise moves away from the Skywalkers, the better.

Back to basics!

With the news that practically all modern Intel, AMD (though to a lesser extent) and ARM CPU architectures are vulnerable to attack, it’s time we ditched our fancy pants computers and go straight back to the glory days of 80’s computing prowess:

My beloved (and also very crash prone) ZX Spectrum +2A. Notice the mouse in the right hand corner of the photo…

Or pre-Mac Apple:

I was an Apple fan long before it was fashionable to be so…

I’m very glad I don’t work for a hosting company anymore because I’d hate to have to coordinate and apply the forthcoming patches across a big estate.  That’s not to say I won’t have to do something since my work involves the system management of several large sites and as such, will need to work with the hosting partners to ensure that patching is performed correctly.

At least Apple is on the ball as – allegedly – MacOS already contains mitigation patches in place within the latest release of High Sierra.  Still, the news wouldn’t make me feel any better if I had spent up to £12,500 on a new iMac Pro (which contains Intel’s new Xeon W processors – which I’m guessing are also vulnerable).

Why I’m going to be reverting back to SIM only pay monthly once my contract with EE is up..

.. because I feel they haven’t made it significantly clear as to the ownership / rights of the mobile phone you take out with them on a fixed monthly contract.  In my case it’s 24 months, and you’re essentially tied into the EE ecosystem for upgrading even if you take them up on the annual upgrade plan.

In trouble with the Imperial Forces.. again!

My problem?  I caved in after three months of using the iPhone 8 Plus and bought the iPhone X – despite the many, many times I’ve said to people I wouldn’t – including an article or two here too.  As it so happens, I bloody love it.  The screen, the size, the battery life, the Face ID – all of it.  It is definitely the best iPhone Apple has ever produced, and I thought the iPhone 8 Plus was a pretty damn excellent beast.

So now I’ve bought the iPhone X – untethered from the shackles of EE or any other provider’s contract lock-in – I thought I could sell the iPhone 8 Plus through one of my usual go-to companies, Envirofone.  They’ve been excellent in the past – but generally because I’ve been selling them phones that I’ve bought without any contract to any of UK telecom companies.  I haven’t been on a pay monthly contract with a phone for well over 3 years that I’ve forgotten what it’s like.  I’ve preferred to buy the handset outright and just buy a SIM only contract.

Haven’t heard anything from Envirofone for 4 days after they’ve received the device,  I today received an email which read:

Thanks for trading-in your old device with Envirofone.

We’re very pleased to tell you that we’ve received your old device(s). However, we need to let you know that there’s a difference between the value you were originally quoted and our final offer.

Here are the details:

Item Quoted Price Revised Price Notes
Apple iPhone 8 Plus 256GB EE 570.00 0.00 • Software or Hardware Faults : Device has been blocked or stolen

This is because one of your items hasn’t passed certain checks carried out by Checkmend. Every item we receive has to pass these checks before we can process your payment.

Unfortunately, following these checks, we can’t pay you for the following device(s).

Item Reported Checkmend Certificate ID
Apple  iPhone 8 Plus 256GB EE Reported failed XXXXXXXX XXXX XXXXXXX

If you think we’ve made an error, please email [email protected] and use the certificate ID above to find out more about why it hasn’t passed.

What concerned me more is what they didn’t say – what was going to happen to the phone that they have in their possession?  So I first of all called EE and explained that I had bought the iPhone X and, in order to recoup the cost a bit, sold the iPhone 8 Plus to Envirofone, but it has come back as being “blocked or stolen”.  The operator checked and confirmed neither was the case, only that the phone couldn’t be locked until after 6 months had passed.  That’s fine, I said, they know it is locked to the EE network.

So I called Envirofone next.  The operator there told me that EE still considers the iPhone 8 Plus their property and have been talking to such companies about the preventing of these still-in-contract devices from being sold.  Yet, I am pretty sure that having read the terms and conditions of signing back up to EE, I did not see this clause.  Indeed, you’ll be hard pushed to find it on the EE website itself.

I will be getting the handset back (via Special Delivery – thank goodness), and I’m still deciding what I’m going to do with it.  Given I’m locked solidly into a two-year contract with EE and have never once missed a payment with them, I find the situation a farce.  Luckily I can recoup the costs through other means, and it does give me a backup phone, but what an enormous pain in the rear end it is.

I’m annoyed with Envirofone as this stipulation is not mentioned anywhere during the point of sale process, nor is it made clear in the email above.  The web site doesn’t mention it either.  And neither does competitor Mazuma Mobile whom I emailed and received the following reply:

We have been notified by network providers that a high number of contract devices are being sold into the second-hand market (high street traders, recyclers etc)

As you may be aware, a network provider has legal title over a mobile device for the first 6 months of a new contract or upgrade and it will state within the contract terms that the device cannot be sold within this time.

We have been instructed to ensure any model received is thoroughly checked and to reassess the IMEI after the device is received.

So the telecoms companies are enforcing contractual obligations through third-party companies like Envirofone and Mazuma Mobile.  I’m not sure how I feel about this.  On one hand I can see why they have to do this, but similarly, as you’re paying off the mobile phone through the contract which you’re obligated to pay until such time the contract is either terminated by either party or the commitment period is over.

I was told by another operator at EE that I wouldn’t be able to use my iPhone X to upgrade next September – they’d only accept the iPhone 8 Plus.

Definitely going to terminate EE contract in 2019 and will either look at an alternative company or just switch to a SIM only contract and I’ll deal with the handset upgrades myself as and when.

EE’s a lovely company – technically very good and reliable – but I’m not keen on their contracts very much anymore.  And EE – don’t expect me to buy anything new from you for a very long time now.

Do I regret buying the iPhone X?  Not at all.  But it’ll just take me a bit longer to pay it off than I would have liked.

(The bloody irony of all this is that I’m a member of EE’s “Listening Post” survey emails – the most recent of which is what should be done about mobile phones when you want to upgrade; I feel like re-answering that survey again with some carefully chosen words)