I recently stayed at both the Premier Inn and a DoubleTree Hilton in Woking. The Premier Inn is cheaper, and while there are fewer thrills, is a perfectly comfortable. The DoubleTree Hilton is more expensive but offers a few more interesting things. I have some thoughts on both.
Digital Keys and the Smart Hotel Room
Something I’ve wanted to try for a long time was the ability to use one’s phone or Apple Watch to unlock your room door. Effortless checkin from app to room without having to go through to front reception. Premier Inn doesn’t support this – thankfully, but there is the ability to check in at the front desk via one of the machines. Unfortunately with the Premier Inn automated check-in, it’s failed two out of four times – often with the machine failing to print the room number or the meal voucher. It’s a bit like a supermarket checkout – it’s just quicker to have somebody check you in.
With the DoubleTree, I booked online and used the Hilton Honors (sic) app to set-up the digital key that would let me check-in via the app and go straight to my room. That all worked just fine, but when I came to go to the hotel – I headed straight to the lift and it didn’t work. So I went to reception who had to issue a keycard anyway so that the lights and AC in the room would operate. Alas, this isn’t strictly necessary as you only need a credit-card size something that fits in the slot.
The digital key itself uses Blueooth. You need to hold your phone near the reader (either on the door, or by the lift buttons) and wait until the user interface changes in the app. And yes, you need the app opened at the time – simply pointing the phone at the reader doesn’t activate the app.
In all truthfulness, the digital key doesn’t save you any time at all. I found it fiddly and intrusive and there is no integration into the likes of iOS or WatchOS which would make a huge difference. And what’s worse is that you need a card to be inserted into the wall socket for the lights and AC to work – where is the Premier Inn’s The Hub-like smart room features such as being able to control lights and AC from the phone? But similarly, where is the digital lock for Premier Inn’s The Hub?
Modernising hotels with smart technology is hugely frustrating. I don’t believe any one brand has got it right yet. It’s one half of this, and another third of that. When I last stayed at a Premier Inn The Hub, even though it states it supports Apple TV, due to the technology they use, I could stream anything from my iDevices. So a complete waste of time. But at least they allow you to hook up via HDMI. DoubleTree doesn’t do that.
Premier Inn always win this, expecially with decent pillows and an ultra thick blanket. But the DoubleTree Hilton comes close – though the pillows are too soft and the blanket isn’t as thick. I did notice that DoubleTree’s beds are lower to the ground too, which I actually prefer to the Premier Inn.
Both good, though the DoubleTree’s bath is lower to the ground which makes getting in and out easier. The shower head, while adjustable in both positioning and type of shower, feels a bit cheap versus the Premier Inn’s rainforest-style head (although not adjustable).
Toilets are both okay – though if you’ve had 20 curries washed down with 500 pints, the Premier Inn isn’t going to be good enough and there are single sheets of toilet paper. DoubleTree has more household-style toilets with proper toilet rolls.
Tea and Coffee
Tea-making facilities in both hotels are reasonable. Nothing special. Neither provides enough sugar, tea or coffee sachets for the serious tea or coffee drinker. With Premier Inn, however, you can just head down to reception and grab some more tea, coffee or sugar. No idea what to do with DoubleTree.
And speaking of the DoubleTree, if I had gone straight to my room via the digital key, I’d have missed out on the Wi-Fi password (no open Wi-Fi here unlike Premier Inn). I had to get a welcome sheet from reception upon checking in with the password as well as room service details. The speed at the DoubleTree, however, is one of the best of the chain hotels I’ve seen so far. I could stream TVs and movies and do stuff. Premier Inn, even with their £5/day Virgin Media Business Premium package was absolutely dire. Premier Inn wins the award for THE worst Wi-Fi I’ve ever encountered. I had to tether my phone (which has poor reception inside Premier Inn, Woking) to get anything done.
It’s a shame that Wi-Fi in hotels overall are bad. We need to get these places up to Wi-Fi 6 standards at a minimum, with better placement of access points and better cabling within the property. I speak as somebody who has had to call a Canadian tech support line at midnight in Vancouver at his hotel, because his American lady friend wasn’t able to get a good Wi-Fi signal. We spent 30 minutes troubleshooting with the ultimate soluton being to reboot both access points on the floor we were staying on. That did the trick.
Premier Inn doesn’t operate a room service, but the DoubleTree does. The problem? Hilton are extremely bloody inconsistent with trying to balance technology with being sensible. As such, there is barely any printed material in the room. You have to scan a sodding QR code to get the menu. Or the phone directory. As a sysadmin and as somebody who works with technology for a living – it’s nice to see tech being used, but not at the expense of convenience. I found it VERY inconvenient!
Why can’t Hilton for all their development work in their Hilton Honors app put the menus in the app and allow people to order room service from within the app? Or put a laminated printed menu in the room? Let your customers pick the most convenient way of getting room service.
I don’t bother with hotel TVs. All my entertainment (audio and video and books) is on my iPad mini, iPhone or Mac. In any case, Premier Inn wins the TV fight because they allow you to connect your iPhone/iPad/Mac to the TV via HDMI and have other audio inputs too. DoubleTree does not.
With the Premier Inn in Woking, I usually get put on the third or fourth floors and found it quite quiet. There are some outside noises, especially if people are talking outside and I’ve encountered building work. Very little noise coming from the neighbours or corridors. The windows cannot be opened.
With the DoubleTree, I got to pick my room in the app and chose the 5th floor. The windows in the DoubleTree can be opened, though it took some effort to close my one – after which the noise from the main road dissipated. AC worked well, with decent controls.
The big issue I had with the DoubleTree was the lack of lighting. Just lamps beside the bed, one on the table and the entrance way. Made the whole place feel very dark with the curtains closed. The Premier Inn, on the other hand has a nice, well covered lights covering the room making it much brighter.
Lifts in both hotels do exactly what they say – nothing to write home about, though I did notice that in both cases – even with keycard protection on the DoubleTree’s lifts – for somebody from outside to come into the hotel. Had somebody waiting in the lift area when I was going back up to my room at the DoubleTree. Hadn’t unlocked the lift button and as soon as I had and got into the lift, he came up with me.
Still, could be worse – this is from the Travelodge in Woking from quite a few months back. I was amused by this and recorded a silly video (which has now had over 3,000 views!).
Particularly if you use your phone as a video camera.
I’ve replaced every camera I’ve owned over the years with an iPhone because they’re getting good enough now for most situations.
When I got my first film camera, it was a 110 film-based point and click system. They were long and quite thin and used 110-type film cartridges which were far easier to insert and remove than traditional 35mm film cameras. It Just Worked(tm). I never really moved up to 35mm cameras as I found them too fiddly. And when I got my first DSLR camera many years ago, I found it a pain carrying everything and having to change lenses. When I did upgrade from the 110 systems, I moved to APS film which was just as easy to use.
The very first digital camera I owned (around 1998/1999) was a Sony Cybershot DSC-S70 and it was chunky thing. It only took 3 megapixel photos, but the results were surprisingly good. A few examples from around 2000 to 2001:
When I was married, we bought a second-hand Canon Powershot G5 which was a truly great all-rounder. It was practically impossible to take bad photos with it. Some sample shots from Cambodia:
This was eventually replaced with a Sony DSC-S930, which despite being a budget camera, took some really rather wonderful shots when we were in Kenya…
The last two proper cameras were the Sony RX100m3 and the RX100m5. I like the Sony brand, and have tried to stick with it for as much as I can – I have a PS5, a Sony Bravia TV, earphones, headphones, etc. Sony and Apple – you can’t go too far wrong 🙂
RX100m3 (Vancouver, Canada and Oregon, USA):
With the iPhones, the sensors keep getting larger every year, and improvements with Smart HDR and other computational photography features mean that taking photos (and video) with the iPhone – something that I always cary with me – is a no-brainer. But I’ll admit that I still miss the Sonys and the Powershot G5.
This year, the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max feature updated Smart HDR and better low-light photography. The Po Max now has 5x optical zoom. And with the release of iOS 17, the 48-megapixel main camera combines images from the other lenses to form a new 24-megapixel default. But images from the telephoto and ultrawide – both remain 12Mp sensors for now – will still come out as 12Mp.
iPhone 15 Pro Max:
With the replacement of the Lightning port with USB-C, it is now possible to record video in Apple ProRes 4K 60fps to an external device. Watching sample footage from the phone, even with the limitations of the lenses and sensor, the iPhone Pro range is now a legitimately a genuinely powerful video recording tool. USB-C and the USB 3.1 protocol makes it 20 times faster to transfer any local files on the iPhone to a desktop computer. So we NOW have a phone that’s worth of the Pro moniker. But it be more “Pro-er” if it offered Thunderbolt 4 or USB-4 speeds. Maybe next year or the year after?
But speaking of speeds – the Qualcomm Snapdragon X70 modem in the iPhone 15 range provides a significant 5G and Wi-Fi boost. On my home WI-Fi 6 network, I am now able to go beyond 1Gbs on my iPhone 15 Pro Max whereas the iPhone 14 Pro Max would only go up as a high of 935Mbs. During my tests at a Premier Inn, I got significantly higher 4G/5G performance from subsequent visits, and they’re not got the best reception either.
Next year I hope that Apple manages to upgrade the telephoto and ultrawide sensors to 48Mp too – providing 24Mp images across all three lenses. Some more work on reducing lens flare too would be nice – I’ve seen fewer flares with the 15 Pro Max, but it hasn’t gone entirely based on what I’ve seen of others photos/footage.
It’s ironic that a camera manufacturer (Red) who tried to join the mobile revolution by producing a smartphone that tied into the Red camera system failed in their attempt, but Apple (which doesn’t make any professional camera equipment) is able to outdo them in every way.
Smartphones continue to amaze me in what they can do. Even incremental, evolutionary updates can bring small amounts of joy and improve the overall experience. But the real progress here, I think, is with iOS which in it’s 17th release, has made massive improvements to not just the iPhone 15 range, but previous generation iPhones too.
I have a phrase whenever I stumble across a place which has been used for filming that I wasn’t aware had been a filming location: an accidental film location. It’s happened several times:
- Going on a date (yes, really) in Bicester, Oxfordshire, I stayed overnight at RAF Bicester (Bicester Heritage) which I found on AirBnB. What I didn’t know is that where I was staying was literally next door to where they filmed a key scene in The Intimidation Game in which they’re working on the enigma machine.
- Dunsfold Park. I think it’s fair to say it is an accidental filming location because who the heck knows what kind of projects film there. But we’ve had: Star Wars: A Solo Story, Top Gear, London Has Fallen, A Theory of Everything, Marvel’s Secret Invasion, Kingsman: The Secret Service, and many, many more besides.
You’ll see the final sequence of the practice chase in the final trailer below. All shot at Dunsfold (you’ll see the aircraft hangars in the background). Of course, the irony here is that the film was co-written by Jane Goldman whom I interviewed earlier on when she co-wrote Stardust with Matthew Vaughn.
Then there’s Arezzo in Italy. Back in October, 2005, I went to Italy with my wife (now ex-wife) and her parents and we hired a car and drove all around Tuscany. We stayed in a beautiful small cottage in the countryside. We made our way through many of the beautiful small villages that are dotted around the area and ended up in Florence, but one particular village stood out.
I was walking down one of the streets and it had an oddly familar feel to it. I knew it from somewhere, but I couldn’t be sure until I spotted a poster on a nearby wall. It confirmed it. We were in the filming location for one of my all-time favourite films, the Oscar-winning Life is Beautiful.
And the trailer for the film:
What was interesting is that we ate at a restaurant that Roberto Benigni either frequented (because he is a native of Arezzo and is a long time customer), or used many times during the filming, as it had big images of him on the walls. And judging by the position on one of the images, we were sitting at his table. Either way, this accidental film location was pretty darn special.
Though to be fair, 2005 was an interesting year overall. In December I flew to New York to attend to world premiere of Peter Jackson’s King Kong. It was a star-studded affair (so I’m glad I took a tuxedo with me) and I found myself looking back at George Lucas who was sitting several rows behind me. It was truly a surreal time.
Interestingly, the most recent event turned up while I was on holiday. It turns out that Hideo Kojima, a world-renowned games developer (the “Metal Gear” series and most recently “Death Stranding”) turned up at work with filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (“Drive”, “The Neon Demon”, “Bronson” and provides the likeness for Heartman in Death Stranding).
In this day and age where virtually everything is a subscription, I came across this advert on Facebook for Brompton Bike subscription. Brompton being a bicycle manufacturer that specialises in foldable bikes. £35/month is very reasonable, but I do worry that the wheels wouldn’t be suitable for Surrey roads. It took me around 45 minutes to get to Memset when they were based at the Surrey Research Park – but that was on an electric, non-foldable bike.
On the other hand, I have an option to cycle up to the Basingstoke canal and cycle along its path to Woking where I head towards the train station and catch the train. Trains not working? I could either cycle on to Guildford, take a bus or get a cab (foldable bike).
The alternative is to explore the company’s cycle-to-work scheme and see if that works out any better – especially if e-bikes are cheaper these days than they were back in 2010-2017.