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).

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)

Forget the iMac Pro..

.. this beast was the bee’s knees of its time.

It got me through my BTEC National Diploma with flying colours (well, in this Apple IIe’s case – green) thanks to its built it assembly code/debugging environment.  Three disc drives.  Expandable slots.  Introduced me to spreadsheets.

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

The Apple IIe also didn’t cost £12,428 fully maxed out – unless it did.  I have no idea.  It was a freebie.

New tech at Sainsbury’s

I spent the first part of Saturday returning the Sky Q equipment.  The kit they send you to allow you to return it is okay, but I had to end up taping it up extensively.  The design of the cardboard boxes they send you doesn’t really take into account the three remote controls you get with the kit, so it rattles a bit.

After dropping off the kit at the local post office, I popped along to Sainsbury’s to pick up some sandwiches and a few other bits and bobs.  I tend to buy sandwiches at the weekend rather than buy bread because being single, I find that I don’t make enough sandwiches or eat toast during the week, and I often find that I end up wasting bread.  Yes, I could potentially freeze the rest of it, but there isn’t much left over to be useful. (When I do buy bread, I buy the smallest loaves.)

When I got to Sainsbury’s the first thing I noticed was the usual scanners outside the entrance had gone.  They were placed by a new system called SmartShop, with all new touchscreen scanners.  They’re now inside the store.  I had to register on an Android tablet having scanned by Nectar card.  It’s a bit awkward being prompted for a password in the middle of a supermarket – I’d have preferred to have registered online.  Since I buy the majority of my groceries from Sainsbury’s using their home delivery or buying lunch at work, I’m disappointed they didn’t email to let me know about this new system.   That said, registration in-store was still quick and easy.  Just make sure you take your Nectar card with you.

The old Sainsbury’s scanner has been replaced by a new fancy-pants touchscreen model.

The first advantage of the new SmartShop is the scanners.  They’re now touchscreen.  I also found that the scanning accuracy was better AND faster.  The second advantage is that you don’t need to use the SmartShop scanners at all – you can use your own mobile phone.

I took some time to download and set-up the SmartShop app on my iPhone 8 Plus.  At the expense of having forgotten to pick up the second sandwich(!) – I was too busy concentrating on the new tech!  Typical me.  But as you can see, the app screen reflected exactly what the SmartShop scanner’s list of items in my basket.

SmartShop indeed! But don’t scan using the phone if you’re using the SmartShop scanner – the system doesn’t like it.

The SmartShop iOS app allows you to scan stuff – and it’s even more accurate and faster than the scanner itself – to the detriment that I scanned the same item about 3 or 4 times because of just how fast the app was versus the scanner.  If you do pick up the scanner, don’t try to scan things with the app – as this will cause the shopping basket to get out of sync.   Pick one and stick with it.  Next week I’ll be trying the app only for scanning.

Speaking of the app, you can also create a shopping list for your next trip either by adding items using the search system or by scanning them with your phone.  I guess when you next go shopping, it’ll automatically tick them off as you go around scanning.

I enjoyed the fish pie very much, so now I’ve added it to my shopping list to remind me to buy it again.

Once you’ve done with your shop, you point the scanner (or scan the QR code with your phone, if you’ve been using your phone to scan stuff) and scan your Nectar card.  The system then works as it would any self-checkout.  On my first SmartShop, there was a substantial queue as people were figuring out how it all works.  Me?  Went through the whole process like butter.  Though it did take a little while for the machine to calculate and apply the discount to the meal deal.

It’s always good that bricks and motar shops are continuing to improve technology to make shopping easier (and, hopefully, quicker).  SmartShop is a definite step in the right direction.  I like the choice of using either a scanner or my own phone, and to build up my shopping list from scanning items I already have in my home.