A random Weblog


2015 Mercedes C-Class vs. BMW 428i Gran Coupe – a tale of two cities
October 6, 2014, 11:27 am
Filed under: cars, Technology | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

It was time to sell my Mercedes C-Class, and the launch of the new 2015 C-Class seemed like a logical upgrade.  But it didn’t turn out that way. Having had two Mercedes cars over 15 years, I ended up choosing a BMW 428i Gran Coupe instead of the new C-Class as my next car. Here’s why…

The 2015 C-Class is without doubt a thing of beauty, it ticks a lot of boxes at face-value, so like many potential buyers I dived into some in-store and online research. If you do a few Google searches you’ll find dozens of sites with lazy reviews – which is not Mercedes fault, but it’s off-putting (re-hashed press releases dominate sites – and you quickly find the majority of sites refer to the new C-Class as “a baby S-Class”. This is hardly the stuff of review, it’s one person’s interesting observation parroted a thousand times without original thought).  Amongst those who drove it, you’ll also find fans of the new (optional) air suspension, and detractors – proving the only proof is to test drive it for yourself.

The new Mercedes C-Class, jam packed with innovative technology

The new Mercedes C-Class, jam packed with innovative technology

But do a bit more digging online, and you’ll get past the cut-had-paste bloggers and through to the reviewers who know their stuff. Practical drivers with a sense of the how to report handling and drive – and not just talk about the admittedly clever (class leading) technology in the car.  During my first test drive – in the C200 – I was surprised that the car seemed to suddenly rev as it placed itself in the wrong gear for a short while.  And the engine was OK, but the modest torque was not for me.  A few days later I drove the C250 Diesel.  While the torque was great, the noise was surprising. We all know that a diesel engine can chatter at times, but this was intrusive IMO.  I’m not sure if the Diesel C-Class vehicles supplied to Australia contain the Renault Diesel engine that some of the Brit cars get, and I doubt Mercedes would promote this if it does, but one thing was very evident – whoever made that particular Diesel engine, they sure made a noisy one.  Sadly the C250 also did a bit of a gear-hunt at one stage. My caution levels were rising.

There’s no doubt the C-Class interior is impressive however, and the only thing I could fault was that the Nav screen looks like an iPad was slapped on at the last minute as it’s very prominent.  It also feels fractionally too far forward as I would have preferred it set-back a few cm.  But that’s a personal taste thing, I’m sure most people will like it.  I didn’t get to see how the move to Garmin maps played out in detail, but having long learnt not to trust the very ordinary directions delivered by the Becker maps in my previous C-Class, I figured any upgrade would be a good thing.  Sadly the old Mercedes Command menus (which look like a DOS-era computer screen to me) are soon found again as you get past the initial high-quality pages of the new system.  I read that Mercedes has delayed it’s introduction of Apple’s in-car system, so perhaps they had to shoehorn bits of the old into the new – because that’s what it feels like, and that’s a shame as they have not been competitive in this area, and still aren’t.  But I will give a nod in the direction of Garmin, seriously good to see the Becker system on the way out.

Immaculate C-Class interior. Notice the clean lines thanks to moving gear stick from centre console to a wand on steering column. And a long-time Mercedes visual benefit - no handbrake in centre console (it auto disengages as you drive off, and is applied by a small lever on lower dash)

Immaculate C-Class interior. Notice the clean lines thanks to moving gear stick from centre console to a wand on steering column. And a long-time Mercedes visual benefit – no handbrake in centre console (it auto disengages as you drive off, and is applied by a small lever on lower dash)

So, after a couple of drives, lots of reading, discussions with sales people, and a visit to one of the launch events I decided I needed to consider other options.  The Audi A4 is due for a major update, but is sometime from reveal let alone showrooms.  I flirted with the Audi Q5 briefly, but decided an SUV wasn’t for me.  Lexus got a quick look, but I soon moved on (the IS300h does have an impressive spec though).  A couple of visits to BMW had me interested in the Three Series, but I just couldn’t – it seemed dated after sitting in the new C-Class.  Then I took it for a test drive.  Wow!  The 328i’s engine is roughly comparable to the C250 petrol Mercedes, but on paper a better performer as they’re getting torque across more rev range and slightly more horsepower. And if you can find a bad review for the eight speed auto it might be a first. In fact I found many glowing reviews for this transmission, and I have to agree – unlike the two C-Class cars I drove, the BMW was always in the right gear at the right time, and with this engine the car leapt away nicely when you put your foot down.

A friend suggested I check out the 428i Gran Coupe. Now here was a car that just looked great to my eye.  Coupe good looks, but with rear doors and a lift back in place of boot.  Where the three series is due for a facelift in 2015, the 4 series is fairly new – and the Gran Coupe pretty much brand new (you can see some DNA to the jaw-dropping Six Series Gran Coupe too – a nice family line coming through here)

Showing some design DNA from the 640i Gran Coupe, BMW's 428i Gran Coupe is a particularly good looking car

Showing some design DNA from the 640i Gran Coupe, BMW’s 428i Gran Coupe is a particularly good looking car

Inside the 328i was clean and tidy. Likewise the 428i. But that’s about it. It’s otherwise plain, storage is lacking, the lid on the cup-holder actually lifts right off (now what?) rather than flipping up or retracting – truly mad design.  Like many cars there is no seat memory for the passenger seat.  This must be what, a $10 chip and a $5 button?  Shame on BMW for this – and credit to Mercedes for finally adding it to the C-Class as standard. The front parking sensors need to be manually reactivated when you need them (WTF?), the brake lever feels 1950 after the Mercs elegant solution (for years Mercedes have had a great foot brake – but the new C-Class has a cool electronic park brake), the gear stick is OK, but the centre console area feels slightly cluttered after playing with the Merc’s gear wand on the steering column, the speed Limiter seems to do nothing apart from flash a light (the C-’s limiter is active, and has saved my license more than once).  The BMW’s sunroof is no match for the Merc’s elegant Panorama rook, Thanks to no visible handbrake or gearstick in the centre console, the Merc interior is clean and contemporary. The BMW is (by comparison) a little uninspiring.  But hey, maybe the handbrake position is handy for brake slides?!

Nice, but not as elegant as the new C-Class. Note the hand-break looking old compared to the C-Class

Nice, but not as elegant as the new C-Class. Note the hand-break on the centre console, which looks old compared to the C-Class

The BMW 428i that I purchased lacks half the technology the C-Class comes with standard – even after ticking several options on the BMW.  It has the “issues” mentioned above, but the iDrive system is a thing of pure joy to use (take note Mercedes, this is how you do it).  Best of all though, the engine and gearbox are in harmony, they absolutely sing together and funnily enough thats kind of important for a car 🙂  So impressed by the dive, this car became the car of choice for me.  Ride and handling in the 428i is very good – the wheelbase is slightly wider than the three series and I sense this adds to the sense of stability.  All up, it feels secure and is pure fun to drive – and like the new C-Class, offers adaptive suspension for further fine-tuning to suit your needs.

Honestly both cars are wonderful choices and you could be happy with either of them.  The new C-Class is likely to win dozens of awards and continue to lead the segment in this country.  It’s a big step forward for Mercedes and seriously throws the gauntlet down.  Except for the engine. And gearbox. And navigation. And looks (IMO the 428i Gran Coupe is second only to the 640 Gran Coupe in the entire BMW range at the moment).

But the main thing that swayed me against the new C-Class was the high cost of service with this brand – and not just routine services.  I’d had two significant (expensive) service issues in the last six years.  For the investment, it’s not something I was comfortable with.  My feeling for the Mercedes brand was tarnished with twice having to tow my car to the dealers after the immobiliser failed to unlock (one of these being very expensive thanks to a complex towing requirement from where it was parked).  I know any car can have a bad day, they are mechanical after all, but it had become a nagging doubt as to long term reliability for me.  Especially as another Merc owner I know of had several grands worth of engine repairs seven years in – it seemed to paint a warning picture to me, and felt like it was time to get out (another friend reminded me that maybe this is not so unusual – he said there’s a saying that goes “If you can’t afford a new Mercedes, you certainly can’t afford a used one”).  I’m sure others could point to a reverse version of this story with a heroic track record in a Merc and a lumpy run in another marque – but this stuff is all about personal perception, and mine was now framed by my experiences

C-Class dash

C-Class dash

428i Dash

428i Dash

So now I’m learning to in’s and out’s of my new BMW.  It’s early days and I still drop my right hand ready to release the handbrake under the dash, but that kind of muscle memory will soon fade.  I’m noticing even more things I like now, for example the dashboard looks like a car dash – not a toy.  The connected apps are clever – finding an address on my phone or computer and pushing it to the car is fantastic.  Giving Pandora tracks the thumbs-up or thumbs-down on iDrive is perfect.  Remote lights flash in a carpark is actually handy (the horn option is sadly muted in Australia).  Best of all, the driving experience is exactly what I wanted – pure pleasure.  There are a couple of options I wish I’d gone for, things that are standard on the new C-Class too, but that engine, that gearbox. Really, I’m more than spoilt.

Lastly, if you’re in the market for either car (or similar), don’t overlook the head-up-display (HUD).  So handy, and definitely a safety enhancement as it projects speed and navigation directions in front of you meaning you don’t need to take your eyes off the road (both cars have a raft of other active and passive safety features – and the HUD is normally promoted for convenience, but I’d say it plays a role in safety too)

I plan to update this post in a couple of months when I’ve got some more k’s on the clock. (DONE – Scroll down)

Another view of the BMW 428i Gran Coupe

Another view of the BMW 428i Gran Coupe

 

BMW's 640i Gran Coupe - the 428i Gran Coupe seems to be drawn from this cars elegant lines

BMW’s 640i Gran Coupe – the 428i Gran Coupe seems to be drawn from this cars elegant lines

 

UPDATE: Two months in…

After 2500 km of city driving and four lengthy freeway drives, it’s time to update my thoughts;

  • The C-Class (as predicted) has won Car of the year. Well deserved with the way it has raised the bar in the segment.  But I have no regrets, no buyers remorse, as I am loving the BMW.
  • My concern with the handbrake placement has turned out to be a non-issue. Maybe there’s a cosmetic argument, but no concerns in use or performance.
  • The Head Up Display is fantastic (Mercedes has this too). What a great innovation, surely something to trickle down to more cars. It is a genuine safety aid, bring it on.
  • I was worried the BMW interior would seem lame compared to the luxe of the new C-Class. Not so, the striking red leather seats and dash, accented with black and aluminium look fantastic. Wood grain belongs on the dining room table not in a car – such a daggy dated look to put wood grain inside a car.  When I look back at the interior of the new C-Class I’m now preferring my BMW interior – I know this is in part due to “getting to know it”, but I think my initial concern was misplaced.
  • The BMW is ALWAYS in the right gear at the right time.  The eight-speed auto is sublime, absolute magic.
  • The Mercedes has better execution of the hill start brake, front parking sensors and speed limiter (the BMW has these, but not as well implemented IMO)
  • The Mercedes has a seat memory function for the front passenger seat. Given the BMW has the electric controls, but lacks a $5 memory chip this is a cheap and hopelessly accountant-driven omission by BMW.
  • The lack of a sync button for air-con in the BMW is another omission that I can’t get my head around. Mercs and other cars have had these for over a decade. If I’m the sole occupant, I want the air on both sides at 18 degrees, not one at 18 and one 19.5 or whatever. $10 BMW, that’s all it would cost per car to deliver this. It’s a software script and a plastic button, and for a company that promotes its engineering prowess it’s an omission that just looks cheap and stupid. My feeling is that the Merc’s air-con is colder than the BMW – handy for Merc drivers here in Austaralia
  • The BMW’s iDrive system is light years ahead of the Mercedes navigation/entertainment offer (this is not to be glossed over, it’s something I use most days and the improvement is a major benefit to me)
  • The BMW has (IMO) a significantly better engine and gearbox. Game, set, and match right there.
  • I regularly get to drive a 2014 E-Class Mercedes.  It’s a nice pleasant drive, but by comparison my BMW is engaging, involving and eagerly anticipated.  The Mercedes gets me form A to B efficiently. The BMW does the same, but with a connection or feel that makes it much more enjoyable. It’s hard to describe, but one car is like a quality functional tool, and the other is an emotive experience. And that wraps it up, the BMW was definitely the right choice for me.

Update – just over a year in….

  • Of the points mentioned at the two-month update, the auto rain wipers and hill start brake are the most annoying
  • Two minor faults fixed under warranty (tilt on passenger wing mirror when in reverse failed, and passenger right hand door developed a rattle – which Google tells me is not exactly rare for BMW’s)
  • Merc air-con definitely much cooler
  • I take the elegant BMW dash for granted now, but seeing modern Mercs up close their dash looks toy-town and cartoonish by comparison
  • STILL loving the driving experience, it’s brilliant.

Update – just over two years in…

  • We’re experiencing a very hot summer in Australia and the BMW’s air-con still provides cool air, but not super-cold air as the Mercedes does.  The advantage on the Merc is that you can return to a hot car and drop the internal temperature quickly, then back off the setting to something more comfortable.  The BMW struggles in this regard as it simply doesn’t deliver enough super-cold air for Australia’s climate.
  • The Reversing wing mirror has failed again – in fact it repeatedly fails,  which is really annoying as it’s great feature when it works.
  • Of more concern the fuel pump failed – the car was towed and repaired under warranty, but it was a startling issue to have in a two-year old car (and Google tells me this is not a rare event for some BMW’s)
  • The car otherwise remains a satisfyingly tight drive.  The Nav and iDrive are first-class and well ahead of anything I have experienced in any other car to date.  The heads-up display is so good I miss it when I drive a car without it – a new “must have” IMO as it adds to safety and the overall experience.
  • The car looks good and I still have zero regrets opting for the Four Series over the C-class (but having said that, I  will keep an eye on the next generation C when it comes out in a few years time)
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I lost my Jawbone Up24
April 4, 2014, 1:45 pm
Filed under: Technology | Tags: , , , , ,

I did it again

After my 48-hour kill on my Withings Pulse fitness tracker, I did some more research and purchased the Jawbone Up24 wrist band.  But somehow I lost it within two weeks 😦

Of course I didn’t notice at the time that it came off, but I knew as soon as I got home that it was missing. Very annoying – and this is getting expensive.

In the time I had it though, it proved surprisingly good as the info from the app does motivate actions. E.g. I tried getting to bed earlier, walking during the office day, and so on.  The app is mature and works well, the device is simple and OK in use – but as it only wraps around your wrist and does not fasten like a watch, it is susceptible to being hooked on something and coming off.  Does this mean I now go for the Fitbit Force or something as my next choice?  Meh, no I’ve wasted enough on these wearables.

But for this experience, the Jawbone was pretty good. The low-power bluetooth allows for easy syncing to the app, and it only needs to be charged every 5 to 7 days (I only got to charge it twice before I lost it – but it seemed to run a while on a single charge).  One part of the app I really liked was the sleep analysis, it made me think about sleep in a new way – and my daily goal of 10,000 steps was motivating.

A good device, works well. Nice app. Easy to use. BUT, either my bad luck or a weakness in the design as it sure didn’t take long for mine to go missing…

 

Jawbone Up24

Jawbone Up24

 

 



The Rialto 400 and Sonos Connect – a near perfect marriage.

Sonos owners know that the Sonos Connect is the tool to plug into your existing hifi.  Basically it absorbs the Sonos audio (wirelessly or via Ethernet) and sends it into your existing stereo – voilà, a simple and effective way to extend your Sonos system and use the good equipment you’ve already invested in.

Sonos describe the Connect as follows:

Turn your stereo or home theatre into a music streaming system

  • Stream all the music on earth to your stereo
  • Wireless, easy to set up music player
  • Play alone, or link to other Sonos music players in your home
  • Control from anywhere with your smart phone or tablet

They also have the Sonos Connect Amp which (surprise surprise) includes a built-in amp, so all you need to do is add your own speakers.  But my guess is that the Connect is likely more appealing as a lot of us own existing stereo’s.

So, a Connect entered my life.

In mere moments the easy set-up that Sonos is famous for had things up and running.  And the sound? Well it was good but not super great.  Nevertheless, it was a welcome addition to my system.

Sonos users know that turning the devices on and off is simply a matter of starting or stopping the music via the app on their phone or tablet – but with the Connect there’s the added step of turning on your amp (and turning it off when done).  It’s not a problem, but strangely clunky when the rest of the system is so seamless.

This led me to do some more research – and in doing this I came across the Rialto 400 – an integrated amp from a company called Audio Control. The Rialto 400 is designed to partner with Sonos and it includes input triggers that allow it to start and enter standby based on whether it’s getting a signal from the Connect or not.  Perfect, now the home stereo replicates the behaviour of the entire system (i.e on/off via the Sonos app)

Image

Better still, the Rialto packs some serious pedigree inside.  From the AudioControl web site:

The AudioControl Rialto 400, is a compact, high-powered amplifier with a built-in audiophile-grade DAC (digital to analog converter) designed specifically to provide greater performance and higher sound quality for all analog and digital systems, including Sonos® home entertainment systems.

The Rialto 400’s amplifier delivers over 100 watts of power per channel into 8 ohms and 200 watts per channel into 4 ohm loads. Features a built-in high-performance Wolfson® DAC that drastically improves audio quality, digital and analog audio-systems can perform with better speakers across the home. This choice of an audiophile-quality DAC allows connected digital audio sources such as Apple TV, Pandora® and Spotify® to provide higher quality acoustics with clearer, more accurate analog signals during playback.

Image

Introducing the Rialto was no placebo, I could immediately hear an improvement over my prior amp – so this enthused me to keep looking at ways to tweak things some more.  FYI,  the DAC in the Rialto will take 44.1-192k with the only exception being 176.4, which Wolfson specifically states is not supported (a very uncommon sample rate).

A friend told me about his “Cullen Modified Sonos Connect”, so he brought it over to try with my Rialto.  Once again, a positive step that was particularly noticeable when I was playing music off my NAS.

The Cullen Mod is described as follows:

This version of the Connect has been modified to improve sound quality, using Rick Cullen’s modifications – this is achieved by re-clocking the digital data and upsampling it and thereby both reducing jitter markedly and offering higher resolution. This of course results in smoother texture in the high frequencies, better definition overall, and more spacious soundstage – in short a more complete and improved rendition of everything! Provided you’re using a good DAC, and feeding it from the coaxial output of the Cullen, you’re going to get extremely good sound

So, with a Cullen Modified Connect, partnered with the Rialto 400, you’re really getting some impressive quality out of a Sonos system.  I was convinced enough to replace my Connect with the Cullen version – and a final tweak may be to wire it to the Sonos Bridge via Ethernet, as I’m getting the odd audio drop out and I’m sure it’s related to the wireless.  At first I thought it was the Rialto overheating (I have it inside a cabinet, but it’s pretty well ventilated in there and doesn’t get overly warm)

All up, I’ve become a Sonos fanboy thanks to the easy set up, quality experience, and shockingly huge range of music options (even the alarm function is awesome – waking to new audio sources every day of the week is great) but now the Cullen modified Connect coupled with the Rialto 400 have raised the bar to a level I wasn’t anticipating – as a bit of a hifi nut I feel I have achieved a lot here.  I’m sure a higher bandwidth system such as those offered by Naim or Linn (and others) would sound better, but the Sonos app and it’s connections to the outside world of music trump any arguments about the finer points in top few percent of the signal. Right now my system is blasting me with some quality audio – in fact our house has heard more music in the last month than in the last two years.  A Sonos system will do that to you.

If you’re in the market for a wireless music system you have a number of choices. I opted NOT to use Airplay or Wifi for many reasons, and I’m pleased about that – but the secret sauce with Sonos is their app and it’s offerings.  And if you’re an audio junkie, it will allow you to add folders from a NAS (and even if not, you can still point the app to your iTunes library as another source).

If you already own a Sonos, think about the Cullen Modified Connect and the Rialto 400 amp.  For me, money happily spent – this has been, and continues to be, incredibly enjoyable, it has made a significant difference in the house – what’s not to like about that?



I killed my Withings Pulse in less than 48 hours (a review of the Withings Pulse)

Warning.  If you buy one of these puppies, TAKE CARE.  It’s so small I temporarily misplaced mine twice. Then I accidentally put it in with my laundry and killed it.  

I hadn’t even owned it two days and it was over and done with 😦

withings-pulse

But if you’re not as stupid as me, what can you expect?  Well this is a great little invention.  I purchased mine from Household Technologies in Australia, a local Withings agent.  At $129 (with free shipping), this diminutive device is good value – so long as you don’t kill it like it i did.

What does it do?  Well it tracks a range of your activities – including:

  • Steps taken
  • Altitude gained/lost
  • Running (kicks in after 60 seconds of running, proved quite accurate on my Sunday run)
  • Heart rate measurement via a touch screen on the rear
  • Sleep quality measurement (putting the pulse into a watch-like strap and setting the appropriate mode on the device)

The device has a basic touch screen where you can slide your finger to review options and make some settings options.  The top button acts as a toggle to cycle through some settings too.

Charged via mini-USB, Withings claim a remarkable two-week battery life, and full credit to Withings for ensuring you can plug that USB into your iPhone charger brick too. Awesome.

Connectivity to the free app on your phone is via Bluetooth.  I found it a little slow to dump the data to the phone, not badly so, but bluetooth has never impressed me so it wasn’t a surprise in the scheme of things.

Screen withings-pulse

The Withings apps is comprehensive and easy to use, the people behind this have clearly put a lot of thought into it.  Set up is easy, and the data is presented in clean interface.

In the short time I owned the Pulse, I really enjoyed using it.  It’s amazing technology in a tiny package.  I only have two gripes;

  1. Unlike Withings Smart Scales (which I use and love), the data does not get pulled into the “My Fitness Pal” app.  I didn’t realize how much I counted on this integration between my scales and the app and was sorry to see it’s absent.  Maybe in a future update?
  2. I think there’s a very high chance you will lose or kill your Pulse – putting it in the wash is all too easy when it’s clipped to your running shorts.  Suggestion – make a bright orange or yellow cover for it.  Black device on black running shorts – disaster.  They could offer a range of colors so you could go for maximum contrast.  Also, what about an optional beep tone toward end or start of day as a sort of alarm if it’s sitting in a bunch of laundry waiting to be washed?  (or just make it waterproof somehow – maybe via inductive charging and a membrane type button.

Will I replace it?  No.  I can guarantee I’ll destroy another one – it’s way too easy, and I bet a lot of people will also learn this the hard way.  I do hope they make it more visible, waterproof, or alarmed.  Until then, I am certain there will be a lot Withings Pulse’s without a Pulse.

UPDATE:  I was sent a quick survey by Withings, along the lines of “You haven’t used your Pulse in a while, what’s up?”  Guessing that’s the case with a lot of these things, in fact I’ll go out on a limb and say over half will be lost or drowned.  So I’m thinking a bracelet model is the only way to go – e.g. Jawbone Up, Nike Fuelband, Fitbit Force (and the last of those three has my attention at the moment)



File Transporter – hey it’s V1
May 2, 2013, 10:11 am
Filed under: Technology | Tags: , ,

Some of the people behind Drobo have gone to start a new business called “Connected Data”.  Their first product is called File Transporter and the simplest description I can give to it is that it’s a DIY version of Dropbox (or a self-hosted version of Dropbox if you like).  From their website they say;

Transporter is a private “off-cloud” storage device for syncing, sharing, accessing, and protecting your digital life. No cloud, no fees, no privacy concerns. Your files are only stored on your Transporters and computers and mobile devices that you authorize.

Access your digital life from any computer or mobile device, back it up, collaborate on it with colleagues, share it with family and friends and sync it across multiple devices. Transporter let’s you do all of that with no monthly fees. It’s 100% private. It’s 100% secure. It’s your digital life.

The idea is you buy this small device (with or without drive – laptop sized, easy to plug in).  Then you can set up folders and add files on the drive and in turn make some of these available to others (and/or access folders on File Transporters belong to others anywhere in the world).  Why? Well as we’ve seen some things die online – Google has closed down 60+ businesses, and frankly if you were relying on some of these you’re left in limbo. Secondly, for journalists, lawyers and others – you don’t really want to put confidential data on someone else’s server (in fact many businesses forbid the use of Box or Dropbox for these kinds of reasons).  Thirdly there’s a potential cost saving if you’re  a heavy user of these cloud services. Lastly, if it’s not on someone else’s sever, well they can’t snoop at it. I think a low risk, but it’s a selling point I guess.

Offices

So, I purchased a File Transporter and it arrived a few days later.  I don’t give a fig about “unboxing experiences”, well at least I thought I didn’t, but this was plain weird, as I opened the box everything spilled out onto my desk as though it had just been dumped in the box.  Kind of the opposite of an Apple experience.  Then I noticed the two stickers that act as seals on the box had been cut. I assumed by the vendor in order to install the 1GB hard drive, so I dropped them a line. Not so they said, it was shipped as it arrived. Hmm, maybe customs opened it, but I swear the outer shipping box was unopened. Oh well, moving right along…

Set up was not incident free. It took some mucking around to get things going – in setting up an account I had to ask the system to re-send the verification email to me as it failed to arrive first time.  However it was soon going and I then set up some folders for three photo-retouchers that I work with.

I then loaded some test files to the fist folder and used the management website to grant folder access to the first retoucher and send a system email to invite her to create an account.  She soon responded that she was having difficulties, but we persevered over a couple of days (major time zone differences slowed our communications down). Eventually she got her account set up but could not see her folder, so once again I had to get the system to re-send the email. Success.  We swapped files just fine, but where it was a near instant upload/download for me, she reported slow speeds akin to dropbox, yousendit etc.  Not a deal-breaker as that’s what we were used to, and at least it was working.

Next I sent some urgent retouching of a different nature to a specialist service I use in Europe. Sadly they had all kinds of problems installing the client, and just before giving up they managed to access their folder of files (however they have since insisted I use wetransfer or yousendit and returned the completed edits via one of these services and not through the share folder as intended).

Lastly, some catalog edits that I have photoshopped in India by a company that does an excellent job with this kind of repetitive edit.  Once again, a headache and they gave up in frustration – as a result we used wetransfer.com and had the work completed and returned without a hitch.

Is this a Fail? Well yes. Certainly not the result I wanted.  But it’s version one, so I’m hoping they’ll make the sign up and access a lot smoother on the next release.  The web portal is where you can add folders and invite collaborators, but there is no way to access or transfer files on the web, that’s a job for your File Manager – good and bad. Good because drag and drop file management is easy, bad because there is no access from a remote computer or kiosk – sure you can log in and see the folder and users, but that seems to be it. Which is not so helpful.

I sent a ticket to their online support, and while I have not heard back on that (apart from the automated acknowledgement) I figure that’s OK as it was more a case of me giving critical feedback than asking for help.

It feels like “three strikes and you’re out” to me.  And no this is not a bandwidth issue, I have some of the fastest bandwidth available in the country – rocking speeds, so there’s simply no congestion as this end.  File Transporter has enormous potential, and I think there is a very real market for a product like this, but for me there was a case of “Version 1” friction here.



Why I returned my iPhone 5
October 1, 2012, 11:12 am
Filed under: Technology | Tags: , , , , , , ,

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I’m a self-confessed Apple fan and have owned iPhone 1, 2, 3, 4, 4S and briefly – iPhone 5.

I wanted to write about why I have returned it.  It has a great form-factor, feels perfect in the hand, and things open and run noticeably faster than it’s predecessor – but the main reason for my disappointment comes down to two words. Google Maps.  Granted this is an iOS6 issue not an iPhone 5 issue per-se, but it’s the branch that snapped for me. Big time.

I should have done a re-boxing video as a parody of all the unboxing nonsense on YouTube, but it’s not that funny.  A couple other factors in my decision to return my iPhone 5 though;

1. It took nearly six hours to set up the iPhone 5. I had (foolishly?) backed up to iCloud and it took forever to restore onto the new phone – most likely because the Apple server farms were being hammered. Even when that was done, there was a need to connect to iTunes to restore media and apps – so really no point in an iCloud backup IMO.  Even connected to iTunes, re-loading 80 or so apps took forever – it was a truly hopeless experience and not at all Apple-like.

2. I fully charged the phone and ensuring no apps were running, I left it on overnight.  Less than eight hours later, battery was down to 32%.  WTF?  I did not have any undue location services running, there was no bluetooth connectivity, mail was set to push as per my old iPhone so I did not expect this – my iPhone 4s looses a maximum of 10% battery overnight. 68% is unacceptable.

I wasn’t prepared to venture to work with a phone that can’t even hold a charge when it’s doing SFA, so I clicked the return button and it’s on the way back to Apple.  Fortunately I had not erased my iPhone 4S, so with a new SIM it’s back in action. End of story.  Or is it?  Right now I’m researching how I might keep my Apple Contacts Book in Sync with Google Contacts, because yes, an Android phone beckons – that’s how much I want my Google maps back.

This article from The Monday Note reports that the maps fiasco has so far sliced $30 billion off the value of Apple. I say so far, because there is NO WAY that Apple can recover from this mess until Google maps is restored on iOS6.  If they don’t do this, 2012 will be the year of the tipping point, and history will write it as moment that Apple Jumped the Shark.

Why am I so certain this isn’t just a speed bump for Apple?  Because maps matter more than Apple understands and Google maps are the best.  What many people don’t know (Apple included by the looks) is that Street-View data is some of the secret-sauce behind Google Maps.  Their clever algorithms read the street signage and interpret meaning from all those road signs along the way.  So when you request directions, a layer of data is coming from signage along the possible routes. Without their own Street view data, Apple is hopelessly lost.  This article is on how Google builds it’s maps is fascinating, seriously Apple – you had the arrogance to think a half-baked product could take this kind of mature product on? The consumer is not stupid, yours is the fail of the decade and you’re going to have to pull a giant rabbit out of somewhere – or this will become the business case study of all time – for all the wrong reasons.

And back to iOS6, well I’ve resisted upgrading my iPad because of the map “thing”, but now as various apps auto-update I’m told they won’t install as they require the latest version of the OS. That would be iOS 6. No thanks.

Friends at work are rather fond of their Galaxy Note tablets, and the latest video’s from Samsung show some remarkable thinking is going on in Korea, thinking that is seeing the tablet evolve to become an even more productive device.  I’m sure Apple are hardly sitting around on their hands and will continue to improve with iOS7 and beyond, but Mr Cook sure has his work cut out for him.



Weary Gehry
December 18, 2010, 10:35 am
Filed under: Architecture, Media, Technology | Tags: , ,

I felt for Frank Gehry yesterday.  Here was an 84 year old architectural genius battling through an interview in front of 600 people, despite being clearly exhausted. He was generous with his time, but clearly after a busy week in Sydney to launch the design of a stunning new “tree house” building for UTS, he was ready for a quiet lie-down.  And who can blame him? Running a business of 150 staff working on projects in multiple countries and time zones would be hard work for anyone – let alone when you’re 84.

But, weariness aside, under the questions from Geraldine Doogue, Gehry offered some amazing insights into his life, and his pursuit of perfect design.  It was interesting to listen to the points he made in respect to creativity – to consider how these observations could apply to other arts such as photography, music, and so on.

Some observations from his comments:

  • Creative projects work. The Bilbao building paid for itself in eight months.
  • Simple things require more precision than the complex
  • There is beauty and energy in collisions of spaces and design
  • Always be yourself – and then you will be the expert in your work.  Your signature is your own, no one else does it like that – so do that in your work and don’t think about it.
  • Every new project is a challenge.
  • The constraint of the budget is a welcome challenge
  • Be childlike, playful, and free of constraints as you design
  • Encourage push-back from the client, it helps him find the edge
  • Too many colleagues don’t challenge the clients early optimism on costs. You need to do that at the outset
  • Get out of the project if the client is not engaged.

A word that Gehry used repeatedly was “engage.”  The work has to engage the client, it has to engage the users, it has to engage the community. It has to engage him as the architect.  He kept coming back to this word – and it surely applies in all creative pursuits.

When asked what he wants his legacy to be, he responded, “Well since I’m not going to be here, I don’t care.”  I think he meant it – he simply designs and creates without worrying what the naysayers and critics care to focus on.  That to me, is a sure sign of a great mind at work.

A model of architect Frank Gehry's Dr Chau Chak Wing Building, dubbed The Treehouse. (Gehry Partners)