Friday, December 14, 2012

A gadget queen writes: Not so smart with phones and as a capitalist something of a bloody loser

Not posted here for a week or three, but encouraged by a glass or five of brandy and lovage on ice (my new drink, beats the shit out of scrumpy. And sophisticated? Yes, and then some - I could have sworn Simone de Beauvoir has just walked through the kitchen) I have decided to put digit to keyboard and churn out a few hundred more words while I can still remember my name.

A good joke was made as I was making my farewells from work last Wednesday. As I pulled out the plug of my phone charger from the socket, someone remarked that there would probably now be a power surge as all my gadgets were turned off. An exaggerated claim, of course, but one unfortunately just a little too close to the truth for comfort. I am, I have to admit, something of a gadget queen. Or, to be a little more honest and a little fairer to myself, something of a gadget princess (as in princesses being queens in waiting).

It all started with my penchant for hoovering up cheap mobile phones when and if I ever came across the opportunity to buy one. I like to think, and I often claim, that my collection is not quite as irrational as it sounds, and I can, indeed, recite chapter and verse as to why a particular phone was bought at a particular time. So, for example, a year or two ago, my car broke down in the car park of Asda, Bodmin. And as Sod’s Law always operates on such occasions, I didn’t have my phone with me. So off I went into the store and bought the cheapest pay as you go phone I could find in order to summon the RAC to help me out of the shit.

So far, so rational. But if I count up the number of mobile phones in the house, most of which belong to me, it does sound just a tad wacky. My daughter has a Blackberry, and when I organised it for her - she got a half-price deal on a 12-month contract which was more ‘cost-effective’ than remaining PAYG - she gave her old Blackberry to my son. And because he now has a Blackberry (which he never uses - in fact, I think he has yet to make a mobile phone call in anger as they say), he gave up ‘using’ the Sony Ericsson I had passed on to him. That’s three.

My wife has a Sendo (one of those obscure brands who briefly went into making mobile phones several years ago when the future looked brighter, but quickly lost interest and went back to making wheelbarrows or whatever their particular field of expertise is). I had given it to her for Christmas. That’s four mobile phones accounted for. Now comes the difficult bit.

I own two Huawei G300 Ascends, one Samsung and one Nokia. Then there are knocking about the house somewhere about six other phones, all except one owned by me at some point. The two Ascends are useful (and a damned sight more useful than the Samsung Galaxy Ace one of them replaced) because they are rather fine phones which can hold their own against any smartphone twice their price. I have two because I like to use one hitched to the car radio to listen to Five Live on the net (3G) when I drive home from London to Cornwall on a Wednesday to listen to football. Five Live is still on medium wave and if you don’t live in London reception is bad to atrocious, especially if you are speeding at 70mph on the A303 down to the West Country. On the net it is far better. However, in Britain the Ascend G300 is restricted to Vodafone whose 3G coverage is not as good as 3’s. So I bought another (a snip at £99, honestly), got it unlocked and slipped in a 3 sim card, and now I don’t lose a signal half as quickly.

So you see ‘owning several hundred mobile phones’ isn’t quite as mad as it sounds. But that, dear reader, is not even the half of it. All the above is just a preamble to a confession I am about to make. And I shall be revealing details which do make me feel every so slightly foolish. But get yourselves off and put the kettle on and make a cup of tea before you settle in to Part Two: The Tablets.

. . .

My love affair with tablets has not been going on for long but even in that short time has been decidedly rocky. It’s like falling for a woman who is a bloody good shag, but otherwise a pain in the arse, and you just can’t make up your mind what to do: to ditch or not to ditch, that is the question. That observation, however true, might offend some, so my apologies in advance to all new men and male feminists who feel it is beyond the pale and that I should be ashamed of myself for making it.

Several years ago, I bought an iPad. I rated and still rate them, but I didn’t need it. What could I do on the iPad what I couldn’t do on a laptop and iPod combined? (That is a rhetorical question, so no emails, please.) So I sold it again, and as my timing was, as usual, quite atrocious, I sold it just as the iPad 2 came out and sent prices for second-hand iPads tumbling. But that was it for a while. I managed, quite successfully, to live without a tablet. And even sitting here now, concentrating, I really can’t remember why I bought a 8in Ployer Momo8 IPS.

Somehow, of course, the seed had germinated. I know that because I spent some time ‘researching’ Android tablets (Android being more or less the only viable alternative to Apple.) I settled on the Momo8 because - well, I can’t really tell you why. It is one of what seems to be several thousands Chinese iPad clones, none of which is as good as the iPad, but some of which, on paper at least, are better than others and all share the virtue of being a damn sight cheaper than an iPad (and then some). So I ordered one and a leather case to stick it in from a site called Ebellking and waited for it to arrive. And waited and waited.

Finally, after a week or two, I emailed the company asking whether or not it had been sent off. They said, no it hadn’t, because they were having trouble getting hold of a case to send me. That struck me as odd, but I gave them the benefit of doubt and emailed back saying to send the tablet anyway and either to send the case when they found one or two forget about it completely and refund the money for it. Then I came across a website ‘reviewing’ Ebelking, and it didnt’ make happy reading. So I decided to play it safe and as I had paid for the tablet and case through PayPal, I asked for a refund, pointing out reasonably enough that as nothing had yet been sent, the matter should be simple: just refund my money. And they did.

By now, of course, the bug was well and truly in my blood and I ordered the Ployer Momo8 from another site, iPadalternative. It, too, was based in China. Within days I received a cheery email informing me that my tablet had been dispatched. A day or two after that I decided I wanted to track the progress of the tablet from East to West and asked iPadalternative to give me a tracking number. Ah, they said, we can’t do that because we haven’t actually sent it yet. So I said they had 12 hours to dispatch the bloody thing and send me a tracking number or I would ask PayPal to refund my money. Twelve hourse wasn’t long enough, they said (although they didn’t explain why) so they would simply refund my money. And they did. So I wasn’t actually out-of-pocket, but I didn’t have a bloody tablet either.

To make matters worse, my brother had bought himself a Google Nexus 7 and just couldn’t stop himself from showing it to me and demonstrating just what a fabulous gadget it was.
The third Chinese website I used to get my Momo8 was Chinistore. And to be fair, they were as good as gold. I bought one online on Nov 26 and it arrived in London a week later. And it was not a bad little tablet. The build quality wasn’t up to Apple standards (or for that matter Samsung standards) but it was nippy and did the biz.

Or rather it did half the biz: it came with (this might get a bit technical for the girls, so why don’t you take five and do your nails or something?) Jellybean aka Android 4.1. It is a great operating system, but not all the apps I wanted to use on it - especially BBC iPlayer - yet work on it. What was worse, though, was that the micro USB port (not yet, girls, I’ll give you a shout) packed up rather suddenly. It worked a treat and then it didn’t. I suspect that I had somehow - somehow - damaged it by putting in the USB cable the wrong way around before realising my mistake, but to be honest I was not aware ever of using force, and I rather think the port was just a tad too flimsy. I took a look at it and it seem to have been pushed back a bit. Confirmation, if confirmation were ever needed, of the wisdom passed down from parent to child through the ages then promptly ignored that ‘cheap means cheap means cheap’.

I could, of course, have lived with it, but I didn’t want to live with it. And as I decided the 8in was just a little too small, I sold it again on eBay (and didn’t take too much of a hit as it happens.) So then the hunt was on to replace it and scrutinising Chinistore’s site, eliminating this and that tablet - and believe me there are almost 100 different brands - I hit upon the 9.7in ‘Cube 19UT’, not least because it still uses Android 4.0.3 (Ice Cream Sandwich). I use the same OS on both my Ascends and know that it will work the BBC’s iPlayer. I paid up, received my tracking number, and it arrived last Monday afternoon.

It looked OK coming out of its box, if again the workmanship was not quite up to pristine Apple and Samsung standards. But, dear reader, it was fucking hopeless. The wifi was quite simply bloody awful. If I was able to connect to the router - if! - and if I was able to keep the connection for more than two minutes - if! - the speed of transmission was slower than the worst bloody dial-up connection you have ever had the misfortune to use.

I googled the problem and found an American site which pointed me to a ‘firmware update’ (almost there, girls, promise) on the Cube website. I followed it but found the site was all in Chinese. Needless to say (though I’ll say it anyway as does everyone else who uses that utterly pointless phrase) I didn’t have a fucking clue as to what was what. I mean, you can’t even guess. I like to think that had the site been in French or Italian or, at a pinch Spanish, I might have had a sporting chance of sussing out what was what and downloading the ‘firmware upgrade’. But it was in Chinese. I clicked this and I clicked that, but all I could do was open new windows taking me to either sites selling online games or sites selling online soft porn.

Enough was enough. First, I emailed Chinistore and told them about the problem. They were very understanding - why wouldn’t they be as they now had £150 of my money - and emailed back a link to the same Cube website were I should be able to download the firmware upgrade to make the bloody thing work. But not an hour later I had had enough. I asked myself why, after paying 150 good, honest British pounds, I was doing all the pfaffing about trying to get a tablet to work as it should when it should have worked as it should straight out of the bloody box. And I decided I shouldn’t be doing the pfaffing around. So I applied to PayPal for yet another refund (they must surely by now have filed me under ‘fucking loser, why doesn’t he give up?’).

Chinistore were offended by this (though I understand it ain’t that difficult to offend and East Asian) and said I should have given them more time to sort out the problem. To which I replied they weren’t doing anything to sort out the problem I was. The one slight irritation is that I shall have to fork out between £30 and £55 to ship the bloody thing back to Shenzen before I get my refund, and I also run the risk that some bloody-minded herbert in Chinistore will decide the tablet didnt’ come out in the condition in which it was sent and try to refund less. But what the hell.

There is, however, dear reader, even more to this saga of ‘tablet or no tablet, does the guy have no shame?’
. . .

You see, in the meantime I got my regular emailed newsletter from Lidl (the German chain like Aldi which sells German food and other goods in Britain and elsewhere) that one of its ‘specials’ last week would be a 7in Versus Touchpad for just £79.99. Ooh, I thought, ooh, and bought one. Examining it, I realised that an iPad it wasn’t and would have a long way to go before even using the same toilet as an iPad, but notwithstanding several - OK, many - drawbacks, it was at least useful.

But then came my downfall. I had googled the tablet for further info and come across several sites selling it for between £109 and £129. Why, I asked myself, the stout  little capitalist which slumbers in every man’s heart coming alive, why didn’t I buy up another three and sell them on eBay? If I charged £10 for ‘p&p’ and £99 for the tablet I could make a tidy profit of more than £60.

I hoovered up the three last Versus Touchpads for sale in North Cornwall - literally - I was in Launceston and wanted three, but the only had one, which I bought and they phoned through to Bodmin where they still had another two, so I drove down Bodmin and bought those. I then listed them on a three-day auction eBay. And had no takers at all. Finally, I panicked at reduced the price to £79 and sold two. I relisted the last and that auction is due to end at just after 5pm tomorrow. The way it looks, I shall not make £79. Moral: Don’t Get Clever. And if the stout little capitalist slumbering in your heart does wake up, slip him a Mickey Finn.

. . .

Now the postscript: I have been using the first Versus I bought and, after a fashion, it works. To say euphemistically that ‘it’s not the best’ is an insult to euphemisms. It works OK if you make sure that only one app is running at any given time. But it has a tendency to  go off at a tangent and ignore you, the user, completely. If it were a person, one could even describe it as ‘other worldly’. It somehow drifts off, does its own thing - and you have no idea what it is doing - before it rejoins your company and then carries on as though nothing had happened. It is, in short, a deeply bloody irritating tablet. And that is why, dear reader, I have bought yet another, a brand-new Samsung Tab with wifi and 3G.

The price is quite low and even though the listing claims it is new in a sealed box, I don’t know. At the price I bought it? Once I have it - and have survived the inevitable spat with my wife about why I I keep buying such electrical trinkets when we need the money to feed and clothe the children who are runnng around in rags and are starving (women do go on so, I keep telling her to look at the bigger picture) - I shall kiss the Versus goodbye and sell it, and I don’t care for how little.

 There is just one last lingering concern: once I had bought the Samsung - brand-new in sealed box - and paid through PayPal, I checked my PayPal account. And I found that payment had been made to a ‘Ricky Ching’. Hmmm.

One final point: between us in our household we have (I won’t say ‘own’ as one is from work) six laptops, four of which are ‘official’, that is my wife knows about them. Sounds bad, doesn’t it? But look at it this way: we are living in the 21st century and if it were not for spendthrift fuckwits like me, the electronics industry would be on its knees, thousands would be out of work and, no doubt, the country would grind to a halt. It’s always useful to put things in perspective.

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