301+ : Interviews with the Internet

301+

301+ is a new series of blog posts I’m starting on the Huffington Post UK, in which I interview popular content creators, YouTubers and public figures on the Web who you don’t ordinarily hear about.

The first interview is scheduled for next Monday (16th June 2014) and there will hopefully be a new interview every subsequent Monday for as long as I can keep doing this. Meantimes, check out the release schedule by liking 301+ on Facebook, following 301+ on Twitter and encouraging everyone you know to do the same. I’ll also use the Facebook page to take suggestions of people to interview and questions to ask upcoming guests.

All 301+ Blog Posts

Series 1:
Part 1: Thug Notes
Part 2: The Blockbuster Buster
Part 3: Geek Crash Course
Part 4: Brock Baker
Part 5: Doctor Puppet

Series 2 Coming Soon.

When ‘Her’ Becomes a Reality, She’ll Be a Digital Booth Babe

My latest Huffington Post blog post is up. It starts off with me talking about the Tamagotchi in relation to the Spike Jonze movie ‘Her’ and ends with a denouncement of sexism in tech trade shows. I’m pretty confident that the progression makes sense, but I’ll let you decide:

When ‘Her’ Becomes a Reality, She’ll Be a Digital Booth Babe

Her

An exclusive to this blog post coming soon, as well as potentially some pretty awesome news.

Mat

Moto G Review

Selecting a budget smartphone usually means compromising on performance and features just to stay within a sub-£200 price range. But Motorola’s first smartphone to get a UK release since being acquired by Google – the Moto G – comes packing an impressive set of specs for a paltry £135 price tag. So what’s the catch?

Moto G

The device itself has a fairly typical layout: power button and volume rocker on the right-hand edge, 3.5mm headphone jack atop and micro-USB port beneath. At the fore we have the Moto G’s 4.5-inch LCD touchscreen, speaker, mic and 1.3 MP front-facing camera. The notification light next to the front camera was a great design choice on Motorola’s part, as it glows softly rather than flashing brightly, meaning you could happily ignore it in a darkened bedroom at night but still notice it when you want to.

Unlike a lot of Android phones, the Moto G lacks mechanical touch-sensitive buttons as these are included in the OS. This was presumably a way to save costs on the casing since the gap left behind is not filled with anything and makes the screen seem a little off-centre, though it does act as a handy place to grip the phone while watching videos.

Considering Motorola’s history of designing handsets with quirky and interesting form factors, it’s a little disappointing that the Moto G is such a generic black rectangle, but this is understandable given the price. Many low-cost phones try to make up for lacklustre specs with a gimmicky design and the results are often hideous and tacky, so Motorola’s cost limitations may have turned out to be a strength.

Having said that, the Moto G comes out of the box sporting a glossy black back-cover that gives it a fragile and distinctly toy-like feel. The back can be replaced with a selection of coloured shells (£8.99) or flip covers (£18.99) slated to reach UK shores before the end of the year. The flip covers in particular, as they’re made of a more durable textured plastic, seem like they’d offer the best protection against the elements long-term, though they strike me as a little pricey for what they are.

Moto G Flip covers and back shells

But really it’s what’s under the shell that has everyone talking about the Moto G and for good reason. The Moto G is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 CPU with a quad-core Cortex-A7 chip clocked at 1.2GHz, not mind-blowing but very impressive for the price, and packs a respectable 1GB of memory. Navigating menus and using less processor-intensive features were as slick as you’d expect, even coping admirably when switching between apps rapidly with no visible latency. Though you wouldn’t expect a supposedly budget device to be much good for gaming, its Adreno 305 graphics chip is shared by a number of mid-range phones and, combined with the decent frame rate enabled by the CPU, makes the Moto G a competent gaming device.

It comes with comparatively meagre 8GB storage capacity, though a 16GB model is available for an extra £25, and there’s no way of supplementing that with an SD card. It also lacks 4G connectivity, which may be a dealbreaker in the US and some other countries but isn’t really a problem if you’re in the UK and live outside the major cities.

The Moto G flaunts a crisp 720p screen, matching that of yesteryear’s mid-range phones like the Nexus 4 and Galaxy S3, and plays HD video with incredible sharpness. My only complaint is that the LCD display lacks the colour richness you’d get with an AMOLED screen, giving videos a slightly washed-out appearance. The rear camera is perfectly serviceable and about what you’d expect for this price bracket. It won’t win any awards, but it’s decent enough for the casual photographer and is run on Motorola’s own software featuring a varied but straightforward menu of settings to control photo quality.

None of this comes at the expense of draining the phone’s power source either, since the 2,070 mAh battery is a stalwart companion in keeping the Moto G running. With Android’s built in battery saver systems, I was able to eke out a good 36 hours of life with moderate use and even a little over 12 hours when I was hammering it with updates, games and music streaming. Given the hardware it has to support, Motorola might have rendered the Moto G almost unusable if they’d skimped on the battery, so it’s encouraging to see thought went into even these minute details.

Android KitKat

At the moment, the Moto G comes running the slightly older Android 4.3 Jelly Bean but is slated to receive an update in January to the latest version (KitKat), with reports this has already begun rolling out for certain devices. Whilst the Android OS itself hasn’t undergone much alteration, Motorola has thrown in a ‘Migrate’ app that streamlines the process of copying the data on your old handset over to the Moto G (assuming it was also an Android). There’s also ‘Assist’, a somewhat over-auspiciously named app that simply lets you set times for your phone to fall silent automatically, such as during meetings or at night.

Along with the normal selection of apps for Google’s services pre-installed on the phone, you’ll be invited to enable ‘Google Now’ on first startup. This is effectively a system to deliver time and location-sensitive information to your phone’s notifications window automatically, such as traffic conditions for your commute home, weather and nearby restaurants. It’s an nice idea but I found it lacking in customisation, since it’s almost entirely automated rather than letting you adjust when certain notifications arrive. Eventually I just switched it off.


The Moto G is a great device all-round and almost indistinguishable in performance from a mid-range handset costing upwards of £100 more. It’s not without compromises, but clearly Motorola has taken pains to ensure these were done strategically: saving money in specialist areas, like the camera and case design, and putting it into improving the experience for a general user. It’s received rave reviews elsewhere and I think you can fairly predict that it’s going to be a game-changer in the budget mobile arena for 2014.

Christmas adverts are weird

I realise the title of this post will probably draw in the anti-consumerism crowd, which is misleading since I love Christmas and (as a gadget reviewer) have a vested interest in its commercialisation. However, by mentioning it I’ve already skewed the Google ranking, so while I’m at it: Free iPad Air, Star Wars Episode VII leaked trailer, Miley Cyrus and cute cat videos. Anyway, my enjoyment of Christmas does not blind me to just how bizarre the elaborate seasonal adverts put out by high-street shops each year have become.

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Samsung’s Missed Opportunity

In announcing the Galaxy Gear, Samsung took the opportunity to address one of the most frequent criticisms of smartwatches: that the fact it carries a battery. Being characteristically power-hungry gadgets, with a form factor that limits their battery size to the thickness of a toenail, smartwatches are likely to run out of juice at inconvenient times – after which their users are sporting the latest in wrist-paperweights.

However, rather than unveil some revolutionary new way to keep it chugging along for eons, all Samsung did was acknowledge the problem and vaguely boast its battery life.


[Timestamps make embedded YouTube videos cry, so skip to 3:26 to see what I mean]

Don’t get me wrong, 25 hours is pretty impressive if they can deliver on it and the idea of charging their tech overnight is nothing new for most people. Initial reviews would appear to indicate that the Gear can indeed sustain a full day’s worth of charge even with heavy use despite only sporting a 315 mAh battery.

However, the multitude of ways that people will (eventually) find to use smartwatches and the fact that the li-ion battery the Gear uses will deteriorate with age can drastically vary the amount of time it can last on one charge. The battery life is far from clockwork and users will inevitably find themselves limp-wristed at impractical times.

Portable gadgets have been around long enough for people to clock the idea of buying a spare charger to keep in the office or to carry their primary one with them. If you’re at your desk, it’s not usually a problem to leave your mobile phone charging at a nearby socket but continue to make use of it as normal. Every feature of your phone can be used without having to drastically change the way you manipulate it.

Image source: Gizmag

Image source: Gizmag

The whole appeal of smartwatches is to augment some of your phone’s functionality to an easily-accessible wrist-worn device. But in order to charge the Galaxy Gear, you must remove the wrist-straps and set the main device into a cradle that looks like an S&M rack for Smurfs.

Whilst this holds the device in a semi-usable position during its recharging cycle, it means you are no longer using it for its primary purpose. You’ve relegated the smartwatch to a superfluous miniature smartphone that can only be used to control your other smartphone; separate from your wrist and tied to the wall socket where using it is no easier, if not harder, than whipping out your phone.

This is not a problem exclusive to the Galaxy Gear, but as one of the first major companies to jump into this potentially competitive market (apart from Sony’s oddly underplayed entry), it does betray a missed opportunity on Samsung’s part to distinguish themselves from the existing competitors and from those yet to come. Even an unidentified Samsung executive has supposedly concurred with several underwhelmed reviews in saying that the Galaxy Gear “lacks something special”.

In order to be useful, the very concept of smartwatches must include a method of charging without having to remove it from the wrist or tether yourself to a mains socket like a cyborg-imposed leash law. That can only mean that smartwatch charging must go wireless.


Inductive charging had its commercial heyday a few years ago as third-party accessories to the major smartphone devices. But these were simply middlemen since they usually came in the form of a pad or surface that the handset (sporting a specialised case) still had to make physical contact with. Another form of wireless charging exists without this limitation.

Electrodynamic induction (otherwise known as resonant inductive coupling) enables the wireless transmission of electricity across short distances. The process uses a resonating magnetic coil connected to a power supply, which causes it to produce a low-frequency electromagnetic field. When a secondary “capture” coil resonating at the same frequency is introduced within that field, it can absorb the energy that the source is transmitting. This can then be converted into electricity in the recipient device in order to charge it.

The technology has been around for a while but was most recently developed by a team of MIT researchers led by Marin Soljačić, which spawned the company WiTricity. CEO Eric Giler demonstrated the technology at the TED Global Conference in 2009.


Imagine a smartwatch fitted with a miniature capture coil “tuned” to the resonant frequency of a coil in its charger, plugged into the mains on the other side of the room. The user could continue to wear and use the device as normal, as well as move freely within the admittedly limited range of the field, as it charged itself. Then your battery life is preserved exclusively for when you’re on the move and away from a plug socket.

Samsung have missed an opportunity to innovate by failing to see the potential of wireless charging in wearable technology. Not only would it have resolved one of the biggest drawbacks of smartwatches, it would have given the Galaxy Gear a distinctive edge that could help them seize that crucial early dominance in the market. Moreover, a successful proof-of-concept for wireless power would have given it the long-overdue legitimacy it needs to see it integrated into other devices, kick-starting a revolution in electronics that history would say started with Samsung.