Nokia BH-214 Bluetooth Headset Review

This is the first of what may become a series of techie reviews. The upshot is, I’ve done a few reviews in the past on books, bits of technology that have either been things I’ve bought myself or those that have been sent to me from companies like Toshiba but Nokia have agreed to send me various bits of kit to play with and generally say what I think ‘which is nice’. (That’s an in joke between me and an old Finnish mate, who coincidentally also works for Nokia).

The deal is, just so everyone’s clear. I don’t get to keep anything, get paid for writing nice things and anyone who has been reading my blog in the past knows I’ll give credit where it’s due but not hold back on criticism or where I think things are lacking.

So here is the little unit in it’s box which is the first area I’d like to comment on.

I know most manufacturers have gone down the road in recent years in reducing packaging which is a very good thing and there’s plenty of recyclable card and plastic in the packaging for the BH-214 but looking at what’s in the box, it’s clear that it’s not the unit itself that takes up the majority of the volume but the charger.

I think there would be a good argument in shipping this device without a charger unit which could really save space and packaging.

The charger in question is a box standard Nokia charger with the small 2mm jack. Odds on anyone purchasing this device already has one of these, I’ve got three, I think.

A better solution would be for the unit itself to have a Micro-USB port that can be used to charge either via PC or the new generation of standardised chargers and ship with a simple adapter cable like came with my N900 to convert between an old 2mm jack charger and Micro-USB.

This could also open up the possibility of extending the function of the device to not only what it is but also allow it to be used as a Bluetooth dongle for a computer, which could be quite handy at times.

With the wishlist out of the way, we come down to the unit itself which is a two tone white and light grey moulded case, clip on the back for attaching to lapels, power button on the top with indicator LED’s, volume control on the side and navigation/call option button on the front.

It comes with a default set of in-ear headphones of the rubbery ear plug variety that seem to come with everything these days.

The headphones are detachable and has a standard 3.5mm audio jack which makes swapping them out for any other earphones easy. I’ll not here, and it’s not a criticism of the produst but I just simple don’t like these rubbery in-ear headphones. Not just the set that came with the BH-214 but all of them. I accept it may just be me and I have funny shaped/small ear canals but I can never get the damn things to stay in.

However as this is a review I persisted with the default headphones for the duration and dropping out aside, the sound quality was particularly good.

Connectivity was flawless in all the devices I tested it with (Nokia N97, E90, 5800 and N900) with no interference of drops in playback with music or calls.

All the functionality worked on the handsets barring the N900 which doesn’t support everything (yet, I hope), but I already knew and expected that.

I had the device for a fortnight and although I didn’t do any specific battery strength tests on it, I did only charge it twice in that time and it still had plenty of juice left after the second charge.

The one thing I did enjoy doing with it was hooking it up to my hifi via the audio jack to aux sockets making it perfectly possible to live stream music direct from my mobile phone which surprisingly lost very little in audio quality compared to a fully wired connection.

This was however a bit of a problem when I got a call and ended up conducting it through the speakers of my hifi which probably felt a little weird to the delivery guy on the other end.

In conclusion the BH-214 is a very nifty little bit of kit. Does what it says on the tin and does it well. Good battery life and offers a few options in connectivity to play about with. For the price it’s not a bad alternative for using to live stream music around the house and turn the concept of a home media server on its head.

The only criticism that I would lay at the device which to be fair is understandable given it’s small size; is the inability to remove the battery (at least I couldn’t figure out a way to remove it). The environmentalist in me likes the ability to change over elements of hardware that will eventually degrade over time which in most electronic devices is the battery so that would have been nice.

(This post was written entirely on a Nokia N900 using WordPress for Maemo 0.5.4a)

N900 Birmingham Meetup

You know how these things go, first it starts as me and a mate from Twitter, @_Nexus planning a pint in Birmingham to have a little geeky tinker with our Nokia N900’s.
Then tonight, a chance discovery that @MeeGoExperts is from West Bromwich and a suggestion he might like to come along too and the next thing we’ve got a whole load of people from as far away as Denmark coming along.
So within the space of a couple of hours we’ve gone from a quiet geeky pint to full on all invites meetup. The date is set for the 27th of March and we’re working on a time and venue with our own hashtag. Which incidentally is #N900BrumMeetup
If anyone is interested in coming along to play, learn or share N900/Maemo/MeeGo related geekiness then feel free. Most of the discussion is happening on Twiter so just look for the hashtag.

BNP photo fail

You’d have thought by now the BNP would have got a bit wise when it comes to using pictures of nice happy smiling (decidedly white) families on their leaflets that it’s probably not best when trying to depict ‘British’ people, to use foreigners.

Not that they haven’t got form for it in the past, using Italian pensioners and the like but you’d have though they’d be clever enough not to get caught doing the same thing twice. Or perhaps they simply don’t have any members or friends and family who are reasonably aesthetically pleasing who are prepared to appear on their leaflets.

So, without further ado, I give you exhibit 1:

BNP leaflet

Fresh off the presses and being delivered in the Walsall North constituency today.

Now I don’t know if it’s just me. Call me picky if you will but for some strange reason, they just don’t look very British. I can’t place my finger on it, perhaps it’s the perfect pearly white teeth, the distinct hint of having a bit of a sun tan or the fact that it’s taken outside and there’s actually some sun about but this got me in the mood for a little Googling and what should crop up but this:

Exhibit 2:

orthodontics website image

An orthodontics practice in Missouri. Incidentally, the website is here. Now you’ll notice that it’s not an identical photograph, clearly a stock photo from the same set but definitely of the same people.

Now I guess they could be a bunch of Brits who have a penchant for nutty right-wing parties who happen to do a bit of modelling that ends up on American orthodontics websites but I’m betting it’s a bunch of American models, which begs the question, why are the BNP using them on their literature, all patriotic n’all as they are.

Twitter Hijacking

I’m writing this post more in the way of a public awareness message than anything else, with the hope that at least it will help some people understand some of the risks they take and how they could easily avoid them – plus a bit of philosophising about the issue and basically blaming Twitter’s methodology for it.

Anyone who partakes in the usage of Twitter will probably have become aware of a distinct increase over the last couple of days of spam messages, mostly ones received as direct messages (private ones) from their followers. At best it’s just a little annoying as they seem to fall into two categories. The “you look silly on this website” and the “I’m having the best sex ever, find out how” variety. Obviously spam to entice people to click on the truncated attached link, and by the looks of things it’s been pretty successful.

This is important because although most of us can laugh these off, change our passwords and move on, if you happen to be a high profile person or a company with a specific corporate image to maintain, the throwbacks can be damaging if played correctly by competitors or adversaries.

How all this shit works:

Knocking about Twitter you pick up on people spitting out accusations of “someone’s hacked my password” and the like. Let’s be realistic here. There ain’t no spotty nerd in his bedroom running John the Ripper with Openwall’s wordlist against your account because if they were, your account would lock up anyway. Although no one seems to be pinning it on a specific cause, odds on, it’s a plain old fashioned cross site scripting (XSS) attack.

So as I’m aiming this post at the generally not so geeky crowd, here’s how it goes:

You are logged into your Twitter account in your web browser. You click on a link, it takes you to a dodgy site that runs a nasty bit of Javascript against your browser and hey presto, your Twitter account has been hijacked.

The remedy is simple, change your password and the world will once again become a better place, however we really shouldn’t need a remedy as we should, with a little bit of knowledge be able to protect ourselves a lot better, quite easily.

First up, the web browser. Some are good, some are shite. If you’re using Internet Explorer 6 then you may as well give up and your best option is to avoid Twitter all together or never ever click on a truncated link.

Some web browser come with in-built XSS preventative measures. If you like the Microsoft variety of browser then at least make sure you’re using IE8. Opera is also very good by default at protecting you, as is Firefox (I have no idea about the capabilities of Safari or Chrome as I don’t use them nor particularly care).

However, if you want to be completely safe, there is only really one option, disabling Javascript all together.

This is fairly easy in the settings of any browser but as so much on the World Wide Web depends on Javascript it will adversely affect your browsing, so you won’t be able to seen YouTube vids and some menus may disappear and the like. Obviously that’s probably a non-starter for most people so here’s the Penguin’s recommendation (which he uses himself).

Go here and download the Firefox web browser.

Then go here and type “NoScript” into the search box, click return and it’s the first result.

What you’ll end up with is something like this, a browser with a button with a little ‘S’ on it at the bottom. (big arrow):

screenshot of firefox with no script add on

When you first visit a site it will have Javascript deactivated by default so you’re safe. When you visit a site you know and trust, a simple click of the little ‘S’ brings up a list of the active Javascript for which you can choose to allow or not allow for that site. It takes a little getting used to when first starting out but as it remembers what you’ve allowed or chosen not to allow; after a week or so you’ll probably not notice it for most of your visited sites.

So there we go, the best way to stop spamming your mates about how good your sex life is or how they look funny on this or that website and it won’t cost a penny and you’ll probably have a much better web browser than the one you’ve got as a plus too.

Final note on security and browser, it’s a no-brainer to most technically astute people, but do check what version of the browser you’re using and see if there’s a newer one available. It’s not much harder than clicking the ‘help’ menu looking at ‘about’ noting the number and Googling for said browser to see if there’s a new version available.

On to the blame game now.

It’s Twitter’s fault, simple as. OK, I’m being mischievous. Being unkind, it’s actually the fault of people clicking on dodgy links and using crap web browsers but I’d like to pose a suppositon if I may.

For many years people have become savvy to the old e-mail from person pretending to be your bank, please go here and enter your details so we can validate you and empty your bank account of cash while we’re at it scams.

E-mail clients got better at detecting it as well but mostly people became aware that the e-mail they got from NatWest Bank with a link to probably wasn’t kosher. The hint was in the URL. (PS, I’ve not checked but if anyone actually has registered that domain, I am not specifically accusing you of fraud, it’s just and example). (Should also make clear I am not blaming or wishing to stigmatise the country of Nigeria nor its population but sadly a lot of these scams seem to come or pretend to come from there).

The problem with Twitter and it’s users inherent higher risk of being duped comes from a fundamental flaw/feature of how it works; the 140 character limit.

We know why it’s there and where it came from, it’s the heritage of text messaging mobile phone usage but it inherently applies a constriction on the number characters available and thus a desire to abbreviate.

URL shorteners like were relatively rare before the explosion in Twitter (and other such-like services) usage but they are now the default option for anyone wanting to link to a website on Twitter.

They do their best to cut out dodgy links but with their enormous usage, reality dictates that it’s a losing battle as there simply isn’t the resources available to them to check every link people create.

The best solution for Twitter would be to allow Tweets of more than 140 characters for those that include a URL link so that people can actually see what they’re clicking on, however whether they’d ever allow such a thing is anyone’s guess but it would go a long way to negating this issue.

In the mean time, security measures are best placed at the user level, hence why I’ve penned this post to spread a little awareness.

If you do use a Twitter client as opposed to the web interface you’ll be better protected (as long as you don’t also happen to be logged into Twitter on you browser as well). However if you want to maximise your security then the Firefox web browser with the NoScript addon is about as good as it gets.

Let’s hope this little post helps a few people not DM their friends about how great their sex life is or how funny they look on some site.

Some ponderous thoughts on mobile phones

I have a confession to make. I’m an addict. Since I first owned a mobile phone in 1997 I have diligently upgraded my handset at every available opportunity. As soon as the contract runs out I get these little pangs of anticipation and an insatiable urge to start looking around for something new.

This is in many respects completely out of character to the rest of my persona. I’m a consummate re-user of old bits of stuff. I had (still do) a Sony Walkman circa 1989 that was by default music player right up until I first got a mobile phone with an FM radio on it sometime around 2001. I keep bits of old wood (much to Mrs Penguin’s annoyance) on the off-chance they might come in useful one day for something and absolutely everything else in my consumer habits from computers, to tellies (got a Decca Colour that is at least 27 years old) through to clothes I will make do and mend or use till completely knackered and or unrepairable.

Partly this is down to a desire to not overly impact upon the natural resources of our little planet but mostly it’s down to being brought up that way – poor.

So without too many other aspects of my consumer lifestyle being dominated by a constant desire to buy more, mobiles are the one little vice in life and I’m happy to admit it.

The point of this post is more thinking out aloud rather than anything else because it’s that time again. My contract expired a month ago and I’m getting the shakes again for a new handset. The only problem this time around is that with all my previous upgrades there’s always been something more alluring knocking around and with equal measure, something about my current handset that I could pick fault with (with the exception of my first ever phone) but that’s really not the case this time around.

So without further ado, I thought it would be helpful to do a bit of a rundown and comment on every handset I’ve ever had.

Nokia 8110:

Nokia_8110The venerable Nokia 8110 AKA the ‘Banana Phone’ AKA the ‘Matrix phone’ (Yes, I know the photo is of an 8110i for the zealots but the phone is identical on the outside apart from ‘Nokia’ being written in white on the 8110 and dark grey on the 8110i)

My first ever mobile and well, it was great. It might only have had the capacity to store 12 text messages and look a bit retro by today’s standard with its sticky out aerial but it was an ace phone. Virtually indestructible (I did once drop it on concrete and snap the sliding out section off but no worry it popped back on and worked fine).

I really did like this bit of kit and I’d probably still have it lying around somewhere had it not been for an encounter with some muggers in Estonia but hey ho, that’s life and shit sometimes happens.

Compared to what was around at the time it was a very nice stylish phone and after seeing the horrendous menu structure on friends Motorola phones the logical and well thought out user interface was just perfect.

Nokia 6110:


Not the prettiest of handsets ever produced but typical of the time. What it lacked in outward appearances it made up for in added functionality over the 8110.

Again building on a nicely laid out menu structure, more memory capacity, generally faster performance and a few niceties like the ability to store one solitary personalised ringtone that had to virtually be forced on to the handset through the not so perfect bit of software in Nokia Cellular Data Suite but at the time that was something really cool.

Long before late night telly was festooned with adverts for ringtones and background pictures of naked ladies, a world before Jamster or whatever the hell it’s called, this phone could have a personalised ringtone and in a world of ‘Nokia Tune’ coming out from half the handsets you’d come across in the street, that was something special.

Yes, me and my Dutch mate Rudolf were indeed probably some of the first people to start knocking up our own ringtones and when the Soviet Union anthem goes off in a bar in Finland, you don’t half get some strange looks. Not quite as strange as when we were once in a bar and a Soviet Union anthem ringtone went off and it wasn’t our phone, but that’s what happens when you flog it to Radiolinja and they start punting it out to customers.

Note, soon after this I switched to Maamme as my ringtone, the little ‘.wav’ audio file having stayed with me right up until a couple of months ago until I accidentally wiped it doing a firmware upgrade on my current phone. So now I have a new version of Maamme which I’m not quite so keen on. (Note to self, check old phones donated to parents to see if it’s still on one of those).

Sadly this phone got nicked in the mugging incident too although it wasn’t as great a loss as the 8110.

Ericsson GA628:

GA628After having both the other phones nicked I was on the verge of cancelling my contract but O2 or as we used to call it in the olden days, BT Cellnet said they’d send me a replacement for free if I didn’t cancel and it wouldn’t be considered an upgrade so my contract would stay the same.

They didn’t say what they’d send me but this is what turned up.

Without doubt the most useless, crappy, hideous mobile phone I have ever had the unfortunate experience of using.

There is nothing remotely endearing about the handset. It was heavy, thick, looked shite, had a useless menu system, even though the battery was huge, it’s talktime was crap, even though the aerial was huge the signal was crap and the charger connector was loose.

Put simply, this is the worst phone I’ve ever owned and probably went some way towards ensuring I never bought anything from Ericsson/Sony Ericsson ever since.

It was so crap that a few years later when my boss broke his phone and I lent it to him, he had to selotape phone numbers on the back of the battery because he couldn’t use the memory system to store them as it was so rubbish.

Did I mention, this phone was crap?

Nokia 6150:


There’s not a lot I can really say about the Nokia 6150. It was essentially a 6110 on steroids in both outward appearance and inner functionality.

I really did quite like it a lot at the time and I have a suspicion it may still be lying in a box in the attic somewhere.

Eventually after a lot of use it did start getting a bit funny. Mainly down the the battery coming a bit loose. I could probably have got a new battery to fix the problem but got a new phone instead.

All in all though, a nice usable phone with some good enterprise touches which probably represents how phone since it started to diverge into handsets aimed at different market segments.

Nokia 8210:

nokia-8210My first strictly speaking candybar phone without the big old aerial sticking out the top.

Still to date my lightest and smallest phone which was both a good thing and bad.

It carried on the traditional functionality of the 6110/6150 in a smaller package but if I’m honest it was probably too small and light for me that I used to get paranoid it had slipped out of my trouser pocket as I couldn’t feel the damn thing.

That said, it was well built and took a fair few knocks in its time and I believe is still working to this day with a friend in Malta after having a prolonged loan period to my mate Wally in Walsall.

Nice phone apart from the size and weight.

Ericsson T18:

Ericsson-T18I did state I’d never own another Ericsson after how crap the GA628 was and this remains technically true in that I never owned this phone but thought I should include phones that I’ve also used.

This was a works phone. It was crap, the menu system was almost as bad as the GA628 but it had a whopping 2 lines instead of 1. It was heavy and the battery was crap.

That’s about all that can be said of this handset.

Nokia 6510i:

Nokia-6510iIt was  the first phone I owned that had an FM radio (pretty sure there wasn’t one on theNokia 8210) and which finally consigned my Sony Walkman to the shelf of doom.

Another classic candybar but heavier and a bit larger than the 8210 which was nice.

Functionality wise it was pretty much the same but did have one horribly addictive space shooter game on it that I must have wasted hours of my life on doing the daily commute.

Not a great deal to say about it, simply another incarnation of the same sort of feature set as the 8210 but was a generally nicer phone to mill around with.

This phone did teach me the very important lesson of keeping mobile phone in a different pocket to my house keys as by the time I’d finished with it, almost all the metallic paint had been scratched back to the not so impressive looking white plastic underneath.

Nokia 9200 Communicator:


Another works phone, but one I chose this time and well, it was bloody brilliant (for its time).

The keyboard was a bit rubbery and almost Spectrun ZX 48K-ish but functionality wise, it was a world away from everything I’d had before and ushered in my first ever usage of mobilei internet, which as the contract covered 0845 numbers meant it was effectively free if dial-up was a pants really.

My only regret with this phone was not using it to its full potential but it did set me along the road to where I am these days in terms of what I find important in a handset.

Nokia 8910:

nokia-8910For the pedants, yes, this is a picture of an 8910i, the obvious differential being the colour screen as opposed to the grey scale screen on the 8910.

I have mixed feelings abouth this phone. In many respects I liked it, but in others I didn’t.

It was a pricey handset and eventually the spring-loaded slider mechanism got quite touchy, in that over time the metal clips stopping it from springing up had worn down meaning it would open very easily or not stay shut properly.

Just after I’d upgraded from it, the keypad went bandy and overall it wasn’t as good or highly specced as the 6510i that it replaced. Bit of a disappointment of a phone really, but it did teach me to start looking more at the full tech specification sheet of phones rather than outward appearances. It is also the first of only two phones I’ve ever owned that has had a technical problem with it. (I don’t include the loose battery on the 6150)

Nokia 6230i:nokia-6230i

This phone represents my shift towards a fairly consistant appreciation of the business orientated Nokia range, from the 6000 series through to the E Series handsets where functionality and capability has been a key aspect of any handset purchase ever since.

It also represents the first time I started to look at phones, less as what they come with, but more with what’s going on underneath and the first time I heard about Symbian (of which this ran Symbian S40) and a realisation of how important the software of phones was becoming.

It was also the first phone I owned that had a camera which even way back then could do video, of which the first ever home vid of my son was done on. The resolution wasn’t much to speak of but the still camera, even at 1.3Megapixels turned out surprisingly good snaps.

I really liked this phone and it is happily working away to this day in the safe hands of my father.


There’s a bit of an interruption in my upgrade schedule at this point in time because it’s when Mrs Penguin moved in and so we started down the road of alternating upgrade on my contract so technically speaking, the next phone I had was a Nokia N73 but she nabbed it and apart from fixing the odd thing on it for her, I never really got to use it which wasn’t a problem as I was still very happy with my 6230i.

I will note though that although a hideous looking phone, the N73 was a very good multimedia phone that even by todays standards isn’t exactly that far off the mark and the video quality on it was probably better than Mrs Penguin’s current phone.

Back to the list – the Nokia E65:

nokia-e65We’re entering the true smartphone era with this handset and a continuation for my appreciation of business orientated Nokia phones.

With it’s slider form factor hankering back to my old 8110 I have to admit I really did like this phone. It was pretty powerful and very good at multitasking running Symbian S60 3rd Edition.

It was also the first phone I used properly online with a data tarriff as prices were starting to get reasonable in the UK market.

It was the first phone I discovered how many applications there were actually available for mobile phones and the first I ever used Opera Mini on.

Put simply, this was a really ace phone but with my increased use of applications and in particular, mobile web access came a realisation that despite how fast I am at typing on a T9 configuration keypad, it was just that little bit annoying and I was looking for a QWERTY solution.

It’s also the first phone that I started regularly looking out for things like firmware updates which also made me realise the limitations of a network purchased phone when O2 can’t be bothered to punt out an update when Nokia release one.

It’s the first phone I ever used Nemesis on to change the product number and install default firmware upgrades and rid the phone of those bloody bubbles.

This phone represents a lot of firsts for me and even now when I decide to turn it on again to try something out, it impresses me with both its build quality and general performance for what is a pretty old phone these days.

This phone is currently in Germany as I forgot to bring it back from holidays, I hope to see it again soon.

The only criticism I’d lay at this phone is the battery life wasn’t as good as it could be. It did need recharging at the end of every day after being used with multiple applications. This by the way was the second phone that I’ve ever had a technical fault on, microphone went a bit screwey on it but it was fixed and worked fine ever since.

Right up to the present – my trusty Nokia E90 Communicator:


It’s hard to know where to start with this phone. It is my current handset and has been faithfully by my side for the last 18 months.

Barring a few bits of chipping in the exterior and D-Pad paintwork it’s in good nick and I really did expect the hinges to get looser over time but they’ve stayed solid.

It like the E65 runs on Symbian S60 3rd Edition Feature Pack 1 which gives it a massive selection of applications that are available for it although with it’s dual screen configuration this does cause the odd problem with a few but none that have bothered me.

The QWERTY keyboard is easily the best I’ve ever tried on any phone, past, present, hard or touchscreen, it’s perfect with the allignments of ever key obviously well thought out (that shift key below the ‘@’ symbol key, spot on).

It’s fair to say that general online usage, reading, feeds, Twittering, this phone has replaced my desktop. It’s not a complete desktop replacement, there’s things it doesn’t lend itself perfectly to doing but they’re few and far between.

By todays standards it’s speed is suffering a little against modern handsets but it is getting a bit long in the tooth as a design.

It is the first phone I’ve had that’s had GPS in it which has opened up a new world of daft little things to do with my phone.

In short, I really, really, really like this phone and if Nokia bought out a handset identical in form factor, upped the processor, RAM and memory (mine’s got an 8Gb chip in it), ditch the D-Pad and install a slightly deeper touchscreen, switch it to USB rechargable and fix the completely crap camera button I’d snap it up in no time irrespective of whether it’s running Symbian S60 5th Edition or Maemo 5/6.

Just to note, the battery on this thing is huge and lasts very well, unless you’re canning it on GPS and running wifi/3.5g, while listening to MP3’s all at the same time.

So where to now?

The simple approach would be to stick with the E90. It’s got no faults, hardware wise and runs quite nicely but the upgrade urge is very strong.

The problem I have this time around is that there are things I’ve come to appreciate which draw me away from the routine of call up operator and see what they’ve got and upgrade to it.


The main reason for this lies in operator customised firmware. I know operators may wish to tweak handset firmware to optimise it for their networks but I’ve not noticed any difference in performance between my O2 firmwares and my virgin Nokia firmwares, if anything at least the phones seem to run faster without the O2 stuff on them.

This is also important with the firmware upgrade cycle. My E90 was stuck on the firmware for ages because O2 wouldn’t update it until I complained and they bought out version by which time version was out. In the end I did a Nemesis job on it to get it to the latest Nokia produced firmware and it runs far better and definitely more stable than the firmware from O2.

This very much pushes me towards buying an unbranded sim-free handset in the future where my primary concern on firmware is what the manufacturer pushes out. I also quite like the idea of not being tied to a stupidly long contract as these have slowly moved from 12 months, to 18 months to 24 months over recent years and even arguing discounts for long standing custom is getting a bit of a pain these days. A simple cheaper tarriff with no lock-ins is starting to look preferable.

Software: (or as it seems to be called these days – apps)

I need a reasonably good selection and the focus of them is on functionality and productivity, not games or farting noises. I’m probably in that class of business user when it comes to things I need to run on my phone whether they’re pre-packaged as I’ve come to be used to with 6000 and E-Series Nokia phones or ones I can download from somewhere. There’s probably only about a dozen applications I need on my phone to cover various areas of usage for regular use and a dozen more for on-off usage or specialised functions but on-going development of applications for the handset is important which means something running an OS with a reasonable community/in-house company behind it.

Hardware specifications:

Has to be obviously better than my current E90, so faster, more RAM, not that fussed about memory really, 8Gb is more than I need now anyway unless I start putting loads of movies on the phone. 5Megapixel camera seems to be the reasonable standard for a good smartphone these days, GPS obviously, all the connectivity options as well and a hard QWERTY keyboard. I recognise you can get touchscreen QWERTY’s but I generally haven’t liked them. Haptic feedback ones aren’t so bad like on Mrs Penguin’s 5800 but a QWERTY with proper buttons is a probably a must, at least this time round and I’ll see how good the touchscreen ones get in the future. Must also have a touchscreen for OS navigation and browsing.


Linked in heavily with the development and community support, has to have reasonable backing and definitely has to be able to multi-task, there is no debate about that. The OS being open source is also a distinct advantage from both ideological/practical reasons and the sad geeky hackery perspective.


Not too much, but obviously recognise something good is going to cost a fair bit of wonga.

Form factor:

I’m not that fussed on form factor apart from obviously prefering to have a hardware QWERTY keyboard is going to impact on this a lot and pretty much means a side slide-out keyboard ala Sony Ericsson Satio/Nokia N900, a bottom slide out QWERTY ala Palm Pre or a front side one like the Nokia E71/72 or Blackberry style. I should note, I’m not that keen on narrow QWERTY’s like the Blackberry/Nokia E71/72, I do prefer a wider orientated keyboard.


I think this is an area that’s often overlooked but having had the E90 and used other ‘smartphones’ I have come to the conclusion that any mobile device aimed at internet usage should have a minimum width resolution of 800pixels. I’m happy to accept that maybe it’s just me that thinks this but most of these phones sport around the 640pixel width displays and rely to some extent on making up for that by using innovative zoom features. I’ve never used the zoom feature on my E90 because the screen displays website fine.

For me, 640 pixels was my Amstrad 1640 circa 1990. Most websites are designed with resolutions of 800-1024pixels in mind and the best results from mobile browsing, taking into account how hard it would currently be to get a 1024pixel width display on a phone, then 800pixels is very much preferable. I’m not so fussed about the vertical resolution, 353pixels on the E90 has been fine but it’s a strange ratio and something a little bit taller would be nice.

Battery life:

I want good performance obviously.

Other odds and sods:

Less important but do need a mention. I am a bit of a greenie at heart, so extra bonus points go to stuff made by companies with good environmental records, produced in Europe. Sorry I can’t say Britain here but apart from those really stupidly expensive ones with diamonds and crap on them and a hotchpotch of weird, generally crappy custom made for network jobbies, we don’t make mobiles in this country.

So who’s in the running of the current or due to start coming out soon handsets:

Blackberry Storm 2/Curve:


I’ve never owned a Blackberry, probably on account of the orientation of their keyboards more than anything else. I recognise they’re solidly well built bits of kit with a good OS and user functionality but I’m reticent about one.

Mainly due to the proprietary/corporate nature of the way they work. I like open standards and minimal lock-ins.

There’s plenty of applications available, but there’s just that keyboard issue. I might consider the Storm 2 if the touchscreen keyboard were something special but that’s to be seen. I thought the Storm 1 had the most horrendous touchscreen keyboard I’ve ever used; more akin to banging on a piece of plexiglass that any sense of feedback.

Might be fun to try as something new but it’s not that far up on the list as things stand unless the Storm 2 is something brilliant.

Palm Pre:palm-pre

The latest hyped bit of kit. I get tetchie about handsets that get hyped up, particularly in the US media. Hardware wise it looks well specced and the user interface seems very polished. I’m just not sure about this Web OS. It’s looks nice and functional but is there the developer community behind it or not?

I think in the case of the Palm Pre, in very much the same vein as an Android phone when the first one came out, I’d sit back and see what happens for a bit to see if it’s a viable proposition. Personally I can’t see what all the fuss is about, but perhaps I’m a boring old techie.

Nokia N97:

I’m getting a bit tired now, so enough of the pictures.

Earlier this year I have to admit I anticipated the N97 as the most likely replacement for my E90. It is a very good handset in many ways, I really do like the innovative angled hinge for the slide out keyboard but after having tried it out a couple of times there’s just too much about it that I would pick fault with.

The keyboard isn’t really that pleasant to use. I’m still humming and ahhing about this whole off-set space bar layout but I could probably live with that. However the keyboard on the N97 seemed tiny compared to my E90, and just didn’t look right. My two pence on what they should have done; ditch the D-Pad, it’s not needed and make the QWERTY larger and easier to use. It’s interesting to note that this seems to have been the approach with the N97 Mini but I’m not contemplating buying that anyway.

Added into this so hardware specs on the RAM, processor side which although with the latest firmware don’t impact heavily on performance, it’s still not much of a leg up from what I’ve got, so I’m definitely not going to get the N97.

Iphone 3GS:

I guess it’s compulsory to mention the fruit machine phone in any run down of higher end mobiles these days.

Simple, can’t multi-task, doesn’t have a hardware qwerty, a desktop UI that amounts to a layout of icons is so dated, locked down proprietary OS and one single monopoly vendor of applications, doesn’t support Flash, stupidly expensive and rip-off contracts by O2 (yes I know it’s coming to other networks soon, we’ll see how much they charge); answer’s no.

Sony Ericsson Satio:

I have to admit I really like the look of this phone. It has a very high specification and a lovely looking keyboard. It is probably my number 2 choice of any phone out there, or likely to be out there in the very near future. There are only really two major drawbacks to it. It’s not getting good reviews on battery life and there’s a question mark over how much upgrading or commitment there’s going to be to the software on it as it’s a highly customised version of Symbian S60 5th Edition.

Samsung Omnia HD i8910:

Again a phone I really do like. Samsung have done a great job customising the Symian OS on it and it’s solid in almost every area apart from the obvious lack of a hardware keyboard which pretty much puts it out of the picture.

Some form of Google Android based phone:

I haven’t rounded on one model in particular although the obvious would be the HTC Hero. I have to admit, I don’t quite get Android. I know everyone seems to rave about it being Linux based and open and all that but it looks more like a proprietary OS built on top of a Linux stack to me. I could be completely wrong but I also recognise that Google is coming at the market from being a service provider that is tryin to punt out hardware that compliments those services.

The problem is, apart from search and occasional maps, I don’t really used any of Google’s services so there’s not that much attraction to me. I’m also wary of the whole app store culture which has been why I’ve quite liked the open and varied marketplace for Symbian applications up until now.


I actually started penning this post last night but didn’t get round to finishing it. Since then I’ve been doing a bit of thinking and ‘if’ I get a new mobile phone, it’s going to be this one:

Nokia N900:

nokia-n900First up, it’s not perfect. I’m still not convinced about that smallish three line QWERTY with off-set space bar but it doesn’t look like there’s a direct replacement for the E90 Communicator coming along any time soon.

There’s a double edged sword in the OS, running Maemo 5. The downside being it’s brand new (yes Maemo’s been around for ages but version 5 was a major revision) and applications for it are obviously still quite light given that it’s the only phone in the world that runs that OS and hasn’t even been released yet.

There’s also looking to the future, which is obviously QT and it’s using GTK. That said, QT has already been ported to it so this probably won’t be a problem but something to consider.

There’s also the issue of how long it will be developed for with the N920 probably emerging in the first half of next year which I’ll admit does look very nice but it lacks the hardware QWERTY that I, at least currently, prefer.

I was a bit concerned about the battery in it. Still am. I’m used to pretty good lengthy usage out of my E90 with a 1,500 mAh battery and this takes a 1,320mAh battery. However it has had some good reviews on the battery strength so this may be a case of the OS being optimised to negate this issue. Still think Nokia should have put the BP-4L battery in it, if only so I had a couple of spare lying around.

That’s about it on the negatives, on the positives however:

It will be the most powerful handset available on the raw processing/RAM side. I’m not going to start wittering on about OMAP, ARM11 and virtualised RAM but the specs are good, very good.

However, even though it was a minus point in one sense, the Maemo OS is a massive plus which probably outweighs everything.

I actually really like the Symbian OS in all it’s current and recent flavours. It’s solid, has mammoth amounts of customisability and options hidden away in its labyrinthine menus. It has masses of application written for it, some of which I really do enjoy, like Opera Mini and JoikuSpot. (If you have a Symbian based phone with wifi, then I highly recommend checking out Joikuspot. Brilliant application that can save a fortune in dongles, and no I don’t work for or get any kickbacks from them, it’s just really good).

However what I really anticipate, should I decide to get the phone is having a handset that runs a Linux based OS. I’ve fancied one for a few years but LIMO phones never really impressed me. The openness of the OS is an increasingly important thing to me. I don’t necessarily intend to crack the software on it, there should really be no reason to need to crack the software on a phone if it’s open enough but I do fancy a tinker around. A command line would be very nice to see. The ability to add in other Codec’s (I’m talking Oggs here) would be very nice. I know it doesn’t support them by default but that should while away an evening trying – probably.

So to run down, it’s got the QWERTY keyboard, an 800pixel width screen, is a significant step up in performance over my E90 and runs and open source Linux based OS. Oh, and until the 21st of October I can pre-order it for £424.15 as opposed to the normal list price of £499 so I have a day or two to decide on it. I’m still a bit wary of ordering a phone I’ve not used, but that price offer seems too good to miss and if I don’t like it, then I still have a 14 day cooling off period in which to send it back.

Trying to be a good parent

Sometimes it’s hard being a parent or perhaps it’s part of my own fault of being over critical of everything that I do but part of parenting for me seems to be almost an overbearing desire to do the best that I can for my kids (I’d assume that really should be the case for ever parent but it obviously isn’t sadly) and in some way make up for the things that I missed out on in my own childhood.

One area I’ve always been particularly worried about is reading and within that, the reading of fiction. I’ll admit I’m not a big book reader in the literature department. I’ve probably never read any of the ‘classics’ and with only a few exceptions, fiction bores me stupid at the best of times. That doesn’t mean I’m uneducated or culturally illiterate, merely I’m not much interested in fiction that appear in written form.

When I was at school and the other children were reading about kids adventures and; well, actually I don’t know as I never read any of that stuff but the covers always seemed to have pictures of children doing various activities, while I had my nose firmly rooted into the non-fiction section reading up on astronomy, planets, military aircraft and the distribution and proliferation of nuclear weapon.

Note: I have no idea why my primary school had a book about the distribution of nuclear weapons in their library but they did, and I was probably the only kid there who ever read it.

About as close to fiction as I got was a slight obsession with reading one book that was very large, about A3 size that had pictures of fantasy space ships in it with various technical schematic information about payloads, weight, engine thrust and weapons (my favourite was the one that looked like a robot that had lasers where a mouth would be and ripped planets up). I truly wish I could remember the name, because it was ace and I’d love to get hold of it. Suggestions are very welcome as to what this book might be on such a skimpy description.

At home we didn’t have a great deal of story books when I look back. As far as fiction went, it was Amelia Jane Again and that was about it. Not that there weren’t books in the house but they were distinctly non-fiction stuff, although I doubt reading the Haynes Manual for a Morris Mini-Minor added a great deal to my literary acumen. (Although I could change the bulbs and plugs on one at a very early age).

This leads me to being a parent and doing the whole reading thing with, particularly my son. He seems to show great talent for technical, mathematical and logical problem solving which mimics how I was at a young age. He’s started being creative with ‘little’ Lego which is great too; but he doesn’t show much interest in reading and letters.

I can’t complain really because I never showed much interest in reading at his age, only later coming to it when I realised that reading equalled the ability to amass large amounts of completely pointless information that may at best come in handy for a pub quiz 20 or so odd years later.

However that led me to realise that like my parents house, there wasn’t really a great deal of fiction lying around our house. Plenty of textbooks if he’s up for a reading on political theory and international history but apart from some of Mrs Penguin’s books about elves (of which a fair number are in German) there’s not much for him to go at.

So the other day I decided it was about time to try and get him into a bit of reading and off I toddled to get some of the ‘children classics’ or at least I think they are anyway as I never read any of them when I were a lad.

So it was Meg and Mog, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Where The Wild Things Are. I can’t say I know really what books to get him next although I’m open to suggestions but when it comes out I intend to get him Morris the Mankiest Monster as he loves stuff about monsters.

So that’s a small little personal post which I don’t do very often but is nice from time to time. One Penguin’s attempt to be a good dad and hopefully inspire his son into a bit of fiction reading – although I think I’m far past ever taking up an interest myself.

Antichrist – Film Review

antichrist-imageAs I’m finally getting away from things, relaxing as I am in a bit of Europe in the flatlands that constitute that stretch of countryside where Germany meets Poland; I’m getting down to a few things that I haven’t been able to in the last few weeks. One of which is a little review of a film I caught just before leaving the rain-swept island of Blighty.

I popped up to the Lighthouse cinema in Wolverhampton to catch the first screening of the Lars Von Trier film; Antichrist.

I’d caught a preview of it a few weeks earlier and thought it looked interesting but I’m not really one for the cinema, although that might be changing. Even with that, I hadn’t specifically intended to go and see the film until I read this rather idiotic film review in the Daily Mail (interesting to note all the highly critical comments have been deleted – do love our wonderful open free press in this country) which was nicely taken apart over at Mailwatch.

Spurred on by the outrage at a film he’d not bothered to watch and making false claims about an institution he clearly hadn’t done any research on I thought it my moral duty to actually go along and see the film for myself because, well I’m an adult and I can quite happily make my own mind up about things without the help of reactionary moralising right-wing journalists who can’t do their job properly.

Now for those who haven’t read a film review by me in the past, here’s the layout. I do the first part which is pretty much what you’d expect in any review. I’m more prone to emphasis on things like cinematography, lighting, sound, music scores than actors performances. We all emphasise different things that we take away from films so just to let you know where my angle usually comes from.

After that there’ll be a nice bit of white space until I talk about other aspects of the film which will include elements of the plot and scenes that contain spoilers. You’ve been warned and there’ll be another warning later on so if you haven’t seen the film and don’t want to know various elements about it then you’ll have the opportunity not to scroll down any further.

The film centres around two main characters played by, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe who while having sex, their young son accidentally falls to his death from their open apartment window.

Now at this point I’ll add that I didn’t at any point in the film catch the characters calling each other by their name which I could just have forgotten or not noticed but for the sake of this review, we’ll just refer to them as he/she as there are practically no other characters in the film, save for their son and various other representations of other humans here and there.

She appears to take the death of her son very badly, blaming herself and to all intents and purposes suffers a breakdown in which she is hospitalised and put on various medication. He (although it appears not a clinical psychiatrist, probably a psychologist) gets her checked out of the hospital to try and treat her himself.

At first this centres around their apartment but upon learning aspects of her troubles it moves on to a forest retreat/cabin called Eden where he tries to get her to face up to her demons.

Once there, a whole load of weird and scary stuff happens.

The film is split into (from memory) five parts, a prologue, three chapters and an epilogue.

I’d like to mention specifically the prologue and to a lesser extent the epilogue which are shot completely differently to the rest of the film. Although concentrating on the prologue as I have to admit, I really didn’t understand the epilogue, they are some of the most beautiful pieces of cinematography I have seen in a very long time. They’re simply stunningly well done; slow motion in black & white with some amazing bits of focus work (which presumably are digital special effects given that I understand the film was shot in digital rather than celluloid).

The style changes for the chapter elements of the film, reverting to full colour but here I found one of only a small number of things I disliked about the film. Perhaps it’s just me, but I really don’t do the whole fly-on-the-wall shaky camera thing. I found it offsetting for probably the first 20 minutes of the film which is a shame because after that it settles down into a more regular filming style. I can understand it was used to specifically emphasise elements of the film but I’m just not a fan of it.

When the film moved into the woods stage I was a little apprehensive. I did get the feeling that it was going to go all Blairwitch on me as up to that point it was still doing the shaky camera work. I know a lot of people raved about how the Blairwitch Project was terribly scary but it bored me to tears although as someone who’s lived in a Nordic country with lots of forests, (or technically speaking, one bloody big forest) the first thing you learn is there’s nothing to be scared about in the woods, except possibly bears.

Thankfully it didn’t turn out like that and it settled down to be a nice little artistically done horror film with some scenes that would make you jump a bit or wince if you happen to be a male of the species. Parts to particularly look out for are the talking fox, what I’ll call the ‘realisation scene’ (more on that later) and the stunning bit of the lady walking across the bridge who I’m not sure who it’s supposed to be or represent but did look a bit like Björk.

The musical score to the film is very well down. Relying on classical music, particular reference must go to the score in the prologue and epilogue which is truly beautiful and if anyone knows what it is then please do tell me as I’d like to get it. In other sections of the film it’s there when its needed to be and conspicuous by its absence which adds a grittier and starker edge to the film when other horror films would roll out something to get the senses going.

On the cinematography front, although it’s done in digital, it doesn’t feel like it. Put simply, it’s probably the best bit of digital work I’ve seen with meticulous attention to detail especially with some of the forest sequences.

Over to the acting side, although admittedly it’s rarely the thing in a film I look for most, there’s some really good performances in particular Charlotte Gainsbourg and although I’m not particularly keen on Willem Dafoe he is also very strong.

So what’s all the fuss about?

I guess it’s obligatory to refer to the matter that this film’s stirred up the hairs on the back of the neck of a few critics and general right-wing moralising folk. The general criticism seems to be that it’s sick and has got a lot a scenes of people ‘doing it’ in it.

I’m a pretty liberal kind of guy when it comes to such matters and I’ve never quite understood that while depiction of full frontal female nudity doesn’t seem to be too much of a problem, the slight hint of a bloke with a stiffy gets people up in arms. I’m an adult male, I have two kids, I know what an erect penis looks like and short of a very small section of the entire global human population, so does everyone else.

The actual sex scenes in the film are very brief or fleeting clips and are certainly not erotic or arousing so I really don’t see what all the fuss is about. There are only two scenes in the film that could be considered a bit on the rough side, the female genital mutilation scene which lasts all of 1-2 seconds and the masturbating a penis that ejaculates blood scene of which the former if cut out would have left a slight ‘huh’ feeling in the subsequent scene and the latter I’ll mention a bit about later.

All in all, it’s a bit of a disjointed film that leaves you wondering about it at the end and doesn’t provide specific explanations (especially the epilogue) but I appreciate that as not every film should end all happy and concluded.

A couple of notes (some of which are sartorial):

If you have a problem with bad things happening to small children (like my missus) then this film probably isn’t for you.

The film gets extra special recommendations for inventive use of a grinding wheel in a horror film.

The couple have completely no idea of suitable clothing to go and spend time in the woods, I mean, come on, a full on winter coat in a wet close environment?

That bloody oak tree must have a hell of a lot of acorns on it.

A lot has been thrown at this film, the usual criticisms of it being potentially damaging to people that you get when anything mildly controversial pops up (not that in an enlightened world anything in it should be controversial). From a personal perspective I didn’t suddenly go all mentally twisted on emerging from the cinema but moreover felt a great protective emotion towards my children and a desire to double-check safety gates, windows and that my kids have their shoes on the right way round.

Further section below (contains spoilers – you have been warned)

What you don’t get the impression of when watching the trailers to the film is that it’s a deeply psychological film at heart. Yes, it’s artistic, and definitely can be placed into the horror genre although only really for the last chapter of the film, must of the screenplay revolves around the psychological malaise of the female lead and her husband’s attempt at trying to find out what she is truly scared of most.

As the film progresses there’s a realisation that something’s not quite right about ‘her’. I’ll claim to be a bit of a smart arse here and say that I had my suspicions right after she claimed that the child could open the safety gate. Perhaps it’s being a parent of small kids myself but the first thing that sprung into my mind during the prologue is how the hell could you leave a safety gate unlocked, because it sure as hell looked unlocked to me. In addition to that, it would have to be a thoroughly rubbish safety gate as although my three year old know how to open our safety gate, he can’t because it requires a requisite amount of strength and physical manipulation that he doesn’t have yet.

We do of course learn that she had deliberately left the gate unlocked, presumably the window as well and witnessed her son fall to his death without reacting. She is in the truest form of the horror genre a bit of a psychopathic nutcase.

The ‘realisation scene’ I alluded to before is where this becomes clear, that the book/thesis she was working on at the cabin the year before had fundamentally twisted her mind and the study of the demonisation of women in history (which is the best way I can put it) internalised that belief on herself to the extent that she becomes a sadistic torturer of her son.

Whether the fears and pain that she portrays in parts of the film are real or part of a complicated act I’m not entirely sure but that true psychotic rage that appears towards the end of the film I haven’t witnessed since watching Switchblade Romance a few years back. (which is also a good film BTW, cracking bit of French horror – in the true slasher genre).

As far as horror gore goes, there are two particular scenes, one of which I’ve already mentioned that bring a pretty gruesome addition to any horror film. The first of which being where she (putting it as best as I can) seduces him into sex only to throw a bloody great log at his family jewels. Resulting in him being completely laid out (a scene that no man viewing would not wince at). Whereupon she proceeds to masturbate him till he ejaculates blood.

The second being immediately afterwards where she realises that eventually he will wake up and so needs to disable him somehow.

Most horror films would have found some handy chains, rope or gaffer tape to hand at this point but the film gets very ingenious. She instead finds a grinding wheel. Takes it out of its frame, drills a hole through his leg and bolts it on while helpfully throwing the wrench away. Yes, it’s gruesome but hideously inventive.

He of course does eventually get free and kills her which you kind of get the feeling is what she wanted him to do as she’d had ample opportunity to see he off and wouldn’t have bothered rescuing him.

All in all, it’s a good film. Beautifully done in parts, grittily gruesome in others. Worth seeing if you a generally into horror/psychological films. Possibly not suitable for people with closed minds or those who believe what they read in the Daily Mail.