Category Archives: Gadgets

Asus Transformer Prime – UK Review

My HTC Desire and 7” Samsung Galaxy Tab went on ebay at the end of 2011 to fund my purchase of an Asus Transformer Prime. Through a £499 pre-order on, I was lucky enough to receive this amazing Android tablet a few days before the official UK release and have now had a week or so to play about with it. Here are my impressions!



The UK version of Asus Transformer Prime is the 32GB Prime + Dock combo, tightly packed in a single box with a charger and cable. Docked together, the Prime was a little heavier than I expected, no doubt due to the additional battery in the dock and the counterweights below the keyboard to stop the whole thing toppling over. On its own, the Prime tablet is pretty light and feels like a solid, premium device in the hand. The design tends to make you hold it landscape (as opposed to an iPad’s portrait design), which means your right hand can easily cover up the single speaker. I also found that my microSD card wasn’t flush to the chassis and tended to stick out by a few millimeters. Not much, but enough to slightly spoil the smooth tapering of the Prime’s edges. Minor gripes aside though, the overall look and feel of the Prime is one of class and quality. I opted for the Amethyst Grey version which in reality is more a light shade of purple.

Purple Prime, docked and closed. It's an Android ultrabook!


Ice Cream Sandwich

After logging in, the Prime immediately prompted me to download an update aka Ice Cream Sandwich. My Galaxy Tab ran Gingerbread, so I’ve bypassed Honeycomb completely in my Android user experience. ICS is very intuitive and easy to just pick up and use: swiping from screen to screen is fast and (for the most part) stutter free, as is jumping to the App drawer. Despite the quad-core CPU, there’s still the occasional delay switching if you’ve been running a few apps, and there’s a noticeable delay when navigating within the YouTube app.

The ICS browser is very good, especially as it now finally syncs bookmarks with Chrome on the desktop. I did however switch to ICS Browser+ so that I could set the user agent to Desktop and make all web pages the “full” version rather than mobile versions.

My fairly standard homescreen. I like how this live wallpaper changes depending on the time of day.


Display & Peripherals

The screen looks amazing, definitely on a par with my Samsung Galaxy S II. My old tablet was a seven inch, so this ten inch display gives me more space to stick icons and widgets than I know what to do with. I bought myself a £5 HDMI cable and was very impressed with the output onto my large screen TV: playing some 1080p video looks stunning. I’m not too sure whether I’d use this feature much, but it’s nice to have the cable “just in case.”

I tested out a few other peripherals: my PlayStation 3 controller worked fine when plugged into the USB port on the keyboard (tested with Grand Theft Auto III), although I couldn’t get an Xbox controller to work. USB flash sticks and mice all work plug-n-play style, but like a PC you need to “unmount” memory devices before physically removing them. There’s a one-click option to do this in the notification area, but I forgot one time and ended up with a blank SD card. The Prime reads NTFS-formatted drives no problem, so you can copy huge movie files for offline viewing.

1080p video output from the Prime to my Sony Bravia. Playing Shadowgun THD with the PS3 controller is a bloody joy!


Bundled Apps

Some of the apps bundled by Asus are actually very good indeed: I was particularly impressed by the bundled Splashtop Remote Desktop app that lets you remote view and control a PC. Resolution is top-rate and there’s almost no lag at all. You may have seen videos of the Prime “running” Skyrim – this is how it’s done. Note that you need to install the Splashtop server on your PC first, and on the Prime it’s called MyNet instead of Splashtop.

The bundled DLNA/UPnP media streaming app is also very good, way better than the Samsung equivalent. It picks up the devices and navigates through folders very fast. I installed the free app UPnPlay as a backup, as well as DICE Player for the odd MKV that played with no sound in the stock player.

The Prime comes with the Google Music app pre-installed. At first I thought this was a mistake, since Google Music is not yet (officially) available in the UK. But of course it acts as a local music player too (duh).

Splashtop Remote desktop session to my Windows 7 PC. Finally a decent Spotify app on Android! 😉 The sound comes out of the Prime too.



Games on the Prime take mobile gaming to the next level. There aren’t too many out yet that take full advantage of the Tegra 3 processor, but the ones that do (search for “THD”) all look jaw-droppingly good. Console quality? Well, not quite but it’s getting close. Better than PS2 for sure. The ability to plug in a PS3 controller and connect the Prime to a TV makes this a perfect second games console.


Tablet Apps

I installen Beansoft’s Thumb Keyboard as I found typing on the stock virtual keyboard almost impossible while holding the Prime in landscape. Thumb Keyboard splits the keyboard into two and works a treat with almost no training time at all. Tablet-specific apps are still a bit thin on the ground, but I found Flixter Movies, IMDB, Feeedly and Pulse all take advantage of the tablet form-factor. TweetDeck looks awful on the tablet (almost as bad as the Spotify Android app), so I opted for TweetComb instead. This has columns and looks like TweetDeck on the desktop.


WiFi and GPS

There’s been a lot of complaints about the WiFi and GPS on the Transformer Prime. Personally I think GPS on a tablet is almost as pointless as a camera, so I’ve not even bothered checking it. I did do some WiFi tests and am happy to say that I’ve not experienced any problems. I have 30Meg broadband and with the Prime in the same room as the router, I get a consistent 29Mbps on WiFi (my Samsung Galaxy S II gets about 20Mbps). In my bedroom (on the same floor as the router but through a couple of brick walls) I get around 15Mbps on WiFi for both the Prime and the GSII.



The Asus Transformer Prime is as near as possible the perfect tablet for 2012. The Prime’s speed, display and overall design is superb and everything I’d hoped for from a quad-core mobile machine. I don’t have a laptop so with the combined dock this is the only mobile computer I need.

The bugs and problems I’ve encountered so far are minor: I’ve experienced the occasional screen “jitter” (where the image jumps up and down for a fraction of a second) but this is rare. The stock ICS browser was perhaps a little bit laggy, but I’ve now switched to ICS Browser+ and find this a bit smoother. A couple of times I found that I couldn’t type on the dock’s keyboard automatically, but I think this was due to my 3rd-party Thumb Keyboard app confusing it.

But these are minor issues, none of which comes anywhere near to spoiling my satisfaction with the Transformer Prime. Its unique design means that unlike the Samsung Galaxy Tabs, the Prime can be be called an iPad wannabe. So I will take Asus up on their kind offer to extend my warranty but there’s no way anyone’s gonna prise this Prime outta my hands!


Spotify on Virgin Media TiVo: App Review

Virgin Media customers in the UK can now access a new Spotify app on their TiVo boxes. The Flash-based app lets Spotify Premium users browse and listen to playlists through their TV/hi-fi using the TiVo remote, all from the comfort of your sofa. Read on for more on Spotify for TiVo!


Following a much-needed software update, Virgin Media introduced folders to the Apps & Games section on their TiVo box. Select the Music folder to access Spotify:

The Spotify app takes a moment to load before displaying a login screen (or if you’ve already logged in before it takes you directly to a What’s New home page, so no need to log in every time). You enter your details using the TiVo remote control (there’s no pop-up keyboard like in the YouTube app), but luckily you can multi-press the buttons like on a mobile phone to quickly enter letters and symbols. New customers to Virgin Media can get Spotify Premium free for 3 or 6 months (depending on the package you take) while existing Spotify Premium users can just use their current details to login.

Once you log in you’re presented with a What’s New page divided into albums, tracks, and a currently-selected area on the right:

A What's New page is used as the Home Page

Navigation is easy and intuitive using the up/down/left/right buttons on the TiVo remote, and you can press the Play or OK button at any time to start the music. Playback is near-instantaneous, thanks to the dedicated modem in the TiVo box. While playing, the fast-forward and rewind buttons skip through the track and you can use the TiVo Thumbs Up and Thumbs Down buttons to quickly star and unstar the current song. Pressing the Blue button pops up some track options to Star, Browse Album, and Browse Artist; pressing the Yellow button accesses the top menu where you can switch between the What’s New page and your own Playlists view.

Once in the playlist view, all your playlists are listed on the left with playlist tracks shown in the middle and current track on the right:

My Spotify playlists

The Full Screen button does what you’d expect, displaying a nice big cover art image, minimal controls, current track details and next track details too:

Listening in Full Screen mode


A basic but slick Spotify player then. So what’s missing? Well, the most obvious omission is the lack of a search bar, so you’ll need to set up all playlists on the desktop first. The Browse Artist option is a reasonable search compromise, provided the artist you want to browse is already included in a playlist somewhere. [ I find it useful to maintain a single playlist to use as a launch-point into a particular selection of albums or artists. For example, I have one called “Best of 2011” where I add the first track from each artist’s latest album; I can then use this one playlist to single-click artist or album links . ]

The "Browse Kate Bush" page

There’s also no song shuffle or repeat, no radio and no option to scrobble to, set the stream quality, or share with Facebook. You can also still only listen on one device at a time: if you’re playing music on Spotify for TiVo then start a track on Spotify for desktop, the TiVo stops playing and pops up a message to say “Spotify has been paused because your account is used somewhere else.


Despite its limited “listen only” features, Spotify on TiVo is a fantastic app that looks great, is simple and fast to use, and streams the music with the speed Spotify is famous for. Virgin Media are offering some sweet deals too for both new and existing subscribers, so if you’re a UK music fan in a cabled area then this is definitely something worth looking into.


How To Listen to Spotify on PlayStation and Xbox


Did you know you can easily stream Spotify to your PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360? In fact, you can stream it to any DNLA-compliant device, such as newer Samsung and Sony Bravia TVs.

Before you get too excited though, note that there’s currently no official Spotify app for either PlayStation or Xbox. Instead, you can use a service called Jamcast to capture audio playing on Spotify on your Windows PC and stream it to your living room, kitchen, or wherever your connected device is.

Here’s what you need to do.


First of all, download and install Jamcast. It’s free to use for the first 14 days, with a full license costing $29.99 thereafter. Once installed, check that the Virtual Soundcard is enabled in Jamcast to capture audio:

Switch on your PlayStation, Xbox, or DNLA device then search for media servers. For example, on the PS3 navigate to the Music area of the XMB then scroll down to find Jamcast. If it’s not there, be sure your console is on the same network as your PC and check your firewall in case its blocking the server. The Jamcast Server Manager has a devices tab, so be sure your Ps3 or Xbox is showing up there too.

Select the Jamcast server on your console then go to Playlists > Virtual Soundcard. Now start up Spotify on your PC and play some music.

After a brief delay (5 to 10 seconds) the Spotify music should start playing from your console.

That’s it! There’s no album cover art or track details unfortunately, and the delay can be a bit disconcerting at first, but for $30 this is a cheap ‘n’ dirty way to stream Spotify around the house. I use it in conjunction with Unified Remote, an excellent Android-PC remote control app that controls Spotify (and the PC’s mouse & keyboard) from my Galaxy Tab. There are plenty of other remotes for Android and iPhone: just search for “remote” on the Spotify Resources page.

The above steps are for streaming Spotify from Windows PCs. For other platforms, see:

Whether any official Spotify app for consoles is coming or not remains to be seen. While the recent deal with Virgin Media implies that a Flash-based Spotify app must be in the works, both Sony and Microsoft already have their own music services (Qricoity and Zune Pass) so are unlikely to allow Spotify on their platforms any time soon.

Gadget Update: Virgin Media TiVo

I’ve upgraded a couple of gadgets this month, satisfying my inner gadget geek for a while and giving me some new shinys to play with.

First up is a Virgin Media TiVo to replace my V+ HD. My main reason for getting this was for the massively larger hard drive: with the increase in HD channels I was finding my V+ was constantly filling up, forcing me to either watch or delete progammes to free up some space. The VM TiVo comes in 1TB or 500GB flavors; I opted for the “baby TiVo” as it works with my basic M+ TV package (for the 1TB box you need to be on the top TV package). There’s lots to love about the TiVo: it’s faster and quieter, sleeker and smarter; it has three tuners each with an hour-long buffer, there’s a 21-day programme guide (two weeks ahead, one week back), intelligent recommendation system (based on the TiVo “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” buttons) and a clever wishlist feature that lets you create custom search recordings based on keywords, actors, directors etc. For example, I set one to look out for and record all films directed by Stanley Kubrick showing in HD.

There are a few isues with Virgin Media TV Powered By TiVo though (to give it its full clunky name). You get a smart “rewind time” EPG with catch-up, but the BBC force you to use iPlayer as a separate app. There’s also no set-and-forget padding to add a bit of time to the start and end of a recording. You can add padding, but you need to set it every time for every recording or series link. The TiVo box keeps on asking me for my PIN way too often, and some of the menu screens look awfully low-res. The app area is where you’ll find the BBC iPlayer along with a few others apps such as Twitter (laughably unusable) and YouTube (not too bad, but could seriously do with an option to sort-by-date). The oft-rumored Spotify app has yet to appear on Virgin Media, but if and when it does I expect it will be on the TiVo boxes only, since they have the app infrastructure as well as dedicated bandwidth that’s separate from your regular broadband.

All the above issues are software-based, so I can see see most of them getting fixed Virgin media in due course.

Perhaps the biggest down-side of VMTVPBT is the monthly cost: whereas the larger 1TB version costs you £3/month, the smaller (cheaper?) one costs £8/month on top of your regular package subscription. This is obviously to persuade you to upgrade to the larger TV package, but I do feel it is a bit of a cynical surcharge.

Still, VMTVPBT beats anything Sky has to offer in terms of functionality so I’m reasonably happy with it for now.


Here’s three great blogs to check out if you have or are thinking of getting a Virgin Media TiVo:



My Top 10 Favourite Podcasts

I have my HTC Desire wired up to listen to in the car when I’m commuting to and from work each day. I’m often not in the mood for music until later on in the day, so to keep me entertained I subscribed to a selection of podcasts (a podcast is a kind of radio show you can subscribe and listen to whenever you want). I was initially overwhelmed at the sheer volume, variety, and quality of podcasts out there: most bad, some good, and a few essential selections. After checking out many different podcasts over the past few months, I’ve whittled it down to what I think are the very best technology, media, science, comedy and sci-fi podcasts around. Read on for my pick of the Top 10 Best Podcasts!

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The Pansentient League’s Guide to the Galaxy Tab

I bought a Samsung Galaxy Tab at the weekend and have now had a couple of days playing around with it. I wanted a tablet mostly to replace my Eee PC netbook, which I’d use for browsing and tweeting while watching TV or lounging about in bed.

I bought an unlocked Galaxy Tab for £499 from my local Phones 4U store. It doesn’t need a SIM card so I didn’t have to take out any kind of contract: this makes it essentially a wi-fi only tablet, but if necessary I can easily pop in my T-Mobile SIM card from my HTC Desire to enable 3G while roaming.

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HTC Desire vs. Motorola Milestone

I recently “side-graded” from the Motorola Milestone to another Android 2.1 smartphone: the HTC Desire. My contract with T-Mobile was up for renewal, the quirks of the Milestone were beginning to frustrate me, and I’d had a go on a friend’s Desire and instantly… well, desired one. There’s loads of great Desire reviews around the web, so here’s a post about how it rates against the Milestone.

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UK Mobile Phone Operators and “Unlimited” Internet

I use my phone mostly to access the Internet: web browsing, email, music streaming, watching videos on YouTube… sometimes I even use it to make phone calls and send texts. But mostly it’s the data allowance I think is most important when choosing a price plan. It’s no good for a mobile network to offer me a zillion minutes call time if they then cut me off from the Internet after I watch a couple of videos.

The mobile operators in the UK all offer what they call unlimited Internet* with their price plans. What they actually mean here is limited Internet since every carrier has a fair use policy that either cuts you off, slows you down, or charges you more (usually £1/MB) if you go over the limit they’ve set. But while each mobile operator’s website clearly states the number of minutes and number of texts for each package, the data allowance is usually hidden away on a Terms & Conditions link at the bottom of a page somewhere. So here’s a clear-and-simple summary of the data allowance each UK mobile operator currently offers.

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