Doogee launches T5 Android, with newer technology than T6. What happened to T4?

I like Chinese mobile phone maker Doogee. Their kit is great. Their marketing sucks more than a Hoover.

Today’s global launch was for the T5 “business” handset, which looks very like my trusty T2 (aka Titan 2, aka DG700). Except it’s supplied with two different backs so you can switch it for a silicone-looking one instead of the crocodile skin effect. Actually, the T2 was supposed to have interchangeable backs. But if you’re worried about what it looks like you now have a choice. I don’t care for the leather look, but then mine is kept in a case anyway.

Doogee T5

Over the last few weeks it’s body has variously described as plastic (I don’t think so) or titanium, as opposed to the chromed steel of the T2. I suspect it’s really made of unobtanium, and I won’t believe otherwise until I see one for myself.

Confusingly, Doogee has been announcing lots of successors to the fantastic T2, but the cheaper plastic X5 has really taken off in a big way so perhaps they’re busy flogging those instead. As the T2 is pretty much indestructible (shock proof, waterproof and being used as a hammer-proof), I don’t think I’m going to have to replace it any time soon.

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So it turns out T5 has a similar specification – IP67 waterproof and a sturdy metal case. I know, because I’ve dropped the thing from height on to concrete several times, that the floating screen is very hard to crack. There videos of YouTube of lorries running over it. But unlike all the toughened phones I’ve had, it doesn’t look out of place in a boardroom.

The T2 has a 4Ah battery, which keeps me going for a couple of days – or even a week if I’m careful how I use it. My kind of specification. And the T5 looks to be identical, but the battery holds slight more. Okay, it’s got a faster processor too (8-core, ARM Corex A53, if you please), 3G of RAM instead of 1G, and 32Gb of internal storage instead of 8Gb. And of course the cameras have a lot more megapixels, but it’s still a phone camera. The 5″ screen is also full HD this time, if you’re using an magnifying glass.

Enough to tempt me away from the T2? Well not really. The T2 is damn good, and the only criticism I have of it is that the chrome has worn out on the corner I hold it by. That, and the silly case. The greatest practical difference will probably be the use of Android 6.0; the T2 was stuck on 5.0. Depending on your point of view, Android 5 may be A Good Thing.

But what the new phone appears to lack is the NFC chip needed for Android Pay. And a finger printer reader. These were the only thing missing from the T2. Come on guys!

But Doogee has communication problems with the English speaking world. They announce a lot of things, not all of them turn up and some are better than described. There is also supposed to be a T3, which has a small screen on the top edge (where you’d expect to plug stuff in!) and a smaller battery. But not waterproof or hardened in any way. The internal hardware spec seems similar, but I have no idea if/when it will every be available. There’s also a T6, again not waterproof but with similar hardware specification to the T5, other than less megapixels on the cameras. It’s noteworthy for having a 6.5Ah battery – nice! But it’s Android 5.1. On the other hand, you can at least buy it for around £90.

(Footnote – mobile phone cameras are all bad in my eyes, but then I use lenses that cost twenty times the price of a smartphone).

BBC micro:bit finally launched

At verybbcmicrobit_s long last, the BBC micro:bit has been released. This is the educational embedded computer designed to inspire  kids to learn about real programming. A small board with a CPU, Bluetooth, two switches and some LEDs it’s ideal for… Well what? Obvious comparisons will be made with the established but overcomplicated Raspberry Pi.

The plan is to send these out to year 7 students over the Easter holiday. I’m involved in computer science education, but I can’t even buy one (although I can use the simulator). Quite how these will be received when they turn up during Summer term remains to be seen, but I suspect eBay will feature in getting them to those who are interested in this kind of thing.

Unfortunately, from it’s inception in 2012, those of us who have been watching events unfold have a one-word verdict in common: Fiasco.

I’ll let you know more if I actually get to see one.

TP-Link 8-Port Gigabit Smartswitch review

There’s a tendency with any well-designed network for someone to go and do something the designer didn’t expect. A single desk with a couple of wall ports suddenly needs three network printers and a couple of PCs and an IP camera, and you’ve run out of sockets. The easy answer is to bung in a desktop switch, but once you’ve done this you’ve lost control, and visibility, about what exactly is going on downstream of your managed switch port.

In recent years a few desktop managed switches have appeared, and I’ve been looking at a reasonably priced TP-Link 8-port Gigabit Easy Smart Switch (model TL-SG108E to be precise). TP-Link have an “Easy” smart switch, and a non-easy versions (such as the TL-SG2008). I’ve yet to get my hand on the latter. They also make a JetStream range of layer 2 “Light” Managed Switch, which have a couple of SPF slots even in the 8-port models. Confusingly, the “light” versions are actually the top-of-range models.

TP-Link kit started turning up in the UK several years ago, with appalling technical support and documentation. It did tend to work, and was keenly price. I’m happy to say that TP-Link has got its act together, with proper English documentation and apparent backup, although I have to say I’ve yet to invest in anything expensive enough to make calling on their customer service worthwhile.

Unpacking the Easy Smart Switch you find a the neatly made metal boxed switch, with a good quality feel about it. The PSU is the normal quality wall-wort type, delivering just under 1A. Cooling is by convection away from the metal box; there is no fan and no apparent need for one.

You can use this switch as self-configuring switch straight out of the box and it just works. Testing it unscientifically as a desktop switch, I’ve no complaints about the performance. I didn’t try aggregating the lines for an uplink or anything fancy, as chances are on a desktop you’ll only have one port talking to another at any one time.

After that it was time to manage it, and this is where I hit a snag. In spite of the box saying it was compatible with Windoze, Mac, Linux and so on, it turns out that you need to run some Windows-based software to do anything with it. Although it had port 80 open, the is no web management interface; and port 22 was there but lacked an SSH interface. In other words, it’s useless unless you are a Windows shop. According to TP-Link there is a version 2 of this switch which does sport proper web and SSH interfaces, but version 2 isn’t on sale  in the UK at time of writing.

If you find a Windows PC to run it, you can set the IP address over Ethernet or set it up for DHCP. Once it’s on the IP network the configuration utility can be used to configure various options and run diagnostics – and upgrade the firmware, which you may want to do immediately looking at the release notes on the TP-Link web site.

Useful features are port mirroring, rate setting and (if you can figure it out), various VLAN options in including port-based. You can throttle ports, view port statistics and run a cable diagnostic. One serious omission is that there is no way I could see to control the layer 2 routing – i.e. statically assign a MAC address to a particular port. Only dynamically learned MAC addresses are supported, which is what you get a dumb switch for.

There are a number of security and QoS options, such as storm control for ports. Whether this is going to be used on a small unstacked desktop switch is debatable. The VLAN options could be very useful as part of a more complex multi-switch network, giving granularity down to the desktop.

Another feature inherited from it’s larger siblings is link aggregation. You can bond up to four ports together for a high-speed uplink; but on a a 5 or 8-port switch, this really can’t be that useful, can it?

If you can live without the access control and incompatibility with anything non-Windows, the price of this switch makes it an excellent choice net to a dumb switch at about the same price. However, for a few pounds more you a get a TP-Link SG2008, which doesn’t seem to suffer these limitations – or indeed a D-Link model of similar specification. D-Link switches tend to be fast and trouble-free in my experience.

Pros: Have a managed switch at the same price as an unmanaged one.

Cons: Management features provided are less use on a small switch, especially as access control is missing. The management can only be done using a Windows utility – no web or SSH interface.

Conclusion: Spend a bit more on a better TP-Link model, or look at D-Link or Netgear.

 

iZettle contactless payments on American Express (Amex)

Since I reviewed iZettle’s new contactless card reader there have been a few updates to the App, and after the initial teething problems I’m happy to report that it’s been working flawlessly hereabouts.

iZettle Bluetooth Card Reader
iZettle Bluetooth Card Reader

The latest update is to support contactless payments on American Express. This came as a bit of a surprise, as I assumed it already did! It just goes to show how important Amex is…

You need to do a firmware update. You get this by connecting to your tablet/phone and running the iZettle App. Then go to Settings/Card Readers and select Update. I’ll let someone else try it first, as I can live without the functionality for a while longer.

This does not, of course, work on the freebie iZettle reader – only the Bluetooth one that you pay money for. Don’t be cheap – it’s good!

This update means support for contactless covers Visa, MasterCard, Applepay and Amex. I have to say that I’ve yet to find a card in the UK it couldn’t use, one way or another.

iZettle now works with Apple iOS 9(.1)

I’ve just had a note to say that Apple has released a new version of its smartphone/tablet system that fixes the bluetooth bug in version 9.0 that prevented iZettle readers to connect using Bluetooth. So fanbois can now upgrade their fondleslabs without cutting of their revenue stream.

For details see here: https://www.izettle.com/gb/help/articles/2122036

On the Android front, teething problems with iZettle 3.0 software  – the one that works with contactless – seem to have been fixed with version 3.0.1, although 3.0.2 also turned up a couple of days ago. Given some harsh testing with me, it was impossible to get version 3.0.1 confused by turning things on in the wrong order. However, some people have taken to the play store to say it’s still broken. It could be that its incompatible with their handsets (they don’t say which version of Android they’re using) – it could also be that it’s the cable connected version, which always seemed to be on the cusp of working reliably at the best of times.

While they were at it, they’ve fixed a few oddities in the user interface, so you can now just put through a payment without having to add it to the cart first (one of the points I made in the original review).

I’d be interested to hear details if anyone is still having trouble, and I may be able to help.

iZettle is now contactless on Android

Update 6th October 2015:

What a difference a day makes! Yesterday I was trying to get iZettle 3.0.0 working on my Android 5.0 handset and failing miserably. Today, it’s all working just fine. The difference? Three things:

  1. Don’t have the handset and the reader too close together. Bluetooth was interfering with the WiFi. They’re on the same frequency, and Bluetooth doesn’t really play nice with 802.11n. While the Internet connection was being blocked by the reader, the App became unstable on loading.
  2. Either turn on the reader before you start the App, or afterwards. I’m not completely sure of the timing, but there seems to be a bad spot if they’re both starting up together where they fail to sync and both go funky deux. The photographs following the review show what I mean!
  3. When you turn on the reader, wait for the “Please wait….” to disappear before you considering it to be “on”. i.e. don’t start the App while it’s in that state, and don’t do anything to try to use it if the App is already running.

If you follow the rules above, everything else works like a charm. And like all rules, there are exceptions when it might work anyway.


Review

iZettle is a Swedish company, founded in 2010, offering a complete mobile card payment system for small businesses with Terms of Business and charges that should make the bankers blush. The deal is that they charge a straight ~1.5%-3% dependent on volume, with no minimum transaction fee. You can buy a reader from them, or if your volumes are high enough, they’ll give you a free Chip and Pin reader that connects to some smartphone/tablet hardware (iPhones and a few Android devices) using the microphone/speaker. My advice on the free reader is “don’t be cheap – pay for the bluetooth one”.

Today iZettle released its all-new Android App, version 3.0.0, which allows it to work with the  Card Reader Pro Contactless . When I say “released”, it appeared in the Google Play store without fanfare; not even a press release. Apple fanbois have been able to use contactless cards (and Apple Pray) for some time now, but the Android App has always lagged behind; odd, as 90% of smartphones run Android. Perhaps iZettle really likes Objective ‘C’?

The good news, apart from contactless support, is that the new Android App is much cleaner and nicer to use than the old one. On startup, it goes straight in to the screen where all you need do is enter the amount and optional description and add it to a cart (you can’t charge it immediately, for some reason). If you have pre-set items you can access them in grid or list from by swiping left; tapping an item adds it to the cart.

70D_04547c

To take a payment just tap on the cart icon. You get a chance to add a percentage or set value discount and when you’re done it just connects to the card reader and does the business. One very welcome feature is that the display on the reader now shows the amount being charged.

There are other good features lying about in the software. For example, a battery status indication is available in settings. But the main feature of 3.0 is its ease of use.

Teething problems connecting notwithstanding, there are a few possible improvements that spring to mind. It would be handy to be able to enter a number and select “Charge” immediately without going through the cart first. This may be a bug – before you enter an amount the there is a large button marked “Charge” that changes to “Add Item” (to the cart) as soon as you enter something. Also, there are pre-set discount rates of 5%, 10% and 15% and the ability to enter any percentage manually, but you can’t edit the pre-sets. More seriously, you can’t edit the VAT rate table or enter a manual rate. It has 0%, 5% and 20%, which are the current rates in the UK, but they’re going to change. It also makes no differentiation between Zero-rate an Exempt, which does matter for proper accounting.

But these are minor quibbles. iZettle 3.0 is a big improvement on the rather clunky 2.5 and I’ve no doubt the teething troubles with the connection will be fixed. In the mean time, just leave the reader enough time to warm up.

In view of the problems I did have, a means of rolling back updates is needed. iZettle says that they can’t do this at the moment, but given the difficulty of testing Apps – especially Android ones  – on the wide range of hardware and OS versions out there, relying on a compatibility list is a bad idea tactically. There’s a danger that people will seek to download older versions of the App if they encounter problems, and a bit of research this morning turned up a few .apk files on the Internet that had definitely been tampered with. I’m trying to persuade iZettle to implement a rollback option but no luck yet.


 

 

Rogues gallery: iZettle 3.0.0 going mad yesterday. See update above.

If you get the timing wrong or something interferes with the Internet connection (e.g. it’s masked by bluetooth) you could be in for a world of pain.

70d_04521

Whenever I try to make a charge it either says that an “Unexpected error occurred – try again”, or it crashes out.

70D_04543

This is before it even gets to the “insert card” part. And it’s really flaky when it comes to keeping bluetooth contact with the reader.
70D_04533 70D_04542

It randomly freezes, in the case of the above while it was moving between screens – it appears to be when its thinking about bluetooth connections.

It even manages to crash the reader itself!

70D_04540

For what it’s worth, I’m using Android 5.0, and it worked just fine (albeit Chip and Pin) on the old version of the App.

Fortunately I don’t process a lot of payments, so can live without it but others may be having a really bad day as a result.

Docker on FreeBSD

Docker is available on FreeBSD. Yeah! Er. Hang on a minute – what’s the point.

People are talking about Docker a lot in the Linux world. It’s a system that allows a configured piece of software, together with all its ancillaries, to be in its own closed environment on any machine you choose. It’s not a VM – no emulation required. Well not much. It’s much more efficient that running multiple kernels on a hypervisor (as VirtualBox or VMWare).

But isn’t this one of the things Jails are for? Well, yes. It’s a kind of poor-man’s jail system for the poor deprived Linux users. Solaris and FreeBSD have been doing this kind of things for years with kernel support (i.e. out-of-the box and lot more efficiently).

So why should anyone be interested that FreeBSD also has Docker? Well, one of the things the Docker community has together is preconfigured applications you can just download and run. Given what a PITA it can be getting something running on a Linux box, which lacks a UNIX-like base system you can rely on, this does make sense. And running these pre-configured server applications on FreeBSD may be of interest, especially if you lack the in-house expertise to set them up yourself. But it won’t be all plain sailing. You need FreeBSD 11 (not yet released) to do it, together with the 64-bit Linux emulation library.

This does kind-of make sense. Stuff that’s currently Linux-only may be easier to deal with – I’m thinking Oracle here.

Windows 10 – just say no

I’ve had a lot of people ask me about Windows 10. Here’s the simple answer: No thanks.

Apparently it’s a bit faster than Windows 7 on the same hardware, although I’m not convinced people who say this have tested it scientifically. In other words, it may have been faster as a clean install compared with a crufty old Windows 7 installation, and in theory it could have been written to be fundamentally faster, but actually writing code that’s more efficient that previous versions isn’t really Microsoft’s style. Although the new web browser (Edge) is promising. But will it still be faster when it fully functional (i.e. supports HTML5 and suchlike properly).

That’s the good bit. Everything else is bad compared to Windows 7. Compared to Windows 8, yes, it’s better. That’s from a user’s perspective. From my perspective, it’s a big “no thanks” to the added spyware, telling Redmond exactly what you’re up to all the time and the enforced software updates, that I have an nasty suspicion are going to end up mandatory even on the business (Pro) version. Basically I don’t see what Microsoft has done to restore any trust I once had in them.

If you’ve got Windows 7, stick with it. If you’re on Windows 8 it’s swings and roundabouts but you might want to take a serious look at a Linux instead.

Unfortunately, because this is Microsoft, there’s a good chance that we’ll all be forced to use Windows 10 whether we like it or not. They had the sense to keep Windows 7 for serious users when they rebelled against Windows 8; I somehow see them fighting hard to force the issue when it comes to Windows 10.

Google Nexus TV uses Atom

The Nexus TV box that Google just announced is the company’s latest attempt to take over the living room (after Chromecast). This one runs Android 5, so punters can download and run apps from Google Play. This will include games, of course, and there is to be an optional games hand controller. However, what no one seems to have noticed is that the NExus TV box has an Intel processor, not an ARM.

Although simple Apps are written in CPU independent Java code, or, strictly speaking, a similar VM either Dalvik or ART depending on which version of Android you. It’s interpreted on the target platform, and therefore slow. When high performance is needed then code has to be written C and compiled to native code (i.e. using the NDK). This hasn’t been a problem thus far, as all Android devices on the market used the ARM core, and were machine-code compatible. I wonder how many games are written this way? Quite a few, probably.

Tesco has also just launched a non-ARM Hudl tablet. The mass media had yet to comment.

Hotpoint FDW65A dishwasher recall

I should be happy with Hotpoint. They have identified a fault in one of the modules fitted to the FDW20 FDW60 and FDW65A dishwashers that could lead to them catching fire. They’ve also traced customers (such as myself), written to them and asked to replace the module, using a “qualified engineer”. Are they bothering to use qualified engineers rather than trained technicians for such a menial job? Well I’m for anyone employing qualified engineers (with an engineering degree; registered with the engineering council and so on). I do hope they’re not telling porky pies about their educational status. I’ll let you know when he/she turns up!

For I have been waiting at home since 8am for said engineer to arrive. Apparently, if you have a “mobile”, they’ll TXT U A MRE PRCSE TM. If you don’t, or you’re in a zero coverage area so can’t receive SMS, you’re reliant to them to call you with a time. And I’ve been waiting by the ‘phone for just such a call. Or email, as arranged last week with customer services.

You can, however, call the premium rate telephone number that is given on the on the original letter and repeated prominently on subsequent emails. I think not. Anyone pulling this stunt in complete contempt of their supposedly valued customers doesn’t deserve any. They don’t even give a “premium rate” warning when quoting it, so I’m writing to Ofcom after I’ve posted this.

If you have one of these machines, sold in the UK with a serial number greater than 60600xxxxxxx, you can email them on fdw@hotpoint.co.uk. Hotpoint is actually a “brand” owned by Indesit, and you can call them at normal rates on 01733 287691 and try to get to the right department. If and when this engineer turns up I’ll update with the actual nature of  the fault (for any other qualified engineers out there who may be curious!)

 

Update:

Well the guy turned up and he was very nice, helpful and I can’t complain at all about him – in fact I’d have him back! He discovered about the cellphone blackspot when trying to get his laptop to connect back to base though. It turns out that the “problem” is with discrete spade connectors to the control board. Apparently this has been known to cause problems, presumably when they’re strained. So, new control board with caged contacts. I pointed out that this was a tenuous design flaw at best, but it turns out that BBC Watchdog has featured it. It sounds like more shoddy journalism blowing it out of proportion again.