Monthly Archives: March 2011

Review: Seagate GoFlex portable hard drive

You may think that one portable hard drive is very like another; and that is a problem for manufacturers like Seagate which want to differentiate their range and build customer loyalty.

The trouble is, one portable hard drive really is very like another; so what can it do? The FreeAgent GoFlex range is its answer, and Seagate has sent me the 320GB model for review.

It is billed as the “world’s most upgradeable hard drive,” though you can’t upgrade the thing you might most want to, its capacity.

What you can upgrade is the interface. The GoFlex drive has a detachable interface which in the model supplied to me has a mini USB port on one end, and what looks like a SATA (Serial ATA) connector on the other.

image

You can replace the interface with FireWire 800, USB 3.0, or eSATA. To give you an idea of the performance implications, this is what each of these interconnects is capable of in theory, though I have not measured the performance of this implementation:

  • USB 2.0: 480 Mbps
  • USB 3.0: 4.8 Gbps
  • FireWire 800 786 Mbps
  • eSATA 3Gbps

You can see from this that USB 3.0 is theoretically the fastest, though if I am right in thinking that the drive itself has a SATA interface, it will not be any faster than eSATA and will likely be a little slower. However, USB 3.0 is the future and will be more commonly found on PCs and laptops – except for Apple fans who now have Thunderbolt at 10Gbps – so that is the pragmatic choice. Currently though, most computers only have USB 2.0, in which case you will need to get a USB 3.0 card for your computer as well as for the hard drive.

I question whether many users will bother to upgrade the interface on a portable hard drive. They are more likely simply to buy another one, especially as capacities steadily increase, making new drives better value in terms of the amount of storage you get. The downside of the GoFlex removable interface is that it makes the drive slightly bigger than it would otherwise be.

That said, it does have an additional benefits. You can plug the drive directly into a GoFlex media dock, which will be the subject of my next review, or into a variety of other docks which Seagate offers.

There are a few other things to mention. I use both Mac and PC, and while the GoFlex drive works fine with a Mac, it comes formatted as NTFS which on most Macs is read-only. However, the drive comes with a Mac installer that offers to install the Paragon NTFS driver, which enables read-write, or to reformat for OS X.

image

I’d suggest reformatting for the Mac, unless you are likely to use the drive for exchanging files between Mac and PC.

I should also mention that the GoFlex drive comes with some bundled software. Seagate has done a deal with Memeo and offers to install various pieces of free and trial software.

image

Since you can get all this software easily enough from the Memeo website, I am not greatly impressed, though there is a free copy of Instant Backup which would otherwise cost $29.95. Personally I use Windows 7 and I am happy to use Microsoft’s built-in backup software, though Memeo has a continuous backup system that looks interesting.

Online backup, which is a feature of Memeo’s paid-for Premium Backup, is definitely a step up from what is built in, but in this case you have to buy online storage space as well as the backup software so it is not going to be cheap – especially if, like me, you have ripped a large CD collection to a hard drive.

The big question: do the extra features in GoFlex amount to enough to meet Seagate’s goal of differentiating its range? The ability to dock the drive is handy, and if you plan on using the media dock then yes, but otherwise you may not really notice any benefit, though it is worth getting a USB 3.0 drive if you can use it or expect to be able to soon.

That said, from what I can tell there is little if any price premium for the GoFlex drives and my 320GB sample worked well, though 320GB is rather small these days, and I’d suggest that at least a 500GB model makes more sense if you plan on storing multimedia files or keeping backups.

GoFlex portable drives are also available in 500GB, 750GB, 1TB and 1.5TB capacity. The sizes of 750GB and above have a fatter case: 22mm instead of 14.5mm. The 1.5TB drive is USB 3.0 only.

Disclosure: Kudos to Seagate for asking me to mention in my review that that the review sample does not have to be returned.

Buy from Amazon.co.uk: SEAGATE GoFlex USB 2.0 – 500 GB – black

Buy from Amazon.co.uk: SEAGATE GoFlex STAE104 cable – USB 3.0

Fixing iPhone 4 not detected on a Mac

Today I noticed, while checking to see if iOS 4.3 was avaialble yet, that the iPhone was not detected by the Mac. No detection, no updates.

I checked in About this Mac -> More info -> USB and the iPhone was listed. So what went wrong?

I do not know the full answer, but it may well be caused by installing the iPhone SDK, which I updated recently. Fortunately the fix is simple. Download and install the iPhone Configuration Utility. You do not even have to run it; it fixes up whatever outdated or corrupt files caused the problem.

When the cartridges cost more than the printer: the Inkjet market is absurd and disgraceful

I would love to be in one of those meetings at HP or Canon or Epson where they discuss the size of the ink cartridges in their next range of inkjet printers.

image

“We got away with 10ml last time,” one might say. “Do you think we could try 8ml”?

“No, let’s do 6ml and call it lite. The 8ml can be XL for high capacity.”

The reason is this has come up for me is that my Canon MX700 all-in-one printer, which has until now performed well, has stopped working. The LCD display says Error 6A80, the lights on the print cartridges have gone out, and it will not do a thing.

While I am not sure what the problem is, it might possibly be the print head. This is a small piece of plastic which includes the actual print head with the microscopic holes through which the ink is squirted, and the cheapest I can find it is around £65.00.

On the other hand, I can get a new Epson BX305FW all-in-one printer for £72, less than that if I shop around.

When the cartridges cost more than the printer

Well, we are used to living in a throwaway society, but the situation with inkjet printers is beyond absurdity. The reason, you see, for the low prices of the hardware is that they are vehicles for selling ink cartridges, for which the prices are crazy high. Therefore there is a direct connection between the high prices of the cartridges, and their small capacity, and the likelihood of my taking a nice all-in-one printer with not very much wrong with it, and throwing it into landfill.

Since I needed to print some documents urgently, I got my old 2001 HP DeskJet 895cx down from the loft and went into town to see if I could still get cartridges for it. As I looked, I noticed that Tesco is selling the HP Deskjet 1050 all-in-one printer for £29.97. This takes HP 301 cartridges; colour is £16.97 and black is £13.97 (you need both): total £30.94. So yes, the cartridges cost more than the printer.

If the cartridges supplied with the Deskjet 1050 are the same size as the ones you buy, it would pay you just to buy a new printer whenever the cartridge runs out. This does not please me; it is a disgrace.

Now, curiously HP does not specify how much ink is in its 301 cartridges. Rather, it gives page yields. So we learn here that the HP 301 black ink cartridge  delivers 190 pages of average coverage. The high-capacity HP 301XL delivers 480 pages.

My old printer, as it happens, also has standard and high-capacity versions. The HP 45 standard (21ml) delivers 490 pages. The HP 45 high-capacity (42ml), which is the only one I have ever bought, delivers 930 pages.

In other words, mysteriously, what is now high-capacity is less than what used to be standard; what used to be high-capacity is no longer available, if you get the latest HP DeskJet.

You can pay a lot more than this for inkjet cartridges. Prices of £30 to £40 or more are common, for three-colour cartridges. Together with a black, it might cost you £60 or more to replenish.

This drives users towards the thriving alternative market in refurbished or compatible cartridges. This is unfortunate, because all inks are not equal, and a leaky or substandard cartridge can damage your printer. On the other hand, if you do the sums, the saving from just a couple of cartridge replacement cycles may be enough to buy a new printer. Buying the non-approved refills is the rational thing to do.

I am not picking on HP. Others vendors are equally bad.

Where do we go from here?

So where do we go from here? Logically, we should ignore the price sticker on the printers and look at the cost per page, which means mostly we won’t be buying these machines. We do though; in fact, I nearly bought the cheap Tesco printer this morning just to solve a problem, and so the cycle continues.

I would like to see the regulators take action on this. Instead of forcing Microsoft to produce pointless N editions of Windows, which nobody buys, maybe the EU could specify a minimum page yield for ink cartridges, to force change, or otherwise regulate this wasteful and damaging business practice.

Finally, if you are from HP or Canon or Epson or the like and want to tell me about the high quality and expensive research behind your ink technology, you are welcome, as long as you also tell me two things:

  • What is the ratio of manufacturing cost to retail price for your inkjet printers?
  • What is the ratio of manufacturing cost to retail price for your inkjet cartridges?

Thank you.

Update: I made some progress with Error 6A80. The print head is fine. Now, many people on the internet have reported this problem, though there are likely multiple reasons for it, but the only relevant article I’ve found is this one, which is in German. Note the helpful pictures. The print head should park at the right of the machine, where there are some pads and wipers that maintain the head. On my machine the wipers had got stuck in the forward position – see the first image in the thread. When I pushed them back – second image on page two – the error cleared. However it reappeared shortly after; but I now think that somehow cleaning up this part of the printer (which is hard to get at) could fix it.

Further update: I did eventually take the printer apart and pretty much fixed it.

Solar charge your mobile: sounds good, but how practical is it?

Charge your mobile for free while out and about, and also do your bit to save energy: the new Freeloader Classic from Solar Technology International has obvious appeal. But how practical is it?

image

The Freeloader has two solar panels, and measures 123 x 62 x 17mm when folded. After 8 hours in the sun, it can deliver power to an Apple iPhone for 18 hours, a Nintendo DS for 2.5 hours, and an Apple iPad for 2 hours. Take care that it does not walk while your back is turned.

image

It comes with all sorts of tips, and can also be charged via USB in 3 hours in the event that the sun is not shining. For example, if you are in the UK.

image

While I like the idea of solar charging a mobile device, it is another gadget to pack, and could end up as more of a burden than an asset. Instead of just charging your mobile, you have to think about charging your Freeloader and then charging your mobile. 8 hours in the sun is far from instant.

Still, if you are planning a long hike in a remote part of the world, this could be just what you need.

Update: I have now been sent a Freeloader for review. The good news: the unit looks great. The bad news: initial tests are disappointing. It arrived 75% charged … I left it on a windowsill for several days and by the end it had lost all its charge! I am not giving up though and will report in due course.

Freeloader Classic costs £39.99 including VAT.

First eye-controlled laptop announced by Lenovo and Tobii

Lenovo and Tobii have announced the first eye-controlled laptop, at the Cebit event in Hannover. Tobii is a company specialising in eye tracking and eye control.

This image may look to you like just another man using a laptop; but Tobii assures us that:

In this image, Henrik Eskilsson, the CEO of Tobii Technology, uses the eye gaze to control the computer.

image

What is being shown at Cebit is a prototype; apparently 20 units have been produced “for development and demo purposes.” Says Tobii:

For users, eye control is thrilling and makes the computer interaction more effective. It is as if the computer understands you; just glance at an icon or gadget and more information will be presented; You can zoom pictures or maps and automatically center on the area you are looking at; The computer can auto-dim and brighten the screen when it recognizes your eyes to increase battery time. Eye control can also speed things up by enabling new and intuitive ways to switch between open windows, and browse your emails and documents.

It is a fascinating idea though one that I guess you have to try before assessing its value. It is in tune with developments like Microsoft’s Kinect, which which you use your body movements as input to a games console or computer.

Eye control is a perfect complement to traditional control interfaces, such as the mouse and keyboard, and it is anticipated to be the next step within natural user interfaces.

says Lenovo.