David Artiss

Author: David (page 46 of 114)

Samsung Galaxy S2 Dock

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Now I have a Samsung Galaxy S2, I wanted to get myself a desktop dock for it.

The dock for my HTC Hero was the official HTC one – a shiny piano black horizontal slab with the phone sitting solidly in the middle. Underneath was power, USB and audio out connections. It was simply but has drawn many admiring enquiries due to its superb looks.

Samsung have their own dock for the S2 but, unfortunately, it’s rather pricey at £30 – £40. Instead I decided to go for one of the many cheaper alternatives on eBay. I say “many” not because there are different types, but simply because so many sell the same type (pictured). There is a 2nd type available, but this simply holds the phone vertically whilst a spare battery is charged behind it.

At between £10 – £12, I wasn’t expecting anything too much but, as the same time, for that money wouldn’t expect a simple stand with a USB cable attached.

However, that’s just what I got. The “metal look” surround is a bronze-ish piece of painted plastic. It comes with a captured USB cable that you can connect to your PC for charging or syncing. When connected up to a USB source a blue light is evident on the top- there’s no way of switching this off. There’s also a USB connector on the back, the same as the one on the S2 – not sure what this is for, unless it’s so you can connect other accessories at the same time.

You put the S2 down onto the male USB connector and it connects you. And that’s it. The S2 wobbles a bit when in position (a couple of rubber pads inside the mounting area would have helped here) and it’s just generally deeply, deeply underwhelming. And to top it off,even the thinnest of cases prevents it from being docked without having to remove the case first. I guess it does what it says – just. For the money I’d expect more – a good solid seat for the S2 and a power cable (not just the USB connector) at least.

I put mine straight back on eBay – it sold within hours but I made a loss. Oh well, I can just remember, wistfully, my excellent HTC dock.

[review]It works but it’s totally without the frills. The phone wobbles in place and you don’t get a mains charger. There are better for the money[/review]

Samsung Galaxy S2 Mesh Case

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An official product, this goes by a number of names [1]I’d clarify the exact name if I could find an official Samsung page that mentions it, but I can’t – that’s often the case with Samsung accessories. Their site seems to think that Bluetooth headsets are the only mobile phone accessory that they sell. – combinations of the words mesh, case, black and cool usually.

A rigid (but not too much), rubberised case for the Galaxy S2 it clips on the side of the phone providing side and back protection. Cut-outs for essential sections of phone (headphone socket, side buttons, speaker, etc) are accurately cut – especially for the camera on the back. The whole of the rear of the case has a mesh of holes. This allows the heat from the back of the phone to escape whilst preventing the back from getting too hot (it’s cooler to the touch than the back is without the case). The colour is more a dark graphite grey than black.

I have one on my phone and it’s the first case I’ve owned for a phone that I’ve been happy with – it’s extremely slim and light so doesn’t make the phone look big and ugly (as so many others have).

You can purchase them from Amazon for £7.99.

Look out for cheaper alternatives – they usually don’t have Samsung badge on the back or, if they do, they don’t have the “proper” logo. In the gallery below is a close-up of the badge – check this is correct before purchasing!

What about those cheaper alternatives?

I mentioned above that there were cheaper versions of this case available. After a year of the Samsung version, after much dropping and scraping of the phone (all without any damage to the phone itself) the case was in need of a replacement – I thought I’d try one of the cheaper, non-branded versions.

It cost  a whole £1.10 (inc P&P) from eBay and, at first site appears extremely similar – the same mesh case, with a rubberised coating. However, the finish is not as good – there are sharp edges and visible moulding lines – and it just simply doesn’t fit as well. Whether it’s worth paying over 7 times more for is your own choice.

Conclusion on cheaper alternatives

I’ve only had the cheap eBay version for a few months and it’s now in the bin and I’ve bought the official Samsung version again. Yes, it’s more expensive but in this case you certainly get what you pay for. The cheap version didn’t fit as well and rather than being genuinely flexible was actually made of hard, white plastic covered in a black rubberised coating. Eventually a bit snapped off (unsurprisingly, because of the lack of flexibility in the case, and this wasn’t due to a drop either).

Gallery

[review]It doesn’t add much weight to the phone, adds some extra grip and, most importantly, protects the phone. I’d combine it with a screen protector thought for total protection. At £8 it costs more than cheaper alternatives on eBay, but I think it’s worth it.[/review]

References   [ + ]

1. I’d clarify the exact name if I could find an official Samsung page that mentions it, but I can’t – that’s often the case with Samsung accessories. Their site seems to think that Bluetooth headsets are the only mobile phone accessory that they sell.

21 free Amazon Kindle software

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My mum already has one and I know my wife won’t mind one either. The Amazon Kindle is a rather remarkable device – it’s superb for reading books at a really good price.

I love the idea of eInk and I think those people who think iPads are just as good have obviously not used one for any measure of time. When it comes to reading an eBook nothing beats eInk, and the Kindle is the best eInk reader.

Anyway, enough of the sell. Downloading commercial books is the easy bit.

What if you have want to do something different – say, put your own document onto it? How about getting free books onto it? Well, here’s my collection of the best free software around…

briss

An open source project, to create some cross-platform software that will quickly and easily crop PDFs. Why would you want to do that? Say, it’s a Word document converted to PDF – chances are it’s surrounded by a thick white border. Use briss to remove this before putting on the Kindle and it’s 100% easier to read!

K2pdfopt

If all that seems far too manual, there’s K2pdfopt which converts a PDF to images, optimises it for the Kindle and then puts it back to a PDF again.

PDF Split and Merge

This is one of those pieces of software that does exactly what it says it does – use it to modify PDFs by editing out sections or merging some together. Again it’s open source.

kindlebility

Not software this time but a “bookmarklet” – add their provided link to your favourites and the next time you’re reading an article and wish to read it on your Kindle, click the bookmark and it will send it to your Kindle via your Kindle email.

Hamster eBook Converter

A piece of software that will converts any eBook format to work on your Kindle.

calibr

After all that, how about something which does everything? Manage, organise and convert eBooks? calibre does just that.

eLibrary

An open source project still in its early stages, eLibrary will catalogue and organise your eBooks. It may be early days but the software looks very promising!

Duokan

Duokan is something different – a replacement OS for your Kindle. But it sits aside the existing Kindle OS rather than replacing it. It has a number of features that makes PDF viewing better and is particularly recommended for comic reading.

The original is in Chinese but an English language version has been released. You can read more about it here including further links.

Mobipocket eBook Creator

And when you get bored of what’s available, why not create your own eBook? Mobipocket produce free home and publisher eBook creator.

PrimoPDF

If you create your eBook in PDF format then you’ll have maximum exposure as it can be just as easily read on PCs and Macs. PrimoPDF is one of the leading free PDF creators.

Clippings Converter

Kindle users will know that there’s a way to clip portions of the book they are reading for future reference. These clippings get saved in “myclippings.txt” in the documents folder of the Kindle. Clippings Converter is a simple tool that converts these chunks of saved text into Word, Excel or PDF files for better organisation and other use.

Kindle Reader

A standalone piece of PC software, provided by Amazon, Kindle Reader allows you to read your eBooks away from Kindle device. Unlike the Cloud Reader, you can use this to read books offline.

Wordcycler

If you use Instapaper to save web pages for reading later then you may find Wordcycler of use. Sitting in your system tray it will automatically send Instapaper items to your Kindle when it’s connected via USB.

Auto Kindle eBook Converter

A simple piece of software, Auto Kindle eBook Converter converts PDF, Lit, and HTML files to a Kindle-friendly .MOBI format.

SENDtoREADER

Another useful JavaScript bookmarklet SENDtoREADER will send any web page that you’re viewing to your Kindle via WIFI.

Kindle It

In a similar vein to SENDtoREADER, Kindle It will also send web pages to your Kindle but this time it’s a Firefox and Chrome browser extension.

Greader2Kindle

Greader2Mindle converts your unread Google Reader items to .MOBI and then emails them to your Kindle via WIFI.

PDFMasher

PDFMasher assists in converting a multi-page PDF into a single flow document.

PaperCrop

PaperCrop converts PDF documents, such as articles and academic papers, into a PDF (or image sequence) so that it can be read on a small screen.

KDK Emulator

Still in progress, KDK Emulator is a Kindle emulator for the PC.

Alissa’s MobiHandler

A small program, MobiHandler adds the ability for Windows Explorer to handle .azw/.mobi/.prc files better; cover images are shown as thumbnails, and you can see the book titles and authors on the list of files. You can also see the Properties of the books.

And finally…

When you buy PDF eBooks from certain online retailers (for example, WH Smith) they are advertised as “PDF” – but they aren’t really. You get a download of an ACSM file, which you have to open through Adobe Digital Editions to download your eBook. Once it’s downloaded, it’s locked into Digital Editions, and there is no compatibility with the Kindle.

John O’Nolan has had exactly this problem and has worked out how to resolve it using a piece of software known as ePUBee.

Play.com Customer Service

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I’ve been a customer of Play.com for many years. I’ve spent hundreds, if not thousands, with them and have promoted them heavily on this site. However, things have turned sour.

How Play.com treated me

On the 13th July I ordered 2 product, both of which were in stock. On the 19th July I realised that I hadn’t heard anything further about these orders so looked them up on the companies website. Both were showing as “packing” – the Help text indicates that this status usually occurs for up to 24 hours. Next day, sure enough, I received a “despatched” email but only for one item. The other was still “packing”. Next day I sent them an email but, still finding it as “packing” on the website on the 22nd I rang them.

Play appear to use an “off shore” help desk – the line is quiet and they appear to work from a basic script. I told them the issue and they told me that as it was being packed it would take 24 hours. I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt – maybe they were doing something to ensure it got despatched.

On Saturday 23rd I received a reply to my email..

Your order is currently being packed as of 23/07/2011, and should be dispatched shortly.

The status was still “packing” but they’d changed the date on the order to show that this was the status as of the 23rd. When I rang on the Monday (yes, it was still “packing”) I was told it only had that status since Saturday – I corrected them firmly, stating that they’d simply updated the date but in fact it had been packing since the previous week. Again I was told it would be despatched within 24 hours, and they’d left a note for the despatch department to chase it up.

On Tuesday it was still, yes, “packing”. I rang them. They told me it would be 24 hours. I saw red. My voice rose and I angrily asked to speak to a manager. After 10 minutes of being on hold I needed to leave for work so ended up hanging up. They made no attempt to contact me in the meantime – I rang them myself  an hour later. Again, I was told it would be 24 hours. This time I calmly asked to speak to a manager. They put me through to a supervisor who told me she would chase it up herself and ensure something happens with the next 24 hours.

Whilst waiting I directed Tweets at Play.com via their Twitter account – the first one to express that I’m unhappy with their customer service, the other to ask if there’s anyone in the UK I can speak to with regard to my issue. The first was ignored, the second one resulted in them directing me to their standard customer services email. When I replied to ask what I did when that didn’t work they took my order ID and investigate it.

And I got a result. After 2 weeks.

The product is….. out of stock. The item on the Play website also now shows it as taking 1-2 weeks to deliver. So they offered a refund, which I’ve accepted, with apologies. I’ve now ordered the same item from Amazon.

How Play.com treated a friend

Maybe this is just a one-off? Or maybe not.

A friend of mine ordered a Christmas present last year from Play. However, when it turned up it was a different product – similar but not what he ordered. He rang their Helpdesk to arrange to send it back. However, he was told that they didn’t have stock of the product they ordered, hence why they’d sent something similar.

So, he wanted his money back. No problem. Would he get his postage back? Yes. Great. He sent the product back and was refunded – but not for the postage. He rang their Help Desk to be told they wanted him to email a copy of his receipt (even though the postage price would have been printed on his returned parcel). He did this but the money didn’t turn up. After ringing them 3 times about this and getting nowhere he gave up, had his Play.com account deleted (you can’t do this via the website) and never shopped there again. He told them he was going to do this on the third phone call but nobody seemed to care – they happily cancelled his account.

Why does this matter?

I know these aren’t one-off’s – a couple of years ago the website Bitter Wallet stated that Play.com missed out on a place in their Worst Company in Britain contest by a single vote

Even if my issue this time is a one-off it doesn’t matter – they’ve had multiple opportunities to resolve this to my satisfaction (which is hardly set to a high bar – send me my product!) and have failed at every opportunity. That’s not a mistake, it’s blind incompetence – they have treated a good customer so poorly and there really was no need for it. After waiting 2 weeks, I am now forced to order the product elsewhere and wait longer to finally get it.

What’s failing from Play.com here is 2 fold..

  1. No one is realising that they are repeating the same message. If they did they’d realise something was wrong. Repeating the same, incorrect message leads to an unhappy customer.
  2. They appear to have no way to escalate an issue – all they can is repeat instructions from the website. If it deviates from this, they’re stuck.

I contacted Play’s PR company informing them of this post and giving them an opportunity to respond. I have yet to receive a response from them.

Todays BBC/Sky F1 news

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In a quick break from the tech for a moment, I just wanted to comment on today’s news about the UK TV rights to the Formula One.

For those unaware, the BBC and Sky Sports will broadcast Formula 1 in the UK between 2012 and 2018. All of this has happened before the BBC’s contract expires after the 2013 season.

From next year Sky Sports will show every race, qualifying session and practice live and BBC Sport will broadcast half the races live, as well as the qualifying and practice sessions from those races.

Now, I’m not a sporty person and I don’t watch it either, but I don’t mind watching F1 and there’s something particularly nice and watching a live race in its entirety on a Sunday. To hear that I’ll now only be able to enjoy half is annoying. I’m not a Sky subscriber and, if I was, I certainly wouldn’t be able to justify a monthly extra subscription to the Sports channel just for the sake of every other F1 race.

I think it was summed up nicely by this joke from SniffPetrol

Make the next GP feel like it’s on Sky by throwing £30 away and then turning your TV off every 10 minutes.

And, more seriously, they also took the opportunity to produce some interesting statistics, for all those who are saying that the BBC had to do this to save money…

Alleged cost of F1 rights per year: £45m. Alleged cost of moving BBC depts (including Sport) to Salford: £900m

Approximate cost of F1 rights per year: £45m. Approximate cost of BBC3 per year: £115m. Re-runs of Two Pints Of Lager all round!

Samsung Galaxy S2

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The Samsung Galaxy S2 has been out now for a few months ago and it’s been reviewed to death. For that reason I’ll keep it short 😉

My HTC Hero (or T-Mobile G2 Touch in my case) has got to the end of its 18 month contract and has served me well. But the Android phone market has moved on considerably since and mine is looking heavy, small and, in particular, slow.

After finding an amazing deal for a Galaxy S2 on O2, I bought it a few weeks before my T-Mobile contract expired to give me plenty of time to transfer over any phone content. Not that I needed to. My S2 set me up more smoothly that I had setting up the Hero for the first time – everything copied in from Google without a hitch and the transfer of my SD card gave me all my music, photos and video.

The S2 is an absolute pleasure to use – it’s incredibly quick in use and has a beautifully bright screen. It’s a 4.3″ Super AMOLED screen with a  800×480 resolution. Most people rave about the screen in particular but I find the colours a little too, well, colourful – I really could do with some kind of contrast option. As a result I find it reveals imperfections in images more than it maybe shouldn’t.

But that, I have to say, is one of only a few minor complaints.

I’ve not used the TouchWiz front-end before but have no complaints. I particularly like the way you can group the list of applications in folders and on their own separate pages. With the HTC I ended up putting shortcuts on the front screens so that I could group them – with the Samsung I leave in the applications list but organise them there instead.

Samsung bundle a number of “Hub” applications, none of which I find useful but other people may. Their book and games apps are simply tools to get you to spend money – download Aldiko and the myriad of free or cheap games from the Marketplace

The S2 also has a number of features that, although have been available on others phones, are new to me:

First up, you can use the phone to create your own  wi-fi hotspot. So, for instance, I can switch this on when I’m in the car and my daughter can play online games on her Nintendo DSi by connecting to my phone’s wi-fi hotspot.

Quick tip here…I’ve installed and used an app named Widgetsoid2.x. This allows you create your own rows of activation buttons – give them a quick stab to cycle options or simply turn things on or off. The range of available options is huge and, amongst others, I’ve added a simple button to switch the wi-fi hotspot feature on and off.

Secondly, the S2 has USB On The Go (OTG), which means you can connect up external USB devices – memory sticks, keyboards, etc. Samsung doesn’t provide a cable to allow this but for a few pounds it’s easy to find one on eBay (search for “USB OTG Samsung Galaxy”).

I miss the lack of any kinds of lights on the S2 – no charging or indicator light. I don’t miss not having the trackball, which I hardly used on my HTC. There is only the usual array of buttons – side volume and power. On the top is a headphone socket and the bottom a micro USB. On the front is a physical home button and 2 touch sensitive buttons either side for menu and back.

2nd tip… hold down the home and power buttons simultaneously to take a screenshot! The screenshots are then saved into a folder with the same name.

Weight wise, the phone is just 116g – the much smaller HTC Hero, in comparison, is 135g. However, having said that HTC Hero is smaller, it’s not. Dimensions wide, although not as wide or tall as the S2 it’s a lot thicker. Overall the dimensions of the S2 are 23% less than the HTC.

Battery life isn’t brilliant but appears to be better than my Hero – I’m charging it every other day unlike daily with the HTC.

Wi-fi supports all bands and seems to be incredibly sensitive – just walking a metre away from G-band router can make it drop to 2-3 bars on the signal. However, even showing 0 or 1 wi-fi bars it still gets a strong and quick signal – this is because how much signal is required for each bar is down to the phone manufacturers software. As this supports N, they need to calibrate that appropriately. It’s not an issue, though, just an interesting aside.

The S2 has both a back and front camera, the front being a simple 2Mp one for video chat and the back is a mighty 8MP with its own flash. It supports auto-focus and full 1080p video. Both the pictures and videos are superb – the camera is quick and easy to use and has a huge range of useful features (e.g. the panoramic option allows you to take superb wide shots by simply moving the camera round in a slow sweeping movement!).

In the small black box that the phone came in is a set of very nice headphones, a USB cable and a separate power cable. There’s a quick start booklet and, annoyingly, no reference to the fact there’s a full manual on their website to download! Indeed, there’s even the Kies software available from there too (which is required to get firmware updates).

Kies is the latest software for Samsung phones and, unlike many others that I’ve tried, will connect via wi-fi. Indeed, there is 2 types of Kies software provided with the phone – the standard Kies (this is required to interface with the PC software) and Kies Air. The latter turns your phone into a web server – it gives you an IP that you can type into any browser on the same network and you can then view files, contacts, etc, from the phone on the browser. You can both download and upload to the phone using this and is superb to use.

Along with the phone I ordered myself a cheap desktop dock from eBay, some screen protectors and the official Samsung mesh case (all of which will be reviewed separately). I wouldn’t let the phone out of the house until the latter 2 were in place. The phone is big, expensive and could be prone to being damaged (although I’m sure the makers of the Gorilla Glass screen might say otherwise).

Gallery

[review]It’s fast, slim and has an excellent screen. Because of its slimness it gets away with that large screen (and remains pocketable). I’d highly recommend it – particularly if you can get it for a good price![/review]

Using Google Analytics data to show popular posts

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Google Analytics Dashboard is an excellent plugin for showing site analytics on your WordPress dashboard.

However, it also has an open API built-in allowing anybody to access statistics from their own code. As a result I’ve created a new of small functions for my own site. To get these to work, ensure you have Google Analytics Dashboard installed, active and you’ve authenticated yourself using the OAuth method!

The most useful is the one I use in the sidebar to display the most popular posts. I was using specific plugins which track visits independently. However, I found these to inconsistent and unreliable.

This isn’t the version I use, as I’ve had to make specific modifications to only display posts and to tidy up the page titles. However, this is the same base code just with my very specific changes removed.

Add this code to functions.php and then edit the line $start = '2006-09-01'; to reflect the date on which your blog statistics started. Then call latest_posts_list  with 3 parameters, all of which are required…

  1. The number of days across which to gather statistics. If you specify 0 then it will be for all time.
  2. The number of posts to display in the list.
  3. The number of hours to cache the results.

A sidebar example, with checks for function availability, would be…

This will display the 5 most popular posts within the last 30 days and will update this list every 24 hours.

Two further functions that I use elsewhere add live statistics data to a posts content. The code can also be added to your functions.php file…

Now, all you have to do is call either shortcodes – [ga_visits] or [ga_pageviews] to output the number of visitors of pageviews that your site has had. Useful for promoting your site. There is one parameter, days, which allows you specify the time range this is for. If you don’t specify this parameter then 30 is assumed.

Streamline Hosting

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Image courtesy of Michal Koralewski

Somebody once described NTL (now, Virgin Media)  to me as “excellent, until you need any help”, due to their poor support.

When it comes to Streamline.net hosting I wouldn’t even go that far. Their hosting is quite cheap and that’s the only good word I can give them.

The Copy+ website, owned by the software author Stuart, are hosted by Streamline, but I manage the site. As huge profits aren’t made from the Copy+ site we stuck with cheap hosting. We also needed a big bandwidth due to the size of the software being downloaded – it’s often only the lower end of the hosting market that offers this.

Apart from site speed issues it’s been, okay-ish. But when we have needed support it’s not been brilliant. They also have a lot of restrictions – e.g. .htaccess files can only consist of redirects – everything else (including caching) is ignored. I was never able to upgrade phpBB 2 to phpBB 3 due to “out of memory” issues. Instead, I installed it on my own personal site (hosted elsewhere) and transferred over the resulting files and database, which worked.

However, we started being told by customers at the beginning of the year that they had problems signing up for the forum. Over time it got worse and some testing by myself showed that emails sent from the site simply weren’t turning up at their destination.

On the 22nd March I sent them a support request, asking them to investigate why email was not been sent via my site scripts. I sent them a very basic piece of code using the PHP mail facility to send a mail, so that they had an example (and wouldn’t simply assume it’s my code that’s wrong).

The response was…

To ensure that no spam messages are sent from our network, Streamlinenet filters all outgoing e-mail. These must have a ‘From’ or ‘To’ address that is a domain hosted with Streamlinenet. Any e-mail not fulfilling these criteria is stopped.

For more details, please refer to the link below:

http://www.streamlinesupport.net/index.php?page=show&id=150

We would recommend that you change the destination email on your mailer script to an email address hosted with us.

Ok, so the FROM or TO field needs to be one that is from our domain name – in this case skycopyplus.co.uk. Except the code I sent them had a FROM email from that domain.

I pointed this out.

Can you please provide us the password of the email account support@navpoint.co.uk, so that we can check if it was able to received the test email that we are going to do with the php form on your website?

Quite blatantly they hadn’t looked at the example code as it was using the support@navpoint.co.uk email address as the FROM address, not TO. I pointed this out to them too.

We are already aware with the issue that you are encountering right now, this is because of the SMTP server (authsmtp.streamline.net) intermittent overloading issue. The symptoms of the issue is you are going to encounter delays in sending out emails and sometimes you are going to received bounced back emails.

In order for us to further check the issue, can you please provide us the bounced back emails that you received?

As an alternative solution you can use the outgoing server of your local ISP (internet service provider) or use webmail.domain URL (http://webmail.phit-consultancy.co.uk) in sending out emails, because this is not encountering any issues in sending out emails to any types of email accounts.

Our deepest apologies about this matter. Rest assured that we are working on this issue to solve it soon as possible, as we already received lots of complaints from our customers.

With regards with the issue of the form with your website, we found out that the contact.php and sendmail.php file does not contain any action script to send out emails. Please double check the script of your website and create an action script to send the emails.

Note: We would like to remind you that scripting issue is already beyond of our scope of support.

So, they now wanted bounced emails. Except there weren’t any – they simply didn’t turn up at their destination. They now suggesting this was a problem with my coding too. None-the-less they were now admitting they had a problem with their SMTP server.

My response begins to show my frustration…

We are not recieving any bounced mail responses, so are unable to forward these onto you.

Using an alternative outgoing SMTP server is not a solution for PHP mail, which will use your own SMTP server – as per the code example I sent you.

It would appear that the outgoing mail issue has been going on for weeks – I do not see an open support ticket for this and I am dismayed that you still do not have any ETA for a fix.

At the end of the day I need PHP mail to work. Not to lose mails when I use the correct email structure, as per your demands (i.e. using a FROM or TO mail from our domain).

If you have no intentions to fix this, please let me know now and I will make arrangements to move to another company who can provide the most basic of functions, such as working SMTP.

Their response didn’t help…

We are very sorry, we don’t have the ETA of the sending emails using the main SMTP server which is authsmtp.streamline.net

Please use the alternative SMTP below:

authsmpt1.streamline.net

As I pointed out to them – again – I can’t change the SMTP server that PHP uses without changing the PHP configuration, which they don’t allow me to do.

They responded by ignoring this but instead creating another test program which they told me worked. It worked, but only because the TO address was going to a navpoint.co.uk domain email address. As soon as you change this to go elsewhere it fails.

They then pointed out that they had alternative SMTP servers available. I blew…

Did you read my last message when I clearly explained this?

I am using the PHP mail command, which you cannot configure to use a different SMTP server. That can only be done via the PHP configuration file, which I am unable to change – that is something you have to do.

Have you thought to change this in config.php?

Please stop asking me questions that I keep answering and you ignore.

The response, though, finally told us what we wanted to know…

The destination email on your mailer script (test.php) is still showing as [REMOVED] which is an external email address. Please be reminded that the ‘From’ and ‘To’ fields should be Streamline hosted email addresses else it will be stopped. We have changed this to support@navpoint.co.uk and it now appears to be working fine.

So what they’re telling me is that I have to send mails to the navpoint domain. Which is no good for website contact forms or running a forum which requires users to validate their email address.

Unfortunately, there is no other way around it as these limits exist is so we don’t open ourselves up to abuse.

At this point the Copy+ owner, Stuart, not a web expert in any way, responded. He’d got it, why couldn’t Streamline?

With respect, your statement that BOTH the TO and FROM addresses must be streamline hosted is clearly nonsense. Our own tests (and also direct experience of this mainly working most of the time over many years) have proved this.

The reason for the INTERMITTENT problems we are currently experiencing is it seems, by your own admission, due to an issue with authsmtp.streamline.net.

In Ticket Number: 639751 you kindly provide us with a workaround for this issue – specifically to use authsmtp1.streamline.net.

However the configuration required to do this is part of the PHP server configuration and so outside of our direct control!

We simply ask that you configure our sites at navpoint.co.uk and skycopyplus.co.uk to use the alternative SMTP server of authsmtp1.streamline.net.

They responded back to pointing us to 2 pages on their site which mentions the limitations of their mail system. Except it states the from OR to email fields must have the owners domain and, at no point, makes mention that the TO field must have.

Stuart responded back to ask them – again- if they could configure our site to use their altnerative SMTL server. They responded by saying that they didn’t write scripts for users.

To say we are dealing with IT illiterate imbeciles would be an understatement.

It was now the 31st March. Between Stuart and I we decided to switch hosts – the hosting was due to finish in August. Unfortunately,  Streamline still had something in store for us when we requested for the hosting not to auto-renew (there is no option in their provided control panel to stop it).

So we can complete the closure please confirm the following:

-That the package you wish to cancel is: skycopyplus.co.uk

– That you have taken all required backups of your website and hosting space, including emails. Please reply to this ticket to confirm this has been done in order that we can proceed to cancellation for you.

– Also if you are able to provide any feedback on why you moved this away would be appreciated

We will close the account on receipt of your confirmation, so please ensure that you complete any backups before replying to this mail, as we are unable to schedule cancellations for a future date.

Please be aware that closure of a hosting account does not entitle you to a refund of any charges already applied to that particular service, including any additional service charges already incurred

In other words, they would close it there and then, with no option to simply cancel the auto-renew. Even this pushed the patience of Stuart.

I am sorry, but that is totally unacceptable. I have paid for my hosting on this account up until the renewal date of 15/08/2011, and I should be entitled to receive the remainder without having to cancel early or run the risk of automatically being charged for a further 2 years at £119.76 as a result. Which appears to be what you are telling me will happen if I fail to cancel exactly on time?

If I wait until the renewal date to cancel (as you seem to imply I need to), how I am supposed to know on what exact date you will have taken the payment, or indeed how long it might take you to respond to my support request so that I can cancel in a timely fashion beforehand to avoid further charges?

I notice that my card payment details that you hold on file have expired. I trust this is sufficient to ensure that I will not be charged on this card? However should you attempt to submit a payment to my card anyway, I will have no hesitation in contacting my card company and demanding a charge back for my card issuer of any monies so taken.

As you happen to ask – one reason for cancelling is that we have been unable to get a reliable service for sending mail via your SMTP servers and a total lack of any coherent responses from your support department regarding this long standing issue on the last 2 tickets we raised. In fact we were totally going round in circles with you as nobody seemed to be reading the history of the ticket before replying. So we are moving our hosting elsewhere where we can get decent support and they do not have ongoing SMTP mail server issues.

But I shall now add to my list of reasons for cancelling your completely inflexible approach to a polite and entirely reasonable request to opt not to renew one of our accounts.

I don’t think a huge amount now needs to be said. The site has been moved to HostPapa who are also cheap and offer unlimited bandwidth. However, their email appears to work and, so far, their support seems a lot, lot better. In time I’ll publish a review about them. Meantime, they hosting is quite a bargain with many features above those that Streamline offer.

My intention for the site is to install WordPress and a brand new forum – a nice bit of stress testing. Next year we have another site to potentially move to a new host so HostPapa may be a possibility there too.

Whatever happens, they surely can’t be worse than Streamline.

A few more “reviews”…

Update (02/02/2012):

Because of the above policy and the fact that the only card details Streamline were aware of was an expired one, Stuart decided to simply let the hosting expire. Once it had he asked them to close his account. The response was…

Further to your request to close the account I am sorry but I am not able to do this whilst there is a payment outstanding on the account.

If you did not wish to renew the account for a further period you would have needed to contact us to request the closure before the renewal date. As you did not do this you would need to clear the payment.

Please note you can use this package with any domain name that you wish to so if there is another website that you need to host we can help you with adding the domain to this package. I would be happy to cover the initial cost of a new .uk or .com domain name (or one of equivalent value).

Should you still wish to proceed with the closure please let us know once you have cleared the payment and we will contact you regarding this.

Basically, they now believe Stuart owes them money for the hosting since his details expired. It took them a week to respond and Stuart’s response was straightforward…

Sorry, but it has taken you over a WEEK to reply to this ticket.  Given that I informed you that I wished to cancel as soon as I became aware that this account was up for renewal (you hadn’t bothered to send me any reminders prior to this), and we then moved our hosting away from your site from that very date, this really isn’t fair at all.

Also I notice from my past dealings with you that it is impossible to inform you in ADVANCE that I wish to cancel, and that my account will be suspended from the date I inform you without any recompense for the lost hosting time.  So really is a total catch 22, and the most atrocious cancellation policy of any company I think I have ever dealt with.  Most require some days notice (for example 1 month) of cancellation with continued service up until that date, which is fair enough.  But it seems you can not even offer that basic courtesy.

In light of this, and as a sign of good will on my part, I am prepared to offer you pro-rata payment of 1 weeks extra hosting – the exact same time it has taken you to reply to this ticket and a whole 5 days more than we actually effectively used.  Please let me know how I can pay that.  Alternatively good luck with collecting the full £143.71 from my cancelled credit card.

Brilliant!

Update (03/02/2012):

A response from Streamline…

I am sorry I am not able to accept anything other than the full outstanding fee.

If you do not wish to clear this then I am not able to close the package at this time.

[review]Cheap but not cheerful. They don’t seem to be able to grasp the most basic of customer requirements and have all the technical savvy of my 2 year old. Avoid at all costs.[/review]

Quidco Android app preview

Due to updates, over time, that have been made to the site and the age of this article, this post may not display correctly. In particular images may be missing or product reviews display incorrectly.

If this is the case and you'd particularly like me to fix it, then please reach out to me on Twitter.

I’ve spoken about Quidco numerous times in the past and how you can earn easy cashback with their service.

Well, now they’re working on an Android app to go with their iPhone version. As well as providing you with in-store offers (including vouchers that they can give you over the phone) there are also some check-in offers, where you simply get paid for visiting a shop.

A beta version is available to some users and, apart from the fact that it looks a bit too much like an iPhone app, it works really well. There are numerous ways of serchi – a manual search, show on map, a list (and the list can be alphabetic or based on shops nearest). You can also access your Quidco account.

Check out some of the screenshots below for further information.

If you’re interested in trying it yourself visit their Facebook page for more details. If you’re not a member already click here to sign up and earn yourself an extra £1.25!

Is Pogoplug ripping off UK consumers?

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If this is the case and you'd particularly like me to fix it, then please reach out to me on Twitter.

Are we paying more than we should (image courtesy of Sam Savine

I’ve reviewed both Pogoplug hardware and software over the last year and have found both products to be excellent.

However, after recently buying their Pogoplug Pro hardware myself, I am perturbed by their “rip off” pricing for the UK.

Their Pogoplug Pro costs $99.99, with cheapest postage at $12.95. For some reason, when buying from the US they automatically add to your shopping cart (even though you didn’t ask for it) a copy of their premium software ($29) and their “Extended Download Service [1]essentially they will backup the software you download for easy access in future”  at $5.99. Thankfully, both can be removed. Take into account US taxes and that $99.99 is probably more around $110. Convert that to sterling and you get approx. £68.

However, buy for the UK and it’s… £99.99. The cheapest delivery is £10. That’s £109.99 compared to the US equivalent of £68 – a £42 increase. Take UK VAT into account and that decreases the difference to £20.

The Euro Zone doesn’t get off any lighter, however, as the Euro Pogoplug costs, yes you guessed it, €99.99. That converts to about $70.

Pogoplug isn’t the only company to do this kind of thing – Adobe and Apple spring to mind – but it’s still disappointing.

The usual excuse given by businesses is the cost to convert the product to each country. However, there is no software included, the box is a universal design and the included leaflets are multi-lingual. Interestingly still, where a lot of localisation would be required – software – they charge the same. Their premium software is $29 and they simply convert this price to your own currency “on the fly” (and accurately too). So a conversion to UK rates, will get you the software at £18.16 today. So, they don’t charge any more for the software – something for which (particularly in non-English speaking countries) language conversion is going to be costly, but do for hardware which needs no change.

So, I contacted Pogoplug and spoke to Jeff Fochtman, the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Cloud Engines, Inc (who make Pogoplug). His answer was to the point…

We are in business to make some profit and at this point in time it simply costs us more to deliver and support products in the UK and EMEA and to run our business there so we have to charge a bit more

He added 3 points that he believes explains the differences further [2]this is an exact cut and paste quote from Mr Fochtman

  • We have a cost of doing business in the UK and EU that is much higher than our cost of doing business in UK/EMEA
  • Many smaller companies simply do not go through logistics, packaging, certification and manpower that goes into setting up business overseas.  Our ‘profit’ per unit is the similar across all regions because of the cost of doing business at a much smaller volume…we feel we are doing the right thing by adding server support, customer service, operations support in your region but it comes at a higher cost per unit.
  • Indeed the shift in rates affects differential in pricing between geographies using different currencies.  It has shifted balance to be a higher delta from when we set the price, however we cannot be constantly changing price with retail partners having a set MSRP.

He concluded our conversation but pointing out that a number of retailers are selling Pogoplug for as little as £49. However, this is the original bright pink Pogoplug (non “pro” version) which is unavailable to buy from their website.

So his answer is that it’s more costly to sell it outside of the US so they charge more. And we should maybe be thankful that we pay as little as we do as the exchange rates has changed since. Maybe it’s just me that thinks that maybe the way to sell more outside the US, however, is to charge fair prices – I’m sure they’d sell a lot more if the unit cost £80 which would be the true equivalent to the US price.

But he says we’re paying extra because, for instance, we get local servers and support. Interestingly their site only makes mention of their US office , their site isn’t country specific and their is no telephone support – just anonymous email support. Does that require localised support? When I recently ordered my Pogoplug it was sent from Germany, so at least that was within Europe. Now, I’m not saying they don’t provide local support – there’s just no evidence of it from their site and, from what I can tell, no reason for it. You can’t even view their site in any language other than English (until you sign into MyPogoplug to view your shared files).

Indeed, the only time you specify your country is when purchasing hardware from them. How do they offer local support? The ticket system that customers can use to request support makes no mention of the country of origin and my user profile doesn’t specify this either.

Whether they’re using localised servers for Pogoplug I can’t tell.

So, is that a good excuse or are we being ripped off once again?

I didn’t respond back with any further questions to Mr Fochtman but if I do hear anything I’ll update this post.

References   [ + ]

1. essentially they will backup the software you download for easy access in future
2. this is an exact cut and paste quote from Mr Fochtman
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