BBCs iPlayer Beta Feedback

The Good:

  1. I get pretty respectably speedy downloads.
  2. The quality is fine for my purposes.
  3. There is some content on there that I want to watch. (Tribe, HardTalk….)

The Bad:

  1. How many different logins do I need to access this service? It seems to be about 3. What’s wrong with one?
  2. The website for downloading files is badly designed – too small, badly organised, over complicated, doesn’t show the useful information for the shows and worst of all is terribly slow.
    1. It doesn’t need to look like it’s done in flash. A simple web page design would be better for browsing a lot of this stuff. Web pages work well with lists going down the screen that you can scroll, and badly with clicking a page button repeatedly to get to where you want to get to. If it really must be fancy, something more like a google maps approach for a timetable display would be much better.
    2. If all the thumbnails for a program are the same, then they add little value. They can be smaller.
    3. I want to be able to view by time or by show.
    4. Interview/debate programs should have the name of the interviewee, or the topic for debate as their title.
    5. All programs that are part of a series should have their episode number and series number as part of the detailed description.
    6. Given we’ve got DRM, why can’t we download shows in advance, and watch them when the license makes them available? If downloading shows in advance is not allowed, then they shouldn’t be listed in advance.
    7. I want to be able to auto download any episode of a specific show as soon as it’s available.
  3. Lots of popular programs are not available. I know it’s a beta, but it’s a shame.
  4. Lots of programs are listed, but then the download for them doesn’t work. I know it’s a beta, but this is very frustrating if it’s an episode you particularly want to watch.
  5. The video chooser site doesn’t work in firefox. It should, and it should open in the default browser, not always IE.
  6. DRM is not a good idea for many many reasons.
  7. Only working on windows is close to immoral. (glad to see you’re going to work on that)
  8. If the first part of the file is already downloaded, and there’s only a few minutes to download left, it’d be good to be able to start watching it while the rest comes down.
  9. Too many of the programs on it are only available in welsh or with a signer standing on half the screen.
  10. The download application is flaky

Final thoughts:

The iPlayer is a great idea, and I’m glad to see that the BBC is going down this route. Remember though that it’s competing with viewer-provided (legally disapproved of) services that allow bittorrent downloading from RSS. With a service like that, you just tell it the series (including many popular bbc series that aren’t on iPlayer) you want to watch, and as soon as the show airs and someone puts it online, your computer will automatically download it for you, and tell you when it’s available (e.g. Miro and tvrss.net). They do it because people want that functionality, so you should have it too. You’re also competing with services like tivo, and sky+, both of which have pretty nice interfaces. A well designed interface is not an interface that looks like it’s been done in flash, or an interface that uses AJAX for the sake of it, it’s an interface that conveys the appropriate information in a useful way. If you want to leave behind the webpage way of doing things, you should make sure you’re leaving it behind for something better. And please, make the catalogue viewing fast. If I know I want to download the next Doctor Who that I haven’t seen, I shouldn’t have to click through 6 pages to get to it, especially when each page takes an age to load. I’m using the service because I want to watch TV, not watch webpages load.

Garmin nüvi 360T, a short review.

I’m aware that quite a few people were visiting this site to read about the tomtom that I reviewed earlier. I felt a little bad about this, since I couldn’t compare it to other GPSes, and I complained a lot about how I felt it could be so much better.

The time came when I had to return the tomtom to it’s rightful owners and I bought my own GPS. In order to be able to write a comparative review for all those who were reading the tomtom review, I bought a Garmin Nüvi 360T (europe).

I’ll go into a little more detail, but the final analysis is that despite all of its good features, the TomTom Go is simply better at giving directions, and since that’s the most important feature, anyone trying to decide between them should get the TomTom.

There are a lot of things I like about the Nüvi over the TomTom Go.

The size and shape are much better. The GPS is one of those things you don’t want to leave in your car, so to have one that you can slip easily and comfortably into your pocket is more of a benefit than you might think. The TomTom is fat and weird shaped and doesn’t fit into a pocket without stretching it. The Nüvi fits snugly and comfortably. I also think it’s shape and weight is a lot more aesthetically pleasing, although you do lose some of the screen size, which is a shame. The windscreen clip is a lot sturdier and better made as well. The TomTom used to fall off occasionally and rattle about on top of the dashboard. Not so the Nüvi. It slots nicely into place and stays there.

The Nüvi has a speech synthesis engine, so it can (attempt) to say anything. It makes good use of that by including the street names as part of the spoken directions. This doesn’t help with finding your way all that much, but it makes you feel more a master of your destiny – as if you are a partner in finding your way, not merely a slave to the machine, which I did feel a bit with the TomTom. It can also read SMSes sent to your phone when it’s paired with the GPS, which is a cool feature, although it’s still early days, and I’ve not tried that yet. Speaking of which, I have another feature for the GPS system of my dreams – if someone texts a postcode or an address to your phone when it’s paired with a GPS, the GPS should automatically give you the option to add it, or route to it. The down side of the speech synthesis engine is that it all sounds a little computery, and much less natural than the TomTom, this will bother some people more than others. The speakers are also a bit quieter than the TomTom. This is fine in a quiet car, but if you have a car that gets noisy at high speeds and you’re listening to the radio, it could be a problem. However, the Nüvi has a work around for this that is much better than the TomTom – it has a normal headphone socket on the outside of the device, so you can plug it into the line in on your car stereo and get the voice directions through your car speaker system.

Rather than giving you the opportunity to control your iPod like the TomTom, the Nüvi has a pretty decent MP3 player built in, and enough space for a fair few tracks with the opportunity to add more space with the unused SD slot too. When plugged into your computer it shows up as a two standard USB external drives. The MP3 player works while navigating, and it pauses while voice prompts are being given to you. This all works really well. It also has audible.com integration, but sadly the UK version of that is not a particularly good deal price wise, so I haven’t tried it. Because of it’s slim profile and headphone socket, you can actually use this GPS as an MP3 player even when you aren’t in the car.

The out of the car experience is quite good. The GPS aerial flips up when you want to navigate, but when you don’t want to navigate, you can still use all the functions. I found the TomTom quite annoying to use when there was no GPS signal. The Nüvi allows you to specify where you are now, and can route plan to a destination of your choice with no signal. Once you’ve route planned, if you have the GPS aerial down, it gives you the option to simulate the journey. This is a really cool feature, although it would be better if you could speed up/slow down/fast forward/rewind the playback. One mistake is that it doesn’t mark the destination on the map unless it has a planned route to get there.

The Nüvi 360T also comes with an FM antenna, and it receives traffic updates broadcast over FM. When it has traffic information near you, you can tap an icon that appears on the screen to get more information, or to reroute to avoid trouble. I’m really pleased with this, and it really works, although I haven’t yet used it enough for it to save me lots of time by rerouting me.

I find the map display clearer than the TomTom, but it’s quite strange and cartoony, so that will be a matter of taste, rather than a general observation. There is a lot less information presented on the Nüvi screen, which is a shame. I liked knowing the current time, my current speed, time left, etc. The Nüvi just shows expected arrival time and distance to next turn. There is a trip statistics screen on the Nüvi, which is nice, and has some other stats that the TomTom doesn’t, but you don’t want to be tapping the screen while you’re driving. Neither the TomTom nor the Nüvi zoom out as much as I’d like when you have a long distance before the next turn, but the Nüvi zooms out much much less than the TomTom. The Nüvi is also a lot less configurable in its display than the TomTom (although it’s nice that you can specify an image for your own vehicle). The Nüvi allows you to say what kind of vehicle you’re driving, and it will use that to estimate different speeds on different roads. I like that, but I’m only impressed by it if it will give you different routes based on your vehicle width and height. I have no idea if it does or not, since I haven’t tested it yet.

The Nüvi seems less configurable, but it does have some quite remarkable extra pieces of software, which it calls the “Travel Kit”. You can have Phrasebooks in a variety of languages and bilingual dictionaries from Oxford University Press. The phrasebooks and dictionaries can also speak their translations using the built in speech synthesis. The Travel Guide gives you interesting information about tourist spots, including prices, phone numbers and websites, as well as being integrated with the direction system. The Picture Viewer lets you carry around your JPEGS and photos, which given it’s pocketable form factor, can be good for showing to people. You also have a World Clock, a Currency Converter, a Measurement Converter and a standard calculator. The Phrasebooks, dictionaries and travel guides are incomplete examples as shipped, you have to upgrade them if you want the full information.

The bootup time for both is slow, but I have the impression that the Points of Interests are more accurately located. I’m not totally sure of this, since I haven’t navigated to many of them yet, but so far, they’ve been better than the TomTom ones, which were frequently a block or more out.

Compared to the TomTom however, there are a few unforgivable shortcomings in the Nüvi. It’s road detail seems lower, so it often gives you less useful information by voice. It doesn’t really understand the concept of miniroundabouts, let alone double mini roundabouts. You couldn’t completely trust the voice with the TomTom either, but at least with the TomTom, you’d be able to work out what was going on by looking at the screen, and although this is usually the case with the Nüvi, it isn’t always. It says too much that is redundant, (like “please follow the highlighted route”, “recalculating”, or “enter roundabout”) and not enough that is useful, (like “exit roundabout”, “take the second right”). With the TomTom, if you stopped for petrol, it would often know the layout of the car park at the petrol station, which is not necessary, but reassuring. The Nüvi generally doesn’t.

The software that comes with the TomTom is slick and easy to use. No software comes with the Nüvi in the box. On the one hand, this is because it appears as a USB drive on your machine, which is nice, but it doesn’t inspire confidence. You can download an updating package, which will keep it up to date easily. Apparently you can also use MapSource, which from the screenshots looks quite good, but bizarrely, downloading this isn’t enough. You can’t run it at all in fact, until you get sent a Map Update DVD which apparently might happen once a year or so assuming you register your device.

What it comes down to is that, although I like much about the Nüvi, you buy a GPS for helping you navigate, and the TomTom Go is simply better at that job.

TomTom Go 710 – a review

Update: for a comparison with the Garmin Nuvi, check this review

I’ve been using the TomTom Go for about 3 months now. On the whole, I’m happy with it, it’s very useful with a minimum of fuss. However, considering this is regarded as being a good example of the breed, I’m a bit disappointed with some very obvious shortcomings.

First the gratuitous: It beeps with the loudest and most disturbing beep everytime I go near a speed camera. You can turn the function off completely, by removing the speed camera database from the device. Given that it also knows my speed (to the extent that it warns me if I ever exceed the limit), isn’t it a bit stupid that it feels the need to alert me to the fact that there is a speed camera set to go off at 40 mph as if it were a world ending catastrophy, even when it’s perfectly aware that I’m crawling along in a queue of traffic at 10mph. A much better solution would be to only alert me to the presence of a speed camera if I’m near or over the speed limit.

It’s nice that you can set that the distances be measured in yards/miles or metres/kilometers, however, I’m from that unhappy few generations in the UK that are happiest with meters for short distances and miles for long distances. Why can’t I set that? Better yet, why can’t I set the short distances in meters and say that the long distances should be in whatever the road signs are in, km in europe and miles in the UK/USA.

When it comes to trip management, I’ve seen bike computers that are more advanced. I’d like to be able to plan multiple journeys over multiple days. Relying on the “recent destinations” is ok, but it’s not good enough for a grown up system. And why the restriction to only one ‘avoid’ or ‘via’ per trip? That’s silly and can really get in the way. Sometimes it’ll tell you that it’s impossible to plan a route with the avoid or via, that it’s clearly not – it’ll do it as two separate journeys happily enough. It’s good that it gives you the options to avoid toll roads, but I’d like to know what the trade off is – I’d like it to tell me the time difference between using all roads, or only non toll ones – what I’d pay in toll, and what I’d pay otherwise in miles and fuel. Speaking of which, although there doesn’t seem to be a bluetooth standard profile for ‘car’ that would let it get at the mileage and fuel usage, there’s no reason why it couldn’t allow me to enter the fuel amounts and cost when I fill up so it could record and manage that as well.

It’d be nice to have a bunch of stats at the end of the trip. Distance travelled, average speed, rest stops, fuel stops, time, comparisons to other times you’ve made the same journey. Maybe even some graphing and mapping. The time estimates for different parts of the journey could be taken from history rather than simplistic statistics – that would even inform nicely different route options.

The thing has bluetooth for mobile data and handsfree calling (nice touch), but why doesn’t it let me download the gps locations of my entire last monthsworth of trips, and then let me geotag my photos with it, or show me pretty maps with my driving marked on? With mobile data, it could even mark on recent trips taken by friends, optionally with their photos, when you’re out there driving or walking. That might get a little busy I suppose, but it’s an option for adding interesting social data. Why can’t I use it with my own mapping software and my laptop should I want to? I haven’t really used it’s mobile data functionality, because I’m concerned about the cost of phone network data, but it would have been nice if it had a wifi connection, and could automatically connect over any available wifi to receive updates.

Then we come to accuracy. Generally it’s fine, but you start to notice things that are pretty jarring. There are about 15 miles of the A1 that according to it are in a field, some way to the west. It will sometimes say “keep left” when it means “turn left”, or “keep right” when actually, there’s no keeping involved, and your next action is to turn the opposite way. It’s all very well knowing which bit of the road you’re on and what you need to do next, but it’d be a massive help if it actually knew which lane(s) you needed to be in for your next manoever and warned you about that. It also has a nasty habit of warning you about the next turn just as you have another option to choose. It’s got a map there, it could easily check to make sure that you aren’t just coming up to a turning, and give you the next instruction a few seconds later so it’s not confusing. In fact, it’s better to receive any instruction when there isn’t an immediate road decision to be made. Generally the accuracy of the roads is good (barring one or two mistakes), but you’ll still need to look at the map every now and then rather than blindly trusting the voice and it’s disembodied instructions.

The map by the way does tend to be clear and well presented, and less likely to confuse than the voice. It’d be nice to have an overview map or something that gave a greater appreciation for what was coming up, but considering the screen size, that probably wouldn’t work. It has 2d and 3d views, although I generally find the top down 2d view the most useful. The touch screen interface is really nice to use.

When it comes to things other than the roads and houses on them, it’s accuracy is much much worse. They’re called Points Of Interest on the tomtom, and although it’s massively useful to have them, you should count on driving around the rough area of the symbol to find them. It took me straight to the nearest hospital in a strange place when I needed it, which was nice, but a few days ago, I was trying to get to the nearest post office depot. It took me down a tiny deadend of a side road with no turning space before proudly announcing “you have reached your destination”. Looking around, sure enough, I saw the Post Office depot, very close, just on the other side of a railway line. It took me half an hour to get to it from there, with no help from the the tomtom which was convinced that I had reached my destination and should probably turn around when possible to get back to it. I’ve had similar problems with petrol stations which are often on the opposite side of the road and a block or two away from where they’re supposed to be. Directing us to the nearest cinema we nearly ended up in the river, although it did have the rough area right, another 5 minutes of driving around nailed it. Although once you discover this problem, you can set a favourite to a specific location, it’d be nice to be able to correct the POIs on the device (assuming it is impossible to get them all right the first time). The way that if you go off what it thinks of as the road, it just draws a straight line to the nearest road, is ok most of the time, but it would be nicer if it remembered how you got there, and so took you back by the same route (and would it be too much to ask for it to update its internal map too?), instead of giving you nonsense instructions.

That same journey showed up another problem. It tried to join me onto a main road from a side road that had traffic lights set on timings to let only 2 cars through each time. The fact that I was in a huge queue meant I sat on that stretch of road for 20 minutes. It should know the timings on the traffic lights, and if it’s finding that I’m crawling, I’d like it to offer other alternatives. In fact, there are a number of decisions I can get better information for than it. If I can see that the traffic is terrible ahead, I might like to know alternative possibilities as I’m driving towards them so I can adjust the plan – perhaps alternative routes could be marked, with some indicator to show how much worse they are than the primary route.

My conclusion is that I’m really pleased to have a GPS in my car when I’m travelling, but it still feels like it’s early days. There are so many obvious improvements to the software, and data accuracy needed that it’s hard to imagine that 2006 was supposedly the year of the GPS, it’s still very immature, completely unable to learn from or store history, it’s a device that does it’s job the way it thinks it should, and although that’ll work well most of the time, it’ll be very frustrating the rest.