Monday, 17 November 2014

Tech purchases on the horizon

Next year, or certainly in 2016, I will have to think seriously about buying newer technology. The PC (bought in 2007, and running Windows Vista), the laptop (bought in 2006, and running Windows XP) and the camera (bought in 2009) are all out of date and - certainly in the case of the camera - are showing clear signs of wear and tear.

Bear in mind that I am a heavy user of electronic equipment. Not a sophisticated user - I couldn't claim that - but my PC, tablet, phone and camera all get used every day, and the phone and tablet many times during the average day. I can justify the expense of replacement because whatever I buy will get used an awful lot.

And not just to play around with. These are the gadgets that help me organise my daily life, and let me pursue my love of taking photographs and enjoying the results, including publishing some of them on Flickr. They are my window on the world - much more so than those last-century appliances, the TV and radio. In fact getting a newer TV is not a high priority at all. If I want the BBC news and weather, the phone provides - on demand. If I want to watch a particular BBC TV programme, or listen to a particular BBC radio programme, then it's generally much more convenient to watch or listen on iPlayer, using the tablet or the phone, post-broadcast, and exactly when it suits me. And that could be at any time of the day. I have no 'couch potato' evening routine.

The phone is also a heavily-used music player. I always say that I have no musical ability or taste, but I do like to listen at random to my favourite 1,500 tracks. Daily, in fact - when in the bathroom, or when doing the washing-up or ironing. So actually I clock up a significant number of hours' listening every week.

But the camera is the key gadget, the one that records my travelling, and my social life. And after nearly 55,000 shots the little Leica is feeling a bit tired. My Shetland holiday in 2017 is still on. I'll definitely need a new camera by then, both to do full justice to the landscape and whatever I experience, and to be quite sure that I don't find myself with a dead camera at some critical moment.

So, this is what I have in mind, spread over a year or two from late 2015, in the order of purchase.

1. A new laptop
This must be fast and powerful. It's primarily for photo-processing, photo-viewing, catch-up TV and blogging. I need a wide HD screen, a great keyboard, and at least 2TB of storage space for all my photos. When I'm seated in the throne-like reclining chair in my lounge, measurement tells me that the new laptop could be up to 17 inches wide, to get it between the chair arms. So it could be quite a big machine. I'd avoid excessive weight however. I'd use it mainly at home, on my lap, or (if watching TV) on a small table in front of me, with earphones. I'd also use it on holiday in the caravan, on a tabletop or shelf. I wouldn't be carrying it around in public.

The target price is going to be at least £1,000, I'd say, and possibly as much as £1,500. A major investment. But it would replace both the PC and the tablet. A fixed-position PC is an outmoded and inconvenient piece of equipment. A tablet is tiring to hold, and doesn't have the photo-processing capabilities that a laptop would have; nor is it as handy or useful as a smartphone. I won't be buying another.

2. A new camera
Size and weight are the key limitations here. I always carry a proper camera with me all the time, in my bag. My ageing Leica D-Lux 4 is perfect for the kind of pictures I take. A straight upgrade to the latest version of this camera might be the answer. Or I could consider one of several worthy alternatives. I want a fast lens, a large sensor, and the latest electronics. I'm content with a limited zoom range. I don't want to carry (nor fiddle around with) a collection of prime lenses of various focal lengths. As a glasses-wearer, I don't like viewfinders.

The target price is at least £500. Not much when you shoot 10,000 every year.

3. A new phone
The Vodafone contract on my Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone doesn't expire until August 2016. 2016 would be the right time to get an upgrade to the S7 (or whatever else looks good). The only question is whether to painlessly pay the same each month (or just a little more) on a new contract - effectively getting a new phone for little or no extra expense - or buy what I want outright, but trim my running costs with a SIM-only contract.

If buying, it will cost me £500 at least. Having got used to the monthly payment way of doing things, I might well stay with this, and not dip into my savings. Not for a phone. A laptop and camera can have a useful life of at least five years, possibly more. A modern top-end mobile phone quickly gets obsolete, and needs to be replaced much sooner, so that a two-year cycle of fresh monthly contracts makes sense.

4. A large paper road atlas
Isn't it strange? These are still convenient and practical!

Nowadays, I use the tablet only for catch-up TV, and as an electronic road atlas. If the new laptop takes over the TV side, what is left for the tablet, except mapping? And yet, there are drawbacks, even with this. The screen is not all that big (so you can't see a large swathe of country, and plan really long journeys), and it's hard to read the screen in bright sunshine. Either you keep it on all the time (draining the battery) or you must keep switching it on and off (wearing out the on/off switch). But a paper road atlas has none of these snags. And it's awfully cheap.

Target price is £10. In fact last August I bought my 2015 edition of the attractive and very clear Philip's Motorist's Road Atlas of Britain for only £9.99. I usually buy a new edition every two years.

Let me see, then. Real money need be spent only on a laptop and a camera - a maximum of £2,000 by 2017, possibly less. I think I can afford that.


  1. You and I are in the same age bracket, and it is so interesting to see how we seem to separate ourselves into camps. At one extreme there are the luddites who are tied to their old television and will have nothing to do with "these new gadgets" and then some who dabble, and then those of us who are devoted to making the best use of what digital miniaturisation can bring us.
    I had a friend who declared about ten years ago that nothing would ever take the place of a good film camera! Needless to say, he hasn't used film for a few years now. He still refuses to order anything online however...

    When we came to Britain six years ago we couldn't get a gps in time, so came prepared for driving about with a big book of ordinance maps. I loved it, and yes, that would be my choice again, simply because of the size. Someday the digital version will catch up, no doubt!

  2. I love the convenience of my sat nav to get me to and from odd places but there is nothing quite like a large area map to actually know where you are heading and what the options might be.

    A bit like electronic dictionaries only tell you the word you were looking for and do not have you turning pages for hours like I did as a child...

    My thoughts on options when my electronics fail are conflicted. I do not want to carry a tiny but expensive computer in my pocket which needs strong reading glass to use and I fear that my preferred desktop shall be too expensive and sophisticated for my simple needs. Daily reports of uncountable security holes in our devices does little to give confidence. I enjoyed several weeks away without being online...

    I remember finding a text message which you sent me eight months after it was launched, how I dreamed of Startrek tech when young but now that it is here it is perhaps too late for me...

  3. It's never too late to join the connected world of mobile gadgetry, and really everyone will have to sooner or later, but it's easy to waste money. One needs to identify exactly what will suit one's own approach to life, and buy no more than that. It sounds as if a simple £400 laptop will meet most of your own computing needs (cheap desktop PCs are now a dying breed), complimented by a straightforward mobile phone on a low-cost monthly contract. In both cases, anti-malware protection should be installed as a priority - and it can be free.

    I do see the point of view of people (I don't mean you!) who led full and beautiful lives in the pre-electronic years before the world changed, and why they now scoff at computers and mobile phones. Sometimes I think it's a sign of fear, that they won't be able to cope if they hop onto the electronic bus; sometimes I think it's inertia, an unwillingness to change entrenched lifelong habits: and sometimes I think it's a perceptive insight: humans CAN live without gadgets, and did so for hundreds and thousands of years, so what's different nowadays? On the last point, one must adapt to the new habits of millions of ordinary people. It's as if lots of people are speaking a new language - one must learn it too, to stay part of an evolving society. Certainly a person who relies on a landline at home, and the daily letter post, so that they can't get texts, emails and comprehensive news and information from the Internet, is rather cut off from what's happening.

    There, I've unwittingly described the perfect recipe for a modern-day recluse who simply wants peace and quiet!


  4. If you have an old computer that is getting slower and slower, it may be possible to put new life into it by changing the operating system to one of the very lightweight versions of Linux, like Puppy Linux. This would not give it the high performance that you want in a new laptop, but it might keep it going as a standby, or as one to carry around because you might not want to take the expensive new one out and about. I did this with a 2002 laptop that had 256MB of RAM and XP, and now it is useful again. (Obviously copy everything on it to somewhere else first, because installing a new operating system tends to wipe everything off the hard disk.)


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