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Posts posted by PaulOBrien

  1. I dabble in pretty much every bit of tech out there, but there are two bits of tech that really interest me and I’ve never yet got involved with. The first is 3D printing (I still haven’t gone there, but I feel the time is coming) and the second is laser engraving and cutting. I’m not sure what the fascination is with the latter for me (maybe it’s the ‘freaking laser!’ factor), I’m not particularly craft or artistic, but I’ve always just thought the ability to engrave artwork onto stuff is fascinating.

    With this in mind, when I was asked if I wanted to review the Flux beamo, a new Kickstarter project looking to democratise laser engraving and cutting, I just couldn’t say no!

    Flux? Who?

    It’s probably worth starting with a few words on Flux themselves. Of course, when backing a Kickstarter project, the first concern is often ‘am I going to see the product I’m backing’? Thankfully, Flux has a solid pedigree in this regard so for once this is a Kickstarter you can enter with confidence. Taiwan based Flux was founded in 2014 with the goal of making 3D printing accessible to all. $1.6m of Kickstarter funding later saw the release of the critically acclaimed Flux Delta, a modular 3D printer that combined laser engraving and drawing.

    So what is the beamo?

    The beamo laser cutter and engraver packs a powerful 30W CO2 laser into an impressively small footprint that’s barely bigger than 4 sheets of A4 paper. It weighs in at 22Kg and it’ll fit in nicely with the most compact of homes or offices, not least because of its smart industrial design. Utilising the classic Flux approach, the design blends cutting-edge technology (pun intended) with impressive approachability, quality and functionality. While it might look like a well thought out consumer product, Beamo actually includes features only normally found in industrial-grade laser cutters including closed-loop, maintenance free water-cooling, a 1,000 DPI laser that is smaller than the width of a human hair with 0.05mm layer depth, an optional rotary add-on for engraving curved objects and even an optional diode laser and CO2 laser for improved cutting speed and efficiency.

    But what’s it like?

    By far the best way for me to review the beamo is to talk about my experience as a complete engraving / cutting / 3D printing novice. Honestly, it couldn’t have been any more straightforward.

    The machine comes well packed in a huge box with everything you need to get started included. Take the beamo out of the box, plug in the Wi-Fi adaptor if required, affix the extraction hose to the back with a jubilee clip (it’s just like a tumble dryer hose), plug it into the mains and turn it on. It really is as simple as that to set up.

    At this point the huge display on the right of the device (which looks to be Raspberry Pi powered by the way!) springs into life and you’ll quickly arrive at a straightforward touchscreen UI for controlling the machine. From here you can configure Wi-Fi details or view the Ethernet connection details, which will provide you with an IP address you’ll use to connect from your PC.


    On your PC or Mac you’ll need to download the Beam Studio application which connects to the beamo using the IP address displayed on your machine. A standard sample print is included (together with a small piece of wood in the box, a lovely touch!) to let you quickly and easily see the machine in action. It’s rather impressive!

    The sample project loads up and has a beamo logo set to engrave and a circle around it set to cut. When kicking it off for the first time and seeing the engraving in action, it’s incredibly cool and exciting, but when it cuts – wow, that’s when it really gets taken to the next level. This thing is AWESOME!


    After trying the demo project, setting up your own is incredibly easy. The Beam Studio app can import all types of files (including bitmaps, not just vectors), it can convert to monochrome or grayscale and it includes a wide range of presets for different types of materials. After starting the job, the display on the machine itself helps you keep track of progress and there’s a handy ‘abort’ option on the touchscreen display should things go awry. The beamo can engrave and cut cardboard, wood, bamboo, leather and acrylic and engrave fabric, rubber, cement (!), glass, stone, anode metal or stainless steel (with the diode laser). I’ve been a bit of a maniac and shoved all sorts of things in the machine from phone cases to Moleskine diaries to wallets and its handled everything with aplomb. It’s so easy to use and fun, you won’t be able to help yourself. 


    By far my favourite beamo feature is its built in camera. This allows you to take a picture of the bed with your material in place to allow you to perfectly align your image and ensure that things get engraved or cut in the correctly place. The only other action that needs to be completed before kicking off the job is focusing the laser, which is as simple as raising / lowering the laser unit against an acrylic guide (an autofocus mod is available for an additional cost).

    The reviewers guide for beamo suggested keeping a fire extinguisher nearby was a good idea, which makes sense, but on the whole beamo is designed to be as safe as possible. All fumes are vented out the back by a powerful fan and the machine pauses immediately if the lid is opened. 


    Should I buy a beamo?

    The $849 cost of entry for beamo is no small chunk of change, but my word, what a machine you get for your money. You’ll quickly find yourself inundated with requests from friends to engrave things and you’ll find yourself looking at everything in a new way with a ‘does it engrave’ thought in your mind.

    Flux have done an astonishingly good job of making laser tooling available to everyone and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend adding the beamo to your arsenal.

    Head on across to Kickstarter to back the campaign!


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  2. On the 19th September, Huawei will launch the Mate 30 series of devices. In line with the companies 'tick-tock' release policy between the P series and the Mate series, we expect to see a new processor (the just launched Kirin 990) together with a doubling down on other key features - a great camera with a long zoom (rumours say that the sensor size will be significantly increased), lots of RAM (at least 8GB) and ROM (likely 256GB), an excellent OLED screen showcasing the latest 'waterfall' edge technology and as has become something of a Huawei signature, excellent battery life. As is customary, a number of new accessory announcements will also accompany the release, including an update to the Huawei Watch GT. The new phones will run Android 10... but of course, there's a problem. At the time of writing, Huawei remains on the US 'Entity List' with no exceptional licences issued, which means that American companies (including Google) are forbidden from doing business with the company in relation to new products. So what do Huawei do?

    The platform problem

    For all the talk of Android being 'Open Source', the reality is that this is a little bit of a fallacy in the majority of cases. While a bare bones version of Android is made available in the public AOSP ('Android Open Source Project') repository, this is only useful for situations where the core suite of Google software isn't required. For Amazon and their Fire devices or for handsets that will ship in China, this works. The 'missing bits' - Google Play Services, Play Store, Gmail / Photos / Drives etc. - are replaced by custom equivalents such as the Amazon Appstore or Huawei AppGallery. What about for devices that will ship in territories such as Europe where the 'Google bits' are considered essential? For these markets, there is an additional layer on top of AOSP which provides all the Google goodness. Manufacturers work closely with Google to integrate this layer and prior to release, they complete a strict certification process which deems the software build is ready. This happens not only at initial device release, but every time the software is updated. This close collaboration between a manufacturer and Google is absolutely vital and under the terms of the Entity List restrictions, can only be completed for devices that are already in the market to enable security updates and even then only for a limited period. The Mate 30 series is out of luck in this regard.

    So what's Huawei's plan?

    If it looks like Huawei is literally at the mercy of Donald Trump's whim, then that is probably a fair assessment right now. The status of the USA vs China trade war changes almost weekly and is certainly impossible to predict. With this in mind, I'm certain Huawei themselves don't actually know exactly what the situation will be when the launch event kicks off on the 19th. Press pre-briefs have been conspicuous by their absence and I am certain there are multiple contingency plans in place. So let's look at the possibilities.

    Option 1. Ship with Google software as normal

    If this is going to happen on Huawei's normal schedule (devices shipping pretty soon after announcement), then something needs to change fast. This could happen in a number of ways - Huawei could be removed from the entity list entirely (unlikely), Huawei's non-infrastructure parts could be removed from the entity list (possible) or the pending licences could be issued for Google and other companies to work with parts of Huawei (most likely). It's widely acknowledged that many US companies are lobbying the government to issue the licences because of the considerable financial impacts on US companies, but government policy is so scattergun that there's simply no way of knowing if this is going to happen. The issue would be easier to manage were the Huawei handset business to be split off from the infrastructure piece completely, which feels like a possibility in due course.

    Option 2. Announce with Google software as normal with the device to be released 'at a later date'

    This feels like the most likely option to me right now. The global launch event can go ahead as planned, the device can be released on schedule in China (no Google involvement required) and then 'once things are sorted out' then the global release can follow. 

    But what if things don't get sorted out any time soon? What are the options? As long as Huawei needs to deal with Google as a US company, then their options are limited. But what if control of Android is no longer controlled by Google only? It's feasible that Google could transfer control of Android certification and licencing to a completely independent, non-US company that wouldn't be subject to the strict sanctions currently in place. Far fetched though this may seem, there have been discussions of this nature.

    Option 3. Globally release the Mate 30 series running Android but without Google services

    This option is also known as 'commercial suicide'. Consumers expect devices to have Google applications. Even if Google apps aren't pre-installed, there's no way that Huawei can provide a legitimate post-purchase option to get the apps onto devices, as the same restrictions that stop certification would stop Google (for example) putting their apps into the Huawei Appgallery. The same applies for every other US based app developer. The Huawei brand is already being damaged by the saga, but this approach would create a situation that I'm not sure even Huawei could come back from. I don't think this will happen. In a similar way to option 2, Google could find a way to allow the Play Store only to be licenced by a non-US company. One final option here would be for Huawei to work with a non-US, non Huawei owned app store provider, that Google also work with. For example, if a European company launched a new app store and allowed Huawei to pre-install it, and Google put their apps in it, that would be an option. 

    Option 4. Globally release the Mate 30 running Harmony (Hongmeng) OS

    Is Huawei ready to ditch Android altogether? I don't think so, although I think that they genuinely will be in the future. The biggest issue is the 'app-gap' - I am certain that Huawei could do a good job on the base OS and create compelling hardware and device pricing, but people need to go and get the apps they are used to when they buy a device (just ask Windows Phone!). This approach was already on Huawei's radar, but the latest problems have hugely accelerated development and massively increased investment.

    Final thoughts

    The 19th September is going to be fascinating and the Huawei PR teams are certainly going to have their work cut out. The sad thing in all of this is that US policy is likely going to stop those of us outside of the US from enjoying the latest devices from an Android market leader. It's clear to see in the phone market today that Huawei's presence and innovation has driven the market forward to the benefit of everyone.

    I want that to continue and you should too. Let's hope things get sorted out soon.


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  3. Honor, the 'digital natives' Huawei spin off, have announced the first handset in their Honor 20 range, the Honor 20 Lite. The £249.99 handset arrives on May 15th, before the launch event even for its more expensive, fully featured siblings, and will be available from a wide range of retailers (but not subsidised on any networks). With its triple cameras, gorgeous colour scheme and tiny notch it ticks a lot of boxes, but what's it really like? 

    Pretty impressive at first look is the answer.

    Phantom Blue & Phantom Blue.jpg

    The 'Phantom Blue' blue to purple shifting colour scheme is stunning, although if you want something more subtle a 'Midnight Black' version will be offered exclusively by Carphone Warehouse for the first 6 months after release. Held next to the flagship Huawei P30 range, a lot of design cues are shared - the positioning of the camera, the curved (plastic with 8 layers of coating) back, that small notch in the 6.21" FHD+ 19.5:9 screen and of course the EMUI 9 software. Honor or Huawei, you get a very consistent software experience nowadays.

    Midnight Black.jpg

    Of course, at the price point there are some compromises to be hand. The Kirin 710 mid-range processor is very capable and is paired with 4GB RAM and a very generous 128GB of storage as well as offering microSD expansion. A rear fingerprint scanner is included rather than the hot new under screen version but to be honest, it's incredibly fast and works well, as does the face unlock feature, so we're pretty happy with that. What is disappointing is the continuing presence of microUSB (although you do get a 3.5mm jack as compensation and Honor tell us a large part of the market simply doesn't want USB C yet) and we were also dismayed to discover a lack of 5GHz WiFi. The 3400mAh battery should provide excellent stamina when paired with the EMUI / Pie software combo.


    The triple camera array compromises a 24 Megapixel F1.8 autofocus main camera, a 8 Megapixel F2.4 120 degree wide angle fixed focus camera and a 2 Megapixel camera for hardware enhanced bokeh effects. The software includes the signature AI experience which can now recognise 500+ scenarios in 22+ categories. A 6 second non-tripod super night mode is included, as the company look to cement their position as masters of low light photography. Honor know that selfies are important to their audience and have included a 32 Megapixel front facing camera on the Honor 20 Lite. 

    We'll be updating on Twitter as we spend more time with the device, but in the meantime if you have any questions about the device, feel free to hit us up in the comments.

    bluefronttrimmed.png   blackbacktrimmed.png

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  4. If the leaks and rumours are to be believed (which they are), Google are on the verge of launching 2 new Pixels, the 3a and 3a XL. Based on everything we've seen so far, these are cut down Pixel 3 homages with lower prices, lower spec processors and the same excellent camera we've come to expect from the latest Pixels. I'm all for democratising awesome photography, but I'm not convinced Google have it figured out here.

    Based on what we've managed to glean from the various leaks to date, the phones will come in at $479 for the XL model and $499 for the regular, both in 64GB flavours, with a 128GB storage upgrade available at additional cost. So let's look at those prices. Right now in the US the full fat 3 XL is $699 and the 3 is $599. Let's extrapolate that to UK pricing. Right now, a 3 XL in the UK is £719 and the 3 is £589.


    Based on that we can reasonably expect the UK prices for the 3A devices to be £469 and £389 (assuming they are available here).

    Those are not cheap phones by any stretch of the imagination. OK, so maybe this is the new 'high to mid tier', but I don't think this makes a lot of sense. There's also the little issue of street price. A 3 XL from John Lewis, an extremely reputable retailer, is £619, a full £100 saving over the Google Store. If you're willing to go grey import via eGlobalCentral or similar or even buy a Grade A / Refurb unit you can save even more. Is the full fat 3 XL going to be worth the £150 max delta over the 3A XL? Probably.

    So let's look at what do you miss out on at the lower price. The phones will likely be plastic, have smaller batteries and yes, they'll still have the 4GB RAM that seems to cause the 'proper Pixels' to be so terrible at memory management. They will of course get 3 years of OS updates and pure Android, but is that really enough?

    The other issue I have with the Pixels is that they just feel decidedly old-hat compared to flagships and even mid-rangers from other companies. Those bezels. The uber-notch of the 3 XL. Where's the innovation? Arguably the cameras are only so good because of Google's computation photography chops. In a nutshell, I think they should be doing better.

    Thoughts? 🙂

    Pics courtesy of evleaks


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  5. Regular readers will know that I love a good bargain and love a good freebie even more! Your phone is a great tool for getting free or discounted stuff when you're out and about, so here's some of our favourite apps and how you can use them to save money!

    If there's any we've missed but you use, let us know. 



    Wuntu is the loyalty application for Three customers. It has some great deals such as free Costa Coffees, discount food at Bella Italia and Cafe Rouge, free sweets and much more. Deals typically arrive at 8:30 am on a Wednesday, so you want to be checking the app then as some offers are limited in number. If you're not a Three customer, pick up a 3 PAYG SIM to get started. You can pick them up for 99p in most supermarkets or for free from the Three website. You'll need an unlocked or dual SIM phone to activate of course, but once you've set up the app, you can take the SIM back out. Since you're getting cool free stuff from 3, it might be nice to give a little back by topping up or using as your secondary network.

    O2 Priorityo2.png

    O2's Priority is similar to Wuntu but it was 'the original' app of this type. As with Wuntu deals come and go, but the headline offer from Priority is a free Caffe Nero drink every Tuesday! As an added bonus, you still get a free loyalty stamp in the Nero app and even large size drinks are covered. Nice! The best offers tend to be around 'occasions' (chocolates for mothers day, for example) but it's worth having installed and checking in frequently. As with Wuntu, pick up a cheap SIM or get one free from the O2 website. Note that O2's policy has changed recently, and Priority can only be activated using SIM cards with credit, so it's going to cost you 10 quid to get up and running (that's the minimum top up). It's probably worth it though, you could make that back in less than a month in free coffees alone. Again, you'll need an unlocked or dual SIM phone and you don't need to keep the SIM in it post activation.


    Now for something completely different. Curve is a debit card that aggregates all your other cards. It works like this - sign up to Curve, get your free card in the post, install the app, associate all your other cards and you're ready to go. You can spend out and about with the contactless card and choose which one it maps to instantly in the app. Paid for something on the wrong card? You can use the 'back in time' feature to change it post-payment. The app has a reward card built in where you can earn credit by spending at certain merchants or by referring friends. There are lots of other features such as purchase insights, instant card lock, super cheap currency exchange, fee free cash withdrawal from credit cards and much more. Google Pay support will be coming soon too, which will really make it amazing. I love Curve and use it all the time. You can order your free card via the Curve app and even better, if you use the referral code 'TBXZH' you'll get a free fiver on your reward card. Free money!


    Quidco is one of the two major 'cashback' players in the UK. If you ever buy anything online, you should always check Quidco and its rival TopCashback to see if cashback is available. The way it works is like this - you start at the cashback site, sign in, complete your purchase and then you receive a percentage of your purchase back as 'credit' (this varies per merchant and is listed on the cashback site). This can then be withdrawn when it reaches a certain threshold to your bank account or to gift vouchers for other merchants with a percentage bonus. It works really well and is absolutely a no-brainer, as you're going to earn money on things you'd be buying anyway! Sign up at the Quidco website and you'll earn £5 straight away, refer friends and family and you can earn free credit too.

    Quidco ClickSnapclicksnap.png

    Quidco ClickSnap is a Quidco specific service designed for use in-store. It has its own app, but shares the account with the main Quidco site. ClickSnap works by showing you a list of offers at the main supermarkets. A recent one was 'get a free bar of Galaxy chocolate' for example. In order to redeem, you buy the item at the designated supermarket, snap a picture of the receipt, upload it in the app then the cost is returned to you as credit. This works particularly well as often the credited amount is more than what you actually paid (if, for example, the item was on a special offer), so you can get the goods and end up in profit! Sign up at the Quidco website in the same way as above.


    TopCashBack is a Quidco rival and works in exactly the same way. It has its own Clicksnap like service (although it doesn't have a dedicated app for this) and quite often offers differ between the two services - it's worth being signed up to both. Sign up at the TopCashBack website and try and remember to use it!


    Now for something a little bit different. VoucherCloud is all about saving money, although the app does occasionally have freebies too. Codes are broken down into categories and also displayed on a map so you can spot local deals. Alerting functionality is available, although I've found this to be a bit of a battery drain. Vouchercloud is particularly good for discounts on restaurants, although you need to be careful as many deals don't apply at the weekend. There is also a 'competitions' section.


    Vouchercodes works in exactly the same way as Vouchercloud, but has a slightly different set of deals, so if you're on the hunt for a bargain, it's worth having both installed.


    Caffè Neronero.png

    As well as being included in the O2 Priority offer above, Caffe Nero have their own app. After installation you can get a free coffee straight away by entering the code 'WELCOMETONERO2018' and each time you buy a drink, you'll earn one stamp (10 gets you a free drink). Nero is particularly good as there are frequently offers and promotions for freebies or extra stamps, it seems to be the most generous of the coffee chains (and my favourite).

    Friends of Krispy Kremekrispykreme.png

    Krispy Kreme donuts are the most ridiculously sweet, unhealthy and tasty donuts. Their app is particularly good for freebies too! Aside from offering very frequent discount promotions (e.g. 'buy a dozen original glazed get a dozen free' or this week 'get a free cold drink when you buy one if temperature is above 20 degrees'), after you enter your date of birth, anniversary, partner's and children's birthdays, you'll generally get a free donut on each of those occasions every year. Excellent! There are also occasional other giveaways such as free drinks. Calories ahoy!


    The Greggs app is surprisingly good for freebies. As with most chains it has a loyalty programme built in, but it also has very frequent free promotions - in recent months I've had Lucozade, coffee, crisps, donuts, all via in app notifications that a promotion is available to be redeemed. Healthy. :-) If you live near a Greggs (by the way, apparently there are 29 in Newcastle, how crazy is that?!), then it's worth an install.


    Despite the name, Unidays isn't just for university students, it's for all students. If you can validate your educational status with a school / college / uni email address, you can activate Unidays and receive discounts and promotions both online and in physical stores. The list of merchants is pretty extensive, so it's definitely worth doing,

    Student Beansstudentbeans.png

    Student Beans is very similar to Unidays but has a slightly different list of merchants, so it is worth installing both. Freebies are rare in these apps, but discounts are pretty healthy, particularly in the stores in which young people like to shop, so whether you're installing for yourself or for your kids, the app is worth having to hand,

    Airtime Rewardsairtimerewards.png

    Airtime Rewards is a new concept which works because it's zero effort yet potentially saves a bit of money. Upon signup, the app will confirm which mobile network you are on, whether you are on a contract or PAYG and then link to your debit or credit cards. From then on, when you make purchases at certain retailers, you'll earn a percentage back which is then deducted from your phone bill. Pretty neat! The list of supported merchants is pretty small right now, but it's a bit of a no brainer given how easy it is to set up. Redeem code 'FWMLFWQW' to get 30p credit straight away. Worth nothing is that you can link your Curve to Airtime Rewards for double cashback!


    It's easy to discount Groupon as being useful simply because quite often the offers aren't that great compared to what you can get going direct. In reality however, there are always discount vouchers for Groupon floating around, such that I don't think I've ever paid full price! If I'm out and about with family visiting and I want to take them for a meal or an afternoon tea, Groupon rarely lets me down on the bargain front. Get started on the Groupon website.

    Google Opinion Rewardsgoogleopinion.png

    Google Opinion Rewards is a great way to earn free Google Play credit. After installation. the app will pop up optional surveys about places you've been, demographically relevant merchants etc. and after completing them, you will earn a small amount of play credit. The surveys are very easy, very short and non-intrusive - it's a great way to gradually build credit for your next Play Store purchase.

    Barclays Premier Rewardsbarclayspremier.png

    OK, so this isn't for everyone, but if you happen to bank with Barclays and your household income is eligible for a Barclays Premier Banking account, then consider switching and installing the app. Doing so will net you a host of benefits including a free Patisserie Valerie hot drink every day (!), free entry to English Heritage sites, discounts at a whole host of restaurants and much more.


    I suspect nearly everybody is aware of HotUKDeals, but just in case, the site is an hot, UK based, deal aggregator, as the name suggests! It's dangerous, as there's plenty of scope for picking up 'bargains' that you don't really need, but if you're planning to buy something specific you can use its alerting functionality to let you know if a deal crops up. The app is pretty nice for browsing offers too.

    Google Paygpay.png

    Finally, Google Pay. While Google Pay won't really save you much money or offer you much in the way of freebies, it doesn't occasionally pop up a deal and is a winner when it comes to convenience if you a) have a NFC enabled phone and b) your bank is supported. One way you can earn is by referring friends - you'll both earn £20 credit when they sign up. Follow this link and enter code '' for your own signup bonus. 🙂


    Zeek is a really cool site for buying and selling gift cards. From a bargain hunting perspective it's most of interest for buying cards and the discounts can be considerable. As an added bonus, you can save further on Zeek cards by going via TopCashback! Even better, when you sign up using this link you'll get £5 back from them when you make your first purchase!

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