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Thors Magnetic Charging Cable

Thors magnetic charging cable USBThors’ NZ$15 magnetic charging cable can save your precious devices from a early grave.

A magnetic charging cable has two main advantages over an everyday cable.

First, it protects your hardware from being flung across the room if you trip or otherwise yank the cord.

Second, magnets snap connections together fast. Connections are instant, you can do it in the dark. There is no shuffling around making sure things fit. It makes life a lot easy if, say, you have ports hidden on the back of a device in places that you don’t normally see.

Likewise, you can unplug a cable straight away without stressing the connection. This means the cable and, in some cases the ports, last longer.

Have a safe trip

Everyday cables rely on a snug fit between a plug and socket. Give the cable a good tug and you’ll pull the device. Tripping over the cable can break your device, smash the screen and cause other chaos.

I tested two Thors magnetic cables. The USB-C one has two parts. One part is a USB plug. It sticks in the device leaving a small magnetic surface that sticks out about 3mm.

This marries up with a similar magnetic surface that’s mounted on a pivot to give it flexibility. There’s a small blue LED to show when it is connected to a power supply at the other end. In the case of this cable the other end is a USB-3 plug that connects to the power supply brick.

The magnets holding the connection pull apart without needing much force. When the two get close, the connection snaps into place. If you trip on the cable, the inertia of the device means it will not move much, instead the magnets come apart.

Remember Apple MagSafe?

Anyone who owned an older Apple laptop will remember the companies MagSafe connectors. These were standard fare on MacBooks until around five years ago.

It was a bad day when Apple stopped using MagSafe. The technology saved many Apple users from accidentally wrecking MacBooks.

There is something similar on Microsoft Surface devices. Other computer brands can have variations on the theme. Or they did until the industry decided to standardise on USB-C.

Thors has a variety of options. There are one metre and two metre cables, charge cables and data-charge cables. You can buy extra plugs. You’ll find them in computer stores or can buy direct from the Thors website.

Spark dropping wireless data caps is not what it seems

Spark says fixed wireless broadband customers in parts of the country will no longer have to contend with data caps. The change applies to customers on the UnPlan Metro plan. There will be no extra cost.

It’s a clever move on Spark’s part. And it’s one that plays on popular misconceptions about data usage. To understand why, you need extra context.

Previously Spark fixed wireless broadband customers on the UnPlan Metro plan were restricted to 600GB of data a month.

This sounds paltry when the majority of fibre broadband customers have unlimited downloads. It also leaves customers feeling uneasy that they may bust their caps and get caught with extra charges or have their connections slowed down.

Will anyone notice when data caps go?

In practice, few if any Spark customers will notice any changes.

That’s because 600GB is more than any normal fixed wireless broadband customer can get through in a month.

Let’s look at the numbers in the recent Chorus annual report. The wholesale fibre company reports that an average household on its network chewed through 313GB of data in a month in June 2020. That’s a lot more than the 265GB households were using a year earlier.

Fibre customers on the Chorus network averaged 387GB of data in June.

Both these numbers are a long way behind the soon to be abandoned 600GB data cap on Sparks fixed wireless broadband network.

You could argue that averages don’t mean much. That there are households who get through far more than the average.

This is true. But the number of fibre customers who go past 600Gb in a month will be a small minority.

A faster pipe

Another thing to consider is that fibre is much faster than fixed wireless broadband. Those high-usage fibre customers, the ones who skirt or go past 600GB a month will have plans that are faster than 100Mbps. Many will be on gigabit plans.

Few fixed wireless broadband customers will get more than 50Mbps. Many will get less.

Which means fibre is between two and 20 times the speed. Or, in other words, you can download much more data in an hour. Faster broadband means more data goes down the pipe every hour that you are online.

Given this, it’s unlikely many of Spark’s fixed wireless broadband customers get close to 600GB in a month. In turn, this means going from 600GB to uncapped doesn’t change much for the overwhelming majority of fixed wireless customers.

Which is not to say the switch from capped to uncapped is not welcome. It will remove the nagging fear that a household might go over the cap and face repercussions. That’s a positive.

Controlling digital subscription spending

We spend a lot on digital subscriptions. More than people think.

You can buy streamed television entertainment, sports coverage and music. When these options bore you, there are services that deliver computer games over the net.

Newspapers and magazine publishers now sell digital subscriptions.

Then there are online storage services. These includes those that specialise in looking after your photographs.

You can pay monthly for small business accounting, for security or productivity applications. Xero, Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop are popular examples.

Little and often

Subscriptions tend to be monthly or annual. Although there are those who charge for three or six months at a time.

Each monthly payment might be small in itself. But they soon add up to a hefty recurring commitment.

Estimates of how much people spend depend on what you include. Should you, say, include your mobile phone and broadband bills when you tot up your total spend?

Few people can tell you how much they spend on subscriptions. A US consulting firm asked Americans to guess their monthly spend: They underestimated by a huge margin. The average spend was three times people’s first guess.

It would not be that different if you asked New Zealanders.

When ignorance is not bliss

Not knowing your spend should be a wake up call. It would make a budgeting expert flinch. When you’ve no idea how much money is dribbling away, it’s hard to make rational spending decisions.

The amount people spend on subscriptions climbs each year. In part that’s because there’s more to buy. A year ago Netflix, Neon, Lightbox and Amazon Prime were the main New Zealand streaming video options. This year Disney joined the party. And there is a revamped Apple TV along with a fleet of niche alternatives.

Another reason spending climbs is we connect more and more devices to the Internet. One way or another these devices need feeding.

Weird subscription economics

There’s a lot of weird economics in digital services. On one level it all makes sense. On another it might not.

The price of individual digital services is usually low. When software companies switched to selling online subscriptions, it looked like a bargain.

Lower headline prices seduced customers. Take Microsoft Office. The annual NZ$120 subscription looks a bargain compared with five times as much for a packaged version. Knowing that you’d always be up-to-date and compatible with others helps ease fears about long-term costs.

Software purchased the traditional way can go on working for years. There are people with ten-year-old versions of Word. If you keep software that long, subscriptions are expensive compared with buying outright.

Software updates

After all, it’s not as if, say, Microsoft Word has changed much in ten years. This goes for a lot of subscription software.

Xero is newer than Word. There is no pre-subscription era to look back at.

In the early years, Xero developed fast. It grew up with its customers.

As far as what ordinary customers see, the product is now stable. There may be updates, but its core functionality for small business owners has not budged in a while.

Sometimes the upgrades to subscription software are the digital equivalent of a lick of paint and a rub down. Things look new and fresh, but nothing important has changed.

Renting music

Music subscriptions obey a different set of economic rules. Many fans have hundreds, even thousands of dollars invested in vinyl, CDs and digital downloads.

My non-streaming digital music collection has more than 40 days of listening material. That’s 40 times 24 hours. I can go the best part of a year without hearing the same track twice.

Paying NZ$20 a month on top of this, when a lot of what is served up is sitting on my computer, doesn’t make sense. In effect, people in this position are paying an algorithm to find new songs. Which is great if you thirst for new songs. Otherwise, it’s an indulgence.

Tracking your subscription spend

As we’ve seen, one worrying aspect of digital subscriptions is that it is hard to keep track of them all.

It is even harder to know if you get value from each of the services in your portfolio.

Take, my Amazon Prime subscription. It is ‘free’ (that’s free as in marketing language, not free as a in free beer) as part of my broadband plan. In the last year we may have watched five or six hours of Prime material. If we paid for the subscription, the cost per show would be prohibitive.

It’s clear this would not be a good service to purchase when the broadband ‘free’ offer expires.

Not knowing is part of the business model

The point earlier about people not knowing how much they spend on subscriptions is more than an anecdote.

Allowing people to forget about subscriptions but carry on paying the small monthly fee is part of the business model. It’s like gyms. They collect a sizeable slice of their revenue from people who rarely show up to use the equipment.

One reason people sign up for a streaming service is to watch an original series or two. Think of those who joined to watch Game of Thrones.

The service providers know that once customers have sucked dry the handful of programmes they signed for, their subscription can tick over for months before they realise they are no longer getting value.

Audit your subscription spending

It’s a good idea to audit your spending on digital services. There’s a chance there will be at least one active subscription that you don’t get value from. There will be annual and monthly payments, perhaps others.

One nasty trap many fall into is the free trial period. Often you are asked for credit card details when you sign on. It may take a few cycles before you realise what happened. This is extra hard when the trial is for an additional service from a provider you already buy something else from as the charge can be buried with something else in your bank statements.

Work through your card or bank statements. You’ll need to look at the last 12 months to capture all annual subscriptions. If you can, pull the data into a spreadsheet and count up the subscription total. Look for double-ups and services that seemed like a good idea at the time, but are no longer used. Cancel the repayments now. You’ll forget later.

Watch for extras. These can be hidden. Streaming services may charge more for 4K content or for not including advertising. You may pay for more cloud storage than you need or for options that don’t get used.

If this all sounds confusing, and it is, remind yourself this is not an accident. Keeping you confused about subscriptions is worth billions to service providers. Vast sums are at stake when millions of customers forget to cancel at the end of popular series.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2 review: Impressive, pricey, useful

Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold2 is good enough to be the breakthrough taking folding phones in the mainstream.

Or at least it would be if not for the NZ$3500 asking price. Few people reading this can afford to pay that much for a phone. And few of those who can pay need the phone.

For almost everyone, it is a Ferrari option. That is: nice to look at, fun to own, hideously expensive and more show off than practical.

Even Samsung admits this is a luxury item. At last week’s product demonstration a company executive used the giveaway term: “status symbol”. That tells you everything you need to know.

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2

Useful

There is a practial argument for buying the Fold2. The bigger screen means you can read more and do more work than on an everyday phone. It’s like an iPad mini that you can stick in your pocket. You can’t argue that this isn’t useful.

Whether it is NZ$3500 of useful is another question entirely.

At a pinch you can use the Fold2 as a laptop replacement. It works with Samsung’s DeX set-up.

Samsung stumbled with its first folding phone. The original Galaxy Fold showed what was possible. Then the stylish Galaxy Z Flip built on that.

We have seen three, more if you count the missteps, iterations of Samsung folding phones. The Galaxy Z Fold2 is the most impressive to date.

Galaxy Z Fold2 updates earlier Fold

The Fold2 brings three obvious advances over original Fold.

First, it feels far more robust in your hands. In particular, the screen can take more punishment. The Galaxy Z Fold2 is not a phone to take on a building site or anywhere the going gets tough, but it will take a lot more rough handling than the earlier Fold.

There is no longer a feeling that you are one small user error away from throwing $3,500 of non-functioning phone in the landfill.

The second advance is related. The hinge design is much improved. There’s a solid, positive feel when you open the phone. More snap when you close it. The original Fold could be open or shut, but positions somewhere between the two were not practical. You can keep the Fold2 part open, if that’s useful.

Advance number three is the much bigger front screen. You can now do many everyday phone things without unfolding the phone.

Bookish

In practice this front screen is like the cover of a small book. It has a 6.2-inch display with 2260 by 816 pixels in a long, thin 25:9 ratio. A thickish bezel runs down the left hand side, it’s part of the hinge. Otherwise the front screen runs edge to edge.

While a closed Fold2 is a lot like an everyday phone, it isn’t exactly like one. It is hard to type on the keyboard because the display is too narrow. I found myself giving up and opening the device if I needed to type more than a handful of characters.

This revealed one of the neatest aspects of the Fold2’s software. It depends on the specific application, not all do this, but often software on the inner screen can take you to the exact point you were on the outer screen before opening the case.

Inside the case is a 7.6-inch screen with 2208 by 1768 pixels. It is much squarer, in a 22.5:18 ratio. There are thin bezels around the edge. In the case of the review model, the edge is a metallic copper colour. Samsung calls this ’mystic bronze’.

When you fold out the phone, the screen can lay flat. You can see the fold, but it doesn’t get in the way at all. At first this looks like a big deal, but soon, you’ll find your brain ignores it.

It’s possible, with the right software to fold the phone to use it like a tiny clamshell laptop.

You need big pockets

Apart from the prestige and status, the big selling point of the Fold2 is that it can fold up and fit in a pocket. You need large pockets in both senses of that term. This fold and carry idea may not even work at all with the pockets on women’s clothing, although jackets should cope.

When folded it is a lot bigger than any other phone. And at 282g it is heavy by phone standards. It is not a comfortable to live with as a standard phone. Let’s put that another way: you’ll never carry one of these and forget that it is there.

Samsung packs five cameras in the Fold2. On the outside is a 10 megapixel ‘selfie’ camera. There’s a similar camera on the inside screen. The back has three 12 megapixel cameras. There’s an ultra-wide angle camera, a wide angle and a telephoto.

You wouldn’t buy a Fold2 for the cameras. They are not as good as the options on other high-end Samsung phones. In practice I found them harder to use, thanks to the physical form of the folding device.

Is it worth it?

You can buy a lot of technology elsewhere for $3500. That is enough for a great phone and a great laptop. There are people who like the idea of owning a head-turning phone. It would be, in effect, like buying jewellery.

When opened, a tablet-format Fold2 is roughly the size of an iPad mini. It’s a useful product to compare. The iPad mini has a large 7.9-inch display and at 2048 by 1536, about 20 percent fewer pixels. It is a touch harder to carry, few pockets can take an iPad Mini. And yet, you can buy five iPad Minis for the cost of a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold2.

There’s a lot to like about the Galaxy Z Fold2. It’s impressive and has that living in the future feel that you no longer get from other phone models. From a strictly impractical personal point of view I love this device, but I can’t justify buying one. Nor can I recommend it to you, but you should try to get a closer look at one.

Open source: Why you should care

To most people open source means free software.

Anyone can download this kind of software without paying a fee. It doesn’t break any laws. You have the original developer’s permission to use it.

You can run the software, copy it and pass it on to friends and colleagues.

Free software is only part of the story. It isn’t the most important thing about open source. Yet free software is liberating.

Open source lets you look at code

What matters more is that you can look at the code used to write the software. This means you can see how the developers made the program.

If you have coding skills you can figure out what the developers did. You may be able to understand the assumptions and decisions they made when they wrote the code.

You can tinker with the code and release your own customised version.

Or perhaps you might spot a flaw or an area where the original developers could have done something better. When that happens you can send what you found to the developers and have them fix it, or you can fix it yourself and send them the improved version.

Improving software

This is how software evolves and improves over time. The same process can work with software that isn’t open, but letting everyone interested take a look speeds things up and often means better results.

When you tinker with, improve or fix open source software, you are expected to make your new version as freely available as the original. That way others can follow your work, improve or fix it.

This is a virtuous circle.

Any piece of code can be open source. There are libraries of code snippets you can use to perform simple tasks or include in your own projects.

There are applications and even operating systems. Some of the best known software is based on open source.

Beyond free

While ‘free’ is an important part of the philosophy, there can be open source paid-for software. That is you can look at the code, but you have to pay to use it. The money is often used to pay for further development.

This approach has many of the same benefits. It means that people and companies can earn a living at the same time.

There are also many commercial and semi-commercial products and services that are build on open source foundations.

The opposite to open source software is often known as proprietary software. You can think of this as closed source. It is where someone, usually a company, owns the intellectual property. In some cases this can include patents.

As a rule you don’t get to see proprietary code and you pay to use the software. Until about 30 years ago all software was proprietary. A lot of enterprise and software used by government still is.

Open source now dominates the software world. Most of the world’s systems run on it. The web is open. Most phones run Android, which is a form of open source.