Money

The One Where I Review A Mobile Phone

I live in a small pocket of space where mobile coverage doesn’t happen. Step outside and you’ve got excellent reception. So unless I’m happy to leave my home EVERY time I need to make a call, I need to rely on wifi and use apps like Skype and Whatsapp.

windows phoneStill, the peeps at Three asked if I’d like to take a Nokia Lumia 530 for a whirl to demonstrate one of their rolling monthly contracts. A rolling contract is a an option that fits between pay-as-you-go and a lengthy contract. It means you pay monthly, but you’re not tied in. The payments continue only for as long as you choose stick with it.

Full disclosure, I’m told I can keep the phone. And while I don’t plan on changing my current phone any time soon, I’ve enjoyed testing a Windows phone for the first time and trying out my first Nokia in a long time.

I used to get nothing but Nokia for years. Every upgrade…make it a Nokia.

And then I went all Blackberry on the place. Don’t laugh. What can I say, I still love the keyboard thing!

So that’s where I’ll start on the Nokia phone…Virtual keyboard. I’ve used on-screen keyboards on tablets, but not on smaller screens before. Thankfully, the Lumia one is pretty good, and the predictions on screen mean I tap even less to get the words out. In other words, writing messages and texting is pretty easy.

Here are some more of my thoughts, in no particular order:

Photo taken while on my travels with the Nokia Lumia 530

  • Camera is impressive. Better than my current phone, even though they have the same megapixels. Low light photos are a bit noisy/grainy, but the phone lets you take pictures nice and quickly, which is great for capturing memories on the fly. If you want an award-winning photo, you’re better off not using a phone anyway. The photos in this post were all taken while using the phone indoors at Warwick Castle, in different levels of light.
  • Phone is responsive. I like the smooth operation and generally how quickly stuff runs. It’s not got the fastest processor, but it runs great so long as you don’t have lots of apps open at once.
  • Battery life is poor. Even with hardly any use, the battery needs recharging a lot. Be prepared.
  • The Cortana voice assistant is fun and effective. Responses to some questions and commands take longer than others, but Cortana genuinely made some tasks easier to deal with via voice than tapping it all out myself. My favourite is “Wake me up in 20 minutes” when I want a powernap. My son’s favourite is asking Cortana how she is (generally very well) and whether she speaks any French (“When in France, oui.”).
  • Not much memory. Unless you plan to simply make calls and send texts, it’s worth getting a memory card in the phone. The phone has an already low 4GB, but around half of that was already used when I started the phone for the first time. Once you download a few basic apps, you’ll run out of space. And if you start taking lots of photos or download music and video too, there’s no chance.
  • Data and wifi features are good. It’s easy to set up warnings when you’re getting close to your mobile tariff’s data limit. I had no problem with wifi connection and speed either.
  • The Windows 8.1 experience. Windows is pretty easy to use and get to grips with on the phone. But I did have a couple of mystery moments that I had to search for help with.
    Like when I didn’t know how to fully close an app or go between apps. Turns out you have to hold down the back button for your open apps to appear in a row, ready to be selected or closed.
  • Call quality is fine. Yes, people still make calls. Even I do. At least, whenever I’m not actually at home…sigh.
    It’s like saying nobody uses email any more. It’s not that simple. So you still need to have a mobile that sounds okay when you’re on a call. I had no complaints on calls and could hear everything just fine.

Photo taken with Nokia Lumia 530

Another photo I took with the Nokia phone

Conclusion

The Nokia Lumia 530 has lots of functionality for a casual user. If you’re not worried about having an all-singing, all-dancing smartphone with access to every app and the fastest processor, this will do more than enough. And, of course, you get the calls and texts from the rolling contract…If you’re already happy with the phone you’ve got, it can be a good option and you don’t have to panic about another year or two of compulsory payments. If you need to downgrade to a cheaper tariff, or switch to pay-as-you-go, there’s nothing stopping you.

This won’t replace my work phone, but it’s fun. When I’m out and about on social visits, I’d prefer to have this phone to hand, if only so I can take better photos. The software is easy to use, full of features, and takes pictures quickly in high and low light.

But now, if you don’t mind, I’m heading outside so I can actually make a call…!

A waxwork that looks strangely like David Willetts... Photo taken with Nokia Lumia 530.

A waxwork at Warwick Castle that looks strangely like David Willetts…

What Are Student Perceptions Of Debt?

This week has been National Student Money Week. So there’s no better time (if there is ever a GOOD time!) to talk about student debt. *shudder*

what are student perceptions of debt

Living costs are an issue just as much fees, if not more so. Hidden course costs, social outlay, not to mention basic needs like food, drink and accommodation; it all adds up. And the more it adds up, the more likely students are to get into debt.

Now a new report suggests that graduates may end up repaying tens of thousands more on their student loans. It’s no wonder some people are put off attending university.

While student loans constitute a special type of debt that only begins to be repaid once a graduate is earning more than £21,000, it is still seen by many as a scary debt. A debt that has little chance of going away until 30 years have passed.

Debt is a common concern

The UNITE Student Experience Survey 2014 discovered that many applicants feel in the dark regarding their finances. And while current students have a much better view of their finances, only 56% state that their financial streams are sufficient. That still leaves nearly a quarter (24%) of undergraduate respondents saying their finances are not sufficient, and another fifth uncertain of their position.

Couple this with the survey’s finding that finances are the most frequent concern for students whilst at university and it is clear that a sizeable proportion of students are not comfortable with their debt experiences.

A surprising 28% of students polled claimed not to have any debt whatsoever. Does the high proportion suggest that not all debt is necessarily considered a debt? For instance, undergraduates are far more likely to use bank overdrafts than applicants assume will be the case (28% of students, compared with 11% of applicants). Given the percentage of respondents claiming not to have been in any debt whatsoever, it could be that they do not even see an overdraft as a debt in the first place.

bank notes

Fear doesn’t always lead to confrontation

So where does that leave perceptions of debt? Although tuition fees have been the focus of much national media coverage, it is unlikely that students see fees as an area where savings can be made.

Because while tuition fees are variable, up to £9,000, institutions tend to charge close to the maximum anyway. Students do not see enough difference between universities to influence their choices. One study also suggests that bursaries and other financial incentives are rarely investigated until much later in the process, if at all.

This suggests that many applicants have background fears about debt, but do not confront them. This may be due to a lack of time, or a failure to see the importance of such a worry. One way or another, financial concerns make an impact on behaviour that is sometimes indirect and unconscious.

Money and debt are, therefore, motivators that can work in negative ways. But attitudes and perceptions are difficult to work out without detailed, lengthy, costly research.

HEFCE analyses POLAR3 codes, which refer to postcode areas where people are more or less likely to participate in higher education. We can use these to assess educational disadvantages regarding HE, although HEFCE state that POLAR3 codes are not a reliable indication of disadvantaged areas in general. Nevertheless, it was interesting to see no notable differences from respondents to the UNITE survey regarding attitudes toward debt across the POLAR3 codes.

The survey did find some differences. Those in category 1 of POLAR3 (least likely to be participating in HE) were found more likely to be thinking about their job or career, as well as thinking about their family. Those in category 5 (most likely to participate) were more likely to live in university halls than categories 1 and 2.

Despite these findings, group 1 respondents were less likely to state that their intention to live at home was driven by it being more affordable. This is backed up by research that found that fear of debt was not a reliable predictor of staying at home for university to save money. What we cannot tell behind this is whether indirect and unconscious attitudes played a hidden part in the process.

The same research, by Callender and Jackson, also stated that low-income students were more likely to see the cost of their university experience as a debt and not an investment.

This difference between investment and debt can make an impact on student decisions. A 2010 Policy Exchange report stated that it is difficult for students to make rational decisions surrounding university when debts are involved. The report said, “At present such data is worryingly thin, and would-be students are left largely in the dark about many questions that they consider to be important”.

money close up

Information alone is not enough

Fast forward to 2015 again and policy has developed that centres on providing more information to prospective students through as they form the ‘heart of the system’. From Key Information Sets to improved support services once on campus, one thing students don’t seem to be lacking in is information.

But does all this upfront information make much difference to perceptions of debt? Do applicants feel reassured by promises of good value, good resources, and good job prospects?

Callender argues that information alone is not enough to improve the student experience. She also says that the game has changed, calling the 2012/13 reforms ‘more extreme’. For those in less advantaged positions, Callender suggests that the new system is more likely to reduce their chances of entering higher education and that HE could become more elitist rather than inclusive.

It’s clear that certain perceptions of debt can lead to decisions that are not always in the best interests of the individual. What is less clear is understanding who is most at risk and how they reached that perception of debt. We may find that the same concerns result in vastly different actions. Some people will not go to university at all, while others attend but tread a careful path. Others may ignore their situation altogether until it is too late.

We should stop and think carefully about this uncertainty. It is easy to shrug off when application figures to university are still healthy despite £9k fees. But that is not the whole picture. A worrying number of students will experience university in such a way that is potentially detrimental to their participation in HE and to their future beyond university.

Debt isn’t going away, so perceptions make a difference. For those 44% of students from the Unite Student Survey with uncertain or insufficient finances, it is vital to ensure that they not only receive advice and guidance where necessary, but also gain support to improve their personal perceptions of debt.

Nobody enjoys being in debt so it is crucial that students understand different types of debt and shape their perceptions of them accordingly. Only then can students respond in a way that gives them the best chance of dealing with their situation positively.

This article arose from a data hackathon, run by Unite Students and NUS Services in partnership with Wonkhe. The dataset is drawn from the Students Matter survey conducted Dec 2013-Jan 2014 by NUS Services and published in May 2014 by Unite Students.

Time to Back Up – Hard Drive Review

Good, you’ve pressed save.

But have you backed up?

Chances are you have some involvement with computers at some point in your uni experience. Even when you limit access to writing up coursework and doing detailed research, you probably have a desktop or laptop that gets some use.

If your computer’s hard drive failed one day and you had loads of important files on there that weren’t anywhere else, it’s game over. Everything gone.

That’s why stuff needs backing up.

Now, you can keep some of your data online through services like Dropbox. I use it for some files and it suits me well for certain tasks and backups. If you’re still not using Dropbox, sign up here and we’ll both get some extra space. Result!

I’ve only got 7 gig of space to use at the moment, so it’s limited to relatively small backups. Also, some people prefer a physical backup in their own hands for both safety and privacy reasons.

Enter the external hard drive. Lots of space, in your own hands, and as private as you wish to make it.

The people at Tesco Compare home insurance asked if I would like to review an external hard drive. Under the circumstances, I was happy to say yes to a review.

A black box. Nothing exciting to look at, but it's all about the treasures you keep backed up inside it.

A black box. Nothing exciting to look at, but it’s all about the treasures you keep backed up inside it.

The Seagate Expansion 1TB they sent is quiet and uncomplicated. It came with no software for making regular backups, so be aware if you want extra software as part of the package. For regular and automated backup sessions, you’ll have to provide your own methods. A good place to start is the consistently useful TechSupportAlert.

Shapes and Sizes

External drives come in portable and desktop flavours. Portable is smaller and doesn’t require a power socket as it runs off power from the USB cable. Desktop versions are larger and need plugging in to the wall. The desktop versions usually have a fan inside and are suited more to backing up your files, as they are less likely to overheat. The Seagate drive here is a desktop one, so let’s do a backup!

The device works in a simple plug and play job that takes no more than a couple of seconds to recognise and be ready to take on whatever files you want to throw at it. The drive wouldn’t provide an icon when I installed it, but that didn’t make a difference to the operation of the drive.

The Seagate I’m testing is a 1TB, but they come in capacities up to 4TB in size, in case you keep an insane number of large files.

Luckily, I don’t have a lot to store, so the 1TB is fine for me. And then some!

No frills doesn’t mean no value. What it means is easy use and easy access. I have used drives with software for security and one-touch backup and they come in useful for some situations. But when you just want to make sure your files are in more than one place and aren’t going to change all the time, a large amount of storage like this is great, especially as it’s USB 3.0, giving better speeds than previous USB 2.0 devices could. If you don’t have a USB 3.0 port, you won’t get the faster speed, but you can still use it in older USB ports.

Use and Never Use

I can’t comment on the life of this drive, but I’m not about to put it through a huge amount of use. Think of it as a drive you hope you’ll never need to seriously use. And if the worst does happen and your PC or laptop fails or gets destroyed in an unfortunate accident, you’ll be pleased you didn’t keep your head in the sand.

If you never need to use the drive, be thankful for that!

As a test, I transferred 327GB of data over to the drive, comprising mostly of photos in RAW and JPG formats. I also tested read and write speeds in CrystalDiskMark.

The 327GB transferred in 1 hour 6 minutes and 5 seconds. From comparative reviews of speeds when running at USB 3.0, this was pretty good. Given that this was a collection of photographs going back to around 2004, an hour of time is nothing for some extra peace of mind.

The benchmark testing was generally respectable. The CrystalDiskMark results (for those who like the numbers) are as follows:
CrystalDiskMark Test

Summing Up

Here are my general thoughts on the hard drive:

PROS

  • Plug and play, ready in seconds
  • Fast (especially if you have a USB 3.0 port available)
  • Quiet, no loud fan noises or clunky operation

CONS

  • No backup software with the device (although you may prefer to use your own choice of software or use nothing at all)

While I can’t vouch for its longevity, my oldest external hard drive is from Seagate too. A portable that I used to take around with me when travelling. It’s been going strong for years, with regular use. I’ve upgraded in the meantime, but I still use it for some older files and photos and it’s still whirring away like a champ.

All in all, if you’re looking for simplicity and pretty good speed for an external hard drive, the Seagate Expansion 1TB ticks those boxes.

Be safe. Press save AND back up.

How Will Students Live and Learn in the Future? #HEFutures

Last week, I attended the launch of “Living and Learning in 2034” [PDF] about the future of higher education. I was part of the project team, so I didn’t want to miss the event!

The report looks at how the student experience could change in coming years and considers the future wants and needs of students under a number of scenarios.

Visions of the future. Not quite like this... (photo by seemann)

Visions of the future. Not quite like this… (photo by seemann)

There was loads of great discussion on the night, including a great question and answer session that you can see highlights from below.

Student Living

Mark Allan, Chief Executive of UNITE Group, kicked off the evening by explaining why student living is at the heart of HE. Why not simply the student, as the government’s 2011 White Paper suggested? Because the experience is broad and all-embracing. Allan said that it’s important to try to understand and interpret future student interests, especially since students are not all the same.

While there is a current trend of seeing university as a necessity for employability and future success, that doesn’t mean everyone looks to higher education in this way. It also doesn’t mean the future will play out this way. However, this document does recognise current trends coming into play and uses them as a base (ten key trends are described in the report).

Study Patterns and Ethos

Paul Harris, Group Strategy and Commercial Director at UNITE, then talked about the prospect of new stakeholders making a huge impact on the higher education sector in coming years. It is not clear where that will take matters, he explained, because there are already fundamental uncertainties that will make an impact on HE futures.

He also questioned whether shorter and more intensive study patterns were on the horizon. Three year degrees may be the norm now, but shifting needs may speed development of 18-month and two-year courses.

Harris concluded with a strong point on ethos. While general attitudes within society are not always the most obvious consideration, they are a key issue that can make a huge impact, both nationally and globally.

We respond to each other and are aware of opinions that are forming. As such, a local economy could be booming or busting, but the final say on how that is perceived could be down to how the public react and respond to the circumstances. Even a bleak economic outlook can be played positively, so it would be wrong to ignore the ethos in society.

Ruled by Technology

One highlight from the event was one student’s dystopian vision of what could occur if technology pushed our minds (and our time) further away from our control. Does technology drive people or do people drive technology?

An abridged version of the student story can be found in the report. I told Cameron, the author, that I found his portrayal vivid and amusing. However, I continued, I’d stop laughing if his story became a reality.

Continue the Discussion

The end of the evening saw some brilliant questions from the floor. It helped the idea that the document is very much a living discussion. Among the questions and subsequent answers on the night were:

Might students in the future want to study in more than one place in the world?
Climate change may force people to stay closer to home in the future, forcing the hand on this one. But if travel continues to happen as it is, some students may prefer to get a range of experiences nationally and even around the globe. What we see as modular today may expand to single modules in several different institutions, but all part of a particular qualification.

Which scenario is currently most likely to play out?
We have no reliable crystal ball. Even as the report was being researched, opinions on the most likely scenario seemed to be changing. In addition, there’s nothing to say that different parts of the country could see different scenarios based on local circumstances.

These scenarios each impact attitudes to education and lifelong learning. Will universities plot out possibilities based on each scenario?
The hope is that the conversation will continue and expand. We must be prepared for many outcomes and it would not be sensible to assume a single course, no matter how obvious it appears to someone. Ignoring possible risks is a risk in itself.

Students discussing accommodation on TheStudentRoom focus very much on value for money and location. How will this change in the future, if at all?
If environment can bring more success, value will be drawn out and noticed. Success means different things and that can be drawn out from a person’s environment. That hasn’t been cracked yet in this country and there are many opportunities.
With £9k fees, students are now looking much more closely at what type of experience they want. Is it employer based, international, lifelong and learning focused, or something deliberately unique to a person? Universities in the United States are focusing on the student experience a great deal at the moment and some pointers could be taken from there. However, with spiralling costs, it is important to also be careful.

Your Thoughts?

A blog has been set up for the report, which will feature more ideas and content, over at hefutures.wordpress.com. There is already a graphic showcasing four of the possible students of the future.

What is your vision of the future? Leave a comment here or tweet your thoughts with the hashtag #HEFutures.