When you’re expected to attend an event at the Jumeirah Zabeel Saray on the Palm, it’s no good turning up in a Toyota Camry taxi. After all, this is a venue at which scenes from the latest Mission: Impossible movie were filmed, and where, at the entrance, gleaming Rolls-Royces, Bentleys and Ferraris wait patiently for the valets to return them to their masters.
I even saw someone turn up in a classic 1950s Jaguar, meaning that I was dreading clambering out of a normal cab. Thankfully, though, I managed to hitch a ride with a colleague, who was testing the Audi A7. It might not be as showy as the previous brands mentioned, but it’ll certainly hold its own when it comes to looking good at a high-end event.
Underneath, it’s essentially an A6, though it’s been styled in order to compete in the new coupé-saloon segment created by Mercedes when it released the extremely pretty CLS-Class back in 2004. It was certainly a saloon, based on a spin-off of the E-Class platform, though it looked tauter, sportier and sleeker, thanks to its sweeping roof line and pillarless windows. Audi has since pulled the same trick with its A5 Sportback and its A7.
When it first came out, I didn’t much care for the looks of the A7. I figured that it was trying too hard to be a CLS, and it hadn’t captured the fun, sporty side of the design that well. But seeing it in the metal changed my opinion completely. There’s no doubting it’s an Audi, with that familiar face that’s plastered over pretty much the entire range, though further back it looks like it’s taken nods from the lovely R8. And from the back, it looks almost like a muscle car, aggressive and purposeful. I like it a lot.
There’s more to like on the inside. I’ve been inside the CLS-Class, and, save for the very latest iteration of it, it had nothing on the interior of the Audi. The seats are supple and comfortable, though you can tell they’ll provide plenty of support when the going gets fast. There’s plenty of lovely leather to touch, plus real wood and metal, providing a feeling of genuine luxury – nothing you touch feels fake or plasticky.
Despite sitting in the front passenger seat for the journey, it was quite obvious there was plenty of room in the back for adults, at least for a short journey. Longer journeys may require the leg room of the A8 for extended periods of comfort, but it’s still surprising how much space Audi has managed to pack into the back, particularly with that sloping roof line. Talking of the roof, there are miles of room for the head, but that’s because you sit low down in the bowels of the car, as if you’re in the cockpit of a fighter aircraft.
I’m sure that feeling is magnified from the driver’s seat, where the centre console and instruments are all facing and geared towards. The design makes clear that this is a car to drive, not to be driven in, and that’s immediately obvious from my driver’s face as he revs up the three-litre TFSI engine, which is good for 295bhp. It’s quite a big car, so it’s surprising just how well it pulls, and you’re flung into the back of your seat whenever the driver sees a gap in the road and decides to stomp his foot down a little. It’s enormous fun to be in.
The kit on board is standard across the range of high-end Audis, and it’s all marvellous. It’s easy to use and intuitive, and the large screen at the top of the centre console is particularly beautiful, though if I was driving, I might have found it a little distracting. Either way, my colleague offered no complaints.
The drive was just about long enough to get to grips with what this car is all about. It’s meant to look great, offer a decent amount of driving pleasure and also the refinement of the – slightly more boring – A6. And I have to say that it does tremendously well on all counts. Stepping out as the Zabeel Saray representative opened the door at the hotel entrance, I smiled and nodded towards the car, which had provided me with as classy an entrance as could be found anywhere.
I’ve had a pretty sensational week on the technology front. In fact, I’d wager that it’s probably been the best technological week since I first unwrapped the original PlayStation that my parents bought me for Christmas back in 1996. There’s the same sense of content, provided by an unwavering certainty that no matter what comes out, I own the best of the best, and I’ll never need anything else.
Obviously, that’s rubbish, and a couple of years down the line, I’ll be pining for the next big gadget that’s come along. But for now, at least, I’m pretty damn happy.
First up, my HTC Sensation XE informed me that I could now download and install the latest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich. I clicked “OK” without hesitation. Next, upon pay-day, I impulse-bought a brand-new MacBook Pro. And to top it all off, that very same evening, I received an email from the Instagram camera app, informing me that it was finally available on the Android operating system. Deep joy.
Here are the first impressions of my new acquisitions.
Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich
Of course, having a phone made by HTC, a big part of any new software update is how well the newest version of HTC Sense has been integrated into the updates Google has provided. I’ve always been a huge fan of HTC Sense – the regular Android OS doesn’t seem to be as clean, pretty or even as easy to use – and the latest version doesn’t disappoint.
Nothing major has been done; it’s all small improvements that make the user experience a little more enjoyable. Sliding between the various home screens seems faster and crisper, and scrolling up and down within apps isn’t as jerky. There are new fonts for messaging, which look more classy, and there are now four customisable buttons along the bottom, where you put your most-used apps like the phone function, Whatsapp or text messaging. I didn’t like this at first, but it’s damn useful when the phone’s locked and you want to go straight to an app – you simply drag one of the four buttons towards the circle at the bottom and it takes you straight there.
Gmail has also been revamped, with a new look that seems confusing at first. But it’s just a case of Google having moved a couple of things around. I’m not sure if it’s better this way, or if, like so many of the Facebook updates, I’ve just become so used to it that the old one doesn’t really matter anymore. HTC Peep – the HTC Twitter app – has also been slightly improved, giving you more abilities using just the home screen widget, so you don’t have to go into the app to do things.
The gallery system is been changed so that the folder icons are smaller, making it easier to choose which one you want without having to scroll down. Though, for some reason, the names and numbers on the phone function are now bigger. I’d rather keep them small so I can see more of them on-screen, but that’s only a minor complaint. The only other complaint I have is the new look for the alarm clock. It’s exactly the same, except for one crucial detail – the “OK” and “Cancel” buttons have been switched around, which can have disastrous consequences, as I found out when my alarm failed to go off for an early-morning meeting this week because I’d hit “Cancel” instead of “OK” when setting it.
All in all, though, this is a fine update, and it makes me feel a little better about having bought the Sensation XE just months before the One X came out. I reckon my phone will still be able to stand up quite well against the latest generation of Android devices coming out this year.
I’ll keep this one short and sweet, as there are hundreds of blogs out there about PC users converting to Mac and seeing the light, and I’m no different. I love it. I love it, I love it, I love it. It’s beautiful, fast, easy to use and just, well, cool. I used to hate Mac users going on about how much better their computers are than PCs, in much the same way as Charlie Brooker did in this scathing article. But even he converted, and so have I.
This isn’t to say there aren’t problems, though. For one thing, it was painfully expensive, which is fine because it’s a quality product. But then added expenses start to pop up like, for example, a mini-display adaptor to plug my second computer screen into. That’ll be Dh150 ($41), please. And if I want to plug the Mac into my big TV, I’ll need another HDMI adaptor. That’ll be another Dh180 ($50), thanks very much. Then I had to buy a case for it, because I daren’t just stick it into my laptop bag to be scratched by whatever else I’ve got in there. Another Dh150 ($41), please. I’ve also had compatibility issues with my external hard drive that I’ve yet to resolve, despite frantically scouring the internet for solutions.
Some might say that owning a Mac doesn’t justify having to fork out so much, and that a decent PC running Windows would do the job just fine at half the price, particularly when they get to bang on about compatibility. But I disagree. I don’t think Windows, 7 in particular, is that bad; it’s just that OSX is better. In terms of compatibility, I’ll bet that my Mac will pair up with almost anything more quickly than a PC would, meaning that one thing every once in a while isn’t going to be such a big deal.
Instagram for Android
For months I’ve been waiting for this, if only to flood the Twitter feeds of those smug iPhone bastards who think it’s okay to spam my feeds with retro-looking pointlessness. But once I’d gotten my mits on it, I failed to see what all the fuss was about.
Early reviews suggest that the iPhone version is actually more user-friendly than the Android one, which may be true. From what I can see, though, the filters on offer aren’t that good, and it duplicates every photo you take, or put a filter on, clogging up your gallery. Also, it’s so caught up with the idea of sharing that, if you just want to take a photo, it’s unclear what’s happened to it when you click cancel on the sharing screen.
I know that the main selling point of Instagram is the sharing aspect, but I’m not interested in that. I can just as easily tweet a photo using the “Share” button on my phone, and I’ve got no desire to join yet another social network. You can keep your Instagram, iPhone fanboys, because I’m not interested.