Omio News Blog

Monthly Archives: November 2009

Social Networking on Mobiles: Esoteric or Essential?

motorola-DEXT-2Time was once that talking and texting were more than sufficient functionality for a mobile phone.

The fact that mobile phones could keep people connected irrespective of time and place made them the social networking tool.

No more notes left on the fridge, no more answerphone messages or waiting by payphones, the mobile as a primary means of communication was a turning point that increased people’s voracious appetite for instant gratification.

The downside of this is that now everyone has to know what was going on, all of the time. Which is fine, because everyone else is only too happy to broadcast the minutiae of their daily lives from the comfort of a computer.

More erudite than text, more vivid than picture messages, these sites serve as mini-blogs where thoughts, feelings, rants and regaling of tall tales became commonplace.

All the while mobile phones have been missing out, out of step with the explosion of social sites. Up until recently, attempts to take social networking mobile have been little more than a paltry logo in a phone menu serving as a bookmark, with the use of a mobile-optimised site painfully unintuitive to use upon its languid arrival.

Whether these sites actually serve a purpose is moot. People are inextricably linked to them, their Wall acting as a meeting point, their homepage reflecting personality and acting as a virtual pinboard for all their photos, messages and moods. The need to maintain these with more frequency was overwhelming, and only recently has mobile truly stepped up to fill that void.

The shift has only gathered pace now that cutting-edge mobile phone tech has become a mass market commodity. 3G connectivity is now a necessity rather than a luxury, as are full QWERTY keyboards. The fact that Samsung has managed to sell over 9 million units of their Tocco Lite in a mere six months (and 3 million of the Genio Touch in two months) is a stark sign that touch screen phones are no longer the preserve of CEOs and ardent early adopters.

The initial wave of social networking on mobile seemed to embrace the concept of ‘push’, not in the sense of the instant forwarding of mail, but rather in the nature of beaming out alerts and updates with the mobile phone acting as a beacon to the world.

Little more than text windows, these light servings of social media at least enabled access to the core functionality of a site, without the drain that the profusion of images, Farmville updates and sheep throwing usually faced with when logging onto Facebook. Log in, look at the status updates of others, add a new one of your own, log off. Simple.

Despite seeming like the latest bandwagon to jump on, the latest phones have shifted from a push service to one of ‘pull’, drawing information from a variety of social networking hubs to populate a handset full of unique personal information.

Handsets like the Palm Pre, Motorola DEXT and the forthcoming Sony Ericsson XPERIA X10 all ‘pull’ data from these sites (once given permission) effortlessly, adding contact names and images to phone numbers, drawing status updates and alerts to present them in full view. The latter two operate on Google’s Android operating system, a platform engineered to make the most of the mobile web. Novel additions like tracks listened to on Last.fm and recent tweets truly add a vibracy and level of interaction with contacts that has never been seen before.

This idea of pulling data from social networking sites has managed to transcend the mobile phone entirely with offerings like Vodafone 360, termed as an internet service that brings phone, email, chat and social network contacts together in one place.

Debuting on their Linux-driven Samsung 360 H1 and 360 M1 phones, Vodafone 360 is designed as being able to exist independently of a particular mobile or manufacturer, acting as a separate entity to keep friends connected (and using data, presumably) on their network.

With plans to serve 360 up as an application for iPhone when the coveted device arrives onto the carrier in early 2010, Vodafone realises that the value and longevity this kind of additional service can extend far beyond shilling a particular handset and in fact become a reason to join their network over another.

Whilst far from a novelty prior to Apple’s device, mobile applications where somewhat of a dark art until the iPhone became an alluring proof of concept for the casual observer, whilst their App Store gave a prominent shop window for these wares to be displayed. Many of these apps piggyback on the fun side of social networking sites, enabling multiple status updates or grouping of content to be done with ease.

Naturally the world’s manufacturers have followed suit, causing dedicated social applications to be created for practically every phone platform, and literally hundreds of third party solutions for micro-blogging and the like.

Sony Ericsson phones like the Yari have Facebook functionality built into the device, enabling a rich and vivid user experience directly from the homepage. A stream of the latest status updates from friends and presented directly onto the home screen, and a single press enables a response, with the ability to add status updates and reply to Inbox messages without missing a beat.

This is the instant gratification users have been clamouring for, that seamless integration of social networking into core functionality, rather than lip service and laggy web apps that do little to enhance the online experience.

INQ1The INQ1 from 3 is a revolutionary handset, not only in the degree of connectivity between on- and offline content, pooling of contact information from social networking sites, but also offering instant messaging over Windows Live and VoIP calls over Skype, all in an eminently affordable phone.

Treating social networking and internet connectivity as integral functionality rather than a marketer’s bullet point, the INQ1 was rightly recognised as a landmark device, and put the meagre offerings from many supposedly smart phones to shame.

With the new INQ Mini 3G, they have added support for today’s trending topic – Twitter – whilst giving the phone itself a much needed reboot in the style stakes. The micro-blogging service currently has the pulses racing of the social elite, and it is a natural fit for mobiles to dip into the world of hashtags and retweets.

Having said that, the value of Twitter as a real-time news service cannot be ignored, as breaking events from the Hudson River plane crash to the Balloon Boy saga have been documented in up-to-the-minute 140 character glory on mobiles.

The brevity and constraints of Twitter are enablers to get messages out there with a minimum of fluff, rather than the destroyer of the English language that school professors make it out to be.

The portable nature of a mobile phone combined with the ubiquity and connective tissue of social media sites are finally realising the potential of everyone becoming a news source, first on the scene whether a raging inferno or an underground rave.

Everyone always online regardless of location, with the ability to exchange pictures, jokes and occasionally useful information makes the current age of mobile phone the most exciting since the heady days of extendable aerials and Snake.

Mobile phones have certainly caught up with social networking, and it is up to the sites to pick up the slack. Video streaming, geo-targeting nearby friends Google-Latitude style, multi-player gaming – there is so much more that the medium can offer when unshackled from the constraints of a desktop computer.

When the current crop of networking site adopt the added functionality that a mobile phone can bring, rather than making Facebook a bit more phone-sized, only then might it become essential in our daily lives.

XBOX Live iPhone App Connects Gamers On The Go

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A new app for 360 lovers has gone up on the App Store late last week, enabling gaming folk to use their iPhone and hook into the XBOX Live online service.

Users of the new 360 Live app are able to view gamerscores, scour their friends list to see who’s online as well as check out avatars, send messages and compare time wasted achievements.

Advantages over similar apps currently available include accepting friend requests and the ability to view a complete title history of fellow gamers.

Interestingly, this application is retailing for £1.19 despite a Microsoft directive which states all Xbox Live-connected apps remain free…we’ll let you know whether the price gets reduced once MS gets wind of it.

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NTT DoCoMo Melty Chocolate Phones Look Good Enough To Eat

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Taking the mantle from the LG Chocolate BL40 as the tastiest phone around are these new Melty handsets from Japanese network NTT DoCoMo.

Coming in Bitter Chocolate and Melty Strawberry Pink flavours, these creamy clamshell phones do their best chocolate bar impressions complete with faux dripping and cookie-shaped lanyards.

A crossover between cool customised accessory brand Q-Pot and handset makers Sharp, this pair of sweet mobiles come equipped with all manner of chocolatey add-ons from wallpapers to menus.

Limited to a run of a mere 13,000, the Melty phone specs make them even more delicious with a 3″ screen, 8 megapixel camera, digital TV tuner and Bluetooth.

It seems as though our sweet tooth will remain unsated, as these delicious handsets are unlikely to make the trip overseas…

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Free Fridays: Vodafone Gives Away Mobile Internet to Customers

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It seems Christmas has come early for Vodafone users as the network announced that is giving their customers a whole day of free mobile internet this Friday.

The promotion is open to both PAYG and Pay Monthly users (although not those business contracts) and for anyone with unlimited internet access “Free Friday” will not count against their allowance. T & C’s here.

Hmm, the name is plural, who knows, maybe this is the start of something?

Who says the spirit of Christmas is dead? Long live the spontaneous giving away of free stuff!

Prepay Mobile Phone Stocking Fillers: As Chosen By The Omio Elves!

Christmas, or Xmas as it’s known in textville, is less than 4 weeks away. Cue horrific stampedes for useless ornamental tat, over-priced scented things and ghastly knitted things that simply do not fit. Of course, you could just avoid all that and get something gifts for people that they’ll actually use? The elves here at Omio have clubbed together to give you 6 of the best phones gift ideas, all available on Pay As You Go:

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Samsung Genio Touch : The Fun One

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Samsung’s Genio Touch is set to be this season’s best seller. Both gorgeous and super simple to use thanks to its wide profile, unique TouchWiz interface and super responsive 2.8″ capacitive touchscreen, plus Samsung’s range of colourful snap-on covers allow you to mark your Genio out from the rest of the crowd. The Genio Touch comes pre-loaded with a range of widgets including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube too so you can shout about having the funkiest phone in the market in as many ways as you see fit.

Prices vary for Genio Touch deals from £62.50 at Mobile Express to £110.

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Samsung S5230 ‘Tocco’ Lite : The Classy One

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If you’re a fan of Samsung’s quality but want something a little more serious than the Genio, then the S5230 Tocco Light is the phone for you. Released earlier this summer as a junior to the Tocco family, while the Light’s features have been pared-down somewhat, so too has the price tag: initially selling for £80-£130 and now available for almost half that,  there’s no stopping Samsung’s ability to bring high end features to the entry level market. Also available in snow white.

See Xmas deals for the Samsung Tocco Light.

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LG KP500 Cookie : The Other One

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LG too has made strides to bring top-flight functionality to the entry level market and with the LG KP500 Cookie you get a compact device with a large touchscreen display that’s easy and fun to use. With a 3.2 mega-pixel camera, media player, FM Radio, Bluetooth wireless connection and a SD memory card slot this has got all the basics covered. Features-wise, little stands between the Cookie and the Tocco Light, but if can take the slightly lower battery life, then you stand to make around a 25% saving compared to the Samsung.

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Alcatel OT 708 One Touch Mini : The Super Saver

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On the hunt for a real bargain? Snap up the Alcatel OT 708. The Alcatel isn’t particularly advanced, but it comes in a snazzy blue and with no hardware keys (all the operation is touch-sensitive), the One Touch Mini is super sleek and hosts a range of features which just shouldn’t be available with its sub £30 price tag.

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Nokia 5130 XpressMusic : The Music One

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Unable to leave the house without your favourite music? Then the Nokia 5130 XpressMusic is the phone for you – featuring dedicated music player buttons, an SD memory card slot upgradeable to 16GB (1GB is included), stereo speakers so you can share your tunes with the local community and a 3.5mm jack, allowing you the comfort of your own headphones. Get the Nokia 5130 and you’ll never have to worry about leaving the house with both a phone and an Mp3 player again!

Nokia 5130 XpressMusic deals for Xmas start at under £50!

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Sony Ericsson W595 : The All-Rounder

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Sony Ericsson are very good at stuffing their phones with all manner of useful features and the SE W595, successor to the best-selling W580 handset, is no exception: decent 3.2 megapixel camera, 2GB memory card (upgradeable to 8GB),  TrackID – a tool to identify tunes around you, super long battery life and a share-jack so you can plug two sets of headphones into one phone. PLUS video calling, a picture editor, FM radio with RDS and a whole host of different colours to choose from. They should have called this the Swiss Army phone!

Check out Sony Ericsson W595 deals, which start at £79.99.

Nokia N900 UK Release Date Delayed, Citing High Demand

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The Nokia N900 has officially missed its reported November launch window, pushed to a December 4th release due to huge demand for their new internet tablet/mobile computer/super smart phone.

With the Maemo-powered device ushering in a new age of Nokia phones, the N900 has amassed so many pre-orders from flagship stores across the UK that the Finnish manufacturer can’t build them fast enough!

Hence those eager beavers who have already pre-ordered the device should be receiving shipping confirmations for their N900 any minute…now, and only after all have been fulfilled will the device officially hit shelves in the the first week of December.

The US has seen the highly-anticipated handset launch this week, and despite the Android clamour with Motorola’s DROID and the unveiling of the BlackBerry Bold 9700 and Storm 2, the N900 has still made serious waves.

Those lucky Euro folks who got their orders in early will intently be waiting for their N900 to flit across the globe to their doorstep, whilst the rest of us will have to sit tight a little longer to see if Nokia are back in the smart phone race (hint: they are)!

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Motorola MILESTONE SIM-Free Release Date Revealed, Pricing

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It seems like the Motorola MILESTONE will be making it to the UK by the end of the year in SIM-free form, according to a bevy of online retailers.

Usually the first port of call for mobile phone early adopters, eXpansys have the Android 2.0-equipped handset down for a 7th December launch and retailing for £449.99 SIM-free, whilst Clove are taking pre-orders for the device at £424.35 with the same imminent release date.

There has still been no official word on the MILESTONE coming to British shores from Motorola themselves however, despite a German launch earlier in the month, and the monolithic mobile available on O2 and Vodafone over there.

A quick search on Google shows Motorola has gone so far as to even deny the phone’s existence on the British site (where it appeared briefly), expect them to do the honours with a proper reveal at a later date.

We can only hope to see some Motorola MILESTONE deals by the end of the year, although a December SIM-free launch and little chatter from the networks means a Q1 2010 pay monthly release is far more likely…

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Motorola MILESTONE vs iPhone 3GS Comparison: Apple’s Best Against The Android Beast!

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With the Motorola MILESTONE finally touching down in Europe and opening up for SIM-free pre-orders in the UK, we thought it a fine time to pit the Android-wielding monolith against the current celebrity of the smart phone sector, the Apple iPhone 3GS.

Can the DROID (as it is known in the US) back up its angular styling and Android pedigree by putting Motorola firmly back on the map, or will the Cupertino cutie claim another scalp with that gorgeous user interface and licence to print money that is the App Store?

Let’s find out!

The first category, and the MILESTONE compares surprisingly favourably to the svelte iPhone 3GS, despite sharp features and a black and gold finish that gives Motorola’s comeback caller a distinctly 80′s vibe.

A touch longer than the 3GS, the MILESTONE is narrower at only 60mm against the 62.1mm of the iPhone.

Given that it packs a 4-row full QWERTY keyboard, it’s miraculous that the MILESTONE only gives away 1.5mm in depth to the curvaceous rear of the latest iPhone.

A far closer round than predicted, the MILESTONE gets an honourable mention but Jonathon Ive certainly earned his money in designing a near perfect form in the iPhone, with the 3GS looking just as good as ever.

Winner: iPhone 3GS

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Weight:

Ah. Not so close here.

The Motorola MILESTONE might look good but it is carrying a lot of extra baggage, tipping the scales at a hefty 166g. The iPhone 3GS might have gained 2 grams over the 3G model, but is an entire 30 grams lighter than the boxy Google phone at 135g.

Whilst the iPhone attempted to erase the memory of the unwieldy smart phone with rounded edges and shiny metal, the MILESTONE drags us back into pocket-bursting PDA territory. The addition of the keyboard gives Motorola’s device the best of touch and physical type, but at the expense of a lot of additional weight.

Travelling light is definitely the way forward.

Winner: Apple iPhone 3GS

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Screen:

The additional height of the Android-toting MILESTONE pays off as it houses a glorious 3.7″ TFT capacitive touchscreen, displaying at a resolution of 480 x 854 pixels. This places the iPhone’s otherwise impressive 3.5″ effort into the shade, with the 3GS outputting a more modest 320 x 480 pixels.

This means that Android really shines on the MILESTONE, with text and web browsing looking rich and crisp, as well as videos giving a smoothnes, a level of clarity and an absence of blurring during faster scenes which we haven’t seen since, well, the iPhone!

Both may support multi-touch, but this doesn’t mean pinching to zoom with abandon as Android 2.0 doesn’t support it, however both do have auto-rotate for landscape use, and a proximity sensor to prevent accidental ear-dialling.

The MILESTONE manages to surpass the iPhone on one of its most alluring points, then throws in another input method – a full keyboard with 5 way navigation key to seal the deal.

A convincing win on some entrenched territory.

Winner: Motorola MILESTONE

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Camera:

The iPhone 3GS still suffers from Apple’s “well, it’s good enough” mentality, a 3.15 megapixel effort which is indeed good enough. Enhancements over earlier models include touch and auto-focusing, 30 frames per second video recording and a mini-editing suite.

Whilst these are additions which would hardly deserve mention on a mid-range handset, these graduate the iPhone’s previously disappointing camera into being useful. After dark is still a no-go, as a flash is still painfully absent.

The MILESTONE has a standard camera by smart phone standards – a 5 megapixel snapper with autofocus and dual-LED flash – still performing far beyond the iPhone’s workmanlike effort.

Without even mentioning the MILESTONE’s higher resolution D1 video recording, Motorola romps home on yet another category!

Winner: Motorola MILESTONE

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Battery:

All about the numbers here, and whilst Apple states 5 hours of 3G talktime and 300 of standby for the 3GS, the MILESTONE is talking a lengthy 6.5 hours talktime with 350 hours of standby. Both run on standard Lithium Ion affairs, but you don’t care, you just need to know that the MILESTONE seems to stick around longer than the iPhone.

The less said about battery-guzzling apps, the better…

Winner: Motorola MILESTONE

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Memory:

Whilst fixed to either 16GB or 32GB depending on the model of iPhone opted for, the Motorola MILESTONE comes with an 8GB card out of the gate, but with support for up to 32GB microSD cards. Removable memory offers the opportunity for swappable cards and tons more media-filled fun than the iPhone’s rather rigid effort.

Winner: Motorola MILESTONE

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Connectivity:

Both are linked up to the nines for connectivity, GPS, USB ports and Bluetooth come as standard, but the iPhone hits a stumbling block as the latter is only for headphone connection as opposed to the transfer of data between handsets.

Also, the 3GS is supposedly all about speed, and yet the 3G connectivity is slower than the MILESTONE’s 10.2 Mbps connection.

This is a little moot as just like home broadband speeds, mobile 3G connections never hit their zenith, but it is interesting to know that the MILESTONE has more potential than the 3GS…

Both devices have great browsers, but the lack of Flash support on both is conspicuous in its absence on the 3GS and the MILESTONE, but they both work around this pretty well.

The lack of a pinch-to-zoom on the MILESTONE puts the iPhone experience ahead, yet the huge 3.7″ display on the Moto-phone means more of the web to see at one time, and the high resolution screen makes it crystal clear. It’s a close thing, but personal preference might be the best judge on the surfing front.

E-Mail and messaging is capably handled by both, with support for push and Microsoft Exchange meaning both are as comfortable in the bistro as the boardroom.

Cute touches like Voice Search and YouTube integration show that Google knows their internet pretty well, and it shows in the quality of the Android experience.

Might have to call yet another one in favour of the DROID!

Winner: Motorola MILESTONE

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Media:

Apple’s heartland.

iTunes. The App Store. Downloading podcasts, making playlists, buying music and watching movies – the experience is certainly not without fault, but it is beyond compare as far as phones go.

The iTunes desktop application provides seamless syncing of music and media, the degree of customisation that apps deliver to the experience means that you can immediately get a sense of a user just by what they have on their homescreen…

The Android Market is a noble effort with many cool applications, and the MILESTONE has a perfectly serviceable media player, but nothing comes close to the pointless and beautiful CoverFlow, the brilliantly laid out menus or the ease of obtaining new music on an iPhone.

A resounding return to form at the end of the iconic Apple device.

Winner: Apple iPhone 3GS

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Verdict:

Whilst the iPhone has a seemingly unassailable position in the mobile market, Motorola has seen an almost phoenix-like resurrection by embracing a new operating system and delivering a truly strong handset on all fronts. The Motorola MILESTONE is hard lines, a brash and bold device that makes a confident stance against the androgynous iPhone.

Surpassing the iconic handset in almost all departments on paper, and with the speedy internal architecture to provide a great user experience, the MILESTONE may well be an alternative to the HTC Hero for the anti-iPhone brigade. A handset that provides a different experience, and one that is better in a lot of ways, but most importantly one that doesn’t make one feel as though they are missing something by not having an iPhone.

In this day and age, that’s possibly the biggest compliment against Apple’s behemoth that you’re going to get, so take it and celebrate, Motorola MILESTONE!

Gameloft Issues Press Release, Pledges Hi-Def Gaming For Android Phones

motorola_droid_hands-on-thumb-550x550-27506Eager to play down recent statements, Gameloft have issued a press release unveiling plans to launch High Definition gaming on forthcoming Android phones including the Motorola DROID/MILESTONE and Sony Ericsson XPERIA X10, as well as cementing their support of current generation Google-powered devices.

Earlier this week, Gameloft’s finance director Alexadre de Rochefort spoke of scaling back investment for the fledgling platform, citing iPhone sales as being 400 times higher than on Android Market for their games in the last quarter, as well as a lack of assistance from Google in the promotion of titles.

Whilst the press release places a great deal of emphasis on referring to the ’2nd generation’ of Android phones, it seems as though Gameloft are attempting to clarify their intentions of maintaining a presence on the operating system, at present as well as in the future.

In that case, is Gameloft easing off on Android investment or not?

This latest announcement does little to play down rumours that Gameloft may concentrate their efforts on iPhone apps in the immediate future, with a view to ramping up development on Android once the platform has a bigger slice of the smart phone market, and a wider range of handsets available to consumers.

VIDEO: Google Search Brings The Cinema To A (Phone) Screen Near You With Movie Listings, Trailers

A great new Google update for cinephiles now, with an update to the super search engine that makes planning a trip to the movies easier than ever.

Searching for movies on a smart phone (namely Android, iPhone and the Palm Pre, who can say what happened to Windows Mobile?) has now been enhanced from the usual IMDB and Wikipedia results to provide a wealth of extra content, from the precise distance to the nearest cinema (gleaned from your phone’s GPS information), movie trailers from YouTube and even screening times!

Each movie is accompanied by a 5-star rating derived from review scores across the web, whilst a tap of the film’s title or poster gives a brief synopsis, a Google Map snapshot of the closest cineplexes and even a rundown of the director and cast.

A quick tap on the “more movies” link opens up a Jonathan Ross-beating resource, perfect for getting that obscure reference when away from the desktop, or at a pub quiz…

With results for the US, UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand now available, this finally spells the end of choosing “whatever’s showing” after a date and ending up seeing a rom-com about a sassy female lawyer. Again.

The below video shows the new search functionality hard at work, as well as bringing friends together in a heartwarming tale of triumph over adversity.