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Choosing a new smartphone: Blackberry or the others?

By on October 3, 2011

Android, WP7 and iOS vs BB.

A friend of mine wants to finally catch up with the 21st century and buy a smartphone. He seems really interested in Blackberry because most of his colleagues use it, but he asked for my advice just in case.

At first I thought I’d tell him to just go with a Blackberry since the handsets are relatively cheap, and most of the people he wants to interact with will be using BBM anyways, so might as well roll with the crowd. However, if you look at the situation from an outside perspective, you’ll notice things you hadn’t before. For instance, he can get the basic BB plan from Etisalat starting from AED 49 per month, which gives him unlimited access to social services, including BBM; no internet access, though. Alternatively he can pay AED 29 per month and get 100MB data which gives him access to everything on a smartphone: emails, internet browsing, social services, etc.

Take it up a notch, and you have Etisalat’s AED 99 per month package for BlackBerry which gives you access to all the BB services up to 200MB, but for the same amount you can get 1GB of data on any other smartphone. Suddenly the BlackBerry doesn’t seem so attractive anymore.

Mind you all of the above charges are only for data plans, when you want to include talk time and SMS, you can go with the regular prepaid route, or get Du’s Elite 100 plan which also costs AED 100, but gives you 100 minutes talk time and 55 SMS national & international plus 100MB of data.

I’m not going to deny the charm of a physical keyboard, and the recent BlackBerry’s certainly seem to have some of the best keyboards in the industry. So why else go for a BlackBerry? There are a LOT of apps on Apple, Android and Windows marketplace. And if you really want a good quality gaming experience, the BlackBerry certainly can’t offer you that.

So unless you really, really like typing, I wouldn’t suggest a BlackBerry right now. To use a smartphone to its full potential, I’d suggest my friend, and anyone else for that matter, to go with Apple, Android or Windows Phone 7 based handsets, because they simply offer much, much more. Also, they’re more economical in the long run. Damn, no wonder BlackBerry’s in so much financial trouble.


The passion of gaming

By on September 29, 2011

A true gamer never gives up.

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Blizzard is currently running a closed beta for Diablo III and I am one of the fortunate ones to be invited to it. It’s been ten years since I’ve set foot in Tristam and for me, it is definitely THE most anticipated game in the upcoming future. In fact, both of its predecessors will be in my “10 games to play before you die” list- if I ever create one. Now that you know how much I want to play the game, let me tell you the trouble I’m going through to get it up and running.

I got the invitation email last Wednesday when I was in the Abu Dhabi office and immediately progressed to download it. It downloaded and installed just fine on my office iMac that is about three years old but since I was a bit busy with work, I figured that I’ll play it at home over the weekend. Now let me tell you what I did this weekend.

I have a Mac Pro at home that is reasonably equipped as far as Macs are concerned- certainly a lot more powerful than the iMac at the office. I started off doing exactly what I did from my office iMac- download the installation file. Once you install the small file, the launcher kicks in and downloads the rest of the 2GB data. Now that 2GB data is divided into three parts with the first one measuring close to 700MB. I have a 16MB connection at home and I was expecting the download to fly- which it did, until there was about 20MB left from the first segment.

After that, the download stalled- it just wouldn’t download those last few MBs no matter how many times I exited and restarted the download. I went ahead and removed the entire installation and tried again. Same thing- the first few 100MBs downloaded without an issue but the last bit just didn’t want to. Frustrated, I thought that maybe it was my Mac or OS X installation as it was upgraded from Snow Leopard to Lion last month. Thoughts of my PC-era days kicked in and I thought that maybe I should format my Mac and install Lion from scratch. After spending a few hours of backing data up, I proceeded with that.

With a clean system, I once again attempted to install Diablo 3. Exact same problem. Except now I also had the monumental task of restoring all the data back- especially the 40GB worth of photos in my wife’s iPhoto collection. You can imagine what the next few hours were spent doing. With utter failure, I decided it was time to bring the PC that I had happily built for gaming a couple of months back. You can read about the specs of this monster here.

With the PC all hooked up and ready to roll, I proceeded to download the client. Imagine my surprise when I ran into the exact same issue. This was certainly mind boggling and made it clear that my Mac’s hardware or software had nothing to do with it. So I started staring at my ASUS xxx router that, I thought, was serving me well. But at this time, all it looked like was a product to smash with my fists. Maintaining my sanity, I removed the ASUS router, replacing it with an older Linksys I had lying around.

I’m sure that you have figured out what happens next but let me say it out loud regardless- IT DID NOT WORK. The Lord of terror will certainly be laughing on me. He’s not an easy catch, but I’ve defeated him before. Twice actually.


Initial impressions using Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango)

By on September 26, 2011

It’s really sweet!

I’ve recently been suffering from a condition that I’m sure many gadget lovers have gone through over the years; I’m bored of the existing ‘must-have-gadget’ of last year. Specifically, I’m getting a little tired of iOS after using it for the past 3 years.

So for the past few weeks I’ve been on the hunt for ‘something new’. I’ve looked into BlackBerry, but pretty much everyone has told me not to bother, unless I’m trying out the new OS7. I guess using an iPhone 4 means setting a really high bar for smartphone usage. And in any case, the news of falling profits and market share coming out for RIM has made me not to invest in that platform, at least for now.

Obviously there’s Android, but I simply don’t feel comfortable with that OS at all. It still feels very rough around the edges, and with all the customization and additional layers of UI that various mobile makers have put on the OS has really fragmented the market and, ultimately, the user experience.

LG Optimus 3D, iPhone 4, HTC 7 Mozart

This left me with only one OS , so I jumped at the opportunity when I was given an HTC 7 Mozart running Windows Phone 7.5, or Mango as Microsoft lovingly calls it. Mind you I had, up till last week, only seen Windows Phone 7 in videos and just had cursory glances from others. This was my first time using WP7 thoroughly.

So running the latest WP7 OS on a one year old smartphone, my first thought was how damn fast the thing was. Now the HTC 7 Mozart is no speed king, with a 1GHz Scorpion CPU on a Qualcomm QSD8250 Snapdragon chipset with 576MB RAM, but given Microsoft’s stringent hardware requirements for all WP7 handsets, the performance seems to be par for the course.

So the first thing that I liked was the flow of apps going downwards, rather than side to side, quite unlike the iOS and Android. Having the main window where all apps can be ‘pinned’ was a real convenience, because on the side screen there was a huge list of all the apps and settings for WP7. Some people may not like scrolling down so much to reach an app, but to me this is no different from scrolling sideways on multiple pages to reach the app you need. Failing which, there’s always the dedicated ‘Search’ button on the handset; the other two being the Windows icon and the Back button.

Another thing I really liked was the uniformity of all the apps. Again, like the hardware requirements, Microsoft have also laid down the groundwork for how applications should look on their OS, which meant a seamless experience on every app I tried. So whether it was IMDB or Twitter, I knew how to navigate each app.

Speaking of apps, the App marketplace seemed quite like the Android Marketplace or indeed the Apple App Store, but where the Windows marketplace shone was how easily I could see more information on each app. For any app, the first page always shows the developer’s description of the app and other technical info like the size and customer ratings. Now to see how customers have reviewed the app, I don’t need to click a button that loads up another page, I just swipe to the left and all the reviews are there for me to read.

What I’m trying to say is that the whole app buying and using experience on WP7 was very intuitive and very smooth; two things I feel Android, and to an extent iOS, still lacks in. Games are a totally different story of course, because how each one is developed for a specific OS depends entirely on the developer. Still, kudos to Microsoft for maintaining the Xbox Live Marketplace habitat on WP7, where every game can be downloaded in full, and tried out for free. Should the person like it, then they can buy the game. Of course, then there’s the whole achievement system that is ported over to WP7, which I’m sure many people will appreciate as well.

I will say one thing that Android trumps both iOS and WP7 in: I don’t need to have a cumbersome software in between all the media on my PC and my smartphone. iTunes and Zune are still not as elegant and seamless an experience as simply copying and pasting files and folders onto my smartphone.

I don’t know how bad the original version of Windows Phone 7 was, but with Mango I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t meet with huge success right out of the gate.  My whole experience with WP7 was nothing but pleasant, and honestly if iOS 5 doesn’t live up to my expectations, I’ll actually go for a Windows Phone 7 handset for my next smartphone.


Windows 8 is good, but then not quite…

By on September 21, 2011

Hold on, where is my programs list?

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I am a big fan of innovative and intuitive user interfaces. Or hell, anything that’s new.  I always tinker around with different browsers; although I eventually come back to Google Chrome (nothing beats it! Yes, I am a fanboy). I am always installing (and uninstalling, for that matter) all sorts of different softwares to replace the regular ones I use, no matter how good they are, I just want to try something new.

But I draw a line when it comes to how my Windows should look. Maybe I am scarred by the various “theme softwares” I used when I had Windows XP. I was so young and naïve then. Maybe it’s the gamer in me screaming at me for wasting resources. But when it comes to Windows, it has to be the default, normal looking one, with icons placed exactly where I want them, divided between empty space for general use, game icon space and work icon space.

So when we got Windows 8 up and running on one of our systems, I was curious yet slightly apprehensive. I like Windows Phone 7, so I knew Windows 8 shouldn’t be too much of a problem, they are basically identical, anyways.

But it’s way off from what we are used to – for more than two decades now.  And I am not sure if I like it or not. To start with the good, yes it is indeed new, fresh and intuitive. It boots fast, which is a relief. And the UI is clean, uncluttered and doesn’t distract from you want to do immediately after you booth up your PC. There are a series of icons ready to launch the moment you click them. I am assuming you can create icons for your favorite programs once you install them.

And as I realised, there was no way to do a print screen.

But that’s where the problem starts. How do you install softwares? Where exactly do you download them since there is no desktop anymore? How do you create and add icons on the new interface? Plus, just where the hell is the program list?

I am aware that you can do back to the normal Windows, but it just has IE and Windows Explorer. No My Computer, no control panel, no recycle bin. How do I access device manager? Where do the deleted items go, anyway?

Do programs run in the background? Do programs always run in full screen? If I am downloading a completely, totally legal torrent, will it be done if I ‘exit’ the ‘app’?

The interface also leans towards touch-based devices. It’s highly unnatural with a mouse. Some of mechanics, such bring up the side menu, requires a gesture from right to left. You can’t possibly do it with the mouse, or not as smoothly. Internet Explorer 10 almost demands a touch-screen to be used correctly. We had the HP TouchSmart all-in-one we reviewed earlier still lying around, so we were lucky in that regard that we could try out the OS with touch. Not everyone has a touch-screen. And I am not sure how many prefer to use Windows part touch and part mouse and part keyboard.

Internet Explorer 10 and it's tab interface.

It’s going to be a long learning curve for everyone, not just for the average consumer. Convincing corporations to adapt to the new UI, pouring in time and resources into learning an entirely different operating system will be a daunting task for Microsoft.

It could work. I like what see, as long as it retains what Windows did before. But as of now, if this is what we will get in the final product, I am only installing Windows 8 in a separate partition. But that’s only till Microsoft drops support for Windows 7…


My iPad is possessed!

By on September 18, 2011

I think there is a ghost inside my new iPad.

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My sister was in Malaysia a couple of weeks back and saw an iPad 2 for AED 1650 so she called and asked me if I wanted one. I figured it was a good price to upgrade my wife’s old iPad and thus asked her to get one in white. She got one for herself and one for me.

When she passed it to me, I immediately noticed that the home button wasn’t working- it just wouldn’t take you back out of any application to the home screen. So I called her up immediately to see if her unit had any issues but she said that her’s was working completely fine. So here I was stuck with a non-working iPad that was purchased out of the country. I figured I didn’t have many options and randomly started pressing the home button- some times hard and some times real hard. Sadly, that didn’t help much. Only one time when I pressed the button really really hard did it work but trying to repeat that didn’t do anything.

With not many other options, I simply left the room and kept the iPad 2 to charge. Imagine my surprise when I came back after a couple of hours to find the home button working perfectly fine! I can press it to go back home or double press it to bring up the list of running applications just fine. I have no idea what happened while I was away but I wasn’t going to complain. You must be thinking that I am really lucky- but I’m not, as I now have another problem with the iPad. The easiest way to describe it is to say that my iPad is possessed!

Out of nowhere the screen starts shaking, applications start switching and random bits of text like fbgtlwbfurbskj appear get automatically typed by the keyboard. The iPad does this for a few seconds before returning back to normal. Needless to say, this can be extremely frustrating when typing an email. The following video shows what happens.

I googled this and there are quite a few people affected by this “ghost touch” phenomena. One of the recommended solutions is to discharge the unit completely which I will try tomorrow. If that doesn’t work then I’m not sure what I will do.

My point in writing this blog is that anyone can land with a faulty piece of equipment and it should not be surprising to see a turkey even if it’s from a company with an extremely strict quality check like Apple. What I advise you to do is buy it from an authorized distributor which can sometimes be a bit more pricey, but think of the difference as insurance against your expensive purchase. It’s totally worth it.


Virtual goods or hard copies?

By on September 14, 2011

Convenience of ‘clouds’ over ‘feel good’ of physical media.

So our mutual friend Mufaddal finally decided to bite the bullet and buy a Kindle for himself. Showing it to his dad and informing him how he can buy books from the Kindle itself, his dad’s response was that he would rather buy “real books” and then exchange it for others. I’ve personally heard this from many people, whether it’s about MP3s rather than CDs, buying games online rather than having a physical disc, and now it’s the same story with books as well. People really like having physical media rather than the virtual equivalent.

However, having something physical in your hands isn’t the only issue here; as Mufaddal’s dad pointed out, he can use that physical book and trade it in, or donate it, or exchange it with friends for another book. You simply can’t do this with virtual goods. I can’t let my friends borrow my copy of games or music or books I have purchased online. Of course, this whole issue of not being able to ‘share’ virtual goods becomes moot when piracy comes into the picture, but for arguments sake, let’s assume this is a perfect world and that piracy doesn’t exist. Or that people don’t know how piracy works.

Pirate this, fool!

In such a case, it becomes a matter of changing your personal taste. The music industry fought hard, and failed harder, in trying to stop piracy; now they have adopted that same model of distribution and we see stores like iTunes and Amazon’s music store flourish. The same for online gaming stores like Steam, or even Xbox Live Arcade or the App Store for iOS devices. It’s extremely easy to buy whatever form of media you’d like to consume, online.

Yes, I certainly don’t have any physical discs of my songs or games or books, but I always have them with me, wherever and whenever I want them; as long as there’s an internet connection. That in itself is a very interesting topic of discussion, of how much we’re dependent on the internet, but today I’ll just stick to virtual vs physical goods.

Which version would you read?

Thing is, I can’t trade-in these virtually purchased goods, but the idea is that I am getting them cheap enough, compared to high-street retail stores, that I don’t mind not having the ability to sell off one item to get another. I know this is a difficult pill to swallow for students and people with a low budget assigned to ‘entertainment expenses,’ but as the economies of the world keep on changing and the online distribution model becomes cheaper for companies, we will all get used to this way of purchasing things.

When that convergence takes place fully, whether 5 or 10 years from now, physical media will be relegated to special editions or other novelty items (like vinyl records nowadays). Every purchase we have ever made will be saved in a cloud somewhere, only for us to consume anytime, anywhere we want.

It's all in here!

As other people take their time to adjust to this new way of consuming media, and the industry itself sorts out how to do this more easily and economically, I’ll sit at home on my comfy couch, Kindle in hand, knowing that once my current book finishes, I’ll just get a new book with a few clicks. No need to drive all the way to Kinokuniya or hunt around shelves in Borders or ask uninformed store clerks whether they have a certain book in stock or not. There’s no ‘sorry sir, we don’t have it in stock,’ or ‘we simply don’t import that series,’ or ‘it’s banned’ anymore with Kindle, or iTunes or Steam. I can buy whatever I want from the comfort of my home. My book shelves can remain empty, but my hard drive shouldn’t.


Smartphone season has kicked in

By on September 12, 2011

Apple, Microsoft, RIM and Google will all be aiming for your wallet.

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The next few months will be good times for Smartphone buyers as each of the big players showcases their skills. We have already seen RIM fire off the race with their OS7 equipped devices such as the amazing BlackBerry Bold 9900 that nails the touch and type experience.

Microsoft has also already stated the their update to Windows Phone 7 codenamed Mango is ready for prime time and you should not only start seeing upgrades for the current generation of devices from manufacturers like HTC and Samsung but also some new ones including the highly anticipated Nokia device that we know by the codename of Sea Ray.

Of course you have Apple getting ready with the iPhone 5 that is also scheduled to be announced some time next month and you can read about what is expected on the blog I did a couple of weeks back. I’m sure that most manufacturers will try and position their product releases as far from the iPhone 5 as they can as no Smartphone can stand the impact that a new iPhone makes.

Last but certainly not the least, Google is readying their Ic Cream Sandwich update which is Android 4.0 and will bring the tablet and Smartphone OS together. Again, expect HTC and Samsung along with LG and Sony Ericsson to launch new devices based on that in the last month of the year. With LG and HTC already selling 3D Smartphones, expect to see a lot of coolness with new Android phones.

So as a buyer, you will have a nice variety of Smartphones to chose from if you are planning on upgrading towards the end of the year. Each OS/Smartphone will have certain benefits over the other and generally you would chose one that is best for your needs. But we’re always around in case you need help deciding.


1999 AD predicts the future

By on September 7, 2011

Strange documentary from the 60s predicts our own time with eerie accuracy.

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It’s no secret that humans are pretty bad when it comes to predicting future technology. Terminator predicted that at this current date, we would be facing a robot uprising, Lost in Space said  that we will be colonizing other planets, Escape from New York thought that we will be in midst of World War III, and 2001: Space Odessey predicted that sentient and self aware computers would the norm.

The extent of my computer's sentience

Thus you can imagine my surprise when I found out a little 1960s documentary that predicts the future with strange accuracy. The documentary is called 1999 AD, and it has been on YouTube for a while, but it has recently come to my attention. The film depicts a middle class family living in the “House of the Future”, and all the futuristic day to day activities that the family participates in. Such activities include internet banking, online conference calls, online shopping, integration of computers in schooling, and even microwave cooking. All this is done on computers, or “computer consoles” connected to a single home network, or “console counterparts”. Unlike futuristic depictions from its time, there are no laser guns, jetpacks, or clunkily adorable robots. The film stays grounded in depicting what is possible, not what would be super awesome.

Strangely enough, while the film succeeds in predicting future technology, it fails in predicting societal changes. It is quite a surreal experience watching a futuristic film that sticks firmly to mid 20th century gender roles. For example, the film needs to explicitly point out that it is the “husband” who does the internet banking, and the “wife” who does the internet shopping. What is the conference call used for in the film? Why, it is to tell the wife to start cooking, because the males are hungry. This juxtaposition of futuristic technology and outdated societal norms make it quite a bizarre experience, it’s like watching Space Marines perform Shakespearean plays, or the entirety of the Fallout game series.

The documentary ends with the husband asking what is next. What will the technological advancements be in the future? Where will human accomplishments go? And what will we do with those wonderful technological advancements?

We will complain that it has no multitasking

You can check all three parts of the film below

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

 

Think it’s a hoax? Lots of people thought so, so note that the husband in his 30s appearing in the film is now 76 years old


The new iPhone cometh

By on September 5, 2011

What can we expect from the new iPhone?

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An Apple employee walk into a bar…yes, it’s that time of the year. The next iPhone is supposedly just a month away and rumors about how it will save the world are starting to block the pipes of the Interweb. Sadly, unlike last year’s iPhone leak that ended up with Gizmodo, there are no pictures of the model that was lost last week. But one can always speculate, so, like last year, I’ve put together info on changes that we will hopefully see in the the new iPhone.

It’s almost a given that the new iPhone will feature a dual core CPU- the same one found in the new iPad. Apple might change the clock speeds depending on the heat generation of the CPU but considering that the current iPhone 4 is no slouch, I doubt you’ll see much difference in day to day operations. Sure, benchmarks and games will run faster but typing an email or switching to twitter won’t be radically faster.

From the leaks by case manufacturers it seems the new iPhone might have a slightly shorter but wider and thinner design that tapers towards the bottom like a tear drop. Here is a render from macrumours on the supposed design and dimensions of the new iPhone.

That design shows an increased screen size on the new iPhone- from 3.5″ to 4.0″ however, considering on how Apple likes to keep their UI perfect to the pixel, I’m not sure if we will see an increased screen size.

On the features side, NFC is slowly being added on a lot of new devices such as the BlackBerry Bold and Curve as well as the Google Nexus S so we just might see that on the upcoming iPhone. Bluetooth 4.0 is also a contender especially considering that it is already equipped in the latest generation of MacBook Air. Apple did a good job with the camera on the iPhone 4 and I expect them to further tweak that- possibly with 1080p video recording.

I doubt Apple will increase the storage- 32GB still feels ample for your mobile device. I do hope battery life is further improved- and a dual core CPU will certainly help in that regard. I also don’t think that an LTE (4G) version will show up just yet but I could be wrong on that. Other than that, we’ll just have to wait and see what Apple reveals to us soon.


Say hello to the iPad generation

By on August 31, 2011

Apple has changed computing forever.

I’m at my in-laws for this Eid this year and the first thing I notice in a room full of grand kids is that the ratio of iPad to children is almost 1:1. We are looking at the iPad generation growing right in front of us. Is that a good thing? Yes and No.

The advantages of an iPad as an educational tool are almost limitless. Stories and books come alive and allow much a much more interactive experience for kids than the boring black and white papers on which I grew on. For get young kids- even college students are having their text books converted to the iPad which will make it so much easier for them to carry their bags.

The most fascinating thing about the iPad is how easy it is to use. I remember people wanting to attend computer classes to learn how to use PCs but give them an iPad and you have them zipping through them in no time. Maybe thats why kids love it- it just comes to you naturally.

Other than the educational use, the iPad is also an extremely entertaining and media-centric device. My kids love playing Cut the Rope or Angry Birds on it along streaming their cartoons from our home network. There are plenty of other apps available for it that can keep them occupied during a long car journey.

The downside is that whatever time is spent on the iPad is not spent on running around or other physical activity. But then, my wife and I make sure that their iPad time is restricted to an hour or so per day. Just like we restrict other activities.

Like the iPhone changed the Smartphone market, the iPad will change the computing platform. It might be a bit restrictive for the tech savvy user at the moment, but remember, the initial iPhone didn’t allow you to add any applications other than what was built-in. When these kids grow up, they won’t settle for something as primitive as a keyboard and mouse.


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