Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Nokia N8 announced

Nokia today announced the N8, the first Symbian^3 (skipping ^2 altogether) smartphone and the first Symbian touchscreen N-series phone that does not have a slide out keyboard. It features a monoblock design with a 3.5" capacitive screen dominating the front.

The big news here obviously is the 12MP camera with larger sensor. Personally I feel that no matter how big Nokia claims the sensor to be, 12MP is just too much. The law of physics dictate that. 8MP with the same sensor size would have been better, and you probably wouldn't have to rely on a puny flash (xenon or otherwise) for low light photography. Oh well numbers and buzz words do sell.

Fortunately the numbers elsewhere are more useful - it has 16GB of built-in storage and is expandable via the microSDHC card slot. The camera also supports 720p HD video capturing.

It weighs 135g, so it isn't too heavy. The rest of the specs are pretty standard: WiFi 802.11b/g/n, GPS with A-GPS, HSDPA, 3.5mm headphone socket with TV-out, FM radio with RDS and FM transmitter and micro USB. Also new to a Nokia phone is the HDMI out port, allowing users to view HD video on a HD ready telly, as well as the newest Bluetooth 3.0 revision. The processor isn't the same slow one as the one in the N97/N97 Mini, instead it has been bumped up to 680Mhz. Not what I was hoping for, but still a decent enough speed. It has 256MB RAM.

There's the same widget based homescreen that made its debut on the N97 - this I hope can be turned off, but I highly doubt so. Sadly widgets are all the rage now despite being resource killers.

So all in all, the N8 looks good on paper and has a rather lovely design (particularly the orange version). €370/£320 is pretty darn decent too, undercutting plenty of lesser phones. But I may not be getting one. Why you ask? First it feels like a stop-gap phone before the real flagship hits next year running Symbian^4. Second, I want to see what sort of high-end E-series Nokia has plans for (they really are better built). Finally, I want a slider version with 4/5 row keyboard instead.

Make it happen Nokia.

Update: You'll find untouched sample photo shots from the N8's camera here and a HD video recording here. The image quality is certainly impressive.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Palm m515

I was clearing up some boxes and found this old Palm m515 PDA. Remember those? I myself prefer the Sony Clie devices (I had various, the T615C and NR70 being my favourite) but this was one sexy looking device and is easily the last solidly built Palm device (the Tungsten T3 was a great device, but had plenty of issues with the slider). They don't build them like they used to... Next to this, the Pre feels like a cheap toy!

If I can just find the charger cradle, I may actually use it as a desk clock.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Off to the Isle of Skye... next month

Will be going on a walking camping break in the Isle of Skye next month for about a week. Very excited. Bought a new Vango Tempest 300 tent, which we just couldn't wait to use. The extra space would certainly come in handy.

We are planning to summit one or two Munros/Corbetts on the Cuillin, do the Storr and maybe one or two circuits. Obviously it will depend on how the weather goes, though I am not going to count on it. It isn't called the Misty Isle for nothing! Planning on camping at Sligachan for a couple of nights before moving on to Portree. Any tips or suggestions would certainly be helpful! You can e-mail me direct using the e-mail address posted on the right ->

Now look what I did there, a post that isn't a review or a rant!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bite Me: A Love Story review

Bite Me: A Love Story is the third book in Christopher Moore's 'Vampire' trilogy which chronicles the love life of a C. Thomas (Tommy) Flood and his vampire girlfriend Jody. Fear not as this isn't like those silly crapfest that has recently been turned into films. Instead it is filled with generous amount of action and dry humour that you would expect from the author of A Dirty Job and Lamb. If you've read all of Christopher Moore's books (and I have, about ten times each), Bite Me will sound oddly familiar. It gathers a couple of characters from previous books, blends them and churns them into one comedy mess, and when I mean mess, I mean a book you simply can't put down.

This is a love story, though not your typical one. Tommy and Jody are lovers, who so happened to be vampires, except they aren't the elder kind who sleeps in coffins and can turn into bats. Jody has only been a vampire a couple of months longer than Tommy, and Tommy has only been one for like a week. Biggest issue of all is Tommy wants out. And then there's them being bronzed into statues by their perky underage goth girl minion Abby Normal.

Abby, whose daywalker name is Allison Green, lives with her genius scientist undergrad boyfriend Steve. Steve, also known as Foo, has hair that is very manga (Abby's words, not mine) and perform experiments on vampire things, finding ways to turn them back though the fact that they can turn into mists irritates him more. There's also this fat shaved cat, Chet, who has somehow turned himself into a vampire and is stalking the city turning hobos into dusts with his gang of smaller but equally deadly minion of undead cats.

To make matter worse, the elder vampires has set sail for the city. Their mission: to clean up the mess left by Elijah, the original vampire who turn Jody (and Chet), and that is to kill all the vampire cats, vampire humans and anyone who has seen or knows about the vampires. Soon enough Tommy, Jody, emergency backup mistress of the Greater Bay area Abby, Steve, the Emperor of San Francisco and his lieutenant dogs, the Animals aka Safeway night crew (with the help of a Chinese grandmother's anti vampire cat remedy) and two incompetent cops have to join forces to save the city, and more importantly, themselves.

I am gong to be honest here. Bite Me was kinda disappointing by Christopher Moore's standard. It is a far improvement over his previous book Fool (which I am pretending never happened), but falls behind his greats like the original vampire love book Bloodsucking Fiend, the missing gospel that became Lamb, and A Dirty Job (easily one of the greatest comedy book written). Abby, whose diary posts were pretty amusing in You Suck, came off as being a tad more annoying than usual. It doesn't help that her blog posts read like an older person trying to be young (which is exactly what it was). And then there's that other annoying character from Fluke, but I'll leave that as a surprise. Bloodsucking Fiend had just the right balance between humour, and isn't as over the top as this. The final quarter of this book also felt rushed. There are also plenty of unanswered questions and lose ends not tied up, like what is up with that old short Japanese man?

Still, any disappointing book by Christopher Moore is considered great in the literal world and I would not hesitate to recommend his to anyone who has a liking for books with plenty of humour. Just read Bloodsucking Fiends and You Suck first if you can help it (you don't have to, as the first few chapters does good in catching you up). Personally I am still reeling at the unexpected ending, but perhaps a fourth book to fix that? Please...!

Bite Me: A Love Story is available as a hardcover from Amazon UK and Amazon.com

Sunday, April 18, 2010

HTC Legend review

I've been playing with a HTC Legend review unit for more than a week now, and while I've been more than pleased with the hardware design I was less impressed by the software or some of its hardware quirks. Still if you are in the market for an Android phone or a new touchscreen smartphone you could do a lot worse so do check out my review at FoneArena for my thoughts. Questions welcomed, as I still have the unit with me.

Friday, April 16, 2010

David Cameron met a black man, wants to nuke China

At yesterday's TV election debate (which I did not watch - why should I?), David 'I've spoken with a black man' Cameron appeared to have given indication that he is willing to declare war on China and nuking them, the country with the largest army in the world, thus inviting doom on the British Isle. Good luck with that.

Vote the Tories at your own peril.


I love how this Iceland volcano is causing hysteria in the mainstream media and havoc at airports all over Europe. More of this and more airlines will start going bust and Iceland will get its revenge on Europe and Britain. Loving it!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

T-Mobile CallerSend

So I received a text by T-Mobile announcing that I've been selected for their CallerSend trial. CallerSend, according to T-Mobile, is an application that you can use to send out your contact information as a text message to a friend you've just called.

Stupid isn't it?

CallerSend actually costs 10p for each message you send and these texts won't come out of any allowance or bundle you may have. So even if you have unlimited text bundle (like I do), you will get charged 10p to send a message to someone who more than likely would have your contact details anyway. You may as well send it manually and save that 10p. On a plus side the 10p cost also applies to international numbers, so it may work in your favour (most text bundles do not include international texts).

Fortunately there's any easy way to disable this 'feature'. If the simcard and phone supports T-Mobile's Interactive application, just go through it to disable the service. On my E55 it can be found under Control Panel, though it may be in different locations on other phones.

I wish T-Mobile would work to improve their HSDPA service rather than waste time with such nonsense.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Nokia E5 stylish QWERTY phone for the masses

Nokia today announced two new Symbian messaging phones, the E5 and C6. The C6 is a slider style touchscreen device with a four row QWERTY keyboard running Symbian^1 (Why not Symbian^3? I am guessing Nokia is reserving that for the rumoured N8). Sadly it still features the same 434Mhz processor that bogged down the N97 and N97 Mini...

More exciting (to me at least) is the cheaper E5 with front facing QWERTY keypad, the successor to the E63. The E5 features a design style lifted straight out of Palm's Treo 500 and Centro smartphones. For such a cheap phone, the specs is actually pretty decent. Despite running on a puny BL-4D 1200mAh battery with the same 600Mhz ARM11 processor that powers the E55 and E72 and more RAM (256MB to be precise), it has a claimed talk time of 18.5 hours and a standby time of 29 days (obviously under ideal conditions). Whatever Nokia did with the power management - I want that! At 13mm it is a pretty thin phone and is overall slimmer than the portly E63.

The QVGA display is disappointing in this year (or indeed any of the past couple of years), but at that price we can all forgive it. A 5 megapixel camera (based on EDoF technology that graced the E55) with LED flash will probably be sufficient for most people, while the standard 3.5mm headphone socket will appeal to those who wishes to use their own headphones. Its connectivity CV includes quad-band GSM, tri-band WCDMA 3G with 10.2 Mbps HSDPA, WLAN, Bluetooth and its own built-in GPS receiver for free navigation with Ovi Maps. Not bad for €180.

Best of all it runs on the mature none-touchscreen S60v3 FP2 Symbian OS 9.3 smartphone platform. Despite the somewhat 'outdated' platform erroneously labelled by a couple of patriotic American bloggers as not so smart, Nokia has continued tweaking the UI. The active standby screen has been overhauled with features similar to the one that appeared on the 5630 XpressMusic, 5730 XpressMusic and 6700 Slide. It seems to be very useful and I do wish that Nokia would backport the feature onto older but currently available phones like my E55.

I was talking to my brother the other day and he wanted a new messaging phone with front facing QWERTY keypad that isn't too pricey. Well here it is here. If Nokia can release this soon then they will have at least one additional sale.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Go red shirts

If you think British politicians are two-faced idiots, wait till you read this load of crap spouted by Thailand's prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva:
"Instead of the restoration of law and order, those who broke the law can do whatever they want. My feeling is similar to yours." (source)
Wow, just wow. Let's see. He is only the leader of the country after his allies at the military (with the backing of the royalty) staged an illegal coup to get rid of an elected and legitimate government, and then using his buddies at the courts (as well as through illegal blockades) to get rid of the subsequent elected government - effectively creating a one-party police state. He then appointed his scheming mates, the same ones who organised the illegal airport seat-in which lead to lost tourism money, into his government. Who's really the one getting away with breaking the law here?

This government is just as dirty, if not dirtier, as the previous ones - and they haven't even got the people's mandate...

Yes, it is about time Thailand becomes a republic and get rid of their scrawny king and his proxy power minions.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

HTC Legend, Broken Social Scene & Gumtree

Attended a Gumtree meetup this evening at their Richmond UK headquarters. Had a good time, met some interesting people and had more than enough share of cocktails. Basically the event detailed their plans for the new Gumtree's website including future features being planned (here's a beta version of it).

Returned home to find that HTC has finally delivered the review unit of their HTC Legend. I'm not a fan of Android UI, so we will see if HTC's custom UI can do wonders (they did a good job masking Windows Mobile UI deficiency). Still at least it can do multitasking and wallpapers properly, I heard. The hardware is very very nice though (not so the capacitive screen). In any case my review will be published at FoneArena, so wait for it.

Finally, something a bit more important than a smartphone or classified website: my tickets for Broken Social Scene has arrived! The only problem - having to wait until June! Still only less than a month before their new album Forgiveness Rock Record is released!!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Ovi Maps 3.3 with free navigation review

About 2 1/2 months ago Nokia announced that they will be making its turn by turn voice navigation service on Ovi Maps for free and sure enough version 3.3 (3.03) soon turn up and allowed just that. I've been using the version for a couple of weeks now, chiefly on my E55, and have been very pleased with the experience. It is available for a number of modern Nokia Symbian devices with built-in GPS receiver.

Firstly, this service is available in 76 countries and will tie in nicely with their already available offline feature. The offline feature is brilliant as it allows the user to freely download maps from 180 countries through a desktop terminal thus saving on over the air data costs. If you wish you can also download maps as you go. Map tiles will be saved to the memory card so you would not have to redownload the area again. It also includes free traffic updates and premium content from Lonely Planet and Michelin.

The user interface has changed somewhat from previous versions. I initially had my doubts on new interface, which was clearly designed for touchscreen users, but soon got used to it. I still prefer the previous version as the UI then was designed for hardware soft key phones like the E55, and work faster than this new grid based UI. Still it works fine, but I do still wish that it would boot straight to the map rather than the menu.

Numerous keypad-based shortcuts exists that will make your life easier especially now that they've removed many of the functions from the menu. Pressing '5' for example will disable/enable the digital compass if your device supports it. '*' and '#' respectively controls the zooming.

With Ovi Maps 3.3 and above, Nokia has integrated their 'Here and Now' service, so far consisting of only two widget-like apps: Weather and Events. Both are rather good, though seems to be rather slow (they are web-based after all). The service is still patchy - for example Events suggested the Cineworld Luton, a good 9.5 miles away from here (St. Albans), when there is a Vue much nearer in Watford. Similarly there is no such listings from events hosted at the local Maltings Art theatre and Abbey Theatre.

The Lonely Planet and ViaMichelin premium guides fared much better, though the suggestions of places to eat within St. Albans is rather limited. It is understandable for a small village, but with a population of 65k, St. Albans is hardly a small village. I mean we have two railway stations serving this town for goodness sake.

In any case the listings are accurate and more importantly, seems to be based on quality. You won't find any crappy chain stuff here (not even the good ones like Pizza Express).

The search engine has been simplified dramatically. A search field exists for both addresses (including support for full seven characters UK postcodes) and POIs (where you will find the chain stuff like Pizza Express), with no seperate fields for annoying stuff like house numbers and counties.

Using it is easy - just type in and a second or two later the screen will be populated with suggestions, sorted by distance. Scroll to the desired entry and press the left soft key will bring up the map showing the entry or use the centre d-pad key to bring up a list of handy options allowing the user to use the entry for navigational purpose or even to call any phone numbers associated with that entry.

The rest of Ovi Maps 3.3 works pretty much the same as previous version. You can adjust the route calculating algorithm with options like avoiding the motorway, tunnel, ferry, toll road, unpaved road and trains. Similarly it can also suggest route optimised for pedestrians. Route suggestions seems to be fairly good, though this is merely based on my personal experience and opinion. I can't test the quality for the whole UK now can I?

Like other popular SatNav products (such as TomTom), you can change the screen to 'night' mode which works better on the eyes. GPS lock is almost instantaneous if A-GPS is activated. It takes about 5 seconds for a cold lock and less than a second for a warm lock. Impressive, but this has got to do more with the device hardware and firmware than the application itself.

Nokia is under no obligation make its navigation service for free, period - especially to older models for which this feature was never promised upon. But for those with compatible Symbian phones (those with built-in GPS receiver), this update is not something to be missed. All in all, this is easily the best smartphone routing application I have used - even without the free navigation. It is even capable of replacing dedicated satnav particularly if pair it with a touchscreen device with larger screen. Best of all, minus the cost of the device, it won't even cost you a penny.

Ovi Maps with free navigation is available for Nokia N97, N97 mini, N86 8MP, 5800 XM, 5800 Navigation, X6 16GB, X6 32GB, E52, E55, E66, E71, E72, 5230, 6710 Navigator and 6730 classic.

For those without compatible devices, Ovi Maps navigation license is available for less than 10 euros a year, still much better value than the majority of mobile routing applications.

Monday, April 5, 2010


Leak video by Wikileaks showing a US Apache air crew gunning down Iraqi civilians (including a rescuer and children).

ICC, your turn.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Twiggy portrait

This classic Twiggy portrait (60 x 80cm) from the National Portrait Gallery is rather lovely. The Habitat magnetic wall frame not so much. It has already smeared the print with orange paint residue... Not so happy about it, but there's nothing I can do about now... It is also a dust magnet. Should have just bought a more traditional frame or the same glass clip frame that holds my copy of Kate Moss: Surfer Butt.

Also picked up two Liz Hurley Mario Testino prints yesterday (a snip at a fiver each - I remember them costing the upper end of twenty once). Haven't decided where they will go up, or indeed if I'll even frame them...

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Valkyria Chronicles: Selvaria's Mission DLC review

Playing and completing Valkyria Chronicles was one of my gaming highlights in recent years. It is the kind of game I would utter in the same breath of Uncharted 2 - that is just how impressed I am about the SRPG title. In fact if I've actually played it back in 2008 when it was released here, I would have named it my personal GotY. Unfortunately it is also the last great game SEGA developed. Consider this a LTTP review.

In any case, Valkyria Chronicles has been granted with a healthy dose of downloadable content (DLC). I've always been a skeptic of the DLC business model, viewing it as a way for lazy developers to charge gullible gamers for what should have been in the disc itself. Still Valkyria Chronicles's DLCs are a bit different as they offer missions from the perspective of people outside of the main Squad 7 main posse.

My love for Valkyria Chronicles combined with SEGA's recent price cut of the DLC ultimately prompted me to make my first ever DLC purchase on the PS3's PlayStation Store. Incredible what a quid and twenty pence saving can do to you... I am either a genius or a sad little man.

Two of the DLC available surrounds a character called Edy. She is a character whom I've only used only once before being unceremoniously and dishonourably discharged, as I have very little interest in the back story of a happy go lucky pop star wannabee. Apparently her character is quite a bit popular in Japan - which explains SEGA's willingness to create two DLC just for her. But how she became popular is beyond me, though I suspect that it may be a cultural thing. They do like their lolita pop singers there.

There is one DLC though that I'll never ever pay for and which I would not recommend any sensible people to pay for and that is the Hard EX Mode. I remember the time when increased difficulty mode (and then some) came with all games whether you like it or not, but not so with SEGA. With Valkyria Chronicles, you have to pay to play in hard. Ridiculous ain't it? Valkyria Chronicles is one of the most balanced game out there, so I can't imagine regular people getting much enjoyment from this mode. Still hardcore gamers with plenty of time on their hands would love this.

The DLC I decided to purchase is the Selvaria's Mission "Behind Her Blue Flame" pack. The fact that the DLC offers missions from the enemy's perspective is pretty compelling and in my opinion, the greatest incentive to purchasing this instead of the Edy stuff. It isn't just made up by a bunch of side quests by unmemorable and uninteresting squad members, but a whole new storyline that serves to flesh out the Selvaria character you thought you knew. At 224MB, you will at least be assured that the DLC isn't merely an unlocking code to content already provided on the disc.

In Selvaria's Mission, you follow Johann, an engineer assigned to Selvaria. The missions takes during the early stages of the invasion by the Imperial forces on Gallia, several years before the main storyline as detailed in Valkyria Chronicles. There are a total of four missions in the mission pack, one of which requires you to gain A-ranking on the first three missions in order to unlock. The second mission is also dependent on whether you meet an optional and undisclosed objective in the first mission (spoiler: destroying General Damon's tank).

Ultimately I love this pack and have had no regret making this my first DLC purchase. Any fans of Valkyria Chronicles would be a fool to want to miss this as it allows them to play as Selvaria themselves. Despite her weapon, Selvaria isn't as strong as she was in the main campaign. Here she is paired with the aforementioned Johann where the two must work together. You see, Selvaria carries grenades and ragnades out of principle. Her only weapon is her powerful Ruhm, easily the most powerful weapon in the game. So while she has the power of a Shocktrooper and the legs of a Scout, she can't really do much else. Johann on the other hand is pretty weak (both mentally and physically) but acts as her personal field medic. He also does rudimentary tasks like clearing the path for Selvaria. So you see, the two must work together.

The difficulty has also been changed significantly. In the original campaign the Gallians were a pretty weak bunch early on, but they pack a mighty punch in this DLC and have greater power, accuracy and evade stats. The Imperials are also terrible at accuracy, particularly the snipers. Getting A-rank will require plenty of patience as well as trial and error, particularly in one of the second missions. Completing the second mission will also unlock Selvaria's powerful Ruhm gun for use in the main campaign by Squad 7's shocktroopers, sort of a reward to the player. Complete the first three missions with A-rank and you get to play as Selvaria in her Valkyrur form - complete with lance and everything. Exciting isn't it?

For a £1.99 DLC, Selvaria's Mission offers plenty of game time. There's at least 4-6 hours worth of content here, more than the single player campaign of some full priced games. Plus we get to see the softer side of Selvaria's, and from the invading nation's point of view. Anybody who consider themselves a fan of Valkyria Chronicles, or SPRG in general, should seriously consider investing in this.

Valkyria Chronicles is currently available for a low low price of £13/$19.99. Selvaria's Mission DLC (as well as Challenge of the Edy Detachment, Edy's Mission and Hard EX Mode) is currently on offer (from £3.19 to £1.99) until 29 April 2010.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Walkman A840?

Dear Sony Europe,

Now that Microsoft has announced the 64GB Zune HD, will you finally remove your head out of your arse and release the 64GB Walkman A847 over here? It has been seven months since the A840 series was announced and as of April 2010, no release date has been confirmed for Europe or indeed anywhere else. Think of all the lost sales by not releasing it when the hype was still fresh.

Judging by the many positive comments and experience by X-series owners on this little blog, there is a market out there for a pure digital audio player. Are we just not worthy enough to experience it?

Or maybe you just want us to buy Cowon's new and sexy (but not quite as sexy as yours) J3.


A disillusioned Walkman fan

Ordnance Survey OpenData now available

Ordnance Survey has finally made available their mapping data as part of their OS OpenData initiative. You can view the detailed street mapping here, or download the data required to making your own maps or deploying them in various projects. Data includes 1:250,00 GB raster map, GB miniscale and OS Street View.

Sadly walkers hoping for free outdoor maps will find themselves disappointed as Ordnance Survey flagship Explorer and Landranger raster maps will not be made available. OpenData will also not include footpaths, bridalways and terrain date - all of which are crucial to walkers. For now, at least, walkers who wishes for a digital version of Explorer and Landranger will have to make do with Memory Map and others.