Thursday, May 31, 2012

Competition! Win a copy of Kinect Star Wars

Good morning all. Today we have some lovely news for you. It's been a while since we did a little giveaway so it's only fair we did one now. To celebrate last week's Geek Pride Day (yes, we are a little late here, what with the nice weather and all) and the release of Kinect Star Wars Twitter and Facebook app on iOS, Android and Windows Phone, we are going to hold a little contest here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Auto Trader's Goodwood of Festival iOS app hands-on

Any racing fans reading this blog? Well if you are, and are based in Britain, no doubt you would have heard of either Auto Trader and Goodwood Festival of Speed. If you haven't, well Auto Trader is a well known classified magazine specialised in both used and new automobiles sales. Goodwood Festival of Speed is, well, a festival dedicated to the heritage of all things motor racing. It is held annually at the Goodwood House in West Sussex and attracts up to 150,000 car enthusiasts. This year's event will take place from 28th June to 1st July.

So now you know. For the first time ever Auto Trader will be releasing an official Goodwood Festival mobile app with an augmented reality racing game. The free app is available on the iOS platform, though the devs has informed me that they may look into developing an Android version for next year's festival. I went hands-on with the app on both iPad and iPhone at the launch event yesterday in London.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Nokia announces Lumia 900 'The Dark Knight Rises' Batphone

Have you always wanted a Lumia Batphone ever since viewing my unboxing video of the Lumia 800 - The Dark Knight Rises Edition? Well you are in luck. Nokia has announced the Lumia 900 - The Dark Knight Rises Edition. Bruce Wayne's phone is now available for pre-order now via Phones4U and will come laser etched with the Batman emblem on the back, just below the camera chrome strip. If you are in the market for a Windows Phone, there hasn't been a more coveted phone on the market.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Nokia Lumia 610's Tango limitations

Nokia announced the Lumia 610 back at MWC. The handset was supposed usher in a new lower price point for Windows Phone, and to do that, some corners had to be made. Microsoft created a new version of Windows Phone 7 dubbed 'Tango'.

In this update, the OS is optimised to run on an older generation Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC with a 800MHz Scorpion CPU and Adreno 200 GPU (the same one that powered the first generation Windows Phone), and 256MB of RAM - which are the components found inside the Lumia 610. The cut down in specs, particularly the RAM bit, has brought some dramatic compromises to functionality. Background tasks is not enabled with Tango, and fast-app switching has also been excised completely.

Not good. I have already identified a couple of my favourite apps that were unable to run on the Lumia 610, including DoDonPachi Maximum, Sid Meier's Pirates, Angry Birds, Skype and WeatherMaster. Other apps like WeatherFlow would install and run, but you wouldn't be able to use the Live Tile functionality (background tasks is required to update Live Tiles).

Details from Nokia Summer Media Summit

Yesterday I attended a media summit hosted by Nokia at The Trafalgar in London. As you know, Nokia is currently undergoing one of its biggest challenge in the mobile industry. They have recently lost the title of world largest mobile phone vendor to Samsung, and has even seen their market cap fallen below that of HTC. Many arm chair analysts has already written off the beleaguered Finnish company.

Nokia's issues aren't confined to analysts, but more importantly with customers, the media and retailers, and also internal staff. So how is Nokia attempting to win the hearts and minds of potential customers? They outlined a few commitments. On the media front, Nokia UK will be moving to a new HQ in London so that they will be 'closer to us', as they so aptly put it. They have trained most of their staff for the Lumia to gauge their advocacy.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

HTC One V review

HTC One V is a device that aches me. On one hand, the gorgeous design has me grabbing it each time I can. On the other, the specs just doesn't do it justice. Sure, specs doesn't mean much and I have argued in the past, but when you have a phone that is bogged down by HTC Sense, you kinda need all the power you can get. You see, Sense can have that sort of effect on me. But first let's get the specs out of the way.

  • Qualcomm MSM82552 SoC with 1 GHz Snapdragon CPU and Adreno 205 GPU
  • 512 MB RAM and 4GB built-in flash storage
  • 3.7" LCD capacitive touchscreen with 480 x 800 resolution
  • Quad band GSM and tri band 3G
  • 5 Megapixel autofocus with BSI sensor camera with LED flash and 720p video recording
  • Bluetooth 4.0 and WiFi 802.11b/g/n
  • GPS with A-GPS
The One V is a tiny device. With the same 3.7" screen size and 480x800 resolution, the One V is smaller than my Lumia 800 and lasts longer too. And despite the size, the One V is all about quality. The metallic unibody design is tasteful. You couldn't have asked for a better looking mid-range device. If the engineers behind the HTC One V's design brief was to create a phone that bettered their high-end devices (in my opinion), then they succeeded.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Microsoft details Windows 8 desktop mode

In what can be only be described as a ridiculously long blog post Microsoft has detailed the desktop mode of Windows 8 and how it will differ from the glossy effect-driven Aero-look as seen on Windows 7. With Windows 8 set to a tablet-driven interface, there has been concerns raised that Microsoft would do away with the desktop mode altogether. After all, while Metro is pretty - it isn't exactly the most intuitive UI for keyboard + mouse PCs. Due to the need to maintain usability on desktop, the need for a classic mode was always going to be important.

But the move to flat, minimalist Metro UI would mean that switching between the two modes would be jarring. Microsoft has addressed this by Metro-fying the desktop mode. The much disliked Aero Orb Start button is now gone replaced by the Metro start interface. I am also glad to see all the gloss, fake 3D effects, and unneeded effects gone. Shadows and transparency effect (which any sensible person would have turned off on older version of Windows anyway) has also been consigned to history, and the use of gradients has been scaled back, reaffirming Microsoft's new design commitment to simplifying the UI and removing unnecessary effects. Even rounded corners weren't safe from the cutting floor.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Why I Chose Windows Phone

I was chatting with several people from the IT and phone industry at a meetup yesterday and someone, asked me what I found so appealing about Windows Phone. Many people I meet, like some of my friends who work in the tech mobile industry, seems flabbergasted whenever it is revealed I currently use a Windows Phone device, like I am some kind of weirdo, especially when they know I switched from a powerful Samsung Galaxy S II to a Nokia Lumia 800. It was a fascinating question because it just seems like yesterday when similar questions were asked about Android and iPhone and before that PalmOS and Pocket PC.

I pointed out how similar Android is to the old Windows Mobile, and before that PalmOS and how dated the OS felt. There is no doubt that the tweak-able nature of Android is great, but perhaps that is its only redeemable quality. I am a geek at heart. I just can't help customising. So when I had the SGS2 I would spent hours a week simply customising, experimenting with widgets, resizing pictures, moving icons etc. Each time I settled on a theme, I would get bored and start tweaking again. It was a never ending cycle. In fact, as I told my friend yesterday, I was spending more time tweaking my Android device than actually using it.

When I switched to Windows Phone 7, the lack of full customisation did not bother me one bit. This was simply because of the fact that it an already beautiful OS. Animated Live Tiles enriched with information, not only looks amazing, but are also useful proving that Windows Phone isn't just form over function. And because of how Metro homescreen works, any tiles pinned to the homescreen looks like they belong there. There is always a consistency no matter what I do. On the other hand, with Android, different widgets by different developers don't often mesh well together and I was always on the look out for one that fits.

A Life Worth Living

Last weekend I attended a private screening of an independent film made by a friend of a friend. A Life Worth Living is about a man who suffers from an uncurable disease called Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. More specifically, it is about a man who decided to go on a road trip around Britain and Europe and meet other people who suffers from DMD, and seeing how they cope with life in spite of the disease.

The man is John Hastie. On his 30th birthday, he would get a crazy idea, as he so aptly puts it. He would plan and indeed went on to make a film about people who suffered from Duchenne. People who, despite being crippled from the neck down and consigned to a life in a wheelchair, still led a fulfilling life. In the film, John would go and meet some of the most brilliant and independent people I have seen on celluloid, many who were told they would not live beyond twenty but with some help and determination, are living well in their 20s, 30s and 40s, doing things that were not thought possible before.

It was an inspiring film, not just for Duchenne, but for anyone born into any form of disabilities. More information about the film and the disease can be found on John's website.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Audiophiles rejoice: Samsung Galaxy S III contains a Wolfson DAC

Despite my initial disappointment with the external hardware of Samsung's new Galaxy S III, you can't deny that the device contains all the right sort of specs that would make it a successful flagship smartphone for 2012. Today, whilst lurking on my favourite audiophile headphone forum, Head-Fi, I stumbled upon a thread that confirms that the Galaxy S3 will contain a Wolfson DAC. That is a pretty awesome news if true, and will make the SGS3 a serious challenge to the Xperia S, at least when it comes to audio output.

Announced earlier this year, the Wolfson Micro WM1811 codec is allegedly similar to the one found on the highly regarded Samsung Galaxy S and Nexus S. This is awesome news because those two devices were actually rather good sounding. According to Wolfson's white paper, the WM1811 is a low power codec featuring a 24-bit 2-channel hi-fi DAC with 2 x 2W stereo speaker driver. It is capable of delivering 100db signal-to-noise ratio on DAC playback.

When Samsung removed the Wolfson DAC from the Galaxy S's successor, the Galaxy S II, there was a minor uproar within the headphone community. Wolfson after all powers most of Apple's none-touch iPod DAPs. With up to 64GB of storage plus another 64GB via an external microSDXC card, the SGS3 is set to be a favourite with audiophiles. FLAC anyone?


Rant: Windows Phone Marketplace Search

Readers of this blog will no doubt know that I am a huge fan of Windows Phone. But there are some pet hates I have with this platform, and one of them is an issue big enough that a blog about has long been way overdue. It is a first world problem, but it is an important one as far as mobile OS goes.

Dear Microsoft, the Marketplace search feature sucks. My beef isn't with the Marketplace itself, nor is it with the quality or number of apps (which I have no issue with - 80k and counting apps is good enough) found there. It is the search algorithm, or more to say, the number of developers who are gaming the keyword/search feature on the Marketplace. Basically, Microsoft you are not doing a good job with policing the Marketplace!

I will give you a great example of how the search feature on the Marketplace is an awful experience for the user. In this example, I will be using Twitter as it seems that there is a huge market in WP7 for a fully functional Twitter client. What would a normal user do when searching for a Twitter client? Well they would type 'Twitter' in the search field and then press enter. After all that makes sense doesn't it? Go ahead, do it now and have a look at what sort of rubbish the Marketplace throws up when you search 'Twitter'. Don't have a WP7 device? Well check out the results of the UK Marketplace below:

Friday, May 11, 2012

London Travel for Windows Phone 7 review

Londoners in seek of the ultimate public transport app? Look no further. London Travel has long been a favourite of mine and is the first app I would recommend to any Windows Phone 7 users who lives or is visiting London. It is simply the best Tube related app that I have used on any mobile platform. That includes the mighty iOS/iPhone ecosystem and Android.

Developed by an indie developer called Irtiqa, London Travel original claim to fame was the support for Oyster card balance. Via your Oyster card online account, you can set the app up to display the balance of a single Oyster card, which I think is rather neat for any PAYG Oyster card users (like me). Other features includes live Tube status updates, route planner, live Underground departure boards, an officially licensed Tube with Overground map, bus routes and bus departure countdown.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Design Matters

A few days ago someone retweeted a tweet into my timeline during the press event. Unfortunately due to network congestion and the fact that I was so swamped, the tweet has long gone. But I still remember the gist of the tweet. The tweet basically complained about the Samsung Galaxy S III's design and how the trend towards touchscreen devices is making it impossible for manufacturers to differentiate on design.

That was just plain wrong. Time after time, Nokia and Apple has proven that it is possible to make phones with good hardware design, and before that, companies like Sony and Palm has demonstrated that there are more than just slates when it came to touchscreen dominated PDAs (which were basically smartphones that can't make phone calls). A good designer will always find a way.
Palm V: Stylish and functional. Instantly recognisable. (image source)
The issue with most Android OEMs (and also certain new WP7 OEMs as well) is the commodification of their devices. Phones are now designed to be mass produced cheaply with nary a care about design because at the end of the day, they just want large numbers. It irritates me because I know they can do better. Why? Because in Japan, one company is doing exactly just that by bucking the me-too trend.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Holidaying with the HTC One V: Camera Review

I just returned from a bank holiday break in Dorset. Accompanying me was a HTC One V (thanks Three UK for the loan!) and my Lumia 800. Throughout the short break, I used the One V's camera extensively and was impressed by the camera's performance relative to its price point as an entry level device. While the image quality is a downgrade compared to the Lumia 800 and One X, the One V performed well for a phone with a tiny 5MP sensor. Even then the One V offers more accurate colour and white balance compared to the Lumia 800 on auto setting.

The 5MP sensor here is a BSI variety, meaning that the sensor is back-illuminated. As a result, together with the 28mm f/2 lens, the One V handles low light photography better than previous HTC devices. The One V comes with an assorted number of options including panorama, filter effects like distortion, vignetting and 'depth of field' (which aims to simulate miniature faking on tilt shift lens), ISO, white balance, face detection, geo tagging, macro mode and low light photography.

The camera app also allows for image capture while video capturing. Images captured this way are outputted in 1280x720 resolution, which is the same resolution of the video captured. Incidentally, videos are captured in 720p30 resolution with continuous autofocus.

Like most modern smartphones, the One V also comes equipped with built-in HDR mode. HDR works by allowing the camera to capture three simultaneous images, an overexposed, underexposed and 'normal' image and then using the information on all three images to produce a single image with high dynamic range contrast. The tiny image sensor on the HTC One V suffers from poor dynamic range, and HDR will help with improving this, at least on paper.

In truth, there is a trade off when using HDR mode. Due to the need to capture three successive images, any small movements will often result in a blurry HDR image. This is a reason why DSLR users uses tripod when capturing images needed for making a HDR image. Unfortunately due to the slower processing and capturing speed on the One V, the blurry movement effect is more pronounced on the One V than on previous smartphones I have tested like the One X and Galaxy S2 with third party app.

While the dynamic range does improve with when using HDR mode, I found the result to be very artificial and over processed, often looking like something that can be done via boosting the dynamic range of a single original image using software.

Do check out the extensive number of untouched image samples after the break.

Samsung Galaxy S III UK availability announced

The announcement of Samsung's latest flagship Galaxy S3 smartphone is probably the most polarising event this year as far as mobile tech goes. After all the hype (partly generated by the media themselves, and Samsung), it seems that the media and bloggers's opinions seems squarely divided on whether Samsung has actually delivered. Most has agreed that Samsung has delivered on specifications, but not on design.

While I do not find the S3 to be an ugly device, it does look a tad too generic, even by Samsung's standard. In fact, my first hands-on moment with the S3 gave me an initial poor impression on the build and design when compared to the HTC One X. And this coming from someone who once owned and loved the Galaxy S2. I quipeed that it feels plasticky, and before you accuse me of hating on plastic, I do find the Lumia 800 and One X to be excellent representation of what how great a phone can look and feel despite being made primarily of plastic.

In fact I showed my Android-phobic partner the picture above, and she immediately quipped about how generic looking the phone on the right is. It just feels more like a generic, albeit fast, Gateway laptop than a tough ThinkPad. Nothing wrong with that, as long as the price reflects that compromises has been made towards design.

Design aside, the S3 is a pretty capable device. My initial impressions on the hardware is positive and I like what Samsung has done with the software. I am still no fan of TouchWiz enchancement, especially now that stock Android ICS is shown to actually looks pretty reasonable, as far as UX goes. TouchWiz is a UI that can be traced back many years, and the current iteration is based on one that Samsung uses for their own (now abandoned) Bada OS and previous high end featurephones.

The Galaxy S3 will be released in the UK at the end of the month for a pricey sum of £500 sim-free. Everyone's favourite 'thinking outside the box network' Three UK has also announced that they will be stocking the Galaxy S3 for £34 a month on a two year contract with no fees upfront, which isn't bad for a plan which includes their industry thumping All You Can Eat data plan.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Samsung Galaxy S III hands-on and first impressions

Is it May 2012 already? Gosh, how fast has time flied this year. Well what better way to welcome the new month with a hands-on post about the new Samsung flagship superphone. Samsung today announced the Galaxy S III at the Samsung Unpacked 2012 PR event at Earl's Court in London. I was not supposed to attend (I've already booked off my break), but last minute rescheduling meant I was able to do so, just for you. But first let's get the specs out of the way.

  • Samsung Exynos 4212 SoC with 1.4 GHz quad-core ARM Cortex A9 CPU and Mali-400MP GPU
  • 1GB RAM and 16GB/32GB/64GB built-in flash storage
  • 4.8" Super AMOLED HD capacitive touchscreen with 720 x 1280 resolution PenTile matrix
  • Quad band GSM and 3G
  • 21 Mbps HSDPA and 5.76 Mbps HSUPA
  • Wolfson DAC (yay for audiophiles!)
  • 8 Megapixel autofocus camera with LED flash and 1080p30 video recording
  • 1.9 Megapixel front camera with 720p video recording
  • Bluetooth 4.0 and WiFi 802.11b/g/n
  • Contactless charging, NFC
  • microUSB with MHL

HTC One V first impressions

When HTC announced the One V at MWC this year, I moaned on twitter about how they should have used the design for their flagship phone rather than what the One X currently sports. Do not get me wrong, the One X is one sweet looking device, but the One V features an evolved design inherited from the HTC Legend/Hero - and I loved the design of those phones. But like the HTC Legend, specs takes a back seat on the One V. It's all about design. But who cares about quad core when you have a phone that looks this good?

Labelling the HTC One V as a wee phone is an understatement. This handset is tiny for a smartphone that features a 3.7" display. Compared to my Lumia 800, which also has a 3.7" display, the Lumia 800 is noticeably larger and heavier. And despite its petite size and lightweight construction, HTC has spared no expense with materials. Like the Radar, the One V is housed in a metallic unibody contruction, making the device feels more luxurious and expensive than it is.